As student pilots, we are taught to think about “what if” and we take it seriously. What if you have an engine failure? What if your gear motor starts to burn as you break out of heavy overcast, shedding your last bit of accumulated ice and put the gear down when it is under your seat, next to a large oxygen bottle under 1700 lbs of pressure? That is another story.
Linda and I asked some friends to fly with us to Page, Arizona, and spend a few days on Lake Powell. We decided to purchase food supplies in Page to allow us to take on more fuel from our departure airport in Southern California. At the last minute, the couple called and had to cancel. I asked Linda to stop by the store and pick up supplies, anticipating time savings in Page.
I performed a pre-flight on our Cessna 182 and all was well. Linda arrived, we loaded the groceries into the back seat and launched on an IFR plan to Page. We left Chino, California, at about 2 pm. Just as we pulled out of the LA Basin and leveled off at 10,000 feet, configured the mixture and prop and set the autopilot, BAM! I lost a cylinder.
I cancelled the autopilot, scanned the gauges, looked for oil, and thereafter declared an emergency.
“SoCal, 756 declaring an emergency, we lost a cylinder.”
There was no oil anywhere. We scanned the instruments. Rescanned. Nothing was apparent and the plane was flying just fine. What happened?
SoCal answered and asked what our intentions were. I told them we lost a cylinder and needed to land at Apple Valley, about six miles in front of us, well within gliding distance.
They cleared us to Apple Valley, then asked how many souls on board and how much fuel. Then, after some investigation, me on the instruments and looking at the plane, and Linda looking around, she found the culprit.
So, here is the exchange between me (756) and ATC (SoCal):
756: “SoCal, 756, we found the problem, we are fine, and would like to re-join our IFR flight plan.”
SoCal: “756, SoCal, OK you are cleared to Page as filed.”
SoCal: “756, SO CAL, can you tell us what happened?”
756: “SoCal, 756, I would rather not.”
Now we were in the corridor of all the airliners coming into or leaving the LA Basin from the northeast. The radio was strangely quiet.
SoCal: “756, SoCal, you can tell us what happened or you can land Apple Valley and fill out 1,000 federal forms.”
756: “SoCal, 756, ahh, we had a bag of potato chips explode in the grocery bag in the back seat.”
SoCal: “756, SoCal (boisterous laughter in the TRACON background—however our controller had regained his composure somewhat). Thanks for (laughter) that report.”
Then the heavy metal started talking to ATC, in between their laughter. We are so glad we were able to make everyone laugh out loud that day.
David Hughes started flying at age 8 in his uncle’s Ercoupe. There is some question that Big Bill even had a pilot certificate. Then he experienced a many-year hiatus due to life, family, school, and work. David then re-started flying lessons May 2003 and now holds certificates for single engine land, and ratings in multiengine, instrument, and helicopter. He currently flies a PA-18 Super Cub and is waiting for his Cessna 195 restoration (after 22 years of sitting in hangars) to be complete. Now when he carries groceries in the plane, he pokes a pinhole in any bag that may expand with reduced pressure.