“I just landed at KMQY (Smyrna, Tenn.) to drop off my wife,” Lew told the lady who answered the SavvyBreakdown 24/7 toll-free hotline. “When I went to start engines on my 1968 Beechcraft D55 Baron for my flight home, the left engine started fine but the right engine wouldn’t start. It sounds like the starter motor is spinning but the prop isn’t turning. I need help.”
Three minutes later, Savvy’s on-call account manager—Tom Cooper A&P/IA—phoned Lew back. Lew described the symptoms and answered Tom’s questions.“
“Since the starter motor is turning but the prop isn’t moving,” Tom told Lew, “it could be that your starter drive adapter (SDA) is worn and slipping, or it could mean that your starter motor is not developing enough torque to engage the SDA because your battery is weak or there’s an excessive voltage drop between the battery and the starter motor.”
“So what should I do,” asked Lew, who sounded a bit upset by the situation.
“My hope is that we can find a way to get your engine started so you can fly home and deal with whatever is wrong there,” Tom explained. “If that’s not possible, then I’ll work with you on troubleshooting the problem and we’ll find a mechanic in Smyrna who can do whatever repairs are necessary. But we always like to avoid doing repairs away from home base if we can possibly avoid it.”
“Sounds good,” said Lew, “but what tricks do you have up your sleeve for getting my engine started?”
“Well, I think our best bet would be to hook the airplane to a ground power cart,” Tom replied. “In situations like yours, we often are able to get the engine started on GPU power even when it fails to turn on ship’s battery power. No guarantees that it will work, but I think it’s worth a shot.”
“Interesting,” said Lew. “I wouldn’t have thought of that.”
“To maximize our chances, I suggest you give the engines a chance to cool down so we don’t have to deal with any hot-start issues. There’s an outfit there on the field—Contour Aviation—who can probably furnish a ground power cart. Their phone number is 615-534-4600. See if they can bring their GPU over to your airplane in a little while. While you’re waiting, be sure to review the POH procedure for doing a ground-power start. I think it’ll recommend turning the battery switch on but leaving the alternator switches off until the ground power is removed, but be sure to check the POH to make sure.”
“Will do,” said Lew. “Thanks, Tom.”
The Punch Line
“Power cart is in position,” Lew told Tom. “The engine has been cooling since I shut it down a little more than an hour ago, and the OAT is 55°.”
“Sounds good,” Tom said. “Give it a try, then call me back and let me know what happened.” Another 15 minutes passed before Lew phoned. Tom could hear the sounds of engines running in the background. “Tom, it worked! You’re awesome!”
“I love it when a plan comes together,” Tom said. “Have a safe flight home, and let me know when you get there so I can stop worrying.”
“You bet,” said Lew.
An hour later, Lew called to Tom and advised that the Baron was home and tucked safely in its hangar. “Wow, you guys provide instant gratification! I cannot thank you enough for bailing me out of a sticky situation. I’ll be telling all my fellow Beech pilots about Savvy.”
The next day, Lew reopened his SavvyBreakdown ticket and posted this: “Tom, when I went to remove the starter motor today, the power cable end terminal came off in my hands as I pulled back the protective rubber boot. Inspection revealed that only about one-eighth of the wire strands had been intact (based on their bright copper color) whereas the other seven-eighths were darkened suggesting that they’d been broken for a lot longer.”
“My A&P/IA installed a new copper end terminal onto the cable, and the starter cranked the engine on three consecutive tests,” Lew continued. “So, I think I’ll see if that solves the problem, rather than undertaking the arduous and invasive task of replacing the starter drive adapter. I’ll be flying to Cincinnati next week and if the problem recurs, there are mechanics there that can repair the airplane.”
“Nice find!” said Tom. “I suspect that mostly-broken cable caused a significant voltage drop that prevented the starter from spinning aggressively enough to engage the starter drive adapter. I recommend that you monitor things closely for a while to make sure that was the true issue. But I’m guessing it is, in which case you got off with a quick, inexpensive fix.”
Mechanical problems away from home can be an aircraft owner’s worst nightmare. In situations like this, having a subscription to our Breakdown Assistance can be a real godsend. Our hotline is available 24/7/365, and when you call one of our veteran A&P/IA account managers will call you back within 15 minutes (and usually a lot quicker than that). He’ll work with you to troubleshoot the problem and come up with the best solution for getting you safely back home or on your way as quickly as possible. Think of it as “AAA for GA.”
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