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Pilot Experiences Double Engine Failure Over Africa

River in Africa
A river in Africa virtually turned the runway for Bill Cox.

You may call the strategy to the runway at Funchal, Madeira Islands, Portugal, difficult, especially in the event you’re flying on a fair modestly windy day. In my case, I went into Funchal in a typical wind occasion, flying a new Cessna T303 Crusader, a medium twin meant to compete head-to-head with Piper’s wildly profitable Seneca. It was December of 1981, and “my” Cessna T303 was the first Crusader to be ferried overseas. My vacation spot was Johannesburg, South Africa, roughly midway all over the world. Beneath contract to Globe Aero of Lakeland, Florida, I’d picked up the airplane on the Cessna manufacturing unit in Wichita and hurried right down to Lakeland for tanking. Two days later, I flew the Crusader to Bangor, Maine, then on to St. John’s, Newfoundland, the following day.

The subsequent leg was a 1900 nm overwater hop, diagonally across the Atlantic to the aforementioned Funchal, 700 nm off the south coast of Morocco. I’d never been in to that specific airport, but its fame preceded it. The consensus was, it might get exciting when the wind was woofing, and the wind at Funchal was almost all the time woofing. The Madeira Islands, well-known for Madeira wine, are principally rugged hills and low mountains, so there was little room for a standard runway at Funchal. Accordingly, the airport was built on the apex of a half-moon bay; the strategy is semi-circular practically all the best way to landing. Navy pilots ought to adore it. The edge is constructed on pylons that begin 1000 ft out within the bay and stand 250 ft above the water. The edge begins you on a reasonably steep uphill rollout. Simply past the terminal at midfield, the runway begins to degree, then turns downhill, so you’d higher be pretty nicely stopped by midfield. The asphalt extends for over 5400 ft—runway size isn’t an enormous drawback—but the curving strategy to avoid the hills means you’re typically battling turbulent winds off the mountains all the best way to landing.

Funchal is on practically everybody’s listing of the 10 worst airports on the planet. The Historical past Channel program “Most Extreme Airports” labeled Funchal the ninth most harmful airport on the earth and the third most dangerous in Europe. There’s virtually no ramp area at Funchal, so until you arrive late and depart early the subsequent morning, you’ll be able to only gasoline up, grab a sandwich and depart town.

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I arrived late with two other ferry aircraft, a Mooney 231 and a Piper Seneca. All three of us have been headed for Rand Airport in Johannesburg. Technical problems with additional clearances held us up for an additional day, so we had a further 24 hours to organize for Africa. The dangerous news was that the one refueling truck with avgas wasn’t a truck in any respect. It was a coach with no power to drive the pump. This meant the poor kid promoting gasoline had to cycle a guide swing arm pump to fill our tanks for the subsequent leg across the Sahara to Abidjan, Ivory Coast. The young fuel boy should have cycled that pump a thousand occasions to fill our three airplanes.

Even worse, I was the last airplane to be refueled, and the trainer ran dry earlier than the Crusader’s final ferry tank was full. This meant whatever miscellaneous glorp which may have collected on the backside of the trailer’s tank might have gone straight into my ferry tanks. Fortuitously, all different tanks have been already topped. Sadly, there are not any convenient fast drains on the backside of ferry tanks. House owners aren’t captivated with ferry corporations chopping holes in the stomach of their new airplane to put in them. That meant the one method I might examine the ferry gasoline for contamination was to climb on prime of the tank, unscrew the cap and shine a flashlight inside. Not much probability of seeing something deep down within the bottom of the tanks.

We departed Funchal the next morning and headed southeast towards Mauritania and the Sahara. The day’s vacation spot was Abidjan, Ivory Coast. As we tracked above a desert roughly the dimensions of the contiguous United States, I watched the 2 gasoline move needles fluttering slightly on the only gauge. The engines have been operating clean and all different indications have been regular, so I wrote it off to an instrument drawback. We handed Bamako, Mali, about 200 nm from the notorious city of legend, Timbuktu; then Yamoussoukro, capital of Ivory Coast, and continued to Abidjan with no mechanical complaints. The gasoline flows have been still flittering slightly as I turned last for Abidjan. Just the gauge, I reminded myself.

Safely on the ground, I talked to the Seneca pilot, Ernie Kuney, an A&P mechanic, and he dismissed the issue as a typical new airplane glitch. It appeared there were soldiers with AK-47s all over the place we went, together with the parking zone and lobby of the Intercontinental Lodge. The constant presence of army personnel and automobiles was unnerving.

The following day’s flight can be a short one, solely about 850 nm across the Gulf of Guinea to Libreville, Gabon. Once more, I watched the gasoline flows sometimes ticking as our three airplanes flew over water toward out next-to-last stop. Every part else appeared normal. We arrived early enough for me to catch the mechanic at Cessna of Gabon. He‘d by no means even seen a photograph of a Crusader before (hardly anybody else had either), but he reassured me that it was ”most definitely the gauge.” Most definitely hope so.

The subsequent day’s leg was 1500 nm down the west coast of Africa to Windhoek, Namibia. The other two pilots had flown this route before, they usually advised turning barely right at the Congo River, flying out to sea at the least 30 miles to avoid Angolan airspace altogether, after which traveling 1000 nm straight south until reaching the Tiger Peninsula. Tiger was a small, sandy, white spit of land, outlet of the Cunene River to the South Atlantic and Angola’s border with Namibia. After that, we might flip slightly left, back over the coastal Namib Desert and on into Windhoek with out worry of being shot at. Angola and Namibia have been at warfare at the time, and Angola had nearly no air pressure. Accordingly, it assumed any airplane was an enemy machine. This offered a robust incentive to remain out over the Atlantic until we have been properly clear of Angola.

I’d been warned that there have been few radio navaids in this a part of the world, and a lot of the ones that did exist have been inop. Positive enough, the journey up to now had demonstrated that only about one in 5 was working. For that purpose, navigation in much of Africa was principally point-and-shoot or flying by landmarks. This was long before the introduction of GPS, so discovering a destination was relegated to no matter labored. Twitchy gasoline flows once more. The gauge, right? To everyone’s surprise, there was a VOR near the equator in southern Gabon with a robust sign, Tchibanga (TCH, I feel). As we handed over it degree at 11,000 ft and made our flip off the coast, I pushed my seat all the best way again, repositioned the appropriate seat forward so I might put my ft up, and let the Crusader’s autopilot do the work.

Immediately under, I might see the just about iridescent green, double cover rain forest stretching in each course except west, a near-solid blanket of thick jungle with few open areas. Wouldn’t need to go down on this a part of Africa. I’d reluctantly switched to the aft, 100-gallon ferry tank a couple of minutes earlier than, the one which was last to be fueled in Funchal. We all the time departed and landed on the wing tanks, often the farthest forward. Ferry tanks have been almost all the time installed behind the airplane. For that cause, we needed to change to the farthest aft tank as quickly as potential to maintain the CG from shifting too far aft. I watched the gasoline flows to make sure there was no change, nothing too erratic. By now, I used to be satisfied I used to be just being paranoid and that everyone else was proper. The gasoline move drawback appeared to be more creativeness than real. I opened a package deal of chocolate chip cookies, popped the highest off a bottle of water, and settled down for the lengthy journey south. That’s when the left engine give up.

There was the predictable pause of disbelief, throughout which the autopilot disconnected and the left wing dropped toward the jungle. The suitable engine also give up earlier than I might even react, and the Crusader’s nostril pitched down toward the impenetrable tangle of timber under. I hit the pumps, switched again to the wing tanks, pushed the mixtures ahead, eased them back and usually tried to undo anything I may need accomplished mistaken in the last minute or two. Nothing helped. Each of the 2 100-gallon ferry tanks fed both engines on the similar time, a concession to simplicity. That meant the same tank was fueling, or on this case, defueling, both engines concurrently. Whatever was blocking gasoline movement to the engines had in all probability come out of the aft ferry tank, and switching again to the mains had not solved the issue.

I squeaked out a mayday to my two playmates. “Tom and Ernie, I just lost power on both engines.” Ernie came back first, “Bill, don’t screw around on the radio.” Tom Willett jumped in next, apparently recognizing that I didn’t normally speak with that prime a voice. “Bill, where are you?”

“Tom, I’m right behind you, have you in sight. I’m a few mile back, circling to the left,” I replied, desperately looking for an opening in the timber under. The only flat spot I might see was a small, lazy river flowing toward the coast. I’d moderately take my possibilities with crocodiles than try to dodge the timber. After eight,000 hours of accident-free flying, it was starting to look as if I used to be about to wreck my first airplane. Even worse, I’d even wreck me. No extra ferry flights. I’ll never see area. What concerning the woman again residence? Who’ll feed my canine?

“I’m coming back,” stated Tom, interrupting my cynical reverie. “There’s a small, grass missionary strip around here somewhere. I saw it on my last trip.” Both engines have been staggering, chugging out occasional brief bursts of power, then reverting to idle. Neither engine had give up utterly, but that was little consolation. I pegged the airspeed at 110 knots and tried not to take a look at the VSI as I augured down within the common course of the river.

The radio came alive with an announcement by Tom Willett within the Mooney. “Bill, I have you in sight, and I’ve spotted the grass strip,” he stated. “It’s just north of you.” I rolled out of the flip to the north however didn’t see anything even vaguely resembling a flat spot between the timber, much less a grass runway. The Crusader was gliding like a Steinway, and once I finally picked up the strip, I used to be practically overhead, the fallacious place to attempt to improvise a sample with out energy. I couldn’t begin to guess how long the runway was, nevertheless it appeared far too brief for a 6000-pound twin. I widened out to the east in a modified semblance of an abbreviated downwind leg, turned base and hurried the airplane round to ultimate. As I rolled out, I dropped the wheels and flaps, only to understand I’d already blown it. I was going to be brief.

I was glad the airplane had no cockpit voice recorder as I braced for impression. I used to be about to crash the first Crusader to go away the U.S. The airplane cleared the timber by inches and slammed down nicely in need of the runway, splattering mud all over the place. It half-skidded, half-bounced out of the tall grass onto the brief strip. To my utter amazement, nothing had punched up by way of the highest wing skins, regardless of the onerous influence. Someway, the T303’s rugged, trailing beam gear system had protected me from evil.

The Cessna rolled out a brief distance, and I turned off to the left with the final of my momentum as Tom Willett buzzed me within the Mooney. He gave me a congratulatory wing waggle, then pulled up, entered an abbreviated sample and landed. Ernie was nonetheless circling above at 11,000 ft in the Seneca, and he was speaking to Air Gabon in Libreville on VHF. Tom suggested him that my airplane appeared undamaged, and I used to be still respiration and had no pieces lacking. Ernie relayed the information to Air Gabon. They instantly launched a rescue Skylane with a mechanic and tools aboard. We pulled the highest cowls, and just as I’d suspected, both engines had ingested overseas materials, presumably from the aft ferry tank. It seemed to be a half-dissolved material substance, and it had plugged up gasoline movement to each engines. We never understood why it took so lengthy to close down gasoline move. We saved as a lot of the contaminant as potential in a plastic baggie, and I despatched it to Shell for evaluation after I acquired residence. The report recommended it was a long-outdated material filter that was not used but was presupposed to be modified each six months when in service. It estimated this material was at the least three years previous.

The mechanic did the perfect he might to wash out the injector strains and filters, then wished me luck for the brief flight back to Libreville. Willet and I drained as a lot gasoline as we might from each ferry tanks to scale back the load for takeoff. I staggered out of Tchibanga with almost full wing tanks and managed to sneak again into Libreville barely before the night time time curfew.

The next day, there have been 20 automobiles lined up outdoors the Air Gabon upkeep hangar. All of the house owners have been keen to gather their allotment of 10 gallons every, because the Crusader’s complete gasoline system was drained of each ounce of 100 octane, in all probability near 200 gallons. Each driver strained his 10 gallons by means of a chamois earlier than pouring it into his automotive’s fuel tank. Willett’s Mooney had been fueled just earlier than mine in Funchal, so Air Gabon checked his gasoline and located the same fibrous contaminants. In consequence, his airplane’s gasoline and injection system also had to be drained and cleaned—another free 130 gallons for the Gabon Auto Membership.

The remainder of the journey was anti-climactic. Willett and I launched out of Libreville for Namibia on December 29, spent the 30th cleaning up the airplanes in Windhoek, and eventually made the last leg throughout the Kalahari Desert to Johannesburg on December 31. Cessna’s South African vendor held an enormous New Yr’s social gathering in honor of the first Crusader’s protected arrival. It seemed everyone had heard concerning the double engine failure and subsequent emergency landing in Gabon. I informed the story a dozen or extra occasions, and I used to be an immediate curiosity for about 10 of my allotted 15 minutes of fame.

Editor’s word: Since this journey in 1981, each the Funchal and Tchibanga airports have been extended and improved.


 

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