When tired­ness after a long hot day co­in­cides with the evening’s set­ting sun and dis­ap­pear­ing land­marks, who do you call?

Pilot - - CONTENTS - By Keith Cameron

At the end of a long day, noth­ing was quite how it should have been

After re­ceiv­ing my pris­tine PPL(A) li­cence from the CAA, I went on lots of jaunts around the coun­try and added a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of hours to the log­book. And then there were more badges to col­lect: IMC, night rat­ing, tail-wheel. So then what? He­li­copters, of course!

So, with a mint PPL(H), I did all the stan­dard stuff — land­ing in friends’ gar­dens, ar­riv­ing on an H where it meant ho­tel as well as he­li­copter, and so on. Then I re­alised that a great opportunit­y for a grade one trip was be­fore my eyes.

One of my good friends was ap­proach­ing his fifti­eth birth­day. He was a car en­thu­si­ast. An en­gi­neer by train­ing, he built cars and was ac­tive in am­a­teur events but was so busy with his own cars that he had never been to a Grand Prix. So I or­gan­ised his spe­cial birth­day present — a ticket to the Bri­tish Grand Prix in July and de­liv­ery there and back, from his home in Hamp­shire to Sil­ver­stone by he­li­copter. A diminu­tive Robin­son R22 was booked out to me from my train­ing school at Den­ham, Bucks, on the north­ern edge of Heathrow’s TMA.

The Sun­day morn­ing was blue skies with oc­ca­sional fluffy white clouds, very light winds and tem­per­a­tures fore­cast to be in the mid-twen­ties. Couldn’t have been bet­ter.

The plan was to fly to Hamp­shire, col­lect the birth­day boy from his gar­den, then fly to Tur­we­ston Aero­drome, less than three miles from Sil­ver­stone. To fly into Sil­ver­stone you need a CPL(H) so hun­dreds of PPL(H)S and PPL(A)S fol­low the well es­tab­lished prac­tice of ‘land­ing down the road’, en­joy­ing a high qual­ity hot break­fast and then be­ing trans­ported cross-coun­try by a fleet of ve­hi­cles to Sil­ver­stone.

The first part of the plan went like a dream; the flight down to Hamp­shire ar­rived ex­actly on time. Pas­sen­ger col­lected, Flight 002 lifted on sched­ule and ar­rived at the Sil­ver­stone proxy at the pre­scribed time. We were then driven across the fields and down a few lanes to en­ter the cir­cuit at Stowe Cor­ner. We en­joyed a lovely sunny day, a small pic­nic and en­ter­tain­ing racing but, boy, was it hot.

After a few hours in the July sun, we picked up our trans­port shut­tle at Stowe and re­turned to the air­field. Then it was a prompt start and lift and an hour’s flight back to Hamp­shire. After land­ing in the gar­den I was in­vited to stay for a cup of tea but said, “Thanks but no thanks”. It was early evening by then and I needed to start the fourth leg of the de­tail and re­turn the he­li­copter to its base. Al­though the mis­sion had not been dif­fi­cult, it had been a long and hot day and I was look­ing for­ward to com­plet­ing four hours of fly­ing and putting my feet up.

Ev­ery­thing was work­ing to plan as I pro­gressed to­wards home and I noted some of the fa­mil­iar land­marks as I tracked north-east. FREDA checks nor­mal, empty skies, no ra­dio chat­ter — ev­ery­thing fine.

I was about five or six miles from home when I re­alised I couldn’t see my base or any of the fa­mil­iar sur­round­ing fea­tures. Not al­ways easy to see un­der per­fect con­di­tions, I turned my at­ten­tion to spot­ting some of the area land­marks. They weren’t where I thought they should be.

I con­tin­ued on the head­ing. I was on track so some­thing fa­mil­iar must show it­self soon. Vis­i­bil­ity was OK al­though the sun was get­ting lower as evening asked to take over from day. Still noth­ing. Slow down — give your­self a chance. I re­duced power and took fif­teen knots off my speed. I called the air­field fre­quency but, as ex­pected, ev­ery­body had gone home a cou­ple of hours be­fore.

This had been going on for too long. I must have over­shot; that’s why there’s noth­ing fa­mil­iar down there. I made a 180 de­gree turn and flew the re­cip­ro­cal. After a cou­ple of min­utes head­ing south-west I re­alised that if I did not spot the air­field (and I was fly­ing into a set­ting sun) I could shortly be in the Heathrow TMA and that would be a very ex­pen­sive in­cur­sion.

So I turned north, fig­ur­ing I should be able to find some other land­marks. Re­lieved to be fly­ing away from Heathrow, I rea­soned that the worst that could hap­pen on this track would be an un­planned view of southern Birm­ing­ham. No, that’s wrong, the worst that could hap­pen would be run­ning out of fuel. This was a light he­li­copter with a rel­a­tively small fuel tank and it was now low on juice.

I wasn’t pan­icked but I was wor­ried. I could fly the he­li­copter safely but my brain wasn’t work­ing well and I was los­ing con­fi­dence in my de­ci­sion mak­ing. Then my very tired, fried brain man­aged one (fi­nal) good idea: call 121.5. Dis­tress and Di­ver­sion an­swered im­me­di­ately. “Lon­don Cen­tre, pass your mes­sage.”

“G-XXXX is an R22 from a pri­vate site near YYYY to Den­ham, 1,500 feet on 1027, tem­po­rar­ily un­cer­tain of my po­si­tion and un­able to nav­i­gate ac­cu­rately be­cause of the set­ting sun.“

They asked me to con­tinue fly­ing north and a minute or so later asked me if I could see a mo­tor­way di­rectly be­low me. I cer­tainly could, I’d been us­ing that as a vi­tal ref­er­ence point. The prob­lem was that I didn’t know whether it was the northerly head­ing sec­tion of the M25 or the M1. “Af­firm, G-XX.”

“G-XX, take up a head­ing of 165 de­grees and your air­field is seven miles from your cur­rent po­si­tion. Call the field on 130.725.”

“165 de­grees and seven miles. Their fre­quency is closed, I’ve tried them.” “OK, stay with us on this fre­quency un­til you’re ready to let down.”

Seven miles and five min­utes later, field in sight and ready to let down, I signed off from D& D and thanked them pro­fusely. At the air­field I hover-tax­ied to the hangars, held over the H and per­formed a clumsy let-down. As I sat there wait­ing for the en­gine to come down to tem­per­a­ture to dis­en­gage the ro­tor clutch, I felt so tired I wanted to go to sleep there and then. A long and boil­ing hot day plus four hours of fly­ing was def­i­nitely a for­mula for tired­ness.

So, what did I learn from the ex­pe­ri­ence? First, to be more aware of what will con­trib­ute to tired­ness and to al­low for it. Se­cond, con­firm­ing what I al­ready knew, D& D are al­ways avail­able to help. Third — and most im­por­tant — call early and ask D& D for help in good time. Do it be­fore an in­cip­i­ent prob­lem be­comes a night­mare. Make your call be­fore the ball of wool starts to un­ravel.

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