Archive for the ‘Touring’ Category

A charitable return to Bembridge

June 30, 2018

Around a year ago, I again offered a flight as a prize in a Charity Auction to raise money for Catrin’s school PTA. When the winner was announced, it turned out to be the same person who had won the previous flight I’d donated, so I obviously didn’t scare him too much!

It had taken some time to find a date that we could both manage, and we’d had one previous attempt abandoned due to some poor weather. Fortunately, as the date approached for this attempt, the UK seemed to be experiencing a prolonged period of fair weather, so we were greeted with near perfect flying conditions on the day of the flight.

We’d discussed possible destinations, and Marc had expressed a desire to head down to the South coast. I hadn’t been back to Bembridge for a while, so we decided to head down to the Isle of Wight for a spot of lunch, and return via a tour of the island from the air.

As per usual, I carried out the majority of the planning in the days leading up to the flight. There was a major gliding competition notified at Aston Down which concerned me a little, but on the morning of the flight their planned tasks showed them heading North West towards Wales, and North East towards Oxfordshire, so they shouldn’t affect us on this flight. I confirmed this with a phone call to the number given before leaving home.

I arranged to collect Marc on the way to Kemble, and on arrival we added some fuel to the Arrow to give us plenty to complete the whole trip. Bembridge doesn’t have fuel on site, and it seemed simpler than having to land at somewhere like Sandown purely to take on fuel. Once refuelled, I carried out the ‘A’ check (spotting a defective rear Nav light that wouldn’t affect our flight) before heading back into the office to complete the pre-flight paperwork. Once that was done we headed back to the aircraft, completed the checks with fuel drain samples (to allow plenty of time for any water to have settled after refuelling) and settled ourselves on board.

Kemble were operating on 08 today, and after getting the engine started we were cleared initially to Alpha 3. Usually we are cleared there in readiness for crossing the runway to the South side, but today when I reported holding at Alpha 3 I was immediately cleared to backtrack the runway and line up. I informed the FISO that we hadn’t carried out our checks yet, and he asked us to report again when ready to depart.

The checks were all normal, and a number of aircraft arrived and departed on both the hard and grass runways as we completed them. When ready, we were cleared to backtrack, and then departed without any issue. The route I’d planned initially took us over the former RAF Lyneham, and this was an easy landmark to spot as we departed. I’d been slightly concerned that in-flight visibility might not be very good due to the extended period of high pressure, but in reality conditions really couldn’t have been much better.

As we approached Lyneham I signed off with the FISO at Kemble, and switched to Farnborough West in readiness for requesting a Basic Service and MATZ penetration from them later. I set course towards the next turning point at Greenham Common, before handing control over to Marc for the majority of this leg.

Marc at the controls

Marc at the controls

As on our previous flight, he did a good job of maintaining height and heading, and even showed good lookout skills spotting an aircraft ahead of us and slightly to the left at a similar height. I took control back from him and turned right to overtake the other aircraft, passing them as we cut the corner to the leg from Greenham Common down to Petersfield.

Overtaking traffic between Lyneham and Greenham Common

Overtaking traffic between Lyneham and Greenham Common

I established us on the correct course, and again handed the controls back to Marc while I made contact with Farnborough. They didn’t seem as busy as I expected, and we were given a Basic Service and clearance through the Odiham MATZ, being instructed to remain clear of the ATZ as the field was active today with gliders. We passed Popham off to our right, spotting traffic much lower than us departing the field. Odiham and Lasham passed off to our left, and although we could see gliders on the ground we didn’t spot any in the air.

Gliders on the ground

Gliders on the ground

We approached Petersfield, and I dialled in the new course on the heading bug on the DI, and had Marc make the course change as we flew over the town. We headed towards the coast, spotting the distinctive Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth off to our right. As we neared the coast, we contacted Bembridge to find they were operating on runway 12 with a left hand circuit. Although they sounded fairly quiet, I decided to carry out an Overhead Join (now allowed due to the cessation of glider operations), and initiated a descent to get us down to the appropriate height as we coasted out.

Portsmouth and the Spinnaker Tower

Portsmouth and the Spinnaker Tower

I took back control from Marc, positioning us for the join. There wasn’t anything to affect us as we approached, and the join and Deadside Descent were both straightforward. I brought us in for a slightly floaty but gentle landing, before announcing that we were backtracking to vacate the runway. I later learned that this was a mistake, as there was a perfectly usable grass taxyway at the far end of the runway!

We parked up in the fairly busy parking area, and headed in to pay the landing fee. We then walked the short distance to the Propeller Inn for lunch, where I’d booked us a table just in case they were busy! The pub has changed dramatically since our last visit (some 6 years ago it turns out!), and served us an excellent light lunch!

Parked up at Bembridge

Parked up at Bembridge

Once fed and watered, we headed back out to the aircraft via the Control Point, and I carried out a quick transit check. Several aircraft had arrived since we had, and a number were preparing to depart as we boarded the Arrow. Once the engine was started, I carried out the power checks in our parking spot, as there were no aircraft parked behind us. We joined a queue of 3 aircraft at the hold, waiting for our turn to depart in between the regular stream of arriving aircraft.

Queue for departure at Bembridge

Queue for departure at Bembridge

Once it was our turn to depart, we took to the runway and backtracked, before making a normal takeoff out over the water. We climbed to around 1500 feet and I headed off anti-clockwise around the coast of the Isle of Wight. Height keeping was fairly important, as this tour took us beneath the Solent CTA, which started at 2000 feet to the North West of the Island. Once we reached the far West coast of the Isle of Wight I carried out a clockwise orbit of the Needles to allow Marc to get some photos.

The Needles

The Needles

We continued around the coast, taking care not to get too close to Sandown as we completed the circuit, Once approaching Bembridge again, I initiated a climb up to 4500 feet for the return leg, reversing our inbound course out towards Petersfield again.

Passing Bembridge after a tour of the Isle of Wight

Passing Bembridge after a tour of the Isle of Wight

As we approached Petersfield, I again made contact with Farnborough for a Basic Service. SkyDemon’s profile view alarmed me somewhat, as it showed Class A airspace ahead of us starting at 3500 feet, so I began a descent to remain clear of this (despite being sure I’d planned our route correctly so as to remain clear of any airspace). Later I realised the the airspace being shown was on our current track, but after our planned turn to the North West at Petersfield, so in reality we were well clear at all times.

Marc was back at the controls again, and Lasham and Odiham both had gliders on the ground, but we didn’t see any in the air. We continued on towards Newbury, and at the point where I was preparing to sign off with Farnborough, the Controller started to have difficulty getting a message correctly read back by another aircraft. I was starting to become concerned that we might leave Farnborough’s coverage without being able to sign off, when the Controller eventually gave up, instructed the other aircraft to ‘Standby’ and instructed us to Squawk 7000 and change to our next frequency.

Marc made the turn near Greenham Common, and we then decided to modify our route slightly to overfly Swindon. I made sure Marc had the M4 in sight, and told him to keep to the South of it, and follow it up to Swindon (this would keep us well clear of Redlands and Sandhill Farm, both of which were likely to be busy today).

Passing Hungerford, we began a descent to about 2000 feet to overfly Swindon, and Marc used ground features to navigate us to the general area of where we lived, before I took control back to fly a gentle orbit over his house. For all of this leg I’d been listening in to Kemble, and there hadn’t been a single aircraft on frequency. As I contacted them when we left Swindon however, another 3 aircraft arrived on frequency on their way in to Kemble.

We positioned for an Overhead Join, trying to stay away from the immediate overhead of Oaksey as we passed by. We were the first of the arriving aircraft to reach the Overhead, and I carried out a standard Deadside Descent as normal. Once established on the Downwind leg, I decided to ask the FISO for permission to carry out a couple of circuits, enabling me to fully reset my passenger-carrying currency by completing 3 landings today.

Descending Deadside at Kemble

Descending Deadside at Kemble

This was approved, and the first landing back at Kemble was a little firmer than I would have liked. I applied full power and climbed away, spotting another aircraft descending on the Deadside off to our left. In order to maintain good separation from him, I made an early right turn to stay ahead. Established on Downwind, there was another aircraft ahead of us, which I had in sight. On late Downwind however, we were informed of a Seneca ‘on Final’ which I was unable to spot.

Mindful of the fact that it’s never a good idea to be in the same airspace as another aircraft when you can’t see him, I took the decision to leave the circuit, and rejoin for another attempt. As I did this, the FISO asked if I had the Seneca in sight, and I informed him again that we’d left the circuit and would recover later. It took me a little while to realise why we weren’t climbing away as well as I thought we should, before realising that I hadn’t raised the gear!

As we headed back towards Kemble another minute of two later, I finally got sight of the Seneca. He must have been on something like a 6nm Final when he had initially reported! If I’d known that I probably would have continued, but it’s frustrating that people will often carry out a straight in approach to a busy airfield without considering the other aircraft that might already be operating in the circuit.

I carried out another Deadside descent, this time spotting an aircraft just departing off to our right. I adjusted my track to the left to keep clear of him, but when I levelled the wings I was unable to see him (I could see his shadow, but not the aircraft itself). Again I decided it wouldn’t be a good idea to turn right towards an aircraft I couldn’t see, so I decided to depart the circuit to the North this time.

Marc spotted the other aircraft and pointed him out, and I reversed my course to position for a Crosswind join, notifying the FISO of this. As I turned Downwind, a microlight appeared on frequency announcing he was on Final, ‘over Tetbury’ (over 4nm away from the airfield!). This irked me somewhat again, so I made an early Base leg turn to ensure that we would land well ahead of him. Despite all the distractions, my final landing of the day was my best yet, and I did my best to keep my speed up to vacate the runway without causing any inconvenience to the other aircraft behind me.

We taxyed back to the parking area, and positioned the aircraft ready to refuel. After refuelling, we pushed the aircraft back to the parking area, and unloaded all our gear before putting the cover back on and heading in to the office to settle all the post-flight paperwork. After all that, I thought I’d earned a beer, so we retired to the Thames Head down the road for a well-earned debrief!

Tracks flown

Tracks flown

Leg 1 profile

Leg 1 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 2 profile

Kemble arrival

Kemble arrival

This year’s flying continues to be rather sporadic. The only consolation is that I’ve been trying to make the most of what little flying I’ve been able to do. Today’s flight was no exception, and it was great to be able to show the real benefits of General Aviation to someone who isn’t within the relatively small community of pilots. We had a great day out today, and it was a real pleasure to be able to share the experience with someone with relatively little experience of flying in light aircraft. Hopefully I’ll be able to do this for others in the future too!

Total flight time today: 2:40
Total flight time to date: 328:35

 

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Touring Wales

April 21, 2018

So far this year I had only managed a couple of short flights, predominately flying circuits in order to regain or retain currency. This certainly wasn’t what I’d had in mind when I spent a year training towards my PPL! The scarcity of my flying was made even more apparent when considering the fact that my Class Rating was due to expire in less than 6 weeks time, and I was still some 2 hours short of the required hours in order to be able to Revalidate by Experience.

In order to ‘automatically’ revalidate my license, every two years I need to satisfy the following in the 12 months prior to the rating expiring:

  • Fly 12 hours
  • Fly 1 hour with an Instructor
  • Carry out 12 takeoffs and landings
  • Fly 6 hours as Pilot in Command (PIC or P1)

Thus far I’d only managed around 10 hours, and only 0:45 with an Instructor. In order to avoid flying a License Proficiency Check with an Examiner, I really needed to get in the remaining two hours, and build up an hour with an Instructor. This was the first time since gaining my license that I was going to come even close to missing these requirements.

A spell of good weather coincided with Catrin being invited on a play-date on a Saturday afternoon, so this seemed an ideal opportunity to at least get to the 12 hour target. I came up with a plan for a fairly ambitious trip, flying around virtually the entire coast / border of Wales, stopping off at three airfields (Haverfordwest, Caernarfon and Hawarden) along the way. The initial plan was to travel clockwise, but after some contact with Rocky (who’s recently qualified as a Controller at Hawarden) led me to reverse the direction of the trip, calling in at Hawarden before his shift finished early on Saturday afternoon.

Route Plan

Route Plan

The days leading up to the flight provided ever encouraging forecasts, but on the night before the flight the forecast changed to include a small chance of some thunderstorms building up in the South during the afternoon. All the forecasts I saw suggested that there was only a fairly slight chance of these happening, and even if they did the generally good conditions meant that they should be easy to spot in plenty of time to avoid them.

As usual I completed the majority of the planning the night before the flight, meaning I only needed to do a final check on the weather and NOTAMS, print out the plogs and mark up the chart before leaving for Kemble. A slight detour en-route meant I was slightly delayed on arriving at Kemble, but I still thought I had plenty of time to achieve what I’d planned to do.

I filled the Arrow with fuel before carrying out the ‘A’ check, finding no problems with the aircraft. I returned to the office to complete the pre-flight paperwork, and on returning to the aircraft gave it a last look over, and took fuel samples to ensure there was no water or other contaminants in the fuel. Once this was done, I got on board and prepared the cockpit for the first leg up to Hawarden. I called the FISO to request engine start as we’re asked to do at Kemble, and the engine started without any problems.

I spent a little while setting up the avionics and GPS on-board, hearing the FISO calling me as I finally powered up the 430 to request taxy clearance. It seemed they’d been trying to get hold of me (they should have understood why I wasn’t answering, as it’s standard practice to turn off all avionics during engine start), as one of the other Lyneham aircraft had turned around and abandoned their planned trip to Hawarden, due to poor in-flight visibility.

This is a fairly common problem during a prolonged period of high pressure. High pressure tends to ‘put a lid’ on the atmosphere, preventing the contaminants in the air from dispersing as they normally would. The result is often a day that looks like perfect flying conditions from the ground, but with very poor visibility once you’re actually up in the air. I decided that I should at least make an attempt to carry out the flight, as I was confident in my ability to complete it even if the visibilty wasn’t ideal. I received my taxy clearance, initially to A4 to enable me to cross to the South of the airfield to reach the threshold of 08 which was the runway in use.

I had to hold briefly as one of Freedom’s Citabrias left the grass runway ahead of me, and as I stopped at A4 I was then cleared to cross the runway, being asked to report ready at C2. I taxyed around the South side of the airfield, carrying out my power checks on the approach to C2 as an Electricity helicopter practised landings off to my left. The power checks were normal, and I pulled up to C2, spotting an aircraft on late Downwind as I announced I was ready to depart.

The FISO checked I was ready to depart immediately, and once I confirmed I was, he cleared me onto the runway to depart. After a quick check of the engine guages, I applied full power and began my takeoff roll. There was virtually no wind, so the takeoff was routine, and as I climbed out I applied a quick dab of the brakes before raising the gear and turning left to head towards Gloucester. As I climbed out, the FISO was changed, and another aircraft announced on frequency arriving from the North about 5 miles away at around 2500 feet. I notified the FISO that I was climbing through 2000 feet up to my cruising altitude of 4500 feet, and he passed this information to the inbound traffic.

As expected the visibility was quite poor, and despite regular checks ahead of me (including lowering the nose periodically to reduce the blindspots immediately ahead) I didn’t see the other aircraft. However, I did climb rapidly through the level he had reported at, so there was only a very short period of time when we were operating at the same height.

Poor in-flight visibility

Poor in-flight visibility

Once well clear of Kemble,  I signed off with them to contact Gloucester. They seemed fairly busy, with a number of aircraft joining, and one ‘Exam’ callsign being cleared into the hold before carrying out an ILS Approach. A further aircraft request a transit of the overhead at around 2000 feet, but this was denied due to the hold being occupied. Up at 4500 feet I was well above all the other traffic, so routed via the Gloucester overhead, reporting overhead the airfield as I passed. My next turning point was Kidderminster, and when I informed the Controller of this he queried whether I wanted to stay with him, or perhaps contact Birmingham. I’d never even considered talking to Birmingham, so decided to stay on frequency with Gloucester until I reached Kidderminster.

While the forward visibility wasn’t great, visibility down to the ground was fine. This gave me the confidence to continue, knowing that I would always have a good view of the ground below me, and not get stuck above a layer of cloud. I continued on to Kidderminster, signing off with the Controller at Gloucester on reaching the town, and switching to Shawbury to see if I received any response from them (although fully expecting to hear nothing due to them generally being closed at the weekend). As expected I received no answer, so I headed on to Sleap, listening in on their frequency until I got a bit closer.

Mindful of my lack of real flying (the last time I’d landed anywhere other than Kemble was back in October of last year!) I was making sure to monitor my progress  to each waypoint, noting down ETAs and ATAs on my plog. I was also keeping a close eye on my fuel burn, keeping track of how long I was operating on each tank, and trying to switch tanks every 15 minutes or so. Sleap seemed fairly busy also, and as I approached I heard an aircraft departing to head back to Hawarden. I gave them a quick call just to let them know I would be passing overhead at 4500 feet, and getting a good view of Shawbury off to the right as I approached.

Approaching Shawbury and Sleap

Approaching Shawbury and Sleap

Passing Shawbury

Passing Shawbury

On my route from Sleap to Hawarden, a Class A airway drops down to 3000 feet, meaning I needed to fly lower than this to avoid infringing Controlled Airspace. On passing Sleap I began a slow descent down to 2000 feet to ensure I was well clear of this. I signed off with Sleap and made contact with Hawarden Radar (forgetting to retrieve the ATIS first as I should have done!). I was given details of the runway in use (22), along with their QFE and a squawk to set on the transponder. The Controller told me to position for a Left Base join, and after a brief period to orient myself, I turned right to get myself into the correct position.

As I approached, I was handed over to Hawarden Tower, who informed me that they had a Cessna inbound on a long Final approach, and that I was number two. I spotted the other aircraft quite easily, and after reporting that I had him in sight, the Tower Controller told me to position behind him. I tried to give myself plenty of space, and as I turned Final the other aircraft was just touching down. He slowed easily to make the right turn, and I was given a ‘Land After’ clearance as he turned off the runway. The rest of my approach was routine, and I made a relatively gentle landing, although it was a little flatter than I would have preferred.

I also got slowed down in good time to make the turnoff to the right, and received my taxy instructions to the GA apron, ending with a ‘Welcome back to Hawarden Andy!‘. It was clearly Rocky in the Tower, and he’d done a good job of getting us both on the ground safely. While taxying to the November apron via Golf, Juliet and November, I heard an aircraft on the apron being told to hold position to allow the Cessna onto the apron. I was then instructed to hold at the end of Juliet to allow the departing aircraft to taxy in front of me on November to make ready to depart.

On reaching the apron a marshaller was waiting for me, and he indicated where he wanted me to park. I pulled into the designated spot, closed down and began to secure the cockpit. The helpful marshaller took me into the office, where he took my landing fee and arranged a security pass to enable me to get through the security gates that led to the diner. I headed in, finding that they’d helpfully reserved me a table! I ordered my usual sausage sandwich, which certainly filled a hole when it arrived a short while later.

Nice of them to reserve a table for me!

Nice of them to reserve a table for me!

I made sure to be finished before 1pm when the ‘other’ Andy had the table reserved, and headed out to take a few photos and call Caernarfon before walking back to the November apron (having a bit of a battle with the turnstile on the way!). I headed back in to the office to book out, finding that the phone line to the Tower was busy for a few minutes. I sent Rocky a tweet to tell him to get off the phone (the guy in the office thought the Controllers were probably ordering a takeaway!) and he sent me a message back when the line was clear. I booked out (speaking to Rocky again!) and headed back to the aircraft to give it a quick check over before getting ready to leave for Caernarfon.

Parked up at Hawarden

Parked up at Hawarden

Once onboard, I remembered to check the ATIS this time, before calling the Tower for start and departure information. I was cleared to start, and again the engine started easily. Another aircraft had started off to my left, and taxyed away as I got back in contact with the Tower. I was cleared to taxy to N1 for runway 22 via the November taxyway. Approaching N1 the other aircraft was just completing their checks, and was cleared onto the runway. They departed as I completed my own checks, before pulling up to the hold and reporting ready. Unlike my last visit, I was ready to copy the departure clearance I was given, which this time was ‘Runway 22, right turn out. Not above 1500 feet, squawk 0430’.

I read this back and had it acknowledged as ‘correct’, then was cleared onto the runway to depart. There were no problems departing from the 2km long runway, and I had plenty of height before having no usable runway ahead and raising the gear. Rocky bade me farewell, instructing me to contact Radar. On initial contact, they removed the height restriction (cautioning me to remain clear of Controlled Airspace), and I continued on towards the ridge ahead of me.

The ridge seemed higher than I had initially expected, so I took a quick look at the chart to see how low the Class A airspace descended (3000 feet) so I increased power again to climb to 2500, doglegging right initially to gain more height before crossing the ridge. The Controller had warned that he may lose radar and radio contact with me when I crossed it, and given me suggestions of who to contact should that happen. In actuality the extra height kept me in contact with him, and I stayed with him until I reached the coast near Rhyl.

I signed off with Hawarden Radar, deciding to listen in to London Information on the relatively short leg to Caernarfon. Once clear of the Class A airspace I climbed up to around 4500 feet. I generally followed the North Wales coast around to Bangor, spotting another aircraft travelling in the opposite direction well below me at one point. As I drew level with Anglesey, I started to monitor Caernarfon to build up a picture of the aircraft in the local area. As I approached Bangor I began a descent to 2000 feet ready for an overhead join at Caernarfon, and made contact with them to confirm they were still using runway 22.

Approaching Bangor, Anglesey off to the right

Approaching Bangor, Anglesey off to the right

There was one other aircraft in the circuit as I approached, and as I descended on the Deadside he was already on the Downwind leg. I carried out a nice circuit, although I had to fly a wider Base leg than I normally would have preferred due to the positioning of the aircraft ahead of me. By the time I turned onto Final, the other aircraft had landed and cleared the runway, and my second landing of the day was much better than the first. I rolled out and vacated the runway, informing the A/G operator that I wanted fuel.

As I approached the fuel bay I noticed that the parking area immediately opposite was empty, so I asked if I could push the aircraft into it when I’d finished refuelling. He asked that I contact them instead, so that they could have me park closer to the Tower (which would mean I would have to re-start the engine, something I was trying to avoid!). I had the aircraft filled with fuel ready for the final legs of the day, before pushing it back slightly to ensure I had sufficient clearance to turn past the pump. The A/G operator gave me a bay to park in, and I taxyed down there before securing the aircraft.

I headed in via the Cafe door, then headed to the desk to settle my landing fee, only to find the area around the desk deserted. I headed back in to the Cafe to see if landing fees were now settled there, only to spot the big ‘C’ on the new Control Tower near the gate I’d used to leave airside! I headed over to settle the landing fee and fuel bill, before walking back over to the Cafe to get a cold drink. While there the Coastguard helicopter departed, attracting quite a bit of attention from virtually everyone!

Coastguard helicopter departing

Coastguard helicopter departing

Parked up at Caernarfon

Parked up at Caernarfon

I was running perhaps 30 minutes or an hour behind my original schedule, and given the prospect for worsening weather I decided to fly the planned route back to Kemble, but abandon my plan to land at Haverfordwest. I walked back out to the Arrow and carried out a quick transit check (including taking fuel samples to be safe). The engine started easily and after getting the airfield information I taxyed to the hold ready to depart. Power checks were normal, and after waiting for an arriving flexwing microlight to land, I entered the runway. Once the runway was clear I applied power, and took off heading directly out over the sea.

Departing Caernarfon

Departing Caernarfon

I set course for Llanbedr, climbing to 3500 feet to be sure of clearing the high ground and mast on the first leg. I switched to the Llanbedr frequency, hearing a number of aircraft departing as I approached. Once clear to the South, I switched to the London Info frequency, this time signing on with them for a Basic Service. Once the initial details were passed, I waited for a break on the frequency and asked them to confirm that the Danger Areas around Aberporth were not active (they are only activated by NOTAM). The FISO confirmed this, meaning I could continue on my planned route down the coast.

Passing Aberystwyth

Passing Aberystwyth

I passed Aberystwyth, and dialled in the Strumble VOR to aid in confirming my position. I listened in initially to Aberporth Radar, and then West Wales Information to ensure nobody was operating there, hearing nothing as expected. I passed by the airfield, and continued on towards the VOR, turning slightly before reaching it to head to Haverfordwest. I contacted them as they seemed busy, telling them I would be passing overhead at around 4500 feet.

Turning at Haverfordwest

Turning at Haverfordwest

I turned in their overhead, now heading for Pembrey. I’d been in contact with Tony and Oliver the day before, finding out that Oli was competing in his first race weekend there today. On this leg I descended to 2500 feet, and made contact with Pembrey, hearing a helicopter departing to the East. Again I informed them I would be passing overhead, and as I approached Pembrey I positioned myself to get a good view of the track to the South of the airfield. I carried out an orbit overhead, getting some photos as I did so. Once this was complete, I continued my route towards the City of Swansea, signing off with Pembrey in readiness for contacting Cardiff to request the Zone Transit.

On-track action at Pembrey

On-track action at Pembrey

I monitored the Swansea frequency initially, ensuring there was no traffic operating there that might affect me. I then contacted Cardiff Radar to request a Basic Service and Zone Transit, routing around the South Wales coast, then up the Welsh side of the River Severn. Initially the Controller advised me to continue, reporting when passing Porthcawl. I was still several miles from there when he came back on frequency, clearing me for a Zone Transit as requested, not above 2500 feet.

Passing the lighthouse at Nash Point

Passing the lighthouse at Nash Point

The Cardiff frequency was quite busy with light aircraft arriving and departing. I spotted Llandow off to my left, followed by St. Athan and then Cardiff Airport itself. I passed the airport and followed the coast as it turned North, passing the City of Cardiff itself and the docks. The Controller confused me a little as I left Controlled Airspace, asking what my ‘maximum operating altitude’ was. Initially I wasn’t entirely sure what he was asking, so responded ‘currently 2500 feet’. A few minutes later I realised that he was actually trying to find out how high I would be climbing now I was clear of the Controlled Airspace.

Light aircraft departing Cardiff

Light aircraft departing Cardiff

I continued up the coast, and on reaching the Old Severn Bridge I signed off with Cardiff, and set course for Kemble. It was now around 16:30, so I contacted them earlier than I would have normally in order to get the airfield information before they closed at 17:00. They were still operating on 08, and the frequency seemed very quiet as I approached. There was still nobody on frequency as I got closer, so I asked for a Left Base join to see if I could get down on the ground before they closed. As I was positioning for this and beginning my descent, another aircraft reported they were joining from the South, and would join Downwind.

As I joined on Base, I spotted the other aircraft at the start of his Downwind leg. The wind was now picking up, and there was a significant crosswind from the right (140 degrees at 13 knots). I correct for this on Final, but as I got close to the ground the conditions became much more turbulent, and I was having a hard time maintaining the correct track across the ground while trying to kick off the crab to the right. My control inputs weren’t quite enough to maintain the runway centreline, and I found myself landing much more firmly than I would have liked. A shame to round off a good day’s flying with such a poor landing!

I was cleared to taxy to ‘Lyneham Corner’, and reported clear of the runway once I was on the Alpha taxyway. I taxyed back to the parking area, closing down in front of the fuel bowser in readiness to refuel. Having filled up the aircraft before leaving Caernarfon, I only needed about 30 litres to bring it back up to tabs. I pushed the aircraft back into its parking space, and removed all my gear before putting the cover on. I headed in to the office to settle the post-flight paperwork, before heading home for a well earned beer!

Tracks flown

Tracks flown

Leg 1 profile

Leg 1 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 3 profile (part 1)

Leg 3 profile (part 1)

Leg 3 profile (part 2)

Leg 3 profile (part 2)

It was great to be finally back in the air doing some ‘real’ flying. I’d made quite an ambitious plan, and managed to execute most of it despite the fairly challenging conditions. It was good to revisit some airfields that I’d been to in the past, and nice also to be able to carry out the Zone Transit around Cardiff again. It was a shame that some of the landings weren’t quite up to scratch, but at least the flying had all gone without any dramas. Now I need to complete the last part of the requirements for my revalidation (finishing the hour with an Instructor) and see if I can maintain the momentum for the remainder of the year!

Total flight time today: 4:10
Total flight time to date: 324:25

 

Wales and back via the scenic route

October 8, 2017

As seemed par for the course this year, 6 weeks had passed since my last flight. A pass to go flying from my darling wife had me weather watching all week as per usual. Sadly the forecasts were very inconsistent in the last couple of days before the flight, and the evening before’s TAFs didn’t provide a forecast good enough to plan the more lengthy trip I wanted to fly.

Instead, I opted for a quick hop over to Cardiff, then planned to see how the weather looked to decide whether to return directly to Kemble, or venture further West for a more scenic route home. The planning was relatively straightforward, but I did take the time to thoroughly read through the Cardiff VFR guide to ensure I was aware of the various entry and exit routes to Cardiff.

I saw that JP had the newly returned G-BPAF booked, so I contacted him to see if he still intended to fly. There was a potential technical issue that he was hoping would be ironed out, so I offered him the option of coming with me in the Arrow should his plans not come to fruition.

On the morning of the flight, the forecasts were still for ‘mixed’ VFR conditions. While all of the cloud in the forecasts was ‘few’ or ‘scattered’, the levels it was at meant that a trip over the higher ground between England and Wales may not be possible. As such I made two plans for the return from Cardiff, one a direct flight between Cardiff and Kemble, and the other heading West as far as Pembrey before returning overhead the BCN VOR.

I sent JP a message confirming I was going to attempt to fly, and set off for Kemble. The weather while driving looked much better than the forecast suggested; although there was plenty of cloud around, as promised it was well scattered and as such should make it easy to find routes around it. On arrival at Kemble I saw that G-BPAF wasn’t on the ground, so I took this as a good sign that JP had managed to fly.

I headed into the office to double check the defect log for the Arrow, then went out to carry out the ‘A’ check. Just as I finished, JP arrived back in the Warrior, and we spent a short while discussing whether he was going to attempt further flights. In the end, he opted to fly G-BPAF to Cardiff as well, so I fully fuelled the Arrow and completed the remainder of the pre-flight.

JP set off a few minutes before me, and I got myself nicely settled in the Arrow. For some reason the engine was particularly difficult to start today, and I was a little concerned that I might actually flatten the battery before getting it successfully started. Luckily it started on the 4th or 5th attempt, and I was cleared to taxy to A1 via Alpha. As I arrived near the hold I saw another aircraft ahead carrying out his power checks, so I positioned myself well clear of him so that I could do my own checks.

These checks were predictably routine, and as I positioned myself at the hold the aircraft ahead took to the runway. Soon it was my turn, and I lined up as a helicopter took off from the grass runway ahead of me and to the right. The FISO pointed him out to me, and cleared me to depart. I waited a short while to check which direction the helicopter was headed, before beginning my own take-off roll. My departure track was pretty much straight ahead, but I jinked left slightly to avoid a noise sensitive area directly ahead, before resuming the required track once clear.

Conditions were very much as forecast, with some cloud up around 2500-3000 feet. I climbed initially to 2000 feet, before later climbing to 2500 as conditions allowed. The Severn crossings were easily visible ahead of me, and as I approached Thornbury I listened in to the Cardiff ATIS before making contact with the Controller.

Passing Filton

Passing Filton

Initially I made contact on the wrong frequency (Approach rather than Radar), but once on the correct frequency I heard JP signing off to switch to the Tower frequency. Once the frequency was quiet, I requested a Basic Service and Cardiff Docks Arrival. I was assigned a squawk of 3614, and cleared on the published arrival, not above 1500 feet on the Cardiff QNH. As I turned over the Severn crossings, I began a gradual descent to get down to 1500 feet, stopping at around 1350 feet as I passed over Newport. In hindsight, I probably achieved the required level much earlier than I needed to, as the airspace only started at 4000 feet where I was, before dropping to 3000 feet around the area of the docks.

As I approached the docks, I was given a further squawk, and instructed to contact the Tower. Once on the Tower frequency, I was cleared for a Left Base join, behind some other traffic ahead of me that was established on Downwind. I initially had trouble spotting the other traffic, but as I approached the ATZ the Controller prompted me again, giving me a useful pointer as to where he was. I was then easily able to spot him, and as instructed positioned behind him on the Downwind leg to follow him.

Positioning Downwind at Cardiff

Positioning Downwind at Cardiff

I was unsure how far Downwind to go to allow sufficient spacing between myself and the traffic ahead, and probably went further than I really needed to. This did however give me plenty of time to establish a stable approach, and I brought the Arrow in for a nice gentle touchdown on Cardiff’s runway 30. I was instructed to vacate left off the runway (as expected) and positioned just behind G-BPAF in the parking area, as two of the airport’s fire appliances waited on the taxyway off to my right. It was nice of them to roll the equipment for me, but I didn’t think my landing had been that bad!

Fire trucks in attendance as a Commercial flight takes off

Fire trucks in attendance as a Commercial flight takes off

Once I’d secured the aircraft I headed towards Aeros (the booking in point for GA aircraft), and after a bit of a wait for someone to let me in, paid the landing fee before heading up to the cafe for some lunch. Unfortunately I hadn’t thought to check with the cafe, and today they were only serving carveries. JP and his other half had run into the same issue, so both had opted to make do with a slice of cake. My lunch that day consisted of a packet of crisps and a rather nice slice of cheesecake!

G-AZWS and G-BPAF parked up at Cardiff

G-AZWS and G-BPAF parked up at Cardiff

We sat outside on the balcony and chatted while we ate, before JP had to leave due to another booking on the aircraft after him. I took my time eating, and given the weather conditions I could see from my viewpoint, decided that continuing the flight to the West was perfectly possible. Once I’d finished eating I headed down to Aeros to book out, making sure I requested a ‘St. Hillary’ departure that would allow me to leave the Cardiff airspace to the West.

JP was just taxying out in G-BPAF as I carried out a quick transit check, and after getting myself settled I fortunately managed to get the engine started much easier than it had at Kemble. After carrying out my power checks I positioned myself at the hold behind another aircraft departing ahead of me, just as he was cleared onto the runway to depart.

JP departing in G-BPAF, I followed the Tomahawk in the foreground

JP departing in G-BPAF, I followed the Tomahawk in the foreground

Once he’d taken off, I was also cleared onto the runway, and kept a good eye on the aircraft ahead as I began my takeoff roll and oriented myself to fly to the St. Hillary mast initially. The other aircraft seemed to be following the same departure route, so I was careful to keep him in sight, mindful of the fact that he would probably be travelling slower than I was once we completed our climb up to the cleared altitude within Cardiff’s airspace.

He seemed to be flying around 100 feet lower than me (which helped me keep him in sight to my left), and I switched over to the Radar frequency to continue. Initially the Radar controller seemed to assume I was on a departure directly back to Kemble, but I advised him that I was requesting a St. Hillary departure. His response was ‘ah, taking the scenic route’, which was to become somewhat of a fixture in later R/T conversations on this flight!

On reaching the St. Hillary mast, I turned left to head towards the services at M4 J36 (the departure point from Controlled Airspace on this route). As I reached this I requested a climb from the Controller, climbing initially to around 2000 feet. I informed him of my planned route (to the West as far as Pembrey, before returning via the BCN VOR) and asked if I could remain with him for the remainder of the flight. He suggested I contact Swansea initially, as they were operating today and I was planning to pass a few miles North of them.

Dodging clouds

Dodging clouds

I signed off with Cardiff, and made contact with Swansea. After my response to his ‘pass your message’ request, his response was ‘say again route, Cardiff to Kemble via where?’. I confirmed that I was heading out to the West as far as Pembrey, making the point of informing him I was taking the ‘scenic route’!

I was having great fun adjusting my track and height to remain clear of cloud, and as I cleared to the West of Swansea I signed off with them before contacting Pembrey. Again my explanation of my route seemed to generate some amusement, but the A/G operator helpfully informed me of other traffic operating to the North of Pembrey. As I continued towards Pembrey I heard the other aircraft making regular position reports, helpfully including his height.

Turning at Pembrey

Turning at Pembrey

Pembrey appeared in the distance, and as I turned overhead I was able to get some good photographs of the airfield with the race circuit to the South. There didn’t seem to be anyone using the track today sadly. I set course to the North to route in the general direction of Carmarthen, climbing up to around 5000 feet on this leg in order to be at a good height to cross the higher ground around Brecon.

On my last flight with Kev to Sandhill Farm I’d had a chat with him about the ‘Nav’ feature of the autopilot, learning that the autopilot is only connected up to the CDI that is couple with Nav 2, and not to the one coupled to the GPS. Armed with this new information I tuned Nav 2 to the BCN VOR frequency, and set the CDI up to the appropriate inbound track to the VOR. On engaging the autopilot in Nav mode, it made a fairly abrupt left turn to intercept the appropriate radial, before doing a passable job of tracking it for a minute or two.

Up at around 5000 feet there was still a fair amount of cloud, and I amused myself by altering heading and height to remain VMC. There were still plenty of breaks in the cloud, giving me confidence that when the time came I would be able to get back down below the cloud for my arrival into Kemble. I signed in with Cardiff again, the Controller seemingly remembering my details so not asking me to ‘pass your message’. He did assign me a squawk, enabling him to immediately see where I was.

Traffic passing much lower than me!

Traffic passing much lower than me!

Approaching the BCN VOR, I decided to use a large break in the cloud to descend below the worst of it, levelling off at around 3500 feet after passing the VOR. I dialled in a new course onto the VOR CDI to track outbound from BCN to get me over the Severn Bridges, and not long after the Cardiff Controller informed me he had nothing further for me, and suggested I freecall Bristol.

Approaching the Severn, there appeared to be a bank of cloud ahead at the level I was currently at, so now I was clear of the higher ground I descended down to around 2500 feet in readiness for arriving at Kemble. I dialled in Bristol’s listening squawk and tuned into their frequency, deciding that it wasn’t worth contacting them for just a few minutes before having to switch to Kemble to rejoin.

Crossing the Severn back into England

Crossing the Severn back into England

I made contact with Kemble in good time, being given the runway in use and QFE. As it seemed relatively quiet I asked if I could fly a couple of circuits in order to reset my passenger currency for another 90 days. This was approved, and as I approached at Overhead Join height there was a brief discussion between the FISO and a pilot planning to transit the overhead at around 2500 feet QNH, which is only around 100 feet or so above the Overhead Join height. The pilot climbed to 3000 feet to give a little more separation, and I positioned myself appropriately for the Overhead Join.

I descended on the Deadside, lowering the gear as I did so. Another aircraft announced ‘Overhead’ just as I was turning Crosswind, giving plenty of spacing behind me. I continued on around the circuit, completing the before landing checklist on the Downwind leg. Base and Final were all routine, and I managed another gentle landing, before retracting the flaps and applying full power to head round the circuit one more time.

Again the circuit was relatively straightforward, the traffic that had joined behind me landing long before I completed the Downwind leg. My final landing of the day was again good, and the FISO approved a backtrack to our parking area. Completing the after landing checks just after clearing the runway, I taxyed back and positioned the aircraft nose in to one of the parking areas, as a pilot was making ready to leave in G-BPAF.

He seemed to take an age getting ready, and I was on the verge of going to ask how much longer he was going to be. Rather than pulling past where he was parked, I probably could have had the Arrow refuelled and back in its parking space before the Warrior was ready to start! Fortunately he started up as I was considering going to speak to him, so I waited while he completed his checklist and began to taxy away.

One of Monarch's now defunct fleet

One of Monarch’s now defunct fleet

I pulled the Arrow over to the pumps, and was about to refuel when another pilot approached, asking if I was done for the day. He wanted to take the Arrow for a short flight, and confirmed that the amount of fuel remaining (tabs on one side and just below tabs on the other) was plenty for the flight I had planned. We pushed the aircraft back to its parking space, and I headed in to the office to complete the post-flight paperwork.

Tracks flown

Tracks flown

Leg 1 profile

Leg 1 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 2 profile

Despite being unable to complete a longer flight due to the uncertain weather conditions, I’d had an excellent days flying. Cardiff was as welcoming as ever, it was just a shame that I’d arrived at a time when they were only serving large meals, so was unable to take advantage of the cafe there (I generally try to avoid eating too much when flying, to reduce the chance of anything disagreeing with me!). The protracted route back from Cardiff had been great fun to fly, and my route did at least seem to provide some amusement to some of the people I spoke to on the radio!

Total flight time today: 2:10
Total flight time to date: 318:35

 

Family trip to the seaside

August 28, 2017

It seemed longer than a month since my last flight, but I was itching to get back in the air again. A family holiday in France had us returning to England on a Bank Holiday weekend, so it seemed a good opportunity to try to get some flying in before going back to work. The weather forecast for the weekend was (surprisingly!) pretty good, so a plan was hatched to go flying with the family on the Bank Holiday Monday.

I considered a number of destinations (including returns to Haverfordwest and Llanbedr) before finally deciding to return to Shoreham for only my second visit there. The Shoreham landing fee is one of the highest that I’m aware of for a more ‘GA’ oriented field, but I felt that given how little I’d flown this year I could afford to splash out every now and again!

While planning the flight, Kev contacted me to ask if I could drop the Arrow off at Sandhill Farm, rather than returning it to Kemble. Initially I was quite keen to do this, but the more I thought about it, the more the prospect of flying into an unfamiliar gliding field with the family alongside seemed not to be such a good idea. After a bit of negotiation, we agreed that I would drop the family off at Kemble, before picking up Kev and then flying him and the Arrow to Sandhill Farm. Meanwhile, Luned and Catrin would drive over to Sandhill Farm to pick us up and return us all to Swindon.

As usual I completed the majority of the planning the evening before the flight, pleased to see that the longer range weather forecasts seemed to be being borne out in the TAFs for the following day. Final planning was completed in the morning, together with a call to Shoreham for PPR and to double check all was well there. Once ready, we loaded all the gear into Luned’s car before heading off to Kemble.

Pre-flight paperwork and checks were all normal, helped a little by the fact that Kev had (deliberately) left the aircraft uncovered the previous evening due to the forecast good weather. Once we were all ready, we loaded Catrin in the back before Luned and I settled ourselves in the front. The engine started easily, and power checks were completed without any surprises.

I loaded an abbreviated route into the 430 (Kemble -> Goodwood -> Shoreham) with a view to using the OBS feature of the 430 to follow an appropriate track between Newbury and Goodwood. I also remembered to copy this to one of the ‘permanent’ flight plan locations to enable us to use the same route on the return leg. There were a couple of aircraft operating in the circuit, and after a brief wait we took to the runway and departed.

Takeoff was routine, and I raised the gear before turning Crosswind. The route I had planned initially took us over the former RAF Lynham, so I continued the climb, departing to the South. We climbed to around 3000 feet, finding that the visibility in the air was (as is often the case) a lot poorer than it looked on the ground. While not ideal, it was perfectly acceptable for the flight, so we continued on to Lyneham before setting course to our next turning point at Newbury.

As we approached Newbury, I attempted to make contact with Farnborough LARS for a Basic Service and to request a MATZ penetration (our route took us through the Western stub of the Odiham MATZ). Unsurprisingly, Farnborough were very busy, and it took some time before we could find a break in the transmissions to enable us to make our initial call. The Controller was managing so many aircraft that on a number of occasions they actually ran out of squawks, and had to request aircraft wait for one to become available!

It took me a couple of goes to correctly set up the 430 to use the OBS (the CDI was set to ‘VLOC’ rather than ‘GPS’), but once correctly configured it provided a useful magenta line (and indeed CDI indication) to follow on the leg down to Goodwood. Farnborough continued to be busy, and as we approached Petersfield I signed off with them in order to contact Goodwood.

The Goodwood frequency seemed relatively quiet, but once I’d passed our details to the FISO she informed me that there were 7 or 8 other aircraft operating in the local area. I didn’t expect many of them to be operating up at our altitude, but we kept a good look out for them as we approached Goodwood. I positioned the aircraft so that Luned and Catrin could get a good view of the airfield off to the right hand side, and they both spotted cars operating on the racetrack that surrounded the airfield.

Passing Goodwood

Passing Goodwood

From Goodwood it was a relatively short leg to Shoreham, so I changed frequency once we were about 5nm to the East of Goodwood, making contact with Shoreham for our joining instructions after listening in to the ATIS. I was given a Crosswind join to runway 20 with a left hand circuit, and asked to report North abeam Worthing Pier. As we approached this, I realised that I hadn’t even begun my descent, so had to make a much steeper descent than normal, dropping the gear to increase the descent rate and silence the gear warning horn.

As we approached Crosswind at circuit height, we were asked to slot in behind a Cessna that was directly ahead of us approaching from the opposite direction. As we slotted in behind him, we spotted another aircraft higher and also approaching from that direction, so we were initially a little unsure as to whether we had indentified the correct aircraft.

I followed the Cessna around the circuit, trying my best to build a sufficient gap between us so that there wouldn’t be an issue on landing. We turned Base and then Final just as the Cessna touched down, and it appeared that he would be unlikely to clear the runway before we needed to make our landing.

Fortunately, the Controller was on the ball, and for the first time ever I was given a ‘land after’ clearance, allowing me to land on the runway even though the Cessna hadn’t vacated it yet. This clearance is only available at airfields with full ATC, and in this instance was definitely a safe option, as the Cessna was right at the far end of Shoreham’s 1000m long runway before we touched down.

We were given instructions to parking, which I had to decline and ask for fuel. The Controller gave us new instructions, and I pulled the Shoreham plate out of my kneedboard and handed it to Luned so that she could help direct me on the ground. She quickly located the fuel pumps and our current location, before directing me to the correct location.

We all disembarked at the pump, with Luned and Catrin heading towards the booking in point while I remained to refuel the aircraft. Unsure initially whether it was self-service, I hooked up the ground bonding line to the Arrow’s exhaust, before a member of the airfield fire service came out to handle the refuelling. I had him fill the Arrow’s tanks (fuel at Shoreham is slightly cheaper than at Kemble, so it made sense to try and save the Club a bit of money), before I jumped back onboard to taxy to parking.

I initially made contact on the Approach frequency to request start and taxy (we hadn’t been switched to Tower during our arrival) and the Controller approved my start, asking me to contact the Tower frequency when I was ready to taxy. Fortunately the engine started easily (it can occasionally be difficult to start when still hot) and I taxyed the Arrow to the parking area, parking next to a very nice looking twin.

Parked up at a busy Shoreham

Parked up at a busy Shoreham

We all headed in to the booking in point to pay the landing fee and settle the fuel bill, before walking in to the restaurant for some well earned lunch. Catrin busied herself looking at displays of aircraft models while we waited for our food, and I only remembered about the aircraft arrivals board in the terminal building after we had been there for some time. Sadly, by then our flight had disappeared off the top, so I was unable to get the required photo!

We all enjoyed our lunch in the busy restaurant, with Catrin and Luned sharing one of the tasty looking desserts once we had finished our food. We headed back to the booking in point to book out, then walked back to the Arrow to get ready for the return journey. I carried out a walkaround (including taking fuel samples), before we all got back into the aircraft and made ready to leave.

Happy passengers ready for the return leg

Happy passengers ready for the return leg

I listened to the ATIS, this time learning that my initial call should again be to Tower rather than Approach. After start clearance was received (and forgetting to mention that I had the ATIS!) the engine started easily again, and we were given taxi instructions around the Eastern side of the airfield to the hold for runway 20. Again, Luned was in charge of the plate (and hence directions on the ground!) and also double checked the noise abatement procedure for departure from 20 (a slight right turn once over the railway).

Power checks were carried out just before the hold, and I completed the before takeoff checks after pulling up to the hold. We were cleared on to the runway, and then given takeoff clearance, and unsurprisingly the takeoff roll and rotation were all normal. I raised the gear after a quick dab on the brakes to stop the wheels spinning, and made the required right turn just after passing the railway line, learning that this is to avoid a collection of houses on the climbout.

We set course to the West, switching over to the Approach frequency as we climbed out. We were given traffic details of an aircraft joining from the West, and just after receiving a response to our request for his height, we spotted him passing some distance away, off to our right hand side. I continued the climb up to around 3500 feet for the leg to Goodwood.

Flying Family selfie!

Flying Family selfie!

I again kept Goodwood to our right as we passed overhead, to allow Catrin and Luned to get a good view. The leg to the North West from Goodwood was again flown using the OBS feature on the 430, with a cross check using the VOR on Nav 2. Once clear of a small of a small portion of the London TMA that came down to 4500 feet, we climbed up to 4500 for the remainder of the journey back to Kemble. Visibility heading out of sun was much better than on the outbound leg.

Once clear of Goodwood, we switched to Farnborough for a Basic Service. They now seemed a lot quieter, and after the initial exchange of information we were given a squawk, and information regarding gliders operating in the vicinity of Lasham. As we passed Lasham a short while later we could see a number of gliders operating in the distance to our right, some of them thermalling to gain height.

Passing Lasham

Passing Lasham

On this leg I used the autopilot to maintain heading, finding that it had a tendency to oscillate slightly from left to right, instead of maintaining a constant track. Kev later mentioned this when I told him that I’d been using the autopilot, so it’s obviously a ‘feature’ that he’s aware of! We spotted the site of Carfest South off to our left as we continued, and managed to get a few photos.

Carfest South site

Carfest South site

Newbury soon appeared ahead, and I signed off with Farnborough as we were leaving their area. Greenham Common was an obvious landmark, and we chatted with Catrin about the fact that this had been used as a filming location for the recent Star Wars film. She was aware that the location was somewhere near where I worked, but this was the first time she’d seen it for herself. From Newbury we headed again towards Lyneham, spotting the munitions depot at Welford to the North of the M4.

Greeham Common

Greeham Common

Welford

Welford

As we approached Lyneham, Luned spotted another aircraft relatively close by to our right on an opposite track. We’d spotted it a little late, but there was a good distance between us. Approaching Lyneham I made contact with Kemble, learning that they were still operating on runway 26. I initially announced an Overhead Join, but things seemed quiet as I approached, so I asked for a Left Base join to speed up our arrival. In an attempt to ensure I also reset my 90 day currency, I asked for some circuits also.

Turning at Lyneham

Turning at Lyneham

As we approached Kemble, I set about losing height, and heard another aircraft joining Crosswind from the North. We spotted him as he travelled Downwind, and slotted in behind him to follow him around the circuit. Before landing checks completed, we joined on Base leg and tuned on to Final, realising that I’d allowed myself to get a bit close to the aircraft that was just landing ahead. Sadly he seemed a little slow to vacate the runway, so I was forced to go around.

This was my first ‘real’ go around in a while, and to be honest I made a bit of a pigs ear of it. The decision was made relatively early (at around 300 feet AAL), and I increased power and raised the nose, turning right slightly to offset myself from the runway. It took a few seconds for me to realise why the aircraft wasn’t climbing as I expected, primarily because I still had full flap deployed!

I raised these in stages, also raising the landing gear. Another aircraft was descending on the Deadside, and I kept a close eye on him as we continued, turning Crosswind and Downwind ahead of him. After reporting that we were Downwind, the FISO informed us that we were number 3 to land, but I could only see one aircraft ahead of us. I queried the position of the other aircraft, and was told he was ‘very low, over the 747’.

This would have put him on a very strange circuit path, as the 747 is just to the South of the main runway, well inside the usual circuit flown at Kemble. We were at correct circuit height, and I simply couldn’t see the third aircraft. Mindful that he may be somewhere behind us and a potential collision risk, I made the quick decision to vacate the circuit, and come back to join again. I announced I was clearing to the South, and departed the ATZ while climbing up to 2000 feet AAL to rejoin.

On a more conventional join now, I was well positioned to get a good feel of where the other traffic in the circuit was, and we slotted in this time without any conflicts. On the Downwind leg I changed my mind about the circuit request (knowing that Kev was waiting and not wanting to delay him too much) so informed the FISO that this circuit would be to land. We continued around the circuit, and on Final I requested a backtrack to let the FISO know what I was hoping to do once we were on the ground.

Soon after this request, we heard another aircraft turning Base behind us. After bringing us down for another good landing, I informed the FISO we were happy to continue to the far end of the runway if it helped with spacing. He took us up on our offer, giving us instructions to vacate next right, before returning on the grass taxyway back to our parking area. We arrived back at parking and I positioned the aircraft beyond the fuel bowser, knowing that we had plenty of fuel for the short hop to Sandhill Farm.

We all disembarked, and Catrin helped me push the aircraft back towards a parking space as Kev arrived from the Club. We chatted for a short while about the plan for the flight to Sandhill Farm, before returning to the office to complete the tech logs for the 2 legs flown so far, and enter the third flight in. Luned and Catrin got in the car as we walked back to the aircraft, and left to travel to Sandhill Farm by road to pick us up once we arrived.

Kev and I boarded the Arrow, with me in the P1 seat planning to do the flying, while Kev offered to handle the radios. Engine start was again simple, and we taxyed to A1 for power checks. Once the pre-takeoff checks were complete, I gave a departure briefing (Kev picking me up on a minor point about lowering the gear to land back on the runway in case of an engine failure – if there was sufficient runway I wouldn’t have raised the gear yet!), and we were cleared by the FISO to line up and wait.

Kev and I debated how long was the correct time to wait for the FISO’s ‘Take off’ instruction, and after hearing nothing for 20 or 30 seconds Kev announced we were in position, and we were given the ‘Take off at your discretion’ instruction. Takeoff was normal, and we departed directly from the Downwind leg, which simply involved a 20 degree turn to the right to head towards Sandhill Farm.

We kept well clear of South Cerney (I had seen parachutists operating from there on my drive to Kemble that morning) and spotted Fairford ahead and to our left as we continued. Kev pointed out Shrivenham to me, and as we continued I queried this, as if it had been Shrivenham we should actually have been heading to the North of it! We both debated and decided that this was in fact Highworth, and then spotted the ‘real’ Shrivenham ahead and to the right.

Kev made contact on the Sandhill frequency, and we heard that they had two gliders in the air. Kev spotted one thermalling off to our right, and I set us up for landing. On the Downwind leg we were still at around 2000 feet, so I lowered the gear and descended. We debated the correct landing direction in the field (and changed our minds a couple of times as can be seen from the track log!) before I eventually got us set up on a stable approach.

The field is around 900m end to end, so I needed to ensure we landed as early as possible. There was also a pronounced hump and downhill section from around 1/2 way into the field, so it was important to be on the ground and slowing well before this. We passed over a road just before the field at what felt like a very low height, and I brought us in for a nice landing just over the hedge. Once down and stable I raised the flaps to increase braking effort, and gently braked us to a safe taxying speed.

We could spot someone off to our left marshalling us, so I followed his instructions to get the aircraft to an appropriate parking space, before shutting down and heading over to chat. Just as we did this, Luned arrived in the car, and parked just behind us. Good timing!

Parked up at Sandhill Farm at the end of the day's flying

Parked up at Sandhill Farm at the end of the day’s flying

We chatted for a while, Catrin amusing herself by joining some children playing near the hangars with three dogs. Once ready, we all climbed in to Luned’s car, and drove back to Swindon. After dropping Kev off, we then had to return in order to hand over his keys, which had fallen out of his pocket onto the front passenger seat.

Tracks flown

Tracks flown

Leg 1 profile

Leg 1 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 3 profile

Leg 3 profile

Messy Kemble arrival!

Messy Kemble arrival!

All in all this had been an excellent day’s flying. Shoreham is a really nice destination down near the coast, it’s just a shame that the landing fees are on the high side, so it’s probably not a place I will visit on a regular basis. The visibility on the outbound leg hadn’t been ideal, but returning with the sun behind us was a lot more pleasant. I was a little disappointed at my poor execution of the go around, but was happy with the decisions I’d made during the rather messy arrival back at Kemble.

Also, I’d flown into another new airfield, this time a grass strip used primarily for gliding. Sandhill Farm had been a really nice place to visit, and it was good to have added it to my logbook.

Total flight time today: 2:55
Total flight time to date: 316:25

Local flight for currency

July 27, 2017

As seemed to be a fairly common occurrence this year, I was coming near to the end of my 60 day currency. I’d had a few attempts at flying since my last flight, but sadly all were scuppered due to weather. It had been some time since I’d carried out an evening flight, so this seemed a good opportunity to get in a bit of flying on the long summer evenings, and reset my currency also. I’d made contact with Jamie a number of years ago while he was training for his PPL, and we had both read each others blogs in the meantime. He’s since gained his licence, but hasn’t been flying for some time. It seemed a good opportunity to get him some more flying, as well as reset my currency in one hit.

The weather forecast on the day was very changeable, and during the day the actual weather more than delivered on the unpredictable forecast. The skies alternated between near-perfect flying conditions, to full on rainstorms! This continued into the evening, but as I drove to Kemble the skies showed plenty of clear areas, so it looked like we should be able to get some flying done at least. I called the AIS Information Line while on the journey, and despite there being a number of airspace upgrades that day, they were all well away from our planned route along the South coast of Wales to Swansea and back via Brecon.

I arrived at Kemble a little before Jamie, so completed the pre-flight paperwork and carried out the A-check on the Arrow. I was just finishing off when Jamie arrived, so we headed back to the Club to complete the final paperwork, before grabbing our gear and getting on board. It was clear that Jamie hadn’t flown for a while, as he headed up on to the wing before me, obviously expecting to be in the left hand seat! I corrected him, and got myself settled while he climbed onboard after me.

We left the door open while I carried out the before starting checklist, making a call to the Kemble FISO for start, and as expected receiving no reply. The engine started easily, and we got the hatch closed before taxying along Alpha to Alpha 1 for the power checks. The wind was fairly strong as forecast, but was almost perfectly aligned with the runway so I wasn’t concerned. I gave the engine a few minutes to warm up, before working through the power checks. As ever, these passed without concern, and after the before departure checks were complete I made a last check of the circuit and Final approach, before taking to the runway.

Lined up, ready to depart

Lined up, ready to depart

The Arrow accelerated well, and the strong headwind meant we were soon airborne. Once no usable runway was available ahead of us, I dabbed the brakes and raised the gear, before setting course for the Severn Crossings, the first turning point on our planned route. Down low conditions were a little turbulent, but as we climbed the air became smoother and the flight more comfortable. I continued the climb towards 3000 feet, noting the excellent flying conditions immediately around us. The planned route was to fly South down the Welsh side of the Severn, around the coast through Cardiff’s airspace, before turning back to the North East near Swansea, to return via the Brecon VOR.

Near-perfect flying conditions

Near-perfect flying conditions

Once clear of Kemble, I tuned directly to Cardiff and listened in on their frequency as we continued West. Cardiff seemed pretty busy with inbound commercial flights, so the chances of gaining clearance for the Zone Transit seemed slight. I attempted to make contact with Cardiff, and received the surprising reply “Aircraft calling Cardiff Approach, almost unreadable, try again later”. Concerned that we may have a radio or headset issue, I double checked the settings and the cabling of my headset. While we waited for a gap in transmissions, I heard an aircraft asking for deviations from their assigned route in order to remain clear of weather, which started to ring further alarm bells.

Ominous looking weather towards Cardiff

Ominous looking weather towards Cardiff

Conditions towards Cardiff seemed less favourable that they were in our immediate vicinity, so I began to reconsider our planned route, and look for further options. The safety of the flight was never in question, as in the immediate vicinity conditions were still near-ideal, and behind us we had a perfectly clear route back to Kemble. Once there was another gap in the transmissions, I again made contact, requesting a radio check, and receiving a ‘readability 5’ response. I passed my message to Cardiff, asking for a Basic Service and Zone Transit, but ending the transmission with a request for their current weather. Their current conditions didn’t sound promising, with broken cloud at around 1600 feet, and CBs in the area.

I quickly made the decision that heading in that direction wasn’t a good idea, so informed the Controller we would instead route to the North, thanking him for his assistance. He seemed genuinely disappointed that we weren’t able to complete the flight as planned, even going as far as apologising for the Welsh weather!

This area was very familiar to me due to a number of similar flights over the years, so I quickly decided to head towards Shobdon, before returning via Gloucester to Kemble. I handed control to Jamie, while I dug out the chart and made a quick estimate of a heading to Shobdon, correcting for the strong South Westerly wind which was an almost 90 degree crosswind on our planned track. I gave Jamie the heading to steer, and after a few minutes and a quick check on SkyDemon, revised the heading 10 degrees to the left.

Jamie at the controls

Jamie at the controls

There were a couple of Danger Areas in the general direction of our route, one off to the left that rose to 10000 feet, and another on our direct track that only reached to 2300 feet. At our current altitude of 3000 feet, we were well above the top of the lower danger area, so ensured we kept the higher one well off to our left. We continued on towards Shobdon, discussing whether there was any chance of landing there this evening. Unsure of the arrangements as regards landing there when the airfield was closed, I decided against it, instead calculating our heading back towards Gloucester as we approached. On this leg we experimented a little with the autopilot, finding it useful to maintain our heading, leaving us free to plan the rest of the flight and monitor the aircraft and our surroundings.

As we spotted Shobdon ahead of us, I had Jamie fly the new heading back to Gloucester, using the NDB to confirm the estimated heading was appropriate. I made a quick call to Gloucester as we continued towards them, but received no response (it was now getting close to 8pm, so they were long closed). We took some photos of Gloucester and GCHQ as we passed, deciding to continue on to Chedworth before heading back to Kemble. Jamie was familiar with Chedworth also, and soon spotted it ahead of us. We then turned back towards Kemble, and I took control back from him for the approach and landing.

Passing GCHQ

Passing GCHQ

Overhead Gloucester

Overhead Gloucester

I briefly toyed with the idea of a Right Base join, but instead decided to make the most of the flying and carry out a full Overhead Join. We listened to Brize’s ATIS to confirm the wind direction hadn’t changed, and I set us up for the join, which required almost a full orbit in the overhead to orient ourselves correctly. As usual I dropped the gear to assist with the descent on the Deadside, before turning Crosswind to enter the circuit. I made the turn onto Downwind a little too early, meaning I had to adjust the Downwind leg to give us sufficient distance to make the Base and Final turns.

Joining Overhead at Kemble

Joining Overhead at Kemble

As we descended on Base, I began lowering the flap, noticing again that as we got lower the conditions became more turbulent. I considered landing with just two stages of flap, but the winds seemed relatively constant and still straight down the runway, so I didn’t feel the need to adopt the techniques I would usually use for a Crosswind or gusty approach. Turning Final I lowered the final stage of flap, carrying out the usual ‘Reds, Blues, Greens, Flaps’ check to ensure I hadn’t forgotten anything important.

Down low I was surprised not to experience the usual turbulence on passing the buildings off to the right of the runway, and despite having a relatively long break since my last flight brought us in for a very gentle landing, with the stall warner sounding just before the main gear touched. We backtracked the runway, before taxying along Alpha back to the Club’s parking area.

Jamie helped me refuel the aircraft, before we pushed it back into its parking space and put the cover back on. We headed into the Club to settle the post-flight paperwork, before saying our goodbyes and agreeing to try to go flying again in the near future.

Track flown

Track flown

Flight profile

Flight profile

Despite having to change our plans mid-flight, this had been a really enjoyable evening’s flying. Flying through otherwise deserted skies is always a pleasure, and it was good to have some knowledgeable company alongside me. Now my 60 day currency is reset, hopefully I can take advantage of some decent summer weather and get some real flights in soon.

Total flight time today: 1:15
Total flight time to date: 313:30

A solo visit to Leicester

June 4, 2017

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

Another family flyout for a bit of a Sleap

April 29, 2017

After a pretty abysmal start to the year flying-wise, a relatively free Bank Holiday weekend seemed the ideal opportunity to try and get in some proper flying. I initially booked the Arrow for the Sunday, but in the days leading up to the flight it looked liked Saturday would be the better day weather-wise. Luckily the Arrow was free that day too, so I moved my booking over to the Saturday.

I wanted to try and stretch my legs a bit, and initally considered heading to either Goodwood or Shoreham. The runways are undergoing maintenance at Goodwood, so Shoreham seemed like the better bet. However, a bit of research showed a large fly-in taking place at Popham, which was likely to make the skies pretty busy in what is already a relatively narrow gap between the Solent CTA and London TMA.

I started looking at destinations in the opposite direction, to the North West, and initially considered either Shobdon or Halfpenny Green. More digging showed an event planned at Halfpenny Green, and Shobdon seemed a little bit close to Kemble, so I eventually settled on a return to Sleap.

The planning was all relatively straightforward, with the exception of a problem with the AIS website preventing me from doing my usual double-check of NOTAMs against those generated by SkyDemon. The problem was still there the following morning when I completed the planning, so I relied on the NOTAMs displayed in SkyDemon, and marked up the chart in readiness for the flight. Luned and Catrin were heading to a newly-scheduled dance class, so the plan was for me to drive up to Kemble and prepare the aircraft, with them joining me later once Catrin’s lesson was finished.

The weather wasn’t perfect for flying, but the cloudbase was up at 4000 feet, and if anything the cooler conditions should lead to calmer conditions when airborne. I arrived at Kemble and double checked the aircraft paperwork, before heading out to carry out the ‘A’ check. As expected, all was normal, and I loaded up all the headsets etc. into the Arrow in readiness for my passengers arriving. Back in the Club I completed the temporary membership forms, and waited for Luned and Catrin, before quickly heading out to see the arrival of a large formation of RVs arriving and landing.

When they arrived we headed straight out to the aircraft, sending a message to the Duty Member as I did so. Once there, Catrin was loaded up in the back, before Luned and I got settled in the front seats. The pre-start checklist was completed without any problems, and the engine started easily. Our taxy clearance initially was to the D site apron for our checks, and I assumed we would then be either given a backtrack or a taxy via Charlie to the South side of the airfield.

Once the checks were completed, we were initially cleared to A3 due to an aircraft about to land on the grass runway. This isn’t a holding point I’m familiar with, so I was about to look for it on the taxy chart before I spotted it immediately in front of us, just off the D-site apron. As we approached the hold we were further cleared to A2, in preparation for a backtrack of 08. We didn’t have to wait long, and as I backtracked and turned into position I asked the FISO if a left turn out was possible. He was a little concerned at two aircraft that seemed to be joining to the North of the runway at very low level, so pointed these aircraft out to me.

As I stopped in position, the two aircraft seemed to sort themselves out and head back around to the deadside, so I announced I had them in sight, and began the takeoff roll. As I rotated they were well clear behind me and to the left, so I made the left turn to initially head towards Cirencester, before setting course direct to Gloucester. We climbed up to 3000 feet, which kept us well below the cloud, finding the skies more turbulent than I had expected on the run to Gloucester. In contact with Gloucester we passed through their overhead, and I had to ask the Controller to repeat his request to report at Great Malvern.

Not quite ideal conditions for flying

Not quite ideal conditions for flying

As we headed further North West and got clear of the built up areas, the turbulence eased off somewhat, and as we approached Great Malvern the Controller asked who we planned to contact next. I said we would try Shawbury, but weren’t expecting a reply, and he suggested we try them initially before contacting London Information if we received no response. We signed off at Great Malvern, and I attempted to make contact with Shawbury.

A helpful pilot on frequency confirmed that Shawbury were closed, and I decided not to bother contacting London for the remaining flight to Sleap. Sleap’s frequency seemed relatively quiet as I listened in, but as we turned at Ludlow I contacted them, hearing another aircraft joining to carry out some circuits. It took me a little thought to plan the overhead join from the South for runway 18, and Shawbury and then Sleap soon came in to view ahead. Catrin chose this time to ask how much longer it would be before we got there, as she needed the toilet again! Fortunately I was able to point out the airfield that was now off to our left, and she seemed to be able to hang on until we landed at least!

As I joined Overhead and descended on the deadside, the other aircraft was just taking off from a touch and go. I initially considered cutting inside him, but he turned Crosswind and Downwind earlier than I was expecting, so I decided to follow him around the circuit instead. At first I thought I would have to be careful not to catch him up, but he actually flew a very tight circuit which meant he was well out of the way by the time I turned Base.

I flew a slightly offset Final in order to keep clear of Nonely, and as I aligned myself with the runway I realised that I hadn’t yet lowered the flaps. I lowered them in stages, which brought us nicely onto an appropriate profile for landing. We came in for a nice gentle landing, and I announced I was backtracking the runway. The A/G operator asked me to vacate at Charlie, as the aircraft flying circuits was already coming around again for his Final approach!

We cleared the runway in good time, and as I worked out where the pumps were, I realised there was a large taildragger twin parked up at them. Mindful that Catrin needed the toilet, I turned back towards parking to try to get her out of the aircraft as soon as possible. However, just as I did this, the aircraft (which I later found out was an Avro Anson) started up and made ready to taxy. I pulled in behind him, shut down the engine, and let Luned and Catrin out so that they could head in and find the loo.

Avro Anson preparing to depart Sleap

Avro Anson preparing to depart Sleap

A helpful local offered to assist me in pulling the aircraft along the grass into position. In the meantime, another aircraft (a Long EZ I think) had pulled in and was starting to refuel. I waited for him to finish, and he helpfully explained the operation of the pump. I filled the Arrow with fuel, climbed back on board and taxyed the aircraft back to the parking area, before heading in to the office to settle the fuel and landing fee bill, before joining Luned and Catrin upstairs in the cafe.

Parked up at Sleap

Parked up at Sleap

We had a leisurely and tasty lunch, and I headed back out to the aircraft to carry out a transit check and check the fuel for any signs of water, before Luned and Catrin joined me. Luned agreed to sit in the back and let Catrin sit up front with me, with a view to giving her another go at the controls on the return flight. I also asked her if she’d like to have a go on the radio, which she seemed a little unsure of! We all got settled, and this time the engine took a couple of tries to get started. Once it was fired up, I spoke to the A/G operator to get the airfield info (still using runway 18) before carrying out the power checks in our parking space.

I initially thought I could use taxyway Alpha to get to the threshold of runway 18, but luckily spotted that the taxyway linking runway 23 and 18 was marked as disused on the airfield plate. I pulled up to Bravo instead, and the A/G immediately contacted me to see if I was ready for departure, as there was currently nothing to affect this. I told him that I still had a few checks to do, and once these were completed called him back to inform him I was now ready. There was still nothing to affect us, so I entered the runway and backtracked (almost heading off down runway 05/23 by mistake!), and turned around at the far end to get in to position.

I opted for a takeoff with two stages of flap due to the shorter runway (a mere 799 metres!), so applied full power on the brakes before beginning the takeoff roll. The takeoff was normal, and I raised the gear before retracting the flaps in stages (with the warning horn sounding annoyingly to remind me I had flaps deployed without the gear being down). We climbed away, and I again asked Catrin if she wanted to make the signing off call to Sleap. She eventually agreed, and as we established in the cruise she made the call to Sleap: “G-WS, changing en-route. Good day”. She got a chuckling reply from the A/G operator, and seemed really pleased with her first bit of R/T!

Catrin's first ever radio call

Catrin’s first ever radio call

And her reaction!

And her reaction!

Once we were established on the leg South to Ludlow, I pointed out the instruments Catrin needed to look at while flying (she still can’t really see over the instrument panel yet!), and handed over control. We meandered slightly on our way, climbing and descending a little as we continued. On the whole though, Catrin did a pretty good job, just requiring a few small corrections from me to get us back on track. As we approached Ludlow I took back control to make the turn towards Gloucester.

Ladies and gentlemen, First Officer Catrin Hawkins will be at the controls today...

Ladies and gentlemen, First Officer Catrin Hawkins will be at the controls today…

The clouds looked like they may be lowering a little, but we were up at 3000 feet and easily clear of the cloud above us. As we approached Great Malvern, I signed on with Gloucester to request a Basic Service. My response to his ‘pass your message’ wasn’t complete, and it took another exchange between us to confirm that I was routing via the Gloucester overhead. He asked me to report with 5nm to run, and to notify him of any changes in height.

As we continued, I heard (what I thought was) an unusually brief exchange between the Controller and G-BASJ, one of Bristol Aero Club’s Warriors, now operating in Gloucester. The entire conversation was ‘Gloucester Approach, G-BASJ’. ‘G-BASJ, Basic Service’. In hindsight, this was due to the fact that G-BASJ had just switched from Gloucester’s Tower to Approach frequency, and hence the Controller already had all of his details. However, this short exchange didn’t allow me to build up a picture of the other aircraft’s height or flight direction. This meant I wasn’t able to make any changes in my own level or track should there be a potential conflict.

It turned out that in fact there was, as we soon spotted G-BASJ about 100 to 150 feet above us, on a reciprocal track, passing down our right hand side close enough to read the registration. This is probably the closest I’ve been to another aircraft, and although I had no right to expect any traffic information from Gloucester while on a Basic Service, I do wonder if the Controller could have pointed out our converging tracks, particularly given that I was unable to use the R/T to build up a mental picture of their location as I normally would.

We continued through Gloucester’s overhead, having to descend slightly to remain clear of cloud. We were asked to report crossing the ridge, but the frequency became busy as I approached it, and the Controller eventually called me back to instruct me to call Kemble. Kemble seemed relatively busy with other joining traffic, and also the formation flight that I’d seen arrive earlier were making ready to depart. As we joined Overhead, the were just taking to the runway, and Luned got some nice shots of their formation takeoff and departure to the North.

Raven flight taking to the runway at Kemble

Raven flight taking to the runway at Kemble

Raven flight departing

Raven flight departing

I notified the FISO as I was turning Crosswind, but the frequency became suddenly busy, meaning I wasn’t able to make any further position reports until turning Base. The frequency again became busy as I approached the turn on to Final, but luckily the FISO had me in sight, and called me back to give me the wind information and my ‘Land at your discretion’ call. I responded with ‘Roger, gear down’, and brought us in for another nice landing despite a relatively tricky crosswind. I did my best to keep up the speed down to the far end of the runway, as I could hear other aircraft waiting to depart behind me.

As I vacated onto Alpha, the FISO instructed the Lyneham Cherokee to hold position on the D-site apron until I had passed, and we gave them a friendly wave as we taxyed by. The Bulldog had just returned from a flight, and was temporarily parked across the taxyway before the pilot pushed it back into its parking space, so I stopped short and shut down. We waited a few moments for the Bulldog to be moved out of the way before Luned and Catrin helped me push the Arrow back into its parking space. I then let them head into the Club office to wait in the warm, while I cleared all our gear out of the aircraft and put the cover back on. For a change I actually managed to note all the tacho readings and retrieve all of my gear without forgetting anything!

I dropped off the majority of our gear in my car boot, before heading into the office to complete the post-flight paperwork and pay for the day’s flying. We then headed back to our cars for the drive home to Swindon.

Tracks flown

Tracks flown

Outbound profile

Outbound profile

Return profile

Return profile

Despite the less than ideal conditions, we’d all had a really good day of flying. We’d managed to fit it in around Catrin’s hectic social schedule, and still make a good trip up to Sleap for lunch. Catrin had done well on the return leg taking another turn at the controls, and even using the radio for the first time. We might have another future pilot on our hands!

 

Total flight time today: 1:50
Total flight time to date: 310:20

Return of the dreaded local

April 1, 2017

After a late start to my flying in 2017 with the trip to Coventry, I was again on the verge of requiring a further currency check after another break from flying. Keen to put an end to this, and remove the need for yet another currency check, I booked the Arrow for a flight on an upcoming Sunday afternoon. An invite to a birthday party for Catrin on the Saturday meant that I could also try to get some flying in, and I booked an afternoon slot due to the Arrow already being booked in the morning.

Given that I only had the aircraft for 3 or 4 hours, I decided to concentrate on regaining all my currencies, with a view to heading off on a longer trip on the Sunday. Leading up to the flight, the weather forecast seemed a little unpredictable for the Saturday, with more settled conditions promised on the Sunday. I planned to carry out two circuits, before departing Kemble for a short local.

On the day of the flight, the forecast still suggested periods of showers and relatively low cloud. Sam phoned me in the morning asking if it was Ok for him to extend his booking by an hour or so, which I happily agreed to. As I headed to the airfield after completing my planning, the conditions seemed to suggest that I should be able to make a flight of some sort. On the way to Kemble I passed through some small localised showers, all the while with an eye on the cloud conditions in the skies above me. Although there was plenty of cloud around, it seemed well scattered, meaning I should easily be able to avoid it on any flight I chose to make.

I arrived at Kemble to find the Arrow airborne as expected, so completed the pre-flight paperwork, before sitting in the office listening in on the R/T to get plenty of warning for when the Arrow would return. Sadly Sam’s return was delayed even further than he had anticipated, and on hearing him arrive on frequency I headed out to the parking area and got ready to refuel the aircraft for a quick turnaround.

As the Arrow returned, I waited for it to be shutdown and secured, before setting about refuelling the aircraft. David (Sam’s instructor) warned me that they’d had a few problems with the P1 push-to-talk switch during the flight, but I opted to see how things seemed during the R/T on the ground, with a view to abandoning the flight should I have too much trouble. I at least knew that I could plug my headset into the connections on the other side, and continue using the PTT on the other yoke if necessary.

Once the aircraft was refuelled, I carried out a walkaround check, leaving sufficient time for the fuel to ‘settle’ before finishing with a fuel sample from all 3 of the aircraft’s fuel drains. Satisfied that there was no sign of contaminants in the fuel, I got myself settled and made ready to start the engine. During the initial radio calls I had no problems with the push-to-talk, and after being cleared taxyed to A1 for my power checks. The engine was still warm from the previous flight, so these were carried out without any need to wait.

Once cleared onto the runway, I made a last check of the engine instruments, before applying full power and beginning the takeoff roll. Rotation speed soon arrived, and I gently pulled back on the control column, applying right rudder as I did so to resist the aircraft’s tendency to turn as it left the ground. Climbing away, I maintained runway track, dabbing the brakes and retracting the gear once there was insufficient runway ahead to make a landing.

I had the circuit all to myself, and flew two nice circuits, each culminating in a nice gentle landing. It was nice to know that despite another near two month break, I could still remember how to fly! During the second circuit, the PTT switch started to cause trouble, but I was prepared for this, and executed my plan to plug into the P2 headset connectors, and use the PTT on the other control column.

I was a little slow raising the gear on my final circuit, but quickly noticed my mistake. I’d informed the FISO that I would be departing to the West, and as I climbed away I turned left, climbing to 3500 feet and setting course for the Severn Bridges. Although there was some cloud around, it was well above my current level, so I felt happy continuing the flight.

I changed frequency to Bristol Radar, setting the appropriate listening squawk, as I initially intended not to bother calling them for the short period I planned to be in their area. As I approached the Severn however, I heard other traffic on frequency approaching at a similar height, so re-set the squawk to 7000 and called Bristol for a Basic Service. He passed details of the other traffic to me, and despite keeping a good lookout for them, I never made visual contact. In order to reduce any risk of a problem, I climbed further to 4000 feet.

Approaching the River Severn

Approaching the River Severn

On reaching the Severn, I informed the Controller I was turning North, and was soon forced to descend to 3000 feet to pass under a rather threatening looking cloud. I encountered some light rain whilst under this cloud, but visibility remained good at all times. On passing Cinderford, I signed off with the Bristol Controller, and made contact with Gloucester in preparation for passing through their overhead.

Mixed conditions, and a pretty rainbow

Mixed conditions, and a pretty rainbow

Gloucester seemed quite quiet, with a single commercial inbound requesting a visual approach. I received a Basic Service, and was asked to report when overhead Gloucester. Initially I had a little trouble picking out the airfield, not helped by the fact that the compass appeared to be giving some strange readings. I’d been keeping the DI in sync, and this initially led me to fly an incorrect heading as I turned East towards Gloucester. A quick check of SkyDemon showed that it was in fact the compass that appeared incorrect, so I adjusted my track accordingly, then set the DI to the approximate track I was flying according to SkyDemon.

Threatening looking weather

Threatening looking weather

Gloucester soon appeared beneath the left wing, so I informed the Controller and set course for Chedworth. Again the compass / DI caused me some issues, but SkyDemon soon got those sorted out. As I approached Chedworth I switched frequency back to Kemble, making contact on the otherwise quiet frequency. Fortunately I quickly realised that I was in fact lining up on Aston Down, so reoriented myself and continued to the correct airfield!

The FISO warned me of reported glider traffic to the North of Kemble, and I initially planned to join Overhead as usual, so descended to 2000 feet on Kemble’s QFE. As the frequency was so quiet though, I asked the FISO if there was anything to affect a direct Left Base join, and on hearing he had no traffic to affect this, I descended further to 1000 feet, and set up to join Left Base. I took care to avoid the surrounding villages at this low level, and again came in for a nice gentle third landing of the day.

My backtrack to Alpha was approved, and I passed an autogyro trying to diagnose a technical problem on the D-Site apron. Sadly as I returned to our parking area, I heard him announce that they were unable to resolve the problem, and were turning to their parking area. I carried out the before shutdown checks, shut down the engine, and pushed the aircraft back to parking and put the covers back on.

Autogyro with a technical issue

Autogyro with a technical issue

I headed back to the Club to complete the final paperwork, then had a bit of a panic as I realised my phone was missing. Fortunately a few trips back and forth (and a phone call to Luned to get her to keep ringing it!) enabled me to locate it down between the passenger seat and the cockpit wall!

Track flown

Track flown

Flight profile

Flight profile

Despite some concerns about the weather forecast, I’d had a really enjoyable short flight today. All of my currencies were again reset, so hopefully I can now move on to make some more regular flights. Sadly, the two technical issues I had encountered meant I wasn’t confident in taking the aircraft on a longer trip the next day, so I informed Kev of the two problems, and cancelled my booking. Hopefully the write up of the next flight will be a bit more interesting!

Total flight time today: 1:05
Total flight time to date: 308:30

 

 

Flying out to visit a Nimrod

February 4, 2017

Last year had ended rather like it had begun, with a complete lack of flying. Since my last flight in mid-October, I’d had a couple of tries to fly that had sadly been scuppered by weather and the usual Winter cold.

As a result, some 3 and a half months later, I was itching to get back into the cockpit again, but requiring a Club Currency check in order to do so. As ever, Kev was my first choice to conduct this, and we managed to arrange a suitable day to go flying. While considering a possible destination (where possible, I’d much rather a currency check involve some ‘real’ flying, rather than just the usual box-ticking exercise) Kev mentioned that another Club member had also requested to accompany us, as he was in need of a Currency Check too.

Graham is involved in the Nimrod Preservation Group at Coventry, and suggested that we could go there and he would show us around the Nimrod. This quickly expanded into a full-on Club flyout, with three aircraft and 6 people planning to attend. The Arrow also was coming up on a required service, so Kev arranged for it to be hangared at Brize for the week, so that he could work on it in relative comfort rather than trying to find somewhere at Kemble to do it.

So, the plan was finalised; three aircraft would head to Coventry, we would have lunch in the DC6 diner, look around the Nimrod, then fly on to Brize. The Arrow would be dropped off there, and everyone would then return to Kemble in the remaining two aircraft. A planned pub night a couple of days before the flight cemented the plan, with a third pilot also requiring a Currency check before he could fly the Club’s Warrior to Coventry. Jon would meet Kev at Kemble around 9:30, to carry out a Currency Check in G-EDGI. Graham and I would then join Kev in the Arrow so he could carry out Currency Checks for both of us, while JP flew the Cherokee to Coventry, and Jon was joined by Ray in G-EDGI.

Sadly the weather threw a small spanner in the works on the morning of the flight. Sub-zero overnight temperatures meant that all the aircraft had a light coating of ice on the wings, and sadly the wrong type of de-icing fluid had been ordered (a preventative coating rather than a fluid that would clear the ice off the wings). As such, Jon’s Currency Check flight departed around 10:00, while the remaining pilots ensured that the ice was cleared from the Arrow and Cherokee.

Once Jon returned, we all boarded our respective aircraft, and made ready to depart. I was flying the leg to Coventry in the Arrow, with Kev alongside and Graham in the rear. I planned to carry out at least two circuits at Kemble, before departing to Coventry via Chedworth, Moreton in Marsh and Gaydon disused airfields. This was the first flight of the day for the Arrow, but it started first turn of the key, and after some work attempting to clear all the insides of the windows to de-mist them, we taxyed towards Alpha 1 for the power checks. The cold temperatures meant we had to wait quite a long time for the engine to warm up sufficiently, so in the meantime Kev had me go over the pre-departure brief, and we also discussed what the plan would be should there be any engine issues during takeoff or immediately after.

The engine now sufficiently warm, I carried out the power checks (Kev double checking I understood why we exercise the Variable Pitch Propeller during these checks), and then the pre-departure checks before moving up to the hold in readiness to depart. Another aircraft was just turning Base as we were cleared onto the runway to depart, and after a last minute check that everyone was Ok, I lined up and applied power to begin the takeoff roll.

The takeoff roll and rotation were all normal, and I was pleased that my application of rudder during rotation was almost spot on, meaning no wing rocking or yawing as we transitioned from ground roll to flight. Once there was no usable runway remaining, I dabbed the brakes and raised the gear, checking that the greens were extinguished, followed soon after by the ‘in transit’ light going out. We turned Crosswind, then Downwind, levelling off at circuit height and making the ‘Downwind’ radio call.

The before landing checks were completed normally, the gear coming down correctly. At the appropriate point I turned ‘Base’, checking we were within flap limit, before lowering 2 stages of flap and beginning our descent. I overshot the turn to Final by a small amount, but easily got us back on track, making the ‘Final’ call after carrying out the ‘Reds, Blues, Greens, Flaps’ Final checks, and remembering to report ‘Gear Down’ to the FISO also. The approach to the runway was stable, and my first landing in over three months was very smooth. It’s always good to know you can still remember how to land an aircraft after such a long break!

Turning Final on our first circuit

Turning Final on our first circuit

A quick check of the Ts and Ps, and I retracted the flaps, applied full power and made ready for the next circuit. As we turned Crosswind, Kev mentioned that I had used quite a high power setting during the first circuit, meaning we would have had quite a speed differential to any aircraft ahead of us in the circuit. In hindsight, I suspect this was actually a distraction technique, as while I carried out the before landing checks, the gear lock indication lights all failed to illuminate. I spotted this immediately, and told Kev that I would normally leave the circuit at this point, climb to a safer altitude before attempting to diagnose the issue.

He suggested that on this flight I just carry out the basic checks first, and luckily I remembered that a common cause for the gear lights not illuminating is having the panel lights turned on. A quick check of the rotary switch for these lights showed that they had magically become switched on! I turned them off, and was immediately rewarded with three green lights, so we carried on with the circuit.

This distraction had caused me to fly a slightly wider Downwind leg than normal. It wasn’t too bad though, and in reality if I’d encountered a similar issue with the gear during a circuit, I would just have left the circuit and climbed, so this wouldn’t have been a real issue. We turned Base and configured for the descent, again carrying out the final checks on Final, coming in for a second smooth landing of the day. As we accelerated down the runway I double checked that Kev was happy for us to depart to Coventry now. He announced that he was, and I continued the takeoff roll, rotating as normal before climbing away and raising the gear.

This time the gear didn’t retract, so I told Kev we would leave the circuit as planned, get up to a safe height and established on the first leg out of Kemble, before running the checklists to try to resolve the issue. Climbing up to 3500 feet, Kev suggested we level off at 2000 feet and try the obvious checks, and this time a quick check of the circuit breakers showed that one of them had popped out. I reset this, and immediately the gear started to raise, the three green lights going out a few seconds before the ‘in transit’ light also went out.

I continued the climb up to 3500 feet, setting the next course as we reached Chedworth. We signed on with Brize, receiving a Basic Service for this leg. On this leg we had a bit of a discussion as to whether the Semicircular Rule for cruising altitude applied to VFR flight below the Transition Level. I must check up on this, as I always try to fly at these levels where possible.

We had discussed in the run up to this flight whether to request an instrument approach in to Coventry. Checking the NOTAMs before the flight, I found that their ILS was out of action due to work on the airfield. Kev still suggested we at least brief the approach and configure the 430 for the approach, even though we were going to join and land visually. This wasn’t something I had actually done before using the 430, so Kev’s IR kicked in, and he showed me how the approach would be briefed using the approach plates, and then how to configure the 430 to actually carry out the approach. Hopefully I can get my IR(R) renewed in the near future, and start to put some of this into practice on future flights.

We signed off with Brize as we approached Coventry, and I used the OBS feature of the 430 to plot a Northerly approach to the airfield from Gaydon. As we approached Gaydon, I began to descend to 2000 feet to get below the initial shelf of Birmingham’s Controlled Airspace. The Controller at Coventry advised us to expect a Left Base join via Draycote Water, with one ahead of us. As I headed towards the easily visible lake, Kev spotted the aircraft ahead of us, that turned out to be Jon in G-EDGI.

As we continued the approach, I started to monitor the ILS indications that we had configured earlier, and saw the localiser needle coming in as expected. I allowed myself to get slightly distracted by this, and ended up too low on the approach, causing Kev to give me a gentle reminder to watch my height. We were now established on Final, so I concentrated my attention out of the cockpit for the rest of the landing. My third landing of the day was again very smooth, and as we rolled out we heard G-EDGI asking to park on the grass near the Nimrod. The grass parking area was too wet to use today, but we were helpfully allowed to park on the hard standing right in front of the Nimrod.

Landing at Coventry

Landing at Coventry

After being marshalled in to place, we shut down and met up with the others, being the last aircraft to arrive. After taking the opportunity to get a few photographs, we walked over to the DC6 diner for lunch. Sadly, they were fully booked, but were able to offer us takeaway food, which we planned to take to the Nimrod to eat there. While waiting for our food to arrive, we had a look around the cockpit of the DC6. In future we must remember to book a table there if we’re planning to visit at the weekend!

Parked up at Coventry

Parked up at Coventry

Once the food arrived, we walked back over to the Nimrod, and set about polishing off the food. Everyone seemed to enjoy it, hopefully next time we can do so in the DC6 itself! Once we’d eaten, Graham gave us a guided tour of the Nimrod, explaining how it would have been operated on a real mission. Typically they would be dispatched over water for several hours, looking for submarines. They had the ability to refuel in flight, and Graham explained how sonar buoys would be dropped, and their results monitored from on the aircraft. It was interesting to see examples of the displays the sonar operators would have been watching, as they looked very familiar from my days at AudioSoft when the company provided software for training Navy sonar operators. Interestingly, two of the windows towards the front of the aircraft could be opened in flight, enabling photographs to be taken. I’ve not sure I’d have been too keen to have stuck my head out when operating just a few hundred feet above water with 2 of the 4 engines turned off!

Familiar looking Sonar traces

Familiar looking Sonar traces

The fleet viewed from the Nimrod cockpit

The fleet viewed from the Nimrod cockpit

The gang with the Nimrod

The gang with the Nimrod

After a very enlightening tour, we made our way back to our aircraft to plan the remainder of the day’s flying. It was decided that I would fly with JP in the Cherokee, as he was keen to attempt an ILS approach into Brize. We all boarded our respective aircraft, and JP was first to be ready to leave. While he set about getting the engine started, I made sure I had all the appropriate plates available for the flight. First was the taxy diagram for Coventry, then the various approach plates for Brize.

We received our taxy clearance, and I helped JP orient himself with where we were on the airfield, and how to make our way to the hold that we’d been cleared to. As we approached the hold, I made sure he was aware that we would be given a departure clearance from ATC, that would need to be copied down and read back. I also made sure I was ready to copy down any clearances, so that I could be as much help as possible on the flight. At the hold, we were issued a departure clearance as expected, then cleared to backtrack. JP was unsure how far to go, so I made a quick calculation of the length of runway from the intersection, and we backtracked far enough to give us plenty of room to depart safely.

Departing Coventry

Departing Coventry

We were cleared to depart, and JP made the last checks before opening up the throttle and we headed down the runway. We rotated with plenty of runway to spare, before climbing to 1400 feet to remain below Birmingham’s controlled airspace. We then turned on to the appropriate heading to depart to the South East, climbing to around 3000 feet once clear of the lowest portion of airspace. Using SkyDemon I gave JP an approximate track to steer to head us towards Burford, while we listened to Brize’s ATIS, with me copying down the details. We then made contact with Brize on their Zone frequency initially to request vectors to the ILS for runway 25.

The Controller asked us to call him back on the Brize Director frequency, and once in communication with him there he gave us a course to steer to approach Brize. I dug out the appropriate plate, going through a quick brief of the approach with JP to give him an idea of what to expect. As we continued on towards Brize, I came to realise how much I’d forgotten about how busy the radio can become once on an approach. I did my best to help JP as much as possible, copying down information the Controller was giving us and occasionally answering radio calls that had come in while JP was busy with other tasks. The Controller confused JP a little by asking him to report ‘cockpit checks complete’, and although we were still quite some way from Brize at this point, I realised that he wanted the before landing checklist to be carried out, and for us to let him know once these were complete.

As we approached Brize’s airspace, the Controller asked if we could accept vectors onto a 6.5nm Final. JP accepted this, and on studying the plate I realised why the Controller had made a point of establishing this with us. 6.5nm is essentially the glideslope intercept distance, so JP would be quite busy at this point, trying to capture the localiser at the same time as monitoring the glideslope to begin the descent.

As we neared the extended centreline, I told JP that we were currently on a 90 degree intercept to the approach path, and would likely be given a turn to intercept the localiser at around 30 degrees before being asked to report established. This turned out to be correct, and as the Controller gave us the turn, JP began to monitor the localiser. I had warned him to make the turn onto runway track as soon as he saw the needle begin to move, knowing how easy it was to overshoot the localiser. Sadly my warnings turned out to be founded, as JP initially flew a little way through the localiser, before turning back to capture it correctly.

The glideslope was now coming in, and while JP concentrated on the approach, I kept a good lookout for other aircraft. We heard both of the other Lyneham Flying Club aircraft on frequency as we switched to Tower, with G-EDGI joining on a Left Base behind us, and the Arrow being asked to extend Downwind. We later learned that they had extended so far that they asked to return via vectors to the ILS also!

JP managed the approach well, and brought us in for a nice landing on Brize’s long runway. Fortunately for us, the Controller knew where we were going, and asked us to vacate left before passing us over to Ground for the taxy to the hangar where Kev was planning to service the Arrow. After we were marshalled into our parking space, we were soon joined by Jon in G-EDGI. As we disembarked, the Arrow taxyed past us, and we walked up to the hangar to help push it back into place.

The Arrow safely parked up at Brize

The Arrow safely parked up at Brize

Some negotiation of seating arrangements took place in order to ensure that the 3 lightest people were in the Cherokee due to its more limited payload. I joined Kev and Jon in G-EDGI, while the others headed back to the Cherokee for the flight back to Kemble. We positioned ourselves at the hold for the power checks, before being cleared to depart. Kev was manning the radio, and requested a direct route from Brize to Kemble at 1400 feet, rather than following the usual VFR departure procedures via either Burford or Fairford.

Preparing to depart Brize in turn

Preparing to depart Brize in turn

We were cleared to depart, and the runway track put us on a direct track straight to Kemble. We climbed to around 1400 feet, and after passing Fairford detoured slightly to the North to avoid overflying South Cerney in case there were any parachuting operations that day. We signed off with Brize, and on contacting Kemble found them to be fairly busy. We were asked to join Overhead, but after some discussion decided to join on the Deadside, as we would be unlikely to be able climb from our current altitude to an appropriate altitude for the Overhead Join.

Deadside Join at Kemble

Deadside Join at Kemble

As we joined Crosswind, we heard JP on frequency requesting a Left Base join. We slotted in to the circuit just ahead of an aircraft that had just taken off, and Jon flew a nice approach and landing on runway 26. The radio was pretty busy, so I hadn’t been able to suggest landing long to avoid inconveniencing anyone behind us. However, Jon requested a backtrack, and as we turned we saw JP in the Cherokee climbing away to go around.

Short Final at Kemble

Short Final at Kemble

We taxyed back to parking, hearing the frequency getting busier and busier. At one point the FISO had to stress his request to another aircraft to ‘Standby’. As we made ready to refuel G-EDGI, we thought we saw JP go around again, and when he finally landed and joined us, we found out that there had even been a runway incursion, with another pilot failing to stop at the hold as instructed, and crossing the runway while another aircraft took off over him. Fortunately the runway at Kemble is sufficiently long that the departing aircraft was already well in the air before reaching the crossing point. Once all the aircraft were refuelled and parked up, we headed in to the Club to complete the paperwork and pay our respective bills.

Tracks flown

Tracks flown

Leg 1 profile

Leg 1 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 3 profile

Leg 3 profile

It was great to be back in the air again after such a long break, and even more satisfying to have taken part in such a great day’s flying. Although I’d only flown one leg myself, I’d at least reset all of my currencies and also had a thoroughly enjoyable day’s flying, coupled with the interesting tour of the Nimrod at Coventry. The next goal for me is to renew my IR(R), which I’ll hopefully do in the next month or two.

Total flight time today: 1:00
Total flight time to date: 307:25

A flying family again!

September 11, 2016

After a busy month of flying in July, August turned out to be a month with no flying at all, as family holidays and an annoying cough prevented me from doing any flying. Mindful of the fact that it had been over two years since our last flight together as a family, I was keen to try to get the whole family flying again. Catrin had again started to show more interest in flying, and was eager to be allowed to sit in the front and maybe even have a try at the controls. I booked an aircraft for a Sunday, as the weather forecast for the Saturday was pretty poor (and turned out to be fairly accurate too!).

Catrin had just started back at school, so initially the plan was for me to fly solo. However, the poor weather on the Saturday meant that we’d all had a fairly quiet day, and managed to get most of Catrin’s homework out of the way. On the proviso that we didn’t go somewhere too far, Luned agreed that we could once again try to fly somewhere all together. I looked around for some potential destinations, and eventually decided on Northampton Sywell, an airfield I hadn’t visited since February 2015 when I went there with Charlie.

I planned a fairly direct route to Sywell, with a more circuitous one on the return leg. Given Catrin’s recent interest in F1, I decided to overfly Silverstone, and then detour via Brize and Membury in order to do some sightseeing over Swindon before returning to Kemble. A NOTAM check showed that the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight would be carrying out a fly past of two areas that were potentially on our return route, so I took care to plan a route that avoided these areas. Finishing the planning on the Sunday morning, I marked up the chart and phoned Sywell for PPR. The wind was unusually from the South, which helpfully favoured the main ‘hard’ runway at Sywell, but did mean there was a potential for a crosswind on returning to Kemble.

On arrival at Kemble, I got the girls settled in the Club, before going out to check out the aircraft and load up most of our gear while they did some more homework practice. After retrieving a PLB in order to comply with the new regulations that require all aircraft to carry either an ELT or PLB, we all walked out to the aircraft and boarded. This was made slightly more complicated than usual, as with Catrin sitting in the front next to me, this meant that she had to be the last person on board. After a bit of juggling we all got safely on board, and Catrin helpfully held the door open while I carried out the pre-start checklist.

Engine started, ready for the off

Engine started, ready for the off

With the door closed, the engine started (as usual) on its second try, and we spent a little while trying to get Luned’s microphone working correctly on her headset (it seems to have developed a loose connection somewhere) and all the volume levels such that we could comfortably hear each other. We were given taxy clearance initally to Alpha 4 to cross for runway 08, and as we approached we were immediately cleared to cross onto the Charlie taxyway to head to the South side of the airfield. Power checks were completed normally, and we held briefly before being cleared onto the runway to depart. I pointed out the row of switches for fuel pump, landing light etc. to Catrin, telling her I would ask her to turn them on and off during the flight. Another aircraft was approaching the overhead from the North East as we waited (our departure direction) so I took care to get a picture for his height before we took off and turned left towards the disused airfield at Chedworth.

Luned spotted the approaching aircraft high to our right as I departed at around 1500 feet to remain below him, and once we were clear I continued the climb towards our planned cruising altitude of 3500 feet. We passed through some cloud on our way to Chedworth, and a little more after setting course towards Banbury. Catrin was eager to have a go at the controls, but I explained that I needed to get clear of the clouds and talk to Brize before I could give her control. After 5 minutes or so we came out of the patchy cloud into a clear blue sky, and I explained to Catrin how the controls worked and what she should do.

We’d put her child seat in the front with a cushion on top, but sadly she was still not quite tall enough to be able to see over the coaming to fly ‘correctly’ using visual references. I pointed out the ‘clock’ (altimeter) and the heading bug on the DI, and asked her to try and keep us at the same height, and with the arrow on the DI always pointing straight up. She took control and obviously had a tendency to pull back slightly on the control column, as we slowly gained altitude. At one point I explained to Catrin how to lose some height, telling her to push forward on the control column. She did this a little more exuberantly than she should have, prompting an exclamation of alarm from Luned in the back seat! I started to maintain gentle pressure on the controls on my side, showing Catrin just how little movement was actually necessary to make the corrections required. She later explained to me that even though she couldn’t see over the top of the instrument panel, she was looking at “the picture of the little aeroplane so that I could see we were flying straight”. A potential instrument pilot in the making!

Catrin's first go at the controls

Catrin’s first go at the controls

She kept control as we passed Banbury, and I signed off with Brize in order to make contact with Sywell. I stole a quick look over at Catrin to see her beaming face, before she turned and said to me “I can’t believe that I was just really flying a plane!”. Sywell were still operating on the expected runway, so I took a quick look back at the Pooley’s plate in my kneeboard to ensure I had the correct approach in my head, before continuing on towards Northampton. I pointed out Silverstone to Catrin off to our right, and it took her a little while to find it. I thought I could see the occasional glint of sunlight reflecting on cars around the circuit, but it was hard to tell at this distance.

Flying Family Selfie!

Flying Family Selfie!

Approaching Sywell, there was another aircraft turning Downwind as we descended on the deadside, and Luned kept an eye on him for me so that we were aware of his position. As we turned Base he was just touching down, and as we turned Final I announced to the FISO that I had him in sight on the runway. He had obviously just reached the end and turned off, leading to a somewhat bemused FISO commenting “Not aware of one on the runway…”!

Approaching Sywell

Approaching Sywell

I left it a little late to lower the final stage of flap (at least the ‘reds, blues, three greens, flaps’ check caught it!) and my landing was a little long and slightly firmer than I would have liked. We continued to the end of the runway before taxying up to the pumps so that I could refuel the aircraft, hopefully with sufficient that we wouldn’t need to refuel again on our return to Kemble. I went in to the office to pay the landing fee, then walked Luned and Catrin over to the grass area in front of the Pilot’s Mess before returning to the aircraft to refuel at the self service pumps. Once this was done, I pushed the Arrow into a parking space alongside a very smart looking Falcon jet, before rejoining Luned and Catrin and heading upstairs for lunch.

Parked up next to big brother

Parked up next to big brother

The cafe seemed fairly busy, and the sole member of staff was having a job keeping up with the steady flow of business. It was barely 12:30 though, so we were in no real rush. We waited patiently for our food, taking our time eating and watching the comings and goings on the airfield. After finishing her chicken nuggets and chips, Catrin returned to the counter to choose a slice of chocolate cake as her dessert!

Once finished, we all headed back to the aircraft, and I had Luned and Catrin wait alongside while I carried out the checks. Catrin was sitting in the back for the return leg, and we ensured she had everything with her to amuse herself before putting her rucksack into the baggage area. Sadly we later found out that I’d left the camera in the rucksack, so all the photos from the return leg were taken on Luned’s phone.

There was a flurry of activity as we got the engine started, and we followed three other aircraft to hold B2 to carry out our checks. There were a number of aircraft arriving also, meaning it took a little while before it was our turn to depart. Another aircraft was just climbing out as we took to the runway, agreeing to an intersection departure so as not to inconvenience the aircraft in the circuit that was about to turn Base. I left a short gap to ensure that the other aircraft had cleared the climbout path, before applying power and beginning our takeoff roll. The noise abatement procedures call for a climb to 500 feet before turning, but I probably left this a little longer than I should have. I turned left to try to avoid what I thought was the noise sensitive area, before turning back on track to head almost due South to remain clear of the notified BBMF activity.

As we crossed the M1, we spotted Silverstone off to our right, and turned to head for it. Catrin got some good views of the track, even watching some cars heading around it (it appeared to be some sort of track day). We began an orbit to give her a better look, and Luned spotted a glider that appeared to be thermalling over the track. We kept a good eye on him as we carried out the orbit, before spotting a second glider as we continued on track to the West towards Banbury. We spotted Turweston and Hinton in the Hedges off to our left, before descending to 2500 feet near Banbury and making contact with Brize Zone to request our Zone transit. The Controller asked us to report approaching the Zone, and we continued towards Chipping Norton initally, before turning South towards Brize. We spotted the familiar landmarks of Enstone and Little Rissington, as well as a further group of gliders high off to our left, orbiting just below the cloud layer. The air was noticeably more turbulent down at our level, but we continued on, suffering through the occasional bumps.

Track day at Silverstone

Track day at Silverstone

I’d already explained to Catrin that if the radio got busy I would be able to isolate her from the intercom, and she obviously remembered this and asked for this to be done so that she could entertain her in peace! This at least allowed Luned and I to chat amongst ourselves for a while! Catrin was told that she should tap Luned on the shoulder if she needed to talk to us. I called Brize again with 5nm to the boundary, and we were cleared to transit the Zone with no altitude restriction. At some point I had passed Luned the chart, and I had her practice her navigation, asking her to spot the familiar (to me) sights of Burford and Faringdon as we continued. Once clear of the Zone we then looked for Membury, first spotting the M4 off to our right before finding the mast in the ground clutter. I carried out a wide turn over the airfield at Membury, before spotting another aircraft low behind us, perhaps setting up for an approach into there.

Passing RAF Brize Norton

Passing RAF Brize Norton

Redlands’ parachute aircraft had been heard on the Brize frequency preparing for a number of drops earlier, so as usual I remained to the South of the M4, ensuring we were well clear of them. As we approached Swindon, we had Catrin put her entertainment away, and she helped us spot familiar landmarks from the air. The old Renault Building and the Link Centre are always easy landmarks to pick out, and Catrin’s school is also very distinctive from the air. Catrin managed to spot this, and as I orbited Luned managed to spot our house, helpfully made slightly clearer to to me suggesting that she move her car onto the drive before we left home!

Shaw Ridge Primary School

Shaw Ridge Primary School

I can see my house from here!

I can see my house from here!

On previous flights I have continued West from Swindon before turning North around Malmesbury (in order to avoid overflying Oaksey). However there was an air display notified at Charlton Park, and this route would have taken us very close to there. I had already decided that I would therefore fly North West from Swindon, aiming to remain clear of Oaksey and approach Kemble from the East around the Cotswold Water Park.

Kemble seemed relatively quiet as we approached, and as we joined Overhead there was another aircraft about to turn Downwind. After descending on the Deadside and reporting Crosswind, we again located him turning Base, meaning we had plenty of spacing and hence were unlikely to catch him up. The before landing checks were carried out on the Downwind leg, and Catrin got a bit chatty so I isolated myself from the intercom, allowing her and Luned to talk amongst themselves as I carried on around the circuit.

Again I was a little late lowering the final stage of flap, and realised that I had another aircraft behind me in the circuit. After a bit of thought I decided it would be better if I were to land long on runway 26, leaving a relatively short taxy to the far end, enabling me to clear the runway as quickly as possible and hopefully avoid inconveniencing the aircraft behind me. This time the landing was a lot smoother, and the FISO instructed me to vacate to the right and taxy back to the parking area using the grass Golf taxyway.

We taxyed back towards Lyneham’s parking, and I positioned the aircraft in front of the fuel bowser in case we needed to refuel, before having to wait a little while to be able to make the ‘Closing down’ call on the radio. I was on the verge of not bothering with this (it’s not strictly necessary) but luckily a gap opened up enabling me to get the call in. Catrin helped me push the aircraft back into its parking space, before putting all the chocks in place and helping me with the cover. Once this was done, we returned briefly to the Club to settle up all the post-flight paperwork, before retiring to the Thames Head for a quick drink that eventually led to us staying there for our evening meal also!

Tracks flown

Tracks flown

Leg 1 profile

Leg 1 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 2 profile

It was really good to have all the family back in the aircraft with me, and Catrin’s delight at having been given control of the aircraft was a real joy to see. Hopefully we can try to find more time in the future to make more such trips, and perhaps even get Luned back into the swing of doing some of the flying after her lessons with Dave several years ago. Today’s flying was really enjoyable, once the initial area of cloud was cleared conditions really couldn’t have been much more perfect. May there be many more days like this in future!

Total flight time today: 2:15
Total flight time to date: 305:00