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Future Pilots: What would you do in this situation? - Part 2

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  • Future Pilots: What would you do in this situation? - Part 2

    Okay, here's number two in my series to get all the future pilots out there thinking. This is another case that really happened.

    The Situation:

    You are a flight instructor at a large flight school in Florida. One of your students owns a Cessna 421 executive twin and has a Private Pilot License with a Multiengine rating but he is not yet Instrument Rated. He has just begun Instrument training with you but is not far along in the program. Your student wants to fly home for the weekend to take care of some business but the weather is forecast to be below VFR (Visual Flight Rules) minimums. He asks if you will accompany him on the flight so that he can operate legally in IMC. (Instrument Meteorological Conditions) He offers to let you fly both ways and to pay all your expenses for food and lodging for the weekend and to provide you with a car so you can do some running around if you wish. You are multiengine rated but have never flown a 421 so this sounds like a good idea to you and you agree.

    On Friday afternoon when you are to depart FLL for RDU the weather along the entire eastern seaboard is IMC and is roughly 400' overcast for your entire route. There is no VMC (Visual Meteorological Conditions) within the fuel range of the aircraft and light to moderate icing has been reported along your route above 6000.' The aircraft is approved for known icing conditions and there are several legal alternate airports available. Winds along your route are generally from the West but are not significant to the flight. You file a flight plan from FLL to RDU to cruise at 17,000' with BWI as your listed alternate. Your course roughly parallels the coastline, but about 40 miles inland from it. Before departing you scan the Pilot's Operating Handbook (POH) to familiarize yourself with the V speeds and fuel consumption of the 421 and run a weight and balance check. Preflight, taxi, and takeoff are all normal and during the climb to cruise you encounter light rime icing as expected. By the time you pass through 12,000' all the visible moisture in the air is in solid form and you experience no further ice accumulation above 12,000.' The flight proceeds normally and though you are in IMC constantly you are enjoying the experience.

    The Problem:

    You have just been cleared to begin descent from cruise altitude and have been assigned a new altitude of 13,000' when there is a loud bang off the right side of the plane accompanied by a sudden yaw to the right. Your instruments confirm that you have lost the right engine. You get the plane trimmed to hold heading and look out the right side. There is a large hole in the cowling and a lot of oil streaked from that hole aft. The engine has seized after throwing a piston, but you are able to feather the propeller anyway so things don't look too bad. You notify ATC of your problem and they tell you that they will clear traffic ahead in order to give you priority going into RDU. As you reach 15,000' and begin to level off you realize that you will not be able to hold that altitude with one engine. You have the aircraft owner turn to the single engine performance page in the POH and quickly estimate that you will only be able to maintain 8,000.' You are again collecting ice so you have turned on the prop heat and pitot heat but left the windshield heat off until closer in. You contact ATC to notify them of your inability to hold 13,000' and just as they begin to reply there is a loud click and everything electrical goes offline. The total electrical failure has left you with no functioning flight instruments on the left side of the panel, no communication or navigation radios, no cockpit lighting, and the inability to transfer fuel or switch fuel tanks. What you have left is the vacuum powered instruments on the right side of the panel -- an attitude indicator, a directional gyro, a turn and slip indicator (needle & ball type), airspeed indicator, altimeter, and vertical speed indicator. You and the plane's owner both have flashlights in your bags and are both using mini-mag lights to illuminate the panel on that side. You estimate that you have 45 minutes of fuel in the tank that the left engine is burning out of. As you have drifted below 12,000' you have again begun to accumulate rime ice but can no longer operate the de-ice boots and have no way of clearing either the prop or the pitot tube of accumulations. Neither of you aboard has brought a portable transceiver or a cell phone so you are totally on your own. You realize that you need a plan quickly and it must include the fact that you will be unable to lower the flaps and will have to extend the landing gear manually. What would you do in this situation?

  • #2
    Hmm... Are directional gyros air driven on that plane?

    Well, besides that, the first thing I would do is check my last known location and heading to see where I am and where I am heading. Once I get an idea of where I am, I am checking the charts to see how low I can safely go without flying into a hillside,etc.

    Once that is determined, down I go to get rid of the ice. A check of the manual to determine rate of fuel burn for the configuration I'm in, so I can calculate how much time until flameout.

    Head to the closest field, get ready to do some exsplaining.


    • #3
      Originally posted by JeffinDEN
      Hmm... Are directional gyros air driven on that plane?

      On this particular aircraft the right side DG was vacuum powered because the left side had an electrically powered HSI. The whole panel was set up that way, electrically pwered on the left side and vacuum on the right. When everything worked it was a nice setup.


      • #4
        I came up with pretty much the same thing as Jeff. Always know where you are when you're flying. Descend as low as you can to get out of the ice without hitting something. And find anywhere that you can land on, field, road, preferably airport. Since you still have one engine operating, hopefully when you get below the clouds you can do enough flying around to find something suitable.


        • #5
          Stick your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye

          I came up similar to Jeff and Emu, find out approximately where i am and check up on any nearby airfields. The magnetic compass should still work so i would try and get down low enough to get out of the weather and scan the ground to try and find a landable strip of land...


          • #6
            I am scared to death of CFIT when in clouds. I would check terrain. Also, I assume that before starting the descent you got ATIS or some weather info for RDU? What are the ceilings? Whats the visibility?
            After checking terrain and location like Jeff siggested, I would descend to or get below 6,000 if possible. All the while watching the airspeed and the engine guages to maintain controlled flight. It's easy to get disoriented in IMC. Then try and sneak below ceilings and find an airport or a place to land.

            I think I'll try this in FS tonight...sounds fun

            Very good one Freightdogg.



            • #7

              RDU ATIS was reporting 400' overcast, 2 miles visibility in light rain and drizzle. This was almost the same for every station between BOS and MIA on that day as there was a huge occluded front parked right along the coastline.

              For those in a hurry to let down, keep in mind that the terrain begins to rise in the RDU area as you start to hit the Appalachian chain just north of there. Also there are numerous radio and TV masts along the route that exceed 1000' AGL. Though the odds of striking one are small, it's still a serious concern, especially with low visibility thrown in.


              • #8
                Yeah, but icing is also a problem...and you can't climb out of it, so your options are kinda limited. I think I'd rather take my chances while I can still control the plane a bit if I see something I dont like I can just pop back up into the clouds...if I have enough time anyway.


                • #9
                  I am totally un-familiar with the 421's systems, but is there anyway to try and regain Electrical power?

                  Boy I wish they had RAM turbines like the big guys



                  • #10

                    There is always a way to TRY to regain lost power. Re-setting breakers, or if you know enough about the system, pull the breakers to suspect equipment to isolate loads.

                    Power generation systems are almost always redundant, but when the juice quits coming and you are on your backup already, that is just bad luck. Kind of like having your reserve parachute stream on you!

                    I'm not sure a little plane like that would be able to maintain a high enough airspeed to keep a RAT going. Battery back up for essential intruments might work, but would be limited by capacity.

                    The F-14's, emergency generator is driven by hydraulics. After all, if a plane like that looses it's hydraulics, what good is having electrical power?


                    • #11
                      Yeah but Jeff, whatever happens in the Tomcat, you got that red handle to pull and you're outta there. 421's don't have ejection seats .

                      Jeff, ever tried manually rotating a RAM turbine on a commercial aircraft? I have, and they don't BUDGE.
                      I'm sure a smaller one could work on a light twin, but the cost would just overweigh the gains...



                      • #12
                        In the 50's and 60's it was common to see small Ram Air Generators hung below aircraft like the C-120 and Aeronca Champ that were originally delivered with no electrical system. These planes were easily able to drive a generator that could power a radio and some lights so such a system would have worked on a C-421, but was not installed.

                        Herein lies the first lesson of this particular event. Before the flight began there was no effort to examine the POH to learn the intricacies of the C-421 electrical system. A thorough read of that section would have revealed that on the aircraft involved a heavy duty electrical system was installed to handle the higher loads of the de-ice systems and air conditioning that were also installed. Part of that heavy duty electrical system was a thermal breaker in the nose inaccessible to the pilot while in flight that would take the entire electrical system offline, including the battery, under certain overload conditions. When the load passing through the breaker was high enough to cause it to overheat it simply snapped open. No pilot action could reset it, but it was self-resetting after it cooled sufficiently. The design of this system was intended to prevent fire in flight due to electrical overload. In this particular case operation of the breaker could have been avoided if the electrical loading was reduced after the initial engine failure. In effect a tough situation was made much worse simply by not knowing the aircraft systems and how to work within their limits.

                        So the first lesson here is to never fly an airplane of any type without fully studying and understanding its systems before flight.

                        Now for those wondering, no, the breaker did not reset itself until after the plane was on the ground, so the question of how to get out of this still remains.

                        Clovis, did you try this on flight sim? I think that if you set up flight sim with all the right variables that the safe solution to this one might become obvious.


                        • #13
                          Dogg, since I moved I've been without my joystick and pedals, and trying this with a keyboard was just not even funny...

                          I may try again later though, once I get some practice with the keys. In about a week I'll be meeting ChrisK in SXM and he'll have his Yoke with him, so I might give it a try.

                          This is a tough one, I bet the answer is plain and simple, but I just can't find it....



                          • #14
                            I thought more people would want to try this one, but since it seems not, here's the way out in this case:

                            Everyone was correct in saying that you needed to get down in a hurry. Clovis hit the nail on the head though with his concern about Controlled Flight Into Terrain. (CFIT) By simply letting down to 400 feet AGL or lower to clear the clouds and then attempting to find a suitable landing spot in limited visibility you wind up with about a 50/50 chance of hitting something. What is needed is a very large area with no terrain features whatsoever to let down over. On that day one such area happened to be only about 40 miles to the East of you. A large body of water, in this case the Atlantic Ocean, is the perfect place to let down over when you have no ability to shoot an approach. Deserts can also work for this, even large plains such as you might find in Kansas, though over them you still have a danger of antennas sticking up into the cloud deck. In this case the coast was obtainable within the time allowed by the fuel available so a turn to ESE was made. (Not directly East because the coastline runs at a slight angle in the area and ESE made for the shortest time to cross over it and be over water.) Careful timing was done to be sure of having crossed the coastline and another 5 minutes outbound was added for security. While enroute to the coast a slow descent was made to 2000 ft MSL. This gave adequate terrain clearance over land, helped maintain airspeed during icing accumulation and prevents ice from adhering to the bottom of the wing, and also served to minimize descent time once over water. There was no concern about other traffic. ATC already knew that there was an emergency situation in progress and that altitude could not be maintained, so would have begun clearing traffic below even before transponder contact was lost. When it was, they would have switched their radar to a skin paint mode and would have realized the intent of moving over the water was to descend. Traffic in the area would have been cleared or held on the ground accordingly. The overwater descent was made while still headed ESE for added protection in case the timing had been off any. The aircraft broke out of the cloud deck at roughly 350 feet MSL. (Also AGL in this case.) Once in the clear a turn was made back to the coast. As fortune would have it the air was warm enough below 3000 feet MSL that the accumulated ice on the airframe began to ablate slowly, so maintaining level flight over water was possible if not comfortable. On approaching the coast a choice needed to be made as to whether to turn North or South to follow the coastline. Since the area to the South was less populated that was the direction to take. There are also a number of airfields situated right along the coastline in that area and the plan was to either land at the first one spotted or simply ditch on the beach if fuel ran out before an airport was located. Luck was working and the airport at Wilmington, NC (ILM) came into view before the fuel was exhausted. Since there was a second person aboard he was given the duty of manually extending the landing gear. As soon as the plane was parked and shut down a phone call was made to ATC to apprise them of the aircraft status and allow for resumed normal operations in that area. A report on the situation was also required in writing to the FAA within 10 days, but no further regulatory action was taken.

                            One of the difficulties that occurred during the descent was expected and planned for. When a pitot tube ices over an Airspeed Indicator (ASI) will begin to act like an Altimeter in that as you descend the indication decreases and as you climb the indication increases. Because this was expected once the pitot heat was lost along with the electrical power, the ASI was ignored and airspeed control was done by attitude and power setting. In a situation where the pitot is blocked it's easy to lose control of an aircraft if you don't simply ignore the ASI indications.

                            At the time the plan for descent was made there was no assurance of finding an airport, but the plan allowed for a survivable descent and the probability of a successful forced landing on a clear beach. Immediately after the electrical power failed the owner of the aircraft had even said, "Don't worry about the plane, just get us down." I've always felt that if you keep the plane intact, you keep the passengers inside it in good shape too. So a plan was needed to keep the plane mostly intact even if it did get scraped up a bit. I have made a number of beach landings in smaller planes such as the Piper Cub and the Cessna 140, so a beach landing gear down on the wet sand in a 421 without damaging the aircraft further sounded feasible.

                            For the future pilots out there this is probably about as bad as it gets unless parts of the plane begin coming off or you lose the ability to control the aircraft somehow. It was survivable both because of fortunate location and a plan made to cover all the safety aspects of finding a way out of the situation. Always think about all the possibilities before you react in any potentially hazardous situation, there is almost always something that will work.

                            It's also true that knowing the aircraft systems down cold before this flight would have prevented much of the seriousness of this situation. Always know everything you can about any plane you plan to fly.