I flew forty miles south before I thought I could sneak through a gap between two groups of green dots. The controller consulted his crystal ball/radar and agreed that I stood a remote chance of not dying and wished me luck. I tightened my seat belt, cleaned up all loose objects in the cockpit and turned east into the dark wall of clouds.
The turbulence started immediately and was stronger than I expected, but tolerable, even fun. I was in my element and in control. The clouds got darker and it started to rain hard but the strike finder showed the way clear of lightning. Suddenly, bad things always happen suddenly, I heard a beeping sound coming from somewhere. I turned down my walkman, yes I was listening to music while flying in between two thunderstorms on an IFR flight plan, (don’t judge me, great battles always have a great soundtrack), and tried to figure out what was making that noise.
At first I thought maybe the new GPS I’d duct taped to the glare shield was the source of the beeping but since it was so quiet in the cockpit I could tell it was coming from the instrument panel.
Then it hit me, “why was it quiet? It’s not supposed to be quiet. Shit! The engine’s quit!”
The propeller was wind-milling. A quick check of the magnetos showed they were still on and the mixture was unchanged, I knew I hadn’t bumped anything. A scan of the engine instruments and I spotted the culprit, no fuel pressure! I hit the fuel boost pump and the offending needle might have quivered, but it was hard to tell. I was getting kicked around quite a bit and just keeping the plane on an even keel proved to be quite a challenge.
I slowed my airspeed down to best glide in order to give me more time in between full control inputs to work on the problem. I checked the 90 gallon ferry tank and saw that the valve was still open but the plastic tube sight-gauge showed the tank empty or nearly so. I checked the fuel valve to the almost full wing tanks and that was also still open, what the hell was wrong?
The rain seemed to be getting stronger and the sky darker, I decided it was time to stop screwing around and get pointed toward the nearest airport in case I couldn’t get the engine back. I put the plane into a shallow left bank while I tried to find an airport on the map. This was easier said than done. I was forty miles or more off my original course and while I’d been looking for a break in the storm front to fly through I hadn’t kept real close track of my position over the ground. I started trying to find my position by tuning in the VORs but the severe turbulence made it difficult. It was time to stop screwing around and ask for help.
“Boston Center, November four three six eight Quebec.”
“Go ahead six eight Quebec, Boston center”.
“Boston, six eight Quebec’s lost an engine, request vectors to the nearest airport.” I said trying to sound calm and cool, because that’s how a pilot with the “Right Stuff” handles an emergency situation. Plus sounding calm helped keep me from panicking.
“Roger six eight Quebec, I can give you the nearest airport but the weather is a lot better at Smith Falls, forty five miles west of you.”
Maybe I’d sounded a little too calm. “Boston I lost an engine in a Mooney, and by my count that leaves me with none. I don’t think I can make forty five miles.”
“Ok six eight Quebec, Potsdam airport is ten miles southwest and is reporting nine hundred overcast, can you make that?”
I was still in a continuous left bank going through 16,000 and descending at about 400 feet per minute. I figured I could glide ten miles easily and told center. There was no navigation aid on the field so the controller read off the latitude and longitude coordinates and I copied them on the back of my map. It was difficult to enter the numbers on my GPS while maintaining control of the stricken Mooney. When I hit the “GO TO” button the screen instructed me to fly a westerly heading for 1,434 miles, I would arrive at my destination in ten hours and thirty five minutes. I’d obviously done something wrong and was in no mood to try again. Flying the airplane was taking almost all of my concentration and the turbulence made it difficult to enter the numbers in the GPS.
“Boston, I’m having trouble entering the coordinates on my GPS, could you give me vectors instead please?”
“Roger six eight Quebec, fly heading two four zero, and stand by for corrections.”
Finally pointed toward someplace to land, I turned my attention back to getting the engine going again. The only thing I could think of was to turn the ferry tank valve off and isolate the original fuel system. The mechanic who briefed me on the ferry system in South St. Paul prior to leaving told me that it didn’t matter if I left the valve open after the tank went dry. The only caution he gave me was not to open the valve until I had run some fuel out of the mains to avoid overflow. I turned the valve off and waited, hoping to hear the engine spring to life, but nothing happened. The only sound was the air flowing over the aircraft as it fell through the clouds, and my heart pounding.
Resigned to a dead stick landing, I reviewed the procedures I would use and got ready. The controller, who’d become my new best friend, informed me that I was only three miles from the airport. The ceilings where still around 1,000 feet and the visibility was two miles, not great but not too bad. At least I wouldn’t have to make a low instrument approach to the airport.
I wasn’t looking forward to my third dead stick landing. The first one was really a partial power landing when I lost a piston in a Cessna 182 full of skydivers. The second was in a Piper J3 cub whose engine just stopped when I pulled the throttle back to idle. Both times I was close enough to the airport to make it back and both times I flew a good approach and landed fine. I was worried about this one though. With the poor visibility in the area if I didn’t see the airport as soon as I came out of the clouds I might get too low and come up short. That would definitely spoil my perfect record of not bending airplanes.
To be continued: