Taking off from the grass field in my Dad’s Piper Pacer wouldn’t normally be a problem with Dad and me aboard. The field wasn’t soft. The grass wasn’t too high. There wasn’t any wind, but the density altitude wasn’t very high either.
But, this takeoff would be anything but normal.
We had barely started our takeoff to the north when we realized something was wrong, but we didn’t know what it was. We weren’t accelerating very well. It was like we only had partial power. We checked and made sure the carburetor heat was not on. We tried leaning the mixture a bit, but nothing was helping. We continued our takeoff roll while we tried to determine why we weren’t accelerating any better.
I was watching the approaching fence on the far end of the field. Would we reach flying speed in time to clear? I didn’t know and I know my Dad, who was at the controls, was also judging whether or not we were going to reach flying speed in time. The fence was getting closer and closer yet we were still lumbering along.
This is going to be close.
It was close...but we made it. What seemed like the final 50 feet; we broke ground and barely cleared the fence. With no further obstacles we were able to limp along and slowly gain altitude. We landed at the local airport and got a room for the night.
The next day we planned to take ownership of a Piper Cruiser and fly both airplanes back to Florida. We still didn’t know the cause of the problem. The engine was running smoothly so we thought the conditions at the field might have been a contributor. We weren’t real sure but we now had a long runway to depart, so we thought we could make it home without any problem.
The next morning, the owner of the Piper Cruiser met us for breakfast and one of the first things he said was, “You guys scared me last night. I didn’t think you were going to clear that fence.”
“Yea, it was close,” my Dad replied.
I can only imagine how it must have looked watching it from the hangar.
After breakfast, we rode with the seller in his car back to his field. Once Dad was satisfied with his inspection of the Cruiser, we jumped in and flew it to the local airport to top it off with fuel and pick-up the Pacer.
We departed together. I was in the Pacer and it was a long, weak takeoff roll. Dad was already at 1000 feet at the end of the runway. I was closer to 100 feet.
As we headed east, the Pacer didn’t get worse and it didn’t get better. It was steady and weak.
I don’t remember exactly why, but we decided to land in Tuskegee, AL. My Dad had previously met a General at the Tuskegee Institute so we looked him up and were rewarded with a tour, lunch and entertaining company.
During our stop over, Dad found the source of the Pacer’s power problem in the most unlikely place...inside the muffler.
Visual inspection of the muffler revealed nothing unusual, but when Dad lay down on the ground and peered up into the exhaust stack, he exclaimed, “Ah Ha! The damn baffle broke loose and has fallen down blocking the stack.”
“Yea,” he said as he climbed out from under the engine. “The baffle inside the muffler broke loose and is resting on the bottom of the muffler blocking the exhaust outlet. That’s why it can’t generate any power.”
We left the Pacer in Tuskegee and brought the muffler home with us in the Cruiser.
A few days later, we returned with a repaired muffler and were soon headed home with me flying at a renewed pace in the Pacer.
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