Saturday, 28 August 2010
MEP (Multi-Engine Piston)
Back in Bournemouth (UK) where I'll spend the next 4 months or so, I started my MEP training on the Beechcraft Be-76 Duchess.
Although it isn't quite a big plane, it still feels like a big step forward from the light single engine planes I used to fly up to now.
First of all, with two 180hp rated engines, it is almost 4 times more powerful than the Cessna 150 I used to fly. Each engine drives a constant speed propeller via a CSU and has got a three position cowl flap. The landing gear is retractable, one of the three Be76 the school owns is fitted with an airborne weather radar, they all have autopilots, HSI coupled with the GPS for Rnav approaches, RMI, a cross-feed fuel system, two avionic buses, three trims (elevator, ailerons and rudder), and ... 6 engine levers on the main desk (throttles, full feathering props, and mixture levers).
The flying is also fairly different. As we are training to be airline pilots and doing a CPL course, we've got a whole bunch of new procedures, checklists and briefings.
We now have a "passenger briefing" along with the usual "captain briefing".
There is a total of 7 checklists prior to take-off while there used to be only 3 as a private pilot, each of those having between 15 and 20 items to be checked.
- Before Starting Engines checks,
- Starting - Normal Procedure (Right engine first, then Left engine),
- After Engines Start,
- Taxi checks,
- Power checks,
- Pre Take-off checks,
- Take-off checks.
Lined up on the runway, I set 2200 rpm, give the gauges a quick glance before releasing the brakes as I apply full throttle. The powerful acceleration that follows brings out quite an intense feeling. Speed is alive, a few seconds later we're reaching 75kt as I say "Rotation" and pull the controls to raise the nose, 85kt and not much runway left: "Positive rate of climb, Gear up", and continuing on a 100kt cruise climb. Passing 500ft, I bring back the throttles to 25" of Manifold Pressure, the props are set to a coarser 2500rpm, and I can now do my After Take-Off Checklist.
The MEP course trains us to react to any kind of emergency.
For the purpose of training, we've been simulated engine failures, and been actually switching off one engine in flight (see the video and pictures below).
Emergency fire both on the ground and in flight, emergency descent (2700rpm, throttles on idle, 140kt, gear down and turning on a steep 45° dive, the ground comes very very fast), engine failure and feathering drills, landing gear manual extension, operation on crossfeed, one-engine inoperative landing, one-engine inoperative go-around, etc ...
It would take ages to describe everything, but this is actually very interesting and can be real fun. While most procedures are simply drills (not that easy once in the air in an emergency situation), engine failures usually last until you land.
Here's how it works: you take-off for a normal circuit, and not long after the instructor shuts down one of the two engines (without you knowing which one). You then have to continue the climb to circuit altitude, and land with one engine out. There are additional checks while flying asymmetric and that doesn't help making it easy. When you loose power on one side, the plane immediately yaws onto the "dead" side, then rolls, then loose altitude. You've got to react fast, apply almost full rudder (can be quite painful to your leg), maintain a balanced and leveled attitude, then push forward all remaining 5 levers, then feather the throttle, feather the prop and feather the mixture of the "dead" engine (be sure of which one this is, because as the propeller is windmilling, there is almost no visual sign of an engine failure), you then check for an engine fire, cut off the fuel, switch off the fuel pump, magnetos and alternator, close the cowl flap on one side and open on the other, and finally trim the plane before making a "mayday" or "panpan" call.
Along with the flights comes 7 hours of ground school including asymmetric theory, constant speed propellers and an overview of the Beechcraft Duchess. We then study on our own the POH (Pilot's Operating Handbook), all the relevant figures, the in-depth theory, and take the written exam. I passed and got 92.5%. The practical test will be including in the CPL skill test and I will then be "multi-engine piston" qualified.