Location: "como todo buen piloto... mujeriego y borracho"
Was having a chat with a fellow pilot a couple weeks ago about Pilatus PC-12's. It seems to be an overall impressive aircraft with impressive economics. The PT-6 powerplant is one of the most reliable and proven engines, and the aircraft operates on behalf of some serious organizations in some very demanding roles in unforgiving environments(Royal Canadian Mounted Police operates them in the Arctic, Royal Doctor's Flying Service operates them in the outback of Austalia, etc.) Pilatus continually points out that PT-6 powerplant failures are pretty much unheard of and that the engine-out glide characteristics should leave a pilot with a few options up his sleeve if it should happen.
Yet after my conversation with my colleague, and after reading the following articleon AvWeb, I've been pondering this issue:
PC-12 With "Engine Problems" Goes Down Downtown
Approximately 7,000 feet and seven miles out of South Bend (Indiana) Regional Airport a PC-12/45 reportedly lost power from its generally uber-reliable PT-6 powerplant and landed safely (excepting wing-to-power-line contact) on a busy store-lined road. The wing lost its battle (leaving an outboard section plus what the local fire marshal estimated at "400 gallons" of fuel on the road), but the occupants, aircraft and passersby escaped victorious ... provided victorious means physically unharmed. The quarter-mile stretch of road-turned-runway was actually Route 933 north of Douglas Road. Again, none among the two-man crew, three passengers, pedestrians or drivers was injured, leaving many enthusiastic witnesses. "It was skidding and jumping and then it hit a pole. I heard the brakes skid," Aaron Bolin, told the South Bend Tribune. Bolin watched the episode from the relative and highly precarious safety of a nearby gas station. "He told me he got it over an intersection and dove it under some power lines," Miers' father told the Tribune. "He dropped it down in an area that was just full of light poles, electric poles and business," said another witness. One of the aircraft's passengers summed things up thusly, "We're happy to be alive."
The 25-year-old pilot reported "engine problems" and announced his intention to attempt a return to the airport for landing. That part of the plan didn't work out, as residents of 600 local homes lost power due to the Pilatus / power line strike -- still likely a preferred outcome. The aircraft was temporarily moved to the Howard Johnson's Inn parking lot near where it stopped ... traffic was tied up for several hours.
As my colleague pointed out, the real weakness isn't the PT-6 powerplant, but rather the High Pressure (Engine Driven) Fuel Pump (of which the PC-12 only has one). Lose the HP Fuel Pump= loss of the engine. The low-pressure boost pump does not even approach the pressure required to keep the engine running. I'm not an engineer, but could Pilatus or Pratt & Whitney have designed redundancy into this system by providing for two HP Fuel Pumps?
This is the second PC-12 power loss accident that I am aware of-- the other one occured a few years ago in Newfoundland, Canada, to one owned and operated by V Kelner Airways (who ironically is the Pilatus dealer in Canada).
If they'ed been operating a Caravan.......he could have pulled up over the power lines...done a touch and go on the road...then finally landed back at the field.....Vans are good gliders cept when theres a bit of ice about.
Seriously though...this problem cant be as simple as a fuel pump failure?.....(the van uses GRAVITY)...most GA A/C ive operated utilise the LP pump as a standard fuel feed...with the HP pump used at times of exceptional demand.
In all civil turbine engines that I have operated (including the PT6..as far back as 1966) require an engine driven fuel pump/fuel control unit to feed fuel to the burner cans, for combustion. EDP/FCU fails...engine goes quiet.
Had this happen on a 707 one time...and the fire went promptly out.
This clearly is not a good thing if you only have one powerplant. Another failure that a PT6 can have is a prop governor failure. I personally experienced one many years ago on a BE99 (governor pilot shaft separated), and the prop feathers, due to a lack of oil pressure to same, altho the gas generator continues to function.
411 my apologies.....LP pump=EDP......and on the 114 version of the PT6 we have a FCU overide..basically it throws raw fuel into the turbine..(fine as long as the pwr lever is at idle..otherwise barbeque time!)
Compressor...I see your in WA...are you flying RFDS?.....or for Air Nigu..thingi ma jig..(aboriginal air services?)...just being nosey.
Im thinking of applying in any case......Europe has crappy winters!
Hey jack. The bear had a few, RCMP had one on takeoff, and I know of another that was found making metal and was pulled out just in time. I've logged over 2000 hrs of PIC and never had engine problems. A different way of planning and executing approaches, climbouts, etc makes one feel more secure. But, if you aren't comfortable flying a single IFR then you shouldn't be flying one period. Great aircraft, not too bad engine.
Panama Jack, and any others interested, I suggest you look at some other threads on PPRuNe.
First look at “Van has engine failure in Tanzania” in the African Aviation forum. In particular look at Shenzi Rubani’s post in that thread on 21 October 2004. Eight Caravans going down in a one year span because of engine failure indicates that the PT6 is not as reliable as P&WC and some operators would have us believe. You will note that the aircraft belonged to different operators in different countries so blame cannot be attached to one outfit’s operating procedures or maintenance standards. The only common factor is the PT6. You might also look at the thread earlier this year entitled “Van down in Tanz”. In addition to the Caravans, there have been other single turbine engined aircraft, such as the PC12 you mentioned, going down in the same time frame because of engine failure. In the face of this evidence in only single engined aircraft it is difficult to see how Pilatus can claim that PT6 powerplant failures are pretty much unheard of!
If you have only one engine, when it all goes quiet at the front it does not matter what fuel that engine was using. You are still going down and are dependant on there being a suitable landing site within gliding range and on the pilot’s skill to get you safely on to that site! This assumes the pilot is able to see the landing site, which is most unlikely at night or in serious IMC. As Shenzi Rubani mentions, there have been engine failures in King Airs, etc in the same time frame but they do not show up in the accident statistics because the second engine enabled their pilots to get them safely back to a proper airfield.
To give credit where it is due, the PT6 is a wonderfully reliable engine. However, it is not infallible and its failure rate is high enough to be of serious concern for single engined passenger carrying use, such that single turbine (as well as piston) engined aircraft should not be permitted to carry fare paying passengers in IMC, at night or over water or inhospitable terrain. I see no problem with the use of single turbine engined aircraft by freight or private operators, whose pilots and occupants presumably know of and accept the additional risk. Similarly, I have not heard anything negative on either the PC12 or the Caravan. Both seem to be great aircraft that do an honest job. There has been some mention of airframe icing on Caravans but I suspect this is due to Caravans being regularly used in some pretty harsh climates. Any other type of aircraft used regularly in such climates will also suffer icing more often than if used in a mild climate. The only problem I have with both aircraft is that they have only one engine, which to me indicates that their operations when carrying the paying public should be limited as outlined above.
Second, look at the thread earlier this year on the Canada forum regarding Bearskin Airlines and the PC12. Some years ago Bearskin introduced some PC12s to replace some of their King Airs and similar aircraft. Now it seems they have been getting rid of the PC12s. There must be a reason. Perhaps it would be worth your while to contact Bearskin management or pilots, perhaps initially via a post on the Canada forum, to find out why this change is happening. If you find out by means other than PPRuNe, please post it on PPRuNe. I have also been wondering why this change is taking place at Bearskin.
What I found interesting was that up until now there have been no fatal accidents involving the PC-12, due in part to the low stall/approach speeds as well as the crash survivability designed into the aircraft-- a real advance compared to GA designs from a few decades ago.
I have to admit to being a PC-12 fan, and although I agree with all statements made by Carrier, I also have concern at the number of fatalities and serious injuries of the years, due to assymetric operations after an engine out (many while training).
There are pro's and cons for all designs.
Centreline thrust works well - Cessna 337. Maybe we should only fly in jets with 2 or more engines at the rear... obviously Dassault have that equation right!
At the end of the day, it's horses for courses... I love flying fixed and rotary wing, but as far as safety goes, I would prefer in order of preference, single engine turbine, twin engine turbine rotary, single turbine rotary, twin piston fixed, single piston rotary, single piston fixed (unless ballistic shute fitted, then it's probably up the front!)
I specialise in risk management, and at the end of the day, its a risk assessment that we all make, as a pilot, and as a passenger, depending on where we are in our career or what we can afford!
I am sure if there was no such thing as economics, we would be flying around in 4 engined aircraft that stalled at 20kts!
Thanks Panama Jack for supplying link to Canadian Forum thread.
I read through the thread, and although there was much critisism by those "boys" not flying the aircraft, the pilots that were, had nothing but praise for the aircraft, and the stats speak for themselves - out of all the engine-outs, there have been no Pilatus fatalities, and they seem to float well!
Playing the devils advocate..just for a moment...(if there have been no fatalities) the a/c is safer than a 737, 747, DC-10, A320..purely on that point alone. I believe the problem lies in the perception that with only one engine...it quits...your dead, when plainly with the PC-12, all the engine failure issues have been non fatal, in the same time that the PC-12 has been around...how many turbo-prop twins, piston twins have crashed fatality after engine failures? A Shorts 360 going in after a double engine failure immediately springs to mind...back in about 1998. Both viewpoints...for and against are diametrically opposed...the thing that I find interesting about all of this is....most of those that operate SET..i.e. PC-12, C208, TBM700 etc....have got nothing but praise from an operational point of view..as long as the a/c are operated in the roles for which they were intended and designed to do. It is invariably when the margins are pushed..or exceeded...that problems have occured. Finally, just for the record..Im much happier IMC in a SET...than say a Navajo, or C402, the type of general aviation a/c the SET was designed to replace.
According to Pratt there are no engine failures on record attributable to HP fuel pump malfunction. However, Pratt and Whitney issued a Service Information Letter in September 2004 regarding power roll backs in the PC12. The cause of the power losses were attributed to a defect in the copper-beryllium bellows in the FCU that resulted in a leak in the bellows assembly. Although the bellows is common to many PT6 variants, the Cu/Be bellows is unique to single engine installations to accommodate the MOR.
Pilatus is currently collecting data on the roll backs and MOR operation procedures will likely be modified. They have found that at low altitude some of the roll backs due to Py leaks are very rapid and probably not recoverable by MOR operation.
I can only speculate about the plane in Indiana, but I'm sure the FCU is a suspect for the “engine malfunction.”
Also, rumor has it the PC12 that went down in the Sea of Okhotsk in 2001 washed a shore in Russia last November. The owner/pilot was reportedly very unhappy upon hearing the news. If true, it is astonishing that the airframe floated for so long, especially in light of the report that the pilot and pax exited the plane through the cabin door allowing water in to the cabin and cockpit.
I would have thought the owner would be at least mildly happy about the Swiss flotsam coming ashore. Unless, he had reason to want it to sink, or perhaps this complicates insurance issues; maybe he was just done with it. I don't know. I'm sure Pratt and Pilatus are quite pleased the plane has surfaced (so to speak).
Has anybody else heard this rumor?
Last edited by Full of Foehn; 4th Jan 2005 at 18:46.
'Down you go' is true *however* you don't tend to do it after rolling inverted & spearing in, which is an unfortunately common theme in light piston twins. Of the two, s/e failures that result in a crash tend to be more survivable.
I wish I had kept CASA's discussion paper when puplic transport SETO was first mooted. As I recall the risk was similar or better for the s/e turbine because, even though a forced landing was nearly guaranteed, they had virtually none of the loss of control related prangs experienced by the twins AND the likelyhood of a failure was much less.
Does anyone still have a copy of that paper? It doesn't seem to be available online at CASA, only selected quotes in the follow on documents in the reg. reform process.
Didn't a Caravan pilot face a (Pratt&Whitney) flameout near Alaska whereby the prop went into a fairly flat pitch and he was forced to push the plane almost straight down in order to keep it above minimum clean flying speed, and he ditched it somewhere?
A few years ago a PC12 experienced engine trouble somewhere off the coast of Japan and ditched. The crew was rescued within a few hours and the aircraft was last seen floating away...? There were to my knowledge no attempts to recover the aircraft, assuming it would eventually sink. Did this aircraft actually reach the Russian shore?
Plus people tend not to know that if you are certificating a single engined aeroplane it must have a max stall speed of 61 kts. There is no such limit on the stall speed of multis and many are considerably higher. Given the v squared issues of a landing v matters too!