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Lessons My Comanche Taught Me


By Jan Brill

This article is to report an inflight emergency with a subsequent engine shutdown. It occurred some time ago while returning to home base from a very interesting and informative biennial flight review with Horizon Aviation at Providence, Rhode Island (PVD).  My aircraft is a 1964 turbo PA-30, N7311Y.

After completing the uneventful BFR at PVD, I returned a friend who had been visiting me for the weekend to Newark, New Jersey (EWR) so he could catch an international flight that evening. The emergency occurred after my departure from Newark.

Home base for N7311Y is Republic Airport, Long Island, New York (FRG). To fly the short hop from EWR to FRG you are asked by ATC if you want the "JFK shoreline transition" which means flying along the coast of Long Island parallel to JFK airport at 500 feet above the beach. Being familiar with this procedure and given the clear night conditions, I accepted that routing from ATC.  However they have to bring you up to 1,000+ feet over the Verrazzano bridge in order to keep you clear of vehicle traffic! Initial altitude out of EWR was 1,500 feet.  Then, after the bridge, down to 500 feet.  All this only takes a few minutes, at best.

Due to a tailwind, I was making a rather high ground speed, so I pulled back to 16 inches MP and 2,300 rpm for the 1,000 foot descent, since room for the descent before the beginning of the transition (along the Marine State Parkway) is limited.

Leveling off at 500 feet and bringing up the power I noticed no change in MP on the right engine. The control cable was disconnected.  The left engine came up just fine but the right was stuck at 16 inches MP. All that at 500 feet over the beaches of Brooklyn!!

The airplane was at approximately 3,200 pounds gross weight and, as the temperature was just 7 degrees Celsius, climbing was no problem.  The rest of the flight went as follows:

    1) Since the bad engine was producing at least a little bit of power, I decided not to shut it down.

    2) I immediately declared an emergency with ATC, asking for an altitude higher than 500 feet.  I was given 2,000 which was quickly reached even on just one engine.  It made me MUCH more comfortable to have a safety margin better than 500 feet.

    3) I decided not to land at JFK but continue the few miles (4 minutes of flight) to FRG since for now the airplane was doing well.

    4) I decided I would need to completely shut down the right engine before landing to be safe and to avoid a possible sudden change in power during the flare, if a flare would even be possible in this configuration. At that time I did not run through all the possible scenarios if landing with both engines running (e.g. engine surging up on flare below Vmc, plane is unable to flare with remaining power, plane is uncontrollable on rollout, etc). I just figured it would be better to land in a *known* single engine configuration (long runway, clear night) than with some sort of intermediate and shaky state.

    5) Since the engine was still giving some power, I didn't want to shut it down too early. So I figured the best way would be to line up on a nice long final to the airport, feathering the engine maybe 2-3 miles out and lowering the gear once I'm sure I make the airport. However, the late gear extension would mean no time for manual extension in case the electrical system doesn't work.  Since I always prefer to damage the airplane rather than the occupants, I decided to take my chances with a late gear down selection and be sure to make the airport no matter what.

    6) Finally, I gave a reassuring word to my passenger who is afraid of flying anyway (and this probably didn't help!!)

    7) On final, I ran the whole procedure: identify, verify, feather, just to make sure I really shut down the bad engine. I did! The right propeller feathered nicely about 2 miles out.  Then, I selected gear down (it worked!) and increased power on the good engine.

    8) The landing was uneventful. It was just left turns on taxiing that didn't really work.

Lessons learned:

- I totally underestimated the drag of the extended gear while on one engine. I had to add much more power than I anticipated and should have been a lot higher on the final approach.

- I played around with the freely moving throttle for too long, simply not believing this could happen to ME, instead of quickly writing it off and going on to other tasks (climb, talk, etc.).

- Even though it was unnecessary, during the flight it never occurred to me that I may have been able to increase power on the bad engine by using the turbo. It only occurred to me next morning, after my first coffee.

Jan Photo

Jan Frederik Brill; Born 1974; Started flying gliders in Europe in 1989; Living and working in NYC; Commercial MEL/Inst; 1400TT, 80 hrs Multi, 70 hrs PA-30; Ferried his previous airplane - a Grumman Tiger - from Switzerland to New York in 2001; Website (with lot's of TwinCo pictures and data):

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