The post-Christmas high pressure cell that has been plaguing us since the 27th December is still around on the first weekend in January producing a kind of windless murk that defies description and the weather forecasters who breezily state that it is "broken at 2000ft" which it isn't: more like "OVC2000 and yuk".
Oxford is marked as "Marginal VFR" and I'm sure there is some complex rule which decides whether that is true but we'll go out and take a look. A Dunkeswell lunch is on the cards.
Ann needs more practise in the C182 before they'll sign her off to go off solo so that's what we'll supply, but there is only so much she can do from the right seat so we agree that whilst I will be officially P1 for both legs she will fly the outbound leg from the right hand seat then the inbound leg from the left seat. There's no wind at all so I can, if necessary, land it from the right hand seat.
We have had a discussion about "heat of the moment change of authority" and indeed in Florida had to do one so "I've got it" is the codeword: non-threatening and certainly not shouted.
The famous violinist Jascha Heifetzold is quoted as saying "If I don't practice one day, I know it; two days, the critics know it; three days, the public knows it". I haven't flown since guiding N829FA on to the tarmac at Marco Island Executive in November (in shorts and Hawaii shirt!) so I know something will go awry, even if only I notice it.
The art of becoming comfortable with an aircraft begins with the pre-flight and Ann has finally got the hang of loosening the bloody ratchet straps we use to hold the wings down. We pre-flight together in comfortable harmony and completely manage to miss exercising the trimmer so as we roll for take-off I have to give a hell of a heave to get it off the ground as the trim is wound too far forward. Who the hell managed to land it like that?
It's pretty murky up here but up to 2,000ft the ground is visible, beyond that it's IMC. The temptation to get up on top in the sun is there but for today we'll stay down in the murk. At 2,000ft we're clear of any bits of granite and radio masts between here and Dunkeswell (The Mendip mast will be well off to our right).
At Wantage we swap to London Info as Bristol don't do LARS any more and wend our way smoothly South West with every possible light on for conspicuity. The radio is quiet today: in anything other than bright blazing sunshine no one ever flies. We do see a PA28 tracking West across the Somerset levels where some quite serious mist has settled in the hollows, but Dunkeswell is the highest public airfield in the UK so that's not going to be a problem.
Dunkeswell give us runway 22 as in use and from here we might as well go straight in. There is traffic but it's only just called Downwind so won't affect (or "No Factor" as the Americans might say). We don't actually see the airfield until about 3 miles away but the trusty GPS steers us in, we switch to their QFE and work off that for the approach angle. This was so much more difficult in the bad old analogue days: my old CFI would have shot me.
Descend over the parked aircraft on the undershoot, flare.... and nicely down, a bit long but there you are, a quick backtrack, exit on to 35 and down the link taxiway to park for lunch. Not too rusty.
It's weird to be in the right hand seat, trusting another pilot.
Ann starts up (struggling as I do with the starter springs and my big bunch of keys) and we taxy to the other side of the runway for power-checks, then roll on 22. Nicely done, we climb out and turn left for North East, climb to 2,000ft and swap to London. At this height we are struggling to hear London: they keep cutting out halfway through the squawk instructions so I reach right in to the bottom of my mental Garmin grab bag and push the on/off volume control to turn the squelch off. It's noisy but at least I can hear them properly when I ask for a radio check.
Ann struggles with slowing the aircraft down from the cruise configuration to the landing configuration, so as we fly back we do exactly that loads of times. I'm sure anyone watching us from below would think we were weird but it's good practise and after 4 or 5 goes she's pretty confident and as we clear the hills to the East fo Swindon she swaps to Oxford Radar and we cruise in over Oxford. She's got it down to 100Kts and 1500ft by Port Meadow and does the whole approach flawlessly; I dont know what she was worried about.
The landing is of course key and I do keep my hands and feet near the controls for a panicked grab but she lands it perfectly; couldn't have done it better myself. Worrying, really: my landings were just rubbish for the first 200hrs or more, but Ann has them nailed already at less than 100hrs....
Ice cream, by the seaside....in February?
's birthday usually coincides with some pretty rough weather (often snow) but weirdly we now have a huge high (QNH 1034) resulting in more hazy, misty weather and it's really warm. Indeed, it starts out too foggy to fly but by 11:00 it's breaking up at Oxford and Lee-on-Solent are reporting clear, so we'll go. Tom and Lucy will come with us, which makes for careful weight and balance calculations.
Annoyingly, the fuel bowser turns up before I have finished dipping the tanks and doing my calculations, so I have to slow him up a bit to ensure I do get it right. This is exactly the situation a pilot recently found himself in, got it wrong, crashed the aircraft and wound up in court stating "I forgot to add my own weight". So danger lies here....
Only aviation could have the tanks calibrated in US Gallons
and the bowser dispensing fuel in Litres. What could possibly go wrong?
Eventually an additional
carefully-calculated 90 Litres puts us at MAUW, I re-dip the tanks twice to make absolutely sure I've not done anything daft and do a little... pause for reflection with the numbers. Have I been stupid? No.
Flying is a series of evolutionary experiments, advancing by small increments. I've been reading John Farley's "A view from the hover" and whillst you might ask "what could you in your spamcan possibly learn from a Harrier test pilot?" he actually does have some quite relevant thoughts to GA. He's definitely the thinking man's pilot and some of the book is worth reading a couple of times (it's all worth reading at least once).
So when I was in Florida (Ha! Sounds posh...) my checkout on the later C182 had us using 10deg flap habitually on take off, something I don't normally do back here in the grubby UK. This seemed to work better so I'm going to try it today. I'm expecting a crisper response on rotate so we'll line up, advance the throttle, give it compensating right rudder and check Ts & Ps plus speed. At 60Kts it goes light, and just unsticks without any of the normal pre-stall airframe whistle I get when flapless. Well, that was easy. Climb out nailed at 82Kts, lose the flaps at 800ft and push for 90Kts, trim and swap to Oxford Radar. Of course no one is out today, it is quite hazy and we lose sight of the ground by 2,000ft and climb on top at 2,500ft. I'd prefer to be up here where it's smoother and clearer for maximum conspicuity.
Swap to Farnborough over the M4 and get a MATZ Transit for Odiham, then descend to 2,000ft to slip under the Solent Zone on a listening squawk via New Alresford and Wickham VRPs, then swap to Lee-on-Solent radio and join downwind for runway 05.
On turning Final we do seem to be crabbing a lot
- there is more of a crosswind than at Oxford. It calms down as we descend then as we flare it picks up as we clear the hangars and the landing is untidy, shall we say. Can't have this! Nothing dangerous but certainly not perfect.
On my previous visit we went all the way to the end
and on to the taxiway but now that's closed and we exit mid-runway.... which I've just gone past.
Slow down, turn round, backtrack and exit then pass the end of the runway and park on the grass.
Lee-on-Solent is a very cool GA airfield and deserves our support as they rescued what was about to be yet another bloody housing estate and created a really nice, friendly GA airfield. The runway is immaculate, landing fees are reasonable, the loos are clean..... and the beach is 200 yards away. They have a cafe and a keen pack of spotters, who post some really nice shots of us landing (fortunately without the messing around on touchdown!).
After lunch and an ice cream on the beach we return to the airfield, start up and taxy out behind a PA28. Good manners says I wait for him to power-check, but he thinks he's a 747 and takes ages before he finally pulls on to the runway and departs. As he is obviously a 747 maybe I should give him some wake turbulence separation?
Again, 10deg flaps gives a cleaner take-off and we climb out behind the 747, banking to avoid Fleetlands ATZ then Tom takes over and flies us back North. He's funny: he heaves it on to course then the moment he's got there he rests his right hand on the yoke and gently drags us off to the right before realising, swinging us back 30deg on course, then doing the same thing again. I reckon it's because he's not resting his elbow on the door handle. Or something.
Farnborough are, as they often are, completely overloaded with GA
who have come out now the haze has receded, so it's not even worth talking to them. Listening squawk, turn on all the lights, climb over the Odiham MATZ stub and keep a good lookout. We do see a couple of planes but as always the skies look empty until suddenly there's an aircraft about to fly in to you.... Electronic conspicuity is just around the corner and it can't come too soon.
Swap back to Oxford Radar near the M4, then as we pass Didcot they have jet traffic departing South so we'll descend to remain below them. Weirdly, as we start our descent they ask us to descend to which I'm happy to reply that we've already started and they are surprised that we're thinking that far ahead. That's what an IMC will do for you: think ahead.
Tom would like to fly us around Oxford so does a very neat orbit of the ring road, performing a near-perfect circle
on the GPS log before we head back to the circuit. At 4 miles, as requested, we tell Radar and they release us to Tower, who haven't heard anything about us at all and suggest we speak to Approach (I think she'd been in the loo...). Time for Best CAP413: "Golf Papa Oscar Whisky Lima, with you from Approach for a downwind visual join for runway 19, with Victor and QNH 1033". That puts her in her place....
Less wind here, slow down and get down, turn Final and get the flare right, just a tiny squeak and we're rolling. Vacate, get marshalled in to a spare slot and shut down. Lovely.
And we've got the plane back in time for Ann
who plans to go out with her instructor, but he cancels claiming "it's too hazy". So I send her a picture showing crystal clear skies, what was he thinking? She needs to get clear of these instructors and get to making her own decisions, today was lovely and perfectly doable for her.
Jordanian rotary aside
It is tempting to view the gyrocopter as "the worst of both aviation worlds" with the complexity of a helicopter-like rotor head coupled with the inability to land and take off vertically or to hover. However, the gyrocopter predates the helicopter and, as we shall see has certain advantages. Certainly it has not stopped light gyrocopters from being developed, and I've often wondered what they were like to fly.
A trip to Jordan has provided the opportunity to experiment.
The Nazis used gyrocopters during WWII towed from submarines for over the horizon observation, partly because of the compact dimensions of the component parts and the assumption was that this would be developed after the war in to a viable and useful commercial and military product.
However the advent of the practical helicopter and the fact that the STOL advantage of the gyrocopter has now been duplicated by careful airflow analysis of fixed aerofoils down the years resulting in combinations of slats, flaps and vortex generators that allow simply ludicrously short take off and landing runs to be achieved stifled the development of the commercial gyrocopter.
They remain an interesting and easy to hangar peculiarity.
Most very light aircraft are only really suitable for use in favourable i.e. smooth wind conditions but in fact gyrocopters have a much higher high wing loading than your average small aircraft resulting in a surprisingly smooth ride, although a lot of vibration is transmitted through the yoke from all the kit spinning around above your head and I suspect this could be fatiguing on a longer mission. Having flown a weight shift microlite this feels a lot more solid and less like a motorbike as a result.
I don't think they get pilots coming for a ride very often so Timor, my Jordanian ex-Cobra pilot (I'll bet he's got some interesting stories to tell...) is keen to let me have a go in an almost new bright yellow Magni M16.
He flies us off with a surprisingly GA technique: full throttle then stick all the way back for take off then immediately forward once out of ground effect. That initial "forward speed" required is given by the clutched pre-rotation of the rotor to near-flying speed, then acceleration of the airframe by the rear-facing prop completes the acceleration to lift speed. Maybe the full-back stick provides maximum acceleration in to the lift-producing zone?
Then it's pretty much fixed-wing controls movements using stick and rudder (and like a glider it needs the powerful rudder, mounted in the prop airflow, to assist in turns, unlike a C182 where you can quite happily use the rudder pedals as footrests), although not being able to see the turn and slip indicator (a small piece of string in front of the windscreen like a helicopter) from the rear cockpit makes it impossible to fly in balance.
It flies nicely: there is little slack in the control circuitry and the controls are direct. With any aircraft you need to "fly the wing" but the feel of the gyrocopters wing is hard to determine from a short introduction. It would be interesting to spend more time understanding the feel at different angles of attack, power settings and and speeds.
It's hard to understand the actual piloting aspects of all the autorotation dynamics going on, but clearly the equivalent of a full stall (stopping the rotor) would be fatal at height (!), but exactly what a low rotor rpm recovery would feel like and how you might recover is a more advanced topic than poor Timor with his halting English is prepared to discuss.
All flights here are VFR with no flight plan which as close as they are to the Israeli border surprises me. The chart they have shows open FIR to 4500ft in that area but is also vague about Amman airport's controlled airspace and does not report any controlled airspace at the Israeli border, which I find hard to believe. I can’t find a more up to date map to correct me and programs like Skydemon simply refuse to accept that the Middle East even exists for GA.
Timor says the Israelis are relaxed about them flying near to the border (the Jordan river) and we circle Bethany beyond the Jordan so I’m sure at some point we straddled the border at best. I’m just surprised, knowing the history here, but of course Jordan signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1994.
They have a 1200ft tarmac 01/19 runway they use for skydiving and following some contour flying (he’s a helicopter pilot so is used to it, I get twitchy below 400ft) over the shoreline of the Dead Sea we fly back up to the airfield and join downwind left hand at about 500ft, he simply reduces power and we descend at 50Kts on to Final.
The flare is fascinating: he reduces power and pulls back the stick, and there is so little inertia that the deceleration is huge. He keeps pulling back, using the rotational inertia of the rotor head to cushion our descent, trading forward speed for a reduction in vertical speed. Within a few seconds we are at more like 20Kts and the rollout is of course then tens of feet.
We accelerate for a touch and go and following an early turn and an abbreviated left hand circuit we are back on final. We have a 10Kt headwind more or less down the runway and this time he finesses the approach better so we touch down at virtually zero speed. Impressive.
Apparently you handle crosswinds either with rudder or by leaning the rotor head in to wind, but I think you’d need to be front seat with access to that bit of string to make it work reliably.
In conclusion: fascinating, but I think probably a bit too small and frail for use in the UK, plus no IMC capability (yet) and of course way too slow for serious getting-places.
But of course the subtext here is that one day a Class 2 medical will be unachievable and if you wish to contionue flying an LAPL and self-certification is the way forward. No night and no IMC but its sure cheaper than a C182, and you can fly it out of your back garden!
All you can eat
It's a breezy spring day in Oxfordshire, and WL is just back from its Annual. This of course means a double-thoroughness A check as who knows what they have done to the control cables, oil pipes, engine electrics etc etc. Many a fatality has occurred due to unspotted Annual issues.
Adopt a David Attenborough voice: "here we see the lesser-spotted GA pilot emerging from its hibernation, stretching and scratching its arse, performing the Annual ritual of rust removal after a long winter".
Actually I don't feel all that rusty, but some circuits would be good and rather than embarrass myself at Oxford I'll take Ann up to Wellesbourne and we'll bounce around up there.
But first there's the small matter of photographing a new strip at Charlbury that looks delicious - unfinished as yet (some trees and a power line need to come down) but the indications are that permission to land will be granted by the owner. So let's take a look.....
We queue for ages at the Alpha Hold, but I don't care. Warm the engine up, double-check everything. Can't get Ann's P2 microphone to work properly. Try all possible squelch settings but it seems to be either on constantly or won't come up until she's said three words. Bugger.
Left turn outbound, stay low and head for Charlbury, Ann gives us a low orbit while I photograph from as many angles as possible then we climb out North.
Wellesbourne does a great multiple touch 'n go landing fee, allowing you to do as many as you want for £40. I rarely do more than 5 at a time as I get bored but they need all the suport they can get at the moment: the landowners want to close the airfield to build (yet more) houses.
Despite that fact that they have already sold half the airfield for a business park, dangerously placed at the end of 05 and (famously for my 1st solo land away on the approach to 23) they want more money for houses rather than this ramshackle here-today-gone-tomorrow aviation thingy.
Britain is a bit like that: deep in our representatives' psyche is a desire for the country to be some 16th Century rural idyll, so spending money on new-fangled things like roads (pooh! Dirty, smelly, noisy, smacks of Trade...), airfields (noisy, dangerous things, prone to plummeting on schools), broadband (why on earth should we invest just so people can watch porn faster?), railways (don't even get me started on the "just slighty faster than normal" HS/2 white elephant. Look, if you're going to build it build a bloody maglev right in to the Bull Ring, run 1000 people trains every 10 minutes at 350 mph. That's 30 minutes including accel/decel times) seems like a terrible thing. Unlike the US and France where GA infrastructure is seen as important and welcomed.
So airfields become just another brown field site
ripe for housing development. What idiots are we?
But more to the point: if they close the airfield, how do they get the resident Vulcan out?
I've never landed on 05 before, it's not used much but when the wind is from the East and 15Kts that's what you need. I have the noise abatement diagram on my kneeboard with potential 05 circuits inked in avoiding the red bits, so I am at least prepared.
Ann joins us neatly Downwind for 05 and I take over for Base and Final. We are high over the final hedge, but plonk it down OK despite the gusts coming over the tops of the business park buildings.
But for some reason it just won't slow down: we seem have little braking action but if I push just a tiny bit harder it feels like the wheels locking. Eventually the speed does come down, along with some dreadful rumbling and bouncing noises, so I begin to wonder if we've lost a tyre. I use the whole of 05 to stop and I'm sure it looked awful from the Tower. Rust, Rust and more Rust...
Backtrack and the rumbling is still there, magically it disappears as we turn on to the taxyway so it must be the runway surface. Yuk!
Taxy in, park up. The
tyres are just fine, so we have a can of Coke and pay the "all you can eat" landing tariff before setting off to try and improve things.
The runway sounds better on take-off and we get the hang of the weird 05 circuit, the touch and go's get progressively better each time until after 5 we do a perfect one and I reckon I'm back in the groove so ask Ann to take us home via Banbury.
I'm so rusty I'm wondering why the NAV2
display isn't coming up having Activated "Vectors to the ILS" for Oxford on the 430. Of course, it's on NAV1 - Doh! - and I get a steady steer left message until we finally hit the Localiser just East of Banbury where it flicks across viciously but we're turning for it anyway and we can see the runway in the far distance. Or at least I can: Ann can't seem to see it?
She flies us closer and then suddenly seems to want to take us over Woodstock
at 2,500ft rather than Kidlington at 1,500ft. Not quite sure what that's all about and she's not sure either so I'll take it, drop it in to the circuit and roll Final on 01. Now we've got a gusty right crosswind, so we'll crab it in all the way down, then expect to kick the left rudder at 6 feet as we flare, eyes on the end of... and that worked well.
The trickiest bit is trying to get the cover back on, which today is definitely a 2 person job! It is actually really windy out here.
I do feel I'm back in the groove, though.
Last year was a Scottish year. This year will be a French year, it seems.
I hold an IR(R) Rating which allows me to swan about in the clouds within the UK but not fly in IFR Airways or fly in clouds in Europe.
I’ve always been a bit mystified about this, but told that because of the absolute need to fly IFR accurately and because of the differing nature of clouds outside the UK the expertise involved in holding an IR(R) is insufficient and you need a full IR to perform these superhuman feats: 13 exams, 100 hours of additional training and a Class 1 Medical.
I’ve never quite been convinced, but there you are....
Today Nessa and I are flying to France with my colleague Steve and his wife. Steve is ex-BA and has more IFR experience than I could possibly ever accumulate so today we can file one of these magical IFR Flight Plans and climb to the dizzy heights of 9000ft.
For the 1st leg to Le Mans he’ll do the radio and I’ll fly. Let’s see how hard this actually is.....
We’ve already loaded our flight plan in to the Garmin 430W and SkyDemon so have plenty of options for Nav. Steve has filed IFR for BAMBO then KENET and other random letter combinations all the way to Le Mans so we call for start.
I would have filed "Direct CPT Direct SAM" but due to Compton congestion the normal routing is apparently via BAMBO (more or less directly overhead the fire service training school at Moreton-in-the-marsh further West), before we head South via KENET.
We wait longer than normal at the Charlie Hold for them to coordinate our departure with London and Brize but are eventually cleared for take off direct BAMBO.
Take off is as normal, but despite being VMC I’ll conduct the flight as if we were in cloud from 300ft, so on to instruments and turn on track. Apparently I need to be within 10 degrees of track and 100ft of height, which isn’t actually all that hard even without the autopilot and Altitude Hold....
Within a couple of minutes we are re-vectored left straight through the Brize Zone: ooh, never flown this way before.
IFR seems to consist of vectoring and level changes and Direct To commands, nothing I can’t handle. Select the waypoint required, hit "Direct To" and "Ent" twice.
At 6000ft we swap to 1013Hpa and settle in to the cruise at FL080.
From then on it’s straight and level all the way over the channel to Le Havre, turn and head for Le Mans. English controllers give way to French controllers who are chopping between heavily-accented English and rapid-fire French.
Only the French exercise their right to conduct their ATC conversations in their local language, the remainder of the world has standardised on English....
I am just surprised at this rarefied level of aviation communications (basically it’s us, BA and EasyJet) any French is to be found but once beyond Paris we find ourselves talking to the same controllers we would be with if we were VFR. The radio is, if anything, easier than VFR....
As we approach Le Mans we are given a Direct to the MAPEB Hold South West of the airport preparatory to the RNAV approach for R21, which is a nuisance as it is past the airport in the wrong direction, but half way there and surprisingly close to the airport that gets instantly converted in to “join Downwind right hand for 21”, giving us very little time indeed to turn hard left (grumbles from the back), lose 3,000ft and call vaguely Downwind before turning Base over the railway yards.
Turning Final over a housing estate we float down to a poor landing in which I play my old trick of pushing the wrong rudder pedal to straighten the aircraft as we touch, but in the end it’s safe and we exit to the pumps for Douanes and sandwiches in the terminal.
One of the disadvantages of filing flight plans is that you can’t leave until the flight plan is current, so we hang around for 75 minutes. I would have simply cancelled the 2nd leg plan and departed VFR without a flight plan but I suppose Bordeaux might have had a problem with that, I don’t know.
Like America, French airfields are marvellous at mixing commercial and private aviation, so I suspect it would simply not have been an issue.
Steve has evolved a neat trick for dipping the tanks without getting the ladder out by hooking his hand in the door frame then putting a foot on the strut. I try it, but I keep thinking I’m going to slide off backwards!
Somewhere along the line of our fuel calculations and pump request we miscalculate and end up with 10USG more than we should have. We are now over MTOW.
Moral dilemma; should we vent 10USG back on to the tarmac, attempt to get the pompeurs to remove 10USG or fly? Steve and I go into a huddle....
Eventually we conclude we’re both experienced enough to know that this aircraft will fly a little overweight, we have a nice long runway at our disposal and it is neither especially hot nor high, so today we will Break The Rules.
In practice our take-off is entirely uneventful and in fact surprisingly short, Steve climbs straight out and back up to the Airways and we’re back down to MTOW within 40 minutes or so.
The ground becomes sandier as we approach Bordeaux and we pass through a couple of small showers.
Bordeaux being a big airport give us the RNAV approach for R11 and we descend to the Initial Approach Fix, then turn, establish the Localiser then the glide slope and descend just like in the UK.
As Steve pops it on the ground neatly I’m thinking “what was more difficult about that than a UK RNAV approach?”.
I accept the conditions were VFR and there were no strong winds but if you’re competent with a Garmin 430W and you have an IR(R) and some recent experience you’re capable of performing a European RNAV approach.
You’re just not allowed to.
This is a classic example (and there are many) of aviation bollocks: over gilding the rules in search of greater perceived safety.
There is a competency-based European-wide En Route Rating available now but that doesn’t allow you to do RNAV approaches, so what’s the point?
The CAA have bent over backwards to continue to provide the IR(R) because evidence shows IR(R) pilots simply don’t fly in to terrain.
Even in clouds.
But Europe doesn’t want it, because it wasn’t invented there.
It’s this sort of administrative stupidity that has the UK throwing up its arms in frustration at the EU.
You could point to it as a classic example of why we voted to leave: it’s a nonsensical and hugely expensive rule that the UK is exempt from, so why should we continue to fund it?
The EU (over and above the original EEC free trade agreement) has signally failed to provide any real economic benefit for the UK (cultural benefits yes, and that is a separate argument) so many in the UK feel we are getting a poor economic deal (our outgoings exceed our incomings) and no concomitant reduction in inter-country bollocks like this.
If the EU wishes to retain Britain (as M Barnier maintains) then they need to move swiftly and decisively towards reversing many of these nonsensical rules (and we need to learn not to gold-plate them).
Mandatory handling at Bordeaux consists of an (expensive) man with a van greeting us at the parking slot; Steve and I decide we have sufficient fuel with 1 hours reserve to make Limoges without refuelling so they jump out and Ness and I fire up for an immediate VFR departure for Limoges.
The GA apron is right next to the hold for runway 23 which they have changed to, the wind having swung round, and I can spot an EasyJet 737 coming up the main taxiway so to avoid any wake turbulence issues we whizz out to the hold, call ready for an immediate departure and roll while the controller is still talking.
We all know they want me out of the way of the big stuff as quickly as possible.....
Airborne, left turn and we’re cleared to exit via the VRP “SE” which I can see on my amazing geo-located approach/departure chart in SkyDemon.
You have got to love SkyDemon: it just keeps getting better and better.
Half way to Limoges they clear us to switch to “La Rochelle Approach” which seems a bit extreme given the direction in which we are travelling, but hey ho... it turns out the frequency they give us is Limoges Approach so that’s fine and Limoges ask us to report airfield in sight for a downwind right hand join for 23.
Limoges is surprisingly high: I descend from our cruising height of 3000ft and by the time we are at 2000ft QNH I reckon we need descend no further for Downwind.
We are number 2 to a Robin in Base leg and I am damned if I can see him, so we’ll extend downwind and slow down.
He eventually appears on short final so I can turn base, then slow.....right....down to ensure we don’t overhaul him.
As he finally crawls off the runway we can call very short final indeed, get cleared and drop on all in a couple of seconds. Honestly, he could have kept his speed up......
We exit the runway and taxy off to Lima parking where for some unknown Gallic reason the parking slot numbers are between the actual slots. So which side of the markings is the correct yellow line to follow? Against Nessa’s advice I park up on the actual numbers and shut down, at which point the tower tell me I am not in the correct place. Damn: my wife was right! I’ll never live it down.....
A week later we're back at a very windy Limoges. The ATIS is giving 06022G30KT and outside the aircraft is bouncing around. Just as well I put the control locks in.
Our Air BP card now shows itself to be very useful indeed as the options are to call up and wait for a Pompeur to come and fill us up and take credit card payment (I'm sure it's lunchtime as well...), or pull WL over to the pumps (it's downhill) with the towbar and stick the card in the dispenser. The card works first time with no PIN number, the pump starts and a carefully-calculated 200L goes in, 100L per side, to give us 50-55USG at Bordeaux.
Afterwards, pull the aircraft forwards
to clear the pumps then A check, load the bags willy-nilly and call for start. I've done a VFR Flight PLan so everyone knows when and where we'll be, and after a brief warm-up we are cleared to taxi to Sierra. Taxying is very bumpy and we go slowly: I am not having any funny stuff going on. Warm up at the Hold and call ready, SPLAT-check and roll with some in to wind aileron. Take-off is a non-event and we turn South West for Bordeaux, heads bouncing off the ceiling with the tailwind.
It remains bouncy all the way to Bordeaux until we drop below 2,000ft under their Zone
when it just stops, and we are cleared to VRP SE then SA and a Right Base Join for 08, the wind given as 06008KT. How can it be so calm here?
chases the perfect landing. Some of mine are good and some aren't. Today is perfection, I just don't feel the wheels touch. Taxy in and meet Steve, that was easy.
We agree Steve
will fly us home because I flew 2 legs coming out, so he files IFR and we go home via a windy Guernsey and Direct CPT (I thought they avoided this?) before opting for a visual recovery for Oxford which has 07008KT meaning a small tailwind component.
A few things I learned today:
- Descent planning: Multiply your height in thousands of feet by 3 and that's the number of minutes from your destination you should start descending, to give roughly 500ft per minute descent rate
To control cylinder wear keep the CHT below 400deg using cowl flaps, enrichment and maybe something less then full throttle...
Flying SIDs and STARs is very easy, but requires pre-briefing and good cockpit organisation
- The Comm box
has a split COM1/COM2 button allowing P1 and P2 separate transmit/receive channels. So P1 can be talking to ATC whilst P2 can be talking to Handling on the ground, ordering fuel prior to landing.
- The Comm box has a
push-to-operate "Crew" function which isolates the pax in the back and allows them to chat while you get on with talking to ATC. Very useful.
Surprise cross country
Nessa and I have returned to a Florida for a 2nd round of boating and flying: this time it’s summer and Florida is hot, muggy and prone to thunderstorms. Being outside is like living in a hot bath.
My negotiations with their aircraft owner have been a bit hit and miss but finally he agrees to let me drive down to Naples to pick up the keys.
On arrival however, he suggests that instead of making me fly out of Naples which would involve a security gate and an hour commute each way I can simply fly it up to Page Field.
I wasn’t expecting to fly today: just as well I brought along my flight bag and headphones, but I have no iPad so no ForeFlight - I’ll have to improvise with the 695 in the aircraft and SkyDemon on my iPhone.
We drive in to the GA hangars at Naples. This is all very swish: individual hangars....
He helps me tow it out then shuts the door and immediately pushes off back to his office, Nessa leaves me to go back to Page and I’m free to do a nice relaxed pre-Flight, although it is damned hot here with the sun and the concrete.
I’m actually quite staggered how relaxed he is about lending me the plane, I haven’t flown it for 6 months, but he quite happily just hands me the keys. This is truly a different experience.
All goes well until that “Clear Prop” moment, when all I get is a "Clunk".
Fortunately after a couple of retries and “now do I turn, or turn and push, turn and pull” moments I realise this is simply a duff battery, call the owner and ask for suggestions.
He tells me it’s just had a new battery.......ah, no it was meant to have a new battery......
So he gets the FBO to send a 24V cart over which duly arrives, the guy plugs it in and we crank again, this time reassuring amounts of starter motor and ignition ensue, he unplugs and potters off, I can now get the ATIS and taxy to where I’m visible from the tower to get a progressive taxy for departure.
It’s a short run over to the Alpha hold, power check, 1 stage of flaps for a 65Kt rotate and we’re rolling on R23.
With just 1 up the aircraft rockets off the ground in about 15% of the runway, I’m at 1000ft before the end of the runway passes under my nose.
Cleared for a left turn I’ll delay so I’m over the coast then follow it down at 1500ft for Marco Island, home of the errant battery.
This is actually my first Florida solo, although not my first Florida P1 experience.
Naples ask me to squawk 1200 and for a few seconds I’m damned if I can work out where the transponder is.
Ah, that must be it, there......
Swap to Marco’s free for all frequency, It’s a 17 minute run and given the light winds I could use 17 or 35 today.
I’m about to suggest 17 when someone comes up on the radio departing North from 35 so I’ll use that then.
Call manoeuvring for left base, get down and slow down (the view from up here is spectacular), call left base, BUMPFTCHH, 2 stages of flap, turn final, slow to 75 and here we go.
Of course every aircraft is different and I know that having not flown this one for a while I’ll probably do something wrong, so I have it a bit high and a bit fast at the flare, it balloons so I’ll just let it relax a bit, I’ve got plenty of runway here.
After a couple of seconds it calms down, so eyes on the end of the runway, hold it off...... and we’re down, a bit left of the centreline but tracking true and slowing.
Clear left on to the concrete ramp and Allan is there, marshalling me over to the hangar; hHe’s hugely apologetic about the battery and happy to swap it out immediately.
He has some nice cold, very welcome water and lends me his golf cart to visit the FBO bathroom.
By the time I get back he’s buttoning up, so I can check the oil, start up (nice fast starter noises now...) and taxy round to the runway.
Back down the taxy way to R35, power check, call “taking” the runway and roll.
The seemingly-endless Everglades unfold to the North as we swap to Fort Myers Approach and request VFR Flight Following for Page Field. They vector me to the North, and as I am damned if I can find the autopilot I’ll have to hand fly it.
Passing the end of their active runway at 2500ft over a landing Boeing 757 they vector me left to 320 and I miss the call thnking it is for someone else (doh!); eventually (as I’m heading out in to the boondocks north of Page Field) I request a left turn and they chide me and release me to Page Field, who immediately clear me in for runway 23.
Actually I’m in a great position for a straight in from here so can do a decent job of the approach, get 2 reds 2 whites over the road and settle it gently on.
Exit right, ask for parking at the FBO and get marshalled in and tied down. Boy, is it hot...
So now I can say that my last 3 landings were at Bordeaux International in France, Marco Island FL and Page Field FL: how Jet Set am I?
South West Florida has obviously been settled by emigrant Italians as many of the towns are named after Italian towns, hence Naples and Venice.
This is 35 miles up the coast from Fort Myers and has probably as many canals but for some weird reason many of these are not open to the sea; that's like having an airport with no runways: taxy about all day if you like, but never reach the ocean..... And stagnant water means mosquitoes.
During our last trip we did not get a chance to fly low level up the outer islands of the Caloosahatchee estuary and get some decent photos, so this time we will.
It’s extremely hot and humid, I am aware this will have a detrimental effect upon the performance of the aircraft, both the engine (I’ll leave the cowl flaps open) and the wing, but we are operating off huge runways here, short field is a concept alien to most US pilots who seem to think 700m a major cause for concern requiring special training!
Out on the line the combined effects of the sun and the reflection off the concrete makes for an exhausting pre-flight: it’s quite nice to get back in to the comfort of the FBO once everything is ready.
Nessa has had a comfortable wait but now has to sit in a sweaty cockpit. GA can be tough on the crew!
Fire up, taxy out and start up the GoPro with our new ND filter designed to make the prop invisible.
The warm weather has no appreciable effect upon the startling performance of a C182 with 2 up and we’re away, over the river and angling for Sanibel Island. It takes a lot less time to get down here by plane than by boat!
We’ll stay below 1000ft to remain under SW Florida’s Class Charlie Airspace, we could as easily have asked them for Flight Following but we’ll exercise the American prerogative of just not talking to anyone for a while, descend to 500ft (the lowest my UK-trained hands are happy with) and cruise over the bridge, past the lighthouse and turn parallel to the beach.
We can see all the condominiums and this far down it’s really busy on the beaches and in the water, but within a few minutes the crowds thin and the beaches are clear, the waters blue and unsullied.
Sanibel becomes Captiva island and then North Captiva, inaccessible by car and thus more exclusive.
The little strip at Salty Approach looks appealing, but it’s by invitation only, sadly. One day...
Further North still is Cayo Costa, all very remote, then suddenly it’s Boca Grande which is accessible by road from Port Charlotte and so very built up. Some of these houses look amazing.
Then the coastline becomes endless condos and beaches before the intracoastal waterway ends and I can see Venice Municipal Airport.
I love these airports, they are always huge and immaculately maintained ex-military establishments with none of he rundown feel of UK airfields - America takes its aviation infrastructure very, very seriously (like France!).
We make blind calls like everyone else, slow down a bit to let a Cessna 340 twin in and report downwind left traffic for runway 23, turn Final and let down on to the perfect concrete surface.
As I’ve not flown for a while my landings are long as expected, but perfectly acceptable and we taxy in for an early lunch at the simply gorgeous Suncoast Aircenter café where the excellent Tony makes us crab sandwiches and mango iced tea.
Why is every FBO in the US so bloody marvellous?
I’m experimenting with different ways of getting this particular fuel-injected C182 to warm start better, so when I switched it off I did so at the gascolator via the fuel selector, as suggested on a forum.
This turns out to be a major error as despite repeated fuel pump runs the bloody thing will not fire!
Eventually, after a serious amount of cranking I can smell fuel and it starts to fire on one cylinder so I keep cranking and eventually it becomes self-sustaining with additional cylinders slowly cutting in until the normal throaty rumble of idle reasserts itself. Phew!
We taxy over the brilliant white concrete, my new photo-reactive prescription glasses are worth every penny here.
There’s a C152 waiting in the run-up area, do we wait for him or power-check in place and blast past?
After a couple of minutes I make a blind call to him and he tells us to go past so we listen for traffic on Final, announce we’re taking the runway, a quick check up the Approach path for any non-radio traffic and we’re rolling, off before we know it and turning left down the beach. This is easy....
We’ll take the short cut back over the estuary and look for a couple of interesting islands we may want to visit by boat later, including Cabbage Cay where there is a restaurant apparently.
It seems hard to find a bad restaurant here....
Over the ochre-coloured water, rusty from all the upstream Caloosahatchee silt and as we see the Sanibel bridge coming up on our right we can swap back to Page Field who ask us to join mid-field right pattern for runway 23 - I can do that.
Half way there they change their minds and ask us to join midfield left pattern. I’ve never known an airfield in the UK to use both sides of the airfield at the same time, I’ve only ever experienced it once before at Le Touquet, but we can manage that too.
And here it all goes a bit pear-shaped: I manage to cut the downwind and base legs really really short and I’m still turning on to final as we cross the threshold.
We’re stable and in the right place, all checks complete and at the right speed and height, but as they say good landings only come from good approaches and whilst the landing is just fine, I’m all over the runway over-correcting for some pilot-induced rudder oscillations I don’t understand.
It would be easy to blame squirrely winds on touchdown but it wasn’t that: I was just being crap...
Still, you get good landings and you get bad landings.
Back to the line, shut down the aircraft, take some numbers and pack up.
Nessa has gone inside which is feeling increasingly like a good idea, it’s over 100deg out here.
But I have finally found the fuel dip (that I bought for the aircraft on the last visit, the owners seem to trust the fuel gauges, which is more than I do...) and pitot cover so can put it to bed the way I like it: everything shut down, tied down and control lock in.
Blue water aviation
The last time I was in Florida I picked up two ringbound AOPA books: The Bahamas and The Caribbean.
Apparently it’s easy to tour The Bahamas by light plane, and tantalisingly close to Florida.
Like the Pooleys Guide to UK airfields they make good reading: you can dream of touring around remote places and filling your logbook with exotic names while sitting on the loo. Have PPL, will travel....
There is a certain amount of paperwork involved but Facebook and YouTube are great tools for making it simple and these AOPA Guides lay it out for you.
So we ensure the aircraft has a Customs sticker, use Foreflight to file a VFR flight plan and check the weather, with the Garmin 39 we will have live weather to Bimini.
eAPIS (Customs) web site takes a bit of work but nothing too taxing, we file a Manifest outbound and it’s accepted. Wow....
This is serious blue water aviation - we will be over water for nearly an hour and although we will rarely be out of sight of land we will not be glide-clear, so on with the lifejackets and ensure the liferaft is in the back, accessible.
We’re also worried about thunderstorms building up so we are at Page Field as they open at 7:00am.
Ever helpful they lend us a luggage cart to get our stuff out to the plane and we pre-flight carefully, add a little oil as it’s on the minimum and start up.
Ground acknowledge our response and end with a garbled something that I am pretty sure are taxy instructions so I’ll taxy carefully to R05 for power checks, change to Tower and....
“How did you get all the way down there? I didn’t clear you to taxy?”
Oops, I’m in trouble. Major Diplomatic incident here, I'll probably be deported.
Quite why they didn’t clear me to taxy or what they actually did say I still don’t know.
Anyway, after a while they calm down and clear us for take-off so we climb out, change to SW Florida who open our Flight Plan and initially steer us South East before asking what our feet wet point is to be.
Once we tell them it’s Pompano Brach they turn us East and let us climb to our planned Transit Altitude of 7,500ft (following the semi-circular rule).
I could go at 5500ft but that’s quite low over the blue water or I could go at 9500ft but we won’t see much, so 7500ft is a good compromise.
I’ve been trying to get the autopilot to work - last time I had Ann to fly it for me but this time it’s just me and I’d like to relax.
After some experimentation I manage to get it to follow the bug on the PFD but can I get the bloody thing to height hold?
It’s set to 7500ft, the barometer is set correctly and the feet per minute is set to zero but the altimeter very slowly winds up towards 8000ft.
I put in minus 100fpm and it drifts back down to 7500ft..... and keeps going towards 7000ft. So I put in +100fpm and it starts going back towards 8000ft. It's just crap.
After 45 mins we visit out at Pompano Beach where there are lots of puffy little clouds that will become rain showers later today, which is why we started early.
As Florida recedes behind us the sea turns deep blue and the pleasure craft thin out, leaving just the tankers with their long autopilot wakes; a long way ahead is a build-up which doesn’t actually look that threatening but I’m not licensed over here to fly through it so 5 degrees to the left and we skirt it.
The FAA specifies a minimum 2500ft horizontal separation from clouds for VFR but we’re not in US airspace here, so I think we can go closer if we want.
My ADS-B shows only airliners 33,000ft above us.
A slash of raindrops and we’re past, looking at Treasure Cay below us and another, larger build up that looks like it might be over Eleuthera.
But no, it’s about 20 miles this side and we scoot round it via another slash of raindrops to see, in the distance, our destination.
Miami hands us to Nassau who are, for a couple of minutes, can’t-get-a-word-in-edgeways busy.
I’m worried they’ll think we’ve fallen off the edge of the world but eventually it lets up and we check in with them, asking for a descent in to North Eleuthera.
They close our Flight Plan and pass us to UNICOM for blind calls.
We are just reporting 10 miles left base for 06/7 following a scheduled Beechcraft 100 when a PA28 pops up saying he’s 10 miles left base for the same runway: a quick check on the ADS-B and he’s 300ft directly below us...
Power on, arrest the descent and tell him we’re extending to give him room to land before us and clear.
Once I reckon he’s got enough time to land and clear we turn back in and self-announce at 6 and 4 miles, I can see he’s clear so pre-landing checks and descend over the piercingly blue waters, then the scrub and finally the threshold, drop it in and taxy in.
Marshalled to the flight line, we hop out and Customs/immigration are so nice they let us have a pee before we do all the paperwork, check our e-mail and even help us filling in the forms.
Customs and Immigration are hassle-free and quick: before long I have a stamped Cruising Permit allowing us to land at any Bahamas island. Freedom!
In our haste to vacate the aircraft of course something gets forgotten, in this case I manage to leave the flaps down.
Oh well, worse things happen at sea.....
The most beautiful sea in the world
After 3 days driving around Spanish Wells in golf carts we decide going straight back to Florida is boring so we’ll extend our trip by a couple of days by flying to The Exumas.
We could fly direct but in order to remain a little closer to land and for the view to be more interesting we’ll head South along Eleuthera then cross the open stretch to the top of the Exumas Island chain and stop on one of the Exuma Cays, we’ll decide which one as we go along....
N Eleuthera have filled us up with fuel so we’ve got 5-6 hrs endurance.
Pre-flighting the aircraft reveals some form of insect has built a small sandy nest in the corner of one of the ailerons, up by the hinge. This could block the controls and ruin your whole day. This is why we pre-flight.... a quick clear out and a really good full and free check calms my mind.
I could file a VFR flight plan with Nassau but as we are going via non-standard turning points laziness prevails in the end and we just toddle off VFR.
We "take" the runway, climb out to the North East over where we were feeding turtles yesterday, turn to overfly Spanish Wells for some photos, then head back South over the top of the airport at 1000ft and continue along Eleuthera.
The green of the scrub contrasts with the white sand and the blue water, there’s just nobody here at all.
Past Governors Harbour airfield and down to South Eleuthera, then cut the corner to fly just off the Western tip and turn for the top of the Exumas chain.
This is the only section of the journey we are not within glide range of a beach but it transpires that for almost the entire journey we are within glide range of a sandbar, so the worst that can happen is that we end up stranded on a sandbar.
There are a few boats here and there so engine failure options are to try to find a sandbar near a boat, then scrounge a G&T off them.
I do keep a very close eye on the engine temps and pressures, though.
We have no working EGT gauge so I can’t lean too aggressively, I’ll keep the cowl flaps slightly open to keep the CHTs down to around 300, and the oil pressure is stable and within the green arc so as long as that all remains stable I’m happy.
We had a brief issue where the ammeter was registering discharge and we have no pitot heat: switching that on trips the fuse but we’re not flying IMC so I’m not too fussed.
Twenty minutes later we’re over the strait and lining up right base for 03 at Norman’s Cay.
This sparsely-populated Island was used by Pablo Escobar in the 70s and 80s to run drugs in to the USA, the whole Air Defence Identification Zone system was set up to stop planes running in at night to drop drugs in to Florida.
I love the way they make it sound like some anti-Russian missile defence system whereas it’s actually just to stop the drug cartels using light aircraft to fly drugs in to the US......
Self-announcing, we simply line up and land, backtrack and expect at least someone to be there but the place is utterly dead. Three aircraft are parked up but the chain link gate is open and there is just no security, no buildings, nothing here.
Time for a pee.
As we taxy across the Apron I hear a Beechcraft twin announcing his final on R21, so the opposite of what I’ve just landed on.
As there is no wind it really doesn’t matter so long as we don’t try to use opposing runways at the same time, so I’ll leave him room to enter the apron then taxy out and depart via R03.
Climbing out we turn right and pass over the C46 plane wreck in the middle of the harbour they are diving on, then depart South down The Exumas, a chain of tiny islands pointed towards The Turks and Caicos.
Each island is more beautiful than the last: small and large mixed, some with boats and runways, others abandoned.
So many miles of pristine white sandy beach, so few people; of course it’s hard to get here unless you have a boat or your own plane I suppose. Perfect for a sea plane.
As we approach Exuma I can hear neither the Tower nor the ATIS (they call it AWOS here for no apparent reason) so I call Odyssey the FBO who tell me I am on the right frequency for the Tower, I call them and they are happy for me to land on R12.
loving this complete lack of PPR.
There is an old airstrip that used to be Exumas airport and for some reason I am convinced I should be lining up on that but no, it’s this bigger one over here and yes it’s starting to bloody rain.
At 3 miles the runway begins to disappear inside one of these heavy showers the Caribbean is so good at.
Oh, this will be fun.
We’ve got enough fuel to hang about for an hour while it clears through or l’ll shoot the RNAV approach, no one will ever know....
But in fact we never lose sight of the runway and drop it on to the bumpy tarmac.
I’m not doing very good landings at the moment: a bit of a bump on the touchdown - I think I’m not looking at the end of the runway - Must concentrate!!!
Marshalled in, I put the flaps away this time (!) close down and pack everything away, forgetting to remove the Garmin 39 for charging (well I always forget something).
Vne and lightning
Our time in the Exumas has sadly come to an end, so we’ve taken the rattly Honda back and now comes the dreaded paperwork to get us back to the USA.
Odyssey Aviation are very helpful with all the Bahamian Government bits and at no point does anyone ask to see our passports (!) but ultimately the paperwork is down to me.
It requires another tussle with the eAPIS website which is pretty user-friendly but refuses to accept Nessa as crew, so I have to remove her entirely from the system and re-enter her, then we need to raise a GenDec (a hangover from the UK colonial days I’m sure) which we do by hand and fax, then a VFR flight plan which I know I can generate from ForeFlight but it simply refuses to accept a VFR ICAO plan and won’t accept a FAA format plan as it’s not a US domestic flight.
ForeFlight support later e-mail me about this and tell me I simply needed to select a VFR ICAO flight plan but I know it simply wouldn’t accept that option.
Instead Odyssey and I file it by paper and fax it to the tower then call them to confirm it’s in the system.
I am obsessed with the entry in my Bahamas AOPA book that tells me I have to have some kind of code prior to entering the ADIZ but finally just before we leave and I make a fool of myself in the air work out that what it means is that I need to be talking to a controller and assigned a squawk code.
Ah, now I understand.
Then finally we get to pay Odyssey’s surprisingly realistic bill and pre-flight the aircraft.
Modern Cessnas have a stupid 12V output socket that isn’t a cigarette lighter socket. Sportys sell a simple adapter that terminates in a cigarette lighter socket that you can then fill with a USB adapter etc etc to charge and power your various devices but of course this Cessna doesn’t have one.
I suspect it does have one but a little like all the other gear we have had to request, check and assemble at various points, it’s just not in the aircraft. The upshot is we have no onboard power.
All this hassle means I haven’t had a chance to charge the Garmin 39 using AC power so we have no ADS-B weather or traffic, I must get the Cessna 12V converter lead (Sportys, $19.95) and just have it in my Flight bag.
We self-announce taking the runway and off we go in to the humid sunshine, it’s a huge long runway so we backtrack some of it and roll, using about one tenth of the available. I don’t know why I didn’t just turn left!
Right turn outbound and set course then climb for 8500ft. It’s interesting that when preparing a Flight Plan within ForeFlight correct Cruise altitudes for the flight plan are easy to select, it simply doesn’t allow you to select an incorrect one. Someone has thought about that.
Miami radio works even out here at 8500ft and once they accept we have a VFR Flight plan (much rustling of papers by the controller) we get a squawk (vital to avoid getting intercepted by the US Air Force as a potential drug runner....) and the service is excellent but bugger me, the controllers are busy.
We are advised of an area of rain ahead and we can see it so we turn five degrees left to go around the edge. We’re both worried about thunderstorms and having the ADS-B would be better but this is just light rain.
We are discovering that American controllers will vector even IFR aircraft around even the smallest amount of rain, do American aircraft get soggy?
I suppose as most of these aircraft are airliners they are trying to give their passengers the easiest ride but really, in Europe you get what you get I suppose because there’s just a lot more clouds.....
The sea turns dark blue as we coast out from Andros, the sky clears and we can get back on to our original route. We remain at our nice cool cruising height of 8500ft (this would be FL85 in Europe but here the transition level is at 16,000ft) until the coast of Florida is very much in sight at which point Miami suddenly decides they want us under 4,000ft.
Via the AP I put in 1000ft per minute, what I consider to be a pretty steep dive but Miami demand an expedite so we’ll pull the power a bit, turn the AP off, and push hard. The speed goes up almost to Vne, the VSI goes off the clock and like those old TV movies the altimeter unwinds at a silly rate.
The constant speed prop will keep the engine at the same speed (got to love a wobbly prop) and our ears pop before we level off at 3500ft (its much warmer and muggier at these low altitudes) and head NW to stay outside Miami’s Class Bravo Airspace.
Round the corner we swap to Opa Locka Tower and the fun starts.....
Whilst East of the airfield we are cleared Right Pattern for 09 Right. I can do that: down to 1000ft over suburban Miami, those backyards look pretty close.
Level, pre-landing checks and flaps, all good, back to 85Kts and turn Base, at which point they clear us for 09 Left.
Er, OK: power in and extend the Base Leg to reach the other side of the airfield and start to turn Final.
At which point the Coastgaurd aircraft about to roll on 09 Left requests a short delay and the Tower smoothly clears us to land on R12.
Bloody Hell: make it up as you go along, why don’t you?
Roll further round to the right and there’s R12.
bit of rubbish off the buildings and then we’re smoothly down.
My short field abilities are going to atrophy with all these huge runways, though.
It’s a long and complex taxy over to the Customs facility, we are cleared on Papa but then that gets revised to November to accommodate a real, live Douglas DC-3 coming in the opposite direction.
Not a tarted-up, restored warbird but a scruffy old freight dog: a real, pre-war veteran of the skies.
I’ll bet that aircraft has spent more time aloft than I’ve been alive....
The Customs is tucked away behind Atlantic Aviation’s ramp.
We simply pull up, grab our bags and passports and walk in.
hey have all our details so a quick fingerprint and photo check by a really nice Customs Officer (yes, they do exist), a second officer inspects the aircraft with a sniffer and we’re free to enter the United States.
Oh no. Now I’ve got to warm start the beast.....
The owner tells me you can’t have enough fuel, so we’ll do a fuel pump run like you would for a cold start and it fires up immediately.
I think I may have overcome that particular problem now.
I think that when warm the fuel drains back to the gascolator rather than vaporises, so you simply pump the system up again and off it goes.
I’ve been overthinking it.
Given the propensity for lightning in the afternoons in Florida we’ve decided to stop at Atlantic next door for lunch and to charge up the Garmin 39 with some good old American juice, so we are marshalled in next door (50 yards from Customs) and we visit the awesome shrine that is Atlantic Aviation.
My God, what are we doing in Europe?
This is the most beautiful building I’ve ever visited.
It’s got no less than 4 smiley people ready to minister to your every whim, a lunch bar, soft seating and a flight planning room, crew cars they will lend you to go to downtown Miami for lunch, WiFi, power sockets, I could weep.
Surrounded by business jets I can’t believe we get all this for free.
I keep expecting someone to turn up with a huge Handling Fee (Humberside, you know what I mean...).
If I can get this for free why do I pay £81 for a Portakabin at Bournemouth?
We need the Garmin: Miami is clear with the odd shower but a huge thunderstorm is over Cape Coral.
The Doppler radar (we NEED this in Europe) shows the last hours worth of rain and lightning so we can tell it’s going to be clear of Page Field in about an hour and a half: time to have lunch, catch up on e-mails and Facebook, charge the Garmin and depart.
90 minutes later we pick up a ground taxy and Flight Following, depart East over the suburbs (feels so low...) then turn North West with the resuscitated Garmin now providing Live weather to the iPad.
The combination of Garmin 39 and Foreflight on a yoke-mounted iPad plus the Garmin 750 gives unprecedented situational awareness, geo-referenced taxy charts and live weather.
My old flying school boss would have a seizure.
We need to dodge the lightning and the heavy rain to get back to Page Field, and we’ve spotted a gap in the rain showers North West of Opa Locka that Miami Approach (who are looking at the same screen as us) help us achieve.
We can see the rain showers to either side but we’re in the clear.
Actually the whole thing is a bit over fussy as light green is light rain and quite frankly you can fly through that without even much diminished visibility. Darker green is heavier rain but you can still fly through it OK.
The issue comes with yellow and red where the lightning is, but that’s very scattered and easily avoided once you can see it in the cockpit.
Our alternate is Immokalee which is about two thirds of the way back to Page Field: if the lightning hasn’t cleared Page Field by the time we get there we can stooge around for a while or get a cup of tea at Immokalee. No landing fee and no PPR means no problem there....
As we near Fort Myers we can see the thunderstorm ahead moving off across the river, leaving light rain and really good visibility behind, the air seems washed clear.
Fort Myers International transfer us to their Tower who vector us directly over the top of their airport to remain clear of any rain whatsoever: I think they’re being a bit over cautious with the weather, but what do I know?
Once overhead they pass us to Page Field who immediately clear us to land on their 03.
A quick couple of seconds orientation (It’s always worth keeping a mental map of where you are in relation to the various runways at an airport as you never quite know what you’re going to get, especially here) and we go left, descend to 1000ft and do a neat right pattern.
It’s only when I point out to Nessa the receding lightning 10 miles away that I realise she has gone absolutely white with fear. She tells me later she was petrified that we would be struck and blown up mid-air. Irrational, really: we aren’t earthed.
Lightning might bugger up our electrics but it won’t affect the controls.
I know an aircraft that survived a power line strike which fried the entire wiring loom (and knocked out the whole of Kidlington) but it went on to make a perfectly serviceable landing. I even flew it a few months later.
As we descend there is a CRACK and a bolt of lightning hits about 300 feet in front of us. Nessa didn’t see that one, thank goodness.....
This time I am determined to get that really sweet landing I know I’m capable off, so a nice long Final, a low rate of descent, and *look at the end of the runway*. Ah, that suits me Sir, smooth as silk.
Gentle deceleration, a left turn, swap to Ground and we’re off to the FBO.
A note about the Garmin 39 and ForeFlight: you don’t get weather when on the ground via the Garmin 39.
If the 39 is on (and it turns itself on when you put it in charge) either turn it off via the top button or disable the Bluetooth on your iPad temporarily so the wetaher comes through your broadband, not the Garmin 39.
And It’s goodnight from him...
Sadly the aircraft has to go back.
The thunderstorms have abated this afternoon, and a high cloud base keeps the temperature in check. The oil has stabilised at 6 Quarts so it needs no additional oil, we fire up for the last time and now I’m much more comfortable with the radio calls I know I can drop down the coast back to Naples VFR without talking to anyone between Page Field and Naples so long as I stay below 1200ft and squawk VFR (1200 for some unfathomable reason).
One up a C182 is a beast and we rocket off runway 23 over the river and down towards Sanibel before turning South East at 900ft over Ft Myers Beach and Bonita Springs.
I so enjoy flying this simple VFR life in good weather in Florida, the view is without parallel and the air smooth, I could do this all day.
Sadly, Naples soon looms up so get the AWOS (why can’t they just call it ATIS?), tell Tower I’m inbound from the North with 13 to run and they immediately clear me Right Base for runway 23 so I can give myself plenty of room, get all the pre-landing checks out of the way then turn neatly Final, get 2 reds and two whites from the PAPIs and slide down the approach.
The owner may well be watching so I need to make a nice job.
Keeping eyes on the end of the runway ensures a nice smooth arrival, gentle braking and turn left for the apron.
Here of course it all goes wrong as I misidentify the taxy way as Bravo when it is in fact Alpha, and the poor Ground radio guy gets frustrated as he tries to point me at the pumps.
“Oh right: over there!” finally I can see the pumps so couple up the grounding lead and top off the left tank (the right tank is still, full, typical C182) then taxy round to the (wrong, it turns out) hangars. Once the owner arrives I then need to turn it round (too tight for me, we'll use the towbar) and taxy it back opt the correct line of hangars.
Bye Bye, we’ve had some fun. He's aiming to buy a new one later in the year, so maybe we'll get to take that to The Turks and Caicos next time...
I understand some US rental outfits are requiring an IR as a prerequisite for flying to The Bahamas. This is utter and errant nonsense: there is nowhere in the world more VMC than The Bahamas. Any IMC conditions are scattered and avoidable.
Now I suppose I'll have to re-learn to fly back in the Northern European clag (if Europe will let us after Brexit).
The Northern European weather is doing its best to be unsettled so we have a breezy, cloudy, showery day: perfect for an IMC refresher trip. Depart Northbound, come back in for a teardrop entry to the Hold, do a couple of Holds and then out for a Full Fat ILS to Minimums.
It's nice to be flying with IR Steve again: he oozes IR confidence
and makes me feel I can do all of this without my head exploding. He's flown more hours IR than I've been alive so I'd better polish up good.
We brief for the Oxford Procedure and ILS, I've got the instrument chart geo-located in SkyDemon as a backup and I'm pretty sure I
can drive the 430W to do the procedure.
We depart and head North East, right in to the middle of a nice cloud. Deliberately leaving the autopilot off this is good IMC hand-flying experience, and we go about as far as Barford St John before asking Oxford for the procedure, turning round and
heading for the beacon.
The difference between doing this using the 430W, the autopilot and the height-hold versus hand flying it via an NDB, especially in the Hold, is that situational awareness is so vastly improved it basically becomes if not easy, then certainly doable even for a rusty pilot.
Stable at 3,500ft we can aim for the beacon, report taking up the Hold, turn 30 degress off to make a teardop approach in to the inbound turn and even the whole 4 minute stopwatch rigmarole becomes unnecessary; we can see exactly where we are: absolute bloody Luxury.
It's bumpy and actually doing this, in and out of clouds with a strong and varying crosswind is great real world practice.
We do 2 turns around the Hold and then head outbound, with Approach asking us to remain at 3,500ft while they pass a helicopter under us, then we're allowed to descend... at 4 miles on a 6.5 mile leg.
Dump everything, get a 1500ft/min descent and head for 1800ft while doing the pre-landing checks. This is a complete head rush, and we reach 1800ft and 100Kts just as we need to start the turn for the Localiser.
Completing the turn we pass through the inbound track, as I thought we would so continue the turn to compensate, make the Localiser and call Established, drop a stage of flaps, watch the glideslope come in, push and trim for the descent and it's all going well until I start to swing left and right through the Localiser. It never gets more than half scale deflection but I'm not responding correctly, I'm rusty.
At 800ft QNH we go visual and there is the runway where I expect it so we'll slow to 85Kts, pull the second stage of flaps and flare. There's a gusty crosswind which makes my landing messy but actually I was happy with that.
So this is the real thing: my 2-year
IR(R) refresher. A reasonable VFR day to do it but quite gusty, so we fire up and sit at the Hold for ages waiting for landing aircraft. We like to lean at the Hold so I'll do that and leave my hand on the mixture so I don't try to take off with the mixture leaned. What sort of an idiot would do that?
as it turns out.
Distracted by something
I manage to turn on to the runway, take off and climb to 500ft before spotting it. I thought we were a bit down on power and the EGT was very high. Slam it in, vow never ever ever to do that again. Rusty Rusty....
We climb out NW then turn to track to Daventry: Direct To DTY, spin the DI and get the autopilot on, avoid Hinton-in-the-Hedges parachute drop zone (of which more later...)
and do a nice track job inbound.
He asks me to track back for the ILS so I'll spin it round
on the bug (never more than 180deg or it starts to turn the worng way!) and head back.
Now it starts to go pear-shaped because he starts vectoring me around to avoid Hinton again and then asks for an orbit. That I can do but I'm losing situation awareness.
We get down to 1800ft for the Localiser but for some reason I can't get lined-up, I keep thinking I need to go right whereas I need to go left. Eventually I get it and the needles drop in but now I'm below the glide slope and panicking..... STOP panicking, that's the glide slope coming in form above, you dope.
As it comes down I drop on to it but it's a bit unstable
and I just feel overwhelmed at this point. If I was alone I would go around, collect my wits and have another go, but we'll persist and in fact by the time we get to the MDA it's not too bad, he suggest we continue to 300ft (a good sign, actually the oscillations were not as bad I had thought), we look up and there is the big, beautiful runway, ready for a visual drop on in gusty conditions, nothing wrong with that.
So I'm good for another 2 years in the clouds, but I do feel I need to do more ILSes. It's not the theory, it's just ensuring I use the aircraft kit properly.