Back to Sywell

February 8, 2015

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.

Climbing out from Kemble

Climbing out from Kemble

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.

Renault building (bottom left) and Catrin's school (circular building in the centre)

Renault building (bottom left) and Catrin’s school (circular building in the centre)

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.

Following the M4 to Membury in the haze

Following the M4 to Membury in the haze

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.

Passing overhead Brize's nice long runway!

Passing overhead Brize’s nice long runway!

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.

Climbing out from Sywell

Climbing out from Sywell

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?

Aircraft on the ground at Brize

Aircraft on the ground at Brize

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!

 Passing South Cerney

Passing South Cerney

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.

Traffic passing above us

Traffic passing above us

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.

Tracks flown

Tracks flown

Outbound profile

Outbound profile

Return profile

Return profile

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

Yet another currency check

February 8, 2015

It had been a long time since my last flight with Charlie, and as a result I was out of pretty much all of my currency requirements, including 90 day passenger carrying. December is always a pretty busy month for us, so it was unsurprising that I hadn’t managed to fly. However, I made several attempts to fly in January, that were all thwarted by either weather or a particularly drawn out cold.

I arranged a flight with Dave in one of Freedom’s Warriors in order to regain all my currencies, and then invited Charlie along to share another flight with me. Leading up to the day of the flight, things didn’t look particularly promising, with the Brize TAF forecasting BKN20 TEMPO BKN10 for most of the day, even up to and including the 2100 TAF of the previous day!

As such I wasn’t feeling particularly optimistic when I woke up on the morning of the flight, but a quick check of the weather forecasts now showed a completely different picture! I carried out all my usual pre-flight planning at home, before driving to Kemble in near-perfect flying conditions. There was an occasional bit of fog still lingering, but the skies were clear with almost no cloud to be seen.

I arrived at Kemble to see Dave starting to get the aircraft out of the hangar, making a quick check of the fuel level in G-SNUZ before climbing up to the cockpit to start the ‘A’ check. Dave seemed surprised at this, commenting to the person on the phone that I was jumping into their aircraft! I made a quick check on Flight Schedule Pro and realised he was correct, I had actually booked G-ELUE for my flights today!

I helped Dave move SNUZ over to the other side of the taxyway, and then get G-ELUE out of the hangar. I carried out the pre-flight as normal, then waited a little while after it had been refuelled to double check the fuel in the tanks was Ok. We both climbed in and got ourselves comfortable, and Dave outlined what he wanted to cover on the flight. I mentioned that I needed 3 landings in order to regain passenger currency (in actual fact I think I probably only really needed 2, but there was no harm in doing all 3).

I had some trouble starting the engine, and Dave helped me get it going, having a few difficulties himself. After making the initial call to Kemble I found they were helpfully using 08 today, meaning only a short taxy was required to the North apron for power checks. As I normally do, I leaned the engine back for the taxy to prevent plug fouling, but obviously was a bit too agressive as the engine spluttered and died as I reduced power to idle to turn on to the North apron. This led to a short period of embarrassment as we coasted to a halt and had to notify the FISO that we had a small problem, while Dave attempted to restart the engine.

Dave said that generally there was no real reason to lean on the ground in their aircraft, so that’s something I’ll need to bear in mind for future flights. On the North apron we ran the engine at slightly higher than normal RPM to try to warm the oil up, before carrying out the power checks and making ready to depart.

We were cleared straight on to the runway, and after a short backtrack I applied full power and began the takeoff roll. My first takeoff in some 10 weeks was relatively routine, and we headed South out of the circuit, climbing up to 2000 feet initially.

Once clear to the South and at an appropriate height, I carried out a standard HASELL check (Height, Airframe, Safety / Security, Engine, Lookout, Location) before beginning the stalling portion of the flight. I carried out a clean stall initially, which went Ok, but Dave commented that I could perhaps be a little more aggressive when pulling back to induce a more pronounced stall.

We then moved on to the stall in the Base to Final configuration (two stages of flap, low power and descending). My first attempt at this wasn’t great, as I tried to pick up the descending wing with aileron before having reached flying speed again. This is a definite no-no, as trying to pick up a stalled wing can actually induced a more pronounced stall of that wing, potentially leading to the aircraft entering a spin.

We had another go, and this one was much better. Next we tried a stall in the Final Approach configuration (similar to the previous one but with wings level and full flap) and again I made a small mistake in not removing the third stage of flap (which just adds drag) immediately after reducing back pressure and applying full power. Dave also picked me up on the ‘patter’ I was giving, in that I was announcing ‘full power, release back pressure’, when in actual fact these should be done in the opposite order. I think in reality I was releasing back pressure first, but I was just saying things the wrong way round.

I surprised myself by getting a little flustered at this point, and on my next attempt I raised one stage of flap before even applying full power! Dave told me to take a little time to settle myself, and demonstrated the correct procedure to me before giving me another go. It just goes to show how easy it is for relatively simple things to be forgotten after a long lay-off (and this wasn’t to be my last mistake of that nature either!).

Finally we carried out a stall that I hadn’t experienced before, one simulating an excessive rotation in the go-around configuration. Here, all you can do is get the nose down as quickly as possible to un-stall the wings, as you already have full power applied.

The last general handling manoeuvre we covered was a steep turn. Dave allowed me to choose the direction, so I opted for a turn to the left, and managed to carry out a fairly decent one. Dave reminded me to look at the attitude outside when trying to maintain level, and when I did this it did make a difference to my ability to maintain a constant height.

Once back at altitude, Dave set up a simulated problem, notifying me that my engine was running very rough, and wouldn’t develop any more than about 1600 RPM. My initial reaction was to look for Kemble, but this seemed a little far away, so I chose to head for Oaksey Park instead. On the way there, Dave mentioned that even though the engine was still running, I should still trim for best glide speed, as this would minimise the height loss (a good thing to remember should something similar ever happen).

I set us up nicely on an approach into Oaksey, and Dave announced he was happy and that I could climb away. We climbed back up to altitude, and Dave asked me to carry out a practice PAN call, simulating getting lost, and asking for our position and a steer back to Kemble. For some reason I had a complete mental blank as to what the emergency frequency is, and dialled in 123.4 by mistake. Dave stopped me transmitting on this frequency before I made an idiot of myself on the radio, and asked me what the correct emergency frequency was. my mental block continued, and I was unable to remember the frequency!

Dave gave me a deserved ticking off, and told me the correct frequency (121.5, of course!). I dialled this in, and listened out to ensure that no real emergency was in progress. Once it was obvious that the frequency was clear, I made my initial call of “London Centre, G-ELUE request practice PAN’. I received the response to proceed, and made the full practice PAN call, asking for a position fix and steer to Kemble as requested. There was a period of silence as the Controller triangulated our position based on our transmission, and came back with a position that was perhaps a mile or two out, which isn’t bad considering they weren’t using radar to derive it!

We headed back to Kemble, and I carried out an Overhead Join into the circuit. We were sharing the circuit with a solo student, but we had good spacing between us meaning that there was little chance of any conflict. The first circuit went well, and the landing was very smooth, leading to some praise from Dave. I made the mistake of telling him that it was a little longer than I would have liked, so he told me to make the next one a performance landing, trying to stop by the first windsock!

As we went round the circuit he gave me some tips on how to achieve this, telling me that the distance to the windsock from the threshold was something in the order of 150 to 200 metres! Again the circuit went well, and I set us up for a low and slow approach, with the intention to touch down right at the threshold, and immediately brake down to a walking pace before going around.

Again the touch down was fairly gentle, and with some relatively firm braking I brought us down to walking space well before the windsock, somewhat to my surprise! Dave announce he was happy, and as we accelerated away he took control of the radio, negotiating with the FISO for us to carry out a bad weather circuit to land, simulating arriving back with a low 500 foot cloudbase.

I’d carried out this manouevre on my IMC rating renewal flight with Roger, so was happy with the procedure and confident I could carry it out. The FISO pointed out the position of the student to us, and we hoped to be able to keep inside him on our tight, low and slow circuit. As we neared the end of the downwind leg, it became clear that if we did cut inside we were likely to affect him if we turned inside, so we decided to continue further on Downwind than would be normal for a bad weather circuit, before following him down Final.

The last landing of the flight was also very smooth, and we cleared the runway and taxyed back to park in front of Freedom’s hangar, seeing Charlie waiting patiently for us. After closing down, Dave gave me a good debrief on my errors during the flight, particularly about forgetting the emergency frequency! I resolved to ensure this was always written down somewhere on my kneeboard for future flights, and also to make sure it was committed to memory correctly!

Track flown

Track flown

Flight profile

Flight profile

In general, a fairly good flight. There’d had been a few things I had to be picked up on and reminded of, but at lease I was now current again, and ready to get 2015’s flying started for real!

Total flight time today: 0:55
Total flight time to date: 258:15

2014 Summary

December 31, 2014

A summary of my flying during 2014:

My 2014 goals were (summarised):

  • Make at least one trip to the Continent
  • Visit Caernarfon or another airfield for an extended stay
  • Continue to take part in more ‘sociable’ flying like Club fly-outs or visits to fly-ins
  • Make more use of the IMC rating to retain currency, both by carrying out flights that involve some portion in actual IMC, and carrying both practice and real approaches into airfields that provide instrument approaches (including renewal of the IMC rating)
  • Get some experience of spinning at least, with perhaps some aeros as well
  • Attempt to fly more often wherever possible
  • Get Luned to do some landing practice, and also a flight or two in the Arrow
  • Consider the addition of a Night Qualification to my license.

Yet again I’ve completed a flying year without a visit to the Continent, although I did travel as a passenger to Guernsey with David. The year as a whole was quite frustrating, with a number of relatively long periods of no flying at all, interspersed with some quite concentrated bursts of activity. This was mostly driven by personal circumstances rather than a lack of funds or desire to fly.

Also regrettably I made very little use of the IMC rating, with the exception of a Currency check with Roger in the Arrow that was almost all flown in simulated IMC, and the renewal of my IMC rating later in the year.

Although my total flying hours were slightly up on last year, I still haven’t been able to fly as much as I’d like. I’d hoped to reach 200 hours P1 this year (although that was quite an optimistic goal) as this would allow me to be the pilot on ‘charity’ flights. I’d wanted to donate such a flight to Catrin’s school, but need to try to reach this goal first.

The flight early in the year to the newly-reopened Llandow and Caernarfon with David was very enjoyable, but perhaps the most fulfilling aspect of my flying this year was gaining the tailwheel signoff in Freedom’s very nice Citabria, culminating in a very enjoyable multi-leg trip with David. I finally gained some limited experience of aeros too, which I may try to expand on next year. My most recent flight with Charlie to Dunkeswell was also a highlight, adding another flying companion for future flights.

Kemble’s lights are now fully installed, and as of early December 2014 still awaiting final approval. Next year could well be the year where a Night Rating would actually be useful for me, so I’ll definitely add that to my list of goals for the year.

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

  • Make at least one trip to the Continent
  • Visit Caernarfon or another airfield for an extended stay
  • Continue to take part in more ‘sociable’ flying like Club fly-outs or visits to fly-ins
  • Make more use of the IMC rating to retain currency, both by carrying out flights that involve some portion in actual IMC, and carrying out both practice and real approaches into airfields that provide instrument approaches
  • Consider the addition of a Night Qualification to my license.
  • Reach the 200 hours P1 mark to enable me to carry out ‘Charity Flights’, initially for the PTA at Catrin’s school.

Total flying hours: 257:20
Hours P1: 178: 40

Back to Dunkeswell with a new flying buddy

November 30, 2014

Charlie had commented on an earlier blog entry, and we’d struck up an email conversation as a result of it. He was training at Gloucester at the time, but was considering switching to a Club at Kemble. He ended up joining Lyneham Flying Club and completing his PPL with them. He contacted me again just after gaining his licence, and we tried to arrange a flight together. The first attempt had to be cancelled due to bad weather, but we decided to have another go this weekend, taking one of Freedom’s Warriors.

We planned a trip to Dunkeswell, with Charlie flying the outbound leg, and me flying the return. Charlie was keen to fly a transit of Bristol’s Controlled Airspace at my suggestion, and I agreed to do this on my leg so he could get a feel for what was involved.

Leading up to the flight, Saturday’s weather forecast appeared better, and typically Saturday’s weather was almost perfect for flying (but we had booked the aircraft for the Sunday!). The forecasts for Sunday were a little inconsistent, making it difficult to make the final go / no-go decision. The forecasts on Sunday morning weren’t particularly optimistic, but we decided to head to Kemble and see how things looked. On my drive up there I was passing through patches of fog (including one which held a particularly optimistic idiot overtaking in the opposite direction, which led to a slight ‘brown trousers’ moment before I’d even reached the airfield). However, while driving I could see that when the fog cleared the sky looked perfect for flying.

We both arrived at Kemble in good time, and helped get the aircraft out of the hangars. Another pilot was preparing to take a group of young children flying, and their excitement and enthusiasm was good to see. The fog seemed to be clearing nicely, and we decided to leave as early as possible in order to try to avoid some of the forecast poorer weather in the afternoon.

Kemble were on 26 at the time, and the FISO directed us to the North Apron for power checks. Once complete, we were then given clearance to backtrack in readiness for departure. I carried out the pre-takeoff checks for Charlie as we backtracked, and once at the far end we lined up and took off. The takeoff was straightforward, and Charlie turned Crosswind and then Downwind to climb out from the airfield before setting course for the first turning point at Lyneham. Personally I’d have just turned Crosswind and just left the circuit, but I didn’t mention this to Charlie at the time as I didn’t want to seem too nit-picky on our first flight together!

Departing Kemble

Departing Kemble

Climbing on the Downwind leg brought us quite close to a bank of cloud, so Charlie turned to the South for Lyneham and continued the climb up to 2000 feet. We turned towards the South West just before reaching Lyneham as the cloud to the South was almost solid. We set course appropriately, maintaining just below 2000 feet in order to ensure we remained clear of Bristol’s airspace on our way to the Radstock VRP.

Conditions on this leg were very strange, with almost solid cloud off to our left, and clear blue skies (aside from some fog patches on the lower ground) off to our right! We were both initially a little concerned at the thick cloud, but it soon became clear that it was well to the left of our planned track, and the forecast had it moving even further to the South East throughout the day.

Thick cloud to our left

Thick cloud to our left

Almost clear skies to our right

Almost clear skies to our right

We spotted the Wells mast ahead of us, looking worryingly large at our current height (the mast rises to to an altitude of around 2000 feet, putting it at the same height as us!). However, once we were clear of the 2000 feet portion of Bristol’s airspace, we climbed to 4000 feet for the remainder of the flight to Dunkeswell.

We passed by the Wells mast at a much more acceptable altitude, and spotted a number of commercial aircraft on their approach into Bristol off to our right. As we turned South for Dunkeswell the visibility into sun was fairly poor. We’d talked on this leg about the join at Dunkeswell, Charlie correctly recalling that when parachuting was in operation Overhead Joins were not allowed. We signed off with Bristol (getting a helpful warning from the Controller that parachuting was taking place) and contacted Dunkeswell.

Passing the Wells mast

Passing the Wells mast

I had pre-warned Charlie to expect a true ‘Radio’ service from the Air Ground operator on duty, and was pleased that my advice turned out to be correct. We received a response to our initial call giving us the runway in use, and then heard nothing from them from then on. It was initially quite difficult to spot Dunkeswell itself as we approached (I thought I’d spotted it but that soon turned out to be just a road!). Charlie’s turn towards my incorrect target put the runway into a much more recognisable aspect, and made it easy to spot the airfield and set up for a Downwind join for runway 04.

A glider was taking off from North Hill off in the distance as we turned Base, and I kept an eye on it for Charlie to ensure it wasn’t going to be a factor. Charlie flew a nice approach and landing, touching down very gently on Dunkeswell’s long runway. We received no response from the A/G operator to our request for parking instructions, and I initially suggested we just park on the grass beyond the skydiving aircraft we could see. As we got close though we saw that there were no other aircraft on the grass, so parked up on the paved area beyond the end of runway 04, behind another light aircraft.

Little and Large!

Little and Large!

We headed in to settle the landing fee (a very reasonable £10), then went in to order a couple of sausage sandwiches for lunch, Charlie taking advantage of not having to fly back and enjoying a cool beer. The weather here was still glorious so we sat outside, watching both skydiving aircraft make regular flights as we enjoyed our lunch and talked about our flight down.

A different class of airspace user!

A different class of airspace user!

Mindful of the deteriorating weather forecast (and in an attempt to earn some brownie points by getting home in time for a birthday party Catrin was attending later!) we returned to the aircraft soon after finishing. I performed a quick walk around, checking fuel and oil levels (and Charlie’s fuel management on the way down!) before we got settled back in the cockpit.

The engine started easily, and after confirming runway in use and pressure setting we taxyed to the hold, setting up the avionics along the way. Power checks were all completed normally, and we backtracked to the threshold of 04 before commencing the takeoff run. The wind had picked up a bit since we arrived, but the takeoff was normal and I set course for Bridgewater (almost a straight out departure). After signing off with Dunkeswell we switched to Bristol, and listened in for a little while as we approached Taunton.

Departing Dunkeswell

Departing Dunkeswell

Announcing myself on frequency, I made the request for a Basic Service and Zone Transit, outlining my requested route through the Zone. As is fairly normal, I was initially told to ‘remain outside Controlled Airspace’, and given the QNH and assigned a squawk. We continued on towards Bristol, discussing at what point I would call them back for an update on the request for Transit. As we got within 5 or 6 miles, the Controller again reiterated the ‘remain outside’ instruction, before advising us to contact the Tower for the Transit, giving us the appropriate frequency (which I initially read back incorrectly).

‘Contact’ has a specific meaning on the radio, indicating that the next Controller will be expecting our call and have all of our details. As such, the initial call was just ‘Bristol Tower, G-EHAZ with you’. The Controller first cleared us to a point 1nm South of the runway, not above 3000 feet, to expect a crossing to the East of the field. We continued into Controlled airspace, getting some good photos of the Cheddar Reservoir and the airport itself as we passed.

Cheddar Reservoir

Cheddar Reservoir

I was a little unsure whether the next clearance I heard (clearing us to pass 1nm East of the airport) was for us, so asked the Controller to ‘say again’, before reading back his instructions and adjusting our course. We spotted an Easyjet flight departing to the West, and a number of others taxying on the ground. It was slightly unfortunate that they weren’t using the Easterly runway today, allowing us to pass to the West and get some better photos from Charlie’s side of the aircraft.

Passing Bristol Airport

Passing Bristol Airport

I reported passing abeam the airfield, and was passed back to the Radar frequency for the remainder of the Transit. We passed just to the West of Bristol itself, getting some photos of the Clifton Suspension Bridge as we passed. As we neared the edge of the Zone, Filton became easy to spot, and I set course for it while discussing its closure with Charlie. At least I’d managed to land there in the months leading up to its ultimate closure.

Clifton Suspension Bridge

Clifton Suspension Bridge

The Concorde is still visible on the ground, and the airfield makes an obvious navigation point in the area. It will be a shame for it all to be replaced with housing at some point in the future. Recently there have been a number of airfield closures (Filton, Panshanger, Blackpool) that seem to suggest a downward trend. We can only hope that the re-opening of Llanbedr at least gives some cause for optimism.

Filton (disused) airfield

Filton (disused) airfield

From Filton we set course direct for Kemble, and the visibility was such that it was easy to spot even at this distance. With 15nm to run we requested a frequency change from the Bristol Controller, thanking him for his service as we changed frequency. Kemble were relatively quiet, with one aircraft currently operating in the circuit. We received the appropriate runway details (they were now operating on 08 with a right-hand circuit), and I set us up for an Overhead Join, descending to 2000 feet as we approached. Charlie spotted an aircraft performing some aeros off to our right, before it passed down our left hand side to continue with a further loop some distance behind us.

As we approached Kemble, another couple of aircraft announced that they were approaching from the same direction as us, and elected to do a Right Base join. The FISO clarified our proposed join with us, and asked us to report on the dead side. We were unable to do this due to the frequency becoming busy with traffic on the ground, and ended up reporting Crosswind. The FISO gave us traffic information on the aircraft that were joining, who had recently reported Right Base. Initially we were unable to spot them on our Downwind leg, and on telling the FISO ‘traffic not sighted’ he responded with a ‘no, me either’! The other joining aircraft did announce that he was visual with us however.

Joining Overhead at Kemble

Joining Overhead at Kemble

Charlie spotted them some distance ahead of us, on a much wider track than I was expecting. I took the quick decision to turn Base at the normal point, informing the FISO that I now had the traffic in sight, and that we were turning inside them. He reported this to the other aircraft as ‘Traffic already established in the circuit turning tight Right Base inside you’ (suggesting to me that he felt I had right of way). The response from the other pilot seemed to suggest that he wasn’t exactly pleased about this, but I actually thought I was on the correct Base leg position (and the GPS track seems to suggest this, if I’d gone much further Downwind I’d have ended up outside the ATZ).

I did my best to keep my speed up on the Approach to enable the aircraft behind to continue with his landing. As we approached the runway and I began the roundout, I was distracted slightly by a bird flying at a similar height to us crossing our path, but it soon cleared out of the way. This combined with my attempt to allow the pilot behind to land led to a slightly rushed landing. The stall warner was sounding nicely as we touched down, but the sink rate was a little higher than I would perhaps have liked, leading to a firm touchdown.

Trying to clear the runway as quickly as possible, I tried to cut the corner onto the Bravo taxyway. The FISO quickly spotted this, and asked me to follow the leadout line, otherwise I’d end up on an area of the hard standing that now contained part of the new runway lighting system! I followed the line, and we cleared the runway just in time to see the other aircraft flying over the threshold at low level, giving him just enough time to land behind us without having to go around.

We taxyed back to the Woodside Apron, Dave pointing from the hangar to indicate that we should park up on the grass opposite. We shut down and tidied up the aircraft, before heading in to settle up the paperwork and payment.

Tracks flown

Tracks flown

Outbound profile

Outbound profile

Return profile

Return profile

All in all, this flight really couldn’t have gone much better. Despite the slightly worrying weather forecasts in the morning, the actual weather had turned out to be near perfect once the early morning fog had lifted. Charlie had done a great job on what was his first landaway on his own licence, and being granted the Transit straight over the top of Bristol Airport was just the icing on the cake. Hopefully Charlie and I will be able to make many similar flights in the future. And to cap it all, I was back home in Swindon (after a round trip to Devon) by 3pm!

Total flight time today: 1:05
Total flight time to date: 257:20

IMC Renewal

November 5, 2014

After regaining currency on my last flying trip, it seemed like my next goal should be to renew my IMC rating. I managed to arrange a day off work at short notice (to take advantage of a favourable weather forecast) and tied up with Roger (the CFI at Lyneham Flying Club) to carry out the test. The Club’s IMC equipped Warrior was in for maintenance, but Roger was happy to carry out the test in the Arrow, with a handy bonus that it would also reset my Arrow currency in the same flight.

Roger managed to gain approval to carry out an ILS into Brize, and was happy to use one of the two approaches from our last flight in the Arrow back in April as the other required procedure. I carried out all the planning at home, marking out the plates for both 08 and 26 as the wind forecast was almost 90 degrees across the runway. I took my time calculating an appropriate DA and DH for both approaches, referring back to the ‘Thom’ book on Instrument Flying to refresh my memory as to the means of calculating these. Weather and NOTAMs showed nothing that would particularly affect us, so I headed off to Kemble in good time, arriving around 15 minutes before the booking time.

Roger gave me a thorough brief before the flight, working through the various manoeuvres that would be required. These basically amounted to:

  • Straight and level flight on partial panel
  • Climbing and descending on partial panel
  • Turns onto a specific heading on partial panel
  • Recovery from unusual attitudes (sustained 45 degree turn, steep descending turn, approach to the stall) on partial panel
  • Let down and approach to DH / MDH
  • Missed approach
  • Bad weather circuit
  • Landing

I questioned a few aspects of the test, and once we were happy we’d covered everything, I completed a basic PLOG (containing the frequencies and morse code idents I’d need) and we headed out to the Arrow to prepare for the flight.

It was helpful to have two people checking out the aircraft, Roger carrying out the external checks of the electrical items and then taking samples from the 3 fuel drains while I completed the remainder of the walk around. It was a relatively brisk morning, and I was glad to be able to complete it in less time than usual as a result. We then settled ourselves in the cockpit, and ran through the checklist to get the engine running once start clearance had been gained from the FISO.

While taxying I checked the brakes and then all the required instruments in turns (AI level, wings left, ball right, compass, DI and ADF reducing – and repeat for a turn to the right). Roger later pointed out that I hadn’t actually identified the NDB. At the time I had not done this as I knew I wouldn’t be using the ADF for anything other than to prove that it was indicating correctly, but Roger later said that he would have preferred me to identify it before using it. Kemble were operating on runway 08, but we were cleared to backtrack the runway to carry out the checks on the North Apron. During these we experienced some plug fouling (this had been noted in the tech log) and this required running the engine at 2400 RPM for a minute or two to clear. Once we were happy that the engine would run smoothly on both individual sets of magnetos, I completed the power checks and pre-departure actions (including an emergency brief) as quickly as possible in order to prevent this from happening again.

We were cleared straight on to the runway and I backtracked to the threshold in order to use the full length available. After a quick check of the engine indications, I applied power and then turned on the fuel pump, landing light and wing strobes (something I’d managed to omit before taking to the runway). The take off roll and rotation all went well, and I set course to the South to head towards Lyneham to carry out the initial portion of the test. Once we reached 3000 feet (perhaps climbing slower than I really should have) I went under the hood, and Roger had me carry out a few turns, climbs and descents on full panel in order to get myself settled before beginning the main part of the test.

Roger covered up the AI and DI, simulating a failure of the aircraft’s vacuum system. This left me with the altimeter, VSI and turn / slip indicator as the only means of maintaining control of the aircraft. We began with a timed turn which initially went well, the first turn bringing me to within around 30 degrees of the required heading. I made a small slip when beginning the second attempt to reach the heading, beginning to turn the wrong way due to misinterpreting the compass. However, I caught this quickly (receiving a ‘well spotted’! from Roger) and the second attempt brought us to within 10 degrees of the heading. After a short final turn we were then on the required track. The required standard is that within around 60 seconds of the completion of the initial turn, the heading should have stabilised to within 15 degrees of the heading specified.

We repeated this with a turn to the left, and again this required a couple of small corrections after the initial turn, but on the whole I felt that this had gone better than it had on previous time I’d been required to demonstrate this. We then moved on to climbing and descending on partial panel, and again I managed these aspects of the flight better than I recall doing on previous occasions.

Roger then took control and had me look inside, carrying out some turns and climbs in order to attempt to disorient me. He then put the aircraft into a series of unusual attitudes and had me recover from these. These all went relatively well, although the recovery from the approach to the stall was perhaps a little slow, and I had to catch myself from adjusting the bank of the aircraft before I had got the airspeed back up sufficiently.

This completed the initial portion of the test profile, and Roger removed the covers from the AI and DI, and I settled myself back on full panel and oriented myself with respect to Brize Norton using the ADF and distance reading on the 430. I called them to request vectors to the ILS approach into runway 26, and the Controller began to give me headings to steer followed by a descent from our current altitude of nearly 6000 feet down to the ‘platform’ height of 2800 feet. I initially began this descent at 500 feet per minute, but it soon became clear that I needed to descend quicker than this in order to lose the required height in time. I made the mistake of attempting to get the ATIS (a recorded announcement giving airfield and weather information) after making the initial call to the Controller, when I should really have done this first. This meant I had to keep turning off the ATIS when the Controller was giving me instructions, meaning it took several attempts to get the full details.

As we approached platform height we entered cloud, meaning that the approach proper was mostly flown in ‘actual’ IMC. While good practice, I could probably have done without the increased turbulence brought on by this when carrying out a test for the renewal of my IMC rating! The Controller soon instructed us to continue our descent to 2300 feet, and began giving us headings to steer to intercept the localiser. Following Roger’s previous advice, I was taking care to set the heading bug on the DI as soon as a heading was given in order to use this to refer to. In hindsight, I should have written down the altitudes I was cleared to, as when cleared to 2300 I initially responded ‘descend altitude 2000′, before correcting myself with ‘correction, altitude 2300′. I’m not sure the Controller heard me correct myself, as he then repeated the instruction highlighting my mistake, but it was good to see that this required readback had highlighted a possibly misinterpretation, and the Controller had taken care to ensure I had correctly understood the instruction.

The Controller turned us to intercept the localiser, clearing us for the approach and asking me to report when established. I then began to include the ILS indication into my scan, watching for it starting to move so that I could turn to align myself with the runway track. However, I obviously wasn’t checking frequently enough, as between two checks the needle had gone from full-scale deflection to the right, to almost centred. Realising I’d left the turn too late, I resisted the urge to turn sharply to intercept (a mistake I’d made on previous occasions – when flying on instruments all turns should be made as standard ‘Rate 1′ turns). I set up a 20 or 30 degree intercept to re-capture the localiser, but failed to take into account that I now had a strong tailwind.

The Controller questioned whether I had captured the localiser, to which I responded ‘negative, attempting to capture now’, and the tailwind soon blew me back through the runway centreline on the other side. As I again tried to intercept, I noticed the glideslope was now active, and was starting to indicate that I was too high. Again, I correctly maintained height until established again (you should not begin descent on the glideslope until correctly aligned with the localiser) but by now the glideslope was more than half scale deflection below. I began the descent to see if I could regain the correct profile, but it soon became clear that I wasn’t going to be able to do this. I reluctantly announced to Roger that I’d messed this up and would have to follow the Missed Approach procedure, before initiating a climb back to 2800 feet and informing the Controller that we were going missed, asking if we could have another try. My tracking was a little off on the climb out (the missed approach procedure called for maintaining of runway track).

After a short period of quiet, we were cleared for another attempt, and began to be vectored back around to begin the procedure again. The missed approach instructions included a change back to the Approach frequency this time, and it took me a while to get the radios set up again with the required frequencies for the approach and missed approach. Roger was complimentary on my decision making in deciding to abandon the approach, as well as in respect to not begin the descent before I was correctly established on the localiser. We were again vectored around (on a significantly wider pattern than normal to allow an aircraft to depart) before again being vectored to intercept the final approach track.

This time I made a much better job of capturing the localiser, beginning the turn to intercept as soon as the localiser needle started to move. The turbulence made maintaining the correct rate of descent a little tricky, and the workload increased somewhat as I got closer in to the runway and the needles became that much more sensitive. I had been counting down the height remaining to decision altitude, but was distracted slightly by a prompt from the Controller to confirm that I had the gear down. I lowered the gear and confirmed this to the Controller, levelling off as I approached DA. During the initiation of the Missed Approach procedure,  I did descend slightly below the specified minima, but this is allowed for in the criteria for the procedure.

The tracking on the Missed Approach was a lot better this time, and while climbing back to 2800 feet Roger instructed me to request 1300 feet to depart in order to remain below the cloud. I began to descend and Roger had me remove the hood in order to carry out the final requirement of the test, the bad weather circuit. It was strange to be able to see outside again, and I initially mis-identified Fairford for Kemble, before using the ADF and 430 to get a better idea of my position. We requested a frequency change back to Kemble and signed off, thanking the Controller for his service.

The bad weather circuit is a manoeuvre that might be required should an instrument approach be made successfully, and for some reason it not be possible to land at the first attempt. The test profile is to simulate a low cloudbase (in our case around 600 feet) and poor visibility (an IMC rated pilot is permitted to make a visual approach with visibility down to 1800m (about a mile). We would therefore approach Kemble down to 500 feet, before then carrying out a low, tight circuit in order to make a further attempt at landing. As we approached, Kemble were still using runway 08 and had another aircraft carrying out circuits as we approached. His position enabled us to join Downwind, and we followed him around the circuit.

He was just climbing out as we approach 500 feet, and we made a constant turn onto Downwind from around the mid-point of the runway in order to ensure we could stay inside the other aircraft, and hopefully land and clear the runway in time for him to continue his circuits without disruption. Still used to flying on instruments I initially started to make a rate 1 turn, before realising that this could easily put us more than a mile from the runway, and hence outside of visual range in our ‘simulated’ conditions. I tightened up the turn, establishing us on a Downwind leg on a circuit perhaps half the size of those normally flown at Kemble. I’d left a single stage of flap in to enable us to fly the circuit slower than normal, and carried out the pre-landing checks on the short Downwind leg.

I began another constant turn from Downwind to Final not long after passing abeam the threshold, and began a steady descent, pulling increasing stages of flap as required. On short final I made the usual checks (Reds, Blues, Greens, Flaps – mixture rich, prop fully fine, gear down, flaps set) but omitted to mention ‘gear down’ on my ‘Final’ call. I elected to land long in order to prevent a lengthy taxy, but as a result of this ended up flying along the runway relatively low before eventually bringing us in for a slightly firm but acceptable landing. It had been a long time since I’d flown the Arrow, and I’d ‘forgotten’ to take account of the different control inputs required during the roundout when compared to a Warrior.

I kept the speed up as we taxyed along the runway, bringing the aircraft to a stop after passing the hold line and announcing that we were clear of the runway. Once the after landing checks were completed, we taxyed back to the parking area and positioned the aircraft in readiness for refuelling. Happily, Roger announced “We’ll call that a pass” as we shut down, and I was an IMC rated pilot again!

Track flown

Track flown

Flight profile

Flight profile

Once we’d refuelled and pushed the aircraft back to its parking space we unloaded all our gear and headed back in to the Club to debrief. Roger was happy with my flying as a whole, saying that despite making a few mistakes I had proven that I was safe in all of the manoeuvres we’d carried out. While the initial ILS was abandoned due to an obvious mistake on my part, Roger was happy with my decision making during a time of relatively high stress, not least in avoiding the temptation to descend once the glideslope became active even though I wasn’t yet established on the localiser.

Roger had a few pointers to help reduce my workload in future, not least to try to get radios set up in good time and while the workload is light, including retrieving the ATIS in order to prevent tying up the frequency having the Controller pass the same information to me. He also reminded me that I should always report ‘Final, Gear Down’ when flying a retractable aircraft. This is something I often forget to include, although I’m always very careful to carry out the ‘Final’ check (often a number of times!) to ensure the gear is down and the aircraft is configured correctly.

I was pleased with how the flight had gone. I felt like I was always in good control of the aircraft despite a lack of practise at flying on instruments. Although allowing myself to get slightly behind the aircraft at times of high workload and stress, I had at least demonstrated an ability to make good and correct decisions even when the going got tough. I must try to make more of an effort to remain in practise with instrument flying, perhaps planning more trips to airfields with instrument approaches to try and fly approaches more regularly. On the whole, a tough but enjoyable flight!

Total flight time today: 1:30
Total flight time to date: 256:15

Free landing, then heading somewhere new

October 25, 2014

Now that I had successfully completed the check flight, I was able to hire the aircraft and head off somewhere. I’d already arranged with David to meet up, and he was happy for me to do all the flying rather than us share the flying today. A quick check of the free landing vouchers I had suggested that Leicester would be a good choice for lunch, and I looked in the general area of Leicester to choose a suitable second destination. Ideally I wanted to visit a new airfield, so between myself and David we opted to pop in to Tatenhill after having lunch at Leicester.

After we were settled in G-EHAZ, the engine started fairly easily and we had no difficulties this time in making successful contact with the FISO to gain our taxy clearance. Again we taxyed along the grass taxyway up to the hold for 26, carrying out the power checks as normal. We waited a short time for another aircraft to land before taking to the runway and beginning out takeoff roll once the runway was clear.

David was nice enough to comment ‘smooth takeoff’ as we became airborne, and I reminded him that it was my 4th of the day, so I had plenty of practice already! We continued around the circuit, announcing that I was climbing out on the Downwind leg before turning to the North East to join our route up to Leicester via the DTY VOR, turning at the Chedworth disused airfield as usual when departing Kemble in this direction.

Climbing out from Kemble

Climbing out from Kemble

I tried initially to use the OBS facility of the GPS to intercept the correct course to DTY (I hadn’t entered Chedworth as a waypoint) but it didn’t seem to be doing what I wanted it to. So I dialled in the VOR frequency and switched the GPS CDI indicator over to VLOC (causing the indicator to display indications based on the NAV radio rather than the programmed GPS route). This elicited a comment from David as he hadn’t realised what I was doing, so I explained why and we continued.

Things were relatively quiet on this leg. Although we received a Basic Service from Brize, they were quite busy handling other traffic and we heard little from them until it was time to change frequencies. David spotted another aircraft passing in the opposite direction, and a number of times I was forced to descend in order to remain clear of cloud. My IMC rating expired towards the end of August, so sadly I was no longer licensed to fly in cloud. This was to become a particular annoyance today, as the cloud base varied throughout the flights.

Skirting the clouds

Skirting the clouds

As I usually do, I turned early to avoid flying directly over the VOR (and come into close proximity with others using it for navigational purposes) and was forced to deviate from course and level significantly to remain clear of the clouds on this leg. Bruntinghorpe was an easy waypoint to spot for the final leg into Leicester, and we made contact with our destination as we passed Bruntinghorpe.

Unsurprisingly they were fairly busy, and were currently operating off their short runway 22. The circuit was busy with 2 or 3 other aircraft as we joined overhead, and another aircraft completed a Touch and Go as we turned Crosswind. I initially considered following him around the circuit, but David suggested that continuing Crosswind to stay ahead of him in the circuit was the better option.

We had good visibility of the other aircraft in the circuit as we continued, which was why it came as a distinct surprise when David spotted another aircraft directly below us as we turned Final. Instinctively I stopped our descent while I decided what to do, but there really was no option and I announced a Go Around. We repositioned ourselves in the circuit, trying even harder to spot any other aircraft in order to avoid a similar conflict. This time the circuit was uneventful, and I brought us in for a nice gentle landing at Leicester. We taxyed in and parked up, David pushing us back as I steered from within the cockpit for a rather unusual bit of reverse parking!

Short Final for Leicester runway 22

Short Final for Leicester runway 22

After signing in and handing over the free landing voucher, we headed upstairs for some lunch. The obvious topic of conversation was the other aircraft we’d been close to on Final. Neither of us could work out where he’d come from, as we’d both been paying close attention to the radio and keeping a good lookout. Our only conclusion was that he was operating without a radio (a perfectly valid thing to do) and neither of the aircraft had spotted each other as he joined the circuit.

We chatted briefly with David’s ‘neighbour’ from the next hangar at Gloucester where his shareoplane is kept, before heading back to the aircraft to depart for Tatenhill. I’d tried to raise them on the phone and received no answer, but we elected to head over there and see if we could raise anyone on the radio as we approached.

Again the aircraft started easily, and as we taxyed to carry out power checks it appeared that the wind had changed to favour the longer runway. However, by the time the checks were complete aircraft were using 22 again, so we taxyed to the hold there and waited for other aircraft to land and depart before taking our turn to line up. This runway is relatively short, so I opted to select flaps for a short field takeoff.

This proved unnecessary, as the strong headwind had us airborne quickly and climbing like an express elevator! I set about retracting the flaps and settling into the climb, and the runway heading meant we were already on almost the correct track towards Hinckley, which allowed us to slot nicely between East Midlands and Birmingham controlled airspace on the way to Tatenhill. I had another attempt at setting up the 650 to intercept the appropriate track to Tatenhill, but again didn’t seem to be able to do it correctly.

David again spotted another aircraft passing to our right on a reciprocal heading, and commented that we were in a fairly narrow corridor of uncontrolled airspace so we were likely to see a higher density of traffic. We both resolved to focus more on lookout for the remainder of the flight as a result of this.

The remainder of the flight to Tatenhill was fairly routine, and David spotted it in the distance as we approached. We made contact with them over the radio and determined the runway in use, and helpfully we were approaching in almost the ideal direction to carry out a standard overhead join. We followed another aircraft around the circuit, causing me to fly a wider circuit than I normally would (the track log actually shows us outside of Tatenhill’s ATZ as a result). I queried the condition of the grass taxyways on the Downwind leg (the AFE flight guide mentions that they can sometimes be unusable in Winter) and was told that other aircraft had been using them that day.

The aircraft ahead cleared the runway in good time, enabling me to continue my approach. On Short Final the wind conditions changed drastically, causing a significant loss of airspeed that initially caught me unawares. As a result the last part of the approach was a little unstable, and I considered going around. Tatenhill has a long runway though, and I persevered and brought us in for a slightly untidy landing with a small amount of crab still present as we touched down.

Final approach into Tatenhill

Final approach into Tatenhill

I steered us on to the grass to the North of the runway, and remarked to David how it felt like we were travelling on 3 flat tyres! After David’s quip about my slightly crabbed landing possibly causing this, we both spotted a neatly mowed strip of grass to our left. Once on this the ride was a lot smoother, and we made easier progress to the parking area and parked up. We walked in to settle the landing fee, and headed to the busy cafe for a cuppa. They seemed to be busy both with local visitors and people arriving for trial lessons, and it was good to see an airfield keeping busy.

Suitably refreshed we headed back out to the aircraft again, getting the engine going easily and preparing for the trip home. As we taxyed towards the hold for the active runway it wasn’t clear if there was enough room near the hold to carry out the power checks, so I elected to do them on the grass taxyway. As we neared the hold though it was clear the hard standing area there was much larger than it initially appeared. We took to the runway and took off, initially avoiding the gliding site at Cross Hayes before setting heading for Cosford.

We were travelling beneath a thick layer of cloud, but conditions just a few miles to the North West seemed a lot better. I took the decision to head in this direction for a couple of minutes to see if we could emerge from the cloud, and after a short while the cloud layer above us became much less dense, even allowing the sun to shine through on occasions. We continued parallel to our intended track for the remainder of the leg to Cosford, keeping a good eye out for gliders as we passed by.

Blue skies for a change!

Blue skies for a change!

Heading South, the cloud base initially lifted significantly, enabling me to climb as we passed by the airfield at Halfpenny Green. The cloudy conditions then became fairly frustrating for the remainder of the leg down to Gloucester, as I had to repeatedly descend or alter course to avoid flying through them. I must get my IMC rating renewed soon so that I can legally fly through clouds such as these without having to continually alter course or level!

We contacted Gloucester as we passed Worcester, initially having to wait quite a while due to how busy the frequency was. I initially planned to transit their Overhead, but the Controller suggested I might be better avoiding them due to how busy they were. As we got closer this seemed like the best idea, so we passed by to the West of the airport. I was notified that the police helicopter was operating just to the South of the airfield at relatively low level, and there was a brief moment of confusion as the Controller asked the pilot of the police helicopter whether ‘Birdlip’ was closed. I can only assume the A417 up Birdlip Hill is on her way home!

Once clear of Gloucester, we signed off and contacted Kemble. They were still operating on runway 26, and the FISO notified us that they currently had 4 aircraft operating in the circuit! I had a slight moment of confusion as I mistook Aston Down for Kemble, and David spotted a glider on a winch launch as we approached so I made sure to keep well clear. The radio at Kemble was very busy as we approached the Overhead, and we both tried to spot the other aircraft in the circuit so as to slot in nicely.

Another aircraft was taking off as I descended Deadside, and I initially wondered whether I should follow this aircraft around the circuit. However, David correctly suggested that I continue my Crosswind leg and join the circuit in front of him, as otherwise we’d be extending the circuit unnecessarily. I continued around the circuit, making regular position calls and keeping an eye on the aircraft ahead of us. I was initially unsure as to whether taking the grass runway would be a better choice, but we resolved to make this decision as we turned Final.

There was another aircraft ahead of us for a touch and go, but there seemed plenty of room for us to follow him and land on the hard runway. However, he seemed to take a long time completing the ‘Go’ part of the touch and go due to him being a fair way from the centre line when he touched down and having to reposition. This made me think I may need to carry out another Go Around, but I slowed us down as much as I dared on Final, and he soon got himself repositioned and airborne again.

The buildings near the threshold of 26 again caused some turbulence, but I got things back under control easily and brought us in for a near-perfect landing, with a very smooth touchdown just as the stall warner started to sound. We taxyed back to Freedom’s hangar, initially wondering if we’d have to stop due to another aircraft approaching from that direction before turning in to the fuel pump and making the way clear for us. Once parked up and shut down, we were helped by Sarah and Glen in getting the aircraft back into the tight confines of the hangar.

All that was left was to complete the paperwork and pay for the flight. After over 4 hours of flight time today, I certainly felt I deserved a beer on the way home!

Tracks flown

Tracks flown

Leg 1 profile

Leg 1 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 3 profile

Leg 3 profile

Despite the long break between flights necessitating a currency check, I felt that I’d flown pretty well today. With the exception of the first PFL attempt on the currency check, I’d completed all the required manoeuvres without any problems, and the flight up to Leicester and Tatenhill had gone well also. It’s always nice to have David alongside (despite his regular ‘input’ on what I’m doing wrong!), and I’m sure there will be many such flights in the future. A really enjoyable day all told, an experience I’ll definitely aiming to repeat without such a huge gap between flights!

Total flight time today: 3:10
Total flight time to date: 254:45

Club Checkout

October 25, 2014

As it had been some time since my last flight, Freedom’s 43 day currency rules required that I needed to be checked out by an Instructor before I could hire an aircraft from them. I arranged an early flight with Glen in order to get signed off and enable me to hire aircraft again. This was likely to be a slightly strange experience, as I had flown with Glen a number of times before, initially from Lyneham with me as the ‘experienced’ pilot, and him as a relatively newly qualified PPL. Since then, Glen has expanded his experience significantly, most recently gaining his Instructor rating and becoming one of Freedom’s team of Instructors.

I arrived just moments before Glen, and we chatted for a while before heading over to Freedom’s hangar to prepare for the flight. I took the cover off the aircraft and carried out the ‘A’ check, while Glen hung the cover so as to drain the moisture from it. It was a cold start to the day, and I made a mental note to dig out my gloves in readiness for the colder weather that was likely to arrive!

Once the ‘A’ check was complete, we got into the aircraft, and I began to familiarise myself with the cockpit layout. I had not flown this particular aircraft before, and its slightly different cockpit layout meant that I wanted to take care to get a feel for where everything was on the ground, rather than struggle to find things once we were in the air. I was particularly concerned with the location of the alternator switch, as the majority of the aircraft I’ve flown since gaining my PPL have had a combined master and alternator switch. This aircraft however had a separate one, and failing to turn this on correctly could lead to an electrical failure in flight, as happened to another pilot leading to him having to land back at Kemble without a working radio.

Also, this aircraft was fitted with a Garmin 650 GPS system, similar in operation to the Garmin 430 in the Arrow, but with the crucial difference that the majority of the user’s input was made via a touch screen. I’d used Garmin’s excellent introductory videos and PC based simulator in the days leading up to the flight to ensure I could operate the basic functions (tuning the radios for example), and my first attempts with it in the aircraft proper backed up the research of the previous week.

The engine started easily (the aircraft’s electric primer a novel difference to other Warriors) and we initially had problems contacting the FISOs in the Tower at Kemble. We couldn’t see any movement in the Tower, so initially made calls to ‘Kemble Traffic’ and began taxying down the grass taxyway towards the threshold of runway 26. As we passed the Tower we saw movement, and made further attempts to contact them. It seemed to take a number of attempts to gain full contact with them for some reason, but by the time we reached the end of the grass taxyway we were confident that we had two working radios.

The power checks were carried out without any drama, and I took to the runway for my first takeoff in a Warrior since my first flight of this year, back in January. The wind was pretty much straight down the runway, making for a fairly straightforward takeoff. We headed South towards RAF Lyneham, before beginning the  manoeuvres required to demonstrate that I could still remember how to fly an aircraft.

We started with a 45 degree banked turn to the right through 360 degrees. This isn’t something you would do during normal flight, but is generally used as an emergency evasive manoeuvre should it be required. Despite not practicing this for some time, it went relatively well, and we repositioned ourselves to the North of Lyneham for the remainder of the flight due to the better weather conditions in that direction.

After a HASELL check we then moved on to stalls, initially ‘clean’ and then simulating the turn from Base to Final with 2 stages of flap. Both of these went well, and we again repositioned ourselves for what would hopefully be the final check, the ‘dreaded’ Practice Forced Landing or PFL.

This manoeuvre is one that no pilot ever wants to have to use for real. The idea is to be able to bring the aircraft to a safe landing should the engine fail during flight. The first priority is to stabilise the aircaft at the correct airspeed for ‘best glide’, giving you the maximum possible time in the air in order to possibly troubleshoot the issue. Once the aircraft is correctly trimmed for this speed, the next priority is to locate a suitable landing area within range of the aircraft. Ideally you want a field oriented roughly into wind, with sufficient length to bring the aircraft to a safe stop without colliding with anything on the ground. The surface is also important (you’d choose smooth grass over a ploughed field) and also the field should be clear of obstructions that might become a factor once landed. Finally, if the field has other candidates for landing close by, then this is also a good choice should the approach be misjudged and it not be possible to make the chosen field.

Once the landing area has been chosen, the aircraft is manoeuvred to provide a suitable approach, and only then is time spent in attempting to restart the failed engine. In the practice environment this is done through a series of ‘touch’ drills, checking fuel (changing tanks if appropriate), mags (checking if switching to a single mag enables the engine to start), turning on the fuel pump, exercising the mixture, throttle and carb heat controls, and also trying the engine’s starter to see if it can be restarted.

If time permits, a ‘Mayday’ call is then made (obviously when training this is done without actually transmitting anything!), and focus then returns to the approach to the landing area.

The majority of this practice went well, but I misjudged the approach into the field meaning I was going to land short. This was contrary to the majority of my previous PFL experiences where I typically ended up high into the field. Also, as we got closer it became clear that the field also had pylons and wires running through it.

We climbed away, and positioned ourselves in a different area to avoid annoying those on the ground. We carried out another PFL, and this one went much better, meaning I would almost certainly have been in a position to make a safe landing into my chosen field.

Glen announced he was happy, and that just left us with one remaining item to tick off, actually getting the plane back onto the ground safely! We headed back to Kemble, and I carried out a standard Overhead Join into the circuit for runway 26. The first circuit went well, and I brought us in for a nice landing as I would on any other flight. We climbed away and continued around for another circuit, this time to practice landing the aircraft without deploying the flaps, simulating a flap failure.

In this configuration, the aircraft’s approach will be much flatter, so typically the Downwind leg is extended to give further room to descend. At Kemble, the noise abatement procedures require a relatively short ‘Final’ leg due to the position of Kemble village, and I asked Glen whether it was Ok to overfly the village. He suggested extending Downwind as we normally would, but still ‘cut the corner’ to avoid flying directly over the village.

I had to make a positive decision not to deploy the flaps (the last time I was asked to perform a flapless approach I just automatically deployed the flaps when making the turn onto Base leg!) and we made our approach to the runway. Again, the landing was relatively smooth, and there was a slight comedy moment as I reached for the flap lever to raise the flaps before taking to the air again, obviously to find that they were still retracted!

The final circuit was to be the ultimate test of the PFL procedure we had carried out previously, this time actually bringing the aircraft down to the runway without touching the throttle after reducing it to idle. This was perhaps the portion of the flight I had been most concerned about, but I did my best to being the aircraft down on an appropriate profile, initially aiming about a third of the way down the runway, before using the flaps to bring the aiming point closer to the threshold as it became clear that we would be able to successfully make the runway.

After reducing the power to idle at the end of the Downwind leg, I did my best to judge the appropriate point to turn towards the airfield in order to be able to make the runway without using any engine power. At first I thought I was going to be a little high (as usual!) but once I began to deploy the flaps in stages the aircraft’s descent profile proved to be almost perfect. The area of turbulence on Short Final into runway 26 caused a slight loss of airspeed which I had to react to correct, and this led to a slightly firmer landing that I would have liked, but still perfectly acceptable given the ‘unusual’ approach.

As we taxyed back I outlined my plans for the next flight to Glen, discussing with him whether I would need to refuel the aircraft before the 3 hours of flying I had planned. We had started with full tanks, which typically gives about 5 hours of flying time. We had used around an hour, leaving plenty of fuel for the planned trip with a good reserve should this be necessary. Glen parked us up in front of Freedom’s hangar as I spotted David chatting to Sarah waiting for us to return.

All that remained was to complete the paperwork, before we were ready to begin preparations for the next flight.

In general I was pleased with how this flight had gone. It had been nearly two months since I had flown at all, and several months since I had flown a PA28 (my last flight had been in the Arrow on the 1st June), so I felt I had performed pretty well given the long gap between flights. With the exception of the first failed attempt at a PFL, Glen said I had flown well, which is always nice to hear! While I’d rather not have to carry out currency checks, sometimes other factors mean that I’m not unable to fly as often as I would like. It’s always nice to be told that you flying is still up to scratch however!

Track flown

Track flown

Flight profile

Flight profile

Total flight time today: 1:00
Total flight time to date: 251:35

New aircraft, two new destinations

August 24, 2014

After a couple of failed attempts to fly the Citabria due to my not feeling great, I finally arranged a booking when I felt fit to fly, and David was available to join me. Other commitments meant he wouldn’t be able to meet me at Oaksey until around 2pm, but he suggested that perhaps I could collect him from Garston Farm, a farm strip just a few minutes away from his home.

Despite a little trepidation at making my first flight in the Citabria to a completely new airfield, I carried out my research and decided that I should bite the bullet and give it a go. The Garston Farm website contains very detailed procedures for arrival and departure (it lies within the Colerne ATZ and has some noise sensitive areas quite close by) so I studied these and called the owner of the strip for permission to fly in the day before.

The morning dawned with near perfect flying weather (I really must keep flying the Citabria as it always seems to bring me good weather!) and I completed the final planning for a flight from Oaksey to Garston Farm, and then on to Old Sarum for a late lunch, before reversing the route to return. A call to Old Sarum showed that they were parachuting that day, so I studied their procedures for operating when parachute dropping was in place (essentially no Overhead Joins).

Once all the planning was complete, I set off for Oaksey somewhat earlier than required, as I had learned from Sarah that there would be nobody there to help me get the aircraft out of the hangar and refuelled. It was lucky I did this, as I arrived at the usual gate in to Oaksey to find it locked, meaning I had to try to find my way to the other side of the airfield for the first time.

On arrival I popped in to Freedom’s portacabin to drop off my gear, before heading round to the hangar to start checking out the aircraft. It was clear I’d also need to refuel, but helpfully as I completed the A check a chap asked if it would be Ok for him to take some photos of the other aircraft in the hangar. It seemed only fair that in return I ask him for help getting the aircraft out of the hangar and down to the grass surface of the airfield!

Rather than try to push the aircraft across the grass over to the pumps, I started it up for the short taxy. After a little fiddling around with the unfamiliar fuel pump (thankfully helped out by another resident of the airfield who was preparing to fly) I refuelled and started to get my gear settled into the aircraft in readiness for departure.

This was to be my first time flying the aircraft with my Nexus 5 attached to the kneeboard, and prior to the flight I’d been unsure how secure this arrangement would be with the kneeboard strapped to my leg. In actuality it all seemed to fit relatively nicely, so once I was settled I set about getting the engine started again ready for departure.

This was the first time I’d had to start the engine ‘hot’, and I had a lot of trouble getting it going. After three or four tries, with differing power settings, mixture, priming etc., I finally realised that I hadn’t turned the magnetos on! When flying a PA-28 this isn’t usually a separate step, as the key that operates the starter is also used to turn on the mags prior to reaching the position where the starter engages. However, on the Citabria, the master, left and right magnetos are all controlled via individual toggle switches.

Once this was rectified, the aircraft started easily and I set up the radio with the two frequencies required (Oaksey and Colerne) and set the altimeter so that it was indicating the airfield’s elevation (and hence the appropriate QNH setting). I announced that I was taxying to the runway, and once the power checks were completed I entered the runway, pulling forward a few metres to ensure the tailwheel was straight.

Then it was just a matter of applying full power, and ensuring my feet were working on the rudders to track straight down the runway. I was surprised at how easy it was to raise the tail (no rear seat passenger for the first time!) and I was soon climbing away, remembering to turn right slightly to avoid the noise sensitive area just to the West of the runway. Once clear and at a safe height, I turned South to head for my first turning point at RAF Lyneham.

On the way I made a quick call to Kemble to double check their QNH, before again marvelling at the excellent visibility brought about by periods of rain the day before. I don’t know what it is about this aircraft, but so far every time I’ve flown it conditions have been near perfect for flying.

En-route to Lyneham I spotted another aircraft crossing left to right in front of me, and a twin passing quite close below me coming from the opposite direction. I suspect we’d both seen each other quite late, and he’d descended below me as I began the instinctive turn to the right to avoid him.

Once overhead Lyneham, I attempted to make contact with ATC at Colerne in order to get clearance with their ATZ. Colerne operate 5 days a week, switching at some point in the year between operating Monday to Friday and to 5 days including weekends. As such I wasn’t sure whether to expect a response, and in fact received none from my 3 calls to them. Garston Farm have an agreement in place that if there is no response to these three calls aircraft should continue to make ‘Traffic’ calls on frequency.

I passed just to the North of Chippenham, soon spotting Colerne ahead and to the left. Then came the more difficult task of spotting the grass strip at Garston Farm. The local village of Marshfield proved a useful landmark, and I was soon able to pick out the runway and begin my approach. I managed to confuse myself a little and initially begin to establish myself on a Downwind for runway 09 rather than 27, but soon realised my mistake and headed North of the field to correctly establish myself on a Right Hand Downwind leg for 27.

The remainder of the circuit and approach went well, with perhaps a small amount of excess speed as I travelled down Short Final. I rounded out at an appropriate height, but failed to hold off for long enough to bleed off speed, and ended up bouncing gently into the air again as I touched down. Once fully down and under control I was initially a little concerned at how much runway was remaining and considered going around, but the aircraft slowed easily and I was slowed down enough to require only a short backtrack to the taxyway and head to the parking area.

Arriving at Garston Farm

Arriving at Garston Farm

As I parked up it soon became clear I had quite an audience, with David sitting enjoying a cup of tea with a few others waiting my arrival. Sadly a number of those in attendance seemed to be pilots, and gave me an appropriate critique of my landing performance! I resolved to try to do better next time!

It was now past one o’clock, and my stomach was starting to remind me that I’d not yet eaten lunch! After a quick chat and completion of the paperwork, we headed out to the aircraft to get settled for the trip down to Old Sarum. After getting David settled in the back and fully secured in his harness, I climbed on board and set about making preparations to start. This time I remembered to turn on the mags, and the aircraft fired into life easily.

With some advice from David I completed the power checks where I was parked, before heading out to backtrack the runway in readiness for departure, monitoring Colerne’s frequency for any incoming aircraft. David suggested that a ‘backtracking’ call was the done thing, so I made a point to remember that when departing later in the day.

Ready for the off!

Ready for the off!

I taxyed as far down the runway as I could before turning around, ensuring the tailwheel was straight and beginning the takeoff roll. David said it was acceptable to fly through the gap in the trees at the end of the runway, and reminded me about the noise abatement turn required as early as possible after departure. In actuality we were well above the trees before we reached them, and I turned South to set course for Frome, ensuring I would be well clear of the Danger Areas over Salisbury plain.

David pointed out various grass strips on the route, and we passed close by his house. After a few minutes I gave him control, and he flew the remainder of the leg to Frome and around half of the leg from there to Old Sarum. We spotted Longleat Safari Park and the Center Parc village as we headed South, and David even experimented with an orbit before handing back control, to get a feel for the different handling of the Citabria.

As we approached Old Sarum I made contact with them, being informed of the runway in use and pressure setting. As we approached the ATZ the parachute aircraft announced that it was beginning the drop, and the A/G operator informed all aircraft that parachuting procedures were now in place. Unsure as to whether I should continue, I announced that I would hold to the North West of the field, but was told that it was Ok to continue on an extended Downwind join and circuit.

My concerns about the security of the Nexus 7 on my kneeboard proved to be well founded, as it chose this point to fall off onto the floor, dragging a load of my PLOGs with it. A extracted a handful of paper from the floor and handed it back to David, but was unable to immediately locate the tablet. David had a quick check around to make sure it hadn’t fallen near any of the flight controls, and I tried to put it out of my mind for the rest of the circuit.

Downwind at Old Sarum

Downwind at Old Sarum

As we proceeded Downwind I carried out the before landing checks, and a microlight also announced Downwind behind us. I spotted him as we turned Base, and was a little unsure as to whether I could continue or not, particularly when he turned inside us. I continued the approach, and the microlight announce ‘Final’ for a touch and go. He seemed very high given his current position, but made a steep approach and carried out the touch and go in good time for us to be able to continue.

Mindful of making a good first impression, I paid close attention to my approach speed, bleeding off speed nicely in the latter part of Short Final, and managing a good prolonged hold-off to a very gentle landing. We slowed easily without any use of the brakes, and I queried as to where I should park. I initially picked a gap between two aircraft that turned out to be a bit narrower than I’d originally thought, before eventually choosing a place a little further up.

Short Final at Old Sarum

Short Final at Old Sarum

We extracted ourselves from the aircraft (finding the Nexus in the process!), and I tied the control column back using the lap belts of the 5 point harness before walking in for some well earned lunch! David opted for a slice of cake, and as usual I opted for a sausage sandwich. We chatted about all things flying (David had taken a trip to the Scilly Isles the day before), before returning to the aircraft once we were fed and watered.

Parked up at Old Sarum

Parked up at Old Sarum

After a quick walk around and check of the fuel, we got settled in and began preparations for the return leg. I made doubly sure that the tablet was secure in the kneeboard clip, and we started up and headed to the runway threshold for power checks. As I carried these out a 3-axis microlight approached, and announced he was taking to the runway for a ‘fast taxy’. David and I were unsure what he meant exactly, but it looked like he might have been practicing rejected takeoffs or engine failures just after rotation. We saw him clear the runway as I completed the checks, and I turned to face the opposite direction to get a good look down Final before taking to the runway and departing.

While leaving the ATZ we both kept a lookout for another aircraft that had reported inbound from the general direction we were heading, and David spotted him significantly below us to the left. The return leg to Garston Farm was generally routine, giving David and I plenty of opportunity to enjoy the view and discuss the near-perfect weather conditions.

Climbing out over the Hill Fort at Old Sarum

Climbing out over the Hill Fort at Old Sarum

I made the required 3 calls to Colerne as we approached, receiving no response as expected, before continuing to join Downwind at Garston Farm while making appropriate ‘traffic’ calls on the Colerne frequency. Again the circuit was relatively straightforward, and I brought is in for a slightly low approach into Garston Farm, leading to a very nice landing to end David’s first taildragger experience! We parked up and chatted for a while in the nicely outfitted caravan while David had a cup of tea, before bidding our farewells. David headed to his car while I headed back to the Citabria for my own ‘commute’ home.

Short Final into Garston Farm

Short Final into Garston Farm

Stunning visibility

Stunning visibility

The aircraft started easily, and I backtracked the runway before departing. Once airborne I made sure to turn left in good time, before completing a wide circuit to avoid the village and head back towards Lyneham. In the excellent visibility it was easy to spot, and as I turned North I made a call to Kemble to check their QNH again. Oaksey soon came into view, and I set up to join Downwind. Initially the windsock seemed to indicate a slight tailwind on 22, but I decided to continue the circuit and check it on Final approach.

I was set up nicely on profile as I turned Base and Final, and the windsock appeared to have shifted to almost directly down the runway. Mindful of my recent poor landings at Oaksey I made a point of not rounding out too high, and managed to bring off a nice landing to end the day. The strip owner’s Jet Ranger was parked on the grass meaning I wasn’t sure I could get past, so I backtracked the runway before taxying up towards the hangar and shutting the aircraft down.

There didn’t seem to be anybody around to help, so I opened the hangar doors and carefully steered the aircraft back into the hangar, before heading into the office to complete the tech log (4 legs!) and heading for home.

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

Yet again I’d had an excellent day’s flying in the Citabria. For my first ‘solo’ trip, it had gone incredibly well, and I’d even managed to add two new airfields to the logbook. I’d also managed to make good use of an aircraft as a means of transport for perhaps the first time, collecting David from an airfield local to him to avoid him having to make a one hour plus drive to join me. May there be many more successful trips like this one!

Total flight time today: 2:20
Total flight time to date: 250:35

Tailwheel circuit practice

August 3, 2014

Despite being signed off by Dave after my last flight in the Citabria, I wasn’t feeling comfortable flying it solo, particularly due to the fact I don’t think I made a single ‘good’ landing at Oaksey while flying the aircraft!

Hoping to take David for a flight the next weekend, I booked a refresher session with Dave to try to get a bit more practice in a crosswind, and hopefully start to feel more comfortable landing the aircraft.

The weather was near perfect again (perhaps I should keep flying the Citabria if it makes the weather Gods so favourable!), and I arrived at Oaksey in good time as usual. Dave was running a little late due to a previous flight at Kemble, so I made good use of the time reading through the POH for the Citabria. In reality there’s not a huge amount in there, as it’s a pretty basic aircraft!

Dave walked me through the things to check on the aircraft for the ‘A’ check. After taking a fuel sample from below the aircraft, the drain continued to drip, so I helped him remove the drain and clear out a small particle of dirt from the seal, both of us getting a liberal coating of Avgas in the process! There was plenty of fuel in the aircraft, and after arranging for a a piece of farm equipment to be moved out of the way, we rolled the aircraft down onto the grass to get ready for the flight.

I took my time arranging everything in the cockpit before jumping in and starting to fasten the five point harness. Dave squeezed into the back, and we were ready to go. The engine started easily, and we taxyed towards the threshold of runway 22, favoured by an almost perfect headwind today On the way I realised I hadn’t strapped the kneeboard to my leg, so after failing to do it while taying I gave up until we were in position for the power checks.

After getting the kneeboard secure and completing the power checks, we heard another aircraft announcing ‘Downwind’. With plenty of time to get airborne before we would affect his landing we took to the active runway, Dave spotting him as we lined up. I ensured the tailwheel was straight, before applying full power and starting the takeoff roll.

I was a little sluggish getting my feet moving as I brought the tail up, but soon corrected this and made a fair takeoff for my first attempt of the day. We had planned to initially make a standard landing back at Oaksey (taking advantage of the favourable wind) before heading to Kemble for more circuits (Dave had already flown from there and knew that there was more of a crosswind component than at Oaksey).

The circuit was normal, although as usual I was high on Base and Final. The excess height was easily lost with a sideslip, and I brought us in for an acceptable landing at Oaksey, my first in this aircraft! Once under control, we taxyed back to the threshold and made ready to depart for Kemble.

This takeoff was much better, and we climbed away from Oaksey to the West, changing to Kemble’s frequency and setting their QFE in readiness for joining the circuit. Things were relatively quiet at Kemble, but as we joined we were warned of an inbound ‘non-radio’ aircraft due in the next half hour or so. It later transpired that this was one of Freedom’s Warriors, returning from an aborted flight to the Isle of Wight with total electric failure.

The circuit pattern at Kemble is fairly familiar to me now, and I followed the noise abatement circuit without any issue. As usual I was high on Base and Final, meaning I had more work than was ideal to get set up for the landing. As a result, the first landing attempt was pretty poor, as I approached with too much airspeed and failed to hold off for sufficient time to bleed it off. As a result, the touchdown was accompanied by a predictable bounce, and I immediately took the decision to go around for another try.

The second circuit was much better, although again I was high and slightly fast on Final. I did bring us in for an acceptable (although far from perfect) landing, although neglected to maintain the into-wind aileron required to keep straight on the runway during the roll out.

I flew a total of 10 circuits at Kemble. On one we were following another aircraft Downwind, who appeared to be flying a circuit that seemed half way to Lyneham! I extended Downwind to follow him on Base, announcing this fact to the FISO in the process in order that everyone else knew what I was doing. On another takeoff from the grass we followed an aircraft departing from the hard runway into the circuit, and he continued to the West for several miles before turning Crosswind. Again, I announced I was turning ‘inside the aircraft a couple of miles to the West’ just to ensure people knew what I was doing.

The landings gradually got better, and another bounce triggered a go around (although Dave commented that he felt I could have rescued that particular landing). The majority of problems with the landings were caused by me failing to hold off for a sufficient amount of time. In the Citabria, you really need to be flying level along the runway with the stall warner sounding for a good 5 or 10 seconds before you have bled off enough speed to land and stay down.

The non-radio Freedom Warrior arrived and landed safely (it later transpired the pilot had neglected to turn on the alternator switch, which in this particular aircraft is separate and in a different place to the master on most of the other Warriors). I also saw Sean joining from his flight to Shobdon, and followed him around the circuit, landing on the grass shortly after he landed on the hard runway.

I realised that a lot of the issues were due to me continuing to be too high on Base and Final, so made a point of reducing the power and descending before making the turn onto Base. I carried out two circuits using this method, the first producing a much better landing, and the second leading to Dave finally exclaiming ‘Clucking Bell, Andy Hawkins finally makes a decent landing!’ :) He didn’t use those exact words, but the two he used at the start of the sentence did rhyme with what I’ve put there!

The last circuit at Kemble saw me high on Final again, but I took care to get down to an appropriate profile and speed long before needing to transition to the landing phase, and this again led to a fairly decent landing. Deciding I’d now had enough, we headed back to Oaksey to see if I could continue my recent form and make a decent approach and landing there. We joined Crosswind at circuit height, and as usual ended up a little high on Final. Armed with my new found knowledge, I made sure the height was lost in plenty of  time, and brought us in for an acceptable landing at Oaksey, rounding out a few feet too high leading to a firmer than ideal landing.

I think the reason for rounding out too high is the difference between the width of Oaksey and Kemble. Oaksey’s runway is a lot wider, leading to the illusion that you are closer to it than you actually are. Hopefully if I continue to fly from Oaksey I’ll get more used to the correct ‘picture’, and be able to make more acceptable landings there.

As we taxyed back towards the Citabria’s hangar, a party was in progress at the club house at Oaksey. A number of cars had been parked such that it wasn’t immediately clear if we could taxy past them, so we shut down on the grass and Dave asked some of the owners to move the cars a few feet forwards to give us room. We pulled the aircraft up into the hangar once there was sufficient room, and pushed it back into its parking place.

Track flown

Track flown

Flight profile

Flight profile

Dave and I chatted for a while about the flight, with Dave announcing that he was happy for me to hire the aircraft based on my performance today. Although some of my landings had been far from perfect, they had all been acceptable, and I’d also shown good decision making in terms of going around from the two that caused ended up with a bounce.

Yet again I’d had a near perfect day for flying in the Citabria. I now have it booked for a flight with David next weekend, so hopefully the weather will co-operate and we’ll be able to make the flight.

Total flight time today: 1:35
Total flight time to date: 248:15

Tailwheel Signoff

July 6, 2014

After making good progress yesterday, I was keen to strike while the iron was hot and continue with the tailwheel training. The weather forecast was again good, so I booked another session with Dave in the afternoon. Dave returned slightly late from his previous flight, but I chatted with Sarah and Mark’s other half Naomi while waiting. The weather was perfect again, and Oaksey is a nice place to spend idle moments.

There was a threat of showers in the forecast, but Dave returned and told us that while there were a few areas of threatening cloud around, they were all easy to spot and avoid. We both got settled into the Citabria after a short briefing, and Dave called Kemble to book in for circuits while I prepared to get the engine started. We taxyed down to the start of runway 22, and after completing power checks (managing to avoid pulling the mixture this time!) we lined up and began the take off roll.

Take off was fairly straightforward, and we immediately set course for Kemble, signing on with them as we climbed to an appropriate height for the overhead join. We joined the circuit and made ready to continue where we left off yesterday. The first circuit went well, and we established nicely on Final in readiness for the first landing. The final stages of the landing went almost perfectly, and we touched down gently on Kemble’s grass runway. However, after that things went a little awry, as I somehow forgot that in this aircraft you really need to use your feet after landing!

We got things under control, with Dave giving me praise for the landing and a bit of a telling off for the roll out! Backtracking for the next circuit I made a mental note to keep awake once the initial part of the landing was complete!

The next few circuits and landings went generally well. I made the decision to go around on one circuit after rounding out a little high, and finding myself running out of energy while still several feet above the runway. Dave commented that he was glad to see me make the decision and demonstrate a low-level go around, but thought that I probably could have rescued the landing. The next circuit I proved that I could, after again making a slightly unstable approach but taking appropriate action during the round out phase, and touching down nicely on the runway.

On one of the circuits the wind given by the FISO was in clear contradiction with what the windsock was showing. The windsock indicated a near perfect headwind, but the FISO had given something like a 45 degree crosswind figure. Dave questioned this, and the FISO clarified that the wind figure he’d given was an average wind, the instantaneous wind was actually as being shown by the wind sock.

Dave announced he was happy with what he’d seen, and suggested we then make a few circuits to land on the hard runway. Landing on grass in a taildragger can help to ‘flatter’ a poor landing, but on a hard runway it was important to get the landing right, and take an early decision to go around should any bounce occur during landing.

During this phase of the flight, a big black cloud arrived overhead and started to deposit rain on us and the airfield. Another aircraft approached to land, but opted to hold off until the shower had passed. We were joined by a PA28 flying circuits, and this led to a fairly concerning chain of events on the next circuit.

As I continued Downwind (on the correct noise-abatement circuit for Kemble), Dave spotted an aircraft ahead of us and well out to our right, approaching the airfield looking like it was going to make a Base leg join. As we kept an eye on him, I eventually decided to leave the circuit as it wasn’t clear as to what exactly he was doing. We announced this to the FISO, and he suggested that the aircraft we might be seeing was the other aircraft in the circuit on a recently announced Base leg. This turned out to be the case, although the circuit he was flying probably put him on the South side of Oaksey on the Downwind leg! I slotted in behind him and slowed down in order to gain sufficient spacing.

There was some doubt as to whether I had left enough space, as it looked like he might not clear the runway before I needed to land. I announced ‘Final’ at the appropriate place, leading the FISO to respond ‘expect runway occupied’. Dave commented that he probably wouldn’t have bothered making the ‘Final’ call when I did, as it left the FISO with nothing to do other than to advise us to expect to have to go around. In hindsight I should have just continued the approach, announcing ‘Final’ or ‘Short Final’ once it was clear the aircraft ahead had cleared the runway in time.

The landings on the hard runway continued to be good, and I dealt relatively well with the more difficult handling on the ground caused by the change in surface. On each successive circuit we continued on the appropriate track, as the PA28 continued to fly incredibly wide Downwind legs. Luckily for us he was flying that bit faster than us, so we always had plenty of separation despite flying a much shorter circuit.

After completing a couple of circuits on the hard runway, Dave announced he was happy with what he had seen, and that we should head back to Oaksey. He dropped a bit of a bombshell on me in announcing that if I made a good landing at Oaksey, he would hop out and allow me to carry out a solo circuit!

As we approached Oaksey, it became clear that the wind there was less favourable than it had been at Kemble, showing an almost 90 degree crosswind. The circuit and approach went relatively well, but on Final Dave commented from the back that we seemed ‘a bit fast’. For some reason I was flying down Final at 100 mph, well above the usual figure of 90, slowing to 80 and less as we approached the runway. I think I probably should have made an early decision to go around, as it became difficult to lose the extra energy, and we ended up with excess speed as I rounded out.

Oaksey’s runway is plenty long though, so I elected to continue, making a mental decision to go around if the initial touchdown wasn’t a good one. The landing was generally Ok, but I neglected to make sufficient compensation for the crosswind on the rollout, leading to a fraught few seconds until I got us under control.

This obviously (and quite rightly!) gave Dave cause for concern, and he suggested we try another one before I considered going solo. We took off on 22, and Dave suggested we try a landing on 35, which was more appropriate given the wind. However, runway 35 at Oaksey has a house close to it, about half way down, and I’d never landed on it before. The abbreviated circuit and approach all went well, and I made a passable landing, but again the rollout wasn’t particularly good.

We had a final go on 22, making another circuit and coming in for another landing with a fairly strong crosswind. I think to be honest the pressure of potentially going solo and also the fact that I’d spent the last hour and a half making numerous landings had probably pushed me over the edge. The final landing again wasn’t particularly good, so Dave suggested we called it a day there.

We taxyed back and parked the aircraft outside the Club house, and Dave announced that he was happy to sign me off, but that I should come back for some more crosswind circuits and landings before flying in similar conditions myself. He was happy for me to fly the aircraft solo should the wind conditions favor runway 22 at Oaksey however.

 

Track flown

Track flown

Flight profile

Flight profile

We headed back into the office, and Dave updated my logbook with the sign off for tailwheel aircraft (to join those for variable pitch propeller and retractable gear). I settled up my account, and headed home pleased with my achievement, but slightly frustrated at my failure to make some good landings back at Oaksey and hence go solo. Still, I’d had an excellent day’s flying, and really felt that (until the end!) I’d got to grips with the peculiarities of operating a tailwheel aircraft. Hopefully with another short session I can nail crosswind landings too, and start to make some good flights in this lovely aircraft.

Now signed off to fly this beauty!

Now signed off to fly this beauty!

Total flight time today: 1:35
Total flight time to date: 246:40

 


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 544 other followers