A Family Adventure


Tyson, Emilie & Isaac

Flight to Hampton

February 1, 2020
Emilie Phillips

We haven’t been flying in a while. First the Bearhawk was in the shop getting new fabric and paint on the gear legs and paint on the wing tips. Then I broke my thumb. Tyson spent a week installing a uAvionics ADSB transceiver in the Bearhawk to comply with new FAA regulations. In my opinion, there hasn’t been anywhere worth flying because there isn’t enough snow to go ski flying and the ice has been too thin to land on lakes. Meanwhile, the electrical system in the Bearhawk was being flaky. Tyson diagnosed a failing alternator and regulator. He replaced those, and for good measure replaced the beat up master switch. We thought we were ready to go flying Saturday when Mike invited us to breakfast at Hampton.

With our new hangar, it takes five quick minutes to preflight the airplane, open the door, push the plane out, and close the door. I was so excited to get going, I pressed the down button before the door finished opening. It stopped at the top and didn’t come back down. I had thought the door looked smart enough to handle changing direction mid way. It’s not like the lock on the mechanical garage door that I bent as a kid by locking it while it was still closing. Tyson checked the voltage at the circuit breaker and the shut off box. Both had power. When I pressed the down button, the door didn’t do anything. No motor whine, no click. Tyson guessed that something completely unrelated to my button press had tripped at the motor. The motor was 14 feet in the air, sandwiched between the two halves of the door. Mike was taxiing down the runway towards us. The wind was supposed to be calm and no rain, so we decided to leave the door open and deal with it after breakfast. I put the multi-meter back in the shop.

The visibility flying to Hampton was worse than I would have flown in. Without any IFR training, my personal minimum is 6 miles visibility. At the legal limit of 3 miles visibility, I feel like I could blunder into something unexpected at any moment. Tyson and Mike both have IFR ratings and the planes have artificial horizons, so they weren’t worried.

I hadn’t been to the Hampton Airfield Cafe since they moved into their new larger building. The ambiance at the new building is less cozy than the old one. However, the line is just as long and their eggs Benedict are just as tasty.

After breakfast, when Tyson flipped the master electrical switch to start the airplane, the panel stayed dark. No power. Now I wished I had brought that multi-meter instead of leaving it in the hangar. While testing the new alternator, Tyson once saw the battery switch itself off, then on again. So he guessed it was the battery. It didn’t switch itself back on again this time.

We had a spare battery in the plane, a jump pack in our emergency kit for Utah. Tyson attached it at the battery terminals and held the engine cowling down while I tried to start the Bearhawk. The gauges turned on when I turned the master on, but the started motor only made a sad “weh” sound. For future reference, the EarthX jump pack isn’t enough to start the Bearhawk even though it claims 400Amp peak output. We could hand prop start the engine. The engine would keep running without any battery. But on a gray misty day like today, flying near class C and D airspace, we really wanted a fully functional panel. We have two attitude indicators with backup battery power, but much of the rest of the panel would be off including the radios. Would the jump pack be enough to energize the alternator field electromagnet? And then would the alternator continue running the whole flight home?

I operated the controls while Tyson pulled the prop through. I felt awfully clumsy adjusting the throttle and mixture with my casted hand. Good thing I hadn’t tried flying myself the last month. Once the engine was running I flipped the alternator switch on and everything looked good. Tyson removed the jump pack and screwed the cowling shut. Then he jumped in the plane and traded seats with me. Almost everything looked good during the pre-takeoff checks. The alternator voltage dropped when Tyson tried to lower the flaps. So he left them up. Hampton’s runway is long enough we didn’t need them. We flew north around Manchester to avoid controlled airspace where we would need reliable radios. Our alternator worked all the way until we turned final at Brookline. Then Tyson tried to put the flaps down, and the alternator quit. The attitude indicators helpfully switched over to their internal backup batteries. We didn’t need them or the flaps, really, for landing, so no big deal.

Of course, once we taxied back to the hangar, we still had our door to deal with. Mike owns the same type of door. He came over and helped Tyson figure it out. Turns out, the motor has stops for the top and bottom. Additionally there is a safety cut off switch if the two sides of the door touch. Tyson was right that my impatient clicking of the button was not the problem. The door had hit the safety cut off switch which cut off power entirely. The top motor stop must have been set close to the maximum allowed. Tyson adjusted the stop lower. We shouldn’t have that problem again.

Now we just need a new battery for the Bearhawk.

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