TRUE STORY – TEXT AND IMAGES – CLINTON CARROLL.
DIRECTOR: AERONAUTICAL AVIATION; LANSERIA
I often get asked, “Why are avionics so expensive?” or “What is the point in upgrading and old aircraft?”, or I get told; “I don’t want to over capitalise on my aircraft”. At the end of the day, I always ask my clients one question. “What do you use your aircraft for and what type of flying do you do?”
THE ANSWERS ALWAYS DIFFER. Fortunately the beauty of the new avionics packages available in the market today make customising a solution that meets the mission or brief very easy. The options can also be tailored to suit various budgets.
Avionics have a serious role to play in how we navigate the skies today. It is essential for situational awareness, and the development of avionics leads the aviation industry in all aspects.
Avionics has become the ‘brain’ of what we fly. Legislation tries to keep up with the new capabilities being launched but as soon as one approval becomes available, so the software/hardware has grown to new abilities.
We bought our Baron 58 three years ago with the vision of having an aircraft to demonstrate Garmin’s latest and greatest technology. It’s one thing playing with a screen on a test bench or seeing a video on how the new autopilot works, but to fly and experience it in real life is something else. Never did we imagine we would get to see how it saves lives in real life.
‘The GFC 600 was a co -pilot like no other’
One of the most important factors for me, being the pilot of this aircraft, was to have accurate engine information, situational awareness, good IFR capability as well as a reliable autopilot. Especially considering we were going to use the aircraft as a “we come to you” value added service too. We opted for the Garmin GFC 600 Autopilot during this process as it has a yaw damper which is essential for passengers in the back of a twin, plus it has VNAV and IAS hold.
In late January I needed to help a client with his avionics in Mossel Bay. After an early departure, 3h30 later I landed and parked on the ramp. We spent most of the morning sorting out some software issues on his aircraft with the sun beating down on us like we were in the middle of a desert. We had a quick bite to eat when we finished, I refuelled the baron and was on my way back to Lanseria. This is where things got tricky.
I departed off Runway 09, straight towards the coastline. George Tower routed me out to sea due to other IFR arrivals. They kept me at 2500ft and once I was at least 15nm out over the bay they cleared me direct to OKSOP, an RNAV intersection, and cleared me for the climb to FL115.
I had the autopilot engaged with the yaw damper, so I pressed NAV to couple to the GPS route and pre-selected FL115 for the climb. I selected an IAS hold of 138 kts as this is the Baron’s best cruise climb speed. The aircraft obediently rolled its wings left onto heading, pulled its nose up and started the climb. Monitoring the precision the GFC 600 flies is always a thrill.
As I stretched across to pick up my flight planning paperwork from the right hand seat, I heard a sudden change to the sound of the engines and felt the swing from an abrupt loss of power. This is where training kicks in. Having only around 50 hours on twins, I am not highly experienced in this type of situation. After test flying various aircraft post maintenance in my career and having my fair share of emergencies, this was my first one, on my own, in my own aircraft.
I followed the drill; gear up, flaps up, identify: dead leg – dead engine, wait, what….. well this was different. I confirmed the gear and flaps were up but the rudder pedals were not fighting me at all. No dead leg to identify the dead engine. The GFC 600 yaw damper took the yaw in its stride and held the aircraft straight on its own. A little disconcerting, considering this is not what I had been taught.
On checking the Engine Management system (EMS) I could see immediately I had no fuel flow or fuel pressure on the left engine. So that must be my problem. I disconnected the autopilot to confirm this, and the aircraft yawed to the left as I was expecting. A quick engagement of the autopilot took care of the yaw again and I selected IAS HOLD at Blue line +10kts. Now I knew the aircraft would not stall, it was flying straight and undistracted, I could apply myself to diagnosing the engine issue.
‘this was my first emergency, on my own, in my own aircraft’
I tried the electric fuel pump and the engine came back to life, but it was very rough. I confirmed on the EGT’s that two cylinders were not firing. It was so rough that I decided to rather shut it down completely and feather the prop.
The Baron was still climbing on one, getting me valuable height, and flying straight, so I decided to declare the emergency with George and route back to Mossel Bay.
Everything went smoothly from there and I landed without incident.
On reflection of what had happened, I realised what an asset it was to have those avionics, especially a very capable autopilot, during this sequence of events. The GFC 600 took care of the massive yaw from the asymmetric thrust, it maintained the speed above blue line and with the right side engine at full power, controlled the speed to allow me to climb, gaining valuable altitude in an emergency, especially over water.
The Engine Management System helped in a huge way in diagnosing and giving me the essential information I needed to make an informed decision to feather and land. The rest of the equipment was brilliant in helping me with my situational awareness and getting me back to Mossel Bay in the shortest time possible, considering I had never flown there before today. I had woken up at 5 am, driven to Lanseria, fuelled the plane, flown 3h30 to Mosel Bay, worked in the scorching sun for at least two hours, fuelled again, had a quick bite to eat and taken off again for another 3h30 hrs home.
I was tired and slightly fatigued from the sun, so to have the avionics look after the flying was a welcome relief.
I’ve always said it would never happen to me, but it did, and it can happen at any time.
The following day my AMO had flown down to come and change the mechanical fuel pump on the engine so I could get home for the weekend. This turned into an extremely long day as we had no hangar to work in, so the pump had to be changed in the baking sun.
When the fuel pump was removed, we could see it had a complete failure of the vanes and all the filters in the system were now full of debris. We cleaned all the filters and flushed the fuel system. Debris from the pump was blocking the fuel nozzles, which is why I saw what I did on the EGT’s and why I decided to shut it down and feather the prop.
A few ground runs and a fuel pressure adjustments later, she was purring like a kitten once more. Later in the afternoon, with the sun already starting to creep down, I refuelled and it was time to head home.
I took off on 09 again and turned back out to sea for the climb and routing back to Lanseria. This turned into quite a trip, and having been in the sun the entire day, I was sunburnt and tired.
I levelled off at FL115 and sat back with the GFC 600 engaged and for the first time that day I could relax. I was listening to the various communications with Cape Town and quickly realised that the weather en-route that was predicted to be overcast was turning into thunderstorms. I was still a good 30 minutes from them.
I used the Baron’s radar and Storm Scope to monitor what was happening in the distance. There seemed to be quite a big gap between two cells and I headed in that direction. I was met with lighting off to the left and right and some rain through the middle, but nothing too severe. I popped out the other side into a beautiful sunset.
The rest of the flight home was uneventful until the descent into Lanseria. Just before TOD, the whole sequence of events from the day before happened again. Loss of power on the left engine, loss of fuel flow, etc.
This time, when I put the electric pump on the engine came back to life and ran smoothly so I continued the descent and landed at Lanseria. Again, the GFC 600 took all the pressure out of the situation and held the aircraft steady while I got the engine running again.
After putting the Baron away in the hangar that night, I considered the events of the previous two days. I am 100% convinced things would have ended differently if I did not have all the information at hand to make my decisions.
The GFC 600 was a co-pilot like no other and kept me safe the entire time and ensured I was home with my family that Friday night.