The customer called me at noon for a mostly daytime flight today. I picked up a strawberry chicken sandwich at a deli and ate it in the truck on the way to the airport. It was slightly messy, but definitely good.
The before takeoff checklist requires me to verify all the gauges are green: oil temperature, oil pressure, cylinder head temperature, fuel flow, EGT: every needle sitting in the proper range. As I add power, my eye flicks again to the two three-fold engine gauges. When I flew this airplane two crew the non-flying pilot's line was "green six ways" and I still think that as I start to add power for the takeoff roll. Airspeed alive, rotate, positive rate, insufficient runway remaining, gear up. The engines are at full power now, and I'll leave them that way through five hundred feet of climb. I'm not going to mess with them until I have at least a few seconds of glide time in which to think.
I'm never conscious of having just looked at my engine gauges, but my wheels were barely off the pavement before I knew that the needle on my right engine oil temperature gauge had fallen to zero. Perhaps the motion was rapid enough that I caught it in my peripheral vision. Presumably I'm descended from the cavemen who saw the sabre-toothed tigers sneaking up, and not from the ones who missed that slight movement of a stalking cat, so this sort of thing gets my attention. It's training not evolution that resulted in absolutely no reaction from me though. That's not steely astronaut nerves. It's just knowing that there is no emergency that causes oil temperature to suddenly zero. It's just the gauge. I continue the flight, tapping the instrument from time to time, but it never comes back to life.
The route took us over Texarkana, a town name that reminds me of the names of the American republics in Robert Heinlein's future America in his novel Friday. It's actually a town on the border of Texas and Arkansas, mostly the latter. I don't know what it has to recommend itself apart from its cool name and accessible airport. While we were on frequency there, a departing jet reported a flap problem. The flaps were stuck at nine degrees, I think the pilot said. "Do you want any equipment?" asked the air traffic controller, after confirming that the filed destination was unchanged. The pilot gave a rambling answer, saying that he'd discussed the issue with company, and that he wasn't declaring an emergency, and he didn't expect any problems, but under the circumstances, yes, he'd like trucks. For those of you not familiar with aviation euphemisms, both "equipment" and "trucks" here refer to the sort that have flashing lights all over them, and sirens.
After a while he changed his mind and said that yes, he was declaring an emergency, but that his situation hadn't changed, he was going to be fine. I don't think the paperwork is any different whether you use the e-word or not.
I'm sure he arrived safely, after a somewhat slower than usual flight and a somewhat faster than usual landing. I hope his passenger briefing was more succinct than that radio call. I'm not saying I'm any expert on emergency PAs, nor that I don't make the same mistakes, but you can hear some cringeworthy cabin announcements from pilots who are more worried about scaring the passengers than about the upcoming landing. The rule I'm trying to cement in my head is keep it brief. If you say there's nothing to worry about once, some passengers start to worry. But if you say it twice, everyone starts wondering just how worried they should be. Phil has an amusing account at his blog of a flapless landing.
A reader sent me the clip above of a propeller malfunction at fifty feet after takeoff. Not only did the propeller go into beta uncommanded, but pulling the prop control back to minimum didn't fix the problem, so he had to shut down the engine. All done correctly by a brand new captain, I'm told.
There's nothing in his PA that shouldn't be. It doesn't matter whether the engine is surging, on fire or the Mormon Tabernacle Choir jumped out of it and started dancing on the nacelle, "experienced a slight abnormality" and "precautionary shutdown" are reasonable things to say. The bullshit might be less obvious if he had left off the "slight." You don't want it to come out like, "Nothing is wrong, we're just going back to land because uh, I forgot my wallet." I think it's mostly the repetition of "here" that undermines his message. He sounds like that not because he can't talk, but because talking is occupying only a small part of his attention. Passengers hear that and think that the rest of his attention is taken up with "Oh my God, we're all going to die!" A Dash-8 climbs like a bat out of hell on one engine, and he's in VMC, so while I'm sure he's focused on landing the plane, he's also thinking about the inevitable paperwork, fending off idiotic comments from his FO, wondering if this is going to screw up his whole work schedule for the month (answer: no, a newly upgraded captain already has the worst possible schedule), and hoping his SOPs are letter perfect on the tape.
I approached my destination just after dark. The shape of clouds that had not been topped very high at sunset obscured some of the stars. I was focusing on my descent checks and noticing flashing on the engine nacelles. As the sun goes down the strobes reflect off the nacelles and I almost always think, "was that lightening?" One the sunset was so bright and orange reflecting off the bottom of the nacelle that I did a double-take, looking for flames. The strobes can become distracting, so I switched them off, but I had a little suspicion already that it wasn't just the strobes this time. I turned slightly and at that moment the clouds right in front of us lit up the sky, right to the back of the airplane with its blacked out windows. You can't count the seconds between the flash and the bang in the air, because you hear the lightning instantly on every radio frequency. There was little radio interference, and winds at the airport below were light, both consistent with my belief that the lightning was a good ways off. Terminal passed me off to tower and I joined "downwind" (in quotes because I had been required to stay high until very close to the airport, so we were still plumetting towards circuit altitude, not flying a level circuit). I land, and taxi in past someone washing his car on the ramp.