To Sywell and (fortunately!) back

After putting together my annual summary, the relatively poor ‘landaway’ count made me vow to start this year the way I plan to go on! I’d been in touch with David again and we planned another flight together. Aiming to kill two birds with one stone (both landing away and trying to increase my range) we planned a flight to Sywell.

Weather wasn’t looking great in the run up to the flight, and Sywell’s grass was also out of use (although they do have a hard runway so that’s not necessarily a factor). However the day of the flight dawned virtually CAVOK, although the clear night meant temperatures were low and the roads on the way to Lyneham still icy in places.

We arrived in plenty of time, and immediately set about getting the aircraft filled with fuel and out into the sun to deice. We had real difficulty manhandling the aircraft around the icy apron at Lyneham, and in hindsight this was probably something we should have picked up on (more about this later). Aircraft full of fuel, parked in the sun and liberally dosed in de-icing fluid, we headed back inside to warm up and complete the pre-flight planning.

I planned the flight heading North out of Lyneham’s zone, threading the gap between Kemble and South Cerney before turning around the Chedworth disused airfield. From there everything was planning on VOR radials using the DTY VOR.

All planned, checked and booked out, we headed out to the aircraft, ready for the off. The aircraft started easily, and we taxyed out sat waiting for quite a while for the engine to warm up enough for us to be able to carry out the power checks. Once these were done we headed to the hold and watched as an executive type jet landed and taxyed the full length of the runway.

We were cleared to line up, and in hindsight I probably shouldn’t have called ‘Ready for Departure’ until the other aircraft had cleared the runway. As a result we were left sitting on the runway with our back to any landing traffic for quite some time waiting for take off clearance. At a fully Controlled field like Lyneham this probably isn’t too much of an issue, but it’s not a position I enjoy being in. A lesson for the future perhaps.

Once cleared for takeoff we headed out, a slight crosswind keeping my attention on climbout. As we reached 500 feet the other aircraft (still on the tower frequency) then spent ages getting and confirming his taxy clearance, so we were at about 1300 feet before I could get in a call to let the Tower Controller know I was switching over to the Zone frequency (we would normally do this at around 600 feet or so). We were almost clear of the Zone by the time I checked in with the Zone Controller, and we continued to climb up to 2500 feet heading North.

Kemble and Cirencester were clearly visible, so I navigated through the gap, tuning and identifying the DTY VOR, and dialling in the appropriate radial for our trip from Chedworth. Once we intercepted this radial it was a simple matter to track towards the VOR for the rest of the leg. Although visibility was generally good, it didn’t appear to be the 30km that Lyneham’s ATIS had promised. There appeared to be a distinct amount of haze that wasn’t a factor on this leg, but would probably make things a little more difficult later on the flight back heading into the sun.

We checked in with Brize Radar for a Basic service, but the skies were relatively quiet. The Brize Controller seemed keen to get rid of us (even suggesting we Freecall Sywell Information while we were still about 30 odd miles from Sywell!) so we spent a lot of the leg listening in to the Sywell frequency.

For the first time I could hear lots of radio traffic that was obviously aimed at another airfield (in this case Compton Abbas). I was a little surprised that two airfields that weren’t that far apart had been allocated the same frequency. Although we could only hear other aircraft talking to Compton, it was somewhat distracting.

As we neared the VOR I deliberately turned slightly North to avoid directly overflying the VOR (as they can often be a bit of a honeypot for pilots navigating heads down). I then intercepted the outbound radial to get us to the Pitsford lake, that I was planning to use as a fix to then head in to Sywell from the West.

Passing North of the DTY VOR

Passing North of the DTY VOR

As we were making our way into the overhead to join for the grass runway 23, another aircraft asked to join for their hard runway 21. I considered asking for the same thing, but in the end opted to land on the grass (for I think the third time ever, with all of the others being at Sywell!).

Left Crosswind for 23

Left Crosswind for 23

Carried out a relatively neat Overhead Join, being slightly unsure as to whether the downwind leg should have been inside or outside one of the villages. I opted for inside which meant a relatively steep bank angle to get on course. The rest of the approach to the runway went well, and I landed with a small amount of crab and sideways drift. Definitely need to focus on this a little more in future.

After paying the landing fee (and enjoying the sign proclaiming pilots wearing a hi-viz jacket would be subject to a £20 fine!), we had a nice lunch at the busy Pilot’s Mess, before heading back out to the aircraft for the flight home. I carried out a quick walkaround, and we boarded up. All the pre-flight check items went normally until the point where I tried to start the engine. The starter was spinning, but the prop wasn’t moving.

There was obviously an issue with the starter, and a helpful chap from the fuel station came out with some tools to give the starter a tap to see if that would free it (although we later found that he was actually tapping the alternator – oh well!).

I was in contact with Dave, one of the aircraft’s owners, and he suggested that we should be able to hand swing the prop to get it started. This was a procedure I’d never done, and was a little wary of trying. We asked around and found a guy who had experience of hand swinging a Tiger, but on them the prop turns the other way so it’s easier to get a good swing. A couple walking out to a Chipmunk in Flying Suits also stopped to help, but the guy also had no luck in getting us started.

We were starting to get a little desperate now, not least because it was getting to around 2:30, and we had over an hour’s flight to do. Official ‘Night’ started around 16:35, so realistically we wanted to be leaving around 15:00 so as not to risk getting caught up in the air once Night fell.

As luck would have it, an Engineer happened to turn up to meet another aircraft, so he pitched up with a limited set of tools and set about removing the cowling. He managed to ‘wind out’ the Bendix on the starter so that it was correctly engaged, giving us one engine start (the Bendix would disengage automatically once the engine fired). Once he knew the starter was turning the prop, he put everything back together and we boarded up again.

At this point I was probably more conscious of the time than I needed to be, as it was only about 14:45. However, I rushed through the checks somewhat, and carried out the power checks on the move to the hold for the grass runway (something else that hid the other problem we were carrying). Once at the hold another aircraft appeared on Final for a touch and go, so we had to wait a while for him to complete this.

Finally ready to leave, we pulled on to the runway and applied full power. David helpfully reminded me that I should really have some flap applied due to the short runway, so I pulled on two stages as we begun the take off roll.

It was clear that we didn’t appear to be getting particularly good acceleration on the runway, but again I was less concerned due to it being grass. We had used quite a lot of runway before I hauled us into the air at a low airspeed, but the airspeed quickly increased in ground effect to a speed that enabled us to climb away, removing the flap in stages as we climbed.

At this point it became clear just how bad the viz into sun was. Visibility directly in front of us was severely reduced, but out to the sides was a lot better. As we approached the VOR I had a quick double check of the chart to find out what height the Class A airspace started (FL45 North of the VOR, FL55 South) and climbed us up to 4000 feet to see if this would get us above the layer of haze. Sadly, it didn’t seem to improve things too much.

Luckily I had also planned the flight back using the VOR for Nav, so at least the poor visibility wasn’t too much of a factor in the actual Navigation. However, we checked in with Brize as early as we could, and upgraded to a Traffic Service once it was clear the frequency was relatively quiet.

As we approached Chedworth, I decided to continue on the radial until the LA NDB indicated that Lyneham was to the South of us. This would get us well clear of South Cerney (that Brize had informed us was active) and we could again thread the gap between South Cerney and Kemble. The Brize Controller seemed surprised that I wanted to switch to Kemble, but I explained I’d rather talk to them given that we would be passing close to their ATZ. He had obviously already arranged the handover to Lyneham, as he gave us our squawk as we changed frequency to Kemble.

Sadly Kemble was so busy that I was unable to actually announce myself to them on the radio. Thing probably weren’t helped by the fact that I was flying G-VICC, and there was another G-CC in the circuit transmitting at the same time (which might have led the FISO to think that we were one and the same). Using the lakes of the Cotswold Water Park as a guide to keep us clear of South Cerney, we passed Kemble on our right before checking in with Lyneham.

For the first time in a long time I made a visual approach into Lyneham. Now that we were heading South rather than South West the visibility was slightly better, but it was still difficult to spot Lyneham in the haze. We were informed of Instrument traffic as we approached the Zone, and I carried out a couple of orbits for spacing and to allow for some time to elapse for his Wake Turbulence to dissipate.

I made a good visual approach, and one of the best landings I’ve made in a long time, touching down right on the numbers and slowing to walking pace long before the turn off for the 18 loop. As we taxyed off the runway and stopped for the after landing checks, the problem we’d been carrying became more obvious. Almost as soon as I pulled the power back to idle in readiness to brake to a standstill after passing the hold line, the aircraft came to a stop of its own accord.

I made a mental note of this as I carried out the after landing check list, and made a point of repeating it as we taxyed back. It was clear that at least one of the wheel brakes was binding, as pulling back the power from walking pace led to an almost instant stop. I tried to work out which brake it was, but it was difficult on the move.

Once we arrived back at the wash bay, I asked the Controller for permission to shut down and then try the starter again due to the problem we’d had. I wanted to be able to give the owners as much information as possible, and knowing whether or not the aircraft was likely to start again would obviously affect how easy a task they had getting someone to look at it the next day. So I closed the engine down, waited a short while and started to crank the starter again. Typically, it was working perfectly, and the prop was spinning as it should!

The Route and Tracks

The Route and Tracks

We refuelled the aircraft and pushed it back to parking, applied the tie downs, chocks and cover and headed back into the club.

On the whole this was a pretty good flight, problems aside. It’s a little concerning that I hadn’t noticed the brake issue earlier, but a lot of factors conspired to hide it from me (an icy apron, taxy and take off on grass). In hindsight it should perhaps have been more obvious during the taxy at Lyneham. As a result of this, we endured a longer take off roll than we should have done, on a grass runway that was shorter than what I’m normally used to. As it turned out we took off with runway to spare, but the outcome could have been somewhat different if some other hole in the cheese had lined up.

The visibility on the way back also made me glad of having the IMC Rating. While certainly legal VFR, I at least knew that I could fall back on flying on Instruments if conditions meant that we couldn’t continue visually. I had also made a point of grabbing a set of plates for Lyneham and Brize before leaving, so we could have carried out an Instrument Approach into either if conditions made it difficult to find the runway.

Still, it was a generally good start to the flying year. Hopefully it’ll be the first of many enjoyable flights.

Total flight time today: 2:20
Total flight time to date: 140:50

2 Responses to “To Sywell and (fortunately!) back”

  1. The dreaded local, but at least I wasn’t flying this time! « Andy’s Blog Says:

    […] Andy’s Blog Poker, flight and anything else that comes to mind. « To Sywell and (fortunately!) back […]

  2. With Freedom to Sywell | Andy's Blog Says:

    […] was realistically limited to airfields with a hard runway. It had been some time since I’d been to Sywell, and I’d never landed on their ‘new’ hard runway, so this seemed like an ideal […]

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