Published on December 1st, 2014 | by FII Reader


I learned about Flying from that…….

When you look at the chapter in the microlight pilot’s handbook on human performance it’s laughable. Apart from some data on hypoxia and scuba diving it’s just common sense. The exam’s even funnier. If you didn’t get a good pass in it, you shouldn’t be flying.

And then you realise.

Looking back on my experiences of my first year flying I can see my old friend human performance has a part in every flight. Sometimes it’s a minor role or even just a cameo. But every now and again, it’s the star of the show. Some lessons were readily absorbed but others took many repeat performances and I have no doubt I’ll still be learning throughout what I hope to be a long, happy and safe lifetime of flying.

I’d passed my GST in August last year and couldn’t wait to test my hard earned skills with endless weekends visiting other airfields and amazing my Facebook friends with stunning aerial pictures of my adventures. And then the inevitable happened. The Irish weather. My wings were clipped and I wasn’t happy.
After the long, horrible and mostly unflyable winter Sunday 16th February was a welcome respite. It was a lovely calm day and the airfield at Tandragee, Co. Armagh was busy with plenty of happy pilots. Garth Logan and I had each flown that morning already but we decided a trip to Movenis to the north west of Lough Neagh would make the most of the beautiful day. We planned to fly up through Belfast International zone and back down the western side to Tandragee. Garth wanted to take the zone transit on the way up. No problem, I’d have the easy bit on the way home.

Raphael, our CFI, pointed out a band of rain coming in from the west but we reckoned it would pass when we were up north. So off we went. Idiots. Transiting the zone was so much more enjoyable when the pressure was off. I listened to Garth’s radio transmissions and found I knew what would be said next. This was progress indeed!


Garth overhead Belfast International. 


We tootled over the massive runway and looked down on the big fellas below us. Unbelievable to think I was now, in some tiny, irritating, mosquito like way, a part of their previously exclusive world. We don’t often get the opportunity to just enjoy being a passenger so I took in the scenery and Garth flew us to Movenis.

As we approached the home of the Wild Geese parachute centre Garth made a radio call. The only response we got was a position report from the aircraft dropping parachutists. We picked it out in the sky and stayed out of the way as he offloaded his cargo. When he’d finished and we were happy we were visual with the parachutists we turned onto final, following the sky diving schools aircraft. Garth executed a tidy crosswind landing and I had a giggle at the many little hills on the runway as we taxied to the hangar and shut down. 

The cafe was closed and time was not on our side so we decided to go home almost straightaway. “Clear prop!” I shouted with all due authority. She turned over twice, I tried again. Once only this time, and then nothing at all. X-Ray Lima was dead as a door nail. We had a flat battery. Luckily Movenis were able to jump start us and I taxied off happily down the funny runway.


Garth holds open the door of the clubhouse for me, pretending to be a gentleman!


Once airborne I looked south and was met by a massive grey wall of showers. Oh no. I’d drawn the short straw (actually, I think Garth handed it to me) and I felt very uncomfortable indeed. I really was caught between a rock and a hard place. The alternative to braving the bad weather was another zone transit. Garth agreed to do the radio for me but for some reason I still don’t know, I opted to fly back along the western shores of the lough through the bad weather.

The rain began as a fine mist on the windscreen and even though we descended as far below the cloud as possible it soon began to streak along the sides and even splashed in through the roof somewhere onto the dashboard. Oh how Garth laughed. I took comfort in his attitude though, we couldn’t be in too much trouble if the experienced pilot was laughing, right?

And then I noticed something wasn’t right with the instruments. My Air Nav Pro showed that we were flying into a 30 kt headwind but X-Ray Lima was flying at 80kts (indicated airspeed) with the revs at only 3,500 and we were ascending? None of it made sense. The thought of carb ice crept into my mind as still the rain dripped in round us and Garth laughed. I pointed out this discrepancy to my co pilot and he switched off the fuel pump which I had switched on when we had to duck under the cloud. That seemed to do the trick as the revs jumped back to normal and I brought the aircraft slightly closer to straight and level flight. 


Portadown golf course next to Kernan Valley flying club, flooded after the winter rains.


The rain continued with visibility just on our side and we pressed on towards Tandragee. There were a few scratchy and Dalek like radio transmissions and I marvelled that anyone else was daft enough to be up flying. We kept a sharp lookout but didn’t see any other traffic. Washing Bay slipped by underneath us and I began to think we might be ok, then Garth pulled the rug from underneath me. “The winds a fairly strong southerly” he said as he pointed out the wave patterns on the lough surface. Oh great. This day just couldn’t get any better. Nobody likes landing “over the trees” at Kernan, least of all me. I even drove a potential passenger home again once when faced with a strong southerly and the surety of the stomach churning steep glide approach over the nasty green vegetation.

“Radio the airfield and ask Raph” I said. Keep him from laughing for two minutes. Seemed like no one was on frequency as we got no reply, just a few incoherent half words from someone’s useless radio. Portadown was in sight now and I struggled to find a landmark to lead me onto final for 18. The stress was really beginning to tell on me and I was certain I’d never get her down over the trees. 

And then there was another radio transmission. This time the Dalek sounded like Raph. Between the two of us we figured out that the radio we’d been hearing for the past few minutes was Tandragee and they were unreadable. My day just got a whole lot worse. 
I picked out the poplar trees along the river and headed in what I hoped was the direction of the top field where the clubhouse and hangars were. I could see the low field we use for circuits and the top one was right beside it. We’d be alright wouldn’t we?
I slowed up and got first stage of flaps on, began my descent into an area just to the right of the low field. Fingers crossed isn’t a navigation method students are taught…

“I can see the hangars!” Exclaimed Garth. 

This was turning into a two pilot landing. I selected second stage of flap and resisted the urge to bless myself, Garth and the aircraft. Over the big trees, chop the power and down like blazes we went. Far too fast, not a chance of landing, ever. Power on and off we go. 


X-ray Lima at Movenis.



The go around had a few advantages though. I could just about make out Raph telling me the wind had died down enough to try 36 but watch out for the tailwind and Garth was able to confirm this with a quick look at the windsock as we whizzed by. 
I threw poor wee X-Ray Lima onto the tarmac and nearly cut turf from the grass on the left hand side as we charged up the runway in the tailwind. We’d made it and only just in time as the daylight was also fading quickly.
It took a day or two for the pieces of the jigsaw to come together but it seemed that the battery wasn’t charging on the return leg and the drain of power for the fuel pump had caused the faulty reading on the rev counter showing classic signs of the dreaded carb ice which, thankfully, is rare in a C42. It had in all likelihood affected both radio transmission and reception too. 



Overhead the international airport


Human performance had tapped me on the shoulder yet again. I’d made a decision to fly near bad weather clouded by my eagerness to go flying, anywhere, and I’d rejected a sensible alternative because I was nervous of talking to ATC, and felt rushed because we were already airborne. Another in the bank of lessons to be learned.

Human performance.

Don’t underestimate it.

Your life depends on it.






About the Author

Comments are closed.

Back to Top ↑