‘Looks like we lost the other one’

There's no emergency drill for a double engine failure in a Cessna Citation II. So, private charter pilots Bruce Monnier and Jerry Downs had to invent their own – one and a half miles up Words: Mike Stones

Contaminated fuel turned the Cessna Citation II business jet into a very low performance glider. Fortunately, captain Bruce Monnier had rehearsed a double engine failure weeks earlier during a simulator session.

‘Looks like we lost the other one’

There's no emergency drill for a double engine failure in a Cessna Citation II. So, private charter pilots Bruce Monnier and Jerry Downs had to invent their own – one and a half miles up Words: Mike Stones

Contaminated fuel turned the Cessna Citation II business jet into a very low performance glider. Fortunately, captain Bruce Monnier had rehearsed a double engine failure weeks earlier during a simulator session.

“WELL JERRY, LOOKS like we lost another one.” Just eight words from pilot-in-command Bruce Monnier let second-in-command Jerry Downs know the scale of the challenge they faced: a double engine failure in a Cessna Citation II business jet at 8,500ft.

The problem had started slowly, innocently, almost imperceptibly, 20 minutes before. They were flying off Florida’s east coast on a medevac mission for private charter company Air Trek, based in Punta Gorda, near Fort Myers on the Sunshine State’s western coast. Seven souls were aboard the Citation – call sign N744AT – that May morning in 2019: the two pilots, the patient, his wife and daughter plus two paramedics.

“We were just off the continental US, 35 miles north east of Savannah, on a direct line to New York,” remembers Downs. The number one engine fan speed kept fluctuating annoyingly. Monnier set and reset without any return to stability. Finally, he pulled the throttle back to reset once more. But instead of fluctuating, the fan speed wound down.

“At the time, we didn’t think there was going to be any problem,” said Downs. “Any time we do a check ride, most times it includes one engine work, so it’s a non-event. But it got interesting later.”

After a quick radio call, the pilots ran through the single-engine failure check list. Then, after a brief discussion, they opted to turn south west, back over land, routing to Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport, with which they were both familiar. The “interesting part” came a few minutes later.

Without warning, at 8,500ft the second engine stopped. Amid the eerie quietness, the 15,000lb (6.849kg) business jet suddenly transformed into a very low performance glider.

As the second engine spooled down, pilot-in-command Monnier’s laconic remark was: “Well, Jerry, it looks like we lost another one.” After trimming the jet for its best glide speed, it was now time for what Downs describes as “jungle or gorilla math”. Both pilots began intensive mental arithmetic to calculate the glide range of their now powerless Cessna Citation II from 8,000ft.

“I looked for the two engine-out [failure] procedure. But there is no dual engine failure check list on that model of Citation. So, we had to decide what to do ourselves.”

“I calculated we were descending at 1,000ft a minute, flying at 160 knots [184 miles per hour],” said Downs. “We were about 13 miles from the airport and it looked like we had a range of 21 miles – if we didn’t screw it up.” Monnier’s maths agreed with Downs’ estimate.

Vital factors now came into play, which helped to turn potential tragedy into a successful deadstick landing. So successful it was, many have compared the pilots’ achievement to the “Miracle on the Hudson”, when an Airbus A320, piloted by captain Sully Sullenberger, ditched in the Hudson River off Midtown Manhattan without loss of life.

Weeks earlier, Monnier had asked to rehearse this very procedure – double engine flame out – during spare time at the end of his simulator session. Also, Downs, like his more famous counterpart Sullenberger, is a high-hour glider pilot.

“Bruce had some extra time at the end of his last simulator flight check. So, he asked to do a double engine failure to see how it flew. And, as we were going down, his comment was: ‘Hey, this is just like the simulator.’”

In the hot seats: (Top) Bruce Monnier, pilot-in-command, and Jerry Downs.

“All we had was a peanut attitude indicator. That was not a good feeling.”

As if things were not challenging enough, next the Citation lost all electrical power after the plane entered the undercast at 6,000ft. “So, we were flying IFR [Instrument Flight Rules or blind flying] and all we had was ‘a peanut attitude’ indicator [to gauge the aircraft’s orientation]. That was not a good feeling.”

Monnier reset the battery to restore the plane’s electrical system. But would the disruption affect the pilots’ ability to deploy the plane’s landing gear and flaps – essential to steepen the descent and to land in the shortest distance possible? They were about to find out.

The Citation was now just 10 degrees off the runway heading of 190 degrees. They decided to lower the landing gear, which normally takes three to four seconds before three green lights confirm it is down and locked. This time it took 16 seconds before the final green light winked on.

Next came the critical decision about when to deploy the flaps (hinged panels on the trailing edge of both wings). Lower them too soon and the added drag would force the plane to land short of the runway. Too late and the plane may overshoot the runway.

The 68-year-old Downs said long hours spent in a glider cockpit as a pilot and instructor helped. “The glider experience helped me, because after more jungle math, I knew we needed to be a mile from the airport at 1,000ft, if we were going to make the runway.

“We just hit the runway – touching down on the all-weather marks at the very top of the runway,” recalls Downs. “Bruce said: ‘We should have waited on the flaps a little longer. But I replied: ‘Bruce, we are on the ground, I’m not going to fuss.’”

Downs is full of praise for his captain’s coolness in managing the situation and the training they both received at Air Trek. “Bruce did a fine job flying the airplane and did a nice job on landing. We have both been trained in the same way, so there were no surprises about who was going to do what.”

Meanwhile, during the wait for a tow to the airport terminal and after debriefing their passengers and alerting Air Trek of their safe landing, Monnier nonchalantly munched an apple.

Why the engines failed

Both engines failed because during refuelling by FBO staff, diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) was wrongly introduced into the fuel tanks. Colourless and odourless, the DEF is used to reduce air pollution created by diesel engines.

DEF is injected into vehicles’ exhaust to cut nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions and its use on airport grounds is mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) are calling for the removal of DEF from airports.

Doug Carr, NBAA vice president of regulatory and international affairs, said: “There’s no reason for DEF to be on airports other than to support diesel-powered vehicles. The risk to aviation safety is substantial enough to support the case for getting it off the airport.”

A second Air Trek Cessna Citation II had its fuel contaminated with DEF on the same day. This aircraft lost one engine on a flight to Chicago and was forced to divert to an alternative airport. No one was injured in either incident but both aircraft had to be written off.

Industry verdict

Wayne A. Carr of Air Trek.

Wayne A. Carr: ‘It’s a remarkable achievement’

Wayne A. Carr, co-founder and chief pilot of air ambulance and private charter firm Air Trek, says: “It’s a remarkable achievement for these guys [Bruce Monnier and Jerry Downs]. It rates right up there with Sully Sullenberger and the Miracle on the Hudson.”

Carr particularly praised the pilots’ performance in handling the disabled aircraft. “Making it back to the airport and making all those calculations, it takes a lot of experience and knowledge of the aircraft’s performance to accomplish that.”

Air Trek’s training programme equipped the pilots with the skills they needed to respond so well under pressure, he says. Aside from two check rides a year, both featuring engine-out performance, Carr thinks Downs’ glider experience played a key role. “Jerry is a glider instructor, as am I. And I train drag management, instead of the use of power, to compensate for your lack of ability to judge where the airplane is going during an engine failure. That was, in my estimation, the key to their success.”

Carr is also full of praise for Monnier’s handling of the situation. “Bruce remained cool all the way down. As pilot-in-command, he had the last word. He managed to pilot the aircraft and he took counsel from his second-in-command and they played it out successfully.”

Richard McSpadden, AOPA.

AOPA: ‘I’m going to get my glider licence’

Richard McSpadden, executive director of Aircraft Owners & Pilots Association (AOPA) rates the Air Trek pilots’ achievement as “10 out of 10” and resolves to get his glider licence.

“They lost all thrust to both engines and yet there were no injuries and no damage to the plane from their handling of it,” McSpadden told Corporate Jet Investor. “The pilots made a perfect recovery. Few problems are that demanding and few end that successfully.”

The number of people praising the value of glider experience has even prompted McSpadden to swap some of his Super Cub flying time for glider stick time this summer. “I’ve always wanted to get my glider licence. If Jerry Downs and Sully Sullenberger are saying it is so valuable, it seems like a good skill to master,” says the former US Air Force F-15 Eagle pilot and commander of the Thunderbirds display team.

McSpadden also praises the role of simulators and highlights the need to remove diesel exhaust fluid (DEF) from airports. “Simulator training is, of course, really valuable. It allows you to try scenarios and work through the mechanics of handling an emergency. So, when the time comes, you are ready to respond.”

He also believes DEF has no place on airports. “We need to take DEF out of the equation by removing it from airports.”

NBAA: ‘We make a point to recognise excellence in business aviation’

The National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) was so impressed with the Air Trek pilots’ achievement, it awarded them its first NBAA Above and Beyond Airmanship Award, in recognition of their professionalism and bravery. “There are not a lot of situations where we see complete loss of engine power all the way to the ground and everyone walking away from the incident,” says Mark Larson, NBAA, senior manager, Safety and Flight Operations. “We think this is a very substantial achievement.”

Doug Carr, NBAA vice president of regulatory and international affairs, said: “Dual engine failures are not something pilots are normally trained to manage. The multi-engine rating is designed to train pilots to manage losing one engine. But any situation resulting in the failure of both engines is not out of the book from which you were trained. Then, you start relying on years of flying experience.”

The pilots’ calmness under extreme pressure played a key role in averting tragedy, according to Larson. “One thing that is really critical is to keep that calmness in order to keep that mental band width open. They were able to think through the situation and to use their training, experience and tools at their disposal to land the flight safely.”

Shem Malmquist, Florida IoT.

Meredith Carroll, Florida IoT.

College of Aeronautics: Florida Institute of Technology

Pilot-in-Command Bruce Monnier’s request to practice a double engine failure in the simulator was highlighted by Shem Malmquist, visiting professor at the College of Aeronautics, Florida Institute of Technology (IoT).

It is always a good idea to practice ‘off script’ in-flight emergencies during any spare time at the end of a simulator session, said Malmquist. He is very well-placed to judge as a 15,000-hour plus pilot, a qualified B-777 captain and an accident investigator and safety researcher. “I think there is a percentage of pilots who do that. But I don’t think it is as many as it should be.”

Rian Mehta, assistant professor, Aviation Human Factors, at the College of Aeronautics, added: “Pilots are trained to improvise. But you can’t train for any combination of emergencies.” Faced with an in-flight emergency, pilot training teaches you deal with stress. “That’s when training kicks in with the stress inoculation all pilots are taught from their earliest training flights.” It is not a single procedure but a mindset of how to deal with stress in any situation. “Pilots are taught how to think on their feet and how to find the most optimal solution to any problem,” said Mehta.

“You can't train for any combination of emergencies.”

Meredith Carroll, associate professor of Aviation Human Factors at the college, said some airlines are beginning to consider how they can prepare their pilots to deal with stress more effectively. Carroll has constructed research with the US military on stress training techniques. In one example, service members were asked to perform difficult mental calculations or to make a high-stakes presentation immediately before their simulator session to provide an opportunity to perform under stress.

Malmquist says cockpit effective communication is vital in any emergency. The crew on the flight deck must be able to communicate efficiently and co-pilots must be prepared to question their captain’s decisions. “It’s a tough problem to teach people how to speak up when they suspect something is wrong – especially against authority,” said Malmquist.

The problem arises from the “power distance” between the cockpit crew, which is particularly pronounced in some Eastern cultures, according to Mehta. Born in India, Mehta is fascinated by idea of “power distance” and its ability to spark potentially fatal aviation accidents.

“There are a lot of accidents you will see in the East where the co-pilot knew something was wrong but, for fear of retribution, was unable to say so.”

Communication was strong that May morning aboard the Cessna Citation II. It proved decisive in helping captain Bruce Monnier and co-pilot Jerry Downs bring N744AT down to a safe, if somewhat, unexpected, landing in Savannah.

Mike Stones, Group editor, Corporate Jet Investor

Mike Stones, Group editor, Corporate Jet Investor