Pilot in Hibernation

A few weeks ago I flew the Mooney from my home base in New Jersey to South Carolina. My father, a renowned aircraft mechanic currently working for Boeing, will spend the next several weeks completing the annual. At the same time, my partner in the aircraft and I decided to get the engine overhauled and the interior refurbished. It’s a huge project!

First, we bought the airplane last year with this work in mind. The engine was at about 1650 hours SFRM (since factory remanufacture), with a recommended time between overhaul (TBO) of 1800 hours. The interior, while functional, was not very comfortable and not at all fashionable. We negotiated the price of the aircraft down to reflect the need to take care of these two major issues.

Second, we have flown more than 100 hours since purchase and when faced with the long cold winter we decided to bite the bullet and have this work completed at this time. I have heard again and again that “TBO is just a suggestion” and that I should wait until the engine shows signs of breaking down. While financially it would be great to NOT spend all this money on the engine overhaul, I simply can’t take the added risk by flying on an engine beyond the time the manufacturer recommends. To me it’s like playing Russian roulette–there is no telling when the engine will decide it’s done working. The fact that it could do so anytime–and could do it catastrophically–leads me to err on the side of caution. While an engine could quit at any time before TBO, the risk that it does so when properly maintained is quite low. Sure my engine has been running wonderfully and the oil analysis has shown that it is not producing an abnormal amount of metal. But this is no reason to add risk to every flight simply so I can wait a bit longer to spend the money for an overhaul. Peace-of-mind is far more valuable in my opinion.

We began researching engine shops online last September, requesting quotes from a half dozen and finally choosing Western Skyways in Colorado. We also narrowed down a search for interior shops to Aero-Comfort in San Antonio, Texas. Both requested 50% deposits to reserve our spot scheduled for mid-January of 2015.

As usual the holiday season went by in a flash and in no time I was scrambling to make the final arrangements for the engine and interior components. This involved buying a shipping crate for the interior (46x46x30 inches), coordinating a shipping company to pick it up and bring it to Texas, and coordinating with another shipping company to deliver an empty engine crate. Then I picked a beautiful Saturday afternoon and flew solo the 500+ miles to South Carolina, with a wicked 32 knot headwind adding more than 30 minutes to the trip.

I was greeted by the airport owner and a good friend of my Dad who directed me to my hangar. (I’m thrilled to have my own hangar!)

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Over the next few days, my Dad and I removed the engine and the interior. Overall this process was straightforward, but I have a feeling the task of reconnecting the engine will be enormously complex. Dad did his best to label and organize all of the cables, hoses, and digital monitor probes. But getting them all working correctly–in concert–again should be quite a challenge. That said, I’m so happy to have the plane in my Dad’s extremely capable hands–it is a luxury not many aircraft owners have!

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Currently I’m a pilot in semi-hibernation with my aircraft in pieces scattered across the country. To ease the pain of separation I’ve begun taking lessons towards my multi-engine rating, and I’ll write about that soon!

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