Losing the Pressure
It’s the day before Thanksgiving and I was getting ready for a flight to Camarillo, California that morning from Riverside, Ca. It was a very nice warm clear sunny day, like it normally is in Southern California. There was no wind; the temperature was at the time about 60 degrees and warming up. I did the pre-flight like I always do every time before I fly, per the pre-flight checklist. When I checked the oil level on the deep stick, the oil level showed 5 quarts. On this particular airplane a PA-28 Piper Arrow, the max oil level for the engine oil system is 6 quarts, and the lowest oil level is 3 quarts. A Piper Arrow is a low wing airplane with retractable landing gear system.
Got in the airplane started up, contacted air traffic control (ATC) ground for taxi. Taxied out the departing runway and did the run-up as normal via the checklist, no issues noted. Rolled out on to the runway, gave it full throttle and raced down the runway and climbed out, with a continuing climbing left turn heading south. While in the south bound climb Riverside Tower had me contact Southern California (SoCal) Approach for flight following to Camarillo, as per my request with the ground controller before departure. A few minutes later SoCal Approach told me to resume own navigation; basically fly any route I wanted. Direct or via a VHF omnidirectional Range (VOR) station, all under visual flight rules (VFR) conditions, basically just looking out of the front wind screen. A VOR station is used for navigation by aircraft, it's a short range radio navigation system.
I then made a right turn to fly direct to the Pomona VOR, then continuing direct to Camarillo. That is the easiest route to fly to avoid the busy Class Bravo airspace for LAX.
As I was approaching the Pomona VOR I was leveling off the airplane at my assigned cruising altitude of 4,500 feet. The sky was clear as could be, well, Southern California standards. The winds were so calm that the airplane could fly itself, almost like Mother Nature’s autopilot, in perfect VFR conditions.
After I had crossed the Pomona VOR and began making my left turn to fly direct west, towards Burbank, over Universal Studios and Warner Brothers studios and on to Camarillo airport. I had looked down to do a quick check of all the engine indications and noticed that the oil pressure gauge needle was in the yellow near the red line. I then looked at the oil temperature gauge and saw it was reading a hotter temperature than normal. I immediately contacted SoCal Approach, and told them I was cancelling my flight to the Camarillo airport, and needed to return to Riverside airport. SoCal, then cleared me back to Riverside and asked what the issue was. I had told them, "I have low oil pressure indicated, with no other issues at this time." SoCal approach then asked me, "Are you declaring an emergency at this time?" My response was, "not at his time." Approach then said if you need to land at any other airport close to my current location, that I was cleared to do so. As I continued flying my way back to Riverside I was monitoring the oil pressure and temperature gauges. I had also increased the fuel mixture to full rich, to help cool the engine down.
A good pilot is always thinking ahead of the airplane and situations, so I began to get myself setup for a possible emergency landing, by getting out my checklist and reviewing it and looking out the winds for a possible safe place to land if I needed to.
I was able to make it back to the Riverside Airport safely and landed with no further issues.
Later that day the aircraft mechanics had arrived to the airport, to look at the airplane. Their findings were that they had found a small pin hole in one of the oil lines. During flight, so much oil had shot out through the pin hole that the oil level was down to one quart left in the engine oil system. The location of the oil line and the pin hole was in a place that during the pre-flight walk around and looking into the engine area, no one or any pilot would have seen the pin hole in the oil line.