Putting the Hammer Down

David Hirt

David Hirt

PORT CLINTON — I’ve been to the Oshkosh Airventure Fly-In before, but never had the chance to actually fly there, so when my friend John asked if I’d like to go in his airplane, I told my wife to clear the calendar, because I’d be gone for a few days with the guys.

Lift off was set for Sunday morning just after early church, and I could hardly wait.  I got to the airport that morning about the same time as John.  We threw our gear in the nose of his Duke (a twin-engine Beechcraft), and locked the cabin door.  We were ready to launch!  But the port side engine was not. In spite of John’s efforts, the engine failed to start.

We were not going to fly there on one engine, we needed a plan B.

A starter problem was diagnosed. Not being able to kick start a 200 horsepower Lycoming, and knowing full well that we were not going to fly there on one engine, we needed a plan B.

John and I had a certain amount of experience with machines, so we applied a little mechanical excitation to the starter with a hammer, and about 90 minutes later, finally managed to have both engines running. We were once again ready for lift off, but by now it was pushing noon and there were still 500 miles between Airventure and us. I was not thrilled about the possibility of having to set up an Oshkosh campsite at night by flashlight.

With both engines purring, John was smiling as we took off. The wheels were up and the autopilot was engaged.  I expected us to take up our heading to the northwest and settle in for a smooth flight, except I notice the compass say we were going EAST!

I questioned this.  “Oh, were going to Akron first to pick up a couple of friends,” John said.  Akron! I thought to myself, is 120 miles in the wrong direction.  It was already the afternoon now! I’d need two flashlights to be able to see to put the tent up.  All I could think about was the 8 hour-long drive I had made to Oshkosh in years past — and that didn’t include a side trip to Akron first.

Our landing destination in Wisconsin would be Fon Du Lac Airport, 20 miles south of Oshkosh, so we’d also likely need a late-night taxicab as well. I was beginning to wonder if I’ve let my love of aviation interfere with my good sense, reason and logic.

At Akron airport, we picked up Bob to ride in the co-pilot’s seat and Charlie to ride in the back seat with me.  After a cordial visit with John’s friends and their wives (about another 30 minutes), more baggage was put in the nose of the Duke and we were off like a herd of turtles.

I wondered if they fix jets the same way?

Well almost.  We could go as soon as we got the port engine started again. It turned out Charlie is a retired USAF jet mechanic, so at least there was some comfort knowing that we’d be able to get home. I’ll be darned if he didn’t pull out a handy-dandy, all-purpose pocketknife to rap on the starter again — and it worked!  I wondered if they fix jets the same way?

Oshkosh Airventure (SOURCE: EAA, Steve Schulte)

Oshkosh Airventure (SOURCE: EAA, Steve Schulte)

We were airborne at last, and headed in the right direction.  “Hey John, are we there yet?” I asked.  John said, “No, but we will be in about an hour and 55 minutes.”  In my anxiety, I had forgotten how fast this airplane flies.  Two hundred miles per hour and straight across Lake Michigan will have us arriving well before dark — not to mention the extra hour we pick up from the change in time zones.  Now I could relax and put away the flashlights.  This was going to work!  I love to fly!

Airventure was terrific as always, and the flight home was even better. It was hotter than Billy H outside when we loaded the nose of the Duke again and this time both engines started flawlessly!  “Tower this is Duke echo delta ready to taxi, IFR departure.”  The air traffic controller replies, “Traffic is jammed up at present, expect 30-45 minutes until we can clear you for IFR.  You may as well shut down the engines and standby.”

John turned around to look at us, smiled and didn’t say a thing.  We all know that there ain’t no dang way the left engine was ever going to be shut down now that it was running. And, the air conditioner operates from the right engine.  So we sat on the ramp and spent the price of a new starter in aviation fuel as we comfortably waited with both engines running.  Can’t wait ‘till next year!

David Hirt is a U.S. Navy veteran who served on an ammunition ship in the Vietnam war and also aboard a Hawaii-based nuclear submarine. He writes from Danbury Township, Ohio and is a frequent contributor to Our Reader’s Write and Tale Feathers.  He has never crashed an airplane, but is working with EAA Chapter 1247 to restore an Old Tin Goose.

Copyright © 2008 Grass roots. Blue Sky. Stories That Fly.

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