Thursday, December 22, 2011

Life's Little Annoyances

It's been one of those weeks.

On Monday morning, I got to Potomac Airfield (KVKX) early – before 6:00 AM local time. The temperature was 28ºF, so I immediately plugged in the Tanis pre-heat system and the quartz heater for the cabin. An hour of that and I'd be on my way.

A few minutes before 0700 I collected my clearance then disconnected the heaters and pulled N631S out of the hangar. And after a bit more housekeeping, got on with the starting program. And achieved no success at all. The voltage readout said 10.4v and the propeller said, "I don't think so."

I called Potomac Approach's Mt. Vernon Sector to let them know I would not be popping up on their scope when expected, and then I called Dan Fragassi at Clinton Aero Maintenance and asked if he would kindly drive over from Hyde Field with a spare battery and a Cessna jumper cable to get me started. Dan said, "Be right there," and thirty minutes later, there he was. Another five minutes and N631S was started and underway.

The good news of the morning was that there was a spanking tailwind yielding ground speeds of about 160 knots as I headed north. Soon N631S and I were over New Jersey and talking to Atlantic City Approach. Soon after checking on with A.C. Approach I heard, "Cessna 631 Sierra, turn 20º left, this will be a vector to Coyle." Cool! A shortcut! I clicked off the S-TEC GPSS module that was allowing the Garmin 530W to control the S-TEC System 50 autopilot – leaving the autopilot in Heading mode – and rolled the heading bug to the left.

Soon, the controller issued "direct Coyle" and I made the necessary key-presses on the 530W and clicked the switch to turn on the GPSS function. And for the second time that morning, the machine said, "I don't think so." No joy – the switch was ineffective.

I completed the trip using manual control of the autopilot in heading mode, and hoping that this wasn't a case of things coming in threes. Two failures in one day were sufficient. On arrival at Sikorsky Memorial (KBDR), after N631S was covered and tied down, I asked Three Wing maintenance to have a look at the battery and at the GPSS switch.

When I checked back with them early on Wednesday morning the news was not wonderful. '31S's battery was not happy. The battery is a Gill G-35 flooded electrode unit (see left) a bit more than two years old. I was told that it seemed to charge satisfactorily but that the electrolyte was discolored and they were concerned about the condition of the electrodes. I fly enough at night in the winter that I don't want to take chances with the condition of the battery so I asked them to install a new one. Hey, it's only money.

The situation with the GPSS switch was more interesting. Dave, the avionics tech, had verified that the switch had failed but they were having difficulty sourcing a new one. I asked for the part number and then queried the collective intelligence of the Cessna Pilots Association on-line forum about finding a switch.

I quickly learned that a new switch (the widget on top in the picture at left) would be available directly from S-TEC for a mere (gasp!) $957.00. That's a little extreme, so I've decided that I'll placard the GPSS as "inop" for a while and see how I like getting along without it.

Subsequently, I've been informed that S-TEC can repair the switches for about $350 (if it isn't completely fried) and I suspect that I'll probably take advantage of that while N631S is down for its annual inspection next spring.

And meanwhile, the weather for this week's trip south looks a bit iffy. As I type this, it's Thursday evening and the Terminal Area Forecast for KBDR looks like this:

KBDR 222330Z 2300/2324 VRB04KT P6SM FEW030 SCT050 BKN150 
     FM230300 08006KT P6SM SCT025 BKN040 OVC080 
     FM230600 06008KT 6SM -SHRA BR FEW007 BKN020 OVC040 
     FM230800 03010KT 3SM RA BR OVC006 
     TEMPO 2308/2311 1SM RA BR OVC004 
     FM231100 01011KT 5SM -RA BR BKN015 BKN030 
     FM231500 35010KT P6SM SCT025 BKN040 
     FM231900 34009KT P6SM FEW025 SCT040
According to this, for tomorrow afternoon I should expect good visibility, a few clouds at 2,500 feet and a scattered layer at 4,000 feet. Conditions to the south are forecast to be a bit better. That's flyable, even with cold temperatures aloft, but the forecast is dependent on some fairly nasty overnight weather clearing out to the east on schedule. Time will tell, and as "Plan B" I have an AMTRAK reservation in my pocket.


Ted Jones said...

Hope you made it home ok yesterday! That replacement switch price is breathtaking.

Frank Van Haste said...


Thanks for stopping by!

Yep, got home in good order. Trying to find the time this busy weekend to write a blog post about the trip, which was interesting in a couple of ways.

And, yes, that sure is one gold-plated widget!

Joy of the Season, and best wishes for a healthy, prosperous and SAFE 2012.