Saturday, November 12, 2005

The Saga of 02P, Part III

First, the obligatory progress report: I haven't been up and around much for the last few days. Not because of radiation, chemotherapy and cancer, which are all ongoing; but due to a touch of food poisoning, apparently. I will not go into detail because - well, the details are gross. But I'm just starting to feel better, and I think I can sit upright and write for a spell. So on to the next installment of how I bought my plane...

OK, when we last heard, I had bought a one-way ticket to Nashville, Tennessee. The Tri-Pacer I was going to see, N1502P, was based right there at Nashville International. I had only to fly in and meet the seller; if the plane and the deal were satisfactory, I could just fly it home. I had taken the trouble to make this feasible, by arranging financing and insurance ahead of time, all contingent on a pre-purchase inspection. It made things complicated, but I didn't want to have to travel back and forth twice if everything went well.

I had planned on going down alone, but a few days before the trip I was surprised to have a volunteer co-pilot; my friend Karen, an airline pilot herself, wanted to come along. When she heard about my plans, she figured it sounded like a good adventure - she had never flown a fabric-covered airplane before, and she could easily deadhead* down to meet me in Nashville. I warned her: "It's very small, you know... and very slow; it will take around eight hours to fly back, and there's no air conditioning..." But she couldn't be swayed, and I was actually glad to have the company for the trip back, if it came to that.

So on the appointed Friday, I left after work and flew down on the evening flight from Scranton to Nashville. I discovered that anyone traveling on a one-way ticket gets the extra-thorough bag and personal search, so I ran out to the commuter jet cramming my belongings back into my flight bag; I was trying to travel light. I landed in Nashville on a sweltering hot August evening, and got a cab from the terminal to the general aviation ramp (the "F.B.O.") where I planned to spend the night in the pilot's lounge and meet the seller in the morning. I was the only one around, apart from a bored line service guy, and he showed me to the lounge. I was initially happy to note that the the lounge was comfortably appointed and well air-conditioned; in fact, it was downright arctic, as is often the case in the South. Since I only had the t-shirt I was wearing, and one other for the next day, I spent the night alternating between the freezing lounge and the bench outside, where even at 3:30 am it was almost 90 F.

First look
Uploaded by AviatorDave.
The next morning, having hardly slept, I took a courtesy car for breakfast and eventually met up with Karen and the seller. He drove us out to the hangar, where he had a rather lavish setup for keeping such a tiny plane; climate-controlled, with a separate office and plenty of tools and extra gear. (He was selling the little Tri-Pacer to trade up to a larger plane, one which he could use to fly his whole family of four around in speed and comfort.) I grinned on seeing the plane; you can't help it, with the jaunty paint scheme it wears. The previous owner, an older fellow, had chosen the bright 1930s Army Air Corps scheme (purely for fun; no Tri-Pacer was ever used by the U.S. military). I climbed all over the plane and did my best to assess the condition; it all looked to be in good order and as described.

The first order of business was a test flight, so Karen waited while the seller and I climbed in and taxied out for a short ride. It took a long time to reach the runway and get clearance; Nashville is a BIG airport. By this time, the temperature had climbed over 90 again, and when I advanced the throttle, I was not overwhelmed by the ensuing takeoff and climbout. I had expected less performance, since this Tri-Pacer was equipped with an older 135 horsepower engine. But the high temperature and humidity really took a toll; it took a long time to climb to just 1,000 feet and head west of the airport.

I enjoyed flying the plane, though, and did some takeoffs and landings at a smaller airport nearby. Back at Nashville, we stepped into the office and talked over the deal. He ended up coming down on the price, and throwing in quite a bit of extra gear and parts, including his yoke-mounted GPS unit. I shook his hand and signed on the dotted line - and I owned an airplane! Now, to get home...

First problem: packing! There was Karen and myself, and our bags... and a large box containing a set of canvas plane covers, and another with parts and gauges, some cans of spare paint... and finally, a set of Short Wing Piper Club books and magazines that must have weighed 50 pounds. The plane has four seats, and a roomy baggage compartment; but there is a limit to how much weight can be carried, and we were going to be over - and on a hot, humid day to boot. So I prevailed on the seller to do me one more favor, and ship the heaviest items to my address, so that we would have a fighting chance of getting off the ground!

Engine gauges
Uploaded by AviatorDave.
Karen and I folded ourselves into 02P - my plane! - and taxied out again to the active runway. We chugged away, crawling compared to the jumbo jets arriving and departing around us, and headed north into the thick summer haze. From the start it was apparent that we were in for a long trip; we noticed that if we tried to run at 75% power, the oil temperature would keep climbing to the high side of the gauge. The only way to hold the temp steady was to run at lower power, and that barely yielded 90 knots; I had planned our 700-mile trip at 105, so it was going to take a little longer.

Worried about the engine temps, I stopped at Somerset, Kentucky to check the oil. As we hopped out, I saw that there was at least a quart streaked across the belly; the overheated oil had pumped overboard through the bearings for the vacuum pump. So we bought a few quarts, added some to the crankcase and took off again, resolved not to run the engine hard. By the time we reached Richmond we had to stop again to add more oil, and we realized that with our slow progress and extra stops, we weren't going to make it home that day. We pressed on as far as Parkersburg, West Virginia where the setting sun and lowering clouds convinced us to spend the night.

Well, this installment has gone long enough. Tune in again for part IV - cheap hotel rooms, bad weather and close blimp encounters!

* "Deadheading" is a free ride to reposition airline flight crews, in a spare seat on their own or another airline's flight, as an industry courtesy.