Crossing the Country in an Enstrom
2014-04-25 XC from LL10 (Naper Aero) to 4FD7 (Flanders Field)
The latest entry
Her name is Ellie. Ellie Foo Foo to be exact.
Ellie just sounded good
but "Foo Foo" has a story. A good friend of mine, Al, an expert mechanic didn't want to work on helicopters,
an honesty that I appreciate. But I had just bought a helicopter and was
now bringing her back with some difficulties--mostly starting. I called Al and asked for advice,
realizing he might not be able to give
"oh yeah, no problem, that's a Lycoming HIO320 blah blah blah -- I'm
familiar with that engine but, as to the rotor and all that other
helicopter FOO FOO, I'm not interested." Yup, all that
complicated control and propulsion mechanics reduced to "helicopter foo foo."
The name stuck.
Now Tim & I have moved to Florida but the helicopter
remains back in Chicagoland. It's time to bring her home.
If the weather holds, and that's looking iffy, on April 29, Commercial helo pilot Carson Klein
and I will leave the hangar, slurp up one last batch of Naper Aero gas,
and head south. Having two pilots will be more fun, much safer and
Carson gets hours towards his career. A definite win-win. He came
recommended from fellow paramotor (and helicopter) pilot Shane
We need at least 1000 foot overcast and 3 miles along the route and
more in the mountains. Legally it can be much less but I'm really
interested in surviving and this machine has no gyros. Heck, these
machines didn't even install rate of climb indicators in 1969.
Translation: if you get into a cloud, bend over and...you know the rest.
The total flight time comes out to about 12 hours but, given the 85
mph airspeed and 1.65 hour flight time (to legal reserves), options are
limited. I hope to have 10 gallons of avgas in cans if weight and
balance allows. A little liquid just-in-case. We'll only fly during the
day since the consequence of an engine failure at night is like flying
into the clouds.
Fingers crossed for good weather. This will be, by a large margin,
the longest helicopter xc I've ever done but I'm looking forward to the
adventure. Here's hoping it's not *TOO* adventurous!
May 1, 2014 Broken
Lemons to Lemonade.
Perfect weather on May 1 let us cross much of the country. Sunshine,
big hills, and a cool, kinda technical arrival into Atlanta's bizjet hub
made for an exhilarating Thursday. We flew ALL DAY getting to Putnam
Country where Bill let us use their crew car for the night--a Police
Interceptor Crown Vic whose crime fighting days had long past. But were
very thankful to have it.
It was Friday where the most drama came.
Weather promised its own challenge but we actually flew the first leg
in good visibility with high clouds and only light rain. We passed
Valdosta airport to make it into 24J for the promise of cheap gas.
Then Ellie wouldn't start. She cranked for longer than usual and
nothing--didn't even fire. Very unusual. Third time was a charm and it
was lucky, too, because after all the cranking, it fired when I let go
of the starter button. "Ahhh" we thought, time to get underway. Then we
got to the magneto check. Aircraft piston engines have two independent
self-generating ignition systems. You test each of these "magnetos" to
make sure they're running. When I did the left mag the engine tried to
die. Uh oh. A few more checks and it was clear--it was toastado. We were
It's fairly common for pilots to nurse a sick mag home since the
engine runs fine on one albeit at slightly reduced power. But this one
was toast. I *AM* Mr. Double failure so it just wasn't worth it.
We only hover taxied it out of the way and started looking for options.
Someone was emerging from a nearby hangar and I asked him if there
was a mechanic on the field. He said yup, that would be me. What an
absolute gem. Not just for dropping what he was doing to help us but it
turns out he's the Yoda of aircraft maintenance.
Richard nailed the problem before I even explained it. A quick call
to Daryl Oliver, the guru of all things Enstrom, confirmed how to test
the thing. Richard verified his suspicion that the timing gear wasn't
timing and pulled the mag off.
Taking it apart exposed one very smoking gun: a gear tooth dropped
out of the left Magneto. Yup, the timing gear was broken. That may or
may not be the root cause but it certainly needs to get fixed.
He went WAY beyond the call of duty in trying to get us flying
quickly. His son, who was coming over anyway, was able to bring the part
from Jacksonville. The gear is here and he'll replace it tomorrow
morning. He's an engine guru, among other things, and not just a
remove-and-replace guy--he fabricates. A hangar full of major projects
testifies to impassioned competence.
We're now within 3 hours of home so Tim brought up the Enterprise
which is where we are now cooling our heels. Tim Rocks. We had Dinner
with Richard and several of his friends. It was awesome. Lots of good
people here that made getting stuck in Live Oak, FL a surprisingly sweet
experience. Hopefully it will be fixed but, even if it's not, I'll
remember this fondly.
Lemonade out of lemons.
1) Richard removing the suspect mag.
2) Probing. 3) The smoking gun.
May 2: Repair and Last Legs
Turns out, the broken gear tooth was a consequence of the
real problem: a failed condenser (capacitor). This little electronic
device stores up energy so that it can be released suddenly at the
appointed time. A spark is born. It's demise rendered the magneto
Richard figured this out with a 1950's looking tester that
buzzed and lit up in ways that are only decipherable by a Jedi mechanic.
When everything was put back together