David and I had been trying to have another flight together after our successful trip around London. Unfortunately I’d had to cancel one the previous week due to more urgent work commitments, so decided to try again this week. Sadly David was being checked out in his new shareoplane so wasn’t available. I’d made a few enquiries with friends to see if I could find some company, but due to the short notice nobody was available so it was to be a solo flight.
Having most of the day available, I decided to try to extend my range a bit, taking in some new airfields if at all possible. Some playing around with Sky Demon came up with the route Kemble -> Gamston (routing to the West of Birmingham), then on to Nottingham and back to Kemble (this time via the East side of Birmingham). The recent spell of good weather continued, so there were no obstacles in the way of the flight. For some reason I was unable to receive an answer from the AIS information line (usually my last belt and braces check that I hadn’t missed any airspace upgrades) but as I’d checked NOTAMs on both Sky Demon and the AIS web site, I wasn’t too concerned.
As usual, I finalised my planning at home in the morning, before driving up to Kemble. Roger was around preparing for an IMC lesson with another pilot, and as usual all the pre-flight checks on the Arrow were normal. Conditions at Kemble appeared near perfect, with just a few clouds at around 3000 feet, pleasant temperatures, little wind and excellent visibility.
The Arrow had recently come out of its annual, so I was a little more thorough getting the aircraft ready to start. The engine started easily, and I heard Roger being warned of an Airbus that was being towed around the airfield to be repositioned. I taxyed to the D site apron for checks as usual, before reporting ready once they were completed normally. Was fairly unusual to hear ‘after the Airbus, report lined up’, as I took to the runway and made ready to depart. I was warned of traffic in the circuit, and agreed a right turn out (obviously paying attention to Aston Down) so that I could set course for my first turning point at Gloucester.
The takeoff was normal, and for a change I remembered to turn off the fuel pump at 1000 feet before continuing to climb. I’d initially planned to climb to 4500 feet, but there was more cloud in the local area to I stayed at 3000 feet until it cleared. I took care to route clear of Aston Down, and spotted a number of gliders both on the ground and approaching the field to land. I was now talking to Gloucester as I was passing through their overhead, and later found out that David heard me while he was converting to his new aircraft. The cloud cleared as I approached the Gloucester overhead, and I climbed up to 4500 feet before setting course for my next turning point at Cosford. Gloucester asked me to report at Malvern, and I continued to the North.
I had elected on this flight to try not to rely on the GPSs available to try to make sure my raw Nav skills were still up to scratch, and as a result of this hadn’t programmed a route into the 430. There are plenty of landmarks on the route up to Wolverhampton (including big towns like Worcester and Kidderminster and the M5) to use to orient also. I still took the occasional glance at the Nexus 7 running Sky Demon, but otherwise the navigation was fairly simple. I reported at Malvern, and Gloucester asked who I would ‘work’ next. Routing above the ATZ at Halfpenny Green I elected to speak to them, so bade farewell to Gloucester.
I routed overhead Halfpenny Green and spotted Cosford (my next turning point). Due to my height I wasn’t going to call them, but I saw and heard gliders operating from there, so elected to call to notify them of my presence. There was a build-up of more cloud in the area, so I began my descent early (my route North East would take me through the East Midlands CTA that started at 4000 feet), eventually ending up at 2500 feet to remain below the clouds and setting course for the TNT VOR (which I eventually spotted from the air as I got closer).
When I spoke to Gamston on the phone before the flight, I had assumed that due to their ATZ being below the Doncaster CTA (starting at 2000 feet) that a Downwind join might be more appropriate. However, the person I spoke to suggested an Overhead Join might be more appropriate, so as I neared TNT I made ready to request clearance into the Doncaster airspace. I could hear other aircraft talking to them from a long way out, but couldn’t hear the ground responses. I left it until I could hear both sides of the traffic before calling and gaining my clearance into their airspace. They asked me to report visual with Gamston, and I continued on this leg using the VOR at Gamston to orientate myself.
The large number of lakes and reservoirs in the area made it easy to keep track of my position, and when I spotted Gamston I reported this to Doncaster who cleared me to change frequencies. Now talking to Gamston, I got myself nicely slowed down while descending to 2000 feet for the Overhead Join. There was one other aircraft turning Downwind as I descended on the dead side, and I followed him around the circuit, helping me correctly position myself for their noise abatement circuit. The rest of the circuit went well (the aircraft ahead opted to Go Around from low level) and I carried out a nice smooth landing on their runway 21.
After checking that I could use the grass to position myself on their hard parking area (sometimes grass can be bumpy or uneven, and the last thing I wanted was a prop strike). I parked up and took a peek at some of the impressive aircraft in their hangars as I headed in to settle the landing fee. I stopped for a quick cup of tea in their very nice looking cafe (has a good reputation although often requiring a booking) before heading back to the aircraft for the short hop to Nottingham for a well earned lunch!
The Arrow started nicely, and after checking with the Controller I followed another aircraft to the Bravo hold for power checks (rather than between the two runways as my AFE flight guide suggested). As he took to the runway to backtrack, I asked A/G if there was room for us both to backtrack, and after being told there was I announced I was following, and the Controller made sure the aircraft ahead knew that I was behind him. I lined up at 90 degrees so that I could see both the departing aircraft and keep an eye on the Final approach track, watching as the other aircraft accelerated away and took off.
After giving him time to climb, I lined up myself and began my takeoff roll. My direct route to Nottingham required a slight jink to the left to take up the correct course, and I climbed to 2000 feet to remain below the East Midlands CTA that begins at 2500 feet above the airfield at Nottingham. There had been reports of significant microlight traffic to the South of Gamston, but I didn’t see any myself. I was paying particular attention, not least because the visibility into sun wasn’t particularly good.
As I approached Nottingham it sounded relatively busy, but seemed to quieten down as I approached (usually it’s the other way around when I’m trying to join!). I positioned again for an Overhead Join (meaning I had to approach slightly left of the direct track). My speed control issues seem to be fairly well resolved now that I’m trying to plan my approaches a bit further out. I flew another nice tight circuit, again coming in for a nice gentle landing. I decided to refuel at Nottingham despite having enough fuel to get back to Kemble, as this would hopefully mean I wouldn’t have to refuel when I got back. After initially positioning myself incorrectly at the fuel bay (I spotted the direction arrows just as I pulled up to stop in the wrong place!), the refueller refuelled me and I taxyed over to the parking area.
After a quick chat with the A/G operator while paying the fuel bill, I headed in to the cafe for lunch. Nottingham’s cafe is fairly typical of a lot of airfields, and the food seemed particularly good value. I chose my usual sausage and bacon sandwich, and had a leisurely lunch while watching the comings and goings in the fairly busy cafe.
After a quick toilet stop and a walkaround (including taking fuel samples) I mounted up ready for the flight back to Kemble. I’d initially planned via Leicester, Bruntinghorpe, DTY and the disused airfield at Chedworth, but decided that flying over the airfield at Leicester wasn’t really necessary. I deleted this waypoint from the route in Sky Demon, and made ready to depart. As I was preparing to start the engine, the pilot and passengers of the aircraft next to me made their way to the aircraft and started their pre-flight checks. This was a family group who’s been sitting next to me in the Cafe having lunch, and I assumed they were locals. It actually appeared that they were parents collecting their daughter from University, not a bad way to travel home!
With the engine running, I taxyed to runway 27 (runway 21 was in use today) for the power checks, and as I reported ready at B1 the A/G operator was confirming the Downwind call of an aircraft in the circuit. I needed a backtrack to get to the threshold, but decided I had enough time so as not to cause problems for the other aircraft, and took to the runway to backtrack. The other aircraft was on Base leg when I reached the threshold, so without any delay I taxyed into position and began my takeoff roll.
As I climbed away, the Controller warned me of the airspace above (the East Midlands CTA is at 1500 feet to the South) but I was (hopefully obviously!) already aware of this and was planning to climb to 1200 feet. He told me that it was accepted procedure to climb to 1300, so I made this my initial altitude. Again the visibility into sun was pretty poor, so rather than continue at low level in uncontrolled airspace, I decided to call East Midlands for a transit via their airspace.
I made the initial call (East Midlands Radar, G-AZWS request Basic Service and Zone Transit), and before being asked to ‘Pass your message’ I was given a squawk and a Basic Service. I made the mistake of just reading back the squawk and confirming the Basic Service, before launching into my full routing, with the result that by the time I got to the end of it I’d forgotten the squawk! After the Controller cleared me up to 2500 feet I was forced to ask her to repeat the squawk so that I could correctly select it in the transponder. A lesson learned there, to always write information down before reading it back so that it can’t be forgotten!
I continued at 2500 feet until I left the airspace with a base of 2500, before announcing (I thought correctly) that I was climbing to 4000 feet to try to get better visibility (the next section of airspace doesn’t start until 4500). The Controller initially ‘cleared’ me up to 3000 feet, before a short time later approving the climb up to 4000. As I was no longer in her airspace I’m not sure I had to comply with her instructions, but there was no reason not to, and it could have been that she had another aircraft skimming the bottom of her airspace and wanted to ensure good separation between us. Also, the visibility up at 4000 feet wasn’t noticably better into sun anyway.
Once clear of her airspace, I switched over to the Brize frequency in readiness for speaking to them, but despite being able to hear both sides of all the R/T I decided not to call them until I got much closer. I passed close by Bruntinghthorpe, setting course direct for the DTY VOR and keeping a good lookout for any gliders operating from Husbands Bosworth. I spotted two circling close off to my left, and it wasn’t immediately clear they had seen me as they continued to circle, eventually looking like they were heading directly for me. Mindful of any other traffic also, I continued to keep a good eye on them until we were clear of any potential conflict.
Approaching DTY, I cut the corner rather than fly directly overhead, and again decided on a slight change of route. I was still in good time, so I elected to change the route to head over Swindon and try to get some photos of Luned’s new school from the air. A quick look on the map showed a route via the Brize overhead would keep me clear of Fairford and the gliding and parachuting at Sandhill Farm and Redlands. The only thing to be careful of was not to get too close to another parachuting centre at Hinton in the Hedges.
The HIRTA at Croughton was easy to spot, and I used to locate Hinton to ensure I was well clear. Once clear I had a quick look at Sky Demon to help get myself back on the correct track, and gave Brize a call to inform them of my routing through their overhead (albeit above their airspace that stops at 3500 feet). They were quite busy giving a Traffic Service to 3 or 4 other aircraft, meaning the frequency was seldom quiet as they passed information of lots of unconfirmed traffic to these aircraft.
Brize was easy to spot in the distance, and I flew close by Enstone and got a good view of Weston on the Green and Oxford as I approached. While overhead Brize I spotted a helicopter maneuvering off to my left at a similar height, so jinked to the right slightly to keep a good eye on him and maintain separation. After clearing the airspace I descended 2500 feet and used my local knowledge of the road layouts to orient myself and find Luned’s school. A quick orbit got me some good photos, and then at this point Sky Demon threw me for a bit of a loop as it got stuck on the ‘Pilot Log’ page for some reason. I dialled in Kemble’s NDB frequency to reorient myself, and as I got my bearings managed to get Sky Demon sorted out also.
I wanted to approach Kemble directly from the East in order to keep clear of Oaksey, and while positioning myself I climbed to 2500 feet in readiness for setting Kemble’s QNH for the overhead join (Kemble is at about 450 feet). Kemble’s circuit sounded quite busy, and the FISO was in the process of passing an airways clearance to a departing ATR as I approached. I entered the ATZ as the outbound traffic took to the runway, and the FISO made sure I was aware of his position. Again I was nicely slowed down, and I got a good view of the ATR departing as I descended on the deadside, it passing ahead of me before heading off to my left as I turned Crosswind.
As I continued around the circuit, the frequency became quite busy with traffic on the ground, and as a result I was already half way down Final before I could get my call in. As with my last landing at Kemble, I flared much higher than I should have, and as a result ran out of flying speed a little higher than I would have liked. This time though, I managed to get some power back on to cushion the landing, so the actual touchdown was much better than my previous Kemble landing! It appears that I’m becoming prone to an optical illusion that is mentioned in the Human Factors exam, whereby you assume you’re lower than you are when approaching a wider runway. I must be careful to try not to let this affect me on future flights.
The FISO asked me to continue down runway 08 (normally I’d have asked for fuel but I felt I was close to tabs so didn’t need it). Roger way preparing to depart and passed a message to me that he would refuel the Arrow from the mobile bowser when he returned. This was kind of him, but I let him know that the Arrow didn’t actually need fuel. I taxyed back to our parking area (another aircraft taxying up the grass taxyway giving way to me at the D site apron) before putting the aircraft to bed and heading in to settle the paperwork.
Now that summer appeared to have finally arrived, I’ve had another great flight. While I would probably have preferred to have company, sometimes flying along is good because it really brings home how lucky I am to be able to take part in this hobby. Now that David has access to a pretty interesting sounding aircraft, I hope to be able to share a flight with him in it in the near future. Sadly, today wasn’t quite as perfect as it could have been, because barely 2 miles away from Kemble on the way home I managed to write off my car! Fortunately I was unhurt, but there’s a good chance that my own flying might have to take a bit of a back seat in the near future as a result of having to replace it. We’ll have to see what happens.
Total flight time today: 2:55
Total flight time to date: 220:55