Farm Strip Skills: Learning to Land (again)

September 19th, 2014 by PHC | Permalink

This is short (4 hours) course the club runs for Post-PPL members, focusing on improving short field take-off/landing & cross-wind technique at the little grass (often unlicensed) farm strips that are scattered all over the country.

Marshland Farmstrip

Marshland Farm Strip

Three big reasons I wanted to do this course:

  • I’ve landed on Grass runways at Cambridge & Sywell, but I’m not sure I’d be confident to even attempt to find a grass strip like Marshland – let alone try landing there!
  • There’s < 15 concrete runways in a 60nm Radius.   At 1-2/month, I’ll have visited them all within the year. Having the skill set and confidence to go to the ~30+ farm strips in the same radius will keep things much more interesting – then I can go back to the ones I like, as I like, not just because I’ve ran out of ideas.
  • Everyone I’ve spoken to who’s done it said it’s great fun.

Lesson 1 :  Revision at Cambridge (Grass)

I’d expected the briefing to be a drilling on how well I knew my 172SP Pilots Operating Handbook and associated performance facts and figures.   I’d done some brush up revision just in case, but actually the briefing was considerably better and all round more interesting then I’d imagined possible.

Some interesting facts & history about why even spotting a farm strip from the air can be hard (Windsocks might be considered an “invitation to land”, that can lead to all sorts of insurance issues.  Or you might actually dare use it for wind information, but what if they’ve tied it down for the day?).   Remember most of these places are unlicensed, they’re not required to have a windsock, if they have one there’s nothing stopping them tying it down to a post.   Runway centre lines & other such markings are optional :-\   you get the idea!!   If not just look at that picture of Marshlands again:  Runway or someones’ back garden?

Landing Technique:  Point and Power

I was taught the following landing technique, I suspect 95% of all PPL students were taught the same:

  • Power controls ALTITUDE
  • Attitude controls AIRSPEED.

So if you look low, add some power.   If the airspeed drops below 65 knots, point the nose at the ground more – if that makes the picture look low, add some power.

What does this mean in practice?    More often then not, you’ll find you’re landing with all the power OFF maybe 200-500ft above the ground with about the same distance to run.   Now if you’re still high, what can you do about it?   Nothing!    In Control Theory speak, you’re now technically out of control.

Not quite true, you might argue with me that you could side slip – fair enough, but perhaps go back and read the Flight Performance (PPL4) book again, one major risk with side slipping is your airspeed indicator will begin to read significant error, not entirely ideal, especially if you need to land on a specific point and therefore fly an accurate airspeed to that point.

Point and Power Technique reverses this idea:

  • Power controls AIRSPEED
  • Attitude controls Altitude (point the nose where do you want the plane to touch down).

Now the idea is to point the nose at the landing point and keep that point constant, if that stays constant, you will touch down there.  If pointing the plane at that particular angle causes the aircraft to lose airspeed, add power to get the airspeed back.   Now we’re in control of where the plane lands, we could theoretically point the plane quite considerably at the ground, so it’s less likely we’ll run out of elevator control then it was in the previous technique that we’d run out of power control.   If we find we don’t need power any more, the plane must still be aiming at the point we want it to land.

Point and Power is the technique used by all airliners, it becomes obvious why when you remember that fast jets use Auto Throttle:  Set an airspeed on the computer and all your left with Elevator control to point the jet at the bit of runway you want it to land on.   The computer will do whatever it takes to ensure through all your pushing/pulling, airspeed stays at the set final approach speed.

If Point and Power Technique is so good……then why isn’t this taught to all PPL students first???

Browse google and you’ll find a rare few instructors pondering the same question, but I’d draw your attention to the fact the same thought is asked in PPL Book 4, Descent and Landing Performance.  There the authors offer 4 explanations why PPL students are taught to use Attitude to control airspeed first:

  1. If airspeed is critically low, pitching nose down is a safe option as it reduces wing loading (therefore reducing the stall speed – and thus increasing the safety margin to the stall while increasing the airspeed).
  2. Aircraft can stall irrespective of power setting.   They stall because the Critical Angle of Attack has been exceeded… reducing the Angle of Attack by pointing the nose down, takes you further away from the risk of a stall.
  3. In the event of Engine Failure, the control column becomes your only means of controlling airspeed.   In an emergency humans revert back to the training drilled into them – in a student PPL’s case, this would then be to control the airspeed of the approach with the control column.
  4. At slow airspeed, pitching nose down remains consistent with the training for Standard Stall Recovery.

Essentially:   For an inexperienced pilot, it’s safer, but at the expense of accuracy.   As landing distance available gets closer to landing distance you require, you could argue that a precision landing becomes a safety requirement.   No points for avoiding the stall, but floating down the runway and crashing at the other end!!

Almost all the Grass Runways

Cambridge has 2 Grass runways (4, if you count them in both directions):

  • 05/23 Grass  :  899 m  (2,949ft)
  • 10/28 Grass  :  699 m  (2,293ft)

The POH for a 172SP says on an average day, landing on grass at ~1000ft elevation, you’ll need ~2,260ft from 50ft above the runway.   So being 50ft over the 28 runway numbers is going to be cutting it a little thin!!   However, only 870ft of ground roll is required, so if we touch down ON the 28 numbers, we should half the runway left when we stop – that sounds a lot better.   Perhaps that gives a real world example for when accuracy of landing technique & touch down point becomes as important as not stalling it at 50ft.

Plan of attack was to go do a couple of touch and goes on 05 Grass, then if that was ok and the cross wind would allow try 28 Grass.

If the wind gods really played fair, possibly even try 10 Grass, but that was looking unlikely with the wind.

Practice doesn’t hurt

To avoid embarrassing myself too much, I’d recently flown 05 grass solo.   If nothing else this helped my confidence and didn’t leave me flapping on the first circuit wondering when to turn and worrying about finding the runway.

It’s been months since I’ve taken instruction while landing a plane, so that was a little bit strange.   I’ve got quite used to my passengers going quiet at this point and just focusing on the task of landing.   Now I was working to land it while not looking like I should never have been granted a pilots licence!, listening to the instructor and trying to best apply a new landing technique.   It wasn’t as close to the numbers as I’d have wanted, but it was a decent enough grass landing with a good touch of cross wind technique required for good measure.   My one mistake I wanted to correct was that I’d not fully appreciated the wind on the turn on to final, as a result I’d turned a little to soon.

A mistake I’d occasionally found myself making on my solo grass circuits, was forgetting to raise the flaps on the climb out (Yes it’s on the checklist).   The reason for this is that on the main runway, you’d raise the flaps fully while on the ground roll, on the grass you raise them to 10 degrees – the grass runway also has a lot more going on in the ground roll, the bumps, re-setting the flaps, getting the power back in a much shorter distance.  I made sure to correct this now,  above 200ft with a positive rate of climb :  Flaps up.

Under careful instruction, I was flying the final approach a lot closer to the stall speed then I’d ever allow myself.   I fly final approach at 60-65 knots.   Now I was aiming to fly an accurate 50 knots (172SP POH says with flaps down it stalls at 48knots, so you get the idea!).

28 Grass :  The very under used runway.

Another acceptable 05 grass landing out of the way and with great support from a friendly Air Traffic controller, we repositioned to fly the 28 Grass circuit.

 In the 2.5 years it took to get my licence, I’ve landed on 28 Grass :  Once!

I’ve landed on shorter grass runways, to date the shortest grass runway I’ve landed on is Northampton Sywell 05 Grass (602m / 1,975ft) with passengers.   But all the same, without a crisis forcing the situation, I wouldn’t have dreamed of electing to ask for 28 grass on my own.   It comes with many headaches:

  • It’s a very under-used runway, ATC need to be in a good mood as you’ll be getting in the way of everyone to fly its circuit.
  • The climb out is straight out over central Cambridge – engine failure?   The options would be ‘interesting’ and limited (a football pitch or broke basically).
  • It’s 700ft shorter than 05 grass – as illustrated above, touch down early or the book says you might well find yourself running off the far end.
  • Where is the circuit for this runway again?

With an instructor though, it was making my day to have a go at landing on 28 Grass, it’s been ages!!

A jet at Cambridge meant ATC had to ask us to not turn base leg until we were 2.5 miles away.  This would mean flying in over Fulbourn, not sure they’d be thrilled.

Much more emphasis on the Point & Power technique, final approach felt like flying right on the edge of the stall.  Indicated Airspeed was 49-50knots, as we broke 100ft height the stall warner was intermittently bleeping away, my immediate reaction was to go for the throttle – the instructor assured me it was ok as long as it wasn’t constant.  In every way imaginable, this approach felt like a more advanced landing then I’d ever tried to do before, I can only imagine the heart attacks I’d have given other instructors if I’d tried flying approach with the stall warner going off/on/off while not even over the runway!  Of course I’m a little more experienced then a student having their first go and learning how to get it down and stopped on the limits, is the point of the training.

With the wind, we must have had a ground speed of 35-40 knots and touched down just a tiny bit past the numbers.   The plane would have stopped in a heart beat, we’d used maybe 1/4 of the runway and were back on with the power.

I’ve never took off from 28 grass, the climb out feels insane, you’re climbing up over the outskirts of the city essentially and you’d never normally be allowed to be at 1,000ft over the houses.

I was hoping second time round on 28 Grass would be a charm, but if anything it was a touch worse.  I felt a bit more comfortable now withe the airspeed sitting at 50 knots and with the line of trees that await you on the approach, all be them 700ft from the 28 numbers (~10 seconds of flight time from crossing the trees touch down).

What I couldn’t quite perfect was that at these slower speeds, the controls were less responsive then I was used to and so need more input, more immediately…… not a million miles from what goes wrong when you first try to master landing.

Back on to 05 Grass

Another touch and go on the grass, but this time I tried too hard to bring it down on the numbers and we bounced.

Demonstrate you’re a safe pilot first and foremost:  So I just pushed the throttle right in, got the airspeed back and declared “Golf Romeo Charlie Going Around”

It could have been landed, the instructor was quite clear that he didn’t think it had been a huge bounce and far from the ballooning they drill you to not hesitate on going around for.    On my own I think I might have gone to land it, but with an instructor it felt too hard and with so little touch down speed, I wanted to take no chances…….Subconsciously perhaps my biggest fear was reaching the end of this hour and being told I wasn’t good enough and the lesson needed to be repeated before continuing.

One final go, this time to land.   I’m so used to having some degree of float, that this time I was simply aiming to far before the runway.   The result was I had to add power just to reach the numbers, not ideal either, but it highlights the difference 15 knots of approach speed has on your ability to float down the runway……approach at 50 knots, forget floating.

All in all….

Considering that on face value, this was “just” circuits at my home airfield.   I enjoyed myself immensely!   I felt I learnt a lot from only 50 minutes in the air and that the theory explained in the briefing, I could now fully appreciate from practical experience.

A few more grass strips and I might actually be able to do it properly and be confident to do it on my own without vast experience and wisdom in the right hand seat talking me through my mistakes 🙂


First Trip to Old Buckenham

August 29th, 2014 by PHC | Permalink

This airfield has been on my ‘want to go’ list for months, a pretty obvious choice being just 20 minutes flight from Cambridge.  It’s fairly irregular circuit had put me off in the early days post getting my license and then other places came up and all the usual stuff got in the way.

A chance catchup online with a friend meant the right seat would be occupied with a local friend.  Now I’ve got quite a few hours post-PPL, it’s great to have friends in the plane to chat with and to steal copies of their photos after.

No chance of rain…….so why is it raining then?

The weather man had spent the last two days religiously reciting “cloudy, but NO CHANCE of rain.”   I was a little concerned about the cloud, but being only an 18-20 minute hop by plane, I was pretty sure that worst come to the worst on the cloud we’d be pushed down to 1,500 but we’d get there no worries and maybe it’d cut the return leg short.

I was not prepared at all to open the door at 8:45am to find it RAINING!

For the true experience of flying light aircraft, spend two hours drinking coffee at your nearest airfield.

If you don’t have an IMC or Instrument Rating then sooner or later, you will be spending hours of your day, scheduled for flying, sat around an airfield watching the weather and waiting for the clocks to tick past 20 minutes for the latest METAR update.   If you don’t like talking planes, looking up at the clouds and anecdotally debating what they’ll do next……don’t bother learning to fly.  It’s part of the deal, you’re only buying a few hours a month with the propeller spinning, all of this stuff is free, you have to enjoy it or you’re not going to fully enjoy having a license.   Suffice to say, most pilots I’ve ever met, LOVE talking aeroplanes and what the weather will/won’t do next.

On arrival this is all we could do, the cloud base was 1,400ft and at times the visibility was reported as 3Km!   Yet I had faith in the day coming off, even the chief instructor reckoned it was going to be a nice day and you can usually take such tips to the bank.

There’s only so long you can wait though and after 2 hours and only the beginnings of improvement in the weather it was time to look at the diary and see what else we could do today.

Thankfully a solo hire plane was free all day, I couldn’t get MEGS which is the plane I wanted ideally, but one advantage of delaying a few more hours would be that I could then get Whiskey Kilo or Romeo Charlie.

New plan then:

Let’s find a pub that’s open, have some lunch, as it’s nearly 11am, then go flying.

Attempt Two :  Much Improved weather (Now where did all the instructors go?)

As predicted the weather did improve, we now had 2,000ft to the clouds and 8-9km visibility and the TAF was for the whole area to keep getting better.  Great stuff, lets go then…

Except even with a license, I still need an instructor to authorize the flight – its still someone else’s aeroplane at the end of the day.   The only instructor was out having just sent a student solo, hmmm more waiting, but lots of good news:

  • The weather had made the person who had G-MEGS booked all day, cancel 🙂
  • The plane was now available until 6pm so this delay wasn’t eating into our allowable flight time and neither me or my passenger had any other plans today.
  • Gave me time to phone Old Buckenhem, get Prior Permission to land there and a chance to get info on the weather, runway in use and local aero traffic.

Finally all signed up, lets go flying…….

Soooo many signatures & phone calls…….but no ATC form faxed!

Hmmm I may have forgot in the go, delay, more delay, go.   To fill in the form for Cambridge ATC that gives them all the book out details of the flight, Doh!   Still they’re a great team and thankfully let me give them the details over the radio – not before calling them up on the wrong frequency as I hadn’t spotted the previous pilot of this plane had left COM1 on Cambridge Approach instead of tower, not a great start, but get your gremlins out of the way on the ground 🙂

A northerly wind so the long taxi down to holding point Delta, for runway 05 today.

Still I was happy, the flight was on and I got to take G-MEGS out for a spin, recently I’ve found I really enjoy flying this plane.

Thetford Forest, Mildenhall, Lakenheath & Honnington.

Runway 05 gave one big advantage for this route:  We could fly direct to Newmarket and set heading from there, rather than navigate to the standard Nav points.   It’s an easy town to spot with its railway, race horse track etc.   The trick with doing this however, is that it’s also VERY close to Lakenheath/Mildenhall Combined Military Aerodrome Traffic Zone (CMATZ), so you need to be talking to them almost as soon as you’re safely into the climb out of Cambridge.   The ATC guys at Cambridge again being great folks today, realized this is what I’d need and offered it up without needing to ask or without any of the messing with calls requesting I contact Cambridge Approach etc.   Great stuff could get this done early and get MATZ Penetration clearance from Lakenheath nice and early keeping those guys on-side.

Overhead Newmarket (Famous for Horse Racing)

Overhead Newmarket (Famous for Horse Racing)

Thetford Forest, Structured from the sky.

Thetford Forest, Structured from the sky.

The reason I wanted them to be on-side for this is that the route actually means flying about 4 miles away from their ATZ and with absolutely massive runways at Lakenheath and Mildenhall, within visual of their airfields.   This means you’re not just a passing blip on the radar thats skimming the edge of their zone and no real hassle, if they wanted/planned to launch any fast jets or land any, we’d be a real aggravation for them – and if we didn’t fly exactly the heading we planned, we could become a whole heap of work for them.   Thankfully the A11 means you can keep that on your left and be sure you’re not infringing their ATZ.   The controller today seemed like he had a fairly quiet day, asked us to squark the usual sort of code for their MATZ and let us get on with our day.

Great views from here, Lakenheath on the left, Thetford forest on our right and dead ahead.   Good stuff, I’d not been down this stretch of airspace since my Solo Nav #2.  (where you do this leg in reverse).

Snetterton and No Straight In Approach today.

Old Buck. had told us to avoid Snetterton today due to helecopter activity with the motor bike racing they had on today……however the motorbike racing was exactly why I didn’t want to avoid Snetterton.   Now before you scream ‘Safety first’ at me, there wasn’t a helicopter in sight and visibility was very good.  As with most of these things, I suspect they’re busy at the start and the end with almost nothing hovering in the middle.

Snetterton Race Track

Snetterton Race Track

Sadly though Old Bucks wouldn’t give us a straight in approach due to their awareness of activity over Snetterton, instead a left hand circuit, for runway 07 was in use.

Old Buckenham Circuits Pattern

Old Buckenham Circuits

Normally a circuit at your destination is expected, but the circuit at Old Bucks is huge, have a look at the diagram, it’s so big you actually fly into and then back out of, their own ATZ to complete it!

There is very limited information on how to approach Old Bucks from the South West and then do a left hand 07 circuit.   Rather then trying to overhead join at 2,000ft and have all the headaches of positioning that would require from here, I elected to simply descend dead side from an offset straight approach (thus skipping all the overhead turning at 2,000ft that would be required of a standard join).   Another plane was turning onto base, my passenger spotted them, 1,000ft below and on our left.  So visual with them, I began the descent to circuit height.

Things now got interesting, the other plane wasn’t coming in to land, but instead to touch-n-go!!

The risk now that they’d begin to climb out up to 1,000ft just as we’d be crossing the far end of runway 07 (and we’d converge to make a big pile of airplane pieces in the middle!).

I made sure to report we were cross-wind so they knew to be keeping a good eye out ahead – with only a ground radio in operation (thus not allowed to give any clearances to either plane), we were both flying entirely visual rules and while the rules of the air put me in the right.  I’d rather not be having that debate.

Attleborough was easier to fly around then I’d anticipated and once the other plane was safely behind us in the circuit pattern it was all smooth.

More than could be said for my landing, it was on the back wheels nicely but I used about 100ft more then I’d have liked, so I put the wheels down hard.  This made us bounce a tiny bit, but nothing that risked the nose wheel – by the time I’d even processed it the back wheels were down again and I could lower the nose.

G-MEGS was right down to taxi speed with runway to spare for the 25 taxiway, with a plane behind us I was quite happy with how that’d had gone for a first visit.

G-MEGS at Old Buckenham

G-MEGS at Old Buckenham

Really Cool Planes & Other Stuff at Old Buckenham

When we’d left Cambridge, there’d been a guy stood outside with a radio scanner – I’d chatted to him a little.  He was a plane spotter, a little strange I’d thought, for sure a lot of big, fast and cool stuff fly’s into Cambridge – but you need to know WHEN!   Without local knowledge you could easily burn a week there drinking coffee and watching nothing but Cessna’s and small/medium mass produced jets.   For me, that sort of traffic isn’t worth “spotting”.   I assumed he must know something I didn’t, but whatever it was, he wasn’t offering it up.

For me if you want to plane spot, go find something rare!

Boeing Stearman (Navy Trainer Paint)

Boeing Stearman (Navy Trainer Paint)

Something like the 7 cylinder 220hp, Boeing Stearman perhaps!

That’s just me though, if you prefer to spend your day spotting rare registration 737’s, all good.   But I promise you the plane above is rarer 🙂

Loads of other cool stuff to see at Old Buckenham a great little airfield to go visit.

Grenade Launcher Tank

Grenade Launcher Tank

And if I can give you only one tip of advice about going to small airfields, pretty much anywhere in the English speaking world at least.   It’s this, try to have a look in the surrounding hangers and/or ask around and see if anyone there is willing to show you what’s behind the doors – I promise you 99% of aviation people are amazingly friendly and love nothing more then to show you something cool they’ve got and have a bit of a chat about it!   Honestly, give it a go, you’ll be stunned what you can find behind the closed doors of some really simple looking barn type hangers at small airfields.




Old Buckenham -> Cambridge (via Framlingham)

A coffee and a real good look around later, time to jump back in the plane and crack on with a “long way round” trip back to Cambridge.

Framlingham Castle - from the air.

Framlingham Castle

We had the plane all day due to the weather earlier in the day and Framlingham is cool to see from the sky (it has a castle).

The trip back was pretty uneventful really, we stayed with Old Buckenham Radio until Diss and then switched over to talk to Wattisham Approach to get the ok for going through their MATZ on the way back.

Dropped down to around 1,500ft to get a really good view of the castle and flew around its perimeter just to keep it all nice and safe should we have got hit by an engine failure etc.   Then it was simply a matter of pointing the plane west for Cambridge and head on home.

G-MEGS :    Traffic at 2,000ft.   Approx 6 Miles East of Cambridge.
That is us, G-MEGS
Negative, visual with you…..other plane converging on your position

This is not what you want to hear – ever, the converging part being the real kicker to the situation.

With about 30 seconds to go I spotted the converging plane, around 10 O’ Clock high, maybe 200-300ft higher than us.   Phew!    Once visual started to have options and things we could do to keep it safe, it’s not official RT Phraseology, but I still thanked the approach controller for the information,

Landing – Safely Home

Initially I asked for an overhead join, but as it was the early evening I thought I’d try my luck and asked ATC if it’d be possible to get a Right Base join for 05?    This would allow us to simply fly straight into the last leg of the circuit, turn right and land (taking about 5-10 minutes off the circuit).

“You can have what you like…..”   Excellent, when they can be, most controllers are very friendly and helpful people 🙂

Final - 05 Main.

Final – 05 Main.

A great day out and beyond Old Buckenham being a good airfield to visit with all the military hardware to have a look around etc.  from a flying perspective actually a really quite scenic little route to remember.

First Flight – Over the Channel (Calais, France)

June 19th, 2014 by PHC | Permalink

One major objective of learning to fly for me is to make a flight to Jersey.   Anyway you cut it, this requires flying over the channel and that, even with a newly acquired pilots license and legal – is still not something to be done lightly.   So the chance to do it with an instructor the first time, seemed like a sensible approach.

G-MEGS Garmin 1000 Glass Cockpit

Garmin 1000 Glass Cockpit

An aero club group day out, we’d take all four Cessna 172’s:  One instructor per plane and two pilots – one flying there, the other flying home (great for everyone to get some experience and  keep the costs down).

Being differences checked on G-MEGS seemed to pay off again, when the aircraft list was published I got to fly it 🙂   It’s a funny plane, in training its G1000 means you rarely get to fly it and when the opportunity presents itself, you’re reluctant to.   Now having my license and having been checked out and had it on solo hire a few times, I do really like flying this plane – it’s very much up there with G-SHWK as a favorite.

Arriving at the club, bright and early (the weather: Not so much)

G-MEGS External


The forecast the night before was suggesting a dry day,  no chance of rain, but cloudy.   With everyone arriving around 8:30-9am, the cloud was down around ~2000ft, not ideal for a channel crossing – I had my doubts we’d be going.

Within the aero club though it was a hive of activity, those with licenses seemed keen to see the route and plan it up on their charts (I’d dropped in the day before so I already had the route).  Those without licenses appeared to be more eager to be involved then I had been on previous attempts for club outings.

By around 11am the decision was a trip was on – just not to where.

The Planned Route

The Planned Route – Le Touquet

There were now sub-group meetings happening with instructors and the pilots of their respective planes, debates on the weather continued, telephone calls to Le Touquet, Southend-on-Sea, Lydd and Calais.

Finally a plan of attack was agreed:

  • Fly out to Southend-on-Sea, evaluate the weather
  • If good progress to Dover and re-evaluate the weather for Le Touquet from there
  • If all good, cross the channel
  • If not, our alternative airfields would be Calais (France), or Lydd (east coast England).

We’re going, amazing……I better crunch some wind numbers into the PLOG then 🙂

I was flying with an instructor I’d never flown with before and a student from the club with ~16 hours experience.   On this basis, I was asked if I minded flying the outward leg?    No, not at all, this is the way I wanted to do it anyway – another landing at another airfield in the book.

PLOG - Part A

PLOG – Part A

My passenger for for the outward leg had disappeared temporarily though, so I grabbed the POH and other airplane paperwork required to be carried for a land away and went to check the plane out.   It takes a little longer to checkout MEG’s, more Garmin related switches, bells and whistles but other than that it’s a 172 at heart.

PLOG - Part B

PLOG – Part B

Plane checked, route and plog reviewed – just time for a mass pilot briefing to discuss flying in formation and we’d be away.   The time was now pressing on for 11:30am.

Engine Start-up:  Four Cessna’s

With at least two of the other planes being piloted on the way out by students, it perhaps shouldn’t have been a surprise that irrespective of the more complex checklist, with only one refusal to start it was G-MEGS that had its propeller running first.

This wasn’t a race, but it would get our engine temperature up nicely and I personally didn’t want to be last in the formation:  It would mean we’d be chocks off-to-on the longest (costing more) and would restrict the options for radio calls etc.

G-UFCB would be the lead plane, so we were waiting for them to start and call the tower.

We’d agreed they’d do the radio calls for the group, but this pretty much stopped before it had started.   G-UFCB called for taxi, a longish pause, then G-HERC called.   We better get in then or we’ll be last to get the ok to roll…..

Golf Mike Echo Golf Sierra with information Foxtrot, QNH 1023 request taxi.

And we were rolling off to holding point Delta, with runway 05 in use today, it’s a long way to taxi and not ideal for an eastern departure but you can’t control the wind.

Follow those planes!

Power checks at Delta kept things interesting, with barely enough room to squeeze in four Cessna’s but we all managed to find a space an point into the wind.

G-HERC got cleared to line up on the runway, but their positioning could have been better, so we had to squeeze past them and back track before lining up.    Their slipstream was pretty impressive though and you really felt the effect of the propeller spinning clockwise causing the wind to hit us on the left hand side first.

No time to spare though, we were soon cleared to go, full power and we were off.

At 600ft turning right to head for six mile bottom where we’d set a course for Sudbury, I’d done the route out to there twice in the last month, so was very happy with this.   Just pickup the train line, hit six mile bottom then fly east until you hit the industrial town with a railway and river.

Formation of Cessna’s entering a Military Aerodrome Traffic Zone (MATZ)

The lead plane was being flown by a student, I’m told their biggest fear at this stage in their training was the radio – so they picked the short straw today, but the thing to remember is that it’s these new almost forced into experiences, that make you better and more confident in flying.  So it’s good to be challenged.

Unfortunately the plan for them to handle all the radio work fell apart and in some ways it was better it did, all the planes could call up and get their MATZ penetration approval.    This didn’t thrill the air traffic controller, but he entertained us and was polite and professional – so thanks to the Wattisham ATC guys 🙂

Turning over Sudbury for London Southend on Sea, the cloud base was not being very helpful.  It was murky and getting 2,500ft was a challenge.

Golf Courses and Merkyness

Earls Colne is a bit of a strange airfield, it’s almost literally sat on a golf course and its runway is half asphalt, half grass (and we’re going to have to have a trip out there to try landing on that some point soon!).   Passing it on our right though it made for a nice landmark.

The weather wasn’t improving, if anything the cloud was getting lower.

By the time we reached London Southend the view forward could be described politely as merky.   Not wanting to distract air traffic there more then was needed (four Cessna’s in approx. quarter mile formation, radioing for zone transits etc. could become really tiresome), the radio calls had become pretty brief.

Golf Golf Sierra, will be doing same as the other Cessna’s in formation.

Not exactly standard phraseology, but it did mean us and ATC didn’t need a massive back-n-forth conversational set piece.   They could simply acknowledge us, air time is a precious thing – as you’ll see later!

We were now tracking the Detling VOR/DME, not strictly necessary, we were in formation.   However, I wanted to play (get more experience) with the toys in G-MEGS and if we lost the plane ahead in the weather, we’d have a fall back all ready to go……..if you’re learning to fly, the best advice anyone can give you is to do as much prep work ahead of when it’s required as possible:  At 100+ knots per hour (115 MPH), you’re covering 2 miles a minute and time is not on your side for suddenly faffing with radios, maps and pens when plan A goes wrong.

Approaching the overhead of the VOR I was starting to be convinced the channel crossing was a lost cause.   The cloud base was getting worse, the visibility was getting worse.   Romeo Charlie in front of us was weaving to stay clear of clouds and a few times we’d have to speed up to ensure they didn’t disappear ‘around’ a cloud and be gone.

Decision Time :  Cross the Channel?

Approaching Dover, it was rapidly approaching the point where we’d have to make a decision to go for it, or abort and switch to an alternate airfield – probably Lydd at this stage.

Cliffs of Dover

Cliffs of Dover

London Information gave us Le Touquet and Calais weather reports.   Forget going to Le Touquet, it was in cloud cover.   However, Calais, one of our pre-flight planned alternates was looking like a possible winner – if we could just get over the channel.

We pressed on, at 1,500ft we edged over the cliffs of Dover….any second the lead plane could call it all off.

Every second I found myself hoping for another second over the water, a second closer to the other side of the channel.  Not for fear the engine might pack up, but that the closer we got to the other side, the more likely the decision to divert would never come.

Two planes whizzed past on our port side, seconds later a radio call from London Information:

Cessna formation be aware:  Mechasmit followed by a Spitfire operating in your area.

How cool was that, we’re off the coast of Dover and we’re getting our own Battle of Britain re-enactment!   Unfortunately the weather had us concentrating to much on what was ahead to be enjoying what had just whizzed passed.

Using a Glider radio frequency we collectively decided Le Touquet wasn’t worth it and to divert to Calais – I really didn’t mind, I’d be happy anywhere on the other side of the channel.

Then, as if out of nowhere, half way across the channel – it all cleared up.

P&O Ferry from above

P&O Ferry from above

Suddenly we had blue sky ahead, we could climb for the first time in ages and on the horizon, the French coast!!   🙂

French Controllers & British Pilots that won’t shut up!

The Language of Air Traffic Control world wide is English, however, there’s someone talking to you in English and then there’s someone who’s passed an exam in it, but would rather not be using it given half a chance.   Having thanked London Information for putting up with our little formation, I found myself for the first time ever, now talking to the latter.

Still, friendly enough and they gave us no hassle at all.   I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting, but what I found far exceeded my expectations and any worries I’d had about what ATC would be like on the other side of the water, quickly evaporated.

The lead plane was about 2 miles ahead, with number 2 about 0.5-1 mile ahead of us.   The trick now was to fly the handful of miles north up the coast of France, close enough to stay in formation, but getting enough distance to the plane in front that once into the airport circuit, they’d have time to land and vacate, such that we could be cleared to land behind them without going around.

As the lead plane elected for a right base join and got granted their wish from Calais ATC, we all followed.

My only problem was that plane 2 (Romeo Charlie), seemed to leave it incredibly late to turn.   Perhaps they were trying to get distance from the lead plane, the only other theory I have is they hadn’t seen the runway, but I find that harder to believe.  Whatever, they seemed to turn late, which left us trying to slow it right down, turning beyond 90 degrees and trying to extend the base leg while flying it.

Couldn’t leave it much more though or we’d never get back on the centre line, that’d have to be enough, now descending and flying a typical 70 knot descent on final approach.

Thankfully Romeo Charlie’s pilot did a great job landing it early and vacating, we were at about 500ft with about 2,000ft to run.

Calais Approach, Golf Blah Blah Blah, over the channel on a QNH of 1234 and just wondering if I could get a weather update from you, seem quite cloudy where I am, yada, yada, yada………righto, roger that…….Sunny you say, and could I also request…..

600ft, 550ft, 500ft…….you can’t land without clearance, if he kept chattering on we’d be forced to go around!!   Radio time is precious and this was a text book example (Literally), of someone abusing it at the expense of others with more critical tasks going on.    The next time he paused I just cut him off and jumped in:

Golf Golf Sierra, Final to land runway Zero Six.

Passing through 300ft above the airfield:

Golf Golf Sierra, cleared to land runway Zero Six, surface wind…..

Pheeeew!!!  with very little height to spare, I could land the plane – another 100ft or so and it would have been a go-around (and I had no idea of the circuit at Calais).

All the effort to keep height and get clearance to land meant I was now higher then I’d have liked, but the landing was still looking good.   Lined up with the center, the stall warner went off as I pulled back on the yoke, 20ft above the runway, and then we touched down.   Excellent, it wasn’t the finest landing I’ve ever done, but for a first time at this airport I’d take it any day of the week…….but I’d used about 100ft more runway then Romeo Charlie so a pretty sharpish attempt to get MEGS stopped followed, I didn’t want to be the cause of Whiskey Kilo going around!!    All the throttle off, brakes on as soon as it was safe to apply them, and just in time for the taxi way exit, we were slow enough to turn right and vacate the runway.

G-MEGS parked in Calais

G-MEGS parked in Calais

Job done and I couldn’t have been happier with that flight!    My first crossing of the channel was behind me, the French ATC hadn’t been anything like as scary as I’d perceived in my head, ATC at Calais were very friendly and had correctly reacted to our jump in call to get clearance to land – we were more important then someone waffling on asking if the sun was shining.   A landing I was proud of and the sun was shining with beautiful blue sky in Calais – it doesn’t get better than this!  🙂

Sunshine in Calais:  When in France do as the French do – time for some lunch!

After some photo op’s of the group and of the Cessna’s, all that was left was to try and work out how to get through Customs, who to pay for landing there – all of which was hindered by a language barrier and a bizarre sense of:

Why do we need to see your passports?   We have 4 planes on our runway, we’re pretty sure you’re coming back!

Good point…

Three taxi’s later, all twelve of us found the best looking restaurant (possibly the first we saw), who layed a table for us outside in the sunshine and we set about having a really nice three course lunch.   What more could you ask for, 2 hours ago I was in overcast Cambridge, now I was having lunch with friends in 20+ degree C, Calais.

Go learn to fly, this is as cool as it gets!

From a money perspective everyone payed for something, I’d got my landing in Calais done so was happy to pay for the landing fee (All 10 Euros of it!!! What a steal!), lunch was put on an instructors card and we all paid him back in British pounds in England.   Someone else bought the 30 euro taxi out into central Calais, I paid for a taxi back to the airport – it all worked out there-or-there-abouts, I think everyone was happy on this front.

Food for thought:   We’d taken instructors in our plane, but if everyone on-board had ‘bought a seat’, with 3 in each plane, the whole return flight would have cost ~£195 per person, return.   A fully flexible Eurostar ticket would cost £250!!

Homeward bound.

Holding - Ready for Departure.

Holding – Ready for Departure.

All good things must come to an end and the hours spent debating the weather at the start had eaten into our little trips leisure time – but you know what, it didn’t matter.   I’d flown a plane from England to Calais, enjoyed a French three course lunch with some great people in the sunshine and chatted about aeroplanes………as days out go, this is almost as good as it gets.

With some great organization from our lead planes instructor, taxi’s arrived to take us back to the airport.

Customs was about as effortless as walking through an airport front door and nobody batted an eyelid when in close succession four Cessna 172’s started their engines on the apron.

About to line-up for Runway 06

About to line-up for Runway 06

All that was left to do was for our student pilot to make his first take off from a non-Cambridge runway.   Some people have all the luck, his first take off from a non-home airfield, wasn’t even in the same country as his home airfield!!   Still he did a pretty good job of it, even if the extra weight of three people in a Cessna did come as a little bit of a surprise in its desire (or lack of) to climb.

Calais - Thank you and Goodbye (for now).

Calais – Thank you and Goodbye (for now).

The trip home was a lot of fun, even from the back seat…….in fact I’ve NEVER been in the back seat of a Cessna 172, in all the years now that I’ve been in them it’s ALWAYS been in the front left. Very strange.

I decided I’d use this rare opportunity to entertain myself with “work out where I am using only a map and what I can see below”   a good chance to brush up on the “if you were lost and had to work out where you were using only the land features you could see, no Nav aids, could you????”   I’ll be honest, I really quite enjoyed doing this, a runway here, a railway there, a river going through a town with a round about – ok it should then take us 10 minutes on this heading to be crossing a motorway and if that’s true we’re……….

Good views from the back seat.

Good views from the back seat.

Forget finding the landmarks once we were over the channel again, we followed the lead plane and the lead plane decided to go over the clouds.

Over the top of cloud

VFR? – Time to use that Instrument Rated Instructor in the right seat 🙂

Although it was an hour and half flight home from Calais, it was a smooth flight, much clearer then our cloud skipping murk avoiding trip out there.   I think we got the “who should fly each leg?” question, spot on, while getting out there may have been a headache for a student,  I hoped and would like to believe, the pilot now in the front seat was now having a great time flying this trip back.

London South End

London South End

All that remained was to bring it back to Cambridge and land it on a familiar runway.

Forest in East Anglia

Forest in East Anglia

All though we were really running quite late (the original plan to be back by about 4:30pm local) and it was now heading for gone 6pm, we’d phone a head and everything was under control – the airport didn’t close until 8pm and we’d be down no later than 6:30.

Just time for some more great views of England and a little bit more ‘spot the town using only land marks’ back seat entertainment……..I must try and do this more, it was brilliant practice.

With Cambridge in sight it had been a really good flight, pretty impressive considering our pilot had only recently first solo’d – now he’s just flown a 130 mile cross-channel route!

All lined up, time to bring it back to the ground, good things must always come to an end sadly 🙁

Final Approach: Cambridge

Final Approach: Cambridge

Back on the ground it was a matter of paying up for lunch, filling in the log books for the flight times (I now have a landing at LFAC in my log book!) and returning the life jackets.

This trip was simply an awesome day out, got to know a whole bunch of people at the aero club a little bit better.   Had a ton of fun flying with them and got to fly MEGS cross-channel which I never thought I’d ever do during my training, one once scary plane tamed 🙂


First Flight : Post PPL (Duxford, almost)

April 18th, 2014 by PHC | Permalink

It may take weeks to get your license, even once everything is signed off.   Thankfully the aero club runs a policy whereby if you trained with them, then once they’ve signed everything off and your license is effectively “in the post”, you can fly solo without instruction/checkflight before every trip – but you can’t take passengers.

Duxford :  Maybe / Maybe Not / Maybe……Maybe Not.

I took them up on this policy, planning a short hop of a trip out to Duxford – the intent to do a local, land away.

On arrival, this was a bit of a tricky issue, with new instructors, a degree of confusion set in about whether I was allowed to do this or not.   Not helped by a Chinese whisper effect occuring regarding if I had a medical or not – what I’d said is I didn’t have my license or logbook, but had my medical.  This became “I didn’t have a license, medical or logbook”.    Anyway, eventually we got there and the flight was on.

Unfortunately the storms at the beginning of the year took their toll and on ringing for Prior Permission (PPR), got told the airport was closed 🙁

A quick tweak to the route (i.e. cut out the landing bit) and the flight was back on.

Wimpole / Royston Route

Wimpole / Royston Route

The green line is the outward route, the blue line the return route.   So instead of flying the last leg of the route out, I’d just turn around at Royston, point the plane back to ‘Point Alpha’ and head home.

Runway 23 - Lined up

Runway 23 – Lined up

Scenic:   Radio Telescopes & Wimpole Hall

Having only been down in this corner of the map once or twice in training, I’d always wanted to go back as there are a few nice land marks to see.

The radio telescope and a few minutes further south west, Wimpole Hall.

Wimpole from the Air

Wimpole from the Air

A really nice day to go flying, good visibility, very few clouds and seemingly nothing else up in the air trying to borrow the same real estate.   The radio seemed to suggest otherwise, but just not in the area I was flying.

Radio Telescope

Radio Telescope

It took 15 minutes to get off the ground at Cambridge with the power checks etc, the flight itself would last just 20 minutes with another 10 to get back into the circuit and land – but as short trips out go.   A nicely scenic one, a little bit of nav, but no risk of really getting lost – so a nice trip out given the current licensing position.   Plus a chance to try something a little different, start the nav from a different landmark, instead of flying straight for Point Alpha (M11/A14 junction) and starting from there.

It’s a shame Duxford was closed, I was feeling very aware that since my QXC I’d clocked up maybe 8+ hours of flying without having landed anywhere else but Cambridge (could I remember how!?!?).   Those sorts of crazy thoughts begin to creep into your head.   Maybe next time.

Getting back into Cambridge was easy enough, a police helicopter was operating in the area but that didn’t add too much of a complication to anything.   Air Traffic obliged my request for a crosswind join and the landing was pretty good, ending a very nice flight the right way.

A fantastic little trip out, now for that license to show up so we can take passengers for the first time.

EASA, PPL(A) – Licence Arrives!

March 25th, 2014 by PHC | Permalink

The pack of paperwork required to be sent off makes for quite an impressive envelope:

  • Your Log book – filled in by pen, formally signed and stamped by the aero club
  • A copy of your Skills Test results
  • A certified (by Chief Instructor), copy of your Class 2 Medical
  • A certified copy of your passport
  • 10 page Form SRG1105A, fully filled in.
License Application

Licence Application

Then it’s just a matter of waiting the 4-6 weeks required to process it all and for the CAA to take payment of £192 – note this covered courier return service & both PPL(A) & FRTOL licences.

What seemed like an eternity later, but in reality was 5 weeks:

License Arrives by FedEx

Licence Arrives by FedEx

I was at work at the time it was delivered, very hard to concentrate when a package like this shows up at home!   Yet more so because it might be a licence – but it might be they’ve just sent it all back due to some clerical error on a form, who knows…..

Needn’t have worried though, the aero club had done an amazing job of supporting me through the application process.  Checking all the forms were correctly filled in and signed etc.   The package sent back contained my new EASA PPL(A) Licence, the return of my log book and some informational bits and pieces.

License & Log book

Licence & Log book

What does all this mean?

Out of the box, an EASA PPL(A) licence with the ‘standard’ SEP (Single Engine Piston) Rating, allows you to fly a single-engine piston powered aeroplane anywhere in Europe.   It is also one of the easiest licences to have accepted/recognised for use in the United States – but that requires more paperwork.

Under EASA, aeroplanes have recently been grouped into EASA aircraft (e.g. Cessna 172) and Non-EASA aircraft (e.g. Tiger Moth).   A holder of an EASA licence can fly either category subject to the limits of the rest of their licence (i.e. Singe Engine Rating will restrict you to single engine aircraft obviously).

Having done 3 solo full stop landings in the last 3 months, this piece of paper also means I’m legal to carry non-paying (beyond a reasonable share), passengers!

FRTOL : Passed

March 20th, 2014 by PHC | Permalink

The Flight Radiotelephony Operator’s Licence (FRTOL), authorises you to operate an Aircraft Radio Station in a UK registered aircraft [CAA].

While a Private Pilots License (PPL) lets you fly the plane, it does not make you legal to operate the radio.   If you plan to fly exclusively out of grass strips and outside controlled airspace, this might be ok – but realistically, you’re going to need to use that radio and over the course of the PPL training will have already clocked up significant usage anyway.

The FRTOL Exam is a practical/oral exam involving (typically) the applicant in one room and the examiner in another and simulating a flight and the associated radio calls.

Personally, due to the flight being simulated, I found the timings to be very “disorientating” in the sense that it’s hard to judge a reasonable time between calls (the map is covering > 50 miles, you’d have tens of minutes to plan a call – but that feels like cheating, so I tried to make each call with only a handful of seconds gap).   If I could give others any advice, I’d say take your time more, remember that in real life you really would have time to plan initial contact calls – so take that time, you’re paying for the examiners time so leave them waiting if you’re getting your head clear on your next way point initial call or request etc.

The debrief was pretty intensive, but I passed and that was my only objective of the day.   If you’re learning and wondering about costs, the exam cost me £90.

If you want to know more about the FRTOL, privileges/requirements/exam – read Section 6 of CAA: CAP 804

That’s it, we’re done…….all that is left is to put a massive pack of paperwork together to the CAA.

Flight Skills Test : Passed (The End…almost)

March 11th, 2014 by PHC | Permalink

Many hours (I still need to add it all up) and ground exams later, we finally reached the day of the Skills Test.   The only point where you’re actually examined in the air for your ability to conduct a safe flight with sufficient competency to be trusted with passengers who potentially have never been in a light aircraft before.  Obviously, completion of other training (Qualifying Cross Country), shows ability for getting from A to B to C and back to A again, but the skills test is where you demonstrate essentially everything you’ve learnt, in the air, to an examiner.

Arrival and Checkout

I’d agreed with the club to have G-HERC on the day, so it was fully fueled up the night before avoiding any fuel issues in the morning.   What could go wrong?

I got there early, agreed with the examiner I’d go and check the plane and come back in – it seemed like a good plan and I felt ahead of the curve so far.  Having lowered the flaps and in the process of walking round the plane giving it a good check out, I noticed the examiner coming out to see me – unusual at this point.   So I figured I’d save them a walk and meet half way, ducking under the flap I asked if all was ok?

We can’t take G-HERC, the Attitude Indicator isn’t working…

Ahhh great, the plane I’d done my First Solo and Qualifying Cross Country in, had gone and let me down 🙁    As I turned round, a little demoralized…


In the distraction I’d forgotten the flap was now about 5″ lower than normal and walked straight into it, cutting my head open!   A lovely cut, complete with bleeding, as you might expect walking into two sharp, hard pieces of metal would give you.

There’s a first time for everything, but I could have lived without bleeding before even starting the exam!

Time to get Another Plane



Without the Artificial Indicator (AI) we wouldn’t be able to do the part of the exam that tests basic instrument flying – well actually more your ability to get out of an instrument flying required condition (i.e. unintentional flight into cloud). To intentionally fly on instruments requires more exams.

So we’d take G-SHWK.

…..but of course it’s only got 20 gallons of fuel and we need a minimum of 30, so I get to do a spot of free taxing to the fuel bay, before going for a briefing on the exam itself.

Examination Briefing

Firstly a recap that this isn’t an exam to test if I’m the best pilot in the world (probably a good thing as my head had only just stopped bleeding).   It is about assessing if I can operate a piston single engined aircraft in such a way as being conductive of safe flight, from start to finish and sufficiently able to be trusted with passengers.   Or generally words to that affect.

The examiner then outlined broadly what would be on the exam and how it would be structured (not surprisingly very much inline with EASA guidance):

  • The examiner would act as ‘Someone who’s reasonably knowledgeable about aircraft, but cannot fly themselves’ – as such unless instructed:  Control of the aircraft, Navigation and the Radio would be my responsibility.
  • Navigation with a route consisting of 3 legs.
  • Somewhere on the second leg I’d be given a simulated problem/emergency and would need to determine a good course of action (i.e. diversion) – without significantly deviating from heading or altitude while planning the action to be taken.
  • On completion of the diversion there would be  aircraft General Handling section covering:
    • Instrument flight out of simulated cloud (i.e. Rate One turns / Heading & Altitude holding with reference only to the instruments).
    • Recovery from a Spiral Dive
    • Stall Recovery in the Clean Configuration, Turning onto Final and Final Approach Configurations.
    • Steep / Advanced Turns (360 degree turns, with Turn Angle > 45 Degrees)
    • Slow Flight
    • Practice Forced Landing
    • Precautionary Landing
  • Radio Aid Position Fixing (using any aid of my choice in the aircraft except the GPS)
  • Returning into the Circuit
    • Normal Circuit / Landing (Touch N Go)
    • Flapless Touch N Go
    • Precision Landing
  • Aborted/Rejected Take Off

That was the general outline, it was made quite clear that if the examiner was happy with how an item was carried out we’d move straight onto the next item and if he wasn’t we might need to do it again or a variant of what was asked – again not looking for total perfection across the board, but I assume there’s scope for a little bit of “Ok that wasn’t brilliant, but I can do……..really, see…..”.

The Navigation

The route I’d been given to plan was Cambridge -> Bourne (Linconshire) -> Downham Market -> Cambridge.

Skills Test Nav Route

Skills Test Nav Route

Plotted on my navigation chart, it looked like this:

Some obvious catches to this route:

  • Puts the plane very close to Wyton Air Traffic Zone (ATZ)
  • Requires flying through Wittering Military Aerodrome Traffic Zone (MATZ)

I thought a lot about the Wyton part, all going well my intent was to call them up and let them know we’d be close to their ATZ – but as a backup safety measure so the flight definatly didn’t break any rules and couldn’t be argued unsafe.  I elected to fly the first leg at 3,000ft.

The reason for this being that Wytons’ ATZ goes from surface (135ft about sea level), to 2,000ft above the surface.

By flying 3,000ft above sea level, I’d be at least 800ft above their ATZ.   Well clear even allowing for minor pressure setting and other such errors etc.

On turning over Bourne, my plan would be to descend to 2,500ft.  The intent here being that I’m more familiar with flying this area at this altitude so my perspective of distances on the ground would be better and that might help my Nav.  there’s not a whole lot in the way of visual references on the second leg for the first 15 or so miles.

The obvious diversion point on the second leg would be Wisbeach, but the question was where would we divert to.

Booking Out & Taxi

It might sound bizzare, but one of my biggest fears was getting the paperwork on the ground right.   Almost every lesson this is filled in by an instructor and so I was just waiting for this lot to go wrong.  In the end it was all a non-event.  A lot like the worry about debating the weather:  On this day, the weather was unquestionably fit for flying.

Having filled out my booking out form and loaded it into the fax machine, it was time to see if G-SHWK had been topped up with fuel.

 Clear Prop!!!!

It’s not typically taught at this club, I’ve always assumed because it’s such a large aerodrome, but in the last few lessons instructors had suggested I shout it anyway on starting the engine.  For the sake of sounding a bit daft with absolutely nobody around, I shouted it out of the window regardless.

It started first time, things were going well and G-SHWK, easily my favorite plane to fly, was feeling right at home.

That was of course until I called up the Tower for permission to taxi.   Then it all took a turn for the worst, as Air Traffic came back and said they hadn’t got our booking details…….I don’t know how, but I guess the fax didn’t go through (thankfully the examiner had seen me do this so there could be no doubt I’d done all I could).   Had they got it, I’d made it very clear that this was a Skills Test (a hint to them in hope they’d be nice to me on returning to Cambridge where I’d want to do all sorts of strange circuits) – I guess fate had intervened on that plan.   I’d have to book out over the radio, something I’ve done very rarely.

I’d expected I might have to demonstrate a short field take off, but on this day in history, it wasn’t required so flaps up for take-off and I took care to talk the checklist out loud just to be sure there could be no questions.

Navigation : The First Leg to Bourne

On lining up with the runway, my last question has always been “Are you happy with everything?”   Today was no exception and perhaps while less valid then when with instructors, I find it’s still a relevant thing to ask…..last chance, in 2 minutes we’re going to be 1,000ft above the ground.

Full Throttle and the 172 began its charge down the mile of runway.

A little bit of crosswind as it lifted off, really nothing eventful, but I could hear my brain begin the chatter of “Now be good to me, I don’t need this….”  the nerves had been at zero but with every bump of turbulence were building.   A good time to run through the after take-off checklist then, get away from this mind game and back to my training:   Engine Temp & Pressure in the Green, Mixture Rich, Landing Light OFF.

Climbing out at a nice 80 knots, at 1,000ft I purposely lowered the nose in the climb – don’t want to get chalked up for a bad look-out in the climb.

If anything I flew further south then normal, I  wanted to be really sure that when I started the turn, it was at a reasonable height over Cambridge (as you’re not allowed to overfly it below 2,000ft).   Having been drilled on a practice skills test to lift the wings before turning, I made sure to correct that as well.

Now to begin a climbing turn up to my declared 3,000ft altitude for this leg and find Point Alpha (where the M11 meets the A14).

Skills Test Plog

Skills Test : PLOG

Notice even my Pilot Log for the trip had been marked up for G-HERC, that’s how last minute the change was…….the arrows are visual cues to remind me of radio calls, the rest is scribble from the flight 🙂

The Heading Indicator Problem: Again

I’d had a major issue with the heading indicator on my practice skills test, the knob hadn’t fully released so the gyro had a limping effect (the heading indicator still turned, just not accurately).   This had lead to being off course by ball park 30 degrees – a huge error in heading.   My plan to avoid a recurrence of this issue was three fold and thus fool proof – or so I thought:

  1. I’d take G-HERC, it’s heading indicator is automatically aligned.
  2. I’d make absolutely sure none of the knobs were stuck on pre-check.
  3. En-Route to Point Alpha I’d check it was aligned with the compass, so any issue wouldn’t come unstuck post setting heading.

Item 1 was blown out of the water when HERC decided to develop a fault, so we couldn’t fly it.   I’d set and re-set the heading indicator in SHWK on the ground and had been more than happy nothing was stuck or mis-aligned.   As for point three, well I just forgot, in the climb I hadn’t calmed down until the after take-off checks and in the climbing turn I found myself worrying “What if I don’t see Point Alpha today???”

The moment I’d turned onto heading for Bourne, I began a FREDA check (and thank god I did!).

  • Fuel  –  we’d took off with 53 US Gallons……the gauges said we still had the vast majority of it.
  • Radio – we’d switched to Cambridge Approach, we had a basic service from them.
  • Engine – Temps & Pressures in the Green.
  • Direction – We’ve turned on to the correct heading and the heading indicator is aligned with the compass……wait a minute, no it isn’t, it’s off by like 10 degrees!!

All of this was said out loud, including a spoken realisation that my heading indicator wasn’t aligned.   We’d flown maybe all of 0.5 a mile from Point Alpha, I’d caught it soon enough that all I needed to do was was reset it against the compass, correct my heading and then any minor course error I’d correct at my first reference check point.  Pheew!   That could have become a real mess.

  •  Altitude – I’d elected to fly this leg at 3,000ft, we were at 3,000ft on the dot and the QNH was set from the pressure provided by Cambridge Approach.

A nice heading and altitude hold for the next 20 or so minutes would see us arrive overhead Bourne.   All that lay in the way was to decide if I was going to radio Wyton, any drift corrections and of course talking to Wittering to get permission to penetrate their MATZ.

It’s pretty easy to see Wyton, it’s a big runway and so on this basis I was happy I wasn’t going to fly straight through their ATZ but at worst skirt the edge, I decided to not overload myself with radio calls and not call them.   Pilots and the books might argue this is bad airmanship, on any other day I’d agree, on this day I fell back on the golden rules of “Aviate, Navigate, Communicate.”   Talking to Cambridge, then to Wyton (who maybe they were there, maybe they weren’t), only to have to switch to Wittering 5 minutes later at the time felt like it was tempting fate to cause things to go wrong, so I elected not to.

A slight course correction (0.5 mile) over Ramsey was required, I talked my actions through out loud so it was clear I wasn’t just wandering about the sky but intentionally repositioning over Ramsey.   One of the nice things about this place is that there’s a mast/single wind turbine on its northern edge, this makes it a very distinctive place – identifying the mast and familarising myself visually with Ramsey now, would pay dividends later in the trip.

Calling Wittering

Ahead of Peterborough it was time to call up Wittering and see about permission to fly through their MATZ.   As the stars would have it though, this wouldn’t be without its difficulty.

Firstly Wittering didn’t reply, then the reply that came wasn’t a military controller.   The best theory decided later was it was probably the glider site.

Wittering weren’t there, so we wouldn’t be getting a basic service off them.   Legally you’re allowed to fly though a MATZ so we could carry on.   The examiner asked what sort of service I could now expect to have?   I replied and alerting service…..would you really get this from a glider site?  Who knows, what I know is the books say if you’re in radio contact with any sort of ATSU, even ground/radio service, then you should expect to have an alerting service (basically if you disappear or report an emergency, they should alert the rescue services for you).

Coming up over Market Deeping, I called out the land marks I was using to visually identify it (the shape, the river, the road to its west and the time overhead – all those things agreeing meant it was highly unlikely to be anything else).   Time for another FREDA check…..we’d soon be over Bourne.

Overhead Bourne

Bourne Overhead

Bourne Overhead

Before setting off I’d done a bit of flight prep:   What does bourne look like from overhead?  (Google Earth is your friend).   This had told me it had an industrial area to the south, a very handy visual feature.

Announcing that I knew bourne had an industrial site to the south and could see the town we were about to be overhead had this feature, there was a road going south/north and the times were correct.   Thus this was bourne.

The examiner seemed happy and agreed on our location.   So I was instructed I could make my turn for the second leg as/when I was ready to do so.



Navigation : Second Leg to Downham Market (Maybe)

The EASA guidance paperwork says there’s going to be a diversion in the test, the examiner had said this was likely to come in the second leg.   So I had a good idea what was coming, I just didn’t know when.

My only concern on this leg was that I’m not the biggest fan of flying in this area, it’s a lot of nothing, fields as far as the eye can see.   So it’s easy to go off course and have little opportunity to correct it early, but it was in my Qualifying Cross Country flight, so I’ve been here before and it does come good, you just need to keep things calm and work with what you can see, not what you want to see.

I’d gone round in orbits on a practice finding Crowland airfield, so I knew where that was at least.

Approaching Wisbeach the diversion came.

The clouds are lowering to the east, you won’t be able to continue on this leg and you can’t go north as the clouds are lowering there too.   So I want you to plan what you’re going to do next, without significant heading or altitude deviation…..

The diversion I heard was “Oakington”, I drew this up on the map, planned by heading and off we went.   Announcing a heading of 185, turning over Wisbeach

We flew this for maybe 4-5 mintues, because another query from the examiner:

Can I see your map?

I thought I must have done something significant wrong, but what could it be, south was the way to go if you wanted to get to Oakington from here.   It would soon become clear.

“I’d actually said Alconbury….”

My map was my saving grace here I think, because I’d marked it up as a diversion to Oakington, my heading was correct to get me there and my ETA was right for there.  It was obvious I’d mishead the destination, I guess the “Alcon” sounded like “Oakin” in the noise.

Turning round and heading back to Wisbeach, we’d do that again only this time routing for “Alconbury”.

Navigation : Diversion

Many lessons ago, diversions were my curse, I’d find myself losing my location and then forcing the map to fit all sorts of desires on location.   Today had to be better.

We’d clip the end of the river Nene, a good land mark, so I marked the time overhead.   Should it all go wrong I knew when I was here and so how far away I could possibly be.

I was trying to talk through my thought processes so that the examiner could hear why I was doing everything I was doing.

Approaching Ramsey, the plan said I should be clipping its western edge, but its tell tale mast made it very apparent it was on my right hand side.   We were left of course, approx. 4-5 miles.

A runway came into view ahead of us, as Alconbury is disused and this wasn’t, it couldn’t be Alconbury, so it had to be Wyton.   Time to correct, at 2,500ft  we be borderline to fly over Wytons ATZ and if we did that we’d be overshooting the destination anyway.

Alconbury in sight

……..much thanks to the instructors who’ve taken me there in the past, I’ve never been so thankful to see rows of containers on the end of a runway.

Alconbury Airfield (Disused)

Alconbury Airfield (Disused)

Navigation Complete :   Time for the General Handling

An announcement declared the the navigation part of the exam over.

All in all at this stage I was feeling pretty good about how it was going:   We’d got to where we wanted to be, I wasn’t feeling utterly lost and we’d got here without me ever feeling a sense of panic or uncertainty about where am I?    You can’t ask for much more than that.

Of the tasks that remained, only the Practice Force Landing was a real worry.

Instrument Flight

Kicking it off, time to put on the Froggles to demonstrate I could fly a heading & altitude with sole reference to the instruments and perform a ‘Rate One’ turn.

Now I could fly all day with these things on – I’m not saying it’d be legal or wise to do so – just that I’m very at home with discarding all natural sensations about which way is up and flying on the instruments.  Always been quite happy with this idea and trusting that they’re not likely to lie (unlike the fluid in your ears).

All good and I don’t think there was any scope for dispute on this part, so we moved on.

Spiral Dive

I can be honest now, when I got told this would be on the list my immediate mental reaction was “Can I remember how to recover from one???”    Of course, you can, but there’s likely to be something that you just begin to doubt and ponder.

To tackle this problem, I decided waaaaay back during pre-flight, that when we got to this I’d I was going to talk out loud the recover procedure.   At least if it didn’t look brilliant, I’d be demonstrating I knew what to do 🙂

  • Throttle Closed
  • Opposite Rudder to the direction of the Spiral Dive
  • Unstall the Wings
  • Roll Wings Level

It seemed to do the trick, the plane recovered, not much height loss……we moved on.   Phew!

Steep Gliding Descent

Pardon me?   A  what?    2,500ft up was not the time to be hearing about maneuvers that for the life of me I didn’t recall being on the training course.

You can’t just turn around and go “What the heck is one of those then?”

So we’d have to generally make up a maneuver that was:  Safe, Gliding and Steep.

Safe:  an airspeed greater than something that’s going to stall, but slower than 100 knots sounds about right.  Gliding, easy enough, close the throttle and your gliding.  Steep, an angle of bank greater than 30 degrees usually ticks this box.

It would draw a comment back on the ground, but only because I did it at 80 knots and perhaps 70 was better, but the examiner said it ticked the box and the airspeed was safe etc.   Fair enough, as far as this part of the exam was concerned :  Job done.

Advanced (Steep) Turns

Back into my happy place, I can do these, lets just crack on…….once round to the left, keeping my eyes as outside as possible, occasional glances to make sure the altitude wasn’t going beyond +/-50ft and completing back on the altitude we started at.    Once round to right.

All good, we’ll move on then.


The examiner said he wanted to see a couple of different stalls, from memory:

  1. A fully developed stall, recovering on his instruction.
  2. A stall in the base configuration, recovering at the first sign of the stall.
  3. A stall in the landing configuration turning onto final.

I had a mental moment of “right you are, off we go then….” before the voices in my head kicked in:

HASELL : Checks!!!

DON’T STALL without doing this first, it’s very likely to be a fail and I’ve done that “do as your told and try and do it as soon as possible” thing before.   Not today.

No problems on any of these, I’ll never be sure if I was premature on the first sign of the stall turning on to final, but to rule out any doubt I said “buffeting” and recovered.   It might have been in my head, but the second I felt something non-smooth flying like, that was good enough time to recover for me.

No drama at all and it was on to the next task.

Practice Forced Landing

I’m sure most people worry about this one, many an article in magazines or on websites from examiners will say this is a pass/fail moment – with not much scope for anything in-between.   Convince them you’d land in the field =  Pass.   Else probably a fail  🙁

  • Will there be a good field?
  • Yeah but how good…..there are fields and then there are fields…..
  • Will I actually see it?
  • Which way is the wind coming from again?

All the usual worries going through my head, but you don’t know when they’re going to cut the engine.

When it happened I set the airspeed, 70 Knots, then it was a searching game…….find a field, try and fly with a tail wind (it’ll maximize the number of fields you can actually reach).   In the end I settled on what didn’t look ideal, but was the best I could find.

An ok entry into a circuit formation of the field, an ok field, still would have liked something longer and I wasn’t going to be able to fly it fully into wind.   Still, we’d make it, time to get in a few restart checks.  No joy, so throw in a practice mayday.

Hmmm, that field is looking a bit further away then I’d like.   Holding off taking the flaps, altitude 700ft and higher then I’d like, but if we take the flaps we’d not reach the field.   This could be better, but it could be a lot worse.   650ft, we’re still high but I’d give it 70% we’d make that field.    550ft, I’d give it 60% we’d make the field, it’d take the flaps now and might require a side slip but it’s not beyond reasonable doubt we could make it.

……not beyond reasonable doubt indeed, but we can’t go below 500ft, so the jury was out on this one.   Time to climb out of it.

Normally I don’t think you’d get another go at this, but on this day in history, there was sufficient doubt that it was arguable we’d have made it.   Maybe it was that reasonable doubt, maybe that plus perhaps the rest had been good enough to let me have a “convince me” chance……one last go to convince the examiner that the first was ok, and any other go would be better.

Cutting the engine, I was going to get it as near perfect this time round.

Sure enough, coming through to 500ft, it was now unquestionable :  We’d make that field, it would be a good landing.

Time to move on…….thank god for that, I couldn’t be sure we’d passed this, my only comfort was we were moving on and not returning to the airport – that had to mean something, right?

Precautionary Landing

Not quite what I’d have wished to move on to though.

Let’s just cut to the chase and say this could have been a bit better, instead of doing a 3rd approach at 50ft above the ‘virtual’ ground.   I decided I was burning a lot of the examiners time and declared it would be to land on the 2nd approach.

Ok and the field was ok, but I’d get comments about it on landing.

Radio Aid Position Fix

I’d been dreading this, so much so that I’d had trips up prior to the exam just to practice I could remember how to do this.

Maybe thirty minutes had passed, but it wasn’t rocket science to know we were in the ball park area of south of Alconbury, so this would help with a gross error.

Using the Barkway VOR/DME, I dialed in the frequencies on Nav #1 and the DME, then Identified both stations.   All good, now just to find what radial of the VOR I was flying on/from and read off the DME distance and we should have a fix.

330 degrees from Barkway, 15 nautical miles.

That would put us just a little south west of Bourn then, I could believe that.

So could the examiner, jobs a good one.

Intercepting the 115 radial proved to be a little more tricky, but we got there…….by the time we did, we were bizarrely south of Cambridge Airport.

Rejoins & Circuits

We were so south, that for the first time I can ever remember, it made sense to ask ATC if we could join downwind.    This is where I was wishing they’d have got my fax, if they had they’d have known I was on my skills test and might be favorable……now I’d just have to hope the tides of traffic were calm.

Thankfully all was well, we could head straight in and join on the downwind leg.

Three circuits and we’d be done:

  • Normal Circuit / Landing (Touch N Go)
  • Flapless Touch N Go
  • Precision Landing

The first the examiner said was aimed/intended to calm down on, sounds like the voice of experience.  After 2 hours in the air, it was a voice I was very much in tune with.   I was starting to feel somewhere between mentally fried and over-charged, with a touch of nerves now very much at the back of my mind.   Calming down was what I needed to do.

I can’t remember the exact winds, but it felt like a 10 knot crosswind component.   It would have been nice to have a calm, straight down the runway wind, but not today.

Feet clear of the brakes, Feet Clear of the brakes…….

The first landing wasn’t my best (it was far from my worst), it felt like a lot of mental effort to get it to come down aligned with the runway and I flared it a little to early, but it came down on the back wheels and didn’t bounce.   Flaps up and away we go….

Flapless Landing

I’ve always loved doing flapless landings, they’ve historically been my best.  Maybe it’s the extra speed and the change that brings to the attitude /  perspective, but whatever – very rarely do I get these wrong.

Sure enough it was pretty smooth and on the back wheels, I doubt I could have done it much better.

Flaps up……just one more to do now, this time it had to be down on the numbers.

Precision Landing

The goal is to touch down on the numbers and have it stopped by the Charlie exit from the runway.

On final approach I was doing everything to make sure we would land on the numbers, so much so that it needed a bit of throttle as we came over the displaced area of the runway.  Not as great as I’d have liked, but as we crossed the big “23” the wheels touched down.

I now had 1,500ft available to get it stopped in order to meet the criteria of a ‘precision landing’ :  Having it stopped by Charlie.   Unless I did something stupid with the brakes now, we were golden.

Aborted Take Off

The examiner called up the Tower and asked for permission to backtrack on the runway for an aborted take off.

I opened the throttle and had it fully open for a handful of seconds before I just about heard

T’s and P’s are in the Red

It took about half a second for my brain to click that he was declaring a simulated emergency…….close the throttle, get it stopped and as the speed comes down start applying the brakes.

The End Result:   PASSED.

Saving me a tense walk back, the examiner told me after shutting the plane down that I’d passed.

We could go through the details inside, but this was more than enough for me.

I’m going to be honest, with the examiner gone, I found myself sat in the plane having a bit of a ‘end of Memphis Belle moment’.   Nothing like the same, but I found myself looking at the controls of G-SHWK and being beyond thankful for the great flight it’d just given me.

G-SHWK : End of Skills Test

G-SHWK : End of Skills Test


A few points, surprisingly and pleasingly few actually.

  •  The PFL as I’d expected wasn’t brilliant, but it had been enough to be questionable and so I’d got another go.   Otherwise it could have been a fail, I was encouraged to keep doing them every flight, for if I ever need to pull this trick out of the bag, it will have to be perfect.
  • The Precautionary Landing should have had a 3rd circuit, 50ft above the virtual ground.
  • The Steep Gliding Descent, was safe, but the examiner would have preferred to have seen this done at 70 knots instead of 80.

If there was more I can’t remember them, I doubt anyone does it perfectly without comment and I’d take those comments happily and accept them all without question.

A lot of signature signing and large chunk of cash was all that remained.   For anyone who reads this thinking about learning or in the middle of learning to fly, the skills test is an expensive day in flying.  This day in history cost me a touch over £600……….but consider it this way, you’ll have put in about £10,000 to get here.

Smile, you’re almost legal to go flying on your own 🙂


Principles of Flight Exam: Passed

November 25th, 2013 by PHC | Permalink

Principles of Flight / Flight Planning & Performance: PPL 4

Principles of Flight / Flight Planning & Performance: PPL 4

A strangely small section of a book since it’s been split up from Aircraft General Knowledge, but still, the pass mark is 75% leaving scope to get just 4 of the 16 questions wrong.

Not today though.

Actually I found this exam one of the more interesting out of the set – where Meteorology was/is a necessity and I did very well on the exam, it was never a favorite (Perhaps I just don’t like trying to memorise clouds).

Passed :  81%

Aiming to next one done before the end of the month now.


Flight Performance & Planning Exam: Passed

November 11th, 2013 by PHC | Permalink

Principles of Flight / Flight Planning & Performance: PPL 4

Principles of Flight / Flight Planning & Performance: PPL 4

This blog is getting completely out of sync with the actual time scales of everything but “logically” it’s about right, but is now a few months out of sync with the actual dates things happened…….must try harder!

Challenging the Nav Exam for the most amount of math, Flight Performance and Planning had a lot of scope to go very wrong.

….and it very nearly did.

All the practice papers I’ve ever seen and everything in existing text books do not show any implication of requiring a map.

Clearly none was expected either as the required items on the morning of setting the paper were glanced through by the examiner and it didn’t jump out as required – but three quarters of the way through it:

Using a Chart of Southern England, plot the following route:  Cardiff to…..via….

Pardon me?   Plot a route, nobody said anything about plotting a route anywhere.   In my Navigation exam I’d attempted to bring my own map, but had been told there was a specific map provided for the test, this time I brought no such kit and was clearly in need of a map (and a pen and a ruler and a protractor and….).   The aero club lent me all of this and it came as a bit of a surprise to them as well I think.

I guess:  be warned.

Having had to scramble for a map/chart and try to remember how to use one 😉    I was really, really doubtful about getting through this.   Very pleased (and a little shocked), when the phone rang and verdict was:

Passed:  80%

I’ll take that, on to the next one.



Lesson 55: Solo Nav #2 (Framlingham / Snetterton)

September 1st, 2013 by PHC | Permalink

Fly when the sun shines and it couldn’t have been a much nicer day to do Solo Nav #2.

The only complication really being that the wind was the “wrong way round”, in that this route required a departure from Six Mile Bottom (South East of the air field), but with a surface wind of 090 degrees, 7 knots:   Runway 05 was in use – thus a departure to the North – not exactly ideal!

Solo Nav #2: General Route

Solo Nav #2: General Route

The dilemma, take off to the north and then what?

  1. Turn right and fly south?  (Effectively flying in the circuit).
  2. Turn left, climb and then fly south (In theory departing via the overhead)

I was concerned about doing the former, if I did this at what altitude should it be flown?

  • Climb into the circuit height and depart from the end of the downwind leg?
  • Turn and climb above the “Normal” (GA) circuit height and then fly downwind?
  • Perhaps turn and fly out of the circuit rectangle and then fly south?

The latter sounds in theory the better choice,  turn and climb above the ATZ, point plane for Six Mile Bottom, what could go wrong?  You’re above the ATZ so limited risk of traffic problems & banging into something in the circuit.  This all sounds great, but I’d urge you to remember that at this point I had 50 hours total in the log book, departures on 05 I could probably count on one hand, with the other hand I could count the total times I’d headed to six mile bottom and combining those two things (or an “overhead departure” for anywhere for that matter):  Zero.
You might feel an urge to point me at PPL Book 3, Nav 76 (Departure Procedure), you’ll find limited words of wisdom there and actually vagueness and “it varies”.

So I formulated a plan in my head to go with the former and turn right on the climb out and then fly south in the circuit.   I was conscious this might upset ATC, I was hopeful that they knew this was a Student Solo Nav and would be forgiving if it was wrong and my rationale for doing it went like this:

  • If I fly the circuit, at worst I’m going with the flow of the traffic – I should be able to see them, they should see me.   Sounds like a good safe option.
  • Climbing above the circuit would be stupid, it might be a 1,000ft circuit for General Aviation – but Jets fly a 1,500ft circuit and helicopters a 600ft circuit.   I want to be well clear of both of them……if it turns out to be stupid, to any other GA fixed wing aircraft it should look fairly normal, at least to begin with.
  • Worst case it’d be hard for ATC Tower to not be visual with me so if it was stupid, at least I’d be doing it wrong in front of them, instead of behind and above them.
  • Stick with what you know – there’d be enough new things today without needing to complicate the event further by trying to find somewhere you’ve rarely found before in whole new interesting ways (getting lost 50 miles out is one thing, but it’d be simply embarrassing to get lost 5 miles from the airfield).

Clear for Take Off

Lined up Runway 05

Lined up Runway 05

Not a cloud in the sky, it never gets old to line up on a mile long runway with nothing but a blue sky calling out ahead of you.

The wind being 090, 7 knots.  We can do a very quick check of the crosswind by using the clock system.

Take the difference between the Runway direction and the wind direction (e.g. 90 – 50 = 40).  Now imagine a clock face, if the difference is 30, then your crosswind component is approx. half the wind speed, 45 it’s three quarters and anything approaching or exceeding 60 assume 100% of the wind, you’re essentially are at 90+ degrees to it and you’ve got the wrong runway today 🙂

So for example, today:

  • Wind from 90 Degrees – Runway direction of 50 Degrees = 40.
  • 40/60 =  0.666 or two thirds.
  • 7 knot wind speed =>  Two Thirds of that =  Approx 4.5 knots.

Do the math completely and it quickly tells us that our quick and crude method is pretty much on the money, coming out at 4.4 knots crosswind.  Our crude method is a little pessimistic, but that’s no bad thing and the error is very acceptable.

In a very quick calculation we know crosswind is well within student limits of 10 knots crosswind and the take off shouldn’t be too much of an issue – but at the same time it ain’t all straight down the runway.

Finding Six Mile Bottom :  Altimeters & Human Factors

Nobody started shouting down the radio so I think we got away with the departure, a quick call to state intent of departure to ATC seemed to keep everyone happy.

It shouldn’t have been a relief to find the railway that leads to six mile bottom, but it was.

Just beginning to settle down, I knew where I was, I was bugged up for the first heading and now talking to Cambridge Approach I’d just stopped the climb and beginning to level out when they called with an interesting query

What Altitude are you climbing to?

Without a second thought I started my reply “…remaining at………”   a glance again at the altimeter showed a classic human factors error.   The dial actually said 1,500 ft, not 2,500ft.   Ever wanted to know the benefits of the “Student” prefix, here’s proof.   ATC lending a little helping hand of verbal assistance perhaps 🙂

Nice easy flight to Framlingham

I find that a few minutes in the nerves fade away and you start to fly better and perhaps more as trained.

Stowmarket was nice and easy to find and Wattisham Approach were friendly enough and gave us MATZ penetration without any issues.

Framlingham being as far east as I’d ever have flown on my own, I’d done my homework before taking off.   A little bit of Google Earth goes a long way once you’re up in the air.   Ironically I totally missed the fact that Framlingham has a massive Castle to its north east, I never ever saw this at all.   What I knew it had, was a big ‘lake’ / pool of water to its north and I used this as the key reference to identify it as being Framlingham.

Diss and Snetterton

Wattisham were ahead of me and called up to ask where I was routing next, before handing me off to free call Lakenheath, another Military ATC.  Usually there and usually sounding very much like you’d imagine military air traffic controllers to sound.

Student Golf Hotel Echo Romeo Charlie Squark Zero Four Five Six, MATZ Penetration approved

Diss is easy to find, it has a great big railway and an even bigger industrial site around that railway so from the sky it stands out – it’s as if someone thought about this route and good places to send students on their first attempts at seriously spreading their wings 🙂

Sadly there was no racing on at Snetterton, so I didn’t get treated to any overhead views beyond that of the race track itself – maybe next time.

Snetterton Race Track

Snetterton Race Track

The final leg of the trip, Snetterton –> Cambridge emphasizes the need for precision heading holding relative to previous legs.

Snetterton -> Cambridge Airspace

Snetterton -> Cambridge Airspace

As you can see from the airspace chart, the plane has to be flown between Honnington ATZ and Lakenheath/Mildenhall CMATZ, with real vigilance required for avoiding flying into Mildenhalls ATZ

However the ATZ stops right on the A11, so as long as you keep that road on your right – you know you’re safely out of their air space.

Other than that, it was just a run in the sun.

Nav 2 Cockpit with Map

Nav 2 Cockpit with Map

Amazing visibility, not a plane in the sky and the navigation was all going beyond my best expectations.   For seemingly so few trips out with instructors (4 duel nav’s), it’s amazing to think how quick you pick all this up and begin to find your own way around.

All that was left to do was get the ATIS for Cambridge, hand over from Lakenheath to Cambridge Approach and rejoin the circuit.

Slightly easier said then done, on return to Cambridge there was a real chatter of people talking and replying on the frequency.   Few things are more frustrating then being 6 miles out with a pilot in the ATZ waffling on instead of keeping to the specifics of what they want/need.   It was no good, I elected to orbit to avoid entering the ATZ while waiting for the call back and forth and the “say again…”  to stop.

Runway 05:   To Land.

The runway in sight, we were home from our joy ride out over East Anglia.

As I was lining up on the runway another plane flown by a woman who’s radio calls put the other guys waffle to shame, was joining up behind me.

Landing Runway 05

Landing Runway 05

Lined up for the runway nicely, the wind being a fairly calm 30 degrees, 8 knots (So a mere 3 knot crosswind component, well within student limits, it doesn’t get much better).

A positive touch down, no bounce but I’d have liked to have done it with a touch less of a thud on the back wheels.

To get me out of the way of the plane behind me I was told to exit at “Mike”  (at an airport this big you never cease to be asked to do new things – but it’s good practice for the future).

Solo Navigation #2 :  DONE!

Had an awesome time, once out of the ATZ not a thing went wrong and I truly enjoyed this flight out.   The sun was shining, the views were great and ATC friendly as always.   It’s starting to come together and with a 90+ Mile solo flight out of the way, perhaps I’m beginning to get the hang of this flying 🙂

No turning back now, Qualifying Cross Country (QXC) on the horizon!!!!