Sunday, January 1, 2012

How to jump-start an airplane

I went out to the airport to go fly with my vacation time a couple days ago, but I got to talking to a gent about how I flew my plane down from Alaska (He's looking at flying his cub up). Then I went, but it was a little too windy for me to feel comfortable with my rusty skills. Then it was far too windy. Finally, a bright sunny day, clear below 12000, light winds. I went to the airport, did a very thorough preflight, gassed the plane, checked the fuel again, pushed her out, and pulled the starter... only to have the prop barely turn over, with all the vigor of my morning wakeup on vacation.

Yet one more reason to fly more often - if you don't, like on a car, the battery runs down.

How do you jump an airplane? Well, you can handprop 'em. This one will even do it, and my neighbor in his 152, fresh back from a flight, offered. I, being relatively unfamiliar and knowing my plane has weak brakes, declined.

If you have a battery up front in the engine compartment, you can easily pull the battery out easily and put it on a charger. But my battery is in the back of my baggage compartment, penalizing me with weight of very heavy starter wire for not having swapped my 13-pound alternator out for a lightweight and expensive plane power one, and not changing my huge, heavy, modified tractor starter (no kidding, these things started life on tractors) for an expensive, lightweight skytec starter. This means it's a pain to get out. I figured that was my best option, but it wasn't.

Instead, the line guys came out with their electric golf cart, the one with a tow bar sized for a 747 that they use to move cessnas around. I tied down and chocked my plane, and they crawled in and attached the jumper cables. Then, one flipped the golf cart seat up to reveal a bank of batteries. Never get into a wreck with an electric golf cart - they make look flimsy, but there's a heck of a lot of ballast under the seat!

One pointed to the other, and said, "Each cell provides six volts. So, find out what their electrical system is - twelve volts, ma'am? Then put that on this post here, for two cells. You can charge or jump start up to a 36-volt system with this."

It worked, too. Of course, then I had a running airplane, and was holding the brakes while they moved the golf cart away (remember that part about tied down and chocked? The cart was tucked behind my wing and in front of my horizontal stabilizer in order to reach the battery), then untied and unchocked my plane. Don't try this with just one person!

I flew for an hour, recharging the batteries of airplane and soul, and came in as the sun was a mere finger-width off the horizon. The line guys refused offers of pizza, beer, or takeout food, and told me with a grin, "Just have a great new year!"


  1. I'm glad you made it into the blue ... and I'll bet it felt great!

    Happy New Year, Wing.

  2. Glad you got a chance to do something for yourself. It's good to get away.

  3. I'm so glad you made it up. My last black lab was in Otis the cub once when it was hand started, (not by me). He put his paw on the throttle, just enough for it to jump the chockis and start moving. Fortunately the line guys grabbed a strut and got it stopped.

    He was barking the whole time, pissed off he didn't get to solo.

  4. Gotta love line rats :-) Glad you got some time it!

  5. Might suggest to the line guys to look into tow truck jumper cables. Think they start at 25ft length, and go up from there. The truck end normally utilizes a plug-in connector, so you can't screw up the polarity.

    Personally, I would set up teh cart with a receptacle for each of the possible voltages used on aircraft. Using alligator clamps on battery banks is a recipe for disaster, as a clamp that pops loose and lands on an adjacent battery connection can provide lots of expensive fireworks at both ends of the jumpers.