Jul 19, 2019 – Overhaul Decision

It is difficult to correlate myriad opinions, all of which you trust, when they disagree vehemently.

Overhauling Engines: As you know from my previous writings, I have been running down a vibration problem in the engines that is annoying. It doesn’t happen all the time, but when it does happen, it is enough to get my attention.

The prevailing professional advice has been to ignore it. Vibration is normal and the engines just need to be run. There is a chance that is true, so I continue to fly but I also continue to dig for evidence.

I read Mike Busch’s book entitled ‘Mike Busch on Engines’, and found him to support the camp of running an engine until the condition dictates replacement. Like most others, I interpret his advice to be that I should keep going, but with more information. I decided to add an engine monitoring system to my airplane at the annual in February, and to immediately begin oil analysis with every oil change. I also ordered a bore scoping to be performed with every oil change. That will help me determine and track each cylinders condition.

I also felt that it may be too late for these steps, however. Oil analysis and engine monitoring needs time and trending, and I know I already have a problem. The occasional vibration could mean an impending failure. Failing a valve in flight is definitely not the end of the world in a twin, but losing one on takeoff would be exciting.

Meeting with Paul: My current A&P has been a proponent of running the engine and replacing parts as necessary. Many folks agree with him, and I started to get a headache listening to all of them. I found no middle ground with the opinions I sought out, so it became clear that I was the only one who would set the direction.

I drove down to his shop yesterday. I could have flown down and back and been to work by noon. I decided to drive instead because of the oppressive heat wave we are in. I didn’t feel like getting sweaty or having the airplane stuck outside the hangar with a pop up storm. Paul and I sat down so I could talk about what I’ve learned and lay out a path forward that would give me more confidence in these engines.

Redefining the problem. I am here to resolve the vibration problem. Period. Finding and fixing that issue will uncover any other issues the engines might have at this point. Focusing on the vibration negates the arguments anyone might have on how long to run an engine, etc. Fix the vibration now and I’ll be comfortable with continued trending. How do we do that, then?

I explained that the prop and engine balancing confirmed that there is a vibration, that it is combustion related and not the props, and that it is of a serious magnitude. It confirmed what I already knew, but I did learn a few specifics about Lycoming engines. My engines could be experiencing ‘Morning Sickness’, which is due to build up on the valve guides that cause them to stick when they are cold (vibration that comes and goes). Couple that with the one oil analysis result that called out potential valve guide wear. Evidence is building that a problem exists.

So I sat Paul down to determine if he had the time to work with me in building a plan. I wanted a positive action plan for determining just what the issues are that is causing the vibration. Fix the vibration, and the engine issues resolve themselves.

We talked about disassembly and the wobble test to get a hard look inside. We talked about top overhauls on both sides, and he wasn’t against that. It was a good discussion where I laid out the mitigating factors I’d identified.

  • I need to do something now, either here or elsewhere if your schedule doesn’t work out. I am not willing to wait until the February annual. I am not waiting.
  • The #2 cylinder I replaced on the right engine had serious valve guide wear and would not run. Matt, my A&P at the time, posited that the remaining cylinders could or would look the same in terms of wear. That made sense to me, but others discounted that assertion readily. I think Matt will be proved correct in the end.
  • Performing a step-by-step diagnostic will take time and money.  I have two engines that need it. This process could be expensive (time and money) in itself, and end up with an overhaul decision at the end.
  • I’m leaving in a few weeks to train on a new jet. I’ll be traveling allot over the next 6 months. Whatever work is to be done should take advantage of this down time. Please. No more extended down time.
  • If the problem is just one more cylinder that needs replacement, let’s do that. If the cost of analyzing the cylinder to determine its condition is prohibitive, just replace all of them and try that.
  • I’m 61 years old. What is the point of eeeking out another 5 years on old engines if I’ll just have to do this overhaul then anyway? It makes more sense for me to overhaul now and enjoy a more reliable airplane for the rest of my life.
  • I’m earning money from FSI right now, and getting this expense behind me gives me freedom to retire again without a significant known future expense over my head. I don’t have to retire, but I can whenever I want to.
  • Wherever the work is done, it is imperative that the airplane be kept indoors from start to finish. My hangar, your hangar, I don’t care.

So I came down to assert myself and see if Paul’s schedule could accommodate what i wanted to do. It is my preference to have the work done here at this shop. It is local, I know the players, and Paul will coordinate well with all the other vendors. The project will be managed.

We talked through the options and the resistance to my conclusion was gone. I’ve raised this issue before with him, and today his position came up differently. Paul is now in the same place with his PA30 and with his work life. My thought process made sense to him now, so we concluded readily that the engines would be both overhauled. So that is what I’m doing. We are overhauling both engines!

The really great news is that we are doing it right now!  I’m leaving in another week, and won’t fly the airplane for the entire time I’m gone. That month won’t be wasted, and I couldn’t be more excited about that. Excited and now motivated to study the G280.

I’ll fly N833DF to 33N next week, and the overhaul process will begin. Firewall forward restoration on both sides; adding an EDM 760 to the panel with fuel flow; adding a battery trickle charger; and adding electronic ignition in place of the right magnetos on these new engines. The engines will be overhauled by Penn Yan to new limits.

The philosophy of doing the overhaul now while I’m working is also sound. If I have any questions in my mind, it is whether putting this much money into a 1967 airplane is prudent. I put that to bed realizing that if you want to play, you have to pay. This will be a solid machine on the other side. I will have an amazing airplane that would cost you $1M to replace new. I’ll be dead in 30 years anyway.

I am excited by the prospect of having a completely overhauled fast machine that runs smooth when I get back from the G280 training. Next year Bev may be free and we’ll have a new machine to travel with. It works. The timing works. Beverly supports what I’m doing and is an amazing partner. I’m living life to the fullest, and after we can move around again, fullerest.

Finally, what my friend Mike B said the other day struck gold. Having this behind me, I will be able to better focus on the G280 training coming up. I’ll be able to look forward to coming home to a new airplane, and won’t have the worry of engine diagnostics and scheduling continued maintenance visits during the times I’m home. Focus on the new jet and when that process is over – I’ll have a new airplane to play with.

Working with FSI helped me build the cash reserve to deal with this, without touching my retirement funds. I’m happy it worked out this way. It kept me busy while Bev was otherwise committed, and gave me a challenge I needed to fill my days. Soon to be depleted reserves will give me a reason to stay a little longer. I’ll get to see where the G280 takes me, and that could be fun. After a year or two I’ll have rebuilt my reserves and be free to retire again whenever I choose to. That gives me 2 years with a better attitude and focus.

Blah, Blah, Blah. I’ll get to fly a new airplane when I get it back in December. That will be just too damn much fun!

Fly safe! I appreciate your interest.

Frank