The Ballards - Whiskey Lima 2020


The General Election, Christmas and New Year have come and gone. Nessa and I 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 of 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 madness 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 warnings 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".
Very sensible.
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.

Awakening interest in the younger generation
When I was a small boy there just wasn't anyone we knew who "did" aviation, so I never got the chance to go out for a morning; this is why I'm always keen to take young people out.
Today is one of those "work the weather" days: it's actually going to be OK this morning but is scheduled to get really windy this afternoon so, like normal, no one is going flying..... But we've got 1,000ft of clear air, we're not doing aerobatics and this is Britain - the weather is never going to be perfect.
Ben and Charlie are at the age where they are susceptible to the sounds, the smells, the very atmosphere of aviation: the fuel, the oil and hot metal, the vibrations of the airframe, the views and most importantly the opportunity to actually fly the thing yourself.
Following a Safety Brief in Operations: stay with me, don't wander off, stay away from any other aircraft, stay outside the prop arc, keep looking for stray bits of kit lying around on the tarmac, when I say "I have control" let go, where the sick bags are; and a decision on where they want to go and who gets to fly first, they are as keen to help me pre-flight as they are to get flying, so I'll pump up the P2 seat with cushions and try to answer their many, many questions as sensibly as possible.
Depart South over Oxford, the clouds are at 1,300ft as forecast. This for some reason makes the airfield symbol go IFR in SkyDemon, but actually it's a good clear VFR day and the lower clouds are beginning to disperse so we can climb up to 2,000ft.
Charlie quickly gets the hang of flying it so soon we are wending our way down the Thames in search of their houses then he sets up some nice steep turns to orbit around them while I keep a wary couple of fingers on the yoke and a good lookout before wending our way back towards Oxford, over the now de-chimneyed Didcot power station and back for a visual recovery for R19.
Oxford are busy and we get to orbit on the downwind while a bizjet shoots the ILS, then we're left base and Final for 19. Typically, with the first landing of the day it isn't perfect: there is a squirrely little crosswind and maybe I've got too much energy still in the wing: it takes a second or so for the aircraft to settle properly on the runway. Can do better....

A pee, a crew change and we're off again: this time East bound for Westcott and Waddesdon. Coming up the Hold point we are number 3 for take-off. We may be here some time... Nah, they're all awaiting IFR clearances from London so we can blast past for an Immediate departure VFR. Just occasionally, you do get ahead. In a few seconds we're cleared and off - they are still copying clearances. Flying IFR is actually not all that difficult, but learning how to do it... ah, that's the tricky and time-consuming part.
Ben is a more measured pilot: quiet and competent he eases us around North Oxfordshire and in to Buckinghamshire and then Northamptonshire before swinging us around Silverstone. He has the knack of holding a heading and a height already, something I took ages to perfect: one or the other always seemed to be slipping away from me.
We return for a left base, get another orbit then head for final. There is a bizjet awaiting our pleasure so with everyone watching we need to do a decent landing. Although we have more of a crosswind this time: the wind has picked up as forecast, I have the measure of it now and we do a proper crosswind "have we landed yet?" job. That's how it's done!

Both boys are happy (Charlie reckons it was "the best day of his life so far"), and Ben wants to get his PPL before his drivers licence. As we are now not be EASA his will be a CAA PPL, possibly not recognised in Europe....

The world may be coming to an end
At last the March weather has turned truly gorgeous after all that damned rain.
But now the COVID-19 CoronaVirus is threatening to stop all aviation.
Before the inevitable lockdown happens (and with due regard to social distancing) I am going to get some crosswind landing practise in. Oxford says they are still open so I reckon I can get by touching nothing but the aircraft (can't avoid touching that...).
It's a blustery East wind that threatens to take the cover away across the runway before we've even started so this might be.... challenging.
There are a few aircraft floating about, some doing circuits, so we'll take off and depart to the North West for some general handling. The bumping about abruptly stops at 3,500ft so we'll mooch about up here for a while, doing some steep turns (I love doing steep turns), stalls and some careful documentation, as suggested by my Instructor, of what throttle settings give straight and level, and a 500ft per minute rate of descent at 100Kts with and without 1 stage of flaps i.e. ILS conditions.
He reckons you shouldn't be bothering with jockeying the throttle to get level flight or an ILS descent in IMC, you should already know what they are for your aircraft so you can bother about other things. You can preset what you know to work and the aircraft will carry on without you having to fret.
A Good Plan.
So, for reference, in a 1982 C182:
Approach power settings, prop/ mix fully forward
Flapless 100Kts level = 15in Hg
Flapless 100Kts, 500ft/min descent = 13in Hg
1st stage flaps (max 140Kts) 100Kts level = 16in Hg
1st stage flaps (max 140Kts) 100Kts, 500ft/min descent = 15in Hg

Then we head back for some bumpy circuits.
Changing to Tower, the very nice but slightly harassed gentleman clears me for a Downwind Join for Runway 01. Fair enough, I can do that...
But as I cross the Take-off numbers I get "What are you doing over there? I cleared you for a Left Base Join for 01".
Er, I'm sorry but I would have remembered. I even read back your instructions....
"Tango Golf, apologies, will re-position". Maybe I mis-remembered
"No, go on and join Downwind".
I'm sure the tapes will explain what actually happened but one of us was wrong, that's for sure. No one got hurt.
I'm number two to a Diamond DA-20 in front with a Student pilot who keeps forgetting to use the prefix "Student" but looks like she is doing a better job of the landings than I am: I get it all correct, then it floats at the last second and won't settle properly on to the tarmac for a while. Yuk.
Power-up and climb out, watching for the Diamond who is going further North than I am on the crosswind leg (I always stay South of the Bletchingdon Road because this marks the Southern limit of D123 which is not Active today but it's a bad habit to get in to) so I am catching them up.
Slow right back to 80Kts to let them get away, then the next time I try it faster, with only 1 stage of flap and that seems more settled but on the 3rd time I go back to 2 stages and because we're slower we are more affected and the wind has picked up, I can't actually get it to settle at all: I get little skips and bounces.
I'm on the upwind side of the nice wide runway so I'm not bothered about hitting anything but it just feels really unsettled. The wind is coming over the hangars and the rotor effect is really unsettling the wing.
A quick check of the strength as we climb out and they are now giving 06018G22 so maybe it's time to abandon the unequal struggle and go in: the Diamond has.
On the last circuit I am alone, so I'll try for one last real good one but despite the normal "bit of wing down, lots of crab then gently straighten it at 4 feet" we're all over the place, the mains skittering across the surface and bouncing us back in to the air a few inches. Several skitters later we finally get both mains on, now it won't track straight and we wander all over the centreline before fnally it settles as I lose the flaps.
Thoroughly unnerved by the experience I am too fast turning at the end of the runway and get a squeal from the tyres: very unprofessional...
As I exit the aircraft the wind hits me: now I know why it was unsettled on landing. This is quite a gale.
Putting the cover on is a whole new level of difficult: I can get the prop end done OK and the sides draped across the struts but try as I might I can't get the roof section to lie flat across the top of the aircraft long enough to grab it from behind the wing - it keeps blowing back over the cowling. I imagine the guys in the Tower are having a good laugh at this idiot...
I only prevail by borrowing one of the belly straps and sliding it between the flap and the fuselage to hold it, then allow the wind to blow the loose end over to the windscreen, go round and clip the end of the roof section of the cover to the other end then go back around the rear of the wing and heave the now clipped section back over the wing against the wind so it can be velcroed and clipped against the sides. Gotcha!

The following day the country goes in to lockdown and "frivolous" activities such as GA are now verboten.....

Just as the GA lockdown is lifted the aircraft goes to Bournemouth for a long-overdue repaint, so time stretches.........

Many simulated ILSes in RANT and many delays later it's suddenly ready.
Bugger the weather, I'm going to pick it up.

Return to Life
The weather driving to Bournemouth is truly awful: driving rain and 200ft clouds. Is this a good idea for a first flight after lockdown? I haven't flown for 102 days so a little rust is inevitable, but an immediate climbing low level IMC transition (possibly in a turn) will be challenging.
I take 5 minutes to quietly think it through and make an honest appraisal of whether I think I can do it safely.
I actually think I can, being acutely aware of the potential loss of control issue. I have had my trial by fire with The Leans, I know what to feel for and the importance of disregarding the inner ear "feel" in favour of the AH, ASI and VSI.

By the time we arrive at the back of Bournemouth (via a track that could well be described as "off road") the rain is easing and the cloudbase lifting (a bit).
I phone ATC for a departure discussion: it's not going to be VFR all day so we can either file an IFR Flight Plan (never done one of those, I'm not even sure I'm allowed to?) or depart "Special VFR".
I've flown Special VFR before, but only to allow VFR access to The Channel Islands in the days when it was Class A. I have no idea what the rules are for a "Special VFR Departure" but they seem happy and I'm happy (maybe a bit nervous) to accept a clearance that will most certainly include me going IMC within their Control Zone as the clouds are 1200ft at best and won't actually clear enough for a "proper" VFR departure all day. I'm confident if I can get it off the runway visually we'll be fine, and we can then argue about whether I'm visual with the ground for the rest of the departure. It's certainly safer to be higher-but-IMC rather than scud running in to rising ground. Once I'm clear in to Class G I can do whatever I want and get a Deconfliction service from them, Solent or Farnborough.

Following any maintenance my big concern is that something has been assembled wrong so Steve and I double-check the control sense for all surfaces, ensure the throttle actually does what it's meant to and so on. The Alternate Air control is really stiff from lack of use, but gives a satisfying bump in the VSI and identical altimeter readings in and out.
An exhaustive pre-flight is followed by a long, gentle taxy to the Hold, where I am suddenly told I face a "very long" wait as they have traffic on the ILS.
So what? I'm not departing anywhere near the ILS, but apparently they have to have a clear zone for me to depart Special VFR so I don't conflict. I can hold a heading IMC you know?
The airfield is littered with BA and other airliners furloughed for the duration. It's apparently cheaper to park them here than anywhere else. Some of them I suspect will never fly for BA again.

Twenty minutes and several aircraft landing and doing low approaches later, the engine is thoroughly warm and power-checked; I'm actually not that bothered, I can do e-mails and WhatsApps and check the weather at Oxford (OK until 1:00pm and my alternate of Gloucester is clear, I have 5hrs duration so why worry?), I'm cleared on to the runway in the increasing rain and cleared for take-off.
Despite the long lay-off I think I can show them an accurate departure regardless of the conditions, which have cleared to 1200ft anyway.

I suspect I simply wasn't aware of what a difference having a highly polished aircraft makes. Despite having full fuel, by the time I've reached full throttle, checked Ts & Ps and speeds rising we're airborne. I do nothing, I don't even rotate. We just slip in to the air. Wow.

Push for 75Kts and by the end of the runway we're suddenly IMC so Rate 1 to the right, round to our planned 030 track and maintain climb to our cleared "not above 2,000ft". Good hand-flying IMC practise and I'm even getting better at that transition, I've got the A/P primed if things get tricky but no, we can do this. Concentrate on the scan, get the ball in the middle and why did I ever think this was beyond me?

Bournemouth Tower clears us for a swap to Radar and at Stoney Cross (according to SkyDemon that is, I haven't seen anything but grey since the end of the runway) they release us to Solent who are so quiet it's me and one other aircraft on frequency.
I state "climbing to 3,000ft" then climb further to 4,000ft to get on top as we cruise up towards Compton. What is strange (and it may just be me) is that a couple of times we suddenly get a lot of airframe whistle as if we were going terribly fast. We're not: my scan says we are settled in a cruise climb at 100Kts with wings level but the airframe says it's doing 150Kts. You could easily get disorientated without experience. It then stops as suddenly as it started.
At 4,000ft we are finally clear of the crud and it's actually quite pleasant up here. Farnborough are quiet too (just me and a Cirrus doing some VOR tracking around Compton on frequency).
Suddenly the ground (in the form of Greenham Common) appears and we are clear of the undercast so can descend VFR to 2500ft, below the Cirrus and the high level clouds.
2500ft seems very low and I suspect this is the long layoff talking. I am deliberately doing all the checks twice and not flying particularly fast to give me more time to think and respond to anything that occurs.

To keep in practice with the radio I tend to practise when I'm running in the mornings (the wife thinks I'm mad but it helps), that way the radio becomes second nature and one less thing to worry about.

Swap to Oxford Radar who ask us to report 5 miles South (this used to be 4 miles), then at 5 miles swap to Tower, get "No 3" for landing behind a Diamond which I just can't seem to see in the ground clutter.... ah, there he is. He is extending Downwind as they have a large flock of birds on the runway and have asked the Land Rover to go out and scare them off. We'll follow as there is no D129 today so we extend North, then when I see him turn we can turn Base Leg then long Final.
The aircraft seems reluctant to slow down (it's not just me being ham fisted): the paint is so smooth the speed doesn't want to come back. Finally I have to drop the throttle right off and trim back: only then does the speed creep back to our target of 85Kts.
He's doing a low approach and go round so we can continue our approach. Nicely set up on 2 red 2 white, stable approach, slow to 75Kts, flare at 70Kts and see if after 3 months I can remember how to land it.
Kick off the drift at 10 feet, roll the throttle off, eyes on the end of the runway, hold her off..... a little squeak and we're down, hold off a little more and the nosewheel touches gently, pop the flaps, maintain the centreline and roll to the end of the runway. Mmmmm, that feels good....

Back on Slot 1, let the engine idle for a few minutes then shut down, take some numbers and open the door. Blimey, it's really windy out here?

It feels really good to be back, exactly a year to the day since I flew out to North Eleuthera.
And the aircraft looks amazing.

Long Haul
I want to go to Earls Colne to get my 2 take offs and landings to a full stop required before I can take Nessa out, but the IT job I have been doing this morning has taken a lot longer than I had hoped, and I have to be back by 4:00pm for a Zoom meeting.
So we need a closer destination...... quick, what's the closest airfield? Enstone, of course!
Usually overlooked because it's literally on climb out from Oxford, I've flown a Tiger out of there but never been there in a C182.
A quick PPR and book out by mobile phone and we're off to preflight the aircraft. The weather has finally cleared but as I step out of the car I realise the wind is not as forecast, and it is in fact really blustery. This will, I am sure, show up any rustiness....

Plenty of fuel in the tanks so start up and taxy out, depart from 01 and it is pretty gusty and bumpy even though the ATIS and Tower are saying "8Kts". That's not 8Kts....
Climb out to the North, swap to Enstone and join Downwind right hand for 26. The wind is from the North East today, over the hangars and gusting, which makes the approach interesting. A lot of yoke movement, a lot of correction and just as we touch down a bit of a gust that tries hard to discombobulate. A lighter aircraft may have been in trouble, and the touchdown is a bit skittery but we're down and backtracking the hard, departing at Oxford Sport Flying and parking in the Visitor slot.
Enstone is an interesting airfield: much in the news because of a potential motoring museum currently working it's way through the Planning system, to be built on the South East corner of the current airfield. What they don't mention is that it will have very little affect upon the aviation use of the airfield. Why on earth anyone would object I don't know (apart from CPRE obviously, who simply object to any Planning Permission on principle...).
It is very friendly, keen to expand the numbers of visitors and based aircraft (I get the hard sell but with no ILS, no lights and not being open 6:30am to 10:30pm it's hard to justify). I must visit more often.

A very short taxy from my parking space and a blustery take off roll (short field, let's show them what a C182 can do) gets us back to the North of the airfield. Back to Oxford Radar, cross the outbound track well North but clear of D129 and head for the Downwind leg.
Now when I departed there were many aircraft in the circuit but it's now gone suspiciously quiet: I think the wind has picked up down at ground level. The Tower is giving 350 at 8Kts but the windsocks are stiffly out at right angles to the runway. It's another big crosswind day.
Much up and down and left and right on Right Base and Final, then we're over the threshold, eyes on the end of the runway and kick off the drift for a gentle arrival....
It's hard to know what happens next but we bounce the mains and the aircraft tips forward to bounce the nosewheel, then back again. I know what this is and where it leads: increasing oscillations and a bent firewall and/or prop strike. They call it "wheelbarrowing" and I have not done this for a very, very long time.
Instinct says "Go Around" so immediate full throttle (a satisfying bit of grunt that re-energises the wing), aim for the sky and trim for 75Kts, call "Going Around" and climb out clean.
Round the bumpy circuit again, a bit unnerved to be completely honest and back to the flare once more; this time a tad less speed and a lot less vertical speed. We'll accept a bit of lateral movement after kicking off the drift but we *will* grease it on this time. And we do, if a bit skittery on the mains but we're down firmly and I do feel more confident now.
Rust removal at its best.
Exit the plane via Coronavirus measures: non-water sanitiser wipes on all controls we have touched, working backwards out of the aircraft as we exit. This is 2020....

On the beach
With 3 landings to a full stop under my belt and my passenger carrying capability (and some of my confidence) restored I can take Nessa down to the beach.
It is the most beautiful day imaginable: if you're not flying today you've got a problem, but Oxford is surprisingly quiet. There is enough fuel to get us there and back so we fire up and taxy out. We are behind a Tecnam twin: call sign "Bio2" which I am guessing means it is running on Biodiesel as we depart on 01 which gives us a small tailwind component as the wind is 350 at 5Kts.
On a 1200m runway I dont think its going to be a big issue and in fact we are away in 200m or so, slicing up in to the blue.
It's quite bumpy today, which I hate wth passengers, but getting above the scattered fluffy bits would involve going above 4500ft where the Airway is here approaching Compton.
As Compton is on our track we will fly at a peculiar height to try to avoid any "looking at their VOR" tracking fiends watching their Zone of Confusion as they pass overhead, then we can change to Farnborough who are busy but manageable.
Tracking South above Odiham's stub we can descend for Lee on Solent. I'll do a listening squawk for Solent, oblivious (until someone on the radio mentions it) that they are in fact closed until 12:00.
I wonder how that would work? One could whizz about over downtown Southampton unimpeded.
Wish I'd thought of that.
Descending for Runway 23 we hear other traffic joining Downwind and rather than barge in front by joining Right Base we opt to go in behind them, but by the time we spot them they are literally just joining Downwind, so slot in behind then they faff about slowing down and turning Base Leg to the point that by the time we are on Final behind them and they stop on the runway we end up having to go round.
Wish I'd gone in front now...
On the second attempt the stars finally align and we plop on gently.

After a walk on the beach and a well-deserved ice cream we can fire up and taxy out, across the Active then all the way up to the far end via the meandering (and quite rough in places) taxyway, power check at the end then roll on runway 23 for a climb out over the Solent. Solent Radar are happy to talk to us this time (we seem to be the only traffic on frequency) and pass us to Farnborough who are also quiet.
As we approach Oxford Radar's area, our DME won't lock on. We have SkyDemon's DME so we know what we have left to run but the DME simply remains "--". I ask Oxford Radar if they have any known problems but they don't and a few minutes later it springs back to life (maybe they switched it on?), but we'll need to keep an eye on it going forward.
Descend for a Downwind Join for 19 and we actually get a decent arrival so maybe I'm getting my eye back in. It still takes a second to settle though, which makes me wonder if I'm landing it squiffy or there's something amiss with the undercarriage?

Limited opening Hours
The Coronavirus lockdown has had some strange effects: one of which is that Wellesbourne (my favourite landing practise ground) has gone down to limited opening hours. They are closing at 4:00pm, the Tower tell me, but the cafe is open until 5:00pm and I can pre-pay my landing fee by credit card. Weird, but at least we get to go. The difficulty of course is getting there by 5:00pm....
The plan is to take Alice's Golden Retriever Freddie out to see if he's OK ahead of any extended walkies outings that may happen in the future. Most dogs are just fine with noisy cars that work in 3D but a few don't like them, so if we have any issues we'll abort and come home quickly.
Cover removal, pre-flighting and taxying out just take so long we don't even depart until gone 4:30pm, departing North West via a right turn out. Kieran flies us towards Wellesbourne finding that it's almost impossible to turn and retain height or retain height and a straight course, or not to porpoise in 3D; something it's taken me 500 hours to learn!
Freddie couldn't care less about the aircraft, so long as a walk is in the offing at the far end...
Wellesbourne is deserted so, as discussed, we make blind calls for a downwind join for R18, turn Final and get blown about by the squirrely wind on short Final before it all smooths out at 10ft and we arrive neatly and firmly.

(I can't get no) decent landings, or the Mr Blobby school of arrival...
The cafe is firmly shut at 4:58pm as we arrive, the lady already locked up and waiting outside for her lift. No out of hours tea here, then, she is obviously working to rule....
Sadly, we have bypassed her by bringing choccy biccies and drinks so we can sit outside and have our tea free!
Back to the plane, check the oil and start up, taxy out of the deserted apron and up past the the taxy-worthy Vulcan (how the hell do they get that out of here if the airfield shuts?) and up to the Hold. All is good so "G-POWL taking runway 18 Wellesbourne" and we're off, at 500ft before the end of the runway and up over the trees.
Alice hasn't flown for ages so she settles down to some straight and level stuff, then a couple of very good Rate One orbits and flies us all the way to a right base join for 19 before I take over.
The approach is gusty, then starts to smooth out as we pass the threshold but at the last moment, just as we flare it floats (that 290 at 15Kts getting us), intermittent airframe whistle and a quick buzz of stall warner, we bounce a little....and bounce again.
No, this is not right. We're not wheelbarrowing but we're not settling either.
Big blast of power to re-energise the wing, stabilise at 10ft and flare again for a proper non-bouncy landing, this time with eyes on the end of the runway.
But why is this happening?
Being a landing perfectionist (as all pilots are, even if they don't admit it: you're only ever as good as your last landing) I am ashamed of that mess.
Squirrely wind, rain showers, crosswind on the demonstrated limits, a slight tailwind, all excuses.... it simply wasn't right. Not dangerous (although it could have been if I hadn't taken Action) but not right either.
Post-flight analysis reckons eyes not locked on the end of the runway, not enough wing down and not enough back trim to take the energy out of the wing. It's a work in progress...

Administrative stuff
Not much flyable summer this year: each day is different and worse for aviation. Finally we get a decent day: sunny with fluffy clouds and no massive crosswinds, so maybe I can get some circuits in and try to lay this stupid nonsense to bed. But Fate decides otherwise.
Oxford have decided to clear their main ramp of those pesky privately-owned GA machines so they can have a clean sweep of airliner-pilot trainee aircraft, all in matching logos (and presumably consecutive reg marks). We've been moved to behind the bike sheds, basically. I wonder if it's OK to smoke back there?
It's tight: there is a building behind the aircraft and no proper tiedowns so they have provided concrete tiedown blocks that are just heavy enough to be little bastards to lift but just light enough not to be able to hold a C182 down in a gale. We need some proper, rawlbolted recessed tiedowns, I have the kit to do it but I can't see Oxford Airport's management allowing it, or managing to organise doing it themselves this side of 2025..

It would be nice to go down to Membury and land. I haven't been to Membury before and it's reasonably close. But I have to be back by 11:00am as Steve and Willie are booked to go out to Gloucester. By the time I have found the aircraft, pre-flighted, discovered that there is insufficient fuel to get to Membury and back, taxyed to the pumps, struggled with the pumps, fuelled the aircraft, taxyed to the hold point, had a headphone battery failure and had to swap headphones for spares, there is insufficient time to land there, so I'll just fly down there, take a look and bimble around for a while.
Once airborne Oxford gleams in the sunshine and it's time to buzz our house then that of our IR(R) training friend (who will fly the plane later in the day) before cruising down to Wantage then over the hills low level to Lambourne from where we can see the Membury Mast, services and the airfield.
Watching a Tecnam taking off from the grass runway makes me think I should have landed, but it is strict PPR and I just don't have the time. So a circuit around, staying clear of the Tecnam and the ATZ before heading back North.
Time to throttle back and enjoy the scenery, play with the clouds then climb up on top to 4,000ft where it's smoother. By the time I reach Abingdon I feel more relaxed so it's back to the surprisingly busy Oxford circuit for a visual recovery. Stabilised on short final we should be able to grease this.... but no, we get a little bounce then settle. What am I doing wrong? No time for a re-match, so taxy in and meet the others at the aircraft. This needs a repeat session.

Cowboy stuff
It's Friday afternoon, early September and the office is quiet (at last), the weather is good and Nessa and I need tea. Membury and Chiltern Air Park look like possible candidates but neither has tea so both get crossed off the list.
But I haven't been to Popham since 2007, so now is a good time to reacquaint myself with them. No PPR so easy entry, and not too far to go. Poor Basil (left at home this time) will be crossing his legs otherwise.
Plenty of fuel in the tanks so we can fire up and taxy out, progressive taxy via Juliet and we're off to Charlie to wait for ages in a queue of 3. Oxford's insistence in landing any aircraft within 10 miles of the runway before allowing any take offs is quite frustrating, but at least we have thoroughly warmed the engine up and as our financial regime means we only pay for flying hours I don't care!
Finally cleared for take off we depart South in to slightly bumpy but good visibility conditions and transit at 2,500ft for Popham.
10 miles North clear the Farnborough Listening Squawk (they are so busy there's no point in trying to get a word in edgeways), swap frequencies, call and ask for airfield info. They are on runway 26 which has an angled approach. I've not flown this approach before and whilst I am aware of the sensitivities of the service station directly in front of the threshold it's only now I realise the other reason for the angled approach: the service station is on a damned great hill and runway 26 slopes down from it. I've actually lined up by mistake directly on the runway instead of coming in at angle, which is a bit stupid but recoverable: I'll simply fly round the hill whilst maintaining the approach angle, which is a bit unconventional but perfectly doable and should amuse them. The runway is 750m so I've got plenty of room to stop and if I'm not down in a sensible place I'll go around and have another go.
Ensuring the left wing doesn't actually go in to the trees on the hill that is exactly what we do: looks funny but actually works perfectly adequately and we line up on the runway, let it run out of slope and this time hold it off.... hold it off.. and touch gently. Positive braking and we're stopped in short order. Next time I think I'll follow the approved approach route and use all the flap but it was fine.
And we didn't bounce. Was it having a 2nd person on board?

It's all gone quiet
An hour and a cup of really good tea later we line up on the same runway, at the top of the hill, give it short field flap and roll. We're off at 55Kts in about 200m and at 500ft before the end of the runway, where we turn the approved 15deg North and then just keep on turning North.
Farnborough is unbelievably quiet: we're the only people on frequency. An hour ago they were talking about "controller workload", now it's so quiet I wonder if the radio is broken.
In these scenarios you wonder if there's something weather-related you missed in the TAFs or some NOTAM saying you're about to fly in to the Red Arrows but no, it's just quiet.
Swap back to Oxford Radar at Didcot and they're quiet too, but it's only 4:30pm. Where is everyone?
Join Downwind for R19 and we're number 2 to a Diamond that's just landing so this will be unhurried. Winds 250 at 11Kts so it might be a bit bumpy on short final but must...not...bounce....
And this time (perhaps buoyed by the good landing at Popham) we're on speed, on the centreline and a tiny squeak from the mains as we kiss the tarmac. Just the once.
Ah, so I can land it. Phew....
And I even manage the sharp turn to spin the aircraft round for parking without having to resort to the towbar. Grand stuff, so it's home to feed Basil and a couple of Bloody Mary's.

Spanish Warrior interlude
Ann has rented an apartment near Fuengirola for a year and we happen to be staying an hour away, East of Malaga. As she is there for so long she is investigating the possibility of doing some flying in the warm sun of Southern Spain and following a lot of delays and lack of communication the Real Aeroclub de Malaga have decided to let her, and myself, fly with them, if we can pass the checkout...
Axarquia Airport is worth exploring as it is one of the few GA destinations on the South coast of Spain (the other being Jerez, but that's a way away from Malaga): the Spanish are, on the whole too poor for GA and the land is rugged around here. Malaga "Costa del Sol" airport does not have aircraft to rent (and looks stupidly expensive to land at: one of the "Mandatory Handling" brigade, basically) and there isn't anything else close.
It is a small, dusty, hard to find but surprisingly well-equipped airport. The main runway is 959m long but R12 has a hugely displaced threshold, only allowing a usable 630m. There are vines off the end of the runway to the North West but not that close, and a hill making a low approach to the non-displaced section of the runway close to the ground, a bit like Shoreham, but it all seems a bit pointless.
Staggeringly, as they train airline pilots there on Diamond DA40s and the place was crawling with swarthy looking young Spaniards in full instructor gear, jerseys and all (phew: too hot for that...), the standard circuit calls are made (against all ICAO regulations), in Spanish! My Spanish is almost non-existent so we made up a quick Spanish circuit call cheat sheet the night before. But from what we both heard, they make completely non-standard, chatty, indecipherably-Spanish calls that don't even include "a favor del viento" (downwind), "arriba" (overhead) or "atterizaje" (landing"). God knows how anyone non-Spanish is expected to use the place.

We have an ulterior motive here: at some point a trip down from the UK by Whisky Lima would be quite a nice long-distance cross-country and if we are familiar with the destination it will help... As we can't travel long-haul at present due to the Coronavirus this might make an interesting distraction.
Oliver, our check out instructor, introduces me to the Piper Warrior 161 which feels very familiar. Minimal pre-flight checks, he just wants 3 circuits, so we start up and taxy out. He does the radio (with a hand mic and no heaphones!) which seems unnecessarily primitive, and I reckon this would be the main stumbling block. They want everyone to join overhead and do circuits to the SW, which is fine but if you join from the lake-to-the-North reporting point you're going to tie yourself in knots trying to do an Overhead Join - probably best to just join crosswind having done the descent to the North East (the Dead Side).
Backtrack R12, quick power checks and we're off with 1 stage of flaps, rotate at 65 then push for 75, climb to 1000ft for Downwind, no wobbly prop so it's just the bloody fuel pump to remember then BUMPFTCH (but no visible moisture so he reckons no need for Carb Heat. Hum: maybe) and round for the approach.
Bit bumpy coming down, mind the hill, mind the displaced threshold and find I'm fighting the aircraft a bit. The vines make for plenty of sink then suddenly you're over the hot displaced threshold and ballooning. Make a bit of a hash of the first one but the second one is better and by the third one he announces "Perfecto!" and we taxy in.
Is that it? Blimey: quickest checkout I've ever had.
We won't go flying this visit but I'll be back!

Sandown in the sun
A second national lockdown beckons but a sunny Sunday afternoon needs a trip to Sandown. I haven't been there for a while and I want to try their new all-weather surface.
We now have the plane in a location where access at the weekends is very easy: we can park the car outside the EADS hangar and go through the side gate. I'd get shot for parking there during the week but no one cares on a Sunday...
As Sandown is not PPR I am not in any great hurry and there's plenty of fuel in the tanks so soon we are booked out, started up and taxying out for R01, watching the oil temperature coming up and enjoying the gentle rhythm of the checklists. Cleared for take off I'm keen to try a climb out nailed on 75Kts: usually I relax the back pressure and let the speed rise to 85Kts to get me further away from the stall if it's gusty but it's interesting that if you pull and trim it to 75Kts on the climb out you hit circuit height remarkably quickly: almost before turning crosswind.
Climbing South to 2,500ft over Oxford we settle in to cruise mode: 23.5" throttle, 2,350rpm, trim it forwards and the speed builds to 135Kts IAS, lean it 14gph and the EGTs settle at about 360-380deg. Pretty much on book values for a C182.
Swap to Farnborough whio are normally wall-to-wall on a sunny Sunday but are surprisingly quiet today, so I will talk to them instead of just getting a Listening Squawk. Odiham is inactive today so need for a MATZ Penetration, but they advise we are headed in to an area of intense activity, so we need to ensure eyes out front: there are gliders out there I can see but its the ones you can't see that worry me. Air-to-air collisions are rare but often fatal and we are soon to have a SkyEcho2 fitted that will massively improve our Electronic Conspicuity (EC): we'll be able to see the little buggers via FLARM.
Just South of Newbury I realise we can see the coast: visibility is really very good today so we stay clear of the bases of the clouds and within a few minutes are signing off Farnborough and on to a Listening Squawk for a very quiet Solent then as cross the coast over Portsmouth switch to the maelstrom of traffic that is Sandown on a sunny afternoon........... nope, no other traffic.
Where is everyone?

Join Downwind for R05, descend neatly on Base leg then manage to not turn early enough for Final, sweep wildly out to the East and struggle to correct, finally achieving a stable approach on short final. It's hard to work out whether to land on the hard or the grass next to it so I opt for the hard and here's the fun bit: the damn runway is downhill all the way. I remember this now, as I float and float and float (last time I came in on R23), eventually touching down just at the end of the hard. Fortunately the C182 stops pretty damned quick once it's on grass and we are able to take the last but one exit up the taxyway for a well-deserved cup of tea from the socially-distanced cafe.

Take the long way home
I can go straight home from here but where's the fun in that? The clouds have dispersed and the sky is washed clean by the recent rain. I watch an arthritic PA28 take all of the hard runway and most of the rest of the grass runway to ease in to the air, obviously heavily laden and for some reason with no flaps, and barely clear the tree line to the North. As he approaches the tree line I can see him raise the nose in panic - will he crash? But fortunately the PA28 responds and slowly climbs out Northbound. Phew....
When my turn comes I think I can do better. Half tanks one-up in a C182, short field take off gives me lift off long before the end of the hard runway and I'm at 500ft before the tree line. That's how to take off...
Turning out over the South coast of the Isle of Wight the light to the North is fantastic. Bournemouth give me a Basic Service and offer another aircraft a run up the coast which is an offer I think we might take up. They say it's a Zone Transit but we all know it's outside their Zone and I need no permission to route Hengisbury Head and down the front but let's be nice. Apart from me, one other and a VOR/DME training flight they are quiet, so we ease over to Swanage to see the cruise liners in the bay and turn North for the run up past Compton Abbas, swapping to an even quieter London Info.
The visibility is so good we can see Portsmouth in one direction and the old Severn Bridge in the other. Rarely is it this good.

Past Keevil (watch for gliders) and around the Salisbury Plain corner we can head North for an inspection of the Oaksey Park and Charlton Park runways, ripe for future visits.
I can see a C172 alongside me and roughly parallel. We're both in the cruise but I'm going a lot faster than him: he's doing about 110-120Kts and I'm doing 135Kts. He slides backwards, it's like being in the fast lane. And there is Kemble, with a couple of BA 747s parked ready to be scrapped. I've probably been in the back of a couple of those many years ago on the North Atlantic run....
We need to be above 2700ft for an equestrian event north of Kemble (I do read the NOTAMs) so climb to 3,000ft and pick out the North Leach roundabout as a VRP ahead, turn East, mind Little Rissington and swap to Oxford Radar. I'd told them I'd be back at 5:30pm and it looks like I'll be right on time.
New on the chart is a Kingstanding runway: this is a 480m grass strip created to allow restored warbirds to fly from a hangar located at the end of the runway. I know rather more about this than meets the eye as I did the data provision for the hangar. Should be interesting in years to come and of course I'll be aiming to visit.
Just North of it is another more private strip I'm hoping to visit as I know the owner. Coronavirus-permitting, watch this space...
Oxford are on R01 so we'll join Left Base, orbit once for spacing from a PA28 ahead and as he is not yet clear slow right down, turn Final, get the speed right back, flare, hold it off.....hold it off.... rumble of the wheels speeding up but no perceptible landing at all so maybe that's one of the really good ones pulled out of the mixed bag of landings every pilot gets to make up for all the bouncing earlier in the year....

Questions Questions Questions
I'm a huge believer in the "get them while they're young" school of aviation inspiration. Today my friend Barney is bringing his boys Reid and Finn for a whizz. We'll go over their house and up to Wellesbourne for a crew change.
I've already pre-flighted and got the bowser to fill up with fuel, which in itself is an interesting exercise: I don't know how old the boys are or what they weigh so I have to assume they are both rugby-playing 15-16 year olds, add in Barney's weight and run the W&B. An additional 40L per side means at worst we'll be MAUW on take-off; anything less than that and we'll be erring on the right side but will have plenty of fuel for a couple of legs and some reserves.
It turns out they are considerably smaller than that so we'll have no issues.
I've forgotten just how many questions small boys ask: some sensible and some downright weird. I want to give a considered and accurate response to each of them but risk standing by the plane all afternoon! The questions continue as we don ANR headphones, start up and taxy. Lots of questions about the ANR to which eventually I have to say "try switching the ANR on then off again to understand the difference". Then they get it.
Oxford surprise me by without warning giving me the full departure clearance at the Juliet hold, before we've even properly begun taxying. A good short term memory test and no clearances I didn't expect but with the cacophony in the back certainly unexpected extra workload...
It's not that nice a day but with lots of cloud it's not thermally and we can depart over Woodstock. I always do a noise abatement throttle-down and prop-down at 800ft then turn at 1000ft but having done that Tower admonish me for turning below 1000ft. I'm not quite sure how they can tell from there but it was 1000ft QNH so 700ft AGL, maybe they wanted 1000ft AGL?
Depart to the North West avoiding Enstone's ATZ and well above their approach path we clear for some general handling: Barney like most first-time pilots can hold a heading or a height but not both at the same time. It's an acquired skill I kind of take for granted but if you're not used to it very disconcerting - you keep thinking the aircraft is getting away from you.
We orbit over his house near Hook Norton then head for Wellesbourne and here we make a bit of an error, it must be said. They are giving runway 18 right hand circuit and we are joining from the South. Viz is not all that good and a bank of low cloud is just off to the West. I descend to 1000ft as per the circuit height and see a Cessna 172 climbing out, obviously having just departed. As he is climbing above circuit height I assume he is leaving the circuit so pass carefully under him and immediately call early Downwind (yes, I should have called earlier to announce "manoeuvring for Downwind"). He then immediately calls Downwind and says he can see us below him which prompts the Tower to admonish me for not calling earlier. So everyone is slightly to blame: the C172 shouldn't have ballooned his circuit (but this is easy to do) and I should have called earlier. No harm done, but my Bad.
As the viz is not too great here I elect to keep the airfield in sight and turn Base early, turn Final and find myself still quite high over the threshold, but there's plenty of runway here (long enough for a Vulcan) so a gentle let down and we're on smoothly and braking for the exit, taxy in and park on the grass.
An interesting wrinkle here now is that rather than take your Coronavirus-risky body in to the Tower to book in you pay over the phone using your debit card. The Tower is pretty harassed doing the normal Tower-type stuff as well as taking payment...

Guy wires
More questions later we swap so Reid can fly (Finnn says he doesn't want to and actually he's too small to see over the front anyway), boost him up on a couple of cushions and fire up for departure. As the ground is quite wet it requires a really good burst of throttle to get us moving; I'm always amazed at how much the aircraft digs in to the grass when parked.
Once on to the tarmac taxyway we head up past the Vulcan (many, many questions relating to that), power check and depart South. The low cloud bank sitting just to the West of the airfield is stationary; I was expecting it to drift over but no, we're fine. Swap back to Oxford and explain that we're going to track East past Banbury then down to Beckley for some pictures.
Reid flies us tidily over to Banbury as we all keep a good eye out for gliders near Shenington/Edge Hill and I keep an ear out for Instrument traffic for R19 on the radio, then we skirt around Bicester (still not quite sure what the big row is about the glider clubs there) and Brill windmill comes in to sight.
Beckley mast serves Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire with radio and TV, is 544ft high and has guy wires. Whilst the main mast is pretty visible and thus avoidable I am concerned about the spread of the guy wires and whether they are visible. I plan to remain to the North of the mast by half a mile at all times and make all turns to the North away from the mast. Setting up an E-W racetrack just South of Beckley I can see the guy wires and we are well clear, there is no wind to drift me in to the mast and we do a couple of photo runs over the village at 800ft or so before clearing to the North and requesting joining instructions from Oxford Radar.
They swap me to Tower who ask me to orbit which is difficult as I am trapped between Beckley and the Otmoor Bird Sanctuary which I'm not allowed to overfly below 2000ft. I'm at about 1800ft so just manage to fit in a tight orbit before Tower releases me for Downwind R19 which rapidly becomes "Join Left Base for R19" so we descend to 1500ft, pre-landing checks and turn Final; stable approach, keep the speed under control and we plop on tidily. Imagine the embarrassment if I'd banged it on...

Aluminium overcast
It's the day before the 2nd Lockdown and the weather is predictably fantastic, so the plane is booked - let's go to Earls Colne. I've not been there before, and it looks friendly and far enough away.
We have a new Electronic Conspicuity box: a SkyEcho2 stuck to the P2 side of the windscreen. It appears dead at present. We're late because of overrunning work commitments, and I want to get going. Oxford is so busy today they have reinstated the Ground frequency to handle ground movements, I haven't heard this for many years.
The plane is now hangared for the winter and Ann has flown it this morning so it's warm and full of fuel, and the preflight is quick but Oh my God the radio is so busy: taxying out we join the queue for departure and we've really got to be quick, there must be 50 aircraft on frequency. They are feeding aircraft to both ends of the runway and by the time we are ready to depart we are cleared only to backtrack 01 then turn and report ready. Never done this before......
Departing to the East Tower is hugely busy and quickly pushes us off to Radar who are equally busy. The entire GA community plus every bizjet in the country is flying this afternoon.
Let's try the SkyEcho. Ah, it's run out of battery. Brilliant. Who broke the 12V socket?
Fortunately I have brought a power bar and once we've found the power lead in the glove box we can get it lit.
It takes forever to get a GPS signal for some reason, both of our SkyDemons (once connected to the WiFi) telling us it has yet to get a Fix but once it has the traffic duly begins to appear and... ah, it's pretty busy. I have yet to subscribe to FLARM in Skydemon which will show me gliders but even with powered aircraft the returns are immediate: one is coming our way 500ft below us....
Avoiding Action taken, Bloody Hell I'm glad we've got this gadget.
Oh shit, here comes another one and he's not on the display. That was 100ft or less, I'm not happy about this.
Swapping to Farnborough North is, unbelievably, even worse. They are so busy it takes us from Wendover to Watford to get a word in edgeways and even ask for a Basic Service. "Reduced service due Controller Workload", apparently. Not bloody surprised, everybody is out making a last dash pre-lockdown.
The gap between Stapleford and North Weald is predictably the busiest and we are all eyes as we fly through at 2250ft but once to the North East and on a Stansted Listening Squawk the skies become completely clear and amazingly North Weald is not that busy. Ask for and get a Downwind Join for runway 24, lie about having read the noise abatement stuff but I have SkyDemon showing me where not to fly over so I follow the dotted line to the inch for Base and Final. As we turn Final the sun is full in my face: this will be interesting.
It's unclear whether the narrow black strip to the left of runway 24 is actually a taxiway or a very narrow hard runway so we'll opt for the grass, flare as we pass the trees and drop neatly on to the surprisingly noisy grass runway, squinting in to the sun. I reckon they've got mesh or something under this grass.
Taxy off the end on to the tarmac and park up on the non-mesh grass. Ooh, the aircraft has really sunk in here.
They are glad to see us, very friendly and the snack wagon, just about to close, relents and gives us tea and a Twix. Apparently they're about to swap ends due to the sun and I reckon that's a good idea, there's no wind at all today.
Coming back from the loo I spot an Instructor confusing yet another IMC Student with a flip chart diagram of "How to do Holds", calculating "20 degrees off here, add it back here but only if the moon is in the third quarter and it's a Wednesday...."
The poor bloke will tie himself up in mathematical knots and finally realise, long after he's passed, that a) in real life you'll never do one without a GPS to help you, b) you don't do Holds on the IMC Skills Test (!), c) you can't do mental maths like that while flying in a bumpy cloud unless you're an Instructor with 5,000 hours and d) the Hold area is sized for business jets doing 3x your speed, no one cares if you're a bit out on the outbound leg so long as you can hit the beacon somewhere around the 4 minute mark.

Reduced Viz
Start up and it really does take a burst of pretty much full power to get the mains out of the ruts. Sorry for the mess...
Back up the tarmac taxyway and on to the magic narrow road (I can't even describe it as being wide enough for a taxyway) past the Hold.
The PA28 ahead simply uses it to take off so it must be the world's narrowest runway: no markings, probably not even officially classified as a runway but if he can then I can so we roll, hold the approximate centre (there are no markings) and we're off Short Field in about 200m before we can drift in to the weeds and climbing out, sharp right turn to abate the noise and climb clear, swap to London Info and head for Ipswich.
This is the time of year when light is at a premium - the shadows are already starting to get long across the fields and it's only 4:00. By the time we are out past Beccles heading for the Wash we can see that to the North of us a bank of cloud is rolling in off the North Sea so a quick decision is made: we'll forgo the wonders of the North Norfolk coast and turn back for Oxford cross-country. The bank is still slightly to our North but comes over as we turn West: scattered at 2,500ft but thickening. The worry on days like this is always unforecast fog and I suspect the viz over North Norfolk would be bad enough to make it not very interesting. Another day, maybe.
The sun sinks lower as we head west: past the small piece of America in a foreign field that is "RAF" (USAF) Mildenhall and Lakenheath: KC135 tankers, Ospreys and F-15s operate here, but it all seems quiet today. South is RAF Wattisham, full of Apache helicopters, so it's "keep your eyes open" time again but the SkyEcho remains blank. I have no idea if the military transmit ADS-B.
Past Cambridge the clouds recede and it's going to be a lovely evening here. In the far distance we can see Cranfield's runway lights - we are well above the ILS here and well off to the North, then with 25 to run we swap to Oxford Radar. It's past sunset and things have finally quietened down but we are no 2 to a PA31 who I assume is a CAE based aircraft but surprisingly does not appear on the SkyEcho. We slow right down but it's not enough so a leisurely left hand orbit and we join Right Base for 01 behind him, slide down for a gentle flare and... thump it on. What the Hell was that? I think it wasn't quite straight when I touched. How annoying, I was doing so well. But at least no bounce....
Irritatingly that touchdown was 28 minutes past sunset so doesn't quite qualify as a Night landing but was in all but name. This holds no real fears for me now but I can remember rushing home before sunset when I was first flying. Those days are long gone.
We don't really have to put the aircraft away now, we just leave it by the hangar and nonchalantly wander off. How posh is that?

Both Medical and SEP Renewal have been postponed due to the COVID but a few days later I do get a new Medical and with 560 hours I am now apparently in the top 20% of GA pilots. I suppose I ought to start acting responsibly...

COVID has forced the CAA to extend our Single Engine Piston (SEP) Ratings beyond the normal 2 years but only until 22nd November; if I am to avoid having to take another Skills Test I will need to fly an hour with an Instructor during Lockdown2.
The Lockdown2 rules from the DfT are that recreational flights are discouraged, but the engine needs exercising weekly and that is allowed so we have some leeway and have together as a group assigned weeks to everyone for exercise. This is not my week however, so I suppose to an extent I am bending the rules a little, but it is training so I would argue exempt.
For the first time I call Ops and ask that the aircraft be "made ready with full tanks for 1:00"; I feel really guilty about getting other people to do the menial stuff but it is so nice to turn up at the new hangar right next to the car park and find the aircraft with no cover and full tanks right ready for the "A" check. There: I've just knocked 10 minutes off my "home to sky" time. I'm loving this!
"A" check dealt with, Charlie arrives just as I finish. The forecast strong crosswind has died down and it's cold and a little breezy but otherwise a perfect flying day.
Circuits are in short supply as they are busy so we will depart for some upper air work over Chipping Norton. As we line-up Charlie suggests a soft-field take-off, something I've not done as a distinct technique before.
It differs from a standard short-field take-off in that with 2 stages of flaps once lined-up against the back fence and standing on the brakes you apply 1700rpm, pull the yoke back in to your stomach, push the throttle all the way open and release the brakes. The awesome power of the C182 will immediately by itself yank the nosewheel out of the mud thereby removing your most draggy component from the take-off run, drastically reducing the amount of time (and thus distance) you spend on the ground staring at the approaching trees in growing terror....
At around 40Kts at about 100m (and long before the ASI moves) the aircraft simply takes off. The stall warner immediately blares and unchecked you will simply settle back on tail-first (yuk!) but if you pitch hard forward so you can see the end of the runway the aircraft will fly in ground effect with zero mud drag and immediately start to climb out over (or around) those beckoning trees which will be cheated their feast of C182 paint today. I have no idea what sort of speed this is at because I am flying by feel but when I next look we are accelerating through 55kts so we must have been off the bottom of the ASI scale for the whole intense procedure. Wow....
I'm beginning to really appreciate the huge power in relation to its size a C182 has: 2-up even with full tanks it's a bit of a beast.
We depart to the North West, set up in the cruise and Charlie asks what I'd like to do today? I do have a few goals: some short-field stuff and to learn how to sideslip properly. But first (inevitably, I suppose...) Charlie pulls the power and says "your engine just failed...".
The biggest field a way away and in to wind looks smooth, long and achievable so we keep it in sight, once we know we can make it and it looks long we can start bringing in some flap, look up.... and it's a glider field. Hah, that was a bit of luck. Throw it away at 500ft and climb sharply away to avoid traffic and cables. Charlie reckons I should pick the field immediately after the "Trim for 75 best glide" and before trying to restart the engine and tell the Tower which is probably good advice. He would probably have added "and don't for Gods sake change your mind at the last minute" which is exactly what I did when I did my real forced landing.....
Next we try some stalls and to make it interesting Charlie suggests a stall in a Downwind to Base turn so we'll whack in some flaps and reduce to 85Kts, pull on some turn and keep pulling all the way to the stall. Much airframe whistle and a lot of pulling later it finally, reluctantly stalls but a good bunt away and some power restores normal equilibrium with a 50ft height loss: Charlie is keen we roll level at that point but in reality I'd probably continue the turn but not pull as hard, which in fact we do later on...
And so to sideslipping: line up on a muddy field, set up for a 1000ft Downwind leg, roll Base then Final, with full flaps and 60Kts but we're too high. We've already used up all the flaps and need something we can switch on quickly and then off again to kill the excess height without gaining speed.
Full right rudder (really push it over) and hold it, then counteract the roll with aileron, keeping the aircraft level and looking out of the side window at the muddy field. The VSI goes off the clock and we drop out of the sky as the approach picture comes good once more, ease it all off and we're perfectly placed for a short field landing. Ooh, that's really useful. It feels like we're drifting a rear-wheel drive car with the tyres smoking, but without the noises and the smell of sacrificial rubber. To my generation this recalls "The Sweeney" in London's Docklands before they knocked it all down but to a younger generation maybe "Fast and Furious" or "Baby Driver" is appropriate. I cannot resist a "Yee Hah!"; this is cowboy stuff...
That would have been really useful on my Checkout in Florida, yet another useful technique for the toolbox.
I'd like at some point to do some spinning but the C182 is not cleared for intentional spinning. Maybe in another aircraft, just to get the feel...
So we head back: Oxford is on R01 and we will request a Touch 'n Go. Joining Left Base we can see a Seneca coming in through the Brize Zone presumably for an IFR approach: he's not going that fast so we'll roll in to a left hand orbit. Concentrating on the Seneca and the entry in to the orbit I let the speed get quite slow: we're on 2 stages of flap so we're not really in a great deal of danger but by the time I notice and push away we're down to 65Kts. This time I simply loosen the turn and put on some power, the airframe whistle is a great early warning sign and we had at least 10Kts in hand there, but Charlie is right: this is exactly where things can go wrong.....
Turning Final we get our requested Touch 'n Go so pull full flap, slow to 65Kts, 60Kts over the threshold, a good pull as we roll the power off, hold it, airframe whistle and...... buzzzzzbump. Stalled it neatly on and with a modicum of braking we'd have been stopped in a few meters.
Lose the final stage as we accelerate, maintain the centreline and we're back in the air in 100m or so and climbing out. One more orbit for spacing to avoid a PA28 on Base leg and we're back for a second short-field approach. Charlie is pretty silent so we must be doing about right. Buzzzzzbump again so that was OK, maintain the speed as we roll the remaining 1Km to the exit and it looks like I've finally stopped bouncing it...
All signed-up and I'm let loose upon the unsuspecting UK Airspace for another two years. The COVID vaccine cannot come soon enough.

Slip sliding away...
Now we're all posh and keep the plane in a serviced hangar we just send an e-mail the previous afternoon asking for the aircraft to be "made ready" for the following day, and not only do they get it out and fill it up with fuel but they book you out too! This is luxury: no more taxying to the pumps, no more wrestling with the cover on a windy day or de-icing.
Due to the (massive) new building works at the far end of the hangars the old car park has been dug-up and we have been moved outside the security gate, a solution no doubt intended to make life more difficult for GA pilots but actually it drastically shortens the walk as we can use a closer gate and and is much more convenient. But don't tell them, they'll move us back to the building site...

Charlie gave me a good tip a couple of weeks ago: on cold mornings like this keep the Cowl Flaps closed whilst taxying and the engine will warm up much more quickly. Obviously open them before take off.

We depart for Compton Abbas in light winds amidst scattered fluffy clouds: getting on top of them at 2,800ft means a nice smooth ride and we pass through Farnborough's Area before swapping to Bsocombe Down (no answer).
Half way down we work out that if for any reason you can’t get SkyDemon on your iPad to work with the SkyEcho even though it says it’s connected to the WiFi turn your WiFi off then back on again.
Swap to London Info briefly before Compton Abbas, who have no other traffic (blimey, there's a first) so we can do a straight-in for 26. As usual, I really struggle to identify the runway in the hills from the East but this time I have nailed the approach path in SkyDemon and, more importantly, slowed down.
The winds up here in the hills are strong: 18Kts gusting from the North West and we're crabbed quite far over and getting roll-over from the trees. The Tower requests that we land to the right of the centre line and use no brakes to protect the muddy grass: on previous form given my propensity to land long I might have to abort....
But Charlie's help makes it easy: full flaps, slow down and trust the C182 wing, despite the gusty conditions giving us airframe whistle and the odd stall warner chirp we flare over the numbers and with a couple of hops and skips we're down and slowing, using only about a third of the runway. As we power-up to taxy off the side I can feel the aircraft sliding around. I can't quite work out whether this is wet grass or mud but it certainly keeps the feet busy as we park up.

It turns out we are their first visitor for 3 days: I didn't think things were that quiet?
After a socially-distanced Latte and mince pie we're ready to depart. Plenty of power to unstick the wheels (I love not having spats) and we're sliding around up to the Hold point for R26 and watching a Chipmunk give a Master Class in short field landing technique: he flares at virtually zero feet and virtually zero speed before the numbers, planting the mains gently on the little concrete lumps. I'm humbled, especially as it's a taildragger and there is a considerable crosswind component to those gusts, given as 22Kts.
Now is my chance to try Charlie's soft field takeoff technique: start at the absolute beginning of the runway, yoke fully back and go full power. As before, the engine and nosewheel lifts straight off the ground like at one of those monster truckfests and we accelerate like we're on tarmac, not mud. Almost immediately the wing starts to fly and we start to skip so I let it come off, hear the airframe whistle and push hard forward in to ground effect. We're off in what SkyDemon later tells me is around 300m so clearly that works better than the techniques used by the various PA28s we have been watching from the cafe struggling to lift themselves from the mud.

Climbing out via the official Compton Abbas noise abatement route to the North West we pass to the West of The Park glider airfield and they are gliding today. Now I have the SkyDemon FLARM subscription the SkyEcho tells us all about the gliders which is impressive if a little scary: we can see two but there are about a dozen within 2 miles. Definitely worth having, I love this Electronic Conspicuity stuff.

We return North and North East towards Oxford through a few fluffy clouds and scrubbed-clean skies. Oxford for once appears quiet as we approach, then having reported Downwind they ask us if we can do an early turn to get in ahead of a PA28 who is closing Right Base and a jet on the Procedure for the ILS.
Of course we can: early turn on to Base before the quarry, maintain 85Kts all the way to Final, turn Final and drop the last flaps, stabilise the approach and all this finally results in my first absolutely textbook crosswind landing ever: flare over the upwind side of the runway, unwind the crab a couple of feet above the tarmac, pull on a little into-wind aileron to reduce the sideways slide and we touch smoothly on the centreline, deft footwork to keep it there, hold the into-wind aileron as you lose the flaps then maintain the speed because the PA28 has been given a land after behind me followed by a jet on the ILS calling 4 miles, leave the runway and SPLAT check before taxying in. Very satisfying....

And thus ends 2020: Tier 4 Lockdown and a threatened full Lockdown, so that will be back to essential maintenance (both aircraft and pilot) flights only. I've had the vaccine so by the end of January my risk will be reduced but what of other people....?