Eager to continue the good run of flying (and with a few busy weekends coming up), I was keen to try and fly this weekend. The weather forecast was very unpredictable leading up to the weekend, but Saturday morning’s TAFs suggested good flying weather for Sunday. They continued to be favourable throughout the day, until Sunday dawned bright and clear, with a little mist and haze that was promised to burn away without any trouble.
The destination for this flight was to be Nottingham, one of the stops on a multi-leg flight I did solo last year. Luned and Catrin were to accompany me, with Catrin excited to be wearing a ‘grown up’ headset for the first time after her issues transmitting on our last flight together. As usual, the majority of the planning was completed the night before the flight, with a final check of weather and NOTAMs the next morning, including marking up the chart for the route.
The only slight fly in the ointment was being unable to raise anyone on the phone at Nottingham itself. In the end I chose the second option on their voice menu, to speak to someone in the resident flying school. The helpful chap who answered informed me that the airfield staff themselves didn’t start work until 10 (I assumed it was 9) and offered to take my details to pass on to them. I thanked him and declined, opting to phone once we were at Kemble to hear things from the horses mouth so to speak.
The call gave no cause for concern, so while Catrin amused herself on the office PC I headed out to the aircraft to carry out the A check and load up all our gear. The check didn’t throw up any items of concern, so after the usual comfort break we all boarded the aircraft in readiness for the flight. Catrin was again in the back by herself, with Luned up front alongside me. This time the engine started more easily than on the last flight, and after programming the 430 twice (I managed to convince it I had inserted a data card while changing frequencies, so it powered itself down!) we taxyed to the hold for the power checks.
Checks completed normally, we took to the runway immediately after calling ready. The frequency was busy for a short while as someone with somewhat suspect RT made a rambling initial call on the frequency, but we were soon cleared to depart and began the takeoff roll. Departure was normal and routine in the calm wind, and I continued the climb on the Downwind leg before setting course to the North East to the disused airfield at Chedworth.
After a brief level off to check for other traffic, I continued the climb to our cruising altitude of 3000 feet before setting course direct for DTY once we reached Chedworth. I made ready to call Brize for a Basic Service, but had to wait for a short while as they handled other aircraft on frequency. We were largely ignored by them as we continued on our route, but we spotted a number of other aircraft passing by, generally at different heights to us. As we approached Banbury (where I would normally sign off with Brize) I caught the end of a transmission informing an aircraft to change frequency. It made sense that it would be for us, so I asked the Controller to repeat the message, and it did turn out to be instructions to select a VFR squawk and change to our next en-route frequency.
AeroExpo was in progress at Sywell on the day of the flight, so I had Luned keep a good look out in that direction as we passed by. Knowing the the DTY VOR was likely to be used by other pilots heading towards Sywell, I flew a 5 DME arc clockwise around it to intercept our outbound course to the North. After listening briefly to Sywell, I changed frequency to Bruntingthorpe to monitor their frequency, as I had planned to use the airfield as the next turning point on our route.
The remainder of the route was destined to be quite busy, as we passed close by Leicester airfield before attempting to negotiate a transit of East Midlands Controlled Airspace on the way to Nottingham (Nottingham was the other side of a portion of airspace that came down to 1500 feet, so I didn’t really want to have to pass under this at low level). We monitored Leicester’s frequency for a while (to find them fairly quiet) before calling East Midlands as we reached the City of Leicester to negotiate the transit.
There was a NOTAM regarding the introduction of electronic flight strips at East Midlands, asking GA pilots not to use them for LARS services during the transition period. Half expecting to be refused the transit, I made the initial call and was very quickly given clearance to transit not above 3000 feet. This took the pressure off somewhat, meaning I just had to monitor our progress (and remain on track!) before deciding when to begin the descent into Nottingham.
As we neared the end of the 1500 foot section of their airspace, I informed the Controller that I was descending to 2000 feet in readiness for the approach into Nottingham. After making this transmission I was a little unsure as to whether I should actually have asked for a descent (although my clearance was for ‘not above 3000 feet’, so I was still complying with this). In fact, the Controller simply responded that he was happy for me to switch to Nottingham’s frequency now, which again meant that I didn’t have to complete the arrival calls in too much of a rush.
Nottingham had an aircraft departing as we approached the overhead, and I set us up for an Overhead Join for their runway 27 (for a change aproaching in an appropriate direction to join their Left Hand circuit!). The descent on the Deadside was normal, and I concentrated on avoiding the villages in the local area that are marked on their noise-abatement circuit diagrams. My Downwind leg was a little untidy (being nowhere near parallel to the runway) but the final approach to the airfield went well, and I brought us in for a nice landing on their main runway. The turnoff was at the far end, and I headed to the pumps to fill the aircraft with fuel for the return journey.
Luned and Catrin headed ‘landside’ (having to climb a fence due to a locked gate to stop children getting airside!) as the Arrow was refuelled and I moved it into a parking space (having the one I was initially intending to use ‘stolen’ by a recent arrival”). We then all headed inside, where Catrin played with some of the toys as we waited for our lunch to arrive. There appeared to be a child’s Birthday Party in progress too, so Catrin had plenty of other children to mingle with as we waited.
There was a slight mix up with our food order (Luned ending up with a cheese and onion sandwich, rather than the cheese and onion toasty I had ordered) but we had a pleasant lunch, and Catrin was rewarded with a bubble-gum flavoured ice lolly once she had finished. While we ate, a rather noisy aircraft could be heard arriving, and I headed outside to watch a rather nice Beech 200 reposition itself to the parking area. Maybe one day!
After a bit of negotiation, it was agreed that I would head back to the aircraft to check it over, with Luned and Catrin following on behind me after a bit of a play outside. Catrin had other ideas it seemed, but was soon ‘persuaded’ to head back to the aircraft for the journey home. Again the aircraft started easily (for the third time that day!) and we taxyed towards the holding point for the power checks.
Checks completed, I lined up at the hold after an other aircraft landed. While completing the pre-departure checks, he announced he was backtracking from the far end of the runway (where we had turned off to park when we arrived) and headed up towards us. I assumed he was backtracking to depart, but called ‘ready departure at Alpha 1, visual one aircraft on runway’ just to make sure he was aware of where I was, and that I knew he was there.
He then made a transmission to the effect that he would be leaving at Alpha 1, so I had to reposition to allow him room to pass. As he passed, the A/G Operator informed him that he could have turned off at Mike 1, which I’d already mentioned to my passengers as I repositioned!
Once he had passed, we took to the runway to depart. The A/G Operator asked us to make a left turn before the built up area ‘when safe to do so’, and we began the takeoff roll. The turn was made a little earlier than normal (perhaps 300 feet AGL) but I already had the gear up by then, and kept the turn nice and gentle to avoid any chance of a stall. Mindful of the other villages, I turned onto the Downwind leg to avoid one of them, before turning South and continuing to climb.
I almost forgot to stop my climb so as to remain below the 1500 feet airspace block if our transit was refused, but managed to catch my slip before climbing above 1350 feet. I signed off with Nottingham as soon as possible, and contacted East Midlands to request a Basic Service and a climb into their airspace. The Controller again couldn’t have been more helpful, asking what level I required and immediately granting me a clearance ‘not above 4000 feet’ (the level I had requested). Again, this removed the extra pressure flying at low level could have generated.
The trip through East Midlands airspace was routine, and as we left the section with the 2500 foot base, I requested a frequency change, thanking the Controller for his help. Again we listened in to Leicester, seeing an aircraft departing below us, but otherwise they were relatively quiet. Bruntinghorpe was soon visible ahead of us, and we passed nearby, briefly hearing another aircraft on frequency as we did so.
Expecting gliders, we kept a close eye on Husbands Bosworth as we passed them, listening in briefly to Sywell before I again flew a DME arc around the DTY VOR. As we tried to get established on the outbound course from DTY to Chedworth, Luned spotted a glider off to our right at a similar level. Further investigation showed this to actually be 3 gliders in close proximity, all heading directly towards us. Unsure as to the best course of action, I began a gentle descent while turning slightly left to increase the lateral and vertical separation between us. We still passed by a lot closer than I would have liked, and I wondered later if they had seen us before we saw them?
Passing Banbury we spoke to Brize for a Basic Service, with the Controller being worked particularly hard calling out numerous contacts to two other aircraft receiving a Traffic Service. We spotted more gliders and powered aircraft as we continued, but none came close to us.
Approaching Chedworth, I descended to 3000 feet and we signed off with Brize before making contact with Kemble. After receiving the QFE and runway in use, I began the descent to 2000 feet for the Overhead Join just as Luned spotted a parachute ahead of us on our track to Kemble. I turned left to remain clear of him, and Luned managed to get a shot of him as we passed and pointed him out to Catrin. Around this time Catrin started to complain that her headset was making her ears hurt, so it sounds like we need to have a bit of a fitting session before our next flight to get them adjusted properly.
As we approached the Overhead, another aircraft was approaching for a Left Base join, which I initially thought might put him into conflict with us. However, as we reached the overhead and turned back to descend on the Deadside, I spotted him descending on Base Leg meaning he should easily land before we were even established on Downwind.
The descent was normal, and I turned Crosswind and Downwind (with Luned commenting that my Downwind leg was a little wider than normal!). I was approaching the end of the Downwind leg as another aircraft took to the runway to depart, leading me to comment to Luned that we might end up having to go around as a result. I made a point of calling Base and Final so that the departing pilot knew where I was and hopefully wouldn’t hold us up.
He began his roll as I called Short Final, and took to the air in good time for us to continue the approach. Again, the landing was pretty good, and once under control I requested taxy back to parking, forgetting to inform the FISO where ‘parking’ was. Fortunately he recognised our callsign and knew where we were headed, so told us to backtrack and taxy via Alpha as another aircraft lined up at Alpha 1.
I did my best to clear the runway as quickly as possible, with the FISO giving the waiting aircraft his departure ‘instruction’ as he saw we had vacated. I continued taxying back to our parking area before closing down. Catrin again helped us push the aircraft back to its parking space and put the cover on (no need to refuel as we had full tanks on leaving Nottingham). A quick trip to the office to finalise the paperwork, and we all returned to the car for the drive home.
After a pretty dismal start to the year flying wise, I was glad to be back flying regularly again. Having Luned in the front with me on this flight had been very helpful, with the extra set of eyes looking for traffic on such a busy day meaning there was a lot less pressure on the flight. Catrin had again behaved really well in the back by herself (although perhaps less well on the ground sometimes!) and hopefully we can continue to make further enjoyable flights together as a family.
Total flight time today: 2:15
Total flight time to date: 242:10