Report of European Rallye (Interstate 8.7)

Bologna, Italy, November 16, 1997
Report by Simon Hradecky

First off, this European FS Rallye, organized by Fabio Fanelli with the help of the Italian Flight Simmers Club "Pilotes Virtuali Italiani", was using the equipment and rules of Interstate. In fact, with support by Mathijs Kok and Enrico, this event was named Interstate 8.7. 10 Teams, 3 of which were international - one French, one German and one Austrian/Swiss/Italian team - were competing. You already guess who formed the Austrian/Swiss/Italian team <bg>: Umberto Colapicchioni was the flight engineer and responsible to file flight plans, Urs Wildermuth provided the usual well known excellent support as first officer, and the handling captain has to be me <vbg>.

I arrived on Saturday afternoon (competition starting Sunday 8am) and found a well organized room already, with network fully setup, and masters provided for each team already. Of course, they didn't have AS2 installed there, so i quickly hooked my machine into the network, and we were ready to go.
Briefing took place later the evening on Saturday. We got informed, that our airports would be Madrid, Barcelona, Rome, Reggio Calabria - when this name fell, the crowd of pilots sighed loudly - Olbia, Milano Malpensa and Bologna. Immediately after the briefing, one could see all teams hectically starting looking into flight plans, while the assigned pilots were already doing training for Reggio Calabria ...

What's so special about Reggio?

Well, in the briefing Fabio called it the Hongkong of Italy. However, it is even more difficult. An offset localizer guides the plane into the vincinity of the runway threshold. Then the pilot will need to turn into the runway using both VOR and NDB indications and lead in lights on ground, turning roughly 45 degrees. This gets particularly interesting, as usually there's quite some turbulence to be expected in the final approach because of the hillsides around the airport, too.

I started commenting, that 7 legs within 8 hours, 2 of the legs being in excess of 1:30 flight time would not be possible, and 10 minutes turn around is too tight <g>.

Urs in the meantime, Saturday evening, sat down and produced a lot of flight plans for all the legs, taking into account different possible weather conditions. It took him quite a while to do that, and he crawled to bed sometime around 1am (i took the freedom after a long car drive to disappear around 11pm).

Sunday morning, 8 am:

Organizers seemed to have come to similiar conclusion as i thought. Leg Madrid-Barcelona got cancelled. So we positioned into Barcelona for the flight over the Adriatic sea to Rome. We filed - according the the RNAV capabilities of our airplane - for a direct route right across the sea. The entire flightplan did not contain any VOR or NDB, just intersections <g>. So we took off runway 07, climbed to FL350 following ABACO1A SID to SADEM transition, and were happily cruising.

We called for an orange juice and some sandwich, while scanning instruments. Suddenly i spotted the autopilot had kicked off, but we hadn't lost altitude or heading yet. So i quickly grabbed the controls, and handflew the plane for a moment, while we were trying to sort out, why the autopilot kicked off. I reengaged the autopilot in the end. Orange juice arrived and so did the sandwich. I just took the first bite, when the autopilot kicked off again. Okay, i said to Urs, if that's the case, we'll handfly the plane all the way to Rome.

So i trimmed it out, adjust the engines according to FCOM, and off she went, nicely stable at FL350. Just an occasional retrim needed to compensate for burned fuel, but basically i had hands off the controls.

Jurors passed by every 30 seconds, as they couldn't believe, we were _not_ flying on autopilot <g>. So we came close to Rome. We told ATC at our calculated TOD to be ready for descent, and got assigned FL290. Hmmm, interesting procedure. Then we were told to enter holding at TAQ, entry point into the STAR. FL290 still. Okay, so we started circling - for about 45 minutes, as 9 other aircraft were stacked below us. The resulting step down in the holding got quite interesting, as of course true airspeed changes (with constant indicated airspeed) caused quite some different turn radius <g>. Anyway, after finally reaching 4000 feet, we were sent off to the localizer 16L.

A quick check with our instruments however showed 30 knots of tailwind ... Radio Communication got a bit hectic at this point, ATC telling us we would have a 30 knots headwind from the south, our instruments still insisting the winds to be coming from north. Okay, Urs and I decided, we'll rely on our instruments (because also the ground speed indications confirmed tailwind), and requested ILS 16L cirling 34R. ATC agreed, so we did a beautiful pass over Rome and did a tear drop circling into 34R to an eventless greaser landing.


So came the leg Rome to Reggio. Winds got sorted out in the meantime, so takeoff was on runway 25, following PNZ 5B departure route, during which we aimed for FL310. During climb out, engine number 1 decided to quit at FL250. Hmmmm ... I quickly kicked off autopilot and autothrottle, and lowered the nose to maintain altitude, while Urs called ATC, that we would interrupt our climb because of a technical problem. A quick check showed no apparent malfunction of the engine, no fire and no other reason for the quit. So we decided, we would try an air restart. But for that we were too fast, engine windmilling at too high a percentage N2. So i slowed down the plane, until N2 got into the relight conditions, and tried to fire up the engine.

No luck. Not good. Okay, i said, we were trying it at the upper limit of the possible airstart profile, and lowered speed a bit further. Next try. And the engine relighted ... Hurray! We watched the engine very carefully, spooled her up slowly to climb thrust, then informed ATC that we would be able to continue our climb now, which ATC acknowledged. So we climbed out to FL310 and carried on to Reggio, watching the engine parameters like hawks. ATC wanted to get us down way too early, so Urs asked for a specific reason. ATC told us just for the approach, so Urs came back and told them we would call for the descent, to which ATC agreed. At our calculated TOD we called ATC, and got cleared for FL 120. On the descent Urs checked ATIS, weather forecast indicated runway 33 to be in use - so the Italian Hongkong experience was to be expected.

When we checked into Reggio Approach, we got caught in surprise. We were cleared the VOR approach to runway 15 circling 33. Now, this required some tricky navigation before hand to set the plane up for the VOR approach into runway 15 - we were basically on a straight in for runway 15, but way too high due to altitude restrictions, and the descent for runway 15 requires to turn back into opposite direction (heading 357). So that would mean, we need to enter the hold over RCA VOR, and turn back out of the holding pattern. So we did, flying the required tear drop procedure to intercept radial 157 on the step down descent. Urs was navigating, i was flying. So i heard Urs tell me, at DME 9 be at 3000 feet, then 2500 at DME 7, then 1500 at DME 4, further descending to 1000 feet for the circling. At DME 3 we turned sharply right heading 217, Urs timing the outbound, turned parallell to the runway, abeam of the runway (visual contact established) dirtied up the aeroplane, and then i took her back in a nice gentle visual turn to a quite acceptable landing <g>.

In the break we heard the organizer via the public speakers tell the audience, that with each leg it would get harder and harder.

Well, what can be hard on us?

So we took off Reggio 33 for Olbia. SID very easy, just climb out straight, don't let any wind drop <g>, not knowing what would happen.A nice beautiful day out there, and we climbed out FL310, reached TOD, descended straight into Olbia. We got informed runway 24 in use, got cleared for VOR approach runway 24. Okay, another fancy tear drop procedure, which forced us initially in a holding pattern to turn back away from the runway and come down the required VOR radials for the runway. When turning back into the runway, we tried to get slats. No go. SLAAAATS? No way to get them move. So no flaps either.

Quickly check the Vref again, 207 knots. Quite hot an approach ...

We quickly informed ATC about the problem. Alternates were not even considered. And we did forget to check runway length and required stop distances for such a hot speed. Ouch! To make things worse, of course autopilot was deactivated, and we encountered severe turbulence on the approach, so i had to wildly fight the aeroplane to keep it on track - full elevator and aileron deflections were needed occasionally. So we descended into the runway, and came down nicely, onto touch down zone and on centerline.

In the moment the mains hit the ground, another gust caught us with an unexpected head wind, and we lifted off again slightly, to come down again after some, well bank of almost 10 degrees, no wing tip strike though. But we had used up more runway already, a runway of just 6000 feet length. In the frantic panic to get the reversers out, i looked down to find the keyboard, when another gust caught the aeroplane and veered her off the runway. We came to a full stop in the green grass right of threshold runway 06. Shut down the engines, and all of us, Umberto, Urs and especially myself started to behave like ... well, certainly not like Gentlemen ... The cursing took quite a while. I was really upset about myself. I should have briefed Urs to take care of reversers on touch down, and not looked away from the runway, knowing that gusts can cause the plane to weathercock.

To make things worse, this incident was observed by one of the most profilic jurors - the training chief of Alitalia for MD-80s ... Oh Gawd ... I was so disappointed, such a beautiful flight and approach, and then these two stupid mistakes (not checking runway length vs. stopping distance, and looking away) ...

So we took an unscheduled rest of 30 minutes there to calm down the nerves. In the meantime Urs investigated with another juror (Stefan Schaefer actually), what the consequences would be for our score, and got told, that we had lost all points so far. Well, sorry, folks, no chance to win anymore ...

In the end it turned out, that Stefan was fooling us <g>. Of course, it was rated as a severe incident, and it did cost quite some points, but, we still were in the race (i believe now third after being in lead for each other leg), and still had a chance.

Quick inspection of the aeroplane showed, that we did not even suffer a gear damage. Just new tires were needed ... They looked like squares, not round ... And the remaining profile was filled with mud ...

Back to track

So, after having calmed down again, we started to prepare for the next leg. Olbia to Venice. Flight plan was filed, we took off - i don't particularly recall the STAR anymore. It was going more on routine, with the mind elsewhere ... But i caught attention, when the autopilot decided not to stick in, and kicked out again. Hey ... Again a leg flown on hand. Well, usual procedure, adjust power, trim it out, and we fly hands off again. Nothing to worry. But, my mind was back in the cockpit. We were halfway down the route, when ATC informed us, that Venice was closed, and the only available airport around would be Bologna. Okay, we decided to divert to Bologna, and set up the cockpit accordingly.

ATC had us descend in a step down procedure again, giving us steps of about 2000 feet descent per step. Fancy flying there, yoke got a bit busy. ATIS told us overcast clouds, bottom at around 1000 feet, occasional going down to 300 feet. Okay, anything possible, CAT I to CAT III approach. But we haven't got an autopilot, no HUD, so no CAT III possible, so hope to make it on CAT I or II criterias. We prepared for a CAT II approach. Crosschecked instruments. A bang caused us to get hectic. Engine number 2 flamed out, and needed to be shut down, one bottle of fire extinguisher went into the engine. So no chance to get it back. Single engine procedure then. Not to worry. Urs read back another command by ATC, and added "Just to inform you, we have shut down an engine as a precaution". We dived into the cloud soup. Snow!

Bloody hell! Quick recheck on temperatures on ground via radio. Well, it could be freezing there. However, we couldn' get a reliable runway report. All we heard was "runway is wet". I decided, i won't take the risk of getting surprised again, and briefed, that we would not be using reversers after landing, because of asymmetric thrust and poor braking action (if icy), that could cause us again to veer off the runway. Runway length was sufficient to stop even without reversers and even on pure ice, provided, we got flaps ...

Last challenge

So we approached localizer, still on minimum clean. I was reluctant to apply slats and flaps early just in case, we would experience a problem on engine number 1 too, that we know caused us problems earlier. Just one mile before intercepting i finally commanded slats and slowed down. During intercept flaps 11 came out, followed quickly by flaps 15. Glide slope indication came alive, gear came down, and we started to descend. When fully adjusted in descent, i called for flaps 28, and reduced speed to Vref+15. Loc went off center position a bit, i tried to adjust, when i heard Urs call "watch for speed". Christ! Full thrust i applied, quite some fancy footworking to compensate for asymmetric thrust, and soon my speed was back, without loosing loc and glide. We broke clouds at 900 feet, at which point i called for full flaps - now convinced we would make the runway - and shouted "continuing visually".

A quick side look told me the Alitalia Captain watching us again. I steered the MD down as carefully as i could, slowed down to Vref overhead middle marker, and put it down to a beautiful greaser and an eventless stop. Off we taxied, shut down the aeroplane. The Captain passed by and gave me a pat on the back <g>. WOW!

Time schedule had passed by, and no more leg to be flown. Competition was over. And then we waited for the results. Third got an Italian team formed by 14 year old boys, who did quite some impressive performance. Well deserved applause. Second place went to a team of Rome (as i understood), another round of applause - and we still weren't named. So it's clear ... Urs, Umberto and myself had won the competition in the end, due to wonderful assistance both Umberto provided to the cockpit crew and a more wonderful assistance Urs provided to me in navigation and crosschecking.

We received a nicely done plaquette for the victory from Fabio. And all around a lot of photo cameras and video cameras, and another round of applause ... I adressed the audience and thanked Fabio and his team for a marvelous organization and a more marvelous day. It has been fun indeed.

Despite my mistake, that i am still steaming about. <g>