Squirrels and Nuts

The Princeton, B.C. air show featured wonderful hosts, beautiful terrain, a short runway and density altitude. It was hot and high. And just before reaching the runway numbers on landing, several of the pilots felt rather sharp downdrafts, perhaps caused by the confluence of two river valleys. So this was what you might call a “country” air show. Fast forward to the stir on the tarmac as I left the pilot briefing. A line of hostpitality-room cheese squares was carefully placed from my Mustang’s tail wheel to the woods next to the parking area. And the access panels near the wheel had been removed in the hope of encouraging a “bushy-tailed rodent” to egress prior to my departure. Several of the air show patrons swore they saw the squirrel go in and none could attest to his departure, so I treated the fuselage like a conga drum creating a racket no squirrel could endure, not even with a noise-canceling headset. When it was time to fly, I returned the access panels to their proper places and hoped that the squirrel had a recently packed chute. Happily, the absence of odor in the HFF hangar since our return confirms a safe escape.

Contrast Princeton with an equally wonderful but enormous air show at Fairchild AFB in Spokane last weekend. In excess of 100,000 people attended each day. There, the problem occurred during a performance flight when a bolt and nut broke at the end of the propeller governor linkage. By design, the propeller speed defaulted to high rpm which works well in flight maneuvers and a “go around.” But it is disconcerting to adjust propeller pitch and have the lever travel full-length with no change in rpm. Fellow pilots produced a replacement bolt and nut such that the Mustang could fly each performance on schedule. However, efforts to locate and remove the broken pieces of the original bolt and nut proved unsuccessful. After a search of the engine compartment, we test-ran the Merlin with the new bolt installed. The broken bolt had lodged in the propeller hub and was slung out at the base of a blade. Not friendly pieces of metal, but everyone was clear.

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