The Ballards - Tango Golf 2016


Doing something new...
Tango Golf has been rescued from the broken maintenance company and re-certified as Airworthy, 5 months after entering maintenance.
Winter has come and largely gone, Spring is in the air and it's March.
I'm still restricted to dual-pilot flying despite repeated entreaties to multiple AMEs: they just won't believe I'm safe. I do have a promise frome my AME that come July provided I continue to have a clean bill of health he will lift the restriction, so I will hold him to that.
In the meantime, let's re-familiarise ourselves with this strange thing I used, 6 months ago, to be able to fly (and occasionally quite well...)

The wind has done something strange today: it's coming from the East and it's quite surprisingly strong, so once I have removed the errant cover (which makes a bold bid for freedom) and pre-flighted, Pete and I have started up we get the ATIS which shows the wind at 18G25KT direcly across runway 01/19, outside crosswind limits for the aircraft.
Now I would normally give that a go as I have a lot of experience with this aircraft, 01 is a long runway and we'd just land fast and wing-down plus crabbed, but after a 6-month hiatus I don't think I'd be confident in doing this. That would be poor decision-making.

Oxford has a shorter, cross-runway oriented 11/29. I've used 29 but never 11; neither Pete nor I have ever used or seen anyone use it. But it's there, and the Tower give us permission to do circuits on it. So for my first flight for 6 months we're going to be operaing in to a gusty, short, unknown runway. Lovely!

We taxy all the way up 01 with the ailerons cranked right over to keep the wing down (it's gusty and i can feel it rocking the airframe), turn left to the end of 11 and power-check in the engine test area.
From here the wind is strong but roughly aligned with the runway so we get clearance and roll. Expecting (and getting) a pretty rough ride for the first 400 feet of the climb we slowly emerge in to smoother air and take a rough guess at where the turn to the crosswind leg should be. Using the compass rose to estimate the bearing for the 4 legs of the circuit, knowing the runway orientation works, as does simply adding 90°, so crosswind becomes 200°, downwind 290° and Base 020°. Let's see if that works....

It does seem strange turning across the main runway and calling Downwind but we're settled at 100Kts and 1500ft without conscious effort so something must have remained over the last 6 months' layoff. Half-afraid they won't let us do circuits on 11 for noise abatement reasons we call for a Touch 'n Go and get clearance, so roll right over the monument at Blenhaim Palace (what a view!) and start our Base Leg descent.

Turning Final for 11 presents an interesting perspective: it looks very short. It is in fact 760m, long enough for anyone, but drops away at the far end so looks like 500m. And there's a big tree I've never noticed before, right in the way.....

The wind fights us as we drop; I've found that if I try to think consicously too much about what I need to do rather than just feeling it, it all goes wrong, so instead we'll do it by instinct. Over the tree, big control movements to counteract the gusts, then we're over the threshold, pointed more or less in the right direction and at the right height and it's smoothed out, big heave as our shadow descends to the side of us and we're on; no bounce, just tidy.
Flaps up, smooth push of the throttle so no rich-cut, lots of right rudder as the power comes on and we're at 65Kts and rotating in 200m or so. Fight the gusts on the way up then round we go again.

And it's all come back. I cant hold a heading and chat, but it's all becoming more familiar, even the approach view. Pete reckons I'm too close to the tree so the next time I come in a little higher, then roll off the throttle as we pass over the tree so we drop on a little earlier. Ah, he's right, it did work better.

By the 4th circuit I'm getting cocky: we've had 3 very acceptable landings and I'm a little close to the Brize Zone on the crosswind leg so we need to turn pronto. Roll in 60° of bank and pull a bit to get her round, this is fun again. Nail the Downwind leg, nail the Base leg and roll Final for a full-stop. Over the tree, roll off the throttle and we're down... with the upwind wheel coming up due to me not having enough into-wind aileron before I crank it in and we drop on properly. Well, that'll teach me to be cocky!
Taxy in and I feel thoroughly re-familiarised and ready for anything. I'm not, of course, but at least I'm safe. And now I've landed on, and taken off from, all 4 active runways at Oxford. Not many can say that.

Good Friday
Easter is a 4-day holiday but of those 4 days, 3 are forecast to be absolutely dire weather, with high winds, rain and even lightning as Storm Katie blows through, round and round and finally releases us just in time to go back to work on Tuesday.....
So Good Friday is the only solution, if everywhere is open....
Safety Pilot....Tick: Willie is free
Oxford Ops.....Tick: they're open
Kemble...........Tick: they're open
and finally....
The AV8 restaurant....Tick: they're open

So we pick up Willie at 1.30pm, park up, pre-flight (loads of fuel for a "round the zone bimble"), fire up (now apparently Oxford requires Start Approval; that's new but not a big issue), taxy out, power-check and take off Southbound.
Compton VOR is out of action at present (that's rare) but the GPS units can still use it as a turning point so we are OK for navigation (we can see Didcot and the A34 so that's not an issue). We're at 2,900ft deliberately because it's quite busy up here: we see three opposing GA aircraft and a glider in 10 minutes. Everyone is out...
We cross the looking for a client's house to photograph: ah, there it is. Willie keeps the aircraft rolled over so I can concentrate on some aerial shots before we roll out West for Kemble.

As we approach and swap to Kemble we find out where the world and his wife are headed to or from: Kemble has a decent restaurant and you can park outside, so everyone in GA in Southern England seems to have decided that tea at the famous AV8 restaurant is a good idea. The radio frequency is hugely busy.
We'd like a straight-in for 26 but they're so busy they need us to join overhead. Bit of a mental map in the head, then turn South to come in over the landing numbers at 2000ft, report overhead, descend on the dead side to cross again at 1000ft over the take off numbers, report crosswind, then downwind, stabilise at 1000ft and 100Kts, pop the flaps and turn for Final.
Now I usually make a rubbish job of landing at Kemble for some reason, I dont know why quite, but today the Landing Gods smile on us and the landing is... well, perfection. That'll never happen again!
Taxy in and park at the end of a very long line of visiting aircraft, shut down and go for tea. The weather is fantastic today.

By the time we are ready to return to Oxford most people have left, so we get an uninterrupted taxy down to A1, where we are immediately cleared for take off, so call "rolling" and accelerate, rotate at 65Kts and climb away, turn to the North and head for the North Leach roundabout (that unofficial VRP that everyone uses...)
There is no point in bothering Brize (they'll be dozy anyway) so we'll swap back to Oxford (who are so quiet I wonder if the radio is working), start our descent for a Right Base join at 10 miles, call 4 miles, swap to Tower, get a Right Base join and turn Final still pretty high.
Roll the power right off and descend in to the correct landing cone, then come back on the power to stabilise things and plop neatly on a third of the way down 19 (and for once on the centreline, something I'm trying to concentrate on). Very satisfying.....
Taxy in and park bang on the centreline for once, tie it down against the vast winds that will sweep the airfield in the next 48 hours, pop the cover on and retire for a well deserved G&T.

And just two conclusions from the flight: my once-trusty Garmin 296 is completely dead - it won't recognise its own battery, and won't pick up any satellites, even with the external aerial attached and the trusty "reset location" fix every 296/496 owner knows.
And I really do need to get better at using the G430W.

4 Seasons in one day
My SEP revalidation is due at the end of May, and my ongoing medically-induced lack of single-pilot privileges plus the 6-month aircraft availability drought has resulted in a less-than-12hr total for the last 12 months (don't get me started on AMEs, they are the single biggest threat to aviation...), so I need 4.1hrs P1 time in the next 3 days.
Let's see if we can do that in one afternoon without going foreign.
I'll borrow the genial Phil, who runs PFT's desk part-time, and we'll go on a nice big cross-country. I'll get him to fly some while I tinker with the 430W. I've been playing with the software simulator at length in the comfort of my own computer, but now is a good time to try the system for real.
I have always used my Garmin 296 as primary Nav, backed-up by SkyDemon on the GPS, a line on the map and VOR cross-cuts but now it's a little different. I can see better over the coaming without the 296 there, and I can stop worrying about its battery life. My iPad, however, will not charge off the cigarette lighter socket USB port, so we'll need a better solution for that.
We pre-flight (I see the mainwheel spats were removed for Steve's recent visit to the beach at Barra, and not restored), get the nice fuel man to "fill 'er up", and take off in to a sunny afternoon with fluffy clouds that indicate thermals; indeed it is quite bumpy as we track South for Compton. The actual VOR beacon is out of action (they are upgrading it) but we can still track to a virtual GPS copy of it.
But the 430W won't track - eventually we find out why: the flight plan I have inputted has ignored the start point of EGTK and gone straight to the next leg. In-flight removal and re-input of the flight plan eventually cures it, but apparently the correct way is to select the leg, then OPT and "fly this leg".
Turning right and heading For Bristol we opt to talk to Farnborough but they say we are too far West to interest them so we set a listening squawk for Bristol and track down between them and Salisbury Plain, getting bounced around by the thermals.
South of Bristol we track for Taunton, then talk to Exeter and head for Newquay as the weather rapidly deteriorates in to haze and low cloud. Newquay give us a transit through their ILS (not strictly necessary, but courteous and good airmanship) then we swap to Perranporth who tell us they are on 05 LH and refuse to answer any more of our calls, so we make blind calls which works just fine.
We could join crosswind and trundle around the circuit but there's next to no traffic so we call for a Right Base join, manoeuvre for Right Base, find ourselves a lot closer than we thought suddenly, so come right back on the throttle, drop to 100Kts, push the prop up for some braking and do a continuous turn in the descent as the flaps come in, very much like a PFL glide approach. It's extreme, but it's within the acceptable "I can get it in from here" approach cone. We do have a very high descent rate, but we cross the threshold looking sensible and lined-up, so big flare, hold off and we plop on a third of the way down, decelerate, backtrack and come off between the cones for parking.
It's surprisingly cold and windy here.

Over-water briefing
After an excellent bacon butty (they've kept the restaurant open for us) we put on our lifejackets for the trip over the Bristol Channel.
I've brought these and the liferaft - now I have a feel for what it's like in the sea post-ditching I know the secret is to be well prepared, so a proper ditching briefing and ensure the crotch strap is done up, then we depart on 05 (more blind calls) and just continue straight on past Newquay's ILS and in to the Bristol Channel where it's very smooth but hazy with no visible horizon and the autopilot fails to work, so I have to hand-fly it effectively IMC before eventually the Welsh coast appears.
I've got the hang of the 430W now: Phil has been flying whilst I enter things and curse the interface, but so long as you use IFR reporting points when planning (Skydemon does these, but you have to turn the display on) it works just fine. It really needs a keyboard for ease of use: the Apple TV has the (largely undocumented) ability to use a Bluetooth keyboard and the 430W could do with just this. Entering the waypoints is decidedly clunky and the interface is inconsistent, but once it's set up it works well.

The sky is blue over Swansea and the Gower Peninsula but as we track North West the clouds build; we climb to be on top where it's smoother but as we reach the West coast it clears so we descend. London Info can't really hear us up here (although their coverage is better than it used to be, or maybe we are flying higher?) so we swap to Valley Radar (a new one for me) and descend to 2,000ft or so as the clouds close in from above, now hugging the tops of the hills. As we cross the last saddle before Caernarfon (TERRAIN WARNING from the 430W) Valley advise us of fast moving traffic right to left below us (and our ground clearance is not much more than 1,000ft at that point). We never even see it (it was allegedly a Hawk).....
Turning to follow the coastline we swap to Caernarfon, join Crosswind then do a nice tight "no other traffic to affect" circuit and line up for Final over the caravan site and down to the threshold of 25, flare, touch and for a second or so it just feels floaty before we feel the weight fully on the wheels. We didn't actually bounce, but I didn't quite get the smooth arrival I had hoped for. A bit of rubbish coming over the hangars? Or just "you can't get it right every time" probably more likely.....
Taxy in for some fuel (you can never have too much of that...) next to the SAR hangar, then park up for booking-in.
It's really cold and quite windy here, but everyone is very friendly.

Feel the speed.....
We fire up, input the last flight plan (I'm good at this now) and taxy out for 25, take off over the amazing beach and turn South East for the saddle. The clouds have really come down now, so if I can't get through VFR we'll climb for MSA over land (or if all else fails, over the sea) then climb IMC to get on top. I'm not going to bounce around through this all day...
It gets worse as we climb and starts to rain, so we'll put the prop back in and climb for some sun. The cloud is surprisingly thick, and this is good IMC practice anyway, we've no reasonable height limits here (the Airway above starts at FL145) so we keep climbing until at 6,500ft we pop out on top in to bright sunshine, one of those wonderful rebirth experiences known only to instrument-rated pilots, then level out to skim the tops for some sensation of speed.
The cloud lasts a surprisingly long time given the weather forecast and we are well East of the M5 and near Kidderminster before it finally does break up to reveal the ground far below.
Say goodbye to London Info, swap to Oxford and track far North of Little Rissington where the NOTAMs say we need to, to avoid their parachute dropping. Oxford are on evening duty by now and aren't bothered what we do so long as we report at 5 miles.
So we track East towards Banbury and try out the PROC button on the 430W, selecting Vectors to the ILS which gives the CDI on NAV1 the correct steer-left indication, given our 30° cut to the ILS.
Weirdly, swapping between that and the VLOC (ILS) guidance gives a steer-right, which is just plain wrong. I can pick up the morse on the audio channel so I know we are within range, and eventually as we get closer the NAV flag disappears and it switches to the correct steer-left indication.
We can switch back and forth between the GPS-derived Localiser and the "real" ILS-derived Localiser and get the same indication, which is comforting.
What I'm unsure of is whether I should believe the GPS-derived glideslope info, so we'll use the real one.
Phil is my Safety Pilot so I can keep my head in the cockpit, drop to 100Kts and watch the glideslope come in from above, tweak the bug and hand-fly the ILS. At 4 miles we get a clear-to-land so continue down to 1,000ft where I elect to go visual and... oh, look, there's the runway. Always a neat trick.
Full-flaps for a short-field landing, all the way back to 65Kts over the threshold, then plop on with a bit of a squeak (more practice needed there), roll out (this is a long old runway when you've done a short-field approach), exit and taxy in.
It's warm and sunny here, much nicer than Wales.

So we've had a huge variety of weather. 4 seasons in one day as they say.
I now have the required 12hrs and a bit to spare and a total of 400hrs, worth a bit of reflection.

There's always something new to learn
Every 2 years we need an hour with an Instructor, not for anything specific other than for him to check you're still safe. Bad habits do creep in....
So this Bank Holiday Sunday afternoon after everyone else has gone home Brien and I will go out for an hour to experiment with the 430W and the autopilot, do some stalls and PFLs and anything else that crops up.
It's a beautiful afternoon with a thin layer of broken cloud at just under 3,000ft: we take off and discuss EFATO options as we climb. He reckons if you lose the engine before you turn crosswind on the climb out it's best to do the 30° rule and find a field as opposed to trying to turn back to the runway. To prove this we do some power-off 180° and 270° turns to see how much height we lose, which is about 600ft plus a mile back to the runway. Fair comment, and a good, simple rule to work by in times of emergency.
It's very smooth as we scoot about at 120Kts above the clouds, experimenting with the 430W linkage to the autopilot, which does actually seem to work provided you aren't more then 30° from the track heading. It does seem a bit hit-and-miss but exciting: I like the idea of the A/P flying Holds in bumpy clouds for me.
Then we try some stalls, so HASELL first, a couple of clearing turns and then pull up for a clean stall (piece of cake), a 20° flap stall and a full flap stall (42Kts on the ASI !). These are non-events so Brien throws a curve: simulate a Base-to-Final turn and stall it there (the classic "Coffin Corner" scenario). Now this I haven't tried.
It does require a hell of a pull to get a C182 to stall at all, and Brien is amazed at the amount of pre-stall airframe whistle we get, but eventually it does stall and as normal just requires a quick but hefty push to unstick it and no aileron or rudder input required. Height loss? 300ft max, so as I always turn at 1000ft and am very aware of the scenario that's not too much of a worry.
Then we pull the throttle and pick a field. He does come up with a wise comment: never turn away from i.e. lose sight of, your chosen field. A descending turn, with S turns if you are too high, will allow it to alwys be in sight. As normal, it looks too close when we start and begins to move away but as I straighten out for the landing at 400ft he agrees we'd make the field and we pull up, although he says high crops such as this field are less suitable than low crops (such as the one I put TG in a couple of years ago...).
So we next try the classic "the GPS has failed, do a VOR crosscut to find where you are", which works well once I've set the plane up to fly straight and level so I can concentrate. We try a "one VOR and DME" scenario, then a "2 VOR" scenario, both of which agree well enough to put us within a 5-mile box, so we plot a course back to EGTK.
This is fun, scooting around the countryside in an airframe I'm very comfortable with but our time is up and we turn back towards Oxford. We're much too high for a crosswind join for 01 so a power-off 360° orbit deals with that and we join Crosswind, turn downwind and settle in to Final before flaring for a (nearly) perfect arrival and taxy in.
I've learned plenty, Brien and the CAA are happy, now we just need to kick the AME.

You've gotta fight... for your right... to party!
So here's the inside deal on your Class II Medical. If you have anything medically wrong with you that requires you to tick one of those little declaration boxes, don't.
Just Say No.
They will ground you, and once you are grounded, you stay grounded. AME's can't cope with getting people back in the air. It's a one-way street.
If you're concussed, cancerous, psychotic and on more pills than Jimi Hendrix for it all, don't admit it.

Because the hassle involved in getting a restriction removed from a Class II Medical is unbelievable: even when you can prove you are medically cured your AME will not believe you will remain cured, so he will extend your restriction "just in case". Question that and he will extend the restriction. Remember school?
If you can manage to nail him down to accepting a second consultant's expensively obtained proof of your continuing curedness, he will suddenly be "on holiday" and then "on Jury Service" and unable to remove the restriction "any time soon".
If you try to use another AME they won't help because they are either "on holiday" or "too busy".
They just want you to give up, stop flying and find another hobby that doesn't interrupt their golf schedules.
If anyone wants to know why the number of GA pilots in this country is decreasing year on year, the biggest single factor is unreasonable AME's.
How commercial pilots manage I dread to think: they must have to bribe their AMEs as their licence is their meal ticket.

So I fired my AME.

We both agreed it would be sensible for me to go elsewhere. We had 2 e-mail rows, a blazing stand-up row in his office (not something you see every day, and I'm a pretty mild-mannered bloke...), then a full and frank exchange of views by e-mail between me here and him on his yacht in the Med (which more or less encapsulates the problem).
I have never in my life experienced a more pig-headed, unreasonable, unhelpful professional. How he keeps his job I cannot understand. The moral of the story is don't use an ex-military AME, they are martinets.

But finally, in July, I find an available, reasonable AME and with a single signature my licence is clear once more. Persistence does pay.....

Out of the frying pan and in to the fire
......but 1 week before the final return of my ability to aviate I get the devastating news that Steve, the owner of the plane, has run it through a hedge off the end of a wet grass strip and possibly written it off.
Fortunately, no one was badly injured.

Whilst tragic in terms of my immediate aviation requirements, it opens up some intriguing opportunities: I have been offered the chance to fly a Grumman AA5 Tiger: a 180hp low wing tourer with a fixed prop and slide back canopy.
On a sunny summer afternoon we meet at Enstone, which immediately strikes me as a much more relaxed airfield than Oxford.
There are aircraft of all shapes, sizes and states of repair clustered around a huge and surprisingly well-maintained runway sensibly oriented for the prevailing winds in Oxfordshire (240° at 15 Kts being the default setting...).
No hi-viz jackets, no waiting for ATC to clear you on to the runway after the landing aircraft that is still 10 miles away, just an AFIS and actually no one ever seems to be in the tower at all....
Cheap to fly from, more like aviation should be, even if it occasionally resembles a junkyard.

The Tiger has a peculiarity that makes it less popular than the contemporary and ubiquitous Piper Cherokee: it has no nose wheel steering; I am told this can be a problem with ground handling.

After a thorough pre-flight and pre-start checklist we fire up and I learn to taxy.
Within a few minutes it becomes apparent the differential braking differs little from the C182, and once the engine is throttled up for take-off you immediately get rudder authority, so where's the issue?

Rotate at 60Kts and climb out, it's got a very long nose but a good rate of climb. But it needs a wobbly prop: it accelerates smoothly to 130Kts but then you have to throttle back in order not to rev the nuts off the engine.

My right-seat passenger, the owner, is very familiar with the aircraft and chucks it around with nonchalance before, however, pulling off an absolute banger of an arrival.....
OK, let's see if I can do better.

Approach nailed at 70Kts, we'll call Final, chop the throttle over the fence and hold her off as long as possible, eyes down the runway and.... that was very smooth.
Let's see if we can do another one.
And yes: the same inputs give the same result.
Which is actually quite surprising as I've never flown this aircraft before.
One more, and it's clear this isn't a fluke, it's easy to land.

He takes the last circuit from the right hand seat and touches down so hard I'm worried he's broken something.

It's a nice aircraft: more responsive in roll than the C182 and the elevator forces are less, so less need to trim, less powerful engine so less precession, right-rudder and generally adjusting-things-after-a-change-in-power you need to do in a C182.
But it's very narrow, and I'm not a small guy: you really are rubbing shoulders with your passenger and the rear is very, very cramped.
The fuel tanks only hold 52 US Gals but it only burns 11USG per hour so 4.72hrs to dry tanks as opposed to 5.69 for the C182.
I think the main issue is the lack of power: even with a climb prop (hence the rev-the-nuts-off cruise) its short-field performance with 4 up or with 2 and full tanks is a little lacking.
But that said, the C182 is not necessarily the last word in aircraft design: the interior is gloomy and the windows don't open, it's a photographer's nightmare because things keep getting in the way.
I'm in two minds so will go away on holiday and consider it; I may get the chance to fly a Diamond DA40 and a TB-20 so things are looking up!

Flying the DA40
It's Monday, and I've been invited to fly the DA40. This is a calculated risk by the owner, because I may be seduced by it away from the world of C182s.....
The DA40 is manufactured by Diamond Aircraft, a long-time manufacturer of motor-gliders, so it's a slippery ship, I'm told.
It also has a full-screen Aspen PFD, so a combined electronic flight display (with backup steam gauges).
First impressions are that it's a carbon fibre aircraft, so very clean and slick-looking, with a T-tail (deep stall, anyone?) and a castoring nosewheel (so no fear there then: after flying the Tiger this should be a doddle). Cruise at 120Kts gives 8.5USG per hour so cheap to fly.
It's a low-wing aircraft, and I just naturally feel happier in these I suppose as I learned in them but somehow it feels less oppressive than a high-wing.

We brief for some basic numbers:
Rotate 60Kts
Climb 75Kts
Cruise 120Kts with the prop back (8.5USG)
Circuit 100Kts
Flap limits: 1st stage 108Kts, 2nd stage 91Kts
Base 100Kts
Final 75Kts
Flare 65Kts

...pre-flight and start-up. It's quiet and refined, and it feels more like you are sitting on the aircraft as opposed to in it. Radio calls (careful not to answer "Tango Golf") and we're off, taxying carefully past the hangars and parked aircraft; the wings are very long and slim.
Off to A1, run up and test the engine, then we're lined-up on 01 behind a PA31 and ready.
Full chat, right rudder and rotate at 60Kts. It climbs very quickly off the runway, like TG on short-field and is very easy to control with the stick.
The stick feels natural and doesn't need huge movements, the pushrod ailerons realy help and there is noticeably no slack anywhere in the system. I forget about it having a stick in about 2 minutes and get on with enjoying departing to the North West for some fun.
We do climbs and descents, then steep turns, which are such fun at 60° we do a load before looking at stalls, then we try some wingovers. I haven't done these before: push for 130Kts, then pull up and do a knife-edge turn, so around 80° angle of bank and pull some G as you come round. Great fun. But we are getting a bit of a fuel smell, which is a little worrying.

Then we head for Shotteswell, just North of Banbury, a farm strip I've never used before. A rough guess as to downwind, then Base and Final gets us pretty close to the strip before we throw it away and climb out for a return to EGTK, now 16 miles away.
Back in to the 01 RH circuit at 1500ft, BUMPFTCHH on the Downwind (fuel pump!) and descend on base and Final, popping all the flaps and doing a reasonable job until I forget to look at the end of the runway in the flare and land it a bit hard and too far to the left of the centreline. I reckon the landing too far to the left bit was me trying to lift the stick as I would with the left hand side of the yoke to make the aircraft go right, instead of moving it to the right. Approaches and landings are all about muscle memory, so this is quite possible.
Around the circuit again and this time we do almost a perfect job before pulling away for a final run round and a full stop. Maybe I try too hard the final time, but I reckon I round out about 3ft too high and as the stall warner blares there just isn't any more lift left (there certainly isn't any stick travel left!).
No bounce, but a solid arrival, clean up and expedite the rest of the runway as there is traffic behind. A bit of swing as I struggle with the finer points of a castoring nosewheel, our taxy is not very straight but it gets us back to the apron where we can fill up with fuel.
The verdict? A bit narrow, you do rub shoulders with your co-pilot. But most importantly as I have a long back, my head is firmly wedged in to the top of the canopy, which simply hasn't been made high enough. OK for short-arsed Europeans but for tall people, forget it. What I don't understand is that the Germans are all tall?
There is, allegedly, a more bulbous canopy available but it's at huge cost and questionable as to whether it actually improves things enough.
What a shame: I rather liked the DA40 apart from that.
Anyway, Dave says most people that try the DA40 come from the PA28 and can't get used to the stick, and shove the aircraft around rather than being a "gentle pair of hands". He reckons I'm OK and could be left to fly the aircraft with a bit more landing practice, and I think that's fair comment.

The Phoenix rises...
The long-awaited day has arrived: we've bought another C182.

This is a Cessna-built 1982 C182 with an engine monitoring system and height-hold autopilot; this time around I've also bought a share, so I now own one of the wheel spats.

Willie and Steve reckon we need a joint flight prior to any solo outings and I totally agree: I certainly wouldn't want to flail about in an unfamiliar aircraft at 1,000ft the first time...

First impressions are that the inside is a lot tidier than Tango Golf (bits of trim tended to be falling off), the 2-bladed prop (longer blades mean less ground-clearance, so must be careful...), more fuses and an ELT, a 28V electrical system so we need to be very careful what we plug in to the cigarette lighter socket, the engine management system, funky glass prisms on the ends of the wings so you can see if the Nav lights are working, wet wings so more usable fuel (87USG as opposed to 78USG), P1 headset sockets you can reach in flight, a more nose-down parked appearance, tidier paintwork, a weird short drain on the gascolator that looks like it can't be drained single-handed, brake pedals a lot further down the rudder pedals than before, the fuel tank fillers further inboard (but no useful steps to reach them that later model C182 have, removing the need for a ladder to check the tanks), a stupid stub ADF aerial sticking out of the cabin roof that is determined to rip the cover, a better storage area door lock, daft fixed seat belts (well, they'll be replaced with inertia reels) and seats that even I with my long back don't need to wind all the way down to get sufficient headroom (DA40 designers, take note!).

After a long familiarisation pre-flight I crank the key, and nothing happens.
Ah, you have to push as well, à la PA-28.

And within a few seconds it's all very familiar: the eerie silence as I activate the ANR noise-cancellation, the slight stiction of the nose oleo as we roll out of the parking slot, that C182 smell and the gentle wandering of the steering requiring constant correction.
We taxy to B3 to await a crossing helicopter, then we're cleared up to B1 via 29.
On 29 we stop for power-checks which are pretty much as before, but the engine management system disagrees with the analogue instruments for both manifold pressure and engine revolutions by quite a large margin, something we will need to discuss.
It feels as smooth as the 3-blade prop did at high revs, the mag drop is very small but equal, but the oil temperature will not rise in to the green arc on the engine management system. The analogue instrument is in the green arc, however, so we shall continue.
We get stuck behind a German business jet at the Hold, and Oxford Tower is really busy with various helicopters, instrument traffic and training flights so both us and the jet are there for 10 minutes. Still, the oil temperature has come up at last.
Finally cleared on to 19 so SPLAT check, get offered a right turn out without asking (I was going to go around the circuit instead), and roll.
Speed rising..... lots of right rudder to keep on the centre-line, feed the power in, Ts&Ps are good, 65Kts rotate and let it fly itself off then push and trim for 85Kts...
EFATO check: below 1000ft AGL any field 30° left or right of heading, above that turn back to the runway or even the grass, but anywhere within the airfield boundary where there is a fire engine!
Right turn out, don't overfly Blenheim Palace, watch the flashing blue lights of an emergency service vehicle in Woodstock as we climb, switch to Approach and get a Basic Service and mind Enstone as we head NW.

Well... surprise, surprise: it flies just like Tango Golf. So high breakout forces, high elevator forces, a bit of free play around the level position, a stable platform.

Climbs, descents, steep turns, steeper turns, flapless stalls, flapped stalls, then we try the autopilot which works and also has a height-hold facility which works. The GNS430 works, the panel lights work (except for the AH), the engine management system works, it's all pretty cool.

40 minutes later we approach Banbury from the West and ask Approach for a straight-in for 19 so we can play with the ILS; they agree (they sound a lot less busy now) and turning to 140° we get "steer left" indications from both instruments; check the beacon ident (push the NAV button on the 430), descend to 1850ft on the QNH (oops, let it get a bit low there...), let the Localiser come in half scale before turning to 175° for a 15° cut.

I can see the runway lights from 13 miles so that's a useful bonus, but we'll do this heads down: at one division we turn to 190° to see what that does. Hmm.... we're drifting left so we'll steer 210° to bring it back then 200° to keep it there... that works.
The glideslope is coming in from above so BUMPFTCH then push to keep on the slope, trim for a hands off stable approach and report abeam Upper Heyford, swap to Tower, go visual at 4d and get cleared for a touch-and-go.

It looks good: 2 reds 2 whites, so slow it down, push some flap in (ooh er, 105Kts is too fast, must watch that), push for 85Kts and fly it hands-off down to double-decker bus height, roll the power off, eyes on the end of the runway, hold off for as long as possible and the stall warner buzzes at 6" from the runway and we drop on tidily.
Flaps away, power in, right rudder and we're off at 65Kts, back up in to the circuit. OK, I can land it, that's a relief (to both myself and Willie!).

Back in the Downwind, call Downwind Whisky Lima not Tango Golf, the circuit is quiet but the light is going so we'll land off this one. They've knocked the chimney down, how am I meant to know where to line up on Base leg? Honestly.....

We're a little high turning Final so back off the power, drop back in to the "I can get it in from here" cone then come back up, stable at 85Kts and just ride the rails down. It's as smooth as silk, there's no wind and no thermals so we can drop down hands off to flare height, roll back the power and drop on just as the stall warner buzzes. Blimey, two in a row, no bounces! No one is more surprised than I......

Keep the back pressure on and the nose wheel stays off until we let it come very gently down. I'm very sensitive about this prop clearance.

Vacate and taxy in, pull the mixture and put the aircraft to bed.
Very nice: I'll enjoy flying Whisky Lima. Especially the left spat that is all mine!

Free at last! Free at last!
Free from meddling AME's. Free from having to fly with another pilot. Free to go where I like, when I like, with whom I like. Hard-earned, but so worth it.......

Saturday, in mid-November. Weather forecast to be absolutely bloody awful. Tonight.
But this morning we have bright blue skies and a new aircraft, so Nessa and I will go to Kemble.

It's damned cold this morning and we don't get there early because I don't fancy de-icing the aircraft (I have a huge tank of de-icer and a back-pack squirter but it's a faff...); even so they've only just de-iced the runway and opened it to traffic. Blimey!

Oxford Tower's frequency is mad: trying to get a word in edgeways takes a while, but I'm happy twiddling knobs and getting used to things not being where they should be. Now where's that starter warning light?

Eventually we get going and depart over Oxford "not above 2,000ft" (I think I can manage that), before a low-level buzz around the house (looking tidy) and a friend's house (she's doing her PPL at the moment and says Air Law is very boring), then an attempt to switch to Brize ("working at capacity") fails, so we'll just stay clear of their zone and switch to Kemble somewhere near Fairford.

Now: let's check out the autopilot. Now with height hold (Washes whiter! Inspired by DNA technology!).
It works (in bug mode). I will try the VOR track and slave to the GNS430 later. It's a bit abrupt changing direction and occasionally hunts for the right track but it's OK. The height hold moans about any out-of-trim forces and makes you adjust the trim and/or throttle so it can keep you on-height but for those IFR "cleared to cross at 2,534ft" clearances by fussy ATC folk this will reduce the workload considerably.

Kemble's weather has deteriorated and the last 1,000 ft down to circuit height (they like their overhead joins, do Kemble) is mainly IMC. This is how accidents happen, so we'll make sure we have a really good mental picture of where everyone is before reporting overhead, descending, reporting crosswind and then downwind, j-u-s-t below the clag, turning Base then Final and staring the world's longest runway in the face. I think I can get it down on here.
This is one of thise aviation "quick decision" moments they don't teach you about. There is an aircraft in front of us on late Final doing a touch-and-go. So at what point should we abandon if he's not clear? He is dawdling somewhat and we're only at about 150ft before he finally does take off again, but he's a long way down the runway and I reckon I can stop before I get to him even if he does suddenly come to a screeching halt, so I'll continue the approach until... he's clear and Kemble clears us to land at our discretion.
The stall warner is a bit buzz-happy as we found out when low-speed handling last week, but the stall warner on Tango Golf went off when you were stalled, so it wasn't so much a warner as a "you are stalled" notification. This one is, I suppose, more useful(ish) but the C182 has a steadily rising airframe whistle before the stall anyway so I tend to work off that instead of the stall warner. It is becoming apparent that Whisky Lima can be flown quite happily with the stall warner blaring away, but of course that would frighten the passengers!
Anyway, a tidy arrival and off we go to the grass with Willie's imprecations about the longer 2-blade prop and resultant increased prop strike risk ringing in my ears. The nose wheel oleo on this aircraft is slightly less extended as well, so it sits more nose low. We will need to be careful. I tend to land nose high anyway, but taxying on grass needs to be done with caution.
If you believe that the AMEs and the politicians have done their worse and that GA in the UK is doomed, you should go to Kemble and eat in the AV8 restaurant, which is busy with non-aviation people coming to eat the (excellent) nosh and enjoy the entertainment, which pays to fly itself in! A model, like Compton Abbas, of integration.

Changeable weather
The weather forecast is for CAVOK, which is most certainly isn't. Whilst shutting down the aircraft at the restaurant we listen to the radio where a PA28 tells Kemble he can't join overhead and remain VMC. Well that was almost true 10 minutes beforehand, and he ends up joining crosswind having presumably either dodged the cloud (now more "overcast" than "broken" at 1,000ft) or more likely descended IMC. There is, as always, a world of difference between the "black and white" rules of EASA and the changeable English weather, yet another good Brexit reason.
Although we are unlikely to leave the JAR world following Brexit, we are more likely to retain and extend the UK-only "save your life" IMC Rating and the Night Rating to NPPL licences.
I'm not stupid enough to believe that as I age I will continue to be able to retain my Class 2 Medical, so eventually will need to drop down to an NPPL/UK PPL with its reduced Medical requirements, and being able to continue to fly in cloud (like the flexwing microlight pilot I was talking to last week. Tell me that's legal!) and at night will be important.
The coffee and fruit cake at the AV8 restaurant are very, very good and before long we are starting up and departing, very carefully, along the rutted grass. Kemble Radio are even busier than Oxford but I have noticed that ATC has "flurries" where it is incredibly busy for 10 minutes then completely silent for a while.
All the way down to the end (I'll not do 26 grass today), and with an aircraft on Base leg turning Final we're cleared for take-off so we'll expedite and before he's finished clearing us we're rolling, accelerating as we turn on to 26 Hard and off in 300m or so, clearing the tarmac for the landing aircraft. Stay below circuit height until beyond the end of the runway (crosswind joins, anyone?), then a good look out and turn right, straight towards a 3,000ft bank of cloud that's come in.
Hold the prop in and keep the yoke back for best climb and we breast at 3,200ft to find clear sky beyond (might as well have gone through...), by which time we around the corner of the Brize Zone and turning for Oxford once more.
Oxford Approach is hugely busy but by the time we are 6 miles they have calmed down a bit and we swap to Tower to request a simple Right Base join which is accepted, and we turn Final a bit high, drop in to the "I can get it in from here" cone, and establish a stable glideslope. As we flare, though, the SW wind is pushing us across the runway, so whilst I can flare it OK it's impossible to keep it aligned using the rudder and prevent us from drifting off the centreline.
Here is where my lack of currency shows: whilst I am "Legal" (3 take offs and landings to a full stop in the last 90 day) I am not what I would consider to be "on the ball".
Of course Captain Hindsight says "half a mile back I should have dipped the into-wind wing and held it down whilst I kept the aircraft straight with opposite rudder, the amount of aileron required increasing as the speed dropped", but he's not here now and I'm close to making what I consider to be a mess of the landing.
I have to choose between landing left of the centreline (left rudder) or landing on the centreline but not straight (right rudder), so I choose "left of centreline" and we drop smoothly on, but it's moving to the left as we touch, so a little squeak.
Not perfect, and certainly not good enough.

Weather window
I've been away in India for a month and ever since my return the weather has been hugely foggy, but I'm determined to do some flying, even if only a little. Today the 600ft cloudbase is slowly clearing and we have a 2 hour weather forecast window before the fog comes back again. Let's go and give it a go.....
My friend Ann has been taking lessons and of course the CAA (they don't call it the "Campaign Against Aviation" for nothing) have been playing her up with her medical. You wonder sometimes if, despite their recent smiley publicity campaigns, they really have aviation's, particularly GA's, best interests at heart. Maybe I'm just cynical.
So she is down and depressed, feels she is not getting anywhere and wondering what on earth she is pouring money in to her flight school for. I will say nothing more than that I believe the flight school may not be helping..... She needs a flight.
At Oxford Whiskey Lima awaits: the weather looks just about good enough, so maybe we'll go and do an experimental circuit. If it's crap at 500ft we'll do a low-level VFR circuit back in; if it's OK we'll go off and do some general handling. Of course it goes without saying that no one else is flying...
As we taxy out the ailerons suddenly go over hard on to right lock. Huh? I overpower it but as we turn it goes hard left lock. We cant fly like this. It takes me 100 yards or so to realise it's the autopilot: the "on" switch is just above the throttle and I've flicked it on without realising. Willie warned me about this. Once disarmed we get full and free movement again, but it's not ideally placed. Still, now we know....
The ATIS is giving "few at 600ft", so we depart and actually there isn't any cloud at all: the sun is shining and the air is smooth. At 2,500ft over Oxford a few fluffy bits obscure some of the colleges but as Ann climbs us South towards Newbury the weather up here is just fabulous. What were we worried about?
She has definitely changed from underconfident passenger to pilot. She takes control of the aircraft, keeps it under control as she wheels around the sky and yes, of course a C182 is more complex than a PA28 but it flies the same (well, the elevators are stiffer) and her smile gets bigger and bigger as she gains confidence that I'll just let her pole it around while I tinker with the GNS430. There's no one up here, no one on frequency and the air is gin-clear. We're the most visually noisy thing arond anyway with all the Navs and strobes on, you can see us for miles.
South of Newbury it is in fact overcast at 600ft so we won't go to Lee-On-Solent today, but there's no wind so it won't overwhelm Oxford, they'll be VFR until about 5:00pm and we can trundle about Didcot (poking up through the clag and visible from everywhere), Wantage and Abingdon before gently putting the nose down and heading back for a rejoin. Ann gets us to the Downwind join while I run the radio, then we can report Downwind and cruise in over Kidlington.
Ann says she can't see the airfield (her smile is too big) but experience shows it's.... right there. Left towards the satellite dishes, pop the flaps and as we turn Final the lights of 19 appear as if by magic, we drop in to the approach cone and I'm deternined to be on the centreline as we flare and drop neatly on. The nosewheel tyre is a little underinflated so I'm keen not to overstress it as we taxy in to our normal 20 slot and shut down.
The light is fading as we pop the cover back on and depart. Ann will make a good pilot once the CAA and the flying school finally release her; she's asking the right questions now.