My Last Piston Twin Trip
My last paying trip in a piston twin was emotional, but not for the reasons you might think.
First I should quantify, at the time I didn’t realize this was to be my last round trip.
I was flying for a great little FBO in my home town. We did everything from flying lessons and rental to aircraft management and pilot service. Although it was a great job, I had my eyes on the airlines. I had applied at various commuters and recently interviewed with a corporate outfit called Executive Jet Aviation so I was hoping to be moving on in the near future.
We had a big trip coming up for one of our biggest customers. It was from Oklahoma up to Montana, stay a day, fly to San Antonio (KSAT), stay two days, and return to Oklahoma.
The trip up to Bozeman was uneventful, in fact 17 yrs later I can’t remember a single detail. I do recall the boredom of hanging out at the hotel on the day off. It was winter in Montana and if you weren’t doing winter sports there was nothing else to do.
The day we took off out of Bozeman headed for San Antonio, it was overcast and cold. The C-421C punched into the cloud deck at about 3000agl. We were loaded so I flew the Obstacle Departure Procedure and climbed in the published hold to get up to the Minimum Safe Altitude for my route southeast bound. Once up at FL190 the clouds persisted so I was still flying IMC. Since I was single pilot I let the autopilot fly in cruise.
Just after we leveled off, the left engine started running really rough. I scanned the engine gauges – no indication of an issue. I fiddled with the throttle and the mixture, no relief.
This isn’t good. I right over Yellowstone National Park with high terrain in an airplane that won’t stay up here on one engine and I’m in the clouds.
After looking for answers from the throttle quadrant, I instinctively went for the mag switches. The 421 has a single toggle switch for each mag so I cycled through them looking to see if I could isolate the problem. Bingo! Turning off one of the mags caused the engine to smooth out! Now I can breathe knowing the source if the problem.
It still ran slightly rough up at altitude on a single mag, but it was worlds better.
Casper, WY was along my route of flight and they had an authorized Cessna repair station so I diverted into there. My passengers went to lunch while the mag was replaced and we were back in the air in no time.
The rest of the flight was totally uneventful.
With two days off in San Antonio, I just milled about.
On the day we were leaving my boss, Jim, flew in with the same company’s C-310Q to take more people back home. I was at the airport when he landed. I met him at the airplane and he handed me FedEx package from Executive Jet. I hastily opened it up; it was my offer letter; I would start training in two weeks. Jim was the first person to congratulate me. It was bittersweet, but we both knew I had to move on.
The next Twin Cessna I would fly would have jet engines on it, but that’s another story for another day.
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