I had set off for a day of pattern practice in the hopes of smoothing out my take-offs and landings in the Zenith. The events of the day proved I needed the practice and I learned something about the Zenith 601 XL in the process.
It was my second trip around the pattern at Warrenton-Fauquier airport (HWY) in rural Virginia. It is the airport where I earned my wings in 2000 and seemed like a good place to practice in my new airplane. On this particular landing, I touched down OK but made the mistake of trying to make the first turn-off and skidded. I remember a flight instructor once reprimanding me for the exact same thing by saying with great disdain, “this ain’t the Dukes of Hazzard, it’s an airplane!” The next thing I knew, I was bobbing up and down and listening to the thump thump of my left main tire. I taxied to the first tie-down and called Unicom for help.
Help was on its way and I sat in the heat, furious with myself and bracing for whatever smart aleck remarks I was bound to get from the “help.” It seems that all technicians whether computer, car, boat, motorcycle, etc, feel the need to hit you with a well chosen remark to let you know that whatever is wrong is all your fault and you did it because you are an inferior human being. My approach on these occasions is to beat them to the punch and start with self ridicule, “probably not my best landing.” I was shocked that there was no smart retort by Gary the mechanic. He rigged the Zen to roll on a dolly and pulled it by Golf Cart to his hangar.
There I met Danielle, the owner of Airfield Services. She is a striking woman and she owns an airplane shop – how great is that? Gary went to work removing the rim and Danielle asked about the plane. At one point she did the “hand on the arm thing” that is usually a good sign to a guy that a woman is interested. I suspect in this case Danielle judged from my look and attitude that I might just throw myself into the prop of the next plane to pass-by and so was only showing pity and readying to restrain me.
The tire had a big whole in it and the tube was split at the seam. I said to Gary, “looks like it was my fault” and he kindly pointed out that the tire was kind of thin – and it was! What an unusually kind technician. He could have said, “I have been in aviation 33 years and never seen such a bone headed assault on a tire.” But he didn’t, he even implied it might not have been my fault (of course it really was my fault).
Danielle was busy checking suppliers and even a Zenith pilot on the field to try and find a replacement tire and tube. She found a tire but no tube. The tire would arrive tomorrow leaving me a good distance from home and needing a ride and still needing a tube.
Called my wife, Julie, who is normally pretty responsive in times like these but not this time. “I can pick you up after my work meeting (3 hours later) why don’t you try Colin.” I called my son, Colin, who is a recent college graduate and decidedly not busy. I get his voice mail and leave the message that I had a flat and need a ride. I am still waiting for Colin to return the call.
I called the local LSA and Rotax mechanic (not for a ride) to find out about a tube. He tells me that I could probably find one at a farm supply store nearby. Danielle and Gary had tried that one other time but the tube didn’t have the 90 degree bend in the valve stem. Jamie the LSA mechanic gave me the name of a supplier in California. I called; they had it, two days to ship and a lost weekend. I wandered aimlessly around the grounds of the airport and sat dejectedly in the hangar waiting the three hours for my wife’s meeting to end. At one point Gary said to me, “don’t look so sad, it could have been a lot worse.” Danielle had a classic Roadmaster bike in the hangar (reported to have been previously ridden by Pee Wee Herman). I gave serious thought to pedaling it the 50 or so miles home but Danielle wanted $3000 for the bike.
Festering over the extra day waiting and the expedite charges from California, I decided to try the internet and looked up Shinn tires and tubes. I discovered that my local ACE hardware store might actually have both the tire and the tube. I can’t believe it. I call and make the clerk check the tire, the tube, the valve stem. He assures me that it is exactly what I need and adds, “this is for a wheelbarrow right?” “No, it is for an airplane.” Silence.
My local ACE hardware had the tire and the tube for the grand total of $13. Yeah it said “wheelbarrow tire” on the package but it was the exact tire that came off. I called and cancelled the California shipment and called Danielle with the good news. She had already ordered a new tire from their supplier for me and had it expedited. It was OK I would have a spare in case either my airplane or wheelbarrow gets a flat. While waiting on the repair, my wife got to enjoy some hangar talk about Gary’s neighbor drying her underwear on a clothesline. Apparently she is a rather large woman and her underwear made for quite a spectacle on the clothesline. A discussion ensued about drying underwear – ah hangar talk – now my wife knows what my three hour wait was like.
So for those of you worrying about the 601 being grounded, take heart, we have the makings for a damn good wheelbarrow.