Debts owed, lessons learned
This magazine’s editorial team works in some ways as a family – with all the bonds that tie people who have grown up together, plus of course the odd bit of sibling rivalry and even a dust-up from time to time – and in other ways, more like a squadron we are all proud to have joined. It may be stretching it a bit, but unlike members of a family, we chose this outfit and really did have to pass muster to join its ranks.
You would not normally expect to read here about editors and contributors, and how we produce the magazine – the aim is to seamlessly produce something worth reading, fine food for the flyer’s mind if you like – and it’s the quality of the fare that counts, not what’s going on in the kitchen. Unfortunately this edition of Pilot is most definitely not being produced under normal conditions: we have lost a member of the team who was not just one of the people that make the magazine the publication it is, but the man who, along with the great Editor/ Publisher James Gilbert, developed its style and distinctive voice. Indeed, together with James, Mike Jerram was Pilot. We pay tribute on p.8.
In Mike's absence it was the Editor’s task to produce ‘Safety Matters’ for this edition, and selecting the stories meant that I paid them closer than usual attention. I am going to break another rule here: we do not normally comment on the AAIB’S findings – their job is to investigate accidents, ours is to report on their findings. However, one thing the AAIB doesn’t do is praise wise actions and we would like to highlight those of the Cessna Cardinal RG pilot who appears to have dealt so well with undercarriage failure (p.75). This chap had no option but to land wheels up – or at least unlocked – after most of the hydraulic fluid escaped, leaving the back-up hand pump inoperative. With great good sense, he maximised the chance of success by returning to base, rather than attempting the emergency landing at a less familiar airfield, and reduced the likelihood of shock-loading the engine by shutting down late in the approach and gliding in. The result was minimal damage to man or machine.
The experienced pilot who ended up smiting a tree in his Luscombe gets my sympathy. It could happen to any one of us. Taking off from a shortish runway he knew well, he elected to go downhill in a slight tailwind, rather than up the slope towards power lines (not mentioned in the AAIB report). Sensibly, he back-tracked along the adjoining, angled runway to maximise his ground run, but there his luck ran out. Experiencing a reduced rate of climb, he misjudged his clearance from trees close to the end of the runway and clipped one with a wing. Happily, a secure harness and energy-absorbing seat cushions saved him from serious injury in the resulting crash – which is one lesson from the incident.
On the other hand, tight margins, having to make your own decision about whether a favourable runway slope outweighs a tailwind, and sometimes finding that, for whatever reason, climb rate is not what you’d expected are all part and parcel of strip flying. It is never going to be as safe as operating from the wide, uncluttered expanse of one of the major aerodromes (but it’s a whole lot more fun). You might say “If you can’t take the heat…” but the universal lesson here is that, as the very honest Luscombe pilot concluded, making an early decision to avoid an obstacle is better than waiting to see if the aircraft will clear it.
Of course, staying current helps one stay on top of the game too – so don’t be put off and don’t stop flying, folks.
Philip Whiteman, Editor