Expanding my horizons

Wind wasn’t favourable for solo flight again (from the South, and Brize’s runway is East – West) so Indi offered me another flight in Echo Alpha from Oxford. The original plan was to go to Leicester, but on checking the narrow route brief on the AIS site, this showed an aerobatics competition taking place at Leicester that day, so that seemed out of the question.

The next plan was Sywell, so we arranged to meet Indi at Oxford. Luned was coming along too, and we later found out that Barry (an ex-Brize student) was going to join us too. Sywell is all grass, and waiting for Indi we all questioned whether an arrival there in a fully loaded Warrior was a good idea. However, when Indi arrived the plan was changed again. Back to Leicester! Lynne from Brize was one of the judges for the aerobatics competition, and had told Indi that there shouldn’t be a problem getting in there as long as were took note of where the competition was actually taking place on the airfield.

So, we planned for Leicester, going via Banbury to avoid various glider fields and parachuting DZs on the direct route.

Headed out to check the aircraft out, when we hit our first snag. When opening the engine covers to check the oil, one of the catch retaining bolts came off, which would have left that catch flapping in the breeze. A few minutes fiddling got it attached again, and after the preflight we were ready to go.

All loaded up and safely seated (including a bit of juggling in the back seat swapping Barry and Luned around) we were ready to go. Called for taxi and departure, and headed up to the hold. All checks were normal, and when calling ‘ready for departure’ we were asked if we wanted to backtrack. I initially answered ‘No’, but Indi and Barry both thought a backtrack would be prudent given that we were four up, so we waitied for a suitable gap in the traffic before being given clearance to line up.

Another aircraft was doing an aborted take off from the intersection in front of us, and once he had completed that we headed off. Was having trouble maintaining the centreline of the runway today for some reason (the wind was pretty much straight down the runway), and some prompting was required from Indi for me to get back onto the centreline. Once that was sorted, we took to the air, and began climbing and turning right to the head North.

Our track took us past Enstone, and I was trying to regain track (pretty much due North from Oxford) when I spotted an airfield off to our right hand side. I jumped straight to the conclusion that this was Enstone, and started to head for it. Luckily (for me!) at this point Barry said ‘That’s not Enstone, Enstone is all the way over there’. I’d been heading for Upper Heyford (a huge disused runway now used for Track Days on occasion). In hindsight it was obvious that what I was seeing wasn’t Enstone, but it’s a good lesson that you shouldn’t immediately jump to a conclusion and make what you’re seeing fit into what you’re expecting to see.

That resolved, we regained our track and headed up to Banbury. This came up slightly behind schedule, but we weren’t maintaining 90 knots as I had planned, and also the wind didn’t seem to be as strong from our rear as had been forecast. At Banbury we switched to Coventry to receive a Flight Information Service for the remainder of the route, and turned on track towards Leicester.

The checkpoints all came up pretty much on track and on time, and for some reason my height keeping was much better on this flight than it had been on previous ones. Perhaps I was just trying harder to impress Luned and Barry!

As we passed Bruntingthorpe, we switched to Leicester Radio to receive the airfield information. As expected after our pre-flight phone call, they were using runway 15, and wanted us to join downwind to help avoid the aerobatic competition ‘box’. Indi had the Garmin set with a ‘direct to’ Leicester, and I made the mistake of taking a quick glance at this, which showed the destination field off to the right hand side of the display. However, I made the mistake of assuming it was showing ‘track up’ and began to head to the right in order to reach the airfield. As it happened I was pretty much bang on track, so if I’d just carried on as I was we would have spotted Leicester ahead.

Unusual paint job!

I was slightly concerned about how short the runway in use, and before the flight had discussed the possibility of using the longer runway (10). However, Indi was confident we could make it, so we continued be joining downwind. The circuit was relatively busy with two aircraft ahead of us, but we turned base and final as normal. Was a little high on final and Indi had me cut power and get the speed down to 60 knots on final. Got back on to the correct approach, and make one of my best landings in a while, easily stopping barely half way down the runway.

We were aware of another aircraft on final behind us, so Indi took over to expedite our backtrack so that we could clear the runway and not force him to go around. Taxyed over to the parking area and shut down.

So, here we were at another new airfield! Headed in to pay the landing fee (taking time to sign the petition against the airfield’s closure while we were there). Then had a rather nice lunch upstairs in the club house, watching the various aerobatics going on to the North of the field while we were there.

Barry and Indi headed off for ‘a few circuits’ while we waited for them to return. This turned into ‘just heading off to the local area for some general handling’ and they were gone over an hour before they returned!

Barry and Indi doing touch and gos

In the meantime I had planned the return flight to overfly Silverstone (my wife and I had both attended several F1 races there in the past) going via Sywell, the Daventry VOR and the Westcott NDB.

We refuelled Echo Alpha when they returned, and at this point I noticed that the retaining bolt on the engine cover had again come loose. However, this time it was nowhere to be seen. A quick temporary repair was effected, and after completing the pre flight we all loaded up and got ready to go.

Barry and Indi make makeshift repairs

Out to the hold for the power checks, and we again headed out to the runway. Given the shortness this would be my first ever ‘short field’ take off. 1 stage of flap, and then set full power while holding the aircraft on the brakes. Then release the brakes before continuing the take off as normal from this point. Again, I had real trouble maintaining the runway centre line on the take off run, and as we became airborne it was clear we were significantly off to the left of the runway. I can’t remember having any particular problems in this area in the past, so it’s something I need to pay attention to in the future.

The first leg was direct to Sywell, and was due to take around 20 minutes. Around 10 minutes in the weather started to close in, and it soon began to rain. Indi took the decision to take a more direct route to Oxford due to the weather (if the worst came to the worst she could always take control and use her IR to get us home), and I would continue the remainder of the flight on instruments.

Indi began giving me vectors as Barry planned the rest of the route from the back. We headed to the Daventry VOR, then doglegged around Hinton in the Hedges for a direct ILS approach into Oxford. The rain we had experienced turned out just to be a brief shower, so Indi got out the screens to simulate instrument conditions for the remainder of the flight. Just for good measure, Indi also covered up the DI and AI to simulate a failure of those two instruments. Thanks!

Hold on, I thought I was supposed to be looking out of the window?

Flying on instruments is a very different skill to flying visually, but I think I managed to keep us on track and on height without too much wavering around. We were tracking the Daventry VOR for a while, and then established ourselves on the ILS for Oxford at a distance of around 15 miles. Barry was calling out heights and descent rates from the back seat (he’s doing an IMC rating so this was good practice in reading the approach plate for him) while I followed his instructions. Decision height was around 800 feet QNH, and at this point Indi removed the screens to show the runway right in front of us! Nice to know that the procedures work when you need them!

From then it was a pretty normal visual approach, culminating in what I think was probably my best landing ever. Perhaps having a bit more weight in the back helps!

Taxyed back and parked up before shutting down, and then debriefed in a local pub over (another) nice meal. All in all, an excellent day, and I hope it’ll be the first of many!

Total flight time today: Dual 1:55 – Solo – 0:00
Take-offs: 2 – Landings: 2

Total flight time to date: Dual 40:25 – Solo 7:50
Take-offs to date: 104 – Landings to date: 99

One Response to “Expanding my horizons”

  1. Back to Leicester « Andy’s Blog Says:

    […] yesterday’s flight with Steve and Mel, today was to be a solo trip. I’d been to Leicester during my PPL training, so thought it was time to return. The weather was very similar to yesterday, with clear blue skies […]

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