Another canceled flight. This time ultimately because of my oversight. Here's what happened and what I learned.
I was up at 5 this morning to get going and get to the airport by 6:45 for the 7 am flight lesson in 2MA with Mark.
PIC failure #1: I didn't inspect the "reservation change" email alerting that the lesson had been changed to 4AF. When I scheduled, I hadn't been able to add Mark to the reservation in the system and so he added himself; when I saw the subject in my mail app on my phone, I assumed the change email was about him adding himself to the flight and never opened it.
I got the keys from the desk for 2MA and signed it out. On the ramp, it was 24 degrees and there was a 10kt wind down the runway. It was cold, but no clouds or humidity to warrant canceling. There had been patches of ice on the sidewalk and ice on the plants out front. The plane was frost-free.
I did a very cold but thorough preflight. Right off the bat some residue on the ground below the left brake caught my attention, but it didn't look fresh and visual inspection of the brake system didn't reveal any drips or breaks or accumulation. There was a bit of old-looking grime on the rim of a plate below the brake, but the right side had the same grime (and no spots on the pavement). I finished the preflight (did I mention how cold it was?) and when Mark arrived I asked him about the brake, and his assessment was similar to mine. So we continued inside and filled in the Hobbs log.
PIC failure #2: The entry above mine, the only one for yesterday, was struck through. I did notice the note "No fly" on the line, but did not read the note scribbled off to the side. Every note on the side I've seen has been about adding adding oil, and while it's inexcusable to not take the two seconds to read the note, I had checked the oil already and it was good to go. This note will be important later in our story.
Cold, right? Prime a little extra, clear prop, crank attempt #1 fails. Prime a little more, crank attempt #2 fails. Open the throttle a little more, crank attempt #3 fails. Consult the POH for any other cold-weather startup tips. No big deal, just run-of-the-mill cold-weather engine challenges. After resting the starter for a few minutes, another crank got it going. It was a rough start, but it caught and took and despite my pressure on the brakes, we were moving slowly and drifting right! At this time, there were enough obvious clues to warrant a brake check, which Mark did while I was getting my Halo headset on, and there was no action coming from the left brake. Puzzle complete.
Shutdown, push back. Wrap up the Hobbs log. Ohhhhhhh... That note from the crossed-out flight said the left brake was leaking and they were canceling their flight because of it. Damn. I looked at the brake again, just for giggles. This big red drip of brake fluid (on the bolt at the right) was not there during preflight; we must have squeezed it out in holding and testing the brakes. I looked at the right side again, too, and it wasn't quite as grimy, but still grimy.
Lessons from this lesson:
- Read the flight-school reservation emails. All of them. I've canceled flights before because of being switched to a plane I didn't like. I should know this. But I made an assumption about the content of the change email based on what I was expecting, and that assumption made an a.... made a something out of me this morning.
- Pay attention to the log. What's stupidly funny about this is that I was questioning whether the previous (executed) flight had written down the Hobbs/tach correctly, and I spent extra time inspecting that entry, totally skipping over the canceled flight that would have saved a ton of time and effort. (Turns out both measures had x924.y in their readings, and I was in the wrong column so it looked like the previous flight was off by .4 or so; easy mistake, caught and corrected upon inspection.) Why oh why didn't I read that note? I had even thought in my head about yesterday's weather, and figured they had likely canceled because of the strong and gusty winds, not considering any malfunction.
- Aside from those pre-preflight oversights, preflighting did its job: I found an unknown (to me) and unexpected condition that would prove to impact the safety of the flight, so we paid attention and eventually canceled for safety. Fly another day.
There is one thing that irks me, though. The keys to a disabled plane were at the desk for checkout. Had the keys not been there, I would immediately have checked my reservation to verify the tail number I should be asking for. That would have short-circuited the frigid waste of time and we would have gotten to do the lesson (provided 2AF checked out)! More than that inconvenience, however, is liability. We cranked up with a bad brake that straight away showed it was unsafe. What if we hadn't been able to brake and had rolled right into the next row of planes? What if we had enough control that we didn't abort the flight, but upon landing had critical brake failure? I assume that the flight school's insurance would be dreadfully unhappy about the situation. As PIC, the responsibility would ultimately have been mine, but I'm a student and obviously the communication process is not foolproof for ensuring a faulty plane was not flown; removing the keys would have guaranteed the plane was not flown.