New flying buddy!

I’d been reading the blog of a guy who recently acquired his PPL at Gloucester, and had just bought a share in a tail-dragger at Oaksey Park. Recently he’d purchased a cheap 7 inch Windows based tablet PC that he intended to use in the aircraft. This sounded like a pretty good setup to me, so we’d talked about arranging a flight together so I could have a look at it. Today was the day!

The weather forecasts the night before looked pretty dire, with some forecasting broken cloudbase of 100 feet AGL! I fully expected to wake up this morning only to call Steve to cancel, but as it turned out the forecasters couldn’t have been more wrong. There was some early morning mist, but once that burned off there was barely a cloud in the sky!

Initially I’d planned to land away, but an appointment in the morning left me running a little later than I expected, so we downgraded that to a bit of a local. While I’d flown in the Newbury area before, I’d never took the time to locate the offices of the company I work for. Today seemed like a good excuse, and the fact that he had his camera with him sealed the deal!

In order to try to get over my recent cock up in IMC, I also wanted to get in some IMC practice if I could. So we planned to head from Newbury up towards Brize, tracking the BZ NDB there and either arranging a Zone Transit or a flight above the Class D there if necessary. From there we’d track the LA NDB back to Lyneham and carry out a PAR approach back into Lyneham. Having a qualified PPL beside me meant I could legally make the flight under the hood if I wanted, but sadly that would have required me to pick up the hood from the Club before we left!

So, the final route was Lyneham -> Avebury -> Newbury -> Brize -> Lynhem. I Ok’d the PAR with the supervisor in Air Traffic before booking out, and after the usual pre flight checks we headed out to the aircraft. Steven had carried out all his training in Robins, and the share he’d just bought was also a Robin. I thought I’d take the chance to introduce him to the wonders of the PA-28!

This was my first flight in G-SNUZ, the latest of the Club’s trio of Warriors. This one has a full IFR fit and a VFR GPS, so I took some time during the walk around to familiarise myself with the avionics and audio panel. As it happened they were very similar to those in the Warriors at Brize, so although I had to get used to a  ‘clockwork’ transponder again things were relatively familiar.

Had to call twice for start and taxy clearance due to an issue with the radios in air traffic, and when calling for taxy clearance was offered runway 18 due to a 9 knot crosswind almost straight across 24. I declined on the basis that crosswind practice is never a bad thing, and we taxyed to the hold for 24 as usual. Initially lined up pointing 180 degrees in the wrong direction due to mis-reading the wind sock, but realised my mistake while waiting for the engine to warm up prior to doing the power checks.

While getting ready for the off I hadn’t noticed the tablet PC wasn’t mounted on the windscreen. I queried this with Steve only for him to tell me that he’d broken it (the mount, not the windscreen)! Oh well, flying is flying, and we still would have the chance to try it out in the air.

Power checks were normal, and when I called ‘Ready for Departure’ I wasn’t told to switch to the Tower frequency as per usual. Odd, but I continued anyway. Lined up for take off and applied full power, only to be surprised at the sluggish rate of acceleration. Initially I assumed that this was just a slightly down on power engine in this particular aircraft (I’d never flown it before remember) but Steve reminded me after the flight that we also had virtually no headwind component, so would need a correspondingly higher ground speed to achieve the normal rotate airspeed. The runway at Lyneham is far from short, but it’s certainly something to bear in mind if I take this aircraft to a shorter field.

The initial NAV out of the Zone was fairly poor, and I have to admit to leaning on Steve’s GPS a bit more than I usually would. Once established on the leg to Newbury though I settled down a bit better and was navigating the good old fashioned way again, with Steve cross-checking on the GPS every now and again.

We soon reached Newbury, and I set about finding the office. As we’re just off  the main road through Newbury it wasn’t too difficult. We did a few orbits of the office with Steve snapping off photos.

Overhead the Office!

Overhead the Office!

Steve asked me if I’d demonstrate the radio nav I planned to do up to Brize, but hadn’t realised that I would be doing this using the ADF (which he’s fairly happy with). I decided to make a brief detour out to the CPT VOR to demonstrate a bit of VOR tracking for him (and also get myself some practice too). There was a small amount of traffic around the VOR, and we were both keeping a good lookout for traffic as these places tend to be honeypots to some extent.

In order to miss the Prohibited area for Harwell we tracked out to the West from CPT, intending to intercept the original planned track up to Brize. This went pretty well, and we were soon talking to Brize heading towards them. There was a slight delay in getting the transit clearance, but once this was granted I continued heading towards the field that was very familiar to me from my training. However, I think this was the first time I’d ever approached it from the South!

At one point we were heading towards Brize at our assigned altitude of 2500 feet, when they called out traffic in our 2 O’Clock, indicating 2000 feet below! That would have put him about 200 feet off the deck, so I can only assume it was an error on the Controller’s part. I did spot some traffic in the appropriate direction slightly below us, so we continued into the Zone.

Overhead Brize I pointed out the Flying Club parking area to Steve, and he rattled off a few more shots. There seemed to be a lot more aircraft parked around it on the grass than there were when I was training there.

Brize Flying Club parking area

Brize Flying Club parking area

As we turned overhead Brize I checked whether the Fairford ATZ was active (the direct route to Lyneham would have had us just clipping the edge of it). I was told Fairford was ‘Cold’ so we took the opportunity to fly fairly close by and get off some good shots of the huge runway there, that is apparently a potential landing site for the Space Shuttle!

Passing Fairford

Passing Fairford

As we cleared the Brize Zone I announced that we were switching frequencies. It took a couple of goes to get an acknowledgement, and then I neglected to switch to the other radio before making the initial call to Lyneham. I made my mistake mid-sentence so stopped transmitting, but received no response from Brize so just switched boxes and made the call again.

We were cleared for the PAR and soon started receiving heights and headings for the Approach. I had Steve take over the lookout duties while I tried to keep my eyes inside the cockpit as much as possible (as I said earlier, I’d forgotten to bring the hood so couldn’t really call this a ‘proper’ approach). A couple of times I ended up slightly below the glidepath, but this was easily corrected once prompted by the Controller. In hindsight I thought it might have been an idea to also dial in the ILS frequency as a cross-check, but perhaps not doing this was better as it meant I was truly flying the PAR, rather than actually flying an ILS while listening to a Controller!

As we reached our decision height of 500 feet I looked up to find the runway almost exactly where it should have been, and made a relatively normal visual approach. As usual there was a bit of turbulence crossing the road before the threshold, but this was easily controllable and I made a fair crosswind landing. I had a slight amount of crab still on as we touched down, which is something I should try to work on more in case I ever do get to do my taildragger conversion!

Short final for 24 after the PAR

Short final for 24 after the PAR

Once down and under control we were cleared to taxy back via the normal route before closing down. Managed to make a couple of slips by using the wrong callsign (G-VICC, the aircraft I usually flew) when calling ‘Runway Vacated’ and ‘Closing down’. This was made worse by the fact that G-VICC was actually following me down Final with an Instructor and Student on board. Luckily the Controller was on the ball and realised that G-VICC couldn’t possibly have vacated the runway as it hadn’t even landed yet!

The route and track

The route and track

Had a good old chat with Steve after the flight. Apparently I hadn’t traumatised him too much, so we agreed to try to make further regular flights in the future together. I’ve occasionally found it a little unsatisfying to fly by myself, so it’s always good to have other people to share a flight with if the need arises! The plan is for us to go to Compton Abbas for lunch in his aircraft for our next flight. My first experience of a taildagger should be fun!

Total flight time today: 1:10
Total flight time to date: 134:55

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