Gravity Check, New Personal Record/Human Sonic Boom

This is my busy time of year.  In late August early September I average 50 to 7o jumps a week and fly the Grand Caravan whenever my pilot needs a break.  Skydiving that much will keep a guy in shape but makes the evening soak in the hot tub more of a necessity than a luxury. Last Saturday was one of our busiest days of the summer and I was jumping non-stop when my manager asked my to come into the tandem training room for a minute.  She pointed to a rather large young man sitting in the back row and told me that he wanted to make a tandem skydive.  She said that he’d told her that he was quite a bit heavier than our normal 260 lb. weight limit, even more than the 289 lb. man I’d taken on a jump last month.  One look at his hopeful face and I just couldn’t say no, a nasty habit of mine that will be the death of me yet.  My manager suggested we put him on the scale before I make any promises.  When he stood up I realized that this was indeed a BIG boy and the scale confirmed it. 309 lbs!  Hmmm, 309 lbs, oh what the hell.  “sure I’ll still take you”

  Putting the harness on him wasn’t a simple feat but I made it fit and off we went.  Getting to the door of the Caravan with a 309 lb passenger strapped to your chest and a 56 lb. tandem parachute on your back was a challenge but I somehow made it and flopped out for the 13,000 foot plunge.  Boy oh boy was that freefall FAST!  Normal freefall speed is about 125 mph. and we were doing at least 165 mph. My cameraman had his wings tucked in and was arching for all he was worth to stay with us but to his credit he managed somehow.  When I pulled the ripcord the opening was, shall we say, brisk.  My entire staff came out to watch the landing and I thankfully disappointed them by coming in fast but without the huge crash they were hoping for.  It was gratifying to be able to make this young man’s day but I think next time I’ll put him on the scale before opening my big mouth.

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Mission To Bangkok. The End

I know, I know, I haven’t finished telling you all the rest of the story and left you hanging.  But in my defense, as I told you before, I’m lazy, and busy jumping out of planes, but mostly lazy.  I was also hoping to have some new information that would bring closure, I hate that word, but no such luck.  So without further ado here is “The Rest Of The Story” I think.

  When I got the email from the Navajo’s owner I couldn’t believe it.  Apparently being old and a former jet engine mechanic makes you a piston engine expert.  The comment about not being able to actually see a large hole in the side of the engine really struck me as stupid.  “So let me get this straight. If you can’t see where the oil is coming from the engine isn’t really leaking?”  Okay.  Frustrated, I sent the owner another email outlining the situation, again, in case there was any confusion.  I explained that there was indeed a major oil leak as evidenced by the fact that the engine nacelle was covered with it and the fact that there were only 2 quarts left when I landed after a four hour flight.  I explained that of course the engine indicators were normal because we filled it with oil before running it up.  I told him in as diplomatic terms as possible that the mechanics he’d sent were over their heads and if he wanted to get his plane back into the air he needed to send a real mechanic out to look at it and have him do a proper engine wash to locate the leak and fix it.  But doing that would take time.  At least a week if not two and that was time I didn’t have to spare.

  I called Cory and filled him in on the situation and told him that in my opinion there was no sense in my hanging around in Oman while the Navajo’s owner dithered around trying to decide what to do.  If nothing else it would be too expensive for everyone involved to pay me to sit on my ass for a week or more.  I suggested that it would be cheaper to fly me home and wait for the plane to get fixed and then fly me back.  Cory agreed and told me come home.  With that decision made it was time to figure out what route to take.  Lee and I could fly back to the US via Europe but found out that when flying to America from a middle eastern, i.e. terrorist filled, country 24 hours advance booking was required.  On the other hand we could fly directly to Bangkok, spend a day there and then fly to the US.  “Hmmm, let me think, sit in Oman for another 24 hours or fly to Bangkok, party and see the sights there then fly home eastbound thus completing our round the world flight.  Ya, tough choice.  We could even meet with the Navajo’s owner and I could explain the situation in person.

  It was a great plan.  We weren’t able to hook up with the owner in Bangkok because he was flying but somehow managed to have a good time anyway.  When Lee and I got back to Minneapolis we were tired from our long journey and slightly disappointed.  Although we’d flown the Navajo almost halfway around the world and overcome some major problems along the way we hadn’t completed the mission. That was a first for me.  In over twenty years of ferry flying I’d never come up short before.  It was as I said, disappointing.

  In the two months since I’d left the Navajo in Oman neither Cory or I have heard from the Navajo’s owner about the fate of the plane.  I’ve heard that this was the third Navajo he’d purchased and the third one to not make it to Bangkok.  I don’t know if he’s run out of money or crappy Navajos to buy but if he gets it fixed and calls me to finish the trip I’ll still do it.  Can’t sit around not risking my life you know.

Mission Not Accomplished

When the mechanic passed on my decision not to fly the Navajo in its current leaky state to the owner he replied that if I wouldn’t fly it he would come to Oman with his chief pilot who would complete the trip to Bangkok.  “Fine by me.” I said.  If he could find a pilot stupid enough to fly the Navajo over the Gulf of Oman like that I’ll wish him luck.  At least there will be a large oil slick to mark the crash site.  I didn’t know how I could make it any more clear to the mechanics that the engine wasn’t “fine” and ready to go.  I suspected that they were trying to save face at their inability to locate the problem and just told their boss that there was nothing wrong.

  The next morning I got this email from the owner.

Dear Cory,

Mechanics told me the difference story . They told me that all we have to do are just change 2 vacuum pumps and the aircraft will ready to fly.

Let me tell you about our Mechanics background experience (Mr.XXXXX&Mr.XXX)..

They both came from Thai Airways International company (worked as a director of Thai Airways) .

And also have a FAA licence for 747/MD11/Airbus A300-400 (also 20 years with this piston engine).They worked for Thai Airways since they was a young man and safety is their first priority!! always. 

I have no doubt about their experience. their age are 62 and 78. 

About oil leak from that picture convince us to believe that their was a big hole or damage from the engine but our mechanics find nothing damage.They told me all engine indicators are normal the engine is running normal.

From my experience ( ATP FAA license A320 )more than 6,000 total flight hour (3,000 with A320) (more than 1,000 hrs on this Piper Chieftain) I also agree with my mechanics that this aircraft is safe to fly.

Please tell Kerry to understand this situation and continue fly or send new pilots to ferry this aircraft to Bangkok.

Look forward to hearing from you soon.

Best regards,

Capt. XXXXX

Wow.

Gravity Check

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Bangkok Or Bust——-Bust

The morning after our night flight from hell I woke up to an avalanche of emails.  Before going to bed I’d let my boss Cory know about losing both vacuum pumps and the major oil leak in the right engine so he could inform the owner and start working on a plan to get the Navajo back in the air.  Most of the emails were from the owner wanting more information and better pictures of the engine for his mechanics.  I’d taken pictures of the oil all over the wing and engine nacelle when we landed but in order to get pictures of the engine itself I’d have to go back out to the airport.  Getting to the airport wasn’t a problem, getting onto the ramp was.  Apparently in the middle east Friday is the start of the weekend and even people who actually have to go to work, don’t.  I tried for two hours to get some in security or operations to let me onto the ramp to check on the Navajo but no luck.  They told me that if I sent an email to the airport manager with my request, faxed in my license and copy of my passport, got a letter from my mom….and….and…. Well you get the picture.  In the end it still took 3 hours of waiting to get to the ramp the next day.  Going with me to help diagnose the problem were Larry and Curly, the owners 2 chief mechanics that had flown in that morning, apparently Mo couldn’t make it.  Thai Regional’s top jet mechanics, the Navajo is a piston BTW, wasted no time, they stared at the engine, and wondered why they couldn’t see the big hole that the oil was coming out of.  They wiped the engine down, sort of, and had me do a run up so they could see where the leak was.  I tried to tell them that finding an oil leak can be very difficult and if they couldn’t do a proper engine wash they at least needed to wipe it down very thoroughly, which they hadn’t.  But they wouldn’t listen so we ran the engine up and could actually see oil spitting out from somewhere near the rear cylinder.  After shutting the engine down and staring at it some more I asked the mechanics if they had the skills to pull the cylinder and replace it if we determined that it was the problem.  The one that spoke English told me that no they didn’t know how to do that because that was a major operation.  A major operation? Changing a cylinder is so easy even I could do it.  It was then I knew that the Navajo was going to be sitting in Oman for a while.

  When we got back to the terminal the mechanic called the owner and explained what they had found.  After a few minutes the mechanic asked me if I was good to leave the next morning for India.

“WHAT?” “You didn’t fix anything! The plane lost 7 quarts of oil in less than 4 hours and the next leg was over 600 miles of ocean!”  You could actually SEE the oil leaking out!”

The mechanic looked puzzled at my reply.  “But we found nothing wrong.  With that big of an oil leak we expected to find a large hole on the engine but we found nothing.  Just put more oil in and fly.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.  I tried to explain that just because they couldn’t see where the oil was leaking from didn’t mean it wasn’t serious.  I told them in no uncertain terms that until the leak was located and fixed I wasn’t flying.

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More Plane Porn

Needle Ball Airspeed

Sorry about the lack of trip updates, I’ve been super lazy busy.

   So where was I?  Oh yea, somewhere over the Persian Gulf in an airplane with most of its instruments not working, at night.  I briefly mentioned how dangerous it can be flying without an artificial horizon/attitude indicator.  The potential for losing control of the aircraft is a very real concern.  But even if you don’t lose control flying with nothing but needle , ball, airspeed is a hell of a lot of work.  The concentration required to not only keep the aircraft level and on heading but to continue to do all the other normal things required to fly a plane across multiple countries takes its toll.  Your instrument scan has to be continuous and small lapses turn into big problems. Check the compass, off course by 10 degrees, look at the turn coordinator and carefully bank the plane to correct.  Airspeed dropping, must be in a slight climb.  Push the nose down a bit.  Oops, overshot the turn, bank slightly back the other direction.  ATC calling for a frequency change, respond without taking your eyes off the instrument panel.  Back to the compass and start the whole process over again.  One little problem was our inability to cover the artificial horizon that was permanently showing us in a right bank.  The problem was that every once in a while I would glance at the faulty instrument and instinctively correct the non-existent bank causing all kinds of other problems.

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When I lost the second vacuum pump Lee and I were cruising at 15,000 feet wearing out oxygen masks.  After an hour my head started to ache despite being on oxygen and I called ATC to request a lower altitude so I could get rid of that damn mask and although they made big stink about it they granted my request.   About an hour from our destination in Muscat, Oman I looked over at the engine instruments and noticed the right oil pressure gauge seemed a little low.  Great, that’s exactly what I needed.  I had Lee shine his flashlight out at the right engine and he reported that there was a lot of oil all over the cowling and the wing.  Not much I could do but throttle back that engine and shut it down if the pressure got too low or the oil temp got too high.

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    The lights of Muscat finally appeared on the horizon and with the oil pressure getting dangerously close to the red line we got the Navajo on the ground without incident.  When we shut the plane down and climbed out to survey the damage here’s what we found.

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There was only 2 quarts of oil left in the engine so we’d lost over 7 quarts in less than 4 hours of flight.  This might be a problem.

Tail Gunner

Airbus: Pilots don’t really need windows

A flight deck with viewing screens could go at the base of the vertical tail, and possibly still have windows for seeing to the front and sides of the aircraft. Photo: Airbus/U.S. Patent And Trademark Office

Future airliner flight decks may do away with windows and move out of the nose of the aircraft, according to Airbus.

The European airplane maker filed a patent application Dec. 23, published June 26, for a flight deck that relies mostly or entirely on electronic viewscreens.

The first advantage is aerodynamic, since flight deck windows require interrupting the ideal scalpel shape of the nose, Airbus wrote. Also, big windows and the reinforcement required for them add weight to the aircraft.

Putting the flight deck at the front of the cabin takes valuable space away from the cabin, “thereby limiting the financial profits for the airline company exploiting the aircraft,” Airbus wrote.

Without the need for windows, the flight deck could move “to an unused zone of the aircraft, and in particular into a zone difficult to configure for receiving passengers or freight,” Airbus wrote. One possibility is the base of the tail, where the flight deck could still have some windows. Another is in part of the cargo hold.

Finally, relying more on viewscreens would improve pilots’ perception and awareness, by giving a more complete view of what’s going on outside the aircraft, according to Airbus.

In addition to the viewscreens, Airbus envisions a system that could project holograms of objects such as storm clouds and ground obstacles, and chart a course around them.

“The object of this preferred version is to immerse the pilot in a three-dimensional universe, at the center of the action,” Airbus wrote.

Click through the gallery above to see images from Airbus’ patent application.

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As a pilot my first reaction was shock, horror, disgust, what a stupid idea,  Meh, who cares?  It does sound like a dumb idea at first.  I mean, a cockpit with no windows? unheard of!  But when you think about it, it does make a lot of sense.  The advantage in aerodynamics reduced weight alone would make it worthwhile.  “But Kerry,”  you ask, “what would happen if you lost electrical power?  The fancy view screens wouldn’t work and you’d be screwed!”  Good question, and the answer is that, yes, you’d be screwed.  But there are a whole lot of things that can break in an airliner that result in your being screwed, this is just one more.  What pilot’s who think this is a dumb idea need to consider is that there is a very good reason to fly from the tail of an aircraft,  It’s usually the only part of an aircraft that’s left intact after a crash.  Or to look at it another way, we used to be the first ones at the scene of the crash now we can be the last!

Day 9. Continued

What are the odds?  I mean one vacuum pump failing is a relatively uncommon occurrence, so having both of them fail is highly unlikely.  Unless you consider the fact that both pumps are probably the same age, have almost the amount of hours on them and were built by the same person.  Add to that the fact that once one pump fails the other one has to work twice as hard and the odds of a second red light showing up on the instrument panel go from unlikely to likely.

Climbing out of Riyadh I thought we would never get on top of the thick layer of dust and even though we could sort of see the sky at 13,000 feet everything was so hazy we might as well have been in the clouds.  On the clime out the tower kept asking me what my altitude was and if everything was going OK.  The day before I’d had some problems with the transponder reporting inaccurate altitudes and now ATC was telling me that it was showing that I was descending instead of climbing and over a thousand feet lower than I really was.  I finally managed to coaxed the hot Navajo up to 15,000 feet and leveled off.  The autopilot wasn’t working and the artificial horizon on Lee’s side hadn’t worked all trip so I was being treated to a day of hand flying on instruments wearing an oxygen mask, always a treat.  About 20 minutes before sunset and shortly after we’d passed Bahrain I noticed that the HSI (DG or electric compass) was showing that I was in a turn.  That was confusing, I checked the attitude indicator and confirmed that my wings were level and that the plane was still trimmed up.  The HSI still showed that not only was I still in a left turn but that it was increasing.  That’s when I noticed the second BRL (big red light) on the instrument panel.  Crap, I’d lost my last vacuum pump and with it my attitude indicator.  Now the only way I had of keeping the wings level and the airplane in control was the old needle, ball, airspeed method.  This is essentially an emergency procedure where the pilot uses the combination of looking at the turn coordinator to see if he’s turning and airspeed to see if he’s climbing or descending.  The pilot can back these instruments up with the compass and altimeter.  It’s considered an emergency procedure because not only is it extremely hard and demanding but if the pilot somehow loses control of the plane it’s unlikely that he can recover from an unusual attitude using only those instruments.  Basically not good.

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Trip Update, Day 9.

Day 9.

   The takeoff from Riyadh looked like it would be a piece of cake.  It was a little hazy but the sun was shining, sort of, there was a nice breeze right down the runway and it was hot.  Being hot wasn’t one of the things that was going make the takeoff easy, it actually would make getting off the ground harder but when you’re flying in Saudi Arabia the fact that it’s hot can’t be ignored, because it’s hot, hot, HOT!  Did I mention it was hot?  After a bit of confusion taxiing to the runway I stopped the Navajo at the hold short line for a quick run up before letting the tower know I was ready to go, and the left engine quit.  That got my attention because that was the first time on the trip that that had happened.  I quickly re-started the engine but the incident made me a little nervous.  After takeoff I started a slow climb to keep the engines cool and quickly found myself in instrument conditions.  The haze I’d seen from the ground turned out to be a thick layer of dust that was exactly like flying in the clouds with no horizon at all.  I wasn’t super happy about this because the day before one of the vacuum pumps that run the flight instruments had failed leaving only one functioning.  If the other one failed I’d be in a dicey situation flying on instruments with most of my instruments inop.  But what are the chances of that happening?

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