Report of European Rallye (Interstate 8.7)
November 16, 1997
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ...
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>