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.
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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.
I was in Hungary recently, having delivered a nice Beech 76 Duchess there. It was my first time in Hungary and my customer was the perfect host. The best part of this business isn’t that I get to fly light aircraft all over the place but the people I meet on these trips.
Beside entertaining me and giving me a great tour of the city of Budapest, my hosts also took me to the Aircraft Museum at Ferihegy airport, Budapest. This is an open air museum with a collection of old Russian/Soviet airliners, most of them in the (sadly now defunct) Malev livery. Some (but not all) of the airplanes are open to visit inside, you can sit in the cockpit of a TU-154 and make airplane noises! There are also some other displays like ground support equipment and jet engines as well.
Here are a few pictures from the Aircraft museum at Budapest airport:
Sorry the blog has been sleepy for a long time, I’ve been so busy with work. Here’s a video of my approach and landing at Kulusuk, Greenland (BGKK) during a trip I just completed. I was flying a Beech Duchess (BE-76) from Atlanta to Europe.
I had taped the camera to the top of the dash since I was flying by myself. The weather was perfect on this particular day for crossing the Greenland icecap and landing at Kulusuk. Clear skies and light winds!
My speeds for landing in a Duchess are as follows:
- Approach: 93 kts. — 1.4Vs with approach flaps.
- Final approach: 78 kts. — 1.3Vs with landing flaps.
With high crosswinds or turbulence on approach I land with partial flaps, in that case the approach speeds are 1.4Vs clean and 1.3Vs with partial flaps respectively.
Do you have any remarks in your logbook about a certain airport, “don’t go back there?” Maybe fuel was expensive, service was bad, anything along those lines? Well I just added one of those airports to my logbook…
I completed a ferry flight (delivery flight) to Peru last week, this time one for the books as they say. The machine was a brand new Cessna 172, the mission was to deliver her safely to Las Palmas, Peru (SPLP). My customer was ESPAC, a new flight school / aero club in Peru. As usual, I was the ferry pilot on the trip and with me was one of the machine’s new pilots/owners.
We left the Cessna factory in Kansas late in the afternoon on the tail end of a low-pressure system and headed to Shreveport, Louisiana. Heading southeast on this first leg we saw groundspeeds in excess of 180kts in the Cessna 172 thanks to the circulation around the low-pressure system. We overnighted in Shreveport and departed the next morning for Tamiami, FL, with stops at Bay Minette (1R8) and Lakeland (KLAL). Hotel space was a bit of a problem by the time we reached Tamiami, but we did catch the Heat-Knicks game over a beer at a local sportsbar. As is typical in Florida, there were a fair amount of New York fans watching the game as well.
One issue about this trip was that our insurance company would not provide insurance for Cuba overflight, so we had to fly from Florida down to the south end of the Bahamas and then around Cuba airspace to Jamaica. We cleared US Customs outbound in Tamiami and headed to the Bahamas on a beautiful Sunday afternoon. Our stops in the Bahamas were Exuma (MYEF) for fuel and then Great Inagua (MYIG). Great Inagua is listed as having avgas at times, but we called ahead and were informed there was no avgas (100LL) in Great Inagua.
(Click any image to view full size)
In Great Inagua we were ramp checked by US Customs and Bahamian police. It was a bit odd to get ramp checked by an unidentified US Customs official (the 3 of them looked like paramilitaries) in the Bahamas, but we cooperated. They left without giving us much of a hard time and the next morning I asked the Bahamian authorities at the airport to confirm if these guys were legit, since none of them identified themselves.
There are no resorts or big hotels on Great Inagua, very few tourists go there. After the ramp check was complete a taxi driver took us to the local guest house and took us to buy some excellent food. I hesitate to say the food was from a local restaurant, it was more a regular house where the family makes its business cooking and selling food. At any rate, the food was excellent and the guest house quite nice.
Stuck for 3 days in Los Cedros, Colombia
If we thought the US Customs ramp check in Inagua was a bit odd, it was nothing compared to what lay ahead. After overnighting in Great Inagua we flew around the tip of Cuba to Kingston, Jamaica. We overnighted in Jamaica and departed Kingston early the next morning to Cartagena, Colombia (SKCG). We rushed through our Cartagena stop to get airborne by 2:00pm that afternoon. Our next leg was Cartagena to Cali, about 4 hours in a C172. We were delayed a bit in Cartagena and didn’t get airborne again until almost 3:00pm.
Now as the pilot-in-command I take responsibility: it was a mistake getting airborne in Cartagena. Once we realized we were delayed I should have decided to go to a hotel and start again the next day. If you’re not familiar with Colombia, single-engine night flight is prohibited in Colombia (with some exceptions). Again, it was my mistake, but we took off in Cartagena. We received our IFR clearance and were on our merry way. Once airborne our FMS (Garmin 1000) was showing an ETA in Cali of 23:55Z and sunset was expected around 23:25Z.
About an hour and a half into the flight we were handed of from Baranquilla control to Los Cedros tower (at low altitudes on the West side of Colombia you have a sort of tower enroute control). A bit later Los Cedros informed us that our flight plan ETA in Cali was after sunset and we were not allowed to continue. We hassled with Los Cedros tower a bit over the exact requirement of “night flight” in Colombia but to no avail. Just for background, in the US the beginning of “night flight” is defined as either the “end of civil twilight” or “1 hour after sunset”, depending on the purpose. Either way, dark does not begin at sunset and I felt comfortable we would be landing in Cali before dark but Los Cedros ATC did not allow us to continue our flight.
After some discussion about alternates we decided to land at Los Cedros airport (SKLC). No big deal, or so we thought. After landing Colombia national police came out in force to check the airplane. This is normal in Colombia: for any unscheduled international flight the national police checks the airplane at each stop. I’ve done the trip several times and I’m quite familiar with the procedures. I also don’t fly for just anybody, flying to South America I only accept trips from known companies (in this case, Cessna) or persons.
The Colombia national police took maybe 30 minutes to check everything and were satisfied. After completion of all their checks the local “Coronel” explained to us that Los Cedros is in a “hot zone”, there is a lot of drug smuggling through the area into Central America and on to the US, so this is why their checks were more elaborate than normal. They told us most pilots who make unscheduled landings at Los Cedros are drug smugglers. When all was finished they were happy and we were ready to leave to the hotel, however, just then a representative of the local anti-narcotics police and Colombian Air Force entered to start the checks all over again. The Coronel of the national police told the anti-narcotics police that all was well. We took a taxi in town and checked into a hotel.
Twenty minutes later the anti-narcotics cop called our hotel and told us to come back to the airport right away. If not, he would send police to get us out of the hotel. Hmmm… not good.
We went back to the airport where the anti-narcotics cop showed us some fax he received from the Colombian Air Force that stated we had deviated from our flight plan. Next thing we know the anti-narcotics cop told us he was immobilizing our airplane. The national police basically looked at us and said sorry he has more authority than us. I tried to explain that we have all the permits, licenses, paperwork in order, but to no avail. By now it was late and nothing we could do. The cops taped up our airplane and left.
At this point I should mention that there were already 2 confiscated aircraft sitting on the ramp at Los Cedros, according to the policemen we talked to those were legitimately confiscated from drugrunners:
Not ready to become confiscated airplane nr 3:
The rest of the story is long and the details serve no purpose here. I will say that I have done numerous ferry flights to South America, I use an excellent handling agent (the same company that handles US government contracted and military aircraft in Colombia) and all of our permits were in place. We should have been allowed to leave early the next morning with just a simple report explaining the reason for our deviation, but that was not the case. After about a day or so of hassling with the anti-narcotics police in Los Cedros I began to worry, suspect things. Los Cedros ATC as well as agents from the Colombia national police said things that made us be quite concerned about the legitimacy of the proceedings. And again, I know what to expect and this wasn’t the normal.
I made contact with Cessna, Bogota, Washington and Peru, everybody and anybody. I hesitate to mention anyone so as to not take credit away from the many people who made an effort on our behalf, but among many the US embassy in Bogota was very helpful in this issue. In hindsight it was a strange coincidence how one US official gave us a bit of a hassle in the Bahamas but others in Colombia came to our help.
Long story short, on the second day after our diversion to Los Cedros we were finally cleared to continue our trip.
After our adventure in Los Cedros we landed in Cali for our second Colombia stop and then on to Guayaquil, Ecuador (SEGU). The boundary between Colombia and Ecuador airspace along the Cali-Guayaquil route is called “ANGEL”, and it’s safe to say I’d never been happier to reach ANGEL!
Guayaquil is wet this time of the year. While I was waiting on my copilot to return from paying the landing fees I snapped a picture of this LAN Boeing 767 landing on a wet runway at SEGU:
After Guayaquil we flew to Piura, Peru (SPUR). My copilot has friends in Piura so we wanted to overnight there.
After Piura we flew down to Lima’s Jorge Chavez Intl. airport (SPIM) to clear Peru Customs (not for us as pilots, but for the airplane import). Some of the Peru import paperwork hadn’t been prepared properly but after some phone calls that was all resolved. The next day we flew to Las Palmas, which is a Peruvian Air Force base but also accepts civilian aircraft to go to the SEMAN repair station. Lima Intl. is quite busy nowadays, when I called up for our departure out of Lima we were nr. 12 in line. We ended up having nearly 1 hour of block time for the 11nm flight from Lima Intl. to Las Palmas.
It just so happens that my copilot is a dual citizen US/Peru but his wife is Colombian. After arriving to Lima she asked “How was Colombia?” I replied “I think you already know”. However, as bad as our experience in Los Cedros was, it was only 2 guys giving us a hard time, everybody else has always treated me fantastically in all of Colombia.
As they say, “All’s well that ends well”
Alternate title: flying to South America by Cessna 172.
I delivered the first airplane for Universidad San Martin de Porres (USMP) last week. Universidad San Martin de Porres is a major university in Lima (Peru) and they are starting Peru’s first university accredited pilot training program. Here is some info about USMP Ciencias Aeronáuticas on the web and on Facebook.
Personally I think this is a great idea, I didn’t go to college until later in my career and in hindsight I wish I had done so when I was younger. To have a good career as a professional pilot the 2 things that matter most in terms of checkboxes on your resume – at least in my opinion – are 1) military experience and 2) a university degree.
The first airplane for USMP Ciencias Aeronáuticas is a brand spanking new Cessna 172SP. The friendly folks at the international Cessna dealership for Peru had arranged for us to pick up the airplane at Eagle Aviation in Columbia, SC, where it had been painted in a custom paint scheme for USMP.
We arrived in Columbia (KCAE) on a lousy rainy day and decided to postpone our departure by 1 day to allow some finishing touches at the paint shop and wait for better weather. The next day weather was more reasonable and we took off for our first leg of the ferry flight: Columbia, SC (KCAE) to Tamiami, FL (KTMB).
The weather was generally good VFR for our flight to Tamiami but we had to stay around 3,000 feet most of the time to avoid strong headwinds. At Savannah (GA) ATC asked us if we wanted to go around or over the top of their class C airspace and I decided to climb to 6,500 feet for 40 miles or so. You can tell by the headwinds on the Garmin 1000 MFD that I may have made the wrong decision at that point. A diversion around their airspace might have been quicker.
We had an uneventful trip to Tamiami which was our first overnight stop. The next day we completed the mandatory 25-hour oil change for a new aircraft as well as US Customs export paperwork in Tamiami. All that took up most of the day but in the afternoon we continued our trip with a short flight from Tamiami to Nassau, Bahamas (MYNN), our second overnight stop.
In a late model Cessna 172 you could theoretically cross the Gulf of Mexico with just 1 stop in Jamaica, but I wanted to go from Florida to the Bahamas and then on to Jamaica because flying direct from Florida to Jamaica in a C172 is a bit of a stretch range-wise. We refueled in Kingston and after a quick turnaround continued on to Cartagena, Columbia (SKCG).
Jamaica to Cartagena is about 4:15 hours in a Cessna 172, well within range but obviously you want to be very careful with winds and weather.
I work with an excellent handling agent in Cartagena, they take care of our Customs notification, make our hotel reservations and have our flight plans ready to file the next morning. From Cartagena we headed over to Cali (SKCL) in mostly good VFR weather until the last 70 miles or so, when we ran into some cloud buildups over the mountains just west of Cali.
From Cartagena there are various direct routes to Cali but we flew a bit west so as to avoid having to fly at higher altitudes over the Andes mountains. In Cali we shot the ILS but had the runway easily in sight from 4 or 5 miles out. When approaching Cali from the west in any airplane without speedbrakes you will usually need 1 turn in the holding to lose altitude for the instrument approach after crossing the mountains.
Weather between Cali and Guayaquil was a bit marginal and we decided to overnight in Cali. The airport hotel in Cali had sold out all of its 12 rooms, so we took a taxi to Palmira and found us a nice hotel there for only 80,000 pesos per night (~$50).
The next day we had good weather for our flight to Guayaquil (SEGU) where we refueled and did another quick turnaround. Guayaquil is an interesting airport, the preferred runway is RY21 but the General Aviation facility is all the way at the end of the runway. While we were strapping in and doing our before start checklist a C152 taxied out just before us. When requesting my startup clearance I asked ATC for RY03 if available. With light winds Guayaquil tower will usually approve General Aviation aircraft to land RY21 and takeoff RY03 to minimize taxi time and minimize traffic/delays on the ground. If taking off on RY03 when RY21 is technically in use the tower simply requests a quick right turnout.
The Guayaquil control tower approved RY03 for us and as we rolled out of our 180 degree right turn after takeoff I looked down and saw the C152 which had taxied out just before us, the airplane was still on the ground taxiing, almost reaching the departure end of RY21
From Guayaquil we flew to Trujillo, Peru, where we overnighted for the last time on this trip. The next morning we had a delay taking off out of Trujillo because our international flight permit for Peru specified Pisco (SPSO) as our final airport but the university had requested that we change our destination to Lima (SPIM). Once that was cleared up we took off and headed down the Pacific coast to Lima.
As usual Lima was landing runway 15. We were lucky to arrive at a fairly quiet moment (Lima can be very busy at times) and shot the ILS to RY15.
Here’s the first airplane for USMP Ciencias Aeronáuticas in Lima, Peru.