Back to Conington

After a busy March for flying, I wanted to start April on the right foot. I had an aircraft booked on a Saturday for a change, as Sunday was Mothers’ Day in the UK so figured my marriage was slightly more important than trying to fly on my usual Sunday!

There’d been some confusion leading up to the day as to whether the aircraft would be available, due to it just coming out of its annual and a last minute issue with the brakes. However, this was resolved on the evening before, and I arrived at the Club in good time as usual.

Conington 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 return. I’d done all the pre-flight planning using SkyDemon this time (but still double checked NOTAMs myself) and was intending to use my new GPS in the air for the first time too.

A call to Conington before leaving home had confirmed the weather forecast, with a strong Southerly wind giving a 90 degree crosswind. However, they were expecting the wind to shift around to be more aligned with the runway (as it was already doing at Lyneham) so that gave me confidence to head over there. At worst case, I always carry enough fuel for the entire journey, so if the wind were out of limits when I arrived I could always just turn around and come back.

Roger was up in G-VICC when I arrived, so I passed the time marking up my chart and preparing approach plates for my return in case I needed them. The weather looked pretty poor, and I was giving serious consideration to cancelling the flight, particularly given the distance I would be travelling.

Roger returned and informed me that the cloudbase was up around 2000 feet, and he confirmed that there was still a slight issue with the brakes. However, Conington’s runway is close to 1000m long, so unless I really messed up the approach I could easily land without having to touch the brakes. The aircraft owner Dave had given me some tips on managing them if they were an issue too, so that was Ok. I asked Roger to fill the aircraft with fuel, and headed back into the Club to finish my preparations.

Once I saw the aircraft was back in its parking space, I booked out and gathered up my gear. As I was walking out the Student from the previous flight chased after me to hand me the keys (Roger had said they were in the aircraft so I didn’t bother to check!) and once out at the aircraft I began the pre-flight. After checking the right wing, I then made my usual check of the fuel level (I never trust what someone might tell me regarding that) and was vindicated in doing so by the fact that the previous pilot had only filled the aircraft up to ‘tabs’ despite my request. So I headed back in to the Club to cancel my booking out (the Controller actually just delayed it by 15 minutes) and dragged the aircraft back over to the bowser to fill it with fuel.

All checked out and settled in to the aircraft (with the GPS safely mounted on the right hand side) I headed out. All pre-flight checks were normal, and I had to hold once ready to allow one of the other Club aircraft to carry out a touch and go. I was cleared onto the runway as the aircraft passed the holding point, and then cleared for take off once he was airborne again.

Takeoff was normal, and I signed off with the Tower at about 500 feet AAL, but managed to get myself distracted slightly by reaching the base of the clouds at around 1200 feet while heading North to mean I only called the Zone at around that height. Again, I was considering cancelling the flight, as I didn’t fancy heading all the way to Conington at low level.

However, the cloud base gradually lifted up to around 2000 feet as I cleared the Zone, and it was clear that the airspace ahead had a similar cloud base. The Controller asked if I would be transiting the Brize Norton Controlled Airspace, but I told him ‘Negative, will route to the North’. Before the flight I’d considered whether I could ask for a Brize transit when booking out at Lyneham. The issue was that if I headed out to the North East aiming to transit, but was denied, I would have had to head back to the West or far out to the East in order to dodge around the airspace. Perhaps something to talk over with a Controller sometime to see what the best course of action would have been.

Clear of the Zone I talked to Kemble as I passed, then switched to Brize over Cirencester in readiness to calling them as I turned around the Chedworth disused airfield. Was soon talking to Brize, receiving a Basic Service and tracking nicely towards the DTY VOR. On this leg I elected to use the autopilot to maintain level and track the beacon, which is why the track on this leg looks so good! This gave me more time for lookout while occasionally monitoring the instruments to ensure the autopilot wasn’t doing anything stupid!

On a couple of occasions we obviously encountered some sinking air, and the autopilot pitched up in order to regain the level I was flying at. In this aircraft, the autopilot is only connected to ailerons and elevator, so this pitch up caused the airspeed to begin to decay to around 80 knots. A quick burst of power during the climb was enough to bring things back to normal, but it was a useful reminder that the autopilot can’t just be trusted to get things right all the time.

Along this leg the Brize Controller informed me of two pieces of traffic simultaneously, one crossing left to right and the other directly ahead and coming towards me. Neither of these were transponding (which means he had no information as to their height) so I kept my eyes peeled. I spotted a helicopter passing left to right a few hundred feet below me, and another light aircraft passing down my right side at a similar level. Slightly surprising that neither of these were transponder equipped, but a lot of aircraft don’t seem to be!

When navigating via a VOR, I tend to try to avoid passing directly overhead as they are often a ‘honey pot’ for other aircraft navigating the same way. This time I elected to attempt to fly a 5nm DME arc around the VOR before intercepting the outbound track to Conington. Looking at the log of the flight, this appears to have gone reasonably well and in the air, the DME never read more than 0.2nm away from 5nm. I will try to check with an Instructor what sort of tolerance a DME arc would need to be flown at if part of an approach (and in reality, it’s unlikely that it would be flown so close to the DME anyway).

Safely established on the outbound track, I switched to Sywell as I would be passing very close to them. The NOTAMs showed infrequent aerobatics in the overhead too, which was another reason for talking to them. In the event they were relatively quiet, and I passed South of the field without any conflicts.

The rest of the flight was relatively routine. There were plenty of local landmarks to navigate by, plus I was following an outbound track from the VOR and using the GPS to monitor progress! Conington soon appeared as an obvious landmark ahead of me, and I set about flying their new Overhead Join procedure while another aircraft joined from the deadside at 600 feet.

Rather than a standard deadside descent, passing over the upwind end of the active runway, they now have the descent much tighter to the airfield, passing over their cross runway. I was initially unsure as to how tight this turn would need to be, but once overhead it was clear that there was plenty of room to carry out the procedure. As I started the descent, the other aircraft announced he was downwind, and I spotted him easily, giving me some good landmarks as to where the downwind leg could be positioned.

All checks completed downwind (including a bit of attention to giving the brakes a bit of a pump!) and I was soon established on Final. Initially I thought I was far too high, but a quick check of the altimeter showed I was actually on about the correct glidepath. Something clicked in my brain regarding the various optical illusions you can experience, that I’d read about as part of my study for the Human Factors exam. When you approach a runway that is narrower than what you are used to, this can trick the brain into thinking you’re a lot higher than you are. This was exactly what I was experiencing, as although Conington is close 1000m long, the runway is a lot narrower than the one at Lyneham.

Once I had this clear in my head, I actually managed a very good approach, touching down just after the numbers and slowing easily without requiring the brakes. After backtracking and parking up where the Tower asked me, I shutdown and headed in for a well deserved lunch!

G-VICC safely parked at Conington

G-VICC safely parked at Conington

Conington is a very nice place for a visit, with an excellent little airfield Cafe and very welcoming staff. I opted for a Bacon, Lettuce and Tomato panini (that was excellent), and paid the landing fee while I waited. Had a brief chat with the guy manning the desk collecting landing fees, and he asked where I’d found out about the non-standard Join and seemed slightly surprised that I’d found it via their web site. Apparently they only just missed the publication of this year’s AFE flight guide (which I use) but it was also in Pooleys. Anyway, personally I don’t think there’s any excuse for turning up at an airfield without phoning through in advance just to check if anything unusual is happening that day.



Suitably fed and with the route back loaded in to the GPS (I elected to load the route that included a Brize transit, with the intention to switch over to the same route I had came if necessary), I headed out to the aircraft to prepare for the return flight. The walk around showed nothing out of the ordinary, and I was soon back in the cockpit ready for the off.

As luck would have it another aircraft was carrying out power checks as I prepared to start up, so I made a note of where he did them so that I could do them in the same place and not cause any problems with my prop wash. Once all checks were complete I headed out on to the runway and began the journey home.

It was clear that the weather was looking a lot better, there still being some cloud over the airfield but much clearer blue skies ahead. As I climbed out I found I could easily climb up to 2500 feet without getting near to the cloud base. I bade Conington farewell, and set course for the DTY VOR and the trip home.

After a quick check of the chart to find out the base of Controlled airspace on the route, I decided I would climb to 4000 feet as I approached Banbury, and then cross overhead Brize above their airspace (which rises up to 3500 feet). There would then be no worry of having to re-route around Brize as I wouldn’t actually be in their airspace.

The leg to DTY was all normal, passing by Sywell again while talking to them. I heard a number of aircraft talking and receiving no response, but I soon clicked that they were probably actually talking to Compton Abbas, which shares the same frequency. Slightly disconcerting, but once I realised what was happening it made things slightly easier.

I flew another DME arc around DTY, and climbed up to 4000 feet as I approached Banbury. The weather conditions now were simply stunning, near unlimited visibility and barely a cloud in the sky. Days like this make me remember what it is about this flying lark that I enjoy so much!

On track to Brize and talking to them, I was given notice of a lot of traffic that the Controller thought were Enstone departures. I passed overhead Enstone at 4000 feet, failing to get a good photo of it due to being by myself in the cockpit and also only having my mobile phone with me. Brize was visibile from a long way out due to the conditions, so I hardly needed the ADF to guide me to it.

Overhead Enstone

Overhead Enstone

Once over Brize I turned direct for Lyneham, and despite it being over 20nm away I could see Lyneham in the distance. As I approached Swindon I began a descent down to 2000 feet, and asked the Controller if he was co-ordinating with Lyneham, or whether I should just Freecall them now. I was immediately given the appropriate squawk and handed over to Lyneham.

Approaching Swindon, I had possibly the shortest ever communication with the Approach Controller. He told me the runway in use and updated QFE, cleared me into Controlled Airspace not above 1500 feet, and asked me to report the field in sight. I could already see it, so I informed him and was immediately passed over to the Tower (probably before I had even entered the Zone!).

Passed over the North of Swindon and got a quick photo of the area around my house, and continued the approach to Lyneham. At this point the clear, measured tones of David came on the Tower frequency as he prepared to leave Lyneham. He was sharing a flight in G-SNUZ to White Waltham today, earlier commitments meaning he couldn’t come along with me on my flight. However, as I approached the field I didn’t manage to spot him as he turned left and headed East.

Passing over West Swindon

Passing over West Swindon

The Controller offered me a straight in approach rather than the Right Base join I had initially been cleared for, which I accepted and began to reposition myself as appropriate. Concentrated much more than usual on landing on the numbers and made a very smooth landing, almost exactly on spot and easily slowed in readiness to make the turn for the 18 loop without having to brake. Sadly, it was all for nought as Roger was doing power checks in the Bulldog on the 18 loop, so I had to taxy via 18/36 anyway.

Carried out the after landing checks while slowly taxying along 18/36, and cleared the runway before heading back to the Club to refuel and put the aircraft to bed.

Now I’m using SkyDemon, I have the option of posting tracks overlaid on either a CAA chart, or the SkyDemon chart. The SkyDemon chart looks slightly less cluttered, but the CAA chart will be familiar to any other pilots out there. Which do people prefer?

SkyDemon Track

SkyDemon Track

CAA Chart Track

CAA Chart Track

This was a real mixed day for flying. From the poor weather in the morning that had me on the verge of cancelling, to the near perfect conditions I experienced in the afternoon. The return trip was something that really hammered home all the things I love about flying, and it’s a shame that I was the only person on the flight to experience them. The welcome at Conington was excellent as ever, and I’ll certainly be back.

Total flight time today: 2:40
Total flight time to date: 149:15

2 Responses to “Back to Conington”

  1. flyerdavid Says:

    Sounds like a great trip, perhaps even better because the initial part made it so doubtful – must add Conington to my destination wishlist. You really do have lots of detail in the writeup which brings it to life. The DME arc looked pretty good to me – my IMC theory book tells me you are supposed to keep within 1 mile rather than the tight 0.2 you did, but as you say normally the arc is several miles wider anyway.

    I vote for the SkyDemon chart view – its a lot less cluttered and also shows your height, such as when you dropped down after leaving the Brize Zone.

    “Clear, measured tones” – makes it sound like I knew what I was doing!! I must have been practising my best BBC English on Saturday 🙂

    • Andy Hawkins Says:

      It was a good trip. Glad I didn’t bottle out given the morning weather! Conington is definitely worth a visit, nothing fancy, just a good old fashioned welcome and some decent grub. It’s only a small place, but they do twin ratings and have a few rotaries there too.

      Thanks for the info about the DME arc. I didn’t realise the tolerance was so wide! On a larger arc that should be a lot easier to achieve!

      Your R/T delivery is definitely more ‘deliberate’ than mine. I do tend to rattle things off quite quickly. Might be worth a chat with a Controller to see which they prefer!

      Thanks for the vote on the chart view. I tend to agree, but the CAA view is likely to be more familiar to other pilots. The other thing is that the profile view is only for one of the two legs (although I guess I could post separate images for each leg).

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