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Poor Maintenance Leads to Fiery Engine Start

Rich Stowell and Jim Bourke were getting ready to take Jim’s Yak-54 up for an aerobatic flight when they had a bit of a problem at start-up.  

As Jim relates:

It was a pretty specific example of poor maintenance that I doubt would trouble anyone else. Basically, the two halves of the carb were not seated properly. The nuts had been safetied but weren’t actually tightened properly first! The gasket was fine, as I recall. Read More

We were having trouble starting the engine, so I primed the heck out of it. Unfortunately, every time I pushed in the primer knob, fuel shot out of the carb and into the bottom of the cowl. This became obvious as soon as we operated the primer with the cowl off. Fixing the problem involved just a few seconds with a wrench. It was a silly example of poor maintenance and sadly only one of many surprises this airplane had for me.

Looking back on it, I guess we got lucky. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a steady mist of fuel and air being sprayed onto the firewall under normal carb pressure.

As for procedure, there wasn’t anything we could do about it, since the engine wasn’t even running, except maybe pull the fuel disconnect and get out of the plane.

What I love about that video is that the two of us were just hanging out in the airplane completely unaware there was even a problem. Good thing we had a bystander. If we hadn’t, I would probably have tried repriming it. I suppose at some point I would have seen flames in the belly window.

I think this one goes in the “be ready for anything” category.

The fire in the video looks minor, but fire has a way of quickly becoming a major problem. If fuel was leaking in-flight as Jim mentioned as a possibility, the parachutes they were wearing may have acted as more than seat cushions.


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