The acrid smell of burning rubber is a very distinct smell - regardless of the context of which you smell it. But when you smell it in-flight at 7,500 feet with nothing but raw jungle and rivers below you, it takes on a whole new significance!
Yesterday I was returning to Georgetown to do some maintenance on the airplane and prepare for our next big push - flying bible workers back to their home villages.
We were maintaining 7,500 feet above sea level, and I had pulled the power and propeller control back so as to get the best fuel economy. 45 Miles from the international airport I detected a strong smell of burning rubber. It was so strong that my front seat passenger turned to me and said "I smell something burning!"
Immediately I kicked into action. Hit the "Nearest" button on your GPS to see where the nearest airport is - should the situation escalate into an emergency. The nearest airport was Linden about 20 nautical miles away. Instantly I got on the radio and requested ATC for a right deviation, and a descent. Then I started trouble shooting.
Engine Instruments - All Indicating normal Felt under dash - No abnormal heat Circuit breakers - Nothing noticeably popped Smell - Burning rubber but nothing particularly electrical
After 20-30 seconds the smell went away. The closer I got to Linden the more I debated what to do. I could land and try and find out the problem, but the airstrip didn't provide anything in the way of repair facilities. It was just a strip out in the middle of virually nowhere. The situation appeared to have stabilized somewhat (i.e. the smell was gone), so I decided to split the difference between Linden and Timehri (international airport) and if everything went well I would continue on to Timehri.
Airplane continued to perform like normal, and I was just about to Timehri Airport and considering making a run for Ogle (our final destination), when the smell came back stronger than ever. It was clear that something was very wrong, so I took a deep breath, keyed the mike and told the tower that we were experiencing some electrical problems and needed to land. Two weeks earlier a Carribean Airlines Flight to New York had ingested a couple birds soon after takeoff and had to circle back for an emergency landing. I think this was fresh in the controllers mind, when I told him about my situation because he immediately cleared me to land on either of the two runways.
After landing I taxied over to the Texaco Refueling Area and cut the power. My passengers and I sat for a few minutes and debrief on what everyone smelled. After climbing out of the aircraft, I opened the little hatch to the oil dipstick and immediately saw the problem. The pully on the alternator was missing a belt. Ahhhhh! It all made perfect sence now!
I handed a screw driver to one of the other guys and we proceeded to take the cowl off to have a better look. Somehow the belt had loosened up and started slipping and eventually it torqued completely off and was laying on the inside of the bottom cowling.
We buttoned the airplane back up and flew back to Ogle using our battery for the radio.
I praise the Lord that it was a simple solution. Now we have to locate another belt to keep going. The work has been nothing short of a flood and we've probably flown 60 hours in the last three weeks.
Starting this next Sunday we plan to make four to five flights to transport bible workers back to their home village.
As things slow down a little I'll look at traveling back to the US to take a little break.
Thank you for your prayers in our behalf. Flying over the jungles of Guyana always carries a certain amount of risk, but in order to get the gospel into these remote areas we must assume that risk. Rest assured, we do our best to keep our aircraft in top flying condition, but airplanes are made by fallible humans, and can break on occasion. This is why your prayers are such a big encouragement to us.
We know that we're not just flying on wings of a Cessna - but also wings of angels.