Another Twin Cessna Loss at John Wayne – An Idea Of What Happened

Another Twin Cessna Loss at John Wayne – An Idea Of What Happened

We lost another Twin Cessna 414 (not A) today.  It occurred as it approached John Wayne Airport.

For those of you who don’t know about the Twin Cessna line, the 414 was an early adaption of the 421 fuselage using the 340 wing system with the tip tanks.  Compared to the 414A where the fuel is totally contained in the wing (less some transfers tanks in some models)  the 414 has to have a minimum of 1 hour on the tip tanks (main) or 1 hour 30 minutes if you have the larger aux tanks before you start transferring the full back to the tip tanks (mains.) Needless to say the tip tanks (mains) alone have enough fuel to fly the trip profile from Concord to John Wayne without bringing in the aux tanks.

There was no fire. There is a video of the aircraft looking like it is coming nose down and rotating and maybe making some type of correction toward the last of the flight.  The cabin in the pictures released by the press shows the tail in fairly good condition and the fuselage is not compressed.  The aircraft looks like it did not make a flat landing but it also did not go straight in.

What caused the entry into the nose down attitude?  It had to be some type of loss of control. The loss of control could be pilot input, mechanical malfunction or both.  Again, a recent video shows some rotations along the longitudinal aspect of the aircraft before it went in.

As an attorney who has done accident investigation and has handled serious aviation cases, I always look at the pilot.  The pilot had a private license with single engine, instrument and multi engine ratings.  He just had a new license issued one year ago. Based on my experience as an instructor, I would say that he got a private license, then added the instrument and then the multi engine which leads me to believe he just got the multi rating a year ago and that was the reason for the new license renewal.

So, Why Does Just Getting a Multi Rating Make a Difference?

The Twin Cessna lines are great airplanes and in my opinion nothing comes close to touching them in their area.  The have some quirks and they are not entry level twins for low time pilots.  As long as everything is functioning you are fine.  When things happen you have to know how to handle them.  Again, if I am correct that he just got his multi rating then he had the low time training out of the FAA box.  He may or may not have trained in the aircraft. In a year, unless he was flying the plane a lot, he may have gotten 50 to 100 hours of time.  Again, I am just adding up what I have seen in my years of teaching multi engine pilots and more than that upgrading them to performance aircraft. I am not criticizing the pilot or saying he was negligent. I am criticizing the system we have as related to training multi engine pilots. Again, some of this is based on limited facts.

Sterile Cockpit

I have another quirk when evaluating an accident.  What happened in the cockpit?  My wife always tell passengers in our twins to never bother me or ask questions until after takeoff. After reaching altitude and stabilizing the aircraft, then I turn to the passenger and open a conversation. The same goes for the landing approach and landing.  I go sterile cockpit as I start down and if I have someone in the right front seat with me I ask them to just listen and sometimes I ask them to look for traffic and to tell them to notify me if they see any. But that is as far as it goes. The reason I am saying this is to figure out the seating of the passengers.  You had four women, one was the pilot’s wife and three others and they were probably in the club seating.  You had a younger man who I suspect was in the right front seat.  He was probably looking forward to the flight and was eager to converse with the pilot.  That can be distracting.

Bite You In The Butt Approach

The Twin Cessna’s, even the tip tank models, are very slick.  If you put VG’s on the aircraft they will act right down to the stall before they bite and then they don’t bite very hard.  Without a stall warning indicator you can lose them quickly.  Also the air traffic in the area where the accident occurred is heavy.  It could be the pilot got distracted and got to slow. This could lead to what I think was a Vmc situation.  One, they may not have had VG’s and that could be something that lead to the loss of control.  But what else?

Aircraft With Fuel Usually Burn

There was no fire.  There was some news reports about the smell of gasoline but you will have that even if you have just a little fuel left in the tanks.  If you don’t think a little gasoline does not smell try filling your lawnmower and having some drip on the concrete.  It smells.  So could the plane have lost an engine with one still turning?  The Vmc problem?  Would that create the spiral that showed up on the video? Again, a Vmc rotation, one engine dead, one turning.  Also it was said he was around 1,000 feet.  If he lost an engine at 1,000 feet and was a low time multi pilot he would have created what I term “pucker factor.”  If you have ever lost an engine, the first time you do not react normally.  When I teach engine failure in the sim we do it until the pilot has an automatic reaction and in that I have “been there, done that”.  I know what that pilot who is training needs to do and he has to have the four steps to stabilize the plane.  If he does not get on the gauges and lock it down he will lose it and 1,000 feet is just too low to recover.  Also remember, if you are low on fuel they will not quit at the same time.  One will always run a little longer.  No twin burns fuel at the same rate.  Look at your fuel flow indicators.  They are never together.

Also you have to respect the aux tanks on these aircraft.  You cannot fly these aircraft on aux without understanding how they transfer fuel and knowing that you must go back to the mains for nose down and nose up and maneuvering.

Could That 414 Stay Airborne With Five People?

We always get the “speculators” who throw out weight and balance and I am a big believer in W & B but aircraft can do better than you think on one engine with a high weight.  We do it in the sim, yes it is close but if they were low on fuel with four women there are not two men who would overload the aircraft outside the weight chart because they would have trouble getting into the door if they were that big. I am being facetious about this.  The bottom line is I don’t think weight and balance was the problem on one engine.

Are You Sure?

I am not sure of what happened.  I read every accident report I can on twin engine aircraft and sometimes I am correct and sometimes I think I need to be a plumber (they make a lot of money) as I am so off base, but if you sit in a sim and work with low time pilots you see the mistakes they make.  I have also done so much discovery practicing law and we really never find out the “deep” details until we probe.

What Do I Do?

Training is everything.  First, if you are Twin Cessna pilot don’t train in the aircraft.  Here is a recent statement from a Twin Cessna pilot.

“Has anyone used Western Sky’s to overhaul an engine? Have a 414 Ram VI with an engine with 530 hours on it with a cracked case and 4 cracked cylinders. I am somewhat hesitant to go back with a ram overhaul and could use some advise.”

Read my blog article on pulling engines on these aircraft.  It is not if they will crack (cases), it is when they will crack.  The same goes for cylinders.  I am not a lover of Ram but it is not Ram’s fault.  I guarantee they made aggressive throttle actions on the aircraft to cause these problems. Especially four bad cylinders with 530 hours. Do not do engine pulls in these aircraft.

Work with a reliable Twin Cessna instructor who owns and flies these aircraft, one who works with a high end Twin Cessna shop.  Keep your instrument abilities current and keep raising your skills.  You fly these planes on the gauges when the trouble starts.  As we preach at AST, you will never see an airline pilot work a problem out the window.  And by the way, I check out airline pilots and these guys are sharp on the gauges. I want my pilots I work with to be that good.  I want to be that good.

Also, know your systems.  I have a saying that 90% of flying an aircraft is understanding the systems. You have to know how that aircraft “ticks.” You cannot analyze and solve an in the air problem if you don’t know what is going on with the aircraft.  If you start having an engine problem and you don’t know whether it is a “go or put it on the ground now” you are digging your way into a hole.

Finally, let me push one more thought your way.  The Twin Cessna aircraft are very clean aircraft. They don’t like to fly slow and they will drop from under you in a heartbeat.  You cannot let them get slow on an approach.  They land fast and fly fast.

Some carrier who insured that 414 is now thinking “evaluation.”  As an attorney that handles personal injury cases, this is going to have the underwriters pushing their pencils and I think this accident was so preventable.  We will see what the NTSB says.

Train Now – Fly Safe Later