To Conington with a breathing ‘autopilot’!

I flew with Josh and Vanessa towards the end of last year, and was disappointed that my attempt to take them on a ‘proper’ flight was foiled by a problem with an aircraft, meaning we’d only really been able to go for a quick local. I’d promised that when the 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 weekend, and thankfully the weather and our schedules finally meant that we could go for it.

Initially we planned to fly down to Devon, stopping off at Dunkeswell. However, in the days leading up to the flight, it was announced that a mass photo shoot was to occur at Dunkeswell to celebrate the anniversary of the formation of the LAA. As a result I thought it would be better to choose another destination, if not just because the Cafe there was likely to be very busy!

I finally decided on a trip back to Peterborough Conington, with a possible stop off on the return leg at either Sywell or Leicester. All the planning was completed in advance as normal, and on the morning of the flight I completed the last items of planning and called Conington to ensure all was Ok, which showed that apart from a TopNav competition there was nothing particularly unusual happening. I’d made myself familiar with their slightly unusual Overhead Join procedure (which I’d flown on a previous flight), and collected Josh and Vanessa on my way up to Kemble.

G-EDGI was just preparing to depart as we arrived, and once all the pre-flight paperwork had been completed we walked out to the Arrow. In order to remove the need to get fuel on our trip, we put some more fuel in from Lyneham’s bowser before I completed the ‘A’ check and we all got settled.

Getting ready to depart

Getting ready to depart

Kemble were on 08 today, and rather unusually I was asked to complete my checks on the D site apron. The weather looked almost perfect from the ground, although the forecast warned of a slight chance of thunderstorms later in the day. Due to the fact that the thunderstorms would be infrequent and short lived, I decided it was safe to continue the flight, given that we should be able to spot them easily in an otherwise clear sky, and either fly around them or land somewhere en-route to wait for them to dissipate.

After the checks were completed on the D site apron I expected to be given taxy instructions to either use the Charlie taxyway to the South, or the grass Golf taxyway in front of the tower. My instructions were initially to taxy to Alpha 3 (making the Charlie taxyway seem likely) but on arrival there was told I could backtrack 08. I think this is the first time I’ve done this, and it certainly cut down on taxying time.

After a suitable backtrack, we were cleared to depart, and I asked for information as to whether a left turn out would be possible. There was nothing known to affect this, so we began the takeoff roll and lifted off into the clear blue skies. As is often the case however, the conditions weren’t as good as they looked from the ground. We were soon in a layer of relatively poor visibility, and despite climbing to 3500 feet we didn’t emerge from it.

Once clear of Kemble, we signed off with them and contacted Brize Radar for a Basic Service. They were relatively busy, but we were granted the service and continued en-route. Once established on the leg to the DTY VOR, I handed control to Josh, and he made a good job of maintaining height and heading. As we approached Banbury, I made ready to sign off with Brize, and heard another aircraft being refused a service due to them being at capacity. Fortunately for them, as we signed off, the Brize Controller immediately called them back to offer a service.

Flying selfie!

Flying selfie!

I’m always reticent to fly too close to a VOR, as they are often used by pilots as turning points, and as such can become a choke point for other aircraft. I had decided to fly a 10nm DME arc around DTY, to intercept the outbound course to Conington. I explained this to Josh as I took control, and set about flying the procedure.

In general the arc went pretty well, if a little straight at one point. However, I was never more than about 0.75 nm off my ‘target’ distance from the VOR. As we crossed the 180° radial, I looked out to my left and spotted a runway a couple of miles away. A quick glance at the chart showed that it was Turweston, and at our height of 3500 feet we were well clear of them. However, something clicked in my mind and I took another look at the chart, only to have my fears confirmed as I spotted Hinton in the Hedges directly West of Turweston.

Analysis of my track in SkyDemon shows that I’d inadvertantly flown within a mile or so of their Overhead. Normally at 3500 feet this wouldn’t necessarily be an issue, but Hinton performs parachute dropping (up to 6500 feet according to SkyDemon). As such, there had been a real chance that I could have disrupted their operations while flying past, or even had even more serious consequences.

A definite lesson was learned here, despite ‘planning’ to fly the 10nm DME arc to avoid DTY, I hadn’t actually checked on a chart to see where that track would actually place me. This was probably my most serious omission in flight planning in the entire of my flying career. I’ll definitely be making a point of planning this sort of thing more thoroughly in future.

We continued on past Silverstone, and rather than complete the arc to my planned outbound track, I took another look at the chart for anything else that would prevent us taking a direct track to Conington. Other than a few farm strips on the route, there was nothing of note, so I entered a ‘direct to’ into the 430 and SkyDemon, set us up on the appropriate heading and handed control back to Josh.

Passing Silverstone

Passing Silverstone

Again (as the track shows) Josh made an excellent job of maintaining height and heading. In order to try and get out of the haze, I had Josh drop us down to 2500 feet, and this did help slightly with forward visibility. I tuned in to Conington’s frequency to listen in as we approached, and highlighted the identifying features of Conington to Josh to see if he could spot it as we approached.

We passed over the A14, and spotted the A1(M) off to our right, making it easy to know where the airfield should be. It took a little while to actually pick out the runway in the haze however. Conington were still operating on 10 with a left hand circuit, which meant I’d have to fly almost a complete circuit of the airfield in the overhead before commencing the descent on the Deadside.

I kept to the East of the railway line as their noise abatement circuit requested, but almost forgot about the village to the South West of the airfield that is also marked to be avoided. I jinked slightly right to avoid it as we descended on the Deadside, before continuing into the circuit. We were the only aircraft on frequency as we continued around, and I brought us in for a gentle if slightly flat landing. We were asked to park on the grass as we cleared the runway, and after shutting down got a few photos before walking in for lunch.

Happy passengers

Happy passengers

The cafe was busy, with lots of people sitting at tables poring over charts, presumably preparing for the Navigation competition that was happening. We found a seat outside and ate in glorious sunshine, watching aircraft arriving and departing as we did so.

Once we’d finished, we were walking out to the aircraft when a familiar sounding voice hailed me, and as I looked up I saw Graham walking over to say hello. Graham had flown with Lyneham Flying Club also, and had even arranged a Navigation Competition for us at one point. He was here today to compete in the TopNav competition himself, and after we caught up a little he bade goodbye to go and complete his own flight planning!

After a quick walkaround, we all boarded the aircraft and I got the engine started. We held for a short while as Freedom’s G-CLEA taxyed in front of us, before backtracking the runway (almost 1km long!) to carry out our power checks on the crosswind runway. Once these were complete, we took to the runway and departed. I took care to fly the noise abatement circuit as well as I could, initially flying East of the railway line, before heading North far enough to pass over the lake on the Downwind leg.

I announced we were climbing out on Downwind, and proceed South West to track direct to DTY for the first leg. I climbed to about 3000 feet for this leg, getting us established on course and at the correct height before again handing control over to Josh. We had a discussion on the operation of the trim, and I made a slight correction for him before pointing out the trim wheel between the seats to that he could make his own corrections later should they be required.

Josh at the controls

Josh at the controls

Having Josh along as ‘autopilot’ meant I could spend my time looking out for other traffic, although the poor visibility was still present which made this difficult. I spoke briefly to Sywell as we passed just above their ATZ, before signing off with them to continue with Brize after we’d passed by.

Vanessa spotted a Cessna quite close off to our right, passing slightly below us, and as we approached Northampton we discussed the route back to Kemble. I decided to route via RAF Brize Norton, with a view to either carrying out a Zone Transit, or climbing above their airspace if this couldn’t be accomodated.

As we reached Northampton, I eyeballed a course change using the chart, and had Josh turn on an appropriate heading to fly over Silverstone. From there (mindful of my earlier faux-pas) I planned to head due West to Banbury, before continuing on course for Brize. Josh flew the assigned headings well, and I updated the heading occasionally on the heading bug as we progressed.

Once overhead Banbury, I contacted Brize Radar to request a Basic Service and Zone Transit. I was immediately asked to call Brize Zone for the transit, so we switched frequency and signed on with them, requesting a routing via their overhead to the mast at Membury, then back to Kemble via Swindon. We were initially provided with a Basic Service, and after a few minutes were granted a Zone Transit on our requested route, with no altitude restrictions.

I had Josh descend to 2500 feet to get a better view of the airfield as we passed, and dialled in a ‘direct to’ EGVN on the 430 and turned in the ADF to Brize’s NDB frequency. Monitoring our progress on the chart, I realised we would be passing very close to Enstone at just above Overhead Join height, so after spotting it ahead of us had Josh adjust course to the West to avoid it. We then continued towards Brize, keeping it on the right hand side of the aircraft so that Josh and Vanessa could get a good view as we passed.

Once overhead, we steered almost due South and tried to spot Membury in the murk ahead. I pointed out Faringdon, the A419 and the mainline railway as we passed over, and soon spotted the M4 off to our right, followed by the mast itself a few moments later. We had heard Redlands Para on frequency earlier, and the Controller at Brize reminded us that Redlands was active, so we tracked to the South of the M4 back towards Swindon, passing by the disused airfield at Wroughton, and spotting Lyneham off in the distance as we passed Swindon.

I have Josh a course to head direct towards Kemble, then revised it slightly to try to remain clear of Oaksey as we approached. Kemble soon came into view, and after signing on with them had Josh approach the airfield to fly over the threshold of 08, and descend to 2000 feet on the Kemble QFE in readiness for the overhead join.

Approaching Kemble

Approaching Kemble

We passed by Oaksey, and as we approached the overhead I took control back from Josh, and set about looking for the other aircraft that were operating in the circuit. We spotted one on Final for a touch and go, and as I descended on the Deadside we all tried to spot him. Josh was first to spot him, pointing him out to me as we turned Crosswind and continued around the circuit.

Pre-landing checks were all completed in good time, but I hadn’t fully appreciated the fact that the aircraft ahead of us was actually a microlight, and as such we caught him up a little on the Downwind leg. As we turned Base he was only just turning Final, so I lowered flap and slowed us down to try to increase the spacing between us.

He was on very short Final as we turned Final, and I expected to be forced to Go Around as a result. We watched the aircraft ahead land and roll out, and he seemed to take an age to get airborne again, but fortunately did so as we descended through about 150 feet, receiving a late ‘Land at your discretion’ call from the FISO.

The second landing of the day was much better than the first, and as we rolled out I heard the FISO clear another aircraft into position behind us. Eager to avoid holding him up for too long (and mindful of the fact the he couldn’t see us due to the hump in the runway) I kept the speed up so as to vacate as soon as possible at the far end of the runway. As we crossed the hold line, I reported ‘Runway Vacated’, enabling the FISO to immediately clear the other aircraft to depart.

After completing the ‘After landing’ checklist at the hold, I checked Josh could reach the rudder pedals Ok, and allowed him to taxy along Alpha towards Lyneham’s parking area. Again he did an excellent job, and I took control back from him before we reached the parking area so that I could make the tight turn to position us at the fuel bowser ready to refuel.

Josh and Vanessa chatted while I refuelled the aircraft, then we all pushed it back to its parking space and put the cover back on after removing all our gear from the aircraft. After settling up all the post-flight paperwork in the office, we headed back to the car and had just arrived back in Swindon when the heavens opened and the forecast thunderstorms and hail arrived!

Tracks flown

Tracks flown

Leg 1 profile

Leg 1 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 2 profile

We’d had a really enjoyable flight today, and again the perfect-looking conditions from the ground turned out to actually be quite poor once we were in the air. Josh and Vanessa had been very enthusiastic passengers, and Josh showed good aircraft control during his time at the controls. I was very disappointed at my slip regarding flying near Hinton, and resolved in future to ensure that all phases of flight were thoroughly planned in advance. It was nice to be back at Conington, and good to see it so busy. Although my flying year only started at the end of Februrary, I’m already on track to easily match the hours flown last year. Hopefully I can continue with regular flights for the remainder of the year!

Total flight time today: 2:05
Total flight time to date: 292:05

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2 Responses to “To Conington with a breathing ‘autopilot’!”

  1. A rare local, solo | Andy's Blog Says:

    […] spoken to Josh recently, about taking him for another flight with his Grandmother, and she’d expressed an […]

  2. 2016 Summary | Andy's Blog Says:

    […] with inexperienced passengers. These included trips with a couple of youngsters to Hawarden and Conington, and another flight to Wellesbourne as a prize in a Silent Auction in aid of Catrin’s school […]

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