Aviation stories and tips to help you stay sharp.
In 2017 during an annual airshow at Duxford, England, British warbird pilot Mark Levy was flying a P-51 Mustang when he experienced an intermittent partial engine failure. The entire sequence was recorded on Levy's two video cameras.
The United Kingdom's Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) reported the following:
"The aircraft was part of a formation of 'Warbirds' approaching the end of their display sequence. The pilot reported he had been airborne for approximately 25 minutes without incident when he did an engine health check and changed the fuel selection to the right wing tank. The formation continued downwind, completed a flypast and separated onto three crosswind legs, climbing to approximately 1,000 ft. As the pilot applied additional power the engine stopped without warning.
"The engine restarted and ran at the commanded power setting for a few seconds before stopping for a second time. The pilot climbed away from the formation, transmitted a PAN call and prepared for a forced landing. The engine started and stopped several times, allowing a gradual descent. He reselected the left fuel tank and auto-leaned the mixture, at which point the engine ran for between 10 and 15 seconds before stopping again.
"With the aircraft in a tight downwind position at approximately 500 ft and 150 mph, the pilot selected 20-degrees of flap and the landing gear down. He commenced a turn onto the base leg, but it became evident that the aircraft had insufficient energy and would not make the runway. Turning in the direction of a cornfield to the east of the M11 motorway, the pilot selected the landing gear up and the flaps to 30-degrees just before landing at approximately 120 mph. The aircraft remained upright and the pilot was uninjured."
Levy shared his video, and more importantly some lessons learned, during a conversation with Richard McSpadden, Executive Director of the AOPA Air Safety Institute.
Levy clarified that he experienced an intermittent partial engine failure, which can be much more dangerous than a complete engine failure.
Such an intermittent failure can be much more challenging than a straight engine-out failure, as McSpadden added, because "your mind goes back and forth between 'I can make it, I can't make it; I'm in an engine-out best-field scenario' to 'No I can make the airport scenario,' and flipping that back and forth is much more challenging than having to face one situation or the other."
Levy said that after the second engine failure he made a mayday call stating he had an engine failure and might be landing off-airport. But at that point, Levy said he was task-saturated and the next thing he heard was when he was much closer to the airfield.
When a pilot gets task-saturated, one of the first things that can go is the pilot's ability to process new information, such as communication.
Levy said as he was making his tight base-to-final turn to try and make the runway, two key things happened: 1) he noticed the horizon start to move up the windscreen, indicating he was sinking and losing altitude; and 2) the gun ports started to whistle, indicating he was very close to a high angle of attack and a stall.
"Any pilot, if they know the airplane well, those kind of characteristics... will talk to you before the airspeed indicator will tell you that kind of stuff," Levy said.
Levy added that he followed legendary pilot R.A. "Bob" Hoover's advice to fly the airplane "as far into the crash as possible."
As the AAIB concluded, Levy's recognition of the need to make a forced landing, while only a few hundred feet from the runway, ensured a successful outcome.
The Flight Chain App team
Flight Chain App and its companion blog www.AheadOfThePowerCurve.com are committed to reducing general aviation accidents, helping improve aviation safety, and growing the pilot population.
An easier way to read NTSB aviation accident reports.