I hadn’t flown since my flight to Sywell on 11th January, due to a combination of poor weather and badly-timed ill health (a month long cough that took out several bookings on perfect flying days), so as a result of this I was out of currency and also passenger recency (in the 90 days before any passenger carrying flight you have to make at 3 take offs and landings).
Additionally, my SEP Class Rating was due to expire at the end of May. I had completed all the requirements for having this revalidated with the exception of the required one hour flight with an Instructor.
I’d had a couple of goes at trying to arrange a check flight to get everything reset, before finally taking a day off work at the end of a holiday to try and go flying.
Roger had kindly agreed to accompany me to handle the Instruction, and we’d arranged to make it a ‘proper’ flight, heading somewhere for lunch and making a decent day of it. Sadly, the weather didn’t cooperate with this plan, but the forecast did show a break in the weather for a few hours early afternoon, so I arranged to meet up with Roger around lunchtime.
I arrived early and carried out the ‘A’ check on the aircraft before Roger arrived, and the forecast break in the weather appeared right on schedule. I chatted in the Club with Roger about what I wanted to cover on the flight. My IMC rating is also due for renewal this Summer, so if possible I wanted to try to include some IMC practice in this flight. Roger managed to negotiate a PAR into Brize Norton, meaning that we could also see just how rusty my IMC skills were!
After some initial difficulties in getting the engine on the Arrow started, we were soon taxying out to the hold in readiness for departure. My rustiness was clear as I forgot initially to carry out the taxy checks. I used the Alpha apron to weave and carry out the checks, with Roger later suggesting I use the natural layout of the taxyways to achieve the same thing. Useful tip.
At A1 I turned into wind and waited to allow the engine to warm up before carrying out the power checks, carrying out the emergency brief while waiting (with Roger picking me up on a few minor details I’d neglected to mention). There was a little confusion at the hold when I was unable to hear the FISO, which turned out to be because I’d switched the comms over to box 1 without actually setting it to the correct frequency! This was soon rectified, and we lined up after another aircraft had landed.
Once the other aircraft cleared the runway, we began our takeoff roll and took to the air. After climbing out I dabbed the brakes and raised the undercarriage, before heading out to the South West for some initial General Handling practice.
Once clear of the circuit I began to carry out my usual procedure, leaning the mixture to 13, bringing the power and RPM back. Roger informed me that at this stage of flight it wasn’t actually necessary to back the power off before reducing RPM to 2600, as at those settings it’s not possible to ‘over-boost’ the engine.
We climbed away, signing off with Kemble and making contact with Brize. I caused some confusion with my initial contact, asking for ‘Basic Service followed by a PAR’. The Controller (naturally) assumed we wanted to start the procedure immediately, and I had to clarify that we would be carrying out some handling practice for 30 minutes or so before the procedure.
We headed out towards Lyneham, and there was again some confusion on the radio where I thought I heard our callsign. We listened carefully as the Controller made other transmissions, before we were called for a ‘radio check’. I’m not sure if we’d missed further transmissions from her, but she seemed happy with a ‘Reading you strength 5’, and Roger thought that maybe she had her own volume set too low to hear us perhaps!
We started out with some 45 degree turns, generally getting a feel for being in the air again. We then headed into some stalls, which generally went well aside from me forgetting what the individual elements of ‘HASELL’ were (Height, Airframe, Safety / Security, Engine, Location, Lookout).
The next item was to carry out some emergency drills on the undercarriage. Roger had me pretend to be on downwind (at 4000 feet or so!) and lower the gear, before telling me that the right hand undercarriage light hadn’t illuminated. My first statement was that I would initially leave the circuit and climb to a safe altitude before doing anything else. I then became a little confused when trying to read through the appropriate parts of the checklist, but Roger was pretty patient in walking me through the various parts (including having me switch bulbs on the undercarriage indicator, so that I’d know what’s involved should I ever need to). It’s clear I need to have a thorough read through that element of the checklist on the ground in readiness for flying again.
Roger then had me go ‘under the hood’, carrying out some basic changes in height and heading. Roger offered up the useful tip of calling out ‘500 to go’, ‘200’ and ‘100’ when changing levels in order to not overshoot. Once the initial drills were complete we contacted Brize in readiness for the Approach. We rather cheekily asked for an additional SRA after the PAR, which the Controller granted after checking with a Supervisor. Roger upgraded us to a Traffic Service, as we were now in intermittent IMC at our altitude.
Roger initially handled the radio as I got settled under the hood, but once we started the procedure I began to take over more of the duties. Mindful of my apparent lack of preparation on my initial IMC test with Roger, I had taken the time beforehand to write out the various minima, descent rates etc. on a sheet of paper, that I now brought to the top of my kneeboard for reference.
I’d discussed with Roger the various speeds etc. to fly the approach in the Arrow, and he’d suggested I carry out the majority of the pre-landing checks on the ‘Base’ leg, but not actually extend the gear until later in the Approach (allowing us to carry out the majority of the approach at close to ‘cruise’ speed).
The initial PAR went relatively well (although I did deviate from heading by 20 degrees or so when carrying out the checks at one point, causing the Controller to query my heading!). Later Roger made the valid point that checks like this should be broken up into much smaller steps, returning back to the scan between each item in order to catch any slips like this.
We used the GPS to read off our groundspeed at the descent point, enabling me to get a rough idea of the required descent rate (5 x groundspeed in knots). The descent generally went to plan, with the Controller prompting for a couple of minor adjustments as we continued towards the runway. Roger again suggested I call out ‘500 to go’ etc. when approaching minimums. As we reached our minimum Roger had me remove the hood and continue for a visual landing, which turned out to be a pretty good one given that I hadn’t flown in over three months!
While it was good to be back on the runway at Brize after so many years, sadly this was just a touch and go, so I retracted flaps, applied full power and took to the air again. The GPS plot shows that my outbound track was a little off to the right, and the Controller vectored us around for the SRA.
We were no longer alone in the sky, with 2 other aircraft following us on the Approach (nice for a lowly PA-28 to be ‘number 1’ for a change!). Again, the SRA went pretty much to plan, with the descent always being within 50 feet or so of the expected height announced by the Controller. Once down to minimum I again acquired the runway visually, bringing us in for the second good landing of the day!
We asked for a visual departure via Burford after this approach, and were granted this not above 1300 feet. This should have been very familiar to me (it was the departure I almost always used from Brize when training there), but I had a little difficulty spotting Burford this time (I remember the Garden Centre being much more obvious in the past!).
As we left the Zone, we remained with a Basic Service for the remainder of the flight. We climbed back up to altitude before carrying out some ‘upset’ drills on instruments. Roger placed the aircraft in some ‘unusual attitudes’ (generally a descending turn or a steep climb) to ensure I could correctly recover from this using the instruments alone.
As the instrument work had generally gone Ok, Roger asked if I was happy to carry out some ‘partial panel’ drills. He covered the AI and DI, removing the two main instruments for setting the aircraft’s attitude and maintaining headings.
I carried out some climbs and descents that went well, then some ‘timed turns’ which went less well (and indeed had always been a bit of a weakness of mine). Roger gave me the useful tip of setting the OBS on one of the CDIs to my current heading, then reading off 10 seconds for every 30 degree marking to my desired heading. This helped in calculating the required turn time, but either my turns weren’t at the correct rate or I can’t tell time properly!
Roger then asked me to take him back to Kemble, announcing that my flaps had now failed. I quipped that I wouldn’t be flying with him any more, as everything seemed to go wrong when I did! My first thought should have been to use the NDB and track this (which I think is what he really wanted me to do) but instead I entered a ‘direct to’ on the 430 and followed the magenta line. Roger had me do a further turn, then asked me to track towards Kemble using the NDB, which I managed to do fairly successfully.
We signed off with Brize, thanking them for their service, and contacted Kemble to recover. They were still on 26, and I advised them I would carry out a standard Overhead join. I meandered slightly to slot between a couple of clouds in our path, while trying to descend to the correct height for the Overhead join.
Another aircraft came on frequency also rejoining, and Roger spotted them low and to our left (a somewhat unusual position) and they continued on a ‘deadside join’. We carried out a full circle of the Overhead, before descending on the deadside, dropping the gear on the descent to help descend and slow the aircraft down.
We reported Crosswind as requested, and then were requested to ‘report Final’. Generally if solo I would also report Downwind and Base (even given this request to only report Final) to allow other traffic to get a better idea of my position. However, on this flight I didn’t, and Roger pointed out that it might have been a good idea to call Downwind anyway!
The aircraft ahead touched down as we neared the end of the Downwind leg, and I turned Base as usual, dropping the flaps. It was at this point that Roger reminded me that the flaps had failed, so I retracted them and continued the approach. I was fairly high on Final (which Roger picked me up on), but given how draggy the Arrow is with the gear down it was relatively easy to lose the required height.
I again brought us in for another good landing, getting slightly confused as to the location of the Southerly taxyway and sailing straight past it! I ended up turning right onto Bravo, before turning round again and waiting to be cleared to backtrack.
We taxyed back to the Club’s parking area, refuelling the aircraft and then having to rebuild its parking space due to the metal parking panels having come adrift (something that showed just how unfit I was!). We headed back in to the Club so that Roger could sign off my license and complete all the necessary paperwork. I’m now current to fly again, and my Class Rating is renewed for a further two years.
On the whole, this was a really successful and enjoyable flight. Despite the gap between flights (shown by a number of small omissions in procedures) I managed to handle all the drills pretty well. I was particularly pleased that my IMC skills weren’t as rusty as they could have been given their recent lack of use.
Roger gave me some useful tips for future flights, I’ll try to incorporate these into my general flying so that they become second nature. I think I need to sit down with the Checklists for the various aircraft for some ‘study’ and also (now that the 430 has the correct CDI fitted) start reading up on what’s involved in setting it up to carry out Approaches. Finally, I need to make sure I fly more regularly!
Total flight time today: 1:40
Total flight time to date: 234:35