A couple of recent accident reports have caught my eye and caused me to ponder their application to the sort of flying we do at Old Sarum.
In the first instance a Bonanza – one of the strongest singles ever manufactured, had totally disintegrated in a severe thunder storm: all occupants died.
What bad luck you might think! But there was clear forecast evidence of the inevitability of the encounter but uncertainty whether the 1000 hour pilot had viewed or correctly interpreted the information.
In our UK environs with the excellent free Met office (and many other) web-based weather sites, there can be no excuse for failure to understand the Metars/ TAFs and Forms 214 and 215. But I am astonished how often pilots who are about to take command of an aircraft skip over abbreviations, the meaning of which they are uncertain. Would you believe it, I recently flew with a pilot who did not understand the meaning of “+, TS and CB” so there’s another mid-air disintegration waiting to happen! Don’t ever fail to understand every single piece of data given in the reports, and if you don’t then Help/Information is only a click away using the appropriate drop down menu. You should be able to read the report as fluently as if it was written in full text.
To be honest though, the thing that set me thinking about this accident was that the pilot had done it not once but twice before! On one occasion the aircraft had been a structural write-off and the other required extensive airframe repairs. So clearly pilot attitude played a huge part here – the New Zealand CAA claim 75% of fatal accidents result from “bad pilot attitude”.
Now I’m not suggesting any readers have deliberately flown through three thunderstorms but how carefully do you post-flight analyse your performance: were there deficiencies that could be improved on future flights? Or will you go on making the same cock-ups for ever?
After a cross country flight of any length I like to review the weather encountered versus that forecast and particularly the correctness of the Go/No go decision and the practicality of my Plan B. But don’t forget that just because you “got away with it” doesn’t mean you should attempt to repeat the performance!
Accident number two was the mid-air collision in the circuit at Shoreham involving two very experienced pilots. The circuit is a dangerous place and most light aircraft collisions occur here.
My experience of flying in the circuit with students and qualified pilots is that their lookout is terrible. There seems to be an obsession with staring at the runway as if it is about to be rolled up and taken away; and when not looking at the runway they are staring fixedly inside the cockpit while mumbling checks that they’re probably not doing!
If you’re joining direct into the circuit e.g. base or downwind join, make sure the aircraft is at the correct power, fully trimmed for level flight at the correct height and speed before you enter the ATZ, preferably with checks complete. This will facilitate good lookout. If you are flying circuits, unless you are very quick and slick with the BUMFITCH checks, always break off in the middle and have a good look out. This involves turning your neck through the full range of movement rather than just flicking your eyeball here and there!
Clearly the R/T calls will give you an idea of the position of enemy aircraft.
On this subject I find the call “Joining base leg etc.” a bit confusing. Is that aircraft positioning to eventually join on base leg or is it actually in the act of joining the base leg? Hence I prefer “Joining extended base leg” or “Positioning to join base leg.”, reserving the call “Base leg” for when I’m actually in that position. Not everyone shares this view! And if I continue to indulge myself by commenting on pet dislikes I remind you that VRP stands for Visual Reference Point. Hence only call “Aldebury” if you’re actually there. If you’re 3 miles to the South of the VRP then say so!
Finally 2 short commercials:
Neil Williams’ “Airborne” , a compendium of his flying experiences, is a very good read, including the episode when he noticed one of his wings tending to fold upwards in flight. So he returned to base inverted till the last moment when he rolled to land the right way up!
If aeroplane pictures are more your thing, have a look at Old Sarum Pilot Club member Phil West’s website (designed by our own Simon Howlett) to see some superb originals and prints: www.aviationfineart.co.uk