Thursday, December 9, 2010

Surprises on the way home

The trip home was slightly different than my usual IFR trip.  An instructor I had long ago told me to avoid flying "the same hour" repeatedly.  Since then, I have tried to take that advice to heart.  I had flown the majority of this route before.  So this time I planned to do it a little differently (entirely VFR).  The plan was to go from TX to Gulfport, which I have heard is a "scenic" fuel stop then directly to Tampa.  The planned route was quite simple:

What I wasn't planning for, was the drama along the way.  The first leg was uneventful.  The skies were clear and the airspace was "empty" compared to the east coast congestion that I am accustomed to.  As I crossed the Mississippi River, I witnessed some great sights.  The Mississippi River looks like a fairly straight line on a map.  But in reality from 11500 FT, you can truly appreciate all of the twists and turns along the way.  The picture below is around Natchez, MS

As I got closer to Gulfport, the winds seemed to be favoring runway 32 or 36.  But the GPS approach to runway 36 seemed to call my name!  The majority of the approach path was over water, which I thought would make it very scenic.  In addition, I was really enjoying the ATC service in Louisiana.  The controllers were very accommodating in their southern drawl and approved every request I made.  (Even when I asked to fly some "funny routes" just to get some pix.)
When I eventually got onto the final approach course, the winds were very gusty and I was forced to make MANY power adjustments just to maintain a suitable airspeed.  Luckily, the airport was not busy at all.  In fact, I was the ONLY plane in the pattern and it felt like the tower controller was happy to have something to do.  When I landed, I realized that the main FBO was operating out of a temporary trailer because some hurricane had damaged the main hanger/terminal building.  Even though the facilities were spartan, the staff was wonderful!  They were putting up Xmas decorations and everyone just seemed so cheerful... After some food/fuel, it was time to move on.  The VFR theme continued on the next leg.

My original plan was to climb to 17.5k.  But then the surprises kicked in.  When I reached ~ 9500 FT, I noticed a strange anomaly on the engine page of the R9. Normally, when in cruise, the Manifold Pressure (MAP) should be ~ 26" and % Power should be ~ 75%.  On this flight, I got very concerned when I saw the following:

At first, I thought OMG!!  I was getting ready to pull up emergency checklists on the screen ... But then I told myself "Calm Down... Breathe... Time to figure this out!"  I stared at the gauges some more and realized that while MAP was fluctuating wildly, RPM, Fuel Flow and the general sound/feel of the engine all seemed normal.

The % Power was also fluctuating.  But that is one of those contrived glass panel indicators that is calculated from the manifold pressure and RPM and perhaps other things.  So I was NOT worried about % power at all.  I told myself that manifold pressure was the MAIN area of concern and monitored that VERY closely. 

Given the engine anomalies, I also decided I should fly along the coast instead of over the gulf.  I think I checked the "Nearest Airport" screen every few minutes to keep my options fresh in my mind.  I flew over Panama City, then the usual HEVVN intersection and then direct destination.

Other than disrupting my normally peaceful, music filled journey, everything turned out to be fine.  When I landed, I parked the plane directly in front of the maintenance hanger and talked to my buddies @ Leading Edge.  It turned out to be nothing serious... Just a sensor.  (I was very relieved!)

So in the end, I did NOT really have an emergency or incident ; But I did get to a bit of a scare and an excuse to contemplate how I would handle a real emergency.

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