What’s wrong with piston twin pilots?

You would never guess…

Back in the heyday of piston airplanes being used for personal and business travel, one question was most often asked of owners of high-performance singles: When are you going to step up to a twin? It was automatically assumed that everyone wanted to and all would when they could afford it.

In the history of private aviation, though, new piston twins were not a big factor. They found a robust market for a relatively short, maybe 25-year, period and now they are barely a blip. About 100, of five different types, were sold in 2016. Forty years earlier, 2,155 of 25 types were sold. As a result, the average age of the piston twins is now over 45 years of age. To be fair, high performance singles, especially retractables, have also withered on the vine but that is another story.

A lot of things worked against the twin, with cost of acquisition and operation probably the biggest. But a strong underlying factor was always the inability of pilots to fly them with an acceptable level of risk and, a bit later, the unwillingness of insurance underwriters to cover them. In other words, pilots bought them because they were safe but that turned out not to be true because of the nature of the pilots who flew them.

To me, that basic pilot misunderstanding of the airplanes was a big factor in the unfortunate accident and insurance situation that developed over the years. This was our fault. We, industry, the press (like me) and the Feds (CAA and then FAA) didn’t have a good understanding of the airplanes to pass along to the users. Worse, there was a dangerous level of misunderstanding that was passed on as gospel, at least for a while.

Cessna T-50
Cessna’s T-50 was mostly used by the military.

Before World War Two, only two twins were developed that could be called personal twins. Because war was on the horizon, both emphasized the use of non-strategic material, like wood.

I saw a Langley Twin in the hangar at Linden, N. J. many years ago and it looked like a piece of fine furniture that resembled a miniaturized Beech 18. It was powered by two 90-horsepower engines so it must have been a weak performer. Only two were built. It was thus never a factor.

The Cessna T-50 was a much more practical airplane, with two Jacobs radial engines, good flying qualities and a comfortable cabin. Some of these were sold in the civilian market before the war but the really big customer, after the war started, was military. A total of 5,422 were built with most bearing the Army Air Forces UC-78 or AT-17 designation. (One was for utility, one for advanced trainer.)

Because it had been certified as a civilian airplane before the war, it was a relatively simple matter to convert war surplus UC-78s and AT-17s back to T-50 civilian status. And that is where a lot of us got our introduction to piston twin flying in the late 1940s and early 1950s, as on 7/29/52 when I got my first hour of dual in a T-50, N4692N by name.

My log shows engine-out instruction in the twin and, as best I remember it, a lot of wallowing around the sky was involved. The T-50 did not have feathering propellers and my log always showed the horsepower at 225 a side though most specs published today put the number at 245. An early (1956) Cessna 310 had 240 horsepower engines and feathering props and weighed in at 4,600 pounds max as compared with 5,700 for the T-50. The T-50 thus had one mode on one engine: forward and down.

The airplane had good stall characteristics and I don’t recall it doing anything untoward in the hands of this novice. With 232 total time and six hours in the T-50, I was sent off solo in the airplane. I got my multiengine rating on 9/10/52. I flew some charter trips in the airplane (all before I was 20 years old) but, alas, when it came up for an annual inspection in February, 1953, it was decided that would be a waste of a lot of money. Much of the fabric covering on the airplane simply wouldn’t pass the required test.

I got my flight instructor’s rating on 8/24/53 and, guess what, that automatically made me a multiengine flight instructor. Later, when flight instructors got certificates that had to be renewed ever two years, everything was grandfathered and my certificate showed airplane single and multiengine and instrument airplane.

Remember that six hours of dual I got in the T-50? Did anyone really think that would make me a serviceable instructor in the new breed of personal twins that was coming to market?

Twin engine out
Did twin pilots of the early 1960s really understand what was going on?

Because most other multiengine instructors had a similar history, this was a problem, probably about half of the problem. The other half was with the CAA, later the FAA.

Most of CAA/FAA people in Flight Standards were ex-military with a strong emphasis on transport pilots and those involved in military flight training. There were some bomber pilots and a few fighter pilots but it was the guys from the Air Transport Command and the Army Air Forces Training Command who called the shots. I knew a lot of them and they were tough guys who knew exactly nothing about civilian flying. They were well-intentioned but sadly misguided in a number of areas.

Trouble was not long in coming. One particular required maneuver for a multiengine rating was, in essence, purely dangerous. It required that Vmc (engine out minimum control speed) demonstrations be done as low as possible but not below 500 feet. On many twins, Vmc was not much above the stall so this meant the pilot had to fly perilously low and slow and then have asymmetric thrust suddenly introduced. The reason the FAA gave for the low altitude was to maximize the power available from normally aspirated engines.

I’ve told of this before but it is so much a part of the subject, I’ll repeat it. On July, 22, 1958 Ann and I were moving from Little Rock to New York where I would be working for Air Facts. We’d be traveling in our Piper Pacer.

One of the friends who came to see us off was Ralph Williams. He was an LRPD officer in his day job and he moonlighted as an instructor and charter pilot at Central Flying Service. After we left, and a little later that morning, Ralph went along as an observer on an FAA multiengine flight test in a Beech Travel Air, N819B. The applicant was another friend, Jim McClellan, son of the senator. The check ride was conducted by an FAA inspector and a fourth person was also along as an observer.

Witnesses described a flat spin, though I don’t think they knew what that was, entered at low altitude. The airplane hit flat and all four occupants were killed instantly.

I had flown 819B several times though no one checked me out in it. I had been flying a D50B Twin Bonanza for a local construction company, and had gotten my ATR (now ATP) in that airplane so I guess it was just assumed that I could handle the smaller Travel Air. I didn’t venture near any edge of the envelope so had no knowledge of the airplane’s low-speed handling qualities.

At the time, nobody realized that this was the beginning of what was to become a virtual slaughter caused by the way the FAA wanted Vmc demonstrated in multiengine flight training. That 7/22/58 accident was recreated dozens and dozens of times in the following years, mostly in Beech Travel Airs and Barons and in Piper Twin Comanches. After this had gone on for a while, it seemed as if the FAA was issuing multiengine ratings to the survivors of the training.

Piper Twin Comanche
The Twin Comanche wasn’t unsafe, but it had that reputation.

The Twin Comanche came out in 1964 and by 1968 it was widely thought of as a dangerous airplane. In normal use, it wasn’t. In the FAA-approved training it was. A third of the fatal accidents in the Twin Comanche occurred on training flights. How many of the hours were flown on training flights? At the time it was estimated that the 33-percent of the accidents happened in about five-percent of the flying time. The only other place I know if with such a serious disconnect is IFR/IMC night flying where there are a lot of accidents during a relatively little bit of flying.

The Twin Comanche was carefully examined by the government and by Piper. The main smoking gun was that in a power stall the left wing stalled well before the right wing. That would make the airplane roll to the left. I can attest to the fact that it did with great enthusiasm and more than one of us quit doing stalls in the airplane because you could quickly have to learn recovery from inverted flight when out stalling.

Piper tested the airplane in spins and found that it was recoverable using standard technique. However, most of the training accidents occurred at an altitude too low for a successful recovery. Also, with the left wing stalling first the airplane would roll to the left but most training spins were to the right. The simple reason for that was that the instructor/examiner/inspector was sitting on the right and usually failed the right engine.

Piper tweaked the airplane with stall strips and counter-rotating props in an effort to make both wings stall at the same time.

I wrote about the twin training problem in Air Facts as well as in FLYING after I moved to that publication in 1968. I made many trips to Washington to virtually beg the director of FAA’s Flight Standards office to tone down the Vmc requirement. I was always rebuffed and sent away feeling like a private who had crossed swords with a colonel. Actually, I had better luck doing that when dealing with the real Army.

There is no question that a pilot’s skill will be critically tested if an engine fails in the first two or three minutes after advancing the power to take off. However, if an engine fails at any time during a flight the pilot is still faced with a single engine landing.

When fatal twin wrecks other than weather accidents were considered, two things topped the list. There were far more training accidents in twins than singles and there were far more fatal accidents in twins because of poorly flown engine out approaches than were found in the first two or three minutes of the flight. Yet the training concentrated on Vmc as it related to the climb right after takeoff. Guess what: Vmc is still there on approach.

Aztec on one engine
The first time you land with one feathered, it shouldn’t be for real.

When I instructed in twins, I always had students actually land the airplane with one prop feathered. That was criticized as being risky and one tower told me that if I insisted on doing it, they would treat it as an emergency.

To me it was a simple matter of my wanting anyone I trained in a twin to have been there and done that if ever faced with an actual engine-out landing. The first time was better with me than with family or friends or paying passengers along for the ride.

As the accident record evolved over the years, the training accidents became less of a factor, mainly because they had been such a huge problem and had gotten so much publicity that there were no surprises left there. The FAA finally backed away from suicidal Vmc demonstrations though not until some notable retirements from Flight Standards. Further, new-design twins had come along that were much more docile than that old ones.

The Beech Duchess was designed to be controllable in extreme circumstances and if you spun it, even with one engine shut down and the other one running wide open, it would not go flat and it would be easily recoverable. Video of all this made the rounds some years ago and it was quite impressive. The Duchess could actually have been approved for spins but Beech didn’t care to do that.

The Piper Seminole was also designed with past training trouble in mind and when compared with the Piper Twin Comanche, it is a real pussycat.

Along the way, I learned something else about twin misconceptions. My father and I had been operating a 250 Comanche that was replaced by a Twin Comanche in 1964. I transferred the insurance and was a bit surprised to see a substantial check to reflect a much lower hull insurance rate for the twin. Training accidents aside, was it really that much safer than the single?

I researched this, found out that it actually at flew higher risk than the single and I wrote about this in Air Facts. It was the first time anything like this had ever been mentioned and it, and much that was to follow, got me branded as being anti-twin. All I was really doing was showing that insurance underwriters were basing premiums on what they thought was true as opposed to what was actually true.

The industry misjudged twins, too, treating them as just another airplane. It was rather common in the 1960s to just toss someone the keys to a new type and if he caught them, he was checked out. Most twins didn’t have ignition keys so the checkout could be even simpler.

I flew a lot of twins with no real training or checkout and others with only the briefest exposure to the airplane. My Cessna 310 checkout took an hour, the Piper Apache was 45 minutes, the Aero Commander twin 30 minutes, and I checked myself out in the Beech Travel Air. The moment I was checked out in those airplanes I could start instructing in them. All the training, checkout and proficiency requirements for twins that exist today just weren’t around when the airplanes first came out.

The Cessna 310
Piston twins were noisy, inefficient and not always safe – but they were fun.

I think the twins were forever tainted by those original problems that started in the late 1950s and peaked in the 1960s. It was slow motion but, much more recently, stringent training and experience requirements to be able to buy insurance on light twins have driven pilots away from the airplanes. The amount of liability insurance available might also be limited.

Of the small number of new twins sold today, only a few are airplanes that are likely used for business and/or personal travel. In fact, the number was 23 for last year. The Diamond DA-42s, which are diesel and not piston-powered, are not included in that 23 number because while I think they are probably sold more as trainers than transports, I don’t know that for a fact. Thirty-four of those were sold last year.

Because of the limited number being built and the fact that most twin training is now being done in professional training establishments like flight academies and educational institutions, we’ll never know how the modern twins would do if used like the twins in the good old days.

A lot of those old twins are still flying but most are not too active. The reality of the matter is that the cost of operating an old twin relates more to what it would cost new today than to any bargain price in the used market. To put that in context, a new G58 Baron is at or will soon reach $1.5-million.

What is wrong with twin pilots? Today, it is that they are disappearing. The remaining fleet of twins flies less and less every year and it will become ever less practical to keep the airplanes operating. The new twins are used largely in training pilots who want to fly the really big twins

On a personal note, I’d add that those twins sure were fun to fly. Back in the heyday they were the only way we could saddle up more than 250 or 300 horsepower. Doubling the horsepower was delightful to those of us who thought excellence in airplanes meant going as fast as possible making as much noise as possible and burning as much gas as possible. Times change. Darn.

34 Comments

    • Yes, they are, but Richard was pointing out that they are generally used in a training role (as are the two of which I am aware) and not so much for personal transportation.

  • I do love our 64′ Twin Comanche. 170 kts on 15gph, it is a comfortable and stylish traveling machine, with about the same cruise numbers as a 285hp A36. Sure, it takes 14 Qts and two filters to change the oil, but barring big ticket replacement items like engines and props, keeping this thing reliable, safe, and happy is by no means breaking the bank.

    And what do we get with our second engine? Options. Having heard no less that three Cirrus on “guard”, maydaying with engine failures, those pilots were sitting on top of a triangle. That being, a 360 degree cone around them, within which the airplane was going to end up. With the twin, if one should quit, it has the ability to continue to the nearest suitable airport. What’s that? The single engine service ceiling on our TC is only about 5,600 ft, at gross weight? That may be, but it gives options. Time to think, time to plan. If over the mountains, the single-engine drift down at blue line would almost always provide enough time to get to lower terrain. Not always, but I like my chances.

    So, aside from the fact that the Twin Comanche is drop dead gorgeous, it fits the mission, makes our wives happy, and makes us feel safer in the clouds, at night, over water, or over mountains. But that’s just my opinion, I could be wrong. In the end, it makes me happy. And that’s what an airplane should do.

    • I couldn’t have put it better myself, Kurt. I also fly a 64 Twin Comanche, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

      Thanks for another great article, Mr. Collins. I am curious about one thing. Why teach landings with a prop feathered, instead of using a ‘simulated feather’ power setting that would produce approximately the same amount of drag as a feathered prop? I would be very concerned about putting myself in such a dangerous situation if I had to go around.

  • I had two interesting experiences in my limited twin experience while working at Cessna:
    During T303 checkout by a Cessna experimental flight test pilot, we were doing a single engine approach and landing that turned into a single engine go around at about 400 feet when another plane took the runway ahead of us. It turned out OK because we were light, Kansas is flat, and the check pilot soon had the shutdown engine restarted while I was flying the plane.
    During a 414A recurrent, I actually got to experience the company SOP of aborting after liftoff but prior to gear retraction. Trust me, it isn’t as easy as it sounds without benefit of any prior instruction or practice. Lucky I didn’t wipe out the landing gear.
    Then there was the time I flew single pilot into JFK to drop off passenger. Long story, but I concluded I sure didn’t belong there.

  • Hey Dick-

    Remember the article you wrote for Flying about Dukes in the early 70s. Seems to me I remember Beech turned you and your family loose in a new Duke for a few days. I always thought that was a great article – part that made it great was how you intertwined the flight test with the travel needs of your family. I believe I recall you had planned to land on a shorter grass strip somewhere but thought better of it as you noted Beech would appreciate your bringing their Duke back!

  • That grass strip was at Basin Harbor, in Vermont. It was both short and soft due to recent rains. Not a place to go in a Duke which really likes a minimum of 3,000 feet of hard surface with clear approaches.

  • Great article, especially the history. In the Twin Cessna world, at least for the last couple of years, there has been a lot of activity in the cabin class segment. Our membership is growing about 7% a year. Over 60% of our members use their airplanes at least partially on business. Many of our new members are moving up from a Cirrus. If you talk to them, they are much happier with a second engine vs. a chute. Two many twin pilots still crash trying to fly a twin on one engine but those types of accidents are a lot rarer than they used to be. Most pilots are much more aware of the dangers (thanks to authors like Collins) and train regularly to handle them. Bob Thomason, President – The Twin Cessna Flyer

  • Dick,

    Any thoughts on the Cessna 337 Skymaster? Seems the centerline thrust solves many of the single engine safety issues.

    Mike

    • Of course the 337 didn’t have the same type accidents as conventional twins but that didn’t lead to a lower accident rate.

        • Here are a couple I was warned about as the owner of a Skymaster. The rear engine would quit (or the pilot would not start it) during taxi and a takeoff was attempted. Engine failures not detected during descents and attempted go-arounds. With centerline thrust the only way to detect an engine failure was by loss of performance (difficult in a descent) or by looking at the MP. I also heard that some pilots would shut down and feather the rear engine to save fuel in cruise and would then be unable to restart. The poor cooling of the rear engine led to more problems with that engine. The rear was also the “critical” engine because the aircraft would climb better SE on it than on the front. Like other twins, pilot training and awareness could have prevented them. I ran an AUX tank dry on an approach on a very short flight in IMC and only noticed it because I made checking MP part of my checklist outside the final approach fix before switching to the fullest tanks for landing. Switched tanks and it fired right up.

  • The stats continue to ignore the improbable to count, number of single engine events in which there was a successful outcome with no reporting needed. Just because it can’t be quantified doesn’t mean it should be ignored when broaching the twins versus single “discussions”.

    • Absolutely, I have had 2 incidents. I have often thought that those weren’t included in the statistics. Both got my attention but not the kind of fatalistic terror I’d have had in a single.

      • In answer to these two comments, the subject of successful engine-out landings always comes up and this doesn’t mean anything because we are talking about accidents and in that case there is no accident. It should also be noted that most engine failures in singles do not result in accidents. Engine failures, single or twin, do not have to be reported unless there is substantial damage to the airplane or to the folks involved. My main interest has always been helping people understand and manage risks and to do that you have to study and learn from the accidents that do occur. On the other hand, if you find comfort in flying a twin then that is what you should fly.

  • Hi Dick,
    I remember flying the Superstar into Trenton NJ in 1986 so you could write an article for Flying Mag. At the time, that exposure helped a lot. Good article, glad to see you are still writing. It has been a long dry spell but twins are starting to sell again and owners are upgrading and restoring the pressurized models, which gives them great value, given the performance and utility those airplanes provide. Jim Christy, Vice President – American Aviation – Aerostar Aircraft.

    • Dear Jim:

      I remember that flight. Nice airplane and a true expert demo pilot. Thanks again.

      Cheers, Dick

  • After teaching in Aztecs, Senecas and a few others I flew a BE55 “Baby Baron” five or six days a week all over the US and Canada for eight years. I used it like a company car to get a job done. I have never heard the best argument for a piston twin stated: the excess horsepower available over a single allowed me to climb out of ice on more occasions that care to think about. It got a little faster after the replacement of the first set of engines (260 hp) with the 300 hp engines that came with the Colemill President 600 conversion replacement engines, but the real benefit was the increased ability to climb out of the ice!

  • I bought my Twin Comanche 50 years ago after lots of flying flying between Seattle and Southwestern Oregon IFR over mostly forested mountains in my B35 Bonanza began to bother me. I traded the Bonanza to a Piper dealer with 250 hrs on a zero time engine overhaul and the airplane in excellent condition on the deal.

    Several years later there were a raft of fatal accidents in Twin Comanches during instruction flights when engines were pulled at low altitudes. Piper reacted by raising Vmc from 80 to 90 mph. They later added some stall strips and rudder modifications to lower Vmc again, but their better response was counter rotating the right engine to get Vmc back to 80 mph.

    Robertson aircraft designed and and had approved that added a cuff on the wing and a dorsal fin on rudder. This mod brought VMC back to 80 mph. I flew their prototype and was impressed that I could stand on the rudder as it started over in a VMC single engine situation and recover the airplane. I had my airplane modified to get VMC back to 80 mph. Later Lycoming overhauled my engines and they offered to counter rotate the right engine for no extra charge. The combination lowered my VMC to 75 mph and stall to 63 MPH. I felt I lost 2 or 3 mph with the Robertson mod but I have gained that back with Lopreti cowls and some Knots to U fairings. I feel the airplane handles well in single engine situations. Over the years I have had 2 incidents were I feathered and flew to a safe landing. I (thankfully) have never had a failure on take off, but I feel the low stall speed , shoulder harness, airbags in the front seats and improved single engine characteristics provide a very safe travel machine.

    A. H. Powers. N88AP

  • I should add to my above comment that the Piper Dealer kept my Bonanza for a charter airplane. With 300 hrs on a zero time overhaul from a reputable shop the engine blew a cylinder and he had a forced landing that totaled the airplane. He and his passenger survived. A. H. Powers

  • A single with engine failure becomes a zero engine airplane. A twin with engine failure becomes a single with very poor performance. If you lose an engine in a twin and for what ever reason find yourself losing control – pull the power back on the operating engine. If you are low above terrain you may have to land off airport. At least you can touch down blue side up. If you have enough altitude you can trade some for airspeed, i.e. vmc or Vic+ slowly bring power back and give it another go.

  • Light twins are fun but instruction is sadly lacking. The light trainer twins, such as the Beech Duchess or Piper Seminole are lacking in performance. The Duchess has excellent low speed manners because it has a big elevator and rudder. Beech actually tested the Duchess for intentional spins and it passed. The Beech lawyers advised against actually certifying intentional spins.
    Piper used off the shelf parts and the rudder and elevator are minimal [imo].
    Many MEL CFIs are afraid of their airplane and fail to teach the corners of the performance envelope. Those students never get the experience needed to appreciate that Vxse is the target speed, there is NEVER a reason to get near Vmca, except in training. So most pilots are uncomfortable at low speed and don’t develop the experience to develop the skill to handle the engine loss on take-off.
    An example was the King Air B200 crash at Wichita that killed the pilot and three innocents training at Flight Safety Cessna in a simulator.
    The BE200 had plenty of performance to make a successful single-engine take-off and there was plenty of runway remaining that the take-off could have been aborted at 100 feet altitude.
    The FAA published a pamphlet ALWAYS LEAVE YOURSELF AN OUT. I remember a line, that said that engine failure just after liftoff was rarely taught. So I began to instruct airborne aborts in the Duchess on long runways after a thorough briefing, including detailed procedures. Pitch the nose down to glide attitude, reduce power and land. The landing gear circuit breaker was pulled before take-off, the student was to NOT be surprised. The procedure was demonstrated.
    My feeling was it was better for the student to experience an abort under supervision under dual and not at 9 PM with their family on board.
    We calculated the abort runway required by adding the take-off to 50 feet plus the landing zero flap from 50 feet plus a generous transition.
    So, a baseline of fear combined with current government animosity [taxes and fallout from the auto bailout ]makes buying a light twin emotional less desirable.
    These are my opinions. When I win then lottery I will buy a new G58 and probably an old 58TC with the European GW limitation due to pilot medical limitations.

  • Multi-Engine Training Techniques

    I have always been very conservative relative to the altitude above the ground at which I taught maneuvers such as stalls, flight at minimum controllable airspeed, spins, and VMC demonstrations.

    Training a student, I had failed the left engine using the mixture control in a in a Seneca I at an altitude of about 3000 feet AGL. The student successfully identified, verified, and feathered the left engine and we proceeded to practice various maneuvers with the left engine feathered.

    While practicing flight at minimum controllable airspeed the student unintentionally turned the maneuver into a demonstration of VMC, and eventually the the aircraft begin a snap-roll to the left. I don’t remember consciously thinking about it, but I immediately reached up and failed the right engine with the mixture control. The power reduction was near instantaneous and the aircraft stopped its roll about 30 degrees into a left bank and became docile again. Given the inertia of the two engines resisting the beginning of the roll, the roll developed relatively slowly and it was not even an exciting event. I’m pretty sure we both learned a lot about the importance of maintaining adequate airspeed, and power reduction when you did not.

    My multi-engine training procedures also included practice aborts prior to liftoff. Practice started with a failure of one engine during the very beginning of a takeoff roll with the desired response from the student being a smooth reduction of power on the good engine (actually both engines – not a good time to be trying to identify which one failed…) as he aborted the takeoff. Failure speeds increased with practice on the wonderfully wide and long runway at GSP.

  • Good article. Multi engine flying is so much fun. I took my Mom up in a B55 and she loved it. The Duke was another fun Beech airplane. I enjoyed flying that as well.

    Even thinking of my multi engine training in a Piper Seneca makes me smile. A tip of the hat to the good folks at Action Multi Ratings! Flying twins is my favorite form of flying. Can’t you tell?

    My dream airplane is a Cessna 421 Golden Eagle. I like the idea of climbing up high and having lots of options while flying a fun plane that is also comfortable for the passengers.

    Blue Skies to my fellow multi engine flyers!

  • RE The BE 60 Duke. Every take off should be a soft field technique to lighten the thrust on the nose wheel to reduce drag. The Duke is about the only Beech twin that sits at a negative pitch attitude. Unless the control wheel is full aft until about 40 knots the ground roll will be excessive. At 40 knots “fly the pitch” to prevent lift-off below Vmca+5. Climb at Vyse or Vxse until above any obstacles.

    Vmcg is most critical at the beginning of the take-off when there is no and you’re dependent on tire steering. Most light twins cannot be taxied from a dead start on one engine. The Duke and Aero Commanders and the turbine twins usually can.

    The CFI-AMEL/S needs to monitor and prevent going below Vxse. Reducing power to idle, not an engine failure, and reducing AOA [ pitch] restores control and an engine remains available for immediate use as needed.

    Better to roll off the departure end of a runway than to crash trying to fly on one engine below Vmca and trying to climb. Better to crash under full control rather than trying to stretch a glide

    Plan every take-off and landing as a single-engine, use low power on both and IAS above Vyse until landing is assured. Fly the airplane and leave the microphone on teh hook. Buy a good headset, but there is nothing you need to say to ATC IF an engine[s] quit after or during take-off. If you have an engine failed for real, tell the tower and they won’t issue a take-off clearance to a plane. It costs nothing to declare an emergency and that guarantees you’re Number One. If you don’t declare the emergency the tower may have you go-around if traffic is heavy.

  • Multi-engine opens up a whole new can of fun (@Kathy) or worms (per the DPE at my MEI ride). But it’s certainly a challenge.
    I realize that piston twins (especially production) that are in purely push configuration are limited (and even more so with canard aka the StarShip). But is there any safety history on either variation of the push configuration (i.e., with or without canard)?
    Reason I ask — my husband and I just completed the build of a Velocity V-twin experimental. It’s flying — about 10 hours into Phase 1….. and is an interesting experience. It’s definitely not a Duchess or a Seminole.

  • In late Spring of 1969, I was doing Vmc practice 500 feet above the waters of Lake Michigan in preparation for the checkride. With full right rudder, the airplane would start the slow roll to the left. Pitch down and/or reduce power on the good engine and the event was over. The stall horn never blew during practice.

    After a few accidents, the thought then was that the demo should be done at higher altitudes to be safer.

    Unfortunately, as you go up in altitude, there is less power from the operating engine, delaying the roll. With stall speed at the same indicated airspeed, the margin becomes very small, and as I recall, the accident rate jumped.

    If you call the maneuver off at the stall horn as required, you have not really demonstrated the slow loss of control.

    If you deviate slightly from the required 3 to 5 degrees of bank into the good engine (raise the dead) to a wings level attitude, Vmc will increase about 9 to 15 knots without a stall horn blowing. and you can more safely experience the slow roll.

    To be more dramatic, attempt to do the demo with 5 degrees bank into the bad engine. With another increase in Vmc of 15 knots, the roll will probably start before you have the maneuver properly set up.

    My point is that if we do the demo according to the book, we will not recognize the true beginning of loss of control since we call it off at the stall horn. Will we recognize the beginning of loss of control and how to react properly if the situation ever occurs?

    Finally, like Mr. Collins, I too was grandfathered into the MEI rating. The question at my CFI renewal was: Have you given at least 25 hours of instruction in multi-engine aircraft? My answer was yes, and I became an MEI without a checkride.

    • The old AIR FACTS pioneered in Vmc and multiengine accident research. The FAA used to require sudden engine cuts at low altitude at Vmc. There were many fatal accidents. Such fatal training”accidents” killed far more than died in actual flying.
      The FAA finally re=wrote the testing in the ME flight test guide.
      The turbocharged light twin is better aerodynamically for demonstrating Vmca since power [ thrust ] is constant or increasing with altitude. But sudden engine cuts are not go for either cylinderheads or turbochargers.
      The CFI ME can block full rudder travel which will raise Vmc above Vs at altitude. If Vmc and Vs are identical and an engine is cut, a snap roll is possible. At low altitude there is likely not enough altitude for recovery. Most pilots have not experienced a spin, ever. The first accidental spin may take 1,000 or more feet to even be recognized.
      The stress on Vmc by the FAA actually tends to put Vmc into a pilots minds as a “performance number.” There is very little time when a twin should ever be airborne below Vxse. The speeds listed are determined at gross weight and with aft CG.
      In training the airplanes will be below gross weight and the CG will be near the forward CG limit. That maximizes the arm of the rudder lowering Vmc. That makes the stall and Vmc more rapid and at a lower indicated airspeed.
      Test pilots demonstrate the airplane to meet FAR 23, operational pilots rarely duplicate FAR 23.

  • Good article. I fly the first E-55 Baron as my transport for work and family trips. Well equipped for weather with onboard radar/xm/deice/factory 02, it is very capable and has served me well for nearly 20 years. Economics of having to overhaul an engine once in a while are an easy comparison vs. a new single engine turboprop. The introduction of GAMI injectors and JPI engine monitors helped the operating costs improve as well. The added VG’s do a great job of improving the VMC concerns. Having that second engine humming as we go over the great lakes or to the out islands seriously reduces the pucker factor.

    When I win a few more lotteries, I may get that King Air or light jet but for now,
    with twin piston aircraft like this selling for less than their avionics were worth new, I think many are missing an opportunity to fly their own personal airliner!

  • Your mention of the T-50 reminded me of my days hanging around the Winnipeg Flying Club before I was old enough to take lessons. They had what was called a Cessna Crane used by the RCAF for a twin trainer. I think the one the club had was ex RCAF. Anyway the guys including my older brother at the club were getting their twin and instrument ratings on the thing. I asked my brother if I could go along for the ride … “You wanna get killed?” was his answer. Besides the club wouldn’t let anyone go up as a passenger … too much liability! I didn’t have a clue what that meant then … but I know all too well what it means now. They called the thing the balsa wood bomber … I think the props might have been fixed pitch. I enjoyed you article … I once had close call in a Beech-18.

  • Ray Petersen, who owned the old Northern Consolidated Airlines in Alaska, purchased some the Bamboo Bombers, hung 450 P&W engines out front, whacked a huge loading door in the port side, and flew them on floats in support of his Anglers Paradise Camps for sports fishermen. They were great performers.

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