After an incredible trip across Northern Europe in May ’16, our flying suffered a major setback when ‘YC’s propeller governor failed while J was on approach to Belgrade in July.
J was planning to visit a friend who is an aid worker in Athens, and had decided to take on the flying challenge of getting himself there in ‘YC, as opposed to the more conventional (and sensible) approach and going with EasyJet! He made it to Salzburg without incident and refuelled, ready to set off early for Belgrade the following day.
Having behaved beautifully all throughout our trip in May (for which we will remain eternally grateful given the number of lengthy and cold sea crossings!), ‘YC now evidently decided that J’s life wasn’t exciting enough. I wasn’t with him at the time so please forgive the second-hand account, but the following happened:
- Moving the prop lever to full fine in preparation for approach, the RPM shot well outside the safe range and the prop was screaming
- To address the over-speed and bring RPM back within range, J had to pull the power to about 30%, which meant he was barely able to keep straight and level
- Still relatively chilled (I don’t really understand how he managed that…), he set ‘YC up for long final and communicated as normal with Belgrade approach
- Belgrade instructed commercial traffic to line up in front of J
- Whilst he was confident of getting in (stable approach, good weather, situation not actively getting worse), with the engine still screaming in protest at any increase in power, he knew he wouldn’t be able to go around if anything were to delay the aircraft in front
- J asked Belgrade air traffic control to keep the runway clear as he was compelled to land. At this point they asked if he was declaring an emergency. He replied that yes, on balance that was probably a good plan – his second genuine Mayday call in as many years, which we are hoping means he’s statistically about done for the rest of his flying life!
J landed safely at Belgrade, but it was clear ‘YC wasn’t going to be able to continue the journey. In order to avoid missing his friend, who was between jobs and not around for very long, J continued to Athens commercially. Between late July when the incident occurred and late December, ‘YC underwent various stages of work in Serbia to try and get her flying again.
We are very grateful to the insurer, Visicover, for their support – they were excellent advisers and were able to guide us in making the appropriate accident reports and organising the work to fix ‘YC. First step was to replace the governor, which was the likely source of the problem. This was done and J actually went back out to Belgrade in August in the hope of bringing ‘YC back at that point. Unfortunately she was still sounding a long way from good on the ground, so he wisely chose not to depart.
On further consultation with the insurer and maintenance team, we found that the propeller had actually exceeded tolerance when it oversped and would have to be scrapped. The engine would also require complete disassembly and inspection due to the degree and length of time of the over-speed. This was going to take a while.
Getting work done in Serbia was not straightforward, although the team at the airport and the maintenance company were excellent. As Serbia isn’t in the EU and ‘YC is maintained and certified under EASA, we had to get all of the work signed off by an EU mechanic once done, and everything therefore took twice as long.
Just before Christmas 2016 the work was complete (shiny new propeller and a fully inspected and re-assembled engine) and we decided to try and get ‘YC home to see in the start of 2017.
J and I flew out late on a Friday night to Belgrade and were at the airport ready to set off the following morning. As luck would have it, the team doing the work had decided to test fly her the previous day to be sure she was fit, and had taken her back to their base airfield about 20 miles away. A morning of freezing fog meant that she was now stuck there and their pilot was unable to take off to bring her back to Belgrade. It was somewhat frustrating that she’d sat at Belgrade for 5 months and on the one day we actually needed her to be there, she wasn’t! Eventually the fog cleared and they brought her back – we were delayed by about 4hrs but hoped to still make it to Italy the same day.
I took us for the first leg from Belgrade to Pula, Croatia. It was uneventful from a maintenance perspective, which was a huge relief, and the scenery was absolutely incredible. The mountain range on the Serbia-Croatia border was still coated in frost, and the late departure meant we were treated to a glorious sunset along the way. After the mountains, the ground drops away quite suddenly down to the sea, which with the wind conditions gave me my first experience of rotors whacking me unannounced as I came over the ridge! Good practice.
Pula was a quiet, small and friendly airfield, not to mention beautiful. Definitely a GA destination I’d recommend, although we were mainly there for fuel and convenience so didn’t get to enjoy it as much as we’d have liked. We had flight planned IFR into Milan for the night and the team had us turned around in under 30 minutes.
As we briefed for the onward flight, we saw that the forecast was deterioriating in Milan, with poor visibility expected as darkness fell. During the power checks, ‘YC then showed us a low voltage warning light (which resolved itself but was definitely worth paying attention to when about to fly IFR!), and during the climb-out we had an overheating cylinder head and wildly fluctuating fuel pressure. None of these would be showstoppers if they occured in benign conditions in isolation, but following major maintenance it was definitely enough to make us abandon a night IFR flight involving a water crossing and potential arrival into fog. When I thought “this is beginning to read like the start of an accident report…” I knew it was time to turn around and J agreed.
Once we figured out how to exit the airport (a bit of searching was required for passport control as by now it was quite late, and we now needed to actually enter Croatia rather than just transiting!), we got a taxi into town. We stayed the night in Pula, which was very cheap off season. We found a small family-run guesthouse called Oasi with excellent food and set off again early the following day.
There was some work required to de-ice ‘YC before departure from Pula as a thin layer of ice had formed overnight. Ice was something we hadn’t reckoned with, J having originally departed for southern Europe in mid-summer, so I sacrificed my Oyster card to get the wings and tail surfaces cleared! I don’t really know how to explain that one to TfL, I’m not sure if it’s the stories of engine malfunctions far from home, the madness of voluntarily flying a non-deiced light aircraft out of Belgrade during winter or the suggestion of waking up to frost on the coast in Croatia that would be harder to believe!
Thankfully the issue with the cylinder head, low voltage and fuel pressure didn’t repeat itself either on the ground or in the air, so we enjoyed an amazing flight over the mountains of central Italy and down the French coast past Monaco, before J performed the (quite fun actually!) low-level VFR approach into Cannes-Mandelieu. It was without a doubt some of the most spectacular flying we’ve ever done!
Cannes-Mandelieu is an airfield which requires any visiting pilots to review arrival procedures and pass an online module and test before attempting to approach IFR. I’m not sure if and how they check this, but J had dutifully completed the test before we went and been told to print his course certificate and carry it with him in the plane. It’s probably still in the seat pocket, but given how complex the procedures are and the need to stay well clear of commercial traffic into Nice, I can see why it’s required!
We re-checked the forecast when we landed in Cannes, but as we had feared the weather in the UK wasn’t going to be good enough for us to get any further that day (Storm Barbara was on her way by that point). As it was now Christmas Eve, we reluctantly left ‘YC to enjoy her festivities on the Riviera, and we took a taxi to Nice to fly home courtesy of Easyjet.
J returned on Boxing Day to retrieve ‘YC and fly her the rest of the way home via Dijon. He had a rather interesting first leg out of Cannes due to being sent much higher than planned to assist with spacing from a large range of unplanned commercial traffic that was having to divert due to fog in the valleys. The Mistral then made itself known in the form of a 50kt headwind – one of those weather phenomena you read about but have to experience to fully appreciate! He had expected headwinds but had not planned to be at such a high altitude, so this meant his fuel plan went out the window and his ground speed was so slow that he eventually had to request descent or risk a fuel emergency with limited alternates due to the fog! Descent granted, he then made reasonable time into Dijon (where thankfully the weather was clear) and refuelled for his final leg to Biggin.
‘YC finally arrived back home to Biggin Hill on 27 December, over 5 months since first departing for Athens.
We are so relieved to have her back with our usual maintenance organisation and they have been fantastic in fixing teething issues and reassuring us that her problems seem to be sorted. She has since produced a flat tyre (J thinks he ran over a nail in Calais) but thankfully no more major incidents. We are enjoying having her around and being able to fly regularly again!
- ICAO code: LYBE
- Elevation AMSL: 336ft
- Runway direction & length: 12/30, 3.4km
- Runway surface: Tarmac
- Landing fee (at time of visiting): I’m afraid this got rather ‘lost’ due to the fact that we had 5 months of parking to pay plus maintenance (!!), but I’m told it ranges from about EUR 30 for a simple stop and refuel to about EUR 100 if you want full landing, handling and entry. We’d probably have been somewhere in between!
- Facilities: Full commercial terminal with shops etc, and separate private briefing facilities for GA with coffee machine, computers and toilets. They will drive you out to the parking and supervise you to ensure you aren’t trying to steal a jet…
- Transport links: Taxis into the city take about 25 minutes.
- ICAO code: LDPL
- Elevation AMSL: 274ft
- Runway direction & length: 09/27, 2.9km
- Runway surface: Tarmac
- Landing fee (at time of visiting): c.18 Euros for ‘technical landing’ (just turnaround, not entering the country)
- Facilities: Full commercial terminal with toilets, waiting areas and cafes, but it’s only open fully when there are commercial flights running.
- Transport links: Taxi into the town takes about 10 minutes, beautiful coastal location.
- ICAO code: LFMD
- Elevation AMSL: 13ft
- Runway direction & length: 17/35, 1600m
- Runway surface: Tarmac
- Landing fee (at time of visiting): c. 30 Euros, and 15 Euros for each overnight. Also be aware you need to have passed the online test and read the briefing in order to make an instrument approach. Our bill was just over EUR 100 for 4 nights’ parking on the grass plus landing.
- Facilities: Toilets and briefing facilities in the terminal, which is very smart.
- Transport links: Taxi into town, and it takes about 25 minutes to Nice airport – expensive though! There’s also a bus to the centre of Cannes and the train station.
- ICAO code: LFSD
- Elevation AMSL: 728ft
- Runway direction & length: 01/19, 1800m
- Runway surface: Tarmac
- Landing fee (at time of visiting): c.25 Euro (can’t find the receipt!)
- Facilities: Very friendly, efficient and helpful. Toilets, coffee and briefing facilities in the terminal. Mustard boutique if you want it!
- Transport links: Taxi into town
And finally HOME to EGKB 🙂