Discuss the problems and solutions to all of the situations that Pilot X finds himself in.
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Climbing to Glory

Bruce McDonald tells the tale of Pilot X grabbing the chance to enjoy a final flight, flying away from his financial blues and life’s stresses and strains, before the planned sale of his Warrior

So far, Pilot X was not enjoying the year. While most people were feeling the economic pinch, X felt like he was being squeezed by a hydraulic ram. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d sold a boat, and where a few years ago there had been a long waiting list for moorings, there were now empty spaces. Things were bad and getting worse for X. As a consequence, his flying had been curtailed. The Warrior, once pampered in a hangar, now looked shabby and lived on the grass between the hangars.

Keeping it outside had saved him £200 a month and following his declaration of poverty, his maintenance organisation had agreed to a swift annual, after all, he’d only put 20 hours on it over the last year and hadn’t flown it at all for the last four months. The bill, when it came, had still been a shock. On the phone, his engineer mumbled something about Part M, that it could have been much worse and to expect a big one next year – he added the news that his company’s new policy was ‘No payment, no plane’.

X put the phone down, held his head in his hands and wondered not if, but how things could go downhill from here. He took out his battered and bruised credit card, made a call to a magazine and put the aeroplane up for sale.
A month or so went by before anyone took an interest in the Warrior, but the potential buyer who called sounded keen – he was downsizing from a Seneca after having lost his medical, but still fancied doing a bit of UK flying on his NPPL. X agreed to meet him for a look around the aircraft and, if that went well, a test flight the following weekend.

Now all X had to do was to find the money to get his aeroplane back from the maintenance company, take a flight to blow away the cobwebs and lavish a bit of cosmetic love on the paint and interior. The money presented itself in the form of a cash payment from a boat owner. Armed with a bucket, sponge, washing up liquid and some T-Cut from Halfords, he headed for the airfield where he paid off the maintenance company and set about restoring some of the Warrior’s former glory.

X couldn’t believe the dirt and dust that had accumulated inside, but a good vacuuming improved things while the bucket and sponge was soon dispensed with, in favour of a pressure washer and broom. X spent most of the day working on the aeroplane – the end result looked good. For all his hard work, X rewarded himself with a flight. He dipped the tanks, finding that he could take an hour or so to enjoy himself and still have more than enough fuel for the test flight later the next day.

X switched the master on and listened with a sinking heart to the graunching sound of the electric turn co-ordinator’s gyro as it struggled to get up to speed. X winced as he thought of the potential buyer’s reaction. He crossed his fingers and turned the key. The battery had just about enough power left in it to turn the engine over, and luckily the Lycoming burst into life after a couple of blades. X took his time with the checklist, partly because his lack of currency slowed him down, but mainly because he wanted to savour what he knew could be his last flight in the aeroplane.

Chasing shadows

By the time he’d taken off, X had been on the receiving end of a couple of mild and not so mild rebukes – he’d crossed the apron without a hi-viz jacket and he’d crossed a non-active runway without a clearance, so a minute or two after getting airborne, he signed off with the Tower and switched the radio off, determined to enjoy the peace.

It felt good to be in the air again and X celebrated with a degree of exuberance that would have had his ex-wife reaching for a sick bag. In fact, after a couple of minutes, X began to feel a little queasy himself, so he opened the DV panel and flew straight-and-level for a while. It wasn’t long before he was looking for a new challenge. Despite his IMC rating having long lapsed, he began a climb through what looked like a thin layer of cloud. Three minutes later he was still climbing, working hard and regretting his bravado. He focussed intently on the AI, resisting the temptation to stare upwards for any sign of the sky.

The cockpit was getting brighter, so X squeezed back on the yoke in order to tease out a higher rate of climb and shorten his time in cloud. He spoke out loud, “Focus, focus, focus, believe your instruments. Focus, focus, focus.” It was getting really bright now and just as the stall-warner started sounding, he broke through into a bright blue sky, a little surprised that his wings weren’t level, but hugely relieved. The weather up here was glorious, the air was smooth, visibility seemingly unlimited and apart from a couple of contrails tens of thousands of feet above, X had the sky to himself. The stress of the previous minutes subsided and he amused himself by chasing his shadow on the clouds and revelling in the sense of speed as he skimmed along the soft white carpet. When the time came to head back, X used some of his excess speed to pull up into a wingover. He allowed the speed to build on the way down and plunged into the cloud with the wings level and the ASI in the yellow arc.
X figured that a bit of extra vertical speed would shorten his time in cloud, so he eased forward on the yoke while once again focussing intently on the AI. This time he was a little more relaxed. He congratulated himself on doing a great job by keeping the wings level and the little dot a bit below the horizon, although he wished he’d changed tanks while in the clear on top.

He was continually having to regain wings level, presumably due to a fuel imbalance. He risked a glance down to the fuel contents, but his eyes froze on the DI which was spinning around. Carp! What did that mean? X looked at the ASI and VSI, but he just couldn’t make sense of the mixed messages. He once again focussed on the AI. Seconds later it was replaced by a real, if somewhat vague horizon outside. The wings were just past the vertical and the air was screaming by at over 200kt. As X’s mouth filled with the metallic taste of fear, he rolled wings level and pulled…

1. How did he get into this position?
2. What was X’s best course of action when he exited the cloud?