For the second year running, I looked forward to retrieving my young pilot friend Tyler Allen from Window Rock for summer music camp in Flagstaff. The night before, I heard from another young pilot, Zack Morris, who’d earned his private certificate just a week earlier. Zack hoped to hitch a ride to Show Low to work at a camp for the disabled.
“Sure wish I could fly there myself tomorrow,” he said, “but obviously I can’t park a rental plane there for two months.” Without my help his parents would drive seven hours to drop him off.
I explained to Zack that I’d gladly take him if I wasn’t already committed to picking up Tyler. Show Low, Window Rock, and Flagstaff are all about 100 miles apart. Given Tyler’s be-there-by-noon-or-else check-in time, there was hardly time to make both stops. Besides, with all three airports between 6400 and 7000 feet elevation, I preferred to complete the trip in the cool early morning to minimize density-altitude effects. But it pained me, telling another pilot to drive.
Then I had an idea; I asked my buddy Mark Harris to consider flying Zack to Show Low while I picked up Tyler from Window Rock. Mark happily consented.
Driving to Flagstaff Airport Sunday morning, I was delayed when the airport security gate wouldn’t close behind me. Fortunately I reached someone in airport operations to secure it, but now I was now running a little behind schedule.
Briskly, I preflighted the Flying Carpet. At the runway I leaned the engine for density altitude, and then started engine checks. The right magneto yielded a minor drop. But the left mag coughed and backfired. I straightened in my seat. Leaning the mixture for a few moments under power should cure the problem… but it didn’t. Following a second failed attempt, I recognized this was one of those times when safe piloting means not taking off. But now I had a problem…
Read Greg’s entire Flying Carpet column about this adventure, “Sage Advice.” (Please allow a moment for the article to load.)
©2013 Gregory N.Brown (This column first appeared in the September, 2013 AOPA Flight Training magazine.)