The last time I flew was mid September, just before I was due to renew my medical. Things didn’t go as expected, and I had to get through an obstacle course of health, work, and then mechanical issues (this after going through another set of obstacles last spring to renew my IFR rating).
Today I went to the airport with a huge fear of failing again. The last three times, something was wrong, and the plane wouldn’t/couldn’t fly. I arrived hoping that the mechanic had put in the new, fully-charged battery I’d asked for, that the engine heater was working, and that the plane would actually start. I saw the old battery sitting in the baggage area, so I knew Red had put in a new one, and I put the old one in my trunk. The engine was warm to the touch from the heater, so I knew it was good. I uncovered, preflighted, pushed the starter, and — just like last time — the prop turned only a few degrees and stopped.
The battery was flat again, or else the starter was shot. If a second battery was flat, that would mean that something (a short?) was draining it even when the master was off, so yet another round of troubleshooting and maintenance. I plugged in my battery charger (in case it might help), drove back across the field to the shop, walked into Red’s office, and asked him if the battery was fully charged when he put it in the plane. He said yes. Then he added something:
“It was late in the day, so I didn’t install the new battery. I put it in the back of your plane, and meant to leave a note.”
So the old battery was still in the plane, while the new battery was in my trunk. That meant there was still hope I might actually fly. I borrowed a pair of pliers, drove back to the plane, swapped batteries, took the cowl cover back off (I’d put it back on to keep in the heat), and fired the starter.
The prop spun.
The engine fired and kept running.
I did a long, detailed runup and a high-speed taxi first, to make sure that all the controls were functioning properly after maintenance (a “high-speed taxi” involves almost talking off — going fast enough down the runway to take most of the weight off the wheels or climb a few inches, but not high enough that there would be a problem if a control cable snapped, etc.). No problem. I taxied back around and took off, flying four left-handed circuits.
Back in September, my landings were sucking a lot, but after everything I’d been through fortune was smiling on me. I flew four nearly-perfect circuits, with four textbook-smooth landings. I parked the plane, then realized I should top the tanks, so I started it again — the new battery spun it up fast — and taxied over for fuel. Then I started up the engine a third time to taxi back to my parking spot. It probably sounds silly to go on about starting a plane, but I’ve had so many problems since the new year that I was probably more excited about the starts than the actual flying.
So I’m back in the air. I’d like to get up every week or so, even in the winter, to get my chops back — I have no illusions that four successful day VFR circuits in smooth, calm air are enough to prove that my skills haven’t rusted since September.