To Conington with a breathing ‘autopilot’!

May 7, 2016

I flew with Josh and Vanessa towards the end of last year, and was disappointed that my attempt to take them on a ‘proper’ flight was foiled by a problem with an aircraft, meaning we’d only really been able to go for a quick local. I’d promised that when the opportunity arose, I’d take them for a proper flight. I’d invited them along when I was unaccompanied to Nottingham, but sadly they were busy that day. Another opportunity arose to take them for a flight this weekend, and thankfully the weather and our schedules finally meant that we could go for it.

Initially we planned to fly down to Devon, stopping off at Dunkeswell. However, in the days leading up to the flight, it was announced that a mass photo shoot was to occur at Dunkeswell to celebrate the anniversary of the formation of the LAA. As a result I thought it would be better to choose another destination, if not just because the Cafe there was likely to be very busy!

I finally decided on a trip back to Peterborough Conington, with a possible stop off on the return leg at either Sywell or Leicester. All the planning was completed in advance as normal, and on the morning of the flight I completed the last items of planning and called Conington to ensure all was Ok, which showed that apart from a TopNav competition there was nothing particularly unusual happening. I’d made myself familiar with their slightly unusual Overhead Join procedure (which I’d flown on a previous flight), and collected Josh and Vanessa on my way up to Kemble.

G-EDGI was just preparing to depart as we arrived, and once all the pre-flight paperwork had been completed we walked out to the Arrow. In order to remove the need to get fuel on our trip, we put some more fuel in from Lyneham’s bowser before I completed the ‘A’ check and we all got settled.

Getting ready to depart

Getting ready to depart

Kemble were on 08 today, and rather unusually I was asked to complete my checks on the D site apron. The weather looked almost perfect from the ground, although the forecast warned of a slight chance of thunderstorms later in the day. Due to the fact that the thunderstorms would be infrequent and short lived, I decided it was safe to continue the flight, given that we should be able to spot them easily in an otherwise clear sky, and either fly around them or land somewhere en-route to wait for them to dissipate.

After the checks were completed on the D site apron I expected to be given taxy instructions to either use the Charlie taxyway to the South, or the grass Golf taxyway in front of the tower. My instructions were initially to taxy to Alpha 3 (making the Charlie taxyway seem likely) but on arrival there was told I could backtrack 08. I think this is the first time I’ve done this, and it certainly cut down on taxying time.

After a suitable backtrack, we were cleared to depart, and I asked for information as to whether a left turn out would be possible. There was nothing known to affect this, so we began the takeoff roll and lifted off into the clear blue skies. As is often the case however, the conditions weren’t as good as they looked from the ground. We were soon in a layer of relatively poor visibility, and despite climbing to 3500 feet we didn’t emerge from it.

Once clear of Kemble, we signed off with them and contacted Brize Radar for a Basic Service. They were relatively busy, but we were granted the service and continued en-route. Once established on the leg to the DTY VOR, I handed control to Josh, and he made a good job of maintaining height and heading. As we approached Banbury, I made ready to sign off with Brize, and heard another aircraft being refused a service due to them being at capacity. Fortunately for them, as we signed off, the Brize Controller immediately called them back to offer a service.

Flying selfie!

Flying selfie!

I’m always reticent to fly too close to a VOR, as they are often used by pilots as turning points, and as such can become a choke point for other aircraft. I had decided to fly a 10nm DME arc around DTY, to intercept the outbound course to Conington. I explained this to Josh as I took control, and set about flying the procedure.

In general the arc went pretty well, if a little straight at one point. However, I was never more than about 0.75 nm off my ‘target’ distance from the VOR. As we crossed the 180° radial, I looked out to my left and spotted a runway a couple of miles away. A quick glance at the chart showed that it was Turweston, and at our height of 3500 feet we were well clear of them. However, something clicked in my mind and I took another look at the chart, only to have my fears confirmed as I spotted Hinton in the Hedges directly West of Turweston.

Analysis of my track in SkyDemon shows that I’d inadvertantly flown within a mile or so of their Overhead. Normally at 3500 feet this wouldn’t necessarily be an issue, but Hinton performs parachute dropping (up to 6500 feet according to SkyDemon). As such, there had been a real chance that I could have disrupted their operations while flying past, or even had even more serious consequences.

A definite lesson was learned here, despite ‘planning’ to fly the 10nm DME arc to avoid DTY, I hadn’t actually checked on a chart to see where that track would actually place me. This was probably my most serious omission in flight planning in the entire of my flying career. I’ll definitely be making a point of planning this sort of thing more thoroughly in future.

We continued on past Silverstone, and rather than complete the arc to my planned outbound track, I took another look at the chart for anything else that would prevent us taking a direct track to Conington. Other than a few farm strips on the route, there was nothing of note, so I entered a ‘direct to’ into the 430 and SkyDemon, set us up on the appropriate heading and handed control back to Josh.

Passing Silverstone

Passing Silverstone

Again (as the track shows) Josh made an excellent job of maintaining height and heading. In order to try and get out of the haze, I had Josh drop us down to 2500 feet, and this did help slightly with forward visibility. I tuned in to Conington’s frequency to listen in as we approached, and highlighted the identifying features of Conington to Josh to see if he could spot it as we approached.

We passed over the A14, and spotted the A1(M) off to our right, making it easy to know where the airfield should be. It took a little while to actually pick out the runway in the haze however. Conington were still operating on 10 with a left hand circuit, which meant I’d have to fly almost a complete circuit of the airfield in the overhead before commencing the descent on the Deadside.

I kept to the East of the railway line as their noise abatement circuit requested, but almost forgot about the village to the South West of the airfield that is also marked to be avoided. I jinked slightly right to avoid it as we descended on the Deadside, before continuing into the circuit. We were the only aircraft on frequency as we continued around, and I brought us in for a gentle if slightly flat landing. We were asked to park on the grass as we cleared the runway, and after shutting down got a few photos before walking in for lunch.

Happy passengers

Happy passengers

The cafe was busy, with lots of people sitting at tables poring over charts, presumably preparing for the Navigation competition that was happening. We found a seat outside and ate in glorious sunshine, watching aircraft arriving and departing as we did so.

Once we’d finished, we were walking out to the aircraft when a familiar sounding voice hailed me, and as I looked up I saw Graham walking over to say hello. Graham had flown with Lyneham Flying Club also, and had even arranged a Navigation Competition for us at one point. He was here today to compete in the TopNav competition himself, and after we caught up a little he bade goodbye to go and complete his own flight planning!

After a quick walkaround, we all boarded the aircraft and I got the engine started. We held for a short while as Freedom’s G-CLEA taxyed in front of us, before backtracking the runway (almost 1km long!) to carry out our power checks on the crosswind runway. Once these were complete, we took to the runway and departed. I took care to fly the noise abatement circuit as well as I could, initially flying East of the railway line, before heading North far enough to pass over the lake on the Downwind leg.

I announced we were climbing out on Downwind, and proceed South West to track direct to DTY for the first leg. I climbed to about 3000 feet for this leg, getting us established on course and at the correct height before again handing control over to Josh. We had a discussion on the operation of the trim, and I made a slight correction for him before pointing out the trim wheel between the seats to that he could make his own corrections later should they be required.

Josh at the controls

Josh at the controls

Having Josh along as ‘autopilot’ meant I could spend my time looking out for other traffic, although the poor visibility was still present which made this difficult. I spoke briefly to Sywell as we passed just above their ATZ, before signing off with them to continue with Brize after we’d passed by.

Vanessa spotted a Cessna quite close off to our right, passing slightly below us, and as we approached Northampton we discussed the route back to Kemble. I decided to route via RAF Brize Norton, with a view to either carrying out a Zone Transit, or climbing above their airspace if this couldn’t be accomodated.

As we reached Northampton, I eyeballed a course change using the chart, and had Josh turn on an appropriate heading to fly over Silverstone. From there (mindful of my earlier faux-pas) I planned to head due West to Banbury, before continuing on course for Brize. Josh flew the assigned headings well, and I updated the heading occasionally on the heading bug as we progressed.

Once overhead Banbury, I contacted Brize Radar to request a Basic Service and Zone Transit. I was immediately asked to call Brize Zone for the transit, so we switched frequency and signed on with them, requesting a routing via their overhead to the mast at Membury, then back to Kemble via Swindon. We were initially provided with a Basic Service, and after a few minutes were granted a Zone Transit on our requested route, with no altitude restrictions.

I had Josh descend to 2500 feet to get a better view of the airfield as we passed, and dialled in a ‘direct to’ EGVN on the 430 and turned in the ADF to Brize’s NDB frequency. Monitoring our progress on the chart, I realised we would be passing very close to Enstone at just above Overhead Join height, so after spotting it ahead of us had Josh adjust course to the West to avoid it. We then continued towards Brize, keeping it on the right hand side of the aircraft so that Josh and Vanessa could get a good view as we passed.

Once overhead, we steered almost due South and tried to spot Membury in the murk ahead. I pointed out Faringdon, the A419 and the mainline railway as we passed over, and soon spotted the M4 off to our right, followed by the mast itself a few moments later. We had heard Redlands Para on frequency earlier, and the Controller at Brize reminded us that Redlands was active, so we tracked to the South of the M4 back towards Swindon, passing by the disused airfield at Wroughton, and spotting Lyneham off in the distance as we passed Swindon.

I have Josh a course to head direct towards Kemble, then revised it slightly to try to remain clear of Oaksey as we approached. Kemble soon came into view, and after signing on with them had Josh approach the airfield to fly over the threshold of 08, and descend to 2000 feet on the Kemble QFE in readiness for the overhead join.

Approaching Kemble

Approaching Kemble

We passed by Oaksey, and as we approached the overhead I took control back from Josh, and set about looking for the other aircraft that were operating in the circuit. We spotted one on Final for a touch and go, and as I descended on the Deadside we all tried to spot him. Josh was first to spot him, pointing him out to me as we turned Crosswind and continued around the circuit.

Pre-landing checks were all completed in good time, but I hadn’t fully appreciated the fact that the aircraft ahead of us was actually a microlight, and as such we caught him up a little on the Downwind leg. As we turned Base he was only just turning Final, so I lowered flap and slowed us down to try to increase the spacing between us.

He was on very short Final as we turned Final, and I expected to be forced to Go Around as a result. We watched the aircraft ahead land and roll out, and he seemed to take an age to get airborne again, but fortunately did so as we descended through about 150 feet, receiving a late ‘Land at your discretion’ call from the FISO.

The second landing of the day was much better than the first, and as we rolled out I heard the FISO clear another aircraft into position behind us. Eager to avoid holding him up for too long (and mindful of the fact the he couldn’t see us due to the hump in the runway) I kept the speed up so as to vacate as soon as possible at the far end of the runway. As we crossed the hold line, I reported ‘Runway Vacated’, enabling the FISO to immediately clear the other aircraft to depart.

After completing the ‘After landing’ checklist at the hold, I checked Josh could reach the rudder pedals Ok, and allowed him to taxy along Alpha towards Lyneham’s parking area. Again he did an excellent job, and I took control back from him before we reached the parking area so that I could make the tight turn to position us at the fuel bowser ready to refuel.

Josh and Vanessa chatted while I refuelled the aircraft, then we all pushed it back to its parking space and put the cover back on after removing all our gear from the aircraft. After settling up all the post-flight paperwork in the office, we headed back to the car and had just arrived back in Swindon when the heavens opened and the forecast thunderstorms and hail arrived!

Tracks flown

Tracks flown

Leg 1 profile

Leg 1 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 2 profile

We’d had a really enjoyable flight today, and again the perfect-looking conditions from the ground turned out to actually be quite poor once we were in the air. Josh and Vanessa had been very enthusiastic passengers, and Josh showed good aircraft control during his time at the controls. I was very disappointed at my slip regarding flying near Hinton, and resolved in future to ensure that all phases of flight were thoroughly planned in advance. It was nice to be back at Conington, and good to see it so busy. Although my flying year only started at the end of Februrary, I’m already on track to easily match the hours flown last year. Hopefully I can continue with regular flights for the remainder of the year!

Total flight time today: 2:05
Total flight time to date: 292:05

More new blood, and a new airfield

April 23, 2016

While arranging to donate a flight in aid of Catrin’s school PTA, the chair of the PTA mentioned that his 16 year old son was planning to join the RAF to train as a pilot. He asked if there was any chance I would be able to take him up for a flight so that he could see what to expect. Having already done something similar for Josh, I had agreed, and spare seats in the aircraft for a flight seemed the perfect opportunity.

Hawarden had long been on my list of airfields to visit, as (most importantly!) their cafe seems to have a good reputation. Also, as it’s an airfield used by Airbus, there was a good chance of getting up close with their Beluga transport aircraft. I’d seen this from the ground when driving in the area, and was keen for a (slightly) closer look. As it happened, I follow Rocky on Twitter, who works in Air Traffic there, and he was a very useful resource in the days leading up to the flight.

A haircut appointment in the morning meant a slightly later start than usual, but I collected Thomas and his mum Juliette from their house in Swindon around 10:30, and we headed to the airfield. As usual, the planning was all completed the night before with final touches made on the morning of the flight, leaving me to just double check the AIS information line for any last minute airspace upgrades, and phone Hawarden to receive PPR.

The Club office was quite busy with a pilot preparing to take a number of passengers on flights in the Bulldog, so while Thomas and Juliette completed the Temporary Membership forms, I completed the tech log of the Arrow. I had given us the option of returning via a stop off at Caernarfon if time permitted, so I left the second line of the tech log largely blank so that I could complete it once I knew where we’d actually gone!

We all headed out to the aircraft, with Thomas and Juliette helping me remove the cover before Thomas followed me around the aircraft on the walkaround, as I pointed out the various items I was checking. As usual there were no problems (with the exception of a non-working landing light), so we all boarded the aircraft ready to depart.

The engine started on the second try, and we received our taxy instructions which took us onto the Southern taxyway in readiness to depart on runway 08. I explained the various checks I was carrying out as we taxyed, before carrying out the normal power checks once the engine had warmed up. As I moved into position at the hold to announce ‘ready for departure’, I spotted another aircraft on late Downwind, but judged I had enough time to take to the runway and depart without affecting his approach.

Helpfully, the Controller informed me that there was nothing he knew of to affect a left turn out, before we began to accelerate down the runway. There was a fairly stiff crosswind from the left, meaning the initial climb out had a fair amount of crab required to maintain runway track. I raised the gear as we climbed out, turning towards Gloucester and continuing to climb up to our planned cruising altitude of 4500 feet.

Once clear to the North, I signed off with Kemble and made contact with Gloucester to receive a Basic Service as I normally do when passing close to them. They seemed relatively quiet, with just a couple of other aircraft on frequency. We reported overhead, and then continued on towards Great Malvern where I signed off with Gloucester.

A bit of 'instruction'

A bit of ‘instruction’

I’d already briefed Thomas regarding him taking control during the flight, and on the leg towards Great Malvern I gave him control, giving him a brief introduction as to what he needed to do in terms of maintaining height and heading using external references. He did a good job considering it was his first experience at the controls, and in particular I noted that he wasn’t making the usual ‘rookie’ mistake of trying to correct every slight deviation from straight and level. We were experiencing fairly regular but minor turbulence, which caused us to be bounced around a number of time while he was at the controls. However, he took good heed of my hint not to try to maintain a death grip on the control column, and generally allowed the aircraft to settle itself back into equilibrium rather than continually making minor corrections on the controls.

Thomas at the controls

Thomas at the controls

Thomas handed control back to be after a few minutes, and we continued on towards Shrewsbury. Shawbury was easily visible off to the right hand side, and I signed on with Sleap as we approached. They were relatively quiet, and as we were up at 4500 feet there was no real need to talk to them. However, I let them know I was passing overhead. before later signing off in readiness to approach Hawarden. The visibility was excellent, with Wrexham and Chester clearly visible in the distance, and even this far away it was easy to make out the coast and the water beyond.

After passing Sleap, I began a gradual descent in order to be below the Class A airspace that sits above Hawarden, starting at 3000 feet. I levelled off at 2500 feet, and after copying down the ATIS made contact with Hawarden as we approached Wrexham. For some reason I wasn’t ready to write down the information they passed to me, meaning that I got the last digit of the transponder code wrong as I read it back and entered it into the transponder. The Controller corrected me, and as I finished entering it I realised that the transponder was actually still in Standby mode, I had obviously forgotten to turn it on before leaving Kemble!

With the transponder code correctly set, I was given a Right Base join to Hawarden’s runway 04. I continued the descent down to 1000 feet after setting QFE, and carried out the before landing checklist as we approached. Now talking to the Tower, I was initially a little high as I neared the point to call ‘Base’, but by the time I was on Final this had changed to being a little low. There were no other aircraft on frequency, and the wind check gave an almost 90 degree crosswind of around 11 knots. Mindful of the slightly challenging conditions, I decided to stick with just 2 stages of flap, and brought us in to land. The landing was slightly floaty (probably not helped by only using two stages of flap) and this meant I spent more time in the holdoff trying to maintain the correct alignment and attitude. The landing was slightly firm, but fortunately not so bad that it would scare my first time passengers!

Short Final at Hawarden

Short Final at Hawarden

As we vacated the runway as instructed, another aircraft was cleared on to the far end of the runway (the ATIS had warned that runway 22 could be expected for departure), and I made a point of stopping past the hold line to carry out the after landing checklist and study the taxy diagram to ensure I could follow the relatively complex instructions to the parking area. Sadly there was no sign of the Beluga, and it later turned out that it had headed off to Spain instead! The AIP entry suggests that all aircraft must be marshalled into their parking area, and at first I couldn’t see anyone waiting for us. Someone emerged from a hangar as we approached, and gave me clear (but largely un-necessary beyond the first ‘park there’) instructions.

I had to consciously resist the urge to head towards the marshaller while he gave the ‘proceed ahead’ instruction, as he sent me past his position before turning through 180 degrees into the area he wanted me to park. After shutting down, we were given a pass to get back through the gate airside, and he gave us directions to head to the nearby airport cafe. We made the short walk to the cafe, and then found ourselves a table that hadn’t already been reserved. The cafe seemed to be fairly busy with non-pilots, which is always a good sign.

I played safe with my usual sausage sandwich, while the others had something a little more substantial. We chatted about Thomas’s planned route into the RAF, and discussed what type of flying he’d like to do. While eating I checked with Rocky on Twitter, receiving a favourable review of my approach and landing from the vantage point of ATC.

Once we’d all finished eating, we walked back towards the hangar near where we were parked, in order to book out with Air Traffic before leaving. It turned out to be Rocky on the other end of the phone, so we had a brief chat after giving him our departure details. After a quick check with the staff in the hangar as to whether start clearance was required (he said not, but to ensure to copy the ATIS before initial contact with ATC), we walked back to the Arrow and I carried out a quick transit check. Finding no problems, we all got back on board and I got the engine started after a couple of tries.

ATIS copied, I made contact with ATC, and was given the option as to which runway I wanted to depart on. The wind was almost straight across, but actually slightly favoured 04. However, this would have meant a long taxy to the far end, as well as starting us off on our return journey pointing the wrong way (we wanted to head South) so I decided to accept the slight tailwind and take off on 22. We were given taxy instructions to the hold, and I carried out the power checks as we approached.

Once these were complete, I then had to copy down my first ‘real’ departure clearance in a long time. While I was based at Brize Norton and then Lyneham, this was just a normal part of the process of going flying, but having been based at Kemble for nearly 5 years means that the need for a departure clearance is a rare occurrence. The clearance was given as “G-AZWS, line up and wait runway 22. After departure standard noise abatement before a left turn VFR not above altitude 1,500, squawk 4601”. I thought I’d read all this back correctly, but the Controller had me clarify that I had heard the ‘not above altitude 1,500’ part.

This was to be my undoing a little later, but once the clearance had been read back correctly, I was immediately cleared to takeoff. The noise abatement mentioned required us to maintain runway heading for 1.5nm DME, before turning on track. I carried out a relatively straightfoward takeoff, making an appropriate into-wind correction as we climbed out. Rocky was sitting in his car in the car park, and got a nice shot of us departing.

Departure captured from the ground

Departure captured from the ground

I was handed over to the Approach frequency, and I signed on as I remembered doing at Lyneham with ‘Hawarden Approach, G-AZWS with you. Airborne check passing 1000 feet’. The Controller’s response was a little unexpected: ‘No squawk seen, reset transponder’. As I looked over to check the code, I realised that again I had correctly entered the code, but not actually turned the transponder on!

When given the departure clearance, I had interpreted the altitude restriction to mean that I had to make the turn onto track before reaching 1500 feet. However, in hindsight it was obvious that this was actually a request to remain below 1500 feet as we departed, before being cleared higher. The reason for this restriction became clear as we heard another aircraft inbound, being vectored for the ILS to runway 04. This could potentially have put us into direct conflict with him. As I made the turn onto track, I continued to climb to 2500 to keep below the Class A airspace above, and easily spotted Wrexham off in the distance. The Controller made no mention of my slip in not maintaining the assigned altitude, I only realised when reviewing the GPS logs, and confirmed my mistake while talking to Rocky.

Another aircraft was no on frequency, operating North of the field, and as we passed Bangor on Dee Racecourse I began a climb up to our cruising altitude of 5500 feet, notifying the Controller that we were doing so. We started to receive traffic reports of an aircraft off to our left, which the Controller thought was the parachuting aircraft operating out of Tilstock. The Controller continued to pass the other aircraft’s position and altitude to us (at one point he was at 6000 feet and climbing, while we were still climbing through 4000 feet to stop at 5500) but we never made visual contact with him. Eventually the Controller informed us that the other aircraft had turned back towards the East, presumably to begin running in to drop his passengers over Tilstock.

We levelled off at 5500 feet, passing close by Sleap but not bothering to contact them this time. Again, I handed over control to Thomas for a while, and he made a really good job of keeping us on track and relatively level. At one point was passed through an area that generated a large amount of lift, and we were quickly popped up by 200 or 300 feet. Thomas took this in his stride however, gently correcting for the extra lift, and gradually bringing us back down to our cruising altitude.

Around this point I took a quick look at the display on the 430, and was surprised to see an indicated ground speed of well over 150 knots. Examining the GPS logs from SkyDemon shows that we actually peaked at a ground speed of some 170 knots, not bad for an aircraft with a cruising airspeed of about 125 knots! As we continued I was quite late in spotting a glider ahead of us and at a similar level, as he became more noticeable as he started a steep turn to the left (possibly because he had seen us slightly before I spotted him and decided to take action to increase the distance between us).

150 knots ground speed!

150 knots ground speed!

We continued to pass through patches of moderate turbulence, so we descended by 500 feet or so to see if this put us into clearer air. It didn’t make an awful lot of difference though, but the turbulence was fairly infrequent, and not too bad so as to cause us any real concerns. I asked Thomas and Juliette whether they would prefer us to return either via the Severn Bridges, or Swindon in order to try to get some photos of their house. They chose Swindon, so I continued on our planned route rather than heading further West to go via the River Severn.

Glorious conditions for flying

Glorious conditions for flying

We could clearly hear transmissions to and from Gloucester from around 70nm away, and I signed on with them around Great Malvern, only to be asked to ‘Standby’. Once the Controller called us back, we received a Basic Service from them, initially being asked to report West Abeam before telling him that we were routing through Gloucester’s overhead. Gloucester were relatively quiet, with only a few other aircraft on frequency, and after we reported Overhead and continued South, I began a descent to get us down to a lower level in order to get some photos over Swindon.

We followed the A417 / A419 as it headed from Gloucester via Cirencester to Swindon, pointing out South Cerney off to our right and Fairford to our left. We were down to around 2000 feet as we approached Swindon, and I set about finding some landmarks in order to orient myself. Asda Walmart was the first one I spotted, followed by the old Renault Building and the Link Centre. I headed towards Catrin’s school, which put is in the general area of Thomas’s house, and carried out a right hand orbit oriented on Ramleaze Village Centre, allowing Juliette and Thomas to identify their house.

Once the orbit was complete, I quickly worked out a track to Kemble, before making contact with them to find out they were still operating from runway 08. From our current position, it was easy to set up for an Overhead Join, and there was little other traffic on frequency as we approached (much different to my last flight!). Once overhead, I lowered the gear and descended on the Deadside, joining the Downwind leg at the appropriate point in the noise abatement circuit. A transmission from the ground prevented me from making the Downwind call at the appropriate point, so I called ‘Late Downwind’ as soon as the frequency was clear.

The Base and Final legs were straightforward, but again the wind was almost directly across the runway, so I continued with just 2 stages of flap. This resulted in another slightly floaty landing, this time a little firmer than the last. We continued along the runway to vacate on Alpha, before taxying back and shutting down. Thomas and Juliette helped me refuel and push the Arrow back into its parking space, before we all put the cover on and headed back into the Club. After all the post flight paperwork was completed, we headed back to the car before driving back to Swindon.

Despite a fairly slow start to the year (no flying until the last weekend in February) I’d now completed my third day of flying before the end of April. It was great to be able to introduce another couple of people to the joys of flying in light aircraft, and hopefully the experience will help reinforce Thomas’s desire to continue to become a pilot. I’d also added a further airfield to the logbook, and coped with some fairly challenging conditions during the flight. The slips with the transponder were a little frustrating (particularly as I made the same mistake twice in the same day) but in general the flight had been carried out without too must trouble. Hopefully now I can continue to fly regularly for the rest of the year!

Tracks flown

Tracks flown

Leg 1 profile

Leg 1 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 2 profile

Total flight time today: 2:40
Total flight time to date: 290:00

Back to Nottingham, all alone

March 25, 2016

After a late start to this year’s flying with a Currency Check, I was determined to try to fly more regularly. Having lots of plans for April meant that finding a weekend to fly would be difficult, so I decided to try and take advantage of the Easter Weekend by booking the Arrow on consecutive days. The initial plan was to fly on the first day with David, and then to take the family flying on the second.

As the date neared however, it became clear that the weather wasn’t going to cooperate. While the forecast for Good Friday suggested excellent flying conditions, the forecast for the following day promised almost exactly the opposite. David contacted me a few days before the planned flight to ask if it was Ok for him to reschedule, and carry out another flight on Good Friday. This worked out well, meaning I could move the planned family flight forward a day, hopefully taking advantage of the good forecast weather conditions.

Keen to make a good impression, I planned a flight to the relatively familiar destination of Nottingham (an airfield I’d already visited solo in July 2013, and with the family in June 2014). Catrin is starting to take an interest in Theme Parks and roller coasters, so to keep her interested I decided to fly a more circuitous route back to Kemble, showing her some of the attractions at Alton Towers.

Sadly we had to change these plans at the last minute, as Catrin developed a fairly severe cough on the morning of the planned flight. I tried to contact a few prospective passengers to see if I could arrange some company at short-notice, but unfortunately wasn’t able to find anyone. It had been a little while since I had flown completely solo, and it seemed like today’s flight was going to be just me in the aircraft.

As usual, I completed the final planning for the flight early in the morning, contacting Nottingham before I left for Kemble. I had planned to route back via Halfpenny Green’s overhead, and decided to consider landing there if time permitted. I carefully completed the pre-flight paperwork on arriving at Kemble, before walking out to the aircraft to carry out the ‘A’ check. There were no issues detected, so I took a bit of time to arrange my gear in the aircraft, before getting ready to start up.

We’ve been instructed to request clearance from the FISO to start at Kemble, as our parking area is out of sight of the Tower. I requested this as usual, and received the unusual response of ‘at your discretion’. It was possible there’d been a change in policy, so I resolved to check up on this later. The engine started on the first try, and I took some time to enter my route into the Garmin 430 before requesting clearance to taxy. Kemble were operating from runway 26 today, meaning a relatively straightforward taxy to A1 for power checks. As usual these were completed without issue, and I watched another Lyneham aircraft depart as I pulled up to the hold and announced I was ready to depart.

Another Lyneham aircraft departing ahead of me

Another Lyneham aircraft departing ahead of me

I took my turn on the runway, performing a normal takeoff, and continuing around the circuit to climb away on the Downwind leg after checking for joining traffic. I then set course to my usual first turning point at the Chedworth disused airfield, setting up the aircraft for cruise after levelling out at around 4500 feet. Sadly I neglected to lean the mixture at this point, something I realised somewhat later on! The visbility was excellent after the recent rain, and it was easy to pick out landmarks as I turned towards my next turning point at the DTY VOR. A quick check of the chart showed Controlled Airspace several miles ahead of me at 4500 feet, so I descended to 4000 feet in order to pass well below it.

Beautiful flying conditions

Beautiful flying conditions

I signed on with Brize Radar for a Basic Service, and initially had some difficulty. After responding to the standard ‘pass your message’ request, I was given a squawk, but was unable to make out the last digit. I asked the Controller to ‘say again squawk’, and then had to repeat this a minute or so later as I received no response. I also didn’t receive any confirmation that I was on a Basic Service, which is unusual as Brize can generally be relied on to give a good service.

I received little further contact from the Controller as I continued, and he seemed keen to have me switch to Coventry as I approached Banbury. I changed frequency as requested, signing on with Coventry to receive a Basic Service from them. As usual I didn’t want to turn directly overhead the DTY VOR (they are often used by pilots as a turning point, so it seemed prudent to avoid being in the same location as other pilots who might also be concentrating on making the turn to their next leg rather than looking out). I attempted to fly a 5 DME arc around the DTY VOR, but this was a little messy. Perhaps in hindsight I should have tried to do this somewhat further out, meaning the course corrections were much further apart.

The leg heading North from DTY was relatively straightforward, the navigation helped by the fact that I was simply tracking an outbound radial from the VOR. Coventry gave good service passing information about traffic heading in the same direction, and I listened in to someone practising holds before starting to the fly the procedural ILS into Coventry.

I had planned to request a Zone Transit of East Midlands Controlled Airspace on my way to Nottingham (Nottingham lies beneath one of their areas of airspace), so as I approached Bruntingthorpe I signed off with Coventry in order to contact East Midlands to negotiate the transit. I passed all my details to the Controller, and continued towards their airspace, passing close by Leicester Airfield as I headed North. I started to become a little concerned as I approached, as I still hadn’t received the magic ‘Cleared into Controlled Airspace’ from the Controller. I eventually had to prompt him that I was just a couple of miles from the Zone Boundary (only a minute or so flying time in the Arrow) before I was eventually cleared on a direct track to Nottingham at my current level.

Passing Bruntingthorpe

Passing Bruntingthorpe

Thanks to the excellent visibility, it was easy to spot my destination ahead in the distance. I was still up at around 4000 feet, and again became a little concerned that the Controller wasn’t offering me a descent or frequency change. Around 3nm from Nottingham I prompted him with a ‘3nm miles to run, field in sight, request frequency change to Nottingham’. This received a ‘Oh, are you inbound to Nottingham?’ from the Controller, to which I responded ‘Affirm’. He immediately cleared me to descend, but asked me to remain on frequency for the time being. I was already overhead the Nottingham ATZ before I was eventually cleared to change frequency, and my initial call to Nottingham Radio was made as I was setting up for the Overhead Join to their runway 27.

Descending deadside at Nottingham

Descending deadside at Nottingham

The descent on the Deadside was flown nicely, but while doing my best to follow Nottingham’s noise abatement circuit, I allowed my Downwind leg to be flown at a slight offset to the runway. The Base and Final turns were made at the appropriate points, and I brought the aircraft in for a nice gentle touchdown, rolling out to the turnoff onto the link taxyway that is used for parking at Nottingham.

I had already decided to fill up with fuel at Nottingham (which helpfully waived their normal reasonably priced landing fee) so pulled up behind a Cessna and shut down, just as he was pushed out of the way of the pumps. The refueller helped me push the aircraft back to a parking space once the tanks were full, and I headed in to the Tower to settle the fuel bill before going to the very busy cafe for some lunch. It took a little while to be served, but my sausage and bacon sandwich arrived quite quickly afterwards, and as I tucked in a regular flow of new customers passed through the cafe, always a good sight to see.

Parked up at Nottingham

Parked up at Nottingham

As I had planned to depart Nottingham to the North, I dug out the noise abatement charts I had prepared to see if a departure directly to the North would be appropriate. I couldn’t really come to a decision, so instead decided to fly an abbreviated circuit on departure, climbing out on the Downwind leg before turning directly to the North. I had to be careful not to climb up into East Midlands’ airspace above the airfield, meaning I would need to stop my climb at 2000 feet or so until a few miles North of the airfield.

Back out at the aircraft, I carried out an abbreviated walkaround, taking care to take fuel samples to ensure that there was no contamination in the fuel I had just taken on. I did have to take 3 samples from the Starboard wing tank, as the first 2 showed signs of water. The third was completely clear however, so it was probably just some moisture than had condensed in the tank. Otherwise, the walkround was normal, so I boarded the Arrow and set about getting the engine started. It took a couple of attempts to get going, before I received the airfield information from the Radio operator and taxyed towards the hold for runway 27 to carry out the power checks.

The checks were normal, and after a landing aircraft passed me I entered the runway to backtrack to the threshold. Once the other aircraft was clear of the runway I began my takeoff roll, taking care to make an early turn before reaching the built up area immediately ahead of the runway. As planned I climbed out on the Downwind leg, before informing the Radio operator that I was turning North. Another aircraft reported that he was inbound from that direction, a couple of hundred feet below me, and after a couple of minutes I saw him pass quite close by off the port side.

I used the OBS feature of the 430 to intercept a Westerly course towards the TNT VOR, ensuring that I was well clear of East Midlands’ airspace before climbing up to around 3000 feet. Initially I just listened in to the East Midlands Approach frequency, but when I heard another aircraft report that they were heading towards the TNT VOR also, I announced myself on frequency to make the other aircraft aware of my position and level.

Once I reached the VOR, I dialled in the appropriate radial (as displayed on SkyDemon’s plog) in order to head towards Alton Towers. Given the excellent conditions, the Theme Park was easy to spot from some distance away, and as I approached I carried out a right hand orbit around the park, enabling me to get some good photos as I passed.

Alton Towers

Alton Towers

Once heading in the correct direction again, I spotted my next turning point at Stafford in the distance, and as I approached I signed off with the East Midlands Controller. I was now heading on a direct track for Halfpenny Green, but had decided not to land there, merely using it as an easy turning point. I listened in to the Cosford Approach frequency as I passed, hearing an inbound aircraft orbiting away from the field to allow a glider to land, before heading in to land himself. A further aircraft was on frequency passing several miles to the South of Cosford, and as I passed by I switched to the Halfpenny Green frequency to make contact before passing through their overhead.

Although up at 3000 feet I was above their ATZ and hence not required to contact them, it seemed prudent to do so, in case they knew of other traffic that might affect my flight. As I passed overhead, I spotted another aircraft approaching to land, and continued South towards my planned next turning point at Worcester. A quick check of the time suggested I was in no rush, so I decided to make a late change to my plans and instead head further South than originally planned to approach Kemble from the West.

Mindful of the fact that I tend to lean on SkyDemon when flying these days, I decided to keep my kneeboard firmly closed for the remainder of the flight, picking out landmarks on the ground and using the chart in my lap to eyeball a route via Great Malvern and the Severn Bridges. As I passed West of Worcester I made contact with Gloucester to inform them of my routing, and this also enabled me to hear other traffic talking to them, giving me a better picture of any traffic around me. I reported West Abeam as requested, before signing off as I approached the bends in the river Severn just to the North of the bridges.

Approaching the River Severn

Approaching the River Severn

I clipped the edge of the bird sanctuary as I passed by, turning back towards Kemble as I approached the Old Severn Bridge. I monitored Bristol Radar for a few miles, hearing the Lyneham aircraft I had followed onto the runway this morning reporting near Filton on his way back to Kemble. I must have overtaken him as we approached, as when I switched to Kemble and signed in I heard him reporting behind me a few minutes later.

Approaching Kemble

Approaching Kemble

It was obvious that many pilots were also taking advantage of the excellent conditions, as at one point the FISO reported the following traffic information to another inbound aircraft: “3 in, 5 joining, 6 departing”. The FISO was certainly working hard responding to everyone on the radio, and I did my best to keep my transmissions as succinct as possible. As I descended on the Deadside I was asked to report Crosswind, and had to ‘butt in’ on an aircraft on the Ground in order to report my position. My Downwind call was also somewhat late, and as I turned Base the FISO cleared another aircraft onto the runway ahead of me.

Initially I couldn’t see the aircraft, but spotted it as I turned Final. I reported my position as I continued my descent, and was getting very close to having to go around as I waited for the aircraft ahead to roll and take off. I decided to continue rather than abort the approach, slowing slightly (but keeping a watchful eye on my airspeed) and aiming to land long in order to give the departing aircraft time to clear the runway. I was on the verge of announcing that I was going around when the aircraft ahead became airborne, and the FISO told me ‘With the gear, land your discretion’. I continued and came in for another gentle landing, and had already decided not to request a backtrack in order to prevent holding up any other aircraft landing behind me.

The FISO told me to ‘vacate onto Charlie’, and I cleared the runway as quickly as I could, before taxying on the South side back towards our parking area. Once I reached the hold at C1, I waited for a suitable break on the radio after the Lyneham Warrior had landed, before reporting ready to cross. I was asked to ‘expedite cross 26 onto Alpha’ and followed the instruction. I passed by a glider parked on the grass, with a tug aircraft alongside preparing to tow him back to wherever he should have landed, before following the other Lyneham aircraft back to the parking area and shutting down. Given the congestion on the frequency, I thought in this instance that omitting the usual ‘closing down’ call would be prudent!

Glider with tug aircraft alongside

Glider with tug aircraft alongside

The other pilot helped me push the Arrow into a parking space, and in turn I helped him push his aircraft up to the bowser to refuel, before returning to the Arrow to sort out my gear and put the cover back on. After helping the other pilot to cover the Warrior, we both headed into the Club to complete our paperwork. While chatting to him I learned that he had to abandon his initial plan to fly up to North Wales after encountering low cloud on the route from Haverfordwest to the North. He ended up returning via a coastal route.

Tracks flown

Tracks flown

Leg 1 profile

Leg 1 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 2 profile

Despite the disappointment of not being able to bring the family along on this flight, I still managed to have a very enjoyable day’s flying. Unusually my interactions with some of the Controllers had been a little difficult, but nothing that prevented me from completing the flight safely. I’d also taken the opportunity to brush up on my visual navigation skills, and to cap it all had handled the very busy environment on returning to Kemble without any difficulty. Obviously last year’s patchy flying hasn’t eroded the skills too much!

Total flight time today: 2:55
Total flight time to date: 287:20

Currency check, but with some real flying

February 28, 2016

A particularly busy January and February meant I didn’t have much opportunity to fly, and sadly the one attempt I made had to be cancelled due to the onset of a head cold on the morning of the planned flight. As such, I hadn’t flown since November and yet again that meant the need for another Club currency check. Unusually though, I was even out of my 90 day passenger carrying currency requirement, meaning that the flight would have to be with an Instructor rather than just a pilot authorised to carry out Club Currency checks.

Fortunately, Kev (the Arrow’s owner) had recently gained his CRI rating, meaning that he was entitled to carry out the check. I always enjoy flying with Kev, and while his tendency to push you when carrying out Currency checks really makes you work hard (and this trait showed no sign of abating during this days flying!) you always finish a days flying with him feeling like you’ve pushed your personal envelope a little further than before.

I didn’t want this to be just a regular local currency check with a bit of general handling thrown in, so we planned to visit Henstridge (a new airfield for me). This is a fairly short flight from Kemble, so I also opted to drop in to Dunkeswell (always a favourite destination of mine).

The weather conditions on the day before the flight couldn’t have been more perfect, and the forecast on the evening before suggested we should be in for a good day’s flying also. As usual, I completed the majority of my planning the night before, leaving me to print out plogs, mark out the chart and give Henstridge a call before heading off to the airfield.

I carried out the ‘A’ check on the Arrow while waiting for Kev to arrive, and met in him the Club with his young daughter Bronnan (about the same age as Catrin, and also a fairly seasoned flyer!). We checked through the planning I had done before completing the final paperwork and heading out to the aircraft.

With Bronnan safely secured in the back, the ‘Crew’ isolation button on the audio panel was put to good use as we carried out the pre-flight checks. We negotiated some circuits with the FISO, before being given our taxy clearance via the Charlie taxyway to the hold for runway 08. We waited for a short while for the engine to warm up before completing the power checks (watching a student in a Helicopter practising hover-taxying on the grass ahead and to our right), before heading to the hold and reporting that we were ready.

Before takeoff checks

Before takeoff checks

I had decided to carry out a couple of circuits before departing Kemble to ensure I could still remember how to land, and also so that I could reset my 90 day passenger currency in the first flight of the day. We backtracked a little before taking off on 08 just after a Helicopter took off to the right with a student on a solo flight. As I climbed out I heard the FISO report our position to another aircraft, adding ‘the aircraft on upwind will be departing to the South’. I reminded him that we were actually remaining in the circuit, leading to an amusing response that he knew that, but was obviously having trouble reading his own writing!

I mis-identified one of the ‘avoid’ areas on Kemble’s noise abatement circuit, meaning that the Downwind leg was flown a lot wider than it should have been. The pre-landing checks were completed on this leg without difficulty, and I turned Base a little later than normal (perhaps confused a little by the fact that I was wider out than I should have been).

A rather wide Right Base for 08!

A rather wide Right Base for 08!

I over-corrected for the Crosswind to the left when lining up on Final, meaning I had to make a slight correction to the left to get us aligned properly. The remainder of the approach went well, but we started to experience a little turbulence down around 50-100 feet above the ground. It took me a little while to get this sorted out, and I brought us in for a nice gentle first landing of the day.

On the next circuit I decided to leave the gear down, and made a much better job of positioning the Downwind leg at the correct distance from the runway. I got slightly distracted carrying out the pre-landing checks, allowing myself to drift closer in to the runway on the remainder of the Downwind leg, but corrected this once I noticed. This distraction meant I had neglected to make the correct ‘Downwind’ call, so actually called when I was turning Base.

Again the crosswind from the left threw me a little, requiring a further correction after turning Final to get correctly aligned with the runway. The second landing was a little firmer than the first, but certainly perfectly acceptable. As we climbed out from the third takeoff of the day I informed the FISO that we would be departing to the South, and set course for Lyneham.

We climbed to 3000 feet, setting the aircraft up at 24/24 as usual in the cruise. Once established on the leg from Lyneham to Frome Kev suggested I dig out the power tables in the checklist to check a few things. At 3000 feet, this showed that we were achieving 75% power at 24″ manifold pressure and 2400 RPM. Kev suggested I try the equivalent power setting with 2300 RPM, which just required a slightly higher (24.6″) manifold pressure setting. This gave us the same airspeed, but had a double benefit of slightly reducing the noise level in the cockpit, and also reducing the cost of the flight (as we pay based on tacho hours, which are directly related to the engine RPM setting).

It took us a little while to positively identify Keevil as we passed, and I maintained heading and altitude fairly well on this leg. We were listening to Bristol Radar, but didn’t really feel the need to check in with them, so just set their listening squawk onto the transponder. The heading given by SkyDemon was obviously a little off (probably due to a slightly difference between the forecast and actual wind) and we were a couple of miles to the right of Frome as we approached.

I set up a ‘direct to’ Henstridge on the 430 from our current position, and turned on to the next leg to position for our approach to Henstridge. Their website includes detailed instructions on the noise sensitive areas around them, and the best approach to their runway 07 from our current position was to make a Crosswind join. Their noise abatement diagrams helpfully indicate some useful landmarks for doing this (a couple of lakes to the North East of the airfield) and we started to look for these after checking in with them on the radio.

We initially spotted two lakes ahead, and mis-identified the airfield using these as a reference. As we continued the actual position of the airfield became must clearer, and we passed by two other lakes a lot closer in to the airfield. I did my best to follow the noise abatement procedure, but think I may have failed to fly the correct offset on the Final leg. The landing was again good, and we taxyed towards the Club buildings and parked up.

Turning Final at Henstridge

Turning Final at Henstridge

Over a hearty lunch we discussed the flying so far. Kev picked up on a few of the mistakes I’d made, most of which I put down to the long lay-off without any flying. One thing I’d meant to do in the days leading up to the flight was to read over the checklist for the aircraft, to try to get some of the regular routines back into my head. It was noticeable to me that I hadn’t done this, because I was forgetting things that should have been almost second nature. Hopefully I can get back into some regular flying and this will be less of an issue in future.

Once we’d all finished our lunch, I arranged to take advantage of the competitive fuel prices, taxying the aircraft over to the other side of the field to the bowser. The staff at the airfield couldn’t have been more helpful, driving me back over to the office to pay for the fuel, before driving the three of us back over to the aircraft ready to depart. Kev and Bronnen had taken the opportunity to go and watch the Motocross riders doing their stuff on the track adjacent to the airfield, and apparently Bronnen had shown quite an interest!

Some flying of a different kind!

Some flying of a different kind!

It was good to visit an airfield as friendly and welcoming as Henstridge. While the facilities there could perhaps do with a bit of work, the staff couldn’t have been more accommodating to us. The lunch in the cafe was freshly prepared and tasty, and one of the people manning the office even took time to take me outside and point out the two particularly noise sensitive areas after I asked for some advice on our routing after we departed. It’s certainly an airfield I’ll add to my list of destinations for future flights.

We all got back into the aircraft after I carried out a quick walkaround (including take fuel samples) and after a couple of tries the engine started and I carried out the power checks where we were parked. We then taxyed towards the runway, backtracking to the threshold after we’d checked the approach and Downwind legs were clear of other traffic. The runway at Henstridge is slightly short (about 750m) so I decided to use the flaps for takeoff. This got us airborne with plenty of runway to spare, and I retracted the gear and flaps in stages as we climbed out. I turned to depart to the South, taking care to remain inside the noise sensitive areas.

We climbed up to around 2500 feet, and set course to the South to try to find the Cerne Abbas Giant. I’d set Cerne Abbas as a turning point in SkyDemon, and as we approached we descended to around 2000 feet and began searching. Kev thought that the giant was to the South of the village, so we concentrated our search on that area, carrying out a number of orbits, and even headed down towards Dorchester to be able to pick up the road that led from there back to the village.

Sadly, despite our searching we were unable to spot it, so after a few minutes I put a ‘Direct to’ Dunkeswell in to the 430, and followed it to our next destination. On returning home I looked at our track log on Google Earth, finding that the Giant is actually slightly North of the village, and we’d passed very close by without spotting it!

Failing to spot the Cerne Abbas Giant!

Failing to spot the Cerne Abbas Giant!

Enroute to Dunkeswell

Enroute to Dunkeswell

I’d tuned to the Dunkeswell frequency just after leaving Henstridge, and we’d been hearing their transmissions clearly despite still being some 30nm from the field. They (unsurprisingly) seemed fairly busy, but as we approached things seemed to quieten down a little. Upottery was easy to spot slightly to the right of our track, and Dunkeswell soon came into view. They were operating on runway 04, which meant that a Right Base join was very easy from the direction we were approaching from. Again, the approach was relatively easy, and the landing nice and gentle. The parking area looked quite busy, so I asked the Radio operator for some advice as to where to park, before slotting in just in front of the Skydiving aircraft.

The office was busier than I’d ever seen it on previous visits, and we paid the landing fee before heading in to the restaurant for a snack and a drink. Their Sunday carvery was also proving popular, but luckily we were able to grab a table to allow us to enjoy our drink and cake in comfort. We watched the Skydive aircraft take off, but due to where we were sitting we couldn’t easily see any of the skydivers as they came back to earth.

Suitably fed and watered, we headed back to the aircraft and manhandled it into a suitable position for us to depart. Engine start was easy, but as we were taxying the rudder pedals felt slightly heavy during turns. The Arrow tends to have heavy steering, so it’s possible I had just forgotten how it feels. Kev tried a few turns and didn’t notice any real problem. We carried out our power checks on the cross runway, before waiting for another aircraft to complete a touch and go.

We backtracked to the threshold, hearing another aircraft announce they were departing from their present position. I had noticed a Chipmunk behind us on the cross runway, and wondered if he was planning to depart from the intersection (I’ve had an aircraft do this before on a visit to Dunkeswell). It transpired that it was actually a helicopter departing, we spotted him getting airborne as we turned into position at the runway threshold.

Once he was clear, I began the takeoff roll, getting airborne and setting course for a virtually straight out departure, raising the gear as normal during the climbout. As we reached our cruise altitude of around 3000 feet, I set the aircraft up for the cruise and noticed that we seemed to be going significantly slower than usual (indicating around 120 mph instead of a more normal 150 mph). Kev quizzed me as to why this might be, and I double checked that the flaps were up, all the power settings were correct, and that we were flying in balance.

It took me a long while to notice that the gear lights were still illuminated, and at first I thought I’d neglected to raise the gear. When trying to move the lever to the up position, I realised that it was already there, and then the penny dropped that Kev had probably pulled the gear circuit breaker at some point before we departed! At Kev’s prompting, I dug out the checklist and run through the drills, spotting the popped circuit breaker, but left it there at Kev’s request to complete the remainder of the checklist. Kev and I discussed our various options should this have happened for real, and I decided we would either return to Dunkeswell, or carry on to Kemble (depending on how much fuel was onboard). Our fuel burn and airspeed on the flight (should we choose to continue) would obviously be affected (airspeed being particularly relevant if we were on a flight plan, we would need to ensure ATC were aware of the change).

Still smiling despite all he'd thrown at me!

Still smiling despite all he’d thrown at me!

Once we’d worked through everything, Kev reset the circuit breaker and we raised the gear, the airspeed soon returning to a more normal cruise. We signed on with Bristol to request a Basic Service and Zone Transit between Cheddar and the Clifton Suspension Bridge. The Controller took quite a while to respond to our ‘pass your message’ response, and as I feared he came back to tell us he was not able to grant our requested routing and altitude. I was prepared to switch to our plan B (routing back via Frome and Lyneham) before he said that he could grant us clearance at 4000 feet, as long as we remained at least 1nm West of the airfield.

I gladly accepted this change to our route, and he instructed us to route via Cheddar, East Nailsea and then the Suspension Bridge at 4000 feet. We climbed up to our assigned level, and continued on to the Cheddar Reservoir. I switched back to the paper chart to get a rough feel for the headings we’d need to fly to follow the new routing, before setting course and then updating the route in SkyDemon with the new turn at East Nailsea. While doing this I allowed our height to wander somewhat, and Kev (correctly) picked me up on this as we were now in Controlled Airspace and as such required to follow the Clearance we had been given.

We got a good view of Bristol Airport as we passed, hearing the Controller pass instructions to an inbound Easyjet aircraft. Kev spotted him off in the distance to our left, but sadly he was well behind us so we weren’t able to get any good photographs. As we reached East Nailsea, I changed course to head for the Clifton Suspension Bridge, and Kev and I discussed our options should the engine fail while we were over the city of Bristol. Off to our right we had some fairly large open areas, and we also had the option of the disused airfield at Filton as we travelled further North. We got a good view of the Concorde on the ground there as we passed by, before turning again at Clifton to set course direct for Kemble.

Passing just West of Bristol Airport

Passing just West of Bristol Airport

Passing Filton, Concorde visible in the centre just below the runway

Passing Filton, Concorde visible in the centre just below the runway

As we approached the Zone boundary, I requested a frequency change from the Controller as we were now just 15nm from Kemble. This was approved, and I thanked him for his help in granting us the transit. We switched frequency to Kemble, and tried to spot the airfield in the distance. At about 12nm from Kemble I made ready to make contact with them, but Kev still had another trick up his sleeve! He reached over to the power lever, reducing power to idle announcing ‘simulated engine failure’.

We’d discussed this before the flight, so the procedure was fairly fresh in my mind. The first priority is to get the aircraft trimmed correctly to maintain best glide speed (around 100 mph) and then find an appropriate location for a forced landing. While trimming the aircraft, Kev made our initial contact with Kemble, and I spotted what looked like a good field off to our left. I managed to pick up on him announcing our current position as ‘overhead Badminton’. When he suggested I check off to the right of the aircraft, I dipped the right wing and spotted the airfield at Badminton neatly off to our right. This seemed an obvious choice as a location for us to attempt to land!

I turned towards Badminton, selected an appropriate location for our 1000 feet aiming point and then ran through the restart touch drills. I find these work easiest by using a ‘flow’ pattern, moving from left to right in the cockpit. This involves checking fuel (changing tanks), magnetos (checking both, then checking the individual mags in turn), before exercising throttle, prop, mixture, and turning on the fuel pump. Once these drills were completed, I simulated a Mayday call, and continued setting up to land.

As I turned at our 1000 feet aiming point, I felt I was probably slightly high (an issue that cropped up frequently during my training!). I started to lower the flaps, and dropped the landing gear to assist in the descent. Kev had been busy again, and the gear failed to lower, and this was perhaps my biggest slip of the day as I immediately mentally committed myself to a gear up forced landing. It was only when Kev prompted that there may be another way to lower the gear that I remembered the manual lowering mechanism. I operated this, and started to side-slip in order to increase the rate of the descent without a corresponding increase in our airspeed. As we passed around 300 feet Kev announced “Yep, we’d get in there, go around” and I applied full power, max RPM and began the go around.

I correctly raised the flaps in stages as we climbed away, but again missed an important step, which Kev highlighted by asking if we were planning to return to Kemble by road! I immediately caught his meaning, and raised the landing gear as well. Kemble was now easily visible in the difference, but I made a point of locating some other landmarks in order to ensure I wasn’t mistaking Aston Down as I had on a previous flight.  The FISO had suggested either an Overhead or Right Base join, so we set up to join Right Base and began a descent towards the airfield.

The circuit was quiet, so I slotted us in on Right Base and continued the approach. At least one thing that I can claim not to have forgotten is how to land the Arrow, as I pulled off another good landing at the end of the day, deliberately landing long so as to avoid a long taxy to the far end of the airfield. We taxyed back to Lyneham’s parking area and Kev pushed the aircraft back into its parking space while I made sure Bronnan was Ok and started packing up all the gear.

Parked up safely after a great day's flying

Parked up safely after a great day’s flying

We headed back in to the Club to settle the paperwork and carry out a final debrief. Kev went over all the issues he’d picked up on, and I resolved to spend some time with the aircraft’s checklist to try to get the various procedures back into my head to try to avoid making the same silly slips again. It’s very easy to forget important steps when they’ve not been used for several months. Hopefully I can try to get back to some more regular flying again, and make things come more naturally in future.

Tracks flown

Tracks flown

Leg 1 profile

Leg 1 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 3 profile

Leg 3 profile

This turned out to be my latest ever first flight of the calendar year. Previously I’d only ever made it into February once without flying (last year) and a combination of circumstances meant that I’d almost made it to March this year! Today’s flight was very enjoyable though, and definitely much more interesting than just a ‘regular’ Currency check flight. Kev is a very knowledgeable and experienced pilot, and being an aircraft engineer he also has a lot of knowledge regarding aircraft systems that he can pass on. He’s definitely not scared of throwing in a few simulated snags during the course of a flight, and while it might be nice to have a ‘simple’ Currency check, the opportunity to practise emergency drills in the air is definitely one worth taking. Hopefully this can be my first flight of many this year, and I can take advantage of the fact that the flying fund is looking healthy due to my recent lack of flying!

Total flight time today: 2:45
Total flight time to date: 284:25

2015 Summary

December 31, 2015

A summary of my flying during 2015:

My 2015 goals were:

  • 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 out both practice and real approaches into airfields that provide instrument approaches
  • Consider the addition of a Night Qualification to my license.
  • Reach the 200 hours P1 mark to enable me to carry out ‘Charity Flights’, initially for the PTA at Catrin’s school.

Regrettably, flying to the Continent still eludes me, although I did get to the point of fully planning and preparing for a flight to France with David, only to be foiled by a stomach bug of some sort the night before the flight. Using an aircraft as a means of transport for an extended stay somewhere also didn’t happen, although I did at least act as ‘Dad’s Taxi‘ service to take Catrin up to Caernarfon to visit family earlier in the year.

I also flew over 2 hours in real IMC this year, most notably on flights to Haverfordwest and Land’s End, where I elected to deliberately fly in cloud in order to brush up on the rusty IMC skills. I only completed a single approach during the year though, which is a little disappointing.

Kemble is now equipped for night flying, although only stays open late one night per week (currently Thursday). As such, the Night Qualification would still really just be a ‘box ticking’ exercise, rather than a rating that could actually be useful to me.

The Charity flight I carried out actually took me over the 200 hours P1 mark, which meant I would then be able to offer further flights without having to gain explicit permission from the CAA. However, not long after completing this flight, the CAA changed the guidelines so as to remove this requirement!

Particularly enjoyable were the multi leg flights I flew with Kev, David, Charlie and David again. These four days of flying amounted to a total of 12:35, just about half of the total number of hours flown in the whole year! It would be great to be able to make more flights such as these in the coming year, taking advantage of having another pilot alongside to either share the flying or just act as a knowledgeable passenger.

The main feature of this year was a real lack of consistent flying. Although this year’s hours flown was only a couple lower than last year, I needed to fly 5 Club currency checks (RAF Lyneham Flying Club’s rules require me to fly at least every 60 days, otherwise a check flight is needed). As such this meant that I had a number of short bursts of flying activity, each punctuated by fairly long breaks inbetween. There was no single reason for this, merely a combination of circumstances that prevented me from flying as often as I would have liked. The year has ended in much the same way, meaning that my first flight of 2016 is likely to be yet another currency check. Hopefully I can make this the only one I require 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
  • 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 out both practice and real approaches into airfields that provide instrument approaches
  • Fly more consistently and regularly, reducing the need for frequent currency checks

Total flying hours: 281:40
Hours P1: 206:50

Tech aircraft, a local and an enthusiastic passenger

November 22, 2015

After getting current again last weekend, I wanted to try to round off the year with a decent bit of flying. Catrin had an invite to a birthday party on Sunday, so I took the opportunity to try and plan another flight. The Arrow was already booked, so I booked one of the Club’s Warriors (G-BPAF) for the day, but this booking was later switched to G-EDGI (another Warrior) as the first aircraft was going in for maintenance.

I asked a couple of other pilots if they would like to join me as passengers on the flight, but both were already busy that weekend. While trying to arrange another charity flight in aid of Catrin’s school, I was approached by one of the school staff to see if we could arrange a flight with her son, who has ambitions to become a professional pilot. Naturally I was happy to oblige, so planned a flight to Wolverhampton Halfpenny Green for lunch.

Approaching the weekend, the weather looked like it should be flyable so I was optimistic that we would be able to make the flight. As usual I completed the majority of the planning in the days leading up to the flight. The weather forecasts on the day still seemed favourable, so I confirmed with Vanessa and Josh that we were good to go after completing the final planning, and set off to collect them on my way to Kemble.

Mike (the Club’s Ops Manager) had sent me a text warning me of a potential issue with the PTT switch on the PIC side of the aircraft, warning me that I may need to plug in to the passenger side in order to get reliable communications. As a result of this I planned that any front seat passenger would connect their headset to the passenger side connectors in the rear of the aircraft, with the rear passenger using the other connectors in the rear. That way I would be able to switch from the PIC side to the passenger side without too much fuss should it be necessary.

On arrival at Kemble we headed straight to the aircraft, carrying out the ‘A’ check and filling it with fuel. Everything appeared to be Ok, so we headed in to the Club to complete the pre-flight paperwork and collect headsets, before walking back to the aircraft. I’d originally planned for Josh and Vanessa both to sit in the rear of the aircraft for the outbound journey, with Josh joining me in the front for the return flight. I discussed this with Vanessa though, and she seemed confident that Josh would be fine up front with me.

As such, we got Vanessa settled into the rear seat, before Josh and I joined her in the aircraft. I set about preparing for the flight, and after some brief issues with the intercom (we couldn’t hear Josh because we hadn’t actually plugged his headset into the rear connectors!) I called for start approval and set about starting the aircraft. The engine seemed a little reluctant to turn over, but I put this down to the cold temperatures of the morning. The engine caught and fired, and ran for a couple of seconds before stopping. Sadly, that was the last life we got out of it. I managed to turn it over a couple of times more, before the battery all but gave out.

Having informed the Tower of our plans, I now needed to let them know that we would no longer be flying. Also, after a brief discussion with Vanessa and Josh, we decided that we would wait for the Arrow to return (it was heading out for a local at the same time as we were trying to get the Warrior started). I tried to contact the Tower to inform them of our change of plans, and see if they could find out how long the Arrow pilot was planning to be. All I could hear was static however, presumably because the battery charge had got too low to even drive the radios successfully.

We all got out of the aircraft, and put the cover back on. I called the Tower as we headed to the Club to ensure they were aware of our predicament, and also to learn that the Arrow pilot was planning to be away for around 2 hours. We decided to head to AV8 and grab some lunch, and keep an eye out for the Arrow returning as well as phoning Halfpenny Green to let them know we would no longer be coming. While in AV8 I planned a flight to Wellesbourne (barely 30 minutes each way in the Arrow) and we chatted over some of the ins and outs of learning to fly.

Just as our lunch arrived, I spotted the Arrow taxying past the front of AV8 on its way back to the Club parking area. Fearful that the Arrow also had some technical issue, I tried to contact the pilot to discover the reason for his early return. After a couple of attempts I managed to raise him, to find that he’d returned because he wasn’t happy with the cloud base (he hadn’t managed to climb above about 1700 feet on his way towards the Severn Bridges). The cloud base did seem to be lower than forecast, but while we finished our lunch we did see other aircraft arriving and departing. I spotted an arriving aircraft parking in front of AV8, so wandered out to get some first-hand information regarding the current conditions.

I chatted to the three occupants who had just flown in from Gloucester. They confirmed that the cloud base was indeed around 1500-2000 feet, but that conditions otherwise were good, with clear visibility and little wind. I decided that we would at least attempt a local flight, with the option of returning straight to Kemble should conditions not be suitable.

We headed back to the Club and then out to the Arrow. We all boarded as before, spending a little time putting some coats under Josh, as his seating position seemed noticeably lower in the Arrow than the Warrior! He had sensibly noticed that he couldn’t see properly over the coaming, and realised that this would make it difficult to have his turn at the controls later on. Fortunately the Arrow didn’t let us down and started first time. Kemble had recently switched from runway 26 to 08, and our initial taxy instructions were to one of the holds near the threshold of 26. I thought this might be in preparation for a backtrack, so asked the FISO if he wanted us to complete power checks before this point. He informed me that the plan was for us to cross the runway and use the Charlie taxyway to the South of the runway, carrying out our power checks there before taking to runway 08.

Kemble had got busy again, but a brief lull allowed us to cross the runway and taxy down towards the threshold of 08. The power checks were all normal, and we headed towards the hold and reported ready as one aircraft landed and another approached on Final. The FISO was briefly busy resolving a minor traffic jam on the taxyway to the North of the runway, and as a result I think he’d forgotten that we were waiting. After a brief reminder (‘G-AZWS, ready at Charlie Two’), the FISO acknowledge that he had indeed forgotten us, and cleared us onto the runway.

After a quick check to make sure Vanessa and Josh were both ready, I applied power and accelerated along the runway. Takeoff performance wasn’t as brisk as last weekend due to the calm wind, but this meant that the takeoff was easy without requiring too much correction for the wind. We passed some 500 feet below another aircraft on his Crosswind join, and with the gear retracted we climbed away, departing to the South East towards Swindon. The cloud base allowed us to climb to 2000 feet on the way, and I pointed out Cotswold Water Park on the way.

Departing Kemble

Departing Kemble

As we approached Swindon I tried to orient myself, first spotting the Link Centre, then the Renault Building. From there it was easy to find Catrin’s school and the general area where Josh and Vanessa live. After a quick orbit to allow them to get some photos, we headed South towards Wrougton. A quick re-check of the cloud suggested that there should be no problem heading out towards the Severn Bridges, so I set course to the West before handing control to Josh.

Catrin's school, and Josh and Vanessa's house

Catrin’s school, and Josh and Vanessa’s house

He’s an avid Flight Sim pilot, so I explained to him that when flying light aircraft VFR, the primary focus is out of the cockpit, using the real horizon in front of us to maintain straight and level flight, rather than relying on the instruments to do so. We proceeded West for a little while, before I decided to overfly RAF Lyneham (an easy landmark to use for Navigation) so I had Josh make a left turn to head to Lyneham, aiming to pass slightly to the left of it to give him and his mum a good view of it as we passed. We heard Kemble assigning an aircraft a squawk that I would normally associate with Brize, and not long after the FISO came back with a confirmation of position and a steer to Kemble. I can only assume the other pilot was lost, and Kemble were doing their best to use information gleaned from Brize to allow him to fix his position.

Explaining how to judge 'straight and level'

Explaining how to judge ‘straight and level’

We passed quite close to a cloud above us, so I briefly took control back to descend slightly and put a bit more distance between us and the cloud. Josh then took control again, and once we were past Lyneham we continued West, passing North of Castle Combe and taking care to remain clear of Bristol’s airspace. I called Bristol for a Basic Service, and despite being quite quiet they didn’t assign us our own squawk. We did find out that another aircraft was heading in the same general direction to us, so we took care to keep a good lookout for him.

Keeping clear of the clouds

Keeping clear of the clouds

Vanessa spotted a helicopter passing some 500 feet or so below us, and as we continued West I decided to try and take us past Filton to see if we could spot the Concorde on the ground there. I gave Josh a rough heading to steer, setting the heading bug on the DI to help him, but also getting him to pick out a distant landmark as his aiming point. As we approached Filton I had Josh descend us down to around 1500 feet, and the Bristol Controller at Bristol informed us that another aircraft was reporting in the vicinity of the Severn Bridges, so I updated him on our position. We continued past Filton, and I had Josh aim to the left of the Second Severn Crossing to cross briefly into Wales. Josh climbed us back up to 2000 feet as I managed the prop and power settings, and we continued towards the Severn.

As we crossed the Severn, I again reported our position to Bristol, and once on the Welsh side Josh carried out a turn to have us fly over the Old Severn Bridge before crossing back into England. Josh’s angle of bank was a little exhuberant (reaching 45 degrees or so) so I had him reduce the angle slightly, which also seemed to please Vanessa in the back as she was concerned we were heading for some aerobatics!

Crossing the Severn

Crossing the Severn

Using a combination of the 430 and SkyDemon, I had Josh steer a heading that would take us back to Kemble. As we approached within 20nm of Kemble, I signed off with Bristol, and tuned to the Kemble frequency to plan our rejoin. They were still operating on 08, so I had Josh turn to put Kemble on our left as we approached, and set QFE to get us to 2000 feet AAL for the Overhead Join. Josh showed his good knowledge of aircraft systems by asking if he could adjust his altimeter as it was reading different to mine! I had forgotten that the Arrow has a second altimeter on the passenger side, so Josh adjusted it to QFE so that it matched mine, and remained at 2000 feet as we approached.

I took control back from Josh as we approached the ATZ, meaning that he had flown for around 30 minutes of the flight. Kemble was quite busy with other traffic, two in the circuit, one joining and a third crossing to the West of the airfield from South to North. I warned Vanessa and Josh that they may hear an alarm as we descended (due to the gear being retracted) and as we turned Crosswind we slotted in nicely behind an aircraft that had just taken off. We followed him on quite a wide Downwind leg to a late Base turn. Our spacing was good, and he had already taken off after his touch and go as we turned Final.

The frequency was a little busy now, and it took me a couple of goes to get my ‘Final’ call in. The relatively calm conditions made for an easy approach, and I did my best to bring us in for a nice landing. I kept the power on as we crossed the threshold to enable us to land long and avoid a slow taxy down the entire length of the runway. Before reaching the distinct up-slope on the runway, I established the correct attitude and started to reduce power, leading to a very gentle touchdown.

My request to taxy to the Club’s parking area stepped on the FISO’s instructions telling me to do exactly that, but after a second attempt we were cleared to vacate at Alpha and taxy back. I considered giving Josh the chance to have a try at taxying, but his seat seemed to be a bit far back for him to comfortably reach the rudder pedals, so I decided not to in the end. I parked us in front of the bowser to refuel, before shutting down the aircraft. Vanessa and Josh helped me refuel and push the aircraft back into parking, then we all put the cover back on and headed back to the Club (after I went back to the aircraft to make a note of the tacho reading!).

Happy passengers back safely to earth.

Happy passengers back safely to earth.

The temperature seemed to have dropped, particularly noticeable when recovering the aircraft, so after settling the paperwork and paying for the flight, we headed back to AV8 for a cuppa (peppermint tea for me and a couple of very nice looking hot chocolates for the others) to try and warm up. We chatted about the day’s events, and they both seemed to have enjoyed the flight, despite the obvious disappointment of having to cancel our original plans.

Track flown

Track flown

Flight profile

Flight profile

Normally I would try to avoid local flights, but given the technical issue and less than idea weather, on this occasion it was good to at least be able to get up in the air. Josh proved to be a knowledgeable passenger, and more than capable on the controls, while Vanessa seemed comfortable in the back despite her high school aged son doing most of the flying! Hopefully Josh will retain his enthusiasm for flying, and can one day realise his aim of becoming a Commercial pilot.

Total flight time today: 1:05
Total flight time to date: 281:40

 

Currency check (again!)

November 15, 2015

As what has definitely been my strangest year of flying continued, I again found myself getting close to running out of my 60 day currency. I’d sadly had to abandon plans to finally cross the Channel with David due a dodgy stomach, and also had to cancel a planned ‘solo’ flight with Catrin due to weather. So yet again I was faced with another currency check (my 5th of the year!) in order to get back into flying.

After completing the majority of his CRI course the week before, Kev kindly agreed to fly with me at the weekend. We hatched a plan in discussions with David to fly somewhere for lunch, meeting up with David there as he flew from Gloucester in his shareoplane. Again, the weather wasn’t playing ball, and a poor forecast meant that this plan simply wasn’t feasible. About the best we could hope to do was to fly some circuits in the Arrow in order to get my currency reset.

The weather on the day was far from ideal, with relatively low cloud forecast and, more worryingly, strong gusting winds for the majority of the day. We eventually opted to meet up at Kemble, having a chat over lunch in AV8 while we waited and hoped for an improvement in the wind conditions. I started glumly at Kemble’s unofficial weather site, as it showed winds as high as 30 knots, gusting to 45 knots at times!

The wind did show signs of abating early in the afternoon, with wind speeds as ‘low’ as 20 knots starting to be displayed on a regular basis. We paid a quick visit to Kemble’s Ops department for a chat with them, before finally deciding to head back to the Club and prepare for a session of circuits. One minor plus point was that despite the winds being strong, they were almost directly aligned with the runway.

We uncovered the aircraft and carried out the ‘A’ check, before heading into the Club to complete the necessary paperwork. Once all our gear was in the aircraft and we were settled, I called for start an a ‘wind check’ again receiving an encouraging response from the FISO. The engine was a little reluctant to start, Kev advising me to give it an extra ‘prime’ using the fuel pump doing the trick. We taxyed to the D site apron for our power checks, positioning the aircraft into wind to carry them out. Kev suggested a slight modification to the manner in which I exercise the prop, checking it at a position in the middle of the range to ensure the governor was working correctly.

The strength of the wind was highlighted when carrying out the pre-departure ‘controls full and free movement’ check with the aircraft positioned directly into wind, as the attitude of the aircraft changed noticeably when moving the elevators. We announced ready and taxyed towards the hold at Alpha 3, helpfully hearing G-VICC announce its Downwind leg. I took my time taxying, as I felt that watching G-VICC’s approach and landing would give us useful information as to the conditions in the air and close to the ground.

G-VICC’s landing looked relatively stable, without too much evidence of low level turbulence during the latter part of the landing. This gave me a little more confidence that the flight could be carried out safely despite the fairly challenging conditions. Once G-VICC passed us the FISO cleared us onto the runway, and we were soon accelerating down the runway on a much shorter than normal take off roll!

As we rotated and became airborne, there didn’t appear to be too much difficulty in maintaining stable flight, and as we climbed away I retracted the gear and double checked that the flaps were retracted. I turned Crosswind and took care to apply a suitable correction for the strong wind off to our right, before becoming established on Downwind and carrying out the pre-landing checks. The strong tailwind meant the Downwind leg was over much quicker than normal, and I set us up for the descent on Base leg.

I turned Base a little late, allowing the wind to push us a little further towards Kemble than normal. I made my ‘Final’ call in the usual place, doing my best to maintain the centreline. I had already announced to Kev that I was planning to land slightly long to avoid the turbulence normally encountered when passing the hangars off to the right near the start of the runway. Kev had me nominate a new aiming point (second of the shorter white markings on the runway) and I did my best to land as close as possible to it.

The wind conditions became a little more difficult in the latter part of the approach, but I was pleasantly surprised at the fact that they weren’t causing me too many problems. The roundout and holdoff went pretty well, and I brought us in for a very gentle landing, much better than I had expected given my lack of currency and the conditions. Once under control on the runway I applied full power again, and soon rotated and took the air, this time deciding to leave the gear down to reduce the workload on the Downwind leg.

Carrying out the pre-landing checks again, I immediately spotted that the gear lights weren’t illuminated. Prior experience of the ‘gotchas’ Kev likes to throw in, I immediately checked the panel lights, finding that they had ‘mysteriously’ turned themselves on (a side effect of which is to dim the landing gear indicators such that they appear to be unlit in daylight). I clicked the panel lights off, ensuring that I then received a correct ‘three greens’ indication, before continuing with the checks.

I flew a much better profile on Base leg this time, and again had the aircraft under control on Final. There were initially some problems communicating with the Tower, as I transmitted a number of times and received no response. I double checked all the settings on the 430 and audio panel, including breaking the squelch to ensure that the volume hadn’t got turned down. The 430 was correctly indicating that it was transmitting as I keyed the push to talk, but we were receiving no response. Kev suggested I try the other box, and switching to the second radio re-established communications.

I allowed the speed to decay a little further than before during the roundout, causing the stall warner to sound as I was holding off the runway. Normally this would signify good speed control during this phase, but in the strong and potentially gusting wind conditions it’s usually a good idea to use a little extra airspeed on the approach to allow for a sudden change in the wind.

I corrected nicely though, adding some power and leaving it on during the final portion of the landing, again bringing us in for a nice gentle touchdown. On climbout Kev suggested that I try the first radio again on Downwind, and this time all seemed to work correctly. The third circuit was flown with little to report, and culminated in yet another smooth landing. I negotiated with the Tower to enable the next circuit to be a ‘bad weather’ circuit, and continued the approach.

A ‘bad weather’ circuit simulates arriving in poor conditions, perhaps with a low cloudbase and poor visibility. The idea is to keep visual contact with the runway at all times, flying lower than normal and closer to the runway in order to ensure this. This is achieved by making a single constant turn from the runway heading to the close in Downwind leg. I also dropped two stages of flap on Downwind in order to be able to slow things down on this shorter than normal leg, before commencing another constant turn from Downwind to align ourselves with the runway again.

For the 4th time I brought us in for another smooth landing, and as we climbed away I checked that Kev was happy, and we decided that this would be our final circuit. As we turned Base on this leg I heard an audible ‘click’, and again had difficulties reporting ‘Final’ and receiving a response from the Tower. Confident that Kev was again trying to test me, this time I simply switched to COM2 and continued the Approach. I questioned Kev to try and find out what he had done, but (probably using techniques learned on his CRI course) he said I should continue to fly the aircraft and that we would debrief on the ground.

The final landing of the day continued the trend of smooth landings, and we backtracked before taking taxyway Alpha back to the Club’s parking area at Hotel site. We refuelled the aircraft and covered it, before heading back to the Club to complete the post-flight paperwork. After a quick trip back to the aircraft to make a note of the tacho reading, I caught up with Kev and we had a chat over the flight in the Club.

Kev said that I had flown well, and I have to admit to being pleasantly surprised at how well the flight had gone despite the somewhat challenging conditions. I thought I had dealt with Kev’s little ‘gotchas’ fairly well, and he explained that the 430 actually is powered via two circuit breakers. The first powers the GPS functions and the unit’s display, while the second provides powers to the radios in the unit. That explained how the GPS seemed to be operating perfectly normally, but without the ability to actually transmit or receive.

Kev also said that he had actually been trying to trigger a Go Around (which would have been required if I had not been able to receive a suitable response to my ‘Final’ call). Something I had meant to suggest to him before the flight was that he should feel free to call for a Go Around at any time during an approach (as they are always worth practising to ensure that the procedure can be carried out without difficulty should it be needed ‘for real’). Maybe when he has his CRI rating next time we fly he’ll be more likely to throw this at me!

Track flown

Track flown

Flight profile

Flight profile

I was relieved to have been able to reset my currencies again, and hopefully in the last 6 weeks or so of the year I can make a couple more flights to round off the year in a more positive fashion. I was pleased at how well the flight had gone, particularly given the challenging conditions. Five currency checks in a single year is more than enough though, so hopefully I can avoid any more in the near future!

Total flight time today: 0:40
Total flight time to date: 280:35

 

At long last, some real flying!

September 19, 2015

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.

Our steed for the day!

Our steed for the day!

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).

Fog bank below us

Fog bank below us

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.

Stunning...

Stunning…

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!

Short Final at Land's End

Short Final at Land’s End

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.

Glorious conditions

Glorious conditions

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!

Land's End Tower

Land’s End Tower

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.

Leaving Land's End

Leaving Land’s End

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.

Arriving at Perranporth

Arriving at Perranporth

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.

It takes all sorts!

It takes all sorts!

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.

Tracks flown

Tracks flown

Leg 1 profile

Leg 1 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 3 profile

Leg 3 profile

 

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: 279:55

Another currency check, and a minor technical hitch

September 12, 2015

After regaining Club and passenger currency on my last flight with Roger, I was keen to add my Arrow currency to that list. A late cancellation meant that the Arrow was free this weekend, and Kev (the Arrow’s owner) was also available to fly with me. While Kev is not an Instructor, he is authorised by the Club to carry out currency checks on pilots, as long as they are legal to carry passengers.

Initially I planned a relatively simple local Nav via Lyneham and the Severn Bridges, but when I met Kev on the morning of the flight he suggested trying to spot a couple of grass strips in the area too (Bowldown and Chavenage). This seemed like a good way to practice some visual Nav skills (something that I tend to neglect when flying with SkyDemon in my lap!), so Kev made a note of their approximate location on the chart and we headed off to Kemble.

The Arrow had recently had a few niggly technical issues notified, which Kev was keen to sort out before we flew. I helped Kev (i.e. passed him tools and helped remove the cowling!) change the injectors on the aircraft (also giving me my first real view of the Arrow’s engine) and we then got the aircraft ready for flight before heading in to the Club to complete the pre-flight paperwork.

I was supposed to be the Duty Member that day, but as mine was the only flight planned I persuaded Luned to provide the ‘flight watch’ duties for our flight. We completed the pre-flight paperwork and walked out to the aircraft. As we approached, Kev had me tell him what sort of things I’d be doing during various emergency drills (gear failure, smoke in the cockpit, engine failure etc.), and this turned out to be remarkably prescient on his part!

We boarded the aircraft, got ourselves settled in and then started up the engine after receiving start clearance from the FISO. Taxy and power checks were all straightforward, and the airfield was quiet as we reported ready at Alpha 1. We were cleared straight on to the runway, and then to depart as we were lined up.

The wind was relatively strong and gusty, but fortunately pretty much straight down the runway, so the take off roll and rotation were relatively easy. I remembered to dab the brakes before retracting the gear, and then we turned South to head towards Lyneham which I’d planned as the start of the route.

As we passed through around 1200 feet Kev said, ‘Can you smell fuel?’. Once he’d mentioned it, I became aware of a very slight smell of fuel, and we briefly discussed what to do. Given that we’d just changed the injectors, we both agreed it was prudent to abort the flight, and return to investigate. I notified the FISO that we had a ‘smell of fuel in the cockpit’, and that we were returning. After a quick look over my shoulder to confirm our exact position, I decided to join Left Base, and set about positioning the aircraft appropriately, running through the before landing checks as I did so.

Due to being higher than normal, I positioned us on a fairly wide left base for Kemble’s runway 26. Looking at the GPS track, it looks like I didn’t fully appreciate my location, as this put us pretty much overhead Oaksey at around circuit height. This obviously wasn’t a great idea, but in reality I was keeping a good lookout all around us, and Oaksey’s circuit is to the South of the airfield anyway.

The smell of fuel had all but disappeared as we continued towards the airfield, perhaps due to the fact that we were now on a much lower power setting. I neglected to take account of the Southerly component of the strong wind, meaning I went slightly through the extended centreline when turning Final, but this was easily corrected and I brought us in for a relatively firm landing.

I requested taxy back to our parking area, and the FISO asked us if we needed any assistance. As there was no longer a smell of fumes or any indication of fire or other issue, I declined this and we backtracked and taxyed back towards Hotel site. As we turned onto the Alpha taxyway I noticed the airfield’s fire engine on the runway, and they followed us as we taxyed to park and shutdown. It was nice to know that should we have had an issue, they would have been quickly on hand should we have needed them.

The fire service waited as we removed the cowling and Kev checked for any evidence of a fuel leak around the engine. Finding nothing, we then carried out an engine run with the cowling off in order to see if the leak was only apparent when the fuel was under pressure. Again, this didn’t show anything obvious. As there was obviously no imminent danger of a fuel spillage, we thanked the fire crew for coming to our assistance, and they headed back.

Kev then had an idea to check inside the cockpit, as the fuel pipes go to both a fuel pressure and fuel flow gauge on the instrument panel. Using my phone as a torch, he looked up under the instrument panel and finally spotted the cause of the issue. The pipe going into the fuel flow gauge was noticeably wet, and when he retrieved a spanner it was clear that this was not fully tightened. He tightened it correctly, and we again tested the system to see if there was any apparent leak remaining, which thankfully there wasn’t.

Happy that he had found the cause of the problem, Kev suggested we continue the flight, and I was happy to do this. We pushed the aircraft back a few feet to enable us to turn it round easily, and then got ourselves settled back in. Before starting up we took the time to review the ‘fumes in cockpit’ drill we’d talked about earlier, as Kev mentioned that I’d forgotten to do this when we actually had an indication of fumes! Fortunately we’d already covered most of the actions required (which basically amounts to closing off any heater vents, and opening up fresh air vents). The heater was off anyway, and I had already opened the floor level vent on my side before taking off as it was a warm day. Kev opened his once he was aware of the fuel smell, but I should also have opened the DV window on my side.

I was a little nervous that the engine may prove difficult to start due to flooding due to the amount of fuel we’d been pumping through it looking for leaks, but it actually started relatively easily. We repeated the taxy and power checks as per the previous flight, and again took to the runway and departed without any problems. We were both checking for any signs of fuel odour during the climb, but none was present so we continued the flight happy in the knowledge that the problem appeared to have been resolved.

We’d already decided that we wouldn’t complete the planned Nav flight, simply flying over Hullavington (where both of us would be attending the Emergency Services Show the next day) and then try to find the two grass strips Kev had suggested earlier that morning. Hullavington is always easy to find, and I set course for the field expecting to find preparations for the show to be in full swing. In fact there didn’t seem to be much happening at all, so it was impressive that they’d managed to get everything ready in time for when we visited the show the next day!

Overhead Hullavington

Overhead Hullavington

We carried out a clockwise orbit of the airfield after checking that there was no sign of any glider activity, converting the turn to a steeper one to enable Kev to get some photos of the site. We then dug out the chart and tried to determine the best way to find the two grass strips at Bowldown and Chavenage. Both were close to the main road running out of Tetbury, so we identified the town and headed towards it, before turning towards the crossroads that was a good landmark to look for the first.

After a bit of hunting, I spotted the first strip (Bowldown) off to our left. It looked to have two good length strips (SkyDemon later showed that they were 550m and 750m) with one leading towards some buildings that probably included a hangar. After a quick loop around, we headed back towards Tetbury to locate the other strip.

This one proved somewhat easier to spot, and as we passed to the North Kev announced ‘Oh no, it looks like the engine has failed!’, pulling back the throttle to idle as he did so. I was a little slow in getting the aircraft down to its best glide speed (which in the Arrow is significantly below the cruising speed, unlike the Warrior!) and made a somewhat poor attempt at running through the restart checks.

I didn’t bother to look for a field to land in, as I knew that I had a decent grass strip off to our right. Kev announced ‘The strip is just passing behind the right wing’ as we passed, which I should have recognised as a fairly blatant hint that he thought I was heading too far away from it! I turned back to position for the into wind runway, and it soon became clear that I was probably going to end up a little short. It’s always important to remember when carrying out a PFL that there are a number of way to lose excess height, but no way to regain it!

We decided then to return to Kemble, so I quickly entered a ‘direct to’ into the 430 to orient myself, and with that and the ADF needle turned the aircraft onto approximately the correct heading. I announced our position to the FISO, and headed for the long runway I had spotted on approximately the right heading. There was another aircraft approaching from the North to join overhead for 26, so I also positioned myself with the runway off to my left to set up for an Overhead join.

Kev asked whether Kemble were now on 08, which again I should have realised was a pretty blatant hint! I corrected him, and set about positioning for the join, but as I continued I had a nagging doubt that the runway I’d spotted wasn’t Kemble after all, which soon became confirmed as I looked over to our right to spot the real Kemble! I had made the mistake of orienting on Aston Down (which is apparently quite common, but not a mistake I’ve made before!), leading to Kev’s questioning of my positioning.

Correcting the mistake was simple, I just turned right and crossed over the 08 threshold at 2000 feet AAL, before turning left to cross the threshold of 26 and begin my descent. We spotted the other joining aircraft well below us, it appeared he actually joined Crosswind rather than Overhead. We followed him around the circuit. He was well clear of the runway by the time we turned Final, and the wind was noticeably gusty as we continued. Kev questioned my use of full flap, which was a valid point given the gusty conditions. I retracted the final stage of flap at about 400 feet, before bringing us down for a nice gentle landing.

I requested a backtrack and taxy, which was granted, and there was a little confusion as we were warned to hold before exiting the runway due to opposite direction traffic. This turned out to be someone on the Golf grass taxyway, and the FISO later changed his mind and asked them to hold, as we would otherwise have been stuck on the runway waiting for them. We taxyed back and refuelled, before pushing the aircraft back into its parking space. Kev laid out the aircraft cover on the ground to dry as we headed in to the Club to settle the paperwork. We then returned to cover the aircraft before heading to the local pub for some lunch and a debrief!

First flight track

First flight track

 

First flight profile

First flight profile

 

Second flight track

Second flight track

 

Second flight profile

Second flight profile

It was good to fly with Kev again. He’s extremely knowledgeable and a pleasure to fly with, with the added benefit of still being unafraid to point out any problems in my flying. Hopefully our next flight can be something a little more interesting, although I could probably do without any further technical issues during flight!

Total flight time today: 1:00
Total flight time to date: 276:05

A dearth of flying, and a clearer view!

August 2, 2015

Recently I’d been noticing that my eyesight was no longer as good as it once was, and with my Class 2 Medical Renewal looming I decided that I should do something about it! A visit to a local optician confirmed my suspicions, showing that while still meeting the requirements for driving without glasses, I no longer met the stricter requirements of the Class 2 Medical.

My near vision required almost no correction, meaning that I only strictly needed glasses for long distance vision. However, removing glasses during flight to read (for example) a chart and then having to replace them would obviously not be feasible. The optician advised that the correction I needed was such that varifocals would be a good option for me. She did warn however that these can take some getting used to, and some people find that they can’t get on with them and have to revert to traditional bifocals.

Initially I decided to only buy a single pair to ensure that I wouldn’t have to replace two pairs should I not be able to get used to varifocals. After wearing these for a couple of weeks without any ill effects, I then ordered a further pair, this time prescription sunglasses. In the meantime, my Class 2 renewal was passed without any issue, but my AME confirmed my recollection that I would now always need to carry a second pair of glasses when flying, in case anything happened to the pair I was wearing.

All of this (and a busy social schedule!) meant that I went almost 2 months without flying at all. I was a little concerned that the glasses might affect my ability to land, due to the fact that peripheral vision with varifocals can be affected. As such I tried to schedule a flight with an Instructor alongside in order to have an experienced pilot who would be able to take control should the need arise.

Sadly weather and scheduling meant that we were unable to fly before my Club 60 day currency also expired, so this flight was to be a full-on currency check rather than just a quick flight with an Instructor along to ensure that I could still land while wearing the new glasses. Ideally I’d have liked to make the flight in the Club’s Arrow, so that I could refresh all of my currencies in a single flight. Sadly the Arrow was down for maintenance, so instead we flew in G-BPAF, an aircraft familiar to me from my PPL training at RAF Brize Norton.

Before the flight I made to sure brief Roger on the additional things I wanted to cover above and beyond a regular currency check. As I now had both pairs of glasses, I wanted to attempt some landings wearing each pair. I also wanted to ensure that I could clearly see everything I needed to in the cockpit, so briefed Roger that I may ask him to take control at some point during the flight just so that I could be ‘heads in’ for a little while ensuring I could read all the instruments, radio displays and also plog etc. without having to worry about controlling the aircraft at the same time. Also I warned Roger that he may need to take control during the latter phases of the landing, and that I wouldn’t take offence if he felt the need to do this!

I had carried out the A check while Roger finished off some of the work he was doing on the Arrow, and as we settled ourselves into the cockpit I took a little extra time to check that I could see and interpret all the relevant instruments and avionics before starting up the engine. Kemble were using runway 08 today, so we taxyed down the grass past the Tower to carry out the checks on the North Apron. Once these were all completed, we took to the runway and departed, heading initially to the South for the General Handling exercises.

The weather was clear, with little cloud to affect the flight, and we headed towards RAF Lyneham to use it as a reference point for some of the manoeuvres. Stalls and steep turns were all carried out without any difficulty, and I was having no issues with my vision either inside or outside the cockpit. Roger suggested I try some instrument flight (which I hadn’t considered) and I had him take control briefly while I found my foldaway hood in my flight bag. We carried out some turns, climbs and descents under the hood, and these also all went well.

The PFL practice gave me an obvious choice of ‘Lyneham’ as my landing ‘field’, but out of habit I lined myself up for runway 26, despite the Southerly surface wind obviously favouring 18. At Roger’s suggestion I repositioned for this, and he announced he was happy at around 700 feet AGL, and I climbed away and set course to rejoin at Kemble. I had Roger take control briefly so I could double check I could clearly read the PLOG and chart on my knee, and operate SkyDemon with the tablet mounted in my knee-board. Again, these checks all showed that my glasses were working well.

As we signed on with the FISO, it was clear that the strong Southerly wind would make the circuits interesting! There was another student in the circuit as we approached, and I carried out a standard Overhead Join to slot in behind him for the circuits.

The first landing was far from pretty, primarily due to my lack of recent flying and the tricky wind conditions. I rounded out at the correct height, but had a little difficulty in completing the flare and holdoff correctly, leading to a relatively firm arrival. We flew a couple of further circuits using my regular glasses, and all of the landings were acceptable but hardly among my best!

I had Roger take control on the next circuit to enable me to switch to my prescription sunglasses, and completed the flight wearing these. Again, all of the issues I had with the landing were down to the conditions and my rustiness, sadly nothing I could blame on the new glasses!

We completed 5 landings in total, with my performance gradually getting better as time went on. Roger announced he was happy to sign me off as ‘current’ again, agreeing with me that the problems I was having could not be blamed on the new eyewear!

We taxyed back and refuelled the aircraft before pushing it back to its parking space and putting the cover back on. As usual, Roger gave me a thorough debrief, picking me up on a few things from the flight. As the flight was a total of 1 hour 10 minutes, it also meant that I had satisfied the requirement to complete a flight with an Instructor of at least an hour, meaning that when my Class Rating needed to be renewed next May that this was one less detail I would have to worry about.

Track

Track

Profile

Profile

It’s always nice to fly with Roger, while flying he’s generally supportive and helpful, while still picking up on important details that he covers during the debrief. Hopefully now I’m current again I can get back into some regular flying!

Total flight time today: 1:10
Total flight time to date: 275:05


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