Monday, October 26, 2009

That's my old airplane

It was an eerie, awful feeling to read about the recent crash with four dead in South Carolina. The plane, N62635, a Piper Aztec was one I had flown for over 700 hours years ago in Elmira,NY. It was a forgiving plane if not a bit slow and heavy. It had all the bells and whistles for IFR flight, including some de-ice capabilities. Basically a great plane to fly if you weren't in a big hurry.
The crash apparently occurred right after take-off. There was a post crash fire with no survivors. According to the NTSB immediate post crash report the plane was inverted and off to one side of the end of the runway. So what was the most likely cause?
It certainly sounds like an engine out shortly after take-off. The worst time for a twin. Wheels coming up, not a lot of excess speed over stall and slowly accelerating. So what is one supposed to do. The old wisdom was if the gear is on its way up you are committed to fly. A pilot must immediately: identify the dead engine, verify and feather. Sounds easy but are you mentally prepared? When did you last practice the procedure with an instructor? The stopwatch is ticking, not many seconds can pass without definitive action. Wait too long and a stall and quick spin in are imminent. All said, there are no guarantees to a safe outcome. Afer all, there is a risk to flying that cannot be reduced to zero.
Well, how about this scenario? One engine quits right after liftoff, gear starting to come up, you are VFR with a fairly clear path in front (no big buildings) why not just retard both throttles and do a controlled crash straight ahead. No different than if both engines quit on take-off. At least you would have a chance then.

In summary. If you are flying a twin, before you advance the throttles for take-off, think what if an engine quits on take-off? If the wheels are still down then land. If the wheels are on the way up be prepared to feather the dying engine or cut both throttles and land straight ahead as terrain permits.