Flying Above All………….

The Only Constant is Change

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The Only Constant is Change:



This last trip to relieve on the fire fighting planes proves the old adage. In fact, it’s interesting to me that I finally ran across an activity, and a group of people, that changes as fast as I do. I’ve driven family and friends nuts for years because I could/would/had to change plans “on the fly” (yes, the pun was intended). I’ve now met my match.


Tuesday the call from the Chief Pilot (hereinafter “the Chief”) said that maybe would not be needed for a few more days. Okay, no problem here, I have stuff to do, won’t be needing to sit and wait. Cool. Tuesday night, the Chief said that I need to go ahead and come on out to AZ. Okay, no problem here.


Wednesday am, early, the Chief calls and says that I need to hustle as soon as I get to Tucson, and get to the company Baron, and fly to Santa Fe. No problem here. By the time I get to the ATL airport, we’re on “plan 4, revision B”, and it’s get to Tucson, fly as soon as practical to Albuquerque. (Thank God we can just put in “ABQ” on the flight plan, and not have to spell it each time).


I land, get a cab, get to the Tucson airport. I debate heading straight to the plane, loading up and getting going.   I see the truck at the airport café, and the knowledge of their huevos rancheros pulls me in. About the time I get my food, the phone rings…”Don’t Leave!”. The Chief has now stopped me in Tucson…..


As I await further change….nothing…nada….zilch. Okay, to the hotel that evening, and the plan seems to be to be to relieve on the tanker at Marana, AZ on Saturday and Sunday. Thursday am I wake up to Central time, which unfortunately is two hours off from the Pacific time zone in which I find myself sleeping. Oh, well, 4 am isn’t really all that bad. I make a cup of coffee, and lazily read.


At 0700 the phone rings, the Chief asks if I’d mind doing a favor. Of course not…I work for him, right? Well, the favor happens to be helping to rebuild a pump on the loading trailer at Wilcox AZ. No problem there, either….but the truck is already waiting outside…..


So a rapid shower, pack, out the door and we’re on the way to Wilcox. (You might ask “why pack? Aren’t you coming back tonight? Don’t you have to relieve there at Marana this weekend?” You’d be right about the plan. However, I’ve already discovered that you never leave the hotel without your “stuff”. You never get in a plane, thinking you’ll “load, dump, and return” unless your bag is safely in the baggage compartment. I realized that on my first load ever…when we were dispatched toward Fort Huachuca, and on the radio they told us “you’ll RON (remain over night) at the Fort”. So, suitcase packed, tossed into the back of the truck, and off we went. We (David, the World’s Best Loader) and I dropped Joel off at the airport (back to Tucson airport), for a trip home for a few (well deserved) days off.


On the ride down the interstate, in between naps, I asked David why this was a two person job…thinking to myself, “I don’t mind helping, but he’s a good guy, why would he need me?”. He kind of laughed, said, “you’ll see”.


Arriving at Wilcox, there was some degree of discussion on whether or not to watch the instructional video. The Chief had given instructions for us to be sure to watch the video prior to attempting to put the pump together. “Instructional Video” must be the new “read the instructions before attempting assembly”. The official answer is we watched the video. Sort of. Well, maybe we just discussed watching the video.


The pump is a rather unique assembly which has a chamber filled with antifreeze, and a chamber which is the “pump” itself, all attached to the motor. It actually went together quite well. Debate continued over watching the video. Filling the chamber that required antifreeze was completed, and a short test run to determine if that had any leakage was done. Further debate ensued over the video.


Then, the large pumping chamber was attached. Now, it was clear why two men were required. The large pumping chamber had a “Christmas tree” of 3” pipe attached, and this assembly had to be held in place while not moving the gasket, and starting the nuts on the studs. This involved steady hands, under the (now approaching midday) sun. Memories of various rebuilds of elderly farm equipment, old motors, cars, motorcycles and such from my childhood emerged.


In fact, there was more than one moment I was again a 10 year old kid, helping my dad, and my granddad, as we fought some recalcitrant stubborn inanimate mechanical object into submission. Dad, I’m grateful.


After the pump was assembled, it required backing the truck up to the loading trailer, hoisting the pump/engine assembly onto the brackets, lining up the 3” hose and the bolt holes of the mount of the assembly with the holes on the trailer. Now, those of you who have worked on farm equipment, trailers, pumps, etc, know what usually comes next. After the hoses are connected, the pipes lined up, and everything set down into place….the holes don’t line up.


Amazingly, the holes lined up.


We dropped all six bolts into place, only missing two washers (which we replaced from the stock on the trailer), torqued it all down, and ran it. Those of you who have worked on pumps and farm equipment know what comes next. It usually leaks, and then you have to go watch the video, and redo it. Remember, we have yet to watch the video….


It didn’t leak.

Author: planedoc

Having survived the medical world for a few decades, I'm pursuing flight, firefighting, wrench turning, and enjoying my family. I have a passion for "warbirds" specifically the P51 and T-6, the Corsair, and do airshows in those planes. I fly "The Mighty 802" fighting wildfires, and have a great time in my SX and Husky. Oh, yeah, I occasionally show up at the hospital and pass gas.

One thought on “The Only Constant is Change

  1. Doc, can you tell me who makes this pump so I can try to find a picture or diagram showing it?
    I’m guessing the antifreeze chamber must act as a heat exchanger with the fluid being pumped to cool the engine?

    I did more watching than helping with my father, as he maintained and repaired the family car, his excavating equipment, the occasional neighbor kid’s hot rod…
    I was young when the family split up, and I went with my mother by default.
    I picked up a lot by watching though.

    Before I got my A&P, I taught myself to operate large track mounted excavators (aka track backhoes), loaders, dozers, etc, and maintained the same.
    I also kept a sadly neglected concrete roof tile factory running on my own for a while.

    After getting involved in aviation, and moving to the residential air park, I was unhappy with the runway mowing service, so I bought an old tractor and a 10 ft bush hog type mower, and took over the runway maintenance.

    The tractor needed frequent attention…

    One day I was up to my ears in the gearbox, with the rear fender/seat/fuel tank assembly hanging from the electrically powered overhead bi-fold hangar door, and a nasty little micro-burst came along.

    I couldn’t close the hangar door, but fortunately the wind was southerly, and the door faces west-northwest.
    I’ve been through several direct hits from hurricanes since then, including a slow moving Cat III storm, but nothing approached the violence of this 10 minute storm. The noise inside the metal hangar was painful, even to my previously damaged ears. Hail, pine cones, tree branches, all of the above were hammering on the side of the building. Visibility was about 50 feet, and every tree I could see appeared to be horizontal.

    It was here, beat on us severely, then was gone.

    I couldn’t imagine surviving that weather in an airplane. I’ve seen what 120 mph winds look like outside my house, and they were nothing compared to this little weather bomb.

    I hope to someday get back in the air. I still have a highly modified S1-S and an RV-6 in the hangar, along with a pile of motorcycles, some rideable, some projects.
    I rode nothing but Harleys until a couple years ago, when I discovered the Buell 1125 series superbikes. They are addictive…definitely the most fun I’ve ever had on the ground with my clothes on. I’ve reached 160 mph on a rapidly deflating rear tire…that got exciting.

    It reminded me of the time I was high speed taxiing the wife’s Pitts. I hadn’t flown in over a year for no particular reason. Might have been fishing a lot then.

    At any rate, the engine was running rough, and I was taxiing around to keep the engine (IO-360-A1A) from overheating, while attempting to diagnose from the cockpit.

    I was out on the runway, just after sunset, and gave it full throttle. It wasn’t making full power, so I backed it off, stopped, held the brakes, and ran it up and leaned it a bit. It still wasn’t running right, so I released the brakes and opened the throttle the rest of the way.
    Suddenly, it made full power, and I was 50 feet off the ground and climbing fast. I couldn’t see over the nose to tell how much runway was left, so even though I was a long way from being current in the airplane, I continued the climb out, intending to fly a normal pattern and land it.

    Some people get some dual in a two place Pitts if they haven’t flown for 6 weeks. I didn’t have time to do that…I was up there and had to get it back down in one piece.

    To complicate matters, at around 400 AGL, the engine went rough again, and lost a significant amount of power.
    I pulled the throttle back and lowered the nose, and found that I could maintain altitude at a power setting that allowed the engine to run smoothly. I continued in to a right hand pattern, as there were fewer houses on that side of the runway, and even gained a little more altitude.
    I was around 500 ft AGL when I started my base/final turn from downwind abeam the runway marker lights.

    To make matters even worse, I saw my wife’s car coming in the gate…the pressure was intense.
    And it was damn near dark, and I couldn’t read the airspeed indicator…

    I made what was most likely the best touchdown and rollout I have ever done in a Pitts.

    Someone, one of my guardian angels, was looking out for me!
    An Empathetic soul tells me I have multiples…I would have to agree.

    (Doc, if you get tired of my ramblings on your personal expressive space, shoot me an email and I’ll shut up)


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