Flying safely in the 21st century requires more effort than « those » glorious years gone by. Flying, certainly the best way to live and the best leisure activity one can imagine. It should not be undertaken like grabbing one’s golf bag and running out of the house, free for a few hours.
Ignoring science and good practice in this industry is essentially identical to putting one’s head in the sand. Well it may not be sand but a fertile ground of unknown risks ready to bite the exposed sections when one least expects it. Whether it is flying to the Saturday morning favorite strip for a coffee or undertaking yet another journey to some undiscovered land, a pilot becomes an organized risk taker. And yes, flying is fun!
Crossing the North Atlantic
With this in mind, I have been planing for the last 6 months a rather long range flight to Switzerland. More on this later. Many cross the North Atlantic with light aircraft. Nothing new here. What is new for this aviator is undertaking the journey below RVSM altitudes, way below, in an unpressurised, normally aspirated piston engine aircraft.
Part of the planing process, last week, I took out C-GDSY (the PA-30) to verify/practice in flight performance for a critical leg of the journey. One does not cross the pound on the great circle route unless equipped with fuel tanks mods worthy of a C-135 tanker, too much paperwork. C-GDSY is suitably equipped with long range tanks that will power on at 65% (158 KIAS) power for 7 hours. Transport Canada allows the crossing with no HF radio under an IFR flight plan only on one specific route: CYFB (Iqualuit) – BGSF (Sondestrom, Greenland) – BGKK (Kulussuk, Greenland) – BIKF (Reykjavik, Iceland). Alot of folks will fly directly across Greenland. It is worth mentioning that the place is one huge glacier, huge meaning very high. Flying around does extend appreciably the flight time to Iceland. Agreed the sight seeing must be phenomenal but the idea of getting DSY across quickly should the conditions dictate, must be considered.
Books and drag
So here I am with the AFM (really the Ipad) open on the table, performance section. It states that this aircraft had interesting performance (for early 60’s). PA-30 engineer Ed Swearingen (yes, him) of Piper put in the data, I do not think he had Greenland in mind. At a weight of 3 600 lb the aircraft can climb, three weeks later I agree, to 7 100 feet on one engine. Not bad, this thing really can handle the single engine thing, when operated correctly. This was the very first maneuver practiced on the initial check out last year. It must also be mentioned that serial # 30-51 is agreeably modified with performance enhancing features: Modified nose cowls, wing tip tanks (yep, the attraction here is not the fuel but the improved climb rate), gear lobe fairings (covering the aft portion of the main landing gear). All antiquated hardware removed from ADF football antenna to Loran antenna along with ridiculously immense anti-collision lights. Any self respecting glider pilot, which I am, will cover gaps with sealing tape. DSY sports a unique appearance but importantly is allowed a clean 2 KTAS gain, flight data to support. Finally, an aircraft must be waxed for performance, big time.
So, 7 100 feet would not get me across from the critical point of the route (8150 feet ASL) should one engine decided to pack it in. Sure many cross the ice cap aboard single engine types and the proper survival equipment. No issue in my book it is just a matter of being prepared for the event.
So back to last week, I wanted to find out what would be the driftdown altitude for this venerable Piper. No numbers were provided in the AFM, why would they? At max gross, we climbed in class B airspace along with a super helpful Montreal ATC on that Satuday morning, ISA -5˚C conditions. By the way, the average climb rate turned out to be 690 fpm on the flight logger, not bad if I may. As a side note, please, should you wish to train in this fashion, get yourself an experienced flight instructor with good background to back you up, for this is serious stuff. At 15 500 feet, number one was shutdown after a very slow cooling down period and affirmative, quite local of CZBM. Extrapolating the single engine numbers for single engine climb rate it was expected to descend at 225 fpm with other engine firewalled. Number two was set at 2 600 RPM (less than max). When all trimmed up and Vy adjusted for altitude (8 KIAS spread vs MSL), the VSI was showing a gentle 125 fpm. The very agreeable surprise in calm air of course, was the altitude stabilizing at 10 500 feet !
So there I had it, all factors being equal, I established with reasonable margins that the PA-30 will not not make a tech stop on Greenland in case of engine failure at the critical point. The option of crossing securely became available. The knowledge acquired offers an excellent risk mitigation strategy, something less to think about. Customs and every country to overfly demand understanding of respective national AIP’s procedures VFR/IFR. This is challenging enough if one desires to do a good job.
By the way, after flying for 40 minutes with #1 shutdown and well secured, it was restarted with one hit on the starter switch. What a great machine!