Declared an emergency today

Jim_R

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Jim
My story is rather similar to the one @masloki posted back in January (here). In fact, some faint recollection of that post may have informed some of my actions today, so: Thanks!!

I took a work buddy flying today. He's a former Air Force instructor pilot, but hasn't flown in 20+ years, and is thinking about getting back into light single GA and maybe teaching his adult kids to fly. We thought it'd be fun to go up and let him take the controls for a while to see how much "it's like riding a bike"...or not.

Flew out to an airport with an on-field restaurant for lunch. Afterward, flew to a nearby but sleepy airport for my buddy to try some pattern work. Did one low approach to a (planned) go-around. As we reached pattern altitude again and started to turn crosswind to repeat the pattern, my buddy tried to throttle back, but got no response. Pulled it all the way closed...no change. Classic case of a busted throttle cable--it was able to push the throttle to full open, but no way to pull it back closed again.

We were about 20 miles from home, so I took the controls and started heading that way. We're near Houston Class B so I dialed up ATC, but for whatever reason they couldn't hear me today (I might have been too low or on the wrong freq for that sector). I decided to focus on Aviate and Navigate (and envisioning how I wanted this flight to end), so I just deferred the Communicate bit for a while.

My first thought was to head for my (uncontrolled) home field. My mechanic is there, my car was there, and I was confident I could land safely there. Had I been by myself, I wonder if that's what I would have ended up doing. The only thing I couldn't envision clearly was where I'd end up after I killed the engine and landed. Best case, I make an exit and clear the runway, but then need to get off the taxiway. Worst case, I'm stuck on the runway and have to haul it a good ways to get clear. (Well, worst-worst case I end up balled up in the fence or something, but I didn't really think that was likely.)

My buddy was my "better conscience" today, though. There's a former AFB only 7 miles from my home base, with a 9000' runway and full services. He asked, "Why not land at the big airport?" And he also asked, "Why not declare an emergency?"

My only answers for that were, "Because it will be inconvenient," and, "Because this doesn't feel like an emergency." In the end, I decided those were weak answers, so I diverted and declared. Maybe hearing so many times over the years, "Don't hesitate to declare an emergency," (and perhaps a subconscious influence from @masloki 's post) helped me come around to my buddy's point of view.

Tower handled it coolly; there was a short pause after I declared (maybe 10-15 sec?), then they came back and asked how many people onboard, then cleared me to land. (BTW, I tried pulling the LiveATC recordings to see what I sounded like in those calls, but unfortunately that feed was apparently dead today.) There are no obstructions on that approach, so I came in pretty flat, killed the engine a few hundred feet before the threshold (pulled mixture full lean and also turned off the mags for good measure), then held it off until it settled like any other landing, maybe just a little more float than normal. I was able to make the first exit, and rolled to a stop just past the hold-short line. It was a complete non-event, like I hoped it would be. Tower told me to hold my position there, and I told them that was good because I wasn't intending to try restarting the engine.

Four emergency vehicles rolled up, and one guy got out to do a fire check. He asked if I wanted a tow, which I accepted. Took maybe ~15-20 min for the FBO to get to me (TUGs are not speedy vehicles!), and they hauled me to the shop next door. They're closed on the weekends, but I made contact with the after-hours service and got a message back that they'd be looking into the problem for me on Monday. All it will take is some money to make things right again...maybe more than if I'd landed at my home base, but also maybe that's not so important in the end.

This is the second time I've declared an emergency in ~13 years and ~1000 hrs of flying (the other time was a complete loss of electrical). Maybe it wasn't a "real emergency", but on the other hand if I hadn't declared and then proceeded to roll to a surprise stop on the runway, that might have been a much bigger inconvenience for everybody. At any rate I don't think anybody at the airport or FAA is going to complain about my decision to declare.
 
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My story is rather similar to the one @masloki posted back in January (here). In fact, some faint recollection of that post may have informed some of my actions today, so: Thanks!!

I took a work buddy flying today. He's a former Air Force instructor pilot, but hasn't flown in 20+ years, and is thinking about getting back into light single GA and maybe teaching his adult kids to fly. We thought it'd be fun to go up and let him take the controls for a while to see how much "it's like riding a bike"...or not.

Flew out to an airport with an on-field restaurant for lunch. Afterward, flew to a nearby but sleepy airport for my buddy to try some pattern work. Did one low approach to a (planned) go-around. As we reached pattern altitude again and started to turn crosswind to repeat the pattern, my buddy tried to throttle back, but got no response. Pulled it all the way closed...no change. Classic case of a busted throttle cable--it was able to push the throttle to full open, but no way to pull it back closed again.

We were about 20 miles from home, so I took the controls and started heading that way. We're near Houston Class B so I dialed up ATC, but for whatever reason they couldn't hear me today (I might have been too low or on the wrong freq for that sector). I decided to focus on Aviate and Navigate (and envisioning how I wanted this flight to end), so I just deferred the Communicate bit for a while.

My first thought was to head for my (uncontrolled) home field. My mechanic is there, my car was there, and I was confident I could land safely there. Had I been by myself, I wonder if that's what I would have ended up doing. The only thing I couldn't envision clearly was where I'd end up after I killed the engine and landed. Best case, I make an exit and clear the runway, but then need to get off the taxiway. Worst case, I'm stuck on the runway and have to haul it a good ways to get clear. (Well, worst-worst case I end up balled up in the fence or something, but I didn't really think that was likely.)

My buddy was my "better conscience" today, though. There's a former AFB only 7 miles from my home base, with a 9000' runway and full services. He asked, "Why not land at the big airport?" And he also asked, "Why not declare an emergency?"

My only answers for that were, "Because it will be inconvenient," and, "Because this doesn't feel like an emergency." In the end, I decided those were weak answers, so I diverted and declared. Maybe hearing so many times over the years, "Don't hesitate to declare an emergency," (and perhaps a subconscious influence from @masloki 's post) helped me come around to my buddy's point of view.

Tower handled it coolly; there was a short pause after I declared (maybe 10-15 sec?), then they came back and asked how many people onboard, then cleared me to land. (BTW, I tried pulling the LiveATC recordings to see what I sounded like in those calls, but unfortunately that feed was apparently dead today.) There are no obstructions on that approach, so I came in pretty flat, killed the engine a few hundred feet before the threshold (pulled mixture full lean and also turned off the mags for good measure), then held it off until it settled like any other landing, maybe just a little more float than normal. I was able to make the first exit, and rolled to a stop just past the hold-short line. It was a complete non-event, like I hoped it would be. Tower told me to hold my position there, and I told them that was good because I wasn't intending to try restarting the engine.

Four emergency vehicles rolled up, and one guy got out to do a fire check. He asked if I wanted a tow, which I accepted. Took maybe ~15-20 min for the FBO to get to me (TUGs are not speedy vehicles!), and they hauled me to the shop next door. They're closed on the weekends, but I made contact with the after-hours service and got a message back that they'd be looking into the problem for me on Monday. All it will take is some money to make things right again...maybe more than if I'd landed at my home base, but also maybe that's not so important in the end.

This is the second time I've declared an emergency in ~13 years and ~1000 hrs of flying (the other time was a complete loss of electrical). Maybe it wasn't a "real emergency", but on the other hand if I hadn't declared and then proceeded to roll to a surprise stop on the runway, that might have been a much bigger inconvenience for everybody. At any rate I don't think anybody at the airport or FAA is going to complain about my decision to declare.
I wouldn’t call that a ‘non event’ just because it turned out well. It was and you handled it well. If it, or something similar happens again I assume you won’t even hesitate again. Kudos to your buddy for his input.
 
A broken throttle cable and an otherwise perfectly running engine would not have been an emergency to me, but you ended up with the tow you needed without having to ask. So there is that. Diverting to a big runway was a good choice.
 
A broken throttle cable and an otherwise perfectly running engine would not have been an emergency to me, but you ended up with the tow you needed without having to ask. So there is that. Diverting to a big runway was a good choice.
In-air, you only know throttle is wide open. Likely the cable is snapped. Or maybe a chunk of exhaust broke off and severed the cable. Or..or… Prior to my mishap, I might have agreed with you. But now, when you have a real problem, better to get it on the ground with due haste and safety.

@Jim_R Glad it worked out and I appreciate you sharing your story too. Please post with what the shop finds.
 
I always worry about what seems to be a non-event turning into a bigger event, so at the very least it’s good to advise ATC. Nothing needs to be “declared” for it to be an emergency at that point.
 
I always worry about what seems to be a non-event turning into a bigger event, so at the very least it’s good to advise ATC. Nothing needs to be “declared” for it to be an emergency at that point.
But then there's even less reason not to declare.

I agree completely with your first sentence. My very first enforcement case was a pilot who didn't declare. Others might disagree, but I would say that a career pilot receiving a Notice of Proposed Certificate Action, hiring a lawyer, and having to deal with the FAA legal department is a slightly bigger deal than the non-event that it likely would have been if he had.
 
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But then there's even less reason not to declare.

I agree completely with your first sentence. My very first enforcement case was a pilot who didn't declare. Others might disagree, but I would say that a career pilot receiving a Notice of Proposed Certificate Action, hiring a lawyer, and having to deal with the FAA legal department is a slightly bigger deal than the non-event that it likely would have been if he had.
I meant to make it clear that you OR ATC can more easily declare with the important information already exchanged.
 
Well done.. if only for listening to your buddy:biggrin: What were you flying?
 
But then there's even less reason not to declare.

I agree completely with your first sentence. My very first enforcement case was a pilot who didn't declare. Others might disagree, but I would say that a career pilot receiving a Notice of Proposed Certificate Action, hiring a lawyer, and having to deal with the FAA legal department is a slightly bigger deal than the non-event that it likely would have been if he had.

1. The PIC shall discontinue the flight when unairworthy mechanical, electrical, or structural conditions occur.

When means at that time.

2. An in-flight emergency requiring immediate action, the PIC may deviate from any rule of this part to the extent required to meet that emergency.

Extent required means something should only be done to the level or degree that is necessary.


#2 never digs you out of violating #1.
 
Good job,deciding on the longer runway was a good choice.ising a shorter runway may have put undue pressure on you on the landing.
 
The throttle cable uses a single hardened and tempered length of "music wire," same stuff used in pianos for some of the notes. It's about .050" diameter. It's a high-carbon steel, meaning that it corrodes easily, and it's inside a "housing" formed from coiled music wire. Engine vibration rattles that wire on the housing and wears notches in it.

Between corrosion pitting and notching, and sometimes fatigue from being moved back and forth around tight bends in the housing's installation, the wire eventually breaks and now you get what you got.

An excerpt from a Cessna 172 service manual's inspection checklist sheets:

1717946887012.png
That "6" in the engine controls line:

1717946823988.png

Huh. Inspect every 50 hours (they ARE critical, after all), and replace as required at engine overhaul. This is from a manual published a long time ago. They had learned already by that time that those controls don't last forever. The throttle prop, mixture and carb heat controls are all subject to the same failure modes.
 
Good job getting it on the ground safe.
Not being critical but wondering approximately how many hours were on the throttle cable?
Maybe it didn’t break but came loose?
Changing oil today after this mornings flight.
No real way to check the cable is there?
image.jpg
 
Good job getting it down at an airport and staying out of the news. So....Is Jimminy going to get current and start flying again?
 
Well done.. if only for listening to your buddy:biggrin: What were you flying?
'73 Cherokee 180. Not sure the throttle cable's ever been replaced, unless maybe it happened to get done with one of the past engine overhauls. I'll go back in the logs and see what I can find. I know it hasn't in the 12 years I've had her.
 
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Good job getting it down at an airport and staying out of the news. So....Is Jimminy going to get current and start flying again?
Yeah, I've asked my buddy if his wife or kids have lost their enthusiasm as a result of this adventure. No word back, yet. I don't think it bothered my buddy much, though. He's been around long enough to know that stuff happens.
 
No real way to check the cable is there?
Nope. It's permanently swaged together. But if it's the same age as the other controls, you can get an idea of what's happening. Your carb heat cable:

1717957782238.png

Looks like some roughness on the wire. Run a fingernail along it and see. Roughness is not good at all. At the end where it is clamped to the lever there's another place that can fail. Sometimes mechanics overtighten the nut on that drilled bolt, which is actually a Cessna part number and is called a clamp. This can partially shear the wire, and it eventually breaks there. We can get a better look at the idea on the mixture control:

1717957989379.png

The wire is bent (normal) but not sheared. You can also see some wear on the wire just ahead of the housing clamp. Push the mixture full rich and get a better look. Run your fingernail along it.

McFarlane sells a PMA'd mixture control that uses a larger wire, around .090". Great stuff, but now you have to drill that 1/4" clamp bolt to take the larger wire, and so there's a lot less metal in the bolt around the hole, meaning it can crack and eventually break with any overtightening. Compromises everywhere.
 
If not for anything else, when declaring an emergency I liked having the trucks roll and be ready just in case something goes south.

And the first thing I would do when getting out of the plane was go to the trucks and thank everyone for being there. I mean these guys are waiting to put their butts on the line for me if needed, so the least I could do was introduce myself and thank them.
 
Nice job, Jim. Glad it worked out well. Did you look under the cowling and confirm the cable broke?
 
Did you look under the cowling and confirm the cable broke?
No, I didn't try to do any diagnosis after we landed. I was more occupied with the logistics of arranging for overnight parking, getting on the shop's to-do list, arranging transport back to my car at the home drome, and then just generally trying to settle down after the excitement of an unexpected situation. I'm content to wait and see what the shop says.
 
But then there's even less reason not to declare.

I agree completely with your first sentence. My very first enforcement case was a pilot who didn't declare. Others might disagree, but I would say that a career pilot receiving a Notice of Proposed Certificate Action, hiring a lawyer, and having to deal with the FAA legal department is a slightly bigger deal than the non-event that it likely would have been if he had.
I have to ask, how in the world does failing to declare an emergency end up in an enforcement action?
 
Good buddy.

I will never truly understand the hesitancy to declare an emergency, even if it does nothing more than keep others out of your way.
The only reason I can think of ( and this is not a very good reason ) is if there were some known “sketchy “maintenance issues that would be unearthed with the FSDO investigating
 
Dan, might you agree that the following ought to apply to two of the cotter pins in the depicted image above?
(a respectful suggestion)
 

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I have to ask, how in the world does failing to declare an emergency end up in an enforcement action?
When there is an engine out resulting in an altitude deviation and loss of IFR separation. Inside Class B airspace, no less. In that case, the declaration (or equivalent) would have given ATC the ability to move other aircraft out of the way and avoided the “deal.” But the pilot said nothing, got Brashered, and the process started.
 
Dan, might you agree that the following ought to apply to two of the cotter pins in the depicted image above?
(a respectful suggestion)
Yes, they are sloppy. Once you scratch yourself deeply on stuff like that you understand one reason why it's bad. Sticking out, they can also snag on whatever is nearby. But probably the most serious is their looseness when they're not pressed down tightly. Vibration will rattle them around until they wear through and fall out. I've seen a few ready to fail like that.

I liked to use the pliers across the pin head and far side of the nut to squeeze the pin's head in firmly, then pull on each prong as I bent it around. No slop when done like that.
 
Clear thinking, good risk assessment, good decisions, good outcome.
That's all on you. Well done.
 
In a case like this, where the throttle is stuck open, is it fairly safe to assume it will stay that way?

I feel like that would make a difference as to whether it's advisable to fly to a difference airport, rather than just land at the one you're in the pattern of.
 
Well done.. if only for listening to your buddy:biggrin: What were you flying?
One of the things I have learned 8000+ hours of flying is when someone you are flying with, and it doesn't matter if they are student pilot or a many thousand hour experienced pilot or even just a passenger, suggests a safer course of action you should seriously consider taking the safer course of action.

Brian
 
In a case like this, where the throttle is stuck open, is it fairly safe to assume it will stay that way?
I suppose that's a good question. Certainly in the moment, that was my assumption. In my head I envisioned the throttle lever at the carb and how the cable pushes it to open and pulls it to close. Since pulling back on the throttle handle had no effect, my expectation was that there was nothing that was going to cause the the throttle to close. I figured I was in a situation where I could safely continue to fly at max power until I ran out of fuel. (I had just topped off at our lunch stop so after the failure, even at full throttle and full rich I estimated I had 2-3 hrs of fuel left. Looking back at my engine data, I flew 25 min from the time the failure occurred until engine shutdown.)

The airport where we were doing pattern work was unattended and in the boonies. Had anything gone pear-shaped during the landing, we'd have been on our own for who knows how long before any help arrived, and no telling what capability that help would actually have. That said, at the time the failure occurred, I had every expectation of being able to land safely so I wasn't immediately thinking about emergency services. My first thought was just that it was prudent to stop puttering around and head for home.
 
Jim, did you try (or consider) using the mixture control to reduce power without shutting down?
 
Jim, did you try (or consider) using the mixture control to reduce power without shutting down?
I did briefly consider it, but not seriously. I have an engine monitor and routinely fly lean of peak, so I know how my engine performs (or doesn't) when lean. My home is at sea level and as a rule I don't lean at low altitudes, especially at high power settings, for engine longevity. Thus, I don't actually have direct experience with how the engine would respond to leaning at <=2000' and full throttle.

But I know how it responds at 3000' and above, and that is: Not smoothly. As a rule of thumb, at a given throttle setting, I can lean to about a 100 RPM drop or so from peak RPM before the engine starts to run very rough. I have never really gone much past that because it feels like the engine's trying to tear itself apart, but I suspect it very quickly falls off from there to whatever RPM a windmilling propeller spins at.

Early on, we did briefly discuss the idea of fiddling with the mixture control once we got to the pattern at my home airport, but it didn't seem like there was much benefit to that, and it could potentially introduce more risk, so I pretty quickly dismissed the idea. By the time I opted to aim for the big airport, I had settled on the plan not to touch the engine controls until the runway was made, and then just kill the engine.
 
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Remember, the problem area is in the ROP area. And at high power settings, the issue is running for some time in that area. Below 65%, there is no red box/fin range to be concerned about.

So as long as you started LOP or you do a smooth pull to LOP you would be fine. And you would have found that there was a range between just LOP and rough running that would give you some control over the power.

BUT, pattern altitude is NOT the place to be figuring this out. If you were high enough and over the field, it might be worth playing with.
 
Nope. It's permanently swaged together. But if it's the same age as the other controls, you can get an idea of what's happening. Your carb heat cable:

View attachment 129872

Looks like some roughness on the wire. Run a fingernail along it and see. Roughness is not good at all. At the end where it is clamped to the lever there's another place that can fail. Sometimes mechanics overtighten the nut on that drilled bolt, which is actually a Cessna part number and is called a clamp. This can partially shear the wire, and it eventually breaks there. We can get a better look at the idea on the mixture control:

View attachment 129873

The wire is bent (normal) but not sheared. You can also see some wear on the wire just ahead of the housing clamp. Push the mixture full rich and get a better look. Run your fingernail along it.

McFarlane sells a PMA'd mixture control that uses a larger wire, around .090". Great stuff, but now you have to drill that 1/4" clamp bolt to take the larger wire, and so there's a lot less metal in the bolt around the hole, meaning it can crack and eventually break with any overtightening. Compromises everywhere.
Always value and appreciate your time and anyone else to help us make our planes better and safer. Thank you
 
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Jim_R did they find the problem? Sorry if I missed it .
I haven't heard back from the shop yet. I showed up unannounced, so I expect they've got work in front of me....
 
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