Archive for July, 2013

Lesson 52: Land Away (Sywell)

Friday, July 26th, 2013 | Permalink

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

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

Arrival :  Gusting wind.

G-HERC (Golf Hotel Echo Romeo Charlie)

G-HERC (Golf Hotel Echo Romeo Charlie)

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

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

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

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

Chart: Cambridge to Sywell

Chart: Cambridge to Sywell

Climbing out

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

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

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

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

Grafham Water, Wind farms & Airfields

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aerodrome Traffic Zones & Different elevations of Terrain.

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

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

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

QNH / QFE: ATZ Airspace

QNH / QFE: ATZ Airspace

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

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

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

The Rain Strikes

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

I then said the stupidest thing ever:

Do you want me to descend out of this rain?

Hmmm, think about it…

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

Which runway?

Sywell Airfield from South

Sywell Airfield from South

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

“Runway 23 in use, Left Hand Circuit”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spot of Lunch and then Home

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

Sywell Airfield:  G-HERC Parked up.

Sywell Airfield: G-HERC Parked up.

The GPS never lies…..

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

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

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

Time to fly home

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

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

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

Is this runway long enough to get airborne?

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

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

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

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

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

Out of my Limits

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

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

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

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

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

Next Lesson:   Weather permitting etc.  Solo Nav #1


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.