Discuss the problems and solutions to all of the situations that Pilot X finds himself in.
#1223316
A night for OWLS

T-shirted Pilot X enjoys his summer evening microlight flights from a relaxed coastal strip. What could possibly go wrong? By Leia Fee

The summer had been better than forecast and today looked like more of the same. The morning’s charts, checked over breakfast, had shown generally good weather all day but with fog rolling in with the evening. The morning haze had steadily cleared and Pilot X easily dismissed the ‘ISOL’ and ‘TEMPO’ lingering patches of poor vis, of which the TAFs and 215 warned. His home airstrip was on the coast, south of a ridge of rising ground – any dodgy weather hit there before anywhere else as a rule. If that little weather trap was clear then he could generally be confident the whole region was.
The only irritant was that the morning’s unavoidable prior commitment had taken longer than expected and now Pilot X was cursing being kept from the airfield for so long. By the time he arrived, the wind was light, slightly across the strip and the sun was shining between clouds that he considered distinctly more SCT than BKN.
The rest of the airfield’s ‘usual suspects’ had gone, en masse, to a fly-in, which in Pilot X’s newly acquired and distinctly leisurely microlight was a good hour-and-a-half flight. He refuelled as quickly as possible, wishing he’d stayed to do it at the end of the last flight. He paused only to double-check the amount of oil he was mixing into the jerrycan of mogas – this two-stroke premix routine was new to him and he was already tired of hearing the constant dire warning about “How easily these little two-stroke engines stop.”
Engine failures were the last thing on his mind – he was far too busy enjoying the lack of timekeeping needed on the long summer evening at the relaxed little strip. This time though, even with the late sunset, he concluded he was too late to join the fly-in crowd so struck out for another strip a comfortable half-hour away, which he’d not yet got around to adding to the logbook.
Clouds had appeared since the morning’s blue skies but it was still T-shirt weather, even at 3,000ft in the unheated and draughty little machine. Not unusually, there was a band of cloud lying along the high ground just inshore so he decided to take the longer route he often used for getting inland to the north − tracking east around the base of the hills before turning.
The destination strip was more difficult to spot than expected, but was finally located, after several orbits in the area... which the GPS was certain was the right spot. Tucked away between trees and a valley, it required some care in the approach but that was half the fun of strip flying, wasn’t it?
Pilot X taxied in, to the silence of a tiny airfield in late summer afternoon calm. He was met by the owner, but a cheerful welcome didn’t extend to any facilities and Pilot X’s stomach was starting to rumble. After a nose around the based aircraft he wandered off the airfield, picturing a cosy little country pub for lunch. The village had looked close enough from the air but with time ticking on Pilot X was forced to abandon the unsuccessful hike – in any case, it was now closer to dinner than lunchtime − and head for home.
The take-off was straightforward and the cloud even seemed to have lifted slightly, at least until he reached the second set of hills lying between him and home. Not unduly concerned, he turned directly south, planning to resort to the usual get-home route of following the coast. Routing around the hills would take longer but he wasn’t going to get caught crawling down a valley under the cloud…

Second thoughts
Fifteen minutes later, with the coast still not in sight behind a lowering veil of grey, he was having second thoughts about even this plan. A glance at the fuel confirmed there was still enough to go back but he was closer to home than to the other strip and there was no more major high ground.
He tracked the main road a while longer. 1,000ft... 700... 500. This was getting silly. A town faded into view from the murk and the road split − with one branch to the south, where the coast, home and a rather large lump of controlled airspace waited, the other to the north, missing the airspace but over rising ground again.
He looked behind once more only to realise
in dismay that this wasn’t weather he’d flown into, this was forming here and now. Going back was no longer an option. Only higher ground waited behind.
For several minutes he flew on while disbelief battled alarm and frantic concentration, before reality set in. Precautionary landing. That was the chapter heading wasn’t it? It had sounded simple enough, although far less time had been spent discussing and practising it than on the more dramatic forced landing scenario that had so frequently been drummed in. There were fields that would do. Almost too many, since the temptation to stick it in the nearest one just to be down and have this flight done with was suddenly very strong.
A low pass, that was what was called for, the book had said. Surface, shape, size? Something like that. He peered at the grass – pasture; noted the cables down low in the valley; a field over from the undershoot; the new-cut stubble in the overrun; the farmhouse. He tried to ignore the fact that the reason the farmhouse mattered was human contact − help if he screwed it up and stuffed it in.
A second approach. The sheep under the improvised base leg scattered as he descended, not as au fait with aircraft as those at home. The wheels touched the grass, skipped once and settled. The aircraft seemed to run on forever, in spite of the, not previously spotted, upslope. Almost limp with relief, Pilot X didn’t even attempt the brakes on the long and now dripping wet grass. Eventually the aircraft came to a stop and Pilot X climbed out, shivering in his T-shirt in the chilly mist. Now how exactly should he start the conversation with the farmer coming up the lane? ■


Questions
1 Pilot X knew that poorer weather was coming in later in the day – what factors caused him to encounter it?

2 What extra information could he have used to avoid it?

3 Why did the aircraft run on more than expected?
User avatar
By tomshep
#1226238
Late summer afternoon. Mist can form very quickly.
Cloud forming over rising ground, lingering patches of poor vis and less cloud than expected. Light wind, High humidity, clear sky. Convection fog.
If he'd remembered that and kept an eye on the time,(knowing that fog was due later,) he might not have dawdled at the field. Had he not been cold and hungry, he might have chosen to land on the stubble and not in long wet grass which provoked the long run on landing.