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2011 August 08, Monday

This time the stranded animal in need of rescue was us!


Well, we had our first genuine flight 'failure' on today's flight from Wisconsin down to New Orleans!  But our experience and preparation for emergencies served us well -- and, fate was kind.  With no hint that there was anything wrong with our engine at all, we departed West Bend, WI just after sunrise Monday morning in order to beat some very bad weather going on around and south of St. Louis, MO. We didn't quite beat it though.  And when we tried to climb to 10,000 feet as instructed by Air Traffic Control, Bessie (our faithful plane) didn't climb very well.  But we made it through the bad weather and, since she seemed to be running smoothly, we descended to land at a small rural airport in Yazoo City, Mississippi, where we guessed that fuel might be inexpensive and the stop could be brief.

We taxied to the self-serve fuel at what from the ground now appeared to be an almost abandoned airport,  only to find an "Out Of Order" sign on it!  Not wanting to waste a drop of fuel at this point, we didn't even shut off the engine, but just taxied back to the runway for takeoff.  The engine was rough when we applied power for takeoff! She climbed well enough for the flat terrain around there, and the engine smoothed out on takeoff, so I opted to continue 20 miles to the very next airport, Williams Airport in rural Raymond, MS.  But my brain and senses were on high alert!

We refueled there, but Bessie never fired again.
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The engine cranked, our battery worked like a champ, but there was no spark.  Thankfully, this airport had hangars with airplane mechanics hard at work! We found a very helpful mechanic who let us use some of his tools to check all of our spark plugs, which we cleaned and re-gapped, hoping that the fouling we found had been the cause of the problem.  But no.  Still no spark.  We took a break and wandered over to a hangar in the opposite direction, and there met a mechanic who used to work at our home airport!  A friend in Raymond!  He helped us with a few more tests, and we concluded that the magneto with the impulse coupling (the one of the two magnetos that is used for starting the plane), had died.  We were stranded in Raymond, MS.

We called friends in New Orleans, and later Monday night they rounded up two loaner magnetos and eight brand new spark plugs and flew them up to us! We were at the airport early Tuesday morning to install the new magnetos and plugs, closed her up, said our good-byes and thank-you's and prepared to leave for New Orleans ... and then "CLICK" -- the key turned, but the propeller didn't turn even one millimeter!  No cranking sound.  Nothing!  The battery was fine, so we suspected another problem, unrelated to the failed magneto.  We couldn't find anything obvious, so on a hunch that it was intermittent and since we needed it to work only once to start her up, we decided to close her up and give her a few more tries.  I warned everyone that IF she started, I was not going to turn her off.   We said our good-byes one more time, and I settled in the plane as if this was going to be my takeoff for New Orleans ... YES!   She fired and turned over and started to hum!  Off we went.  Arrived in New Orleans about 1.5 hours later with not another trace of problem.  Parked the plane and ran inside to meet my two old dogs Ford and Tilly, whom I hadn't seen for almost three weeks and who had been waiting for me there with the office staff for the past two days!  Oh that was a happy arrival for many reasons now!

Today, Wednesday, our mechanics and we looked carefully at both magnetos, and discovered with glee that they are still covered under a one-year warranty (by about six days!)!  We'll use the coming days to fully check all of the wiring and electrical systems, as part of the regular inspections and servicing that were already planned for this time anyway.  Bessie has been very well maintained, so it has been pretty easy to isolate problems when they've arisen; and actually, this is the first problem we've had in many hundreds of hours.  But mechanical things do break and wear out, which is why airplanes require regular servicing, maintenance, and rigorous inspections.  And we have learned, yet again, why fuel costs alone are not even half of the cost of flying an airplane safely.  The OWOC Board of Directors has been reminding me of that lately -- they have begun scolding me for saying "Yes, Sure!" too often to some expensive animal rescue flights before we have assurance that we have enough donations to cover what our savings cannot.  So please bear with us if we put out a few of those awful pleas for donations in the next few months.   I hate asking for money, but we can't help the animals without your help.

I have shaken my head several times in gratitude to the Universe that this magneto failure happened in friendly flat Mississippi just a couple of hours from our home base in the Gulf, and not while I was flying alone over the Canadian Rockies a couple of weeks ago!  Not that there was any danger of crash landing, as there wasn't.  But who wants to try to repair an airplane 2000 miles from home in a foreign country!  During this ground time, we'll be continuing work on some  ambitious campaigns we've begun to change some high-kill shelters in California to low-kill and eventually even no-kill animal shelters.   Our next rescue flight will be in early September, when we'll take a pair of big old lost canine boys across the country to reunite them with their desperate owners in the Bay area of California.  And we'll also squeeze in some days here in the Gulf to search for those other big old boys of the sea -- the whale sharks!  Stay tuned for those next rescues and adventures!

But we made some new friends in Raymond, MS!  Michelle Jackson and her friends who run the FBO there -- and their great dog Bear, a local rescue whose life they saved.  He now saves the airport and is one of the best PR features an airport could have!  Of course we gave him an honorary On Wings Of Care bandana! 

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