Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Annual Saga - light at the end of the... airplane

This burned out tail light continues to torment, irritate, and generally frustrate me. As I mentioned previously, I was not the one to first notice its failure to operate. I also alluded to a rather uncomfortable encounter at the airport resulting from its untimely demise.

It's a long story, but the gist of it is that we were at the point in the engine class where we were to be trained on the procedure for testing the compressions on the cylinders. This is an operation performed at every annual inspection whereby compressed air (to the tune of 80 psi) is introduced into a cylinder via one of the spark plug holes. A pair of gauges are attached to the air hose, and between the two of them a differential is determined that indicates the health and well being of the valves and piston rings. A perfect cylinder would not leak at all, so it would achieve a score of 80/80. The Tampico, with its high time engine, scored moderately concerning 68s and 69s. The stable horses at the school were lucky to see something deplorable in the mid 50s.

My brilliant plan was to being Papa Golf over to the school to check the compressions using their equipment and training. The annual was coming due anyway, and it's only a very short taxi from my hangar to the gate at the back of the school hangar. What could go wrong?

Well, I failed to do an adequate preflight because, well, I wasn't going to fly. That doesn't matter, of course, because the lighting regulations stipulate that I have operating night lighting any time I am moving the aircraft after dark. Mea culpa, and I freely admit it. So, the arrangement I made was that I'd go over and get the plane, and one of the other students would use a flashlight to guide me past the FedEx 727 parked just outside the school hangar as I got to the gate. The plan was working flawlessly, until I was just about to the gate. Concerned that the incredibly bright strobes would be too blinding for the guide, I turned them off just as I got to the gate. About 5 or 10 seconds later, a car behind me on the taxiway flashed his headlights at me. Assuming that I was in his way (not that he had the right of way, mind you, but simply as a courtesy) I pulled over by the entrance to the taxiway and shut down.

I climbed out and was coordinating the next steps with the other student when the driver of the car pulled up and stopped. Now, in my opinion, there are two ways to point out to someone that the little white light bulb at the back of his plane is burned out:

#1: "Excuse me, did you know that your tail light is burned out?"

#2: Roll into a ten minute diatribe laced with the oft-observed fact that I am a copulating sphincter (anatomically speaking, that is. One would probably use the more common vernacular) and other choice observations having to do with parental lineage and general lack of worthiness to inhabit our planet.

As you may have guessed, #2 was the chosen method. It had to be the most awe-inspiring over-reaction I've seen in a long, long time. Silda Spitzer couldn't have topped it, and she actually had cause. At one point, the other student was moving into place behind him in case he needed to be restrained. Seriously. Keep in mind, the other nav lights were on and working, as were the strobes. Yes, I should have checked the lights before taxiing the airplane, but this was just ridiculous.

In any event, he finally wore himself out and jumped back in his convertible BMW (and we all know how those people are, don't we? [inside joke]) and left the premises.

On the plus side, my compressions came in at 78, 78, 78, and 79. Good engine!

So, now I'm trying to order a replacement light bulb. I stopped by the hangar on the way home from work to remove the old one and get a part number to order a replacement. I couldn't read the tiny little letters on the bulb, so I brought it home for Co-pilot Egg to read. She proudly pronounced it to be part number 'ERC', which inconveniently enough is not listed in any of my catalogs. Drat! I ran back to the airport to catch the mechanic before he left for the day, figuring he'd have a larger collection of catalogs. I confessed to him that my old eyes couldn't read the number on the bulb. He said that I didn't have to; it's written right on the light fixture. Oh, the embarrassment! Sure enough, I went back to the hangar and there it was plain as day.

"Oh well," I thought, "might as well get it on order. It shouldn't cost much."

Here comes the insult that naturally follows just about every injury, or vice-versa:

$22.20 for that little, tiny bulb. Plus shipping.

Is it any wonder that more people don't fly?

But, on the other hand, remember the mysterious hole in the carburetor? It will be filled thusly:

$1.47. From a car parts store. What would it cost if it was an official airplane part? The sky's the limit, so to speak.


  1. Yes, LEDs would surely solve the problem of ever having to replace that bulb, but the long-term savings would never catch up with the short-term expense of replacing the existing light fisture. That said, if I were building, I think LEDs would be an excellant choice.

    While I gripe about the $22 halogen bulb, I have to be fair and note that it was at least ten years old.