Predicament [Noun, -]: a difficult, unpleasant, or embarrassing situation.
Hello dear readers, I hope you are enjoying your weekend.
Today, I will tel you the tale of somebody who was ashamed. Subconsciously, maybe, but still.
So, once upon a time on a beautiful summer evening, two friends go on a sightseeing flight on a Grumann AA1-B. The pilot has had his PPL for a little less than a year now, and has about 50 hours of flying time as pilot in command.
The weather is gorgeous; almost no wind, a beautiful summer day, very few high clouds, a comfortable 20°, and hundreds of kilometers of visibility. It is going to be a great time!
The flight should last just short of two hours, the plan is to go see the coast, overfly a small grass aerodrome, and head back home. Plenty of time, it is just 17h LT when our two friends start rolling and sunset is not before 21.30 LT.
In fact, the flight is so pleasant that a few little detours can be made for sightseeing, an industrial harbour, a beautiful cathedral in a small town and a big monument in memory of an old military battle in the middle of the fields.
But it soon is the time to come back home, and around 19.00 LT, the pilot establishes communications with the control tower to request joining and landing instructions at his home airport. Oh, he know the procedure by heart, of course. A big road intersection is the entry point, then a water tower, and then downwind. He cannot even remember how many times he has flown that route.
Controller:”OOABC, enter CTR via Victor, 1500 feet or below QNH 1025. Report runway in sight, expect right-hand downwind runway 25.”
Could literally not be more standard. Before the water tower, the pilot review mentally his actions to prepare for landing, when his train of thought is interrupted by the engine. The noise is weird. Unusual. Almost like a rough coughing. Carb heat? No way, it is way to warm. So the pilot tries to increase throttle, and it does the trick wonderfully. No need to worry, not at all. Airport in sight anyway, they will be back on the ground within minutes. (Well… yes, anyway…)
Except that, just before entering downwind, the engine starts coughing again. The pilot starts worrying a little, but the sight of the runway reassures him, he switches on the fuel pump, anyway it’s on the downwind checklist, and once again, the engine goes back to a beautiful, normal sound.
After an uneventful downwind, the pilot is about to turn base when all of a sudden, well yes, you could have guessed it: the engine finally stops. Of course at the furthest point from the runway.
The distress call is placed, the tower advised and the rescue services rush towards the runway. In the airplane, the pilot does his best to glide as far as possible whilst trying to restart, and then to secure the aircraft.
Unfortunately, the height was not sufficient to reach the runway. Fortunately, the pilot manages to put the aircraft down on a more or less flat piece of land, in a construction zone, next to the runway. After rolling for about 60 metres, the port wing hits the perimeter fence, the aircraft swirls around and comes to a complete stop… 92 metres from the runway.
Now the great news is that none of the occupants of the aircraft have the slightest scratch. The aircraft, however, is written off.
So, that was the bulk of facts. Now, let’s try and analyze what didn’t happen:
First, the root cause of the accident: post-accident analysis of the wreckage, the following fuel quantities were measured remaining in the tanks: Left tank: 7,3 USG (about 27,5 litres) – Right tank: 0,0 USG (
about exactly 0,0 litres)
Ok, it’s a low-wing with a right-left selector, so we can imagine what happened. But that is not what we will focus on. True, the pilot should switch tanks every half hour, probably didn’t, nothing else to say there.
I know what you have been taught. Aviate, navigate, communicate. Let us replay the flight, now. When the pilot first noticed the first rough patch in the running of the engine, maybe that would have been the right moment to tell ATC that something may be wrong. You read correctly. Tell ATC that something MAY be wrong.
It was simple. the gentleman would have come straight perpendicular to the middle of the runway. With more than 1200 metres left, he would still have had plenty of runway to land on, the aircraft may still be flying nowadays. Remember what we said earlier? The aircraft came to a stop 92 metres from the runway… with a hint that something may be wrong, the controller could have suggested to make a short circuit, even to skip downwind altogether and make the shortest approach possible.
Consider this, my friends: It is much easier to call an emergency and then cancel it if it turns out it isn’t or if you find a solution, than say nothing until you are already very deep in your problem, and then maybe not have time to express yourself like you would want. Also, the earlier you tell ATC you have an issue, the more solutions and options the controller will have to offer. The better prepared the emergency services will be for you.
And if you land without any problems? Everybody will be happy and relieved. I often talk about this when I teach to future pilots. Unless you declare a false emergency on purpose, you will never, ever be blamed. Even if your only emergency is that something “feels” wrong with your aircraft. Thant will be a story for next week.
Until then, fly safe and speak well!