Monday, March 21, 2011

In response to the comment on my last post

Hi, i appreciate comments and definately love hearing what people have to say about my blog/posts. So im writing this in response to one of the comments. This isn't meant to sound negative or even a justification, but more just to explain my actions in a safety/commerical viewpoint. Well thats my aim at the moment anyway.

This was the comment. Again, i found it interesting, well enough to stimulate a post response!

Cedarglen said...

Mike, I just found your blog and this is the first post that I've read. I DARN good one, but I am surpized that no one has mentioned the IMPORTANT Safety Lesson that you learned. (OK, I'm a Safety Nut, especially for modest-hour commercial pilots.) As you relate the story, I find SEVERAL missed opportunities to either stay on the ground or return to ground sooner than you did. I can imagine that there were a few more 'hints' that have slipped you mind. In the most simple terms, if anything makes you question anything, stay on the ground until the concerns are resolved. Not taking off is NEVER a bad idea. I also have to wonder about the climb from 2000 to 2500. You knew there was a problem at 2000, but... Nuff said. You fixed your problem and learned an important lesson. Completing the take-off procedure with one engine is something that you are well trained to do. Having to actually DO IT, when there were alternatives, is a questionable decision.

I look forward to reading your new posts as well as your archive. Please don't take my comments as a personal attack. As noted, I am a Safety Geek and I miss few opportunities to encourage safety. -C
In the commercial, general aviation world, which exists in Australia, there is definately a tendancy to 'get the job done' mentality which has existed in every company i have worked for. It is within my rights to cancel flights due weather, ground planes due defects etc. I have done this many times before, and im sure it will happen many times in this future. On this particular occasion i had done run-ups and completed my pre-flight without problem. I had done fuel drains, signed and sighted the maintenance release, obtained a clearance, and was therefore satisfied that the aeroplane was airworthy.

We use a class 'a' maintenance system which means we have a maintenance release with the different actions required by certain dates, or hours flown and finally a deffered defect list on the rear. It is checked everyday by the pilot and is also crosschecked on the computer spreadsheet at work. However, when a defect is written up, it is written on a seperate book which is then put in the maintenance controllers records, as well as kept with the aircraft MR and with the pilot paperwork.

I will say this was an oversight, in that i did not scroll back through this book to see if things had been written up BEFORE, on the previous few flights. I generally haven't had to either, as when things are written up, the white piece of paper is left in the MR to signal that its either been fixed, or needs fixing, so the next pilot is aware of the problem. If the paperwork is missing, then it's usually a DDL item, and is not required for dispatch via our minimum equipment list. Anyway i am deviating from the point. I am trying to say that other pilots had similar experiences in this plane, however had either not mentioned it, or had written it up so it wasn't faulted when inspections were done. Apparently they only received vibrations on take-off, and no other time in flight. Either way, it was not the first occurance of it happening. Maybe it came down to their inexperience, but more should have been done or stated then. However, it wasn't and you already know how the events unfolded. But i come back to the point - i did run-ups and i couldn't fault it, and when the maintenance guys took the plane off me once i had written it up, it still couldn't be faulted.

So back to the flight itself, once i received weird feelings on take-off, i had normal indications on the gauges, i also had power. I was also not 100% current with the 402C. All these things considered, plus my run-ups and MR items seemed to be in check, i did not feel that there was any reason to not take-off, or at that point to continue the take-off. Again i will state i was unfamiliar with the 402 and really put it down to that initially. Once i reduced power and it still didn't feel right, then its time to trouble shoot the problem. (It's all good and well to sit on the ground pondering the problem or make a rash decision and turn around, when it may have been something simple, but in a commerical sense, i need to be sure that there is something wrong. Had i not taken off, the engineers again wouldn't have faulted it, and i would have just wasted a lot of time in being told that.)

However, at this point in flight i was still getting power and i was still slightly confused as to whether it was an engine issue, or me not being used to a plane. Once the vibrations got so bad, then i decided it was definately the plane and not my currency.

I defiantely agree that continuing a take-off with a dubious engine with a load of passengers in a piston twin, is virtually suicide especially in the crocodile infested water that surrounds everything here! If you did survive a crash, you would probably be posed with getting eaten as the next problem. However, i was airborne, i was still getting power, i was flying a SID, and i was troubleshooting a problem at the same time. If i was to turn around on a hunch, then how do i explain it to operations, maintenance and anyone else? I have done that before and got roasted over it, because maintenance couldn't fault it, i couldn't exactly tell them what was wrong, and it wasted a lot of people's time and i guess money.

So once i knew the extent of the situation i was in, then i made the decision to turn around and return to Darwin. I knew from my experience that -

  • The engine was producing power, but was causing airframe vibrations, which probably meant something wasn't right in the engine, but i had normal indications.
  • The moment i tried to 'lean' the engine, it started coughing and almost died - but fuel flow indications were normal. As was manifold pressure.
  • The vibrations were getting worse as flight continued

I know there are 2 sides to every story and safety is paramount and i agree, that it's my moral obligation as a pilot carrying passengers that safety is paramount and everything else is secondary. However, i believe i did everything correctly in identifying the problem in the air, and turned around when i was sure that something was pear shaped.

Anyway my feelings on the matter. Again, i enjoy the discussion and feedback.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

2 Things of Significance


It really gets harder and harder to think about things to write about. I'm sure there are a million things i could describe or go through, but some of the time it will end up making my company look negative or me look slightly dodgy, even if this is not the case, so i avoid mentioning things in that manner.

However the first thing of significance. I 'almost' had my first engine failure, shutdown, emergency blah blah whatever you want to call it last week. I was flying a C402c for the first time in a while. I was doing the standard overflow from the Metro down to Pork Keats, and had 5 people on board. It was not a heavy payload at all, and i only had 800 pound of fuel on board. As i advanced the throttles forward, there was definately something that felt odd in the right engine, but i didn't recognise it as a safety issue, as i still had full power on the gauges, the engine gauge indications were normal and i had not flown a C402c in nearly 3 months!

As i rotated the aeroplane climbed normally and with full power there was a bit of vibration, but again, i kept putting it down to that i was not familiar with a C402, figured as a reduced power it would go away, and that maybe the props weren't as synced as they could be. As i reduced the power and synced the props, the vibrations were becoming worse and worse and all of a sudden it felt like there was a problem. I was climbing through around 2000ft at this point on a heading of 250 after take off from Darwin 29. I suddenly thought that maybe there was too much fuel going into the engine and tried leaning it a tad. Bad choice! The engine coughed and spluttered and i felt the yawing in the airframe and the engine decided it did not want to spin. As i put the fuel pumps on, and put the mixture back to full, it started spinning again, although the vibrations were extreme at this point, to the point where the control column was shaking and moving back and forth a centimetre or two, reasonably violent.

At this point i was 2,500ft and requested return to Darwin, ops normal, but with possible engine trouble. Even as i was reducing power for landing, and slowing the plane for landing configuration, the vibrations continued, and possibly got worse (but that just may have been my nerves at this point!) I made a landing without any real concern and taxiied back to base. Although the maintenance guys ran it up, they couldn't fault it on the ground, and i realised the issue had been raised in the previous 3 days that the plane had been experiencing similar problems. After they pull parts of the engine out, it was discovered that a few the fuel injectors on the right engine were blocked. I had to fly the same plane empty down to Tindal that afternoon and was extremely jumpy about it  as you can imagine. It was really bad weather on departure (well the entire flight was pretty bad due weather, storms everywhere - whent he inbound Qantas 737's are doing 180 degree turns to avoid the storms) but everything was normal and the plane operated fine after they replaced the injectors. 

The other part of significance, is i finally got my 100 hours of night command, and can finally get my ATPL license. The min requirements for an Australian ATPL license is 1500TT where 250 has to be command, i think the rest can be ICUS or co-pilot, and 750 needs to be in a VH registered aircraft. It also required 75 hours in IMC, and 100 hours night command, ICUS or co-pilot. I had the other requirements for a long time, but getting night in the top-end charter business is not easy. There are no night contracts really, and the one that we have is on a Metroliner. The C441 do a bit of night doing charter work from time to time, same as the Barons. But the C404 rarely does any night charters. But luckily, due to a late arriving aircraft, and then another return to Darwin due passenger request, we ended up being nearly 2 hours late for the job. So when he finally completed the job it was on last light, and i was able to depart for the 300nm leg home at night. So pretty happy.

Im very, VERY close to turning a new page in my aviation career, but no news on a start date as yet!

Thanks for reading.

Monday, March 7, 2011

This is the 'new' titan. Apparently its only being borrow, not bought, so its only a loan aircraft, so to speak. I dare say it stays on the line for months!

Temporary while this titan gets fixed! I have more photos and the full story, being a witness/next plane to land when this happened, but until i hear some further news, i'll keep this under wraps for now. But for all those wondering, no i wasn't flying it, but it is a plane belonging to the company i work for.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

New Rego

I just got back from a week of leave. Not only was yesterday my first flight back at work, but it was in a completely new plane my company has bought. Still a Cessna 404, but it was bought from the East-Coast of Australia. For this reason it has been fitted with a lot of extra kit, such as de-icing boots (possibly just warmers though - I wasn't sure if they were boots or just pads that warm the wings. It also had these pads on the tail, and props too!) These add to the empty-weight and also affecting its performance, in terms of climb and speed.

It is pretty rare in the top-end to find planes with these sorts of mods as they are not needed, add a lot of extra weight and as i said affect the performance of the plane. So it was a first for me. The only difference inside with the extra gear was just a few extra switches, which i left in the OFF position!

The plane itself looks pretty good, with a nice new blue paint job. Semi looks like Japan Airlines tail with a big blue orb. I will take photos soon, but i keep forgetting my camera. The only thing i found really bad with this new aircraft was the GPS. It is the oldest Trimble i have seen or ever used. Most GPS only take a few seconds of fiddling to figure out the basics, or setting a route or flight plan. The rest can come later with exploration and fiddling. But i sat there for a solid 5 - 10 minutes doing run-ups before i remotely worked out how to get my destination in the screen! Was harder than flying the plane no doubt.

(For those who read this and are not in aviation - run ups refer to running the engines of piston planes before they fly for a few reasons. If someone wants to correct me or add to this feel free!)

But the main reason we run the engines up, is to first warm the engine and oil. Advancing a cold piston engine to take off power is pretty much a recipe for an engine failure with the rapid thermal change and cold oil trying to force itself around the engine. I usually taxi the plane to the run up bay in the morning and do my required paperwork sitting there while they idle to make sure the Temps and Pressures (T's and P's) are in the green operating range. Living in the tropics, the engines warm very quickly and usually remain quite warm. I haven't had to experience this is really cold weather!

In the Titan we then increase the engines to 1500RPM. The Cessna 400 series have a governer check, which i haven't done in any other piston plane. This involves pulling the pitch levers back to the feather detent. The RPM shouldn't change, however it is normal for the Titan engines to lose maybe 100 to 200RPM. Then when you move them past the feather detent, you test the feather of the aeroplane. A lot of places make you do this test 3 times..... I don't actually know why? However, its our company policy to just do it once of the 400 Series Cessna's, so thats what i do. As you do the check, you want to see changes in the oil pressure gauge and manifold pressure gauges too.

Once thats checked, and still at 1500RPM, i check the magnetos, so make sure there is no fouling of the plugs, and that the drops are within the limits specified in the flight manual. This is 150RPM max drop and 50RPM difference between the 2 engines. Usually this is all in limits. If its really rough, then i will clear the engine, by running it at a high RPM (sometimes near take-off power) with the mixtures leaned. This usually clears the foulling and lets them run smoothly. If it doesnt clear it, then its usually something else and maintenance is required most likely.

We then do the idle check - make sure the engines won't cut out? Im not 100% sure why we do this check. If im at low power on the ground and i think an engine will cut out, i put the low pressure pumps on. It usually cuts out due low fuel flow and a hot temperature. Especially if the plane has been heat soaked in the sun all day, the fuel vapourises before it reaches the engines. If this is the case you need to purge the fuel lines before starting, with high pressure pumps, throttles full and mixture at idle cut off.

After the checks are done, you can be satisfied that your plane is safe, as you have completed virtually everything on the pre-flight inspection and engines are run up and warm.

So after getting all this done, i finally worked out the GPS!