A solo visit to Leicester

After a week visiting relatives with the rest of the family, we returned home on a Friday flight, giving us the remainder of the weekend to recover and get ready to go back to work on the Monday. It seemed a good chance to attempt to get some flying in on the Sunday, so after some negotiation I arranged that I would go flying by myself, leaving Luned and Catrin to spend the day relaxing at home. This coincided with a joint BBQ at Kemble for members of the Grython and Lyneham Clubs, but given the relative lack of flying so far this year I decided that taking the chance to go flying was more desirable than a Club social!

Graham had booked the Arrow for a short flight to reset his currency, which prevented me from making my usual ‘full day’ booking. He was due to return around noon, so I started looking for destinations that were within around an hour or so flying time from Kemble. I settled on Leicester, and carried out the majority of the planning the evening before as usual. The weather forecast was mixed, with most places forecasting infrequent showers throughout the day. However, I decided that I would attempt the flight, on the basis that all the forecast periods of showers were only around a 30% chance of actually occurring. This suggested I should be able to avoid any adverse weather without too much difficulty.

I completed the final planning on the morning of the flight, being able to take advantage of a slightly later start than usual by having an extra hour or so in bed! The weather forecasts remained the same so I decided to continue with the flight, leaving for Kemble around 10:30 or so. As I arrived at Kemble, Graham was just taxying out for his flight, so I completed the pre-flight paperwork in the Club, while listening out for his return on the airband receiver in the Club. I also (somewhat belatedly!) contacted JP to see if he was interested in joining me on the flight, but he was planning to attend the BBQ so decided not to accompany me.

On hearing Graham landing, I headed back to the car to gather up the rest of my gear, before walking out to meet the aircraft. I helped Graham refuel before pushing the aircraft back to its parking place, requiring some negotiating with the pilot of the Lyneham Bulldog who had just returned to refuel. I was confident that he had enough time to refuel the Bulldog (blocking the exit from the parking area) while I carried out the pre-flight, and not cause me any issues when I was ready to depart.

Despite the aircraft already having flown, I took my time on the walk around, as I needed to give the newly added fuel sufficient time to settle before checking the fuel drains for any signs of water or other contaminants. I left this check until the absolute last moment, and had to take samples from the right hand tank twice due to there being a small amount of water in the initial sample from this side. Other than this minor issue, everything was normal and I was soon ready to depart.

Once on board, I used my new handheld to call the FISO for start and airfield information, receiving a slightly surprising readability of ‘4’ (5 being the maximum). At some point when I’m next flying with another pilot, I’ll make an attempt to use it in the air to see how well it performs. The engine seemed a little reluctant to start, taking three or four tries to catch. Once it was running I set up the remainder of the avionics before calling for taxy instructions.

I was cleared to taxy via Alpha to Alpha 1, and as I approached the D-Site apron I was asked to hold position briefly to allow one of Freedom’s Warriors to taxy across in front of me after emerging from the Golf grass taxyway. I followed him down to the hold, and we completed our power checks side by side. He was ready before me, and departed as I moved up to the hold to complete the before takeoff checklist. Another aircraft was joining overhead as I took to the runway, and I saw him descending on the Deadside as I announced that I was in position.

The FISO issued the ‘take off at your discretion’ message, but I felt that taking off now would put me in potential conflict with the joining aircraft as he turned Crosswind. I let the FISO know I would wait a little, and as the aircraft joined the Crosswind leg and crossed over the runway ahead of me, I announced I was taking off and began the takeoff roll. It had just started to rain slightly,  the aircraft accelerated normally, and as I rotated I took care to feed in some right rudder to counter the swing. Once there was no usable runway ahead of me I dabbed the brakes and retracted the gear, before turning Crosswind to follow the other aircraft around the circuit.

He was well ahead of me by now, so I announced I was climbing out on the Downwind leg, before setting course to the North East to my usual first turning point at the Chedworth disused airfield. As I cleared the ATZ to the North East, a look over my shoulder showed the airfield now appeared to be experiencing a fairly heavy shower, but the skies ahead of me were relatively clear.

Shower over Kemble after departure

Shower over Kemble after departure

I signed off with Kemble’s FISO, and on reaching Chedworth I set course for my next turning point at Banbury, and contacted Brize for a Basic Service. The frequency was fairly quiet, and I was issued with the appropriate squawk and granted the Basic Service. A short while later the FISO warned me that they had been notified of winch-launched gliders operating from Little Rissington that day, so I dog-legged to the left to give Little Rissington some more clearance. I spotted a few gliders on the ground as I passed, but didn’t see any in the air.

Passing Little Rissington

Passing Little Rissington

I had planned to sign off with Brize as I approached Banbury, but the Controller had me change frequency a few minutes before this. I switched to Coventry, and once established on the leg from Banbury contacted them for a Basic Service also. I had to descend to remain clear of a bank of cloud ahead of me, descending to around 2500 feet to keep below the cloud.

Descending to remain clear of cloud

Descending to remain clear of cloud

The Coventry Controller asked me to report abeam Draycote Water, and as I continued I heard a further aircraft getting permission for a direct arrival onto the ILS from the DTY VOR. A quick check of the chart showed that his track would also potentially intersect mine. I contacted the Controller to double check what altitudes he’d be operating at, and learned that his profile would intersect mine. Rather than risk being an issue for him, I elected to climb to 4000 feet (I was now well clear of any cloud) to keep well above him and allow him to fly the ILS without me interfering.

I continued onwards, reporting at Draycote Water, turning at Rugby and then reporting again passing the Bitteswell Industrial Estate VRP. I signed off with the Coventry Controller, and made contact with Leicester as I approached Bruntingthorpe. Leicester were still operating on runway 28 with a Right Hand Circuit, so I planned my approach, keeping the airfield to my right in order to correctly join overhead. I initially misidentified a cluster of similarly oriented roads as the airfield, before soon spotting the actually airfield slightly further ahead.

Passing Bruntingthorpe

Passing Bruntingthorpe

I orientated myself for the appropriate runway, descending on the Deadside and turning Downwind. As I continued Downwind, I dithered slightly over whether to pass inside or outside the village that was at the point I would normally turn Base. I decided to pass inside, leading to a slightly odd-shaped circuit. I lined up nicely on Final, gave a last ‘Reds, Blues, Greens’ check before coming in for a nice gentle landing. Another aircraft was waiting to join the runway to depart, so I cleared as quickly as I could, announcing over the radio that I was clear, before taxying in and parking up in the relatively empty parking area.

As I pushed the aircraft back into its parking space, predictably the heavens opened as a shower crossed the airfield. I walked in to settle the landing fee, in time to spot a lovely looking Twin landing and taxying in. This was later identified as a Beech 18, which had been brought in from Jersey after being bought by one of the members at Leicester. Very nice!

Beech 18 arriving at Leicester

Beech 18 arriving at Leicester

I headed upstairs for some lunch, deciding not to take too much time due to the relatively unpredictable weather forecast. While I ate, there were a few other movements around the airfield, but compared to how it had been on previous visits it was very quiet. Once I’d finished eating, I headed back down to the aircraft and carried out a quick walk around before getting back on board.

Arrow parked up at Leicester

Arrow parked up at Leicester

This time the engine started much more easily, and after getting departure details from the A/G operator I taxyed to the hold for runway 24. Another aircraft was just vacating the runway as I left the parking area, and on approaching the hold I turned into wind to carry out the power checks. These were satisfactory, and I pulled up to the hold to check the approaches for other aircraft. There was nothing to be seen, so I announced that I was taking to the runway, then began the takeoff roll.

Mindful of the requested noise abatement procedures, I did my best to avoid flying over noise sensitive areas on climbout and departure. Once clear of the areas concerned, I set course to the South towards Rugby, climbing up to around 3000 feet. Although the weather was still far from ideal, the cloud formations were all well spread out and easy to avoid. After signing off with Leicester, I contacted Coventry when near Bruntingthorpe, receiving a Basic Service on the leg down to Banbury. There were a few other aircraft on frequency, but most people seemed to have decided to avoid flying in the weather conditions.

I made the decision to stray from my planned route, and fly over Swindon to see if Luned and Catrin could catch sight of me as I flew over. The simplest way to achieve this was to fly over Brize, so I descended back to around 3000 feet (I hadn’t been paying much attention to my height, so had climbed a couple of hundred feet) to fly at a level that would allow me to request a Zone Transit, rather than risk having to descend into the airspace due to any cloud I might encounter. On approaching Banbury I signed off with Coventry, and listened to Brize’s ATIS to get a feel for their weather and get the correct pressure setting.

On selecting the Brize Zone frequency, I initially had to wait as another pilot approaching from the South negotiated his own Zone Transit. This was granted, and once all the details had been completed, I made my request. This also was quickly granted, and somewhat unusually I was cleared through the Class D at 3000 feet (generally I’ve found that VFR transits are given a ‘not above’ or ‘not below’ altitude restriction). As I continued on towards Brize, I heard the other pilot being notified when he was entering and leaving Brize’s airspace, so I was somewhat surprised not to receive the same messages myself. In fact, the Controller only came back to me a mile or two after I had left Brize’s airspace, and when he did I requested the frequency change over to Kemble.

Passing RAF Brize Norton

Passing RAF Brize Norton

Swindon was now clearly visible in the distance, so I set about working out exactly where I was, and then trying to find our house. Fortunately a number of landmarks are easily recognisable from the air, so I used the Asda Walmart, old Renault distribution centre and Catrin’s school to locate our house, before carrying out a couple of orbits and snapping off a few photos. On landing I learned that Luned had indeed seen me, and managed to get a few photos of me while I was flying over.

Our house, former Renault distribution centre clearly visible just in front of the wing

Our house, former Renault distribution centre clearly visible just in front of the wing

Me flying over our house (click on the photo for a larger version!)

Me flying over our house (click on the photo for a larger version!)

Once the photo mission was over, I oriented myself to head towards Kemble, giving them a call on the radio to learn that they were still operating on runway 26. I descended to the appropriate height for an Overhead Join, and kept Oaksey Park well off to my left in case anyone was operating from there. The frequency was quiet as I approached Kemble, so I asked the FISO whether he knew of anything to affect a Left Base join. As expected there was no other known traffic, so I descended further and positioned to join on Kemble’s slightly strange Base Leg for 26.

More showers in the vicinity of Kemble

More showers in the vicinity of Kemble

After carrying out the before landing checks, I kept inside Kemble village as usual, establishing myself on Final. Another aircraft had joined the frequency approaching from the West, and the FISO warned him of showers off in that direction. As I continued down Final, the low level winds proved to be quite challenging, generating significant turbulence as I got closer to the ground.

Mindful of the approaching rain, I concentrated on making a good approach, having to work hard on the controls to maintain the correct alignment with the runway and vertical profile. As I got down towards the runway and began the roundout, there was a sudden loss of lift, which I countered by adding a significant amount of power, expecting to have to continue to full power and execute a go around. The aircraft stabilised itself a few feet above the runway though, so I continued the approach and began to reduce power again to complete the landing.

When a couple of feet above the runway, again there was a sharp reduction in lift, which I was unable to correct quickly enough by adding power. Fortunately I had stabilised the aircraft close enough to the runway so this just caused a rather firm touchdown. The extra workload close to the ground had also meant I’d landed longer than I had initially intended, so once I had reduced to a walking pace I requested a backtrack from the FISO, leaving the runway at A3 as usual.

I taxyed back to parking and shut down, before adding a small amount of fuel to bring the aircraft back up to ‘tabs’. Predictably it had started raining again, so after pushing the aircraft back into its parking space I tried to quickly get the cover back on, before heading back into the Club to complete the post-flight paperwork. Kev was still there after the afternoon’s BBQ, and asked me to give him a lift home, to which I readily agreed.

Tracks flown

Tracks flown

Leg 1 profile

Leg 1 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 2 profile

Today had been one of the most challenging days flying that I’d experienced in a while. Despite the far from ideal forecast, in fact the flying conditions had been well within my capabilities, and despite having to occasionally change course or level to avoid cloud, I was never in a situation where I had to question whether the flight could be completed safely. I’d learned a useful lesson not to become complacent on an approach, and managed to handle the tricky conditions close to the ground without too much difficulty.

Total flight time today: 1:55
Total flight time to date: 312:15

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One Response to “A solo visit to Leicester”

  1. Local flight for currency | Andy's Blog Says:

    […] Writings of a UK based Private Pilot « A solo visit to Leicester […]

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