My wife and I love to fly together. Between work and other commitments sometimes it’s real work just to make time for trip together. This year because of the early date of Easter she had two Easter / spring break days in a row. Since I was finally over my lingering cold we planned some flight time together on Friday.
We made our way over to the airport around 11:30 on Friday to preflight the plane. We planned our trip first to the
After a careful preflight we taxied out for our flight. The runways at
We made our takeoff run and just a moment after breaking ground she looks at me and says, “ There is smoke coming up from around my seat. “ I glanced over at her for a very short moment since we were only 75 to 100 feet off the ground and sure enough I could see wafts of smoke between her seat and the instrument panel. I could smell it too but it wasn’t strong.
We were well past the end of the runway so continuing was my option. I did a quick scan and saw nothing amiss, all the gauges were normal and no circuit breakers had popped. Everything was working. No fire was visible. All that emergency training has a purpose. Upon reaching a safe height, I swiftly made the decision to return to the ground as quickly as safety allowed. I called my turn on the radio and set up for a downwind approach and landing on the westerly runway as it was the closest and the winds were light.
An uneventful landing ( a squeaker BTW ) followed and we taxied clear and shut the plane down. By the time we got on the ground most of the smoke had cleared. Fortunately there was never more than about what a cigarette would have caused. Climbing upside down and peering under the panel showed no sign of heat, smoke or fire. I know the backside of that panel like my palm from all the equipment modifications we’ve made there. I poked my head in the cowl flaps and other engine compartment openings too. Nothing seemed to be wrong. Then I remembered my aircraft mechanic partner saying he’d washed and degreased the engine after spilling a quart of oil during the change the afternoon before. That is what we saw and smelled as the airflow crossed the hot engine. Why only on her side? The panel air vent is located there and it was slightly cracked open even though it was cold.
Assured everything was fine we once again started our trip, this time flying around the airport a few times just to be sure. Everything was normal and the rest of the flight was uneventful.
Still smoke in the cockpit on takeoff is no doubt a BPM…. Blood pressure moment.