Archive for the PPL Course Category

Lesson 51: First Land Away (Connington)

Thursday, July 18th, 2013 | Permalink

This was a trip out to the clubs standard ‘first land away’ location:  Peterborough Connington

There’s not much time on land aways, so the aim is to get there early – perhaps when they say early, they mean more than 10 minutes to spare :-\    The world was against me this morning, so best laid plans to be there with a clear 30 minutes of margin got shot to bits…….still my flight log had it as ~24 miles of nav.  How much free time do you really need??   Apparently, lots!

Things to do:

  1. Check my flight planning
  2. Go through the briefing for landing away
  3. Phone Peterborough Connington and get Prior Permission.
  4. Reminder on Additional Documents required to be carried for Land Aways
  5. Check the Plane

Why did you Plan that Route?

Cambridge to Connington General Route

Cambridge to Connington General Route

I’ve marked up the general route I had planned to fly on the right, it’s not rocket science to notice that my plan of attack was to fly along the A14 and then turn right and follow the A1.  Straightforward enough.

Of course you can fly Cambridge to Peterborough Connington direct.  This way is about 2 nautical miles shorter, but you’ll have to fly over RAF Wyton’s ATZ, the route will take you within 2 miles of Upwood Glider site who are capable of launching to 2,100ft and your approach direction is not ideal for a standard overhead join, given the airfields main runway is on 100 degrees magnetic.   So all things considered I’d decided those 2 miles of distance weren’t worth the hassle and had planned it up for a route that would be near impossible to get lost.

 Speeding up the Checklist

With prior permission obtained and the report from the airfield that the weather was all good there.  Nothing left to do but grab the bag with the POH and other documents in and get going.

My instructor raced through the startup procedure to save time – this is a gift and a curse, as it does leave you trying to remember what’s been done and what hasn’t as it’s now all out of sequence.

The climb out was good, now just a matter of getting to point alpha and starting the clock.

Turning over Huntingdon

My map suggested that the first big roundabout we got to, we needed to turn right and head north.   The clock seemed to tie up with a roundabout that looked correct, so I turned north.

Fairly quickly I started to piece together that I’d turned too soon, the big give away was the fact we had the dissused airfield of Alconbury on our left.  The flight plan said it should be on our right.  We also should now be tracking parallel with the A1 but it was a good few miles out  to the left, clearly I’d turned on the wrong roundabout.

Not a massive problem though, Alconbury is dissused and there was no reason we couldn’t correct the track onto the A1.

With that out of the way, time to call Cambridge Approach and switch over to Peterborough Connington Radio.   They knew we were coming, so they sounded quite expectant and welcoming to hear our call sign.

Peterbourgh Connington: In Sight

The map said we were near and my instructor had said “Let me know when you can see the airfield”, so I knew it was out there.  A few seconds later, the fairly unique sign long straight strip of concrete of an airfield appeared, that would be Connington then 🙂

Their radio operator informed us they were on active runway 10, left hand circuit.

Few things to think about given this information:  Firstly it means the circuit is flown with only left hand turns, for a runway on 100 degrees magnetic, this tells you that the “active” side of the runway is on the far (north) side of the runway.   So we’d need to overfly the airfield at 2,000ft above ground level, turn back on ourselves, overfly at 2,000ft again and then descend on the dead side (south of the runway), before joining the circuit at 1,000ft above ground level and performing the series of left hand turns required prior to landing.

It’s a fairly busy little airfield and today was no exception with a good few planes in the circuit or about to join behind us.   The other minor complication being that they have noise abatement here, so you have to try and avoid directly overflying the village to the north (I like hearing & looking up at planes, but I can appreciate that not everyone does…..especially if it’s all day long).

Generally speaking I was quite happy with my circuit considering I’d never flown a circuit in my life away from the hugeness of Cambridge.

You call that a Runway!?!?!

Ok, I totally accept that for most people learning to fly, Connington is possibly as good as or better than their airfield.  It’s got a concrete runway for starters courtesy of when it was built in the 1940’s by the 809th US Army Engineers.

That being said, the main runway is 23m wide, now remember that I’ve flown more circuits than I can remember, but every one of them has been flown at Cambridge and good old EGSC’s runway is 46m wide, I’ve never tried landing using only one side of the runway before! 🙂

All that being said, the landing was quite nice, a touch flatter than I’d have liked but all in all gentle enough – before being bumped about by the less than smooth runway (I now appreciate how high my standards are for runways!).

Just a matter of taxing down to the far end and parking up amongst the million (well ok 10 or so), other aircraft – it felt like a million, there wasn’t a lot of maneuvering space.

G-HERC Parked up at Peterborough Connington

G-HERC Parked up at Peterborough Connington

Welcome to the next problem that I’ve never experienced before, the apron was packed with planes, so it was a case of carefully squeezing past them and being very careful to keep an eye on where walking humans were.  Hi-Viz appeared to be optional.

Very little time to enjoy the sights though, it had been a rush to get out here, now there was just time to have a stroll around the outside, a quick look inside only to find a bar and club atmosphere that would arguably make even Cambridge jealous.   Still there was no time to soak any of that up, time to pay our £10 landing fee for the privilege of stopping  (and to be fair the services of a very helpful ground to air radio operate, much thanks!).   Then it was a case of a dash for the plane and lets get out of here.

Peterborough Connington Club Entrance

Peterborough Connington Club Entrance

Without the mass procedure of a big airfield, starting up again was more like a simple matter of checking the oil & fuel, jumping in and starting the engine. Taxing out wasn’t far behind in its simplicity: No requests for clearance here, just a statement of fact that we were. Of course as the radio service here is essentially just that, they cannot clear you to taxi as they’re not a control service. After over a year of asking for permission, it’s weird & feels almost wrong not to.

However, with no taxiway to the far end of the runway, it was a very long back-track down the runway before turning it around ready for a take-off.

Final checks done and a right hand turn out discussed, it was full power and off we charged down the runway. You could feel the difference a smooth surface gives for speed relative to this pot holes run.

Turning right my navigation, which would now be complicated if I’d plotted a direct route, couldn’t be simplier: Turning climb out to point at the A1, then when you hit the A1 turn left and follow it all the way to Huntingdon. From which you can set a course for Cambridge and start the clock.

A few words of thanks to the radio operator as we departed their ATZ and pretty soon it was a matter of switching over to Cambridge Approach.

Messing up the Landing
Back at Cambridge the runway in use was 05 (right hand), that would make rejoining complicated. Coming in from the West, if we had to do a standard overhead join, it would mean flying over the 23 numbers @ 2000ft, turning around, flying back over the 05 numbers, descending dead side and then doing a full circuit. That takes time and money to do… I thought I’d try my luck by asking for a pretty non-standard “Left Base Join”.

Essentially a left base join is asking to come in from the wrong side of the circuit and turn left (when all other traffic would be doing right turns), straight into the base leg and on to final approach. To have any hope there’d have to be basically nothing in the circuit.

As is so often the case Cambridge ATC were awesome and entertained my request.

I’d go and let them down a little by turning a nice enough approach into a bounce on the nose wheel! Hmm the last 75ft went wrong there, in hindsight I could have gone around but in the second(s) where I was beginning to think about doing that the ground was already with me. Damn…..had to mess it up on the nice big runway didn’t I, this is what you get for focusing on landing as soon as you can, rather than as nice as you can.

Still, back in once piece and finally something other than EGSC in the log book.

Lesson 48: Low Level Navigation & Box Ticking

Wednesday, June 19th, 2013 | Permalink

For a variety of reasons my training log had a selection of gaps in it, things that had been done but not signed off, or we’d gone up to try and do but couldn’t for one reason or another.   So this lesson was aimed at cleaning up the list of things to do.

Flying with yet another new instructor, that makes it about 10 instructors I’ve flown with to date on the course of this learning to fly adventure.


Things we wanted to get done today:

  • Base Leg Circuit Join
  • Traffic Service from an ATSU
  • Aerodrome Traffic Zone (ATZ) Transit.
  • Diversion Procedure
  • Low Level Navigation
  • Revision of Unsure of Position / Lost Procedures

There was no fixed route for today, but I was asked if I could get the instructor to RAF Wyton.   Figured if it’s on the map and we had enough fuel, there was no real reason I couldn’t get there, so we’d have a go 🙂

Plane Checkout

G-HERC (Golf Hotel Echo Romeo Charlie)

G-HERC (Golf Hotel Echo Romeo Charlie)

We’d take G-HERC, for those not wanting to read back through the blog this plane looks, feels and flys like it’s quite shiny and new and someone has taken good care of it.   It’s also the plane I flew my first ever solo in so I’ve no real objections with it.

And as expected it was looking like it always looks…….happy to go flying.

No major issues so it was just a case of cracking on and getting taxi clearances and such like.

Up, Up and Away…..Traffic Service Please

Once above 600ft and starting a climbing turn we switched to Cambridge Approach and as they are a full up Air Traffic Control Service, asked them if we could get a “Traffic Service” – in essence we’re saying we’d like them to tell us all about the traffic around us.   This doesn’t remove the emphasis on us to be looking out of the window, we’re flying visual rules after all.   It does however mean we get a reasonable chance to know about things that we can’t or haven’t yet seen.

Unfortunately it was just past 9:30am and the call back was “Sorry we’ve only just turned the Radar on, can only provide basic service.”

That’d have to do and I guess we won’t be getting our traffic service today 🙁

Out to RAF Wyton

Plan of attack was to climb out from runway 23 and turn right, heading towards RAF Wyton which is North West of the airfield.   Once you get your bearings of the world and roads etc. it’s not actually anything like as hard to find as I was thinking it might be.

Of course the reason for flying to RAF Wyton was because they have an Aerodrome Traffic Zone (ATZ) and the idea was to call them up and see if we could get permission to descend and fly through their ATZ.   An ATZ is controlled airspace from the surface up to 2,000ft and you cannot fly through it without permission, you can fly over it, but through it requires a request for a “Zone Transmit” and being granted permission.

Having got cleared to switch over to their frequency and calling them up with our call sign, I was met with radio silence 🙁     We tried again, but clearly nobody was home today, damn.

This meant we’d have to knock on someone elses door to tick the “Zone Transmit” box of my training sheet – if only there was an airfield nearby, one that had an ATZ and an air traffic controller known to be about….   Hang on, didn’t we just leave such an airfield?  🙂

Diversion Practice

Time to pretend that a town was actually a big rain cloud and divert around it.   Not a whole lot more to this than to point the plane 45 degrees to the right, time a journey of about a minute, then turn 45 degrees left, fly for a bit until past the problem and then turn 45 degrees left and fly the same minute back on to the original track.

To be honest it was good practice but you can’t go far wrong when you can see your destination at all times – towns make rubbish rain cloud simulators 🙂

Low Level Navigation

To mix it up, we descended to around 800ft above ground level, this is just above the legal low flying limits over non-built up areas and as you quickly learn, is pretty low.   It’s 200ft below what you’d fly in the circuit if you were coming in to land….and if the engine cuts out you’ll have at best, 2 minutes to decide what you’re going to do next before hitting the ground!

However, we were down at this height in order to practice some properly low navigation, the world is very close at this height and even the smallest hamlet and local back road are visible (and wizzing past at ~115 mph).

The objective was to pretend every block of houses or built up area was in fact an impassable cloud to be navigated around.

A lot of fun!!  –  A lot to think about, as altitude holding becomes quite key at this height for this duration, but a lot of fun.

Having ducked left of Bourn airfield, we carried on a few more miles and then it was time to climb and go and find our ATZ.

Zone Transit and getting “Lost”

They might not have turned their radar on yet, but Cambridge were at least happy to entertain us for letting us fly straight through their ATZ at 1,500ft (under strict orders to not deviate altitude).

With the blessing of air traffic control, a zone transit is just a matter of flying a straight line and reporting position if/as required.   Cambridge is a busy airport and you get every sort of traffic you can possibly imagine (Spitfires and Red Arrows, to C-130 and 757’s), but being busy and having this sort of traffic also means it’s very procedural – unlike smaller airfields supported by a ground to air radio service for example.

Having reported overhead of the aerodrome and continued on our way out to the east, it was time to get a bit of practice in on the Uncertain of Position & Lost Procedures.

Just because you’re unsure of where you are, doesn’t make you lost.

We knew were we were recently (flying over a fairly big airport), that wasn’t so long ago, so:

  • Keep flying in the same direction
  • Note the time now
  • When we last knew positively where we were.
  • Check the heading against the log – have we wondered off course or are we still flying the intended heading?
  • Is the Heading Indicator aligned with the compass?
  • Have a look outside, anything to give us a clue (a railway line, a wind farm etc.)
  • Is the radio serviceable?
  • Are we good for fuel?

We should now have set-up some options and know some limits (we shouldn’t be dangerously low on fuel and not in the ball park of an intended airfield, but you need to know because it’s going to dictate how much time you have to sort things out).  If we know when we absolutely had confidence in our position and we know the time and heading we’ve flown since, we can begin to piece together a circle of uncertainty.   At ~100 miles an hour you can cross the country at its widest point in around 3 hours, so you don’t want to go to long without having confirmed your position, but equally it’s worth noting that with a couple of hours of fuel, you can cover quite a distance to recover the situation.

Of course if the radio is working then through the wonders of VHF Direction Finding (VDF), as long as we know ball park where we are, there’s a fighting chance of getting a QDM (Magnetic Track to a station) and be good to go within a few minutes.

Should all of our options and best attempts come to nothing, we always have the emergency frequency of 121.5Mhz.   It’s not going to be great to have to announce a PAN on this frequency, but if you’re truly lost, it’s better to confess then to press on and run out of fuel or something equally silly for the sake of trying to save some pride.   At the end of the day people are going to think you’re more of an idiot if the AAIB report that you had plenty of fuel, a working radio, but pressed on without seeking help until you didn’t have either….

Walking my instructor through the procedure, establishing when we knew where we were and how long we’ve been flying to be honest it was good practice but when you know where you are because of local knowledge it’s very easy to piece it all together and sound like you know what you’re doing.

Time to head back then and get another tick box ticked off if ATC would play fair.

Base Leg Join

A standard overhead join has you coming in crossing the aerodrome at 2,000ft, descending turning over the deadside of the airfield to circuit height and then slotting in around crosswind end of the runway.  It’s not actually the simplest thing to do, but more importantly, it’s quite slow and if you’re approaching the airfield from the non-standard overhead join direction things get even more complicated as you have to fly overhead, then turn back, then descend deadside…..

Standard Overhead Join

Standard Overhead Join – CAA

As you can see in the diagram, if you join on the base leg, it cuts a whole heap of that out – as the base leg is the last leg before turning for final approach.

If you can get ATC permission to do it, then it has the potential to save you time and money.  However, it comes at the price of removing all that time you’d normally have in the circuit for getting your act together and running through the checklists.   Now you need to be thinking about things much sooner.

Air Traffic entertained our request, but with one catch:

Golf Romeo Charlie – Can you Accept 23 Grass?

I’ve landed on the grass enough times to not worry about it, but as this was my first time up with this instructor there was a quick glance and a  “I’ve done it before”  and then I was good to reply back and confirm the grass would be fine.

It was coming down quite nice, I was just thinking it was going to be flat when with the most gentle of taps (if even that), we were down.   A little fast, but unbelievably flush – in fact I couldn’t have put the wheels down more gently on the main runway!   Easily my most gentle of touch downs to date.

Next lesson:  Navigation Aids.    That Nav. Exam is starting to be a pretty urgent issue, I should start revising! 🙂

Lesson 47: Navigation #4 (Leighton Buzzard / Willingborough)

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013 | Permalink

Blue sky is hard to resist, not a cloud to be seen, not the faintest movement of the trees.   Yet twenty four hours earlier I was beginning to die of a cold, the whole lesson was looking doubtful – a real push at work may have just been about to take its toll.  Now it was a push to get well again, rapidly, with a bombardment of hot drinks and ibuprofen.

Nav. 4 General Route

Nav. 4 General Route

The morning of the lesson, looking out at those blue skies I figured I was mentally about 80%, sure I could fly the plane but I knew I was unlikely to be on top form should I get an exam barrage of questions etc.

Twenty minutes of waiting around at the aero club for my instructor and stupidly joking with other instructors that my flight planning was done – at least until it was proven to be total nonsense, didn’t help.   Right out of the blocks this lesson took its first hit, sure my plan was about right, except I’d misread the wind and instead of planning for 130/05 knots, I’d planned for 230/05 knots 🙁    For this trip, thankfully with the low winds on my side, that error would only mean being off by 3-4 degrees and ETA’s being wrong by 1-2 minutes, which could be sorted as of the first way point, so we’d go with it without a re-plan.

Had I checked the NOTAM’s?  ……..well I thought I had, but more on that later, suffice to say my mental performance was winning no prizes today and we weren’t even off the ground yet.

We’d be taking the plane that hates me:  G-UFCB

Engine Start……or not.

G-UFCB Cessna 172SP

G-UFCB : Cessna 172SP

Now people think I’m joking, but Charlie Bravo, we’ve had our happy moments together, but this plane hates me.   Today would be no exception, I thought it was just the continuation of my pain when with the oil temps in the green, turning the key to fire the engine it spluttered and stopped.   Trying again, it spluttered and stopped.   Ok let’s try priming the engine, nothing but a “I don’t think so” noise from the engine as each time it turned and then gave up in a very “I’m not happy” way.

Ready to take the psychological hit of my instructor leaning over to have a go, expecting it to burst into life first time, I was actually quite releaved to have Charlie Bravo continue to resist the requests to fire up.   A few more goes, this lesson could be going nowhere!

Switching it off, my instructor decided we’d let it rest for a few minutes and then give it one more go.  After about 3 minutes of sitting around, with one last turn of the key, it fired!!!

It was life, not sounding quite as we know it, but life – we’d have to see how it went with its power checks, this could still be a non-starter yet.

The tower gave me clearance to taxi to alpha, I don’t know why but it feels a while since I’ve taken off from runway 23.   Cue the next error of the day:  I might have got my directions of the wind sock mumbled and parked up for the power check ‘away from wind’, rather than into it.   Ohhh kill me now 🙁

On testing the first magneto Charlie Bravo sounded very sick, my first reaction was it was about to cut out and die, but it picked up.   My instructor had similar concerns and we tested the magnetos a lot over the next minute or so to make sure it had been a one off.   We were still on though, just.

Up, Up and away…….waaaay to the left.

Considering there was no wind my take off was rubbish, as this was the first trip out where I wouldn’t be flying to a designated start point first, mentally my head was worrying from about 50ft when to get the map out, what heading to fly and how soon to set it etc.    This worrying sent the plane on a wondering mission out to the left, rather then being a straight climb out.

If nothing else this should emphasize the need for good planning.

Eventually got it together as we crossed the M11.

Watch out for that Plane!

Having switched from Cambridge Approach to Farnborough North (132.8), everything was actually feeling like it was coming together.  Heading was good, Henlow was where Henlow was supposed to be 🙂

Then with a handful of seconds warning my instructor said “Plane!” (or something similar), 1 O’Clock level and maybe 400ft away was a Piper Warrior and closing on us rapidly.   So rapidly that the instructor declared he had control and we took evasive action – which is more than can be said for the other guy, if he saw us, then there’s at least two people in this world that probably don’t believe it.

 ….and that glider (in fact all of those gliders)

The blue sky and great flying weather had brought out all the gliders (and everything else).

Now the more I learn about flying the more I get where powered pilots are coming from when they complain about gliders and being suicidal.   I don’t know enough about gliding to know how avoidable it is, but from what I’ve seen these guys almost do seem to take their knowledge of wearing a parachute too far – they’ll just keep coming at you.

The other catch with gliders is you can’t see the things, until they turn.

Still with a pretty intense  look out after that near miss with the plane we were largely on top of the gliders.

No NOTAM’s – Except that one.

Wing Airfield (Disused)

Wing Airfield (Disused)

The disused airfield of Wing just west of Leighton Buzzard isn’t the easiest in the world to spot but you can find it (spotting disused airfields is something I think you “get used to” with experience of their general shape etc.).

As you can see in the picture on the right, people have a tendency to like old runways because they make good foundations.  So instead of finding some abandoned looking airfield, what you actually get is a weird looking row of buildings in a ‘odd’ looking “If I was building an airfield, I’d put the runways in that shape” pattern.

Still, we found it alright, now to turn north and make our way over Milton Keynes and up to Wellingborough.

Other than crossing Milton Keynes slightly left of the intended track (probably caused by 100 degree error in Wind direction planning, which was expecting to be getting pushed from the left, but instead we were getting pushed from the right  🙁  ).   It was all going alright…

That was until my instructor finally decided to let on that there was a NOTAM in place over Sywell – hang your head in shame moment – I just hadn’t noticed because my morning planning had been done with less then ideal levels of concentration.   Clearly it was showing and hand on heart my brain was just not on it 100% today, I was flying the plane safely enough, but the below par mental capability was just making everything too laggy and needing too much thought.

In order to avoid the NOTAM we cut the corner off of our leg to Willingborough, with a chance to get some Diversion practice in.   My estimate of the angle for the new route was ultimately out by about 20 degrees (I said my head was starting to fade) and the diversion needed some corrective work.   The saving grace was that we were now in the “local area” of where I’m used to flying and with Grafham Water in sight, it’s hard to get lost in this area of the world.

Returning Home

Largely uneventful, I’ve had multiple answers to the question of whether you should barrage Approach with Information (i.e. Alpha, Quebec etc.) and the QFE, only to repeat it to Tower when they switch you over or not.  Or just give the information to Approach.   As the answer to this is inconsistent and the books largely assume you’re not learning from a big airport (so only briefly talk about the fact you might have both frequencies and a recorded ATIS), I’ve given up and now just rattle it off on first contact with both frequencies.   This is much easier, ensures in the event it’s two different people that they know, I know and I find I don’t have the mental blocks I was getting on return to the circuit caused by worrying about it all.

The landing wasn’t my best, it just wouldn’t sink so I must have floated along at 20ft for about half a mile.   Just as I was about to give up the main wheels touched down, we still had a bit over half a mile to stop in and that’s beyond safe for a Cessna 172 (most GA runways are shorter then what I had left).

All in all that was ok, I ticked some boxes (Nav 4) and missed others (Traffic Service), if the sky hadn’t been blue, if I’d felt worse a bit sooner I might have cancelled this lesson.   Looking back on it, I still think it was safe, it just wasn’t as performance productive as it would have been if I’d been 100%.   However, if you ever want to know why it’s not the best decision in the world to go flying when you don’t feel great, this is about as safe an environment as you can find to appreciate why.

Lesson 46: Navigation #3 (Diss/Swaffham)

Monday, April 22nd, 2013 | Permalink

Finally a day of sunshine, others may have been luckier than me but this would be my first really good flying weather day of 2013.



It’s been just over a year since I last flew with my instructor for today, but that being said on the two occasions we have flown together, for no directly tangible reason I’ve come away feeling like I’ve learnt loads.  Maybe it’s an experience thing, maybe it’s a training style thing, but some people you just seem to learn from really easily.   Still, a bit bizarre though that the last time we were in a plane, I was being taught slow flight and had never flown a circuit – today we’d be doing an 88 mile flight and if he touched the controls, the lesson would be going badly wrong.  Strange.

Another instructor had taken Romeo Charlie, so I got my pick of the planes, we’ll take G-SHWK.

The Route

General Route: Diss, Swaffham

General Route: Diss, Swaffham

I get the impression that, as you might expect, each Nav. lesson adds a different element into the mix and builds on the previous ones.  From this route you sort of get the impression it’s building on the RT side of things and also adds the addition of nearby danger zones and the potential to encounter fast moving stuff.

Flying up to Diss takes you through the Mildenhall/Lakenheath Combined Military Aerodrome Traffic Zone (CMATZ).   Lakenheath is home to a lot of USAF: F-15’s, while Mildenhall is home to a lot of big military tanker aircraft.   The runways at both are immense, Lakenheath’s being 9,000ft and to give you some perspective, Cambridge is 1 mile of runway – Lakenheath is 1/3 longer!   Just to add to the fun, there’s a danger zone over Thetford where fast jets go to play “how low can you go….” types of games.

The top of the triangle touches into RAF Marham MATZ, it was expected they wouldn’t be there today but if they were it would be one more RAF controller to talk to.

Give a student an inch and they’ll take a mile….

With Runway 05 in use today & power checks done, we were cleared to enter the runway from Delta and take off as ready.  From holding point Delta you already have well over the take off run required of a C172, you could probably take-off, abort and take off again no worries at all…….so why I decided to turn right and grab a little extra runway I’m not sure (technically I wasn’t cleared to backtrack either).  Anyway, that minor mental slip aside, a fairly nice take-off and climb out.

Turning right to head south to catch the runway that leads to Six Mile Bottom, I overshot it a little in my search (Railways are smaller then you’d think), but we were soon on our way to the first check point.

Not an immense amount of time from Six Mile Bottom before you’re on the edge of Lakenheath CMATZ, so my flight plan notes show and arrow at Six Mile Bottom to Lakenheath’s approach frequency (a visual reminder to swap frequencies and get MATZ penetration clearance at this checkpoint, a very useful tip on flight plans).

I was expecting a military sounding controller, but all the same this controller sounded much more serious and to the point then the RAF controller I’d spoken to fly through Wattisham MATZ.  Straight to the point we were given a squawk code and cleared to penetrate Lakenheath CMATZ, in addition although we asked & got a basic service, we also got a Radar service (would come in handy shortly).

Traffic, 8 miles, 12 O’Clock

While in the middle of convincing myself (and talking my thought process outloud “just for info” to my instructor) that Bury St. Edmunds was in fact where I expected it to be and we were just past a round about as shown on the map, so reassuringly were dead on course, almost to the second.   Lakenheaths controller called us.

G-WK, Traffic, 8 miles, 12 O’Clock……

I called them back to say we were looking but did not have visual contact, now things started to get a bit more interesting:

G-WK, traffic, 7 miles, 12 O’clock

Still looking

G-WK, traffic, 6 miles, 12 O’clock…….Recommend Climb.

When a controller with a radar tells you to climb, I’m of the view your best move is to do as they say immediately!   Remember I said they operate F-15’s at Lakenheath, who knows if we’d ever see this traffic.

Just as I pressed the Mic button to reply “G-WK climbing….”  I got visual with the traffic, it was 12 O’clock, low, maybe 700ft below us and now maybe only 3 miles out.   “…..and visual with traffic.”   Quite pleased to find it wasn’t a fast jet.

From here on in it was a pretty smooth flight to Diss, my instructor pointing out a smoking chimney to our right along the way and how it could be used to consider wind direction (and whether it was as per forecast etc.).

Almost to the second Diss was below us, you’ve gotta love it when dead reckoning works 🙂    Diss is fairly easy to identify, it has a railway line running north to south and an industrial section to the east, which if you’ve done your Google Earth homework is very handy.

North to Swaffham

Snetterton Race Track

Snetterton Race Track

Gotta admit I was looking forward to this leg, the planned route would take us just right of Snetterton race track and it would be a fun landmark to sightsee from the air.

Snetterton didn’t let me down, being a weekend they had a race going on, from 2,500ft it was like watching toy cars speeding along but you could clearly make out the track and the racing – would have been really fun to orbit here for a bit and enjoy the race, but we had to crack on.

Just past Snetterton my expectant wind farm let me down, stupidly I’d decided a mast would be a wind farm and was trying to mentally force things into position when I couldn’t find the wind farm.   However, the town of Watton has a distinct shape, so after a bit of hmming and arrghing (and accepting the elapsed time couldn’t be far wrong), I had a rethink on my position and all was well with the world again.

Swaffham however, does have a wind farm just north east, so again easy to identify the correct town with key landmarks like that.

For not the first time this flight I was reminded to raise the wing before turning on to the new heading.   Hmmm, seems to be the latest creeping in error, I used to be meticulous about this in circuit flying, I guess instructors have let me get away with it and it’s warn out of my memory.

Visual with Lakenheath

RAF Lakenheath

RAF Lakenheath

You can look at it on Google Earth, but you don’t fully appreciate it, as noted at the beginning, Lakenheath’s runway is immense!   From 2,500ft up, approx. 4.5 miles north, it was blatantly impossible to miss the almighty runway out of the left window, surrounded by airfield buildings and big open space.  A very impressive sight, but I don’t think they’d take too kindly to us landing there (or getting close, so we’d keep well clear).

All credit to them though, Lakenheath ATC continued to be good to us.

Time for a bit of a Diversion

Just passing Soham my instructor asked me to plan a route to fly to Wyton.

Not being a million miles off course this was a reasonably straight forward new heading to judge, we then used other land marks including the now unused RAF runway at Waterbeach to verify our position and that our heading was going to work out.   A few top tips along the way, but this all went ok.

Finding the way home

This last minute diversion, right on the boundary of where we’d normally be asking for rejoin sent the workload skywards.   Now there was a stack of stuff to do and I began to really think “where the heck is the runway going to be…….”   Weird, because I could see the A10 so I knew where I was, it’s not like the runway would have moved, but suddenly the city of Cambridge seemed less familiar in shape.

A half decent radio call to rejoin, resulted in getting a downwind join.   The picture all started to come together, but I’m not sure I could recall how it was I got there.   This tells me the work load was running high.

Up until very recently I’ve landed with nothing on my lap, now I’m landing with a ton of things on my lap (knee board, map, flight plan….) and it’s just a bit weird – half expect it all to hit the deck any second.   Still the landing was ok, it wasn’t my greatest, smooth but I touched down on the back left wheel first and a bit flat.   My instructor took the opportunity to raise the nose after landing to remind me of the perspective I should have for an ideal landing – all good, but unless it’s flapless, rarely do I let myself do it like this.

All in all a very enjoyable flight, I rarely fly with this instructor but wish we could have more lessons as I just seem to get a lot out of them.

Next up, Nav #4……..down to Luton.

Lesson 45: Navigation #2 (Peterborough)

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013 | Permalink

Just for a laugh we’ll do the flight plan.   Watching trees outside getting practically blown over and looking at a Met Office Form 214 Spot wind chart suggesting there was a 35 Knot @ 2,000ft.   Forget it, but the speeds would be ridiculous so I’d do the plan anyway….

General Flight Path

General Flight Path

This trip would take me further West and North then I’ve ever flown before:

  • Raunds
  • Crowland (Just North of Peterborough)
  • Back to Cambridge

It’s sort of strange that for this many hours you stay so close to your home airfield, but there’s no reason really to go further afield.

Now the trips are starting to get a bit more interesting in terms of mileage, roughly speaking this is a 97 statute mile round trip.

The last Nav. couldn’t go too far wrong, point a plane east from here and short of an engine failure, you will find the coast.   Today we’d have to find two small villages and if I found the coast while flying west, something would be very wrong.

The Wind and Snow

Strangely on arrival the wind had calmed a little, but was still gusting to 21 Knots, however as luck would have it today, gusting straight down the runway between 10 degrees and 50 degrees.   So what would otherwise be a show stopper, was actually not a problem at all.   As for the 35 knot winds at 2,000ft also fine, there was nothing to suggest we’d have any problems trying to take off or land.   So bizarrely, we were on.

A few minor suggestions on my flight plan, but no changes required and it all looked good so we’d go with it as is.

The leg up to Peterborough crosses RAF Wittering MATZ (Military Aerodrome Traffic Zone), so we had a quick chat about calling them up and it was noted that they often aren’t there!  If they didn’t answer our calls we’d call up London Information and get a Basic Service off them (Hmmm, never spoken to London Information, something new to try), I don’t really know why this seemed more daunting then calling RAF Wittering, maybe because of the potential for more people to be listening.

NOTAM’s and other documents checked, it was off to check the plane – largely through my preference we took G-SHWK,  it is my favorite and I rarely miss a chance to fly it.

G-SHWK in the Snow

G-SHWK in the Snow

Today however, it was ridiculously cold, the wind was just making it all the worse.  Just stopping the planes’ door from blowing off in the wind was a challenge and my hands were going red with the windchill.  A broom was required to get some snow off the stabilizer, but other than being cold, Whiskey Kilo was looking in pretty good shape.

I’d made a mental note I wanted to check the sense of the altimeter in G-SHWK, and sure enough it was the “correct” sense (e.g. 1 knotch ABOVE say 1010hPa is 1011hPa), as noted in an error repeatedly made in my last lesson, G-HERC’s altimeter has what I’d describe as an inverted sense (e.g. 1 knotch ABOVE  1010hPa is actually 1009hPa).   Given that I fly G-SHWK alot, that would explain that error.

Go, Go, Go….

River Cam

River Cam

Having spent a fair old while sorting the plane and talking through the route and weather, my instructor blitzed the start-up checks and engine start-up.   Taxi clearance was all good except I misheard holding point Charlie for Delta (hear what you expect to hear I guess), easy enough to sort out and just to be random we took a whole new route to get there (40+ trips and I’m still being given new ways to taxi around the airfield!).

After a seeming age of waiting for the engine temperatures to get into the green, we were soon out on runway 05 and being cleared for take-off.

The left turn out from 05 I always associate with a chance to look down and see the river cam, it’s rare to fly out this way and it’s a nice view – especially if people are out rowing.

All that was left to do from here was point the plane in a westardly direction and find Point Alpha, it seems weird to suggest it now, but it’s pretty straightforward to find this land mark.

Set the Clock – 35 Knot wind you say!

With a heading of 296 degrees set, the distance of 12 miles to my first way point of Buckden would take just 5 minutes 30 seconds!   My flight notes tell me that we got there 2 minutes late, I guess the wind wasn’t quite all what had been forecast (Not quite realising the full significance of this late arrival would come and get me later).

I was about to fly further West then I’ve ever flown (myself) before

As we flew over and past Grafham water, another minor but important tick box of firsts was crossed off.  This was as far west as I’ve ever flown a C172 before, so far Grafham water has been a virtual barrier beyond which I’d never been allowed to venture – we would press on from here though, next way point was

They don’t seem to appear on Google Earth photography, but the fairly ‘recent’ sprouting of Wind farms is in my opinion an aviation blessing, they sure make navigation easier.  Raunds now has the “luxary” of a wind farm just “behind” it (well closer to Kettering), meaning that the ‘town’ with a wind farm directly west of it and a bigger town to it’s south (Rushden) and a fairly major road adjacent to its west side is very likely Raunds.

So far, so good.

London Information Calling

With a new heading of 051 set and an ETA to the A1/Services, just south of Peterborough of 11 minutes, all that was really left to do was to request a frequency change from Cambridge Approach and try our luck with RAF Wittering (129.975).

Of course that frequency meant I had to learn the radio had additional switches I’d never played with before, more toys 🙂

As much as I wanted Wittering to reply, sadly after two attempts I had to accept nobody was home.  Time for plan B:   London Information.

Another first, I’ve never spoken to London Information before, I could live without having to but life would be boring without new experiences.   To no surprise, they were there and asked us to set a squawk code I’ve since forgotten (possibly 6521), the radio call all went nice and smooth and London Information seemed happy enough to entertain our flight and Basic Service request.

The Leg Home : Navigation at lower altitude

Peterborough seemed easy enough to find and from there Crowland just north east of it with a river on its west side was reasonably easy to identify.   However, up until this point I’d elected to fly at 2,500ft, I knew from my previous lesson that navigation was easier at this altitude (at this altitude the forward/down visibility is ~5 miles).  Now my instructor ‘suggested’ we try descending to something lower, I compromised with him and settled on aiming to fly at 1,600ft (this would kill the forward visibility, down to ~3.4 miles).

Interesting fact:  If the flight visibility was <= 5Km you’d be at the limits or out of VFR flight and the book of words on the topic will tell you that navigation is going to be very difficult unless you really know the area.    It just so happens that 3.4 miles = 5.5Km, which gives you some idea of what Navigation at this altitude is like.

This was made worse because the weather was blowing the plane all over the place, it was a fight to stay in trim and when it was, it never lastest.   At times the altitude was down to 1,300ft (not ideal, my flight plan showed a Minimum Safety Altitude of 1,500ft).

Remember how I arrived late at Buckden, suggesting the wind was not as forcast, well that wind was supposed to have been a massive 35 knots from 080 degrees (essentially a full on cross-wind for this leg), so the compensated flight plan had adjusted a True Track of 154 degrees, to a True Heading of 135 – if the wind wasn’t as forecast I was going to be flying 20 degrees off course!

The magnitude of this difference is hard to express in words, but the accuracy of the forcast had the potential to essentially decide which side of Ely City I flew!!

So it will hopefully come as no surprise then that on this leg of the trip I found myself “sort of” knowing where I was.   Forget finding Fen End Farm as planned and in the effort to work out where I was I left it quite late to contact Cambridge Approach again, requiring an orbit to buy some time to get cleared for the rejoin.

Still it was all good and the call to Approach and Tower went better then it has typically done recently.

Landing……..could you move the C-130 please?

C-130 Holding

C-130 Holding

The circuit I was generally happy with, but ATC called and told us to report final not sooner than 2 miles out which meant extending downwind quite a way, it’s been an age since I’ve approached from this distance.

The reason was that a C-130 was doing an APU check and was currently sat on runway 05 exactly where I wanted to land.   A go around can be easily converted into financial terms of about £30, maybe when I landed someone would tell me where to send the bill….

Thankfully however, that was not required, as the last stage of flaps were lowered and we descended through 600ft, the beast of a plane started to lumber off the runway and we kept coming down and down until with about 400ft to go we got the clearance to land.   I rattled off a quick response but was mentally very busy trying to stop the wind and keeping the plane on course, there were points in this descent where I knew I absolutely had it, you know when you’ve got it just right because everything slows down and the descent becomes effortlessly calm.  Then the wind would gust and it was back into getting it all back to being calm again.

Touch down was a bit further in then I’d originally hoped, but it just wouldn’t quite go down that last 50ft, but we landed with a mass of runway to spare and I’d take the landing any day of the week although not my smoothest ever, given the wind not too bad.

All in pretty happy, the last leg could have been better but I’m starting to get quite comfortable with flying completely out of sight of the airport and having a map on my lap and attempting to scribble ETA’s etc.

Next trip is out towards Thetford, so fingers crossed for some good weather.


Lesson 44: Navigation #1 (East Bergholt)

Tuesday, March 19th, 2013 | Permalink

Weather has been my enemy of late, still 5th time lucky as they say 🙂

Even this attempt was looking doubtful, with serious fog in the morning I was thankful I’d booked the 11am slot, but the race was on for the fog and low cloud to shift in time!

At 10:20 the METAR was still pretty rubbish, cloud at 200ft and the clubs webcam was making me doubtful.  Still experience has taught me that unless it’s a totally blatant no go, there’s often value in just being there – worst case you get a free coffee and a chat, best case the cloud clears or you get to steal a sneaky standby later in the day.

Coffee and Waiting

G-HERC (Golf Hotel Echo Romeo Charlie)

G-HERC (Golf Hotel Echo Romeo Charlie)

All the signs looking out of the club window were that it was getting progressively (although slowly) better.  Credit where it’s due, my instructor was planning for success and optimistic it would clear, the weather report would get updated and we could just go.   So in the mean time, check the plane (G-HERC) out, she’d check my planning and then hang around and wait for the green light.

It’s been weeks since I’ve run through the plane checkout so just flicking master switches on etc. was nice, especially as it wasn’t -2C for the first time in ages.   A quite civilised checkout, rather then freezing to death and sweeping snow off the plane!

Then it was just a matter of being optimistic and waiting…..

With almost an hour of the lesson slot burnt off and mid-day rapidly approaching:  Good Viz & Few clouds at 500ft.   That’ll do, lets go!!!  🙂

I know how these dials all work, I do, honest….

6 Basic Flight Instruments

Basic Flight Instruments

Maybe this is a good sign, but recently my mistakes have largely been small and really noddy ones (but therefore ridiculous and the sort you want to bang your head on the yoke and scream “what am I doing!!”).   This lesson would not break that curse.

I knew I wanted to set 118 degrees on the heading bug, for god knows why reasons my brain mangled this in weirder ways then I look back and think are possible.

First I think I set it as 180 (don’t ask), then I totally got the scale markings wrong and from a now vague memory I think I set 108 (don’t ask) before finally the cogs reengaged and I realised the scale was in degrees of 5 and we were good again.   This was me on the ground, god help us!!

I would continue my stupid errors my turning the altimeter QNH to 990 and then moving the dial so it was set to 1 mark ABOVE the 990 mark (you’d think 1 above 990 was 991 right?  WRONG, I still want to check the sense in G-SHWK, but I fear they have different directional sense and I’d just gone with what heuristically felt more correct……..but in fact I’d just set 989).   A top tip on human factors then, keep turning and verify the directional sense of the dials.

I could omit these errors and save grace, but I can point you at plenty of accident reports from far more experienced pilots then me who’ve done equally stupid things.  You might deny doing similar things, or find you’re also doing stuff like this, I’m certainly not the first to do them.

Which way to Six Mile Bottom?

East Bergholt

East Bergholt

Ahhh we weren’t over the noddy errors just yet, in my head I was so rehersed on a take-off from 05, that I instinctively said “Right hand turn”, even as we’d jumped in the plane I’d been fearing an 05 take-off because I’ve never found 6 mile bottom from that direction.

As you can see on the photo of my map when this flight was first planned weeks back, it was from an 05 exit.

We’d already been told we’d be on 23, I was making this mistake up on total mental auto-pilot, from 23 obviously it’s a left hand turn.   Arrrgh, great way to start a navigation lesson 🙂

We’re up, now to fly our way to the coast – but first, find the train tracks.

I hate finding train tracks, particularly the ones that lead to 6 mile bottom.   Firstly because I’ve rarely had to find them and second because they’re actually not as big as you’d expect them to be.   Still we found them and with a bit of hmmm’ing and ahhhh’ing convinced myself the right road was crossing the right train tracks etc.   Time to start the clock.

East Bergholt Flight Plan

East Bergholt Flight Plan

As you can see from my flight plan, first waypoint was to find a road ~4.5 minutes away assuming the ground speed stuck with us at 109 knots.   The flight plan also says we planned to fly at 2,000ft but due to cloud this wasn’t possible so the route was flown at 1,300ft – ATC asked us what our maximum was, I reported 1,500ft.

As the cloud cleared we got permission to climb as navigation this low was not ideal.

Worth pointing out that as of Six Mile Bottom, the instructor took over the flying part and I was ‘freed up’ to concentrate on the navigation and radio parts.   What this also meant was that, as you can see from my visual reminder arrow on the flight plan, when we found that road 8 nautical miles away, I’d have to tick a “first time” box.   In this case:  The first time I’d called another aerodrome.

Sounds sort of rediculous right?   Nearly 40 hours on the clock and to date I’ve spoken to my own aerodromes approach & tower frequencies, London Centre for a practice emergency and that’s it.   Just to add to the mix, I’d be calling  RAF Wattisham – a military aerodrome which has such fun things in its book of words as “Beware of lasers when Apache’s operating.”   Plus I had no idea how different an RAF controller would be relative to the forgiving and well used to training pilots operators of my home aerodrome.

Turns out, pretty much the same and I was thankful all my R/T with them went pretty smooth, something along the lines of this sequence:

“Wattisham Radar, G-HERC”
“G-HERC, Squark 6541 and pass your message.”
“Squark 6541 G-HERC.”  (Forgot I was going to be asked to do that so I broke my reply up).
“G-HERC is Cessna 172, from Cambridge to Cambridge via East Bergholt, altitude 2,200ft, QNH 991hPa, request basic service and MATZ penatration.”
“G-RC, Basic Service and MATZ penetration approved.”


And we can breathe again, the noddy screw ups I can live with but I wanted that call to go ok and essentially it was all good.   I was now an approved little dot on some Wattisham Radar operators’ screen 🙂

Birdseye view of Sudbury

Birdseye view of Sudbury

In six minutes, we should be over Sudbury, now the map shows Sudbury as having a river going roughly around it and you’d think that would be a good visual cue.   However, I’d done my homework, I knew the one distinctive feature of Sudbury is not it’s shape, but the fact it has a relatively huge industrial site on its east side.

This shows up as you can see as a massive white/grey patch against a sea of buildings.   From the air this is very easy to spot and so with four minutes to go I was pretty happy Sudbury was ahead of us and it was also telling me that we’d drifted off to the right.   My instructors flying was looking pretty spot on, so I assume the wind wasn’t quite as forecast.   Slightly to be expected given the planned wind was from a forecast now at least 2 hours old.

Once overhead we corrected for the drift and then set our heading again, next “stop” East Bergholt and the seaside!  🙂

Distinctive features………like the Sea?

From this point on it’s largely grass and fields, East Bergholt is flanked by Ipswich and Colchester so go to far left or right and you should find (unexpectedly) that you’re heading for a big town.  However, from 2,000ft quite quickly you can see another very distinctive feature that suggests East Bergholt should be coming up:  The Sea.

I still find this weird, normally to get to the coast I’d have to drive for over an hour and a half.  We’d been in the air at this point for a touch over 12 minutes!!   To see the coast is just mind blowing, regardless of the fact that maths says this is obvious.

It wasn’t the best day to be at the sea side, as we approached East Bergholt we flew into some rain and the weather was more murky in this part of the world then back home but we were about to turn round and head for home anyway.

Having had the luxury of my instructor doing the flying so far, now I would have to do everything.

It’s perhaps worth noting that actually flying the plane after a few hours practice is pretty easy, what you’re actually training to do is to fly the plane while managing the workload of flying, navigating, communicating on the radio etc. etc.   Once you start trying to do  these together, you’ll find your brain is working quite hard, the solution is practice to make more of it instinctive.

Heading for Home

The flight home was nice enough, the bit that was making me think harder was planning my ETA’s and adjusting as we hit a point sooner or later then expected.   Generally speaking though I flew back holding 2,000ft and a heading of 294 well enough, I only really deviated when because I could see Sudbury again I knew I was left of course and so started a “progressive recovery of track”, meaning the heading no longer matched the bug for quite a while (which got spotted), quite rightly I was told to fly the course regardless and then correct when over Sudbury.  This is just one of those instinctive things to do when you know to you’re off-course.

I was trying to announce my plans as I went so my instructor knew what I was intending to do etc.  I mis-read my plan and announced I was going to get over Sudbury and then call RAF Wattisham to request a transfer to Cambridge approach.   My instructor just acknowledge this, a few minutes later while glancing back at my plan (remember that visual cue arrow, pointing from Road->Wattisham), I realised I wouldn’t be out of the MATZ until the road, so instead of calling them at Sudbury I should call them at the Road waypoint.   To which my instructor said it was good to see I’d spotted the mistake and corrected my intentions.

RAF Wattisham saved me from having to call them up and  let us know we were good to now call Cambridge Approach.   The wind farm that was getting ever bigger out of the window suggested we were still on course, time to call Cambridge Approach (the bit that always seems to go wrong).

Initially it went ok, we got a basic service and were told to report when 5 miles out, no problems.   However at 5 miles out it was time to request a rejoin and my radio call just went to hell after transferring to Tower, a mumble of rambling roughly related statements followed – even my instructor couldn’t hold back an outburst of laughter.   Every time I call them up they seem to give me a totally different set of things to read back or a sea of traffic.   Still we got there in the end and were cleared to join downwind for runway 05.

Go Around

The circuit was good, but the final approach I just lost too much height and on runway 05 there are two large pools of water which make you sink quite a lot in the last few hundred feet.   I’ve got used to expecting this extra sink and thus coming in high, but today I didn’t and just let it come down too much.   Time to go around and try that again.

The go-around was a decent circuit, though now my instructor spotted I’d done it again: I’d set the airfield QFE which should have now been 989, to 991 (inverting the mistake I’d made on taxi), hmmm.  I had a better turn onto final and came in higher over the water this time.  Just didn’t quite get it as settled as I’d have liked so the landing was a bit hard but I’ve had soooo much worse, it wasn’t bad enough to ruin the flight, wasn’t my best, but was far, far from my worst.

For a day that had started so questionably, all things considered, I felt I walked away from this having learnt tons and it had been a very enjoyable lesson (even with the moments of stupidity).   Roll on Nav #2, a trip out to the east and north 🙂


Flight Planning : Nav. #1

Thursday, February 28th, 2013 | Permalink

Briefing in preparation for a day when the weather turns good.  I was feeling about 90% myself, having just recovered from a cold, mentally all with it, but looking back it’s probably a good thing the cloud base was low.

One of those, write it down and maybe some of it will sink in (might even be right) posts and it may even be useful or interesting to someone else, you never know 🙂

Trip to East Bergholt

East Bergholt (Location)

East Bergholt (Location)

This is the standard “Dual Nav #1” destination and at this stage I’m happy to fly almost anywhere, so no I’ve never heard of the place either, but that doesn’t matter – it’s just somewhere to go (no doubt picked for a variety of good reasons – possibly because the locals haven’t got sick of Cessna’s doing 180’s over their village yet).

To plan the trip we’ll be needing the following toys (and a pen):

  • Flight Computer
  • Square Protractor
  • Ruler (scale markings in Nautical Miles, 1:500,000)
  • A current aeronautical map
  • Some paper (preferably with relevant columns and such like for flight planning).

If you need sticky back plastic, something has probably gone wrong…..

Magnetic Variation

Is the angle / difference, from magnetic north to true north, aviation maps are based on Truth North but once in the plane everything (Direction Indicator) is setup with reference to a compass which will measure magnetic north (ignoring some other errors which are calibrated out and we won’t go into).

If your variation is West, add it……if it’s East, subtract it.   Giving to the slightly politically incorrect phrase

West is Best……East is Least

It could be a big number, but for around these parts it’s variation comes out at roughly +1 to the true heading

So when we’ve compensated for wind etc. our final heading needs to be adjusted by +1.

A useful website if you want to know your magnetic variation.

Safety Altitude

Map Marked for East Bergholt

Map Marked for East Bergholt

This potentially will impact the wind velocities we need to input – we know where we’re going so we can figure out the safety altitude, then we can think about a flight altitude for the trip and finally that will let us think about the wind velocities.

There are generally two ways to determine a minimum safety altitude.

Option 1:  Plot the route as per something like the picture on the right, then taking 5 miles either side of the route, find the highest obstacle – but be weary some items do not need to appear on the map (e.g. a mast that is 299ft), which means a mast on top of a hill could catch you out.

Option 2: You’ll see on the map (chart), some elevation markings “09”, “08” etc. in purple, take the biggest number your route crosses and add 500ft.  This is the absolute minimum safety height.

Our route crosses 900ft, so our absolute minimum is 1,400ft.

Flight Altitude

Above 1,400ft but we can’t fly in cloud and we might also get restricted by airspace.

On this particular route, anything above 5500ft and we’ll be heading into Class A airspace, we can’t do that.   So something below 5,500 and above 1,400ft.

What about the clouds, well I’m rarely lucky enough to get a cloud base above 4,000ft, so something below that.   How about we aim for a nice round 2,000ft.

The Wind

Whatever it happens to be on the day – but we actually care about what the wind is doing at our intended flight altitude for the trip, not the surface wind.   You can find this quite easily thanks to the Met Office and Form 214 (UK Spot wind chart).  For the purpose of walking this through let’s say 330 degrees, 15 knots (330/15).


If there was no wind and no magnetic errors, this is the direction we’d want to fly – we’re never that lucky, but to work out the rest you need a reference.   So using our map and a square protractor we can figure out which way we’d point the plane in an ideal world – just to highlight the route, I’ve emphasized it in yellow.

Protractor Overlay

Protractor Overlay

The picture doesn’t do it justice, but trust me it’s about 115 degrees (True).


East Bergholt - Distance Measurement

East Bergholt – Distance Measurement

Hopefully you’ve noticed that we’ve marked up the route on the map (we know where we are, we know where we want to go and give or take, there’s nothing stopping us from going in a straight line to get there – the beauty of flight!)

What you might not have noticed is that the starting point is from a known reference point, a point by which we will hopefully have set our speed, be straight and level and not have much else to do but press “start” on the clock.  In this case, it’s 6 mile bottom and as luck would have it, is about 6 miles from the airport.

Using the most expensive piece of plastic you may have ever bought, measuring the distance in nautical miles is a 10 second affair, place ruler on line, read off the distance (just be sure you’re using the correct scale!)

Give or take a little, we can call that 29 nautical miles (flying in knots remember).

Now all we need to do is figure out which way we should actually point the plane in order to reach our destination (i.e. do our best to avoid going randomly off course due to wind and magnetic variation).


Keep it simple a nice round cruise speed of 100 knots today.

Flight Computer

Flight Computer (CRP-1)

The Flight Computer

You can do this next bit with graph paper and a calculator, but it’ll take you longer and would be using the universal language of mathematics……to hell with that, we’re paying £3/min to be in this party, time to crack out the toy that make this flying business look complicated to the outside world 🙂

Firstly we know that if there was no wind and we could fly a true heading, we’d want to fly 115 degrees (see track).   There is wind, 330/15, so we need to correct for this.

Using the “Wind Down” method on the flight computer:

  1. Flip it over to the “wind” side and set the little circular dot to the top of the ‘low speed wind’ chart.
  2. Turn the dial until “Index” is set against the wind direction (330)
  3. Now mark the wind speed, perpendicular to the circular dot (see picture), 15 knots today.
Wind Speed Marked

Wind Speed Marked

Heading & Groundsped on a Flight Computer

Heading Correction & Ground Speed

Now to find out what the heading correction needs to be:

  1. Slide the centre plastic part up until the circular dot is against our intended airspeed (100).
  2. Now turn the dial until it’s set to the Track (115)

As you can see and might expect, the mark we made for the wind speed, has now moved out to the right, give or take 1 degree (largely hinges on how good your marker pen skills are), if you look down from the mark to the line reading “10, 20, 30…”), you’ll see the difference between the centre and where the mark crosses this line is about 5 degrees.

So we’re going to be pushed at an angle of 5 degrees to the right, therefore we fly a heading (True) of 110 degrees.

However, the flight computer has one other trick up its sleeve – when walking through the briefing, when asked how could I work out the groundspeed, my first thought was “I know the wind, I can therefore work out the headwind/tailwind component”.   You could, but this involves a new set of tasks with the flight computer……..look again at the flight computer, you’ll notice that the marked cross is horizontally aligned with 112, that will be our ground speed if the wind stays constant.

So we now also know our ground speed will be 112 knots.

We know our ground speed (112 knots), we know our distance (29 nautical miles), thus we can work out how long the trip will take.   Just flip the flight computer over.

Setting Ground Speed on a CRP-1

Setting Ground Speed

The first thing to remember is that a flight computer is a circular slide rule.  Therefore it’s up to you to remember where you put the decimal place (e.g. 10 can be, 1, 10, 100, 1000….) and as long as you keep track of where the decimal point is today you’ll be good……..the task of doing so however introduces risk of human error.

The steps are as follows:

  1. Find the Index marker (Red Triangle marker in this case, marked “60”).
  2. Rotate the dial such that the point of this index is aligned against your previously calculated Ground Speed (112) on the outer maker.

Note what I said about a slide rule, in the photo on the right you might easily think I’ve just aligned it to “11.2”, but what is actually happening is I’m essentially shifting the decimal place out to the right by one place and thus it’s now “112”

All that’s left to do now is to find the distance we’re traveling and read off the time it’ll take to get there:

Time to Travel on a CRP-1

Time to Travel

  1. Find the distance to travel on the outer scale (29 nautical miles in our case) – note that the outer scale changes its precision at some points (e.g. some points like 11->12 have 10 increments and others, 21->22 have only 5 increments), thus the precision of the answer you get will vary.
  2. Now read off the number from the inner scale, you’ll see in our example it reads around 15 minutes 30 seconds – you can round up.   We’re going to break the flight up into shorter legs anyway, this just tells us within 30 seconds when we should be at our destination.

The process for measuring the distance on the map and then computing ETA’s can be repeated to break the trip up into shorter legs, thus ensuring that you don’t drift to far off track (at least that’s the general theory).

One final correction to Heading

It flowed better to go through the flight computer stuff in one hit, but waaaaay back at the top of this post I mentioned magnetic variance and about 6 paragraphs or so back I mentioned the flight computer had told us we wanted to fly 110 degrees True.

All good, but we need to compensate for that variance or we’ll have an error creeping in that will send us off track the further we fly.

The variance was 1 degree west, so we add this to the True heading (110) to get our final heading (magnetic) of 111 degrees.

And that is the theory……Verifying your Answer

Humans make random mistakes, the Flight Computer is very accurate, but lacks precision and prone to errors.   Digital Machines however are very repeatable things, so a well tested digital tool is a good way to verify your own multi-step, manage your own decimal place, try not to get distracted human process 🙂

Enter SkyDemon Lite set where you are, where you want to go.   Add your speed and the wind and you’re done!!!

SkyDemon PLOG

SkyDemon PLOG

Our mechanical numbers agree to within 1 degree, that’s about as good as it’s going to get (and good luck flying +/-1 degree anyway), so I’ll take that. The time looks about right to, remember I rounded up to 16 minutes.  Oh yeah and the level is wrong, just ran with their default, we were flying at 2,000 in my example but doesn’t matter for our example as we’ve set the wind the same.

Meteorology Exam : Passed

Monday, February 18th, 2013 | Permalink

Meteorology - PPL3

Meteorology – PPL3

After months of putting it off and finally just putting a date in the aero clubs books a few weeks back – which makes it a heck of a lot easier to revise for once you have a deadline you can’t ignore.   I finally sat my Meteorology exam.

With a final revision blitz over the weekend and not stopping until my head was about to explode with information about weather fronts and Form 215 interpretation.   It was time to see how I did for real.

Passed :  100%

I was quite amazed by the score, there was a question on icing I was 50/50 on and the last question I spent a good 5 minutes hmmm’ing and ahhh’ing about if the flight was safe or should be delayed.  Still, after a weekend of revising this much and all the previous months of opening the book and reading it over and over again.  I’m not sure I could have faced having to re-sit it, so I’m very glad it’s a done deal 🙂

…… on to the next one.

Lesson 42: Instrument Flying

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013 | Permalink

All week the weather forecast had been for blue skies, but ridiculous crosswind, so I hadn’t counted any chickens on this lesson – in fact at 8:50am I was still waiting for the phone to ring.  It didn’t.

Upon arrival, it seemed like we were very much on – even with the briefing room windows being thrashed by the winds outside.   Might be out of my limits, but not my instructors.

“Stop looking at the instruments”

Finally a lesson where I won’t get told this 🙂  It’s safe to say I rarely ‘believe’ the big instrument outside the window and am much happier with the gyroscopes and pressure sensors…..yes it’s wrong, yes they lag, no I can’t keep my eyes off them.   I’m sure everyone has their ‘thing’ when learning, this is mine.


A bunch of stuff to get through & tick off today if possible:

  • Suction System Failure (Flying on a Compass)
  • Diverting to another airfield
  • Straight and Level on Instruments
  • Climb/Descend on Instruments
  • Rate 1 turns on Instruments
  • Unusual Attitudes on Instruments
6 Basic Flight Instruments

Basic Flight Instruments

I’ve seen my closest alternate airfield, during the briefing the concept of having to find it on my own was making me think “Not a chance……”  

After a year and a half you’d think I’d know the ‘Basic T’ of instruments off by heart, and yet it was amusing to find that when put on the spot I couldn’t put them in their positions…….weird – but then I can touch type, but I couldn’t tell you where all the keys are.

Plane Checkout

G-HERC (Golf Hotel Echo Romeo Charlie)

G-HERC (Golf Hotel Echo Romeo Charlie)

It’s been a while but back in Romeo Charlie, you can’t go wrong with this plane, I dunno why but it always feels shiny and new.

Except today it had a build up of ice on its wings.   Time to become taxi driver and turn it around so its wings were facing the sun, that soon had it sorted.

Other than that, looking good as always.

Pre-Checks & Taxi

My morning coffee hadn’t been fully absorbed yet, I was doing some strange things in the checks…..   I always, always, always now inform instructors if the temperatures are not in the green, but for some reason today I just assumed it was ok for them not to be today and carried on.  Of course it was picked up – I mean come on, there was ice on the wings 10 minutes ago!

With the crosswind I found it doubtful I’d even do the take-off, but we formulated a plan for me to do it during the take-off brief.

Climbing : Rudder, Rudder, Rudder

God you’d think this should be instinctive by now, but I must have been wearing the record out today “rudder”, “more rudder”, “don’t forget the rudder.”    My other sin of the day was not lowering the nose in the climb, thus essentially meaning you’re not able to lookout and see if you’re about to climb into something else.

Suction System Failure

The artificial horizon and direction indicator (and in some cases, but not this one the turn coordinator) are all driven by gyroscopes – being antique technology, they’re all driven from a suction system whereby the engine drives a pump which creates a vacuum, resulting in an airflow which makes respective gyroscopes spin.   There are better (and safer) ways to do it, but we won’t go there today.

Best case scenario of failure then, if we lose the suction pump, we lose the artificial horizon and the direction indicator.   An easy failure to simulate:  they were covered up by a piece of paper.

Now I’d have to fly on the compass and the big picture outside (which my instructor will tell you I hate flying on 😉 ).

By some miracle, upon request to fly a heading of East, I managed to turn the plane and level out almost spot on East.   Now to try the same game for a heading of North, this time I undershot a little but by and large, it was north(ish).   Put a tick in the box, we’re done here 🙂

Practice Diverting :  Map??

Now I went through this in the take-off brief, if you’re thinking of suffering from a heart attack, you really shouldn’t go flying.   It didn’t do me any good though, I’d still need to find that alternate 🙂

Having done the practice call of telling the current frequency we were going to divert, this just left the amusing moment of

“So get your map out…..”

“Map?   Nobody said anything about needing a map”

“It’s a legal requirement to fly with one in the plane”

“Yeah, I’ve got one in the plane, it’s in my bag on the backseat – we’re legal 🙂 “

Other readers who are learning to fly might find this absurd, how can I be this far in and be leaving a map in my bag?   I’d want to agree with you, but the reality is, in all my flight training I’ve used a map in a plane:  Once and even then it was an instructor passing me his, there’s been no development of getting into a habit of having it in the side pocket because it might be needed on a lesson etc.

Still, my instructor was having a “heart attack” (if she wasn’t before, the map revelation may have triggered one), seems reasonable to borrow the victims map 🙂

Fen Drayton & Lakes

Fen Drayton & Lakes

All that turning for suction system failure, meant that initially I had no idea where I was.   However, now I needed to find Bourn, a few seconds looking out of the window and suddenly my first local area solo was paying dividends.   Just off to the right was the now familiar lakes just north of Fen Draydon, where a few weeks ago I’d been getting in some practice advanced turns.

I knew ball park where Bourn was, but a quick look on the map suggested that it’s dead south of Fen Draydon, so all I needed to do was turn the plane 90 degrees to the left to fly south of Fen Drayton and we should find ourselves an airfield.

What I hadn’t quite appreciated (though I’ve noted this before), is that because we were at 3,000ft, trigonometry tells you that your forward visibility on the ground is immense!    As a result I was stunned by how quick the airfield was in sight.

Phew, found it…….navigation is a weird thing, it should be quite obvious that if you point a plane at the heading for something, given some time, it will appear!!   Yet it’s amazing how, almost relieved, you are when you discover this holds true.

Instrument Flying

Time to see if I could fly straight and level with my eyes closed.   The temptation once you do this is to move the control column, but knowing the theory that my internal balance system will go to hell upon doing this, I found myself consciously fighting the desire to move the control column and change nothing.  Sure enough upon opening my eyes we were still straight and level at ~3000ft, but my god does it take some concentration and commitment to the idea that all the sensations in your head are a lie.

To emphasis the point, I was asked to close my eyes, my instructor would fly the plane and all I had to do was tell her what she was doing.   Sounds simple huh?   I waited a few seconds, all the time feeling like we were rolling right, but initially I resisted that this could be the case – soon however it felt there was a definite right turn going on.   A few seconds later I was starting to be convinced we were climbing……and upon opening my eyes, we hadn’t moved!!  We’d just been flying straight and level.   The human body is rubbish!  🙂

Next it was time to do some instrument flying proper, using a set of Foggles, essentially these glasses block your view of the big instrument outside the windows and let you only look down at the instruments.

The scan of the instruments changes when flying on instruments (not that you should be on a PPL).   Due to the fact that the Artificial Horizon is the only instrument that tells you about pitch AND roll, this becomes the primary instrument and all scans start and end here, then only a reduced set of other instruments are focused on in the scan, depending on the maneuver.

So for straight and level the sequence is:  AH, ALT (Altimeter), AH, DI (Direction Indicator), AH, ALT, AH, DI, AH…..and just keep repeating this.

The trick is to not stop concentrating on the scan and make small corrections.

One thing I have no issue with is in trusting my instruments, so I found myself quite happy to cycle this scan and fly it straight and level with no real issues, I could have happily done that all day (or at least until the fuel got low).

Next up, climb on instruments, this uses a slightly different scan but the fundamentals are the same.  Followed predictably by a descent.

Finally some turns, which rather than the normal 30 degrees of bank for a level turn, on instruments are done at ‘Rate 1’ – which is marked on the turn coordinator as the the white marks under the wings of the aeroplane, this equates to a turn of ~15-18 degrees.

Flying into the Sun : Communication

One side effect of making these turns was being asked to turn onto a heading of 120 degrees, no problem.  Until when I got there, I was hit by now flying directly into the sun – which foggles don’t protect you from, now you just have a diffused blinding light, rather than just blinding light.  Resulting in an interesting mis-communication moment:

I’m no longer flying on instruments….

What I meant was “I can not see the instruments, therefore I’m not able to fly on them.”   However, by the time I’d brought myself to accept that and say something, my attempts to fly straight and level into the sunshine were looking pretty shocking.   So I think the statement got interpreted as “I’m doing a pretty rubbish job of this aren’t I….”, resulting in some tips on bringing it all back together.   Though moments later the question of “Can you actually see the instruments?” came and we changed heading soon after 🙂    When you see stories on the news about flight crews being confused in the cockpit, this is how easy it can happen….

Once I could see the instruments again my flying returned to normal, but it made for another good point.  While flying into the sun I was seeing the instruments through the glare maybe once every 5 seconds, at that response rate, the control loop was broken – I wasn’t able to react sufficiently to keep the plane flying and was essentially just losing control.   Which tells you a lot about how much you need to concentrate on the instruments once outside of visual flight conditions – and why it’s not allowed on a basic license.

Unusual Attitudes

Essentially this task involves you closing your eyes with your head down, while the instructor sets the plane up into some bonkers configuration (e.g. no power, pointing at the ground, rolling right….).

I was quite happy recovering from the no power conditions, but my Achilles heel turned out to be when the power was left full on.  I’d recognise there being too much power and reduce it, but I wouldn’t bring it all the way back to idle, this is the trauma that Charlie Bravo has done to me, so expectant of a engine stall at idle (and yes I know I’m not even in the same plane) I can’t unconsciously just pull the power to idle.   Resulting in the airspeed at times sitting at borderline yellow [caution] speed, but my tendency seemed to be to take off just enough power to keep it bordering green.   There had to be something a little off today, the rest had gone quite nicely.

Head for home: Massive Crosswinds

It had felt a minor miracle we’d gone up at all, even more so I’d got to do the take off in the winds we were getting.   On return to the airfield they hadn’t let up at all, in fact as we flew downwind they were at the limits for an instructor, possibly beyond.   Resulting in another first.

I’ve never flown Runway 28, it’s a grass runway rarely used except I guess for times like this.

The thing to watch in bad winds is the ease in which you can lose airspeed, essentially wind shear, so you want to come in a little faster than normal – and I guess faced with the shorter grass runway and not wanting to overshoot, but also a flock of birds and an ATC request to not land on its numbers.   I let the airspeed get a bit lower then we’d like.

The landing however seemed all good (though I suspect there was a lot of help involved).


Some good points made, it’s been a while since I’ve done the fundamentals, so a reminder on the climb out that I need to lower the nose and have a good look out, I can’t just point the nose for 80 knots and sit back until the altimeter reads 3,000ft 🙂    and if I’m going to descend, I can pick any speed I like, but I should know why we’re descending at that speed (e.g. I’ve decided to do a cruise descent, so we’re descending at 90 knots……fine, but don’t descend at any old rate the plane happens to give on the day etc.).

Other than that, to read up on navigation because the flying bit is now essentially done and we’re into navigation proper from here on in.


Lesson 41: Local Area Solo

Monday, January 28th, 2013 | Permalink

The previous lesson didn’t go well, so 24 hours later I was back at the club hoping for a better personal performance in the re-match.

Flying with a new instructor (new to me anyway), slightly conscious that this might be a big ask:   “Hey you’ve never flown with me before and my record probably says my landings 24hrs ago were crap…….but mind sending me for my first local area solo???”

Still he seemed up for giving it ago and seeing how I flew today, so we’d crack on.

That Plane again & the Visibility Discussion

G-UFCB Cessna 172SP

G-UFCB : Cessna 172SP

We’d be taking G-UFCB, I knew with Whiskey Kilo out of action it was either this plane or Romeo Charlie (as MEGS with all its glass cockpit toys was unlikely to be an option for a first solo out of sight of the airport).   Romeo Charlie was currently booked with someone else, so I was back with the plane that quite simply, hates me.

Forget the plane for a second though, the wind & cloud base were looking great but the visibility was 7,000m.   My instructor glanced the solo limits:  8,000m   We might have a problem here.

Serious hmmm’ing and ahhhh’ing ensued.

Now for my first stroke of luck of the day, a senior instructor became the voice of encouragement that it’s likely to actually be ok, go and see for sure, but it should be fine and getting better throughout the day.  When I was new and had even less experience, I used to think this was one of the more pessimistic instructors around – I’ve since learnt it’s more a voice of good experience.   For him to be optimistic about the weather, meant it felt definitely worth a punt of going up and seeing for sure.

G-UFCB strikes again

Charlie Bravo wasn’t about to throw in the towel and let me go flying that easy, it was being cold and grumpy today.   Its second radio had decided to suffer from the cold and pack-up, the display was unusable.   Sparking the second debate of the morning….

Given the second radio was out, I wouldn’t be able to get the ATIS (Air Traffic Information Service) on the way back if I went solo – at least not without changing radio frequency on com 1.   If you think that sounds easy enough, note that you’re not meant to ever leave a frequency without ATC knowing you’re doing so – if they can’t raise you on the frequency they last had you on, search and rescue starts to become an option.    Now seriously at Cambridge with radar and all the other bells and whistles of a proper airport, this is unlikely, but procedurally…’s not something I should be doing.

Again an experienced voice stepped in with some sound logic:   “Just get ATC to give you the ATIS and if they question it tell them why……you only have one radio.”

So we were still on for flying G-UFCB, I’d go do a sloooooow checkout (the visibility was just below limits but set to get better, time to trust the forecast and drag out my checks a little 🙂 ).

With some support from the airport staff we got the plane out of the hanger and got our taxi clearance.

Runway 05 again

Thankfully it was a pretty quiet morning for airport traffic, we did our power checks at Charlie and were then given clearance to backtrack down the runway, before turning round at roughly Delta (Taxi on the grass to the same point takes longer and in this game time = money).

Having flown 05, right hand circuits only the day before I was a bit more confident I knew my way round (I realise that to ‘outsiders’ of flying that sentence must sound stupid, perhaps to other pilots it sounds stupid too…..but in my defense I’ll argue there’s a reason why most clubs have a “currentcy” limit of about ~28 days).

Circuit #1

It seemed like a good circuit, I made sure my downwind checks were done with audio statements so my instructor was aware they were done etc.   There’s a quarry at the far end of the downwind leg, knowing that I’ve been taking flak for converging in circuit, I set that as my reference and for my money we flew straight for it and were dead centre with it at the end of downwind.

My instructor was being pretty quiet and just letting me fly it my way, I assume because I should be able to do this by now and so he could just assess whether I was flying ok or not, end of story.   To that end though, I was careful to make sure I turned base when I wanted to turn base, irrespective of anything else.

On completion of the turn, the runway was looking good, couldn’t be happier.   Now just to get the speed down, the flaps to 20 degrees and turn final.

The crosswind was nothing like the day before, so I turned a touch too soon, but corrected it in the turn and just let it come round a little slower.  Final approach was initially high, but it all came good.  Passing over the threshold everything was calm and under control, rate of descent felt much better.

With a gentle tap of the main gears, we were down.   It felt good, but my instructor said nothing – I couldn’t do it any better, so if that wasn’t a tick in a box we should call it quits now!

Circuit #2

On the climb out my instructor said the touch down was in fact very nice, my flying was fine and one more like that and he’d be happy to send me solo 🙂   I don’t know why this didn’t phase me, perhaps because my flying felt right and I had one good circuit in the bag, so I came at this circuit with a mental attitude of “of course it’ll be fine….”

All very much the same as the last circuit, perhaps the slightest bit harder on landing but still so gentle you’d have mistaken it for a speed bump at 5mph etc.

Approved to go flying Solo

The normal last minute reminders & formalities (i.e. radio tower to inform them the instructor was getting out) and I was good to go.

Now the people in the tower have always been pretty good to me, but upon asking for ‘further taxi’, their niceness just confused me.   Knowing that the active runway was 05, they cleared me to pull over to the siding of Bravo and do my power checks there…….normally you do your power checks at the side of the holding position, which today would be Charlie or Delta, so I wasn’t expecting Bravo to be part of any discussion.   A quick request for them to repeat the instruction and we were back in business, better to be sure and all that.

I decided that I was going to spend ~30-40 minutes out somewhere around Point Alpha and Grafham Water, having already told my instructor I wasn’t planning to try and come back and touch and go.   I’ve flown enough circuits to sink a ship recently, I wanted to spend some time out of sight of the airport.

All clearances sorted, a mile of runway ahead, the throttle went forward and at 200ft I verbally told myself out loud

I have to find my own way back from this point on….

I knew there were a million ways to resolve it if I did get lost, but as a personal goal I didn’t want to use them.   I just wanted to fly out, then bring it home on my own, without calling for help – do that and everything else would be a bonus today.

I don’t think I’ve ever flown 05 except for circuits, at 600ft and beginning the turn out to the left it was almost surreal to see the river Cam and recognize it etc.   You don’t really see it on 23 because you can’t turn until around 2,000ft.   I’d learn later my wife was running along side it at this exact moment and watched me climb out 🙂

From here I built myself a little mental plan:

  • Climb to 2,500ft
  • Find Point Alpha
  • Do some Practice Force Landings
  • Some Steep Turns
  • Head home

Now I’d seen the Cam. I knew where the A14 was so Point Alpha was going to be easy, even though I’d never found it this way before (I’d never even flown out of the circuit this way before, forget finding anything).   I cannot begin to explain how calm and relaxed I began to feel from this point on, the whole experience began to feel simply amazing, I guess I’ve clocked enough hours that all self-doubt aside, when it comes down to it I can fly the plane with no real major problems.

Point Alpha

Point Alpha

It’s taken about a year and half from that first experience of being in a C172, to now, out on my own in a C172……..sure there’s a lot of boxes left to tick, but the altimeter read 2,500ft, nobody was in the right seat.  If you’re thinking about learning to fly, I assure you that this milestone is a particularly addictive one.

And if you look to your right, you’ll see Point Alpha,  look back a few posts and you’ll get a bit of help pin-pointing it.

Practice Forced Landings

C172 in a turn

Turning to find some fields

With one landmark found and Grafham water in the window, time to find a good spot to do some PFL’s.  I did think about practicing a stall but my luck was on form and I didn’t want to push it 🙂

Admittedly the first one wasn’t a work of art, the target became too far away and I hadn’t really given myself the best of alternative options.   Still, on pulling the throttle out, I could still imagine some farmer beginning to panic about the C172 that had just started lining up to ‘land’ in his field.  It must be quite a sight from the ground.

This first descent also introduced the first complication, at 2,500ft giving it plenty  of attention, I’d known exactly where I was and finding my way home would be easy.   Now I’d descended to ~600ft AGL and made a number of turns, focusing more on the best field choices rather then navigating.   The world looks very different at 600ft, would I be able to find it all again???

Grafham Water Ahead

Grafham Water Ahead

Thankfully climbing back up to 2,000ft found the world how I’d left it, I soon found Grafham water and from there you know which way is which.   Little discoveries like this continued to make the flight beyond enjoyable, I really was having a lot of fun – partly fueled by the reality of what I was doing, partly because although the weather looked a bit average, it was actually a really nice day to go flying.

My second attempt at a practice forced landing went a lot better, this time I was more than happy that if I’d kept going, some random farmer would have had to be enlisted to help pull out a (well landed) Cessna from a field 🙂    I had no desire to land quite then though, so with the power back on, time to go and have some fun elsewhere.

Fen Drayton & Lakes

Fen Drayton & Lakes

Climbing back up it became seemingly expected to locate myself and then pondered what to do next.   For no particular reason other then to see what it looked like, I decided to fly over to Fen Drayton, there’s a good set of lakes just slightly north of there  – so it’s a village relatively easy to identify.

Here I decided to do some advanced turns, so kicking it off by working my way through the HASELL checklist, soon the plane was in a 45 degree turn round to the right, an abbreviated HELL check and then a turn to the left.   They weren’t my finest turns to date, I think I went +100ft on one and -80ft on the other, but as every second ticked by my confidence was sub-consciously ticking boxes – not so much about the quality of the flying perhaps, but more in terms of being confident with respect to the situation I was now in.

Enough fun, time to head for home

I guesstimated it would take 10-15 minutes to get back, with the clock saying I’d been up 30 minutes, time to see if we could find the airport again.

Knowing where I was, I knew that in theory if I flew a heading of 110 degrees the airport should appear.   There’s no reason it shouldn’t but you do wonder if it’s going to 🙂

Just to complicate things another Cessna came into view, I turned to ensure we kept well clear of each other and then set myself up behind it (I’d guess 4 miles) at about its 8 O’ Clock position.   I heard them give a radio call and knew I’d have to do the same very shortly.

The call went alright, I forgot to read back the active runway but they repeated and we got through it without any real dilemma.

Then the moment of truth, how did I want to join???    I wanted to take the easy way out and join crosswind (as I’ve done this with instructors more then anything else), but earlier in the morning two instructors encouraged me to do a standard overhead join.   If anything a more complex join procedure then anything else you can do, but I figured I’d take their advice and see how I got on (having never done a standard overhead join for 05 before in my life).

As the airport came into view the Cessna ahead of me however had other ideas, I told Approach that I had visual with them, but I knew I couldn’t keep following them if I was to do a standard join……one of us was not going to be doing that and I was beginning to wonder where they were actually going.   Forget it, keep them in sight and focus on the task:

  • Cross the runway threshold (23) at 2,000ft
  • Fly out a bit and then turn back 180 degrees
  • Cross the other end of the runway threshold (05)
  • Descend on the dead-side in a turning descent to the right
  • Cross the (23) threshold again at 1,000ft
  • Join the downwind leg of the circuit.
  • Complete the rest of a normal circuit and land…..

It’s something like that, and except for being so pre-occupied with flying each step pretty spot on (and forgetting to report dead-side), again ATC were kind enough to remind me to report my position.   The whole operation went arguably better then I’ve ever joined the circuit in my life!

I remembered all the remaining calls and the landing was a fine finish to an amazing lesson.   All that was left to do was to find somewhere to park the plane.


No problems, apparently the overhead join looked good from the ground, clearly good enough not to watch my landing, so I was asked how that went, but all good and I didn’t get flagged on anything.  So fingers crossed the Air Traffic folks in the tower hadn’t just spent 55 minutes bitterly grumbling about the student having a joyride to the north west………I’d like to hope I caused them only minimal hassle.

All things considered, perhaps G-UFCB has made some peace with me.

A long post, but if you’re thinking about learning to fly, let me assure you that this particular milestone is one that certainly makes it all worthwhile.