Last year had ended rather like it had begun, with a complete lack of flying. Since my last flight in mid-October, I’d had a couple of tries to fly that had sadly been scuppered by weather and the usual Winter cold.
As a result, some 3 and a half months later, I was itching to get back into the cockpit again, but requiring a Club Currency check in order to do so. As ever, Kev was my first choice to conduct this, and we managed to arrange a suitable day to go flying. While considering a possible destination (where possible, I’d much rather a currency check involve some ‘real’ flying, rather than just the usual box-ticking exercise) Kev mentioned that another Club member had also requested to accompany us, as he was in need of a Currency Check too.
Graham is involved in the Nimrod Preservation Group at Coventry, and suggested that we could go there and he would show us around the Nimrod. This quickly expanded into a full-on Club flyout, with three aircraft and 6 people planning to attend. The Arrow also was coming up on a required service, so Kev arranged for it to be hangared at Brize for the week, so that he could work on it in relative comfort rather than trying to find somewhere at Kemble to do it.
So, the plan was finalised; three aircraft would head to Coventry, we would have lunch in the DC6 diner, look around the Nimrod, then fly on to Brize. The Arrow would be dropped off there, and everyone would then return to Kemble in the remaining two aircraft. A planned pub night a couple of days before the flight cemented the plan, with a third pilot also requiring a Currency check before he could fly the Club’s Warrior to Coventry. Jon would meet Kev at Kemble around 9:30, to carry out a Currency Check in G-EDGI. Graham and I would then join Kev in the Arrow so he could carry out Currency Checks for both of us, while JP flew the Cherokee to Coventry, and Jon was joined by Ray in G-EDGI.
Sadly the weather threw a small spanner in the works on the morning of the flight. Sub-zero overnight temperatures meant that all the aircraft had a light coating of ice on the wings, and sadly the wrong type of de-icing fluid had been ordered (a preventative coating rather than a fluid that would clear the ice off the wings). As such, Jon’s Currency Check flight departed around 10:00, while the remaining pilots ensured that the ice was cleared from the Arrow and Cherokee.
Once Jon returned, we all boarded our respective aircraft, and made ready to depart. I was flying the leg to Coventry in the Arrow, with Kev alongside and Graham in the rear. I planned to carry out at least two circuits at Kemble, before departing to Coventry via Chedworth, Moreton in Marsh and Gaydon disused airfields. This was the first flight of the day for the Arrow, but it started first turn of the key, and after some work attempting to clear all the insides of the windows to de-mist them, we taxyed towards Alpha 1 for the power checks. The cold temperatures meant we had to wait quite a long time for the engine to warm up sufficiently, so in the meantime Kev had me go over the pre-departure brief, and we also discussed what the plan would be should there be any engine issues during takeoff or immediately after.
The engine now sufficiently warm, I carried out the power checks (Kev double checking I understood why we exercise the Variable Pitch Propeller during these checks), and then the pre-departure checks before moving up to the hold in readiness to depart. Another aircraft was just turning Base as we were cleared onto the runway to depart, and after a last minute check that everyone was Ok, I lined up and applied power to begin the takeoff roll.
The takeoff roll and rotation were all normal, and I was pleased that my application of rudder during rotation was almost spot on, meaning no wing rocking or yawing as we transitioned from ground roll to flight. Once there was no usable runway remaining, I dabbed the brakes and raised the gear, checking that the greens were extinguished, followed soon after by the ‘in transit’ light going out. We turned Crosswind, then Downwind, levelling off at circuit height and making the ‘Downwind’ radio call.
The before landing checks were completed normally, the gear coming down correctly. At the appropriate point I turned ‘Base’, checking we were within flap limit, before lowering 2 stages of flap and beginning our descent. I overshot the turn to Final by a small amount, but easily got us back on track, making the ‘Final’ call after carrying out the ‘Reds, Blues, Greens, Flaps’ Final checks, and remembering to report ‘Gear Down’ to the FISO also. The approach to the runway was stable, and my first landing in over three months was very smooth. It’s always good to know you can still remember how to land an aircraft after such a long break!
A quick check of the Ts and Ps, and I retracted the flaps, applied full power and made ready for the next circuit. As we turned Crosswind, Kev mentioned that I had used quite a high power setting during the first circuit, meaning we would have had quite a speed differential to any aircraft ahead of us in the circuit. In hindsight, I suspect this was actually a distraction technique, as while I carried out the before landing checks, the gear lock indication lights all failed to illuminate. I spotted this immediately, and told Kev that I would normally leave the circuit at this point, climb to a safer altitude before attempting to diagnose the issue.
He suggested that on this flight I just carry out the basic checks first, and luckily I remembered that a common cause for the gear lights not illuminating is having the panel lights turned on. A quick check of the rotary switch for these lights showed that they had magically become switched on! I turned them off, and was immediately rewarded with three green lights, so we carried on with the circuit.
This distraction had caused me to fly a slightly wider Downwind leg than normal. It wasn’t too bad though, and in reality if I’d encountered a similar issue with the gear during a circuit, I would just have left the circuit and climbed, so this wouldn’t have been a real issue. We turned Base and configured for the descent, again carrying out the final checks on Final, coming in for a second smooth landing of the day. As we accelerated down the runway I double checked that Kev was happy for us to depart to Coventry now. He announced that he was, and I continued the takeoff roll, rotating as normal before climbing away and raising the gear.
This time the gear didn’t retract, so I told Kev we would leave the circuit as planned, get up to a safe height and established on the first leg out of Kemble, before running the checklists to try to resolve the issue. Climbing up to 3500 feet, Kev suggested we level off at 2000 feet and try the obvious checks, and this time a quick check of the circuit breakers showed that one of them had popped out. I reset this, and immediately the gear started to raise, the three green lights going out a few seconds before the ‘in transit’ light also went out.
I continued the climb up to 3500 feet, setting the next course as we reached Chedworth. We signed on with Brize, receiving a Basic Service for this leg. On this leg we had a bit of a discussion as to whether the Semicircular Rule for cruising altitude applied to VFR flight below the Transition Level. I must check up on this, as I always try to fly at these levels where possible.
We had discussed in the run up to this flight whether to request an instrument approach in to Coventry. Checking the NOTAMs before the flight, I found that their ILS was out of action due to work on the airfield. Kev still suggested we at least brief the approach and configure the 430 for the approach, even though we were going to join and land visually. This wasn’t something I had actually done before using the 430, so Kev’s IR kicked in, and he showed me how the approach would be briefed using the approach plates, and then how to configure the 430 to actually carry out the approach. Hopefully I can get my IR(R) renewed in the near future, and start to put some of this into practice on future flights.
We signed off with Brize as we approached Coventry, and I used the OBS feature of the 430 to plot a Northerly approach to the airfield from Gaydon. As we approached Gaydon, I began to descend to 2000 feet to get below the initial shelf of Birmingham’s Controlled Airspace. The Controller at Coventry advised us to expect a Left Base join via Draycote Water, with one ahead of us. As I headed towards the easily visible lake, Kev spotted the aircraft ahead of us, that turned out to be Jon in G-EDGI.
As we continued the approach, I started to monitor the ILS indications that we had configured earlier, and saw the localiser needle coming in as expected. I allowed myself to get slightly distracted by this, and ended up too low on the approach, causing Kev to give me a gentle reminder to watch my height. We were now established on Final, so I concentrated my attention out of the cockpit for the rest of the landing. My third landing of the day was again very smooth, and as we rolled out we heard G-EDGI asking to park on the grass near the Nimrod. The grass parking area was too wet to use today, but we were helpfully allowed to park on the hard standing right in front of the Nimrod.
After being marshalled in to place, we shut down and met up with the others, being the last aircraft to arrive. After taking the opportunity to get a few photographs, we walked over to the DC6 diner for lunch. Sadly, they were fully booked, but were able to offer us takeaway food, which we planned to take to the Nimrod to eat there. While waiting for our food to arrive, we had a look around the cockpit of the DC6. In future we must remember to book a table there if we’re planning to visit at the weekend!
Once the food arrived, we walked back over to the Nimrod, and set about polishing off the food. Everyone seemed to enjoy it, hopefully next time we can do so in the DC6 itself! Once we’d eaten, Graham gave us a guided tour of the Nimrod, explaining how it would have been operated on a real mission. Typically they would be dispatched over water for several hours, looking for submarines. They had the ability to refuel in flight, and Graham explained how sonar buoys would be dropped, and their results monitored from on the aircraft. It was interesting to see examples of the displays the sonar operators would have been watching, as they looked very familiar from my days at AudioSoft when the company provided software for training Navy sonar operators. Interestingly, two of the windows towards the front of the aircraft could be opened in flight, enabling photographs to be taken. I’ve not sure I’d have been too keen to have stuck my head out when operating just a few hundred feet above water with 2 of the 4 engines turned off!
After a very enlightening tour, we made our way back to our aircraft to plan the remainder of the day’s flying. It was decided that I would fly with JP in the Cherokee, as he was keen to attempt an ILS approach into Brize. We all boarded our respective aircraft, and JP was first to be ready to leave. While he set about getting the engine started, I made sure I had all the appropriate plates available for the flight. First was the taxy diagram for Coventry, then the various approach plates for Brize.
We received our taxy clearance, and I helped JP orient himself with where we were on the airfield, and how to make our way to the hold that we’d been cleared to. As we approached the hold, I made sure he was aware that we would be given a departure clearance from ATC, that would need to be copied down and read back. I also made sure I was ready to copy down any clearances, so that I could be as much help as possible on the flight. At the hold, we were issued a departure clearance as expected, then cleared to backtrack. JP was unsure how far to go, so I made a quick calculation of the length of runway from the intersection, and we backtracked far enough to give us plenty of room to depart safely.
We were cleared to depart, and JP made the last checks before opening up the throttle and we headed down the runway. We rotated with plenty of runway to spare, before climbing to 1400 feet to remain below Birmingham’s controlled airspace. We then turned on to the appropriate heading to depart to the South East, climbing to around 3000 feet once clear of the lowest portion of airspace. Using SkyDemon I gave JP an approximate track to steer to head us towards Burford, while we listened to Brize’s ATIS, with me copying down the details. We then made contact with Brize on their Zone frequency initially to request vectors to the ILS for runway 25.
The Controller asked us to call him back on the Brize Director frequency, and once in communication with him there he gave us a course to steer to approach Brize. I dug out the appropriate plate, going through a quick brief of the approach with JP to give him an idea of what to expect. As we continued on towards Brize, I came to realise how much I’d forgotten about how busy the radio can become once on an approach. I did my best to help JP as much as possible, copying down information the Controller was giving us and occasionally answering radio calls that had come in while JP was busy with other tasks. The Controller confused JP a little by asking him to report ‘cockpit checks complete’, and although we were still quite some way from Brize at this point, I realised that he wanted the before landing checklist to be carried out, and for us to let him know once these were complete.
As we approached Brize’s airspace, the Controller asked if we could accept vectors onto a 6.5nm Final. JP accepted this, and on studying the plate I realised why the Controller had made a point of establishing this with us. 6.5nm is essentially the glideslope intercept distance, so JP would be quite busy at this point, trying to capture the localiser at the same time as monitoring the glideslope to begin the descent.
As we neared the extended centreline, I told JP that we were currently on a 90 degree intercept to the approach path, and would likely be given a turn to intercept the localiser at around 30 degrees before being asked to report established. This turned out to be correct, and as the Controller gave us the turn, JP began to monitor the localiser. I had warned him to make the turn onto runway track as soon as he saw the needle begin to move, knowing how easy it was to overshoot the localiser. Sadly my warnings turned out to be founded, as JP initially flew a little way through the localiser, before turning back to capture it correctly.
The glideslope was now coming in, and while JP concentrated on the approach, I kept a good lookout for other aircraft. We heard both of the other Lyneham Flying Club aircraft on frequency as we switched to Tower, with G-EDGI joining on a Left Base behind us, and the Arrow being asked to extend Downwind. We later learned that they had extended so far that they asked to return via vectors to the ILS also!
JP managed the approach well, and brought us in for a nice landing on Brize’s long runway. Fortunately for us, the Controller knew where we were going, and asked us to vacate left before passing us over to Ground for the taxy to the hangar where Kev was planning to service the Arrow. After we were marshalled into our parking space, we were soon joined by Jon in G-EDGI. As we disembarked, the Arrow taxyed past us, and we walked up to the hangar to help push it back into place.
Some negotiation of seating arrangements took place in order to ensure that the 3 lightest people were in the Cherokee due to its more limited payload. I joined Kev and Jon in G-EDGI, while the others headed back to the Cherokee for the flight back to Kemble. We positioned ourselves at the hold for the power checks, before being cleared to depart. Kev was manning the radio, and requested a direct route from Brize to Kemble at 1400 feet, rather than following the usual VFR departure procedures via either Burford or Fairford.
We were cleared to depart, and the runway track put us on a direct track straight to Kemble. We climbed to around 1400 feet, and after passing Fairford detoured slightly to the North to avoid overflying South Cerney in case there were any parachuting operations that day. We signed off with Brize, and on contacting Kemble found them to be fairly busy. We were asked to join Overhead, but after some discussion decided to join on the Deadside, as we would be unlikely to be able climb from our current altitude to an appropriate altitude for the Overhead Join.
As we joined Crosswind, we heard JP on frequency requesting a Left Base join. We slotted in to the circuit just ahead of an aircraft that had just taken off, and Jon flew a nice approach and landing on runway 26. The radio was pretty busy, so I hadn’t been able to suggest landing long to avoid inconveniencing anyone behind us. However, Jon requested a backtrack, and as we turned we saw JP in the Cherokee climbing away to go around.
We taxyed back to parking, hearing the frequency getting busier and busier. At one point the FISO had to stress his request to another aircraft to ‘Standby’. As we made ready to refuel G-EDGI, we thought we saw JP go around again, and when he finally landed and joined us, we found out that there had even been a runway incursion, with another pilot failing to stop at the hold as instructed, and crossing the runway while another aircraft took off over him. Fortunately the runway at Kemble is sufficiently long that the departing aircraft was already well in the air before reaching the crossing point. Once all the aircraft were refuelled and parked up, we headed in to the Club to complete the paperwork and pay our respective bills.
It was great to be back in the air again after such a long break, and even more satisfying to have taken part in such a great day’s flying. Although I’d only flown one leg myself, I’d at least reset all of my currencies and also had a thoroughly enjoyable day’s flying, coupled with the interesting tour of the Nimrod at Coventry. The next goal for me is to renew my IR(R), which I’ll hopefully do in the next month or two.
Total flight time today: 1:00
Total flight time to date: 307:25