By John House
Over my 50+ year flying career, I’ve had the opportunity to perform many ferry flights. Most of the flights have been in “Wichita Tin” but with a few obscure brands thrown in for good measure. Anyone heard of a Funk? In the old days, things were simpler in some ways and more complex in others. While I would never fly a ferry flight in IMC or at night, it sure helped that radio stacks were pretty much the same no matter the aircraft. If you knew how to operate King avionics then you knew how to operate Narco, Bendix, Collins, ARC, etc.
That was a good thing because there were a few instances when the first time I had ever sat in a particular model was when I arrived to make a delivery. Back before Al Gore invented the internet, it was more difficult to get a copy of an airplane’s POH. While today you can use Google to find scads of info, in the good ole’ days I had to scurry about to get paper copies.
It was rare indeed to have someone mail the AFM to me because they’re a pain to replace. Many times, I had to have the owner/broker fax copies of the standard procedures as well as emergency procedures along with fuel and electrical system configurations.
In addition, I required the owner or broker to send me copies of logbooks. The aircraft must be in annual and all AD’s complied with. Additionally, I want to meet with a mechanic at the aircraft to perform a looksee under my watchful eye before leaping into the sky.
I never deviated from my requirements – until I did.
Remember the old saying about never hiring friends or family? Well the same sage advice should apply to ferrying airplanes for friends or family. Recently, I was asked by a good friend to pick up a 1959 Cessna 175 that he was buying in Minneapolis. To protect the identity of the guilty, I’ll call my friend Kevin.
Kevin said it was a great airplane. It had a fresh annual, no outstanding AD’s, and a recent engine overhaul. I told him what my requirements were, and he gave me the number for the current owner, I’ll call him Dale, to go over the details and make arrangements.
I phoned Dale and we spoke at length about the airplane. I told him I wanted copies of the logbooks and when I arrived, I wanted a mechanic there to do a compression test. I also told Dale I wanted to fly the aircraft in the local area before departing for the nearly 2,000-mile flight. He said none of that was a problem. He expounded on the wonders of the aircraft and its condition and equipment. Of course, it was the best looking, best flying, best equipped C-175 in all Ramsey County!
Dale’s spiel reminded me of a Cessna 414 I went to pick up from a broker in Oklahoma. He promised the twin Cessna “was the new definition of clean.” He got that right. What a pig! It would certainly be a “new” definition. It sure didn’t look airworthy; the logbooks were incomplete and appeared to be doctored. I asked the broker if he had any P-51 time. He gave me a blank stare and said no. In addition to being the most beautiful aircraft ever made, a P-51 was also a fountain pen made by the Parker Pen Company – the Parker 51. Many a pilot and/or mechanic has been accused of having a lot of P-51 entries in logbooks. That was when I instituted my hard and fast requirements for logbooks and invoices. I flew commercial back home.
I searched my library of POH’s and came up empty for a C-175. Luckily, I knew who would have one. Our very own Jim Hughes! I spoke with Jim and he agreed to loan me his copy for his airplane. I wanted to make sure I reviewed the manual for engine operation due to its peculiar operation.
The Cessna 175 is a different bird than most other single engine aircraft. It has a geared engine swinging a large propeller (relatively). The aircraft was built between 1958 and 1962 and was designed to fit between the 172 and the 182 in the Cessna product line. It used the Continental GO-300 and I don’t know of any other aircraft using that engine except maybe a Goodyear Blimp. I’ve never flown one of those.
Most GA aircraft engines are direct drive and until the proliferation of Rotax, the most common gear-reduction aircraft engines were derived from automobile engines. In the C-175, you run the engine RPM up to 3,200 while the 80” propeller beats the air at 2,400. Makes for a very distinctive sound. I can always tell when Jim departs Lincoln. For cruise flight, you set the power back to 2,900. Operating at an otherwise “normal” power setting runs the risk of harmonic vibration that would significantly decrease engine life.
Another quirk of the aircraft is the fuel system. The aircraft holds 52 gallons but only 43 are usable. The last 9 gallons are available (probably) in straight and level, but I wouldn’t want to count on it if maneuvering. As I planned various routes back to California, I kept each leg about 3-3.5 hours. With a fuel burn of 11 gph that should leave an hour legal reserve. I still needed to determine the actual fuel and oil burn before heading into the vast open spaces between airports and over both the Rockies and the Sierras. Not having oxygen on board will also impact my route because at my age, I limit my altitude to 10,000 feet for any extended period.
I kept an eye on the weather and when it looked like there was a window about a week out, I bought my airline tickets to Minneapolis. I spent time once again going over various routes with weather, fuel burn, and bladder capacity in mind. With bags packed with clothes, tools, survival gear, charts, electronics and more, I was ready. I called Dale and told him when I would arrive and made sure I would be met at the Minneapolis airport (KMSP). I wanted to go directly to Anoka County-Blaine airport (KANE) to meet with the mechanic to go over the airplane then take it up for a short test flight. All appeared to be in order.
I arrived at KMSP and I was not greeted by Dale but rather a text message stating I should take an Uber to my hotel. He was running late and he would pick me up there. Grrrr. I got to the hotel and waited and waited and waited. He finally showed up at 6:41. I’m not sure why I remember the exact time. As I got in the car for the ride to the airport, I asked if a mechanic would be meeting us there. He said he was sorry, but everyone had gone home. Grrrrrr (note the extra r’s!)
We got to KANE and the aircraft was in a long row hangar. As we slid the doors open, it revealed a dark cavern that held eight or so airplanes wing tip to wing tip on a mud and gravel floor. It was hard to see anything inside as there were no lights. Dale had put plywood down so the aircraft could be rolled in and out of the hangar and not buried in the mud. We rolled it out and into the dull grey light. Did I mention it was overcast, 54° and windy? I didn’t think so. I had not brought my tools to the airport because I thought a mechanic was meeting us. All I could do was a cursory look inside the wings and empennage along with a gander under the cowl through the oil access door.
In the baggage area were a couple engine cylinders and a half case of oil. Since it looked like there were no cylinders missing under the cowl, I asked if those were spares. He said they were taken off the engine at overhaul and he put them in there for ballast. Hmmm, I’d rather put in a case of water. In the event of an “off-airport” landing, at least I’d have something to drink.
The panel was a mix of old and older. I’m sure everything worked great during the Carter administration. But now? Not so much. Dale indicated the #1 com was intermittent but the #2 was okay. The #1 nav worked but not the glideslope or localizer and the #2 nav was dead. The CHT only displayed 2 cylinders at a time with a 3-position knob to move from one pair to the next. “You have to wiggle the selector switch sometimes to get it to work.” Dale also pointed out he installed a combination oil pressure/temp gauge below the pilot’s yoke so disregard the two gauges on the panel placarded as “INOP.”
I looked around the interior and paid particular attention to the seat rails to see if the stops were installed. I didn’t see one on the pilot’s seat. It’s not unknown for some owners that are “bringing a lot to the party” to remove the stops so they can get in the seat. They make sure they’re in for the annual but take them back out. I didn’t see them on the rails. I asked Dale about it and he mumbled something about them being there before the annual. He dug around and found one in a jar of screws.
As I looked the aircraft over, I was thinking about what Dale had said over the phone on our initial chat. “Best looking, best equipped and best flying 175 in Ramsey County!” I thought we were in Anoka County. Hmmm.
We climbed in and I went through the start-up procedures. It fired right up but ran rough. Although it was dusk, I think the engine had morning sickness. Dale commented that it sometimes does that when you first fire it up. He grabbed the mixture control and leaned it until it nearly died then enriched it a skosh. It seemed to smooth out and after contacting ground control we got our clearance to taxi to runway 27. Off we went into the fading light. KANE underlies the Class B airspace of KMSP so we didn’t get above 2,000. The airplane flew fine but with darkness closing in it was not much of a flight.
We landed and taxied to Lynx FBO to top it off before putting it back in the hangar. I wanted an early start in the morning.
Dale committed to be at my hotel at 5:00 am for a 6:00 am departure the following day. I called Kevin and gave him my thoughts about the airplane. At that point, Kevin had already purchased the airplane and was anxious to get it back to California.
There was no going back. I checked the weather again before turning in and as fate would have it, the forecast changed significantly from the day before. I felt a bit uneasy about the airplane but elected to press on. I wonder how many other pilots felt uneasy about an airplane but elected to press on anyway to become the subject of an NTSB investigation?
I slept fitfully and got up at about 3:30. My circadian rhythm was obviously off with the lack of sleep and the two-hour time change. I checked the weather and it had gotten worse enroute. I needed to change my preferred southern route to a northern track. There would have been a lot more options proceeding south but snow was forecast and I wanted to stay away from that.
I filed for Anoka County, MN (KANE) to Mobridge, SD (KMBG) for the first leg. It’s about 375 miles and would give me a good read on fuel and oil consumption. From there I would go to Sheridan County, WY (KSHR) which is a little a bit under 300 miles but nearly the entire flight would be through the Powder River MOA which would be hot. I would have to skirt south toward Rapid City then fly northwest to Sheridan. From there I would head to Idaho Falls and call it a day.
Dale arrived on time and off to the airport we went. We rolled the airplane out of the hangar just as the sun was coming up – sort of. It was overcast with lite winds out of the east at about 6 knots and mid-40’s temps. I loaded up my gear, did a preflight, put on my survival vest and climbed in. I pushed in the mixture, gave it a couple squirts of prime, grabbed the huge white knob on the throttle and pulled the starter. It roared to life but with the same roughness as the day before. I leaned it out.
To be continued in the November newsletter…