Failing to fail to get lost. Oops.

The plan for today was for me to repeat the route I did last week, but this time solo. However, an aircraft in maintenance and a full programme meant that all I could have was one slot at 15:30 – 17:30. With sunset at around 17:00, it was always going to be tight to get in the 1:15 flight in.

Sadly, it wasn’t to be. I’d planned two routes, one the route via Ledbury, Worcester and Wellesbourne, and the other just a short hop up to Wellesbourne and back. We’d decided I’d need to be ‘brakes off’ at 15:30 to be confident of doing the longer route and getting back in time for sunset.

I was still checking the aircraft out at 15:40, so decided that it would be the short route (Indy later told me that this was a bit of a ‘test’ of my ability to make the right decision!)

So, off I went. Relatively normal take off and departure, then climb and head to the usual start point, the middle of three towns at a distinctive bend to the river. From there, set heading and start time, and begin the leg to Wellesbourne.

As I settled onto heading, I spotted a couple of large buildings in the distance, that looked to me like the buildings I’d seen at Wellesbourne. Given the excellent visibility I decided that these were almost certainly Wellesbourne, so used that as a reference point for my heading keeping.

The check point passed without incident, and it appeared that I was on track. When I got closer to Wellesbourne, I made contact with them and started looking for the field.

It didn’t appear. I did see plenty of other traffic, so based on this I assumed I was pretty much where I was supposed to be. There was a large town off to the left that I identified as Stratford, so knew that I must be close to Wellesbourne. The large buildings were there, but I couldn’t see any sign of a runway.

Once I was a couple of minutes past my ETA I decided that I’d obviously missed it, so turned round and set heading for the return leg. This was when the problems really started.

With the low sun that I was heading directly into, visibility in this direction was awful. I couldn’t make out any features on the ground to navigate by. Still, I set course, made a note of the start time, and continued on the leg.

I passed much closer to a glider field than I should have, and later had problems identifying the check point. I even passed very close to Enstone, which meant I was significantly off track.

Realising I was having problems navigating, I reverted to my ‘back up’ plan, which was the ADF needle and DME. This showed Brize off ahead to my right (it should have been dead ahead), so I made a right turn until the ADF was pointing due South based on the relative bearing from my current heading. I continued on this, watching the ADF needle and the DME.

Once I decided I was close enough to Brize, I called for rejoin, and set heading for what should have been Burford. There was absolutely no sign of Little Rissington (due to the poor visibility and the sun), so I did the best I could and headed towards Brize. The Zone controller eventually asked if I had the field in site, at which point I had to admit that I hadn’t, and asked for a QDM (the bearing from the aircraft to the station). He gave me a heading and told me that the field should be right in front of me (incidentally, this would have put me pretty much right over Burford at the time, so I can’t have been too far out).

Although I couldn’t distintly see the field, I could make out some of the new houses in Carterton, and behind these something that was obviously a collection of large buildings. Given my position, this had to be Brize, so I announce ‘field in sight’.

Was told to join as standard, and continued South. I was either going to use Carterton as a reference, or the A40 (my usual steering feature for the base leg join). I found the A40, and followed it as usual. The runway was now in sight, so I called ‘base’ and turned onto the base leg.

The runway basically disappeared. Because of the position of the sun relative to the aircraft, I had lost all reference as to where the runway was. I set heading for the base leg, and announce ‘final’, setting the aircraft up with two stages of flap.

Luckily, I managed to spot the markings at the end of the runway, and used these as a reference for making the turn onto final. I had been worried that turning directly into the sun would make the landing very difficult, but when I turned final there was enough of an angle between the sun and the runway to make the landing largely uneventful.

I headed back to the club, and in truth I was quite shaken by the way the flight had gone. To go from the near-perfect navigation flights of the previous week to the flight today was not what I planning!

I suppose the positives to take out of this were that I managed to deal with the situation, and use the equipment available in the aircraft to get me back safely.

On talking it through with Indy, she said that I was probably pretty much where I should have been most of the flight. We’re going to repeat the route tomorrow at a similar time to see if we can work out where it went wrong. Sadly, the GPS logging I have failed to work, just at the time I could most have made use of it!

Total flight time today: Dual 0:00 – Solo – 1:00
Take-offs: 1 – Landings: 1

Total flight time to date: Dual 26:50 – Solo 6:30
Take-offs to date: 86 – Landings to date: 81


One Response to “Failing to fail to get lost. Oops.”

  1. Disappointment, and a nice surprise! « Andy’s Blog Says:

    […] that I could pull the flight off as long as the visibility wasn’t too bad. However, on a previous flight I had problems on a flight to Wellesbourne when I headed back to Brize into the sun in similarly […]

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