Never Again: Hawaiian surprise

July 1, 2011

Never AgainTaking off from the island of Molokai for our return flight to the island of Oahu we climbed into a rare, 400-foot overcast. I turned my Beechcraft Travel Air to the west and climbed steeply in solid IMC to cross the VOR in the West Molokai Mountains. I passed over the VOR climbing through 2,400 feet. Molokai Tower handed me off to the approach controller who would work me on my flight to Honolulu International Airport.

At about 3,000 feet msl, my wife commented that something sounded wrong with one of the engines. I was so busy flying in solid IMC with mild turbulence that I had not noticed that the right engine was down about 300 rpm from climb power. I pushed the power up a bit but that did not restore any rpm, and instead the rpm continued to drop.

Then my wife exclaimed, “There’s oil all over the right engine.” Oil was streaming along the cowling. The oil pressure gauge was almost zero for the right engine. I pulled the right throttle back, feathered the propeller, and moved the mixture control to idle cutoff. I dialed in some left trim and was able to maintain altitude and heading on about 80-percent power from the left engine, so I relaxed a bit and considered my options.

Molokai Airport was only about five miles behind us, but to land there I would have to fly an instrument approach to below minimums. If I could not find the airport I would have to execute a missed approach on one engine, with asymmetric thrust and flaps and gear down. Honolulu was VFR, but going on would mean flying 50 miles over water with a single engine working at 80-percent power and in IMC. Even so, Honolulu seemed to be the more prudent plan.

I reported to the en route controller that I had shut down an engine and he asked if I wanted to declare an emergency, which I declined. Then he asked for our souls on board (two) and fuel (about 100 gallons), and instructed me to descend into VMC for traffic avoidance. Because we were below the 4,000-foot en route altitude he was not able to give me traffic advisories. I was reluctant to give away any of our precious altitude, which I mentioned to the controller, but he was insistent because he could not “see” us or the other traffic in the area. I reluctantly began a slow descent.

We broke out of the solid overcast at about 2,000 feet in sight of the east end of Oahu. The en route controller passed us off to the local controller, who asked if we wanted to come in along the freeway or offshore. Honolulu is on the south shore of Oahu and I did not want to land in the city if we lost our remaining engine, so I chose the offshore approach. However, I asked the controller if we could come in along the shoreline to the airport. (If we had to ditch I wanted us to be able to swim or wade to shore.) The controller could not allow me to follow the shoreline to the airport as the outbound traffic flies along the shoreline, so he vectored me out for the normal offshore approach.

Never Again

Listen to this month's "Never Again" story: Hawaiian Surprise. Download the mp3 file or download the iTunes podcast.

Never Again Online

Hear this and other original " Never Again" stories as podcasts and download free audio files from our library.

A few minutes later the controller said that I could fly to the airport any way that I wanted as they were shutting it down for me. When we got close enough to the airport, the tower controller cleared me to land. When I chopped the power on the left engine at the beginning of the landing flare I was surprised to experience a dramatic yaw reversal. With the right propeller feathered, and the left propeller in flat pitch for the potential go around, the drag of the windmilling left propeller caused a strong left-turning tendency. Even with maximum corrective right rudder I drifted to the left, and touched down between the centerline and the left edge of the runway.

The moment we touched down, the tower began releasing airplanes to take off on the other runways. Three fire engines were positioned along the adjacent taxiway. Ground cleared me to the T-hangars, and I told him that I would have to circle while taxiing (you cannot taxi in a straight line on one engine in a light twin). I wound my way back to my hangar with a fire engine escort.

Later, I removed the two oil-cooler lines; they were both chafed, but one was worn through. You could not see the damage with the lines in place, so I decided to replace the damaged lines without adding the thick, heat-resistant sleeves that had been added when they were last changed. The sleeves had made the hoses bulkier, forcing them farther away from the cowl and into greater contact with the manifolds, and also obscured the chafing damage.

In retrospect, I learned a lot from the incident: At first I was afraid that the right engine’s declining rpm was a sign of impending seizure. I realize that it was caused by an increasing pitch of the propeller from the falling oil pressure.

A shoreline approach was unnecessary. I have 1,400 hours flying single-engine airplanes, and all that happened on this flight was that I was transformed from flying multiengine to flying single engine again—but with asymmetric thrust. The tower personnel possibly gave me every consideration because they might have worried that I had a bigger problem than I was admitting.

Finally, I am going to examine the oil lines much more carefully during inspections and will probably even remove them from their confined space to properly assess their condition.

George Read, AOPA 896695, has been flying since 1952.