Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Watched a plane crash

Got back from a trip with my wife and kids, had just landed and was putting the plane in the hangar when a Navion took off on KCCR 32L, the runway right next to my hangar. He got to maybe 400 ft, I heard a pop or a backfire and the engine quit. He pointed the nose down, leveled off, then made the mistake of trying to circle back around. It looked scary as it was basically pointed straight at me and my hangar, then stall/spun at maybe 20 or 30 feet and crashed nose first into the dirt, a wheel popped off and flew a hundred feet away. I yelled to my wife to watch the kids and I ran to the plane and was the first one there... no fire, but gas leaking out the bottom, the engine basically separated from the airframe. I jumped on top and pulled open the canopy and two older guys were inside, alive and conscious but clearly in shock and bleeding from their heads. Some other guys ran out from their hangars with fire extinguishers and luckily there was no fire. I didn't try to pull them out for fear of injuring them worse. Fire dept was there a few mins later. 

I was already on edge after all the crashes this month, and this was quite a shocker, especially in front of my wife and kids. Scary stuff.  Some news reports:  http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.c ... 849S71.DTL  I left an officer my business card in case the NTSB wants a report.   Very surreal. I just stood there watching and at first I didn't get it... I was thinking, what the heck are those fools doing? I was thinking they were training and had purposefully pulled the engine, then it sort of hit me that they were going to crash, then they crashed, right in front of me. The sound of it was sickening. Definitely makes me take pause and think about my flying. I also think it's just as important to have a single engine out mantra as it does for us twin guys... if you're below 600 ft or so, land straight ahead or turn 90 deg at most. You're not going to get around 180 deg from 400 ft. It all happened so fast, it's got to be instinctual.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Where's the moon?

The winter weather flying this year has been interesting, we haven't had very many big storms but we have had a lot of clouds layers, fog, valley fog and a few cold frontal systems bringing in some ice at anything much above a few thousand feet.  Around here most MEA's bring you well below the freezing level and my most typical trip is to Socal which brings me over a mountain range.  Today at 10k ft the OAT was a chilly -15degC.  I've been seeing a lot of low level valley fog and mountain obscuration and multiple layers.  Here is an example:

The last few night flights I've done have been in early night, with the sun setting in Socal before 5pm, a launch at 6pm and a moon rising at 8pm or later, I've had a number of moonless flights.  When the weather is like above and it's night, you might well be clear of clouds but you can't see jack.  For example:

Once I got back to Norcal the cloud layers parted and I could see the ground lights, but after climbing through clouds Socal was like night over an ocean.  In the day time these layers are good fun though, here I am skimming clouds at 11,500 ft.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

50 hour gremlins

I'm now at 50.1 hours since the new engines were installed in August.  I had thought I had just about worked through all the new engine gremlins, but on my flight to LA last week my left alternator light started flashing intermittently.  Not a huge deal, after all I have two.  There was a cloud deck but it was broken and scattered, and I was in the clear on top at 10k ft.  In a single I would have had to scrub the flight... it's the paradox of the twin owner, you get to make some flights that would ground a single engine pilot, but you fly twice as often with something broken.  Once down in the LA basin I ended up shooting over from CMA to VNY in IMC, and it's such a short flight I didn't worry too much about having an alternator out.

The flight back was IMC through a layer that topped out at 9,000 and then I got on top again at 10.  Over the valley however I found the central valley was socked in with ground fog, there was a high overcast at 20,000 and the sun was falling fast yielding to a moonless night... basically I was clear of clouds but in solid IMC, no city lights, no visual references, just floating along IFR in a black void.  To make it more interesting, I pulled up the Wx at CCR and saw that it was deteriorating rapidly.  An 800 ft ceiling turned to a 400 ft ceiling turned to  200 ft ceiling.  The LDA approach at CCR takes you down to 440 ft, then you go missed, so there was no point in trying to get into CCR with a 200 ft ceiling.  The airport was basically closed.  I had filed LVK as an alternate, and since they have an ILS that takes you to 200 ft I knew I could get in there, so I diverted.  That was also handy, because my maintenance shop is at LVK and so I shot the ILS on in, left the plane in front of their hangar so they could deal with my failed alternator, and called my wife to pick me up.  When I got to CCR to pickup my car, the fog was so thick I couldn't even see 20 ft in front of the car.

Long story short, turns out I have the dreaded Kelly Aerospace alternators, which are the only ones certified for my airplane.  The problem is, Kelly Aerospace is known far and wide for producing the worst products in aviation.  How they are certified by the FAA is beyond me.  No one was surprised to hear of a 50 hour Kelly alternator going bad...  oh well, I'm sure the next one will crap out right after the warranty expires.  We're also only in December and I've already used up all my deice fluid... time to shop around!