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

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.

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