WARNING: LONG POST
The night of the 28th of this month, I wondered to myself if it was possible to cross the Atlantic from EGCC (Manchester, UK) to an airfield in the North Americas (CYAY, St. Anthony, Canada) in the A2A Simulations Boeing B-17 bomber?
I decided to attempt the crossing the next morning as a way to entertain me for a day dominated by some fancy couple getting married.
I'll be honest and admit I didn't really have a plan, I simply selected an airport in North America, filled my plane to the brim with fuel (even the optional bomb bay fuel tanks, which in the end I was very thankful to have brought with me) and set off into that perfect blue.
I let ATC direct me all the way, even when it made the curious choice of keeping my heavy bomber stuck at 6,000ft. Still, I like I said, I didn't really have a plan other than to see if I could make it and so I didn't request a change in altitude.
For the most part, the flight went very smoothly, the C-1 autopilot installed on the plane reduced my workload substantially allowing me to concentrate on the aircraft systems (in particular the fuel).
It only when I got past the half way mark that my engineer reported a problem with my number four engine. Glancing over to the engine in question, I saw nothing amiss and a read of the dials showed that other than a slightly higher than normal oil and fuel pressure readout on numbers 3 and 4 all was normal.
I decided that as the engine seemed to the running just fine, I left it running, making a mental note to keep an eye on it.
Time crawled on, the fancy couple got married and left the fancy church, I got some reading done and the engines ran on without missing a beat. But the fuel was beginning to run low. By this time, the "Tokyo" wing tanks had since run dry and the main tanks were now being slowly but surely used up.
Reducing the RPM and manifold pressure further than I had already done by that point helped a lot (I had already set mixture to auto-lean minutes after take off) but by that late stage of the flight, fuel was becoming more of a concern.
On top of that, the weather started to change. For the majority of the flight, it had been a perfectly calm and blue sky, but I could see a huge solid bank of clouds looming ahead on the horizon.
Too big to avoid and being stuck at 6,000ft with no time to get above it, I had no choice but to plunge right into the soup. Very quickly my engineer reported that the carb temperature was dropping too low.
To raise carb temps back to normal, I increased power to the engines which did the trick of solving the temperature problem. But doing so lowered the estimated range the plane was capable of.
It felt like the clouds went on for an age. I was constantly reducing power to extend the range until the carb temps got too low and I had to increase power again.
Eventually, I broke out and emerged back into the blue. I quickly moved to put the plane back into low power settings hoping the journey through the clouds hadn't done too much damage to my chances of seeing land.
After being so focused on the clouds, the carb temps and the fuel, it was only after leaving the clouds I looked at the other read outs. Thankfully, everything seemed normal (engines 3 and 4 still showed slightly higher than normal oil pressure).
But I could hear a constant high pitched whirring noise. I double checked I hadn't inadvertently left the fuel pump that helped transfer fuel from the bomb bay tanks on as that mistake in a previous flight had burned the pump out when the tanks had run empty (the pump needing the fuel to act as coolant.)
I hadn't, but the whirring noise still continued. It was only after searching the read outs again I spotted the hydraulic pressure readout was lower than normal. On B-17s, the hydraulics are kept at a minimum pressure of 800 PSI automatically. My dial was showing around the low 700s.
It was obviously a hydraulic leak, but how bad the leak was I couldn't tell from where I sat and could have done nothing about it anyway. Yet another system to keep an eye on after the #4 engine and the fuel.
By now, I was feeling the effects of the long flight even with the autopilot doing most of the work. the temptation to just save it mid flight and come back later was strong. But I had made it most of the way by this time and so pressed on.
Doing a quick check on the fuel showed that the bomb bay tanks, which had been 900lbs full of fuel had less 90lbs each. I had been using them to constantly top up the smaller tanks for engines #2 and #3 (re-filling the feeder tanks for #2 and #3 wasn't possible) and now the bomb bay reserves were showing the effects of this constant need for fuel.
It was a relief when ATC announced I was 70 NMs from CYAY ( I had been aiming for another airport in America, but diverted when fuel status got worse.) The minutes crawled. It felt each mile was dragging rather than swiftly passing by. The bomb bay tanks were now empty with none of the main tanks even half full.
Checking the map and following ATC I was convinced I would make it to the airfield, but now another worrying thought entered my mind: was the runway long enough?
Not bothering to set up a detailed plan at the start had already hit me during this flight, but this time I feared I might not have been able to get away with it.
I couldn't divert again with the fuel I had remaining so the matter was a moot point anyway. But it was a tense time as I waited fot the airfield to emerge from the sun and haze.
ATC had set me up to pass the airfield to the right and at 2,100ft allowing me a chance to check it out. It seemed on the short side, but I had to try.
Slowly, under the watchful eye of the ATC, I swung my ponderous, heavy, fuel starved bomber around to line up on the target and made final checks for landing.
Mixture : Auto rich
Landing Gear: Down
Manifold Pressure Selector: 8
Auto Pilot: Switched off
With the runway looking short and my thoughts on the fuel and the hydraulics, I glided over the threshold with my faithful bomber kissing stall speed and finally, 11 hours after taking off, I landed.
Even coming in at such a low speed to make the landing, I needed my brakes to come to a stop. I could only hope that I had some hydraulic fluid left to use.
Forced to pump the brakes to avoid overheating and destroying the tyres and brakes, I eventually came to a rest having just rolled off the end of the runway.
I released a breath I hadn't realised I was holding and grinned to myself. I had made it! This fantastic old girl had carried me and my crew safely over the Atlantic back down to Earth.
Remembering my engineers worries about engine #4 as well as the hydraulic system, I could finally take a look and see what had happened.
I was shocked to discover that cylinder #1 had failed completely. Not damaged, failed. The net result of that had only been a higher than normal oil pressure read out.
As for the hydraulic system, it turned out the leak was minor. It was just the length of the flight that had caused the fluid to get so low (the crew reporting that the holding tank had only 1.05 gallons left out of the maximum 26 gallons).
As for the fuel left over They read as follows :
Engine #1 Main Tank : 110 gallons
Engine #2 Feeder Tank : 0 gallons
Engine #2 Main Tank : 78 gallons
Engine #3 Feeder Tank: 0 gallons
Engine #4 Main Tank : 111 gallons
Bomb Bay Tanks #1 and #2 : 0 Gallons
Truly an epic journey and an unforgettable memory.