Failure of a single’s engine is something on which primary students spend a lot of training time. In addition to running the emergency checklist and maintaining control of the airplane, looking for and maneuvering to land on a suitable surface are stressed. Managing the energy stored in altitude and airspeed is but one part of this training; properly performing the emergency checklist is another.
When a fatal accident results from an engine failure, other pilots routinely think it won’t happen to them. They know they’ll perform the proper checklists, pick a suitable landing area, fly the airplane to a stop, get out and use their cellphone to call for assistance. That’s the way it’s supposed to work. Sometimes, it doesn’t.
One of the guidelines drilled into us during primary training can be summarized as “the better is the enemy of the good.” Translated, this means picking an adequate landing area and then sticking with it, even if a supposedly better one comes up. Once you’ve identified a suitable landing area and maneuvered to land on it, changing to a supposedly “better” one nearby probably isn’t a good idea. Choosing a site early also give you more time to troubleshoot and, possibly, get the engine running again.
We recently came across the tale of a pilot who suffered an engine failure while flying his LSA. He noted his all-consuming efforts to troubleshoot the engine as it failed. Once the engine finally quit, however, he felt his workload dramatically decreased: He was able to focus on landing the airplane and didn’t have to worry about restarting the engine. He got it down with minor damage and walked away with his passenger.
What follows is not one of those success stories. Instead, it’s a tale of someone who acted upon and then apparently discarded at least three potential landing areas before stalling the airplane, presumably while trying to stretch his glide, and crashing an out-of-control airplane.
On July 1, 2010, at approximately 0750 Central time, a Beech F33A Bonanza was substantially damaged when it impacted terrain five miles east northeast of Perry, Kan. Visual conditions prevailed; the flight was conducted under IFR. The commercial pilot and his passenger were fatally injured. The flight departed Charles B. Wheeler Downtown Airport (MKC), Kansas City, Mo., en route to St. Johns, Ariz.
At 0742:40, while climbing through 7400 feet msl, the pilot reported losing the engine and requested immediate vectors for the nearest airport. The controller responded with a vector back to MKC. Shortly, the pilot asked ATC if there was a closer airport. The controller stated that Lawrence was 10 miles to the south of the pilot’s position, offered weather information for the airport and cleared the pilot to descend to 4000 feet. The pilot told the controller he was not going to make Lawrence, and the controller responded with obstacles in the area and a heading for Lawrence.
At 0747:42, the controller asked the pilot if he could see any “place to put down.” The pilot responded that there were several roads and that he wanted to keep it away from the trees. At 0748:06, the pilot reported he had a road directly in front of him. No further transmission were received or recorded from the pilot. Radar contact was lost at 0749 at 1300 feet.
Shortly after the pilot’s engine-failure report, radar data illustrated a course reversal of 180 degrees via a right-hand turn. The track then changed to an approximate heading of south toward the Lawrence airport and continued in this direction until the track ended. The airplane impacted the ground in an open field.
The accident site initiated with a 23-foot-long ground scar, oriented east/west, with the propeller in a four-foot-diameter crater at one end. An area 90 feet in diameter surrounding the propeller and ground scar was discolored consistent with fuel blight.
The landing gear actuator was in the retracted position. The auxiliary fuel pump switch was in the off position. The fuel selector valve contained trace amounts of fuel, and was free of contamination and water. The fuel screen was clear of contaminants. All control cables were continuous from the control surface to the flight control yoke.
The engine-driven fuel pump was removed from the engine, revealing a broken drive coupling. The electric fuel boost pump revealed no anomalies. When power was added, it functioned as designed.
Data retrieved from the airplane’s engine monitor depicted fuel flow dropped to zero 26 minutes into the flight. Engine rpm and exhaust gas temperature decreased at the same time. The accident flight continued for approximately six additional minutes before the unit stopped recording.
According to the Emergency Procedures section of the Beech Aircraft Flight Manual, the glide distance of the accident airplane would have been 1.7 nm per 1000 feet of altitude above terrain when in its maximum glide configuration. According to Hawker Beechcraft, the airplane should have been able to glide 10.88 miles in a no-wind scenario.
The Emergency Procedures section of the Beech Aircraft Flight Manual for the accident airplane also directed the pilot to turn on the fuel boost pump following a loss of engine power.
The NTSB determined the probable cause of this accident to include: “The failure of the engine driven fuel pump causing a loss of engine power and the pilot’s failure to maintain aircraft control resulting in an inadvertent stall. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s failure to follow the emergency procedures checklist and utilize the electric fuel boost pump which would have restored engine power.”
The facts of this accident lead us to conclude the pilot suffered from a lack of commitment to the task at hand. He apparently chose, then discarded, two nearby airports and a road as potential landing areas. In the end, he apparently stalled the airplane while trying to stretch his glide. It’s quite likely none of this would have happened if he also apparently hadn’t failed to run the engine-out checklist and turn on the electric boost pump.
When a single’s engine fails, it’s time to commit yourself fully to the task at hand. Establish the optimum glide. Pick an appropriate landing area and maneuver to land on it. Run the engine-out checklist. Whatever else you do, maintain control and fly the airplane until it stops