Originally published March 1995
Hello, Dear Editor,
Here's the Phase I installment of why I became a finalist in the "I Really, Really, Hate My Airplane" competition last year. It's actually Phase II, but since Phase I (the IO-320/Long-EZ) story is still unfolding, here's an out-of-order progress report.
On the 17th of December, a friend of mine and I took off from my home airport of Mojave in my Stinson on our way to the Flying Snake Ranch at Rosamond, CA (all of about 15 miles south). While level at 1000' AGL, 2650 RPM, we experienced about 1.5 seconds of different, not severe, vibration, followed by a loud bang and a lot of rattle, rattle, rattle sounds. This was accompanied by some smoke in the cockpit and a complete loss of power. My passenger looked at me and said in a loud, steady voice, "Doug, I am not dressed for a fire! Land immediately!"
Thankfully, a wide, smooth, level paved road (Mojave-Tropico Road) was just off my left wing, and a quick 180 degree turn lined us up perfectly. I kept the speed up (top of the white arc) until turning base, put the flaps down, and held 80 to the flare. We rolled out nicely (no traffic) and stopped. Upon opening the cowl, I noticed the #1 cylinder about 5 inches outboard of where it should be, lots of oil down below, a lot of debris (including a lifter) on the bottom of the cowl, and the #1 piston (what was left of it) perched smartly on top of the crankcase! Like, D'Oh!
It's times like these that you need friends. Friends with trailers, strong, tall bodies, and plenty of free time. Friends like Bob Waldmiller, Norm Howell, Tony Ginn, Gary Fox (whose yard I virtually landed in), and the like. We pulled both wings and the elevators, put them on a flatbed trailer with mattresses between, and took off the tailwheel from the axle bolt, hooked the fork/bolt over a trailer hitch ball on a Ford Ranger pickup, and towed the fuselage home backwards. Got it all done before dark, too.
Important lessons: First, fly over roads, and the higher the better! (unless you're on fire, I guess)*. The amount of time available was a lot less than I'd like to have thought, and the glide angle with a windmilling prop and no power at all was noticeably steeper than I expected. Second, airplanes really do try hard to tell you they're trying to kill you before they do. There was a very slight miss at idle prior to takeoff. It would go away with any power at all, and the mag check was normal. With the cast intake manifolds on the Franklin, I'd say that any miss at idle that isn't plugs or mags is cause for immediate grounding pending thorough inspection of the intake manifolds for cracks (and, of course, what caused it). I'm sure those who've been around Franklins more than a few years already knew this, but it bears repeating. Either the base of the #1 cylinder failed or the piston failed and took the cylinder off, but I'd guess that it was probably the former (either cracked/failed or loose/broke). What may have been a relatively simple repair turned into a destroyed crankcase, broken baffling, dented cowl, soiled armor of the pilot, and a truly inconvenient (but coulda been a lot worse) situation.
Where from here? I've looked into the STC options; they all seem very expensive, but may be worth it in the long run. I talked the the Polish Franklin importer back east, and while the price is quite compelling ($12k outright), he really doesn't seem to have a complete installation package available, and I'm not sure the work justifies the end product. Finally, I have talked to long-time acquaintance Don maxfield at Li'l Red Aero in Kearney, NE; he will do a MOH of the 165 for $7895 with all accessories except the oil cooler(!); his outright price for a complete engine is $10950. I suspect that this is the way I'll go when I can turn in enough aluminum cans.
Hope there's something in here that's useful for you -- I sure learned a lot, maybe now one of you won't have the learn it the same way I did. Fly safely.
*(My passenger suffers from considerable helicopter experience, and he sincerely believed that we were entirely too high at the time. He felt that we should land immediately, as our imminent immolation was surely at hand. As I obliged the the best of my ability, he has temporarily stopped threatening to sue me; he is currently undergoing counseling)