ILAFFT

We’d en­tered cloud in­ad­ver­tently and were climb­ing to avoid high ground, so why did the air­craft sud­denly sound and feel so very strange?

Pilot - - CONTENTS - Words by: Alis­tair Macpher­son

Press on at your peril – a hair­rais­ing ex­pe­ri­ence

Flick­ing through the pages of my late fa­ther’s fly­ing log book re­cently, I came across an en­try dated 11 Au­gust 1969, with the com­ment ‘Pwll­heli, coast etc!!!’ un­der the 'Re­marks' col­umn. That trip will al­ways re­main im­printed in my mind too.

Our air­craft, a Jodel Am­bas­sadeur DR1050, G-AVOA (still fly­ing to­day) was based at RAF Val­ley for two weeks while we hol­i­dayed in An­gle­sey. Af­ter a weather brief­ing, which sug­gested that all was fine for our in­tended route for VFR fly­ing, we de­parted at 1500 lo­cal time for our des­ti­na­tion, Pwll­heli. How­ever, as we ap­proached the south­ern part of the Llyn ˆ Penin­sula along the coast, to­wards our des­ti­na­tion, the cloud in­creased and our nav­i­ga­tional points of ref­er­ence be­came harder to de­fine.

As my cap­tain pressed on­wards to­wards the old in­dis­tinc­tive grass air­field, the low­er­ing cloud­base con­tin­u­ally dropped, and sud­denly vis­i­bil­ity be­came non-ex­is­tent as we in­ad­ver­tently en­tered the dark grey murk. Keenly aware of the high ground around us, yet un­cer­tain of our ex­act po­si­tion, in­stinc­tively he im­me­di­ately in­creased power and ini­ti­ated a steep climb.

Within min­utes, I be­came aware of dust fill­ing the cock­pit, the in­stru­ments not mak­ing any sense to me at all (they had in fact top­pled, as I was later in­formed), and the air­speed in­di­ca­tor off the clock. (I re­call a Vne of 163mph in this air­craft.)

I looked to­wards fa­ther seek­ing some re­as­sur­ance, but he was to­tally en­grossed in fly­ing the air­craft. As the en­gine noise lev­els had in­creased, I could see that his hair−what lit­tle he had of it−was al­most stand­ing on end!

We were then sub­jected to in­cred­i­ble pos­i­tive grav­ity forces, such as I had never ex­pe­ri­enced in my life be­fore, and at that mo­ment we burst out of the cloud at a tremen­dously high rate of knots, head­ing to­wards a road on which I could clearly make out the white lines and sur­face tex­ture. In­stinc­tively, I braced my­self for im­pact by plac­ing my hands against the in­stru­ment panel.

A thought flashed through my mind of yet an­other brief ar­ti­cle ap­pear­ing in the Daily Ex­press, bear­ing our names and head­lined: ‘Light air­craft fa­tal­i­ties in Snow­do­nia’. It was com­mon­place then and sadly con­tin­ues to oc­cur to­day.

With a tremen­dous down­force press­ing me firmly into my seat, and feel­ing as if my body weighed ten times more, the air­craft then fi­nally en­tered straight and level flight be­neath the cloud, al­beit at a very low height above the ground, and the en­gine was cough­ing se­verely.

Given the amaz­ing g forces ex­pe­ri­enced dur­ing the re­cov­ery, that the wings didn’t sep­a­rate served as tes­ta­ment to the strength of pri­mar­ily wood and fab­ric con­structed air­craft such as Jodels.

For­tu­nately, we could see the coast­line and headed to­wards it look­ing for some­where to force land if the en­gine be­came worse, but within sec­onds the

Within min­utes, I be­came aware of the in­stru­ments not mak­ing any sense

trusty Rolls-royce Con­ti­nen­tal picked up and re­sumed run­ning smoothly. We, how­ever, were per­son­ally far from run­ning smoothly and in a state of shock from the or­deal. As we ar­rived at the coast, the vis­i­bil­ity im­proved and the cloud base sud­denly lifted. CAVOK!

We could see the wel­com­ing long run­away of Llanbedr in the dis­tance, a re­stricted air­field at that time, but nev­er­the­less headed to­wards it to ex­e­cute an emer­gency land­ing. As we neared it, how­ever, our con­fi­dence in the re­li­a­bil­ity of the Rolls-royce power unit had in­creased to the point that we both agreed the worst was be­hind us and we elected to re­turn to Val­ley, grad­u­ally in­creas­ing height and hug­ging the coast­line all the way.

The re­turn flight was un­event­ful but I will never for­get the sen­sa­tion of put­ting my shak­ing wob­bly legs back onto terra firma!

We were greeted by a very kind RAF air­man on the apron who asked if we were OK as they had lost con­tact with us for a while. Such was their con­cern that they of­fered to look over the air­craft for us, an in­vi­ta­tion ac­cepted un­til we could re­turn the air­craft to its engineerin­g base at Manch­ester Ring­way for a fuller ex­am­i­na­tion. (A com­pre­hen­sive check later re­vealed that there had been no dam­age to the air­frame or en­gine.)

On leav­ing RAF Val­ley, we headed for the near­est li­censed hostelry to set­tle our nerves and a de­brief from fa­ther. He told me that he had soon re­alised that the air­craft had en­tered a spin dur­ing the climb into the cloud, as he had over­looked trim­ming it. He added that he was half­way through an IMC rat­ing course and was un­sure whether to ap­ply right or left rud­der dur­ing our spin earth­wards. For­tu­nately, he chose the cor­rect di­rec­tion; in­cor­rect ap­pli­ca­tion would have ag­gra­vated the spin mak­ing re­cov­ery im­pos­si­ble given the very low al­ti­tude that we were op­er­at­ing at. At this junc­ture I should point out that the Jodel DR1050 is not cleared for spin­ning due to the small rud­der size!

Un­de­terred by this death-de­fy­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, I later gained my own PPL in the Jodel and, due to it not be­ing cer­ti­fied for spin­ning, en­joyed the spin­ning ex­er­cise in a Tiger Moth, high over the Dee Es­tu­ary. In the open cock­pit Tiger, the slip­stream from any in­cor­rect rud­der ap­pli­ca­tion would slap me in the face and was a tremen­dous dis­ci­pline for ap­pro­pri­ate use in gen­eral flight. So, what did I learn? As a young pas­sen­ger at the time, I ul­ti­mately ben­e­fit­ted tremen­dously from this ter­ri­fy­ing ‘char­ac­ter-build­ing’ ex­pe­ri­ence. Not only did it en­hance my zest for life, but it also gave me a very healthy re­spect for un­ex­pected wors­en­ing weather conditions and vis­i­bil­ity, es­pe­cially with­out an IMC rat­ing. And par­tic­u­larly if fly­ing into an area where solid cu­mulo gran­ite is to be avoided, such as is plen­ti­ful in Snow­do­nia. Fi­nally, never to press on and al­ways to turn back!

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