Equipment: FlyGA Diversion Plotter (Review)

April 14th, 2017 by PHC | Permalink

Let’s be clear right from the off, the item reviewed here was kindly provided at no cost to me by FlyGA.  Beyond that, it’s not a paid for product placement and what follows is my personal experiences with the product. 

MR-1 Diversion Plotter

I currently fly with a Pooleys RNP-1 Plotter it lives in my kneeboard and I probably use it far more then you might expect, they’re great if you need to quickly come up with a Plan B – not just because of weather, sometimes the cafe is unexpectedly closed at your original destination and that bacon bap is now 20nm away on a 137 heading.  Not an emergency, well, maybe a PAN…  🙂

The other reason I like plotters is they have a ruler and protractor combined, while probably only accurate to +/-2.5 degrees they’re handy for error checking original plans (you can get some interesting headings if you accidently put a protractor on a chart the wrong way round).

Fly GA: MR-1 Plotter

Fly GA: MR-1 Plotter

Planning a Flight with the MR-1 on hand

So is this one any good?   Well to figure that out I decided to use it while flight planning a trip to Turweston.   As you can see, even for a relatively straight forward flight from Cambridge with only a couple of small turns, I’m keen on spending some time at the kitchen table with all the manual driven toys planning out the flight.

Planning Turweston Flight

Planning Turweston Flight

You can see the MR-1 augmented with all the normal tools and I wanted to see how much I used things like the 6″ ruler or whether I found myself just using the MR-1.

Here I found I really liked the clarity of the MR-1 ruler, the 1:500,000 scale markers for each mile, five mile and ten mile markings are really clear.   On smaller rulers, 4 miles and 5 miles are differentiated by about 1mm of extra print on the line markings and you find yourself double checking if it’s 14nm or 15nm.   The MR-1 marks every 5nm in a bolder black ink.   I also like that the ruler doesn’t waste space with empty plastic at the edges.

MR-1: 1:500,000 Ruler

MR-1: 1:500,000 Ruler

One thing that will annoy and possibly make it unusable for helicopter pilots though is that there’s no 1:250,000 scale.   Now this can be a bit of a religious war topic, but as I understand it helicopter pilots have to use a 1:250,000 scale chart during their skills test and those I’ve spoken to tend to lean on the 1:250,000 charts much more then fixed wing pilots do (they generally fly lower and slower).   So if you use 1:250,000 charts then this plotter is a no go for you.   Personally I find planning tools that try to be all things to all people a pathway to mistakes and human error.   “Oh I had the ruler on the wrong scale……that’s why my ETA was wrong.”   That sort of thing.   I do think FlyGA should address this gap because even I’ve recently got a 1:250,000 map and seriously contemplating switching (post on why to follow), but I actually would encourage them to fix this with a 1:250,000 version of the product and not try and bung on different scales.  Look at the Pooleys RNP-1 as an example, it’s all scales to all users and get it out of your kneeboard the wrong way round and bang you’re on the wrong scale.    For every argument, there’s normally a counter argument though, what if you swap charts mid-flight.   Personally I ponder if anyone does this!  But again, maybe helicopter pilots do – but as I say for my usage, I’d much rather there be a 1:500,000 version and a separate 1:250,000 version rather than a mash of ‘how many scales can we squeeze on a bit of plastic’.

There are striking resemblances between this plotter and the Digital Innovations DP-1.   The best I can tell this is the thinking behind the layout of their protractor.

Protractor / Diverting

Kings Lynn Outwell

RNP1: Divert

To understand why I really don’t like the protractor layout on the MR-1, I need to first show you a typical in flight diversion (but equally a rough ground planning exercise).

Let’s say you’re plotting a route from Kings Lynn to Outwell near Wisbeach.

On an RNP-1, you put the plotter on the chart, turn it to where you want to go.  You can now draw a line in the centre gap with pen if you want (but critically, we don’t have to!), then read off the distance of 11nm and at the top of the RNP-1 is your heading to fly, due to the size of the protractor we can tell the heading is a bit less than 220 degrees, 217 something like that.   You don’t want to do long distance on this approximate heading but the error over 10nm will be negligible.

Now let’s look what happens with the MR-1 if we were to use it for a similar sort of in flight diversion.

What we find is that because the protractor is in a “North Up” orientation, the same trick doesn’t work.   Firstly rather obviously, we cannot see where we intend to go because it’s covered up on the map by the speed/distance table.

MR-1 Divert

MR-1 Divert

The “North Up” orientation means the heading cannot be read off the protractor while it is held in this orientation.  Look at the top and it’ll indicate ~60 degrees, if you read off the heading from the direction you want to go, obviously this will also be wrong.

MR-1 Correct Heading Use

MR-1 Correct Heading Use

So to do a diversion with this plotter you’re forced to get a pen out, draw a line between your two points.   Then you can use the protractor in its normal orientation to read off a heading.   Now you might think “well that’s not too bad”, but what if this is not a diversion you’re trying to do, for getting a position fix with a VOR/DME the MR-1 is going to be problematic to use.

However it’s worth mentioning that if you are using it to plan a diversion and it’s a proper diversion whereby you know where you’re going to divert to, can draw it on the chart and then work out a heading.   Then the increased size of the protractor over smaller plotters such as the RNP-1 means that you’ll get a more accurate heading.  So worst case instead of being +/-5 degrees, you’ll be more like +/-2.5.

It’s not found a place in my kneeboard because while I can see it being useful for the diversion part of your skills test or any proper diversion you intend to do.  I can’t help feel you’ll be reaching for another tool for the position fix aspects of the test and that’s perhaps one too many tools to be carrying around.   On the ground I like its larger protractor and found it a handy tool to have on the table.

Speed/Distance Tables

The very keen eyed reader might notice that on my PLOG sheets in the red coloured folder, there’s a speed/distance table printed.   It’s something I’ve put in since early days of my flight training.

These days I rarely use it because my Torgoen T07302 watch has an E6B flight computer on it and this is quicker for Speed/Distance calculations.   However, if you don’t have such a watch then such Speed/Distance tables are very useful things to have.

It has a wide range of airspeeds (70 – 140 knots), so applicable to anything from a slow 152 to a Tecnam P2010 and will allow you to quickly look up how long it’ll take to cover any distance up to 40nm at any airspeeds in 10 knot intervals.

MR-1: 1:500,000 Ruler

MR-1: 1:500,000 Ruler

I really like how the times are accurately lined up with the distance measurements on the ruler, so there’s no other scales to be faffing with (I suspect this also explains why the ruler doesn’t have a 1:250,000 scale)

Here I personally think less might be more.

At 100 knots the time required to cover 20 nm (about the maximum distance you want per leg of a VFR route) is 12 minutes, but at 90 knots it’s 13 minutes and at 110 it’s 11 minutes.   So do you really need all these airspeeds?   Such tables are really only good for approximation of ETA because if accuracy relative to a true ground speed is your concern then it’s likely that once you’ve corrected for wind you’ll get a speed that requires interpolation (or a CRP-1 Flight Computer) anyway.

It would therefore be arguably better if 70, 100, 130 were the only scales and this might then free up some space in the middle to allow the map to be seen through the middle.   I can of course appreciate that Cessna 152’s cruise at 90 knots and if this is your cruise speed then you’d be complaining it wasn’t on the scale.   Having an ETA that is 60 seconds earlier than the actual ETA isn’t often a problem though because with 60 seconds to run your destination is on the nose, or you’re properly lost!!! 🙂  As discussed earlier, attempting to be all scales and all things, for all aircraft just clutters up such tools.   Simplifying it and making the middle transparent would be an improvement in my opinion.

General Design

The MR-1 is made of a semi-flexible transparent plastic, it’s more rigid then an RNP-1 plotter, but more flexible then an AS-2 or your typical planning ruler.   It feels like it’ll last you easily long enough to forget how much it cost (£11.49).   The markings are slightly raised on the underside, which gives a good feel and a sense that the markings aren’t going to fade any time soon.

On the version I got the edges are a little bit rough as you run your fingers off the edges and because of the MR-1 is approx. 1.6mm thick the square edges can at times feel a bit sharp.   It’d be nice if the edges could be rounded off just slightly in a future version, nothing serious just to take the points off (similar to what you’d find on an AS-1 or AS-2 type ruler for example).

The length, being less than 6″ means it does fit in the pockets of flight bags (especially my relatively small Flight Gear bag) really nicely.


As a ruler it’s brilliant, better than an AS-2 because it quickly lets you see approximate timing data and isn’t as cluttered with different scales (this assumes you need a 1:500,000 scale).   That said, it does for me have too many airspeeds in the middle.

I personally wouldn’t use it as my ‘go to’ in-flight diversion / position fix tool of choice and this means I suspect it’ll never find a home in my kneeboard.

The RNP-1 drives me a bit crazy with constantly spinning it round to do rough planning on the ground though so I think I’ll definitely carry this in my flight bag for those days when there’s a change of plan on an land away and the route back needs a quick re-think without getting all the toys out and spending an hour planning it out.

The price is the wrong side of ten pounds if it was my money, but it’s mostly a psychological thing.   The cost of this plotter is in the noise relative to an hours flying, but logistically it’s a bit of a logistical grumble you can’t buy it from the major stockists and so can’t chuck it in with an order of new pens or when you buy your next chart etc.   Hopefully though that will come in time.

Fly GA have been kind enough to send me samples of their other kit, so over the coming days look out for my reviews of that and also a review of their new exam practice website.

Spring is here again: Let’s go Flying!

February 28th, 2017 by PHC | Permalink

Looking through my logbook, I did a heap of land aways last year.   Of my target farm strips I managed to tick off almost all of the ones I wanted to get in the log for the season, though Nayland still eludes me, but perhaps this season.

With Storm Dorris out of the way and spring officially here, hopefully the weather will begin to take a turn for the bright side, so I thought it’d be good to take a look back at some of the places I landed in 2016 and some I really hope to do in 2017.

Keyston Farm

Keyston Farm Downwind

Keyston Farm Downwind

I’ve now been here about 3 times, it’s the only farm strip I land at with some regularity.   It’s easy to find, it’s got a nice slope that will keep you focused but not challenge you so it feels like hard work – and it has a pub just down the end of the track, so upon landing there’s something to do even if nobody is about.   That pub also means there’s a real risk that on a nice day, someone else will be joining the circuit when you want to.  There’s no ground radio, so get on the safety com frequency and make sure you give clear calls of your position.

My biggest memory about the most recent visit?   Being about 30 seconds from getting overhead, to hear someone else coming from the opposite direction was about 45 seconds from joining overhead!   Safety com can save your life, we had a bit of a mid-air “make up your own official phraseology season of who would do what” and agreed between us that I’d orbit east of the runway, while he repositioned for wind and landed.  Once down I’d then join the circuit to land.

It worked a treat, my landing wasn’t the best I’ve ever done, the airspeed was just a bit high with a thump on the back wheels as it touched down but it was stopped in ~250m  in time to park it up.  Actually I was thankful someone had landed before me, being a lovely hot day the place was slammed and I was the 4th plane to land.  You could hardly move for planes – parking was a 3 person job to get the Cessna 172 squeezed in.

The guy who’d landed before me absolutely trounced me in flying hours experience, yet just flew as a hobby (I can only dream of having the time and cash to get anywhere near what he was flying regularly!), still him and his wife were lovely people and they bought me a drink for payback of orbiting while they landed.   As this land away was actually done on my lunch break, I didn’t have time to stick around and walked back to the plane with my coke on a lovely summers afternoon.


This is a strip that’s 6ft BELOW mean sea level, just up near Ely.

G-HERC (Golf Hotel Echo Romeo Charlie)

G-HERC (Golf Hotel Echo Romeo Charlie)

One pretty lazy, sunny Sunday late afternoon (4:30pm), I took G-HERC up there.  It’s a great strip, really quite long and flat – absolutely no problems to land at.  Except if you miss the runway (~16m wide) you’ll either land on a big ditch/mound that is parallel to the runway, or you’re in the river.   But seriously you’d have to be trying or be fighting a crosswind to have any such problems.

I stupidly forgot to bring my camera, so there’s no pictures – I guess I’ll have to go back there! 🙂

Being a sunday afternoon there was nobody about, so upon landing I enjoyed the sunshine, had a break, had a kitkat 😛  and then jumped in the plane for the ~10-15 minute flight back to Cambridge.

I’ll go back, but to be honest, it’s flat and there’s not masses of challenge here, it’s probably easier to land then Cambridge Grass 23 if I’m honest (it’s also longer these days).

Hundon Farm

All I can say about this place is, it’s BRILLIANT.

Hundon Farm

Hundon Farm

I found it by complete fluke actually, a group of us were flying back from the Isle of Wight, a friend was in the left seat so I was just doing a bit of “farm strip spotting” when nearing home I stumble on this place.   I scribbled a circle down on my chart of roughly where I thought we were, then when we got back on the ground I went searching through the books and internet etc. to try and figure out exactly where we’d been and which grass strip it might be.

Landed Safely Hundon Farm

Landed Safely

A few weeks later I’d figured it out and thanks to the trusty Lockyears Farm Strip guide (a fantastic book, essential buy).   Got the phone number for the owner and a few calls later had permission to land.

It’s about 4-5 miles east of Haverhill, actually really easy to find thanks to the single wind turbine (you can see it in the picture above).  In the summer the surrounding crops make it really stand out.

Super flat, big bush things on the approach cut away for landing, no too short.

I really liked flying here and the landing was one of my best, especially considering I took a friend.   If you fly farm strips with me you’re privileged because I don’t like taking people unless I know they can handle seeing trees and very short bits of grass coming fast up to meet them!  It’s a runway, trust me, I’m a pilot… 🙂

If you get a chance, go fly here, I’m excited just thinking about the possibility of flying back to this farm in the summer time.

Stones Farm

Wanted to land here since 2015, possibly before, but the few chances it came up back then something or other always got in the way.   I came close once, but it hand been raining in the weekends running up to it and the owner rightly didn’t want me planting a 172S on his strip and churning up what was left of the runway etc.

Stones Farm ~800ft

Stones Farm ~800ft

A few more calls, like all farms, you always seem to call the mobile phone number you find for PPR with no idea if it really is going to be the land owner you think it will take you to – then inevitably their wife answers and that always makes me more “hmmm this is going to sound bonkers, but……I’m calling about PPR for….??”   I shouldn’t be though, it’s almost always got me through to the right person and “I’m a pilot” will get you out of any awkward situation, even if they don’t own the place “Oh really, wow…” that sort of thing.   Worth the £12,000 training costs all on its own 😛

G-MEGS @ Stones Farm

G-MEGS @ Stones Farm

Just south (~4 miles) of Sudbury, this is quite an easy place to find – look for the Power Pylons and you’ll be all good.

The approach is really cool as well, I have a thing for flying final approaches that bring you past houses.   Obviously I do everything I can to avoid annoying them, but it’s always more mind focusing if there’s houses on finals.

My noise abatement must have been ok though because even the owner didn’t realise I’d landed.   Having joined overhead, I was quite pleased about that.

"Elf" and Safety Warning

“Elf” and Safety Warning

It was a great chat over some coffee, talking about flying without Skydemon and GPS (though he seemed quite a fan).  His flying in France and all sorts of amazing places, fantastic stuff, I can only aspire to such good flying times.

The take off run isn’t too challenging either, though to keep the neighbours sweet you taxi down to the end of the runway, spin it round and then full throttle it (which is a ton of fun!).   Do your checks, then check them again before you start taxing because this sort of thing is how you forget your flaps are fully down and that would be BAD!   A Cessna 172S takes off in mega short distances if done right with 10 degree of flaps.   But try the same thing with 30 degrees of flaps and it’s like trying to get the Titanic to fly!  I’m not joking, it will buuuuurn through runway without getting even 40 knots of airspeed.

Where to in 2017 then???

I’m currently looking into Exning, but I can’t convince myself it’s still there or not, would welcome any info about that (it’s in Lockyears but that’s where the info becomes sketchy and Google Maps doesn’t seem to show anything airstrip like).

West Horndon, looks absolutely brilliant so that’s on the cards for sure.

Blooms Farm, now I know where this is, I know it’s in the 2017 AFE, VFR flight guide, but I’m not yet convinced if the place didn’t go up for sale recently.   So I’ll have to make a phone call some point soon to find out.

I also really want to go back to Holmbeck Farm, this is probably my favourite little Farm Strip anywhere in East Anglia, it is just a mega little place with fantastic owners and people supporting it.

So that’s what I’m planning to do…… How about you?  Any land aways on the horizon?

Ground Effect: Landing, Ballooning & Stalling

May 31st, 2016 by PHC | Permalink

When you’re learning to land there’s a couple of things that typically go wrong and perhaps you can relate to these experiences:

  • The ground starts getting very big out the window so there’s a natural tendency to try and avoid hitting it.   Your instructor is probably telling you “Keep it coming down, keep it coming down…” etc.
  • Flare to soon:   The plane starts to climb again, as you climb you realise you never were anywhere near the ground anyway, by the time you’ve sorted that out you’re half way down the runway 🙁
  • Flare to late (or not at all):  Unless your rate of descent is spot on and you get a gentle glide on to the runway, this will feel like a thump of all wheels hitting the ground together.
  • Ballooning:  Airspeed is too high when you flare so the aircraft gets airborne again, then there’s not enough power on to fly away, so airspeed simply converts into lift then there’s no more airspeed left to convert so you start to descend – this descending either gets you some more airspeed and the cycle repeats, or you stall and/or go THUMP into the runway, often nose gear first 🙁    More typically in training a sharp eyed instructor will tell you “Go Around!” the second you start to balloon.

Any of those sounding familiar?

Tower Farm: Final Approach

Tower Farm: Final Approach

When I started farm strip flying I did a lot of training and practice on getting my final approach airspeeds down from the Cessna 172S typical approach speed of 65 knots, down to 50 knots.

Kinetic energy increases as the square of velocity (ground speed).  So if you arrive at the landing point at 55 knots (just 10% higher), you will increase your landing distance by 21% or put simply:

Less ground speed equals less energy to convert on landing, thus a shorter stopping distance.

The above gives you the rationale for why I aim for a final approach of 50-55 knots depending on the wind (higher if the wind requires it until potentially the strip becomes un-landable and we should go somewhere else today – but you did your homework about the likely max surface winds before we took off right?).

Once stable and down to approx. 50ft of height remaining, I’m looking to bring that speed down to ~48 knots (i.e. sub-50 but +40 with margin [POH Vs0 to Vs1 speed]).  This is still ~14% slower then you might expect for a threshold speed.

A short diversion into Stalling

This article isn’t meant to be a detailed look at stalling, but it would be incomplete to talk about slower approach speeds without briefly touching on stalling.

Your first reaction to the above speeds will either be “wow that’s slow“, or possibly “but the POH says…”   The POH on a Cessna 172S says it’ll fly (i.e. won’t stall):

  • Vso (40 knots):  “Stalling Speed or the minimum steady flight speed is the minimum speed at which the airplane is controllable in the landing configuration at the most forward center of gravity”
  • Vs1 (48 knots): Stalling Speed or the minimum steady flight speed is the minimum speed at which the airplane is controllable

So the plane is not going to stall (according to the book of words).

It’s worth pausing again here, I’m talking about airspeeds and stalling.  You might be screaming “critical angle of attack” at the computer screen 🙁   True, a wing stalls when it exceeds critical angle of attack, it can technically be made to stall at any airspeed.   You won’t find that angle published anywhere though, the POH will only talk about indicated airspeed and for a controlled and gentle approach, airspeed can become a very close approximation.

Finally on stalling:

  • A forward Centre of Gravity INCREASES the Stall Speed (so Aft CoG reduces it)
  • Load Factor INCREASES stall speed (so don’t do +/-G manoeuvrers on finals!)
  • More Weight INCREASES stall speed (Wing loading is the ratio of Weight to Wing Area, so reduce the weight, reduce the Load Factor, see bullet point above 🙂 ).

So no prizes for guessing what I aim to do when farm strip flying:   I take at most 1 passenger, I want enough fuel to have safe margin, but if half tanks gives me 1hr of contingency then that’s plenty.   The Vs speeds are for Max Weight, Full Forward CoG so if we reduce the weight and shift the CoG backwards then we can expect to get better performance (i.e. lower stall speed) then is quoted in the book of words and that gives us better safety margin.

Landing, Lift Force and Dynamic Pressure

Landing happens because the plane isn’t producing enough lift to hold it in the air or balance the weight vector if you prefer – remember your force couples.

Cessna Centre of Gravity Forces

Airplane Forces

So when the plane stops generating enough lift, eventually you hit the ground, hopefully at a gentle rate of descent:

Lift = Coefficient of Lift * Dynamic Pressure * Size of Wing

So increase the Coefficient of Lift, and all other things being the same you increase the lift.

Dynamic Pressure changes as the square of Airspeed

Assuming your air density is the same, at 50 knots if the dynamic pressure is 8 pounds per square foot, then at 100 knots the dynamic pressure will be 34 pounds per square foot.   Now go back to the Lift Equation above, even without changing the Coefficient of Lift, if you have twice the airspeed you have A LOT more Lift.

Real world examples are better to get your head round then pure equations, so let’s take a slow approach of 50 knots indicated airspeed and a fast approach of 75 knots (Let’s assume the plane has a 174 sq foot of wing [Cessna 172S] and we have ISA sea level standard air density 1.225 kg/m3, it doesn’t matter what we pick here really because all we’re saying is “it’s the same plane in the same conditions except for speed”).

Dynamic Pressure = 0.5 * Air Density [kg/m3] * Airspeed ^ 2 [m/s]

  • Dynamic Pressure @ 50 knots (25.72 metres per second):
    • = 0.5 * 1.225 * 25.7222^2
    • = 405.2 pascals => 8.46 pounds per square foot
  • Dynamic Pressure @ 75 knots (38.58 metres per second):
    • = 0.5 * 1.225 * 38.58^2
    • = 911.6 pascals => 19 pounds per square foot

Lift = Coefficient of Lift * Dynamic Pressure * Size of Wing

Because all we care about for now is the effect of being fast, lets consider an ~5 degree angle of attack, which on a typical light aircraft will give us a Coefficient of Lift of about 1 which is a nice round number, you can find this in most text books on lift, but as I said, it doesn’t really matter because both examples use it as a constant.

  • Lift @ 50 knots:
    • = 1 (Coefficient of Lift) * 8.46 (Dynamic Pressure lbs/sq foot) * 174 (sq ft of wing)
    • = 1,472 lbs of lift
  • Lift @ 75 knots
    • = 1 * 19 * 174
    • = 3,306 lbs of lift

The basic empty weight of a Cessna 172SP is around  1700 pounds, if you’re landing with 20 US Gallons of fuel left (which is 2 hrs worth, so we’re not light here) and the pilot weight is about 140 lbs (10 stone).  Then this plane isn’t going to land, it’s going to Climb away!!   The only way to get the plane on the ground would be to reduce speed or lower the nose to reduce the Coefficient of Lift.   By comparison you can see that at 50 knots the Cessna is going to be descending.

What’s interesting about the math above, is that at 75 knots for a low weight Cessna 172, you’d need to cut the coefficient of lift by about half before it’d descend.

That’s very relevant to the next part.

A final note about coefficients of lift, I’m assuming above that both planes are in the same flap configuration for a final approach.  Flaps change the Coefficient of Lift so a plane flying with its flaps fully retracted will have a lower coefficient of lift, for the same angle of attack, then a plane with flaps fully extended thus the amount of lift generated when flaps are fully retracted will be lower.   If you’re learning to fly, perhaps this helps you understand why ‘flapless’ landings are done at a higher airspeed.


Bringing us back to the root focus of this article:   Ballooning and Ground Effect

Ballooning typically occurs because you were descending, then you pull back on the controls in the flare:  Increasing the angle of attack of the wing thus increasing the Coefficient of Lift on the wing (you can see from the above math you can also balloon by adding airspeed [gust of wind / adding excess power]).

If you’re airspeed is high, then as demonstrated above, this increase in Coefficient of Lift is going to stop the plane descending and quickly start making it climb.

The danger now is that airspeed will drop off as you climb and that will make the amount of lift drop off like a brick (note the amount of lift between 50kts and 75kts above AND that climb performance is a function of excess power).   As you lose lift quickly you’ll start to descend rapidly, the angle of attack is now high because your relative flight path is towards the ground but the wings are pointing up (giving a high angle of attack).   You now risk entering a Quasi-Stall condition or worse a full stall.  Pointing the nose at the runway (“pushing the plane on to the runway”) isn’t a brilliant idea as you’re maybe only 70ft above the runway.  You’re burning up landing distance while this is all going on so even if you do get it sorted out, you might have used 150-200m of runway!  Can you still land in the runway left?  Hitting the hedge at end of the runway is still a crash….  Thus why in training it will be drilled into you that in the event of a balloon, apply full power and go-around immediately.

I want to emphasise here that at a high airspeed, it doesn’t take much in flare error (amount of change in elevator control) to make it all go wrong because you have so much lift to begin with.  So you might get away with it on a couple of circuits, but the next time you try, just a degree or two more angle of attack from the wings will make a massive difference to the lift force.  Thus approaching at the correct airspeed gives you some safety margin on your elevator control when beginning to flare and stop the plane jumping into an attempt to climb when it doesn’t have the power to do so.

Remember also that control forces are less responsive at slow airspeeds so it’s inherently harder to make the plane suddenly change its angle of attack to an extent that will cause a balloon if the final approach airspeed is right.

Ground Effect

So perhaps I’ve convinced you of two things:

  1. Less ground speed = reduced stopping distance.
  2. Reduced Airspeed reduces the lift forces and can help prevent ballooning.

Quite simply if we want to stop in the shortest distance possible, we want to do everything possible to get the airspeed down without stalling the wings – stalling is bad!

Easton Maudit Final 50ft

Easton Maudit Final 50ft

You can get 48 knots in a Cessna 172S fairly easy on approach, as your airspeed drops to 40 you’re going to very likely hear the Stall Warner begin to screech intermittently.   Doing this in gusting winds is a really bad idea because while power + attitude = performance, the performance isn’t instantaneous so gusting could stall the wing.

We therefore want to ‘transition’ the airspeed from 48 knots to 40 knots and have some margin.   With practice and a precise landing for when to transition, Ground Effect will let you achieve slower airspeeds over the threshold safely.

Ground Effect works by reducing the induced drag of the wing when in close proximity to the ground.   It’s equivalent to suddenly increasing the wing span and as we saw from our math above – if we increase the wing size, we get more lift for the same airspeed, therefore letting the plane fly slower for the same lift as it would generate at higher airspeeds outside of ground effect.

Change of wing span, what?

This is where you often read that ground effect reduces induced drag thus why it works, job done.   True, ground effect reduces induced drag, but I just said it’s like increasing the wing span, what’s wing span got to do with anything?  Well wing size is really all you have in the lift equation to play with, if airspeed is constant then dynamic pressure will be constant and the lift coefficient will be constant because angle of attack is constant.  So we’re left with an equivalent change of wing span.  It’s outside of the scope of this article, but if you want to get into the detail, go look at the equation for induced drag and you’ll see that for a basic aerofoil shape/wing, wing size is all that controls it if everything else is constant.   But suffice to say don’t just think about the fact your changing the airflow behind the plane, but you’re also changing the ability for vortices to destroy the airflow above the wing thus you have more wing (effectively) for the same plane, much as if you had a bigger wing…..but without the weight.

Ground effect begins to occur when the plane is about one wingspan from the ground and increases effectiveness the closer you are to the ground.

A Cessna 172S with a wing Span of 11m (36ft) thus enters ground effect just after the threshold speed typically quoted for 50ft.   We can then begin to transition from Vs1 (48knots) speed to Vs0 speed (40knots), in the knowledge that Ground Effect is about to kick in and ensure the wings continue to generate lift (i.e. don’t stall) as we land.

It is important to note ground effect works by reducing drag, but drag helps us decelerate the plane to achieve best stopping distance.   We can’t avoid ground effect on landing, so reducing power and airspeed as we enter ground effect helps achieve best landing distance performance (stopping in the shortest distance possible).

Final Thoughts on Safety

I’ve talked a lot about and perhaps convinced you with some equations to try slowing down your final approach airspeeds.   Too much speed in untrained hands when driving a car is dangerous.  Equally, flying slow speeds in a plane when inexperienced and especially if combined with a challenging runway that will in itself present challenges and distractions is dangerous.  Always seek proper training, if you’re new to short strips and slow approaches, find an experienced farm strip instructor and go do some flying with them first!

Oh and use the airspeed the runway requires, because stalling 20ft short of a one mile long runway is always going to look bad and suggest things to investigators like you were trying to show off for no reason.   The aim of the game is to fly safely and to manage the risks!

Know when NOT to go flying

April 29th, 2016 by PHC | Permalink

I’d been planned up and had Prior Permission to fly into Marshland, a grass strip 6ft below sea level.

EGSC 291250Z 25022G32KT 220V280 9999 VCSH FEW020 SCT049CB 11/M02 Q1007=

That should be all you need to see to make you stop in your tracks and say “Hmm, no, perhaps not today.”

If you don’t read METAR’s yet, it basically says:

“At Cambridge Airport (EGSC) the surface wind is 22 Knots, from 250 degrees, Gusting to 32 Knots – varying anything from straight down the runway to completely cross-wind.   The cloud base is pretty good except for the Cumulonimbus clouds (i.e. You might get Thunderstorms) and even if you don’t, the turbulence in the area is likely to be interesting.”

A Cessna 172 Pilot Operating Handbook says the demonstrated crosswind performance is 15 knots (it also says this is not strictly a limitation of the aircraft, simply what a test pilot has actually shown possible).

Some days especially if you’ve been looking forward to going flying for a while it can be so tempting to try and push your luck.  Maybe it won’t be so bad when you’re up there.

Hmmm…..  as the saying goes:

Better to be down here, wishing you were up there.  Then up there, wishing you were down here.

Rayne Hall Farm

March 23rd, 2016 by PHC | Permalink

So if you’ve read the previous post, you’ll know I’ve been trying to land at Rayne Hall Farm for a while.   If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.   In my case, that meant phone, phone and phone some more, getting PPR here took a few goes to get through but my thanks to the owners and the nice lady who was probably getting sick of me calling/then cancelling due to weather and calling the weekend after, leaving messages on the answer machine etc.   Massive thanks 🙂

Runways at Farm Strips

Rayne Hall Farm is just on the western edge of Braintree, near Colchester.   Officially in the book it’s a 750m grass strip.  Never, ever, trust the published length at a farm strip.  Like every farm I’ve ever been to, the published length isn’t really the sensible landing distance available.   When you measure it, you’ll find its around 450-480m of quality farm strip,  after that there’s a  ‘farm track’ that cuts straight across the runway and the runway down slopes – so as you might imagine the care and general quality of the grass in the latter section drops dramatically.

To that end my personal objective of coming here was to ‘be stopped by the entrance to parking’ which on runway 27 is 450m.   A lot of farm strips need you to be stopped in sub-400m, so I like to practice.

Flying Farms Strips with Friends

Flying in light/general aircraft is not like flying in a jet.   Some people will get 1000ft up, experience a bit of light turbulence and begin to feel motion sick (thankfully I’ve never had anyone genuinely go this far on me) – the instructors see this with trial flights quite a lot and it’s why the planes have sick bags in the seat pockets.   That’s just flying around generally.

Farm strips look from the sky like you’re about to land in someones back garden (and you basically are half the time! 🙂 ).   If you’ve never been in a light aircraft before, your first experience being an approach into a patch of grass in the middle of a field heading for some rapidly looking quite large trees/hedges/roads/pylons etc. isn’t going to make for the happiest of campers.

So as a rule I don’t fly into farms with anyone I’ve never flown with before.

My passenger today had been into Sywell’s Grass 600m runway with me before and handled that ok, so I was pretty sure they were going to be just fine.

Briefing, Paperwork, More Permission Granting and we’re away

Always brief your passengers, it’s your duty of care for their safety that they know where the propeller is, how to close the door, dangers at airfields etc. etc.    A quick chat of the route, dangers and alternative plans later we were all good.

Permission to go into short strips is a bit more tricky to get these days, more forms to fill in for the land away, but I probably fly more farm strips now then most others at the aero club so I’ve found the revised process a bit rough round the edges (verbal permission is a strange thing if staff aren’t around or the instructor on the day who’s signing out hasn’t been told etc. etc.) but it’s beginning to work.   As with any new thing, it takes time for things to just settle down.    Land Away paperwork approved and lots of signatures in boxes, we’re good to get going.


Route to Rayne Hall Farm

Route to Rayne Hall Farm

Rayne Hall is a fairly easy navigation and being so close to Braintree should be an easy strip to locate once in the vacinity.

Essentially from Cambridge it’s a flight down to Sudbury, then head south west down to Braintree and on the approach to Braintree you should be able to see the farm strip on the right hand side as you approach (if you can’t, perhaps it’s the wrong town! 😉 ).

That all makes it sound simple enough, but you can see on the chart that it’s not quite a simple as that.   Rayne Hall is located below London Stanstead Control Area (CTA) which extends from 2000 – 3500ft above mean sea level.   The elevation of the ground around there is ~200-300ft, we want to be about a 1,000ft above the ground as we’ll be flying over built up areas.  So heading south the flight needs to happen around 1,500ft above the sea level.   Leaving 500ft to play with to ensure we’re clear of breaching Stansteds airspace – that should be plenty, but you’d be amazed if you take your eye off the altimeter on a nice day how easy it can be to gain a few hundred feet.

As we’d be flying under Stansted’s control area and our last actions of the flight would be to point the plane on a heading that would take us straight to Stansted.   I decided I’d call Essex Radar up on the flight down to Sudbury, just let them know our intentions and that we’d be no issue for them and stick with them on a Basic Service.  This is more then just about being a good neighbour:

  • I’m not asking for any Traffic or Radar service from them, but it’s better to be on a Basic Service with someone who is operating a radar, then it is to be on a Safety Com frequency or a basic service with someone without a Radar.   You’d be amazed how helpful radar operators can be if something fast is seen to be coming your way!
  • In the unlikely event we do get a bit high, or a bit lost or a bit anything that is done accidentally all wrong – we’re on frequency with the people who can tell us about it early, we can apologize, get our act together and nobody needs to go to court about it 🙂

The down side to this plan is of course that Essex Radar are a busy lot, it’s important to not mess them about and be clear and concise on who we are, where we are/we’re going, when we plan to be there and what we want etc.

The final thing you can see in my chart that is probably not very ‘normal’ for those learning, is all the other markings and scribble on the map.   I don’t fly these routes with a plog, I fly them with everything on the map (Wind/headings/Radio Frequencies/Max Drift etc.) and my Torgoen T7 watch which has a flight computer on it.   I love this watch, I should do a post about it.

Take Off / Flight to Rayne Hall

Getting going was very uneventful, the usual last ‘are you ok?’ checks with my passenger and then we were away and soon in the sky over Six Mile Bottom.

Ready for your Wispa?

I’ve been flying about four years now, I’ve never eaten anything in a plane (when I was learning I was too busy trying to fly the thing!).   However, my friend had bought some chocolate at the club and as the flight settled down into what is basically a 15 minute level and easy flight to Sudbury that I’ve done a heap of times, he took this opportunity to offer me a bar of chocolate!!   Hmm this could be tricky, but as it was melting and it would be a shame to waste good chocolate, I made it work 🙂  The only catch with eating in light aircraft are the microphone booms get in the way, if you want to say something between mouth fulls you need to keep moving the mic.   My Sennheiser HME-110’s passed the test though.

The trip down to Sudbury is a pretty easy non-event, you can check you’re over it by the industrial estates on its north and east sides.

Calling up Essex Radar they were a bit busy, but happy to entertain a basic service for us – to no surprise we were instructed to stay below their Control Area (CTA), at least they knew what the blip on the radar, soon to be pointing directly at them, was all about now.

Wind a little bit off

Heading south from Sudbury it soon became apparent the wind forecast wasn’t quite right (you’ll come to realise this isn’t uncommon).  Flying down to Halstead, I knew from my chart if Gosfield disused airfield was anything but on my right, I was too far west.   It soon became apparent I was about to flight right over Gosfield, suggesting we were about 1-2nm off track.   Not a massive error, but 3 more nautical miles west and then we’d be breaching the northern, lower, part of their CTA, so a minor bit of re-positioning required to get Gosfield on the right hand side.

If you’re going to re-position it’s good to do it over a known landmark like this, Gosfield on one side, Halstead on the left, you know really accurately where you are.

Once you’re down past Halstead you’ll soon have Braintree in sight and if you look to the right you can see the structures of a stadium and just beyond that you should see a straight, clearly well maintained line of grass…….a lot like a grass strip 🙂

Landing at Braintree

Rayne Hall Farm Overhead (From the West)

Rayne Hall Farm Overhead (From the West)

Finding your farm strip is all well and good, tick in a box we’ve not used any GPS so we’ve had half the fun – but the rest comes from getting it landed exactly where we want the plane to touch down and stopped with plenty of distance to spare ideally.

The challenges are always different at farm strips, that really is why I keep flying them, but equally they all present many of the same concerns:

  • Almost always no Air/Ground Radio
  • Obstacles – there’s almost always some, usually lots.
  • Runway condition may or may not be great when you get there
  • Short Strips attract stuff that can land in short distances
  • All of the above can distract you…..don’t let it!

Approaching Rayne Hall, I announced my joining intentions on the Safety Com frequency with ‘Rayne Hall Traffic’ prefix.  Expect to just get silence back at most farms, but that’s no reason not to make the call.

Where did that come from!!

Completing a turn and beginning to finish the descent dead side to start a crosswind join of a right hand circuit for runway 27 we suddenly got overtaken by a Ultralight buzzing past the left window!  [Rules of the Air at this point state that as I’m on their right, I have priority].

Another call:   “Rayne Hall Farm Traffic, G-UFCB crosswind for runway 27.”


See above, short strips attract stuff that can land in short distances – but at least now I’m visual with it, I can probably cope with the stuff I can see (but where the heck is it going because I’m flying a perfect circuit and it’s just come past us and buzzed off to the north and isn’t turning…).

Turning on to base leg I lost visual with the ultra light, it was somewhere north east of our plane.

Final Approach to Land

Still no longer visual with them and with a clear final ahead of us down to Runway 27 I turn on to Final for approach to land.   Another radio call to declare we’re now on final.

My attention must now turn to landing:  Runway, Airspeed, Runway, Airspeed….. these really are the only two things you want to be focusing on.

My speed was coming down nicely to ~52 knots, the runway was holding a constant bearing out of the window and everything was starting hold a very nice stable approach.   This is what you want, you don’t want to be fighting the plane down constantly trying to battle for airspeed, then fighting the altitude etc.  You want it nice and calm – if it’s not, pick a point where you’re going to call it a bad day and go do it again, don’t let this point be 10 ft off the ground while still descending at 250ft/min with 40 knots of airspeed!! 😐

It should look and feel calm, but your work load is still at basically the highest it’ll be for the whole flight in this last stage.

The rules of the air support this reality.  Two items from the book of words in case your revising your air law here:

  1. An aircraft landing or on its final approach to land shall have the right-of-way over other aircraft in flight or on the ground or water.
  2. An aircraft shall not overtake or cut in front of another aircraft on its final approach to land.

So imagine my gasp of “What the hell are they doing!!”  as, maybe 50ft off the ground, the ultra light comes buzzing past my left window.   Absolutely no need….

Don’t let yourself be distracted by this sort of stuff, fly the plane first and foremost.

Pulling back on the controls the airspeed drops gently through 49 knots, into ground effect and the main wheels touch down maybe 10 or 20 m into the start of the runway.  Brilliant!

Touching down at the speed you want, where you wanted on a grass strip is always such a great buzz.   Landing at a big long concrete runway just isn’t the same.

Meeting the Ultra Light

By the time we’d got the engine shut down, the ultra light had gone round and landed.

We went over to chat with the owner.   It was interesting to hear they were of the opinion that we’d cut them up on the downwind.   Explaining that we’d done radio calls, they pointed out they didn’t have a radio – I figured there was not much point making enemies about it all, asking why they decided to then overtake us while we were 50ft off the ground on final approach wasn’t going to change anything.

A farm  strip with a club house

Rayne Hall Farm Club House

Rayne Hall Farm Club House

You’ll find facilities at farms tend to be the owners kitchen or if you’re really lucky like at Rayne Hall there’s a hut structure (this is one of the nicest kitted out farms I think you’ll find actually, it has basically a club house, very nice).

The limited facilities might also mean the milk is off, as we discovered 🙂

Still a friendly resident soon sorted that out.

There’s a landing fee at Rayne Hall – this is unusual at farm strips, but is typical at the more well kitted out and well maintained strips like here (other examples would include places like Crowfield etc.)  nice strips cost cash to maintain and Rayne Hall is a very nice flat bit of grass.

G-UFCB at Rayne Hall Farm

G-UFCB at Rayne Hall Farm

Just enough time for a cup of coffee / tea and then it was back in the plane to head for home.   I tend not to stay very long at farms strips, unless there’s something really cool in the hangers (there actually is more often then not though!) then 20 minutes or so and you’ll be running out of things to talk about.

Taking Off:  Runway 27 and back to home.

Normal short strip take off, 10 degrees of flaps, get as far down the runway as you can without bashing the tail on anything.   2000 RPM (personally I’ve got into the habit of having a little bit more, I prefer now to have about 2,100-2200 RPM – I personally find it just helps get it rolling on grass that touch better) held on the brakes.

Since my training I’ve always asked my passenger one last time “Happy with everything?”

Then release the brakes and basically let the plane charge for the other end of the runway – normally defined by a hedge, a massive tree, a road, a fence.  That sort of ‘focus your mind’ sort of feature that you don’t get at licensed places 🙂

The airspeed came up to 55 knots really quick actually, rotating I climbed away at best rate of climb speed (64 knots).   Even if you don’t have to do this, I prefer to at grass strips just to stay in the habbit of doing so – a lot of short strips have pylons and stuff at the other end where you really want to max out your height gain / ground distance used ratio.

The flight home was a very simple nav. the same thing as to Braintree but in reverse and largely uneventful.

Somewhere around Sudbury we saw a plane doing aerobatics with smoke on.  I decided to announce my position to anyone on Wattisham Approach frequency just in case.

Landing back at Cambridge was basically a non-event normal landing – but you’ve got to appreciate the fact you can see the place from 6+ miles away 🙂

All in all Rayne Hall Farm is a cool little strip, it took me a bunch of calls to get PPR and the gods were a pain with respect to the weather but I finally got it in the log book.   A great place if you’re looking for a farm strip with some contingency distance and no major challenges (It’s not Easton Maudit or Tower Farm by any stretch) so a good place to get some short landing practice in at – but it’s also got regular users so watch out for those ultra lights and others which perhaps fly in an out of there every weekend.  I suspect their visitor traffic is so low that it’s easy to assume there’ll never be anything coming etc.

There’s too many other farms I want to go land at, so it could be a while before I’m back here, but that’s the joy of farm strip flying – near endless choice of places to call up and ask for PPR 🙂

Easton Maudit Farm: Finally!

August 29th, 2015 by PHC | Permalink

G-UFCB: Parked at Easton Maudit

G-UFCB: Parked at Easton Maudit

Weather can stop you going anywhere, but Easton Maudit this year for me has been a unicorn.   Everything has got in the way of going here, I’ve wanted to land a Cessna here since the beginning of the farm strip flyable season, which for me this year was around March.

The first time was perfect blue sky, but a massive crosswind so I couldn’t even get off the ground at Cambridge.  The second was scuppered by politics, procedures and a lack of awareness on a third parties sake, which all resulted in the opportunity to land away in the height of summer being wiped out.

Third Times a charm……..well maybe not.

The third time was a problem right from the start, I’d planned to go to Rayne Hall Farm, but on the day I couldn’t get an answer from them for PPR.  So I alternated my plan to go to Easton Maudit – spoke to the owner and the aero club and all was good.

All good, until about an hour and half before scheduled to take off when I got a call from the club telling me one of the planes magnetos was playing up and they might have to cancel me 🙁

In situations like this, it tends to pay to just go down anyway and chat.   It might not fix anything,  but it sometimes opens other opportunities.

We could leave you the keys to lock up

Sure enough Charlie Bravo was broken and we wouldn’t be going anywhere in the afternoon 🙁   This wasn’t part of the plan, but I could at least go through a friends Nav planning.

The aero club, now down to 1 aircraft serviceable out of 4 😐  offered me the plane after their last lesson of the day, they’d give me the keys to the place and I could get signed out and pay up next day.

A quick phone call back to Easton Maudit to see if they’d still welcome me in at ~5:30-6pm (to a welcoming yes no problem), there was still hope to go flying.  Although my original passenger for this trip had to bail due to other commitments.

Cambridge to Easton Maudit

The Route

The Route

Generally the route is almost as easy as they come, pretty much a straight line, but as with many farm strips the catch with Easton Maudit is that it’s not on the chart.   So the last bit is basically a case of find Santa Pod Race Trace and then there should be a strip of grass 4nm to the south east, just past the village of Bozeat.

The theory is one thing, finding a strip of grass that is surrounded by fields isn’t always as easy as it sounds while traveling at 115 mph.

I’ve flown with my passenger before into several farms, so the pre-flight briefing was short and generally just a reminder of things like how the doors open/close (people tend to slam them closed like a car, if you don’t warn them) and some notes on sights and their locations (e.g. Santa Pod) so that they could help out – the more eyes the better and if passengers know what to be looking out for, they will hopefully feel a more essential part of the flight and enjoy the trip a lot more.

Santa Pod: Drag Strip

Santa Pod: Drag Strip

Lots of Landmarks to Santa Pod…..then no farm strip.

I don’t fly with GPS, I just use ‘a map and compass style of flying – the plane has a VOR and DME as a fall back and I’ve recently been spending some time playing with these to become more fluent because in 4 years of flying I’ve really only needed to use them 2-3 times (e.g. Revision for Skills Test and Skills Test).

After approx 2 minutes of flying east, it all just began to ‘feel wrong’, we should have seen the farm by now it’s only ~3.5 nautical miles from Santa Pod (which means you should almost be able to see it from the overhead of Santa Pod!), after 2 minutes of flying it’s either underneath you or you’ve missed it!

Don’t try and ‘Force the world to fit the map’

You’ll probably find yourself doing this when learning to fly.   It starts with you being just a few miles away from where you thought you were, perfectly recoverable at this point – you look at your map, you look out the window, something (a road, a railway line, a town) isn’t quite right.   Maybe you’ve already passed it, yeah that must be it, and that other landmark sort of fits this other thing on the map.  So you must be where you think you are…….and you keep flying, going from uncertain of position, to a soon to be lost position 🙁   Don’t force the world to fit, if everything outside doesn’t match the chart, it probably isn’t where you think it is.

The best tip I was ever given on my final skills test revision lesson (when the heading indicator was half-caged leading to a massive 10+ degree error) was:  Don’t be scared to turn around, go back to your absolutely certain of position landmark and start the leg again!!

That looks like a farm strip

In total it took us about 5 minutes to spin the plane round, get back to Santa Pod and then do the run to Easton Maudit again.   This time I talked the landmarks through out loud, south to north (left to right) grass strip, pylons around it, small town to its east (before we get to the strip), sometimes this just helps build the picture.

Easton Maudit Farm Strip

Easton Maudit Farm Strip

My passenger spotted it first, I’ve flown with them to farms before and they make a heck of a good observer for farms strips 🙂

Note the wind farms in the picture above, those things are 5nm away, that gives you some idea of how far you can see in an aeroplane and this is from only ~600ft.

Always fly a circuit at farm strips

You might have spoken to the owner on the phone, you might have looked it up on google earth, but my advice would still be to always fly a circuit.   It gives you time to have a good look at the runway, the obstacles, to assess the wind etc.

Even the circuit at a farm is to be flown with care, note the national grid pylons surrounding Easton Maudit (as if someone was trying to purposely line them up with the circuit!), you’d have to be pretty low to hit them, but food for thought for any go around etc.

Easton Maudit Final 50ft

Easton Maudit Final 50ft

Probably one of my favorite flying photo’s to date.   You can tell just from this picture, that my passenger is comfortable with my farm strip flying, a nervous passenger would be holding on to the seat around the time this photo was taken!  🙂

There was a crosswind of about 6-7 knots, but the wind was stable with no gusting.   You can deal with crosswind easy enough, its gusts that will make you work, so the final approach went smooth.

If you want to land accurately, the only method is Point and Power this keeps the point you want to land constant (keeping the nose pointing at it) and then uses power to maintain the airspeed as required.   This means you’re always going to land where you want to land because it’s held constant, then you just add or remove airspeed as required.   The generally taught PPL method is ok for learning, but it’s less precise and you won’t get the same consistency of touch down point and on farms, you have to be able to touch down in under 100m of the start of the runway typically, after that, go around you’ll run out of runway!

Chatting with the owner

What you get upon landing at a farm varies greatly, sometimes coffee and cake, sometimes there’s nobody there.  The owner of Easton Maudit had kindly driven out to greet us, we shut down and had a good aeroplane / aviation / tales and tribulations type of a chat, really enjoyable story swapping.

It was a nice warm summers evening, around 6:15pm, chatting about flying and aeroplanes.  Have I sold you on farm strip flying yet?  It’s brilliant….

But time flys when you’re having fun and all to soon we had to be making our excuses, Air Traffic Control / the airport, at Cambridge closes at 8pm and while I have a night rating, that’s not much use if the airport is closed!  😉

Returning to Cambridge

We’d landed into wind up a hill and as we found out when we touched down it was quite a bumpy runway.   Now a bit of a decision to make:

  • Take off into wind, but climbing a hill
  • Take off with a tail wind, but accelerating down a hill

The hill was pretty steep at the far end, so rather then try and climb that, I decided we’d go for the down hill.

Using as much runway as possible we gave a wave to the owner and then released the brakes, full power and away G-UFCB charged!!!!

It still took a while to get the airspeed to register, I had my abort point in my head and we weren’t there yet.   Finally 40 knots, 45 knots, 50knots, 52…..rotating!!

Easton Maudit Take Off

Easton Maudit Take Off

I think that picture is worth a thousand words, it’s the church in Easton Maudit village.

All well and time to point the plane east to head back home.

Bit of Fun over Grafham Water

It’s a massive land mark and so just for fun (I mean practice), I asked my passenger if he was ok with being involved in an ‘advanced turn’ (i.e. Greater than 30 degrees).   He was up for it, so rolling the plane over and adding a little power we did a 360 degree turn to the right overhead Grafham water – for the passenger in Cessna 172 this sort of is as close as it gets to basically being at 90 degrees, it sort of feels like it! and while aerobatic planes tend not to have doors – in a steep turn in a 172, you better hope the door is locked and your seat belt secure 😛

Landing at Cambridge

We got back to a very quiet airfield, my logbook says we were joining crosswind around 19:30 local time (30 minutes before the airport closed).  So Air Traffic were very friendly and happy to entertain the join requests etc.

Lining up for runway 23, it was a huge crosswind, it took quite a bit of effort to get the plane lined up with the runway but the approach itself all went really quite well.  Just a lot of focus on getting the plane down just right.

The plane touched down ok though and well before Charlie so I was happy enough with the landing, even if we did get a little screech off the tyres about 100m after landing – bit more ailerons into wind required, the suffice wind was going for it.   There is a crosswind runway at Cambridge, but it was closed so it was 23 or go somewhere else and it wasn’t so high that it was out of limits, just approaching them.

Safely back on the ground, just a matter of tying up the plane, returning the keys and for a very strange first time ever…….locking up the aero club! 🙂


Isle of Wight: Fish n Chips in the Sunshine

July 31st, 2015 by PHC | Permalink

A club fly out, the plan as usual was to take the four Cessna 172 SP’s but upon arrival everyone came to learn that one plane (G-MEGS) had recently been involved in an incident and therefore couldn’t go, so there’d be a 182 in the group to replace it.  Sad news, I love flying G-MEGS, it’s been to loads of farms with me and last year I took it to Calais, France.   I was really hoping to be assigned to it again for this flight, but unfortunately nobody was getting to fly her today and it didn’t sound like she was going to be fixed any time soon 🙁


Club fly out briefings are like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get – until they start.   The route had been emailed out and talking to some of the other pilots (all qualified etc.) the consensus seemed to be that if we’d decided one morning to fly to the Isle of Wight, the route provided is not the way we’d have gone.

To cut a long story short, those in my plane all elected to change the route a little – basically instead of doing the leg down to Oxford primarily on Radio Aid’s, we changed it to a route more fitting to how you’d fly it if planned for a purely visual navigation (e.g. Nav Aid’s as a backup, not the primary means of following a track).

Route: To & From Bembridge Isle of Wight

Route: To & From Bembridge Isle of Wight

Any way you cut it, once drawn up on the chart, it still looks like quite an impressive flight!   Distance wise it’s pretty immense – like a very scenic route around London 🙂

As normal with these things, one pilot fly’s out there, one does the return leg.   Largely because I wanted to get a Bembridge landing in my log book, I pitched to do the first leg of the flight and my fellow pilot had no issues with doing the return route back (a very scenic route), so that was all agreed – he checked out the plane, I put the winds into our new route and we were soon good to go.

Nice to fly with other pilots

I’m still a bit uncertain where I stand on flying with other pilots in the front, but I’m used to having an instructor in the plane from my training and back seat pilots don’t phase me because I’ve done that before.   I’m sure eventually I’ll do a flight with another pilot where we just split the thing into two solo halves but I’ve yet to do it – I guess it’s a psychological thing, I have my ways of flying solo, if I flew with someone else they might find them bonkers…….I mean, I fly map and compass and look out of the window, how very old fashioned! 🙂

On club fly outs though with a pilot in the back and instructor ready to man the radio’s etc. it’s really quite a fun experience.

All the planes took off whenever they were ready, so instead of bunching up into a formation there was a good 10 minutes between each plane which I think kept things calm with Air Traffic Control on the departure.

I Spy with my Little Eye :  The Airfield Edition

The first leg down to oxford really was like a game of “I spy”, but with airfields, as you can see from the map there’s quite a lot of airfields left/right of the route:  Top Farm, Basingbourn, Old Warden, Meppershall, Homebeck Farm….

This made for a great game of ‘name that airfield’, although the danger with this is you can quickly be talked into thinking you’re somewhere you’re not when others are shouting “on the left must be……”  a couple of times we were 3-5 miles further south then we actually were, but this is all really good visual navigation practice as you can soon put the pieces together to correct (e.g. Meppershall has one main grass runway, running north/south.   Henlow has a triangle configuration of grass runways).

Heading Indicator Precession

Wiskey Kilo’s heading indicator, in my experience, has a tendency to precess – today was no different, it was going a bit mental really.   Initially I didn’t spot it, but then the world outside suggested we were flying off course, so I corrected for it and made some tweaks to compensate for wind forecast error.   That didn’t really fix it though, then I looked at the Heading Indicator Vs the Compass (FREDA checks are good things), the heading indicator was now coming up to ten degrees off from the compass!

It wasn’t long though before it was doing it again 🙁

Just have to keep a good eye on the heading.

Oxford:  Very Excited Air Traffic

Approaching Oxford I was maybe 3 miles north of track, we could see Oxford city so pretty sure of our position and in the distance we could just make out Oxford airport (not brilliantly, but you sort of get used to how airports look from a far after a while) and stuff flying around Weston-on-the-Green.   All very under control.

I’d switched from talking to Cranfield, to talking to Oxford and this should have been a simple basic service, but instead the ATC guy at Oxford started to get very excited about where we were flying and the amount of gliders in the area.   Fair play gliders are always a threat to light aircraft (and vice versa), but even with the knowledge of what we were doing, I had to maneuver the plane south to keep him calm.   There was no need for it really, this wasn’t like I was about to breach an ATZ or fly into a flock of gliders he could see etc.  (we’d fly into the glider flock later on!), but ehhh sometimes you just have to work with people, keep them sweet etc.

Turning South:  Gliders Everywhere!

Flying over the R101 restricted airspace at around 2,600ft we were approaching RAF Odiham.   We were talking to them on the radio and they had plenty to say about their intense gliding activity – they REALLY weren’t joking!

First there was a glider on the left, we were keeping a good eye on him and thinking about trying to go round him on the right (rules of the air), but no sooner had we discussed trying to do this the glider started turning right cutting me off!    Watching them turn, we spotted another glider cutting us up from right to left above us – we watched them go by ok, but it was starting to get busy.

Then another one, the instructor decided he’d rather not be there any more and took control for a few minutes to throw the plane around a little – essentially getting us further out to the right and away from Odiham, then returning control.

Worrying Southampton

As I flew over Four Marks, south west of Alton, I spotted a really quite nice looking little grass strip to our right.   A quick look at the map indicated it must be Colemore Common, all very nice and we had a chat about it being quite  a good looking grass strip – the only problem was, it was on our right and according to the route, it should be on our left.

Having a reference like this serves as a good place to reposition and reset the heading, so I rolled the plane right and started to head on a 270 directly west heading.

This caught the attention of Southampton Air Traffic Control

Approx. 3 miles west of our current position is Class D airspace, Solent Control Area.  Our little blip on the Southampton radar, previously calmly flying directly south, suddenly turning directly west and heading straight for Solent must have woke them up.   They quickly came on the radio to remind us our new course would put us straight into controlled air space!

They calmed down when we made our intentions clear, we were just repositioning and would be heading south again shortly……so stand down the interceptors 🙂

Short hop over the water then Bembridge:  Landing

Routing out via an overhead turn from the disused Thorney Island Airfield, it’s only a few minutes of flight overt he water before you can start to make out Bembridge Airfield land mark.

In the briefing the circuit pattern was described as requiring a join over head flying down the runway at 1,500ft.   Descending over the water into left hand circuit for runway 12.   Seemed pretty reasonable, there was no radio service at Bembridge so a good look to see and be seen is worth doing.

I’ve been doing a lot of short strip flying and going back to my issue with flying with other pilots, I was conscious that how I land and how they might land could be very different things (I tend to land slower then you’re first taught).   I gave myself a good distance before turning on to the base leg so the final approach would have plenty of time to get everything sorted out – there was no need to rush it and no residents below to try and avoid so an extra hundred meters or so could be the difference between being on it or having to go around.   With passengers on-board and after an hour and twenty minutes of flying, I don’t think anyone wanted the delay of a go-around.

Coming up to about 200m to run before the threshold with the airspeed hovering around 55 knots, it might have just been in my head but I could sense the right seat was starting to hover over the controls.   I reassured the instructor that I was in complete control of the approach – I really didn’t want them grabbing anything at the last minute, I just wanted to ensure I was coming in slow enough to stop before the main exit (450m away from the runway threshold).

Touch down was very gentle and I found myself very pleased with it, a few calls of “good landing” went around in the aircraft, which was nice – but of course I’m sure they’d have said that for any landing that left the plane in one piece 😉

G-SHWK: Parked at Bembridge

G-SHWK: Parked at Bembridge

By my measurements we were stopped in 350m, not the best I’ve ever done but perfectly good enough.   I might enjoy short strip flying, but I don’t go out of my way to try and stop in 100m when 700m is available…….do that and one day it’s going to be very embarrassing, with people muttering about why you didn’t just use more of the runway etc.

Taxing off the runway, we could see that not surprisingly the club’s Cessna 182 had beaten us here (140 kt cruise), still nobody had jumped us in the take off order so the navigation must have been alright 🙂

Plane Landing at Bembridge

Plane Landing at Bembridge

While waiting around for one or two of the other club planes to arrive, there were a couple of other planes landing – quite a busy place really, but on such a nice day it makes sense.

Another Club Plane lands

Another Club Plane lands

Fish and Chips by the Seaside

We talked about going into Bembridge town as a group, but when the taxi rocked up the driver said “you don’t want to go there, you want to go to Sandown, it’s about the same distance and there’s loads more choice.”   Fair enough, drive on sir….

Sandown sea front

Sandown sea front

WP_20150527_14_12_27_ProWP_20150527_14_12_27_ProA short walk along the sea front we found a restaurant that seemed nice enough and to the groups liking, serving fish and chips, gourmet burgers, steaks etc. (so good I can’t remember what the place was called!).   Being very english and at the sea side, I had to go with the fish and chips…….quite a trek to get them, but sooo worth it 🙂

After a short wander we all decided rather then getting a taxi back, we’d just walk it, a quick look on the phones suggested it would take ~50 minutes.   As you can see in the photo’s it was a pretty nice day for a walk, so why not.

I’m sure we worried a few cars at times as in places the footpath became non-existant and there’s quite a few blind corners with very little to give between cars on the road and people walking on the side of the road 😐   But we made it work and were soon back at Bembridge Airport.

Propeller Inn

Propeller Inn

While we waited for the other three planes worth of club members to show up we set-up camp in the Propeller Inn.   Nice enough little restaurant/pub.

Over coffee we talked about flying a lap around the island before heading home.  The pilot flying the return leg seemed up for doing this and as he’d be paying to do the flying for that part I really had no grounds to object, seemed like a great idea to me.

For the return leg I had a few sights I wanted to try and spot, particularly I wanted to see if I could find Binstead Farm Strip, a 400m grass strip near Rye – a bit of local knowledge might be handy if I come back here one day.

Lap of the Isle of Wight:  Before Returning the Long Way Round

You can see from the chart, that the route we planned back was very much “the long way round” back to Cambridge (Bambridge to Cambridge, via Lydd is far from a direct route!).

Just to make the route completely backwards instead of flying north/east after taking off from Bembridge on runway 12, we turned right and headed south 🙂

Isle of Wight Beaches

Isle of Wight Beaches

Nice day to go flying, I almost wished I was in the front seat as the air over the sea was really quite calm (or perhaps the pilot was doing a brilliant job!).   There are times when being part of an aero club is really worthwhile, this was one of those days.

White cliffs near The Needles

White cliffs near The Needles

As we got all the way around the island I went on the look out to see if I could spot Binstead Farm Strip.   I’d played with the idea of borrowing the Cessna during the day to go try and land there, but one thing led to another on the day and it just turned out to be more fun to go off and get fish n chips with the ‘crew’ of G-SHWK.   Still on Google Earth it looks like a wicked little farm strip, so never pass on a chance to recce a farm strip – there’s value in this because what it says on the owners plate and/or what they tell you on the phone doesn’t always tie up with what’s really there.

Binstead Farm Strip

Binstead Farm Strip

Can you see it?   Look dead centre, there’s a batch of trees and then just behind them is a straight longish rectangular patch of grass surrounded by darker grass, running left to right.   That’s Binstead Farm strip.   Note the road and estuary positions, should be easy enough to find again – I’ve put this on my hopeful list of places to come back and try one day.

Flight Home:  Nice bit of Back Seat Navigation

The guys in the front seats had things well under control and the pilot was getting lots of opportunities for practicing things he didn’t tend to do – primarily getting zone transit permission through Southampton Control Area, followed by the now almost essential transit through “London” Southend’s new Control Area controlled air space (a somewhat controversial bit of controlled airspace that if they say “No” sort of cuts East Anglia off from traveling south via the east side of London!).

London Southend Runway

London Southend Runway

One of the Last Back

Those that had wanted to fly round the Isle of Wight had mostly done it on the way out there, because we did it on the way back, it meant we’d gone from being 1st or 2nd in the group of four to take off to being the last to land.

Still no real matter, we had all the clubs aircraft out today so it’s not like we were holding anyone else up by being back a bit later and one of the nicer things about flying from Cambridge Airport is that they don’t close the tower until 8pm.

Being summer there was no risk of needing night ratings.

I’ve flown in the circuit in separate Cessna’s and watched the pilot of the return leg home, land a couple of times – most recently only a few weeks before this trip because we were both sneaking in an early morning flight before the clubs usual lesson slots for students to maintain our currency.  So I had no doubts he could land a plane.

Sure enough we touched down nicely and taxi’d back to the grass parking, top job!

A fun days flying, nothing left to do but hand back the life jackets and settle up the flying bill.

It took us 1 hour, 40 minutes (Chocks Off to Chocks On) to get down to Bembridge.  Pretty good going, by comparison it’d take you about 4 hours in a car/ferry.

The return leg was immense and I’m thankful I wasn’t picking up the bill for that, but my thanks to the pilot who did fly the return leg, great flying and a pleasure to be a part of.

Another sucessful club fly away, I’m two for two since getting my PPL and here’s hoping the club keeps organising more trips because they make for great flying, a chance to go flying with other pilots/students and make destinations otherwise uneconomical actually quite affordable (splitting the bill the Isle of Wight is easily a cost effective flying trip), with a Cessna 172SP even better because you can split the bill and bring at least one passenger, maybe two depending on weight and balance etc.

Food for thought for another trip 🙂


Equipment: What do you need? (And When)

June 30th, 2015 by PHC | Permalink

On starting to train for a Private Pilots Licence (PPL), or even a National Private Pilots Licence (NPPL), you’ll quickly start assembling a list of stuff you might/probably/feel you need to get.  Something along the lines of:

  1. Headset
  2. Kneeboard
  3. Chart
  4. Checklist(s)
  5. Hi-Viz Jacket
  6. Books/Guides
  7. Flight Computer
  8. Ruler/Pens

How to get all this stuff to/from the club and aeroplane???

Better add a Flight Bag to the above list then….

The truth, that possibly nobody will actually tell you directly, is this:

  • When you’re first starting out, you actually need very little!!


Sennheiser HME-110 Special Edition Top View

Sennheiser HME-110 Top View

For your first lesson you probably borrowed one off an instructor/club, you can do that for a little bit – but realistically, there’s no avoiding you need a headset.

Borrowed headsets are ok, but they tend to be well used, a bit battered the microphone pick-up often fussy and gets every other word etc.

You don’t need to spend mega money (relative to the cost of flying!), but my advice would be buy a headset as soon as you can – the 2nd or 3rd lesson ideally.  £225-300 depending on what you go for will do the job nicely for the whole of your PPL (and beyond).

Like everyone, I debated long and hard between Sennheiser HME-110 Vs David Clark H10-13.4 and in the end the Sennheiser HME-110 won the day

I’ve had my Sennheiser HME-110’s now for about 4 years, they still look as good as the day I bought them and have never given me any grief.   I’ve since bought a second pair for friends/passengers.  If I could do it all again and I had the same budget, I’d buy the HME-110’s every time.   This isn’t an advert and I’m not being paid, others I’m sure love their David Clarks – this is just my experience with my headset.




Your mileage might differ, but I didn’t use a kneeboard until I started navigation.  As you might also experience, friends and family may ‘support’ your new found flying hobby, by buying you reasonably priced gifts like kneeboards/charts etc. for birthday/Christmas presents.   So you can end up with this stuff whether you wanted it or not!

I found that because nobody said “Right get your kneeboad out and write X down….”  my kneeboard stayed in my flight bag until I started Navigation.

On the ground, even at a big airport like Cambridge you’ll only need to remember typically 4 pieces of information:

  • Pressure setting to set your Altimeter to (QNH/QFE)
  • ATIS Information Identifier (“On first contact report Information Zulu received” etc. – small airfields won’t have this).
  • Taxi instructions (again small airfields it’ll be obvious and 1 way etc.)
  • Surface Wind

You don’t need to write the pressure setting down, you’ve just set your altimeter to whatever it is (so read it back off that) – this has the added safety bonus that what you set on your altimeter, is what you read back.

If you can’t remember 1 word for the ATIS Information ID, are you sure you have the correct medical to go flying?

Taxi Instructions:   Even at a big airport, it won’t be that complicated and at your base airfield you’ll soon find yourself always taxing one of 2-3 ways:  Via Alpha or Charlie or the Grass etc.

Surface Wind:  In the early lessons this won’t matter to you.

I fly with an AFE VB3 Kneeboard, it’s A5 sized and does the job.


You have to carry a valid and up to date chart by law, so you should have a chart before you first solo – but the law says you have to carry a chart, it doesn’t say it has to be yours.   So you could always borrow the instructors at a pinch.

This means you don’t need a chart until ~10-15 hours into your training.

Be careful here, charts expire every year, if you’re flying every other weekend etc. then buying a chart on day one is likely to mean you’re going to be buying another before you ever get to use it.


At my aero club the checklist was just given to me and I assume is covered by the ground training fees the club charges students on starting training.   Your club policies may be different…….there’s no escape from this, you need one.

Hi-Viz Jacket

A much debated topic, are they a good thing or a bad thing?

If your airfield requires one, you’ll find the above question is irrelevant and you need one and that’s the end of the discussion if you want to go flying!  🙂

Most clubs have spares, they’re cheap to buy (~£3-10) so when you get round to it I’d just buy your own, at least you’ll know it fits you etc.


Principles of Flight / Flight Planning & Performance: PPL 4

Principles of Flight / Flight Planning & Performance: PPL 4

The PPL Guide books you’re going to need, there isn’t much avoiding that. However, unless you’re on some super intensive course, you’re not going to need them all at once so don’t rush out and buy them all in one big hit or as part of some “all in one study pack” you’ll be wasting your money.

You risk having spent £160 on books and the syllabus changing or if nothing else the shear vastness of all the books stacked up might put you off reading any of them.

Buy the ones you need for the immediate exams and maybe one or two at most more.  Pass those exams and then get the next ones etc.

It can be fun to browse through the airfields near you in a VFR Flight Guide, but seriously you don’t need your own copy, at least not in training, as all licensed airfield charts are on the NATS website and your club/instructor will be able to provide you with the information for where you’ll go as part of your training etc.

I used to carry a VFR Flight Guide, just in case, it never came out of the bag – except at home on a rainy day.  Post PPL, I still don’t carry a flight guide – though post PPL having a copy around is a good thing, so perhaps a skills test pass reward!

You won’t be landing anywhere except your base airfield until just before your Qualifying Cross Country (QXC) any way, so save the £26+, put the savings towards flying lessons 🙂

Flight Computer

CRP-1 Flight Computer

CRP-1 Flight Computer

I’d recommend you buy one of these earlier then you need it, not massively earlier, but maybe 5-7 hours into your training.

They’re good to have a play with early and on a rainy day when a lesson gets cancelled due to weather you can always then ask an instructor to run you through how to solve a certain problem you’re having.   They don’t have anything else to do once your lesson is cancelled and in this scenario ground tuition is typically free – and you never know the weather might clear up while you calculate 🙂

Seriously though a lot of people struggle to get their heads around these archaic circular slide rules.   This is the one bit of kit worth having earlier, rather then just in time for when you really require to use it.

Ruler/Pens, etc. etc.

However you carry it all, you’re going to need at least a pencil and pen to update your log book after each flight, general notes etc.  any old pen that works will do but for pencils I strongly recommend you use a mechanical pencil (the last thing you need is the lead to break in the plane and be looking for a pencil sharpener!)

Mechanical pencils aren’t expensive, but I’d encourage you to not go super cheap, they’ll do your head in because you’ll find when the lead breaks you’re clicking like crazy to get the next batch of lead to load etc.

It sounds a bit daft to recommend a pencil, but I really like these from Staedtler (same company that make chart pens).  They’re about £4-5, not going to break the bank and will probably last you the the whole PPL and beyond if you don’t lose it 🙂

Chart Pens

Chart Pens

When you need to draw on a chart (Navigation), so don’t rush out and buy a set on hour one or they’ll sit in your bag for quite some time!, then get yourself a set of Staedtler chart pens.  Get the permanent ones, they’re not really permanent you just need a special eraser or spray to remove it, but they won’t easily rub off your chart on the move etc. – you only need 4 colours.  Fine or Medium is a school of thought debate, I prefer the Fine nibs but other instructors I’ve flown with prefer medium because it gives you a thicker and arguably easier to see/harder to rub off line.   My preference is to be able to see as much of the features/landmarks I can around my track – but at the cost that sometimes you do have to patch up the markings.

For what it’s worth I use the following colours

  • Green :  My route/track
  • Blue :  Wind direction/speeds (anything wind related)
  • Black :  General Information / Radio Frequencies and on a trickier Nav I use this to mark ’10 degrees off course’ marker lines.
  • Red :  I never use red – it can look too much like road features and other markings.

As I suggested above, with these pens, you’re going to need an eraser.


I started with a full size ruler, when it wouldn’t fit in to my newer flight bag (see below), I bought a ‘short’ ruler to replace it.   The shorter ruler is good for 60 nautical miles, you’ll never in a PPL fly in a straight line for more then 60 nautical miles unless your QXC is something mad and is 1 way out and then returning (but most people fly a triangle type route and so each leg will be something like 50nm and even then they might include turns).   You don’t need one until you get towards navigation, but when you do, consider the shorter version – I certainly prefer it.

I’ve found a square protector to do the job nicely and have had no reason to change it.

Flight Bag

Sporty's Mission Bag

Sporty’s Mission Bag

When I started to learn to fly I read through some other PPL blogs and one of them, which I wish I could find again so I could give credit, said they hadn’t spent any money on a flight bag an instead just went to their local supermarket and bought a cheap laptop bag – it seemed to do the job.

So I did the same and sure enough, your typical laptop bag will easily carry a headset, pens, rulers and as you begin to require the other bits (Charts, Kneeboard etc.) this stuff will all reasonably fit in there too, including  a VFR Flight guide I didn’t really need to be carrying.

You can spend anything you like on flight bags, from a £15 laptop bag to £150+ on a customizable purpose designed for aviation Brightline Flight bag (and anything in between).

Today (Post-PPL), I fly with a  Sporty’s Mission Bag, it’s a bit of a love/hate flight bag.   I’ll cover the pro’s and con’s of this bag in another post.  In summary though, I wouldn’t really recommend it for someone starting a PPL – it’s good for a very specific flight type user, as a bag to carry everything for the duration of a course, it’s not really ideal.   I’d recommend just going with a laptop bag for the course of a PPL, it’ll do the job nicely enough.

Other kit you might consider

‘Diversion Ruler’

Diversion Ruler

Diversion Ruler

In my training, diversions were one of my weaker areas, an instructor showed me a diversion ruler (not their official name, but you generally wouldn’t use them for on-ground planning) in flight and how much easier they make calculating a new track and distance even while flying.   I kept meaning to get one, but never did.    Today though I have one in my kneeboard and generally don’t leave the ground without it.   In hindsight, I should have bought one earlier, once you’ve done your first or second dual-navigation and are beginning to think about learning/training for diverting is about the time to consider getting one of these.


You don’t need one, you can’t technically use it on the PPL and certainly can’t on the Skills Test.   There’s an argument to say having one in the bag, just in case, is a good thing.  Before I did my first local areas solo, I’d have agreed.    But if you use it on your solo nav’s to recover your uncertainty of position (or to remove any risk of becoming uncertain), you might be setting yourself up for a shock when you cannot fall back on to it in your skills test.

Post PPL I still don’t carry a GPS, I enjoy getting from A to B by myself and the reward it brings for getting there without blindly following a route that ensures you can’t be caught out by wind etc. to much.

Cameras / Voice Recorders etc.

I started to fly with cameras & voice recorder in the plane around my first solo navigation, I still use them today as my flying has got more and more specific to short strips and I find watching and listening back to previous flights helps me spot bits I could have done sooner and checklist items I might keep missing etc.    As a training aid, you’ll get back what you put into this sort of kit, but it can also take quite a lot of effort to reap the value (e.g. putting the video all together, syncing up the audio etc.).

During your training instructors may or may not want to be filmed, I never recorded a flight with an instructor as it seemed a bit strange to ask and if you’re learning, you probably couldn’t spot the errors you’ve made in the video anyway 😐

And the rest…..

There’s really no end to the kit you can buy:   Life jackets, radio transceivers, watches, flight suits etc. etc.    But I don’t think you’ll find any of that absolutely essential during your training and add up just the essentials above and you’ll have spent around £500.   Hopefully this post has briefly discussed the major bits of kit to consider and perhaps given some recommendations you find useful.

Waits Farm Strip (in a sea of grass)

May 10th, 2015 by PHC | Permalink

I’ve been farm strip flying now for about a year, since completing additional training required to take club aircraft into farm strips I’ve been into quite a few farms (most of which I’ve not had chance to write up 🙁 ).   It’s safe to say though that this is my happy niche.

Not the Original choice: Get the book of phone numbers out!

G-MEGS External


I’m signed off to fly the clubs G-1000 equipped C172 G-MEGS (I love flying farm strips in this plane, it just seems to like coming in slow).   As MEGS isn’t popular with students due to all the bells and whistles and I had a plane booked until 3pm and MEGS was booked again at 4pm with someone I knew.  It made sense all round that I took G-MEGS.

I knew I wanted to go farm strip flying and the weather looked generally nice, so I’d planned up a route out to one of the trickiest places in town:  Nayland.

Unfortunately when I rang the owner (and in pretty typical farms strip flying tradition, first got through to his wife), he said their was a pretty strong cross wind and because it’s a tricky place to land on this occasion as I’d never been in there before, he’d have to decline 🙁    No matter, just the clock was ticking now and I had Nayland planned up, now I needed another farm.    Thankfully I’ve got a book of mobile phone numbers so I just rang around.

I rang Waits Farm because a friend had recommended it and said I should go there some time.   Just typical I got through to the owners wife again, she sounded like this happened regularly, but she didn’t deal with it so I should try another number.   No answer 🙁   I knew I might be pushing my luck, but this farm would be a perfect distance away for my flying time so I rang the original number back, apologized and explained nobody was answering the other number and if there was anything she could do to help get me through?   Perhaps a little reluctantly she said she’d try to get someone to call me back and took my details.   Five minutes later, I had prior permission to fly in!

Waits Farm Strip

Waits Farm Strip

Waits Farm Strip

Waits Farm is about 5nm west of Sudbury, it’s 500m of grass (hedge to road!) with a slight downslope on runway 25 (or 1 in 60 incline on 07 if you prefer).   The wind in this part of the world trends towards coming from the south during the day so you face a typical farm strip dilemma of working out if you should land into wind downhill or land with a tail wind up hill.

I found an instructor who I’ve flown with before to sign me out and as I’m known for farm strip flying there weren’t any issues about where I was going (this place is on the map, it even has a wind sock I was told on the phone – this is a proper airport compared to some places I’ve been! 🙂 ).

Now the above picture doesn’t do Waits Farm justice, it’s a grass strip surrounded by a sea of fields of grass!!!   But we’ll get to that….

Taxi out & Navigation

Having to change my plans, re-plan a route etc. had chomped into my time.  Still Sudbury is a 15-18 minute flight from Cambridge.  The Nav is really simple two turns and you’re done, the intent was to come back pretty much the reverse of how I got there.

Waits Farm Chart Navigation

Waits Farm Chart

So the usual 80+ point check of the plane and we were soon startup done and requesting to Taxi.

Finding a 500 x 20m strip of grass in a sea of fields

It’s not far to Sudbury, but the 210/20 (20 knots wind from 210 degrees) forecast couldn’t have been more wrong if it tried.   Approaching Sudbury I was about 2.5 nm off track as a result, but this isn’t a big deal you can see out the window for easily 6nm so it’s pretty easy with a good look out to mange this sort of thing and being off by a mile or so is reasonably routine, if the wind predictions are wrong by 10 or more knots you’re going to have error not of your making.

It’s the simplest, typically rushing, mistakes you have to watch out for!!!

Let me first refresh your mind that I’d originally planned to go to Nayland and I’d been thinking about a stop at Waits farm on the way back (which is one of the reasons why it was the next phone number I called).   Nayland said no, so instead of all the Nav from Sudbury to Nayland and the headings to come back etc.   I just needed a row entry to Subudy and a row entry for Waits Farm.   I scribbled out the bits in the middle and made 2 PLOG sheets into 1.   Let me show you the resulting PLG sheet, look back at my Chart/Route above and perhaps the eagled eyed might spot a fundamental mistake!

Waits Farm PLOG

Waits Farm PLOG

Spotted it?

I planned to fly Sudbury->Waits Farm, over Sudbury I should be turning to fly a Westerly heading.   Look at my row entry for Waits Farm above again:  Magnetic Heading of 101 degrees!!!  (i.e. East).

I’d corrected the wind error and was now back overhead Sudbury, looking at my PLOG I read off the 101 degree heading and turned onto it instinctively.

As I began to leave Sudbury, over-flying the big industrial area it has on its north eastern edge my brain started to engage the gross error checking cogs:

  • I know Sudbury’s industrial area is on the north eastern edge
  • Waits Farm is to the West of Sudbury
  • Why am I leaving Sudbury via the industrial area???
  • Wait a minute, why am I flying heading 101 – I need to fly west, it should be something like 270!!!

Note that I don’t fly using GPS, I like to fly map and compass only, it sharpens you up when you make mistakes like this as you have to look out of the window and put the picture together properly.

Realizing my mistake (and how I’d done it: when I’d calculated the trip, I’d put the protractor on Waits Farm and read off where the line crossed the angle on the right of the protractor and forgot at that point I’d have stopped flying East and would have turned to be facing West!).   A simple case of 180’ing the plane was required and we were back in business, no worries………at 100 knots if I’d not spotted this error, it would have only taken 6-7 minutes to be over Ipswich and have the English Coast on the nose, then I’m sure I’d have figured out my mistake!  😛

Where is this Farm then???

It’s only 5nm west of Sudbury, but it’s 5 nautical miles of grass, fields and general yellow and greenness!!   In which you’re trying to find a 500 x 20m strip of green!.

It’s a 500m grass strip in a sea of grass, as perhaps the below picture highlights:

Where's Waits Farm?

Where’s Waits Farm?

My watch said I must be nearly over it or very close, so I was looking out the windows, left and right trying to find a patch of grass that matched.

After a minute of flying I knew I must have gone past it (you can travel a long way at 100 knots in 1 minute).

So I turned around and started to look again, nothing.

My backup plan was to fly back to Sudbury and try again, but I felt sure it was somewhere nearby and I just had to look in the right place.   I continued my fairly wide circle, watching the airspeed and altitude to be sure I was on top of them in the process.   I was circling at around 1,500ft above ground level to try and get the best compromise of distance visibility and detail of the ground.

On the third orbit, I was leaned over looking down to the left and then:  Ahaha!!!   Straight bit of cut grass, good start, leading to an intersecting bit of a grass with a hanger/barn structure on the end.   That looks like my farm strip.

Going further it had winding road to the south which tied up, now I was pretty certain this was Waits Farm.  Excellent, we’ve found it and all in all it only took about 5 minutes of circling.


Making a blind traffic call I descended and joined cross-wind before turning on to a downwind leg, running parallel to the runway.   I planned to land on runway 25 as the wind seemed to favor that, this would mean landing down hill but it’s not that steep and the surface wind looked like 10 knots from about 220 or 230 (with no ground radio etc. this was all a guesstimate from their wind sock – part of the joy of farm strip flying).

I didn’t want to buzz any of their neighbors if I could avoid it, but I had to ensure I had enough distance so that when I turned onto base and final approach I’d have enough time to get the plane setup nicely for a slow approach and not be caught out high.

You don’t want to mess about floating down a farm strip, if you float for 200m for example, then on a 500m strip you’ll have only 300m to get it stopped and that’d be really pushing your luck!  (I mentioned that at 500m there’s a road right?  It’s not an airport where the end of the runway is just some empty patch of grass, the end of a farm strip is typically THE END).   So I like to be well established and flying a stable 50-55 knots for the last part of final approach (E.g. once the last stage of flap is down).   This is slow by training standards, you’ll be initially taught to come over the threshold at 65 knots and if you let it get to 50 knots the instructor will likely have already taken control or be making lots of noise that you need more airspeed.

Probably worth mentioning that in clean configuration, a Cessna 172SP stalls (according to the book of words) at 47 knots and you must be able to feel the wind for gusts…… can’t be flying 50 knots final approach with the wind gusting, lose 10 knots of wind and you’ll be in trouble!

Don’t mistake this approach speed for reckless though, I’ve had additional training on how to fly farm strips and have flown into most of them in the area now so this is all done with the right training and experience.  I’d encourage anyone thinking about flying into farm strips to seek some proper training from a club that has expertise in this area before trying it Solo (E.g. Cambridge, Clacton)

It was a really nice touch down, I put the main wheels down maybe 30-50m into the runway and by Google Earths measurements I later calculated I was fully stopped and turning the plane around at 260m,  really quite pleased with that.

 On the Ground:  Barn or Hanger??

I was met by some of what I assume were the owners younger relatives taking a picture of the landing (thank god it was a good one, no pressure!), the owner and someone who had a plane based there – for politeness, I do know their names but I’m deliberately omitting them as I never asked to post about them etc.

G-MEGS parked at Waits Farm Strip

G-MEGS parked at Waits Farm Strip

From the air what you might have thought was a typical farm barn type building, turned out to be a hanger full of toys (aka Aeroplanes).   From a Pitts Special to home built planes and most things in between.

As I was offered a cup of coffee, I asked if they wanted a donation for the landing, but was met with the pretty typical Farm Strip response of “You’ve flown farm strips before right?  We don’t take landing fees….”   I’ve had this explained to me before as essentially being “If you get PPR to a farm = then you’re invited = you’re a guest = you don’t charge guests an entrance fee”.   I know a couple of farms do ask for like £3, but the vast majority, this rule applies and it’s another factor in what makes Farm Strips appealing to me:  Unique challenges of each strip, Meet new people, Talk aeroplanes, drink coffee and with no formal procedures on the ground it takes about 2 minute to taxi out again and take off 🙂

You never have quite as much time on the ground as you’d like, the time seems to wiz by when you’re chatting etc.  so time to crack on and make the 15 minute flight home 😛

Returning to Cambridge

The fuel and oil were still in their respective tanks.  Everything that should be, still attached to the aeroplane, G-MEGS started up first time.  A short taxi back to the runway with a good lookout and blind traffic safety comm call, just in case anyone unexpected was on their way in.

Lined up with the tail as close to the hedge at the start of the runway as I could get it, 10 degrees of flaps, 2000 RPM held on the brakes.   A quick last look for any of the children that had been taking pictures of the plane coming in to land playing etc. before synchronously releasing the brakes and applying full power.

A Cessna 172 Skyhawk is a brilliant plane for getting out of fields, especially when you’re on half fuel tank capacity, no luggage and only have 1 or 2 people on board, even better with just 1.   The airspeed came alive, rotating and it was back up into the blue skies above 🙂

I returned to Sudbury just to set my heading and zero the clock for the return to Cambridge, but from here as you can see on the chart above it’s just a straight line Nav. so as simple as it gets.  I had about 25 minutes before the plane was due back, I reckoned inc. the circuit at Cambridge it’d be 18 minutes to home.

Tight Left Base in front of a B-17 Bomber

About 7 nautical miles from home and knowing I was cutting the timing a bit tight so didn’t really want the full 10 minute circuit experience.  I asked Cambridge Air Traffic if I could get a left base join (basically join at the 2nd to last phase of a rectangle, turn left and then land).

Can you make it a tight base leg, there is a B-17 on long final?

No problem, there was a time when Cambridge was the only runway I knew and it seemed like hard work (verging on the impossible) just to get a C172 landed on its 1 mile runway.   Those times are now long behind me.   However, this also needed due consideration for airspeed:   At a farm I’d fly a very slow final approach, but with a B-17 behind me and their associated running costs, they’d be pretty annoyed if they caught me on final and if I had it stopped by Holding Point Bravo, I’d just have a longer slow taxi, better to land with a bit more speed and stop closer to Charlie so I could immediately vacate.   So I kept the airspeed up.

A nice landing and just keeping the taxi speed up to vacate the runway for the B-17 guys, it was all good.  I had just enough time to get it all stopped to watch Sally B come in and then power on and continue on with their touch and go.

B-17 : Sally B at Cambridge

B-17 : Sally B at Cambridge

As they went around for another circuit it gave me enough time to tie up G-MEGS and get a proper vantage point.  It’s always nice having an air side pass for moments like this 🙂

Paperwork done:  One of G-MEG’s last farms (for now)?

Log books and tech logs updated, just another normal flight.

In the weeks that were to follow though, sadly G-MEG’s had an incident with another pilot at the controls (no serious injuries, but the plane took a beating).   So the picture above might be G-MEG’s at one of its last farm strips, at least for a bit while it gets fixed.

Rules on land aways are being changed, as so often is the case, the mistakes of the minority tend to impact on the majority.   How this will all pan out, as The Great Zen Master says:  “We’ll see

Turweston: When the sun doesn’t shine.

April 28th, 2015 by PHC | Permalink

G-HERC (Golf Hotel Echo Romeo Charlie)

G-HERC (Golf Hotel Echo Romeo Charlie)

At the end of last year until the weather turned I was mainly flying into grass airfields and farm strips, once the weather turned bad I progressed my training and got a night rating.   So perhaps being a bit optimistic in the first part of the year I was hoping to get back to grass strip flying again.

I’d played with trying to get permission into Cuckoo Tye Farm, but in the days leading up to my booking a quick scan of the more established grass airfields in the area such as Great Oakley, suggested that recent rain was going to make a grass strip an unwise choice.  If the established grass strips were closed due to weather in recent days, it would look like very poor planning to go and have an accident at a farm strip!   So better safe then sorry and perhaps another day…

Looking around there weren’t to many “reachable and back in an hour” hard runways that I hadn’t already done before, but one stood out:  Turweston – down near Silverstone.

About 20 minutes each way and a good looking cafe on site, just the job.

Briefing / Checkout

The sun shining isn’t always a guarantee you’re going to get to go flying, I arrived optimistic but the cross wind was beginning to push its luck.

Turweston’s runways are 27 (270 degrees) and 09 (90 degrees), so pretty perfect for a wind that was beginning to come round to coming from 260+ degrees and gusting.   However, as the conditions for landing there got better, they were getting worse for taking off from Cambridge with it’s 23 runway.

The instructor who had just signed me out was having doubts about the wind but it was still just within limits, so essentially was beginning to fall into “at his discretion” of if I’d be ok to handle it or not.

Once out with the aircraft if I needed any further confirmation the wind was becoming a concern, a high viz jacket was making its way to my aircraft.   It was the instructor again telling me that the wind was still picking up on the latest report, words of wisdom that if I did choose to go, to see how it was when I’d finished my power checks and to perhaps try to aim to take off between the gusts.

Moments like this you need to stop and think carefully, they tend to be the moments where you make the right decision or the wrong decision and it all traces back to a “go / don’t go” decision made with all the right information, but if you’re not careful you press on regardless – even harder when you’re out with the aircraft, signed off to go and your prior permission to land at the destination is all sorted (not to mention how much you were looking forward to the flight etc.).

Several factors played into my mind:

  • See what the official wind was when I got to the holding point.
  • The destination landing will not be challenging
  • I’m landing away, so I have options to check the wind and wait at the destination  on the ground if Cambridge cross wind gets worse (it’s not like I was going for a joy ride and would want to be landing with no alternative within the hour).
  • The forecasts said the wind wouldn’t get any worse.

Take Off

When it came down to it, ailerons into wind for the take off to mitigate the cross wind, it all went absolutely fine.   Sure a bit more work to keep it level on the climb out but nothing silly.


It’s a pretty straight forward flight from Cambridge:

  • Point Alpha (A14/M11 junction)
  • St. Neots
  • Silverstone
  • Turweston

You can just cut out Silverstone, but if it’s not NOTAM’d then it’s worth flying over as it’s an impressive landmark to see from the sky – especially if you like your Formula 1.  I used it as a land mark in my Qualifying Cross Country as from here, Sywell/Northampton is really, really easy to find (point the plane north and you can’t go wrong).

I stayed with Cambridge Approach for a basic service until St. Neots, their radio is good for about 25nm and St. Neots is about 17nm away so it’s a convenient turning point and a good place to hand over to someone else, in this case Cranfield Approach.

It’s good to talk to Cranfield around this area because they have an ILS that means planes can be on the approach path well beyond the reach of their ATZ, so even if you’re not going anywhere near their zone – it’s safer to talk to them so they know you’re coming and can tell you if there’s anything you should be on the look out for.

There’s a good set of forest type areas around the M1, so as you come across that landmark I could check my location and make sure I was crossing as per plan (or not).  As it turned out I was about 1-1.5nm south of planned track, so just before crossing the M1 itself I corrected this with a quick right turn.  It wouldn’t have really mattered, Silverstone is massive and you can see it even if you’re a good 5-6nm off track, but it doesn’t hurt to arrive with it in front of you rather then the clock to tick down to the ETA and then have to be searching out of the windows in hope 🙂

Safely over the M1, I thanked Cranfield for their brief service and switched over to Turweston Radio.

Silverstone Race Track



Turweston said they were quiet and had nothing known in the circuit, so I could just join right base for runway 27.   That’d save me a few quid on flight time/fuel, so great stuff.

My plan said Turweston from Silverstone, would take only around 2 minutes, this should tell you that it’ll be visible almost immediately.   Even so as I turned south to join right base, I really was on top of it almost instantly – I had just enough time to ponder “That looks like it might be an airfield,  I wonder if that’s Turweston.”

By which time I was cutting it close to lose 1,000ft and get down to circuit height and I’d only have the base and final leg to lose anything left over.  This was going to be close.

Sure enough I was still at 1,000ft as I finished the base leg, all I could do now was S-Curve on the final approach to drop some altitude (I had the option to start side slipping if I still had too much height on, but as that introduces airspeed errors I prefer to keep that in the bag unless I really need to get down).

One and a bit “S” curves later, the final approach was looking pretty good, my height was right, the airspeed was good.   Should be a nice landing.

Sure enough, it was a pretty good landing, maybe a hundred feet past the numbers so not the best I’ve ever done but it’s a long runway at Turweston – there are no points awarded for stalling 50ft short and landing on the numbers here just means you get a massive taxi for your efforts because there’s no early exits.

Ground Radio gave me instructions where to park up and it was a bit strange to have to taxi past a race team with their car out on the taxi way!

As I switched the engine off, the race car fired its engine up and headed for the runway – turns out they were there to do some straight line setup runs.   Airplanes landing take priority over race cars at airfields though 😉

Really Good Cafe for a Bacon Sandwich

Turweston’s cafe is called The Flying Pig, it’s not really anything more then a portable cabin with a kitchen – but you’d be suprised how many airfields are like this and it usually works better then you first expect (i.e. Boston also just has a small kitchen in a cabin, but the food there great for a fly in).

A bacon sandwich, mug of coffee and pack of crisps came to under a fiver which is a pretty good deal as flying goes.   Highly recommended, nothing fancy, just delicious 🙂

My log book now says “Good Bacon Sandwich” in the remarks, so yes I plan to go back 😛

Two Hours – almost not enough

It’s ok saying twenty minutes there, twenty back etc. but you have to remember that Cambridge is a ‘proper airport’, there are procedures and clearances to be followed.  So in reality, you have to factor in about 10-15 minutes from engine start to take off and when you arrive back you should allow 10 minutes for getting into the circuit, you can easily be 2nd or even 3rd in the circuit and it’s not unknown to be asked to orbit for something bigger then you.   Once on the ground it’s still a big place so taxi to parking etc. eats a few more minutes.    All in, it means that a twenty minutes there and back flight, becomes 55-60 minutes.

So if you’ve booked the plane for 2 hours, that gives you an hour to check in, order something to eat, wait for it to be cooked, eat it, check the aircraft out again and get going……..the hour wizes by faster then you might expect.

Sure enough as I was checking the fuel to go home, I knew I was on the minutes for arriving before my slot time ran out.   However I was confident there would only be ~5 minutes in it or so, nobody would loose too much sleep over that.   It was also a weekday when the club tends to be quieter (as apposed to a weekend) and I had that crosswind on my side which would likely have cancelled students etc.

Flight Home: Uneventful arriving to a Crosswind

If anything it was even less so then getting there – I often find that once I’ve done some flying that day, everything becomes just that little bit more calm for the way back.   The difference between a two week gap since flying and a 1 hour gap etc.

The landing however kept things interesting, it was in limits but was a good 10-12 knots crosswind and gusting.   The plane was nicely sideways coming in and the airspeed indicator told you all you wanted to know about the gusts.

I brought it down sideways all the way to the last 50ft or so and then fully kicked it straight for what panned out to be a quite nice landing.   Damn there are times I’d love to know what it looked like on the ground!!