Solo, finally!

For the last couple of months I’ve been trying to get a solo land-away under my belt so that I could move forward to the next stage and get ready for my QXC.

The plan was to try this again today, with a flight from Brize to Oxford, using Wellesbourne as a turning point. The check of the weather in the morning looked promising, so we headed over to Brize.

The first flight of the day returned a little late, which meant that ATC were then on their lunch break. However, the news on the weather wasn’t good. They had been up to Wellesbourne too, and were reporting very poor visibility up there due to haze.

We decided I’d give it a go, and if I wasn’t happy then I’d turn around and come back again (much like I’d done last week!).

So I booked in at Oxford, informing them I’d want fuel (the club still hasn’t had a fuel delivery) and once again headed out to Alpha Fox by myself. Carried out a quick pre-flight which showed no issues, so jumped in and got ready to go. Once again the novelty of being in an aircraft by myself soon hit me, and I felt slightly self-conscious going through all the checklist items out loud, with nobody to hear them but me!

All pre flight checks were Ok, and I was cleared for take off on 26. The wind was very light today so the choice of runway was fairly arbitary given the conditions. A normal takeoff (again no problems maintaining the centre line!) and I was airbourne and turning North for Burford. When I switched to the Zone frequency they offered me a direct route to Oxford through the Zone, but as I wanted to use Wellesbourne as a turning point I informed them of this and continued up to Burford.

Made the usual call at Burford, and climbed up to the chosen altitude of 2400 feet. Already I could see that it was a very hazy day, but after a look behind me I decided to press on. I’m going to have to get used to flying in hazy conditions someday, so it might as well be now! I always had the option of aborting the landaway and just coming straight back to Brize if things got too bad, and always being under radar cover meant that I would have someone looking over my shoulder to help me find the field if necessary.

Set the time at the starting point (Shipton as usual) and headed North towards Wellesbourne. On a clear day you would be able to see Wellesbourne at this point, but today the visibility was only perhaps 5 miles or so. Reached the first checkpoint (abeam Chipping Norton) a bit earlier than expected, but a quick look at the map showed that my distance measurement had gone awry somewhat, and the distance to this checkpoint wasn’t as far as I had measured.

Was the correct distance from Chipping Norton, so continued on track and reached the next checkpoint (Shipton on Stour) bang on time and on track (there was little wind today, so the flight planning had been fairly simple with no great difference between track and heading. I was now just 5 minutes from Wellesbourne, but it still wasn’t easily visible in the haze, and spotting Stratford on Avon wasn’t possible either. I switched from Brize Zone to Wellesbourne Information at this point, informing I would be turning in their overhead and giving them an ETA.

Wellesbourne was quieter than I had ever heard it (probably due to the haze) and I had no difficulty getting my radio calls in today. It soon became visibile through the haze slightly to the left of the nose (I had spotted the industrial estate to the East and had probably been slightly drawn towards is) so headed straight for it, and once in the overhead I reported that and made the turn on track for Oxford.

This leg is always very difficult, even in good conditions, as there are very few landmarks to use for visual navigation. I was also conscious that I would be passing within a couple of miles of Shenington (a busy glider field) and so was deliberately steering right of track to ensure that even if I couldn’t see it (in fact, it’s very hard to spot even in good visibility) I would be well clear.

Switched back to Brize Zone and confused them slightly as they asked me to report when ready to rejoin. I informed them that I was still planning to land at Oxford. In hindsight, I probably should have switched to Brize Radar at this point (the Zone frequency is for traffic crossing or entering the Class D airspace around Brize) but it didn’t cause too much drama.

By now I was aware of not knowing exactly where I was, so tuned the ADF to the NDB on the airfield at Oxford. As expected, this showed I was right of track, and as enough time had passed on the leg to get me well clear of Shenington, I steered for Oxford and prepared to switch over to Enstone Radio (I would be flying almost through their overhead so it was good airmanship to let them know I wa there and to get a picture of traffic around the field.

After a few minutes I left the Brize Zone frequency for Enstone, to find them very busy with traffic waiting to depart. I soon spotted Enstone slightly off to the left (if I was perfectly on track it should have been slightly to the right, but I’d deliberately stayed right of track until this point) but couldn’t get in the radio call until I was right overhead. The A/G operator asked me to report overhead (even though I’d just told him that I was in the initial call) and I replied that I was overhead, and was asked to let them know when I was leaving the frequency.

Enstone is less than 10 nm from Oxford, so once I was clear of the overhead I left their frequency to talk to Oxford Approach. Helpfully he told me that if I received no reply from the Approach frequency I should try again on the Tower frequency. This was useful to know even though I had already made a note of the Tower frequency on my flight log.

I was now nearing Blenheim Palace, and on the initial call to Oxford was asked to join Crosswind for runway 01. It took a little time to get the picture straight in my head before I realised what I needed to do. I was basically heading direct for the crosswind leg on my current heading, so once I had the field in sight I just needed to cross the runway at 90 degrees at circuit height, ready to turn downwind for landing.

Once the field was in sight I reported this, and was told to switch to Tower. From then on the approach was fairly standard, just one aircraft in the circuit ahead of me, and another joining behind. Turned base and final, and made a pretty good landing (although with little wind it wasn’t a particularly challenging day).

Brize to Oxford via Wellesbourne

Tower asked me to taxy over and park next to the fuel pumps, where I waited 10 or 15 minutes for someone to come over and fuel the aircraft. He told me that I should probably just have parked anywhere, as the pumps I had parked in front of were self service for those with fuel cards! Oh well, I guess all I can do is what I’m told!

Headed in to Ops to pay the fuel bill (after texting Indi and Luned to let them know I had arrived safely!) and book out for the short hop back to Brize. As I was checking out the aircraft ready to leave I had a quick chat with someone who came over after recognising the aircraft. He had been involved with Brize Flying Club back in the days when they had 2 Cherokees and 1 Warrior (they currently have 1 Cherokee and 2 Warriors) and we had a bit of a chat while he became re-acquainted with ‘an old friend’. Once he walked off, I realised that I hadn’t thought to ask his name! Doh.

Climbed back aboard and started up, then contacted the Oxford Ground frequency for taxy and departure instructions. Got no reply, so switched to Tower and repeated the call. The response was ‘Have you copied the ATIS?’. Doh again. One of the problems with being based at Brize is that the ATIS is not available on VHF, so we have to get it by telephone before leaving the club. This means that when I’m at an airfield where ATIS is available on the radio, I forget to check it (I should probably have checked it on the way in to Oxford too).

I replied with an embarassed ‘Errr, no. Standby’ before switching to the correct frequency and copying it down. Back to Tower and I was given taxy instructions and headed off to the hold. All the power checks were normal so I called ‘Ready for Departure’ and was given clearance to take off. Once airbourne I turned left towards Burford, and told Tower I was switching to the Brize Zone frequency.

Back on familiar ground now, I made the initial call and asked for a Burford arrival. Once I was cleared for this, I then realised I should probably have asked at this point for a straight in arrival. So, I did this, and was granted permission for this. Set course for Brize (backed up by the ADF) and thought I had the field in site until it became clear that what I could actually see was the built up area just to the North East of Brize. A little later I had the field in sight and was just about to inform Zone of this when they called up and told me the field was in my 12 O’Clock, and I should report it in sight!

So, I reported ‘Field in sight’ and was handed over to Tower. They cleared me for a straight in join and asked me to call Final.

A fairly normal approach followed, but just as I crossed the threshold the aircraft banked slightly left suddenly (probably due to the turbulence generated by the hangars to the South of the runway). As I tried to recover this, I was never fully stable as I headed for the runway, and I was on the verge of applying full throttle and going around. However, knowing that I had miles of runway to play with, I flew level along the runway as I got it under control, before making an Ok landing. Oh well, I guess they can’t all be perfect!

Taxyed back, pushed the aircraft back in to the hangar, and walked back to the club, where I was given a hero’s welcome (well, not really!). My wife and Indi were both there to offer congratulations, and we talked over the flight.

The talk soon turned to what I should plan for the next day, and the answer was pretty obvious really. The QXC! Gulp.

So, tonight I have a flight to plan from Brize to Wellesbourne and Peterborough Conington. Hopefully the weather will be good and I can get this out of the way. Then, on Tuesday I’m going to be doing some revision, with a view to doing my skills test on Sunday! Suddenly, the end is in sight! Just got to hope the weather co-operates tomorrow!

Total flight time today: Dual 0:00 – Solo – 1:15
Take-offs: 2 – Landings: 2

Total flight time to date: Dual 40:45 – Solo 9:55
Take-offs to date: 109 – Landings to date: 104

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