For one reason and another, this year has been a really mixed one for flying. Despite a number of long breaks between flights, I was still on target to match my hours total for last year. Having finally regained all my currencies with my last two flights, I was keen to just get in an aircraft and be able to fly somewhere.
David and I had discussed the possibility of sharing a flight earlier this month, but this didn’t come to fruition, and as a result David was my first choice of company for this flight. He managed to arrange a ‘pass out’ for the day, so we spent the few days before the flight discussing options for destinations. Initially I was keen to visit Tibenham, and perhaps another airfield out towards the East of the country. However, on reflection, I decided that given my lack of recent currency, visiting Tibenham could turn out to me more challenging that I really wanted.
My next choice was to head down to Land’s End, an airfield we’d planned to visit earlier in the year, but had to change our route due to the Arrow being unavailable that day. Perranporth was pencilled in as a second destination, and in the days leading up to the flight I planned the route, and called to arrange PPR for both airfields.
Luned and Catrin were both away for the weekend, so this made it easier for me to make an early start on the Saturday morning, and I arrived at Kemble around 9am after completing the final planning and making a last minute call to Land’s End to get a feel for the weather down there. NOTAMs showed some Class D airspace being established at Kemble around 5pm local time, so after the experience with Charlie last time this was established, I was keen to be back before this came in to effect.
The weather on the drive to the airfield had shown that there were still patches of fog around, but outside of these the skies looked clear. On arrival at Kemble conditions seemed almost ideal, and the weather forecast suggested that conditions would only continue to improve during the day. David arrived shortly after me, and we headed in to the Club’s office to check the aircraft for logged defects and complete the necessary paperwork. We then headed out to the aircraft, and put some more fuel in to remove the need to refuel enroute. David had spent some time in the last week assembling a PilotAware unit, so while I carried out the ‘A’ check he set about getting this ready to try on the flight.
Once all checks were complete, we both climbed onboard and I prepared to start the engine. We received start clearance from the FISO (necessary because the Lyneham parking area is out of sight of the Tower) and the engine started fairly easily. Kemble were operating on runway 08 this morning, and this required a taxy along the grass to reach the Tower Apron for checks. We were initially asked to pause opposite the Tower to allow another aircraft to taxy from the runway to park in front of AV8, but he turned out to need fuel, so we were cleared to continue as he taxyed over to the pumps.
One of Freedom’s Warriors was already on the North Apron carrying out his power checks, so I was careful to allow him sufficient room to get out should he complete his checks before us. Our checks were all normal as usual, and the Warrior left the North Apron as I completed the before takeoff checklist. Once at the hold, we were cleared on to the runway without any delay, and I commenced the takeoff roll with virtually no wind to allow for. This made the takeoff easy, and once we were airborne I dabbed the brakes and retracted the gear, before climbing away to the South to set course for RAF Lyneham to start our navigation.
At around 1000 feet or so we passed through some fog, and as we continued the climb it became apparent that the fog was still evident almost all around us. Seeing the almost solid fog bank below us did give me pause to consider whether to continue the flight, but we knew that the base of the layer was above 1000 feet, so even should we have an engine failure we would still have time after breaking through the layer to select an appropriate landing site. David concurred with this (expressing pleasure that I’d at least considered the possible outcome should we have an engine failure).
We were passed information on the Freedom Warrior’s position as we continued South, which put him in the general area but well below us. We announced the we were looking, but Dave (Freedom’s CFI) responded on the radio that he had us in sight. Due to the layer of fog below us, we could no longer navigate visually, so were reliant on other means (primarily GPS backed up with the radio navigation equipment in the aircraft). We signed off with Kemble and switched to Bristol, receiving a service from them as we continued South West outside their airspace.
I had initially entered a ‘direct to’ route to Land’s End into the 430, but after we turned at Frome I amended this to insert a direct to leg to Newquay into the first part of the route. This enabled me to use the CDI coupled to the 430 to navigate, cross checking this with our two copies of SkyDemon (mine on my Nexus 7, and David’s on his iPad). David was also initially pleased with the operation of his PilotAware unit, which was showing him traffic symbols directly on the SkyDemon chart, together with an indication of their height relative to us. However, when it showed an aircraft at Bristol some 7000 feet below us (we were flying at 4500 feet!) he became a little less pleased, and this then led him to question the device’s usefulness as a traffic aid.
I was using the autopilot in ‘heading’ mode on this leg, adjusting track occasionally to keep the CDI on the 430 centred. I did try for a little while to get the autopilot to track the GPS course in Nav mode, but had no luck. I suspect the issue is related to an unlabeled switch towards the top of the instrument panel, that probably selects the source of Nav information for the autopilot when it’s in this mode. I must have a chat with Kev regarding this to see if I can work out how to use it correctly.
The layer below us continued to thin as we headed South West, and by the time we reached Taunton it had all but disappeared. Bristol arranged a handover to Exeter for us (negating the need for a long ‘pass your message’ response), but I made a bit of a mess of the initial call, passing information the new Controller didn’t need, and omitting information that he did. David brought his recently studied knowledge to good use, letting me know what information I needed to pass in the initial call (callsign, height and the service we required).
Exeter later helpfully handed us over direct to Newquay, making this possibly the most ‘joined up’ ATC experience I’d ever had while flying. On the leg to Newquay David and I discussed the route we should take from Newquay to Land’s End, as the direct route would have taken us overhead Perranporth, and they were likely to be parachuting today. I initially favoured heading South from Newquay, before turning right once clear of Perranporth. As we approached Newquay the Controller asked us to remain above 4500 feet to co-ordinate with inbound Instrument traffic. When I told him I planned to turn South he also asked us not to do this, and when I explained I was keen to avoid Perranporth, he informed us that the parachute jump was completed and all jumpers were now on the ground.
So we continued along the coast, passing to the West of Perranporth before contacting Land’s End. David and I discussed an appropriate distance to begin our descent for Land’s End, and once in contact with them we were asked to report passing the Pendeen Lighthouse VRP. We heard another aircraft being asked to join on a Right Base from there, so as we approached I did my best to find the airfield in readiness to carry out the same join. David spotted the airfield long before I did, and as we accepted the join I still had a little difficulty locating the airfield. Fortunately David steered me in the right direction, and I eventually spotted the field. Despite having new hard runways, the airfield is still quite difficult to spot from the air for some reason!
I set us up nicely for the approach to runway 25 at Land’s End, and I brought us in for a very gentle touchdown on the somewhat undulating runway. There was some confusion initially when the Controller asked us to backtrack and take ‘first right’. We weren’t sure whether the Controller meant for us to turn onto the grass runway to our right, but after querying this she gave us more progressive instructions, telling us to turn onto the other hard runway before giving us directions to the grass parking area.
Once parked, we headed towards the terminal, having a little difficulty initially in getting someone to open the terminal door for us, it seems I didn’t press the bell hard enough! We paid the landing fee at one of the two check in desks, before heading into the cafe for lunch. The menu was relatively limited, but David chose a bacon roll, and I opted for a cheese and ham toastie. Both certainly hit the spot, and we enjoyed the view out on to the airfield watching Commercial traffic departing for the Scilly Isles as we ate. It was strange to consider that barely 90 minutes ago we had been 175nm and 5 counties away at Kemble! This is definitely the way to travel!
Once we’d finished our lunch, I signed out at the check in desk, and someone unlocked the door for us to allow us to get back airside to the Arrow. After requesting start from the Controller, the Arrow again started fairly easily, and we were given taxy instructions via the grass taxyway, with the expectation of doing our power checks on the runway! The Controller was perhaps a little overly helpful in giving us taxy instructions (maybe she remembered our confusion on the way in!), and we lined up on the undulating runway to carry out the power checks. I opted to lower two stages of flap for the take off (the runway isn’t particularly long at Land’s End) and we requested a right turn out to follow the coast. The Controller asked us to initially turn left, as there was another aircraft inbound to use the cross runway, and a right turn would have put us across his Final track.
We were cleared to take off, an as requested I turned left after takeoff, climbing to around 1500 feet. We then turned right to travel along the coast to find Perranporth. As we passed Pendeen Lighthouse again, we signed off with Land’s End and contacted Newquay, requesting a Basic Service for the short flight up to Perranporth. They helpfully provided us details of the parachuting that was in progress, with an estimate of when the drop was to take place.
As we passed St. Ives, we signed off with Newquay and contacted Perranport for airfield information. The radio quality was quite poor, but we managed to ascertain that they were using runway 27, so I continued tracking over the sea, aiming to join on a Downwind leg. Initially I had a little difficulty in spotting the runway orientation, but thought I’d got myself sorted and announced ‘Downwind’. David questioned my positioning, and looking at the GPS track does show that my Downwind leg was far from parallel to the Westerly runway! I was also confused a little by trying to follow the parachuting aircraft along ‘Final’, but it soon became clear he was flying an approach that was actually offset to the South.
He landed and cleared the runway in good time, and I again brought us in for another gentle landing, despite being slightly confused by the ‘picture’ due to the lower ground on the approach to the runway. As a result I think I was a little low and flat, but the actual landing was handled pretty well. We backtracked a short way to pick up the grass taxyway, before parking up alongside the other aircraft on the grass. We walked in to pay the landing fee in the cafe, signing in while we did so. The A/G operator met us as we left the Cafe and we chatted for a little while before wandering around the airfield, looking at the aircraft parked in the hangar. After a short stop we walked back to the aircraft to head back to Kemble.
We discussed the route back, and I decided to try for a ‘direct’ route to Kemble, which was likely to take us through both Cardiff and Bristol’s airspace. Should any clearances not be available, we also had the backup route planned, which was a reverse of our flight down. We spotted the parachute aircraft loading up ready to depart, and the Arrow started easily once we were on board. We taxyed to the hold for the runway, carrying out our power checks behind another aircraft. As we completed the checks, we heard the parachute aircraft announcing 5 minutes before the drop, so we took to the runway immediately after the other aircraft, and departed as he climbed away.
I asked David to keep a good eye on him during our climbout, but he actually turned left which meant he was well away from our planned track. As we climbed away, I entered a ‘direct to’ route for Kemble into the 430, and after signing off with Perranporth we called up Newquay, initially requesting a Basic Service. In the days leading up to the flight I’d considered getting in some IMC practice, and as luck would have it there were some cloud formations directly ahead on our route. I decided to head straight into them, requesting a Traffic Service from Newquay as we neared the cloud. We were given information on some opposite direction traffic 2000 feet below us, and further traffic reports just received the response ‘Roger, currently IMC’ as we had little chance of spotting any other aircraft.
The first ‘cloud bank’ actually turned out to be a very small piece of cloud which we flew through in seconds, but there were further cloud formations ahead of us meaning I could legitimately claim this flying time as IFR. Newquay again gave us good service, handing us over to Exeter at the appropriate time. David and I further discussed our route, and decided to turn slightly right to avoid having to contact Cardiff, aiming for Bridgewater initially. We hoped that Exeter would hand us over to Bristol around this point, but in fact we were just instructed to ‘squawk 7000 and freecall enroute’.
The reason for this soon became clear as we signed on with Bristol, asking for a Traffic Service and Zone Transit. This received the unexpected response ‘Remain outside Controlled Airspace, Traffic Service not available due to staff shortages’. This slightly scuppered our plan, so after a brief discussion we decided to descend so as to allow ourselves to pass under the Bristol airspace near Bath. Unfortunately, this put us down in some very hazy conditions, as well as meaning we were now down with most of the other aircraft that might be flying in the area.
We flew at this height for 10 minutes or so, before I took the decision to climb and head around the Bristol airspace rather than under it. I could tell that the skies above us were clear of cloud, and on climbing we discovered not only much better visibility, but also we were now less likely to encounter any other traffic. I headed initially towards Lyneham, before turning North once we were clear of Colerne to head direct to Kemble.
Kemble sounded fairly busy, and we initially had some trouble signing on with them due to being stepped on continuously on the radio (including one chap who seemed to be testing his handheld in his car!). Eventually we learned that they were still using runway 08, and there were two aircraft operating in the circuit. We spotted the traffic easily as we approached from the South, and I descended Deadside before following one of them on his Crosswind leg to join the circuit. I was a little close to him, so I dropped two stages of flap earlier than normal, allowing us to slow down and build a bit of a gap between us and him.
He flew quite a wide Base leg, and I announced to the FISO that I was extending my Downwind leg to follow the aircraft in front. We did our best to avoid any areas of population below us (we were wider than we normally would be, so this made it more difficult to keep clear of noise sensitive areas), and established on Final as the other aircraft touched down and cleared the runway in good time. I brought is in for the third good landing of the day, landing long to hopefully prevent us from causing the aircraft behind us to go around.
I kept the speed up on the runway, and announced ‘Vacated’ as soon as we turned off, enabling the FISO to immediately ‘clear’ the following aircraft to land. We taxyed back to the parking area, and after refuelling the aircraft we pushed it back into its parking space, removed all our gear and put the covers back on before heading into the Club office to complete the paperwork and pay for the flight.
Nearly 4 months after my last landaway, I was finally fully current and had managed to get some decent flying in. As ever, David had been a helpful and knowledgeable flying companion, diplomatically picking me up on my errors as he spotted them during the flight. We’d had a really good flight, with some great views, good service from ATC and some challenging conditions throughout the day. With luck, next weekend I’ll make it three weekends in a row that I’ve been flying, as I visit a Student Pilot fly-in at Halfpenny Green near Wolverhampton. In late September, it seems my 2015 flying is finally getting going!
Total flight time today: 3:50
Total flight time to date: 279:50