At the risk of being boring, how would you like this one ?
It concerns the double engine fire warning I had not long after I was a skipper..........as Jeff Norton said,
"a baptism by fire !"
What are the chances of a double fire warning on the same flight, same engine ?
If there are any mathematicians out there, I would be pleased to hear from them............after you read the story !
The following is my original official "Witness Statement"
Ref: M.O.R. dated 25 Mar 78
Witness statement dated 2610.OOZ
30 Mar 1978
Events leading to the..emergency
evacuation of G-APMB on the 25 Mar 78
at London (Gatwick) Airport.
1. The pre-flight checks were carried out in accordance with the check list I
and the aircraft was found to be fit for the intended service. No fault was
found in the fire-warning system check prior to flight.
2. The start-up, taxi, and take-off were perfectly normal. I was the handling
pilot. The climb was limited to FL 270 by London. After cruising at this
level for about 6 minutes, approaching Woodley, the fire bells rang and the
lights illuminated to indicate a fire in No2 engine, Zone2. I thus ordered fire
action No2 engine. The drill was carried out in accordance with the check list.
The fire bells did not stop ringing until about 15 seconds after the second
shot had been discharged. I transmitted a Mayday on the frequency (127.7) in
use and requested an immediate diversion to Gatwick.
3. Clearance was given for the diversion, and a descent to FL 130 direct to
Mayfield given. The No.1 Air-Hostess had heard the bells ringing, and had come
forward to see what the situation was. I informed her we had shut down No2 engine because of a fire-warning, and we were diverting to Gatwick. She asked if I wanted her to do anything especially - I said I did not. As far as I was concerned
we had had a fire and the 2nd shot had extinguished it. I gave the RT 'back'
to the first officer and then informed the pax we were diverting to Gatwick.
4. I knew some of the pax in the front seats must have heard the bells, so in
my P.A. I said the bells were nothing to worry about, and we would be down soon.
5. During the descent, the normal check list was completed for T.0.D., Approach
and Landing checks. I also downgraded the emergency to PAN.
6. At Mayfield, because of our height (FL90) we were given a right turn to
intercept the ILS, as No.1, for a priority landing r/w26. The three engined ILS
was flown without incident until about 8oo' (QFE) when the fire bells rang and
the lights illuminated again for the No.2 engine, Zone 2. My immediate thought
was, the fire has started up again, and I had no fire bottles to deal with it.
I wanted the aircraft on the ground ASAP and everybody out of it. I looked at
the fire-warning panel to see if it had spread from Zone 2 but there was no
warning light at Zone 1. I thought of interrupting the A.C. supply to break the
relay, but ruled it out considering the time I had to land the A/C and evacuate
if it was a real fire. I had to assume it was a real fire. The fire system had
behaved perfectly, as though there had been a fire and it had been extinguished
by the 2nd bottle.
7. I was not prepared to gamble that it was spurious by letting the bells ring
for what may have been another 40 seconds or more, before we could safely interrupt A.C. and perhaps prove it to be a false alarm. I therefore made the decision to evacuate the aircraft when clear of the runway. I informed the Nol A/H of this and told her to use only the Starboard chutes. I also made a PA to the pax to the same effect, and that they were to use the right hand chutes and follow the hostesses instructions.The full evacuation brief to the pax was not given by the No1 because of the time available.
8. Between telling the No1 and the pax my intentions, I asked the E/O to remove
the fuse controlling the bells. I found them distracting at this stage. As I
was not going to try interrupting the AC now, I considered removing the fuse to
stop the bells, safe.
9.The E/O had difficulty, in the time remaining before landing, in finding the
right fuse/s. We therefore landed (with the E/O strapped in) with the bells still
ringing. The overweight landing was smooth. The aircraft was cleared at the high speed turn-off, brought to a stop and the engines shut-down. Evacuation was then commenced.
10. I told the F/0 and the E/O to shut the aircraft down as best they could, and
left my seat to go back to the galley to help the A/H there. By the time I was
there pax were already sliding down the chute. Some were trying to leave with
handfuls of baggage; I relieved them of their baggage !
11. After checking the cabin was empty, I left the aircraft last.
12.To my knowledge nobody was injured using the chutes.
13. In conclusion, I feel I had no option but to regard the fire-warnings as real
and the crew performed their duties accordingly.
On reading this account of a most extraordinary happening, I did wonder the "odds" of this ever having happened to ANY other aviator, i.e. a double fire warning in the same engine - after a fire drill. The other thing was that the 'teaching' back then (21 years ago) was to get the aircraft clear of therunway !! Now of course you keep it on the runway, with the "burning" bit turned into wind if you can.
If you want to know what the First Officer (Bob Willson) and the Flight Engineer (Derrick O'Fee) wrote, you will have to drop John an email and ask........"what happened next"................hopefully
readers will be interested !!
This is "What happened next"
Some visitors have asked for the statements made by the First Officer and
the Engineer Officer, so without waiting here is what Bob Willson and
Derrick O'Fee had to say about the emergency....................
I hope they remember, for London Gatwick has not had an emergency evacuation like that since !
First Officer Bob Willson
Flight Engineer Derrick O'Fee
There were always times when passengers asked to come to see the pilot, and I was always willing to oblige if the situation was compatible.
On one occasion there was this little boy with his mum and they were asking all sorts of questions which we answered as simply as possible. To spice this little boys cockpit visit up a little, we told him that we had secret guns, just like a fighter plane...........this impressed him no end, even more than four coloured (blue, green, yellow, and red ) hydraulic systems !
As it happened, there was another airliner about 15 miles away, higher than us and crossing left to right, and it was "trailing" intermittently ( making a trail of fine ice crystals from its jet exhaust - the water component freezing in the -50 centigrade outside air).
At this stage the visitors had not noticed this aircraft, as it was quite difficult to see when it did not "trail".
The timing was quite good, for they spotted the other aircraft when it was pointed out to them.
I said do you want to fire the guns to the lad, and he said yes.......so I told him to hold the F/O control column at the top, look out of the window and see what happens, and press the top with your thumb.
In the meantime, we had colluded with the engineer to "test" the Stall Warning system, when the lad pressed the top of the column.........this of course shakes the stick, and adds to the action of pressing the "firing the guns".
He "fired the guns" and the stick shook in time with his trigger finger.......but nothing outside happened.
He tried again, this time a "long burst", and by chance the other aircraft "trailed"............the "trail" looks remarkably like smoke, and I'm afraid the little lad thought (with minor encouragement) he had hit the other machine and left the cockpit in a great hurry !! The mother knew it was all in fun, so at some stage the truth would come out in the wash.
Flying the comet
Off the top of my head, I hated the electrical system, as it was too complicated for my liking !
OK there was PL1 and PL2, but then it branched into PL 3 and 4 and 5 and 6 and then there was PE and PN and PZ to name but a few. Battery Bank 1 and Battery Bank 2 added to its mystery.
Six batteries that could be used, in Series, to produce 120 volts to start the engines. The No.6 battery used to supply indications of what the devil was going on during 'that' internal start.
Thank goodness for the flight engineer, who through his enormous panel could keep an eye on all those volts running around everywhere, not to mention all the other systems.
Once all the engines were started, it was a fine machine with POWER to spare. 10,500 lbs. static thrust each, was enough for business even on the shortest of runways with 119 passengers off to the sun.
It is sobering to think that my last aircraft, the B737- 400, had 23,500 lbs. coming out EACH engine, and could carry 150 passengers to boot. Oh how engines have changed. In the six years I flew the B737 with the CFM 56-3c engines, I NEVER had an airborne engine failure !
That is just fantastic, and I give my thanks to those engineers and designers of that engine for keeping me, and all my passengers, and crew, safe all those years.
Likewise with the Comet, in my 2550 hrs it did not too badly. A few "compressor stalls" and I think one double engine fire (proved false warning) was all that happened as far as I remember.
Landing on the shortest of runways was no problem either, with low approach speeds possible, and with the 80 degrees of flap available. The flap settings were, 20, 30, 40, 60 and 80.
Not all the flap 'ran' to 60 and not all flap ran to 80 !
The system was such that when you selected 60, the inners went to 40 and the outers went to 60. When you selected 80, the inners went to 80, and the outers stayed at 60. As you can imagine, if ALL the flap went to 80, the aircraft would come to a stop in mid-air !
Getting rid of the left over energy remaining in the brakes was made easier with the addition of Brake Cooling Fans. If you had landed at Athens and the OAT was say 35 centigrade, you had the luxury of these Cooling Fans. They ran at 11,000 rpm which was a fair lick, and made one hell of a screech - and with no thoughts of ear defenders way back then, it made your ears hum a little if you had to do a walk round with them "singing" in the background. It was also considered "rude" if you timed the switching on of these items, just as the F/O or the "Eng." had put his head near the wheels for look.
The size of the elevators was staggering, and of course they were very powerful in the lower levels, and indeed higher up. So much so we had to "change gear" in the climb so as to limit the movement of these great slabs. The change took place at an arbitrary 20,000 feet. We went from Course to Fine, which reduced full movement by 54%. This "change gear" operation took 22 seconds and did not upset the machines performance to any degree, nor cause any trim anguish to the pilots. On the descent, the same thing had to happen, but in reverse. Naturally in the simulator there were times when the mechanism "failed" and you had to do a "Fine Gear Landing" - if the session was a bad one, then that would be combined with a Flapless as well.............only a "real Comet pilot" would know what this meant !!!
Bryn here.........I thought you might like a little bit of Comet 'stuff' again ??
It's a flight from Gatwick to Frankfurt on a Comet and outlines what takes place.......you can use as much or as little as you want..............I have given permission for all of this 'stuff' to be used in a book about the Comet, so don't be surprised if you see it in a book in a year.......it's all my copyright........and you have my permission too for publication purposes.
The date is the 26th March 1979 and the time is 07.45; the place is Concorde House, Gatwick airport.
The traffic was light so I am 15 minutes early for the checking in time of 0800, for the 0900 departure to Frankfurt.
The crew-sheet shows me Carl Pallister is the First Officer, and Graham Swift is the Engineer Officer, that is the flight-deck team - the cabin crew are four in number and they too are all known to me.
I see that the names are all 'circled' denoting that they have all checked in too - that's good.
The girls (we did not have 'blokes' back then) check in 90 minutes before departure, and they are already out at the aircraft "doing the seat backs". The cabin crew always 'prepared' the cabin, unlike today's cabin crew who turn and it's all done for them.
I phone down to crewing and check-in with Pete, who tells me it is BDIF on stand 4, with 119 passengers both ways (full house) and the aircraft is fully serviceable, but there is a half -hour ATC delay - the "slot" is 0930. No problem, so it's off to see Carl and Graham at the flight planning tables in the other room, which is used by all the other airlines using this briefing centre.
Carl has already worked out the wind component ( by selecting three winds "up the climb" and taking an average, and then doing the same for the cruise, and for the descent too - it is a lot of work just to get the wind component, but with no computers or automatic print-outs, it's all done by hand). The scheduled times are 1.30, but with a slight tail wind, we may make up a little time if we can get some "direct routings" when airborne - but with the heavy air traffic on this route it is unlikely.
We agree that as it's a "tanking sector" (the fuel at destination is grossly expensive and we take as much as is reasonable ex-base) there is nothing preventing us from landing at close to the Max Landing Weight today (the destination cross wind is not a factor, nor is there any contaminant on the runway most likely to be in use, nor if we divert the aircraft will still be below MLW). So we calculate backwards from the Max Landing Weight of 54,450 kgs to arrive at a FOB figure (the fuel on board). I leave Carl and Graham with that, and pop down stairs to Ops to get the daily situation report.
The Ops is room is about 30 by 20 foot with Perspex boards covering every wall, all with data on them telling of the planned flying for today, from every station we operate out of, e.g. London Gatwick, Luton, Manchester, Aberdeen, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Cardiff, Bristol, Berlin etc etc etc.
Every fact is hand written and noted on these boards, from who the Captain is on every trip, down to the catering and is the H/F serviceable............delays are noted in RED and there is quite a few "reds" - all down to Air Traffic Control. There is not a computer in sight. John Dixon is the "Ops Controller" on shift and he gives me the low-down on what my aircraft is up to after we get back from Frankfurt - it's off to Tenerife 75 minutes after the scheduled arrival time of my flight, so we cannot afford to be late out of Frankfurt or the knock-on effect will begin to topple the whole programme.
By the time I get back up stairs Carl and Graham have decided on a fuel figure, that is totally acceptable to me too - Graham had decided to get an early shuttle bus that our agents run for us, so he is out at the aircraft as well. Carl and I ponder the mass of paperwork and notams along with the Special Dan Air briefing sheet that tells us all about this charter flight - who has 'hired' the aircraft, and the payload they have bought, the catering they want etc.
We toss the coin to see who flies India Fox out to Frankfurt, I win, so it's "my leg".
At the aircraft, it's the usual busy scene with catering, fuel and engineering trucks around the machine.
My first stop is in the cabin to say hello to the girls, and make sure they are all right, and that the cabin is ready for our passengers - it is. Now into the flight deck to see Graham and hear of any snags he has found on his "walk round" - he has found a cut in the number one tyre and asks me to have a look, we all go down and poke around, much to the amusement of Chris the ground engineer, who has already satisfied himself that the cut is minor and can be "carried". Better safe than sorry, and as luck would have it, the cut is indeed nothing more than minor damage from FOD on the airport (Foreign Object Damage).
It shows you what a good flight engineer can achieve - Graham was ex Royal Air Force and is much valued. In fact, the flight-deck crew today are all ex RAF. Most of the airlines pilots are ex-RAF. Some ex-Navy, but we don't talk about that !
It is schedule departure time minus 40 minutes, and even although there is a 30 minute ATC delay I want the passengers boarded as sometimes the "slot" can come forward.
The pre-flight checks are complete and it is a good time to talk about the departure, whilst the passengers are getting on board. Although we know each other, and have flown together many times, for safety sake, and for clarity of purpose, the "full briefing" is carried out.
"It's my take-off. This is a Comet 4c chaps in case you had not noticed................on this takeoff the First Officer and the Engineer Officer will monitor the instruments in accordance with standard procedures.
The F/O will call VeeOne, and Rotate.............In the event of a VITAL malfunction before VeeOne, the SHOUT STOP from ANY flight deck crew member will initiate the standard abandon T/O procedure.
AFTER VeeOne, the take-off will be continued, and any subsequent malfunctions should be nominated, but NOT acted upon until I call for the appropriate action. Understood chaps ? (Yes....)
Fire Warnings, accompanied by a bell, need NOT be nominated. Any questions so far ? (No).
As the air temperature is so low this morning, after each engine has stabilised on start up, introduce its own FULL ice protection Graham OK ? (yes). And after we complete the reverse thrust check we shall carry out a "HEAT SOAK" (4500 RPM for 2 minutes - giving protection for 8 minutes).
The taxi out is simple enough chaps, to runway 26. The runway is WET, but not sufficiently contaminated to use the "Nose Wheel Skimming" technique today. We shall have the Relight Over-ride ON for take-off....don't let us forget that Graham.......For the take-off put the engines at Intermediate and the Airframe icing OFF. At the First Power Reduction.....with ANY ICE WARNING LAMP ON........introduce FULL ICE PROTECTION Graham.....OK ? (yes). When the ICE light goes out, cancel ALL protection. Put ICE protection IN and OUT on your own initiative Graham if I miss the light....but just let me know you are doing so...OK ? (yes).
It will be a standard noise abatement departure, following the Dover SID, stopping at 3000' which is a safe altitude (we are all looking at the SID chart). Perhaps radar will take us off the SID track, so monitor the navigation everybody and keep us safe. The COMMS failure is as published on this page here.
Our departure Alternate is Bournemouth for operational convenience, as well as the suitable weather.
If you see anything you do not like chaps, just let me know - as you usually do !! If you are not sure about something say so, and we shall sort it out........any questions.....??? "
YES.......when are we getting a cup of tea ?
Ah........the flight deck has another occupant the "galley girl" with a nice cup of strong tea to get us all going................Chris has just delivered the "fuel chitty" and we agree the uplift tallies with FOB and what we all expected the fuel uplift to be. He too has been given a cup of tea. The passengers are all on board, and I give them my usual cheery welcome, and introduce all the crew to them. Most are Germans returning home, having used the special deal the Charterer, German Tourist Facilities, have negotiated with the Dan Air Commercial Department.
ATC have revised the "slot" time to 09.15, so things are looking up.........that's 15 minutes "rescued".
The taxi out is normal, and all the aids have been identified, so we "circle" the aid identifier on the VITAL DATA CARD in front of us (kept in place by a clip). For those who don't know about this card, it has the T/O weight, the QNH and Transition Altitude on it, along with the RED (left) VOR and NDB, and the GREEN (right) VOR and NDB details.
It also has the VeeOne speed, Rotate and the VeeTwo speed. Today we have calculated the weight for take off to be 58 tonnes and the speeds are, 103 (wet VeeOne = Rotate speed minus 10), 113, 129 and the Flaps Up Safety Speed is 138. The Max.Gradient Speed is 202. If we encounter turbulence the best speed is 213kts. These are all noted on the Vital Data Card and double checked.
Take off and initial routing is all to plan, but ATC give us radar headings before reaching Dover, to keep us clear of slower climbing traffic..........we are after all a Comet, with at least 3000' per minute climb available, with our engines turning at 7650rpm and moving forward at 300 knots ground speed, so we are the fastest traffic ATC has just now. We are on our "own Navigation" now talking to Maastrich.
The auto-pilot is engaged, and the Smiths Flight System is behaving itself as we climb. At 20,000 feet we change the elevator gear to "FINE" which limits the travel by 54% so limiting the power of these massive elevators. The indicator is watched carefully to make sure this transition is made without a hitch, the needle indicate "FINE GEAR" after 22 seconds. Flight Level 290 is reached in 12 minutes.
The next VOR after Dover is Koksy, so it is tuned and identified on No.2 VOR (GREEN) with the inbound radial selected in the OBS (Omni Bearing Selector). Half way across the channel we swop to the GREEN VOR and then re-tune the RED one to Koksy as well, as a back up. As we get near the overhead, we select the outbound radial from Koksy and gently swing onto the required heading to maintain the track. There is no drift read out from any instrument, so we must calculate/guestimate the drift; a bit of trail and error unless you let the SFS "lock on" to the required radial (which can sometimes cause the aircraft to "hunt" a little whilst it settles on track).
The climb and cruise checks are all complete, and Graham is filling out his mighty tech progress flight log. There are about 70 entries to be made in this; all the engine parameters, fuel flow/oil pressures/temps/weight/estimated fuel overhead destination. He has his head down a lot just now - monitoring his huge engine/systems panel, whilst myself and Carl are navigating and talking to ATC about getting direct routings to Sprimont or even better, Nattenheim. They cannot oblige, so its standard airways and tuning one VOR to the "one ahead" and the other to the next farther on (if it's not too far). We are busy too, for each "nav" change has to be double checked and identified by both of us before we can "use" that aid. Carl in between times is checking the en-route weathers, just in case we have to divert for some ghastly reason.
The flight is progressing well and is in clear, clean air at 29,000 feet, and by self timing how far we have covered in three minutes, we know the ground speed is 7 miles per minute, and Carl's tailwind of 15kts is spot on.
Although we shall cruise at 35,000 feet on the way back to Gatwick, and the wind is a bit stronger there, we shall use minus 25 kts as the wind component for the way home. As its Carl's leg back home he starts calculating what fuel is required, and adds a suitable amount for the unexpected. We agree on a figure and tell Graham to radio our agent in Frankfurt with the figures. This is done, and as we are now about 130 miles from destination and Carl has obtained the Frankfurt weather from the VOLMET (we shall obtain the latest ATIS when we are a bit closer).
It all points to a radar vectored approach, to the ILS on runway 25.
The time is ripe for a landing briefing, as it ties in with a minor lull in all our activities. So it's heads down again with the STAR (depicting the arrival route) and the ILS approach chart showing all we need to know about R/W 25 at Frankfurt.
We are all happy with my proposals for the descent - even expecting FL90 at Rudesheim - the intermediate approach and the ILS for landing, and even where we shall park, and how we shall get there. The diversion and comms failure procedure is not really on the cards, but is covered, "just in case".
The passengers are enjoying the silk smooth ride and the views of their homeland, there is not even a ripple in their coffee as the engines are made to turn at exactly the same speed by using the magic "Synch" engine control developed by Rolls Royce. Simply put, you select the cruise RPM you need for the range speed (for weight) on No.2 engine, select No2 on the large "Synch" switch on the forward face of the engine panel and the other engines "slave" to that engine RPM. Thanks to the likes of Alf Packham Rolls Royce, such things make this aircraft a most desirable machine to fly in.
I have time to have another quick PA to let the passengers know we shall, subject to ATC arrive 5 minutes late at the gate. The odds look good for a quick turn round as Graham gives me the news that the agent has all the passengers checked-in already. The efficiency of the Germans is not a myth after all.
ATC come up with a descent clearance that ties in with the briefing, the aircraft descends nicely using the auto-pilot and at 20,000 we change gear from "FINE" back into "COURSE" for the landing - we watch the needle move gently and smoothly for another 22 seconds as the 'change' takes place - we would not want to be faced with a "FINE GEAR LANDING" (in the simulator it is bad enough, on "the line" it really would be most unwelcome).
We cross over the Rudisheim NDB exactly at FL90 - the red and the green ADF needles fall sharply on station passage showing a perfect "on top". These are shown on a separate RMI than the VOR needles, so there is quite a lot of "instrument scan" going on to keep the 'mental picture' of where the aircraft is in relation to the airfield, and more importantly high ground.
ATC pass us radar position checks, but we always take them with a little pinch of salt just in case the aircraft he has watched is NOT us, yet he thinks it is us. "Safe height, Safe Heading" is one of my favourite sayings, and accompanies anything ATC instruct us to do in that department !
The decent rate was increased to 3500' a minute for the last three minutes but ATC allow us to keep the speed up, keeping us number one in traffic, having overtaken a few slower machines in the process. Graham had to work a little bit harder on the manual pressurisation to keep us from "catching the cabin up" but nobody notices anything affecting their ears as we level off and slow down for the radar positioning, West of the field, for a right hand base turn onto the ILS.
The city slips by quietly as we have managed the massive kinetic energy in a near perfect descent to the point where we start "dirtying" the machine up for landing. First the flaps go out to 20, then the gear comes down with its usual thump - three greens and the "mechanical indicators" confirm they do not tell a lie. More and more flap is selected as we slide down the ILS as quietly as we can, for the Germans are a little noise sensitive, and it would not do to select 80 degree of flap too early, and have to counter the drag with a huge amount of power. Only the inner section of flap goes to 80, the outers remain at 60 degrees - which is perfectly reasonable, as a whole rear wing dangling at 80 degrees would be too much to cope with. All the aids had been identified by us all before we used them, and we can monitor the approach in all aspects - the chat from the Top of Descent to the landing has been nothing other than "operational" stuff, for there is plenty of time to catch up with the gossip on stand, over a nice hot lunch, as cooked in our ovens.
As we are below Maximum Landing Weight, we had selected the speeds for 40 flap, and 60 flap from our airplane charts as 134, 124 and as a speed "over the hedge" (Vat) 119kts.
The speeds are fine, for the aircraft is stable as a rock and the landing smooth, not too smooth for the runway is wet and we do not want to "burn" the tyres with a "greaser" - which could easily lead to viscous aquaplaning and perhaps MORE writing !!
On stand the aircraft is shut down, and the brake cooling fans switched on to help dissipate the heat from the tyres and brakes units. Farewells are said on the PA and when the passengers are all off, we leave the flight deck for a chat with the girls again.
We have a small break for lunch, then whole things starts again - it looks good for an on-time arrival back at Gatwick, so Carl is making ready to be the Captain.
Not long after that flight, he was on his Command Conversion Course - another happy ending.
Copyright © 1999 by Bryn Wyat. No content of this page, whatsoever, may be used without the express written consent of the author.