Turweston: When the sun doesn’t shine.

G-HERC (Golf Hotel Echo Romeo Charlie)

G-HERC (Golf Hotel Echo Romeo Charlie)

At the end of last year until the weather turned I was mainly flying into grass airfields and farm strips, once the weather turned bad I progressed my training and got a night rating.   So perhaps being a bit optimistic in the first part of the year I was hoping to get back to grass strip flying again.

I’d played with trying to get permission into Cuckoo Tye Farm, but in the days leading up to my booking a quick scan of the more established grass airfields in the area such as Great Oakley, suggested that recent rain was going to make a grass strip an unwise choice.  If the established grass strips were closed due to weather in recent days, it would look like very poor planning to go and have an accident at a farm strip!   So better safe then sorry and perhaps another day…

Looking around there weren’t to many “reachable and back in an hour” hard runways that I hadn’t already done before, but one stood out:  Turweston – down near Silverstone.

About 20 minutes each way and a good looking cafe on site, just the job.

Briefing / Checkout

The sun shining isn’t always a guarantee you’re going to get to go flying, I arrived optimistic but the cross wind was beginning to push its luck.

Turweston’s runways are 27 (270 degrees) and 09 (90 degrees), so pretty perfect for a wind that was beginning to come round to coming from 260+ degrees and gusting.   However, as the conditions for landing there got better, they were getting worse for taking off from Cambridge with it’s 23 runway.

The instructor who had just signed me out was having doubts about the wind but it was still just within limits, so essentially was beginning to fall into “at his discretion” of if I’d be ok to handle it or not.

Once out with the aircraft if I needed any further confirmation the wind was becoming a concern, a high viz jacket was making its way to my aircraft.   It was the instructor again telling me that the wind was still picking up on the latest report, words of wisdom that if I did choose to go, to see how it was when I’d finished my power checks and to perhaps try to aim to take off between the gusts.

Moments like this you need to stop and think carefully, they tend to be the moments where you make the right decision or the wrong decision and it all traces back to a “go / don’t go” decision made with all the right information, but if you’re not careful you press on regardless – even harder when you’re out with the aircraft, signed off to go and your prior permission to land at the destination is all sorted (not to mention how much you were looking forward to the flight etc.).

Several factors played into my mind:

  • See what the official wind was when I got to the holding point.
  • The destination landing will not be challenging
  • I’m landing away, so I have options to check the wind and wait at the destination  on the ground if Cambridge cross wind gets worse (it’s not like I was going for a joy ride and would want to be landing with no alternative within the hour).
  • The forecasts said the wind wouldn’t get any worse.

Take Off

When it came down to it, ailerons into wind for the take off to mitigate the cross wind, it all went absolutely fine.   Sure a bit more work to keep it level on the climb out but nothing silly.


It’s a pretty straight forward flight from Cambridge:

  • Point Alpha (A14/M11 junction)
  • St. Neots
  • Silverstone
  • Turweston

You can just cut out Silverstone, but if it’s not NOTAM’d then it’s worth flying over as it’s an impressive landmark to see from the sky – especially if you like your Formula 1.  I used it as a land mark in my Qualifying Cross Country as from here, Sywell/Northampton is really, really easy to find (point the plane north and you can’t go wrong).

I stayed with Cambridge Approach for a basic service until St. Neots, their radio is good for about 25nm and St. Neots is about 17nm away so it’s a convenient turning point and a good place to hand over to someone else, in this case Cranfield Approach.

It’s good to talk to Cranfield around this area because they have an ILS that means planes can be on the approach path well beyond the reach of their ATZ, so even if you’re not going anywhere near their zone – it’s safer to talk to them so they know you’re coming and can tell you if there’s anything you should be on the look out for.

There’s a good set of forest type areas around the M1, so as you come across that landmark I could check my location and make sure I was crossing as per plan (or not).  As it turned out I was about 1-1.5nm south of planned track, so just before crossing the M1 itself I corrected this with a quick right turn.  It wouldn’t have really mattered, Silverstone is massive and you can see it even if you’re a good 5-6nm off track, but it doesn’t hurt to arrive with it in front of you rather then the clock to tick down to the ETA and then have to be searching out of the windows in hope 🙂

Safely over the M1, I thanked Cranfield for their brief service and switched over to Turweston Radio.

Silverstone Race Track



Turweston said they were quiet and had nothing known in the circuit, so I could just join right base for runway 27.   That’d save me a few quid on flight time/fuel, so great stuff.

My plan said Turweston from Silverstone, would take only around 2 minutes, this should tell you that it’ll be visible almost immediately.   Even so as I turned south to join right base, I really was on top of it almost instantly – I had just enough time to ponder “That looks like it might be an airfield,  I wonder if that’s Turweston.”

By which time I was cutting it close to lose 1,000ft and get down to circuit height and I’d only have the base and final leg to lose anything left over.  This was going to be close.

Sure enough I was still at 1,000ft as I finished the base leg, all I could do now was S-Curve on the final approach to drop some altitude (I had the option to start side slipping if I still had too much height on, but as that introduces airspeed errors I prefer to keep that in the bag unless I really need to get down).

One and a bit “S” curves later, the final approach was looking pretty good, my height was right, the airspeed was good.   Should be a nice landing.

Sure enough, it was a pretty good landing, maybe a hundred feet past the numbers so not the best I’ve ever done but it’s a long runway at Turweston – there are no points awarded for stalling 50ft short and landing on the numbers here just means you get a massive taxi for your efforts because there’s no early exits.

Ground Radio gave me instructions where to park up and it was a bit strange to have to taxi past a race team with their car out on the taxi way!

As I switched the engine off, the race car fired its engine up and headed for the runway – turns out they were there to do some straight line setup runs.   Airplanes landing take priority over race cars at airfields though 😉

Really Good Cafe for a Bacon Sandwich

Turweston’s cafe is called The Flying Pig, it’s not really anything more then a portable cabin with a kitchen – but you’d be suprised how many airfields are like this and it usually works better then you first expect (i.e. Boston also just has a small kitchen in a cabin, but the food there great for a fly in).

A bacon sandwich, mug of coffee and pack of crisps came to under a fiver which is a pretty good deal as flying goes.   Highly recommended, nothing fancy, just delicious 🙂

My log book now says “Good Bacon Sandwich” in the remarks, so yes I plan to go back 😛

Two Hours – almost not enough

It’s ok saying twenty minutes there, twenty back etc. but you have to remember that Cambridge is a ‘proper airport’, there are procedures and clearances to be followed.  So in reality, you have to factor in about 10-15 minutes from engine start to take off and when you arrive back you should allow 10 minutes for getting into the circuit, you can easily be 2nd or even 3rd in the circuit and it’s not unknown to be asked to orbit for something bigger then you.   Once on the ground it’s still a big place so taxi to parking etc. eats a few more minutes.    All in, it means that a twenty minutes there and back flight, becomes 55-60 minutes.

So if you’ve booked the plane for 2 hours, that gives you an hour to check in, order something to eat, wait for it to be cooked, eat it, check the aircraft out again and get going……..the hour wizes by faster then you might expect.

Sure enough as I was checking the fuel to go home, I knew I was on the minutes for arriving before my slot time ran out.   However I was confident there would only be ~5 minutes in it or so, nobody would loose too much sleep over that.   It was also a weekday when the club tends to be quieter (as apposed to a weekend) and I had that crosswind on my side which would likely have cancelled students etc.

Flight Home: Uneventful arriving to a Crosswind

If anything it was even less so then getting there – I often find that once I’ve done some flying that day, everything becomes just that little bit more calm for the way back.   The difference between a two week gap since flying and a 1 hour gap etc.

The landing however kept things interesting, it was in limits but was a good 10-12 knots crosswind and gusting.   The plane was nicely sideways coming in and the airspeed indicator told you all you wanted to know about the gusts.

I brought it down sideways all the way to the last 50ft or so and then fully kicked it straight for what panned out to be a quite nice landing.   Damn there are times I’d love to know what it looked like on the ground!!


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