Discuss the problems and solutions to all of the situations that Pilot X finds himself in.
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By G-BLEW
#946516
Vol au vent


Why did Pilot X ever tackle a flight to France in conditions he’d normally consider totally unsuitable for a local jolly? Kim Taylor tells the story


“Cleared to land. Surface wind 19, gusting 32 knots.” The controller’s accent made the figures sound even more surreal. “What!” exclaimed Pilot X over the intercom, as he and his passenger, another experienced microlight pilot, exchanged anxious glances. “I knew it was windy but that’s crazy – surely it shouldn’t be as bad as this?”
With a stall speed of just ‘34kt or less’ by definition, their little aircraft was in a hostile environment for sure. “At least it’s straight down the runway!” Pilot X was trying to make it sound positive.
It had been one of those days – in fact, a couple of days. Pilot X and his chum had been keen to take part in this particular fly-in. Neither of them had lost their ‘Channel Virginity’ and lots of aircraft would be taking part. They had set out from their home airfield the evening before to get a head start, as the weather looked to be quite unsettled overnight and the next morning. They were hoping that it would all go through in time for the crossing, later in the day. It was beginning to get breezy that evening as they skirted around some large, towering cumuli, which were dumping their contents on the residents below. They managed to arrive at their pre-Channel night stop without incident.
Pilot X never slept very well under canvas, and he knew for sure he wasn’t getting any sleep as the torrential rain lashed his tent in the early hours. He peered out to see water cascading off the rag-and-tube structure that would carry them across the sea the next day. In fact, it was mid-morning before the soaking wet aeroplane lined up for take-off. Pilot X was sure that there was a big enough gap in the rain and low cloud to “give it a go” as he put it. The wind wasn’t too bad, but the rain was light and continuous. His squeaky new immersion suit rubbers were cutting into his neck and wrists, his life-jacket felt bulky and the rescue beacon kept slipping under his armpit. A little voice in his head said, ‘What the hell are you doing here? You wouldn’t be getting out of bed to fly on a day like this at home. What are you doing?’
The decision was made for him at that point, the cloud suddenly closing in again, the rain getting heavier and the wind picking up. “Change of intention. Request taxi to parking again please.”
Even Pilot X wasn’t that stupid.
Eventually, after lunch, the Weather God smiled and the grey cloud and rain moved on. The wind wasn’t quite as light as Pilot X would have liked, but it was better than it had been – wasn’t it? That little voice inside his head was questioning this observation again, but Pilot X chose to ignore it.
“Could you activate my flight plan please?” announced Pilot X on the radio as he climbed away – he’d always wanted to say that. Sure enough, the worst of the weather had cleared and it was a bright day now as they coasted out. It had been rough in the cruise over land, so the comparative smoothness over the sea was very welcome. With four hours fuel endurance, it was looking good.

Wrong heading?

Halfway across, Pilot X managed to get the word ‘Bonjour’ into his radio call, which put a smug grin on his face. He turned the radio down as the mixture of English, French and something-in-between was proving distracting. ‘Odd,’ he thought, ‘Seems more of a drift angle over here. Must have remembered the wrong heading.’
The French coast, while providing relief from the fear of engine failure and ditching, brought with it the return of turbulence. Pilot X failed to realise that it was much worse than on the English side. He wasn’t surprised that he was being put into a hold due to the traffic density, but he was struggling to work out why it was so hard to keep a racetrack pattern over the ground. It seemed to take ages to do one leg and then, before he knew it, he was back at the start again.
‘Well, thank goodness for that!’ thought Pilot X, when he was asked to join downwind. They were there in no time – and that was when the penny dropped and he turned the radio back up and listened properly to the traffic.
“19 gusting 32kt, 15 gusting 30, 18 gusting 36,” – it was relentless.
“I don’t think I’ll bother with flaps with this wind,” Pilot X announced confidently. In fact, he felt anything but confident. He acknowledged his landing clearance and realised that his groundspeed must actually look comical as he struggled down final approach. Once again the little voice in his head was asking him what the hell he was doing there. He knew that he wouldn’t even have considered flying at all on a day like this normally.
As he got closer to the ground, the ASI was going mad. He fought the controls and was working hard – very hard.
“19 gusting 33kt,” announced the controller, as they arrived over the threshold.
It was all going wrong. Pitch, roll and yaw were all words that Pilot X had heard lots of time – here all three were on display and he had little control over any of them.
‘I wish I wasn’t here,’ he thought.
His passenger thought the same, but had the good grace not to say so.
Still struggling to retain control, they were using up runway slowly. Thoughts of a very busy circuit and the loss of face were flying this aircraft now. Pilot X closed the throttle, which was abruptly followed by the noseleg breaking off. The propeller shattered as it sliced into the tarmac. The little aircraft was stationary in a trice, momentarily
almost upright on its nose, before settling back on the main wheels.
Welcome to France.
The little voice in his head was more strident now. ‘What the hell were you thinking of!’ it shouted.
And Pilot X’s own was voice shouting out loud now, too! And the passenger… n

1 What factors did Pilot X allow to affect his decision-making?
2 What clues were there to the increasing wind strength before he actually heard them on the radio?
3 What options were open to him once he realised the strength of the wind?
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By KNT754G
#946529
1. Almost the entire HF manual! severe case of peer pressure (perceived) and pressonitis.
2. The drift angle across the channel and the unequal timings on the racetrack hold.
3. Other than try to find an airfield with less wind? Maintain a safe speed margin above stall so that the greatest reported gust will not cause IAS to drop below stall, generally considered to be a third of mean wind speed plus at least half of the gust difference.
That is on top of normal approach speed, not on top of stall speed.
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By Gertie
#946841
1. Not enough sleep.

"Fatigue - fit to fly" is one of the top items on the checklist we're supposed to look at at my club before launching.

If your brain isn't working you shouldn't even try to make any flying decisions, they're likely to be wrong.

If I haven't had enough sleep for my brain to be working well enough to fly then I cancel. I would have done so in these circumstances, I wouldn't even have thought about considering the state of the weather.
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By CaptCrispy
#946860
Similar to others ...

1. Pressonitis.
They already spent time and money getting to the night stop so had already made part of the journey and there were lots of other aircraft taking part. They didn't want to cancel or turn back (losing time, money and face) and they were excited at the thought of losing their Channel virginity.

2. Drift.
The drift angle across the channel and the timings, possibly the stronger than expected turbulence near the cost (and why was the heading "remembered" incorrectly, was is not written anywhere?).

3. Safe airmanship.
He/she chose no flap but perhaps some flap and increasing the approach speed would have increased the safety margin. Additionally, going round once or twice even with a busy circuit may have given the surface wind time to settle (and should actually boost the ego by having the confidence in making safe decisions). If the wind was still no good then they should have diverted.

Pilot X wasn't properly prepared mentally or physically, as well as being tired he/she had new unfamiliar equipment (suit, life jacket and beacon). He/she should have flown a few circuits at home with the new equipment first and if he/she knew they do not sleep well in tents then a B&B or hotel should have been prepared in advance or found.