Misadventures of a C-172 Flight
As a starving flight instructor working my tail off to make ends meet, I did some ‘interesting’ flying.
(Editors note: no specific dates, locations, or names are used in this story to protect me from any bad-guys that were on the receiving end of this operation)
A flight that stands out is a trip to a nearby big city and back. Normal ops, except this was a dual-purpose mission. One of my students was a local deputy on loan to the DEA as an undercover agent. So some of our lessons were done with ‘alternative plans’ in mind. In this case, we needed to do a cross-country flight for his PPL so he coordinated going to the city to pick up some ‘items’ from the D.E.A office for a little sting operation – cool! I’m like a drug interdiction pilot!
We flew up and it was a nice day, but hot. We shut down and loaded the ‘items’ on board and jumped back into the C-172. This particular airplane is an older model with the 145 hp Continental, not exactly over-powered.
The airport we used was not huge, but no problem for a light airplane. I had flown in and out of there before, but it is buried in the middle of suburbia, so an engine failure would not turn out well.
We lined up for a takeoff to the south. My student was flying from the left seat. The takeoff was sluggish, but not really different than usual on a hot day with this airplane. About 200′ agl we stopped climbing! The throttle and mixture were full forward, airspeed at Vx, nose in the proper pitch attitude, but the VSI was zero. I monitored momentarily and then based on the situation, I told my student, “I have the controls.”
Of course, the airplane doesn’t care who’s flying so the situation didn’t improve. We were hovering over the expanse of houses and buildings at 200′ and running out of ideas. I made the decision to go back to the runway and made a tear drop back in, with the throttle firewall’d.
Turning caused us to sink, but I had just enough altitude to make the runway and due to its short length and the tailwind, I went off the end into the grass overrun with the brakes locked. I was only a few yards off the end and although it was rough, the airplane was unscathed.
(Disclaimer: Turning back to a runway with an engine failure at 200′ will almost certainly never work, remember we still had some power being produced).
I taxied back to the FBO with the engine running fine, in fact it didn’t seem to falter the whole flight in spite of our lack of thrust.
I called my boss, who owned the airplane, and he dispatched to the scene in his Cessna 210. We looked the 172 over top-to-bottom and couldn’t find anything wrong with it. We did several runups and it made normal static RPM each time.
I flew back to base with my student in the C-210 and my boss carefully ferried the C-172 home without further issue. The airplane was turned over to maintenance.
I started questioning what had occurred. Was I imagining things? Did I do something wrong to cause this? Did my student do something wrong that I didn’t recognize? It is hard not to be introspective when you narrowly avert an accident and no one can explain what happened.
My dad was one of the mechanics at the FBO at the time and he made the discovery. He removed the fuel line going into the carburetor and the screen that lead into the carb was full of red lint! Seems a red rag was inside the right fuel tank, probably from years ago. That rag was slowly decaying and being trapped by the screen. This lint would have lowered the fuel flow going into the carb, especially in a climb on a hot day with a gravity fed system.
I was relieved, to say the least.
And yes, they did bust the bad-guys.
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