…so why was I now bat­tling head­winds, and hop­ing the fuel would last un­til I’d landed?

Pilot - - CONTENTS - By Martin Leusby

It pays to make sure you’re us­ing the very lat­est weather re­port

The 1980s and ‘90s were the hey­day of so­cial air ral­lies in the UK, and in 1987 Aberdeen held the first Gran­ite City Air Rally. Armed with the IMC rating I had earned just six months pre­vi­ously, Ed­mund Comber and I had been able to climb and take ad­van­tage of the tail­wind to ar­rive in Aberdeen only two hours and fifty min­utes af­ter leav­ing Peter­bor­ough. We did have to fly some one and a half hours of this in solid IMC but in those days there was plenty of radar cov­er­age as we trav­elled up the East Coast.

The new­ness of the rally and the pre­vail­ing weather kept many po­ten­tial en­trants away but enough ar­rived to make a com­pe­ti­tion, and we were pleas­antly sur­prised with some of the re­sults, in­clud­ing be­ing given the long­est dis­tance award. For this first year of the rally, it was only over one night so on the Sun­day morn­ing, fol­low­ing the Satur­day night rev­el­ries, Aberdeen ATC (who were the in­sti­ga­tors and or­gan­is­ers of the whole show) pro­vided com­pre­hen­sive weather brief­ings at first light for those re­turn­ing home, whilst late ar­rivals due to Satur­day’s weather rushed around the navex course.

It was ir­re­sistible to wait to see who even­tu­ally won, even though more com­peti­tors kept turn­ing up, and it was worth the wait when a cer­tain Mr Bob Poo­ley pre­sented us with the BA Tro­phy. He must have had con­fi­dence in us as he then pro­ceeded to cadge a lift south­wards. He needed to get to Cran­field, but if we took him as far as Con­ing­ton he would be happy to take a taxi from there. At this stage the eu­pho­ria of win­ning took over our senses as we pre­pared to leave.

We had planned with early morn­ing Met and it was 1230 be­fore we left. Our planned time to Peter­bor­ough gave us am­ple fuel re­serves and the early weather had promised fine con­di­tions and light winds. We cruised along on top, well-leaned at FL75, hardly notic­ing our re­duc­ing ground­speed the fur­ther south we flew.

Get­ting closer to home, we thought about de­scent but, lo and be­hold, no holes! It was Sun­day af­ter­noon and RAF radar around us be­gan to close down. For­tu­nately, we found that RAF Wit­ter­ing was work­ing and the con­trollers helped us at­tempt a cloud break, but when we were un­able to do that safely, they sug­gested Cran­field would be the ap­proach of choice. They alerted Cran­field on the land­line and en­sured ILS was avail­able.

We turned for the Char­lie Fox Delta, while Wit­ter­ing con­tin­ued radar cov­er­age. I used my one VOR, flip-flop­ping be­tween fre­quen­cies to make cross­cuts of my po­si­tion on the map (us­ing ‘Vor­track’ — it was long be­fore we had GPS and the like). We stayed on track but it was tak­ing for­ever to reach the beacon. Not sur­pris­ing, as we now had a thirty-five knot head­wind, not men­tioned in the morn­ing weather — but it was now well af­ter four o’clock.

I had done my IMC ground school at Ox­ford, and the fly­ing had been at Faro. The cross-coun­try had ended at Gibral­tar with a PAR, but the main ap­proaches were at Faro where we used VOR/DME. Al­though I knew ILS the­ory, I had never flown one.

We fi­nally started our crawl down the glides­lope. The change in air­craft at­ti­tude did not move the fuel gauges off zero, where they seemed to have been for some time. At min­ima, we man­aged to break out and put the aero­plane down on a windswept, sod­den Cran­field.

We parked and walked away af­ter a flight last­ing four hours twenty min­utes. I didn’t have the heart or in­cli­na­tion to re­fuel at that mo­ment, but next day Rogers Avi­a­tion man­aged to squeeze just over 29 gal­lons into our 31 gal­lon tanks (and the man­ual says one gal­lon is un­us­able)!

Since that day I have be­come a plan­ning freak and re­gard only an hour’s re­serve as al­most bor­der­line. My shy­ness of ask­ing for weather en route has dis­ap­peared com­pletely. And I can guar­an­tee that, af­ter the date, the first parts of the Met brief­ing I read are the times and is­sue of va­lid­ity.

But there were so many other lessons. Don’t get caught up in the mo­ment, con­cen­trate on what you must do, and plan for ev­ery even­tu­al­ity. Make sure your tim­ings agree with your PLOG and, if not, change the plan. Turn back (or side­ways, if nec­es­sary) if it gets you to a safe let-down faster. Prac­tice ev­ery ap­proach avail­able. No doubt the reader can think of more.

And through­out this episode, Bob Poo­ley sat hap­pily in the back seat with a large bag of sweets that he reg­u­larly of­fered to us. I’m not a sweet-lover, and I doubt that my dry mouth would have been able to cope with one, but I was grate­ful for his re­main­ing calm — and ex­tremely happy he got to his pre­ferred des­ti­na­tion.

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