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Silence is not always golden

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(With thanks to Chris, my pilot friend, who was very much in my mind while writing the penultimate sentence in this story.)

One of the most disconcerting scenarios for pilots of single engined aircraft is "lack of noise".  That moment when the grunt of horse power in front of you ceases to be, and all that remains is the hissssss of air as you decend rapidly through it at 200 kph terminating with an inevitable "kerthunk".
In my very modest flying career it occurred twice.  Fortunately both times in outback Australia where there was adequate flat land available to ensure minimal kerthunkage.

In Papua New Guinea engine failure is an entirely different and more serious matter.  Terrain and weather is inhospitable, so aircraft maintenance is necessarily conducted to a high standard.

Despite this attention to detail, certain aircraft gained bad reputations and pilots sometimes refused to fly them. 
Cessna once produced an elongated 206 at least one of which, according to some pilots, flew with all the elegance of a supermodel working the parallel bars and pommel horse, and it earned such an appalling reputation that it was removed from service.

Another Piper aircraft was mothballed for a very long time after a series of mishaps and repairs, and gaining a nasty reputation for being rather loathe to leave mother earth during test flights.

The Cessna 206 has a worldwide reputation as a rugged and reliable cargo carrying workhorse, but P2-BCB, had a series of mishaps in some sort of mid-life crisis which must have made at least a couple of pilots wonder whether or not flying should be left to the birds.
Firstly at Pindiu, a short sloping one-way grassed bush airstrip in PNG at 3000 feet altitude, the nosewheel strut fractured after landing, allowing the propeller to do a fair imitation of a horticultural rotovator before coming to an undignified nose-in-the-ground halt.
Two weeks later it was repaired, but shortly after takeoff it apparently decided it didn't want to be an aeroplane anymore and with total engine failure crashed back to earth with fortunately no serious injury to the pilot.
(The memory of watching this incident occur will never leave me.)
P2-BCB was however not finished with providing excitement for pilots.  It was dismantled at Pindiu for transport to, and reconstruction in the regional town of Lae.
The fuselage, minus wings, being helicoptered out in a sling under the chopper began to rotate uncontrollably and had to be jettisoned on a remote beach to prevent the helicopter from crashing.
Eventually the aircraft was rebuilt and put back into service.

I once very briefly considered upgrading my qualifications and beginning a career as a commercial pilot, but  rapidly came to my senses understanding that I had neither the aptitude nor the unrelenting commitment to excellence required.

It is a profession best left to those with a singular passion for flying, and a natural gift of airmanship.

The 155 passengers aboard Captain Sullenbergers Airbus earlier this year would agree with me, after he successfully and safely alighted them all on the Hudson River after a serious case (very rare in twin and multi-engined aircraft) of total "lack of noise".

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About GOF

"Life is like a sewer. What you get out of it, depends upon what you put into it." (Tom Lehrer)

14 responses »

  1. Whenever I fly I am listening for every little change in engine noise. The manservant prefers to sit in a different aisle to avoid continuous digs in his ribs and "do you think that noise is normal?" questions!

  2. I think it would be both educational and reassuring to passengers for airlines to include some information on their safety flight cards as to just what all the different noises are for, and when they occur….kids especially would love to listen out for the sound of wheels or flaps retracting, or the revs being reduced after takeoff and on gaining cruise altitude.

  3. I enjoy all the noises aircraft make … as I stand safely on the ground and watch them fly overhead …

  4. Despite all the bad publicity flying is still a safer occupation than driving your car…..and besides, while you are watching, a wheel might drop off and hit you on the head 😉

  5. I'll never believe that, despite the statistics. I've run out of fuel in my car … I've had the engine of my car catch on fire … I've been involved in multiple collisions with other vehicles and objectsNot once did I fall 5000 feet to my death.The wheel thing, though … and the blobs of frozen human waste that sometimes fall … yeah, that could happen.

  6. This is why I only fly in things that have at least 4 engines. I like to know that should the one engine pack in, there are a few spare engines to ensure that my chosen form of transport doesn't transform itself into a giant dart and implant itself face first into the ground at 200 mph. Brace position my backside, what the hell kind of use is that going to be when you hit the ground at the speed of light from 30000 feet?

  7. How can I argue with facts like that 😉

  8. The more engines the better Vicola. There is an understanding among pilots that if you have only one engine fail in some twin engined propeller aircraft, then it merely delays the point of impact. Jet engines fortunately have better performance and a much higher safety margin.Some cynic said the brace position is to preserve your teeth so the remains can be identified.

  9. I was told that the brace position is so that when the aircraft hits the ground like a massive dart and all the seats shunt towards the front, it makes it easy to count the number of bodies and ensures that all the body parts remain attached. In the event of an emergency I will not be found adopting the brace position, I will be found at the back of the aircraft draining the duty free trolley in a desperate attempt to ensure I'm too pissed to feel anything when the plane hits something solid.

  10. I think you should be employed as a consultant to the airline industry to rewrite safety procedures. Then I want to be on a flight when you are a cabin attendant performing the pre-flight illustration of how it all should be carried out 😉

  11. Maris Ezergailis (Chief pilot Morobe Airways 1981-1984)

    Thanks for the article on P2-BCB. It would have to be my all time favourite aircraft, it always brought me home without any kerthunk and that’s after spending over 1000 hours with anything between 3000 to 5000 landings in it. It was the first aircraft I flew in PNG and for nostalgic reasons after four years I made it my last. This aircraft surpassed 10 000 flying hours during my time there in the early eighties and had that figure painted on the tail. As a tribute to it my son is constructing a rocking plane (not rocking horse) for his infant son with BCB colours together with the Chee symbol on the tail.
    Can someone please tell me whether it is still flying and/or where it ended up.

    • Thank you for reading and leaving the comment Maris. I can understand the wonderful memories that you have of flying P2-BCB. I also feel that my old C182 P2-WKD is a part of me. As you point out these old Cessnas took a pounding in PNG simply as a result of the number of landings made per flying hour….I know that in the almost 1000 hours that I flew out of Pindiu I clocked up in excess of 4000 landings and takeoffs. I’ll ask around to see if anyone I know has any info on P2-BCB.
      Regardless,I will contact you by email.

  12. Maris Ezergailis (Chief pilot Morobe Airways 1981-1984)

    Thanks for that GOF. Yes BCB and Pindiu know each other very well much the same as your WKD. For years BCB used to make at least one run to Pindiu daily, via the Landslide Gap or the Mongi Valley when the clouds built up. Neighbouring strips Mindik and Ogeranang also usually received a daily visit. Sorry there GOF, we’re drifting away from your original theme of “Silence is not always golden” but memeories of those PNG years seem to always pull at the heart strings.


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