NOTE: “Iceman” is not the person in this story’s real call sign. Everything else in the story is true to the best of my knowledge. “Iceman” asked me not to use his real FAP call sign so in honor of the “Top Gun” movie re-release I replaced the actual FAP call sign with “Iceman”.
We turned final for landing in Piura, Perú (SPUR). I had been doing most of the radio work since we left Independence but my copilot now called Piura tower using his old Fuerza Aérea del Perú (FAP) call sign:
“Piura tower, Iceman turning final Rwy ONE-NINE.”
The runway shook and the dust blew away.
Sleepy airport hangars jumped to attention.
Saggy roof lines straightened out.
Iceman is back!
* * *
That morning we had departed from Cali and stopped for fuel in Guayaquil. We had run into some issues in Colombia and after a few stressful days in Colombia we were happy to be back in the air for the last remaining legs of our flight to Lima, Peru.
The airspace boundary between Colombia and Ecuador along the route we were flying is a navigation point called “ANGEL”. As we approached “ANGEL” my copilot asked if the Galapagos Islands would display on the Garmin G1000 map. I expanded the range on the G1000.
When the Galapagos came into view on the map Iceman said “I flew there.”
I sort of shrugged. Many people visit the Galapagos nowadays. Patricia and I have been wanting to take a vacation there ourselves.
“I flew to the Galapagos in the Mirage during the war with Ecuador.”
I looked at Iceman in disbelief. Then he told me the story of the FAP Mirages that flew to the Galapagos during the Paquisha War in 1981:
There had been a long running territorial dispute between Peru and Ecuador. The dispute was not formally resolved until 1998. The Fuerza Aérea del Perú (FAP) had historically been one of the strongest air forces in Latin America. When the Paquisha War broke out, Peru received intelligence that the Fuerza Aérea Ecuatoriana (FAE) had moved many of its aircraft to the Galapagos as a defensive maneuver. To verify the intelligence received, the FAP decided to send a Canberra reconnaissance aircraft (a variant of the venerable English Electric Canberra bomber) to the Galapagos. The unarmed reconnaissance aircraft was to be escorted by 2 of the FAP’s Mirage 5P fighters.
At the time the FAP had moved most of its aircraft from airbases near the Ecuadorian border back to Chiclayo, further away from the border. The 2 Mirages were to take off from Chiclayo, fly to the Galapagos and return to Chiclayo. Due to the long distance of the flight and fuel weight, the Mirages carried no weapons other than ammunition in their guns.
When the aircraft reached the Galapagos the reconnaissance Canberra quickly took its pictures and turned back to Peru. The Mirages lingered over the Galapagos to provide protection for the departing Canberra. The FAE sent up 6 interceptor aircraft, 3 FAE aircraft pursued each of the FAP Mirages.
Iceman briefly engaged the FAE aircraft but outnumbered, with no armament and precious little fuel there was nothing the Mirages could do. Iceman dove down to “the deck”, zigzagging just above the Pacific Ocean to shake the FAE aircraft. The FAE aircraft gave up pursuit.
The FAP Canberra had now reached a reasonably safe distance from the target and the FAP Mirages turned back to Chiclayo. When reaching Chiclayo the Mirages were desperately low on fuel but due to the war time traffic they were forced to hold before landing at Chiclayo.
By the time the Mirages were finally cleared to land they were so desperately low on fuel that Iceman and his wingman executed their break and landed simultaneously, in opposite directions, on Chiclayo’s only runway. On the runway both aircraft ran out of fuel and had to be towed back to the hangars.
This is the story as told to me by Iceman himself. I believe every word he said.
I asked Iceman if he realized how dangerous the mission was beforehand. He replied that it was a volunteer mission, when you really believe in something you are willing to give everything for it.
Iceman shook his head.
“Man, I was only 24 at the time.”
Fascinated though I was, I wanted to break the serious mood so I said “Just be sure not to tell anybody in Guayaquil about this, ok?”
Guayaquil is a nice place, I’ve stopped there several times now. The service is great, the people are friendly. Peru and Ecuador are like Portugal and Spain nowadays, or Ontario and Quebec. It’s practically unimaginable now they fought wars as recently as 1995. But I’m sure some of the people we ran into at Guayaquil airport had to be on the opposite side of the conflict. Maybe the weather briefers we shook hands with, the marshallers, the fuel truck drivers, who knows?
I never got to ask Iceman, what would he do if he ran into one of the guys who was sent up to shoot him down? Maybe some AeroGal pilot, or one of the LAN Ecuador crew who were parked next to us? Would you shake their hand and have a beer?
What could you do?
Iceman left the FAP 20 or so years ago and I don’t think he’d flown any aircraft from the time he left the FAP until he accompanied me on this flight to Peru. But once we got to Piura, tower controllers who probably weren’t even born when the Paquisha War happened, they knew the name Iceman with great respect.
Iceman spent most of the time since he left the FAP in the US, he has a family, a job, a business. I wonder how many people never knew what an extraordinary thing he did. How many guys at work shook his hand not having the faintest idea?
Just a quick note: I’m on my way to Nairobi, Kenya in a Cessna 182.
“Miles for Kids” – Cessna 182 Ottawa to Nairobi. For details about the trip or more info about the Hanne Howard Fund please follow us at http://cessnaottawa2nairobi.islandnet.com/
* * *
La Maquina / The machine:
“48 Foxtrot” is a C182J outfitted with a P.Ponk Super Eagle O-470-50 engine. In other words, she leaps off the ground and climbs like a bat out of you-know-what.
For bush flying in Africa, “48 Foxtrot” also has a Sportsman STOL kit and tundra tires, which have the exact specification of “Big Old Tires”.
We are now in Scotland – not quite halfway – and “48 Foxtrot” has treated us very well so far. She took off in low IFR out of Iqaluit, cruised VFR over the Greenland Icecap and easily climbed to FL150 (15,000 feet) over cloud layers between Iceland and Scotland.
Here’s the link to the HHF Miles for Kids blog one more time, so check it out now: http://cessnaottawa2nairobi.islandnet.com/
The final report on the 2009 AF447 crash is out today. I didn’t read the entire report but most of the blame was placed on faulty pitot-tubes, as had been expected. There is also a fair amount of discussion about the pilot’s actions but the head of the French BEA stated that “the same situation could have occurred with a different crew on board”.
I can appreciate that statement and the difficulty the AF447 pilots were in. Airline pilots are practically human robots, almost everything they do is a programmed procedure. That’s not to say there aren’t many times they have to exercise sound judgment but when it comes to basic flying procedures, they aren’t supposed to have to figure things out. When the pitot tubes became frozen the AF447 crew was presented with conflicting warnings and information that made no sense. The cockpit warnings and information weren’t reflective of the aerodynamic condition that the airplane was in, nor was it a situation the crew had been adequately trained to deal with. How do you react when one indication contradicts another? My condolences go out to the families of the passengers and crew.
* * *
I had a frozen pitot tube once. I was flying an older Seneca to Europe at the end of the northern hemisphere winter. I had refueled in Kuujjuaq and was on my way to Iqaluit. In Iqaluit avgas (100LL) is available in drums only and you have to buy the entire drum. I was hoping to buy just one drum of avgas in Iqaluit but my fuel consumption looked to be a bit high. Not wanting to buy a second drum for an additional 10 gals or so I decided to throttle back to a more conservative power setting, hoping to save a bit of gas between CYVP and CYFB.
Image courtesy of Great Circle Mapper.
I knew I shouldn’t have throttled back, one of the points I often have to explain about doing ferry flights over the North Atlantic is that many times you won’t be able to go to max range power settings in piston engine airplanes because the engine temperatures will fall below the green arc due to the extreme cold. As it was the temps in my Seneca didn’t fall below the green arc but only a few minutes after I had throttled back the left engine oil pressure started to drop and the left engine oil temperature started to rise. Both needles stabilized before going out of the green arc but I knew something had happened nonetheless.
My guess was that the left oil cooler had congealed or frozen. The oil inside the cooler got so cold that it would no longer flow through, thereby blocking the cooler. The oil cooler bypass valve opened so I was running the left engine essentially with no oil cooler. This wasn’t a dangerous situation in itself as long as the oil temperature and pressure stayed in the green arc, but not fun either.
As I approached Iqaluit the weather was beautiful and clear but surface temperatures were in the -30C range. I had been delayed a bit in Kuujjuaq and was arriving in Iqaluit about 20 minutes after dark so I decided to set up for the ILS approach. My Seneca had a nice autopilot and I decided to fly a coupled approach. I was flying a stabilized approach at 95 kts IAS, one notch of flaps and was passing through about 1,600 feet when the airspeed dropped to about 90. I added some power.
I should note that the pitot heat was ON. I fly light airplanes like you would a large airplane, meaning I turn the pitot heat ON when I go on the runway and OFF when I leave the runway.
A few moments after I added power the airspeed dropped again, this time significantly. My immediate thought was that I lost the cranky left engine. I grabbed the yoke, disconnected the autopilot and shoved both throttles way up. I looked at the airspeed and it had now dropped dangerously low to around 65 knots. If you stall a twin engine airplane on one engine, especially close to the ground, you most likely won’t live. So I did what I was trained to do. I yanked both throttles back and pushed the nose down.
I yanked the throttles back because I thought at the time the airplane was only developing power on one engine, which would be extremely dangerous in a stall.
I pushed the nose down hard. It was dark but I could see the runway. I only had just over a thousand feet of altitude.
The airspeed kept dropping and I realized something wasn’t right. I was reacting to an indication of low airspeed but there were no other stall indications. No stall warning, no aerodynamic buffet, nothing. I glanced over at the GPS and saw the groundspeed indicating something like 130 knots. By now my airspeed indicator was flat at ZERO.
Realizing that I was not in a stall but had a frozen pitot tube, I added power and raised the nose to a nose-level attitude. I was only about 3 miles from the runway and I flew the rest of the way by eyeballing the nose attitude, guestimating the power setting and glancing at the GPS groundspeed, making sure to keep it up quite high.
Iqaluit has a long runway and I was able to make a reasonable landing. The entire “upset” (if you want to call it that) only lasted maybe 10 seconds, maybe less. Much like the AF447 crew, I reacted in a programmed way but the situation was not what was indicated. First I reacted to what I thought was an indication of losing an engine (unusual drop in airspeed during an autopilot coupled approach) and then I reacted to what I thought was a stall. My problem was easy to identify, as soon as I realized my initial responses didn’t produce the expected result I was able to identify the real problem, the frozen pitot tube. Sadly, the AF447 crew was in a much more complicated and dire situation (for one, they weren’t able to see the ground and fly by visual reference, I was).
On the rollout the pitot tube started to unfreeze. There was never any loss of power on the left engine, that was just my initial reaction based on the indicated loss of airspeed and earlier indications (which had persisted) of high oil temp and low oil pressure. There was also never a loss of airspeed, just a frozen pitot tube.