The Ballards - Tango Golf 2015


At last... some time
Business and domestic issues have conspired to rob me of my flying opportunities since 1st November, so it's time to get back in the air and have a day exploring.
We wake up to heavy snow (what?) which almost immediately clears and then melts. Phew!
The weather forecast actually does look really good, so we will commit to commiting some aviation today. Thruxton, in to which I have never flown as P1, then lunch at Kemble. Well, as we shall see, the best laid plans of mice and men etc.....

It's very cold today, but as we don't get going until 11.00am (well, hey it's Saturday...) the aircraft is not covered in ice, although some of the puddles under it are slippery. Freezing level today is 2,500ft-3,000ft, so we shouldn't have any control surface icing from standing water before we can blow it away at 130Kts.
We need some fuel, so we'll start up and go to the pumps. It's quite nice to be in the aircraft, I have cold hands from the walkaround. I've got Nessa helping me with the checklists which really helps as she won't let me step on unless I really have covered each step. I quite like having a co-pilot.
At the pumps we fill the left tank (which always drains first on C182s: there is a whole world of forums out there discussing why. It's a perennial C182 issue which Cessna have never quite fixed, but we know it's not the end of the world, except that the plane then flies right wing low) and start up to go.
And it won't stay running: it's coughing and spluttering. I can squirt the throttle and it runs for a few seconds then splutters. Fuel? No, I've got the mixture leaned out. Bang that in and normality reasserts itself. Ah, of course. Doh!
Taxy for departure, power check and depart South "not above 2,000ft". Well, that's a new one. I was aware of Oxford's new desire to keep VFR departures below incoming IFR arrivals but have just never experienced it before.

Swap to Farnborough West and ask if Boscombe are awake: no, apparently not so swe'll swap to Thruxton without Boscombe first. Thruxton are on Runway 25 so we can join Right Base and before we know it, it's really close, so a fast descent for Right Base, turn Final, report Final and let's see if we can remember how to land. The wind is straight down the runway, so flatters my approach technique and a soft arrival means a big smile as we roll in to park and pay our landing fee. That old Devil called Nosewheel Shimmy has returned, so we'll keep the weight off the nosewheel as long as we can.

Lunch is to be at Kemble, but.....
We call them up, and they're closed with snow on the runway. Blimey! There is no snow here, or at Oxford, but they are higher I suppose. A quick change of plan has us consider Compton Abbas (but that could be muddy), Popham likewise, Wycombe's food is so-so, but Shoreham has a new restaurant, so let's go there.

A quick change of route in the GPS, DCT Shoreham (how lazy is that?) looks good, so we backtrack 25 (that must drive them mad when they are busy - they badly need a tarmac taxyway here...) and take off, doing a right turn and climbing out of the circuit to turn right towards Shoreham.
Swap to Solent for a Basic Service and skirt their CTA, but they give us a Transit anyway, even if we are technically outside at least they know where we are. Climb above the clouds once we're East of the CTA and it's a smooth run to Shoreham where we descend for a crosswind Join for 20, cross the take off numbers, call Downwind, turn Base, remember to descend aggressively as this leg takes you low over the hills to the North of the field, take the hats off the fell walkers and we're still too high on the approach (!).
We end up doing virtually a glide approach, but by the time we are at the threshold we are absolutely in the right place. A gust makes us balloon in the flare but we'll just hold it, let it come back down again and hold it off for a smooth arrival with a little squawk from the stall warner. It's not until we step outside the aircraft on to the apron we realise that there is a quite a gale blowing across that runway today. 25 would have been more appropriate, but it's grass and virtually underwater today, so you get what you get. And given the conditions, I think that was OK.

I am pleased to report that despite the extortionate £31 Landing Fee (second only to Humberside in my schedule of rip-offness: I only usually go to Shoreham because I get my Landing Fee paid! Guys: Limoges is £4, Thruxton is £12 or £6 with fuel, Kemble £10... sort yourselves out) the restaurant is massively improved and extremely busy as a result. We are lucky to get a table, and the bacon and cheese burger is excellent. Recommended - we'll be back (when I get my Landing Fee paid, which may be sooner than expected...).

Filled up with burger, we depart several pounds heavier and head out to sea for a right turn, climb and depart "Brighton City Airport" (give me a break, they'll be "London Brighton Inter-Galactic" next), swap to Farnborough and trundle home the lazy way: MID, CPT, OX on autopilot at 2,300ft not bothering anyone. There is lots of water around in the flood plains but the air is smooth and nowhere is very busy.

At Didcot we swap back to Oxford Approach, descend for a 19 Downwind Join and roll Final to discover that this week I will be mostly too high on the Approach, according to the PAPIs. Who needs them anyway: I'm not a bizjet and I know what I'm doing. By the time we are 1/3 of the way down the runway we are flaring and this time I am really going to for a non-bump arrival. And we get it; admittedly not on the centre-line, but no squeak, just a build-up of rolling vibration as the wheels spin-up. Ah, Bisto...

Sooner than expected
The A34 is blocked by an accident Southbound; the A33 from Winchester to Southampton is stationary, and the A27 East in Arundel is gridlocked. And I need to be in Shoreham to visit a client.
Oh, dear......

It's a bright and sunny Winter breakfast-time, I am departing Oxford and climbing South. All I can see on the ground is stationary traffic: Oxford's normal sclerotic commute, something I habitually avoid by working from home and only visiting clients in cities after rush hour.
But up here there is no congestion, no stress, no other aircraft even. Levelling at 2,000ft over Hinksey I flip the autopilot on and reflect upon the 5 minutes behind and the 30 minutes ahead that will get me in to Shoreham at 9.00am. Humanity uses space in such a linear fashion: we mainly inhabit the surface of the planet, a few feet below and a few feet above, in an insane mess of congestion, doubly so as staggering the commute disperses it time-wise and reduces the stress and time involved, and flying to work utilises more of a vertical component.
Yes, I know, I'm very lucky to be up here photographing the mist over the hills and not down there, clutch pounding and cursing that bus that has just pulled out.
The land around the South Downs has not yet quite emerged from tendrils of morning mist, dying bonfire smoke pillars going straight up. There is no appreciable wind this morning, but Shoreham say they are CAVOK so I descend for a crosswind Join for 20, turn over that dodgy hill for Final (It feels like any further over and I'll catch the hill with my wingtip, and the PAPIs still say I'm too high!), roll off the power and drop on to 20 with a little bounce. Huh? I think my vertical speed was a tad high at the last moment and we did little skip. Got to stop doing that.... Roll in, turn on to the taxyway and immediately turn off on to the Eastern Atlantic apron, spin Tango Golf around for a faster departure tonight and shut down.
Time to go to Work to earn my Landing Fee.

Ah, that Night Rating...
A Night Rating really is a very useful "get you home" Rating: easy to achieve and great fun to use.
Oxford is open until 10.00pm tonight, so there is no stress about time departing Shoreham, who are open until 8.00pm.
Finish work, walk 20 steps to the aircraft, check the oil, fire up and depart straight back on to 20 for a backtrack and smooth departure. That was easy.... because here's a little secret: no one flies after dark! Everyone thinks it's dangerous, so they put their planes to bed at sunset and all the airfields shut. Except Shoreham and Oxford.
A moment of disorientation on take-off: I haven't flown at night for ages and it's pretty dark out here, but the night is clear and Worthing glistens from above. Off to Goodwood Westbound, climb to 3000ft and go IMC. Ooh, this is interesting: a bit of the leans here as I haven't been night IMC for a good long time. Good practice. Force the leans away, concentrate on the instrument scan and soon everything slips back in to order: Engine Ts&Ps good, AH centred, DI stable, VSI stable, GPS course correct.
Farnborough help us Northbound through Odiham's MATZ then let us go after the M4 and we return VMC as we descend through 2700ft to descend in to Oxford. But as we turn for the Downwind leg I cannot see the runway. I can see 11/29 OK so I'm in the right place, but 19/01's lights must be off. What's going on?
Make a messy base leg as I'm not quite sure where to turn, drop the speed, pop the flaps and finally, just as we turn what must be Final for 19, the lights resolve themselves and we're in the right place.
OK, well that was interesting.
Drop down the approach cone and get that little bounce again. Ah, it must be me. Of course I can blame my 1st Night Landing for a long time, but I hate less than perfect landings...
Still, my Night Rating is now revalidated and I can take passengers at night. Now there's a thought....

An Opinion of Pilots
We're all off to Cardiff for a GASCO Safety Evening. It's not often the four of us get to fly together, so this could be interesting. My Night Rating is recently validated, so I'm not going to fly; I can sit in the back and back-seat drive.
As the light fades, we meet at Oxford and pre-flight the plane. It's interesting to watch: the others fly as pairs normally so P1 gets himself ready while P2 does the pre-flight. I worry about them missing stuff between them; as I'm virtually always P1 I am happiest doing my own pre-flight.
The bowser comes and gives us some fuel, and we pile in. In the back it's snug but comfortable, even for my 6' 2" frame, and my spare pair of modified Sennheisers with ANR pack works magnificently.
I cannot overstate how much difference ANR makes to fatigue levels in the cockpit. These (modified in the USA) are as good as dedicated ANR headphones and a little more comfortable. I wish all headphones were ANR, it would make learning to fly less stressful.
As there are 4 of us competent and current pilots of course we all do things slightly differently and it's interesting to watch the others fly and do the radio and Nav. I would have done any number of minor things slightly differently or in a different order, but I'm unconvinced I'm right and they're wrong, or vice versa. Just different.
I do, however, learn better how the cockpit lights work (you can have them white or red) and the fact that there is a demister (didn't know that!); also the value of a really good LED light (must buy one).
Descending in to Cardiff VFR via Cardiff Docks we get a surprisingly large crosswind component given that by the time we are on the ground it's basically calm, which reinforces my belief that the winds are never as forecast and different at every height, making Nav by turn/time/distance using a whizz-wheel ludicrously unreliable - radio Nav in its various forms is always the way to go: Nav beacons don't move.

Coming back we swap and I do P2 and the radio. I like the challenge-response part of having a P2 doing the checklist with you, and it certainly takes the load off the pilot to have a radio-man. With 4 of us in the cockpit we are cross-checking the whole time and I reckon we are the safest plane in the sky (actually we are pretty much the only plane in the sky!).
We arrive back at Oxford just as they are packing up to go home at 10.30pm, we are the last plane in and the runway lights go off as we taxy in. It's bloody cold!

Weather cancellations
Winter can be frustrating: twice now I have been asked to take someone somewhere interesting on pretty short notice, and twice I have had to cancel because the weather has not played ball.
The first time was to Brive in France. The weather was absolutely fine at Oxford and at Brive, and flyable in-between, but frustratingly (as this was a very short-notice requirement) the Customs at Brive required 24hrs Notice and all the airfields in Northern France that would do Customs by just turning up or with a couple of hours' Notice were in the grip of a very strong wind that was way out of my, or indeed my aircraft's, crosswind limits. Very frustrating, but the Right decision.
The second was to Leeds and would have involved a Night Landing. Fair enough, and the weather in Oxford was just fine, but the weather on the way was heavy icing, embedded Thunderstorms (CB's) and, as it turned out, fog at Leeds (OVC001). I cancelled very reluctantly but again, it was The Right decision, even though the sun was shining when I had to make the call. He was a pilot, he understood.

When you are learning to fly and for a long time afterwards (maybe even forever if you only ever rent flight school aircraft!) your weather Go / No Go decisions are basically made for you: even when you turn up, look outside and think it's safe to fly you get that look that says "you're wrong, we know better", and you don't get to fly.
One of the things you do need to do when you are totally free to fly any time (with just a key and a Security Pass) is really learn how to read the weather forecasts. Not just for where you are now, but for where you are going, when you get there, for in-between and for when you get home again.
I use a combination of the Met office website, the Aeroweather iPhone app and, when in France I also use the weather feature in SkyDemon where, just by opening the program it shows you which airfields are VFR, IFR or marginal.
And I have set my own personal minima which are fairly conservative but based upon real weather, not mumbo-jumbo.
A couple of times I have been in situations where I was "up there wishing I was down here" but on the whole, although I have occasionally flown in some pretty dire conditions, I now often get to fly when I am the only aircraft in the sky, and often wonder why as it has been perfectly pleasant.
I have flown when the weather forecast shows surface winds of 44Kts (that's 50mph) but they were straight down the runway, so I went flying. It was a bit bumpy but perfectly safe and the landings and take-offs were unbelievably short. In those winds you do need to raise the flaps before turning off the runway, taxy very slowly and keep the elevator pushed forward ("dive away from the wind" is the best rule).
But it's risk management, that's all it is.

Llanbedr has an interesting history, and is in the almost unique situation of being a "new" GA airfield (the other one is Daedalus near Southampton) that has just opened. So worth a visit, then.
The first thing we notice is that the nosewheel spat has disappeared. We have had some issues with the shimmy damper, resulting in a vibrating yoke on landing and this has been replaced but during the process they broke the spat so it is being repaired. But the wheel looks naked and I'm sure we will lose 3Kts off the top speed...

We get the bowser to fill up our tanks, start up and depart West. I planned the route as a straight line between Oxford and Llanbedr, and amazingly there was no reason to alter the route so that is what we fly.
Climbing out North West, avoiding the Weston on the Green Active Drop Zone and Enstone, we climb to 4,000ft to get on top of the bumpy thermals and scattered clouds and it smooths out. London Info is busy, but everywhere else seems quiet.

As we progress across Wales civilisation becomes thinner (as does London Info's radio coverage) until the hills finally rise up towards us, with forested and cleared areas, before dropping away to the Mawddach Estuary.
Over the last range of lower hills between the estuary and the field, descending fast now for Llanbedr we try a blind call, received only by silence and a call from a lovely yellow Tiger Moth who is apparently using 23 (but turns out to have been using 05), so we'll join crosswind for 23, descend to 1,000ft, swing out in to the wonderful blue sky over the sea and turn final for 23, blind call Final and sink over the beach on to the tarmac, roll out (which seems to take a while.... ah, we have a tailwind) and stop, back track, turn on to 33 and head for the North apron where we park and are met by the proprietor.

They are re-opening the airfield for GA use, aviation-related industries and UAV (drone) work, in conjunction with Aberporth further South. And the airfield is perfectly suited for that (or even a UK space port, as has been suggested, except that the road links to that part of Wales are risible...) being remote and close to a large body of water already covered by Danger Area legislation.
But at present they are hampered by the desire to keep airside and the catering facilities separate sides of a dirty great gate they keep padlocked, so every time you want to pass through they have to laboriously escort you through, unlocking then relocking the gate. Aircraft parking to the South of the big hangars (or even on the grass near the café) coupled with an airside-accessible café door / gate combination would solve that with a day's worth of work and a little imagination. Then a 2-way radio and some aircraft parking signs and it becomes a good GA destination. The beach looks empty and inviting, they just need a really good restaurant there and it has the makings of a Compton Abbas or a Dunkeswell - a GA destination you want to go back to.

Route - Invert
Exiting the Boeing 747-sized apron we taxy the short distance to the end of 15. As there is no appreciable wind today we power-check in place and roll 15, lifting off before the intersection and maintaining Vx on the runway heading before turning left in to the hill, avoiding the local village then paralleling the climbing terrain (we can just turn downhill if anything coughs or splutters) until we are clear of the top, then back over the Mawddach Estuary and continue climbing over the big hills. Two up in a C182 gets us to 4,000ft before we are in any danger of terrain and we turn back on our inverted course.
The sun has gone behind the clouds now, and everything is milky and hazy as the landscape lowers below us, towns appear, then roads, Malvern and finally the M5. We swap back from London Info to Oxford, start our descent at 15 miles and ask for a left base for 01.
Five miles out Oxford decide they'd prefer us joining crosswind, so we arrive over the take-off numbers at exactly 1500ft QNH, turn and call Crosswind, then Base, then Final for an unhurried approach. And today I will be mainly doing a little bounce..... where did that come from? Only a few inches I think, it drops straight back on, but I slightly misjudged the rate of descent in the last few feet.
And I was doing so well....

"Forget this aviation lark... you're in my world now"
If you fly any aircraft (single- or multi- engined) over water you need to consider the consequences of engine failure. A twin-engined aircraft may well give you merely the opportunity to choose a different piece of water to ditch in to in the event of an engine failure, but as I know from personal experience, when the engine coughs you're going down somewhere...

Every year GASCo (the General Aviation Safety Council) and the RNLI get together to do a pilot's ditching seminar, firstly to improve your pre-ditching planning but most importantly to give pilots practical experience of what it's like to be in a rough sea in a lifejacket and possibly a liferaft.
And, like a lot of training, this could save your life.

We fly Tango Golf down to Bournemouth on a cold Tuesday in March - I will fly down, Chris will do the radio, and we'll swap on the way back.
By the time I arrive Chris has pre-flighted and we are ready to start, so a quick P1 checkover (I flew this aircraft 2 days ago, not that much will have gone wrong that Chris will have missed - I've seen him pre-flight and he's very thorough) and we climb in and start up.
Once again our new "use the primer to keep the engine going until it has warmed-up" trick works well and soon we have a gently throbbing 6 cylinders ready to fly us.
Taxy out, take off and head South, swap to Farnborough, swap to Boscombe (who aren't awake), swap to Bournemouth and descend over Stoney Cross in to their Zone for a Right Base for 26. The winds are light but there is roil and bounce as we descend, it gets quite rough on the approach until we flare and land smoothly but long, requiring some hard braking and a short backtrack.
Then a long and involved taxy to Bournemouth Handling (£60? For a piece of tarmac for a day? How can they justify that? Not even a cup of tea for £60... Daylight Robbery. Bournemouth, your card is duly marked), shut down and grab a taxi to Poole.

After a morning's seminar (20 feisty pilots challenging our Instructor's every assertion, and him giving as good as he gets) where the absolute importance of having a working 406MHz GPS beacon on you is drilled in to us (rescuers can then pinpoint your position to 30m), we lunch and change for the pool.
It's a big, deep pool and we don normal flying clothes and lifejackets, deliberately identical to the ones we have in the plane, then jump in (COLD!), inflate our lifejackets for real (great practice - I learn to do the crotch strap and the stomach strap up tight or the bladder rides up your neck and tries to strangle you...), learn to conserve heat (foetal position, stop swimming, conserve energy and heat), then join up to conserve even more heat.
Then they close the curtains so it's dark, ramp up the waves to a Force 4, add cold water hoses and a wind machine and it gets cold, miserable and exhausting very quickly. As one of the very helpful RNLI divers accompanying us in the water so we don't actually drown says: "Forget this aviation lark... you're in my world now...".
And he's right. Life expectancy: 1 hour or so.

Then we get out, throw liferafts in the pool and get them inflated, learn how to turn them over if they capsize then practise getting in to them. Now I've done a bit of diving so I didn't actually find this too difficult but the secret is definitely getting the strongest person into the liferaft first, then he/she can pull the others in.
Once in, we huddle up, bail out the water (use a shoe if no bailer is available) and zip up the cover. It's surprisingly warm and you're out of the spray, you get knocked about a bit but it's much more comfortable and warmer than being in the water. Life expectancy: 10-24 hours, enough to get you rescued in European waters.
With a reverse-osmosis water pump for some fresh water, and a smooth-ish sea you could probably be reasonably comfortable while the choppers or lifeboat come to get you. And with a GPS beacon they will (without one? Forget it...)

A hot shower, dry clothes, a steaming mug of tea and some cake later we have just about stopped shivering, and we all agree that we now have a greater respect for the sea, greater confidence in our ability to survive a ditching and actually get rescued and a determination to ensure we have the right kit in the plane, and the right procedures in our minds for when it really does happen.

The taxi takes us back to Hurn where jump back in to the plane as the light fades, taxy out and take off North for Oxford, swap to Farnborough and then Oxford, join Right Base for 01 and Chris plops us on 01 with a minimum of hassle and we put the plane to bed.
We all sleep rather well.

It's Friday and the office is quiet, so a Board Meeting in Alderney sounds like a good idea. With my new found confidence in the possibility of ditching in the Channel I'm more comfortable with long over-water legs and reckon I can give a decent pax briefing.
And my colleague Johnny needs a flight.
Fire up AFPEx, file that Flight Plan, file the GAR by e-mail, plog the route in SkyDemon, grab the liferaft and the lifejackets and just Go.
Depart Oxford Southbound in haze, climb to 4,000ft on top and contact Bournemouth for a Zone Transit. They promptly forget us about until we are knocking on the door, and only a quick "Tango Golf, orbiting at Stoney Cross to remain outside Controlled Airspace" wakes them up - a Zone Transit is immediately authorised.
I hear Air Traffic Controllers making as many simple errors as pilots: everyone is only human and if anyone is learning to fly and struggling with their radio confidence (we've all been there...) it's nice to know the guys on the other end of the radio make cockups as well.
Johnny is fascinated by our interchanges: he likens it to "dancing with the controllers"; an interesting analogy.

The undercast remains well into the Channel, which is abnormal, but eventually clears as we reach the shipping lanes exactly as forecast. Descending in to the Channel Islands Airspace we get passed from Jersey Control to Guernsey Approach who tell us that despite the forecast, Alderney has scattered clouds at 400ft AMSL, which as the airfield is at 298ft is definitely not VFR, and in fact too low for even an NDB approach. We'll try for a visual approach, then, and see what happens.
The island rapidly becomes visible and the Eastern end is beautfully clear as we descend.... but a grey cloud is sitting right across the approach, exactly where I need to be able to see, just big enough to neatly block my approach without encroaching upon the sea.
Amazing, I've never seen anything like it, but it's apparently common here.
We Go Around at 800ft or so, climbing straight ahead a little untidily to 1,500ft and trundle off to the North for another go. Five minutes later we're back in the same position and... bugger me, that bloody cloud is still there!
As we Go Around once more we can actually see the field directly below us, but that cloud has successfully baulked us, and the Tower tell us it's sitting stationary 100ft over the approach. It's just not worth risking anything, so we climb to 1,500ft and tell Guernsey Approach we're diverting to Jersey, who are CAVOK, such is the weird Channel Islands weather.
Ten minutes later we are overhead Jersey No. 1 for a Right Base VFR approach in a crystal clear sky, sliding down the approach, getting a bouncy ride over the trees, settling on for the smoothest landing I've ever done at Jersey, and taxying in to the Aero Club. As we climb the steps to book in the CFI tells us he's just spoken to Alderney and now not only are they VFR but CAVOK! Bloody typical.... We could go back but knowing our luck it'll close in again. We'll stay for a decent Seafood platter lunch in the Aero Club.

Dances with Controllers
Having filled up ourselves with lunch and the aircraft with fuel (£1.19 a Litre! No wonder everyone goes to the Channel Islands for fuel) we start up and taxy out in to the sunshine. It's warmer here than Oxford.
Roll on 26 and climb out North cleared to Cap de la Hague (I know where that is now) the visibility is now of course absolutely fabulous and we can see all the way up the French coast. The sea is blue and calm, the air is cloud-free and we hang suspended in space as the world rolls below us.


Guernsey hands us to Jersey and we ask for a clearance back to our Flight Plan route for easier location in the event of an engine failure, pass overhead Alderney where that blasted cloud has dissipated and watch the tankers in the shipping lanes: first West to East in convoys, then a few minutes later East to West. Avoiding the Live Danger Areas to our left we cruise up towards the increasingly cloudy-looking coastline and get a Zone Transit from Bournemouth, coast-in (phew!) and immediately hit the thermal jiggles so noticeably absent over the sea. We are in and out of the scattered clouds in the Zone, then at Stoney Cross we descend for a better view, skirt Boscombe Down's MATZ and follow the A34 North.
Johnny lives in West Hendred, so we'll have a look at his house. This, predictably, is within EGP106, Harwell's Prohibited Zone (one of those wonderful hangovers from the Cold War never rescinded), so we'll stay above 2,500ft by a couple of hundred feet to avoid getting zapped by the CAA and circle his house.
I have found recently that as I have amassed more hours the basic controlling: making the aircraft do what is required i.e. in this instance circle over a spot whilst maintaining speed and height becomes something the conscious brain has little to do with - keeping the nose on the horizon and the speed nailed at 100Kts is easy. I remember fighting the aircraft to maintain even a semblance of equity when learning....
We roll out North and descend over Abingdon for a good look at Oxford ("and on our right hand side are the gleaming spires...") before settling in to a Downwind Join for 19 where we are no. 1 (where is everyone today?).
Surface winds are given as 240 at 15kts: the windsock is straight out and we have a fair crab on to maintain our track. But we'll maintain the crab all the way down to late in the flare, rudder it straight and we drop on with nary a squeak or a rattle.
It's only when we park and open the doors that we realise it's a howling gale out there - the doors bang and flap, the cover has a mind of its own, and my Hi Viz makes a bid for freedom. It didn't feel that windy on Final?

I'm taking Matt and Issy out today: they both want to have a go at flying the plane and we'll show them some countryside. But Matt claims he gets airsick, so we'll need to be careful: Airliner mode today...
Our nosewheel spat is back and repaired from the 50hr check: seems solid enough, so we'll put Matt in the P2 seat, show him where the sick bags are and take off.
It's a bit bumpy today, but smooths out as we climb out over Blenheim Palace gardens (what a view...) and on to Charlbury where the National Caravan Club are setting-up their annual bash in the park. Our blue fibre broadband connection is visible from 1,500ft and seems in one piece so we can move on to giving Matt a go.
He's happy making it go in 2 dimensions, but once we introduce "up and down" to the equation he struggles, so I take it back and fly them around Moreton-in-the-Marsh and Hook Norton. He's far too busy looking out of the window to feel airsick, which works well, so we slowly swing around towards Banbury, then ask for a straight-in approach for runway 19, slide gently down the approach explaining the PAPIs to him to keep him occupied and drop on, floating a little in the gusty conditions but a passable if long landing, I reckon.

Like Mother, Like Daughter
We swap passengers on the North side of the apron so Issy can have a go, start up and taxy out.
This time we'll do it a little differently: 20° flaps and rotate at 60Kts, maintain 65Kts and we go up very quickly indeed, depart and head South over Oxford.
The visibility is great today: some recent rain has washed the skies clean and Oxford looks particularly beautiful and empty, on a Sunday. They live in Temple Cowley so we'll take a look at that before swinging out towards Abingdon then over our house and Issy's parents' house near Marcham for a low and slow pass, then back to a safer height for Issy to have a play.
Issy's Mum Ann has flown this plane before and likes to throw it about a bit, which is great fun if you don't have a potentially airsick rear-seat passenger but a bit problematic if you do.... Like Mother, Like Daughter Issy enjoys zooming around the sky and I have to rein her in a bit for the sake of poor Matt who is stiting in the back. He's OK for a while, but eventually I have to restrain her to airliner mode until his colour returns.
Issy flies us back over Oxford and we start to negotiate a VFR recovery for Oxford, but they are so busy with instrument traffic and with a pilot who keeps speaking French (huh?) we eventually end up orbiting near Beckley until we can get a word in edge-ways.
Approaching downwind there is a Seneca climbing on the crosswind leg, where is he? I don't want to fly in to him, or indeed him in to me. Tower asks if he can see me (I can't see him) and he says he can, so we roll in to Downwind, do the Downwind checks, reduce to 100Kts, pop the flaps and push for 85Kts, roll Base leg and Final, cruise down and this time we'll spot-land it, in preparation for Friday's bouncy approach / spot landing exercise.....
This works well and we drop on tidily with no bounce just a few yards past the threshold, but it turns out there is someone behind us wanting to do a land-after, so we'll need to expedite the rest of the runway, so dump the flaps, yoke forward and a bit in to wind and rev up to 45Kts, whizz around the corner and vacate left to the apron.
It's not until we exit the aircraft and attempt to put the cover back on that we realise it's blowing a hoollie out here; the cover makes a bid for freedom and we have to stamp on it to prevent an escape....

Carrier Rating, Lesson 1
We have a long weekend booked for The Scillies who, like Scotland, are no strangers to extreme and fast-changing weather.
This is a long-held dream, but I haven't felt up to their short runways and blowy conditions before. I hope I'm up to the challenge.....
The weather has been "less than optimal" (even for May) all week and it's a bit touch and go whether we'll make it out there or, just as importantly, back home again. But the weather forecast finally resolves itself to "acceptable if gusty" by Friday morning, so we'll Go. Possible alternates include Lands End and Newquay (with an ILS).
We failed to get in to Alderney a couple of weeks ago, but the weather forecast says we should be OK today, so we will go for lunch there and then on to The Scillies. This sounds terribly posh but actually only adds 40 minutes or so to the outbound leg, and we can pick up some Duty Free petrol, booze and ciggies (all those things membership of the EU normally denies us, but don't get me started...).
We now have a posh locker in the hangar so can pick up all the over-water kit from there rather than at a random share member's house, which is an improvement (once I find the right hangar door!)
We have eough fuel to get us to Duty Free Heaven in Alderney so we can put our lifejackets on, pocket the PLB, do a Safety Briefing, start up (that trick with the primer works a treat) and depart South via Compton and Bournemouth.
We start off at 3000ft where it's overcast and a bit bumpy but soon tire of the miserable weather and climb just 500ft in to piercingly bright blue skies with fluffy clouds as far as the eye can see in all directions. What a difference 500ft makes!
The weather forecast is for "scattered" but this is definitely overcast and doesn't even break over the coast as we had hoped. Some thinning allows us to see the odd ship below, but it's definitely not as forecast. Typical....
Entering the Jersey Zone we begin our descent. We will need to get visual under the clouds by 1,000ft QNH to be safe, and Jersey are quoting the weather in Alderney as "Broken at 700ft", so it's a bit marginal. A gentle descent in to the gloom has us in solid cloud from 3,000ft all the way down to 1100ft, where we start to see breaks and we're clear by 1,000ft with Alderney visible ahead.
No large lump of cloud is sitting over the approach, although today we are landing Eastbound, so we position for a left base join for 09, roll Final (briefly IMC, that's interesting...) and line up for Final.
Alderney looks like an aircraft carrier floating along in the Channel: any undershoot will have you on the cliffs, so we will carry a bit of height and power against downdrafts until we are over the land, then chop the power and descend towards the undulating runway.
Typically for the first landing of the day I manage to land long (must concentrate on not doing that later...), braking produces nosehweel shimmy so ease off and pull back to unload the nosewheel, then roll all the way to the end for a turn in the circle, backtrack and turn off to the apron, then up on to the long and unkempt grass reserved for refuelling visitors (which manages to damage the freshly-repaired nosewheel spat... typical!).

Alderney is unloved: the airport needs a good revamp, the Aurigny Trislanders have seen better days, the flight planning office has only a fax and no AFPEx terminal. I've never actually faxed a flight plan before, so this is a new experience and of course I manage to forget the Wake Turbulence entry, prompting a phone call from Guernsey.
Then we have to fill out another GAR (we did this before we left Oxford...) which serves as a receipt for getting us back through Security when leaving, then the fueller wants a credit card payment and can't get a 3G signal out on the tarmac. Give me a break!

Carrier Rating, Lesson 2
After a good lunch in the town (Alderney town is a bit shabby) and a long walk down to the harbour for a nap in the sun by the quay our taxi takes us back to the airport, we go through "Security", collect our Duty Free and head out towards the flight line once more.

Now it's going to get a bit more serious: we're going to The Scillies via a long open-water stretch up to Plymouth (we would go direct but there are so many Danger Areas, some of them French, and I'm not sure we will be able to raise Plymouth Military at that range to get a status and a DACS if necessary).
So after a good over-water briefing, PLB in to pocket and lifejackets on we depart Westbound, climbing out in to bright blue sunshine and within 5 minutes are completely out of sight of land.
Tracking North East we leave Jersey Zone. For a while we are entirely out of radio contact which is disconcerting but we are on a Flight Plan so if we ditch someone will find us.
Plymouth Mil are unavailable so we try Exeter who eventually respond but by then we can see land, and the inevitable unforecast cruddy weather which worsens as we approach Plymouth.
If it's like this in The Scillies we are diverting to Lands End or Newquay.

But no, after Plymouth it clears and we have bright blue washed skies all the way down Cornwall.
We swap to Newquay who are very helpful, then try Culdrose (who have gone home) and finally Lands End who are a super-efficient (and very RADA) lady who informs us the DME at St Marys has gone U/S and wants to ensure we have GPS as the radio calls for The Scillies are all distance-related. We have, so she asks us to report overhead and soon we are once more over the sea.
At this point the weather begins to deteriorate once more so we descend to 2000ft, then 1000ft to remain in any way visual. We swap radio to Scillies Approach and descend even further. Much more and we will be below minima....
Slowly the islands beging to emerge from the muck: it's really gloomy down here but the 4 PAPIs on runway 27 are massively bright so we can line up on them; we're at 700ft and just about visual. The tower gives Scattered at 700ft, which is about right. Lovely....

This is where I will really earn my Carrier Landing Rating: 27 is 524m long, slopes heavily up at both ends and both starts and ends on cliff tops, we have a 210° 21Kt crosswind so we're out of crosswind limits and being blown North by it; I have to crab massively in to it to stay on the centreline.
As this is our first visit they recommend a low approach and go around so at 100ft I call Going Around, push everything forward and climb away over the top of the hill. As we start to turn crosswind at 700ft we go solid IMC again so we'll maintain Rate 1 and gently push for a 50ft descent to get visual again.
The Tower thankfully leave us alone (I'm sure they get lots of people doing this) as we scud across the base of the clouds and turn a wobbly Downwind. We turn for Base leg, pop 2 stages of flaps, turn Final and give it so much crab I'm nearly looking out of the passenger window, pop the final stage of flap and slow to 65Kts; we're being bounced around here but the approach is (staggeringly) actually stable.
Concentrate on the numbers, keep the speed up and power on to counteract the cliff downdrafts sucking us down, then that suddenly stops as we crest the cliff, so roll the power off sharp-ish, see the vertical speed come up massively, a huge heave to ensure we don't bounce; the airframe whistle that precedes the stall warner is building, push the right rudder to the stop to straighten us at the very last moment...... and we touch smoothly and roll up the hill, braking gently to stop just past the newly-tarmaced intersection with loads of runway to spare, backtrack and taxy off on to North Side parking and shut down.
That truly was buttock-clenching stuff and maybe the best landing I've ever performed, but right now I need a large Gin & Tonic.....

Carrier Rating, Lesson 3
It's Monday, a front has gone through in the night and we wake up to scudding clouds, 25Kt winds and heavy rain. The TAF says it's going to blow through by 10.00am but the winds will be 300° gusting 29Kts all day, rising to 54Kts by 6.00pm. Time to Go.
By 10.00am the sun has come out and it's a perfect flying day, so we head off up to the airport.
I love GA: it gives you a pass to the inner workings of commercial aviation. Next to the X-ray machines in the Departure Lounge is a small door with a buzzer. Pressing the buzzer allows you through (watched by goggle-eyed passengers) in to the inner sanctum of the airport via a winding staircase up past the offices to the Tower, from where you can see all the Twin Otters and Islanders arriving and departing.
I could stay up here all day watching the planes and listening to the Controllers liaising with arriving and departing aircraft, with Lands End and with the airfield FOD team patrolling the runway for bits of aircraft or birds, but we have business to attend to.
We pay our Landing and Parking Fees (a very reasonable £34 for 4 days) along with, it seems, every GA pilot parked on the grass. Everybody reads the same weather forecasts....
The tower is very solidly built and there is no evidence from up here of the howling gale outside. I suppose it has to be: they get serious winds here. The Scillies are very exposed.
Exiting the terminal I am battered by the wind as I walk across to the aircraft, which is rocking in the wind. The cover is determined to depart at high speed and it takes two of us to calm it sufficiently to roll it up.
Pre-flight is hard to do in the wind, and the long grass hinders underarriage inspection, but eventually we are in and call for start, taxy back on to 32 and back down the hill to the threshold of 27 (check and re-check that the brakes are working: failure here means you're off the cliff), turn round, drop the flaps to best take-off setting, clench buttocks and once cleared we Go.
As it's uphill accelerating seems to take forever but the airspeed indicator comes off the bottom stop in a few seconds and rolls around to 60Kts in a few more: aileron in to wind and firmly rotate. And we lift off before the intersection (so that's 289m) and by the time we pass the tower we are at 100ft. Phew!

We ask for and get clearance to fly around the islands, and in the blinding sunshine the white beaches and white horse waves could be The Caribbean. Above 100ft it smooths out (we're above the sea) and we ease around to a North Easterly heading before climbing to 3,000ft for the transit back to Lands End.
At 10 miles out we swap back to the super-efficient Lands End lady, saying a sad goodbye to The Scillies. We'll be back.

We have at least a 40Kt tailwind at 3,000ft so getting home will be quick and easy.
As we head North East the weather deteriorates as expected: we are catching up with last night's Front. We climb to 7,000ft to try to stay on top where it's smoother but of course there is an Airway in the way near Exeter so in the end we have to descend in to the clouds. The forecast icing level is at 8,500ft so we're OK although we do pick up a little bit on the windscreen before it is replaced by light rain near Bodmin.
Once past Exeter the high ground ends and we can descend a bit further; at 3,000ft we drop in to bumpy VMC and the weather starts to clear. Amazingly quickly we are past Bristol and looking at Swindon, so we can swap directly to Oxford who have 290° winds at 14Kt gusting 28Kt. I have already spoken to Oxford and ensured runway 29 is available, so now we ask for and get a left base for 29 (not one other aircraft on frequency, even the Tower sound surprised we're out here), descending over a sun-drenched Oxford and getting pushed out by the wind towards Beckley mast before turning Final at 4 miles. Runway 29 looks short from here, and the last time we did this it was all too much drama. I need to get this better...
Nail the speed and stabilise the approach at 65Kts, keep the power on to counteract the downdraft from the trees, then as we sink in to the flare we pick up a gust. This is precisely what has made my landings bad in the past, so this time I'll drop the power, heave the yoke and use the lift reserve (great term, that) to cushion the descent while I straighten us out and we plop neatly on 1/3rd of the way up the runway for a short roll out. No drama here folks, move right along...
With big smile we backtrack Bravo and park up. Carrier Rating complete.
Opening the doors we are assailed by more wind: we landed in that?

So The Scillies are great fun, but not for the faint-hearted and maybe pilots with a few hours under their belts would be happiest.
And once again it shows that for serious transport you need a competent aircraft, good crosswind landing skills and an Instrument Rating.

Once over 50 you need an Annual Medical because you're more likely to suffer bad health.
Fair enough, but trouble arrives from an unexpected direction.
I have been suffering with a kidney stone: nothing hugely bad that some anti-inflammatories and a hot water bottle doesn't ease, and am "in the NHS system" for an ultrasonic zap that will turn it to gravel so I can pee it out (which sounds a lot more dramatic than it actually is) but of course I have to declare it, and my AME promptly declares me unfit due to "Renal Colic" and won't let me fly without a Safety Pilot until I have a Consultant's letter stating that I am stone-free.
All this I can understand: no one wants an incapacitated pilot at the controls but what I know is that the pain incidents come on slowly, the anti-inflammatories are not debilitating and if I even got a twinge I simply wouldn't go flying anyway, so I think he has over-reacted a bit. If my medical had been a month ago I wouldn't have had to declare it and by the time next year rolls around it will have been and gone. All slightly unfortunate timing.
My worry is that I'd like to take the aircraft to France in July and NHS waiting lists being what they are by the time I have been through the CT scan....ultrasound zap....CT scan...declared clear procedure it could be September or even October. BUPA say they can do the whole lot in a day, which is heartening but eye-wateringly expensive.
We shall see. In the meantime I can fly but must have a qualified pilot or instructor in the right hand seat.

Bryan has a US-registered Mooney parked in a hangar at Oxford and asks me if I'd like a whizz around in it. I'm still in a post-medical funk so maybe a jaunt is the right thing to do.
This is an almost-new and extremely tidy aircraft with EFIS, synthetic vision, FLARM traffic warning, digital tea-maker and every other gizmo, but (warmingly) the cylinder temperature gizmo doesn't work. Aircraft are aircraft: there's always something wrong...
We climb in, I'll do the radio and program the EFIS, which is touch-screen and very easy to use, Bryan taxy's out and we take-off. Speeds seem to be quite similar to the C182: 75-85Kts climb out, then accelerate once the flaps are up and you're heading where you want to go.
We head out West overhead Charlbury and I take it. It feels a little more ponderous in roll than the C182 but then it has longer wings; like the C182 it needs a little bit of lead-in and lead-out rudder to stay tidy in the turns; the controls feel tighter because they are pushrod, bell-and-crank not wires; it's quieter (but then these are Bose X headsets) and the aircraft feels more powerful. Circling requires a bit more concentration from the right seat to keep the height spot on (bit of parallax error there and you're craned over to see the EFIS), then we head back, being asked to orbit North of Charlbury (I know where that is better than he does), then Oxford decline our "left base for 01" request and clear us for a crosswind join.
Bryan asks if I know how to do that in a tone of voice that suggest he has forgotten, but he's a US CFII so if he has, we're all in trouble. Anyway, the right answer is "easy: head for the take-off numbers" so that's exactly what we do, cross at 1500ft, roll right for Downwind, call Downwind, then descend on the base leg. Bryan tends to turn Final at around 600ft, whereas I usually err on the conservative side and turn at 900ft, but these are minor things. We fly the approach at 85Kts, he takes it as we pass through 300ft, he flares at 75Kts the same as we do and plops it on gently: the famous "Mooney bounce" being non-apparent. All very nice indeed.
The whole high-wing/low-wing choice is swings and roundabouts: high wing is better for sight-seeing but you do feel more boxed-in. That said, the cockpit ceiling makes you feel boxed-in anyway. Low-wing afficionados say you can see other aircraft better. Well, maybe, but you can't see them below you when you turn.
Certainly runway visibility in the Final turn is better in a low-wing: I'm usually craning forward in the turn to see the runway and know when to roll level, but once established it's an aircraft, and (besides the retractable undercarriage and the effect the flaps have on the trim) all aircraft are the same. Yes, with a few practises I could land it, and probably fly it solo as well.

I'm damned if this Licence restriction is going to stop me flying, so on a sunny Tuesday evening Pete and I meet up for an easy low-stress evenings aviation. We decide to fly down to the Isle of Wight via CPT, round it and back home via NUBRI.
There is nothing to conflict except a drone over Blenheim Palace and so on departure we turn South and set up for Compton, climb to 3,000ft and switch the autopilot on.
I have noticed that the aircraft flies one wing low if you don't keep the ball very accurately in the middle so I am now concentrating hard on trying to keep it there all the time. I haven't bothered too much about minor variations in the past but I'm trying to fly a little more accurately now in every way (especially as Pete is an Instructor...).
We avoid Lasham where they are gliding and soon we can see the sea ahead.
The evening is drawing in as we swap to Solent, who are jealous of us being out on a nice evening like this.
We descend to 1,500ft to the East of Bembridge and gently ease around the South coast past Ventnor and over the the West side of the island towards The Needles.
We can see CBs building South of us and on-frequency a Jersey flight requests own navigation to avoid them, then we see strange patches in the sky that look like.... ah, rain. Just a brief shower.

Turning North we shadow the East side of the Bournemouth Zone under the Solent Zone heading for Stoney Cross, but surprisingly we have a quite strong East wind blowing us towards Bournemouth, so have to change course East to avoid getting blown in to their Zone. That would be embarrassing...
Soon Stoney Cross hoves in to sight and we turn North East and climb back towards our normal 3,000ft cruise. Soon Basingstoke and Newbury are visible, then Compton and Didcot, so we swap back to Oxford and get a visual rejoin for 19, cruise-descend for a Join at 100kts and 1500ft QNH, BUMPFTCH checks, one stage of flap, then turn Base then Final and plop neatly on in the evening sunshine. Very pleasant.

Pete goes off to chat to another pilot, and actually it's really nice to be left alone to perform an unhurried post-flight shutdown of the aircraft, putting everything away and leaving it tidy, double-checking fuel, electrics and brakes are off, the going for a beer.

Another Opinion of Pilots
Stephen wants to talk about the complexities of running a shared aircraft group, so what better place to discuss it than at a remote airfield over lunch? He can be my Safety Pilot du jour and we'll go to Cherbourg.
Now we won't... it's Sunday and all the restaurants are closed. Typical.
Small change of plan: we'll go to Compton Abbas instead.
The aircraft is booked and we turn up to find... no aircraft?
Because it's the British Grand Prix today at Silverstone all the bigwigs have flown in to Oxford in their shiny bizjets and gone by helicopter to the track, so all the little planes have been moved to assorted parking areas. Ten minutes later we find Tango Golf lurking behind a hangar.
There is a lot gravel and some windows here. I think we'll pull it forward so we don't pebbeldash their windows when we start up...
I haven't seen Stephen for a while but as we start up and taxy out he gets that calculating look I know so well: he hasn't told me yet but I know he's got an Instructor Rating since I last saw him. All Instructors get that thoughtful look when they fly with you: they're judging you, which is no bad thing and I'm open to criticism (maybe!). By the time he finally admits it I've known for an hour.
We climb out South and watch a C130 dropping parachutes over RAF Abingdon. For some reason he's on Oxford's Approach Frequency (well, it's Sunday so Brize will be asleep). If he's not careful he'll drop them in my garden.
Turn at Compton, swap to Farnborough who want rid of us in 5 minutes to Thruxton, who allow us through their overhead and advise of paradrops at Old Sarum, so we swap to them and liaise a Northward swing to keep us clear of their drop before starting our descent in to Compton Abbas.
It takes me ages and I'm only 3 miles out before I can actually identify the airfield, which is embarrassing. But finally everything slots in to place and we're inside the approach cone and descending. There is a South-West wind causing some roil from the trees on the South side of the airfield. There is also a large tree directly under the approach which I know well we need to be virtually scraping with the wheels in order not to land 2/3rds of the way down the runway. So we will need to keep some speed on to retain control, then chop and pull as we sink in to ground effect.
As we come over the tree a sharp burst of turbulence requires ailerons to full lock, then it smooths out and we flare just past the numbers with no bounce, which is satisfying, brake gently, vacate and taxy over the bumpy grass to parking.
Now-instructor Stephen reckons I did it wrong: he says I should have taken a higher approach line over the tree carrying more flap for a higher descent rate. Maybe. I'm of the opinion that either solution works.

High expectations
Compton Abbas are offering Trial flights and wing-walking today on a Stearman 75.

With regards to the wing-walking, the old 10cc track "Clockwork Creep" applies: "oh, no you'll never get me up in one of these again..." (also heard briefly at the start of "I'm Mandy, Fly me" for the 10cc completists). I'm currently reading Tony Blackman's autobiography "Flight Testing To Win" (I used to work with Tony, and he's an interesting character) and he pretty much destroys the whole "tailwheel worship" theory: he'd fit everything with a nosewheel instead. What works for Tony works for me.

Compton is packed with non-aviators, aviators, kids, young and old taking pictures, grannies wing-walking, people taking trial flights, motorgliders being blown around by the wind, and so on. This is a huge GA success story. If Oxford had a GA complex on the other side of the airfield they could do this too.

After a great lunch (Compton do great lunches) and a chat we start-up, taxy out, power check and enter 26, call rolling and roll. We get large amounts of turbulence off the trees again (which is of course what all the visitors have come to see...) but soon climb out over it and turn back for home.
Solent are helpful as we thread between Boscombe Down and their Zone then turn North and try something new. Instead of talking to the very-busy Farnborough we simply do a Listening squawk 4572, avoid Lasham and fly at 2,900ft near Compton. Nothing to affect so we swap to Oxford and descend over Didcot.
As it's a nice calm afternoon Stephen tells me has high expectations of my landing, which is of course fatal....
Oxford's visual circuit is busy and we are no.4 for landing, they ask us for an orbit Downwind and then a second one, which of course (Instructor Alert!) must be constant height and speed (and Rate 1!). Ah, I think I can do that (I have done that in cloud before, and actually it's easier with now external references to mess you up).
Oxford finally clear us in and we drop down the Base Leg, turn Final and ease down the approach, nail the speed and drop on smoothly (but to the left of the centre-line, something I do a lot), roll out and taxy in. He says that there is "nothing to worry about there, then" which I suppose is praise....

Bashing the circuit
Steve (who owns the shareoplane) and I have actually never flown together before: not intentionally, but I have just never flown him. So today I'd better do a good job, as he's an ex-BA Captain.....
He has suggested some circuits with Chris as well, so I'll P1 for the first couple of circuits then we'll all swap.
After a pre-flight (I'm not convinced Steve's checklist doesn't duplicate one or two things and miss out others) we start up and taxy out. The wind is 12Kts at 190° so landings could be good if I havent forgotten how!
As we start to descend for Base Leg they reckon I'm too high, but hey... thats' what I was taught, and we descend in to the approach cone, catch some downdraught over the last field which helps, then down to flare height and we'll flare gently for a smooth arrival. This one is really smooth to the point that the others ask what my secret is (which of course is "look at the end of the runway....").
We clean up and climb out, then round the circuit again for what I reckon is a 10/10 smooth arrival: we don't even feel the mains touch, just an increasing rumble as the wheels spin up. I'll hold the nose off as long as possible to alleviate any nosewheel shimmy, then brake smoothly for the runway exit. I think I've passed....
Chris takes over and his technique is different: a much more aggressive climb out, steeper turns (mine are all Rate 1, I cant do anything different now) and a lower approach, but he bounces it the first time round (although the second time is pretty good). Just different.
Unfortunately we don't get the Master Class in Circuits we are expecting from Steve as the oil pressure is a bit low, and we conclude that an early bed is in order while Airmed inspect the gauge. Probably wise....

My kidney stone has been very painful. Extracorporeal Lithotripsy (a fancy term for ultrasonic pulses beamed in to your kidney stone from outside) has successfully smashed up my stone but ejecting the gravel has had me in A&E twice, rolling around in agony. Flying has been a long way from my mind....
During this enforced aviation-free period I have missed flying to a wedding in Southwold, and had to endure the A14 and the A12. 4˝hrs each way in traffic versus the 55 mins it would have taken by air reconfirms my belief in GA as a form of transport. 3 separate people try to kill us during the journeys. These roads, they're not safe....
So today I will take John, who has his own aeroplane, out to Beccles where we would have gone for the wedding, rented a car and been relaxed about the whole experience. Beccles looks interesting: lots of parachuting (what? Jumping out of a perfectly good aeroplane?) and allegedly a diner. Part grass, part tarmac, the runway has been cobbled together from bits of an old airfield. I can't believe how the GA infrastructure in Britain is allowed to decay: it's amost as if the Government want to use the airfields for housing..... no, surely they wouldnt do that?
While we are departing Ops for the aircraft a Spitfire does a run and break at about 200ft down the main runway at Oxford. It's not every day you see that, but I think they are trying to visit each and every airfield as it's Battle Of Britain Day (or thereabouts). The noise is impressive.
But I'd need, let's see: a tailwheel Rating from Enstone on their Chipmunk, some time down at Goodwood on the Harvard, then and only then would they let me fly the Spitifire. I don't know whether I've got enough Biggles for that... Nice, though.
Start up, taxy out, depart North East. Now I'm reasonably procedure-minded, and one of my little procedures is that I get an ATIS before I taxy off, and I write down the ATIS letter, the runway and if Danger Area 129 (Weston-on-the-Green parachuting) is Active I write "D129" and a ring around it to remind myself not to go there. And today it's not Active. So imagine my surprise when Approach tells me we're about to infringe as we climb out. Huge apologies, and of course we high-tail it further East, but I have no "D129" with ring so either my procedure has failed or they've changed the ATIS (that I suspect).
We head East towards cranfield, then Cambridge, then South of Mildenhall/Lakenheath (schoolboy memories of American A10s taking off in the 1970s....) and soon the coast approaches. Beccles radio says "5 minutes to drop" and we have no desire to chop our way through a parachutist, so we will divert South a bit and turn North towards Lowestoft over the coast before swinging round towards a long final for 27.

After a month of not flying my landings are often long, but Beccles is short and we will need to be slow and really accurate, getting the wheels on to the grass well before the start of the tarmac. Pull full flaps, slow to 65Kts, be really accurate, flare over the starter extension so the wheels touch on the start before the numbers, get a satisfying buzz from the stall warner (more of a "you are now stalled" warning on this aircraft...) as we touch, keep the yoke all the way back for maximum aerodynamic braking and minimum nosewheel shimmy, a little gentle braking and we're stopped with plenty of room to spare. I reckon that was about 350m; not bad (although I have done better).

Beccles has a good diner, although it is hard to find, and they do a good fry up even at 3pm, so suitably filled-up we return to the aircraft, dip the oil and... it's 6quarts. We started with 12quarts 55 mins ago.
We have had this before, when I parked the aircraft on a slope in Scotland, but this field is as flat as a pancake, so where's all the oil? No skid marks on the underside of the aircraft, no marks around the filler or the dipstick, so it's burned it (if it's gone at all).
OK: quick decision as they are 5 minutes from dropping and we need to be gone now or delay. Grab a litre bottle (very roughly 1 quart), fill her up, then start up and watch the oil pressure: any weirdness and we'll shut down. But no, it's OK, so we taxi to the end, power-check, line up and go.
The acceleration is slow on the grass and this runway is short so I've dropped the flaps for a short-fielder and I pull her off at 60Kts, but she's flaccid and won't really climb, the pre-stall airframe noise just there in the background, so nose down and accelerate in ground effect, drifting to the left a bit much for comfort before we hit 65Kts and climb away. What happened? Too little flap, that's what happened. Parallax error and hurry gave us 15° flap not 20°. Not the end of the world but unnecessary: slapped wrist.
Clean up at 1,000ft and I'll get John to fly us home while I watch the oil pressure and CHT. And it is dropping just below where it normally is: there is something going on.
We swap to Lakenheath (A10s!), then Cambridge, keeping an eye on the runways as we cruise West in to the lowering sun: all the lights go on and we make sure we can see the runway at Cranfield. I've decided we go Precautionary if the oil pressure drops below 50 or the CHT hits the red line, but both values stay just within limits and all else seems smooth so we cruise back to Oxford for a left base for 19, drop down the approach and plop on for a roll out.
Something is definitely awry, which as Steve is planning to take the aircraft to France tomorrow is not good news.

The NHS is an amazing institution, medically. They offer the very latest treatments free at the point of delivery to all UK citizens, random EU and non-EU travellers and healh tourists from other nations.
But their bureaucracy is legend and trying to get an "All Clear" letter in my hands (actually in my AME's hands) has taken twice as long as actually getting the kidney stones treated. We have had scans, letters and appointment notifications lost, scans misread and lots of "x is on holiday" messages. If it ever recurs my AME will be the last person ever to hear about it...
Like many pilots I can only assume the medical profession is the enemy of aviation - despite clear evidence of a lack of recurrence I still have a restriction on my Class 2 forcing me only to fly with another qualified pilot 6 months after the treatment.
And Tango Golf goes in for its Annual, the maintenance company goes broke and the aircraft is trapped inside teh workshop.
Is this the end?