A solo visit to Leicester

June 4, 2017

After a week visiting relatives with the rest of the family, we returned home on a Friday flight, giving us the remainder of the weekend to recover and get ready to go back to work on the Monday. It seemed a good chance to attempt to get some flying in on the Sunday, so after some negotiation I arranged that I would go flying by myself, leaving Luned and Catrin to spend the day relaxing at home. This coincided with a joint BBQ at Kemble for members of the Grython and Lyneham Clubs, but given the relative lack of flying so far this year I decided that taking the chance to go flying was more desirable than a Club social!

Graham had booked the Arrow for a short flight to reset his currency, which prevented me from making my usual ‘full day’ booking. He was due to return around noon, so I started looking for destinations that were within around an hour or so flying time from Kemble. I settled on Leicester, and carried out the majority of the planning the evening before as usual. The weather forecast was mixed, with most places forecasting infrequent showers throughout the day. However, I decided that I would attempt the flight, on the basis that all the forecast periods of showers were only around a 30% chance of actually occurring. This suggested I should be able to avoid any adverse weather without too much difficulty.

I completed the final planning on the morning of the flight, being able to take advantage of a slightly later start than usual by having an extra hour or so in bed! The weather forecasts remained the same so I decided to continue with the flight, leaving for Kemble around 10:30 or so. As I arrived at Kemble, Graham was just taxying out for his flight, so I completed the pre-flight paperwork in the Club, while listening out for his return on the airband receiver in the Club. I also (somewhat belatedly!) contacted JP to see if he was interested in joining me on the flight, but he was planning to attend the BBQ so decided not to accompany me.

On hearing Graham landing, I headed back to the car to gather up the rest of my gear, before walking out to meet the aircraft. I helped Graham refuel before pushing the aircraft back to its parking place, requiring some negotiating with the pilot of the Lyneham Bulldog who had just returned to refuel. I was confident that he had enough time to refuel the Bulldog (blocking the exit from the parking area) while I carried out the pre-flight, and not cause me any issues when I was ready to depart.

Despite the aircraft already having flown, I took my time on the walk around, as I needed to give the newly added fuel sufficient time to settle before checking the fuel drains for any signs of water or other contaminants. I left this check until the absolute last moment, and had to take samples from the right hand tank twice due to there being a small amount of water in the initial sample from this side. Other than this minor issue, everything was normal and I was soon ready to depart.

Once on board, I used my new handheld to call the FISO for start and airfield information, receiving a slightly surprising readability of ‘4’ (5 being the maximum). At some point when I’m next flying with another pilot, I’ll make an attempt to use it in the air to see how well it performs. The engine seemed a little reluctant to start, taking three or four tries to catch. Once it was running I set up the remainder of the avionics before calling for taxy instructions.

I was cleared to taxy via Alpha to Alpha 1, and as I approached the D-Site apron I was asked to hold position briefly to allow one of Freedom’s Warriors to taxy across in front of me after emerging from the Golf grass taxyway. I followed him down to the hold, and we completed our power checks side by side. He was ready before me, and departed as I moved up to the hold to complete the before takeoff checklist. Another aircraft was joining overhead as I took to the runway, and I saw him descending on the Deadside as I announced that I was in position.

The FISO issued the ‘take off at your discretion’ message, but I felt that taking off now would put me in potential conflict with the joining aircraft as he turned Crosswind. I let the FISO know I would wait a little, and as the aircraft joined the Crosswind leg and crossed over the runway ahead of me, I announced I was taking off and began the takeoff roll. It had just started to rain slightly,  the aircraft accelerated normally, and as I rotated I took care to feed in some right rudder to counter the swing. Once there was no usable runway ahead of me I dabbed the brakes and retracted the gear, before turning Crosswind to follow the other aircraft around the circuit.

He was well ahead of me by now, so I announced I was climbing out on the Downwind leg, before setting course to the North East to my usual first turning point at the Chedworth disused airfield. As I cleared the ATZ to the North East, a look over my shoulder showed the airfield now appeared to be experiencing a fairly heavy shower, but the skies ahead of me were relatively clear.

Shower over Kemble after departure

Shower over Kemble after departure

I signed off with Kemble’s FISO, and on reaching Chedworth I set course for my next turning point at Banbury, and contacted Brize for a Basic Service. The frequency was fairly quiet, and I was issued with the appropriate squawk and granted the Basic Service. A short while later the FISO warned me that they had been notified of winch-launched gliders operating from Little Rissington that day, so I dog-legged to the left to give Little Rissington some more clearance. I spotted a few gliders on the ground as I passed, but didn’t see any in the air.

Passing Little Rissington

Passing Little Rissington

I had planned to sign off with Brize as I approached Banbury, but the Controller had me change frequency a few minutes before this. I switched to Coventry, and once established on the leg from Banbury contacted them for a Basic Service also. I had to descend to remain clear of a bank of cloud ahead of me, descending to around 2500 feet to keep below the cloud.

Descending to remain clear of cloud

Descending to remain clear of cloud

The Coventry Controller asked me to report abeam Draycote Water, and as I continued I heard a further aircraft getting permission for a direct arrival onto the ILS from the DTY VOR. A quick check of the chart showed that his track would also potentially intersect mine. I contacted the Controller to double check what altitudes he’d be operating at, and learned that his profile would intersect mine. Rather than risk being an issue for him, I elected to climb to 4000 feet (I was now well clear of any cloud) to keep well above him and allow him to fly the ILS without me interfering.

I continued onwards, reporting at Draycote Water, turning at Rugby and then reporting again passing the Bitteswell Industrial Estate VRP. I signed off with the Coventry Controller, and made contact with Leicester as I approached Bruntingthorpe. Leicester were still operating on runway 28 with a Right Hand Circuit, so I planned my approach, keeping the airfield to my right in order to correctly join overhead. I initially misidentified a cluster of similarly oriented roads as the airfield, before soon spotting the actually airfield slightly further ahead.

Passing Bruntingthorpe

Passing Bruntingthorpe

I orientated myself for the appropriate runway, descending on the Deadside and turning Downwind. As I continued Downwind, I dithered slightly over whether to pass inside or outside the village that was at the point I would normally turn Base. I decided to pass inside, leading to a slightly odd-shaped circuit. I lined up nicely on Final, gave a last ‘Reds, Blues, Greens’ check before coming in for a nice gentle landing. Another aircraft was waiting to join the runway to depart, so I cleared as quickly as I could, announcing over the radio that I was clear, before taxying in and parking up in the relatively empty parking area.

As I pushed the aircraft back into its parking space, predictably the heavens opened as a shower crossed the airfield. I walked in to settle the landing fee, in time to spot a lovely looking Twin landing and taxying in. This was later identified as a Beech 18, which had been brought in from Jersey after being bought by one of the members at Leicester. Very nice!

Beech 18 arriving at Leicester

Beech 18 arriving at Leicester

I headed upstairs for some lunch, deciding not to take too much time due to the relatively unpredictable weather forecast. While I ate, there were a few other movements around the airfield, but compared to how it had been on previous visits it was very quiet. Once I’d finished eating, I headed back down to the aircraft and carried out a quick walk around before getting back on board.

Arrow parked up at Leicester

Arrow parked up at Leicester

This time the engine started much more easily, and after getting departure details from the A/G operator I taxyed to the hold for runway 24. Another aircraft was just vacating the runway as I left the parking area, and on approaching the hold I turned into wind to carry out the power checks. These were satisfactory, and I pulled up to the hold to check the approaches for other aircraft. There was nothing to be seen, so I announced that I was taking to the runway, then began the takeoff roll.

Mindful of the requested noise abatement procedures, I did my best to avoid flying over noise sensitive areas on climbout and departure. Once clear of the areas concerned, I set course to the South towards Rugby, climbing up to around 3000 feet. Although the weather was still far from ideal, the cloud formations were all well spread out and easy to avoid. After signing off with Leicester, I contacted Coventry when near Bruntingthorpe, receiving a Basic Service on the leg down to Banbury. There were a few other aircraft on frequency, but most people seemed to have decided to avoid flying in the weather conditions.

I made the decision to stray from my planned route, and fly over Swindon to see if Luned and Catrin could catch sight of me as I flew over. The simplest way to achieve this was to fly over Brize, so I descended back to around 3000 feet (I hadn’t been paying much attention to my height, so had climbed a couple of hundred feet) to fly at a level that would allow me to request a Zone Transit, rather than risk having to descend into the airspace due to any cloud I might encounter. On approaching Banbury I signed off with Coventry, and listened to Brize’s ATIS to get a feel for their weather and get the correct pressure setting.

On selecting the Brize Zone frequency, I initially had to wait as another pilot approaching from the South negotiated his own Zone Transit. This was granted, and once all the details had been completed, I made my request. This also was quickly granted, and somewhat unusually I was cleared through the Class D at 3000 feet (generally I’ve found that VFR transits are given a ‘not above’ or ‘not below’ altitude restriction). As I continued on towards Brize, I heard the other pilot being notified when he was entering and leaving Brize’s airspace, so I was somewhat surprised not to receive the same messages myself. In fact, the Controller only came back to me a mile or two after I had left Brize’s airspace, and when he did I requested the frequency change over to Kemble.

Passing RAF Brize Norton

Passing RAF Brize Norton

Swindon was now clearly visible in the distance, so I set about working out exactly where I was, and then trying to find our house. Fortunately a number of landmarks are easily recognisable from the air, so I used the Asda Walmart, old Renault distribution centre and Catrin’s school to locate our house, before carrying out a couple of orbits and snapping off a few photos. On landing I learned that Luned had indeed seen me, and managed to get a few photos of me while I was flying over.

Our house, former Renault distribution centre clearly visible just in front of the wing

Our house, former Renault distribution centre clearly visible just in front of the wing

Me flying over our house (click on the photo for a larger version!)

Me flying over our house (click on the photo for a larger version!)

Once the photo mission was over, I oriented myself to head towards Kemble, giving them a call on the radio to learn that they were still operating on runway 26. I descended to the appropriate height for an Overhead Join, and kept Oaksey Park well off to my left in case anyone was operating from there. The frequency was quiet as I approached Kemble, so I asked the FISO whether he knew of anything to affect a Left Base join. As expected there was no other known traffic, so I descended further and positioned to join on Kemble’s slightly strange Base Leg for 26.

More showers in the vicinity of Kemble

More showers in the vicinity of Kemble

After carrying out the before landing checks, I kept inside Kemble village as usual, establishing myself on Final. Another aircraft had joined the frequency approaching from the West, and the FISO warned him of showers off in that direction. As I continued down Final, the low level winds proved to be quite challenging, generating significant turbulence as I got closer to the ground.

Mindful of the approaching rain, I concentrated on making a good approach, having to work hard on the controls to maintain the correct alignment with the runway and vertical profile. As I got down towards the runway and began the roundout, there was a sudden loss of lift, which I countered by adding a significant amount of power, expecting to have to continue to full power and execute a go around. The aircraft stabilised itself a few feet above the runway though, so I continued the approach and began to reduce power again to complete the landing.

When a couple of feet above the runway, again there was a sharp reduction in lift, which I was unable to correct quickly enough by adding power. Fortunately I had stabilised the aircraft close enough to the runway so this just caused a rather firm touchdown. The extra workload close to the ground had also meant I’d landed longer than I had initially intended, so once I had reduced to a walking pace I requested a backtrack from the FISO, leaving the runway at A3 as usual.

I taxyed back to parking and shut down, before adding a small amount of fuel to bring the aircraft back up to ‘tabs’. Predictably it had started raining again, so after pushing the aircraft back into its parking space I tried to quickly get the cover back on, before heading back into the Club to complete the post-flight paperwork. Kev was still there after the afternoon’s BBQ, and asked me to give him a lift home, to which I readily agreed.

Tracks flown

Tracks flown

Leg 1 profile

Leg 1 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 2 profile

Today had been one of the most challenging days flying that I’d experienced in a while. Despite the far from ideal forecast, in fact the flying conditions had been well within my capabilities, and despite having to occasionally change course or level to avoid cloud, I was never in a situation where I had to question whether the flight could be completed safely. I’d learned a useful lesson not to become complacent on an approach, and managed to handle the tricky conditions close to the ground without too much difficulty.

Total flight time today: 1:55
Total flight time to date: 312:15

Another family flyout for a bit of a Sleap

April 29, 2017

After a pretty abysmal start to the year flying-wise, a relatively free Bank Holiday weekend seemed the ideal opportunity to try and get in some proper flying. I initially booked the Arrow for the Sunday, but in the days leading up to the flight it looked liked Saturday would be the better day weather-wise. Luckily the Arrow was free that day too, so I moved my booking over to the Saturday.

I wanted to try and stretch my legs a bit, and initally considered heading to either Goodwood or Shoreham. The runways are undergoing maintenance at Goodwood, so Shoreham seemed like the better bet. However, a bit of research showed a large fly-in taking place at Popham, which was likely to make the skies pretty busy in what is already a relatively narrow gap between the Solent CTA and London TMA.

I started looking at destinations in the opposite direction, to the North West, and initially considered either Shobdon or Halfpenny Green. More digging showed an event planned at Halfpenny Green, and Shobdon seemed a little bit close to Kemble, so I eventually settled on a return to Sleap.

The planning was all relatively straightforward, with the exception of a problem with the AIS website preventing me from doing my usual double-check of NOTAMs against those generated by SkyDemon. The problem was still there the following morning when I completed the planning, so I relied on the NOTAMs displayed in SkyDemon, and marked up the chart in readiness for the flight. Luned and Catrin were heading to a newly-scheduled dance class, so the plan was for me to drive up to Kemble and prepare the aircraft, with them joining me later once Catrin’s lesson was finished.

The weather wasn’t perfect for flying, but the cloudbase was up at 4000 feet, and if anything the cooler conditions should lead to calmer conditions when airborne. I arrived at Kemble and double checked the aircraft paperwork, before heading out to carry out the ‘A’ check. As expected, all was normal, and I loaded up all the headsets etc. into the Arrow in readiness for my passengers arriving. Back in the Club I completed the temporary membership forms, and waited for Luned and Catrin, before quickly heading out to see the arrival of a large formation of RVs arriving and landing.

When they arrived we headed straight out to the aircraft, sending a message to the Duty Member as I did so. Once there, Catrin was loaded up in the back, before Luned and I got settled in the front seats. The pre-start checklist was completed without any problems, and the engine started easily. Our taxy clearance initially was to the D site apron for our checks, and I assumed we would then be either given a backtrack or a taxy via Charlie to the South side of the airfield.

Once the checks were completed, we were initially cleared to A3 due to an aircraft about to land on the grass runway. This isn’t a holding point I’m familiar with, so I was about to look for it on the taxy chart before I spotted it immediately in front of us, just off the D-site apron. As we approached the hold we were further cleared to A2, in preparation for a backtrack of 08. We didn’t have to wait long, and as I backtracked and turned into position I asked the FISO if a left turn out was possible. He was a little concerned at two aircraft that seemed to be joining to the North of the runway at very low level, so pointed these aircraft out to me.

As I stopped in position, the two aircraft seemed to sort themselves out and head back around to the deadside, so I announced I had them in sight, and began the takeoff roll. As I rotated they were well clear behind me and to the left, so I made the left turn to initially head towards Cirencester, before setting course direct to Gloucester. We climbed up to 3000 feet, which kept us well below the cloud, finding the skies more turbulent than I had expected on the run to Gloucester. In contact with Gloucester we passed through their overhead, and I had to ask the Controller to repeat his request to report at Great Malvern.

Not quite ideal conditions for flying

Not quite ideal conditions for flying

As we headed further North West and got clear of the built up areas, the turbulence eased off somewhat, and as we approached Great Malvern the Controller asked who we planned to contact next. I said we would try Shawbury, but weren’t expecting a reply, and he suggested we try them initially before contacting London Information if we received no response. We signed off at Great Malvern, and I attempted to make contact with Shawbury.

A helpful pilot on frequency confirmed that Shawbury were closed, and I decided not to bother contacting London for the remaining flight to Sleap. Sleap’s frequency seemed relatively quiet as I listened in, but as we turned at Ludlow I contacted them, hearing another aircraft joining to carry out some circuits. It took me a little thought to plan the overhead join from the South for runway 18, and Shawbury and then Sleap soon came in to view ahead. Catrin chose this time to ask how much longer it would be before we got there, as she needed the toilet again! Fortunately I was able to point out the airfield that was now off to our left, and she seemed to be able to hang on until we landed at least!

As I joined Overhead and descended on the deadside, the other aircraft was just taking off from a touch and go. I initially considered cutting inside him, but he turned Crosswind and Downwind earlier than I was expecting, so I decided to follow him around the circuit instead. At first I thought I would have to be careful not to catch him up, but he actually flew a very tight circuit which meant he was well out of the way by the time I turned Base.

I flew a slightly offset Final in order to keep clear of Nonely, and as I aligned myself with the runway I realised that I hadn’t yet lowered the flaps. I lowered them in stages, which brought us nicely onto an appropriate profile for landing. We came in for a nice gentle landing, and I announced I was backtracking the runway. The A/G operator asked me to vacate at Charlie, as the aircraft flying circuits was already coming around again for his Final approach!

We cleared the runway in good time, and as I worked out where the pumps were, I realised there was a large taildragger twin parked up at them. Mindful that Catrin needed the toilet, I turned back towards parking to try to get her out of the aircraft as soon as possible. However, just as I did this, the aircraft (which I later found out was an Avro Anson) started up and made ready to taxy. I pulled in behind him, shut down the engine, and let Luned and Catrin out so that they could head in and find the loo.

Avro Anson preparing to depart Sleap

Avro Anson preparing to depart Sleap

A helpful local offered to assist me in pulling the aircraft along the grass into position. In the meantime, another aircraft (a Long EZ I think) had pulled in and was starting to refuel. I waited for him to finish, and he helpfully explained the operation of the pump. I filled the Arrow with fuel, climbed back on board and taxyed the aircraft back to the parking area, before heading in to the office to settle the fuel and landing fee bill, before joining Luned and Catrin upstairs in the cafe.

Parked up at Sleap

Parked up at Sleap

We had a leisurely and tasty lunch, and I headed back out to the aircraft to carry out a transit check and check the fuel for any signs of water, before Luned and Catrin joined me. Luned agreed to sit in the back and let Catrin sit up front with me, with a view to giving her another go at the controls on the return flight. I also asked her if she’d like to have a go on the radio, which she seemed a little unsure of! We all got settled, and this time the engine took a couple of tries to get started. Once it was fired up, I spoke to the A/G operator to get the airfield info (still using runway 18) before carrying out the power checks in our parking space.

I initially thought I could use taxyway Alpha to get to the threshold of runway 18, but luckily spotted that the taxyway linking runway 23 and 18 was marked as disused on the airfield plate. I pulled up to Bravo instead, and the A/G immediately contacted me to see if I was ready for departure, as there was currently nothing to affect this. I told him that I still had a few checks to do, and once these were completed called him back to inform him I was now ready. There was still nothing to affect us, so I entered the runway and backtracked (almost heading off down runway 05/23 by mistake!), and turned around at the far end to get in to position.

I opted for a takeoff with two stages of flap due to the shorter runway (a mere 799 metres!), so applied full power on the brakes before beginning the takeoff roll. The takeoff was normal, and I raised the gear before retracting the flaps in stages (with the warning horn sounding annoyingly to remind me I had flaps deployed without the gear being down). We climbed away, and I again asked Catrin if she wanted to make the signing off call to Sleap. She eventually agreed, and as we established in the cruise she made the call to Sleap: “G-WS, changing en-route. Good day”. She got a chuckling reply from the A/G operator, and seemed really pleased with her first bit of R/T!

Catrin's first ever radio call

Catrin’s first ever radio call

And her reaction!

And her reaction!

Once we were established on the leg South to Ludlow, I pointed out the instruments Catrin needed to look at while flying (she still can’t really see over the instrument panel yet!), and handed over control. We meandered slightly on our way, climbing and descending a little as we continued. On the whole though, Catrin did a pretty good job, just requiring a few small corrections from me to get us back on track. As we approached Ludlow I took back control to make the turn towards Gloucester.

Ladies and gentlemen, First Officer Catrin Hawkins will be at the controls today...

Ladies and gentlemen, First Officer Catrin Hawkins will be at the controls today…

The clouds looked like they may be lowering a little, but we were up at 3000 feet and easily clear of the cloud above us. As we approached Great Malvern, I signed on with Gloucester to request a Basic Service. My response to his ‘pass your message’ wasn’t complete, and it took another exchange between us to confirm that I was routing via the Gloucester overhead. He asked me to report with 5nm to run, and to notify him of any changes in height.

As we continued, I heard (what I thought was) an unusually brief exchange between the Controller and G-BASJ, one of Bristol Aero Club’s Warriors, now operating in Gloucester. The entire conversation was ‘Gloucester Approach, G-BASJ’. ‘G-BASJ, Basic Service’. In hindsight, this was due to the fact that G-BASJ had just switched from Gloucester’s Tower to Approach frequency, and hence the Controller already had all of his details. However, this short exchange didn’t allow me to build up a picture of the other aircraft’s height or flight direction. This meant I wasn’t able to make any changes in my own level or track should there be a potential conflict.

It turned out that in fact there was, as we soon spotted G-BASJ about 100 to 150 feet above us, on a reciprocal track, passing down our right hand side close enough to read the registration. This is probably the closest I’ve been to another aircraft, and although I had no right to expect any traffic information from Gloucester while on a Basic Service, I do wonder if the Controller could have pointed out our converging tracks, particularly given that I was unable to use the R/T to build up a mental picture of their location as I normally would.

We continued through Gloucester’s overhead, having to descend slightly to remain clear of cloud. We were asked to report crossing the ridge, but the frequency became busy as I approached it, and the Controller eventually called me back to instruct me to call Kemble. Kemble seemed relatively busy with other joining traffic, and also the formation flight that I’d seen arrive earlier were making ready to depart. As we joined Overhead, the were just taking to the runway, and Luned got some nice shots of their formation takeoff and departure to the North.

Raven flight taking to the runway at Kemble

Raven flight taking to the runway at Kemble

Raven flight departing

Raven flight departing

I notified the FISO as I was turning Crosswind, but the frequency became suddenly busy, meaning I wasn’t able to make any further position reports until turning Base. The frequency again became busy as I approached the turn on to Final, but luckily the FISO had me in sight, and called me back to give me the wind information and my ‘Land at your discretion’ call. I responded with ‘Roger, gear down’, and brought us in for another nice landing despite a relatively tricky crosswind. I did my best to keep up the speed down to the far end of the runway, as I could hear other aircraft waiting to depart behind me.

As I vacated onto Alpha, the FISO instructed the Lyneham Cherokee to hold position on the D-site apron until I had passed, and we gave them a friendly wave as we taxyed by. The Bulldog had just returned from a flight, and was temporarily parked across the taxyway before the pilot pushed it back into its parking space, so I stopped short and shut down. We waited a few moments for the Bulldog to be moved out of the way before Luned and Catrin helped me push the Arrow back into its parking space. I then let them head into the Club office to wait in the warm, while I cleared all our gear out of the aircraft and put the cover back on. For a change I actually managed to note all the tacho readings and retrieve all of my gear without forgetting anything!

I dropped off the majority of our gear in my car boot, before heading into the office to complete the post-flight paperwork and pay for the day’s flying. We then headed back to our cars for the drive home to Swindon.

Tracks flown

Tracks flown

Outbound profile

Outbound profile

Return profile

Return profile

Despite the less than ideal conditions, we’d all had a really good day of flying. We’d managed to fit it in around Catrin’s hectic social schedule, and still make a good trip up to Sleap for lunch. Catrin had done well on the return leg taking another turn at the controls, and even using the radio for the first time. We might have another future pilot on our hands!

 

Total flight time today: 1:50
Total flight time to date: 310:20

Return of the dreaded local

April 1, 2017

After a late start to my flying in 2017 with the trip to Coventry, I was again on the verge of requiring a further currency check after another break from flying. Keen to put an end to this, and remove the need for yet another currency check, I booked the Arrow for a flight on an upcoming Sunday afternoon. An invite to a birthday party for Catrin on the Saturday meant that I could also try to get some flying in, and I booked an afternoon slot due to the Arrow already being booked in the morning.

Given that I only had the aircraft for 3 or 4 hours, I decided to concentrate on regaining all my currencies, with a view to heading off on a longer trip on the Sunday. Leading up to the flight, the weather forecast seemed a little unpredictable for the Saturday, with more settled conditions promised on the Sunday. I planned to carry out two circuits, before departing Kemble for a short local.

On the day of the flight, the forecast still suggested periods of showers and relatively low cloud. Sam phoned me in the morning asking if it was Ok for him to extend his booking by an hour or so, which I happily agreed to. As I headed to the airfield after completing my planning, the conditions seemed to suggest that I should be able to make a flight of some sort. On the way to Kemble I passed through some small localised showers, all the while with an eye on the cloud conditions in the skies above me. Although there was plenty of cloud around, it seemed well scattered, meaning I should easily be able to avoid it on any flight I chose to make.

I arrived at Kemble to find the Arrow airborne as expected, so completed the pre-flight paperwork, before sitting in the office listening in on the R/T to get plenty of warning for when the Arrow would return. Sadly Sam’s return was delayed even further than he had anticipated, and on hearing him arrive on frequency I headed out to the parking area and got ready to refuel the aircraft for a quick turnaround.

As the Arrow returned, I waited for it to be shutdown and secured, before setting about refuelling the aircraft. David (Sam’s instructor) warned me that they’d had a few problems with the P1 push-to-talk switch during the flight, but I opted to see how things seemed during the R/T on the ground, with a view to abandoning the flight should I have too much trouble. I at least knew that I could plug my headset into the connections on the other side, and continue using the PTT on the other yoke if necessary.

Once the aircraft was refuelled, I carried out a walkaround check, leaving sufficient time for the fuel to ‘settle’ before finishing with a fuel sample from all 3 of the aircraft’s fuel drains. Satisfied that there was no sign of contaminants in the fuel, I got myself settled and made ready to start the engine. During the initial radio calls I had no problems with the push-to-talk, and after being cleared taxyed to A1 for my power checks. The engine was still warm from the previous flight, so these were carried out without any need to wait.

Once cleared onto the runway, I made a last check of the engine instruments, before applying full power and beginning the takeoff roll. Rotation speed soon arrived, and I gently pulled back on the control column, applying right rudder as I did so to resist the aircraft’s tendency to turn as it left the ground. Climbing away, I maintained runway track, dabbing the brakes and retracting the gear once there was insufficient runway ahead to make a landing.

I had the circuit all to myself, and flew two nice circuits, each culminating in a nice gentle landing. It was nice to know that despite another near two month break, I could still remember how to fly! During the second circuit, the PTT switch started to cause trouble, but I was prepared for this, and executed my plan to plug into the P2 headset connectors, and use the PTT on the other control column.

I was a little slow raising the gear on my final circuit, but quickly noticed my mistake. I’d informed the FISO that I would be departing to the West, and as I climbed away I turned left, climbing to 3500 feet and setting course for the Severn Bridges. Although there was some cloud around, it was well above my current level, so I felt happy continuing the flight.

I changed frequency to Bristol Radar, setting the appropriate listening squawk, as I initially intended not to bother calling them for the short period I planned to be in their area. As I approached the Severn however, I heard other traffic on frequency approaching at a similar height, so re-set the squawk to 7000 and called Bristol for a Basic Service. He passed details of the other traffic to me, and despite keeping a good lookout for them, I never made visual contact. In order to reduce any risk of a problem, I climbed further to 4000 feet.

Approaching the River Severn

Approaching the River Severn

On reaching the Severn, I informed the Controller I was turning North, and was soon forced to descend to 3000 feet to pass under a rather threatening looking cloud. I encountered some light rain whilst under this cloud, but visibility remained good at all times. On passing Cinderford, I signed off with the Bristol Controller, and made contact with Gloucester in preparation for passing through their overhead.

Mixed conditions, and a pretty rainbow

Mixed conditions, and a pretty rainbow

Gloucester seemed quite quiet, with a single commercial inbound requesting a visual approach. I received a Basic Service, and was asked to report when overhead Gloucester. Initially I had a little trouble picking out the airfield, not helped by the fact that the compass appeared to be giving some strange readings. I’d been keeping the DI in sync, and this initially led me to fly an incorrect heading as I turned East towards Gloucester. A quick check of SkyDemon showed that it was in fact the compass that appeared incorrect, so I adjusted my track accordingly, then set the DI to the approximate track I was flying according to SkyDemon.

Threatening looking weather

Threatening looking weather

Gloucester soon appeared beneath the left wing, so I informed the Controller and set course for Chedworth. Again the compass / DI caused me some issues, but SkyDemon soon got those sorted out. As I approached Chedworth I switched frequency back to Kemble, making contact on the otherwise quiet frequency. Fortunately I quickly realised that I was in fact lining up on Aston Down, so reoriented myself and continued to the correct airfield!

The FISO warned me of reported glider traffic to the North of Kemble, and I initially planned to join Overhead as usual, so descended to 2000 feet on Kemble’s QFE. As the frequency was so quiet though, I asked the FISO if there was anything to affect a direct Left Base join, and on hearing he had no traffic to affect this, I descended further to 1000 feet, and set up to join Left Base. I took care to avoid the surrounding villages at this low level, and again came in for a nice gentle third landing of the day.

My backtrack to Alpha was approved, and I passed an autogyro trying to diagnose a technical problem on the D-Site apron. Sadly as I returned to our parking area, I heard him announce that they were unable to resolve the problem, and were turning to their parking area. I carried out the before shutdown checks, shut down the engine, and pushed the aircraft back to parking and put the covers back on.

Autogyro with a technical issue

Autogyro with a technical issue

I headed back to the Club to complete the final paperwork, then had a bit of a panic as I realised my phone was missing. Fortunately a few trips back and forth (and a phone call to Luned to get her to keep ringing it!) enabled me to locate it down between the passenger seat and the cockpit wall!

Track flown

Track flown

Flight profile

Flight profile

Despite some concerns about the weather forecast, I’d had a really enjoyable short flight today. All of my currencies were again reset, so hopefully I can now move on to make some more regular flights. Sadly, the two technical issues I had encountered meant I wasn’t confident in taking the aircraft on a longer trip the next day, so I informed Kev of the two problems, and cancelled my booking. Hopefully the write up of the next flight will be a bit more interesting!

Total flight time today: 1:05
Total flight time to date: 308:30

 

 

Flying out to visit a Nimrod

February 4, 2017

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!

Turning Final on our first circuit

Turning Final on our first circuit

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.

Landing at Coventry

Landing at Coventry

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!

Parked up at Coventry

Parked up at Coventry

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!

Familiar looking Sonar traces

Familiar looking Sonar traces

The fleet viewed from the Nimrod cockpit

The fleet viewed from the Nimrod cockpit

The gang with the Nimrod

The gang with the Nimrod

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.

Departing Coventry

Departing Coventry

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.

The Arrow safely parked up at Brize

The Arrow safely parked up at Brize

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.

Preparing to depart Brize in turn

Preparing to depart Brize in turn

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.

Deadside Join at Kemble

Deadside Join at Kemble

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.

Short Final at Kemble

Short Final at Kemble

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.

Tracks flown

Tracks flown

Leg 1 profile

Leg 1 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 3 profile

Leg 3 profile

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

2016 Summary

December 31, 2016

A summary of my flying during 2016:

My 2016 goals were:

  • 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

As least maintaining consistency, I’ve again failed to make the planned trip to the Continent. Also I was unable to make more use of an aircraft as a mode of transport, taking an overnight trip somewhere.

One enjoyable part of this year’s flying was the number of flights I made with inexperienced passengers. These included trips with a couple of youngsters to Hawarden and Conington, and another flight to Wellesbourne as a prize in a Silent Auction in aid of Catrin’s school PTA. These flights were very enjoyable and rewarding, so hopefully I can continue to make such flights in the coming year.

Another highlight was a mid-week trip with David to Skegness and Fenland. Both were very nice little grass airfields, and Skegness in particular could be used as the base for a very pleasant weekend away at the seaside with the family. Maybe I can try a bit harder to make that happen in 2017.

Sadly I flew almost no time in IMC this year (a total of around 15 minutes!). Not only that, due in part to the poor end to the year, my IMC rating has now expired, and I will need to renew it before being able to log any further time in IMC as PIC.

The main positive aspect of this years flying was that I at least managed to fly regularly. Although this year’s flying hours are pretty much the same as last year’s disappointing totals, all my flights were made between 28th February and 15th October meaning there was about 4 and a half months with no flying at all! If I had managed to start and end the year with some consistent flying, I should easily have exceeded the previous year’s totals by some margin. At least I managed to get by in 2016 with a single currency check (the first flight of the year), although I do now need a further check before I can start 2017’s flying.

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

  • Visit Caernarfon or another airfield for an extended stay
  • Take part in more ‘sociable’ flying like Club fly-outs or visits to fly-ins
  • Renew my IMC rating, and then make more use of it 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
  • Continue to fly more consistently and regularly, reducing the need for frequent currency checks

Total flying hours: 306:25
Hours P1: 228:50

A rare local, solo

October 15, 2016

All too quickly, a month had passed since my last flight, and an upcoming week away meant that two weekends were spoken for and unavailable for flying. Mindful of running out of currency, I booked an aircraft for the Sunday to try to get some flying done. In the days leading up to the flight, the weather forecast looked pretty grim, so the flight was rescheduled to the Saturday afternoon. A haircut appointment meant that the full day wasn’t available, so I had to make do with a short flight mid-afternoon.

I’d spoken to Josh recently, about taking him for another flight with his Grandmother, and she’d expressed an interest to fly over Weston-super-Mare. Today seemed an ideal opportunity to do a dummy run of some of that flight, requesting a Zone Transit of Bristol’s airspace down the English coast of the Bristol Channel. The forecast looked good for the flight, with some forecast poor weather on the way towards late afternoon. Knowing that I was only planning a quick local flight and heading into the forecast weather, I was happy to make the flight on the grounds that if I ended up in poor conditions I could just reverse my route to return to Kemble.

After completing the planning in the morning, I arrived at Kemble in the early afternoon after eating a light lunch on the way. Despite the current good conditions Kemble was fairly quiet, and I completed the paperwork in the Club’s office before checking out the aircraft and getting ready to leave. There were no issues during the walkaround, and I made sure to check fuel levels and take samples as this was the first flight of the day. For a change the Arrow’s engine started first time, and I was cleared to taxy to hold A1 for my checks. Another aircraft arrived behind me just as I completed the power checks, and on announcing ready I was cleared onto the runway to depart.

The first leg was direct from Kemble to the Severn Bridges, which was almost directly on runway heading when departing on Runway 26. I jinked left slightly to avoid some small built up areas as I climbed out, and climbed to around 3500 feet on the first leg. Once clear of Kemble I got the aircraft set up for the cruise, before contacting Bristol to request a Basic Service and Zone Transit. The Controller gave me a Basic Service and a squawk initially, asking me to report at the Severn Bridges. The frequency was fairly quiet, with just a commercial aircraft inbound to Bristol, and then the other aircraft that had just departed Kemble who was flying a similar route to me, but planning to fly below Bristol’s airspace.

Approaching the River Severn

Approaching the River Severn

The bridges were easy to spot from a distance, and as I approached them I contacted the Controller to inform him I was heading South West towards Bridgewater, following the coast and descending to 2500 feet. I was told to ‘remain outside Controlled airspace until cleared’, and continued on towards Avonmouth and Clevedon. As I passed under the first part of the CTA (that started at 4000 feet) the Controller came back on frequency, and when he started with ‘Due to Bristol inbound and departing aircraft…’ I was expecting to be refused the Transit, and prepared to descend to 1250 feet to pass beneath the airspace. However, he continued ‘cleared Transit of Bristol Controlled Airspace, not above 2000 feet, routing down the coast’. I continued my descent down to 1900 feet, making a note of my clearance so that every time I looked down I would see my cleared height!

Passing Avonmouth

Passing Avonmouth

As I continued South West and then South down the coast, I passed by Portishead, Cleveland and then Weston-super-Mare. The further South I travelled the worse the visibility got, and I passed through some light rain showers on the way. Behind me the weather was still clear, so I was happy to continue knowing that I always had the option or reversing my route.

The pier at Weston-super-Mare

The pier at Weston-super-Mare

Deteriorating visibility to the South

Deteriorating visibility to the South

After 20 minutes or so I approached Bridgewater, and informed the Controller I was turning towards Frome, climbing (hopefully!) up to 3500 feet to get out of what I hoped was just some low-level murk. The Controller asked me to report at Frome, and as I continued on the leg the skies ahead became noticeably lighter. It wasn’t long before I was back in clear skies, and on reaching Frome I reported my position to the Bristol Controller, requesting a frequency change back to Kemble in readiness for the arrival.

Conditions much better to the East

Conditions much better to the East

I set course for Lyneham, and on this leg got a good view of a White Horse off to my right, and Colerne off to my left, with the River Severn clearly visible in the distance. I passed just to the South of Lyneham, enabling me to get a nice photograph of the airfield off to my left, showing the expanse of solar panels to the North of the main runway, as well as showing that all of the runways still appeared to be in good condition.

White Horse off to the right

White Horse off to the right

Colerne with the River Severn in the distance

Colerne with the River Severn in the distance

Former RAF Lyneham

Former RAF Lyneham

Turning North from Lyneham, I contacted Kemble to find they were now operating off runway 08, with no other aircraft on frequency. I asked the FISO for permission to carry out some circuits (it seemed a good opportunity to carry out 3 takeoffs and landings to fully reset my passenger currency). These were granted, and to make things even easier I was offered a Downwind Join, which I happily accepted. I passed just South West of Oaksey Park, before trying to judge the appropriate point to turn left and join the Downwind leg of the circuit.

I carried out the before-landing checks as normal, and came quite close to lowering the flaps while exceeding the flap limiting speeds. Normally this isn’t a factor, as I would have slowed down on the Deadside Descent, ensuring that the remainder of the circuit was flown well within the limit for lowering the flaps. This time however I was still slowing down on the Downwind leg, and luckily checked my airspeed as I reached for the flap lever to automatically lower them as I made ready to turn Base.

Another aircraft was approaching the circuit as I turned, aiming to also join Downwind. I continued on to Final, getting lined up nicely despite the almost 90 degree crosswind from the South. I was a little late lowering the final stage of flap (at least the Reds, Blues, Greens, Flaps check worked!) and my first landing of the day was a little firm and flat as I battled some turbulence down near the runway. I cleaned up the aircraft, before applying full power again and taking off for another try. The other two circuits were unremarkable, but the tracks flown were very consistent (if perhaps a little wide, although I think that the noise abatement circuit means that this was probably actually correct). Similarly, both landings were nothing special, perfectly safe but a little firmer than I would have liked.

After the final landing, I asked the FISO to taxy to Hotel site where the Lyneham aircraft are parked. I was somewhat surprised when he asked me to come to a stop on the runway, fearing that he may have spotted some kind of aircraft issue that I was unaware of. However it was just the fact that one of the airfield Fire Engines was waiting to cross the runway onto the Charlie taxyway, meaning he was blocking the taxyway I wanted to take to get back to parking. I came to a stop, allowing him to cross, before vacating at Alpha and taxying back to the parking area. I carried out the shutdown checks, before positioning the aircraft at the bowser in readiness for refuelling.

As I prepared the bowser and extended the fuel hose, I was horrified to learn that the fuel cap on the left wing wasn’t seated correctly, and only one of the retaining lugs was correctly engaged (you can clearly see this in the Avonmouth photograph above). Somehow, during the ‘A’ check, I had failed to correctly replace the cap after carrying out the final fuel drain check (pouring the drained fuel back into the fuel tank in the left wing). This could have had potentially serious consequences if the cap had become dislodged during flight, not least that it would have meant having to source a replacement fuel cap!

I think this is probably the most serious pre-flight check failure I’ve had since I started flying. As ever, it was a clear reminder how important it is to carry out a thorough pre-flight inspection. Most infuriating was the fact that this was actually a ‘fault’ that I had caused myself, purely due to a small slip in not replacing the fuel cap correctly after checking levels and fuel quality. Slightly shocked, I completed refuelling the aircraft before pushing it back into its parking space and securing it. Just to twist the knife in one final wrinkle, I made it back to the car on my way to the office before realising that I hadn’t made a note of the final tacho reading, so had to go back to the aircraft, partially remove the cover and make a note of the reading! I headed into the Club to complete the paperwork and settle the bill, before heading home.

Track flown

Track flown

Flight profile

Flight profile

On the whole I was fairly pleased with how this flight had gone. I’d been aware of poorer weather approaching, but made sure that my planned route gave me plenty of scope to abort the flight safely should the weather deteriorate. Even when the weather did become slightly worse during the flight, I always had the option of clearer weather behind me towards Kemble, and I’d executed the Zone Transit without any problems. Although my landings were nothing to write home about, they were all perfectly safe despite a month without flying, and the flight was only marred by the failure to correctly secure the fuel cap before flight. As always, I hope that the mistake can help me improve for future flights, and I will definitely be making a last check of the fuel caps from the cockpit in future before taking flight!

Total flight time today: 1:25
Total flight time to date: 306:25

 

A flying family again!

September 11, 2016

After a busy month of flying in July, August turned out to be a month with no flying at all, as family holidays and an annoying cough prevented me from doing any flying. Mindful of the fact that it had been over two years since our last flight together as a family, I was keen to try to get the whole family flying again. Catrin had again started to show more interest in flying, and was eager to be allowed to sit in the front and maybe even have a try at the controls. I booked an aircraft for a Sunday, as the weather forecast for the Saturday was pretty poor (and turned out to be fairly accurate too!).

Catrin had just started back at school, so initially the plan was for me to fly solo. However, the poor weather on the Saturday meant that we’d all had a fairly quiet day, and managed to get most of Catrin’s homework out of the way. On the proviso that we didn’t go somewhere too far, Luned agreed that we could once again try to fly somewhere all together. I looked around for some potential destinations, and eventually decided on Northampton Sywell, an airfield I hadn’t visited since February 2015 when I went there with Charlie.

I planned a fairly direct route to Sywell, with a more circuitous one on the return leg. Given Catrin’s recent interest in F1, I decided to overfly Silverstone, and then detour via Brize and Membury in order to do some sightseeing over Swindon before returning to Kemble. A NOTAM check showed that the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight would be carrying out a fly past of two areas that were potentially on our return route, so I took care to plan a route that avoided these areas. Finishing the planning on the Sunday morning, I marked up the chart and phoned Sywell for PPR. The wind was unusually from the South, which helpfully favoured the main ‘hard’ runway at Sywell, but did mean there was a potential for a crosswind on returning to Kemble.

On arrival at Kemble, I got the girls settled in the Club, before going out to check out the aircraft and load up most of our gear while they did some more homework practice. After retrieving a PLB in order to comply with the new regulations that require all aircraft to carry either an ELT or PLB, we all walked out to the aircraft and boarded. This was made slightly more complicated than usual, as with Catrin sitting in the front next to me, this meant that she had to be the last person on board. After a bit of juggling we all got safely on board, and Catrin helpfully held the door open while I carried out the pre-start checklist.

Engine started, ready for the off

Engine started, ready for the off

With the door closed, the engine started (as usual) on its second try, and we spent a little while trying to get Luned’s microphone working correctly on her headset (it seems to have developed a loose connection somewhere) and all the volume levels such that we could comfortably hear each other. We were given taxy clearance initally to Alpha 4 to cross for runway 08, and as we approached we were immediately cleared to cross onto the Charlie taxyway to head to the South side of the airfield. Power checks were completed normally, and we held briefly before being cleared onto the runway to depart. I pointed out the row of switches for fuel pump, landing light etc. to Catrin, telling her I would ask her to turn them on and off during the flight. Another aircraft was approaching the overhead from the North East as we waited (our departure direction) so I took care to get a picture for his height before we took off and turned left towards the disused airfield at Chedworth.

Luned spotted the approaching aircraft high to our right as I departed at around 1500 feet to remain below him, and once we were clear I continued the climb towards our planned cruising altitude of 3500 feet. We passed through some cloud on our way to Chedworth, and a little more after setting course towards Banbury. Catrin was eager to have a go at the controls, but I explained that I needed to get clear of the clouds and talk to Brize before I could give her control. After 5 minutes or so we came out of the patchy cloud into a clear blue sky, and I explained to Catrin how the controls worked and what she should do.

We’d put her child seat in the front with a cushion on top, but sadly she was still not quite tall enough to be able to see over the coaming to fly ‘correctly’ using visual references. I pointed out the ‘clock’ (altimeter) and the heading bug on the DI, and asked her to try and keep us at the same height, and with the arrow on the DI always pointing straight up. She took control and obviously had a tendency to pull back slightly on the control column, as we slowly gained altitude. At one point I explained to Catrin how to lose some height, telling her to push forward on the control column. She did this a little more exuberantly than she should have, prompting an exclamation of alarm from Luned in the back seat! I started to maintain gentle pressure on the controls on my side, showing Catrin just how little movement was actually necessary to make the corrections required. She later explained to me that even though she couldn’t see over the top of the instrument panel, she was looking at “the picture of the little aeroplane so that I could see we were flying straight”. A potential instrument pilot in the making!

Catrin's first go at the controls

Catrin’s first go at the controls

She kept control as we passed Banbury, and I signed off with Brize in order to make contact with Sywell. I stole a quick look over at Catrin to see her beaming face, before she turned and said to me “I can’t believe that I was just really flying a plane!”. Sywell were still operating on the expected runway, so I took a quick look back at the Pooley’s plate in my kneeboard to ensure I had the correct approach in my head, before continuing on towards Northampton. I pointed out Silverstone to Catrin off to our right, and it took her a little while to find it. I thought I could see the occasional glint of sunlight reflecting on cars around the circuit, but it was hard to tell at this distance.

Flying Family Selfie!

Flying Family Selfie!

Approaching Sywell, there was another aircraft turning Downwind as we descended on the deadside, and Luned kept an eye on him for me so that we were aware of his position. As we turned Base he was just touching down, and as we turned Final I announced to the FISO that I had him in sight on the runway. He had obviously just reached the end and turned off, leading to a somewhat bemused FISO commenting “Not aware of one on the runway…”!

Approaching Sywell

Approaching Sywell

I left it a little late to lower the final stage of flap (at least the ‘reds, blues, three greens, flaps’ check caught it!) and my landing was a little long and slightly firmer than I would have liked. We continued to the end of the runway before taxying up to the pumps so that I could refuel the aircraft, hopefully with sufficient that we wouldn’t need to refuel again on our return to Kemble. I went in to the office to pay the landing fee, then walked Luned and Catrin over to the grass area in front of the Pilot’s Mess before returning to the aircraft to refuel at the self service pumps. Once this was done, I pushed the Arrow into a parking space alongside a very smart looking Falcon jet, before rejoining Luned and Catrin and heading upstairs for lunch.

Parked up next to big brother

Parked up next to big brother

The cafe seemed fairly busy, and the sole member of staff was having a job keeping up with the steady flow of business. It was barely 12:30 though, so we were in no real rush. We waited patiently for our food, taking our time eating and watching the comings and goings on the airfield. After finishing her chicken nuggets and chips, Catrin returned to the counter to choose a slice of chocolate cake as her dessert!

Once finished, we all headed back to the aircraft, and I had Luned and Catrin wait alongside while I carried out the checks. Catrin was sitting in the back for the return leg, and we ensured she had everything with her to amuse herself before putting her rucksack into the baggage area. Sadly we later found out that I’d left the camera in the rucksack, so all the photos from the return leg were taken on Luned’s phone.

There was a flurry of activity as we got the engine started, and we followed three other aircraft to hold B2 to carry out our checks. There were a number of aircraft arriving also, meaning it took a little while before it was our turn to depart. Another aircraft was just climbing out as we took to the runway, agreeing to an intersection departure so as not to inconvenience the aircraft in the circuit that was about to turn Base. I left a short gap to ensure that the other aircraft had cleared the climbout path, before applying power and beginning our takeoff roll. The noise abatement procedures call for a climb to 500 feet before turning, but I probably left this a little longer than I should have. I turned left to try to avoid what I thought was the noise sensitive area, before turning back on track to head almost due South to remain clear of the notified BBMF activity.

As we crossed the M1, we spotted Silverstone off to our right, and turned to head for it. Catrin got some good views of the track, even watching some cars heading around it (it appeared to be some sort of track day). We began an orbit to give her a better look, and Luned spotted a glider that appeared to be thermalling over the track. We kept a good eye on him as we carried out the orbit, before spotting a second glider as we continued on track to the West towards Banbury. We spotted Turweston and Hinton in the Hedges off to our left, before descending to 2500 feet near Banbury and making contact with Brize Zone to request our Zone transit. The Controller asked us to report approaching the Zone, and we continued towards Chipping Norton initally, before turning South towards Brize. We spotted the familiar landmarks of Enstone and Little Rissington, as well as a further group of gliders high off to our left, orbiting just below the cloud layer. The air was noticeably more turbulent down at our level, but we continued on, suffering through the occasional bumps.

Track day at Silverstone

Track day at Silverstone

I’d already explained to Catrin that if the radio got busy I would be able to isolate her from the intercom, and she obviously remembered this and asked for this to be done so that she could entertain her in peace! This at least allowed Luned and I to chat amongst ourselves for a while! Catrin was told that she should tap Luned on the shoulder if she needed to talk to us. I called Brize again with 5nm to the boundary, and we were cleared to transit the Zone with no altitude restriction. At some point I had passed Luned the chart, and I had her practice her navigation, asking her to spot the familiar (to me) sights of Burford and Faringdon as we continued. Once clear of the Zone we then looked for Membury, first spotting the M4 off to our right before finding the mast in the ground clutter. I carried out a wide turn over the airfield at Membury, before spotting another aircraft low behind us, perhaps setting up for an approach into there.

Passing RAF Brize Norton

Passing RAF Brize Norton

Redlands’ parachute aircraft had been heard on the Brize frequency preparing for a number of drops earlier, so as usual I remained to the South of the M4, ensuring we were well clear of them. As we approached Swindon, we had Catrin put her entertainment away, and she helped us spot familiar landmarks from the air. The old Renault Building and the Link Centre are always easy landmarks to pick out, and Catrin’s school is also very distinctive from the air. Catrin managed to spot this, and as I orbited Luned managed to spot our house, helpfully made slightly clearer to to me suggesting that she move her car onto the drive before we left home!

Shaw Ridge Primary School

Shaw Ridge Primary School

I can see my house from here!

I can see my house from here!

On previous flights I have continued West from Swindon before turning North around Malmesbury (in order to avoid overflying Oaksey). However there was an air display notified at Charlton Park, and this route would have taken us very close to there. I had already decided that I would therefore fly North West from Swindon, aiming to remain clear of Oaksey and approach Kemble from the East around the Cotswold Water Park.

Kemble seemed relatively quiet as we approached, and as we joined Overhead there was another aircraft about to turn Downwind. After descending on the Deadside and reporting Crosswind, we again located him turning Base, meaning we had plenty of spacing and hence were unlikely to catch him up. The before landing checks were carried out on the Downwind leg, and Catrin got a bit chatty so I isolated myself from the intercom, allowing her and Luned to talk amongst themselves as I carried on around the circuit.

Again I was a little late lowering the final stage of flap, and realised that I had another aircraft behind me in the circuit. After a bit of thought I decided it would be better if I were to land long on runway 26, leaving a relatively short taxy to the far end, enabling me to clear the runway as quickly as possible and hopefully avoid inconveniencing the aircraft behind me. This time the landing was a lot smoother, and the FISO instructed me to vacate to the right and taxy back to the parking area using the grass Golf taxyway.

We taxyed back towards Lyneham’s parking, and I positioned the aircraft in front of the fuel bowser in case we needed to refuel, before having to wait a little while to be able to make the ‘Closing down’ call on the radio. I was on the verge of not bothering with this (it’s not strictly necessary) but luckily a gap opened up enabling me to get the call in. Catrin helped me push the aircraft back into its parking space, before putting all the chocks in place and helping me with the cover. Once this was done, we returned briefly to the Club to settle up all the post-flight paperwork, before retiring to the Thames Head for a quick drink that eventually led to us staying there for our evening meal also!

Tracks flown

Tracks flown

Leg 1 profile

Leg 1 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 2 profile

It was really good to have all the family back in the aircraft with me, and Catrin’s delight at having been given control of the aircraft was a real joy to see. Hopefully we can try to find more time in the future to make more such trips, and perhaps even get Luned back into the swing of doing some of the flying after her lessons with Dave several years ago. Today’s flying was really enjoyable, once the initial area of cloud was cleared conditions really couldn’t have been much more perfect. May there be many more days like this in future!

Total flight time today: 2:15
Total flight time to date: 305:00

Landaway in the name of charity

July 30, 2016

After a successful charity flight last year, I again offered a flight up as a raffle prize in aid of Catrin’s school PTA. For some reason, the winner of the raffle never came forward to claim their prize, which was a bit of a shame. I offered a further flight, and this time the school awarded this as a result of a blind auction, which turned out to be a much better idea.

The successful bidder made a very generous bid, so thanks to a relaxation of the rules governing charity flights now allowing landaways, I decided to make this flight a bit more than a simple hour’s local flight. The winner of the auction contacted me in good time, and we met up briefly for a chat so that I could explain what was possible. We eventually settled on a date towards the end of July, for him and his partner to come flying with me.

Initially we were booked in one of the Club’s Warriors due to the Arrow being unavailable. However, that booking was cancelled, and after a quick check of the heights of the two passengers (the Arrow has limited leg room in the rear if the front seat occupant needs their seat to be positioned towards the rear of its travel) I moved the booking to the Arrow for the flight.

It had been over a year since I last visited Wellesbourne with Kev, and with the airfield under threat of closure it seemed a good chance to visit and show my support. The airfield cafe always provides a good lunch, and the airfield is handily placed to be a fairly short flight from Kemble, as well as giving a number of options for sightseeing enroute.

Flying in the middle of Summer can often provide some challenging flying conditions, with prolonged periods of high pressure causing reduced visibility, and the high temperatures leading to turbulent skies. However, the weather for this flight really couldn’t have been much better. In the days leading up to the flight there had been some spells of rain, which had led to excellent visibility. Also, the forecast temperature was slightly cooler than it had been, hopefully giving a smoother ride for my first time passengers.

I initially planned the route to go from Kemble to Chedworth, taking in Banbury and Silverstone enroute, before heading up to Wellesbourne. However, on checking the NOTAMs in the days before the flight I realised that there were some air displays scheduled at Silverstone that day, and some further digging showed that their timings were likely to coincide with the times we would be in the area. As such I removed Silverstone from the route, and instead planned to fly from Banbury direct to Gaydon and then Wellesbourne.

As usual the majority of the planning was carried out in the days leading up to the flight, just leaving me to mark up the chart, print out the plogs and do a last check of NOTAMs in the morning. The weather forecasts proved to be correct, so I let my passengers know that the flight was a go, before heading up to Kemble.

As we had three adults on board for a change, this meant I couldn’t fill the aircraft with fuel and still remain in the weight and balance envelope for the aircraft. However I was able to fill up one of the fuel tanks, leaving the other at tabs. This gave us a total of 41 US gallons on board, giving us sufficient fuel for a three hour flight with a good reserve (the planning showed the total duration was likely to be around an hour and a half).

My passengers Marc and Sam arrived just as I was finishing off the refuelling, and they helped me push the Arrow back into its parking place.

Pushing back to parking after refuelling

Pushing back to parking after refuelling

We then headed into the Club’s offices to complete all the necessary paperwork, and I made a quick call to Wellesbourne to check that all was Ok for our visit. They had nothing unusual to tell me about, but did mention that they were quite busy (which is definitely not unusual whenever I go there to visit!). The office was quite busy with other pilots preparing for a flight, so I gave them a safety briefing as we walked back to the aircraft. Once there, I carried out a thorough ‘A’ check while they waited patiently, and we then boarded the Arrow, with Marc sitting alongside me in the front, and Sam in the rear.

I gave them the final briefing regarding operation of the door, evacuation procedures and the like, before getting ready to start the engine. Luckily I checked the intercom out before starting the engine, as initially we had some problems where Sam couldn’t hear us in the rear. A bit of investigation soon showed the the intercom had been left in ‘Crew’ isolation mode (meaning the rear seats were disconnected from the front), and once rectified we could all hear each other successfully.

The engine took a couple of goes to get started, then we were cleared to taxy to A3 in readiness to cross to the South side of the airfield to get to the hold for runway 08. The frequency was quite busy, and I heard the FISO clear another aircraft into position on the runway as we crossed. I made sure to report that we were vacated, allowing him to clear the other aircraft to depart with minimum delay.

Taxying past a 747 parked at Kemble

Taxying past a 747 parked at Kemble

The power checks were all completed normally, and after a quick check that everyone was good to go, I announced that we were ready. The FISO cleared us to backtrack, and as we did I double checked that he had no known traffic to affect a left turn out direct onto our planned track.

The takeoff roll and climbout were all normal, but it was noticeable that we were heavier than normal with three adults on board. The rate of climb was noticeable lower than usual, but certainly nothing to be concerned about. We climbed up to 2500 feet, finding it a little difficult to sign off with Kemble as the frequency became busy again.

Climbing away from Kemble

Climbing away from Kemble

We signed on with Brize for a Basic Service, initially being asked to ‘Standby’ by the Controller. When he came back to us, I had to correct one letter of our callsign, but we were granted a Basic Service and assigned a squawk. I’d already given Marc a quick brief of the controls before we departed, so after checking everything was clear with him I handed control over to him.

Marc at the controls

Marc at the controls

I’d allowed us to drift slightly to the right of our planned track, and as I pointed out Little Rissington to them I realised that we were going to pass much closer to it than planned. I had Marc carry out a quick course correction, and we continued on towards Banbury, spotting it easily off in the distance. Marc made a good job of maintaining our course, even coping well with a few small pockets of turbulence that caused a relatively sharp bank to the left on one occasion.

Passing Little Rissington

Passing Little Rissington

As we approached Banbury, I reset the heading bug to point to the next leg, and asked Marc to carry out a left turn onto the appropriate course once we were overhead the town. I signed off with Brize in readiness to contact Wellesbourne, the Controller helpfully reminding me that Hinton were active with parachuting today. As Marc made the turn towards Gaydon I made contact with Wellesbourne to get their details, discovering that they were still operating on 36 with a left hand circuit, meaning we’d be approaching from the ‘wrong’ direction from Gaydon for an Overhead Join.

Gaydon was a little difficult to spot, as we were approaching with the main runway at right angles to us. Also, there didn’t seem to be as many vehicles on the ground there as I remember from last time I was in the area. I took control back from Marc as we passed overhead, before turning us towards Wellesbourne and descending to 2000 feet for the Overhead Join.

Descending Deadside at Wellesbourne

Descending Deadside at Wellesbourne

The frequency was suprisingly quiet as we approached, with one aircraft in the circuit as we joined overhead. As we began the wide descent on the Deadside I spotted him on Short Final, and he touched down as we turned Crosswind. We had the circuit to ourselves after that, and I did my best to follow Wellesbourne’s requested noise abatement circuit. I had to wait a little to make my Downwind and Final calls due to other traffic on the frequency, and on Final I requested that we be allowed to taxy to the far end of the airfield rather than taking the first left part way down the runway.

Short Final at Wellesbourne

Short Final at Wellesbourne

This was approved by the FISO, and I brought us in for a deliberately long landing, touching down a little more firmly than I would have liked. The FISO she asked us if we were visiting a specific company on the airfield. I responded ‘Negative, we just wanted to get a look at the Vulcan’. She chuckled a little, and responded ‘Ok, feel free to pause there for a while if you like!’. We vacated at the far end, and I paused for the after landing checks in front of the Vulcan, allowing Marc to get some decent photos.

Vulcan XM655 at Wellesbourne

Vulcan XM655 at Wellesbourne

The FISO went off frequency for a short period, meaning we had to find our own space to park. I chose the first space I found, somewhat further North of the Tower than I had parked previously. After shutting down we all disembarked, before strolling down the taxyway in the thoroughly pleasant conditions. I headed up to the Tower to settle the landing fee, chatting for a while to the staff up there while Marc and Sam took in the scenery.

Vulcan XM655 at Wellesbourne

qVulcan XM655 at Wellesbourne

We retired to the Cafe for lunch, all of us choosing a combination of sausage and / or bacon sandwiches. We had quite a wait for the food to arrive, but we were in no rush and certainly weren’t upset as a result. We all had a good chat about the kinds of flying I tend to do, with Marc and Sam both expressing an interest to fly with me again in the future. Our food arrived as the queue to order grew ever longer, and was excellent as ever.

We talked while we ate, discussing various aspects of flying and the practicalities of flying in the UK. Once we had all finished, we headed back to the aircraft, and I carried out a quick walkaround check before we all boarded. It was Sam’s turn in the front, and once we were all settled I got the engine started easily and requested departure and taxy information from the FISO. We taxyed past a helicopter with rotors running, and I carried out the power checks near the hold for 36. While I did this, I noticed that the low volts light was illuminated again, and once the checks were complete I reset the master switch, which cleared the light.

On the ground at Wellesbourne - low volts light illuminated

On the ground at Wellesbourne – low volts light illuminated

As I became ready to depart, the helicopter was given his departure clearance, so I decided to wait until he had taken off before reporting ready myself. There was a slight delay before the helicopter became airborne, and when I reported ready the FISO reminded us of the required right turn after departure to avoid one of the noise sensitive areas on the climbout from runway 36. We took to the runway and began our takeoff roll, and as we rotated I noticed that the low volts light was on again. I put it out of my mind temporarily to concentrate on the takeoff and circuit, and we spotted another aircraft descending on the deadside as we completed the noise abatement turn and turned left into the circuit.

Climbing away from Wellesbourne after the noise abatement turn

Climbing away from Wellesbourne after the noise abatement turn

Normally I would continue onto the Downwind leg before climbing out of the circuit, but that would have put us in close proximity to the arriving aircraft. I decided to climb immediately, informing the FISO of this, and the fact that I was visual with the other aircraft. We climbed up to 3000 feet, and set course to the South for our return to Kemble. Marc spotted a glider off to our left as we departed, helpfully pointing it out and giving me good instructions as to where to find it. Sam also spotted an aircraft close by to our right, passing below us as we continued on course.

Once we were established in the cruise, my focus returned to the low volts light, which was still lit. I repeated the procedure of resetting the master switch (after powering down most of the avionics), and this time the light remained extinguished, even after powering up the avionics again. If it had remained lit, I would have had to take the decision to either return to Wellesbourne, or continue on to Kemble aiming to reduce the power drain, potentially arriving at Kemble non-radio should the battery power become depleted.

As we continued South, I gave Sam a quick brief on the controls, before handing control over to her. She immediately spotted another aircraft ahead of us and to the right, so I took back control to position us behind him. Once it was clear our flight paths weren’t converging, I handed back control to Sam and she flew us on towards Brize while I made contact on the Zone frequency to request our Zone Transit.

Sam's turn at the controls

Sam’s turn at the controls

My initial call was blocked by another aircraft on frequency, and I had to repeat the request. While negotiating the initial ‘pass your message’ response and setting the squawk, we approached to just a few miles away from the Northern boundary of Brize’s Class  airspace. I was about to contact the Controller to remind him of our position, when he cleared us into their airspace, not above 3000 feet. That was the level we were cruising at, so I helped Sam reduce our height by a couple of hundred feet, explaining the operation of the altimeter to her as we did so. As we entered Brize’s Zone, she handed control back to me, and I positioned the aircraft so that they would get a good view down the right hand side.

Passing overhead RAF Brize Norton

Passing overhead RAF Brize Norton

Unusually, the Controller did not announce as we entered and then left Controlled Airspace, but once clear to the South I pointed out Faringdon, and Marc identified the Defence Academy at Shrivenham off to our right. A new Controller queried our routing to Kemble (via Membury), and as we approached the Motorway Services I signed off with Brize. Helpfully the Controller reminded us that Redlands was active (I’d heard their parachuting aircraft on frequency as we made the initial contact), and we turned overhead Membury to head West towards Wroughton to remain South of the M4.

Wroughton is now another former airfield that is covered in solar panels, so was easy to spot. From there we identified various recognisable areas of Swindon, before heading towards the Link Centre and the old Renault building to spot the school and Sam’s house. They both quickly oriented themselves, pointing out various other areas of the town that they recognised from this new (to them!) vantage point.

Shaw Ridge Primary School

Shaw Ridge Primary School

After taking a few photos and completing the orbit, we headed West in order to approach Kemble from the South, hence avoiding getting too close to Oaksey Park. I contacted Kemble to inform them that we’d be approaching from Marlborough, and getting the arrival details we needed. I quickly realised my mistake, contacting him to correct myself and inform him we were in fact approaching from Malmesbury, receiving the response ‘Yes, I’d worked that out for myself!’

On the way to Malmesbury Marc spotted Lyneham off to the left, and we also flew near the WOMAD music festival that was taking place at Charlton Park. Marc spotted another airfield ahead and to our left, which I identified as Hullavington, and we turned North at Malmesbury to head into Kemble. They were still operating on runway 08, meaning we were nicely oriented for an Overhead Join. The circuit sounded quite busy as we approached, but we were able to slot in easily with the other traffic.

I carried out a nice tidy circuit, with another aircraft landing and backtracking as we turned onto the Downwind leg. The before landing checklist was completed normally, and the Base and Final turns got us nicely aligned with the runway. Knowing I would be taxying to the far end, I deliberately aimed for a point some way down the runway, and brought us in for a second landing that was again a little firmer than I would have liked!

We were cleared to taxy back to Lyneham’s parking area via Alpha, and as we approached the other aircraft I spotted Luned and Catrin waiting for us on the other side of the fence. We shut down near the pumps to refuel, and I went to get them so that Catrin could be my helpful assistant during the refuel and push back of the aircraft. She helped me tie the aircraft down and get the chocks in place, before we put the cover back on as Kev arrived back in one of the Club’s Warriors after having taken some people up for an experience flight.

PIlot, passengers and Dad's little helper after a very successful flight!

PIlot, passengers and Dad’s little helper after a very successful flight!

I bade farewell to Marc and Sam, and they expressed an interest in flying with me again. It’s always nice to have interested passengers to accompany me should I have seats spare, so I’ll definitely be in touch with them in future should the opportunity arrive. Luned, Catrin and I walked back to the Club so that I could complete all the post-flight paperwork, before we joined in the Club’s barbequeue, talking briefly to Kev’s wife and son while Catrin and Luned played some tennis!

Tracks flown

Tracks flown

Leg 1 profile

Leg 1 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 2 profile

I was pleased to have completed another Charity flight, being able to introduce first-time flyers to light aircraft is a great feeling, particularly when they seem to enjoy the flight as much as Marc and Sam had done. I’ll definitely be offering further flights to raise funds, and hope that my future passengers get as much enjoyment out of the experience as Marc and Sam had.

Total flight time today: 2:00
Total flight time to date: 302:45

A mid-week day at the beach

July 6, 2016

After a good spell of flying, I’d managed to go almost 6 weeks without a flight due to one reason and another. Keen to put an end to this dry spell and avoid another currency check, I arranged with work to allow me to take a short notice day’s holiday, only confirming it the day before once weather and aircraft availability coincided. After a busy period with his own work, David managed to find time in his schedule to accompany me, and in the days leading up to the flight we discussed various options for destinations.

I initially discarded a possible trip to Redhill due to the RA(T) in place for the Farnborough air show. Also a visit to Booker (Wycombe Air Park) and some other local airfields was abandoned due to the NOTAM about a major gliding competition in progress at Booker. We’d discussed East Anglia as a possible destination in the past, but looking at the various airfields available showed that most of them were grass and (relatively) short.

After a bit more digging David suggested a visit to Skegness. This is a grass strip located within a caravan park, with 650m and 799m runways. These seemed ample to take an Arrow into (we’d been to Headcorn in the Arrow previously – admittedly much longer but we’d had ample room to spare there). Keen to reset all my currencies in one day, I also added Fenland as a second stop (600m and 670m runways) for fuel on the return leg.

The route was complicated slightly by the RA(T) in place for the Royal International Air Tattoo at Fairford. Kemble lies within the RA(T), but has 4 pre-defined entry and exit lanes enabling flights to still be carried out. I spoke to a helpful chap at Kemble to clarify some of the finer details of the procedures during the early planning stages, and everything suggested we could expect the flight to go ahead as planned, with the only minor exception of possibly having to depart from Kemble to the North West initially, should the North East exit lane be unavailable.

As ever, the majority of the planning and route selection was carried out the night before, leading to a simple visual route of Kemble -> Northleach Roundabout -> Banbury -> Rushden -> Peterborough Conington -> Fenland -> Skegness. In order to avoid the Danger Area in The Wash, I planned to follow the North Western coast of The Wash up to Skegness, rather than routing direct from Fenland.

After getting Catrin off to school, I completed the final planning, NOTAM check, weather check and marked up the route on the chart. I managed to get hold of someone at Fenland before leaving the house to check for any last minute hitches (other than a Farmers’ Fly In, there was nothing unusual), but was unable to reach anyone at Skegness before leaving for Kemble. I left a message on one of the listed numbers, and a very helpful chap phoned back as I was driving to the airfield. After pulling over he gave me a very thorough brief on the use of the airfield, and also some tips as to what to do while we were there.

On arrival at Kemble, I checked through the aircraft’s paperwork before completing the relevant documentation required for our flight. David arrived in good time, and we headed out to the aircraft. Usually I would fill the Arrow with fuel before any flight just to give me further options, but as we were headed into relatively short grass runways, I opted this time to leave with the ‘standard’ fuel load (allowing for around 3 hours flying time). This would give me plenty to get to Skegness and then Fenland to refuel, with the further option of using Conington or perhaps Sywell should the need arise.

Once on board, I used David’s handheld to request our start and inform the FISO of our requested routing out of the RA(T), expecting that there may be some delay as he negotiated this with Brize. However, I was given immediate approval to start, and once started up we were clear to Alpha 1 for our checks. These were all completed normally (with another aircraft that was preparing to depart alongside us) and we moved up to the hold and announced that we were ready to depart.

We were given our departure clearance (not above 1500 feet on the Fairford QNH via the Green Route) and after reading back were immediately given ‘Take off at your discretion’. This is slightly unusual (typically Kemble will ask to ‘report lined up’ due to the undulations in the runway) and I queried with David that I had understood the FISO correctly.

Once on the runway we immediately began our takeoff roll as the aircraft behind us was given his clearance, taking to the air and turning right direct on track towards the Northleach Roundabout (the exit point of the route we were using).  Once clear of the ATZ I asked for a frequency change to Brize Zone (the RA(T)’s Controlling Authority), but was told to remain with Kemble until we were clear of the Restricted Airspace. It was definitely a little disconcerting to have to remain below 1500 feet (effectively about 1000 feet off the ground) while within the RA(T), usually on this portion of the flight I would be climbing up to 3000 or 4000 feet! Once clear, we contacted Brize Radar for a Basic Service, and climbed up to our cruising altitude of 3500 feet.

Departing Kemble not above 1500 feet

Departing Kemble not above 1500 feet

David thought there may have been an issue with the transponder, as he noticed that the ‘ident’ light wasn’t flickering as it normally would to show that we were being interrogated by a ground radar station. I asked the Controller for a Mode C check, and he gave us the Brize QNH and asked for our current altitude. I informed him of this, and after a brief pause he confirmed that the transponder was working correctly.

It was immediately clear how much quieter the skies were when flying on a weekday, and David and I chatted as we continued on the route. There were small amounts of scattered cloud around, some of which were up at our level so I just flew through. David’s PilotAware device was helpfully warning us of some of the traffic we passed, and as we approached Banbury the Brize Controller asked who we would be working next. I advised him it would be Sywell (which led to a brief discussion with David as to whether Coventry might perhaps be better), and on reaching Banbury we switched frequency and listened in to Sywell.

Some cloud enroute

Some cloud enroute

We passed well clear of their ATZ, turning at Rushden towards Conington. David had entered a more direct route into SkyDemon, and queried my routing on this leg. I advised him of the route I had planned, and we continued on towards Conington. As we were turning in their overhead, I gave them a quick call just to advise them of this (not strictly necessary as we were well above their ATZ at our current altitude) and we spotted Conington on time and turned towards Fenland.

We contacted Fenland as we approached their overhead, and asked them for a wind check to gauge which runway would be most appropriate to use at Skegness. The relatively calm wind seemed to favour the shorter runway 29, but I decided to live with the small crosswind and use the longer runway 03 instead. David agreed that this was probably the best decision, opting for runway length over the slight advantage of the small headwind that would have been present on runway 29.

As we flew overhead Fenland, David asked for a steep turn to the right to enable him to get some photos, and once this was complete I routed towards the North West coast of The Wash to keep clear of the Danger Area. As we made the turn, a loud flapping noise could be heard off to the right of the aircraft, and on investigation we realised that the strap from David’s camera case had gone through a gap in the door and was flapping against the aircraft outside. David realised he hadn’t fully latched the door (the top latch was closed, but the lower latch wasn’t fully made). Once the strap was retrieved the noise disappeared, and we continued on.

Passing Fenland

Passing Fenland

The town of Skegness was easy to spot in the distance, and I oriented myself using the chart to find the airfield. We spotted this quite easily as we approached, and I made traffic announcements on the Safetycom frequency in case anyone else was operating near the airfield.

Approaching Skegness

Approaching Skegness

From the overhead we could see that the windsock was pretty limp, and stuck with our decision to land on runway 03. I carried out a standard Overhead Join, descending on the deadside and continuing on a Left Downwind as per the Pooley’s plates. The airfield’s noise abatement calls for the Base Leg turn to be made before the town of Skegness, and this seemed very close in as we continued Downwind and completed the before landing checks.

Descending Deadside at Skegness. Hangars visible in front of the wing.

Descending Deadside at Skegness. Hangars visible in front of the wing.

I turned Base, and flew a slightly slower approach than normal so as to land in as little distance as possible. As I turned Final I failed to allow for the slight tailwind on Base leg, and ended up overshooting the centre line. Normally this would be easy to resolve, but given the fact the the Final leg was quite short and I was also a little slower than normal, I resisted the temptation to tighten the turn in order to get correctly lined up, and instead took an early decision to abandon the approach and Go Around (prompting a ‘Good decision’ from David alongside).

Realising my mistake, I flew a slightly wider Downwind leg on the next circuit in order to give myself more time on Base. This time the Base to Final turn was flown correctly, and I brought us in for a nice gentle touchdown on the excellently prepared runway at Skegness. With little or no braking we were easily slowed down, and I parked up on the left hand side near a rather dilapidated looking twin.

Parked up at Skegness

Parked up at Skegness

The advice given to me on the phone earlier was very useful. We walked the short distance from the airfield to the Leisure Park reception building to pay the (very reasonable) £7 landing fee, before walking to the on-site pub for lunch. They were only serving a carvery today, so David and I both had an excellent ‘small’ carvery, which was incredible value considering it also came with a free dessert! David took advantage of not doing any flying today by accompanying his lunch with a beer, while I made do with a lemonade.

A rather more substantial lunch than usual!

A rather more substantial lunch than usual!

Having had a more substantial lunch than I would usually do while flying, it seemed a good idea to go for a walk and try to find the beach. I had been given directions on the phone earlier, but I’m not sure the way we ended up walking to the beach was the most direct route. However, we arrived there in about 10 minutes or so, and were pleasantly surprised by the condition of the beach, and the various amenities around it.

A short walk to the beach

A short walk to the beach

My attempts to shortcut the walk back only ended up in us having to retrace our steps a couple of times, but we were soon approaching the airfield again ready for the next leg to Fenland. As we walked to the aircraft we debated which runway to use, and the windsock this time seemed to be slightly favouring runway 21 (which was helpful as it meant a very short taxy, and also allowed us to depart almost directly on track). We examined the area of grass before the start of the runway, and decided that we could also use this to give ourselves another 50m or so of ground roll.

Checking out the undershoot for 21

Checking out the undershoot for 21

We were both geniunely impressed by how well maintained the strip was, particularly given that it seemed to be done by people on a completely voluntary basis. The clubhouse being closed that day was no real inconvenience to us, as the reception building was a very short walk away, and on the way to most of the other amenities anyway. Definitely a great place to bring the family for a flight!

After a quick check of the aircraft, the engine started easily and I carried out the power checks in our parking space. Using the area before the start of the runway allowed us to get airborne in probably 2/3 of the runway length, and once airborne I turned right to avoid Skegness, before setting course down the coast towards Fenland.

David spotted the airfield before me, as I was looking a lot further into the distance than I should have been! We tried to reach them on the radio, but received no response. We could hear other aircraft arriving and departing, and learned that they were operating off the longer, into wind runway. I set up for an Overhead Join for this runway, descending on the Deadside and continuing around the circuit. The Air Ground operator started responding again (it seemed he had been on the handheld and the batteries had gone flat!) and I made a much better job of the approach this time. We both spotted some wires on Short Final at around the same time, and I added a quick burst of power to ensure we were well clear of them.

Descending Deadside at Fenland

Descending Deadside at Fenland

Mindful of the shorter runway I kept a close eye on our airspeed, bringing us in for another smooth landing (grass runways certainly do flatter the landings!). We taxyed up towards the buildings, parking at the self-service pump to refuel the aircraft. David headed in to settle the landing fee, as I looked for somewhere to park. I hadn’t realised from my phone conversation earlier, but the the fly-in aircraft were all still here and the parking area was very busy. I had to squeeze past a Chipmunk on the end of a row, before parking next to an R44 right at the back of the parking area.

Busy parking area

Busy parking area

We were only stopping for a quick breather, but the club house looked well appointed and comfortable. Sadly neither of us took the time to check the food choices available, but they had a fully stocked bar which suggests that they were well organised. Their website does list the usual airfield fayre, at what seem to be reasonable prices. Maybe we need to come back again to sample them!

After a quick drink and a chat with the locals, we headed back to the aircraft and I performed another quick walkaround, before being sure to carry out a fuel drain check after having refuelled. The engine was still warm this time, and it took a couple of goes to get it started. We then taxyed towards the runway in use, carrying out our power checks behind another PA28 ahead of us. A Cessna carried out a touch and go, then the PA28 departed and we took our turn to backtrack. I had noticed that the ‘Low Volts’ light had remained on, a common occurrence in the Arrow, which usually corrects itself during the power checks, but hadn’t this time. I decided that if it hadn’t cleared when we were airborne, I would try resetting the Battery Master switch (something that generally clears it) and if that still didn’t resolve it we would land at Conington.

Again I used the full short field takeoff technique (2 stages of flap, increasing to full power on the brakes before releasing them). We’d seen the PA28 ahead of us become airborne around the intersection, and it took us a little longer than that. We still had plenty of runway left as I rotated, and I turned slightly left to avoid the small trees that were in the next field off the end of the runway. We climbed to altitude, and I reset the master as planned, which fortunately did clear the low volts light.

We cruised at 4500 feet, briefly contacting Conington as we passed to let them know we were Overhead. Sywell sounded relatively busy as we passed by, and later a quick peek at SkyDemon showed that I was potentially heading for an infringement of the Daventry CTA that started at 4500 feet (our current cruising altitude) off to our right. I corrected this, and we continued on, spotting Silverstone off in the distance to our left.

Great day for a flight!

Great day for a flight!

We spotted quite a few aircraft a lot lower than us on this leg, a number of them being picked up on the Pilot Aware device. As we approached Banbury, I made ready to contact Brize. David thought I would be better contacting Brize Radar for a LARS service before asking for entry to the RA(T), but I decided to go straight to Brize Zone. In my initial call, I asked for a ‘Basic Service and entry to Kemble via the Green Route’. After having to repeat our callsign due to our transmission being blocked (presumably the Controller was working two frequencies, as I hadn’t hear another aircraft), the Controller didn’t ask me to pass my full message, immediately granting me a Basic Service and clearance into the RA(T), as well as providing a squawk.

I began a gradual descent to ensure we were down at the required 2500 feet before reaching the Northleach Roundabout. We passed by Little Rissington, and then spotted Northleach ahead and to our left. Kemble became clearly visible in the distance, and I advised the Controller that we were visual, and asked for a frequency change so that we could at least get the active runway and QFE before Kemble closed (it was around 16:50). The Controller granted this request, and I queried whether we should retain the squawk (receiving an ‘affirm’ in response). Above us to our left we spotted an aircraft making its approach into Fairford (I think it was a C13) and we continued on, making contact with Kemble.

Escort into Kemble, look carefully!

Escort into Kemble, look carefully!

They gave us the active runway and QFE, and informed us that there was an aircraft operating in the circuit. As we approached we learned it was the Gryphon Air Cherokee, and I set us up for a standard Overhead Join for runway 26. The other aircraft was becoming airborne as we approached the overhead, and the FISO asked us to report Downwind. We heard one of Bristol Aero Club’s Instructors calling for taxy, and while we were descending on the Deadside the FISO gave all stations the current QNH, QFE, runway in use and Cotswold pressure setting, before closing down for the evening.

It took us a little while to spot the aircraft ahead of us on Downwind, but David spotted him on a wide Base leg as I carried out the before landing checks. We followed him around, catching him slightly as we turned Base and he turned Final. He was carrying out a Touch and Go however, so I was confident he would clear the runway in time. We also spotted the Bristol Aero Club aircraft at A1, waiting to depart.

After the aircraft ahead cleared the runway in good time, I deliberately landed long, deciding that this was much safer than trying to attempt a backtrack with no FISO on duty. The landing was again nice and gentle, but I neglected to brake sufficiently so was unable to make the first turn off the runway. Sensibly the Bristol Aero Club aircraft asked us to confirm when we had vacated the runway (there is a distinct elevation change on the runway at Kemble, that means you can’t see the opposite end of the runway). We made the second turn off, and I announced ‘Runway Vacated’ as we crossed the hold line.

We taxyed back to Lyneham’s parking area via Golf and Alpha, and as we approached we noticed that the Bulldog was parked on the taxyway at 90 degrees to the usual parking direction. As we got closer I realised we wouldn’t be able to safely taxy up to the bowser with the aircraft in its current position. I shut down before our parking area, and then ended up in the way of a couple of vehicles (including an HGV) that had to squeeze past us to use the gate out onto the airfield’s perimeter road.

David and I refuelled the aircraft and pushed it back into the parking area, putting the cover back on just as Roger came out to carry out a flight in the Bulldog with some new members. I headed in to the Club to complete the usual post-flight paperwork, before heading home.

Tracks flown

Tracks flown

Leg 1 profile

Leg 1 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 3 profile

Leg 3 profile

It’s always good to fly with David, and he’d made an excellent choice of destination in Skegness today. The facilities there were top notch, despite it being run and maintained by volunteers. Its location inside the Caravan Park and near the beach mean it’s an ideal destination to take the family at some point in the future. Fenland also looked like a place it would be worth going back to, if only to sample their food!

It had been a really enjoyable day of flying, taking me to an area of the country I hadn’t previously visited, and providing a couple of challenging landings at two new airfields. Not only that, today’s flying has put me over the 300 hour mark, which while having no real meaning, is a milestone nonetheless. A successful flying year continues!

Total flight time today: 3:05
Total flight time to date: 300:45

A Warrior, 3 Zone Transits and two new airfields

May 29, 2016

I’m always keen to add new airfields to my logbook, it helps maintain my interest in flying, and prevent me getting stuck in a rut visiting the same old airfields over and over. The family were planning to visit the in-laws during the school holiday, which gave me a Bank Holiday weekend largely to myself. Initially I hoped to take the Arrow to a few airfields a little further afield, but Kev was using it for the week to take his family on holiday to Europe.

The Club has had a few niggling problems with its Warriors recently (including issues with the radios) so I was a little reticent to take one on a longer trip. In the days leading up to the weekend I talked quite a bit with the Club’s Ops Manager, and he explained that G-BPAF (the aircraft I flew my first solo in at RAF Brize Norton) was having its audio panel replaced at the moment, and this should get rectify the problems. So I booked the aircraft for the Sunday for a short slot with a view to improving my confidence, before taking a longer trip on the Bank Holiday Monday.

As the weekend approached however, it became clear that in fact Sunday would be the better day to fly, and Mike gave me an update after the aircraft returned from maintenance on the Saturday, assuring me that all the communications issues had now been fixed. So I switched my plans, intending to make the longer trip on the Sunday, still keeping my Monday booking for some more flying should the conditions turn out to be flyable after all.

I spent most of my early life living in Skelmersdale, Lancashire, and had always wanted to take an opportunity to fly in the area. Blackpool Airport seemed a good choice as a first destination, enabling me to plan for a Zone Transit of Liverpool’s CTR before doing a bit of sight-seeing in the area. While looking for another airfield to visit, I had made contact with Leeds East (formerly RAF Church Fenton) and was a little disappointed to learn that their catering facilities would be unavailable on Bank Holiday Monday due to an event that was being held there. I initially planned to revisit Sherburn-in-Elmet again for lunch, but after switching the day of the flight I updated the plan to visit Leeds East after all. The final airfield on the trip was planned to be Nottingham, an airfield I’ve visited a number of times.

As usual I completed the majority of the planning the night before the flight, this time taking the opportunity to also draw in the route on the charts (both Southern and Northern half-mill required for this trip!) and get as much as possible ready. That way, I hoped I could make an earlier than usual start, to enable me to arrive at Blackpool before their short closure period between 11:30am and Noon (local time). An email to Blackpool’s ATC confirmed that the airfield was still available outside of these closure times, and also served to receive PPR.

The forecast looked near perfect on the morning of the flight, and I completed the planning in good time. I arrived at Kemble slightly earlier than normal, but probably spent slightly longer than usual pre-flighting the aircraft as it had been a while since I had last flown a Warrior. I also filled the tanks to the brim, planning to re-fuel at Leeds East at the mid point of the day’s flying.

The starter on the Warrior seemed a little reluctant at first, but the engine started relatively easily and I set about preparing the slightly unfamiliar cockpit. I took the time to carry out a radio check on both radios for my own peace of mind, and was cleared to taxy via Golf to the North Apron for power checks. Again, I took my time with these as the procedure is slightly different between the Warrior and Arrow (no prop to adjust, but an additional check of carb heat required). Everything proved normal, and after announcing I was ready I was cleared straight onto the runway to depart.

After requesting a left turn out from the FISO, I applied full power and accelerated along the runway. The Warrior needed much less of a ‘pull’ to become airborne, and before reaching Kemble Village I turned left to head direct towards Gloucester, climbing up to my planned cruising altitude of 4500 feet. There was a fair amount of cloud around, but there were also plenty of gaps in order to see the ground below, and enable a descent if required while maintaining VFR.

Departing Kemble

Departing Kemble

I signed off with Kemble, and contact Gloucester as usual for a Basic Service, informing them I was planning to pass through their overhead at 4500 feet. the frequency was relatively quiet as I continued, but I heard a Student on a solo navigation exercise struggling slightly with his R/T, and informing Gloucester he may have to turn before reaching their overhead due to cloud. He was a lot lower than I was, and as such was probably just below the base of the scattered clouds.

Scattered cloud

Scattered cloud

On passing Gloucester I was asked to report passing Great Malvern, and continued on as planned. The difference in speed between the Warrior and Arrow was definitely noticeable (I tend to fly Warriors at 90 knots, whereas the Arrow will easily make 125 knots, some 40% quicker), and it took a little longer than I anticipated to spot Great Malvern off to the left. I was trying on this flight to avoid looking at SkyDemon too much, marking my progress on the printed PLOG as I flew, only taking brief looks at my tablet every so often to confirm my position. This probably explains why my track flown is a lot straighter than usual, I was doing it based on the DI rather than continually making adjustments based on what SkyDemon was telling me!

I listened in to Shawbury after signing off with Gloucester, as expected hearing nothing from them. I next contacted Sleap as I approached, just to let them know I was passing overhead, but not requesting any service from them. They sounded relatively busy, with one pilot reporting that he was abandoning his flight due to poor visibility. Again, he was obviously operating in the hazy later below the clouds, up where I was the visibility was excellent.

After passing Sleap I began a descent down to 2000 feet, to ensure I was below the airways around Hawarden, and also below Manchester’s CTA, which starts at 2500 feet to the South of Liverpool. I had planned to contact Liverpool as I approached Wrexham, to ask for a Zone Transit from Chester to the M6 / M58 junction (conveniently close to Skelmersdale). If I were refused, I had also planned a second route to the West of Liverpool, remaining below their airspace.

I listened in to them as I approached, hearing another VFR aircraft on frequency, which gave me hope that I would be granted the transit. I made my initial contact and request, and was a little disappointed when the Controller’s reponse started “We’re a little busy…”, but fortunately she continued “…can you accept a transit further to the West?”. I quickly responded ‘affirm’, and was given clearance through their CTR not above 1500 feet, initially entering at Neston, routing North towards Seaforth. I used the chart to locate the VRPs, before adjusting the route in SkyDemon appropriately.

Passing Hawarden

Passing Hawarden

The new route took me just to the West of Hawarden, and I spotted the Flintshire Bridge that crossed the River Dee. A quick check of the chart showed that this was directly on my route to Neston, making it easy to follow my approved route to enter the Zone. I continued North, passing Bebington and Birkenhead, before getting some excellent views of the City off to my right, enabling me to get some good photos as I passed.

Liverpool Airport

Liverpool Airport

The Radio City Tower

The Radio City Tower

The Liver Building and Pier Head

The Liver Building and Pier Head

I reported leaving the Zone at Seaforth, and after a quick check of the chart, set course for Skem, climbing to 2000 feet. The Controller reminded me to remain clear of Manchester’s airspace (starting at 2500 feet in this area) and I remained on frequency for a Basic Service until it was time to continue North towards Blackpool. I passed by Ormskirk, and was soon over Skem, identifying many landmarks from my childhood (my old secondary school and the Concourse shopping centre) and even managed to locate the house where I grew up without too much difficulty.

West Bank, Glenburn and the Concourse Shopping Centre

West Bank, Glenburn and the Concourse Shopping Centre

My childhood home

My childhood home

After a quick orbit to get some photos, I set course towards Southport, informing the Controller. As I approached Southport I signed off and started to listen in to Blackpool, hearing another aircraft reporting inbound from Caernarfon out over the sea. We were both approaching to arrive at around the same time, and as I signed on I was passed details of the other traffic by the Controller. I had trouble picking him out in the haze, but he replied that he was visual with me, and would follow me in.

Blackpool itself was easy to spot, and I also had little trouble identifying the airfield as I approached. I set up for a Left Downwind join as requested, hearing the air ambulance waiting to cross the field as I turned Base and then Final. I spotted the aircraft coming in from Caernarfon behind me as I turned, and he offered to orbit where he was to enable the helicopter to cross the Final Approach track after I had landed. My first Warrior landing in a while was pretty good considering, nice and gentle but perhaps slightly flat. The technique for landing a Warrior is slightly different to the Arrow, as the Warrior tends to float a lot more, requiring power to be completely removed when starting the roundout and holdoff. However, the Arrow seems to prefer a trickle of power in the roundout, before removing it completely.

Downwind at Blackpool, the Tower a useful landmark

Downwind at Blackpool, the Tower a useful landmark

I had slowed enough to make the first turn off to the right onto Echo, but the Controller instructed me to take the third right onto runway 31, before giving me further taxy instructions via Alpha to park in front of where the old terminal building used to be. I parked up behind a couple of other aircraft, before heading in to pay my landing fee. My initial plan had been to continue on to Leeds East for lunch, but it was already nearly 1pm and I was getting hungry!

Parked up at Blackpool

Parked up at Blackpool

I assured the guy taking landing fees that I wouldn’t exceed my 2 hour free parking, before heading to a pub just around the corner for a light lunch. I was a little concerned at how slow their service appeared, and when they told me there was a half hour wait for food I became slightly worried that I might not make it back in time. Blackpool had a commercial aircraft expected, and would transition to ‘secure’ operation around 2pm, meaning I wouldn’t be able to make any payment due to that area being restricted to their Commercial passengers. Fortunately my food arrived in good time, and I was back at the airfield just before 2pm anyway, before the restrictions came in to place.

I had to wait for a short while to book out with ATC, before heading out to the aircraft and carrying out a quick transit check. After calling and receiving approval to start, I then called for taxy, and was given somewhat more complex instructions than I was used to (to E2 via A, B, C and E!). I carried out the power checks on Echo behind another aircraft waiting to depart, then took my place at the hold once he departed.

There was another short delay while two other inbound aircraft landed, then I was cleared on to the runway. I was unsure just how much runway was available to me from the intersection, so requested (and was granted) a backtrack. Once in position, I was cleared to take off, and began the takeoff roll. On climbout, I had a good view of Blackpool Pleasure Beach off to my right, and once out over the sea I turned right to head North towards Fleetwood, primarily so that I could get some good photos of Blackpool on the way!

Blackpool Pleasure Beach

Blackpool Pleasure Beach

Blackpool Tower

Blackpool Tower

Blackpool had been notifying people heading North that the Gliding field at Chipping was active, so rather than continue all the way to Fleetwood, I turned East to head direct for my next turning point at Burnley to try and stay clear of the gliders. Climbing up to 3000 feet, I passed close by the disused airfield at Samlesbury (interestingly misspelt as Salmesbury in SkyDemon!), using SkyDemon a little more on this leg to orient myself given the large number of similar sized towns on the route.

Samlesbury

Samlesbury

I contacted Leeds Radar as I approached Burnley to request a transit of their airspace. As before, I had plotted an avoidance route (via Dewsbury to the South) in readiness for a potential rejection, but the Controller helpfully cleared me through, not above 3400 feet! Now I look back, I suspect this may have been a hint that I had allowed myself do climb a little higher than intended, meaning I was quite close to Manchester’s Class A TMA that was above me at 3500 feet.

Passing over Bradford and Leeds I had to descend for a short while to remain VFR due to a bank of cloud that was ahead of me. I was never below around 2500 feet though, so the cloud base was still perfectly acceptable for VFR flight. Once clear I climbed again to around 3000 feet to give myself more options should I experience any engine issues while over the cities.

Headingley

Headingley

Leeds Bradford Airport

Leeds Bradford Airport

The M1 / A1(M) junction was an easy landmark to spot, and as I approached I signed off with Leeds, and contacted Leeds East to get airfield information. I was informed of wingwalking that was taking place in the overhead, and the radio operator also queried whether I wanted fuel (I had informed them when I called by phone earlier that I would need it). It turned out that they were experiencing an issue with delivery of fuel from their bowser, and he said he would keep me up to date as I approached.

They were operating on runway 34 with a Right Hand circuit, so after a bit of thinking I announced I would position to join Downwind. As I approached I could clearly see the wingwalking aircraft manoeuvring in the overhead, and kept an eye on him as I continued inbound. He announced that he was landing on 06 grass just as I joined Downwind, and was well clear before I came in to land.

Approaching Leeds East (formerly RAF Church Fenton)

Approaching Leeds East (formerly RAF Church Fenton)

Perhaps due to the slight distraction, the landing this time wasn’t great, with a couple of very small bounces occurring, probably due to excess speed on the approach. The runway was 1600 metres long though, so I had plenty of time to get things sorted out, even taking into account the large number of caravans parked at the far end of the runway.

As I rolled out, the radio operator gave me taxy instructions, and I parked up next to the Stearman that I’d been watching as I approached. I walked up to the Tower, and was given the news that the fuel bowser was indeed broken, and the operator enquired as to whether I had sufficient fuel to continue. Knowing that Sherburn-in-Elmet was only a couple of miles to the South, I gave them a quick call to check I could come in for fuel, before heading straight back to the aircraft.

Parked up next to the Stearman wingwalking aircraft

Parked up next to the Stearman wingwalking aircraft

The Stearman pilot was making ready to leave at the same time. having to make a similar hop over to Sherburn for fuel. I got started and taxyed slightly before him, carrying out my power checks on runway 06 before backtracking 34 to get ready to take off. As I announced I was taking to 34, the Stearman announce he was lining up on 06. I was in position first, and after a quick check that the Stearman wasn’t moving, I announced I was taking off and started my takeoff roll. The radio operator checked with the Stearman that he was holding (he was!) and I continued the take off roll. As I became airborne and continued around the circuit to head towards Sherburn, the Stearman took off, and I positioned behind him initially.

I continued the climb up to 2000 feet in readiness for the overhead join at Sherburn, but the Stearman continued at low level off to my left. As I joined overhead at Sherburn he carried out an abbreviated circuit and landed. Not too long after him, I was established on Final, and came in for a nice landing on the grass runway, before rolling out towards the end and taxying up to the pumps. There were two other aircraft already parked near the pumps, so I slotted in around the other side of the pumps and waited for my turn to get fuel.

Stearman escort to Sherburn-in-Elmet

Stearman escort to Sherburn-in-Elmet

Once refuelled, the refuellers helped me pull the Warrior onto the grass parking area, and I headed in to settle the bill for fuel. I had a quick chat to the lady on the desk, double checking my reading of the correct taxy route (all the way down to parallel the hard runway), before heading back to the aircraft to get ready to depart. It was already getting quite late (after 4pm) I decided to abandon the planned stop at Nottingham, and just head straight back to Kemble.

The Stearman carried out his power checks on the grass just ahead of me, and after he took off I waited for another aircraft to complete his touch and go before departing myself. I planned to follow the other aircraft around the circuit, before departing to the West to intercept my planned track from Leeds East down to Sheffield. I had him in sight as I turned Crosswind, but in checking for other traffic before turning Downwind, I managed to temporarily lose sight of him. I soon spotted him slightly ahead and to my left, and was in the process of announcing that I would pass behind him, when he obviously spotted me and climbed to make sure there was no conflict between us.

Once clear of the ATZ, I climbed up to 2500 feet for the first leg, in order to remain below the Leeds airspace above me that started at 3000 feet. I had chosen a waypoint in order to let me know when it was safe to climb, and once clear of the airspace climbed up to around 3000 feet for the leg towards Sheffield. The disused airport there was easy to spot as I approached, and once overhead I turned to track towards Mansfield, my plan being to transit East Midlands airspace to the East side of their Zone.

I was listening out to Doncaster initially, switching to East Midlands as I approached Mansfield. East Midlands seemed quite busy, with a number of commercial aircraft inbound and departing, as well as a few light aircraft either transiting or receiving a service. I waited until a quieter period before making my initial call, and the Controller queried that I was requesting a transit to the East of EME (the NDB some 5nm to the East of the airfield. I confirmed this, and was granted a transit through their airspace, remaining to the East of the NDB, not above 3000 feet. I made a quick adjustment to my route in SkyDemon, removing the waypoint at Nottingham and instead tracking direct to Bruntingthorpe. The transit through the Zone was definitely a much more inviting prospect than the alternative, which was to remain under the Controlled Airspace at an altitude of around 1200 feet.

East Midlands Airport in the haze

East Midlands Airport in the haze

After clearing their airspace, I continued to receive a Basic Service from East Midlands until Bruntingthorpe, signing off and changing to Brize Radar as I passed the airfield. They were now broadcasting a recorded message informing pilots that their LARS service was now closed, and any aircraft wishing to transit Brize should contact them on their ‘Zone’ frequency. I had no such plans however, so instead switched to Wellesbourne to see how busy they were. Surprisingly they were still open, and I heard a number of pilots approaching to land. After the mistake I made last flight in failing to correctly plan the DME arc I flew, this time I had checked beforehand, and determined I could safely fly an anticlockwise 10nm DME arc around the DTY VOR, to intercept the appropriate track from DTY to Chedworth.

Bruntingthorpe

Bruntingthorpe

I flew the majority of this leg tracking the VOR, using the DME to get a feel for when to expect to see Chedworth. Now well clear of Controlled Airspace above me, I climbed up to 4500 feet on this leg, managing to remain well clear of cloud, and still picking up navigation features (including Little Rissington) as I proceeded along the leg.

Passing Little Rissington

Passing Little Rissington

Despite expecting Kemble to be closed by now, I listened out on their frequency to get a feel for the traffic situation as I approached. I heard G-VICC approaching and landing, and as I passed Cirencester another aircraft appeared on frequency flying circuits at Kemble. This at least gave me an idea of which runway to use (08) and as I approached I descended to 2400 feet on the last QNH I was given (Kemble is around 400 feet AMSL) to join overhead.

As I began my descent on the deadside, the other aircraft completed a touch and go, and I got a good view of him off to my right. He appeared to be a microlight of some description, so I expected to have to fly a slightly slower circuit to avoid catching him up. I slotted in behind him on the Downwind leg, lowering a stage of flap to fly slightly slower than normal around the circuit. I completed the before landing checklist while doing so, and had the other aircraft in view as he turned Base. While checking for traffic before turning Base myself, I lost sight of him in the ground clutter, and never managed to find him again. As a result, when I turned Final (and still being unable to see him) I decided to Go Around, turning to track slightly to the left of the runway while trying to find him again.

As I passed the threshold, he announced that he was turning Downwind, and at least I knew which part of the sky to look for him now. I soon became visual with him again, and followed him around for another circuit. Again I had him in sight for the entire circuit, before losing sight of him as he descended on Base and Final. Again concerned about being on Final at around the same time as another aircraft was, I decided to ask the other pilot to report his position, receiving the response that he was just climbing away, and about to turn Crosswind near Kemble Village. Reassured that there was no chance of a conflict, I continued my approach, landing deliberately long for a good final landing of the day. As I turned off the runway on Alpha, I again spotted the other aircraft on late Downwind, before taxying back to our parking area.

I had been making more of an effort to manage my fuel throughout the day, and had been keeping a log of which tank I was using, and the time at which I switched. As a result, on checking the fuel state after landing, found that both tanks were at an almost identical level, right around tabs which at least meant I didn’t have to refuel before putting the aircraft to bed. I pushed it back into its parking space, before replacing the cover and taking all my gear back to the car. I then returned to the aircraft, removed the cover and located my phone, which has dropped down in the gap between the front seats! I headed in to the office to settle up for the flight, before heading home for a well earned beer!

Tracks flown

Tracks flown

Leg 1 profile

Leg 1 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 3 profile

Leg 3 profile

Leg 4 profile

Leg 4 profile

Despite my initial misgivings about making such a long flight in the slower Warrior, the flight had actually gone off with pretty much no hitches. I been granted all three Controlled Airspace transits that I’d planned (including a slightly different one over Liverpool that actually worked out better in terms of photo opportunities) and visited two new airfields. In total I’d logged 5 and a half hours of flying, landed at three airfields before returning to Kemble after they had officially closed. The issues at Kemble with losing sight of the other aircraft were a little frustrating, but I think I’d at least made the correct decisions when losing sight of an aircraft that was potentially in close proximity to me. All in all, a truly fantastic day’s flying, hopefully I can make further flights such as this in the future!

 

Total flight time today: 5:35
Total flight time to date: 297:40