Special Feature

D&D: How we help a lost pilot

Had the young pilot known what was in store later that today, he’d probably have preferred to stay in bed…

Lost above cloud

Jack was coming to the end of his PPL training in June, and he was to conduct his first solo flight cross-country. Jack’s flight training was based at Oxford, he decided to take the ambitious trip to Norwich Airport.

The weather wasn’t the best locally, the better weather was forecast on the east coast. VFR flight plan was sent, and he made his way in excitement to Oxford-Kidlington Airfield for his first cross-country solo.

He signed out the airframe, refuelled it and conducted his pre-flight checks prior to departure. He was one of the schools’ top students. He always followed the checklists and never took any shortcuts, this flight was well within his skillset.

As he rolled for departure the weather was overcast but the cloud base was over 4,000ft, which was above his intended cruising altitude. Jack was on his way, and as he left the range of Oxford Radar he elected to receive a basic service with London FIR.

Jack’s been flying now for roughly 80 minutes and passes what he believes is Bury St Edmunds, he’s been following an A road but he’s not confident which road he’s actually following.

Jack: “London FIR, this is G-STUK, I’m unsure of position, but believe I’ve not long passed Bury St Edmunds. I’m not sure though…”
London FIR: “G-STUK, London FIR, Roger, Squawk 0030.”

As the squawk is selected, this would ordinarily cause D&D’s Emergency Alert Group (EAG) to start alarming. FIR would then call D&D to inform it of the lost pilot and request permission to send them to D&D on 121.500MhZ (just in case

D&D was working any higher priority emergencies). G-STUK were then transferred onto 121.500Mhz for a Fixer Service.

D&D was unable to see G-STUK on radar, so the EAG didn’t alarm, and D&D couldn’t transpose the information from Radar to Auto-T.

Jack: “London Centre, G-STUK transferred from FIR for a position fix. Unsure of position.”
D&D: “G-STUK, London Centre, only one line of DF observed and nothing seen on Radar. Request your current altitude.”
Jack: “I’m at 1,500ft on Chatham 1012.”
D&D: “G-UK roger, are you visual with the ground?”
Jack: “Affirm, G-UK.”
D&D: “Are you able to accept a climb to 3,000ft?”
Jack: “No, I can’t fly into the cloud. I can probably get up to 2,300ft.”
D&D: “OK, remain visual with the ground, and look out for other aircraft. Let us know when you’re level.”

As Jack starts his climb he comes into cover of the Secondary Surveillance Radar. D&D let’s Jack know we see him on Radar and start to transpose the location onto Auto-T.

D&D: “G-UK, squawk observed, your position indicates 2.5nm North-East of Stowmarket, approaching the A140.”
Jack: “I can see the road ahead of me. Request a steer for Norwich.”
D&D: “Steer for Norwich, 020°, 27.5nm. If you turn left and follow the A140 it’ll take you straight to Norwich Airport.”
Jack: “Thank you very much. No further assistance required.”

Jack has now reset his squawk and, after D&D confirmed, he is happy to continue on his own towards Norwich. Jack contacts Norwich and passes the details and intentions to land at the airfield for a refuel.

As he approaches, the weather starts closing in from below. Jack starts to get a little panicked and disorientated as he finds himself surrounded by cloud. He decided that the safest thing to do was to pull up to get above the met conditions and hope he could find a gap to get back down.

As he got VMC above, his heart sank as there were no obvious signs of a break in the cloud base to get back down safely. He informs Norwich who instructs him to Squawk Emergency. On Norwich’s liaison with D&D, it’s decided the best course of action is to come back onto 121.500Mhz for assistance.

To assess the full picture of what the cloud is doing in the vicinity of Jack, D&D liaise with Norwich and other nearby aerodromes to understand the local cloud base. D&D asked Jack what altitude the cloud ceiling was. It then managed to liaise with a pilot, also working in Norwich, in the same location as Jack to ask what the cloud base was. Unfortunately, it was below the terrain safe altitude, so descent through the cloud in that location was too risky.

After getting the endurance of G-STUK, D&D then spoke to the civil sectors of the airliners transiting in the airways above to see if they could spot any breaks in the cloud. Fortunately, there was a break in the cloud roughly 15nm off the coast of Norfolk, near Great Yarmouth. G-STUK had the endurance and was happy to transit to the area of good weather and make a cloud-break descent. When he was safely below cloud D&D handed the aircraft to Norwich to make a safe landing.

In this scenario, Jack got caught out by the fast-changing weather. Despite getting lost and stuck above cloud, he did the right thing in communicating it with someone, rather than stubbornly persevering in an attempt to save embarrassment or save face.

There is always someone listening out on 121.500Mhz. If in any doubt, please give us a call in D&D. We are here to serve YOU! Stay safe all!

Previous articles in this series

Distress & Diversion: Who you gonna call?
You make an SOS call… what happens next?
 Practice Pans make perfect
Tracing Action: how D&D kicks into action

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