After being checked out and cleared to fly ‘solo’ again, I was all set to head off to Sywell with Charlie. We’d discussed this trip in readiness for attempting it last weekend, but a strong crosswind (right on the limits of the aircraft) and my cold prevented us from making the trip then.
As previously agreed, I’d planned a slightly circuitous route to enable us to carry out another Zone Transit, this time the Class D around RAF Brize Norton. I’ve transitted their airspace a number of times in the past, and they’ve always been helpful and able to approve any requested routing, so I thought this would be a good option for Charlie to attempt his first Zone Transit on the return flight.
As with the previous flight of the day, it was a little difficult to get the engine started, but once going we again headed off to the North Apron to carry out the power checks. The engine was still warm from the previous flight, so there was no need to wait for long before carrying them out. Once complete, we were cleared to the hold, and then asked if we were ready for an immediate departure without a backtrack. Another aircraft was established on Base leg, and the FISO cleared us on to the runway and I began the takeoff roll without stopping, making a quick check of the engine parameters while doing so.
Takeoff was normal, and we headed off to the South East towards Membury to set up for the transit of Brize’s airspace. This took us directly over Swindon, and Charlie and I chatted about how this used to be RAF Lyneham’s Zone not too many years ago. I pointed out the local landmarks to Charlie, including the area around our house. Charlie managed to get some good photos of Catrin’s school as we passed overhead.
The visibility was still slightly hazy, and the mast at Membury was a little difficult to pick out from a distance. The M4 was easy to spot though, and right on time the mast and service area appeared below us. As there is an airfield just to the South of the services, I turned to the North before arriving overhead the mast, and made ready to contact Brize for the Zone Transit.
The Zone frequency was relatively quiet, and our request for transit was granted immediately, the Controller giving us a squawk code and minimum altitude (which I had to ask him to repeat due to not hearing correctly first time) of 800 feet! The hazy conditions again meant that Brize took a while to become visible, but there were lots of landmarks on this leg to ensure we were heading in the right direction.
The Controller announced that we were entering Controlled airspace, and as we passed RAF Brize Norton itself Charlie got some good photos of the various aircraft on the ground. We exited the Zone at Burford, and I set course for our next turning point at Shipston on Stour.
The Nav went a little awry on this leg, because although the plog I’d printed from SkyDemon that morning correctly had Shipston on Stour as the turning point, the route programmed into SkyDemon on the Nexus 7 in my lap had the disused airfield at Moreton in Marsh as the turning point! As such the route tended to meander between the two, as I maintained the heading on my plog while occasionally checking my progress along the leg on SkyDemon! Once I’d worked out what was going on, I made the required adjustments to the route in the GPS, and the rest of the navigation was relatively straighfoward again!
As we approached Daventry, we passed over a relatively continuous bank of cloud at around 1000 feet above the ground (we were flying at 2500 feet). There were small broken patches within it, and I started to wonder if they would be big enough to descend through should the cloud continue all the way to Northampton. Charlie was understandably a little nervous about continuing (he’s only relatively recently gained his licence, and as such perhaps doesn’t have as much exposure to less than ideal conditions) but as there were clear skies just a few miles to our right, and the route back to Kemble was still free of cloud I continued without being too concerned about the cloud we were flying over.
Another factor in continuing was that Sywell’s radio traffic showed that they were still operating normally, so there was a good chance that this cloud bank would in fact come to an end before we got there. This proved to be the case, and as we passed over Daventry we again had an unobstructed view down to the ground.
Approaching Sywell I signed on with them, receiving the required information to plan my arrival. They seemed relatively quiet, but despite considering asking for a Left Base join I carried out a Standard Overhead join in order to maintain practice. As we turned Final, I could see that there was a vehicle on the runway, and the FISO advised me that the runway was occupied, before asking the Fire Vehicle to vacate the runway. I continued the approach, watching the vehicle turn off at the far end before announcing that it was clear.
The FISO then gave me the customary ‘Land at your discretion’ and the wind direction and speed, and I brought us in for a slightly flat landing, but still nice and gentle and under control. The FISO advised us to backtrack, asking us to keep to the left as other aircraft were waiting at the hold to use the runway (the grass areas were currently unavailable due to the condition of the ground). There was some juggling as I kept out of the way while one aircraft departed, then the other took to the runway, clearing the way for us to taxy to parking. We had to squeeze slightly on to the grass to pass another aircraft taxying towards us, and then parked up on the apron next to a twin before heading in for a rather late lunch!
The Cafe we would usually have used was closed for the Winter, so we headed in to the bar at the hotel. Their menu was somewhat limited (1 item!) but the Turkey Baguette with gravy and roast potatoes went down a treat! Charlie and I chatted about the route back as we ate, and I was a little surprised he had decided not to reverse my route and attempt a transit over Brize. A little gentle persuasion soon changed his mind, and he re-planned his route to go through Brize Controlled Airspace.
We headed back to the aircraft, Charlie carried out a brief walkaround and we mounted up ready for the off. Again the engine was a little reluctant to start, but Charlie got it going on the 2nd or 3rd try. Taxy route was basically the reverse of our route from the runway, and again there was some juggling of aircraft as Charlie moved out of the way to allow another aircraft off the runway.
The departure was normal, and we turned West to leave the circuit. Another aircraft announced that he was transitting through the overhead from the West at 2500, so we stayed at 2000 until he passed above us. Once clear of the traffic, Charlie climbed initially to 2500 feet, and then further up to 3500 to get out of the hazy conditions lower down.
The flight towards Banbury was relatively routine. Charlie doglegged around the Daventry VOR to avoid any other traffic using it for navigation, and we listened in to Brize until it was time to call them. We discussed what height we should be at, and it seemed sensible to get down to a height that would actually take us through Brize’s airspace (rather than over it!) before asking to transit!
Charlie began a descent to 2500 feet before we reached Banbury, and then called Brize to ask for a Basic Service and Zone Transit. Somewhat unusually, we were immediately cleared through their airspace, with no height or routing restriction! This meant that all Charlie had to do for the next 10 minutes or so was to successfully navigate towards Brize, and listen out on the radio should they need to contact us.
While we were chatting, a radio call did come in, and neither of us were sure whether it had been for us. Charlie asked the Controller to repeat the message, and we were given traffic information on another aircraft at a similar level to us, off to our right. We spotted him quickly on my side, and I kept an eye on him as he passed behind us at almost the same height.
Once inside the Zone, the Controller contacted us to inform us we were now under Radar Control, and we considered asking for a more direct routing back to Kemble. Charlie requested this, and was again granted permission. Charlie had been having a little difficulty understanding the Controller, but I could hear him clearly. I remember thinking while I was flying that the radio was a little ‘fuzzy’, so perhaps there’s a slight issue with the pilot’s headset connections in this aircraft?
We turned to the West, passing directly overhead Fairford a couple of hundred feet over the top of their ATZ. Once back out of Brize’s airspace, Charlie signed off with the Controller, thanking him for his assistance with our requests. We then signed on with Kemble, Charlie (incorrectly) informing the FISO that we were approaching from the West. As he released the transmit button I simply said ‘East’, and Charlie corrected himself, receiving ‘Ah, the other West’ from the FISO!
Kemble sounded quite busy as we approached, and we changed our mind from making a direct Base join (they were now operating on 26) and instead opted for a more standard Overhead Join. Another aircraft transitted the ATZ at a couple of hundred feet above join height (not particularly smart in my view, particularly given that there was no cloud to speak of) and I kept a good eye on him, allowing Charlie to concentrate on the join and descent.
The circuit was uneventful, but Charlie had a little difficulty getting in on the busy frequency at times to announce his position as required. He eventually managed to get the call in (I later advised him that sometimes you have to be ready to just jump in immediately someone else has finished transmitting when the radio is this busy), and we continued around to turn Base and Final.
As we turned Final, a flex-wing microlight took to the runway in front of us. Initially it looked like this may prevent us from continuing with the landing, but I suggested Charlie continue and make his ‘Final’ call (if nothing else it might persuade the pilot on the runway to make a swift departure knowing that we were bearing down on him). As expected, the FISO announced ‘runway occupied’, and we continued down Final to see if the microlight would depart in time.
It lifted from the runway after a very short takeoff roll, the FISO passed us the wind information and we continued to land. Charlie brought us in for a nice landing quite near the threshold, and in hindsight I should perhaps have suggested he land a little longer than normal to avoid a lengthy taxy (Kemble’s runway is plenty long enough not to worry about landing part way down).
We taxyed back towards the hangar, and parked the aircraft on the grass opposite. Dave came out to meet us, and started loading things into the aircraft as we unloaded our gear (he was taking it straight over to Oaksey as it was going in to maintenance). We headed in to the office, completed all the paperwork and paid for the flight, before heading off home.
So, 2015’s flying has finally begun. The checkout this morning was a good reminder of how easy it is to forget things after a relatively long lay-off, but the flight with Charlie had gone very smoothly. It was particularly interesting to see the difference between the forecast weather (awful) and the actually conditions on the day (almost perfect for flying). This was another good demonstration as to why I generally don’t make a decision on weather until the morning of a flight, as forecasts can so often turn out to be incorrect.
We’d had another good trip, and Charlie had hopefully banished any concerns he my have had about flying through Controlled Airspace. Let’s hope this is the start of a good year’s flying.
Total flight time today: 1:25
Total flight time to date: 259:40