Archive for the Post PPL Category

Night Rating: Part 2 (Failures)

Monday, December 22nd, 2014 | Permalink

You could also call this lesson “emergencies” but most of the things we’d be doing were more about getting experience with landing the plane under an acceptable failure condition (e.g. loss of approach lights), rather than a genuine fully fledged emergency (e.g. engine failure).

In my PPL training I was swapping instructors almost every lesson, but it was pretty normal to be back flying with a familar instructor again every other month or so.   I was now swapping instructors for my night rating and to my slight amazement, I had to actually go back several pages in my log book to find when I’d last flown with this instructor – even though they’d been instructing me right to the finish of my PPL.   Goes to show how many flights I’ve done in the year I got my PPL, it’s been a good year 🙂


PAPI lights

PAPI lights

We’d go fly some circuits, the first one would be completely normal just to settle down into things (flying can be a bit like stage fright, you can do it, but in the hours before turning the key you do sometimes find yourself wondering “Can I remember how to fly?”).

Then it would be a progressive set of challenges:

  • Landing without the PAPI lights
  • Landing without the approach lights
  • Landing without the airplane landing light
  • Landing with none of the above.

Check the Fuel and Oil and lets go

My training has drilled me to check everything, even if an instructor has just landed the plane and swears it’s all good – I’ve been drilled to check it anyway, if you go on any flight safety training lecturers the old and the wise (pilots who are one, tend to be the other) they will also stress to check everything.

This all sounds great in text books and it’s good safe, sensible stuff.   What it also means though is that when I try to deviate or short circuit around blocks of the check list, I find it all gets into a starting up muddle.

You find stupid things happen, like you jumped past the pre-startup internal checks and you’re now trying to start the plane – but wait, turning the master switch on was on the previous page, so you haven’t done that, so you have no electrics.   Switches get missed, flaps get left down etc.  and as you try to untangle the “must change state of” items from the “just check” items, you begin to feel surrounded by an aura of feeling like you should know how to do this……and yet you’re messing up!   You’ve done it hundreds of times before, feels surreal therefore that an 80+ item checklist isn’t engraved into your memory (hmmm, strange that!).

So I sort of hate doing the “lets just jump in the plane and go” approach.  I can do it at farms & places I’ve just landed, but I can’t seem to do it when I’m getting in a plane that someone else has flown before me – I’ve found on too many occasions that the previous hirer has left the radio on approach instead of tower, or the lights set weird or the fuel selector set wrong!

After a little bit of awkward faffing about and looking like a student all over again, the engine was running, ATC had cleared me to taxi out and we were away – the nerves could begin to calm down now.

Circuits :  Lights On, Lights OFF

Approach Lights, PAPI's & Runway Lights

Approach Lights, PAPI’s & Runway Lights

The wind at night is a strange thing, it can seem like the calmest day and then you get up 1,000ft and find it’s 20 knots crosswind to the runway.

On my first circuit I turned downwind and was quickly finding myself getting pushed more and more towards the runway.   There’s a good roundabout reference at the end of the downwind leg which is an excellent guide for both ensuring you fly a sensible sized circuit and going just beyond it, a good turn point for turning base.   I found that by the time I got there I was left of it, meaning my circuit was tight and the wind was pushing me in – no surprise then that when I turned left on to base leg, the crosswind became a tailwind and made matters worse.

I could lose the height ok, though my groundspeed was feeling pretty rapid in which to do so, but I found I had to turn on to final approach sharpish and while still trying to lose the height.   If you do all this to close together your nice rectangular circuit pattern starts to look like a military style continuous turn.   That’s ok, but I’d overshot the centre line of the runway and had to correct it to get it all lined up on final.

Other then the overshoot, the height was good, the speed was good and everything came together in the end for a nice enough landing.

Do it again without the PAPI’s

What the PAPI’s give you are a visual guide on your height, you want 2 red and 2 white, this means you’re on an approach angle of 3 degrees, keep the PAPI’s looking like this all the way down and they’ll guide you gently in over the runway at a nice casual approach.   More red then white equals low, more white then red equals too high.

One interesting point, typically GA aircraft in daylight don’t do 3 degree landings, they tend to do 3 white, 2 red and come in at a steeper approach angle then a jet would.   At night though, 3 degrees is what I’ve been told to fly.

Without the PAPI’s all you have are the approach lights and the runway side lights and you have to use these to judge your approach angle manually.   Which isn’t as easy as just following 4 lights in blind faith that they’re set right 🙂

Farms, Farms and Farms……..I love farm strip flying, I can’t encourage you enough to get an instructor to teach you how to do it and then go get some practice doing it.   My landings got better when I started farm strip flying, nothing I’ve done has improved my landings more.

So without the PAPI’s, there’s a pretty simple way to ignore all that text book stuff about runway perspective or trying to lean on your local knowledge of what the runway looked like the last 20 times you circuited on it etc.    Remember that the book says “Constant bearing, constant danger”, well the same rule applies to landings:   If you keep a point (e.g. the runway threshold lights) held constant at a position in the window all the way down – you will/can land there!    Of course if you have too much speed on at that point you’ll go into ground effect and float for another 150m but that’s your airspeed control going to hell, you’ll still be given every possible opportunity to flare it and make a good landing on the runway.   PAPI’s or no PAPI’s.

All you need to focus on therefore is that you want your airspeed in check around the same time as your landing point out of the window begins to stabalise its position.   Once you’re doing 65 knots, with the runway threshold held constant out of the window, your approach angle is going to be about right.

I found myself again getting blown in like crazy, again overshooting on the turn on to final.   However, the lack of PAPI’s really didn’t come as any bother at all.   I found I made a whole bunch more minor adjustments on the throttle and elevator as I point and powered my way to the landing point, but it was still a pretty well controlled landing.

No Approach Lights

This is stranger to fly then not having the PAPI’s, there’s something quite welcoming about the approach lights leading you to the runway.

Still you have the A14 and A1303 as visual references and the green strip of threshold lights at the near end of the runway.  So the main thing the loss of the approach lights does is make the runway/airport feel much, much smaller.

I messed this landing up a bit, as I touched down my left foot slipped and tapped the brake causing the unwanted sound of the tires to screech.   The touch down speed was slow and we hadn’t landed with the brakes on but the rolling speed was too high to be touching the brakes without them making noises about it.    There’s a good reason that ‘feet clear of the brakes’ is on the pre-landing checklists, if you were to land with your brakes on during a skills test – you’ll very likely fail for a dangerous landing.  The fear being that if you touch down at speed, brakes on, if both are on then the wheel that touches first will want to rotate the plane, or both will touch down and the tires might quickly want to give up the game.  With only one brake on you’ll be at risk of flipping the plane as it rotates around the differential braking.  Not a great idea.    This was nothing quite so serious, but I totally accept the principle it’s a bad thing to be doing, so I wasn’t thrilled with myself on this landing.   Still, you’re always able to learn from events.

No Landing Light

If you’ve ever seen a light aircraft come into land at night, you’d be forgiven for wondering why bother with that landing light anyway – it’s hardly illuminating anything.   True until about 30ft, when it is quite effective at illuminating the runway surface, critically what it provides is depth perception.

With the landing light on, those last 30-50ft before touch down can be done watching the runway come “up” to meet the plane (I know technically the plane is coming down to meet the runway, but it appears the other way around as you fly it in).

So without a landing light, getting the plane down to 50ft and over the runway should be easy enough, but judging when to flare it and estimating when the main wheels will be touching down on the runway becomes tricky.

Making sure my heals were on the floor and my toes were handling the rudder this time, I got it about right.   I was off maybe a couple of foot on the last few feet of height in the flare so a little flat, but not bad for a first go without a landing light.

All the lights (except runway lights):  OFF

The rule is you cannot land and must go around if the runway lights fail.   The reason is that without them, you’ll just be aiming for a now black centre line, somewhere in a sea of blackness.   It’s really not a safe idea!

Everything else is desirable, but not essential to the safe landing of a light aircraft, so time to see if I could put the plane down without any of the other lights.

Getting down to the runway I found easy enough, but again the real decider on whether I could pull off a perfectly smooth landing or with a slight thump seems to be the lack of a landing light.   Without it, it’s just hard to estimate those last few feet of where the main wheels are relative to the runway.

Still other then the one in the middle, all my landings I’d been happy with.


Again not a lot to be said really, everything seemed to up to a sufficient standard to keep progressing.

The plan for the next lesson would be to get the Navigation done, before the weather really turned on us.   This could be any route of my choosing as long as the flight took 1 hour and covered at least 27 nm (I can’t imagine how you do a one hour flight and fly less then 27nm to be honest, but the distance is a CAA criteria – I’m sure someone has a good rational for why there’s a distance requirement).

Night Rating: Part 1 (Night Familiarity)

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014 | Permalink

The night rating is one of the easiest ratings to add to a license, so as winter is now well and truly here and any hope of farm strip flying would now be the reserve of the incredibly lucky or foolish (generally I like to think I’m neither of those).  Seems like a good time to go get another stamp on my license 🙂

Why get a Night Rating?

Everyone’s reasons will vary, I’ve already given one of mine above but here’s a few more:

  • Escapism:  Want to escape into that childhood fantasy of getting into a bomber and taking off in search of finding a dam?    Just turning a Cessna 172 on at night with a red torch in hand is fun.
  • November – February in the UK:   It’s typically damned cold at 8:30am, during my training I quite enjoyed taking a broom to an aircraft’s wings on several frosty winter mornings.  However, if you’ve done it three or four times, you’ve probably done it enough.   Flying later on in the day is typically warmer (but not by much).
  • If a city looks nice during the day – it looks better at night.
  • You might not want to do loads of night flying, but from October-Feb, a flight taking off at 2pm is going to be at risk of coming back in the dark and if you have to divert, then what?   A night rating will keep it legal.

What’s involved in getting one?

No exams, just five hours of flight training, to include:

  • Three hours duel instruction
  • One hour (at least 27nm) Navigation
  • 5 solo full stop landings.

For more information, see the CAA website.

Lesson One:   Night Familiarisation

To get used to the essentials of night flight:  From airport lighting and how taxi speeds will appear very differently (out of the front window you’ll feel you’re going slow, now try looking left!).  To what cities look like and gain an appreciation of just how far out you can see at night.  A town you wouldn’t normally see straight after take off in the day, can be instantly visible at night – which can be disorientating.

Now technically I’ve sort of done this lesson before, but that was so early into my PPL training it’d be good to repeat it.

Satisfactory handling, must learn to land before continuing.

That is what I’m told it says in my training record for that first night flight – gives you an idea of how long ago it was!   Since then my landings have come a long way.

Checklists at night

Pilots love check lists, if you don’t I’d suggest strongly that flying isn’t for you – checklists, charts, plotting routes and manual calculations are all part of the ground fun that should be an aid to building the anticipation of next going flying.

Checklists in the day are one thing, at night with torch in hand, an array of instruments & switches before you.   It doesn’t get much better, at least not on the ground.

The Route

The plan was a pretty leisurely local area flight, we’d take take-off and then turn around to fly north to Newmarket.

From here we’d do an orbit of the town, before heading back to the airport.   Ask them for a zone transit (to allow us to fly through their aerodrome traffic zone [ATZ]), to get more familiar with the lights of the airport and when you can/can’t see them.

Head north west towards Bar Hill, getting familiar with the A14 at night and then turn it around and come back to Cambridge for a few circuits and get familiar with landing it at night (remember the last time I did a night flight I’d NEVER landed a Cessna 172 – I’ve done it hundreds of times since, but this would still be the first time an instructor had ever let me land it at night).

……even when you have your license, the first times can just keep coming.

Clear Skies – amazing views & almost incredible distances.

No sooner had we took off, you could immediately see Newmarket and the A14 leading the whole way.   I did find myself feeling a little unsure of what I was seeing and where things were for sure.   When you have the background noise of a Cessna 172 engine and you’re so used to seeing the day time landmarks etc.   It suddenly is a bit weird for example to not be able to see the wind farms to the east of Cambridge, but instead be able to see the bright lights of Newmarket & the runways of Mildenhall / Lakenheath.

Some great views of the town centre while orbiting, at only 2,500ft I sort of wonder how it looked from the ground 🙂

Sandy Transmitter Mast

Sandy Transmitter Mast

Heading back to Cambridge Airport we were cleared for a zone transmit, not above 2,500ft, as they had a fast jet coming in at 3,000ft.   Suddenly 2,500ft ceiling sounded very wise, the last thing we need is to go arguing with a fast jet – the approach speeds of a light aircraft flying at 115+ MPH and a fast jet doing 250+ MPH alone will make your mind boggle.

There is a big transmitter mast near Sandy, in the day it’s quite impressive to fly past (and will make you think twice about any low flying ideas you might have!).   Normally you cannot see this mast until you’re within a few miles of it.   However, at night because it’s over 300ft above ground level, it is lit by a red beacon light.   This makes it visible from Cambridge!  (20 miles away).

Heading north to Bar Hill we could hear on the radio that another club student, also getting their night rating, clearly had an instructor on-board who liked the idea of the route we were doing and was copying us.  Normally you wouldn’t know, but they also had to get a zone transit to follow us.

On the way out I got some top tips on just how dark the dark parts of the world were and a reminder on the idea of trying to land at an unlit runway was just going to be impossible.  You can really see why, from 2,000ft you just have black and bright light.   Who knows what is in the black parts – sure it could be a field, it could also be a house with its lights turned out!

Coming back to Cambridge:  Engine Failure

The plan was to come back to Cambridge and do a couple of circuits.  We joined the circuit and followed a PA-28, which rather tediously seemed to then go and do the worlds largest circuit!  🙁   As we were number two I had to entertain trying to follow them round, they were so wide that their base leg was pretty epic and to try and give them some time on final I told my instructor I was deliberately going to extend the downwind leg.

As I turned onto final, I was pretty pleased with how well my separation plans had worked out.   There was no reason they wouldn’t be able to land and taxi clear and then we could get clearance for our touch and go.   What could go wrong?

Cambridge Tower:  We’ve had an Engine Failure on the runway.

You’ve what!?!?   On the what?!?   How the what?

Go Around

It was followed by an immediate call to go around from ATC, the training drilled into me, kept me going here – but my brain was still racing to figure out what had happened to the PA-28.

They were landing, in fact they HAD landed!   So how had they had an engine failure?   Is that even possible?   Like I said, you can have first times – even after you have your license.

Whatever the cause, they were stressing air traffic control out, you can understand why.   They now had their only runway blocked by a plane, with two Cessna’s destined for Cambridge in the local area and a fast jet a few miles out.   Now this is a fully fledged & night licensed airport, so they can shift a plane – but having to, while managing a load of other circling planes isn’t going to improve their day.

Best theory in our plane was that they’d landed, brought the throttles back to idle and the PA-28’s idle setting had been set too low and this had just let the engine stall.

This theory was, very likely, soon confirmed as while we were getting back on to the downwind leg for another go as if by magic the “failed” engine had been restarted – bet that did wonders for their avionics 😉


I don’t mean to sound grumpy about it, but their little antic on the runway cost me a touch-n-go, so I would have rather they not have had the issue.   Sometimes these things can’t be helped though and one day it might be me having the awkward moment, so I try to sympathize.

Got a nice approach, brought the Cessna 172 down over the threshold and touched down just past the numbers so I was pretty pleased with the landing.

Still a bit unfamiliar with the lights leading off to the taxiway, it’s one thing to know the theory, it’s another getting real experience, so a few words of advice for where to turn off and some local knowledge that ATC wouldn’t ever ask me taxi past Charlie as Delta isn’t lit.

Nothing significant to be said in the debrief, think all in all the instructor was generally happy with my flying.

Next lesson would focus on landing the plane with various failures, both at the airport and within the plane.

Keyston Farm Strip

Sunday, November 30th, 2014 | Permalink

Look on your chart and you won’t find this place, nor will you find it in the standard flight guides.  It’s in Lockyears Farm Strip Guide, very fittingly – strangely it also appears on Skydemon Light

Keyston Farm - Overhead

Keyston Farm – Overhead

It’s a little farm strip to the north west of Cambridge, I first came across it through searching Google Earth for nearby airfield looking shapes (the best places aren’t on the chart and sometimes a few phone calls can find out who owns the land and get you permission).  A bit of a bigger investigation revealed this was a farm that was right next door to The Pheasant pub – now I was really interested, the phone number you need is on the pubs website, go have a look, just give the farm owner a call first and Prior Permission (PPR) seemed super easy and the owner pretty relaxed about visiting pilots – not being on the chart I was half expecting to give my speech to politely try and talk them into giving me PPR, but no such thing, just a “Yeah sure no worries.”

Just 26nm away, as the crow flys you can be there in 15 minutes.

Do your homework when Farm Strip flying!

It’s all well and good someone you’ve never met before saying it’s cool for you to come try and land a Cessna down on their farm – but you need to remember this is a flight to an Unlicensed bit of grass (airfield would be far to grand for the reality of most farm strips).

I’ve found that I like to try and do a little homework first:

  • Google Earth the place:
    • Any hedges, public footpaths going straight through it?
    • Remember that Googles data is often out of date, but it’s better than nothing.
    • Google Labs has a neat feature for Measuring the ground, even if the farm owner or guide has told me how long the strip is, I like to measure it to be sure.
  • Check the weather at local bigger airfields
  • Think seriously about your diversion plan, it’s more likely that you won’t like what you find on arriving at a farm then it is on arriving at somewhere like Cranfield Airport.

A windsock is a nice to have but most farm strips don’t seem to have them, not essential, but anything you can do to have a plan of where you might see some smoke rising (a local factory, a nearby cottage etc.)  is good local knowledge to have as you can use that smoke to tell you what the wind is doing.

Preparation Prevents Poor Performance……it’s also been known to save lives 😐

Briefing & Passengers

Route to Keyston

Route to Keyston

Flying with one of my best friends, I always brief my passengers – it’s a standard script, that has a couple of extra notes about farms.

Passengers, more so first time ones, are an interesting dynamic.  As the Pilot you’re responsible for their safety and one thing I always try to remember is that even though someone might be up for going for a flight in a light aircraft.  If they’ve never done it before, a variety of nerves, anticipation, uncertainty and varying degrees of confidence will be at play.

My passenger seemed happy to go into a farm strip and had been in light aircraft before, so we could stick to the planned route.

Flight out to Keyston Farm

The other thing first time passengers do is slow your best thought plans right down.  It’s not their fault, it’s a function of never having been in a light aircraft before etc.  I was the same the first time I jumped in a Cessna 172 – where’s the seat belt?  How does it work again?   How do I get the seat to go up?   How do you get this door to close?

Other than running a bit late as a result, the taxi out was all good, ATC were great as they so often are at Cambridge no real delays at all.

Once over Point Alpha Keyston is a very simple navigation:

  • Point the plane at Grafham Water, once there you’ll be within 8nm
  • Keep the A14 on your right and when you see Molesworth, you’ll be virtually on top of Keyston Village
  • There’s a church in Keyston that’s quite a good reference, the big green hangers of the farm are also excellent landmarks.

The strip itself is actually really well maintained, if you’re used to farm strips from the sky then you’ll spot it easily – if you’re not, I’d say Keyston won’t be the easiest to spot.   However, it’s position to Molesworth and the A14 means that if you get the Nav wrong, you’re not going to be left searching for a strip of grass in a field, surrounded by fields! 🙂

Safety trumps Noise

On arrival overhead I was making traffic calls on the safety comm frequency, I joined overhead and it was looking great.   A nice downwind circuit and I was juuuust about to turn base, when with one last glance at the windsock, I paniced myself, convinced myself I was about to do final approach with a tailwind and bailed from the approach.

Making calls that I was repositioning for wind, I never backtracked my thoughts properly, I just repositioned and setup a circuit for the other direction.

Coming in on final, we came in with a really fast ground speed (over time you do get used to judging ground speed relative to the movement of ground features etc.) – what the heck was going on!   I wasn’t happy with it at all and elected to go-around.

Another look at the windsock:   Idiot, I’d read it right the first time, in a moment of weakness on the first circuit I’d misread it, talked myself out of my original plan and decided to change the circuit direction………the original plan was right all along.

I’m sure the village of Keyston wasn’t massively pleased with a Cessna buzzing round for 5 minutes, but I wasn’t about to press-on into a field with a massive ground speed if it’s not safe, just to try and save them from the noise.   Sure I’d made a mistake, but the best result will come if everyone walks away from it safely and an afternoon at the pub is enjoyed by all 🙂

Point and Power Landing

Since completing my farm strip training, I’ve become a total convert that ‘point and power‘ is the way to land a plane if precision of the touch down point is your primary objective.   I’ve done a bunch of farm strips prior to Keyston – I’m not an instructor so please don’t ignore professional advise as it’s probably geared towards your own strengths/weaknesses – but once you are fully competent at landing, I’d encourage you to find an instructor that you can learn this technique from or attempt it under their supervision etc.   I’ve found it really helps me to put it down where I want it.

Keyston has rough terrain at the edge of its northern side and a footpath, so landing short would be a really bad idea.  Measured on Google it’s about 700m end to end, but as I now have local knowledge it’s on a descending slope (north to south), so if you land to far into it from the north you’ll have gravity against you.  There’s a hedge to stop you at the other end 🙁   Farms are like that – but I wouldn’t worry by the time you get there the gradient is getting pretty serious, though nothing like Tower Farm near Sywell.

I now had enough knowledge of the strip and the surface winds, one advantage of having come at it from both ends, that bringing the Cessna 172 down nice and slow with an airspeed indicated of 55 knots was no problem.   I think I could have got it down to 50, such was the wind, but I wanted a little bit more power on as around 50 the stall warner will start to go crazy as you cross the threshold and with first time passengers, that’s not necessarily ideal (though he had been briefed it might happen).

The wind just dropped ever so slightly on the touch down making it a thump rather then glide touch down, but our ground speed must have been almost zero – we were at taxi speed in well under a quarter of the runway used.   Not trying to be competitive but getting it stopped in waaaay less runway then you have available is a great feeling every time, at farms it’s a bigger rush and why I like farm strip flying soooo much (remember that there’s a hedge to greet you at the other end if you’re the sort of pilot that ends up floating it for half way the runway!)

G-HERC Parked at Keyston

G-HERC Parked at Keyston

One interesting thing to note, if you look carefully at the above picture you’ll notice there are some people in the background.  They literally turned the corner and started walking on what effectively is a runway, moments after we touched down – farm strips are interesting things, to a pilot they’re a runway.  To someone out walking their dog, they’re a public footpath or a bit of grass for the dog to run free – you need to keep an eye out for such things.  It’s a dynamic of dealing with an unlicensed strip.

The Pheasant Pub :   Reason enough to fly to this farm!

Everything about Keyston is cool, the landmarks are picture postcard stuff.   The strip is well maintained and I really enjoyed flying and getting the landing done here – I’m coming back just because the strip is great.   However, the icing on the cake is that once parked up, you just walk down a 2 minute farm trail and you’re at the Pheasant pub.

Sadly the one down side with being the pilot is I cannot drink, the rules on blood alcohol levels area quarter of that of driving – so the best advice is to simply not touch a drop of the stuff.

That said, what a great little place to fly into for lunch!    Friendly staff, good food (Massive chips), pretty reasonable prices – just all good, why would you not come here 🙂

The Pheasant Pub Keyston

The Pheasant Pub Keyston

Oh and although farms don’t typically charge you to land, this one has a donation system of £10, just tell the bar staff etc.   Not the cheapest, but location, location, location!

The Flight Home

After an enjoyable hour or so in the pub, it was time to head back to the plane and head home.   We’d been on the ground a bit longer then I’d planned, so we decided to cut the return journey short to a direct return to Cambridge.

On the walk back we passed some walkers who inquired about if we’d flown in, I guess they’d just walked past the parked up G-HERC and seen the hi-viz jackets in hand.   Can you think of a better way of getting to a pub then flying in?  They seemed to agree it makes for a pretty nice day out.

One advantage of flights out of farms:   The time from Taxi to Takeoff is minimal

I selected a decision point for aborting the take-off if needed, then fired up the engine and taxied up to the far northern end of the runway, giving myself as much runway as physically possible.   The strip drops off towards its southern end and I didn’t want to be fighting a plane going in and out of ground effect as the runway rolled away from under it etc.   10 Degrees of flap for best short field take-off performance, holding it on the brakes while bringing it up to 2,000RPM.   One last check my passenger was happy and not messing with seat belts or anything.   Then it was simply a matter of releasing the brakes and charging down the grass strip.

Airspeed came alive pretty sharpish, it was a comfortable take off.   Grass strips tend to be a little bumpy but as long as they’re dry and you manage the elevator a little so you’re not putting weight onto the nose wheel, the take-off from a farm should be not much different to a take off from any grass airfield.

The flight back to Cambridge was uneventful, if anything the weather had greatly improved from when we’d left – just as it had been forecast to do.   The circuit traffic back at Cambridge was nice and low for once, so we got a right base join, shaving about 5 minutes off the flight time ~£15, so that paid for the landing fee at Keyston, big thanks to ATC 🙂

A great day out, but sadly probably the last farm strip I’m going to do this year:  The weather is beginning to turn for the worst and as the nights roll in, it’s an ideal opportunity to get a Night Rating done.


Farm Strip Skills: Part #3 (Completed)

Monday, November 3rd, 2014 | Permalink

Farm Strip #3 Chart of route

Farm Strip #3 – Chart

The general scheme for this course is 1 hour revision, 1 hour land-away and finally an afternoon of land-aways.   Part #2 got scrapped due to weather, but thankfully the instructor said we could progress to the final part, do the afternoon of challenging farm strips and if I had no issues with them, he’d consider it a done deal and I’d be free to go fly farm strips on my own.   Time to impress then!

The weather was looking great, so no excuses.

Briefing and the Afternoon Plan

No PLOG for this trip, everything on the map again, general plan of attack was to fly up to White Fen farm (not even on the chart!) for a full stop landing, but we wouldn’t get out, then up to Sempringam Fen Farm for a touch and go and a full stop landing.

Neither strip is very big, ~470m x 16m

What makes farm strip flying interesting to me is if you crack open the C172 SP Pilot Operating Handbook a little bit of math will tell you that the plane won’t stop at full weight and zero wind in anything under ~580m.   So you can count these places out if you plan to tank up and take the family, to get into them less fuel is good and fewer passengers, even better.

White Fen Farm

Because this blog post is much delayed, I can tell you that farm strips aren’t always easy to find even with the advances of Google Earth.   Even now I find it essentially impossible to pin point you to where this place is.  Probably a good thing.

With about 2 nautical miles to run I finally spotted the place from the air.   East Anglia is flat and a shade of green/yellow almost everywhere that isn’t a town.  So spotting ~500m of straight grass amongst a sea of grass is harder then it sounds!   That said, I can think back to when I first started to learn to fly and instructors would ask if I could see Cambridge from 7nm out, forget it!   Today I’m so used to the shapes of airfields I look back wondering how I ever missed it, but experience teaches you what to look for.

Making radio calls on a safety com frequency as we joined “the circuit”, to no reply, I really focused on making sure I got my downwind/pre-landing checks in and then really put the effort in to ensure a good circuit, good height and to not turn on to the base leg until I was sure I’d have enough distance on final to get it down in one go.   They were kind enough to let me come and land at their farm, the last thing they need is a C172 buzzing the house on go-arounds if I could avoid it.

My top tip is to not turn base until the runway threshold is just about to disappear out of the rear side window.  If you fly a circuit of about 0.5nm (1km), this should give you, rough numbers, just under 0.5nm final approach which should work, without buzzing the next village down the road etc.   Any sooner and you’ll be trying a military continuous circuit and your workload will sky rocket, any later and as I said you’ll probably just upset the owners neighbors and never be invited back 🙁

Taking care to not come in short, but also not hit the tree on the right it was a pretty nice touch down.  I think if I could do it again I’d like to have touched down maybe 50m sooner, but I was happy with my airspeed control and the landing was controlled and not slammed.   Tick in a box.

We taxied down to the far end and due to the light winds take-off direction was much of a muchness, so just spun it around at the other end.   10 degrees of flap for best short field performance, brakes on and throttled up to 2,000 rpm.   One last check the instructor was happy, then release the brakes and charge down the grass strip.

Airspeed Indicator comes alive, now it’s about judging how fast the airspeed indicator is increasing relative to how much grass we have left.   By a quarter of the runway gone, we were well on our way to rotation speed, so it was looking good.   55 knots, rotate and climb away at best angle (Vx) of climb rather than best rate (Vy) – we care about not hitting the trees, not how fast we can get to 1,000ft 🙂

Onwards to Sempringham Fen Farm Strip

Spotting this one was probably going to be harder and worth remembering that my dead-reckoning and wind calculations were all done on the Chart with Max Drift estimations so weren’t going to be spot on. What I knew from my map was that I’d have Spalding on the right, if I overflew it I was too far right of track, if it was somewhere off to the right in the distance, I’d be to far left.   I also knew that there was a railway line that came out of Spalding and curved round to the west, if I overflew that then I’d gone too far north – I didn’t think the instructor would let that happen, but I was trying to come up with a plan to narrow down the big flat world outside.   Being really optimistic I knew the route crossed South Forty Foot Drain running north/south – I was hoping I’d spot that, if I spotted the crossing for that drain, Sempringham would be on my left.

Of course all best laid plans……I knew I was ball park in the right area, but ~4nm out I couldn’t see it, with hindsight I think I was a little fixated on the idea that it would be in front of me (being a bit optimistic about flying a perfect heading perhaps!).    The instructor asked if I gave up and wanted him to point it out to me?   Ok I give up.

Pointing to the left, about 4-5 nm away was what to me at the time looked like the thinnest strip of grass ever.  You’re joking that’s an airfield right?    It was straight and with a house & barn at the end it was the right sort of shape, but as we got closer, from 2,000ft it still looked incredibly narrow – even if we forget the length!

Impress or fail, we’d have our answer in a few minutes.

Setting up the circuit, I saw a good north/south ditch type thing to the east of the strip that I decided to use as a reference for the base leg.    I didn’t want to fly a silly sized circuit, but I didn’t want to turn and find myself halfway down the grass strip at 600ft either, this ditch seemed like a good sized compromise to a reasonable circuit shape.

On approach my eyes and brain were working overdrive on airspeed and watching the window.   Window, Airspeed, Window, Airspeed.   I took one comment from the instructor to just keep my airspeed up a little as I went through 60 knots – wind consideration here is critical, light winds need as much consideration as gusting etc.   Even so, I was really trying my hardest to put this plane down right at the very start of the strip.

Just going through 50ft the plane sank, I jumped on it and applied a little throttle to counter, caught it beautifully and it corrected just nicely enough to be able to take it back off again and touch down only feet from the start of the runway.   I couldn’t have been happier with it.

Full power, tons of runway left, which is saying something as it’s only 460m end to end!

Another circuit and again I really wanted a spot on landing for the full stop, just to show it was no fluke.

I used the same circuit points as before, they seemed to work out nicely and again went for ensuring I was totally in control of my airspeed on the approach with a constant picture out of the window.   Pointing the plane at just a few feet before the start of the strip for where I wanted the plane to go and using the throttle to keep the airspeed in check – I was still getting the hang of point and power technique, but having done only a few landings using it, I can assure you that post learning, it’s really the way to do it if you want accuracy.

Touch down, nice and soft and right where I wanted it to go at the beginning of the runway, we were down to taxi speed with around half the strip to go.

I chalk this one up as probably the best landing I’ve ever done.

G-MEGS:  Landed at Sempringham Fen Farm Strip

G-MEGS: Landed at Sempringham Fen Farm Strip

The best places to land involve those places that have coffee and cake, with much thanks, both were on offer.   Flying, cake and coffee – I see your hobby and raise you, it doesn’t get any better then this 🙂

Back to Cambridge

Another short field take off and it was off for a really quite pleasant flight back to Cambridge, funny really that some months ago Spalding/Cambridge was a route on one of my first solo Nav’s and I must have concentrated soooo hard to not miss Spalding.   Now I was just glancing at the map, spotting the land marks and really flying with my eyes out of the window just enjoying the views and a casual chat on the way home.

Great day to be flying.

Back on the ground at Cambridge the chief flying instructor said he was happy with my flying and didn’t need to see any more.   My training record now shows I’m cleared to fly the club aeroplanes into farm strips!

Farm Strips:  I’m hooked, more!

It’s been one of the best courses, different to when you’re trying to be formally taught how to fly.  Yet challenging and I really feel I expanded by skill set from doing it.   Not just in terms of flying, but also increasing my confidence to try find and go into shorter strips on my own, with the right training to be able to do it safely.

Hand on heart, I find myself completely hooked on flying farm strips now.

I’ve done a bunch of big runway landings, I trained at one etc.  Big airfields bring different things to the party, lots of radio work, procedural joins and accurate circuit flying being critical etc.  but for the challenge of the landing and even the challenge of finding some little patch of grass in the middle of nowhere. I found myself wanting to just get out there and do more farm strips – I started to wonder who might let me come land in their garden if I asked nicely enough 🙂


Farm Strip Skills: Part #2

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014 | Permalink

PLOG on the Chart to Marshland

PLOG on the Chart to Marshland

On arrival this looked like it was going to be a good day, but the longer you looked up, the worse the clouds became.

Obviously then the answer was to stop looking up and go get on with it!

All the planning on the Chart :  Wiz Wheel, forget it.

I’d been told not to plan this trip out to Marshland, we’d do it on the fly.

Now to learn a few more notations & symbols for drawing a PLOG on to a chart.   If it’s good enough for the military to have all their planning & radio frequencies on their chart, it’s good enough for me.

Normally you’d work out the wind corrections on a wiz wheel (Flight Computer), then work out heading corrections from that.  Very accurate, so long as the wind forecast is accurate.   However, you can’t do this easily if you’re diverting, so there’s a good case for learning to fly using Maximum Drift and some rules of thumb.

Maximum Drift

A quick calculation will give you a pretty accurate Maximum Drift (due to wind) you might experience on a flight:

Step 1 :  Calculate the max drift if the wind was perpendicular to the route being flown.

Max Drift = (60 / True Indicated Airspeed) * Wind Velocity Forecast for the Altitude being flown

Math in an aeroplane is actually harder then it sounds, even for math you’d find easy on the ground.   This is because you’re now traveling at ~100+mph, have people talking on the radio to you or have to listen in case they start, are trying to maintain a heading and altitude (and don’t forget to keep looking out the window!) – the constant ‘buuuuur’ of the engine also doesn’t help concentration.

For a Cessna 172, with a typical indicated airspeed cruise of ~100 knots, you can optimise step 1 further by saying 60 is close to 50 and IAS (Indicated Airspeed) and TAS (True Airspeed) will be close enough at cruise speed:  so 50 / 100 equals 0.5.

Now our equation becomes:

Max Drift =   0.5 * Wind Velocity Forecast for the Altitude being flown

Sure you now have a bit more error in the system, but here’s an example, lets say the Track we want to fly is 080 Degrees and the Wind is forecast to be 165/25  for our flight altitude.

If we do the equations above, with TAS = 100 knots.

Accurately  :      (60 / 100)  *  25   =   15  degrees

Estimate     :      25 / 2  =         12.5  degrees.

So with the wind at 85 degrees to our intended track and a reasonably high wind of 25 knots, rounding up, the quick estimate is out by 2 degrees.

Over a 10-20nm leg of journey, this error is going to be very negligible (i.e. With 2 degrees error, after 60nm, you’ll be 2 nm away from where you thought, so over a typical 10-20nm leg the crude method would put you, out by 0.3 – 0.6 nm).    If you still don’t like that small amount of error, remember that TAS here has been approximated to the Indicated Airspeed cruise of 100 knots.   TAS will actually be higher by a few knots, at 2,000ft AMSL in a Cessna 172 with IAS of 100 knots, flaps up and in level flight TAS will be very close to 104 knots.   Do the accurate math above using a calculated TAS, but use only the IAS 100 knots for the crude method and you’ll find that now the error is under 2 degrees.  It’s pretty good and probably more accurate then the error and danger of going eyes down while you get a flight computer out and start remembering equations and how to do division on the thing!

Step 2 :  Using the clock rule system, adjust as applicable for the angle you’re flying relative to the above wind (you might be flying straight into/with the wind).

Take the difference between the track on the chart and the forecast wind direction, multiply the number from step 1.  by

  • 1/4  if the difference is up to 15 degrees,
  • 1/2  > 15 and <= 30 degrees.
  • 3/4 if up to 45 degrees.
  • For anything else assume Max. Drift (e.g. multiply by 1).   This will give you a slightly pessimistic outcome.


If Step 1 gives us a Maximum Drift of 15 Degrees, then using the details from the above (Track we want to fly is 080 Degrees and the Wind is forecast to be 165/25 ).

165  –  80  =  85  Degrees difference, so we can just assume that we’re going to get the full 15 degrees of drift.

If we changed our track later on in the flight to say 140 degrees, then

165 – 140  =  25  Degrees Difference, so   15 * 0.5   (Multiply by a half as it’s greater than 15 Degrees, less than 30)   = 7.5    Degrees of drift.

If you’re still feeling bitter about my approximation method on step 1 above and have a desire for accuracy, it might be worth noting now that in the above condition with 25 degrees of difference, the drift error between the approximation and the precise calculation is less than 1 degree!


Lets go flying ………even if those clouds do look a lot darker.

The briefing was far shorter then your typical PPL training briefing, but even so by the time we got out to the aircraft, dark clouds on arrival, were looking lower and darker then they were before.   We discussed going again, was it worth it, should we go have a look anyway or not?    I elected we just go have a look.   In my heart I knew this was being optimistic, but the CFI wasn’t going to say yes if it was entirely pointless or unsafe and even if we just went up, turned round and came back, it would still be valuable experience of the weather with the proper instruction available etc.

A wall of darkness

As we set heading over Point Alpha, it didn’t take very long to know we could scrap this 🙁     Already at 1,700ft and being pushed down with every minute flown, the north of Cambridge looked like a wall of darkness and cloud – maybe, just maybe, if we dropped to ~1,000ft and pushed on past Waterbeach, maybe it’d clear.

The instructor asked what I wanted to do?   While on the ground I was of the view that there’d still be some things I could learn by going up in less then ideal starting conditions with experienced instruction.   Now I just felt this was more a question of “but should you carry on” rather than “Do you want to”.

I saw no point, it was a lot of maybe’s – that might not come true and if they didn’t how bad would it be when we gave up and tried turning round?   Even if they did come true, we’re aiming for a grass strip in the middle of nowhere, when we get there we’ll have no idea of the surface winds and even if we can get a rough idea of them, probably it’ll make for a hell of a challenging landing and I’ll come away from it feeling rubbish and like I’d forgotten how to land.   That would add no value to this objective.

I elected to call it a day and turn back for Cambridge.

Air Traffic heard our call to return and asked if there was a problem, this is a pretty normal response if you call to return only ~5nm from take-off.   I reassured them that it was just a return due to weather and they let us come straight back in on a Right Base join, which was helpful both for the deteriorating weather and to keep my costs down 🙂

Epic Wind shear:   Falling at ~3,000ft/Min

As I lined up on final approach there was a crosswind and you could feel it gusting hard on the controls.   I’d had worse on the way out to Calais, where almost full opposite aileron control was required to keep a Cessna straight, but now we were trying to land and there’s a big difference between keeping it straight at 2,000ft and keeping it straight at 500ft.

Still I was happy I was on it for this landing, the instructor wasn’t asking for control so they still had faith too 🙂

Then as we passed through 250ft, we just fell!    In ~2 seconds we dropped from 200ft to 100ft, 50 feet a second (or 3,000ft per minute!!)

Throttle Fully open, the Cessna managed to get lift again.

The window outside went from a happy picture, to the runway filling the screen in milliseconds – we’d just dropped out of the sky, for that second or two there was no flying involved, we’d just fallen straight down.    It’s a moment like this that makes you appreciate being in a C172 and not something with less power.  However, Cambridge is a mile long runway, so once recovered and flying again, the CFI said I could just re-land it a bit further down the runway – it meant we had to back track after landing but, still better than a full go around.

Back on the Ground Safely

Once safely back on the ground with time to reflect, the CFI said that the natural reaction of trying to pull back on the controls with only a little power would have been absolutely no good and we’d probably have just slammed the tail of the plane into the runway – he also said it was probably the worst wind shear he’d been in, I take that as meaning it was about as bad as it can get.

Still, it was recovered, we landed safely and I felt I took some good things away from it all – even if we didn’t reach our destination, the real skill in aviation is to know when to quit, rather than just press on regardless 🙂

Farm Strip Skills: Learning to Land (again)

Friday, September 19th, 2014 | Permalink

This is short (4 hours) course the club runs for Post-PPL members, focusing on improving short field take-off/landing & cross-wind technique at the little grass (often unlicensed) farm strips that are scattered all over the country.

Marshland Farmstrip

Marshland Farm Strip

Three big reasons I wanted to do this course:

  • I’ve landed on Grass runways at Cambridge & Sywell, but I’m not sure I’d be confident to even attempt to find a grass strip like Marshland – let alone try landing there!
  • There’s < 15 concrete runways in a 60nm Radius.   At 1-2/month, I’ll have visited them all within the year. Having the skill set and confidence to go to the ~30+ farm strips in the same radius will keep things much more interesting – then I can go back to the ones I like, as I like, not just because I’ve ran out of ideas.
  • Everyone I’ve spoken to who’s done it said it’s great fun.

Lesson 1 :  Revision at Cambridge (Grass)

I’d expected the briefing to be a drilling on how well I knew my 172SP Pilots Operating Handbook and associated performance facts and figures.   I’d done some brush up revision just in case, but actually the briefing was considerably better and all round more interesting then I’d imagined possible.

Some interesting facts & history about why even spotting a farm strip from the air can be hard (Windsocks might be considered an “invitation to land”, that can lead to all sorts of insurance issues.  Or you might actually dare use it for wind information, but what if they’ve tied it down for the day?).   Remember most of these places are unlicensed, they’re not required to have a windsock, if they have one there’s nothing stopping them tying it down to a post.   Runway centre lines & other such markings are optional :-\   you get the idea!!   If not just look at that picture of Marshlands again:  Runway or someones’ back garden?

Landing Technique:  Point and Power

I was taught the following landing technique, I suspect 95% of all PPL students were taught the same:

  • Power controls ALTITUDE
  • Attitude controls AIRSPEED.

So if you look low, add some power.   If the airspeed drops below 65 knots, point the nose at the ground more – if that makes the picture look low, add some power.

What does this mean in practice?    More often then not, you’ll find you’re landing with all the power OFF maybe 200-500ft above the ground with about the same distance to run.   Now if you’re still high, what can you do about it?   Nothing!    In Control Theory speak, you’re now technically out of control.

Not quite true, you might argue with me that you could side slip – fair enough, but perhaps go back and read the Flight Performance (PPL4) book again, one major risk with side slipping is your airspeed indicator will begin to read significant error, not entirely ideal, especially if you need to land on a specific point and therefore fly an accurate airspeed to that point.

Point and Power Technique reverses this idea:

  • Power controls AIRSPEED
  • Attitude controls Altitude (point the nose where do you want the plane to touch down).

Now the idea is to point the nose at the landing point and keep that point constant, if that stays constant, you will touch down there.  If pointing the plane at that particular angle causes the aircraft to lose airspeed, add power to get the airspeed back.   Now we’re in control of where the plane lands, we could theoretically point the plane quite considerably at the ground, so it’s less likely we’ll run out of elevator control then it was in the previous technique that we’d run out of power control.   If we find we don’t need power any more, the plane must still be aiming at the point we want it to land.

Point and Power is the technique used by all airliners, it becomes obvious why when you remember that fast jets use Auto Throttle:  Set an airspeed on the computer and all your left with Elevator control to point the jet at the bit of runway you want it to land on.   The computer will do whatever it takes to ensure through all your pushing/pulling, airspeed stays at the set final approach speed.

If Point and Power Technique is so good……then why isn’t this taught to all PPL students first???

Browse google and you’ll find a rare few instructors pondering the same question, but I’d draw your attention to the fact the same thought is asked in PPL Book 4, Descent and Landing Performance.  There the authors offer 4 explanations why PPL students are taught to use Attitude to control airspeed first:

  1. If airspeed is critically low, pitching nose down is a safe option as it reduces wing loading (therefore reducing the stall speed – and thus increasing the safety margin to the stall while increasing the airspeed).
  2. Aircraft can stall irrespective of power setting.   They stall because the Critical Angle of Attack has been exceeded… reducing the Angle of Attack by pointing the nose down, takes you further away from the risk of a stall.
  3. In the event of Engine Failure, the control column becomes your only means of controlling airspeed.   In an emergency humans revert back to the training drilled into them – in a student PPL’s case, this would then be to control the airspeed of the approach with the control column.
  4. At slow airspeed, pitching nose down remains consistent with the training for Standard Stall Recovery.

Essentially:   For an inexperienced pilot, it’s safer, but at the expense of accuracy.   As landing distance available gets closer to landing distance you require, you could argue that a precision landing becomes a safety requirement.   No points for avoiding the stall, but floating down the runway and crashing at the other end!!

Almost all the Grass Runways

Cambridge has 2 Grass runways (4, if you count them in both directions):

  • 05/23 Grass  :  899 m  (2,949ft)
  • 10/28 Grass  :  699 m  (2,293ft)

The POH for a 172SP says on an average day, landing on grass at ~1000ft elevation, you’ll need ~2,260ft from 50ft above the runway.   So being 50ft over the 28 runway numbers is going to be cutting it a little thin!!   However, only 870ft of ground roll is required, so if we touch down ON the 28 numbers, we should half the runway left when we stop – that sounds a lot better.   Perhaps that gives a real world example for when accuracy of landing technique & touch down point becomes as important as not stalling it at 50ft.

Plan of attack was to go do a couple of touch and goes on 05 Grass, then if that was ok and the cross wind would allow try 28 Grass.

If the wind gods really played fair, possibly even try 10 Grass, but that was looking unlikely with the wind.

Practice doesn’t hurt

To avoid embarrassing myself too much, I’d recently flown 05 grass solo.   If nothing else this helped my confidence and didn’t leave me flapping on the first circuit wondering when to turn and worrying about finding the runway.

It’s been months since I’ve taken instruction while landing a plane, so that was a little bit strange.   I’ve got quite used to my passengers going quiet at this point and just focusing on the task of landing.   Now I was working to land it while not looking like I should never have been granted a pilots licence!, listening to the instructor and trying to best apply a new landing technique.   It wasn’t as close to the numbers as I’d have wanted, but it was a decent enough grass landing with a good touch of cross wind technique required for good measure.   My one mistake I wanted to correct was that I’d not fully appreciated the wind on the turn on to final, as a result I’d turned a little to soon.

A mistake I’d occasionally found myself making on my solo grass circuits, was forgetting to raise the flaps on the climb out (Yes it’s on the checklist).   The reason for this is that on the main runway, you’d raise the flaps fully while on the ground roll, on the grass you raise them to 10 degrees – the grass runway also has a lot more going on in the ground roll, the bumps, re-setting the flaps, getting the power back in a much shorter distance.  I made sure to correct this now,  above 200ft with a positive rate of climb :  Flaps up.

Under careful instruction, I was flying the final approach a lot closer to the stall speed then I’d ever allow myself.   I fly final approach at 60-65 knots.   Now I was aiming to fly an accurate 50 knots (172SP POH says with flaps down it stalls at 48knots, so you get the idea!).

28 Grass :  The very under used runway.

Another acceptable 05 grass landing out of the way and with great support from a friendly Air Traffic controller, we repositioned to fly the 28 Grass circuit.

 In the 2.5 years it took to get my licence, I’ve landed on 28 Grass :  Once!

I’ve landed on shorter grass runways, to date the shortest grass runway I’ve landed on is Northampton Sywell 05 Grass (602m / 1,975ft) with passengers.   But all the same, without a crisis forcing the situation, I wouldn’t have dreamed of electing to ask for 28 grass on my own.   It comes with many headaches:

  • It’s a very under-used runway, ATC need to be in a good mood as you’ll be getting in the way of everyone to fly its circuit.
  • The climb out is straight out over central Cambridge – engine failure?   The options would be ‘interesting’ and limited (a football pitch or broke basically).
  • It’s 700ft shorter than 05 grass – as illustrated above, touch down early or the book says you might well find yourself running off the far end.
  • Where is the circuit for this runway again?

With an instructor though, it was making my day to have a go at landing on 28 Grass, it’s been ages!!

A jet at Cambridge meant ATC had to ask us to not turn base leg until we were 2.5 miles away.  This would mean flying in over Fulbourn, not sure they’d be thrilled.

Much more emphasis on the Point & Power technique, final approach felt like flying right on the edge of the stall.  Indicated Airspeed was 49-50knots, as we broke 100ft height the stall warner was intermittently bleeping away, my immediate reaction was to go for the throttle – the instructor assured me it was ok as long as it wasn’t constant.  In every way imaginable, this approach felt like a more advanced landing then I’d ever tried to do before, I can only imagine the heart attacks I’d have given other instructors if I’d tried flying approach with the stall warner going off/on/off while not even over the runway!  Of course I’m a little more experienced then a student having their first go and learning how to get it down and stopped on the limits, is the point of the training.

With the wind, we must have had a ground speed of 35-40 knots and touched down just a tiny bit past the numbers.   The plane would have stopped in a heart beat, we’d used maybe 1/4 of the runway and were back on with the power.

I’ve never took off from 28 grass, the climb out feels insane, you’re climbing up over the outskirts of the city essentially and you’d never normally be allowed to be at 1,000ft over the houses.

I was hoping second time round on 28 Grass would be a charm, but if anything it was a touch worse.  I felt a bit more comfortable now withe the airspeed sitting at 50 knots and with the line of trees that await you on the approach, all be them 700ft from the 28 numbers (~10 seconds of flight time from crossing the trees touch down).

What I couldn’t quite perfect was that at these slower speeds, the controls were less responsive then I was used to and so need more input, more immediately…… not a million miles from what goes wrong when you first try to master landing.

Back on to 05 Grass

Another touch and go on the grass, but this time I tried too hard to bring it down on the numbers and we bounced.

Demonstrate you’re a safe pilot first and foremost:  So I just pushed the throttle right in, got the airspeed back and declared “Golf Romeo Charlie Going Around”

It could have been landed, the instructor was quite clear that he didn’t think it had been a huge bounce and far from the ballooning they drill you to not hesitate on going around for.    On my own I think I might have gone to land it, but with an instructor it felt too hard and with so little touch down speed, I wanted to take no chances…….Subconsciously perhaps my biggest fear was reaching the end of this hour and being told I wasn’t good enough and the lesson needed to be repeated before continuing.

One final go, this time to land.   I’m so used to having some degree of float, that this time I was simply aiming to far before the runway.   The result was I had to add power just to reach the numbers, not ideal either, but it highlights the difference 15 knots of approach speed has on your ability to float down the runway……approach at 50 knots, forget floating.

All in all….

Considering that on face value, this was “just” circuits at my home airfield.   I enjoyed myself immensely!   I felt I learnt a lot from only 50 minutes in the air and that the theory explained in the briefing, I could now fully appreciate from practical experience.

A few more grass strips and I might actually be able to do it properly and be confident to do it on my own without vast experience and wisdom in the right hand seat talking me through my mistakes 🙂


First Trip to Old Buckenham

Friday, August 29th, 2014 | Permalink

This airfield has been on my ‘want to go’ list for months, a pretty obvious choice being just 20 minutes flight from Cambridge.  It’s fairly irregular circuit had put me off in the early days post getting my license and then other places came up and all the usual stuff got in the way.

A chance catchup online with a friend meant the right seat would be occupied with a local friend.  Now I’ve got quite a few hours post-PPL, it’s great to have friends in the plane to chat with and to steal copies of their photos after.

No chance of rain…….so why is it raining then?

The weather man had spent the last two days religiously reciting “cloudy, but NO CHANCE of rain.”   I was a little concerned about the cloud, but being only an 18-20 minute hop by plane, I was pretty sure that worst come to the worst on the cloud we’d be pushed down to 1,500 but we’d get there no worries and maybe it’d cut the return leg short.

I was not prepared at all to open the door at 8:45am to find it RAINING!

For the true experience of flying light aircraft, spend two hours drinking coffee at your nearest airfield.

If you don’t have an IMC or Instrument Rating then sooner or later, you will be spending hours of your day, scheduled for flying, sat around an airfield watching the weather and waiting for the clocks to tick past 20 minutes for the latest METAR update.   If you don’t like talking planes, looking up at the clouds and anecdotally debating what they’ll do next……don’t bother learning to fly.  It’s part of the deal, you’re only buying a few hours a month with the propeller spinning, all of this stuff is free, you have to enjoy it or you’re not going to fully enjoy having a license.   Suffice to say, most pilots I’ve ever met, LOVE talking aeroplanes and what the weather will/won’t do next.

On arrival this is all we could do, the cloud base was 1,400ft and at times the visibility was reported as 3Km!   Yet I had faith in the day coming off, even the chief instructor reckoned it was going to be a nice day and you can usually take such tips to the bank.

There’s only so long you can wait though and after 2 hours and only the beginnings of improvement in the weather it was time to look at the diary and see what else we could do today.

Thankfully a solo hire plane was free all day, I couldn’t get MEGS which is the plane I wanted ideally, but one advantage of delaying a few more hours would be that I could then get Whiskey Kilo or Romeo Charlie.

New plan then:

Let’s find a pub that’s open, have some lunch, as it’s nearly 11am, then go flying.

Attempt Two :  Much Improved weather (Now where did all the instructors go?)

As predicted the weather did improve, we now had 2,000ft to the clouds and 8-9km visibility and the TAF was for the whole area to keep getting better.  Great stuff, lets go then…

Except even with a license, I still need an instructor to authorize the flight – its still someone else’s aeroplane at the end of the day.   The only instructor was out having just sent a student solo, hmmm more waiting, but lots of good news:

  • The weather had made the person who had G-MEGS booked all day, cancel 🙂
  • The plane was now available until 6pm so this delay wasn’t eating into our allowable flight time and neither me or my passenger had any other plans today.
  • Gave me time to phone Old Buckenhem, get Prior Permission to land there and a chance to get info on the weather, runway in use and local aero traffic.

Finally all signed up, lets go flying…….

Soooo many signatures & phone calls…….but no ATC form faxed!

Hmmm I may have forgot in the go, delay, more delay, go.   To fill in the form for Cambridge ATC that gives them all the book out details of the flight, Doh!   Still they’re a great team and thankfully let me give them the details over the radio – not before calling them up on the wrong frequency as I hadn’t spotted the previous pilot of this plane had left COM1 on Cambridge Approach instead of tower, not a great start, but get your gremlins out of the way on the ground 🙂

A northerly wind so the long taxi down to holding point Delta, for runway 05 today.

Still I was happy, the flight was on and I got to take G-MEGS out for a spin, recently I’ve found I really enjoy flying this plane.

Thetford Forest, Mildenhall, Lakenheath & Honnington.

Runway 05 gave one big advantage for this route:  We could fly direct to Newmarket and set heading from there, rather than navigate to the standard Nav points.   It’s an easy town to spot with its railway, race horse track etc.   The trick with doing this however, is that it’s also VERY close to Lakenheath/Mildenhall Combined Military Aerodrome Traffic Zone (CMATZ), so you need to be talking to them almost as soon as you’re safely into the climb out of Cambridge.   The ATC guys at Cambridge again being great folks today, realized this is what I’d need and offered it up without needing to ask or without any of the messing with calls requesting I contact Cambridge Approach etc.   Great stuff could get this done early and get MATZ Penetration clearance from Lakenheath nice and early keeping those guys on-side.

Overhead Newmarket (Famous for Horse Racing)

Overhead Newmarket (Famous for Horse Racing)

Thetford Forest, Structured from the sky.

Thetford Forest, Structured from the sky.

The reason I wanted them to be on-side for this is that the route actually means flying about 4 miles away from their ATZ and with absolutely massive runways at Lakenheath and Mildenhall, within visual of their airfields.   This means you’re not just a passing blip on the radar thats skimming the edge of their zone and no real hassle, if they wanted/planned to launch any fast jets or land any, we’d be a real aggravation for them – and if we didn’t fly exactly the heading we planned, we could become a whole heap of work for them.   Thankfully the A11 means you can keep that on your left and be sure you’re not infringing their ATZ.   The controller today seemed like he had a fairly quiet day, asked us to squark the usual sort of code for their MATZ and let us get on with our day.

Great views from here, Lakenheath on the left, Thetford forest on our right and dead ahead.   Good stuff, I’d not been down this stretch of airspace since my Solo Nav #2.  (where you do this leg in reverse).

Snetterton and No Straight In Approach today.

Old Buck. had told us to avoid Snetterton today due to helecopter activity with the motor bike racing they had on today……however the motorbike racing was exactly why I didn’t want to avoid Snetterton.   Now before you scream ‘Safety first’ at me, there wasn’t a helicopter in sight and visibility was very good.  As with most of these things, I suspect they’re busy at the start and the end with almost nothing hovering in the middle.

Snetterton Race Track

Snetterton Race Track

Sadly though Old Bucks wouldn’t give us a straight in approach due to their awareness of activity over Snetterton, instead a left hand circuit, for runway 07 was in use.

Old Buckenham Circuits Pattern

Old Buckenham Circuits

Normally a circuit at your destination is expected, but the circuit at Old Bucks is huge, have a look at the diagram, it’s so big you actually fly into and then back out of, their own ATZ to complete it!

There is very limited information on how to approach Old Bucks from the South West and then do a left hand 07 circuit.   Rather then trying to overhead join at 2,000ft and have all the headaches of positioning that would require from here, I elected to simply descend dead side from an offset straight approach (thus skipping all the overhead turning at 2,000ft that would be required of a standard join).   Another plane was turning onto base, my passenger spotted them, 1,000ft below and on our left.  So visual with them, I began the descent to circuit height.

Things now got interesting, the other plane wasn’t coming in to land, but instead to touch-n-go!!

The risk now that they’d begin to climb out up to 1,000ft just as we’d be crossing the far end of runway 07 (and we’d converge to make a big pile of airplane pieces in the middle!).

I made sure to report we were cross-wind so they knew to be keeping a good eye out ahead – with only a ground radio in operation (thus not allowed to give any clearances to either plane), we were both flying entirely visual rules and while the rules of the air put me in the right.  I’d rather not be having that debate.

Attleborough was easier to fly around then I’d anticipated and once the other plane was safely behind us in the circuit pattern it was all smooth.

More than could be said for my landing, it was on the back wheels nicely but I used about 100ft more then I’d have liked, so I put the wheels down hard.  This made us bounce a tiny bit, but nothing that risked the nose wheel – by the time I’d even processed it the back wheels were down again and I could lower the nose.

G-MEGS was right down to taxi speed with runway to spare for the 25 taxiway, with a plane behind us I was quite happy with how that’d had gone for a first visit.

G-MEGS at Old Buckenham

G-MEGS at Old Buckenham

Really Cool Planes & Other Stuff at Old Buckenham

When we’d left Cambridge, there’d been a guy stood outside with a radio scanner – I’d chatted to him a little.  He was a plane spotter, a little strange I’d thought, for sure a lot of big, fast and cool stuff fly’s into Cambridge – but you need to know WHEN!   Without local knowledge you could easily burn a week there drinking coffee and watching nothing but Cessna’s and small/medium mass produced jets.   For me, that sort of traffic isn’t worth “spotting”.   I assumed he must know something I didn’t, but whatever it was, he wasn’t offering it up.

For me if you want to plane spot, go find something rare!

Boeing Stearman (Navy Trainer Paint)

Boeing Stearman (Navy Trainer Paint)

Something like the 7 cylinder 220hp, Boeing Stearman perhaps!

That’s just me though, if you prefer to spend your day spotting rare registration 737’s, all good.   But I promise you the plane above is rarer 🙂

Loads of other cool stuff to see at Old Buckenham a great little airfield to go visit.

Grenade Launcher Tank

Grenade Launcher Tank

And if I can give you only one tip of advice about going to small airfields, pretty much anywhere in the English speaking world at least.   It’s this, try to have a look in the surrounding hangers and/or ask around and see if anyone there is willing to show you what’s behind the doors – I promise you 99% of aviation people are amazingly friendly and love nothing more then to show you something cool they’ve got and have a bit of a chat about it!   Honestly, give it a go, you’ll be stunned what you can find behind the closed doors of some really simple looking barn type hangers at small airfields.




Old Buckenham -> Cambridge (via Framlingham)

A coffee and a real good look around later, time to jump back in the plane and crack on with a “long way round” trip back to Cambridge.

Framlingham Castle - from the air.

Framlingham Castle

We had the plane all day due to the weather earlier in the day and Framlingham is cool to see from the sky (it has a castle).

The trip back was pretty uneventful really, we stayed with Old Buckenham Radio until Diss and then switched over to talk to Wattisham Approach to get the ok for going through their MATZ on the way back.

Dropped down to around 1,500ft to get a really good view of the castle and flew around its perimeter just to keep it all nice and safe should we have got hit by an engine failure etc.   Then it was simply a matter of pointing the plane west for Cambridge and head on home.

G-MEGS :    Traffic at 2,000ft.   Approx 6 Miles East of Cambridge.
That is us, G-MEGS
Negative, visual with you…..other plane converging on your position

This is not what you want to hear – ever, the converging part being the real kicker to the situation.

With about 30 seconds to go I spotted the converging plane, around 10 O’ Clock high, maybe 200-300ft higher than us.   Phew!    Once visual started to have options and things we could do to keep it safe, it’s not official RT Phraseology, but I still thanked the approach controller for the information,

Landing – Safely Home

Initially I asked for an overhead join, but as it was the early evening I thought I’d try my luck and asked ATC if it’d be possible to get a Right Base join for 05?    This would allow us to simply fly straight into the last leg of the circuit, turn right and land (taking about 5-10 minutes off the circuit).

“You can have what you like…..”   Excellent, when they can be, most controllers are very friendly and helpful people 🙂

Final - 05 Main.

Final – 05 Main.

A great day out and beyond Old Buckenham being a good airfield to visit with all the military hardware to have a look around etc.  from a flying perspective actually a really quite scenic little route to remember.

First Flight – Over the Channel (Calais, France)

Thursday, June 19th, 2014 | Permalink

One major objective of learning to fly for me is to make a flight to Jersey.   Anyway you cut it, this requires flying over the channel and that, even with a newly acquired pilots license and legal – is still not something to be done lightly.   So the chance to do it with an instructor the first time, seemed like a sensible approach.

G-MEGS Garmin 1000 Glass Cockpit

Garmin 1000 Glass Cockpit

An aero club group day out, we’d take all four Cessna 172’s:  One instructor per plane and two pilots – one flying there, the other flying home (great for everyone to get some experience and  keep the costs down).

Being differences checked on G-MEGS seemed to pay off again, when the aircraft list was published I got to fly it 🙂   It’s a funny plane, in training its G1000 means you rarely get to fly it and when the opportunity presents itself, you’re reluctant to.   Now having my license and having been checked out and had it on solo hire a few times, I do really like flying this plane – it’s very much up there with G-SHWK as a favorite.

Arriving at the club, bright and early (the weather: Not so much)

G-MEGS External


The forecast the night before was suggesting a dry day,  no chance of rain, but cloudy.   With everyone arriving around 8:30-9am, the cloud was down around ~2000ft, not ideal for a channel crossing – I had my doubts we’d be going.

Within the aero club though it was a hive of activity, those with licenses seemed keen to see the route and plan it up on their charts (I’d dropped in the day before so I already had the route).  Those without licenses appeared to be more eager to be involved then I had been on previous attempts for club outings.

By around 11am the decision was a trip was on – just not to where.

The Planned Route

The Planned Route – Le Touquet

There were now sub-group meetings happening with instructors and the pilots of their respective planes, debates on the weather continued, telephone calls to Le Touquet, Southend-on-Sea, Lydd and Calais.

Finally a plan of attack was agreed:

  • Fly out to Southend-on-Sea, evaluate the weather
  • If good progress to Dover and re-evaluate the weather for Le Touquet from there
  • If all good, cross the channel
  • If not, our alternative airfields would be Calais (France), or Lydd (east coast England).

We’re going, amazing……I better crunch some wind numbers into the PLOG then 🙂

I was flying with an instructor I’d never flown with before and a student from the club with ~16 hours experience.   On this basis, I was asked if I minded flying the outward leg?    No, not at all, this is the way I wanted to do it anyway – another landing at another airfield in the book.

PLOG - Part A

PLOG – Part A

My passenger for for the outward leg had disappeared temporarily though, so I grabbed the POH and other airplane paperwork required to be carried for a land away and went to check the plane out.   It takes a little longer to checkout MEG’s, more Garmin related switches, bells and whistles but other than that it’s a 172 at heart.

PLOG - Part B

PLOG – Part B

Plane checked, route and plog reviewed – just time for a mass pilot briefing to discuss flying in formation and we’d be away.   The time was now pressing on for 11:30am.

Engine Start-up:  Four Cessna’s

With at least two of the other planes being piloted on the way out by students, it perhaps shouldn’t have been a surprise that irrespective of the more complex checklist, with only one refusal to start it was G-MEGS that had its propeller running first.

This wasn’t a race, but it would get our engine temperature up nicely and I personally didn’t want to be last in the formation:  It would mean we’d be chocks off-to-on the longest (costing more) and would restrict the options for radio calls etc.

G-UFCB would be the lead plane, so we were waiting for them to start and call the tower.

We’d agreed they’d do the radio calls for the group, but this pretty much stopped before it had started.   G-UFCB called for taxi, a longish pause, then G-HERC called.   We better get in then or we’ll be last to get the ok to roll…..

Golf Mike Echo Golf Sierra with information Foxtrot, QNH 1023 request taxi.

And we were rolling off to holding point Delta, with runway 05 in use today, it’s a long way to taxi and not ideal for an eastern departure but you can’t control the wind.

Follow those planes!

Power checks at Delta kept things interesting, with barely enough room to squeeze in four Cessna’s but we all managed to find a space an point into the wind.

G-HERC got cleared to line up on the runway, but their positioning could have been better, so we had to squeeze past them and back track before lining up.    Their slipstream was pretty impressive though and you really felt the effect of the propeller spinning clockwise causing the wind to hit us on the left hand side first.

No time to spare though, we were soon cleared to go, full power and we were off.

At 600ft turning right to head for six mile bottom where we’d set a course for Sudbury, I’d done the route out to there twice in the last month, so was very happy with this.   Just pickup the train line, hit six mile bottom then fly east until you hit the industrial town with a railway and river.

Formation of Cessna’s entering a Military Aerodrome Traffic Zone (MATZ)

The lead plane was being flown by a student, I’m told their biggest fear at this stage in their training was the radio – so they picked the short straw today, but the thing to remember is that it’s these new almost forced into experiences, that make you better and more confident in flying.  So it’s good to be challenged.

Unfortunately the plan for them to handle all the radio work fell apart and in some ways it was better it did, all the planes could call up and get their MATZ penetration approval.    This didn’t thrill the air traffic controller, but he entertained us and was polite and professional – so thanks to the Wattisham ATC guys 🙂

Turning over Sudbury for London Southend on Sea, the cloud base was not being very helpful.  It was murky and getting 2,500ft was a challenge.

Golf Courses and Merkyness

Earls Colne is a bit of a strange airfield, it’s almost literally sat on a golf course and its runway is half asphalt, half grass (and we’re going to have to have a trip out there to try landing on that some point soon!).   Passing it on our right though it made for a nice landmark.

The weather wasn’t improving, if anything the cloud was getting lower.

By the time we reached London Southend the view forward could be described politely as merky.   Not wanting to distract air traffic there more then was needed (four Cessna’s in approx. quarter mile formation, radioing for zone transits etc. could become really tiresome), the radio calls had become pretty brief.

Golf Golf Sierra, will be doing same as the other Cessna’s in formation.

Not exactly standard phraseology, but it did mean us and ATC didn’t need a massive back-n-forth conversational set piece.   They could simply acknowledge us, air time is a precious thing – as you’ll see later!

We were now tracking the Detling VOR/DME, not strictly necessary, we were in formation.   However, I wanted to play (get more experience) with the toys in G-MEGS and if we lost the plane ahead in the weather, we’d have a fall back all ready to go……..if you’re learning to fly, the best advice anyone can give you is to do as much prep work ahead of when it’s required as possible:  At 100+ knots per hour (115 MPH), you’re covering 2 miles a minute and time is not on your side for suddenly faffing with radios, maps and pens when plan A goes wrong.

Approaching the overhead of the VOR I was starting to be convinced the channel crossing was a lost cause.   The cloud base was getting worse, the visibility was getting worse.   Romeo Charlie in front of us was weaving to stay clear of clouds and a few times we’d have to speed up to ensure they didn’t disappear ‘around’ a cloud and be gone.

Decision Time :  Cross the Channel?

Approaching Dover, it was rapidly approaching the point where we’d have to make a decision to go for it, or abort and switch to an alternate airfield – probably Lydd at this stage.

Cliffs of Dover

Cliffs of Dover

London Information gave us Le Touquet and Calais weather reports.   Forget going to Le Touquet, it was in cloud cover.   However, Calais, one of our pre-flight planned alternates was looking like a possible winner – if we could just get over the channel.

We pressed on, at 1,500ft we edged over the cliffs of Dover….any second the lead plane could call it all off.

Every second I found myself hoping for another second over the water, a second closer to the other side of the channel.  Not for fear the engine might pack up, but that the closer we got to the other side, the more likely the decision to divert would never come.

Two planes whizzed past on our port side, seconds later a radio call from London Information:

Cessna formation be aware:  Mechasmit followed by a Spitfire operating in your area.

How cool was that, we’re off the coast of Dover and we’re getting our own Battle of Britain re-enactment!   Unfortunately the weather had us concentrating to much on what was ahead to be enjoying what had just whizzed passed.

Using a Glider radio frequency we collectively decided Le Touquet wasn’t worth it and to divert to Calais – I really didn’t mind, I’d be happy anywhere on the other side of the channel.

Then, as if out of nowhere, half way across the channel – it all cleared up.

P&O Ferry from above

P&O Ferry from above

Suddenly we had blue sky ahead, we could climb for the first time in ages and on the horizon, the French coast!!   🙂

French Controllers & British Pilots that won’t shut up!

The Language of Air Traffic Control world wide is English, however, there’s someone talking to you in English and then there’s someone who’s passed an exam in it, but would rather not be using it given half a chance.   Having thanked London Information for putting up with our little formation, I found myself for the first time ever, now talking to the latter.

Still, friendly enough and they gave us no hassle at all.   I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting, but what I found far exceeded my expectations and any worries I’d had about what ATC would be like on the other side of the water, quickly evaporated.

The lead plane was about 2 miles ahead, with number 2 about 0.5-1 mile ahead of us.   The trick now was to fly the handful of miles north up the coast of France, close enough to stay in formation, but getting enough distance to the plane in front that once into the airport circuit, they’d have time to land and vacate, such that we could be cleared to land behind them without going around.

As the lead plane elected for a right base join and got granted their wish from Calais ATC, we all followed.

My only problem was that plane 2 (Romeo Charlie), seemed to leave it incredibly late to turn.   Perhaps they were trying to get distance from the lead plane, the only other theory I have is they hadn’t seen the runway, but I find that harder to believe.  Whatever, they seemed to turn late, which left us trying to slow it right down, turning beyond 90 degrees and trying to extend the base leg while flying it.

Couldn’t leave it much more though or we’d never get back on the centre line, that’d have to be enough, now descending and flying a typical 70 knot descent on final approach.

Thankfully Romeo Charlie’s pilot did a great job landing it early and vacating, we were at about 500ft with about 2,000ft to run.

Calais Approach, Golf Blah Blah Blah, over the channel on a QNH of 1234 and just wondering if I could get a weather update from you, seem quite cloudy where I am, yada, yada, yada………righto, roger that…….Sunny you say, and could I also request…..

600ft, 550ft, 500ft…….you can’t land without clearance, if he kept chattering on we’d be forced to go around!!   Radio time is precious and this was a text book example (Literally), of someone abusing it at the expense of others with more critical tasks going on.    The next time he paused I just cut him off and jumped in:

Golf Golf Sierra, Final to land runway Zero Six.

Passing through 300ft above the airfield:

Golf Golf Sierra, cleared to land runway Zero Six, surface wind…..

Pheeeew!!!  with very little height to spare, I could land the plane – another 100ft or so and it would have been a go-around (and I had no idea of the circuit at Calais).

All the effort to keep height and get clearance to land meant I was now higher then I’d have liked, but the landing was still looking good.   Lined up with the center, the stall warner went off as I pulled back on the yoke, 20ft above the runway, and then we touched down.   Excellent, it wasn’t the finest landing I’ve ever done, but for a first time at this airport I’d take it any day of the week…….but I’d used about 100ft more runway then Romeo Charlie so a pretty sharpish attempt to get MEGS stopped followed, I didn’t want to be the cause of Whiskey Kilo going around!!    All the throttle off, brakes on as soon as it was safe to apply them, and just in time for the taxi way exit, we were slow enough to turn right and vacate the runway.

G-MEGS parked in Calais

G-MEGS parked in Calais

Job done and I couldn’t have been happier with that flight!    My first crossing of the channel was behind me, the French ATC hadn’t been anything like as scary as I’d perceived in my head, ATC at Calais were very friendly and had correctly reacted to our jump in call to get clearance to land – we were more important then someone waffling on asking if the sun was shining.   A landing I was proud of and the sun was shining with beautiful blue sky in Calais – it doesn’t get better than this!  🙂

Sunshine in Calais:  When in France do as the French do – time for some lunch!

After some photo op’s of the group and of the Cessna’s, all that was left was to try and work out how to get through Customs, who to pay for landing there – all of which was hindered by a language barrier and a bizarre sense of:

Why do we need to see your passports?   We have 4 planes on our runway, we’re pretty sure you’re coming back!

Good point…

Three taxi’s later, all twelve of us found the best looking restaurant (possibly the first we saw), who layed a table for us outside in the sunshine and we set about having a really nice three course lunch.   What more could you ask for, 2 hours ago I was in overcast Cambridge, now I was having lunch with friends in 20+ degree C, Calais.

Go learn to fly, this is as cool as it gets!

From a money perspective everyone payed for something, I’d got my landing in Calais done so was happy to pay for the landing fee (All 10 Euros of it!!! What a steal!), lunch was put on an instructors card and we all paid him back in British pounds in England.   Someone else bought the 30 euro taxi out into central Calais, I paid for a taxi back to the airport – it all worked out there-or-there-abouts, I think everyone was happy on this front.

Food for thought:   We’d taken instructors in our plane, but if everyone on-board had ‘bought a seat’, with 3 in each plane, the whole return flight would have cost ~£195 per person, return.   A fully flexible Eurostar ticket would cost £250!!

Homeward bound.

Holding - Ready for Departure.

Holding – Ready for Departure.

All good things must come to an end and the hours spent debating the weather at the start had eaten into our little trips leisure time – but you know what, it didn’t matter.   I’d flown a plane from England to Calais, enjoyed a French three course lunch with some great people in the sunshine and chatted about aeroplanes………as days out go, this is almost as good as it gets.

With some great organization from our lead planes instructor, taxi’s arrived to take us back to the airport.

Customs was about as effortless as walking through an airport front door and nobody batted an eyelid when in close succession four Cessna 172’s started their engines on the apron.

About to line-up for Runway 06

About to line-up for Runway 06

All that was left to do was for our student pilot to make his first take off from a non-Cambridge runway.   Some people have all the luck, his first take off from a non-home airfield, wasn’t even in the same country as his home airfield!!   Still he did a pretty good job of it, even if the extra weight of three people in a Cessna did come as a little bit of a surprise in its desire (or lack of) to climb.

Calais - Thank you and Goodbye (for now).

Calais – Thank you and Goodbye (for now).

The trip home was a lot of fun, even from the back seat…….in fact I’ve NEVER been in the back seat of a Cessna 172, in all the years now that I’ve been in them it’s ALWAYS been in the front left. Very strange.

I decided I’d use this rare opportunity to entertain myself with “work out where I am using only a map and what I can see below”   a good chance to brush up on the “if you were lost and had to work out where you were using only the land features you could see, no Nav aids, could you????”   I’ll be honest, I really quite enjoyed doing this, a runway here, a railway there, a river going through a town with a round about – ok it should then take us 10 minutes on this heading to be crossing a motorway and if that’s true we’re……….

Good views from the back seat.

Good views from the back seat.

Forget finding the landmarks once we were over the channel again, we followed the lead plane and the lead plane decided to go over the clouds.

Over the top of cloud

VFR? – Time to use that Instrument Rated Instructor in the right seat 🙂

Although it was an hour and half flight home from Calais, it was a smooth flight, much clearer then our cloud skipping murk avoiding trip out there.   I think we got the “who should fly each leg?” question, spot on, while getting out there may have been a headache for a student,  I hoped and would like to believe, the pilot now in the front seat was now having a great time flying this trip back.

London South End

London South End

All that remained was to bring it back to Cambridge and land it on a familiar runway.

Forest in East Anglia

Forest in East Anglia

All though we were really running quite late (the original plan to be back by about 4:30pm local) and it was now heading for gone 6pm, we’d phone a head and everything was under control – the airport didn’t close until 8pm and we’d be down no later than 6:30.

Just time for some more great views of England and a little bit more ‘spot the town using only land marks’ back seat entertainment……..I must try and do this more, it was brilliant practice.

With Cambridge in sight it had been a really good flight, pretty impressive considering our pilot had only recently first solo’d – now he’s just flown a 130 mile cross-channel route!

All lined up, time to bring it back to the ground, good things must always come to an end sadly 🙁

Final Approach: Cambridge

Final Approach: Cambridge

Back on the ground it was a matter of paying up for lunch, filling in the log books for the flight times (I now have a landing at LFAC in my log book!) and returning the life jackets.

This trip was simply an awesome day out, got to know a whole bunch of people at the aero club a little bit better.   Had a ton of fun flying with them and got to fly MEGS cross-channel which I never thought I’d ever do during my training, one once scary plane tamed 🙂


First Flight : Post PPL (Duxford, almost)

Friday, April 18th, 2014 | Permalink

It may take weeks to get your license, even once everything is signed off.   Thankfully the aero club runs a policy whereby if you trained with them, then once they’ve signed everything off and your license is effectively “in the post”, you can fly solo without instruction/checkflight before every trip – but you can’t take passengers.

Duxford :  Maybe / Maybe Not / Maybe……Maybe Not.

I took them up on this policy, planning a short hop of a trip out to Duxford – the intent to do a local, land away.

On arrival, this was a bit of a tricky issue, with new instructors, a degree of confusion set in about whether I was allowed to do this or not.   Not helped by a Chinese whisper effect occuring regarding if I had a medical or not – what I’d said is I didn’t have my license or logbook, but had my medical.  This became “I didn’t have a license, medical or logbook”.    Anyway, eventually we got there and the flight was on.

Unfortunately the storms at the beginning of the year took their toll and on ringing for Prior Permission (PPR), got told the airport was closed 🙁

A quick tweak to the route (i.e. cut out the landing bit) and the flight was back on.

Wimpole / Royston Route

Wimpole / Royston Route

The green line is the outward route, the blue line the return route.   So instead of flying the last leg of the route out, I’d just turn around at Royston, point the plane back to ‘Point Alpha’ and head home.

Runway 23 - Lined up

Runway 23 – Lined up

Scenic:   Radio Telescopes & Wimpole Hall

Having only been down in this corner of the map once or twice in training, I’d always wanted to go back as there are a few nice land marks to see.

The radio telescope and a few minutes further south west, Wimpole Hall.

Wimpole from the Air

Wimpole from the Air

A really nice day to go flying, good visibility, very few clouds and seemingly nothing else up in the air trying to borrow the same real estate.   The radio seemed to suggest otherwise, but just not in the area I was flying.

Radio Telescope

Radio Telescope

It took 15 minutes to get off the ground at Cambridge with the power checks etc, the flight itself would last just 20 minutes with another 10 to get back into the circuit and land – but as short trips out go.   A nicely scenic one, a little bit of nav, but no risk of really getting lost – so a nice trip out given the current licensing position.   Plus a chance to try something a little different, start the nav from a different landmark, instead of flying straight for Point Alpha (M11/A14 junction) and starting from there.

It’s a shame Duxford was closed, I was feeling very aware that since my QXC I’d clocked up maybe 8+ hours of flying without having landed anywhere else but Cambridge (could I remember how!?!?).   Those sorts of crazy thoughts begin to creep into your head.   Maybe next time.

Getting back into Cambridge was easy enough, a police helicopter was operating in the area but that didn’t add too much of a complication to anything.   Air Traffic obliged my request for a crosswind join and the landing was pretty good, ending a very nice flight the right way.

A fantastic little trip out, now for that license to show up so we can take passengers for the first time.