Currency check, but with some real flying

A particularly busy January and February meant I didn’t have much opportunity to fly, and sadly the one attempt I made had to be cancelled due to the onset of a head cold on the morning of the planned flight. As such, I hadn’t flown since November and yet again that meant the need for another Club currency check. Unusually though, I was even out of my 90 day passenger carrying currency requirement, meaning that the flight would have to be with an Instructor rather than just a pilot authorised to carry out Club Currency checks.

Fortunately, Kev (the Arrow’s owner) had recently gained his CRI rating, meaning that he was entitled to carry out the check. I always enjoy flying with Kev, and while his tendency to push you when carrying out Currency checks really makes you work hard (and this trait showed no sign of abating during this days flying!) you always finish a days flying with him feeling like you’ve pushed your personal envelope a little further than before.

I didn’t want this to be just a regular local currency check with a bit of general handling thrown in, so we planned to visit Henstridge (a new airfield for me). This is a fairly short flight from Kemble, so I also opted to drop in to Dunkeswell (always a favourite destination of mine).

The weather conditions on the day before the flight couldn’t have been more perfect, and the forecast on the evening before suggested we should be in for a good day’s flying also. As usual, I completed the majority of my planning the night before, leaving me to print out plogs, mark out the chart and give Henstridge a call before heading off to the airfield.

I carried out the ‘A’ check on the Arrow while waiting for Kev to arrive, and met in him the Club with his young daughter Bronnan (about the same age as Catrin, and also a fairly seasoned flyer!). We checked through the planning I had done before completing the final paperwork and heading out to the aircraft.

With Bronnan safely secured in the back, the ‘Crew’ isolation button on the audio panel was put to good use as we carried out the pre-flight checks. We negotiated some circuits with the FISO, before being given our taxy clearance via the Charlie taxyway to the hold for runway 08. We waited for a short while for the engine to warm up before completing the power checks (watching a student in a Helicopter practising hover-taxying on the grass ahead and to our right), before heading to the hold and reporting that we were ready.

Before takeoff checks

Before takeoff checks

I had decided to carry out a couple of circuits before departing Kemble to ensure I could still remember how to land, and also so that I could reset my 90 day passenger currency in the first flight of the day. We backtracked a little before taking off on 08 just after a Helicopter took off to the right with a student on a solo flight. As I climbed out I heard the FISO report our position to another aircraft, adding ‘the aircraft on upwind will be departing to the South’. I reminded him that we were actually remaining in the circuit, leading to an amusing response that he knew that, but was obviously having trouble reading his own writing!

I mis-identified one of the ‘avoid’ areas on Kemble’s noise abatement circuit, meaning that the Downwind leg was flown a lot wider than it should have been. The pre-landing checks were completed on this leg without difficulty, and I turned Base a little later than normal (perhaps confused a little by the fact that I was wider out than I should have been).

A rather wide Right Base for 08!

A rather wide Right Base for 08!

I over-corrected for the Crosswind to the left when lining up on Final, meaning I had to make a slight correction to the left to get us aligned properly. The remainder of the approach went well, but we started to experience a little turbulence down around 50-100 feet above the ground. It took me a little while to get this sorted out, and I brought us in for a nice gentle first landing of the day.

On the next circuit I decided to leave the gear down, and made a much better job of positioning the Downwind leg at the correct distance from the runway. I got slightly distracted carrying out the pre-landing checks, allowing myself to drift closer in to the runway on the remainder of the Downwind leg, but corrected this once I noticed. This distraction meant I had neglected to make the correct ‘Downwind’ call, so actually called when I was turning Base.

Again the crosswind from the left threw me a little, requiring a further correction after turning Final to get correctly aligned with the runway. The second landing was a little firmer than the first, but certainly perfectly acceptable. As we climbed out from the third takeoff of the day I informed the FISO that we would be departing to the South, and set course for Lyneham.

We climbed to 3000 feet, setting the aircraft up at 24/24 as usual in the cruise. Once established on the leg from Lyneham to Frome Kev suggested I dig out the power tables in the checklist to check a few things. At 3000 feet, this showed that we were achieving 75% power at 24″ manifold pressure and 2400 RPM. Kev suggested I try the equivalent power setting with 2300 RPM, which just required a slightly higher (24.6″) manifold pressure setting. This gave us the same airspeed, but had a double benefit of slightly reducing the noise level in the cockpit, and also reducing the cost of the flight (as we pay based on tacho hours, which are directly related to the engine RPM setting).

It took us a little while to positively identify Keevil as we passed, and I maintained heading and altitude fairly well on this leg. We were listening to Bristol Radar, but didn’t really feel the need to check in with them, so just set their listening squawk onto the transponder. The heading given by SkyDemon was obviously a little off (probably due to a slightly difference between the forecast and actual wind) and we were a couple of miles to the right of Frome as we approached.

I set up a ‘direct to’ Henstridge on the 430 from our current position, and turned on to the next leg to position for our approach to Henstridge. Their website includes detailed instructions on the noise sensitive areas around them, and the best approach to their runway 07 from our current position was to make a Crosswind join. Their noise abatement diagrams helpfully indicate some useful landmarks for doing this (a couple of lakes to the North East of the airfield) and we started to look for these after checking in with them on the radio.

We initially spotted two lakes ahead, and mis-identified the airfield using these as a reference. As we continued the actual position of the airfield became must clearer, and we passed by two other lakes a lot closer in to the airfield. I did my best to follow the noise abatement procedure, but think I may have failed to fly the correct offset on the Final leg. The landing was again good, and we taxyed towards the Club buildings and parked up.

Turning Final at Henstridge

Turning Final at Henstridge

Over a hearty lunch we discussed the flying so far. Kev picked up on a few of the mistakes I’d made, most of which I put down to the long lay-off without any flying. One thing I’d meant to do in the days leading up to the flight was to read over the checklist for the aircraft, to try to get some of the regular routines back into my head. It was noticeable to me that I hadn’t done this, because I was forgetting things that should have been almost second nature. Hopefully I can get back into some regular flying and this will be less of an issue in future.

Once we’d all finished our lunch, I arranged to take advantage of the competitive fuel prices, taxying the aircraft over to the other side of the field to the bowser. The staff at the airfield couldn’t have been more helpful, driving me back over to the office to pay for the fuel, before driving the three of us back over to the aircraft ready to depart. Kev and Bronnen had taken the opportunity to go and watch the Motocross riders doing their stuff on the track adjacent to the airfield, and apparently Bronnen had shown quite an interest!

Some flying of a different kind!

Some flying of a different kind!

It was good to visit an airfield as friendly and welcoming as Henstridge. While the facilities there could perhaps do with a bit of work, the staff couldn’t have been more accommodating to us. The lunch in the cafe was freshly prepared and tasty, and one of the people manning the office even took time to take me outside and point out the two particularly noise sensitive areas after I asked for some advice on our routing after we departed. It’s certainly an airfield I’ll add to my list of destinations for future flights.

We all got back into the aircraft after I carried out a quick walkaround (including take fuel samples) and after a couple of tries the engine started and I carried out the power checks where we were parked. We then taxyed towards the runway, backtracking to the threshold after we’d checked the approach and Downwind legs were clear of other traffic. The runway at Henstridge is slightly short (about 750m) so I decided to use the flaps for takeoff. This got us airborne with plenty of runway to spare, and I retracted the gear and flaps in stages as we climbed out. I turned to depart to the South, taking care to remain inside the noise sensitive areas.

We climbed up to around 2500 feet, and set course to the South to try to find the Cerne Abbas Giant. I’d set Cerne Abbas as a turning point in SkyDemon, and as we approached we descended to around 2000 feet and began searching. Kev thought that the giant was to the South of the village, so we concentrated our search on that area, carrying out a number of orbits, and even headed down towards Dorchester to be able to pick up the road that led from there back to the village.

Sadly, despite our searching we were unable to spot it, so after a few minutes I put a ‘Direct to’ Dunkeswell in to the 430, and followed it to our next destination. On returning home I looked at our track log on Google Earth, finding that the Giant is actually slightly North of the village, and we’d passed very close by without spotting it!

Failing to spot the Cerne Abbas Giant!

Failing to spot the Cerne Abbas Giant!

Enroute to Dunkeswell

Enroute to Dunkeswell

I’d tuned to the Dunkeswell frequency just after leaving Henstridge, and we’d been hearing their transmissions clearly despite still being some 30nm from the field. They (unsurprisingly) seemed fairly busy, but as we approached things seemed to quieten down a little. Upottery was easy to spot slightly to the right of our track, and Dunkeswell soon came into view. They were operating on runway 04, which meant that a Right Base join was very easy from the direction we were approaching from. Again, the approach was relatively easy, and the landing nice and gentle. The parking area looked quite busy, so I asked the Radio operator for some advice as to where to park, before slotting in just in front of the Skydiving aircraft.

The office was busier than I’d ever seen it on previous visits, and we paid the landing fee before heading in to the restaurant for a snack and a drink. Their Sunday carvery was also proving popular, but luckily we were able to grab a table to allow us to enjoy our drink and cake in comfort. We watched the Skydive aircraft take off, but due to where we were sitting we couldn’t easily see any of the skydivers as they came back to earth.

Suitably fed and watered, we headed back to the aircraft and manhandled it into a suitable position for us to depart. Engine start was easy, but as we were taxying the rudder pedals felt slightly heavy during turns. The Arrow tends to have heavy steering, so it’s possible I had just forgotten how it feels. Kev tried a few turns and didn’t notice any real problem. We carried out our power checks on the cross runway, before waiting for another aircraft to complete a touch and go.

We backtracked to the threshold, hearing another aircraft announce they were departing from their present position. I had noticed a Chipmunk behind us on the cross runway, and wondered if he was planning to depart from the intersection (I’ve had an aircraft do this before on a visit to Dunkeswell). It transpired that it was actually a helicopter departing, we spotted him getting airborne as we turned into position at the runway threshold.

Once he was clear, I began the takeoff roll, getting airborne and setting course for a virtually straight out departure, raising the gear as normal during the climbout. As we reached our cruise altitude of around 3000 feet, I set the aircraft up for the cruise and noticed that we seemed to be going significantly slower than usual (indicating around 120 mph instead of a more normal 150 mph). Kev quizzed me as to why this might be, and I double checked that the flaps were up, all the power settings were correct, and that we were flying in balance.

It took me a long while to notice that the gear lights were still illuminated, and at first I thought I’d neglected to raise the gear. When trying to move the lever to the up position, I realised that it was already there, and then the penny dropped that Kev had probably pulled the gear circuit breaker at some point before we departed! At Kev’s prompting, I dug out the checklist and run through the drills, spotting the popped circuit breaker, but left it there at Kev’s request to complete the remainder of the checklist. Kev and I discussed our various options should this have happened for real, and I decided we would either return to Dunkeswell, or carry on to Kemble (depending on how much fuel was onboard). Our fuel burn and airspeed on the flight (should we choose to continue) would obviously be affected (airspeed being particularly relevant if we were on a flight plan, we would need to ensure ATC were aware of the change).

Still smiling despite all he'd thrown at me!

Still smiling despite all he’d thrown at me!

Once we’d worked through everything, Kev reset the circuit breaker and we raised the gear, the airspeed soon returning to a more normal cruise. We signed on with Bristol to request a Basic Service and Zone Transit between Cheddar and the Clifton Suspension Bridge. The Controller took quite a while to respond to our ‘pass your message’ response, and as I feared he came back to tell us he was not able to grant our requested routing and altitude. I was prepared to switch to our plan B (routing back via Frome and Lyneham) before he said that he could grant us clearance at 4000 feet, as long as we remained at least 1nm West of the airfield.

I gladly accepted this change to our route, and he instructed us to route via Cheddar, East Nailsea and then the Suspension Bridge at 4000 feet. We climbed up to our assigned level, and continued on to the Cheddar Reservoir. I switched back to the paper chart to get a rough feel for the headings we’d need to fly to follow the new routing, before setting course and then updating the route in SkyDemon with the new turn at East Nailsea. While doing this I allowed our height to wander somewhat, and Kev (correctly) picked me up on this as we were now in Controlled Airspace and as such required to follow the Clearance we had been given.

We got a good view of Bristol Airport as we passed, hearing the Controller pass instructions to an inbound Easyjet aircraft. Kev spotted him off in the distance to our left, but sadly he was well behind us so we weren’t able to get any good photographs. As we reached East Nailsea, I changed course to head for the Clifton Suspension Bridge, and Kev and I discussed our options should the engine fail while we were over the city of Bristol. Off to our right we had some fairly large open areas, and we also had the option of the disused airfield at Filton as we travelled further North. We got a good view of the Concorde on the ground there as we passed by, before turning again at Clifton to set course direct for Kemble.

Passing just West of Bristol Airport

Passing just West of Bristol Airport

Passing Filton, Concorde visible in the centre just below the runway

Passing Filton, Concorde visible in the centre just below the runway

As we approached the Zone boundary, I requested a frequency change from the Controller as we were now just 15nm from Kemble. This was approved, and I thanked him for his help in granting us the transit. We switched frequency to Kemble, and tried to spot the airfield in the distance. At about 12nm from Kemble I made ready to make contact with them, but Kev still had another trick up his sleeve! He reached over to the power lever, reducing power to idle announcing ‘simulated engine failure’.

We’d discussed this before the flight, so the procedure was fairly fresh in my mind. The first priority is to get the aircraft trimmed correctly to maintain best glide speed (around 100 mph) and then find an appropriate location for a forced landing. While trimming the aircraft, Kev made our initial contact with Kemble, and I spotted what looked like a good field off to our left. I managed to pick up on him announcing our current position as ‘overhead Badminton’. When he suggested I check off to the right of the aircraft, I dipped the right wing and spotted the airfield at Badminton neatly off to our right. This seemed an obvious choice as a location for us to attempt to land!

I turned towards Badminton, selected an appropriate location for our 1000 feet aiming point and then ran through the restart touch drills. I find these work easiest by using a ‘flow’ pattern, moving from left to right in the cockpit. This involves checking fuel (changing tanks), magnetos (checking both, then checking the individual mags in turn), before exercising throttle, prop, mixture, and turning on the fuel pump. Once these drills were completed, I simulated a Mayday call, and continued setting up to land.

As I turned at our 1000 feet aiming point, I felt I was probably slightly high (an issue that cropped up frequently during my training!). I started to lower the flaps, and dropped the landing gear to assist in the descent. Kev had been busy again, and the gear failed to lower, and this was perhaps my biggest slip of the day as I immediately mentally committed myself to a gear up forced landing. It was only when Kev prompted that there may be another way to lower the gear that I remembered the manual lowering mechanism. I operated this, and started to side-slip in order to increase the rate of the descent without a corresponding increase in our airspeed. As we passed around 300 feet Kev announced “Yep, we’d get in there, go around” and I applied full power, max RPM and began the go around.

I correctly raised the flaps in stages as we climbed away, but again missed an important step, which Kev highlighted by asking if we were planning to return to Kemble by road! I immediately caught his meaning, and raised the landing gear as well. Kemble was now easily visible in the difference, but I made a point of locating some other landmarks in order to ensure I wasn’t mistaking Aston Down as I had on a previous flight.  The FISO had suggested either an Overhead or Right Base join, so we set up to join Right Base and began a descent towards the airfield.

The circuit was quiet, so I slotted us in on Right Base and continued the approach. At least one thing that I can claim not to have forgotten is how to land the Arrow, as I pulled off another good landing at the end of the day, deliberately landing long so as to avoid a long taxy to the far end of the airfield. We taxyed back to Lyneham’s parking area and Kev pushed the aircraft back into its parking space while I made sure Bronnan was Ok and started packing up all the gear.

Parked up safely after a great day's flying

Parked up safely after a great day’s flying

We headed back in to the Club to settle the paperwork and carry out a final debrief. Kev went over all the issues he’d picked up on, and I resolved to spend some time with the aircraft’s checklist to try to get the various procedures back into my head to try to avoid making the same silly slips again. It’s very easy to forget important steps when they’ve not been used for several months. Hopefully I can try to get back to some more regular flying again, and make things come more naturally in future.

Tracks flown

Tracks flown

Leg 1 profile

Leg 1 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 3 profile

Leg 3 profile

This turned out to be my latest ever first flight of the calendar year. Previously I’d only ever made it into February once without flying (last year) and a combination of circumstances meant that I’d almost made it to March this year! Today’s flight was very enjoyable though, and definitely much more interesting than just a ‘regular’ Currency check flight. Kev is a very knowledgeable and experienced pilot, and being an aircraft engineer he also has a lot of knowledge regarding aircraft systems that he can pass on. He’s definitely not scared of throwing in a few simulated snags during the course of a flight, and while it might be nice to have a ‘simple’ Currency check, the opportunity to practise emergency drills in the air is definitely one worth taking. Hopefully this can be my first flight of many this year, and I can take advantage of the fact that the flying fund is looking healthy due to my recent lack of flying!

Total flight time today: 2:45
Total flight time to date: 284:25

8 Responses to “Currency check, but with some real flying”

  1. elizabethinthesky Says:

    A lovely write up Andy and glad to hear you are current again! You do have a great mindset for these things – I think I’d have been worrying the whole way through whereas you saw it quite rightly as being first and foremost a valuable experience to improve your flying.

    Hope you have another flight soon!

  2. Andy Hawkins Says:

    Thanks for that Elizabeth. It’s certainly good to be current again, and hopefully I won’t be leaving it so long between flights this year!

    I don’t think I was ever worried during the flight, I know that Kev was only throwing things at me that could easily happen on any flight when I was by myself. It’s a useful reminder that lack of currency can have a real effect on your ability to remember everything you need to while flying.

    The PPL is often described as a ‘licence to learn’, and any opportunity you can take to pick things up from someone with more experience than you should be grasped with both hands in my opinion. I’ve found that very few people in aviation are out to trip you up or stop you flying, so making the most of any learning opportunities you have is always a good thing!

  3. Leia Says:

    I’ve booked a Tomahawk for this week to get back current – between wind, floods, downpours and now maintenance I haven’t been off the ground since November and was almost weeping with frustration on Sunday afternoon!

  4. Andy Hawkins Says:

    Hope you get to fly Leia. If you’ve been reading the blog you’ll know that last year for me just seemed to be a never-ending stream of Club Currency checks…

    Really hoping to break that cycle this year!

  5. Back to Nottingham, all alone | Andy's Blog Says:

    […] Poker, flight and anything else that comes to mind. « Currency check, but with some real flying […]

  6. liamsandie Says:

    We decided to visit Henstridge today from EGNF, Netherthorpe Andy and we are glad we did. In G-ROLY a C172

    • Andy Hawkins Says:

      It could do with a bit of TLC, but otherwise it was a nice place to visit. They really couldn’t have been friendlier or more helpful.

  7. 2016 Summary | Andy's Blog Says:

    […] flights (including an extended currency check, 1 solo local and a land-away offered as a Silent Auction prize to raise funds for Catrin’s […]

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