“Good idea,” I replied, not knowing at the time that Salt Lake Center was assuming this would be my final transmission (a detail I learned from the FAA the next morning). I started figuring exactly where I would touch down, lowering the gear again because the ground looked relatively flat. The good news: The ground looked quite flat. The bad news: It was a layer of thin ice on Lake Utah, covered by a dusting of snow that made it blend in with the surrounding terrain.
At 250 feet above the surface, less than 30 seconds from an unpowered touchdown, the right engine growled back to life. Yeah, baby! As I stomped on the right rudder and trimmed out the excess yaw, I set my sights on the runway threshold, keeping the airspeed above 100 knots. “In the immortal words of Alan Parsons,” I announced to my passenger over the intercom, “the game never ends when your whole world depends on the turn of a friendly card.”
“Does this mean we’re going to be OK?” Julie asked, sounding slightly bored with the whole thing. I was astounded at how calm she was.
As we crossed the numbers at about 100 feet, the right engine died again. I dove for the runway to gather a little more speed and flared at the last minute.
Surprisingly, we made a smooth landing, rolling to a very quiet stop on the juncture of the taxiway and the runway. The airport was deserted. I noticed that my hands were shaking a bit, and I had an urgent need to pee. I keyed the mike. “Salt Lake Center, One Charlie X-ray is on the ground in Provo, midfield on the edge of the runway. Zero power. Unable to taxi clear. Suggest you close the runway for now.”
It was several seconds before the controller responded, and when he did, I could hear the relief in his voice and a faint whooping in the background. “One Charlie X-ray, confirm you are on the runway at Provo?” I confirmed that I was, and he told me that the airport manager was on his way to give us a ride and arrange for our airplane to be towed to a parking spot clear of the runway. “Good job, One Charlie X-ray,” he said, signing off.
The next day the FAA had a representative from the Salt Lake FSDO waiting for us at Million Air in Provo, and we commenced our investigation into what happened. He took fuel samples and lots of notes, then praised my flying skills, then cited me for not having my pilot license with me in the airplane (it was in my desk at work).
A month later, I flew over to fetch the airplane, along with my mechanic, John Wells of Arapahoe Aero, who’d flown over two days earlier to fix the problem. It turned out to be a malfunction in the aneroid in the fuel metering mechanism of the left fuel pump, coupled with an overly rich mixture setting on the right engine that might have been compensated for if I’d leaned the engine rather than firewalling the mixture as I’d been trained. The right engine had come back to life as a result of greater oxygen content in the air as we descended.
The lesson: Retarding the throttle on a twin Cessna with the mixture at full rich can flood and kill an engine. Try to recover by leaning, even if returning the throttle to “full” doesn’t do the job. Do this before trying the “high” position on the fuel pump unless you see a fluctuation of the fuel pressure. Only if this fails should you secure the engine. The operator’s manual provides no real detail on this issue, mentioning only that the pilot can lean “as necessary” for smooth operation. This procedure wouldn’t have helped with the first engine failure but it would certainly have brought the second engine back much sooner.
The other lesson: Train in a simulator every year and be ready for this kind of problem. If you aren’t ready when it happens, you die. I owe the fact that I could deal with this situation to my annual pilgrimage to Flight Safety International. Without those hours in the simulator, I’d have been overwhelmed by the situation. A few months later we re-enacted the situation at the Wichita facility to experiment with other options I could have tried. As the saying goes, “Experience is what you get as a result of not having any.”
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