Fair Isle panorama from Buness

Thursday March 18, 2010



"Charlie Alpha's" going nowhere!

(or a few days in the life of an airfield supervisor)

Up at the airstrip for the afternoon schedule.  As the pilot pulled back the power just before landing, sitting in the fire-engine, we heard a double pop from the right-hand engine and, as the aircraft taxied in, we could hear that the engine didn't have its normal throaty roar. When we spoke to the pilot, Captain Andy Sayers, he said that his instruments had been indicating a possible engine problem.  A ground run of the engine confirmed his suspicions and he decided that the aircraft was not serviceable to fly from Fair Isle until it had been checked by a qualified engineer.

After much telephoning, things began to get sorted out.  As it was a fine autumn evening, the island mail and supply boat Good Shepherd IV could do a run with lambs (live-stock shipping time), buyers, auctioneer et al (who had come in on the morning's Loganair schedule) to Grutness and return with the Tingwall engineer, John Owora.  That evening Andy and I made Golf-Charlie Alpha - the yellow (Opal Fruit?) ambulance Islander - as secure as possible with what, in the circumstances (light winds), were reasonably adequate tie-downs.

While the others went to bed, I snoozed in a chair until the 1am (midnight GMT) weather observation and then snoozed again until 3am when I drove north to the harbour to meet John off the returning Good Shepherd.  John, though very impressed by the confident and professional manner in which the crew handled the boat, was not that impressed with their analysis of the sea conditions!  While he fell into his bed at around 4am I went back to snoozing in the chair until the second weather observation of the day  at 0600 GMT.

Thursday morning and an early breakfast well 8am is early if you only got to bed a few hours earlier!  With southwesterly gales and gusts of 55 knot forecast for later that day and Friday I had arranged for Brian to come up with the JCB digger and transport a couple of very heavy concrete blocks that had once been used to tie down the waterworks hut.  The cowling was removed and the aircraft engine run up.  Using the well-known trick of placing the end of a stick on a cylinder head and his ear at the other end John in this case using a very long stick indeed in order to keep a safe distance from the propeller - attempted to find the suspect cylinder.  This didn't work as they all sounded noisy!  Standing at a safe distance he then had Andy apply full power only to quickly signal a shut-down as smoke appeared from the front of the engine!  A push rod and casing had bent and broken as a valve jammed, resulting in oil spraying on to a hot exhaust.  The fault had been found after only a few minutes of ground run.

Further examination and telephone discussions brought the decision that a replacement engine was required.  After further numerous telephone calls to Glasgow and Kirkwall it was finally decided to remove an engine from an Islander that had just gone in for a service in Orkney and fly this up to Fair Isle on Friday (the following day), should there be any easing in the expected gale.  The rest of the day was spent helping John remove everything removable from the engine.  A rather forlorn-looking Charlie Alpha was left well anchored against the impending gale while we all took ourselves off to enjoy a marvellous Pund vegetarian carry-out.

Friday dawned with gale or near gale force SW'ly winds and heavy showers and apparently not much chance of an Orkney plane, so John and Andy set off for a visit to the shop and a look at the Art Exhibition in the Kirk.  By early afternoon a lull in the wind enabled the Orkney plane to make a quick dash with the replacement engine and two more engineers and get away again before the wind increased to near gale force gusting to 55 knots in the showers. 

With not much employment for two gophers, Andy went off to the school to fulfill an invitation to talk about the life of a Loganair pilot (he didn't go wearing the boiler suit tied up with string, knitted cap and yellow boots that he has been sporting for the last few days (neither he nor John had come prepared for an overnight stay!).  I busied myself between trying to write Da Week for the Fair Isle Times and ferrying hot coffee and choccy biscuits up to the airstrip.  By early evening the engine had been replaced, checked over and run up on the ground and declared fit for use.

Unfortunately, the wind was still out of limits so all retired to Field, where Jane had an excellent lasagne prepared, to await some improvement.  With winds still gusting to 44 knots and, with the Islanders fuel reserves getting low after all the ground engine running, Andy elected to stay another night and await the improving conditions forecast for Saturday. 

So, at this point having delivered the two Orkney engineers, Kenny and Victor, to Kath's this story is up to date with one repaired Islander, one duff engine plus propeller and one pilot plus three engineers still on the island!

(Engineers, pilot and "Charlie Alpha" departed Fair Isle the next day, Saturday, with an Orkney based "Islander" calling at Fair Isle the following week to retrieve engine, lift gantry and other bits and pieces.  Unfortunately Neil, our local aviation buff, was disappointed not to be able to add the engine and prop to the set of "Islander" flaps left behind after another 'event' many years ago!)



(This was initially written as part of my  'Da week dat's awa' in the Fair Isle Times, September 2000)





Text and photographs 2008 Dave Wheeler except where otherwise credited. (Logo picture courtesy of Sumburgh SAR)
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