The Ballards - Whiskey Lima 2020







 

Right seat ILS
The weather just won't relent: we keep booking engine test flights and the fog just keeps coming down again, even when it's forecast to be clear. But finally a short window of a couple of hours of barely flyable weather appears, so we'll go for it.
The weather reports still say 4Km Viz in Fog when I leave to go to the airfield but it is clearing and as I drive in the reports update to MVFR: Marginal VFR flight possible. I am happy to fly an ILS to get back but this bloody fog reached all the way down to ground level and I'm nervous about being caught out by it. Alternates are Brize and Gloucester: both have good weather, so we'll fly.
Ann is P1 today as it's her Engine Maintenance week: we're both vaccinated and have had Negative tests in the last 24 hours so being in the same plane is a very low risk, but we'll leave the plane sanitised anyway.

Surprisingly they have opened the hangar but haven't pulled the plane out, so we'll have to do it. Pop the tow bar on and pull; having a wing walker on each side demonstrates its value as we nearly hit and decapitate another aircraft's winglet. Push back, turn and pull; this time we're clear and we emerge symbolically in to the light of 2021. Phil and Charlie have been polishing the outside and it gleams; I'm sure it goes faster when it's clean? Along comes the bowser and pours 178L of AvGas in to the wing tanks.

Oxford is incredibly quiet today. We are one of only 3 aircraft flying: a PC-12 on the ILS, a PA28-140 doing circuits with a 12-year old female pilot (or at least that's how she sounds...) and us.

My original plan was South to Compton VOR for some practise then West to Kemble, North towards Little Rissington and back to Oxford. But now we're here we find two things: they are using R19 so we can use the ILS to come back in from the North, and it's still really misty to the South (the weather is clearing from the North West) so instead we will go North East to the Daventry VOR then SW towards Little Rissington then cut back to Banbury for the ILS.

Ann departs neatly and we do a circuit and Touch and Go before departing. Our flight plan (now installed in the 430W) has us departing 030deg so I would have left via the Downwind leg of the circuit but Ann chooses to do a right turn outbound, nearly over Blenheim Palace before turning North through the ILS track (always bad form); never mind. Clouds are overcast at 1600ft so we'll remain below them.

The issue (we find later) is that she can't hear me properly because she's got the volume on her ANR box turned right down. Because she's fixated on that she loses situational awareness and takes most of the Daventry leg to get on the right track inbound to the VOR. By the time we are locked on to that we are only a couple of miles from the beacon and too late to do a pre-emptive sharp turn to 228deg outbound for Little Rissington, even though the ever-patient 430W has been giving use a "turn now" countdown (I love that). At 1 mile from the beacon we get a Rate 3 turn (we are visual, though) and not only blow through the 228deg outbound leg but get back on the leg back to Oxford. Huh?

Eventually we get settled on the right leg and abandon all this serious stuff for some fun: I've been compiling a chart of standard throttle settings for 1 and 2 PoB for straight and level and 528ft/min descents, 100Kts no flaps and 1 stage of flaps for ILS approaches and descents. This completes my chart and will reduce single-pilot IMC workload in Procedures, always a good thing. Then I get to fly it for a bit around the cloudy Cotswolds.

There is no one else around so we'll shoot the ILS. Load and activate the procedure on the 430W, tune NAV2 (I prefer that instrument layout - the NAV1 instrument will, however soon be gone in favour of a couple of G5s. Yippee!) and let's see if I can do a right-seat ILS. You never know when you'll need to do one in anger.
The ILS instrument in this aircraft is very sensitive even at long ranges and simply doesn't move at all until you're 10ft from the Localiser, then it shoots across like a madman; you have to pre-empt it a bit and use the 430W's map to see how close you are.
Suddenly it springs in to life and my 30deg cut has worked: swing it on to 195 and we're within 1 dot. A couple of minor adjustments and even with the parallax from the right seat we are sitting pretty with 10 miles to run. We can actually see the PAPIs from here (all red of course because we are under the glideslope here, it extends above us and you always capture it from below) but not the runway lights (which it transpires aren't on), but we can just let go completely and watch the glideslope come down, reduce the throttle to the prescribed amount for the descent and monitor it. Lovely.
At 4 miles I give it back to Ann to land and watch the picture at 800ft QNH (DA). If you can't see the runway lights at all from there you've got thick fog and/or heavy rain, and a really big problem.
As an aside, I was checking out the approach in to Vagar in the Faroes last night. This part of the Instrument approach to runway 30 is *curved* with 1000ft cliffs to both sides. I pray I never have to do an ILS in to there...

As we put the aircraft away the fog starts to come down again. When will we ever fly again?





Snow!
The fog has been replaced by bitter, bitter cold and whirling snow, the freezing level is on the deck and we are not certified for FIKI so need to limit cloud flying.
We're allowed to fly the aircraft once a week as per Continental's maintenance recommendations: minimum 30 minutes at cruise speed. So as there are 6 of use we each get to fly once every 6 weeks. Barely enough to retain skills but better than nothing...
Today is sunny spells and whirling snow flurries but is remaining clear enough to fly. Thick jersey plus coat, scarf and gloves means I'm toasty even in the NE wind howling between the hangars.
Pull the engine through a few times to try to ease the load on the starter motor then prime, wait, crank and Bloody Hell, it catches first time. With the Steve Patented push-the-primer-keep-the-engine-alive method we're soon fast idling nicely and the temperature is coming off the bottom stop.
Keep the cowl flaps closed as we taxy out past all the earthworks (looks like new taxyways for the GA grass parking), turn in to wind and run a fast idle for a while to get the oil temperature up. OAT is -5 deg so this takes a few minutes, then suddenly shoots up: looks like we're ready for power-checks.
Depart a few minutes late for a run around the Brize Zone: depart the circuit to the South and immediately in to broken snow shower clouds: good IMC hand-flying practise and although we don't see much of Oxford I think I'll leave the A/P off and use the 430W to drive the HSI then follow that manually. A bit wobbly at first but soon we're locked on to the DI with a 5 deg wind offset and headed for Compton.
The 430W has us turn West before the beacon (I love the countdown) and we roll out through the broken clouds which then clear as we head further West.
But what's this? My Brize Listening Squawk needs to be upgraded as SkyDemon tells me Fairford is Active, which was not on the NOTAMs this morning. Call up Brize and ask them: no they say, the MATZ is cold so if we do mid-air with a B52 or U2 it won't be my fault. But worth checking.
Turn before Kemble, and a fair number of SkyEcho contacts come up so I'm not entirely the only person out here in a toasty warm cabin enjoying the sunshine on top. What is interesting is that I never see the other aircraft, even though I'm looking. Quite scary, but I love this Electronic Conspicuity...
At Moreton in the Marsh we turn South East, swap back to Oxford and spiral down in a hole through the snowy gunk (looking for airframe ice but it's too cold) to the grey base at 1,500ft over the Cotswolds before swapping to Tower and reporting Left Base for 01, let the aircraft ahead on Final for a low approach get ahead, slow over the woods near the A44 and drop on; bit of a clunk, maybe not the perfection we all strive for but as it's my first landing since December maybe I shouldn't beat myself up.
Very impressive looking earthworks for the new hangar at B3, looking at the video that will be business jet heaven when they eventually release us from lockdown!
Shut the aircraft down: very reluctant to exit the nice warm cockpit for the icy, draughty outside. And of course I manage to forget to put the control lock and pitot cover back on. Not too much of an issue as we're in a hangar but of course I had to forget something!

Stratospheric
Six weeks since the last flight and my turn for the engine maintenance flight has come round. The weather is warmer, so an afternoon trip promises smooth aviation.
The aircraft has actually flown today because one of the other group members is doing IR(R) training, so we know the tanks are nearly full and we need do little warimng-up.
Depart West and today we will just keep climbing: through the thin cloud layer at 3,000ft and on up in to thinner air.
Beyond Little Rissington we can swap to Brize for a listening squawk and we are clear of the Airway here so triple check SkyDemon, the GNS430W and the actual map (blow the cobwebs off...) before moving to 1013 HPa, climbing through FL80 and continuing up... and up.... and up... through FL100 and FL110 near Cheltenham. I've never flown above 10,000ft before, so we'll just extend the envelope a bit here.
The world is huge up here: I can see the Bristol Channel below and most of Southern England stretching away. If anyone doesn't believe this is beauty then they have no aesthetic sense whatsoever.





The aircraft is good for FL160 apparently but due to worries about a lack of oxygen (although I feel fine) I bottle out at FL115, close the throttle, close the cowl flaps a bit to avoid shock-cooling the engine and turn East then South for a descent.
A little Googling says the highest skiable bit of the Trois Vallees is 11,500ft and I've skied from there without ill-effects and that's reasonably serious physical exercise; a little more Googling says a reasonably fit individual (I'm a non-smoker) can fly at 15,000ft no worries for short periods. Without wishing to push the envelope too hard a little more Googling shows no limits on VFR altitude outside controlled airspace. And pulse oximeters are £16 on Amazon.
SkyDemon shows EC contacts near Gloucester as "-8.5" or 8,500ft below. There is no one up here.....
My ears pop as we descend at an increasing rate to get under the airway near Kemble, then we turn East still descending to 3,500ft where we will sit just above the clouds over Swindon.
Time for some proper VOR tracking.
It's terribly easy to use GPS all the time for route planning but in reality there are times when you need to be able to use the old ground-based radio beacons. I'm not talking NDBs here which, despite managing to get Lancasters to and from Berlin 77 years ago, are really not fit for purpose. VORs are the preferred tool here, with an extra splash of DME for ease of use. Once identified (by Morse code, can you believe that in 2021?) you can home in on them via any radial.
But I am damned if I can get the HSI to do any form of sensible VOR tracking. I seem to have the instrument but not the right knob for the job.
However NAV2 works beautifully amd with a bit of see-sawing I am on the 090 inbound radial, then round 270deg and outbound on the 360 radial, bit I'm still concerned about NAV1. I'm sure I am being stupid so I will ask the other members of the syndicate.
Declare inbound VFR to Oxford, descend inbound and swap to Tower at 5 miles, join Downwind and orbit at the end of downwind as requested, then follow a DA20 on Final for a low approach and go round; he goes and I'm cleared to land. Of course, here my lack of recency shows: I'm too high and too fast. Throttle right back, and we finally get a stabilised approach at about 700ft.
Using the old adage "you won't get a good landing out of a bad approach" it should have been rubbish but actually we grease it on thanks to the light winds and a bit of luck, roll out and taxy in.
More practise required! But from next week we can get back to some proper "go somewhere" aviation.....

'tis but a scratch....
Lunch at Sandown, I think. Nessa and I will head off down there and test out their pizza.
Fire up, taxy out, everything good.
Depart South, textbook stuff.
A little VOR tracking with the HSI (works better when you disengage the CDI from the GNS430W), easy.
We'll get a MATZ Transit from Farnborough through Odiham, fine.
Just change the next frequency to Solent Radar, no gliders on the look out, but what's that? A bird?
BANG!
The windscreen disappears, a huge blast of cold air comes in and there's blood on my glasses.
Bird strike....

OK: so first check if Nessa's OK. She's looking at me, frightened, no glasses, no headphones. But she's alive and I can't see any blood. Let's keep her that way.
Aviate, Navigate, Communicate....
Are we going down? No, we're slowing but that 's due to the massive drag caused by the ad hoc cabriolet conversion. Can we maintain speed/height? Full throttle says "yes" so no need to pick a field yet. The engine sounds lumpy but that's mainly because we are now receiving the unmoderated noise. It is certainly generating power. Full rich anyway, don't want problems.
Where are we? Just South of Popham, so that seems the logical place to land. Can we make it back to Oxford? If it was just me I might be tempted but with a non-pilot passenger not a great idea. Turn left for Popham and a huge runway hoves in to view. In my befuddled state I think "Odiham" (actually it's Lasham) but that's where I'll go.
I cant hear anything in my headphones over the airflow but we'll make a blind Mayday call (not my first!) and tell Farnborough where we're headed. I hope they hear (they do, and tell Popham, Odiham and Lasham to expect us).
Give a reassuring nod to Nessa (who looks less frightened now), and start descending for a left hand downwind join for R27 at Lasham. I don't know what the extra drag is going to do to the stall speed so we'll stay fast, pop a stage of flaps, roll final, roll the throttle off gently and monitor the speed.
Actually it all feels OK and we flare, still at about 80Kts and let it down gently using lots of tarmac, plop on gently and slow very quickly with all that drag, turn off the runway on to the grass, note the 4x4 fire engine tracking us (so they knew we were coming) and park up by some glider tugs, carefully turning everything (including the fuel) off.
Closer inspection reveals a wrecked windscreen, no bird, no bird blood, Nessa's glasses on the floor behind my seat, lumps of windscreen all over the cockpit and the whisky compass on the floor undamaged.




Lasham find us a hangar and suggest we taxy over there. Start the engine, get half way and it conks out because of course I turned the fuel off. Select "both", crank and it comes back to life, taxy over to the hangar, shut down and we can push it in.
Lasham are fantastic: our (minor) cuts are swabbed, we're given tea and biscuits and even a lift home. These are seriously good people.

Meanwhile, in another life....
Cessna are very slow at providing replacement windscreens and they have to come from the USA. It is on it's way but will be a few weeks. I want something to fly!
Our maintenance organisation has a PA28-180 they are happy for us to fly but obviously we need a checkout first, so Tuesday morning in the face of imminent thunderstorms and strong winds I meet up with Gill, an amiable Scots lady who will find out if I really can fly.
All aircraft actually fly the same way (like all airfields are basically the same) so swapping about is mainly a question of working out where everything is in the cockpit. There is no standard and this aircraft has been thoroughly tinkered with: it has a Garmin 430W and 530W in the centre stack and a big Garmin G500/600 right in front of you. Today we will be working off the steam instruments as I don't fully understand the central display yet. What I am going to struggle with is the radio - I know I'm going to forget to be "Yankee Zulu" at least once today...
Start up (what's with this fuel pump thingy, then?), taxy out and follow my old PFT checklist prior to take-off. It all goes well until I rotate at which point it becomes apparent that the ASI outer dial is in mph, so I have rotated at 65mph, not 65Kts. The poor thing staggers in to the air and needs a hefty dose of forward yoke to establish positive rate of climb. Still, now I know...
Depart to the North West and the clouds are scattered and quite large; rain clouds are in the vicinity but for the moment we will skirt them and find some clear air for some stalls. Interestingly, the stall warner is just completely inaudible to me. I'm not deaf, although I have some high frequency roll-off and I cant be the first to have issues with this particular aircraft as it has a visual stall warner as well, right where the low voltage light is in WL. Still, once this is pointed out we can reliably stall it with minimal height loss; all aircraft fly the same!
I actually really enjoy flying a low-wing aircraft again: you feel you're sitting more on top with a better view. It's not a huge deal, and variety is everything.
So: a PFL - turn vaguely in to wind, trim for 75Kts, simulated MayDay, pick a nice big green field and head for it, keeping it in sight; we'd make it in to there OK so we throw it away and do some VOR tracking. The wind is not doing what I thought it was: although the surface wind is 200deg the winds at 3,000ft are from the South East, but once we've identified our radial and set an offset it all comes together (the bloody DME box is in the wrong place!) and we have fun tracking it inbound before breaking off for an ILS.
This should be fun: unfamiliar aircraft, bumpy clouds a lot more than scattered now, flying it manually as there is an autopilot but I haven't used it yet.
Overhead Banbury we do a diversion to the West to avoid some parachuting at Hinton (really, on a skanky rainy day like this?) then an orbit for spacing then we can descend to 1800ft, intercept the Localiser (so easy with the EFIS) and we'll fly the nice familiar ILS display I learned on.
The Localiser keeps slipping a notch or so left - we have a sneaky crosswind from the South East, but the glideslope comes in and we'll reduce power to drop down the glideslope, we're still mainly IMC in and out of the clouds and we certainly can't actually see the runway yet. I love doing this! We're pretty stable, slightly above the glideslope as we change to Tower and get cleared for a touch 'n go, hold the cross on the ILS all the way down to 800ft then look out, confirm visual, pull the flaps and drop it on as the stall warner flashes, then release the 3rd stage of flaps, accelerate and this time rotate at 65Kts, which feels more stable.
Climbing in to the visual circuit in somewhat deteriorating atmospheric conditions we can hear an increasingly worried student pilot talking to the Tower unsure of his location and about to go IMC in the approaching rainstorm. We're happy to move over and if necessary let him land first but as we turn Downwind he suddenly appears 400ft below us going the wrong way down the Downwind leg. Whoa!
Tower demands an immediate right hand orbit to get us out of the way and I think his instructor takes over at that point because after a bollocking from the Tower it all goes quiet, we turn Base and Final and now we can hear him behind us. As we land and keep the speed up to expedite our exit Tower clears him for a Land After behind us which he then refuses - I don't know the circumstances under which he cannot accept one (Student pilot maybe, but surely he's got an Instructor on board?). As we depart the runway the rain starts but I have to say it is not a heavy shower - I'd fly through it....
It feels better having flown post-birdstrike, I feel more comfortable now.

Mastering the G500 (1)
I'd feel more comfortable with some dual practice with this Garmin G500 so ex-757 Captain Steve (who has long ago lost count of the number of hours he has flown, but reckons he has fewer GA hours than I have...) and I will go up to Wellesbourne and play.
We have both downloaded and experimented with the G500/G600 simulator on the PC and that has really helped: the G500 is basically a larger, integrated 6-pack designed so you can fly with your scan on the main screen, plus a larger G430 display with Electronic Conspicuity bult-in (and audio warnings, as we shall hear).
At long last the weather has relented and we have some sun...
Steve will do the first leg up to Wellesourne and we can pool the knowledge we have gleaned concerning the aircraft and the G500. He wasn't aware that the steam gauge ASI reads in mph on the outer part of the dial. We roll from R01 and his familiarity with the EFIS becomes apparent - he knows what all the little symbols mean. I can understand why there was concern we would "chase" the flight path predictor (which shows you in real time where the aircraft is actually headed) but now we know about it we won't.
It's interesting doing a little Multi Crew Cooperation as I have plenty of mental space to do the radio while Steve flies; like me keeps forgetting to turn the fuel pump on and off at various points.
The inbuilt electronic conspicuity shows its worth as we approach Wellesbourne - a Beechcraft passes pretty close above us and I certainly wouldn't have seen it without the EC...
We join Left Base for runway 36 at Wellesbourne, nice and low over the hill and down neatly if a little long, we both struggle with the landing view as this is a low wing aircraft and we tend to flare a little high and hang there, feeling for the ground as the speed dissipates, but we're fine. Tea (and cake) beckons.


Mastering the G500 (2)
Fuelled by tea and cake I can take charge for the return journey. Sadly, as Oxford are using R01 today they have turned off the ILS so we can't track that but we can certainly play.
We'll try a shot of flaps for take-off as both of us are struggling to get it to actually rotate properly without flaps - this works well and feels more stable as we turn to 030 for noise abatement on climb out then turn South West for some general handling.
With Steve as lookout I can fly up, down, left and right "head-in" and once you get used to the G500 giving you all the info you need the steam instruments stop being part of your scan; the only bit I can't get is where a Rate 1 turn is indicated on the display, I have to refer to the steam AH for this which can't be right.
A little post-flight Googling shows I've been living in the Dark Ages; clearly when I did my IR(R) dinosaurs ruled the world - the G500 has an automatic Rate 1 arrow based upon current speed. Good to know where to look for next time.
The flight path predictor is very good for doing steep turns keeping the nose on the horizon; I'm unconvinced of its usefulness for anything else at present but watch this space...
Nearing Oxford for a rejoin they ask us to join downwind left hand for R01 (over Woodstock) which I haven't done in a very long time and after a rather woozy left base we settle on Final; I'm unconvinced we need all 3 stages of flap for a long runway landing at 75Kts so we'll use just the 2, flare and keep it coming down. A twitch from the stall warner and we're down on the mains, let the nosewheel come down and we'll vacate and taxy in. Nice aircraft, we'll fly it more.

It's so slow!
The weather has finally become summer-like and I want to use the opportunity to get some decent aviation in rather than just banging around close to Oxford. Dunkeswell is an appropriate destination and my friend Andy has asked for a ride so we'll toddle off.
As we approach the aircraft the bowser turns up to fill it with fuel which neatly answers my questions "how much fuel is there in the tanks?" and "how do we get fuel?".
I notice they have fixed the port wingtip light (ha! see later...)
I assume it's flown already today so don't use the primer but it won't fire so it must be cold - 5 slugs of raw AvGas, primer locked and she still won't fire so rock the throttle to get the accelerator pump working and off she goes, settling down to a steady 1200rpm. These 4 cylinders sound really agricultural compared to the 6 in the C182.....
Avionics on, taxy out and enter R01. Cleared for take off we accelerate and at about 40Kts the nose rises a bit. This is weird and unprecedented, check forward to keep it down as the aircraft I know is not ready to fly until 65Kts (at least!) but it feels very skittish even with a bit of into-wind aileron. Rotate at 65Kts and we climb OK but that was odd.
Turn left and avoid Enstone and Little Rissington, I realise after much joggling of the throttle that unless you absolutely thrash this aircraft it doesn't cruise above 100Kts. I see 110Kts at one point, but it's much happier burbling along at 100Kts. Compared with a C182 this is slow stuff: I'm used to a 130Kt cruise. Everything passes more slowly at 100Kts...
Also there is slack in the aileron linkages and the aircraft is unstable in roll, it needs constant correction to remain level. I remember this from learning to fly on these and it is normal for a PA28 but it does make you appreciate the rock-steady handling of the C182.
It's hazy as we pass Nympsfield well to the North and there are certainly gliders out here but today - no birds...
We descend to pass over the Severn Bridges and then further down the Bristol coastline past Avonmouth and Weston Super Mare which looks busy today. The haze lifts as pass further South in to the cleaner air of Somerset and we can climb over the hills towards Dunkeswell. I was going down the North Devon coast but we've taken ages to get here so we'll go direct.
This aircraft will use 10gals/hr versus 14 for the C182 which goes to show you use the same fuel per mile whatever aircraft you fly!
Dunkeswell is hard to spot from the North, they are using R17 today which I haven't used before and they don't like Direct joins so we'll work round to the East then join left base, mind the displaced threshold and drop it on gently to the big tarmac runway, brake before the intersection then turn left up 04 for parking on the grass, tea and a big bit of home made flapjack.
I like Dunkeswell: it's a big, honest airfield with usually lots of paradropping and a nice cafe but today there's no dropping so they're not putting on a full menu, but the tea and flapjack are good.





Worrying....
Start up, taxy out to to R17, backtrack and roll, no skittishness this time. It could have been a stuck oleo leg clearing itself, I don't know.
Andy takes over as we head for Middlezoy and does a damned good job - he's done this before.
A quick scan of everything post-circuit and.... the Low Voltage light is pulsing.
Well, that's odd.
It's not on solid and the ammeter is not showing discharge, in fact it's showing 28A charge. Everything is working OK so no need to panic, but it's not right.
As I'm not Handling Pilot I can tinker and it turns out if I load-shed the avionics it makes no difference, if I turn the strobes off it reduces but if I turn the beacon lights off it stops immediately. Knowing they've just changed the port light I suspect there's a short there. Ah, we can fly without lights for a while.
Chippenham comes up, then Swindon and before long we are over our house and Abingdon Airfield where they are filming at present. There on the ground is a mocked-up B17 bomber (I wonder if it was constructed by my friend James?).
Turn the corner back towards Oxford, they've changed runway to R19 so join Downwind and they are quiet this afternoon - it's just me and a DA40 in the circuit. Lights back on, voltage light now flickering again. Fuel Pump goes on, and we've been told to use continuous carb heat in the circuit so that goes on too.
Call Final, got a little crosswind from the left, flare, a squawk from the stall warner and.... it's a bit of a bump, I've not quite got the flare height visual picture right yet. I've done better landings (in this, even...). Still, I've done worse.
Andy has had a fabulous time and I've enjoyed flying the PA28 so Mission Accomplished!

Multi Crew Cooperation
It's time to tackle using the G500 to perform a proper RNAV procedure: Steve and I are going to shoot the Gloucester Runway 27 RNAV procedure via REKLO. I've done the R09 procedure before but not the R27 and not in this aircraft with it's whizzo electronics.
Both Steve and I can fly the aircraft quite happily but this is about integrating the various systems and it needs two pilots. We have a Gamrin GNS430W, a GNS530W, a G500 and 2 NAV radios plus a separate DME and ADF; we are pretty sure we can use them all but it's more than one person can do safely.
We fully brief before flight and agree that Steve will fly and I will knob-twiddle, do the radios and look out of the windows. At a later date we will swap and repeat.
At power check time we get a very rough running mag. I've never had this, and we both agree we won't fly with it like this, but I am told it's usually a fouled plug so lean the mixture to try and clear it... and it works! Every Day's a School Day.
Departing from Oxford on R19 we leave the right turn outbound very late indeed, to the point where we actually infringe Brize by 50ft or so. Not a great start but it's a beautiful day to be flying on instruments!
Steve gets the autopilot working after initially getting no response... because it's not switched on..... then we load the approach to the 530W, get clearance from Gloucester to fly it and Activate it.
We fly to REKLO and following some confusion about whether we are actually cleared for the Approach (we are) we fly onwards West then swing around North for NIRMO. This works better, with the G500 telling us when to turn, Steve spinning the heading bug and us hitting the Localiser spot on, hitting the FAF and here comes the glideslope. I hate the G500 glideslope display - it's a single green light off to the right of the DI; I'm much happier with the conventional cross-lines job but we have that set up too.
It's a high workload with changing radio frequencies, that bloody fuel pump needing to go on and off and cross-referencing between the various bits of kit. It is possible to do it single-handed but it's hard work and easier with two. I am beginning to appreciate the limits of the single pilot model...
With a stabilised approach we hit Decision Height, agree we "can't see" the runway so call missed and depart VFR to the North East to get out of the way.
We re-position back to the North of Oxford to get an ILS in and the EC tells us we have another aircraft following us 300ft below. I don't like this (I am hugely aware of other objects in the sky at present); I can't see him and he is very close indeed.
He could be an echo of us (this does happen) but I'm keen to find out so I ask Steve for a gentle orbit and he duly appears right behind where we were: a PFT PA-28 headed for Hinton.
We will leave him be and set up an interecption for the ILS: 60deg offset till it twitches then 30deg to bring it in. This works well but Steve gets very slow at one point and of course there's that bloody fuel pump. Still, at DH we are spot on so we both agree we can see the runway this time and Steve plops it neatly down, we're back on time. We're both exhausted!


But that is not the most important news of the day.
The windscreen has arrived....


Airshow
Nessa's Godmother lives in Ramsbury, down beyond Membury, nestling in the lush green valley of the River Kennet (famous as one half of the water source for the Kennet and Avon Canal).
Sitting in her garden before lunch last week saw a parade of low, slow-flying aircraft either in transit to or from Membury, or just bumbling up the valley on a nice day, who knows? This sounds like an excuse for a bimble so we'll book the backup PA-28.
Poor Whisky Lima is still languishing in the hangar at Lasham, even with the windscreen available apparently more damage has been discovered above and below the windscreen and also on the elevator. Loss Adjusters have been consulted.....

I have come to appreciate this old PA-28 with it's 180hop engine and mismatched prop, it's a bit of a gent. The Hershey Bar wing makes it easy to fly and land, if a little twitchy in roll with lower break out forces than the C182. Variety is the spice of life and whilst the take-off performance is leisurely due to the fixed pitch cruise prop once you get used to the lumpiness of the 4-cylinder engine it trogs along quite nicely.
A scheduling cock-up by the person prior to me using the aircraft (you know who you are and exactly what you did...) trashes our scheduled 2:00pm departure. It's close to 2:30pm by the time the aircraft is even down and past 3:00pm by the time we get going, so the plan to go to Shobdon gets trashed.
Despite forgetting to turn the bloody fuel pump on for departure we cruise gently South at 2,500ft, a quick whizz round the house then down towards Membury, and avoiding their overhead descend towards Ramsbury.
I like flying low: at anything above 2,000ft only serious hills and mountains are visible, the rest looks like Google Maps. I can do that from my desktop....
Set up for a West-East transit at 1,000ft, swing around at the end and come back East-West. Despite it looking a long way away from the photos I am plagued by "Terrain..... Terrain......" from the Garmin kit until I throttle up and pull away, let's not annoy the locals and head back home.




Transiting over our local 560m grass strip (tempting to be based there, but with no AvGas you'd have to keep going to Oxford!) I can see 3 Gazelles clearly based there, one with engine running. How cool is that?

A final quick whizz over the house then back for a visual for R01 via Right Base. A spirited East wind has blown up (airfields always the windiest places in the world...) and my flare drifts us to the left of the centreline but we're down tidily, taxy in and shut down.

The great GA delay game....
It has taken from April to July to order and have delivered a new windscreen, and to attempt to fit it. It's now half-fitted but the rear won't sink down in to position. This is either some parts of the previous windscreen that have not been removed from the slots (to be fair, unlikely), some misalignment at the front, posibly due to seagull damage (although it looks OK) or it just needs leaning on at the top. I'm not a licenced A&P engineer....



It may need a third party, more experienced at C182 windscreen replacement.
Then we've *only* got to persuade the CAA to let us fly it back to Oxford because the Annual is now overdue.
Repairs in the Certified GA world are long-winded and expensive. Oh, for a less-regulated FAA model!

So the update is that the engineers tried to fix the windscreen and managed to crack it in the process, so we need to go back to Square One!
This has turned in to a Marathon...

Summer at last
Fortunately, we've got a PA28 to fly and this morning I'm finally going to Shobdon. It's sunny and warm, we'll keep the door and the direct vision panel open as long as possible....

The experience of aviation is entirely unique: the smells, the sights...
From the moment you step, hi-viz-clad, through the security gate it's a different world.
Whirling props, the yellow tips staccato in the sunshine.
Sudden washes of noise: the rough rumble of air-cooled piston engines, the smoother whine of turboprops, the thrumming of helicopter blades, the hiss of jet engines as they pass between hangars, echoing around the apron.
The hot concrete and tarmac smelling of AvGas, AvTur and the burnt remnants of both.
The danger from scything propellers, sucking jet engines and moving wings, rushing fuel bowsers and fast-walking groups of Airline-pilot students and their associated Instructors, from Day 1 of their training kitted out in the ubiquitous and confidence-ensuring airline uniform of white shirt, epaulettes, dark trousers and tidy haircuts.
Watch out: that 16 year old you've just passed will be flying you to Ibiza next year, that 14-year old sounding girl on the radio getting her calls wrong will be flying you home again....
In the Despatch office, deep in the hangar which is full of arcraft parts, half-assembled GA airframes and jigs: lots of jigs, are racks of paperwork. Aircraft maintenance generates a lot of paper. I used to work for an aircraft parts manufacturer making wiring harnesses for er... assorted military aircraft, let's say. The paperwork that generated had its own department just to ensure traceability, this is similar-looking.
Here is the The Tech Log: full of incomprehensible numbers and times, but all we're looking for is a place to sign the aircraft out, and an empty "Defects" box. Yes! It's empty, phew....
Once we know we have a working aircraft to use we can call (yes: mobile phones are allowed here - the whole airline ban is bunkum based upon an older, analogue mobile phone used in one particular aisle in a pre-1984 airliner. Phones today are digital, much less powerful and all airliners' nav kit is better shielded now) first the Tower, using the arcane language of aviation to "book out VFR to EGBS, Estimate off blocks 0915 Local, 1 PoB, return 1200 Local 1 PoB", then Shobdon to "PPR, ETA 1000 Local, PA28, G-HRYZ, 1 PoB". It all means something but it's also an effective way of putting off any mere mortal who wishes to get in to aviation.....
Then back out to the hot tarmac, to the aircraft.
The fuel bowser has pulled up and the fuel man is filling up both wing tanks with acrid, chemical-smelling leaded 100LL AvGas. I always make a point of manually checking that it says "AvGas" on the side of the wagon and when he's finished and reeled his Earth lead back in I sniff the tanks and make absolutely sure the caps are back on and in line with the direction of flight.
The checklist (no one can do this stuff by memory) runs through basic stuff like making sure there is no water in the fuel, that both flaps go down at the same time, that the controls move, and in the right direction, all the lights work (I've finally worked out where the switch for the external lights is, it's always been on before now), and we pause to do a fast Weight 'n Balance (in this case: 1 PoB, full tanks, jobs a good 'un) and fuel calc (estimate 2 hours flying time at 11USG per hour makes 22USG, we have full tanks 45USG, so we're good to go).
The seats are 1970's vinyl and have seen a fair few bums, in fact the whole aircraft smells of 1970's Vauxhall Viva...... A hybrid mix of 1970s clockwork instruments and state of the art hi-res flatscreen confronts you. I learned to fly on clockwork instruments so I'm happiest with them, but I do like the navigation and electronic conspicuity parts of the new system.
We'll leave the main door and the little pilots side window open for maximum ventilation - it's hot in here. 1970s seatbelt - no new-fangled inertia reel belts here across the lap and manual shouilder strap, then work down the checklist through what I call the quiet zone, towards the Noisy Zone. Master switch to on and the gyros start to whine up. GA aircraft always have this whine in the background, it's the first noise and it's the last noise to die down after you've turned everything off. ANR headphones at the ready, check no one is in front, yell "Clear Prop" (the Americans laugh at us for doing this) and turn the key.
Wrong key.
Swap to the other key on the ring, turn and push hard.
Unlike a car the starter motor really has to work hard to swing the engine and prop. You can feel the strain and the current through the heavy-duty starter motor leads. One blade heaves itself past the windscreen then the engine fires and the whole things becomes a blur. The airframe convulses as the mass of pistons, conrods, crankshaft, flywheel and prop rotate about the centre line. As the engine settles in to a fast idle the airframe still squirms with suppressed power. It's very noisy indeed until I fit the headphones and flick the ANR on. The rumble ceases, replaced by a whine and hiss.
Many checks worthy of a 1960s sports car need to be made: this is the noisy part of the list. The various electronics all have separate on switches and being an American aircraft they're all up for on. The GPS nav devices bark and complete their self tests in a synthetic American woman's voice along with assorted bleeps. The oil pressure is up, the temperature for now still on the bottom stop, we're ready to go.
We're third in line at the queue for take off - the PA28 at the front and holding everyone up is finally happy (you can usually tell because the last item on the checklist is "Full and Free Controls" so all the controls waggle) and we all taxy up to the Stop Line. You can feel the effect of the aircraft in front's prop wake gently bobbing the airframe. Finally we can line up and Go.
As the aircraft approaches take off speed it becomes nervous on the wheels, then at 65Kts we'll pull back and the nervousness ceases as we become truly a device of the air. An engine failure here is a small possibility but carries a large weight of danger - there is not enough room to bang it back on the runway and stop but have you got enough momentum to get over the A44 above 44-Tonner height and in to the field on the far side?
Right turn at 1,000ft, climb out past Blenheim Palace, past the Wilderness Festival starting tomorrow at Charlbury (I opted not to do their IT this year as I have now retired...) and swap to London Info at Moreton-in-the-Marsh (easy to spot).
It's so smooth today I can steer with the rudder pedals alone: just ease it on to track, let it drift off then bring it back. The PA28 is so much more of a wayward beast than the C182; it requires constant subtle heading corrections and I refuse to leave these to the autopilot, what's the point in going flying if you always use the autopilot?
London Info can't hear me as we pass Malvern, so we'll make blind calls handing over to Shobdon. If they are worried they can ring Shobdon, who we are now in contact with.
Shobdon says they are on R08 so we will join right base minding the C152 doing General Handling, mind the noise abatement bits and line up with R08.
On Final I dont know why, but the runway looks short from here, so we will bring the speed back (it's easy on this to let the speed decay), round out, plop it on and brake, and we're down to walking place by the midpoint exit so it can't have been that short! There is no wind, and this is a PA28, the easiest aircraft in the world to land well, so I shouldn't feel too proud of myself....





Dancing with the clouds
Back to the plane, strap in, leave the door for now, Clear Prop and crank. Eeek, what a noise! I have a suspicion the solenoid did not engage properly as a horrible grating noise is all we get. This could be a problem.
Thankfully on the second go all engages correctly, the prop whirls and we get life. Phew! They've changed the runway to R26 so we taxy along the grass to the Hold point. Next to the run-up area they are rigging gliders, so I'll stop at 90deg to them so my propwash doesn't blow all the gliders about. Cleared to cross the grass runway I'll check for approaching non-radio traffic and call "rolling" before swinging on to R26 and booting it. With one stage of flaps we use about half the runway to reach 65Kts and off we go, left turn around the noise abatement bits and climb away
As it is now later in the morning puffy clouds have appeared and below them it's quite bumpy, so we'll climb up to where it's smoother. They are 1500ft or so high and scattered in my path so I'll do what I love doing: flying close to them and occasionally through them. This gives a much better impression of speed than looking at the ground.
Clear once more of the clouds the EC suddenly pings and tells me there is traffic 11o'clock 1 mile same height: collision risk. I can't see it but I think it's wise to descend and turn away. As I start to do so an SR-22 appears exactly where the EC says it was. I don't think I'd have hit him but it would have been damned close.... I vow never to fly again without EC of one form or another.
Once back at Malvern I give London Info a go, then at Moreton in the Marsh swap back to Oxford and join Right Base for R19, fight the thermals over the little lane just before the runway, flare..... and we're down tidily, the tyre noise decreasing as we slow.
Back to the hangar, swing it round for the next pilot and let it idle for a minute before chopping the mixture, chopping all the switches and sitting there listening to the gyros winding down. The rush is over, to be replaced by a post-flight low that usually lasts for the rest of the day.
Then it's back to the hangar past the jigs to fill out the Tech log (no Defects) and back through the Security gate, Hi-Viz off and become just another civilian driving down the A44.
Non-pilots don't really understand the huge satisfaction a well-conducted flight can give, and it's hard to convey but this is why aviation is a drug, as I've always said.

...and back to the real world...
After 6 months, two new windscreens and a full Annual Whisky Lima is back in service.
I've been in Ireland on holiday, then had a week looking after our grand daughter, then waited a week for the October winds to calm down a bit, but today is the day to re-familiarise myself with flying the C182.
First of all I need to rescue my keys that have languished in the aircraft since April and the bird strike. Of course the aircraft is locked, so I need to ask the maintenance guys to unlock it (they have keys) so I can get my keys. Then I can sit in the cockpit and try to remember where everything is.

Running through the pre-flight checklist I notice the ailerons are really squeaky. I'm surprised, as it has just had its Annual Service, so I mention it to the maintenance guys who will squirt it with WD40.

In the hangar next door is G-FIAT, the very same PA28 I did my first solo on 15 years ago. There's a piece of history. They say lots of people passing the hangar say the same thing, gently stroking the wing and thanking it for putting up with their hamfisted control inputs; clearly G-FIAT has trained many, many sudents since 1973 when it was built...

It's foggy this morning and although forecast to clear by 9:00, by 9:30 it's obvious it's not going to clear until lunchtime at the earliest. I'll come back after lunch, no one else has the aircraft booked and I'm in no hurry, I'm retired...

After lunch the skies have cleared a bit and Oxford's METAR has just switched from IFR to MVFR - it looks flyable so I'll ask Ops to get the bowser to fill up the fuel. I've probably got enough but you know what they say about too much fuel.

I asked Oxford Air Traffic for some circuits as it's been so long since I flew this aircraft but they are reluctant. I'm unsure as to why because there is actually no one else flying bar one departing Bizjet, so once at the Hold I ask for one Touch 'n Go and grumpily they agree. It turns out I am the only one in the circuit, so quite what the fuss was about I have no idea?

Climbing out it just appears more powerful than the PA28 and more stable in roll as always. Apart from repeatedly reaching for the trim wheel between the seats it all seems to be where it should be, and once established on Final it feels the same as always, so we'll plop it on gently, clean up and depart South.

Oxford have no Radar today (it's on maintenance) so it's "Oxford Approach" who presumably are using some Battle of Britain-like plotting table in there with those long rods pushing us around the table when they know where we are....

Departing to the South below a thin layer of clouds at 1800ft I can see a clutch of Brize tankers on the SkyEcho very close but a couple of thousand feet above the clouds as they turn for the Brize ILS, which is disconcerting to say the least.

130Kts seems fast though: I haven't been over 110Kts for a good while and this close to the ground you can feel the extra speed. Brize take us on for a Basic Service, I can hear them marshalling the tankers and before long we're ready to swap to Charlton Park Radio. The AFE Guide would have you use SafetyCom here but in fact they have their own frequency 122.20. Like many small airfields, it's bloody impossible to find until you're very close. Suddenly there it is, I'll Blind Call on their frequency and Join Overhead for a right hand circuit for runway 25.

When in the circuit in the C182 you have to lean right forward to see "round the bend" and as I am turning Final I can hear a little pre-stall airframe whistle. I've let the speed get quite low, so ease the turn by pushing away and roll out on to short final at 70Kts, a nice stable approach just to the left of the big pile.

I'll pull 40 deg flap and as the barn doors open I can feel the initial wave of decelaration then the increased airframe burble. We've got 800m of grass to play with and although my out-of-practice landings tend to be long I think we'll be OK, so ease down the approach, aim for just after the threshold, eyes on the end of the runway and pull..... thumpity thump thump thump and we're stopped in about 400m which is rubbish for a short field landing but quite acceptable for here and today. Call backtracking, call vacated and park up in a quiet corner by the hangar. All is grassy, leafy, well-maintained and there's no one here.
Until the Earl turns up in his BMW and he is exactly as I expect: 70's, well dressed, crusty, very friendly and glad we could drop by. There is an Honesty Box and a sign-in/sign-out sheet by the (empty) camouflaged hangar, it looks like I'm the only visitor today and indeed for the last few days. Very nice indeed.




Trying for the perfect ILS
We'll do a rolling short-field departure: two stages, rotate at 60Kts and push for 65Kts once airborne. This is satisfyingly short (we're off in about 300m) and we roll round to the North West to avoid the local village. Need to keep an eye on Kemble as we are quite close, then Aston Down, so cruise at 1800ft at the base of the clouds to Stroud.

Turning North East towards Stow on the Wold and then East, we'll call Oxford who have no one else on frequency and just want me to report at 4 miles (so much for "fully booked for circuits..."). I can do that, so we'll load and arm the "Vectors for the ILS" for R19, get the autopilot on, pre-load Oxford Tower on the flip-flop, check NAV1 and NAV2 are on 108.35, check the ID, slow to 100Kts and BUMPFTCHH now while it's quiet, get stable at 1800ft and know that 15" throttle gives level flight, 13" gives 533ft/min descent.
From where we are near Barford St John it's a 80deg interception angle for the Localiser so the 430W counts down for the turn, hits 0, I spin the dial to 195deg and we hit the Localiser spot on. There's a first; I love the 430W.
I dont like the NAV1 display. I know Steve raves about it because thats what they have on B757s but I learned on the dollseye cross-needles job and with the loss of EGNOS we cant use the GPS-derived glideslope anyway, so I've prepped NAV2 for 108.35 and we'll fly that.
The glideslope drops down from above and as it intercepts I reduce power to 13", feel the aircraft sink and hands off we're stable, needles exactly crossed as we pass and report 4 miles, swap to Tower who ask us to report 2 miles and watch the altimeter unwinding.
The Localiser starts to drift to the left a tiny bit so come 5 deg left and it stays centered. Follow the altimeter all the way down to 800ft QNH which is my IR(R) limit, look up and the runway is just to the left of the centreline. Interesting, but of course I've got drift on - the needles are still centered, I'm actually aimed just to the right of the runway and the crosswind is keeping me on the centreline.
A/P off, power off, two stages of flap, call 2 miles, get cleared to land (there's no one else they're talking to anyway) trim for 75Kts and just cruise down, flare and....... bump and we're down solidly.

Well, that was satisfying. Now for some serious IFR stuff with Steve, and I'll see if I can keep up.

Bumpy times
The wind has been very gusty right across the runway all week but has finally begun to calm down, so this afternoon I think I might try for some crosswind landing practice.
I have cleaned and re-waterproofed the cover so it needs to go back in to the blow up hangar where we store all the kit we don't use very often.
Stepping in to the cool, shady interior I realise I am alone with not only 2 aircraft I have flown but several million pounds worth of business jet: a matt green Dassault Falcon and a Cessna Citation. Surely one day my single Premium Bond that has been in the system since 1966 must come up trumps and allow me to regularly use one of these beasts? NS&I, come on!
Wiping up the drool from the floor in front of me I'll just pop the cover on top of our cabinet, end my daydream and return to the real world...
Mick has not been able to do his morning session so the aircraft is still inside the hangar. Oxford Operations, despite having been notified that I'd like the aircraft out, have not asked the crew to extricate it. 'tis but the work of a moment to ask them nicely by phone and a man with one of those funky lifters arrives and together we wheel the aircraft carefully out through the doors. I'd have moved it myself but I suspect I'm not covered by the insurance!
They've solved the aileron squeak and the aircraft is as perfect as I've ever seen it. Fuel quantity is marginal so using the theory that you can never have too much fuel we'll get the bowser to fill her up. 1 PoB means no W&B issues so we'll skip the full check for today.
Of course I manage to mis-manage the checklist and taxy half way round the airfield with the NAV and beacon lights off but if that's the only error I make today I'll be happy.
The airfield is busy and it takes a few minutes to get a take-off slot but soon we are ready for departure to the North East "Not above 2,000ft until 5 miles from the airfield". I can do that.
Line up, depart on the runway heading, lose the flap at 800ft, hit some turbulence and depart North East, swing round D123 and the bird sanctuary then try to cross track on to our destination heading of 06deg.
But the HSI is telling me to steer right, which is clearly bollocks: I'm doing something wrong.
A bit of head scratching later I realise the HSI is on VLOC not GPS so is of course tracking NAV1, Oxford's ILS. One button later normal service is resumed, good practice that. Fly the plane, don't get too obsessed with fixing the problem. Airliners have crashed in similar circumstances.
We'll follow the indicated course manually to see if I can fly in a straight line, so roll in to the heading just before the needle centres and adjust for wind as the needle drifts. Ah, that's got it.

I have a tendency to want to identify my destination before slowing down which results in me flying merrily past and having to come back, so today I will slow down and get down before identifying Leicester.
Ah ha: there it is, and we're neatly overhead for runway 28 at 1000ft so report downwind, BUMPFTCHH, full flaps and leave a long enough final this time, bring the speed back to 75Kts and cruise down final.
Winds are 290 at 16Kts. Over the trees we get a fair bit of suck so add power, release it as we get back over grass and flare, a gust catches us but we'll just hold it.....hold it, a chirp from the stall warner and we're down, gentle braking and we're off on to the taxyway. Push back in to a paking space and we're off to book in.
They have an excellent cafe: Tea is £1 and pork scratchings £1, I will go again!




AirProx?
Back in the plane filled with tea and pork scratchings we can fire up and call for taxy. Opposite us is a C152, he will follow us as we wend our way around the various runways to the threshold of runway 28.
Ready to line up, we hear "G-XXXX, long final" so we hold.
And we wait.
And wait.
Eventually the Tower asks him how long of a long final he is really on, he calls "2 mile final" and we wait once more.
A laconic voice over the radio, obviously from the C152 behind, says "we could both have gone....". And probably a half-dozen others!
Eventually a C152 hoves in to view and plops down neatly so I can line up and depart the moment his tail exits the runway. He actually calls vacated as I rotate. It's my responsibilty for clearance in a non-Towered environment, so I have broken no rules here.
It's still blustery and bumpy as we climb out following the circuit for noise abatement, then turn South and climb up to the cloudbase.
As it will be 4:00pm by the time we get back to Oxford some of the crosswind will have died down but hopefully not too much as I need a bit of crosswind landing experience!
With the 430W and autopilot we can bracket our return track with about a 10deg offset and get it really stable. At 20 miles I'll load and activate Vectors for the ILS, let it bring me over to the right and turn in to it.
On the Localiser at 12 miles and letting down to 1800ft Oxford tell me to watch out for some traffic passing left to right which appears on my SkyEcho 800ft below but I have to say I never see. Often aircraft are very hard to see in the ground clutter.
Almost immediatelty they then tell me to watch out for the parachuting jump plane which is climbing out from Hinton in the Hedges.
Not visual, not visual, lost in the ground clutter and is not on my EC (why not?) but he must be close.....
I am outside their ATZ to avoid chopping up parachutists but of course so is he.
I am now very worried as is Oxford Radar, until suddenly he pops up half a mile ahead, climbing up to our level and crossing ahead left to right.
I call visual and I think they're a lot more worried about it than I am because he says "well Thank God for that"; I reckon our radar plots must have been very close. But surely he must have been monitoring Oxford Radar on COM2: I certainly would in his place as he was blasting through the published inbound Approach track....
It doesn't feel like a big drama to me so when later on Oxford asks if I want to file an AirProx I don't see the point but I would have thought it sensible for the paradrop aircraft to have a SkyEcho as they both receive and transmit, that way we would have been visible to each other?
Switch to NAV2, Ident the ILS I-OX and watch the glideslope come down from the top, throttle back and it's hard to get stable as it's so gusty but we're within one dot all the way down, drop the flaps and flare, it's all going so well...
Just as we touch we catch a gust or something that unsettles the aircraft making it not my finest landing but it was safe and good crosswind practice.
It is true to say that you should never relax until the aircraft is shut down and this is evidenced by the fact that I then manage to mislead the Tower in to believing I am taxying in via K not J and ending up nose to nose with a DA20 minus cowling off for engine test. Fortunately there is enough room for me to sidle sheepishly past him and park....

Cranfield RNAV
It's time for my bi-annual IR(R) revalidation, an event I panic and sweat about but seem to manage to pass every time.
I suppose I feel I'm not really worthy in some obsure way to fly on instruments and I'm expecting someone to find me out. They call it Imposter Syndrome, and I should really know better but there it is.
Despite having asked Oxford Operations to get the aircraft out this morning and them having responded in the affirmative, not only is the aircraft still in the hangar and behind two other aircraft both these aircraft are being worked on..... I am not a popular person when the handler finally arrives to get the aircraft out and fuel it.
It's a beautiful fog free morning everywhere, except for (of course) Oxford, where it is barely possible to discern the runway. It's forecast to clear at 11:00am which it just about does.
Still, it gives me a chance to wander around the other hangars where there two Chipmunks. Chipmunks! I flew these in the 1970s. Maybe I flew this one? A long search of the loft finds my old RAF logbook where I discover my long-hidden stupidity: I never wrote the aircraft serial numbers against the 8 experience flights I took before the RAF tired of my freeloading and chucked me firmly on the medical rubbish heap as "permanently unfit for aircrew". But a bit of Googling shows neither of these this aircraft were ever at RAF Abingdon between 1978 and 1981. Beautiful bits of kit, though; apparently the handling is like that of the early models of Spitfires, although obviously without the shattering torque of a Merlin up front...




Oxford's ILS is out of action and the ATIS is giving the NDB/DME approach for runway 19 which would be fun to try but we don't have a working ADF and the revalidation requires two different approaches to be flown with an instructor. Fortunately I did an ILS with Gill a few months ago and that allegedly counts as one so we are off to Cranfield to fly the RNAV.
Access to information has come a long way since I learned to fly, and SkyDemon on an iPad or even on one's iPhone allows more or less instant access to the entire UK AIP. A fast whizz through the menus and up comes Cranfield's R21 RNAV plate. Mark is impressed that this is possible and we brief on the approach and the missed segment.
Departing to the East I can prove my ability to hand fly "head in" with and without the A/P, retain situational awareness, climb and descend and drive the 430W. Mark negotiates an RNAV with them and we fly to ADSON to inititate the approach, the phone displaying the plate clipped to my kneepad. I dont think this is CAA-approved but actually works really well.
It has to be said that RNAV approaches are easy as basically you just follow the 430W prompts - it tells you when to turn and you drive the A/P bug round, report and when it gets you to the Final Approach Fix you throttle back, hit 500ft/min descent rate and run down the glideslope.
In theory.
In practice, I manage to hold the glideslope OK but someone (maybe me, maybe Mark) disconnencts the A/P and it takes me a few seconds to realise the small course adjustments I'm making are not having any effect so I need a manual, larger adjustment then get the A/P running again, by which time the glideslope is still OK but for some bizarre reason I'm now doing 120Kts.
Big throttle back to correct, jockey the yoke to remain on the glideslope as the speed decays and as we hit 700ft QNH look up, identify the runway (I can get it in from here easily), go missed so climb straight ahead to 0d then hit "Direct To", "EGTK" and climb out West, wiping the sweat from my palms. Phew!
Reaching Oxford, set the approach to Vectors to the ILS R19, turn in neatly for a straight-in approach and we're number two to a Seneca on Right base so throttle right back, speed back to 85Kts and watch him turn in ahead of us.
This is good training, as I find I can still fly the glideslope at this speed; in fact it's easier because everything happens more slowly. EVentually we're given a land after and we can plop it down nicely. It is true to say the more you fly the better your landings are and this one is pretty close to perfection.

The perfect IR(R) day
Today I am taking my distant 12 year old cousin Henry out as he is mad keen on aircraft and wants to experience flying. Nothing like trying to enthuse the next generation.
The last few days have seen low cloud and intermittent showers, and today is no exception. The current Form F215 shows two layers of cloud: one starting at around 1000ft AGL and topping out at about 2,500ft; the other with a base of around 4,000ft. Freezing level is 8,000ft so I reckon we can play between the layers with good visibility. It's not the same as a sightseeing VFR day but as he has come a long way I don't want to disappoint him.
Absolutely no one is flying; Oxford's ATIS is giving overcast at 800ft and no chance of it relenting, so IFR it is.
Now for some bizarre reason I have always thought you had to file an IFR flight plan to depart IFR but when I suggest that to the Tower they say I can just depart in a general direction and they will give me a Deconfliction service, so that's easier than I thought. You learn something every day...
The plane has plenty of fuel so the 4 of us get onboard, taxy out and depart with an IFR departure clearance of "160deg and climb to 2,000ft". At 1,000ft on the climb out it all goes grey and as we swap to Radar, opt to continue the climb and reach 2,500ft it all goes VMC again. So far, so good: a flight entirely in the grey room would be very dull.
It's fab up here: the cloud tops look like landscapes and it's much brighter than the troglodytic existence below.
We'll start Henry doing straight and level, then increasing rate turns left and right, climbs and descents and then trying to do one without the other happening. I then ask him to turn to a number of headings and hold them, and he learns quickly. He'll make a great pilot some day.
Time to return to Oxford through the murk via the NDB DME procedure for runway 01. The bad news is that I have not done this approach since my initial IR(R) training but the good news is that we have plenty of fuel and I do have the approach plate printed out in front of me.
A quick self-brief including the Missed Approach Procedure, then "Direct To" EGTK, "Vectors for the NDB DME Approach" gives us an extended centreline on the 430W but for some reason a NAV flag on the DI. Huh?
Ah, the CDI button on the 430W (again).
A quick push of the button and that's fixed.
A/P on, and now we only have to worry about the descent.
Oxford Radar give us a descent to 2,500ft and a vector to close with the inbound track that goes throrugh the corner of the Brize Zone, so we'll need to be accurate. Once on the Approach track (for some reason Radar want to hurry us; there's no other traffic and I suspect they think we've forgotten or gone AWOL but no, we've only just attained the track) at 11d we can cruise just above the clouds then descend in to the murk to 1800ft for the 6d marker, swap to Tower who ask us to descend on the procedure and clear us to land.
This is a non-precision approach (but in reality the MDA for an IR(R) is the same at 500ft AGL) so there are no crossed needles, we just throttle back for a descent of 500ft/min, trim and hands off for a stable approach then check the 3d marker where I must not be below 870ft QNH. I'm at 950ft so the worst case scenario is that I land long.
Continue the descent and at 800ft the murk recedes and there are the runway lights: 3 whites, 1 red so a bit too high (see above) but I can easily get it in from here. A quick check with Tower to confirm they have cleared us to land (which they have), slow to 85Kts, pop the flaps and slide down for a gentle arrival.
For some reason I have always sworn off non-precision approaches in the past but to be honest this experience has made me more likely to use them in future.
What they don't tell you when training is that you can make what feels like the most horrendous mess of an approach but provided you are less than half scale deflection when you go visual in practice it's a usable approach picture. You don't have to be that polished about it, just don't go below the approach path: always err on the high side.
Everyone had a great time and today simply would not have been possible without an IR(R) so if you haven't got one, get one. It's been described as the most difficult Rating to get but the easiest to use, and I think that is fair comment.
I don't usually deliberately aim to go flying in IFR conditions; I use my IR(R) as a "get you home" Rating but this has made me reconsider - there have been times when I haven't flown because of IFR conditions and probably could have done. Disregarding days where icing would be an issue it certainly expands your percentage likelihood of actually going somewhere.








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