From Halfpenny Green – In IMC!

After an awful Winter, with weather and illness cancelling a number of flights, I was keen to get back into flying regularly if at all possible. So, when David invited me to join him on a flight and share the flying, I was only to happy to accept.

Leading up to the flight we had a number of destinations in mind, but the TAF for the day promised deteriorating weather for our return (cloudbase dropping to about 1000 feet), so we decided not to venture too far. It was decided that David would fly us up to Halfpenny Green, and I’d fly the return leg.

David is still relatively new to flying from Lyneham, but is quickly getting the hang of things. He also hasn’t yet been signed off to fly in crosswinds greater than 7 knots, so he had to depart from runway 18 due to the wind. Overall, the flight up to Wolverhampton went pretty smoothly. We overflew Kemble and Gloucester airfields, with the latter seeming particularly busy (presumably due to a special £10 landing fee offer this weekend). The visibility wasn’t brilliant, but perfectly acceptable.

David made a neat Overhead Join into a very quiet Halfpenny Green, but ended up fairly high on Final. He asked me whether he should go around, but I thought it best to allow him to make the decision. He did decide to go around for another try, and on informing the FISO received the reply ‘I did wonder!’.

We were given a nice welcome in the Tower as we paid the landing fee, and chatted about how quiet they seemed. They had been a little busier earlier in the day apparently, perhaps people had been put off by the forecast deterioration in weather conditions.

We retired to the cafe for a cup of tea (and David found it impossible to resist a doughnut!) and I planned the flight back. I had originally planned to avoid flying directly over Gloucester, but given the weather conditions planned a flight direct via the GST and KMB NDBs. David had already informed Lyneham that we’d like an ILS on our return, so that side of things was covered.

As we walked out to the aircraft, it was clear that the weather conditions were already deteriorating. It was noticeably cooler, with a much lower cloudbase than when we arrived. Once we departed it became clear that the visibility had also worsened somewhat, and on a number of occasions we were in real IMC on the return leg.

The enroute conditions

The enroute conditions

At one point David suggested descending to see if that got us out of the murk, but it actually appeared to make things worse, so I returned us to our 3000 feet cruising level. Unsurprisingly there wasn’t too much traffic about, but we spotted one aircraft quite late, and it appeared that he had already taken action to avoid us, as he passed by on our left hand side at a similar level. We also caught up a helicopter on a training flight from Halfpenny Green, we had heard the Instructor briefing the Student in the cafe at Halfpenny Green!

Had difficulty calling ‘Overhead’ as we passed Gloucester due to how busy they were, and continued on to Kemble. As we made contact with them we were told that another aircraft was about to take off for an aerobatic sortie in the Overhead, not below 2500 feet. This surprised me somewhat, as we were cruising around 3000 feet just below a seemingly solid cloud layer!

We diverted West of Kemble, taking care to avoid Aston Down that was notified as being active. We both came to the conclusion that it would be unlikely to spot any gliders on a day like today, but as we passed by we did see one landing. Didn’t really seem particularly ideal gliding conditions to me!

Once clear of Kemble, I attempted to contact Lyneham Approach. I received no reply on the 2nd radio, so switched back to the 1st box that we had used for the rest of the flight. Again received no reply. Luckily David was switched on, and spotted that I’d selected 118.475 as the frequency, when Lyneham Approach are actually 118.425. On return it seemed that I’d copied the wrong frequency down 3 or 4 flights ago, and had been copying the same error since then!

Diverting West of Kemble - note the incorrect frequency for Lyneham Approach ready on the second radio!

Diverting West of Kemble - note the incorrect frequency for Lyneham Approach ready on the second radio!

Once in contact with Lyneham, after requesting the NDB to ILS Approach to 24, we were then told to climb to FL50. At the time this seemed unusual, as previously when I’d carried out an ILS they almost always had us cross the beacon at 2600 feet, the minimum height for the Outbound leg. However, after thinking about it more since landing, I think the Controller probably wanted to get us up into Controlled Air Space as quickly as possible. Lyneham is surrounded by a roughly rectangular area of Class D airspace, from the ground up to 3500 feet. Additionally they have a circular area of Class D, that extends some 6nm of so from the airfield, starting at 3500 feet and going up to FL65. By climbing us early, the Controller put us into this Circular area, rather than having to wait for us to get into the rectangular area much closer in to the airfield.

The climb put us into solid cloud for a while, but we levelled off in between two layers of cloud. This was quite a strange place to be, as you often hear of pilots flying ‘On Top’ of a layer of cloud, in beautiful sunshine and pleasant flying conditions! However I was now solidly into IMC handling, and knew that my IMC training would have to work here as there was no other way for us to land!

Heading in to the beacon, the Controller surprised me somewhat by rattling off the ATIS with no warning. Luckily David had a pen and paper ready and wrote down the important details, but I had to get the Controller to repeat the pressure settings to ensure we’d got them correctly. Lesson in future to have an ATIS blank and pen ready, and to actually request the ATIS so that I know when it’s coming.

Carried out a good Outbound leg, nicely tracking the NDB on a track of 088 and descending to 2600 feet. I was momentarily distracted carrying out the pre-landing checks and double checking the identification of the Nav Aids, so ended up heading about 45 degrees off course for a short period of time. I noticed this relatively quickly though, and corrected back onto the correct track (cheating slightly by using the GPS fitted to this aircraft).

The base leg also went well, turning to intercept the Localiser while descending to 2100 feet. It seemed to take a long time to capture the Localiser and see the ILS needle begin to move, but once it did I made a nice turn to align us with the final approach, and notified the Controller that we had intercepted the Localiser, and that all checks were complete. We were then handed over to the Tower for the remainder of the approach.

The rest of the ILS went well. My tracking of the Localiser was pretty good considering the strong crosswind from the South. At the time I felt my descent profile was a little poor, but looking at the GPS trace it doesn’t seem to be too bad. We broke cloud at around 1300 feet or so, and David spotted the runway lit up off to our right. I was receiving a slight ‘steer right’ indication from the Localiser at this point, so assumed it was off to our right because of this.

I steered over to the right to line up with the runway, and then it became clear that the real reason the runway was off to the right was because of the strong crosswind from the left! As I blasted through the centreline I realised my mistake, and had a bit of a job getting us back on track. However, we were back on a nice stable approach by about 1000 feet AAL, so I continued the approach after calling ‘Final’ and being given clearance to land.

The rest of the approach went pretty well, landing close to the numbers, bang on centreline and with almost no drift for my best crosswind landing in a long time! If only I could do that more often!



The ILS descent profile

The ILS descent profile

Due to being slightly high we would have needed to brake relatively hard to make the turn for the 18 loop, so I elected to go past and request a backtrack. This was granted, and we cleared the runway.

As I was carrying out the after landing checks, I went to turn off the transponder and saw that it was already off. A little concerned that we might have flown for a long time like this, I queried it with David and he told me that he’d turned it off. This is a perfect lesson in the potential pitfalls of having two pilots in the cockpit. I have to confess to ‘fiddling’ a little with the GPS and NavAids while David was flying too, so perhaps in future we need to agree on a set of ‘duties’ for the non-flying pilot (perhaps have him handle tuning all the radios and transponder)?

On the whole this was a very satisfying flight, particularly after my little ‘wobble’ not long after getting the IMC rating. What was particularly enjoyable was knowing that I’d carried out a successful ILS in real IMC conditions, and not only that had done one of the best approaches and landings I can remember doing.

Definitely a flight to remember.

Total flight time today: 1:15
Total flight time to date: 142:50

3 Responses to “From Halfpenny Green – In IMC!”

  1. flyerdavid Says:


    First time to Halfpenny Green for me – it was a good destination with excellent and welcoming radio service, good/modern cafe (Free Wi-Fi included!) and was relatively easy to find. Perhaps surprisingly, not that busy for a Saturday afternoon – maybe it’s still a bit early in the season.

    Thanks for demonstrating what real IMC and an ILS letdown actually looks like – you made it look like you do these pretty much every day, and the crosswind landing was indeed a masterpiece.

    It was all quite new to me – I know I’ve read in the books how vertical visibility can be so much better than horizontal/slant, but the contrast between seeing the ground fiarly clearly when looking directly down and the zero-vis into cloud directly ahead was quite dramatic.

    For me, it re-inforced the usefulnes of IMC as a safety rating – I would either have had to return to HalfpennyGreen or descend to some 1000 ft and scud run into Gloucester (not at all a desirable option as the fog was rolling in). Climbing into the cloud, even with just a Basic Service, seemed much safer option.

    Thanks for sharing the trip with me and I promise not to fiddle with the instruments behind your back next time!

  2. Andy Hawkins Says:

    Thanks for the comments David. I wasn’t too concerned with you turning the Transponder off as I was that I’d forgotten to turn it on in the first place!

  3. Back to Halfpenny Green « Andy’s Blog Says:

    […] want to do anything too adventurous, so just planned another quick hop up to Wolverhampton Halfpenny Green for lunch. The weather was bright and clear on the ground, but pretty windy, and the forecast was […]

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