Something to do on a rainy day

Fuel Filler After Polishing - Profile

One of the things I like to do is spend time working on our planes. Every time I walked by the  wing tips of our Eclipse I didn’t like the dull look of the fuel filler neck. The dull grey just didn’t match the sleek look of the plane.  The Eclipse service centers offer a service to polish the necks, and other components, however I like a challenge and always think it will take less time than it does! I was going to polish the engine inlets in any case, so just added this project to my list on a whim.

Fuel filler before polishing
Fuel filler before polishing

I started by assessing how to polish the neck without damaging the surrounding surface or worse, dropping something into the fuel tank.  I initially tried to polish it by hand however the surface was in such rough shape that it would take too much time. It was time to pull out the drill!

I’ve used a variety of metal polishes in the past, so I had a few to choose from in my inventory.  Due to the condition of the neck  I knew I would need a coarse polish to for the initial step.  I chose Rolite polishes which offer a wide spectrum of  grits, from very coarse to ultra fine.

The Process

To minimize and damage to the surrounding area and protecting the tank itself, I started with masking off the filler neck. This step is critical. If the polish residue or anything else contaminated the fuel, it could cause problems. I then masked the tank surrounding the filler neck. In hindsight it would have also been useful to drape the tank with plastic or cloth to minimize the hassles of cleaning the residue off the tank itself.

Initial masking of the filler neck itself. Use a sharp razor blade to cut around the circumference of the neck.
Initial masking of the filler neck itself. Use a sharp razor blade to cut around the circumference of the neck.
Filler neck masked and starting masking the filler mount
Filler neck masked and starting masking the filler mount
Masked and Ready for Polishing
Masked and Ready for Polishing

Tools of the Trade

I use a cordless drill fitted with a 3M 3 inch buffing attachment  onto which I attach foam polishing pads. A great alternative  is this inexpensive kit from Amazon  (full link below) that includes the adaptor and various pads. To make your projects easier, I suggest having multiple pads on hand so you don’t have to clean them as the residue builds in them.  Of course, I didn’t do that!

Getting Ready - Supplies and Tools
Getting Ready – Supplies and Tools

I used Rolite AP200 to start, if I could have found the AP100 that would have been a better initial choice. It is basically a messy job. The resulting black residue gets everywhere when you use a drill, including on the floor and your clothes. I should have used a friend’s hanger! As you polish  occasionally clean the consumed residue away to give you a better idea of your progress. If you have a slightly damp polishing pad it seems to work best for me. If it is too wet, the residue flies everywhere.

Polishing process - in action
Polishing process – in action

It takes patience and constantly check the status of your work. My filler necks showed machine marks from manufacturing and I didn’t try to obtain a perfectly smooth surface. It wasn’t necessary to obtain a nice result. As the aluminum was reaching my preferred look, I switched to finer grit polishes, including APS 500. Rolite also offers Supra 90, a very fine compound which works well. I used it and Flitz that I had handy as the final step.

Rolite AP500 - ultra fine polish
Rolite AP500 – ultra fine polish

After about 45 minutes I was close to being finished. The black residue, containing aluminum oxide, was all over my work area. No matter how careful I was, some also stained the surrounding paint as the masking tape was removed. From my previous experience polishing, I knew it wasn’t an issue. There are various methods to remove the residue, including any on the paint. I’ve found the easiest is to use a paint cleaner or polish.  I had Nulite NuPro handy. It is a great paint cleaner and easily removes turbine soot, dirt, and you name it.  It quickly cleaned the project surface and paint. I followed it with the use of an aircraft polish. I used what I had handy.

The Results

You’ve probably see the beautiful polished bare aluminum airplanes and props and were amazed at how nice they look. What you may not realize is what it takes to keep them that way.  When you polish aluminum, it looks beautiful however you are removing a protective layer of anodizing. Because if this it requires more frequent maintenance. I polish brightwork about once a month and The specialized metal polishes appear to work the best, however in a pinch any quality plush or sealant will work. If you don’t, you risk corrosion of the surface.

Fuel Filler After Polishing - Profile
Fuel Filler After Polishing – Profile
Fuel filler after polishing
Fuel filler after polishing

The result was great, maybe not as nice as what can be obtained by professionals, however at least my fuel fillers won’t bug me as I walk by them during preflight.  It also gave me an excuse to flight test my work!

Eclipse 500 Jet Tools – Seat Release Tools – Static and Pitot/AOA – Pylon Covers

Rich with WT at Quincy California 2O1
Rich with WT at Quincy California 2O1
Rich with WT at Quincy California 2O1


When I purchased our Eclipse 500 jet, which is an amazing airplane, I found that there were opportunities to make it easier for operators to take care of their airplanes.  I had always wanted to explore 3-D printing and this was a great chance to create some useful tools.

Working with our son, Tigre Pickett, we embarked on a fun design experience to create useful devices for Eclipse pilots.  It was simple,  I needed the accessories, they weren’t available, so why not create them and improve the tools at the same time!

Eclipse Seat Release Tool

The Eclipse has an interesting seat design.  The six seats in the Eclipse 500 can removed after first disengaging the locking pawl on each corner of the seat.  This pawl is connected to a short cable that can be lifted from the locking position, when then allows easy removal of the seat…. once you now the tricks!

Eclipse at one point had the tool available, however the manufacturer no longer made the tool.  Tigre and I embarked on our first Eclipse 3D printing project.  I came up with the basic design, which was very close to the tool that was no longer available.   Tigre, using his design experience, generated our first prototype.  After four various versions we arrived at this tool:

Eclipse Seat Release Tool - First Prototype
Eclipse Seat Release Tool – First Prototype

Our first version worked perfectly, however when I tried to use one of the tools I found that it needed to be improved.  Underneath the seats, there may be very little light and to see the cable sometimes you need a flashlight.  I thought, why not create a tool with an integrated flashlight!  In this manner you would only need one hand to release the locking cable.  A new product was born!  Integrating a flashlight into a new version of the tool took several iterations to find the perfect combination of light and tool.  Our final lighted Eclipse Seat Release Tool makes it easy to locate the cable and release it, especially in low light conditions.

Eclipse Seat Release Tool - Light Version
Eclipse Seat Release Tool – Light Version

The test in actual use proved our concept, and the ease of use.

Eclipse Seat Release Tool - in Use II
Eclipse Seat Release Tool – in Use II

We also designed the tool to have an integrated flashlight storage capability, simply turn the light around!

Eclipse Seat Tool - Lighted version in storage
Eclipse Seat Tool – Lighted version in storage

Ordering your Eclipse Seat Release Tool

Eclipse Seat Release Tool - non-lighted versions in the foreground
Eclipse Seat Release Tool – non-lighted versions in the foreground

Either version of the tool can be ordered in high performance plastic, or stainless steel – both in various colors (white, black, blue, red, yellow, green, orange).  Steel infused with bronze (black, silver, gold) is much more expensive to make, however it is very cool!


  • Plastic – non-lighted       $30
  • Stainless steel -non-lighted    $60
  • Plastic – with light (light included)   $40
  • Stainless steel with light (light included)  $95
  • Extra flashlight – $2.50

Contact Rich at for more information or to order the Eclipse Seat Release Tool!

Eclipse Static Port Covers

The Eclipse has a rather unique static port installation, one that can be problematic with it rains.  The location of the port, on the top of the nose, can result in water ingress into the static system with associated issues.  There have been a number of solutions over the years, including the use of tape to cover the ports.  We decided to develop a custom solution that works well for the Eclipse jets.

Our goals were:

  • Utilize high quality materials that will provide a long life to the Eclipse pilots.
  • Accommodate the high temperature of the static port in situations where it had not completely cooled down to ambient temperature.
  • Provide an excellent seal against the elements, namely moisture.
  • Be easy to use, and superior visibility to avoid leaving them in place!
  • Avoid any dissimilar metal incompatibility issues.
  • Have yet another family design project.
  • Have fun designing the tool!

Starting with the basic concept of a cover, we designed several configurations and tested them on our Eclipse jet.  With each iteration we got closer to meeting our goals.  After nearly two months of development, we had our current version, the Personal Wings Eclipse Static Port Cover.

It took some time to source all of the materials for the design, from the Remove Before Flying (RBF) tags to the fasteners.  We tried various components, with an eye to provide a lightweight device that would last for some time.  For example, all of the commercially available RBF tags were either too heavy which increases weight and potential damage to the aircraft paint, or too bulky.  We decided to design our own from a high visibility and reflective material.  They are also so light that even in high winds they should not damage the paint.  It takes a lot more time to make them, however we like the result and we can improve it over time.

The Eclipse fuselage is curved, so we wanted to match that curve.  The net result is a static port cover that requires minimum force to secure to the aircraft and provide an excellent seal at the same time.  Our design utilizes high quality nylon fasteners,  to avoid any incompatibility issues with the jet static port and potentially get stuck!  Even if they do get stuck, it is easier to remove a plastic fastener than a metal one.  We tested the fasteners with considerably more force than even a ham-fisted pilot might use and they didn’t break!

The seals are a high durometer silicone compound that is highly resistant to heat.    Silicone has a melting point of 330 degrees Celsius, so if a pilot accidentally leaves them on, at ground idle they reduce any potential damage to the airplane.  Nylon has a lower melting point,  220-265 C, which still provides some protection if they are inadvertently left on when starting the engines. All pilots using our covers need to do a careful preflight and remove them before starting the engines. Of course, we can’t control what pilots may do, and are not responsible, however we wanted to expand their options!

They may not help in extreme precipitation events, however our testing so far indicates that virtually no water gets into the static ports

Eclipse Static Port Cover - Complete Set
Eclipse Static Port Cover
Eclipse Static Port Cover with RBF and Nose Strap - Side View
Eclipse Static Port Cover with RBF and Nose Strap – Side View
Eclipse Static Port Cover Profile
Eclipse Static Port Cover Profile

Ordering your Eclipse Static Port Cover


  • $160 for 2 complete static port covers, with nose ‘Remove Before Flying’ streamer.
  • Optional Red streamers are available – add $5 for a total of $165

Combination Order

Order any 2 or more items (seat tool, static port or pitot/AOA covers) and receive a 15% discount on the total order.

Each set is covered by our limited 1 year warranty.  Basically, if you lose any subpart (screws, seals, streamers, etc.) we will repair or replace, at our discretion, the defective component.  After 1 year, we will repair at our cost of parts and return postage.

While we do our best to make a quality product that should seal very well, the purchaser assumes all responsibility for usability and effective use of the device.  Since we are constantly looking at ways to improve the product, the versions we ship may be slightly different than the photos above.

How to Order:

Contact Rich at for more information or to order the Static Covers.

Eclipse Pitot/AOA Covers

In looking at various options for pitot probe covers for the Eclipse I knew we could come up with a great solution.  After several designs, we settled on a high temperature, fiber reinforced  silicone option.  The material, while not intended for use on operating probes, has an exceptional operating range of -70F to  +400F.  Our design with high temperature plugs provide a very tight seal on the probes, and will stay on even in high winds.

Eclipse Pitot and Static Port Cover sets
Eclipse Pitot and Static Port Cover sets
Left Pitot and Standby Probe Covers
Left Pitot and Standby Probe Covers

Operating Tips

While the material is heat resistant, we recommend the probes cool to warm-to-the-touch or cooler  before installing.  The covers also seal very tight to prevent water intrusion.  They can be installed on wet probes, however  since it is tight seal, you may want to take them off later and ensure that any  trapped moisture has evaporated.

How to Order:


  • $150 for 1 complete pitot probe cover set (three probes)
  • Optional Red streamers are available – add $5 for a total of $155

Contact Rich at for more information or to order the Pitot/AOA Covers.

Eclipse Engine Pylon Covers

The engine pylons on the Eclipse have vents on the top for the pre-coolers.  Beneath the skin are VORE actuators, which move the door that controls the flow of air across the pre-coolers.  These actuators can be damaged by water that enters through the top and may not drain.

We came up with a solution – high quality, highly water repellent covers to protect the entire pylon.  We selected the perfect material, that is also breathable, and mold/mildew resistant.  Easy to install, and remove, they are perfect for the Eclipse and come with a storage bag.

Eclipse Jet Pylon Covers
Eclipse Jet Pylon Covers

How to Order:


  • $300 for 1 complete pylon cover set (both engines)

Contact Rich at for more information or to order the Eclipse Pylon Covers.

Combination Order

Order any 2 or more items (seat tool, static port or pitot/AOA covers, pylon covers) and receive a 15% discount on the total order.


Each product  is covered by our limited 1 year warranty.  Basically,  we will repair or replace, at our discretion, the defective component with free return postage.  After 1 year, we will repair at our cost of parts and return postage.

Our Citation CJ3 Trip to the Iditarod Race in Alaska Took an Interesting Detour

March 2018

My friend and I were flying his Cessna Citation CJ3 to Hillsboro Airport in Oregon (KHIO)  from Lincoln Nebraska (KLNK) on our way to Alaska to watch the Iditarod Race . I’ve been flying this particular CJ3 for six years, in fact it was my first flight in the plane that was the impetus to obtain my CE-525S type rating . The CJ3 had just back in the air after the Rockwell Collins Pro Line Fusion avionics upgrade was completed at Duncan Aviation in Lincoln .  I’ve been flying and teaching the Pro Line Fusion system since the first installation.  The multiple flight legs to Alaska would provide a great opportunity to train my friend on a variety of techniques.

Before departing Lincoln I loaded the flight plans, including the second leg (Alternate Flight Plan) from KHIO to Anchorage (KPANC) using the new ARINCDirect app through the wireless connectivity of the IMS-3500 module, which was recently certified for the CJ3.  I’ll write another article on that capability soon!

Doing Fusion ground checks before leaving the hangar
Doing Fusion ground checks before leaving the hangar
Loading the second flight plan - KHIO PANC - through the ARINC Direct app.
Loading the second flight plan – KHIO PANC – through the ARINC Direct app.

On Fusion you can view the Secondary, or Alternate, flight plan on the map screens of the MFD or the PFDs.  This makes for a great method of verifying your next flights, or just to check the weather along the route.

Viewing the Alternative Flight Plan KHIO-PANC before departing KLNK
Viewing the Alternative Flight Plan KHIO-PANC before departing KLNK

Just when we were enjoying the scenery

We departed Lincoln and were cleared quickly to FL430 and were discussing different aspects of the new avionics system.

Departing Lincoln Nebraska
Departing Lincoln Nebraska

We were cruising west at FL430 flying over Idaho and we noticed the oil pressure on the right engine was lower than the left.  All values had been in the green range during our flights so we had not paid a lot of attention to specific values prior to recording the values in our flight log.  Our engine parameters usually match within a very close range, so it was unusual to observe a significant gap between the two engines. All other engine parameters matched as expected. 

CJ3 Low Oil Pressure Right Engine - Loading HIO Approach
CJ3 Low Oil Pressure Right Engine – Loading HIO Approach

We continued our flight evaluating what may be the cause of the discrepancy.  Our diagnostic steps started with any recent work on the plane.  The recent Fusion upgrade and additional work we had completed should not have involved the oil system.  We had previously experience a split in the oil pressure and completed a Williams International Service Bulletin for an oil check valve replacement,  We thought it might be related to that replacement, however everything had been stable after that repair for some time.  Each engine is equipped with two oil pressure sensors, one is a pressure switch and the other a transducer.  The pressure switch is set at a particular trigger value, 23 PSI for the CJ3.  The transducer measures actual oil pressure when then displays as a digital value on the avionics.

I frequently fly with my Garmin Explorer Iridium satellite communicator.  It is a great device, and I have been using it, and the previous version by DeLorme, for 5 years including on my previous trip to Europe this past Fall.  It allows me to send messages, track our progress, and communicate in case of an emergency.  This was a great opportunity to use it again.

Near the scenic Salmon River  I sent a message using the Explorer to a good friend, Troy Lewis, who works at Williams International, the manufacturer of our engines.  Troy is a colleague of ours on the NBAA Cessna Citation Technical Advisory Committee and also provides customer support for Williams.  The pressure had now decreased to 47 PSI, which wasn’t an immediate concern to Troy but the trend is an issue.   After HIO we would be heading up the British Columbia and Alaska coastlines to Anchorage (PANC) with very few options along the way.  We can fly long distances with one engine, if necessary, however it isn’t good for the engine and our range decreases on one engine since we would have to fly at a lower altitude.  Neither result was good.

As we approached Oregon and our descent profile into the Portland area, the oil pressure on the right engine then started to fluctuate, something we have never seen in this plane.  It would decrease a few PSI, then rise again, however the values still didn’t match the left engine. The oil pressure then started decreasing into the 40-45 PSI range, which isn’t a good sign.  The minimum oil pressure in flight for the CJ3 is 45 PSI with an N2 above 80%.  In typical cruise, our N2 is well above that number.  Below 80% N2 the minimum is 35 PSI.  The oil levels were perfect before flight, and the oil temperatures were exactly the same on both engines.  Usually, but not always, you will see an increase in oil temperature if the oil pressure drops.

We were at FL430 (43,000 ft) and started to discuss our options and agreed that if the pressure decreased any more we would shut down the right engine.  Troy suggested retarding the right engine and see if the pressure increase, which it didn’t.  This helped us eliminate the check valve as the cause.  Our issue appeared to be caused by a defective oil pressure transducer, or something worse – an actual oil leak or pump failure. 

I’ve had experience a low oil pressure indication earlier in a Piper Meridian (PT6-42A) at FL270 with my wife Jane on a flight to my 40th high school reunion in Denver, and at that time thought it might be a recurring oil transducer indicating issue  we had which was bothersome but not critical.  We continued to happily cruise in the Flight Levels towards Denver and friends. A few minutes later  I saw oil streaming over the windshield and did an emergency descent into Cortez CO.  I thought it wasn’t a good idea to assume this indication was benign this time 🙂

We were landing in the Portland area and I sent Troy a message to determine Williams’ nearest support team.  They stated that Flightcraft at Portland International Airport (KPDX) was a support center.  Troy called their staff and texted me, not only confirmation they could help, but also which hangar door to use and who would meet us upon landing!  Obviously PDX was now in our new plans.  I had flown into PDX many times, when I lived in Oregon and Flightcraft had always provided excellent service.  We checked the limitations sections of the AFM and both agreed if the oil pressure dropped any further and approached the limitation minimum we would shutdown the engine.

Emergency Equipment - iPad and Garmin Explorer - don't leave home without it!
Emergency Equipment – iPad and Garmin Explorer – don’t leave home without it!

Over eastern Oregon we were now heading to PDX and the pressure started to rise a little then stabilized.  We made the decision that we would shut down the engine at 34 PSI.  I practice engine shutdowns both in flight and in simulators on a recurring basis.  Practicing these procedures can actually be a fun and challenging experience; learning the aircraft systems and how to react to abnormal conditions.  Well at least, I enjoy the challenge!  A few minutes later just east of Mt. Hood, the oil pressure indication dropped to 34 PSI.

Mike was the pilot flying on this leg and went through the process of securing the engine, using the Emergency/Abnormal Checklist.  It is relatively simple process, confirm the affected engine (you don’t want to shut down the good one!), pull throttle to idle, then cutoff.  Secure the generator on the affected engine.  You apply additional rudder trim to counteract the asymmetric power since we are now flying on one engine.   The CJ3 provides ‘rudder bias’ which senses a failed engine and augments our manual rudder adjustment to help maintain coordinated flight.  As we descended we monitored the respective fuel levels and used the fuel transfer system to balance our fuel.  The CJ3 has a 200 pound fuel imbalance limit, with 600 possible in emergency situations.


I advised Seattle Center Air Traffic Control we had completed a precautionary engine shutdown and requested a diversion to PDX with one engine inoperative.  At this point,   Mike and I didn’t consider this an emergency since everything else was operating well, so an emergency wasn’t declared, only expedited handling requested.  If we had felt that any significant delay would have affected our safety, or we were in immediate need of a landing, then an emergency declaration would have been appropriate for us.  I have declared an emergency in other situations and it can be the best course of action and pilots should never avoid that decision that when they are in immediate need of assistance.

Descend Via but then….

As we were descending via the HHOOD4 Arrival, we were instructed to change to Portland Approach Control.  We were using COM2, controlled by the second CCP (Cursor Control Panel) for that radio, while the first CCP controlled COM1 where we monitored Emergency (121.5) which was our standard.  I was managing the Flight Management System (FMS) as well as communications.  I switched frequencies, or at least I thought I did, and the second CCP then failed!

CJ3 - Right Engine Shutdown - MFD and PFD FMS
CJ3 – Right Engine Shutdown – MFD and PFD FMS

Now we are descending at 260-270 KIAS, 2000FPM, with a ground speed in excess of 330 KTAS.  Approach Control expected us on the new frequency, which we had not activated due to the failed CCP.  Our standard procedure of monitoring 121.5 on COM1 was useful, since they contacted us on that radio and we used the Quik Tune feature of Fusion to change to the appropriate frequency.  Of course, you don’t expect multiple failures at the same time however it does make it more interesting.

CJ3 - Right Engine Shutdown - MFD and PFD
CJ3 – Right Engine Shutdown – MFD and PFD – on the HHOOD4 arrival

Portland Approach was very helpful, especially when I requested no delays if possible.  The plane was flying well, however it doesn’t hurt to ask for a bit of assistance.  The right engine was shut down and the less time you can have an engine spinning in the wind without oil pressure, the less likely you will encounter other issues.  We reviewed the Single-Engine Approach Checklist to ensure we didn’t miss any items.  While we knew the plane well, the use of checklists is a good standard protocol – especially when you have an abnormal event.

CJ3 Emergency Checklist - Single Engine Approach
CJ3 Emergency Checklist – Single Engine Approach

We were cleared for the ILS  RWY 10L by vectors to final.  We were now VFR below the clouds and had a great view of the Columbia River, something I always enjoyed when we lived in Oregon.

CJ3 - On Single Engine Approach - ILS RWY 10L KPDX
CJ3 – On Single Engine Approach – ILS RWY 10L KPDX
Columbia River View on FInal for RWY 10L KPDX
Columbia River View on FInal for RWY 10L KPDX

Our approach speed was a little high on final for the ILS 10L  which we adjusted on the glide path.  The touchdown by Mike was perfect and we then taxied to the west side of the Flightcraft maintenance hangar that was opening – just as Troy informed us!

The Welcoming Committee was there when we landed, not only the Flightcraft team but also the Portland Airport Fire Department – just in case.

Welcoming Committee at KPDX
Welcoming Committee at KPDX

Flightcraft – Help to the Rescue

It was now approaching 1530 and our goal of reaching Anchorage that evening was no longer attainable.  The technical team at Flightcraft was truly amazing.  Within 30 minutes of landing, the had the cowlings off our engines, had hooked up test equipment and isolated the problem – the oil pressure transducer.  The corrosion didn’t appear to be severe, however in testing we believe it extended beyond what was visible to us.  They even let me help, which probably delayed them a little bit 🙂

Testing the oil transducer
Testing the oil transducer


Corrosion on Oil Transducer Pins
Corrosion on Oil Transducer Pins – not the discoloration on the pins and the base of the connection.

It was now 1615.  We had isolated the problem and now needed a replacement – on Friday evening no less, and then required installation.  Paul, one of the supervisors at Flightcraft worked quickly and found a part at the Textron Sacramento Service Center.  With everybody working hard to help us, we were able to get an airline counter-to-counter replacement on the way to PDX.

We decided to enjoy Portland, or at least the airport area, and went to dinner at Salty’s on the same river we just flew over – the Columbia.  If you find yourself in Portland, it is a great restaurant with an enjoyable jazz group on Friday evenings, and you can watch planes land at PDX!  We also met up with friends  who needed a ride to Alaska, so it worked out for everyone.


Salty's on the Columbia
Salty’s on the Columbia

At 10 pm the new part arrived from Textron and Scot Fitch, the A&P mechanic who stayed late to help along with a colleague, called to let me know the part had arrived.  Mike and I went to the hangar to help and test run the engines.  After a little additional tweaking, we had proper oil pressure!  Scot and his assistant did an amazing job getting our bird back in service.

The next morning we were off to Anchorage and the Iditarod, maybe 15 hours late, but that was inconsequential and we were grateful for the excellent support by Williams, ATC, Textron, and Flightcraft!  Besides it allowed us to view the spectacular British Columbia and Alaska coasts in daylight!   More details on the remaining trip and the Iditarod soon…..

Near Vancouver island BC
Near Vancouver island BC
The Turbine Otter Ready to Rock!
The Turbine Otter Ready to Rock!



On the way to Super Bowl 52 – Hydraulic failure in the Cessna Citation CJ2

Off  to the Super Bowl

A friend asked me to fly the Cessna Citation CJ2 to the Super Bowl in Minneapolis while he was on a well deserved vacation.  It sounded like a good idea, I always enjoy flying into  busy airspace and events and it is a refreshing challenge coordinating all of the components and seeing so many aircraft in the air at the same time.

It started out as a perfect flight, flying the  CJ2 cross country from San Diego (KCRQ) to Minneapolis St. Paul (KSTP)  for Super Bowl 52!  Our support team, who manages the aircraft, did an amazing job arranging the ground details including coveted hotel rooms on short notice.

We were able to get an arrival slot and parking — one of 235 reservations  at Signature alone. and a total of 1200 aircraft operations in the area. After a stop in Van Nuys (KVNY) to pick up a passenger, and get our warm clothes ready for the cold we were off to Minnesota.

Starting off on our Super Bowl adventure - in a warm climate
Starting off on our Super Bowl adventure – in a warm climate

  we did a fast turn at Scottsbluff Nebraska (KBFF).  The fueler at Valley Airways, the FBO at  KBFF, was great, providing us with a very quick turnaround and and very reasonable fuel price.  Overhead we saw a flock of birds heading north, which seemed a bit early for February.

Valley Airways Scottsbluff NE KBFF - Birds Flying North Overhead
Valley Airways Scottsbluff NE KBFF – Birds Flying North Overhead


We could have made it non-stop to KSTP if everything was perfect, including weather and traffic, however my experience flying into other high volume events, such as EAA , a  stop is the safest option.  I’ve been on final approach at Oshkosh (KOSH) and the aircraft in front of us had an incident on the runway, requiring us to go missed, enter holding, and eventually land elsewhere.

The flight was great.  I took the opportunity to teach my co-pilot, Perry, some additional functions of our Universal Flight Management System (FMS) as we flew across the US at FL390.  While not the latest system, it worked well especially when coupled with the Garmin GNS530 and our Rockwell Collins Pro Line displays.

CJ2 Universal FMS
CJ2 Universal FMS

The outside temperatures were cold on this flight so it was easy to fly at that altitude in the CJ2 and it provided a slight speed advantage over flying at FL410 or above.  We encountered some clouds, and a little ice on the descent however it was extremely smooth, and fun as usual!

Super Bowl Arrival

We were cleared into KSTP via the GOPHER 1 Arrival   with the expected altitudes.  Everything was going by our plan. Perry and I remarked how we fit in nicely into the flow into Minneapolis for the Super Bowl and while others had to hold, we were flying directly to the approach corridor. Other than anticipating weather that was 80 degrees colder than San Diego, we were set.

Arriving into the Minneapolis area. Heavy traffic on the arrival. A lot of football fans!
Arriving into the Minneapolis area. Heavy traffic on the arrival. A lot of football fans!

I arrived on base leg on the ILS 32 at exactly our arrival time slot, 1604 MST, which was probably a fluke, but useful in any case!  This was the only runway open and was covered with snow and some ice, with a moderate crosswind, thankfully the freezing fog had left an hour ago. The other runways, along with all ramp areas, were  snow covered,  used for parking the large number of airplanes. It looked like one large snow field!

Remember – Fly the Airplane!

The ILS approach proceeded well, Perry was doing a great job monitoring our progress and did the callout at 500 feet AGL with a confirmation that the annunciator panel was clear, gear down, and runway 32 confirmed . Out of the corner of my eye I saw the hydraulic advisory light flicker ‘HYD PRESS ON’ which is not usual when the system pressurizes as you activate the systems, such as flaps, speed brakes, or gear which are electrically controlled but hydraulic actuated.

Upon landing we put out the speed brakes and the Hydraulic Low Flow Warning  (HYD FLOW LOW L R ) lights flashed quickly, then went solid – on both engines. Not a good sign.

Low Hydraulic Flow Annunciator
Low Hydraulic Flow Annunciator

When both of these annunciators illuminate it can only mean one thing – we lost all of our hydraulic fluid. We still had a ways to slow down the aircraft on a very slippery runway with a right crosswind and since the brakes are on a different system they would not be affected.  The most important operation for a pilot is to always fly the airplane. If you allow yourself to become get distracted at critical times, it doesn’t always work out well. 

I elected to taxi off the runway and park the plane. At this point I  didn’t want to block landing traffic, nor did I want to quickly shut down the engines without a proper cool down. The hydraulic pumps were probably already damaged however, if you shut down a jet engine too quickly you risk blade rub on the case and other issues. While shutting down the engines quickly with a hydraulic failure might save the pumps, however there are no guarantees they would be okay – especially when both lights were illuminated.

KSTP Ramp - Maybe I need a snow machine instead of an airplane.
KSTP Ramp – Maybe I need a snow machine instead of an airplane.

While I secured the plane Perry helped the passengers deplane in very cold weather and mentioned I may want to take a look at something that the line person noticed —- not yellow snow but orange!!! The left wing was partially covered in fluid by the speed brake, and unless I hit a Yeti on landing it was hydraulic fluid!

We may have a slight problem with the left wing. Hydraulic fluid leaking from actuator.
We may have a slight problem with the left wing. Hydraulic fluid leaking from actuator.

The left actuator had actually burst at the seams and virtually emptied the hydraulic reservoir onto the beautiful Minnesota snow – on Super Bowl eve at one of the busiest airports in the country that night. After ensuring our passengers were in the warm shuttle to the Signature FBO on the west site of the airport, we post flighted the aircraft and started working on a plan. We had made it to the Super Bowl and we could deal with it, we just didn’t know how at that time.

Remind me - Why did we leave San Diego?
Remind me – Why did we leave San Diego?

Upon entering Signature shivering a bit from the cold, the Super Bowl Host Committee greeted us with mittens and hats, a great indicator of hospitality, and warmth. Over the next few days we would visit them often.

Gifts from the Super Bowl Welcome Committee - very appropriate
Gifts from the Super Bowl Welcome Committee – very appropriate

I inquired if Signature had a maintenance facility, which they did – TechnicAir. Things were looking up. I was put in touch with Bill Wuorinen , the maintenance supervisor at TechnicAir and explained our situation. I knew I was asking the impossible – significant maintenance help on the Saturday night before Super Bowl, below zero temperatures at night, with no hangars available and a number of other pilots needing help. Within 15 minutes we had a plan – Bill graciously agreed to help me diagnose the problem and move one of their planes out of the hangar.

Bill and I moved the plane to their shop. It was now almost 7pm and one of Bill’s staff started work on it immediately and removed the burst actuator from the left wing. The fluid pressure in the system is approximately 1500PSI and it appeared the bolt heads had sheared which meant that fluid at extremely high pressure exited the system immediately upon activation of the speed brakes.

Speed Brake Hydraulic Actuator - sheared bolts and split open
Speed Brake Hydraulic Actuator – sheared bolts and split open

The Textron Mobile Service Unit (MSU) was unable to help for at least three days, so it was gracious of Bill to help.  The actuator was ordered just before 10 pm for delivery the next day and we hadn’t confirmed the status of the pumps; that would need to wait until the morning. In retrospect it probably would have been a good idea to order new pumps at that time as well.

Super Bowl – Downtown Excitement

I elected to explore Minneapolis to see the excitement for Super Bowl. It was crazy downtown. After walking around, seeing if I could still avoid frostbite, I found a great small place off the beaten path with a DJ, Lyon’s Pub.  I appeared to be the only non-local which meant it was a great local bar.  I could tell I was in Minnesota since people were wearing knit hats and boots on the dance floor ! If you visit Minneapolis I highly recommend a visit to Lyons Pub, for drinks o music. Everyone was excited about the game and it was fun talking to folks about their predictions.

Lyons Pub - Minneapolis, a great local pub and DJ
Lyons Pub – Minneapolis, a great local pub and DJ
The Super Bowl Clock countdown - only 17 hours to go!
The Super Bowl Clock countdown – only 17 hours to go!

Bill kept me advised late into the night on the part delivery tracking and we both hoped our problem would be solved quickly. Little did we know that in the morning we would find the hydraulic pumps were also damaged.

New Day – New Parts

In the morning they removed the hydraulic filters and found what appears to debris from the hydraulic pump. New pumps and filters were required, and ordered. Another delay, and now we were trying to get the parts delivered same day during Super Bowl. I have to give credit to the Textron delivery process, they had the pumps on a flight to MSP to arrive on a United flight at 11:30pm. The problem now was United airlines wouldn’t release the part to us until the next morning, not exactly the best customer service for AOG.

Hydraulic Fluid Filter with debris in the pleats
Hydraulic Fluid Filter with debris in the pleats

Early the next morning the technicians noticed that one of the replacement pumps arrived damaged from Textron. Our significant delay was expanding even more. I had two passengers that had critical meetings on Monday and a broken bird. As Captain I take responsibility for both my passengers and aircraft, so now it was off to find alternative transportation.  There were no commercial flights within four hours of driving distance due to the Super Bowl, so we worked on a charter option.  The problem was there were no arrival slots, even if we could find a plane to charter.   While a colleague searched for charter options, I negotiated for arrival, and the subsequent departure, slots.  The staffs at Signature at KSTP and Lynx at KANE were incredibly helpful in arranging the slots we needed.

After additional work by TechnicAir the plane was back in service on Tuesday. In light of the situation the down time was relatively little, however it was accomplished by a great team effort of all the aviation professionals in Minnesota and Textron.

The Hydraulic System

The Cessna Citation CJ2 utilizes two separate hydraulic systems, one for the brakes, and another one that operates the speed brakes, flaps, and gear. The brake hydraulic system is ‘closed-center’, while the later system is ‘open-center’.  An ‘open center’ does not operate at high pressure until a sub system is activated, the fluid simply circulates. When the pilot selects an associated flight control device such as the speed brakes or flaps, pressure valves close which builds system pressure to 1500PSI.  Then high pressure hydraulic fluid is routed through the appropriate actuator to operate the sub-system.  In our case, when I extended the speed brakes, a valve closed routing 1500 PSI hydraulic fluid to the actuators.  The left actuator then burst, sending high pressure fluid out of the system.   The reservoir holds 156 cubic inches (2.7QTs) of fluid, so fluid would quickly exit the system.

The hydraulic pumps are mounted on the engine accessory gearbox where a number of ancillary equipment are located including the oil pump, Fuel Distribution Unit (FDU) and the PMA alternator. Of course when the hydraulic fails you lose your speed brakes, flaps, and normal gear extension.

Hydraulic Pump - Foreground
Hydraulic Pump on the accessory gearbox – Foreground

When the system is breached, such as our actuator bursting, the fluid can quickly exit the system. Once the hydraulic pumps run dry the impeller is no longer lubricated by the fluid which  starts the processes of destruction. Once the friction reaches a critical point the pumps fail and in theory the pump drives shears in order to minimize any damage to the accessory case.  Im our situation, the pumps were still operating and the drive shaft was intact. If the pump fails completely then it also sheds material inside the housing necessitating replacement of carbon seals within the gearbox.

If you lose one hydraulic pump, the hydraulic systems may continue to operate unless there is a loss of fluid as in our case.  If you lose both, then you are in a different situation.  If a pilot has complete hydraulic failure of this system, then you are faced with no flaps, no speed brakes, and emergency extension (but not retraction) of the landing gear.  This translates into longer runway requirements and slightly more complicated speed control.  If the runway is contaminated (wet, snow, ice, etc.) then it further complicates landings due to additional runway required for landing.

I’ve reviewed the incident many times,  as the pilot and as a Flight Instructor, analyzing the best procedures.  The established aircraft checklist can only provide guidance under a certain set of circumstances, and are not designed to provide steps for all scenarios.  The checklist only has one option – Land as soon as practical’ – well I had done that so in theory I was successful.

CJ2 Abnormal Checklist - Dual Hydraulic Failure
CJ2 Abnormal Checklist – Dual Hydraulic Failure

My main focus was to ‘fly the airplane’ and ensure the safety of my passengers as the primary goal, with the secondary goal to minimize damage to the airplane systems.  If I had shut down the engines immediately upon low hydraulic pressure I may saved the hydraulic pumps however  we would have faced additional issues including loss of braking, potential engine damage, etc.

Despite the issues with this incident, I was pleased my passengers had a great time visiting a wonderful city and viewing one of the best Super Bowls – Go Eagles!