Here's a short story to accompany this Online survey:
A Tale of Victor Mike and Charlie
At last, a perfect day! The last time Victor flew he met a solid wall of weather. A rapid 180 degree turn to the airfield was followed by the best landing he had made all year. He washed spattered mud from the spats and wings, topped up the fuel tanks, pushed the aircraft into her corner of the hangar and locked the doors. As he left the airfield the front arrived. Every day since then was miserable, windy and wet.
Today the windsock hardly moved as a light south westerly wafted along the runway. Early spring sunshine flooded through the hangar doors as scattered puffy cumulus clouds drifted overhead, scarcely even a threat of an afternoon shower. An aircraft engine sounded in the distance and he walked across the runway to see who was dropping in. The grass had barely grown in a fortnight and underfoot it was remarkably dry in spite of all the rain.
As the shiny Cessna joined overhead the hangar reverberated to a ‘Choppa-Choppa’ sound. A dark helicopter whizzed over the hangar and runway, high speed and low level. The Cessna landed and parked near the fuel pumps. The pilot, Mike, was an old friend of Victor. He broadly cursed helicopter pilots generally and the driver of the dark helicopter in particular. Together they pushed Victor’s aircraft out of the hangar.
Victor told how the helicopter regularly passed by, seemingly oblivious to the airfield’s existence. No one seemed to know whose it was, much less what to do about it. The locals all knew about it and kept an eye out, but visitors... Mike grunted and let it pass. He had dropped in for fuel on the way to the new Cub field. It was a bit of a trek as he would dog-leg to fly over his sister’s place near the control zone. Her kid’s were having a birthday party.
Victor wanted to tag along to see the Cub field but suddenly remembered his headset on the kitchen table. At least his licence was in the glove box he thought. Mike offered his spare headset but it had a different plug. He did finally agree to let Victor follow him but at a distance. Only two people in the world knew of the event two years ago. He was nervous about close formation ever since. He would have to fly slowly to let Victor keep up.”
Thirty minutes later Victor followed Mike along the river and out over wood and bogs of the midlands. Wide open throttle could barely keep Mike’s aircraft from creeping ahead. Glancing at the gauges, Victor saw that all were in the green. The engine was running flat out, silky smooth but very noisy. With no headset, his ears would ring when he got home.
A shadow on a cloud caught his eye. A low wing aircraft was descending rapidly ahead – directly toward Mike. It seemed that neither could see the other. Mouthing a warning, Victor instinctively pressed the transmit button. Momentary helplessness gripped him. He really wished he had his headset now. Then the low wing spotted Mike, banked smartly and passed harmlessly behind.
Mike flew on toward his sister’s place while Victor watched monotonously similar towns and villages passing beneath. He reached for the map, kept in his headset bag then cursed himself for rushing out the door so quickly.
Ahead, Mike waggled his wings, banked sharply, twice passing low over the birthday party before setting course for the Cub field. As Victor followed, puffy cumulus clouds expanded overhead and his compass seemed to fluctuate in the turbulence under the darker cauliflowers. It was taking more concentration to stay on track and extra stick force was needed to keep the wings level. He decided to change tanks a little early to improve the lateral trim. The fuel gauges on this series of aircraft never told the truth. He preferred to fill the tanks and subtract the time flown from his endurance.
As he turned the fuel selector it stiffened progressively and then refused to budge. Looking down he saw it stuck, precisely between the two tanks. The engine would not run for long on the fuel in the lines. Leaning forward, he rocked the selector brutally with both hands until it snapped free and moved across to the other tank.
He looked up, recovered the height he had lost and returned to his original heading. A dark cloud loomed ahead – but no sign of Mike. Victor squirmed, feeling not entirely sure of his own position. Throttling back, he started to think. Mike’s sister’s place is near the control zone and the Cub field is near the lake…. Some hills in the distance looked vaguely familiar. Keeping them on his left he might meet a river, railway, motorway, even a canal - anything to guide him toward familiar ground.
Victor switched tanks again, the selector less resistant this time round. He flew onward, dodging heavy showers along the way. Then he saw it! He was sure he recognised the large town. He turned toward the main street and just as quickly realised his mistake… This was another town and it had a prohibited area! Banking steeply to exit, he wondered whether he had been seen and consoled himself that finally he knew exactly where he was.
Increasing shower activity lengthened the trip back to the airfield where Victor joined the circuit from overhead. The windsock had reversed direction since morning and he congratulated himself on not embarrassing himself again with a tailwind landing. The engine surged and spluttered as he descended on the dead side but smoothed out when he forcefully switched tanks. Those fuel gauges were useless, banging about on E - he knew he had 30 minutes worth of fuel remaining.
The landing was a non-event. Victor met his hangar-mate Charlie at the fuel pumps and told of the stiff selector valve as he fussed over hoses and switches. Charlie allowed that his was exactly the same – surely everyone knew the problems with that model valve - someone really should do something about it.
The pump must need calibrating Victor thought as the first tank took more than the normal quantity of useable fuel. The penny finally dropped as the second tank took only three litres less. A hollow feeling spread from his chest to his cheekbones, his bladder felt weak and a shiver ran down his spine. Victor’s head span and he wondered. Should he tell Charlie? Could he tell anyone what almost happened?
Parts of this fictional story may sound familiar. In real life mistakes are often made and events can have unintended and unanticipated consequences. If we are lucky, we learn from our experiences. It may already be too late for some when an accident report appears. The very lucky learn from the experiences of others, but only if safety information is volunteered in good time.
In general aviation in Ireland few less serious events and incidents give rise to voluntary occurrence reports. Some stories go untold and some only surface locally when social events loosen inhibitions. Many opportunities to promote safety learning for the wider community slide by. Some are ignored. Some go unrecognised. I want to understand what is happening and why? Please help me by completing a short confidential questionnaire and returning it to: John Kent, Pinecroft, Reask, Dunshaughlin, Co. Meath. (087-4180500) firstname.lastname@example.org
. Thank you very much in advance.
‘An Assessment of General Aviation Incident Reporting in Ireland’, is a personal study. It is a requirement for the MSc degree in ‘Safety and Accident Investigation’ from Cranfield University.
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