Archive for the PPL Course Category

EASA, PPL(A) – Licence Arrives!

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014 | Permalink

The pack of paperwork required to be sent off makes for quite an impressive envelope:

  • Your Log book – filled in by pen, formally signed and stamped by the aero club
  • A copy of your Skills Test results
  • A certified (by Chief Instructor), copy of your Class 2 Medical
  • A certified copy of your passport
  • 10 page Form SRG1105A, fully filled in.
License Application

Licence Application

Then it’s just a matter of waiting the 4-6 weeks required to process it all and for the CAA to take payment of £192 – note this covered courier return service & both PPL(A) & FRTOL licences.

What seemed like an eternity later, but in reality was 5 weeks:

License Arrives by FedEx

Licence Arrives by FedEx

I was at work at the time it was delivered, very hard to concentrate when a package like this shows up at home!   Yet more so because it might be a licence – but it might be they’ve just sent it all back due to some clerical error on a form, who knows…..

Needn’t have worried though, the aero club had done an amazing job of supporting me through the application process.  Checking all the forms were correctly filled in and signed etc.   The package sent back contained my new EASA PPL(A) Licence, the return of my log book and some informational bits and pieces.

License & Log book

Licence & Log book

What does all this mean?

Out of the box, an EASA PPL(A) licence with the ‘standard’ SEP (Single Engine Piston) Rating, allows you to fly a single-engine piston powered aeroplane anywhere in Europe.   It is also one of the easiest licences to have accepted/recognised for use in the United States – but that requires more paperwork.

Under EASA, aeroplanes have recently been grouped into EASA aircraft (e.g. Cessna 172) and Non-EASA aircraft (e.g. Tiger Moth).   A holder of an EASA licence can fly either category subject to the limits of the rest of their licence (i.e. Singe Engine Rating will restrict you to single engine aircraft obviously).

Having done 3 solo full stop landings in the last 3 months, this piece of paper also means I’m legal to carry non-paying (beyond a reasonable share), passengers!

FRTOL : Passed

Thursday, March 20th, 2014 | Permalink

The Flight Radiotelephony Operator’s Licence (FRTOL), authorises you to operate an Aircraft Radio Station in a UK registered aircraft [CAA].

While a Private Pilots License (PPL) lets you fly the plane, it does not make you legal to operate the radio.   If you plan to fly exclusively out of grass strips and outside controlled airspace, this might be ok – but realistically, you’re going to need to use that radio and over the course of the PPL training will have already clocked up significant usage anyway.

The FRTOL Exam is a practical/oral exam involving (typically) the applicant in one room and the examiner in another and simulating a flight and the associated radio calls.

Personally, due to the flight being simulated, I found the timings to be very “disorientating” in the sense that it’s hard to judge a reasonable time between calls (the map is covering > 50 miles, you’d have tens of minutes to plan a call – but that feels like cheating, so I tried to make each call with only a handful of seconds gap).   If I could give others any advice, I’d say take your time more, remember that in real life you really would have time to plan initial contact calls – so take that time, you’re paying for the examiners time so leave them waiting if you’re getting your head clear on your next way point initial call or request etc.

The debrief was pretty intensive, but I passed and that was my only objective of the day.   If you’re learning and wondering about costs, the exam cost me £90.

If you want to know more about the FRTOL, privileges/requirements/exam – read Section 6 of CAA: CAP 804

That’s it, we’re done…….all that is left is to put a massive pack of paperwork together to the CAA.

Flight Skills Test : Passed (The End…almost)

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014 | Permalink

Many hours (I still need to add it all up) and ground exams later, we finally reached the day of the Skills Test.   The only point where you’re actually examined in the air for your ability to conduct a safe flight with sufficient competency to be trusted with passengers who potentially have never been in a light aircraft before.  Obviously, completion of other training (Qualifying Cross Country), shows ability for getting from A to B to C and back to A again, but the skills test is where you demonstrate essentially everything you’ve learnt, in the air, to an examiner.

Arrival and Checkout

I’d agreed with the club to have G-HERC on the day, so it was fully fueled up the night before avoiding any fuel issues in the morning.   What could go wrong?

I got there early, agreed with the examiner I’d go and check the plane and come back in – it seemed like a good plan and I felt ahead of the curve so far.  Having lowered the flaps and in the process of walking round the plane giving it a good check out, I noticed the examiner coming out to see me – unusual at this point.   So I figured I’d save them a walk and meet half way, ducking under the flap I asked if all was ok?

We can’t take G-HERC, the Attitude Indicator isn’t working…

Ahhh great, the plane I’d done my First Solo and Qualifying Cross Country in, had gone and let me down 🙁    As I turned round, a little demoralized…


In the distraction I’d forgotten the flap was now about 5″ lower than normal and walked straight into it, cutting my head open!   A lovely cut, complete with bleeding, as you might expect walking into two sharp, hard pieces of metal would give you.

There’s a first time for everything, but I could have lived without bleeding before even starting the exam!

Time to get Another Plane



Without the Artificial Indicator (AI) we wouldn’t be able to do the part of the exam that tests basic instrument flying – well actually more your ability to get out of an instrument flying required condition (i.e. unintentional flight into cloud). To intentionally fly on instruments requires more exams.

So we’d take G-SHWK.

…..but of course it’s only got 20 gallons of fuel and we need a minimum of 30, so I get to do a spot of free taxing to the fuel bay, before going for a briefing on the exam itself.

Examination Briefing

Firstly a recap that this isn’t an exam to test if I’m the best pilot in the world (probably a good thing as my head had only just stopped bleeding).   It is about assessing if I can operate a piston single engined aircraft in such a way as being conductive of safe flight, from start to finish and sufficiently able to be trusted with passengers.   Or generally words to that affect.

The examiner then outlined broadly what would be on the exam and how it would be structured (not surprisingly very much inline with EASA guidance):

  • The examiner would act as ‘Someone who’s reasonably knowledgeable about aircraft, but cannot fly themselves’ – as such unless instructed:  Control of the aircraft, Navigation and the Radio would be my responsibility.
  • Navigation with a route consisting of 3 legs.
  • Somewhere on the second leg I’d be given a simulated problem/emergency and would need to determine a good course of action (i.e. diversion) – without significantly deviating from heading or altitude while planning the action to be taken.
  • On completion of the diversion there would be  aircraft General Handling section covering:
    • Instrument flight out of simulated cloud (i.e. Rate One turns / Heading & Altitude holding with reference only to the instruments).
    • Recovery from a Spiral Dive
    • Stall Recovery in the Clean Configuration, Turning onto Final and Final Approach Configurations.
    • Steep / Advanced Turns (360 degree turns, with Turn Angle > 45 Degrees)
    • Slow Flight
    • Practice Forced Landing
    • Precautionary Landing
  • Radio Aid Position Fixing (using any aid of my choice in the aircraft except the GPS)
  • Returning into the Circuit
    • Normal Circuit / Landing (Touch N Go)
    • Flapless Touch N Go
    • Precision Landing
  • Aborted/Rejected Take Off

That was the general outline, it was made quite clear that if the examiner was happy with how an item was carried out we’d move straight onto the next item and if he wasn’t we might need to do it again or a variant of what was asked – again not looking for total perfection across the board, but I assume there’s scope for a little bit of “Ok that wasn’t brilliant, but I can do……..really, see…..”.

The Navigation

The route I’d been given to plan was Cambridge -> Bourne (Linconshire) -> Downham Market -> Cambridge.

Skills Test Nav Route

Skills Test Nav Route

Plotted on my navigation chart, it looked like this:

Some obvious catches to this route:

  • Puts the plane very close to Wyton Air Traffic Zone (ATZ)
  • Requires flying through Wittering Military Aerodrome Traffic Zone (MATZ)

I thought a lot about the Wyton part, all going well my intent was to call them up and let them know we’d be close to their ATZ – but as a backup safety measure so the flight definatly didn’t break any rules and couldn’t be argued unsafe.  I elected to fly the first leg at 3,000ft.

The reason for this being that Wytons’ ATZ goes from surface (135ft about sea level), to 2,000ft above the surface.

By flying 3,000ft above sea level, I’d be at least 800ft above their ATZ.   Well clear even allowing for minor pressure setting and other such errors etc.

On turning over Bourne, my plan would be to descend to 2,500ft.  The intent here being that I’m more familiar with flying this area at this altitude so my perspective of distances on the ground would be better and that might help my Nav.  there’s not a whole lot in the way of visual references on the second leg for the first 15 or so miles.

The obvious diversion point on the second leg would be Wisbeach, but the question was where would we divert to.

Booking Out & Taxi

It might sound bizzare, but one of my biggest fears was getting the paperwork on the ground right.   Almost every lesson this is filled in by an instructor and so I was just waiting for this lot to go wrong.  In the end it was all a non-event.  A lot like the worry about debating the weather:  On this day, the weather was unquestionably fit for flying.

Having filled out my booking out form and loaded it into the fax machine, it was time to see if G-SHWK had been topped up with fuel.

 Clear Prop!!!!

It’s not typically taught at this club, I’ve always assumed because it’s such a large aerodrome, but in the last few lessons instructors had suggested I shout it anyway on starting the engine.  For the sake of sounding a bit daft with absolutely nobody around, I shouted it out of the window regardless.

It started first time, things were going well and G-SHWK, easily my favorite plane to fly, was feeling right at home.

That was of course until I called up the Tower for permission to taxi.   Then it all took a turn for the worst, as Air Traffic came back and said they hadn’t got our booking details…….I don’t know how, but I guess the fax didn’t go through (thankfully the examiner had seen me do this so there could be no doubt I’d done all I could).   Had they got it, I’d made it very clear that this was a Skills Test (a hint to them in hope they’d be nice to me on returning to Cambridge where I’d want to do all sorts of strange circuits) – I guess fate had intervened on that plan.   I’d have to book out over the radio, something I’ve done very rarely.

I’d expected I might have to demonstrate a short field take off, but on this day in history, it wasn’t required so flaps up for take-off and I took care to talk the checklist out loud just to be sure there could be no questions.

Navigation : The First Leg to Bourne

On lining up with the runway, my last question has always been “Are you happy with everything?”   Today was no exception and perhaps while less valid then when with instructors, I find it’s still a relevant thing to ask…..last chance, in 2 minutes we’re going to be 1,000ft above the ground.

Full Throttle and the 172 began its charge down the mile of runway.

A little bit of crosswind as it lifted off, really nothing eventful, but I could hear my brain begin the chatter of “Now be good to me, I don’t need this….”  the nerves had been at zero but with every bump of turbulence were building.   A good time to run through the after take-off checklist then, get away from this mind game and back to my training:   Engine Temp & Pressure in the Green, Mixture Rich, Landing Light OFF.

Climbing out at a nice 80 knots, at 1,000ft I purposely lowered the nose in the climb – don’t want to get chalked up for a bad look-out in the climb.

If anything I flew further south then normal, I  wanted to be really sure that when I started the turn, it was at a reasonable height over Cambridge (as you’re not allowed to overfly it below 2,000ft).   Having been drilled on a practice skills test to lift the wings before turning, I made sure to correct that as well.

Now to begin a climbing turn up to my declared 3,000ft altitude for this leg and find Point Alpha (where the M11 meets the A14).

Skills Test Plog

Skills Test : PLOG

Notice even my Pilot Log for the trip had been marked up for G-HERC, that’s how last minute the change was…….the arrows are visual cues to remind me of radio calls, the rest is scribble from the flight 🙂

The Heading Indicator Problem: Again

I’d had a major issue with the heading indicator on my practice skills test, the knob hadn’t fully released so the gyro had a limping effect (the heading indicator still turned, just not accurately).   This had lead to being off course by ball park 30 degrees – a huge error in heading.   My plan to avoid a recurrence of this issue was three fold and thus fool proof – or so I thought:

  1. I’d take G-HERC, it’s heading indicator is automatically aligned.
  2. I’d make absolutely sure none of the knobs were stuck on pre-check.
  3. En-Route to Point Alpha I’d check it was aligned with the compass, so any issue wouldn’t come unstuck post setting heading.

Item 1 was blown out of the water when HERC decided to develop a fault, so we couldn’t fly it.   I’d set and re-set the heading indicator in SHWK on the ground and had been more than happy nothing was stuck or mis-aligned.   As for point three, well I just forgot, in the climb I hadn’t calmed down until the after take-off checks and in the climbing turn I found myself worrying “What if I don’t see Point Alpha today???”

The moment I’d turned onto heading for Bourne, I began a FREDA check (and thank god I did!).

  • Fuel  –  we’d took off with 53 US Gallons……the gauges said we still had the vast majority of it.
  • Radio – we’d switched to Cambridge Approach, we had a basic service from them.
  • Engine – Temps & Pressures in the Green.
  • Direction – We’ve turned on to the correct heading and the heading indicator is aligned with the compass……wait a minute, no it isn’t, it’s off by like 10 degrees!!

All of this was said out loud, including a spoken realisation that my heading indicator wasn’t aligned.   We’d flown maybe all of 0.5 a mile from Point Alpha, I’d caught it soon enough that all I needed to do was was reset it against the compass, correct my heading and then any minor course error I’d correct at my first reference check point.  Pheew!   That could have become a real mess.

  •  Altitude – I’d elected to fly this leg at 3,000ft, we were at 3,000ft on the dot and the QNH was set from the pressure provided by Cambridge Approach.

A nice heading and altitude hold for the next 20 or so minutes would see us arrive overhead Bourne.   All that lay in the way was to decide if I was going to radio Wyton, any drift corrections and of course talking to Wittering to get permission to penetrate their MATZ.

It’s pretty easy to see Wyton, it’s a big runway and so on this basis I was happy I wasn’t going to fly straight through their ATZ but at worst skirt the edge, I decided to not overload myself with radio calls and not call them.   Pilots and the books might argue this is bad airmanship, on any other day I’d agree, on this day I fell back on the golden rules of “Aviate, Navigate, Communicate.”   Talking to Cambridge, then to Wyton (who maybe they were there, maybe they weren’t), only to have to switch to Wittering 5 minutes later at the time felt like it was tempting fate to cause things to go wrong, so I elected not to.

A slight course correction (0.5 mile) over Ramsey was required, I talked my actions through out loud so it was clear I wasn’t just wandering about the sky but intentionally repositioning over Ramsey.   One of the nice things about this place is that there’s a mast/single wind turbine on its northern edge, this makes it a very distinctive place – identifying the mast and familarising myself visually with Ramsey now, would pay dividends later in the trip.

Calling Wittering

Ahead of Peterborough it was time to call up Wittering and see about permission to fly through their MATZ.   As the stars would have it though, this wouldn’t be without its difficulty.

Firstly Wittering didn’t reply, then the reply that came wasn’t a military controller.   The best theory decided later was it was probably the glider site.

Wittering weren’t there, so we wouldn’t be getting a basic service off them.   Legally you’re allowed to fly though a MATZ so we could carry on.   The examiner asked what sort of service I could now expect to have?   I replied and alerting service…..would you really get this from a glider site?  Who knows, what I know is the books say if you’re in radio contact with any sort of ATSU, even ground/radio service, then you should expect to have an alerting service (basically if you disappear or report an emergency, they should alert the rescue services for you).

Coming up over Market Deeping, I called out the land marks I was using to visually identify it (the shape, the river, the road to its west and the time overhead – all those things agreeing meant it was highly unlikely to be anything else).   Time for another FREDA check…..we’d soon be over Bourne.

Overhead Bourne

Bourne Overhead

Bourne Overhead

Before setting off I’d done a bit of flight prep:   What does bourne look like from overhead?  (Google Earth is your friend).   This had told me it had an industrial area to the south, a very handy visual feature.

Announcing that I knew bourne had an industrial site to the south and could see the town we were about to be overhead had this feature, there was a road going south/north and the times were correct.   Thus this was bourne.

The examiner seemed happy and agreed on our location.   So I was instructed I could make my turn for the second leg as/when I was ready to do so.



Navigation : Second Leg to Downham Market (Maybe)

The EASA guidance paperwork says there’s going to be a diversion in the test, the examiner had said this was likely to come in the second leg.   So I had a good idea what was coming, I just didn’t know when.

My only concern on this leg was that I’m not the biggest fan of flying in this area, it’s a lot of nothing, fields as far as the eye can see.   So it’s easy to go off course and have little opportunity to correct it early, but it was in my Qualifying Cross Country flight, so I’ve been here before and it does come good, you just need to keep things calm and work with what you can see, not what you want to see.

I’d gone round in orbits on a practice finding Crowland airfield, so I knew where that was at least.

Approaching Wisbeach the diversion came.

The clouds are lowering to the east, you won’t be able to continue on this leg and you can’t go north as the clouds are lowering there too.   So I want you to plan what you’re going to do next, without significant heading or altitude deviation…..

The diversion I heard was “Oakington”, I drew this up on the map, planned by heading and off we went.   Announcing a heading of 185, turning over Wisbeach

We flew this for maybe 4-5 mintues, because another query from the examiner:

Can I see your map?

I thought I must have done something significant wrong, but what could it be, south was the way to go if you wanted to get to Oakington from here.   It would soon become clear.

“I’d actually said Alconbury….”

My map was my saving grace here I think, because I’d marked it up as a diversion to Oakington, my heading was correct to get me there and my ETA was right for there.  It was obvious I’d mishead the destination, I guess the “Alcon” sounded like “Oakin” in the noise.

Turning round and heading back to Wisbeach, we’d do that again only this time routing for “Alconbury”.

Navigation : Diversion

Many lessons ago, diversions were my curse, I’d find myself losing my location and then forcing the map to fit all sorts of desires on location.   Today had to be better.

We’d clip the end of the river Nene, a good land mark, so I marked the time overhead.   Should it all go wrong I knew when I was here and so how far away I could possibly be.

I was trying to talk through my thought processes so that the examiner could hear why I was doing everything I was doing.

Approaching Ramsey, the plan said I should be clipping its western edge, but its tell tale mast made it very apparent it was on my right hand side.   We were left of course, approx. 4-5 miles.

A runway came into view ahead of us, as Alconbury is disused and this wasn’t, it couldn’t be Alconbury, so it had to be Wyton.   Time to correct, at 2,500ft  we be borderline to fly over Wytons ATZ and if we did that we’d be overshooting the destination anyway.

Alconbury in sight

……..much thanks to the instructors who’ve taken me there in the past, I’ve never been so thankful to see rows of containers on the end of a runway.

Alconbury Airfield (Disused)

Alconbury Airfield (Disused)

Navigation Complete :   Time for the General Handling

An announcement declared the the navigation part of the exam over.

All in all at this stage I was feeling pretty good about how it was going:   We’d got to where we wanted to be, I wasn’t feeling utterly lost and we’d got here without me ever feeling a sense of panic or uncertainty about where am I?    You can’t ask for much more than that.

Of the tasks that remained, only the Practice Force Landing was a real worry.

Instrument Flight

Kicking it off, time to put on the Froggles to demonstrate I could fly a heading & altitude with sole reference to the instruments and perform a ‘Rate One’ turn.

Now I could fly all day with these things on – I’m not saying it’d be legal or wise to do so – just that I’m very at home with discarding all natural sensations about which way is up and flying on the instruments.  Always been quite happy with this idea and trusting that they’re not likely to lie (unlike the fluid in your ears).

All good and I don’t think there was any scope for dispute on this part, so we moved on.

Spiral Dive

I can be honest now, when I got told this would be on the list my immediate mental reaction was “Can I remember how to recover from one???”    Of course, you can, but there’s likely to be something that you just begin to doubt and ponder.

To tackle this problem, I decided waaaaay back during pre-flight, that when we got to this I’d I was going to talk out loud the recover procedure.   At least if it didn’t look brilliant, I’d be demonstrating I knew what to do 🙂

  • Throttle Closed
  • Opposite Rudder to the direction of the Spiral Dive
  • Unstall the Wings
  • Roll Wings Level

It seemed to do the trick, the plane recovered, not much height loss……we moved on.   Phew!

Steep Gliding Descent

Pardon me?   A  what?    2,500ft up was not the time to be hearing about maneuvers that for the life of me I didn’t recall being on the training course.

You can’t just turn around and go “What the heck is one of those then?”

So we’d have to generally make up a maneuver that was:  Safe, Gliding and Steep.

Safe:  an airspeed greater than something that’s going to stall, but slower than 100 knots sounds about right.  Gliding, easy enough, close the throttle and your gliding.  Steep, an angle of bank greater than 30 degrees usually ticks this box.

It would draw a comment back on the ground, but only because I did it at 80 knots and perhaps 70 was better, but the examiner said it ticked the box and the airspeed was safe etc.   Fair enough, as far as this part of the exam was concerned :  Job done.

Advanced (Steep) Turns

Back into my happy place, I can do these, lets just crack on…….once round to the left, keeping my eyes as outside as possible, occasional glances to make sure the altitude wasn’t going beyond +/-50ft and completing back on the altitude we started at.    Once round to right.

All good, we’ll move on then.


The examiner said he wanted to see a couple of different stalls, from memory:

  1. A fully developed stall, recovering on his instruction.
  2. A stall in the base configuration, recovering at the first sign of the stall.
  3. A stall in the landing configuration turning onto final.

I had a mental moment of “right you are, off we go then….” before the voices in my head kicked in:

HASELL : Checks!!!

DON’T STALL without doing this first, it’s very likely to be a fail and I’ve done that “do as your told and try and do it as soon as possible” thing before.   Not today.

No problems on any of these, I’ll never be sure if I was premature on the first sign of the stall turning on to final, but to rule out any doubt I said “buffeting” and recovered.   It might have been in my head, but the second I felt something non-smooth flying like, that was good enough time to recover for me.

No drama at all and it was on to the next task.

Practice Forced Landing

I’m sure most people worry about this one, many an article in magazines or on websites from examiners will say this is a pass/fail moment – with not much scope for anything in-between.   Convince them you’d land in the field =  Pass.   Else probably a fail  🙁

  • Will there be a good field?
  • Yeah but how good…..there are fields and then there are fields…..
  • Will I actually see it?
  • Which way is the wind coming from again?

All the usual worries going through my head, but you don’t know when they’re going to cut the engine.

When it happened I set the airspeed, 70 Knots, then it was a searching game…….find a field, try and fly with a tail wind (it’ll maximize the number of fields you can actually reach).   In the end I settled on what didn’t look ideal, but was the best I could find.

An ok entry into a circuit formation of the field, an ok field, still would have liked something longer and I wasn’t going to be able to fly it fully into wind.   Still, we’d make it, time to get in a few restart checks.  No joy, so throw in a practice mayday.

Hmmm, that field is looking a bit further away then I’d like.   Holding off taking the flaps, altitude 700ft and higher then I’d like, but if we take the flaps we’d not reach the field.   This could be better, but it could be a lot worse.   650ft, we’re still high but I’d give it 70% we’d make that field.    550ft, I’d give it 60% we’d make the field, it’d take the flaps now and might require a side slip but it’s not beyond reasonable doubt we could make it.

……not beyond reasonable doubt indeed, but we can’t go below 500ft, so the jury was out on this one.   Time to climb out of it.

Normally I don’t think you’d get another go at this, but on this day in history, there was sufficient doubt that it was arguable we’d have made it.   Maybe it was that reasonable doubt, maybe that plus perhaps the rest had been good enough to let me have a “convince me” chance……one last go to convince the examiner that the first was ok, and any other go would be better.

Cutting the engine, I was going to get it as near perfect this time round.

Sure enough, coming through to 500ft, it was now unquestionable :  We’d make that field, it would be a good landing.

Time to move on…….thank god for that, I couldn’t be sure we’d passed this, my only comfort was we were moving on and not returning to the airport – that had to mean something, right?

Precautionary Landing

Not quite what I’d have wished to move on to though.

Let’s just cut to the chase and say this could have been a bit better, instead of doing a 3rd approach at 50ft above the ‘virtual’ ground.   I decided I was burning a lot of the examiners time and declared it would be to land on the 2nd approach.

Ok and the field was ok, but I’d get comments about it on landing.

Radio Aid Position Fix

I’d been dreading this, so much so that I’d had trips up prior to the exam just to practice I could remember how to do this.

Maybe thirty minutes had passed, but it wasn’t rocket science to know we were in the ball park area of south of Alconbury, so this would help with a gross error.

Using the Barkway VOR/DME, I dialed in the frequencies on Nav #1 and the DME, then Identified both stations.   All good, now just to find what radial of the VOR I was flying on/from and read off the DME distance and we should have a fix.

330 degrees from Barkway, 15 nautical miles.

That would put us just a little south west of Bourn then, I could believe that.

So could the examiner, jobs a good one.

Intercepting the 115 radial proved to be a little more tricky, but we got there…….by the time we did, we were bizarrely south of Cambridge Airport.

Rejoins & Circuits

We were so south, that for the first time I can ever remember, it made sense to ask ATC if we could join downwind.    This is where I was wishing they’d have got my fax, if they had they’d have known I was on my skills test and might be favorable……now I’d just have to hope the tides of traffic were calm.

Thankfully all was well, we could head straight in and join on the downwind leg.

Three circuits and we’d be done:

  • Normal Circuit / Landing (Touch N Go)
  • Flapless Touch N Go
  • Precision Landing

The first the examiner said was aimed/intended to calm down on, sounds like the voice of experience.  After 2 hours in the air, it was a voice I was very much in tune with.   I was starting to feel somewhere between mentally fried and over-charged, with a touch of nerves now very much at the back of my mind.   Calming down was what I needed to do.

I can’t remember the exact winds, but it felt like a 10 knot crosswind component.   It would have been nice to have a calm, straight down the runway wind, but not today.

Feet clear of the brakes, Feet Clear of the brakes…….

The first landing wasn’t my best (it was far from my worst), it felt like a lot of mental effort to get it to come down aligned with the runway and I flared it a little to early, but it came down on the back wheels and didn’t bounce.   Flaps up and away we go….

Flapless Landing

I’ve always loved doing flapless landings, they’ve historically been my best.  Maybe it’s the extra speed and the change that brings to the attitude /  perspective, but whatever – very rarely do I get these wrong.

Sure enough it was pretty smooth and on the back wheels, I doubt I could have done it much better.

Flaps up……just one more to do now, this time it had to be down on the numbers.

Precision Landing

The goal is to touch down on the numbers and have it stopped by the Charlie exit from the runway.

On final approach I was doing everything to make sure we would land on the numbers, so much so that it needed a bit of throttle as we came over the displaced area of the runway.  Not as great as I’d have liked, but as we crossed the big “23” the wheels touched down.

I now had 1,500ft available to get it stopped in order to meet the criteria of a ‘precision landing’ :  Having it stopped by Charlie.   Unless I did something stupid with the brakes now, we were golden.

Aborted Take Off

The examiner called up the Tower and asked for permission to backtrack on the runway for an aborted take off.

I opened the throttle and had it fully open for a handful of seconds before I just about heard

T’s and P’s are in the Red

It took about half a second for my brain to click that he was declaring a simulated emergency…….close the throttle, get it stopped and as the speed comes down start applying the brakes.

The End Result:   PASSED.

Saving me a tense walk back, the examiner told me after shutting the plane down that I’d passed.

We could go through the details inside, but this was more than enough for me.

I’m going to be honest, with the examiner gone, I found myself sat in the plane having a bit of a ‘end of Memphis Belle moment’.   Nothing like the same, but I found myself looking at the controls of G-SHWK and being beyond thankful for the great flight it’d just given me.

G-SHWK : End of Skills Test

G-SHWK : End of Skills Test


A few points, surprisingly and pleasingly few actually.

  •  The PFL as I’d expected wasn’t brilliant, but it had been enough to be questionable and so I’d got another go.   Otherwise it could have been a fail, I was encouraged to keep doing them every flight, for if I ever need to pull this trick out of the bag, it will have to be perfect.
  • The Precautionary Landing should have had a 3rd circuit, 50ft above the virtual ground.
  • The Steep Gliding Descent, was safe, but the examiner would have preferred to have seen this done at 70 knots instead of 80.

If there was more I can’t remember them, I doubt anyone does it perfectly without comment and I’d take those comments happily and accept them all without question.

A lot of signature signing and large chunk of cash was all that remained.   For anyone who reads this thinking about learning or in the middle of learning to fly, the skills test is an expensive day in flying.  This day in history cost me a touch over £600……….but consider it this way, you’ll have put in about £10,000 to get here.

Smile, you’re almost legal to go flying on your own 🙂


Principles of Flight Exam: Passed

Monday, November 25th, 2013 | Permalink

Principles of Flight / Flight Planning & Performance: PPL 4

Principles of Flight / Flight Planning & Performance: PPL 4

A strangely small section of a book since it’s been split up from Aircraft General Knowledge, but still, the pass mark is 75% leaving scope to get just 4 of the 16 questions wrong.

Not today though.

Actually I found this exam one of the more interesting out of the set – where Meteorology was/is a necessity and I did very well on the exam, it was never a favorite (Perhaps I just don’t like trying to memorise clouds).

Passed :  81%

Aiming to next one done before the end of the month now.


Flight Performance & Planning Exam: Passed

Monday, November 11th, 2013 | Permalink

Principles of Flight / Flight Planning & Performance: PPL 4

Principles of Flight / Flight Planning & Performance: PPL 4

This blog is getting completely out of sync with the actual time scales of everything but “logically” it’s about right, but is now a few months out of sync with the actual dates things happened…….must try harder!

Challenging the Nav Exam for the most amount of math, Flight Performance and Planning had a lot of scope to go very wrong.

….and it very nearly did.

All the practice papers I’ve ever seen and everything in existing text books do not show any implication of requiring a map.

Clearly none was expected either as the required items on the morning of setting the paper were glanced through by the examiner and it didn’t jump out as required – but three quarters of the way through it:

Using a Chart of Southern England, plot the following route:  Cardiff to…..via….

Pardon me?   Plot a route, nobody said anything about plotting a route anywhere.   In my Navigation exam I’d attempted to bring my own map, but had been told there was a specific map provided for the test, this time I brought no such kit and was clearly in need of a map (and a pen and a ruler and a protractor and….).   The aero club lent me all of this and it came as a bit of a surprise to them as well I think.

I guess:  be warned.

Having had to scramble for a map/chart and try to remember how to use one 😉    I was really, really doubtful about getting through this.   Very pleased (and a little shocked), when the phone rang and verdict was:

Passed:  80%

I’ll take that, on to the next one.



Lesson 55: Solo Nav #2 (Framlingham / Snetterton)

Sunday, September 1st, 2013 | Permalink

Fly when the sun shines and it couldn’t have been a much nicer day to do Solo Nav #2.

The only complication really being that the wind was the “wrong way round”, in that this route required a departure from Six Mile Bottom (South East of the air field), but with a surface wind of 090 degrees, 7 knots:   Runway 05 was in use – thus a departure to the North – not exactly ideal!

Solo Nav #2: General Route

Solo Nav #2: General Route

The dilemma, take off to the north and then what?

  1. Turn right and fly south?  (Effectively flying in the circuit).
  2. Turn left, climb and then fly south (In theory departing via the overhead)

I was concerned about doing the former, if I did this at what altitude should it be flown?

  • Climb into the circuit height and depart from the end of the downwind leg?
  • Turn and climb above the “Normal” (GA) circuit height and then fly downwind?
  • Perhaps turn and fly out of the circuit rectangle and then fly south?

The latter sounds in theory the better choice,  turn and climb above the ATZ, point plane for Six Mile Bottom, what could go wrong?  You’re above the ATZ so limited risk of traffic problems & banging into something in the circuit.  This all sounds great, but I’d urge you to remember that at this point I had 50 hours total in the log book, departures on 05 I could probably count on one hand, with the other hand I could count the total times I’d headed to six mile bottom and combining those two things (or an “overhead departure” for anywhere for that matter):  Zero.
You might feel an urge to point me at PPL Book 3, Nav 76 (Departure Procedure), you’ll find limited words of wisdom there and actually vagueness and “it varies”.

So I formulated a plan in my head to go with the former and turn right on the climb out and then fly south in the circuit.   I was conscious this might upset ATC, I was hopeful that they knew this was a Student Solo Nav and would be forgiving if it was wrong and my rationale for doing it went like this:

  • If I fly the circuit, at worst I’m going with the flow of the traffic – I should be able to see them, they should see me.   Sounds like a good safe option.
  • Climbing above the circuit would be stupid, it might be a 1,000ft circuit for General Aviation – but Jets fly a 1,500ft circuit and helicopters a 600ft circuit.   I want to be well clear of both of them……if it turns out to be stupid, to any other GA fixed wing aircraft it should look fairly normal, at least to begin with.
  • Worst case it’d be hard for ATC Tower to not be visual with me so if it was stupid, at least I’d be doing it wrong in front of them, instead of behind and above them.
  • Stick with what you know – there’d be enough new things today without needing to complicate the event further by trying to find somewhere you’ve rarely found before in whole new interesting ways (getting lost 50 miles out is one thing, but it’d be simply embarrassing to get lost 5 miles from the airfield).

Clear for Take Off

Lined up Runway 05

Lined up Runway 05

Not a cloud in the sky, it never gets old to line up on a mile long runway with nothing but a blue sky calling out ahead of you.

The wind being 090, 7 knots.  We can do a very quick check of the crosswind by using the clock system.

Take the difference between the Runway direction and the wind direction (e.g. 90 – 50 = 40).  Now imagine a clock face, if the difference is 30, then your crosswind component is approx. half the wind speed, 45 it’s three quarters and anything approaching or exceeding 60 assume 100% of the wind, you’re essentially are at 90+ degrees to it and you’ve got the wrong runway today 🙂

So for example, today:

  • Wind from 90 Degrees – Runway direction of 50 Degrees = 40.
  • 40/60 =  0.666 or two thirds.
  • 7 knot wind speed =>  Two Thirds of that =  Approx 4.5 knots.

Do the math completely and it quickly tells us that our quick and crude method is pretty much on the money, coming out at 4.4 knots crosswind.  Our crude method is a little pessimistic, but that’s no bad thing and the error is very acceptable.

In a very quick calculation we know crosswind is well within student limits of 10 knots crosswind and the take off shouldn’t be too much of an issue – but at the same time it ain’t all straight down the runway.

Finding Six Mile Bottom :  Altimeters & Human Factors

Nobody started shouting down the radio so I think we got away with the departure, a quick call to state intent of departure to ATC seemed to keep everyone happy.

It shouldn’t have been a relief to find the railway that leads to six mile bottom, but it was.

Just beginning to settle down, I knew where I was, I was bugged up for the first heading and now talking to Cambridge Approach I’d just stopped the climb and beginning to level out when they called with an interesting query

What Altitude are you climbing to?

Without a second thought I started my reply “…remaining at………”   a glance again at the altimeter showed a classic human factors error.   The dial actually said 1,500 ft, not 2,500ft.   Ever wanted to know the benefits of the “Student” prefix, here’s proof.   ATC lending a little helping hand of verbal assistance perhaps 🙂

Nice easy flight to Framlingham

I find that a few minutes in the nerves fade away and you start to fly better and perhaps more as trained.

Stowmarket was nice and easy to find and Wattisham Approach were friendly enough and gave us MATZ penetration without any issues.

Framlingham being as far east as I’d ever have flown on my own, I’d done my homework before taking off.   A little bit of Google Earth goes a long way once you’re up in the air.   Ironically I totally missed the fact that Framlingham has a massive Castle to its north east, I never ever saw this at all.   What I knew it had, was a big ‘lake’ / pool of water to its north and I used this as the key reference to identify it as being Framlingham.

Diss and Snetterton

Wattisham were ahead of me and called up to ask where I was routing next, before handing me off to free call Lakenheath, another Military ATC.  Usually there and usually sounding very much like you’d imagine military air traffic controllers to sound.

Student Golf Hotel Echo Romeo Charlie Squark Zero Four Five Six, MATZ Penetration approved

Diss is easy to find, it has a great big railway and an even bigger industrial site around that railway so from the sky it stands out – it’s as if someone thought about this route and good places to send students on their first attempts at seriously spreading their wings 🙂

Sadly there was no racing on at Snetterton, so I didn’t get treated to any overhead views beyond that of the race track itself – maybe next time.

Snetterton Race Track

Snetterton Race Track

The final leg of the trip, Snetterton –> Cambridge emphasizes the need for precision heading holding relative to previous legs.

Snetterton -> Cambridge Airspace

Snetterton -> Cambridge Airspace

As you can see from the airspace chart, the plane has to be flown between Honnington ATZ and Lakenheath/Mildenhall CMATZ, with real vigilance required for avoiding flying into Mildenhalls ATZ

However the ATZ stops right on the A11, so as long as you keep that road on your right – you know you’re safely out of their air space.

Other than that, it was just a run in the sun.

Nav 2 Cockpit with Map

Nav 2 Cockpit with Map

Amazing visibility, not a plane in the sky and the navigation was all going beyond my best expectations.   For seemingly so few trips out with instructors (4 duel nav’s), it’s amazing to think how quick you pick all this up and begin to find your own way around.

All that was left to do was get the ATIS for Cambridge, hand over from Lakenheath to Cambridge Approach and rejoin the circuit.

Slightly easier said then done, on return to Cambridge there was a real chatter of people talking and replying on the frequency.   Few things are more frustrating then being 6 miles out with a pilot in the ATZ waffling on instead of keeping to the specifics of what they want/need.   It was no good, I elected to orbit to avoid entering the ATZ while waiting for the call back and forth and the “say again…”  to stop.

Runway 05:   To Land.

The runway in sight, we were home from our joy ride out over East Anglia.

As I was lining up on the runway another plane flown by a woman who’s radio calls put the other guys waffle to shame, was joining up behind me.

Landing Runway 05

Landing Runway 05

Lined up for the runway nicely, the wind being a fairly calm 30 degrees, 8 knots (So a mere 3 knot crosswind component, well within student limits, it doesn’t get much better).

A positive touch down, no bounce but I’d have liked to have done it with a touch less of a thud on the back wheels.

To get me out of the way of the plane behind me I was told to exit at “Mike”  (at an airport this big you never cease to be asked to do new things – but it’s good practice for the future).

Solo Navigation #2 :  DONE!

Had an awesome time, once out of the ATZ not a thing went wrong and I truly enjoyed this flight out.   The sun was shining, the views were great and ATC friendly as always.   It’s starting to come together and with a 90+ Mile solo flight out of the way, perhaps I’m beginning to get the hang of this flying 🙂

No turning back now, Qualifying Cross Country (QXC) on the horizon!!!!

Lesson 54: Crosswind Revision

Monday, August 5th, 2013 | Permalink

Penciled in for being Solo Nav #2, we had a go at it, but the wind was just giving me such a hard time I wasn’t convincing anyone to be allowed to go on my second solo nav.

Instead 4 circuits, none of them I was massively happy with.

So a short trip up in the plane, all of 35 minutes – relatively cheap, but not objective achieving.

On days like this you’re spending money, but you’re not actually moving forward as such in the course – a counter argument though is that you are adding to your experience levels.


Lesson 53: Solo Nav #1 (Spalding / Downham Market)

Saturday, August 3rd, 2013 | Permalink

Summer is here!  (Well it was when this was done)….. Time to go flying, I couldn’t have wished to hit the run of Solo Navigation at a better time than slap bang in the middle of July.

Mixed emotions ahead of the lesson, 90% of me was really looking forward to flying far away from the airfield on my own for the first time – the remaining 10% was nervous worry about the real possibility of getting lost.

That’s the thing I take away most from learning to fly, when you’re let free and go solo it forces you to make decisions.   So for example, once you’re up on your own, how are you going to get back into the circuit?  Well you’re going to have to talk to someone, you might not like it, you might worry about getting it wrong, but you’re going to have to……..and the more you do, the more confident/experienced you become and the happier you are about doing it.

Check Flight

The expensive part of learning to fly, you can’t go solo, ever, without a check flight with an instructor.   This is for all very good reasons – lets be realistic at this stage your average landing will be typically considered safe, a few times it might even be good 🙂   Yet on a day where the crosswind is approaching your limits, maybe you’re on it, maybe you’re not….

However, from a pure money perspective, it’s going to take you ~10 minutes to taxi/power checks etc., 10-15 minutes to get cleared to take off, climb into the circuit and do a lap of the airfield and 5 minutes to taxi back and drop off the instructor.   So for no ticks in any boxes it’s going to cost £80-100.

On this day in history though, it was going to cost a few quid more.   Getting a traffic service has been rather elusive for me, every time I ask, the radar isn’t on or there’s nobody home at the airfield we try….  So it was a missing box on my list of things to do.

The plan was, go up, quick exit out of the circuit into the local area.  Call up Cambridge, get a traffic service, come home and go off and do my solo nav.

Of course even the best made plans can be shot to hell, we climbed out of the circuit headed off to north Cambridge and then called up approach:

Sorry we’ve not turned the radar on yet….

Arrrrgh!   Come on, so now we’re just burning cash for fun and we’re not even ticking any boxes at all, lets get back in that circuit and get it down  🙂

The check flight was all good, my landing was ok, so all that was left was to pull up and drop off the instructor.   Quite rightly he had a list of things to ask had I got:   Map, happy with my frequencies, any final questions etc. etc.

Solo Navigation #1

A few nervy radio glitches before even getting into the air, in the excitement I forgot to get the ATIS again and just asked for a ‘further taxi’ clearance.   The Air Traffic at Cambridge are cool people though and were nice enough to feed me the airfield information.

Off to holding point Alpha for my power checks and other good stuff.

Then it was just a matter of holding while a Piper came into land, which I’ve gotta say they did a nice job of doing – made my landings look poor.

Clear to Take Off, Runway 23.

Turning Right Over Cambridge

Turning Right Over Cambridge

That’s it, throttle in and off we go, a few seconds later we’d be in the air climbing at 80 knots and there’s always a second or two where you just think “Hmmm, on my own now…..Hope I can fly this thing”.

A climbing turn out to the right over Cambridge and we were on our way to Point Alpha, from here we’d set our heading to aim essentially north for Spalding.   This stint of the trip would take us over Peterborough, but other than that there’s not masses of land marks.

Cambridge Radar

Of course it’s sods law that 20 minutes earlier the radar wasn’t on and I couldn’t have a traffic service.  Now on my first solo nav, the radar had been turned on and it was like the whole world was alive and flying over Cambridge talking to Cambridge Radar.

There just seemed to be a complete bombardment of radio traffic, the work load shot up as there was QNH changes, traffic information, requests for Squark codes to be set on the transponder.   All around the same time as I was aiming to set a heading north and fly it without deviation.

The airfield of Wyton is the last good landmark on the left for a while until you hit Peterborough.

Peterborough / Whittlesey

You can’t miss Peteborough, so no matter how good or bad the heading hold as long as you don’t have a gross error (i.e. you’re flying generally north), you’re going to always hit Peterbourgh and very little you could do badly is going to take you out of visual sight of it.

Thankfully almost to the minute the big city was in sight and it was clear I was a little, maybe a mile or two, off where I should have been.   Easily corrected now I had a good reference point for “horizontal” position (i.e. how east/west I should be over a given point).

Nobody was in town on Maraham’s frequency, so I was talking to London Information, but just past Peterbourgh is Wittering Military Airfield.

The more north I went the more I was starting to think “what if I can’t find Spalding?”, on this particular heading, other than the raw facts of dead reckoning dicatating at what time I should be over Spalding.  If I missed it, there would be almost no visual reference of any magnitude until maybe a set of wind farms just to the north – but if you miss those there’s one hell of a Military Aerodrome Traffic Zone (MATZ) beyond that point (Cranwell, Coningsby, Waddington, Scampton), you don’t really want to randomly fly into that!!

Where is Spalding then?

I’d hoped to have seen a wind farm on my left as a reference ahead of Spalding, but I couldn’t find it.  The only airfield in the area is Fenland and that’s hard to find even if you’re directly on top if it, from ~5+ miles out, forget it.   None of the roads were starting to line up with anything on the map.

It was like being on a World War 2 bombing run

Or at least I was beginning to form that image in my head:  Spalding was out there, the math said I should be over it any minute now, but where the heck is it???    Decisions soon needed to be made, keep flying north and hope it’s a head, or turn when the clock says to turn???

13:34 ……I spotted a town on the right, the flight plan said it had to be Spalding, I should be directly over it now and it was directly to my right, maybe 2 miles away.   Turn and go for it, or keep flying north??   Time to make a decision.

I tried to take a second to stop and think it through clearly:

  • The dead reckoning calculation couldn’t be more than +/- 90 seconds wrong, it never has been to date and I can do the math to show why over this sort of distance it would take one hell of a wind to stop this from being true.
  • In 90 seconds you can only fly ball park ~2.5 miles.
  • From 2,500ft you can see easily 5 miles on all sides.

So if there’s nothing ahead of us and a town to the right and the clock says we should be over Spalding, given the facts above, the town on the right was Spalding and we were off course to the left.

That was the theory, on the basis of that analysis my next decision was to turn right with a view to flying over it and then verifying that it really was Spalding.

Spalding has some useful features for verifying it:

  1. An industrial section to its north east.
  2. A River that goes South West to North East through it
  3. A Railway line with a station

Once over the town, I was pretty happy it was Spalding due to the industrial area but they teach never to make assumptions so I decided to do a complete orbit and to verify all three features and be completely sure.    If I got this way point wrong and headed south east randomly, things would only get worse quickly.

Three visual references confirmed, I was now very happy I had a visual fix of where I was and could now go about setting up to head east for Downham Market.

Flight Across the Nothing Landmark area

From Spalding to Downham Market, there’s a lot of, well NOTHING.

Go too far south there’s Wisbeach, go too far north and you’ll meet the coast.   All that being said though, I always find flying in this area like flying over endless fields of nothing – someone needs to build a wind farm!

The River Nene breaks up the journey, keep heading east and eventually you hit the River Great Ouse – which ~20 miles south becomes The Cam.

Downham Market!   Phew, what a relief to find that – actually this leg went much calmer than the moments of trying to work out where Spalding was, where that had begun to feel like I might be lost, this leg never felt uncertain as such, just a little bit out in the middle of nothing.

Railways, we like railways!!

There’s a railway line that runs North/South from Kings Lynn <–> London (via Cambridge), the route to Cambridge from here is almost a perfect south heading and if you follow it, it’ll take you directly to Cambridge City centre (and thus the airport).

So nothing could really go wrong on this leg.

Remember to call up Lakenheath to get permission to fly through their Military Aerodrome Traffic Zone (MATZ) – as always a friendly, but very serious sounding, service provided.   Would you expect or want to hear anything less from armed forces traffic controllers.

Cambridge in sight – Rejoin the Circuit & Land

Turning to Rejoin Cambridge Circuit

Turning to Rejoin Cambridge Circuit

When I started my training, I could never find Cambridge Airport – instructors would ask “Can you see the airfield yet?” – I’d always say “no”, in fact city or no city I would probably have doubted myself that it was even Cambridge.   That self doubt didn’t go away until around my first local area solo, by then I was beginning to be confident I could find the airfield – now it was quite easy to find.

It might have been cheaper and/or quicker to ask for a straight in approach, but to date I’d only really done crosswind rejoins (and very rarely a standard overhead join).   So calling up Cambridge Tower, I asked for a crosswind join – possibly because they knew I was a student, they gave it to me without offering anything quicker or fancy.   Let the student do, what he knows best – less chance of them making a hash of it etc.

The circuit was really quite nice and the visibility and weather in general today was just glorious anyway.   Almost a shame to be landing.

Landing Runway 23

Landing Runway 23

Still we’d been up an hour or so and plus the check flight, today wasn’t going to be the cheapest of the training – but a lot of fun 🙂

A nice landing and taxi back to parking…….90 miles worth of flying on my own, plane returned safely, job done.


Navigation Exam : Passed

Friday, August 2nd, 2013 | Permalink

Navigation  - PPL3

Navigation – PPL3

Having done my four dual navigation lessons, only 2 land away lessons remained before my first solo navigation.  The catch being, if you’ve not passed the Navigation exam, you can’t go on your first solo nav.  So time was becoming of the essence.

Put a date in the aero club diary ~2.5 weeks away – you can read the books, but you revise better once there’s a deadline.

Both practice papers I did came out as 84% and there was some very questionable flight computer results in the answers of the book (but that will always be the flaw of such mechanical machines).

Passed :  84%

Not my best score and I think the margins of error on mechanical things may have got me on one question for sure, but that doesn’t matter now.

Yay!!! We can go flying far away on our own now, very soon!

A huge relief because I really hadn’t planned in any contingency time had I needed to resit.


Lesson 52: Land Away (Sywell)

Friday, July 26th, 2013 | Permalink

If at first you don’t succeed, try again – as soon as possible.  After deciding the day before, against a questionable flight which might have been scuppered by rain clouds thinking about coming north from Oxford.  Some cancellations allowed me to re-book for 2pm, very next day.

On the day of the lesson, the phone rang very early, I wasn’t even planned up for the wind forecast.   It was the aero club asking how soon could I be down there, as a trial lesson cancellation meant we could now go sooner, which would mean there’d be time for some lunch at the destination 🙂

Arrival :  Gusting wind.

G-HERC (Golf Hotel Echo Romeo Charlie)

G-HERC (Golf Hotel Echo Romeo Charlie)

Although all the other weather factors were looking good, the wind was gusting up to 20 and thinking about pushing 25 knots.   Thankfully for now most of this was straight down the runway, fine for getting out of Cambridge, but it might be a problem getting back in.

A quick phone call to Sywell, not before announcing which plane I wanted to all around, to get Prior Permission to land there revealed they had similar surface winds (270/19, gusting 30!!).   Cracking out the flight computer, the numbers looked very questionable to go, at best there was a 12 knot crosswind component, at worst it was 20 knots – outside of a students limits.  This didn’t seem to phase my instructor, worst case he’d land it and we’d still have flown the circuit at Sywell so that would tick the box.   Fair enough, but I’d quite like to land it.

The wind was causing all around me to decide otherwise and call it a day, but we were on.

With 35 knot winds @ 2,000ft, it might be slow getting there, but it would be a rocket ship getting back.

Chart: Cambridge to Sywell

Chart: Cambridge to Sywell

Climbing out

The wind was very strong and it seemed to take forever to get the plane up in the air – once there it was all over the place for the first 1,000ft.   Looking back, the runway was still behind us, so it’d been quite straight, amazing.

My flight plan started at point alpha, so it was a manual flight to there, with a turning climb to 2,500ft.

The heading required was 276 degrees magnetic, being a bit clever (for once) I managed to line it up so that we crossed the starting checkpoint on 276 degrees.  This meant there was nothing more to do then start the clock – the more you can reduce the work load, the better.

Switching radio frequencies to Cambridge Approach, there technically wasn’t much more to do then count down the 8.5 minutes to Grafham water.   Of course this is never the case, there are gross error checks, FREDA checks, thinking about what radio frequencies you’re going to need next and generally keeping an eye on if you’re flying where you expected to be flying.

Grafham Water, Wind farms & Airfields

There’s a lot to be said for wind farms, the person who invented them was probably a pilot because they are excellent features to navigate by.   Though nothing quite beats a massive pool of water, massive pools of water are rare things, so when you can see one, the odds are you can positively fix where you are in the world.

A quick scan of the map and a look out of the window suggested we were passing an airfield to the left, it was the closest to us.  So that would make it Little Staughton (or at least it should be), but who knows how big that might be, looking out to the south west was another airfield only this one looked much bigger having crosswind runways.   Now the picture was coming together in my head, to the left is Little Staughton and the other one is Bedford.  It all made sense in my mind, but when quized by my instructor I found myself doubting my own logic – if I was correct, why would he be asking me? etc.

I was correct, time to mark down the actual time of arrival.   The nav. log I’d done was actually holding up, plus about 30-45 seconds.  Good stuff.   What I must remember to do at these checkpoints is automatically do a FREDA and think about the Time, Talk, Task sequence – otherwise it all gets a bit casual.

With Grafham on our right and Bedford Airfield on the left, things were looking good – but that is more than could be said for the weather!

Ahead was a big rain cloud, we might be diverting around it for real if it didn’t move south sharpish.  Meanwhile the cloud base was coming down, forcing the flight down from 2,500ft to more like 2,300ft AMSL.

Given the conditions my altitude holding wasn’t too bad, but when it drifted it was taking to long to spot and I suspect the additional loading of worrying about finding the airport, checking and rechecking the map and log, may have resulted in the altitude not being in my scan quite as often as it should have been.

I’d marked on my nav log to contact Sywell around the east edge of Rushden (~6 miles outside of their ATZ).

Aerodrome Traffic Zones & Different elevations of Terrain.

The flight was coming down in altititude and on a typical cruise, you cruise along with the altimeter (posh name for a calibrated barometer in this case) set on QNH, this means the number on the dial is telling you your altitude with respect to the pressure at sea level.   If the pressure was to drop and you didn’t reset it you’d fall victim to the saying “High to Low, Down you Go.”

However, the other catch with flying along using an altitude above sea level is that where an aerodrome has an Aerodrome Traffic Zone (ATZ) around it, airspace you cannot enter.  The dimensions of an ATZ are surface to 2,000ft above the surface.   If the elevation of the ground ahead of you is higher, then you can be in danger of flying straight into the ATZ.

A picture speaks a thousands words, so a quick picture of what I mean:

QNH / QFE: ATZ Airspace

QNH / QFE: ATZ Airspace

You should be able to see the problem for someone cruising along and thinking they’re going to fly over ATZ by a couple hundred feet or so.   However, I was going to this ATZ with an intent to land in it, what’s the problem?

My problem was that the circuit is flown at 1,000ft above ground level, instead of being about to overfly the airfield at ~2,000ft above the ground, I was actually about to lose a ‘virtual’ 500ft of height.   Once I turned the dial on the altimeter from QNH to QFE it would drop to ~1,5000ft.   Remember the circuit is flown at 1,000ft, so all it takes is another student to be having their first solo or be wondering a few hundred feet above the circuit height for similar daft reasons and we no longer have much vertical separation.

Sure I know all this and outside of the airplane I can do the theory, but on the day, it hadn’t dawned on me at all to think I was going to loose ~500ft due to the difference in elevations from where I took off to where I wanted to land……..but you do learn quickly from your mistakes 🙂

The Rain Strikes

We’d just about got away with it when the heavens opened up on us, all of  about 3 miles to the ATZ, visibility was bordering zero – but by this I mean you could see you were above the ground, but where the heck was the airfield that was just minutes away???

I then said the stupidest thing ever:

Do you want me to descend out of this rain?

Hmmm, think about it…

But it was a short burst and then behold, a set of runways that look a lot like Sywell’s entry in the flight guide 🙂

Which runway?

Sywell Airfield from South

Sywell Airfield from South

I include that picture both to brighten up the post, but also because if you click it, have a look at the runways on the far side.

“Runway 23 in use, Left Hand Circuit”

Upon hearing that and glancing down to the left, my comment to the instructor was “I guess we’re landing on the grass then….”

Which was met with something along the lines of “Why, there’s a left and right, we’ll land on the concrete one on the right.”

I found myself looking at the numbers on the runway for the concrete runway, they clearly say “21”, how could 23 Right be marked “21”?????   We’d find out.

Descending deadside and flying the the circuit and announcing our position downwind to land, we were told to announce when we were on final.   Turning off base and onto final approach the reported gusting winds didn’t seem all that bad, so I called final.

It was met with:   “…….you’re lined up for runway 21 Right, active runway is 23.   You can land on 21 if you want or go around.”

And there’s your answer:  You can’t have a runway 23 marked as runway 21 (or at least not without some seriously big & quick shifting of the magnetic north pole).   What had happened is essentially my instructor had heard what he’d expected to hear, runway 21, which is what they’d said was the active when I’d phoned for prior permission.   Followed by my own inaction to challenge the answer that we wouldn’t need to land on the grass – arguably because that fitted with my subconscious desire to preference towards a concrete runway.   Human Factors is a interesting topic (and I’ve passed the exam!).

The crosswind would be better/less on 23, so time to go around.

Lots to be thinking about now, so much so that I forgot to raise the flaps and climbed away with them fully extended – I was down wind before noticing.   Downwind checks done and a radio call to let them know where we were, all that was left to do was land the thing on the grass.

Always check your runway lengths, before taking off I knew only that 21 was long enough for us.  To be entirely honest at this point in time I actually had no idea if 23 was actually long enough for a Cessna 172.   Hmmm, there’s a valuable lesson to learned here beyond what box to tick on the theory!  🙁

With that in mind, I was pretty focused on touching down early and that came at the price of it being flat (it’s a developed habit).   Still, considering the PPR call had said it might be gusting 30 knots, this was all nice enough.

Spot of Lunch and then Home

The airfield was very quiet due to the wind, anyone who’d been planning to come to Sywell today had bailed on the idea.   So except for a small jet, we were the only plane in town today.   Thanks to the trial lesson cancellation we had time to grab a coffee and some lunch.   The trip here and the return flight home would cost £200, so lunch was in the noise and I paid for my instructor as thanks for his patience with my flying  🙂

Sywell Airfield:  G-HERC Parked up.

Sywell Airfield: G-HERC Parked up.

The GPS never lies…..

My instructor had been recording the flight on his GPS/Skydemon setup the entire way, now it was time to go over the verdict of how the flight was getting here.

I’ll save you the detail, but essentially it was pretty spot on the track I’d intended to follow, altitude holding was about there.  The general comment just being to watch it a bit more often in the scan so I didn’t let it drift for so long.

Over lunch my instructor accepted the runway mix-up was his fault & I accepted I should have challenged him harder on it.   It was fine and you learn more from the experiences of when things don’t go smooth, so just another good experience really.

Time to fly home

Walking out to the plane my instructor remembered something, I’m so used to flying at Cambridge which has a tower that provides an Air Traffic Control service.   That when I came into land, I automatically replied to a radio call on final with “Cleared to Land”.   At Sywell, this is wrong, they provide an Air Traffic Information Service.   An information service cannot give clearances to do anything, they can only give you information and the decision & responsibility for action remains squarely with the pilot in command.    I knew this was the case, it just hadn’t gone through my head on final.

Now however, it was time to start it up, get airfield taxi & information.

Then it was just a matter of reaching behind the seat for a map of where the holding points were and we were off to line up for Runway 23.

Is this runway long enough to get airborne?

Arrrgh, it may have read like I thought about that question when we were coming into land, but this is the moment when I realised I’d never actually looked at 23’s runway lengths in my prep.   We’d been joking about what my day job involves and the shear amount of testing that goes into the products that are the net result of years of effort, so it seemed only fitting to reply

There’s only one way to be sure a runway is long enough……and that is to test it.

I totally accept that this is in the book of words and is what has been done to certify a Cessna 172, I doubt very much he’d have let me line up here if it wasn’t, but valuable lesson learn’t.   You can see why if you prep for the best case scenario and then get sent off to a unexpected runway, you might at this point take a “well we’re here now, might as well press on” approach, which if it wasn’t a well known airfield etc. you could see how this next bit could end in tears!

Thankfully the gods of lift chose to let us get airborne 🙂

Nearly taking the ‘long way round’ to get to my starting point for the nav. home I corrected it and then it was largely a matter of flying the same trip back home.   On the plus side the visibility had improved.

Out of my Limits

On return to Cambridge I was allowed to fly the approach (we got a slightly random Right Base join), my instructor said I could keep flying it and he would decide who would land it when they read out the surface winds.

On final as the tower called out the surface wind,  it was well out of my limits, I didn’t need them to tell me actually, the entire approach the plane had needed to be nearly 50-60 degrees to the right just to keep flying straight towards the runway.

The instructor took over a few hundred feet from the runway and I’m sure he did a very good job in difficult wind but we slammed into the runway.   If that was his landing, god help what mine would have looked like!!

All switched off and back in the aero club there was talk of someone having an incident on the runway, so I guess others had found the crosswinds tricky to.

Another (Non-EGSC) airfield in the log book, yay!    The debrief was generally all good, a few reminders of bits and pieces to watch, but no show stoppers, all happy with my nav. etc.  Good times.

Next Lesson:   Weather permitting etc.  Solo Nav #1