Archive for December, 2012

Holiday Reading

Sunday, December 30th, 2012 | Permalink

So between the exams I’ve been reading my way through a bunch of books and as it’s that time of the year when you might have some time off, here’s the stuff I’ve been getting through lately.

The Dam Busters:  Race to Smash the Dams

Dam Busters Race to Smash The Dams 1943

Race to Smash The Dams 1943

I got this for a birthday present some months back, it’s a pretty thick book and first impressions: ‘How are you going to fill all those pages?’.  Start reading and you will find it hard to put down.

The bulk of the book is actually not about the raid, but the actual race to make it happen and bring together the million cogs that would make the machine work in a handful of weeks.  That gives it a sense of pace, but the truly gripping part is the detail provided to the crews themselves.  Excerpts from letters from crews to wives & girlfriends, dates of arrival, entries in log books.   There can be no spoilers in a story this well known, but I bet you’ll read it and still hit the pages of John Hopgood crashing and feel a sense of loss that the movie doesn’t come close to.

I can honestly say I read this faster then most books that find there way on to my desk.

A good book leads you on to another and in this case, this book sent me off wanting to read the book authored by the squadron leader Guy Gibson.

Enemy Coast Ahead

Enemy Coast Ahead Book Cover

Enemy Coast Ahead

The ‘once more into the breach’ stuff of most war books is one thing, but the raw statistics on Guy Gibson combined with the background you get from reading the book above, certainly left me feeling a need to read a bit more.   So this book was straight on the wishlist and I’ve just started reading it.

First impressions were two fold:   The opening pages hit you like a revelation, the preface from Sir Arthur Harris is almost worth the cover price alone.

The pages that follow from Guy hit you like you’re reading a transcript from a Formula 1 legends’ interview, in the sense that right from the off it’s a humble “there’s more than me, without the ground crew I am nothing….”.    If you accept that the fastest race car drivers are fast because of absolute blind faith that the car won’t break, then there’s some mileage in the cross-reference that perhaps Guy had absolute faith in the job his ground crew had done before every trip.

Anyway this is the book I’m currently reading and it’s not disappointing so far.

Hope all who come across this blog are having a great Christmas / Festive Holiday break.

Lesson 37: Practice Forced Landing

Thursday, December 20th, 2012 | Permalink

I pondered ringing the club, the weather was looking bleak again.   I’d waited until the last minute for the phone to ring or the weather to clear, time to make a decision:  We’ll go for it…..

Taking one step out of my front door, the rain started to come down, gritting my teeth at the realisation I walked back into the house.   Disappointment was quickly followed by a rush to decide what to do next:   Call the club or Go anyway?   If this got cancelled I didn’t have much left in the books, it’s easier to book lessons with the club diary open in front of you, so what the heck – drive down there, it’ll get cancelled and we can book some more lessons.  Maybe even get a coffee out of it 🙂

Club Arrival

Light rain was coming down, but the weather was made to feel worse then it was by the bitter cold wind.  It felt almost embarrassing to be turning up in this weather, I’d take one step through the door and find instructors holding hot drinks, reading news papers and wondering how to fill their day.   I left my flight bag in the car, won’t be needing that – or so I thought.

My first words to the admin girl were “I know it’s going to get cancelled, but I figured I’d just come anyway and book some lessons.”    She’s clearly wiser then me though, replying she didn’t think it was.  Really?   I give up on this weather lark.

The instructor raised similar questions of why did I think it would be cancelled…..   The wind, the rain, you can’t see a patch of blue anywhere.   But the weather system at the club said the wind was actually only around 8 knots, gusting to 10-12.   Doable.   The  cloud base was up at 2000-2200, bit on the limits just about doable and the rain……actually it was starting to stop quite nicely, the odd drop here and there but getting better.   We’d wait for some feedback from an instructor currently in the air, but I guess I’ll put my hi-viz jacket on and go and find the plane then.



G-SHWK in the hanger (Keeping warm)

Temperatures had dropped to freezing overnight, so the plane (Whiskey Kilo) had been moved into a hanger.   This made checking the plane a much more civilised  affair – the hanger being heated to ~18C.  It still strikes me as a little strange to just be walking around a plane in a hanger with only a handful of people who know why I’m there, any minute someone is going to come and ask me what on earth I’m doing.  But nobody does.

Whiskey Kilo still has a broken starboard strobe, but other than that, in top shape with plenty of fuel.

Coffee & Cake :  Waiting for the plane

Now just a matter of waiting for the plane to be brought out of the hanger, but a fire alarm meant this would be delayed – every minute wondering if the weather was going to get better or worse?

Time for a coffee, as I was with an instructor I’d previously got some cake from on a cancelled lesson, the joking request was “….just missing the cake.”   The gods were looking down kindly on me today, as my instructor disappeared and returned with a cup cake, the last in the box 🙂    I believe home made and excellent.   Coffee and cake while waiting for your plane, life is good.

Have headset, will taxi planes for free…

The fire alarm meant there was no sign of our plane moving, another GA pilot hanging round the club suggested we move the plane ourselves.   Swinging open the massive hanger doors, it was then a case of musical aeroplanes as Charlie Bravo had to be shifted out of the way first.

Now we had Whiskey Kilo out, but what to do with Charlie Bravo?   As I had my headset in the plane I got the job of turning it on, radioing the tower and getting a taxi clearance to shift it to parking.

If anyone owns an airfield and wants planes shuffled around,  my parking is getting pretty good 🙂

Seat belt nearly scuppers it all.

With planes shuffled and the time ticking on, time to get going.   In the rush I’d jumped in, started the plane up and then realised I hadn’t put my seat belt on, great, now I needed to open the door 🙁    This seat belt decided it was going to try and bring all the antics to an abrupt and painful end, it just would not release, pushing it all the way back in, gently trying to take it back out, try and try and try…….it just wouldn’t not go.   I think we came to within 20 seconds of calling it a day and shutting down, when finally – Hurrah!  It released.  With the instructor having already done the rest of the pre-flight checks,   We can go:

Cambridge Tower, Golf Sierra Hotel Whiskey Kilo with Information Juliet……..Requests Taxi.

Climbing out

The take off was alright, I can’t say I payed special attention to it but it seemed straight enough, sat at a nice 80 knots and all very civilized – until my instructor noticed the heading direction indicator (HDI) wasn’t aligned to the compass, ahhh but I have an excuse, she blitzed the pre-checks this wasn’t one of my checks today 🙂    Easily corrected once straight and level.

Easy until I overshot 2,000 and went to 2,300ft.   Where the horizon stopped and a mist of clouds began, we’ll go back down then shall we….

Practice PAN

Nobody said anything about reading anything.  A random thought as I was told my instructor had control and I was handed a piece of paper and told to prepare to do a practice PAN on 121.5  (Emergency radio frequency), the world is listening, no pressure :-\

We listened as another student did his, doing a disgracefully good job of it too, great thanks for that.   But then events transpired that we had a window to press on and get at least one practiced forced landing in before returning to this.

Attempt #1

The book says aim to fly it almost like a proper circuit, with hindsight from 2,000ft two things went wrong next.   Firstly at 2,000ft fields look actually quite small – I can make it, but could I land in it & stop?   This combined with wanting one I could fly a circuit to, meant I basically picked one to far out.

The airspeed was a pretty decent 70 knots all the way, but after 1,000ft of descent, the wise voice in my head (that would be my flight instructor on the intercom) suggested perhaps we wouldn’t make that and how about another one a bit nearer.

All in all we had the advantage of largely being surrounded by fields, but this was rough to say the least.   Still I’ll take a positive from it, I still find it bizarrely calm to close the throttle and drop to 500ft.

Attempt #2

The mistakes on the second go were much the same, first the fields all seemed too small, which pushed the field selection further out, to one that put us at 2,000ft and essentially in the downwind approach.   Two stages of circuit to fly, 1,500ft to drop, seemed almost ok.  My naive self still ponders if I’d have made it to this field,  but with some (no doubt much wiser) words suggesting we might not .  How about picking another?  Having dropped some altitude and the fields starting to look a little bigger, now the field directly in front of us was looking pretty good.

From there on in this attempt went much better, ultimately concluding in a decision we’d have landed in that field.

Time for that Practice PAN, PAN, PAN

Actually I thought I’d nearly escaped doing this 🙂  The practice is a good thing, but they say a lot of people lock up just in fear of pressing the Mic button to talk to their airport tower the first few times.  With the radio set to 121.5 Mhz (Emergency Frequency) and the next call being to “London Centre” with no previous practice, ever, of this call.   I just wanted it to be half decent 🙂

All said and done, it might have only been a one off practice, but actually hearing someone come back and the response you’re going to get etc.  I found really useful.

Attempt #3

Much happier with what the size/shape would look like from 2,000ft (and what they’d actually become when down at 500ft), it was easier to keep the field selection to roughly within the 10 degree angle that the plane should be able to glide to.

This attempt still had multiple re-selections though, what looked open at 2,000ft had a big power line or pylon thing 1/3 into it at 1,000ft.   Thankfully the original field wasn’t selected as the only show in town, but its surroundings, were good too – so the field selection could be quickly switched to the field to its right as required.

Found myself talking my decisions/actions out loud more on this approach and generally it felt like progressive progress was being made.   Decisions like holding off on flaps no doubt works better if you say you’re intentionally holding off (you haven’t just forgotten they’re there – which is easier to do then it might seem in the mix of checklists and everything else going on)

Attempt #4

I think because I’d anticipated the sequence, was sub-consciously aware the airspeed was up at 100kts and wouldn’t drop to 70 for a good 10 seconds, when the power was cut, I jumped straight to finding a field and skipped over setting the airspeed initially 🙁

Other than that, by now I found I was quite comfortable with how big a field was actually going to be when I got down to 500ft and being sure about the size, played greatly in my head with respect to how far I’d try and push the selection window outwards.

Once selected, because you’re flying over lots of fields, telling the instructor which one was the one we were aiming for was always interesting:

The green/yellow one, next to the slightly darker green one, just after the brown one, just right of the green one with a hedge.

I need to start a campaign for farmers to paint big letters in white in their fields, that would make the process a whole lot easier 🙂

Heading for Home

Time to head for home, other than my entry into the circuit, dropping straight through 1,000ft to 800ft, oops.   It was a crosswind join that went alright.

Another nice landing to cap off the lesson and all in all, fairly decent and I enjoyed it.  I think a couple of those glides could have been better, especially the first two but what I really took from this lesson was a good feel for perspective of what the fields & surroundings would look like from 2,000ft and that a certain size/shape at that height, would turn out to be all good once down at 500ft.

In the debriefing my instructor was looking through the checklist, and announced that next up was potentially a Local Area Solo, subject to getting good weather next lesson.   90% of me is very excited, the other 10% is thinking they must be joking!

Lesson 36: Flying in the Rain (PFL Attempt #2)

Monday, December 3rd, 2012 | Permalink

The Met Office had half of the west coast in flood warning, locally the clouds were overcast pretty much everywhere, the METAR said cloud base at 1,800ft with rain coming.   Well it’s got to be another cancellation then hasn’t it?

Apparently not.  A call to the club instructed me to come in anyway……..I spent much of the drive thinking “must be joking we’re not going in this.”

Upon arrival, to my surprise the lesson was still on.   Another quick run through the briefing of a Practice Forced Landing (PFL), then out to check the plane.

Plane Checkout



G-SHWK, still with one strobe not working, had a rain covered windscreen and I must have walked round that plane with a constant muttering of “This is getting cancelled…..”    It was already spitting by the time I was checking the propeller.   Normally this results in an instructor marching out to say it’s all off.

I like turning switches on and off, so figured might as well do the internal checks – but this lesson is going to get cancelled, for sure.

Internal checks done, just waiting for an instructor……..and waiting……now doubt starts to creep in.   This doubt thing is new, recently I’ve found myself expecting some sort of meteorological challenge, no idea why but I think it’s a sub-conscious sign that I’m past the “new and nieve student” phase and am now anticipating that more is expected of me.   Perhaps I should be speaking up more about the weather?   Perhaps that’s why I’m still sat in a plane and there’s no instructor in sight.   Maybe they’re waiting to see how long it takes me to reach this conclusion on my own?

We can’t seriously be going in this, the windscreen is now raindrop covered again.   Must be waiting for me to come back.   The next hi-viz jacket out of the club door isn’t my instructor, so I decided to lock the plane up and go and see if there’s been a revelation back in the club with respect to the rain and clouds.   There’s still no way we’re going to get up in this.

On return to the club my instructor was confused to see me, assuming there must be a problem with the plane.   Hmmm apparently we’re still going, really?    Ok then.

Locked up Plane

On the walk back to the plane I was told the people who’d previously come out had been on their way to G-SHWK to test a headset…….except I’d locked the plane up 🙁

This is my favorite of the clubs airplanes, I don’t want anyone attempting to steal it!

Taxi to Delta – Via the Grass, past the expensive Beechcraft

With a slight bit of mental autopilot (ATC said taxi to Delta, I replied taxi to Alpha….), it was off to the far side of the airport.  On a sunny day a trip to Delta is quite nice, it’s down a grass hill taxiway.  On a freezing cold, threatening to rain hard any second, November morning.   Alpha would have been nicer, but we had a chat amongst ourselves it’s all good.

G-SHWK to the Sky

Our long taxi, ball park a mile, down to delta had allowed the Beechcraft to start its engines and as they were cleared to Alpha, beat us to the runway – now we’d have to wait for them to take off.   No harm though, if you want to watch planes take off, holding point Delta is about as good as any spot you’ll find.

With that done and the windscreen scatter gunned with droplets of rain, we rolled out on to the runway, opened the throttle and it was up, up and away.

Up…..up……straight into a haze of mist and stuff that had aspirations of becoming cloud.

At 1,500ft – Horizon, what horizon?

Another few hundred feet to the cloud base and this would have been on, but as things stood it had been a lot of fun getting to this point (I was still amazed I was actually in the air at all).

Time to call it quits and head for home, still we could try a high glide for the landing and get a bit of practice in.

Returning to the Airfield

We were overhead before realising/remembering, that it was a right hand circuit and I’d managed to fly it more in-keeping with where we should be for a left hand circuit.   Now we were too far downwind, to save time my instructor took over for some steep turn adjustments to our position.

It’s been ages since I’ve flown a right hand circuit and forget looking out of the back window to see where the runway was relative to us – it was just fogged up with rain/mist and condensation.

Removing the power for the glide approach, the net result was I was guessing the base turn.  Guessed wrong and was promptly FAR to high.    A chance for a demo of how much you can get a Cessna to drop in side slip if you want to, but even with all of that and full flaps……..we’d have landed halfway down the runway.    Time to Abort and try that again.

Again cleared for a high glide, this circuit was at 1,500ft.    Now being a full and proper circuit it was a bit better, but as soon as the runway disappeared to the back windows, it was gone – I’ve done this enough times to generally know what the world in front of me should look like turning on to base, but I’ve not done a high glide this way round before so there were still some variables.

It was again to early and to high, but workable.    There’s two large pools of water at the near end of the runway (land short if you dare) which give huge amounts of sink, so you don’t want to come over these low with no power.

The landing was a bit flat, but a gentle enough touchdown to be happy with.   My second (what I’d call) decent landing with the same instructor in a row, it’s starting to feel much more natural and to be expected.  Looking back, other than in hideous crosswind, it was September the last time I landed hard.  Maybe I’m learning something….

40 minutes of flying – but no tick in a box.

Sure we didn’t tick the PFL box today, but I’ve never gone flying in weather like this before.  In months gone by this would have been a early morning phone call telling me not to bother, so from an experience perspective I count it as having actually been really useful.   It was a chance to take off in light rain, get a bit more radio practice in, do another glide approach and get another landing on the books.

All in all, a lot of fun, valuable practice and a great experience.