Thursday, June 3, 2010

Trouble at 12,500 Feet...--June 2, 2010


Woke up at 7:10 A.M.  Couldn't have slept longer anyway.  The rumble of seven Harley-Davidsons outside was filling the parking lot.  I actually felt sorry for the ones that wanted to sleep later...there was NO way to miss the sound.  They were pretty stinkin' loud.  Went down to breakfast, and when I came back out of the breakfast area, I noticed raindrops on the pavement!  What?!  This wasn't forecast!  Sure enough, the smell of rain (why does it smell, anyway?) was in the air.  Interesting.  Came back to the room and took a shower.

I decided to go ahead and head to the airport since my flight plans were over 100 miles away anyway.  It was probably clear out there.  I stopped at Subway to grab my lunch, then headed for the plane.  I didn't take a shot of coffee this morning like I have been doing...I wanted to just rely on my body!  I pre-flighted, then started up the engines.  The left one seems to be back to normal again.  Finally.  It was a pain in the butt for a day and a half!  The ATIS was calling clouds at 4500 feet.  Hmm.  When I checked in the hotel, they were at 8500 feet.  How quickly things can change.

I took off Runway 11, then turned south.  I was in the rain pretty quickly, just a few miles south of the airport.  Most of it was pretty light, though I hit a mile or two of bigger drops.  To the south, though, I could see it falling to the tops of the mountains.  And there were clouds EVERYWHERE!!!  But I continued on.  I climbed up to 10,500 and headed west.

The clouds were low until about 10 miles away from my flight plan.  And the clouds were all around!  To the north they were pretty thick and low.  To the west over the mountains they were sparse but lowest.  And back to my east it was pretty solid.  I tried to get on my first line, but I missed it!  Yikes...not a good start!  I circled back around and tried again.  And that's when it happened.

My foot was pushed back by the rudder pedal, and my body thrust forward.  It caught me incredibly by surprise, but I was losing an engine!  I could hardly believe it, but I threw forward the mixtures, then props, then throttles, watching my left-engine prop pulsate, as did my body.  It was just going back and forth.  Holy crap!!!  I threw on the fuel pumps and just STARED at my gauges.  I actually had put the nose down to get some airspeed, very much NOT doing what I was supposed to do!  I came back up towards blue line.  And I instantly started to think about where to go.  I was up at 12,500 MSL.  The single-engine service ceiling is 8,800.  But it's hot.  And I'm over very rugged terrain.  Could I make it back to Grand Junction?  FOOLISH!!!  Moab?  Price?  Moab was probably my best best, over the smoothest part with mostly valley in between.  Agh, the gauges!!!  The engines were both running strong now.  The electric fuel pumps were still on, the fuel-flow meter reading 24 gallons a side (more than double normal), the manifold pressure was constant at 20", and the RPM's were consistent.

My heart was racing.  I started asking myself if I would declare an emergency if it actually did stop running, and I unabashedly said absolutely.  I would be single-engine, over moutainous terrain, 40 miles from the closest airport.  ABSOLUTELY.  I thought about that.  Absolutely yes.  Ok, 121.5, 7700.  No shame if I need to.  (Why would I think otherwise anyway?!).  Oh, the thoughts we have.

To be honest, this whole thing transpired VERY quickly.  The engine revved down, then up, then down, then up, for maybe 4-5 seconds.  But that's pretty long considering I'm losing an engine.  My foot was pushed out by the rudder!  I mean, it was CRAZY.  I seriously thought, "Hey, this feels like I'm losing a..."  HOLY CRAP!!!  I mean, it was seriously CRAZY.  It's just like in training (the sounds, the feel), yet at the same time it was so much different.  My heart was just a'racing!  This was the real deal.

But at the same time, it wasn't.  I still had my engine running.  It had not failed completely.  I had the electric fuel pumps still on, but everything seemed to be running fine.  I assessed the situation.  I had lost maybe 1500 feet in my poor decision to put the nose down while I addressed it all.  But what was that?  Carbon in the engine?  Water in the tank?  I wondered if it could be the missing part of the fuel cap blocking the hole in the tank, but I confirmed that I was on the outboards where the fuel caps were fine.  Hmm.  I never really knew.  I thought about landing.  I was just...well, it was a pretty crazy experience!!!  Yet several minutes had now passed.  I made GINGER turns, constantly watching my gauges.  But the engines sounded fine, the gauges looked fine, and everything seemed to be back to normal.  Well, all but me!  I was still pretty wound up!

After several minutes of watching the instruments CLOSELY, I decided to see if it was an engine-driven fuel pump.  I turned off the electric fuel pumps one by one, watching the gauges like a hawk.  The fuel flow was constant, just like normal.  Hmm.  I was still pretty timid, and I had a little battle up there.  I could land and be a little terrified of the plane (what was it, what is it, will it do it again?), or I could gain my confidence in the girl back by staying up in the sky.  And it was a battle.  I mean, I kind of wanted to land after that...but at the same time, I would need to figure out what happened, AND I would have to fly it again anyway.  I might as well trust the girl (she seemed to be doing just fine now) and just monitor her closely.  This wasn't denial or arrogance...just a realization that something DID happen, but that it seemed to be a little glitch...a passing problem.

So I opted to stay up.  I climbed back up to 12,500 and made GENTLE turns to the south to actually get back on station and fly the line.  I had ended up 10 miles west of the line in the whole ordeal.  But that was fine by me.  I was flying a north-bound line, so this allowed me to slooooooooooowly turn her back towards the north.  I mean slooooooooooooowly.  The Vmc factor increases ridiculously high depending upon the angle of bank (I hear 3-4 knots per degree).  And I am consistently banking at 25 degrees.  So add 75 knots (25 x 3) to 80 MPH (Vmc)...I wanted NO part in that.  Actually, it's enough to make you freak out if you think about it too much.  I was pretty timid up there for the longest time!!!

But everything was supposedly back to normal.  An engine hiccough?  Water in the fuel?  Who knows.  But it did make more of a man out of me.  Woo wee.  Wowzers.

I flew the north-bound line, but I was having problems maintaining low-enough airspeed again, just like yesterday.  I was just one knot under the highest limit.  It's annoying!  But I managed to finish the 14-mile line.  I turned WIDE and flew south for the next line.  More of the same, though this time it was about 4 knots off my limit.  For the third line, I threw the gear and flaps down.  I hate doing that, but I had to.  But that's all I was able to get in today.  The winds/clouds/turbulence were just a bit too much.  Plus I didn't have oxygen, and I had already spent 30 minutes above 12,500.  I just don't like toying with all.

I thought about going north and shooting an approach up at Price, but I opted just to head back to Grand Junction.   I had a long flight ahead of me anyway.  Around 115 miles.  I was doing 180 knots in the slow descent...the winds were definitely out of the west.  I encountered some drizzle on the way back, but for the most part, it was fine.  I dropped down to 7500 for the last 60 was pretty rough.  Oh well.  I think I've just kind of accepted that as my lot in life.  Getting jostled all around.

Back at KGJT, I was coming in before another twin, and I was told to maintain best forward speed and head straight for the numbers.  That was kind of fun.  I'm so used to being set up on downwind (gear down, flaps down, etc.), but I waited a bit longer for this one, doing 150 knots up until about 2 miles southwest of the runway.  Then I slowed it way back and turned right over the numbers.  Still did the GUMPFS checks, though, on the way in.  A fine landing!

The day was fairly short.  Only 2.8 hours.  But it's an experience I'll probably never forget.  It's just a crazy thought.  I mean, we are taught to be prepared for an engine failure.  But flying so often, racking up hours so quickly, you don't just expect it to happen.  Or at least I didn't expect it to happen right then and there!  And frankly, I'll be the first to WASN'T an engine failure.  It was an almost engine failure.  Or an engine mistake.  But whatever it was, it was certainly enough to throw my body forward, turn the airplane, and get my blood pumping fast.  I learned some lessons today, too.  Namely about sticking to the correct procedures.  I did the mixtures, props, and throttles like I was supposed to, though I was a bit hesitant on the throttles as I was watching the RPM's just pulsate (I was a bit in shock!).  But I remember that flaps and gear were not a part of my memorized procedure during the incident.  I later thought about that while up in the sky.  I need to make sure I do those!!!  I KNOW to do it, but I failed in that regard today.  I put the fuel pumps on as I should, and I tried to identify the problem.  All in all, it was an...interesting...terrifying...and unique...experience.  Definitely not one I'm eager to have again, but at the same time, these are engines.  They are not perfect.  They do fail.  They do have quirks.  Today...well, I experienced a bit of that.

Back on the ground.  It was early.  It was only 11 o'clock when I landed.  So I headed back to the hotel and started calling around for hotel rates.  I'm running out of free nights!!!  But it's stinking expensive to stay in this town!  Rates are around $50-$90/night for cheap hotels!  Oddly enough, the best rate is the hotel I'm staying at (outside of the Motel 6 with no breakfast or internet), but the weekly rate requires me stay in a smoking room!!!  WHAT?!  I only have two more free nights here, then two free ones in a Holiday Inn.  I'll be needing a room before I know it.

For lunch, I ate my Subway in my room and spent most of the rest of the day on the internet.  I looked into ducks some more.  I'm getting pretty excited about them!!!  And I also received an e-mail.  A ridiculously exciting e-mail!!!  Basically, a flying organization was asking me to update my hours and resume.  SOMEONE CONTACTED ME!!!  Frankly, it's a far shot from the jet life, but it seriously excited me to none other.  I won't get my hopes up, but I was admittedly giddy for the rest of the day!  I don't know the necessary details or anything, but it's certainly a good sign to be contacted for once!  Oh, and I find this interesting...I had written to them with my hours on February 12, 2009.  Yup...nearly a year and a half ago.  I guess they were going through old e-mails to see various candidates.  Crazy.  You just can't plan on stuff like this.  A YEAR AND A HALF?!  What is wrong with this industry?!

Buuuuuut....I filled out the applications and my updated resume 30 minutes after I read the e-mail!  And I spent a good deal of the afternoon watching videos of this type of flying!  It's basically bush flying...pure and simple.  Some patient flying, some supplies, some charter.  The whole gamut.  But the more I read, the more I was interested in it!  I was just plain excited!!!  But cautious, too.  This industry has taught me not to get too excited about can be an infamous dead-end.  But I'm ok to be excited...why not?!  It combines my love of people with my passion for spontaneity and flying and can I beat that?!

We'll see what happens!  Cautiously optimistic!!!

Went downtown for supper.  Ate at my favorite lil' cafe, sat outside in the gorgeous sunshine, and I fed the sparrows some more.  There is just one that will eat from my hand.  Another lady watching me said I must do this often.  ha!  If three days is often!  It is pretty neat, though...I think the little gal only comes to me!!!  And I swear when I walk back down the street, she follows and sings!  Now if I can just change that from a bird to a human...


Spent the night inside.  Tomorrow...well, I can't say anything about anything anymore.  I thought these would be 8-hour days!  And I had 5.0 yesterday and 2.8 today.  Not exactly the 16 I thought.  Buuuuut, tomorrow looks decent!  Actually, pretty much now through Saturday is looking good.  I know what's going to happen, though.  I only have a handful of north-south plans left.  And the winds are notoriously out of the the tune of 20-30 knots...too much for our speed limitations.  So I'm banking on finishing three of the north-south plans tomorrow, but I think that's all I can do.  A huge system of strong winds is coming in from the Pacific coast for the next several days...most of it is up at 15,000, but my plans are at 13,000-14,000 from here on out.  With those winds, I just don't see the east-west plans even coming close to happening.

But...we'll see.

Went to bed at an early 10:15.  Alarm is set for 7:10.

What a day.  Hmm...not to be disturbing or anything, but I think it's fair I admit this.  I read an article this evening about a Piper Seneca that went down in Montana this past week.  I just stumbled across it on an online pilot forum.  The pilot had engine trouble, then he said he hit a tree, and that was the last broadcast.  Both he and his passenger were found dead in a pretty violent crash in the mountains.  I think to myself, "This didn't have to happen."  But in the same breath, I realize that this man was trained to recover from engine failures just as I am.  He had passed his check-rides.  And he probably didn't expect it to happen.  But he obviously had something take place up there that was too much for him.  For whatever reason.  It was just...well, just a healthy reminder about this life I/we get to live.  I am all about safe flying, excellent training, and confidence in the skies.  It just humbles me and keeps me grounded (no pun intended) reading stories like this.  You better believe I thought about today and my response up there while reading the article.

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