This is Stupid

Cessna 185 on Edo Floats

This is Stupid, March 30th, 2022

As a seaplane mechanic for twenty-five years, I’ve heard many a story about stupid pilots killing themselves with their flying decisions. This story is one of those.

In the 1980’s I was working at Kenmore Air Harbor at the north end of Lake Washington as a seaplane mechanic. My foreman did a lot of work on the side for private aircraft owners.

My foreman, Mac, would do top overhauls of aircraft engines and install them. A top overhaul is when the cylinders are removed from the opposed air cooled engine. The pistons and piston rings are replaced, and the cylinder walls are honed. The valves are also replaced and the valve seats ground for a better seal.

I realize that these are technical terms. Basically the seals of the internal combustion engine were worn and needed to be replaced. The controlled explosion of the gas air mixture in the cylinder head must be sealed efficiently for all of the energy from this explosion to be transferred to the crankshaft and then to the propeller which makes the plane fly.

In the photo attached of a Cessna 185 on Edo floats, you can see the float compartments. They are delineated by the round covers above them.

Like a ship, the floats have individual compartments separated by bulkheads for integrity in case of leaks and to make the floats stronger.

The compartment underneath the pilot’s door could be turned into a float hatch compartment. The top of the float over this compartment was cut open and a hinged hatch was installed on top. I did dozens and dozens of the hatch kit mods over my career.

Both left and right floats could get this float compartment in the largest compartment of the float.

Pilots would put fish and ice in these compartments or emergency supplies, or fuel in Jerry cans.

Mac had done a top overhaul on a Continental IO (Injected Opposed) 520 engine for a private owner of a Cessna 185 seaplane. Image of engine is attached.

Mac told the owner that it would takes at least 50 hours of flying to break in the new piston ring to cylinder walls seal as well as the intake and exhaust valve seals.

It’s like breaking in a new pair of shoes.

The owner/pilot of the Cessna 185 seaplane owned the plane so that he could reach his cabin in the bush of British Columbia, Canada on a remote lake.

The owner had always fueled up his plane at Campbell River, put jerry cans of aviation fuel in the float hatch compartments, and made it to his cabin okay (barely) on a full load of fuel in the wings.

The jerry cans in the float hatch kits were for the return flight to a fueling station on a nearby lake.

Mac had warned the pilot that he may need more fuel for this flight as the engine, again, needed time to break in.

The pilot ignored Mac’s warnings.
The owner/pilot and his wife loaded up their Cessna 185 as they always did. Supplies in the back. A full fuel load in the wing tanks, and several jerry cans of AvGas for the return trip to the fueling station on a lake nearby their cabin.

The fuel gauges were on empty, but the pilot could see their lake and cabin. He assured his wife that they would be okay.

Then the engine quit due to fuel starvation. The plane went down in the trees. The pilot and his wife died.

The pilot could have landed on many lakes on the way to refuel the plane from the jerry cans in the floats.

But he didn’t. And so he and his wife died.

“This is stupid.” As we say in aviation when someone does something really stupid and gets killed.

TJM

Continental IO-520 Engine

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