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Lessons Learned / your most scary flight

I have to switch from GPSS to NAV on the Autopilot and make sure everything has autoswitched to go from a procedural ILS to the actual with GS. With modern avionics I think you need to spend a lot of time really getting to know them. Partial knowledge can be very dangerous but with the right training it is a huge boost to capability.

EGTK Oxford

Well put, Peter, and I can say nothing to the contrary. Only I am afraid this only adds to the phenomenon that I already mentioned: long distance private flying is a discipline with a dwindling audience. Not only is it harder than ever financially, while the "upper middle class" with the required means is rapidly disappearing from statistics, and (to a lesser degree, I seem to observe, and I think I know why) from society; on top of that it is also more and more demanding intellectually, to cope with the ever increasing complexity in the cockpit of even a "modest" IFR tourer, as I think you consider your own pride and beauty; where the general tendance in society favours stupidity, I suppose that's driven by marketing.

As for 100% VFR: yes, it can be done with map and compass, but do add a chronometer and a kneeboard and at least one pencil* then. Great fun to fly like that, and see the references pop up on the horizon as planned. Or not, sometimes. But the simplest of GPS's (like my own concoction**) adds greatly to VFR navigation, while remaining comprehensible even to the "mildly dumb-assed" among which I count myself.

*no need to TSO the pencil(s), either - see and let us never forget dear brave Jim!

**if really curious, check for an early version. Current version is much smarter, even showing the netbook's battery charge rate, and intestine's temperature, though in small print. It's for the insurers only, anyway, and THEY are used to small print.

EBZH Kiewit, Belgium

I personally have never understood the UK habit of switching between QNH and QFE

A few years of lingering on a handful of European private flying forums taught me that, like the even more mysterious "dead-side join" ritual, this originates from the RAF, and that some UK pilots cling to these habits almost religiously.

EBZH Kiewit, Belgium

And as for the matter subject - I think I already related this "elsewhere" ...

Had planned flight to EBxx, as nice a field as one could wish for, very fine scenery all around, neat straight and flat grass runway of a full 400 metres, multilingual radio, friendly people, nice cafetaria. But PPR applies, like at most fields here, and before take-off, early on the Sunday morning I got no reply on the principal phone number. Not worried at the least, I called the secondary, where answer came, though a bit vague, and my initial "discours" only provoked confusion. The mobile seemed to make a round of several people, until one person, sounding a bit confused and sleepy, confirmed I could proceed as planned, the field was available. So off I went, in high spirits, and after a 40 minute flight and some searching I managed to locate the field. Here we go for a cool impressive approach and landing - but what runway shall I use? My craft proudly carries a panel mounted A6 which has been reported to work very well at times - but this time no reply came, call what I might. Still no worries, NORDO flying is the most natural thing for our microlights, so I just go and check the signal area. Overhead at 500' higher than the circuit, check the neat and clean signals square, join at the beginning of downwind, flawless halfcircuit and landing, taxi in. Seemingly nice guy waving near the cafetaria, points out where to park, shut down according to checklist (hmhm), while observing the nice guy looks slightly excited. Guess what I did wrong: though I did read from the signal square what runway to use, I never even noticed the two yellow diagonals on a red background. Turned out that someone with the capacities required had promised the evening before he'd be there on Sunday morning to open up, then the Saturday evening must have gone a bit more exaltated than usual, or intended, or expected. Sunday morning lots of headaches in that part of the country, and a/d firmly closed in spite of solid promises. Solution: couple more phone calls, within the briefest delay someone with the proper credentials turns up and signs opening of the a/d, and on the next line of the a/d logbook is the entry for my landing. Funny, though, how slow my lowly craft was, that Sunday. Lesson learned: when contacting a source of information (in my case the signals square) do not be content to get the info you want. Get all info available from it, and digest, and consider.

Oh well. Wonder what I'll be doing next time, same place, same situation. Get a better mobile phone, I think.

EBZH Kiewit, Belgium

long distance private flying is a discipline with a dwindling audience.

I am not convinced.

Flying is getting more expensive but I am not sure it is outpacing inflation if you take say the last 20 years.

I also don't think the IFR capable community is getting smaller. Cirrus have sold decent numbers of the SR20/22 (I think about 90% 22s) and something like 200-300 of them are in Europe. Most of them are IFR capable, and I think most of their owners are aspiring to get an IR sometime (but haven't got one yet for the usual reasons).

The hardest time to fly IFR was maybe 5-10 years ago, when Eurocontrol were screwing everybody with their stupid route validation computer, but there was no easy way around it. In 2008 this was busted by software which generated valid routes, and now it's generally easy.

If the proposed CBM IR comes along, it should stimulate growth in private IFR. Not a lot, due to the obvious financial requirements arising out of the aircraft performance required to do it usefully, and due to the poor utility value of GA in Europe, but it won't do any harm.

Not only is it harder than ever financially, while the "upper middle class" with the required means is rapidly disappearing from statistics, and (to a lesser degree, I seem to observe, and I think I know why) from society

Are you making a political statement?

I think people with money will always have money. A decent IFR plane has always cost as much as a basic house, roughly. So you need to be able to afford a hypothetical second house.

The people who struggle to fly at all are perhaps struggling more right now, but GA has always had a thick layer of people who struggle to pay for every flight. But they are not flying IFR anyway, due to the cost of the required aircraft capability. And they have other options (homebuilts, etc).

on top of that it is also more and more demanding intellectually, to cope with the ever increasing complexity in the cockpit of even a "modest" IFR tourer, as I think you consider your own pride and beauty; where the general tendance in society favours stupidity

I don't think people are getting more stupid. I think what we (in normal life) are seeing is a rapidly growing tendency for large firms to employ useless and illiterate people in customer-facing jobs in the retail scene, which carry zero job satisfaction, and which is why dealing with so many companies (banks etc) is such a struggle nowadays... just my opinion

There is a real problem with IFR avionics: you can buy a plane with all the kit and fly it on a plain PPL, and it's a fact that many people do just that. Less so in the USA where the insurers tend to force a training course. The solution to this, which we should not wish for, is a Type Rating for an "advanced" SEP. That is exactly what is done in "professional" (jet) aviation. The 250-hr new pilot who can barely fly sits in the RHS, with an experienced captain in the LHS, so it all sort-of hangs together, especially given the high degree of automation and the high aircraft performance, but the RHS pilot has done a TR course so he knows what the various knobs do. In piston GA this doesn't happen. I know this well from when I used to rent out the TB20. I got a load of pilots who wanted to ignore the equipment and just fly it with a map. No way was I going to let them anywhere near it. As I say I don't think we should wish for a regulatory solution, and maybe the insurers (in Europe) will eventually wake up to this fully, and force through some decent training courses. When I started on this in 2002, I had to download the avionics manuals from the net, and I flew around Kent at 5000ft on autopilot while working out what the various knobs did

Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

Last summer, me and my father planned EDXE EDVJ with the Jodel DR250 for a friends wedding. My wife already drove there the day before to deliver the wedding cake. I had an exam that day and my father had a business meeting to attend. He picked me up on the way from Cologne, where we met, to the airport in Rheine. Bags were packed and preflight planning was already done, so we just had to get the plane out of the hangar and take off. Unfortunately, traffic was evil that day and we had some delay already. My wife spoke of CAVOK in the vicinity of the airport, METAR reporting FEW 3000 with 10 km or more at Stauning. EDXE had OVC 5000 with 5 km and there was an occluding front in between, merging around Bremerhaven. Hamburg was IMC, but Bremen and Wittmundhaven reported 8 km with 1500 ft at worst. Over the northern sea weather was reported to have at least 6 km at 2000 ft. The more east, the lower the numbers. We phoned with AIS and Weather two times and both meteorologists told us, VFR would work, though it would be marginal. VFR on top wasn't an option, because the OVC reached back till Dortmund and went far up. On Bremen Information we heard pireps of a T310R (recognized the call sign) with tops way beyond our service ceiling, let alone our human ceiling without oxygen. None of us is IFR rated and the plane isn't equipped for (German) IR anyway. So we decided to take off and if in doubt turn back. Of course we filed a flight plan and gave AIS our cellphone number.

You have to understand, that me and my father work great together in a cockpit. After all, he taught me as my FI for aeroplanes and we manage to keep an almost complete sterile cockpit, especially in situations with high work loads. We have flown many trips like this, one was pilot flying, the other one navigating and speaking. But there is one iron rule: If one of us isn't comfortable with the situation, there is no question about turning back. On this trip I was sitting left and thus was the "intelligent autopilot" with flying and engine management and my father was navigating and operating the radio.

Everything was great until around Cloppenburg / Varrelbusch (EDWU) (which isn't too far away), where we found the first warm front. The overcast dropped to about 700 ft AGL and visibility was good 2000 meters for a while. I was flying a little bit towards the lighter directions and my father kept track of the position and gave me the main headings. Five minutes later, we were through and climbing to almost 2500 ft again, respecting cloud separation minima. But this was the front, no one had told us about. We thought we'd been through and sure enough, visibility got better and better, the closer we came to Bremerhaven. Passing the Weser, the ceiling began to drop again, still with visibility up to 20 km and more. My father talked to Bremerhaven EDWB and asked for the opening hours (since they were VMC and made a good alternate). One motorglider has chosen Bremerhaven as alternate already and frequently requested QDMs to the airport, obviously homing EDWB. Bremerhaven said, they were open until sunset, witch was a good 3-4 hours to go.

However, we decided to try and get through the cold sector of the occlusion and descended and headed north east for Nordholz and the Elbe. Ceiling dropped to 1500 ft AGL, then a bit later to 1000 ft AGL and around 5-10 Miles to the Elbe, we saw the first clouds below 600 ft AGL in about 4-5 NM ahead. Now, if you know northern Germany, you probably know of the inflationary use of wind power plants in the vicinity. And those clouds ahead of us were partially filled with those power plants. So we decided to turn back as long as we had the separation from those obstacles and not take a chance with those awful rotors. They, by the way, were all standing still. No wind whatsoever (which was without doubt partially responsible for the low ceiling - and highly unconventional in Northern Germany).

As we made it back to Bremerhaven, we climbed back to 2000 ft and discussed what we would do. I suggested to try to get to the Elbe via the German Bight since it was obstacle free and flying along the coastline wouldn't be too much risk. We both had vests on board, but not put on and the thought of flying with a 1500 ft ceiling over the northern sea all the way via Helgoland wasn't too comfy, anyway.

At this point, I might explain that the Jodel is a real great tourer. With its mere 160 horses out of the O-320 she does honest 125 KIAS cruise with a fuel burn of about 35 litres, leaving a bit more than 5 hours endurance and still a good VFR reserve. She can do easy 140 KIAS or get 6+ hours endurance in economic flights, with reserves. So fuel wasn't an issue here. We always fly full fuel, if M&B allows it, especially when dealing with marginal weather.

We passed Bremerhaven south of the airport and turned north again over the Weser delta and had to descent to 800 ft again. To the right, there was a single white wall, drawn with a ruler and rain merged into clouds and into the ground. It didn't take us long to figure, that we weren't in the mood to fly though that waterfalls, VFR plane, VFR pilots. Don't need much to calculate our odds in that kind of weather.

By that time, we were airborne about 70 Minutes and have decided that we won't make it to Stauning that day. There was a short discussion, whether we would stay in Bremerhaven or Wilhelmshaven for the night and try again tomorrow, but if the weather would get worse, we'd be stuck there and so we headed back to EDXE. My father wrote a text message to my wife, so she wouldn't expect us, not even delayed. He then called Bremen Information and asked to cancel the Flight plan, since we've decided to turn back home due to weather. He asked us to stand by and five minutes later he told us, he could't cancel the flight plan, and obviously didn't know why. But on that more later.

So we headed back and, sure enough, met the same warm front as an hour before. But now, ceiling had sunk by another 200 or 300 feet, so the tactics of flying into the lighter area didn't work. We had 500 ft AGL, when we decided to turn back. Here, all this CVFR and night flying training paid, because I was instantly "on instruments", monitoring my basic T and doing a simple two minute standard rate to the right onto our back course, that was given to me by my father. Before we turned, I noticed some clouds lower than us to the right or left, so I knew we'd be probably be IMC during the turn. I levelled of on course and did not dare to take a look outside, until my father told me, we were VMC again, not taking a chance on spacial disorientation. However, we headed back north and informed Bremen Information on our new heading. Bremen said Eelde was reporting 1500 ft at 5 km and we could try it a bit further in the West, and so we headed west towards Leer. Then we followed the Ems to Papenburg, going down to 800 ft AGL for a last time and then crossing to follow the A30 motorway. Passing Meppen, we had 2500 ft and 5 km again until the landing in Rheine.

The second I had pulled the mixture in front of our hangar, my fathers phone rang and a very nice lady working with AIS called, why we wouldn't close our flight plan. With all the detours, we had landed in EDXE exactly half an hour after our filed ETA. So Coppenhagen started the SAR chain and phoned AIS for our whereabouts. Our luck, the controller at FIS Bremen remarked the contact and so the SAR routine ended with a phone call, but we figured it starting was strange, since we asked Bremen Information to close the flight plan. She then told us, that closing a VFR flight plan is impossible without an ATA, so since we weren't about to land anywhere, FIS had no possibility to close our flight plan. This would be because of the SAR chain. However, asking for an inflight change with new destination and ETA would have worked, what we would have done, if we knew about that, which we (apparently) didn't. There just wasn't a need for it on any flight before.

At home, the cold beer was one of the best tasting beers I have ever had, and it wasn't even a Belgian beer.

This was a flight, where I have learned a lot. Flying alone or with a crew not that well-rehearsed, my personal weather minima are much higher. And although we stayed legal all the time (entering IMC while turning back is, indeed, legal, because not avoidable - but not recommended, either), flying VFR at 1.5km / 500 ft will never become my hobby. I think with almost - no, definitely - every other crew, I would have returned when we entered the first warm front in Varrelbusch.

Although we had twice as much fuel on board than we actually needed, but when dealing with weather and your options, having a safe, honest, big reserve eases you up in many ways. You have a lot more options and can try things, take your time and circle, if you must, without having the permanent need of calculating the fuel to possible alternates, or touch your comfy reserves.

You have to have hard limits. No matter if these are legal limits or personal, they have to be carved in stone. They might very well change with the aircraft or the crew, but once you have violated your set minima, chances are great things go south all the way and you might not come out on top of it.

If you have a certain refuge, like we had with Bremerhaven, you can try a lot directions and find a creative way to a destination. But that refuge must be certain. You have to have a couple of thousand feet and a good visibility to give yourself time to ease up. Flying low in low vis and with a low ceiling is stress. No one can take this stress for two hours, without having time to relax a bit and give way tension with a deep breath.

If you have a spouse or friends waiting, tell them about the weather. It may look perfect at the destination, but there is no use in making them wait for you if weather is marginal or you might not get there. Plus, it takes "getthereitis" off your chest. As much as we regret not to have been at the wedding, there was at no moment during the flight any kind of getthereitis in our cockpit. In fact, we turned around three times on one single flight. If you have the time (and signal) and only then, you can send a text message to the folks waiting, telling them your decision to turn back. This way, they can set aside their disappointment and ease up when you call them after the landing. You might get a better chance to explain things and get appreciation the next time.

When confronted with a standard rate 180 to clear weather, you have to concentrate on flying, and flying only. You have to relay on what you have practised before and keep the plane calm and stable. Keep your eyes in the cockpit, when encountering IMC or even the chance thereof. Do not take any chance with spacial disorientation, it can be a quick grave, especially when flying low. Have your second pilot look out the window and tell you, when it's safe to take the eyes off the instruments.

Of course, I am referring to VFR operations.

The next day, my mother was heading back from Essen where she met with the flying women association. The plane had a little history of not starting easily in the last few months and we called how it went. The Tower said, she left an hour ago with destination EDXE and since EET was just under an hour, we'd call her. We knew she might have diverted to Arnsberg for a meeting with the RF in Arnsberg, who would organise a Flight Instructor course (my mother is CEO of the local clubs flying school). So I decided that at this weekend, I wanted to actually arrive somewhere and we flew to Arnsberg, too. The meeting just ended when we entered and the CEO of the Arnsberg flight school said, there were open places in the course. And so I spontaneously decided to take the opportunity. So basically, an occlusion in Bremerhaven made me becoming FI.

have safe flights!

PS: I don't know if all this is in the right thread, or if there should be a "storytelling" corner, but at least for me, there were multiple lessons learned on the described flight. I hope Peter won't ban me for flooding a thread :-)

Aufwind GmbH
EKPB, Germany

Thanks for this insight. I know where are you coming from and remember all the scud runs in Germany years ago. It is so normal there and I remember seeing wind turbines and antennae too close for my liking. I never thought about personal minima at that time. You get away with many dangerous situations and assume you will next time. I cannot stress enough to have your own personal minimum.

Spacial disorientation is not caused by looking outside, it is movement that triggers it. The fluid in the ear canals moves, but the eye sends conflicting signals (no movement seen). It is unpleasant, but concentrating on your scan it isn't a big problem.

We will see if Germany allows IFR in class G in future to allow safer operations

EGBE - Coventry, United Kingdom

I've been traveling, and busy, but I guess I owe a few... Here's one from my notes....

I was 15 years old, and the guest of a very generous owner pilot, who had taken me along for the mid winter trip to Florida in his C150. We were on our way back, at night, over the mountains of western Maryland. The many errors in this plan were not yet apparent to an enthusiast with so little experience as I had. We were tracking a VOR route north. DME? No! (it was a 150!)

It was not too long before we were in solid cloud, only a few thousand feet over the tops of the mountains. The rather heavily loaded 150 was performing non-spectacularly. At some point, I had occasion to shine the flashlight on the inside of the windshield. It was iced right over, thickness unknown. That would obviously explain the lackluster climb.

I felt that sensation of the aircraft in an unusual attitude, and moved the beam of light from the inside of the windshield, to the attitude indicator. It was banked quite a lot, and up was not up any more. I sensed a problem.

I asked my host what he was doing, and the answer, “I’m not sure” was spoken with great uncertainty, and with obvious stress. I asked if I could fly, and was told yes. He took over the flashlight. Somehow, the aircraft allowed me to figure out where up was, and point it that way again. I knew nothing other than up was better than down. So I went up, and my host seemed content to let this happen. Contravening all rules of flying in icing, I climbed up, and eventually came out on top. It was spectacular (for the portion you could see out the side windows!)

We had lots of fuel, so continuing north, away from the ice seemed like the best plan. So I tracked VOR’s north. This worked very well, with one exception: In my eagerness, I never actually confirmed crossing any! But I was headed north, and my host was just relaxing back, trying to overcome the stress.

After a time, I announced that I had our location figured out, and landing in Hamilton was our best plan. I could see the lights of the cities through the clouds, and thought that the form of no light which was Lake Ontario had me all oriented. Not quite…

We called up Hamilton tower, and informed him of our intention to land. As it was now the middle of the night, and all wise Cessna pilots were safely tucked in their beds, we had the place to ourselves, and were cleared to land. So we headed down.

We broke through a thin layer of cloud, and lined things up. Sure enough, and beautiful runway lay ahead. We reported the runway in sight , and landed. Somewhere between the time my host landed, and slowing down, I had this uneasy feeling and looked back, out the now very useful Cessna 150 back window.

To my tremendous alarm, I saw a Boeing 737, who had landed behind us, and was catching up really fast! I instructed my host to turn off the runway. He told me that we were not yet at the taxiway. What ever I said next convinced him that was of very minor importance at this moment! My next recollection was that of a Boeing 737 wingtip passing remarkably close to us, as we crowded the left snowbank, and rolled to a stop. I also was keenly aware of the incredible amount of snow which is thrown up by the Boeing’s engines hard in reverse. We were not hit.

Now, what had just happened there? We looked over at the tower, and saw a red light. It did not flash or anything, it just stayed on – for minutes! So, we just stayed where we were. The Boeing left the scene. After some time, a yellow pickup truck drove up to us, on the door was written “Buffalo Airport Authority”. Things made a lot more sense now! We were told to follow him to Prior Aviation FBO. We did.

When we parked. The driver told us, that the tower would like a phone call from the pilot. Once inside, my host made the call. It did not go well at all. He was being melted by an angry air traffic controller. Whatever transpired, resulted in my host handing the phone to me. The stern voice told me “Do you understand that your friend is in a lot of trouble?”, “Yes” I replied. A few questions in, we got to the “How old are you son?” part. I reported my age. The controller rambled on for a while. Occasionally he asked my thoughts, as though they had value in this situation.

Along the course of the call, feeling a little put upon, I asked the question which had been growing in my mind: “We were squawking 1200, mode C the whole time, and were getting a return, did you not see us on radar?”. Well, that created a long pause….

He said “Put your friend back on the phone.” I complied. Whatever he said to my host then went not much farther than satisfying himself that we would not be flying again that night. Uh, No! The phone call ended. My host was completely perplexed at this point. We went to a hotel.

Nothing more was ever said to us. We took off the next day as though nothing had happened. I would have loved to be a fly on wall for the conversation between the controller, and the Boeing pilot. I bet there was some apologizing to the pilot. Bear in mind, this was decades before TCAS, so the Boeing pilot, who probably was doing an instrument approach, would have completely relied on the controller for traffic separation. Oops!

(For clarity, it's Hamilton, Ontario, and Buffalo, New York, both of which have major runways on similar headings, and the difference is not noticeable when on final to a snow covered runway at night)

Home runway, in central Ontario, Canada

mdoerr, the focus on the sixpack is partly due to no experience in real IMC and thus not even taking a chance as inexperienced pilot in this situation. I have read a while ago about a Bonanza pilot who nearly lost it because he frequently tried to see something outside, resulting in losing control over the attitude. He got away, but claimed if he had monitored the six pack, he wouldn't have had this problem in the first place. And as I had another set of eye, I figured it's better to be on the safe side. But yes, probably you're right about spacial disorientation.

Sure, you can do much and you can fly IMC for hours, but you have to be educated for that. I am not at this point and so rather be cautious than surprised.

As to the personal minimums, those wind turbines are being built faster than you can print charts, but they all are published in the Notams. The DFS has a quite handy tool for that. By scanning all new installations above 500ft, you can update your obstacles and be quite sure, you're free of obstacles if you stay above 500 ft AGL. We had chosen these minimums, partly because of obstacle clearance and turned back, the minute we could see not to be able to grant those minimums, so this part worked out quite well. No "luck" involved in our flight and no exaggerated risks, but clear choices made and lived by.

IFR would certainly be nice, and we are just waiting for EIR/CIR to kick in, then the four of us will make our IR. The question about IR in airspace G is not an if-question, and it's not even a real question, when this is going to happen. I am looking forward to SERA because of it. Yet, there are many voiced heard (mostly from glider and microlight pilots) who claim "those Avgas burners" would look out even less, if they'd be able to fly IFR in Golf, but I think France and GB shows that this practise does actually contribute to aviation safety.

Aufwind GmbH
EKPB, Germany

As to the personal minimums, those wind turbines are being built faster than you can print charts, but they all are published in the Notams. The DFS has a quite handy tool for that. By scanning all new installations above 500ft, you can update your obstacles and be quite sure, you're free of obstacles if you stay above 500 ft AGL.

I don't think that is correct. There is no official and reliable source of obstacle data for Germany. Obstacles (such as windmills) are built with permissions from local authorities and there is no centralized system to report such build permissions to the CAA. Cranes and such are usually reported in terminal areas but you can't rely on that.

I certainly wouldn't fly 500AGL anywhere if there is a cloud layer just on top of that. Just the other day a helicopter pilot killed himself next to EDTY (Schwäbisch Hall) in similar weather.

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