Ask the Expert: “War Stories”

Ask the Expert: “War Stories”



The dictionary definition of War Story is “… an account or anecdote concerning one’s personal experiences, especially in military combat …” The stories presented in this article surely come from my personal experience but I am thankful that they do not originate from military combat. Instead, they come from events in my 46 years of being involved with King Airs. I hope you will find them entertaining and, in some cases, enlightening.

E90 Paint Schemes

In addition to the standard paint designs that usually changed with each new model year, a King Air customer could direct the Beech paint shop to paint in whatever colors and designs that he or she wished. As factory flight instructors, it went without saying that we were told never to cast a disparaging remark on the paint … even though it may be astonishingly ugly.

That was the case one morning when I walked out onto the Beechcraft Delivery Center’s parking ramp with the pilot who flew for a California-based E90 buyer. He had finished the ground training portion of our initial E90 course and now was starting the flying phase. Holy moly! What is this my eyes behold?! The airplane’s base coat was bright orange and the stripes were green! “Well,” I thought to myself, “it surely makes it easy to see for traffic avoidance purposes even though it’s as ugly as sin!”

Later that day, probably over lunch, the pilot mentioned the unusual paint scheme and volunteered the information about why his boss ordered it. This gentleman was a grower in California’s Central Valley and had made most of his money by growing and selling cantaloupe and lettuce. It was those two commodities that were being honored by the new King Air’s paint.

There is another E90 paint story that is even more unusual. I had walked down to the delivery center’s parking line on another morning, again with a student picking up a new King Air after his factory training was complete. I casually glanced at the other King Airs we walked past on our way to the one we would be flying. This was the student’s first King Air flight so we took the time to conduct a very thorough cockpit and exterior preflight inspection with time to handle all of the necessary instructions, explanations, and answers to the client’s questions. An hour or more had elapsed and so, before cranking up the engines, we decided to walk back to the delivery center for a “bio break.”

As we again passed the parked King Airs awaiting delivery I thought, “That’s strange. Here is a different E90 parked in the line yet I don’t recall hearing or seeing a Beech tug move the other one and replace it with this one.”

I stopped directly in front of the plane and was shocked to discover that it was the same E90 that I had seen earlier. The right side and the left side had totally different colors and stripe designs! They were standard factory designs, but different, side-to-side. We continued into the delivery center and I asked one of my colleagues there about this strange sight.

The buyer and his wife, as was typical, had visited the factory with their King Air salesperson to select all of the various options, including paint and interior specifications. The couple could not agree on colors and the disagreement escalated into a shouting match that ended with “OK, you can have your side and I’ll have mine!” They must never have reached a compromise since the finished product indeed came out with two totally different sides. As we returned to the airplane we were to fly, chuckling, I thought I should have looked inside this strange E90 to see if the interior, too, had “his and her” sides! I am not sure if I merely forgot to do so or was too scared of what I might find.

How Not to Feather a Propeller

It was late 1972, my first year as a ground and flight instructor for Beech Aircraft Corporation, and I was conducting transition training for a pilot whose Midwest-based company was moving up from a 1966 A90 into a new 1972 C90. The two airplanes were, of course, very similar but had a few differences. Two of the most significant differences were (1) the C90 flew quite a bit differently than the A90 due to longer wings and balanced flight controls, and (2) the C90 had two bleed air sources for cabin air inflow instead of the single supercharger of the A90. Compared to the A90 – not a bad flying machine in its own right – the C90 felt like it had power steering … much lighter and faster-acting ailerons. (These balanced controls started with the B90 that was produced in the 1968 to 1971 model years.)

I anticipated that the pilot would find the move to the C90 enjoyable and easy, based on his previous A90 experience. That proved to be true; he was a very good pilot.

Part of our initial flight training syllabus included a balked landing with an engine failure just as go-around power was being added. The primary purpose of this unlikely scenario was to have the student see how much altitude had to be sacrificed in order to maintain a safe airspeed as the situation was being handled. From this experience, we hoped that it would be obvious why, near the runway with gear down and full flaps extended, you were committed to land if one engine lost power. Going around was no longer an option.

Current King Air panels don’t have red and white stripes denoting reverse. Instead, a “Ground Fine” stop is located at the end of beta and at the start of reverse.

The Beech Training Center pro­cedures mandated that no real engine shutdowns could be done within 5,000 feet of terrain, so this maneuver was typically begun at 7,000 to 9,000 feet AGL. This day, I think I had the student pretend that we were intercepting a glide slope at 8,500 feet MSL, heading for a make-believe runway at 7,000 feet. Level at 8,500 feet we slowed, extended approach flaps and landing gear, and then started the descent at 120 KIAS and about 600 fpm … a typical ILS profile, requiring about 500 ft-lbs of torque and 1,900 RPM in this PT6A-20-powered C90. The pilot had been well-briefed that a go-around would begin at 200 feet above the phantom runway and that I, the instructor, would pull one of the condition levers into fuel cutoff just as the pilot was adding power. To prevent the speed from decaying to near VMCA, the nose would have to be kept down and altitude would have to be lost until the airplane was clean and with the dead engine’s propeller feathered. We were in clear skies and the student was not wearing a view-limiting device. This C90 had no autofeather, an option that was rather rare to find installed back in the early 1970s.

“One thousand to go,” I called as we passed 8,200 feet. “Five hundred to minimums,” was the call at 7,700 feet. “Minimums. No runway in sight. Go Around,” was the call at 7,200 feet.

POWER: The pilot moved both power levers smoothly forward as I pulled the left condition lever fully back to cutoff the fuel. The pilot carefully stopped moving both power levers as the right ITT hit 700 degrees, our self-imposed training limit on the -20 engines.

PROPS: The pilot smoothly pushed both propeller levers to the forward stops. To hold our landing speed of about 100 KIAS, we were now sinking below our “make believe” runway.

FLAPS: Up they came and we sank a bit more.

GEAR: Its handle was placed in the up position and the gear started retracting.

IDENTIFY: “Left foot is dead; left torque is dead.” The pilot correctly noted.

VERIFY: The pilot moved the left power lever carefully back to idle and made certain that nothing changed. (Except it triggered the gear warning horn to blow. That’s why I teach moving it back forward if you have used this as an identification step.) By now, we had lost about 500 feet, nearing 6,700 feet MSL. The sink rate was near zero but with the windmilling propeller we certainly were not yet climbing. “This fellow is doing a great job,” I thought to myself. “He’s maintaining a safe speed and is doing the correct procedure expeditiously but without rushing. Nice!”

FEATHER: Then the doodoo hit the fan! The pilot kept his hand on the left power lever that he had just moved to idle, lifted it and immediately pulled it into maximum reverse, all the way aft.

I wish we had smart phones with video capabilities back then, because I would love to see both the expression on my face and the exact reaction of the airplane. It seemed we pivoted around that reversed propeller, turned 90 degrees to the left, and pealed off into a dive with maybe a 15- to 20-degree, nose-down attitude. I immediately pulled the right power lever to idle, pushed the left power lever forward out of reverse to idle and eased out of the dive. Then it was back to using the Four Friends – Power, Props, Flaps and Gear – to get us back in the groove for the correct feathering step. I pitched up to get to VYSE and tried to get my heart rate back to normal. Was I surprised? You bet! Scared? No, that’s why we do this well above the ground. We probably bottomed out at about 6,000 feet, a total loss of 1,200 from when we began the go-around.

I returned aircraft control to the pilot, we leveled off at 7,500 feet, turned on the autopilot and completed the engine shutdown checklist. The pilot knew exactly what had transpired – he had moved the power lever into reverse instead of the propeller lever into feather.

“Why?” I asked. “Because when my eyes saw the red and white stripes of reverse, my mind thought they were the red and white stripes of feather,” he said. Never before or since have I had this happen in training … that someone would pull the wrong lever back into the stripes. The event taught both the pilot and myself an important lesson. The pilot: Not to use the wrong lever! Me: To teach my students that the cockpit coloration is indeed the same, so be careful! Also, one more reason to not keep the dead power lever back at idle. Get it forward out of the way!

All King Airs being produced now no longer have the red and white stripes denoting reverse. Instead, they have the “Ground Fine” stop at the end of beta and at the start of reverse. Now it requires a second lift of the power lever to enter reverse. It has been this way on most models since the late 1980s, early 1990s. This change was not made based on the incident related here, but it should help in decreasing the probability for making the same mistake in the later models.

I want to clarify a point or two. First, for the blade angle to go into beta or reverse, the propeller must be underspeeding … off of the propeller governor, with the blade angle resting on the Low Pitch Stop (LPS). After all, beta and reverse is simply where the power lever’s position has relocated the LPS to flatter than normal angles. With the combination of zero power and an airspeed near 100 KIAS, the left propeller was definitely underspeeding on its LPS.

Second, although the blade angle went to maximum reverse, realize that the fuel was shut off. We had no reverse power, just one heckuva lot of drag! The situation would have been worse and we would likely have lost significantly more altitude had the engine “failure” been initiated by moving the power lever to Idle instead of shutting the fuel off with the condition lever. If the power lever had now been moved to maximum reverse, not only would blade angle have gone fully negative, but the N1 also should have spooled up to near 85 percent, giving close to 50 percent power.

You’re starting to understand why I got white hair at such a young age, right?

A BE-100 and a BE-A100 Story

It is common for pilots to think of the Garrett-powered B100 when they hear “King Air 100.” However, before the B100 model, there was the “straight” 100 and the A100, both powered by PT6A-28s rated at 680 SHP instead of the B100’s TPE331-6s rated at 715 SHP. The 100-series was the first of the longer-cabin King Airs, having the exact same cabin dimensions – 4 feet longer than the 90-series cabin – as the 200 and 300 models yet to come. (Not the 350. Its cabin is longer still, by 34 inches.)

The Beechcraft Training Center had a policy that their instructors should not instruct in any model that they themselves had not previously flown. Seems to make sense, eh? But then, as is so often the case, the policy gets ignored when certain pressures appear.

Such was the case in late 1972 when I had been at Beech less than a full year. I was qualified and had instructed in the C90 and E90 models but had not yet flown the A100. Those three models – C90, E90, A100 – made up the entire King Air line that year. A company that operated a 100 – the three-blade predecessor of the four-blade A100 – sent their crews to Beech every year for recurrent training in their own airplane – Beech had no simulators back then – and this year one of their co-pilots needed to receive upgrade training so that he could move into a captain’s slot.

The 100-qualified instructors were busy elsewhere so my boss called me into his office and explained why I was assigned to this training slot. The facts that the 100’s systems were almost identical to the C90, the engine was the same -28 as on the E90, the “student” already had lots of right seat time in this airplane … “Heck, Tom, you’ll feel right at home!”

Many readers will know that the biggest difference between the 90s I had been flying and the 100 is that the 100-series has no elevator trim wheel. Instead of trim tabs on the elevators, the 100s use a movable horizontal stabilizer for trimming, with both main and standby electric motors. The main motor is activated by using dual switches on the outboard grip of both pilot and co-pilot control wheels and the standby system is activated by using dual switches on the pedestal, readily accessible to either pilot. Additionally, the 100 has shorter wings – same dimension as the straight 90 and A90 – and dual main tires that are smaller and carry more pressure than the 90 main tires. Thus, the airplane tends to touch down a bit firmly if power is reduced to idle too quickly with those rock-like tires, you feel it!

King Air model A100

The day came for the co-pilot’s upgrade training. It was lovely weather and, unusual for Kansas, there was hardly any wind. We departed Beech field for our normal training location of Hutchinson, 38 miles northwest. “Hutch” had all of the approaches, plenty of runways, a helpful tower, and not too much traffic … a perfect training airport.

As expected, the pilot did an excellent job. He was a conscientious and talented pilot and his previous right-seat experience was noticeable. We did all of the maneuvers, approaches, landings and emergencies on the syllabus. Although all of his landings were absolutely fine, none were “greasers,” nor did we expect any. As we taxied out for our last takeoff from Hutchinson, he suggested that I fly back to Beech Field and offered to switch seats. I thanked him and accepted the offer but said it would be better practice for me to fly from the right seat … which I did.

The light wind was from the north so “Tower Brown,” the friendly and efficient Beech tower operator, directed us to enter on the crosswind leg for right traffic to Runway 36. On downwind, Brownie cleared us to land. I kept using the trim switches under my right thumb as we turned final and went to full flaps. It was one of those landings where you never really knew when you made ground contact. But eventually you realized that the mains were rolling and it was time to lower the nose and lift the Power levers. My student looked over at me in awe and said, “Man! That was beautiful! How did you do that?!”

“Oh, you’ll get it with a little more practice,” I replied. If he happens to be reading this, he’ll finally know that this was a total case of beginner’s luck since it was my very first landing in a 100. I don’t believe that I have ever made a smoother one!

Now for the A100 story. This time I am doing recurrent training for a Kentucky-based company. Their director of maintenance (DOM) has a pilot certificate and the chief pilot wants the DOM to be more familiar in flying the A100 so he asks me to include this fellow in my flight training sessions while I am doing recurrent training with them in Lexington. The year is about 1981 and I am now training through my own company, Flight Review, Inc.

The young man is very pleasant, eager to learn, has great airplane knowledge, and is a joy to train. After demonstrating autofeather operation – this particular A100 had that option – and doing single-engine maneuvering, we conduct a starter-assisted airstart. The engine starts normally but the prop won’t come out of feather. Darn! No matter how many times we move the prop lever into and out of feather, the prop stays feathered, turning at maybe 400 RPM with the engine running at low idle. Even adding a little power does not help. I suspect that the autofeather dump valve has stuck in the open, dumped position. Later, we find that this is exactly what has happened. A good whack with a wooden mallet fixed it, never to stick again.

When our unfeather attempts all proved fruitless, we declared an emergency and returned to Blue Grass airport, shooting the ILS to Runway 4, even though the weather was good. The DOM, a rather low-time pilot, was a bit nervous with our situation and asked me to fly. I commented that he was doing a fine job and it would be good experience for him to make the single-engine landing, so he kept flying.

I could tell he was nervous. After we were nicely stabilized on the glideslope with gear down and approach flaps, with the runway in sight about 3 miles ahead, I tried to ease his fear. I turned to him and said, “Hope you’re ready, because the hard part is yet to come.”

“It is?!” he gasped. “Yeah. You’ve got to taxi to the hangar on one engine!” We laughed together and the tension eased. He made a wonderful approach and landing and kept the speed up enough that he was able to make it to their hangar without using a tug. Good job!

Well, readers, did you enjoy these war stories? I have plenty more, so please let me know if you’d like to read more in this same vein. If you do, great, I’ll regale you with others! If not, I’ll return to my normal King Air systems and operations emphasis. Be safe out there!

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