Online Community of Zenith Builders and Flyers
Saturday I decided to fly to Quincy via the Feather River canyon. I had just dropped into the start of the canyon above an arm of Lake Oroville when I smelled hot oil which was soon followed by smoke in the cockpit. I was 500 AGL over water and below the ridgelines, miles from landable terrain.
I knew I was losing oil and had limited time. I did a quick U-turn back toward landable terrain and started a full throttle climb out of the canyon while monitoring oil pressure. With two-clicks of the mouse I sent an email announcing mechanical failure and asking family and friends to track my progress or lack thereof. The plane flew for 8 minutes before oil pressure stated to drop which just barely got me back to limited areas of flat land.
I could see I was not going to make the Oroville airport, still 10 miles away, and decided to set down before lack of oil pressure destroyed my brand new $18,500 Jabiru engine. I looked around for a suitable spot and quickly landed. My impromptu runway was at Lat/Lon 39.619994, -121.536816 in a cow pasture.
I had limited cell phone coverage but was able to send out a text message to family and friends that I was ok. I knew they could see exactly where I had landed. They often track my flights via a website I created for that purpose.
I took stock of the situation and started repairs. I removed the cowling and removed the damaged oil cooler. About then a friendly fellow drove up on an ATV. I explained what had happened and what I was doing. He offered tools if I needed them. I was glad to have landed well away from traditional “help”. The last thing I needed was police cars, fire trucks and hoards of gawkers explaining what I should do next. Not the kind of “help” I want.
I had a quart of oil in the wing locker and also dumped the oil left in the cooler into the motor. I started the engine to do a pressure test then put the cowling back on. I hauled the plane up hill by hand a short distance to ensure sufficient takeoff distance. I walked my proposed takeoff “runway” to verify there were no ugly rocks or ruts. I returned to the plane and did a classic rough-field take off.
I got as far as Colusa before I concluded that the oil was too hot to make it home to Santa Rosa. I set down at the Colusa airport where I spent the night.
The next day Doug Dugger of Quality Sport Planes drove to Colusa to help me. We spent a few hours trying to locate a suitable oil cooler. We finally picked the best candidate and installed it. That proved to be quite the chore. The new cooler was too large to fit in the cowling so we installed in under the airplane. It worked well enough to get me home. (Anyone want a slightly used oil cooler?)
The only damage was to my confidence and slight damage to one of the fiberglass wheel pants on the main gear.
All-and-all a good outcome to a dicey situation. Had the cooler blown out 15 minutes later in my flight the outcome would have been quite different.
By the way, the oil cooler was brand new with only 21 hours on it. The failure was at the seam. Obviously it was defective. The cooler was a TRU-COOL 24 row (L7B) automotive racing oil cooler. This was the third one I have owned and the first to fail. This brand of cooler was the early stock cooler on the firewall forward kits sold by Jabiru USA and Jabiru Pacific. It is black in color. The original model was a 12 row cooler which I had upgraded to the 24 row model. Anyone else have a TRU-COOL fail?