Accidents and Close Calls Discussion on accidents, close calls, and other unplanned aviation events, so we can learn from them, and be better pilots ourselves.

Cabaret time

Old 6th Aug 2015, 13:02
  #21 (permalink)  
 
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I wrote about the VC10 smoke experience for two reasons. (1) Because, although John Farley started it by describing an inexplicable feeling which made him take quick and decisive action which probably saved his life, my story also had eerie overtones. How likely was it to have a very nasty experience so soon after discussing in a bar the wish to test myself? And then having a nasty experience the very next day! (2) I will now follow it up with some lessons learned.

I think they were these. On the plus side, I had discovered I could act rationally in extremis, and that I found comforting. On the minus side, I knew we had done lots of things wrong. Our response, I believe, was a throwback to a previous type where the radio racks were in the flight deck and one of the immediate actions to stop electrical smoke was to kill all the radios. We all should have known better.

For myself, I vowed never to be found wanting again. I read avidly, I read manuals, I asked questions of instructors, I tried to find out as much as I could about flying - I wanted to know the derivation of everything. And it was probably that which propelled me towards a whole career in training and flight management.

The first lesson for me, was don’t rush into action too quickly, stop, think, analyse and only then do something. I know you can’t always just sit on your hands, but in most emergences there is usually time to pause and analyse before leaping into action. The next lesson was to know much more about the aircraft and its systems. Switching off the radio master switches not only isolated the radios but also disabled the main flight instruments and the autopilot, leaving only the ASI, VSI and turn and slip. That action, more than anything else, turned a minor incident into a near accident.

The more I continued to fly the more I became interested in why people make mistakes and what were the real causes of accidents. So much was just put down to pilot error, which at the superficial level is true, but the really interesting bit is to try to find out why human beings make mistakes. Remember, this was back in the 1960s/70s when training departments viewed mistakes as heinous crimes and not as learning opportunities. I read up on the psychology of visual perception and found out how easy it is for the human animal to misperceive and be misled by visual illusions. I read up on stress and fear to find out more about why and how humans react the way they do and how human perception narrows down as stress and workload builds up. I read the various books on human error and how we are all prone to false hypotheses – and that for me was the really interesting one. If something happens and you accept a false hypothesis, and you are under stress, it is very probable that you will continue to act upon that hypothesis and not be able to change it. You will then carry out a set of actions which may well be the right ones for the hypothesis but not appropriate for the actual situation.

So I came to accept a set of rules which I tried to inject into instructor courses and training routines, I think they are these:-

1. Modern aircraft are easy to fly, they are very reliable and have good handling characteristics, therein lies the danger. It is all too easy to be unprepared for the rare occasions when it all goes wrong and you really have to fight for your life.

2. Most events do not require instant action. The ones that do are regularly practised on the simulator so that they become routine. Such things as rejected take-off, engine out after V1 and wind shear recovery are good examples where an instant and correct response is required.

3. For all other events, there is usually time to assess the situation. This is absolutely vital because it is imperative to avoid the false hypothesis and to embark on the wrong course of action.

4. Know your aircraft. A good knowledge of the manuals, where to find information, how the aircraft works and what the systems do and how they do it saves time when you have to do things in a hurry, giving you more time to think.

5. If you are to assess the situation correctly you need to shed workload and buy time, therefore hand over control to the other pilot and make maximum use of the autopilot.

6. Be like a doctor. Observe the situation, diagnose the problem and then prescribe the correct checklist. Remember that the checklist is the best compendium of actions available to you, it has been thought out by people who really do know what they are talking about (the manufacturer, test pilots, the CAA, your own airline) and they will have done so in the peace and quiet of the office when there is plenty of time to think. Remember also that for every item in the check list someone may have died for it. So follow the checklist. It is also the means of coordinating the crew.

7. Now comes the difficult bit, when do you chuck the checklist out of the window? Well, if it is imperative to get on the ground ASAP (it is on fire and likely to fall apart at any moment) all aircraft are still like Tiger Moths. Even in a modern jet transport you only have to slow up to around 240kts and stick some flap out, slow up a bit more (say to 180kts) and stick some more flap out, put the gear down, stick down landing flap and then stick it on the runway. You won’t have gone far wrong – the other bits are not essential – EXCEPT – you must remember to de-pressurise before landing otherwise you won’t be able to open the doors and evacuate the aircraft.

8. ABOVE ALL, GUARD AGAINST THE WRONG HYPOTHESIS.
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Old 6th Aug 2015, 20:05
  #22 (permalink)  
 
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Remember also that for every item in the check list someone may have died for it.

I have been known to say this to my passengers. Possibly I shouldn't.
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Old 9th Sep 2015, 15:53
  #23 (permalink)  
 
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John Farley started this thread by talking about overwhelming feelings that have no rational explanation but which should not be ignored. This little story is about remaining totally aware of one’s surroundings and noticing all those little tell-tale factors which give rise to uneasy feelings that need investigating. It is certainly not rocket science.
Some years ago, back in the late 1970s, I was the captain of a VC10 taxiing out for take-off from Entebbe, bound for London, at near maximum weight. The airfield is 3,780ft above sea level therefore there was not much margin for error. As we taxied out I gradually became aware that something was not quite right, and then it dawned on me that the grass, which fortunately was fairly long, was all leaning the wrong way. Needless to say the windsock was a tattered rag and of no use at all.
I asked the co-pilot to ask the tower what the wind was and they confirmed it to be the same as the one we had used for our take-off calculations. I asked the others on the flight deck what they thought and we all agreed that the wind we had been given had to be wrong. We asked ATC again and got the same answer. So I stopped the aircraft, put the parking on, and told them we would hold position on the taxiway until we had sorted it out. There then followed a long ‘discussion’ with the tower controller who was eventually persuaded to inform us that the anemometer had been broken for several days and the wind we had been given was three days old!
So each of us made an assessment of the wind direction and speed – we did it independently and wrote it down so that we would not influence each other. Then we averaged the result, re-did the take-off calculation and told the tower controller we would be taking off in the opposite direction. He was not best pleased with this but allowed us to do so when we informed him we would be filing an air safety report when we got to London.
Just one small example of how necessary it is to keep one’s antenna well tuned all the time – especially in Africa!
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Old 12th Sep 2015, 15:12
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This is the best thread on PPRuNe. I'm sad that there's no heart for a post icon.
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Old 13th Sep 2015, 22:15
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John (Farley), whilst on a visit to Boscombe Down many years ago, I was told a tale of a USMC Harrier on a carrier which had an 'uncommanded roll' problem for which you were flown out to test it. If you can remember this occurrence, maybe everyone would be interested in hearing the story if it's true.
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Old 14th Sep 2015, 09:01
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Definitely the best thread on PP. John Farley, Centarus, and Bergerie, those were the days!

My adventures - mostly all alone, so Captain of my fate....

First lesson, don't panic! and second lesson, don't necessarily believe the gauges. And Third, most important, if the aircraft is right side up and still airborne, you have more time than you may think to decide on the correct action or NO ACTION.

Cutting over the gulf of Florida, enroute to Tampa, at 11,000 feet alt. in a rented clapped out C172, I enjoyed the company of an enroute controller, who noticed I was straying from the intended flight path, and asked if there was a problem/
I replied actually, I may have a problem with fuel. One dial said full, one said empty, as both wing tanks should be feeding the engine, they should both drain down more or less in sympathy.

"Do you want to declare an emergency?" asked the controller, hopefully...

"Well, not just yet" I replied. The controller asked if I would like to be vectored to the nearest airport (not all that near, but never mind), being Tallahassee, the Florida State Capital.
I agreed to this suggestion. The controller then instructed me to DESCEND to 3,000! !
"NEGATIVE" I said, "If I am going to be flying a glider I want to start from as high as possible!"

Taking this on board, the controller then told me that he had cleared the airspace for me enroute to Tallahassee from 11,000 right down to the ground. All right! So I advised him when I had the airfield in sight, was transferred to tower, descended and landed straight ahead, to be met of course by all the emergency vehicles, and then taxied to the pumps...

Of course it was not a wasp nest in the fuel tank air vent after all, only the dials telling lies again.
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Old 15th Sep 2015, 15:28
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Reading Mary Meagher’s post reminds me of how much we pilots owe to others, in particular, those on the ground who help and guide us in the air – the ATCOs. They really are the pilot’s best friends; our other crew members, even though they are not in the aircraft with us. I guess most of us who have flown have reasons to thank them, I know I do.

But there are also times when it was necessary to be very cautious, as at Entebbe in my last post. Flying in some parts of the world one had to take the initiative regardless of the ATC clearance. Those who flew in Africa will remember the blind broadcast procedure on VHF after each position report, requiring a constant listening watch for aircraft that might be in the same place, at the same time and at the same altitude, and then having to do one’s own ATC by climbing or descending 500ft in order to maintain safe separation. This was particularly so during the Hadj, when there was undeclared east/west traffic crossing the north/south routes between Europe and the rest of Africa. I wonder how many unknown near misses there were in the middle of the night before TCAS.

And despite the excellent ATC in most parts of the world, there were times when it was necessary to disagree with the controller and refuse a clearance. Not an accident, nor even a close call, but two occasions when constant vigilance proved its worth. There was the time in Montego Bay, when following the clearance would have meant boring a hole in hills. I forget the exact safety altitude, it is all so long ago. But the take-off clearance for our departure to New York required us to take-off, turn north, and then come back south over the NDB at 3000ft because there was another aircraft inbound from the north at 4000ft. Naturally we declined and stayed on the ground until he had landed.

Then at Jeddah, bound for Abu Dhabi, we were held down below our safety altitude heading towards the mountains because an inbound aircraft was coming in above us. It was not long after ATC there had started using radar, I don’t know what the controller was doing – perhaps he was new to it all. I said we would continue on track for xx miles and then, regardless of what he wanted we would either climb or turn back to the field but we would definitely NOT be accepting the clearance to continue eastbound.

As I have said, neither of these instances were close calls, and neither was it rocket science to decide what to do. I recount them because, once again, they demonstrate the need for eternal vigilance. I am sure many other PPRuNers have had similar experiences.
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Old 15th Sep 2015, 15:50
  #28 (permalink)  
 
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Originally Posted by Bergerie1 View Post
Reading Mary Meagher’s post reminds me of how much we pilots owe to others, in particular, those on the ground who help and guide us in the air – the ATCOs. They really are the pilot’s best friends; our other crew members, even though they are not in the aircraft with us. I guess most of us who have flown have reasons to thank them, I know I do.

Then at Jeddah, bound for Abu Dhabi, we were held down below our safety altitude heading towards the mountains because an inbound aircraft was coming in above us. It was not long after ATC there had started using radar, I don’t know what the controller was doing – perhaps he was new to it all. I said we would continue on track for xx miles and then, regardless of what he wanted we would either climb or turn back to the field but we would definitely NOT be accepting the clearance to continue eastbound.
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Just because they had radar did they think to train the controllers how to use it? I've seen controllers with radar simply watching the traffic and waiting until they cross before they issue climb/descent instructions. Nobody had taught them to vector the traffic so the tracks did not oppose.
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Old 17th Sep 2015, 15:38
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How to get lost...

Sorry, this is a long one!

Many years ago when I was young and stupid I was lucky enough to be flying the Phantom FG1 (or F4K if you prefer), which was the version designed to be operated by the RN as well as the RAF. It had a few things that the FGR2 did not (like a slotted stabilator) but it was also missing a few bits and pieces that the FGR2 had. These were minor things like an HF radio, any form of inertial navigation, and an internal battery. The nav kit consisted mainly of a TACAN and an Air Position Indicator; the API required a starting position, a wind vector and a healthy supply of cheese or other food for the mouse that apparently worked the inside of the black box. The battery could present an interesting problem - at least until we had a mod with an emergency version - as a double generator failure put out all the instrument and flood lighting until you could get the RAT on line (below 1.1M/515kts) by braille. Fortunately, the event I offer for your amusement happened in daylight.

We were sent off as a pair one very windy Sunday morning (OK weather but 25-30 kts surface wind) as part of a maritime exercise. We were told the fleet was operating off the Shetlands, there was a tanker for us, and that there was a strong westerly jetstream of about 180kts. We were in 3-tank fit, so had 22000 lbs fuel, enough for about 2.5 hours if we were careful, though of course we had a tanker so anything up to 7 hours was on the cards. Off we went, straight up to FL250 and out towards the Shetlands where we started talking to the controlling ship good and early to avoid the usual problem of being shot down by the Navy before we could take part in its defence. The duty director sent us off in another direction for our CAP, where two things happened quite quickly. First, we ran into thick and un-forecast cloud (the brief was for light cirrus) and secondly we lost visual with our wingman, so we sent him to a new position about 10 miles away so we could operate without bumping into each other. All seemed to be well, though the TACAN had resolutely refused to play since its (satis) pre-flight test; the mouse was obviously satisfied with its meal as the API information gave us a sensible lat/long which tallied with my trusty navigator's MDR plot.

We spent some time on CAP, 4 minute legs based on the API position and orientated down threat (south). I even remembered to allow some drift for the jetstream and briefed my nav accordingly. The tanker came up on freq and we sent our wingman off as he had less fuel than us, while we stayed on task to protect our nautical chums from the marauding Cold War hordes.
Some time after that, things went a little quiet and, though we could still hear our wingman, he did not seem to hear us. No matter, a break in the cloud meant we could anchor our CAP over the islands (obviously the Shetlands) that appeared below. And there we stayed, not talking to anyone (and no HF to help either) but quite happy about what we were supposed to be doing.

And then after a while I got that feeling. We had planned on starting our recovery to Leuchars with 7000 lbs, ample for the range we were at, fuel burn of 100 lbs/min, wind, diversion fuel etc. I don't know why, other than a strong sense that we needed extra fuel, but I decided to add 4000 lbs to the plan and told the nav we would start recovery next time we pointed towards home. Which is what we did. After about 5 mins on the home leg I asked the nav to give us a squirt of ground mapping (AN/AWG-11, multi-mode radar that had been in pulse doppler for almost the whole trip so we could see low-level targets). 100 nm range scale, nothing to be seen, 200 nm range, blank again. No Scotland anywhere in sight, even when we turned onto 270. So I asked a very simple question: "Where are we, G*****?" His answer was equally simple: "I haven't got a ******** clue!" He agreed with my next statement, which was simply "So we are lost, then."

Grabbing a passing straw to swing on, I suggested that maybe we had drifted with the jetstream as far as the Faroes, and it was those islands we were over. Anything being worth a shot, we turned onto a south easterly heading and this time the ground mapping showed some returns about 180 nm away. I enquired politely whether they were actually ground returns and was informed that they were indeed. That was excellent news. I then asked if the returns were Scotland-shaped. As I suspected when I asked the question, they weren't!

I remember just how strangely calm I felt when I pointed out that (a) we were lost, (b) there was no point trying to work out where we were because we were clearly nowhere near where we were supposed to be, (c) we were not talking to anyone on any of the published frequencies and (d) the only things we had going for us were some extra fuel, a radar and some ground returns. The plan was to fly towards the strange land-mass showing on the radar, let down over the sea if possible (using said radar to prove we were sea-side), find an airfield and land, or find a suitable road for landing if we couldn't find an airfield, or part company with the aircraft over the coast if none of the above worked. The 3 external tanks would be jettisoned when we hit 6000 lbs remaining, to give us some extra time.

So we wandered in a gentle descent towards the Land of Wherever, wearing a 7700 squawk and sending out PAN calls (should have been a MAYDAY really...) on 243.0 as we didn't have VHF either! Having asked the nav to read through the pre-meditated ejection and tank jettison drills, I watched as the fuel counter ticked through 7000 lbs and was just starting to wonder how much fun it would be to drop the tanks when our 7th PAN call was answered by Bremen Approach. Bremen?!! WTF etc... This was followed by another but very welcome voice telling us we were 60 miles on the centreline at Karup (Denmark) and asking if we would like to come and land. Oh, yes please. The 2000 ft wind was 270/40, we might just make it back to Leuchars or we might not, and there was a slight confidence issue with all the components of the nav system including the big pink bit in the back cockpit. Best land, coffee, refuel etc. Good plan. We turned our aircraft round at Karup, talked to the HQ (the overdue action had started but was turned off when our PAN was heard) and headed home VFR in as straight a line as we could manage.

On investigation it turned out that our API had been adjusted with a hammer and drift or similar and that a piece of swarf had clogged one of the wheels, which must have upset the mouse quite a lot. Range was OK to start with, but the East/West bit was total nonsense. It seems that the jetstream had actually drifted us onto the Norwegian coastline (the islands we had anchored over) and that the drift we applied to allow for it had tracked us down the North Sea outside the mapping range of the radar.

As for repercussions, we didn't even get to do the Axminster shuffle (there's just culture for you) but the nav did get to spend quite a long time talking to the nav leader about MDR plots, fixing cycles, derived winds and a lot of other stuff I didn't recognise. And I learned that when you get those feelings, it's best not to ignore them!

Last edited by Fortissimo; 17th Sep 2015 at 16:22.
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Old 21st Sep 2015, 19:20
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DF Bearings?

My late stepfather was 156 Squadron Signals leader appx mid to late 43. He'd been given a signallers log to verify as the lad had done a gud un bringing a battered a/c home with a wounded nav and air bomber. Bearings taken/times etc all added up and words like 'decoration' were being bandied about.


Trouble was a lump of flak had severed the connection between the loop and receiver.


The signaller swore that he'd taken those bearings.......discuss!
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Old 22nd Sep 2015, 09:54
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Originally Posted by Prangster View Post
My late stepfather was 156 Squadron Signals leader appx mid to late 43. He'd been given a signallers log to verify as the lad had done a gud un bringing a battered a/c home with a wounded nav and air bomber. Bearings taken/times etc all added up and words like 'decoration' were being bandied about.


Trouble was a lump of flak had severed the connection between the loop and receiver.


The signaller swore that he'd taken those bearings.......discuss!
One for 'The Twilight Zone' perhaps?
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Old 23rd Sep 2015, 08:05
  #32 (permalink)  
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Superb thread, thank you Sir John Farley for starting it.

To come back to your initial " hinch" paranormal theory. I never felt this in my carreer but in fact the opposite :In flying recalling the few mishaps I had , it was always when I felt totally realaxed and sure all was well that " [email protected] happenned ". Not sure if it is me , but it occurred to me far more times to be pure coincidence.

In ATC , every controller will tell you that incidents mostly always occur right after a peak busy session , when you calm down and start to relax. But that is another story.

On the wind passed by ATC by TWRs : Remember that the controller can only give you what he reads on his dispay or on a piece of paper given to him/her by met people. This s not necessarily the real wind outside .

Anecdote : In a large international airport in a large Country in Africa served by all European and some US airlines, the airport Anemometer was ( maybe still is ) broken, so the wind you get on the R/T by the TWR controllers is the one of the METAR issued by the met office downtown and updated every 30 minutes.. and 90% of the time the info is not far from the reality. It is when you get to land in the 10% that it becomes critical.

And this is not only an African Problem, re-visit the report on the crash of the Air France A340 in Toronto , part on the wind info passed to the crew during its APP...
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Old 24th Sep 2015, 07:10
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Some years ago I had an assignment flying as Flt Mech full time out of Luxembourg with a 747 freighter. I spent a lot of time in the upper deck bunks as I would do round trip to places like Taipeh or Jo,burg. One night I was sound asleep in my bunk I suddenly woke up with a start - we have had a hydraulic failure. I went to the cockpit and had a look at all the hydraulic indications,which were fine. I told the F/E what had happened,we had a laugh at it then #3 system low pressure light illuminated,as I later found the pump had failed totally.I have no explanation why this happened,in a 45 year career nothing like this had ever happened before or since.At the time it left me a little nonplussed.
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Old 24th Sep 2015, 22:48
  #34 (permalink)  

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bc

I had somewhat the same experience one day in a DC-3. We had flown into Austin, Texas from Oklahoma City with a group of employees that were given a weekend holiday at a lake resort near Austin.

After all the passengers left I had a funny feeling about the right engine, nothing I could put a finger on, but something was bugging me. So I told the guy that was the co-pilot that I was going to start the right engine.

I got back into the cockpit, engaged the right engine starter and nothing happened. The props did not move, the starter had gone out. So I called my mechanic (engineer) in Oklahoma City, told him to grab a spare starter off the shelf and head for Austin as soon as he could.

He got in that night, replaced the starter the next day, which worked, then he had a nice holiday weekend with us as well.

To this day I cannot explain this and nothing like this happened to me again.
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Old 25th Sep 2015, 14:25
  #35 (permalink)  
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We may call it 6th sense, I prefer calling it a very good sense of observation. One that goes a little beyond the understanding we have "on the spot"

Sometime when something doesn't quite fit the bill, our brain start triggering alarms before we even realise why.
Then we get uncomfortable, and then if we are smart enough we will play it on the safe side. A lot of good examples in this topic about that.

But I cannot pin point the actual alarm trigger's reasons in those case. So I'm bringing a story from a Formula One Pilot and what happened to him during a race.
Everything went very fast (as expected there) A bad accident hidden by an incoming turn just happened.
He said that he started to slow down before this turn for no apparent reason! Beside a bad feeling. It saved him a crash on the wreckage.

This feeling could have been triggered by his sense of observation beyond the race track. He probably saw in the corner of his eyes all the spectators usually seated in tribunes starting to stand up to get a better view of the accident... Why are they doing that???... Something is wrong.... And slowing down before realizing why.

The more experienced in a particular field you are, the more advanced those "alarm triggers" would happen there.










And then there is conpilot...Or bcgallacher screwing up my theory
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Old 26th Sep 2015, 08:48
  #36 (permalink)  
 
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Your theory is correct in normal circumstances - in a long career,from time to time after doing a pre-departure inspection I have felt uneasy and gone back again and found something not right. I think that the brain carries a picture of what is expected to be seen,notices a difference and gives the feeling of unease,prompting another look. That is about as simple as I can make it. As far as the hydraulic failure incident is concerned that was a one off.I believe it was just a coincidence as there could be no way that I could have sensed an imminent failure. A failing pump does not make a noise or any other indication,I was sound asleep behind a curtain at the rear of the upper deck. The only other time I have been able to forecast a systems failure is when on a couple of occasions I have observed F/Es doing stupid things that were bound to give problems.
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Old 26th Sep 2015, 21:40
  #37 (permalink)  
 
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I have a rule of two. If two things go wrong in any area to do with the flight before I take off I don't take off, because someone or something is trying to tell me something. I'm a fairly pragmatic person but I'm willing to accept that there are more things in heaven and earth etc.

Great stories by the way chaps, keep them coming. I have no twilight zone stories from actually piloting but I did tell my wife when we boarded a commercial flight once that something was going to go wrong. Don't know why I said it and have never said it before or since but we were struck by lightning on take off and had to dump fuel and return.
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Old 29th Sep 2015, 15:10
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It would appear that the good guys have to get lucky every now and then!

Long may it continue - whatever it is.

JF
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Old 29th Sep 2015, 18:28
  #39 (permalink)  
 
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JF - Interesting experiences and the Holyhead connection rings bells. A Hastings en-route from Colombo to Changi was navigated by a Master Nav J M****. Near to the mid-point he called for a 90deg turn and followed it with a return to track some minutes later. On arrival at Changi, the crew checked with the RCC and discovered that there had been an opposite direction Hastings which had lost an engine and drifted down to the eastbound level. No tracking in those days so no hard evidence but ...
I was replaced as Sycamore winchman/winch Op in Aden by this same M Nav and knew him quite well, especially his ability to hypnotise people - me included!!.
Later still, the Holyhead connection, or, more particularly, Valley, when he and I were on the S&R flight at the same time for a while. During a Mess chat he mentioned that he was a member of a local white witch coven and offered me an introduction. Thank you but no thank you and off to Thorney not long after. Even after all these years (50) getting a 'handle' on these things is mentally niggling.
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Old 29th Sep 2015, 19:02
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What a lovely thread! Here's one of mine: In the late 1990's I was asked to fly a survey team out to Murcia to carry out some vertical aerial photography for land survey work. It was when digital photography was in its infancy and very expensive involving the fitting of a "digital back" to a conventional 35mm film camera. The digital photos obtained were stored on miniature hard drives and the contents of these were downloaded at night onto a portable computer which was fitted with a CD writer at X1 (Coo!).

Anyway, the first two days at Murcia were uneventful: we were granted permission to operate in the morning when the Spanish military were in control so we took off at about 10.00 and, following the guidance of the team's portable GPS routed out to the selected area. Here I flew a special search pattern to enable them to obtain their high definition digital photographs of the land in question. We returned after about 2.5 hours flying with a pile of miniature hard drives for downloading. The aircraft, a Partenavia, was then refuelled ready for a repeat of the exercise the following day.
All went well for the first three days then the weather changed. The sky changed from blue to grey, as did the Mediterranean, the wind got up and the rain came down in buckets. There was no flying and all we could do was to spend the days in our hotel, eating, drinking and watching Spanish bullfights on the telly. Eventually the weather cleared, we returned to the airport and found our Partenavia firmly tied down as we had left it so I proceeded with a thorough pre-flight check. Everything appeared O.K. and on checking the fuel, the tanks were still full as we had left them. A mere drop or two of water was spotted in the sight glass as I drew off a sample from each tank to check it. Once again the flight progressed without incident and on return, as usual the "Gazoline Senor" appeared with his little tanker of Avgas to fill up our tanks which he did - and as usual the amount we uploaded agreed with the number of hours we had been airborne.
The following day, the exercise was repeated: I checked the aircraft as usual, the tanks were full, the oil levels were correct and I proceeded to take the fuel samples. The starboard tank produced a few drops of water which failed to appear on the second sample so I walked around to the port tank. I filled the sight glass and was delighted to notice no evidence of any water droplets at all - well it had been a pleasant evening and warm night.
I was just about to discard the sample onto the tarmac when a thought occurred to me: How do I know that the sample is indeed avgas? I smelt it and it smelt faintly of petrol. I discarded it and took another sample - once again totally clear. Once again I smelt the sample - faint avgas wiff, then I thought - if I pour it over my hand it will rapidly evaporate and chill my palm. I poured, my palm got colder, but I was a little mystified by the tiny bubbles which appeared, drifting across my palm. I took another sample - still clear, but was that avgas smell strong enough? I thought. I was in a bit of a quandry and had no idea why I was making such a fuss. Anyway I proceeded back to the starboard tank and took a further sample. On sniffing, the avgas smell was much stronger so I returned to the port tank drain and took yet another sample for comparison. I was sure the smell was not as strong and there were also those little bubbles which drifted across the palm of my hand when I poured the waste fuel over it. Why? I took yet another sample and was rewarded with the reason why: the sight glass was full of water droplets in the avgas which rapidly settled to the bottom giving me half a sample glass of water and half a glass of avgas. The smell of avgas was much stronger now and when I poured it over my hand the chilling sensation was much stronger. A couple more sample glass fulls and the avgas was running pure and uncontaminated - so we could go flying.
Clearly the rain previously had entered the tank and lain on the bottom. During the manoeuvring during the previous days flying this water had entered the drain chamber at the bottom of the tank (below the point at which fuel is taken off for the engine) and there was so much of it that mistaking it for fuel was quite an easy one to make. To this day I have no idea why I was so insistent on making all those extra checks but at least it enabled our survey trip to complete without incident.

Like so many others, I seem to have a guardian angel watching over me and that is not the only time he has helped during my flying career.


P.P.
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