Tales from the Air

jb747

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The ‘Ask The Pilot’ thread has proven to be by far the most popular thread on Australian Frequent Flyer forum with over 15,000 posts since its introduction in June 2011. It was originally started as a way of explaining some of the myths that I saw being perpetuated on various forums. Over the years though, the questions have often been very perceptive, and I’ve had to drag the books out to answer them. At the same time, I’ve also learnt a lot about the passenger experience of modern aviation.

Whilst I’ve been part of the thread since the beginning, we’ve been helped along the way by many other pilots. We’ve had responses from people flying GA, 717s, 737, 747-800, 777, Dash 8, A330, & pilots at both the start and end of their careers. Boris, and AV in particular, have answered hundreds of queries.

Lately I’ve posted several items that are my reflections on life in the air. They aren’t necessarily all that relevant to frequent flying, but they were part of my make up. And right now, whilst it’s so quiet in the world of aviation, some of my friends are also writing up their stories before they’re forgotten.

So, the idea here is to start a new thread, into which some of the more narrative posts might find a better home, and where we can post stories as they appear. One QF pilot has written what amounts to a book covering his time from RAAF pilots’ course, right through to delivering a 747-400ER to the desert.
 
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straitman

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The ‘Ask The Pilot’ contributors have a wealth of Aviation stories that I am sure they are more than happy to share with the world, or at least AFF. I invite all pilots and dare I say it, Air Traffic Controllers, to have a think about times that stand out in their career (good and bad) and post them here.

This new thread is for the sharing of aviation yarns by AFF members who are pilots. Specifically, though it is NOT a discussion or questions thread. Questions should still be in ‘Ask The Pilot’. It’s expected that this will be another very long and extremely interesting thread.
 
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jb747

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Hong Kong, Kai Tak

This was a famous airport, loved by many for its last minute turn to line up for landing. The airport was nestled in a valley near hills, and the precluded the normal long finals that airliners do for most approaches.

The runway was 13/31. Landing on 31 was quite normal, as the approach path was reasonably clear. Taking off (or a go around) meant that a turn to the left was required shortly after the end of the runway. But, it was still within what most people would see as normal operations.

Landing on 13, on the other hand, made for one of the most spectacular flight paths anywhere in the world, as the aircraft seemed to be down amongst the buildings, and a 47º turn was required very late in the approach.

The actual instrument approach was called an IGS. Very much the same as an ILS, except that it didn’t lead to a runway. The vertical profile was the same as you needed to get to the runway, but it was offset. The approach ended at about 675’, at which point you had a little over two nautical miles to run. You couldn’t start the turn at the end of the approach though. That would not have given you the correct alignment as you’d cut the corner. You had to maintain your track, and descent profile, whilst heading towards the ‘checkerboard’. That was a very large checkered sign on a hill…which was right in front of you. I never went to the board, but I’m told that it was located in a cemetery.

As you continued to track towards the board, you were able to see white strobing lights. These were the only lights of their kind in that part of HK, and they stood out. The line of strobes gave you an ‘ideal’ track to the runway. Passing about 450’ you’d come to the first of the crossbars. That was a line of lights at 90º to the strobe track. That was approximately the point at which you’d have to start the turn. In calm conditions, it was only about 15-20º of bank. Bank was something you needed to have considered before you arrived at the turn. Assuming you’d done that, and held the turn, you’d arrive at a point about a kilometre from the end of the runway, pointed in the right direction.

You had to be careful throughout to ensure that you kept your descent rate. It was very easy in the turn to raise the nose slightly and so end up high as you rolled out. I don’t think I saw anyone tending low. In calm conditions, it was about 650 fpm, so from the end of the IGS to touchdown was only about one minute.

Of course, calm days in HK weren’t all that common. Wind would funnel down the valleys, and there was often severe shear as you climbed above, or went below, the ridge lines. Tailwinds down the IGS, which would swing around to either a headwind or strong crosswind at the runway were common. And that’s why you had to have a think about the bank angle, and general dynamics of the turn, before you go to it.

With a tailwind, the temptation was to turn earlier, but that would pull you off the strobes, cut the distance, and overall make it harder to convert the turn into a decent finals. In that case, you could go to the normal point, but use slightly more bank. You’d also need to have considered your sink rate. A big trap would come at the end. Not only did you have to complete the turn, but you needed to ensure the track was aligned with the runway, not the aircraft’s heading. So, in the case of the tailwind becoming crosswind, you’d need to turn through the runway, perhaps by as much as 15º. Stopping the turn too early, would have you starting to drift downwind, and there was very limited time to fix it.

While I was an FO on the 747, I only ever flew IGS approach. It wasn’t that the Captains didn’t give that sector away (although that was the case with some), but simply luck. So, it turned out that the very first IGS I did was actually the second last time I went there in a 747. Only a month later, I started command training on the 767. It was a requirement at the time that all command trainees on the 767 would go to HK, so for me the second landing off that approach was on my pre-final command check. After checking out though, HK was almost a second home, with the 767 going there from numerous ports. Whilst 747 FOs rarely got a go, on the 767 the approach was so common, that it was a regular FO sector. I recall giving it to one bloke on his very first sector after picking up that third bar. He did a good job too.

How could it go wrong? A few ways, but the most common was letting the aircraft get downwind, on the eastern side, of the ideal finals. What was generally caused by misjudging the bank required, and made much worst by failing to ‘turn through’ when you had a crosswind. It is always difficult to get an aircraft back on centreline if it’s downwind, and as the rollout point was at about 200’ there’s very little time left to fix it. My standard briefing was that if I were out by more than half of the distance from the centre of the runway to the edge, that I’d go around. I never had to, but it meant there was a solid limit point that the coughpit would work to.

Not everyone felt that way though… On one occasion the weather in HK had been atrocious for the past few days. We’d actually been unable to leave a couple of days previously, but had eventually flown to Bangkok. On this day we were to fly from BKK to HK, and then on to Singapore. We had a couple of hours on the ground in HK.

The weather was now clear, but there was a 30 plus knot tailwind down the IGS. At the ground, that swung to a final wind of a 15-20 knot crosswind. It was planned to be the FO’s sector, so I left it as that, but we had a talk about bank angles and speed control. I also suggested that instead of actually aiming for the middle of the runway throughout the turn, that he initially use the UPWIND side, and use the last few seconds of the turn to readjust to the normal point. He flew the approach, and did a lovely job of it. We then parked in one of the remote bays, which, luckily gave us a tremendous view of the sky from the end of the approach to the runway. We figured that we could feel smug as we’d done our arrival, and now we could watch everyone else.

Most of the operators had obviously thought about what they were doing, and didn’t give us much to talk about. But three certainly did. I won’t name the airlines. The first was an A310. That series of aircraft tends to have quite a pronounced nose up attitude during the approach. This guy flew the correct track, but throughout he had a nose low attitude, which he maintained right to the runway. From our point of view, he actually seemed to land nose gear first, which is a huge no-no. The reason for the attitude would be his speed. He was much faster than he should have been. After disgorging his passengers, he was airborne before us, so I guess the nose gear didn’t fall off, though I rather doubt that they looked.

The next was a VC-10ski (aka Ilyushin IL62). He simply turned too late. But, not to be defeated, he rolled on a lot of bank, and you could see a heavy smoke trail as the engines spooled up. He ended up in the correct spot, but you just had to wonder how close he was to the stall limit in the turn. Looked good though.

And the prize winner for the day was a European 747. He turned at about the right spot, but without sufficient bank. He ended up appreciably downwind, but kept coming. As he arrived over the runway, he still hadn’t corrected his track, but he tried to do that in the flare. The left outboard engine impacted the ground. There’s a good reason that you don’t use more than few degrees of bank near terra firma. He ultimately taxied past us, trailed by a couple of fire tenders, with the offending engine looking a bit second hand.

In 1997 it all came to an end, and all operations moved to the new airport built at Chep Lak Kok. This was a vastly better airport, with decent approaches to all of its runways. It’s still subject to some pretty nasty windshear, but is nowhere near the fun of Kai Tak.
 

jb747

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Just a little update.

My own story writing has been a bit hit and miss of late, though I am working on a tale about bombing, or at least learning how to do it. Something I haven't had a great deal of use for in the past 35 years, but which was fun at the time. It will arrive eventually.

But, one of my QF compatriots has been working on his own aviation story. Overall it's far too large for AFF (really a book in itself), but it is full of shorter anecdotes. He's given me permission to use it here, though I'm still working on removing most of the names. His story covers an RAAF career that included the 707 and Iroquois, and QF's 747s. Coming soon.
 

straitman

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On 8th April 1970 (50 years ago) #77 RAAF Pilots Course came into existence at RAAF Point Cook and I was fortunate enough to be part of it. Back in the days of Black & White TV, the Apollo Moon missions and the year after the Concorde had its first flight.

It was the day that Midnight Cowboy became the first and only X Rated movie to receive the award for best picture and John Wayne received his only Oscar for best actor in True Grit.

At various times during our 15 months of training there were 42 different people were on the course and of those 14 Air Force and 4 Navy members graduated. We were and still are a very fortunate and tight knit group with aviation being a huge part of most of our lives during the 50 years. Between us we managed to fly nearly everything that the RAAF and Navy had on offer. From CAC Winjeel, Macchi MB326H, CT4a Airtrainer, Dakota, Iroquois, Chinook & Kiowa Helicopters, Caribou, Hercules, Neptune, Orion, A4 Skyhawk, Grumman Tracker, BAC-111, Mirage III and Canberra Bombers right through to and including the F-111 and F/A-18 Hornet.

Sadly, we lost a few people over the years with four of our group not returning at some point. One during pilots course and three subsequently.
Rob Ellis: Macchi.
3nm South of Pearce WA on the 19th November 1970. (First night solo)
Greg Ebsary: Caribou.
Kudjero Gap PNG on the 28th August 1972. (Passengers at the back of the aircraft climbed out of the wreck including some without injuries)
Steve Elliot: CT4a.
Oakey Qld on the 16th August 1979. (I was the last to fly that aircraft before Steve)
Peter Hope: Bell 47 Helicopter.
Caboolture Airfield Qld on the 19th March 2003. (The other occupant was uninjured other than a few scratches)

Scattered as we are, we recently remembered those we lost and celebrated from a distance with those remaining. We had planned to have a week together on the Gold Coast in early May to celebrate a great 50 years however that was not to be due Covid-19. We now are planning to have a 50 years graduation party in the middle of 2021.
 

jb747

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This story is from Geoff C. He is currently a QF 747 FO, and has just flown one of the 747ERs across the Pacific for what will probably be its last time. And also probably his last 747 flight. He's written what amounts to a book, with his journey from Pt Cook, through the RAAF 707, UH-1, and C-130, and then on to QF. It's still a work in progress, but he's given me permission to use extracts from it here.

This has been reduced by about 60% from his original. Any mistakes are probably mine.
 

jb747

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‘Air Force Airlines’
33 SQN (October 1982 – May 1985)


On the evening of Friday, the 29th of October 1982, the sun was rapidly slipping toward the horizon behind us as our Ansett Airlines aircraft approached its descent point into Sydney. Although the flight from Perth had been a relatively short one (only around four hours), the nature of traveling eastwards, in opposition to the relative passage of the sun, meant that our flight that had left Perth at 11am local time was due to arrive at its destination at 6pm Sydney time. As I looked out the window and watched the changing hues of the darkening evening sky, it seemed somehow surreal that after nearly sixteen months of continuously moving ever further away from home, I was finally heading back to the east coast of Australia, and would soon be within a mere day’s drive of Kalbar. I reminded myself though, that from this time onward, I would have to emotionally redefine the concept of ‘home’ because, as a married man posted to his first operational squadron, Richmond (to the north-west of Sydney) would now be my home for at least several years. Up until this point in time, I had viewed myself simply as an itinerant trainee pilot with, at best, a questionable future; but now that my flight training was behind me, I could finally begin to contemplate what life would be like as a professional RAAF officer and pilot.

But the demoralizing conclusion to my training at Pearce had left me with some deep self-doubts. Just what had Bill E seen in my flying on that final day that had persuaded him to allow me to graduate and receive my RAAF Wings? ‘Wings Test Mk II’ (I just couldn’t bring myself to think of it as my ‘Wings Test Repeat’) wasn’t much better than ‘Wings Test Mk I’ and, after landing, I had fully expected to be told that I’d failed; therefore suffering the ultimate ignominy of being scrubbed on my very last flight. Instead, in what I considered to be a stroke of luck, or perhaps some divine intervention, Bill had decided to give me a Pass for what was really a very average flight. Quite frankly, despite all the months of unrelenting effort, I felt somewhat of a fraud whose future career came courtesy of a benevolent gesture rather than as the deserved reward for demonstrating proficient flying skills. I had come to think of myself as a ‘flying tradesman’ who had to work hard to get the job done, and while I envied the ‘craftsmen’, to whom flying was effortless second-nature, I knew that I could never hope to join their exalted ranks. But could a tradesman realistically expect to be able to fly a big, heavy four-engined jet like the Boeing 707?

I hadn’t even allowed myself to seriously ponder this question yet, because all of my efforts to date had been solely focussed on finishing Pilots Course. When my posting to 33 FLT had been announced at Pearce, many of the instructors had heartily congratulated me on my ‘plum posting’. I knew that no other Pilot Officer had ever been posted from 2FTS to fly 707s, but I was also now under no illusions that I had been singled out because of my exceptional flying skills. My instrument flying was undoubtedly better than my general flying because it dealt with concrete concepts where you tracked radials, calculated ranges and turning radiuses and configured the aircraft to meet predetermined altitudes, distances and airspeeds – you “flew by the numbers”. It was navigating the enormous, three-dimensional arena of general flight that gave me trouble. In this vast space, bounded only by the earth and the limitations of your machine, you were expected to be able to manoeuvre intuitively and fly stalls, spins and aerobatics “by the seat of your pants”; almost becoming a physical extension of the aircraft. So with this in mind, even though my submitted preference to fly 707s had been pretty much an afterthought, the posting to 33 FLT had probably been the best outcome that I could have wished for.

But as our aircraft dipped its nose and began its long descent into Sydney, I realized how little I actually knew about 33 FLT. Of course I knew that its role was VIP Transport for royalty, heads of state and politicians and that its Boeing 707s flew to airports all over the world; but I really knew little else. Later, it was explained to me anecdotally that Gough Whitlam, as Prime Minister, had come to an understanding with Qantas that when the airline’s 707s were decommissioned in the late 1970s, the RAAF would take delivery of two of them to serve as VIP transports. The Boeing 707 offered range, speed and comfort advantages far superior to any other VIP transport aircraft already in the RAAF inventory, plus there was the added attraction that the size of the aircraft would allow the incumbent Prime Minister to take some of his staff, as well as a large press contingent, along with him whenever he travelled overseas.

Unfortunately for Gough, he was dismissed from office long before the 707s were delivered, but his successor, Malcolm Fraser (who had apparently strenuously criticized the impending ego-driven purchase while in Opposition) decided to honour the commitment, with the first 707 entering RAAF service in 1979. His instruction to the Chief of Air Force Staff, however, was to “keep them away from Canberra” so as to minimize the exposure of the newly-acquired, extravagant VIP aircraft to the cynical Canberra press gallery. The RAAF Chief subsequently reasoned that, since the 707 was really just a glorified transport aircraft, it should be co-located with the other transport aircraft at RAAF Base Richmond. While Richmond’s seven thousand foot runway (sandwiched between Richmond to the west and Windsor to the east) would severely restrict the payload and range of the 707, at least the ‘new’ aircraft would be largely tucked away from public view. Since only two aircraft were to be purchased from Qantas, it was decided that the 707s should initially be operated as a Flight within 37 Squadron; an organization primarily focused on operating its large fleet of C130 Hercules cargo aircraft. However in February 1981, a greater degree of autonomy was granted to the 707 operation with the formation of the independent 33 FLT; that soon afterwards moved into its own headquarters building (located adjacent to the two Hercules squadron headquarters).

As our aircraft approached Sydney, I wondered what the 33 FLT pilots would be like. For such a responsible duty, surely these men would have to be amongst the most capable and professional aviators in the world. How would a newly-minted ‘Boggy’ Pilot Officer who had failed his first Wings Test possibly be able to establish himself and achieve some credibility in such an elite and experienced outfit? Although I ultimately aspired to captain a Qantas 747 (the much larger successor to the vaunted 707), I knew nothing about the operation of multi-engined aircraft and was, instead, more familiar with g-suits and helmets, ejection seats, oxygen masks and parachutes. I decided that I would just have to take things in stride, attempt to overcome my burgeoning feelings of self-doubt and tackle the upcoming conversion course one day at a time.

………


Wing Commander Dave G, the Commanding Officer of 33 FLT, was a lightly-built man of shortish stature, with thinning brown hair and a luxuriant, manicured moustache. I instantly pictured him perched nonchalantly in a little red convertible, winding his way through the English countryside, cravat flying in the breeze with a pipe clamped between his teeth as he rushed off to climb into his Spitfire and engage the vicious Hun. Even his speech reflected the clipped and polished tones that could be expected of the man charged with the responsibility for safely transporting the nation’s leader around the world. I saluted smartly and stood to attention. He told me to take off my hat, relax and take a seat.

“Geoff”, he said perplexedly, “I don’t really know what we’re going to do with you. We’re just going to have to make this up as we go along; but I should tell you that you certainly can’t expect to get a command here, and I don’t even know whether you’ll be able to sit in the front seat for takeoffs and landings.”

“Great”, I thought, “I’m going to be a paid passenger and not even be given a chance to fly the aircraft. I’ll just be a glorified radio operator!”

…….


"Settling In"

After a few days, I was called in to see Squadron Leader Peter ‘Woofy’ A, who was the Training Flight Commander, and also one of the two 707 QFIs. Woofy was also moustachioed and of a similar height to the CO, but he was of a slightly stockier build. Whenever he spoke, he had a twinkle in his eye and a perpetual half-smile; as if he was just about to tell a joke or was continually thinking about something amusing. While the CO seemed a bit standoffish and old-school, Woofy was gruff, no-nonsense and down-to-earth with a dry wit.

“What did the CO tell you about your conversion course?” he asked me straight away.

When I told him that the CO doubted that I would even be able to occupy one of the front seats after conversion (in whatever form that conversion course would take), Woofy said:

“Bulls**t! As far as I’m concerned, mate, you’ll get as far as you want to go, provided you put in the effort. I intend giving you exactly the same conversion program as the ‘retread’ on your course, and if you can handle the syllabus, I don’t see any reason why you shouldn’t do exactly the same job as the other squadron pilots.”

A ‘retread’, I soon learnt, was the generic RAAF-wide nickname given to a pilot who had been on previous operational postings. In effect, Woofy had told me that I would be given the same opportunities as any other new arrival to the squadron, and that what I achieved on my posting at 33 FLT would largely depend on my own degree of dedication.

……

"Conversion Course"

In mid-February, the conversion course kicked off, and while I went to work at the RAAF base, Tracy went to work in the house with every cleaning agent you can imagine to get things shipshape and to rejuvenate the rather flat-looking shagpile. Ground school was scheduled for the first month of the conversion course, and it would be followed soon after by two weeks of flight simulator training at the Cathay Pacific simulator complex in Hong Kong. Some conversion flying and an Instrument Rating Test back in Australia would complete the entire process by the end of May. It seemed a long time to be under training, but the prospect of a fortnight in Hong Kong was a very exciting one, particularly since my only overseas trip at that stage had been a family holiday to New Zealand in 1978. My course-mates consisted of only two people – Dave C (a retread Flight Lieutenant pilot) and Charlie B (a flight engineer) both of whom had been posted in from a Hercules squadron. Right from the outset, I realized that 707 systems lectures were my kind of ground training.

At Point Cook and Pearce, we had been taught about the aircraft systems by “chalk-and-talk”, but the 707 systems were explained by flight engineers using colour slides and schematic diagrams that had been sourced from Qantas. Since there were so many systems on the 707, the level of detail provided on each system was scant – just how I liked it. Instead of “this flange drives this rocker assembly that then opens this valve electro-mechanically to provide bleed air”, a 707 system would be explained to us something like this:

“Using rate gyros, the yaw damper computer senses aircraft oscillations in yaw at altitude, which is referred to as ‘Dutch Roll’. Via a servo, the computer then provides inputs to the rudder to cancel out the Dutch Roll”.

One of us might then ask, “Okay, but how does the computer do that?”

To which the instructor would reply, “Using rate gyros, the yaw damper computer senses aircraft oscillations in yaw at altitude. Via a servo, the computer then provides inputs to the rudder to cancel out the Dutch Roll. Got it now?”

“Yes”, we would mumble, unconvinced, “but what if the computer fails?”

“You put in the spare computer”, the instructor would say. “Any other questions, because we really have to move on”.

It wasn’t that the instructor didn’t know the answer – our instructors had a lot of experience on the aircraft and knew it intimately – it was just that on this aircraft, and in this squadron, there was a culture that as far as aircraft systems knowledge went, you were only taught what you really needed to know to be able to operate the aircraft safely. In the training slide packages, regularly-spaced review questions (utilizing A, B, C or D multi-choice options) were used to consolidate the subject matter. I just lapped it up and felt sorry for some of the guys on the base that I heard discussing their Hercules conversions, where they had to learn the names of the sixty-four circuit positions on the coughpit circuit breaker board, in order and by rote.

…..

After a few weeks of learning the systems on the 707, we were taught “Aircraft Performance”; that involved examining a multitude of graphs to determine power settings and speeds for takeoff, landing, cruise, holding and every other imaginable type of aerial situation. This was all new to me, of course, but as long as you didn’t ask why there was a kink on a graph at a certain point, or why the line was straight in some situations, but curved in others, performance wasn’t too bad. The ground school component of our conversion course was eventually concluded by sitting in an aircraft out on the flight line, and running through the extensive preflight check that was conducted by the co-pilot in the right-hand seat for every flight. There was then a gap of a few weeks between the end of ground school and the commencement of the simulator training and I used this time to make notes on the various flying sequences that we would be practicing in the simulator.

…..

Our simulator training phase quickly settled into a routine. The other squadron pilots would also transit through Hong Kong over the next two weeks for their six-monthly emergency checks, so the conversion course was usually assigned four-hour morning sessions, and the other pilots were allocated four-hour afternoon sessions. We met our instructors each morning in the foyer at around 7:30am and then travelled to the Cathay simulator building (out near Kai Tak Airport) by taxi. The session would start at 9am and finish by 1pm, at which time we would take a taxi back to the hotel and then use the afternoon to prepare for the next session (if we had one coming up the next day). A couple of spare days were built into the program to give us a break from what was a fairly steep learning curve … especially for me.

…..


The 707 simulator was a large white box mounted atop three large, hydraulic jacks that moved in accordance with the flying pilot’s inputs to tilt the box in various directions and replicate the motion of an aircraft to the people sitting inside it. The only thing that the ‘box’ could not replicate was the ‘g’ force that occurred when the pilot pulled back on the controls. The interior of the box contained coughpit controls and instruments for the pilots and flight engineer that were very similar to those in our own 707s, and there was a large panel of red and green buttons at the back of the box that the instructors pushed to introduce various system or engine malfunctions. Two large television screens mounted outside the pilots’ stations displayed runway lighting and peripheral environmental lighting so that trainees felt that they really were flying into and out of various airports at night. A massive computer in an adjacent room controlled the movement of the hydraulic jacks, the flight instruments and the generation of the images on the television screens. When the ‘box’ was in motion, for all intents and purposes, you really were flying a 707 aircraft at night.

During the first nine simulator sessions – the tenth would be our check ride – Dave C and I alternated as the Flying Pilot to learn the various procedures that were required to be mastered to become an operational 707 pilot. Broadly speaking, the sessions were usually broken down into engine start malfunctions and rejected takeoff procedures before our fifteen-minute coffee break, and then inflight engine or system malfunctions for the remainder of the session. Some emergency procedures required us to manipulate various controls and carry out numerous checklist actions from memory, while other situations required us to troubleshoot and analyse the problem as a crew, before then systematically working our way through a series of emergency checklists. After the first few largely introductory sessions, we started learning the more advanced engine failure procedures, which was all new territory, of course, for me.

With the aircraft in flight, the instructor pushed a button that made one of the engines catch on fire (accompanied by a loud fire warning bell) or fail completely with a subsequent loss of thrust from the failed engine. Following an engine flameout or power loss in flight, the first thing that the flying pilot might notice is the requirement to bank the aircraft in the direction of the ‘live’ engines to maintain a constant heading. But to maintain manoeuvrability, the flying pilot then has to quickly introduce rudder in the same direction as the initial yoke displacement (while simultaneously centralizing the yoke), so that the full range of aileron travel can still be applied, if required. It is a skill that requires a bit of practice, particularly when every subsequent change in thrust on the remaining engines requires a re-adjustment of the yoke and rudder positions. With practice though, once the initial rudder input has been made, it’s possible to intuitively adjust the rudder as the thrust levers are advanced or retarded. However, despite the rudder being a hydraulically-boosted control surface, the muscle strain of holding in the rudder input (which required a surprising amount of force) usually made my leg start to tremble and shake after about ten minutes. At the conclusion of one particularly lengthy engine-out sequence, my leg almost collapsed from under me as I climbed down the ladder to head to the coffee room for debriefing.

When we could competently manage engine-out flight, we learnt how to handle engine failures during the takeoff roll where, depending on the speed at which the failure occurred, either a rejected takeoff procedure or an engine failure after takeoff procedure would be required. Since the simulator belonged to Cathay Pacific, most of our sessions were conducted at Hong Kong airport, where the surrounding mountainous terrain made the procedures even more demanding. The ‘twitchiness’ of the simulator in pitch also apparently made the simulator quite difficult to fly, but because it was all I knew, I adjusted, and was told that if I could fly the simulator well, I would certainly have no trouble flying the aircraft.

Eventually the day of the check ride came around, but despite some nerves, the session was fairly straight forward because Woofy, our instructor, was very laidback, and the check consisted of carrying out procedures that we had been practicing every day for nearly a fortnight.

We flew home on board one of our own 707 aircraft that had been flown up to Hong Kong by the last few guys who had been programmed to carry out their emergency checks. Woofy was the captain, Dave C sat in the right-hand seat and I sat in the observer’s seat, behind Woofy. It was amazing to be sitting in the coughpit of the actual aircraft and see the systems working for real – I just couldn’t wait for my turn to fly it!

That chance came just a week later when we started a series of conversion flights that encompassed circuits and instrument approaches at nearly every Australian RAAF base including Pearce.

The aircraft certainly felt much more stable in pitch than the simulator had been, but given that the rudder was the only hydraulically powered control surface and that the elevator and ailerons operated through cables, pullies and bell-cranks, it certainly took manful control inputs to drive the big machine around the skies. The 707 had also gained a reputation as being quite a difficult aircraft to land (which I discovered for myself several times over the years), but my first landing attempt must have been reasonable, because looking back, I have no clear recollection of where it was or how it went.

Circuits at Avalon in Victoria, however, were a particular challenge, because it seemed that whenever we were there, the wind was blowing from the west: straight across the long north-south runway. The landing crosswind limit for a Boeing 707 was 23 knots of steady wind, with allowable gusts of up to 28 knots and this limitation must have been known by the tower controllers, because whenever we asked them for a wind check (usually with the thirty knot windsock standing straight out and perpendicular to the runway), the controller would instantly respond with, “crosswind of 23 knots, gusting 28 knots”. On final approach in those sorts of winds, it wasn’t unusual to have as much as fifteen degrees of drift, and it sometimes felt like you were actually approaching the runway sideways. I often found myself subconsciously twisting around in the seat, so that the visual orientation of the runway environment seemed more normal.

Landing the 707 in such strong crosswinds required keeping the drift on right up until the flare at about twenty feet above the ground. Then, as the thrust levers were retarded to idle, left or right rudder (depending on the direction of the crosswind) had to be promptly introduced to align the aircraft with the runway centreline, while opposite aileron was fed in to keep the wings level. The engine pods that were slung under the 707 wing were surprisingly close to the ground, and if a landing was mishandled in strong crosswinds and a level attitude was not maintained, it was easily possible for the engine pods on the lower wing to scrape along the runway surface. Flying an hour of circuits in strong crosswind conditions was certainly a workout, and I was greatly relieved that we flew the 707 wearing our RAAF blue uniforms, rather than in the hot and stuffy Nomex flying suits that were worn by RAAF pilots in nearly every other squadron.

Eventually, after nearly a month of flying the aircraft all around the country, my training concluded with the successful completion of an Instrument Rating Test that was mostly conducted at Canberra. Again, there was none of the stress and angst of earlier flight tests at Point Cook and Pearce, and I felt that I may have finally found my ‘home’ on the big four-engined jet. Now I was ready and rearing to go on some of those exciting overseas trips that I saw appearing regularly on the big tasking board in the Operations Room.

To be continued....
 

jb747

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A4 conversion training (ARF)

One of the things that always bugs me about any movie in which they have fighters is that they invariably show them as being in close formation. The reality is that fighter formations are almost always widely spread out. Not only does it make a smaller target, but it lets other aircraft in the formation check each other’s ‘tail’. It also allows for sudden, severe, manoeuvring. You can’t suddenly do anything with an aircraft attached in close formation.

Normally a pair will fly abeam each other, roughly 1 nm apart. If you have more than a pair, they will be about 100 metres from their respective lead. That allows unrestricted movement, without any warning. You can keep an eye inside your coughpit as necessary, with most of your attention watching the opposite side’s rear (his ‘six’).

This sort of formation isn’t taught on Pilots’ Course, but is the first step on the fighter conversions. In my day it was done in the Macchi, but now the RAAF Hawks cover all of the introductory work. This quickly leads into air combat manoeuvring, aka, dogfighting.

Another element of formation flying that wasn’t covered at Pearce is night formation. That is something that you will need if you’re going to effectively use air to air refuelling. Night formation in itself isn’t all that difficult, being very little different to flying formation in cloud, although that can be extremely disorienting. The cues that you use can be hard to see. In the A-4 the only lighting we had was our rotating red beacon. It was very much a case of grit your teeth and hang on. What was quite difficult though, was that we had to rejoin at night, i.e. get the aircraft into formation. To do that we had a procedure that had us joining in a turn, with the target in a turn of known angle of bank and speed. For most of the join, you were using the perspective of the lead’s varies aircraft lights to assess your distance and rate of closure. It was very easy to get this wrong.

Night formation was covered at Nowra as an A-4 course was approaching air to air refuelling. Like most US Navy aircraft, the A-4 was capable of being set up to act as a tanker for other aircraft. This involved removal of the radar screen and controls from the coughpit, and replacing them with a control panel for the ‘buddy store’. The store itself was basically a 2,000 lb drop tank, with a hydraulic package, about 60 feet of hose, and a refuelling drogue. This was carried on the centreline. It allowed the ‘tanker’ to transfer any fuel from the store, other drop tanks, and the main fuel tank. The squadrons didn’t configure an aircraft for this unless they needed to. When a conversion course was coming to this training, it was used as an opportunity for just about everyone to get out and have go.

The conversion course started with the basics. Flying in daylight. Instrument flying. Night flying. And then over a period of about two weeks, you’d do day formation, then night. And then day air to air refuelling (ARF), followed immediately by night. The night formation, and ARF followed the same format, with you going out with an instructor in a dual seat aircraft, and if he was happy, you’d then come back and pick up a single seater (if available) and immediately go back out again. I have memories of getting my first solo night rejoin totally wrong, and blowing straight past my lead. Perspective is everything.

Having survived day and night formation, we moved on the ARF. This is just another variation on formation, so how hard could it be? Quite a bit as it turns out.

We would join up on the tanker, and sit loosely off to one side. The aircraft doing the tanking would move astern and below the tanker, which would have extended the drogue from the buddy store. All you had to do now was to move up on the drogue, and to get the aircraft probe to engage it. The first issue was that the idea of hitting something with your aircraft, especially in flight, goes against the grain. So, you’d creep in nicely on the drogue, but then just come to a halt about a metre or two from engagement. And as long as you were flying smoothly, it would just sit there. Overcoming the fear of hitting something, you’d then move the aircraft forward. And that simply never worked. The pressure bow wave from the probe would get to the drogue and push it around. If you tried chasing it at that point, your inputs would invariably become harsher and harsher, and you’d be in danger of hitting the fuselage with the drogue.

You had to back up, and then come in again. To get a successful engagement you had to ensure that you moved forward fast enough to get the probe into the drogue before it was shoved away. And then you needed to quickly kill off the overtake. If you ‘lipped’ the drogue, with some level of overtake, you were again in danger of hitting the fuselage. Once successfully engaged, you’d push the drogue forward somewhat until the store would decide you could have some fuel. When you’d taken on the required fuel, you’d back out, and then move to the other side from the waiting aircraft.

At night it was the same, except that you only had the beacon light for illumination of the tanker. The drogue itself had 4 small white lights, but by the time I got to it, my course mates had knocked them all off.

Things did go wrong. On my first solo day ARF, the package decided to dump its hydraulic fluid all over my windscreen. One of my compatriots managed to hit the port (the wrong) side of his fuselage with the drogue, and removed his angle of attack probe.

Finishing ARF meant that we’d finished the basics of the conversion course and could now move on the weapons and air to air phases.

1982 A4G on the ramp 002.jpg
A 'bent' refuelling probe. They were originally straight, but it was found that if the drogue vented any fuel during the decoupling, it would go straight down the engine intake, and cause it to compressor stall.

1981 A4G Tanking 003.jpg
A couple of metres out. This is where you'd be tempted to stop.
 
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jb747

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Another tale from Geoff C, now out in the RAAF's real world, flying the 707.

"What you can't see won't hurt you"

After a few more Butterworth trips over the next month, I was again on my way to Honolulu.

The redoubtable JT3D-3B engines on our 707s were no longer at the forefront of technological advancement by the mid-1980s, but given the complexity of the Pratt and Whitney axial-flow engines, and the hundreds of thousands of revolutions per minute at which their compressors operated, I was constantly amazed that our aging jet engines continued to be as reliable as they were.

However, there are always some minor technical issues that are routinely encountered on machines of such mechanical sophistication, and often-times, many minor niggles can be accommodated without jeopardizing the safety of the aircraft or its occupants. During the certification process for every aircraft, its manufacturer produces a list of allowable deficiencies for nearly every aircraft system in a voluminous publication known as the Minimum Equipment List, and the RAAF had incorporated just such a catalogue into its suite of 707 flight manuals. Items of equipment that have suffered a defect but are not essential to the operation of the aircraft (and for which the corrective maintenance procedure can be deferred), are listed in the front of a RAAF aircraft’s Technical Log as ‘Carried Forward Unserviceabilities’, or CFUs. At the commencement of this task, one of the CFUs for our aircraft read simply:

“No. 3 N1 gauge fluctuates at takeoff thrust, but operates normally at all other power settings. All other engine indications are normal”.

Without wishing to get too technical, the two-stage axial compressors on the 707 engines comprised the inner N2 ‘power compressor’ (that is fed bleed air to turn the engine during start) and the larger outer N1 ‘fan compressor’ (that is connected to the turbine and essentially free-wheels in the airstream to draw more air into the power compressor in flight). In strong winds on the ground, the N1 fan can spin quite rapidly – even when the engine is not operating – and starting a jet engine in a strong tailwind can be particularly hazardous, since the N1 fan will spin backwards, effectively ‘stalling’ the flow of air through the engine just as it is being fed with combustible fuel.

So, of the two key engine components, the N2 compressor is the most critical, and the MEL stated that the N1 gauge could actually be completely inoperative for the sector if the other engine indicators functioned normally. Woofy briefed us on the problem as we prepared to depart Sydney in the early afternoon of the 28th of May, and on the takeoff roll, we all observed the N1 fluctuating on Number 3 engine, as stated in the CFU. When the thrust was subsequently reduced for the climb and cruise, the engine and its associated N1 gauge settled down into perfectly normal operations. The remainder of the flight to Nadi was uneventful, and after a refuelling stop, we were soon on our way to Honolulu.

The sun set rapidly behind us as we tracked eastwards for Hawaii, and after about an hour in the cruise, the loadmaster came to the flight deck and informed us that, in the inky darkness, the Number 3 engine was looking decidedly strange. “It’s got what looks like St Elmo’s Fire coming out of the middle of the front of the engine”, he told us somewhat excitedly. It seemed impossible that it could merely be a coincidence, but the engine instruments in the coughpit were all functioning perfectly normally. Each of us in turn, left the coughpit and walked back to the darkened passenger cabin to look out the window at the troublesome engine, whose inlet was now filled with a spectacular, swirling cauldron of blue static electrical discharges that would have looked perfectly at home in a science-fiction movie. We all had vivid recollections of the British Airways 747 that had dramatically lost power on all four engines in thick volcanic ash over Indonesia less than two years earlier, and we knew that the first indication of trouble that night had been a strange glow in the engine intakes.

“There wasn’t any indication of active volcanoes in the met briefing was there?” Woofy asked.

“No”, I quickly replied. “There’s not even any volcanoes around here; let alone active ones”.

It was certainly a perplexing dilemma, but with the lack of any other abnormalities, there wasn’t even a checklist that seemed appropriate to the situation that we were encountering.

Above us was a Qantas 747, also enroute to Honolulu, and Woofy decided to call them on the radio to see if they had any insights to offer.

“Qantas 3 … Aussie 123”, Woofy called.

“Yeah Aussie … go ahead”, said the bored sounding Qantas crew.

“You got any guys with 707 experience aboard this evening?” Woofy enquired.

After a short pause, a different, more polished (but crustier) voice replied stiffly, “Yes, I flew them for a decade or so. Do you have a problem?”

Woofy explained the CFU, the otherwise exemplary engine performance and the now disturbing situation that, whenever we look at it, the engine inlet is swathed in St Elmo’s fire. The paternal voice of the Qantas captain asked us a few perfunctory questions, and after a long, deliberative pause, said:

“Well, there’s only one thing you can do then!”

“And what’s that?”, we asked eagerly; anticipating a pearl of wisdom that would make our problem instantly go away.

“STOP LOOKING AT IT!” he stated bluntly.

We decided to heed his advice, and Woofy placated the now-concerned passengers with a quick explanatory PA that outlined the situation, while assuring them that the engine was otherwise operating perfectly. The rest of the flight was uneventful, and after arriving in Honolulu at about 9am, the flight engineer entered “NIL” in the defects column of the Technical Log. We subsequently thought nothing more about the mysterious engine display and instead enjoyed some more of the beautiful weather, stunning scenery and cold beers that the tropical paradise had to offer.

When we eventually returned to Richmond, the ground crew carried out the more thorough turn-around servicing on the aircraft that was habitually performed before it departed home base on its next trip. When they opened the engine cowling of Number 3 engine, the N1 bearing fell apart and deposited itself onto the tarmac in a pile of ground-down cogs and wheels, metal shavings and other assorted debris. It was the friction in the bearing as it ground itself to destruction that had caused the spectacular light show that we had witnessed during our night crossing of the Pacific. Had such a problem occurred in the load bearing N2 compressor, the engine would undoubtedly have failed.

From this experience, I learnt my first valuable aviation lesson. An aircraft rarely ever gives you a ‘false’ indication – you just have to work out what that indication is trying to tell you!
 
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jb747

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Over the years, the in flight monitoring of aircraft systems has increased/improved out of sight. Whilst the 747 reported some things back to home base, it was mostly to say what had just happened. For instance QF30 was announced to ops management in Sydney, not by a radio or phone call from the aircraft, but rather by a duty engineer calling them to say that one of the aircraft had just automatically reported over 30 system alarms. On one occasion I recall flying in to Singapore, and one engine was slower to respond than the others, whilst all of its parameters were quite normal. We wrote that up, but it's not really something that is all that simple for the engineers to check, unless they do a long series of high power engine runs. The engine was checked, nothing was obviously wrong. And it failed on the next flight.

The A380 was quite different though. Not only were engine parameters actively monitored in flight, but the algorithms were constantly checking against the historic and design behaviour of the engines. It was not uncommon for engines to be pulled at the instruction of Rolls Royce, after some form of divergence from the norm, even though they appeared totally normally within the coughpit.
 
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jb747

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Another instalment of Geoff's career. He's now moved on from the 707, and has been sent to Canberra to learn to fly a helicopter.

"GROUND SCHOOL"

The rotary-wing ground school revolved around (pardon the pun) the topics of helicopter aerodynamics, aircraft systems and helicopter performance. Since these subjects are as closely inter-related as the components of the machines to which they relate, I’ll attempt to explain them collectively rather than individually. Before arriving in Fairbairn, I had decided to keep an open mind about the scientific principle that keeps helicopters aloft – or, to put it more accurately, I had done no pre-course preparation whatsoever – and so I had begun the ground school with the vague notion that it was all somehow related to the indecipherable science of gyroscopics. But I was wrong … it was actually related to the almost indecipherable science of helicopter aerodynamics.

Through necessity (and failing memory), I will keep this discussion brief. The description of an aircraft as either ‘fixed-wing’ or ‘rotary-wing’ actually comes very close to explaining the way in which it defies gravity. On a fixed-wing type, engine thrust propels the aircraft forward until it reaches a speed at which the lift from the wing exceeds the weight of the aircraft when the pilot pulls back on the ‘stick’. On a rotary-wing type, a cross-section of its rotor blades reveals a very similar aerodynamic profile to that of the wing on a conventional aircraft. The helicopter engine drives a shaft that (via the transmission) rotates the blades until they reach a speed at which the total lift they generate exceeds the weight of the aircraft.

Helicopters have a tail rotor because of Newton’s Third Law of Motion which states, “For every action, there will be an equal and opposite reaction”. The transmission develops torque (rotational force) as it turns the main rotor and, without a tail rotor, the fuselage of an airborne helicopter would spin around in the opposite direction to its main rotor. Therefore, whenever the torque of the main rotor increases, it must be balanced by applying what is called ‘anti-torque’ control inputs to the tail rotor.

This naturally brings us to the primary flight controls that are used to manoeuvre a helicopter – which can be simply thought of as up/down, left/right/backwards/forwards and around and around. Now for this discussion, consider that the aircraft is established in a steady hover. The first control is called the ‘collective’, which is a large lever located beside the pilot that resembles a handbrake. The collective gets its name because it changes the angle of each of the main rotor blades equally, or ‘collectively’. Raising or lowering the collective lever increases or decreases the angle of each rotor blade; increasing or decreasing the total lift from the main rotor and, correspondingly, causing the aircraft to move vertically up or down.

The next control is the ‘cyclic’ which resembles the ‘joystick’ (control column) of a conventional aircraft and carries out a very similar function, albeit in a slightly different manner. In a fixed wing aircraft, moving the control column left or right raises the ailerons on one side of the aircraft and lowers them on the other; producing more lift on one side of the wing than the other and thus causing the aircraft to bank and turn. In a helicopter, moving the cyclic causes the angle of the rotor blades to increase on one side of the aircraft and decrease on the other. The ‘rotor disc’ – the term used when the main rotor blades are considered as a single entity – effectively tilts to produce lift in the desired direction of travel.

The final controls are the tail rotor pedals … don’t ever call them rudder pedals; even though they are manipulated with the feet and sometimes carry out a very similar aerodynamic function. Like the collective, pedal inputs increase or decrease the angle of the tail rotor blades equally to either cancel out the torque from the main rotor in flight, or (with the collective and cyclic controls held steady) make the helicopter pivot left or right in the hover.

The trickiest part about helicopter flying is that all of these controls are usually manipulated simultaneously. For example, imagine that you are hovering and simply want to move the aircraft sideways to the right. As I’ve previously explained it, this manoeuvre should merely require a cyclic input to the right … but it’s not that simple. When the rotor disc tilts, its total lift reduces slightly and a collective input is required to maintain a constant height. With more collective, comes the requirement for a corresponding ‘anti-torque’ tail rotor pedal input. And so this seemingly simple manoeuvre becomes: right cyclic whilst raising the collective a little and adding a little anti-torque tail rotor pedal. Stopping the sideways movement requires centering the cyclic whilst lowering the collective a little and reducing the tail rotor pedal input. Because the control inputs are always so closely inter-related, manoeuvring a helicopter is usually likened to rubbing your stomach and patting your head at the same time.

The other particularly relevant concept to helicopter operations is the phenomenon of Ground Effect. Essentially, a helicopter will require less power to hover when it is close to the ground – which is referred to as being ‘In Ground Effect’ (or IGE). Although not technically correct, consider that the downwash from the rotor blades produces a cushion of air (like a hovercraft) that partially supports the weight of the aircraft. If the aircraft slowly rises whilst hovering, however, at a height equivalent to about half the diameter of the rotor disc, the downwash will dissipate before it reaches the ground. Consequently, the rotor must then support all of the aircraft’s weight and more torque will be required from the transmission to remain in what is termed an ‘Out of Ground Effect’ (or OGE) hover.

Of course, our instructor conveyed all of this information to us via an abundance of complicated vector diagrams, force scalars and highly technical jargon. There was also a lot of discussion about ‘relative air flow’ although, since aerodynamics was usually taught first thing in the freezing-cold mornings, it sounded more like “welatiff aih fwow” until our lips had thawed out. We were fairly relieved to discover that a helicopter in forward flight behaves much more like a conventional fixed-wing aircraft. But during the transition from the hover, there was another new concept to grasp – ‘translational lift’ – which occurs when a helicopter accelerates to about twenty-five knots of forward speed and its blades gain efficiency by biting into the ‘clean air’ that they haven’t previously disturbed whilst the aircraft was hovering.

So there were lots and lots of new concepts and terminology to get our heads around. Over the next two weeks, we learnt about swash plates, blade grips, stabilizer bars and pitch change links in aircraft systems, and transverse flow, induced velocity, phase lag and flapping angles in helicopter aerodynamics. We were also warned about the numerous unique perils that only helicopter pilots faced – vortex ring, retreating blade stall, mast bump and dynamic rollover, to name just a few – and were assured by the ever melancholy instructor that each of them could kill us if we weren’t vigilant. I kept thinking about that poster on the 9 Squadron crew room wall. “If there is any disturbance to the delicate balance”, it warned ominously, “the helicopter stops flying, immediately and disastrously”.

Helicopter performance, the final subject area of our ground school lectures, expanded on the concepts of IGE and OGE and considered the characteristics of the jet engine. The Squirrel is powered by a tiny jet engine (small enough to cradle in your arms, apparently), but like all jet engines, the thrust it can produce varies as a function of altitude and temperature. If the aircraft is ‘loaded to the gunwales’ at high altitude and in hot temperatures, it may not even be capable of hovering IGE; let alone hovering OGE. Therefore, whenever a helicopter is operating close to its performance limits, the first priority for the pilot is to determine the weight at which his aircraft can hover OGE – from this point onwards, he will have much more freedom in how he manoeuvres his machine.

To help us make this crucial calculation, we were each issued with a small, plastic gadget – colloquially dubbed a ‘Prayer Wheel’ – that was manipulated like a circular slide-rule to predict the amount of power required to hover as a function of the outside air temperature and the aircraft’s weight and altitude. Anecdotally, such tools were not available to the Iroquois pilots in Vietnam, and they had sometimes tried to hover OGE when they didn’t have enough power available to do so. The newspaper accounts of the inevitable crashes that followed simply read “The pilot attempted to hover above the trees but the aircraft failed to respond”.

Throughout the war, helicopters regularly ferried heavy loads of ammunition and supplies to Army units that desperately needed them in the field. In the tropical heat though, it sometimes wasn’t even possible for a fully-loaded Iroquois to hover IGE. In such circumstances, a run-on landing at the destination could be made to reduce the demands on the engine. But in rugged areas where such landings weren’t advisable, the pilots in Vietnam had had to improvise. Anecdotally, they reduced the power demand by not applying the required ‘anti-torque’ inputs when they entered the hover. Instead, they allowed the aircraft to spin around on the spot while the loadmaster madly tossed boxes of ammunition and supplies out of the aircraft until its weight had reduced to the point where its controllability was restored.

But such exhilarating (if not death-defying) exploits were still a long way off for pilots who couldn’t even hover yet. In preparation for our first flights, we sat in an aircraft out on the flight line on our last day of ground school, and continually ran through the various checklist procedures until we had them all memorized. The Air Force had wisely decided that we should conduct our initial training sorties at a largely unused country airfield to mitigate the risk of an out-of-control Squirrel careering into the path of the Prime Minister’s jet. And so, while my initial training on the Boeing 707 consisted of a fortnight’s toil in the Cathay Pacific simulator in Hong Kong, my helicopter training kicked off with ten fun-filled days in the exotic holiday destination of RAAF Wagga. What a contrast!
 

jb747

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"WAGGA OR BUST"

The air was crisp and bitingly cold, with a temperature of around minus five degrees Celsius, as I hefted my bulging RAAF duffel bag down to 5 Squadron for the Wagga deployment. Overhead, the high-altitude passenger jets plying the east-coast, inter-capital trunk routes had already woven a delicate web of gossamer white contrails across the otherwise spotless winter-blue sky. To protect myself from the all-pervading cold, I was wearing my flying suit, jacket and gloves, but for all the warmth they were providing me, I may as well have been ambling about in my underpants.

A critical element of this preparation involved removing any frost that had accumulated on the rotors overnight; since unbalanced rotor blades turning at extremely high speeds can have disastrous consequences. One of the groundies was engaged on this task with a cloth and a bucket of boiling-hot water, and after he had wiped down the rotor blades, he threw the remainder of the steaming-hot liquid onto the windscreen of the aircraft. I swear that the last of that water had re-frozen by the time it had trickled down to the bottom of the fuselage.

When we had all assembled at the squadron, we were divided up into crews and allocated an aircraft for the hour-long transit flight. Most of my course-mates travelled as passengers in machines piloted by the instructors, but I was given the honour of sitting in the co-pilot seat of a helicopter being flown by a group captain who had been afforded the rare opportunity to log a few precious flying hours. Six Squirrels flew in a loose formation to Wagga that day and, since the radio work was being done by the formation leader, there was little for me to do but look around and draw comparisons between my new ‘office’ and my previous one.

From a physiological perspective, I must admit that I found it a little claustrophobic to be kitted out in a flying helmet and Mae West and communicating via an interphone system again. Also, because I had become accustomed to having hot meals served to the coughpit by a smiling young flight stewardess, I found the creature-comforts sadly deficient. The total lack of any inflight amenities required passengers to either ‘go’ before they went; or cross their legs, clamp their ‘pucker valves’ firmly shut and wait until they got back on terra firma.

* * *

"JUST LIKE RIDING A BIKE"

Now to be completely honest, it wouldn’t be my very first attempt at hovering … that feat had taken place on the very first day of the course; when each of us had briefly ventured out into the Training Area with an instructor to be shown what lay in store. After about half-an-hour of flying around at treetop height (accompanied by thirty minutes of hyperventilation from me), my instructor established the aircraft in a hover and, without any instructional input whatsoever said, “Okay Geoff, now you have a go”. I put my hands and feet on the controls, but the helicopter started to move forwards and was almost instantly airborne again.

“Nice takeoff”, said the instructor laughing heartily, “but I thought you were going to try hovering”.

“I did”, was my rather dejected reply.

So to say I had attempted hovering prior to that first flight at Wagga would have been a pretty gross embellishment of my earlier (and very feeble) effort.

The temporary Wagga flight line consisted of six Squirrels parked nose-to-tail beside a low-set, draughty old wooden hut that served as a combination briefing room, crew room and safety equipment storage room. After the customary pre-sortie briefing, my rather anxious-looking instructor and I headed out to one of the little helicopters to ready it for flight. After completing the walk-around inspection, I settled myself into the right-hand seat, ran through the preflight checklist and started the engine – as the rotors accelerated, so too did my heart rate. The initial three hours of instruction were devoted solely to hovering practice, and despite being a fully-qualified, twenty-six year old military pilot, I felt just as uncoordinated and nervous as I had been as a five-year-old, when I first climbed aboard my brother’s pushbike with the objective of learning how to ride it without killing myself.

Now what many people don’t realize about helicopters is the fact that when the engine is at full throttle and the rotors are turning at operating RPM, the aircraft is flying … including when it’s sitting on the ground on its skids. Even in this state, large, sudden or clumsy control inputs can cause the aircraft to tip over; resulting in a catastrophic, swirling cloud of dust and disintegrating rotor blades. Therefore, once I had wound the throttle up to full power, my instructor took control of the aircraft, picked it up into a hover and nimbly manoeuvred it to a large grassy area that was remote from both the flight line and the active runway. Then he pointed the aircraft’s nose towards a prominent building on the base and said:

“Okay, Geoff. Now the first controls you’re going to use are the tail rotor pedals. Just keep the aircraft pointed at that building and I’ll do the rest”.

In a Squirrel, the control forces are relayed to the rotor blades via hydraulic servos – the pilot only needs to make tiny (almost imperceptible) control inputs and the aircraft will respond instantly. The full range of required tail rotor pedal inputs can be made with the pilot’s heels anchored to the floor. Initially, I was badly over-controlling, and M (instructor) was having a lot of trouble keeping the aircraft stable. “Just make small inputs”, I heard him say repeatedly. By taking deep breaths to control my nervous energy, I found that eventually I could keep the aircraft pointed in the desired direction without too much deviation. Pivoting the aircraft left or right to point at a different feature was the next step in the process.

“Okay … take a break”, said M assuming control again after what, to me, felt like about an hour but, in reality, was probably about ten minutes. “That wasn’t too bad. Just remember … SMALL inputs, okay?

“The next control is the cyclic. Try to rest your wrist on the top of your leg and move the cyclic around with just your thumb and index finger. Pick a spot on the ground and try to keep the aircraft over that spot.”

Inexperienced pilots tend to grasp the controls in a vice-like ‘death grip’ that prevents them making the small control adjustments that are necessary for a smooth flight. I was certainly no exception and it’s a miracle that the top of the cyclic didn’t explode in my hand in those first few minutes. To keep myself from ripping the cyclic out of the floor in frustration, I kept silently repeating to myself, “relax … Relax … RELAX DAMMIT!” In my unskilled hands, the little Squirrel was as skittish as a dragon-fly; flitting from place to place seemingly of its own accord. “Small inputs”, M intoned repeatedly as I feverishly worked away to keep the aircraft stationary. “All you need to use is your thumb and index finger”.

After another short rest, it was time to tackle the collective; which I found to be probably the most difficult of the three controls. A helicopter pilot can anchor his heels to limit his range of tail rotor inputs, and compel himself to use only two fingers on the cyclic, but the forces that position the collective come from his shoulder and are therefore much more difficult to regulate. If the trainee pilot over-corrects for an upward or downward trend, he may find himself making oscillating control inputs of escalating magnitude that results in the aircraft either rocketing skywards or plunging earthwards. As I levered the collective up and down like a hand-pump, I noticed M working pretty hard. When the hour finally drew to a close, I think we were both equally exhausted. “You just need more practice”, said M as he efficiently whisked our Squirrel back to the flight line. But inside, I felt just like that five-year-old on his brother’s bicycle; awkwardly wobbling his way across the backyard.
 

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I was writing about air to ground weapons training, when I recalled this little story.

When you went out to the bombing range, you didn’t carry actual bombs. They weighed 500 lbs, and were obviously somewhat dangerous. You were also limited in just how many you could carry. So, for practice bombing, we used 25 lb practice bombs. You could carry a couple of racks of them, at six bombs per rack. Six runs around the pattern was enough for most bombing trips anyway.

In early ’82, a number of war shot weapons needed to be used for proofing purposes. That meant that the squadron was allocated some real 500 lb high explosive bombs. The CO could have shared them amongst the pilots, but he decided instead to load up three aircraft with them, and to have a competition to decide who got to drop them.

He came up with two teams. Basically, himself, the senior pilot, and the air warfare instructor, on one team. And the other team consisted of three of most junior pilots. So, all of the experience stacked against lots of enthusiasm. The SP and AWI in particular, were going to be impossible to beat.

So, when you can’t win cleanly, the only option is to cheat. We put our heads together and tried to work out how we could enhance our own scores (could we bribe the range staff?), or alternatively, how to knobble the CO’s team.

The practice bombs were to be released one at at time. The score for each pilot would be the distance inside which half of his bombs fell. After each release, the range staff would call the fall of shot, and you’d adjust your sight picture for the next pass. This normally resulted in the bombs slowly getting closer during the course of a range visit.

We carefully recruited some of the armament staff, so that we could run some of our ideas past them. It had to be reasonably subtle. It also had to be something that could be done after the pilots had preflighted their aircraft and were inside the coughpits (from where they could not see under the wings). The options we liked were to slightly bend the fins of every second bomb, or to attach a bit of brickie’s string to the end of a bomb to flick it slightly as it came of the rack. Both options were quietly tested in the weeks leading up to the big event. In both cases, the dispersion was roughly doubled from normal. The evidence of the string method was eliminated by using the last bomb on the rack as the attachment point, as it would take any evidence with it when eventually released.

The big day came. The CO’s team preflighted, and taxied to the arming point. At that point the armourers would move in to the aircraft, and arm the various release systems. And that was the point at which we went in with them (approaching from the rear so as not to be seen). The aim was to get every second bomb. We had about 90 seconds to make our mods and escape. Off they flew.

We realised just how effective it had been when the SP came back in to the crew room. He was not his normally affable self. His bombs had gone all over the place, and because we’d hit every second weapon there was no consistency. He was disgusted. The AWI was almost as unhappy. The CO…well, it didn’t seem to make much difference to his bombs.

As far as I know, nobody ever let on. But we ensured that we had guards on our aircraft when our turn came. I'm sure they knew we cheated. But I don't think they ever worked out just how.
 

jb747

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Our aircraft were often away at various RAAF bases, but especially Williamtown. Sometimes they’d go there for air to air work with the RAAF, but a fair bit of it was for air defence controller training.

One one occasion, one of the aircraft that was away had a broken hydraulic pipe, and a replacement was needed. So, late on Friday morning I took an A-4 for a blast up to Williamtown. The idea was to land, the engineers would open up the access panel for the gun bay, in which a luggage pannier had been fitted, remove the part, and I’d be on my way, without having had to shut down.

It was all very quiet in the circuit, so I asked ATC if I could turn back and do a low level pass over the Mirage lines. So, I took off to the west, extended out a little and then turned back towards the parked Mirages. I don’t recall how high I was, but not very. And, all the time, the power was at 100%, so the aircraft was accelerating. As I came over the lines I was doing somewhere in the region of 600 indicated. So, take that, RAAFie chappies...

A split second after crossing over the Mirages, I realised just why it was so quiet....as I ripped over an OC’s parade, pretty much right over the parade line. Oops.

I figured I’d be hearing about that when I got back to Nowra. But, nothing. I guess the RAAF OC was a fighter pilot himself, and didn’t mind being visited by the navy.
 
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jb747

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Another skill that the up and coming A-4G pilot (and Mirage/F111) had to learn was the art of air to ground weaponry.

Nowadays, much of the military ordinance is in some way ‘smart’. But, 40 years ago, the majority was still dumb, and the aircraft weren’t much smarter. Nor perhaps the pilots. So we had to learn about strafing, air to ground rocketry, and our bread and butter, bombing. Strafing and rocketry were similar, and were a lot easier than bombing, so I’ll stick to the latter here.

We used 500 lb, free fall bombs. They could be configured with a number of different fuses, and also with two different tail designs. The tails were basically a low drag, or a high drag configuration. When released, a bomb basically just falls away from the aircraft, and it will be right below the aircraft when it goes off. So, either the release profile had to have a way of separating you from the weapon, or the bomb had to use the high drag tail (called a snake-eye) to move it away from the aircraft. Being just above a bomb as it goes off is likely to result in shooting yourself down.

So, we used four different profiles for our drop. Low drag bombs could be released from either a 45º or a 20º dive, or high drag from a 10º dive, or level. Release altitudes varied with the profile, but a 45º release would occur at about 4,000’. 20º from about 2,500. 10º a few hundred, and level passes were done at 200 feet.

Perhaps counter intuitively, as the dive angle increased, so did the accuracy. And the sensitivity to minor release errors reduced. On the level passes, being 10 feet out would dramatically affect the fall of shot.

The gunsights in these aircraft were totally dumb. You needed to get the aircraft to a point in the sky in which the sight (with the correct depression settings) would run through the target…simultaneously with the correct dive angle, speed and height. You could not have any bank angle or sideslip.

Release a bomb high, and it would go short. Slow was short. Shallow was also short. And vice versa. As you can imagine, you’d often end up with a mix of errors, which you quickly had to sort out in your head. We used simple rules of thumb for corrections. High drag weapons were much more affected by any errors than were low drag, and even though much closer to the target at release, the scores could be demoralising.

The bomb sights of smart aircraft like the F18 would automatically correct for all of these errors, and basically showed where the bomb would hit if released at any given moment.

Most of our bombing was done at the range at Beecroft Head (Jervis Bay). We’d set up a pattern, very much like a circuit. If doing 20º, you’d head downwind at about 5,000’ and 300 or so knots. As you turned crosswind, you’d call your personal callsign (not the aircraft), and dummy or live. The range safety officer (in a bunker on the ground) would approve the pass or not, and they’d record the results of the pass, and give that to you on downwind. As you turned towards the bombing line (only a few angles were approved, for safety reasons), you’d basically overbank until nearly inverted, and pull down to the angle. You only had a few seconds to make any corrections. As you hit the release height (or the version of sight picture, height, speed and angle that you’d worked out in the few seconds), you’d press the pickle button. For the practice bombs that we normally used, you’d not notice anything at release. You’d then pull 5-6 g to get the aircraft about 30º nose high, and then roll to about 80º. You’d end up at about 5,000, and 300 knots on downwind again. 20º isn’t terribly steep, but by the release point you’d be doing about 450 knots, and the ground would be getting very close, very quickly. The G was also needed to help you get out of the ‘frag’ zone that would exist for a real weapon.

You kept these flights up until you started to become proficient. The student requirement was a CEP of 25 metres, meaning that half of our bombs had to fall within 25 metres of the target. The squadron standard was 15 metres.

Of course, as soon as you started to work out what you were doing, the rules would be changed. Next up was 45º. Think about it. A stable 45º dive at the ground. Pattern height for this was 9,000’, with release by 4,000. You’d bottom out at about 2,000’. As soon as you started getting the hang of this, you’d go out and do it at night, which was a whole new, and somewhat terrifying, game.

Both 10º and level used high drag bombs. You were much, much, closer to the target at release, but surprisingly, they were much more affected by any release errors. The thinking with these weapons was that the drag would give sufficient separation from the aircraft to reduce the frag risk.

I guess this doesn’t translate directly to airline flying, but it required great accuracy, and quick thinking; skills that are very useful. And whilst the methods were pretty crude by modern standards, it was amazing how often a shot was called as ‘target, target’. A direct hit in other words.

We didn’t get real bombs all that often, but occasionally some would be required to be used for proofing purposes. That was mentioned in another tale. On one occasion though, I had two bombs that were to be dropped. I’d been given one of the two trainers, instead of a single seater, so I took an ATC friend along. I decided to drop both bombs in one pass.

Now the range was a pretty nice part of the NSW coast, and I understand that it has, in recent years, been cleared and returned to the public. We had marked targets that were used for bombing/strafing. But anything live was dropped on a rock feature just off the coast, called the Drum and Drumsticks. Now we’d probably consider that vandalism, but different times… It was also an excellent fishing spot. Before the range opened each day, not only would the range staff do a search of the place, but a helicopter would also come out from Nowra, and have a good look around. But, some of the fishermen had worked out that their spots weren’t near the targets, and knew places to hide. It was very rare that we attacked the Drum, and even rarer with live weapons.

So the range was cleared. My mate and I went out, and proceeded to do a couple of dummy passes. And then I called in ‘live’. At the release point, because the system had been selected to ‘salvo’ there were two thuds as the explosive charges released the bombs from the rack. We pulled 6-7 g to get the aircraft out of the frag zone, but also on to its back so that we could see the impacts. Boom, boom. One hit the water at bit short, and the other hit the drum, with two large explosions. White shockwaves puffed out from both of them. And then my mate in the back spotted a couple of fishermen high tailing it away from the water. I suspect that was the last time they played the “hide from the navy” game. A call to the RSO, and some staff came down and intercepted them.

1982 A4G Armed 007-2.jpg
 

jb747

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The military can be a fun place too...

I didn’t see this first hand, but I know the bloke concerned, and those telling the tale, so I expect that it’s close to the truth.

Back in 1977, HMAS Melbourne went to Europe for the Jubilee. Whilst there, the squadrons, and people, dispersed to many events. So, one senior observer was at the “Tiger Meet” (basically a get together of NATO squadrons with some sort of Tiger motif). He was enjoying the vast display of aircraft and nationalities, when a Luftwaffe RF-4 taxied up and parked near to him. So, he walked over to have a look and say hello.

The response to that was to ask if he wanted a drink. The well organised German crew opened up their centreline drop tank, which was no longer for the carriage of fuel. It opened up into a fully equipped bar. So, they immediately poured drinks, and said, ‘you must join us’. And so passed a wonderful afternoon of watching and talking aircraft. And drinking whatever a multi thousand pound tank can carry.

Leap forward a couple of weeks, and the ship arrived in Rotterdam. Shortly after arrival, a PA from the gangway calls for our observer (let’s call him Jim). He goes to the gangway, and finds two Luftwaffe officers, who basically say “Jim, Jim, come with us”. So he does. And finds that they’ve taken the squadron’s utility aircraft and that he’s now in Germany. He has a couple of excellent days with his new mates, but then finds he’s alone in the mess, and the ship’s sailing time is starting to get very close. But, everyone he talks to tells him that yes, they understand, and not to worry. Eventually mate #1 turns up. Jim is terrified of missing the ship at this point, but our Luftwaffe officer tells him it’s okay. Just come with me.

And he did. And his new mate flew him back to the Netherlands in an RF-4. The ship wasn’t missed, and he had the ride of his life.

 
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jb747

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Stuff happens

Over my many years of flying I was fortunate enough to keep the number of landings equal to the number of take offs. Nevertheless, many things happen in aircraft. Sometimes the passengers notice, but mostly they are unaware of whatever the aircraft is up to.

But stuff does happen.

Going through by aircraft type in the sequence that I flew them…

CT4 (as a pilot course student). A nice simple aircraft that was totally reliable during my flying at Pt Cook. Lots of time was spent practicing for engine failures, but it thankfully remained just practice.

Macchi (as a student). I can only recall two issues whilst I was flying. On one aircraft the pitch trim failed, but that was simply an inconvenience. On another occasion we had a main compass failure (the story is in one of the threads), which did put us into a very low fuel situation.

Not everyone on my course was so lucky. During the early part of our time at Pearce, one of the aircraft gave a canopy unlocked warning to one of my course mates and his instructor. The Macchi canopy was side opening. It locked on the left hand side, and had hinges on the right. In the centre, between the two coughpits was a counterbalance. The RAAF were somewhat fearful of this particular warning, as they’d lost a Macchi and crew some years earlier, when the canopy came open as the aircraft was rejoining the circuit. At the time, it was thought that the student (who was in the back seat doing an instrument sortie), might have accidentally unlocked the canopy.

In response to the warning, the instructor took over, and told the student to lower his seat as far as he could. That would get him as far away from the canopy as possible. At this point the canopy still appeared to be closed normally. So, the instructor now decided that the best course of action would be to get rid of the canopy entirely. The canopy could be explosively jettisoned. So, having warned the student, he reached out and pulled the jettison handle. In an amazing stroke of timing, it was at this exact instant that the canopy decided to open. What should have happened at this point is that the canopy locks would be released, the hinges would explosively cut, and another explosive device would operate a cutter to disengage the counterbalance. But, because the canopy was in the process of opening as the explosives fired, it meant that the counterbalance was not in its housed position, and so the cutter missed it. Now they were in the unbelievably dangerous situation of having the canopy flailing around in the breeze (I don’t know how fast, but assume a couple of hundred knots), held on only by the counterbalance. The instructor fed in a bunch of right rudder, in an attempt to pull the canopy off, and also to keep it as far away as possible. Realising that this was futile, he ordered an ejection. The seats can’t have cleared the canopy rails by very much.

The story wasn’t over for the student though. He was a tall bloke, and when he lowered his ejection seat at the start of the emergency, it had the effect of lifting his thighs off the seat cushion. When the ejection happened, the seat had 3 or 4 inches of travel before it picked up his legs, and it broke both of them just above the knee. The landing can’t have been pleasant. He ended up with huge pins in both of his legs, and was back coursed by two courses. One of the pins was eventually mounted on a plaque and hung on the wall of the cadets mess. In a sad postscript, he’d completed his course, and was awaiting graduation day, when he was killed in a car accident.

Macchi (at Nowra). Leaving pilots course and heading back to the Navy, I flew the Macchi for a few months before my conversion started. During this time we started to learn the business of being a fighter pilot, with tactical formation, basic air combat, and ground attack now being the order of the day. We often flew with others, more or less as back seat passengers. It was during this time that I had my own run in with the Macchi canopy.

During the course of the investigation after the ejection at Pearce, the RAAF had decided to change the checklist for the canopy unlocked warning. The Macchi canopy locking handle would latch when in flight, fore and aft along the sill. If you unlatched it and pulled it up, the canopy would unlock instantly. If you pulled it down, it was felt that the canopy would be incapable of unlocking. So, the new procedure had you unlatching the handle, very, very carefully indentifying the correct direction, and pulling it down to the locked position and then holding it there for the rest of the flight. So, as my squadron mate flew, I carefully carried out the procedure. I don’t think I’ve ever held anything so tightly for so long.

The A-4G. My luck continued to hold whilst on the A-4. I can recall two smoke events, both of which were cured by turning off the pressurisation, and quickly landing. And something interesting happened when were were learning to air to air refuel. `

The squadron would send out one aircraft configured as a tanker, and then two students (and instructors) would head up to meet it in our two TA-4Gs (trainers). When the instructors were happy with you, you’d head back to Nowra, and immediately take out one of the A-4Gs (single seaters). That didn’t always work though, so I ended up taking the TA-4 back out for my solo tanking. So, it ended up with a tanker being flown by an instructor, and two A-4s and a TA-4 with students. We all joined up, and cycled through hooking up, tanking, and moving away, a couple times each. Towards the end of the exercise, whilst I was plugged in, the tanker hydraulic package failed, and dumped much of its load of fluid on to my aircraft. The windscreen immediately became opaque as the oily fluid spread over it. I could no longer see ahead at all, so I backed out of the tanked position. After telling the instructor what was happening, he sent the two single seaters home. I could see well enough out the side to formate on him, so we headed back to Nowra in close formation. The windscreen did clear a little on the flight back, but not really enough to fly a normal landing, so I simply stayed in close formation for the landing.

During this time the death knell for the A-4s tolled, when the HMAS Melbourne lost two aircraft in quick succession. Both look very similar on the video, in that they are both launch accidents. In one the engine actually fails during the catapult stroke, so the aircraft is flying, though not very well at the end of the catapult. The second is somewhat nastier, in that the catapult gives a cold shot, having enough energy to push the aircraft off the end, but only at walking pace. The ejection was so close to the ship, that it presented the greatest danger. Thankfully, the search and rescue people were very quickly on the job, and the pilot was hauled from the water. He went on the have a great career flying the Sea Harrier in the RN.

So, whilst others were having days that were too exciting, my luck was mostly holding.

The A4 did give me one other interesting flight though. Perhaps a precursor of things to come. During an exercise out of Williamtown, I was flying up very high, in the region of FL400, when there was a ‘burp’ in my oxygen system. Our masks delivered pure oxygen at a slight overpressure all of the time. The system itself consisted of a bottle of LOx, which was delivered to the mask regulator at about 110 psi. That regulator reduced it to a breathable pressure. The burp was the regulator failing. The next thing I knew my mask (and face) was being inflated by oxygen at huge pressure. All I could do was rip the mask off. But, fighters are not like airliners. In an airliner at FL400, you might be in a cabin at 8,000’. In my cabin it was over 20,000’. I couldn’t stay up there without my mask. So, I rolled the aircraft inverted, and pulled. Obviously I wasn’t timing it, but I’d be surprised if it took more than a minute to get rid of 30,000’. Not really practice for QF30 though.

CT4 (as a flying instructor). Back to a simple aircraft in which there isn’t much to go wrong. You expected the students to have the occasional go at killing you, though it was probably more dangerous flying with other instructors. I never had any issues with the aircraft, though there were two engine failures whilst I was there. In one case a bit of finger trouble led to a ditching in Port Phillip, whilst in another a mechanical failure of the fuel distribution system led to an instructor landing an aircraft (undamaged) on a road near Lara.

And so now we move to the airlines.

The systems training was pretty deep. In the early days, SOs were all expected to qualify to sit on the engineer’s panel, so not only did they have to learn the flying side of the 747, but also have a pretty good knowledge of the systems. That knowledge was especially useful after the advent of the glass aircraft, without flight engineers. The deeper the knowledge, the greater your ability to handle something for which there is no script (or procedure).

Failures of just about any system you can imagine are routinely covered in simulator exercises. You’d certainly think that engines fail every day given how many times they fail in the sim. The aircraft, thankfully, are much more reliable.

747 Classic (as an SO and FO). I don’t recall many things going all that wrong. We had a flap issue during an approach to Singapore, that led to a go around. We had that resolved by the time we’d completed the circuit, and landed normally. I specifically recall watching the way the Captain managed all that was happening, as he really was a man to emulate. There was an air conditioning smoke event on the ground in Bangkok, that led us to getting everyone off the aircraft, and back into the terminal. But there’s so much redundancy in the aircraft that most issues are resolved simply by turning the associated system off, and moving on.

The 747-400 (as an FO). I was there in the very early days of this aircraft. There were plenty of teething problems, though very few developed into problems.

On one occasion, I recall climbing in the middle of the night (over eastern Europe), and as we did one of the engines started to overspeed. We manually stopped that, and when we levelled off, it was stable though with slightly mismatched engine parameters (N1, N2, N3 weren’t the same as the other engines). The Captain was on his break at the time, and when I called him back he suggested that the engine was possibly suffering from frozen (stuck) inlet guide vanes. Upshot was that it was ok in steady state, but wouldn’t be happy with a large power change. He was correct, and it snuffed itself when the power was reduced at top of descent.

The screens were a new innovation and had some issues of their own. One night, whilst about 400 nm from Honolulu, all of the coughpit screens lost their colour, and then went blank. One at a time. The Captain was again off, and we called him back. And as luck would have it, the instant he entered the coughpit, they all burst back into life. And never played up again. Gremlins.

767 (as a Captain). I was here for the longest time, most sectors and most hours. And that meant that there was enough time for many of the items we practice in the sims to happen.

There were two engine events. First up was a multiple bird strike on an engine during the departure from Perth. I had just enough time to say birds, and then the right engine’s note changed. It was still running but the vibration was unacceptably high. So, we pulled that engine back to idle, and left it there for the time it took to position to the north to land. We didn’t shut it down completely, as we’d seen birds go down the other side too. The second was during a descent into Brisbane, when the overheat system for one of the engines activated. That’s actually part of the fire warning system, and as the engine was already at idle, the checklist led us to shutting it down. It turned out to be spurious, caused by a computer issue.

Everything is redundant in some way, so whilst there were generator, and hydraulic pump failures over the years, the system design mostly recovered with little pilot input. There was one strange flight though, in which we lost both a generator, and an engine driven hydraulic pump. Both happened within a minute or two of each other, not all that long after take off. If they’d been on the same engine, I would have landed…but it wasn’t. Simply two totally unrelated failures happening at almost the same time.

Hydraulic leaks, leading to the loss of a system happened a couple of times. It was only really an issue if you lost the centre hydraulics, as that did the landing gear and nose gear steering. That happened one night on the way to Cairns, but by having a tug waiting for us at the taxiway, we minimised the effect on the airport and passengers.

Flaps have asymmetry protection, which has the effect of locking the flaps at their present position. That lock out happened one wet day on arrival in Wellington. Definitely a day to make sure the touchdown was on target and on speed.

The 767 was an enjoyable aircraft. A sports car amongst airliners.

747-400 (Captain). 12 years after leaving, I found my way back to the -400. Whilst the procedures had changed over that time, the family relationship between it and the 767 hadn’t. It was somewhat more automated, and had much better coughpit displays. ADSB and data links were nice innovations that had appeared whilst I was away.

My time here was mostly quiet, too. Until QF30 of course, when we encountered the sim from hell whilst airborne. But, no part of that event was totally new. All of it had been seen in some way in the simulator over the years. Just not all at once. And after that burst of activity, it went back to quiet.

A380. The aircraft was very new when I went to it, and literally every sector would have some form of failure or warning. But, most simply were not real. The electronic monitoring system had parameters that were too tight, and so it was forever telling you things that were perfectly healthy weren’t. As the in service time increased, so the monitoring systems were adjusted to what were more realistic tolerances, and it became rare to see a warning or caution. As a little joke from the aircraft, it gave me a caution during the rollout on my very last landing.

But, there were a few things were were not spurious. Only a couple of months after checking out, I had what amounted to a dual air data computer failure (2 of 3). That resulted in the aircraft reverting to alternate flight laws, and losing virtually all of the automatics. The autopilot(s) were gone, and trimming (in roll) became an issue. Contrary to some opinions though, these aircraft fly like any other, so we simply had to work somewhat harder for the remaining 5 hours to destination.

The biggest issue with the 380 was actually in the cabin. With almost 500 people there is much more opportunity for issues of all types.
 

Captain Halliday

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Interesting stories JB.

Couple of questions

So, I rolled the aircraft inverted, and pulled.
Why roll and pull? Why not just push into a dive?

A380. The aircraft was very new when I went to it, and literally every sector would have some form of failure or warning. But, most simply were not real.
Did this increase the risk of complacency? If so, how do you guard against the complacency when your first instinct is spurious indication?
 

jb747

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The risk of two threads. Perhaps I should move the answer to the other one.

Why roll and pull? Why not just push into a dive?

G limits are not symmetrical. The A-4 was allowed -2g, but +7.2g. The roll rate was so high, in the order of 700º per second, that you literally had to think of rolling over, and you were inverted. So, it would take a lot less time to roll and pull, than it would to push. To give you an idea, the A380 FBW limited to about 15º per second. You're unlikely to have ever experienced anything much beyond that in any airliner. So, imagine a rate that's almost 50 times greater.

Did this increase the risk of complacency? If so, how do you guard against the complacency when your first instinct is spurious indication?

Whilst the warning may have been triggered by parameters that were too tight, the downstream effects were real. So, if the system thought something was wrong, and (for instance) took a generator out of play, you have really lost that generator. The procedure to get it back, or shut it down, was the same whether the failure was caused by a breakage or system parameters.

The aircraft was very procedurally driven, and life was much easier for everyone, if you simply stuck to the procedures.
 

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