Around the World with One Engine

Running on Empty - Gliding down to a Sunlit Sea

The sound of silence is deafening … the bloody engine’s quit … I don’t believe it.  I guess I'm dreaming, but I wasn’t sleeping, so how could I be dreaming?  But that’s the problem … I was sleeping, flying this stupid little single-engined airplane across the bloody Atlantic Ocean.  "Single-engine", there’s a fact to grab onto and a reason to wake up fast.  That’s why it got so quiet up here above the sea.  There’s only one engine and it’s stopped working.  That means it’s all downhill, quite quickly … down, down to a sunlit sea and not far to go by the looks of it.  Big swell, white caps, wind lanes … “it’s almost ditching time Peter, you idiot"!  It  flashes through my mind that if I don’t survive the impact with that wild looking sea, I’ll be in good company with the ghosts of the RMS Titanic, that’s located somewhere close, 12,000 feet below those waves.

Before I hit the water, how about figuring out why the engine stopped.  Probably fuel starvation, because I was cross-feeding from the tip tanks the last thing I remember before it got quiet … and I was pretending to be sleeping.  But falling asleep at the wheel … that’s bad karma and definitely bad news for a simple country boy from New Zealand … a stranger over a strange ocean!  Okay, let’s try the Fuel Selector.  Switch to Main Tanks, turn the electric Fuel Boost Pump on and maybe it’ll work?  But first, close the throttle, Mixture Control to full rich and Propeller Control to max rpm.

Right, that’s done, now let’s see what happens when I open the throttle … but slowly.  Amazingly the engine splutters back to life, it’s life and more importantly, mine!  I'd been cruising at an altitude of 8,000 feet when the engine quit.  So, set full climb power and see if I can stagger this overweight Bonanza back to 8,000 feet  from the recovery altitude of 5,500 feet above the waves.  With that underway, it’s time to re-engage the autopilot, check the direction of flight and re-establish some semblance of navigation towards my destination … and try to relax from the fear and near panic of the incident.

Back in level flight, with the Bonanza again stabilized and having carefully switched the Fuel Selector to the auxiliary fuel tank behind my seat, I begin to contemplate the perilous situation I find myself in.  I’m now fully cognizant of the dangerous implications of flying a single-engined airplane across two thousand miles of ocean … and it scares the living shite out of me; giving rise to a panic action to immediately turn the airplane 180° and head back to Newfoundland, the closest landfall, 250 miles away. But I know I won't do that, and this decision to continue becomes a life changing moment … not an epiphany, but rather a slow march to the gallows with the fervent hope that I could be spared at the last moment.  The reasons for being out here are many and certainly important for my future in commercial aviation.  Therefore, I must continue flying for another 15,000 miles to reach New Zealand: over oceans, deserts, mountain ranges and hostile territory with only one engine to remain airborne.  But for me to continue, I will ignore the one engine reality, convincing myself that it'll not be a factor for the remainder of the flight.

  • The Bonanza V35 back home on terra firma in Hamilton, New Zealand.
  • The North Atlantic Plotting Chart that I first used in 1978 for a solo, single-engine Beechcraft Bonanza flight from St. Johns, Newfoundland to Santa Maria in the Azores (eventually to New Zealand).  Later, in 1979-81, I flew this route numerous times in Swearingen Merlins and Metros.
  • This flight schedule, with actual flight times and fuel burns [some missing due lost records].



...made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.




More to Come ... what made me do it?