The Ballards - Syndicate


Right hand drive
This afternoon we will be flying an experiment: I have been asked if I might be interested in joining an aircraft syndicate based at Oxford. They have a rather spiffing Cessna 182 and need another member.

The accepted maths seems to be, that if you fly:
- Less than 50hrs per year: rent a plane by the hour
- Between 50 and 150hrs per year: join a syndicate
- Over 150hrs per year: buy a plane
But the advantages of joining a syndicate are that it has the good points of being available when you need it (hopefully), in a known state of repair with regards to avionics, coupled with the shared fixed costs of hangarage and maintenance.

The only double-edged sword is that you, and only you, are now responsible for when you actually go and fly. The flying school safety net is gone and a subtle re-assessment of personal minima is in order.
It's easy to say "oh, whoop-de-do, I can go and fly anywhere in any old weather now", but actually some caution is required. I would be the first to admit that occasionally I need to learn a lesson myself, as opposed to being told.....

At first glance it looks expensive in £ per hour, but I have very carefully crunched the numbers and the keys are:
- you only pay per flying hour (wheels-off to wheels-on)
- it flies at 125Kts
Fly more than 3 hrs per month and you're saving money. Plus my Accountant tells me I can put the costs through the company, which makes it more Tax-efficient if I fly to a client (which I do).
As the insurance has not yet come through I can't left-seat it, but we'll go out and try some general handling near Banbury from the right seat.
A Cessna 182 is, basically, a 172 that has been extended in every direction by about 20%. So it has 20% more wing, a 20% wider fuselage (so you're not rubbing elbows with your co-pilot) and 20% more load-carrying, as it has a proper wobbly prop and a 230hp engine which means 4 adults, full fuel and a bladder-stretching 8hrs endurance with the long-range tanks (if you fly it really slowly). This one was built by Reims in France in 1976 and has been well looked after, it is obvious.

It sports a huge after-market exhaust silencer that looks like something out of Carlos Fandango's dodgy auto-shop in downtown Los Angeles - I almost expect blue running lights under the fuselage and bunny-hopping hydraulics bouncing us to the Hold point....

But this object does have a purpose: when we start the engine it is quiet - so quiet we barely need headphones. Wow: this is lovely. A 230hp engine means plenty of grunt, we have cowl flaps and a rudder trim (wheeee....) as well to play with - this is a proper aircraft.
After an extensive pre-flight (this, like all aircraft, has its foibles) we taxy out, watching for the localised CBs that are passing the airfield. We should be able to avoid them without too much trouble.

Take-off is quick, we climb rapidly to 3,000ft on a pseudo-Morton departure and I take over. It's very laterally stable and docile, and requires a fair bit of force to get it to do anything quickly. The big issue is that the noise level is identical at 130Kts and 80Kts, so it's very easy to gain or lose speed without noticing. The trim wheel is a big help here, but I feel a bit ham-fisted for the first few minutes (quite apart from anything else it's quite hard to read the instruments from the right seat) until we settle down. It's also extremely difficult to tell which yoke force is the aircraft and which is the pilot trying to limit what I am doing. I need to fly it without anyone else on the controls to really understand it.
We try some turns (lift the opposite wing to take a look first), then do some stalls. It's very hard work to make it actually stall, and even clean the warner doesn't shriek until we reach the bottom of the speedo. With 20° flap it's utterly docile as well, but this time the speedo is virtually on the stop. This aircraft can fly very slowly indeed and I will enjoy experimenting with flying approaches on the back of the drag curve. I think I could even get it in to Brimpton......

We head for home and get a straight-in approach to test the ILS which our pilot flies with easy familiarity at 100Kts. I suspect I shall be doing it slightly slower.....
As we taxy in I'm thinking "it's very nice, very smooth and very well equipped. I think I'll enjoy flying this".

The other members of the syndicate have very kindly allowed me to join, the insurance has come through, and it's time to learn how to fly a C182 from the left seat, so Pete and I will do some circuits. On the theory that this is just a big C172, I know we'll really need not to let the approach speed run away with us, or it'll float for England.
After spending 10 minutes trying to get the ladder out of the baggage compartment (there must be a knack to this...) we open the full 4-page check list and work through it (I think I can squish it down to a page without missing anything). The only really strange thing about this aircraft is that it has no rotating beacon, so it's anyone's guess which lights are supposed to be on. It's approaching sunset anyway, so we'll just turn everything on.
Start it up (first Go, yessss...) and taxy out. It's got long wings, and I really don't want to hit anything before we even go flying....
Power-checks, line-up and Go.
Whoa there, Tex! Glad I've flown the Cherokee Six; it goes in to Scalded Cat mode and we're off at 60Kts. None of this PA-28 float-in-ground-effect while the engine catches up: we're away and climbing, trimmed at 80Kts and 1,000ft by the crosswind turn. Nice....
First impressions are that the aileron self-centering forces are massive, and that it's really slow to turn. Also, the elevator forces are large, so lots of trimming is required. As I expected, the first Downwind leg I'm all fingers and thumbs and have trouble getting it in the right place on the approach, but, amazingly, pull off a creditable landing. Off we go again and this time it's a bit more under control and predictable. I'm turning a bit earlier and getting used to the world disappearing behind the wing root in the turns. The approach is better, I feel happier, and the landings are OK: I bounce it once, a foot or so, but on the whole we're down and solid. We try a post-500ft climbout noise/engine-wear reduction procedure to 23½/23½ and that works well, too, so I'm more comfortable now.
By the 4th circuit Night, and some haze, is upon us and at one point we lose all the runway lights, but hey... this is great practise. I like flying at night anyway.
Most of this familiarisation is finding where the runway needs to be for the right circuit spacing (2/3 up the strut), what power settings work in the circuit and how to find everything in the dark. Actually it's all pretty logical and we don't have too many problems.
We try the 40° "Barn Door" full-flap extension and the nose goes right down. This needs lots of power to keep the descent rate within reasonable limits but we float down the approach at 65Kts and land really terribly short. A couple of those, one more with normal flap and we roll in happy. And I've revalidated my Night Rating in to the bargain.
Taxying in in the dark is another challenge to add to what we have already accomplished tonight, but we manage with no scratches, and amazingly my torch batteries are good, so putting it to bed is easy.
Notes for next time: take the yellow bag out before you take the ladder out, and cancel that rudder trim bias for circuits that is causing us to fly out of balance the whole time.
And now I've got my own key...

Familiarisation Pt II - fits like a glove...
This afternoon we'll try to complete the familiarisation and get a sign-off on the aircraft. We agree we'll fly out for some general handling, some climb and descent power settings, then some circuits at Wellesbourne and a glide approach.

Having bashed the PoH and thought through some of the issues we were having last time I feel more in control as we cancel the rudder trim bias, fill up with fuel (70-odd Gallons!), take off (ah, that's better: give it a bootful of right rudder) and turn North West for Wellesbourne.

The ailerons seem lighter now, but I think it's because I'm not trying to turn in too fast: this aircraft loves rolling into and out of a Rate 1 turn and appreciates being eased in to things. This makes it a very stable Instrument platform, as we shall see.

By the time we're established in the cruise at 3,500ft we're almost on top of Wellesbourne... wow, this aircraft covers some ground. Turn away towards the West and get some cruise climb and descent power/prop settings established while we're away from the ground. That completed, we head for Wellesbourne and join downwind in to their circuit for 28RH. We do a couple of nice approaches with the speed nailed properly, a couple of OK-ish landings (I need to roll the power off a bit earlier) and some more controlled climbouts, followed by a "barn door" approach that goes very nicely and we land very short indeed. The final circuit we decide on a glide approach from downwind, but there's too much traffic so we stay at 1,000ft until we are on Final and when I reckon we can make it we chop it and glide....
As normal, it looks at first as though we will overrun, then it looks normal for a while, then it looks panicky. The fence between the road and the runway is very close indeed, but we cross it without having to resort to a burst of power, and touch down just before the threshold, on the run-up zone. Quite nicely judged (or more likely just lucky!); we roll in and stop for a cup of aviators tea.

And to complete...
We climb out from Wellesbourne (if the donkey quits we'll go....... here over to the right, as there are lots of trees and a ridge in front of us), reach cruise height and decide on an ILS Straight in for 19.
We tune and check the Honiley beacon for 051° and soon the VOR comes in (ooh, this is a steady IMC platform), we contact Oxford and tune the ILS which comes in and we set a 500ft/min descent, then tweak to catch the glideslope. Downwind checks, then flaps, slow to 75Kts and change to Tower at 4d; I am all eyes-down, Pete is Safety Pilot looking out, and we remain nailed to the VOR all the way down. I get Pete to call 100ft above and the Decision Altitude of 760ft QNH, and it all seems very stable and do-able. I look up at 760 and there is the runway really close, little lights-a-shining, 2 red and 2 white PAPIs. Mentally swap to VFR mode (the theory is that you shouldn't have to move the controls at all) and this time I try to fly it all the way down the runway at 3ft; and it settles gently. Getting better...

So we've accomplished most things I am likely to meet, and Pete is happy. I can now fly whenever I want to. And I need to go away on business next week. Yessssss......

The joy of a syndicate
I need to go to Shoreham on business and to stay away overnight. I also don't know what time I am going to get back on the second day, but this is now not a problem because a) I have a key, and b) no one else in the group needs the aircraft for days and days to come, so if it's not back tomorrow night it's not an issue. This, it must be said, dramatically reduces one's stress levels.
We have been, apparently, experiencing an issue with the left two knobs on the transponder giving incorrect and varying values, so today we are "Negative Transponder". The aircraft is booked in to have a new Mode S transponder fitted, costing £3,000. Long faces all round....
The rain clears overnight and I taxy over to the apron to load up server, UPS (this gets firmly strapped in), boxes of routers, cables and overnight bag before departure. I am helped by a very nice lady in a posh van, who I normally see ferrying posh people out to jets. What service!

First solo flight: better not bend it.
Once clear of the Brize Zone I can set a course for CPT, switch on the autopilot and relax.
I tell Farnborough we are negative transponder today and they are happy enough, but ask me to report my height regularly. I am asked to increase height at one point for spacing from an outgoing red and white Boeing 737 from Lasham, which climbs up a little too close for comfort, then banks away.
Then it's down to 2,400ft to nip under the corner of the London TMA and start a gentle descent towards Shoreham for a crosswind join for 20LH. Drop in to the empty circuit (where is everyone?) at 1,000ft, turn Final with 20° flaps, cruise down the approach, flare and roll the power off, and we settle very gently indeed on to the runway exactly where I had hoped. Lovely.
And only 34 minutes of (chargeable) flight time. This aircraft is fast.

Whilst on the ground at Shoreham I meet an extremely kind avionics engineer who manages to fix (and test!) the transponder for nothing, and even fixes the malfunctioning turn 'n slip light, so we now have a clean bill of health and have saved the group £3,000 in the process. Cool.

The following evening I take off once more for home, back on the MID VOR then CPT. Farnborough can see my transponder code and height OK, so we're home and dry there.
Beyond CPT we cruise descend, report visual and slow down for a downwind join for 19, roll on to the crosswind leg then are asked to orbit on Final for a landing jet. This leaves us high on Final as Night arrives, and we do almost a glide approach to a neat, controlled touchdown, one third of the way down the runway and right on the centreline (for once).
Roll in, fill out the Tech Log and put the cover on. 39 minutes.
Oh, I am really starting to enjoy this.

IMC refresher
My IMC is 2 years 1 month old next week, so I need a biennial / renewal / check-flight (delete as appropriate). It's time to demonstrate to myself I really can do this "flying through clouds" stuff. I feel confident enough flying the C182 VFR now.
We need to go to Shoreham to drop off some stuff and get an iPad connected to a WLAN, so I borrow Willie as a willing Safety Pilot to look outside the cockpit as it's not real IMC out there whilst I use foggles, and also if I bugger things up I'd like an experienced second pair of hands available.
We start out under the bluest of skies: we will fly simulated IMC (with foggles) from Oxford outbound 161° until we hit the 175° inbound VOR radial for CPT, then follow that all the way to CPT, then go outbound 160° to GWC (Goodwood), then 090° to Shoreham where we'll do the non-precision NDB procedure for runway 02.
Start-up, check the Navaids, get caught for ages at the Hold Point before departure, then finally, at 500ft go "IMC" with the foggles.....
And it all goes well: outbound ADF tracking works OK, inbound and outbound VOR tracking works well, and halfway down at FL45 we go in to cloud anyway so it's no-foggles real IMC, and a Traffic service from Farnborough.
It's interesting how you can so easily slip back in to the IMC head-down scan mode, where slight alterations in height, speed or VOR trigger immediate reactions. If you have to think about any of these reactions, it's too late: your conscious mind has to be running at the strategic level: the next radio frequency, transponder squawks, read-backs, the next beacon, checking the IDs. You're too busy to be thinking about the actual flying.
Inbound to Shoreham we opt to aim North of the airfield so we cross the beacon straight in to the Procedure. I've never flown this one before, so it's gratifying to be able to read the plate and follow the numbers out and down. Slow the plane up to 90Kts and trim it stable, get a reasonably good cut on the ADF, call beacon outbound and start the descent. At 5.5d we turn and call Base Turn Complete, at which point we are aware we have been blown too far East by the wind, so turn a good chunk West, continue the descent to the MDA at 600ft over the sea and look up.
OK, so we're not quite in the right place, but I can see the runway easily and with a few minor corrections we are on Final. I reckon the theory is that if you're a long way off you simply orbit once below the cloudbase for positioning.
Better not muck up the landing with the owner on board! Nope, we land a bit slow, with the stall warner sounding, but it's fine and we roll out for parking.
I was rusty but that's OK: the next approach will go a lot better, I know that.
Shoreham don't charge us for the procedure which is either intentional, in which case I shall do the approach every time I come in here, or a mistake, in which case: tough!

Sopping wet
After dropping off the equipment we head homewards: there is forecast to be a cold front coming in from the North later this afternoon and we'd rather be on the ground by the time it soaks us.
Climb out NW and seek the 270° radial inbound for GWC. At top of climb I get the slight Leans and it goes a bit pear-shaped: by the time I've got it really sorted out we're a few degrees off-track, so we bring that back in and track successfully to Goodwood. This is actually a lot easier without an Instructor on board.
At GWC we try an experiment: we head 320° outbound seeking the 360° radial inbound to CPT, and pop the autopilot on. This works really well and we start refining the settings, playing with that and the GPS until we know to the nearest 50 yards where we are. The 360° radial comes in a little too fast; I blow through it and weave around the sky playing catch-up. Shows the need for anticipation at 125Kts....
Once on course for CPT the DME counts down, we get a neat cut overhead, the VOR displaying "error" as we pass through the Cone of Silence, then the DME starts rising again as we head for Oxford.

I think that's enough IMC for one day: there is an enormous storm over Oxford: the precursor of the cold front due in. We flip off the autopilot and turn while descending to fly over South East Oxford. Following the ring road we go briefly IMC as we pass through the edge of the storm, then back out into bright sunshine for a downwind join for 19. We are told to expect a backtrack (why?) so land short-ish and backtrack towards a very nasty-looking black cloud with an aircraft on very short final heading for us. Nipping around the corner we escape the Active and end up taxying right around the airfield to the grass parking.
We put the cover on the aircraft and as we head for the car the black cloud envelops us and we get absolutely soaked. Contingency? We would have gone back South, dropped in to Popham and waited for the storm to pass - I didn't fancy flying through it and there wasn't enough under-Airway height to outclimb it.
So, the next job is a bit of a formal IMC refresher, then a Skills Check.

Remedial IMC part 1
Following a reasonably successful non-precision procedure at Shoreham I feel a little more confident about the IMC revalidation, so we'll try a test procedure with Wayne the Instructor.
Today is windy: approaching, if not already on, the crosswind limit for runway 19. So the winds aloft will be 30kts or more, which will make life interesting.......
On the last flight it emerges that we landed at Oxford with less than 5 Gallons of fuel remaining in the tanks, so I am determined to be better at fuel calculations. At 16 gallons per hour, 5 gallons equates to less than 20 minutes flying time. So I dip the tanks very carefully and we have a total of 26 gallons combined in the tanks. At 16 gallons per hour that's just over 90 minutes flying. We'll be out for an hour, so strictly that's below our 45 minutes IFR reserve. OK this time, but for a real IFR flight more fuel would be required.

We plan a pseudo-19 procedure over the Westcott (WCO) beacon and take off. We'll do this first flight without foggles, so depart via a Botley departure (OX 161° radial outbound until you hit the 360° outbound from Compton (CPT)).
And of course, inevitably, it all goes badly wrong almost immediately: I have forgotten to tune and ID CPT so we don't know when we have actually reached Botley, and I haven't a clue how long it's going to take us to get to Westcott from there, so cannot supply the necessary estimate for the beacon.
We turn left towards WCO looking for the 040° radial inbound. This works OK and we set the QNH on the altimeter to 20mb below the prevailing QNH so we are 600ft above what we think we're flying at.
As we approach WCO using the GPS for a pseudo-DME we get a reasonable cut and turn outbound for the teardrop entry.
And it all goes downhill from here: the wind catches us more than our calculations have allowed for and by the time we have turned back towards the 337° inbound radial we are hugely further East than we should be. It's really hard to recover from a position error of that magnitude in the relatively short time you have for the inbound leg, but we try with a 45° cut and almost manage it, arriving untidily over the beacon.
But we get a good cut and turn in to the hold. Even with triple-WCA correction we're still blown East and it's really hard to get back to the right radial inbound before we get the cut again over the beacon.
We turn outbound on to the 001° radial, call beacon outbound and start the descent plus downwind checks, which works fine except that I use 2200ft instead of 1800ft for the Base Turn (well, at least I erred on the safe side!). Call Base Turn complete and hold the 194° radial inbound, re-check the radio ID and descend.
We've flown the procedure thus far at 90Kts but now we slow to 75kts and drop the flaps to get in to the landing configuration. As we descend and are distracted by the slowing and flaps the wind changes and we drift off track. I have also not reset the compass following the base turn and it's out so we start oscillating left and right as with increasing desperation I try to hold height and heading. The GPS tracks look increasingly amateur as we approach the beacon. We'll do a Missed Approach this time, so head for the beacon then climb outbound 168° back to the Hold.

At this point we track outbound 240 for a visual recovery to Oxford. They have closed taxiway Alpha due to subsidence so we will need to turn on to runway 11/29, which is about 350m in from the threshold. This would normally require a backtrack, but we have barn doors instead, so 40° flap and back to 65Kts for a short-field landing.
We have a serious crosswind, on the limits for this aircraft, so big crab and hold the into-wind wing down. As the stall Warner shrieks, a final big haul and we drop gently on and slow before the intersection for a backtrack-free taxy to the pumps for a serious Avgas fix.
That was absolutely knackering. Clearly, it needs some work....

Part 2: From Bad to Worse
After a debrief and some badly needed time on Terra Firma, we reconvene for a second round.
This time, we'll do the 100° circle to land procedure, with Foggles.

Take off, switch to Foggles and the distraction really puts me off: we end up at WCO the wrong side of the beacon and the whole procedure goes to pot. I know I'm making a mess of it.....
In reality, this procedure is to get close enough to the field to set up a low-level circuit, so positioning is less critical, but height is hugely important, so I concentrate on not busting the heights on the procedure, and eventually we struggle through to the missed approach. Although it wasn't great, looking out at Westcott we are over the field, quite close enough to make a circuit. But not very good.....

During the procedure I get the leans several times, which is good. I heard recently of an IMC training course where they go home every time the student gets the leans. Well, that's no good at all! But I know now just to trust the instruments, trust the instruments.....

Having explored what I know is my weak spot i.e. ADF tracking, we explore some other areas, starting with partial-panel flight. Cover up the AH and DI (the suction-powered instruments) and fly straight and level. Easy with the turn 'n slip once we've set the rudder trim to get the ball in the middle.
Next we do timed turns, with the VOR set up as a reference plate. Turn the OBS to your heading and it tells you where to turn (the compass is always backwards). At 3° per second the calculation is easy. Start the stopwatch, turn in, stop the stopwatch, turn out. And after a couple of cock-ups, it does work OK.
And finally: partial-panel recovery from unusual attitudes. Close eyes and let Wayne put the aircraft in a weird place, then we recover. It's actually not that hard, but a good tip is to roll the wings over-level to Rate 1 in the opposite direction on the Turn 'n slip, then immediately level it. If speed slowing, then more power and yoke forward; if speed increasing then yoke back and throttle off.
We recover VFR to a Left base join for 19 and the wind is now reportedly 250 15G20; outside the crosswind limits for the aircraft. We will take extreme care and go around if necessary. Actually, with Wayne aboard this is good practise. Descend, and we are blown about on the approach but with crab and wing-down we do an even shorter landing and don't even need to brake to exit on to 11/29 this time. We record an approach groundspeed of 38Kts. I now feel happier about going in to places like Brimpton, with short runways.
The ADF tracking definitely needs more work, but re-playing the winds aloft later on RANT I really did pick an appalling day to try this: we were battling against 40Kts across our track, so maybe I shouldn't feel quite so downhearted. Dialling the winds down to a more normal 20Kts the whole process becomes considerably less frenetic, which makes me feel better.
This is a process I will revisit, but will fly VMC-only for a while.

Undercooking the landing
Today we’ll go to Brimpton, which is a 520m grass strip just outside Newbury. I’ve been there by road and have co-piloted Stephen’s C175 in, but I have never flown in myself. Armed with recent short field experience I am confident we can get the C182 in (and even more importantly, out). John is coming with me.

The previous pilot (not me!) has left the fuel on, and the aircraft is parked on a slope, so all the fuel has drained to the lower tank. This could make for interesting flying, and there isn’t quite enough fuel for me to be happy with, so we’ll fill up the other tank first.
Taxyway Alpha is still closed, so we’ll start with a backtrack and take off on 01. We’ll do it short field, so 20° flaps and rotate at 60Kts. This goes very well, which increases my confidence that we’ll get out of Brimpton.
We climb out and head South; John flies us to Compton and then we peel off left. Before we know it, at 125Kts we are almost overhead them and need to descend to fit in with their 800ft circuit
. I'll do a low approach and go around first as I'm not low enough, slow enough or confident enough at this point to attempt a landing. I'm also much too close, so we power out and do a nice long circuit, far to the East to give ourselves lot of time to get it absolutely spot-on. Approach speed and landing placement is critical, we can very easily roll off the end of this 520m muddy grass runway. The C182 has a reputation as a short and rugged field aircraft, we're about to find out if it's true. The backout plan is that if we are not down and rolling by the time we pass the hangars it's full-shit and go around time.
There is very little wind, so crosswind won't be an issue, but it does look very short from here. I get the aircraft down to 60Kts with all the barn doors out and come in low and slow. I'm aiming for the numbers, not the normal 1/3rd of the way down the runway. I'm not having any of this floating lark, I want the wing to actually stop flying over the numbers.
It all goes well until the perimeter hedge where I back off the power just a bit too much and we have no flare cushion left as we are so slow. The stall warner sounds and we descend a little too fast for comfort. I don't want to feed in power as we'll use up more runway, but we're very close to the ground now and we touch down heavily just shy of the numbers and on a bit of a hump, which makes us bounce once (we're not meant to be landing right here, and I can see why). The wheels touch again, and we're down and solid (my first thought is "Prop Strike" but despite deep compression of the nose oleo later inspection shows no damage, just grass in the nosewheel spat). I don't need to brake (probably wouldn't have much effect on the wet grass anyway) and we're only doing 30Kts by the time we pass the hangars.
No need for a go around: we even take the intermediate exit to the taxyway. That wasn't great though, a decidedly undercooked landing and too heavy to be happy with. More STOL work required: I need to stop panicking about running out of runway and if I am going to land on the numbers it needs to be a bit gentler i.e. faster. Another 5Kts and that would have been perfect. Let's just say we explored the bottom end of the aircraft's speed range quite comprehensively.....

After a coffee, a wait for a shower to pass through and an inspection of the undercarriage, we fire up again. Get the aircraft right against the hedge, 20° flaps then full chat and release the brakes. We head off like a scalded cat. Keep back pressure on the yoke to ease the pressure on the nosewheel but at 57Kts she is not coming up, so positive back pressure at 60Kts and still she is floundering, although we are at least off the ground and climbing.
Once at 1,000ft we review: it turns out we had 10° flaps, not 20°. The detents and labels are slightly out of alignment but that's not the point: I really should have double-checked. It was OK, but took more runway than it needed to.
Trundle home Northwards, join Right Base for 01 and do a decent landing this time, at least!

The great thing about having unfettered access to an aircraft is the ability to be able to fly at very short notice: if you wake up, it's sunny and you're in the mood, you know you can just Go. It's not unlike having your first car; a major liberating moment I remember well.
It's also nice to have an obliging series of friends and relatives who like coming flying and are not too bothered where. And a friendly accountant who ensures the minimum cost, of course...

Wake up Saturday morning and the word "Fairoaks" pops in to my head. A quick Skype IM to John (who is not awake yet) confirms I will have a mate to go with.
My oldest friend Simon, who lives in SW London, needs taking out at some point: this is the closest airfield to him so I'd like to experience going there before I do take him out. It's also inside (not under) the London Control Zone, so we will need to tread with caution.
Good experience for both of us.
We'll do the trip using NDB tracking, which is good practise for my IMC. I've concluded I need more time to get entirely comfortable in the C182 before re-trying the full IMC Procedure: just flying the plane is taking up too much of my (very limited) mental energy at present. Also re-running the procedure in RANT and Flight Sim with big winds in varying directions helps.
I'm getting better at the pre-flight and Aircraft cover stowing now: John has a similar cover for his Tecnam and his experience is a big help. Together we cut the stow/unstow time in half by careful folding.
Off to the pumps to top off the tanks and have a really good look at the nosewheel and spat. All the plastic spat cracks that are there were there before last week, and have been either riveted or drilled to prevent crack propagation, so we clear all the accumulated earth out of the spat and all looks good.
Fire up, check the NDB and head out. Taxyway Alpha and its associated subsidence has still not been fixed so we wait for a Rutan Vari Eze (a rare beastie!) to taxy on to the apron, then we can go.
Take off, left turn to avoid the Brize Zone and lock on to the 145° outbound radial. As always, when not under stress, this is easy. Just p
ull the tail.... We settle at 2,400ft on the radial with John driving and a 5° wind correction. Swap to Farnborough and they're very helpful.
At 130Kts Reading comes up very quickly: switch to WOD or Woodley near Reading and track inbound (Push the head). We'll pass to the right but it's good practise anyway.

Once past we need to have our wits about us: we will be deliberately violating the London Control Zone and have been briefed by Fairoaks as to how to do it: skirt round the TMA until you are SW of the airfield, descend to 1400ft QNH and call them. Once in radio contact, go on in. But we have arrived a little early: that 130Kts gets us there before we've had a chance to say goodbye to Farnborough, so we orbit and finally get a word in edgeways to change frequencies en route. Normally one would join Overhead but when we call them up they are happy for us to join Downwind. The wind is 5Kts straight down runway 24.
Turn Base leg, then Final, call Final and let's see if we can do a real greaser this time, to make up for last weekend. Carry just a touch of power in to the flare, then roll it very gently off, and with a tiny squeak from the stall warner we kiss the tarmac. Oooh, nice, and even on the centreline.... Hold the nosewheel off as long as possible and gently release it, light braking and we trundle down to the end of the runway. Exit right, navigate the complex taxyways and park up by the big hangar where it says "Do Not Park". Hmmmmm.....

Home, James
After a rather good BLT baguette we fire up once more, taxy out rather too close to some very expensive aircraft and take off. Turning left, we exit the London Zone and call up Farnborough, who give us a Transit overhead Farnborough: Ooh, that's worth a picture.
Ease right to avoid Blackbushe, then John flies us home again. As we're still under the London TMA we need to be very careful with our altitude. At one point Farnborough asks us to report our level, which we do: 2,450ft on 995mb. Just to be on the safe side, we descend 100ft. Don't want to be busting the Zone.
At 130Kts we are back at Oxford very quickly indeed: John lines us up for a downwind join for 19. There's a business jet landing, so we extend downwind then swing in behind him, giving him plenty of room to backtrack, but the Tower has other thoughts and makes us go round from Final. We comply, get an early turn then trundle down the approach. Barn doors out, but I land a little late and we just miss the intersection, so a 10ft backtrack and we're off.
What a lovely day out.

Between the snows
Work has kept me busy in the run up to Christmas, and over the Christmas period some serious snow and then fog have precluded any flying.

The Christmas break is a time for reflection. In a recent copy of Flying magazine (it's simply the best: none of the UK magazines even come close) the editor muses how different actually pushing the levers and pedals to move the aircraft and feeling the aircraft respond, is to being a passenger. Being flown is nothing at all like actually flying. Once you know how it feels to actually fly you never feel the same even about being flown in an airliner.
I have recently been teaching my eldest daughter to drive and the same rules operate: she can be driving down a road she has been driven down hundreds of times in the past, but now she is driving it and she says it looks and feels completely different. Yes, it does.

Finally, a one-day window between snow and work opens on 2nd January, when the sun might even shine.
This is all a bit uncertain: we may well suffer from either an inability to get the aircraft started (it has sat unused for a month and was at one point covered in snow for a week), or an inability to taxy it out of its own wheelmarks. We shall see, and if all goes well Nessie and I will go to Lydd for lunch.
Amazingly, it starts first go (more than can be said for my BMW this morning - that needed jump leads!) and with a fair bit of oomph, but no more than we often need on grass, we are moving.
Off to the pumps to fill up with Avgas and to check that the tyres are pumped up OK (hard to tell on the grass), and following a little fight with the various pumps we are ready to go.
Winds are 5° off straight down 01 at 5Kts so we'll have a smooth take off.

I like flying in the winter: less turbulence and fewer people flying. It's quiet up here as we climb and turn en route; once set up for Compton we turn the auto-pilot on and cruise South, turning at CPT for GWC (Goodwood), avoiding the no-fly zone at Oakhanger on the way.
It's surprisingly sunny and we both wish we had brought our sunglasses.
At Goodwood we turn East for Seaford and follow the beautiful white cliffs East, which are more interesting than the cliffs further East. As we descend to 1,500ft to get a closer look we realise we are being shadowed by a DR Robin who is also sightseeing.

Contacting Lydd we cruise over the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch railway and join overhead at 1,500ft, descending as instructed to join downwind.
Having not flown for 6 weeks I expect my first landing will be somehow inaccurate, and indeed I approach too high, and whilst we make a lovely smooth controlled landing we also use about 1000m of runway and miss the normal turn-off. Who do we think we are, an airliner?
I tend to do this if I haven't been flying for a while: after a landing or two I get my eye in, but I can understand currency requirements and the need to practise regularly.
We park up on the huge tarmac apron and head for the Biggles (!) restaurant for some lunch. We've done 1.2hrs Oxford to Lydd.

Covering some ground
The hot air dryer in the loo only works intermittently, and neither myself nor a French pilot I meet can work out exactly where to put our hands to activate it. Eventually he shrugs his shoulders and declares it "female"..... I love the Gallic sense of humour.
Lunch is good, and once our stomachs are refuelled we depart for Dover for a look at the proper "white cliffs". I've never been here before and over Dover harbour it's interesting to watch the ferries and see the old hovercraft terminal, now abandoned... what a waste of a perfectly good British invention the hovercraft was.
Dover's white cliffs are dirty and small - the Hastings cliffs are more interesting, definitely, so we turn North East and head home.
Our track is straight to the Lambourn VOR: North London Information passes us to Farnborough North for a trek under the London TMA. We skirt Stapleford's ATZ and cut the corner of the turn towards Bovingdon at 2400ft too avoid any local traffic. Farnborough advises us helpfully of close traffic and we pass Westward over Bovingdon and then the Chilterns, which at this height appear an insignificant range of hills. From the ground they are bigger!

Once past them and aware of some conflicting traffic we switch back to Oxford who advises us of a motorglider coming our way. It turns out to be one of the Abingdon UAS Grob Vigilants, who seems to be out very late in the day and a long way from home, with all his lights on. We pass close enough to wave and descend for a right base join for 01. Again I'm a bit high on the approach, but more positive action earlier gets us on the PAPIs and we arrive smoothly. Tower lets us backtrack for a short taxy home and we park up, very satisfied, as the light fades. 1.2 hrs home again.
We've been a long way and it's been painless. The Scillies next?

I've never flown to Turweston: they're one of those pesky airfields that are just not quite far enough away to be worth a flight, normally. However, today we have business there: Pete's Mooney has been resprayed and is awaiting collection. He needs ferrying up there and going by car would be soooo uncool. So we'll nip up. Lucy will come along for the trip as she is not at college today.
It's been raining hard all morning but as lunch approaches the rain eases off and the sun looks like it might come out. We unwrap one very wet aircraft, dip the tanks (not much in there...), taxy to the pumps and fill up (I even manage to make the pump work first time and get a receipt), then we take off on 01 Northbound. It's really smooth today: there is very little wind and no thermals, and the visibility is excellent: we can see as far as Coventry to the North, and Gloucester to the West.
It's not worth going above 2,500ft as we skirt to the West and then the North of Brackley and descend for a straight-in/left (a bit) base join. I'm quite glad I've done the Popham offset approach before as we float down towards the massively displaced threshold of 09. And for once we do an absolute greaser: none of us can tell the exact landing moment but there is a rumbling below us as the wheels wind up. Normally I can only do these when no one else is watching....
Backtrack and taxy in (we'll avoid the very wet taxyway), shut down and push back to the edge of the grass. The sun is shining and all is Good with the world.

Driving lesson (sort of)
Pete has his plane back and it looks fabulous: like new. Unfortunately they have flattened the battery so a 24V battery is produced and they jump-start it: I've never seen that done before. Then Lucy finds some of Pete's kit he has left in the Cessna so I have to go and find him in the resprayers' office and there, being resprayed, is the PA-28-140 Golf Juliet I have done so much flying on. That's going to look really good resprayed.

We'll try a proper short field take-off here and see what happens. It's best to experiment with a nice long piece of tarmac for my next visit to Brimpton (or another little strip I have in mind...). They've swapped runways so we will backtrack 27 and take off. Flaps 20°: we will rotate firmly at 57Kts IAS and see what happens.
It does need a confident pull on the yoke at 57Kts but then it goes up like a helicopter. Hold and trim at 65Kts and the rate of climb is alarming. Clearing a 50ft obstacle? Pah!

I've been teaching Lucy to drive and she has got the hang of being in control as opposed to being a passenger, so we will experiment with effects of controls. We work on rudder, aileron then elevator and she is very good once she has got over her fear of breaking it by moving the controls (I can remember that!).
We fly around in the brilliant afternoon sunshine for nearly an hour - it feels like my first Trial lesson, but from the Instructor's perspective. She loves it.

We rejoin crosswind for 01 and cruise over Kidlington, we're high on the approach but by the time we're at the threshold we're in the right place, and with little or no wind we can do another greaser by careful manipulation of that flare cushion.
"Mmmm, nice....", as the Jazz DJ on The Fast Show would have said.

Weather dilemma
A friend has asked me to take up their 12 year old son to see how he likes flying, so we take a look at the weather, and it's one of those sort-of-IMC days that would preclude any flying school activity, but might be, in practice, quite flyable, with an ATIS of "broken at 1,000ft, 8Km viz in haze". We'll give it a go, and if it really is awful we'll come down again.
We start up (got enough fuel today) and take off on 01. It turns out that it is slightly hazy but the clouds are more like scattered at 1,500ft, diffuse and only 1,000ft or so thick. Above 2,500ft it is clear and sunny.
We depart to the South at 1,500ft and orbit over Radley school (where my passenger starts in September), then over to Abingdon where his sisters are playing lacrosse, for some aerial shots. As Abingdon UAS are flying today we swap to their frequency and tell them our intentions, and that we will stay East of their circuit. They are amazed that we think of doing so, and even more that we know their frequency. Forward planning rules! (it's 122.10, by the way)
We depart to the South and swap back to Oxford Approach, then climb through a hole in to the sunny bit at 3,500ft for some general handling.
He's pretty good (lots of video games?), can hold a height and before long he's flying us around the cloud banks with a big grin on his face: he is just tall enough to reach the pedals. A future pilot?

After a while we decide to go home, so head North East to pass North of Abingdon, drop back through a hole in to the gloom below, pass over the house between Abingdon and the Brize zone, round the corner of the zone and overhead Oxford. Orbit once to give spacing for an arriving PA-31 then line up for a Right Base join for 01 and descend. We have a strong wind straight down the runway so we float for a bit, then drop in smoothly on the stall warner, brake and backtrack for a quick trip to the parking area.
It's cold as we put the cover on, but maybe I've awakened an interest there - it would be nice to think so.

Multi Crew Co-Operation
We need to visit High Wycombe to check out whether we have the correct vented fuel caps on the plane and to look at a dodgy ADF readout. This is a good excuse for a jolly, and 3 out of 4 members of the Syndicate are up for it. All of these people are qualified and experienced pilots: one is an ex-BA Captain, so this is a good chance to learn things.
After two weather-aborted sessions we find a sunny but breezy day in February. The winds are 24015G20 so right on the official crosswind limit of the C182, and a strong wind warning will be in effect by the time we return. I'm not flying, so it will be interesting to experience crew co-ordination.
Much is made in commercial aviation of MCC, or Multi-crew Co-Operation, which is basically a set of systems to ensure safe operation when multiple pilots are in the cockpit. History has shown that deferential co-pilots and locker-room behaviour cause accidents, so the FAA have come up with the concept of the "Sanitised cockpit" where banter is banned and each command decision is deliberately open to scrutiny by all parties. This has made aviation safer and has application even in small aircraft.
We start out by carefully apportioning the cover removal, walk-around and pre-flight check lists to ensure nothing falls through the cracks. Having multiple pilots with experience of this aircraft speeds things up but throws up a number of interesting issues: some corrosion is evident on the outboard elevator hinge points and my concern as an engineer is whether that is weakening a vital joint.
We also look carefully at the flap lever: this has physical detents and flap degree markings, which do not in any way match. Some are using the markings, some the detents.
A unified checklist has also eluded us, so we discuss the merits of various versions, some of which are riddled with duplications. I have a simplified version but even that is incomplete and my copy carries assorted hand-inked alterations.
The back is very comfortable: there's a lot of legroom and a surprising amount of headroom. I imagine it would be a little more cramped with two, but me and my flight bag would be happy here for a long period.
Steve is to co-pilot John, and they go very carefully through the "full of duplicates" version of the checklist using challenge/response. This works well, albeit slowly, and we have a chance to discuss various checks.
At the entrance to runway 19 we are behind a Cessna Citation which takes off, and we are cleared in immediately behind it. I am thinking "wake separation", although in practice with the breezy conditions any vortices will be long gone. But in calmer conditions I think I might be more cautious.
John takes off and doesn't do my noise abatement trick at 500ft, which is different but not necessarily wrong, and we turn East to climb and track North of Benson. It's a little hazy and we settle at about 2,400ft for the short leg to Wycombe, me cursing the fact that I forgot to bring my camera.
As Thame passes below we change to Wycombe and descend to 1,400ft for a right base for runway 24. The wind is at 230° so we will have very little crosswind but should stop quickly. John prevaricates between 20° and 40° flap, but settles eventually on 40° for a short-field and brings us in very tidily on the stall-warner. Since Brimpton I've been a bit wary of flaring so deep in to the stall warner but he hauls away with gusto and we settle very gently on to the tarmac for a short run, then backtrack for a fuel cap inspection, lunch and a fill-up of the fuel tanks.

More MCC
On the return journey I will be Non-Handling Pilot, which will be interesting and raises the theoretical possibility that, should John become incapacitated, I might have to attempt a right-seat landing. Now I am sure this is not hugely difficult, but I have never done it and it is one more thing to add to my (long) "excuses to go flying" list. Some people struggle with motivation to go flying: once they have their license they get bored and drift away, but I have never had that at all - I can always think of an excuse to go up, even if it is a flimsy one!
So I'm reading checklists and John is flying: once we have finished our run-up checks we call ready for departure and are offered an immediate departure if we can expedite. Well, we can most definitely, so we roll down 10° of flap as we accelerate on to the runway, check they are down equally as we roll and take-off in to the bright sunshine. At 1,500ft we roll right and head back for Oxford, climbing to 2,500ft.
It's interesting having 3 pairs of aviators' eyes roaming around: between us we do spot a lot of other traffic. I also have to manage the radio, which is fun because I have to push the PTT whilst not interfering with John's control movements. Now I understand why Instructors do that "lean down and squeeze the PTT from the top" manoeuvre that I always thought was a bit of a pose.
We check the Oxford ATIS, but John doesn't want to declare our landing intentions to Oxford until he can see the chimney. This leaves us very late to announce our intentions and causes problems: I would have announced much further back at say 12d and worked from there, but interesting to see it done differently.
We join Left Base for 19 following some radio confusion (on their part, not mine) about whether we were flying VMC or VFR. I do know the difference in some detail but extended rants on the radio to that effect are not good airmanship, so we continue our approach.
John gets very low on Left Base: I normally turn Final at 1,000ft to give me height to recover from any possible "Coffin Corner" turning stall and more chance of a glide approach if the donkey quits, but we're below 500ft and John is remarking on the 3 red PAPIs. Anyway, it's within my theoretical approach cone so despite some talk from him about going around and the speed bleeding off a little too much for my comfort he motors it in.
At this point we are in to Oxford's Strong Wind warning and they are giving 24017G22 so this could be interesting. John has to really work at the approach and it is rough, but a great deal of yoke work later we're in ground effect and down very softly on the centreline. Bravo!
But what would have happened had he suddenly said "you have control"? I need to do some right-seat landings, and Steve agrees, so that's a little trip we will make.

A Rotary interlude
I do get the odd helicopter flight and this one involves lunch in Sonning and a scud run back home. You don't get to see RAF Benson and central Abingdon from this angle very often...

Mud, glorious mud
It's at this time of year you sometimes wake up in the morning and realise that the sun is out, the birds are singing, and there's a whole sky just waiting to be flown in.
The forecast says it will rain before lunch, spreading from the West but this morning will be lovely, so better get going!
White Waltham is the home of the West London Aero Club, and is terribly famous as being where all those 1930s aviators learned to fly on Tiger Moths: you've seen them in films like "Out of Africa" and "The English Patient". Apparently it's very bumpy indeed: far too bumpy to be allowed to fly to. Well, we'll see.
By 9.00am Sunday morning I'm at the aircraft, taking off the cover. There's even some fuel in the plane, so off we go in to the beautiful blue morning, heading South East.
Change to Benson, who are normally quiescent at the weekends, but whose ATZ is Active this morning, so we will climb over the whole kit and kaboodle and change to Farnborough East so they know where we are and what we are doing. Technically we are about to infringe the London TMA as, like Fairoaks, parts of the White Waltham circuit are close to/in the TMA. By the time we are over Henley at 130Kts I can see White Waltham a little too closely, so orbit whilst changing from Farnborough and descend for a downwind RH join for 29. This all feels a bit rushed, so we may have to have another go.

But no, despite radio calls being mainly blind (there is a service, but it's a bit sporadic) we end up in the approach cone for 29 and flare at 60Kts over the little white concrete numbers embedded in the grass. Expecting a rough ride I am pleasantly surprised by a bounce-free arrival and a smooth runway. It's not bumpy at all!
Vacate right, and taxy the mile or so across the grass to the other aircraft (no taxyways here), putting up a rabbit as we go. I think I do understand actually: there are ridges and a prop strike is a possibility here. Maybe I was a little too harsh.
There is no indication of where we are meant to park or even taxy, so it takes a while to find the parking slots where we park at random and shut down. It's very muddy, which makes the aircraft slew about in the ruts. Interesting...

Too much flap!
There is an old adage that nothing is too stupid to do. Well, here's something you don't want to do twice.....
After a cup of coffee I fire up the aircraft and taxy out to where I am pretty sure you're meant to do power checks, then on to where I think 29 starts. Hearing no "Final" calls, we call "lining up" and roll.
At this point, due to the mud, I think I might do a short field take off, and hit the flaps down. Brain says "2 stages, 20°"; finger says "3 stages, 40°" [but see Fly By Night later on: it looks like this was actually an aircraft issue on rough ground...]
So at 60Kts it doesn't feel like it wants to fly: we leave the ground but it drifts back down in to ground effect and feels awful. Shit, what's going on?
We've got plenty of runway left but there are hedges out there eventually. Quick scan: mags both, throttle full, prop fully forward, fuel both, carb heat in, flaps.... ah.
Flick up 1 stage, and as the motors grind upwards the normal rocket-like climb rate is restored and the mushiness goes away. Phew!
The sweats only set in after a couple of minutes once the stress of ensuring a climb out under the TMA has abated and we're with Farnborough and on a squawk. That was not something I wish to repeat. Stupid Stupid Stupid.
Back over the Chilterns we climb over the Benson MATZ stub and we're at the base of the clouds as the front rolls in. As we descend for a left base for 19 the clouds follow us down. D129 (Weston on the Green) is Active: they must be dropping through the clouds.
Continuing my theme of short field work, we do a full flap landing and aim for one of the squares half way down the runway. Whilst we don't actually get the wheels on it I reckon we were damned close. All this experimentation with the mushier end of the envelope is helping, though: we do another greaser.
Whilst putting the cover on the rain rolls in: glad I have my anorak with me.

And finally I have more P1 ("Pilot In Command", don't you know...) hours than P2 (under instruction). Ooh, that does feel grown up.
Just got to stop doing the stupid stuff now.

Too nice a day to drive...
Well, that's my excuse, anyway, and I'm sticking to it.
I am to visit a potential client in Cheltenham, and it's such a beautiful sunny but cold day I just can't face fighting the sluggards on the A40. So I will go to Gloucester Airport and take a taxi into Cheltenham from there.
And that's the joy: any feeble excuse, a quick e-mail to the others and turn up with the key, book out and FLY.
There is sufficient fuel in the tanks for what I have planned, so no need to top up. Just fire up and head out from 01 with a left turn out, and by 9.30am I am in the air heading for Gloucester.
It's surprisingly hazy at 3,000ft but at 23½/23½ we're doing 130Kts and over Gloucester in 12 minutes, descending for a Downwind join for 09LH.
A controlled descent has us flaring 1/3rd of the way down the runway, but I leave the power on a tad too long and we land fast for my first bounce in the C182, just a little one then we're down and rolling, exiting for A1 and the apron.
Flight time: 18 mins. Better than an hour at 40mph on the A40 behind some drooling idiot.

Whilst waiting for a taxi outside the terminal I watch some passengers climbing in to a KLM/Manx Air Dornier. An Oxford Aviation Seneca lands on 09, disappears behind the Dornier.... and fails to re-appear.
Moving round a bit I can see the Seneca now stopped half way down the runway with a collapsed nose-gear leg and mangled props. Off go the Fire people, and the Manx Air passengers exit the aircraft: Gloucester is Closed.
At that point my taxi arrives and I'm away to do some work.....

Round 2, boyo!
2½ hours later I'm back at the Terminal, work completed. As I step out of the taxi the Manx Air Dornier and passengers, plus the runway-blocking Seneca are still there! Although Gloucester is now open for little aeroplanes like me, the runways in use are not long enough for the Dornier. Oops.
I'm getting hungry and Swansea beckons (well, now I've got the aircraft...), so pay the landing fee and wander out to the aircraft, avoiding the Security checks (well, I am holding those well known weapons of mass destruction: a pad of paper and a pen).
The port tyre looks a little deflated: not flat, just a bit soft. I can't find anyone with a pump, so this is one that can wait: the C182 next door has a flatter looking tyre and he is flying it. But we'll keep an eye on it.
As we fire up, the wounded Seneca (the main gear had collapsed as well) is towed past, all twisted props and scraped belly. I reckon that will never fly again (which is true: a few months later I see it stripped in the boneyard at Oxford).
So: off to Swansea via the BCN beacon for some VOR practice. At 3,000ft it's surprisingly bumpy for there being no wind: it turns out there is an inversion layer and I'm trundling through it.

Beyond Brecon there are huge heath fires burning, leaving a vast pall of smoke through which we eventually fly, the air smelling slightly of grass smoke, before the coast appears again and we line up for the approach to runway 22.
This duly appears out of the haze and we slide down for a frankly less than perfect landing. My landings are awful today: this time we still have too much speed on and the flare goes on too long: we are drifting towards the edge of the runway by the time we touch and although it's safe I'm not happy.
Roll in for a BLT and some serious e-mail (got to look like I'm in the office!).

You go a long way very quickly at 130Kts
Having power-checked prior to entering runway 22 the aircraft starts not tracking straight. Huh? I've left the parking brake partly on. Don't want that on for take-off! The trick turns out to be to push the handbrake lever down, not rely on the spring to release it. Add to operating method notes...
Taking off from runway 22 again and curving round for a Northbound departure we head for the North (more interesting) side of the Brecon Beacons before heading East. The weather here is better and at 3,500ft it's very smooth and calm. We get everything settled, trimmed, leaned and on track before doing the photography thing: these hills are photogenic.

30 minutes later we are back over Ross On Wye where we change back to Gloucester and request a transit through their ATZ: as we pass through we can see a transiting Dauphin below us a little too close for comfort. Exiting East we are over the hills in a couple of minutes and back in to the haze. Swing out past Little Rissington, then back on track and switch to Oxford for an ATIS update and descend for a crosswind join RH for 01. At the last moment, turning Final, a Gulfstream appears and I am asked to go round and take an early turn. As we swing round he looks very impressive, cruising in from Botley. Round again for another go (good practice this), then in and really concentrate on a decent landing. And this time we manage it, really nice and smooth.
Halfway down the taxy home, the aircraft is veering off to the left a bit. I look carefully and the parking brake is still slightly on: it must not have gone right down at Swansea. Have to watch that one: it must be pushed all the way down positively.
Nice lunch in Wales, good piece of business and safely home by 4.00pm: that's the way to use a sunny day.

Rusty at Wellesbourne
The weather is set to be wonderful all over the weekend, so we have a Grown-Up trip planned. In preparation for this, as I haven't flown for a few weeks, I'll nip out to Wellesbourne for some circuits.
The aircraft has been moved and our parking space is now behind one of the hangars right at the corner of the airfield; a perfect place as we no longer have to fight in the mud, but as the Tower cannot see us we need to ask for start-up permission, which the Tower duly gives, and I taxy gingerly out, minding the hangar doors.

Off towards Wellesbourne, and the GPS is refusing to play today, so a quick VOR crosscut gives an accurate indication of Wellesbourne's direction and distance and I settle in to the circuit. As normal, the first approach feels rushed and I'm not quite in control. Flare too late, and a slight bounce indicates that I am indeed going too fast. Oodles of boodle and we're off and up again. Subsequent approaches feel more controlled and I'm getting the flare speed more in the right band so initial ground contact is less severe.
Running out of time, so one last barn door job and taxy in for a ham sandwich and orange juice.

High speed return
It's easy to forget how quick this aircraft is, so by the time I have departed 36, turned South, climbed to the 2,800ft cloudbase and changed radio we're well past Banbury and Farmoor is glinting in the middle distance. A quick change back to Oxford Approach, a swerve around D129 to avoid the parachutists and we're Right Base for 01, so slide down the approach and do a creditable landing before filling up at the pumps for our Big Trip.
Putting the aircraft away is interesting: first time pushing a C182 in to a parking space before with the towbar (could do with Beta mode on the prop!). It turns out to be very easy and before long TG is covered up once more.

Paperwork galore
Where we plan to go requires the full flight plan + GenDec, so the floor gets covered in maps, plogs and documents. The GenDec has been through at least 3 mutually-incompatible versions in the last few years and the current version is an MS Word document from Ops at Oxford, to be filled-in and e-mailed back to them when necessary. Quite why the whole thing is necessary eludes me, but there you are.
The whole flight plan thing has become massively easier with the introduction of the AFPEx on-line flight planning software a couple of years ago. Provided you have a broadband connection you can file a flight plan easily and pretty much instantaneously. Previous indirect systems required various delays prior to flight but this system files instantly and truly does put a very powerful tool in the hands of the average pilot.
It does require a certain amount of care and the interface is not the most helpful: the fields you most need help on don't have any help available, but it's not really that difficult to use. The difficulty is the routing codes, so the best bet is to cheat by using SkyDemon (wholeheartedly recommended) to generate the route and the flight plan, then copy/paste the routing from there in to AFPEx. Even cleverer, you can plan the outbound and return routes and store them both on the AFPEx system.
You can pay SkyDemon extra to be able to generate flight plans directly from their software, but you can't guarantee to have access to the software at the far end of the journey to generate the return flight plan. You can pretty much guarantee access to a broadband connection, however, and as AFPEx is cross-platform it doesn't matter of that's on a Mac or a PC.
The fallback, of course, is to ring Ops at Oxford: they are very helpful.
But I've never actually had to file a flight plan in anger, so with some trepidation I hit "Send..." and it works. Phew!

I end up ringing Morlaix, as the AIP is not specific about their hours, and the hugely helpful French chappie tells me they are very 'appy for us to visit at the weekend, but they require a faxed PPR, which is a problem as we don't have a fax machine (threw the last one out 10 years ago...).
Sometimes you need to be a bit of an IT whizz to do this GA stuff: having tried to send it from the client's fax machine where I happen to be it keeps failing, fortunately my laptop has an internal modem and Windows 7 Fax 'n Scan. But all of their phone ports are RJ45 VoIP, so I end up down behind the fax cabinet plugging in to the BT socket. But it does work.
However, the very kind homme also says that there is no English language service at the airport at the weekends: I can come in, but only if I can speak aviation French......
Ooh er, missus.

The various websites I look at concerning flying in France all say things along the lines of "Don't, under any circumstances fly to a French-only airfield unless you can speak extremely good French" (which of course I can't). However, I know people who fly to small French airfields who I know cannot speak French and they say it's really not an issue, so I bone up on French circuit terms and take a cribsheet as follows:

Downwind: vent arriere
Approach: approche
Final: finale
Go around: mise en gas
Landing: atterissage
Runway vacated: piste degagee
Take-off: decollage
Runway: Piste
Active runway: Piste en service
(je demande la piste en service, s'il vous plait?)
Overhead: verticale

Crossing Borders
We're off to see my Uncle who runs a very nice bed and breakfast chateau in Morlaix. This will be my first non-chaperoned French visit and first long over-water flight, so we will do the safety thing properly with 4 GPS's, 2 GPS PLBs, lifejackets we will wear and a liferaft, plus a formal ditching drill before we start. We're both good swimmers, but it's a question of a) staying afloat, b) getting out of the water and c) someone knowing exactly where you are so they can come and get you.
As Nessa seems to have brought half the garden with us as gifts Oxford Ops thoughtfully let us use their van and driver to ferry around to the aircraft. We load up, request start (get some weird ATIS interference related, apparently, to where we are parked), fire up and leave heading South.
As we depart the circuit we pop the autopilot on and track to CPT then South towards Boscombe Down, who are uninterested in anything other than knowing we are there and keeping us out of Middle Wallop's ATZ. But they do pass us to Bournemouth who give us a Zone Transit through to the coast.
Where is everyone? It's the most beautiful warm, clear morning, but Bournemouth are talking to us and one EasyJet flight, that's all. The sky is empty.
Over the coast we avoid the Weymouth Danger Areas and climb to FL60 (I don't like flying low over large bits of water).
The land slips behind and suddenly it's just us and the cargo ships. A bit scarey really, but we've done this before, going to Jersey.

Within a few minutes we come up on the FIR boundary and swap to the Channel Islands Zone for a Special VFR transit through their zone.
I have heard horror stories about these guys sending you all over the place if you don't sound or look confident, so we ensure we are spot on with height, heading and calls, and sound nonchalant. They are officious but polite and allow us straight in and through, past Alderney and overhead Guernsey before we head for the indistinct white mass ahead that can only be...

The Channel Islands Zone extends a fair way South West of Guernsey and I've often wondered why; now I know.
There is a small group of rocks with a lighthouse called Les Roches Douvres and beyond that is..... well, nothing but foreignness, from an English perspective.

"Squawk 7000, Contact Iroise 118.4".
We're Abroad: through the haze and fog appears the rocky coast of Brittany.

Iroise Approach couldn't be more helpful: they know all about us from our flight plan (well, there's a relief) and are happy with our route via the LN beacon that we have on ADF and are happily tracking, pushing that head.
Overhead LN we turn, pull the tail and head for Morlaix. Iroise give us a phone number to close our flight plan on when we have landed, and suggest we change en route. Time to get the crib sheet out....

We make blind calls in French from the overhead, orbiting 1000ft above the circuit height, but receiving no response and unable to see the windsock or any other traffic, we make a decision to land on Piste 22 as the prevailing winds are South Westerly.
Keeping a very close eye out for opposing traffic and making French blind calls ("I will say 'zis only once...") we join downwind and turn base, then Final for 22, float down the approach and flare. Get it a bit wrong and drift over to one side of the (big) runway before touching, but we're down and rolling, exit, call "piste degagee", park up by the hangar, shut down and we've done it. We're in Brittany.

It turns out we should have landed on 04, the other way, but no one else was flying and there was no wind, so it was a reasonable call.

There is just no one at the airfield: it's entirely deserted. No one to pay, no one to check passports or Customs. It is, I understand, typically French - they are all "At Lunch".

My uncle has photographed us landing and is waiting; we've been in the air 2hrs 5mins. Beats the ferry.

Misty morning
Sunday morning dawns foggy and not good flying weather. It is, however, forecast to clear eventually and soon bits of blue sky appear, but when we return to the field via the wonderfully Gallic Airport security gate (you need a security combination to get through, but the gate is only 4 ft high so you can reach over and open it from the inside) a local comes over to tell us it is too foggy to fly to England. It's OK, we say, we're just flying "locale".
Unfortunately, having loaded up the plane and started the engine, I then attempt a tight turn in front of the hangar and fail, embarrassingly. Instead of risking whacking the left wing against the front of the hangar, I have to apologise, switch off (Mags OFF, check that twice, keys in my pocket), climb out, grab the towbar and manually pull the aircraft and three passengers round to avoid the hangar door. Better safe than sorry....
Blind calls en Français get us on to piste 04 and the 4 of us are off in to the morning haze. The visibility is not hugely great, so we stay low, at around 1,000ft and trundle around Morlaix taking pictures. It looks very foggy out to sea: hope it's OK for going home tonight.

After 20 minutes we return to the field (more blind French calls - I'm getting quite used to this) and negotiate with a french DR Robin for circuit space (more great practice) before landing on 04 ("zero....quattre") tidily and taxying in. We'll go home later this afternoon.

The white room
We have enough fuel to get back to Oxford, but without much of a reserve. Over the sea I'd like to have an hour's reserve at all times in case we get lost / blown somewhere etc. So we'll go home via Lannion which has fuel but, unlike Morlaix, this fuel is available on a Sunday afternoon and for cash. The fallback plan is to land in Guernsey or Bournemouth if Lannion cannot provide. My fuel calculations have thus far been absolutely accurate and we can do Oxford if the wind is as forecast, but......
Say our goodbyes, more French calls (I really don't understand what the fuss is about these) and we're away, climbing out and switching back to Iroise, who pass us to Lannion Tower who could not be more friendly. They already know of us from our flight plan and have fuel, they offer us either direction to land as there is no wind, and we land (messily, actually, I flare a little too high), backtrack and turn off for the fuel pumps.
The Sapeurs Pompiers are not really used to seeing vast sums of Euros for fuel but readily agree to fill 'er up, include the landing fee and I dip both tanks after they've done just to be absolutely sure we don't go for a swim because I've got my fuel calcs wrong.
We taxy out and the Tower halts us to tell us our flight plan has the wrong date on it. Huh? We sit at the run up, do our power checks while we're waiting and finally he admits he's read the date wrong and we're free to leave la belle France.
Backtrack to the end of the 1200m runway and take off, turning NE for Guernsey and signing off with France at 2,500ft. We'll be back, that was fun!

Soon after coasting out and swapping back to Guernsey Approach we hit a complete white-out. Technically, I suppose it is VMC (it has to be, really, as we are "Special VFR") as we can just see the water vaguely below but there is absolutely no external reference whatsoever. OK, we're on autopilot but we've both got the leans: I feel we're climbing and banking; Nessa feels we are descending. But the AH is level, the ball is in the centre, the DI is stable, the VSI is only slight fluctuating and our speed is constant. We are straight and level, and I monitor this very carefully as we head North East. The autopilot has no height-hold and we need to occasionally adjust height. I am extremely glad of my IMC training: these are precisely the conditions in which non-instrument trained pilots die.

Guernsey appears below, then more blue sea and slowly the haze lifts; we change to Bournemouth Approach as London Info can't hear us, and finally Weymouth appears and we go feet-dry. Through Bournemouth's Zone and past Boscombe Down we switch back to Oxford, get the ATIS and report in. Right Base for 01 on a beautiful sunny evening, slide down the approach and perform a smooth arrival. Now that's how you do it.

Dip the tanks: left tank is empty, right tank has 16USG, so my fuel calcs were exactly correct: we could have made it back with 30 mins reserve had we not filled up. Not enough for comfort.
4.9 flying hours, no major issues, lots of firsts, much happier about flying to/from/in France now. Even thinking about Holland.

Currency makes perfect
Compton Abbas is planned tomorrow, and as this is a relatively short field it is important to ensure I can get in, and out again. I need to fill the plane up anyway.
Ops kindly send the bowser round, and I get the full bizjet experience. The bowser doesn't like going on the grass, but on the tarmac is fine. I could quite get used to this luxury....
Fire up, taxy out, hold for a bizjet. Power-checks, then on to 19 for a short-field take-off.
Now that I know the right flap settings and speeds I should not be surprised but at 56Kts, without any control input from me, the aircraft leaps in to the air like a scalded cat and we go up like a lift. We're at 700ft before the end of the runway.
Whizz round the circuit and do a reasonable non-short-field landing. I'm trying a bit more of a heave through the flare and a bit of aft trim on final to help, and it is certainly softening the landings. The C182 does require quite a heave during the flare to arrest the vertical descent, and the extra added trim helps there.
So we'll try a short-field job: barn doors out, pin it at 60Kts for the flare, and dial in that back trim. Ah, now that's better. The wheels didn't even squeal: just a rumble as they touch.
Taxy in, shut down, cover up. Getting a bit slicker at the pre- and post-flight bits now.

Compton Abbas
I like Compton Abbas: it's basically a restaurant with outside entertainment area for children of all ages, where the entertainment flies in and pays for itself. It has a nice child safe outside area and people do aerobatics for fun in the circuit. Today I am taking poor John, the owner of the plane, for lunch. He has various medical issues currently precluding him from flying P1 so I'll take off and he can radio or fly as he wishes.
We switch straight from Oxford to Boscombe Down who give us a MATZ transit at 2,500ft through their overhead, and whilst we bimble through a Tornado screams past us and in to the circuit, swinging its wings out as it does so. It's not every day you can say you've seen a Tornado below you.

Boscombe release us to Compton Abbas who are on a 08 left hand circuit, so we'll join downwind. Due to a mix up between QNH and QFE I end up 400ft too low and end up having to climb in an orbit to reach circuit height to avoid a PA28 also in the circuit. Experience the ground rush of the ground coming up towards us as we slide down the approach, then flare and bounce, bounce, bounce on the grassy bumps before settling down and vacating for lunch.

Some serious flying
AgustaWestland build helicopters at Yeovil, and the airfield is theoretically open to visiting GA aircraft. In fact, the very friendly voice on the phone suggest they'd like to have more GA, but they do shut at 4.30pm as it's Friday and we might have to work around their resident helicopter traffic.
OK, we'll give it a try, as this is where Patric lives and our mission is to pick him up and bring him back to Oxford. He has brought a chainsaw with him, which might be fun getting through Security at AgustaWestland's main gate.... if he tells them.
So he doesn't. It's in a suitcase.

Taking off from Compton Abbas runway 24 I do a short-field to avoid most of the bumps and we get the full "hand of God" effect as the land drops away beneath us.
No turns necessary: Yeovil is straight ahead of us so we simply continue on the same heading and switch to Westland who tell us to continue the approach.
As we pass Sherborne we can see Yeovil airfield and we simply continue our straight-in approach; I've got lots of time to fine-tune my angle.
They have a helicopter working the main runway and their plan is to get him to vacate just as we hit short final, then as we taxy off he can re-join the runway. But they don't communicate this plan to us, we just keep on getting slower and slower and lower and lower and suddenly they clear us to land and we land...bounce... bounce and we're down. Bloody grass runways.
This week I will be mainly bouncing on landing...

We taxy over to the tower, shut down and climb the huge metal gantry to the top of the factory where the 1960's vintage tower pod is situated with an amazing view of the runway. We are warmly welcomed by the ATCOs, who couldn't be friendlier.
The helicopter is a heavily-modified Lynx with larger blades and different engines: like many military machines the smooth lines of the prototype have disappeared under assorted boxes, blisters and pods scattered about the airframe. It is flying sideways along the runway at about 70 feet pursued by a 4x4 with a long pole on its roof. When they reach the runway end they both reverse course. Watching them is like watching a slow-motion tennis game.
This is some serious flying: piloting a helicopter is hard enough without doing it sideways or even backwards as they then proceed to do. Apparently it's some kind of weapons system calibration.
They will soon run out of fuel, so we head back to the aircraft to leave while they are refuelling. I can recommend Westland / Yeovil; they are very friendly, but they aren't open to GA at the weekends at all and the opening hours follow factory hours, so "all out by 5.00pm" is not designed to attract large numbers of leisure pilots. A £10 landing fee, whilst refreshing, is not going to balance the books either. And then there's that security gate....
With Patric and his carefully-camouflaged chainsaw aboard, we fire up and taxy out to the runway, turn right and backtrack, power-check and do another short-fielder to minimise the "will it / won't it fly" bounces.
A right turn past Montacute House then keeping South of Yeovilton Zone due to the currently unclear nature of their CTZ (the NOTAMs show the LARS as defunct, and they won't answer the radio), we then turn North for Lyneham and contact their zone.

John flies us North and then North East before we swap to Brize. Having informed Brize of our intentions (so they don't think our precipitous descent is an engine failure) we drop down North of Wantage and strafe the house so they know we are on our way home. Wheeeeeee!!!!
We then pop back up, whip round the corner of the zone and join Oxford downwind for 19.
And at last I get a greaser: pulling back just that bit more in the flare, with the extra back-trim on final reduces the vertical speed to nearly zero at the critical moment. Nice.

Octopus and string bag
We've had a busy weekend chopping down trees and are all a bit stiff and worn out. It's time to take Patric and his chainsaw back to Dorset. Yeovil is closed, it being Sunday, so we will go to Henstridge instead.
We will take Ollie, who has also been helping us, and Alice. So a full plane takes off from Oxford and we head South for Didcot to avoid the little planes flying around Abingdon today, before turning South East.
There is little visible horizon and when I get Patric to fly the plane it's interesting: he really struggles to keep both the direction and height stable. He ca keep one right but then the other slips out: we end up gyrating across the sky as he tries to keep the octopus tentacles in the string bag.
Eventually we all start feeling nauseous, so I take control and bang the autopilot on: the Pilot-induced oscillations die away and we cruise onwards before turning South for Henstridge.

Passing South of Keevil's ATZ we see some gliders (strobes to ON), then a few minutes later we see a Warrior quite close on a route that I reckon will take him in to the Salisbury Plain Danger Zone in a couple of minutes. Not our problem, though, and we soon change to Henstridge and join Crosswind for a left hand circuit for runway 25.
It's not a short runway so we don't go for the barn doors, but land fast and longer than I intended. As we turn at the end of the runway the Tower asks us our intentions, which seems a little superfluous, so we reply "backtrack 25, turn in, park, have a cup of tea and a wee, and pay our landing fee!".
Well, what else can I say?

Pleasure flight
Pauline and her daughters Maddie and Hannah have been without their father Patric all weekend so the least I can do is take them out for a spin.
This time we'll short-field it, so 20° flap and full chat gives us a short take off we then convert in to the requested noise abatement early left-turn.
Climbing out we head South and pass over several small villages. The girls love the view. I get Pauline to pole us around at 1,000ft and the villages roll by beneath us. Dorset is very pretty.

The Garmin GPS is playing up: despite connecting it to the external aerial and doing an auto-configure on start-up (which usually cures it) it's refusing to recognise the existence of any satellites. The Aware box is working, however, and we know where Henstridge is, so after a while we pootle back and do a barn-door approach, putting the wheels gently on the numbers and turning off by the first exit. That's better.

Home in the haze
Patric has been successfuly dropped so we can go home now. Short field take-off, early left turn then continue round for a Northerly heading. The GPS is still playing up, so we try taking the batteries out, which eventually restores normal service.
Up past Lyneham we track well North of the Keevil gliders then switch to Brize Zone, who have gone home, so we switch to Oxford and tell them we are off to Boarstal to take some pictures. Ollie flies us back to Didcot, then North overhead South East Oxford and Wheatley before dropping down to take some pictures of Ollie's house and climbing back up past the Beckley mast for a right base join for 01. All this practise has improved my landings: we arrive smoothly and in the right place. I'm more confident about getting the C182 in to Kingsmuir and other short fields reasonably reliably.

The aircraft has been smelling a little of fuel and there has been have been blue streaks under the left wing. We have diagnosed a fuel leak from the left wing, and the left fuel bladder is to be replaced, but following a visit to Wycombe we decide it can wait for a month or so. We just won't smoke too close to the aircraft for a while......

My long-lost best friend
Once upon a time when I was a little boy I had a best friend called Les, who one day without warning disappeared from school and went to live in Malta, and I never saw him again.... until he contacted me through Friends Reunited and we met up in Ashbourne (see the short-field trip earlier).
This time he has come down to Oxford in his black Porsche convertible and we're going out.
So we turn up at Oxford - two mid-life crisis men, one grey, the other bald in a Porsche going flying. How sad are we?
It's a beautiful evening for flying and it's Good Friday: the earlier haze has cleared, so we uncover the plane, start up and take off.
We head South over Oxford, then follow the river down to Abingdon. A quick call to Abingdon UAS elicits the knowledge that they are flying, are using runway 18 with a right hand circuit and would prefer us to remain outside their zone, so we agree to remain clear and transit at 2,000ft (thus remaining 1,000ft above their circuit) for Les's old home of Appleton where we descend and orbit for photos.
Then it's descend to as low as we dare and buzz one of our local clients at 120Kts (they know we're coming) then zoom-climb back to 2,000ft for Les to fly us over to Didcot.

It's very smooth, being evening, and the horizon is clear. Les flies us neatly to Didcot then turns us North for Oxford. Once over Horspath we need to run right for Wheatley.
Les tentatively turns us 5°. No, we need more like 90°, so I take it, crank her over and we pull a little G as we turn...... This is not an aerobatic aircraft but it can make your stomach go when you want. Actually, despite the high control forces the roll rate is pretty good.
Once he has seen Wheatley we head North to inspect a possible strip at Shabbington, and on turning back to Oakley... what's that below us but John's Tecnam P92 positioning for an Overhead Join for Oakley?
Oooh, air-to-air photography time......

Swing it round, and get Les to take some shots as John lands. We keep a very close eye out: there may be other aircraft here, so we remain carefully above circuit height. What a coincidence.
I can't find Oakley's radio frequency, so we trundle off back to Oxford, which has disappeared in the haze, and although the ADF points unerringly at the field we do need to be North to do the approach.
We join left base for 19, do a nice stable approach and drop it on smoothly. Lovely...
This extra back-trim on short final and a really long, sustained heave the last 4 feet is definitely working.

Ann has asked me if I would take her flying. She did 40 hours in the 1970's but didn't complete her licence, so is thinking of taking it up again.
Wake to a gleaming blue sky, but the forecast is for high winds and, later, thunderstorms, so we'll go out for a short trip as early in the day as possible and hopefully get home before we get wet.
By the time I have picked up Ann clouds are beginning to appear, but they stabilise at "scattered", although the wind is now beginning to pick up. The forecast is that the wind will be strong and gusty, but straight down runway 29.
The aircraft seems to be parked in the windiest spot in Oxfordshire: the cover tries very hard to go flying all by itself, but as the ATIS gives 29015G20 which is outside our crosswind limits for 01 we'll ask for a 29 take-off. That is no problem, and we power check on the taxiway.
I'll do a short field take-off, so deploy 2 (not 3: treble-check that...) stages of flap and off we go.
With the headwind we're off within 150m and going up like a rocket: ooh, that was easy. Turn North West, ease the flap in stages once we have a positive rate of climb and head for a spare piece of air.

It soon becomes apparent that Ann is more relaxed and the weather hugely better than expected: very clear, with a 3,500ft cloudbase. And, of course once clear of the ground effect, very smooth. Ann doesn't want to fly yet, so we'll sight-see. The air is so clear that far away to the South East we can see London on the skyline.
We fly South through the ATZ, then over central Oxford, Sandford and Abingdon before inspecting Ann's house and taking some pictures. We bimble about over Grove and Wantage then head back for Oxford, at which point Ann decides she will try her hand at the controls.
And she is very good: after a few minutes (and some seat adjustments) she is quite comfortable tooling about the sky, and asks whether we can go somewhere.
Well, the forecast thunderstorms haven't appeared and the weather looks stable, so we decide to go to Kemble, which means passing back through Oxford's ATZ and heading West for Kemble.
Ann flies us round the North of the Brize Zone and then South towards Kemble, which is visible from a long way away. She then neatly descends us for a crosswind join for 26 left hand and I take over as we pass the take-off numbers. By this time she is asking a lot more questions than your average passenger: it is fairly obvious she is no beginner. Her smile is getting wider and wider.
I am determined to get a decent landing at Kemble for once, despite the gusty wind, so good speed control on the approach, good positioning, counter the big gusts on Final rolling over the hangars towards us, and plop it on neatly a third of the way up the runway. Ah, at last!
Get the coolest taxy instructions in the world: "park outside the restaurant", park up and switch off. Ann's smile is now extending outside the cockpit, it is so large.
It's really nice to be able to inspire someone to go flying, and I think I've managed it today.

A Following wind
This time we manage to get a midpoint start on the runway and are away before we know it. No one is flying today: too windy, apparently....
Right turn, pass control over to Ann, talk to Brize who aren't interested, pass overhead the Nortleach roundabout and turn right, head back towards Oxford really quickly with the following wind, swap to Oxford and Ann descends us neatly to 1,500ft over the take off numbers so we can join crosswind for 01. The ATIS is giving 290 at 11 Kts, so that's within crosswind limits - we'll give 01 a try and if that fails we'll go around and request 29.
It's bumpy down the approach and we get rotor off the trees but once we're over the runway it eases off and we drop on to the centreline easily. Keep the upwind wing down with aileron to stop any nasties as we roll out, and we're home.
More fighting with the wayward cover and we're all done. Ann and I head for PFT to book a trial lesson for her. She's hooked.....

Pete has just obtained his full JAA IR Rating: something like 14 exams and a really vicious flight-test. I think he may be a better at RANT than I am.....

He has raised an IFR flight plan Oxford-Dieppe-Guernsey-Oxford, and we will fly in the Airways (the space above about 5,000ft where all the airliners fly).
The main difference seems to be that you plot a course, raise a flight plan and then the controllers tell you to go a completely different way(!). But they are totally in control, because you are now in the same system as Boeing 747s and Airbuses and you really don't want to be getting in their way.
We take off from Oxford and climb Southbound to our designated Airways joining point: the Compton VOR.
And the radio is completely different: London clears us up to FL100 immediately in between vectoring airliners with French, American and German accents. Soon we are well above the clouds watching the airliners descending in to Heathrow.
I fly it, and the parallax error on the AI and the DI has me corkscrewing gently around our designated height and headings. Once past Midhurst they vector us straight for Dieppe and the weather improves. It's odd how the clouds often sit over the land and not over the sea.
Pete has a nifty pulse oximeter to measure our oxygen saturation, to see if we need the oxygen, but for the moment it's OK.
As we approach Dieppe Pete asks for a descent but they won't give us one until we are over the French coast, at which point suddenly it's "service ends.... descend to below FL50 and resume own navigation", which is all a bit sudden, and we need to be well prepared. I am left with the impression you have to think a great deal further ahead flying formal IFR than VFR.
The very nice French lady is at pains to inform us that we will need to speak ze French as Dieppe do not speak English (this is actually illegal under International Aviation Law, but hey.... this is France), and is obviously concerned about this fact, repeating the requirement several times until Pete simply answers her in fluent French and she retires, wounded.
We're virtually on top of Dieppe, so Pete drops the undercarriage and then the flaps and we descend at over 2,000ft/min with me fighting the trim and trying to keep straight. Pete obviously enjoys seeing me struggle as we pass through layers of cloud, but suddenly we can see Dieppe and are perfectly positioned for a downwind join.

The published operating hours for the airfield show it as being manned until lunchtime, but no one answers the radio so we make French blind calls in to the circuit. The final approach is rough, with the wind curling over the low hills, but Pete drops it in nicely on the cracked, weed-infested runway. Anyone heard of weedkiller? There is literally tumbleweed blowing down the runway.
No people are evident either in the tower (so no landing fee), or even in the hangar, although the hangar is open. Typical....

Straight lines
After lunch at Dieppe we hop the fence back in to the airfield where there is still no one in evidence except for a parachuting plane taking off, so before he starts dropping we fire up and take-off.
Outbound we switch to Paris who are concerned because we haven't (apparently) closed our flight plan. Pete did this through FPL but the message hasn't got back to the French (of course). Later in the week, AfPex includes a "friendly reminder" about this, which suggests this incident has had further ramifications.
More pottering about above the fluffy clouds gets us to Le Havre, where Paris decides we need to divert to avoid parachuting, and we get a divert straight to Guernsey.
Flying that high above the Normandy beaches, we can see the remainders of the Mulberry harbours used during and after D-Day, and can see in once sweep the entire sweep of the D-Day landings. It's a little subduing to realise how many people died in that theatre of war, taken in now in one sweep of the eye.

We fly straight across the Cherbourg peninsula and slowly Jersey, then Guernsey appears out of the haze. We line up for the ILS for runway 27 but it's too gusty and I can't hold the localiser and the glideslope so Pete takes it and we bounce around the sky, with rotor coming off the various island features. Pete makes a much better landing than I would have (and the bigger aircraft are struggling too) and we taxy in for Duty Free cigarettes and Gin.
The airfield is busy, especially for a Sunday, and the thought occurs that the Channel Islands are not naturally rich, but are subsidised by the UK taxpayer in the form of tax breaks designed to populate the islands in order to prevent a French takeover..... Cynical, I know.

Gin and Ice
We take off and climb out North towards ORTAC on an Instrument departure, closely followed by a Cessna 182 flying VFR who we can see far below flying at 3,000ft whilst we are cleared to FL90, which of course happens to be right inside ice-bearing cloud. Pete requests, and gets, clearance to FL110 and soon we are above the clouds, although the ice takes absolutely ages to sublimate off. We fire up the oxygen, which is surprisingly easy to use (breathe through the nose) and I fly us across the featureless cloudscape, which takes a lot of concentration.

An hour later we abruptly get "service terminated", and Pete asks me to fly us down through cloud from FL100 to 2,300ft where we drop out to the subdued world of Didcot power station and a visual re-join for 19 at Oxford.
By the time we land I have a headache from all the concentration.
Pete's Mooney is a lovely plane, although the cockpit is very constrained for a fat bastard like me.
I don't think flying Airways is worth the huge effort Pete has spent in getting qualified to fly in them, but I can see the advantage of being able to fly through and above the clouds when flying in Europe. EASA, the European aviation regulators, are planning to provide some sort of en route PPL/IR in the future and actually that may the way forward.

Practise makes perfect-ish
I need to get my IMC re-validated, so must practise the various techniques. RANT is very good but no substitute for the real thing.
TG needs flying back from Wycombe (where it has been having a new fuel tank fitted due to to a small fuel leak), to Oxford, so now is a good chance for some practise. John drives me over, I do a full and comprehensive A-check, then taxy out and take off.
Climb out North West to avoid the Benson Zone, then settle down for some experimentation: I will fly all Holds/approaches at 90Kts (more time), so need to bring the prop up and experiment with power settings for level flight and 500ft/min descents.
I find level flight is 17-18ins, 500'/min descent is about 13ins.
Then I practise tracking in to and away from the NDB at WCO. Making extra sure that no other traffic is around, and ensuring the compass is reset after every turn, the needle does exactly what it should do: more confidence-boosting stuff. I actually get a dead cut in the end.
That done, I track North West a bit and seeing what I think is Banbury South of me call 12 miles for a straight-in approach for 19. What I don't realise is that this is not Banbury: I'm way over to the East and the Localiser is stuck way out to the right. A situation pretty easily resolved by simply flying West until the Localiser twitches. But from there on my experiments bear fruit: I can gain the Localiser and the glideslope from beneath and hold it pretty well all the way down: pre-landing checks including Ice at 4d and call 100 above and MDA, and we're damned close.
A nice, smooth landing, a fuel-up and that was a very satisfying afternoon's work.
Now for Scotland....

The Big One
For a long time we have been promising Nessa's Uncle Tim that we would visit, with Mother-in-law, by plane, for the weekend. So we have finally agreed on a date: the weather looks OK, but windy, and the forecast winds match the runway headings we are planning to use, so we should be OK.
We're going to do in one hop: I think 2¼ hrs shouldn't be too long for any of us.
But I’ve never flown North of Ashbourne before, so this is a Big Adventure: even bigger than Morlaix.
I was under the impression we needed a flight plan as we are crossing an FIR boundary but no, it turns out we don't, so that is one less thing to do.

Saturday morning, bright and early, we pack Nessa and Brigid in to the plane, take off and head North East. We change to East Midlands, then Doncaster, who vector us around their zone to avoid a Citation, then we pass over to Durham Tees Valley as the military guys are all asleep, it being a Saturday.
Durham Tees Valley pass us over to Newcastle, who want to vector us East over the city centre. However, what I think are the Tyne bridges turn out to be too far East: oops...
Then he vectors us North and allows us Northbound out over an increasingly unpopulated landscape as we change to Scottish Info.
Travelling up the country we get a whirlwind tour of regional accents, ending with a broad Scottish burr, which is lovely but the transponder is playing up again: the 3rd digit is mis-reading. Bugger.
As we pass Berwick On Tweed the wind starts to increase: we get rotor off the hills and start getting seriously bumped about. This gets steadily worse until I am starting to bump my head on the ceiling.... Mother-in-Law is unimpressed.

However, once we've coasted out over the Firth of Forth it calms down again, and after coasting in over Anstruther we start to look for Kingsmuir. As normal, my main concern is the length of the runway: 620m sounds a lot but unless the approach is over fields the touchdown point needs to be just right.
Soon we realise we are right over it, so call blind on Safetycom and descend deadside for a left hand circuit for 24 (well, might as well make it up as we go along...).
Turning Final, we do a low pass over the field (the approach turns out to be over open fields, so I can aim for the very start of the runway) then pull up and do a full circuit before settling into the approach groove, the windsock telling me the wind is right down the runway.
In front of the threshold is a track and two cones as an aiming point, so barn door flaps, nail that speed on 65Kts, flare over the cones at 60Kts and settle gently with the stall warner just squawking.
We stop in about 150m (and I was worried about running out of runway...), backtrack and park up where the AFE book's diagram says "Aircraft parking". The friendly farmer owner comes over and asks us to park outside the clubhouse instead, so I disgorge my passengers, turn the aircraft round and taxy over.
Booking-in consists of a tin on the ground marked “C” containing a booking-in book and an Honesty tin. The going rate seems to be £5, so I leave £10 as we are parking overnight.
So far, so good.

The following morning we return to the strip to take Tim and Christine out for a flight and to get some fuel from Fife. It has rained overnight and the wind is smooth and once again straight down the runway.
Unwrap the plane, start up and take off. We dodge most of the showers as we head South for Elie and Earlsferry for some photos of the villages and their house, then contact Leuchars to request a photo sortie over St Andrews. They say they are busy, which is a shame, but never mind: we will visit the Forth bridges next.

This is something I have always wanted to do: I have been over the amazing minimalist Forth road bridge several times and that big, chunky, massively-engineered bridge is always next door: a massive contrast.
So we call up Edinburgh Approach and ask for a Zone Transit for a VFR photo session. They're happy for us to do it, assign us a squawk and off we go.
The bridges are everything I expect them to be from the air, and we even catch a train going across. Not something I shall forget in a hurry.

We head North and do some low level photography over various houses before heading for Fife.
Fife is PPR because they have noise abatement issues to the North East of the airfield. There is a housing estate built ridiculously close to the runway and you must not fly over so, like Popham, you have to fly an offset approach, which with this wind will be interesting.
Spot the airfield, join downwind in to an empty left hand circuit for 24 and carefully gauge the approach as we drop down over an industrial estate and then a golf course. Barn doors out and it's actually pretty smooth as we turn and drop over the threshold for a smooth and very short arrival. Turn to backtrack, and fail to turn sharply enough so have to put the right wheel on the grass. For some reason the rudder is fighting me and the elevator keeps flopping up and down. Hope I haven't broken anything?
Taxy in to the pumps and shut down. They will come out and fill us up. As I open the door a howling wind bangs it shut again. Bloody hell, it's windy. I didn't realise. That's why the controls were flapping about. Gee.....
The very kind radio-cum-petrol-cum-money lady is obviously impressed by our bravado in flying to Kingsmuir from Oxford in such inclement weather, and won't shut up!

After a wallet-lightening trip to the pumps we start up again and head back for the runway. A short take off in the huge headwind and we are headed back for Kingsmuir.
Tim takes the controls briefly but is worried we are climbing too much, so I take us back to Kingsmuir for another low over the grass approach to the cones and smooth landing. I do like this strip...

Bumps, Bumps and more Bumps
After lunch we return to Kingsmuir to fly home.
The wind is now rapidly creeping round to the West and strengthening: we get blown about just loading the aircraft. The poor C182 is shaking like crazy just sitting on the ground.
Fire up, warm up, power check in-place, taxy to the threshold then flaps set for short-field.
Deep breath, brakes off, into-wind aileron hard down and Go.
The roll is short and choppy. At 55Kts I raise the nose and we go up almost vertically. As we clear the tops of the trees we are blown sideways. Twisting the ailerons almost from stop to stop in the chop we are safe as we are above anything: we just need to keep it shiny-side up and climbing. But I have never experienced such turbulence before.....
Eventually we reach the coast and it smooths out. Contact Scottish Info and in a somewhat breathless voice request a Basic Service for the journey South. We will climb to FL35 then FL40 when we turn at SAB. It's very bumpy still, but Granny is in the back and a little more relaxed, so we cruise South with an unforecast tail wind giving us a ground speed of 165Kts. Wheeeeee!
Scottish pass us to Newcastle who pass us to Durham who pass us to Doncaster. We cruise at the cloudbase of FL40, then descend to 3,500ft to maintain VFR. There is absolutely no one else out, so we have ATC's attention all to ourselves.
Finally we switch to a bored-sounding East Midlands and finally overhead Daventry we swap back to Oxford, who are giving 240V26020G30.
This is the worst possible scenario for Oxford: right across both runways and out of limits.
We choose a Right Base for 29 because the wind is marginally less across that one, and float down the approach in to the sun, which doesn't help. We're OK until the very last moment in the flare, when I straighten up to stop the wheels from screeching. We touch tidily, then a gust picks up the port wing: it feels like we are about to cartwheel......
Reflex action: max right rudder, left aileron hard down to the stop, and she just drops back on to the wheels. With that much headwind we stop well before the intersection with 19. A bit shaken, it must be said.
More wing down, less flap, more speed in future. Must stop worrying about running out of runway!

Taxy gingerly in via 19, with aileron fully down in to wind, drop the passengers off at the pumps, fill it up with fuel as the others are taking it back to Scotland tomorrow (in the end they cancel, unsurprisingly) and park it up.

Oxford to Kingsmuir 2hrs 14mins. Kingsmuir to Oxford 2hrs 16 mins.
A truly envelope-stretching experience, if a little scary. But this is one of those difficult-to-call flights: had I been on my own I wouldn't have been too bothered, but the passengers were worried and a bit shaken up by the landing. The issue was that the wind was not forecast to do what it did, the wind in Scotland was strengthening and turning (so we needed to get out or batten down for two days - that night trees were uprooted in Fife...), but the wind at Oxford was outside the official aircraft crosswind limits, whichever way you looked at it. Official aircraft crosswind limits are not absolute limits: with practice you can exceed them and need to ascertain your own personal minima, but it was obviously bad Airmanship to a) scare the pax, and b) exceed to such a margin the aircraft, and my own, crosswind limits.
We did some things right: we arrived after 4.00pm when the wind does get weaker; we used the least crosswindy runway (but discussions with other, more experienced pilots have confirmed what I suspected: a much faster approach (say 80-85Kts) and probably no flap on 19 would have carved through the crosswind more and OK if I used up 1,000m to land I would still have loads of spare runway), and we did actually get the aircraft down safely and undamaged.
But what I should have done was to land at Enstone for a cup of tea (the wind would have been straight down that runway), then gone back to Oxford later that evening (Enstone shuts at Sunset, Oxford not until 10.30pm).
So, lesson learned.

Lunch in Jersey
As TG is parked at Oxford we are all automatically members of OAGAG: a pressure group representing the interests of GA at Kidlington. One of the members is Michael Ashall: head of Vencap for whom I have done a fair amount if IT work down the years.
He has invited all members of OAGAG down to Jersey, where he lives, for lunch on a sunny Saturday in June. However, it being June, there are Royal flights and Red Arrows displays to avoid. So we must be out of Oxford's airspace before 11.15L and back North of Blewbury before 18.45L. Book-ends.
Willie and I are to fly: I will fly out whilst he does the radio, and we will swap for the return journey.
We have a brand-new Garmin GTX328 Mode Sierra transponder fitted, now closer to the pilot for ease of access, and the DME is now at the top of the stack. So a few changes to get used to.
We have a flight plan so no need to book out, and we even have the Air Med gate code, so slip in through there straight to the plane and take off on 01, turn right and head South for Compton. Leaving Oxford Approach we switch to Solent who ask us to squawk, then complain they have no height information: ah, we need to hit ALT on the new Garmin instead of ON.
They clear us through the Bournemouth Zone and we proceed through the odd puffy cloud but mainly VFR. At Hengistbury Head we coast out and begin a climb to FL80, starting in cloud then bursting through in to clear, smooth air.
I could quite get used to not having to do the radio: it means really concentrating on getting the flying bit absolutely spot on.
We call the Jersey Zone, who for some reason haven't given us a PPR number despite us having contacted them by phone two days ago. Doh! Eventually they relent as we have a Jersey Aero Club PAR number and route us direct Jersey (we expected to be mucked about down the French coast and have the map out ready) so we follow the VOR to JSY.
They step us down to 2,000ft and 5 miles out they have us orbit, which is a little disturbing especially as they then have us descend in the orbit to 1,000ft. Glad I'm just flying.

Eventually they bring us in no. 6 for arrival and we cruise down the approach: ILS on target, 2 red and two whites, wind straight down the runway, so let's aim for a greaser, as I've got Willie on board. And manage one: even Willie says "nice landing". Except that in all the congratulation we miss our turn off and end up all the way over the other end of the apron. Still, we get to taxy past all the 737s and ATR's waiting on the apron. Big boys indeed...
Park up on the Jersey Aero Club apron and disembark, fill up with Duty Free AvGas from the bowser and saunter off for lunch....

Red Arrows
The Red Arrows are booked to flypast the Blewbury fete at 6.45pm, so we are keen to get home ahead of them. Plan B involves a left turn South of Compton and a transit over the top if the Brize Zone before turning East for Oxford.
We file a flight plan at Jersey Aero Club, start up then have to hold for ages before take-off. This has happened to me before at Jersey.
Eventually we take off and are vectored North for "West of Cap de la Hague" which I correctly identify but Willie doesn't until Approach tell us we are heading in the wrong direction. It doesn't feel great flying not above 1,000ft over the water, however. We request, and are eventually given, a climb to FL70 and once past Alderney we turn West of the Airway Q41 and head for Bournemouth once more.
Doing just the radio works well: you can really concentrate on doing it well and being very situationally aware, as well as double-checking the primary instruments. The workload is lower, and it's more enjoyable.
Bournemouth clear us for a high-level transit then ignore us until we are clear, at which point we swap to Farnborough and explain we are trying to avoid the Red Arrows. I feel that even if we do then infringe at least Farnborough will be partly to blame.... and anyway I'm not P1! They are very happy to hear from us, know all about the Red Arrows and tell us we will be through before they appear, but to stay with them.
Which we do, all the way to well over Oxford City Centre, where still at 4,000ft they finally release us to Oxford. Poor Willie has everything hanging out trying to get us down to circuit height, while Pete Williams is rapidly closing from behind us on an IFR clearance. We sneak in ahead of him for a Right Base join for 01 and despite blowing through the centre line and having to correct, Willie drops us on neatly and we roll in.

I want to be a fighter pilot
George will be 16 next week and wants to be a fighter pilot.
Well, that's a great goal, but how do you know you enjoy flying enough to actually become a fighter jock? I have learned down the years that the idea of being a pilot is very different to the reality of being P1 and everything it stands for, so I think it's time we went out to see if he throws up or hates it.
We drive down to Oxford early Sunday morning, the weather pretty overcast but forecast to clear within the next hour or two. However, as we drive up the Oxford bypass the ATIS is giving "overcast, 400ft". We may have to hang around for a bit.....
We book out and pre-flight the aircraft, and George asks a lot of sensible questions, so maybe he is serious after all.
By the time we have finished pre-flight and ensured the aircraft is all functional the clouds are rapidly burning off and by the time we have fuelled it's CAVOK.
We will go to Kemble for a coffee and see how it goes from there, so fire up and roll down to 29 for power-checks. The radio (COM1) is playing-up, hissing and crackling, so we swap to COM2 which seems to work better. We'll take a closer look later.
We take off and because it's been cool this morning there are few thermals yet and it's very smooth climbing out over Oxford. We'll stay low so we can take a look at George's house and sneak around the corner of the Brize Zone by Cumnor.
I'm so busy concentrating on explaining things to George that as we pass over the A420 Cumnor bypass where it becomes single carriageway and a 50mph limit at the top of the hill I realise we are very close to the edge of the Brize Zone; possibly even infringing the Zone..... I immediately turn left and head away from the boundary, but I reckon it was close.
(The GPS tracks later show it was indeed very close indeed; possibly inside by a few feet....).
We head down towards George's house and do a circuit over it (just one, I don't want to stay around the Abingdon Grob Vigilants any longer than I have to) then head for Wantage to show George how to fly the plane.

He's pretty good: like most 15 year olds he picks things up quickly and soon he is turning and climbing and diving. The point of the exercise is for him to fly lots so I get him to fly us past South Cerney and on to Kemble where we descend for a crosswind join in to the circuit.
On Final there is another aircraft on the runway so we go around, get an early turn, avoid the villages and come gently in for what will hopefully be a decent landing at Kemble. I'm bored with overshooting here so we'll put down barn door flaps and nail the speed at 65Kts, flare over the threshold and land smoothly in what we later measure as 460 yards; good enough to get us in to Brimpton. This "pull like buggery in the flare, regardless of how the pressure builds up" gets some pretty good results.
Exit at the midpoint: "TG, you may exit at....where you are now". These C182s can pull up pretty quickly. Taxy to the restaurant and hop out for a Coke on the hot terrace...mmmmm.

Wales and home
I ask George what he thinks: "it's sooooo cool", he says, and demands more flying. OK, he can fly me over to the Severn Bridge and then we'll potter homeward round the North side of the Brize Zone.
I love departing West from Kemble: you are so close to Stroud and the Severn, by the time you are climbing out you can see all the way in to Wales.
We dodge the gliders at Aston Down and Nympsfield, and head South West for the Severn, swap to Bristol and they give us a squawk and tell us to let them know when we're done. The bridges are pretty impressive, I'm always amazed more people don't go to see them from the air. Fresh from my orbits over the Forth Bridge, I'm getting a little blasé about these sights.....
George then flies us back North East, we avoid Nympsfield's ATZ and drop down over Winson for a look at the strip we may pick Granny up from (looks nice and long: reckon I can get in there easily), then climb back up and round the Zone towards Charlbury. George flies us while I navigate and radio us back to Oxford, requesting (as it is unbelievably quiet today) a right base join for 19, which we get.
So cruise down the glide path, nail it on 75Kts, fight a few thermals coming down, float over the threshold and squeeze out the last few feet for a smooth arrival on the centreline and a gentle roll down the remainder of 19, a gentle taxy in with the door open and a push back with a very grateful George.

He knows what he wants from life now. Oh dear, what have I done?

Another enthusiast
Another week, another enthusiast. This time it's Michael, who is building our terrace. He's done some paramotoring, but is keen to see what it is like to actually control the plane, so we'll go and have tea at Compton Abbas.
Nessa is with us, so we can't be too aerobatic, but we'll teach him the rudiments of aviation, at least.
It's Friday, so the skies are quiet, and a lovely warm day with no wind and scattered, fluffy clouds. Visibility is excellent and the aircraft is free. I need no further encouragement...
Michael asks a lot of questions and wants to know what everything is for and what all the instruments do, so I explain them and we take off on 01, head South on a radial for Compton (CPT) and turn over Abingdon for Lyneham. Having trimmed it out at 3,000ft we teach Michael what the various controls do and he picks it up pretty quickly. Before long I can tell him where to steer and he will steer it. We try some turns and he is very gentle, so we do a few steep turns to rid him of the notion that this is a motor car, and he gets the point (Nessa doesn't...).

We proceed onwards towards the soon-to-be-discontinued Lyneham Zone and Michael flies us, with increasing confidence, past the zone then South for Compton Abbas. As we pass Shaftesbury we descend and turn in to the circuit, making calls as we go, for a downwind join for 27, which is always fun because there are trees on the approach. And as we turn Final a PA-28 appears above us: he has not been making radio calls and is also descending on Final. A collision is inevitable unless we turn away, so we quickly orbit for spacing and descend once more to the runway. Compton Abbas's runway is dish-shaped and bumpy, especially at this end, and it's hard to get low and slow enough not to have the ground falling away from you as you flare; however we touch gently and after a couple of small bounces (keep your nerve) we settle and roll out for tea.

All gone home...
We'll go back via the Boscombe Down MATZ as it is boring going home the same way you came out, and we'll start by having some fun. The drop off after runway 27 is very steep, even more so if you are low; so we do a short take-off to minimise the bounces and then keep the nose down and stay at about 50ft as we shoot off the drop. "Whoaaaaaa...." from the right hand seat means it has had the desired effect. Tee hee.....
We climb out and head East, circling the odd grand house in that area. Very nice, some of them. Then we climb and head for Boscombe, but by now it is 5.05pm and the silence from Boscombe is deafening....... No need for a MATZ transit, then!
Several other people call but get no response, so we cruise through, avoiding their ATZ in case things are moving down there, but the RAF have gone home for the weekend it seems, and Michael swings us North for Compton as the sun dips and the light becomes golden: it's a beautiful evening.
Before long we are over Compton and as we switch back to Oxford we ask for a transit through the overhead to take a look at Blenheim Palace in the evening light. Passing through at 3,000ft we turn back over Fawler and descend for an extended right base join for 01: ooh, never done this one before.
But it's not hard, just unfamiliar, and before long we are flaring for a smooth arrival on the centreline (getting better at this), keep the yoke back to ease the pressure on the nosewheel and roll out for a gentle taxy back in.
He's keen to come out again and wants to have lessons: I should be getting commission from PFT......

The Pilot's Good Cafeteria guide
So a week later we take Mike and his friend Ian out. What started planning quietly as a repeat of last week (but with Ian flying) rapidly turns in to more of a marathon - well, who wants to do the same thing twice? The phrase "mission creep" comes to mind...
The weather forecast is for sunny spells and heavy showers. We will try to dodge the showers but if it rains it will wash the aircraft, which is looking a bit insect-splattered at present.
Fill up with fuel (manage to persuade Pump 1 not to cut out after the first tank...) then take off slightly over MAUW (Kidlington has a long runway, and we will burn off a load getting to Dunkeswell) from 19 and head for Abingdon, turn South of the airfield and head South West at 2,500ft.
Lyneham are inactive, so we will pass through their airspace avoiding their ATZ whilst monitoring their Zone frequency. The flip-flop switch on COM1 is playing up: I keep ending up back on the same frequency I started with. Weird.
Ian struggles to keep the aircraft straight and level, like most first-timers. Octopus and string bag applies. Actually, the aircraft is flying right wing low with 4 up and there is no visible horizon today, so I can't blame him too much...
South of Lyneham the Bristol Zone comes up very quickly at 125Kts, we change to them, scoot round the corner of the Zone and head West for the Bristol Channel. I've not been here before and it's interesting to see the hills down here mirroring the Cotswolds North of the M4.
Bristol warns us of an Airbus descending to our right and soon one appears from out of the clouds descending for the Localiser at Bristol - now there's an airport I must fly in to....
Once over the hump at Cheddar the landscape flattens out and drops in to the Bristol Channel - as we coast out we swap to Cardiff Radar and head out in to the Channel for Minehead.

At Minehead the coast starts getting interesting: the cliffs rise sheer out of the water and head for Dartmoor. It's amazing how many houses are nestled in to the cliffs on this remote coastline. I've wanted to visit this at low level for a long time and it has been worth the wait: it is spectacular.
The last corner before Ilfracombe has a lighthouse blasted into the rock that looks as though stepping out of the front door will drop you down the cliff 300ft in to the sea. Wow.
Turning South we climb up the Ilfracombe valley and switch to Dunkeswell. The last time I came in here was virtually IMC with a cloudbase of 500ft or so. Today is much more pleasant and we skirt around the gliders for a Downwind join for 22 (labelled 23) and a nice gentle arrival for a decent carvery lunch. Nessa is determined to write a pilot's restaurant guide, which I think is a damned good idea.

Beating up the Brecons
Pete and I have flown around the Brecon beacons but I have never really explored them by myself. So today we will go visit.
We take off from Dunkeswell, avoid the gliders on climb out and gently turn right to head North once more. Coasting out at Minehead we head North West for Port Talbot and turn inland to avoid 3 Hunters doing a show over Swansea airfield. The weather is better over here and I hope to get some dappled sunlight over the Brecon Beacons.

We head North in to the hills and soon discover a section North of where I have been before which is spectacular: swooping around below the summits we keep finding new and more interesting valleys and meadows. We spend a while flying around here before suddenly Cardiff are asking for our attention.
Now I get to say "Cardiff Radar, Pass Your Message...".
I've always wanted to say that, and it is admissable under these particular circumstances. It just seems weird to be saying it as opposed to responding to it.
As we are dropping off their radar they are worried about us and request our intentions. I say the first thing that comes in to my mind (fatal, this...): "we'll just mooch around the Brecon beacons for a while......" but Cardiff are happy. Eventually we decide we have done enough dambuster runs and climb out, sign off with Cardiff and head North East for Shobdon, who suddenly announce they are PPR now! Oops.
But they let us in as they are quiet and we glide in for an uneventful landing and a cup of tea.

Home, James
It is pouring with rain as the forecast showers come through and Ian and I make it to the plane but Nessa and Michael are stranded, so we taxy over to the pumps and pick them up from there instead.
The Tower has gone home so we power-check and pop out on to the runway, backtrack and depart from the rain-soaked with plenty of standing water runway. Minding the noise abatement on the climb out we turn back towards Oxford, avoid the huge shower to our North and head for home on the autopilot, breaking off only once for a circle over Malvern as the weather improves.
There is Silverstone helicopter traffic as we approach Oxford and join Right Base for 19. There is a bit of a crosswind and annoyingly just as we finish the flare and the mains are about to touch we get a bit of a gust and bounce slightly for a squeaky, jerky arrival. Not perfection, which is very annoying as I have done good landings today apart from this one. Bugger.

250 hours is a good time to reflect a little: I have flown more in the last 9 months than in the last 2 years, and am becoming very familiar with G-DATG; more than with any other aircraft. We have had a few "interesting" events, and that is part of the gentle stretching of one's personal envelope you should always do. But I need to aim for fewer of those, and also I do need to get my IMC revalidated before they ban any new ones under EASA rules. Willie needs to do his in September and I think I may ride on his shirt-tails. I am pretty confident in IFR but ADF Holds I really struggle with.

Back to Bembridge
Bembridge has been closed following a legal dispute between Britten-Norman (makers of the famous "Landrover of the skies" Islander) who refurbish Islanders there, and the landowner, who I think probably wants more rent from them. They've stopped flying from there and have re-opened Gosport (Lee on Solent) and Sandown instead.
However, the local gliding fraternity who use the South grass runway have re-opened the airfield recently for GA. The restaurant and tower are sadly closed but you can fly in.
So, following a PPR e-mail to the gliding club I am off on a cloudy Friday to do finish off my client's hidey hole just off the end of the runway: he has a few issues (actually it turns out he has a lot of issues, all of which I end up resolving).
I'm on my own today, and Willie has left the cover in the aircraft, so everything is very relaxed - I even lazily get the bowser to "fill 'er up" while I pre-flight: start up and roll. There is so little wind and traffic that although the ATIS gives 19 the Tower offer, and I accept, 01 which saves a bit of taxying.
Take off and turn out right, avoid gliding in D129, cruise climb to 2,500ft and start going through clouds. Well, this I can do OK, and we end up at 2,800ft VFR on top with gaps. At Compton we swap to Farnborough and cruise South: it's quiet today and I concentrate on flying the VOR and taking some pictures. On autopilot the workload drops and it becomes very relaxing: to think I am blasting along at 130Kts or 145mph without a care in the world....
At one point a Cirrus comes barreling past in the opposite direction a mile or so away: it's sobering to think that I only saw him as he flew past. Any aircraft on a direct collision course, however unlikely that is, you are going to struggle to spot in reality. And closing speeds can be very high with both of you doing 150Kts or so.....

Over Havant I leave Farnborough and swap to making blind calls for Bembridge as instructed: swing to the East and descend for a right base approach for 30 over the sea. I quite like this approach now that I know it, but it does involve a slightly hairy barn door approach low over the caravan park to get down on to the runway, something I have struggled with before. Normally the caravan park is empty, but of course being summer it is heaving. So I descend what feels like very low over the tents and vans before flaring on the displaced threshold and stopping neatly in under 300m - not bad for my first landing in a month...
Backtrack, park up and hop out. I'm late so have to miss leaving my landing fee in an envelope (pay by cheque later). There are quite a number of planes there, but the cafe is closed. Seems a shame, really....

A scoot down the coast
Following a very successful IT visit to Howe Copse I walk back in the afternoon sun to the field, hop over the fence next to the nice security guard and fire up.
I will say this for TG: it always starts first time. I do the classic thing I always do on hot starts: forget to turn the fuel on. I now know that the moment it starts running rough I need to turn the fuel on, but I do need to alter my checklist.
Taxy out (no ATC delays here...), power-check, backtrack and do a short-field take-off to the West, curving round North and climbing out over the Solent for Shoreham.

It has turned in to a beautiful cloudless day and within 10 minutes I am talking to Shoreham who advise of a 20 crosswind approach, so descend to 1,000ft over the take-off numbers (mind the climbing PA28 below me), swing around downwind and head for the hills.
This approach is weird, as you have to descend very low over the hills as you turn Final in order to get the correct glideslope on Final: otherwise you're straining to lose height. But I skim the tops of the hills and the A27 before settling (with a tiny bounce) and rolling out.
My client awaits and I am whisked off to Angmering.

155Kts over Port Meadow
Back at Shoreham at exactly 6.45pm (they close at 7.00pm), I fire up and call for taxy. I am one of the last 2 aircraft on the field (the other is a biplane) and I have the choice of runways as there is no wind, so opt for the closer 25 grass.
Bounce...bounce...bounce..... and rotate at 55Kts, climbout North West and change to Farnborough, who are extremely quiet. No one seems to be flying at present, which in a way is great, but on a nice summer evening like this the place should be awash with leisure flyers......
We route via Goodwood which adds 4 minutes to the journey as opposed to the normal route via Midhurst (with complex London TMA airspace close), and I climb to 4,000ft to go over Odiham's MATZ (not that it's active).
It's smooth up here and I think of people stuck on the M25 for 4 hrs (big crash today...) as we cruise homewards. It's very satisfying to be able to do this, especially for work-related reasons. And nice to be trimmed out, cruising, leaned, heading in the right direction with 2 GPSes and a VOR confirming that fact. All is right with the world.

Overhead Greenham Common Farnborough tell me of crossing traffic, but I never see them, and overhead Compton swap to Oxford Approach.
Normally I cruise descend over Abingdon but an Airmed flight is coming in as well for a right base for 01 and he's only a few miles further out than me (and faster), so let's try something different....
Stay at 4,000ft until just South of Oxford, then ease off and descend rapidly. As the speed passes through 155Kts over Port Meadow we can progressively ease off the throttle, then as we achieve 1,500ft, the wind singing in the rigging, back right off, trim back and slow right up to 100Kts (max flap speed), flick out the flaps and slow to 80Kts just as we start to turn Final. Nicely judged and incredibly quick, cruise stably down Final and flare for a nice gentle arrival on 01. Roll out with the Airmed on Final behind, clear the Active and he lands right behind us. Taxy in and pack up: as I'm on my own there's no great hurry. Nice and relaxed.

Our friends have invited us down to Cornwall for the weekend, so we are going down on Friday and have a hire car booked. We will go down via Brecon and the North coast, back via Plymouth (or at least, that's the plan....)
Leaving Oxford three-up with baggage and full tanks takes a lot runway: those bags are heavy! It's sunny as we take a right turn out and depart Westward via Charlbury and climb to our planned altitude of 3,000ft. Alice flies us very smoothly until we reach the Wye valley where the clouds have built up sufficiently that we are flying through them and they are bumpy, so we climb to FL40 and flip the autopilot on. Soon we are entirely VMC on-top; I can see a tiny patch of blue way away over the Bristol channel so we are technically legal, but it's stretching it....
I am experimenting with using the autopilot in modes other than the straight HDG "follow the DI bug" mode, and today we are using the NAV mode which slaves it to the VOR. After a false start I get it to track to the BCN beacon inbound, and then outbound SW and I'm concentrating so hard on testing it I forget we are at a height and course that will pass us through a segment of Cardiff's Controlled airspace. We are talking to Cardiff anyway, and they simply clear us through but it means I have to fly very accurately for a few miles.

Over Porthcawl the cloud abruptly ends (why is the weather always so awful over S Wales?) and we slip across the Bristol Channel towards Ilfracombe. We can see cloud inland but over the coast it's bright blue sky and we fly down the North coast towards Newquay.
Cardiff passes us to Newquay and we opt to fly out to sea a bit rather than fly through their overhead, turn inland and descend towards the offset approach for runway 25 which, in a way that ensures total landing concentration, ends on the clifftop. No overruns, please?
We're heavy, so by the time I have full flap in and we're stable, anything other than a descent requires a lot of throttle. I've recently realised I haven't really got full-flap missed approaches down pat, so must do some. But now is not the time (Cato...).
In the event I put the mains neatly in the numbers and we're stopped by the intersection, so turn left and on to the grass for parking. Drive the hire car to the plane and unpack: how civilised is that?

Cornwall weather
After a wonderful weekend the weather forecast for Sunday afternoon turns ugly: big winds and a nasty front coming through. Reading the weather runes very carefully I reckon so long as we are out by 3.45pm we will be ahead of the front, but as we leave our friends it starts absolutely bucketing down: the front has arrived, and it's early.
We drive up to the airfield and the rain is slicing across the field: 300ft cloudbase, 21017G32 winds and a very wet and forlorn looking TG alone on the grass. I think the girls are going home by train...
But 5 minutes in the tower changes my mood completely: it's going to blow through in an hour so we can take off after it, fly over it and land at Oxford before it arrives (hopefully).
By the time we have nipped in to Perranporth, filled up the hire car with fuel, loaded up the plane and put some more fuel in (runway behind, fuel in the bowser, these are a few of those useless things.....) and returned the car keys to the tower, incredibly the sky is clearing. He was right, all we have to do now is fly over the rain if we can.
Contingency plan: if it's awful we turn round and come back to Perranporth.

Fire up, backtrack 23, turn round, roll. With less luggage we take off early and turn out over the sea at 1,000ft, turn towards Newquay, sign off with Perranporth and climb to see if we can get on top of the front.
At FL50 on the autopilot (so we're not going to suddenly upset) I reckon we are above most of it and as we catch the front up we can see the rain below us. It's getting murky up here but it's smooth, so we get a Deconfliction service from Exeter, then Cardiff, then Bristol.
We can see the ground behind us and a brightening area in front, then we pop out in to bright sunshine South East of Bristol. From there it's a smooth ride back to Oxford via Lyneham, join downwind for 19 and a smooth landing and rollout in light wind. The rain will come through later.
I've been experimenting with landing on the stall warner (although with crosswinds I do land at a higher speed for greater control authority); the stall warner is of course a) a stall warner, and b) it's not an all-or-nothing game. It starts to whistle gently long before it blares, and experience has shown that careful modulation of that whistling is quite a good flare guide for smooth-as-possible landings.
Now I seem to have stopped the little bounces (too high speed, too high vertical speed in the last foot; the Cessnas are intolerant of being dumped the last foot, unlike the oh-so forgiving PA28s with their oleo suspensions) I can usually adjust the vertical speed in that last foot to get a single small squeak from the tyres, then hold the yoke back to let the nosewheel land as gently as possible. It's very satisfying, playing the landing game.

One thing I don't realise until partway through the return journey is that I have managed to crack the screen on our Aware GPS box by leaving it in the bottom of my flight bag over the weekend. This progressively disables the Aware during the return flight and after landing I have to take it off for repair.
Amazingly, Aware are just down the road in Wantage, extra amazingly they suggest I bring it in the following day, and fabulously amazingly they agree to replace the screen on the spot, update the firmware and only charge me £50.
Now there's Service. A wholehearted recommendation for Aware.

Left hand.. right hand...
Pilots have always flown from the left seat. Why, I don't know exactly, but it has something to do with Americans inventing the aircraft and sitting on the same side as they would in a car (the "wrong" side, of course, from a British perspective...).
However, for a project we have in mind we need to put a (non-pilot) cameraman in the left seat, and for that to happen I need to be happy to fly (and, most importantly, to land) from the right seat. Also it's useful knowledge for if your pilot ever becomes incapacitated, so worth a try.
So Today, Steve and I will both do some circuits from the right hand seat. We'll go to Wellesbourne, as they are friendly and do a good cup of tea; also, if we make a mess of things it's less visible than at Oxford!
I like flying with Steve: he's a retired airline pilot and brings a lot of big aeroplane cockpit systems management and CRM experience to flying a small plane. He's also flown more ILSes than I've had hot dinners, so for IMC work he's your man.
We'll fly up with him in the left seat as non-handling pilot and I'll fly P1 from the right seat, then swap coming back again.
Most of the controls are to hand and there's an altimeter on this side, but a few instruments over there are hard to read, especially the ASI and the turn n'slip indicator. It's also quite awkward starting the engine and doing the parking brake and the primer (but not impossible), so we delegate those to the left-seat pilot, but do all else from the right seat. I feel like an Instructor!
We taxy out and turn on to the runway. It feels very strange taking off: the view is different and the aircraft even sounds different. I find it hard to track the centreline accurately but rotate OK and we climb out, Steve calling speeds. We head North towards Wellesbourne, pausing on the way for some general handling (feels OK to me) and Steve's porage oats test (don't ask!) before descending into the circuit at Wellesbourne. I've got used to the "right hand yoke, left hand throttle" now, but don't have the deftness that comes with experience.
The first approach feels wrong: positioning the plane in the circuit is hard and my hands don't quite do what I tell them. We drift around the approach cone but make a reasonable, if long, landing. Touch 'n Go, take off again and it starts to come together as we start the second circuit. I'm used to the positioning and the controls and this time, apart from a complete lack of trimming, it feels more controlled and less cackhanded. We climb out again and agree that the 3rd one will be to a full stop for a cup of tea. Round we go, drop down the increasingly turbulent approach and land, a bit of a thump and not on the centreline but it's good enough; I think we've laid that one to rest.
Taxy in, stop for a cuppa, and pay for 2 more touch 'n go's for Steve.

Don't look out... Don't look out
Steve's now flying from the right hand seat and he "gets it" quicker than I do, as befits a man with a huge amount more experience. He does two well-controlled touch 'n Go's, then flies us South back to Banbury, at which point we ident and pick up the Localiser for me to do a "visual" ILS back in to 19. I am absolutely determined not to cheat and look up, so with Steve as safety pilot and doing the radio, we slow to 100Kts, pop in 10° of flap and stabilise the aircraft at 100Kts and 2200ft on the Localiser, looking for the glideslope to appear at around 11d. It starts to come in from above and I concentrate on "flying the dot".
The secret with the ILS is to become the dot and get it to stay in the corner of the room on the floor at the foot of the wall. I've become a bit "Zen" about this lately, and the line in Star Wars where Luke gets to "use the force" when approaching the Death Star torpedo release point (you either understand that or you don't, I'm not going to explain it...) begins to take on real meaning. And I repeat the mantra "don't look up". I even get a "good Localiser tracking" from the right seat, which from him is true praise.
I've not got the descent rate quite right, and we spend most of the approach slightly abve the glideslope, but I gently adjust and we sink down on to the glideslope as the DME winds down. If you are going to err, only err above the glideslope because there is no ground above the glideslope to crash in to!
I ask Steve to call when we reach 100 above (860ft) and Decision Height (760ft) and look up..... to see little twinkly runway lights precisely where I want them. Nice to see it does work, and 760ft is gratifyingly close to the runway. If you can't see it at this point, it's foggy on the ground and you're not going to see it even if you do keep going.
Steve takes over, does a nicely controlled right seat landing and we roll in past the Spitfire in the hangar next door. It's not every day you see that.
Steve has an interesting taxy technique - because he's used to flying large things that absolutely require adherence to the white line in the centre of the taxyway to prevent expensive airframe/hangar interactions he always sticks to the white lines, even when you can safely cut the corners a bit.

Information onrush
Tonight we are off for some IMC refresher practise. Pete & I have briefed to fly the Oxford 100 and 19 Holds and procedures over the WCO beacon.
Taking off in to an empty late-afternoon sky it strikes me how little prior prep we need to perform: book the aircraft on the website a couple of days before, check weather, NOTAMs and weather, book out at Ops and simply Go to our own timetable.
We climb out and aim for the 085° radial for WCO. My NDB tracking is still a little rusty despite numerous FS X and RANT sessions but it settles down after a few minutes and we get a pretty good cut over the beacon before turning in for the 100° procedure. As there is little wind this actually doesn't go badly and despite not always descending at the right pace (mainly a matter of unfamiliarity with the transponder's clock function, and a bit of "first time I've done this for a while" overload) we do end up over the beacon at 1,000ft on the right radial ready for the missed approach.
I'm a little bit behind the procedure here but we soon catch up and teardrop back to the beacon at 3,500ft for a 19° Hold. We've prepped wind offset (3x WC outbound) and outbound track length (vary by 1.5Kts per Knot of head/tailwind) in big red letters on the plate and when we turn back inbound we're not far off, so we do a second one which goes even better before declaring beacon outbound and descending.
We have flown the Hold at 120Kts; now we slow down to 100Kts, pop 10° of flaps, perform the pre-landing checks, stabilise (and most importantly trim) before the 6.5d outbound comes up at which point we do the Base turn, declare Base turn complete and run down the NDB descent at a constant speed. It all goes swimmingly until the last 1.5 miles at which point I lose the NDB track and we miss the runway by ½ a mile or so. Bugger!
Missed approach performed, we climb back up for another go and this goes a lot better. I get pretty much a dead cut over the beacon and we climb out back towards Oxford, where it's night time (how time does fly when you're enjoying yourself).
We join visual left base for 19 and the lights are very pretty. I haven't done a night landing for ages, but it's not hard and we do a very smooth arrival on 19. It's also very nice to be parked on a lit apron where putting everything away does not require a torch!
Things to improve next time:
- Better descents down the procedure. I tend to be high.
- Smaller corrections as we approach the beacon
- Keep reading the plate and verbalise the next step at each point
- Clip the plate to the yoke
- Wear glasses for the whole procedure (then I can read everything!)
- Watch for abeam position in Hold. Start clock then if after roll-out
- Rate ½ turns for small corrections
We are getting there: much of the rust has flaked off now.

Herding the stock
It's a record-breakingly warm Sunday afternoon at the beginning of October. Sunday roast is going down nicely on the terrace, and we're snoozing our way towards the end of the weekend.
But Lucy's boyfriend George needs to go back to Sheffield tonight, so a quick change of plan reveals that the closest airfield (Sheffield City) is.......what, closed? How stupid are these people?
It would make a great GA base but no: let's waste 1.2Kms of 10 year-old immaculate concrete runway because EasyFlyRyanBabyAir doesn't want to come in to Sheffield this year. Short-sighted Madness.
The closest field turns out to be Coal Aston near Dronfield, one railway halt South of Sheffield, but will they answer the phone?
At 4.15, right on the very latest time we can still get up there before sunset when they close, and whilst we are all saying "it looks like you're on the train" they finally answer and agree for us to drop in.
But apparently they will need us to orbit while they "clear the cattle" (whatever that means). What?
Five minutes later we are in the car, and in the air by 5.30, which is cutting it fine. A right turn out allows George to see Blenheim Palace and we head North, listening to a very concerned Europa pilot with engine trouble diverting in Oxford. Down below I can see the fire engines getting a workout up the taxyway....

The fallback plan if the weather gets too bad is simply to come home again: Doncaster is expensive and he can always go up on the Monday morning early.
I have noticed an increasing phenomenon in the last few months: if a controller or pilot simply wishes to acknowledge a transmission, rather than speak a formal reply they tend to click the transmit button twice. Now I was brought up properly vis a vis radio and I don't do this, but I have noticed even quite "official" radio units doing it. Not a problem, but an interesting 2011 development in R/T technique.
45 minutes later, as the light fades and the weather deteriorates (a front is coming through) we descend towards the requisite field, which is on the top of a hill and full of enormous cows (don't want to hit any of them on approach!). We orbit several times as requested and eventually a tractor appears to herd them over to one side.
Sunset is in 10 minutes and it's already getting hard to see. There's a big stand of trees under the approach to 29 and a hedge, so this will be interesting. The runway is 750m so we aren't going to run out, but there's a 10Kt crosswind as well just to add to the fun, and the runway slopes down then up again, so we'll be landing on a descending surface, which will make an accurate flare impossible.
Over the trees, lots of downdraught, clear the trees, almost chop the power, watch the hedge coming up but we're over it by 40ft or so and descending in to the bowl. Big heave as the stall warner blares; keep heaving and we touch once.... then settle and roll out on the rough grass as the cows much contendedly 50 yards away. Amazing.
It's been raining, so flaps away to get the weight on the wheels, then brake. We're just in the right place and taxy over to the hangar where the enormously-friendly farmer greets us. It looks like we are the furthest-away aircraft ever to visit. And the aircraft has cow pats all over one of the undercarriage sponsons. Lovely.....

Fly by night
It's exactly sunset as we fire up, taxying over the enormously rough grass. Keep the speed low and the yoke back as this is real prop-strike territory: White Waltham, eat your heart out.
At the end turn, power check in place, drop the flaps and roll. After some "fun" at White Waltham a while back I am very careful about not selecting more than 2 stages of flap, but it is looking like on rough ground the flap selector vibrates down slightly in to drag flap setting, which is very dodgy indeed. As we rotate at 60Kts it is reluctant to fly: Ah hah, I know what this is and yes, it's dropped just in to drag flap territory. Come back up an inch and the "hand of God" reappears to lift us out. I'm going to have to watch that on rough ground. White Waltham was good experience after all.
Climb out South East and head for home, climbing to 3,000ft and switching back to East Midlands, who are chatty and offer us a Zone Transit, which I am tempted to accept, but this would prevent me from doing my planned DTY VOR Tracking, so we'll go around instead. They are joshing with the airliner captains as they descend in to the procedure and are obviously bored. As the light fades so do the thermals and the ride becomes very smooth indeed; visibility is excellent tonight and the East Midlands conurbation twinkles as it unfolds beneath us.
It's a good time to practise VOR tracking back to Daventry so turn the GPS round and navigate by VOR, which works beautifully all the way to, and from the beacon at which point we ditch East Midlands and swap back to Oxford Approach. We'll come in "visual" for 19 and shoot the ILS, which after a momentary initial confusion about being above or below the line goes OK.
I am careful not to look out of the window but at the ILS; flying the dot down to 900ft at which point we go visual and there is the runway. Managing to forget to put the landing light on we descend between the lights and do a lovely smooth arrival on the invisible tarmac nowhere near the centre-line before flicking it on (doh!), re-establishing the centre-line and taxying in. Ooh, a Night ILS: there's a first.
The cover is dirty so we'll take it away, wash it and re-waterproof it, and the cow pats need washing away, so 10 minutes with water and some tissues and the aircraft is clean once more.

The last nice day of the year?
We're well in to October now, but the weather has remained fine and surprisingly warm. It's forecast to be horrible over the next few days, so we'll make the best of the nice weather and take our deadshot friend Joel and his Mother Ann down to Sandown for tea and a trip around the Isle of Wight.
We'll do a little flight planning, so it's out with the map and the green spiral-bound AFE VFR airfield directory. I can remember looking at the map and the book when I was learning, and thinking "I'll never have the confidence to go and actually land at all of these places". Nowadays I just see opportunities, and the book is looking dog-eared (as is the map....).
We walk out past Oxford Aviation who are having an open day: lots of teenage Air Cadets (ah, the memories!) hanging around the aircraft wanting to be commercial pilots. That was me at 17.....
They look jealously at us as we head for some real aviation: their aviation opportunities at present are restricted to an occasional 30 minute flip in a motor-glider and around that is way too much non-aviation faffing, like expeditions and First Aid courses. No wonder most of them will give up learning to fly before they even get going, and go off to be web designers or media consultants. Just what Britain needs: more media consultants... Come on, RAF, give them weekly flying slots and let them work towards PPLs; that would kick start the aviation industry.
We ask the bowser to fill up the tanks, which leaves us just over MAUW and within CG limits. By the time we take-off we will be at MAUW and we'll be 96lbs below that on landing at Sandown.

We take off in to a sunny, slightly hazy afternoon and climb out Southbound, slip between Abingdon and the Brize Zone and down to Joel's house for a circuit before climbing out and teaching him how to fly it.
He's good, and not afraid of making it do what he wants, which is good. He can fly us down South (and swat wasps in the cockpit) while I radio and navigate. Farnborough Radar is frantic and it's hard to get a word in edgeways but once we get a squawk they are very helpful and spot conflicting traffic almost as soon as we do. With 4 pairs of eyes we get most of them. At 3,500ft we are above virtually all of them, the Odiham MATZ and the layer of haze that stops most dramatically at 3,400ft.
Once overhead Hayling Island we get rid of Farnborough and track towards Sandown, passing overhead the now-quieter Bembridge at 3,000ft before descending into the downwind for 05.
Pre-landing checks, then Turn Base and we're very high, so 2 stages of flap and idle power gets us back on a sensible descent path before the 3rd stage slows us sufficiently to give us a fighting chance at stopping before the taxyway. Get the vertical speed slightly high at the last moment, a very small bounce and we're down and rolling. Flaps go up, brakes go on and we exit neatly for a marshalled park-up. Sandown is really busy today - mainly with microlites but a twin is parked up as well. We appear to be the heaviest single in today, and from the furthest afield.
I like the Isle of Wight: it just feels that little bit different from mainstream Britain. A tad more relaxed and less frenetic. But a reminder that NIMBYs and Planning idiocies are never far away is on the wall: Sandown was nearly Brown-fielded out of existence a few years back. Only a Court Injunction stopped the idiocy and now Sandown is buzzing....

Evening return
£12.50 lighter and a cup of tea heavier we fire up and taxy out over the rough grass (they have moles here) before lining-up for departure.
I'm not going for the full 20° take-off flap detent as we know that on grass it has a tendency to vibrate down further, so we'll use 20° as per the markings on the dashboard, which is a bit further up.
We call "rolling" and accelerate down the runway. As we pass 40Kts we start bouncing, which is so annoying as the aircraft can't quite fly at that speed so we get the stall warner chirping. At 55Kts a firm rotate has us airborne and we climb steadily out to 800ft before turning South, cleaning up and passing control over to Ann who will fly us around the Isle of Wight in the evening sun.
The Isle of Wight looks beautiful as we pass over Ventnor then over the South West corner of the island, heading for The Needles, where we turn over The Needles and head for Cowes, where Ann has a flat. Heading North East we pass Portsmouth and head North around the Solent Zone to pick up our track: 350° inbound CPT.

It's hazy and much quieter at 5.30pm, strobes go ON and Farnborough are more easily accessible now. Ann gently pilots us towards CPT at which point we swap from Farnborough to Oxford, get the now-repaired ATIS and cruise-descend from Didcot.
Ann's manoeuvring is causing Joel to feel a little unwell, so I'll take it and join Downwind for 19, taking care not to stray too far North as D129 is Active tonight, turn Base then Final and ease it down on to the seemingly huge (after Sandown) runway before taxying in.
As we put the plane to bed the sun sinks as a great yellow ball. The RAF Cadets have long gone home to dream about real flying without all of the surrounding faff.....

The Manchester low level route
Anyone visiting the North West will have heard of the infamous Manchester low-level route.
Because there are 2 large commercial airports (Manchester and Liverpool) in close proximity there is a huge chunk of Class A airspace over virtually the entire area between the Pennines to the East and way out in to the Irish Sea to the West.
Legend has it that VFR zone transits through this zone are unobtainable: you either swing wide out in the Irish sea or go over the Pennines. However, in between the airports they do allow a narrow corridor of low-level VFR traffic.
And when they say low-level, they mean low-level.
Maximum altitude within the corridor is 1250ft QNH which means, as the land is not at sea level, around 1100ft of clearance.
Given the standing AIP instruction to remain 1,000ft clear of anything man-made makes accurate height-keeping a necessity.
I know people who refuse to fly this zone because there is no conflict avoidance service available and everyone but everyone is flying at exactly the same height. Today should, however, be OK as the weather is dodgy and it's a weekday.

Lucy needs to go to Manchester for a look at the University's Fashion department and the traffic reports say this is a 4 hour drive in each direction (but around 1 hr by plane).
Oxford is under clear, cold, blue October skies but a weather front is due to come through mid-morning South east from Manchester, so we will aim to fly through it (light showers and rain are forecast) and land in decent weather the other side. We can go over it if necessary.
We are being driven mad by the close location of the main radio mast to our parking spot, making it all but impossible to hear the Tower over the bleed through from the ATIS (now restored) when requesting start or taxy, so having eventually received start permission I simply taxy forward until we are clear of the interference zone but still invisible to the Tower, then call for taxy. Very naughty, but I can't hear them otherwise!
We are short of fuel but don't want to go MAUW as Barton is relatively short and wet grass, so we'll fill up with around 150L of fuel. However, there appears to be some discrepancy between what the pump is saying and what we have actually put in as the pump says 150L but the receipt says 95L, which is enough but there's not a huge margin. I don't like these "incident pits": mental note to dip the tanks at Manchester and fill up again if necessary.
We take off and climb out NW towards Birmingham, swap to Birmingham Approach for a Basic service, mainly so they know what that squawk running along the edge of their zone is, and drone along on the autopilot at 3,000ft.

Just East of Wolverhampton we swap to Shawbury and ease round the edge of Ternhill MATZ at 3,000ft.
The front is here and we soon fly in to it. It's too high to fly over and anyway we can see through it, so whilst it is a little bumpy and viz is restricted for a while, it is mainly as forecast. Eventually we pop out in to brighter weather - there's sunshine ahead.
Shawbury remind us of the approaching Airway (thanks, Shawbury) and we descend.... and descend.... for ages it seems until we are below normal circuit height, which gives us little room to glide clear and feels awful.
Over Oulton Park race circuit we squawk 7366, which signifies to Manchester Approach that you are listening to them. In the end I have a little chat with them as they are quiet, just to confirm the QNH and they are very friendly and give us a Basic service, so all the rumours are untrue.
To be fair to ATC I've never heard a really unfriendly one (to me anyway), and they do have a lot of conflicting requirements to deal with: the non-radio microlights, us VFR boys and the airliners who pay their bills.
I've heard them tongue lashing others who have made heinous errors, but learning to fly at Oxford in an ATC-heavy environment has, over the years, paid massive dividends with radio.
Today we are possibly the only person in the low-level route as it has been raining hard, so I am not too concerned, but we keep a good look out anyway. Above us (quite surprisingly close) EasyJet Airbuses climb and descend - I can see why this corridor is so restricted.
The ground we are flying over rapidly becomes more built-up and we approach the Manchester Ship canal, our turning point for Barton. Approaching Barton we ask for runway in use which turns out to be 27R with a RH circuit. We can do that: no problem.
Joining downwind we report downwind, do checks and turn base, drop the flaps and turn final. We did the downwind and Base legs a bit tight so we are very high, but a glide approach and deployment of the barn doors gets us back in the cone. Some downdraught over the trees, so a bit of power, then roll it off over the threshold and pull... pull... being wet grass it flatters our arrival so we only hear the wheels spinning up.
We even get a "nicely done, Tango Golf" from the tower.
Which is nice.
Wet grass retards, so we need no brakes (not that they would work!), we just exit left and taxy slowly along the muddy, rutted taxyway to the apron for parking. The grass is very wet indeed: they have had a lot of rain today.
It turns out we are the first arrival of the day, and it's 12.00 already. They are quiet. They will shut at sunset tonight, so we need to be back by 5.30pm.

The bus journey in to Manchester is long and slow - we vow to take a taxi on the return journey.

I'll huff and I'll puff and I'll blow you along
Via some terrible traffic (surprisingly not ameliorated by those wonderful trams they have so expensively installed through the middle of Manchester. Don't get me started on trams....) our taxi manages to deposit us at the front gate at 5.30pm, so first order is out with the ladder and dip the tanks. We have enough to get us back with a 40 minute reserve, and the wind will be behind us, so we won't fill up.
This is less of a reserve than I would prefer, as my designated alternates in the event of Oxford's main runway being closed would be the cross runway 29 (has lights), Enstone (no lights) or Brize Norton (lights, ILS, fire service, arrester hooks, radar, 2 mile runway, coffee machine....) but if the wind changes and we have to divert we might get short. So we'll be careful.
Barton have only had 4 aircraft in and out all day, including us. At 16.80 per plane that doesn't pay anyone's salary......
We start up, taxy, power-check at A3 and proceed once more on to the mud pie that is 27R as they are turning off the office lights. We'll be last out....
There are power pylons in the distance: I want to be *well* above them. 20° flap by the numbers (and no more...); we'll monitor during the run. Brakes off and we soon hit 55Kts, firm rotate and we're climbing rapidly. EFATO contingency is...... over there in that field until we hit 700ft, at which point it becomes a 180° back to the airfield somewhere.
At 1,000ft with positive rate of climb we clean up and head off to the Low Level route once more. Now I'm used to it it doesn't appear quite so dangerous, and is in fact quite enjoyable, like an extended downwind leg.
At Oulton Park we exit the corridor, squawk 7000 and climb. I'm concerned about fuel so we'll cruise climb to 3,000ft and cruise at 23/23 and 115Kts rather than my normal 23½/23½ and 125Kts. I'm also going to try an experiment: the left tank was dry at Barton, so we'll switch to that and see if it runs dry. After 20 minutes I know it's cross-feeding from the right tank; there can't be that much fuel in there. Interesting....
Birmingham Radar are incredibly busy feeding airliners in to the NDB DME approach for runway 33. Can you believe that in 2011 the approach procedure for a large commercial airport actually includes a beacon invented in the 1930s? How primitive are we?
The elephant in the CAA's room is that in practice everyone, from commercial airliners down to microlites, navigates using GPS and has done for 10 years. So why not scrap all the nonsensical VOR and DME procedures and implement GPS procedures? In the USA FAA-verified GPS procedures are in place for virtually all airfields down to tiny private grass strips. We do live in the dark ages....
Eventually we manage to get a word in edgeways and get a Basic Service from Birmingham, but as we have a 40Kt tailwind within 20 minutes we are ready to swap to Oxford, so do so and start our descent.
Now I have recently switched to having the GPS set to "track-up" which is actually easier to use, but you do risk losing situational awareness, which is exactly what happens as I gently veer off-track to the right towards what I think is the runway 19 approach path but which turns out to be the runway 29 approach path. As the picture looks wrong I do a mental Etch-a-Sketch shake and... ah, OK.
So now we're right base for 19, so descend, do the pre-landing checks and turn final, drop down the approach and do a nice, smooth landing.
Someone has parked in our space, so a chat with the tower confirms we are OK for parking on the apron next to the Spitfire school that lives at Oxford. A little too expensive for my budget, but maybe one day......

What have we learned?
We have flown independently of any educating or managing agency for 12 months now, what have we learned?

- Flying what is effectively your own aircraft is a whole different ball game to flying under the auspices of a flying club. There is no one to hold your hand, so you are entirely responsible for your own, and your passengers', safety. As Frederick Forsyth once put it: "ain't nobody here but me....".
Whilst it means you are, in practice, more likely to fly on a given day, the degree of planning to reach the "Go/No Go" decision has to be more rigorous. So I have regularly-reviewed personal minima in terms of crosswinds, cloudbase and rain; both for myself and for passenger flights at start, midpoint and end of flight.
- Just because it's doable for you as a pilot doesn't necessarily mean it's comfortable for your passengers
- On the whole, unless they are potential pilots, passengers prefer the "airliner" experience. So straight and level, autopilot on, as high as possible and preferably above the clouds where it's smoother, all doors shut, lots of heater, plenty of explanation as to what is going-on and try to sound as professional as possible. I've also perfected leaving the pax at Ops with coffee whilst doing the walk-round, then taxying to the apron for the full Pan Am experience.
- No plog ever survives contact with flight (the winds are never as forecast, the pax are late, airfields close or change runways, you use more or less fuel than planned etc etc) especially when you go away for several days.
It's impossible to judge the weather 3 days ahead in any more than a very general way, and the weather for your return trip may be entirely unlike you expected. So be resourceful, adaptable and always try to have a Plan B, even if that is "go home on the train" or "fly home tomorrow".
- Bad weather is not a huge issue provided you can get off the ground and the crosswind at your destination is within limits. Avoid thunderstorms and icing, but aircraft do not mind getting wet!
- Travel over 50 miles and the weather in the UK is guaranteed to be different, maybe dramatically different, from your starting point.
- The weather in SE Wales is always worse than the weather anywhere else. Don't know why.
- When travelling long distances, don't be afraid of Zone Transits in Class D airspace at relatively minor airfields: provided you are travelling at right angles to their runway in use so not liable to conflict with their traffic they will usually be happy to provide you with a Zone Transit right over the top of the field (airliners don't do circuits) and that way they know exactly where you are.
- Don't be scared of big trips: airfields are the same all over the country (and abroad)
- Push the envelope a little bit each time you're out. Go further, ask the military if you can land, be more adventurous with the weather, go out and back different ways, fly at sunset, fly in to grass strips (plan carefully), fly in to big airports, fly abroad!
- Never assume anything: if you're not absolutely clear about something, then ask, and if you're still unsure go and find out for yourself.
- Minimise the faff: do your pre-flight planning and Go/No-Go decision-making at home, go to the field and go flying, put the aircraft to bed and go home.
- A light aircraft makes sense over a car for any road journey over roughly 2 hours, or any journey over water (so 100 miles with traffic meaning an average speed of 50mph). Airliners make sense over a light aircraft for any light aircraft journey over 4 hours (so Southern France or beyond) unless you're very keen. So for example Greece by C182 would be fun but would make no sense. That doesn't mean you don't want to consider it, though, for the experience!