Discuss the problems and solutions to all of the situations that Pilot X finds himself in.
User avatar
By G-BLEW
#957671
The Camembert Run


The English Jodel pilots enjoyed splendid hospitality, but a return Channel crossing in worsening weather wasn’t the best end to Le Weekend. By Peter Grant

Pilots X and Y both had 100 hours and had recently completed IMC ratings. Working together, they often mulled over the idea of a syndicate. When the chance came to join an existing Jodel group, they jumped at it. The Jodel was VFR of course, but with a new artificial horizon as an aid for bad weather. The radio, however, had seen better days.
Soon, they were enjoying the pleasures of bimbling around the countryside, visiting new and exciting small strips. Along with better weather came the ambition to go European. A rally at a delightful sandy grass airfield by the Brittany coast was the perfect opportunity. The aircraft was based in the East Midlands, so the safest route for Continental neophytes was obviously down to Lydd (these were the days of limited Customs/Immigration airports), across by the shortest route to Calais and then overland to Brittany.
The next weeks saw much poring over maps, and advice from as many aviators as possible, about the strange ways of the French, particularly their ATC system. There were life-jackets to be arranged and maybe a raft to be found. The general opinion seemed to be that there was little to worry about. The weather was religiously checked, up to the point of departure – yes, there was a frontal system hanging around the South-West, but it looked to be slow moving.

A fantastic trip
The trip down on Friday was fantastic, with nice weather and the French controllers not particularly interested once they realised this was a low-level VFR flight. The welcome at the rally was amazing, with locals pulling out all the stops to make the pilots welcome. The evening meal at the clubhouse and a comfortable room at Hotel Central all added to the warm glow of achievement.
The fun continued on Saturday morning, with spirited displays of French airmanship. But, soon after lunch, the weather took a turn for the worse, with a lowering cloudbase and increased winds. This did not dampen the local French spirits in the slightest, with the local aviators flying into the lowering cloudbase and increasingly gusty conditions. There was a fair amount of, “Ah, it is the coastal effects and it will soon clear,” from the locals.
The original plan had been to return home on Saturday afternoon, complete with the obligatory wine and Camembert. But, soon after lunch, the rain started and the local forecast was suddenly for torrential downpours. Pilot X remarked, “Perhaps we should have called for a forecast rather than relying on the locals.”
They both realised they now had a problem. They were clearly not going to get home on Saturday, however late, yet they had to be in the office first thing Monday. With the change in the weather, there were no rooms to be had; the mood changed rapidly from elation to desperation. Gallantly, the Aero Club arranged rooms for all visiting English aviators at a local chateau. The food was fantastic and the wine flowed copiously, culminating with Le Patron going to bed, leaving a bottle of Armagnac on the table. Pilots X and Y enjoyed the hospitality, making the best of a bad situation.
They were dragged from their sleep by frantic knocking at six in the morning. “Messieurs, the sun is shining, you can fly, you can fly!”
Blurry-eyed, breakfast was a hurried affair and nine o’clock Sunday saw them launched off in the general direction of Cherbourg, without time for anything but drawing a line on the map. Yes, it was a longer crossing, but they both needed to be back in the office on the Monday morning.
The hour’s flight to Cherbourg was horrendous – high winds and very gusty conditions meant a high workload for X. Meanwhile, Y was increasingly alarmed by radio reports of bad weather approaching their destination. X pushed the little Jodel harder, but it seemed to make little difference. When Cherbourg eventually came into sight it was obvious that a black wall was about to cross the airfield.
X poured on all the coals and the airfield edged closer, as a mast shot by to their right.
“What was that,” asked Y. “What’s our height?”
Belatedly, X realised that going from sea level to a 500ft airfield and not correcting for a considerable overnight pressure change had put them dangerously low. Chastened and more than a bit shaken, he forced the aeroplane onto the ground and fought it all the way to the terminal.
X had never been so relieved to stagger into the café and join the other Brits gathered against the now raging storm. Over several hours and endless coffees, X and Y wondered how they would explain the obvious delay to bosses and wives. Spirits sank even lower in a terminal deserted except for abandoned British airmen.

A touch of magic
Then, seemingly by magic, a Robin appeared and landed. The pilot was happy to explain that he had flown in from Jersey and that the sky was perfectly clear only 10 miles off the coast.
In a rush normally only seen at the start of a Le Mans rally, the assembled Brits made for their shiny metal machines and duly headed north for Bournemouth. It was lunchtime and the Meteo office was closed, but with the arriving pilot’s comments in mind, the little Jodel followed.
The weather was still very marginal and Y soon found himself seeing little ahead and with less than 1,000ft cloudbase. “But,” said X, “it’s sure to get better in a couple of miles from what the Jersey pilot said.”
Contact with Cherbourg petered out after 15 minutes or so and London Information couldn’t be raised. X and Y were beginning to feel very alone. The weather didn’t improve, in fact Y found himself driven lower and lower. By mid-Channel, he was down to 200ft and scared as he pushed lower still. X had gone very quiet.
It’s unlikely that either of them saw the masts of the container ship. n


Questions

1 What had the pilots got wrong?
2 What should they have done better?
User avatar
By AfricanEagle
#957745
What had the pilots got wrong?

They relied on hearsay for weather.
Acceptable weather for an experienced pilot in a well equipped aeroplane can be prohibitive for a low hour pilot in a basic aircraft.
Weather can change significantly in 30 minutes.

What should they have done better?

Better planning. They shouldn't have planned a weekend out if in variable weather conditions having a deadline to meet upon return without a back up plan id est alternative means of getting home that could have taken off the pressure to fly back.

Classic get home-itis :(
By mur007
#957758
Checking the weather up to the point of departure was good but they needed to carry on checking the weather after getting to France in anticipation for their return journey. Add to that the excessive consumption of alcohol and staying up late the night before their return flight sounds a bit complacent and naive - at least one of them needed to be boring and stick to mineral water! By Sunday morning they allowed themselves to be talked into changing their route and rushed their pre-flight preparations (a single line on a map when flying in unfamiliar airspace for the first time even when one has an IMCr isn't sufficient) and probably inadvertently missed checklist items if they were still flying on the previous day's pressure setting.

They really also needed a plan B for getting back to the office on Monday if the weather turned and it would appear this wasn't done.
User avatar
By mo0g
#957924
I would say the alcohol consumption was more than "a bit naive" - the '8 hours from bottle to throttle' rule relates to ANY alochol consumption, if you have an excess of alcohol it can stay in your system (and impair performance) for a lot longer than 8 hours. Quite simply they shouldnt have drunk alochol at all if they were hoping to leave the following morning, or even if there was the hope they might be able to.

Lack of sleep would simply magnify the effects of the alcohol still in their systems.
User avatar
By CaptCrispy
#958347
In general as others have said, my own comments...

What did they do wrong?
Certainly not getting official weather information adds an unknown element to any flight.

Rushing to leave (in general) and without proper pre flight planning adds even more unknown elements that may cause problems.

I think the worst of all is getting (what sounds like) very drunk in the evening; this would certainly have a serious effect the following morning.

What should they have done?
The general planning sounded reasonable but they could have done more.

They could have looked at worse case scenarios, what if situations; so a little research of alternates, hotels, etc may have been useful.

To remove the stress of rushing back they could tell family and work colleagues they are planning (and hoping) to be back for Monday morning. But they could also mention that this kind of trip is dependent on good weather to be safe, so if the weather became bad they would be late.

Knowing they would be in a rush to get back they probably should have got to bed early (without lots of drinking) in preparation for a possible early start.

Before rushing off blindly they could have got some weather information (mobile phone app, prepared list of phone numbers, laptop with internet, etc).

I think knowing you have a suspect radio (even if you don't use it normally or use it much) when on an extended trip, should have perhaps prompted them to buy/borrow a hand held transceiver which may have been useful.
By johnm
#958377
Zero planning on departure for Cherbourg meant they'd no idea on fuel state, diversion options, QNH, etc or anything else apart from a rough heading!

Having survived that cock up and made it into Cherbourg, they wasted time they could have spent on proper planning faffing about in the terminal. They knew from their original UK planning that there was a frontal system to the Southwest (not clear if it was warm or cold) If it was OK in Jersey all that tells them is that it is a bit clearer to the Southwest, it offers no help for a trip north at all!

It does hint that if they waited a bit they might see the front go through and be able to take the better weather behind (especially if cold front and from the black over Cherbourg when they arrived it sounds like it might have been an active cold front with CB).

All in all an awful warning against bad planning and gethomeitis as a fatal combination.
User avatar
By Steve H
#959333
Agree with everything written so far.

Yes, I also don't see how reports of good weather in Jersey (to the west) would help with their route north. I have departed Dinard in bright sunshie only to hit solid cloud in mid-channel (Andy R will remember that particular flight).

My additional comment would be that there was still a chance of them saving themselves even at the last moment. Scud running at 200' across the English Channel is daft. Below 500' even, just give it up! Certainly in my PPL and IMC training, I was taught 'climb, confess, comply'. If they were recently IMC rated, they should have been OK flying on instruments (earlier alcohol consumption noted) while the other pilot could have called Jersey or D&D for weather reports and vectors into Jersey (where they have instrument approaches and there was an earlier report of good weather).
User avatar
By Morley
#964334
What had they got wrong? They hadn't planned properly.
What could they have done better? Plan.
In this instance they wanted to believe someone elses report of the weather. A better understanding of the various weather reports would've helped as would waiting for the meteo office to reopen. A cursory look at the meteo while it was open wouldve confirmed when they could fly. In all probability it was a front (black wall) which after passing could well have been flyable.
In fact I saw such a black wall on Wednesday coming in from the west while flying. I returned, it rained for an hour then was flyable but it was past 6 :-(
User avatar
By Capt Edmund
#965361
It's also a good reminder to be cautious of taking all the evidence to support your desire, rather than being analytical about what's going on. They wanted to get home, they had IMC ratings so they were probably prepared to push it a little further than many, the Robin pilot told them what they wanted to hear and the other pilots were having a stab at it as well. The final nail may have been the presence of 2 pilots leading to a classic Risk Shift - each pilot thinks that it must be ok because surely the other pilot would say something if it wasn't which would have been a factor in taking off in the first place, and certainly going lower and lower over the sea.

In the end a pre-flight checklist to go through certain decision points may hwell ave saved them, making them think about the individual aspects and the risks they were taking. But then again, how many of us really sit down and do an out-brief prior to getting into the ac to check that we've covered everything off?
User avatar
By Jonzarno
#965554
I agree with thee points already made and will not repeat them here. Two additional thoughts:

Given their lack of overall experience and lack of specific cross channel experience, they would have been well advised to fly individually with a mentor rather than try to fly together the first time.

They also needed to have the courage to decide not to fly until the weather was demonstrably OK, and either have a workable plan B as suggested above, or be prepared to face the music at work or at home.