Single engine operation/VMC

The mighty Beech Queen Air

I like flying twin engine aircraft. I like the extra speed you (usually) get by doubling the engines. I like the extra complexity you get by having twice the buttons, dials, knobs and levers to fiddle and play with. (Toys are fun, the more the better) And I like the extra safety you get by having a spare engine hanging on the other wing in case the first one decides to play the fool. Again, (Usually).

I say usually because losing an engine and continuing the flight on the remaining engine can be a hand full and if not performed correctly can result in loss of control which usually ends up poorly for an unsuspecting pilot. If the pilot lets his or her airspeed get too low, the operating engine can overpower the pilot’s ability to to control the aircraft resulting in the aircraft rolling over and going vertical. That’s usually considered “bad”. If it happens at too low of an altitude to recover, it’s fatal.

Cold analytical diagram of a VMC accident

Listening to your multi engine instructor tell you that you’re just ten knots from certain death is scary. Watching a video of a Queen Air getting slow and VMCing in is terrifying.

In the video above the pilot was clearly having engine problems and was trying to land back at the airport. (You can hear one of the engines popping and backfiring.) It looks like he’s maintaining altitude and should have to trouble making the runway, if he takes his time and flies a nice wide pattern with easy, shallow banks. unfortunately he does the exact opposite and tries to pull off a steep bank and dive for the runway. To make matters worse it looks like he turns into the dead engine. The result was predictable.

Now I’ve been flying multi engine aircraft for close to 30 years and have logged over 2000 hours in them but I still treat them with the utmost respect. On every takeoff I visualise what I’ll see and what my actions will be if I lose an engine right before or after rotation. Basically, I go over “the drill”. The drill is the sequence of actions a pilot must perform if he, or she, loses an engine on takeoff. It goes like this.

Engine out, the airplane will yaw one left or right dramatically.

Step 1. Fly the airplane. Put the nose down slightly and center the ball on the turn and bank indicator.

Step 2. Identify the dead engine. You do this by first noting which foot you’re using to keep the plane going straight. If you’re pushing down on the left rudder pedal then it’s the right engine that has failed. “Dead foot, Dead engine”

Step 3. Verify. This is where you double check that it’s the right engine that has failed. To do this you pull the right throttle back to idle. If you’re correct nothing will happen. (that engine is already producing zero thrust) If on the other hand you’ve guessed incorrectly things will get noticeably quieter, (because you’ve cut the power to the only engine that’s producing power) If you do that you should put the throttle back where you found it, like immediately.

Step 3. Feather the dead engine. Pull the propeller lever back past the detent the feather the prop.

If you’ve got time to kill.

If this sounds like a lot to do (especially if it happens right after takeoff) it is. If you’re not ready (who ever is?) and don’t have the drill down pat . . . well . . . you’re going to die.

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