Another passenger!

Today was pretty windy in the morning, so that put paid to the original plan which was for me to do the Ledbury, Worcester, Wellesbourne route solo. However, by the afternoon the winds had died down enough for us to consider the next dual Nav flight.

I got the plan ready, had it checked by Indi and we headed out to the aircraft with Anna, a friend of Indi’s who also has her PPL.

The preflight and takeoff were all normal and uneventful, and at Burford we started climbing and turned towards our starting point, the Northleach Roundabout. Had a better view of the A40 leading to the roundabout than normal, so followed this. Overhead the roundabout, made a note of the start time and set the correct heading for the first leg.

All was Ok at the first checkpoint, after carrying out an adjustment using Standard Closing Angle to get ourselves back on track. By the second checkpoint we were a long way North of where we should be (the route had us just clipping a distinctive bend in the River Severn as it leaves the estuary) so had to carry out another Standard Closing Angle correction here.

The Standard Closing Angle method isn’t one used by most flying schools, and Indi commented that it was taking us a long time to cross the River Severn (we were using a 40 degree correction angle)!

We soon passed over Cinderford (a town with a very distinctive teardrop shape) back on track, and soon identified Monmouth just after crossing the M50.

This was our turning point, and I somehow managed to convince myself that my plan was incorrect for this leg. The track was 027, and the wind was from the West. Somehow I managed to convince myself that this meant I should be steering to the right of track to compensate for the wind. Not sure how this happened!

As a result of this, the course for the second leg was miles off. This became quickly apparent as we should have  crossed over some distinctive bends in the River Wye, when in fact these appeared away off our left wing. Another Standard Closing Angle turn to correct, then back onto the original (wrong!) heading. 

A little while later we passed closer to Great Malvern than we should have done, so I applied another correction there after a good look at the map to work out where we were. At this point my height keeping went all to pot. I was spending too much time looking at the map and the ground trying to work out where we were, and not enough time checking the instruments to see what height and heading we were at. Something to take more care with in future.

At this point I also realised that my original plan was correct, so used that heading for the last part of the leg, and eventually Stourport appeared ahead of us, slightly to the left of where it should have been.

The last leg was largely uneventful. The visibility was deteriorating slightly, and when Gloucester asked us to report ‘abeam the field’ I commented to Indi that it was going to be difficult to spot it! So, she set up the ADF on Gloucester’s NDB frequency, and set my heading on the indicator. She then said that when the needle was pointing 90 degrees right of my track, we were abeam the field. A useful tip!

Again ended up slightly right of track on this last leg, probably indicating that the wind was actually not as strong as had been forecast. At one point Indi asked me to check the DI again, and it had drifted slightly and was about 10 degrees out, which probably also contributed to this.

Indi also had to prompt me to do a carb heat check at one point. I thought I’d been doing them regularly, but apparently Anna had noticed as well, so I mustn’t have realised how long it had been since the last one.

As the ETA for the Northleach Roundabout approached, I couldn’t see it in front of me, so started looking around for it. As usual, Indi did little to help me, which is good because it forces me to sort things out for myself. Eventually I spotted it a couple of miles off to our left, so turned appropriately and headed for it.

Then made a guess as to the required heading from the roundabout to Burford, and called Brize while beginning the descent. Burford also proved difficult to spot! I had Little Rissington off to my left approximately where it should have been, but couldn’t see Burford. Eventually I spotted it (again, off to the left) and set course for it. At this point Indi piped up that she was about to tell me to turn, because I was very close to infringing the Brize Zone otherwise.

It turned out that my initial guess at the heading was about 20 degrees or so off. Indi said that I might have been better heading for Little Rissington (it wasn’t active that day) and following the road from there South to Burford. Another useful tip to consider in future.

So we headed into the zone, were told to join Right Base as usual. Indi said it would be a good idea to get a wind check at this point, because the wind had been quite variable and gusty all day. Called Right Base, and then set the aircraft up for final approach and headed in. The wind this low down was very tricky, and it meant that I was really having to work the controls to get the aircraft to do what I wanted it to.

Turned final, got the last stage of flap down, and was heading down to about 200 feet when Brize Tower came on:

‘Golf Alpha Foxtrot, you are now clear to land. Try not to forget to call final in future’.

Whoops! As usual, Indi had been merrily sitting there letting me make my mistake without saying anything. She later said that she thought I was more likely to learn from the experience if she let ATC tell me off, than if she’d just reminded me! A fair point. My only defence really is that the workload on this approach was probably the highest I’d ever had, and that’s why I let the call slip from my mind. Definitely something to remember to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

Slightly flustered by this, I acknowledge the call on the radio and continued the approach. This probably contributed to me flaring too high, and this became obvious as a relatively large sink developed because of this while I was still several feet off the ground. Instinctively I added a brief burst of power to try to cushion it, and we landed slightly more heavily than I would have liked, but still an acceptable landing. Indi remarked ‘Beautiful!’ and commented that she was on the verge of reaching for the power herself, and was very pleased that I’d taken the decision to add that little burst to avoid a particularly heavy arrival.

Taxyed back to the flying club, apologising (again) to ATC for forgetting to call final. I doubt that’ll happen again!

After the flight Indi went over the things that I needed to work on, particularly not spending too much time looking at the map and ground, at the expense of accurately flying the leg. She says I’m a ‘perfectionist’ as far as the navigation is concerned, and I should perhaps just trust the plan a bit more and try to avoid spending too much time looking at the map and identifying exactly where we were. Also need to ensure I do regular FREDA checks (I’d left carb heat checks too long on one leg, and also allowed the DI to drift) and to trust my own plan and not second guess myself in the air!

All in all an enjoyable flight, not least because of the tricky conditions. I think I dealt with most of them pretty well, so was pleased with how things had gone.

If the weather is Ok tomorrow, I should be off out on my own!

Total flight time today: Dual 1:45 – Solo – 0:00
Take-offs: 1 – Landings: 1

Total flight time to date: Dual 32:50 – Solo 6:30
Take-offs to date: 92 – Landings to date: 87

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