Far-out aviation – Problem solved

This is one of a mini-series of aviation events in our collection, from which obvious lessons may be learned. They all arrived from various reliable but long-forgotten industry sources and we won’t be doing any analyses or making any comments or recommendations. Names are withheld in some cases where it seems somebody may still have a reputation to protect.

A Piper Malibu was being ferried to its new home at Yokata Air Base in Japan, when it suffered an engine failure and made a forced landing. The Japanese authorities denied the owner approval to fly the repaired aircraft from its forced landing site, insisting it be dismantled and trucked out. The following faxed account to the Japanese authorities of subsequent events, shows how a resourceful pilot managed a difficult situation.

SUBJECT: Emergency landing at Yokata Air Base

This statement is being written to explain the landing of NXXXX, a Piper Malibu that landed at Yokata Air Base on November 14, 1991. The aircraft is owned and registered to (name withheld.). It will be leased to the Yokata Aero Club. Last June, the aircraft made a forced landing in Osaka due to engine failure. On November 11, I left Yokata with a maintenance team and equipment to disassemble the aircraft and transport it to Yokata. We installed a remanufactured engine in the aircraft to verify that all systems were installed and all hardware and accessories were provided as per the purchase contract. The aircraft disassembly was under way and engine was complete so we decided to do maintenance runs on the aircraft for leak check, trim etc. The aircraft was towed to a nearby road and the engine was started and run. Everything looked good for leak and idle check, but when I tried a hi-power run, the fuel governor became uncontrollable and stuck at max power. At that point, the aircraft jumped the nose chock and started moving. The brakes were effective at idle but would not hold max power. The aircraft started accelerating rapidly because it was so light with fuel and all the interior was removed.

At that point, I had three choices:

1) turn the aircraft to the ditches on the side of the road;

2) accelerate straight into the ocean:

3) try to get the aircraft airborne.

I chose the latter. Having never flown a Piper Malibu and with no charts or radio frequencies to communicate with anyone, I decided to go to Yokata AB since I knew Yokata’s frequencies from memory. With the governor problem, it was all I could do is keep the aircraft in control. I knew a basic direction to get the aircraft to Yokata. I chose not to land anywhere else because of unfamiliarity to the airfields and no communications. En route, I contacted Yokata approach, and they followed my course to Yokata. Then I was handed over to Tower. They initially denied my request to land, but I explained the situation and tell them I was low on fuel. Although I did not declare an emergency because I felt I had the aircraft under control at this time. Had landing commission being denied, I would have declared an emergency. I landed the aircraft without incident. Tower instructed me to clear the active and wait for security police and airfield management.

(Signed)            name withheld

                        15 Nov 1991

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About Paul Phelan

Paul Phelan flew for over 50 years in private, charter, corporate and regional aviation, worked in senior management roles with a major regional airline, and retains his license. In parallel he has been writing for Australian and international aviation journals for well over 20 years on all aspects of aviation including aircraft evaluation, flying, industry affairs, infrastructure, manufacture, regulatory affairs, safety, technologies and training. He has won three separate National Aviation Press Club awards for "best technical aviation story of the year."

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