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
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
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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.
When I was at school I joined the RAF Cadets because I wanted to be an
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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......er,
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
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
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.
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
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
- 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
Lucy will be flying today: we'll make a pilot of her
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
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
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......
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
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
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!