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23 January 2015

Actual Search Terms for Fear of Landing

One of the odd and amusing things about running Fear of Landing is discovering how visitors found the website. My favourite report is the search engine terms. If someone searches on key words or a phrase and then my website comes up in the list of relevant sites, they can click straight through to Fear of Landing and I get a record of what they were searching for when they found me.

A lot of these are exactly what you’d expect for a website like mine: searches on specific crashes or questions to do with aviation. Sometimes, though, it gets a little bit odd. Here’s the highlights of search terms that lead to Fear of Landing in 2014.

Most common searches

  • Boston John
  • Red Arrows
  • Vesna Vulovic
  • George Aird

Someone who couldn’t quite remember the name of my blog

  • scared of landing visit to blackpool airport atc

Multiple searches which led searchers to the wrong site (is this a thing?)

  • sexy nude skydiving stewardess

Search that I should know the answer to but don’t

  • what is the largest plane that can land at swansea airport

A searching question

  • flying into an area unknown to you, the approach procedure goes below the required visual and weather minimums – the captain elects to continue saying he has flown the procedure ‘numerous times’ – what would you do

Searches that will probably never be answered on Fear of Landing

  • what are best ever sex stories with air hostess in hindi
  • shark tail how it prevents dipping of its snout (mechanics)

Least useful keywords for a perfectly valid search

  • at what time (local) did the ups flight depart dubai international airport on its fateful last flight on

Search most likely to end up as an exam question

  • an airplane is flying at 450km/hr at a constant altitude of 5km. It is approaching a camera mounted on the ground

Search from pilot who is seriously planning ahead

  • which aircraft have more ability to land on a flooded runway between boeing 737-800 and airbus 319 320

Search most in need of more details

  • why didn’t pilot try to make it to ho chi ming for emergency landing

Quiz night search

  • do planes land with or against traffic on emergency landings in the street

Most unexpected search

  • women wearing masks breathing hard flickr

Search pilot should have made BEFORE the flight

  • what will happen if I infringed controlled airspace

Bragging search (My boyfriend has done this too)

  • i slept with a pilot

Important search that I just can’t help with

  • con man? a man with a british accent from california claims he is a ww2 pilot

And finally…

Search most likely to inspire me to write a new article

  • are the birds of prey at prestwick airport trained not to fly away

To be fair, the report results actually show that most of you are sane and interested aviation enthusiasts. But now and then, I have to admit, I have to wonder…

09 January 2015

A Drone and the Man who Loves It

I have posted a few times about the dangers of drones but this video shows what can be done with a remote controlled model aircraft. It has everything: suspense, intrigue and action. It’s the touching story between a drone at the edge of its life and the Dutchman who loves it.

Zwier Spanjer got a DJI Phantom 2 for Christmas and spent the day flying it around the local park in the Netherlands. He was having so much fun, he forgot to watch the power.

Just watch:

When the DJI gets low on power, it goes into auto-land mode which is why it is slowly descending. You can see the owner and his friends watching from the street.

Of course, someone has already done a Whitney Houston homage:

I know I complain about reckless usage of these now that they’ve become affordable and popular but I do love the camera footage that comes from them!

26 December 2014

Most Popular Aviation Pieces in 2014

Long dark nights are slowly receding as we pass the winter solstice and head back towards Spring. I can tell you, I’m seriously looking forward to 2015: I have great expectation of fun projects and lots of writing and hopefully even a bit of flying.

This year’s most popular posts are an interesting mix as quite a few of them were not posted this year. They gained belated attention through posts on aviation message boards, Reddit and searches for information, which means some unexpected posts like those in the history category did especially well.

I made one change: I didn’t count posts to do with MH370 and MH17. I feel these were high at the time as we all tried to make sense of the mystery of the disappearing aircraft but they have not been updated since the initial posts and may now hold information that has since been corrected. None of them appears in the top posts of the last few months, that is, there was a spike of interest which has now receded.

(Obligatory pitch: if you are interested in reading more about MH370, then take a look at my book, The Mystery of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. It does not cover the last few months of search news but the details of the flight and the list of theories regarding the aircraft’s disappearance are completely up-to-date.)

So, here are the posts which were the most popular in 2014!

Number One: The Story Behind an Unbelievable Photograph

I wrote this November 2013 because I loved the photograph and wanted to know how it happened. Clearly, a lot of people have the same question: it has turned out to be my most popular post ever.


Number Two: Boston John

Air Traffic Controller John Melecio, also known as “Boston John,” is one of the most famous ATC controllers today. When he was controlling from Boston Tower, he was always lively and humorous, gathering a following all over the world. Listeners on LiveATC.net posted to the forums whenever he was on air so fans could tune in and hear him live.

When I wrote about John Melecio, I didn’t realise he was quite that famous but two years later, this post is one of the most often linked to from avation groups talking about ATC.


Number Three: FAA Approved?

I found this on an aviation forum and I just can’t stop staring at the photographs.

This is the sixth year in a row that this series of photographs is in my top five posts. I have to admit, I never get tired of looking at his repairs.


Number Four: Overloaded, Overspeed and Out of Fuel

The situation started quietly: a Boeing 757 inbound to Newcastle International Airport (NCL) was asked to do a go around: break off the approach and try again.

The Thomas Cook aircraft was a Boeing 757-237 registration G-TCBC. There were seven crew on board and 235 passengers. The crew was scheduled for an early morning flight from Newcastle to the Canary Islands, landing at Fuerteventura and returning to Newcastle that afternoon. They could expect to be home for suppertime.

At less than a month old, I’m surprised to see this accident report in the top ten, but it is a hard-to-believe incident in which a relatively standard sequence of events almost turned into disaster.


Number Five: Six Exclamations You Never Want to Hear in the Cockpit

“Have You Ever Done a Barrel Roll in the Dark?”

This was a selection of six accidents with wince-worthy cockpit conversations shortly before things went pear-shaped. Most of these are accidents I covered on the site and I thought I’d try a different way of doing a round-up of interesting accidents. It seems to have worked.


Number Six: B-1B with its Nose to the Ground

On the 5th of October in 1989, a B-1B Lancer departed Dyess Air Force Base with four crew on a routine training flight. Three hours later, the flight crew discovered that the aircraft had a hydraulics fault. As they came in to land at Dyess Air Force Base in Texas, the front landing gear failed to lower. They circled the airfield for four hours, twice being refuelled by an airborne tanker, as they struggled to lower the nose wheel. Supporting the crew on the ground were military personal and mechanics for the aircraft manufacturer; however they were unable to resolve the issue.

The video of this landing was released last year and clearly you all found it as fascinating as I did.


Number Seven: A Fun Set of Videos for the Weekend

These are all good-hearted aviation videos which are being passed around that I thought you might enjoy. Surely you can’t have already seen them all!

All I can say is you all must have been seriously bored that weekend…


Number Eight: Pilot Suicides: Fact vs Fiction

One of the claims by Ewan Wilson which is making headlines is that he “found” five flights which he believes were also caused by suicidal pilots.

To clarify, to “find” these cases, you just need to go to the Aviation Safety Network, where there is a list of aircraft accidents caused by pilot suicide. ASN lists nine cases there but Wilson is clearly talking about commercial pilots carrying passengers. That leaves us with five cases, all totally documented.

Each of these five commercial pilots flying a scheduled passenger service is believed (by some investigating bodies, although not all) to have committed suicide, taking their aircraft and their passengers with them: an especially horrifying type of mass murder.

A straight-forward look at five possible pilot suicides in commercial aircraft, in the context of what might have happened to Malaysia Airlines flight 370. The hardest part of writing this piece was keeping it short; I could have written so much more detail on any one of the five flights.


Number Nine: Captain Fired After Nose-Wheel Landing

Another relevant point is that the Captain had been watching the approach on the Heads Up Display. The Jeppesen approach plate (11-1) for ILS Runway 4, states that the VGSI [PAPI] and ILS glidepath are not coincident. This means that even coming down perfectly on the PAPI, the aircraft could show as high on the ILS glideslope. The NTSB have so far makes no comment as to whether this may have led the Captain to overreact as the approach appeared higher than it was.

This is an unusual case where the Captain took control of the aircraft at the very last moment and caused the aircraft to land hard on the nose wheel. I wrote this up based on the preliminary reports and am interested to see if the final report offers any further information.


Number Ten: Near Miss at Barcelona

Last week, a plane spotter named Miguel Angel was filming flights coming into Barcelona airport when he captured this video. Five days later, that video has had over 20 million views.

The final report on this incident is still not out, which is a shame. I’d love to know how it happened.


And that’s the top ten posts that you all enjoyed en masse in 2014. If you have a personal favourite post, please tell me in the comments!

Meanwhile, Anna’s busy putting together a set of her favourite aviation pieces from 2014 on Facebook. Keep an eye out for that here: Fear of Landing on Facebook

I hope we have a lot more interesting aviation news and analysis for you in 2015!

24 October 2014

Dwarves, Orcs and Elves Take Flight with Air New Zealand

Air New Zealand, the official airline of Middle-Earth, have once again taken the world by storm with their safety video. They’ve called it The Most Epic Airline Safety Video Ever and it’s guaranteed to keep passengers’ attention during pre-flight announcements.

Keep your eyes peeled for Frodo, Fili, and Radagast and even director Peter Jackson! Ian McKellen was not available to play Gandalf so instead, film-maker and safety video director Taika Waititi filled in. Apparently his passenger is a well-known baseball player, Naoyuki Shimizu.

As the official airline of Middle-earth, Air New Zealand has gone all out to celebrate the third and final film in The Hobbit Trilogy – The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies. Starring Elijah Wood and Sir Peter Jackson; we’re thrilled to unveil The Most Epic Safety Video Ever Made.

The video was filmed in the Middle-Earth locations of New Zealand over the course of a week. Their first Hobbit safety video had more than twelve million views and the current video The Most Epic Safety Video Ever Made #airnzhobbit has already had over three million views as I write this.

I usually recommend against reading comments on You Tube but this piss-take of searching for symbolism really did make me laugh:

The safety position in case of emergency is designed to break your neck so flight companies wont have to pay you for cure of possible injury for long time, they only will have to pay few bucks to your relatives if you die.

I have proof: the video length was 4:38 which gets rounded to 5, this video was about Lord of the Rings and Lord of the Rings has the Sauron eye, humans have 2 eyes.
5 -2=3 : Triangle has 3 corners
Triangle looks like nose. Humans have one nose which looks like triangle and 2 eyes,
2-1 makes 1 eye
The Illuminati’s symbol is triangle with eye in middle of it! They spoke about illuminated signs, I found them.
AIR NEW ZEALAND ILLUMINATI CONFIRMED?

Maybe not.

Sadly, they’ve said that this is the last of their Hobbit-themed works. The YouTube video will at least help to tide me over until the final Hobbit film comes out in December… although if anyone wants to fund a flight to New Zealand, I’m happy to check the safety video out in person!

03 October 2014

Five Airbus A350-XWB in Formation

This week had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for plane spotters: Five Airbus A350-900 test aircraft flying in formation. The Airbus A350-900 received its type certification from the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). The FAA certification will follow.

The A350-900 Type Certification comes after successfully finishing a stringent programme of certification trials which has taken its airframe and systems well beyond their design limits to ensure all airworthiness criteria are fully met.

The A350 XWB (Xtra Wide-Body) is the first Airbus to have a fuselage and wings made primarily of carbon-fiber-reinforced polymer. The A350-900 series seats 314 passengers nine abreast and has a range of 14,350 kilometres, almost the distance from New York to Brisbane.

Airbus say that the A350-XWB is 16% lighter manufacturer’s empty weight (MEW) per seat and uses 25% less fuel. The A350 is expected to enter service by the end of the year.

The prototype A350 first flew on 14 June 2013 at Tolouse-Blagnac Airport in France. Now, just over a year later, the A350 hyas its type certification.

The test aircraft collected over 2,600 flight test hours over 600 flights. As a celebration of the type certification the five A350s performed a formation flight at the end of their programme.

It is usually much too expensive for commercial aircraft to be used for formation flying so this is quite a sight to behold.

The video was filmed using a sixth aircraft, a Corvette, which chased the five A350-XWBs.

23 May 2014

Investigating Aircraft Accidents with David Corre

This excellent guest post is by Adam Wilcox who kindly allowed me to share it with you here.


An interview with David Corre, aircrash investigator.

“An aircraft accident is a very traumatic thing … the violence alone is something to be seen to be believed.” David Corre, his hands shaking from Parkinsons, looked me straight in the eye as he said this.

It was June 2002. We were sitting in the lobby of BAE Systems, Farnborough. David had short, wispy salt and pepper hair, and spoke with a soft West Country accent that broke as his hand shook. He was 71 but still working, and regularly flew Tiger Moths and Cessnas.

In his 46 years with the aircraft industry he had worked on the designs for the iconic Concorde, and the TSR-2, a British Cold War strike and reconnaissance aircraft that was cancelled before ever going into service. “It was probably the most advanced aircraft ever built in this country,” David told me with absolute conviction. “Had it been built in numbers and gone into service, it would undoubtedly have still been in service. It was one of the most beautiful aircraft I have had the pleasure of working on.”

After David crashed two aircraft, he decided he should interest himself in flight safety, and became Head of Flight Safety for Vickers. In the 1970s Vickers was one of the most famous names in British engineering, and made the Vickers Viscount, a turboprop airliner that was ground-breaking for its time, becoming one of the most successful and profitable post-war aircraft.

As Head of Flight Safety, David was sent out to the crash sites to investigate the cause of accidents and how to prevent them in the future.

“If you don’t have the right sort of attitude, the shock and horror very often stops you from proceeding. But you can say to yourself that this is all for the safety of the community.”

In June 1974, David set out on his first accident investigation, which had taken place near a little town called Cúcuta, in Colombia, South America.

Now here’s one of the problems with investigating Flight Safety. When you first set off from London to the country involved, you invariably fly to the capital city with a reputable airline like British Airways, TWA, Virgin or whoever, so you have some sort of standard you can put up with as you make your way across the world. However, when you land at the capital city, (which in this case was Bogotá, the capital, and largest city, of Colombia), you’ve got another 250 miles to go and the outfit that are going to fly you there are invariably the outfit that have had the accident. So you have—how can I put it—mixed feelings.

Anyway, we got out there, and it was not exactly jungle but scrub—very thickly grown with thorn bushes, and stuff growing up to about 30 or 40 feet. The accident itself had occurred on Monte San Isidro, a ridge about 140 feet high, and was about 2 and a half miles from the nearest track.

We followed the members of the Colombian Accident investigation branch, and some guys from Aerolineas TAO (the airline involved). The first thing that was amazing was the quantity of water we were carrying with us, I soon found out that you got dehydrated so quickly in that part of the world that it is essential that you carry loads and loads of water. We had about four and a half gallons of water with us, and we drank the lot.

We picked our way across the flat valley base, and then climbed a 140 foot high embankment. We got to the top of the ridge, and there before us was the accident site, and when I tell you there was not a single nut, bolt, split pin or washer to be found of that aeroplane.

Not disappeared in a conflagration, there are certain things like magnesium castings and aluminium that will burn and disappear but there are some things that will not burn mostly stainless steel, nimonic alloys, all bits of pieces in the engines. These things are pretty massive as you might imagine, and they had all vanished.

In the 36 hours it took for me to get there, the Colombian authorities reckoned there were eight thousand people on the site, salvaging, and they took the lot. This was no mean feat when you think about it, how do you transport an engine weighing about half a ton down a hundred foot slope, through a jungle? The only thing left for me to find was a couple of old cans with a crucifix stuck out of the top.

My task was to find out what went wrong so that corrections can be made if necessary, changes made in the original design to improve the safety of the aircraft. Here I was on my first trip, in the middle of the South American jungle, with nothing but a piece of furnishing that must have been dropped by a scavenger. So, with nothing really to work with, I made a map of the area, and from the damage to the trees I worked out roughly the direction of the aircraft had arrived in.

Flight 514 had been on approach to Camilo Daza Airport, Cúcuta, when it crashed onto Monte San Isidro at 14:30 local time. All 6 crew and 38 passengers were killed.

We eventually made our way back down the slope, and by the side of the road was a taverna, a little cantina. We’d drunk all the water by this time, so we decided to stop here and plan our next move. It was a shack; it had a mud floor with one lady running it. I’ve no idea how many customers she got in a day, because I can’t believe many people used this little track.

Sitting on the floor, drinking papaya juice with all the others, I suddenly spotted this beautiful light blue lizard by the doorway. It looked in, unperturbed by our presence and wandered off. “What a beautiful creature”, I said to the woman behind the counter through an interpreter.

“Oh,” she said. “Would you like to see his new home?”

“Yes, that would be very interesting.”

She lead me round the back of the taverna, and there sitting in a piece of the air conditioning duct of my aeroplane was the lizard.

I turned to the woman and asked, “Did you see the accident?”

“Yes of course, this aeroplane comes past every morning at the same time.”

“Tell me about the accident.”

“Well, the aircraft turned toward the airfield, when suddenly there was a loud bang, an explosion and something silver fell from the aircraft. The aircraft itself continued for a little way and then rolled over and dived into the ground where it all burned.”

“The piece that you saw, the silver piece? Could you tell me exactly where it happened? Or where it is located?”

“Oh yes,” she said. You should always remember that people are cleverer than you think they are. She had taken a line of sight from where she had seen the engine, (the ‘something silver’), come down to an electricity pole and the corner of her cantina. We got a large scale map of the area, and drew on a centre line of the runway and we put the cantina on, and took a bearing with a compass from the corner of the cantina and the electricity pole. Later, we took a helicopter and there, where the lines had crossed, was the complete tailplane and elevator from this aeroplane. We landed, salvaged it, and eventually we were able to get it from Cúcuta to Bogotá.

The tailplane is the stabiliser at the back of the aircraft, in this case the spar cap of had failed in fatigue. A fatigue crack has the appearance of an oyster shell which is in effect the way the crack proceeds, like a little tide mark in front of it each time. Each little oyster shell mark represented a flight, a lowering of the flaps because that is when the greatest strain comes on the tail plane. About 80% the machining had fractured, it was amazing that it was still hanging on.

The findings of this accident resulted in the history of the aircraft coming out, (including many things that were illegal), and in January 1975 all of the Aerolineas TAO Viscount fleet were grounded and an inspection of the tailplane spar on all the Viscounts worldwide took place.

Two months later, in August 1974, David flew to Isla de Margarita, an island off the North-Eastern coast of Venezuela in the Caribbean Sea. He was investigating the accident of a Viscount belonging to Aeropostal, the formerly state-owned airline of Venezuela.

The accident had occurred about three miles from touchdown at Porlamar-del Caribe Mariño International Airport, but it crashed 8 m below the summit of La Gloria mountain, killing all 49 people on board.

As soon as we got there, I wanted to find out if it was a repeat of the damage of the first accident, as it was the same aircraft. Thankfully it wasn’t, the tailplane was very firmly still attached in the wreckage. You could see that the aircraft had come in straight and level because it was covered with tower cactus and the aircraft had literally cut its way through the cactus and you could see the ‘shape’ of the aircraft. The aircraft was level and everything was in place and nothing had fallen off.

I was looking at this wreckage, and suddenly thought to myself that some of the pieces didn’t add up. This isn’t the aircraft I am supposed to be looking at, this is an entirely different aircraft. In this case I was looking at the wreckage of an Fokker F27 Friendship, not the Vickers Viscount I was expecting. I turned to the Chief Inspector of Accidents, a man with the wonderful name of José Antonio Salas Parra, and asked ‘What am I looking at?’ Because immediately you think two aircraft about the same size had a mid-air collision.

“Oh,” he said, “that was an accident that occurred here twelve years ago.”

The earlier accident, in February 1962, had coincidentally been traveling the same route but in the opposite direction, when it crashed 10 minutes after leaving Caribe Mariño Airport. At the time it was the 4th worst accident ever in Venezuela.

So here we had too much wreckage, two planes when we thought we’d have one, and it hadn’t been pinched. This is probably because the people of Venezuela are a lot better off than the people of Colombia.

When researching this article I found a record of the flight at a Vickers Viscount enthusiast website, which includes the following narrative as the probable cause of the accident; “The accident was thought to have been caused by bad weather as tropical storm Alma was in the area at the time off the coast of Trinidad.” David tells a different story.

The radio stations that the pilots were using were unreliable. So instead, the pilots of the airlines flying out to these places were using the local commercial radio station and it was just an unfortunate coincidence that the tuner for the ADF, (which locks onto a non-directional beacon on the ground), was in the same frequency position on one of the four bands on the tuner as the local radio station.

The pilot must have mistaken his position in the sky, and hit the mountain, somersaulting over it.

We then all went back to Caracas for a big meeting with the meteorologist, the legislator, and the accident investigation people. Everyone was saying it wasn’t my fault; that it wasn’t a problem with the aircraft. At this point, the head of the Pilot Union stood up and he said; ‘It’s all very well for you people, but the pilot is dead and you are persuading people and saying it is his fault? And yet we have Señor Corre here from British Aircraft Corporation who has shown some very lamentable shortfall of the radio aids of this place which possibly could have led to the accident.’

“The secretary of Don José came to me and said ‘David, you must come with me’, and I said ‘Oh, OK—’ and we went out of the room.

“It’s about the statement—” she said.

“Well, they’ve got my report,” David replied.

“Oh no no, you don’t understand. They have prepared a report which they want you to sign.”

“What? No, I couldn’t possibly do that.”

“If they get hold of you, they will beat it out of you.”

“Oh.” David replied. “Well, it looks like I have to part company with Venezuela very quickly.”

“David, there’s a limousine cruising around the block right now looking for you.”

I followed her down the stairs at the back into an alleyway, and just then we saw the limousine glide past at the end of the alley, with these terrible hoods in it. I was really frightened, I’m not James Bond, but we went into another building, up a staircase across the roof, down another fire escape, and across the rooftops until we eventually made our way out of the central area. I made a break for the Hotel Avila where I was staying. From my room I phoned British Airways and thankfully there was a flight leaving in a couple of hours.

I packed very hurriedly, and checked out but there was a problem. The airfield at Caracas is situated on the coast itself, between the two is the last of the Andes mountains. You either travel twenty miles out of town by car, down through a tunnel and then back up to the airfield, or you took a cable car, an aerial tramway if you’re American, over the mountains straight down into the airport. There was no way I could go on that because I had all the technical manuals, maintenance manuals, and operational manuals of the aircraft with me so I had to go by taxi—big delay. I got to the airport, and there was a guy with his hands stuck into his waistbands; military.

“I’m sorry Señor. You cannot leave Venezuela.”

“Why not?” I panicked, the hoods must have phoned up expecting me to try and escape the country.

“You have not made the declaration of Income Tax.”

“Income Tax? What the—what are you talking about? I pay income tax at home in England.”

“No Señor. The money since you have been here. The money you have earned here must be declared for the Income Tax.”

“But … I’m a tourist!”

“Ahh, but you are not a tourist. I have seen you on the television. You are Señor Corre from the British Aircraft Corporation, and you are here to investigate the Isla de Margarita accident.”

So then I did something I have never done in my life before, or since for that matter. I looked at him hard and I said, “Fifty Bolívares says that I don’t have to make the Income Tax declaration.

He looked at me and I thought, this is where he pulls his gun out. He stared at me, and then broke unto a huge smile. He drummed the table with his fingertips and said “One hundred Bolívares”.

So I paid up the hundred Bolívares and I was through. When I walked onto the plane and the man said “Welcome to British Airways,” I could’ve kissed his boots.


David died in in June 2006, aged 75. He was a chartered engineer, member of the Royal Aeronautical Society, and International Society Of Air Safety Investigators.

Photos:
The Civil Aviation Historical Society: Lindsay Wise collection


If you enjoyed this post, then I recommend you visit Adam’s blog at adamwilcox.org. It’s a wonderful collection of reports, stories and photographs.

16 May 2014

Flying through the Stars

So, this doesn’t usually come up on this blog but in addition to wasting every waking moment on writing about airplanes, I also write science fiction, especially short stories.

I’m super-excited because a short story that was published last year has been nominated for one of the top awards in the industry. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America nominated Alive, Alive Oh for the Nebula Award for best short story, along with four other really excellent stories (darn my luck!).

The Nebula Awards are given each year by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA) for the best science fiction or fantasy fiction published in the United States during the previous year. The winner receives a trophy but no cash prize; the trophy is a transparent block with an embedded glitter spiral nebula and gemstones cut to resemble planets.

So, I am flying to beautiful California for the 49th Annual Nebula Awards Weekend! By the time you read this, I will be hanging out with cool writerly types and discussing jetpacks and lasers and maybe even space ship crashes!

Meanwhile, here are a couple of amazing videos to tide you over. Please note that if you are subscribed to the mailing list, you will need to click through to the website to see all three videos.

Pilot’s view of a low pass over the Danube. Cpt David Morgan and Cpt András Árday made the first ever low altitude fly-by overhead the bridges of Budapest with an Airbus jetliner.

Developmental Testing phase II (DT-II) of the F-35B Lightning II jet is being conducted aboard USS Wasp (LHD 1). DT-II is a collaborative effort among the Navy, Marine Corps, and coalition partners to validate F-35B short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) capabilities for amphibious platforms (LHD, LHA).


I’m not really looking forward to an eleven hour flight but this video takes the sting out of it. And also made me vow to take plenty of photographs at the airport.

Next week, I have a wonderful guest post for you that I know you’ll enjoy. And then I’ll be back to tell you all about my trip!

If you’d like to read or listen to the story, it’s here: Alive, Alive Oh by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley | Lightspeed Magazine. Cross fingers and thumbs for me, please!

11 April 2014

Crosswind Landings at Birmingham Airport

It started with this video of an amazing crosswind landing at Birmingham Airport (formerly Birmingham International Airport). Birmingham Airport is 5.5 nautical miles (10 km, 6 miles) southeast of the city with a runway that runs north-west/south-east, which means that aircraft either take off or land directly over Birmingham.

What happens when 120 tonnes of landing Boeing 767 encounters severe turbulence just above the runway (15 at BHX).

The flexing wings are a good indication of the blustery conditions – crosswind gusting 35 knots perpendicular to runway.

Just watch the wheels bouncing in all directions under the shear forces. Very reassuring that the undercarriage can take this sort of punishment without blowing itself to pieces.

Keep an eye on the trees in the background at 0:25 and you can see how the wind is blowing.

I showed it to Anna, who is the one who posts all the amazing links to the Fear of Landing Facebook page, and she pointed out that there was an excellent compilation video of crosswind landings at Birmingham over the last winter, which was particularly harsh with gusty winds.

Some landing and take-off highlights in awkward wind conditions at BHX this winter (a record winter for stormy conditions in the UK). Note the frequent flexing of the planes’ wings in response to the turbulence.

Of the five “missed approaches” shown, three diverted to other airports, two were “go arounds” and landed successfully on second attempt.

Watching these made me feel quite relieved that I’m just a fair-weather pilot… and that I have no reason to fly into Birmingham!

04 April 2014

Extreme ATC Scenarios

A new user on the Professional Pilots Rumour Network posted to ask if there is any reference for uncommon, random and out of the blue scenarios that require ATC attention. He was apparently looking for input for an ATC game he’s writing. Typical PPRuNe, the answers are priceless.

The full thread is at ATC Scenarios – PPRuNe Forums but I’ve picked my favourites to share with you.

Items requiring immediate attention:

  • Coffee cup empty.
  • Relief late for work
  • Santa Claus requesting clearance
  • Horses at home have got out of their paddock

Not sure what I’d do if more than one of these occurred at the same time.

It would take a very large book indeed to list all the possibilities a trained controller might encounter. I have had dense smoke across the airfield from funeral pyres nearby! What a controller has to do is to use his training and experience to deal with routine or unusual occurrences.

Call from Caravan Controller:

“The North Shropshire Hunt is on the runway !!!”

In thirty odd years of ATC I have had an aircraft refuse takeoff because an aircraft was on final approach….that aircraft on approach was Venus…I have had people rescuing swans( apparently they belong to HM the Queen), full blown emergencies including unsafe gear (it wasn’t), a helicopter whose pilot had been incapacitated by a golf ball….seriously….a gentleman on a bike crossing the main runway and a RAF police dog which was on the runway and had decided to no longer accept orders from his handler. There is NOTHING that could be written down that included all the experiences that the people who inhabit this board have had.

How about a fox fast asleep curled up around a lit flush-fitting approach light?(Nice ‘n warm y’see)

Recently we had a report from a pilot that there was an antelope on the runway. There aren’t any antelopes in Toronto, we said.

Turns out it was a very large hare.

Amongst others on the runway unexpectedly, I’ve seen:

Foxes, Hares, Deer, Dogs, Man on bicycle, Drunks returning from a rave, unknown vehicle, kids, sweeper driver deciding to drive in circles and refuse any instruction to move etc etc

On runway “obstructions”.

Heathrow, one wet evening a constant stream was landing. The Captain of one flight rang with humble apologies: “Our First Officer insisted I rang to tell you that as we turned off the runway he saw a man laying on the centreline. I’m really sorry to have troubled you.”

Plenty more had landed but we got a checker vehicle to have a look and, sure enough, there was a bloke laying on the runway! He wasn’t injured but they took him to hospital, where he later died from pneumonia.

ACA DC8F: “Ground, we need assistance, we got chlorine (?) at the door!

Ground: “You got what? ”

ACA DC8F: “We got chlorine (?) at the door!”

Ground: “Chlorine? Gas? You want the fire service?”

ACA DC8F: “Ground, er…anybody who can help…we got clawing at the door…the tiger’s escaped!”

1982, when I was at Stornoway – A friend who was a smallholder asked me if anyone cut the grass in the triangle between the 3 runways. ‘No’ I replied, ‘Can I make some hay there?’, he asked, ‘Sure’ I replied.

‘OK, I’ll send Donnie up with a tractor and cutter’ says my chum. Knowing Donnie was not one of Stornoway’s brightest sons, I told him to make sure that Donnie came to see me and I would brief him on the runway crossing.

Next day Donnie duly reported to the tower, ‘You can cross the runway in front of the tower now, as there is nothing due for a while,’ I told him, ‘ When you have finished, face the tower and flash your headlights and if you see my green lamp flash at you, then you can cross – if it is red, wait and eventually you’ll see the green’.

Everything went as planned and then I went on leave. On my return the other ATCO says, ‘Did you tell a tractor driver that he could cut the grass?’.

‘Yes, you didn’t mind did you?’ I replied.

‘Er, when he came back with his baler he crossed the runway straight in front of Loganair’s Islander that was about to touchdown,so I chased after him in the Land Rover and asked him what the hell he was playing at?’.

He replied, ‘The other fellow said it would be alright.’

Favourite episode at “my” airfield was the summer of ’76 (hot and dry) when the firemen in their mini van managed to set the grass area alight whilst bird scaring….their attempts to extinguish the fire using the van’s floor mats having failed, they then failed to start the van in order to escape….a fiasco which took a while to write up in the log as I recall.

Red Devils paradropping under CAS, base 3500. Aircraft inbound to major international airport normally dropped to 4000. The Islander ‘lift-attendant’ made the occasional request for clearance up to FL120, in which case the aircraft inbound to that major international airport were cleared down to only FL130, naturally.

One day, a clearance cock-up: paradrop from FL120, BAC111 cleared down to 4000 ft. On the way down:

BAC 111: “Hey London, we’ve just passed close to an Islander paradropping.”

TMA-SW: “Roger, was it a red one?”

BAC-111: “Blimey, you’ve got good radar!”

TWA inbound to Heathrow from the west kept a little high due to paradropping at Farnborough. Given information on the Herc and TWA says: “Gee, we can see them, one guy’s boots are on fire.”

Where to start?

1. The only Welsh member of the ATC team trying to retrieve a sheep from the runway.
2. Runway blocked in “Britain in the Sun” due to
a. Bags of fruit all over the runway
b. 30+ pairs of shoes left on the runway from protesting Moroccans.
c. A German motorhome parked up alongside it.

There are some cracking ones in the log books!

A member of the travelling fraternity was found on the apron trying to find a way out, when asked how he had got there he advised that he came from the other side of the airfield but it was ok as he had crossed the runway on the big zebra crossing!

Eventually, someone noticed that the original poster had not responded in the thread.

Perhaps he’s run off screaming just like a lady news reporter in the approach room of a large airport back in the 70s.

She was there to interview one of the ladies and whilst waiting A.M., who was No.1 south, called her across.

“See that?” he said, pointing at the radar, “that’s the Concorde going to New York…and see that?”

“Yes,” she said.

“That’s a Boeing 707 coming from Africa”

“Yes, yes,” she said.

And A.M. shouts hysterically: “And they’re going to hit each other and there’s nothing I can do about it!”

Oh my, the effect was dramatic. Funny, we never saw her again; she’s probably in a mental home.

Got a story for unusual ATC issues? The comments are all yours!

07 March 2014

Ten Things You Should Know Before Flying to Morocco

It’s my birthday today! So I’m going to take the day off and sit in the sun and do absolutely nothing for the first time in what seems like forever.

I’ve pulled these posts out of the archives for you. A few years back, Cliff gave me the most wonderful surprise for my 40th birthday.


Cliff shoved my shoulder. “Wake up.”

I squinted and realised it was still dark. The automatic shutters act as my alarm clock but they weren’t due to rise for another half an hour. I ignored him and rolled over.

“Get up,” he said. “It’s your birthday.”

I put the pillow over my head.

“Wake up! Come on, you have to get packed.”

“You aren’t really sending me away because I’m old, are you?”

“Yes,” he said and then grinned when my eyes opened. “It’s a do-it-yourself birthday present. Get packed.”

I admit I was relieved when I saw that he was packing a bag as well. Suddenly I understood why he’d turned down a drink the night before. I’ve been on a diet and he said to wait to have a drink until my birthday – but of course he knew he’d be flying. Still, he wouldn’t tell me where we were going.

“Take three days worth. Expect warm days and cool nights. Make sure you have walking shoes and evening wear.”

That didn’t narrow it down much. “Give me a hint?”

“It’s a single hop.”

That narrowed it down considerably. I drew a circle in my head. “Portugal, France, Northern Africa,” I said.

“All of Spain,” he added. “And Gibraltar.”

“You’d be bored to tears if we spent three days in Gibraltar. And I wouldn’t need evening dress.”

I packed for Paris. I didn’t like to tell him how obvious it was, so I pretended that I was still thinking about it. A weekend of good food and expensive wine sounded quite nice and I could catch up on anything I missed at the hotel.

I admitted I’d worked it out on the way to the airfield. “Oh no,” he told me. “Too cold.”

Oh. I considered the other half of the circle.

“Menorca?”

“Too windy.”

Suddenly it clicked. A place I’d said repeatedly I wanted to go to. The sights of the souks, the comfort of the riads, the taste of chicken with preserved lemons and olives followed by mint tea, the sounds of the mosques calling the Muslims to prayer. The land of the Arabs and the Berbers.

Marrakech Airport

Marrakesh.

I’ve talked about going there for years and even got so far as to investigate places to stay once, but always something got in the way and Cliff was never that bothered. Now I was finally going to go to this place I’d heard so much about. I was going to Marrakesh!

As we arrived at Málaga General Aviation, it dawned on me. “It’s a Muslim country. What about my birthday drink?”

“I suppose you’ll have to wait until next year.” He grinned as he got out of the car. “Happy Birthday!”


“Head towards the mosque,” seems to be the start of all directions in Marrakesh. Even if you don’t ask for directions, they point you that way, telling you that you should go to the square. The Koutoubia mosque and the Djemaa el Fna square are the centre of the world.

During the day, the centre of the square is open and the dancers and snake charmers and henna artists do their best to talk you into handing over your wallet, the seedy underside of tourism. At night the square changes completely. The centre fills with tented stalls. As the sun goes down, the place turns into a huge restaurant with a different delicacy in every direction. Uncovered light bulbs combine to light up the square. At the edges flames rise from large grills covered with sausages and kebabs. Further in there are smaller stalls offering a single dish: Sheep’s head, snails, soup. I’m intrigued by a man at a tiny little counter who is offering egg sandwiches, literally smashing a hard-boiled egg into a piece of flatbread for his customers. Young men speak to us incessantly, eat here, eat with us. One zeroes in on me, separating me from Cliff, perhaps assuming that once Cliff has paused to find me, he’ll choose that stall for our dinner. I push forward, annoyed. The others are less aggressive, an inconvenience that one puts up with, like the flies buzzing around us. They entreat us in French and English and German, trying to spot which language we speak. “Your eyes are beautiful,” says one to me and my blush gives me away. Cliff looks longingly at a stall offering only the sheep’s head but I am too cowardly. I drag him towards one of the larger places with a make-shift kitchen set up, food stacked high. They have real tables and a laminated menu.

The guys from the stall stand around us, pushing menus into our hands and hustling us to a table, Cliff has no chance to object. As we sit down, a big bowl of bread appears with two small bowls for dipping. A small bowl of olives. A large bottle of water. These all show on the menu as an extra charge, it’s quickly obvious that the meal will not be as cheap as it had originally seemed. We aren’t bothered. We dip our bread into our respective bowls: mine is filled with crushed tomato and paprika and onion, Cliff’s is red peppers and spicy, some form of harissa. We dip into each other’s bowl and, content, begin to order in earnest. Moroccan salad (tomato and onions) and grilled peppers and some more bread to share. Cliff blindly orders something called Tanjia, without bothering to ask what it is. I play it safe and ask for lamb and chicken skewers. No alcohol here, we get cans of diet coke and keep the large bottle of water to share.

After the delicate appetisers, I’m disappointed when my skewers arrive, piled onto a plate with a bit of plain couscous. The meat is dry and to be honest, the flavour is rather boring. Cliff gets the better dish, as usual, the scent of lemon and garlic pushing its way to my side of the table. He smiles as he reaches into the small bowl, pulling out a small joint of mutton stained yellow with saffron.

A woman and toddler walk past us, she is selling items to tourists but we are mid-meal and she is gracious enough not to bother us. Her toddler takes one look at Cliff and stops. He grabs a packet of tissues from his mothers box and hands it towards Cliff, who has broth and grease all over his fingers. Cliff gratefully accepts the tissues, the restaurant doesn’t offer napkins and his Tanjia is not very easy to eat. Once he’s wiped himself down he gives the child a two euro coin. The mother accepts it and flashes us a smile before working her way to the next food stall.

We’re surrounded by movement and laughter and shouting, my food goes cold as I stare. The smoke blows in circles, wisping different scents across my nose every few seconds. Tourists weave their way through the stalls, the Moroccans circling them, insisting that their food or tea or air conditioning (a menu waved in your face) is the best in the square. “You look at the others but you come back to eat here, yes? You promise? Promise me!” Children dash around in packs.

A small boy, five or six, comes up to me and looks longingly. I give him a half-smile and he points at my can of diet coke. “It’s empty,” I tell him and turn the can over so that he can see. He stays where he is, not a glimmer of disappointment in his eyes. I keep half an eye on him as he plays with the pole next to me, two pieces of plastic in his hands that he’s flipping against it. He flips one harder and it lands on my handbag. He stands too close to me. I hand him the piece of plastic back and zip up my handbag. He watches me with lifeless eyes. I move the handbag onto my lap and turn away.

Half an hour later, after we’ve finished the meal, I see a man shouting and chasing a crowd of boys out of the restaurant area. He is kicking out – one foot connects with a boy’s bottom, causing an extra burst of speed in the little one. The tourists sitting next to us tut unhappily but I recognise my little friend in their midst. “I don’t know what they were trying to nick but they got caught,” says Cliff. We pay for our meal, less than a McDonald’s lunch would cost, and make our way back home.


This was also our first time taking the Saratoga outside of Europe. Despite the last minute nature of the flight, I thought I was prepared – Morocco is described as the most European of the African countries and I’d read up on it before. But that didn’t save us from a healthy dose of culture shock.

Marrakesh Airport

Upon our return, I wrote this list of ten important facts that Wikipedia neglects to mention:

  1. Casablanca Controllers don’t think it’s funny if you respond to a call with “Play it again, Sam.” Not even a little bit.
  2. Although Marrakesh is an international airport, they don’t have radar, so you will continue speaking to Casablanca long after it seems like you should have spoken to Marrakesh about your imminent arrival in their circuit.
  3. The taxiways are not marked so it is vital that you keep count so that you know where to turn off. Coming in on runway 10, it’s the second right. The follow-me will not appear until you are almost at your parking spot.
  4. The nice man who comes out of the follow-me van will offer to “stop you wasting your money on a handling agent” by escorting you to the terminal. He will not mention that that it is a half mile trek in the African mid-afternoon sun to the terminal building and that he has no intention of helping you with your luggage. As you drag your suitcases across the tarmac he will shout at you to watch out as the service agents whiz past in their vans. He’ll expect a hefty tip for doing so (although, to be fair, less than the handling agent would have charged).
  5. You need a Shell card to buy fuel on credit in Marrakesh. The fuel man will tell you they take all sorts of different credit cards. He has a stack of paperwork to prove it – photocopies of all the different cards they accept. He will make you look at every one to confirm that you don’t have it. They are all variants of Shell.
  6. Tannery

  7. The old city is only about 15 minutes away by car. Your taxi will stop at random places en route to your hotel. The driver may lean out to speak to friends or even jump out of the car and dash into someone’s house. It’s not a set-up – he’s simply getting directions.
  8. Once in the old town of Marrakesh, do not buy orange juice from market stalls that don’t show pricing. The price jumped from 3DH (40 cents) to 50DH (almost seven dollars) at neighbouring shops.
  9. Bargaining is expected in the souks and described as a national sport. If you are polite and give reasons why you think the price should be less whilst being flattering about the product, you will generally find you can purchase things for 50% of the price originally demanded.
  10. You can not replace your borrowed maps with up-to-date VFR maps in Marrakesh. They will tell you that you need to go to Casablanca to purchase local maps. When you point out that it would be nice to have them here to follow the VFR routing out of Marrakesh, they will agree and explain that they were told they had to stop selling them because they didn’t sell enough.
  11. Remember the fuel man who told you that you could purchase your AVGAS with cash? What he meant was “cash with a receipt from the bank” as opposed to the cash you drew out of the ATM specifically to pay him with. He will refuse to sell you gas without a bank receipt. You now can’t get MORE cash because it is illegal to take Dirham out of the country. Bring a Shell card.

I’m hoping to return to Marrakesh this summer – I’m longing for another dinner in Djeema and I need to restock my stash of spices and Moroccan tea. This time I shall hopefully be a little bit better prepared!

Nap at Marrakesh Airport


PS: One of the photographs I took for the Dinner in Djeema post was chosen as Photo of the Day by Gadling last year: Photo Of The Day: Djemaa El Fna Market, Marrakesh | Gadling.com.