Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Kissing the Ground

Every time my gas light in my car turns on I think about one of the most heart pounding events of my flying career. It was 2001 and I had been flying for almost two years so I felt pretty comfortable in an airplane. For the past few weeks I had been flying this guy back and forth to Green bay WI. He had season tickets to the Packers but he lost his medical certificate so he was not able to fly himself. I was flying his Cessna 421 twin engine, it was pretty fast so the trip to Green Bay from Palm Spring was only about 7 hours and usually took 2 fuel stops. That is unless you want to stretch the fuel then it might be possible with only 1 fuel stop. So we left on Saturday and arrived late that night. We got up early to get to the game and spent the whole day at the stadium. Usually we would then spend Sunday night in Green Bay before flying home however he had to get back that night for a meeting he had the next day. So after a long two days I tiredly refueled the plane and added extra fuel in the tip tanks, climbed in and took off. As far as night fights goes this one ranks up there with one of the smoothest flights I had up to that date, at least at first. We made it safely to the first fuel stop at some small airport in Colorado. Then we took off, the next scheduled stop was Goodyear in AZ. Goodyear is only about an hour away from Palm Springs and is a decently busy airport. Then the wind came, it came from east to west at around 50 Knots. This means that we were know traveling about 50 knots faster then we had flight planned for. With nothing else to to I recalculated the numbers, and to my surprise I calculated that at the current speed we could make it to palm springs without a fuel stop and still have the legal amount of reserve fuel. I was rather excited about this because it would get us home an hour and a half sooner (landing refueling and taking off is a time consuming endeavor). I told my boss about our situation and he was also very happy about this. So as you can see getting a tailwind is great and pilots usually try to take advantage to the speed that it provides. All good things come to an end and this is was made my seemingly perfect flight become one that I will want to forget but never will. The wind died as I was flying over Goodyear so I had a decision to make, stop and get fuel or push ahead and get home. At this point I was extremely tired having been up for almost 24 hours. I crunched the numbers and figured out that if the wind stayed calm I had enough fuel to get to Palm Springs but I would be just under the legal limit. I asked my boss what he wanted to do and he said "Lets get home". So I kept going... Then the wind came and it came hard and fast, 65 knots direct headwind. My heart started beating because we were a little over half way from Goodyear to Palm Springs. We would have to either turn around immediately or try and make it with the little fuel we had remaining. Turning around would mean that it would be another 3.5-4 hours before we made it home, if we kept going we would be home in about 30 minutes. The only problem was that with the headwind our flight time had significantly increased. Out arrival time and time of fuel exhausting were now virtually the same. We kept going. I was so tired but my heart was beating like crazy. My eyes straining to see the tell tell signs of our home airport. Finally after what felt like hours I saw the lights. I called over the radio and announced our arrival. Then about 3 minutes out the right engine sputters and dies. I immediately feathered the propellers jammed the rudder pedal and prayed that the other engine would last just a few more minutes. It did, and I yes I did kiss the ground once we landed, and yes I promised myself never to do that again (at least not while flying). So that feeling always returns when I see that little gas can flicker on my dashboard while driving my truck. Back to Top

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