There are times that two heads are not better than one
Well, in case of pilot incapacitation for whatever reason it may save the bacon unless both go incapacitated at the same time (unlikely)
Please note the …..‘there are times’……
It is why it’s there, obviously in case of pilot incapacitation.
In Austria and Switzerland the main weather and flying topic is the Alps and crossings. The way most people fly, they follow the pass routes they know from driving and geography. Each of the passes has a certain elevation and topography, which makes some more suitable than others.
The intention of the GAFOR route forecast is to predict ceiling and visibility along those routes. As one of the people who used to actually issue GAFORS, I can tell you that it is one of very few aviation forecasts which are done totally by hand, meaning a well educated and trained meteorologist will watch professionally provided webcams, models and use his huge experience in the area to determine how ceiling and visibility will play out along that route and relative to the refernce altitude.
People do not “put more into the routes” than the fact that they are a known quantity in as so far as they are very popular crossing points as they allow better visual clues than other valleys (mostly roads, buildings, lakes e.t.c, landmarks well known to anyone ever having crossed the alps by car) and they are very well known to the meteorologists who provide the forecast.
So no, they are not legal VFR routes you HAVE to follow but most people do anyway because they are the ones best documented. You know the minimum crossing altitude, you have a pretty precise weather forecast for it and they are visually easier to identify than others.
Thanks, makes sense.
Shortly after gaining my PPL, I joined the flying club at Sion, the one where Gigacret flies, and did the basic mountain flying training – the stuff that is in the Swiss PPL but not in the UK one. If I now put myself back in that position (a recent UK PPL flying in the Alps), this accident is easier to understand.
The mountains go up to about 14,000 ft either side of you, so you lose the normal sense of a horizon. At the same time the landmarks that you are used to seeing – towns, railway lines, lakes, airfields etc – are much less common and the mountains all look similar unless you know the area. It’s VERY difficult to judge the distance to the mountains, at first. I always thought they were closer than they were – how my instructor cured me of that is for another post.
The image below (courtesy of Mr Google) shows a pilot’s eye view at an altitude of 7,000 ft after turning south at Brig and entering the valley. You’ve got the tiny village of Rotwald on your left and the yellow line is the route of the road heading to the pass.
The next image shows what you would see from overhead Mäderalp – around 1 minute from crossing the pass. To the right and left you see mountains and the lowest point appears to be the bottom of the “V” between the sky and the mountains straight ahead.
But wait, to cross the pass, you need to turn right and then left – the orange line in the image below – but the shape of the terrain is not easy to read, especially if it’s the first time you have to do it.
Turning back sounds like a simple option but the valley is about 1/2 nm wide at 7,000 ft. That’s enough to turn but but you might not know it is. It’s easy to imagine a pilot becoming fixated on that V ahead and climbing to reach it.
Thanks for the pics, @Raiz, but assuming that Qualupalik’s calculations are correct (and I don’t have reason to doubt them) they were already past the pass when they crashed.
I would also find it very hard to confuse the V-shaped valley which clearly runs into a mountain (on the left) with the actual pass, which is equally clearly ahead.
I just cannot get my head round this accident.
It depends what you mean by past the pass. Yes, the crash site is slightly south of the pass but the aircraft apparently went straight on (south) instead of turning right (south west) to cross the pass. My point is that the right turn is not obvious, because it looks as though you are turning towards the mountain and only when you have travelled towards that mountain for a nm or so does it become clear that the pass opens up on your left (south east).
It’s just about the geometric centre of the last picture. The problem is that there is a mountain ahead of you to the left and to the right as well.
Thank you @Raiz!
At 130KTAS and 30deg bank, an Arrow needs about over 1500m width for a 180, so not possible (in a 900m-wide valley at 7000ft as you report) . It would make sense to fly the pass at a higher altitude where you can turn around . Having said that, typical actual situation is you would climb and slow-down for the turn which would be flown at around 100-110KTAS which would allow you to turn around in under 1100m at 30deg bank. Of course this only works if you are not centered in the valley but to one side.
I have never flown this particular pass, but it does not seem to be the one to fly at 7000ft with zero mountain flying experience or training. Better at 10000ft or after some training.
Perhaps you are correct about some climbing fixation for the obstacle ahead (useless unless you are flying a Swiss AF F-18 or the like) when all you had to do is turn slightly right to clear the pass with a big margin.
For someone not used to flying in the mountains, it can be quite impressive and distracting to be surrounded by mountains 3000ft higher on both sides.
I recall a British 210 pilot who, after landing at LFIP altiport gear-up, reported to the accident investigators that he was distracted by the mountain environment surrounding the airfield
I guess it is not that difficult to become distracted/fixated.
[Edited to correct turn diameter incorrectly reported as radius)
t depends what you mean by past the pass. Yes, the crash site is slightly south of the pass but the aircraft apparently went straight on (south) instead of turning right (south west) to cross the pass. My point is that the right turn is not obvious, because it looks as though you are turning towards the mountain and only when you have travelled towards that mountain for a nm or so does it become clear that the pass opens up on your left (south east).
Which brings us back to what I said earlier, which is cockpit view. There is a travel report in the German pilot and airplane magazine where the pilot flies a Piper Arrow from Germany to Bolzano and then further south; there is a passage where he describes his flight from Bolzano to Elba, which made me wonder.
It says (translated from German): ….. ‘we were impressed there were rock walls to the right and to the left almost during the entire climb. However, the valley was wide enough for maneuvering, and there was nobody coming in our direction. Because one doesn’t see well out front in an Arrow during climb, a couple of clearing turns were necessary to make sure the route was safe and clear of obstacles".
I only flew a Piper Warrior during my PPL training and I remember that its attitude is more nose up than i.e. the Bonanza, due to general speed. But lets imagine the guy was seated low in his his seat or was kind of small, could it be that he just didn’t see enough in front of him ?