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Monday, May 3, 2010

A Lesson in Airmanship


On the return trip from Temora to Ballina after the RA-Aus Annual Fly-Inn, a rather serious lesson in situational awareness (SA) to ues the gurrent uzz words !! and/or airmanship was learnt on the last leg, from Armidale to Ballina

Thanks RA-Aus for the ‘Recreational Aviation Pioneer Award’ and thanks also to Rod Birril for the nomination, I had a great time on the stage accepting the award and talking about long ago disasters like the time the Jabiru hit the horse at Holbrook back in... err 199somthing.

On taking off out of Armidale on a rather sunny Sunday afternoon, about 15 minutes into the trip I could smell something a little different in the cockpit.

Not a strong smell, certainly not a burning smell, but, a smell nevertheless. I looked around for bushfires below me and any other sources of the smell.
However, as the trip continued and as I was heading direct: Armidale – Ballina, over some pretty nasty terrain, I decided to veer towards Coffs Harbour where there were green hills and paddocks in which to make an emergency landing. Thereby obeying Mr Rotax's rule of never operating his engine over an area where the aircraft can not be landed safely below. A little further into the trip and with the coast more or less in view, the smell turned into small droplets of oil on the windshield, which clearly explained where the smell was coming from: I had an oil leak.

During the next 20 minutes, the problem exacerbated into more oil and a strong smell indicating the leak was increasing in its volume and with Coffs Harbour coming into view I felt a lot easier. I sent out an emergency call to the Coffs Tower and happily managed to glide in and make a safe landing with the oil pressure holding.

After a few scotches that evening and a comfortable stay in a Coffs motel, Nick and I discovered the source of the oil leak was a minute crack or hole in the oil filter located under the hose clamp which we used to secure the oil filter.
And after cleaning the oil which had by that time leaked all over the aircraft, replacing the oil and cleaner, I continued the journey home after thanking the Coffs Harbour Controlers.

*A word of warning to pilots flying into the Coffs Harbour. The turbulence over the trees along the north/south runway is quite savage, particularly when you’re already got the jitters and you can’t see the runway very clearly through the oil slick.

The oil filter was brand new, as was the engine, which at that stage had only done about 20 hour flying. So, the source of the hole that was right next to a dint in the oil filter, indicated that it had been with the engine since it left the Rotax factory.
This dint is difficult to explain, as ‘Bert Floods’ //Wall insists that all oil filters are tightened only by hand, whereas this one looked like it had been tightened using an oil filter spanner, which consists of a small piece of steel and a loop of strong fabric used in conjunction with a spanner. It looked like this had then dinted the filter body to the point that it had ruptured. However, what caused the dint and subsequent hole must remain unknown.


Lessons to be learnt from this exercise to me were; Never ignore a strange smell in the cockpit, no matter what it is- if it’s unusual- Turn back to where you came from, if possible, and find out what’s causing it.
If I had of done this and returned to Armidale then any risks I had taken would have been negated.

Lesson Number 2
Always obey the rules clearly specified by the engine manufacturer, that is – never ever fly over an area where you can’t make a safe landing beneath the aircraft within an adequate gliding distance.

Lesson number 3
Even though we are not supposed to fly into control zones, in doing so in an emergency, the Coffs Tower afforded us every courtesy and assistance even offering a fire truck if I needed it.

Lesson number 4 SA !
Had I taken the direct route from Armidale to Ballina, there is no doubt that I would have lost my aircraft and possibly my life in the valleys and canyons of the Great Dividing Range. Situational awareness played a big part here, I had not sat down and planned the deviation as CASA say to do in their DVD, it was simply a very very obvious thing to do. But go on... call it SA !


Thanks for reading. Have a great day,

Howie Hughes.

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