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There I Was, Level at 3,000 Feet, Doing 100 Knots
...by Amit Dagan
How many flying stories start like this? Most of them I would think… Some of them have a dogfight scene following, others speak of the beauty of the landscape appreciated by those who fly, but this one is a little different.
In fact it is of very little importance that I was at 3,000 feet, or that I was doing 100 knots. To be quite frank, I wasn’t even flying an RV (that explains the slow 100 knot speed). I was a freshly minted private pilot, doing one of my first cross country flights in a rented C-152. I was on my last leg of three, heading back to the Cessna’s home base, when it started.
The first thing I sensed was a reduction in RPM. Just a slight reduction, maybe 50 RPM, mostly noticeable by the change in the engine sound. The first thought that crossed my mind was carb ice – read and heard a lot about it, but never experienced it myself. Almost proud of myself, I pulled on the carb heat knob, and waited for the RPM to go back up – but nothing.
I tried a different mixture setting, but again – nothing. At this point I was about 15 minutes from the airport, and since the situation did not seem to get any worse (albeit not getting any better), I decided to continue, with the plan being to let the tower know that I will be making a precautionary landing because of partial power failure.
As I was getting closer and closer to the airport, the RPM kept falling. By the time I was in the pattern, I had the throttle all the way in, but the power was much less of what I would expect at this position.
I landed uneventfully and taxied to the tie down spot.
As I got out of the plane to take a look at the engine, I saw a streak of oil coming out between the cowl and the fuselage. I checked the dipstick, and sure enough I was two quarts low. I had a full reading when I took off 30 minutes earlier.
I had two thoughts simultaneously:
1. It was never carb ice – it was some kind of oil leak.
2. How much longer could I have flown like this?!
Obviously I wouldn’t take off on my last leg of the cross country flight if I had known I had a serious oil leak.
In the end the cause of the oil leak is not an important part of this story. What is important is the rule I came up with for the future of my flying days:
If at any point in the air, I have a situation where I would not be taking off if I were still on the ground; I land as soon as possible.
Simple, straight forward, no ifs and buts. I passed over a perfectly good airport on my way to home base in my C-152 flight, but a combination of get-home-itis and a belief that the situation was not deteriorating kept me going.
If I had a strange drop of RPM while on the ramp before takeoff – I would not take off. According to my rule, I should have landed ASAP.
I have been following this rule ever since, not taking off before I have a good explanation of anything out of the ordinary, and landing ASAP if I have a condition that would make me not take off if I were still on the ground.