December 4, 1995, a little over a year since earning our instrument ratings, my dad and I found ourselves flying in dark clouds in our club’s Grumman Tiger. We had departed Cleveland Cuyahoga County airport in Ohio and were now en route to Dunkirk in upstate New York where we would make a brief stop then fly on to Jamestown, New York for lunch.
More than a year before I set foot in a cockpit, I moved to Oklahoma. I remember a friend of mine telling me, “If you don’t like the weather here, give it fifteen minutes and it will change.” It was a good joke at the time, but once I started flying, this statement would serve as a constant reminder every time I sat behind the controls.
Ten Seconds from Hell may be rather a shocking statement: nevertheless, it is a true one. I am a pilot and have been one for 44 years. However, during my first few months of flying I had an experience that few live to tell about.
I lost a cylinder last time up. Here’s the story, with all details which I can recall, followed (figuratively, thank goodness) by a post-mortem. The first abnormal sign was a bad mag check. Three guys, first me, then one of Lincoln’s most experienced pilots, then an older pilot, all thought plug fouling.
During the first few hours after a new private pilot’s checkride, he feels unstoppable. Eventually, every green pilot makes a mistake that gives them a wake-up-call and makes the unstoppable pilot a mortal once more. It usually happens in marginal weather, at night, or in gusty winds. This story is about my wake-up-call.