Ellie ready to go after getting repaired

Her name is Ellie, Ellie Foo Foo.

Ellie just sounded good–“Ellie the heli,” but “Foo Foo” has a story. A good friend of mine, Al, was an expert mechanic on airplanes and engines, but one that didn’t want to work on helicopters (an honesty I appreciated). He sold me and maintained the Bonanza.. I had just bought a helicopter and was now bringing her back with some difficulties–mostly starting. I called Al and asked for advice, realizing he might not be able to give it.

“oh yeah, no problem, that’s a Lycoming HIO320 blah blah blah — I’m familiar with that engine but, as to the rotor and all that other helicopter FOO FOO, I’m not interested.” Yup, all that complicated control and propulsion mechanics reduced to “helicopter foo foo.”  The name stuck.

Now Tim & I have moved to Florida but the helicopter remains back in Chicagoland. It’s time to bring her home.

Screenshot of planned course from LL10 (Naperville, IL) to 4FD7 on 2014-04-13

If the weather holds, and that’s looking iffy, on April 29, Commercial helo pilot Carson Klein and I will leave the hangar, slurp up one last batch of Naper Aero gas, and head south. Having two pilots will be more fun, much safer and Carson gets hours towards his career. A definite win-win. He came recommended from fellow paramotor (and helicopter) pilot Shane Denherder.

We need at least 1000 foot overcast and 3 miles along the route and more in the mountains. Legally it can be much less but I’m really interested in surviving and this machine has no gyros. Heck, these machines didn’t even install rate of climb indicators in 1969.  Translation: if you get into a cloud, bend over and…you know the rest.

The total flight time comes out to about 12 hours but, given the 85 mph airspeed and 1.65 hour flight time (to legal reserves), options are limited. I hope to have 10 gallons of avgas in cans if weight and balance allows. A little liquid just-in-case. We’ll only fly during the day since the consequence of an engine failure at night is like flying into the clouds.

Fingers crossed for good weather. This will be, by a large margin, the longest helicopter xc I’ve ever done but I’m looking forward to the adventure. Here’s hoping it’s not *TOO* adventurous!

May 1, 2014 Broken: Lemons to Lemonade.

Perfect weather on May 1 let us cross much of the country. Sunshine, big hills, and a cool, kinda technical arrival into Atlanta’s bizjet hub made for an exhilarating Thursday. We flew ALL DAY getting to Putnam Country where Bill let us use their crew car for the night–a Police Interceptor Crown Vic whose crime fighting days had long past. But were very thankful to have it.

It was Friday where the most drama came.

Weather promised its own challenge but we actually flew the first leg in good visibility with high clouds and only light rain. We passed Valdosta airport to make it into 24J, Suwannee County Airport, for the promise of cheap gas.

Then Ellie wouldn’t start. She cranked for longer than usual and nothing–didn’t even fire. Very unusual. Third time was a charm and it was lucky, too, because after all the cranking, it fired when I let go of the starter button. “Ahhh” we thought, time to get underway. Then we got to the magneto check. Aircraft piston engines have two independent self-generating ignition systems. You test each of these “magnetos” to make sure they’re running. When I did the left mag the engine tried to die. Uh oh. A few more checks and it was clear–it was toastado. We were stuck.

It’s fairly common for pilots to nurse a sick mag home since the engine runs fine on one albeit at slightly reduced power. But this one was toast.  I *AM* Mr. Double failure so it just wasn’t worth it. We only hover taxied it out of the way and started looking for options.

Someone was emerging from a nearby hangar and I asked him if there was a mechanic on the field. He said yup, that would be me. What an absolute gem. Not just for dropping what he was doing to help us but it turns out he’s the Yoda of aircraft maintenance.  

Richard nailed the problem before I even explained it. A quick call to Daryl Oliver, the guru of all things Enstrom, confirmed how to test the thing. Richard verified his suspicion that the timing gear wasn’t timing and pulled the mag off.

Taking it apart exposed one very smoking gun: a gear tooth dropped out of the left Magneto. Yup, the timing gear was broken. That may or may not be the root cause but it certainly needs to get fixed.

He went WAY beyond the call of duty in trying to get us flying quickly. His son, who was coming over anyway, was able to bring the part from Jacksonville. The gear is here and he’ll replace it tomorrow morning. He’s an engine guru, among other things, and not just a remove-and-replace guy–he fabricates. A hangar full of major projects testifies to impassioned competence.

We’re now within 3 hours of home so Tim brought up the Enterprise which is where we are now cooling our heels. Tim Rocks. We had Dinner with Richard and several of his friends. It was awesome. Lots of good people here that made getting stuck in Live Oak, FL a surprisingly sweet experience. Hopefully it will be fixed but, even if it’s not, I’ll remember this fondly.


May 2: Repair and Last Legs

Turns out, the broken gear tooth was a consequence of the real problem: a failed condenser (capacitor). This little electronic device stores up energy so that it can be released suddenly at the appointed time. A spark is born. It’s demise rendered the magneto useless.

Richard figured this out with a 1950’s looking tester that buzzed and lit up in ways that are only decipherable by a Jedi mechanic. When everything was put back together