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Smoke in the cockpit

January 16, 2013

There aren’t many worse feelings than smoke in the cockpit. It’s only happened to me once, many moons ago. As I was reading the news of the JAL and ANA grounding of their B787 Dreamliners I immediately thought back to the one awful moment that I realized there was smoke in the cockpit.

I’d been warned.

I was a lowly flight instructor in the days after Sept 11, 2001. Flying jobs were next to impossible to find so I was “biding my time” as a flight instructor in Merritt Island, Florida. My flight that fateful day was to do a flight-review with an 80-something year old lady. She was a retired US Navy officer and I’d been told she had a bit of a strong character. Her doctor had told her she shouldn’t be flying any more but she decided to come to our flight school to prove otherwise. I’d never flown with her before but other flight instructors urged me not to sign her logbook ( for a flight review ) if I wasn’t comfortable.

My “student” had her own airplane, an older Cessna 172. She was impatient and went to pre-fly the airplane while I was taking care of some paperwork inside.

It was my own fault.

My student started her airplane and pulled up in front of our flight school office. I jumped in without stopping the engine. In an older Cessna it’s hard to see if the battery is charging once the airplane is running. The generator charge is something that you should check immediately after starting, it’s on the after-start checklist. I wasn’t in the airplane when it was started. I should have stopped and started over but I didn’t.

We took off and were climbing out to the practice area to the West of the airport when I noticed the generator field circuit breaker had tripped. Something I’d been taught long before is that you NEVER NEVER NEVER reset a tripped circuit breaker in flight unless you absolutely need that missing system to avoid a grave and imminent emergency.

So I pushed in the generator field circuit breaker.

To this day I don’t know what made me do that. I think because I didn’t do the entire pre-flight and before-start checklists with my student, I figured that she simply didn’t check the circuit breakers. For whatever reason, I just pushed in that circuit breaker. As soon as I pushed in the circuit breaker I said to myself something along the lines of “What the devil did you do that for?” Maybe I simply blocked out the idea that airplanes do catch on fire because most all of our flights are always routine, most airline pilots fly an entire career without dealing with a serious system emergency. Either way, it was a pull-type circuit breaker so I didn’t worry about it.

For about 20 seconds. That’s when electrical smoke started to fill the cockpit. I reached over to my old friend the generator field circuit breaker and pulled. And pulled. And pulled.


One reason to never push in a popped circuit breaker is that the breaker may weld itself shut when you push it back in. This one did. Smoke kept filling the cockpit. I practically rolled the airplane on its side doing a 180 back to the airport. We were only minutes away from the airport and over nice open fields. When we approached the airport is where I had to make a decision. The last few miles to the airport were devoid of suitable emergency landing sites. I either had to continue or set down in an open field. Our smoke situation wasn’t getting any better but I figured I had some time. We continued to the airport and landed safely. I later learned the airplane was an awful mess of years of neglect and “pilot / owner maintenance”. The generator had been jerry-rigged to basically by-pass the voltage regulator. More RPM meant more voltage in direct correlation.

* * *

I’m sure Boeing will figure the 787 issues out eventually. I’ve done some work with New Product Introduction (NPI) at GE Aircraft Engines and there are always some growing pains. Having said that, there aren’t any worse feelings than smoke in the cockpit.


Flying over the Egyptian desert. Lots of good emergency landing room here…


October 3, 2012

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”.


On final for Rwy 19 in Piura

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.


Approaching “ANGEL”, the navigation point on the boundary between Colombia and Ecuador.

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?


On the ramp at Guayaquil, Ecuador (SEGU)

Fuerza Aérea del Perú (FAP) Canberra

Fuerza Aérea del Perú (FAP) Canberra bombers, now mothballed at Pisco airport.


Map of route Chiclayo to Galapagos.

fuerza aerea peru fap mirage

Fuerza Aerea Peru (FAP) Mirage

Route picture courtesy of Great Circle Mapper. Mirage picture from here.


September 24, 2012

Alternate title: to Nairobi by Cessna 182

I was fortunate to have an opportunity to meet Ted and Hanne of the Hanne Howard Fund recently. Ted contacted me some time ago when he began planning to fly his Cessna 182 from Ottawa to Nairobi. I agreed to fly with Ted as ferry pilot / safety pilot in his Cessna 182, nicknamed “48-Fox”.

Ted kept a blog detailing each of our legs at I’ve been back home now for about 2 weeks and just thought I’d reflect on the trip here, not in a trip-report type format, just some details, the good, the bad and the trivia:

The trip got off to an ominous start:

45 minutes into the 70+ hour flight I noticed that we had lost the alternator. We were just north of Montreal at the time and had climbed to 9500 feet VFR above some scattered cloud layers. We circled down below the Montreal class B and limped into Lachute (CSE4) – which is a very good general aviation airport.


48-Fox with alternator problems at LaChute airport

We got the alternator repaired in short order and continued on our way. After this we had no issues with the airplane the rest of the way.

Nada, zilch, nothing.

Think about that for a moment: We flew a 1966 Cessna 182 over the Atlantic Ocean and through 3 continents. 70+ flight hours in temperatures ranging from -15C over the Greenland icecap to over 40C in Jeddah. Rain, mist, gravel, desert sand, you name it.

“48-Fox” was designed in the 1950s – when my father was a teenager – and built in 1966. Nearly 50 years old she flies like a new airplane. Think about the draftsmen who drew the blueprints by hand. The engineers who calculated rivet joint shear loads by slide rule. The things we humans can accomplish are nothing short of amazing. (*)

The route of flight:

We flew without ferry tank, keeping the legs 750nm or less. The hardest part of the routing was to find avgas in Africa. Here is our complete route:


Map of Cessna 182 ferry flight to Nairobi

Image courtesy of Great Circle Mapper.

The stop in Graz looks like a “dog-leg” because we intended to route to Corfu (Greece) after Graz and stay inside the EU/Schengen zone (to facilitate transit). However, due to weather and traffic in Corfu we routed via Nis (Serbia) instead, hence the “dog-leg”.

Most expensive avgas along the route of flight:

The most expensive avgas was in Djibouti, where we paid $2,160 for two 55-gallon drums of avgas. Do the math if you wish. I can sort of understand the cost since Djibouti is the only place in a 500 mile radius that has avgas and the refuelers told us they sell avgas on average once every month, or less.

Honorable Dishonorable mention goes out to Kuujjuaq (CYVP) where a drum of avgas is now north of $750, an increase of nearly 50% in the past 2-3 years. By comparison avgas in Iqaluit (CYFB) is around $350 per drum.

The scariest part of the flight:

There were some scary moments, thankfully, none while flying (**):

In Denmark our taxi driver was proudly showing us some of the sights along the way to the hotel and while distracted we nearly rear-ended a stopped car. In Jeddah we returned to the hotel (after having eaten a piece of chicken that, in Ted’s words, “looked like it had been chased here from Cairo without having a drink of water”) when our driver made a U-turn in ungodly amounts of oncoming traffic.

And in Denmark there was that scary moment when I was brushing my hair in the morning, admiring my good looks in the full-length mirror, when an ugly-looking spider came rappelling down from the ceiling. I jumped and screamed like a little girl 🙂

The young lady at the hotel desk told me spiders are common but not dangerous in Denmark. Then again, this was the same young lady who called our taxi that nearly took us to the wrong airport so take it for what it’s worth.

Most difficult part of the trip:

The go/no-go decision on takeoff in Iqaluit was the most difficult part of the trip. The weather in Iqaluit was very low IFR and forecast to stay that way for the foreseeable future. The weather was such that you really don’t want to fly in it but there were also no legal/operational considerations that would prevent us from doing so. The low IFR weather was localized and we had good weather over the ocean. Being mid-August we didn’t want to delay very much because good weather over the North-Atlantic gets very scarce after the end of August.

Once my decision was made the takeoff out of Iqaluit was uneventful.

The worst part of the trip:

We got stuck in Jeddah for 2 days because I miscalculated our fuel on takeoff and realized we wouldn’t be able to reach Djibouti safely on our first attempt. After returning to Jeddah we found out we were stuck there because our fuel stop (Rabigh/OERB) was closed the next day due to the Muslim weekend. All told the extra cost for fuel, handling and hotels was very painful.

The only other bad part of the trip was our stop in Crete (Greece). All of the people we spoke to there are just disgusted with the politics of their country and the bad financial situation Greece is in. One taxi driver said he was emigrating to Canada. It is really sad to see such a beautiful country with such a great history affected so badly by a few arrogant dumbasses in suits. For what it’s worth, the Germans didn’t preach austerity back when Euros were plentiful and the Greeks were spending their Euros on fine German automobiles.


On final to Iraklion (LGIR) airport, Crete.

The best part of the trip:

There were a lot of nice moments. I always enjoy the flying, even though I’ve done quite a few ferry flights now, I love the flying, I love the scenery. But I have said it before and I will say it again: the best part of this job is not the flying but the great people I get to meet along the way.

We stopped in Halifax to spend a day with Ted’s family. Even though I was only a guest, sort of outside-looking-in, it was obviously a very nice moment.

We refueled in Wroclaw (Poland) where we met with my friend Kamil. I hadn’t seen Kamil in a couple of years since we flew a Mooney Acclaim from Chicago to Wroclaw together. It was great seeing him and seeing that he is doing well, flying a beautiful corporate aircraft.

Another nice moment was meeting Brian Miller and some of his fellow US Navy ATC specialists in Djibouti (Camp Lemonnier). Brian helped us on his own time with some issues at the Djibouti airport and then was kind enough to send an email to his friends/contacts to let them know of the good work Ted and Hanne do in Nairobi with the Hanne Howard Fund. Nothing but respect to Brian and the men/women who serve with him.

The very best part of the trip has to be the reception we received in Nairobi. Arriving later than we planned after a long day of flying we were not expecting a big welcome but were happily surprised by about 20 kids from the Hanne Howard Fund project who had waited over 2 hours at the airport to meet us.


Welcome at the Aero Club in Nairobi

Most important new words learned:

Jambo: Swahili for “hello”.

Tusker: as in, it was time for a couple of Tuskers when we finally landed in Nairobi!

You had to be there moment:

While having a late dinner in Roskilde (Denmark) we happened to be seated next to 3 very inebriated people. An attractive 30-something woman was literally too drunk to walk (she fell down on the sidewalk) but somehow managed to do a number of push-ups, in some apparent attempt to impress her companions, or something.

You just had to be there.

And for some dry humor:

I uploaded this picture on FB of our landing in Aqaba, Jordan. A pilot friend of mine commented:

“Watch out the tree!”


Cessna 182 landing at Aqaba King Hussein Intl Airport (OJAQ)


(*) Ted made sure the airplane was ready for the trip by extensively upgrading and servicing the airplane before our departure but the fact that the airplane performed so well is also very much a testament to the design of the Cessna 182.

(**) I don’t say this with a “nothing can happen to me” bravado, only to point out that a ferry flight is nothing more than a series of back-to-back cross-country flights. Some legs require special planning and precautions due to the distance between airports, lack of ground facilities in remote areas or weather but there is no reason if a pilot complies with the relevant procedures and precautions for each leg that a ferry flight should be more dangerous than any other flight. Above all else, if you are careful with winds/weather and conservative with fuel/range, the ferry flight will be uneventful.

To EAA Oshkosh by plane, train and automobile

September 15, 2012

Patrick had asked me if I would fly with him and his son Arthur from France to EAA Oshkosh this year. Patrick owns a Cessna 340A based in Vannes, in the beautiful Brittany region of France.

Arthur had provided me with an airline ticket to Paris, where he planned to meet me to buy a few last-minute supplies before heading to Vannes. We asked our taxi to rush to the train station and with literally a minute to spare we climbed aboard the “TGV”, the very fast trains that are widely used in France.

By TGV Vannes is about 3 hours from Paris. About 2 hours into the ride we made our first stop in Rennes (or was it Nantes?). The train conductor comes on the intercom:

“Ladies and Gentlemen, we are going to have a delay of 15 minutes here in Rennes due to a technical issue with your TGV.”

A few minutes later:

“Ladies and Gentlemen, we are going to have a delay of 2 hours here in Rennes due to a technical issue with your TGV.”

Arthur jumped out of the TGV and said we’re taking a taxi the rest of the way. A few minutes later we were on our way by taxi for the rest of the trip to Vannes. What’s the first thing you do when you arrive in Brittany? You go eat crepes of course!

The next day we were on our way to Oshkosh. Patrick did most of the flying and Arthur accompanied us in the back of the C340. We took the most northern route to cross the Atlantic, the same route I take on most of my trips:


Most northern Atlantic ferry flight route.

I like this route because airports are spaced more closely than along the more southern routes and Sondre Stromfjord (BGSF) is the most reliable airport in Greenland by far. In a C340 we could take the slightly more direct route via Narsarsuaq but this requires HF radio below FL250. The C340 can cruise comfortably at FL250 but going westbound at that level would give us a serious headwind. Even in a C340 with locker tanks we probably wouldn’t have the range to go from Reykjavik to Narsarsuaq and divert to Sondre Stromfjord if weather at Narsarsuaq was bad.

Leaving Scotland we flew to Egilsstadir (BIEG) for our first fuel stop in Iceland. The winds were particularly bad from Scotland to Iceland, so we opted for the shortest distance to BIEG instead of going direct to Reykjavik.

Just for an idea of how bad the weather over the North Atlantic can be: leaving Scotland we filed FL180 (18,000 feet) to Egilsstadir. There was some weather between us and Iceland but the C340 has full de-ice and according to the charts we were expecting to be above any icing at FL180. Starting around FL140 we began to pick up ice. At FL170 I decided to disconnect the autopilot and hand-fly the airplane. As soon as I disconnected the autopilot the airplane felt as if it wanted to fall out of the sky. Not convinced that we’d be out of ice soon or that the airplane would climb much more I called Scottish and asked for lower. We descended down to FL140 for the next hour or so until we were clear of most weather and then climbed back up.

After clearing the weather north of Scotland the rest of the flight was uneventful with good weather all the way.


Refueling at Egilsstadir, Iceland (BIEG). Cessna 340 ferry flight to EAA Oshkosh 2012.


Greenland in summer: taking off from Sondre Stromfjord (BGSF) enroute to Iqaluit, Canada.


A First Air B767 cargo plane taking off in Iqaluit. Outside of the summer shipping season everything is delivered to Iqaluit by plane.

So how was EAA Oshkosh you ask? I’m sorry to say I don’t know. I picked up a little cold somewhere during the trip and when we arrived at Fond du Lac it became a really bad miserable cold. While Patrick and Arthur were at the airshow I slept in the hotel all day 😦

* * *

The Cessna 340 like all of the big Cessna twins is a really nice flying airplane. The airplane handles very well and with its pressurized cabin it’s a great airplane to go places. Like all piston-engine twins the C340 isn’t very powerful on one engine, so you have to be careful with weight and takeoff performance. All of the Cessna twins are now over 25 years old with many 30 or 40 years old. In recent years piston engine twins have somewhat fallen out of favor against the single-engine turbines like the Piper Meridian and TBMs but I’m old fashioned, I still like the piston twins.

Miles for HHF kids

August 23, 2012

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

* * *

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:

Air France AF447 and my experience with frozen pitot tubes

July 5, 2012

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.


Ferry flight route from Kuujjuaq via Iqaluit to Greenland and Iceland

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.


Indication of frozen oil cooler on a Piper Seneca

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.


Not long after I took this picture the Seneca’s left oil cooler froze up on me.

Operating requirements

June 28, 2012

Imagine you’re on the German Autobahn. You’re zipping along at 140 MPH in your fine German automobile.

No stop signs, no speed limits, ain’t nobody gonna slow me down

Now you’re leaving beautiful Bavaria and cross the border into France. You keep moving at 140 MPH until the French Gendarmerie nationale pulls you over. You kindly point out your German license plates to the nice Gendarme and explain that you shouldn’t have to abide by his speed limits since your registration is German. Right?

Of course not.

We know things don’t work that way with automobiles and they also don’t work that way with airplanes. Nevertheless when I discuss equipment and operating requirements for a ferry flight I often hear the argument that this or that piece of equipment is not required for my airplane because it is registered in this or that country. That simply isn’t true, you have to comply with the operating requirements for the countries you fly in, regardless of your aircraft’s country of registration.

Aircraft operating requirements vary from country to country due to things like variations in ground-based infrastructure, geography, amount of air traffic, etc. ICAO sets recommendations but it’s up to the individual countries to adopt them.

Some variations on operating requirements are flight rules. For example, Colombia prohibits (with few exceptions) night flight in single-engine airplanes. For ferry flights over the Atlantic, Transport Canada requires that the pilot-in-command holds a current and valid instrument rating, even if the flight is conducted under VFR. Then there are the expensive requirements: the rules that affect equipment installed in the airplane.

For international ferry flights in general aviation airplanes, the following are the most common “equipment requirements”:

  • HF radio for the Atlantic Crossing: nowadays the only routes where Transport Canada allows Atlantic crossings without HF radio are CYFB-BGSF-BIKF or at or above FL250 CYYR-BGBW-BIKF. (Ref. TC AIM section 6) Many people still take the CYYR-BGBW route below FL250 without HF radio but you risk being violated and fined. In my opinion if you can’t go to FL250 it’s better to take the far northern route via CYFB to BGSF than to bother with HF radio.
  • Mode-S transponder in Europe: the mode-S requirements in Europe vary by country but the basic idea is that in the busiest airspace (UK to Germany to France) mode-S is mandatory for IFR flights and some VFR. The general perception appears to be that mandating mode-S for general aviation airplanes was a bad idea due to the clutter on controllers’ screens but as they say “it is what it is” – as pilots it’s not our place to decide if the rules make sense, which are good rules or bad rules. There are many stories of people flying through areas where mode-S is required with only mode-C onboard but you risk being violated and fined.
  • Traditional DME for IFR in Europe: most newer general aviation airplanes in the US don’t have traditional DME (or ADF) installed. GPS can be substituted for DME in the US because most (maybe all?) the instrument approach procedures have been designed for GPS (or radar) in lieu of DME. In Europe that is not the case, there are still many approaches that are specifically designed for DME, so you must have the equipment onboard. GPS might be a better and more accurate system but that doesn’t matter. As pilots we must fly the approach as published and if the approach requires DME then you must have DME.
  • 406 MHz ELT: this is another requirement that varies by country. Some countries require a 406 MHz ELT and others (like the US and Canada) don’t. Of the countries that require a 406 MHz ELT, some accept a portable device in general aviation airplanes and others require that it be a fixed, certified installation. On a side note, the system that monitors the old 121.5 ELTs is no longer operational, so if you don’t have a 406 MHz ELT onboard your chances of being found quickly in the event of a crash are not good. In the case of this recent helicopter crash it took days for the crash site to be found.

These are just the most typical issues for general aviation airplanes delivered from the US to Europe. There are other requirements for large airplanes, EGPWS, RVSM, RNP, alphabet soup stuff. Most are avionics issues and expensive ones at that.

Here are some links to regulatory requirements:


Atlantic ferry flight route via CYFB-BGSF-BIKF. HF radio is not required on this route.


Atlantic ferry flight route via CYYR-BGBW-BIKF. HF radio is mandatory below FL250 on this route.


On final for landing at BGSF, Sondre Stromfjord, Greenland.


In the cockpit of what is believed to be the only airworthy Li-2 in the world.

Pictures from the Budapest Air Museum

June 13, 2012

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:

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Landing at Kulusuk

May 6, 2012

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.

One for the books

February 11, 2012

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…

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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)

approaching Exuma MYEF Bahamas

Approaching Exuma, Bahamas (MYEF)

in exuma MYEF

Me in Exuma, Bahamas (MYEF)

landing in Inagua MYIG

On final for landing at Great Inagua, Bahamas (MYIG)

c172 at inagua MYIG

Cessna 172 on ramp at Great Inagua, MYIG.

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:

confiscated aircraft colombia

Confiscated aircraft at Los Cedros, Colombia (SKLC)

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.

los cedros airport SKLC

Los Cedros airport, Colombia (SKLC)

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!

never been happier to reach angel

Our route of flight to ANGEL, the border between Colombia and Ecuador airspace

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:

B767 landing in rain SEGU

LAN Boeing 767 landing in rain at Guayaquil, Ecuador (SEGU)

c172 and B767 on ramp in guayaquil SEGU

Cessna 172 and B767 on ramp in Guayaquil (SEGU)

After Guayaquil we flew to Piura, Peru (SPUR). My copilot has friends in Piura so we wanted to overnight there.

landing in Piura SPUR

Cessna 172 on final for landing at Piura, Peru (SPUR)

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.


At Peruvian Air Force (FAP) group 8 in Lima, Peru (SPIM)

C172 and AN124 SPIM

Cessna 172 shares ramp with Antonov AN-124 in Lima, Peru (SPIM)

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” 🙂