Good evening Ladies
and Gentlemen, your captain for this flight is...
We have a chance to fly the British Airways Boeing 777 simulator at Heathrow
tonight (it's quiet, being post-Christmas) and so the 4 of us who fly
TG drive up late one evening to the deserted engineering sheds behind
the airport where the £20 million full-motion hydraulic simulators
are to be found. Despite the massive expense of these simulators they
are the preferred method of airline line training and currency for two
reasons: their per hour rate is 1%-2% of the cost of running an equivalent
airliner, and you can simulate very realistically combinations of system
failures it would be extremely dangerous to replicate in the air.
The simulator is a large box on jacks, but once seated at the controls
and feeling the first expansion-joint bump of the taxyway this disappears:
immersion is total and your senses are convinced you are
in an aircraft.
First impressions are that the 777 is surprisingly sprightly in pitch
and roll response, that the engines take a l o n g time to spool up but
then produce a satisfactory thump in the back, and that the initial climb
angle is steep; even steeper than the PA-32. 15° is normal, and whilst
it takes a pull to get it to 10° it then tends to run away towards
20°, closing fast on the stall /AoA indicator in the Flight Director,
the first time I've seen one of these (which surely should have shown
the pilots of the Air France A340 that crashed in the mid-Atlantic that
they were doing something wrong?).
We fly around for a while (heavy turbulence at 300ft over Newark, heading
for the Statue of Liberty) and it's easy to fly using the Flight Director
(a cross between an AH, a DI and an ILS: basically you aim to keep the
white dot in the centre of the pink cross and you won't go far wrong:
autothrottles attend to any power requirements), but if you try to fly
it visually it can become disorientating due to the lack of feel.
Yaw is taken account of using a yaw damper, so you only really need the
rudder for runway steering, and the dashboard works on the "dark
display" methodology: if no lights are lit everything is OK.
We all find it very intense but no one crashes it; we
all do a number of successful ILS approaches to big airfields and whilst
our landings may have been heavier than one would expect in TG they were
all on the runway and in the right place.
Of course, the question everyone asks is that given the highly unlikely
scenario where both pilots are incapacitated but the airliner isn't, and
the Stewardess asks if any of the passengers can fly a plane, could the
PPL holder in seat 44D actually land a 777 safely?
I reckon, given a modicum of luck, there are sufficient automatics for
an Instrument Rated PPL to get the thing on the ground. We were flying
it manually, but the autopilot generally does a more efficient job and,
if commanded, will actually land the aircraft using the radio altimeter
and the ILS. So: a qualified "Yes".
We all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and will do it again if the opportunity
It's New Year 2012 and Pete wants to rattle the water out of his Mooney,
warm the engine and de-rust his (and my) piloting skills.
He's doing an FI course, so there are plenty of good tips to be picked
Most important for me is the chance to test a prospective purchase: a
loaned Lightspeed Zulu ANR headset. My existing Sennheiser HME-100 has
served me well, but this represents a serious step up.
ANR, or Automatic Noise Reduction, is one of those clever ideas that we
never thought would emerge from the boffindom of the 1980s. It's a clever
way of reducing ambient noise levels within headsets whilst allowing important
noises through. In the case of aviation headsets, this means radio messages,
which you can sometimes struggle to understand above the high noise floor
of engine, aircraft ancillaries and airflow.
Instead of simply adding increased insulation and/or clamp pressure to
the earpieces, thereby increasing weight and size, a microphone on the
outside of each earpiece takes the ambient noise, delays it by exactly
half a wavelength and plays it back through the earphone inside the earpiece.
This cancels out a huge proportion of the ambient noise, as nobly demonstrated
by William Woolard on Tomorrows World a very long time ago (that ages
Clearly a case of "more is less".
Obviously noise comes in a mix of different frequencies, so a fixed delay
won't work: presumably they have a sliding delay depending upon frequency
(and thus wavelength).
As Pete starts the Mooney's engine I deliberately keep the ANR turned
off (to simulate battery failure) and the noise level through the light,
low clamp pressure earcups is about equivalent to my Sennheisers.
So far so good.
Then I turn on the ANR and an uncanny silence descends: I must be going
deaf after all? Then Pete speaks and the strength of his audio above the
noise floor is such that I have to turn the volume way down.
Apart from a bass rumble, that I suspect I am feeling rather than hearing,
the engine sounds a long way away indeed. The only issue seems to be strange
transients occasionally on movement of the jaw, either through momentary
displacement of the earcup seal, or opening of the Eustachian tube allowing
unfiltered noise up from the back of the nasal passages.
The difference between ANR ON and OFF is just massive: it really does
work, and I can hear Pete and ATC a lot more clearly. The claims made
that you can't hear the engine properly are simply untrue: in many ways
you can hear the engine more clearly.
What I haven't appreciated until now is the fatiguing effect of high noise
levels: with this ANR unit an hour's flight is not exhausting in the same
way it is without. It's hard to describe the way in which the noise fatigues
but it certainly does: after an hour's flight I feel fresher than I normally
I'm sold on the idea of ANR and on the headphones: anyone want a pair
One thing has come up in discussion recently with Steve:
the issue of checking the CO detector.
This is simply not in my normal list of things to check on a regular basis,
and whilst the detector is checked at the 50hr service that's not really
the point of the thing, which is to check on a minute-by minute basis
that poisonous fumes are not being released from a leaky exhaust manifold
in to the cabin.
The effects of CO poisoning are insidious: you can't see or smell it but
in sufficient concentrations it can affect decision making and eventually
So I think we should be FREDAC-ing every 15 mins or so (Fuel, Radio, Engine,
DI, Altimeter, CO).
We fly out over Blenheim palace, then Gloucester, then
I turn us North (I love the Mooney, it's all-pushrod and there's no wooliness
about the controls whatsoever) for Evesham. A large hammerhead - shaped
freezing rain cloud is lurking South West of Oxford but passes safely.
We're not FIKI-equipped and IR or no IR Pete's not going in there and
neither am I.
We finally recover back to Oxford from Banbury and I shoot the ILS from
the right seat, which is interesting but stable despite a 20Kt crosswind
until the wind veers at 1,000ft and I drift 1½ dots off to the
right. As I am correcting Pete calls 800ft and we go visual, which goes
to show that 1½ dots deviation is quite easily recoverable from:
a quick left turn and there's plenty of time to "get it in from here".
And we have 2 reds and 2 whites so the height was just peachy.....
Why can't I do ILSes?
My IMC needs revalidating before April or I lose it permanently (some
daft EASA wonks in Europe, jealous of our ability to fly in clouds without
14 exams and the knowledge of exactly what the weather is like in the
Inter-Tropical Convergence Zone and detailed knowledge of how a jet engine
works, has decided We Must Not Be Allowed To Fly On Cloudy Days - a likely
story in the UK).
Some IMC rust removal is called for before I do my revalidation (plus
I haven't flown for 2½ months), so I borrow Pete and we plan a
complex and demanding All-IFR flight to Coventry for an ILS, a missed
approach and an ILS back in to Oxford.
I know something will go wrong, me being rusty in all
sorts of different ways, I just don't know what
will go wrong....
We do a full pre-IFR A Check, then with foggles on we
take-off and I turn on to my intercept course for a 315° Moreton Departure
without cross-checking DI and Compass (mistake
#1) so we end up drifting back over the airfield and in to the Beacon
outbound procedure area, starting to impinge upon a business jet's approach
comfort zone, so Pete vectors me back towards where I should be, we get
the DI showing what the compass is showing and it all starts going better
Apart from the old "blowing through the VOR track whilst concentrating
on getting the NDB tracking right" trick things get better, except
that my scan is all wrong and I'm expending way too much mental energy
keeping straight and level. Rust!
We make Daventry without further ado and the vectors on to the ILS go
just peachy, then as I start down the ILS I just can't seem to get it
nailed: the descent rate is is OK but I can't seem to keep the bloody
localiser. We drift left and right in larger arcs until we both know it's
a mess and we throw it away at 1,500ft. I never even see the runway. We're
in and out of bumpy cloud and I don't know whether Pete even sees it either.
The Missed Approach procedure is complicated by the fact that we have
mistuned the radio so we are not getting anything from Coventry Tower,
and the close proximity of the Birmingham Zone prevents us from climbing
above 1,500ft, but we do it OK and re-establish on the correct DTY radial
before sorting out the radio, departing Coventry and calming down as we
swap back to Oxford, then hunt and establish the Honiley 151° radial
for an ILS back.
I then miss the Localiser and have to swing back through to get established,
which upsets my pre-landing checks and desire to get stabilised on 100Kts
with 1 stage of flap before hitting the glideslope. It does come together
eventually but then I'm swinging left and right of the Localiser again:
I can do this normally, it is so frustrating.
At 1,000ft and at half-scale deflection we go visual: we're quite a long
way off to one side of the runway. Pete suggests nicely that we may want
to go Missed but actually I reckon we can get it on from here: 19 is very
long for a determined C182 driver.
With some immediate and judicious juggling of throttle and flaps we get
back over the runway at a sensible speed and a huge descent rate, flare
nicely half way down and we're on really smoothly and gently.
"Oh, OK, maybe we didn't need to go Missed after all.... I wouldn't
have got the Mooney in from there".
So I can do the easy stuff, just not the bloody ILS.
But rust firmly removed.
IMC Rust removal Part Deux
After lunch (and I feel so much less exhausted with this new ANR headset;
wish I'd changed years ago) we go again: this time for some vectoring,
plus some partial panel and unusual attitudes work.
After this morning's rust removal everything goes a great
deal more swimmingly: my scan has got better and the whole thing feels
less frenetic. Our Moreton departure works better now I am cross-checking
the DI against the compass and I can hold height and heading with less
mental effort (and less death grip on the yoke).
We do some vectoring, which is easy, and then some timed turns (helped
by us now having a decent timer on the transponder box), then it's time
for Recovery From Unusual Attitudes. It's weird that I have always found
these the least scary part of IFR aviation, and whether full or partial
panel have always been able to recover easily, so we whip through the
rollercoaster ride and move on.
Now I've done IMC for a number of years the scariness is retreating: I
could never go back to being "just a VFR pilot": clouds have
lost their dread and I quite enjoy the challenge of relying on the instruments.
OK, I'm not the worst best instrument pilot, largely because I don't fly
enough IFR stuff, but I am confident I could, with all cylinders firing,
do an Instrument let down for real. My Holds may be messy and my bumpy
cloud work a bit inaccurate but it's just practise.
IMC comes in many forms
The February snow has finally relented and a bright blue sunny but freezing
cold Saturday allows us to finalise the IMC rust removal.... if
we can get the aircraft out and going. I need to get my ILS's better.
At first glance the aircraft appears to be parked behind
a wall of compacted snow generated by the snow-clearance guys, but they
have left us a way out.
However, the aircraft has been covered in snow which
has melted and re-frozen, so the wings and tail surfaces are covered in
solid, compacted, icy snow several inches thick.
We move the aircraft round in to the sun, but even with
its help it takes Pete and I two hours to remove with a broom, scrapers
and de-icer fluid, mindful of the fact that even sandpaper-textured ice
stuck to the lift-generating surfaces can reduce lift by up to 30%, increase
drag by 20-30% and, most importantly, raise the stall speed by 10Kts.
We also take pains to reduce any ice from control surfaces and hinges,
then lower the flaps and work the ailerons and elevators to ensure the
control runs are free and clear. Freezing level is "000-005"
so anything left is going to freeze and could jam the controls if we're
This is the first time I've ever had to do this and it's a learning process,
like much in aviation. Professional pilots and Instructors have long ago
got this under their belts; it's handy to have a Mentor to learn more
about the art of running an aircraft for yourself as opposed to just flying
with a club. I have certainly learned more in the last 52 hours and calendar
year than I learned in the previous 2 or 3 years.
After a spot of lunch and some planning (I now know the
little chevrons against runways on the 1:500,000 chart means "Instrument
approach available" not "ILS available") we try to start
the poor, frozen beast, and whilst it kicks and runs feebly a few times
the battery is too weak and soon it won't even turn the prop.
I learn something more about the Cessna 182: where the 12V ground charge
socket is (just under the oil inspection hatch on the left side of the
engine: needs a flathead screwdriver to undo). Hats off to the Fire Service
guys who have a neat electric charger and have us going in a trice (to
be fair, they have to start everyone else as well...).
And finally we're taxying out ready to go. We leave the cowl flaps only
half open to accelerate warming the engine and by the time we have done
our power checks the oil temperature is in the green.
We'll re-run the last session with the emphasis on the
ILSes: one at Coventry, and a second one on our return to Oxford.
Off East to track the 070° radial to the Westcott NDB (check the DI
matches the compass), which as the air is clear works perfectly except
one instance of me reading the compass backwards and adjusting the DI
by 10° in the wrong direction (that becomes quickly obvious). Get
a good cut over WCO and turn North to pick up the 348° radial to the
Daventry beacon. I manage to blow through the radial and as we're getting
close have to do a radical 60° cut to recover the situation, but that's
OK, and swap to Coventry Approach who vector us in to their ILS Localiser.
On the descent towards the Localiser we slow down to 100Kts, stabilise
and trim the aircraft to reduce workload. This works better.
Turning to capture the Localiser we are VMC on top of the haze but as
we descend in to sun and haze it becomes obvious that no foggles are required:
this is IMC for real. I'm not looking out at all, but the haze is so bad
Pete can't even see the runway at 1,000ft. It's only at 800ft and Decision
Height do we both look out and see the runway vaguely through the haze,
enough to land off if necessary (and satisfyingly on track).
We go missed and climb out, climbing through the Missed Approach procedure
(complex here, as you are below Birmingham International's Airspace and
mustn't climb above 1499ft) back towards Daventry and can relax: it's
a beautiful day and the country is covered in a flat white layer of haze
around 2,000ft thick: no day for visual navigation or landings. In the
distance we can see a lump in the haze that can only be Didcot power station.
We pick up the Honiley 151° radial and switch back to Oxford, then
capture the Localiser and attain the glideslope. This feels better: get
the aircraft slowed down and trimmed stable in to the landing configuration
first, then get on the ILS. Concentrating hard on the ILS we drop down
the approach and like Coventry the runway simply doesn't appear until
virtually Decision Height. We go visual, drop flaps and flare on to the
Despite this being a nominally VFR, if a little cold, day this landing
would simply would not have been possible visually: I was head down on
the ILS but the haze was so thick Pete didn't see the runway until we
both looked out at Decision Height: real IMC on a sunny day.
We pop TG to bed with well-charged battery, wheel chocks
and dried-out-on-the-fence-in-the-sun cover, double-check "Mags off,
key out, Master off, brakes on, fuel off, lock door", recover broom
and de-icer spray and go home.
A long day for 1 hour's flying....
Revalidated at last...
After a long delay due to examiner non-availability and some misty weather
an appropriate Saturday appears and I arrive at Oxford in the pouring
rain. This does not look promising: even my examiner thinks I've cancelled.
I chant the pilots' chant: "but it's forecast to clear....".
Doesn't look too much like it from here, although my first rule of "can
I fly today?" is "look up at the clouds, if you can see uniform
grey it's below 1,000ft and not flyable. If you can see features in the
undersides of the clouds it's above 1,000ft and may be flyable".
By this rule, features are appearing, so it's lifting. If it gets to 780ft
and is above freezing to the tops and does not contain CBs, then it's
They've moved us to front and centre of the apron, so
we're very visible from the Tower. I think I preferred our little hideaway
but this is less walking, it must be said.
Strip off the soaking cover, preflight and go back in to Ops to await
my examiner. For once, the weather does more or less what it's forecast
to do, and it becomes IMC-legal as we prepare.
Starting-up and taking-off, we climb to 3,000ft through the clouds. Once
at cruise height and satisfied I can hold a height and heading in the
murk he masks the DI and AH and we fly partial panel for a while, doing
timed turns. Glad I did the de-rust: these actually work out remarkably
well, despite me being a bit fumble-fingered with the timer on the transponder,
and so we do some climbing turns and descents through the sometimes bumpy
Next he vectors me in for the ILS, so we slow the aircraft down, do pre-landing
checks and establish on the Localiser for 19. My preflight guess at the
wind-corrected heading to steer to retain the Localiser turns out to be
very close and only 5° corrections either way are needed.
We slide in under the glideslope and we're almost there when another aircraft
comes up behind us and we have to do an orbit for spacing, which gets
a bit messy.
But part of this exam is not to panic, to be flexible, not to lose situational
awareness and to get things back together again, so once the orbit is
complete I re-construct the approach, re-establish the localiser and once
more start to slide down the glideslope, trying for less than 1 blob error
in all directions.
We have a large map and a cushion over the windscreen so I have no idea
if we are in Oxfordshire or Cornwall, but at 780ft I declare visual, the
obstruction is removed and there is runway 19. No need to touch anything,
we just slide down towards it and flare.
Despite the gusty crosswind I am absolutely determined to give him the
decent landing I should have given him on my PPL Skills test 5 years ago,
and we land flapless with barely a quiver (just not on the bloody centreline;
that's a work in progress), roll out and park.
He's happy, which means I'm ecstatic: I'm now IMC-legal
for 2 years and a month and I've beaten EASA's new pilot licensing rules
by a month or so.
What I do know is that I will use the IMC Rating in anger much more in
the next 2 years than I have used it in the preceding 3. In a way, the
increased number of hours and experience I have and our rust removal sessions
have resolved many of the issues I had surrounding it.
I also discover the portable radio that's always been in the glove box
is a transmitter as well as a receiver (and a pseudo-VOR), so my "total
electrical failure" procedure can be amended to "use portable
radio for calls", not "use mobile phone for calls".
It never ceases to amaze me just how well this aircraft is equipped.
Isle of Wight
One of my clients has a house on the Isle of Wight and needs assistance
with the wireless I installed so on a cloudy, gloomy day we meet up, hop
in his plane and take off. Bembridge is 25 minutes away and we climb up
through the gloom until at 4,000ft we break free in to the beautiful spring
sunshine. The fluffy mat of clouds spreads as far as the eye can see in
all directions. It's just us up here, as good an excuse for an IMC as
I can see. TCAS shows others grinding along just under the cloudbase:
gloomy, bumpy stuff.
20 minutes later we drop back through the mat in to the gloom and he sets
up for a low wind-check pass for 30 at Bembridge, cranks it round for
the approach and scares a couple of cars passing the end of the runway
by coming in very low, putting the wheels on the threshold (nice landing)
and we rumble to a halt.
A couple of hours later, fresh IoW crab in hand, we fire
up and take off again, accelerating into the murk mid-Solent and emerging
once more in to the sunny upstairs for the run home.
The cloudbase at Oxford is below MSA so we will recover on the 19 ILS
Procedure - but they're busy and need us to Hold. It's interesting to
watch someone with many thousands of hours experience doing this. We agree
a WCA and an outbound leg time and fly it, first at 4,500ft above the
clouds, then at 3,500ft in the clouds, watching the TCAS showing the aircraft
1,000ft below us roughly paralleling us around the racetrack. As good
situational awareness in a procedural stack as you'll ever get. Eventually
we are released outbound and go visual at 2,300ft as we turn for the Localiser
and I work as Safety pilot for a heads down ILS followed by a smooth landing.
You make it look easy...
A prospective passenger needs a local flight to familiarise herself with
the whole light aircraft thing before we take her to Scotland, so on a
beautiful spring evening we book out and fire up. It's 5.45pm by the time
we take off and the thermals have settled, the winds have dropped and
the air is like silk.
We tour over central Oxford, watching the University lawns and gardens,
then follow the river down to Abingdon. The light is so much more interesting
at this time of day, as well as the smooth air. Across the inactive airfield
and visit the house for a low pass followed by a low pass at a friend's
house in Marcham before climbing up and away back towards Didcot, then
on to Ickford for a promised low pass there and a climb out back in to
We have a Seneca behind us for a left base join and stabilise on the approach,
trim for 80Kts, turn Final at 1,000ft and float down, a few joggles as
we cross the road in front of the threshold, then we're over the runway
and settling. Float on, keep the nosewheel up as long as possible and
roll out, taxy in and park. I manage to get it right this time and don't
have to heave the aircraft around with the towing bar as I did before....
My passenger says I make it look easy. Sometimes, of course, it is easy!
"Nah mate, I'm from Sarfend, innit....!"
I'm off to France tomorrow for lunch, so the aircraft needs a little fuel
and maybe some exercise. Flying one-up is dull, so I borrow a PPL student
client and we opt to zip up to Wellesbourne for tea. We had planned to
go to Membury, but no one answers the phone, so Wellesbourne it is.
It is murky and by the time we get going it's 4.00. Judging by the radio
everyone has either gone home or never come out at all. The radio is dead
quiet apart from us. Where is everyone?
I have never used 36 at Wellesbourne, so the approach feels weird: you
come in over a quite considerable hill and, like Shoreham runway 20 you
need to get what feels like very low over the high ground to not be trying
to force the aircraft on to the ground half way down the runway. I do
a half-reasonable effort with full flaps and taxy in.
Visiting the control tower to book in is interesting: apparently because
I've flown in from Oxford I'm "posh" so the landing fee is "£167+VAT
please, my good man?".
"Nah mate, I'm from Sarfend, innit bro...?".
I can be "down wiv da kids"; that raises a laugh and reduces
the landing fee to a more sensible figure. Much jocularity in the Tower....
We can't take this Aviation thing too seriously!
Zen and The Art of Good Approaches
After a darned good piece of cake and some tea we line up to take-off
again and this time I'll do a short field take-off: flaps to 20° as
measured on the panel, not to the stop (I find this more accurate) then
full beans, rotate at 60Kts and wheeeeee... it's helicopter time.
We do the required noise-abatement turn to 030° and climb back in
to the circuit, then once we are assured of a positive rate of climb and
trimmed for 80Kts we lose the flaps in stages and climb to 1500ft, heading
out over Stratford upon Avon where we do a couple of orbits for photos.
Home is 20 minutes away so Ann flies us back and we
cruise-descend for a crosswind join for 01. It's interesting watching
her struggle with the mental picture of the circuit: I found the
CAA-approved standard overhead join picture very helpful when learning
and if in doubt I draw the circuit on the AFE book diagram: messy but
I am analysing my approaches at present: the old saying that "good
landings come from good approaches" is very true, and whilst it is
also true that bad landings come from good approaches (!), good landings
rarely come from bad approaches, so I've got a bit "Zen" about
approaches. Plus passengers like a smooth consistent approach, it's vital
in IMC and reduces stress all round.
I would add: "a good approach is where you can fly down to the last
100ft hands off". You shouldn't, but it's a measure of whether you
have the aircraft correctly trimmed, so at some point on the approach
I usually go hands off for a second to check the trim. Also, I try to
give a bit of extra back trim at about 100ft which reduces the flare loading:
there are some strong springs back there in the tail.
So I've concluded my approaches are a bit high and am concentrating on
knocking 200ft off the height I turn Final at for a more relaxed Final.
That said, you could argue a high approach is more of an engine-out insurance.
The argument begins here....
We taxy to the pumps, pump in plenty of AvGas and leave the aircraft with
no cover and no tie-downs: I'll be using it in 12 hours.
Blackbushe at last
As usual I'm out of bed and checking weather, NOTAMs and flight plans
at 6.30am. Over-excited, you see: sad, isn't it?
When I was learning to fly, apparently I was so excited every day I'd
come back to the office on an absolute high with a huge smile, saying
"it was brilliant, I was completely crap!". It's still fun...
Blackbushe is one of the few Southern England airfields
I have not yet visited. Today's the day, and I'll be in there twice to
Under a bright blue sky we're off pretty quickly via CPT. It's so hazy
Blackbushe is invisible until we are virtually on top of it. Join crosswind
LH for 25 and try to make a decent job of it: I am meeting not one but
two people this morning...
Ian is a PPL student at
Blackbushe - he flies Ikarus C42s which look a bit flimsy in a crosswind
and I reckon are twitchier to fly than a C182. Hats off to him for mastering
them: I struggled with a heavier and more docile PA28. I reckon if you
can fly a C42 you can fly a C182 with your eyes closed. Go for it, Ian.
For some obscure reason AFPEx has failed to send Blackbushe
our flight plan so we beg a terminal off the flying school reception and
re-send it. I then ring the Tower and they confirm it has turned up. Bloody
Simon is my oldest schoolfriend and a property developer
in London. We don't see enough of each other, so this is an excuse to
catch up. He's not been out before and knows me well enough to be worried
about whether I know what I'm doing. This is an interesting phenomenon:
I work with a man who won't fly with his (commercial pilot) brother because
he remembers how irresponsible he was when he was small. So I'd better
Lifejackets on, full cross-Channel safety brief, we each take an EPIRB
beacon and I ensure he knows he's in charge of the liferaft after we've
Then we hop in and Go.
Left turn out, squawk 0433 for Farnborough, switch to Farnborough, whizz
through their ATZ and settle down for Midhurst at 2300ft. At this point
I can see another plane in front of us and he's obviously on the same
route doing exactly the same speed at exactly the same height. If he were
coming the other way we'd collide.
At Midhurst he continues and we turn for Seaford, then coast out and switch
to Farnborough East as requested and climb through some light clouds to
4,500ft and VMC on top. Over the sea it's smooth and calm.
Change to London Info, then just before the FIR boundary
(to stay legal) we descend through intermittent clouds and hug the base
(I like to be high over water), changing to Le Touquet who offer us a
left hand circuit for runway 32 which is weird as they
normally do all circuits over the forest, not over the town. They also
have traffic on a right hand circuit, which is a bit of a mistake as by
the time me and the Dutchman in his PA28 are on Base leg we can see each
other. We speed up, he slows down and I'll to expedite my runway vacation
so he can land after me.
We get a bit of a wiggle over the dyke 200ft up, then we're over the threshold
at 60Kts with full flap and flaring. Nice arrival, keep the speed up,
then exit first left listening to the Dutchman dropping on behind us.
Simon is impressed by my professionalism, which is pleasant. You can fool
some of the people some of the time!
Back to Blackbushe
I love Le Touquet: they are so laid-back. Within 90 seconds of walking
in to the terminal we are out the other side with bicycles, which is part
o the attraction of travelling by GA.
After a bicycle tour of Le Touquet, a walk along the beach and a damned
good French lunch we cycle back to the terminal, drop the bikes, pay our
very reasonable landing fee, file a flight plan via the quirky French
PC (try getting a "_" out of a French keyboard... I have my
laptop and my iPhone does a mean hotspot but everything's in the plane,
so this is marginally easier...) and call for start.
Taxy out, wait for ages for a PA28 doing power checks and (I reckon) his
make-up, watch a C172 on approach have a serious wiggle over the dyke,
line up and take off straight out on runway 32. As we rise above the dyke
we get a bit of wiggle: I reckon that would have been "sporty"
in a C42!
Lydd is straight on, so we need do nothing but climb,
change frequencies and stick the autopilot on. The clouds have cleared
and it's smooth at 4,500ft.
Coasting in at Lydd we cruise-descend to slot in below the London TMA,
divert slightly to avoid parachuting at Headcorn, then again to avoid
Biggin Hill's ATZ, and follow the M25 West towards Blackbushe. It's quite
bumpy and hazy at 2,300ft: I'd prefer to be higher but we can't here.
Join deadside for 06 at Blackbushe and slide down the approach.
Typically, I choose today to flare a mite high and bang it on the runway
with a bit of a bump. Bugger.
Still, Simon's happy and wants me to take his son, my Godson, out. So
I didn't scare him stupid: phew...
After a cup of tea I say goodbye to Simon, fire up once more and trundle
off home. The bumps have smoothed out as they always do after 4.00pm (useful
tip that: if you're faced with a runway out of crosswind limit wait till
after 4.00pm to tackle it - the wind will have dropped a lot) and it's
but a short hop over Reading and Greenham Common back to CPT and Didcot
power station where I swap from Farnborough, get the ATIS from Oxford
and request a Right Base join VFR for 01, keep the speed up at 130Kts
all the way to the Pear Tree roundabout, then throttle back, slow the
plane and slide down Right Base then Final, round out and land neatly,
taxy in and shut down.
It's time to really clear out the plane, empty the bins, tie it down and
pop the cover on.
What a nice day out.
Two days later, and somewhat unexpectedly, I need to go to Shoreham to
visit a client. This is becoming a milk run and familiarity breeds contempt
so we need to be wary. The old story about aviation not being inherently
dangerous but very unforgiving of mistakes comes to mind.
Today we have clouds at 3,000-3,500ft so will need to potter through the
occasional one, which will be good practice. We will navigate down by
VOR to CPT, GWD then on to Shoreham NDB.
It's a bit bumpy in the odd cloud as normal but smoother as we approach
the coast. It's going to rain later so the pressure is dropping.
Between VORs I get a chance to ogle road layouts. I used to look forward
to Geography lessons at school just to do map reading. I have always loved
UK Ordnance Survey maps, and know of no other country that is so assiduously
and bautifully mapped as the UK. Roads and railways have a beauty when
observed from above by map or aerial photography they lose when observed
from the driver's or rail passenger's perspective. This, for example,
Turning East at Goodwood I check in with Shoreham, who
tell me Shoreham now requires landing permission (PPR). This is news to
me, but apparently it has been NOTAM'd. My SkyDemon
flight planning tool manages not to include this information which just
goes to prove I should have done a NATS
narrow route brief prior to flight... tut tut.
Flight planning has been revolutionised by the coming of the computer,
cheap GPS units and the Internet. When I started flying, flight plans
needed faxing, weather info was "watch the evening news" and
plogging was done on paper with time and distance. Like the driving test
(who actually drives with two hands on the wheel all the time?
This is a pre-power steering anachronism from when the wheel could kick
back and brute force was required to steer, especially at low speeds)
the PPL syllabus is littered with anachronisms like learning VFR navigation
with whizz-wheel and stopwatch. I know of no pilot who uses this method
in anger now: they all use VORs/NDBs or, mainly, GPS. It's more accurate
Even the CAA have subsidised the Aware
box to reduce controlled airspace busts.
I know of one Instructor who thinks GPS units are the
work of the Devil because it encourages laziness, and I can see her point,
but in practice Time/Distance measurement alone, like NDBs, is simply
inaccurate: the winds are never as forecast, track and time errors creep
in and you could be inside that Control Zone even though your plog says
That's not to say Situational Awareness is not paramount: anyone who swans
around just following a line on a GPS is asking for trouble. VFR you always
need to do gross Nav checks with towns/railway lines/motorway junctions,
and IFR you need to be up to speed with VORs, DMEs and NDBs as well as
your GPS. But the sooner the PPL syllabus includes using GPS the better.
At least they don't make you keep both hands on the yoke!
VFR nav by feature-crawling almost works in the UK but in France the distances
are greater, the towns fewer and more homogeneous and it simply fails.
So get used to VORs and GPS.
Descending, I join crosswind LH for 20, descend low over
the hill above the Adur valley and sink gently on to the tarmac for a
satisfyingly smooth arrival. It's warmer and sunnier in Shoreham!
Late afternoon, and I line up for 20. As this is a relatively short runway
I'll do a short field take off with 20° flap and noise-abate at 500ft
still over the runway, which should be more pleasant to the local residents.
We have a gusty crosswind which I reckon is 15-20Kts and as we accelerate
the aircraft surges momentarily. It feels like we had a slap in the back,
or the flaps haven't finished going down, or the engine encountered something
it didn't like for a moment. I just don't know, but it's disconcerting
and I'm ready to abort at the first sign of a repeat, but everything proceeds
smoothly and at 60Kts we rotate and climb out steeply, mentally identifying
fields for a landing if it all goes quiet. We cross the end of the runway
at 500ft so we throttle back and turn along the beach (that's landable),
climbing away until I breathe again at 1500ft and pop the flaps away,
then steer for the GWD VOR.
The promised showers have arrived and before long I am in one which is
a bit turbulent for a while.
Turning at GWD we head North West, descending to stay out of the turbulent
rainshower clouds, which then requires an Odiham MATZ transit before swapping
back to Oxford, a downwind join for a wet 19 and taxy in.
Strong Wind Warning
Oxford, like many airfields, has an ATIS service: a semi-automated weather
briefing radio frequency that is a looping 30 second announcement of runway
direction, wind, clouds, rain etc. It's available to all and sundry on
136.22MHz but the transmitter is pointed at the sky as its intended audience
is aircraft, so reception is only good within a funnel where the pointy
end is at the airfield, thus not as good on the ground.
As I live a good few miles from the airfield I need to have a big FM aerial
mounted vertically (aviation FM radio uses vertical polarisation) on the
side of the house so I can check the weather before going flying.
Strictly I should have lopped a bit off the end of each of the aerial
cross poles to compensate for the increased frequency over the domestic
FM signal it was intended for (98-108MHz) but in practice it works perfectly
hooked up to a cheap airband radio.
Today the ATIS includes a "Strong Wind Warning".
Received wisdom has it that this means "don't go flying". But
actually this isn't true: careful perusal of the wind direction and you
and your aircraft's personal minima may mean that it's flyable, albeit
a little bumpy.
The wind today is 29017G23 so we will have gusts of 23 Knots. Oxford has
a 29 runway and Turweston is 27 so the maximum crosswind component at
Oxford is 0Kts and at Turweston ¼x23Kts or 6Kts. So that's a "Go",
provided Oxford are happy for us to use runway 29 (the alternative of
using runway 19 would mean a) a slight tailwind and b) 100% of a 23Kt
The maximum demonstrated crosswind for a C182 is 15Kts and I've landed
it in 20Kts but gusting crosswinds are horrible so we won't go there today.
The aircraft hasn't flown for a month because the weather
has been just so awful, which means a sluggish starter (but it does actually
start OK first go) and the AH takes a very long time to become "erect"
as they call it, which indicates a dodgy vacuum pump, partially blocked
pipe or decaying AH.
We taxy out and request runway 29: taxying straight is hard with a huge
crosswind, it's not just me drunk again!. We hold for power-checks at
the runway 29 holding point then enter the Active rolling for what turns
out to be an extremely short take-off roll: we are off 100m before the
19 intersection which comes up at 350m. So that's 250m flapless with 3
up and nearly full tanks: not bad.
I'll keep the nose down, trading height for speed as I know it's choppy
and at about 300ft we hit some strong windshear: real stop-to-stop yoke
movements with the stall warner cheeping intermittently. Ah, I've done
this before, and it's nothing the aircraft and I can't cope with. The
stall warner is a bit over-active in gusty conditions and it is in fact
nothing to worry about. It calms down as we climb through 800ft and we
climb out North, avoiding D129 and heading for Brackley.
Willie is doing the radio for me, which is very relaxing as I only have
to go where he points me and monitor the aircraft: I do like this multi-crew
Turweston have an oversized, 1300ft circuit to the North of the airfield
and we go what seems like a very long way North of the field before descending
to 1300ft and 100Kts, get blown along the downwind leg then have to slow
for traffic landing on the runway ahead.
Whilst it looks OK to me, Willie reckons we're low. Well, actually the
land slopes downwards to the threshold here so you need to be a bit low,
but I have let it decay a bit much, so a bit of power to stabilise and
we float down through the windshear, keeping 80Kts for controllability,
and as usual it calms down as we approach the threshold, so flare and
hold...... hold......, kick off the crab a little too late and we touch
down still slightly offset, but under the circumstances not a bad arrival.
We all use GPS for navigation, but our various GPS units
(Garmin 196 and 296) are what they call "uncertified": in other
words you may not legally use them for navigating published IFR GPS (for
some reason they call them RNAV) approaches.
This is for several actually very good reasons: they aren't physically
attached to the aircraft so could well fall off the coaming during a bumpy
approach, which could be a little disconcerting to say the least; they
don't actually have the published approaches loaded on to them (you could
do a DIY job, but would you bet your life you had done it right?); they
don't have RAIM (a self-check diagnostics system for GPS kit) and they
don't offer vertical guidance in a useable fashion (so they don't drive
a VOR/CDI gauge you can follow down the approach). There are other more
technical reasons but these are the reasons that matter.
For real-world GPS approaches (rare in the UK, ubiquitous in the US, officially
unsuable for us mere mortals in Europe) you have to have built-in "Certified"
GPS kit that offers all of the above. This is, inevitably in aviation
where paperwork, needless triplication of regulatory regimes and the common
misbelief that all pilots are wealthy and IFR pilots massively wealthy,
Garmin are the kings of the GPS navigation world. 15
years ago, while other avionics manufacturers desperately tried to catch
up, Garmin simply took over the avionics world. Their integrated 430 and
530 Nav/Comm suites truly revolutionised aviation navigation, especially
IFR "in cloud" navigation, where they allow you to see where
you really are, not where you think you are.
Given the availability of this kit, quite why even commercial aviation
is still using NDB-derived published approaches eludes me.
The irony is that Oxford, because it trains commercial pilots who may
be asked to work in places like Africa where NDBs are common, is likely
to be one of the last airfields in the UK to dispose of its NDB.
But Oxford is getting radar in the next few months and we are likely to
see a shake-up in the approaches available as a result; the likelihood
is that some sort of RNAV approach is in the offing and we need to respond
to that change. Hence our desire to look at a Cessna 177 (think "172
with retractable undercarriage and a slightly bigger engine") that
has a Garmin 530W and slaved Sandell EHSI.
The 530W is awesome (see the
review) and the Sandell is an electronic DI-replacement that looks
like a normal round gauge, but at the touch of a button transforms itself
in to a GPS-derived HSI (I dreamed of an HSI
when I was doing my IMC), CDI or various other displays. It has the disadvantage
of being not very visible from the right hand seat, which could theoretically
be an issue, but it's not an AH so I'm not sure it's a show-stopper.
But the cost installed is liable to around £12,000 (phew!). For
what is, in essence, a satellite radio with the same innards as my £700
Garmin 296. Time to start saving, I think....
The IMC course includes no RNAV instruction whatsoever, so we will have
to learn how to do this ourselves. Should be fun!
Willie flies us home again and I learn something new:
apparently when taxying with a tailwind, which we must do to backtrack
Turweston's runway, you should keep the yoke fully-forward. Here's
Returning to runway 29 at Oxford the view is beautiful: as a pilot it's
really nice to sit in the back occasionally (the back of a C182 is extremely
comfortable) and enjoy the view.
Getting the short field right
Our previous house was close to Oakley airfield: this is an abandoned
ex-RAF airfield with a pair of huge concrete runways that have been allowed
to deteriorate. On closer inspection the actual concrete is in amazing
condition: it's a pity about the joints which are weed-infested.
Despite rumours to the contrary the airfield is in fact home to an enterprising
microlight club, based in the huge Intervention grain store at the Western
end of runway 11/29. This is where John keeps his Tecnam. I would visit,
but 100m of cleared runway simply isn't anything like enough for a C182.
They hold an Annual Open Day and this year they have
cleared more runway using a length of rail pulled behind a tractor. John
has invited me and I am inclined to visit. If I do, I suspect I will be
the only Group A (non-microlight) aircraft there, so I may use the callsign
"Golf Tango Golf Heavy"......
It is wise in these situations to inspect the arrangements so on a surprisingly
cold May afternoon we take the car up on to the field and walk the runway,
finding that runway 02/20 is 250m plus a good 125m overrun at either end,
and 11/29 is 450m. OK, we can do this.
It's a beautiful warm Sunday after all the awful May
weather we've had, and I pre-flight and attempt to start. The battery,
however, has other ideas: I suspect we need a new one as it only just
has enough oomph to turn the engine over just enough to start it, after
having been left only a few days. However, start it does and after a cautious
circuit at Oxford to ensure I can remember exactly how to spot land I
head off the 12 miles or so to Oakley.
The frequency is busy and I'm on a left base for 02:
another aircraft is right base, so I'll orbit for spacing, then head down.
It looks short....
The PoH says it's OK and mentally I've got 500m so I can stop panicking
about running out of runway. I approach over the heads of the spectators
with a brisk 8Kt crosswind from the East, flare on the 02 numbers with
stall warner whistling, and touch. The concrete is surprisingly smooth
and with little braking we're down to taxy speed before the opposite numbers.
Turn round to park on the other side of the runway, shut down, and the
Marshall says "you didn't use much runway....". Well, there's
Down in 250m: I am the STOL King. It's all down to speed control and flare
The microlight rally is fascinating: loads of aircraft
of all different shapes and sizes, steam engines, old cars, barbeque and
so on. What I like is that everyone can wander around the aircraft and chat
to the pilots. We are by some considerable degree the heaviest aircraft
there, and some of the arrivals look a little flimsy for my liking.
One day when I'm too old and grey to fly Group A I will fly microlights
but something a little more substantial than these, I hope.
I meet up with old friends Wendy and Nigel plus Sue
who turns out to be an ex-aerobatics pilot and I offer them a local flight.
We're 4-up with half tanks, thus close to MAUW. We have dry smooth concrete,
but it's a warm day. How much runway do we need? This sounds like one
of those PPL exam questions, but like many of those apparently damned
fool questions, you really do need to know how to extract the correct
answer for your aircraft and flight.
Taking book values and adding 20% for a worn engine plus 1.3x for Public
Transport (these are not all pilots) we need 420m, which we have on 11
if we backtrack a bit. There's a muck heap at the end of the runway, then
it's all standing crops, so nothing big to hit.
Backtrack, turn around, call "rolling 11" and roll. I need 55Kts
to climb with 20deg flap and 30Kts comes up at my mental half way point,
so we're OK. At 55Kts the controls go light and need holding down, at
58Kts we rotate firmly and with a whistle from the stall warner we're
away and climbing without getting the wheels dirty. Hold the nose down
to gain 70Kts, then gently climb away before raising the flaps in stages,
then throttle back and coarsen the prop for cruise. it's a hot day so
the cowl flaps can stay open.
Some idiot has routed a line of those big 30,000Volt
pylons across the East section of the 11/29 runway. Taking off on 11 is
fine (you can even backtrack to under the pylons if you're feeling keen),
but landing on 11 would require a low, slow and steep turn from Base Leg
to Final. Looking at it from 1,000ft it looks tight, and tight is not
good with 4 up.
Steep turns raise the load on the aircraft and also raise the stall speed,
neither of which are good at that point in the flight: there's a reason
they call the turn from Base Leg to Final "Coffin Corner".
So we opt for the crosswind-affected 02 and get a nice long smooth, well-judged
Final approach instead. Big crab with the 12Kt crosswind, a spot of wing-down
and we're flaring just before the numbers again, the stall warner screeching
and the wheels plopping gently on. We're down, but with 4 up can we stop?
It takes lots more brake pressure to lose the momentum and we seem to
go on for ever, but by the time we reach taxy speed we are only just on
the other threshold, so we've stopped in 250m: pretty much book value.
In the afternoon we are treated to a flying display by
who are based in Long Crendon, just down the road. They are quite stunning
and knowing what aerobatics feels like from the cockpit I have huge respect
for the strength of their stomachs.
Since learning to fly I have become quite spectacularly uninterested in
going to airshows to watch other people fly: we live in an "Area
of Intense Aerial Activity" where the RAF practises displays for
a number of engagements, motor-gliders throttle back on climb out over
our front gate, military helicopters swoop past our poplars at hedgerow
height, business jets and helicopters dodge the Brize zone on approach
in to Oxford, fellow-GA travellers cruise overhead and visible to the
South is Airway L9 out from Heathrow with (according to FlightRadar 24
Pro) large numbers of intercontinental high level traffic - We don't need
to go to airshows.
But these guys are worth making an exception for.
Flying back to Oxford at 2,000ft I request a right base
join for 01 and am asked for distance. Ummm, not sure: quickly retune,
flip and read the DME in about 2 seconds: 8.6d. Following a Cirrus in
who is at 5d we recover VFR for 01, again a big crab for the crosswind
and for the first time today we don't need to worry about the runway length:
Kick off the crab as we flare and we're down nicely, roll in and unhurriedly
put the aircraft away. I'm sunburned and exhausted, but perhaps now as
I approach 100 hours on-type I am nearly ready for one of those Southern
Africa fly yourself safaris... They sound like a hell of a lot of fun.
Ann has asked me, as a Birthday treat, to take her and her friend Evelyn
to Bembridge where they have a flat. The weather is not fantastic but
we can plod along at 2,000ft. It's a bit hazy, so Strobes to ON.
Lasham has a major gliding competition on so we will adjust our planned
route to take account of this, which means a dogleg almost to the Solent
I'll park them in the Executive Lounge at Oxford with a bottle of iced
champagne and two glasses while I pre-flight. Then with two happy ladies
on board I cross my fingers and try the start, which is fine if a little
hesitant, taxy out and we take off in to a 1500ft cloudbase. The forecast
has the clouds going up to 8,000ft and we are limited on the way down
by assorted Airways, hangovers from a bygone age when propeller airliners
exiting Heathrow took until Compton to make 5,000ft. Nowadays of course
they're at more like 15,000ft by that point so it is all 50 years overdue
for a massive review. Like many things in Aviation, this never happens,
so we have huge blocks of empty unused controlled airspace between about
5,000ft and about 20,000ft that could all be uncontrolled. There is an
old saying that rules are mostly only made, rarely are they unmade.....
Ann has a go at flying it once we are in the cruise and I have to explain
about "Airliner" mode. "Pilot" mode is when you only
have pilots on board and you can chuck the plane about with gay abandon;
"Airliner" mode is for when you have passengers and you fly
mainly on autopilot, straight and level with Rate 0.5 turns.
Soon we are doglegged around Lasham and heading for
Portsmouth so wave goodbye to Farnborough and make blind calls for a downwind
join for 12. Since Britten Norman had a row with the owner of Bembridge
running of the field has been taken over by the local Gliding club and
if you ask nicely you can still go in there although the Café is
closed. But they don't man the tower and they are never there when you
need to pay your landing fee, so you leave the money in an envelope posted
through their door.
It's blustery and we fight the bumps coming down the approach all the
way to the threshold, then flare and I think we're fully down so start
braking and the aircraft starts to skip about. The runway drops away here
and I don't think we've got enough weight on the wheels yet. A gust catches
us as well and it's a bit untidy for a second or so before the flaps come
up and dump the lift, we regain the centreline and I can get on the brakes
properly. Yuk: I hate it when that happens.
With passengers dropped and landing fee posted we're
away again: backtrack 12 then roll. With 20° flap we're off in way
less than half the runway and well clear of the rising ground. Ts&Ps
are good and we're soon within engine failure range of the beach over
the hill so can relax, noise-abate and start a gentle turn to the North
over the sea before levelling out and confirming a positive rate of climb
before folding the flaps away and retrimming. Flip the autopilot on and
watch the towns rolling by.
We keep a close eye out for gliders as we cruise North, say goodbye to
Farnborough Radar once more, pick up the Oxford ATIS and cruise-descend
for a Right Base join for 01. All very smooth and controlled but I think
we may have a grabbing left brake caliper as it squeaks a little on the
roll out when I brake.
Some sod has parked in our space, so we have to park 3 spaces over. Again,
roll check the tyres for flat spots (never again on my watch!), cover
goes on, tie down ratchets set, final pre-lock cabin check: Master OFF,
brakes ON, fuel OFF, cowl flaps CLOSED and we can go home.
Get there early
The Queen's Jubilee has been wet indeed, but a window in the weather allows
a return to the Isle of Wight to pick our guests up. I'll get to Oxford
early and put some fuel in the plane, then have a nice relaxed journey
down to get there early and pay the landing fee.
The kind fuel bowser man fills her up with AvGas and we dice with the
dodgy battery once more (it's only dodgy when it's been left for a few
days, so we're OK until we land away for a few days somewhere remote:
as we're due to go to Scotland in July I think I'll push for a new battery
before then!). It starts (eventually) and once more we head South.
I'm experimenting with a GoPro Hero 2 HD video camera which I have used
in the cockpit briefly before the battery flattened itself. That is now
sorted and during the flight down I experiment with various placements:
it's strapped to a bean bag that came with my Garmin 296 and so sits comfortably
anywhere reasonably flat. I have experimented with placing it on the coaming
looking out through the propeller, but the video quality is not great
through the perspex and the propellor makes banana shapes on the picture.
It works better pointing inwards at the cockpit or on the seat looking
at the instruments.
The resulting video is its uncut state is, of course, very boring, but
I think if I edit it I can get some decent highlights.
Overhead Portsmouth we say goodbye to Farnborough and
make the traditional blind call to Bembridge, but this time they're alive.....
they have just got their radio licence and are keen to respond with wind
direction and runway: very professional.
Position for a downwind join RH for 30, turn over the sea and we'll do
it non-short field this time as there's a bit of a crosswind. As the land
slopes down over some houses towards the threshold I just can't bring
myself to get low enough to really bang the wheels on the numbers, so
we use a fair amount of runway to stop. I think we have a grabbing left
brake that's affecting our ability to brake in a straight line, but it
could just be my crap landings....
Backtrack and hop off to parking, pay my landing fee at the very nice
Portakabin to the South of the runway and shoot the breeze with the Gliding
Club guys who tell me all about Britten Norman's latest run in with the
landowner at Sandown, involving them demanding landing fees from him and
him parking his aircraft in the middle of the runway and walking off with
the keys. The really interesting things never get reported in the papers...
They also tell me about the RAF jump-starting a Hercules with a failed
starter motor by parking another Hercules in front and running the engines.
Now that would have been worth seeing...
You're on Candid Camera
They're packing up to go home so I wander
back and my guests arrive; we load up the luggage and fire up.
We're full tanks minus 40 minutes (say 12 USG) plus 3 adults plus luggage,
so that's comfortably within MAUW but we'll short-field the take off anyway,
so flaps go DOWN, check for symmetric deployment, line up, call "rolling
30" and roll. We're off by the intersection, at 500ft we noise-abate
the power, roll gently North and lose the flap in stages. At 2,000ft over
Pompey I let Ann fly it and switch to Farnborough for the flight North.
I've told them the video camera is a "navigational device" to
get some unforced footage but eventually I have to admit it's a video
camera, which causes amusement all round.
We say goodbye to Farnborough at Compton and cruise-descend for a Right
Base join for 01: there's someone else approaching the circuit from the
West and doing a real old-fashioned Overhead Join which seems like a lot
of faff, looking back. Join crosswind yes, Right or Left Base, even straight-in,
but Overhead is a bit much unless you really are unsure of what's going
on. But a useful fallback nonetheless.
To stay well ahead of him as there is no one else to conflict we will
keep the speed up: we enter Right Base doing nearly 140Kts before pitching
up, slowing to 100Kts and dropping the flaps, rolling on to Final and
floating down at 80Kts. He's still on Base leg by the time we're flaring
and we keep the speed up so he can get a land after, roll in and park.
Some sod's parked in our space again!
Downhill at Elstree
We have a challenging day booked: I am picking up Simon at Elstree then
going on to a strip at Ipswich Monewden for a day with his father before
returning via Elstree. We have already cancelled once because of the weather
so I'm keen to go today, but cautious of personal minima and not frightening
We have had problems getting PPR for the strip because it has changed
hands, strong winds are forecast for later in the day and I am starting
late because I manage to forget my wallet and have to go home again to
get it. However, flying has taught me to compartmentalise my worries:
when flying you simply cannot think of any other stuff at all until you
are safely back on the ground.
I haven't been to Elstree before: one of two as-yet unvisited London airfields
(the other is Biggin Hill, but I'm planning a trip there).
The battery is definitely deteriorating: there isn't even enough juice
to drive the radio to call for start. But it does start and I know it
will be OK for the rest of the day once I've got it going. It is charging
OK but just won't hold its charge over night.
Departing Oxford and steering north of the Benson Zone the VOR is aimed
for Bovingdon and overhead Thame we change to Farnborough North who are
off the air: staffing problems, apparently. So I put in a call to a call
to Luton who are helpful and unstressed, and probably more appropriate
being closer to their airspace anyway.
Elstree's runway 08 slopes downhill and noise abatement dictates a monster
circuit all the way around Watford for 08 via the canal turn (Ah, I know
where that is) and the University (huh? well I guess it's that building
in its own grounds there). A wind check request suggests a bit
of a crosswind so we'll use 20° flaps, not the barn doors. I concentrate
so much on the crosswind that I flare just a little too late, which on
a downwind runway is not good and the runway starts to drop away. I just
have to let it keep coming down, but it's late by the time we are solidly
down and I have to brake heavily: even then I overshoot the exit and have
to backtrack. Messy: I feel a prat....
Simon has never been in a light aircraft before, so I must treat him gently
and try to give him as much of the "airliner" experience as
Because we are running a bit late we jump straight in, hook up seatbelts
and headsets, and go. No one else is flying today, which is actually typical
of many airfields but also because bad weather is on its way. Backtrack,
roll 08 and we're off with a turn to the left for noise abatement. London
Info seem like the appropriate people to talk to in the absence of Farnborough
North and before long we are at 2,000ft under the London TMA heading for
Colchester. It's a bit bumpy but Simon is used to small boats, so he is
OK (he knows where the sick bags are...).
Ipswich Monewden is not especially short, but it's certainly out of the
way and quiet: nestled in the Suffolk countryside I'm not quite sure why
anyone would want to visit it. However it happens to be close to where
we need to go today, so let's explore.
Surprisingly, once past Ipswich it is surprisingly easy to find so we
switch from Wattisham and descend for a look-see. Surprisingly, given
the weather forecast, the wind is not from the South East but from the
East according to the windsock (never trust the weatherman...), so we
opt for 08 and set up a left hand circuit. The noise abatement blurb asks
us to avoid all the houses but there aren't many, so that's easy.
It's a downhill runway and I am determined not to repeat the Elstree experienceso I get in nice and low over the last hedge and touch softly
at the start of the unmarked runway. The earth here is heavy clay, it's
been raining and the grass is long: the moment I lower the nose we decelerate
rapidly, and turning up the taxyway requires a lot of throttle to get
up the hill in search of parking.
As an aside, you can learn a lot from Google Earth about
the layout of an airfield, allowing you to taxy with confidence to where
you know the parking is, even if the field is not in any of the common
I absolutely love the AFE UK Airfield Guide: its spiral-bound heaviness
full of unexplored airfields with exotic names and symbols: Barra (EGPR)
with its yellow runway (well, it's the beach); Castle Kennedy; Papa Westray
and so on.
Good bathtime reading: I might go there next
week, or there. Glenforsa on the Isle of Mull
looks promising: we're up there in a few weeks.
The Crosswind envelope
After a long day we need to go home, and the wind is forecast to rise
so we must get going. The winds always drop somewhat after 4.00pm, however,
so we should be OK.
As we start up our host waves at us from the ground that there is a helicopter
above us. We look up and can see an Apache hovering directly above us
at about 100ft. Now I have NOTAM'd the route carefully, and there is Queen's
Birthday flypast practice activity North of our location today, but this
is a bit worrying..... However, he drifts off to the South and we slowly
and noisily taxy up the draggy grass to the threshold.
The trick to getting flying speed on wet long grass is to raise the nose,
so once rolling and s l o w l y accelerating I go full back on
the yoke and we suddenly surge forward. Simon whoops as we climb almost
vertically over the trees and bank gently for noise abatement.
Changing to Wattisham they don't mention the Apache, so I guess he was
just practising something: he drifts away as we head for Ipswich.
Follow the M25 back to the West of Watford, round the canal turn and we
are cleared to land on 08 with an 18Kt wind at 140°. The maths says
that's 60° off the runway heading so we assume that's all crosswind.
This is not the first time I have faced an 18Kt crosswind but I don't
want to scare Simon so will need to come in with only 20° flap, plenty
of speed and concentrate very hard on ensuring I keep the into-wind wing
down after landing, something I am prone to forgetting. Big crab, bit
of wing down, some rotor off the trees and it's rough on the approach
but this time I'm right down and flaring on the 08 threshold and we're
rolling. Keep the ailerons over to stop the wing lifting; flaps up to
dump the lift and we're off at the intersection with no drama at all,
just like I should have done this morning...
And the rain rain rain came down down down
With Simon dropped, three old computers loaded and landing fees paid,
rain is scheduled so we need to get going. A blustery climbout and we're
North then East back towards the M25/A41 junction, heading West. Luton
are massively busy with EasyJet flights but they do accommodate me as
well and suddenly, passing over Bovingdon we run in to a wall of rain.
We're marginal VFR at 2,000ft but I can see well enough to continue visually.
At Thame I finally switch from Luton having managed to get a word in edgeways
and continue with Oxford for a Left Base join for 19. I can't actually
see Oxford at all but it's just me and an Army Puma wanting a transit
through the overhead: no one else wants to be out in this....
As we drop down the Base leg the runway appears and I'm also visual with
the Puma at 1,000ft. A wind check reveals 140° at 11Kts so that should
be easy, but as I touch on the soaking runway I make the classic error
of centralising the ailerons, a gust catches the starboard wing and we
head for the side of the runway. Big aileron down and opposite rudder
catches it, but it feels messy and we slide all over the place before
I get it back under control. I seem to have a mental block about crosswinds
coming from the left: I can cope with them coming from the right but left
hand ones just seem to fool me. Must get better at it!
And finally the "lovely" job of putting the cover on in the
pouring rain and a howling gale - at least with a high-winged aircraft
there is somewhere to shelter....
Our friends live South of Yeovilton in deepest darkest Somerset. Getting
there by road is a miserable affair beset by inadequate transport investment,
the Local Plod with their speed cameras, pensionable drivers and caravans.
We have been asked to bring their daughter Maddie back to Oxford and given
the potential round road trip time of 5 hours, not including traffic jams,
aviation may just be the solution. It turns out their neighbour has a
top-of-the-line private strip ½ a mile away on the top of a hill,
and we have permission to land there..... 40 mins by air.
Preparations for flying to these undocumented strips are always time-consuming:
it's important to discuss with the owner arrivals and departures co-ordination,
approach aids (if any), PPR, lights, hours of use, landing fees, circuit
directions and heights, radio frequencies and procedures, windsocks, noise
abatement procedures, access by road, parking, drainage, runway conditions,
agreed lengths and directions, whether any livestock need moving and,
most importantly, weight and balance / runway length calculations. Grass,
especially damp grass, is really draggy, which is great for landing but
can make take-offs problematic. I tend to print up an aerial shot with
marked-up directions, circuit directions and heights, noise abatement
rules etc and of course laminate it (like everything else: I'd laminate
my wife if she'd let me...).
So after a long discussion with the owner, several hours on Google Earth
and an hour with the POH I reckon we're clear in with 3 up, clear out
with 4 up provided we're only half tanks and we back right up to the fence
for the take off roll.
Steve has flown the aircraft the previous night and left
it with just over half tanks, so that's perfect. He's left the cover and
tie-down straps off so we should be away in no time.
I never trust the fuel gauges, the fuel not to run out of the tanks overnight
or someone not to steal the AvGas, so I alway dip the tanks, write the
contents on to my Tech log and stand there for just a moment quietly ensuring
I am happy with the endurance. Like all pilots I have a little echoing
Air Accident Investigation Board (AAIB) voice in my head writing the accident
report as I go along: "the pilot elected to take off without dipping
the tanks on the verbal report of another pilot that he had filled the
tanks. Subsequent investigation of the wreckage discovered no fuel in
either tank or in the fuel system...." In other words "Accident
Cause: Pilot was an Idiot".
We have sufficient fuel today and apart from a left tyre that I can't
help thinking is just that little bit less pumped-up than the right tyre
we're good to go, so we fire up and take off, head South and swap to Brize
Zone who are uninterested as we are heading away from them. They are noticeably
busier now than when I learned to fly, mainly because of Afghanistan traffic
and the ex-Lyneham Hercules, so unless I'm going into/over/through their
zone I tend to leave them alone.
With Lyneham closed, heading South West from Oxford means the next bit
of airspace you'll encounter is Bristol so overhead Swindon we swap to
them and cruise down to Melksham, turn and head for Yeovil/Yeovilton.
The big military installation with the radar is Yeovilton, the smaller
grass strip (been in there!) is Yeovil, known on the radio as "Westland"
to avoid confusion. We're at 4,000ft above the top of their MATZ so a
Basic Service is all we need and once clear of the MATZ we descend to
3,000ft to have look for the strip. It's a bit of a bugger to find, being
nestled in the folds of the Somerset hills, but a couple of circuits around
and it snaps in to focus. We descend to look at the windsock, which is
(of course) standing straight out directly across the runway about 2/3
of the way to fully extended, so that's 10Kts across.
We can land 04 or 22 and as we happen to be heading 04 we'll drop in to
a left hand circuit for 04 at 1,000ft above the terrain, avoid any houses
we see (not many here: it's pretty rural), BUMPFTCHH, 2 stages of flap,
trim for 80Kts, turn Base leg and then Final, flip out the barn doors
and slow to 65Kts. It's bumpy over the trees, then it smooths out as we
descend below the tree line. Flare over the last hedge (it feels like
we're going to brush the hedge with the main gear, which is always a good
sign), try to fly it down the runway and in a second it brushes the grass
and we're down and rolling. Grass is a good retarder and we're slowing
pretty quickly so edge off towards the edge of the runway and turn for
backtrack, taxy back and park up by the trees.
This is a really posh strip, with a small concrete apron and a neat new
green hangar with a Jet A1 fuel pump outside (wow! This guy has a serious
aircraft...). Very nice.
Bouncy bouncy bouncy
After a good lunch we all jump in for the return journey and start up.
We're 4 up so we'll taxy as far as possible back against the fence. The
grass is very long here and we need a lot of throttle to make it move,
especially in the turn. We're finally ready, so power-checks, hatches
and harnesses and we'll roll.
Annoyingly the runway undulates so the poor aircraft keeps trying to take
off on the humps and failing. As we're heavy we aren't accelerating as
fast as I'd like, but by half way down we're at 40Kts so we're OK.....
at 55Kts I haul her off, accelerate in ground effect and we climb out
with room to spare. It's hard to know how I could have improved it: maybe
more yoke back at the start to get the nosewheel off?
We circle the strip and then climb out North East. We'll be too low to
get over the Yeovil MATZ so we swap straight to them and request a MATZ
transit at 2,500ft. It's close, but we do get approval before entering
their MATZ and we've clawed our way to 2,500ft by then, so level out and
accelerate across the MATZ stub then cruise climb back to 4,000ft, swapping
to Bristol as we do.
Bristol suggest we change to Brize, but we'll opt for a change en route
straight back to Oxford Approach. Soon we can see Swindon, the M4, the
white horse at Uffington, then Grove and Didcot. Descend over Port Meadow
for a downwind join for 19 and manage a little bounce on landing: a touch
of power to stabilise then let it sink back. I think I managed to not
look at the end of the runway while flaring. Must stop doing that!
And that's me crossing the threshold of 300 hours.
A common cause of aviation accidents is "Controlled Flight Into Terrain".
This is where the aircraft is in control but the pilot is either asleep,
distracted, or can't see where he is going and flies in to the side of
a hill or a power line. This is often the result of scud running, where
a pilot will try to slide in VMC under the clouds but the ground rises
and/or the clouds lower. You end up in the jaws of a nasty trap. We need
to avoid this...
Today we need to take Maddie home, and although the weather is perfect
now the forecast for Somerset is a front coming through at 10Kts SW-NE
that will bring scattered low clouds, then a period of "Fog"
(actually low cloud), then the cloud will lift to 1500ft behind the front.
So the plan is to try and fly through the front if it is mild (a bit of
rain never hurt anyone) visually, or if the clouds get too thick we'll
climb on top and get back down the other side. A lot depends upon where
the front is in relation to the strip when we get there. Weather forecast
tend to be very good at describing what is coming
but not so good at when it's coming.
Fill up with fuel for half tanks (I have enough but without much reserve,
you can't have too much fuel except when you're on fire or heavily laden
in to a short wet strip...), queue for ages at Charlie waiting for a land
rover to scare a flock of birds away from the runway, then line up and
take off, heading South West.
It's very smooth today: the high cloud is suppressing the thermal activity
and we can concentrate on the "Airliner" experience. Around
Swindon we start to encounter scattered clouds beneath us and as it accumulates
we drop down to below it. We may be able to get through visually, but
I'm reluctant to go over the top as you can never descend in cloud to
below the Minimum Safe Altitude or MSA, calculated to be 1000ft clear
of anything below you. MSA for Yeovil is 2300ft QNH and the cloudbase
will be 1500ft, so we'd need to find a hole or a published procedure to
Soon the clouds are descending and we're getting close to the scenery:
up ahead the ground is rising and I can see the cloud lying across it.
My GPS confirms it by showing yellow ahead with crosses showing peaks:
it's time to climb. All three levers go fully forward, trim for 80Kts
and climb. At 3,500ft we pop out in to the sunshine, surrounded on all
sides by ice cream.
If I can't find a hole we will need to go elsewhere, land and sit it out,
except that all our alternates are fogbound. Still, we have enough fuel
to return to Oxford if necessary.
Ahead the cloud tops descend behind the front and a few minutes later,
directly over our strip we find a small hole. I tip it on a wing and descend
visually, spiralling down through, pulling a bit of G to my passengers'
amusement and we emerge in to the gloom 2 miles East and ready to set
up for the approach. The strip takes a bit of finding but they've mowed
it and suddenly it's there so line up, pre-landing checks and full flap,
drop down, big sink in the valley before the
hill then drop it over the hedge and in. Concentrate really hard on the
other end of the runway, don't look down, and we'll fly it power off just
above the grass... ooh we've landed, that was nice.
Back to the maelstrom
After coffee we fire up for the return. The strip is once more bouncy,
making take off hard and the stall warner squeaks as we lift off finally.
At 1500ft we go IMC and don't emerge until we're at 4,500ft and well on
the way home. This is much easier and smoother than messing around under
We route around Yeovil's MATZ stub as they have jet traffic coming in,
get back on our course to Melksham, swap to Bristol then to Oxford as
we approach Swindon.
One thing that amazes me about aviation is how quickly things can go from
being quiet and gentle with little workload to hugely busy and frantic:
you simply have to be prepared.
As we approach Oxford and descend in to light rain for
a visual recovery we quickly realise that the airspace around the field
is choc a bloc full of arriving aircraft. The ATC lady is managing but
the number of spinning plates she has going is incredible. I count at
least 16 aircraft in various stages of taxying out, taking off, IFR Hold,
IFR or VFR approach or landings, and she is reeling off instructions to
all and sundry. We need to do exactly as she says and
to the letter or we risk flying in to someone.
We introduce ourselves and are immediately told to perform a Standard
Overhead Join at 2300ft. I've not done one of these for a while but I've
been trained here and can do one accurately blindfolded, so we report
overhead at exactly 2300ft over the landing numbers, descend and cross
the takeoff numbers at exactly 1500ft, report downwind no 3 behind a PA-32
for which we have to slow. He is slowing to get a "land after"
behind the Cessna 182 in front of him so we're down to 80Kts to get a
"land after" behind him, which we all manage. Behind us there's
another aircraft which gets a land after behind us..... It's very busy:
Oxford now have radar and whilst it's not officially in use they can cope
more accurately with the workload making them less stressed because they
can see where we all are.
Next stop Scotland!
Alarums and Excursions
After cancelling our trip to Scotland in May because of the frankly awful
weather we have finally rescheduled all parties concerned, planned the
weather to death, popped Nessa's Aunt in the back of the plane and we're
off. The weather is forecast to be scattered showers in a weak front half
way up the country so we'll be IMC for a bit and then it will improve.
Departing with the new "Oxford Radar" we laugh at the traffic
jams on the M40, climb to 4,000ft and head for Daventry, then turn North
and climb overhead Melton Mowbray. The front appears as forecast, we are
briefly solid IMC then we pop out and start to descend to our planned
4,500ft for a bit of sightseeing.
Switching to Humberside Radar we are just passing through a few scattered
clouds when both the “High Voltage” light and the “low
Voltage” light illuminate, and the ammeter swings to register a
slight discharge. Well, the voltage clearly can't be "high"
and "Low" at the same time, but the meaning is clear: we've
lost the alternator and we're running on the battery. Not good.
My immediate thoughts are "electrical fire" but nothing is smoking
and there are no nasty smells, none of the breakers have popped so it's
not immediately life-threatening. Unlike a car engine, the engine runs
on magnetos that are independent of the battery (I do remember my PPL
"Airframe Technology" lessons!).
I am about to pull some precautionary carb heat anyway as we are in cloud,
and as the engine reduces in RPM with the carb heat, both lights go out
- maybe we're OK.
But no: 5 minutes later they both come back on again: we have a problem.
It's a leap of faith to turn the Master switch off in flight, but I've
done this before and all that happens is that the radios go dead. So we
cycle the Alternator and Battery switches, but no: it's dead.
We tell Humberside Radar and ask for a precautionary diversion to get
on the ground and take a closer look. They agree and give us vectors to
a visual approach for 02 - we pop out of the clouds at 4,000ft in to some
grimy VFR and join Left Base for 02. The Fire service have turned out,
which is exciting. A smooth approach and landing is followed by a taxy
to their "Holding Pen": the South apron, where we shut down
with a Fire Service foam nozzle trained at the aircraft, which is comforting.
This is a relief: problems take on a different perspective when you're
on the ground and out of the aircraft, with time to think.
An hour spent trundling around Humberside Airport (an efficiently-run,
if airline-oriented and hugely-underused facility) reveals no one with
any light aircraft maintenance abilities and my calls to Coopers Aviation
at nearby Wickenby only get an answering machine. Well: it's 4.00pm on
a Friday afternoon....
The decision needs to be made: do we go on or go home? The aircraft still
has plenty of electrical power, it will start and the radio will work.
But where we're going is a grass strip with no battery carts, no support
of any kind. We can divert to Fife down the road and they will have a
battery cart, but on a Saturday or Sunday they aren't going to be able
to fix it. And we need to be back on Sunday night.
I decide to depart Humberside based upon the available facts and a chat
with the maintenance guys at Wycombe: none of us want to be stuck at Humberside.
If the light stays off we'll go to Kingsmuir, if it comes on again we
will return to Oxford, using the hand-held radio if the battery failed
or going non-radio if necessary (we'll ask Waddington to co-ordinate with
East Midlands and Oxford). We're not going near the Olympic Atlas restricted
Area so this isn’t going to be a problem.
The aircraft starts OK, with oodles of power, the light stays out at idle
but comes on when we increase power to taxy. We'll go home.
Backtrack and depart runway 02 and head South West and then South. The
weather is marginal VFR with the odd cloud until Daventry at which point
we break out in to bright sunshine. We warn all the various radio units
we speak to that we may suddenly go non-radio but in fact the radio and
transponder (usually the first to feel the effects of low voltage) continue
to work: there is even enough electrical power remaining to drop the flaps
for the straight-in approach for 19 at Oxford, and to put them away again
once we have landed.
I smell a rat: I think it is charging, and the
lights are lying to us. Given that we have flown probably 1hr20mins with
apparently no charging and the electrics have continued to work normally
it's the warning lights that are faulty, but I am not prepared to risk
being stranded at Kingsmuir.
So a very disappointing day, and an unscheduled weekend at home instead
of whizzing around Scotland, but we'll reschedule for September.
"Every flight's a training flight"
It's been 6 weeks since our Humberside near disaster and the aircraft
has taken up semi-permanent residence at the menders (no names, no pack
drill, they know who they are...) until now. Apparently, it was ready
yesterday, so Steve picked it up and half way back to Oxford... the same
light came on.
So today we need to fly it back to Wycombe to be mended... again.
I've used garages like this before. They only get the one chance, mind
So we'll practice ADF tracking at Westcott on the way:
this gets us clear of Benson and gives us a bit of training. Lots of symmetric
flap deployment testing (we have a new flap following the discovery of
skin cracks) and a really good controls sense check (wise after any disassembly
- crossed controls will kill you very quickly) before starting, then fill
up with AvGas and take off on a sunny afternoon for a cruise to Westcott.
That's it... push the head for a 060 inbound track to Westcott, and we
get a pretty good cut as we pass overhead. Swing out and pull the tail
for a 140 outbound track, then switch to Wycombe and descend for their
weird "overhead" join (join overhead the landing numbers, turn
on to the runway heading, then half way down the runway turn out on to
the downwind leg and descend to circuit height. Weird: but they need to
as gliders use the other side so there is no dead side). Turn over West
Wycombe for Base, pop the flaps and see if we can remember how to land.
I've landed on enough short strips now never to waste any tarmac, so we're
flaring at 75Kts before the numbers. I reckon all my landing issues over
the years have been due to me not concentrating on the far end of the
runway whilst flaring. I am a bit Zen about this now, and it does give
a great landing every time. So all you Students out there, this is the
key to "happy passengers" landings.
Backtrack on the bumpy grass and shut down on the apron - we've not seen
any of the electrical failure lights today and the aircraft seems as good
as new, but we'll let them have a (hopefully non-protracted) look at it
before we pay the bill.
Flying to where the weather is rubbish
At last: some September sun and a working aircraft: time for our delayed
Guernsey lunch trip.
Every month the company has a Board meeting where the two Directors look
at each other, announce they are both bored and have a decent tax-free
lunch. This month we will have it at St Peters Port in Guernsey.
At Oxford the weather is picture-perfect as we take off but the TAFs look
really dodgy for the Channel Islands. For some long ago-buried reason
neither normal UK aviation rules nor French aviation rules apply in the
Channel Islands: you must file a flight plan (why?) and request "Special
VFR", which is basically a promise that you'll stay VMC (in other
words out of cloud and within sight of the sea/ground) despite having
an IMC and (in my experience at least) in conditions that nearly always
resemble a goldfish bowl, requiring mastery of IMC skills even in what
would normally pass for "a nice day" over the sea. So basically
everyone lies, because they can't prove you were ever in cloud and provided
you're above 1,000ft (MSA over the sea) you're not really in any great
Tango Golf still has reported issues with slow lining-up of the Artificial
Horizon and a pulsing Low Voltage light but neither are show-stoppers
so we will watch out for them as we fly.
We pop a bit more fuel in there as there is only 16USG available following
Steve's trip to Guernsey the previous day, then take-off in to a beautifully
calm, slightly hazy blue-sky day, climb to 3,000ft and track the CPT beacon
in then out. It is possible to draw a line straight from CPT to Guernsey
through the Bournemouth zone so we put the autopilot on and relax. We
coast out South of Bournemouth and climb to 4,000ft once clear of their
zone. Amazingly, CPT is still quite happy directing us over the Channel,
which implies quite a hefty radio at Compton Norris.
I'm experimenting with SkyDemon on the iPad at the moment in addition
to the normal Garmins 296 and Aware boxes. I have struggled with finding
anywhere to put the iPad that allows it to gain a satellite signal, but
the compass error card, a small card in a metal frame that was attached
to the compass by Blu-tack has come adrift and someone has stuck it to
the top of the coaming instead, where it now makes an excellent stop for
the bottom edge of the iPad when it is wedged against the windscreen.
Now we can have 3 GPSes, two with our course plotted, plus the VOR. 4
independent nav devices.
Soon we spot clouds which thicken below us as we proceed.
Strictly "Special VFR" means "no VMC on top" and certainly
no messing around in the white stuff but both us and the aircraft behind
us assure the Channel Islands Zone absolutely
that we are VMC and in sight of the surface, even as we descend through
the cloud layer to 1100ft to be able to actually see anything (it's a
little lie everyone colludes in, they can't prove we're IMC, we "manage
to find a hole..."). Even there viz is about 1 mile (ish...). It's
pretty yucky, actually, but what are you going to hit at 1100ft over the
Eventually Guernsey hoves in to sight but we can't actually see the field
until we're 2 miles away and on Final, and there's a gusty 15Kt crosswind
as well, so the approach is lumpy. Even as we flare we're still being
kicked about and some fancy footwork and lots of into-wind aileron is
required - even then we use a good chunk of the runway width up. Yuk,
but still, it's a smooth arrival and we trundle in for a marshalled park-up
outside the double-deck hangar (how cool is that?).
ASG are absolutely brilliant: we are whisked through,
nothing is too much trouble and they will fill it up for us. 5 minutes
later we are on a £1 bus to St Peter Port. Now that's efficiency.
What I don't understand is that if we didn't wait for more than 5 minutes
for a rural bus on a Sunday at either St Peter Port or at the airport
why can't central Oxford, with all it's huge investment in Park and Ride
buses, manage to get a bus out to the Botley Park 'n Ride more frequently
than every 30-40 mins? Tragic.
After a damned good lunch and a couple of interesting
bus rides (how they get those huge buses down those tiny roads amazes
me - I've never before ridden a bus that regularly drives on the pavement...)
we return to pick up our Duty Free fags 'n booze at the Tower, then back
to pay our (very reasonable) landing fee and our (also very reasonable,
being Duty Free) fuel. We fire up and taxy out to the main apron past
all the FlyAirs and RyanBes (I love this bit), power-check at A2 and roll
on to the main runway. I don't think we'll need a backtrack, somehow.
The cloudbase has risen and the sun is trying to come out, so we climb
out Northbound to 2,000ft.
At this point the AH starts playing-up. It was fine all the way down but
now it won't erect and keeps rolling drunkenly over to the left. As the
normal mid-Channel goldfish-bowl effect settles in we lose all external
references, and now we have no AH, so we're partial-panel. We'll try the
autopilot, but that hunts left, right, then tries quite hard to turn us
over in to the sea, so we will need to continue partial-panel. The air
at this height is very unstable (we have a 40Kt quartering tailwind) so
we're working on the DI, turn 'n slip and the altimeter in bumpy haze:
It's OK, just hard work and requires concentration, making sure the ball
is centred and maintaining a good scan. Again, whilst technically "VMC"
a VFR-only pilot would seriously struggle here, which fuels my argument
that a) the Channel Islands Zone needs scrapping so we can legally use
our IMCs here and b) you need an IMC to fly out here anyway.
Eventually we reach the edge of the CI Zone and they release us to climb
to our normal Bournemouth-radio-reaching height of 4,000ft. Of course
starting the climb brings its own case of the leans so it's a question
of setting climb power, trimming for attitude then keeping the DI stable.
Eventually we climb out of the haze and rough air and regain a horizon
and some sunshine, which reduces the workload, CPT comes back on line
and we contact Bournemouth for a Zone Transit. We are VMC on top at this
point and a glance at the GPS shows 168Kts ground speed for a 130Kt airspeed:
we have a 38Kt tailwind and are doing 198mph over the ground. That's better.
The cloud persists all the way North to Compton and I'm just getting the
Oxford plates out of the bag for an ILS recovery when the clouds thin
and then part, revealing Didcot power station so we can recover visually.
Oxford's ATIS gives winds of 18Kts at 240° which may be interesting.
There is no other traffic to affect so we maintain a cruise descent at
an indicated 140Kts all the way to the Downwind leg, then reduce power
to idle, pull up sharply and at 95Kts pop the flaps for that satisfying
"nose on the windscreen" deceleration and re-trim, pop the second
stage as we turn over Deddington and settle in to a stable 80Kt descent
as we turn Final. Oxford is briefing a jet pilot as we turn but "Break
Break..." gives us clearance to land just as we hit the windshear
and mush coming up from the trees and hedgerows, throwing us around. It
settles down to about 12Kts as we flare and settle gently, passing a bizjet
at the Charlie Hold and concentrating on the far end of the runway. Roll
out, flaps away and we're on the taxyway, back to the apron and tie down
in the surprisingly strong wind. But we've mastered the cover now and
it won't get away from us in the wind....
A challenging day with the worst weather in the British Isles today. And
we may need to go back to Guernsey in a couple of weeks.
Practice Forced Landings and Stalls
It's time to do my Biennial SEP "Hour with an Instructor" to
ensure I haven't got in to any bad habits over the last two years.
This isn't a test: it's just a requirement that someone somewhere knows
you aren't doing anything really dumb. I fly with Pete a fair amount and
he keeps an eye on me, dispensing sage advice without treating me like
a Student, which I appreciate, but this is an official recognition of
It is possible to argue that my IMC Renewal earlier in the year counts,
but I have been led in the past to understand that the Examiner in that
hour is acting in an Examining capacity, not an Instructional capacity,
therefore it doesn't count, however this is an interpretation of some
rather over-complex rules and may not be true. To be on the safe side,
Pete and I will go out and practice some forced landings and tinker with
the stall as we have some queries over the stall warner. He'll then sign
my book and we're all Definitely Legal.
Practice Forced landings are a perennial good thing to practice in case
the donkey stops kicking. And the stall warner appears not to be coming
on soon enough, although some airframe noise precedes the stall giving
a pretty adequate warning. This needs investigating.
We pre-flight (we have a warm pitot head for once), start up and leave
with a right turn out over Blenheim Palace's gardens. Heading for the
area between Charlbury and Little Rissington for "general handling"
Oxford Radar give us a squawk: there's a first.
The AH droops towards the left, pretty useless for IMC but as we're VFR
today we're not too fussed. It does need fixing, however.
So: PFL's. Trim for 75Kts (five big swings back on the trim wheel), turn
in to wind and pick an into-wind field in the triangle between the nose
and the wingtip. I have always favoured a constant aspect PFL approach
but Pete suggests the addition of a downwind-to-base marker point of 1,000
AGL, which works better. All our PFLs bar one are survivable and at no
point do we near the "coffin corner" base-to-final too-low-on-speed-and-pulling-too-hard
area, so eventually, having annoyed several tractor drivers and a few
remote houses we climb back up to 3,000ft just below the cloudbase for
The Cessna 182 is a hard beast to really stall: you have to pull back
so hard and get so slow that the ASI nearly hits the bottom stop: and
that's without any flaps out. With 20° flap the ASI runs out of indication
before we actually stall, and with 40° it's unmeasurable. The stall
is massively benign: no wing drop, just some buffet, a lot of airframe
whistling and finally the stall warner. A brief push forward to break
the stall and we can recover with only 100ft-odd of height loss. So the
stall warner is working OK, even if it is acting more as a stall indicator
not a warner.
Overhead Charlbury Pete does one final PFL "to show how it's done"
in a field near Cornbury Park and with flaps and some sideslip we're good
to go in a particularly small field.
It's interesting how these things look so much smoother when an Instructor
demonstrates: I can well remember their "on rails" approaches
I strove to emulate when learning, whereas my approaches consisted of
increasingly desperate lunges for something I might be able to land from....
However he underestimates the up-slope and trees beyond as we climb away
and we end up roaring across the B4437 and Wychwood Forest uncomfortably
close to the tops of the trees, hoping the engine doesn't stop for real......
I would have turned back down the hill to give myself more height.
Back at 3,000ft we position for a right base join, descend and float gently
down "on rails" for a nice smooth arrival (always look at the
end of the runway), roll out and park up.
Pete believes we should park so that the nose wheel is on the blob at
the end of the centreline parking mark, whereas we have been parking a
foot or so further back so the wing tiedowns line up with holes in the
tarmac. I'm not sure which is right.
The kindness of others
I need to go to Witnesham, just North of Ipswich for the funeral of my
Best Man's father. It's awful when the older generation moves on: it means
our generation are going to be the next to die, but also these are people
we knew and respected.
Getting to Ipswich is 150 miles of speed cameras, idiots and pensioners,
and getting back at 5.00pm will be worse. Plus it's forecast to rain,
so dark + rain + rush hour = M25 gridlock, you can be sure.
However, a straight line drawn between Oxford and Ipswich Monewden, where
I've been before, shows 40 minutes each way. I can get a taxi to take
me the 3 miles to Witnesham (I might get a folding bike to put in the
plane in future) and back, so that's sorted.
But when I call the owner of Monewden for PPR he says the field is flooded
and suggest now is not a good time. Oh dear, back to the traffic jams.
But a call to Ipswich Crowfield is more productive. They are under planning
restrictions concerning noise, but we discuss our large Carlos Fandango
exhaust and agree that this makes it acceptable, especially considering
it's a wet Tuesday in November, and no one is going to be around. So in
the end I won't have to sit on the M25 and what's more we discuss taxis
and he offers to lend me his 4x4 to get to and from Witnesham. Now that's
care Above and Beyond The Call of Duty.
It's sunny at Oxford but bitingly cold when I turn up in a suit and black
tie, book out and pre-flight, then start-up and turn the cabin heater
on to thaw my hands out. Oh, that is better.....
Up to runway 29 which has subsidence cracks on it's South side so will
be closed as an Active runway for the rest of the year, then cleared for
take-off and climb out Eastwards. It's smooth as we level off at 3,000ft
and track to the South of Cranfield.
There is satisfaction in getting the height exactly right, the track exactly
right, the compass, AH and both GPS's all exactly aligned, the radio pre-tuned
to your next frequency, the towns and roads positively identified (I am
eternally grateful to The Duke of Edinburgh for DofE navigation exercises
teaching me to read OS maps: I wonder, being a pilot himself, whether
he had this use in mind when creating the exercises...), and diversion
airfields all in your mind, FREDA checks done and recent PFL exercises
in mind. Time for a happy hum-along, I think.
The radio is quiet as we approach Wattisham and change to them to request
a MATZ transit: they have traffic on their ILS so ask us to transit through
their ATZ at 3,000ft and then descend for Crowfield. I watch what is probably
Prince Harry in an Apache descending whilst looking for a small strip
in a series of fields. One useful tip for these small fields is YouTube:
there are videos on there showing approaches and landings at most airfields,
and once seen you have a pretty good idea of what to look for.
Released from height constraints by Wattisham I can spot the field so
we descend in a wide left hand circuit for a long straight in, get a bit
of rotor off the trees, come neatly over the last hedgerow and touch just
after the displaced 31 numbers for a gentle roll-out. Being wet grass
I will let the aircraft slow by itself, then taxy left up the little hill
and park outside the main hangar. The loan 4x4 is waiting, so I can pop
off and get some lunch in good time.
They didn't teach me this when I did my PPL
Funeral over, it's started to rain (as forecast, but it will remain light)
and the light is failing as I return the 4x4 to the airfield owner, pre-flight,
fire up and taxy out. The wet grass is now slippery and we have to taxy
with care. Turn and power-check at the 31 numbers, then contact Wattisham
who are happy for me to take-off and remain under 1,000ft on their QFE
(which puts me 35ft underground where I'm sitting, as I'm on a hill and
they're in a valley...) as they have ILS (Harry again, I'm sure) traffic.
So: 20° flaps, full chat and rotate at 58Kts, noise abate at 300ft
and we are way above those looming power lines, visual with Harry in his
AH-64 and climbing out through the rain. At 3,000ft we're in the clouds,
so as they are above MSA we will descend to 2,800ft and remain visual.
But satisfyingly the AH and autopilot are now working, although the cigarette
lighter isn't. Can't light up, then.....
We're in and out of the clouds most of the way home before the weather
clearing nearer Oxford (again, as forecast). The Low Voltage light is
throbbing in time with the strobes, but the Ammeter shows positive charge
at all times, and I'm less concerned with the electrics now I know what
happens when they fail. I have concluded the electrical problems on this
aircraft are water ingress-related as we only seem to have problems following
extensive flight in rain. If the ammeter continues to show a positive
charge we can continue and if the battery gives out we have a portable
Switch to Cambridge and as befits a gloomy, wet Tuesday afternoon in November,
I am the only person on frequency. Cranfield are busier (mainly with Oxford
Senecas) and of course Oxford is pandemonium.
As it's now almost official Night I'd like to revalidate my passenger-carrying-at-night
facility, which I believe involves 3 night landings to a full stop (I
have since learned it only requires 1, which is ironic considering what
happens next...). So I circle Bicester until official Night, then head
in for a Left Base join and this time remember to put the landing light
on. Descend Left base, pop the flaps and slide down the approach, flare
and land gently, a shade too fast but on the centreline and roll out to
the end, vacate and taxy round to the apron.
Cleared back to the B1 Hold for power checks, we then line up and take
off for a circuit which is fine (Kidlington is very pretty at night),
turn Final once more and flare, and I'm just thinking this is easy when...
"Golf Tango Golf, Expedite runway vacate" (we have a big jet
IFR at 4 miles on the approach behind me)
"Er, negative Expedite. We have a blown tyre...".
Half way down the runway the ride starts getting rough. As a bicycle rider
I know this deflating feeling. There is no pull, so I know it's the nosehweel.
I can't keep it going, so eventually we roll to a stop right in the middle
of the Active runway.
In the rain.
I'll leave all the lights on so I don't get a jet up
my backside, but meanwhile the Tower is redirecting incoming flights,
closing the runway and redirecting the poor jet up and back in to the
Hold while and organising a tug to come out and get me.
The Fire service are brilliant: the tug comes and I
hold the tail down while they pop the shovel under the nosewheel, then
we tie the nosewheel on and trundle off down the runway at 15mph, finally
clearing it and down the taxyway to the maintenance area.
There is very little I can do as it's dark: our maintenance guys will
investigate tomorrow. But this is definitely a failure not covered in
the PPL syllabus, except for the general advice to keep calm, fly the
aeroplane and deal with the problems as they arrive.
It wasn't dangerous and was great experience: no one got hurt and tyres
are replaceable. As they say, the flight's not over until the aircraft
is tucked up and you've left the field.....
Postscript: It turns out that it wasn't mud in the spat.
The maintenance guys have changed the wheel and the interior of the nosewheel
spat was clean. So it was something else that caused the puncture.
And the jet I held up contained the owners of the airfield...
How big an adventure can you imagine?
My 50th birthday is in early December, and the Management comes up with
a Birthday celebration idea: she was at school with Jo Fleming who now
runs Chateau Unang in Provence. Why don't we fly down and stay in a luxury
Chateau hotel nearby, see something of her and of Provence and celebrate
my 50th? It's either that or have a big party here and watch everyone
drink my booze.
Nah, no contest...
Frantic weather planning ensues and we end up with a
neat two stage journey, passing North of London and breaking in Troyes
in North East France for lunch, then flying down the Rhone valley to Carpentras
where there is a small local airfield within 3 miles of our destination.
French airfields work on a completely different assumption
to UK airfields: in the UK an airfield is only open during published hours
and you often have to ask permission to land there (known as PPR or "Prior
Permission Required"). In France the opposite is true: and airfield
is assumed to be open all the time unless NOTAM'd otherwise. There may
be no one in the Tower to help you but the airfield is still open, and
if they can't be bothered to be there to collect your tax d'atterisage
(Landing Fee) well, that's their fault.
However Carpentras have no lights and being December the days are short,
so we may run out of light and have to divert to Avignon nearby: not a
problem coming back to Oxford which has lights and is open until 10.30pm,
We have a route, a destination and a timeframe: 6 days in the first quarter
of December. Weather will play a big part in the execution of the flight:
no one wants to be flying in icy clouds and the UK IMC is invalid in France.
However, French rules allow Visual flying "on top" of the clouds
(and actually ATC can't see whether you're in cloud or not: they're usually
50 miles away in a warm office with coffee....).
So we do have a fair amount of leeway, and also if we have to delay it's
not a big issue: this is a holiday, not a scheduled airline after all.
Surprisingly, as the departure date nears, the winter
weather begins to play ball: we have a front half way down France we can
fly over and the remainder is scattered or broken with light winds.
By the night before departure all is planned and ready...
We wake up early to radio reports of snow, snow everywhere:
the outside lane of the M40 is blocked by snow; every METAR East of Oxford
is awful and Troyes is forecast to be snow all day.
However, a quick call to my weather guru suggests the
weather may be better down the West side of France via Limoges and Carcassone.
We have to visit a Customs airfield in France on entry (and exit) and
these have been recvently pruned by the French Government, but once in
France we are free to go wherever we like, so we plan a route to Dinard
at the base of the Cherbourg peninsula near St Malo, then we will feel
our way across France.
I love this moment at the start of each flight: you know
the day will test you in ways you cannot even imagine, but therein lies
the challenge: to be flexible, safety-conscious and assertive but not
At the airfield there is, surprisingly, bright blue
skies and no snow; we file a flight plan via AFPex (which goes immediately
in to the system) to Dinard, pop our lifejackets on and leave.
Immediately two minor niggles appear: the cigar lighter socket doesn't
work, so all the GPS units are running on batteries which won't last for
ever; and the batteries on my ANR headset are dead (but we have spares).
By Kingsclere clouds are appearing and by Portsmouth, as we route around
the Solent Zone, we are VMC on top at 4,000ft.
There is a preferred cross-channel VFR route leading from the Southern
tip of the Isle of Wight straight across to Cherbourg. The CAA would prefer
us to fly this route so if we ditch they know where to look for us, however
in a classic case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is
doing, this route takes you slap bang through a Military Firing Range:
The protocol is that you request the status of the marked Danger Area
and it is either "Inactive" and you just carry on through, "Active"
and you contact Plymouth Military and request a Danger Area Crossing Service,
or "Active and in use" in which case you don't cross unless
you want a Naval shell through the wings. Not ideal....
In this case it's Active but Plymouth Military are happy to provide a
crossing service and we never even see the channel as we cruise along,
warm and happy at 4,000ft.
As the French coast approaches we cross the International Boundary and
change to Brest ATC who pass us to Cherbourg who allow us a Transit through
their zone, then as we go feet-dry the clouds break and we cruise down
the Cherbourg peninsula in clearing weather.
Dinard report showers and strong winds in their vicinity;
as we approach we can see a nasty squall crossing the field, so we orbit
a couple of times in the sunshine then head in as the squall passes. The
wind is straight down runway 35 and we flare for what must be the smoothest
landing I have ever made in the middle of the huge runway, and taxy in
Dinard is completely deserted and the pumps require the
assistance of the Fire personnel who are in a shed at the opposite end
of the apron, so we get the key from them and trundle back while Nessa
goes in search of a loo in the terminal.
The pump instructions are only in French (quelle surprise!) so I bless
my school French teachers who bashed just enough French in to me at school
to understand the instructions. For reference, the secret is to zero the
pump counter, then the motor starts.
A large amount of fuel later Nessa still hasn't appeared but as I walk
back past the terminal a pair of arms is waving at me from inside. On
closer inspection it's Nessa who has become trapped in the terminal by
the security lady who won't let her out unless I can confirm she is my
wife and is meant to be on board the aircraft with me.
Tempting, but in the end I have to relent and they let her out, we pay
for the fuel and the Tax d'aterissage, and decide to head directly for
Carcassone, which is at the South end of the Massif Centrale, the range
of hills crossing France from NE to South. The plan is to slip under the
weather there and head round to Avignon. If we struggle we will still
have fuel to overnight in Carcassone or come back to Limoges.
The weather is broken clouds and very smooth as we head South, being passed
between relaxed French controllers who all speak English. An hour later
the weather is so good we decide to try for Avignon instead, so replot
on the GPS and turn more South East.
In the UK you can rarely fly above 5,000ft as there are
so many Airways above that and we don't think in terms of climbing above
weather: this is a mindset that does not apply in France where VMC on
top for everyone, not just those with Instrument Ratings, is allowed and
the country is sparsely populated.
As the country rises around Aubusson we climb to 4,000ft and then we see
the clouds thickening and becoming overcast. We may have to divert to
Carcassone after all.
Near Aubusson we are finally facing a solid wall of icy cloud topping
out at what looks like 6,500ft. At this point we are under a 4,200ft height
restriction under an Active Restricted Zone, so we turn back for a little
thought. Some map perusal discloses a route 20 miles to the South where
we can climb to FL85 and soon after even higher, so we notify ATC and
divert around the edge of the Restricted Zones remaining VMC as the scattered
clouds tower above us. 10 minutes later we can turn sharp left and climb
to FL85 - suddenly we are on top of an unbroken layer and it's very smooth.
We're only 20 miles off course so can reconverge on our original Avignon
The cloud tops slowly climb up to meet us until we are
occasionally scudding through bits of cloud, which ice up our windscreen
and stiffen up the trims. We don't want to stay in there. A bit of left
and right around some of the taller stacks gets us finally to the end
of the Restricted Zone and we can climb to the limits of the aircraft.
We climb to FL95 then FL100 which is where the climb performance of the
aircraft becomes a little restricted, but the clouds are now well below
us. This is a much better way of coping with weather. I wouldn't
want to stay much above FL100 without oxygen, but it's not like we're
running marathons up here: more like sitting in a warm cabin eating Alpen
bars because the restaurant at Dinard was closed. Occasional holes in
the clouds reveal high, snowy, rocky ground below: not a good engine failure
We have a 50Kt tailwind so we're seeing ground speeds
of 165-170Kts and the clouds ahead are slowly going down so we should
be OK, although we are starting to see the sun sinking and as Carpentras
have no lights we may divert in to Avignon, who do have lights.
70 miles from Avignon the clouds suddenly stop and we're
flying over clear ground, taking to Orange control who clear us to descend
direct to Avignon. Frustratingly, if we had gone direct from Dinard it
would have shaved half an hour off the journey and we would have had more
light to play with - as it is I make the "non bold" decision
to land at Avignon. We join Downwind left hand for runway 35, turn over
the river and drop gently on to the windless runway, turn off and park
We've arrived. And our drinking bottles are all squished up with the pressure.
In fact there is plenty of light and we could have gone
to Carpentras but just occasionally discretion is the better part of valour.
We can always move it tomorrow.
So that's a few records broken: longest flight (3hrs
40 mins), first internal French flight and highest flight (by a very long
way). It's all good envelope-stretching stuff.
It's 24 hours later and the Mistral has been blowing at 60Kts all day
(there's a good reason all the runways in Provence are oriented North-South)
but the guys at Carpentras reckon it will calm down around 4.00pm so we
borrow a Carpentras resident who is an Alouette helicopter pilot with
3100hrs and not a single word of English to give us a hand and head off
for Avignon airport once more in our rented diesel Twingo.
He smooths the way through the procedures at Avignon (€34 for landing
and a night's parking) until we meet an officious woman Security officer
at the main gate who demands passport, pilot's licence etc etc before
simply abandoning us to the entire apron. Oh well, she's only doing her
The Mistral has not budged Tango Golf despite having nothing to tie it
down to the previous night, so we pre-flight and start up. There is still
20 Gallons on board and Carpentras is 10 mins away so we'll be OK for
With the mad Frenchman talking nineteen to the dozen from the other side
of the cabin plus badly-accented ATC the intercom is all pandemonium.
Plus he is making random stabs at the rudder as we taxy, drawing flap
retraction diagrams on a pad of paper and trying to get me to do power-checks
on the stand in front of a non-tied down Partenavia P68 who I'm sure would
really enjoy being blown about....
Trying not to get too distracted I taxy, power check and line-up. Take
off is smooth until we hit 500ft at which point it gets a bit rough, and
we head off for Carpentras which hoves in to view 5 minutes later. We
join Downwind ("vent arrière") for 31, turn base ("Base")
then Final ("Finale") and yes, the wind has dropped so we can
drop on fast with only 10° flap and roll out, backtrack, exit the
runway ("Piste dégagée") and taxy in to park behind
the trees for some wind protection.
That wasn't so hard.
More VMC on top
We've had 5 days of wonderful food, great wine, sightseeing and comfortable
hotels, but now, sadly, we must return home.
There is a weather system over central France clearing
slowly to the South, very similar to last week's weather, so we'll do
broadly the same journey in reverse but this time we will stop in Limoges
where they have a better restaurant.
There is a big French military exercise using all the
restricted Zones over the Massif Central so we have to go South towards
Carcassone to stay clear then loop around to head North West, which is
OK but now we have a punishing headwind. We can drop down the other side
at Limoges, Poitiers or if it's really bad, at La Rochelle.
It's beautifully clear and wind-free as we extract TG
from the trees, push it over to the pumps and fuel-up: we'll need all
Today there is no Mistral: it's quiet, early and very cold. We scrape
the ice off the wings (the 50L of de-icer I have bought is sitting waiting
for me at home having arrived too late for this trip!), pack the Christmas
shopping bags and us in, and take off, flying around to Chateau Unang
first for pictures (where it's very gusty), then departing West in bright
sunshine. We can see the Med glinting off to our left.
Orange clear us to 6,500ft and the bank of cloud that is the front slowly
nears us. At 6,500ft we are only just above the clouds and with a ground
speed now of only 86Kts it takes ages to reach the end of the Restricted
Zone at which point we can finally climb to FL85, well above the weather
and in the blue sky again.
We have to divert 20 miles to the South West to avoid a big NOTAM'd Restricted
Zone due to the military exercise. As we finish skirting around the edge
and rejoin our original course the controller calls us to tell us the
exercise is now over. Typical! I laugh out loud and forget that the transmit
switch is still pressed, which elicits a curt response: "well, Tango
Golf, I'm glad you found 'zat amusing".
The temptation to quote " 'Allo 'Allo " and say "I will
say 'zis only once" is very strong.....
As we plug NW we discuss whether Limoges or Poitiers
is the best lunch stop, and when Rodez control passes us on to Limoges
we ask for a weather check. At present they continue to be fogged-in,
so we decide "Poitiers" but a few minutes later their cloud
begins to break and they tell us they are now marginal VFR.
I can see the ground through a hole, so we spiral all the way down to
1,000ft and point towards the field, at which point we are visual with
the ground but not with the airport, until it suddenly appears and we
call 4 mile Final for 03 and plop on to the long, wet runway in clearing
weather for lunch and fuel.
Of course this being France everyone is at lunch, so we join in and head
for the terminal where we are shepherded through Security and the waiting
RyanAir queue to the office where we have to pay.... all of €5.13
I like flying in France.
A couple of differences are evident, compared with flying in the UK:
The Transition Altitude (where you change from flying on an often incorrect
barometric pressure relative to either the local ground: QFE; or the Mean
Sea Level: QNH, to an International Standard of 1013.25 HectoPascals [29.92"
of Mercury in America]) is 5,000ft, whereas in the UK it was 3,000ft and
is now 6,000ft. From my researches it seems to be 5,000ft all over Europe,
so typically the UK is once more out of step (also see electrical plugs,
which side of the road to drive on, and digital radio standards, but I
In the UK a request to ATC for a "Basic" or "Flight Information"
service usually meets with an immediate request to "pass your message"
or "tell them about yourselves" at which point there is a standard
list of information you pass. However in France the request is usually
answered with a squawk setting and only once they know where you are do
they ask for your details, which is easier becasue they already know where
you are, how high you are and in what direction you are heading, so you
don't have to woffle on about it. Aircraft type, PoB, source and destination
are all they need, which reduces the time spent on the radio drastically.
A Wise Idea.
Take the Long Way Home
Having fuelled both ourselves and the aircraft, filed a flightplan in
the Aero Club and checked the weather (CAVOK all the way to Oxford) and
(we discover much later) leave my iPhone on the bar, we start up and ask
The controller has had too much lunch: he warns us first
of the Military exercise which is a) South of us and b) over, according
to Rodez, then he has no record of our flight plan (which I know I filed
20 mins before).
So we shut down and wait.
At length we ask Tower if they have our Flight Plan: Oh yes, they have.
They just haven't bothered to tell us.
So we start up, taxy to the end of the runway and depart,
climbing to 3,000ft in the afternoon sunshine. France is beautiful to
fly over: villages, fields and rivers pass slowly: ah, we still have a
headwind. Although we are now at least making 115Kts over the ground France
is a big country and it will take us 3½hrs to get home.
Eventually a layer of broken clouds appear and we climb
to 5,000ft on top where it is smoother (I've got in to the swing of being
on top now) and grind North towards the Channel.
By the time we finally do reach the coast the light is fading, so all
the lights go On. At this point we have had issues with the Low Voltage
light coming on but no, it's fine, and the ammeter is charging.
We ask for the status of Danger Area D036 once more, but the French Controllers
want us to speak to London Info, who promptly tell us that the Danger
Area is Active with Live Firing to 23,000ft.
"London Info, Wait One"....
We have three options: request a Special VFR Transit
of the Airway to the West of the DZ, drop to below 3,500ft and fly below
the Airway, or there is a narrow corridor to the West between the DZ and
the Airway. That works for us.
So now we're about to cross the Channel at night, in
December, in a single-engined aircraft, off the main VFR route. This is
somewhat outside even my comfort zone, even if there is a ferry we can
ditch in front of and at 5,000ft can glide quite a long way.
It's nail-biting time as we head out over the dark water,
first North West then North East as we clear the edge of the DZ. Engine
T's & P's get a lot of checking, but slowly the lights of Southampton
appear and before long we are within gliding distance of something solid,
so swap to Solent and ask for a SAM Transit. Phew....
Solent ask us if we can accept an IFR Transit: well, yes we damned well
can now we're back in Good Old Blighty. Re-check the VOR ID, ensure we
are absolutely spot on 5000ft and fly in.
Solent spit us out heading for Compton, we descend to 4000ft and we can
see Oxford in the distance. Just got to get home now.
Join Right Base for 01, turn Final and turn the landing light on, which
does trigger the Low Voltage Light (well I don't care now...),
descend and flare, touch down with a bit of a bump, and we've Done It.
We have proven that flying to the South of France in
a Cessna 182 is not hard, but needs careful planning and a smattering
I reckon I have used just about every bit of training I have had (well
done Oxford!) and it has, as I expected, tested me in ways I couldn't
have imagined when first planning it.
We certainly did use the free WiFi in the hotel to massive advantage and
the Green/amber/red VFR/marginal/IFR lights in SkyDemon, both on the PC
and on the Ipad are fantastic, the iPad is a really good back-up GPS and
the battery lasts a long time if you turn the brightness down.
Meteo France is very good weather site and the French AIP gives daily
AZBA (low level route) maps.
But what will I do differently the next time?
The flight down, with tailwind but also with a Southerly
kink, took 5hrs 40 mins.
The flight back, with headwind and a more Southerly kink, took 7hrs 5
We should have planned a more direct route: Oxford to
Avignon is 4hrs 15 with a bit of tailwind which is just within the fuel
range of the aircraft but leaves no reserves, so realistically you want
to break it in the middle at around Orleans or similar.
Knowing the weather was bad over the centre of the country we should simply
have planned to fly over the top of it at FL100 or even higher, which
with a bit of careful planning is entirely possible: you just need to
plan your half way point to be "VFR" for the approach, kind
This trip has revolutionised my flight planning thinking: in Europe it
is possible to get on top of the weather and although it does make the
journey less interesting at elast you actually get there...
Fuel consumption turned out to be 13 US Gallons per hour,
which is spot-on book value. The aircraft has 74 usable US Gallons of
fuel on board, so has a range of 5.69hrs: more than my bladder.
A word on navigation equipment. We used 3 separate GPS
- A Garmin 296 with external aerial attached to the windscreen (it won't
work any more with the stub aerial and is temperamental about starting
up now it's a few years old)
- An iPad running SkyDemon software, using the iPad's internal GPS aerial
- An Aware box with French maps loaded
We had a 1:100,000 French paper map with our route on it as well. We had
VORs marked on the chart and did a cross-check every 50-100 miles. We
could have VOR-crawled but frankly life is too short and this is 2012:
GPS tools are simply better. We could have got home on VORs alone if necessary
had all the GPS boxes failed, but actually (don't shout too loud) they're
not that accurate....
Visual nav: map and stopwatch? All French towns look the same: some have
rivers and some don't; we were VMC on top a lot of the time so couldn't
see, and turn-time-distance with a 50Kt quartering tailwind that varied
with height? We could have been in Germany, Italy or Spain for all we
would have known...
SkyDemon on the iPad was undoubtedly the star of the show: we generated
routes and vertical profiles in SkyDemon on the PC, saved them "to
cloud" and loaded them "from cloud" on the iPad. Ensuring
we had already "found plates" on the iPad before departure via
WiFi allowed us to access the plates en route. We had all the expected
airfield plates printed out but Poitiers we only had on the iPad.
Skydemon features are here.
Being tight, we "generated" the flight plan in SkyDemon then
copied and pasted the route in to AFPex, which we preloaded and stored
before needing to file. We filed at Oxford via my laptop and Ops' WiFi
and at Limoges via the Aero Club PC. AFPex is free, whereas SkyDemon charge
for flight plans.
We also had an iPhone with data roaming turned on and Hot Spot mode available
for if there was no WiFi for AFPex or the SIM-less iPad.
We found it was simplest to check the weather via SkyDemon on the iPad,
because it gave you a simple green/amber/red airfield-by-airfield weather
report that could be drilled down in to, and also for height planning
it shows the traffic zones (green for anything not requiring a IR) and
Restricted Zones (red). This makes flight-planning accurate and easy.
We then loaded the routes "to cloud", opened them "from
cloud" on the laptop then exported them to the Garmin via USB.
You then press the "Go Flying" button and for £80 a year
it does everything the £850 Garmin 296 does, but with a bigger screen.
The iPad will also go literally all day on its internal battery provided
you turn the brightness down a fair amount (it's still very readable).
It will even, staggeringly, provide georeferenced airfield plates and
the compass rose at the bottom pulls out to be a working HSI. Tea-making
facilities are promised in the next release and shaking the iPad I am
convinced produces a faint but distinct sound of rattling Kitchen Sink...
The only issue we had was that SkyDemon runs on Zulu time whereas the
clock on the top of the iPad shows local time. This confused me for a
while on the return journey until I realised.
I have had issues before with the internal GPS aerial dropping out but
this time it worked absolutely flawlessly the entire time.
Considering Tim Dawson was dead against writing SkyDemon for the iPad
at one point (when we exchanged e-mails he was set on a bespoke tablet)
they have made a damned good job of it.
The Aware box worked well but has limited route planning
ability and the battery lasts only an hour or so. Still: it's a great