Thursday, September 09, 2004

A Tale of Two Airplanes

At long last, I met with the owner of N1961A and my hired gun, mechanic Bill Wynn, out at the airplane. Bill whipped out his handy air compressor, opened up the panels surrounding the Piper Pacer’s cowl, and went to work inspecting the engine. Tom, the airplane’s owner, disappeared to the airport’s terminal to use their rest room while I sat on the cement floor of the covered tiedown going through the airplane’s logs and its accompanying paperwork. I wandered over and watched Bill pull a couple of spark plugs and knew from the way he was looking at them, something was wrong. So, I asked him what he was seeing, and he explained there was an exhaust leak at the point where the exhaust manifolds attach to the engine.

?That’s what’s causing all the crappy stuff on the spark plugs,? he said. The plugs were dark with a rough skin, as of they had been sitting next to a volcano and had taken on a coat of black ash. It could be just that the gaskets around the heads were leaking and a gasket replacement would fix it. It would also mean there were worse problems, i.e., cracks in the heads or some uneven machining of the heads at the manifolds. There was no way to know until he pulled the heads off, and he didn’t plan on going that far today.

He moved around to the other side of the four cylinder engine and repeated his spark plug pulling task, shaking his head. This side of the engine was leaking, too.

The big ?kaboom? came when he hooked up his air compressor and, working with his son-in-law Robbie who is also an FAA certified Airframe and Powerplant mechanic, checked the engine’s compression. An attachment from the compressor is hooked into the holes in the heads left by the removed spark plugs. The attachment contains a pair of air pressure gauges. As Robbie rotated the propellor in discreet chunks, the pointers on the gauges jump to pressures in direct response to the engine cylinders hitting top dead center, the point of maximum compression within. The gauge readings reflect the engine’s compression which is a direct reading of its efficiency. I knew that good compression on this engine, a Lycoming 0290D, which supposed to be between 70 and 80. I had even seen paperwork that showed after the engine’s overhaul, accomplished about 500 flying hours ago, the compression had been as high as 78 (80 was the highest it could hit). Today, the engine was not doing anywhere near that good.

Bill came over to me immediately and gave me the bad news. The engine needed what was called a ?top overhaul?, a reworking of each of its four cylinders. To do it right would cost between $1000 - $1500 per cylinder. Which meant if I proceeded with buying this airplane, I would be into a possible $6000 expense right off. Just as Bill was telling me this, Tom wandered back from the bathroom.

?Tom, you might want to come over to hear this,? I said. Bill explained again what he had found.

Tom fessed up that the engine’s compression had been falling over the last three annual inspections but had dismissed the problem, in true NASA fashion, as ?known?. The compression had never been as bad as the test today had shown it. I told him I’d still take the airplane if he was willing to come down $6K on the price, but our previous conversations about price led me to believe he wouldn’t do that. I was right. He started immediately talking about trying to fix the problem in December when the airplane’s annual was due and his mechanics told him he could perform a top overhaul for $350 a cylinder. Bill emphasized that with engine work it was really true you got what you paid for. He might be able to get it done for that, but he’d be repeating the process shortly afterward. Tom mumbled something about maybe if I was still interested we could talk then. I told him my wife and I would be moving on to look at another airplane. I felt he was trying to repair the airplane on the cheap and would have no confidence in any repair he made to it. Additionally, the inspection had shown he had an over exaggerated sense of what his airplane was worth; many owners do because of their emotional attachment to the airplane.
I thanked him for letting us look at his airplane, made sure Bill had my address so we could settle up the bill, and left.

I can’t say how disappointed my wife and I are both are, despite the fact I know it was for the best. I’ve spent too much time the last few days looking for another airplane. I ws about to let the whole thing go for now when I stumbled on a Piper Tri-Pacer I like for sale in South Carolina not far from where my sister and a good buddy of mine who is not only a pilot but an ex flight instructor, NASA astronaut instructor, and airplane owner. The Tri-Pacer’s owner has not responded yet to either phone calls or an e-mail, but I am hoping to hear from him. We’ll see. To be honest, the whole experience is eating so much of my time up I am out of balance, and that’s something I need to stop. I’ll chase this airplane for a few more days. If I haven’t made any progress by next week, I’ll reevaluate what I’m going to do.

The Politics of Fear

"Peace has never come from dropping bombs. Real peace comes from enlightenment and educating people to behave more in a divine matter. I do envision a world where water, electricity, food and education would be for free in the next 25 years for everyone on this planet. That's the beginning of dismantling fear, anger and politics and religion. The real evil in this world is politics and religion. Spirituality is the antidote because it is free." – Carlos Santana

I thought it was so interesting when I read the newspaper article containing this quote from Carlos Santana obtained during an interview. The writer had referred to Mr. Santana as an "alien", meaning he was someone not of this world. What a sad statement that is about us as a society and as human beings that he sees it that way. I must be an "alien", too, because not only do I understand those sentiments but agree with them wholeheartedly. But the real key to "dismantling fear" is not to make any material thing free...even food, water, and electricity...but for people to embrace their spirituality and live from it.

The Republican party likes to hold itself out as the party of God. Yet, the display of anger and derision that racked the airwaves during the Republican convention makes me question what god they’re talking about. The Republicans appear to be a party of religiosity and a prime example of why church and state need to be separate.

I know many people who are religious. I know few whom I consider to be spiritual.

When I look at what four years of the Bush administration has brought?war, anger, divisiveness, and suppression of freedom of expression--often through indirect attacks or attacks on character-- I don’t see how the country can sustain four more years of this. But the Bush administration doesn’t want us to see that or anything else, so they’re trying to deflect us by using the politics of fear. That is a very dangerous tactic to use in any free country. History is replete with examples of the worst politicians and dictators doing exactly that same thing, i.e., leading the people to rationalize their power and behavior by convincing them they are keeping them safe. We think we’re oblivious to sliding into dictatorship because we live in America. I bet the Germans thought they were, too. Or how else would Hitler have risen to power? Their denial was so thick they never questioned what he was doing until after their country was both invaded and vanquished and they were living in poverty.

If the Republican party has no claim to stay in office other than they will keep us safe, they deserve to be kicked out. It’s not the government that’s going to keep the country safe but the vigilance and resistance of each American citizen. The government plays a role; but without us, they can do nothing. They seem to have forgotten that.

We have Saddam Hussein (a Bush family personal enemy) but not Osama Bin Laden. Who has killed more Americans? Yes, Al-Quaida is more on the run; but one has to wonder how much more the organization would be wounded, if not fatally so, by the capture of its leader. Our armed forces are spread too thin and our attention diverted from Afghanistan, where it needed to stay, to Iraq, where it never needed to be. It is a parallel to what is happening here where our attention is focused nearly solely on terrorism and the war in Iraq while the economy, the environment, and many other things decay from inattention. Could it be that the Bush Administration knows it can’t manage these things so it’s keeping our attention focused everywhere else? They would deny that, of course, but then there’s nothing about Bush, his party, or his administration that points to self-awareness or anything that even remotely resembles true consciousness.