Say Souls on Board

Remember what they say?  “A superior pilot uses his superior judgment to avoid situations which require the use of his superior skill”.  I believe it was astronaut Frank Borman who said this.  Fortunately, I didn’t need any superior skill the other day.  But I learned a lesson.

I took off from Morristown last Sunday night in 57T with three passengers on board.  Almost immediately after take off I noticed that the exhaust gas temperature (EGT) indication for cylinder number 6 was pegged high.  I hadn’t noticed that during the run up, or maybe I just wasn’t paying attention.  I throttled back to 20” of manifold pressure; the indication remained high.  The cylinder head temperature (CHT) was normal and I took that as a sign that it was most likely the probe that had failed, but I decided to return to the airport just in case.

I called the tower.

Morristown Tower, Skylane 4757T wants to return to the field, we have an abnormal engine indication.”

“57T, you’re cleared to land any runway, I’m dispatching the fire truck, say souls on board and hours of fuel.”

“Four on board, five hours of fuel, we’re landing Runway 31, engine’s running normally, 57T.”

 The landing was fairly normal (S-turns on final to lose altitude), and I taxied back to the West Tie Down.  The fire truck showed up after we had pushed back the plane.  The fireman (there was only one, but it was a big one) very sensibly brought out an infrared thermometer and measured the temperature of the cylinders.  Good idea.  You don’t want a fire after you’ve tied up the aircraft and gone home.  All cylinders were in the neighborhood of 200°F.

As I suspected, it turned out to be a faulty sensor.  The thing that started me thinking, however, is how sloppy I flew after I had noticed the EGT gauge.  My eyes were in the cockpit, I wasn’t really watching my airspeed, I wasn’t looking for traffic, I had continued to fly away from the airport for a while, I was just far too absorbed by that one gauge.  I like to think – and I’m sure we all do – that I can handle an emergency when it comes.  Strangely enough, when simulated emergencies occur during training, BFRs, etc., I handle them with aplomb – well, that is to say, I’m not panicked at all.  But when the real thing happens, or when, just for a moment, you fear it might happen, all composure goes out the window.

Well, at least my passengers enjoyed it.  I explained that I had one cylinder indicating too hot and that we could almost certainly continue our flight, but that precaution dictated we land: better safe than sorry.  They all wanted to try again the moment the airplane was back in service.  I must have done something right.


September 2007, Sape Mullender