A fictional account of a possible event
Reprinted with permission from the
The tell-tale signs on launch were indicating strong regular cycles.
The sun was heating up the expanse of rock below launch. The glider had
been given a thorough pre-flight and the pilot was in his harness ready
to go. The pre launch banter was giving away to more serious considerations,
such as retrieval arrangements, car key locations, wind directions and
the thermal cycles. “Isn’t this site under a control zone?" the pilot on
launch asked. “I dunno, I haven’t got the site guide with me. Anyway, I’ve
seen the top of your glider from this site more often than I’ve seen the
bottom. Your usual problem is ground suck, not cloud suck.” "Give me a
hang check will you?" He was ready and eager to launch.
“Melbourne Approach, Good afternoon, Alpha Bravo Charlie, one hundred
DME Melbourne, cruising flight level 12.” Alpha Bravo Charlie, 8,000”
The captain and co-pilot had the approach plates for Tularmine ready,
although a visual approach was expected. the GPS indicated a ground speed
of just under 200 knots. The captain glanced at the towering columns of
cumulus cloud both on and to the left and right of track. He illuminated
the fasten seat belt sign.
Hang check. Carabiners straightened - checked locked. Vario switched
on. “What height above the bomb out are we?” “I dunno. I think it’s 750m.
I think the hill’s 2400 according to the map.” “I thought it was 1800.
I’ll just set 600m.” Radio check. The pilot shuffled to the top of the
ramp. After takeoff he adjusted his feet to a comfortable position in the
pod. While making the first climbing pass to the right he zipped up the
pod. On the return pass, he was above launch and still climbing. A quick
180 and the vario told him what the pitch up and rush of air had already
announced - a boomer thermal. He circled tightly to the right, drifting
slowly back over launch and the parked gliders and cars which were fast
The sun’s reflection glowed on the polished spinner of the starboard
propeller. The first officer pinched his nose and blew gently to equalise
the pressure as the cabin pressure slowly increased. He enjoyed the heightened
impression of speed as the aircraft flew near or through clouds. The sixteen
passengers were putting magazines aside, and preparing for arrival. The
captain checked the destination weather, and methodically scanned the instruments.
Cockpit view from inside a Boeing 737: http://www.boeing.com/companyoffices/gallery/images/commercial/C12B-737NG.html
“Melbourne, Alpha Bravo Charlie passing through 9.000' ASL”
When well above launch, the pilot widened his circles and maintained
a steady 1.5 - 2.0 mps up. He started to enjoy the view and glanced at
the altimeter - 1,200m and going up. He put his hands in the neoprene mitts
as the base bar got colder. Climbing through 1,500 he could see the pub
in the valley where he and his mates usually met after flying. But he could
also see the highway to the west with its towns that could usually only
be seen one at a time, and away in the distance a couple of distinctive
hills beyond which he knew lay the city. The lift grew stronger, and the
vario was indicating 5 mps up as he climbed through 2,000m. He looked forward
and up and saw the gray base and white borders of a large Cu. He pulled
on some speed to make sure he stayed out of the cloud. Sooner than he expected
though he was at cloud base, even with the bar back around his waist somewhere.
The wind noise was considerable. The altimeter was showing 2,500 and increasing.
He straightened his arms for maximum speed, passing in and out of cloud,
with the earth appearing and disappearing beneath him.
The nose of the aircraft came up slowly as the auto pilot began to level
the aircraft approaching 8000. The altimeter continued to wind down...8,300...8,200...The
fist officer had depressed the microphone switch on the control yoke to
seek onwards descent clearance. He could see glimpses of tree below as
the aircraft approached the cloud base.
The turbine powered twin engine aircraft destroyed the hang glider on
The pilot died instantly. The hang glider wreckage and pilot’s body
disabled the port engine, and caused such damage to the port wing that
control of the aircraft was lost. The crew and passengers on the aircraft
died on impact in a fireball of wreckage. The Bureau of Air Safety Investigation
determined the primary cause of the crash of the aircraft to be an unauthorized
penetration of controlled airspace by the hang glider pilot, contributed
to by an incorrectly set altimeter and the pilot’s ignorance of the vertical
limits of controlled airspace. The pilot’s failure to remain at least 500
feet below cloud base was also a clear contributing factor, but the nineteen
people who knew that the collision occurred at cloud base are all dead,
and accordingly this factor was not recognised in the investigation.
Calls were made in the Senate and in the press for an inquiry into hang
gliding. A suggestion was made in parliament that all hang gliding be restricted
to a ceiling of 300 feet AGL. At the Coroners Inquest, the Coroner recommended
that hang gliders be banned from flying beneath controlled airspace. The
Coroner also found that the sport had failed to self-regulate in that basic
altimetry principles were not adhered to by a large number of hang glider
pilots. CAA Investigators were ordered to attend take off and landing sites,
to check ratings, carriage of altimeters, pilot currency requirements and
the like with a view to prosecutions under the Civil Aviation Act and regulations.
The land owner closed the site. Land owners of other sites threatened similar
action. Altimetry received new emphasis in training and rating theory tests.
Hang gliding featured in adverse editorial comments across the nation.
The pilots’s actions were clearly criminal, and he would have been prosecuted
and jailed for considerable number of years had he survived. As it is,
his widow has to meet from his estate claims from the dependents of the
passengers and crew of the aircraft, and she will lose the family home
and all other assets of her husband’s estate. The pilot’s insurance was
inadequate to meet claims of such magnitude.
The launch elevations was 2,400 feet above mean sea level
The launch was directly below the 8,000 foot control step
An altimeter set at 1500 feet at launch would register 7,100 feet
at the lower limit of the 8,000 foot control step (that is, at 8,000 feet
above mean sea level)
An altimeter set at 2,400 feet at launch would register 8000' (equivalent
to 2,438.4 m ) at the lower limit of the control step
2438.4m = 8000'; 732 m = 2400';
3.2808 Feet / meter - Metric conversions are not easy
to remember in the air
Thus the ICAO has standardized the Aviation world on Feet AMSL
World Wide - for Safety reasons.
Avoiding controlled airspace involves knowing at any point in
flight your height above mean sea level, and the vertical and lateral limits
of controlled airspace.
HGFA MEMBER 3410