It’s kind of amazing how a good night’s sleep will improve your attitude. After bouncing around the skies yesterday, we are up early and ready to go today. I check the weather and find that the winds have finally subsided and we should be ready to go. We eat a quick breakfast and I ask at the counter if we can get a van to the airport ASAP.
I walk back to the room and get our bags, doing a final sweep for any forgotten items. As I get back to the lobby the van is waiting and the driver is gossiping with the girl at the front desk. I’m very taken aback, then remember that I’m not in Mexico anymore. Things just happen more quickly here in the states.
We drive to the airport, pay our fuel bill and get everything loaded into the plane. We start our taxi and hear a familiar voice on the radio “Triple-2 Tango Foxtrot, taxi bravo to runway 35″. It’s the same controller and cadence as when we arrived in the stiff winds yesterday. As we get to Bravo I look left and right and see we’re about in the middle of a nice long runway.
I hear his voice on the radio again, “Triple-2 Tango Foxtrot, if you would like I can give you an intersection departure at Foxtrot”. I agree to the terms of his offer and we do a quick run-up at the hold short line for that intersection. We pull onto 35, take-off and are above the tower by the time we get to the Delta intersection. I ask him the distance between the two and am told 1,100 feet. So fun to fly a short take-off and landing (STOL) aircraft at sea level!
We fly uneventfully to College Station (motto: Howdy) and get some slightly above average BBQ at CJ’s BBQ. The cheddar and jalepeño sausage is particularly good. Back to the airport, the crew has filled up the plane, we pay the woman with all the personality of an generic grade white paper napkin and head once more into the sky.
As we fly over Arkansas I notice a small vibration in the attitude indicator out of the corner of my eye. As I glance down the vibration, if there was one, is gone and the AI is as solid as ever.
There are many controlled burns happening in the area. The weather for several days has been windy and the forecast is for more winds. It seems that this has inspired a tremendous number of prairie burns. The air is thick with smoke below about 4,000 feet, but clear and smooth above that, so we fly along at 5,500 feet enjoying watching the world burn.
Out of the corner of my eye, I again see the AI move. This time as I look at it, the movement becomes more pronounced and the AI starts to wobble around.
Attitude Indicators are gyroscopic instruments similar to the toy gyroscopes most people played with as kids. They spin really fast and, as a result, stay rigid. Only when they start to slow down do they start to lose rigidity. The wobble on my panel indicates that this is what’s happening. I start diagnosing the problem. The heading indicator is still working and the suction gauge is still in the green, so the vacuum pump seems to be working fine. The AI is vacuum powered, so it should be working also. This almost certainly means that the AI itself has gone bad.
The AI is also known as the artificial horizon. It shows pilots how the airplane is oriented in space. Without one it’s possible to fly safely, it just takes more work. Since we’re in very good weather here and somewhat poor weather conditions exist in Chicago, I elect to land somewhere nearby to get the AI fixed and we can continue via United to Chicago.
Beth finds Little Rock is within range and has a big shop. We will have to eat into our reserve fuel some to get there, but it seems like the best combination of mechanics, proximity and commercial service so we head that direction.
After about 45 minutes we get there and find the United has a flight leaving in two hours. I make arrangements for the plane repair and we fly the friendly skies the final leg home.