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.

With Freedom to Sywell

January 11, 2014

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

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

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!

Approaching Sywell

Approaching Sywell

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

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

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

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

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).

Catrin's school

Catrin’s school

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.

Tracks flown

Tracks flown

Outbound profile

Outbound profile

Return profile

Return profile

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

2013 Summary

December 31, 2013

A summary of my flying during 2013:

  • 23:20 flying hours (all P1), all bar 2 trips flown in the Arrow
  • 23 flights
  • Not a single ‘local’ flight!
  • 8 new airfields visited.

My 2013 goals were (summarised):

  • Make at least one trip to the Continent
  • Visit at least one destination on my Northern Chart (Sherburn or Blackpool?)
  • Re-visit Caernarfon / Anglesey, this time with the family and hopefully for an extended stay
  • Continue to take part in more ‘sociable’ flying like Club fly-outs or visits to fly-ins
  • Make more use of the IMC rating
  • Get some experience of spinning at least, with perhaps some aeros as well
  • Attempt to fly more often wherever possible
  • Get Luned to do some landing practice, and also a flight or two in the Arrow

Yet again I’ve completed a flying year without a visit to the Continent. However, I did get to use my Northern Chart, and finally paid a visit to Caernarfon with the family. I made very little use of the IMC rating, apart from a practice flight to Cranfield in the Arrow (that was supposed to have included an approach, but required switching from a Warrior to the Arrow at the last minute).

Also my flying hours are significantly down from the previous year yet again. Being forced to replace my car in the middle of the year certainly didn’t help, but my lack of flying has been more down to having the spare time and appropriate weather than anything else. Hopefully I can try to fly more regularly next year.

One particularly enjoyable aspect of my flying this year was the two longer shared flights with David. We squeezed in quite a lot of flying experience into those two flights, not least a number of new airfields for us both. I also made a couple of longer trips through the rest of the year, including the visits to Caernarfon, Retford Gamston and Sherburn in Elmet.

Recently, Kemble have announced their intention to install lighting on one of the runways, which may make night flying a realistic prospect there. This means the addition of a Night Qualification is now a more attractive prospect, something I might try to achieve next year.

Goals for next year (sadly, very similar to this year’s goals!)

  • Make at least one trip to the Continent
  • Visit Caernarfon or another airfield for an extended stay
  • Continue to take part in more ‘sociable’ flying like Club fly-outs or visits to fly-ins
  • Make more use of the IMC rating to retain currency, both by carrying out flights that involve some portion in actual IMC, and carrying both practice and real approaches into airfields that provide instrument approaches (including renewal of the IMC rating)
  • Get some experience of spinning at least, with perhaps some aeros as well
  • Attempt to fly more often wherever possible
  • Get Luned to do some landing practice, and also a flight or two in the Arrow
  • Consider the addition of a Night Qualification to my license.

Back to Wellesbourne, first time this year!

November 23, 2013

It had been a long time since I’d last flown (due to a combination of holiday, other commitments, weather and minor ailments), and as a result I was now out of Arrow currency and perilously close to dropping out of Warrior and Passenger Carrying currency too.

This was the last weekend I would be able to do anything about it, and fortunately the Weather Gods smiled on me and gave me a clear (if cold) day to get some flying in.

Due to the long time since my last flight, I decided on a short hop to somewhere familiar, and Wellesbourne seemed the obvious choice. On checking my logbook, I realised that I hadn’t actually been there since August 2012!

We were in the middle of a period of cooler weather, and my main concern leading up to the flight was icy conditions, in particular the accumulation of any ice or frost on the aircraft. Luckily the day of the flight dawned bright and clear (as promised) with the added advantage of not having any frost, so there was no need to clear the car and (hopefully) would be no need to clear the aircraft either.

As it was just a short hop, we took our time getting ready, and arrived at Kemble at around the time our booking started (rather than earlier as I would normally do). I took my time loading all the gear into the aircraft and giving it a thorough check, before heading back to the Club to collect Luned and Catrin from the office. After our usual toilet stop before boarding, we all walked out to the aircraft and got settled in.

I ran through the checklist carefully (a combination of not having flown for a while and being more familiar with the Arrow these days), and the engine started easily. I was just about to call for airfield information and taxy clearance, when Catrin piped up from the back ‘I need the toilet!”.

After confirming that she really did need to go, I shut down the engine, and Luned took Catrin to the toilet before we all loaded up for the second time. After some messing around trying to locate my lost sunglasses, we were finally ready again, and the engine started up easily for the second time in just a few minutes.

Happy passenger

Happy passenger

As I was waiting to make the call for taxy, I heard the FISO announce a change of runway from 26 to 08 (less convenient for us as it requires a relatively long taxy to the other end of the airfield). They were quite busy, so it took me a while to get the radio calls in, but this gave the engine chance to warm up a little so was no bad thing.

We taxyed down the grass taxyway to the Western end of the field, carrying out our power checks on the North Apron along side another aircraft, watching him depart to the hold just as I was finished. The frequency was now incredibly busy with a lot of arriving and circuit traffic, and after being cleared to the hold we we waiting for 5 or 10 minutes before there was a sufficient lull to enable us both to take off in turn.

The Easterly departure did at least mean we only had to make a left turn to get straight onto the planned track, and as we climbed away I took the first opportunity I could to announce my frequency change so as not to get stuck on frequency.

As we approached the Chedworth disused airfield, I signed in with Brize for a Basic Service, and we noticed a lot of low lying fog in the Cheltenham and Gloucester area. It looked a little surreal to have most of the area clear of fog, but just the basin around Gloucester Airfield covered in it. It almost looked like the sea from our vantage point. I wondered if it was affecting Gloucester’s operations at all, as David had planned a flight to the Continent today.

Low lying fog over Cheltenham and Gloucester

Low lying fog over Cheltenham and Gloucester

Brize were relatively quiet, although I heard someone on a NavEx from Oaksey reporting on frequency. There was a NOTAM for parachute jumping over several days at Little Rissington, but I’d called the number that morning to check whether there was any activity planned for today. They’d told me they were operating out of Weston for the day, so I stuck with my more direct route, that took me within 5 or 6 miles of Little Rissington.

We were soon approaching the next turning point at the Moreton in Marsh disused airfield, so I signed off with Brize and listened in on Wellesbourne. They seemed quite quiet (for a change!) but it took me a couple of attempts to make contact with them. I received the airfield information (they’d switched runways since my call earlier in the morning) and I set about spotting the field and planning the approach.

The airfield was a little difficult to spot in the low lying haze, but with the help of SkyDemon and a little previous knowledge, I soon identified it and positioned myself in readiness for an overhead join for runway 18 with a right hand circuit.

Joining Overhead at Wellesbourne

Joining Overhead at Wellesbourne

As we approached the airfield, another aircraft announced it was overhead, and Luned spotted it and kept an eye on it for me as it made its descent on the dead side. I announced overhead myself, just as the other aircraft announced that if was Downwind for 36. Although I was fairly sure this was just a slip of the tongue (based on his flight path so far it was clear he was joining for 18) I queried the runway in use with the FISO (‘confirm active on runway 36′?) just to be sure.

I carried out the usual wide deadside descent to avoid Wellesbourne itself, and positioned myself on Downwind as the other aircraft was on Short Final. I carried out the pre-landing checks and continued around the circuit, setting us up for a rather high approach to the runway. I used a small amount of side-slip to lose height, before bringing us down for a slightly firm (but perfectly acceptable to me!) landing on the runway.

I continued to the far end as per the FISO’s instructions, and then parked on the grass as usual (although a bit further from the Cafe than normal!).

We all disembarked, and walked in to the Cafe for some lunch. They were busy as ever, but we managed to grab a table without waiting, and all enjoyed a leisurely lunch. Due to the short flight time on the return leg, there was no need to rush, so we chatted and Catrin enjoyed being showed which airfields we’d visited on the chart they had under the glass top on our table. Luned and Catrin opted for ‘afters’ (cake for Luned, and a KitKat for Catrin!), and once suitably fed and watered we headed back to the aircraft.

I phoned Kemble to book in for a couple of circuits when we returned so as to fully reset my passenger currency (to carry passengers I have to have made 3 take offs and landings in the 90 days prior to any flight), and after a quick walkaround we all mounted up.

The engine started easily, there was no need for an emergency toilet stop this time, so after the appropriate radio calls we taxyed to the hold. Another aircraft was ahead, and a third followed us preparing to depart. There was little wind so I positioned the aircraft so that Catrin could get a good view of the Vulcan on the ground while I did the power checks (rather than pointing into wind as is more normal) and the aircraft ahead took to the runway as I completed the checks.

Once at the hold I announced our readiness, and we lined up and departed without any delay. There was some low lying fog and mist around as we climbed out, and as we got higher it was also clear that visibility into sun wasn’t particularly good. I opted to leave the landing light on for the whole flight to enable us to be more easily spotted, and used SkyDemon to confirm the track on each leg due to the more tricky conditions.

We spoke to Brize again on the return, but they were very quiet and had little to say to us. I managed to leave the carb heat hot during one of the FREDA checks, something I only noticed a little later when doing a quick once over of the controls. Approaching Chedworth we signed off and contacted Kemble, they were still operating on the Easterly runway and requested I join Overhead. Spotting the airfield was a little tricky given the poor visibility, but we were soon entering the Overhead and preparing for the descent on the deadside.

Things started to get a little busier, and I was forced to have a few words with Catrin about remaining quiet while we were in the circuit. The FISO always seemed to preempt my planned position reports by a few seconds, asking for my position as I was just about to report both Downwind and Base on the first circuit. Luned continued to prove her worth, spotting traffic bringing it to my attention.

Having fun in the back!

Having fun in the back!

The first approach was good, although possibly a little fast as we seemed to float longer than I would have liked. The touchdown was near perfect however, nice to know I can still do it! I retracted the flaps and increased power to go around for another landing, doing my best to steer clear of the noise sensitive areas.

Looking at the GPS track, I seem to have extended the Downwind leg much longer than I should have on the second circuit. I had to call Final a couple of times due to getting blocked on the frequency, but eventually got the call in. The last part of the approach was better this time, and I landed gently with little float, giving myself plenty of time to turn off at the second turning.

Due to the busyness of the frequency I was unable to request taxy clearance to the fuel pumps, so turned off with a view to stopping at the hold line and getting further instructions. This caused the FISO some concern however, as he had another aircraft leaving the North Apron at the time, which put us head to head (although I was visual with him at all times).

I was instructed to hold, and then eventually given the taxy instructions to head to the pumps. I’m not sure what else I could have done in that situation, short of stopping on the runway waiting for instructions (something that doesn’t seem like a good idea either!). I must do some research to see what the correct course of action would have been.

Catrin and Luned huddled together for warmth as I refuelled (noticing that on the return flight I’d neglected to change tanks at any point, a potentially serious omission), then we all got back on board and taxyed back to the parking area. Just before shutting down I apologised to the FISO for the earlier mix up, receiving the response “Not to worry, another busy day!”. It certainly was!

Luned and Catrin headed back to the Club as I cleared all our gear out and put the aircraft to bed, before I headed back myself to complete the final paperwork for the flight.

Tracks flown

Tracks flown

Outbound profile

Outbound profile

Return profile

Return profile

This was a relatively routine day’s flying, although the busyness at Kemble at the start and end certainly kept me on my toes. Once again the relatively long layoff had shown itself by my making a couple of potentially serious omissions (failing to switch fuel tanks and not returning carb heat to cold) but on the whole my flying was pretty good I thought. I certainly made much better landings on the 2nd and 3rd attempts!

This may well turn out to be my last flight of the year, as things always seem to get busy on the run up to Christmas. Maybe I’ll have chance to squeeze in another flight before the New Year.

Total flight time today: 2:00
Total flight time to date: 230:15

Returning to Pembrey, planned this time!

September 29, 2013

A busy few weeks had meant almost a month since I last flew, so of course I was itching to get in the air again. Initially I wanted to take the family flying, so booked one of the Club’s Warriors in order for Catrin to have a bit more legroom. However, Catrin has recently started school, and we’re trying to give her at least one ‘quiet’ day each weekend as she’s finding it quite tiring, and as a result this meant it wasn’t really practical for us all to go flying.

In the run up to the flight, I tried to find a willing victim to accompany me, but everyone I asked was unable to make it at short notice. I did consider switching the flight over to the Arrow, but decided that as I hadn’t flown a Warrior in quite a while, a refresher flight on my own wouldn’t be a bad thing.

When choosing the destination, a quick flick through the month’s free landing vouchers suggested Pembrey would be a good bet, so I planned the flight the night before (as usual) and did the last of the planning and marking up of my chart on the morning of the flight. I’d been in to Pembrey a couple of times before, but this time it’d be good to be making another planned visit!

There was a small amount of re-planning to do as the aircraft I was flying was heading straight in to maintenance, and Sarah (the aircraft owner) had asked me to drop it directly to Oaksey rather than have Dave go and get it from Kemble. I was initially a little reticent due to not being overly familiar with Oaksey, but in the end I decided to be brave and agreed. Two or three days before, the weather hadn’t looked particularly promising, with potentially strong winds being the issue. However, the day before the TAFs suggested that all would be well, and despite some patchy cloud the weather on the morning of the flight looked perfect. A quick call to Pembrey confirmed that all was well there, and I headed off to Kemble.

The airfield was relatively quiet when I arrived, and after completing the pre-flight paperwork I headed out to the aircraft for the A check. G-ELUE has just had a zero-timed engine fitted, so I took my time over the walk around, paying particular attention to engine oil level and brake fluid level (the required maintenance was to address a minor brake issue).

Once satisfied, I got myself ready in the cockpit and set about starting the engine. It fired up nice and easily, and I kept the revs low for a period to allow the engine to warm up gently. Winds were from the East today, which meant a relatively long taxy down the grass taxyway to the North Apron for power checks. I paid particular attention to the brake checks while taxying, as the reported fault was long travel on the right brake pedal. This proved to be the case, and I made a mental note to be aware of this should I need to use the brakes on landing.

The power checks were all completed normally, and once finished I reported ready and was cleared straight on to the runway (completing the turning parts of the taxy checks on the way as I’d neglected to do these while taxying). Without any delay I applied power on the runway, and took to the air.

I was surprised at how easily the aircraft left the runway and climbed, and was soon heading downwind towards Wales before continuing the climb up to my cruising level of 4000 feet. I overshot the climb by a few hundred feet, and descended back to my planned level while intercepting the appropriate track for the BCN VOR to get myself back on the planned route. This aircraft is fitted with an Airbox Foresight Superbright, but initially I had trouble working out how to power it on. I eventually found a switch on the panel marked ‘GPS’, and flicking this on enabled me to get it powered up. I was also initially confused by the Nav fit in this aircraft. It has two Nav radios, but I could only find a CDI marked ‘Nav 2′. It was only after a bit of flying that I realised there was a CDI on the display of the Nav unit itself.

As I approached the River Severn and made ready to contact Cardiff, I spotted another aircraft off to my right at a similar level. Around the time I spotted him and began turning right to pass behind him, he also began to turn right. I’m not sure if he spotted me and was concerned about a conflict, or if he was just turning to head towards Cardiff (which was in the general direction of his new track). At any rate, there was little danger of a conflict.

Haze and clouds crossing the Severn

Haze and clouds crossing the Severn

Heading towards Wales, there appeared to be a bank of cloud ahead, and a distinct hazy layer in the air. I was a little concerned that I might have to consider aborting the flight if the cloud was as thick as it looked. However, as I continued it became clear that I was just seeing very patchy cloud, which from a distance appeared much thicker than it really way. Crossing the Severn, I contacted Cardiff for a LARS service. I’d been monitoring the frequency for a while, and was a little concerned that the only traffic I could hear appeared to be commercial traffic heading into either Bristol or Cardiff (I’d called them on the wrong frequency on other occasions when requesting a LARS service). My initial call was accepted though, and I received a Basic Service from them as I headed into Wales. There was some humour on frequency as two Cardiff based aircraft had transponder issues, leading to the Controller to suggest that maybe it was his equipment. One of the airliners piped up, asking if Cardiff had them on Radar too!

Clouds more broken than they at first appeared

Clouds more broken than they at first appeared

I diverted slightly around the glider field at Usk, and around this time the Controller asked if I was currently ‘overhead the Llandegfedd Reservoir’ (which I was). I hadn’t been given a discrete squawk code, so presumably he was just confirming that I was where he thought I was. I continued on towards the BCN VOR, dialling in the outbound radial as I approached and keeping to the South of the VOR itself to avoid a potential area of high traffic. Around 20nm East of Pembrey I signed off with Cardiff, and listened in to Swansea for a while as I passed North of them, hearing various traffic on the ground and arriving and departing.

As I continued towards Pembrey, I spotted an RAF SAR helicopter operating at low level off to my right. Hopefully it was just on exercise and not responding to a real emergency.

RAF SAR helicopter

RAF SAR helicopter

Around 15nm from Pembrey I switched frequencies to build up a picture of the traffic (hearing nothing!) and started to look for the field. I suspect my height gave the illusion that I was further away than I actually was, as I spotted the field a lot later than I would have liked (I had been looking long past it). I made my initial call and began positioning for an overhead join for 04, and suspected I might have trouble getting down to the correct height. In reality, the descent was almost constant from my cruising altitude down to circuit height, with just a brief level off at around 2000 feet before continuing down to circuit height. There was no other traffic around, and after completing the before landing checks on the Downwind leg I set up for Final approach over the circuit.

Joining Overhead Pembrey

Joining Overhead Pembrey

I was slightly high and fast crossing the threshold, and this is probably the reason I floated more than I would have liked, and gently bounced back into the air on initial touchdown. I controlled it though, adding a brief burst of power to cushion the second touchdown, although it was a little firmer than I would have liked. I was forced to use the brakes gently to slow down, and the issue with the long pedal on the right hand side meant that I wandered to the left of the runway for a moment before getting things under control and backtracking ready to park.

The last time I was here, I was marshalled to the parking area, but this time there was nobody to be seen. I asked for fuel, but they had to go and check they actually had some! As I headed into the parking area, a minibus crossed the runway behind me, and sat waiting as I turned across the taxyway in readiness for pushing back into the parking area. He was forced to wait as I went through the shutdown checklist, before jumping out and pushing the aircraft back towards the grass to park a bit more neatly. The guy from the minibus was dressed in combat gear (I think he was an army cadet leader or something) and headed over for a brief chat, telling me he’d wondered how I was going to reverse into the parking space!

Parked up at Pembrey

Parked up at Pembrey

I headed in to the airport buildings to settle the landing fee (and find out that they didn’t have fuel available). I’d managed to forget to pick up the landing voucher, but the guy offered to let me off as long as I brought it next time! Not knowing when I would be back again, I declined and and paid the perfectly reasonable landing fee before heading into the restaurant for lunch. I knew that they operated a Sunday carvery, and had tried to phone the number on the airfield’s web site earlier that morning to see if I needed to book a table. However, the number didn’t seem to be correct, and I was unable to get hold of anyone. It turned out that they only do a carvery on a Sunday, but a bit of negotiation persuaded them to make me a sandwich using the meat from the carvery.

I had a pleasant lunch, taking my time eating and updating the chart for the return journey. The restaurant was pretty busy with locals, always a good sign in an airfield cafe! Fed and watered, I had to wait a little while to pay while the staff chatted with a customer (I wasn’t in any rush, so didn’t feel the need to make too much of an effort to divert their attention), and I headed back to the aircraft, taking a few photos on the way. Was a little amused to find an ‘Airport Police’ car in the car park!

Airport Police!

Airport Police!

Back at the aircraft, I performed a walk around and started running through the pre-start checklist as a light helicopter performed manoeuvres on the far side of the airfield. As I started my engine, he hover taxyed over towards the airfield buildings, soon to be joined by an RAF SAR helicopter (perhaps the one I saw earlier?) that arrived to refuel. I got some better photos of it this time!

Little and Large!

Little and Large!

I carried out the power checks in my parking space (there was little space to do it anywhere else) before taxying to the hold and taking to the runway to backtrack. Again the departure was normal, although I was initially a little concerned with the height of the high ground to the East that I would have to pass over. However, this was unfounded, as I was soon up at circuit height and beyond as I headed East, loosely setting course towards the BCN VOR. I continued the climb up to around 3000 feet, and have to admit to paying less attention to the Nav on this leg. I was basically just ensuring I was heading East, and took an occasional look at SkyDemon to ensure I wasn’t drifting too far South and getting close to Cardiff’s airspace to the South. Keeping South was also useful as it kept me well clear of the two glider fields on the route.

Swansea were pretty quiet as I passed, but when I switched to Cardiff it was clear they were much busier than on the outbound leg. As I approached the Brecon Beacons things got much more turbulent, and I was finding it a lot more difficult to maintain my height due to being caught in alternate updraughts and downdraughts as the air rolled over the higher ground. This was also a contributory factor to my deciding not to talk to Cardiff, I just kept out a listening watch to see if there was any other traffic in the same area that might become a factor.

As I approached the area of the VOR, I dialled in the outbound course and continued Eastwards until I intercepted it (again making sure to stay clear of the gliding field at Usk). Approaching the Severn, I dialled in Kemble’s frequency, and was surprised to be able to monitor both air and ground transmissions so far out. I descended to around 2500 feet in readiness for the approach into Oaksey, and contact Kemble briefly to get their QFE and some idea of the wind in case there was nobody manning the radio at Oaksey. I made a mistake correcting Kemble’s QFE for that at Oaksey (Oaksey is about 200 feet lower than Kemble). I dialled in Kemble’s QFE, then adjusted the altimeter until the indicated height was 200 feet below that based on Kemble’s QFE, when in fact I should obviously have made it 200 feet above.

Approaching Oaksey Park

Approaching Oaksey Park

Around Tetbury I switched to Oaksey Radio, hearing Dave setting up for his approach to land there. I made my initial call to Oaksey, receiving no response from the ground, but getting some distinctly non-CAP 493 standard R/T from Dave! We chatted briefly, and I asked him for the QFE to which he offered up a guess, highlighting my earlier error. I continued into the Overhead, making calls to ‘Oaksey Traffic’ as I set up to join Downwind (there is no deadside at Oaksey). I probably turned in a little earlier than I should, making the turn a little steeper than was otherwise necessary. However, given that I was by myself, there were no passengers to be concerned about so I only had to concerned myself with how it looked to the aircraft owners watching on the ground!

I’d studied the noise abatement chart in my flight guide, and was mindful of a village off the approach end of 04 that was to be avoided. As a result of this, the Base and Final turns ended up being a near 235 degree right turn, followed by a 45 degree turn to the left to recapture the centreline. I again thought I was too high, but the descent profile shows a near constant descent from 1500 feet down to the ground, so it can’t have been as bad as I feared. I crossed the threshold at a much more appropriate airspeed this time, and the grass at Oaksey probably flattered my crosswind landing a little. There was no need to brake on the runway, and I turned back to park in front of the Clubhouse.

Parked up at Oaksey

Parked up at Oaksey

Chatted briefly with Dave and Sarah, passing on my observations on the brake issue and talking about the alternator issue we noticed when we last tried to fly a Warrior. Sarah then gave me a lift back to the airfield at Kemble after dropping off a couple of Norwegians at the railway station. We headed in to the office and chatted for a while as I completed the post flight paperwork, with Sarah taking details from the tech logs of the other aircraft as we talked.

Tracks flown

Tracks flown

Outbound profile

Outbound profile

Return profile

Return profile

Despite flying solo for the first time in a while, this had been an enjoyable flight. Conditions on the return leg were such that it was probably better that the family weren’t with me, and I’d re-familiarised myself with a Warrior without having to worry about how any passengers might have felt. The landing at Pembrey was fairly poor, but I think I know what I did wrong, and the landing at Oaksey was definitely a whole lot better. I suspect I’ll be flying the Warriors a little more often in the future, but will need to keep an eye on my Arrow currency at the same time.

Total flight time today: 2:20
Total flight time to date: 228:15

Cranfield with my eyes closed (sort of!)

August 31, 2013

Not having flown with David for a while, nor used my IMC rating we planned a flight to share some flying and get some practice under the hood at the same time. David was gracious enough to allow Luned and Catrin to accompany us, so we set about planning a flight in one of the Club’s Warriors to Cranfield, enabling some en-route IMC practice and an Approach for both of us.

The aircraft owners made a late change of aircraft due to the one we were now scheduled to fly having had some engine work done, meaning it wasn’t usable for any training. This was to have a significant bearing on the flight!

I called Cranfield the day before to enquire as to the possibility of carrying out an ILS (to their runway 21) if they were operating on 03. Sadly they couldn’t guarantee that this would be possible (understandable enough) so I ensured I was prepared for either the ILS or an NDB approach onto 03 depending on their traffic situation when we arrived.

As usual, the majority of the pre-flight planning was carried out the night before (with Brize’s TAFs initially giving a bit of a concern), and the morning of the flight dawned to blue, near cloudless skies and TAFs that promised this would continue for the majority of the day.

After completing the planning and calling Cranfield, we were booked in for some Approach time, and we headed off to Kemble. David had already arrived and checked out the aircraft, and due to Cranfield offering us a slightly later Approach slot that we’d initially planned, we hung around in the office for a while chatting and catching up.

We headed out to the aircraft in good time, and got the ladies settled in the back before David and I mounted up. It had been quite a while since I last flew a Warrior, so the cockpit seemed a little unfamiliar at first. I soon reacquainted myself with all the minor differences, and set about starting the engine.

Getting settled for the first time!

Getting settled for the first time!

The engine started easily, but while going through the ‘after start’ checklist I spotted a glitch in that the alternator gauge wasn’t showing a charge, and the low volts light was on. I tried flicking the pitot heat on and off (usually a good test to show that the alternator gauge is reading correctly) and increasing the RPM, but neither action had any useful effect. Turning the alternator switch off and on also had no effect.

After a bit of fiddling, I eventually flicked over to the ‘emergencies’ section of the checklist to see if there was anything I had missed. Following the checklist through still didn’t improve matters, so after a bit of discussion with David (I was considering taxying for power checks to see if running the engine at higher RPM might coax something into life) we shut down and called the aircraft owners.

Sadly there was little else to do than switch aircraft. The Arrow was available, so we all disembarked, and I walked back into the Club with Luned and Catrin to retrieve the keys and update the paperwork. I also made a quick call to Cranfield to let them know what was happening, and explain that we may not be able to carry out the Approaches (the DME and ADF in the Arrow aren’t reliable enough to be able to count on them should the need arise).

In the meantime David got the Arrow ready, completing his second ‘A’ check of the day! As I left the Club I noticed he had finished, so told Luned to follow me after 5 minutes or so, and I headed out to transfer all our gear into the other aircraft.

We got ourselves settled in again (Catrin not as comfortable as she was due to the limited legroom in the rear of the Arrow – another reason why we had wanted to fly the Warrior) and then realised that I didn’t have my Arrow checklist with me (I had removed it from my kneeboard as we weren’t anticipating flying it today). To compound this, the copy that is supposed to be left in the aircraft wasn’t there, so David jumped out and went back to the Club to retrieve a copy I’d noticed with the tech log. Hopefully this was to be our last glitch of the day!

Finally settled and ready to go, the Arrow started up nicely and we received our taxy clearance. I did my best to try to throw off all the prior issues and concentrate on the flight, and we taxyed to the D site apron for power checks as usual. These were all normal, and the frequency was fairly quiet as we announced ready and were cleared to taxy to the hold.

With no delay we were soon taking to the runway, and I backtracked slightly to give us as much runway as possible (never a bad idea, but today we were 4 up). Before I could announce that I was ready, the FISO gave me the ‘Take off at your discretion’ call and I smoothly applied full power, checking the engine gauges as we began to accelerate down the runway. A normal takeoff followed, and I raised the gear and got us settled into the climb before turning Crosswind, doing my best to avoid the local villages.

On the Downwind leg, David spotted that I had selected the wrong frequency for Brize (my planned first call after leaving Kemble) but this was quickly rectified, and I used SkyDemon to intercept the planned South Easterly track to keep us well clear of South Cerney.

Power checks - incorrect frequency for Brize Radar in Box 1 standby field

Power checks – incorrect frequency for Brize Radar in Box 1 standby field

Once clear of Kemble, I had David take control briefly while I put the hood on, and tuned in Brize’s NDB for the next leg. I had toyed with the idea of requesting a Zone Transit, but given the CAVOK conditions there was no reason not to continue to climb to 4000 feet to fly over the top of their Zone.

Once established on the track direct to Brize, I gave them a call to request a Basic Service, being given an appropriate squawk. Around this time I picked up on my usual mistake and realised that I hadn’t switched the fuel pump off!

My performance under the hood was generally good, but David had to warn me at one point when I looked down at the plog and ended up turning right. One thing I’ve found with the Arrow is that it always has a tendency to bank left, and I suspect I was over-correcting for this when not focussing on the instruments. My height and track both meandered a little (probably slightly outside of IMC test standards) but given that I was out of practice, in general the instrument part of the flight went pretty well.

Under the hood

Under the hood

While trying to point out Brize to Catrin, I managed to confuse it with Fairford (for some reason I thought Fairford’s runway was oriented more North – South) and embarrassingly Luned had to correct me (‘This inspires confidence for the rest of the flight!’).

Contented passengers

Contented passengers

I passed slightly to the South of Brize (pointing it out correctly to Catrin this time!) and set course for the Westcott NDB. This was to be the planned starting point for the Approach (there is a direct join to the NDB Approach to 03 from there, or I would have routed direct to the CIT NDB to commence the ILS to 21), but the DME in the Arrow wasn’t working reliably, so trying an Approach didn’t seem like a good idea.

As we passed over Westcott I signed off with Brize and contacted Cranfield Approach. They asked if we planned to continue with the IFR arrival we had booked, but we declined, and I was given a visual join via the Woburn Town VRP.

After a bit of hunting on the chart we found this (showing poor preparation on my part, I should have been aware of the locations of the VRPs for the airfield we were landing at) and I added this to the route planned in SkyDemon after removing the hood. We descended initially to about 2000 feet, and got a good view of Woburn and the Abbey as we passed.

Sadly, I failed to spot the airfield in good time, David having to point it out to me. As a result, my descent and speed management weren’t great, requiring a descent with the gear horn blaring initially before I dropped the gear to assist with the descent rate. Another aircraft was joining ahead of us for a Touch and Go, and we spotted him on Base as we approached.

He was well established on Final as we reported Base, and a third aircraft was on the Downwind leg at the same time. I flew a nice last part of the approach (the aircraft ahead now having taken off again), before bringing us in for a slightly untidy landing (bringing forth comments from Catrin about the ‘big bump’!).

Approaching touchdown at Cranfield

Approaching touchdown at Cranfield

We were directed to park in the same place as on our last visit, and once shut down we headed up to their Operations Office to settle the landing fee (Catrin sitting in their ‘observation room’ watching other aircraft as we settled the bill), before heading in to the Cafe for lunch.

There had been some fairly scathing reviews of this recently, but to be honest we found it was perfectly fine. The staff were friendly enough, and there was no cause to complain about the food when it arrived. Yes, the decor and furnishings were perhaps a bit tired, but the food was well priced and certainly filled a hole!

I had considered a beer with my lunch (I’m not even sure if the Cafe is licensed to be honest!) but decided against it as I was to be operating as Safety Pilot for David on our return to Kemble. We took our time over lunch, and I gave the pilot who had booked the Arrow that afternoon a call to see how much fuel he would like in the tanks after our flight.

It was soon time for us to make ready to depart, and we walked along the grass at the side of the taxyway back to the aircraft, Catrin waving happily at the couple of aircraft that passed us by. We all boarded and got settled, and David set about getting us going for the return to Kemble.

Walking back to the aircraft after lunch

Walking back to the aircraft after lunch

David’s planned return route mirrored mine, and we briefly discussed how to handle the departure from runway 03. We agreed that completing the Downwind leg before climbing away on the run down to Woburn was the best plan.

As we turned Crosswind and Downwind, another aircraft was approaching from Woburn for a Right Base join as we had. After a bit of hunting we spotted him and ensured there was no conflict, before climbing away and heading for Woburn ourselves.

Passing Woburn Abbey

Passing Woburn Abbey

Once there, David tuned the NDB and donned the hood for the majority of the rest of the flight. The first leg to Westcott went well, but on the leg to Brize the NDB needle seemed to not to be working reliably. As I had a good view of Brize from a long way away I gave David some headings to steer, and as we got closer the NDB seemed to settle down again.

There was a lot of traffic on this leg, and Luned did a good job of poking me in the back whenever she spotted anything (for a fair portion of the flight we had the intercom switched to ‘crew’ mode to isolate her and Catrin from the chatter in the front)! We spotted a number of powered aircraft, and several gliders operating in the area around Bicester.

As we approached Brize, they asked us to stay above 4000 feet due to the imminent departure of a C-130. Once overhead Brize, I again gave David a heading to steer for the leg towards Fairford, and we kept a lookout for the departing Hercules. Luned spotted it in the distance over her right shoulder, and it crossed behind us before overtaking us to the left.

Hercules escort

Hercules escort

The Hercules eventually shadowed us most of the way to Kemble before operating in the area for a while, leading us to suspect it might well be piloted by Seb, the Club’s OIC! Further investigation revealed that it was Brize’s ‘Families Day’, so that might explain the rather unusual route they took.

Catrin's turn under the hood!

Catrin’s turn under the hood!

Once we were clear of Brize’s Zone David removed the hood in readiness for the descent and arrival at Kemble. As we approached Kemble from the South East, another aircraft reported descending Deadside ahead, while a third was approaching from a similar direction to us. We spotted the aircraft descending as David joined Overhead, and a wide descent gave us plenty of clearance from him as we turned Crosswind. The aircraft ahead seemed to be flying a very wide circuit (I suspect he must have been close to flying over Oaksey Park!) so David dropped a stage of flap to slow down and fly a more correct circuit without catching him up.

As we turned Base and Final the aircraft ahead touched down and then took off again after his Touch and Go, and David’s ‘Final’ call prompted a ‘Check Gear’ request from the FISO (something I’m also a little inconsistent with – the ‘Final’ call in a retractable aircraft is supposed to include ‘Gear Down’).

As usual, as we got down low near Kemble’s runway 26 the hangars etc. caused a bit of turbulence, and David later said that he should probably have deliberately landed long to avoid this (plus we were taxying to the far end of the runway for fuel). However, the eventual touchdown was acceptable enough given the conditions, and we continued along the runway to the far end.

Catrin amused herself while we refuelled the aircraft, and sat on my knee in the front as we taxyed back to the Club’s parking area.

Catrin getting a good view from the front seat!

Catrin getting a good view from the front seat!

The next pilot was ready and waiting as we arrived, and waited patiently as we unloaded all our gear before heading back to the Club. Once all the paperwork was completed, a quick call to AV8 confirmed that they had both beer and ice cream, so we all decamped there!

Track flown

Track flown

Flight profile

Flight profile

It was a shame this flight didn’t go totally as planned, but one positive about it is that by correctly following the checklist, I identified the alternator issue on the ground rather than taking to the air with it and risking an electrical failure mid-flight. Although we hadn’t been able to complete the planned approaches, we both got a good period of IMC practice time, and if nothing else it highlighted that despite being out of practice, I could still safely carry out a flight in IMC should the need arise.

Total flight time today: 0:50
Total flight time to date: 225:55

Oop North!

August 10, 2013

After the unfortunate consequences of my last flight, I hadn’t been flying in 4 or 5 weeks. With Luned and Catrin away, this weekend seemed the perfect opportunity to address that. Leading up to the day of the flight, the weather had been fairly unpredictable, but the day before suggested that a flight would be possible.

It had been a while since I’d seen Si and Carla, and the fact that they lived not far from Sherburn Airfield meant this was an ideal opportunity to catch up with them, and not only add a new airfield to the log book, but the first on the Northern Chart!

I carried out the majority of my flight planning the night before as usual, with the weather forecasts suggesting the flight should be a go. In the morning I double checked the weather, finished the planning and finally called Sherburn for PPR. The lady I spoke to told me that the cloudbase there was currently up around 5000 feet, which meant that everything was a go for the flight.

I arrived at Kemble around 9:30, and set about preparing the aircraft for the flight. An Instructor called me to warn that Kemble Ops staff had notified him of a significant oil spill on a taxyway last night, and they were advising all aircraft operators to carefully check their aircraft weren’t the source of the spillage. After leaving a note to that effect in the Club offices, I headed out to perform the A check on the Arrow. I was initially stumped by the new combination lock on the gate (not knowing how to open it once the code was entered!), but after this was sorted I carried out a thorough check, paying particular attention to the oil level (in hindsight unnecessarily, as the Arrow hadn’t flown for a number of days so couldn’t have been the source). I had considered filling the aircraft with fuel (flying solo it’s almost always better to have more fuel than less!), but as it was full on one side and at ‘tabs’ on the other, I decided this wasn’t necessary.

After completing the pre-flight paperwork back in the office I headed back out to prepare for the flight. The aircraft started easily, and I programmed a rough approximation of my route into the Garmin 430 on the panel. As always I had a printed plog on my kneeboard, and the Nexus 7 running SkyDemon with the full route (via Cosford, TNT and Sheffield). A quick chat with Si had given me some tips on identifying the power station that marked the entrance into the Church Fenton MATZ (I knew from visiting him that there were 3 or 4 power stations relatively close together), and the fact that the route was largely the same as that to Retford that I had followed on the last flight meant that I felt well prepared for the flight today.

The day seemed to give good conditions for gliding, so rather than turn right to head direct for Gloucester (which puts you quite close to Aston Down) I decided to continue around the circuit, leaving it effectively on the Base leg to set course to Gloucester. This gave a bit more separation from Aston Down, which I thought was a good idea today.

Finding Gloucester was easy as usual using a combination of visual Nav and the NDB on the field, and I spoke to them for a Basic Service on the first leg up towards Cosford. This leg has lots of landmarks that make it easy to maintain position, so I endeavoured to ignore SkyDemon and try to de-rust the visual navigation skills!

After passing Worcester I signed off with Gloucester, and started to listen in to Halfpenny Green. They seemed fairly quiet, but as I approached Kidderminster I gave them a call to inform them I would be routing through their overhead at around 3000 feet. Not long after, another aircraft also announced that he was near Kidderminster at a similar height. Despite the fact that he was behind me and unlikely to catch me (the Arrow’s cruise speed of 120 knots or so is faster than a lot of the GA fleet) I decided to climb to 3500 feet to give us a bit of separation.

Passing Halfpenny Green

Passing Halfpenny Green

I reported overhead Halfpenny Green, and decided to ‘cut the corner’ to avoid any gliders operating from RAF Cosford. I used the VOR to intercept the correct radial of TNT to get established on the correct track for the next leg, using Stafford to confirm that I was on the correct heading.

Navigation on this leg was pretty easy given the VOR. I had spotted Alton Towers not far from this leg during my pre-flight planning, and passing over the JCB factories reminded me of this. In our youths, Luned and I had been quite keen theme park visitors, so this seemed like an ideal opportunity to head over and get some aerial photos.

I used SkyDemon to get my bearings and relate the location of the park on the CAA chart to what I was seeing on SkyDemon (it’s not specifically marked in SkyDemon) and headed off in the general direction. Alton Towers was soon very easy to spot due to the huge car parks around it, and I carried out an orbit overhead to get some shots of the various rides (a lot of which are new to me, it’s been a long time since I visited!).

Alton Towers Hotel and car parks

Alton Towers Hotel and car parks

Alton Towers rides, The Smiler, Oblivion and Sonic Spinball

Alton Towers rides, The Smiler, Oblivion and Sonic Spinball

Rather than track directly over the VOR (they often act as a ‘honeypot’ for  light aircraft so passing directly over them can sometimes lead to a higher risk of colllision) I dialled in the radial for the next leg and tracked a few miles away from the VOR before intercepting it.

The weather on this leg deteriorated slightly, and as I passed through a light shower I had to descend to around 2000 feet to remain clear of cloud. The MEF figure for this block on the CAA chart was an alarming ’2.4′ (indicating ground features up to 2400 feet), but a quick check of the chart showed that this was due to a 2000 foot peak well to the left of my track (and SkyDemon confirmed no high ground near my track). I soon emerged out from under the cloud though, and could resume my planned cruising level.

Passing through a light shower

Passing through a light shower

The City of Sheffield was an obvious landmark ahead, and it was quite easy to spot my next turning point at the now disused Sheffield City Airport. I was now receiving a Basic Service from Doncaster, and the Controller had asked me to report crossing the M62. However, if Church Fenton were open I was supposed to contact them 15 minutes before entering their MATZ. As a result I signed off with Doncaster early, and began attempting to contact Church Fenton.

I received no response to my 3 calls, and was about to change directly to Sherburn when another aircraft made its own calls, again receiving no response. I announced I was switching to Sherburn and changed frequencies. The power stations to the North were now clearly visible, and with a combination of Si’s hints and the presence of Pontefract I selected the correct one and headed for it, descending to 1500 feet for entry into the MATZ. I also selected 7010 on the transponder as required.

Ferrybridge power station

Ferrybridge power station

I made the initial call to Sherburn in good time, receiving details of the runway in use and their QFE (as well as a request to ‘please avoid overflying the local villages’). I then set about trying to spot the airfield, often a difficult task when heading somewhere new! I found a promising triangular shaped field but initially discounted it (due to the lack of a tarmac runway), before finally spotting the tarmac runway and positively identifying it.

There was another aircraft joining overhead around the same time as me, and he announce ‘descending deadside’ just before I did. I spotted him a little way to the North, and followed him around doing my best to keep good separation. This was scuppered a little by another aircraft departing just before I was ready to turn crosswind, so I slowed a little to allow adequate separation with him, and followed him around the circuit. Luckily he was departing, so continued his climb to 1500 feet on the Downwind leg, allowing me to continue my circuit without him being a factor.

Descending deadside at Sherburn

Descending deadside at Sherburn

I kept an eye on the aircraft that had descended before me, and followed him around a relatively wide circuit. As I turned Final he was just touching down, but he cleared the runway in good time for me to continue my approach and bring the Arrow in for a very nice gentle landing.

Once clear of the runway I carried out the after landing checks, and dug out the airfield plate in my kneeboard to taxy over to the parking area. The parking area was fairly busy, but I found a nice open area just behind the fuel pumps, and shut down.

Parking up

Parking up

I headed in, finding Si and Carla waiting for me outside. The temperature had cooled down a fair bit, and we were all keen to get inside out of the cool air! I headed in to settle the landing fee (with a voucher from one of the flying mags), while Si and Carla headed in to the Club House. Had a bit of a comedy moment where I stood almost right next to them both while scanning the room looking for them. My only excuse is that they were standing, and I was looking for them sitting at a table! Probably didn’t give Si much confidence for his proposed flight with me later though!

We sat and chatted for a while, catching up on everyone’s latest news (it’s been about a year since we last met up), and had a decent lunch. Carla was feeling a little under the weather, so declined my offer of a flight. Si seemed keen though, so after completing the Club’s temporary membership form for him, we planned a quick jaunt over his house and out to the Humber Bridge, then headed out to the aircraft.

Si has flown with another pilot friend before, so I gave him a basic safety brief as we walked out, and we settled ourselves in after I carried out a brief walkaround. I warned him that the engine might be a bit tricky to start while it was warm, and the Arrow confirmed this by only catching just as I was about to give up on my initial start attempt. We taxyed out to the runway, and after power checks were ready to line up and depart. A quick check with Si and we were rolling down the runway, departing and continuing our climb on the Downwind leg to leave the circuit to the East via Selby.

Departing towards Selby

Departing towards Selby

Si’s local knowledge came in useful in confirming my identification of Selby, and on reaching it we set about looking for the village he lives in. It turned out to be on the opposite side of Burn (a local glider field) so I headed around it, trying to give plenty of separation and keeping a good lookout for gliders. We spotted what I though were two gliders, but Si had a longer look and identified them as a glider being towed up by the tug aircraft. Keeping them in site we continued around, seeing the glider detach and the tug head back to the airfield.

Si enjoying the view

Si enjoying the view

I commented to Si how hard it was sometimes to spot gliders as it began to circle to gain height, only for us to both look away and promptly lose sight of him! Mindful of his proximity we continued to keep a good distance, and Si identified his village on the other side of the Eggborough power plant. He pointed out the road leading through the village, and where it intersected the other relatively major road, the site of his house. I descended to get a better view, while carrying out a gentle orbit of the village so that Si could snap some photos.

Si and Carla's place

Si and Carla’s place

Once complete, we continued to the East, me being mindful of the unusual ‘slice’ in the Doncaster CTA where it starts at 2000 feet as opposed to the 4000 feet of the surrounding airspace. We were now talking to Doncaster for a Basic Service, and I soon regretted my decision to contact them. They were now incredibly busy, and it was almost impossible to comply with their requests for position reports. I was asked to report passing Goole, but we were most of the way to the Humber Bridge before I managed to get this call in. Perhaps worst of all was someone arriving on frequency and immediately making their initial call, despite the Doncaster Controller being in the middle of a message! Whatever happened to listening out for a few seconds on a new frequency to ensure you weren’t going to step on anyone?

We followed the general course of the River Humber, past Goole with Si pointing out a local RSPB bird sanctuary as we passed. It wasn’t hard to spot the Humber Bridge as we approached, and another gentle orbit around it put us back on course towards Selby. Si spotted a large airfield off to our right as we passed, which we eventually indentified from the chart as Brough. It looked like a large facility but there was very little activity. Some research after the flight showed that this was actually a former British Aerospace production facility, with Harriers and Hawks being made there up until around 2011.

Humber Bridge

Humber Bridge

Spotting Selby was fairly easy given the proximity of the power stations, and as we approached Si spotted an unusual site near some houses to our right. There appeared to be a couple of full airframes parked in a yard behind some buildings (Sean reckoned these were Tornados) and a number of fuselages stripped of their wings too. Si did some digging later and thinks this might be Jet Art Aviation.

Jet Art Aviation

Jet Art Aviation

As we approached Selby, I challenged Si to spot Sherburn. I cheated a little by using the ADF and GPS to fix its position, but the field soon came into view, with Si spotting it based on his local knowledge. I made another attempt to contact Church Fenton (again receiving no response), before contacting Sherburn and getting set up for another overhead join. I was slowed down nicely as we approached the overhead, and lowered the gear before descending deadside as I have taken to doing (due to the fact it helps keep the speed down in the descent).

I did my best to avoid the local villages as requested, and again carried out a normal circuit, flying slightly through the centreline when turning Final before getting back on track. Mindful of giving a good impression to Si, I did my best to make the touchdown as smooth as I could, and brought off a very nice landing, slightly left of centreline and with just a hint of crab as we touched down gently. Si has made a short video of the flight, and I think the smoothness of the touchdown shows from the lack of camera movement, definitely a landing to remember!

We taxyed back in and I informed the A/G Operator that I wanted to refuel. As I got close another aircraft began taxying towards me, so I took to the grass runway (as directed in the airfield information) until he passed,  and we parked up at the pumps with someone waiting to assist us. Once refuelled, the refueller helped us push the aircraft onto the grass away from the pumps, and we both headed back in so that I could settle the fuel bill (helpfully also meaning that the landing fee was waived!).

Another happy customer

Another happy customer

We all settled back down for another chat, catching up on some more gossip before I decided it was probably time to think about heading back to Kemble. I bade farewell to Si and Carla (resolving to try to seem them a bit more often!) and headed out to give the aircraft a quick once over before heading home. Again the engine was a little tricky to get going, but once running and ready I followed a nice looking taildragger down to the runway. He stopped to carry out his power checks, so I did the same just behind him, getting them completed in time to see another aircraft following us down the taxyway.

The first aircraft took to the runway immediately and departed, and after a quick check for traffic I did the same, allowing him time to clear the runway centre line before I commenced my takeoff roll. I was departing to the South this time, I continued the climb on the Crosswind leg to 1500 feet and headed to the power station again to leave Church Fenton’s MATZ. Again, got no response from Church Fenton, so switched straight to Doncaster after saying farewell to Sherburn.

Mindful of how busy Doncaster were on our short local flight earlier, I decided not to talk to them, just monitoring the frequency to build up a picture of any traffic. The weather seemed much better now, and I climbed up to 2500 feet while setting course for Sheffield. I heard the Vulcan on frequency departing from Doncaster, and monitored their progress for a while. I later found out that they were on their way to a practice display at Elvington just 10m or so away, if I’d known I might have made an effort to be in the area while they carried out their display! Oh well.

My decision to only climb up to 2500 feet for this leg was vindicated, as it appears that otherwise I might have infringed the Leeds Bradford CTA where it starts at 3000 feet, just clipping the corner of this airspace laterally according to the track in SkyDemon. Approaching Sheffield I climbed up to 3000 feet, spotting a number of other aircraft (including a flex wing microlight that flew about 500 feet above me!) as I continued. I again used the VOR at TNT to get established on this leg, with the skies and radio now becoming relatively quiet.

Passing Sheffield City Airport

Passing Sheffield City Airport

As I reached the edge of Doncaster’s range I switched to Halfpenny Green to get a feel for their traffic, and again gave the TNT VOR a fairly wide berth to avoid the honeypot effect. On the leg from TNT I had a bit of a play with the autopilot, having to make a couple of attempts at getting the unmarked switch that selects between using Nav1 and Nav2 in the correct position. With this correct the autopilot did a passable job of maintaining the correct track, so it’s handy to know that it can be used in this way for future flights if necessary.

As before I cut the corner at Cosford, talking to Halpenny Green to be told that there was nothing known at my level. Passing overhead, Kidderminster and then Worcester were easy landmarks to use for navigation, and I switched to Gloucester for my flight through their overhead at about 3500 feet. They seemed relatively busy with arrivals (including a number arriving IFR), so it was a good decision to let them know where I was to help avoid any conflicts.

Once through the Gloucester overhead I informed them I was beginning my descent, and switched to Kemble. They were thankfully fairly quiet, and there was no other traffic to affect my overhead join and circuit. My initial descent was completed well before I reached the overhead, enabling me to easily get slowed down for the descent on the deadside and circuit. The circuit went pretty well, and mindful of my recent poor landings at Kemble I made a conscious decision not to be fooled by the optical illusion caused by the wide runway and end up flaring too high. As it was, I again brought off another greaser of a landing, this time deliberately long so that I didn’t tie up the runway with my roll out to the far end.

After taxying back to our parking area, I put the aircraft to bed and headed in to the Club to sort out all the paperwork, before heading home (incident free this time!) via a local supermarket to buy some well earned beer.

Track flown

Track flown

Leg 1 profile

Leg 1 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 3 profile

Leg 3 profile

At 4:10 of flying time, I think this is probably the most flying I’ve ever done in a single day, and proved just how useful the aircraft can be. Making a day trip up to Yorkshire just wouldn’t really be feasible in the car, but the aircraft meant I could get there and back in a single day and still have time for a leisurely chat and some more flying while up there. Also, I think this is probably the most time I’ve spent at another airfield when visiting, generally I just land for a quick bite to eat before mounting up for the return leg. Sherburn was a great place to visit, and certainly somewhere I intend to come back to. Perhaps it could be used as a base for a more prolonged visit to Si and Carla and some other friends in the area?

Total flight time today: 4:10
Total flight time to date: 225:05

 

Two new airfields solo

July 5, 2013

David and I had been trying to have another flight together after our successful trip around London. Unfortunately I’d had to cancel one the previous week due to more urgent work commitments, so decided to try again this week. Sadly David was being checkout out in his new shareoplane so wasn’t available. I’d made a few enquiries with friends to see if I could find some company, but due to the short notice nobody was available so it was to be a solo flight.

Having most of the day available, I decided to try to extend my range a bit, taking in some new airfields if at all possible. Some playing around with Sky Demon came up with the route Kemble -> Gamston (routing to the West of Birmingham), then on to Nottingham and back to Kemble (this time via the East side of Birmingham). The recent spell of good weather continued, so there were no obstacles in the way of the flight. For some reason I was unable to receive an answer from the AIS information line (usually my last belt and braces check that I hadn’t missed any airspace upgrades) but as I’d checked NOTAMs on both Sky Demon and the AIS web site, I wasn’t too concerned.

As usual, I finalised my planning at home in the morning, before driving up to Kemble. Roger was around preparing for an IMC lesson with another pilot, and as usual all the pre-flight checks on the Arrow were normal. Conditions at Kemble appeared near perfect, with just a few clouds at around 3000 feet, pleasant temperatures, little wind and excellent visibility.

The Arrow had recently come out of its annual, so I was a little more thorough getting the aircraft ready to start. The engine started easily, and I heard Roger being warned of an Airbus that was being towed around the airfield to be repositioned. I taxyed to the D site apron for checks as usual, before reporting ready once they were completed normally. Was fairly unusual to hear ‘after the Airbus, report lined up’, as I took to the runway and made ready to depart. I was warned of traffic in the circuit, and agreed a right turn out (obviously paying attention to Aston Down) so that I could set course for my first turning point at Gloucester.

Airbus being towed around Kemble

Airbus being towed around Kemble

The takeoff was normal, and for a change I remembered to turn off the fuel pump at 1000 feet before continuing to climb. I’d initially planned to climb to 4500 feet, but there was more cloud in the local area to I stayed at 3000 feet until it cleared. I took care to route clear of Aston Down, and spotted a number of gliders both on the ground and approaching the field to land. I was now talking to Gloucester as I was passing through their overhead, and later found out that David heard me while he was converting to his new aircraft. The cloud cleared as I approached the Gloucester overhead, and I climbed up to 4500 feet before setting course for my next turning point at Cosford. Gloucester asked me to report at Malvern, and I continued to the North.

Patchy cloud on the way to Gloucester

Patchy cloud on the way to Gloucester

I had elected on this flight to try not to rely on the GPSs available to try to make sure my raw Nav skills were still up to scratch, and as a result of this hadn’t programmed a route into the 430. There are plenty of landmarks on the route up to Wolverhampton (including big towns like Worcester and Kidderminster and the M5) to use to orient also. I still took the occasional glance at the Nexus 7 running Sky Demon, but otherwise the navigation was fairly simple. I reported at Malvern, and Gloucester asked who I would ‘work’ next. Routing above the ATZ at Halfpenny Green I elected to speak to them, so bade farewell to Gloucester.

I routed overhead Halfpenny Green and spotted Cosford (my next turning point). Due to my height I wasn’t going to call them, but I saw and heard gliders operating from there, so elected to call to notify them of my presence. There was a build-up of more cloud in the area, so I began my descent early (my route North East would take me through the East Midlands CTA that started at 4000 feet), eventually ending up at 2500 feet to remain below the clouds and setting course for the TNT VOR (which I eventually spotted from the air as I got closer).

Passing overhead Halfpenny Green

Passing overhead Halfpenny Green

Glider being towed from Cosford

Glider being towed from Cosford

Cloud building near Cosford

Cloud building near Cosford

Passing the TNT VOR

Passing the TNT VOR

When I spoke to Gamston on the phone before the flight, I had assumed that due to their ATZ being below the Doncaster CTA (starting at 2000 feet) that a Downwind join might be more appropriate. However, the person I spoke to suggested an Overhead Join might be more appropriate, so as I neared TNT I made ready to request clearance into the Doncaster airspace. I could hear other aircraft talking to them from a long way out, but couldn’t hear the ground responses. I left it until I could hear both sides of the traffic before calling and gaining my clearance into their airspace. They asked me to report visual with Gamston, and I continued on this leg using the VOR at Gamston to orientate myself.

The large number of lakes and  reservoirs in the area made it easy to keep track of my position, and when I spotted Gamston I reported this to Doncaster who cleared me to change frequencies. Now talking to Gamston, I got myself nicely slowed down while descending to 2000 feet for the Overhead Join. There was one other aircraft turning Downwind as I descended on the dead side, and I followed him around the circuit, helping me correctly position myself for their noise abatement circuit. The rest of the circuit went well (the aircraft ahead opted to Go Around from low level) and I carried out a nice smooth landing on their runway 21.

Joining overhead Retford Gamston

Joining overhead Retford Gamston

After checking that I could use the grass to position myself on their hard parking area (sometimes grass can be bumpy or uneven, and the last thing I wanted was a prop strike). I parked up and took a peek at some of the impressive aircraft in their hangars as I headed in to settle the landing fee. I stopped for a quick cup of tea in their very nice looking cafe (has a good reputation although often requiring a booking) before heading back to the aircraft for the short hop to Nottingham for a well earned lunch!

Impressive machinery at Gamston

Impressive machinery at Gamston

The Arrow started nicely, and after checking with the Controller I followed another aircraft to the Bravo hold for power checks (rather than between the two runways as my AFE flight guide suggested). As he took to the runway to backtrack, I asked A/G if there was room for us both to backtrack, and after being told there was I announced I was following, and the Controller made sure the aircraft ahead knew that I was behind him. I lined up at 90 degrees so that I could see both the departing aircraft and keep an eye on the Final approach track, watching as the other aircraft accelerated away and took off.

After giving him time to climb, I lined up myself and began my takeoff roll. My direct route to Nottingham required a slight jink to the left to take up the correct course, and I climbed to 2000 feet to remain below the East Midlands CTA that begins at 2500 feet above the airfield at Nottingham. There had been reports of significant microlight traffic to the South of Gamston, but I didn’t see any myself. I was paying particular attention, not least because the visibility into sun wasn’t particularly good.

As I approached Nottingham it sounded relatively busy, but seemed to quieten down as I approached (usually it’s the other way around when I’m trying to join!). I positioned again for an Overhead Join (meaning I had to approach slightly left of the direct track). My speed control issues seem to be fairly well resolved now that I’m trying to plan my approaches a bit further out. I flew another nice tight circuit, again coming in for a nice gentle landing. I decided to refuel at Nottingham despite having enough fuel to get back to Kemble, as this would hopefully mean I wouldn’t have to refuel when I got back. After initially positioning myself incorrectly at the fuel bay (I spotted the direction arrows just as I pulled up to stop in the wrong place!), the refueller refuelled me and I taxyed over to the parking area.

Approaching Nottingham

Approaching Nottingham

After a quick chat with the A/G operator while paying the fuel bill, I headed in to the cafe for lunch. Nottingham’s cafe is fairly typical of a lot of airfields, and the food seemed particularly good value. I chose my usual sausage and bacon sandwich, and had a leisurely lunch while watching the comings and goings in the fairly busy cafe.

Nottingham's Tower, Cafe and Flying School

Nottingham’s Tower, Cafe and Flying School

After a quick toilet stop and a walkaround (including taking fuel samples) I mounted up ready for the flight back to Kemble. I’d initially planned via Leicester, Bruntinghorpe, DTY and the disused airfield at Chedworth, but decided that flying over the airfield at Leicester wasn’t really necessary. I deleted this waypoint from the route in Sky Demon, and made ready to depart. As I was preparing to start the engine, the pilot and passengers of the aircraft next to me made their way to the aircraft and started their pre-flight checks. This was a family group who’s been sitting next to me in the Cafe having lunch, and I assumed they were locals. It actually appeared that they were parents collecting their daughter from University, not a bad way to travel home!

With the engine running, I taxyed to runway 27 (runway 21 was in use today) for the power checks, and as I reported ready at B1 the A/G operator was confirming the Downwind call of an aircraft in the circuit. I needed a backtrack to get to the threshold, but decided I had enough time so as not to cause problems for the other aircraft, and took to the runway to backtrack. The other aircraft was on Base leg when I reached the threshold, so without any delay I taxyed into position and began my takeoff roll.

As I climbed away, the Controller warned me of the airspace above (the East Midlands CTA is at 1500 feet to the South) but I was (hopefully obviously!) already aware of this and was planning to climb to 1200 feet. He told me that it was accepted procedure to climb to 1300, so I made this my initial altitude. Again the visibility into sun was pretty poor, so rather than continue at low level in uncontrolled airspace, I decided to call East Midlands for a transit via their airspace.

I made the initial call (East Midlands Radar, G-AZWS request Basic Service and Zone Transit), and before being asked to ‘Pass your message’ I was given a squawk and a Basic Service. I made the mistake of just reading back the squawk and confirming the Basic Service, before launching into my full routing, with the result that by the time I got to the end of it I’d forgotten the squawk! After the Controller cleared me up to 2500 feet I was forced to ask her to repeat the squawk so that I could correctly select it in the transponder. A lesson learned there, to always write information down before reading it back so that it can’t be forgotten!

I continued at 2500 feet until I left the airspace with a base of 2500, before announcing (I thought correctly) that I was climbing to 4000 feet to try to get better visibility (the next section of airspace doesn’t start until 4500). The Controller initially ‘cleared’ me up to 3000 feet, before a short time later approving the climb up to 4000. As I was no longer in her airspace I’m not sure I had to comply with her instructions, but there was no reason not to, and it could have been that she had another aircraft skimming the bottom of her airspace and wanted to ensure good separation between us. Also, the visibility up at 4000 feet wasn’t noticably better into sun anyway.

Once clear of her airspace, I switched over to the Brize frequency in readiness for speaking to them, but despite being able to hear both sides of all the R/T I decided not to call them until I got much closer. I passed close by Bruntinghthorpe, setting course direct for the DTY VOR and keeping a good lookout for any gliders operating from Husbands Bosworth. I spotted two circling close off to my left, and it wasn’t immediately clear they had seen me as they continued to circle, eventually looking like they were heading directly for me. Mindful of any other traffic also, I continued to keep a good eye on them until we were clear of any potential conflict.

Passing Bruntingthorpe

Passing Bruntingthorpe

Approaching DTY, I cut the corner rather than fly directly overhead, and again decided on a slight change of route. I was still in good time, so I elected to change the route to head over Swindon and try to get some photos of Luned’s new school from the air. A quick look on the map showed a route via the Brize overhead would keep me clear of Fairford and the gliding and parachuting at Sandhill Farm and Redlands. The only thing to be careful of was not to get too close to another parachuting centre at Hinton in the Hedges.

The HIRTA at Croughton was easy to spot, and I used to locate Hinton to ensure I was well clear. Once clear I had a quick look at Sky Demon to help get myself back on the correct track, and gave Brize a call to inform them of my routing through their overhead (albeit above their airspace that stops at 3500 feet). They were quite busy giving a Traffic Service to 3 or 4 other aircraft, meaning the frequency was seldom quiet as they passed information of lots of unconfirmed traffic to these aircraft.

Passing Enstone

Passing Enstone

Brize was easy to spot in the distance, and I flew close by Enstone and got a good view of Weston on the Green and Oxford as I approached. While overhead Brize I spotted a helicopter maneuvering off to my left at a similar height, so jinked to the right slightly to keep a good eye on him and maintain separation. After clearing the airspace I descended 2500 feet and used my local knowledge of the road layouts to orient myself and find Luned’s school. A quick orbit got me some good photos, and then at this point Sky Demon threw me for a bit of a loop as it got stuck on the ‘Pilot Log’ page for some reason. I dialled in Kemble’s NDB frequency to reorient myself, and as I got my bearings managed to get Sky Demon sorted out also.

Helicopter near Brize

Helicopter near Brize

Luned's school

Luned’s school

I wanted to approach Kemble directly from the East in order to keep clear of Oaksey, and while positioning myself I climbed to 2500 feet in readiness for setting Kemble’s QNH for the overhead join (Kemble is at about 450 feet). Kemble’s circuit sounded quite busy, and the FISO was in the process of passing an airways clearance to a departing ATR as I approached. I entered the ATZ as the outbound traffic took to the runway, and the FISO made sure I was aware of his position. Again I was nicely slowed down, and I got a good view of the ATR departing as I descended on the deadside, it passing ahead of me before heading off to my left as I turned Crosswind.

ATR departing Kemble

ATR departing Kemble

As I continued around the circuit, the frequency became quite busy with traffic on the ground, and as a result I was already half way down Final before I could get my call in. As with my last landing at Kemble, I flared much higher than I should have, and as a result ran out of flying speed a little higher than I would have liked. This time though, I managed to get some power back on to cushion the landing, so the actual touchdown was much better than my previous Kemble landing! It appears that I’m becoming prone to an optical illusion that is mentioned in the Human Factors exam, whereby you assume you’re lower than you are when approaching a wider runway. I must be careful to try not to let this affect me on future flights.

The FISO asked me to continue down runway 08 (normally I’d have asked for fuel but I felt I was close to tabs so didn’t need it). Roger way preparing to depart and passed a message to me that he would refuel the Arrow from the mobile bowser when he returned. This was kind of him, but I let him know that the Arrow didn’t actually need fuel. I taxyed back to our parking area (another aircraft taxying up the grass taxyway giving way to me at the D site apron) before putting the aircraft to bed and heading in to settle the paperwork.

Tracks flown

Tracks flown

Leg 1 profile

Leg 1 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 3 profile

Leg 3 profile

Now that summer appeared to have finally arrived, I’ve had another great flight. While I would probably have preferred to have company, sometimes flying along is good because it really brings home how lucky I am to be able to take part in this hobby. Now that David has access to a pretty interesting sounding aircraft, I hope to be able to share a flight with him in it in the near future. Sadly, today wasn’t quite as perfect as it could have been, because barely 2 miles away from Kemble on the way home I managed to write off my car! Fortunately I was unhurt, but there’s a good chance that my own flying might have to take a bit of a back seat in the near future as a result of having to replace it. We’ll have to see what happens.

Whoops!

Whoops!

Total flight time today: 2:55
Total flight time to date: 220:55

Anti-clockwise around London

June 1, 2013

When Luned and Catrin planned a weekend away at the in-laws, it seemed the perfect opportunity for a flight. I contacted David to find he was available too, so we started to hatch plans to fly somewhere together. As neither of us had pressing plans in the evening, we had the option of a later than normal return, so set about planning a flight to take advantage of this.

As the day approached, it became clear that we should be in for some good weather, and a route plan began to emerge to head to the South East, an area that neither of us had much experience of. The rather challenging airspace in the area would be a good test, and having two pilots in the cockpit to share the workload would be useful in the circumstances.

The route we eventually came up with had David flying us from Kemble to Shoreham. I would then fly the next leg to Lashenden / Headcorn, with David taking over on the leg to Stapleford, and finally me bringing us home to Kemble.

The majority of the planning was completed (as usual) the night before the flight. All the forecasts looked ideal for flying the next day, and this probably had something to do with me waking up around 6am (one of the few times I don’t have a toddler waking me up around 7am, and I fail to take advantage of it!).

I completed the remainder of the planning (including a separate check of NOTAMs via the AIS web site), before a final check with David and heading off to Kemble. I arrived slightly before David, with him driving up as I walked into the Club. I made a quick check of the tech log for the Arrow, and David joined me and phoned Shoreham for any last minute info.

As he headed out to the aircraft to carry out the ‘A’ check, I called our other destinations and completed the tech log details. There was a slight miscommunication when David called me to let me know he wasn’t coming back to the Club and was sitting in the aircraft waiting for me! I quickly grabbed my gear and headed out to join him.

The Arrow had just had the 50 hour check completed, and the engine sounded a little lumpy and reluctant to start. We both agreed to keep a particularly good eye on it, allowing it more time than usual to warm up before carrying out the power checks. We were cleared to taxy to Alpha 1 for checks, and followed a rather slow moving 3 axis microlight there.

By now the engine was running smoothly, and on the taxy I had programmed a rough estimation of our route into the Garmin 430. We both had our own SkyDemon units in our lap (mine on a Nexus 7, and David’s running on an early model iPad). The checks were completed normally, and the microlight took to the runway as we were ready to depart ourselves.

We entered the runway as he became airborne, and we were soon accelerating away to take to the skies ourselves. As we turned left and set course for the South Coast, David signed off with Kemble and announced he was switching to Bristol. I questioned this given our direction of flight (we were always heading away from their airspace), and David agreed and we just listened in on the frequency. The EGT gauge wasn’t showing any reading, so David set the mixture using the fuel flow gauge, and we made sure to remember to report the issue on our return.

RAF Lyneham

RAF Lyneham

As we proceeded further South East, David switched to Farnborough Radar and listened in on them. Despite the weather they were relatively quiet (I’ve certainly heard them much busier), and the Controller was having difficulty passing traffic information to all the others on frequency. We opted to just listen out again, ready to jump in should we hear any traffic that might become a factor on our route.

The first turning point was Popham, and David spotted it before me (I was looking further into the distance and hence failed to spot it). We passed by slightly to the West, before continuing towards the coast. I had assumed David was routing via Goodwood, so asked if he were going to contact them. When he told me he was actually turning at Petersfield, it seemed a good decision to stay away from the overhead of an airfield that was likely to be pretty busy today.

Soon after passing Petersfield, David contacted Shoreham and was instructed to route along the coast, reporting overhead the power station for a Crosswind join (Shoreham are a full ATC field). This sounded slightly odd, not least because I managed to get the circuit the wrong way round in my head while trying to orient myself. Not being completely familiar with the area, it didn’t strike us immediately as a mistake, but we soon realised that the power station is actually to the East of Shoreham. Either David had mistakenly told the Controller we were approaching from the East, or the Controller had confused our position (neither of us could be 100% sure where the mistake was made).

Approaching Shoreham

Approaching Shoreham

As we approached, it was clear that Shoreham was very busy, and the Controller at Shoreham cleared someone for an Overhead Join as we were approaching to join Crosswind. We spotted the other aircraft ahead of us, and slotted in behind him into the busy circuit. He flew quite a long Downwind leg, and we followed meaning that we were quite a way from the runway as we turned Final.

This probably led to a slightly low approach, and the Controller warned us about the railway line on Short Final as we continued our approach. The aircraft ahead cleared the runway in good time, and David brought us in for a nice landing. We continued to the end, and the Controller quickly gave us taxy and parking instructions. Neither of us correctly heard the parking information, so David queried our parking location as we approached the apron.

Busy apron

Busy apron

We parked up amongst a number of other aircraft, and headed in to pay the landing fee. After taking the required photo of the Arrivals screen, we headed in to the newly refurbished Cafe for a cuppa!

We've arrived!

We’ve arrived!

We headed back out to the aircraft, I performed a quick walkaround to check things were Ok before we set off on our next leg. There was evidence of a small leak of brake fluid under the port wing, but David pumped the brakes and we found they still seemed to be working correctly. We made a point to keep an eye on it for the rest of the day, partly because none of our destinations had particularly short runways that might need heavy braking.

We taxyed to the hold and the area allocated for checks, and David got a good shot of a passing train as we waited. I wouldn’t like to get too low on the approach here if a train were approaching!

Power checks with onlookers on the train

Power checks with onlookers on the train

All checks were normal, and we were cleared to depart. After confirming approval for a right turn out, we departed and climbed to the required height before making the turn. Due to the low base of the TMA on the route, we could only climb to 2000 feet or so. However, the cloudbase on this leg had lowered considerably (there was poorer weather forecast to the East of London), meaning we wouldn’t have been able to climb much higher anyway.

The leg to Headcorn was relatively straightforward, I used the VOR at Mayfield to ensure I didn’t stray too far North and into the Gatwick CTA. Once on frequency for Lashenden, we heard a couple of other aircraft setting up for their approach as we were. Due to the Skydiving that takes place, Overhead Joins are not allowed, and I managed to easily spot the field as we approached and set us up to join Downwind. For a change I remembered to get the speed down as we approached, and I used to gear to help bleed speed off and come down to circuit height.

In the circuit at Headcorn

In the circuit at Headcorn

The runway at Headcorn is shorter than some (although still 800 metres!). As a result I took care to keep the circuit tight and manage the airspeed correctly. I brought us in for a nice gentle touchdown, and was under control with barely a third of the runway used. We’d discussed the fuel situation at Shoreham (the Arrow was only fuelled to tabs at Kemble) and chose to refuel here, hopefully arriving back at Kemble with close to tabs again.

I asked for directions to the pump, and as we approached a helicopter had its rotors running and another aircraft was preparing to depart. Not wanting to stop too close to the rotary, I decided to drive past the pumps into a large clear area, before turning around and stopping short so that we could pull the aircraft to the pump when the helicopter had departed.

As we turned round we noticed someone had ‘jumped the queue’ and pulled nose in to the pump as the helicopter departed. We chatted to the crew of the aircraft as they refuelled (and they even apologised for jumping the queue!), then pulled the Arrow over to refuel ourselves once they were done. David headed in to settle the landing fee while I taxyed the aircraft over to the parking area. We met up in the Holding Point cafe and I selected my usual ‘sausage and bacon bap’ for lunch. David went for the more substantial ‘belly buster’ (the same as mine with a fried egg added!) and we sat watching the comings and goings as we ate our food.

Once we were finished, we headed out to the aircraft, and watched the Turbulent team performing aerobatics for a while in the overhead. They were soon replaced by a group of Tandem Skydivers landing, and the Skydive Club’s Cessna Caravan coming in for a landing as the canopies returned to the ground.

Formation in the Overhead

Formation in the Overhead

As we made out to the aircraft, we discussed adding a possible extra landing to our little tour. We still had plenty of time to get back before sunset, and neither of us had any pressing plans for the evening. An email had recently gone around to Club members about Cranfield, and after a quick check this appeared to be relatively close to our route home.

One obstacle was that it was on the other side of Luton airport, so we discussed the possibility of obtaining a Zone transit. We thought we’d see how things went on the trip to Stapleford, and make our decision there.

After a quick walk around, we mounted up again, and prepared for the leg up to Stapleford. We taxyed out to the area designated for power checks, and due to the relatively short runway we lined several yards before the threshold of the runway in use. It looked a little bumpy, so we didn’t use too much of it to extend our takeoff roll, and we became airborne about half way down the runway before setting course to the North West. We had to take care to keep a good lookout for the aircraft that had been performing aerobatics in the Overhad, as we set course for Stapleford.

Due to the close proximity of the London City CTA, we had planned to route via Rochester to give ourselves a little more clearance. Again, we were operating under the London TMA, so were only able to climb up to 2000 feet or so (and again, the cloudbase would have prevented us going much higher anyway).

Conditions on this leg were much worse than previous, with the visibility noticeably poorer than it had been earlier in the day. While receiving a Basic Service from a fairly quiet Farnborough East, we spotted Rochester off to our right, and due to being at the same height as others would be when joining in the overhead, we elected to remain to the West while keeping a good lookout for other traffic in the area.

We crossed the Thames Estuary to the East of the Dartford crossing, but the murky conditions meant that we didn’t get much of a view of it. We continued towards Stapleford, using a combination of visual nav, GPS and the LAM VOR to orient ourselves. We soon spotted Stapleford in the distance, and set up to join, with Farnborough warning us of our proximity to London City airspace as we signed off with them.

Dartford crossing in the murk

Dartford crossing in the murk

Again things were quite busy, and I became a little confused due to not realising that they operated on two parallel runway (04L and 04R). As a result of the distractions on the radio David flew a much tighter circuit than was normal, and it was clear as we turned Final that we were too high to be able to make a safe landing. David took the sensible decision to go around, and I did all I could to help him navigate around the rather wide noise abatement circuit at Stapleford using the information we had researched before the flight.

Busy Stapleford

Busy Stapleford

Two other aircraft joined on Downwind ahead of us, meaning that by the time we joined the Downwind leg there were 4 of us on the same leg of the circuit! The wide circuit gave us plenty of room for spacing, but due to everyone in front of us having to extend we ended up on a very long Final leg. The other aircraft ahead of us all cleared the runway in good time, and despite the distractions, David brought us in for a good landing on the fairly bumpy runway. We cleared the runway to the right as others ahead of us had done, and we waited behind the aircraft in front as he allowed someone to take off before crossing the active runway to taxy to parking.

Once parked up, we headed in to settle the bill and have another cup of tea. We decided that adding Cranfield to the trip was certainly possible, so I phoned them for information and began to plan the route on SkyDemon, double checking things against the chart. I planned a conservative route, routing via BPK and BKY VORs, hence avoiding Luton completely. We would ask Luton for a transit, and if we were unable to gain permission we would at least have a fully planned route should this be necessary.

On the spot planning

On the spot planning

Stapleford were again busy as we prepared to depart. There was a recurrence of the ‘low bus’ light staying on (again cured by cycling the master switch), and we followed another aircraft to the runway threshold as three other aircraft made ready to land. There was some confusion when one of the aircraft reported that he was landing on 04R (the active runway was 04L) and I made sure I was well clear of this other runway while taxying.

After the arriving aircraft had all landed and cleared the runway, the aircraft ahead of us departed, and we followed suit after allowing sufficient time for him to clear the runway centreline. As I turned into the circuit and prepared to set course for BPK, David reminded me of the close proximity of the Stansted CTA (dropping to 1500 feet to the North of Stapleford. I opted to remain in the circuit at circuit height until we had cleared the airspace, before setting course for the VOR.

This worked well, and I used the VOR and SkyDemon to maintain track. I called Luton as soon as we were clear of the Stapleford ATZ, and asked for the Zone transit, trying to keep my RT succinct and as professionally sounding as possible. It became clear that the Controller was extremely busy, she initially told us to ‘Standby’ and remain clear of Controlled Airspace, and she then continued to deal with a number of aircraft in her airspace.

The weather was now much improved, with little cloud and excellent visibility. I discussed with David my intent to continued to BPK, and if we reached there without a Transit clearance then we would follow the original plan and route to BKY at 2000 feet to remain under the Luton CTA. We can’t have been much more than a mile or so away from BPK when the Controller came back with our clearance to Transit, not above 2000 feet.

We were now very close to the Panshanger ATZ, so I diverted to the West to clear it (spotting the airfield in the distance with its windsock) before setting course direct to Cranfield using the CFD VOR on the field. As we approached the CTR, the Controller asked us to route via the 26 Threshold, a routing we could only have dreamed of! She also asked us to report when we had the field in sight, to which I responded ‘Roger, field in sight’ (as I could already see it). David commented that this could easily have been misunderstood, so after a brief discussion I again reported ‘G-WS has the field in sight’ to avoid any confusion.

Luton Airport in the distance

Luton Airport in the distance

We watched an EasyJet arrival land ahead of us, and as we crossed the threshold another aircraft was preparing to depart. The rest of the trip through the Zone was relatively quiet, and as we approached boundary of the CTR I asked David to use the facilities of the Garmin audio panel to get the ATIS from Cranfield.

Overhear Luton, EasyJet hangar clearly visible

Overhear Luton, EasyJet hangar clearly visible

As we exited the Zone, while talking we both heard the tail end of a transmission that we weren’t sure was for us, ending with a request to squawk 7000. We both made the mistake of assuming this transmission was for us, as David began to switch the transponder and I responded to the call. I’m not entirely sure whether the call was for us, and receiving no positive response from the Controller I again responded ‘G-AZWS squawk 7000, switching to Cranfield’. In hindsight, obviously the correct course of action would have been to query the call, certainly not changing the transponder until we were sure that the instructions were for us. As we signed off I made a point of thanking the Controller for slotting us in to what was obviously some fairly busy airspace.

Turning Final at Cranfield

Turning Final at Cranfield

We retrieved the ATIS from Cranfield, then made the initial call to their Approach frequency, quoting the ATIS details. The Controller gave us the information we needed (they were using runway 03) and informed us that the ATIS was really only for departures. Oh well! We were given a right base join, and I again got us nicely slowed down in good time. The approach was flown pretty, well, and I brought us in for another nice gentle touchdown. We were given taxy instructions, and after a little confusion where I went past our assigned parking area, we were soon parked up and heading in to settle the landing fee.

We settled the very reasonable £10 landing fee (if we’d wanted to fly any Instrument Approaches these would also have been charged at £10) and headed in to the Cafe for yet another cup of tea! The facilities there seemed pretty good, and Cranfield is certainly a place to consider in future for any practice Approaches. Having a reasonable cafe on the field is a positive bonus!

We planned the return leg via the Brize overhead, having to detour slightly left of the direct track to avoid the Weston on the Green Danger Area. Tea drunk and planning finished, we headed back to the aircraft and gave it another check before the final leg back to Kemble. We called for start, the engine starting up easily before we gained our taxy clearance and headed to the hold.

I carried out the power checks and headed up to the hold, David reminding me (un-necessarily!) that I was only cleared to the hold. As a Cessna continued down Final, we called ‘Ready for Departure, contact one on Final’, and were given clearance to line up after the landing traffic. Once he was clear of the runway, we were cleared to take off and I asked for approval for a left turn out to turn direct on track. This was approved, and at suitable height we turned to head for Brize.

Departing Cranfield

Departing Cranfield

In the improved conditions I climbed to 4000 feet, to find visibility a little hazy there. We climbed further to see if conditions would improve, but they didn’t really, and realising that London TMA was above us at 5500 feet, I descended back down to 4000 feet. We passed Bicester and Weston on the Green, before talking to Brize to inform them we would be passing through their overhead, although at our height we could be above their airspace.

As we approached, Brize were obviously preparing to close, getting rid of the aircraft talking to them one by one. They continued with us until last (presumably because we were routing through their overhead) before eventually signing off as we got close to the airfield. We passed over the huge runway at Brize, before deciding to take in another and diverted to fly overhead Fairford.

Overhead Brize

Overhead Brize

Approaching Fairford

Approaching Fairford

Maintaining my good record, I planned the descent and reduction of airspeed in good time, and as we switched to Kemble we heard them closing down, with one Pitts remaining in the circuit as we approached. We spotted South Cerney off to the right, and I headed slightly South of the field to set up correctly for an Overhead join (my first of the day!).

The Pitts was making regular calls on the Traffic frequency, and as we approached the overhead I announced our position. I again dropped the gear in the overhead to help with the descent, and we slotted nicely into the circuit behind the Pitts. Pre-landing checks completed, I continued around the circuit, setting us up to land long to avoid holding up the Pitts (who had announced that he would extend to give us time to land).

Again, the landing was nice and gentle, but in trying to keep the speed up so as not to hold up the Pitts, I managed to miss the more normal turnoff. Luckily there is another shortly after it, so we turned off and reported ‘Runway Vacated’ in good time to prevent forcing the Pitts to fly a go around.

I taxyed us back over the grass, and we refuelled the aircraft using the Club’s bowser, remembering to only fill it to tabs. We had to reposition the chocks in order for the tie downs to reach correctly, before getting all our gear out and putting the cover back on the aircraft. We both agreed that today’s flying had definitely earned us a beer, so we quickly sorted out the paperwork and retired to a local pub for a well earned cold one!

Tracks flown

Tracks flown

Leg 1 profile

Leg 1 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 4 profile

Leg 4 profile

Leg 5 profile

Leg 5 profile

Again David and I had a very enjoyable and successful flying trip. I’d visited 3 new airfields (4 for David!), filling in a bit of a gap down to the South East, and slotting in a Zone Transit of the airspace of a pretty busy airport to boot. Having two pilots in the cockpit had again proved valuable during the more challenging aspects of the flight, and we both returned home very satisfied with a good day’s flying. I’d certainly packed a lot into just 2:20 of flying time!

Total flight time today: 2:20
Total flight time to date: 218:00

Caernarfon with the family – finally!

May 6, 2013

Flights have been few and far between so far this year, so with the prospect of improving weather, a Bank Holiday and an available Arrow, I again planned to take the family to Caernarfon to visit the in-laws. Sadly this would have to be a short single day visit, but the late nights meant that we could spend a decent amount of time there.

As usual with a trip to Caernarfon, I planned three routes to handle any weather that might cause issues. The first route was almost a straight line, directly over the mountains of Snowdonia. This would require a cloudbase of at least 5000 feet or so to be able to follow. A second route to the South of Snowdonia needed around 3500 feet, and a route to the North could be handled as long as the cloudbase was around 2500 or 3000 feet.

As it happened, the forecast for the day was pretty much CAVOK all the way, so we opted for the ‘direct’ route, via the overhead of Gloucester and Welshpool.

Weather on the day was pretty much as forecast, and we did our best to get out of the house as early as possible (something that can be a little challenging with a 4 year old at times!) to give ourselves as much time at Caernarfon as we could. Catrin was only told that we were going flying, leaving the destination as a surprise for her.

On arrival at Kemble, I deposited Luned and Catrin in the Club Office, before heading out to the aircraft with a headset and PLB (due to the remoteness of the route, I decided to carry one should we have a problem and end up landing in a field somewhere!). With the exception of a broken step, the preflight was all normal and I took my time getting things arranged in the cockpit in readiness for my passengers to board.

The day was starting to really warm up as I returned to the office, and with the final paperwork completed we all walked out to the aircraft. We all managed to make our way onto the wing without using the step and get comfortable in the cabin. My GPS had already fallen off the window, so I elected to just leave it on the seat beside me as a backup for the onboard GNS-430 and the Nexus 7 I now carry running SkyDemon.

Ready for the off

Ready for the off

As I was running through the pre-start checklist and had just flicked the Master switch on, Roger approached having just landed in one of the Club’s other aircraft. He was preparing to refuel from the Club’s bowser, but as he realised I was about to start up he offered to wait until we had taxyed away.

We had a brief chat about the Club’s fuelling policy (to fill the aircraft full after each flight) that I had questioned recently due to issue with the Weight and Balance of the Arrow, whereby it is quite easy to end up outside of the forward C of G limits even when significantly below maximum take off weight. With less fuel this problem is less likely to occur, so hopefully the Club will opt to only fill the Arrow up to ‘tabs’ (about 60% full) in future.

The engine started relatively easily (the aircraft had flown a fair bit recently which probably helped!) and we were cleared to taxy to Alpha 1 in readiness to depart. I completed the pre-flight checks normally (including entering our route into the 430), and proceeded to the hold, followed by another aircraft that had been carrying out its checks behind me.

I had to wait to transmit my ‘ready for departure’ call due to other conversations occurring on the radio, and the aircraft behind me ‘jumped in’ and announced his readiness before I got chance to. He was then cleared onto the runway by the FISO (I think hold A1 is out of sight of the Tower), to which he had to reply ‘We have WS in front of us, maybe we should let them go first’! The FISO agreed (surprise surprise!) and I quickly announced my readiness before being cleared onto the runway.

Despite the rising temperature the takeoff roll was relatively short, and we climbed away to the West, making the left turn required to clear noise sensitive areas on the departure path for the runway. I was warned of traffic operating out to the West, so informed the FISO of my intention to head North. After a further warning about Aston Down being active, I ensured we were to the West of there before turning North and continuing the climb to our cruising altitude of 4500 feet.

I used the ADF and GPS to track direct to Gloucester, but with today’s good visibility it was easy to spot in the distance. I left Kemble’s frequency to inform Gloucester of my intention to transit their overhead and receive a Basic Service for the first part of the flight.

Conditions were smooth at our altitude, and despite a slightly murky layer visibility was excellent also. There were very few clouds in the sky at this point, so the direct route seemed perfectly possible. Surprisingly Gloucester didn’t ask us to report at any point to the North (usually they will ask to report near Worcester for example) so I waited until we approached Worcester before signing off with them.

Shawbury were closed due to the Bank Holiday, so I switched directly to Welshpool in order to inform them that we were passing through their overhead later. Roger had warned me that the skies were busy today, but up at this altitude there weren’t too many other aircraft to see.

I generally give Luned a spare chart to follow our progress, but had neglected to do this today. Instead I passed her my chart with the routes marked on, while I used a combination of SkyDemon and the view out of the window to monitor our progress.

As we approached Welshpool, I contacted them out of courtesy (at 4500 feet we were unlikely to conflict with any of their traffic) and used the opportunity to request the Holyhead pressure setting. Unfortunately they could only give me their local QNH, so I dialled that in for the remainder of the flight. I wasn’t planning on flying in IMC while close to the mountains, so being a few millibars out wasn’t going to cause any problem.

Luned continued to monitor our progress, pointing out various reservoirs to Catrin, including the one near where Luned’s Father had been brought up. As we got closer to our destination, Luned started to offer some hints to Catrin as to where we were going, pointing out (hopefully!) familiar place names.

Approaching Bala lake

Approaching Bala lake

As we approached the lake near the Trawsfynydd power station it became clear that there was a fairly significant build up of cloud over the peaks of Snowdonia. While there was no cloud above us (so we could have climbed to keep clear of cloud and the high ground) it wasn’t obvious whether there were any breaks in this layer to allow us to descend on the other side. As a result, I took the decision to head West to the coast, allowing us to follow it at low level below the clouds to Caernarfon if necessary.

Clouds over Snowdonia

Clouds over Snowdonia

We turned west and descended. Catrin was keen to fly through a cloud, so I wandered around looking for one, finally finding a small one to fly through for perhaps 10 seconds during the descent. The cloud base was pretty low, meaning we had to get down to about 1500 feet or so to keep below them. We managed to spot a path between two peaks that we could see was clear of cloud, and threaded our way through them.

Portmeirion

Portmeirion

Once through the gap, Caernarfon airport was clearly visible in the distance thanks to the addition of two wind turbines not far from runway 20. The cloud above us had dispersed, so I made my initial call to Caernarfon and climbed to 2300 feet for the Overhead Join. Caernarfon were using runway 20 today due to the wind direction, so I was about to find out just how distracting it was to attempt to land with two spinning wind turbines off to the left!

Setting up for an Overhead Join

Setting up for an Overhead Join

There was a fair bit of traffic in the circuit, but we managed to keep good spacing and a nice tight circuit, bringing onto a nice Final for the runway. The wind turbines were clearly visible ahead, but not too distracting, enabling me to bring us in for a nice gentle touchdown. We taxyed to the end of the runway before being asked to park in bay 4.

Wind turbines alongside the runway

Wind turbines alongside the runway

As we taxyed in, we could see Luned’s family waving to us in the distance, so pointed them out to Catrin, wondering “Why are people here waving at us?”. Catrin was none the wiser, so we set about getting all our gear out of the aircraft, and walking up the taxyway to meet them. Catrin was suitably excited to see everyone, and we headed off by car to a local cafe for a well-earned lunch.

Taxying in at Caernarfon

Taxying in at Caernarfon

A warm welcome from the locals!

A warm welcome from the locals!

While the others headed to the beach with Catrin, Harri and I returned to the airfield, as I had offered to take him for a flight while we were there. Due to the missing step it was a little more difficult getting Harri up to the cockpit, and after we got settled in I realised I’d left my headset bag under the wing! Doh!

We extricated ourselves, I retrieved my gear, and we again got settled in. I had a bit of trouble starting the engine (it’s always more difficult when still warm from a previous flight), but it started on the second attempt and we taxyed to the hold (for 26 this time!) to carry out power checks. These were all normal, and we lined up behind another aircraft waiting to depart.

After an aircraft had landed, the aicraft ahead of us took to the runway, and after he started his takeoff roll I followed him, ensuring that nobody else was approaching to land. Once the other aircraft was airborne and had made a turn away from the runway centreline, I applied power and we took off in turn.

We climbed initially to around 1000 feet for the run up the Menai Straits, and set about finding their house in order to get some photos. At this low level things were a bit bumpy unfortunately, making it difficult for Harri to take photos. We carried out an orbit however, enabling him to get off a few shots. We climbed to a more comfortable 2500 feet, and continued our tour of Anglesey.

Overhead the in-laws' place

Overhead the in-laws’ place

Harri pointed out a number of landmarks familiar to him as we flew around the Island, spotting his old school, the house he used to live in and a few more general landmarks like old oil refinarys and the like. Valley were closed for the Bank Holiday,  so after spotting the harbour at Holyhead we headed across the island through their overhead, being careful to keep high enough not to infringe their ATZ.

Spotting the Ty Croes racing circuit again, we set course back to Caernarfon. They were now operating on runway 26 with a right hand circuit, so I set us up for an Overhead Join.

As we completed the deadside descent and prepared to join the Downwind leg, another aircraft came on frequency announcing an unwell passenger. Having experienced the distraction of an unwell passenger myself, I decided  to make way for him so that he could land as soon as possible. I continued North of the airfield, before turning to the left to join on an extended Downwind. The other aircraft passed below us, and I made sure to leave plenty of room before following him on the Downwing leg.

He landed safely, and was clearing the runway at the far end as we turned Final. Again the approach was good, and I brought us in for a smooth landing, hopefully reassuring Harri of my piloting ability!

We were initially directed to park back in bay 4, but I wanted to refuel before heading back to Kemble, so we taxyed up to the pumps. Rather than have Harri hang around (and try to negotiate the step up to the wing again!) I gave him a Hi-Viz jacket (mandatory at Caernarfon) and he headed back to the Cafe for a coffee while I refuelled the aircraft. After refuelling I intended to pull the aircraft out of the way to allow another aircraft behind me to refuel while I got going again, but at this point I realised that the tow bar wasn’t in the baggage area.

After a quick check with the refueller that we both agreed I had clearance to taxy out, I started up again and he watched my left wing as I headed away from the fuel bay. Luckily parking bay 4 was still clear, so I taxyed back to park up, before heading in to join Harri.

The rest of the family soon joined us, and while trying to get Catrin to visit the toilet before we headed back, she had a fairly major meltdown because we got all the way to the cubicle before she decided she wanted Heledd to take her. I should probably have just given in immediately, but in trying to get her to go with me she got really wound up, and I eventually relented and took her back outside to find Heledd.

Once we were all sorted, we headed back to the aircraft and got ourselves ready for the return flight. We taxyed past the family, waving as we did, before making ready to depart on runway 26. Before the power checks I noticed that the ‘Low Bus’ light hadn’t gone out (it will sometimes do this at low RPM) and expected it to do so during the power checks. However, when it didn’t I started to become a little concerned that we might have an alternator fault.

I considered whether it would be wise to make the flight anyway (running the risk of losing electrical power at some point), and then decided to try cycling the master switch (the Arrow doesn’t have a split Master / Alternator switch). This seemed to cure the issue, and I made a point of keeping an eye on it for the rest of the flight.

We lined up to take our turn to depart, and took to the air before turning to the South. I had weighed up the options of climbing in the vicinity of Caernarfon with a view to immediately setting a direct track to Welshpool, but decided that we might as well climb while heading South, before turning to rejoin the direct track once we had sufficient height to clear the high ground.

Departing over the beach

Departing over the beach

I used the 430 to intercept the track home, and set about monitoring the aircraft during the flight, always with an eye on the ammeter and Low Bus light. Both showed no cause for concern during the flight.

No cloud now!

No cloud now!

As we left the Caernarfon we heard a Sea King on frequency, and soon spotted him below us in the mountains. Presumably this was some sort of rescue in progress (although it could have been a training exercise of some sort), so hopefully everything turned out Ok for those involved.

Sea King over the woods towards the bottom of the picture

Sea King over the woods towards the bottom of the picture

Surprisingly conditions were a lot more bumpy on the return journey (you would usually expect that as things cool down in the late afternoon that there would be less turbulence. I experimented with a number of different levels, eventually ending up at about 5500 feet. We had no height constraints in terms of either airspace or cloudbase, but there didn’t seem much point in going any higher.

We flew over Welshpool, hearing a couple of aircraft depart as we approached. Catrin amused herself singing into the intercom (the isolation features of the Garmin audio panel really showing their usefulness!), and had a bit of a snack before falling asleep (my inability to calm her down in the toilet probably the main cause of this!). Luned and I chatted on the flight back, spotting little in the way of other traffic apart from a lone glider in the vicinity of Shobdon.

Around Worcester I contacted Gloucester for a Basic Service, initially being asked to report abeam the airfield, before the Controller offered “unless you’d rather route through the overhead?”. This had been my original intention so I took him up on his offer. Gloucester seemed fairly busy, but as we passed through the overhead at 5500 feet we were well out of the way.

One error I made was in not starting my descent for Kemble early enough. We started to descend when overhead Gloucester, but due to our ground speed I needed a fairly large rate of descent to get down to an appropriate height to rejoin at Kemble.

I asked for a wind check at Gloucester to get a feel for what runway to expect, and their winds appeared to favour the Easterly runway. I was somewhat surprised to receive a response from Kemble Radio (they are usually Information) to my initial call, but having someone on the ground was useful to confirm that they were in fact still using runway 26. Another aircraft landed as we approached, and after confirming that their was no other known traffic in the area, I elected for a Right Base join to expedite our landing.

In order to lose the extra height I now needed to, I reduced airspeed before lowering the gear earlier than I normally would. This helped keep the airspeed down and increase the rate of descent, as I got down to circuit height in time to commence the Base leg.

The rest of the approach went pretty well, but for some reason I made a real mess of the landing. I obviously flared much to high, causing us to stall much higher off the ground than I would usually. As a result the last few feet resulted in a pretty firm landing, as I applied power to late to cushion the touchdown.

A quick ‘sorry’ to Luned in the back (Catrin managed to sleep through it!), and I announced a backtrack before heading back to our parking area. I dispatched Luned and Catrin back to the Club while refuelled from the Club’s bowser and got all of our gear out of the aircraft (carrying a load of coats in the hot afternoon sun was particularly galling!) and recovered the aircraft in the parking area.

Catrin and Bob after a thoroughly enjoyable day out

Catrin and Bob after a thoroughly enjoyable day out

I headed back in to the Club to settle the paperwork, to find Sarah (one of the aircraft owners) getting all the information from the tech logs. We chatted while I filled in the Arrow’s paperwork, and Dave also returned with a student from his last flight of the day. Once all was complete, we headed back to the car to head home after a very successfully day.

Tracks flown

Tracks flown

Outbound profile

Outbound profile

Local profile

Local profile

Return profile

Return profile

Well, after nearly 5 years of having my PPL, I’d finally fulfilled my promise and taken Luned up to her mum’s place for lunch! Hopefully we’ll soon be able to do it properly and go up there for a couple of days, meaning the whole thing would feel a lot less rushed. Door to door in about 3 hours was definitely more pleasant than a 4 or 5 hour drive!

We’d all (hopefully!) had a really pleasant day out, and Harri seemed to enjoy his flight around his local area. The majority of the flight had gone really well, only spoiled by a pretty poor landing to end the day. What’s the bit they say the passengers always remember?

Total flight time today: 3:30
Total flight time to date: 215:40


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