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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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!
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
pull 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
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.....
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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"
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
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
Whilst putting the cover on the rain rolls in: glad I have my anorak with
And finally I have more P1 ("Pilot In Command",
don't you know...) hours than P2 (under instruction). Ooh, that does feel
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
Downwind: vent arriere
Go around: mise en gas
Runway vacated: piste degagee
Active runway: Piste en service
(je demande la piste en service, s'il vous plait?)
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
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
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
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
"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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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"
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
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?
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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,
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....
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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,
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....
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
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
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
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
He knows what he wants from life now. Oh dear, what have
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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?
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
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
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 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
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.
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
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
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.
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)
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
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
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....
£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
The Manchester low level route
Anyone visiting the North West will have heard of the infamous Manchester
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
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
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
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
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
- 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
- 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
- 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!