Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Reviewing the wake turbulence incident.

(next in the series originally written written jan 5/6 2013)

For one thing I love my camera, if it wasn’t for that I’d still be wondering what the hell happened and I’d probably have quit flying.

The video helped, first of all to show RTH just exactly what happened. I wasn’t sure I wanted to show him the footage but when he got home and could tell something was wrong, I didn’t have the words to describe what had happened. Because I didn’t know what went wrong.  He could tell that I was shaken up. I tried to explain that it wasn’t just the wake turbulence incident that had rattled me. It was the fact that I knew something was not right but I just didn’t know what to do about it. I hesitated and that could have been fatal. I was mostly concerned about the fact that Bob had to take control. Did that mean that I wasn’t safe to be up there on my own? Should I stop now? Before I actually did kill myself (or other people)?
RTH, as ever, is the voice of reason. But also brutally honest, which is good because I know it means he’s not just trying to make me feel better. I can trust his opinion. We watched the footage, I nearly threw up. RTH realised that it was as bad as I’d made out and no I wasn’t overreacting.

We talked about it, watched it again, talked some more, watched it again and so forth. Interestingly viewing the raw footage on a large HDTV screen you can actually see the wake vortices out over the water. You can see them drifting right into my path.

So here are some of the points that came out of discussions with RTH and Bob* after the event.

·         I was low on my approach, which put me right in the path of the vortices -  I should know that isn’t how you approach the runway if a larger plane has just landed in front of you. This was probably the biggest factor

·         Less than a minute lapses between the Q400 crossing the threshold and me landing – I know that ATC are under pressure to manage the traffic effectively but perhaps this was a little too close separation-wise. I’d like them to see this footage to remind them what vortices do to us little planes

·         According to RTH incidents like that are as bad as it gets! He said he’s had something similar on climbout but never that close to the ground. He’d have been shook up by it too – This actually makes me feel better. I regard RTH as almost unflappable. If it scared him then I’m ok to feel this way

·         RTH has had situations that have shaken him up and his instructor had to take control – this is very significant to me.  I know he is an extremely safe and competent pilot. I’m not going to go into details to protect his privacy but knowing this is probably the single biggest factor in persuading me not to quit. I will totally admit that all that was going through my mind on the way home was “am I too dangerous to carry on?” He wasn’t, maybe I’m not either.

·         “What you are doing is not a zero risk activity” – again wise words from RTH. I started fixating on the “We could have died” aspect. We didn’t (of course). I’m incredibly lucky in that I have the opportunity to learn from this event but what I’m doing is not without risk. Accept that fact and move on. What-ifs will paralyse you.

·         Power is your friend – intellectually I know this but physically I have a hard time making sense of the fact that if you are hurtling headlong into danger then the best thing to do is go faster! It seems so counter intuitive to me. Psychologically I’m having a hard time with this. Again talking this over we could only come up with one scenario (spiral dive) where adding power would do more harm than good. ANY other situation, if it doesn’t feel right shove that throttle in.

·        I’ve gotten complacent about wake turbulence warnings. They become part of the background noise. I don’t plan my approach with them in mind. They are real, the effects are real and it will kill you if you give it the chance. Other students should watch the movie to understand what "caution wake turbulence" actually means

Today was as bad as it gets for me. I’m lucky to walk away with the bolded lesson firmly planted in my head as opposed to my head being firmly planted in the Tarmac.
On a lighter note Bob is a machine! I swear he didn’t even break a sweat during all of this. I don’t know if I could ever be that calm! And I don’t know what the pilot of that Porter at the hold short line thought when he saw a Cessna careening towards him! I bet that woke him up a bit!

* The beauty of the camera. Relatively quickly I edited out the important bit, stuck it up on YouTube and let Bob know it was there.  He very kindly took time out of his evening to view the video and call me to talk through it and answer all my questions.  It really helped. I'm still having flashbacks though


  1. You need to be careful about what you post on here, and who you blame for things you don't clearly don't fully understand.

    1. happy to take this conversation further via email
      Not entirely sure what you are getting at , if you read the posts I'm not sure I blame anyone except myself, sorry if you feel differently