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Pope medevac C-130 crew overcomes double engine failure in AOR

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Chris Hoyler
  • 43rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
A C-130 pilot could fly more than 5,000 hours in their career and more than 4,800 in the Hercules, yet still go an entire career without ever having to fly with something as catastrophic as double engine failure. 

Prior to March 19, 2008, that was the case for Lt. Col. Brian Jurkovac, 43rd Operations Group. Colonel Jurkovac is currently serving in support of the Global War on Terror, and that day he was on-board an aeromedical evacuation mission with other Pope Airmen originating out of an air base in Southwest Asia. 

The night was relatively uneventful, with the first four of five missions going as planned. But in the early stages of the last mission, which included four ambulatory patients and one patient being transported for surgery on their leg following a gunshot wound, a major engine malfunction was discovered. 

The problem was first noticed on engine No. 2, when the flight engineer noticed oil being lost at a rapid rate. It was so bad that it went from approximately 7.5 gallons at takeoff to 2 gallons in several minutes. The pilot, Capt. Steve Cheek, 43rd Operations Support Squadron, was forced to start engine shutdown procedures. Unfortunately for the crew, the problems were not fixed by the engine shutdown. 

"99 percent of the time an in-flight emergency is handled by shutting down an engine and landing as soon as possible," Captain Cheek said. "Due to the nature of this aeromedical evacuation mission though, we continued flying after shutting an engine down and had a situation where another engine malfunctioned after another hour of flying." 

The failure of engine No. 3 became apparent when the flight engineer noticed the engine rotation rate was at 102.5 percent, above the normal operating range of 98 to 102 percent. Over the next 30 minutes, the rotations were at 104 percent, and tests confirmed the problem was a pitch-locked prep, something Captain Cheek said he never faced. He attempted twice to break the pitch-lock by changing airspeed, but it didn't work. 

Prior to the discovery of the problem on engine No. 3, the crew discussed re-routing but the flight, but Captain Cheek determined that it would be best to continue to the original destination due to the medical care available for the patients on board, specfically the one with the gunshot wound. 

"With that patient on board we determined that with only one engine shutdown, our plane could still meet the required performance to get us back to our destination and complete our mission," Captain Cheek said. "The second engine did not start to malfunction until later. 

"Had it malfunctioned earlier we would have had no choice but to return to (the air base we took off from) or another suitable field in the vicinity. The plane simply would not have been able to climb to altitude and egress the combat area." 

With the decision made to complete the mission and engine No. 3 experiencing major problems, the plan was to fly within 30 miles of the airfield and shut engine No. 3 down. At that point, the crew was operating with two blown engines, and a complete failure of the autopilot, radar, and No. 1 compass system. 

"While I have shutdown engines inflight before, and regularly operate aircraft that have certain degraded capabilities, I have never faced such a compounded emergency before," Captain Cheek said. "We all joked later that the flight was like a simulator ride. Crews are given all kinds of compound emergencies during simulators to prepare us for situations like this." 

Fortunately for the crew, those training situations paid off and they landed without incident. Due to the high operations tempo in the Area of Responsibility, maintainers were hard at work as soon as the plan landed - a job that included completely replacing the No. 2 engine - and it was up in the air completing missions the next day. 

"The fact that the plane returned to service so quickly is a testament to our maintainers," Captain Cheek said. "That plane needed to be back in service because of the importance of the mission our squadron and others like us support. Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines need to be moved in theater, and they need all the equipment and supplies to support them in their mission." 

Colonel Jurkovac added, "That's just another day in the life of a tactical airlifter with experienced airplanes and the best maintainers in the history of air warfare."