A slight change of plan…

The original plan for today was for me to do my first solo land away, going from Brize up to Wellesbourne and back.

Sadly, the wind forecast wasn’t favourable (190 @ 10 knots, right on the limit of a solo student as far as crosswind goes) so a change of plan was necessary. Indi suggested I meet her at Oxford and take her plane up to Wellesbourne with her, so that at least I could get my eye in again after a fortnight away from flying.

So, we headed off to Oxford, and planned the route while waiting for Indi to arrive. Luckily, I realised I had used an old wind forecast during the planning, because when I re-planned with the correct wind figure, I noticed I’d written a completely wrong heading on the chart for the return leg (I’d written 260 for a virtually due South leg, I can only assume I copied the wind direction down).

That little hiccup corrected, we headed out to the aircraft and checked it over while waiting for the fuel bowser to arrive and top off the tanks. Once this was done we were ready to go, and Indi gave me a quick brief on how the COM setup in her aircraft worked.

Because I had planned from the overhead of Oxford, we needed to have a way of knowing when to turn ‘on track’ for Wellesbourne. Knowing the heading for the first leg, I decided we would set the ADF to the frequency for the NDB on the field. Then, while heading due North, I would wait until the ADF needle pointed to the reciprocal of our desired heading, so that I would know we needed to make the turn.

This seemed to work quite well. After taking off we headed North, and made ready to switch to the frequency for Enstone, as we would be passing virtually through their overhead on the route. I looked down at my plog (where I’d written all the useful frequencies for the flight) and managed to read off the Brize Radar frequency instead of the Enstone radio one. I spotted Indi writing something down as I dialled this in (and something in my mind told me that the frequency was familiar) so I double checked and realised my mistake before making an embarassing radio call!

We informed Enstone we would be passing through their overhead and were asked to report then, and after a few minutes I spotted Enstone a mile or so off to our right (it should have been just off to the left). This tended to suggest that the wind from our left wasn’t as strong as the forecast had said. After passing overhead Enstone, I turned right to get back on track, and then continued on the leg.

We then switched to Wellesbourne, and they were busy as ever! I got my initial call requesting joining information in Ok, but from then on it was almost impossible to get my calls in on time due to the number of other people on the frequency.

Wellesbourne appeared well off to our right (another indication that the wind wasn’t where we expected it to be) so I headed straight over to it and planned the join. They were using runway 18, which meant we had to fly overhead, then turn to a heading of around 090 such that we flew with the start of runway 18 just off the right wing. Then we made a wide descending right hand turn (wider than usual to avoid overflying the village of Wellesbourne) before ending up on a heading of 270 at circuit height, with the end of the runway just off the right wing. From then it was a normal downwind and base leg.

Partly because of the problems with getting calls through on the radio, and also due to the very variable winds, my final approach wasn’t particularly good (although I guess not having flown at all for a fortnight didn’t help either). I was deliberately keeping my speed up a little higher than normal because of the gusts (as we initially got established on final the airspeed dropped to about 55 knots because of one of them) but I probably overdid it and we ended coming in a little quick. Then I neglected to completely remove the throttle to idle in the flare, and the slightly heavier elevator on Indi’s plane meant I didn’t pull back on the yoke as far as I should. The result was my first ever bounce, not good.

The runway at Wellesbourne was plenty long enough for a second landing attempt, and this time I did close the throttle and got the nose up a little higher, but this wasn’t particularly pretty either. Indi said the problem was initially that I didn’t close the throttle correctly, and from then on I was always fighting the aircraft, trying to force it on to the ground when it was still at flying speed. Oh well, will try harder next time!

A quick run in to the tower to pay the landing fee and we were ready to head back to Oxford. We were in a queue of 3 at the hold waiting to take off, with the aircraft in front of us taking a long time to head onto the runway once it was clear. We followed him on, and once he was off the ground we began our takeoff roll. I commented to Indi how well the aircraft in front was climbing, and it became clear that this was partly due to the fact that we weren’t really climbing as well as we should have. I was climbing at virtually cruise airspeed (90 knots as opposed to the usual 75 knots climb speed), which Indi pointed out and I tried to sort out.

From then it was a straight out departure before turning on heading to Oxford. Switched back to Enstone (a little earlier than I should have Indi said) and told them we’d be passing through their overhead. Completely missed the checkpoint on the route, but did spot a town which I thought was Chipping Norton just off to the right. We shouldn’t have been anywhere near Chipping Norton (about 5 miles off to the left of it in fact) so I took a little time before convincing myself that it was in fact Chipping Norton (the tower on the mill is the usual giveaway) and realising that we were indeed well off track to the right (remember that wind that wasn’t as strong as it was forecast?).  I began a correcting turn to the left, and then spotted Enstone off in the distance, so headed there (we should have passed just to the left of Enstone so it was a good landmark to use to get back on track).

Once back on track and overhead Enstone, we switched to Oxford Approach to get joining instructions. I was using a headset Indi had loaned me with active noise cancellation, and the Oxford Approach response was almost inaudible. I had to jack the volume up and ask them to ‘say again’, and this flustered me somewhat so I read back completely incorrect information to him. We were told to report the field in site, which we did a little while later and were instructed to join right base. Once established on right base, they told us to switch frequencies, and the frequency I read back bore little relation to the one I actually should have selected! After clearing up that confusion (and double checking on the plog before I actually switched) we changed to Tower and continued our approach.

We were a little high on the approach, but the rest of the landing was much better than the one at Wellesbourne, with a very satisfying ‘squeak’ from the tyres as we gently touched down.

Taxyed back in and parked up, before heading back to the coffee shop to debrief.

The only thing Indi really pulled me up on was the landing at Wellesbourne, and switching away from their frequency a little early on the return leg. Apart from that, a good couple of (short!) flights which have certainly helped me get back into the swing of things.

We’re hoping to head out to Conington on Thursday evening (Conington are open late on Thursdays) and hopefully my wife will be joining us on this flight. Then we have to decide what to do next weekend. I should probably do a solo land away before thinking about the QXC, but to be honest Indi did nothing on the approach into Wellesbourne, so at least that’s given me the confidence that I could probably have managed it on my own. Let’s see what happens!

Total flight time today: Dual 1:20 – Solo – 0:00
Take-offs: 2 – Landings: 2

Total flight time to date: Dual 38:30 – Solo 7:50
Take-offs to date: 102 – Landings to date: 97

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