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.
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 outisde 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 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
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 harrassed 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: frivolous activities such as GA are now verboten.....