Like most pilots wanting to make flying their career in life, the hardest thing is to build time in their logbook. Fortunately, I was very lucky and had parents that paid for me to just fly and build time. I had just got my Private Single & Multiengine Instrument ratings, trying to build time for my Commercial license. As with most young pilot’s, I was invincible, or so I thought.
It started with my girlfriend at the time wanting to fly to Disney World in Orlando FL. So we set out from NE Georgia in an old Cessna 310. The plane itself was like new; the engines had less than 200 hours on them but inside there wasn’t much in the way of avionics. This one had the old KX-170 Nav/Com’s, no autopilot or GPS. Anyways the flight to Orlando was nice with blue skies all the way down even though my girlfriend was not much for flying and even more so with a crazy man behind the controls. We spent a few quick days in Orlanda, and then said lets go to New Orleans, LA... Sure… Why not? Right? Well the weather was low IFR with storm cells all over. It wasn’t terrible but a hard IFR day from North FL to Atlanta and west to just over the Mississippi line.
Since the main point was to build time, I flew from Orlando (KMCO) to Eastman, GA (KEZM). We went into the clouds just south of Ocala, FL and were in thick IMC the rest of the trip. From Eastman, the plan was going to be to top off with gas and then on to New Orleans, or so we thought. I had planed the VOR/DME approach to Eastman but it was below minimums so we headed up to Macon (KMCN) where they had an ILS and were calling 500 feet overcast. Jacksonville Center ATC cleared us direct to Macon. We were about 30 miles south of Macon, having just switched from Jacksonville to Atlanta Center and that’s when it all went south FAST!!!
I was flying with one hand and digging in my Jeppesen manuals for the approach plate for Macon when the airplane took a hard dip to the left. I dropped the book, got back to straight and level flight and started to see what the problem was. The left engine had just quit. All the engine instruments were in the green just before I started pulling out the approach so I was a bit stumped as to why it quit. Now by this time my girlfriend had seen me go from happy to oh crap mode and she is crying and yelling are “we going to crash” and then she says look at all the stuff on the wing. At that point I looked over to find oil all over the left engine cowling and wing flap. At that point the thought of a restart was out the window along with my girlfriends nerves. I called Atlanta center and declared an emergency; they gave me a heading for the ILS at Macon and pilots discretion to descend to 3,000 feet. I pulled out the checklist and did what was applicable down to feathering the propeller. I pulled the prop handle back and looked over expecting to see the propeller stop wind milling, but it just kept turning. So I tried to run the prop lever up and down but the propeller still would not feather.
This made flying a lot harder since the windmilling propeller was putting a ton of drag on the left side. We finally got down and intercepted the localizer. Once I was able to get the plane slowed down and setup for landing, I found myself all over the place to the left and right of the localizer. I was holding the glide slope ok but not the centerline. We popped out of the clouds about 600 feet AGL off to the left of the runway. I asked the tower if we could loop around from runway 05 to 13 and I was cleared to land any runway. After landing on runway 13 the tower asked if we needed any other help and I said no so we went on to the ramp.
After I shut down, got the door open, and my girlfriend out, and a few ramp guys and an A&P went back out to check out the engine. What we found was the oil cooler had cracked in half. It turned out to be a problem with the way it was manufactured. Needless to say we never made it to New Orleans. I had a buddy come get us in a C-172 the next day to get home.
Now this was not the worse emergency I have had or what any pilot could face, but the one thing I could not get over was why I had so much trouble holding the localizer. I had time in three different twins and even about 20 hours in a King Air 90 at the time and I thought I was a good pilot. However, after this I found myself questioning just how good I really was. Had it been down to minimums, I would have had a real problem. And after a bunch of thinking and talking to the other pilots I had flown with, it hit me why I had such a problem holding the ILS. When you do your training for multi engine, you do single engine landings on perfectly clear days. When you are shooting ILS approaches during your training, you learn all the procedures for if you lose this or that, but I could never remember training specifically for an ILS with an engine out.
So I started asking questions to other pilots and I got a bunch of no's even from the guys with 2500 - 3000 hours. Anyways, in a few weeks we all piled in the same Cessna 310 after it was fixed to try things about again. Out of 4 of us, none of could hit the approach in a safe way. So we kept working at it until we could fly a stable ILS approach with a windmilling propeller - and many more what if's most of us had not thought of before.
The point to take from all this is an important one. We train for the bad situations but sometimes we have a combination of bad situations like this. Flying is as safe as we make it; no more and no less. Don’t just take what training you get as being good enough. Take a safety pilot with you next time you fly. Go out and try out some of the ‘what if's.’ You may just find you need a little more training that is not always in the book. If you are a new pilot, go find the old guys at the FBO and just talk to them. Just a few words you remember might save you one day. CFIs nowadays are by the books and most are just trying to build time. Now all of you CFI’s don’t jump me just yet… We all know this is how pilots build time – and for many different reasons.
A pilot that’s 20 years older with thousands more flight hours will clearly know more than you. So go hang out on a Saturday morning at 8am and have a cup of coffee with the old guys and you may just learn something to make you a better pilot. Remember the day we stop learning is the day we are doomed to fail. Training is key to safety.
Nonetheless, the ex-girlfriend still doesn’t like to fly!