Archive for the Post PPL Category

Spring is here again: Let’s go Flying!

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017 | 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?

Rayne Hall Farm

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016 | 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!

Saturday, August 29th, 2015 | 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

Friday, July 31st, 2015 | 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 🙂


Waits Farm Strip (in a sea of grass)

Sunday, May 10th, 2015 | 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.

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015 | 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!!


Night Rating: New Licence Arrives

Monday, March 16th, 2015 | Permalink

Night Rating Delivery

Night Rating Delivery

Training complete, application and paperwork filled in and credit card details provided.   Nothing left to do but wait around for a newly updated licence from the CAA.

Your mileage will probably vary, but it took mine about 4 weeks from sending off the application to the date the new licence arriving.   Please note, I say ‘new licence’ only because you don’t send off your old licence, it’s not a replacement, you keep your existing PPL licence etc. and when your night rating is added on to your licence you’ll be sent new licence paperwork.

I was a bit worried about how this would be handled because it could have become a real headache if I had to send my licence off for 4 weeks and then not have a licence to be able to prove I was eligible to rent an aircraft etc.   but not a problem this way so good times 🙂

So I’m now legal to go flying at night all on my own!   Great stuff.

Have I used it yet?   Nope and if you’re sharp eyed you’ll notice this post is about a month behind the time of actual events 🙁    A night rating just in time for summer then, what’s the point you might ask?   Well I might not make masses of use of it in months to come, but when October/November rolls around, there’s no risk of getting caught out or having to rush back as 4pm rolls around.   It’ll just provide some options, I love to fly farm strips so I’m not hoping to use this to go night flying into farms……..but it will help keep me legal coming back from some farm an hours flight away from Cambridge etc.

Night Rating: Part 5 (Completing Solos)

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015 | Permalink

The requirements for a night rating include:  “5 full stop solo landings”.   With everything else signed off on my training, this lesson was aimed at just completing this requirement – with 1 solo night full stop already completed, 4 to go tonight.

Another Instructor, but a special one

5 hours of night flying will have seen me fly with 4 different instructors, they’ve all been great to fly with but this lesson was a bit special because I’d be flying with the instructor who was the first to ever let me take-off on my own (I didn’t say solo, just the first time I was ever trusted to open the throttle and rotate a Cessna 172 and climb away for myself and I remember that first take off fondly – but the landings did take longer to master 🙂 ).   That was all the way back in September 2011, time sure fly’s when you’re errrm, flying….

I never flew with that instructor again, tonight we’d probably fly one circuit, but all the same it would be a pleasure to do a circuit and show how a student from years ago had progressed.

Quick Briefing

Nothing much to say, just a review of my training records to make sure I’d get it all signed off on this lesson.   That the intent was we’d do 1 circuit, if that was good, he’d hop out and I could crack on and complete my requirements for a night rating etc.   Nice simple lesson for all involved hopefully.

Duel Check Circuit

My memories are of a all nothing to write home about circuit, take off, turn, downwind, checklists complete, radio call for final and land.   Nothing to it.

Clearly it was ok because he asked to vacate the runway, he could go get a cup of coffee and I could do a spot of night flying on my own.   The winds were calm and the sky was clear of could, a really quite beautiful night to go flying.

Solo Circuits:   Arrrgh Just Let me do my circuits!!!

After a fairly quick taxi and ATC getting me back into the air with no delay the first circuit was smooth and I was just settling in for a  nice ~30 minutes of going round in circles.

Just turning onto final approach for my second circuit:

Go Around, Go Around, G-HERC, Confirm Go Around.

Power back on and a radio call to confirm I was going around, that’d just stuffed ten minutes of flight time (in cash terms £30 wasted).   The Air Ambulance had scrambled and as you might expect they get priority to depart the airport – you can’t argue, but did someone have to have an accident right when I was about to complete my night rating?  😛

I was then asked to extend before turning crosswind for 2 miles to give the air ambulance time to clear the airport.  Ok, but this would mean having to find my way back into the circuit in a night sky of ground lighting soon to become unfamiliar.   Still not exactly rocket science, just another good way to burn money/fuel without achieving anything 🙁

Finally second circuit out of the way, really no drama my night circuits now were as consistently good as if I was flying in the day.

Circuit 3, all going great until getting onto the downwind leg when in a rare moment for ATC essentially I was stitched up for other traffic.

G-HERC, perform a right Orbit for separation.

No worries, I love to fly the odd orbit in the circuit, keeps you in good practice at holding a height while flying a constant 30 degree bank.   Except that, didn’t the preceeding radio call say the guy was 8 miles out?   That’s a lot of ground to cover in the time it’s going to take me to go 360 degrees @ 100 miles an hour.

G-HERC continue Orbiting until further notice.

Round and round and round and round……..I lost count how many times I went round in circles.  Once for fun, twice for perfection, but then it gets a bit boring.   I was starting to get concerned that at this rate I’d actually run out of time to complete the circuits in the lesson slot – but equally was pretty determined I was getting this rating done tonight come what may.

Finally some fast jet landed and I was cleared to stop circling, for another tick in a box landing that I think everyone in hindsight could safely say I could have done easily twice over without interrupting the plane I was delayed for.   Still, you win some, you lose some, don’t worry too much about it.   Just one more circuit to go 🙂

Nice Final Circuit

Finally the distractions had passed and I got a nice easy circuit with no trickery.

Back on the ground it was just a matter of taxing and parking up (amazingly my parking is now infinitely better then it was when I was a student and missed the wheel slabs, every time!).

All done except the Paperwork and Money

Job done, my night rating training was complete, just a matter of coming in during the week to get all the forms filled in and signed.

There’s quite a lot of paperwork, a surprising amount actually:

  • The Application Form is ~7 pages, you fill in a bunch of boxes, the instructors sign off on a bunch of boxes and hours flown etc.
  • You need a Certified (by the Chief Flying Instructor) copy of your Passport, to prove you’re applying for who you say you are – very strange.
  • A Certified copy of your Medical (i.e. Class 2), again by the Chief Flying Instructor – not sure why you need a certified copy of your passport if you’ve got this, but eh ok…
  • Your Logbook needs to be signed off and will need to be sent away.

Perhaps that list didn’t seem strange to you?   Well just consider this, you can only apply to the authority which holds your medical records.   So they have my license number, they have my medical record number, they know the ratings I already have and they know my medical is valid because they hold the records for it!   Really quite strange, but it is what it is and you just need to follow the process rather then try to fight/disagree with it.

My logbook was interesting, it had last been filled in with pen when I got my PPL.  Since then I’d clocked up about ~40 more hours/flights, all in pencil, so another hour or so of going over all of this with pen again!   Still I have a mistake free logbook record as a result of this effort of pencil first 🙂

Don’t forget the money, at the time of writing it’s £89 + £6 to have your new rating and log book returned by secure courier (I think you’d be mad to have your log book returned any other way!).

Then it’s just a matter of waiting……

Night Rating: Part 4 (Emergencies & First Solo)

Saturday, February 28th, 2015 | Permalink

G-UFCB Cessna 172SP

G-UFCB : Cessna 172SP

When I booked this lesson I knew it would be with an instructor I’d never flown with before.  No matter how many times you do it, this always fills you with reservations:  Will I just magically forget how to fly and look ridiculous?   Will they have different opinions on procedures/landing technique etc.  Even with a license in your bag, these thoughts don’t seem to go away – in some ways perhaps a license can make them worse, as with driving I’m sure if you spend enough time away from “the proper techniques” you develop bad/personal habits.

First Impressions

It’s human to develop opinions about people on first impressions, you shouldn’t but you do.

On meeting, the opening volley of conversation didn’t leave me overly thrilled about going flying.    A sense of almost “I’ll tell you what we’ll be doing – you clearly have no idea” in the air.   Still, we might always have first impressions but I’ve had them about all the instructors I’ve gone flying with and they’re often wrong.  So let’s skip past this front cover and see if the first pages make the book worth reading 🙂


Objective was to finish off my emergencies, left on the cards:

  • One straight forward normal night circuit
  • Radio Failure
  • Internal Lighting Failure
  • Total Electrical Failure

If all that went well the instructor said he might jump out and let me go solo.   This book is getting better already!

Taxi and Take-Off

A few ‘instructor in the plane’ jitters, managed to skip over turning the Nav lights on, started taxing with the flaps down 🙁   See this stuff was never drilled into me in training:   Re-set Power to 1,200 RPM after everything, absolutely and utterly drilled into me!!

Throttle Open, the Cessna charges down the runway into the dark sky.

I know a mile of runway is ridiculously more then a Cessna 172SP needs, you could take off and land on it about 3 times before running out.   Honestly though, it never gets old to line-up on the centre line, a mile of asphalt ahead of you and to then open up the throttle, in control of an aeroplane!

Let there be Music!?!?

My log book says I’ve done literally hundreds of take-offs, sure this is about take-off number 15 in the dark, but short of an engine failure the show is pretty much routine for me now.   Well it was until about 300ft off the ground a voice over the intercom says “Hey how about some music?”

Errrrrrrm, dunno, yes I guess – my brain just couldn’t quite grasp the question.

A second later, there was music coming through my headset!   Sure it wasn’t the latest chart topper but it was a complete first.   Not only was I a bit stunned that hey I’m supposed to be training for a night rating here, shouldn’t I be trying to soak up every second of wisdom and good instruction??   Second, we’re 300ft off the ground, not cruising along with with a basic service on a constant heading for 20 nautical miles.   That being all said, it made me laugh and began to shatter my first impressions.

The music stayed on for most of the downwind leg, I got a little brief about the ADF and its other uses (i.e. it’s essentially a Long Wave radio receiver) 😛

As I turned base the music went off and I could focus on landing the plane, which actually came together really quite nicely and I touched down just a few feet past the numbers all very much like it was intended to happen.

Flaps up, power back on and away we go.

Radio Failure

The instructor told the tower we wanted to simulate a radio failure, which they accepted.   Now the name of the game is to look for a green constant light coming from the tower, indicating it’s ok to land at this aerodrome.

My first thought was “How big/bright is this green light supposed to be?”  I’ve been on a ‘Tower Tour’ at Cambridge which if you get a chance is worth doing and been up close to one of these green spot lamps – but even so that doesn’t really give you a clue as to what it looks like in the dead of night with a major city in the background.

Bat Signal

Proper Signalling System

You want to imagine a Green light signal, like the Bat Signal projecting into the sky to give a very reassuring “Yes, this signal is for you…..come and land here”.   Sadly it’s nothing of the sort, a green dot might be doing it an injustice but it’s not the biggest light in the world to try and pick out and with half of Cambridge in the background, plus a Green aerodrome beacon light flashing away – it’s hard to tell one green light from another.   You can’t put a price on safety, but if you could, it’s less then the cost of a massive spot lamp with “LAND HERE” taped across the beam apparently 🙂

 Still the goal of this circuit was all about what I’ve said above, familirisation – what would the light signals look like?   It’d be a nightmare to try and spot them if you’d never seen what you were looking for and had just read the text books.   I’d obviously be looking for a bat sign and that would have got me nowhere 😉

Interestingly the tower still gives a radio call, but prefixes that the call is blind to our aircraft.  Which again was interesting learning of what to expect on returning to an aerodrome with a failed radio.

One thing to note about night flying, the only airfields you can typically do it from are places like Cambridge, Norwich etc. big aerodromes that are licensed and have all the kit etc.  but equally these are the same places where the circuit traffic tends to be quite high and returning to one without a radio and thus without agreed join instructions etc. is something done under considerable caution and care.

My landings were on form tonight and it was another pretty much as good as I can do landing.   So good it was now drawing complements from my instructor which is always nice – because god knows in my training days I’ve slammed my fair share of Cessnas into the tarmac hard!  (Crosswinds used to be my Nemesis).

Internal Lighting Failure

It’s a requirement of a night approved aircraft to have internal lighting for the use of being able to read airspeeds etc.  which is great, except when you follow the schematics through you’ll find that it all comes off 1 battery through a single circuit breaker.   So if one light shorts, you’ll probably lose the lot!

The cockpit of a Cessna, even with night vision developed is a dark place and you can pretty much forget being able to read the airspeed.   That’s why you remembered to bring a torch and tested the batteries in your pre-flight checks right?  🙂

With torch found, my fear of its default bright mode was realised, but another quick click and it dropped to a low power red beam which actually lit the cockpit in a very nice haze of red.   God knows what it looked like from the ground! 😉

C172 under Red Illumination

C172 under Red Illumination

However, having all the instruments lit in a glow of red light with the torch essentially just dumped on the seat did work particularly well.  No faffing about trying to fly the plane with one hand and control throttle, trim and torch with the other.

It resulted in essentially no noticeable difference in my flying whatsoever and the final approach was flown as good as any with internal lighting so I found myself really settling into this lesson.  It couldn’t have been going much better.

Total Electrical Failure

Finally a simulated total electrical failure, so no internal lights, no radio and no flaps (and a note from the instructor that the avionics would be gone so we wouldn’t even be talking to each other over the headsets at least).  I suppose a sensible course of action would be to land the plane then! 🙂

If you read back through this blog to my training in the circuit, my flapless landings were my best.   I could land with the flaps up all day long, it was  with them down that it took what felt like an age to become slick.

The torch continued to perform brilliantly, really liked the red illumination of all the instruments, really made flying the plane easy.

Lack of a landing light really messes with the depth perception of the runway so the touch down was  a bit harder then I’d have liked but the instructor seemed very happy with it all.

Fancy doing one on your own then?

First Night Solo: Circuit

We pulled off the runway and the instructor jumped out with the usual final words of wisdom and checks that I’m really happy in myself and he’s not just pushing me into a flight I don’t want to do etc.  (It might sound daft, but accidents have happened because students have gone solo when not comfortable in their own minds about doing it).

I always forget to get the airfield information again after the instructor jumps out, a ‘large airport’ problem that Cambridge has an ATIS.  Thankfully Air Traffic Control weren’t to grumpy at me and just gave me the QFE and away we go, thanks to them as always 🙂

Throttle open and away into the dark night sky – all on my own!

Your first solo is a special moment, I can remember when I did mine getting to 200ft up and thinking “well I have to land it on my own now…”.   Many hours have gone by since and I’m a better pilot now (I have paperwork to prove it! 🙂 ), so I found this take off and turn on to the Crosswind leg actually really quite a peaceful experience, a sort of nice walk in the park flight.   Very different to the “have I checked everything” / actively thinking hard first day light solo.  Muscle memory taking over for much of the effort of flying the plane.

Another good touch down, my landings really were on form today.

Vacate and Taxi to Hanger

As the temperature was dropping, the Cessna’s were clearly getting put away for the night in the warm of Hanger 2.   Air Traffic Control gave me a Taxi clearance to the hanger, which I could just about remember how to follow – 99% of the time you taxi to/from the grass parking, but Cambridge Airport has a lot of other places you can go and a lot of other holding points and taxi ways available.

If in doubt : SHOUT!

You won’t get any points for guessing when taxing around an airport, you’ll get even less points if you go somewhere you’re not cleared to go!   At best you’ll start to annoy ATC, at worst you’ll either begin to endanger other users or end up hitting something.  Sure the Cessna 172 was designed many years ago, but they’re still far from cheap toys to go pranging into a fuel bowser or even worse another expensive toy you should never have been near if you’d gone the right way.

Although I knew in my mind where I was going, I felt there was no harm to just double check with ATC I was about to turn left at the correct point, after all the airport was quiet – if I’d hit something the fact ATC weren’t busy etc. and could have given me clear advice would have been another black mark in the accident report of signs of poor airmanship.   The worst I’ll have got for asking is some remark in the tower about how ‘students’ don’t know the airport – eh I can live with that, but I think the ATC guys/gals at Cambridge are above that standard and were probably happy to help and have something to do.

Once parked up outside the hanger and the engine off, just the matter of helping out pushing the planes into the warmth.   Always good fun, if you don’t like pushing aircraft around when the meter isn’t running, learning to fly isn’t for you 😉

Debrief and What’s left?

My instructor was full of praise for my flying, always nice, particularly full of praise on my landings.  I’m sure they just say that to make you come back and fly some more 😛

That said the lack of any negative points or things to brush up on was very satisfying.

With all my emergencies and duel hours required clocked up, all I have left to do is complete my 5 solo full stop landings – so next lesson should be a simple check ride with an instructor, they’ll hop out and I can crack on and complete 4 solo full stops.  Job done.

Night Rating: Part 3 (Navigation)

Monday, January 12th, 2015 | Permalink

I’d assumed this would be a pre-defined route (as per PPL Dual Nav’s), but it turns out that the night dual nav. is done by letting the student plan the route.  Usual restrictions allowing, you can go wherever you like as long as it meets the rating requirements of being a 1 hour flight and greater than 27nm (50km).   I’ve no idea how you fly for 1 hour and not cover 27nm, but I assume the distance criteria is there for a good reason – perhaps to push you out of visual distance of your home airport?

Briefing / Route

Turning up to the aero club on an amazingly clear sky evening, my wife asked what I thought the chances of going flying were?   100% I replied confidently, not a cloud in the sky, not a gust of wind in the air.

Time to be reminded that there is more that can stop you flying then the weather!

My instructor came out, doing his best to hold back from coughing.   It doesn’t take an Air Medical Examiner to know when someone is either about to come down with a cold, or is recovering from one – oh dear, this could end more rapidly then I’d expected and for reasons I’d not even considered.

I just had to put the wind calculations into my flight plan, so while I did that the instructor went to get a hot drink and assess how he was feeling.   While doing this a friend turned up and asked what I was up to and what route I had planned.

  • Fly down to Bedford
  • Turn around and fly North East to Ely, turning over the Cathedral
  • Back down to fly overhead Newmarket
  • Returning back to Cambridge.

Already having a night rating he was just playing with ideas of where to go/what to do himself.  Going down to Cranfield was out because they had a runway lighting problem.

Night Rating Chart Route

Night Rating Route

On my instructors return I awaited that slightly awkward but understandable moment, where an instructor brings themselves  round to finding the right words to cancel the lesson.  Instead a discussion started on what the objective of the lesson was and where I wanted to go.

He felt confident he could cope with a gentle Navigation flight, so we were still on (just!).

A quick cross-check of the routes headings & math and it was off the check the plane.

Deviation results in Disorentation

I’ve flown out of runway 23 hundreds of times, normally going up to around 1,500ft straight ahead and then beginning a turning climb.   I was already a little anxious in my mind about what Point Alpha (A14/M11 junction) would look like at night and if I’d recognize it.  So when the instruction came to continue to fly straight ahead until 2,000ft (and thus increasing my forward/horizontal distance).   This really threw my orientation.

I made a half hearted gradual turn, then for no hard/good reason decided that that was more then enough turning and started to look for the junction.  Maybe it was somewhere out to the left?   Nothing there that looks sensible.   Ahead?  Nope.  Perhaps we’ve flown past it and it’s on the right?  Maybe not 🙁

I’d only been in the air a few minutes and already I was feeling lost, with none of my usual visual references to fall back on and at night the other good fixes like wind farms and railways can’t be seen.   It’s easy to write down good sensible flying advice in hindsight and it seems obvious to read such advice back, but it’s amazing how easy the brain gets fixed on a problem and won’t let it go.   It felt a bit stupid, but it was time to admit I was struggling.

What Runway did we take off on?…………Where is Point Alpha relative to that? ………..and what heading are we flying now?

Simple things!   Really simple questions from the instructor and my starry night haze of confusion cleared away.  We took off on Runway 23 (so heading 230 degrees), Point Alpha is north from there, yet we were heading 280-290 degrees.   Clearly not north!   So the road I was trying mentally very hard to “fit the map” was not the A14 but was in fact the M11, perhaps if we turned right and headed north we’d fine the A14/M11 junction.   What a nightmare, I can fly a plane really!!!

Embarrassing first night nav error out of the way and with Point Alpha now visually out of the window (I was worried it wouldn’t be that obvious – turns out it’s pretty blatant!), now I could settle down and just crack on flying the plane.

Bedford Leg

As I’ve mentioned before, there is a lit mast near Sandy, if you keep that on your left then this leg is pretty easy and you’re heading for a massive town of light so there’s not much that can go wrong.

Are we banking???

The lights of Bedford were ahead of me, the red beacon of Sandy was on my left, St. Neots on my right.  Everything out of the window was where it should be and looked level, but the Artificial Horizon/Attitude Indicator (AI) was wandering as if we were beginning to roll right.

Slightly instinctively I put some left aileron on to bring the wings ‘level’, but that made the picture outside start to look wrong.   Weird.   As the minutes rolled on the AI continued to show increasing roll, now suggesting I was in a 10 degree turn.   I don’t think so, something has died on the instruments.

For the AI to give up, your first thought would be to check the suction, because the attitude indicator is driven from a vacuum air-driven gyro (and the vacuum comes from the suction system).  No suction, no vacuum, no gyro – so no Attitude Indicator.  Yet, when you lose suction, the AI typically just falls over and ‘dies’.  If the suction system goes you’d also expect to lose other instruments, like the heading/direction indicator.   The suction gauge suggested we had good suction and the heading indicator seems to be happy.

I knew where Bedford was, so rather then just blindly follow the AI into a spiral dive, I just ignored it and trusted that the lights of the towns should be horizontal generally.  After all this is supposed to be a Visual Flight Rules flight 🙂

Ely Cathedral Leg

Once over Bedford it was the normally simple matter of making a turn, typically in level flight of 30 degrees, on to my new heading to go generally north east back towards Ely.  Simple except without the AI, the rate of turn cannot be measured the typical way.

So instead I used the Slip indicator which has a rate of turn indication which will show what is called a “Rate One” turn, on a Cessna 172 this is an ~17 degree turn.   I let my instructor know that this was my intention, just to ensure he was aware, as otherwise my turn would look really gentle and might have raised questions.   Though he knew we had no AI, so performing a rate one turn seemed like a fairly obvious fall back position rather then just guesstimating a 30 degree turn.

With the turn complete and a quick check of the direction indicator against the compass – just to be sure that was still working and I hadn’t just rolled out at some completely bonkers heading.   It was observed that the direction indicator was still working fine and strangely that the attitude indicator was now apparently working again.  Strange.

You can use any radio aids you like during your night navigation.  The obvious trick would be to use the Barkway VOR/DME, but that would mean having to change the DME from Cambridge to Barkway, check the station etc. then tune the VOR to Barkway, check the station and then see what radial we were on.   Simple enough things, but a lot of steps and you could happily burn 1-2 minutes with all of this faffing.   In my pre-flight planning I had a much simpler solution:

  • Leave Cambridge DME set up.
  • As we cross the A14, the DME should read 10nm
  • More and we were too far left, less and we were too far right.

Dead simple, unless we had a gross error we’d have to cross the A14 and dead reckoning means that with the best will in the world over 10-15 nm at ~100 knots you’ll need a hell of an error to arrive any sooner or later then within 1-2 minutes of your ETA.   It’s a very easy landmark, even at night, so as the clock approaches the overhead time, it’s a simple matter of checking the DME for distance to Cambridge.   There is only 1 point over the A14 that is exactly 10nm away from Cambridge, so if you cross the A14 with a DME saying 10nm to Cambridge – you know where you are 🙂

To reassure my instructor I wasn’t just making stuff up, I talked in through the above scheme and thus I was confident I knew where we were.   The other nice thing about this approach is that as you see the A14 approach you can correct your heading to line up with this known distance and thus put yourself on course.   A much quicker solution then using a VOR/DME to waste 2 minutes finding out where you are.  Then realizing you’re 2 miles off track and only then being able to correct it, by which point you’ve passed over your reference point and are chasing the navigation.

Anything you can do on the ground to reduce your work load in the air, is worth doing!

Night Rating - PLOG

Night Rating – PLOG

All that was left to do now was call up Lakenheath Approach and see if the USAF worked weekend evenings.   As it turns out, on this particular night, they did.   They gave us a MATZ (Military Aerodrome Traffic Zone) Penetration approval, and instructed us to Squark 0451.  You can see I scribbled the code down at the top of my PLOG, I’ve come to expect Lakenheath to tell you to squark a code and I’ve had one or two run in’s with them where I’ve found I forgot the code about 3 seconds after they said it, so I now have pencil in hand before I call them up.

Lakenheath are always accommodating of flying a GA aircraft through their MATZ, but their controllers also always sound a lot like they’d rather be fighting a war (or that someone has told them they’re at war already).  It’s hard to describe but if you ever fly into their MATZ you’ll understand what I mean – you thought you were flying around East Anglia, but if you closed your eyes and started speaking to Lakenheath you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d been transported to Iraq.   Still, they’re top folks and as I said very accommodating.  The other useful thing you’ll get from squarking the code they give you is that they’ll generally come back with a “Radar Contact…..”, which typically will include “X miles <Direction> from Ely/Newmarket/Cambridge….”.   Which is no bad thing to know as you can cross-check it against your own belief of location and confirm you are where you thought you were, or start to think about what’s gone wrong.  If you’re lost, talking to someone who has a positive radar fix on your aircraft is going to make you un-lost really quickly 🙂

I’d planned the route hoping that Ely Cathedral would be lit up at night with fancy up-pointing lighting that you sometimes see now outside large churches and such like structures.  It’s a really nice landmark in the day, so if it was lit at night (and I was sure I’d seen it from the ground with up-pointing lights) I imagined it’d look amazing from the sky.   Sadly, not so much, it did have a couple of spot lights pointing up, but to see these you really had to know what you were looking for first 🙁   The Cathedral was basically a dark patch north east of the city, but you could just about make it out.  Disappointing.

The clock was ticking past 40 minutes flight time, we still had to get down to Newmarket, then back to Cambridge, land and park-up.   This route should be almost spot on for a 1 hour nav, brilliant.

Newmarket / Cambridge

Lakenheath had asked us to report when we turned for Newmarket, as soon as I did this they clearly wanted rid of us off the frequency and they told us fairly rapidly that we could Squark 7000 again and free call Cambridge Approach.   They didn’t sound at all busy, but I guess once we were off their frequency they had even less to do 🙂

The distance you can see at night can make you worry about your timings, I estimated it would take us 5.5 minutes to get over Newmarket, but as soon as we’d turned I could see the lights of a town that unless our heading was wrong had to be Newmarket.  This felt a little disorientating because it just seemed incredibly close and yet we still had 4 minutes to run.  Working through a FREDA check (Fuel, Radio, Engine, Direction, Altitude) which is always a sensible thing after a turn I shined a torch on the compass just to make sure my heading indicator hadn’t lost the plot – as the attitude indicator was again giving up, there was a real risk of losing this as well.   The compass reassured me I was on the heading I wanted, we’d just flown over the Cathedral of Ely so we couldn’t be a million miles away from where we wanted to be and sure enough as the minutes ticked by we steadily approached Newmarket and the Dead Reckoning all came good.

Finding the Runway: Omni-Directional Lights

Finding runways at night is a similar skill to finding them in the day, in that you first need to have a general idea of what to look for.   You might think spotting a 1 mile piece of concrete in the day is easy, go have a trial flight and see for yourself, it’s not as obvious as you’d think until you know the lines/features that tend to surround them.

Spotting the same thing at night, at any other angle then straight on for final approach is even harder.   The omni-direcitonal runway lights mean that from almost any other direction the runway “disappears” into the darkness.

Not surprisingly then it took me a lot longer then the instructor and we were sub-5nm before I finally felt confident I was going to line up for Runway 23 and not the A14! 😉

Remember the Pre-Landing Checklist

We joined left base, this saved all the cost of doing a big standard over head join etc. and was partly why I’d routed the way I had to come back in from Newmarket.   Lined up and coming down nicely on final approach everything was looking great for an on the numbers landing.    At around 50-60ft I realised the runway still seemed very dark and I was getting no reflection from it via the landing light – that would be because the landing light isn’t on then! 🙁    I kept flying the plane and said “ahh my landing light isn’t on”, it was too late for me to go reaching for it, the instructor got there but we were so low it became a landing without the landing light, equating to a bit more of a thud then I’d like but nothing to get excited about beyond the to be expected comment about the light being on the checklist.


Nothing really said on the debrief, all in all it was a very peaceful flight in excellent weather.  A few bits and pieces could have gone better, finding point alpha, turning the landing light on etc. but the navigation itself went good and the landing was as good as any other landing I’ve done without the landing light and probably better then quite a few I’ve done with it on! 🙂

Caught up with the friend who’d asked about my route at the start, turns out he thought it looked so good he’d go and fly the same route himself and had essentially ripped it off and been flying about 10-15nm ahead of us.  So I’m sure RAF Lakenheath loved me for sending two Cessna’s into their MATZ.

The risk of the weather compromising my ability to finish the Night Rating is now greatly reduced.   All that remains is circuit work, I need to complete the list of failures/emergencies (i.e. total simulated electrical failure) and complete 5 solo full stop landings.   So watch this space!