The fomer RNAS Lee-on-Solent has long been out of bounds, making a hole in the South of England's GA landing fields as Southampton is not GA-friendly any more (too many Bombardier twin turboprops going to Jersey and France).
Since its demise as a Royal Naval Air Station it has been almost defunct, apart from the
Police helicopter and the Coastguard base. But the Residents' Association, having fought for years to have it shut, were told if it was shut it would become lots of houses and an Asylum centre so promptly reversed their animosity, meaning it has recently re-opened as a proper GA airfield, open to all. Sometimes you do win....
So on the Bank Holiday following New years Day we will try it out.
We'll take Jason, my daughter's boyfriend's father (and owner of 14, yes 14, classic Minis...), who is up to speed with magnetos, carburettors and other antiquated engine components, so should feel quite at home in a C182.
The weather has been awful but today is perfect: no wind, CAVOK but cold. No fog is forecast (that's scotched a couple of attempts at this flight), so we can go without fear.
We fly a couple of sightseeing circuits around Oxford before letting Jason fly us South. He does an excellent job and declares the control stability to be more like a bike than a car.
We change to Solent and arrange to slip VFR beneath their Control Zone stub before swapping to Lee Radio and announcing our intentions (Lunch!), extending downwind out across the Solent to give a landing aircraft a little more free time on the runway, then descending for a nice smooth arrival on the brand-new laser-levelled 05/23 tarmac, taxy to the end and follow a C152 that landed after us all the way back round the peri track to cross at the South end, then park up on the grass.
Lee-on-Solent are efficient, friendly and cheap (£17 works for me: Shoreham, take note...), and have an excellent beach exit system: depart by the pilots' foot gate which has a code for re-entry that they supply you with on a nice small laminated card. What could be better? This has been Thought About.
After a longer-than-anticipated lunch the sun is getting low in the sky as we return, book out and start up. The runway is right next to the parking so a quick departure Northbound and we are once more back with Solent, this time with Alice flying smoothly and confidently around the Odiham stub, past the inactive Popham and back to Oxford.
In fact I don't need to touch the controls as she executes a smooth orbit around Oxford as the sun disappears and the lights come on, and places us in a suitable location for a right base for 01....but 40Kts too fast and 500ft too high, so throttle right back, yoke right back, 20° flaps as the speed decays through 100Kts and we fall in to the approach cone as we turn Final, watch the lights and sink in to the blackness between them... for a little bounce (just a few inches) then a settle, but that was my first night landing in a while, I can be forgiven.
A great start to 2017. More!
Basil earns his wings
We have a Cocker Spaniel puppy we're keen to get used to flying because
then we can take him to interesting airfields with beaches he can run free along.
The received wisdom is that dogs, once habituated to travelling in cars, will happily travel in aircraft; they don't know the difference. Aircraft are noisier inside than (most) cars, but dogs, whilst having acute hearing, are also very good at rejecting loud background noise. He won't need headphones.
The risks are that he could go mad
and run around the cockpit, so we'll put him on the back seat with his comfortable bed/rug, and Nessa will sit in the back with him. If he fails to settle after take-off we'll simply land back at Oxford.
The mains tyres look a bit soft, but equally so, and Steve
has lubed the tie-downs which is a huge improvement!
Basil gets in quite happily, just like he would the car. We start up and taxy, he looks out of the window and wags his tail, so he's not bothered by the noise.
On take-off he simply curls up and goes to sleep, so that's not a problem. He's quite happy.....
We, however, are less happy. The intercom squelch seems to be misbehaving and our ears are filled with outside noise from the engine. I try disconnecting various headphone leads and putting my hand over the microphone, but to no avail. I'm sure there is a squelch control somewhere, but I'm damned if I can find it. The comms box has no squelch, only a volume (our old TG comms box had individual squelches for P1 and P2). The radio is running OK, so we'll continue to Kemble, but it's distracting.
Kemble are, as always, busy and an Overhead Join is required so we descend and report Downwind. A PA28 is ahead of us and despite extending and slowing down we're still catching him up, so by the time we turn Final he's still in the air. It's almost appropriate to Go Around, but he's a long way ahead, we'll slow some more.
Now he's down but needs to taxy a long way down to vacate, I'll float along the runway at flare height until he starts to turn... there he goes, so call "Whiskey Lima landing", chop the throttle
and we're immediately down, bit of braking and we've got room to go round him if he suddenly stops, follow him off and the guy behind does exactly the same thing. Safe, but tight.
It's too muddy to park outside the restaurant but we can park near it, and get a cup of tea and a flapjack, plus water for Basil from the always excellent AV8 restaurant.
The shortest distance between two points is a straight line
Let's go home...
I always seem to get the departure from Kemble wrong: I steer too far to the North instead of North East to just avoid the corner of the Brize Zone. Kemble warns of glider activity at Aston Down, to the North West of Kemble, as we backtrack the grass runway and depart from the midpoint. There is so much runway here you could get a 747 on it... and they do, for this is the airfield where airliners come to die.
We take-off, and immediately turn right to 030° which works much better. Climbing to 4,000ft we skip round the Brize Zone, leaving a mile or so buffer zone so they don't get itchy, and head for Oxford. Descending for a Right Base Join, I realise we are very high (this seems to be my default approach position at present), so an impromptu glide approach ensues, but we're stable and by 100ft we are in the right place and ready for landing. The soft tyres don't seem to affect the landing, and we taxy in.
"Whiskey Lima, taxy slot 19"
"Slot 19, Whiskey Lima"
"Er... Whiskey Lima, are you based?"
"Well yes, and we're normally on slot 20"
"Ah.... Whiskey Lima, taxy slot 20"
"Slot 20, Whiskey Lima"
And the sun sets as we park up. Who couldn't love aviation?
Whiskey Lima has had its avionics restored to the original Tango Golf fit of a 430W
plus a 340 audio box and a new Garmin GNC255 COM2 box, so hopefully a re-run of the squelch issue will be prevented now: the 340 audio box has individual squelches for P1 and P2 sides. However, this has taken from February to April...
I have the Garmin GNS430W simulator on my PC (recommended and free) and have been familiarising myelf with all aspects of its operation, so after a 2-month refit we're ready for some Spring flying.
I want to explore Whiskey Lima's short-field abilities. The POH says
you should advance the throttle to full whilst holding it on the brakes until 1700rpm then release and hold the yoke back and it will fly at 48Kts, so we'll try that on the safe (and long) environment of Oxford's 19 runway.
And indeed that is exactly what happens: 20° flaps, run up holding on the brakes, release passing through 1700rpm, a bootful of right rudder and hold the yoke back. The nose lifts almost immediately and by the time the speed starts to register it's already getting floaty. At 45Kts we lift, and a good push forward raises the speed to 55Kts at which point the Cessna 182 "helicopter" effect kicks in. We're at 1,000ft before the end of the (admittedly nice and long) runway, and a right turn out with a positive rate of climb allows us to lose the first stage of flaps during the turn followed swiftly by the 2nd stage as we pass through 90Kts and accelerate North East.
As I haven't flown since February
I am a little rusty: some steep turns, slow flight, holding a heading and/or speed, descents and climbs are a little ragged. I just need to fly more.
At 13 miles to the North West we turn back in, ask for and get a straight-in for 19 (it's evening and we are the only people out), take a 60° cut and switch the 430W to "Vectors for the ILS" mode. It gives us the correct steer (left) but will not come off the stop even at half a mile. A moment's distraction as I try to find the runway visually and it flips all the way through. I'm not sure it's meant to be that twitchy: that close to the ILS it should have been closer than half-scale deflection before I looked away. I had assumed it wasnt working. It may need some adjustment. I'm not that bad at establishing the Localiser.....
Once established, we follow the glideslope down and I'm trying lower speeds for the approach: 20° flaps should be flown at 70Kts, coming back to 65Kts in the flare or even lower. That, coupled with aiming for further back down the runway and concentrating on not getting too high in the approach, makes for less energy to dissipate, a shorter roll and lower vertical speed in the flare, so a gentler touchdown.
Or at least, that's the theory.
In practise, it works very
well and apart from drifting across the runway a bit in the flare so a squeak from the tyres (wrong rudder pedal...) and we're down and rolling, heading back for the stand.
Now I have my 3 take offs and landings to a full-stop and can legally take passengers to wherever we decide to go on Easter
A rant at the CAA
I have to say this: the CAA are trying very hard at present to be more "human", more approachable, less bureaucratic and make their regulations more proportionate. This is to be lauded, however it is far too easily undone by thoughtless over-regulation.
A friend of mine is attempting to get her PPL. As she has had alcohol issues in the past (many years ago: she doesnt drink now), to get her Class 2 Medical she has required a number of expensive medical reports to confirm that she doesn't drink (but I do, and that's apparently OK...) and that her body has not been damaged by excessive alcohol.
So far, so good.
Now they have decided that in addition to all this a Psychiatric Evaluation is required.
This is expensive, disproportionate
and unrealistic for a PPL. I understand the rationale behind this for a CPL following the Germanwings disaster, but she is going to be flying small aircraft in a non-commercial environment. It is a classic example of CAA "Gold Plating" of the regulations.
End rant. 'Nuff said.
A balancing comment
My yukky brown JAR Licence has finally expired and
so I am one of the last to convert to the slinky blue new Part-FCL licence. I have heard tales of woe about the conversion: 40 working days waiting time, Ratings missing etc but mine comes back in 10 days with a smaller than expected bill.
Mind you, with Brexit we'll probably be re-converting again soon to UK National Licences!
We want to go somewhere a little more serious than Cherbourg or Blackpool tomorrow, so Ireland or Holland beckons.
Southern Ireland / Eire is blighted by requiring 24 hours Prior Notice (Waterford or Dublin Weston) or a £20 landing fee but a £500 handling fee (Dublin).
So our previous evening flight planning leads us to Belfast Newtonards, and as we are passing the Isle of Man (Ronaldsway) I think we will drop in there first.
This makes for interesting GARs, as we are effectively leaving Britain by flying to the Isle of Man, then re-entering it
by flying to Belfast.
Fortunately, we can now use onlinegar.com which is quite simply the greatest recent improvement in aviation (SkyDemon's ability to create flight plans comes a close second...).
The trick to plan days like this is to create a timeline...
|Arrive Ronaldsway EGNS
...to keep track of where you are at each point with respect to Local Time and UDT when writing Flight Plans and GARs, and also en route.
Skydemon on the iPad has an annoying feature of always displaying
its time and ETA at next turning point in UDT, whereas just above it is the iPad clock which is displaying Local Time. This has caught me out before.
We're taking Tom (now my eldest daughter's fiancé) and Kieran (youngest daughter's boyfriend). While the girls do Wedding Dresses, the Boys will have a Day Out.
On with the lifejackets, explain how to use the liferaft and about shoving shoes in the door hinges before ditching, then we'll start up and depart.
It's quite windy, and my mind is full of Ronaldsway crosswind components as we roll on 19, so I pull it off the ground flapless at 45Kts which is not clever, as the stall warner buzzes and we start to drift off over the grass not reaaly flying. Yoke sharply forward and the aircraft reluctantly flies but it feels messy, uncontrolled and unprofessional. Not a great start.
Depart via a right turn to the North West
and remain below the clouds at around 3,000ft until it starts to get bumpy as we approach Wales, so we climb up through the scattered bits to smooth air on top at 7,000ft. It closes up as we head in to Wales, then abruptly stops at Colwyn Bay as we coast out in to bright blue sky and fabulous views.
Wales recedes and we swap from London Info to Ronaldsway Approach, descend for a Left Base and look for runway 26. In my defence, I haven't flown there before and I was assuming it was up in the hills, so it takes Kieran and Tom pointing before I finally do spot Runway 26 there outside the left window, roll left and we're set up for Final.
It's windy and bumpy, so I have to concentrate as we roller coaster our way down the approach, but it's stable and the landing is smooth.
We are instructed to exit Left to taxiway C and D and into area Whisky which is the GA parking, where we are met by a very nice man at Isle of Man Flight Training, who points us at the restaurant who look like they do a mean lunch, although this visit we only have tea and Cokes.
Back at the flight school the
published £19.40 (minus 20% for cash) landing fee somehow turns in to £50.18. Never mind, he was very pleasant, but £30.78 pleasant?
Yet another example of the aviation infrastructure making charges up as they go along...
Our phones tell us we are abroad (huh?) and Kieran's welcomes him to Guernsey, which is just wrong....
When I was young the TV and newspapers were full of
British Army Land Rovers and Ulster Constabulary riot Police attempting to maintain order in Northern Ireland, Ian Paisley shouting in to a loud-hailer about something he "wouldn't allow the Catholics ever to do" (all of which, of course, they eventually did do...) and, let's face it, Martin McGuiness shooting people.
Let's just say my view of Northern Ireland is a little "coloured"
by this... Will I need a flak jacket?
We climb out from Ronaldsway in bright sunshine and it's smooth until we reach 1,000ft at which point the North Westerly winds try quite hard to tip us over. I'm wise to these mountain turbulence issues now and I make sure I've got plenty of speed, no flap, we're not above 109Kts (the rough air manouvering speed of a C182) and then the wind can do what it will, my seatbelt is on. Bring It On.
It clears up as we climb out over the
sea and we can see Ireland immediately ahead in the haze. Ronaldsway suggest we contact Belfast "mid-channel", so we guess the approximate mid-point and Belfast tell us to report coasting-in for Newtonards.
Newtonwards is right on Strangford Louch in the North West corner, so the moment we coast in we coast out again and swap to Newtonards who suggest runway 33, and we make blind calls from there on in.
Runway 33 is short and looks shorter, with buildings and a hill behind it. Concentration and accuracy required. We opt for a long straight-in and a very Irish voice flying a C172 behind us tells us he is visual and that yes, indeed, we are extremely long Final, and he will orbit a bit before following us in.
There is no shame in being nervous, I've not been in here before.
As we sink in on full flaps it's very gusty, and we lose lift over the seawall
but it's all under control and we touch....and touch again for a gentle arrival on the centre-line, solid braking and we call backtracking, exit at the intersection with R21 and taxy in. We hear the C172 landing behind us as we arrive at the pumps and stop for some Northern Irish hospitality.
Our friendly C172-wielding
Instructor meets us at the pumps and we apologise for holding him up on Approach. They're all wonderfully friendly here, not wearing flak jackets and keen to hear about where we've come from and where we're going, what we'd like for lunch and so on. I notice that when referring to plural "you" they says "you's", which is a little confusing, but we are in Ireland.
We end up having the most beautful chicken goujon burgers and Cajun wedges which are very spicy and quite delicious. 10/10, Ulster Flying Club.
Replete, we enjoy the amenities and discuss our options. They are all keen for us to go up the North coast and fly over the Giants Causeway, which I think we might just do. My main concern is Kieran and Tom feeling ill, as it is quite bumpy today, but they seem keen and we have sick bags, so let's go.
They write us a note with some names on it for getting clearance on the way
and I ask Tom to hold it up in the cockpit so I can quote these random names at ATC. I'll never remember them!
We borrow their PC for an AFPeX flight plan (I might use Skydemon in future)
and we fire up and taxy down 21 for 33, stopping to watch a PA28 as it comes in for a touch and go. He is lighter than us and is all over the place in the wind, but gets it right and climbs out again.
This blind calls lark works well, we simply listen then when no one is coming in backtrack 33 and turn for departure, calling as we go.
Now this is serious: 33 is short, we're at MAUW as I want plenty of fuel to get home, and all I can see ahead of me is a hill covered in houses. Nowhere to go if the engine quits.....
20° flaps, hold it on the brakes as previously practised, release and roll. At 45Kts we're in the air; a gentle push brings us to 55Kts and we're climbing with room to spare. Any engine issues, however, and we're turning back: I'm not going in to these houses.
As we climb the terrain climbs with us
so it feels like we're only in level flight but at last we breach the top of the hill and turn North. Fields! Nice big, green, gliding distance fields....
Lose 1 stage of flap then do the ATC bit, reading from my cheat sheet. They are mystified as apparently my Flight Plan only says that we are headed back for England, but are very accommodating and say basically "go wherever you want...". I like Northern Ireland!
However the radio now goes all buzzy like it did before
and no amount of microphone disconnecting can shut it up so I switch to COM2 and simply reboot the GNS430W.
Ah, that's cured it! IT knowledge fixes everything...
We scoot under their zone North
West and head for the Giants Causeway. The scenery is fantastic, very like Scotland, but it's bumpy until we get round the headland and descend for a better view.
The countryside is deserted, except for busloads of tourists at the Giants Causeway. Better view from up here!
We then turn inland and climb to clear the hills back towards Belfast. We can see
Scotland to our left and it gets clearer and a lot smoother as we route away from Northern Ireland back towards the Northern tip of the Isle of Man.
As the tip appears ahead we turn just slightly North to clear the gliding sites and
then back on course. No one is gliding today. I wouldnt glide off the Isle of Man, there's nowhere to land...
We are advised by Ronaldsway Approach of oncoming traffic, which sounds like "Tornado"
but turns out to be a Tobago. A Tornado would have been more exciting!
Between the Isle of Man and Fleetwood is mainly
windfarms: there are hundreds of them out here in neat rows.
Eventually Fleetwood emerges from the haze and we descend for a low pass down Blackpool sea front. Blackpool are happy for us to pass under their take-off path as no one is flying today! Warton have gone home for the weekend so we are free to route direct to the Manchester low-level route from here.
I've done this route a couple of times
and sweated both the radio and the height-holding, but now there's a Manchester low-level route listening squawk, I have Alt Hold on the autopilot and we have a huge following wind so a 168Kts groundspeed; nearly 200mph. It's over in a few bumpy minutes and no one is flying today!
Tom and Kieran are both football fans (not really my idea of fun, but whatever floats your boat...) so have managed to photograph 6 major league football stadiums in the last 20 minutes. It's grim Up North.
South we squawk VFR and Tom flies us home via Wolverhampton Halfpenny Green. It's fast and bumpy, but smoother at 3,500ft than at 1,000ft. As we pass Birmingham I can get Oxford's ATIS (just how powerful is that radio?) which tells us the wind is now 290° 18Kts gusting 24Kts. Looks like a runway 29 day....
At 27 miles Oxford wants to talk to us as we have now overrun
our VFR flight plan by a good margin, and are happy that we are within range and heading in the right direction. We ask for R29 and there is a short silence while they confer: you would have thought that given the conditions they would have expected the request but no, they have to get the runway inspected first so we orbit over the back end of Blenheim Palace's grounds while they get Rover 2 out of his warm, comfy tea chair. Poor bastard, I know how he feels.
At length me and an orbiting Cessna 340 are cleared in for R29. He lands and we roll left base, slow up and I think we'll go full-flap here. Slow to 65Kts, lots of bumps but no crosswind component whatsoever so we slide down and drop on neatly. Positive braking stops us before the 01/19 Stop bars, but the approaching Cessna on 19 goes round anyway... fair enough.
We ask for and get a backtrack to the apron, where they decide we should be on the grass. The fact that we pay for a tarmac apron slot cuts no ice, and I'm not going to argue with them. I've flown nearly 6 hrs and I'm knackered.
Got to work for a living...
...however, sometimes that work can be achieved only using aviation.
I have been out of the country on business
in Africa (hot, humid, dirty...) so my head is not quite back in the groove today but an emergency call has come in from one of our clients who has a holiday home close to the end of the runway at Bembridge.
It's actually quicker and more cost-effective to fly down as I can be there and back in a couple of hours and the Landing fee is only £15. Well, that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it....
Arrive at Kidlington only to find no aircraft. Have the other guys taken it without putting it in the diary?
No: it's here, outside Hangar 4 which has a big door sign "no propwash here". This is a towbar job to turn the aircraft round so the wash doesn't impinge on the doors.
Start up, taxy out and line up. No premature take-offs today: we'll roll, check centre-line, speed reading, Ts & Ps good and rotate at 60Kts for a clean climb-out, swap to Approach that the other guys have kindly left on the 430... only to be informed that I'm with London Info and why am I telling them I'm airborne? Oh bugger, that's not Approach. An apology, a quick flip to Approach and all is under control once more as we accelerate South of Oxford.
I'm going to be really lazy today: listening squawks are great
because you don't have to keep passing messages they aren't interested in at all. So a Farnborough sqauwk, then a Solent squawk, but they've got some temporary CTR down there today so I suppose I'd better talk to them. They aren't interested at all, though, once they know I'm going to stay outside their zone, so I report coasting out over Thorney Island and switch to Bembridge.
This is a tricky approach: the secret is to get
really low over the trees, so you feel you're brushing the hedgerow. You need to be at double-decker bus height over the road before the runway, then aim to land on the starter extension (you won't manage it). But done carefully, you can be down just after the start of the runway and stopped just after the taxiway, for a quick 180 and backtrack.
Which we manage. Now I have a better
idea what Whisky Lima will do with the barn doors out I can bring the speed right back to 60Kts and thus have less energy to dissipate on round out. Drop it on, gentle braking and it's all drama free.
Bembridge has become less popular now the café has closed but is still surprisingly busy. It's a fair schlepp up to the hangar to drop your £15 in to the Honesty box
but all very easy and relaxed, the way an airfield should be.
My client flies in behind me and we pick up his car to go to the house. Easy.
I solve his IT problems and he drops me back at the airfield. Check the oil, close the cowl flaps and fire up, invert the flight plan in the GNS430W and taxy out, power check, drop the flaps, SPLAT check, call entering 31 and rolling, and roll.
Short-field technique gets us off in 250m (not bad!) and we climb rapidly out until we can see the Solent once more, turn right, sign-off and do the listening squawk thing for Solent as the air smooths over the water.
Back over land via POMPI this time
(I spent 4 years there as a student and I've never been back. What a dump...), then North West around Solent's Zone, dogleg around Odiham's stub (I won't need to talk to anyone today) and straight North for CPT, swap to Oxford and get the ATIS.
Asked to report at 5 miles I'm still daydreaming, concentrating on slowing down and getting down, and looking out of the window at Oxford
at 5.8 when they want to talk to me. Apologise, swap to Tower and slide into Downwind for R19, where we're no 3 to land, so we'll slow down and let them get on with it. It's amazing how quickly being no 3 gets resolved in to being no 1 as the other aircraft go around or touch and go, so we slow right up for Final. I've been flying my approaches too high and too fast recently so now I'm concentrating on energy dissipation. Lower and slower is this week's motto, which brings a gratifyingly smooth arrival, and I'm marshalled to a spare slot on the apron. I wonder where they'll put the aircraft once I've gone home?
I've flown both of these!
Today Nessie and I will take Basil to Lands End
for a jolly, breaking the journey at Bodmin (outbound) and Compton Abbas (inbound).
The weather forecast says it will be sunny with occasional showers. How can the Met Office get these things so wrong?
Oxford Airport is busy today with foreign dignitaries arriving by private jet for some football game in Cardiff tonight (something called "The Champions League", apparently...), so is about to get very busy indeed (little do they know what will befall them later in the day...) but we manage to get the bowser to brim the tanks before we pre-flight.
It's tempting not to manually check the tanks as the driver has certified them Full but that way Danger lies so out with the ladder and not only check the brimmingness, but that the smell is AvGas and the caps are on the right way round and tight.
Basil is fascinated by the small of AvGas from my fuel drain. He likes the aircraft, gets in and goes to sleep. To him it's a noisy car, basically. God knows what he makes of the view when he looks out mid-flight.
I don't follow football, but it seems a hell of a long way away from Cardiff to land and have to drive. The NOTAMs are full of RA(T)s and flying restrictions around Cardiff, so we won't go that way today. Also the Red Arrows will be doing a display in Torbay, so we will need to be careful in that area.
It's surprising how little we remark on
the utter revolution in flight planning wrought by PC / iPad based flight planning tools such as Skydemon and Runway HD: when I started flying we had to trawl through packs of NOTAMs containing Latitudes and Longitudes and try to work out where on the map they applied. Now you join the dots in SkyDemon and it shows you all the relevant NOTAMs on the map. It even shows the GAFOR routes across the Alps (you can see where I'm contemplating going) with a Live "OK / Moderate / Difficult / Closed" status not only now but for the next two 3 hour blocks. I refuse to underestimate what a huge improvement in situational awareness that gives.
My friend Ann is learning to fly at the moment and the mantra is still "Turn/Time/Distance, GPS BAD!". Grow up, guys: turn/time/distance never works, VORs are easier and GPS easier still. The PPL Syllabus should utterly abandon detailed manual flight planning using the whizz wheel in favour of structured VOR/DME usage and really good GPS training. It's 2017, not 1968 any more.
We start up, taxy out and Hold for the JCB jet taxying in. You looking out of that Gulfstream window don't realise it but I know your daughter-in-law, mate.
Finally we get to taxy out for for R01 and I must be rusty because I ask for (and get) a left turn outbound. As we wait for take-off permission I realise I'm going to need to turn right to get Southbound or roll with the mistake and get a Zone Transit off Brize. No, I'll 'fess up, cancel the left turn and go over Oxford. Soon we are climbing out and turning around the bottom of the Brize Zone (we'll see more of that later...) for Swindon and Frome.
Bristol is NOTAMed "No LARS due workload" which must be Cardiff football-related but we do a
Listening sqauwk (5077) and it all sounds pretty quiet to me: the odd airliner but no scrum, and we can see Bristol from where we are and it all looks quiet.
Eventually we pass beyond Bristol's airspace and swap to Exeter: I could speak to Cardiff but I suspect they may not be interested in a VFR C182 going nowhere near them.
Exeter are less stressed and happy to chat, giving us a Basic Service after a shaky start due to range. But now the weather is deteriorating: the clouds are coming down and rain showers are coming through. I hope it gets better later, I want some decent pics of Lands End.
A Student Pilot on his first Solo Nav comes on, sounding a little shaky, saying he's Lost. How lost can you get in Devon? He can see the sea so he's not far off identifying where he is on the map, but we all know that overloaded feeling when nothing will click in to place, he's probably using 99.9% of his brain keeping the aircraft shiny-side up, and I do sympathise. Exeter pass him to D&D (121.5) which is of course Distress and Diversion but I always think of as Dungeons and Dragons. Am I showing my age?
Then Exeter starts talking to the Red Arrows, who are transiting down from Scampton. Exeter know about us so they won't vector the Hawks this way.
Soon a Jabiru appears going the same way as us: he's doing 90Kts
and we're doing 140Kts so we cruise past like Royalty in a limo. He's going to Bodmin too, it turns out, but we'll be there a little earlier than him...
The weather worsens more as we approach Bodmin Moor and we're almost IMC. I can't see the airport until we're virtually on top of it, so we slow down, fly a rubbish, tight right hand circuit between the clouds and a short, very high vertical speed Final with full flaps. Pulling the speed back to 60Kts the aircraft feels like it's standing still; loads of time to line up, get down and slow down but we're still high on the approach to 480m of wet grass. A protracted session of no throttle at all (with full flaps that gets interesting and even Nessa gasps) finally drops us in to the "I can get it in from here" cone with the speed (and thus the kinetic energy) right back and the aircraft hanging on the prop.
If we're not down firmly by 1/3rd of the way down the runway then we'll abandon. The shadow of Steve totalling Tango Golf looms heavy in the air: this is exactly how he did it. Over the fence still going down at 7-800ft per minute, power off again, one big heave to flare, the stall warner goes on and stays on, we simply fall out of the sky but we're only 6" off the grass, so it dumps the weight straight on to the wheels and we're down where I want us to be. Now we've just got to stop....
The grass will slow us eventually but I reckon (and a small experiment proves it) we have no braking whatsoever available at this point. If we're still rolling the last 50m I'll go left off the runway in to the grass sideways and the long grass will stop us before we hit anything big. Reverse thrust would be useful.
But the grass does slow us as expected and by 400m we are stopped and backtracking to the apron. Just a bit more exciting than I would have preferred...
We're the largest aircraft there by a considerable margin: these are all microlites and no one is flying!
Yet another virtue of a high-wing aircraft is that we can exit the aircraft and not get wet as we put our raincoats on and extract Basil from the back seat, where he has been asleep since Frome.
I go upstairs to book in and the guy running the (very well equipped) tower reckons the C182 is the most competent go-anywhere aircraft there is. I tend to agree, even though my hands are still shaking from the landing nerves. Actually they often shake a bit after landing, I think it must be the adrenaline rush.
Downstairs Basil is welcomed with open arms and a dog bowl, they do a damned good cup of coffee here and 20 minutes later the Jabiru turns up (the rain's gone now).
I meet Pete White who reckons I should buy an Aeronca (but my old friend Tony Blackman would say "the middle wheel is at the wrong end!" and explains that they have the local Scouts camping on-site and actually (Oxford, hide your eyes) touching the aroplanes.
They get to plan a Nav outing, then go out in an aircraft and fly it. A better way to excite young people about aviation I could not imagine. These kids are learning that aircraft are real things normal people fly, not shiny thngs locked away behind a fence only rich people fly. This sort of exercise should be obligatory at all schools, not just self-selecting Scouts. At 14 I would have killed someone to do this. We keep our aviation far too locked-away in a Health and Safety bubble, the Americans have it better but it's getting bad there too. No wonder the civil aviation community is increasingly old, white men (and I'm an old, white man!). No one young is enthused by aviation any more.
But maybe they were saying this in 1975 as well.....
also reckons Lundy is the place to visit. They have a 400m strip and you can fly in. Sounds interesting...
Run through the jungle
The rain has cleared by the time we start up for departure and gently ease down the wet taxyway. No brakes here, either, it all needs to be done on the throttle. Line up, 20° flaps and we're off the grass in 250m climbing out for the sunnier-looking West. Once clear of Bodmin Moor we realise it's only horrible there: everywhere else is bright sunshine. English weather, ay?
As we track down the Cornwall peninsula and swap to Newquay then Lands End the weather improves dramatically until we are passing over white sandy beaches looking like The Caribbean. Cornwall can be wonderful, but I know from long experience how fickle the weather can be here, stuck out in the North East Atlantic. The weather gets a clear run up all the way from Brazil.....
Lands End ask us to report at Pendennis Lighthouse on the North coast, then join Right Base for runway 25. Sometimes in these situations it is so unclear where the actual airfield is you have to just go with the map and the runway resolves itself. Ah, here it is.... looks long after Bodmin, and it's dry tarmac.
Luxury: when I were a lad all we had was wet grass to land on, and we were glad of it.....
So we drop on and brake, at which point they ask us to backtrack then turn on the grass runway at the yellow line.
Er.... what grass runway exactly? All I can see is a yellow line pointing in to the weeds. There's no runway here, the grass is 3 foot high and I'll risk a prop strike if there are any lumps.
We gingerly proceed on to what resembles the rough on a golf course and following what I hope are other aircraft tracks but could be rabbit tracks leading to a large hole that my nose wheel will drop in to, at which point the engine will stop. Quickly.
It is rough, but on the map it does appear to be a runway, just a very unkempt one. This C182 has a 2-blade prop
which is longer than the old 3-blader and I am paranoid, so we will proceed very cautiously.
At last we we emerge from the jungle on to another piece of tarmac and the apron is in sight
so it's all tarmac from here, thank goodness. Grass I don't mind, but the jungle has got all wrapped around the spats. The Skybus Islanders and Twin Otters surrounding Whisky Lima don't seem to have the same problem, but then they don't make them taxy through the jungle.....
Fast moving traffic
All three of us need some lunch and a stretch after that, so an excellent Cornish pastie, some souvenir pens and a walk up the road is in order.
As we walk in the beautiful Cornish countryside our friend Pauline Whatsapps us to ask if we will waggle our wings as we fly over them on our way to Compton Abbas, our proposed tea spot. And we look at each other and both say "well, let's drop in and see them instead (they live near Yeovilton)". Within 30 seconds it's all agreed: Compton Abbas will lose two tea customers and a dog bowl customer. They won't even know....
Then we walk back and check-in (just like normal Scilly Isles passengers) but unlike normal passengers we get to walk straight out through the door to our own private transport.
That gets a few strange looks from the other passengers: "Where are they going? We aren't boarding yet?"
The rather flimsy pretext for this extended bimble is to get some low-level shots of Lands End, so we request (actually it's outside controlled airspace so I can do it anyway, but just to be polite....) a low-level pass around Lands End via a left turn out, which is duly approved and off we blast remaining at 600ft as we turn past the tourist hotel and (worryingly) a RNLI lifeboat for the South coast and Penzance.
St Michael's Mount and more bright white beaches appear, the weather is absolutely gorgeous here, but it slowly worsens as we go up-country until as we approach Torbay we're in and out of the scud, we need to stay above 3,000ft to avoid the Red Arrows transit path. In the distance we can see under the scud them doing a low-level limited display. It's such a shame: 30 miles to the West is in glorious sunshine but here it's grotsville....
We twist around the big lumps to remain visual, then they clear away just outside the RA(T): typical! We've got ahead of the rain (although it will catch up with us later) and having double-checked with Exeter that the South Coast Danger Areas are inactive we cruise towards Weymouth then North East towards our next destination: Melbury
I've been in here a few times now: James keeps a really tidy strip and has given us carte blanche to use it, which is bloody good of him, so we'll find the L-shaped lake, look East a couple of miles
and there it is, freshly-mown.
A low pass oves the cows away and shows the wind is right down the runway, so a left hand circuit, drop all the flaps and get the speed right down.
The C182 is a great short-field performer but the secret is to get rid of all the kinetic energy and have it hanging on the prop all the way to the threshold at which point it becomes incredibly sensitive to throttle, and if you roll it all the way off it will stall sharply, which is exactly what you want 6" off the grass.
Stalling it on means the lift goes straght to zero, so all the weight is quickly on the main wheels and if you keep the nose up you get maximum aerodynamic braking as well, so it slows down amazingly quickly.
By half way down the strip I've got the throttle back in, the strobes off, the transponder off and the flaps up. We roll in to the parking area and disembark for tea: Basil needs a wee and so do we.
By the time tea is over, we're back at the plane and have backtracked the rain has caught us up again. I can see and the aircraft flies OK in the wet so we'll just Go: yoke back and it lifts at 42Kts, the moment the wheels clear a sharp push forward on the yoke gets it accelerating in ground effect without the grass drag and once it hits 52Kts it goes in to helicopter mode: the further you push the yoke forward the faster it climbs. Counter-intuitive but almost magical. There's a reason there are so many C182s around.
The GNS430 goes in to "TERRAIN WARNING" mode the moment the weight's off the wheels: there are hills here above us briefly but we're well clear and climbing now. There is little forward visibility but I can see out of the side window OK.
Positive rate of climb, speed above 1.3x clean stall (75Kts) so we'll bring up the flaps, turn and climb out to the North East, do the Bristol listening squawk thing and soon, helped by the South West wind, we're near Swindon within range of Oxford's ATIS.
"Airfield closed until further notice"
No response from Approach, and a passing aircraft says he can't get any response
from them either but can hear us so it's not us: it's them.
This is an interesting little "what-if" scenario I've played over the years. I like to Have a Plan, and I do have one for this scenario: speak to Brize Norton.
They have a huge runway and don't use it that much, they're professional and usually know what is going on. Option #2 is Enstone, where you don't need to ask to land (and I have landed there, which is a bonus), Option #3 is Wycombe, Option #4 is turn round and go back to Melbury. I've got 2 hours of fuel left, so no panic, but I'd prefer to be on the ground on the phone rather than orbiting.
They say if you don't ask, you don't get. So one quick radio call to Brize Radar later we're cleared VFR for their Runway 25. Wow: that'll be one for the logbook....
We're in to the sun a bit and for such a big runway it's surprisingly hard to see: the various GPS and ILS DIs I'm using all say I'm on the extended centreline but it's not until I'm about 10 miles that it snaps in to focus.
And it's huge: I'm staring down 3050m
x 56m of MoD tarmac and I'm cleared to Land.
Time stands still: I've done all my checks, slowed to 95Kts and popped the flaps, we're on height and on centreline but it's just not getting any bigger....
The Human League's "Black Hit of Space" comes to mind: time stops when you put it on (allegedly).
They must be so bored waiting for me to finally land.
Half way there they ask if we have retractable gear so we confirm that our gear is down and welded....
As it finally does get slowly larger, thoughts of the laughter echoing around Brize if I bounce it concentrate the mind, so eyes on the end of the runway and thankfully it goes well, we're just past the numbers, no brakes required (!) and we exit at Delta for the world's largest ramp full of A400Ms, C17s, a Merlin and a couple of paradropping Skyvans. We're marshalled in and for the first time in my life I get to report shutting down. Now that's big boys' stuff...
Getting out, I see the C182 is dwarfed by the scale of it all: we are by some considerable margin the smallest thing in sight. So today we've gone from Bodmin where we were the largest aircraft on the ramp to here at Brize where we are the smallest. I feel like Gulliver.
The RAF reception committee take a shine to Basil (who, inevitably takes a shine to them: tummy rubs all round) and we are ferried to Ops where, surrounded by military paraphernalia, we find out that they actually don't know any more than we do! They know Oxford is closed, and the Oxford Mail tells us it's a bomb scare evacuation, but they're happy to gve us a cup of tea and Basil some water, so we could stay here all night if necessary, or get a taxi home.
My shortest flight
An hour later I get through to Ops who explain that Oxford is now open (apparently everyone else went to Enstone), so we are escorted back to Whisky Lima, call for start and are marshalled out for power checks at Delta, the midpoint of this behemoth of a runway. A momentary thought of requesting a backtrack for a laugh is quickly quashed: they would probably have complied and I would have been taxying half way back to Oxford!
VFR clearance given, right turn out approved, they then ask for our Transition Altitude, which floors me for a moment. Ah hah, I know what they want to know but that's not what they're asking for. So I explain that my Transition Altitude would be 6,000ft (that's the height above which you should swap to 1013mbars and start flying Flight Levels) but that my Transit Altitude back to Oxford will be 2,000ft.
I learned to fly at Oxford: we do our radio properly there....
We're in the air in 300m, a smart right turn at the end of the runway and we leg it to Charlbury before they start shooting at us. A big thank you to Brize Approach, get the new ATIS and a Right Base approach for R19 and cruise down in the eveing sunshine for a smooth arrival.
Well, that was exciting....
Whisky Lima has a different set of Nav/Com instruments from Tango Golf and I have been working hard over the last few weeks to understand how to really drive them with confidence, partly because when flying I dont want to be flailing around, I just need them to perform, and partly because I need to renew my IMC Rating, now known as an IR(R).
WL has a different
style of DI: a semi-automatic HSI, that I am unfamiliar with. I can drive it comfortably as an HSI but the Localiser and glideslope indicators are just plain weird, so I really need to go and use it in anger.
On a sunny
summer's evening Nessa will be my Safety Pilot and we will fly outbound to the DTY beacon for some VOR tracking inbound and outbound, some manual and some on autopilot, then come back for a long "visual" i.e. actually ILS approach for R19.
The secret to IMC flying is to fly the aircraft
straight; otherwise you are not flying the correct heading. WL like all C182s has a rudder trim which means thought-free straight flying, one less thing to think about. Now I'm reasonably happy with the GNS430W I can bang in a Flight Plan reading EGTK-DTY-EGTK without having to refer to the manual, whch is a novel experience.
On take-off I simply ask Nessa to tell me about any traffic (I've taught her the clock code) and get my head down. Left turn outbound, D129 is now Inactive (it was Active earlier) and they've stopped throwing people out of perfectly good aircraft over Little Rissington so we can work off the DI which is saying "steer left".
Given we are headed for the 020 Inbound radial we will steer 020° minus 30° or 350° for a 30° cut until we are 1 major mark away from the middle then reduce to 005° for a 15° cut. That's the theory and it works beautifully.
We have a 240° wind which is blowng us right of track so we find 010° works as a maintenance heading. Slave the DME to RMT and NAV1 (the 430W), check the beacon Ident morse and watch it count down. We'll descend to 2,700ft around the beacon: people tend to use these beacons like we do for IMC training and a collision could ruin everyone's day.
As we approach 1 mile the display goes all hyper-sensitive and silly. We're on GPS
so the whole "zone of confusion" thing shouldn't apply but it does still go into wonky mode below 1 mile from the beacon so in practice stay on the known good track, don't try and chase the needle and you don't need to be within inches (unless you're in a competition). Practicality wins every time, we're just trying to fly somewhere safely, not win awards here...
Outbound tracking works, so we self-position to the South West
of Daventry and try a couple of instruments-only climbs and descents, turns and speed changes. You should be able to do a manual Rate 1 turn within +/- 100ft; with a couple of practises I can do it reliably within +/-20ft, so that's OK, and we can move on to interecpting the Localiser for OX-I.
Satisfyingly, this goes exactly as per the simulator and for this bit I can use the autopilot and height-hold which makes it much more like sitting at my desk at home with a cup of tea as opposed to sitting at 3500ft and doing 140Kts. Confidence buildng stuff, I can do this...
Asking for, and receiving, a long "visual" approach for 19 we trundle off and re-establish the Localiser from the other side before settling down for some proper glideslope stuff. The new HSI is just different from what I'm used to, but I can see the glideslope OK. I still don't think it's as accurate as the other crossed-lines type but let's work with what we've got...
At 1,000ft QNH (so 200ft above Minimum) I look up and there's the runway, so we'll pop the flaps.
I'm concentrating on dissipating more energy on approaches now, so "lower and slower" is the name of the game, and we drop on nicely soon after the threshold, keep the speed up and roll out.
Rust nicely removed, and the Revalidation booked....
Ticking all the boxes
My IMC Rating, or IR(R) as they call it now, needs revalidating. My first try, the day was just too windy: we were seeing 18G28KT across the runway. I'd be happy to give it a go, but probably not with an Examiner on board!
The problem with Oxford is that they really need a 24/06 runway for the smaller aircraft.
The old grass 21 runway was great (it was also wide, so you could gain another 10° by landing diagonally across it a bit) but that is now closed and 19/01 is always out of wind.
You could fit an 1100m 230° or 240° runway in to the West of the main runway and even allow use of the 19 ILS to gain access to it: raise the MDA for a 24 approach and basically "turn right" on visual (or, probably more appropriately, simply add an RNAV approach to it...)
I digress: the following day it's still surprisingly windy, but inside limits this time so we'll give it a go.
They've moved the aircraft back to Slot 20 which is a bit of a shock: once again I'm playing "where's my aircraft?".
My examiner arrives as I'm pre-flighting and we brief for a trip out to Daventry. I can do this: I've got todays' Wind Correction Angle up my sleeve so there should be no surprises (hah!). We roll on R19 and I try a little experiment: giving it plenty of into-wind aileron to counteract that horribile "sliding left off the runway on take-off" feeling. But I give it too much and we roll in to wind before I catch it. Note to self: you've got more control authority on take-off because take-off speed is higher than landing speed, so use a bit less aileron.
Still, we switch to
head-down mode and climb out keeping West of glider flying at Weston on the Green, then tracking up towards Daventry, which works fine apart from a little confusion over which line/DI to follow (this didn't happen the other day!). Use of the Heading Hold and Height Hold removes all the stress from this: just shift the bug around to track the purple line and not only does it satisfyingly zero out the DI error but it holds height while you do it. Having a stable IMC platform like the C182 helps, I suppose, but this is easy.
Once over DTY we need to come back, so this time I'll show off and do it manually: Rate 1 and hold the height to within 100ft. Bit of a balloon, then we get it nailed all the way around to head back, flip the a/p back on and load "Vectors for the ILS" on the G430W which is the lazy man's way of finding the Localiser. All that work with the simulator was worth every minute because the DI says "steer right", I can see the Localiser and here it comes at 13 miles. Nothing like situational awareness inside a bumpy cloud.
Oxford has instrument traffic already so they won't want us for a bit: let's show off and do some manual IMC orbits. Just to complicate things we need to descend at the same time (kind of the point of the revalidation: can I do this stuff?) so we do just that and roll out at 1800ft.
Now this is interesting and worth noting for all you Turn-Time-Distance fanatics: the forecast wind at 2,000ft is 240° at 20Kts, giving a WCA at 100Kts of 10° for a heading of 193°. So I'm assuming a heading to hold the Localiser will be 203° (193 plus 10).
But I keep drifting right: it transpires the correct heading to hold the Localiser is.... 193°. The wind must be on the nose. So much for the Met Office and if I had used that to fly turn-time-distance I'd have been in someone's Zone before I knew it. Remember: Radio Beacons don't move!
Report Localiser established, watch the glideslope coming in from above, let it wash down past us (well, that's how I visualise it), then tip forward to
float on it and watch the height wind down. At 900ft call "100 above" and check visual, there's the runway very slightly off to the left but 2 whites and two reds, reachable from here, so go visual, pop the flaps and in my current "concentrating on not being high and fast" mode get the speed and height right back.
The Tower are giving 240° at 15Kts so we can expect a very sideways approach but actually apart from some medium-sized bumps at 500ft it's all very smooth and we drop on nicely and quite short; we could if we wanted pull up and use R29/11 to taxy home but they've got traffic behind us so we'll roll fast with plenty of into-wind aileron and flaps up. All considerably less dramatic than I was expecting.
So he's happy and I'm now fully-licenced
once more, especially as I now have my actual Class 2 medical unrestricted printed copy in my hands.
I have finally escaped the malign influence of the medical martinet.
Why you need an IR(R) to get anywhere in the UK
The UK's weather is notoriously fickle: even the
Met office with their multi-£billion computers cannot get it right a surprisingly large percentage of the time. Rarely is the UK entirely cloud-free, and even when it is flyable at your end, any long-distance (so more than say 30 miles) trip involves a high risk that the weather en route or at your destination will be cloudy.
When learning to fly
this is a bit of a problem, as often they won't let you fly because the weather is rubbish, but it becomes more of a problem when you are licensed and want to go somewhere, because although the weather where you are is good enough, the weather en route or at your destination may or may not be good enough to fly in. In practice, with a bit of careful scud-running (flying low, below the clouds) and realising that the aircraft doesn't mind getting wet, you can increase your percentage likelihood of getting there safely, but it's reaaranging the deck chairs on the Titanic: you need to be abel to fly in the clouds.
The authorities in the UK a long time ago realised that an achievable Instrument Rating that does not require you to take 14 exams, hold a Class 1 "I'm going to be flying a Boeing 747 with 300 passengers" Medical
and undergo 50-100 hours of additional flight training was a Good Idea.
Of course Europe being Europe doesnt recognise it, despite there being an equivalent Rating in Germany....
Apparently the rest of Europe does not have clouds
that affect GA.
The thing about having an Instrument Rating, whether Restricted (to the UK)
or not, revalidated or not, is that you fly differently. It makes you more procedural, more accurate, more in control of what you are doing and gives you a greater understanding of how flying really works.
Today is a typical example: the weather is good at Oxford and good at our destination, but between the two is an unknown combination of cloud and rain. It could be fine, or it could be horrible.
So we take off from Oxford with scattered clouds at 3,000ft, but by the time we have reached Swindon we can see the clouds lowering. We descend to a bumpy 2,000ft but as we progress the clouds are reaching downwards. If we scud run we are in danger of hitting rising ground. A VFR-only pilot goes home at this point.
We will, however, simply go IMC and climb on top.
A bumpy climb ensues all the way to 6,000ft
at which point not only do we pop out on top in brilliant sunshine but we can see ahead of us that the cloud bank ends with only scattered puffy bits left, perfect for an approach and landing to our favourite Yeovil strip.
A low approach and go round
shows the windsock fluttering between straight out and across the strip and along the strip. Gusty, ay? Let's give it a go.
The last 200ft are pretty bumpy but there's no consistency to the wind and it evens out as we flare for a pretty good arrival, taxy in and park.
And as we climb out the wind just drops, flat. Weird.
After a damned good lunch (but no booze for the pilot, boo hoo...) we climb back in, looking at a serene post-4:00pm weather landscape, start up and backtrack, power-check and roll: bump, bump, fly....
Climb out and head homewards, avoiding the Glastonbury RA(T)
and try some VOR-tracking with NAV2, which is a little weird as it gives a readout of what bearing you are to the VOR without estimating it from the display, as well as distance and a confirmation of which beacon you're looking at: very cool.
Once that gets boring, we swap to a bored-sounding Oxford Approach/Tower combined who tells us to do basically whatever we want and we descend. There is still quite a crosswind but land on the upwind side of the runway, kick it straight at the last moment and we drop on to the centreline neatly. Very satisfying.
In search of a pint of real Irish Guiness
I've never been to Eire
and never drunk a proper Irish pint of Guiness.
This needs to be rectified......
Waterford is booked solid so we'll go further West: to Kerry and the Dingle Peninsula with Lucy and her fiancé Tom who we'll pick up from Bournemouth on the way.
Kerry (Farranfore) has a reputation for being socked-in a lot of the time with low cloud and rain, so the only reliable way in is via an
Instrument Approach, at least part of the way. But the UK IR(R) is not valid in Eire: apparently Irish mountains are somehow different from English mountains. What to do, what to do....
We are very constrained
on time: Lucy's work will not release her before 4:00pm; honestly, she's treated like a small child. Manage by results, not by attendance! So we cannot get going until probably 5:00pm by the time she has got to Bournemouth and we've saddled up. Kerry closes at 8:15pm and with the forecast Westerly wind we're looking at 2hrs 50 mins flight time. It's tight.
The kind Europcar man has agreed to stay late at Kerry, so we'll try for that, but if we end up in Shannon, so be it.
Having alternate plans reduce ones' flying stresses enormously
and are well worth thinking about.
Nessie and I can take a leisurely approach to getting the aircraft going
- getting the fuel just right (full tanks out of Oxford gives us 71USG on take off from Bournemouth, with 4 up and the raft but no cover we're bang on the increased MAUW of 3110lbs giving us 1 hr reserve at the far end, enough to divert to Shannon or Cork, both H24).
I am very worried about the aircraft starting from cold, I believe there is a corroded lead somewhere and the initial crank is painfully slow.
As we prepare the aircraft we watch a C182 land on runway 19. He lands main wheels only, bounces on to the nose wheel only, then main wheels only, then nose wheel only... How to damage the firewall!
Bournemouth takes 37 mins, they're quiet and a Right Base plus a gusty Final gets us on the ground. We taxy in to
Bliss Aviation and are marshalled by two people in hi-viz vests. One is about 15 and is on Work Experience! I'd have given my left nut to do work experience at Oxford in 1979, times must be improving.
We are fleeced (£65, seriously?) but they do have WiFi so I can file a Flight Plan direct from SkyDemon and when we call the Tower 2 minutes later they confrim they have it. Pretty good.
Lucy arrives, I cross my
fingers and she starts perfectly. It must be cold starting that is the issue.
Our Flight Plan has us departing Bournemouth at 1700 Local and at 1658 we are at the holding point for the runway. If my calculations are correct we will be on the ground at Kerry at 1951 Local.
There is a RyanAir departure taxiing up for departure and I assume an immediate departure as we are nimble and quick and can be gone in a moment, but no: they make us Hold for it, then 3 arriving light aircraft, so we aren't cleared to depart until 1722. We're going to be late....
As we depart Bournemouth heavy, I'll let the speed build on the ground to 75Kts as we've loads of runway then ease her off gently. The rate of climb is not exactly stratospheric at MAUW but we're off and climbing, heading North West.
Yeovilton LARS are active despite it being late Friday afternoon, and contrary to the published NOTAM, the RA(T) for the Red arrows to come down from Scampton in is still active, so we divert to the South West to stay outside, then curve round towards Cardiff. More delays....
Slowly the weather begins to deteriorate (doesn't it always over South Wales?).
We're being bumped around a bit under the clouds at 3,000ft so we climb up through to 4,000ft where it's bright sunshine and a lot smoother, talk to Cardiff and cruise out over the Bristol Channel and up towards The Gower Peninsula and our appointment with Strumble Head, the last bit of Wales before you head off for Ireland.
The shortest transit between Britain and Ireland is between Strumble Head and Waterford, so that's our planned route.
As we coast out I give London Info our heading, height and ETA at the FIR boundary so if we hit the sea before reaching Shannon's radio coverage they will have a pretty good idea of where to come looking for us.
With a headwind our ETA is slowly slipping backwards: even at full power we're doing an indicated 135Kts but only 118Kts across the ground.
SkyDemon kindly subtracts one from the other and gives us the local wind of 20Kts on the nose. Yuk.
Over the Irish Sea the cloud slowly thins until we can see bits of land ahead with small, fluffy clouds at our height. Ireland slides beneath us, green and inviting. Shannon calls us up and we negotiate a 4,000ft Zone Transit overhead Waterford before swapping back to Shannon.
The clouds slowly build in both quantity and height until North of Cork near the delightfully named Fermoy Knockdronagogh they close up completely. We'll be doing at least some of the descent in to Kerry IMC, regardless of what the rules may say...
We are aiming to intercept the Localiser for runway 26 around 12 miles out and follow the glide slope down for a cloud break. At 3,000ft we are on top of an unbroken sea of clouds and there be mountains out there.
The 2 GPS units say we're on course and NAV2 is showing we're nearly upon the Localiser so I'll turn to 260° and watch the glide slope come in. Here it comes: big breath and tip the aircraft down in to the clouds. The grey room envelops us and we follow the glide slope down.
It would be wonderful to say I fly a perfect approach, but inaccurate: I fail to reduce the power sufficiently and we start to speed up, I then start to diverge from the Localiser first one way then, over-correcting, the other.
The a/p is on so we're not going to tip over but I momentarily lose situational awareness and turn the wrong way. So busy am I trying to correct this that I fail to notice our speed, now 140kts and the glide slope drifting away from us downwards until abruptly we go visual at 1,500ft.
OK, there's runway 26 just off to our left, that's easy to fix but we are nearly on top of it: 1,000ft too high and doing 145Kts. We're a long way outside my "I can get it in from here" cone.....
Throttle all the way back to idle, nose up to reduce the speed and as we drop through 120Kts pull some flap. First stage can be pulled at up to 140Kts but I really don't want to damage anything.
With the extra drag and the nose up the speed comes back and our vertical speed goes off the clock, hard against the bottom stop. The aircraft makes some interesting noises and the ride resembles a roller coaster.
At 100Kts I pull the 2nd stage of flap and keep the nose even further up until we get to 85 Kts, then ease the power back in as we finally enter the landing cone, albeit a "land long" cone.
After all that we make a creditable and smooth touchdown, proving you can make a decent landing out of a bloody awful approach!
Touch down time 2006 Local. We've made it with 9 minutes to spare. Not enough time for a go around...
We are marshalled all the way up to the end of the old runway, shut down, are bussed back to the main building and exit through an entirely deserted passport control, Customs and terminal building.
Our kind car hire man is still there and within 5 minutes we are gone.
After a wonderful weekend of Guiness, soda bread and excellent weather we're back at Farranfore for a more relaxed return journey.
They're overcast at 2,000ft so departure will be easy, but we have to be back at Bournemouth before 1800 Local so need to be getting on.
It's fun to peel off from the outbound airline passengers to the Pilots room (Another Sky Demon flight Plan, I'm loving this...) and then through our own separate security channel: everyone stares. Why are these people getting special treatment?
An interesting security wrinkle is that whilst they need to be seen to be checking us we don't need to conform to normal airline rules regarding the contents of bags, especially liquid quantities. We could in fact be carrying chainsaws, knives and strimmers but actually we've only got large bottles of water.
Our kind handling man drives us out to the aircraft which, happily, starts just fine following a pull-through.
I hate pulling through, I'm scared to death the engine will kick over and chop my fingers off!
We taxy across to the pumps and fill up.
I've done the fuel calculations three times to ensure I get this right: I need to have enough fuel to get us back to Bournemouth and then on to Oxford, but remain within a few pounds of MAUW.
Then divide by two and convert to Litres.
So many opportunities for error......
168 Litres brings us to tabs, with enough fuel and a 45 minute reserve but we're 30lbs over MAUW. Well, Cessna build them strong and we'll be underweight by the edge of the ATZ.
Start up, and call for taxy. This time, we are cleared for take off exactly on time at 1500 Local.
Keep the aircraft on the ground to 75Kts then gently rotate and ooh er, we are slow to climb. Turning left the ground climbs and we don't seem to be climbing at all, but slowly it recedes and we climb East towards the cloud base.
We climb over the hills we were trying to avoid coming in and the weather clears, with scattered fluffy clouds over green rolling hills. Ooh, Ireland is very pretty.
Crossing in to Waterford's Zone we are advised of low-level traffic departing to the South from the airfield: a Coastguard SAR helicopter. We are visual with the bright orange helicopter so tell the Tower we are happy to see the helicopter is flying today in case they have to pick us up later in the middle of the Irish Sea!
The fantastic weather continues as we swap back to Shannon and coast out giving Shannon our exact heading, height and ETA at the FIR boundary.
Predictably the engine, to my mind, sounds rougher over the sea but the oil temps and pressure remain constant so it really is all in my mind.
At the FIR boundary we bid goodbye to Shannon and hello to London Info. A line of clouds in the far distance presages Britain but it's clear over The coast of Pembrokeshire so we'll tell London Info what we're doing and gently descend to St David's to take some photos of a friends house.
Slow the aircraft down, descend to 700ft and cruise past the house, setting up a little circuit over the cliff tops then round and back over the sea.
Two circuits later we have pictures and can climb back to cruise altitude. Our course plans to avoid one of the Pembroke Danger Areas which, unusually for a Sunday, has been NOTAMed as Active.
London info is convinced it's Inactive, however, so after a little to and fro with them we set off through the Area, concerned about "Live firing to 56,000ft"...
Nothing hits us, so I'm sure London were right, but still worrying.....
Heading well to the South of Swansea we swap to a harassed sounding Cardiff.
The radio is very busy here, with the controller vectoring airliners all over the place and getting stressed with GA aircraft giving him their life stories then not doing what he tells them to do.
One poor chap seems to be on course to infringe the Cardiff Zone and won't turn away.
We take the line of least resistance and skirt round his zone entirely, swapping briefly to a calmer Exeter and slipping under some clouds over Dartmoor before turning for Bournemouth.
Bournemouth have no wind so to save time we ask for a 08 approach which they happily give us and a gentle descent gets us on the centreline and down on to 08. Taxying in (I know exactly where to go now) we stop at Bliss and shut down to be fleeced again...
We leave Lucy and Tom and their luggage and fire up for the trip home. With just two up and half tanks Whisky Lima fair leaps off the ground....
I have a mad panic about half way home that we are about to run out of fuel but my addled brain has been doing the calculations wrong and in fact we have loads left.
Via a Farnborough LARS listening squawk we swap to Oxford over Chieveley and descend slowly for a Downwind join for R19, weaving in with landing helicopter and jet traffic.
For a sunny Sunday evening Oxford is very busy, maybe that's the secret of their success?
Damn, that Guiness was good.
The curse of the Scotland run
Last time we tried to take Nessa's Aunt to Scotland the aircraft
broke down halfway there and we had to limp in to Humberside and then home again, which was disappointing.
We have some cabling work to do for Nessa's Uncle
so we will try taking her again now we have an aircraft that is less of a hangar queen, and hope the curse doesn't strike again.
The trip is set for Wednesday morning but for the entire week preceding the weather in Oxford is just tragic: drenching showers, high winds with low cloudbase. Where's the summer?
By contrast, the weather in Scotland has been fantastic.
Yorkshire seems to be the dividing line between good and rubbish weather today.
Normally I just use my IMC Rating to get me to where I need to be if the weather turns rubbish, which is quite common in the UK (and, dare I say it, Ireland...), but I've never deliberately taken off to fly in rubbish weather (training flights excepted, of course...).
Let's think about take-off Minima: if we exclude the possibility of needing to come back in to Oxford the "recommended" minima are a 1.8Km visibility and a base of 500ft AGL. In practice if you can't see runway lights from 500ft AGL you're in mist, and remember these are only "recommended".
That's the legal position, which is neatly worded (thank you, the CAA) to allow you to actually do whatever you want so long as you don't fly in to anything. Remember, since the IMC was introduced in the 1970s not a single controlled-flight in to terrain accident has ever happened to an IMC-Rated pilot...
This is similar to my Firearms Licence that allows me to shoot "Vermin", without actually ever defining what vermin is. You've got to love English Law...
But what are my personal Minima? Oxford is at 330ft AMSL so 500ft AGL is 800ft which is the ILS minimum for an IMC Rating, so basically so long as the base is at 500ft on the ATIS we can go. We don't care about rain so long as the viz is more than 1.8Km (most rain showers have a 4000m viz).
Well, that's settled.
Today's weather is as bad as it has been all week, with the Southern England Low Level Forecast also showing embedded thunderstorms (TCUs) which, owing to turbulence, you want to avoid if you can.
This, along with ground mist and really strong crosswinds is one of the few bits of weather that really will stop you from going somewhere.
But none of the airfields we will be going anywhere near has forecasts of any TCUs; they seem to be confined to Norfolk and Suffolk, so that's clear.
Oxford's ATIS is giving (surprisingly) a base of 1,000ft with a viz of 4000m in rain so even though I will get wet pre-flighting the aircraft we can fly.
Wow, that's unexpected. I hope I'm right......
I do indeed get very wet pre-flighting and my passengers and tools get a good soaking as well, but we take off just fine and at 1,000ft the world below turns grey and disappears so we're on our own in the grey room. A/P on and monitor the instruments as we climb, then pop out between two layers at 4,000ft.
Most IMC flying is done in VMC conditions on top, and here we are.
The weather gets worse as we pass Doncaster and Humberside (where we stopped before) but brightens as we cross in to Yorkshire, so we try an experimental climb and at 5,000ft we pop out in to bright blue sky.
Ah, that's better.
The cloud slowly thins out and as we pass Durham and reach the coast we have a wonderful view of the North Sea spread out beneath us as we turn for Newcastle.
I'm concerned about a strange NOTAM relating to a military aircraft Holding Zone for the Edinburgh Tattoo that has appeared in our path over the Firth of Forth. It doesn't say you can't go in so I'm a little mystified and when we do swap to Scottish Info I ask them and they have to go away and request further Info before declaring it Inactive, so we descend through some wispy bits towards Fife.
A wind check from Leuchars confirms a 06 approach for Kingsmuir is most appropriate, so as Kingsmuir is virtually impossible to spot we'll use the GPS to line up for a Right base Join and descend to 1,000ft before even trying to see it.
I always pull carb heat as part of the pre-landing checks and never, in this or the previous C182, have I ever had so much as a cough... until now. The engine coughs, splutters and runs very rough for a few seconds before returning to its normal carb heat slight sulkiness. I think we might repeat that...
The second time it's clear, so we definitely had some ice there. It must have been when we descended through that wispiness. Carb heat can occur on warm sumer days when the dew point is high. The temperature drop in the carburettor venturi is around 20°C so a descent in cloud at 20°C, as we are today, is the prime risk point for carb icing. Further proof that good procedures make for safer flying...
Some airfields are incredibly elusive and as I haven't done 06 before it takes a while for everything to click in to place. It's doable from here, so full-flap and aim for just above the trees at 65Kts, then drop in neatly on to the grass for a bounce..... and settle, roll out and taxy to the clubhouse to shut down and park.
2 hrs 30 mins door-to-door and we've escaped the clag: the weather is fantastic here, a little windy but warm and sunny.
We unload all the cabling gear and off we go....
Later in the afternoon I get Oxford Operations calling, apparently they are expecting me back at 1:00pm. I ask them to look again at the Booking out form and give me the return date? A long pause is followed by "ah, OK, that's for tomorrow" which goes to prove my old theory that no one ever reads the instructions!
10 points for a golfer
Wiring complete and a good dinner
and night's sleep had by all, we're up and about Kingsmuir at 9:00 ready for departure. Whisky Lima is a great ship but won't get back to Oxford on the fuel we have. We need fuel and Fife has the closest pumps.
We depart 24 and are off before we are half way down Kingsmuir's 600m of beautifully-maintained grass. Down to the coast and along for Glenrothes, then approach from the South East and listen out. There are two PA-28s evident: one is doing circuits and the other is descending dead side. The circuiting one is turning Left Base so a quick orbit for spacing and we'll follow him in down the wonderful curved approach that takes you low (how low can you go?) over the golf course. To get the aircraft in the right place a really low approach is useful, if you can make a golfer duck they don't charge you a Landing Fee...
I don't do as good a job as I did last time and have to backtrack a little but it's safe and in seconds we are at the pumps for a wallet-lightening session.
The other PA-28 turns out to be a Student Pilot on his first solo land away from Dundee. Ah, I remember being terrified on my first solo land away when they changed the runway.
Having transferred most of the contents of my bank account in to the wing tanks we then roll on 24 for a suitably "shock and awe" short-field take-off and climb out over the Firth South to St Abbs Head VOR, then South via Newcastle in sunshine with fluffy clouds, all aong the coast down to The Wash before turning inland for Peterborough, descending below the clouds and running in towards Oxford.
Bicester is very active today and we see loads of gliders up along the cloudbase. Strobes to ON and a good look out gets us past them, then we're slowing, descending and lining up for a Right Base join for 01, over the A44 and down neatly on to the now-dry tarmac. Job done in 2hrs 29 mins.
A night out
We've been invited to a party in Shoreham
(on a Thursday night?) so we will take the still-warm C182 down there tonight and come back early in the morning for work. Try that by car.....
For some reason once it's gone past 5:00pm everything goes really quiet, and we are the only aircraft leaving Oxford, which makes for simple radio communications...
A Farnborough Listening Squawk
gets us to Goodwood, then we descend in towards Shoreham for a right base for 02. We are the only aircraft on the radio, where is everyone?
Descend over the sea, over the beach, over the houses and over the railway for a nice arrival, taxy round, shut down and we're there in 45 mins. Mmmm, nice....
Early morning commute
I didn't know that although Shoreham
opens at 8:00am for the first hour it's an A/G Service, so our radio comms are very simple and within 5 minutes we are away off R02 up the Adur Valley and over the hills for Goodwood. There is literally no other traffic with Farnborough (normally it's mayhem) so we'll chat to them today. They arent very interested as we don't want anything from them really, by the time we've done all the "pass your message" stuff we're half way to Basingstoke and lining up for Compton. A Bit of "what if the GPS fails" VOR tracking later I think I'm probably current on that and we're listening out for Oxford's ATIS (which is not working this morning) and swapping back to Oxford Radar who are equally uninterested as we are the only ones on frequency. Where is everyone?
At 4 miles and
still doing 145Kts over Port Meadow we swap to Tower, ease up and slip in to Downwind for R19, BUMPFTCHH, pop the flaps and swing in to Final, drop on and taxy home, back in the office for 10:00am. What a nice commute!
A message to my 15 year old self
We often read these articles in the newspaper: "what would you say to your younger self?".
At 15 I was a mass of teenage angst and unfulfilled ambition, I didn't know what I wanted and was certainly not going to be told anything by my long-suffering parents... I knew I wanted to be a pilot, as did a few of my mates (all of whom made it to the RAF and flew in various front-line roles, then became Captains with various long-haul airlines, the insufferable bastards. You know who you are!).
I had to do the
pilot thing the slow and expensive way round, but I've got to the age when I can give a little something back to the next generation.
Sam is our "Work Experience" guy (he's not really... he has worked for us paid in his holidays since he was 13, has more brains and natural IT talent than I do and has just dug me out of a big hole with one of our more exclusive clients....). So I owe him.
He is me at 15 and in the Air Cadets, that wonderful organisation that taught me to glide (remember, a Cessna 182 without a working engine is just a big glider...), shoot and, er.... march around big squares in step (what on earth was that all about?). But they didn't do enough real flying then, and in the years between they have been progressively emasculated from real aircraft with real RAF pilots that do aerobatics to pathetic motor-gliders to occasional (very, very occasional...) Grob flights from Benson, so he's obviously keen. My 15 year old self would have given his left arm for a couple of hours flying a real aircraft actually going somewhere...
It's payback time.
The joy of running your own company is that you can actually do this sort of stuff.
We're so busy it's actually pretty rare a lull in work and decent weather coincide, but the Friday before Bank Holiday it all lines up and I nonchalantly tell the boys I'm going out, and would they like to come? A chorus of "Yes!" means we're off to Kidlington on a warm, sunny afternoon.
After playing hunt the aircraft (it's around the corner), doing a W&B then getting the tanks filled, we can get in and start up. Sam asks a lot of intelligent questions and slots in the right seat which we adjust so he can get to the controls. I've also got a new suction mount for my iPad so we can stick that to the windscreen and see how that goes (very well in the middle of the coaming, but it's rather in the way there so will experiment with putting it elsewhere). His smile is encroaching upon his ears as we start up and taxy out... he's absorbing it all like a sponge.
Take off, head South, do a turn around Oxford
to show him the sights and head for his house in Longworth. Slow the aircraft down, pop a stage of flap for safety and orbit over his house a couple of times for photos, then we're off for some general handling.
I've thought carefully about how we do this: I'd like him to get as much yoke time as possible, so we'll start with straight 'n level (just let go...), work up to turns, then climbs and descents. We won't do both at once for now.
Actually he's clearly been practising
in Flight Simulator because he's pretty good, so I line up his DI and we head South, climbing over Odiham's MATZ, doing the listeing squawk thing for first Farnborough then Solent, descend gently to stay under their Control Zone and head out over Hayling Island for Sandown.
I haven't been to Sandown for years, but it's easily visible from the mainland: a large patch of green. We swap radios, confrim R23 in use and slide down the Approach cone. I take back control at about 5 miles and we do a straight in with full-flap on to the bouncy grass. I hate grass sometimes, your pax think you are bouncing it, but it's the bloody lumps on the runway. Anyway, we slow and exit on to the even bumpier taxyway and get marshalled (that's a bit posh, but every microlight in Southern England seems to be here for their annual Spamfield Festival, so that's why it's so busy...) in to a parking slot for shutdown.
Booking in the tower, we get chatting to the controller:
"It's lovely out there today, very smooth and great viz"
"Yeah, I'm off out
"Just anywhere I can!"
I can understand that:
sitting in the tower watching everyone having fun, flying in and out, I think I'd get pretty jealous too...
Run 'n break
up, we taxy down to the Hold. A Spitfire comes on the radio asking for a run and break, which (of course) he gets, and it's pretty impressive from here. Sam loves the entertainment, I dont think he can quite believe this sort of stuff actually happens in real life.
Turn on to R23, pop some flaps and roll. Bouncy-bouncy-bounce-bounce-bounce, that's why I don't come to Sandown very often!
We're off eventually and climbing out straight ahead for noise abatement, lose the flaps then round to the North and we'll let Sam fly it all the way home from there.
Very nice, but where are the aircraft?
Poor Kieran feels a bit sick so he goes to sleep in the back
and I do the radio while Sam holds a heading and keeps us climbing over the top of the Odiham MATZ once more, then on towards Didcot where we start to descend for Oxford. I'm not quite sure when I'll take control back, let's see how far he gets....
And he gets a lot further than I thought he would: with me doing the throttle and trim (and thus the height and speed) he gets us all through Downwind and Base Leg, round on to
Final and down to the flare.
"I'll take it", a quick flare and we're on and rolling out.
Nice job: one day he'll make a good pilot.
The smile is very big and I suspect will last a long time... That is exactly what my 15 year old self would have wanted: more flying than he knew what to do with. I reckon he flew for about 1Ĺ hours in all, lots of intense concentration, and a good story for all the other Air Cadets (who will be very envious!).
Being a PPL Student again
My friend Ann is training for her PPL. The CAA Medical guys have made her jump through hoops but she now has her Class 2 Medical and is working up to her first Solo.
It is interesting seeing the PPL process through a different pair of eyes; she has experienced some of the
issues I did, including that maddening pre-solo period when you probably are ready but they are deferring you: "just a few more circuits..." which is partly revenue maximisation on their behalf, despite what they might loudly proclaim, and partly an accurate reflection of your woeful landfing skills!
We spend time hangar flying, as you do, and she is enjoying (as I did) achieving her long-deferred goal of a PPL. We've discussed the fact that, because she is older, that 1st solo doesn't arrive at 15hrs but more like 20 or 30 hours, and that you end up a more analytical and careful pilot, and she is always trying to understand the process rather than learning by rote.
I know she would love a non-instructional flight in Whisky Lima, which she intends to fly after achieving her licence, and I have held off because having flown her when she was a non-pilot, I now want to see how different her reactions are.
The day starts with dreadful weather: blowing a hoolie and a solid overcast at 600ft QNH (so 400ft above the ground) and driving to the airport I can believe it; but it's forecast to clear so we sit in Ops and chat about where we'll go. The weather is clearing to scattered at 2,500ft from the West so we decide on a trip to Shobdon and I get her to draw it on the map.
According to Turn, time, Distance 30 mins at 290° should get us to Shobdon, if the wind is as forecast at 3,000ft (hah!).
She'll be my checklist co-pilot, navigate and fly us to Shobdon direct, so we pre-flight, fire up and depart from R19 over Blenheim's gardens and Charlbury, climbing to just under the cloudbase. It's interesting to see that she can't keep a heading for long; I struggled with that until long after my PPL, in fact I only really learned it during my IMC, mainly by learning to trim the aircraft out then letting go!
Inevitably the 30 minutes she has plogged at 290° doesn't get us
close enough to Shobdon to recognise it, another defeat for Turn Time Distance and another reason to use GPS or a VOR cross-cut. Sorry, all you flight Instructors, it doesn't work...
I have thought
long and hard about how much leeway to give in terms of letting her fly the approach, and I reckon (like Sam) I'll play it by ear. We have had the normal "You have control / I have control" discussion so I dont think we're going to fly in to the ground locked in mortal combat, wrestling for control, but it is a concern.
Cleared for a straight in for 26 Ann gets us slowed down and pointed in the right direction but I reckon we're a bit low at 900ft, so I take it and drag us in for a gentle arrival and braking for the exit, a pulled pork sandwich and a cup of coffee.
During lunch her instructor calls to tell her that the wind is now straight across the runway at Oxford at 22Kts, so has to cancel her lesson. He obviously doesn't know she's flying with me!
Both her and I know the wind is more like 10-12Kts and he just wants to go out to do some shopping: I think that's poor judgement on his behalf, frankly.
We taxy out and take off, and I hand it back to Ann who does an excellent job of getting us back on course at a sensible height; it's interesting that she finds Whiskly Lima massively complex. I suppose I did when I first flew it; but now I know exactly what all the kit does and the heavy elevators and rudder-sensitivity-to-power comes naturally. I understand what people say about "wearing" the aircraft.
I let Ann position us for a Right base for 19; she's thinking now about where we would go if they told us to join overhead or crosswind, so that's a huge difference and the control inputs are now positive and correct, but again we're a bit low so I'll take it, pull us up a bit and turn Final. Wind is NOT 22Kts: it's given as 12Kts at 250° which the windsock agrees with; it's bumpy coming down but smooths out at runway level and we land smoothly, but not on the centre-line (bugger!). Still, Ann's impressed and that's good. I've done better....
She's coming along and will soon Solo, she's done all her exams and got the medical so it's circuits, circuits, circuits. I remember the endless circuits thinking "I'm ready, I'm not getting any better...". With hindsight I think I needed to move on to Nav and perfect the landings later: they were safe, but it would need another 100 hours or so of experimentation to really tame the Landing Monster. I look forward to flying with her in the other seat: that'll be an experience!
Avoiding the M25
Today I have a business meeting in Epping around the junction of the M25 and M11. Essex, mate!
Rather than risk life, limb and my appointment driving round the M25 twice on a Monday morning I think I might fly over.
The meeting is midway between Stapleford and North Weald: Iíve been to Stapleford before, so North Weald it is today. The weather is not looking too great but then thatís the great British weather: my attitude is that provided itís not absolutely on the deck or blowing a hoolie itís probably flyable.
I always struggle with flying to any kind of schedule, so today I have built a proper plan with plenty of dwell time built-in. Iím at Oxford by 9:30 for a 10:00 departure which, even with the airrcraft in a known good fuel state, is pushing it. I am not going to skimp on the pre-flight checks (that way danger lies), so don't manage to roll on R19 until 10:08 - we're behind schedule thus far.
on climbout we go unforecast IMC, so a Rate 1 left turn out to a 30° cut on our 090 track which gets us clear of Beckley mast, but soon the clouds recede so we climb to 1500ft to transit the Chilterns. A recent accident in this area has reinforced in my mind the absolute reqauirement to fly above MSA if IMC, but today we're visual and there seems little point in climbing any further as the bottom of the London TMA is 2,500ft so we'll scud run today around the bottomn edge if the Luton zone and on Eastwards.
Chilterns recede and the M25 appears slow or blocked in places as usual.
Oh look: pretty blue lights at the head of that 10 mile traffic jam. Lovely...
By 10:30 Iím swapped to North Weald radio and on a tight right base for R20. This week I seem to be mainly flying extremely tight approaches. I may have cut this one a little fine in fact: I don't complete my Right Base roll until nearly at the flare, which is an interesting application of my patented Approach Cone methodology. Still, a nice smooth arrival is expected at the stable flare.... except that it isn't and I bang on to the battle-scarred 1950s concrete a little more firmly than expected. Not disastrous, but not up to normal "no bump" standards.
North Weald has a proud history, being one of the airfields that harboured Fighter command during the Battle of Britain and then onwards to 1979 when it became a civil airfield owned, interestingly, by the local Council. Today it is a typical GA airfield with a mixture of re-used hangars and workshops being storage areas for non-aviation activities as well as a lot of GA movements, part run-down and part brand spanking-new, but the important bits, like ATC, work well.
I am guided to the
WIngs Café and find out, to my surprise, that there is no Landing fee payable. That's a first! I will return, most defnitely. Shoreham, I hope you're watching.
And as I taxy in I can see my taxi arriving; by the time I close down and grab my laptop bag it's exactly 10:45. I'm on Time! It's taken 37 minutes by air.
After my (successful) business meeting Nigel my super-efficient taxi driver drops me back at the café and as I have paid no landing fee I feel I should at least have lunch, so a traditional bacon sandwich, done to perfection, is in order. The café is busy with pilots and non-pilots, always a healthy sign.
They're filming a Harvard outside, so trendy film types keep appearing with hipster beards and clapper boards. I could be a film star!
Start-up and prgressive taxy around to the run up area to join the post-lunch queue:
a Diamond, a PA28 and a C182. Line up, call "rolling" and roll, use up 300 or so metres and we're away, back in to the low cloud and intermittent showers today is offering.
A client who is also a pilot was saying last week that he has now stopped using his autopilot for most
legs as he felt he was losing currency at height and direction-keeping, which is an interesting point. I tend to use it when busy with radio and within controlled airspace, but today we'll fly manually, and actually it's easy becasue the C182 is such a lovely stable platform provided you keep the ball in the centre.
Farnborough are so quiet I begin to suspect my radio: where is everyone? I see 1 helicopter and a PA28 and that's it all the way back, but they have a PA28 at my height outbound White Waltham to Turweston that may affect (strobes to ON, landing light to ON), but he's in front of me and soon the Chilterns recede and it's time to switch back to Oxford, perform the requested orbit at 5d (good practice at height-keeping) and plop back on to R19 37 minutes after take-off. But for the orbit it would have been faster, so I must have an Easterly wind today.
Our apron slot is filled today
so a marshaller directs me around to a parking slot and I shut down there - we'll leave the brakes off and they will move us later.
That was a lot easier than fighting the traffic on the M25... Some day
all business trips will be made like this, with the advent of electric flying cars. I've been saying it since the 1960s, now it looks like the technology might finally be catching up.
On Ilkley Moor Baht 'at
When I was young there was a Yorkshire song
about "Ilkley Moor"; I've always wanted to go there ever since.
Ann needs to visit a client in Ilkley so now is our chance: by the miracle that is aviation
we'll be there in an hour.
People complain about mandatory handling at large airports meaning being charged ludicrous fees for virtually no service but in my experience handling agents are helpful, give you free coffee and WiFi and will do anything to make your life easier. It's easy to be hair-shirt about the whole aviation experience but we all accept this hobby is not cheap and frankly the extra £30 is neither here nor there in terms of the total flight costs. Anyway, we're on business today.
at Leeds Bradford are efficient and helpful: I ring the night before and they explain all the procedures, I then confrim times just before we leave.
The day starts cold and damp, pouring rain and low, low clouds. But it's forecast to clear
to scattered at 2,500ft so we'll drop Basil off with daughter and boyfriend (she'll take him for a 5-mile run so he'll be exhausted later...) and drive up to Oxford, where it has just finished raining and the cloudbase is breaking up. We do, however, appear to be the only ones flying today: everyone else has written the day off!
I'll let Ann taxy and do everything above 1,000ft, I'll do the radio and the nav, the landings and the take-offs; let's see how we do.
At 1,000ft Ann takes over; after some shenanigans with Hinton in the Hedges, which is parachuting today and we have to avoid their ATZ, things become calmer. She can hold a heading but not a height, or a height but not a heading, as we thought. Also the DI on her side is drifting quite badly and is effectively unusable, so she ends up using mine. The best thing in these circumstances is to let her learn how it all works without interfering too much and she settles in over the next forty minutes as we cruise North East around East Midlands then North West towards Leeds. The clouds are thinning and it's turning in to a beautiful day.
She is struggling to fly straight and we finally conclude it's because she is resting her feet on the rudder pedals and one foot is pushing harder than the other, so she is always flying out of balance, plus when she is turning she is using the rudder as well which is appropriate but she's using far too much. So we try "feet off", use the rudder trim to centre the ball in the cruise and things settle down.
We'll ignore Doncaster Intergalactic
as we're nowhere near their Zone and go straight to Leeds Radar. As we approach there is an absolutely huge radio mast we steer off to avoid - don't want to meet that IMC!
Changing to the promulgated Leeds Radar frequency
as per the VFR Operators guide published on their website, however, elicits no reply.
Try Ground? They are a few miles away, and maybe the hills are preventing reception, so we climb but it's no better.
What's going on?
We are approaching the suggested VRP of Dewsbury (not that there's anything especially notable on the ground, if it wasn't for GPS you'd never spot it!)
so we'll orbit and gather our thoughts, rather than bumbling on in. Let's just check the Pilot Log on SkyDemon... ah, different frequency required.
It's nice to have a handling pilot flying the plane
at moments like these: flying single-pilot does increase the workload. I can calmly swap frequencies and negotiate with Leeds Radar whilst ensuring we don't bust their Zone, safe in the knowledge that Ann will bumble round the orbit all day. Nothing like Multi Crew Cooperation...
Leeds Radar are happy to (finally) hear from us, give us a squawk
and send us off for a left hand downwind join for 32 which pretty quickly transforms in to a left base join for 32. We're already visual with the approach path having watched a 737 on the approach a few minutes beforwe so we call visual and Ann BUMPFTCHH's for left base, slows the aircraft down and turns Final. Nicely done, I'll take it at 1,000ft.
It's interesting to see the C182 from a PA-28 driver's perspective. It feels slow, because of course we were cruising at 135Kts before, and pulling the flaps apparently feels weird (it's the centre of pressure difference between a low-wing PA-28 and a high-wing C182 means the drag is appearing in a different place), and of course everything is heavier: the famous C182 arm muscle workout...
Leeds Bradford airport is the highest commercial airfield in the UK (Dunkeswell is higehr but it's GA only), it's on the top of a hill and is always windy, so the gusts chucking us about on the approach are to be expected; we've got quite a crosswind as well so I'll fight it all the way down. Sometimes it does feel like wrestling a wild animal but the little secret is that it's always smooth in ground effect, so by the time you flare it's really not going anywhere quickly, and we plop on smoothly. This week I am mainly landing absolutely on the centreline, so we slow and exit, as instructed, left to Lima, which is very badly signposted and I miss a trick by not having my geo-referenced SkyDemon plates on display. Use the technology!
Multiflight efficiently marshall us in to the apron (yes, I'm allowed to use the split infinitive now...) and we shut down. It's cold and windy here, truly "grim up North..."
After a successfuil business vmeeting and a drive across the famous moor we sign out with Multiflight and start up, contact Leeds Director (sounds grand), get and repeat a VFR take-off clearance, swap to Ground and taxy out for power-check, being especially careful not to taxy anywhere near the extremely nice Dassault Falcon next to us on the apron.
Power-checks complete, we're cleared to backtrack 32. Well, as the runway is 2250m long I thnk we can probably make it from the intersection.....
Depart, turn South at 500ft and "cleared not above 2,000ft" for Dewsbury we climb out. Ann takes it at 1,000ft and we have a bit of a struggle: she can't seem to track for Dewsbury successfully and as we sort that out she drifts up to 2,000ft. Not cool, only immediate assertive action (a big push) saves the day and we track out to Dewsbury. How embarrassing!
Glad to be rid of us, Leeds passes us off to Doncaster who are, of course, entirely uninterested as we are miles outside their Zone.
I am rude about Doncaster but in my experience, even if they have no confliciting traffic, they will make you go all the away round
their Very Important Intergalactic Traffic Zone instead of giving you a Zone Transit, so there you are. A word to the wise ATC: when there is only 1 aircraft on frequency Zone Transits may be given....
Once clear of them we settle down and watch the sun setting
over Birmingham. It's smoother now as evening comes on, and as we pass Daventry I can point out a clump of lights 35 miles away: that's EGTK for sure. We track West a little and there, amazingly from 30 or so miles away are the lights for 19 and the PAPIs so we can do a very long straight in approach.
I've worked out why Ann is struggling with approaches: she's trying to do them too high and too fast. I take over at 1,000ft, chop the throttle and let the speed come all the way back to 75Kts and the height to decay. She reckons we're way too low but we're not, and by way of proof I can finally deliver what I've been trying for: a "no touch" landing, on the centreline, mains only, a chirp from the stall warner the only indication of our arrival, let the nose wheel drop gently on and we're down. That's what you aim for every time (and mostly don't get!).
Taxy in and park up, put the aircraft to bed and pick up Basil
(who is exhausted), home for tea (and biccies, of course).
Avoiding the M25 (Part II)
Bloody Hell, it's cold:
Autumn has finally turned in to Winter and today's little business trip to (bleeding) Essex (mate) will be a cold one.
A couple of years ago I bough a 45 gallon plastic drum of aircraft de-icer. I've never had to use it before, it's sat in the garage waiting for the right moment, one of those impulse moments we all have in aviation: you know the "now I'm a serious pilot I need to have my own de-icing fluid and a pump sprayer"..... It duly arrived and I never needed to de-ice, being a cold - weather wimp.
Well, today it earns its keep: we are to take Dan, Rod and Kieran to north Weald to look over a cabling job, and frankly the standard of driving on the M25 is such that I would prefer to fly, thank you. I don't know where some of these people got their driving licences, but it certainly wasn't Oxfordshire.
So I fill the pump sprayer with enough de-icer to clean a Boeing 737 and lug it through Ops to Whiskey Lima, which is out on the cold ramp looking festive. While the kind bowser man is lightening my wallet I can spray....
The leading edge and the wing tops are where we need to be, plus the horizontal stabilisers of course. The first minute goes perfectly, then the bloody nozzle blocks.
No amount of reverse blowing will shift whatever is in there, and now I'm covered in de-icer and pissed off. OK, we'll take the bloody nozzle off and glob it on. Actually that works a lot better, the big globs splatter on impact and spread out. I do the whole wing with the nice long wand I've got and have plenty left for the tail plane.
I've got to go and pick up the guys at Security, which turns out ot be a complete faff: next time I'll drive them through in the car on my pass. But the good news is that by the time we get back to the plane it's completely frost-free, so we can all pile in and boogie.
Now we have the new battery we start with alacrity and I give it a good few minutes to warm up, then off we go: "no turns above 1,000ft" and Airliner mode as Rod and Dan have never done the GA thing before.
Rod asks what he does if I die in flight and I suppose the answer is "panic", but I'll teach him how to control a C182, which ain't hard. The trouble with flying is that once you know how to do it, you can make it look easy and be nonchalant; it's easy to forget the panic you felt when first confronted with this out-of-control, writhing bucket of bolts that would *not* go where you wanted it to go no matter how much you pushed and pulled and twisted. And as for crosswind approaches.....
So Rod does a good job of keeping a heading or a height but not both and we trundle off towards London.
I've been experimenting with iPad placement and have found that a long double sucker mount above the coaming seems to work quite well. It obscures the Comms panel a bit but is certainly within easy access and doesn't obscure your view too much.
Having both SkyDemon and the 430 makes nav a breeze. I like the 430 but putting VFR waypoints in is ludicrously painful and it will not give you ETA at next waypoint, only distance. I always add entry and exit points in to and out of controlled airspace and across FIR boundaries as waypoints so I can do ETAs; ATC often ask for them and if you can reel them off "ETA Strumble Head minutes two seven" it makes you sound really professional, even if you don't know what you're doing.....
The weather gets worse after the Chilterns: we lose the sun and the clouds lower. Snow is forecast, this could be interesting. It's a bit bumpy but not too bad, and we'll stay at 1500ft so we can see the Chilterns, radio masts etc.
Soon Hemel Hempstead and the A1 are behind us and we enter the land of hotted Subarus and the white stiletto. Essex, maybe The Only Way...
Over the Lea valley we can see North Weald and I know they're on 02 with a left hand circuit so we'll set up for a left base join and swap from Farnborough North (all very proper and CAP413) to Norf Weald Radio, innit? Who have no other traffic (where is everyone today?) so tell us to do whatever we want (stalls, steep turns, wingovers!).
Turn Final over our destination and fight the blustery 320° crosswind all the way down to the displaced threshold for a tidy and bump-free arrival, maybe a little long but very passenger-friendly.... back track to the junction and thence to the Wings Café to await our Essex taxi driver (8 kids: bloody hell, how does he afford the school fees?)....
After a very successful sales trip we get ferried back to the airfield and stop for a bite. The Wings cafe stops serving hot food at 3:00pm, so arriving at 2:45pm seems a reasonable bet, but apparently he thought he'd clear up early so we opt for cake and crisps.
I think I'll make him feel bad about it by telling how I always come here because the hot food is so good (which is not a lie), then we start up again and taxy out.
"No other traffic to affect" means I can enter and backtrack and bugger about as much as I want, but we do need to get home so SPLAT check and let's roll, left turn at 800ft and swap to CAP413-land for a Basic Service under the Stansted stub TMZ.
Miss CAP413 clears us West "not above 1,500ft" then fails to cancel it all the way to Bovingdon (even Farnborough North gets it wrong sometimes), but actually the clouds are at 1600ft so we'll stay at 1500ft.
Following a fatal mid-air collision recently over Waddesden everyone is mad keen to make see and avoid work, so we get virtually a deconfliction service for the small amount of opposing traffic which, in this poor light is really helpful.
But today NATS is not really earning its keep, they're bored because it's a cold weekday in November and no one is out!
Why do people not fly when the weather isn't bright blue skies? I love flying in inclement weather, it's much more interesting. We get rained on over the Chilterns, then suddenly it clears and the base lifts, the Thames Valley is much nicer.
Cleared for a right base join for 01 we ease down and turn Final, and here's the crosswind, we fight it all the way down. Rod videos me at this point, and manages, amazingly, to get me looking nonchalant as I wrestle with the controls. It looks easy, but it wasn't!
We do finally flare and drop on tidily with only a slight bump which, given the crosswind is a triumph.... Rod announces that not only did he enjoy it but he can understand the fascination: 30 mins to Essex is good in anyone's books. And we made enough money today that the flight costs are a drop in the ocean. That's what I call using your aircraft for business.