Discuss the problems and solutions to all of the situations that Pilot X finds himself in.
By Echo Delta
Too good to last?

Pilot X is a skilled aerobatic pilot, with the right attitude to practice and planning. But is he sufficiently flexible? Can he cater for the unseen? Adrian Blease tells the story...

Pilot X was good, he knew that. He put it down to his particular combination of preparation and concentration. He felt that this not only made him a first-rate aviator but also a pretty good aerobatic pilot. He wasn’t bigheaded or boastful, he just accepted that he was lucky enough to have been born with the attributes that helped him to succeed.

His focus gave him the ability to fly an aerobatic sequence but it was the thoroughness of his planning that got him to the start point. Designing the aerial choreography of his aerobatic sequence was almost his favourite part of the whole affair. He knew that this was a little odd – it was like the chef finding most pleasure in writing his shopping list – but that was just his nature.

This weekend had actually taken far less planning than usual. He was going to base himself at the airfield that was the venue of his first display on Saturday and his last on Sunday. He had one other display on the Saturday, which was an easy trip from his base, then two more on the Sunday, which were a little further but with an easy fuel stop in between. To add to the leisurely weekend, he had been invited to stay with the airfield owner, an old friend, on the Friday night.

It was an almost perfect August evening with the shadows of trees lazily lengthening across glowing, golden fields. He planned thoroughly, calling his friend at the destination airfield before he left. He was told that the airfield was closed but they’d be waiting for him and would love a sneak preview of tomorrow’s display. Pilot X was only too happy to oblige.

It was only once he was airborne that those aviation variables started to creep in: the radio seemed unusually quiet. He wasn’t really surprised when he couldn’t raise a couple of small airfields, but he did begin to think that something was wrong when London Information failed to reply. Still, he’d spent plenty of time non-radio and his friend knew that he was coming. What harm could it do? Cruising over the burnished barley and shining wheat without any outside interruptions was something of a treat.

From some distance away, he spotted the bright green of the strip amid the rich crops and set himself up early, planning his arrival, which would, of course, be right on time. He could almost feel his focus narrowing now onto the well-known sequence. Without any delay he dived down to the centre-point and pulled up into a half-vertical roll; straight into a stall-turn and quarter-down vertical roll to pull out on the display line parallel to where the crowd would be tomorrow. He pulled up into a full Cuban-eight before another stall-turn and into the reverse-half Cuban-eight; totally focussed.
He pulled up to 45° and held it momentarily before rolling inverted, pausing, and checking that the wings were level and then pulling back. It was at this point, not long after leaving the horizontal, that his brain first alerted him to the fact that something was wrong with the picture he was seeing. The bright yellow of the air ambulance beneath him, but not far beneath him, stood highlighted against the fields. Was it moving? Was it climbing? Time slowed and allowed him to think through these things as well as allowing him to do a calculation of his life insurance provisions, imagine his family’s life without him and fume slightly at the iniquity of dying by crashing into an ambulance.

While his brain worked at a different speed, physics would not, and his airspeed was in direct proportion to the firing of his synapses, leaving him fewer possibilities with every fraction of a second. He had planned and practised for every conceivable contingency, but not this. His brain ran through every possible combination of actions that might avert the seemingly inevitable meeting of airframes while, ideally, also keeping his wings moving in the same direction as his fuselage.

None presented themselves, but the moment had passed, the air ambulance was no longer visible and there were no sounds of rotors tearing through aluminium. Neither he nor the crew of the air ambulance, who had been looking for a landing site and had not seen him until after the terror was over, knew how this became an airmiss and not a mid-air statistic.

1 What factors on both sides do you think may have led to this airmiss?
2 What factors in Pilot X’s personality or mindset may have led to the airmiss?
3 What decisions could have been made differently when the probable radio failure became apparent?