New aircraft, two new destinations

August 24, 2014

After a couple of failed attempts to fly the Citabria due to my not feeling great, I finally arranged a booking when I felt fit to fly, and David was available to join me. Other commitments meant he wouldn’t be able to meet me at Oaksey until around 2pm, but he suggested that perhaps I could collect him from Garston Farm, a farm strip just a few minutes away from his home.

Despite a little trepidation at making my first flight in the Citabria to a completely new airfield, I carried out my research and decided that I should bite the bullet and give it a go. The Garston Farm website contains very detailed procedures for arrival and departure (it lies within the Colerne ATZ and has some noise sensitive areas quite close by) so I studied these and called the owner of the strip for permission to fly in the day before.

The morning dawned with near perfect flying weather (I really must keep flying the Citabria as it always seems to bring me good weather!) and I completed the final planning for a flight from Oaksey to Garston Farm, and then on to Old Sarum for a late lunch, before reversing the route to return. A call to Old Sarum showed that they were parachuting that day, so I studied their procedures for operating when parachute dropping was in place (essentially no Overhead Joins).

Once all the planning was complete, I set off for Oaksey somewhat earlier than required, as I had learned from Sarah that there would be nobody there to help me get the aircraft out of the hangar and refuelled. It was lucky I did this, as I arrived at the usual gate in to Oaksey to find it locked, meaning I had to try to find my way to the other side of the airfield for the first time.

On arrival I popped in to Freedom’s portacabin to drop off my gear, before heading round to the hangar to start checking out the aircraft. It was clear I’d also need to refuel, but helpfully as I completed the A check a chap asked if it would be Ok for him to take some photos of the other aircraft in the hangar. It seemed only fair that in return I ask him for help getting the aircraft out of the hangar and down to the grass surface of the airfield!

Rather than try to push the aircraft across the grass over to the pumps, I started it up for the short taxy. After a little fiddling around with the unfamiliar fuel pump (thankfully helped out by another resident of the airfield who was preparing to fly) I refuelled and started to get my gear settled into the aircraft in readiness for departure.

This was to be my first time flying the aircraft with my Nexus 5 attached to the kneeboard, and prior to the flight I’d been unsure how secure this arrangement would be with the kneeboard strapped to my leg. In actuality it all seemed to fit relatively nicely, so once I was settled I set about getting the engine started again ready for departure.

This was the first time I’d had to start the engine ‘hot’, and I had a lot of trouble getting it going. After three or four tries, with differing power settings, mixture, priming etc., I finally realised that I hadn’t turned the magnetos on! When flying a PA-28 this isn’t usually a separate step, as the key that operates the starter is also used to turn on the mags prior to reaching the position where the starter engages. However, on the Citabria, the master, left and right magnetos are all controlled via individual toggle switches.

Once this was rectified, the aircraft started easily and I set up the radio with the two frequencies required (Oaksey and Colerne) and set the altimeter so that it was indicating the airfield’s elevation (and hence the appropriate QNH setting). I announced that I was taxying to the runway, and once the power checks were completed I entered the runway, pulling forward a few metres to ensure the tailwheel was straight.

Then it was just a matter of applying full power, and ensuring my feet were working on the rudders to track straight down the runway. I was surprised at how easy it was to raise the tail (no rear seat passenger for the first time!) and I was soon climbing away, remembering to turn right slightly to avoid the noise sensitive area just to the West of the runway. Once clear and at a safe height, I turned South to head for my first turning point at RAF Lyneham.

On the way I made a quick call to Kemble to double check their QNH, before again marvelling at the excellent visibility brought about by periods of rain the day before. I don’t know what it is about this aircraft, but so far every time I’ve flown it conditions have been near perfect for flying.

En-route to Lyneham I spotted another aircraft crossing left to right in front of me, and a twin passing quite close below me coming from the opposite direction. I suspect we’d both seen each other quite late, and he’d descended below me as I began the instinctive turn to the right to avoid him.

Once overhead Lyneham, I attempted to make contact with ATC at Colerne in order to get clearance with their ATZ. Colerne operate 5 days a week, switching at some point in the year between operating Monday to Friday and to 5 days including weekends. As such I wasn’t sure whether to expect a response, and in fact received none from my 3 calls to them. Garston Farm have an agreement in place that if there is no response to these three calls aircraft should continue to make ‘Traffic’ calls on frequency.

I passed just to the North of Chippenham, soon spotting Colerne ahead and to the left. Then came the more difficult task of spotting the grass strip at Garston Farm. The local village of Marshfield proved a useful landmark, and I was soon able to pick out the runway and begin my approach. I managed to confuse myself a little and initially begin to establish myself on a Downwind for runway 09 rather than 27, but soon realised my mistake and headed North of the field to correctly establish myself on a Right Hand Downwind leg for 27.

The remainder of the circuit and approach went well, with perhaps a small amount of excess speed as I travelled down Short Final. I rounded out at an appropriate height, but failed to hold off for long enough to bleed off speed, and ended up bouncing gently into the air again as I touched down. Once fully down and under control I was initially a little concerned at how much runway was remaining and considered going around, but the aircraft slowed easily and I was slowed down enough to require only a short backtrack to the taxyway and head to the parking area.

Arriving at Garston Farm

Arriving at Garston Farm

As I parked up it soon became clear I had quite an audience, with David sitting enjoying a cup of tea with a few others waiting my arrival. Sadly a number of those in attendance seemed to be pilots, and gave me an appropriate critique of my landing performance! I resolved to try to do better next time!

It was now past one o’clock, and my stomach was starting to remind me that I’d not yet eaten lunch! After a quick chat and completion of the paperwork, we headed out to the aircraft to get settled for the trip down to Old Sarum. After getting David settled in the back and fully secured in his harness, I climbed on board and set about making preparations to start. This time I remembered to turn on the mags, and the aircraft fired into life easily.

With some advice from David I completed the power checks where I was parked, before heading out to backtrack the runway in readiness for departure, monitoring Colerne’s frequency for any incoming aircraft. David suggested that a ‘backtracking’ call was the done thing, so I made a point to remember that when departing later in the day.

Ready for the off!

Ready for the off!

I taxyed as far down the runway as I could before turning around, ensuring the tailwheel was straight and beginning the takeoff roll. David said it was acceptable to fly through the gap in the trees at the end of the runway, and reminded me about the noise abatement turn required as early as possible after departure. In actuality we were well above the trees before we reached them, and I turned South to set course for Frome, ensuring I would be well clear of the Danger Areas over Salisbury plain.

David pointed out various grass strips on the route, and we passed close by his house. After a few minutes I gave him control, and he flew the remainder of the leg to Frome and around half of the leg from there to Old Sarum. We spotted Longleat Safari Park and the Center Parc village as we headed South, and David even experimented with an orbit before handing back control, to get a feel for the different handling of the Citabria.

As we approached Old Sarum I made contact with them, being informed of the runway in use and pressure setting. As we approached the ATZ the parachute aircraft announced that it was beginning the drop, and the A/G operator informed all aircraft that parachuting procedures were now in place. Unsure as to whether I should continue, I announced that I would hold to the North West of the field, but was told that it was Ok to continue on an extended Downwind join and circuit.

My concerns about the security of the Nexus 7 on my kneeboard proved to be well founded, as it chose this point to fall off onto the floor, dragging a load of my PLOGs with it. A extracted a handful of paper from the floor and handed it back to David, but was unable to immediately locate the tablet. David had a quick check around to make sure it hadn’t fallen near any of the flight controls, and I tried to put it out of my mind for the rest of the circuit.

Downwind at Old Sarum

Downwind at Old Sarum

As we proceeded Downwind I carried out the before landing checks, and a microlight also announced Downwind behind us. I spotted him as we turned Base, and was a little unsure as to whether I could continue or not, particularly when he turned inside us. I continued the approach, and the microlight announce ‘Final’ for a touch and go. He seemed very high given his current position, but made a steep approach and carried out the touch and go in good time for us to be able to continue.

Mindful of making a good first impression, I paid close attention to my approach speed, bleeding off speed nicely in the latter part of Short Final, and managing a good prolonged hold-off to a very gentle landing. We slowed easily without any use of the brakes, and I queried as to where I should park. I initially picked a gap between two aircraft that turned out to be a bit narrower than I’d originally thought, before eventually choosing a place a little further up.

Short Final at Old Sarum

Short Final at Old Sarum

We extracted ourselves from the aircraft (finding the Nexus in the process!), and I tied the control column back using the lap belts of the 5 point harness before walking in for some well earned lunch! David opted for a slice of cake, and as usual I opted for a sausage sandwich. We chatted about all things flying (David had taken a trip to the Scilly Isles the day before), before returning to the aircraft once we were fed and watered.

Parked up at Old Sarum

Parked up at Old Sarum

After a quick walk around and check of the fuel, we got settled in and began preparations for the return leg. I made doubly sure that the tablet was secure in the kneeboard clip, and we started up and headed to the runway threshold for power checks. As I carried these out a 3-axis microlight approached, and announced he was taking to the runway for a ‘fast taxy’. David and I were unsure what he meant exactly, but it looked like he might have been practicing rejected takeoffs or engine failures just after rotation. We saw him clear the runway as I completed the checks, and I turned to face the opposite direction to get a good look down Final before taking to the runway and departing.

While leaving the ATZ we both kept a lookout for another aircraft that had reported inbound from the general direction we were heading, and David spotted him significantly below us to the left. The return leg to Garston Farm was generally routine, giving David and I plenty of opportunity to enjoy the view and discuss the near-perfect weather conditions.

Climbing out over the Hill Fort at Old Sarum

Climbing out over the Hill Fort at Old Sarum

I made the required 3 calls to Colerne as we approached, receiving no response as expected, before continuing to join Downwind at Garston Farm while making appropriate ‘traffic’ calls on the Colerne frequency. Again the circuit was relatively straightforward, and I brought is in for a slightly low approach into Garston Farm, leading to a very nice landing to end David’s first taildragger experience! We parked up and chatted for a while in the nicely outfitted caravan while David had a cup of tea, before bidding our farewells. David headed to his car while I headed back to the Citabria for my own ‘commute’ home.

Short Final into Garston Farm

Short Final into Garston Farm

Stunning visibility

Stunning visibility

The aircraft started easily, and I backtracked the runway before departing. Once airborne I made sure to turn left in good time, before completing a wide circuit to avoid the village and head back towards Lyneham. In the excellent visibility it was easy to spot, and as I turned North I made a call to Kemble to check their QNH again. Oaksey soon came into view, and I set up to join Downwind. Initially the windsock seemed to indicate a slight tailwind on 22, but I decided to continue the circuit and check it on Final approach.

I was set up nicely on profile as I turned Base and Final, and the windsock appeared to have shifted to almost directly down the runway. Mindful of my recent poor landings at Oaksey I made a point of not rounding out too high, and managed to bring off a nice landing to end the day. The strip owner’s Jet Ranger was parked on the grass meaning I wasn’t sure I could get past, so I backtracked the runway before taxying up towards the hangar and shutting the aircraft down.

There didn’t seem to be anybody around to help, so I opened the hangar doors and carefully steered the aircraft back into the hangar, before heading into the office to complete the tech log (4 legs!) and heading for home.

Tracks flown

Tracks flown

Leg 1 profile

Leg 1 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 3 profile

Leg 3 profile

Leg 4 profile

Leg 4 profile

Yet again I’d had an excellent day’s flying in the Citabria. For my first ‘solo’ trip, it had gone incredibly well, and I’d even managed to add two new airfields to the logbook. I’d also managed to make good use of an aircraft as a means of transport for perhaps the first time, collecting David from an airfield local to him to avoid him having to make a one hour plus drive to join me. May there be many more successful trips like this one!

Total flight time today: 2:20
Total flight time to date: 250:35

Tailwheel circuit practice

August 3, 2014

Despite being signed off by Dave after my last flight in the Citabria, I wasn’t feeling comfortable flying it solo, particularly due to the fact I don’t think I made a single ‘good’ landing at Oaksey while flying the aircraft!

Hoping to take David for a flight the next weekend, I booked a refresher session with Dave to try to get a bit more practice in a crosswind, and hopefully start to feel more comfortable landing the aircraft.

The weather was near perfect again (perhaps I should keep flying the Citabria if it makes the weather Gods so favourable!), and I arrived at Oaksey in good time as usual. Dave was running a little late due to a previous flight at Kemble, so I made good use of the time reading through the POH for the Citabria. In reality there’s not a huge amount in there, as it’s a pretty basic aircraft!

Dave walked me through the things to check on the aircraft for the ‘A’ check. After taking a fuel sample from below the aircraft, the drain continued to drip, so I helped him remove the drain and clear out a small particle of dirt from the seal, both of us getting a liberal coating of Avgas in the process! There was plenty of fuel in the aircraft, and after arranging for a a piece of farm equipment to be moved out of the way, we rolled the aircraft down onto the grass to get ready for the flight.

I took my time arranging everything in the cockpit before jumping in and starting to fasten the five point harness. Dave squeezed into the back, and we were ready to go. The engine started easily, and we taxyed towards the threshold of runway 22, favoured by an almost perfect headwind today On the way I realised I hadn’t strapped the kneeboard to my leg, so after failing to do it while taying I gave up until we were in position for the power checks.

After getting the kneeboard secure and completing the power checks, we heard another aircraft announcing ‘Downwind’. With plenty of time to get airborne before we would affect his landing we took to the active runway, Dave spotting him as we lined up. I ensured the tailwheel was straight, before applying full power and starting the takeoff roll.

I was a little sluggish getting my feet moving as I brought the tail up, but soon corrected this and made a fair takeoff for my first attempt of the day. We had planned to initially make a standard landing back at Oaksey (taking advantage of the favourable wind) before heading to Kemble for more circuits (Dave had already flown from there and knew that there was more of a crosswind component than at Oaksey).

The circuit was normal, although as usual I was high on Base and Final. The excess height was easily lost with a sideslip, and I brought us in for an acceptable landing at Oaksey, my first in this aircraft! Once under control, we taxyed back to the threshold and made ready to depart for Kemble.

This takeoff was much better, and we climbed away from Oaksey to the West, changing to Kemble’s frequency and setting their QFE in readiness for joining the circuit. Things were relatively quiet at Kemble, but as we joined we were warned of an inbound ‘non-radio’ aircraft due in the next half hour or so. It later transpired that this was one of Freedom’s Warriors, returning from an aborted flight to the Isle of Wight with total electric failure.

The circuit pattern at Kemble is fairly familiar to me now, and I followed the noise abatement circuit without any issue. As usual I was high on Base and Final, meaning I had more work than was ideal to get set up for the landing. As a result, the first landing attempt was pretty poor, as I approached with too much airspeed and failed to hold off for sufficient time to bleed it off. As a result, the touchdown was accompanied by a predictable bounce, and I immediately took the decision to go around for another try.

The second circuit was much better, although again I was high and slightly fast on Final. I did bring us in for an acceptable (although far from perfect) landing, although neglected to maintain the into-wind aileron required to keep straight on the runway during the roll out.

I flew a total of 10 circuits at Kemble. On one we were following another aircraft Downwind, who appeared to be flying a circuit that seemed half way to Lyneham! I extended Downwind to follow him on Base, announcing this fact to the FISO in the process in order that everyone else knew what I was doing. On another takeoff from the grass we followed an aircraft departing from the hard runway into the circuit, and he continued to the West for several miles before turning Crosswind. Again, I announced I was turning ‘inside the aircraft a couple of miles to the West’ just to ensure people knew what I was doing.

The landings gradually got better, and another bounce triggered a go around (although Dave commented that he felt I could have rescued that particular landing). The majority of problems with the landings were caused by me failing to hold off for a sufficient amount of time. In the Citabria, you really need to be flying level along the runway with the stall warner sounding for a good 5 or 10 seconds before you have bled off enough speed to land and stay down.

The non-radio Freedom Warrior arrived and landed safely (it later transpired the pilot had neglected to turn on the alternator switch, which in this particular aircraft is separate and in a different place to the master on most of the other Warriors). I also saw Sean joining from his flight to Shobdon, and followed him around the circuit, landing on the grass shortly after he landed on the hard runway.

I realised that a lot of the issues were due to me continuing to be too high on Base and Final, so made a point of reducing the power and descending before making the turn onto Base. I carried out two circuits using this method, the first producing a much better landing, and the second leading to Dave finally exclaiming ‘Clucking Bell, Andy Hawkins finally makes a decent landing!’ :) He didn’t use those exact words, but the two he used at the start of the sentence did rhyme with what I’ve put there!

The last circuit at Kemble saw me high on Final again, but I took care to get down to an appropriate profile and speed long before needing to transition to the landing phase, and this again led to a fairly decent landing. Deciding I’d now had enough, we headed back to Oaksey to see if I could continue my recent form and make a decent approach and landing there. We joined Crosswind at circuit height, and as usual ended up a little high on Final. Armed with my new found knowledge, I made sure the height was lost in plenty of  time, and brought us in for an acceptable landing at Oaksey, rounding out a few feet too high leading to a firmer than ideal landing.

I think the reason for rounding out too high is the difference between the width of Oaksey and Kemble. Oaksey’s runway is a lot wider, leading to the illusion that you are closer to it than you actually are. Hopefully if I continue to fly from Oaksey I’ll get more used to the correct ‘picture’, and be able to make more acceptable landings there.

As we taxyed back towards the Citabria’s hangar, a party was in progress at the club house at Oaksey. A number of cars had been parked such that it wasn’t immediately clear if we could taxy past them, so we shut down on the grass and Dave asked some of the owners to move the cars a few feet forwards to give us room. We pulled the aircraft up into the hangar once there was sufficient room, and pushed it back into its parking place.

Track flown

Track flown

Flight profile

Flight profile

Dave and I chatted for a while about the flight, with Dave announcing that he was happy for me to hire the aircraft based on my performance today. Although some of my landings had been far from perfect, they had all been acceptable, and I’d also shown good decision making in terms of going around from the two that caused ended up with a bounce.

Yet again I’d had a near perfect day for flying in the Citabria. I now have it booked for a flight with David next weekend, so hopefully the weather will co-operate and we’ll be able to make the flight.

Total flight time today: 1:35
Total flight time to date: 248:15

Tailwheel Signoff

July 6, 2014

After making good progress yesterday, I was keen to strike while the iron was hot and continue with the tailwheel training. The weather forecast was again good, so I booked another session with Dave in the afternoon. Dave returned slightly late from his previous flight, but I chatted with Sarah and Mark’s other half Naomi while waiting. The weather was perfect again, and Oaksey is a nice place to spend idle moments.

There was a threat of showers in the forecast, but Dave returned and told us that while there were a few areas of threatening cloud around, they were all easy to spot and avoid. We both got settled into the Citabria after a short briefing, and Dave called Kemble to book in for circuits while I prepared to get the engine started. We taxyed down to the start of runway 22, and after completing power checks (managing to avoid pulling the mixture this time!) we lined up and began the take off roll.

Take off was fairly straightforward, and we immediately set course for Kemble, signing on with them as we climbed to an appropriate height for the overhead join. We joined the circuit and made ready to continue where we left off yesterday. The first circuit went well, and we established nicely on Final in readiness for the first landing. The final stages of the landing went almost perfectly, and we touched down gently on Kemble’s grass runway. However, after that things went a little awry, as I somehow forgot that in this aircraft you really need to use your feet after landing!

We got things under control, with Dave giving me praise for the landing and a bit of a telling off for the roll out! Backtracking for the next circuit I made a mental note to keep awake once the initial part of the landing was complete!

The next few circuits and landings went generally well. I made the decision to go around on one circuit after rounding out a little high, and finding myself running out of energy while still several feet above the runway. Dave commented that he was glad to see me make the decision and demonstrate a low-level go around, but thought that I probably could have rescued the landing. The next circuit I proved that I could, after again making a slightly unstable approach but taking appropriate action during the round out phase, and touching down nicely on the runway.

On one of the circuits the wind given by the FISO was in clear contradiction with what the windsock was showing. The windsock indicated a near perfect headwind, but the FISO had given something like a 45 degree crosswind figure. Dave questioned this, and the FISO clarified that the wind figure he’d given was an average wind, the instantaneous wind was actually as being shown by the wind sock.

Dave announced he was happy with what he’d seen, and suggested we then make a few circuits to land on the hard runway. Landing on grass in a taildragger can help to ‘flatter’ a poor landing, but on a hard runway it was important to get the landing right, and take an early decision to go around should any bounce occur during landing.

During this phase of the flight, a big black cloud arrived overhead and started to deposit rain on us and the airfield. Another aircraft approached to land, but opted to hold off until the shower had passed. We were joined by a PA28 flying circuits, and this led to a fairly concerning chain of events on the next circuit.

As I continued Downwind (on the correct noise-abatement circuit for Kemble), Dave spotted an aircraft ahead of us and well out to our right, approaching the airfield looking like it was going to make a Base leg join. As we kept an eye on him, I eventually decided to leave the circuit as it wasn’t clear as to what exactly he was doing. We announced this to the FISO, and he suggested that the aircraft we might be seeing was the other aircraft in the circuit on a recently announced Base leg. This turned out to be the case, although the circuit he was flying probably put him on the South side of Oaksey on the Downwind leg! I slotted in behind him and slowed down in order to gain sufficient spacing.

There was some doubt as to whether I had left enough space, as it looked like he might not clear the runway before I needed to land. I announced ‘Final’ at the appropriate place, leading the FISO to respond ‘expect runway occupied’. Dave commented that he probably wouldn’t have bothered making the ‘Final’ call when I did, as it left the FISO with nothing to do other than to advise us to expect to have to go around. In hindsight I should have just continued the approach, announcing ‘Final’ or ‘Short Final’ once it was clear the aircraft ahead had cleared the runway in time.

The landings on the hard runway continued to be good, and I dealt relatively well with the more difficult handling on the ground caused by the change in surface. On each successive circuit we continued on the appropriate track, as the PA28 continued to fly incredibly wide Downwind legs. Luckily for us he was flying that bit faster than us, so we always had plenty of separation despite flying a much shorter circuit.

After completing a couple of circuits on the hard runway, Dave announced he was happy with what he had seen, and that we should head back to Oaksey. He dropped a bit of a bombshell on me in announcing that if I made a good landing at Oaksey, he would hop out and allow me to carry out a solo circuit!

As we approached Oaksey, it became clear that the wind there was less favourable than it had been at Kemble, showing an almost 90 degree crosswind. The circuit and approach went relatively well, but on Final Dave commented from the back that we seemed ‘a bit fast’. For some reason I was flying down Final at 100 mph, well above the usual figure of 90, slowing to 80 and less as we approached the runway. I think I probably should have made an early decision to go around, as it became difficult to lose the extra energy, and we ended up with excess speed as I rounded out.

Oaksey’s runway is plenty long though, so I elected to continue, making a mental decision to go around if the initial touchdown wasn’t a good one. The landing was generally Ok, but I neglected to make sufficient compensation for the crosswind on the rollout, leading to a fraught few seconds until I got us under control.

This obviously (and quite rightly!) gave Dave cause for concern, and he suggested we try another one before I considered going solo. We took off on 22, and Dave suggested we try a landing on 35, which was more appropriate given the wind. However, runway 35 at Oaksey has a house close to it, about half way down, and I’d never landed on it before. The abbreviated circuit and approach all went well, and I made a passable landing, but again the rollout wasn’t particularly good.

We had a final go on 22, making another circuit and coming in for another landing with a fairly strong crosswind. I think to be honest the pressure of potentially going solo and also the fact that I’d spent the last hour and a half making numerous landings had probably pushed me over the edge. The final landing again wasn’t particularly good, so Dave suggested we called it a day there.

We taxyed back and parked the aircraft outside the Club house, and Dave announced that he was happy to sign me off, but that I should come back for some more crosswind circuits and landings before flying in similar conditions myself. He was happy for me to fly the aircraft solo should the wind conditions favor runway 22 at Oaksey however.


Track flown

Track flown

Flight profile

Flight profile

We headed back into the office, and Dave updated my logbook with the sign off for tailwheel aircraft (to join those for variable pitch propeller and retractable gear). I settled up my account, and headed home pleased with my achievement, but slightly frustrated at my failure to make some good landings back at Oaksey and hence go solo. Still, I’d had an excellent day’s flying, and really felt that (until the end!) I’d got to grips with the peculiarities of operating a tailwheel aircraft. Hopefully with another short session I can nail crosswind landings too, and start to make some good flights in this lovely aircraft.

Now signed off to fly this beauty!

Now signed off to fly this beauty!

Total flight time today: 1:35
Total flight time to date: 246:40


More tailwheel, and some aeros

July 5, 2014

Keen to make progress on the tailwheel rating, I had booked a flight for the Saturday after my first flight. The weather on the day seemed pretty miserable, but a quick check of the TAFs suggested an improvement in conditions in the afternoon. As lunchtime arrived this seemed to be happening, so I headed off to Oaksey to meet Dave for a flight putting me back in the circuit.

After a quick brief of the peculiarities of taking off and landing in a taildragger, we headed out to the aircraft. Things didn’t start well when I pulled the mixture instead of carb heat during power checks, leading to it all going quiet up front. As Dave said, if there’s anywhere to make that kind of mistake, this was it!

Dave carried out the first takeoff and landing with me following through on the controls. We then taxyed back and it was my turn. The takeoff went generally well, with some coaching from the back from Dave. The initial difference in footwork required was obvious, particularly once the tail was raised early on in the takeoff roll. Generally it was fairly uneventful though, and we took to the skies for a circuit.

Once airborne, it was clear that conditions were almost perfect for flying. The scattered clouds we all well above 3000 or 4000 feet, and the visibility after the recent rain was spectacular. It was truly a joy to be flying in such perfect conditions.

The circuit went relatively well, as I gradually refreshed my memory of the rudder inputs required when flying the Citabria. Base and Final saw me slightly high, but a quick adjustment to the throttle sorted that out, and I brought us in for the landing. Surprisingly, it couldn’t have gone much better, as I rounded us out and flew us along the runway with the stall warner blaring, before we touched down and rolled out. Initially my footwork on the landing roll wasn’t quite up to scratch, but I soon got it sorted and we slowed down, before again was caught out by not making progressively larger rudder inputs as the effectiveness of the rudder decreased. To cap it all, I began to turn off the runway while travelling too fast, leading to a further reminder from Dave not to make turns in this aircraft until slowed down to a walking pace.

We refueled before heading back to the threshold to carry out some more circuits at Kemble. This takeoff again was normal, and I called Kemble to get their information while climbing to 2000 feet for an Overhead join. There was another aircraft operating in the circuit and one other joining. We slotted in nicely with the aircraft in the circuit, and the other joining aircraft slotted in behind us.

Again, the first landing went pretty well at Kemble, helpfully the wind at the airfield was straight down the runway, although stronger than it had appeared at Oaksey at some 16 or 16 knots. We backtracked at Kemble, and continued for a total of 6 landings at Kemble. The first few were pretty good, but the remainder all had some issues. These amounted to:

  • Touching down with excess speed, leading to a bounce and Dave taking control to go around
  • Rounding out too late, effectively flying straight onto the runway
  • Approaching slightly slow, then after recovering this not closing the throttle correctly, using up a lot more runway than was necessary
  • Not losing enough height on Base and Final, needing some side-slipping to get back down to the correct profile

In general, all the work on the ground was Ok, my footwork gradually improving over the course of the session. None of the ‘problem’ landings were too drastic, and in some ways it was good to be experiencing some problems as otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to learn how to correctly deal with them with Dave’s experience in the back to rescue me should it be required.

For a few of the circuits we flew with the window open, the pleasant breeze helping cool things down on a hot day. This gave me something else to be aware of, as the maximum operating speed with the window open is 90 mph, below the normal circuit speed of 100 mph.

Once complete at Kemble, Dave asked me if I wanted to try a few ‘gentle’ aeros. After a brief thought I agreed, and we departed to the South to find some clearer airspace. Dave demonstrated a loop initially, and I was caught slightly by surprise by the amount of ‘g’ in the initial pull up into the loop. The remainder of the loop was fine though, and I didn’t feel any immediate after effects despite it being my first experience of aeros.

Now it was my turn. Dave talked me through the initial one, operating the throttle for me. I was a little too ‘gentle’ on the controls, both in the initial dive to gain airspeed and the pull up into the loop. We made it around though, and after a turn to the North I carried out another in full control that went much better.

Finally Dave offered the chance to experience a spin. Spinning was something I’d always said I would go and do soon after gaining my PPL, so that at least I would know what to expect should I inadvertently find myself in one while flying. Dave explained what he was going to do, and put us into a 5 or 6 turn spin before recovering. The few was definitely disorienting, but wasn’t quite what I’d expected. I’d expected the spin to be more ‘flat’, when in fact it appeared that the aircraft was actually in a very tight spiral dive. I’ll probably try to get some more experience of them on future flights including some recoveries myself.

Both Dave and I took a moment to reorient ourselves, with the lakes in Cotswold Water Park being the first landmark to stand out, making it easy to locate Kemble and then Oaksey. We signed off with Kemble and joined at Oaksey on a high Downwind leg. I was initially expecting to find it difficult to get down to circuit height in time, but in fact the descent down to the runway was fairly constant and put us on an appropriate profile to land.

The last landing at Oaksey went fairly well, and after we put the aircraft away Dave announced he was happy with the progress we’d made. I’ve booked another flight for tomorrow, so hopefully we can continue the good progress.

Track flown

Track flown



(Not sure what happened to the GPS track. It appears that it recorded the entire track, but stopped recording altitude information sometime after the first loop)

It was a real pleasure flying today. The conditions couldn’t have been more perfect, and flying such a nice, responsive aircraft (at times with the window open and a pleasant draft keeping us cool!) was really enjoyable. Also, I’ve finally experienced some basic aerobatic maneuvers to boot!

Total flight time today: 1:30
Total flight time to date: 245:05


June 29, 2014

One of the additions pilots can add to their license is a tailwheel signoff. This allows flight in aircraft with ‘traditional’ undercarriage (two under the wings, one under the tail) as opposed to the more common (now) tricycle undercarriage (two under the wings, one under the nose) that are generally used for training. Tailwheel aircraft often demand more pilot input (particularly on the rudder) during takeoff and landing, so a new set of skills need to be learned as a result.

Freedom Aviation have recently acquired a Champion Citabria, an aircraft which is suitable for tailwheel training, with the additional benefit of being approved for aerobatics (something else which I’ve been promising myself some experience in). Always eager to continue to extend my flying experiences, I arranged a flight with Dave on Saturday. Sadly Saturday’s weather was very unpredictable so the flight was cancelled and moved to the Sunday. Almost ideal flying weather meant a perfect opportunity to get the whole family down to Oaksey Park Airfield for the afternoon, with Luned and Catrin playing in the sun and enjoying a picnic while I had some fun of a different kind!

I arrived (as ever) in good time, and chatted with Sarah as we waited for Dave to return from his previous flight. He soon arrived, and we had a quick chat about what he intended to cover in today’s flight. One characteristics of a typical training aircraft is that they tend to be relatively docile and stable, and easy to fly. As such it is easy to be lulled into bad habits when these are the only type you’ve ever flown (as I have). One principle difference is that for typical flying, the rudder in a PA28 can often be ignored, whereas in other aircraft it’s a key flight control that needs careful attention.

This is the case in the Citabria, so Dave proposed that the first flight should primarily be spent ‘getting used’ to the different aircraft without even worrying about takeoff and landing. We’d concentrate initially on turns, learning the rudder inputs required for this aircraft. Assuming I was getting the hang of it, we would then move on to steeper turns, perhaps culminating with some practice approaches and maybe even a landing or two.

The difference between passenger comfort in the PA28 and Citabria can easily be compared with Mondeo and Westfield. As such, getting into the Citabria and getting settled can easily require the sort of contortions I’m well used to from having owned a couple of Westfields in the past. Dave and I are both pretty tall, and after I got settled in the front he squeezed himself into the back and we started the rigmarole of fitting the 5 point harnesses (again, something that was reminiscent of Westfield ownership!).

Safely onboard

Safely onboard

Now Dave's turn!

Now Dave’s turn!

After a bit of fiddling with the cable for my headset (helpfully fitted with a clip that could attach it out of the way on a convenient plate above my head to the left) and a brief look over the checklist (which only contains two procedures at present!) we set about starting the engine. Despite needing three hands, this was a relatively simple procedure, and the engine started without too much coaxing. We took advantage of the lack of other aircraft in the ground to taxy around a bit, getting used to the ground handling of the aircraft. In general, it was relatively easy to manoeuvre on the ground, but definitely noticeable that the steering was a lot less ‘direct’ that what I’m used to in the PA28. Also, it was apparent that turning into wind was a lot more difficult than turning away from it.

Taxy practice

Taxy practice

After a few turns using the brakes (leading to a very tight turning circle indeed) we taxyed to the start of runway 04 in readiness to depart. Dave talked me through the takeoff, before taking us to the air with me following him through on the controls. The climb rate in the Citabria didn’t seem sparkling, and for the first time I was aware of just how close to the airfield the Electricity Cables are on the Eastern side (having previously only ever approached over them, rather than departed towards them).



Once clear of the cables, I took control and started to get a feel for the aircraft. Everything Dave had told me proved accurate, the aircraft needing a lot more rudder input when rolling into or out of the turn. Also, the lack of a rudder trim meant that a small amount of pressure was always required to keep the aircraft in balance. Also, Dave had warned me about a tendency for PA28 pilots to climb the aircraft when attempting to fly level, due to the fact that the horizon is in fact about half way up the windscreen, rather than 2 or 3 inches above the coaming as I’d previously been used to.

Attempting to level off at 2500 feet soon had me up near 3000, but I brought us back down and concentrated on getting the right attitude to maintain altitude, getting the trim sorted while doing so. I experimented a little with the trim control (that Dave had warned me was likely to be a lot more sensitive than what I’m used to), and we moved on to more practice with turns. I still had a tendency to be wallowing around the sky out of balance, but as the session progressed I started to get more of a hang of things. We gradually increased the angle of bank, including reversing from right bank to left (and vice-versa) to continue to build up a feel for the controls.

We weren’t paying too much attention to navigation, using large features like Lyneham and the surrounding towns to fix our bearings. We moved on to a couple of stalls, with the first being a particular none-event due to me not being ‘aggressive’ enough with the control inputs. After some urging from Dave, I made a point of trying to get into a deeper stall, and managed to get the aircraft nodding nicely, with the occasional break from level flight too. The nose attitude and airspeed clues were obvious, so it’d be difficult to get into a stall such as this during a normal flight, but it’s always good to have a feel for how the aircraft feels in slow flight and close to the stall. We didn’t move on to stalls in the landing configuration, as due to a lack of flaps, the Citabria is always in the landing configuration!

I experimented with the fresh air vents ahead of me, as I was starting to feel the heat in the relatively open cockpit. This prompted an encouraging comment from Dave in the rear, he’d obviously been having the same thoughts in the back! Dave urged me to try some steep turns. I did one initially to the right at something like 60 degrees of bank, before further urging put me into a left turn approaching 90 degrees of bank, with further prompting from the back seat to pull back on the stick and experience some ‘real’ G (I think the G meter got as high as 2 G at one point!). The aircraft handled really nicely during this, so I can see that I might have to try some real aeros in it with Dave at some point in the future.

Dave had me practice a couple of glide approaches into a field. As was customary with my PFLs, the first attempt had me significantly high. The difference here was that I had no flaps to help me lose height, but a side-slip would have been a good alternative for losing height without picking up too much airspeed. After climbing away I tried another, and would almost certainly have made the field we chose this time. One thing I did find relatively straightforward was getting the aircraft trimmed for the glide, getting the sense that I had a much better feel for the trim in this aircraft than I often do in a PA28 (or perhaps it was just beginners luck!).

We headed up towards South Cerney, listening in to Kemble to get a feel for the wind direction. Typically it was almost exactly 90 degrees across Cerney’s runway, meaning that approaches into either end would be relatively difficult. Dave had me make 3 approaches in alternating directions, demonstrating on one of them what can happen if you end up too high and how difficult it is to lose height without consequently gaining too much airspeed to be able to actually complete a landing. On the third approach he had me try a full side-slip (taking care to ensure I kept the nose down, as this is a ‘pro-spin’ control input, and being aerobatic this aircraft is certainly capable of spinning!). This demonstrated how height could be lost if necessary, and we transitioned nicely into a low-level approach over the airfield, flying along the runway again just a few feet off the ground.

We’d now been airborne for close to an hour, so decided to call it a day for this flight. The plan was for Dave to demonstrate a landing at Oaksey, then for us to position for another takeoff and landing with me at the controls. As we positioned at Oaksey, the two windsocks seemed to be pointing in different directions, indicating a tailwind for both runways! We initially positioned on a Right Downwind for 04, before changing our minds part way down the Downwind leg and reversing course to put us on a Left Downwind for 22. Dave brought us in over the cables, as the windsock again seemed to change direction, this time indicating a distinct tailwind on 22!

First landing attempt on 22

First landing attempt on 22

Dave brought us down for a low approach, before deciding that discretion was the better part of valour as the runway disappeared below us. We received a cheery wave from Luned as we passed (she probably assumed it was me that had made a mess of the landing!), and Dave climbed us away to position for a more appropriate landing on Oaksey’s runway 35 (which rather helpfully has a house right near the runway about half way down!). There was a slight comedy moment caused by the fore and aft seating configuration in the Citabria, in which neither of us were actually flying! I eventually asked Dave “Who’s flying now?” and he chuckled before (correctly) announcing ‘You have control’ and I took over and set us up for an approach to 35.

The approach is quite low over the woods to the South of the airfield, and I brought us down over the trees before handing back control to Dave at a few hundred feet. Dave demonstrated a perfectly adequate landing from the rear seat, despite being unable to see the altimeter, airspeed indicator or even get a good view of the runway ahead of us due to my big head being in the way!

Dave landing on 35

Dave landing on 35

Once under control, Dave handed back control to me, and I taxyed us back to their hangar before we shut down and pushed the aircraft back in to the hangar.

Taxying back

Taxying back

Dave announced he was happy with my progress on the flight, it was just unfortunate that the wind conditions on the day weren’t really conducive to getting in some takeoff and landing practice. I’ve booked another session for next weekend, so hopefully conditions will be a bit more favourable and we can continue to make good progress.

Total flight time today: 1:30
Total flight time to date: 243:40

Returning an Arrow to Nottingham

June 1, 2014

Eager to continue the good run of flying (and with a few busy weekends coming up), I was keen to try and fly this weekend. The weather forecast was very unpredictable leading up to the weekend, but Saturday morning’s TAFs suggested good flying weather for Sunday. They continued to be favourable throughout the day, until Sunday dawned bright and clear, with a little mist and haze that was promised to burn away without any trouble.

The destination for this flight was to be Nottingham, one of the stops on a multi-leg flight I did solo last year. Luned and Catrin were to accompany me, with Catrin excited to be wearing a ‘grown up’ headset for the first time after her issues transmitting on our last flight together. As usual, the majority of the planning was completed the night before the flight, with a final check of weather and NOTAMs the next morning, including marking up the chart for the route.

The only slight fly in the ointment was being unable to raise anyone on the phone at Nottingham itself. In the end I chose the second option on their voice menu, to speak to someone in the resident flying school. The helpful chap who answered informed me that the airfield staff themselves didn’t start work until 10 (I assumed it was 9) and offered to take my details to pass on to them. I thanked him and declined, opting to phone once we were at Kemble to hear things from the horses mouth so to speak.

The call gave no cause for concern, so while Catrin amused herself on the office PC I headed out to the aircraft to carry out the A check and load up all our gear. The check didn’t throw up any items of concern, so after the usual comfort break we all boarded the aircraft in readiness for the flight. Catrin was again in the back by herself, with Luned up front alongside me. This time the engine started more easily than on the last flight, and after programming the 430 twice (I managed to convince it I had inserted a data card while changing frequencies, so it powered itself down!) we taxyed to the hold for the power checks.

Checks completed normally, we took to the runway immediately after calling ready. The frequency was busy for a short while as someone with somewhat suspect RT made a rambling initial call on the frequency, but we were soon cleared to depart and began the takeoff roll. Departure was normal and routine in the calm wind, and I continued the climb on the Downwind leg before setting course to the North East to the disused airfield at Chedworth.

After a brief level off to check for other traffic, I continued the climb to our cruising altitude of 3000 feet before setting course direct for DTY once we reached Chedworth. I made ready to call Brize for a Basic Service, but had to wait for a short while as they handled other aircraft on frequency. We were largely ignored by them as we continued on our route, but we spotted a number of other aircraft passing by, generally at different heights to us. As we approached Banbury (where I would normally sign off with Brize) I caught the end of a transmission informing an aircraft to change frequency. It made sense that it would be for us, so I asked the Controller to repeat the message, and it did turn out to be instructions to select a VFR squawk and change to our next en-route frequency.

AeroExpo was in progress at Sywell on the day of the flight, so I had Luned keep a good look out in that direction as we passed by. Knowing the the DTY VOR was likely to be used by other pilots heading towards Sywell, I flew a 5 DME arc clockwise around it to intercept our outbound course to the North. After listening briefly to Sywell, I changed frequency to Bruntingthorpe to monitor their frequency, as I had planned to use the airfield as the next turning point on our route.

The remainder of the route was destined to be quite busy, as we passed close by Leicester airfield before attempting to negotiate a transit of East Midlands Controlled Airspace on the way to Nottingham (Nottingham was the other side of a portion of airspace that came down to 1500 feet, so I didn’t really want to have to pass under this at low level). We monitored Leicester’s frequency for a while (to find them fairly quiet) before calling East Midlands as we reached the City of Leicester to negotiate the transit.

There was a NOTAM regarding the introduction of electronic flight strips at East Midlands, asking GA pilots not to use them for LARS services during the transition period. Half expecting to be refused the transit, I made the initial call and was very quickly given clearance to transit not above 3000 feet. This took the pressure off somewhat, meaning I just had to monitor our progress (and remain on track!) before deciding when to begin the descent into Nottingham.

As we neared the end of the 1500 foot section of their airspace, I informed the Controller that I was descending to 2000 feet in readiness for the approach into Nottingham. After making this transmission I was a little unsure as to whether I should actually have asked for a descent (although my clearance was for ‘not above 3000 feet’, so I was still complying with this). In fact, the Controller simply responded that he was happy for me to switch to Nottingham’s frequency now, which again meant that I didn’t have to complete the arrival calls in too much of a rush.

Nottingham had an aircraft departing as we approached the overhead, and I set us up for an Overhead Join for their runway 27 (for a change aproaching in an appropriate direction to join their Left Hand circuit!). The descent on the Deadside was normal, and I concentrated on avoiding the villages in the local area that are marked on their noise-abatement circuit diagrams. My Downwind leg was a little untidy (being nowhere near parallel to the runway) but the final approach to the airfield went well, and I brought us in for a nice landing on their main runway. The turnoff was at the far end, and I headed to the pumps to fill the aircraft with fuel for the return journey.

Short Final for 27 at Nottingham

Short Final for 27 at Nottingham

Luned and Catrin headed ‘landside’ (having to climb a fence due to a locked gate to stop children getting airside!) as the Arrow was refuelled and I moved it into a parking space (having the one I was initially intending to use ‘stolen’ by a recent arrival”). We then all headed inside, where Catrin played with some of the toys as we waited for our lunch to arrive. There appeared to be a child’s Birthday Party in progress too, so Catrin had plenty of other children to mingle with as we waited.

Parked up at Nottingham

Parked up at Nottingham

There was a slight mix up with our food order (Luned ending up with a cheese and onion sandwich, rather than the cheese and onion toasty I had ordered) but we had a pleasant lunch, and Catrin was rewarded with a bubble-gum flavoured ice lolly once she had finished. While we ate, a rather noisy aircraft could be heard arriving, and I headed outside to watch a rather nice Beech 200 reposition itself to the parking area. Maybe one day!

A man can dream...

A man can dream…

After a bit of negotiation, it was agreed that I would head back to the aircraft to check it over, with Luned and Catrin following on behind me after a bit of a play outside. Catrin had other ideas it seemed, but was soon ‘persuaded’ to head back to the aircraft for the journey home. Again the aircraft started easily (for the third time that day!) and we taxyed towards the holding point for the power checks.

Checks completed, I lined up at the hold after an other aircraft landed. While completing the pre-departure checks, he announced he was backtracking from the far end of the runway (where we had turned off to park when we arrived) and headed up towards us. I assumed he was backtracking to depart, but called ‘ready departure at Alpha 1, visual one aircraft on runway’ just to make sure he was aware of where I was, and that I knew he was there.

He then made a transmission to the effect that he would be leaving at Alpha 1, so I had to reposition to allow him room to pass. As he passed, the A/G Operator informed him that he could have turned off at Mike 1, which I’d already mentioned to my passengers as I repositioned!

Once he had passed, we took to the runway to depart. The A/G Operator asked us to make a left turn before the built up area ‘when safe to do so’, and we began the takeoff roll. The turn was made a little earlier than normal (perhaps 300 feet AGL) but I already had the gear up by then, and kept the turn nice and gentle to avoid any chance of a stall. Mindful of the other villages, I turned onto the Downwind leg to avoid one of them, before turning South and continuing to climb.

I almost forgot to stop my climb so as to remain below the 1500 feet airspace block if our transit was refused, but managed to catch my slip before climbing above 1350 feet. I signed off with Nottingham as soon as possible, and contacted East Midlands to request a Basic Service and a climb into their airspace. The Controller again couldn’t have been more helpful, asking what level I required and immediately granting me a clearance ‘not above 4000 feet’ (the level I had requested). Again, this removed the extra pressure flying at low level could have generated.

East Midlands Airport as we transit their airspace

East Midlands Airport as we transit their airspace

The trip through East Midlands airspace was routine, and as we left the section with the 2500 foot base, I requested a frequency change, thanking the Controller for his help. Again we listened in to Leicester, seeing an aircraft departing below us, but otherwise they were relatively quiet. Bruntinghorpe was soon visible ahead of us, and we passed nearby, briefly hearing another aircraft on frequency as we did so.

Expecting gliders, we kept a close eye on Husbands Bosworth as we passed them, listening in briefly to Sywell before I again flew a DME arc around the DTY VOR. As we tried to get established on the outbound course from DTY to Chedworth, Luned spotted a glider off to our right at a similar level. Further investigation showed this to actually be 3 gliders in close proximity, all heading directly towards us. Unsure as to the best course of action, I began a gentle descent while turning slightly left to increase the lateral and vertical separation between us. We still passed by a lot closer than I would have liked, and I wondered later if they had seen us before we saw them?

Passing Banbury we spoke to Brize for a Basic Service, with the Controller being worked particularly hard calling out numerous contacts to two other aircraft receiving a Traffic Service. We spotted more gliders and powered aircraft as we continued, but none came close to us.

Approaching Chedworth, I descended to 3000 feet and we signed off with Brize before making contact with Kemble. After receiving the QFE and runway in use, I began the descent to 2000 feet for the Overhead Join just as Luned spotted a parachute ahead of us on our track to Kemble. I turned left to remain clear of him, and Luned managed to get a shot of him as we passed and pointed him out to Catrin. Around this time Catrin started to complain that her headset was making her ears hurt, so it sounds like we need to have a bit of a fitting session before our next flight to get them adjusted properly.

Rather him than me!

Rather him than me!

As we approached the Overhead, another aircraft was approaching for a Left Base join, which I initially thought might put him into conflict with us. However, as we reached the overhead and turned back to descend on the Deadside, I spotted him descending on Base Leg meaning he should easily land before we were even established on Downwind.

The descent was normal, and I turned Crosswind and Downwind (with Luned commenting that my Downwind leg was a little wider than normal!). I was approaching the end of the Downwind leg as another aircraft took to the runway to depart, leading me to comment to Luned that we might end up having to go around as a result. I made a point of calling Base and Final so that the departing pilot knew where I was and hopefully wouldn’t hold us up.

He began his roll as I called Short Final, and took to the air in good time for us to continue the approach. Again, the landing was pretty good, and once under control I requested taxy back to parking, forgetting to inform the FISO where ‘parking’ was. Fortunately he recognised our callsign and knew where we were headed, so told us to backtrack and taxy via Alpha as another aircraft lined up at Alpha 1.

I did my best to clear the runway as quickly as possible, with the FISO giving the waiting aircraft his departure ‘instruction’ as he saw we had vacated. I continued taxying back to our parking area before closing down. Catrin again helped us push the aircraft back to its parking space and put the cover on (no need to refuel as we had full tanks on leaving Nottingham). A quick trip to the office to finalise the paperwork, and we all returned to the car for the drive home.

After a pretty dismal start to the year flying wise, I was glad to be back flying regularly again. Having Luned in the front with me on this flight had been very helpful, with the extra set of eyes looking for traffic on such a busy day meaning there was a lot less pressure on the flight. Catrin had again behaved really well in the back by herself (although perhaps less well on the ground sometimes!) and hopefully we can continue to make further enjoyable flights together as a family.

Tracks flown

Tracks flown

Outbound profile

Outbound profile

Return profile

Return profile

Total flight time today: 2:15
Total flight time to date: 242:10

A new destination in North Wales

May 17, 2014

After a poor start to the year, having finally got going I was determined to try to get back to flying on a more regular basis. After negotiating another flying day with Luned, I started looking out for willing passengers.

David expressed an interest in coming along, but due to other commitments couldn’t give a definite answer until Friday evening. I was more than happy to wait for David to decide rather than look for a firmer acceptance from someone else, as it’s always good to have an experienced pilot along as a passenger helping to manage the cockpit should things become busy.

David had found details of Llanbedr’s recent availability to GA, an airfield that we’d passed over on the way back from our last trip to Caernarfon together. Initially it looked unlikely that this airfield would become truly active again due to local objections, but things had obviously changed and the airfield was on the verge of becoming fully active.

I filled out the PPR form on their website mid-week, and received a very swift email response indicating that someone would call me. Soon after I was contacted by Ed, who gave me some more information on procedures at the field (they have a frequency but no radio operator, so ‘Traffic’ calls for example), and asked me to call back on the morning of the flight for a last-minute brief.

There are currently no catering facilities at Llanbedr, so we still had to find somewhere for lunch. Initially I considered Hawarden, after reading a favourable review in one of the flying magazines. However, when I checked on Friday evening during my initial planning I realised that they had a 24 hour PPR requirement. As such, I’d left it too late. I did consider Sleap, but a quick check of the NOTAMs showed that they had an aerobatic competition on at the weekend, so that probably wasn’t a good idea.

As a result, I opted for a return to Caernarfon, after a first trip with David and a return there with the family, this would be my third visit there. Regrettably there had been a fatal accident there this week, but a quick check showed that the airfield was back up and running despite a closure on the Friday.

As usual, most of the planning was completed on Friday evening, leaving just a last minute check of weather and call to the two airfields to confirm that all was well. Armed with all the necessary PLOGs and with the chart marked up, I headed out to Kemble, remembering to pack my shiny new headset (a Lightspeed Zulu 2) for its first use.

While filling out the pre-flight paperwork in the Club, David arrived and we chatted briefly before heading out to the aircraft. We stopped at our cars to collect all our gear (me making a bit of a slip which would become obvious later!) and we started to prepare the aircraft, removing the cover and carrying out a transit check (including taking fuel samples). I hadn’t realised that the aircraft was due to fly before us that morning, if I had I would have asked the previous pilot to put more fuel in, and also asked him not to bother putting the cover back on! Once all our gear was in and we were comfortable, I made ready to get the engine started.

Pre-flight checks

Pre-flight checks

For some reason (possibly because it had already been started that morning) the engine was a little reluctant to start, but I managed to get it running on the 2nd or 3rd attempt. David and I had discussed his role in the flight, and I’d asked him (due to my recent lack of flying) to point out any mistakes I made. It didn’t take him long to jump in, reminding me to test my brakes as we taxyed out of the parking space. In my defense, I always turn 90 degrees so that we’re pointing along the taxyway proper before testing the brakes, so as not to do this while point at the aircraft that is parked opposite.

David continued as we taxyed, calling out the taxy checks (compass and DI increasing, horizon level, wings right, ball left, NDB tracking) as I completed them silently (not sure if he believed that I was actually checking these things when I mentioned it!). We lined up for power checks behind another aircraft, with a 3rd aircraft appearing behind us in the queue. I completed my checks, moving up to the hold for the pre-departure checks as the aircraft in front took to the runway.

Just as I completed the checks and was about to call ready, the aircraft behind us jumped in on the radio announcing that he was ready, and was given the ‘report lined up’ instruction. I immediately transmitted that we were ‘holding Alpha 1, ready departure’ to remind the FISO that we were there, causing him to prompt the other aircraft that we were in front of him (but given that he was only a few feet behind us I’m sure he could see that we were there!).

We took to the runway and began our take off roll, all systems performing normally as we took to the air on a glorious day for flying. After a check above and all around I continued the climb on the Downwind leg, before turning towards Gloucester, mindful of Aston Down and the likelihood of gliders operating on this sunny day. Once clear of Kemble’s ATZ, I announced a frequency change and called Gloucester for the trip through their overhead.

Approaching Gloucester, overhead Cheltenham and GCHQ

Approaching Gloucester, overhead Cheltenham and GCHQ

Gloucester were helpful as ever, asking us to report at 3 miles and again once we were overhead. Now at 4500 feet, we set course for Shobdon, aided by the CDI on the 430 and a quick glance at the Nexus 7 in my lap running SkyDemon. Gloucester asked us to report at Ledbury, so I added this as a waypoint in SkyDemon and set about trying to sort out my height-keeping which (as normal) was pretty poor!

The conditions weren’t helping, as it seemed that no sooner had I got the trim set we entered an area of more or less lift meaning I had to repeat the process all over again. The Arrow’s natural tendency to turn to the right was also making things a little difficult, but I eventually managed to get things sorted out such that we could fly ‘hands off’ without too much divergence from our route and altitude.

As we passed Ledbury I signed off with Gloucester, and began listening in to Shobdon. David had retuned the ADF to Shobdon’s NDB frequency, but as this was in the second band on the ADF it didn’t appear to work correctly (despite picking up a pretty strong ident – I’d had a similar issue when trying to tune it to the Bristol NDB on previous flights). We were in an area with a number of easy landmarks to aid with navigation though, and the three GPSs in the cockpit (430 and two copies of SkyDemon) meant that we were unlikely to get lost!

Due to our height, I decided not to bother contacting Shobdon, instead keeping a keen eye out for gliders in the area. We passed through without incident, setting course for Welshpool and again tuning in the navaids there (this time an NDB and DME). The DME was (as usual) being a bit temperamental and not providing a useful reading.

Chatting with David on the leg from Shobdon to Welshpool, I mentioned that I had never spoken to the D&D folks on 121.5. David suggested that now was as good a time as any, so we switched frequencies and listened out for a while to ensure there was nothing going on. Once things had been quiet for a while, I made ‘practice pan’ call, and received excellent service from the Controller manning the frequency.

After ascertaining what kind of ‘PAN’ we wanted to practice, I asked for a position fix, and she told me ‘based on two bearings, overhead the Bishop’s Castle monument’. This wasn’t on the chart, but we were right over Bishop’s Castle, so this was probably spot on! Useful to know in the future that they are available should I ever manage to get myself hopelessly lost. Perhaps I’ll attempt to simulate a more pressing emergency in the future to get a feel for the response I can expect to receive should I ever need it for real.

As we approached Welshpool I contacted them briefly to double check our pressure setting, before changing course towards Barmouth for the last part of the journey to Llanbedr. I realised later that I neglected to ‘sign off’ with Welshpool, but wondered whether this was strictly necessary as we had never requested any ongoing service from them. Even so, it would have been better if I had remembered to do it.

We were now a few miles from the last turning point at Barmouth, and could see a large mountain ahead of us. The spot height on the chart at that point is 2930 feet, and we were cruising at 4500 or so, but it still looked like we would be worryingly close to the peak as we approached (an illusion probably not helped by the lack of a true horizon due to the inversion).

As we approached, the only cloud in the sky had positioned itself between us and the mountain. Deciding that discretion was the better part of valour, I deliberately aimed right of track before entering the cloud (I could see it was very small so wasn’t concerned about getting stuck in IMC) to ensure that we were no longer pointing directly towards the peak. We passed through the cloud in a matter of a few seconds, and this new track helpfully put us over Dolgellau and with an ideal route through a valley to descend down towards the sea.

Once clear of the mountain, I began a gradual descent down to a more appropriate height to join overhead at Llanbedr. After a brief discussion with David as to whether I should call ‘Llanbedr Radio’ (not expecting a reply), or just jump straight in with ‘Traffic’ calls. We opted for the latter, and announced our position overhead Barmouth while heading up the coast and soon spotting the airfield very clearly ahead of us.

Turning at Barmouth

Turning at Barmouth

On all of the approaches today, we were approaching from the ‘wrong’ direction for an Overhead Join, requiring almost a full circuit of the airfield before we could begin descending on the Deadside. This gave us a good opportunity to get an idea of the layout, and ensure there were no other aircraft operating in the vicinity. We spotted the promised Silver Audi driving along the runway we were heading for, and David kept an eye on it so that we would know where to look for it after landing.

Overhead Llanbedr

Overhead Llanbedr

The join and descent all went normal, and I did my best to stay within the airfield boundary on the circuit. As a result of this, I was tighter in than I would normally be (certainly closer than at Kemble which has a relatively wide circuit for noise abatement reasons) and ended up significantly higher than I should have been on Final. The Arrow does tend to drop like a stone though (particularly with the gear down) so it was easy to lose the required height to get back on a more appropriate profile.

We were on Llanbedr’s ‘mid-length’ runway (a mere 1412 metres!) so even a bit of excess height wouldn’t have caused too much of a problem. However, I brought us in for a slightly long landing, with the stall warner sounding just as we touched down a little heavier than I would have liked. I headed towards the last position of the Audi, and we soon saw it heading towards us, before it turned round after flashing its headlights (we assumed indicating that we should follow it). We followed him to an open area, where we were directed to park.

We introduced ourselves briefly to Ed, before he had to disappear off to meet another pilot who had parked on another area of the airfield. I started to look for my mobile phone to let Luned know we had arrived safely, but was unable to find it. This led to a bit of a panic (I got it less than a week ago!), but I hoped that I had at least left it somewhere ‘safe’ like in my car or in the Club’s office. We chatted while waiting for Ed to return, before he gave us all (David, myself and Huw who had flown in from Old Park) a lift to one of the airfield buildings to collect our landing fee. He then had to disappear off again to meet two other aircraft, which we watched arriving.

Another aircraft arriving at Llanbedr

Another aircraft arriving at Llanbedr

In the meantime another vehicle came landside, and we walked over to the building they headed towards. We soon learned that these were representatives from the Police and Border Force that were also visiting the airfield, so we were all on our best behaviour! In reality they were all pleasant enough, and we chatted for a while before my stomach started to insist on having some lunch soon.

We began to walk back to the gate leading to airside, hoping to meet Ed on the way. Fortunately he was at the other building collecting landing fees from the recently arrived pilots, and told us that the gate was unlocked. We bade farewell, and walked back to the aircraft to get ready for the short hop up to Caernarfon for some lunch.

Saturday's visitors to Llanbedr

Saturday’s visitors to Llanbedr

After a brief walk around, we got settled and again I had a little difficulty in getting the engine to start. We had a brief debate as to whether the taxyway ahead of us leading left offered another way to the runway in use, but we decided to reverse our previous route (fortunately, because the taxyway only led to another apron). Once the power checks were complete, a quick scan of the sky showed nobody else in the vicinity, and we backtracked to the start of the runway.

The departure was all normal, and we climbed out over the beach before heading North towards Caernarfon.

Climbing out over the beach

Climbing out over the beach

My initial plan had been to follow the coast around, but my stomach’s complaints led me to take a more direct route so that we could get some lunch sooner! We threaded our way between a couple of mountains, heading directly for a 2000 foot high tower (while cruising at 3000 feet or so) that was initially quite difficult to spot.

2000 foot mast playing 'hide and seek'

2000 foot mast playing ‘hide and seek’

We eventually spotted it, and I began to turn slightly left to give it a bit of lateral clearance when David spotted some traffic approaching us on a reciprocal heading slightly to our left and above us. I reversed my course change at the same time as we heard the other pilot report passing us to Caernarfon’s radio operator. I’m not sure why, but he then felt the need to provide further information as to our type and level (we were a little close but never in danger of collision) to the radio operator.

We signed on with Caernarfon, and began planning the approach to the field (again from the wrong direction for an ‘easy’ Overhead Join). As we approached we heard the air ambulance on frequency and I began trying to recall what the procedures were if the air ambulance called to depart while we were approaching. Fortunately for us it transpired that he was also approaching to land, and was still some distance away.

The circuit was clear as we joined overhead, and again we descended and approached the runway a little higher than I normally would. Losing the height was easy, and I brought us in for a smoother landing this time (despite a strong crosswind), although it was a little flatter than I would have preferred. Might be worth having a session of circuits sometime to see if I can get back to more ‘correct’ profile on the Base and Final legs. However, in the past I’ve always had a tendency to ‘drag it in’, so it would appear that efforts to stop that have perhaps gone a bit too far in the other direction!

Joining Overhead at Caernarfon

Joining Overhead at Caernarfon

We taxyed to the fuel pump to fill the aircraft, before again having a minor issue getting the engine started for the short taxy to a parking space. We walked in and settled up the fuel bill and landing fee, before heading into the cafe for a well-earned and somewhat late lunch!

It had been a while since I’d last met up with David, so we caught up on each others news over a very pleasant lunch. There was no time pressure to get home, so we both took our time and enjoyed the company and surroundings. Eventually we had to decide that it was time to book out at the desk and start the relatively long walk back to the aircraft.

On the way we saw the fire crew suiting up, and when they arrived at the fuel pumps opposite our parking space I guessed that there may be a helicopter coming in for a ‘rotors running’ refuel. As we got the engine started and prepared to taxy, we heard a rescue helicopter inbound, 5 or 10 minutes away. I tried to take my time so that we could see him arrive, heading out along the taxyway to carry out the power checks after entering an approximation of our return route into the 430 (Caernarfon to Welshpool, Shobdon, Gloucester and Kemble) despite planning to route around the coast to the North on the way back.

As I positioned the aircraft into the wind, I was a little concerned that I might have put us a little too close to the taxyway edge. Once the checks were complete, my fears proved unfounded as I easily turned the aircraft back around and headed to the hold, just as the inbound rescue helicopter reported ‘Short Final’.

Another aircraft began to taxy around this time, and the Air Ground operator suggested he taxy to the ‘wrong’ end of the runway and expect to backtrack before departing. David suggested I make it clear that we were ready to go, to prevent the other aircraft taking to the runway in front of us once the helicopter had landed. I did this, and we watched the helicopter arrive  over the trees and hover-taxy over to the fuel pumps.

Search and Rescue helicopter arriving for fuel

Search and Rescue helicopter arriving for fuel

After a short debate about how long to leave to allow the helicopter’s wake to dissipate (the strong crosswind leading us to expect it to be blown away relatively quickly) we took to the runway and began our takeoff roll for the trip back to Kemble. Climbout at Caernarfon is directly over the beach, and after raising the gear we turned Northwards to head up the Menai Straits at 1000 feet.


Departing Caernarfon

Departing Caernarfon

I used my (limited) local knowledge to point out various places to David as we passed, and attempted to help him get some photos of Luned’s Mother’s house (I spotted it as we passed, but it was difficult to point out to David exactly which house it was). Once clear of the Straits, I climbed up to a more comfortable height (Valley request that people transit down the Straits below 1500 feet, but over the weekend this probably isn’t necessary) and we continued around the coast.

We turned inland at Colwyn Bay, heading for the next turning point at Corwen. After turning away from the coast, the surroundings became a lot more remote, and David remarked on how pretty the countryside was around here. Continuing on this leg, we soon approached Corwen, and I used my new-found knowledge of the 430 (courtesy of a YouTube video sent to me by Kev, the aircraft’s owner) to adjust the OBS meaning that the 430 now guided us on the correct inbound course to Welshpool (rather than trying to guide us to the ‘direct’ track from Caernarfon to Welshpool).

Turning inland at Colwyn Bay

Turning inland at Colwyn Bay

Again we spoke briefly to Welshpool to get their pressure setting, remembering to sign off with them as we cleared to the South this time. The next leg was direct to Shobdon, and as we approached it was clear that they were now fairly busy. I decided this time to speak to them as we approached, receiving a warning about gliders operating to the North (the direction we were approaching from) and being given a Basic Service (despite not actually requesting one!).

Due to the increased traffic, I turned left slightly to keep clear of Shobdon, intercepting the required track to Gloucester with a bit of help from the 430 and the NDB. We were now into pretty familiar territory, and the various landmarks became much easier to follow and build up a picture of our location. I signed off with Shobdon and started to listen in to Gloucester, before calling them again as we passed Ledbury.

We were again asked to report 3nm from the field and in the Overhead, before being asked to report leaving the frequency and any changes in level (presumably so that the Controller could ensure we didn’t conflict with any other inbound traffic). As we cleared the lateral dimensions of their ATZ to the South, I attempted to leave the frequency, but the initial call was blocked by another transmission. The Controller was on the ball though, and asked if one of the two blocked transmissions was us attempting to change frequency. We announced the change, and the fact that I was starting a descent to an appropriate height to join Overhead at Kemble.

Listening in to Kemble it was clear they were also relatively busy (unsurprising given the excellent conditions), and I announced our approach from the North and intention to join Overhead. As we approached, we spotted a glider orbiting near the field, right in our ideal path to join. It was initially difficult to determine exactly which direction he was heading (he was spiralling, presumably attempting to gain height), and I was torn between turning right or left (right to me appeared to be the best direction to avoid him, with the downside that this would also put us closer to Aston Down).

My transmission was possibly a little unclear, I was trying to say we were approaching the Overhead, and were having to turn to avoid the glider. However, the FISO received this as meaning we were in the overhead, and passed this message on to another aircraft that was joining. I clarified this, and the glider eventually came out of the spiral, heading off to our right, so we headed left to keep clear of him. Once he was no longer a factor, I again set course for Kemble, and we set about spotting the other joining aircraft.

He had started his deadside descent off to our left as we approached the Overhead, and I had David keep an eye on him as he passed underneath us, appearing on the right hand side of the aircraft. The other aircraft followed a somewhat strange route, crossing Kemble at the mid-point of the runway, before continuing South and becoming established on quite a wide Downwind leg. Meanwhile, I was positioning us so that we could also descend on the Deadside, with David ensuring that we had plenty of gap between us and the aircraft ahead of us.

Turning Final at Kemble

Turning Final at Kemble

We joined the circuit ourselves, this time being asked to report Crosswind, Downwind and then Final. Yet again I was quite high on Final, but easily lost the excess height, and announced to David that I would try to land on the numbers as we would be backtracking to parking (negotiated with the FISO on Base leg). Sadly I didn’t quite manage this, floating past the numbers somewhat before touching down nicely and backtracking the runway.

We vacated at A2, and spotted an aircraft leaving the Golf taxyway ahead of us, heading to the Alpha holds to depart. In the past, when this has happened the FISO has had the other aircraft stop to allow us to pass to our parking area at Hotel. This time however, the other aircraft left the taxyway and turned to his left (perhaps assuming we were going to taxy on Golf?) so we also turned left and followed a somewhat strange route to our parking area.

As we arrived, John (an Examiner who had carried out some of my early PPL training back at Brize) was putting one of the other aircraft to bed. I positioned us to be pushed back into our parking space, and went over to say hello and chat for a little while. David and I pushed the aircraft back into its parking space, before beginning the process of getting all our gear out and covering the aircraft.

A quick trip to the car showed that I’d put my phone down in the boot while retrieving my flying gear, and I then headed in to the Club to settle the paperwork, before David and I headed off to a local pub for a quick beer to discuss the day.

Tracks flown

Tracks flown

Flight profile (Kemble to Llanbedr)

Flight profile (Kemble to Llanbedr)

Flight profile (Llanbedr to Caernarfon)

Flight profile (Llanbedr to Caernarfon)

Flight profile (Caernarfon to Kemble)

Flight profile (Caernarfon to Kemble)

Yet again, I’d packed an awful lot of flying into a single day’s trip with David. We’d been to a new airfield for both of us, travelling over some incredibly picturesque countryside during the flight. The weather conditions really couldn’t have been much better, and I drove home with a real sense of enjoyment looking back on the day. Hopefully Llanbedr can continue it’s course to becoming fully operational, bringing a ‘new’ GA destination available at a time when all too many airfields appear to be under threat of closure.

Total flight time today: 3:10
Total flight time to date: 239:55

Returning to Conington

May 4, 2014

After regaining currency last week, I was keen to try to get my 2014 flying back on track. A Bank Holiday weekend seemed like an excellent time to take advantage of recent good weather, so I booked the Arrow and persuaded Luned and Catrin to accompany me on a flight on the Sunday.

As the weekend approached, the longer range forecasts looked fairly poor for Sunday, and even Saturday’s TV forecasts suggested that we were in for a cloudy day on the Sunday, despite all the TAFs promising almost perfect flying conditions.

As luck would have it, it was the TAFs that were right, and Sunday dawned bright and clear, with near-perfect flying conditions again. I’d been considering a number of different destinations leading up to the weekend, but eventually chose Conington, scene of my first real ‘Nav’ flight, one of the stops on my QXC and also the destination for my first real flight after gaining the PPL. I’d been back once more recently by myself, but decided to see if it was still the pleasant destination I remembered.

The night before, the pilot who had booked the aircraft immediately before me considerately phoned to check what fuel level I would like. I wanted ideally for Luned to ride in front with me (she generally sits in the back with Catrin), and this would put the aircraft out of forward C of G limits with full fuel. I opted for full tanks on one side, and tabs on the other, meaning we were well within limits and should easily have enough fuel for both legs of the flight.

As ever, I completed all the planning at home, including marking up my new chart and calling Conington for a last minute check on their activities. I refreshed my memory of their slightly unusual Overhead Join procedure, and then loaded us and all our gear into the car for the journey up to Kemble.

On arrival at Kemble, we all headed into the Office, and while Luned entertained Catrin I began preparations for the flight, and immediately ran into a snag. It looked like the previous pilot had taken the keys home with him! Fortunately there was a spare set, so I grabbed those and headed out to do a walkaround, calling the previous pilot on the way to see if he still had the keys. Fortunately he hadn’t yet got too far away, so turned round and brought them back to him. I could have carried out the flight using the spare set, but this didn’t appear to have a key for the baggage area, so would hae been slightly inconvenient.

The check was all Ok (including taking samples of the fuel), and the keys arrived as I was completing it. I returned to the Office, we all went for a last-minute toilet break, and then headed out to the aircraft. I’d tried to make Catrin aware in the days leading up to the flight that Luned would be sitting up front while she sat alone in the back, and as a result she had to promise to be good. This seating arrangement is much more comfortable for her in the Arrow, as when she sits behind me she has very little room for her legs due to how far back I need to have the seat.

Catrin alone in the back for the first time

Catrin alone in the back for the first time

The engine took a couple of goes to start (probably due to it not being cold but also not still being fully warm!), but it caught on the second attempt, and as is now normal I had to recycle the master switch to get the ‘Low Volts’ warning light to extinguish. After entering our route into the 430 (I intended to make a point of following the newly-fitted CDI during the flight), we called for our taxy clearance. The taxy route was again up to the hold at Alpha 1 (which Luned queried, as generally when flying with her we’ve joined the runway at Alpha 3). Power checks were all completed Ok, and we were cleared onto the runway behind another departing aircraft.

Once the other aircraft was clear, we began our takeoff roll, rotating and climbing out as normal before retracting the gear after a short dab of the breaks to stop the wheels rotating. We were warned of other traffic arriving from the North East (the direction we would be departing) so I elected to climb out on the Downwind leg (mindful of any other traffic that might be joining) in order to get up above the inbound traffic. As we headed North East towards Chedworth, Luned spotted the inbound traffic below us and slightly to the right.

As we turned at Chedworth and set course direct for the VOR at Daventry, contacting Brize for a Basic Service on the way. They were initially busy, and I was told to ‘Standby’, but the Controller soon came back to us and we set the allocated squawk code. Unsurprisingly in the warm and clear conditions, the flight along this leg was slightly turbulent, meaning that frequent corrections were required to keep the aircraft on an even keel.

One of my main motivations for having Luned join me up front on this flight was to get her to take the controls (she had carried out a number of flights with Dave in the past learning to land, but it had been some time since she had been at the controls). I passed control over to her for a little while on this leg, but she wasn’t really comfortable due to a lack of real horizon (my sunglasses do a good job of ‘cutting through’ hazy conditions, so this wasn’t really apparent to me), so handed control back after a short period. In hindsight, perhaps I should have persisted in having her remain in control, as she ideally needs to be able to handle similar conditions to those I’d be prepared to take us flying in.

I’d deliberately planned a leg from DTY to Bedford in order to bypass Sywell (the direct route would take us through the lateral limits of their ATZ) due to a Wings and Wheels event on there, including a number of NOTAMed air displays during the day. I still elected to listen in to get a feel for their traffic, and was surprised to hear a number of aircraft arriving and even flying circuits. However, just before 12 another aircraft was inbound to Sywell, and he was asked if he was aware of the event, as they would be closing the airfield to movements for 6 hours while the displays went on. He seemed unaware (don’t other pilots read NOTAMs?) but elected to continue and land.

Once clear of Sywell, I switched to the Bedford frequency to monitor it. All was quiet, but as we approached we got a good view of the airfield and its associated motor circuits (it’s operated by Jonathan Palmer as a track day and corporate events venue). I passed by slightly to the left to enable Luned to get some photos of it from her side.

Passing Bedford Autodrome

Passing Bedford Autodrome

We were now quite close to Conington, so we switched frequencies and announced that we were inbound, only to be asked to ‘standby’. The frequency seemed to settle down as we approached, but we were never called back. I eventually elected to orbit rather than enter the ATZ, and gave them another call. This was fortunately met with the airfield information, and I set us up for the slightly unusual Overhead Join in effect at Conington as we watched an aircraft on the ground holding on the cross runway while another departed.

Aircraft waiting to backtrack while another departs

Aircraft waiting to backtrack while another departs

The join and circuit all went well, particularly pleasing due to the lack of flying I’ve done this year. I brought us in slightly high and fast on Final, but with the gear down the Arrow makes it easy to lose speed, and we landed slightly long but smoothly before being told ‘nothing known to affect a backtrack’. We backtracked to the parking area, being given directions to a suitable space to push ourselves back in to. Once shut down, Luned and I jumped out to push the aircraft back, before retrieving Catrin from the back and heading in for lunch.

Joining Overhead at Conington

Joining Overhead at Conington

We sat outside for a while, Catrin playing happily with a young boy whose family were at the airfield watching the planes, before a table came free inside allowing us to eat there (I’m not a huge fan of eating outside!). We took our time eating, Catrin having an ice cream for ‘pudding’ while I settled the landing fee and updated the chart for the return journey.

After another toilet stop, we headed back out to the Arrow, Catrin and Luned waiting patiently while I carried out a quick walk around, before we all got settled in for the journey back to Kemble. I also snuck in a quick photo of a very nice twin (Baron?) parked up on the apron.

Maybe one day...

Maybe one day…

This time the engine started easily, and after the normal power and taxy checks (including recalling and reversing our route in the 430) we took to the runway to depart. Takeoff was normal, and I climbed straight ahead for longer than normal in order to clear the local villages, before setting course back to Bedford.

Luned again proved her worth in the cockpit, spotting gliders and keeping an eye on them for me as we passed by a number of glider sites. Shortly after turning at Bedford, Luned pointed out what looked like a drag strip off to our right. I carried out a quick orbit so that she could get some photos, and a quick glance at the SkyDemon chart suggested that the disused airfield of ‘Poddington’ probably meant we were overhead Santa Pod, possibly the UK’s most famous drag racing strip.

The Quarter Mile at Santa Pod

The Quarter Mile at Santa Pod

Around this point I noticed that my Nexus had dropped back to its top level screen (not sure if I pressed a button inadvertently or it crashed) so I quickly restarted it and entered navigation mode again. Meanwhile, Catrin’s headset appeared to have stopped transmitting (the peace and quiet was certainly pleasant!) so she amused herself by watching The Empire Strikes Back on her tablet! We continued on, again listening in to Sywell (although all was now quiet on the radio) and I decided to bypass the overhead of the VOR, using the Nav radio on the 430 to intercept and track our outbound course using the newly-fitted CDI.

We passed by more gliders, calling Brize for a Basic service again as we reached Banbury. Again the Brize frequency was busy, and again I was surprised to hear the two other aircraft on frequency (both operating IFR so presumably experienced pilots) blissfully unaware of the RA(T) at Abingdon despite it appearing in the NOTAMs and on the AIS information line (both of which I had obviously dutifully checked during my planning). Around this point Catrin discovered that she could get her headset to transmit by pulling the microphone closer in to her lips (she wears a child’s headset currently, but it now seems that it’s too small to allow the microphone to sit correctly in front of her mouth), so it looks like we need to consider a new headset for her!

As we approached Chedworth again, we signed off with Brize, and easily spotted Kemble off in the distance. They were still operating on 26 so a slightly protracted route was required to set up for the Overhead Join. However, this did give us plenty of opportunity to get a feel for the traffic below us. As we neared the end of our Deadside descent, G-ELUE took off below use. I wasn’t sure if it was joining the circuit or departing, so I had Luned keep an eye on it as it appeared below us on her side. It soon became clear they were departing, as the FISO informed them that their flight plan had been activated (I later learned that they were heading for an Overnight stay on the Isle of Man).

Again the circuit and approach went well, with the exception of me forgetting to lower the third stage of flaps (despite repeating the ‘Reds, Blues, Greens, Flaps’ mantra a number of times on Final). As a result, the landing ended up slightly ‘floaty’, but again the final touchdown was smooth. The FISO cleared us for a backtrack, and as we reversed direction on the runway another aircraft was asked to hold on Golf to allow us to pass on Alpha. We taxyed back to the parking area before shutting down.

Catrin proved her usefulness, being helpful in refuelling the aircraft (fetching some chocks, attaching the bonding clamp and holding the fuel hose while I refuelled) as I explained all the things I was doing. She then ‘helped’ push the aircraft back to its parking space before passing the various straps for the cover under the aircraft!

Dad's little helper!

Dad’s little helper!

We then all grabbed our gear, dropping off the majority of it in the car, before heading to the Office to finalise the paperwork and leave payment for the flight. We finally retired to a local pub so that Catrin could have some food (including an enormous portion of Banana and Chocolate Sponge Cake with ice cream!) while Luned and I enjoyed a refreshing (alchoholic!) beverage.

Tracks flown

Tracks flown

Outbound profile

Outbound profile

Return profile (1)

Return profile (1)

Return profile (2)

Return profile (2)

As usual, another really pleasant flight with the family. The weather really couldn’t have been better, and Catrin generally behaved well sitting in the back by herself. This again means that the Arrow is a realistic aircraft for the three of us to travel in together, so hopefully we can continue to use it in future. Next time we fly I need to try and get Luned to spend more time at the controls, but otherwise it was a really successful day, and was nice to be returning to Conington once again where we received the usual warm welcome. Now I just need to keep up the recent momentum to see if I can build up a good spell of flying again!

Total flight time today: 2:10
Total flight time to date: 236:45


Resetting and revalidating

April 22, 2014

I hadn’t flown since my flight to Sywell on 11th January, due to a combination of poor weather and badly-timed ill health (a month long cough that took out several bookings on perfect flying days), so as a result of this I was out of currency and also passenger recency (in the 90 days before any passenger carrying flight you have to make at 3 take offs and landings).

Additionally, my SEP Class Rating was due to expire at the end of May. I had completed all the requirements for having this revalidated with the exception of the required one hour flight with an Instructor.

I’d had a couple of goes at trying to arrange a check flight to get everything reset, before finally taking a day off work at the end of a holiday to try and go flying.

Roger had kindly agreed to accompany me to handle the Instruction, and we’d arranged to make it a ‘proper’ flight, heading somewhere for lunch and making a decent day of it. Sadly, the weather didn’t cooperate with this plan, but the forecast did show a break in the weather for a few hours early afternoon, so I arranged to meet up with Roger around lunchtime.

I arrived early and carried out the ‘A’ check on the aircraft before Roger arrived, and the forecast break in the weather appeared right on schedule. I chatted in the Club with Roger about what I wanted to cover on the flight. My IMC rating is also due for renewal this Summer, so if possible I wanted to try to include some IMC practice in this flight. Roger managed to negotiate a PAR into Brize Norton, meaning that we could also see just how rusty my IMC skills were!

After some initial difficulties in getting the engine on the Arrow started, we were soon taxying out to the hold in readiness for departure. My rustiness was clear as I forgot initially to carry out the taxy checks. I used the Alpha apron to weave and carry out the checks, with Roger later suggesting I use the natural layout of the taxyways to achieve the same thing. Useful tip.

At A1 I turned into wind and waited to allow the engine to warm up before carrying out the power checks, carrying out the emergency brief while waiting (with Roger picking me up on a few minor details I’d neglected to mention). There was a little confusion at the hold when I was unable to hear the FISO, which turned out to be because I’d switched the comms over to box 1 without actually setting it to the correct frequency! This was soon rectified, and we lined up after another aircraft had landed.

Once the other aircraft cleared the runway, we began our takeoff roll and took to the air. After climbing out I dabbed the brakes and raised the undercarriage, before heading out to the South West for some initial General Handling practice.

Once clear of the circuit I began to carry out my usual procedure, leaning the mixture to 13, bringing the power and RPM back. Roger informed me that at this stage of flight it wasn’t actually necessary to back the power off before reducing RPM to 2600, as at those settings it’s not possible to ‘over-boost’ the engine.

We climbed away, signing off with Kemble and making contact with Brize. I caused some confusion with my initial contact, asking for ‘Basic Service followed by a PAR’. The Controller (naturally) assumed we wanted to start the procedure immediately, and I had to clarify that we would be carrying out some handling practice for 30 minutes or so before the procedure.

We headed out towards Lyneham, and there was again some confusion on the radio where I thought I heard our callsign. We listened carefully as the Controller made other transmissions, before we were called for a ‘radio check’. I’m not sure if we’d missed further transmissions from her, but she seemed happy with a ‘Reading you strength 5′, and Roger thought that maybe she had her own volume set too low to hear us perhaps!

We started out with some 45 degree turns, generally getting a feel for being in the air again. We then headed into some stalls, which generally went well aside from me forgetting what the individual elements of ‘HASELL’ were (Height, Airframe, Safety / Security, Engine, Location, Lookout).

The next item was to carry out some emergency drills on the undercarriage. Roger had me pretend to be on downwind (at 4000 feet or so!) and lower the gear, before telling me that the right hand undercarriage light hadn’t illuminated. My first statement was that I would initially leave the circuit and climb to a safe altitude before doing anything else. I then became a little confused when trying to read through the appropriate parts of the checklist, but Roger was pretty patient in walking me through the various parts (including having me switch bulbs on the undercarriage indicator, so that I’d know what’s involved should I ever need to). It’s clear I need to have a thorough read through that element of the checklist on the ground in readiness for flying again.

Roger then had me go ‘under the hood’, carrying out some basic changes in height and heading. Roger offered up the useful tip of calling out ‘500 to go’, ‘200’ and ‘100’ when changing levels in order to not overshoot. Once the initial drills were complete we contacted Brize in readiness for the Approach. We rather cheekily asked for an additional SRA after the PAR, which the Controller granted after checking with a Supervisor. Roger upgraded us to a Traffic Service, as we were now in intermittent IMC at our altitude.

Roger initially handled the radio as I got settled under the hood, but once we started the procedure I began to take over more of the duties. Mindful of my apparent lack of preparation on my initial IMC test with Roger, I had taken the time beforehand to write out the various minima, descent rates etc. on a sheet of paper, that I now brought to the top of my kneeboard for reference.

I’d discussed with Roger the various speeds etc. to fly the approach in the Arrow, and he’d suggested I carry out the majority of the pre-landing checks on the ‘Base’ leg, but not actually extend the gear until later in the Approach (allowing us to carry out the majority of the approach at close to ‘cruise’ speed).

The initial PAR went relatively well (although I did deviate from heading by 20 degrees or so when carrying out the checks at one point, causing the Controller to query my heading!). Later Roger made the valid point that checks like this should be broken up into much smaller steps, returning back to the scan between each item in order to catch any slips like this.

We used the GPS to read off our groundspeed at the descent point, enabling me to get a rough idea of the required descent rate (5 x groundspeed in knots). The descent generally went to plan, with the Controller prompting for a couple of minor adjustments as we continued towards the runway. Roger again suggested I call out ‘500 to go’ etc. when approaching minimums. As we reached our minimum Roger had me remove the hood and continue for a visual landing, which turned out to be a pretty good one given that I hadn’t flown in over three months!

While it was good to be back on the runway at Brize after so many years, sadly this was just a touch and go, so I retracted flaps, applied full power and took to the air again. The GPS plot shows that my outbound track was a little off to the right, and the Controller vectored us around for the SRA.

We were no longer alone in the sky, with 2 other aircraft following us on the Approach (nice  for a lowly PA-28 to be ‘number 1′ for a change!). Again, the SRA went pretty much to plan, with the descent always being within 50 feet or so of the expected height announced by the Controller. Once down to minimum I again acquired the runway visually, bringing us in for the second good landing of the day!

We asked for a visual departure via Burford after this approach, and were granted this not above 1300 feet. This should have been very familiar to me (it was the departure I almost always used from Brize when training there), but I had a little difficulty spotting Burford this time (I remember the Garden Centre being much more obvious in the past!).

As we left the Zone, we remained with a Basic Service for the remainder of the flight. We climbed back up to altitude before carrying out some ‘upset’ drills on instruments. Roger placed the aircraft in some ‘unusual attitudes’ (generally a descending turn or a steep climb) to ensure I could correctly recover from this using the instruments alone.

As the instrument work had generally gone Ok, Roger asked if I was happy to carry out some ‘partial panel’ drills. He covered the AI and DI, removing the two main instruments for setting the aircraft’s attitude and maintaining headings.

I carried out some climbs and descents that went well, then some ‘timed turns’ which went less well (and indeed had always been a bit of a weakness of mine). Roger gave me the useful tip of setting the OBS on one of the CDIs to my current heading, then reading off 10 seconds for every 30 degree marking to my desired heading. This helped in calculating the required turn time, but either my turns weren’t at the correct rate or I can’t tell time properly!

Roger then asked me to take him back to Kemble, announcing that my flaps had now failed. I quipped that I wouldn’t be flying with him any more, as everything seemed to go wrong when I did! My first thought should have been to use the NDB and track this (which I think is what he really wanted me to do) but instead I entered a ‘direct to’ on the 430 and followed the magenta line. Roger had me do a further turn, then asked me to track towards Kemble using the NDB, which I managed to do fairly successfully.

We signed off with Brize, thanking them for their service, and contacted Kemble to recover. They were still on 26, and I advised them I would carry out a standard Overhead join. I meandered slightly to slot between a couple of clouds in our path, while trying to descend to the correct height for the Overhead join.

Another aircraft came on frequency also rejoining, and Roger spotted them low and to our left (a somewhat unusual position) and they continued on a ‘deadside join’. We carried out a full circle of the Overhead, before descending on the deadside, dropping the gear on the descent to help descend and slow the aircraft down.

We reported Crosswind as requested, and then were requested to ‘report Final’. Generally if solo I would also report Downwind and Base (even given this request to only report Final) to allow other traffic to get a better idea of my position. However, on this flight I didn’t, and Roger pointed out that it might have been a good idea to call Downwind anyway!

The aircraft ahead touched down as we neared the end of the Downwind leg, and I turned Base as usual, dropping the flaps. It was at this point that Roger reminded me that the flaps had failed, so I retracted them and continued the approach. I was fairly high on Final (which Roger picked me up on), but given how draggy the Arrow is with the gear down it was relatively easy to lose the required height.

I again brought us in for another good landing, getting slightly confused as to the location of the Southerly taxyway and sailing straight past it! I ended up turning right onto Bravo, before turning round again and waiting to be cleared to backtrack.

We taxyed back to the Club’s parking area, refuelling the aircraft and then having to rebuild its parking space due to the metal parking panels having come adrift (something that showed just how unfit I was!). We headed back in to the Club so that Roger could sign off my license and complete all the necessary paperwork. I’m now current to fly again, and my Class Rating is renewed for a further two years.

Route flown

Route flown

Flight profile

Flight profile

On the whole, this was a really successful and enjoyable flight. Despite the gap between flights (shown by a number of small omissions in procedures) I managed to handle all the drills pretty well. I was particularly pleased that my IMC skills weren’t as rusty as they could have been given their recent lack of use.

Roger gave me some useful tips for future flights, I’ll try to incorporate these into my general flying so that they become second nature. I think I need to sit down with the Checklists for the various aircraft for some ‘study’ and also (now that the 430 has the correct CDI fitted) start reading up on what’s involved in setting it up to carry out Approaches. Finally, I need to make sure I fly more regularly!

Total flight time today: 1:40
Total flight time to date: 234:35

RAF Brize Norton visit

January 15, 2014

One of the benefits of being a member of a Military Flying Club, is that occasionally we are invited to see things that normally we couldn’t. Before we left Lyneham, the Club’s ATC Liason arranged a visit to Air Traffic Control, and this evening Seb and Kev had arranged for a group of us to visit RAF Brize Norton.

This time we were to get a tour of a C-130J, and also to get a chance to fly the aircraft in the simulator used for training and evaluating RAF pilots. Naturally I jumped at the chance, and after a day somewhat disrupted by closure of the M4 and Luned not feeling great, I headed over to RAF Brize Norton in the evening.

It had been a while since I was last there (I left RAF Brize Norton Flying Club shortly after gaining my PPL in Summer 2008), but it felt strangely familiar making the drive over to the field (albeit in the dark for a change!).

On arrival, Seb was arranging passes for the visitors, and we chatted with Kev for a while while waiting for the last of the group to arrive. We then drove in convoy onto the base, following Seb for the start of the evening’s ‘entertainment’.

We split into two groups, with one group heading to the aircraft with Kev in a minibus, the other going into the sim with Seb. My first destination was the aircraft, and Kev drove us over to a C-130J parked on the apron, handily connected to external power.

First destination was (obviously!) the cockpit, where Kev powered up the aircraft and entered some basic details (time and date) into the aircraft’s navigation system. Once it had correctly determined our position, the screens began to come to life.

C-130J Cockpit

C-130J Cockpit

Kev talked us through the main differences between the older ‘K’ model, and the newer ‘J’ model. The main difference was that the ‘K’ cockpit was very much ‘traditional’ in terms of its equipment, and as such flew with a Flight Engineer to ‘keep an eye on the pilots’ (as Kev put it!). The newer model is much more automated, with glass screens replacing traditional instruments, and much more automation being available, enabling this aircraft to fly with just two pilots on board.

We were talked through some of the performance numbers of the aircraft, typical fuel burn of 2 tonnes an hour, with a typical cruise ceiling around 30,000 feet at around 0.5 Mach. Kev showed us how some of the screens could be reconfigured to show a wealth of different information, including demonstrating the aircraft’s HUD (Head Up Display), and talked a bit about his role as an Engineer on the type.

After that we had a quick look around the back of the aircraft, with Kev lowering the ramp so we could see what the view out of the back looked like. It was hard to imagine seeing that view when tearing along at low level at a rate of knots! After some more interesting information about the various roles the aircraft was used for, there was just time for a quick look around the outside of the aircraft, before it was time for us to return and for the groups to switch over.

Kev drove us back, and we chatted over drinks while waiting for Seb to be finished in the simulator. We talked about the new aircraft that have recently joined the Club’s fleet (which I’m yet to fly), while we waited (somewhat!) patiently for Seb to arrive and signal our turn in the simulator. We were surprised to see a photo of an attractive young lady in there, with the caption “Don’t call me Betty” (a reference to ‘Bitching Betty‘, the name given by pilots to the voice warnings in aircraft). This (it turned out) was the face behind the voice of the cockpit warnings we were all about to hear!

On our way to the simulator, we stopped off in a Conference Room, where Seb gave a short presentation showing the progression of an RAF pilot through flying light aircraft right up to low level sorties in the C-130. He also showed some of the wide and varied mission profiles that the C-130 is used for. It really is an incredibly versatile aircraft (seeing one land on and then take off from an Aircraft Carrier is truly impressive!) and one that it must be great fun (and challenging) to fly on a daily basis.

We walked into the simulator room, and Seb first of all showed us the two full motion simulators. One of these was in use (although very still so it must have just been in the cruise or something!), and the other was in the middle of an update by Sim Technicians. We were able to have a look in this one, and the visuals of the aircraft on the ground at RAF Valley were startlingly realistic. Seb talked to about how the simulators were used, with each pilot typically flying 3 sessions in the simulator every 3 months, including a revalidation style ‘test’ on the aircraft every year.

We then moved to the ‘static’ simulator, which has basically the same capabilities as the other two, with the exception of the configuration of the screens being a little different, with the P1 and P2 seats effectively having their own screen as opposed to the single continuous screen in the full motion sim (and the obvious lack of motion). The different screens meant the view wasn’t quite as realistic as the full motion sim, but (as we were to find out) the small limitations were soon forgotten once the action started!

The simulator was setup at the threshold of runway 31 at RAF Valley (a place I’d love to be able to fly into for real!), and Seb initially talked us through the basics of flying a circuit in the Hercules. Full power on the runway, rotate to 15 degrees nose up at 100 knots, before lowering the nose once clear of the ground to accelerate to 150 knots and climb to 1000 feet. Then a left turn onto downwind, followed by a 90 degree turn onto base leg, reducing speed to 140 knots. Once the speed is below 140 knots, select full flap, reducing the speed to the threshold speed of 115 knots, while lining up for the runway. Then it was a ‘simple’ matter of flaring the aircraft about 20 feet above the runway, reducing power to idle and landing. Easy!

Seb later clarified that due to time constraints (and the fact that we were all inexperienced C-130 pilots!) he had given us a simplified version of the takeoff procedure. The true procedure is to pitch up to around 10 degrees and bring the power back to maintain the required climb speed, rather than climbing at a higher pitch rate to keep speed below gear and flap limiting speeds as we had done.

Obviously nobody was in a great hurry to volunteer to be first, but Mark was closed to the P1 seat, so he sat down to take the first go. Seb acted as PNF (pilot not flying), setting the heading bug and target speed (that would appear in the HUD for Mark to follow) and managing the flaps. Mark headed off down the runway, rotating and climbing out at the appropriate speed. Seb engaged the auto-throttles for a while, before Mark elected to fly the remainder of the circuit manually. Downwind and Base legs went well, and Mark brought the aircraft in for a bouncy but acceptable landing.

I happened to be next closest to the seat, so the pressure was now on me to repeat the performance as PF (pilot flying). For the takeoff roll Seb again acted as PNF, and I think I managed a relatively good performance once I’d got used to the initial feel of the aircraft. Mark took over as PNF for the rest of the flight, and I flew a fairly tidy circuit (altitude and speed control being a little wayward but a passable performance), managing to get nicely aligned for the runway and at or close to target speed.

On climbout from runway 31 at RAF Valley

On climbout from runway 31 at RAF Valley

One thing I noticed when turning Downwind to Base (the first time I really applied any significant angle of bank) was the slight disorientation I felt at seeing realistic visuals without the accompanying motion cues that you would get when flying a real aircraft (or indeed one of the full motion simulators presumably).

Sadly the final part of the flight (the bit everyone remembers!) didn’t go quite as well, as I also bounced the initial landing, then failed to arrest the descent on the second touchdown. As a result I was rewarded by a big red splodge on the screens indicating that I’d crashed. Ah well, it took me something like 40 landings to learn to land a Warrior, so it’s early days yet!

The remainder of the group took their turn as PF, while I acted as PNF for a couple of the flights. In general the standard of the flying by the whole group was pretty good, all of us getting used to the unfamiliar handling of such a large aircraft and the amount of information displayed on the HUD in a fairly short time.

After everyone had their turn at flying a circuit, it was then time to make things a little more interesting! The advantage of using a simulator for training is that any number of failures can be introduced, without the risk of damage or injury. Seb briefed us on what to expect should an engine fail on takeoff, as well as the appropriate remedial action to be taken.

Again Mark went first, with Seb failing one of the outboard engines past V1 (the speed at which you will continue the takeoff should an engine failure occur). Mark continued the takeoff, and the amount of aileron and rudder input that was required to manage the asymmetric trust (despite the aircraft’s FADEC systems automatically reducing thrust on the opposite engine) was quite surprising. Mark did a good job, managing the initial excursion, and building enough speed for the opposite engine to again be spooled up automatically.

My turn now, and I had the advantage of having seen someone else’s attempt! During my takeoff roll, Seb simulated a tyre failure above V1, closely followed by an engine failure! I somewhat over-corrected, leading to Betty advising me of an excessive sideslip, and suggesting I apply opposite rudder. I did this, only for her then to warn me of excessive rudder in the direction of the failed engine, requiring another swift reversal of the controls! I finally got things under control (one of the differences with a heavy aircraft is the amount of inertia, meaning it is easy to get into an ever increasing serious of oscillations from stable flight) and got to the point where I could lower the nose and build up flying speed.

Mark grappling with a Number 1 engine failure

Mark grappling with a Number 1 engine failure

The remainder of the group took their turns, with the final pilot being treated to a whole gamut of failures, as Seb failed 1, 2, and then 3 engines. These failures were all handled well, but when Seb failed the fourth (and final!) engine all hydraulics were also lost, and there was little chance of a successful landing (despite Seb’s tongue in cheek suggestion of ‘flare’ as the aircraft descended towards the trees!).

Sadly, this brought our time in the simulator to an end, despite all of us agreeing that we would happily spend the entire night here. Both groups met up again in the kitchen for a last chat, where we all expressed our gratitude at being able to attend today. There is a chance that the format might be repeated soon, and if there is space available I’ll definitely try to attend again.


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