Five Twin Training Tips

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Fuel prices have depressed the piston-twin market, making them a viable step-up from a single. But getting comfortable in your new twin means practice.

 

"Would you like to declare an emergency?” the controller asked with practiced coolness. Looking at the stopped and feathered left engine on the Cessna 310R I’d had for just 10 days, there was only one possible answer: “Yes.” Moments before, the engine had started vibrating so violently I was afraid it would shake the plane apart. I quickly feathered and shut it down, and called ATC. “Buffalo Approach, Twin Cessna 692, my left engine has failed.”

So there I was, about 20 miles from my destination with only one fan turning, taken somewhat by surprise by the failure of a freshly overhauled engine. I stabilized and trimmed the plane, and with airspeed well over the blue line, I keyed in “direct to” on the GPS. Approach indicated they would inform my nontowered destination of my situation and impending arrival.

In VMC, I put the GPS into OBS mode to display a long extended centerline so I could line up and stabilize my approach many miles out. I did my up-to-then best landing, with extra speed for more safety margin, and managed to taxi to the ramp with only left turns.

My young cousin and only passenger remained virtually silent during the entire ordeal, confessing that the only part that gave her pause was the query about “souls on board.” Apparently the controllers’ confidence, as well as my measured, unhurried response, turned what might have been a scary situation for her to something that was a lighthearted Facebook post a few hours later.

None of what happened would have been as easy or routine if I hadn’t practiced a dozen or more single-engine landings during my ME training. For that, I am thankful. Nonetheless, the only emergency I’d ever formally declared in two decades, and other early flights in the 310, made me aware of a handful of things I wish I’d worked on further.

What I Learned, and Didn’t

I can confidently say my multiengine commercial training (from single-engine private) covered all the standard bases. I read a great book on it—Multiengine Flying, by Paul Craig—to start, and absorbed its theory. My instructor and I did a few familiarization flights to get me used to a steam-gauge Piper Seminole after flying a G1000 equipped Cessna 206. We did detailed pre-takeoff briefings before taking the runway each time. We used every inch of runway, and checked all engine instruments as the throttles were advanced to full power. We worked on regular and short-field takeoff techniques. My instructor quietly pulled an engine occasionally on the takeoff roll.

Of course, we did plenty of airwork, too. We did steep turns, stalls, VMC demonstrations and a lot of flying around with actual shutdowns and simulated single-engine failures. We did quite a few approaches with both and only one engine operating (although, these were only simulated). My instructor did many announced engine failures.

It turns out that doing taildragger training earlier really helped with the twin transition. Twins are heavier and side-loading the gear when landing (and taxiing) needs to be avoided much more than with most light singles. Being able to do a solid, smooth one-wheel-at-a-time landing in a stiff crosswind is a critical skill, and I was glad to have put in a bunch of time in a Citabria in the months prior to my ME checkride. 

However, despite having practiced everything in the practical test standards (PTS) to a seeming fine finish, my checkride showed several easily resolved deficiencies in what I learned and my reactions to engine-out situations. It boils down to five key things I wish I had done more extensively in my 22 hours of ME training and a dozen hours of transition training for the 310.

1. More Failures

The instructor should do irregular and frequent unannounced and unexpected simulated engine failures in all phases of flight. I believe this is the most important thing an instructor can do once the trainee has learned the basic skills of multiengine flying. Knowing the theory is one thing, but the plane yaws surprisingly quickly when one engine stops putting out thrust. Pilots never know when an engine will fail, so be comfortable losing one at any time.

My examiner, for example, surprised me when an engine “failed” during a routine stall recovery; I had never practiced this. The PTS says there will be an engine failure at 400 feet agl, but having it happen during the stress of a checkride quickly revealed the flaws in my reaction. I had never practiced rudder trim failures, yet the plane I took my checkride in had rudder trim that was so hard to turn as to be useless. Practice every kind of engine failure in every phase, every flight, over and over! Even better: do these things in a plane with a real “critical engine” after early flights in a well-behaved trainer.

2. Memorize Procedures

Drill the engine failure checklist into your head. Post it on the wall. Chant it several times a day. Pantomime the hand and foot movements so it will be second nature when the time comes. Don’t rush through it (don’t make things worse!), but be deliberate about it. (An instructor friend of mine says, “First, wind your watch.”) Remember to fly the plane: maintain speed, altitude and heading the whole time. Don’t trade airspeed for extra altitude—stay level.

Many nights before bed I do this routine with hand and foot motions: “Mixture, prop, throttle (full). Flaps to approach, gear up, flaps up. Foot back, throttle back—identify, verify (throttle back), feather (prop back, mixture back, aux fuel pump off).” This should be the bedtime prayer of a multiengine pilot.

As this magazine quoted recently, “The airplane is trying to kill you; it’s up to you to catch it in time.” This is vastly more relevant in an ME plane, as the likelihood of one of the engines failing is double. I never experienced an engine failure in my Mooney 201 in almost 500 hours, but I had one in my newly overhauled 310 in under 15.

3. Practice Many Approaches

Single-engine approaches need to be trained for in many ways and in varying conditions. It’s one thing to do an ILS to minimums after having been flying around in stabilized, simulated single-engine flight under the hood for 20 minutes. It’s an entirely different situation to be in actual IMC and have the engine “fail” during a descent while being vectored to intercept the localizer, just as it’s coming in.

 

All of my training SE approaches were done from stabilized, level SE flight, yet my checkride’s mandatory approach had an engine “fail” at a very inconvenient time during vectors, descent and navigation intercept. In the “real world,” I’d prefer to be flying an LPV approach over an ILS if it were available, but the sensitivity of an ILS is so great that if the plane isn’t entirely under control quickly after a late-approach engine failure, it would be easy to blow the approach. Practice ILS approaches over and over, with engine failures at strategically bad times. Rudder trim failure could even be simulated.

4. Don’t Forget The Climbout

Initial climbout demands practice engine failures in all sorts of conditions as well. An all-weather pilot will eventually launch at approach minimums on a complex departure procedure. After mastering the “standard 400-foot agl engine failure,” do it in simulated IMC. Flip down the visor at 200 feet (or, even practice 0-0 takeoffs), and fly the departure.

When an engine fails at 400, continue climbing, and follow the departure procedure, such as turning 140 degrees to the left to proceed direct to a VOR. Fly the plane, keep the plane climbing at the blue line, get headed in the right direction and run the engine-failure checklist, all in a deliberate, unhurried-yet-quick fashion.

Additionally, always have a plan for an engine failure before taking the runway. The worst time to lose an engine is at full power, low speed and close to the ground, so practice this extensively.

5. Do The Real Thing

Finally, I recommend all would-be ME pilots practice an actual single-engine landing during their training. In my case, my actual single-engine landing was less than a month after receiving my ME rating, with a failed “critical” engine. My confidence went up greatly after that, when all my training had kicked in and it was, in actual practice, a “non-event.” But I didn’t really know that I could do it before then. Find a willing instructor, shut down and secure an engine, and land that way.

Remember I mentioned flying taildraggers earlier? The way the ME plane reacts to power changes on a single-engine landing is similar to the way the taildragger reacts during takeoff—throttle changes demand rudder inputs.

Imagine a mental connection between the throttle and the rudder. Be light and quick on the rudder; the plane is much more sensitive in yaw during power changes with the engine shut down and feathered than with it set for zero thrust. Be ready for a distinct yawing motion as the good engine is brought to idle during flare and touchdown.

All Together

Looking back, my first six months with a twin really proceeded in trial-by-fire fashion. In addition to losing the engine, on my first day with the plane the left vacuum pump failed on the flight home. The day before the engine failed, I flew the aux tanks dry and learned the fuel indicators showed well above empty when they’re dry. I had ATC turn me onto the final of an ILS approach in actual well above the glideslope and had to dive to intercept; delaying extending the gear due to high airspeed until very short final unnerved my passenger. I had two different electrical system failures. One of my ILS receivers decided to stop sending CDI signals. And so on.

But I can proudly say I fly the Cessna 310R in the real world. It’s a great traveling plane for my family of five: I’ve not yet had any loading issues, and its performance is fantastic. It’s also a great plane for volunteer airlift flights.

Two engines are much better than one: I have redundancy in every system—engine, vacuum, electrical, navigation—full known-ice protection, weather radar, satellite weather, TCAD a PFD/MFD combo. And I still have a useful load of over 900 lbs. with nearly seven hours of fuel at my typical cruise-power settings. 

In return, however, the 310 demands I be a much more vigilant, proficient pilot. It’s a tradeoff I’m glad to make and for which I regularly train. I hope these real world recommendations will help you become a safe, competent and confident twin pilot.

A version of this article appeared in the March 2013 issue of Aviation Safety magazine.