Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login

My father did this at least once (maybe a couple of times?) in the 90s, ferrying twin engine aircraft to the newly formed Czech Republic. This was, as I understand it, to establish the first commuter airline in the country.

Long story short, halfway between the East Coast and Iceland one, and then both, engines cut out. They had just a couple of minutes to figure out what had gone wrong before they ditched. And given the temp of the water that was very likely to be a death sentence.

With less than 10k feet to go, they noticed the fuel tanks in the back were buckled inward. They weren't vented properly. A pocket knife solved the problem and a few seconds later the engines restarted.

SOP for ferrying a small plane across the Atlantic is to install "external" fuel tanks in the space normally used for passengers. Whoever installed them in Maine didn't vent them.

The punchline was that he and his copilot were (at the time) both smokers. After that ordeal, they both wanted nothing more than to light up. But the cabin was full of gas fumes, so lighting a lighter was likely to blow up the airplane.


Oddly enough, I just talked to my father for the first time in years. It's amazing how faulty memory narrates.

It was a Cessna 421 and the tanks were vented, but the vents had frozen over because of a heater failure. The temp was 42F below zero. They didn't puncture the tanks, just unscrewed the caps.

The craziest part, which I had forgotten, wasn't the problem with smoking. Their nav equipment had failed after the engines quit. They had to dead reckon to Iceland. They were much closer than halfway, but were still navigating blind.

Needless to say they sighted Iceland and found the airport.

Dead reckoning needed probably because they lost vacuum and gyro power to instruments, which then spin down and float randomly if there’s no battery backup

Inertial Navigation System... a mechanical system which maintains position by double integrating acceleration, which means infinitesimal errors grow to dominate over time, and so need to be recalibrated often.

    a, v0 maybe vectors; x maybe a point insead of a number
    x(t) = a(t)*t^2 + v0*t + x0

Modern human-portable INSes for adventuring/surveying use laser ring gyros, and GPS when available.

Your formula only works for constant acceleration.

> [Edit]

What is interesting is that given that I read HN for both knowledge and entertainment the edit didn't even matter. The story was still interesting even if the facts were off.

I'm glad he made a followup instead of editing the original. The two together make up a fantastic whole.

>Their nav equipment had failed after the engines quit. They had to dead reckon to Iceland.

I had read about dead reckoning as a kid in some book, but forgot or didn't know what it meant. Looked it up:


Both that and the related idea of inertial navigation systems are interesting:


Dead reckoning was also infamously the reason why Allied bombs accidentally hit Prague instead of Dresden in World Ward II.


This was all very interesting, thank you. But the first time in years? That story is begging to be told. As you walk by the bank of pay phones, you will hear them all ring, one after another, until you tell that story.

Talk to your father more. You’ll most likely regret not doing so when he’s gone.

Strange comment, when you have zero information about their relationship.

This does not necessarily applies to all. My father died last year. We were never close. I don’t even think we’ve ever talked besides absolutely necessity.

I've often noticed this exchange on HN.

Someone well-meaning recommends someone to cherish their parent(s) and maintain contact with them, and gets checked by people telling them that not all parent-child relationships and interactions are pleasant or desired.

Are many people here estranged from their parents?

I too have seen my biological father barely 10 times in my entire life, but I have had other father figures in my life, uncles and aunts and other adults that raised me and guided me, and regrettably passed away too soon because I could pay them back, or even show them my appreciation enough.

There are still people from my childhood who still help me and whom I wish I could get along with, but there is also a lot of friction between us and I regret that, because they are at the end of their lifespans and I would like to part on a better note if possible.

People only live once and there is never anyone else exactly like someone. Even if you despise your close relations on a personal level, in the interest of "science" I think you could still try to gain their insights and record their experiences, document their history, before they cease to exist. Especially if you are the best or only person in the position to do that.

The fact that losing engine power would be a death sentence in the first place disturbs me. Is there not enough room on board for survival equipment like an inflatable raft?

The water in the north Atlantic is usually fairly rough so it would be challenging just to accomplish a controlled ditching, never mind deploying an inflatable raft. The water is so cold that you'll be disabled within a few minutes unless you're already in a survival suit.

The pilot in the article did bring a raft + survival suit, and apparently knows of pilots that survived a ditching:

"If you do end up in the water, the important thing is to get into your life raft but also I have a thick neoprene survival suit, which completely encloses the body and you've probably got a few hours survival in that."

He knows of other ferry pilots who have landed in the sea and survived, but admits it's not something he cares to dwell on.

Even a survival suit won't help if you aren't found quickly.

If you ditch over the ocean in any plane, you’re probably dead no matter what. There’s a reason we overengineer planes.

>"With less than 10k feet to go, they noticed the fuel tanks in the back were buckled inward."

I'm confused what altitude were they at then that they had only 10K feet left? From the article:

>"Because most small light aircraft are unpressurised, it's not advisable to fly above 10,000ft."

I once was in a Cessna 206 on a flight plan that took us up to 17,000 ft. You can fly that altitude fine, as long as you have supplemental oxygen (via a cannula in our case).

We took off at about 3AM, and I fell asleep immediately. Woke up somewhere well above 10K, dizzy as hell and realized what I'd done. I put in the cannula and the dizziness left within a few minutes iirc.

Your parent mentioned these were planes for a commuter airline. So they were probably pressurized.

That's what I thought maybe as well but with a commuter airline plane could you fix a problem with the fuel takes with a pocket knife? The OP stated:

>"they noticed the fuel tanks in the back were buckled inward. They weren't vented properly. A pocket knife solved the problem"

This males me think it was something much smaller that would have fuel takes within arms reach or not much further away.

Op clarified it was a Cessna 421, so indeed pressurized. When these are ferried they put fuel tanks inside the cabin (these are called ferry tanks unsurprisingly), so they were indeed within arms reach.

Yeah I didn't see his edit until after I posted that. I've actually been on one these as part of a commercial "island hopper" flight. Cheers.

10000 feet is quite a lot from a pilot's perspective. In a glider, this is at least 50 minutes assuming a 200fpm minimum sink rate in stable clear air (no thermals), and in an airplane with a far less efficient wing it might be around 10 minutes (a decent rate of 1000fpm).

10 minutes sounds awfully short if you're on your way to ditch in ice cold water, and you have no idea why all your engines have stopped. :)

Primary training is done around 1500-3000 feet above ground, so you're expected to go through your troubleshooting checklist in less than a minute. If the engine failure is on takeoff or approach to land, which is the most common phase of flight for engine failure, you have tens of seconds for troubleshooting because you must leave spare time to get configured for an emergency landing. (CFII in a previous epoch.)

A Lance or Saratoga tend to sink at 1400fpm best glide. There are many other planes that fly as well as bricks without power.

Without supplemental oxygen. If they were much higher than that, they were probably breathing some sort of oxygen system.

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact