Aviation

Pilots train for twin-engine failure, flight instructors say

A Beechcraft Super King Air B200 at a National Business Aviation Association static display in 2007 at Fulton County Airport-Brown Field in Atlanta.
A Beechcraft Super King Air B200 at a National Business Aviation Association static display in 2007 at Fulton County Airport-Brown Field in Atlanta. The Wichita Eagle

Flight instructors said pilots are thoroughly trained to handle engine failures in the type of airplane that crashed last week at Mid-Continent Airport, killing four people, including the pilot.

Even engine failures that occur at takeoff, the worst-case scenario for such a failure, are survivable, they said. That leads them to speculate that there may have been mechanical problems of some kind on the twin-engine Beechcraft King Air B200 that struck the roof of a FlightSafety International building on South Airport Road.

The pilot of the plane, Mark Goldstein, died in Thursday’s crash, as did three people inside the building. Five other people were hurt, one seriously.

Wichita flight instructor Dave Dewhirst said more than half the training in a twin-engine plane is on how to deal with the failure of one of its engines.

“Anybody can fly the airplane when both engines are running, but it takes special training when an engine fails,” he said.

A minute after taking off to the north, Goldstein had declared an emergency and informed air traffic control that he had lost the left engine. An official with the National Transportation Safety Board has said the plane was flying low and slow when it turned left and continued turning until it hit the corner of the building.

Dewhirst said that when an engine fails, pilots learn the mantra “identify, verify and feather.”

That means a pilot identifies which engine has failed, verifies the failure, then feathers the propeller of the failed engine so that the blades are parallel to the slipstream and the engine no longer rotates. That eliminates the drag of the propeller, making the plane easier to control, he said.

Pilots usually don’t train for engine failures on takeoff in real airplanes because it is too dangerous, Dewhirst said. Goldstein, an experienced pilot with more than 3,000 flight hours through August, likely would have dealt with that situation only in simulators.

“But he likely would have seen it hundreds of times,” Dewhirst said.

The King Air has enough power that if an engine fails, it can still climb, Dewhirst said. The data in this case shows that the engine did not get feathered and that the airplane was out of control as it continued its leftward turn.

If the plane had an auto-feather feature, as was optional on this King Air, it may have failed or there was something else wrong with it. Or perhaps there was something wrong with the propeller that made it impossible to feather.

“There’s no reason why he should not have been able to feather that engine and make it go straight away,” Dewhirst said. “It’s my opinion that something broke.”

When the left engine failed after takeoff, the plane would have rolled to the left as the right engine continued to function. At that point, Goldstein could have pulled both throttles back to idle and landed on what was left of the runway or in areas north of the runway where landings were survivable.

Goldstein, he said, apparently was unable to keep the plane under control for some reason, so it kept turning.

“The airplane was out of control, no doubt about it,” Dewhirst said.

Steve Hinkle, another Wichita flight instructor, said the plane should have been capable of leveling off and landing. He’s not sure why it continued to turn left.

“I don’t know if he was trying to come back or something caused to him to keep turning left, a malfunction,” Hinkle said. “But for the most part, we train for that type of thing. It is survivable.”

David McConeghey, another local flight instructor, said the way to recover from engine failure is to reduce power on the good engine and lower the airplane’s nose to maintain and increase flying speed.

“You’re transforming it from an airplane into a glider,” he said.

Like Dewhirst, McConeghey said an auto-feather system should have allowed the propeller on the failed engine to streamline the blades to line up with the air flow. That would have allowed the King Air to continue flying straight ahead on the remaining engine.

The auto system may not have been working, or the propeller system might not have allowed the propeller to feather. If the engine had seized and stopped rotating, there would have been no oil pressure and the propeller wouldn’t have feathered, he said.

Or the propeller might have gone into an idling mode that pilots use on the ground to reduce forward thrust and coast the airplane. In the air, that would have created a tremendous drag, creating control problems, McConeghey said.

Or the engine could have gone into reverse thrust, another situation that would have created a heavy drag.

Everything is conjecture at this point, McConeghy said.

“He might have been doing everything right,” he said of Goldstein. “It’s very, very difficult to know.”

Scott Miller, chairman of the aerospace engineering department in the College of Engineering at Wichita State University, said Goldstein “had an engine failure at the worst possible time.”

“His air speed was slow … his altitude was low and he was trying to get it higher, and that takes more energy.

“The guy was clearly a high-time pilot, experienced and confident. But he had a lot to deal with,” Miller said. “He was talking on the radio and no doubt looking at his instrument panel to see how he could solve it, while also looking out the window to see if he could get back to a runway. He was probably trying to pull up all his safety procedures.

“Not to mention, he was probably just scared.”

Contributing: Roy Wenzl of The Eagle

Reach Fred Mann at 316-268-6310 or fmann@wichitaeagle.com.

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