The Ballards - Tango Golf 2014


Happy New Year
Oxford is closed on New Years Day but 2nd Jan dawns bright and sunny. No one is really working today, so I reckon lunch at Dunkeswell is a good plan.
I am determined to fly more often in the first few months of the year, so this is a good start and we'll take Lucy and Tom with us.

I've been experimenting with alternate ways of cold starting: it seems that you need 5 not 3 squirts of the primer, then lock the primer, wait 10-15 secs, crank and leave alone. If it's been very cold a couple of quick squirts of the throttle uses the accelerator jet to richen the mixture, but once it's rumbling away it's best left alone.
Today, however, it won't settle down to its normal 6-cylinder rumbling, and as I run a 6-cylinder car I know what the issue is: one of the cylinders isn't firing. This could be an issue if it doesn't settle down. I know people say ANR headsets mean you can't hear the engine but I reckon you can hear the engine better: I know I have become a lot more sensitive to its noises since I got the headphones.
It takes until we are taxying out for the rumble to settle down, and it power-checks OK, so I'll stop worrying.
We do a Right turn out from runway 19 in order to fly over a new strip and aircraft construction / maintenance facility I have been told about, and yes, it's there. The grass looks sodden at the moment (like everywhere: it's been really wet over the last week or so) but the new taxyways look complete. Should be fun when it opens.
We head West then South, skirting the Brize zone then Kemble's zone and heading for Bristol. Now Filton and Lyneham are closed the airspace in this whole area is simpler and Bristol Radar are enormously helpful, giving us an unrequested Zone Transit to simplify our route.
It's bumpy below the scattered clouds and I'm sensitive to my passengers' needs so we climb above the clouds and it all smooths out quite suddenly at 3,000ft, which goes to show that higher is always better. We descend a bit near Mendip and soon realise the Mendip TV mast is absolutely huge - I haven't come this way before but the Mendip ridge is surprisingly high and the mast has to be 300ft or more high. We end up passing it at only just above its top before the land drops away in to the heavily flooded Somerset Levels.
Bristol passes us straight to Dunkeswell as Yeovil haven't reconvened after the New Year yet, and we get a straight-in for 22, but for some weird reason I see an airfield that I think is Dunkeswell closer and off to our left and start heading for it before realising it is unused and in the wrong place. Doh! Ah, Dunkeswell is there, in front of us.
Normally you park on the grass but today it's so wet they are parking aircraft on the starter extension of 22, so you have to land over them, which seems a bit dodgy. I'm determined to get this right, as I don't have a great track record here, and the big lumps 'n bumps at 200ft aren't helping, but eventually it settles down and we flare for a really great arrival, holding the nosewheel off and all. Points for Style.... Backtrack and park up, we're ready for lunch.

After a delicious lunch (Dunkeswell rank as No.2 in my Pilot's Airfield Café guide, behind Cholet) we return to the plane to find the keys have gone missing. After a frantic search it turns out I left them back at the desk when booking-in. I would forget my head if it weren't screwed-on.....
Fire-up, power check in place, call "rolling 22" and roll. With 4 up the acceleration always feels sluggish until suddenly you're doing 58Kts, you rotate and you've used less than half the runway. I have a deep-seated fear of running out of runway both on departure and arrival, that I cant (and probably shouldn't) quite shake. Left turn outbound, then head back the way we came only this time we will turn East to go South of Yeovil then curve North for a change.
Once we are set up I let Tom loose and it's obvious he has been practicing in Flight Sim because he is smooth on the controls and can hold a heading. We end up porpoising a bit but hey: I do that sometimes! I would say he is the best non-pilot I've had fly the plane: very focused.
As we have a 50Kt tailwind at 3,000ft once we turn at Frome it all starts happening very fast: we're past Swindon and Grove and over our house before I've even got the ATIS from Oxford. The runway lights at Oxford are visible from a Grove as we pass through the extended centreline and swing out past the end of the Brize Zone descending and lining up for a Downwind join for 19 where we are #2 and can see #1 landing, so slow the aircraft down, pop the flaps and settle at 90Kts, swing round on Base and then Final and fight the inevitable 300ft lumps where the boundary layer of wind affected by the landscape interacts with the smoother uninterrupted flow above, then we're flaring and gently down and rolling. A C182 gets a land after behind us so we'd better keep going to the end, roll through the puddles on the taxyway (we have had a lot of rain recently) and park up as official Night starts.

Water, Water Everywhere (and not a drop to drink...)
It's been wet: many parts of the Thames Valley are more flooded than they have been within living memory.
Gales have rocked the country, power-lines (including ours) have been down, but a rare sunny, gale-free day appears so a trip to view the damage seems appropriate. Ann and Kieran are coming along, Kieran to photograph from the back seat.
The first thing we realise is that the aircraft has been shifted in its tie-downs by the force of the wind; unsurprising as we have seen 80mph gusts, but testament to the force of the wind. We park the aircraft with the brakes off to facilitate movement by tug if necessary, but we chock the nosewheel: this has been moved on to the chocks and was in some danger of rolling free. One of the tiedowns is as tight as a drum, the other loose and flapping. Still, at least the aircraft isn't upside-down against a hangar wall...
My main worry, given the amount of rain we have had, is water in the fuel, so we'll drain and drain again. Despite C182s being known for getting water in the wing tanks there is only one very small bubble so we start-up, taxy to the pumps and brim the tanks, then take off over Blenheim Palace gardens and head for Charlbury to photograph a strip and some hangars. Once airborne Ann takes over and flies us neatly to Charlbury where we circle and contact Brize Zone for a Transit.

Transiting the Zone South "not above 2,400ft" we see the extent of the flooding in the Windrush and Thames valleys.
It's hard to see where the original river banks were, but the roads and bridges over the Thames this far upstream are still clear and dry, showing how well previous generations planned and built. Even the bridge pubs are high and dry, more than can be said for modern housing estates further downstream, but then that (together with no river or culvert dredging) is the root cause of the huge disruption the country is currently experiencing.

Exiting the Zone Ann flies us over her house, then we climb out towards Didcot and swap back to Oxford. Kieran has been taking pictures in the back and pronounces himself feeling a little ill, so it's back to straight-and-level Airliner mode and a gentle descent over a hugely flooded Port Meadow for a Downwind join for 19, roll on to Final a bit high and make a stable approach over the numbers for a gentle arrival and taxy back.

Tinkle Tinkle Little Star
I get a little rusty around March as I tend not to fly in the Spring. It's partly a weather thing, but actually I have been skiing twice this Spring, so aviation has been a long way from my mind.
So April arrives (wow: where the Hell did March go?) and it's time for my Annual de-rust at Wellesbourne. It's a perfect day for it: gusty winds straight down the runway, 1,400ft cloudbase so no one else is flying, and the aircraft is fresh from its 50hr check with new battery mount and brand new bling LED landing and taxy lights. These will hopefully last longer than the absymal lifespan of the previous tungsten filament units, which I suspect failed due to vibration work-hardening. I'm dying to try them out at night (when I remember to switch them on...)

As the aircraft has been serviced, an extra-careful inspection and run-up is in order. Many failures are identified on the first flight following servicing.
The bowser has kindly agreed to "fill 'er up with 4 Star, Guvn'r" and I manually check contents and tightness of caps. I am rusty so it's "by the numbers" today.
Start-up, full IFR instrument checks as we may go IMC today then taxy away, taxy checks and run-up checks reveal no snags, so we turn on to The Active and accelerate.
At about 40Kts I become aware of a tinging noise from the right hand side of the aircraft. Should I abandon the takeoff or is it transient? It seems not to affect the handling of the aircraft so I go ahead and rotate, and it stops immediately, but I am mentally watching my engine failure fields below 800ft and calculating a turn back above that in case something goes drastically awry. Maybe a stone in the wheel spat? Very odd, and something I suspect I wouldn't have heard without ANR headphones.
I have been asked to do a turn over the Kassam Stadium as Oxford are playing today and Nessa and Kieran have gone, so we'll depart South for a run over Oxford City centre under the low cloudbase, head for the Cowley Works then bear right and turn over the packed stadium (where Oxford lose to Fleetwood: maybe they were distracted by the circling C182?) before returning back North.
Absolutely not a single aircraft is flying from Oxford today, but Weston on the Green are Active with gliders so I need to go back through the Overhead to get North West to Wellesbourne. I ask for and get a low-level transit through the overhead as there is no other traffic to affect. I dont understand the reason for the quietness, though. It's a perfectly good day for flying; it's a Saturday, there is no nasty weather forecast. As I have asked so many tmes before: where is everyone? The cloudbase is even at a height at which you could practise circuits. Weird.
So we head North West for Wellesbourne at the cloudbase which varies from 1400ft to 1700ft so intermittently we go IMC. It's a bit bumpy but I'm not going to make anyone sick today. Wellesbourne approaches and we join downwind RH for 18. My rustiness has in the past tended to manifest itself in a truly rubbish first landing of the day, but over the years I have honed this in to an OK but long first landing of the day and this indeed turns out to be exactly what we get. I think it must be incipient griound shyness that prevents me from getting the aircraft low enough over the threshold, but the mantra "look at the end of the runway... look at the end of the runway" works and despite the gusty conditions a very smooth arrival is made (phew, people are watching!) and I taxy in to the grass parking where a very kind man tells me how quiet he thinks the C182 is. The Carlos Fandango exhaust certainly has an effect, but of course I never get to hear it from inside so I have no idea...

Wellesbourne offer an "all you can eat..." landing and circuits fee, so we will take advantage of that and bash the circuit away from Oxford where no one can see my mistakes!
Actually, compared to last year I feel much less rusty and behind the aeroplane - the circuits go well with each one touching down closer and closer to the numbers, and I find myself listening to a wonderful conversation between the tower and a guy who clearly doesnt have a clue what is going on: he starts out IMC on top wanting to descend through cloud for Wellesbourne, who have no Instrument approaches and no radar. Not a great start as the cloudbase is 1,400ft so MSA is 2,400ft. My guess is he was hoping for a hole, but it is solid clag today.
Above Wellesbourne is Birmingham's Class D and the cloud tops are 6,000-8,000ft so he is in danger of busting their Airspace. Next he explains that he is not quite sure where he is but wants to join downwind for 18 (which is where I am). Tower suggests he talk to Birmingham who have radar and could give him a letdown, but as his silences grow longer they then gently suggest maybe D&D (Emergency) on 121.5Mhz as he is clearly out of his depth.
Of course everyone in the circuit is playing the game "what would I do?". I think probably switch my GPS on first (or get a cross-fix off a couple of VORs), then ask Oxford for a run down their ILS to get visual under the cloud, then peel off VFR for Wellesbourne. But my suspicion is that he has no Instrument experience and is in trouble.
Anyway we hear no more from him so it gets resolved one way or another but we all have a bit of a think about incident pits.
It's interesting watching other peoples' approaches from behind: I tend to fly my approaches quite high with a high descent rate (I suppose I am worried about the engine quitting). From above and behind it looks like the aircraft in front is descending in to the houses below the approach. One guy is landing and despite slowing down as much as I can behind him on Base and Final he flies it so slowly I have to go round over the top of him rather than risk ramming him from behind.
By the 5th approach the wind is gusting 28Kts 30° off the runway and the landings are getting untidy, so I'll clean up and go home via 19's ILS.
And of course here the rustiness shows as I panic half way home that the ILS isn't working and swing wildly back towards my GPS track (direct Wellesbourne-Oxford) instead of doing what my ILS is telling me (steer left on to the correct track!). Finally at about 11d sanity prevails and I set up a 60° cut which gets me settled on the Localiser at 6d, well below the glidepath (but then I am VFR). The glidepath comes in from above and we settle in to a tidy 500fpm descent, no more than 1 notch of deflection in any direction down to 900ft where we go officially visual and we're set up. Down for a smooth arrival, taxy in and shut down, neatly de-rusted.

IMC polish
My IMC Rating is due for renewal and it's always useful to spend a little time with my friend Pete, who is a hugely accomplished Instrument Pilot, prior to the renewal.
I'd like to be super-organised so I'll do a quick circuit and all of the pre-IMC checks (autopilot, instruments, radios etc) before Pete turns up, so having checked absolutely everything and made sure it all works I ask for taxy, at which point Tower shoots me in the foot by making me wait for an OAA PA-34 who finally lumbers down from the other end of the apron, takes forever to power-check (on the taxyway, so I cant get past), then ages at the A1 Hold, by which time an AirMed Learjet is on short Final so we have to wait for him to clear the runway. I could have been up and away 20 mins ago!
One circuit later I have proved to myself I can still fly, so I land back and pick up Pete.

We'll go out to Westcott for a loop around the beacon, a practise descent and an NDB approach down to MDA, then we'll head back to Oxford for a Hold, a Live run through the beacon and, hopefully, an ILS.
Inevitably it starts badly after take-off, with me not having the ILS plate in the front cockpit. Doh!
At least it's in my bag in the back and once my Inevitable Big cock-up is over now we can settle down to some serious IMC work.
Depart to the East, climb to 3,500ft and head for Westcott. I can climb, hold a heading and work the ADF (remember: "push the head, pull the tail"), and on this plane the ADF even works after a fashion. I remember to cross-check the DI to the compass and centre the ball, two of my favourite IMC mistakes that make a nonsense of any ADF tracking. Actually, the ANR headset helps because I'm not being battered by noise the whole time, and as a result with my GPS-derived virtual DME for Westcott we do a good job of tracking inbound, loop out for a Hold and then back in for a clean cut over the beacon, then descend outbound for a procedural turn at 6.5DME and then an NDB approach, getting the "not below" descents at various distances correct. I even surprise myself when, at MDA we go "visual", I raise my head and there is the Eastern edge of Westcott just to the right of the centre of the windscreen - I could get it in from there without any issues.
Firewall everything, climb out remembering not to descend below the MDA and change the ADF to OX, turn West and radio Oxford who clear us in to the Hold at 4,500ft. I wasnt expecting Holds today, but OK, let's do them.
Level at 4,500ft Pete reckons we should do a parallel join, which I've never done for real and in "real" flight would never dream of doing: far too complex. Always fly around outside the Hold area for a Direct join, that's my motto!
But we join Parallel over the beacon, parallel the inbound leg in reverse, then turn back the opposite way to the beacon and get a pretty good cut before starting the Hold proper. My mains mistake is that I start the clock outbound from the beacon whereas in fact I should start the clock after the first turn when abeam the beacon or on the outbound (WCA-corrected) leg, whichever comes last. We stop and reset the clock then fly the legs and it all, amazingly, works.
After a couple of goes around Oxford asks us to descend. Descending in a Hold is a recipe for The Leans because you are turning and descending and making radio calls. This is a Danger Area and I know it, so keep tight control on everything, and it all works out OK.
Level at 3,500ft Oxford then clear us for the Approach but says they will probably have to get us to break off at 4d on the ILS because they are using runway 01 (the opposite way round) for VFR traffic tonight and they will have conflicting traffic. Still, it's good practise and we once more descend outbound, perform BUMFARI checks, turn at 6.5d and pick up the Localiser this time for the ILS which comes in nicely. Stable ILS approach established and trimmed, too soon it's 4d and I have to look up but the runway is quite satisfyingly just there ahead, before we turn for a visual circuit for 01, settle in to the Downwind leg (it's really hazy by now - fog is forecast for later in the evening), descend for Final, get it a bit high and a bit left, so gently correct and by the time we fly over the A44 we are spot-on for a nice flare and arrival, roll out and taxy in.
Well, I don't feel as frazzled as I expected. Maybe that's the ANR. But suddenly I realise all I actually saw outside the aircraft for the entire flight was Westcott from 500ft, and Oxford's runway from 1200ft. And we had been flying for an hour. Good IMC polishing.

We've discussed pre-prepared power/prop settings for various IMC flight regimes (IMC cruise, Hold and descent) and actually that makes a lot of sense: if you set them and trim the aircraft will fly predictably so you can concentrate on other stuff. I'll work on this.

At last...
When I was at school I joined the RAF Cadets because I wanted to be an RAF pilot.
Like thousands of others I was eventually excluded on spurious medical grounds (see previous postings on this subject); however before they finally rejected me they did at least teach me to fly Chipmunks, and I have 13 hours logged flying out of what was RAF Abingdon (now Dalton Barracks-with-a-huge-unused-runway).
A long-held ambition has been to officially fly in to RAF Abingdon. Normally the airfield is closed, but once a year they let people in for the airshow. I booked a slot last year, however the aircraft was at the time in 1,000 pieces following an unscheduled field landing.
So this year we are going to have another go. We have PPR for a brief visit on the day before the annual Airshow, we have Nessa and two local girls: Carol and Sarah, who would like a spin around Abingdon. And we have the 4 page brief, which is excellent and answers all the relevant questions.

So we depart from Oxford on 19, fly over central Oxford and depart South for Abingdon. Once the field is in sight (so that'll be overhead South Oxford, then...) we swap to Abingdon who ask us to do an Overhead Join for 36 at 1500ft QFE. We can do that: cross to the Dead Side overhead the landing numbers, descend to 800ft QFE and cross back over to the Live side over the take-off numbers, call Downwind, slow to 90Kts, get blown West a bit for a tighter-than-desired Base leg, pop 2 stages of flap, slow to 75Kts and so a nice long steady Final over the rape fields. Put in a bit of power as the ground slopes upwards here to maintain the picture, and cross the threshold, ease the power off, and flare. The stall warner whistles as the wheels kiss the tarmac: have I done the perfect landing?
No, bugger it!
We seem to get a second landing bump (but we were already down?), then the right wing lifts a bit. What's going on, this is all unsettling. I think we have a bit of rotor off the big hangars: that East wind is not doing what the windsock says it is. Drop the wing in to wind and get back on the centreline for a smooth roll-out, turn left on to 24, mind the biplane doing a run-up, and taxy in. BUt disturbingly messy, particularly as people are watching!

After being marshalled in and parked on some massively draggy grass, paying our £5 landing fee and taking some photos we start up, taxy slowly and noisily to the lip of the taxyway, gingerly ease the aircraft over the lip and taxy past the temporary Tower for power checks and departure. We'll depart 18 as it's longer and easier and there is no conflicting traffic, so turn right and accelerate down the mile of tarmac. Sod any weight and balance issues, we'll get airborne off this one!
We use about 400m of the 1,300m available and turn left for a run over Sarah's house, then head North for Carol's house. Climbing out North towards SE Oxford we switch back to Oxford Approach who tell us of conflicting motor glider traffic near Beckley mast; exactly where we are heading. Eyes peeled, we spot him circling the mast and ensure we are well clear, turn back West and ask for a left base join for 19, run down the approach and this time the landing really is perfect.
They've had a great time and I've finally Officially landed at and taken off from Abingdon.

Little England beyond Wales
It's our 23rd Wedding Anniversary and we've booked a weekend in a plush B&B in Pembrokeshire. A 6 hr drive through Friday traffic to Haverfordwest does not appeal and the weather's nice....
My memories of Pembrokeshire are a wet week in Tenby a very long time ago, a lot of firing ranges in the way of my flying and one brief visit to Haverfordwest when I first had my PPL. So this will be interesting.
Friday morning at Oxford is mayhem: the radio is full of jets, OAA traffic and PPL students doing circuits. The bowser is busy so we'll need to taxy to the pumps for some juice. We might as well simply fill her up as there are only 2 of us. Once filled (and the blasted pump cuts out after one tank so I have to go through the whole rigmarole of getting the receipt then starting a second transaction to fill the other tank), we call for taxy and get told to standby. It soon becomes obvious that the Tower has then forgotten us as it takes a call from another aircraft requesting the Tower to ask us to move off the pumps before they finally allow us to taxy. But understandable, given the amount of traffic, which includes my friend Pete being Instructor for the day (but we'll see him later...)
All power checks complete we depart off 19 with a Right Turn in to mainly bue sky with the odd fluffy cloud. Being summer it's thermally and bumpy as we climb out; being in Airliner mode we'll seek smoother air above the clouds, so we climb to 4,000ft and the air becomes more settled: much more pleasant.
Swap to Gloucester, transit South Abeam, swap to Cardiff and as we cross the Severn the clouds form a barrier: this is the infamous South Wales crap weather micro-climate. Cloud tops are at 6,500ft, the Airway above is at 7,500ft so we'll climb to somewhere in-between. As we whip through the tops rain spatters the windscreen: it must be raining below. No wonder South Wales is so dour, it's even wetter than the rest of Britain....
The cloud tops look so solid it feels like you're flying very low and you get a real sense of speed as they scud past, then suddenly at the end of the Black Mountains North of Swansea they abruptly stop and we get a real sense of vertigo looking down 6,500ft to the ground.
Here it is CAVOK: no cloud and a bright blue sky, so we set the throttle for a gentle descent and a long 30 mile Final for 27 at Haverfordwest. A few fluffy clouds do finally appear but Runway 27 is visible from 20 miles away. No one else is in the circuit so we call 5 mile Final, do all the checks and settle in for a steady approach. There's a bit of rotor off the trees and some sink about half a mile out, then we're over the numbers and kissing the concrete, rolling out and parking up in front of the Tower for the weekend. 1hr 10 mins and we're on Holiday.
Days are efficient and rent us a Fiesta for the weekend, so off we go...

It turns out Pete is also holidaying in Pembrokeshire so parks his Mooney up next to our C182. I get a surprised text on the Saturday morning and we meet up for coffee - he's rock-climbing. What a coincidence.

Sunday lunchtme sees us back at Haverfordwest winding our way through the crowds of people at a Vintage Military equipment show next to the Terminal. Pre-flight checks, a chicken burger in the excellent restaurant and we start up, taxy back down 27 and depart from the intersection on 23. Everyone else is back-tracking but there's plenty of runway so we just turn in, call "rolliing" and we're off in 300m climbing out over Haverfordwest and turning 090 for the run home. We've got a Southerly wind so should get back even quicker.
Over the Black mountains once more the cloud sits at 6,500ft so we climb to 6,800ft watching it clear before the River Severn, then back in to CAVOK and the odd fluffy white cloud South of Gloucester. Cardiff swap us to Bristol, which seems inappropriate as we are closer to Gloucester, then we swap back to Oxford, start the descent 23 miles out, ask for and and get approval for a Right Base join for 19, slide down the approach and touch smoothly on to the tarmac: 1hr 6 wheels-up to wheels-down.
Taxy to the pumps to fill up as the others are taking TG to Scotland tonight, and park up on Slot 2 with 5 minutes to spare before our 4.00pm deadline.
What a very pleasant weekend.

But what it brings home quite forcefully is the difference an aircraft makes to the scale of travel: 1½hrs flying time gets you to a completely different part of the country, whereas 1½hrs of driving is just a commute. I've spent an hour sitting in a traffic jam before now and not got anywhere at all...
1½hrs flying time from Oxford gives Amsterdam, Northern Belgium, Northern France, the Channel Islands, SE Ireland or The Lake District. It changes your entire view of the geography of Northern Europe and what is possible to do for a weekend.

My SEP (Single Engine Propellor) Rating expires every 2 years, and my IMC (Instrument Meterorological Conditions) Rating every 2 years 1 month. The IMC needs what Americans would call "a Check Ride" whereas the SEP simply requires that you spend 1 hour with an Instructor doing whatever you want. So if you choose to spend that hour revalidating your IMC it kills 2 birds with one stone.
It's a rainy Bank Holiday Monday, but the conditions are well above IMC minima so armed with weather charts and IMC checklists (and some recent IMC practise) we walk out, get some fuel from the bowser and start-up. I normally do a lot of the pre-IMC instrument checks after the engine has started but today atypically I do some of them before and notice one weird thing: the ADF is really noisy when the needle moves: there must be a lot of clockwork going on in there (and to think: we won the war using these, magnetic compasses and star sights... No wonder we lost so many planes!).
The ATIS has just gone over to a new funky robotic-voiced automatic system that tells us in Stephen Hawking tones to prepare for a 19 departure but in fact the Tower tells us to line up for 01, which we query, but as there is no wind and no traffic (I am convinced people think aircraft dissolve in the rain) it really makes little difference.
We opt for the shorter taxi to 01, power-check and depart North West. And there's that strange "ting...ting" noise on take-off again; not a stone, then. It sounds like it could be the exhaust expanding or flexing as the weight comes off the wheels.
I manage to get the Approach frequency dialled-in wrong and end up talking to Brize, flip back to the *right* frequency and climb to 3,500ft expecting partial-panel recoveries, timed turns or something else nasty, but he suggests a little gentle VOR tracking (which I think I can do by now), then we get radar vectors from Oxford for the ILS Localiser which is fine, but I forget to swap back to 108.35 and wander off in to the wilderness a bit before we swap back and everything snaps back in to focus.
Despite the forecast WCA being effectively zero at this height today, inevitably it's wrong and in fact a steady 210 heading ins needed to hold us on the 19 Localiser. I push as the glideslope comes in and get a steady descent, but of course the wind changes and we start to oscillate left and right as we pass through 1,000ft which is just dumb because of course like all VORs they become very sensitive as you get close. I have done so many much, much better ILS approaches than this, and I feel I'm flopping around like an amateur. In my defence, we never go below the glideslope, nor do we wander off more than half-scale defelction, but it feels messy. That said, we go visual, there is the runway neatly ahead so I slow the aircraft down, pop the flaps and stabilise the approach.
At 200ft my Instructor/Examiner spots a flock of crows I reckon we're going to be above and pulls the aircraft sharply up and over them, then lets go. So now the aircraft is further down the runway, has lost a lot of speed and is descending rapidly. Ah, I've flown this aircraft enough not to be caught out by that little trick: too late to apply power, we'll keep the nose down to keep the speed up, wait until the very last moment then a calibrated heave and we plop on smoothly for a roll out on the wet tarmac. I reckon that was his little "let's see if you really do know what you're doing in that left seat..." test.

Mechanical intermission
When you buy an aircraft engine (a Continental O-470-R in our case), as they have been manufacturing these since the 1950s they know enough about them to know that they will last a certain number of hours before starting to fail. This is known as the Time Between Overhaul (or TBO) and is set at 1500hrs.
Beyond that time, you may run the engine "On Condition": the condition being that every 50 hrs you must change the oil and split the oil filter for debris inspection. Particles over a certain size and of a certain type indicate imminent engine self-destruction.
Our engine ran 1700hrs (the equivalent of around 100,000 miles of driving) but then the filter showed evidence of imminent destruction and so the engine was condemned.
It is sensible to have an "Engine Fund", so you calculate the likely cost of a replacement engine and every hour you fly you save 1/1700th in to the fund. But in The real World that doesn't always happen, so you might just get a big bill......
The decision was made to "Zero-Time" or refurbish the engine, provided the various components were re-usable. This involves a complete strip-down, line bore, fitting over-sized bearing shells and new pistons, crank and camshaft, in fact most of the rest of the engine.
The engine had new cylinders 200 hours or so ago, so they were OK but on strip-down they found this in one of the camshaft bearings. That looks like oil but is in fact smeared metal. The abrasion has heat-treated that area of the block, and Continental decided this meant the end of the block.

So, in the amazing topsy-turvy world of aviation, a new block was found, the engine serial number painstakingly removed from the old block and re-riveted to the new one, then the engine was rebuilt around it, but this all takes time. In fact, from May to October the aircraft has been out of use.

If you don't fly for 90 days you are considered "not current". This means you are not insured to fly passengers, but also, all things being equal, you are probably pretty rusty. So a wise move would be 3 circuits with an Instructor. Technically, you are P1 U/T, but the Instructor is there just in case things go awry.
With the imminent return of Tango Golf it seems like a good idea to get Current once more, so a return to PFT and 3 circuits in a PA28-140 is decided upon. This will be interesting: I haven't flown one of these for a very long time...
This being Autumn, the weather forecast is horrible, but we book a provisional time where the gale force winds will be only down the runway, so it may be bumpy but it will be easy. And of course as the time approaches the winds die down to nothing and the sun comes out... huh?
I've dug out my old checklist, mentally run through what I need to so ("Fuel pump? What's that?"), and most importantly the relevant speeds: rotate 65Kts, climb and descent speed 75Kts, cruise 90Kts, 2 stages of flap for descent or 3 stages and 65Kts for a short-field approach.

We have a few issues getting the engine started (I'd forgotten it's "turn and push") but once the 4-cylinder rumbles in to life and settles down the advantage of ANR headphones becomes hugely apparent once more. I'm a calmer pilot with these on: I can hear everything and the engine noise doesn't put your teeth on edge.
Pre-taxy checklist complete, we taxy out and wait at the Hold.... and wait..... and wait. The hopeless woman in the Tower has ample opportunity to get us off and away but dithers and we are there for a good 20 minutes waiting for landing traffic that is 5 or 6 miles away. I suppose, with hindsight, she is assuming we are a low-hours student who will mess about on the runway. Fair enough. Still, at least we know the engine is warm!
Eventually, however, we are cleared to line up and we're off like a rat up a drainpipe. She clears us for take-off and we er....... accelerate. A bit. I had forgotten just how underpowered a 140hp aircraft is. It takes what seems like most of the runway to get to 65Kts at which point we start to get lift. I am a lot more aware of what the wing is doing nowadays and I can sense the aircraft going light on the wheels at about 62Kts. At 65Kts we rotate, then once the wheels are off in ground effect just pitch forward a touch to accelerate to 75Kts which is best climb, trim for that and simply let go and keep it on the runway heading. Simples.
It takes a long time to get to the crosswind leg turning point, then a Rate One turn (I reckon you can always tell an IFR pilot, because all his turns will be Rate One), keep the ball in the centre, pitch down just a touch to keep the speed at 75Kts (turns are draggier than straight-and-level), then roll-out and climb to 1500ft, anticipate the height so push during the last 50ft so you arrive at 1500ft rather than blowing through it, watch the speed climb to 85Kts, push more and trim because there is now more lift, then throttle back and arrive at 1500ft and 90Kts, trim for that, check spacing (I'm a bit too far out, but we can live with that), make downwind calls (and I manage to respond with "Tango, Golf Juliet"), then BUMPFTCH and it's all easy smooth flying with plenty of time to plan the descent. Turn for Base Leg, cut the power, pop in the flaps (big heave on the bar), pull (not push, this is a low-wing aircraft) for 75Kts, stabilise the descent and trim, drift down to turn Final, call Final and now... let's see if we can land a PA28.
We'll try the old mantra "Look at the end of the runway, Luke...." and see what happens. Roll off the power and try to keep the aircraft flying, DON'T look anywhere but at the end of the runway, and.... plop, we're down. Well that was easy. Flaps away, carb heat off, on with the awesome power and we're off and away without any difficulty.
So we do that twice and on the 3rd time Pete says "let's have a bit of fun.... let's short-field it this time". Now I've not really tried short-fielding a PA28, not in quite the same way as I have a C182 anyway. So we'll try 3 stages of flap and 65Kts, aim at the end of the runway and see what happens.
It almost works perfectly, but I don't roll the power off quite quickly enough so we float for a bit but then we're down nicely, and a bit of braking gets us slowed by the intersection so we can turn and taxy in "backwards" down 11/29 and back to the parking bay.
This proves generic flying skills do work: maintain the right speeds, look at the end of the runway and all will work out just fine.

So now we are current and just need an aircraft.

And now we have an aircraft...
We have a new engine.
We have new avionics (a Garmin 430W panel-mounted GPS unit).
We have a new Comms box which has a separate manual to the 430W.
We have new bells and whistles and switches, which has required a special briefing.
And now I need to get back and really fly the aircraft.
Running-in requires long legs flown at high engine power and speed to "glaze" the cylinder bores, so no circuits, no sectors shorter than 30 minutes and no reduced engine speed descents, so we must keep the prop revs high.
I think I'll do this one alone, in case something plays up...
So we'll get the nice bowser man (they're always really friendly, and actually I have noticed that people in aviation are becoming friendlier - the last nasty person I met was at Denham, which has not enamoured me towards flying there) to fill up the aircraft with fuel, and PPR for lunch at Kemble via the CPT beacon to make the leg over 30 minutes and to give me some VOR practise.
First impressions are that the avionics Master switch is a good idea but doesn't turn the transponder on; that's a lovely clean-looking engine in there, many of the smells are different; the throttle linkage is much smoother and easier to manipulate; there is no vernier on the mixture control (and the button does not require huge force to push it in); it’s a lot smoother at tick-over and the EGT gauge actually works.
A smooth take-off on 19 and a climb over the city towards CPT gives a chance to get used to a bit more power, slightly different noises and the 430W's comms suite (which does not take long to master). Level out at 3,000ft, just under the cloudbase, track CPT (ah, it's that button on the 430W) then turn right on-track towards Kemble. Brize gives us a Basic Service (amazing! It's Saturday, they're normally asleep) and actually seem quite busy. Kemble have told me they are busy too, which is good.
There are rain showers about, and one obscures the approach to Kemble, but I know it's there, so switch to Kemble and ask for a straight in for 26 (nothing ventured, nothing gained: I can always join Left Base or even downwind if there is other traffic) and they agree, so a brief wet, bumpy IMC interlude later we're lined up and the runway appears. I seem to be mainly doing high approaches at the moment, but the old "I can get it in from here" cone rule applies and we can roll off the throttle, bring the prop up to keep the engine cooling going and lean forward in the seat, drop to 100Kts, drop 10° of flap, trim for 85Kts, then 20° flap and descend in to the cone. No bounciness off the hangars today, and we settle on 1/3rd of the way down the runway nice and smoothly. Quite glad of that PA28 interlude, but keeping the eye on the end of the runway does the trick, and we roll out, throttle up for an expedited runway vacation, request taxy to the restaurant and park.
Kemble then produces two unexpected surprises: the landing fees have gone down (to £10), and a cheese burger, onion rings, salad, fries and a Coke is £8.50. Very user-friendly, although they do get quite cross with one landing pilot, moaning about "procedures". Actually they do have a grass runway, so if the hard is busy you could use that. Next time.

Why is the weather in Wales so awful?
I've never been to Welshpool but it looks nice and just to go home to Oxford seems an anti-climax, so we'll depart Kemble, do a smart right turn and head North West for mid-Wales.
I have had bad experiences with the weather in Wales: it always seems worse once you cross the Severn. And today is no exception as we cross the border the weather deteriorates into patchy IMC and bumpy clouds, so we'll climb on top for a smoother ride and drop back in North of Shobdon (famed for being well-camouflaged and thus hard to find).
But if you think Shobdon is hard to find.... Hah! Without GPS you've got no chance with Welshpool.
I'm 2 miles from it and turning Downwind before I even spot it.... with a big hill on the Downwind-to-Base corner. I can see why they have a high circuit height (which I am nowhere near at: more power, Mr Scott!). Then of course turning Final I seem too high (typical...), so chop the throttle, 20° flaps, nose on the windscreen, even less throttle, speed to 80Kts and the picture gets better. But there's a damned helicopter on the runway... Oh no, he's moved away.
Past the control tower, over the threshold, big heave and it drops on nicely. One wheel a little reluctant to settle but we'll kill the flaps and just let it roll on. Brakes, backtrack, park next to the King Air and shut down for a cup of tea.
Welshpool is surprisingly busy, with a helicopter training and a Robin with a decidedly lumpy-sounding engine being run up and then flying a circuit (dodgy, with that engine, I reckon).

Wash the plane
A rainstorm is coming in from the South, so we'll fire up, taxy, power-check on the short taxyway and call "rolling".
Let's do a short-field take-off for practise: a stiff headwind gives a roll of about 200m before we're off; hold it at 65Kts and we're at 1,000ft before the end of the runway.
At 1,500ft we go IMC in to the rainstorm and get chucked about... not unlike the inside of a washing machine, really. I hit my head on the roof a couple of times before re-emerging in to dramatic cloud scenes with showers and sunlight.
Heading South West the clouds clears as we cross the Severn. 24/24 now gives 145Kts ASI; 165Kts ground speed. If you climb up just above your target height then dive on to the height and level out the aircraft goes faster, although at that speed the elevators stiffen up and the airframe whistles.
Descending towards Oxford there is no traffic to conflict, so we'll kink a bit to avoid Enstone traffic (I actually see two aircraft quite close), descend for a right base join for 19 and drop it on tidily. These tidy arrivals are becoming more consistent now.
A few things I have noticed:
- The lack of an audible “click” on pressing the TX button is disconcerting, but the radio works OK
- The P1 seat belt is much better: I can reach down for the fuel tap more easily now
- The nosewheel shimmy is back (although only at Oxford)
- I do like the 2nd (electric) AH: I feel more comfortable with that there.
I have been a little worried about the oil: I start with 10 showing, at Kemble it's down to 9 and at Welshpool I can’t get a solid line on the dipstick, just globules, so I pop in a bottle. But oil pressure is stable on exactly “50”.

Don't forget the keys and camera....
The last time I went to Dunkeswell I managed to mislay both keys and camera, and felt so stupid. This time I won't.
It's Lucy's 21st birthday today and she has asked to go out to lunch at Dunkeswell and then back via the North Devon coast for a little sightseeing: one of my favourite jaunts.
I find it amusing how bad the Met Office's wind estimates can be: the BBC site and the Met office aviation weather forecast are for winds aound 10-13mph (so 10Kts), but even at Oxford it's more like 20Kts. The cover flies off as I undo it and makes an escape attempt. I can't roll it up tidily: it just gets bundled in the back of the plane. Sometimes life is too short to roll the cover up tidily!
We get the AvGas bowser to fill Tango Golf up with fuel, pre-flight and taxy out.

Lucy will be flying today: we'll make a pilot of her yet!
But on take-off it is actually quite rough, so I'll handle the climb to 3,500ft over Oxford and Abingdon, then turn it over to Lucy for some cruising. And she is pretty good, although when asked to change height as well as heading she gets a bit overloaded (I remember this).
As we head South West there are more clouds and we skim through the tops of a few. I don't really mind being IMC, but they dont like it, so I get Lucy to skim around them which is more fun, and up here it's a lot smoother.
The intercom is really noisy, and gets noisier. It fells like someone has a mic stuck open. Disconnecting both passenger microphones cures it, but it's not until later in the evening after a really good look at the Com box instruction manual that I belatedly realise that there is a passenger squelch knob, which goes to show the huge gulf between reading the manual and actually using the kit.
One for the next flight.

Descending in to Dunkeswell straight in for 22 we have a Grob Vigilant reporting left base in front and as he is a motorgilder he will be slow, so we'll slow right down and hopefully give them enough room to turn Final, land and exit the runway before we ram them up the behind.
And it works: although it looks like a potential Go Around, at the last moment they turn right off the runway and we can proceed.
The approach is very rough: the wind is nominally straight down the runway but it throws us about something rotten in the last 500 feet.
This is precisely where I tend to make bouncy landings, and I am determined not to.
Heaving well in to airframe whistle / stall-warner territory, I hold it off in ground-effect and am rewarded with a really smooth arrival, amazing given the conditions: progressive braking even gets us slowed before the junction and we can turn right to follow the Vigilant. Mmmmm, nice....
Others are not making such a good job.
We park on the runway under the approach, which I think is really dodgy but they seem to get away with it. I still don't like approaches over parked aircraft, though......

Bang thump
After a really good lunch (I like Dunkeswell lunches) we start up (not forgetting keys and camera), power-check in place and roll, queue-barging a Cessna 152 with a student (well, he was just sitting there looking at us, and a 152 takes 35-40 minutes and 1 mile of runway to get airborne anyway...) and climbing out in to the rough air.
We head South West around the nearby glider site, then swing round North West for the coast, climbing towards the low cloud base. There is no point in going on top only to come back down later.
The weather has deteriorated and is not really great, but improves as we coast out at Bideford and turn for the North coast. We're below the level of the cliffs and the rolling turbulence off them suddenly gives us a whack: Nessa is in the back with her seatbelt off and is really chucked about. None of us like this, so we climb to 2,000ft where it is a bit smoother, and the scenery is amazing but this is not really the right day to be doing this; normally it's smooth over the water but today it's just horrible.
Cardiff pass us to Bristol and we climb inland over the Wells mast, clip the corner of the Bristol zone at 5,500ft and finally it smooths out above the clouds.
Having the wind behind us gives us a ground speed of 170Kts and before long we are back over Grove, back with Oxford and descending for a Downwind join for 19, slowing and getting chucked about for the last 200 feet of the approach before once more a smooth arrival. Consistency!

And that's all we did in 2014. All in all, not a bad year, but we didn't get to do 3 major trips we had planned: Ireland, France/Barcelona/Provence, and The Scilly Isles. Roll on 2015!