It is almost impossible to insure or to give away a piston-powered twin-engine airplane these days. The oft-stated rule is that, in the event of an engine failure, “the second engine takes you to the scene of the accident”. Engines tend to fail shortly after takeoff when the pilot is busy, the airplane is slow, and the ground is going to come rushing up if swift action is not taken to feather the propeller (feather = turn the propeller blades so that the edges face the wind and it doesn’t create a huge amount of drag on one wing). When an engine quits, the pilot is supposed to push up the two mixture controls, the two prop speed controls, the two throttles and then make sure that the gear and flaps are up. After that it is identify and verify the dead engine by pulling back the throttle and seeing that there isn’t any yaw. Finally one is supposed to pick the correct prop speed control from among the six power levers and pull it back to feather. I thought I’d done just this and was a bit surprised by the fact that the airplane was yawing as I pulled the lever back. I kept pulling. My instructor, Jim Henry, is normally the soul of cool and calm. He jumped out of his seat and pushed my hand out of the way. “Maybe you shouldn’t pull back the mixture on the good engine.”
Ooops. One lever too far to the right. We were up at 3000′ above the ground, so there was no real hazard, but now I’ve learned why the average engine failure in a twin isn’t managed very well by the pilot. It really may be beyond the capabilities of the typical pilot. Turbine-powered airplanes, by and large, don’t ask pilots to be this good. On a King Air, a dead engine’s prop will feather itself and some rudder boost will be applied as well. On a turbojet, there isn’t a concept of feathering.
I’m ready for my multi-engine instructor checkride, but I might be kidding myself if I said I was ready to handle a real engine failure shortly after takeoff in a piston twin.