My annual summary for 2013 showed a distressing drop in the number of hours I’d flown that year, and one of my resolutions for this coming year was to attempt to fly more regularly. A forecast break in the recent miserable weather seemed the ideal time to get my 2014 flying off to the best possible start.
A recent shake up in the aircraft available at Lyneham meant that they currently only had one Warrior (with another to follow soon) and that was already booked. As a result, I booked an aircraft with Freedom Aviation (suppliers of Lyneham’s previous aircraft, and now operating out of their own base at Kemble) in order to make todays flight.
Luned agreed to accompany me on the flight with Catrin, and the recent wet weather meant that the choice of destination was realistically limited to airfields with a hard runway. It had been some time since I’d been to Sywell, and I’d never landed on their ‘new’ hard runway, so this seemed like an ideal destination. Their grass areas were NOTAMed as being unusable, but a quick check with the Tower a couple of days before the flight suggested that there should be sufficient parking on the hard standing.
As usual, the majority of the planning for the flight (including checking up some of the operational details with Sarah at Freedom) was carried out the night before the flight, and when the promised good weather arrived on Saturday I completed the last minute planning, phoned Sywell for PPR and we all bundled into the car for the trip to Kemble.
G-VICC was just departing as we arrived (somewhat surprising as I thought we were the first booking of the day) and I despatched Luned and Catrin to AV8 to wait while I got the aircraft ready. Sarah showed me around Freedom’s new facilities, and brought me up to speed with the fact that Dave and Mark had headed over to Gloucester for fuel and some circuits, promising to be back by 11.
As we finished, they arrived in the circuit, and I set about transferring all our gear from the car to the hangar in readiness for the aircraft’s return. After a brief chat with Dave and Mark I loaded up, unpacking headsets etc., and carried out the walkaround check prior to our flight. After a quick toilet break for everyone, we all got settled in the aircraft and I began the checks before starting.
The engine started easily, and it took a little time to get our taxy clearance. Due to the recent weather, Kemble’s grass taxyways weren’t being used, so we crossed the active runway and used the Charlie taxyway to get to the departure end, passing a couple of parked 747s on the way. I carried out the power checks before we reached the hold, and we were fully ready to depart once I got there.
We watched another aircraft land for a touch and go, and I was cleared onto the runway behind him, ahead of two other aircraft in the circuit. Mindful of the traffic behind, I gave the aircraft ahead sufficient time to clear the departure path for us, and we began our takeoff roll, taking to the air for the first time in 2014.
I followed the aircraft ahead around the circuit, climbing out on the Downwind leg, keeping a good look out for traffic approaching the airfield. Once well above circuit height, I set course for Chedworth and made a note of the start time. As promised, conditions were near perfect, with a few clouds around the 2500 – 3000 feet level.
Layer of cloud enroute
During the circuit, it became clear that Luned’s headset wasn’t transmitting on the intercom correctly. I had her switch to using the sockets on Catrin’s side, but this had no effect (and plugging Catrin’s headset into her sockets worked fine). For some reason, a little while later the headset sprung into life, and continued to work for the rest of the day. Must get it checked out to see if there’s a loose wire somewhere in the headset, and I resolved to mention it to Sarah on our return in case it was an intermittent issue in the aircraft.
Kemble were now getting very busy, and it took me a couple of goes to sign off with them and switch frequency to Brize Radar. I waited until we reached Chedworth before contacting them for a Basic Service, giving them our details and receiving a Squawk.
Brize warned us of glider activity at Little Rissington, so I diverted slightly further North than planned to give it extra clearance, but we didn’t see any gliders. We passed by Chipping Norton, and again stayed North of our planned track to keep clear of Hinton in the Hedges, again notified as being active to us by Brize.
We routed overhead Banbury, and I signed off with Brize to start getting a picture of the traffic at Sywell. As we apprached the turning point at Towcester, Luned pointed out Silverstone off to our right, and we had a chat with Catrin (distracting her from her game of Top Trumps!) about that being where the racing cars we frequently watch on TV race. We decided to pay a visit there on the way back so that she could get a closer look.
Top Trumps in the back
Sywell didn’t seem to be particularly busy as we approached, and I received the airfield details and set up for an Overhead Join for runway 21R (their ‘new’ hard runway). They were reporting winds of 270 at 18 knots, which was very close to the 17 knot demonstrated crosswind limit for the Warrior we were flying, so this was likely to be a challenging landing!
As I announced Overhead, another aircraft went around from Short Final, and I had Luned keep a good eye on him as we completed the descent on the Deadside. We slotted in behind him on Downwind, and after completing the pre-landing checks I followed him around the circuit, extending the Downwind leg by quite a long way. We turned Base and Final, and he seemed to touch down ahead of us with plenty of gap for us to follow him. However, it became clear as we continued our approach that he would not clear the runway in time, and the FISO suggested we execute a Go Around.
My first flight of the year was certainly packing in lots of useful practice, and I applied power for the Go Around, retracting the flaps in stages and making ready for another circuit. As we started the Go Around another aircraft completed its Deadside descent and we saw it on the Crosswind leg.
It was about to turn Downwind as we climbed out, and we heard an aircraft report ‘Crosswind’. I mistakenly assumed he had given an incorrect position report, but it soon became clear that there was another aircraft as it passed a few hundred yards ahead of us, and slightly above. It was certainly my mistake in not spotting him off to our left as I executed the Go Around (although in my defence this is a pretty busy time in the cockpit). Also as we were below him, it’s not clear whether we would have been in his blind sport as he descended (although I had made all the required position calls in the circuit, so he should have known where we were and slotted in the circuit appropriately). I can’t remember being this close to another aircraft in the circuit for a while, and it was a useful reminder of the potential for incident in this busy stage of flight in an area where there are likely to be other aircraft around.
Once established at circuit height, I lowered a stage of flap so that we could build some space from the aircraft ahead. We followed him Downwind and on Base, and as he approached the runway he was also forced to Go Around due to an aircraft ahead of him. This had the benefit for us of meaning that we had lots of time to get set up for the landing.
I failed to correctly correct for the strong crosswind when turning Final, and we had to turn back into wind a fair bit to get correctly aligned with the runway centreline. The long Downwind meant I needed to start the descent later than normal, and this probably caused me to delay it too long, and we were quite high on Final. However, I do have a tendency to ‘drag it in’ sometimes, so this higher, steeper approach probably put me on a more correct profile.
As we neared the runway, the amount of crab I was having to apply was very noticeable, so I concentrated on the potentially tricky crosswind landing. As I began the flare, I kicked off the crab, getting us nicely aligned with the runway. I was probably a little fast as we gently touched down, leading to a small bounce, during which I didn’t fully counter the crosswind and we drifted slightly to the left.
The second touchdown was also gentle, and I got us back onto the centreline and we rolled out to the end of the runway. While completing the ‘After Landing’ checklist I realised I’d made the potentially serious omission of not applying Carb Heat during the Base and Final descents (but had been doing so on regular FREDA checks and during the pre-landing checks).
The apron was quite busy, and we had to start a new line in the parking area. After a quick query with the FISO as to whether I was far enough forwards, I shut down and we all disembarked, heading in to pay the landing fee.
As the Tower were so busy, our flight details hadn’t made it onto the computer yet, so instead we headed in to the Pilot’s Mess for some well earned food! I had my usual Sausage and Bacon bap, while Luned and Catrin made their choices from the menu. Luned and Catrin continued their game of Top Trumps while we waited for the food to arrive, and we watched further arrivals and departures along with the other patrons.
Top Trumps continues
After a nice lunch (and a disappointing lack of any form of dessert for Catrin!) we headed back out to the aircraft for the return journey. We had to hang around for a while waiting to pay the landing fee while they dealt with the refuelling of a helicopter that had just arrived. In the end, I left Luned with Catrin to settle up, and walked out to the aircraft for a quick walkaround. I had just about finished when she and Catrin walked out and joined me at the aircraft. We all boarded, and I set about getting the engine going and carrying out the pre-flight activities.
Parked up on the apron
We carried out the power checks on the main apron (moving first so as not to blast the aircraft behind) before taxying to the hold. We waited a short while for another aircraft to land, before three aircraft backtracked along the runway in readiness for departure (with us at the front of the queue!). Once at the far end, I turned around, leaving room for the other aircraft to pass me, before lining up at the start of the runway and beginning the takeoff roll. We departed virtually straight out, climbing to 2500 feet, lowering the nose every so often to check the area ahead for other aircraft. Arriving traffic made it a little difficult to sign of with Sywell, and it took me 3 or 4 attempts to get the message transmitted and correctly acknowledged by the FISO before changing frequency.
I modified our route on SkyDemon to route via Silverstone instead of Towcester, and we carried out an orbit of the circuit, pointing things out to Catrin while Luned got some photographs. Catrin expressed an interest in visiting there one day to watch the racing cars, perhaps we’ll take in a Touring Car meeting or something first, before jumping straight in with a Grand Prix!
Silverstone Circuit – Luffield, the old start finish and Copse
Conscious of the proximity of Turweston, I monitored their frequency, hearing another aircraft departing. At our height we were probably (just) above their ATZ, but I made sure to keep clear to the North as we set course for the next turning point at Banbury. Once at Banbury I contacted Brize on their Radar frequency to ask for a Basic Service and Zone Transit. I was immediately instructed to contact their Zone frequency ‘as published’ for the Zone Transit. While I knew this was the correct frequency to use during the Transit, I wasn’t sure whether to expect a handoff from Radar as I approached the Zone. I’ll try to remember in future to contact Zone direct should I need a Transit.
I switched to the Zone frequency, and after the Controller double checked my route (I’m pretty sure I told her we were routing via Swindon in the initial call, but she was probably a little confused as to why I would route from Banbury to Kemble via the Brize overhead!) we were cleared through the Zone at 2400 feet. As we approached, we heard another aircraft being cleared for a Transit in the opposite direction (from Benson) just below us. As we entered the Zone and approached the airfield, we were asked to Transit to the East of the airfield at a lower altitude to keep clear of an imminent departure. This put us in potential conflict with the other traffic, but the Controller told us to steer South to remain clear.
Aircraft departing Brize
We got a good view of the traffic taking to the runway and climbing out, and as we passed I told Catrin that this was the airfield I’d learned to fly at. We continued through the Zone, setting course for Swindon as we left the Zone, doing our best to keep clear of the Glider site at Sandhill Farm, and Redlands that is used for parachute dropping. The Controller asked us to report visual with Kemble, but as we were planning a bit of sightseeing over Swindon, I signed off then, and switched to Kemble’s frequency to get a feel for the traffic in the area.
We passed over the Honda factory, before using the A419 and Asda Walmart to get our bearings. Following the road into West Swindon we passed over Luned’s school, before spotting the distinctive ex-Renault building that is near our house, and Catrin’s school was then easy to find. We flew over making sure Catrin got a good view, before spending a few moments trying to spot our house and then heading for Kemble. We detoured briefly up to Cricklade (where one of Catrin’s close friends lives) before heading towards Kemble again (spotting and keeping well clear of South Cerney in case there were any parachuting operations going on there).
Kemble were obviously still fairly busy, and there were a couple of aircraft operating in the circuit as we approached. They were still operating on 26, which made for an easy Overhead Join from our position. the descent on the Deadside went well, with us spotting touch and go traffic taking off as we descended. He seemed to head off a long way to the West before turning back Downwind, leading me to wonder if he was actually leaving the circuit. I slotted in behind him on Downwind, and again he travelled much further than normal before turning Base (meaning he head to fly Final directly over Kemble Village, one of the noise sensitive areas near the airfield). I announced I was extending to follow him, and slowed enough to be able to cut the corner on Base leg and avoid flying over Kemble myself. He touched down just as we became established on Final, and was airborne in plenty of time for us to land.
I landed deliberately long (as I knew we would be leaving at the far end of the runway), and brought us in for another smooth landing (relatively surprising given the time since my last flight!), contacting the FISO in good time to request taxy back to parking at Woodside. Another aircraft was at the hold waiting to join the runway (perhaps for backtrack or to use the Charlie taxyway as we had) and we passed him with plenty of room. Dave spotted us taxying up and indicated how he wanted us to position the aircraft, and once I’d shutdown he came out and pushed us back into the hangar (I could get used to this kind of service!).
We all disembarked, and Luned and Catrin chatted to Dave and Sarah for a while as I started to unload all our gear. They headed into AV8 while I did all the tidying up and completed the post-flight paperwork, mentioning the issues with the intercom to Sarah. Once everything was completed, I walked over to the (now closed) AV8 (disappointed at not being able to have a well earned pint!) before we all headed home.
It was good to get up in the air again so early in the year, and particularly pleasing to squeeze so much into just over 2 hours of flying. There were the usual few mistakes during the flight that left me with some things to think about, but otherwise we’d all had a great flight and spotted some interesting things along the way. I’m already up to almost 10% of my total flying hours for 2013, so hopefully I can fulfill at least one of my goals and get back to some regular flying again this year.
Total flight time today: 2:40
Total flight time to date: 232:55