OF OUR OWN MAKING......
Acknowledgements: Thomas P. Turner, Mastery Flight Training, Inc., Flight Instructor, Hall of Fame inductee
From the Wichita Eagle July 2, 2019, By Jason Tidd ... “The pilot of a small, general aviation aircraft safely landed at a Wichita airport during a severe thunderstorm after one of the plane’s engines reportedly failed. Emergency crews were called for an airport emergency at around 7 p.m. Tuesday at Eisenhower National Airport, or ICT. Dispatchers said the left engine of a general aviation aircraft had failed.
The plane made an emergency landing at the airport about 10 minutes later as the area was under a severe thunderstorm warning. The National Weather Service warning called for wind gusts of up to 45 mph, small hail and heavy rain in Sedgwick County. The chief of the airport police and fire department, said the plane was a Cessna Conquest ..., a twin engine turboprop that can carry eight to 10 passengers with a flight crew of one or two pilots”.
The National Weather Service reported ... “At 7 pm, slow moving storms moving into southern portions of the Wichita metro area. Some heavy rainfall, small hail and gusty winds to 45 mph are the main concerns”.
…. I was driving home from a different airport on the northeast side of Wichita at about 6:45 pm .... A very heavy thunderstorm appeared to be about over KICT and exhibited the weird sea-green tint associated with thick hail. I’d heard the thunder for about an hour and had watched the storm’s approach on radar on my iPhone, so I knew for a long time it was going to hit. As I drove home the clouds ahead of the storm were mid-to-low level and looked very turbulent and uninviting. Surface winds were strong and gusty. Some areas under the storm were receiving two inches of rain per hour or more, and the cell held together for several hours as it moved slowly eastward. It was a very powerful thunderstorm.
I suspect-and this is pure speculation - that the Conquest pilot was attempting to beat the storm into KICT, but the airplane entered extreme precipitation and perhaps hail and this caused one engine to be damaged or to flame out.
So far, we don’t know when the engine quit, or why. We may never know. But either the big turboprop entered the area of storms and then the engine quit, or the engine quit then the airplane entered the area of storms. In either case the pilot flew toward and perhaps into a known severe thunderstorm with either both or only one engine running, when adequate-length airports a short distance to the NNW (including a tower-controlled airport if that was a consideration for the pilot) and to the E remained well clear of the storm.
I was waiting for the media to laud the pilot as a hero for getting the airplane and (presumably) passengers on the ground safely on one engine in a severe thunderstorm. I’ve not seen it yet, but it’s coming. That’s certainly the narrative we usually hear and read in cases like this: “He made it through the storm on one engine. He’s a great pilot.”
Our own pilots’ culture in general aviation supports this type of hero worship as well. Secretly (or not) pilots all want the chance to test our skills in an emergency. We want to get the engine-out plane down in a storm, or the burning aircraft’s fire out, or through deep clouds with sheets of ice building on the wings and tail. Ask yourself honestly: when you board an airliner, do you think about raising your hand when a flight attendant nervously exits the flight deck and asks if there’s a pilot in the passenger cabin? You know you do!We all want to be the hero. We want to be a great pilot. It’s in our culture.
Now, a pilot who lands a stricken airplane on one engine in a severe thunderstorm with 40-knot surface gusts has exhibited great aeronautical skill. I don’t dispute that. But why was he in that predicament in the first place? Did he fly into the thunderstorm hoping to make it into the airport at the last minute, and hit conditions so extreme it took out a turboprop engine? Did he have an engine failure for some other reason and try to sneak in ahead of the storm only to get caught up in it? Did he intentionally discard the nearby options well away from the thunderstorm, or was he so focused on his destination that he didn’t even consider other options? What was it Apollo 8 commander astronaut Frank Borman said? “The superior pilot uses his superior judgment to avoid situations which require the use of his superior skill.”
The situations that lead to many accidents, especially weather-and-fuel-related tragedies, are scenarios more times than not often of our own making. I’m reminded of retired US Air Force C-5B Galaxy pilot and FLYING LESSONS reader John Scherer, who said in a past Debrief that his standard pre-flight crew briefing in the C-5 was to tell the crew their job was to deliver a “boring flight.”
In the context of avoiding emergency situations of our own making, the pursuit of “boring” is a characteristic of a great pilot.