Reality imitates art: US Airways Flight and the novel ‘Captain’
Reality Imitates Art: US Airways Flight and the novel Captain
In a display of reality imitating art, on May 8, 2012, a US Airways flight from Dublin to Charlotte (Flight 725), using a Boeing 757, was at just about the middle of the North Atlantic ocean crossing when the aircraft’s right engine unexpectedly went into a full overspeed condition – and beyond! Because of all that extra and unwanted engine power, the aircraft’s airspeed immediately jumped to a high number (.84 mach) and would have continued increasing beyond the aircraft’s acceptable limits except that the Captain managed to shut down that now-uncontrollable engine. As the report indicated, the flight at that moment was on “Track C at Flight Level 360, 10 miles East of 50N 040W. The time was 12:31z (8:31 am EDT).”
(File Photo, US Airways Boeing 757)
Here is more from that pilot’s report:
“The right engine surged and quickly accelerated to a runaway condition. The N1 (engine rpm) was now at approx 111% and the EGT (engine core temperature) was now at the redline. The aircraft quickly accelerated to.84 Mach when I took control of the aircraft, disconnected the auto throttles and retarded the right engine to idle in an attempt to control the runaway. It did not respond. At that time I also retarded the left engine to almost idle to slow the aircraft before our airspeed got any higher. No matter what I did with the right engine’s throttle, the N1 (engine rpm) was still at 111% and the other engine parameters were definitely in a full overspeed/over-boost condition.”
(Here is a photo of the aircraft’s engine instruments, just before the engine shutdown. The left engine – the good one – was back at idle power because of the high airspeed, while the right engine – the runaway engine – was showing that it was beyond full certified power)
The captain, who was now concerned with the possibility of explosive damage, shut down the runaway engine, declared an emergency with Gander Radio, and descended to FL 270 (a lower altitude) while turning the aircraft off-route and directly toward Gander, Newfoundland. The flight to Gander – with only the left engine running – was 590 miles. The weather in Gander was good, and the subsequent landing was routine.
(Flight computer showing distance to Gander)
(Arrival at Gander for US Airways 725)
The Captain later stated, “The entire crew worked and coordinated their efforts extremely well during this event and while it is certainly not a routine event, it played out as a “non-event”. It speaks volumes to the quality of our personnel and of our training.”
The culprit was discovered to be the right engine fuel control governor. The aircraft was three days out of C (maintenance) check. Airline mechanics flew up to Gander and the aircraft was fixed by the next day.
It appears as if this Dublin to Charlotte flight was attempting to emulate some of the ‘fictional’ conditions that occurred onboard Trans-Continental Flight 3 from Rome, Italy to New York in Thomas Block’s novel Captain! Lucky for the passengers and crew on that real US Airways flight that they were only experiencing one of the problems that those who were onboard Captain’s Flight 3 were forced to deal with!