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.
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.
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.
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!’).
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’!).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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