The General Election, Christmas and New year have come and gone, but
Nessa and I have avoided it all by going to Australia for December.
A planned Sydney cross-country fails to materialise due to the forest fires so I now haven't flown since mid-November. I need time on my own to scrape some rust away and get current.
On the first free Saturday in January the weather is fantastic but domesticity must take priority (and you won't learn much on a nice day), so this Saturday is more challenging: 1400ft base, marginal VFR and it will be 800ft IFR by later.
So we book circuits for 9:45am.
I am really concentrating on trying to slow down and get down to my landings: I think my inconsistencies are due to too much energy left in the wings when the mains touch, so instead we will aim at the numbers and slow to 70Kts, then 65Kts over the threshold. This works so much better I'm not sure why I didn't try it before. The touchdowns are more consistently barely audible: hmmm.... food for thought. I know the airframe well enough now to recognise the pre-stall whistle and we're just getting it as we touch.
After 2 circuits I'm planning a short-field and go in for a pee but the tower has other plans for me: first a right hand circuit over Woodstock then she asks me to orbit at the end of downwind which will be partially IMC anyway as the clouds have started to descend. Ah, this will be fun. Orbits are best done without reference to the horizon anyway: a Rate One orbit can be carefully monitored to be maintained +/- 50ft and after 3 I glance at SkyDemon which tells me I'm drifting slowly North with the wind, as predicted.
The big jet lands and I am released for a right base join and this time we'll do a short field landing to a full stop. From the end of the tarmac to the old 11/29 threshold is 350m, so we'll slow right down, full flaps and aim for the threshold. More power required as we have drag flaps, down to 55Kts over the threshold, airframe whistle, touch..... and slow. Not much braking required, an easy 350m, but this was dry tarmac. Wet grass is another matter, dry grass better as the braking effect is good.
And they let me taxy "backwards" down to the apron.
The coffee has gone through......
The weather is closing in and it will be IFR by lunchtime. But Kemble awaits so we fire up, depart for a right turn out bound and head for Charlbury. As the ground rises in to the Cotswolds the cloudbase drops and I'm not going to scud run in to rising ground so we'll climb towards MSA. There's actually a nice VMC layer between the 800ft broken and the 2800ft overcast so we creep up on Kemble, getting enough glimpses of the ground and a bit if SkyDemon to maintain situational awareness, spot the old airliners inside the perimeter fence and call tight left base for 08, the runway appears but I'm over it so I could orbit but I might as well land long and backtrack a bit, then park on the muddy grass.
Booking in and paying the randomly changing Landing fee (£13 today, apparently) they say I'm their first arrival of the morning. The instructors standing around the Ops desk clearly think I'm a lunatic but this is measured madness: planned and thought through, and this is exactly why we have an IR(R) Rating.
Coffe and bathroom visit sorted, we can fire up, rev a lot to get out of the ruts then 180 backtrack and on to the tarmac, roll from the intersection and climb into IMC at 800ft, maintain the climb and turn North.
A momentary lapse of concentration: ignore the inner ear and use the AH.
Ah, that's better.
A climbing turn is always hard when you've not done this for a while but we're in a 500ft per minute climb and turning, so straighten up, head NE and level out at 1500ft in the solid clag that has formed: it is definitely getting worse.
The fall back plan is to shoot the ILS but as the land drops away visibility down to the ground returns and we can call right base for 19 with surprisingly good visibility from 5 miles. Unlike the earlier madnes the airfield is now deserted but they've just departed a big jet so recommend a 4 mile spacing for wake turbulence.
I ain't messing with wake turbulence after last summer's little mishap at Jersey so extend North and turn long final for a gentle flapless landing (just to ensure we've covered all the options), and even that is a gentle arrival so my 3 landings to a full stop are now done and I can take passengers again.
I also feel current, just as important.
And I've just completed my first logbook. That green-paged FAA logbook I've had since 2001 and contains my first flight is now full of memories. 541hrs, loads of blood, sweat and tears towards the front of the book, one real-life engine failure and a lot of fun.
Now I'll need to get to grips with this weird CAA logbook-thingy...
Between the storms
Storm Ciara has battered
the country and Storm Dennis is coming in, but there is a morning's lull in which careful reading of the weather runes might allow a morning trip out.
So Ann and I are going up to Sturgate to see what's what. I've flown over it many times but never landed there. I'll fly up and Ann will fly back.
I don't like sharing the A check responsibilities with anyone: it's too easy for stuff to fall between two stools. Each person assumes the other has checked the chocks / pitot heat / flaps etc. So WL gets effectively two A checks but neither of us remember to check the alignment of the fuel caps after the fueller has filled the tanks up. They're fine, but the holes in that Swiss cheese can line up pretty quickly.
The wind is calm now but will perk up later: all sorts of strong wind warings and dire threats pepper the TAFs but as we depart to the North it's pretty smooth and clear.
We climb out North between the inbound ILS track and Hinton in the Hedges and head for Daventry, then Melton Mowbray VRP. Every day is a school day: Ann is doing the radio and has never given a concise message to London Info before. She makes a fine job of it, though.
Sturgate's Pooleys entry advises we speak to Waddington
and arrange a MATZ Transit for arrival, but they are just not awake so we will swerve around their MATZ stub and talk to Sturgate Radio, who advise the Red Arrow RA(T) is Active (this wasn't on the NOTAMs...) at Scampton, however with a little judicious manoeuvring we can avoid that.
They want us to join for runway 27 with a right hand circuit so a bit of mental juggling gives us a crosswind join, and a right turn. It's interesting how distances are deceptive: I'd mentally assumed we had a bit
to go but suddenly realise we are virtually on top of the airfield, so chop the throttle and slide down for a pretty-much 1,000ft crosswind arrival, a turn and report Downwind and a smooth turn to Base.
It's not untill I realise Base is taking an awful long time
to line up with the runway that I become aware of the strengthening South wind: as I turn Final I am having to fly quite a lot into-wind to maintain the centre-line. This is fine and expected, maintaining the correct speed and attitude until the flare all goes well, flare and kick it straight and.... just as we expect a nice arrival we pass abeam some trees to the North of the runway and the interaction between them and the wind picks us up and starts throwing us around. This is weird: I'd expect it if the trees were to the South of the runway, but they are North.
Maintaining the flare allows the aircraft to settle
and we arrive a little untidily and well off the centreline - if we'd gone any further across I'd have gone around, but it was untidy. I'm not sure whether I should have expected it, but it is clear that my crosswind skills are a little rusty.
I assume the entrance to the cafe is via the crosswind runway, so backtrack and am about to turn when the Tower tells me it's not there, it's at the end of the
runway, so another 180 and back the other way. That would have looked very weird from the air. Off at the end and park up for an excellent coffee and bacon butty. Recommended!
And we are the only people there.....
Ann will fly us home, with me on the radio. I immediately select Smooth Jazz. Nice......
As there is a direct crosswind we can't be arsed to depart on 27 so request 09 for a direct-from-the-taxiway take-off from the very nice people in the "Tower" (a very comfortable room on the Ground floor with no less than 3 people in it. This airfield must get very busy, they don't have 3 people at Kemble!). This is granted and Ann rolls.
As we accelerate past the trees we get a repeat of the landing experience: some quite severe turbulence. Ann controls it well and we're soon past it and accelerating in to smooth air for a 270deg climbing left hander to the South but there is a lesson to be learned here: downwind trees can affect your landing and takeoff rolls. It doesn't seem right but there it is.
The strong Southerly has arrived in force now and our speed over the ground is considerably less than it was on the way up. Halfway back a broken layer appears and as Ann has no IR(R) we elect to descend below it. It is not forecast to be lower than 1,400ft which is fine but it is a lot bumpier down here, with intermittent rain. Good experience for her, not always flying in smooth CAVOK conditions...
Swapping back to Oxford they are giving 22Kts gusting 30Kts straight down the runway, so it will be rough but doable, as forecast.
We can hear them talking to prospective pilots asking for taxy: "you do realise it's 22G30 out there?".
Then: "OK, cancelling detail".
Overhead Banbury we can hear a jet coming in from the East being vectored for the ILS so we assume they will ask us to orbit but they instead ask us to stay West of the ILS.
At this point Ann and I have something of a difference of opinion. I feel she has lost situational awareness as she drifts first towards the ILS, then towards Enstone before she elects to orbit almost off the end of Enstone's runway which makes me feel uncomfortable. Then once the jet is passed and she is cleared for a right base join she flies straight through the approach path and starts heading quite seriously East.
She believes that she had not lost awareness, was "avoiding the jet's wake"
by flying East and was planning to rejoin the approach path closer to the runway, which is a weird manoeuvre I haven't heard of before. No damage done and she lands the aircraft superbly despite a possibility of wake turbulence but when we debrief afterwards we both agree she needs to verbalise what she is doing in these situations to reduce my stress levels....
The wind has really got up now and flying will be off for the next few days: the cover makes a pretty determined bid for freedom as we put it on. But we're better than that and soon it's buttoned down tight. A good morning's experience.