desenrascanço: Translating to “disentanglement,” desenrascanço is a kind of Portuguese MacGyverism. It’s the art of finding a solution to a problem out of left field, without the skills or resources one would usually require. It’s artful disentanglement from a problem: throwing together a costume right before a party using the clothes already hanging in your wardrobe, propping up a wobbly table leg using the novel in your bag, or just about anything you do with duct tape. (Source: Corey Moranis)
There are some stories that are beyond words.
This one is the background behind my arse-numbing flight of fury to Granada. Why was Garrett left with having to do a last-minute scramble to get the Super Cub inspected? I had taken the PA-11 to a shop in the Netherlands in June for an engine top overhaul and a list of airframe maintenance items, with an agreed completion date of September 15. The shop didn’t start work until October, and didn’t finish until January, taking an astonishing 7 months. We had an agreement when the PA-11 was done, I would bring the Super Cub, and they would move it to the US register. From May to November, every conversation came with a warning: “my 100-hour inspection will run out in November. I don’t want to pay for two in a row. The PA-11 must be complete before November” to which they agreed. For reference, the US register conversion involves an FAA annual inspection, which is the same as a European 100-hour, however the 100-hour doesn’t count, so if the hours ran out, I’d double pay for an inspection.
The hours ran out, so I had to scramble the Super Cub to the nearest shop that could touch it, which explains the saga to Spain. And I get to double pay. Brilliant.
It gets worse.
On December 1st, I was presented with a progress update on costs. It was at roughly $10,300 for labor, as expected. “We have a few things to do and should be done in two weeks.” It was finally done in late January, and I was presented with a bill for $25,517 in labor, plus the $9400 for the cylinders I bought, plus VAT. Brilliant. Just brilliant.
One of the explanations was that “well, when we gave you the update, we had missed some hours that we discovered later.” How many? 100 or so. Oops. Shrug. I asked for a log, and it had no explanations, just a list – 4 hours here, 8 hours there, yawn. This from an FAA and EASA Part 145 regulated operation where recordkeeping requirements are intense. In the end, we were able to come to an “agreement” (‘pay or we don’t give you the plane back’) for $21,150 in labor. While I would love nothing more than to sue them, spending the next 3 years in a Dutch court to recover $7,000-$10,000 of usuriousness does not sound appealing nor is it profitable. I got screwed…what can I say.
I then had to acquire the airplane and get it to Switzerland in one piece. That proved to be difficult.
My wife offered to drive, as the train + plane + train combo takes about 11 hours. At 10 hours, the drive is a bit shorter. We split it over two days, arriving a 2PM at the shop in the Netherlands.
I had been led to believe it was test flown for an hour, so I was going to take it to Spa, Belgium for the night. When I got there, I found out it had only a 20-minute quickie in the air. With 4 new cylinders and work touching most aircraft systems, that was too risky. I took a 70-minute flight around the island, at run-in power settings, and confirmed things seemed to be fine. We spent the night in the Netherlands, and I intended to get the plane to Switzerland the next day.
The forecast had strong south winds in the lower atmosphere, though underestimated their strength at 1000 feet. They were blowing at almost 25 knots, so no sooner than I was in the air did I realize my destination of Saarbrucken, Germany was impossible.
I was looking for an alternate. Spa, Belgium came to mind. Checking NOTAMs, “Aerodrome closed due to plane crash.” Ok, how about Namur, Belgium near Charleroi? A NOTAM….”Aerodrome closed until Feb 2.” How is this possible? It was open this morning!
At this point, I was crossing a large tidal estuary northwest of Antwerp and realized that the shop had taped the window shut. I still am not sure why, and too many distractions during pre-flight meant I hadn’t removed it. I was struggling to apply pressure to get the tape to release, which it was just about to do, when there was a “thwunk” sound and the window blew out completely! It had flexed out of the track and flew the coop.
Well, isn’t this grand? Now I don’t have a side window and its…January.
Thankfully I was over water, so the window is on the way to the North Sea and didn’t injure anyone in the process (I checked below).
That still left me with the aggravation of finding an alternate, now with 90mph of wind swirling in the cockpit. Eventually I decided the flight will take two days, and I need to stop annoyingly sooner, based on airports. I called Brussels Information and changed the destination to Aachen, Germany.
That was fine, until I noticed how warm it was outside (17C/65F), which was odd given ground temps were much colder. Since I was running at high power settings for break in, that break in itself can cause higher temps, and that break in oil causes higher temps, oil temperature was much higher than normal. That resulted in oil pressure in a spot I was not happy with. That itself opens a saga with the shop, where they had changed some things in the configuration of the oil pressure regulator. It was fine the prior day when outside air temps were painfully cold, though today it was a different story.
Or was there an oil leak? Surely not. Things seemed fine. “But could there be oil burning from break in blow by?” Well, there wasn’t yesterday. “It is probably fine.” And…. I didn’t like it at all. I couldn’t confirm much from the cockpit, so I decided it was time to divert asap. The closest I found was Leopoldsburg, Belgium, which had a permission requirement and was inside a control zone for a military base. I then thought: “you know what, screw these stupid rules. I have a question about safety, and I am landing.” I told, not asked, Brussels Information what I was doing, and they didn’t seem to care.
Leopoldsburg didn’t care either, not on the radio or on the ground. It was a normal airport with people happily flying on a Sunday, who sold me fuel, were friendly, and otherwise everything was fine. I still haven’t figured out the permission requirement in Europe (and why disobeying it meets no consequence). As if flight plans, landing fees, and everything else isn’t enough, why do I have to call ahead to land at an airport?
Anyway, there was no oil leak, and even better, no oil burn. It hadn’t used any oil at all since the prior day, so that was an improvement. I decided it was the oil pressure regulator changes and broke the flight into smaller bits to land frequently. Next stop: Bitburg, Germany.
On the way, I texted my wife and told her we are overnighting in Saarbrucken, Germany, so she also “diverted” on the highway. As I crossed the ridge into the Ardennes in Belgium, the temperature dropped from 17C to 10C (50F). I realized the heat was from a Föhn/Chinook effect from the Ardennes hills. It is similar to the Chinook that would blow from the south out of the Southern Tier hills in New York in winter and create warm days.
As I was fueling at Bitburg, I noticed with some horror that there was a not-so-small hole in the wing. Examining the problem, I could see that when the window declared independence and decided to fly without the repressive oppression of the rest of the airframe, it cut a hole in the bottom of the wing in the process.
I happen to carry duct tape in the airplane, because “you never know what might happen.” As I was applying the duct tape for a makeshift field repair, a Bulgarian who had been asking me airplane questions asked, “will that hold?” “The plane flew with the hole in the wing, why wouldn’t it fly with duct tape holding the wing together?” I must confess this isn’t the first field repair to the wing with duct tape.
With the plane ghetto rigged, I set off for Saabrucken, amused to find that my wife beat me there in the car. Who said aviation was faster? A German friend replied to a text about my location for accommodations with: “Saarbrucken is the anal tract of Germany. I suggest Strasbourg instead.” I replied with an explanation that my landing options were not based which place had the best opera but rather a complex maze of mechanical and regulatory aggravation.
The next day was something of a game of cruel airport Tetris. Because I was “importing” maintenance works performed abroad on an aircraft that was VAT cleared in Switzerland, I had to stop at an airport that accepts the declaration of goods plus leave the EU from a customs airport. That limited my options. There was fog down the Rhine Valley, whilst almost all French airports didn’t have outbound customs from the EU without a nauseating web of varying notice requirements. I finally relented and decided to go for a long 2+ hour flight from Saarbrucken to Les Eplatures, Switzerland, sacrificing my short safety stops for the sake of paperwork. There were many domestic French airports along the way, and I decided that I would divert if I felt the need to.
The flight was brutal, with headwinds up to 35kt, groundspeeds as low as 36kt, and strong turbulence for half of it. Temperatures and pressures behaved. When I got to Switzerland, I expected angry accountants to be waiting on the tarmac, ready to grill me with questions (this has happened before). I had self-reported on the customs form that I had something to declare. As I had been told when I VAT cleared the airplane, I went to the “déclaration écrite” red box, only to find a notice that said, “we decommissioned these boxes.”
It took almost a month to figure out how to declare and pay VAT. Only a government office would be efficient catching those who fail to comply while making compliance impossible. Kafka lives on….
The flight concluded with no more parts falling off. When I got to the hangar, the Portuguese flight ops workers found the story quite amusing. “It’s not duct tape. It is aviation tape,” they told me, and then handed me a roll of yellow duct tape that matches the aircraft color…a very desenrascanço solution, which I will save for next time. It amazes me that, after a $35,000 aircraft repair, we’re discussing duct…ahem…aviation tape.
Anyhow, my $600 replacement window is on the way from the American Holy Land of aviation, the Super Cub is just finishing its duplicate and unnecessary inspection, and life is just grand. Its only money.
In the Alps. It is much less spiritual at 7,000 feet in midwinter when there isn’t a window and one has been flying for hours. It was at this point that I began to wonder if aviation is in reality a bizarre Satanic ritual.