Archive for the Flights Category

Spring is here again: Let’s go Flying!

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017 | Permalink

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

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

Keyston Farm

Keyston Farm Downwind

Keyston Farm Downwind

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

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

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

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


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

G-HERC (Golf Hotel Echo Romeo Charlie)

G-HERC (Golf Hotel Echo Romeo Charlie)

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

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

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

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

Hundon Farm

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

Hundon Farm

Hundon Farm

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

Landed Safely Hundon Farm

Landed Safely

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

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

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

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

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

Stones Farm

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

Stones Farm ~800ft

Stones Farm ~800ft

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

G-MEGS @ Stones Farm

G-MEGS @ Stones Farm

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

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

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

"Elf" and Safety Warning

“Elf” and Safety Warning

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

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

Where to in 2017 then???

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

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

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

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

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

Rayne Hall Farm

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016 | Permalink

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

Runways at Farm Strips

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

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

Flying Farms Strips with Friends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Route to Rayne Hall Farm

Route to Rayne Hall Farm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take Off / Flight to Rayne Hall

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

Ready for your Wispa?

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

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

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

Wind a little bit off

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

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

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

Landing at Braintree

Rayne Hall Farm Overhead (From the West)

Rayne Hall Farm Overhead (From the West)

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

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

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

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

Where did that come from!!

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

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


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

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

Final Approach to Land

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meeting the Ultra Light

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

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

A farm  strip with a club house

Rayne Hall Farm Club House

Rayne Hall Farm Club House

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

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

Still a friendly resident soon sorted that out.

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

G-UFCB at Rayne Hall Farm

G-UFCB at Rayne Hall Farm

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

Taking Off:  Runway 27 and back to home.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Easton Maudit Farm: Finally!

Saturday, August 29th, 2015 | Permalink

G-UFCB: Parked at Easton Maudit

G-UFCB: Parked at Easton Maudit

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

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

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

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

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

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

We could leave you the keys to lock up

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

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

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

Cambridge to Easton Maudit

The Route

The Route

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

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

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

Santa Pod: Drag Strip

Santa Pod: Drag Strip

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

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

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

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

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

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

That looks like a farm strip

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

Easton Maudit Farm Strip

Easton Maudit Farm Strip

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

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

Always fly a circuit at farm strips

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

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

Easton Maudit Final 50ft

Easton Maudit Final 50ft

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

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

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

Chatting with the owner

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

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

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

Returning to Cambridge

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

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

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

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

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

Easton Maudit Take Off

Easton Maudit Take Off

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

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

Bit of Fun over Grafham Water

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

Landing at Cambridge

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

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

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

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


Isle of Wight: Fish n Chips in the Sunshine

Friday, July 31st, 2015 | Permalink

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


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

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

Route: To & From Bembridge Isle of Wight

Route: To & From Bembridge Isle of Wight

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

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

Nice to fly with other pilots

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

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

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

I Spy with my Little Eye :  The Airfield Edition

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

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

Heading Indicator Precession

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

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

Just have to keep a good eye on the heading.

Oxford:  Very Excited Air Traffic

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

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

Turning South:  Gliders Everywhere!

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

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

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

Worrying Southampton

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

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

This caught the attention of Southampton Air Traffic Control

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

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

Short hop over the water then Bembridge:  Landing

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

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

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

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

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

G-SHWK: Parked at Bembridge

G-SHWK: Parked at Bembridge

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

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

Plane Landing at Bembridge

Plane Landing at Bembridge

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

Another Club Plane lands

Another Club Plane lands

Fish and Chips by the Seaside

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

Sandown sea front

Sandown sea front

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

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

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

Propeller Inn

Propeller Inn

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isle of Wight Beaches

Isle of Wight Beaches

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

White cliffs near The Needles

White cliffs near The Needles

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

Binstead Farm Strip

Binstead Farm Strip

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

Flight Home:  Nice bit of Back Seat Navigation

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

London Southend Runway

London Southend Runway

One of the Last Back

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

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

Being summer there was no risk of needing night ratings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Food for thought for another trip 🙂


Waits Farm Strip (in a sea of grass)

Sunday, May 10th, 2015 | Permalink

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

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

G-MEGS External


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

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

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

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

Waits Farm Strip

Waits Farm Strip

Waits Farm Strip

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

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

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

Taxi out & Navigation

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

Waits Farm Chart Navigation

Waits Farm Chart

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

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

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

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

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

Waits Farm PLOG

Waits Farm PLOG

Spotted it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where is this Farm then???

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

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

Where's Waits Farm?

Where’s Waits Farm?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

 On the Ground:  Barn or Hanger??

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

G-MEGS parked at Waits Farm Strip

G-MEGS parked at Waits Farm Strip

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

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

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

Returning to Cambridge

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

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

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

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

Tight Left Base in front of a B-17 Bomber

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

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

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

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

B-17 : Sally B at Cambridge

B-17 : Sally B at Cambridge

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

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

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

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

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

Turweston: When the sun doesn’t shine.

Tuesday, April 28th, 2015 | Permalink

G-HERC (Golf Hotel Echo Romeo Charlie)

G-HERC (Golf Hotel Echo Romeo Charlie)

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

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

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

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

Briefing / Checkout

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

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

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

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

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

Several factors played into my mind:

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

Take Off

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


It’s a pretty straight forward flight from Cambridge:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Silverstone Race Track



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Really Good Cafe for a Bacon Sandwich

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

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

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

Two Hours – almost not enough

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

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

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

Flight Home: Uneventful arriving to a Crosswind

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

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

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


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.


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 : 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.