Engine Failures Happen – Hangar Flying

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By Mark Murray, EAA 394554.

I don’t mind an engine that fails on rare occasion. Before you send a psychiatrist my way, please let me explain.

Like so many others, my entry into aviation was through a typical general aviation trainer — a Cessna 150, in my case. And, like we’ve come to expect, the little Continental O-200 pounded away just fine for those hours. After a session of practicing engine failure simulations, I asked my instructor — an experienced, high-time pilot — if he’d ever experienced a real failure. He’d once experienced a flameout in a private jet at altitude but was able to restart the engine without trouble.

In contrast, now 30 years and almost 2,000 hours later, I’ve had more than my share.

I don’t exactly welcome engine failures, but why my opening statement? First, let me explain my experiences and what I’ve learned.

Experience Is a Hard Teacher

It’s easy to say, “Hey, you’re flying glorified snowmobile engines around. What do you expect?” But, in prepping this article, I reviewed my failures. The results are interesting. The majority are fuel delivery related (no, not a lack of fuel onboard, but problems with either fuel hoses or filters). Most were early on when I was first learning how to operate and maintain my airplane. Or, in other cases, they were friends’ airplanes, and maintenance was insufficient or lacking altogether.

When people disparage two-strokes as far as reliability, it’s usually because of the engine’s early history of sudden failures without much warning. They will commonly refer to the engine “seizing,” which describes when the piston almost instantly stops in the cylinder, usually trading metal in the process.

I can honestly say that in more than 1,500 hours of two-stroke experience, I’ve never had that type of seizure. I came close once, when I failed to completely warm up a Rotax 582. On this particularly cold winter…

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