H21 – SUS. 1300 departure, July 22, in a Turbo Arrow. Scattered layer 4500’, visibility greater than 3 miles with haze, light to moderate chop down low, 15 knot tailwind at altitude. 103 miles, an easy 45 minute flight. Preflight, run up, takeoff and climb all normal. 33″MP/ 2450RPM. Looks good and sounds good.
Upon reaching 5500’ time to level off. Turbulence subsides at this altitude above the scattered cloud layer, temperature drops to 78oF and visibility improves. Level off is easily performed. Retard the throttle to 30”MP and prop to 2400RPM (65% cruise setting). Man that throttle moves easy. Heat must have loosened any grease or residue to make it that easy to pull back. It’s been near 100 oF on the ground.
That’s interesting: no change in MP. Move the throttle slightly forward and back: no change. All the way forward and all the way back: no throttle control. Pull the prop back with corresponding RPM reduction and MP slightly increases. Ok. Leave the prop set at 2400RPM and if necessary increase it later. Check airspeed: 135KIAS. This will work for cruise. Confirm speed limitations: gear speed 129KIAS and flap speed 103KIAS.
What are my options for descent and landing? 1) Climb to slow for gear speed, lower gear for descent, no flaps, land fast. Need a long runway. Secure the engine on final with runway made. 2) Turn back in case something else goes wrong (25 miles from departure and 75 miles to destination). 3) Land at closest airport. 4) Continue to destination. The longest runway is at the destination airport. It has a control tower, emergency equipment and maintenance, plus it’s home base and I am very familiar and comfortable. Engine is running at 75% power in cruise, albeit slightly high MP, but within limits for my aircraft; however, it will increase as altitude decreases. Screaming down in turbulent air at these power settings will put me in the yellow (cautionary) airspeed for sure.
What to do for the next 33 minutes? Luckily, a quick inventory indicates a screwdriver on my fuel strainer. Auto pilot engaged and NAV mode GPS direct with altitude hold selected. Time to go to work. What’s a frustrated mechanic to do but start taking things apart beginning with the throttle quadrant. Always wondered what’s behind there. Should be easy, remove six screws and take a look. Ever have that one screw that just doesn’t want to come out? Finally got it out, although left an indentation in my index finger from pushing hard on the back side. Ok, can’t see anything. Good thing I carry a flashlight for day VFR. Look into the abyss. Just as I suspected, the throttle lever has no cable attached. Did the mechanic convert to fly by wire? That would explain the cost of the recent annual. No. Prop and mixture have cables. Can’t see the throttle cable and can’t reach it. Being the overweight contortionist I am, I push my wife against the bulkhead to gain access underneath the panel.
I am able to reach under the instrument panel and feel around. No shortage of wires here. Ok, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Flashlight in one hand and feeling for the cable with the other, I find an unattached cable. I tug on it a little and look up for effect. Wow! MP surges to 43” exceeding redline. Quickly, I reach and push the other way. Now 25” MP. Ok, might be able to control this thing enough to get the landing gear down, descend and land. Notify ATC of my predicament, but not declaring an emergency…yet.
I ask for a straight in on 8R: the longest runway. Winds are 040@6KTS which means they should have used 8R anyway but they are using 26L and an aircraft is on final. So ATC declares the emergency (by the way, the paperwork doesn’t change if they declare it). Two aircraft go around. Touchdown was uneventful. Land with a little power and reach under the panel to pull cable to idle and I’m able to taxi without assistance. I am greeted by a fire truck, police and an EMT vehicle. The crash crew seems disappointed. ATC acknowledges my airmanship skills and requests I contact the FSDO.
When asked about declaring an emergency I responded: It is a pilot in command decision and it was under control. If I didn’t get the help I sought (straight in, long runway, further complications, etc.) I would have declared, but the paperwork and interrogation dissuades, not invites, an emergency declaration.
Think this can’t happen in your airplane? This is an educational forum. I’m not advocating I did everything right, but rather open it up for conversation and pilot education. What would you do if you lost a throttle or prop cable?
–Chuck Williams, GSLFIA Director