Everyone agrees that flying is quite safe and that the statistical chances of a crash are infinitesimally small and yet, crashes do occur as my single engine Beechcraft Bonanza almost did early this year.
After retiring as an auto engineer in 2010, I had decided to invest some of my savings towards buying a small aircraft and starting a business of flying tourists over Assateague Island and surrounding tourist destinations all of which are very close to my home in Maryland.
I selected a pre-owned 1952 Beechcraft Bonanza partly because it was being sold by my close friend Jack Greenspan who I knew to be a very competent pilot and aircraft maintenance technician and partly because he let me have this beautiful, well maintained flying machine with just 342 engine hours for just $19,999.99.
I had another friend who retailed the latest flight instruments (J.P. Instrument) for single engine aircraft. After flying the plane a dozen hours, I decided to replace the original Tachometer, Oil Pressure, MAP and Fuel Pressure analog dials with their modern slim line digitized version manufactured by J.P. Instruments. My friend swore to me these new gauges were extremely reliable. As it turned out, I was soon to find just how reliable they were!
My friend had advised me to redo the instrument panel as removing the Aircraft Flight Instruments would result in some ugly patch work. But before I did all that I thought I would check the accuracy of J P Instrument’s new slimline gauges against the old analog gauges and so had the new slimline gauges fitted just below the existing set of gauges.
It was a glorious morning with excellent visibility when I along with my wife and two kids took off from the Salisbury-Wicomico County Regional Airport and in no time was flying over the glorious stretch of Maryland coastline.
As per plan, we headed out into the ocean with the intention of swinging back for a coastline view of Atlantic City a flyover Pork Island. Ten minutes into the flight, I noticed the needle in the oil pressure gauge begin to flutter a bit. There was however no difference in the handling of the plane.
I continued flying but kept one eye on the oil EGT Probes. When nothing further seemed to happen I began to relax when wham! The oil pressure indicated almost zero and I was 75nm out. I was most likely going to have to ditch into the sea.
With the intention of giving myself some more precious time, I throttled back the power and sorted through a hundred different thoughts racing through my mind on the best possible approach to the situation. I noticed that despite the zero oil pressure, the plane was flying normally. This was when I remembered the new slimline gauges. The Digital Gauges were wired via a switch; turning on the switch powered up the digital gauges and I did just that.
I held my breath as the digital gauges quickly came to life and the digital oil pressure gauge indicated normal pressure. My heart began to beat again. During that minute or two of pure panic, my wife and kids had absolutely no idea what was happening and fortunately, didn’t have to.
I realized that if it wasn’t for the slimline gauge from J.P. Instruments, I would have most certainly ditched my new acquisition into the sea merely on the assumption that the engine was about to have a heart attack!