My good friend Bob, who you all know as Refrigerator Magnate and definitely the King of Cool (though he calls it Kitsch), concluded a response to my previous post with ‘Over and Out’ before asking the question… “Do people really ‘sign out’ like that?” So, I thought I’d better try to answer that one.

First, lets remove any confusion. My post referred to Amateur Radio kit and the words Over and Out really belong in the world of Aviation. So, forget Ham Radio for a few minutes and lets look at how this phrase fits in when flying.

The vast majority of people will have come across this phrase in b&w films where a lone pilot struggles against the odds to bring his stricken aircraft home in the sort of storm that makes the biblical deluge seem like a walk in the park on a summers day. We hear the final instructions from the tower and our struggling hero answers “Message Received, Over and Out”. The issue with this in the real world was (note the past tense) that the message the pilot is sending is confusing. It basically says “I’m expecting a response from you but I won’t be listening to it”!

In the very early days of radio equipped aircraft and aerodromes, this phrase was used but it quickly became obvious that it was open to confusion. It became the norm to use the term Over when you were expecting a reply from the other station (Aircraft or Control tower) or Out when you did not intend to make any further transmissions and did not expect a response from the other station. In other words, these were words that used separately worked fine for the relatively quiet skies of the 1920/30’s.

Leaping forwards, in the modern world the method of opening or concluding a contact with a station is now very formalised for General Aviation (and note here that I’m giving UK examples – it will differ in the US and other countries). Approaching an Aerodrome Traffic Zone, the pilot will call along the lines of ‘Stapleford Approach this is Golf-Bravo Bravo India Lima inbound to you, requesting joining instructions’. The ground station will respond advising which runway is in use and the preferred method of joining the circuit. The Pilot will then acknowledge by repeating the details received. Subsequent calls from the pilot will indicate his position such as overhead, downwind, base-leg and finals but will not necessarily receive any response from the ground – these are courtesy calls that advise other traffic of the aircraft’s relative permission in the circuit. At any point the ground station may advise the pilot to deviate from the standard procedure to accommodate other traffic but, as this is an example of a general aviation airfield, this is unlikely as the pilot is expected to exercise his own judgement and maintain safe separation from other traffic visually. After landing the Pilot may request parking instructions and, after finding the advised spot and shutting down the engine, will turn off the radios… there is no ‘Out’! And Over is not really used either – My initial call to Stapleford would probably have received a reply along the lines of ‘Golf – India Lima, Join downwind for Runway 22, QFE* 1018’ The ground station wouldn’t waste transmission time with the word ‘Over’ – the message is clearly directed to a specified recipient and no one else is expected to respond (note the shortening of the aircraft callsign). I’ve chosen an example from General avaition because when the films using the dreaded ‘Over and Out’ were made, airline travel was in its infancy and very similar to normal General Aviation today.

I’ve mentioned QFE above… It means the barometer pressure above the ground level of the aerodrome and is essential to set the altimeter in the aircraft to show 0 feet on the ground and the correct height for the circuit around the aerodrome. It is one of many ‘Q*’ codes set up to supposedly simplify communications of which few remain in day to day use. Another that remains in regular aviation use is QSY…

I’m departing Stapleford and I’ve climbed to 1500 ft. My course is taking me towards Southend Aerodrome. As I leave the area in which I may reasonably expect Stapleford to need my information I should choose to change frequency to Southend. So I will call Stapleford and say something along the lines of ‘G-BBIL now clear, request frequency change to 128.95 for Southend’. This tells them where I’m going, that I know what frequency I should use and that I wish to change to that frequency at this point in time. They will normally reply, ‘G-BBIL, Cleared change to on-route frequency’. Note again, no Over or Out – it’s understood that I won’t be talking to them again unless I can’t raise Southend.

Now, it’s often actually OK to just say – ‘Stapleford, G-BBIL request QSY* to 128.95’… And they’ll almost certainly just acknowledge that as an Over and Out 😉 Well, actually a G-IL, cleared to QSY, which amounts to the same thing 🙂

* please look up the Q codes on Wikipedia to save my aching fingers 😉

617 Squadron
617 Squadron Badge (The Dambusters)
Copyright of the Royal Air Force and produced here under fair use guidelines.

Yesterday evening at 21:55 UTC I made contact with Amateur Radio Station GB5DAM in Lincolnshire, next to RAF Scampton. The call-sign of the station recalls Operation Chastise in 1943 and is operated on the night of the 16th/17th of May which is the anniversary of what became known as the Dambusters Raid. It was from Scampton that three formations of Lancaster bombers took off on the raid with the first departing at 21:39. The intention of the raid was to breach three large dams and to flood German industry in the Ruhr region. The dams concerned were the Möhne, Eder and Sorpe, of which the Möhne and Eder were actually breached whilst the Sorpe was slightly damaged.

In our modern world where technology has allowed the production of weapons that can be dropped with a precision of a few metres, the indiscrimate broadbrush tactics commonly used for bombing in the Second World War seem primitive and excessive though it was almost certainly the only possible way to attack at the time. Modern military commanders often refer to a small number of civilian deaths as Collateral Damage. I cannot think of a term to adequately describe the huge numbers of civilian casualties caused by the massed raids of WWII. And, it’s fair to say that, the Dambusters Raid was planned in the full knowledge that it would cause significant loss of civilian life. At the time of the start of the Second World War, the philosophy behind bombing was still entrenched in the 1930’s belief that the bomber would always get through and that taking the war to the opponent’s civilian population would force a rapid end to hostilities as they turned against their own government. That was wearing a little thin by 1943 and of course, the lesson from WWII is that such ideaology was false – civilians, both British and German, bore up under the assault and tried to carry on as normal.

However, looking back to that raid in the early hours of 17th May, we can see the dawning of the idea of precision bombing. The methods used were crude but efforts to provide accurate bombing enabling more precise targetting were rapidly coming on line in 1943. The dams raid was a strange mix of an attack requiring extreme accuracy with an outcome that would be widespread and indiscriminate. I doubt that we will see its like again – the modern military commander is as aware of flak from public opinion as he is of anti-aircraft missiles.

Returning to GB5DAM – The station is operated by the Lincoln Short Wave Club to remember the RAF Aircrew and the German Civilians who lost their lives in the famous raid on the Ruhr Dams of Northern Germany. To quote from their entry on QRZ.com “Sixty Nine years ago tonight we could have stood outside our shack and counted the Lancasters out and back in again next morning.” 40% of the aircrew were lost and over 1600 civilians and pow’s died on the ground. Whatever else we may think about the actions that night there is no doubt that the attack was pressed home bravely. There must certainly be many untold tales of bravery on the ground that night too.

And so to the present morning of 17th May – my first contact just before starting work was with German station DK0YLO. The Young Lady, Mareike, was talking from Sundern – right beside the Sorpe Dam that was attacked on that night 69 years ago. The station was one of several on the air this morning to highlight the mining activities of the area. A number of mines were flooded after the dams were breached but there was no mention of wars, bombing raids or flooding today. Just a friendly Amateur Radio exchange of call-signs, names and signal strengths. The pain of the past has healed over the intervening years just as the dams were repaired in a few short weeks. Whilst Amateur Radio can’t take credit for the present friendly relations enjoyed between British and German people, it is a force for friendly contact between the peoples of the world regardless of race, colour, age, gender or creed.

In the shack
Operating in the Shack in 2008 – photo by Alasdair Addison

You can read a detailed account of Operation chastise , including an analysis of its overall effect on the war, on Wikipedia.

Knowing our male or female partner is often a matter of trust, assumption and love.   Knowing an aircraft partner is more a case of faith and understanding.   I thought you might enjoy a sortie of an unpleasant nature with me on a day when that bond of faith between me and my aeroplane was stretched by circumstances that were not entirely in our control.

I planned out my intended flight in the briefing room as usual.  Checked the weather, looked at the NOTAM’s (notices to Airmen) and filled out the log in preparation for the flight.   I walked out to my charge, a Piper Cherokee of 1966 vintage, and checked the oil, fuel, tyres and other external items that we normally include in a check – aircraft looking good and standing level on the grass.

Firing up the engine went as normal – on this aircraft it usually required 2 attempts.   Then a quick chat to the control tower to seek permission to taxi to the threshold of the active runway – this isn’t a commercial airliner at a major airport… in fact we’re at a grass strip in England.   Clearance given, brakes off and a careful waggle of the controls as we taxi to ensure that all the linkages are working correctly.   Also watching the gauges to ensure that there are no anomallies – low or high temperatures are a bad thing.

At the holding area all the checks are normal and having done the run-up I ask for permission to enter the runway for take-off.   No other traffic to worry about, I get the all clear from the tower.   So I roll the plane onto the runway and check the brakes, temperatures and pressures for the final time while selecting the correct take-off position for the flaps (1st stage on a Cherokee unless runway conditions or length suggest 2 stages).   Lined up and ready to go…

I opened the throttle to full power and we started to rumble down the grass runway –  Rev’s increasing, pressures good.   Nice and straight on the runway.  Looking good…

Ok – so there the dream ended – looking at the dials I suddenly registered that I had no airspeed!   Looking out the window suggested otherwise.   Approaching the centre of the runway the aircraft was already saying ‘lets go fly’ – I had just missed the fact that the airspeed indicator wasn’t working 😦

Big decision time… Do I shut the throttle and slam on the brakes halfway down a runway that slopes downhill from the mid point or do I have faith in what the aeroplane is telling me and take on the climb out to work out how to resolve the issue from up there?   I went with my partner… keep the power on and climb out to join the circuit.   The aircraft wanted to fly – seemed to be the right choice at the time.

Climb out in a general aviation aircraft is pretty straight forward – full throttle and sensible angles of bank.   So, that part is easy.   It’s the turn down wind to parallel the runway that gives time to assess what to do.   Hitting the downwind leg at full throttle is not a good idea – it’s usually designed to be flown at close to or slightly below cruise speed.   This is where knowing my partner really started to pay dividends – she’s a 1966 Cherokee and my experience of flying her as an individual (they aren’t all the same) suggested cruise revs of 2300 so I set that and trimmed the aircraft for level flight.   At this point the airspeed indicator started to creep up to something close to our flying speed but it would have been fatal to trust it.   More important to trust the feel of the aeroplane!

I turned base leg and adjusted the throttle to around 1800 revs to give a rate of descent that I hoped would be around right and hung out the normal 2 stages of flap. (17-1800 revs usually gives about the right rate of descent on this aircraft).    At this point it became a case of ignore the usual instruments, concentrate on the view out of the window and adjust the revs to achieve a good angle of approach whilst feeling what the aircraft was telling me – any hint of a stall and I’d need to crack the power on pretty sharpish!    The old girl did it exactly as I expected her to – we came over the runway threshold slightly high and a little fast but the touchdown was good and the brakes then had 3/4 of the runway to play with.   She was an absolute Gem – looking after me by reacting to my requests everytime.

So what caused the airspeed indicator problem?… Some tiny wasps using the static vent as a nest.   I didn’t need this bit of excitement but I’m glad I shared it with a Lady that I knew 🙂   We had many other adventures in the 500 or so hours that we flew together but none quite as fundamental as that one!

Lessons learnt?  Check the fact that the airspeed is rising very early on the take-off run.  It becomes natural to ignore it because it is one of the least likely things to go wrong but not knowing how fast your aircraft is flying can be fatal – especially if you are un-familiar with the aircraft.

Cherokee G-BBIL
Cherokee G-BBIL