A bad day in the cockpit

Mark and I had been flying together for more than four years and felt very comfortable in our “crew concept” procedures. As a matter of routine, we alternated seats as well as the responsibilities of pilot in command and first officer.

Our flight on this night would be an instrument flight departing from Wichita Mid-Continent Airport, climbing through the low, gray, overcast skies up to 14,000 feet followed by a descent into Hutchinson for some instrument approaches, then back to Wichita. This would be a maximum weight takeoff, but with the outside air temperature at 59 degrees Fahrenheit and more than 7000 feet of runway available, our Citation I would handle the situation with ease.

The smell and feel of the cockpit were familiar and comfortable as we strapped ourselves in and began the routine checklist callouts and responses. Mark accomplished the “pre-start,” “start,” and “taxi” checklists and began to copy our clearance.

“Citation 208 Whiskey, cleared to Hutchinson via the Wichita Four departure, departure control on 126.6, squawk 4100,” said the controller.

Citation 1 cockpit
This is where the magic happens.

Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Mark setting up the radios and dialing in 5,000 on our altitude selector. The Wichita Four Departure was a published procedure containing instructions for pilots to maintain runway heading and climb to 5,000 feet after takeoff.

I turned slightly toward him and said, “Okay, Mark, we’re ready. Request takeoff clearance, and then we’ll get the runway items on the checklist.”

“Citation 208 Whiskey, cleared for takeoff,” voiced the controller over the radio.

Mark responded, “Citation 208 Whiskey cleared to go.”

Then he called to me the checklist items: “Transponder… on; strobe and recognition lights… on; ignition… two green; pitot heat…on; annunciator panel… clear.”

We were now lined up on the runway centerline, and I began advancing the power levers, reminding Mark to back me up on the power and make all of the standard callouts. The power levers advanced smoothly until I felt Mark tap the back of my hand, saying aloud, “Takeoff power set.”

I released the brakes, and we began our takeoff roll. The runway lights went by faster and faster as we accelerated, with the familiar callouts coming from Mark in the right seat as he monitored all of the gauges and instruments while I kept my attention outside the cockpit.

“Airspeed’s alive…Crosscheck 70 knots.”

A quick glance at my airspeed indicator verified that both indicators were in agreement.

“V1,” called Mark.

I used both hands to pull back on the control wheel, and the nosewheel came smoothly off the runway, followed by the main wheels.

Suddenly, a red warning light flashed, indicating “ENGINE FIRE.”

This was the worst possible time for such an emergency, but we had to concentrate first on flying the airplane. Calmly, Mark confirmed that we were climbing and called out “positive rate.”

“Gear up” I requested curtly, and Mark raised the landing gear.  At 400 feet above the ground, Mark called, “400 feet.”

I responded, “Flaps up,” and Mark raised the flaps.

Maintaining runway heading and seven degrees of pitch, we had a good rate of climb. I informed Mark that I was going to reduce the power on the right engine to see if our problem could be a bleed air leak.

At this time, the tower called, “208 Whiskey, contact departure.”

“208 Whiskey, Roger,” Mark responded, then he changed the radio frequency to 126.6 and continued, his voice still calm.

“Departure, Citation 208 Whiskey out of two thousand, climbing to five and we have a problem; we are declaring an emergency and would like to return to Wichita and land.”

Departure control responded immediately: “Roger, 208 Whiskey, radar contact, proceed direct to the VOR, maintain 3,500, expect a VOR runway 14 approach.”

Mark acknowledged the clearance and began tuning our navigation radios for the VOR 14 approach. We had been flying for just over one minute, but it seemed much longer. I turned to Mark and said, “Power reduction did no good. The fire light is still on, and we’re losing that right engine. Fight the fire and get the checklist.”

Annunciator panel
It’s never fun when these lights start flashing.

Mark lifted the cover on the engine fire light and pushed the button, shutting off the fuel and hydraulics to the right engine while automatically arming the fire extinguisher bottles. I leveled off at 3,500 feet and turned the aircraft toward the VOR. It took a lot of left rudder pressure to center the ball. I turned the rudder trim in the proper direction and then engaged the yaw damper. Seeing the ball now centered, I then relaxed the rudder pressure a bit.

Mark pushed the white fire bottle switch, causing a fire extinguisher to discharge its contents into the right engine compartment. He then began to read the checklist aloud.

“Engine fire switch… lift cover and push… done.”

“Either illuminated fire bottle armed light: push… done.”

“Ignition… normal.”

I reached for the right ignition switch and turned it to the normal position.

“Throttle, that is the right throttle… off.”

I pulled the lever and brought the right throttle to the cutoff position.

“Reduce electrical load as required.”

A glance at the ammeter verified that the electrical load was okay.

“Boost pump… off.”

I verified that I had my finger on the correct boost pump switch and moved it to the “off” position.

“If fire warning light is still on, fire the remaining bottle.”

A glance at the instrument panel showed that the engine fire light was still on, so Mark fired the second fire extinguisher bottle.

“Okay, the fire light is out. Engine fire checklist is complete.”

As a sigh of relief passed my lips, another light, “Left Hyd Press Lo” on our annunciator panel illuminated, advising us that we had probably lost our left hydraulic pump.

Normally, a hydraulic pump failure is no problem because there are two pumps in the airplane, one on each engine, and one pump is all that’s needed. However, since we had the right engine shut down and the left pump failed, we now had NO hydraulic pressure available. This meant we had no speed brakes, no thrust reversers, and our landing gear would have to be lowered manually.

We were now almost directly over the VOR, and I asked Mark to request a hold over the VOR in order to give us a chance to read the checklist, handle this latest problem and get set up for the approach.

Departure control quickly approved the holding pattern and advised us that the weather was now 400 feet overcast with two miles’ visibility, calm winds and an altimeter setting of 29.92 inches of mercury.

As I concentrated on flying the holding pattern and maintaining our altitude, Mark accomplished our “after takeoff”, “engine shutdown” and “hydraulic pressure low” checklists.

We were aware that we would have to lower the landing gear manually, and I decided to accomplish that before starting the approach. The weather was near minimums for the VOR approach, and we would be busy once we started down.

Gear handle
Now if we can just get the gear down.

I called out, “Gear down,” and Mark lowered the gear handle to the down position. NOTHING! Mark continued with the checklist.

“Landing gear checklist. Check gear handle down… Check.”

“Check gear control circuit breaker… Check.”

“Airspeed below 176… we’re at 150, looks good.”

“Auxiliary gear control… pull handle and rotate to lock.”

I pulled the handle and felt the aircraft shudder as the landing gear free-fell down. But only two green lights!

The lights that indicate the nose gear and the left main gear were down and locked, but the right main gear light remained dark. I had a fleeting thought that I was glad we decided to do this in a holding pattern rather than on final approach. I called out to Mark, “No way to recycle the gear Mark; let’s check the warning test to see if the light bulbs are all okay.”

As Mark rotated the warning test selector to “landing gear,” and we could see that the right main gear light bulb was indeed burned out.

The thought “I hope it’s just burned out” was in the back of my mind as we completed the checklist by yawing the aircraft left and right and then pulling the knob to blow pressurized nitrogen into the gear hydraulic lines, ensuring a positive gear down and locked condition.

We were now over the VOR again and, as I banked the aircraft into a standard rate turn, I asked Mark to request approach clearance and then to begin the pre-landing check.

Approach control then called, “November 208 Whiskey, cleared for the VOR runway One Four approach, contact the tower 118.2 at the VOR.”

Mark acknowledged our clearance and read the before landing checklist, then turned up the volume slightly on the navigation radio so we could monitor the identification signal during the approach. The Morse code beeping softly through the overhead speaker assured us that the navigation signal was the correct one and was reliable.

As we turned to intercept the inbound course, I began our descent, planning to cross the VOR at 2,900 feet as Mark contacted the tower. The tower advised us that the weather was deteriorating and cleared us to land.

I adjusted the course slightly to center the needle on our navigation instrument as I waited for Mark to make the normal callouts.

“200 feet to minimums… 100 feet to minimums… minimum descent altitude.”

I leveled off to maintain the minimum descent altitude as Mark advised me: “No lights in sight below us. Ten seconds to the missed approach point.”

Vainly, I searched outside for a glimmer of those reassuring runway lights and saw only darkness. I ignored the temptation to descend a little lower, scanned once more outside then returned to the gauges as Mark called, “Missed approach point… no lights in sight.”

approach fog
Is there a runway out there?

“Go around,” I said, as I advanced the throttle on our one good engine, pushed the “go-around” button on the power lever, and pulled back on the control wheel to start the climb to a safe altitude.

As the aircraft slowly climbed, I noticed that I had to hold left aileron pressure to keep the wings level, so I adjusted the roll trim knob several times to relieve the pressure.

My arms, legs and shoulders felt stiff, but there was no time to relax. I asked Mark to notify the tower that we had executed a missed approach and to request an ILS approach. According to the requirements of the published approach, we could descend to within 200 feet of the ground and required no more than one-half mile visibility with this approach. Surely the weather would remain at least that good long enough for us to land.

I could feel the sweat trickling down my back, even though the cockpit was cool. A glance at Mark in the right seat showed some tension in his face, but his voice was calm and steady as he requested radar vectors for an ILS approach and then turned to the missed approach checklist.

A call from the tower interrupted my thoughts. “November 208 Whiskey, turn right direct to the VOR, climb to maintain 3,000 feet, cleared for the ILS runway one niner right. Present weather 200 overcast, visibility one mile, fog, winds calm.”

As we complied with the clearance, my scan of the instruments picked up an unbalanced fuel load. We had been flying for a while on just the left engine and now we had 600 pounds more fuel in the right wing tank than in the left. As I selected crossfeed to balance the fuel load, I realized that I was now correcting the reason I had felt so much left aileron pressure on that missed approach. The fuel load balanced as we reached 3,000 feet, and I was able to retrim the ailerons. I leveled off and turned off the crossfeed at the same time.

Mark was setting the proper frequencies in the radios for the ILS 19R approach as my scan picked up a red flag on my attitude indicator. I wondered how long it had been there.

The red flag indicated that my flight director had failed. I turned it off and then back on in the hope that it might come back to life but it remained dead. I had never used one until the company bought the Citation. The old Merlin didn’t have one, and I had flown more than 3000 hours without one, so I was comfortable without it.

Even so, not having the computed guidance cues of the flight director, I had to work harder to remain on course and altitude. I realized then, as I struggled to keep the needles centered, that I had begun to depend too much on that flight director. I could feel the tension but needed to concentrate on just flying the airplane.

Mark now had the before landing checklist in hand, and we completed the last item as the glideslope pointer began to move downward, indicating the airplane was on the proper flight path.

“08 Whiskey, marker inbound,” Mark informed the tower, as we intercepted the glide slope and started our descent.

“208 Whiskey, Roger, cleared to land one niner right, winds calm,” responded the tower.

At this point, we were on our second instrument approach, flying with one engine out, having already executed one single-engine missed approach with the landing gear down and locked. Then, we suffered a hydraulic pump failure, necessitating us to crossfeed fuel to balance the load and had a flight director failure, all at night in bad weather that was getting worse. Surely nothing else could go wrong.

However, Murphy ’s Law wasn’t finished with us yet.

My eyes were glued to the instruments as Mark called out our altitude, airspeed and sink rate when, suddenly, the number one navigation radio failed. Fortunately, our procedures called for the number two radio to be set as a backup for all approaches and, before I got too far off course, I was able to transition to a standby instrument slaved to the number two navigation radio displaying course and glide slope information.

Mark called out, “100 feet to decision height.”

There was a short pause as I searched outside for the approach lights and then, suddenly, THERE THEY WERE! I could see the lead-in lights, then the runway itself.

“I’m visual, Mark, flaps full down,” I said.

Mark replied, “Flaps full down, yaw damper off, landing check complete.”

Simulator at FSI
The most unreliable type of airplane.

We were over the end of the runway and, as the aircraft settled onto the pavement, we heard the reassuring squeak of the tires. I pushed the control wheel forward gently and reminded myself aloud that we had no thrust reversers to help us slow down. That was okay, though, because we had plenty of runway available. I applied the brakes nice and easy and WHOOPS, NO BRAKES! I quickly grabbed the emergency brake handle, removed my feet from the brake pedals, pulled the handle smoothly and there—we were slowing down and could pull off the runway and call for a tug to tow us in to the parking area.

I could feel the tension melting away as we completed the after landing and the shutdown checklists. We looked forward to the 15-minute break before we had to take off again.

That’s right, a 15-minute break and then we would climb back in for another training flight to experience different emergency situations. This time, Mark would be in the captain’s seat, and I would be his first officer.

Actually, we had not been off the ground tonight at all. Outside, the sky over Wichita was not cloudy but clear with a full moon. Even wearing short sleeve shirts as we were, the air was warm and sticky.

Back in the simulator at FlightSafety International Citation Learning Center, the bad weather and Murphy’s Law awaited; it was time to fly again.

11 Comments

  • You have a second career as a suspense novel writer ahead of you. I read this with my co-pilot, we both thought that you did an awesome job of building the suspense without building the disbelief.
    Glad it was a sim ride, but it sounds like you two and your passengers would have walked off the plane with your heads high just the same.

  • This event is from my book detailing my flying career. I was fortunate during that career to fly with some very fine pilots and learned from each of them. “My Journey To The Clouds” is available as an e-book or in print from Amazon.com.
    Thank you for the very nice comments.

  • I’ll repeat “nicely done.” I’ve experienced equipment failures in the soup, but not so many nor so diverse. Made me wonder about your outfit’s maintenance quality.

    You kept the suspense level high and I could feel both the extra control pressure and the sweat. Then the sim picture caught my eye just before “15-minute break.”

    You encourage my book project, Sky Creature, about flying in the Amazon Jungle. Keep writing.

  • Hi Jim. I would love to read your story or book about flying in the Amazon jungle. Thank you for the kind words.

  • Outstanding! I was on the edge of my seat, reading as fast as my poor ol’ brain could go, all the while thinking that I would never be so clear headed. And then I laughed out loud!
    What an artist you are!!

  • I first must commend you and Mark for your great CRM skills and how to handle multiple emergencies in a professional manner. Calmness remained after the right engine fire light and then the left hydraulic failure and I was thinking that these guys have it wired; and then I was thinking these things are happening at a rapid rate. Hmm, could this be a sim flight? Great story!

  • Try a Marine Phantom F-4. Blown nose tires just as hitting the two burners, full fuel and loaded with bombs. Baroom!, and another, almost simultaneous- Wham! . The front started shaking violently as only rims are left. I pulled back on the stick lifting the rims and momentarily, very momentarily thought, aloft? or Keep on the deck? Somewhere in a remote spot of my brain, something echoed FOD! FOD!. Portions of both nose tires did go up into the intakes. Aloft the engine would have blown, G E J-79s- 17,500 lbs thrust each. At 500 knots, Marine style Close Air Bombing, not Air Force, tree top level you hit burners immediately after drop, usually singles and haul that stick back. Ground troops below, the enemy ones, have only a few seconds to fire at you. 10 t0 12 seconds, even with a full load, that big F-4 is safely up at 10 Grand. 37mm (Fonda Janes) can’t swivel for an adequate sight picture in only a few vulnerable seconds. Back down you come for another drop. Does stretch the eardrums which earns you hearing aids as you age.
    I jerked my throttles back , out of burner and on, all the way to idle. I tippy toed at 200 plus knots to the centerline and banged my tail hook down. I hit the Morest wire and what seemed like too long a wait I started to reach for my ejection handle above my head. My hands froze half way up. Centrifugal force ruled. The wire caught that big cleat at the end of the railroad track attached to the Phantoms tail. I hit the Morest so hard I strung out the bungees to their Max. They then contracted and drug my Phantom backward. The metal wheels cocked and the airplane turned 180 degrees affording me a scene of the fire trucks racing toward me. My RIO was already out of his back seat and hastily running down the taxiway. I am probably the only F-4 Driver who can claim going backward on an idle engine. I smelled smoke, hydraulic fluid was leaking on the hot rims. I was taken to Sick Bay a bit in shock. It was a morning mission. After a couple shots of Med alcohol cut with orange juice and a friendly conversation with the chief Flight Surgeon, we went to lunch. He scheduled me for a PM hop and I was back up flying. That is the customary thing to do long as you are not bleeding. I flew 110 combat missions out of Chu Lai, up front where the action was. Hot Pad Duty and Marines or Airborne in trouble, often we would go right back out 12 minutes after touchdown, taxi hot, reloaded, refueled, 12 – 500 pounders (One hell of a lethal weapon) or 7 Nape (Worse). Some times in 66 ad 67′ the Nape would not release and you had to land with them. I have a picture of one hanger on my bird. 500s it happened also but less. F-4 was a great bird for Close Air. Got out quick, carried a load, stayed on station longer and came back faster. Troops are out there getting killed or over run if you don’t get right back. Ask a grunt. They loved that bird as much as we pilots did. Yah I reached for an ejection handle another time, an inverted Spin and a SAM. Hands got frozen again, and over Cong territory but that is another story.

  • Thanks Chief, for writing and relating part of your story. It makes my flying look pretty tame by comparison. Glad you were there doing your job. Thanks from the heart.
    Ed

  • Wrote this for the Spad Drivers and a good friend. Maybe one of your sons out there, having read this, will move on up into enough command someday regarding an influence on Close Air Support. A serious denial by the Air Force was a major reason why we lost the war due to infiltration from the north and mis -use of the most lethal CAS war changing weapon- the F-4.

    Will never trash aerial skill, Bravery and Duty which Spad drivers were loaded with but the plain facts contrary to their role and consequential to the lives of the ground troops they are ordained to Protect and Serve the Spad was woefully inadequate. Such must be presented to promote life and avoid death for the future of Ground troops primarily and the deliverers as well (Pilots and not blind sided Drones) if we get civilians involved too, I share the following. Consider that I am a M. D. and not a J D and have to tell you that you have serious cancer and must now plan on how you want to approach it- Chemo- or non-chemo.

    The Air Force made one helluva mistake when the Navy wisely gave up our AD’s (Spads) in trade for the pending AF F-4 B contract with McDonnell. That meant our CAS Marine AD birds also which our Generals happily complied since CAS is our bread and butter. Low approach, 500 knots (Tree Top level), a helluva lot faster with the F-4 and damn well faster out going and climbing which the Spad slowed down to not much faster than a sitting duck helicopter. Reason why so many knocked down and AF finally realized the “Carries -its- own- weight -in- bombs Opiate faded with one helluva hangover but they never learned- … off to the A 10 no Burner drawing boards they went. With yet a full load and full fuel for that first no drop look see, (Which Ground Marines and Airborne dearly appreciate) the F-4 was far better than anything with wings and a bomb rack over in Nam. The 3 stooges can tell you get away speed is damn important after a tree top drop. The F-4, -pickle a single usually and simultaneously hit burner after your usual ‘Look See’ pass or passes conversing with the FAC down below, Yes, often a couple Look Sees’ mind you with yet a full load below and lotsa fuel aboard those J-79s hardly notice max weight Ordnance & Fuel. Ba-room up and off you climb safely to 10G in seconds. Back down you come down again, 500 pounders are damn lethal and accurate when rigged Snake. Snake rigged 500 pounder keeps your tail from being blown off at low, low more accurate level. Within the few vulnerable bombing release tree top seconds the ‘Hostiles’ below can’t swivel their 37s in time and troops are damned scared if attempting a quick shot at a 500 knot bird. They must have never led us as few of us got hit by the AK 47s. Nape they were flat on the ground, face down- you could see em from a half roll. Back faster, dependent on fuel, we had an average turn around time of 12 minutes- you call “Chu Lai Tower, 50 out, hot pad- Yankee Echo.” If you are going back out, you get priority entry and taxi. Over the numbers, dropping gear and flaps in a 360 – touch down to hot taxi. Shut off your port engine as you brake to a stop at reload, refuel. A malt or cold drink will be cigar boxed up to you if you told the tower incoming or you might have to unbuckle quickly and urinate in the exhaust hanging on to that big Stabilizer shark fin if the Skipper doesn’t have to punch your ladder release coming up and yelling in your ear over the whining starboard at idle providing hook up and refuel juice. He may have a few questions what you’ve seen. Division will have him on the phone if its a major operation or critical cover happening. Loaded you hot taxi priority back out again. Carriers cannot do hot pad efficiently- too damn long and have to elevator below for reload and worse wait for another bird trapping behind you- reason why Marines go land based as quickly as they can. Again, dropping singles, sticking around was dearly appreciated by those below especially if Nape is hanging below you. 51s and 37s (not-so-Fonda Janes) they had plenty of and fortunately for the A-10s over in Muzzie land nowadays the Arabs don’t have (37s, 51s) allows the A-10 their present successful don’t- get-knocked-down role. China & Russia are loaded with them or versions thereof- a no- no for the A 10 if we scrap with them. Phantoms?- Hell they are gone thanks to the GD CAS clueless AF.

    We lost the Nam war mainly to lack of effective Close Air. 5,000 F-4s, were made and damn few percentage wise made it to NAM. Turkey, Egypt, Alaska, UK, Germany, U S Bases, Natl Guard you name it. The Marines, the only ones to use effective CAS had but 2 squadrons in Country at the forward base- Chu Lai. 3rd rotated out to take on new pilots and R&R, Iwakuni and Naha, Okie. Out fast and back faster, 12 minute turn around for hot pad saves lives, uncongested traffic compared to Danang, re-load and re-fuel. Damn effective, we care for our troops and the Airborne too who outlawed the AF ‘support’- too high (drop) and too many (Bombs released, all or half). AF – Big on CBU ‘All Drops.’ AF was MIG goofy and utilized far more TAS than CAS. One ass boring ‘mission if you can call it that. Round and Round you go, Refuel, and sometimes twice. Go home way later to distant Thailand or way down south afterwards. Not hot pad effective. Navy basically one missioned, short time on their A-4s. Gather up like a flock of geese and head out to a major target. Too long a turn around for their longer on station F4s as mentioned. I got stuck with only two of those boring non-happening TAS and Skipper pulled me off of them, thank God and replaced by a couple of high missioned short timers. To tell the truth, I’d rather get shot at then go round and round, refuel off a 130 and back to boring holes in the sky. Time passes a helluva lot more quickly on a get-shot-at-mission red inked into your log book. I got a few.

    I worked briefly for a well heeled Chinese company. CEOs confided with me that Chinese Brass assured the NVA that they could take the AF out of Close Air. NVA feared the 1000 F4C contract which obviously would raise hell with ground infiltration south and win the war, which it did. Chinese baited the AF with their MIGs, a lot of older models and it worked. “We baited you,” the CEO’s told me. They always wanted me to wear my flight jacket when we bussed to a destination. Damned elaborate bus with a full bar and Chinese Television. Interesting movies showing them whipping Chiang Kai Shek’s American clad and weaponed troops. The F4C’s which were not spread around the world were kept bomb less in the air with MIG sightings- not a helluva lot knocked down. Our traitorous State Department gave out to much ‘Civilian Protection’ Info also Re Raids up north. F4 was most knocked down, mainly by SAMs and their pilots most numerous in Hanoi Hilton. Read my upcoming book- Terrorism- Indigenous Spirituality and Religious Extremism – Amazon June 2017. Major Ed McGaa, former F 4 Driver, Chu Lai, VMFA 115, USMC.

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