My first trip as the Victor examiner - Tony Cunnane's Autobiography

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My first trip as the Victor examiner

In my very first week as OC VSU, I had to carry out an instrument rating renewal on my station commander. He held a Master Green rating, the highest standard, but he had in recent months flown less than the minimum number of flying hours on the Victor required to maintain currency. When station commanders wanted to fly, they tended to fly in the left hand seat as 1st pilot with another qualified captain in the right hand seat; they didn't get many opportunities to retain their currency as captain themselves because of the pressure of their other duties.

A mandatory element of the Master Green Instrument Rating Test was a simulated double engine failure shortly after take-off, followed by an instrument circuit, approach and overshoot on two engines. Thus, when we had reached about 400 feet after take-off, I initiated a practice double-engine failure by throttling the two engines on the starboard side back to flight idle. The pilot handled things well - or so it seemed at first.

While the crew were carrying out the various actions required prior to an emergency circuit on two engines, I realised that the 1st Pilot, a very tall man, was breathing very heavily and seemed to be working suspiciously hard. I could see sweat running down his forehead. After only a very few seconds I realised what was wrong: he had applied rudder trim the wrong way and was having to maintain balanced flight by pushing his left leg on the rudder pedal as hard as he could. Over the next few seconds, he surreptitiously motored the manual trimmer from full scale deflection the 'wrong way' to full scale deflection the correct way. I didn't let on at the time that I had noticed what he had done.

Non-pilots will probably not understand what that last paragraph was all about. Let me explain. With either one or both engines on one side of the aircraft at flight idle, the pilot has to offset the rudder to keep the aircraft in balanced flight, that is to say neither turning to left or right nor yawing left or right about the vertical axis. The aircraft is in balanced flight when the turn and slip instrument shows the turn needle upright and the yaw indicator, a ball encased in a tube underneath the turn needle, central. There are two ways of achieving that. The pilot can use brute force and apply the necessary foot pressure on the appropriate rudder pedal or he can use the electrically operated trimming device which will adjust a trim tab on the rudder itself. In practice what you are supposed to do is use the brute force method first and then use the electric trimmer to take the pressure off the rudder pedals. The pilot on the test I have just related, had applied the trim in the wrong direction and so he was having to 'keep the ball in the middle' by more and more effort with his feet on the rudder pedals.

The rest of the flight was routine and well within the limits of the Master Green rating for which he was being examined. Unfortunately, I could not in all conscience renew his Master Green rating because of his potentially very serious handling of the rudder trim during the simulated emergency. I told him that I knew what he had done and that I would have to withdraw his instrument rating altogether until the test was re-flown. I recommended that he should have at least one more flight simulator ride, followed by another practice rating flight with a squadron captain and I would then fly with him again.

He turned to me and said: "Well done, Tony. If you had renewed my Master Green rating I would immediately have telephoned the AOC and recommended that he re-consider your appointment as OC VSU."

To this day I simply don't know whether he had applied the rudder trim the wrong way to check me out, or whether he had actually done it by mistake in the tense atmosphere of having to renew his instrument rating with a new and inexperienced examiner. Naturally, word spread like wild fire that the new OC VSU had withdrawn the Station Commander's instrument rating. I believe the fact that I'd had the temerity to do that, caused the other captains to dread their VSU check rides with me. That Station Commander flew an excellent test a couple of weeks later and I was pleased to reinstate his Master Green Rating.

Before I had taken over the job, the annual VSU handling sorties (and, of course, I had been subjected to several myself) had tended to be more like a test of the aircraft captain/1st pilot rather than the whole crew. Like instrument rating tests, they had always started with some sort of simulated emergency on, or immediately after, take-off which would inevitably lead to a heavyweight asymmetric circuit and overshoot on two or three engines. That type of emergency had been introduced on routine VSU rides many years before my time when it had been thought likely that a mechanical failure in one engine could cause serious damage to the adjacent engine. In the already under-powered Victor K1 aircraft, especially when it was at maximum all up weight, I considered it didn't make any sense to put two engines on the same side to idle almost as soon as the aircraft left the runway - although it still had to be done on Instrument Rating Tests. I thought that sort of thing was better tested, and a darned sight safer, in the flight simulator so I tried to be more realistic.

The previous format for VSU check rides had become so rigid that aircrews, and the local air traffic controllers, tended to deal with them automatically without giving any real thought to the prevailing circumstances. On my first two VSU checks rides while we were preparing to get airborne, the local controller even asked on the radio if we would be doing a heavy-weight simulated double engine failure immediately after take-off. I remember they were a bit miffed when I replied "I don't know, it depends what happens when we take off."

Word quickly spread that Cunnane's VSU check rides were different.

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