A good work out
It's the first weekend of 2018 and we have been asked down to Shoreham to a friend's house to celebrate their engagement.
The weather, however, has other ideas.....
Once free of Flight School
constraints, you really do have to think properly about personal weather minima: there is no point in going to the airfield "for a look-see": you can't really tell what's going on, and modern weather websites and tools are so good you can now predict much better what's going to happen during your flight from your desk at home.
Today the various weather tools say Oxford is going to be VMC all day with occasional light rain and massive North East winds at some point. It will be VMC all the way down to Shoreham and Shoreham will remain VMC all day.
However, as we drive to the airport a huge rain cloud appear and floods the place, which doesn't bode well. When we arrive, Bryan and Ross are there looking glumly out of the window, and
no one is flying. It is, however, forecast to clear, and the massive NE winds are simply not here, so we'll fuel up and go. The aircraft doesn't mind getting wet....
Bryan has many, many more
hours and qualifications than me and he's undecided about going out; who am I with relatively little experience to second guess him? But he is wrong: the weather is improving and in the end even he decides to commit aviation today.
We first need
to fuel up, so we get the AvGas wagon out and he fills both sides. It's cold, wet and windy out here. Am I completely mad? I am the only person on the ramp.
has stood for a month in rain, wind and snow, so the battery may well be flat. I'll turn it over by hand a number of times (with mags off and keys in pocket!) to easy any oil stiction. I'm not going to strain it with flaps checks until it has done that one start, and I have the ground crew with their whizzo jump starter on standby, so we'll prime it well, then Master On and immediately crank. I reckon it'll be good for one shot before it goes flat.
One blade creeps past arthritically, then amazingly it fires and runs. Feed the extra primer in to stabilise it, then run it fast for a couple of minutes to make absolutely sure it's warming up and won't stall. We'll hold it on the ramp for a good long time to let the oil really warm up before taxying.
I reckon everyone else saw us out on the ramp and thought "well, bugger it, if they're going we will" and there's a flurry of activity
with Cirruses and Mooneys all jockeying for runway 01. Bloody Hell, wish I'd kept quiet now....
I haven't flown (myself) for 2 months (commercially I have been to France, Guinea, France, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Kho Samui, Bangkok, Hong Kong and home again, but that's another story) so I have had to mentally rehearse a few things before take-off. The ATIS is giving broken at 900ft which is about right: we'll be mainly IMC today.
Roll on 01, swing round to the South and at 1,000ft the grey room takes over
as we climb out South for Compton. Cruise climb to 4,500ft and we break out (freezing is 5,000ft today so no ice) on top between two layers of cloud, it's very pretty.
Up here you have absolutely no indication of location whatsoever, which is what radio beacons and GPS are
for. How did they ever manage before? With 3 separate GPS units telling us exactly where we are, life is easy and accurate. Compton comes and goes, Lasham comes and goes and just before Goodwood the undercast thins, so assuming there is cloud over Shoreham we'll descend and see if we can get under it VMC. I don't mind descending in cloud but a VMC descent is always preferable.
However, it turns out the clouds are sitting on the hills here, so we'll climb back up IMC, which of course messes with my middle ear something rotten. This is really when IMC training is so vital: disregard the inner ear ("we're descending to the right, really badly!!") and watch the AH ("we're in a smooth cruise climb going straight ahead") instead, as we pop out of the top the inner ear goes "ah, oops, sorry, maybe you were right...".
And, as forecast, the cloud simply stops at the coast. Now I know why people live on the coast, the weather really is quite often much better. Shoreham is in fact in sunshine, and the massive forecast NE winds simply haven't materialised, so we join Left Base over Worthing Pier where they hold us at 1600ft until we are virtually over the coast, then it's "Clear Land!". Bloody hell: what, from 'ere?
Glide approach, flaps out, we'll j-u-s-t make it. I'm high on the PAPIs until we're past the threshold, but I can do it from here, rubbish ATC isn't going to discombobulate me....
Smoothly down, a little long but totally safe, and taxy round to the Eastern Atlantic hangar
where there is no one, and.. it's blowing a hooly out here!
After an extremely boozy weekend and a very delayed departure due, basically, to lunch, we're back at the hangar and it's already full dark. I haven't flown for 2 months but one of the last acts I did 2 months ago was a night landing, so this should be OK. However the forecast NE winds are howling around the hangar and the winds back at Oxford are forecast as 050 18G25Kts, which might be interesting...
Fire up (no battery worries now), turn on all the lights and taxy out, wait for the night inspection Land Rover to finish and roll on 02. A hefty NE wind hits us as we exit the lee of the hangars and keeping on the centreline becomes interesting, but we're at rotate speed so a suitable chunk of right aileron and we're up and tracking the centreline as we climb out.
And it's beautiful tonight - we can see all the way to London and the airliners descending in to Heathrow as we track West then North. I love night flying, and of course above 2,500ft it's smooth as silk.
North of Compton
Farnborough releases us to Oxford and we start our descent at 10 miles, gently down to circuit height, then Right Base for 01. The wind is now 05011Kts, so we won't even notice it. The wind always reduces after 4:00pm, no one can explain why, but it's a fact.
But what's going on? I can see all the light on the A44, the apron, the green flashing airfield indicator
and I know I am lined up for 01. I'm at 800ft and there are no runway lights. Am I going completely bonkers?
I know they have these funky new LED runway lights that you can't see from the side, but surely by now I should be able to see them?
I tell Oxford Radar/Tower I am having trouble acquiring the runway and there's a pause..... "Ah, that should be better", and the lights come on. They had them pointed the other way....
So now I'm high (having not descended below 800ft as I looked for the
lights), but I reckon we can do this, even if I am long. Flaps, glide approach (again...) and we slowly get a better picture as we float over the starter extension and down, down, and... ooh, that was really nice. Let's do that every time.
Taxy in and fuck me, it's cold putting the plane to bed.
I do feel I've had a good work out, though: IMC, night and strong crosswinds.
I reckon I'm reasonably current now....
The dog that didn't bark
I need to go to Essex (again)
but today there are Strong Wind Warnings in force: for the majority of the day it will be 27015G28. That is beyond my crosswind limit on runway 19, but (and here's the point of the tale) a) the warnings are current from 9:00am so if I get off at 8:00am the wind won't have risen yet and b) coming back I can use runway 29 where the wind will be well within limits.
So the moral of the tale is: just because there are strong wind warnings doesn't mean you can't fly!
I do get a squirrely wind on the approach for R21 at Stapleford but I think we can cope with this now.
Coming back, the strong wind simply never materialises: by the time I return to Oxford's ATIS zone they are giving 23015KT so we can ignore that and slide in for a left base. All the way down and.... well, let's say I've done better landings. A tiny bounce, I think maybe I wasn't concentrating on the *end* of the runway at the critical moment. Still, it's safe, and I'll beat myself up about it the next time I go out.
Scotland and back... in a day?
Nessa's uncle is very poorly and we don't think he will last the week.
Nessa, myself and Nessa's aunt would really like to go and say goodbye but we're all busy on Sunday so maybe, just maybe, we can do up and back in a day.
Saturday is forecast to be CAVOK all day all over the country, so I'll go de-ice the plane while Nessa drops Basil and picks up her Aunt. We're aiming for an early departure so are at Oxford at 6:30am.
And it would work, but for the fact that
as the sun rises the mist rises with it and we are delayed for 30 minutes while it lifts and evaporates.
Still, 8:12 off blocks is good, we get to power check at Delta (that's a new one on me...) then roll on R19.
As it's cold the front two cylinders are reluctant to warm and fire properly, so I have to do an extended
oil warming session at 1400rpm to bring them up and get the oil pressure down a bit before we take off.
The weather is
as forecast until we get North of The Humber (past Doncaster Interstellar) where what looks like showers turns in to low crud. I'm not scud-running over the Yorkshire Moors in reduced visibility so we'll climb over it.
It turns out to be solid clag to 8,500ft, where we finally pop out on top almost at Newcastle. And it's beautiful up here again: where was that on the forecast?
Past our normal Kingsmuir strip: we need a car today and we have done this at less than 12 hours' notice so Dundee it is. Leuchars are happy to have something to do so a MATZ transit then we pop out descending over the estuary, looking at the infamous Tay rail bridge and the less infamous Tay road bridge (50 years old this year!): a dour, characterless concrete structure with terrible expansion-joint thump and a bloody 50 limit....
(As an aside, motoring in Scotland is dire: the roads are poor, badly maintained and rife with speed cameras, overly-restrictive speed limits and
poorly-designed junctions; the drivers are inadequately trained, poorly disciplined and drive terrible cars too slowly).
Over the football fields and down on to the beautiful runway by the bay, a tidy arrival (better than last time...) and we taxy in for fuel, which would be easy if some silly sod wasn't blocking the pumps with his Grob.
Apparently he has to wait for the oil to warm up "before he can move". He is there when we taxy in, he is still there when we park, he is still there when we return to the fuel bay having paid the landing fee, and he is still there when we taxy up his arse to get some fuel. This is the equivalent of doing 50mph in a 60mph limit: there will be no more stress on the engine taxying than sitting there....
Anyway the fuel guy (very helpful!) kicks him, grumbling, off the pumps and we can fuel, then park at the back (we're the only visitor!) and pick up the hire car (by the way, don't buy an Insignia 2.0d Turbo SRi. A lot of torque steer, a lot of noise from the diesel and frankly not much real performance...).
Walking in to the
office is weird: there are all these fresh-faced students staring at the Sky God who has just flown all the way from Oxford and now just wants fuel and a taxi, whereas they are barely at their 1st Solo and deep in "Air Law" and "Meteorology". Been there, done that.
Yes, I am well aware that in a year or so's time one of these teenagers will fly me to Greece in an EasyJet 737, so for now I'll savour my brief superiority.....
Dundee is weird: they shut at 4:00pm on Saturdays, so we will need to be back and taxying by 3:30pm.
At 3:25pm we're booking out, we start at 3:30pm and are at the Hold at 3:35pm.
There are lots of landing aircraft to accommodate who want to get down before 4:00pm, so we're a bit delayed but it lets the oil warm up a bit more. Then roll on R27 and left at 1,000ft to Leuchars and onwards.
It's VFR all the way home and the weather has improved so we get Zone Transits through Newcastle and Durham, then do listening squawks for Doncaster Hyper-Galactic and East Midloinds.
The ATIS is out, so we ask for wind (nothing, basically) and get a straight in for R19
Sunset occurs as we pass DTY and I think I'll do a Night ILS. The Indicator on the 430W is very twitchy: you get maximum deflection, then about 4 inches from the Localiser it suddenly comes off the stop and if you're not careful it blows straight through. I've found the only sure way is a 30 degree cut until it twitches, then a 15 degree cut until half-scale, then go straight for the runway heading with assumed wind correction without any delay, which works beautifully. The glideslope comes in and we follow it down, pre-landing checks and slow to 100Kts, and there are the lights right where they should be, so we float down and plop on. I think I could have done that in the clouds (probably with the strobes off...)
As you learn to fly you develop aviation reflexes that eventually stand you in good stead as you meet situations where you need to act quickly, decisively and correctly. You can’t think about landing an aircraft, you just have to do it.
There are 2 sorts of aircraft controls: three-axis, which is what everyone from microlight pilots to 747 captains use (push forward to go down, pull back to go up), and weight-shift Microlight control, where you push forward to go up, pull back to go down.
Mixing and matching can be extremely dodgy, because of the opposing reflexes required.
Rupert, who now works for us, is a weight shift microlight pilot, and today we must go to Essex to finish a job.
I’ll do the takeoff then let him free to see how he does.
And it’s very interesting: he can keep a course OK but he simply cannot hold height: he keeps pushing when he should be pulling and vice versa. We proceed via a series of massive pilot induced oscillations, as he at first fights it and then giggles at his own inability to actually do what the rational control inputs should be.
I’ll leave him alone and do the nav and the radio, we’re at 2,000ft so he can’t break it, and soon I take it and join crosswind at Stapleford.
Turning downwind, we report (no other aircraft on frequency) and turn base at which point we realise there is a C172 on very very very long Final. He’s not called on the radio but his intentions are obvious so we climb above his final track and do a 270, slowing the aircraft down so we are above and behind him, then follow him down.
He says he's doing a touch and go so we can follow him quite closely, do a glide approach and be careful not to overtake him, we can always go round him if necessary.
But he is down and accelerating, we’re low over the last trees, flaring behind him and slowing for a backtrack and there’s nothing behind us so we can stay on the hard and park up.
A front is projected to arrive around 2:00pm so we finish up our VLANs, jump in the taxi and we’re soon booked out and climbing out.
The visibility is fine here, but as we climb out it gets slowly worse until we’re barely VMC over the Chilterns at 1800ft. I actually don’t care if we go IMC but Rupert finds it hard to maintain an even keel without a well-defined horizon, which combined with his dodgy reflexes leaves a corkscrew track in SkyDemon.
As we get to Beckley at 1,000ft in the murk I finally put him out of his misery, take it back and crawl in barely visual. It’s safe, and we can always climb and use the ILS if we struggle but eventually I see the radar dishes at the end of left base for R19, turn at 900ft and we’re spot on for Final, so following a PA31 we get a land after and drop gently on for a wet taxy in. No point in putting the cover on as we're out again tomorrow....
Dan has decided to cycle from Lands End to John O'Groats, just to say he's done it. The choice is either 11hrs on the train and cycling in from Penzance, or.... I'll fly him down.
I've been experimenting with a pukka bike bag which only requires the wheels to be removed. I reckon it will fit in the plane if I recline the rear seats. If this works I can get a second one and Nessa and I can go cycling around the Ile de Re.
The weather is pretty grotty at Oxford: overcast at 1200ft in light rain, and it's currently OVC001 in heavy rain at Lands End...
However, careful reading of the weather has it clearing from the West around 11:00am, and experience has shown how quickly the weather can change in Cornwall, so we put the bag in the plane... it goes in absolutely perfectly.... and take off in to the murk. If we can get there at around 11:30am it should be clear.
Climbing out over Oxford we are asked for our target level, which is 3,000ft or "just above this crud" which prompts an approaching American to tell us the tops are at 2,800ft, so we lift in to the murk and turn around the edge of the Brize Zone for parts South West. At 3,000ft we pop out in to bright sunshine until deep in to the West country where we go solid IMC in heavy rain.
Dan is just loving the challenge of flying it, but it's a bit much to ask him to fly it hard IMC the first time. He's keen not to let it go, though. I get him to sit on a cushion: it's the last time he wont have a sore bum for the next month!
Swapping to Exeter for a Deconfliction Service (it's raining really hard up here) a regular FREDA check reveals slowly dropping power, so a burst of carb heat reveals.... icing! The first time I've experienced it in the cruise. The engine runs better after that, and carb heat applied every 10 minutes or so keeps it at bay.
It's very useful getting 3G in the plane as the Aeroweather app (never travel without it) updates us - we can watch the Scillies going VFR, shortly followed by Lands End. When we first speak to Newquay it's just clearing them, and as we pass Bodmin the cloud suddenly breaks up and we're in the sunshine again with little fluffy clouds below us.
The wind, however, has really picked up and we're bounced around a bit. It's 22G28Kts and a good 30deg off our landing runway so this could be interesting.
It's a bit murky, so we'll capture the Localiser for R25 and follow the glideslope down: we are technically VMC but there's a lot of moisture in the air
and I only see the runway about 2 miles away.
Reflexes are great things: I don't really consciously think about
crosswind landings any more, I just do them: we approach very crabbed and a little wing-down, kick it straight at 10ft and hold the left wing down, and unbelievably we get an absolute greaser in the gusty conditions, roll out and gently backtrack in. What was I worried about?
We unload the aircraft, refuel
and Dan assembles his bike in the baggage hall. Then I wheel him through the terminal (much to the amusement of the staff) and we part company.
I'll hopefully see him in Wick in a month's time...
Something I said?
With the empty bike bag in the back
I can call for start.
The Tower is now taking an interest in us and asks where my passenger has gone. I explain he's left by bike instead of coming back with me, and they ask if it was maybe something I said?
I think they get a bit bored with Islanders and Twotters back and forth: some maniac with a bicycle coming in through pretty rough conditions from Oxford is a little light entertainment...
A gusty taxy is followed by a gusty take-off and a gusty climb, then it all settles
down at 4,000ft above the fluffy bits and the big front has gone mainly Northwards. Eventually over Dartmoor I can see the tail-end and I catch it near Exeter, going briefly all IMC and Deconfliction before popping out in to the sun on top again.
Oxford is giving OVC1000 so it's out with the plates, I've got a big tailwind so we're soon preparing to turn the corner past the Brize Zone and ask for the beacon, but a huge hole opens up so we nip down to 1500ft for a VFR recovery, being lazy and wanting to get home.
At just-about 1500ft we scrape around the circuit sort-of VMC and then realise I'm chasing a PA31 in, so do a big slowdown, come all the way back to 75Kts on Downwind to give him some room and by the time I turn Final he's virtually landed, so get a Land After (this is becoming a habit).
The wind is now straight down the runway so let's do a nice one.... oh, yes, maybe I can do nice landings after all!
The Chinese Tourist
has come from Hong Kong to see us (it's a long story) but would like to see Oxford from above. The weather is just not cooperating: we've had a very wet spring indeed (most of which we missed by going to Martinique, but that's another tale...).
But on the way to Blenheim Palace I reckon the weather's just about good enough for a low-level whizz around Oxford...
So we do a quick pre-flight, fire up and take off. Oxford is giving overcast at 1200ft which is more than enough
so long as I don't overcook the climbout, and we are free to sightsee over Oxford unencumbered by other aircraft because no one is flying (as usual).
She loves it, and we go see Abingdon and our house before turning back for Oxford and R01. A squirrely crosswind means a less than perfect arrival: just when I was trying to impress!
John O'Groats (or "Scotland and back in a day part II")
Dan has now cycled all the way from Lands End, where I dropped him, to John O'Groats: pretty amazing.
The nearest airport to John O'Groats is Wick, which is the farthest you can fly North in mainland Britain without running out of land and going all nautical, so let's do a trip up there. The aircraft's AOC runs out at midnight so I need to be back before then. No pressure....
The weather at Oxford is yuk but just flyable, and forecast to eventually clear for a VFR return just before sunset, provided the schedule is adhered to....
There are many concerns about the weather on this trip but we have agreed that if it really is impossible to get to Wick he'll go back on the train, so that reduces the stress levels a bit.
I am (inevitably) the only silly bugger flying
today, and have got a long way to go: Perth, then Wick, rinse and reverse 2 PoB. Wick is only open 3:00-5:00 on Sundays so that narrows our time window somewhat.
Depart on 01 with full tanks (you can never have too much fuel) and at 1,000ft go solid IMC (carb heat every 5 mins). In the initial climb my manual IMC manoeuvring abilities fail me for a moment and I manage to turn 30deg off heading before realising what's going on and getting my act together for a climb towards Daventry.
It's the grey room until near Leicester where the clouds clear a little to the forecast clear layer at 4,500ft and slowly it improves until at
near Scunthorpe they reduce to sunshine with fluffy bits and the odd avoidable shower. Weather worry no 1 resolved.
I'll go to Perth today as I've not been there before and it's a bit further North than Fife.
Scottish hand over to Leuchars who are, amazingly, operating a LARS on a Sunday
and being efficient about it, and I descend to try and find Perth (which is not as easy as it seems). They're on a rather short runway 27 today, so I'll need to concentrate, and the circuit has 3 aircraft in it by the time I join crosswind, so we'll need to slow right down to let them land and vacate first. The weather up here is absolutely beautiful and just not cold at all, which is surprising given the Latitude.
Perth have a very efficient fuelling system allowing you to pay for your fuel and your landing fee at the pumps using a card. Why don't all airfields do this? They say I must be back from Wick by 4:50pm for more fuel. Following that I park up on the grass, leaving divots in the wet bits. Ugh....
Stop for 10 minutes for lunch then fire up, power-check (the left mag is getting worse, the Annual is tomorrow. It will fly on one mag even if a little roughly) and enter, backtrack and depart 27.
A right turn outbound gets me slap bang in to the middle of a rainstorm and as I am IMC already we may as well climb over the Cairngorms to 6,500ft on top immediately and before long we can see through gaps the ski resorts and snowy tops. Engine failure here?
Find a hole, MayDay and try to land uphill for a short run.
Within 20 minutes (The Cairngorms are high, but relatively small in area) we are over the lower slopes and heading for Inverness, where the weather is absolutely gorgeous. I should not be surprised at the huge range of localised weather over Scotland but I still am. This does, however, bode well for Wick which is not too far up the coast now.
Coasting out over the Moray Firth, watching the oil rigs moored in the harbour we'll descend to remain under the high level cloud and head off up the coast for Wick.
But as we swap to Wick the weather really starts to close in; Wick are open but have told us the mist is beginning to roll in
and we shouldn't hang about, suggest a Right base join for runway 13 and tell us to report Right Base.... which is over a hill.
Coasting in, we head for as tight a Right Base as I can make for speed and the ground starts to come up. Over the top of the hill, and squeaking in under the cloud, I
reckon we're no more than 100ft above the pine trees, but we're VFR and the ground drops away, there's runway 13 and we're Right Base, checks done and we're Final over the end of the mile long runway.
Scotland may be remote, but by gum they've got good infrastructure: I've got 4G in the air over the Cairngorms and the runway is absolutely huge. Being strategic in the Cold War I suspect helped a lot, but boy is it bleak up here....
Neat landing, bang on 3:10pm, roll out to Charlie, the geo-referenced airfield map in SkyDemon means you just can't get lost, park up and we're here.
Weather worry no 2 resolved.
With Dan and the bike safely in the plane (we're well within W&B even if we had full fuel) we start up, backtrack Runway 13, turn and roll. Wick are concerned about the wall of mist rolling in from the sea, as am I, so we try to get above it on take off but as we cross the numbers it all goes white. IMC obligatory!
Following a smooth climb out and gentle turn back towards
Inverness our calculations are that we will be one minute early for the pumps at Perth. The tide is beginning to turn in our favour.
We climb clear at 2,500ft and the weather improves as we come down the coast followed closely (it seems) by a HeliMed helicopter. Wick keep asking us for height and position and I can't work out whether they are worried about us or the HeliMed helicopter hitting us, but eventually we swap back to Inverness who ask us to hug the Cromarty Firth coast so as to avoid an EasyJet 737 on approach. We must be going too fast because eventually they ask us to orbit as well which isn't going to help our time getting back to Perth!
At length the 737 appears, we are cleared South so its back to 6,500ft to go over the Cairngorms again, then as we can see the lower ground far ahead we can do a 150Kt dive in to Perth to make up some time. No other traffic to affect, a short Right Base and we're on runway 27 again, backtracking and pulling up at the pumps at 16:49. Perfect!
The pump man is waiting, we water the grass behind the hangar as he fills us up and we are away again after a staggering 10 mins. I have never done such a quick turnaround. EasyJet would be impressed.
Now we can relax a bit because Oxford's weather forecast has improved: apparently the crud is beginning to clear through...
Cleared by Leuchars over the Firth of Forth it's smooth and sunny at 4,000ft as we track down the East coast through Newcastle's Zone. Durham is shut so we just transit through not talking to anyone, then it's back to Humberside Radar as we turn the corner and the weather deteriorates. It's not too bad to start with but as we get further down it becomes pretty solid IMC. We can fly through it OK but I am worried about getting back to Oxford.
We've agreed a divert to Gloucester who are VMC
if necessary but let's see how we do. This is a finely-tuned game: I am not going to risk flying in to anything but with GPS you can be very sure of where you are so we track past Coventry and descend to 3000ft from where I get tantalising glimpses of ground. Oxford is sounding depressed and giving "mist in the vicinity and clouds scattered at 300ft", but let's get on to the 19 track where MSA is 2300ft, get down to 2300 and see what's going on. There's no wind so this is all pretty smooth and Oxford agrees to let us try a low-level circuit for 01, if we can find the airfield.
At 4 miles the clouds part and there is the runway, so rather than track all the way round for 01 I simply ask for a straight in for 19
and they agree, pop the flaps and float down for a gentle arrival. We made it.
Was it dangerous? No: it was exploratory but I had 3 hrs of fuel left, a legititmate divert and I never descended below MSA. And we got the aircraft back before the AOC expired.
But what a trip!
Beating the traffic jams
Whisky Lima has passed it's Annual (phew!) and our in-laws-to-be
are here for the weekend.
A combination of Hen night spiked drinks and over-consumption have rendered Lucy unwilling to drive them back on Sunday afternoon, so over lunch we hatch a plan to get them back to Bournemouth. I can drive them down (imagine the traffic jams coming back on a sunny Sunday night...), we can put them on the train (hot, sweaty, change at Reading, Engineering Works etc etc) or, er...... I can fly them down.
No contest there, then.
Charlie is very pregnant and I'm a little concerned about taking her, but she is very relaxed and happy to go, so we'll go in full Airliner Mode: a/p on, climb as high as possible to avoid thermals, and no violent manoeuvres.
It's a beautiful sunny day and we can see the A34 traffic jams from 4,000ft, a few bumps but nothing spectacular; 20 minutes later we're over Stoney Cross and entering Bournemouth's Zone for a Right Base Join for Runway 26, establishing the Localiser then descending on the glideslope and trying for as smooth an arrival as possible, which almost fails as we catch some rotor off one of the hangars and balloon a little.
OK: a bit of power, smooth it out, we've got plenty of runway here and have another go, gently on just a bit long so a small backtrack and off around the complex taxiways.
SkyDemons's georeferenced airfield diagrams make short work of the complexity and the long grass hiding the various junctions (I grow more in love with SkyDemon every time I use it), then we park up at Bliss for a wallet-lightening session.
Quite why they charge £81 whereas Oxford (similar size, better facilities) charge £16 is beyond me, but I take the attitude that we accept GA is an expensive hobby, there are more important things to be stressed over.
No in-flight births, no need for the sickbag, and they'd go again, so we've succeeded.
30 mins door to door, versus probably the better part of 2 hours by car. Personally, I know which way I'd prefer....
Pasengers safely disgorged, wallet and bladder emptied, it's time to start up and navigate out. Bournemouth has a great runway, and no one else GA is out and about, so we're cleared for take-off after a landing business jet (expect wake turbulence, but it doesn't happen), get cleared for a right turn outbound North East for Stoney Cross once more, mind the conflicting helicopter and depart North. Boscombe is not Active but we'll avoid their ATZ and Middle Wallop's ATZ and bimble home in the sunshine.
Now I'm on my own and not in a hurry I want to document some standard power settings for IMC work, to make life easier when manoeuvring.
Some experimentation later I work out:
For 100Kts level 2200rpm, 15 in Hg
For 100Kts, 500ft/min descent 2000 rpm, 13 in Hg
With 1 stage of flaps
For 100Kts level 2350rpm, 175 in Hg
For 100Kts, 500ft/min descent 22000 rpm, 15 in Hg
At Compton the Autopilot can go to OFF for a bimble home at low level at 100Kts and a Downwind join for 19, which will mean a quartering tailwind. Now this is a new one, and useful experience.
The approach feels fast, even though we're back at 75Kts
and of course flaring is further down the runway than expected, even having turned Final deliberately low. It just won't go down!
Drifting on and drifting on we eventually touch a little abruptly (not watching the end of the runway again!) about halfway down having missed a staggering 600m of runway. I could lie and say this was deliberate (minimise taxy time on the runway to accommodate following aircraft, blah blah blah...), but it wasn't.
A useful lesson in strip work: even small tailwinds have a big effect on landing distance.
Wash and brush up
It's always worth keeping the aircraft clean and tidy, so one Saurday morning we all convene
in a hangar at Oxford and clean and polish for all we're worth. It certainly looks better afterwards...
RNAV: Pushing the IMC envelope
Every 2 years
all pilots do a Revalidation, which basically means an hour with an Instructor. We can do whatever we like in that hour, and provided the Instructor is happy we aren't a danger to anyone at the end of that hour they sign-off that we can go off and fly unencumbered for the next 2 years.
This is mainly a backstop to ensure no one goes for years and years with no supervision, but I like to do stuff I would be unhappy with doing on my own the 1st time.
Aeronautical science has moved on in the last few years (although the CAA PPL Syllabus has signally failed to catch up...): we now have things called RNAV approaches. No ground infrastructure such as NDBs and ILSes, this is purely performed by reference to GPS using a sophisticated nav system like a Garmin 430W. So it is very cheap for airports to implement and they are becoming increasingly prevalent.
But I have never flown one... until now.
Gloucester have implemented RNAV approaches on both 09 and 27 runways (Oxford, where are you?). A good use of an hour with a tech savvy Instructor such as my friend Pete would be to do one.
A quick phone call to Ops at Gloucester gets a 4:00pm slot booked - no one is flying today because it's really hazy, most airfields are marked as IFR so it's the perfect day.
We prep for the 09 approach but keep the 27 approach chart handy for if the winds change,
and take off VFR, which by 1,000ft turns in to milky nonsense: not really clouds but just the "no horizon, no ground" semi-IMC we seem to get a lot of in the UK, hence the IR(R).
We climb out to MOVEN, one of those randomly-placed IFR waypoints dotted around the globe: invisible to all but pilots, then try to load the EGBJ approach. But it will only give us EGTK (Oxford) approaches, until we manually force it to use EGBJ. I dont know what that's all about. Get radio clearance for the 09 RNAV approach via UVNOP and turn for Gloucester all fat, dumb and happy.
About a minute later Pete asks me where we're going, with that annoying smile on his face that says "you've screwed up...".
"Gloucester, of course".
"Not via UVNOP then?"
Ah, yes, it's sending us direct to Gloucester, not via the approach. *Activate* the Approach on the 430W (as I should have done 5 minutes ago...) and it sends us off towards UVNOP instead.
So the lesson here is that you LOAD the approach before you get clearance to fly the approach, then ACTIVATE it.
We slow the aircraft to 100Kts at our preselected power/prop setting that we know gives level flight, perform pre-landing checks (get them out of the way) and turn on command of the 430 at UVNOP. This seems to be working!
We descend and maintain 2500ft and expect a turn command at BJ090I the Intermediate Fix
but none is forthcoming from the 430 so we manually turn, report and commence our descent towards the Final Approach Fix (FAF) at 1700ft.
The 430 is giving lateral guidance only at this point but as we pass the FAF the glideslope indicator comes alive and we commence our descent. Go Missed is at 680ft QNH (so 579 ft above ground at Gloucester) for an IR(R), that's pretty low and I get Pete to call out the 100s of feet as we descend. A few twitches but we're OK to 700ft, then Pete suggests "as we are doing so well..." that we simply continue to the IR minima of 480ft and here it gets *really* twitchy.
Up until this point the view outside has been uniformly patchy grey but now finally the houses appear....and Oh Bloody Hell they're close. And here's the runway, nice and close with the lights shining, we can easily get it in from here even if it is slightly off to one side.
The only parameter that has slipped outside constraints is the speed: we're up around 120Kts, I should have reduced the power on descent. I'll work on that.
At 480ft (406ft above the houses) we go Missed, a/p on and pull for height, this is all doable: not easy, but doable.
We recover to Oxford at 3,000ft on top and the clouds are clearing so we can opt for a VFR join back to Oxford: left base for 01 sounds good. I'm mentally knackered and so manage a bit of a thump on landing (bugger!), but that was really worth doing.
Overwater cloud break
Nessa and the girls are going away for the weekend to Wales. To join them Lucy (who works in the industrial Estate behind the airfield at Bournemouth) needs to go from Bournemouth to Haverfordwest while the other two are driving down (5 hour Friday afternoon drive, anyone?). Johnny is coming along as well as coincidentally his family will be in Haverfordwest and he is after a lift.
The weather has been just awful all week:
low cloud, mist, rain and thunderstorms that has even prevented my friend Simon (who will genuinely fly in anything) from flying up to see us in his helicopter.
Careful persual of the weather forecasts has it clearing on Friday afternoon for the weekend, and
on cue it begins to clear at Oxford and Bournemouth. But it is impossible, I find, to get any accurate cloubase information at Haverfordwest because they don't have a weather station and BBC Weather doesn't include cloudbase information. By the time I get there it will be out of hours so there will be no one there to ask, this is a quandary.
In the grand spirit of always having a Plan B we'll go and see what we can find.... this sounds carefree and dangerous but there is method in my madness: I'll have enough fuel to go back to Oxford (which will be VFR and anyway has an ILS) if necessary, and a little trick I was taught by an instructor a long time ago says "there are no mountains at sea", so provided there is some gap between the sea and the clouds a careful cloud break over the sea will see you under the clouds, then you can scud run as much as you want. Well, it's a theory...
Oxford is finally VFR (there is a thunderstorm warning in force but that is for scattered CBs, which we can fly round) and flying down to Bournemouth it's VMC at 2,000ft so that's OK. Bliss Aviation are happy to see me (again...) and my wallet ('nuff said), so I pick up Lucy and we depart North West.
we are happily on top in the sunshine and it's smooth but the cloud closes up pretty soon and as far as the eye can see it's overcast, no holes. We see one hole over Minehead which looks stunning (and I dont grab my camera fast enough) but then it's a flat plain all the way over the Bristol Channel.
Cardiff are giving overcast 400ft, scattered 300ft which is just horrible and if it's like that at Haverfordwest we won't be landing, but Nessa messages me a photo taken from the airfield that
looks like a 5-600ft cloudbase, so we may be OK.
over Tenby we head North West and overfly the airfield at 2,500ft looking in vain for a hole.
OK, it's the overwater cloud break for us, then....
6 miles from Haverfordwest is St Brides Bay and as we go feet wet I let it sink gently in to the
My minima for this is
1,000ft and I have very carefully checked our QNH so I know how high I am.
The light dims as we sink gently in and at 1300ft I can see vague shapes that could be coastline, or just cloud.....
At 1100ft we suddenly glimpse a ship below us and drop in to the
clear at 1000ft, I can then roll us VMC back towards the coastline, let's see how high the cliffs are... perfect, they're a hundred foot high or so, there's loads of room between them and the clouds and we can scud run easily back in to Haverfordwest for a Downwind join for R27 and a smooth arrival to the completely empty airfield.
Well, that's something I've not had the guts to do before
now but it is very effective, and in fact completely legal: the Golden Rule is "do not descend below MSA unless on a published approach". But MSA over the sea is 1,000ft.
Mission accomplished I can drop Lucy and Johnny, fire up, backtrack and depart on R27, climb and do a nice Rate One turn in the clag at 600ft back East. At 2,500ft I pop out on top and it's amazing the difference in light levels between the murk below and the bright blue above. Something only instrument pilots know...
The light is starting to get interesting as evening draws on, the clouds are inevitably thicker over the Brecon Beacons (aren't they always?)
but then they start to break up over Abergavenny and by the time I'm over the Severn it's crystal clear with only a huge thunderstorm to the North visible, moving away.
It's smooth descending past Gloucester
(who have long since gone home), get the ATIS from Oxford as I go over the escarpment and join Right Base for R19, let's see if we can make it three out of three greasers... oo yes.... (as Mr Jazz Club would say)... nice.
Not an instructor
I hated it when I was
learning and every flight was an opportunity for Instructors to teach me stuff: I just wanted to bimble about once in a while.
So today is my opportunity for a non-judgemental, non-instructor bimble with Ann, who is nearing completion of her PPL. It's a beautiful
"perfect aviation" day (and for some reason her instructor refuses to take her out claiming it's not a good day for navigation! He has shown poor judgement a number of times so we'll wean her off him pretty quickly once she's passed...), so we'll go out instead.
Ann has a good plog we can modify to suit WL's speed and today's wind, and we'll do Evesham, Kemble, Compton, home.
I can do the take-off, Ann will do everything else. We get a right turn out over
Woodstock then it's time to hand over control. Ann is hugely better and much more confident and capable than last time, she pretty soon has us lined up for Evesham with the clock going and whilst I end up doing the radio I reckon she's doing OK......
Of course the issue with Turn, Time, Distance is that the wind is never as forecast and once you're off track, unless you consciously correct you're never where you think you are. We end up going in the right direction but several miles off course. It's a good theory, and let's face it the RAF bombed Germany using it but accurate it ain't, and with Brize and Rissington so close relying on it is just dangerous, so I have a back up copy of SkyDemon on my phone I'm cheating with....
To give Ann enormous credit, she gets us to Evesham
although the time element bears little relation to the plog. I remember being like this and getting frustrated over just not being able to do everything at once: if one thing goes wrong the whole Navex goes out the window.
But then we turn for Kemble, and it all goes to pieces
- she is 20 deg off track and although she ends up parallel to her required track eventually she is in fact heading to bust the Brize Zone so we have to agree to take a manual right turn to repair the situation, and once that is resolved there are two identical looking airports ahead of us. They both look like Kemble!
In practice we
dont really want to be bimbling through Kemble's overhead, they won't thank us for that so we route between the two and outside Kemble's ATZ, turning back round for the East towards Compton and I can get Ann to fly a VOR track (much more accurate, Navaids don't move about).
She has a client in Leckhampton that has offered her use of a strip
and finding it is an interesting exercise. Of course it doesn't appear in SkyDemon and we end up using Google Maps to guide us in. Google Maps gets indignant at us "driving" straight across fields but shows us where we need to be and Ann does a really nice job of slowing up the plane and doing a low pass for a look-see, then climbing out. She's rapidly becoming a good pilot, now we just need to get her away from this instructor with his bad decision-making skills before he teaches her too many bad habits...
We climb out back towards Oxford and
I can just sit and look out the window as Ann brings us back in. Overhead Oxford and probably 4 miles from the airfield I have to gently suggest that maybe 130Kts and 2,500ft may be *slightly* inapprorpriate for a Downwind Join for R19, which prompts a flurry of activity and, to give her credit, we slip in to the Downwind spot on speed and height. She does know what she's doing.
Even at a Controlled airfield like Oxford, you are responsible for your own spacing in the circuit. We are #2 to a PA28 who is flying the widest Base Leg I have ever seen, he's clearly all over the place and very slow, I take it from Ann and we do a neat orbit at the top of the Base Leg to let him sort himself out, or we would have been right up his arse. Drop in to the approach groove, do a perfect approach....and get a little bounce as a result. Sometimes you do, sometimes you don't.
Reverse the Flight Plan
Today it's Haverfordwest and Bournemouth to take Lucy home, and the weather is once more perfect for aviation. Giving plenty of time and with full tanks I taxy out to the Hold, get stuck behind a School PA31 and we wait.... and wait.. and wait....
He has several goes getting his clearance right, then there's a glider in the overhead (safest place, I reckon), then there are 3 PA31s doing missed approaches and 2 jets. I understand the whole "landing aircraft take precedence" thing but she really could have let us go several times in the 20 minutes (yes, 20 minutes) we are at the Hold. And now I'm late.
Note to Oxford ATC: if a plane is downwind, it's OK to let people take off as they will be in the next county before he's on Final. And if for some reason they stall on the runway he can go round or use R29. These sorts of delays are entirely avoidable and unnecessary. End of rant.
Anyway, we finally do get cleared for take off so it's shock and awe time: a short field departure has us off the ground at 55Kts, best climb is at 65Kts and we'll hold her there all the way to 1,000ft by which time we are just about clear of the airfield boundary: not bad, out and go hell for leather for Gloucester then Brecon, and 55 minutes later Haverfordwest actually do answer the radio (well, there's a first...) and we slide round for a time-saving very short right base for 03 (the one where
you're still turning over the threshold) and a decent arrival (ah, I can do these), a quick taxy and shut down and... they're late, so that's wonderful.
A quick (but decent) burger and we're away on 03. I love Haverfordwest, it's uncomplicated. All the Danger Areas are inactive so we can simply head straight for Minehead at a smooth 4,500ft talking to London Info, turn for Bournemouth and 20 miles out call for a straight-in for 08 which we get so Activate Vectors for the ILS 08 and slide down the ILS visually for a smooth arrival and taxy in. Lucy jumps out, Bliss gets to see what's left of the inside of my wallet once more and we're off on the final leg.
Middle Wallop has exercises scheduled and Red Arrows transits are imminent, plus every aircraft in Southern England
is flying today. On a listening squawk with Farnborough I hear them warn of high levels of traffic from Lasham and Popham to Farnborough: I see only 2 aircraft but apparently there were at least 50 in that area.....
Swap to Oxford and a 01 arrival precedes a
satisfying tie-down of the aircraft on a warm evening, listening to the metal cooling and smelling that wonderful warm aircraft smell.
Time for a beer, I think.
Britain has been basking in a heatwave for the better part of a month and I have been too busy with daughters wedding preparations to go flying, but this morning Ness needs to go to Shoreham.
Today the NOTAMs have Shoreham closed, but a quick PPR phone calls reveals that in fact they are not closed.
The normal Towered service has been downgraded to an A/G service (which actually I prefer as Shoreham Tower is officious and fussy...).
I'll take Sam with me as he needs experience in flying, and its more fun flying with someone else.
Today we'll teach him climbs and descents
involving "Power, Attitude, Trim", and that works well except that then he can't hold a heading. Octopus and string bag! I remember it well.....
After wrestling with Oxford's ever-changing 8.33KHz-compliant radio frequencies
we change to Farnborough who tell us we are about to bust some airspace. 4,000ft I said, Sam! Nose-dive and apologise, oops....
Donald Trump has departed
Oxford but many SBAC Farnborough RA(T)s exist and we keep well clear of them to the West. Farnborough West are surprisingly quiet for a display morning, although we keep hearing "Display 003" on-frequency which, judging by the NOTAMs, are the Red Arrows screaming around the countryside....
Sam is doing a great job: so good we arrive at Shoreham before I am really ready, so pull the throttle, get Sam to descend it (this apparently involves a nose-dive at 150Kts) to 1,500ft from where we can do a left base join for 02. The A/G is remarkably quiet and a gentle arrival is followed by much taxying as we go right around the track almost to the take-off area again before parking outside Eastern Atlantic.
After coffee and water (so an hour later I badly need a pee) we start up again and taxy out. A/G tells us no one else is flying so we do a short-field take off and at 100ft Sam can fly us out Eastbound towards Dover, which very rapidly appears out of the murk, so we descend over the Channel Tunnel terminal and out to sea for a good look at Dover harbour.
I see they've finally filled in the hovercraft ramp: I remember the SRN4 sliding sideways in to the water many years ago. They were cool...
There are surprisingly few ferries today: Brexit may be having an effect?
Or is it a case of "Fog in Channel, Continent cut off"?
The famous white cliffs
("there'll be Cessnas over, the White Cliffs of Dover...") loom up and we fly around the corner, seeing France in the distance before turning for Detling and London. This journey takes an hour by road, but 10 minutes later we are descending towards Detling and the London TMA, swapping to Farnborugh East and snaking between Rochester's TMA and the behemoth that is the new Southend Galactic Airspace grab. Wow, there isn't much room here.
Around the North of London we go, until at Bovingdon we start to see the Chilterns, slip under Luton's airspace, swap back to Oxford Radar and aim for the gap betwen Oxford and Weston on the Green.
I'd let Sam land it but there's a helicopter I just can't see ahead of us on Final for R19 so we'll need to slow the aircraft right down for spacing...... ah, there he is, turn Final, slide down the approach and roll out smoothly.
Now I suppose we must go and do some work!
Nessa needs picking up, so a return journey is required.
Shoreham is today not NOTAMed closed, but a quick PPR phone call and a chat to the guys on the ground confirm that it is actually closed.
They must be too close to France, where everything is always "Fermé" for "le early closing", siesta, Sunday, Saints Days or strikes. If you don't believe me, spend some time in France...
So we'll go to
Goodwood, where I've never been before. I have an aviation map of England in my office where most of the airfields are coloured blue, for where I have visited. Goodwood is one of the few blank airfields, so we'll fill it in blue today. Just like stamp-collecting, really: get the whole set.... (maybe not Gatwick at £1,300!).
Approaching Goodwood I can see a C172 already downwind but 300ft above me at the *Correct* circuit height (I'm at 1,000ft, oops...), so we have a little chat: "You first". "No, you first...". Anyway, I get to go first as I'm lower, so I head for the race course up on the hills where the wind hitting the ridge lifts me up to.... 1300ft. Hang on, I'm meant to be going down! Somehow my speed has decayed so a firm push has me low over the hills but heading in the right direction for base leg, then final.
Now they did warn me earlier R24 was bit rough, but let's just say we hit all the bumps until finally slowing and turning off on to the (much smoother) taxyway.
"Park to the South of the Tower" says the A/G.
The Tower is a pimple by the hangar so I head for the clubhouse which has a much larger "C"; only later do I realise I have parked in completely the wrong area. Never mind...
A very long lunch later Nessa and I taxy out past the tower and along the bumpy grass towards the Threshold of R24. I've got the window open as it's hot and manage to forget to close it for the take-off run, but I've read the PoH and it says the window is good for 140Kts, so I'll just stick my elbow out on the window sill and adjust my shades on the climb out, for that extra cool look.....
20 minutes later we're descending over Compton and 10 more minutes has us neatly on the ground at Oxford, where we taxy the aircraft in to the Maintenance bay for its new inertia-reel seatbelt fitting. I look forward very much to it!
Flying a plane is a learned skill, like playing a musical instrument, and if not repeated this skill decays. The musician Jascha Heifetz once said "If I don't practice one day, I know it; two days, the critics know it; three days, the public knows it".
Pilots like to fly regularly to perform "rust removal"; I have not flown for 2 months so I dont feel sharp at all. Domestic commitments (marrying off the eldest daughter and being best man at a lavish London wedding plus a holiday and a lot of gardening) have meant no spare time, but a windy Saturday afternoon in September allows for a trip.
A "Strong wind warning" is in force
which when I was learning used to terrify me, until I learned that a) it doesn't matter if it's almost straight down the runway, b) it's only landings you really need to care about so a take-off can be made in just about any conditions, c) the "Demonstrated Crosswind Limit" set by the aircraft manufacturer and stated in the Pilots Operating Handbook is not a maximum crosswind limit: that is set by your own skill level and should be part of your general post-PPL envelope-stretching exercises, to increase that level of acceptable crosswind and to set your own personal Maxima in this regard. I have demonstrated I can land in 18Kts gusting 22Kts directly across the runway in a C182, so anything above that I might attempt but will always have a Plan B (usually a more into-wind runway).
Today it's giving 24018G24: we'll be using R19 so that's 50 degrees off
so 2/3 of 24Kts is 18Kts, we can fly in that. So long as I'm not too rusty...
Pete has recently lost his beloved wife so is need of some distraction. He flew in helicopters in the Army so he is not scared of a bit of aviation, but has never seen his house or, indeed Oxford, from the air so we plan to give him some fun.
The first thing I notice are the whizzo new inertia-reel seatbelts: quite different from the car-like ones in Tango Golf, these are padded, centre-coupled and supremely comfortable.
Settled in our new belts we start up and depart to the South VFR for a turn around the Oxford ring road before looking at the colleges in their matching sandstone in the centre of Oxford glistening in the afternoon sun. I still get quite a buzz out of the fact that there are no limits to me being able to do this....
We then head South West to photograph our local vineyard who are having a sculpture display. It looks very busy from above.
That done, we can climb out down the Wantage Road. Traffic jams: what traffic jams? Some swivel-eyed wonk set the speed limit on the A338 to 50mph and introduced the Frilford lights, but this is a much faster method, taking about 3 minutes...
I'm experimenting with giving better
views to my passengers by sideslipping the aircraft so they can look down; it's good practice anyway for crosswind approaches. It does require a tad more power to maintain height as the drag is increased but feels quite normal.
We circle over Pete's house in Grove, marvel at the simply massive numbers of (tiny) houses being built in Wantage and Didcot, and turn North for Oxford via Abingdon, flying up the river and back over central Oxford for a Downwind rejoin. Oxford is quiet today, as it's windy. No one ever seems to want to fly in anything resembling challenging conditons; it's not very bumpy up here.
After a space-generating Downwind orbit we turn Final; this is where my lack of recency may tell. The windsocks are straight out and straining and we are headed up into wind so angled to the runway as fly the approach, the wind is squirrely and gusty. Keep the crab on in to the flare, eyes on the far end of the runway, then kick straight at the last moment and we drop on with not even a squeak right on the centre line. Maybe not so rusty after all......
Dan is on Work Experience
and may be amenable to a flip up to Leicestershire to connect a fibre link and set up a WiFi unit.
I have bought a RAM Mount iPad yoke mount to see if that is a better solution. The coaming solution works well, but I worry about it obscuring part of the forward vision.
For some bizarre reason, these are impossible to source in the UK: I had to import one from the US. They even called me to ask if I wanted it landscape or portrait.
Its system of straps is bizarre and
unfathomable, even with the instructions, until Dan explains I've got it upside down. Ah..... Now it works really well: good and solid. And tilted up so I can see it properly.
Dan and I buckle in to the new, comfy seat belts, start up and taxy out.
Oxford is completely manic: for a weekday I just can't believe
there are so many aircraft flying. The radio is wall to wall Instrument traffi, I'm expecting a delay but they've obviously read this blog and responded to other complaints: our VFR departure is speedy and there are no stupid delays. It's a beautiful VFR day and once I can get a word in edgeways we leave the maelstrom of the new Oxford Radar 8.33KHz frequency the silence of Wittering's Approach frequency is deafening. They are there, but apparently the MATZ is not Active until 12:00 (although I dont know whether that is Llocal or Zulu time), so as I don't intend to enter the MATZ stub anyway (MATZ stubs dont reach down to the ground: a very useful fact you can use to your advantage) I can just use SafetyCom.
Inside 30 minutes we are in Leicestershire. Now: let's see where this strip is. Announce joining left base, then realise it's right below us so chop the throttle, swing round and join right base from the North.
It's short-ish at 500m so I'm determined to do a tidy, short field approach and not be burying the nose on the last few meters of runway having floated in late. So full flap, speed *right* back to 60Kts, and aim for the grass just before the threshold.
The stall warner blares as we touch right on the start of the cracked concrete runway and the drumming rapidly diminishes as the speed bleeds off. Textbook short-field job, we're stopped in 280m. I haven't lost my touch.
Spanhoe is a great little private airstrip: small, informal, cheap at £10 a pop and very friendly. No facilities, but run for the benefit of the local pilots. There are assorted Cessnas and Pipers parked on the grass, no complex arrivals routine, absolutely wonderful. Just self-announce on SafetyCom, you are responsible for your own spacing, what could be easier?
Our work only takes 45 minutes. An hour later we are back at the airfield and ready for start. A quick power-check, then roll on, backtrack to the grass starter extension (you'd probably need this with a C172....), pop out some flap, rotate at 55Kts and we're off in 300m. Gotta love a C182.
Back to the
maelstrom, which has only abated a bit: Oxford is definitely getting busier these days. Weston-on-the-Green is inactive but we'll stay clear and join left base from the East, turn Final and plop it on.
The iPad yoke mount worked perfectly: I can even charge it there.
Back on Slot 1: all oher slots full. Oxford is getting busier, definitely. We'll be going out again in a couple of days.
Working the weather
We've been asked up to Perth for a long weekend.
I reckon if we leave on Friday the weather will be just about bearable in Oxford, solid IMC all the way up, then beautful for the last 50 miles. Let's see how that works...
Our plan to depart at 10:15 goes out the window; Oxford is too foggy for even me to want to fly in it and the bowser is delayed by having to fuel a jet, then 3 other GA aircraft. We keep spying him whizzing between hangars, but he never comes near us!
By 11:15 we are finally fuelled and started and the sun is peeping through, so we power-check behind a lurid green Mooney (*why* would you have an aircraft that colour?) who then just sits there.
Well, I don't want to be rude, but let's go!
So I pass him and pull up to the Hold.
He gives me a filthy look as I go past, but what can you do?
He is only delayed by a few seconds as the moment I'm cleared I'm gone: SPLAT checks, then Ts & Ps good, speed registering, right rudder to hold the centreline, rotate at 65Kts, check forward as we leave ground effect and maintain 75Kts and runway heading to 1,000ft then left for 030 and we're IMC at 1,100ft, push up through and clear in to the sunshine at 2,000ft.
Ah, that's more like it......
There's a front between here and Newcastle we need to get through.
It's too high to get over (and of course "too low to get under...", thank you Michael Jackson),
so as we reach Daventry the white room envelops us and it's in and out of the rain for 90 minutes via Humberside, Durham Tees Valley and Newcastle.
We do actually see Sunderland briefly in the pouring rain below us (eeh, but it's grim up North...), and then as we pass Berwick upon Tweed it just, well. Stops.
We can see the crud behind us, but we're now in bright blue sky with fluffy clouds and can see for ever.
helps us with coasting out at North Berwick, in at Bonnybank and then we're descending in to Perth, who are busy so while joining Crosswind for 27 we hear another aircraft already downwind.
I can see him and he is truly doing a bomber circuit, so we'll clear to the North for spacing. One leisurely orbit sees us back Downwind and turning Base when suddenly.... he calls "turning Final". Bloody Hell, is he still out here? I thought he'd landed, had a cup of tea and and
And there he is, below us and leisurely running down Final. One smart extra right hand orbit coming up.....
And even after that he's still on the runway when I turn Final, and I've got all the flaps out now for a short roll. I suppose I was like that once, not the sort of high descent rate, short circuits I do....
Still, a nice arrival and a short roll gets us off the runway and parked up.
£15 landing fee seems reasonable.
Saturday was a picture perfect day in Scotland (unlike the rest of The British Isles) but Sunday dawns cold, cloudy and windy. The forecast is for 28G35Kts at 210deg. Perth has a 21 runway, so that's fine.
It's freezing here! We start up, taxy to the pumps and fill up, pay by iPad and taxy out.
It's 1,000ft overcast now so flyable, but it will be bumpy
The cafe is full of glum looking pilots peering out at us as the light rain
patters down. I just love going out in this sort of crud, everyone looks at you as if you're mad...
Backtrack 09, turn on to 21, backtrack, power check and roll. In 21Kts of headwind we're off in 300m or so.
At 1,000ft we go IMC but I know we're clear of terrain along my planned path so even though it's pretty bumpy it's safe. Once a C182 is at 90-100Kts you're good for more or less anything. This is good practise for manual IMC climb and heading maintenance.
Evry aircraft has a "Manoeuvring speed". In a C182 this is 111Kts. It is the speed designed for rough weather: the furthest away from the stall and the furthest from the maximum wing loading. We'll fly at this today through the bumpy bits.
At 4,000ft the bumping ceases and the skies brighten but we don't
actually become VMC until 6,000ft
by which time we are over the Firth of Forth.
Scottish Info are bored because there is just *no one* out today but us, so are very helpful with getting weather for our journey, but they don't realise we've got 3G up here so can get everything they can.
The weather clears North of Newcastle and becomes CAVOK
as we cruise South.
I'm experimenting with more aggressive leaning
and can now get it back to 13USG/hr, which really affects your flight planning: over a 4hr flight that saves enough fuel for an extra hour's flight. Wow....
We route down West of Durham Tees Valley and under the big trans-Penine Airway then
West of Doncaster and round East Midlands before turning for home.
Oxford are busy and ask us to orbit just South of
Banbury, so I crank it round in to a nice steep turn, which is definitely not appreciated by Nessa in the passenger seat! Oops.....
Back on track, back on the ILS, get to 6 miles and they ask us for another orbit, which I do more gently, then they slot us in and we descend for a gentle arrival and taxy in.
What a lovely weekend.
An American Pilot's licence
Well, that was fun.
We're off to Florida in November with Ann and Trevor and
we'd like to do some aviation out there, so have arranged to borrow a C182 for a few days. Key West and New Orleans beckon, I reckon.
The process is complex:
You ask the CAA to release confirmation that you do actually hold a JAR-FCL licence and Medical to the FAA in the US. You then ask the FAA to ask the CAA the same question.
The FAA then sends you confirmation
that as far as they are concerned you do actually hold the licence, medical and Ratings.
Then you go to the Airman's Licencing website, put in all the above info and
request a US licence.
At this point, you need a Designated Pilot Examiner (DPE) who checks all the info and actually signs off the licence. These guys are usually US-based but we've managed to ferret a UK-based one out of the woodwork. He is based at East Midlands.
I could drive, but......
More fun to go by air.
It's really foggy at Oxford this morning, but forecast to clear. Ann and I walk out to the aircraft and the airfield is clear. We pre-flight, fill up, start up and look at the runway ready for taxy.
Ah: we can't actually see the runway...
We sit for 10 minutes warming up the aircraft, but it's not going to clear
for a while, so we abandon and leave the aircraft for a later slot. Probably best, but frustrating.
Lunchtime comes and we jump in the plane. It's ready to go so we'll start up, get a right turn outbound and go directly North for 26 minutes.
I've changed the way I rotate on take off: I used to pull the aircraft off at 65Kts then pitch forward
but now I'm rotating ever so gently at 65Kts and letting it fly itself off. You can feel the weight slowly coming off the wheels and settling on to the wing as it comes alive. Holding the yoke very steady you can then climb out at 65Kts (too close to the stall for me) or push for 75Kts which counter-intuitively increases the climb rate because there's more airflow over the wing.
Having swung us round North Ann takes over and flies us very competently up-country as I do radio and Nav. Multi-Crew Cooperation training for Florida.
East Midlands is a big, commercial airfield full of Jet2, Ryanair, BMIBaby 737s. So a mental refresher re wake turbulence:
land after, take off before.
East Midlands manage to mix commercial and
private aviation rather well (Heathrow, Gatwick, Northolt and City Airport take note). We are asked to approach via the SVFR corridor following the M1 (glad I printed out the notes beforehand), then when we are virtually abeam Runway 27 and at 1,500ft we are cleared to land Right Base.
What: from 're?
A quick query confrims they mean Left Base (the alternative would have been a convoluted manoeuvre I managed to do when I went to Spanhoe a couple of weeks ago).
It's still very tight, so pull the throttle all the way back and do a glide approach to get the speed and height down. Cross the M1 and we're in to the "I can get it in from here" landing cone. We'll land beyond the skid marks the 737s make for wake turbulence reasons and taxy on to Mike, where we can exit left for the maintenance area.
We park up at the Aero club
Donair, who have been very helpful on the phone and turn out to be just as lovely in person. Welcoming, relaxed, can't do too much to help, and they have managed to somehow reduce our landing fee from something truly exorbitant to just £60, which for such a large airfield is pretty good value. I know: all things are relative.....
Our UK-based DPE is expensive but very helpful and and an hour later, clutching my freshly-minted Temporary US Airman's Certificate, we call up the Tower, book out and call for start.
Now this I haven't had before (but will have in the USA): I get our full departure clearance prior to start. Ann helpfully writes everything down and we read back just perfectly, start up and taxy out, minding very carefully the huge Falcon business jet next to the parking slot.
Up the hill to the taxyway, mind the 737s weaving in and out and head for S1 for power-checks. Call ready and are cleared on to the runway behind a landing Cessna 412 and (love it!) ahead of a RyanAir 737. He will need to be cautious of our massive wake turbulence.
Ann flies us home: she will be getting a checkout on this C182 in a couple of weeks so she can fly me around, so practice is good.
It's interesting watching someone
else flying: like me when I first had my PPL she flies out of balance, at an approximate height and heading and is constantly changing things as they drift out. I suppose it's only experience together with a healthy dose of laziness that makes me tend to trim out, balance out and fly hands-off at an exact height.
As we approach Oxford she struggles with which way to turn
to line up with R19: I suspect she may be more of a "track up" person (I tend to be "North up") but soon 19 comes in sight and we need to slow down. This is a characteristic of the C182 I have long ago learned to take for granted: the view and the feel at 140Kts is very different from that at landing speeds.
Flapless stall speed is around 68Kts, so you've got to come back a long way from a diving cruise of 140-145Kts, and a C182 is slippery (Mooney and Cirrus pilots will laugh at this, but compared with a PA28-160 a C182 is a veritable speed demon...). Ann finds it hard to cope with losing 60Kts and being nowhere near the stall. We're ballooning so I take it, chop the throttle right back, pull the flaps and settle in to approach configuration. It's just practise.
We all hunt (with greater or lesser success) the perfect no-squeak, no bump landing
on the centreline with the stall-warner bleeping at the exact moment of touchdown. Today we get one. I might not get another one this year; as an old friend once noted "every time you land you reach in to your bag of landings. Some are good, some aren't: you get what you get". I suppose the secret is to to try to ensure you don't have any really dangerous landings in your bag.....
Flight planning tools
These have come a long way since the old paper-based plog. My Garmin 296 (God rest its electronic soul) was a step, but SkyDemon was a great leap forward - the ability to plan in 3D
on your PC, save to cloud, then pick up on the iPad and use that to navigate with, rubber-band the route to take in to account in-flight conditions, have an on-line frequency list and geo-located airfield diagrams makes single-pilot aviation low-stress.
However, it has been suggested I migrate to Foreflight for US aviation. Sky Demon will function out there, but comparisons with paper-based (and thus authoritative) maps has shown that it fails to show some pretty serious chunks of controlled airspace in central Florida, so Foreflight it is.
Having finally wrenched the display away from it's default
dark-gray on very dark-gray default settings it's actually pretty good. There is no actual "Go flying" button and it is quite determined for you to file a flight plan, which of course we don't habitually do VFR in the UK.
Not quite what I expected
Ann is in a strange limbo that I remember going through: she has passed her PPL but does not yet have the paperwork to prove it. She calls herself a "Baby Pilot"
and can fly solo but cannot yet take passengers. She is mad keen for us to fly together but can't actually P1 with me as a passenger. I would have thought me being a qualified pilot would mean she could just take me out but that's not how flying schools work, as we discover one sunny but blustery Saturday morning in November.
I have to be "checked out" on a PA28-161. This could be interesting.
It is easy to forget the horrendous faff that is the world of renting an aircraft from a flying school: they have to see ID, licence and medical, you have to tell them how many hours you’ve flown in total and within the last 90 days, whether you’ve ever flown a PA28-161, etc etc and that’s even before the very nice Instructor wants 3 landings to sign you off.
Hmm, never flown a Warrior.
Getting back in a PA28 is an experience: it’s cramped, unrefined and basic after a C182, also it’s slow: ....so......slow......
I ask the instructor for a checklist and some reference speeds, that seems to raise her confidence level when I write them down. That and not entering the Runway before checking the approach path for non-radio traffic, looking for strobes for the SPLAT check and clearly current radio technique, although the risk of me saying "Whiskley Lima" is high...
It’s bumpy today and the PA28 has smaller breakout forces than a C182 so a lot of “bloody well stop jumping around” input is required, we reach circuit height eventually, without the wobbly prop the poor little engine is doing its nut all the time. Throttle back, and it's very draggy so you need to keep a fair bit of power on, and of course the trim wheel is in the wrong place. Call downwind, have to worry about this bloody fuel pump thing. On and off like a whore's drawers...
Pull some flap at the end of downwind, trim for hands off
and we descend nicely in to the approach cone. The Instructor seems to want carb heat on all the way down which is all a little pointless as a) there isn't much moisture in the air today, b) carb icing doesn't come on that quickly and c) if you need to pull up quickly full power is not immediately available. But she's the Boss, so fly the approach and in the flare find it floats and requires a lot of back pressure. Mental note: keep slower next time round and trim it back a couple of generous turns at 300ft or so. Eyes on the end of the runway and.... ooh, suits you Sir.
Flaps away, bloody carb heat
off, bloody fuel pump on and we climb out. She decides she's satisfied and we can stop after the next one so I must have done something right.
Round we go again, this time we have to extend North to accommodate a Seneca doing a missed approach, then keep the speed back, two turns back to remove the pressure, and that floats less and is much easier. Another "suits you Sir" and we're taxying in for a running crew change. Friendly Instructor hops out and we're away. Minimal power checks and we're back in the air heading North West to experiment with Foreflight and just bugger around for a while.
Ann's flying is just like mine was 400 hours ago: it takes a lot of her effort to keep the aircraft stable meaning she has less mental capacity available for
radio, Nav, looking out the window, checks and just generally enjoying the miracle of flight. I remember it well....
She flies us from the right seat while I doodle around with Foreflight, which turns out to be pretty good. The lack of vertical flight planning still concerns me
and NOTAMs are not in visual format but beyond that it's OK.
I suggest she tries a right seat landing but
as she is struggling even to find the airfield from Banbury I think that might be optimistic, so I'll take the radio and fly the approach.
We are asked to orbit once over Barford St John for spacing from some Instrument Traffic then bimble in via Upper Heyford, join Straight In and cruise down Final.
We're just passing Kirtlington (I've cabled that house, and that house, and that house...) when the Tower ask us to go around so a Challenger Jet can land.
We can do that, sure.
Bloody carb heat away, fuel pump (no idea), go round and whip round the circuit for a tidy approach, two turns back and this time not only a "Suits you Sir" but on the centreline as well.
I'm so glad I don't have to rent from a Flying School every time I go flying. I really do appreciate
the "have a key and go when you want" arrangement we have.
We have Nick and Jess over for the weekend and I know they'd love to go flying, but the weather forecasts today cannot agree on
when the heavy rain showers will arrive over Oxford: Oxford's forecast says 13:00 but Benson's says 11:00. It looks sunny at the moment so we'll go out; if it gets bad we'll either go through it or round it.
Oxford looks great in the November sun: the buildings shine and the trees are turning autumnal. It's rained a lot and the sky is scrubbed clean.
Nick has a
go at flying it, and he's pretty good. Like many drivers he tends not to keep the turn in for long enough, but he's unfazed by leaning the aircraft into the turns ike a motorbike.
As we turn West at Abingdon we can see a huge storm approaching from the South West. We've been up long enough, we ask for a visual re-join and head back.
As we join Downwind the sun disappears and we can see a front of quite heavy rain approaching slowly, marching across the fields. Flying in it is not
impossible, but these guys haven't flown before so let's not frighten them.
Halfway along the downwind leg Tower decides to get all other aircraft flying to rejoin in front of us so we are sent in to what feels like a perpetual right hand orbit while they recover Seneca after Seneca (frankly these guys are meant to be practising Instrument approaches; what they are doing joining VFR I don't know...).
Nick does an excellent job of keeping height and not corkscerewing us in, but Nessa's feeling sick in the back, so eventually I have to remind them we're still out here
and we are asked to extend North behind 3 Senecas. Weston the Green is Active so I'm a little concerned about this and ensure we are clear as we head North but I think the gliders are all on the ground by now....
The Senecas are beautifully outlined against the dark grey approaching storm clouds so we head North and slot in behind.... at which point the rain hits. Visibility slams down but the runway lights are on full and sort of visible-ish at 600ft through what is now the side window, we now have quite a crosswind and it's chucking us about. All sorts of fun.
Slow it right down to give the line of Seneca's time
to land, get a land after and cruise down, kick it straight at 10ft and plop it neatly down on the centre-line. That wasn't as bad as I expected, actually, quite smooth considering the gusts and rain.
We sit in the plane
for 10 minutes after shutdown not wanting to get wet, then take advantage of a lull in the rain to make a run for the terminal.
Still: they enjoyed it and it wasn't dangerous. Nick might do his PPL, he really enjoyed flying it.
I hate people who, the moment they have a few hours
under their belt, get a Class Rating Instructor Rating and are instantly experts on how you should fly. Especially if they have fewer hours than me.
So I am extremely cautious about giving advice to Ann: I may know how to do stuff but who am I to be generous with my advice? There are 1,001 ways to do aviation things: my way may not be the right way. There may not even be a "right" way!
She is migrating across to the C182 from the PA28-161 Warrior, so she needs to get used to the higher speed, larger speed range, heavier feel and greater complexity of the C182. The temptation to say "needs to get used to actually having some power" is strong here, but actually the 161 feels OK..... She is having formal lessons, today is a bit of fun to evaluate Foreflight, iPad yoke mounts and the Garmin 39 ADS-B box. We will be flying together in Florida next week so need to shake down in to multi-crew cooperation.
I'm not yet happy enough for her to left seat, even though I can still be P1 from the right hand seat and I am happy doing right seat landings, so she can be "Handling Pilot" while I do the radio and Nav, and play with the iPads and Garmin 39.
This is an interesting device: we in the Uk don't (yet) do ADS-B. Europe doesn't either, although politically that is about to be less of a driver. I've always been an advocate of things American, especialy aviation. The FAA way of doing things makes more sense than the CAA way. If it was up to me I would simply scrap the CAA and join the FAA lock, stock and barrel - move all G-Reg aircraft on to the N register and simply adopt FAA rules. Duplication of effort is very expensive and the CAA, as we all know, gold plate everything.
ADS-B is about electronic conspicuity: basicaly if all aircraft, gliders included, have ADS-B Out (transmit) then all aircraft with ADS-B In devices can see them. As a bonus you get Live weather and live NOTAMS (although that often mooted advantage is rapidly disappearing as 3G aloft becomes more available....).
Mandating them for all aircraft
with minimum paperwork and a large CAA subsidy would pay for itself in lack of accidents pretty quickly (as the CAA Aware box did for navigation), and would massively improve awareness and safety.
Our experiements show that in the UK
at present many aircraft do show up (lots of airliners, all Oxford's Seneca fleet and most bizjets) but many do not (light aircraft, gliders, helicopters). It's interesting to spot an aircraft in Foreflight and look around to see him in real life, I look forward to an ADS-B world.
Ann and I work out that she gets overloaded easily so we conclude it's best for her to fly from the right seat and for me to to do the radio and Nav plus the approaches and landings.
After some whizzing around between Tewkesbury and
Wellesbourne we decide to go back in for an approach and this time I'll let Ann do the slowing down and getting down without me interfering. Each time we do this she gets better and this time I only intervene when she starts winding the prop out instead of in for the final approach. She flies a creditable and accurate approach, I spoil her fun at 200ft and we plop it on gently.
Florida draws closer and
our smiles are getting bigger...
Plan the execution, execute the planning
Sometimes, things just go Right.
A client in Essex needs a small cabling job done. It needs 2 people for less than an hour, so Rod and I will whizz up to Stapleford, grab a taxi and go visit with some tools and a box of Ethernet cable.
Google Maps says it will take 2hrs 15 mins each way.
It's a beautiful day
as we lift off runway 19 and turn left for London. Stay below the cloud base at 1700ft, swap to Farnborough North and intersect the M25 at Hemel Hempstead, swap to Stapleford at the reservoirs on the River Lea, spot the airfield and cruise in for a short landing on runway 21, backtrack on the grass and park up bloody miles way from our taxi in the visitors parking slot.
36 minutes brakes off to brakes on.
To underline the "safer by air" principle our "cheeky Essex chappy" taxi driver then nearly kills us on the way to the client....
For once the cable goes in and tests good, we pack up and in to a different
taxi we go, this one at least drives more slowly. In fact he never goes above 28mph.
Rinse and reverse: we do a short take off from Stapleford for height (it's uphill and without flaps it feels marginal, so 2 stages and rotate at 58Kts: it goes up like a rocket), back over the lakes and then over the Chilterns, slow down and get down for a sightseeing run over Summertown so Rod can assess the builders' progress on his house, then climb in to the Downwind leg for R19, extend North to accommodate a Seneca doing a touch 'n go and as Rod will be videoing the landing I'm bound to cock it up...... ooh, I didn't!
38 minutes brakes off to brakes on. And back in time for lunch.
Sometimes, things just go Right.
And the client thought we drove there!
The view from across The Pond: Aviation In the USA
I’ve always wanted to go flying in the USA: I began my flight training there back in 2001.
The plan is for Ann and I to rent a C182 and base ourselves at Page Field in Ft Myers Florida, the local GA airfield to our Cape Coral villa. So the day prior to our checkout and still very jet lagged we visit Page Field by road to check if this is a sensible move.
I expect Page Field to be, like most UK airfields, slightly down at heel but it turns out to have a brand new high tech terminal building sporting a shop, free coffee and cold drinks, biz jets, massive taxiways and runways you could land an airliner on. Four radio frequencies including Ground (very glad I learned at Oxford, yet again...), pilot operated lighting and the most relaxed atmosphere imaginable.
Not a Hi-Viz in sight....
Staggeringly, landing fees seem not to exist in the US: they all have a laugh at our mention of £80 landing fees at Bournemouth.
And, most importantly, no PPR: like France, airfields are open and available unless NOTAM’d closed.
How refreshing: UK airfields, take note.
I have been warned that the Altimeter works differently: in the US they use inches of mercury (so 30.01) instead of the Hectopascals we use in Metric-land.
What I was not warned about was them using “Point” not “decimal” when describing their radio frequencies. I find myself unable, in the heat of the moment, to prevent myself using “decimal” but I don’t think anyone minds too much: they’re used to crazy Brits here.
Having gone to a considerable amount of trouble to gain a piggyback US licence my expectation is that the Biennial Flight Review will involve ground tests, so I brush up on VFR cloud separation minima, airspace types and necessary aircraft documentation. I’m awake at 6:00am worrying about equipment minima and whether night flights are allowable VFR.
Turning up at Marco Island Executive Airport I ask for the examiner who turns out to be a relaxed chatty Colombian most interested in ensuring he has copies of my paperwork. Apparently my May UK 2 year flight review is sufficient (!) so we can go flying... don’t know why I bothered swotting up.
Ann will be P2 so the 3 of us head out on to the tarmac: again not a single Hi Viz in sight.
He seems not in the least concerned about Ann as co-pilot (her UK licence turns up by post in the UK and is promptly scanned and emailed 30 minutes before we arrive at Marco Island), passes us a checklist and we work our way round a tidy 2002 C182.
This has a different engine (a Lycoming), fuel injection, different avionics, different start procedures. And the entire dashboard is different. Later Cessna 182s such as this also have the ability to climb up via a couple of foot holds to the top of the wing to check the fuel, which means no more ladder. I wonder if we can get these retrofitted to Whisky Lima....
We start up, taxy out and power check. Marco island is Unicom so you simply self announce, I can cope with that. Only apparently you "Take" runway 17. Just different.
Take off is with 10deg flap, everything else feels familiar and we depart South East for some general handling. It’s a C182 so will do everything you ask of it and climbs, descents, steep turns, stalls, slow flight, and so on are predictable, if a little sweaty.
The stall Warner is, however, hyperactive and set earlier than I am used.
We return to the field, position for downwind, and of course this is the acid test: can I get the thing safely on the ground?
He trains a lot of C172 pilots on the C182 and they struggle to keep the nose up in the flare so I think he is half expecting weirdness but actually it’s easy and whilst a bit long we get it down just fine, clean up and climb out again. I’m quite surprised I actually can do quite consistent landings in an unfamiliar aircraft, even if my touchdown point tends to vary with each landing.
Finally he pulls the throttle halfway down downwind for a glide approach: ah, we could get it in from here but some idiot has stopped his aircraft half way down the runway for a smoke or something, so we go around and have another go.
Bags of height so we trim for best glide, pop in flaps once we’re certain we can make the runway then start to run out of runway.
“Fly the plane” he says.
OK.... never done a power off approach with drag flaps but that’s going to be necessary so out they come and we plop on neatly with runway to spare.
Taxying in I’m expecting him to say we’ll stop for a coffee and then do some more, but he announces he has to go off to Key West with a student, hops out and simply leaves us to it!
So here I am, in the US with a plane and a credit card, a couple of iPads and a freshly minted UK PPL co-pilot.
OK, well that was easy..... I suppose we had better depart for Page Field.
Interestingly, the tech log for the aircraft says it hasn't flown since September and has hardly flown this year. I suppose everyone wants the smaller and cheaper C172, but for going places this is a much better aircraft.
What we’ve agreed is that I’ll do landings and takeoffs, nav and radio, and Ann will do the flying above 1000ft. I am very concerned about radio here: American controllers speak unbelievably fast, use a lot of jargon and expect instant, abbreviated responses. To an extent Florida ATC expect chatty, slow Brits as a lot of them train at Naples but I’ve got to be really on the ball so as not to appear a complete idiot.
But can we get the bugger started?
Bloody Hell: crank and crank - it turns out it needs quite a lot of throttle before it will catch, but finally we do get the hang of it so "take" runway 17 Marco Island, line up and depart, then swing round North for Ft Myers. At 1000ft we swap and I’ll let Ann sort out what’s where in terms of getting a 2000ft 22”/2200rpm cruise.
This turns out to be complex as nothing is where either of us think it is, but a fair amount of juggling later we are trimmed out.
Radio-wise, you can just fly free of any radio involvement once outside of any controlled airspace like in the UK, but sooner or later you’ll need a crossing clearance as we will with Fort Myers, which is a big international airliner airport - think “East Midlands-sized”....
The issue is there’s a bug in ForeFlight which says the frequency we should use is actually the approach frequency for Havana Airport (surprisingly close from here), so after a bit of a surprise with a lot of Spanish speaking airliners, we finally get the right frequency (they have 3, depending on which direction you are approaching from...). Big stuff, and not actually a terribly great start.
Basically we just ask for an approach to Page Field, which Is under their Zone, and they co-ordinate the whole thing. We squawk, they confirm they have us on radar and vector us over the arrivals end of their runway 23 at 2500ft.
What I’m not expecting is for them to simply release us to Page Field who immediately clear us to land runway 23. Where the bloody hell is the runway?
By the time Ive spotted it we’re very close, so dump everything, bring the prop up and the flaps down, roll on to the centre line and all that approach cone training comes in handy as we finally do get a stable approach by 500ft and plop it on gently.
Exit, call ground and taxy in, park up and a kind marshaller ties us down and offers us a ride back to the terminal. What service!
At the terminal we ask for full fuel and it will just happen, all part of the service. I could get very used to this very quickly.
Feeling a bit frazzled, we relax by the pool: tomorrow will be a Big Boys Day so we will need to put on our Big Boy Pants...
Tick off the Bucket List
After a coffee at Page Field we pop Nessa and Trevor in the back, fire up and taxy.
This is where SkyDemon’s geo-referenced taxy charts win over Foreflight's static charts, because Ann thinks we’re in a different place to where I know we are. Some tussling ensues, much to the amusement of the tower, but a few minutes later we are lined up for runway 23 and rolling.
Climbing out over Cape Coral is just that slight bit better than climbing out over Bletchingdon quarry: the sky is bright blue and the water is clear and inviting, swimming pools gleam in the sunshine. Boy, the Americans live well...
Fort Myers are actually a bloody nuisance this morning as they vector us out the West before bringing us round to the South East and finally clearing us East for Popano Beach.
Past the massively developed coastal strips the centre of Florida is amazingly-sparsely unpopulated; the houses end and we have orange groves endlessly spread out. Some clouds have appeared and under US VFR rules we have to be well clear of them, so Ann weaves us around them before climbing us up and over. Our new Garmin 39 ADS-B In box is telling us all about any weather and close by aircraft, all is good with the world as we cruise Eastbound towards Pompano Beach.
The skyline of Palm Beach and Fort Lauderdale is visible from 50 miles away and soon the endless Everglades swamp becomes, at a very definite line, subdivisions with neat houses and the inevitable pools.
We can see Pompano Beach to our South East so call them up and get a straight in for R10..... but as we ease South for a line up they tell us we are actually heading for the wrong field.
Oh bugger, that’s Fort Lauderdale Executive......
I'll bet everyone does that.
Pompano Beach is buried in the residential ground clutter, very hard to see from 1000ft. Eventually, and by this time I’m back to 85Kts with flap deployed, we do spot it, and we’re more or less lined up for 10 so call Final, get cleared and do a dirty dive to land halfway down. My landings today are inaccurate and I’m not happy.
Still, a gentle arrival, and loads of spare runway, nobody but me notices so we taxy in and get marshalled to a parking space. It turns out coffee, soft drinks and landings are free. I’m moving out here...
Our Bucket List goal is a low level VFR run down Miami Beach, which I’ve been told is possible for the asking, so we depart R10, climb just enough to clear a couple of condos, then turn sharp right over the beach, swap to Fort Lauderdale Approach who give us a squawk and tell us....... “cleared to continue VFR Southbound, at or below 500ft”.
Ann and I look at each other: is it really this simple?
And it is: we’re at 400ft, well below the tops of the condos, 300 yards offshore and cruising at 120Kts, cleared and squawking, engine failure options are to land on the beach or in the water, and we go all the way down past Fort Lauderdale, Miami Beach, South Beach and then cut in at Government cut for Biscayne and Homestead.
We’ll stay low level and outside Homesteads Control Zone until the Controlled Airspace relents and we can see the Keys.
Ann, who has more recent overwater experience than me, is more content with flying away from the shore. I’ve done a ditching course so I might be a bit more realistic about our chances, but the water here is warm and shallow and engines do not habitually run rough over water, despite giving that impression....
South of Homestead AFB we climb to 1000ft and cross the amazingly unpopulated Northern Keys before the causeway carrying the main freeway from Miami announces a more populated area. Engine out options here basically involve the main road, avoiding the wires hopefully...
I’ve driven this a couple of times and it’s further than you think: by road it’s 4hrs from Miami, by air less than an hour.
The Keys get smaller and the bridges longer as we cruise South. As we pass Marathon we try to raise the Navy at Key West but it’s not until we are 10 miles further South that we get a response: cleared for runway 09. From this far out? Really?
The stress of using US ATC is slowly diminishing but they do throw us some curves: one now tells us of roughly opposing traffic near Marathon and the comes up with “traffic now of no consequence” which I had to get him to repeat 3 times.... it’s a full time job just listening for transmissions and trying to second guess what they’re going to tell you to do next and what to say in response. It’s at times like this having a second pilot is really useful.
A peruse of ForeFlight gives us a right traffic pattern here so we’ll avoid the 14000ft tethered balloon to the North (unlike apparently 3 people per year!) and slow for right downwind.
At this point my Handling Pilot pops the flaps.
A low wing PA28 Warrior pitches forwards on flap deployment, a C182 does the opposite. She is used to a PA28. The aircraft pitches violently upwards, we have very little power and speed is heading rapidly for the stall...
“I’ve got it”.
Push hard, apply power, trim, and calm is restored but she’s gone as white as a sheet and there’s mutterings from the back.
Nothing for it but to continue the approach as normal and land (I manage to turn Base very, very tight indeed and whilst I’m sure it looked intentional, it wasn’t - I end up landing a bloody long way down the runway), but that was a little worrying.
Analysis the following day when our heart rates are a little more normal concludes that’s what happened but at the time it’s basically an upset so you just need to react positively and correctly.
Key West is hot, damned hot. Which is great if you’re with a woman, not so good if you’re in the jungle....
We get ripped off by the taxi driver going to lunch, but get our own back by doing Uber for the
return journey with a lovely Polish guy who escaped Communism in the 1980s by jumping ship in the USA. He'd probably be shot now.
Key West is a big commercial airport but they just open the door and let us walk out (no Hi-Viz) to our freshly-refuelled aircraft and ogle the next plane over: a very cool seaplane.
We manage the warm-start better and taxy out.
We will fly back to Marathon, then turn left and route direct to the mainland. This is the 3rd leg of our triangle so will only take 1.5 hours back to Page Field.
We take off, climb East, avoid the balloon and head for Marathon.
This time we ask for Flight Following from Miami Centre as we are going to be over water for a lot of the time. They won’t give it at less than 3,500ft so that’s where we’ll fly.
We’ve been bumbling along at 120Kts all day, but I know a C182 will cruise at 135Kts so we’ll up the power, close the cowl flaps (!) and experiment with the prop settings. 25/23 gives 135Kts indicated and 138Kts over the ground at 15USG/hr so that’s what we’ll use.
Our Garmin ADS-B unit has either overheated or run out of power because it won’t connect to our iPads via Bluetooth. Repeated recycles and button pushing fail to cure it.
At Marathon we can see the curve of the mainland so we turn left and head out over the wilder side of Florida. This side is the Everglades and there is little development here, just alligators and swamps. Engine out choices are limited.
Miami Central is giving us notifications of thunderstorm build ups over the East coast confirmed by the sight, to our right, of massive CBs: that and President Trump flying down to Mar a Lago this afternoon further confirms the wisdom of our West coast return route.
Soon we are back over land (and the engine starts to run more smoothly) and a single road appears, followed by slowly increasing signs of civilisation as we pass I-95 and Naples. The sun is setting and the views are stunning.
It’s fun to share this with another pilot: I remember the excitement of the first time I saw sunset from 3000ft. I tend to think 15 minutes ahead so I’ve got the instrument lights on and I know where my two supplementary torches are in case of electrical failure long before they become necessary.
Miami Central passes us to Ft Myers who give us a re-run of last night but this time there are clouds at 3500ft. Now I wouldn’t care but we are meant to be nominally VMC so we tell them “unable to continue Victor Mike Charlie”, they clear us down to 2000ft and pass us to Page who immediately clear us to land, despite us being 15 miles out. Very weird.
It’s now more or less dark: legally it’s still 5 minutes before Night but in practice the runway surface is invisible. Best thing I ever got: a Night Rating.
Our Colombian instructor didn’t seem bothered about me flying at night so I won’t get aerated about it either. Page Field is pretty hard to find against the city lights but the PAPIs are unmistakable, I get Ann to roll it level and do the approach, slowing the aircraft down and dropping the flaps then take it at 500ft and plop it neatly on.
Perfect but for stupidly trying to make the first exit I brake hard and we go all over the runway. Doh!
Eventually I have to accept the next exit which is actually the best one anyway- it’s been a long day is my excuse.
Change to Ground who laugh at me: crazy Brit pilots coming over here...
Two minutes later we’re parked and 3 minutes after that we’re in the Terminal Building. We’re all feeling frazzled, New Orleans is maybe a step too far for tomorrow.
Disney and Cape Canaveral
I watched the moon shots when I was young, as we all did. James Burke, Raymond Baxter, grainy black and white video of capsules docking and undocking then “Its one small step....”.
For an 8 year old boy glued to the TV this was serious stuff.
I’ve been to Cape Canaveral twice and have always been hugely disappointed at how far they keep you away from anything remotely resembling real hardware.
NASA, no amount of publicity fluff can detract from your actual disdain of the great unwashed. The closest I got was an (additional cost) bus ride out to pad 39, the bus didn’t even stop and I was on the wrong side to get a decent photo.
They should have let us off, given us an hour to traipse around it, had access to the elevator up the side and the flame pits. And for an extra $1 we should have been able to ride the astronaut escape basket cableway from the very top of the gantry down to the blockhouse on the beach. At least, American taxpayers who paid for the whole thing should. Such a shame...
This morning I spend 2 hours trying to decipher the Restricted Areas around The Cape to see if I can take the plane in there. There appear to be three separate ones, all inactive unless activated by NOTAM. And no current NOTAMs have activated them.
So I should be able to fly over it, but if I’ve missed something a trip to Titusville (the closest GA airfield to the Cape) or a chat with Orlando Flight Following should clear up any misunderstanding before I blunder in and get shot down or arrested.
We’ll go up via Disney.
I’ve no desire to spend Thanksgiving queueing for rides at Disney thank you, but it would be interesting to see it from above. The charts, both electronic and real life paper, show a restricted zone around it reaching up to 3000ft (which SkyDemon completely fails to show, and this is another reason we don’t use SkyDemon in the USA...).
So we’ll cross it a couple of times at 3001ft.
Today we’re going to go for VFR Flight Following which in practice is a Basic Service plus a bit more help, sort of like France. We need to request it prior to take off, which seems a bit odd and contributory to traffic jams at the hold, but they are pretty efficient and of course they need to liaise with Ft Myers, whose airspace they lie below, to ensure VFR C182s don’t get in the way of IFR 757s.
The aircraft needs oil but this time out the checklists go a lot faster, the taxyiing is not subject to misunderstanding and Flight Following is quickly authorised, so we roll on R05 and head North East, within 3 minutes over empty Florida countryside.
Our target height, only roughly agreed, is 2000ft and this immediately proves dangerously below the tops of the various radio aerials sprouting from the landscape. A quick reassemble at 3000ft calms nerves.
Fort Myers Approach pass us to Miami Centre who pass us to Orlando, I like this joined up approach to LARS. Orlando ask for our intentions and understand immediately, I think they get a lot of crazy Brits doing the same thing.
In fact a number of those crazy Brits are on frequency up he, and not all in airliners. A Yorkshireman with an SR22 is asking for a full stop at Kissimmee: “Ee, but it’s grim up ‘ere......”.
Disney is surprisingly difficult to find but obvious once identified. Orlando won’t let us circle but we can do a number of passes. It looks quite busy down there, glad I’m up here!
Orlando ask us to tell them when we’re done and promptly vector us East directly over the landing numbers at Orlando International which give us a pretty incredible view of the airliners landing and taking off.
Orlando is simply HUGE with more runways than Heathrow so their cool handling of a random GA aircraft is an organisational miracle and should be viewed with awe and ambition by the NATS planners: getting this view of Heathrow would be an invitation to a visit by a Eurofghter followed by a discussion with the CAA at Gatwick during which your licence would be ceremonially torn in to very small shreds and flushed down the loo.
I am struck yet again by how well America organises things. I've lived out here and, with some reservations I still think it's the best-run country in the world. The reservations are a different topic but they do include the speed limits ("I...can't... drive...55!").
Once East, Orlando release us to Space Coast Approach (a very nice lady) who passes us to Tower (the very same nice lady) who asks us to join on a 3 mile left base for runway 36.
Ann seems to struggle with this, wanting to position us for a 6 mile final for 36. I think she was struggling with where the airfield was. Once I have repositioned us it all clicks in to place.
I am determined to do proper landings not dirty dives today, so a nice long, slow, controlled approach results in a smoother landing. But that bloody stall warner is hyperactive.
It turns out that because today is Thanksgiving (when Americans give thanks for the help the Pilgrims received from the indigenous people of the continent allowing them to survive and prosper, before promptly massacring them...) both FBOs are closed so although the airport is open you can’t actually get any coffee!
However America is a wonderful place: the Jet Centre FBO have an externally accessible restroom.... and it’s open!
Suitably relieved we crank up the radio and ask the nice lady in the tower/Approach Ground/ATIS about flying over Cape Canaveral. And they, of all people, don’t have a clue.
“Not our Airspace, Guvn’r. Ask Orlando. More than my job's worth”.
Slopey shouldered or what?
So we start up, talk to the nice lady on Ground who passes us to the same lady on Tower, we roll on the 2 mile runway 36 and she passes us to Approach: the same nice lady.
Unbelievable. She’s doing a Monty Python sketch here...
We’ll head North and negotiate with Orlando.
Orlando Approach, however, can’t understand what on earth we are talking about: he basically won’t let us in because "R-2935 is Active" (it's not, I checked).
[Note from 2020: it's R-2934. You can do a low pass if R-2934 is not Active, and I checked: it was Active that day].
He’s busy and not inclined to discuss it so we’ll go South along the border, but the Space Shuttle Assembly building and the famous launch gantries are still some way further East. Despite the lack of current launches, NASA’s arms length attitude to the public still lingers, evidently.
(Following return to the UK I have had subsequent discussions
with Miami-based pilots who agree that there is no good reason for me not to have been allowed in there... we'll be back).
Turning South West across Cocoa Beach I can imagine how NASA’s decline has left that whole space coast bereft of tourists: the ISS is serviced from Russia and French Guiana now, there’s little NASA to see here.
SpaceX still launch from here, but it’s more workaday and less heroic, the glory days are gone.
Behind the narrow coastal development strip the empty heart of Florida appears again, although here it is dotted with lakes large and small. Our 2,000ft cruise height once more proves suicidal so we climb to 3,000ft and Orlando pass us to Miami.
We decide not go straight back but to coast out near Venice and home via the outer islands of Charlotte Bay: Activa and Sanibel, then a straight in for 05 at Page Field.
Orlando pass us to Tampa, then we cancel Flight Following, squawk VFR and descend to 2,000ft for a better view as we coast out.
The Garmin 39 is working properly today, so we have concluded that it overheated last time. Now we just need to get the damned thing to charge in flight. It only comes with a cigarette lighter lead which powers but does not charge the unit. But this aircraft does not have a cigarette lighter socket, just a weird 12V output socket we do not have a converter for. Later research shows that a USB power supply is simply not available for this unit, which is a major issue on a long flight.
The outlying islands are undeveloped and have beautiful white beaches, and there is a small, short grass strip on North Captiva Island called “Salty Approach” which turns out to be 600m, with both undershoot and overshoot basically the sea. One day....
Turning over Sanibel (which still sounds like a loo pump) we are on a 12 mile final for 05 at Page so we announce, they suggest we report 3 miles. I’m determined to do a decent job of the landing - I am getting increasingly frustrated at my inability to do a real greaser in this aircraft. I can get it down safely but I want that last 5%. I can’t quite work out what I’m doing wrong: I’m looking at the end of the runway and pulling back, I think I’m too scared of the stall Warner which I think is set too early.
We get a reasonable arrival but I still haven’t had that perfect arrival I know I can do in WL.
Taxy in to Page for the last time and shut down. It’s nearly all over.
I want to work on my take offs in this aircraft, they feel slightly uncontrolled. I think I am over rotating as it gets all a bit whistly and mushy after take off.
Worryingly, the oil level has dropped below 6Qts again. We only filled up 2 flying hours ago. I think this engine is using oil....
We start with Ground and request clearance and Flight Following. They get you a squawk and give taxy clearance. At the run up when ready you switch to tower (without gaining clearance from Ground, which feels just wrong) and they give you a departure clearance "not above xxxft and fly yyy deg", then clear you to depart. It’s just different.
We want a clearance to turn left and fly down the coast to Marco island but Ft Myers vector us north east then south east before I tire of this and cancel Flight Following to go direct VFR to Marco Island, so we squawk 1200 (the equivalent of our 7000) and hit "Direct To" in ForeFlight.
Ann seems to have issues with geo-location and identifying where things are. She can see opposing aircraft in ForeFlight but can’t translate that in to where to look in relation to the little aircraft icon in ForeFlight, also where to look for the airfield, a necessary skill when P1 in a strange environment. She guesses wrong for Marco island and I have to put her right before we join downwind right traffic for runway 35, which the wind tells us is the most appropriate runway.
America likes joining the circuit (they call it the "Pattern") 45 degrees in to the crosswind to downwind leg corner so that’s where we’ll join.
There’s an ex-US Navy Trojan doing circuits behind us and we self Announce downwind then turn base leg. Our downwind leg is a bit too tight so we end up in yet another dirty dive. We miss the end of the runway, then a good chunk of the runway before we’re flaring, but then we’re down smoothly with loads of concrete to spare, clear left and he lands after us and waves as he taxies past us at the pumps. He looks very professional; I'm very jealous.
Amazingly, after having failed to get the petrol pump at the car petrol station to work with my Visa card, I manage to make the aviation fuel pump work 1st time and we fill up both sides then taxy to a spare stand and tie down. Everything must come out, including the iPad yokes, the flight bags and the headsets.
It's over (for now).
Bye bye Florida, we’ll be back!
500 hour reflections
So I’ve now got 504 hours. I got my 500th hour in the US, a fitting return since hour no. 1 was at Santa Ana in California.
What have I learned?
Aviation is expensive in Europe, and cheaper in the USA. It suffers in the UK from over-regulation (the CAA take the European rules and gold plate them) and the ludicrous Government “Energy use is a sin and should be taxed accordingly” attitude that also applies to the roads.
Aviation is something you need to treat as a second job and polish accordingly, otherwise you’re not safe.
Get an Instrument Rating, you never quite know when you'll need those skills.
Never think you know it all. Because you don't.
Never fly anywhere you haven't already flown in your head.
And that wraps it up for 2018: 60hrs of unalloyed pleasure VMC and IMC, UK and US.
"Steal a man's wallet
and he'll be poor for a day; teach a man to fly and he'll be poor for the rest of his life"