When Luned and Catrin planned a weekend away at the in-laws, it seemed the perfect opportunity for a flight. I contacted David to find he was available too, so we started to hatch plans to fly somewhere together. As neither of us had pressing plans in the evening, we had the option of a later than normal return, so set about planning a flight to take advantage of this.
As the day approached, it became clear that we should be in for some good weather, and a route plan began to emerge to head to the South East, an area that neither of us had much experience of. The rather challenging airspace in the area would be a good test, and having two pilots in the cockpit to share the workload would be useful in the circumstances.
The route we eventually came up with had David flying us from Kemble to Shoreham. I would then fly the next leg to Lashenden / Headcorn, with David taking over on the leg to Stapleford, and finally me bringing us home to Kemble.
The majority of the planning was completed (as usual) the night before the flight. All the forecasts looked ideal for flying the next day, and this probably had something to do with me waking up around 6am (one of the few times I don’t have a toddler waking me up around 7am, and I fail to take advantage of it!).
I completed the remainder of the planning (including a separate check of NOTAMs via the AIS web site), before a final check with David and heading off to Kemble. I arrived slightly before David, with him driving up as I walked into the Club. I made a quick check of the tech log for the Arrow, and David joined me and phoned Shoreham for any last minute info.
As he headed out to the aircraft to carry out the ‘A’ check, I called our other destinations and completed the tech log details. There was a slight miscommunication when David called me to let me know he wasn’t coming back to the Club and was sitting in the aircraft waiting for me! I quickly grabbed my gear and headed out to join him.
The Arrow had just had the 50 hour check completed, and the engine sounded a little lumpy and reluctant to start. We both agreed to keep a particularly good eye on it, allowing it more time than usual to warm up before carrying out the power checks. We were cleared to taxy to Alpha 1 for checks, and followed a rather slow moving 3 axis microlight there.
By now the engine was running smoothly, and on the taxy I had programmed a rough estimation of our route into the Garmin 430. We both had our own SkyDemon units in our lap (mine on a Nexus 7, and David’s running on an early model iPad). The checks were completed normally, and the microlight took to the runway as we were ready to depart ourselves.
We entered the runway as he became airborne, and we were soon accelerating away to take to the skies ourselves. As we turned left and set course for the South Coast, David signed off with Kemble and announced he was switching to Bristol. I questioned this given our direction of flight (we were always heading away from their airspace), and David agreed and we just listened in on the frequency. The EGT gauge wasn’t showing any reading, so David set the mixture using the fuel flow gauge, and we made sure to remember to report the issue on our return.
As we proceeded further South East, David switched to Farnborough Radar and listened in on them. Despite the weather they were relatively quiet (I’ve certainly heard them much busier), and the Controller was having difficulty passing traffic information to all the others on frequency. We opted to just listen out again, ready to jump in should we hear any traffic that might become a factor on our route.
The first turning point was Popham, and David spotted it before me (I was looking further into the distance and hence failed to spot it). We passed by slightly to the West, before continuing towards the coast. I had assumed David was routing via Goodwood, so asked if he were going to contact them. When he told me he was actually turning at Petersfield, it seemed a good decision to stay away from the overhead of an airfield that was likely to be pretty busy today.
Soon after passing Petersfield, David contacted Shoreham and was instructed to route along the coast, reporting overhead the power station for a Crosswind join (Shoreham are a full ATC field). This sounded slightly odd, not least because I managed to get the circuit the wrong way round in my head while trying to orient myself. Not being completely familiar with the area, it didn’t strike us immediately as a mistake, but we soon realised that the power station is actually to the East of Shoreham. Either David had mistakenly told the Controller we were approaching from the East, or the Controller had confused our position (neither of us could be 100% sure where the mistake was made).
As we approached, it was clear that Shoreham was very busy, and the Controller at Shoreham cleared someone for an Overhead Join as we were approaching to join Crosswind. We spotted the other aircraft ahead of us, and slotted in behind him into the busy circuit. He flew quite a long Downwind leg, and we followed meaning that we were quite a way from the runway as we turned Final.
This probably led to a slightly low approach, and the Controller warned us about the railway line on Short Final as we continued our approach. The aircraft ahead cleared the runway in good time, and David brought us in for a nice landing. We continued to the end, and the Controller quickly gave us taxy and parking instructions. Neither of us correctly heard the parking information, so David queried our parking location as we approached the apron.
We parked up amongst a number of other aircraft, and headed in to pay the landing fee. After taking the required photo of the Arrivals screen, we headed in to the newly refurbished Cafe for a cuppa!
We headed back out to the aircraft, I performed a quick walkaround to check things were Ok before we set off on our next leg. There was evidence of a small leak of brake fluid under the port wing, but David pumped the brakes and we found they still seemed to be working correctly. We made a point to keep an eye on it for the rest of the day, partly because none of our destinations had particularly short runways that might need heavy braking.
We taxyed to the hold and the area allocated for checks, and David got a good shot of a passing train as we waited. I wouldn’t like to get too low on the approach here if a train were approaching!
All checks were normal, and we were cleared to depart. After confirming approval for a right turn out, we departed and climbed to the required height before making the turn. Due to the low base of the TMA on the route, we could only climb to 2000 feet or so. However, the cloudbase on this leg had lowered considerably (there was poorer weather forecast to the East of London), meaning we wouldn’t have been able to climb much higher anyway.
The leg to Headcorn was relatively straightforward, I used the VOR at Mayfield to ensure I didn’t stray too far North and into the Gatwick CTA. Once on frequency for Lashenden, we heard a couple of other aircraft setting up for their approach as we were. Due to the Skydiving that takes place, Overhead Joins are not allowed, and I managed to easily spot the field as we approached and set us up to join Downwind. For a change I remembered to get the speed down as we approached, and I used to gear to help bleed speed off and come down to circuit height.
The runway at Headcorn is shorter than some (although still 800 metres!). As a result I took care to keep the circuit tight and manage the airspeed correctly. I brought us in for a nice gentle touchdown, and was under control with barely a third of the runway used. We’d discussed the fuel situation at Shoreham (the Arrow was only fuelled to tabs at Kemble) and chose to refuel here, hopefully arriving back at Kemble with close to tabs again.
I asked for directions to the pump, and as we approached a helicopter had its rotors running and another aircraft was preparing to depart. Not wanting to stop too close to the rotary, I decided to drive past the pumps into a large clear area, before turning around and stopping short so that we could pull the aircraft to the pump when the helicopter had departed.
As we turned round we noticed someone had ‘jumped the queue’ and pulled nose in to the pump as the helicopter departed. We chatted to the crew of the aircraft as they refuelled (and they even apologised for jumping the queue!), then pulled the Arrow over to refuel ourselves once they were done. David headed in to settle the landing fee while I taxyed the aircraft over to the parking area. We met up in the Holding Point cafe and I selected my usual ‘sausage and bacon bap’ for lunch. David went for the more substantial ‘belly buster’ (the same as mine with a fried egg added!) and we sat watching the comings and goings as we ate our food.
Once we were finished, we headed out to the aircraft, and watched the Turbulent team performing aerobatics for a while in the overhead. They were soon replaced by a group of Tandem Skydivers landing, and the Skydive Club’s Cessna Caravan coming in for a landing as the canopies returned to the ground.
As we made out to the aircraft, we discussed adding a possible extra landing to our little tour. We still had plenty of time to get back before sunset, and neither of us had any pressing plans for the evening. An email had recently gone around to Club members about Cranfield, and after a quick check this appeared to be relatively close to our route home.
One obstacle was that it was on the other side of Luton airport, so we discussed the possibility of obtaining a Zone transit. We thought we’d see how things went on the trip to Stapleford, and make our decision there.
After a quick walk around, we mounted up again, and prepared for the leg up to Stapleford. We taxyed out to the area designated for power checks, and due to the relatively short runway we lined several yards before the threshold of the runway in use. It looked a little bumpy, so we didn’t use too much of it to extend our takeoff roll, and we became airborne about half way down the runway before setting course to the North West. We had to take care to keep a good lookout for the aircraft that had been performing aerobatics in the Overhad, as we set course for Stapleford.
Due to the close proximity of the London City CTA, we had planned to route via Rochester to give ourselves a little more clearance. Again, we were operating under the London TMA, so were only able to climb up to 2000 feet or so (and again, the cloudbase would have prevented us going much higher anyway).
Conditions on this leg were much worse than previous, with the visibility noticeably poorer than it had been earlier in the day. While receiving a Basic Service from a fairly quiet Farnborough East, we spotted Rochester off to our right, and due to being at the same height as others would be when joining in the overhead, we elected to remain to the West while keeping a good lookout for other traffic in the area.
We crossed the Thames Estuary to the East of the Dartford crossing, but the murky conditions meant that we didn’t get much of a view of it. We continued towards Stapleford, using a combination of visual nav, GPS and the LAM VOR to orient ourselves. We soon spotted Stapleford in the distance, and set up to join, with Farnborough warning us of our proximity to London City airspace as we signed off with them.
Again things were quite busy, and I became a little confused due to not realising that they operated on two parallel runway (04L and 04R). As a result of the distractions on the radio David flew a much tighter circuit than was normal, and it was clear as we turned Final that we were too high to be able to make a safe landing. David took the sensible decision to go around, and I did all I could to help him navigate around the rather wide noise abatement circuit at Stapleford using the information we had researched before the flight.
Two other aircraft joined on Downwind ahead of us, meaning that by the time we joined the Downwind leg there were 4 of us on the same leg of the circuit! The wide circuit gave us plenty of room for spacing, but due to everyone in front of us having to extend we ended up on a very long Final leg. The other aircraft ahead of us all cleared the runway in good time, and despite the distractions, David brought us in for a good landing on the fairly bumpy runway. We cleared the runway to the right as others ahead of us had done, and we waited behind the aircraft in front as he allowed someone to take off before crossing the active runway to taxy to parking.
Once parked up, we headed in to settle the bill and have another cup of tea. We decided that adding Cranfield to the trip was certainly possible, so I phoned them for information and began to plan the route on SkyDemon, double checking things against the chart. I planned a conservative route, routing via BPK and BKY VORs, hence avoiding Luton completely. We would ask Luton for a transit, and if we were unable to gain permission we would at least have a fully planned route should this be necessary.
Stapleford were again busy as we prepared to depart. There was a recurrence of the ‘low bus’ light staying on (again cured by cycling the master switch), and we followed another aircraft to the runway threshold as three other aircraft made ready to land. There was some confusion when one of the aircraft reported that he was landing on 04R (the active runway was 04L) and I made sure I was well clear of this other runway while taxying.
After the arriving aircraft had all landed and cleared the runway, the aircraft ahead of us departed, and we followed suit after allowing sufficient time for him to clear the runway centreline. As I turned into the circuit and prepared to set course for BPK, David reminded me of the close proximity of the Stansted CTA (dropping to 1500 feet to the North of Stapleford. I opted to remain in the circuit at circuit height until we had cleared the airspace, before setting course for the VOR.
This worked well, and I used the VOR and SkyDemon to maintain track. I called Luton as soon as we were clear of the Stapleford ATZ, and asked for the Zone transit, trying to keep my RT succinct and as professionally sounding as possible. It became clear that the Controller was extremely busy, she initially told us to ‘Standby’ and remain clear of Controlled Airspace, and she then continued to deal with a number of aircraft in her airspace.
The weather was now much improved, with little cloud and excellent visibility. I discussed with David my intent to continued to BPK, and if we reached there without a Transit clearance then we would follow the original plan and route to BKY at 2000 feet to remain under the Luton CTA. We can’t have been much more than a mile or so away from BPK when the Controller came back with our clearance to Transit, not above 2000 feet.
We were now very close to the Panshanger ATZ, so I diverted to the West to clear it (spotting the airfield in the distance with its windsock) before setting course direct to Cranfield using the CFD VOR on the field. As we approached the CTR, the Controller asked us to route via the 26 Threshold, a routing we could only have dreamed of! She also asked us to report when we had the field in sight, to which I responded ‘Roger, field in sight’ (as I could already see it). David commented that this could easily have been misunderstood, so after a brief discussion I again reported ‘G-WS has the field in sight’ to avoid any confusion.
We watched an EasyJet arrival land ahead of us, and as we crossed the threshold another aircraft was preparing to depart. The rest of the trip through the Zone was relatively quiet, and as we approached boundary of the CTR I asked David to use the facilities of the Garmin audio panel to get the ATIS from Cranfield.
As we exited the Zone, while talking we both heard the tail end of a transmission that we weren’t sure was for us, ending with a request to squawk 7000. We both made the mistake of assuming this transmission was for us, as David began to switch the transponder and I responded to the call. I’m not entirely sure whether the call was for us, and receiving no positive response from the Controller I again responded ‘G-AZWS squawk 7000, switching to Cranfield’. In hindsight, obviously the correct course of action would have been to query the call, certainly not changing the transponder until we were sure that the instructions were for us. As we signed off I made a point of thanking the Controller for slotting us in to what was obviously some fairly busy airspace.
We retrieved the ATIS from Cranfield, then made the initial call to their Approach frequency, quoting the ATIS details. The Controller gave us the information we needed (they were using runway 03) and informed us that the ATIS was really only for departures. Oh well! We were given a right base join, and I again got us nicely slowed down in good time. The approach was flown pretty, well, and I brought us in for another nice gentle touchdown. We were given taxy instructions, and after a little confusion where I went past our assigned parking area, we were soon parked up and heading in to settle the landing fee.
We settled the very reasonable £10 landing fee (if we’d wanted to fly any Instrument Approaches these would also have been charged at £10) and headed in to the Cafe for yet another cup of tea! The facilities there seemed pretty good, and Cranfield is certainly a place to consider in future for any practice Approaches. Having a reasonable cafe on the field is a positive bonus!
We planned the return leg via the Brize overhead, having to detour slightly left of the direct track to avoid the Weston on the Green Danger Area. Tea drunk and planning finished, we headed back to the aircraft and gave it another check before the final leg back to Kemble. We called for start, the engine starting up easily before we gained our taxy clearance and headed to the hold.
I carried out the power checks and headed up to the hold, David reminding me (un-necessarily!) that I was only cleared to the hold. As a Cessna continued down Final, we called ‘Ready for Departure, contact one on Final’, and were given clearance to line up after the landing traffic. Once he was clear of the runway, we were cleared to take off and I asked for approval for a left turn out to turn direct on track. This was approved, and at suitable height we turned to head for Brize.
In the improved conditions I climbed to 4000 feet, to find visibility a little hazy there. We climbed further to see if conditions would improve, but they didn’t really, and realising that London TMA was above us at 5500 feet, I descended back down to 4000 feet. We passed Bicester and Weston on the Green, before talking to Brize to inform them we would be passing through their overhead, although at our height we could be above their airspace.
As we approached, Brize were obviously preparing to close, getting rid of the aircraft talking to them one by one. They continued with us until last (presumably because we were routing through their overhead) before eventually signing off as we got close to the airfield. We passed over the huge runway at Brize, before deciding to take in another and diverted to fly overhead Fairford.
Maintaining my good record, I planned the descent and reduction of airspeed in good time, and as we switched to Kemble we heard them closing down, with one Pitts remaining in the circuit as we approached. We spotted South Cerney off to the right, and I headed slightly South of the field to set up correctly for an Overhead join (my first of the day!).
The Pitts was making regular calls on the Traffic frequency, and as we approached the overhead I announced our position. I again dropped the gear in the overhead to help with the descent, and we slotted nicely into the circuit behind the Pitts. Pre-landing checks completed, I continued around the circuit, setting us up to land long to avoid holding up the Pitts (who had announced that he would extend to give us time to land).
Again, the landing was nice and gentle, but in trying to keep the speed up so as not to hold up the Pitts, I managed to miss the more normal turnoff. Luckily there is another shortly after it, so we turned off and reported ‘Runway Vacated’ in good time to prevent forcing the Pitts to fly a go around.
I taxyed us back over the grass, and we refuelled the aircraft using the Club’s bowser, remembering to only fill it to tabs. We had to reposition the chocks in order for the tie downs to reach correctly, before getting all our gear out and putting the cover back on the aircraft. We both agreed that today’s flying had definitely earned us a beer, so we quickly sorted out the paperwork and retired to a local pub for a well earned cold one!
Again David and I had a very enjoyable and successful flying trip. I’d visited 3 new airfields (4 for David!), filling in a bit of a gap down to the South East, and slotting in a Zone Transit of the airspace of a pretty busy airport to boot. Having two pilots in the cockpit had again proved valuable during the more challenging aspects of the flight, and we both returned home very satisfied with a good day’s flying. I’d certainly packed a lot into just 2:20 of flying time!
Total flight time today: 2:20
Total flight time to date: 218:00