Going at it alone…and going to the Convention…

For my first years of flying PA-46’s I “did it alone”…meaning that I pretty much read the manual, flew once with an instructor at annual recurrent, and flew the airplane as I saw fit.  It worked well as long as thing “went well”, but as soon as things did not go well, I was on my own to fix it.  “Going alone” is not the way to operate an advanced airplane.  Let me give a story from my early days of flying the PA-46 that highlights and underscores my point of this post…

It was a beautiful day with clear skies and clam winds.  I took off in the 1989 Mirage and confidently climbed northeast.  As I climbed over Longview, TX (GGG) at 10,000ft MSL, strange signals started occurring.  My manifold pressure began to decrease to a maximum of 30” (I normally have it at 38”-42” for the climbs) and I had a FUEL PRESS Caution light on the panel.  Confused, the combination of these two signals alarmed me.  The FUEL PRESS caution light only illuminates if there is limited fuel pressure after the engine driven fuel pump does its job.  It means that the engine is about to fail due to fuel starvation, possibly due to a fuel leak in the engine compartment.  The limited manifold pressure made me think the worst.  I immediately reduced power and descended for GGG, which was right below me.  Since the weather was great and the visibility super, I had no doubts that I could glide to GGG in case the engine quit, but I did not want to test those pilot skills unless I had to.

Somewhere around 8,000 MSL I dropped the landing gear to hasten my descent.  I was more alarmed to learn that the landing gear did not come down, at least it did not indicate so.  The hydraulic pump came on, but I had no indication at all.  Completely confused, I ended up pulling the emergency gear extension release (just to be sure) and asked GGG’s tower if I could fly by the tower to let them check my gear position.  When I flew by they confirmed that my gear appeared to be down, and I made a landing.  It was an uneventful landing, thank God!

So…what does a pilot do in this situation when he “does it alone”?  Well, I taxied to the maintenance hangar and got the A&P to look under the hood.  He discovered a bundle of wires that had burned in two along the inner firewall.  There were about 20 wires and all of them were burned in two.  Something unusual had happened, but I was not sure what it was.  The A&P spliced all of the wires back together and an ops-check showed everything was normal.

So far, so good…right?  Wrong!  I took off to return back to JSO (as I had already missed my business meeting).  On the flight back home, guess what happened?  The same exact indications!  Grrrr…I was pissed and confused, mostly at my own stupidity.  I landed without further incident, but immediately called the MMOPA maintenance hotline and got Kevin Meade on the phone.  Kevin listened to my description of the problem and within 45 seconds asked me to move to the cockpit and pull on the heater cable.  The heater cable?  Did he listen to my explanation?  This problem had nothing to do with the heater cable!  Or did it…

Sure enough, the heater cable would not budge.  Kevin was onto something and I was in “receive-mode” as I quickly learned how little I knew.  Kevin knew that I had an exhaust leak and that the high temps had not only burned the wire bundle, but had also melted the teflon lining in the nearby heater cable.  The wires had not burned from an internal amperage problem, but because they were in the direct line of a blow-torch from the crossover exhaust tube.  I actually had a really, really dangerous situation for which I should have been thrilled to have survived.  There have been several pilots since who have experienced similar troubles and one Mirage even crashed after the exhaust leak burned through the firewall causing smoke and fumes to enter the cabin.

My point?  When I did it alone, I let a rookie mechanic fumble with my airplane which placed me in truly dangerous position.  Knowledge is power and I had limited power. When I involved others in my problem (Kevin), the solution was discovered quickly and the correct remedy (a $10k new exhaust system) was applied to the situation.

Since this experience, I’ve become a huge promoter of including others in my aviation world.  The PA-46 is just too complex to know everything.  So, now I am careful to put myself into “receive mode” whenever I can.  I read “the forum” on the MMOPA website, I avail myself to the wisdom of those who are most knowledgeable in our PA-46 community (John Mariani, Kevin Meade, Travis Holland, Chad Menne, and others), and attend seminars/conventions whenever possible.  There’s one other idea I have to help you learn from others….

The MMOPA Convention occurs this week (Sept 19-23, 2012 at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs, CO).  I love going to MMOPA conventions because it is a wonderful opportunity to meet and fellowship with others who share our passion for the PA-46 airframe.  All the big names will be in attendance and striking up a conversation about your Malibu is super-easy.  I’ll be there, and I’ll look forward to meeting you.  You can have a “Doing it alone” mentality and still fly the PA-46, but it will cost you more, will be far more frustrating, and you’ll miss out on some wonderful people who are a part of our community.  If you can’t make the convention, then make an upcoming MMSTF or M-Class seminar, or read “the forum”.  Somehow, get involved so you know some of the names and people who can really help.  You’ll be glad you did…

About Joe Casey

ATP, CFI, CFII, MEI, CFI-G Commercial Pilot - SE, ME, Rotorcraft, Glider US Army AH-64 Pilot and UH-60 Instructor Pilot and Instrument Flight Examiner
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