[Update #1 below]
The last time I flew was Wednesday 13 July, for my IFR flight test renewal. I arrived at the airport early this morning for a quick business flight to Toronto and found two things wrong with the plane:
- there was a small but very strange-looking nick on one of the propeller tips; and
- the magnetic compass was indicating north, but the plane was pointing southwest
I taxied the plane around in a circle, and the compass indicated within 30-60 degrees of north no matter which direction the plane was pointing. I had to scrub the trip, apologize to my customer, and plan on joining the meeting by speakerphone.
Just before I left to head back to my home office, the owner of our local shop arrived and came out to take a look — the first thing he noticed was that corner of the propeller tip was not nicked but melted, as you could see both from the shape of the metal and from the slight paint blistering around it. That, combined with the apparent demagnetization of the mag compass, suggests that the plane took a lightning strike. We looked around, but couldn’t find any other damage (usually there’s an exit mark somewhere on the airframe, especially near the tail).
After investigation and careful consideration, I’m fairly certain that the prop strike happened on the ground, and not during my previous flight on 13 July. In particular, the damage was on the higher prop tip (as the plane was parked), we were over 25 nm from the nearest storms and in VMC during my 13 July flight (with a designated flight test examiner on board, no less), and a line of very severe thunderstorms passed through Ottawa a few days before I discovered the damage, with lightning hitting one man in a Kanata parking lot.
I just stopped typing this post to take a phone call from my shop. One of the mechanics called Sensenisch (the propeller’s manufacturer), and Sensenisch said that after a lightning strike the hardness of the metal for 18 inches or so of the blade can change — it looks like the propeller might be coming off the plane and heading to Carp for non-destructive testing, and I might be on the phone to the insurance company. Next to total structural failure or a fire, a broken propeller blade is just about the worst thing that can happen in flight, so I’m not planning to play around with this one.
Update #1: Friday 22 July
The propeller is off the plane and ready to ship out to Toronto today for non-destructive testing — it wasn’t possible to test it in Carp. Everything else looks fine — I went to the airport today, and the avionics and electronics all worked correctly. There’s no exit mark on the fuselage, so we suspect that the lightning just nicked the propeller rather than travelling through the whole plane. Still, I’m AOG until at least late next week, at the height of summer-trip season.
While I was testing, my daughters were out on the field rating each touch-and-go by the four planes in the circuit by holding up from 1 to 10 fingers each. I hope that the pilots were all keeping their eyes forward, especially 150 pilot who bounced three times like a stone skipping across water — I think he got a 1 or a 2.