Plane & Pilot
Friday, February 1, 2008

Breaking In A New One

New engines, like new friends, take a little while to get to know

grassrootsAs I’m writing this, a shuttle bus is taking me a hundred miles north to meet a new friend (I hope): the freshly overhauled Lyc IO-360-A1A that’s snuggled under the cowling of Eight Papa Bravo and is waiting for me to pick her up and bring her home. It has been a long time since I’ve done the new engine thing. I feel as if I’m going on a first date after just getting divorced. I’m not really cheating on the old one, am I?
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The Next Evening...
I flew six hops today for a total of 7.4 hours with the OAT hovering around 108 degrees (August in the desert, argh!). I’m up to just under 12 hours, so I’m closing in on it, but I’ve decided that breaking in a new engine is second only to housebreaking a new puppy in terms of the commitment and minor aggravations both endeavors entail. Once the process begins, you can’t turn your back on it for a second, or it won’t work out. To make matters worse, both endeavors are greatly complicated and rushed when we know company’s coming—everything has to be just right. In this case, I’ll be flying a new student tomorrow and I need a complete and functional airplane to strap him into.

The first couple of hours spent circling over the airport waiting for sheets of flame and bent metal to cascade back from the nose (did I mention that I’m a born-again pessimist?) were terminally boring. After that, however, as the motor and I began to make friends and I ventured further afield, it became a form of masochistic fun, even though my body felt as if it was being slowly dried into beef jerky. That much time in a fish-bowl canopy in August in any state, much less Arizona, is going to cook you. Even so, I got to poke my nose into places in my local area I’d always wanted to investigate but never could.

About three hours into the marathon, I realized that I had just been handed a new reason to live, or maybe another way to measure a life span: if the trend continues, I have a minimum of two, and probably three, more engines left in me. And I’m even looking forward to breaking them in.


The new rubber band and I are going to be just fine, because on the way home, I received a sure sign that all will be well. Just as I dropped over the edge of the last mesa on my usual path home, I happened to glance down at a collection of small buttes I’ve looked at a thousand times. This time, however, the low sun laid hard shadows around an incredibly precise, little Indian ruin I had never seen before, making it jump out at me as if to say, “The gods wanted you to see this. Everything is going to be okay.” I couldn’t help but smile, and my new friend and I headed for home.

Budd Davisson is an accomplished aviation writer and photographer, CFII & CFIA, aircraft owner and builder. He has authored two books and lectured at the Smithsonian and NASA’s Langley Research Center. Check out his Website at


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