QXC!

The big day dawned bright and clear, and like an excited child on Christmas morning, I was awake a good half an hour before the alarm was due to go off!

Checked the weather and couldn’t believe my luck. The TAFs were all giving poor vis in haze, clearing mid-morning and becoming CAVOK. So I printed off all the weather, checked the NOTAMs, and after a quick call to Indi drove in to Brize.

The aircraft arrived back from its previous flight in good time, and the thoughtful chap had even taken the time to drop in to Oxford on his way back to fill it with fuel. I went over my plan with Indi, and we went through the QXC checklist to ensure I had covered everything. She filled in my QXC authorisation form, and it was time for me to go!

Headed out to the aircraft, and took my time over the pre flight walk around. Jumped in, and made sure that all the things I needed were arranged so that they were close to hand should I need them, and began the pre-flight checks. Engine started fine, and I taxyed out to the hold for the power checks. All normal, was cleared for take off, and my QXC began!

A normal departure, leaving from 08 and headed over to Burford, before climbing to my first leg altitude and following the road up to Shipton under Wychwood, the normal starting point for Nav flights.

From there set heading for the first leg, and made a note of the time. The first leg was a relatively short hop up to Wellesbourne, and a route that was now becoming quite familiar to me. The visibility wasn’t great, but was slightly better than it had been yesterday, and the familiar landmarks slid by under the aircraft, with each checkpoint being reached right on track and to schedule. After around 10 minutes Wellesbourne appeared out of the murk slightly to the left, and I had already ascertained that they were using runway 36 today.

The circuit was quite quiet, but I resisted the temptation of a straight in approach for 36 (I was coming from the South so it would have been the simplest arrival method, but wouldn’t have given me much feel for the other aircraft in the circuit) and opted for a standard overhead join. As I approached the field I was getting the normal excellent service from the on-duty FISO in response to a ‘Student’ call sign, and I planned the approach.

Overhead the airfield, I made a left turn at 2000 feet to cross the start of 36 with the runway on my left, and made a wide descending left turn (avoiding Wellesbourne itself) to cross the end of the runway at circuit height, again with the runway on the left. From there it was a relatively simple matter to join the downwind leg, and I soon was visual with the other aircraft in the circuit ahead of me, turning base as I turned downwind.

Carried out the downwind checks, and turned base as the aircraft ahead of me was on short final, making the ‘base’ call deliberately as another aircraft had reported being on a straight in approach to the same runway. The leading aircraft landed as I turned final, and I was a little unsure as to whether he would clear the runway before I was ready to land. Luckily he was clear of the runway before I needed to go around, so I continued my approach and made a relatively good landing. I tried to make good progress up to the intersection so that I could clear the runway, but just as I turned left I heard an aircraft behind me call ‘going around’. Sorry, whoever you were!

Taxyed over to parking, and found a nice spot on the end of the row so that I didn’t have to try to squeeze inbetween two other aircraft, then headed in to pay the landing fee and get that all important signature on the QXC form!

Was rated ‘Satisfactory’ for my airmanship and landing, and made a quick call to let my wife and Indi know I had arrived safely, before heading back out to Alpha Fox for the next leg, probably the longest leg I had ever flown solo, direct from Wellesbourne to Peterborough Conington.

Despite being quite long, the route was peppered with good visual fixes, and I had 4 checkpoints spaced an average of 10 minutes flying time apart. As I left Wellesbourne I contacted Coventry Approach, asking for Flight Information Service, and planned to stay with them until I was nearing Northampton Sywell, which I would pass a few miles North of. This was my first ‘glitch’, as I switched the transponder to ‘Standby’ to change the code, but neglected to switch it back on to ‘Alt’. Doh!

Coventry asked me to report crossing the M1, which was conveniently just after my second checkpoint North abeam Daventry. The first checkpoint at the Cement Works (one of Coventry’s VRPs) appeared on time and showed that I was on a good track, and I continued on to the next checkpoint. Around Daventry, Coventry asked me to confirm my position, and then to squawk ident. I pressed the ident button, but the light next to it didn’t illuminate. I decided to cycle the transponder (turning it off, then rotating each code setting dial back around to the correct setting) when I realised that it was still in the ‘Standby’ position. Quickly realising my mistake I set it back to ‘Alt’, and continued.

Daventry came and went, showing me on track, and I then headed to the next checkpoint, North abeam Sywell. This was a leg that should have been easy to maintain an idea of position, as I had the huge town of Northampton to my right, followed by Kettering and Corby.

Sometime along the leg, I spotted the M6 off to my left. The M6 curls around Kettering (which I was supposed to pass slightly South of) and then continued East passing Thrapston, which I was due to pass slightly to the North of. By this point I was talking to Sywell, and was probably slightly overloaded trying to spot the airfield, as well as maintaining an idea of my position.

I somehow managed to convince myself that the huge town I could see ahead was not Kettering, but the smaller town of Thrapston. In hindsight, if I had thought a little harder I should have realised that I would have had to be doing about 50kts quicker than I could possibly manage to have reached Thrapston that soon, but I had convinced myself that was where it was, so that was it! As a result, I started trying to ‘regain’ my track, by putting the town and the motorway to the right of the aircraft.

I continued on for a little while, still not entirely happy with my position fix, and then out of the haze appeared a wind farm. I had never been so happy to see one of these before, as there is a wind farm on the chart just to the South East of Kettering, with the motorway between it and the town. With this many clues, it was obvious then that I had made a mistake, but I regained my track and continued on to Peterborough.

As I passed Kettering (for real this time!) I said my goodbyes to Sywell, and switched to Conington. I was still some 15 minutes or so from Peterborough, but I wanted to get a good feel for how busy they were. The answer to this was ‘very’! There was a flight of Bulldogs in the area due to pass overhead quite soon, and another couple of aircraft in the circuit and joining. I announced my presence, and set about planning the approach into their runway in use, which today was 10. I spotted Conington right off the nose, and then a moment or two later I spotted the real Conington slightly to the left! Good job the runway layout there is quite distinctive, or I’d have landed on a road somewhere!

Again, I could have taken the easy option of a straight in approach, but decided to opt for another overhead join to build up a good picture as I joined the circuit. The join was fairly normal, with the Bulldog flight overhead at 4000 feet as I joined, and one other aircraft calling crosswind as I was overhead. I descended on the deadside, and followed him around the circuit, with plenty of spacing between us. I somehow ended up turning final very late, and ended up on a very long approach! This confused me slightly, as did the narrow runway at Conington (at least, narrow compared to what I’m used to at Brize!) and I ended up quite high on the approach.

Managed to get it under control, and as I approached the threshold I was positioned nicely, but probably 5 kts or so quicker than I should have been. Conington’s runway is nice and long though, so I wasn’t too concerned, and made a relatively good landing. Continued along the runway exiting second left after calling for fuel, but there was already a Cessna on the pumps, so I angled myself ready to be pushed back into a parking space, and shut down.

I was immediately greeted by a couple of very helpful and friendly locals. As per usual, their names have completely slipped my mind now, but one was the person I had spoken to on the phone when getting PPR, and the other was an instructor at the local flying school. They helped me push the aircraft back to parking, and we chatted about flying in general. They both made me feel very welcome, and it was definitely a nice reception to receive on such a long first trip by myself!

By this point I decided I had earned some lunch (I’d eaten half of my packed lunch – lovingly prepared for me by my darling wife 🙂 – before leaving Brize and while waiting at Wellesbourne) so I had a ham sandwich and a cup of tea, before arranging to have the aircraft fuelled for its final leg back to Brize via Wellesbourne’s overhead. Before I left I took the time to get the important 2nd signature on the QXC form, gaining another ‘Satisfactory’ for both airmanship and landing.

Leaving Conington involved backtracking down their runway to a hold point at the other end, but I had already done my power checks in my parking space (I was right at the end of the apron with nobody behind me) and I followed another aircraft down the runway and we both joined the hold. He turned at the hold and carried out his power checks, leaving me waiting idly as he did so! I did consider ‘jumping the queue’ (there was plenty of room to get past him to the runway) but decided to bide my time, as I was in no real rush.

He departed, and I followed on to the runway after he had rolled, beginning my take off run as I saw him turning crosswind at the other end of the airfield. Made two 90 degree right turns to head West again, and tried to have the airfield in the correct position behind me when I set course back towards Wellesbourne.

The visibility into sun was slightly worse now, but I had plenty of visual features to navigate by, and I was kept busy with traffic information and spotting other aircraft on the way back. Passed North of Sywell (again failing to spot it with any conviction) and switched back to Coventry as I approached the M1. This time I remembered to turn the transponder back on when given the squawk, and continued on track

As I passed Draycott Water and the Cement Works, I made ready to switch back to Wellesbourne, and when I did I had to double check that I was on the correct frequency. The last time I switched to Wellesbourne and heard nothing, it was because I had inadvertantly dialled in the wrong frequency! However, this time I was on the correct frequency, but there was no radio traffic to be heard.

Received great service from the FISO as ever, and turned overhead, heading South on the last leg for Brize. This area is quite devoid of good Nav features, but I dialled in a radial from the Honiley VOR to help me keep a good track. However, as I continued the landmarks I regularly used (Shipton on Stour, the disused airfield at Moreton-in-Marsh and Chipping Norton) were all clearly visible.

As I passed Chipping Norton, I started to try to find Brize, expecting it to be very difficult in the murk, but at this point someone was smiling on me, because I emerged from the haze and could suddenly see for miles! It was easy to pick out Little Rissington off to my right, and the huge expanse of Brize Norton ahead of me some 12 miles or so away! I can’t remember a rejoin at Brize being so easy in terms of visual navigation!

Had been talking to Brize Zone since leaving Wellesbourne, but as I approached Burford and began my descent, suddenly the frequency came alive with calls from the drop plane at South Cerney, and someone crossing Brize Zone. I was just about to orbit short of Burford (because I couldn’t get my ‘at Burford’ call in!) when the nice lady on ATC called me, asking if I was at Burford with the field in site. Just in the nick of time!

I responded, and was cleared into the zone, switching to the Tower frequency. From there headed towards the disused airfield West of Brize (Broadwell) using that as an indication of base leg for joining. Turned final, made a good approach, culminating in a slightly heavy landing, but one that was still quite acceptable I think.

Qualifying Cross Country

Then it hit me. I had done it! I had just single handedly flown an aircraft over 150nm, navigating by visual landmarks, and finding two airfields amongst open countryside with little more than a compass and a chart. Navigating visually was the one part of the PPL syllabus that I was really concerned about when I started, and I had worked quite hard as a result of this. Now I’d proved I could do it!

Total flight time today: Dual 0:00 – Solo – 2:45
Take-offs: 3 – Landings: 3

Total flight time to date: Dual 40:45 – Solo 12:40
Take-offs to date: 112 – Landings to date: 107

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2 Responses to “QXC!”

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

    […] was the scene of my first landaway, one of the stops on my QXC and also the first landaway after I earned my license, so it seemed like a good time for me to […]

  2. Returning to Conington | Andy's Blog Says:

    […] up to the weekend, but eventually chose Conington, scene of my first real ‘Nav’ flight, one of the stops on my QXC and also the destination for my first real flight after gaining the PPL. I’d been back once […]

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