"Continuing the Legacy of my great friend, Captain John Billings"
Angel Flight January 10th, 2020…Rough engine at 8000 feet
Our mission for this flight was to depart home base Luray and fly over the Blue Ridge on a very short flight to Charlottesville Va, to pick up our passenger Lee… from there, we would fly Lee back home to Tazewell Va and then return home (we had flown Lee to Charlottesville on the 6th).
So, at around 0900 we were rolling down runway 22, heading up towards an overcast sky with cloud bases around 3600 feet. The surface winds were very little, but we knew that as we climbed they would increase considerably, flowing from the south-southwest. This put the winds more up along the ridges instead of over them, causing anticipated turbulence as we crossed over the Blue Ridge. We stayed right beneath the overcast as we crossed VFR over the mountains, and to no surprise, the turbulence was as expected. Shortly after crossing the Blue Ridge, we had clearance from Charlottesville tower to land, following a regional jet (total flight time just slightly over 20 minutes).
Lee was in the FBO ready to go, so after our greetings, we loaded up ready to head to Tazewell. We informed Lee of our weather conditions today, letting him know that the only issue, for the most part, was going to be our slow ground speed due to strong headwinds we would have at our cruise altitude of 8000 feet… the ride itself, at that altitude, would be fairly smooth… not anything like we had on our short flight over.
After getting our clearance to Tazewell, we departed Charlottesville making a right turn towards the southwest as we climbed up thru the cloud layers heading to 8000 feet. Today, ice was not a problem due to very warm air flooding into the area from the south… this caused our outside air temps to rise as we climbed instead of lower. As expected, our ride became much smoother as we neared 8000. As we leveled off between cloud layers, the ride was very good with only a slight bit of wave action, with a headwind ranging between 50 and 60 knots, this made our ground speed average around a very slow 80 knots! This would make for about a 2 plus hour flight to Tazewell if the present wind conditions persisted… but, we would not find that out… because unknowing to us at the time, our flight plan would soon change considerably!
Not long after leveling off at 8000 feet, and just over the Blue Ridge, our engine started to run a little rough and it quickly became more noticeable. We quickly assessed the situation and found that our left mag had decided to take the rest of the day off. For those that may not know, our piston-driven engine has 4 cylinders, each having 2 spark plugs… each plug operates independently of the other for redundancy (safety backup)… so that is the reason we have 2 magnetos… so that if one fails, the engine can still operate. The engine normally operates with both mags, and before each flight, we do a mag check. So when we found that our left mag had quit, we turned our switch to the right one and left it there, allowing our engine to run very smoothly. Now we focused on our diversion, knowing that we would not choose to continue to Tazewell, where we would be over rough terrain and very few airports with service (49Bravo would continue running on one mag, but that would eliminate any backup if needed) So, from our present position the decision was easy… it would be Shenandoah Valley Regional at Weyers Cave Va, which was about 30 miles around towards the northeast. We are very familiar with KSHD and have had 49Bravo serviced there before… plus, it is not all that far from our home base, Luray. We alerted ATC to our situation and they quickly responded by clearing us for vectors for the ILS to runway 5 (we needed an instrument approach to get down thru the cloud layer that we were flying above), they also emphasized to let them know if we needed anything else at all on the way in. Our approach and landing into KSHD were uneventful, and we notified unicom of our need to taxi over to the service hangers after exiting the runway. I must say, that during all of this, there was never any immediate danger… and our passenger, Lee, remained completely calm as we explained to him what had happened and what we needed to do.
Now, after on the ground safely, our focus turned to getting Lee home… so we decided to check with our Airport Manager (Kenny Painter) to see if it would be possible for him to fly to KSHD and continue Lee on to Tazewell (Kenny is also an Angel Flight Pilot) So John called Kenny and filled him in, at which time he told us to stand by and he would check to see if he could work out something and let us know. Soon, Kenny called back and informed us that he and another fellow pilot (Jeff Pence) could come in Jeff’s Cessna 421 and continue Lee home… that was great news! Soon Kenny and Jeff arrived and we said our goodbyes to Lee along with thanking Kenny and Jeff very much for saving the mission… we also told Lee, that after flying in Jeff’s twin-engine 421 that he would be spoiled and may never want to fly with us again… he assured us that would never be the case and that he would be proud to fly with us anytime again!
So to finish this story fairly quickly, it was determined by Classic Aviation that even though our left mag had quit… it was not the mag itself causing the problem, it was the switch that selects one or both and starts the engine, a problem that they had seen before and the answer was to order a rebuild kit for it. So my wife, Sharon, came and picked us up and we had to travel up Interstate 81 in a car… talking about dangerous!
The day ended with Lee making it home safely back to Tazewell (thanks to Kenny Painter and Jeff Pence) and 49Bravo had her needs seen to (thanks to Classic Aviation for working us in so quickly)… and John and I made it safely back home, even though it was by road (thanks to my wife Sharon). We will be returning back to KSHD (by car) when Classic Aviation calls to let us know shes ready… then we will fly her back to her cozy hanger at home base Luray!
Thank you so much for following our flights… have a great day!
Giving 49Bravo a little heat on a cold morning so that she can have a comfortable start!
Departing home base Luray
Crossing the Blue Ridge in some moderate turbulence as we head over to Charlottesville
Crossing the snow-covered Blue RIdge
Over the Blue Ridge heading to Charlottesville Va
Looking south as we cross over the Blue Ridge heading to Tazewell Virginia… at this point our headwinds were between 50 and 60 knots!
looking out to the north as we cross over the Blue Ridge at 8000 feet… this was taken just before our left magneto failed.
Dave, from Classis Aviation at Shenandoah Valley Regional checking out 49Bravo
Here we are with Lee at Shenandoah Valley Regional, after diverting from our flight to Tazewell… Our Airport Manager from home base Luray, Kenny Painter and another fellow pilot, Jeff Pence, are on their way to continue Lee home.