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jb747

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Interesting. Would this generally be on longer flights whilst descending into more tropical conditions? i.e. LHR-SIN

Some of the metal surfaces weren't insulated, and directly lead to the outside of the aircraft. Window frames were the main offenders. They would become extremely cold, and the moisture in the coughpit air would freeze on to them. Whilst the cabin air is very dry, the coughpit was slight less so, as some aircraft had a low level of moisture added to the coughpit air. Mainly though, I think the moisture came from our exhalations. As the aircraft descended, the skin would warm up, eventually thawing the ice, which then fell on you.

I've never thought about the timing necessary for this. The flight had to be long enough for the ice to accrete in the first place. A few hours would be enough, I think.
 

mjt57

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As the aircraft descended, the skin would warm up, eventually thawing the ice, which then fell on you.
This happened to my wife, QF JFK-LAX a couple of years back. Prem Eco seat, it started raining on her and her neighbor. Were drenched.

FAs sourced some QF pajamas for them, which she had to wear from the rest of the flight to LA and onwards to MEL.
 

jb747

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This happened to my wife, QF JFK-LAX a couple of years back. Prem Eco seat, it started raining on her and her neighbor. Were drenched.

FAs sourced some QF pajamas for them, which she had to wear from the rest of the flight to LA and onwards to MEL.

Water from the air conditioning system was a different mechanism. Basically, very humid air being chilled during ground operations, and water ending up in the a/c piping. It wasn't being frozen though. Get the right attitude, and it would flow to the lowest point...which might be your seat. coughpit rain happened on every flight, simply because it's somewhere around -50ºC outside, and any metal that goes from outside to inside without a thermal break would become a localised freezer. For much the same reason, seating near doors is generally much colder than the rest of the aircraft.
 

jb747

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Tales from the RAAF Pilots’ Course.

As civil aviation seems to be hibernating in Oz at the moment, I thought I might look back at my Pilots’ Course. These courses have a huge failure rate, in the order of 50%, and everyone who goes through the course has a different experience. For some, it’s 18 months of sheer terror, spending the entire time waiting for the axe to fall, and then suddenly finding themselves falling over the line. Others have a much easier time of it. My theory is that the course is huge fun, starting from the point when you decide you can actually do it, and will pass. Some make that decision early in the piece, and others on the last day.

I don’t think anyone has a totally uneventful ride through the course. You are dealing with very high performance aircraft, and very inexperienced pilots, so the mix is bound to throw up some interesting days. Aircraft, being aircraft, will play up, so many students will get to experience more than a practice emergency. And many of the instructors are also new to the game, and whilst they bring lots of front line experience to the job, they are new at dealing with ‘Bloggs’ - the generic name for all military student pilots.

Students screw up all of the time. Mostly that’s caught by the instructors, and becomes something to polish. Sometimes nobody sees, and you can keep it to yourself. Occasionally it will cost you varying amounts of beer. At Point Cook, one punishment was a run to a sight board, the painted board at the end of the grass runways. Depending upon the severity of the transgression, that might be with your parachute and helmet. In one case it was from a different airfield, about 5 miles away.

And instructors weren’t immune from errors. One of the classics, especially for a new instructor, was to become so involved in the ‘quack’ - the constant stream of instruction being thrown at the student - that he would miss what was actually happening.

So, I’ll give you a couple of tales from my time. I already had a pair of wings when I started the course, as I was an RAN Observer beforehand - the equivalent of the RAAF Navigator. The aviation world was therefore much more familiar to me than it was to guys from the street. Whilst most of the back seat job did not overlap on the the flying side of things, navigation was one thing that did. The pilots had a different way of doing it, but the goal was much the same.

As a student pilot though, I had to learn navigation from the pilot’s perspective, so that meant nav classes and the same flights as everyone else. One of my course mates was an RAAF Nav, with whom I’d done the Nav course at Sale, and we became the lead on all of the nav sorties, simply because we’d always be ready to go first. More of that later.


1. Nav 1 at Pt Cook consisted of a large triangular route, out to the west of Geelong. Each leg was about 80 nm long. The instructor would fly and navigate the first leg, whilst you kept track. On the second leg, he’d fly and you’d navigate, and for the third, you’d do both. More of this system later too.

So, off we go for the first leg, and it’s humming along nicely. Checkpoints are coming up as expected, and the instructor is happily doing his quack, as I ran my own plot of where we were. He’d merrily explain why the town we are approaching is X, because of various features that he can see and relate to his map. As we got near to the end of the leg, he announced that the town we were now approaching was our turning point, and again pointed out the features that made it so. I rose from my student reverie, and suggested that perhaps it wasn’t but rather it was town Y, and that we had a few more miles to go. He again pointed out all of the features that made it the turning point. This time I suggested that town Y actually had all of those same features, but also that if it was the TP, then we were quite a few minutes early…which was fairly unlikely.

At that point he looked a lot more closely, realised that I was correct, and said “well, I guess you can do it all from here”. I’m not sure that he said much else for the flight. . .

For me at least, the course nav flights were mostly fun.

2. So, now we’ll jump forward six months or so. Now we’re at Pearce, flying the much, much, faster Macchi. Navs were no longer simply A to B exercises, but could be a mix of high and low level, and normally ended at a target, which would be some indistinct feature in the middle of nowhere. You had an on target time of plus or minus 15 seconds. This nav style was distinctly different, and involved very accurate track and time keeping for the entire journey. This was done using a stop watch, and large scale maps, which we’d cut up and mark out with elapsed time markers. No electronic aids were used.

Macchi Low Nav 1 is the same basic routine we’d seen at Pt Cook. The nav consisted of three legs and a short transit to the start and end points - gate in and gate out. They were flown at 200’ AGL, and 240-300 knots. Multiples of 60 are chosen for the speeds. In the CT4 the instructor sat next to the student, and both had the same view. In the Macchi, the instructor was in the rear seat, and his view was quite restricted, especially forward.

So, off we go. First leg, flown and navigated from the back by the instructor, as I followed on my map. We get to the first turning point, which was about 90º, and he flies whilst I navigate. All seems good. Timing marks and features are coming up, but after a while the timing starts to drift out. That’s corrected by changing the speed. But the timing errors aren’t being consistent. They are close, but not really fitting. By the time we’re approaching the second check point, I’m really starting to feel uncomfortable with the picture. We hit a railway line/silo/road, at about the correct time, and make the next turn. And he hands over the flying to me.

My little nav brain was by now so uncomfortable that I recall saying to the instructor, just after we’d turned: “I accept a fail. But I don’t know where we are, and I don’t think you do either.”

After each turn, you’d do a check on a few things, one of which was the compass, comparing the standby and the main. And then I did the compass check. It was in error by about 90º. According to the standby, we were heading north, whilst we should have been westerly back to Pearce. Coincidence had us hitting points that could be mistaken for the check points. The day was very gloomy, with a very thick cloud layer starting at a couple of thousand feet, and that meant there had been no clues from the sun.

The instructor took over, and zoomed the aircraft up to near the bottom of the cloud. He realised as he looked around that nothing fitted the image we should have had. At this point, he reverted to just being a pilot, and let me go back to being a navigator. From the error we had, it was very likely that Pearce was a lot further away than we wanted, and it was also to our left.

So, we turned in that direction, and started climbing through the cloud. The main compass was now simply rotating. I dialled up a radio station, and then another, and used their relative bearings to get us a rough position. Somewhere in all of this, we declared a navigation, instrumentation, and fuel emergency. As we eventually got closer to Pearce, they picked us up on the radar, and helped guide us back. I don’t recall the final fuel number, but it wasn’t large, and the low fuel light was well and truly alight.

3. As I said, my ex-nav friend and I were always the first two aircraft in the stream of over 20 jets. As the course progressed, other course members were becoming more and more proficient, and many of the guys were taking very little time to get themselves ready.

This nav flight is the first and only solo fly-away of the course. We’d take the jets to Geraldton at high level, and land. The flight back is at low level. It was timed to be at Geraldton around midday. We’re sitting in the student crew room, all set to go, but with quite a bit of time to kill. There’s very little flying going on, and most of the jets for the stream seem to be sitting in the carports waiting for us. So, it occurs to us to ring the operations desk for the school, and to ask if we can go early. The duty instructor has no objections, and calls maintenance, and we call flight planning. Great, off we go. I was number two to taxi, and the course fell in behind us at 5 minute intervals.

Up in the instructors’ crew room, one of the instructors looks out and wonders where the Macchis are going. So he calls down to the ops desk who replies: “that’s the stream, going to Geraldton.” At which point a number of bad words are said, as this instructor is supposed to be on the ground at Geraldton as we arrive. As such he would have gone about 30 minutes ahead of us. He quickly gets himself kitted out, finds his jet, and launches. He did well, as only a few of us beat him.

4. Everything done in this course eventually leads to a flight test. Navigation is no different. The final nav test consists of a high-low nav exercise. You take off and climb out to the north of Pearce, and then descend to low level to do a couple of legs, to a target. The initial target time is set when you take off.

But, it’s a test and one expected ploy from the instructors was to change your target time. Generally not by much. Perhaps a minute or so either way. Making up a minute over 150 miles would require a speed increase of 10 knots, over the entire period. We’d actually try to fix this by going much faster over a shorter period, so that we could get back to the pre planned elapsed timings.

So, as we climb out, I get a call from the back with my revised on target time. Not an elapsed time, but an actual time at the target. The new time takes a few seconds to sink in, as it isn’t a minute or so, but rather something in the order of 20 minutes. So that means I have to cut about 100 miles out of the nav, as well as going fast. A quick think and I decide that if I forget about the high level section entirely, and make my way directly to a spot about half way along the low level leg, then I might have a chance. A call to ATC giving them my new plan. I suspect they’d heard it all, so nothing on these flights surprised them.

Another issue is that the maps we use for the low level flights are very narrow strips. You don’t have to be far off track to be entirely off your map, and I was planning on cutting a large section of the planned route out. I’d need a way to find myself back on track. I recalled that there was a large radio tower about 10 miles off the planned track, so I figured that if I could find that (without running into it), then I’d be able to get back on the map from there. And so it went. Found the tower. Got back on track. I was late, but pushing the speed up as much as the fuel consumption would allow had me closing on the target time. I eventually went overhead about 5 seconds late. Yes.

And then a voice came from the back seat. “What on earth do you think you’re doing John”.

“Well sir, you told me to be here at time X, and I basically was”.

Very pregnant pause from the back. “I’m sorry John, my watch has stopped. I didn’t mean to give you that much of a change”.

5. The Senior Naval Officer. SNO. He was one of the flying instructors. He was an A4 pilot, and quite the character. Not only could he fly, but he had the knack of passing it along. And he always kept it interesting.

I did a number of flights with him, including some navs. I don’t think he ever actually let me complete a normal circuit rejoin though. There would always be an engine failure at some point, which would have you converting your energy to height, and finding your way into the circuit doing a glide approach.

One day as we flew back, I decided that I didn’t really want to do a glide approach, so I quietly wound the throttle friction all the way to the top. That meant that the lever was basically stuck, until I reduced the friction. Being a good wannabe fighter pilot (and with the real deal in the back), I came back into the circuit as quickly as I was allowed. 300 knots or so. As I approached the break point, I took the throttle friction off, and prepared to break into the circuit. Reaching the break point, thrust lever to idle, full speedbrake, roll, and pull.

But the thrust lever didn’t move. He had, of course, tried to give me an engine failure, and his lever wouldn’t move. But not being one to give up easily, he simply wound the rear seat throttle friction to the max. When I took it off in the front, it was now locked by him. So, now I have an engine at about 95%, as I try to join the circuit. We had a procedure for that, which involved pitching up very nose high until you got below the gear speed, and then using anything you could think of to keep the speed under control as you tried to find a point on the glide circuit at which you could shut the engine down. He won that round.

Great days really.
 
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jb747

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A book would really be a great read, JB.
Should be required reading for the ATPL’s.

Yes. I’ll put out another plug for Kevin‘s book. Sadly, a much less interesting book from another QF Captain probably took up too much of peoples’ bookshelf space. Kevin is a nice bloke, an extremely good pilot, and has a wonderful history. And a good way with words.

In any event, I’ll just think of the occasional topic, be military or airline, and write something about that every now and then. I’m currently amusing myself by doing my son’s high school maths, and showing myself how much I’ve forgotten. As a teenager, I’m sure that I looked at it, and wondered what use it would ever be to me. Looking at it now, I realise just how much of the aviation world is built on high school maths.
 

RailFlyer

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Great stories about your training JB... very interesting.

The navigation without any modern aids sounds like there was lots that could go wrong as soon as you lost situational awareness or had an equipment failure. Back in that era were you expected to go into combat with just a map and compass or did the front line fighter planes have some kinds of inertial nav system to help by the time you graduated? It's one thing to do all that manual navigation in training but if you are really trying to hug the deck to avoid enemy radar at high speed it seems impossible to keep up with precise navigation just based on maps and stop watches and compass headings (I'm assuming single seaters such as the A4). Also, how do you know where you are after a dog fight (assuming you survive)?

On an unrelated question, which I assume has a really obvious answer that I am overlooking... how do modern aircraft measure the wind direction relative to the aircraft (which I assume is displayed to the pilots for their information)? I assume there isn't a weather cougherel mounted on the top of the tail that I have never noticed(!) and even if there was something like this surely the forward direction of the plane at high velocity would mask any side deflection caused by the wind. Or is it just derived information by calculating difference between air vector and ground vector to maintain desired heading and then reverse engineering to work what wind direction/speed must be to need this much compensation?
 

jb747

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The navigation without any modern aids sounds like there was lots that could go wrong as soon as you lost situational awareness or had an equipment failure. Back in that era were you expected to go into combat with just a map and compass or did the front line fighter planes have some kinds of inertial nav system to help by the time you graduated?

The point of doing so much basic navigation was that it ultimately becomes ingrained. You might not have an exact idea of where you are, but when the nav system falls over, you won't be lost, simply because there is no longer a magenta line. I recall writing on another forum, where a new aviator could not understand why he had to do so much visual nav for a basic pilots licence. As far as he was concerned, he did one trip without getting lost, so now he should be able to use GPS. Classic case of knowing so little that he didn't even realise that he knew nothing.

It's one thing to do all that manual navigation in training but if you are really trying to hug the deck to avoid enemy radar at high speed it seems impossible to keep up with precise navigation just based on maps and stop watches and compass headings (I'm assuming single seaters such as the A4). Also, how do you know where you are after a dog fight (assuming you survive)?

The A4 had a doppler based navigation computer. The radar could also be used to help with navigation. It wasn't all that accurate, but it was probably good enough. The F18 (and Sea Harrier) had inertial systems. Now, it's a mix of inertial and GPS.

On an unrelated question, which I assume has a really obvious answer that I am overlooking... how do modern aircraft measure the wind direction relative to the aircraft (which I assume is displayed to the pilots for their information)? I assume there isn't a weather cougherel mounted on the top of the tail that I have never noticed(!) and even if there was something like this surely the forward direction of the plane at high velocity would mask any side deflection caused by the wind. Or is it just derived information by calculating difference between air vector and ground vector to maintain desired heading and then reverse engineering to work what wind direction/speed must be to need this much compensation?

Aircraft know where they are, mostly from GPS but with inertial as well. The systems calculate ground speed and track from position change. They know which way they are pointed, and how fast they are going. So, that gives two sides of the navigation triangle (ground speed and track, heading and true air speed), leaving the third which can be easily calculated (wind speed and direction).

Your idea of the wind vane wouldn't give actual wind, but rather a relative wind. Totally useless for working out the wind, but it would give you a measure of sideslip if allowed to move left/right, or angle of attack it it moved in the vertical plane. You can see these vanes around the nose of most aircraft.
 

jb747

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I've just asked a friend about the Mirage. Whilst it had a form of analogue nav computer, it was apparently utterly useless. So much so, that they looked at it on the conversion course, and never again after that.
 

mjt57

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I recall writing on another forum, where a new aviator could not understand why he had to do so much visual nav for a basic pilots licence. As far as he was concerned, he did one trip without getting lost, so now he should be able to use GPS. Classic case of knowing so little that he didn't even realise that he knew nothing.
The views of those guys scared me and I said so. Presumably, if they advance far enough they'd get jobs with Tiger, an airline on which I refuse to fly.
 

jb747

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767 base training tale.

When I was doing my command training, there was something like 3 weeks between the pre final check and the actual final. No sims. Nothing. So the training manager offered me a day’s flying on some SO to FO base training. I’d get the sector from Sydney to Amberley, and back, and would be the safety pilot whilst there. Great.

One of the SO’s did the coughpit preflight with me, whilst the other went with the Captain to look at the cabin and outside of the aircraft. We then flew to Qld, and the boys started their attacks on the runway. The first SO had flown large aircraft in the RAAF, and was having a pretty good go of it. Number 2 had never flown anything bigger than a lightly, and his initial landings were just short of earthquakes. Nothing unusual for the 767 though.

The flying cycled around a couple of times, and when SO #2 had his break, he wandered back into the cabin, where he found that there were oxy masks down all over the place. So, he spent the next 30 minutes or so putting them all back. He figured that it must have been his fault, as all of the other landings were relatively smooth.

On the flight back, he told me what he’d been doing. I never had the heart to tell him that the masks had been down when we left Sydney. The engineers were doing a job, and had left it half done when we took the aircraft.
 
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