The Saga Of Frank's First Passenger as a Pilot

Just a brief telling of the tale. A friend of mine, Maurice, agreed to getting a tour of the area. I reserved a plane for 5:30pm that day (Friday). After stopping at home to pick up the necessary items, we get to the East Hill Flying Club.

I notice that someone else's name is written on the sign-out chalk board for our plane. In addition, I see the word "GROUNDED" next to the other two trainer planes (at the time of writing this, I'm only checked out to fly Cessna 150 and 152s).

The instructor, Stephen, is out in the hangar, so I ask him what the deal is. The airspeed indicators in the two planes had problems, one didn't register anything, the other was indicating too low a value. In addition, I was signed up as having the plane at 5:00pm, so since I was late, technically I lost my reservation.

However, Stephen was quite nice and understanding and let me take it anyway since it hadn't been my fault. He would do a ground lesson with his student.

So I do the pre-flight inspection, going over some of it with Maurice. He's been in a Piper before and once took a class on avionics, so he's familiar with some of the things. We push it up the ramp, do the "Before Starting Engine" checklist and then the "Pre-Flight" checklist. The mag check is just barely within spec. Later I was told that in hot weather those planes need to have the fuel-mixture leaned to get the proper RPM drop (and I tried it later and that was indeed the case). Otherwise all systems are 'go'

I call up Ground Control, get the taxi clearance, and slowly taxi to runway 32. I'm checking various things as well as occasionally chatting with Maurice. The airport is pretty quiet during this time (between 6-7pm). I get to the end of the runway (Maurice had asked if I would taxi to the end and use the entire 1 mile, to which I had responded that that was the standard procedure) and get the clearance for takeoff. We will be flying west to cruise over Taughannock Falls, and then cruise back and check out the city and Cornell before landing.

I taxi onto the runway, rev the engine up, note the time, check that the engine is showing sufficient RPMs, suction is good, oil temperature and pressure are good ("green green green green") and let it go. We start the takeoff roll.

Generally, I'm looking outside during takeoff, so I can keep the plane aligned with, and on the runway centerline. At the rotation speed, I'll generally look down at the airspeed indicator, double check that we're at the proper speed, (50 kts), and begin the rotation. So I'm steering, we're building speed, I look down and verify that we're at...0 kts.

So I'm steering, we're building speed, I look down and verify that we're at 0 kits. No, I didn't just studder, I did a double take. A couple thoughts immediately go through my mind. First, obviously, the airspeed indicator has failed. Second, I thought THIS was the working plane. Third, options. We're at takeoff speed. I have flown (with an instructor) with a simulated failed airspeed indicator (had it covered). I know the proper nose attitudes to obtain the proper airspeeds and I could liftoff fly the traffic pattern and then land. OR...I could end the flight right now. We're at (and now above) rotation speed, however there's more than half the runway left and we're still happily and safely on the ground.

I pull the throttle to idle. At some point, I may have said "no airspeed indicator" to Maurice. And as I start to apply the brakes, I tell him, "Well, it looks like this flight is going to be a bit briefer than I had planned." As I turn towards the taxiway, I call the tower and request a clearance to taxi to the ramp. The tower grants that and asks if we require assistance (since it's obvious that something went wrong). I tell him no, we've just got a bad airspeed indicator and taxi in.

So now ALL our trainer planes are grounded due to problems with their airspeed indicators. Very curious, indeed. I write up the problem on the "squawk sheet" and Stephen helps us put the plane in the hangar. He says the mechanic should have them fixed before tomorrow (since having no student planes would be bad).

Oddly enough, the mechanic stops by about 5 minutes later. He's got a pretty good idea of the problem. The airspeed indicators are pretty simple, though delicate, things. Other than the indicator itself, it consists of a tube that points into the wind, attached to the wing (called a pitot (pronounced pee-toe) tube) and another place for air to get in that's not pointing into the wind (in theory, it should be stationary, hence it's name of the static port). The device shows the pressure difference between the ram air pressure entering the pitot tube as compared to the static air pressure in the static port. And a common problem is the pitot tube becoming blocked. It can ice up (and some have heaters) however, since the 152s don't fly in the clouds and it's 80 degrees out that's not likely. On the other hand, it's a lovely little place for certain small insects to try to build nests. And that was the problem. He removed the tube, took a thin wire and 'debugged' the tubes. The blockage was very small, but that's all it took. Took about 3 minutes per plane to fix. And then they were back in service.

Since it was still an hour and a half before sunset, we decided to try again. Briefly, things were a lot more successful. Did all the checks again, everything was ok. Had airspeed on the takeoff roll. Climbed and left the area. It was quite hazy. And as we got to the western side of the finger lake, the haze seemed to increase and visibility decrease. I didn't like it, and decided to avoid flying in that area before things got too bad. At this point, I'm not sure if it was a haze, where I would have only been able to see for a few miles or if it was more like a cloud area. I preferred to be conservative. So I called the tower, and requested to do a few circles around the city at 2,500'. There was a pause and the controller sighed (sounded almost reluctant, though perhaps I had interrupted a conversation he was having with someone in the tower...) and said, "Operations in Class D Airspace approved. Say intentions when done," or something to that effect. I said that I would advise of our intentions. I don't know if he meant if I should tell him what I want to do next before I actually do it, or if I should tell him NOW what I intend to do when I'm done. Either way, I would obtain a further clearance before doing something different and he seemed satisfied with my answer.

We circled the city a few times. I tried to bank both to the left and right, so that both of us could see things. I also tried to make sure they were shallow banks, though the air was calm and smooth. I'll need a little more practice as a tour guide. But it was pretty cool.

I then called the tower and requested a landing clearance and was immediately cleared to land. The landing was fairly smooth and we taxied in. So, in a way, Maurice got 1.5 trips, and I got a couple of chances to exercise my decision making. So now, who's next...?

Written by FNA on June 15th, 1996.