"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
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
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
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,