Thursday, November 19, 2015

Blowing A Jug in Midair

Several of my emergency landings were the result of engine failure. In my early years of ag-flying, we were flying mostly military surplus airplanes. Some of them were not in good shape to begin with and received very poor maintenance as well. The same went for the engines.

Not only that, but we were running them at well over what was called "METO power" all day long. (METO is short for Maximum Except Take Off.) We also ran them with heavy loads and high manifold pressures and high temperatures all day long. Needless to say the engines didn’t last long. 

They were never designed to be used like that. However, the owners/operators didn’t care because they were cheap and plentiful. When complaining to my employer one day about this engine abuse he nonchalantly growled, “Well don’t hurt yourself.” In other words, “Don’t tell me your troubles, I got troubles of my own.” I found that most owners/operators in that day were not that concerned for the pilot’s safety. In his mind, we were just overpaid farm hands with more guts than brains.

Consequently, from time to time my engine would have a cast-iron fit and fling parts here and there and cease to internally combust. The prop ceased to propel, resulting in a flight interruption which often ruined my day. 

Sometimes there was a warning, sometimes not. 

One day I was spraying rice on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico and the engine went pow-bang-cough-cough and made other vulgar noises. I was pretty certain that I had blown a jug. ("Jug" was slang for a cylinder, so called because of its resemblance to an old-fashioned jug.) I was on my last pass so finished it, pulled up and headed for a county dirt road which I had passed on the way out. I was steadily losing altitude, which I didn’t have an abundance of to begin with. I soon decide I was not going to make the road and would have to put it down in a rice field that was lying fallow. Just to make it interesting and tax my landing skills, the field was muddy and had several levees (some call them terraces) running across my intended landing path.

This was not the first time and I had learned the hard way that I should make a three point landing and hold the stick hard back in my lap, keeping the tail wheel firmly on the muddy ground. Otherwise I would once again find myself dangling from my seat belt/harness in a upside down configuration. 

I touched down at about 60 mph. I was hoping the engine would continue to run until I got it on the ground but when I reduced the throttle, the old Pratt Whitney wheezed and the engine died. Even then it would have been relatively easy, except each time I crossed a levee the plane would jump back up in the air a few feet and the tail would go higher than the previous crossing, then slam down pretty hard. Since I had no power I could not blow the tail down. I repeated this maneuver at each levee. The last one I crossed, the plane had slowed considerably and I was sure that the main gear would sink in the mud. Then the tail would go up and over we would go.

Sure enough the main gear hit the levee, jumped a bit and plowed into mud on the other side of the levee. Up came the tail almost to the point where the prop would strike the ground. It stopped there and remained there a few seconds while I was screeching "NO, NO, NO!"  

It slowly fell back to earth, Kersplat in the mud. Lucky me. 

I climbed out and looked at the engine. My guess was right. The head had popped off a cylinder.


  1. And how was your adrenaline level after that? :D

    1. Oh I ran out of adrenaline several years ago.