Just lately much of my time has been spent either working, attending meetings, fixing issues with the aeroplane (the starter motor decided to commit suicide last weekend) or moving airfields. ‘KDR is now based at Little Gransden airfield in Cambridgeshire, home of Mark Jefferies and the Little Gransden charity airshow and I must say I’m rather taken with the place – the other pilots on the airfield are fantastic and I’m already starting to settle into the swing of things – being invited up for the odd whizz round in various things being a fabulous bonus (the SkyRanger microlight surprisingly being my favourite so far – so much fun behind a Rotax engine!).
Anyway, moving aside, the past couple of days have been entertaining to say the least – yesterday was Permit renewal day (many thanks to my LAA inspector, Dave Storey, for his efforts) and the day before I went for a bit of a sortie in the overhead to blow away some of the post food-poisoning cobwebs I’d been suffering with…
Nothing unusual about doing aerobatics in the overhead, and there’s nothing unusual about the British weather being more than a little questionable at times, but in all honesty I wasn’t expecting to step out of the machine quite as white-faced and dry-mouthed as I did on Monday.
I learned more than one lesson actually – arguably the most important being to never simply trust the aeroplane’s sight tube fuel gauge, but to always do the ‘stick check’ of fuel level before flying. It would seem that negative-g leads the gauge to misread in flight quite alarmingly – seeing it tell you you only have 10l of fuel left when in reality it’s closer to 30l isn’t terribly comforting, and having not done the foolproof check before take-off you’re left wondering whether the gauge is actually telling the truth and you’ve made a slight error in judgement.
So, having flown a standard sequence and then attempted some horrible outside half loops and given myself a bit of a headache, and seeing the fuel gauge lie in such a horrifying manner, when it came to setting the aircraft down on the grass once more, my life was about to start feeling more than a tiny bit traumatic.
“I’d use the other runway if I were you, there’s a tailwind on 10 now” was the start of it. ‘Oh goody’ I thought, shortly followed by ‘huh’ and ‘what the…’ as I looked at the windsock and it was in fact pointing in all manner of directions, none of which were at all consistent with conditions for a pleasant and easy landing.
My fuel state concerns sat pushed to the back of my mind, not at this stage of a terribly great concern – after all, I’d be on the ground in about 2 minutes. I turned onto final for 28, blinked multiple times at the windsock before deciding to ignore it, picked a side-slip and found myself mesmerised by the fact that despite having a near full-rudder slip approach attitude and absolutely no power on, I just wasn’t losing any airspeed. We bounced. Twice. Three times as something seemed to pick the tail up – I threw the power on and opted to have another go.
The same thing happened, although this time the fuel was beginning to concern me a little more, simply adding an additional stressor where I could really have done without. Ok, I say the same thing happened – the approach took a huge amount of effort to get the airspeed back until, just as I was barely about to cross the hedge at the end of the runway, suddenly we just dropped. Instinctively I pushed in a handful of power and we skimmed the top of the hedge (at least, that’s what it felt like) before once again failing to land in the whirlpool like wind conditions ensconced on the runway. This go-around led me to change runway, and simply hope that this time the storm cell abeam us would have moved on enough to let me finally get down.
Cutting my ‘circuit’ into a bizarre and very short shape, I settled onto final for 10 and began to realise that this time, although the approach was settling to be much more normal, for some reason I was struggling a little for directional control this time – the wind seemingly just playing with me, even though it was barely there. Perhaps the up and downdrafts from the storm cell were actually the elements responsible…who knows.
In a state somewhat further from the cool, calm and collected than usual, I mercifully managed to nurse ‘KDR onto the grass runway and breathed a massive sigh of relief as we slowed past the critical roll-out speeds. I couldn’t help wondering what the hell had just happened and whether I’d completely lost the ability to fly my aeroplane, or if the weather really was to blame. The added stress of worrying about the fuel state was undoubtedly not helpful and something that should have been completely avoided (although that said, can you ever totally rule out the possibility of a fuel leak? There is always a chance that the little lies of the fuel gauge actually aren’t lies at all). Having landed after seeing the wind-sock in a constantly changing state of uncertainty, heard multiple radio calls from people trying to help me by informing me that once again the runway I’d changed to now had a tailwind (this happened several times as the windsock really was going a touch mental), and felt the unmistakably bizarre lifting/drafting conditions that seemed to make the aeroplane defy the laws of physics, I managed to conclude I’d just experienced something incredibly unusual that I could file away in my mental folder as yet another lesson learned in the air.