Only my sec­ond visit, a frisky Lear­jet, and snow ‘patches’ on the run­way – what fun we could have!

Pilot - - Contents - Words by: Lin­ton Chilcott

Get your skates on! A snowy night in Rus­sia...

“Strastvooi­tche, ee dabro pashalo­vats v’moskva.” “Hello, and wel­come to Moscow.” Here’s your first chal­lenge, con­vert­ing from Rus­sian-atis English into west­ern-pilot English.

‘Run­way sur­face: three mm; snow patches; brak­ing ac­tion good.’ So what do you reckon? No, you’re way off. Let me clar­ify.

The Lear­jet 60XR has more power to weight ra­tio than Con­corde. Un­til pro­duc­tion ceased two years ago, it was the fastest climb­ing com­mer­cial jet in pro­duc­tion. But this was achieved in the time-hon­oured Amer­i­can fash­ion of bolt­ing on the big­gest, grun­ti­est lumps of Pratt and Whit­ney they could find in the shed− a tri­umph, it may be said, of thrust over aero­dy­nam­ics. In fact, this evo­lu­tion of a 1960s clas­sic has a pretty old wing de­sign and, de­spite huge wads of won­der­ful thrust, it takes kindly to some pretty high speeds at that point at which it makes, or re­lin­quishes, con­tact with the run­way.

On this par­tic­u­lar dark, cross­windy and snow-filled night, I was look­ing to make con­tact with the nice long Run­way 19 at Moscow’s Vnukovo biz­jet air­port, only my sec­ond visit to an air­port and a city that I would come to know well over the next six years. I was new to the type, line train­ing in the left-hand seat and, frankly, find­ing the man­age­ment of all the au­to­matic sys­tems on my first ever EFIS type pretty chal­leng­ing. All that in­for­ma­tion! All those pretty colours! All that bloody IT! On the other hand, I had had jet ex­pe­ri­ence be­fore the last twelve years of tur­bo­props. As for cross­wind and bad weather ex­pe­ri­ence−i had that in spades af­ter many years of fly­ing the is­lands and high­lands of Scot­land.

So as I took up the slack and blipped out the au­topi­lot I was glad to get out of geekville for a bit and back to­wards, if not my com­fort zone, at least an environmen­t with which I had some ex­pe­ri­ence− hand-fly­ing a few tons of twin en­gine air­craft onto a snow-dusted run­way, with some cross­wind.

As we dropped out of the over­cast, I peered ahead for the black­top, with its re­ported ‘patches’ of the white stuff. Well, you know what I saw, of course−you’re way ahead of me: white−a sea of it. ‘Snow patches’? Nyet!

Too late for dis­cus­sion. My line trainer has seen it all be­fore, knows what to ex­pect, had prob­a­bly warned me, if only I’d had the ca­pac­ity to re­flect on the point while play­ing with all the damn giz­mos fur­ther out.

We touch... I lower the nose­wheel, the spoil­ers snap up, I crack the big and ef­fec­tive thrust re­versers, hes­i­tate, then gin­gerly be­gin to open up the for­ward vec­tored thrust from those out­size Pratt & Whit­neys. Those lit­tle bitty wheels, com­i­cally small when first seen, spin like hell−and it all be­gins to get a lit­tle less funny. We be­gin to drift. Side­ways, as well as in a lat­er­ally twist­ing mo­tion. Not a lot, in truth, but cer­tainly enough to be con­scious of in my height­ened state of aware­ness (or fear, if you pre­fer). Thank you but I don’t want even a lit­tle of that kind of ‘fun’ while fo­cussed (white- knuckle fo­cussed by this stage) on stop­ping eight tons of 135 knot go-go on a run­way that is clearly fully con­tam­i­nated, slip­pery as hell, and begin­ning to both pivot and tran­si­tion lat­er­ally across my view through the wind­screen.

‘Brak­ing ac­tion: good’? Chort vozmih− I think not!

Clearly, do­ing any­thing abruptly is very con­tra-in­di­cated at this point. So is go­ing around. It’s been tried be­fore from just af­ter land­ing on the run­way−i’ve done it my­self on oc­ca­sion−but, ab­so­lutely not af­ter the re­versers are un­latched. That is a no-no of big-big pro­por­tions. From here on we’re com­mit­ted, and the go-around op­tion doesn’t even flicker through my wor­ried brain. Plen­ti­ful other thoughts and op­tions crowd in though (as well as the age-old word that doesn’t re­ally help in prac­ti­cal terms, yet some­how aids a lit­tle with stress man­age­ment). Com­mence brak­ing or let the re­versers do the work? More re­verse to slow down? Or are those big fat thrust buck­ets just dig­ging me deeper into trou­ble and drag­ging us even closer to the slushy white swamp that awaits at the side of the run­way?

I’d love to say that the train­ing kicks in but, in truth, aca­demic lessons on brak­ing and thrust re­verse vec­tors, wheel slip and steer­ing an­gles, and such­like feel pretty re­mote just now. I’ve never been in a sit­u­a­tion quite like this one−not at such speed, not with such small wheels, not with such enor­mous thrust re­verse ca­pa­bil­ity rel­a­tive to the size of the air­craft and its funny lit­tle wheels. And so I fall back on the two el­e­ments that have saved many an avi­a­tor over the years from ei­ther em­bar­rass­ment or dis­as­ter: ‘feel’, and ‘not do­ing much un­less you know be­yond doubt that it’s the right thing to do’. And grad­u­ally and, above all, smoothly, first we steer, then slow, then slow some more, then taxi clear− and fi­nally start breath­ing again.

Just as a wee re­minder, here’s some of what the books of­fer about stop­ping on con­tam­i­nated run­ways in a cross­wind: Steer­ing and brak­ing are some­what mu­tu­ally exclusive when it’s re­ally slip­pery. As you gen­er­ally have more run­way ahead of you than along­side you, re­lease the brakes and sort out the steer­ing first. Only then pro­gres­sively get back on the brakes. While brak­ing, a wheel has less abil­ity to track straight (in a cross­wind), there­fore your brak­ing main wheels are drift­ing side­ways, while your un-braked nose wheels are more or less track­ing straight. When you think about it, that has to equal yaw. Same ap­plies to the thrust re­versers, only even more so. As soon as the air­craft starts to yaw off the straight ahead, they are only go­ing to spin you more. So re­duce their in­put−big time−and sort out the di­rec­tion of travel first, be­fore re-ad­dress­ing the speed com­po­nent sec­ond.

As for the Rus­sian les­son, well, like most places, flight op­er­a­tions in Rus­sia and the CIS are evolv­ing, quite rapidly in many ar­eas. Nev­er­the­less, there have been two fa­tal ac­ci­dents on Vnukovo’s run­ways in the six years since I be­gan fly­ing there, both of them in­volv­ing winter con­di­tions.

As the Rus­sian ATC of­fi­cers some­times say when hand­ing you off to a new fre­quency: “Sha­zl­eva!” Good luck!

We be­gin to drift side­ways and in a lat­er­ally twist­ing mo­tion

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