Archive for the ‘Miscellaneous’ Category

RAF Brize Norton visit

January 15, 2014

One of the benefits of being a member of a Military Flying Club, is that occasionally we are invited to see things that normally we couldn’t. Before we left Lyneham, the Club’s ATC Liason arranged a visit to Air Traffic Control, and this evening Seb and Kev had arranged for a group of us to visit RAF Brize Norton.

This time we were to get a tour of a C-130J, and also to get a chance to fly the aircraft in the simulator used for training and evaluating RAF pilots. Naturally I jumped at the chance, and after a day somewhat disrupted by closure of the M4 and Luned not feeling great, I headed over to RAF Brize Norton in the evening.

It had been a while since I was last there (I left RAF Brize Norton Flying Club shortly after gaining my PPL in Summer 2008), but it felt strangely familiar making the drive over to the field (albeit in the dark for a change!).

On arrival, Seb was arranging passes for the visitors, and we chatted with Kev for a while while waiting for the last of the group to arrive. We then drove in convoy onto the base, following Seb for the start of the evening’s ‘entertainment’.

We split into two groups, with one group heading to the aircraft with Kev in a minibus, the other going into the sim with Seb. My first destination was the aircraft, and Kev drove us over to a C-130J parked on the apron, handily connected to external power.

First destination was (obviously!) the cockpit, where Kev powered up the aircraft and entered some basic details (time and date) into the aircraft’s navigation system. Once it had correctly determined our position, the screens began to come to life.

C-130J Cockpit

C-130J Cockpit

Kev talked us through the main differences between the older ‘K’ model, and the newer ‘J’ model. The main difference was that the ‘K’ cockpit was very much ‘traditional’ in terms of its equipment, and as such flew with a Flight Engineer to ‘keep an eye on the pilots’ (as Kev put it!). The newer model is much more automated, with glass screens replacing traditional instruments, and much more automation being available, enabling this aircraft to fly with just two pilots on board.

We were talked through some of the performance numbers of the aircraft, typical fuel burn of 2 tonnes an hour, with a typical cruise ceiling around 30,000 feet at around 0.5 Mach. Kev showed us how some of the screens could be reconfigured to show a wealth of different information, including demonstrating the aircraft’s HUD (Head Up Display), and talked a bit about his role as an Engineer on the type.

After that we had a quick look around the back of the aircraft, with Kev lowering the ramp so we could see what the view out of the back looked like. It was hard to imagine seeing that view when tearing along at low level at a rate of knots! After some more interesting information about the various roles the aircraft was used for, there was just time for a quick look around the outside of the aircraft, before it was time for us to return and for the groups to switch over.

Kev drove us back, and we chatted over drinks while waiting for Seb to be finished in the simulator. We talked about the new aircraft that have recently joined the Club’s fleet (which I’m yet to fly), while we waited (somewhat!) patiently for Seb to arrive and signal our turn in the simulator. We were surprised to see a photo of an attractive young lady in there, with the caption “Don’t call me Betty” (a reference to ‘Bitching Betty‘, the name given by pilots to the voice warnings in aircraft). This (it turned out) was the face behind the voice of the cockpit warnings we were all about to hear!

On our way to the simulator, we stopped off in a Conference Room, where Seb gave a short presentation showing the progression of an RAF pilot through flying light aircraft right up to low level sorties in the C-130. He also showed some of the wide and varied mission profiles that the C-130 is used for. It really is an incredibly versatile aircraft (seeing one land on and then take off from an Aircraft Carrier is truly impressive!) and one that it must be great fun (and challenging) to fly on a daily basis.

We walked into the simulator room, and Seb first of all showed us the two full motion simulators. One of these was in use (although very still so it must have just been in the cruise or something!), and the other was in the middle of an update by Sim Technicians. We were able to have a look in this one, and the visuals of the aircraft on the ground at RAF Valley were startlingly realistic. Seb talked to about how the simulators were used, with each pilot typically flying 3 sessions in the simulator every 3 months, including a revalidation style ‘test’ on the aircraft every year.

We then moved to the ‘static’ simulator, which has basically the same capabilities as the other two, with the exception of the configuration of the screens being a little different, with the P1 and P2 seats effectively having their own screen as opposed to the single continuous screen in the full motion sim (and the obvious lack of motion). The different screens meant the view wasn’t quite as realistic as the full motion sim, but (as we were to find out) the small limitations were soon forgotten once the action started!

The simulator was setup at the threshold of runway 31 at RAF Valley (a place I’d love to be able to fly into for real!), and Seb initially talked us through the basics of flying a circuit in the Hercules. Full power on the runway, rotate to 15 degrees nose up at 100 knots, before lowering the nose once clear of the ground to accelerate to 150 knots and climb to 1000 feet. Then a left turn onto downwind, followed by a 90 degree turn onto base leg, reducing speed to 140 knots. Once the speed is below 140 knots, select full flap, reducing the speed to the threshold speed of 115 knots, while lining up for the runway. Then it was a ‘simple’ matter of flaring the aircraft about 20 feet above the runway, reducing power to idle and landing. Easy!

Seb later clarified that due to time constraints (and the fact that we were all inexperienced C-130 pilots!) he had given us a simplified version of the takeoff procedure. The true procedure is to pitch up to around 10 degrees and bring the power back to maintain the required climb speed, rather than climbing at a higher pitch rate to keep speed below gear and flap limiting speeds as we had done.

Obviously nobody was in a great hurry to volunteer to be first, but Mark was closed to the P1 seat, so he sat down to take the first go. Seb acted as PNF (pilot not flying), setting the heading bug and target speed (that would appear in the HUD for Mark to follow) and managing the flaps. Mark headed off down the runway, rotating and climbing out at the appropriate speed. Seb engaged the auto-throttles for a while, before Mark elected to fly the remainder of the circuit manually. Downwind and Base legs went well, and Mark brought the aircraft in for a bouncy but acceptable landing.

I happened to be next closest to the seat, so the pressure was now on me to repeat the performance as PF (pilot flying). For the takeoff roll Seb again acted as PNF, and I think I managed a relatively good performance once I’d got used to the initial feel of the aircraft. Mark took over as PNF for the rest of the flight, and I flew a fairly tidy circuit (altitude and speed control being a little wayward but a passable performance), managing to get nicely aligned for the runway and at or close to target speed.

On climbout from runway 31 at RAF Valley

On climbout from runway 31 at RAF Valley

One thing I noticed when turning Downwind to Base (the first time I really applied any significant angle of bank) was the slight disorientation I felt at seeing realistic visuals without the accompanying motion cues that you would get when flying a real aircraft (or indeed one of the full motion simulators presumably).

Sadly the final part of the flight (the bit everyone remembers!) didn’t go quite as well, as I also bounced the initial landing, then failed to arrest the descent on the second touchdown. As a result I was rewarded by a big red splodge on the screens indicating that I’d crashed. Ah well, it took me something like 40 landings to learn to land a Warrior, so it’s early days yet!

The remainder of the group took their turn as PF, while I acted as PNF for a couple of the flights. In general the standard of the flying by the whole group was pretty good, all of us getting used to the unfamiliar handling of such a large aircraft and the amount of information displayed on the HUD in a fairly short time.

After everyone had their turn at flying a circuit, it was then time to make things a little more interesting! The advantage of using a simulator for training is that any number of failures can be introduced, without the risk of damage or injury. Seb briefed us on what to expect should an engine fail on takeoff, as well as the appropriate remedial action to be taken.

Again Mark went first, with Seb failing one of the outboard engines past V1 (the speed at which you will continue the takeoff should an engine failure occur). Mark continued the takeoff, and the amount of aileron and rudder input that was required to manage the asymmetric trust (despite the aircraft’s FADEC systems automatically reducing thrust on the opposite engine) was quite surprising. Mark did a good job, managing the initial excursion, and building enough speed for the opposite engine to again be spooled up automatically.

My turn now, and I had the advantage of having seen someone else’s attempt! During my takeoff roll, Seb simulated a tyre failure above V1, closely followed by an engine failure! I somewhat over-corrected, leading to Betty advising me of an excessive sideslip, and suggesting I apply opposite rudder. I did this, only for her then to warn me of excessive rudder in the direction of the failed engine, requiring another swift reversal of the controls! I finally got things under control (one of the differences with a heavy aircraft is the amount of inertia, meaning it is easy to get into an ever increasing serious of oscillations from stable flight) and got to the point where I could lower the nose and build up flying speed.

Mark grappling with a Number 1 engine failure

Mark grappling with a Number 1 engine failure

The remainder of the group took their turns, with the final pilot being treated to a whole gamut of failures, as Seb failed 1, 2, and then 3 engines. These failures were all handled well, but when Seb failed the fourth (and final!) engine all hydraulics were also lost, and there was little chance of a successful landing (despite Seb’s tongue in cheek suggestion of ‘flare’ as the aircraft descended towards the trees!).

Sadly, this brought our time in the simulator to an end, despite all of us agreeing that we would happily spend the entire night here. Both groups met up again in the kitchen for a last chat, where we all expressed our gratitude at being able to attend today. There is a chance that the format might be repeated soon, and if there is space available I’ll definitely try to attend again.

Even worse than a local – circuits!

February 20, 2011

Thanks to poor weather and a seemingly never ending Winter cold, I was again getting close to the 43 day currency limit for Lyneham. I’d had a couple of aborted attempts to fly in the intervening period cancelled due to weather, and the forecast for today looked distinctly grim too, showing an overcast of around 1500 feet.

So, there was nothing for it but to get in and bash the circuit for a while to reset currency.

When I phoned Dave for an auth for the flight, he offered me the chance to fly in to South Cerney where he was working at the parachuting centre there. Due to the cloud base they obviously couldn’t drop, so he invited me over for a cup of tea! Sadly with such a low cloud base I really didn’t want to head too far from base just in case I ended up stuck somewhere, so declined. Hopefully I can take him up on his offer again.

The ATIS was giving the cloud base as overcast around 1300 feet, so I booked out for some circuits after carrying out the ‘A’ check. I only had a limited time available because Air Traffic are relatively short staffed over the weekend, so have a ‘circuit ban’ between 1200 and 1400 to allow for lunch breaks. I was calling for start around 1100, but this gave me plenty of time to get in a few circuits and head back.

Lyneham were using 06 today, and I was given the option of using the disused runway for an intersection departure. This is generally worth doing as it saves the long taxy down to the threshold of 06, so I accepted. However today there was probably little benefit as it just meant I ended up sitting waiting for the engine to warm up due to this being the first flight of the day with relatively low outside temperatures.

All checks complete, I was soon cleared to backtrack and then take off. As soon as I lifted it was clear that the visibility was far from the 11k quoted in the ATIS. I certainly would have had to rethink my plans if I were heading away from the airfield!

In all I carried out 5 circuits. All went relatively smoothly, and I was pleased that my first landing of the day was a ‘greaser’, albeit landing a little long. This was the case with all of the landings today, but when using 06 at Lyneham landing on the numbers is generally counter-productive, as you just end up taxying down the full length of the runway once you’re down. However I should make more of an effort in future to get my landings ‘on spot’.

As I was downwind on the 4th circuit, the Controller informed me of  ‘Radar Traffic – Cessna 172 at 8 miles for a low approach’. As I climbed away on from the touch and go I was about to offer to orbit on the Downwind leg to allow the Cessna to pass through, but the Controller asked me to ‘Extend upwind, by a couple of miles’. I used the clock on the Transponder to time about 90 seconds or so before turning Crosswind and informing the Controller I was doing so.

I was nearing the end of the Downwind leg without any update to the other aircraft’s position, so just before the point I would normally turn Base I asked for a position report. The Controller informed me that the other aircraft was passing through the Overhead, and then a few seconds later added that I was clear to make my turn (which I was about to do anyway). I was a little dubious as to how wise it was to be flying in cloud today, as the zero degree level was only around 1500 feet or so. I must read up some more on airframe icing to see if I’m being overly cautious here. I’d discounted the possibility of going somewhere ‘on top’ (the cloud tops were forecast to be relatively low so this should have been possible) due to the worry of spending much time in cloud at freezing temperatures.

Turned Base and made more of an effort to pick a landing spot on this last landing, but again landed a fair way past it! Still, all 5 landings today were good, with gentle touchdowns and good position across the runway (although in fairness the crosswind was never more than about 20 degrees off the runway heading).

Taxyed back via the disused runway again, closed down and prepared to refuel. As luck would have it, another pilot arrived at that moment to fly in another aircraft, and I persuaded him to take the one I had used (it would save him doing an ‘A’ check on the other aircraft, and also save me putting the cover back on!). He accepted and we refueled the aircraft together, before pushing it back into the parking space ready for him to use.

So, both by 43 day Lyneham currency and my 90 day passenger currency (I have to make 3 takeoffs and landings in the previous 90 days in order to be able to carry passengers) are reset now, so at least I achieved something with this flight. Hopefully the weather will start to improve and I can get some real flying in!



Total flight time today: 0:45
Total flight time to date: 141:35

Seeing things from the other side of the airwaves.

November 27, 2008

Neil, the ATC liason at Lyneham had arranged a tour of ATC, so I went along for the first time to see how things work over there.

Was a great insight into what goes on. We first got a tour of the radar room, and watched a Controller talking someone down on a precision approach. Then there was a bit of explanation as to how they work, and some of their pet peeves (light aircraft departing through the approach lanes seems to be their ‘favourite’!). We then heard a Hercules manoevring for a low pass and a practice drop, so we headed up to the Tower to watch from there.

The Herc was doing a full on tactical practice, that involved a low pass without lights over the field, dropping some cargo at a pre-arranged point, then a tactical night landing on 36. All we could see were his navigation lights, and all the airfield lights were off too. Very impressive!

Finally we saw a visiting Airbus being given taxy and takeoff clearances, before heading back to the radar room to watch his handoff to London. There then followed some more chat, concentrating on the procedures the Flying Club use, and some comments on what things like Microlights and Light Aircraft look like on the radar trace.

All in all, a very interesting experience, and one I would definitely recommend to any pilot if they get the chance.

Looking for a cheaper alternative

August 6, 2008

Brize have had to put their prices up regularly since I’ve started flying, meaning prices have now risen by about 30% since I started flying just a year ago, meaning I’m now paying £130 per tacho hour.

When I was looking around for a school, I considered Lyneham, but at the time they appeared to have a slight shortage of instructors. However, their rates are £75 per tacho hour, so it was worth giving them another try.

I’d been in touch a number of weeks ago but hadn’t heard anything since, so thought I’d give them another go before deciding to go for the share in the Cherokee.

As a result, I went in to see them today, and to be honest I was pretty impressed with what I saw. They have two very well equipped Warriors, as well as an aerobatic Slingsby Firefly. Also the club has immersion suits, life rafts, foldaway bicycles, life jackets, a portable GPS and all sorts of equipment available for use with their aircraft. They seem happy with people taking them away for weekends and the like too, subject to them being flown for a couple of hours each day.

So, I think we’ll give them a go for a month or two and see what availability is like before going down the share route. I need to have an induction flight to learn the local procedures and make sure they’re happy with me, and then let’s see what happens.


July 29, 2008

Since getting my license I’ve been doing my best to fly as often as I can. However, realistically I can’t fly as much as I’d like due to the costs involved. Currently I’m paying £130 an hour, which means on my budget I can only really afford to fly 2 or 3 hours a month.

One way of reducing that is to buy a share in an aircraft owned by a group. Typically this gives you a relatively low initial outlay, coupled with the option to fly at a lower rate. Also group flying generally gives you the opportunity to take the aircraft away for a number of days, something that flying clubs are often a little less happy with.

So this afternoon I went to look at a Cherokee based at a local farm strip. It’s owned by a group of 8 people, and the mix of people in the group mean that I should be able to get good availability at weekends, the time I’m mostly likely to fly. Also the strip appears to have a nice atmosphere (when we went for a look round on Saturday afternoon there was a barbeque in progress) and free from some of the hassles associated with flying from a place like Brize.

On the whole, I’m definitely tempted. I just need to check that I’ve asked all the right questions, and perhaps see if there’s something else more suitable for me. Ideally I wanted a share in a Warrior, but a Cherokee does most of what I want, with just the slightly lower payload. Perhaps this is a good first step?

And as if it wasn’t hard enough to decide…

September 25, 2007

Well, the decision to switch is going to be difficult enough. But the weather didn’t help when it meant I couldn’t fly with the new school on Sunday!

New flight booked for Saturday, and one at Brize on Sunday with Chris.

Fingers crossed for good weather!

On the horns of a dilemma…

September 22, 2007

Arrived today to find out that not only was this week’s lesson cancelled, but now next week’s will be too. This will mean it’ll be at least 6 weeks between flights by the time I get to fly again.

I was already starting to wonder whether it would be better to bite the bullet and pay more for lessons where I could get more in per week (ideally I’d like to fly for a couple of hours on both Saturday and Sunday) with a view to trying to get the PPL out of the way in a more timely fashion.

So today I went to visit another prospective school. This one is closer to me (about 30 mins travelling as opposed to 45) but will put up the hourly rate from about £114 to more like £155. This is likely to add about £1600 to the total cost of the PPL, but should hopefully mean I can complete it much quicker.

So, I’ve got a decision to make. It’s not going to be easy…

Second lesson booked

June 27, 2007

13:30 this coming Saturday, 30th June.

Metcheck are currently forecasting rain for the best part of the day, so better get ready for another cancellation! 

First lesson, attempt number five!

June 25, 2007

Tomorrow at 14:30

Fingers, toes and everything currently crossed 🙂

First lesson tomorrow?

June 20, 2007

Got another lesson booked tomorrow. 14:30. Weather currently isn’t looking great, but we’ll see what happens I guess