Family trip to a new destination

After a successful shared flight with David, we planned to try to fly somewhere in a ‘mini-flyout’. Always keen to fly the Arrow and get the family in the air, we selected Panshanger as the destination for today’s flight. This would be my first venture into the crowded airspace around the London TMA.

Leading up to the flight there was still some doubt regarding the weather. Forecasts were suggesting there may be freezing fog in the morning, which could be slow to clear. Luckily Kemble was clearing nicely by the time I arrive around 10:15. David was still waiting for Dave to return to the field from South Cerney in the aircraft David had booked. Dave had already made one attempt earlier in the day, but had to return to South Cerney due to the fog at Kemble.

While we waited David helped me prepare the Arrow for flight, clearing the remnants of ice from the aircraft and pushing it onto the hard taxyway to face into the sun and do the remainder of the aircraft. I gave Luned a quick call to tell her that all was looking good, and she set off from home with Catrin for the 30 minute or so drive down to Kemble.

David was initially aiming to leave before us, and head out for a quick sightseeing trip over the Severn Bridges, but as it happened he was just leaving his parking space as Luned, Catrin and I were walking to the Arrow with all the pre-flight paperwork completed.

Kemble was now getting fairly busy. We taxyed down to the North Apron for power checks, and were behind one other aircraft as we completed them. There were some short delays to allow another aircraft onto the North Apron and landing traffic to vacate before the aircraft ahead departed. I was then cleared to line up, just in time for the frequency to get relatively busy with some taxy directions for other traffic.

Fortunately the circuit was fairly quiet so I wasn’t in any danger of preventing anyone from landing. We were soon rolling and airborne. I remembered to dab the brakes before raising the landing gear, and as we climbed the FISO reminded us that South Cerney was active (our direct track would have taken us very close). I was already aware of this and planning to turn South to miss it, but it’s always nice to have a reminder.

As we cleared from Kemble I switched to Brize for a Basic Service, informing them that we would be routing through the Benson overhead at 3500 feet, and asking if I should stick with them or give Benson a call. Benson’s MATZ stops at around 3200 feet so we wouldn’t be transitting, and Brize recommended that we stay with them.

Visibility wasn’t brilliant despite the fine day, and I was leaning on the GPS somewhat for the Navigation aspects of the flight. We passed by Fairford and Brize, staying North of the Prohibited Area around Harwell. Luned managed to get a fairly good shot as we passed (that also gives a good idea of the visibility we were seeing).

Harwell through the haze

Harwell through the haze

I spotted a motor glider manoeuvring ahead and to the left of us, and we passed fairly close to (although lower than) it as he circled to gain height.

Once overhead Benson I set course to steer just South of the BNN VOR (it’s generally a good idea not to fly overhead unless you absolutely have to, as lots of other pilots might be doing the same). Once clear of the Benson MATZ I informed Brize that we were descending to 2000 feet (in readiness to pass under the Class A airspace of the London TMA with a base of 2500 feet).

Brize suggested we freecall Farnborough West, so I switched frequency to them for a Basic Service. I had planned to just go direct to Farnborough North, as we were only in the Farnborough West region for a few minutes. In hindsight I probably should have stuck to my plan, although the handover between the two regions was simple due to North already having our squawk.

As we joined the Farnborough North frequency, we had to wait to make our initial call as David was leaving the frequency to talk to Panshanger. We continued on our route, and were at one point warned of some traffic crossing left to right ahead of us, heading into Elstree. He already had us visual, and I soon spotted him as he passed above us. We eventually left Farnborough as we approached Hatfield, using the disused airfield there as a turning point.

We received a (perfectly correct) short response from Panshanger Radio giving us the runway in use and pressure setting, and I started looking out for the field. In fact it was pretty easy to spot due to its proximity to Welwyn Garden City, and I set about planning the Overhead Join.

I’d spent some time in the days leading up to the flight studying the fairly unusual circuit pattern they use to avoid noise sensitive areas, so was conscious of trying to stick to this as I descended deadside. I didn’t spot any of the highlighted woods that were supposed to be used as reference points, although one of the villages to be avoided had a distinctive shape so I used this to set the distance away from the runway for the Downwind leg.

We were nicely slowed down as I turned Downwind, and the pre-landing checks were completed without any issues. I was pleased that having flown the Warrior last, the checks still flowed nicely in the Arrow and I didn’t find myself announcing ‘gear, down and welded’! The airfield was a little difficult to spot at times on the Downwind leg, and I tried to work out where to turn Base.

I missed the turn by a fair bit, and the GPS log shows that I came very close to entering the Luton CTR by flying too far on the Downwind leg. This led to a rather long Final approach, but we were nicely set up as we approached the field. I brought us down to a very gentle landing on the numbers, and began to work out where to park.

As it happened the Visitor’s parking area was well signposted, so I parked the Arrow neatly next to the other visitors, and we started to disembark. We spotted David walking towards us having settled his landing fee, and we headed in to sort out ours (another landing voucher used!).

One attraction of Panshanger as a destination was the good reputation of its catering facilities, and we weren’t disappointed! The place was very busy, and appeared to be a good mix of locals and people who had flown in. It took us a little while to find somewhere to sit, but Catrin was at least kept entertained by the selection of toys that were available. Luned and I opted for Bacon and Sausage sandwiches respectively, while David (again!) went for something more substantial, going for one of the home-made burgers.

Catrin being kept entertained at Panshanger

Catrin being kept entertained at Panshanger

There was some confusion regarding Catrin’s food. We ordered a burger for her off the children’s menu, and asked for it to be ‘plain’. It was lucky we did, because the Chef came out to see us, to tell us that all their burgers today had chilli in them! We switched her over to fish fingers to be safe, but it was a good example of service going beyond the basics that means we’ll definitely be including this on our list of airfields to return to.

Guess who had ketchup with her lunch?

Guess who had ketchup with her lunch?

Happily fed, we made our way back to the aircraft. We had a quick chat with a pilot based here as to whether we should carry out a full circuit at circuit height, or continue to climb to our cruising height. He informed us that the latter was the option typically chosen.

Catrin helped us make sure that David was ready to go before we were, but we taxyed to the active runway 5 minutes or so after David took off. The circuit was fairly busy as we departed, with aircraft both leaving and departing. However it wasn’t long before we were out on the active runway and departing.

I managed to confuse myself a little (partly due to the difficultly in keeping visual with the runway due to the sun now being quite low) and a few times SkyDemon warned me of potentially infringing Luton’s airspace. This distracted me a little and I ended up making some relatively sharp turns to remain clear. Looking at the logs afterwards shows that in fact this circuit was much neater than the arrival one, so I needn’t have been too concerned.

We’d heard David being warned about an aircraft performing aeros just to the West of the field, and indeed we saw a lot more traffic in general on the return journey. Luned was doing a good job of picking people out, for some reason there appeared to be a lot of flexwing microlights in the air today. Navigation was made even more difficult now due to the fact that we were heading into the sun, and again I found myself using the GPS frequently to ensure we were still on track.

We tracked past and spotted the Bovingdon disused, somewhat surprised at the scale of the runways and that they still looked in good condition for a disused airfield. We continued on the planned route, climbing up to 3500 feet again once we were clear of the ‘shelf’ of the London TMA.

We switched from Farnborough to Brize well before reaching Benson, and as we passed overhead we heard an IFR departure from Benson joining us on frequency and receiving a Traffic Service. The other aircraft was notified about us and reported visual. Once we were clear of Benson I confirmed that the Fairford ATZ was inactive, and descended to 2000 feet in readiness for the rejoin at Kemble. I advised Brize of this, who advised the IFR traffic, who again reported that he was visual. I happened to look behind us at this point, and spotted that we seemed to have a helicopter escort!

Helicopter escort!

Helicopter escort!

As we passed Fairford we switched to Kemble for the rejoin and were given the QFE there. On setting this I realised I was now below rejoin height (2000 feet QFE is more like 2450 feet QNH) and had to climb again to get back to the correct height. I should probably have realised this when descending after Benson, and descended to 2500 feet rather than 2000.

As we approached Kemble and set up for the Overhead Join, and aircraft appeared on frequency reporting a rough running engine. They were down to 400 feet or so, and would be joining directly on a Right Base. As we completed our descent on the Deadside, another aircraft was asked to Go Around for the aircraft with difficulties, and this put us both heading for the same piece of airspace.

I notified the FISO of our position (mainly to ensure the other aircraft knew where we were) and he must have spotted us because he made an early turn Crosswind. We followed a more normal circuit pattern, and slotted behind him on the Downwind leg with plenty of spacing. Around this time we heard David report in the Overhead – we had obviously overtaken him at some point on the previous leg (we later found out that he had been up at 4000 feet, and had seen us go past on his left).

David joining Overhead as we turn Base

David joining Overhead as we turn Base

The aircraft with the rough running engine thankfully landed safely and was able to backtrack under his own power. I lost sight of the aircraft ahead due to the low sun, and ended up going quite wide before turning on Base leg. We became visual with him again as he was on Short Final, so we continued our approach. I brought us in for another very smooth landing, and after a little confusion between myself and the FISO, was eventually cleared to continue down the runway to vacate at Alpha nearer our parking area.

As David was on Final he asked for the Fuel Bowser to be sent to refuel us (they will do this as long as more than one aircraft needs fuel), and we met up in our parking area as the Robin also returned from a flight.

Contented passenger after the flight

Contented passenger after the flight

Luned and Catrin retired to AV8 while David and I refuelled and put the aircraft away. It’s a much more pleasant task (putting covers on etc.) when there are two people to do it! Once all the paperwork was completed, David and I joined them in AV8 for a well earned cuppa!

The tracks flown

The tracks flown

Outbound profile

Outbound profile

Return profile

Return profile

This really was a very pleasant day’s flying. It was great to have the family back in the aircraft with me, and also good to have someone to meet up with at the other end for a chat over a very pleasant lunch. The staff at Panshanger couldn’t have been more welcoming, and the quality of the food means I’ll definitely be adding this to my list of lunchtime destinations!

2012 has started out as an excellent flying year. It’s only the middle of January and I’ve already flown twice, taken the family, done some IMC practice and added two new airfields to the log book! Let’s see if I can keep it up.

Total flight time today: 2:00
Total flight time to date: 178:55

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