Back to Nottingham, all alone

After a late start to this year’s flying with a Currency Check, I was determined to try to fly more regularly. Having lots of plans for April meant that finding a weekend to fly would be difficult, so I decided to try and take advantage of the Easter Weekend by booking the Arrow on consecutive days. The initial plan was to fly on the first day with David, and then to take the family flying on the second.

As the date neared however, it became clear that the weather wasn’t going to cooperate. While the forecast for Good Friday suggested excellent flying conditions, the forecast for the following day promised almost exactly the opposite. David contacted me a few days before the planned flight to ask if it was Ok for him to reschedule, and carry out another flight on Good Friday. This worked out well, meaning I could move the planned family flight forward a day, hopefully taking advantage of the good forecast weather conditions.

Keen to make a good impression, I planned a flight to the relatively familiar destination of Nottingham (an airfield I’d already visited solo in July 2013, and with the family in June 2014). Catrin is starting to take an interest in Theme Parks and roller coasters, so to keep her interested I decided to fly a more circuitous route back to Kemble, showing her some of the attractions at Alton Towers.

Sadly we had to change these plans at the last minute, as Catrin developed a fairly severe cough on the morning of the planned flight. I tried to contact a few prospective passengers to see if I could arrange some company at short-notice, but unfortunately wasn’t able to find anyone. It had been a little while since I had flown completely solo, and it seemed like today’s flight was going to be just me in the aircraft.

As usual, I completed the final planning for the flight early in the morning, contacting Nottingham before I left for Kemble. I had planned to route back via Halfpenny Green’s overhead, and decided to consider landing there if time permitted. I carefully completed the pre-flight paperwork on arriving at Kemble, before walking out to the aircraft to carry out the ‘A’ check. There were no issues detected, so I took a bit of time to arrange my gear in the aircraft, before getting ready to start up.

We’ve been instructed to request clearance from the FISO to start at Kemble, as our parking area is out of sight of the Tower. I requested this as usual, and received the unusual response of ‘at your discretion’. It was possible there’d been a change in policy, so I resolved to check up on this later. The engine started on the first try, and I took some time to enter my route into the Garmin 430 before requesting clearance to taxy. Kemble were operating from runway 26 today, meaning a relatively straightforward taxy to A1 for power checks. As usual these were completed without issue, and I watched another Lyneham aircraft depart as I pulled up to the hold and announced I was ready to depart.

Another Lyneham aircraft departing ahead of me

Another Lyneham aircraft departing ahead of me

I took my turn on the runway, performing a normal takeoff, and continuing around the circuit to climb away on the Downwind leg after checking for joining traffic. I then set course to my usual first turning point at the Chedworth disused airfield, setting up the aircraft for cruise after levelling out at around 4500 feet. Sadly I neglected to lean the mixture at this point, something I realised somewhat later on! The visbility was excellent after the recent rain, and it was easy to pick out landmarks as I turned towards my next turning point at the DTY VOR. A quick check of the chart showed Controlled Airspace several miles ahead of me at 4500 feet, so I descended to 4000 feet in order to pass well below it.

Beautiful flying conditions

Beautiful flying conditions

I signed on with Brize Radar for a Basic Service, and initially had some difficulty. After responding to the standard ‘pass your message’ request, I was given a squawk, but was unable to make out the last digit. I asked the Controller to ‘say again squawk’, and then had to repeat this a minute or so later as I received no response. I also didn’t receive any confirmation that I was on a Basic Service, which is unusual as Brize can generally be relied on to give a good service.

I received little further contact from the Controller as I continued, and he seemed keen to have me switch to Coventry as I approached Banbury. I changed frequency as requested, signing on with Coventry to receive a Basic Service from them. As usual I didn’t want to turn directly overhead the DTY VOR (they are often used by pilots as a turning point, so it seemed prudent to avoid being in the same location as other pilots who might also be concentrating on making the turn to their next leg rather than looking out). I attempted to fly a 5 DME arc around the DTY VOR, but this was a little messy. Perhaps in hindsight I should have tried to do this somewhat further out, meaning the course corrections were much further apart.

The leg heading North from DTY was relatively straightforward, the navigation helped by the fact that I was simply tracking an outbound radial from the VOR. Coventry gave good service passing information about traffic heading in the same direction, and I listened in to someone practising holds before starting to the fly the procedural ILS into Coventry.

I had planned to request a Zone Transit of East Midlands Controlled Airspace on my way to Nottingham (Nottingham lies beneath one of their areas of airspace), so as I approached Bruntingthorpe I signed off with Coventry in order to contact East Midlands to negotiate the transit. I passed all my details to the Controller, and continued towards their airspace, passing close by Leicester Airfield as I headed North. I started to become a little concerned as I approached, as I still hadn’t received the magic ‘Cleared into Controlled Airspace’ from the Controller. I eventually had to prompt him that I was just a couple of miles from the Zone Boundary (only a minute or so flying time in the Arrow) before I was eventually cleared on a direct track to Nottingham at my current level.

Passing Bruntingthorpe

Passing Bruntingthorpe

Thanks to the excellent visibility, it was easy to spot my destination ahead in the distance. I was still up at around 4000 feet, and again became a little concerned that the Controller wasn’t offering me a descent or frequency change. Around 3nm from Nottingham I prompted him with a ‘3nm miles to run, field in sight, request frequency change to Nottingham’. This received a ‘Oh, are you inbound to Nottingham?’ from the Controller, to which I responded ‘Affirm’. He immediately cleared me to descend, but asked me to remain on frequency for the time being. I was already overhead the Nottingham ATZ before I was eventually cleared to change frequency, and my initial call to Nottingham Radio was made as I was setting up for the Overhead Join to their runway 27.

Descending deadside at Nottingham

Descending deadside at Nottingham

The descent on the Deadside was flown nicely, but while doing my best to follow Nottingham’s noise abatement circuit, I allowed my Downwind leg to be flown at a slight offset to the runway. The Base and Final turns were made at the appropriate points, and I brought the aircraft in for a nice gentle touchdown, rolling out to the turnoff onto the link taxyway that is used for parking at Nottingham.

I had already decided to fill up with fuel at Nottingham (which helpfully waived their normal reasonably priced landing fee) so pulled up behind a Cessna and shut down, just as he was pushed out of the way of the pumps. The refueller helped me push the aircraft back to a parking space once the tanks were full, and I headed in to the Tower to settle the fuel bill before going to the very busy cafe for some lunch. It took a little while to be served, but my sausage and bacon sandwich arrived quite quickly afterwards, and as I tucked in a regular flow of new customers passed through the cafe, always a good sight to see.

Parked up at Nottingham

Parked up at Nottingham

As I had planned to depart Nottingham to the North, I dug out the noise abatement charts I had prepared to see if a departure directly to the North would be appropriate. I couldn’t really come to a decision, so instead decided to fly an abbreviated circuit on departure, climbing out on the Downwind leg before turning directly to the North. I had to be careful not to climb up into East Midlands’ airspace above the airfield, meaning I would need to stop my climb at 2000 feet or so until a few miles North of the airfield.

Back out at the aircraft, I carried out an abbreviated walkaround, taking care to take fuel samples to ensure that there was no contamination in the fuel I had just taken on. I did have to take 3 samples from the Starboard wing tank, as the first 2 showed signs of water. The third was completely clear however, so it was probably just some moisture than had condensed in the tank. Otherwise, the walkround was normal, so I boarded the Arrow and set about getting the engine started. It took a couple of attempts to get going, before I received the airfield information from the Radio operator and taxyed towards the hold for runway 27 to carry out the power checks.

The checks were normal, and after a landing aircraft passed me I entered the runway to backtrack to the threshold. Once the other aircraft was clear of the runway I began my takeoff roll, taking care to make an early turn before reaching the built up area immediately ahead of the runway. As planned I climbed out on the Downwind leg, before informing the Radio operator that I was turning North. Another aircraft reported that he was inbound from that direction, a couple of hundred feet below me, and after a couple of minutes I saw him pass quite close by off the port side.

I used the OBS feature of the 430 to intercept a Westerly course towards the TNT VOR, ensuring that I was well clear of East Midlands’ airspace before climbing up to around 3000 feet. Initially I just listened in to the East Midlands Approach frequency, but when I heard another aircraft report that they were heading towards the TNT VOR also, I announced myself on frequency to make the other aircraft aware of my position and level.

Once I reached the VOR, I dialled in the appropriate radial (as displayed on SkyDemon’s plog) in order to head towards Alton Towers. Given the excellent conditions, the Theme Park was easy to spot from some distance away, and as I approached I carried out a right hand orbit around the park, enabling me to get some good photos as I passed.

Alton Towers

Alton Towers

Once heading in the correct direction again, I spotted my next turning point at Stafford in the distance, and as I approached I signed off with the East Midlands Controller. I was now heading on a direct track for Halfpenny Green, but had decided not to land there, merely using it as an easy turning point. I listened in to the Cosford Approach frequency as I passed, hearing an inbound aircraft orbiting away from the field to allow a glider to land, before heading in to land himself. A further aircraft was on frequency passing several miles to the South of Cosford, and as I passed by I switched to the Halfpenny Green frequency to make contact before passing through their overhead.

Although up at 3000 feet I was above their ATZ and hence not required to contact them, it seemed prudent to do so, in case they knew of other traffic that might affect my flight. As I passed overhead, I spotted another aircraft approaching to land, and continued South towards my planned next turning point at Worcester. A quick check of the time suggested I was in no rush, so I decided to make a late change to my plans and instead head further South than originally planned to approach Kemble from the West.

Mindful of the fact that I tend to lean on SkyDemon when flying these days, I decided to keep my kneeboard firmly closed for the remainder of the flight, picking out landmarks on the ground and using the chart in my lap to eyeball a route via Great Malvern and the Severn Bridges. As I passed West of Worcester I made contact with Gloucester to inform them of my routing, and this also enabled me to hear other traffic talking to them, giving me a better picture of any traffic around me. I reported West Abeam as requested, before signing off as I approached the bends in the river Severn just to the North of the bridges.

Approaching the River Severn

Approaching the River Severn

I clipped the edge of the bird sanctuary as I passed by, turning back towards Kemble as I approached the Old Severn Bridge. I monitored Bristol Radar for a few miles, hearing the Lyneham aircraft I had followed onto the runway this morning reporting near Filton on his way back to Kemble. I must have overtaken him as we approached, as when I switched to Kemble and signed in I heard him reporting behind me a few minutes later.

Approaching Kemble

Approaching Kemble

It was obvious that many pilots were also taking advantage of the excellent conditions, as at one point the FISO reported the following traffic information to another inbound aircraft: “3 in, 5 joining, 6 departing”. The FISO was certainly working hard responding to everyone on the radio, and I did my best to keep my transmissions as succinct as possible. As I descended on the Deadside I was asked to report Crosswind, and had to ‘butt in’ on an aircraft on the Ground in order to report my position. My Downwind call was also somewhat late, and as I turned Base the FISO cleared another aircraft onto the runway ahead of me.

Initially I couldn’t see the aircraft, but spotted it as I turned Final. I reported my position as I continued my descent, and was getting very close to having to go around as I waited for the aircraft ahead to roll and take off. I decided to continue rather than abort the approach, slowing slightly (but keeping a watchful eye on my airspeed) and aiming to land long in order to give the departing aircraft time to clear the runway. I was on the verge of announcing that I was going around when the aircraft ahead became airborne, and the FISO told me ‘With the gear, land your discretion’. I continued and came in for another gentle landing, and had already decided not to request a backtrack in order to prevent holding up any other aircraft landing behind me.

The FISO told me to ‘vacate onto Charlie’, and I cleared the runway as quickly as I could, before taxying on the South side back towards our parking area. Once I reached the hold at C1, I waited for a suitable break on the radio after the Lyneham Warrior had landed, before reporting ready to cross. I was asked to ‘expedite cross 26 onto Alpha’ and followed the instruction. I passed by a glider parked on the grass, with a tug aircraft alongside preparing to tow him back to wherever he should have landed, before following the other Lyneham aircraft back to the parking area and shutting down. Given the congestion on the frequency, I thought in this instance that omitting the usual ‘closing down’ call would be prudent!

Glider with tug aircraft alongside

Glider with tug aircraft alongside

The other pilot helped me push the Arrow into a parking space, and in turn I helped him push his aircraft up to the bowser to refuel, before returning to the Arrow to sort out my gear and put the cover back on. After helping the other pilot to cover the Warrior, we both headed into the Club to complete our paperwork. While chatting to him I learned that he had to abandon his initial plan to fly up to North Wales after encountering low cloud on the route from Haverfordwest to the North. He ended up returning via a coastal route.

Tracks flown

Tracks flown

Leg 1 profile

Leg 1 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 2 profile

Despite the disappointment of not being able to bring the family along on this flight, I still managed to have a very enjoyable day’s flying. Unusually my interactions with some of the Controllers had been a little difficult, but nothing that prevented me from completing the flight safely. I’d also taken the opportunity to brush up on my visual navigation skills, and to cap it all had handled the very busy environment on returning to Kemble without any difficulty. Obviously last year’s patchy flying hasn’t eroded the skills too much!

Total flight time today: 2:55
Total flight time to date: 287:20

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3 Responses to “Back to Nottingham, all alone”

  1. More new blood, and a new airfield | Andy's Blog Says:

    […] Poker, flight and anything else that comes to mind. « Back to Nottingham, all alone […]

  2. To Conington with a breathing ‘autopilot’! | Andy's Blog Says:

    […] opportunity arose, I’d take them for a proper flight. I’d invited them along when I was unaccompanied to Nottingham, but sadly they were busy that day. Another opportunity arose to take them for a flight this […]

  3. A Warrior, 3 Zone Transits and two new airfields | Andy's Blog Says:

    […] I spent most of my early life living in Skelmersdale, Lancashire, and had always wanted to take an opportunity to fly in the area. Blackpool Airport seemed a good choice as a first destination, enabling me to plan for a Zone Transit of Liverpool’s CTR before doing a bit of sight-seeing in the area. While looking for another airfield to visit, I had made contact with Leeds East (formerly RAF Church Fenton) and was a little disappointed to learn that their catering facilities would be unavailable on Bank Holiday Monday due to an event that was being held there. I initially planned to revisit Sherburn-in-Elmet again for lunch, but after switching the day of the flight I updated the plan to visit Leeds East after all. The final airfield on the trip was planned to be Nottingham, an airfield I’ve visited a number of times. […]

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