There’s More to Flying than That!

On 12/05/2016, in View from the left seat, by phil

Before the introduction of Crew Resource Management (CRM) courses, relationships on the flight deck were not always as harmonious as they should be. Most captains were excellent mentors of young pilots, but some were cold and distant, and some downright difficult. Many, had learnt their flying in a hard school during WW2 and were deeply suspicious of those who had not shared the same experiences. Some may even have been suffering from mild Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Whatever the cause, sometimes as in Phil’s story here, new young pilots could find life difficult when flying with these individuals.

You can read here what actually happened to G-ARVB. But Chris Ditmas was a very much nicer man than Hamish Reid!

Hamish Reid came from a seafaring family in Dundee.  Rather than follow his elder brother into the navy he joined the RAF when he was barely nineteen and, after training, was posted to a Lancaster squadron in Lincolnshire.  That was in January 1944, a year before the end of the war.

He had been fortunate.  Merely to survive the thirty raids of his one and only tour of duty required a fair amount of skill and a huge dose of luck.  Half of all Bomber Command aircrew were lost before they completed ten missions.  Such losses had left him deeply fatalistic, with a tough, no-nonsense attitude to life.  After the war, like many of his colleagues, he found it difficult to return to normal life.

Demobilisation left him drifting aimlessly.  He was not academically inclined.  Had the war not intervened, he would probably have finished the engineering apprenticeship he had begun on leaving school.  He tried working in a garage but found it boring.  Despite the horrors in the night skies over Germany, he enjoyed the craft of flying.  Its precision, its discipline, the sense of achievement appealed to his self-reliant practical nature.  Besides, there was little else he was trained to do.  So when he saw an advert asking for pilots to join BOAC, he applied immediately and soon found himself flying Avro Yorks, a transport version of the Lancaster bomber he had flown in the war.

Click here to read the full article


Someone was Holding My Hand

On 25/02/2016, in View from the left seat, by phil


When accidents happen, sensational stories are splashed all over the popular press, ‘someone must be at fault, something must be done,’ shout the headlines.  Justice, whatever that may be, is demanded in a form that satisfies the simple man’s sense of public retribution.  Unfortunately, this is a very primitive response that does little to help the cause of air safety.  The real issues are usually far too complicated for the media and even, sometimes, for many professionals to understand fully. 

Air accident investigation is a painstaking process – it takes time.  Even after exhaustive analysis, it is often impossible to reach definitive conclusions, and even harder to learn and apply the appropriate lessons. 

But when death and injury occur, the misery extends not only to the innocent victims and their families but also to the professionals who bear the responsibility for maintaining a safe operation.  Where is the dividing line between malpractice, negligence, a genuine mistake – or – totally unforeseen circumstances?  Spare a thought too for these victims of sheer happenstance, who, even when totally blameless, may be left with a hideous sense of guilt, sometimes with tragic results.   

Phil’s latest story explores some of these issues.

“Yes, I knew him well – and his wife.  I was at school with him.”

Malt whisky, candlelight, cigars, a good dinner, and five men around the table after the ladies had withdrawn.  The conversation had been rather more stimulating than usual – Iraq, the Falklands War, did military interventions ever do any good?  Some hospital stories (de-identified of course) from the medics, and a fund of intriguing insights into human foibles from our host, the judge, told with wit and relish.  He was long retired having served in the High Court, and liked the old-fashioned ways.  The others were still working; a surgeon in a big hospital near Heathrow, a local doctor (not mine but a good friend) who had worked in Africa before settling into a quiet country practice near Beaconsfield.  A businessman, I can’t remember what in but also a town councillor, a solicitor in a well-known London firm, and me, a pilot with British Airways.  Our wives were women to be reckoned with too.  The surgeon’s wife taught classics at a leading girls’ school, the doctor’s was an investigative journalist for a national newspaper, the town councillor’s was a vet, though rather too full of the importance of her husband’s position, and the solicitor’s wife worked with mine on various charities.

The conversation had drifted onto the difference between accidents and negligence.  Had Maggie’s government been negligent in not foreseeing Argentina’s invasion of the Falklands?  When might a surgeon be deemed negligent if a patient died?  Was the council negligent in not erecting notices near a weir before a small boy fell in and drowned?  When should individuals exercise common sense to avoid obvious danger?  What is obvious and what is not?

Click here to read the full article


Sweating Blood

On 15/01/2016, in View from the left seat, by phil

“Bermuda, Bermuda, Speedbird 312.”

“Speedbird 312, go ahead,” replied Bermuda Air Traffic Control.

“Bermuda, Speedbird 312, climbing through level 170. The thunderstorms ahead lie right across our track. We can’t see any gaps, can’t climb above them, we’ll have to deviate well south of track. We need to turn onto heading 240.”

“OK Speedbird, there’re no other aircraft in the vicinity. You’re clear to deviate south as far as necessary. Report when able to resume course.”

It was autumn 1963. Our Britannia turboprop was flying empty – no passengers, only the crew on board. We had left Bermuda well before dawn and were climbing on our way west towards Richmond, in Virginia, to pick up a group of American tourists who had chartered the aircraft for a holiday in Bermuda. No one had told them Bermuda was not the sunny Caribbean island the posters suggested it was. In fact, it was due to receive a deluge in a few hour’s time!

Photo: BOAC

Photo: BOAC

On the Met forecast at flight briefing, we had seen the front lying across our intended track and had discussed how best to get round it. A deepening low had left New York and was moving out into the Atlantic. A vigorous cold front stretched down nearly as far as The Bahamas, off Florida. The thunder tops were reported to be well above 35,000ft. There was no way a Britannia, designed in the late ‘40s, and first flown in 1952, could climb that high. We would have to set off and see if there was a way around.

Passing 18,000ft, the captain banked towards the south and settled the aircraft onto its new heading. “What’s the heading now skipper?” I asked.

“230. We’ll stay on that for a while, I’ll tell you when we change.” He turned back to the radar searching for a gap in the massive wall of clouds ahead.

Click here to read the full article



On 19/12/2015, in View from the left seat, by phil

I often sit here gazing down the river. I find it soothing after the dreams. It’s quiet at three in the morning before the hubbub of the day. A few strands of mist lie along the opposite bank, obscuring the towpath. Temple Island glows dully in the moonlight. Summer is nearly over; the chill is beginning to seep into my old bones.

“You OK Bob?”

“Yes. But can’t sleep so easy these days.”

Harry, the night watchman crunches slowly away down the gravel path with Lulu, his large placid Alsatian. They patrol the grounds and we’ve grown used to each other since I started having these sleepless nights.

Perhaps I should explain. The club occupies a much extended Georgian mansion on the banks of the Thames. We moved into one of the apartments behind the main house when I grew too old to maintain the garden and Molly was still fighting cancer. It suited us well, she could play bridge; I enjoy the reading room and the meetings with old friends. It has a good restaurant, and a bar and garden room which serves light lunches. There’s always something going on – outings and special interest sections with talks on aviation, motoring, sailing, films, books and suchlike. It’s a good place for a lonely old man.

The dreams started soon after Molly died. They’re always the same. A man, his face swathed in rags, bursts into my room, points a gun at me and fires. There’s a flash of brilliant light and I wake shivering, bathed in sweat to find I’m still alive. I was never given to dreams before. I don’t hold with sleeping pills, I don’t want to see the doctor – what could he do, other than prescribe more pills or send me to a shrink? Instead, I make myself a cup of tea, watch television or go and contemplate the river until I feel sleepy again.

I’m in my mid-seventies now. I used to keep myself pretty fit – rowing, tennis and sailing, but soon after I retired my old injury came back to haunt me. I’ve been lame ever since. These days I walk the dog and play chess.

Click here to read the full article


Introduction to the upcoming story “Nightmares”

On 12/12/2015, in View from the left seat, by phil

Terrorism, bombings and shootings are nothing new. I remember well the 1970s which was one of the worst decades for Middle East hijackings. In September 1970 there was a near simultaneous hijacking of five aircraft by the PFLP.


It started with the attempted hijack of an El Al 707 from Amsterdam which was foiled by a sky marshal who shot dead one of the hijackers, while the other was overpowered. The aircraft made an emergency landing at Heathrow. This was followed on the same day by a Pan Am 747, also out of Amsterdam, which was hijacked first to Beirut and then to Cairo where it was blown up minutes after landing. Simultaneously, a TWA 707 out of Frankfurt and a Swissair DC-8 out of Zurich were hijacked to Dawson’s Field. All that one day – 6 September!

Then, three days later, a BOAC VC10 out of Bahrain was hijacked first to Beirut, where it was refuelled before also going to Dawson’s Field. The passengers on all three aircraft were held hostage and all three aircraft where blown up on 12 September, fortunately without loss of life.

If that was not enough, two Lufthansa aircraft were hijacked in 1972 – a 747 to Aden and a 727 to Zagreb, again without fatalities. But, also in that same year, the Black September group massacred the Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympic Games – 17 people died.

In 1973, a KLM 747 bound from Amsterdam to Tokyo was hijacked to Malta and on to Dubai. Shortly afterwards, in 1974, two more BOAC VC10s were hijacked, one to Amsterdam where it was destroyed after landing, the other from Dubai to Tripoli and on to Tunis where the hijackers murdered a German passenger and threatened to murder more passengers every two hours if their demands were not met.

Then, in 1976, an Air France A300 was hijacked to Entebbe. Eventually the passengers were rescued by the Israeli army who famously stormed the aircraft with many casualties. Finally, a year later, a Lufthansa 737 from Palma bound for Frankfurt was hijacked near Marseille. There followed a terrifying flight first to Rome, then to Larnaca, Bahrain, Dubai, Aden and finally to Mogadishu, where the captain was murdered and the passengers finally rescued by German commandos. Thus ended a bloody decade of Middle East hijackings.

Phil’s next fictional story is based on the accounts of people he knew. It will appear next week and is told in flash-back by a retired pilot who, in his old age, is suffering from mild Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The time-line is deliberately out of sequence as his memories are triggered by minor events in an ordinary day.

But see first this documentary about hijacks to Dawson’s field.


Jumbo Mason – The real story of the elephant

On 04/12/2015, in View from the left seat, by phil

You can read the first part of this story here.

After he had read my story, my friend, Chris, told me what really happened back in 1967 when he was one of the two co-pilots on a BOAC Boeing 707 flying the leg from Karachi to Rome. The aircraft had come from Hong Kong and was going on through to London.

They had departed from Karachi in the early hours of the morning in excellent flying conditions. Chris was in the right-hand seat, with the other co-pilot in the left seat, while the captain had gone aft to the cabin. Nearing Teheran, the controls suddenly twitched quite aggressively and the aircraft bounced and waggled its wings. They looked at the auto-pilot to see if all was well, then at each other in amazement. Everything was as it should be.


A few minutes later they heard a noise from the lower 41 region followed by another bounce and a waggle. By this time the captain was back on the flight deck asking what was going on. They explained the situation and started to analyse the problem. Then the same bounce and noise happened again. The captain, remembering an elephant had been loaded at Calcutta, decided to descend into the Lower 41 in order to look into the forward freight hold. What he saw was a large baby elephant waving its trunk around, with its back rubbing against the ceiling of the freight hold.

Chris wickedly suggested he should give the elephant some water, which the captain agreed was an excellent idea, and asked for a bowl to be sent down to him. The elephant drank deeply, took aim and squirted the contents all over the captain, who emerged dripping wet through the hatch in the floor. He immediately ordered Chris down into the freight hold to look after the elephant for the rest of the flight.

Click here to read the full article


Jumbo Mason

On 28/11/2015, in View from the left seat, by phil

Bizarre things sometimes happen on aeroplanes. ‘Jumbo Mason’ is a fictional short story, based on a real event that happened to a friend of mine. After I had written the story he contacted me saying, ‘How did you know what went on in the hold?’ I replied, ‘I invented it.’

I had heard of the events at third or even fourth hand but not till then from the man himself. My version was remarkably close to what actually happened. I will reveal all after you have read the story.

jumboA shadow fell over me, blocking the warm sun and the light on my book.

Pete grinned down at me, “Thought I’d find you here.”

“Be a dear and rub some of this onto my back.”

I rolled over, passed him the tube of suncream and pointed to the bit I couldn’t reach. He sat on the edge of my sunlounger and began to rub.

“Mmmm – lovely.”

“Can I do the front too?”

“No, certainly not! Really – you men are all the same. Why don’t you go and get me a nice cold drink instead. Fresh lemonade would be good.”

He sauntered off towards the beach bar. I’d always fancied Pete. He was the first officer on our crew, newly married and, now, definitely off limits. We had been good friends for several years, flirted a bit, gone out together, and enjoyed cosy dinners when we met down the routes. But he had fallen for my flatmate, Judy, instead. I had been her bridesmaid.

Pete was tall, rather diffident, but good fun when you got to know him. In his early thirties, he had a round face and floppy blond hair which fell endearingly across his forehead, very English. Judy was short, bouncy, dark haired and very Irish. The only thing they seemed to have in common were their blue eyes, but the fact was they suited each other very well.

He returned with my lemonade and a beer for himself. “Here you are Suze, wrap yourself round this.”

“I do wish you wouldn’t call me that. You know how much I hate it, sounds like that weird French drink. ”

He draped himself over the chair beside me and shot me one of his most charming smiles. When he did that I could forgive him anything. I wished I’d encouraged him more when we’d been going out together.

“Who’s that over there?” I asked, changing the subject. I pointed to two men readying a small sail boat at the water’s edge. “I saw you in the bar with him last night.”

Click here to read the full article


New stories coming soon!

On 23/11/2015, in View from the left seat, by steve


Photo British Airways

Photo British Airways

The Roger-Wilco blog has grown over the years mainly on the strength of our contributors who have supplied us with interesting articles, stories and news which then attracted many loyal readers from all over the world.

It is with great pleasure that I can tell you that Phil Hogge, whose name will be familiar to many of our readers, has kindly agreed to share with the Roger-Wilco family some of the short stories he has written. After a lifetime in aviation and now retired, Phil is amusing himself writing short stories based on things people have told him, things he has seen and done. They are all fictional but all based on the truth and sometimes suitably embroidered! The stories give a wonderful flavor of what airline life was like in the 1960s and 70s. We will be bringing Phil’s stories under the “View from the left seat” tag. Check back often!


The Great SID/STAR Phraseology Fiasco (part 2)

On 14/10/2011, in View from the left seat, by Alex1

Back in February 2011 I reported in this Blog on a particularly silly state of affairs. Pilots and controllers had got used to a simple rule where ‘each clearance replaces the old’. This means that in a clearance, such as ‘cleared FL 150, 200 or below 20 miles before X’, the constraint ‘below 20 miles before X ‘ would have to be repeated in a subsequent clearance to say, FL120 to remain in force, otherwise it would be automatically cancelled. This was the case until in 2007 amendment 15 to PANS ATM (Doc 4444), which introduced a new twist. ‘New replaces Old’ was still valid, but NOT on clearances involving SIDs and STARs, when the OPPOSITE applied.

This was presumably because controllers were finding it irksome to repeat all the restrictions contained in a Standard Arrival or Departure. To be fair, it is probably true that most standard arrivals DO still require intermediate constraints to be observed as they are often terrain related. But was this a good reason to tear up the rule book? Surely a suitable phrase could have been found to replace a mouthful of level restrictions.

The immediate result of the change was widespread confusion. This may surprise ICAO, but few pilots and controllers take PANS ATM to bed with them. So it was up to individual States to communicate the changes, which they did with typical thoroughness. Result, total confusion in November 2007 when the amendment took effect. London TMA controllers, who typically cancel SID vertical restrictions on practically every departure, were running out of breath and time saying the new formula; some pilots questioned what they were to do, others merely assumed, and only some got it right. The UK CAA made several minor changes recognising that they couldn’t unilaterally turn the clock back for fear of creating even more mayhem. For a few years now, London ATC have been saying ‘Now’ to mean ‘climb and ignore the restriction in the SID’, but that isn’t totally unambiguous. It was clearly up to ICAO to sort out the mess they had created.

Fast forward to 2009 when ICAO first polled States about the difficulties they were experiencing and then accepted an offer from CANSO, the Air Nvigation Service Providers’ trade organisation, to study the problem and provide solutions. Click here to read the full article


The Great SID/STAR Phraseology Fiasco

On 24/02/2011, in View from the left seat, by Alex1

ICAO HQ, Montreal

Most of us find the workings of ICAO pretty strange. The constant repetition of States’ sovereignty, with its assumption that they actually know what they are talking about, is quaint, rather than obviously dangerous. The glacial speed of progress, with timescales measured in years for quite minor textual changes, can be exasperating, but nothing is quite as baffling to me as this extraordinary saga of the change to the SID /STAR phraseology.

It may be that there are some out there who have not come across this piece of upside down logic, so here is a quick summary. For years (since Pontius was a pilot) the basic rule concerning clearances involving a change of level, was that the new clearance cancels the old. So if the previous descent clearance was to, say, ‘FL150 level 20 miles south of X’ and the next clearance received was just ‘FL 100’, this cancels the requirement to be at FL 150 20 miles south of X. If ATC still want you to observe that restriction, they must repeat it with the new clearance. The exact wording is (note the six levels of paragraph nesting!):

Clear? You’d think so. You might also think that this was a rather important understanding. So what are to make of the following in the current version of Doc 4444, PANS ATM, Amendment 15 dated November 2007, which given ICAO’s normal pace must have been discussed for a solid three years previously?

Translated into everyday speak, this means that if you are flying a SID with say an initial cleared level of 6000ft (you can tell I am familiar with London…) and ATC clear you to FL 110, under this rule you have to maintain 6000ft,  until the end of the SID profile, wherever that is, unless you are told otherwise. This is of course the opposite of what you would do at any other time. What the ATCO meant you to do was to climb immediately to FL110

Click here to read the full article


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