Debts owed, lessons learned

Pilot - - PREFLIGHT -

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

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