Archive for August, 2013

Lesson 54: Crosswind Revision

Monday, August 5th, 2013 | Permalink

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

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

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

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


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

Saturday, August 3rd, 2013 | Permalink

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

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

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

Check Flight

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Solo Navigation #1

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

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

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

Clear to Take Off, Runway 23.

Turning Right Over Cambridge

Turning Right Over Cambridge

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

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

Cambridge Radar

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

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

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

Peterborough / Whittlesey

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

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

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

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

Where is Spalding then?

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

It was like being on a World War 2 bombing run

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spalding has some useful features for verifying it:

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

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

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

Flight Across the Nothing Landmark area

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

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

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

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

Railways, we like railways!!

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

So nothing could really go wrong on this leg.

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

Cambridge in sight – Rejoin the Circuit & Land

Turning to Rejoin Cambridge Circuit

Turning to Rejoin Cambridge Circuit

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

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

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

Landing Runway 23

Landing Runway 23

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

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


Navigation Exam : Passed

Friday, August 2nd, 2013 | Permalink

Navigation  - PPL3

Navigation – PPL3

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

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

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

Passed :  84%

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

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

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