The Author is David Reed, a commercial pilot for over 40 years. Over these four decades he has had many events occur, some interesting, some exciting, a few that were frightening and a lot of misadventures. Every story in this blog is true.

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Trim Crazy

     It's the end of June and hot as Hades. Temperatures are reaching one hundred degrees during the day. The humidity is way up there too. It's a Friday afternoon and we get ready for an easy medical flight, run Jody P down to SGF (Springfield), drop her off and bring blood samples back. They said no catering, but I figured she just forgot. I get dressed and touch base with my co-pilot Rachel, then I head over to First Wok and grab an egg roll and an order of Crab Rangoon for Jody. 
     At the airport I preflight the airplane, file the flight plan, get the sodas. Rachel comes from a long way away, and with Friday rush hour traffic she'll be running late for sure. But she did OK and when Jody got there we all walked out to the airplane. "I got you some Chinese for supper," I remarked. "Oh thank you! I completely forgot to ask for something, so I stopped and grabbed this Chick-Filet," she said, holding up a white bag. "I'll save the chicken for later. I'm going to be there all night." I start the airplane and run the After Start checklist while Rachel gets the weather and our clearance. We're a good team, both finishing our tasks at the same time and head out of the ramp with clearance to taxi to runway 26L. Taxi Checklist, then the Line Up checklist, a quick run up at the end and in short order we are cleared for takeoff. The sun is right in front of us, hot as Hades. We're roll down the runway at a very laid back pace, the heat drawing power from the engines. Finally she calls "Vee one, rotate" and we stagger into the sky. The higher we climb the cooler it gets and the better our craft performs. Later we descend into SGF (Springfield), fly a decent approach and make a halfway decent landing. Jody says as she's leaving "The blood samples should be here soon," and heads off. We know what "soon" means, so we get the crew car and head to Bubba's for some BBQ. 
     At dinner I tell Rachel I was looking at Convair accident reports (because I was bored and I'm a total geek). I told her they crashed a lot of those things back in the 1950's, and a lot of them were caused by trim issues. Trim systems that were incorrectly rigged or even rigged backwards, so when the crew tried to trim the airplane it either had no effect or made things worse. We decided we should probably be sure to do a proper trim test before takeoff. A lot of guys just say "set", but don't actually check it. 
     At the airport the blood samples show up and we head back to St Louis. It's twilight now and by the time we get home it's fully dark. I call in range to the company and he replies "John says you're heading out right away to Cape Girardeau." Rachel is following a Citation jet to the runway, and doing a bang up job of it too (She's very good), but that jet took forever to clear the runway so we ended up going around. We figured it was a good training opportunity. On the ramp we scurry around getting everything ready, three people down to Cape for a donor. Fifteen minutes later the team shows up and we're off again. 
     We blast into the cooler night sky, Rachel flying this leg too. We level at fifteen thousand and are on a direct routing to Cape Girardeau tearing through the air at a furious pace. Things are moving along smoothly, an effective team we are. We descend into Cape and call the airport in sight. Twenty eight miles out she disconnects the autopilot and flies it to the airport, runway 10. Around seven miles out we select approach flaps and she trims to correct the pitch change. I'm watching the airport and she suddenly says, "Hey, there's something wrong with the trim. It keeps running forward." I see she's got two hands on the wheel and is pulling back hard. The red TRIM light is now flashing too. "Get on the controls with me," she says and I start pulling back the wheel too. I hit the red disconnect switch which should stop the trim but it doesn't. We're barely keeping the nose up, it's trying to dive hard on us. I quickly grab the manual wheel with my right hand and start running it back. For some reason this stops the electric trim motor and the plane starts responding to the trim input. Finally it's normal again, the red TRIM light is still flashing but we land normally. We send the team on their way, then went back to the airplane and started the right engine, got out the manual and reviewed the trim system and warning system. This was weird. What happened shouldn't have happened. The red TRIM light is related to the autopilot, but that wasn't on. It also signals a motor failure, but it was working, in fact working when it shouldn't have been. The disconnect should have stopped it but didn't. We then tested the trim system and the autopilot, ran the trim to the stops in both directions. Everything checked out A-OK. So we did it again. Still a good test. I called our maintenance department but all they said was "Yeah, that's weird alright." So we checked it again before takeoff. Still good. While we were waiting for the team to return we drove to a Huddle House and had breakfast, as it was now 3:30 AM. We were in a mood. The place was filled with strange people. A group of teenagers with a case of the munchies. A big guy and his two hookers (we guessed). An old couple. We were kinda punch drunk what with the late hour and all that had happened. Happy to have a cup of coffee, happy to be alive. Those eggs tasted so good. Rachel said, "It was so strange. There we were talking about airplanes crashing with trim problems, and the next flight we have a trim problem. I mean, what the hell?" But that's flying. You never know what's going to happen next.