March 30, 2017

Never be alone in a Mayday

On the 1st day of qualifying for the 2014 Reno Air Races, John Parker flying Blue Thunder II (a sleek 800+ HP, custom built Thunder Mustang powered by a 601 cubic inch Falconer V-12 engine) was entering Lap 3 of his Sport Class qualifying heat. His goal was to qualify with an official speed over 380 mph, which would make him one of the top racers.

He was flying around the 8.0782 mile oval course, 50 feet off the ground with other souped-up experimental planes. In the Sport Class Gold category, planes fly an average of 350 mph. It is critical to keep your head up, maneuvering your plane tightly around the pylons, avoiding obstacles, the ground, and other aircraft. Top pilots can’t always watch their engine gauges while pushing their planes to win safely.

John was one of the first 51Aero clients beginning in 2005. 51Aero services give him a boost of reassurance. He always uses the real-time telemetry capabilities during races and for testing Blue Thunder II’s speed upgrades. On the ground that day, 51Aero’s Fred Roscher was monitoring the plane’s engine and flight performance. Data is collected in real-time within a 10 mile flying radius using RF modem communications. Fred was there to give John radio updates if any of the engine parameters indicated a problem, allowing John to keep his eyes outside the cockpit.

Blue Thunder II came speeding around a pylon. The Flight-N-Sight telemetry screen displayed a Lap Speed of 383.045 mph. Goal achieved!

Suddenly everyone on the ground began to hear “banging and popping” coming from the plane. Fred watched the telemetry screen as power from 6 of the 12 cylinders dropped all at once. The odd numbered EGTs (Exhaust Gas Temperatures) were showing good levels. However the even numbered EGTs had effectively turned “off”. Blue Thunder II was solidly producing full power although only on half of the engine, leading Fred to conclude that John wasn’t in immediate danger.

Red and yellow lights on the Flight-N-Sight screen drew Fred’s attention to an ECU-B (Engine Control Unit) error. One of the 2 ECUs, had lost the reference signal to tell the V12 engine when to fire the even numbered cylinders.

Within 30 seconds, Fred radioed the message to John: Blue Thunder II had lost half her power but she still had more than enough to fly comfortably.

With this information, John made the decision to continue the race. After crossing the finish line, John immediately broadcasted a Mayday as a precaution. Rescue vehicles were called and began to move into their readiness position for the emergency landing. The other racers finished their laps and gave John first priority to land.

John brought Blue Thunder II down on Runway 26 at Reno Stead airport to a perfect, no drama landing.

“This help from the Ground saved the day, by making an emergency landing
a routine end to the flight.”
– John Parker, Champion Reno Air Racer and World Speed Record Holder

If you are an air racer or your own test pilot get real-time ground support to assist you in making crucial decisions at key moments.

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