Today's listener mail comes from the West Coast and was sent in by our friend Ron of RightSeatFlying.com. Ron share's his story of a broken throttle cable that caused him to make an emergency landing in San Jose, CA.
As we were exchanging emails with him, we found out he later had a mixture control cable break on him as well. Two different flights, one common clue. Read more to learn what Ron believes is the dead giveaway to an impending cable failure!
I had more of an emergency landing with a twist. To set the stage when I started the flight the throttle in the Warrior we were flying was rather stiff. It was a friends plane and I got to fly it a lot as the part-owner wasn't a pilot. So it took two hands to rotate the throttle back and forth and it loosened up after a bit. Yes, I ignored that big clue!
So the flight goes fine for an hour or so and we come back to our departure airport, I do a few landings for some practice and as I'm turning to downwind and reducing power the throttle cable breaks. Fortunately it stayed in the full power position.
I declare an emergency and continue climbing while I have power to do so. The airport was KRHV (Reid-Hillview Airport of Santa Clara County, CA) and the runway is about 3,000 feet long. However, I was a newish private pilot with about 100 hours or less and I wanted more options. So I went over to KSJC (San Jose International Airport, CA) and, even though it was the Monday night of a closing holiday weekend, I shut them down and the airliners scattered and I got the big 9,000 foot runway (or so it was back then).
After climbing up to about 5,000 feet so I can make the 6 mile flight over safely, I pulled the mixture to kill the engine and deadsticked it in. The controller asked while I was on short final if I would please make the high speed taxiway so they can get the airliners in. I said I'd try.
As I flared the prop stopped windmilling and we were committed but I made sure we were going to land a little long as that was the point of going there to not have to put it on the numbers and then find myself short a little. So we touched down and the high speed taxiway is coming up and I make it and coast off the runway and past the yellow lines and tell the tower were are safe and we need a tow.
A police car came out to meet us and I don't think we got the fire trucks at all. After giving a statement that was it. No other paperwork or repercussions from declaring the emergency.
And here was our reply:
Wild story! To be honest, I don’t know if a stiff throttle would have been a big enough clue for me to consider a pending cable issue. Obviously it’s easy to see the relationship after it broke, but that’s an interesting point that perhaps truly was indicative of a cable issue. Did you ever ask a mechanic if that is a typical clue in such a malfunction?
You were definitely fortunate to find yourself with full power versus the other way around. I’ve often though what I would do if I wasn’t able to regulate or reduce the throttle for landing and all I can come up with was what you did, pulling the mixture. Although, I’m honestly curious if you can manipulate the power setting enough through minor mixture reductions to slow the engine and still keep it running down final.
It would be an interesting experiment in a simulator to reduce the mixture as if you were reducing the throttle to slow the engine before flare and full mixture cutoff.
And then we learned this wasn't the first time Ron has experienced a broken cable. In his followup response, he explains the second time he experienced a broken engine control cable.
To prove that lightning does strike twice, a few years ago a friend and I were flying to KOSH (Oshkosh, WI) in a Mooney. Departing KPAO (Palo Alto, CA) my friend was flying the rented Mooney and during the prop cycle said the prop [lever] seems stiff. He was referring to the same push-pull on the cable. All seemed fine and we flew to KWYS (West Yellowstone, MT) 5 hours away for our first stop.
I flew the second leg leaving KWYS and during the runup and prop cycle the rpm’s never came back up. We could never get it above 2,000 rpm at full power. [We] Taxi back and shut down and called a mechanic. 2 hours later, as he had to be called from Billings, he pops the cowl and we start it up and he sprays lube on the cable. As I cycle it many times the prop never really goes to flat pitch. After cycling it 15-20 times the cable sheared off at the end of the blue knob and I pulled it all the way out. I raised it to show him the BLUE and he finally understood. [I] Shutdown and he wired it to flat pitch and we went on our way with a mostly fixed pitch prop except in descents.
So the moral is a stiff cable is something indicative of impending failure. I even have that part on audio as my buddy says the prop is stiff. Kinda ominous to go back and hear that.
So there you have it! Moral of the story is a stiff engine control is very likely the onset of an impending cable malfunction. Hopefully these stories have helped educate you of the possibilities of losing engine control and how to cope with it.
Have you ever experienced an incident like this? Leave us your stories and comments below!