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Hangar Talk July 2016

The danger of fatigue by Tom Chalmers

ONE OF the most insidious dangers of flying is fatigue. It can creep up on you without warning, and wreckage of aircraft around the world bare witness to its deathly impact.

In this and recent issues of World Airnews, there have been a number of articles in which the dangers of fatigue have been mentioned, but bear with me if I recount one of a number of fatigue-related incidents to which I was victim in my days as a charter and corporate pilot. I was lucky – I survived to tell the tale.

Fatigue usually is the result of commercial pressure from the operator/owner and, in many instances, the passengers aboard a chartered aircraft who are often totally unaware that their actions or demands are a link in the chain leading to a fatal accident.

The incident started with operator pressure. I had been flying every day for more than two weeks without a break. I was then scheduled to fly a charter in a Cessna 310 for four people. Their planned routing would take us from Durban, to Bloemfontein and then to Johannesburg on the first day. Then we would route to Gaborone, in Botswana, and later fly on to Maun.

Day three involved a 300-mile flight to an unnamed, virtually unknown airfield in the middle of Botswana which required a lot of careful map reading – this in the days before GPS – over almost featureless country where a group of three trees warranted their being marked on the map.

On landing, one of the main wheels sank into some soft sand while taxiing, and after my passengers had been whisked away in a Land Rover, I busied myself digging out the wheel and moving the aircraft for takeoff.

Hours later, my passengers returned and we flew another 300 nautical miles back to Maun for a night stop. Day Four we flew back to Gaborone and then to what is now Polokwane for another night stop. The next day our fifth, was to the then Messina for a four-hour stop before heading to Tzaneen for a night stop.

Day six was simply a quick trip to Pretoria and back to Tzaneen, dodging towering Cbs en route.

Day seven we left Tzaneen midmorning heading back to Durban where we arrived around midday. I remember warning myself that I was feeling really tired and that I had to check wheels down and locked three times on final approach.

Bear in mind that a charter pilot also has to be an ambassador for his company and therefore has to assist his passengers with most arrangements, as well as socialising with them in the evening.

On landing in Durban, I was faced by a somewhat irate boss who wanted to know why I was so late, like it was my fault. Pointing to a Cessna 180 used for survey flying, he said simply: “The camera operator is waiting for you. Get moving.”

In the space of about ten minutes from the time of landing, I found myself taxiing the C180 (which had castoring main wheels demanding constant attention) to the end of the runway. This is where I asked the camera operator, (with whom I had flown many hours) to check me as I went through the pre-take-off check. Trim, Mixture, Pitch ….etc… right through, including free and easy movement of controls. I distinctly remember working the control column and calling out “Free”.

ATC clearance obtained, I lined up and opened the taps. The speed built up and the tail started rising, but when I came to ease back the “stick” to raise the nose for lift off, nothing happened.

The gust lock was still firmly in place in the control column.

To cut a long story short, the trim was perfect so the aircraft lifted cleanly off the ground by itself into a gradual climb by which time I was able to free the lock and we carried on with what turned out to be a four-hour flight demanding the utmost precision................................................To read the full article please subscribe to our E Magazine Here.

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