Flight Planning : Nav. #1

February 28th, 2013 by PHC | Permalink

Briefing in preparation for a day when the weather turns good.  I was feeling about 90% myself, having just recovered from a cold, mentally all with it, but looking back it’s probably a good thing the cloud base was low.

One of those, write it down and maybe some of it will sink in (might even be right) posts and it may even be useful or interesting to someone else, you never know 🙂

Trip to East Bergholt

East Bergholt (Location)

East Bergholt (Location)

This is the standard “Dual Nav #1” destination and at this stage I’m happy to fly almost anywhere, so no I’ve never heard of the place either, but that doesn’t matter – it’s just somewhere to go (no doubt picked for a variety of good reasons – possibly because the locals haven’t got sick of Cessna’s doing 180’s over their village yet).

To plan the trip we’ll be needing the following toys (and a pen):

  • Flight Computer
  • Square Protractor
  • Ruler (scale markings in Nautical Miles, 1:500,000)
  • A current aeronautical map
  • Some paper (preferably with relevant columns and such like for flight planning).

If you need sticky back plastic, something has probably gone wrong…..

Magnetic Variation

Is the angle / difference, from magnetic north to true north, aviation maps are based on Truth North but once in the plane everything (Direction Indicator) is setup with reference to a compass which will measure magnetic north (ignoring some other errors which are calibrated out and we won’t go into).

If your variation is West, add it……if it’s East, subtract it.   Giving to the slightly politically incorrect phrase

West is Best……East is Least

It could be a big number, but for around these parts it’s variation comes out at roughly +1 to the true heading

So when we’ve compensated for wind etc. our final heading needs to be adjusted by +1.

A useful website if you want to know your magnetic variation.

Safety Altitude

Map Marked for East Bergholt

Map Marked for East Bergholt

This potentially will impact the wind velocities we need to input – we know where we’re going so we can figure out the safety altitude, then we can think about a flight altitude for the trip and finally that will let us think about the wind velocities.

There are generally two ways to determine a minimum safety altitude.

Option 1:  Plot the route as per something like the picture on the right, then taking 5 miles either side of the route, find the highest obstacle – but be weary some items do not need to appear on the map (e.g. a mast that is 299ft), which means a mast on top of a hill could catch you out.

Option 2: You’ll see on the map (chart), some elevation markings “09”, “08” etc. in purple, take the biggest number your route crosses and add 500ft.  This is the absolute minimum safety height.

Our route crosses 900ft, so our absolute minimum is 1,400ft.

Flight Altitude

Above 1,400ft but we can’t fly in cloud and we might also get restricted by airspace.

On this particular route, anything above 5500ft and we’ll be heading into Class A airspace, we can’t do that.   So something below 5,500 and above 1,400ft.

What about the clouds, well I’m rarely lucky enough to get a cloud base above 4,000ft, so something below that.   How about we aim for a nice round 2,000ft.

The Wind

Whatever it happens to be on the day – but we actually care about what the wind is doing at our intended flight altitude for the trip, not the surface wind.   You can find this quite easily thanks to the Met Office and Form 214 (UK Spot wind chart).  For the purpose of walking this through let’s say 330 degrees, 15 knots (330/15).


If there was no wind and no magnetic errors, this is the direction we’d want to fly – we’re never that lucky, but to work out the rest you need a reference.   So using our map and a square protractor we can figure out which way we’d point the plane in an ideal world – just to highlight the route, I’ve emphasized it in yellow.

Protractor Overlay

Protractor Overlay

The picture doesn’t do it justice, but trust me it’s about 115 degrees (True).


East Bergholt - Distance Measurement

East Bergholt – Distance Measurement

Hopefully you’ve noticed that we’ve marked up the route on the map (we know where we are, we know where we want to go and give or take, there’s nothing stopping us from going in a straight line to get there – the beauty of flight!)

What you might not have noticed is that the starting point is from a known reference point, a point by which we will hopefully have set our speed, be straight and level and not have much else to do but press “start” on the clock.  In this case, it’s 6 mile bottom and as luck would have it, is about 6 miles from the airport.

Using the most expensive piece of plastic you may have ever bought, measuring the distance in nautical miles is a 10 second affair, place ruler on line, read off the distance (just be sure you’re using the correct scale!)

Give or take a little, we can call that 29 nautical miles (flying in knots remember).

Now all we need to do is figure out which way we should actually point the plane in order to reach our destination (i.e. do our best to avoid going randomly off course due to wind and magnetic variation).


Keep it simple a nice round cruise speed of 100 knots today.

Flight Computer

Flight Computer (CRP-1)

The Flight Computer

You can do this next bit with graph paper and a calculator, but it’ll take you longer and would be using the universal language of mathematics……to hell with that, we’re paying £3/min to be in this party, time to crack out the toy that make this flying business look complicated to the outside world 🙂

Firstly we know that if there was no wind and we could fly a true heading, we’d want to fly 115 degrees (see track).   There is wind, 330/15, so we need to correct for this.

Using the “Wind Down” method on the flight computer:

  1. Flip it over to the “wind” side and set the little circular dot to the top of the ‘low speed wind’ chart.
  2. Turn the dial until “Index” is set against the wind direction (330)
  3. Now mark the wind speed, perpendicular to the circular dot (see picture), 15 knots today.
Wind Speed Marked

Wind Speed Marked

Heading & Groundsped on a Flight Computer

Heading Correction & Ground Speed

Now to find out what the heading correction needs to be:

  1. Slide the centre plastic part up until the circular dot is against our intended airspeed (100).
  2. Now turn the dial until it’s set to the Track (115)

As you can see and might expect, the mark we made for the wind speed, has now moved out to the right, give or take 1 degree (largely hinges on how good your marker pen skills are), if you look down from the mark to the line reading “10, 20, 30…”), you’ll see the difference between the centre and where the mark crosses this line is about 5 degrees.

So we’re going to be pushed at an angle of 5 degrees to the right, therefore we fly a heading (True) of 110 degrees.

However, the flight computer has one other trick up its sleeve – when walking through the briefing, when asked how could I work out the groundspeed, my first thought was “I know the wind, I can therefore work out the headwind/tailwind component”.   You could, but this involves a new set of tasks with the flight computer……..look again at the flight computer, you’ll notice that the marked cross is horizontally aligned with 112, that will be our ground speed if the wind stays constant.

So we now also know our ground speed will be 112 knots.

We know our ground speed (112 knots), we know our distance (29 nautical miles), thus we can work out how long the trip will take.   Just flip the flight computer over.

Setting Ground Speed on a CRP-1

Setting Ground Speed

The first thing to remember is that a flight computer is a circular slide rule.  Therefore it’s up to you to remember where you put the decimal place (e.g. 10 can be, 1, 10, 100, 1000….) and as long as you keep track of where the decimal point is today you’ll be good……..the task of doing so however introduces risk of human error.

The steps are as follows:

  1. Find the Index marker (Red Triangle marker in this case, marked “60”).
  2. Rotate the dial such that the point of this index is aligned against your previously calculated Ground Speed (112) on the outer maker.

Note what I said about a slide rule, in the photo on the right you might easily think I’ve just aligned it to “11.2”, but what is actually happening is I’m essentially shifting the decimal place out to the right by one place and thus it’s now “112”

All that’s left to do now is to find the distance we’re traveling and read off the time it’ll take to get there:

Time to Travel on a CRP-1

Time to Travel

  1. Find the distance to travel on the outer scale (29 nautical miles in our case) – note that the outer scale changes its precision at some points (e.g. some points like 11->12 have 10 increments and others, 21->22 have only 5 increments), thus the precision of the answer you get will vary.
  2. Now read off the number from the inner scale, you’ll see in our example it reads around 15 minutes 30 seconds – you can round up.   We’re going to break the flight up into shorter legs anyway, this just tells us within 30 seconds when we should be at our destination.

The process for measuring the distance on the map and then computing ETA’s can be repeated to break the trip up into shorter legs, thus ensuring that you don’t drift to far off track (at least that’s the general theory).

One final correction to Heading

It flowed better to go through the flight computer stuff in one hit, but waaaaay back at the top of this post I mentioned magnetic variance and about 6 paragraphs or so back I mentioned the flight computer had told us we wanted to fly 110 degrees True.

All good, but we need to compensate for that variance or we’ll have an error creeping in that will send us off track the further we fly.

The variance was 1 degree west, so we add this to the True heading (110) to get our final heading (magnetic) of 111 degrees.

And that is the theory……Verifying your Answer

Humans make random mistakes, the Flight Computer is very accurate, but lacks precision and prone to errors.   Digital Machines however are very repeatable things, so a well tested digital tool is a good way to verify your own multi-step, manage your own decimal place, try not to get distracted human process 🙂

Enter SkyDemon Lite set where you are, where you want to go.   Add your speed and the wind and you’re done!!!

SkyDemon PLOG

SkyDemon PLOG

Our mechanical numbers agree to within 1 degree, that’s about as good as it’s going to get (and good luck flying +/-1 degree anyway), so I’ll take that. The time looks about right to, remember I rounded up to 16 minutes.  Oh yeah and the level is wrong, just ran with their default, we were flying at 2,000 in my example but doesn’t matter for our example as we’ve set the wind the same.

Meteorology Exam : Passed

February 18th, 2013 by PHC | Permalink

Meteorology - PPL3

Meteorology – PPL3

After months of putting it off and finally just putting a date in the aero clubs books a few weeks back – which makes it a heck of a lot easier to revise for once you have a deadline you can’t ignore.   I finally sat my Meteorology exam.

With a final revision blitz over the weekend and not stopping until my head was about to explode with information about weather fronts and Form 215 interpretation.   It was time to see how I did for real.

Passed :  100%

I was quite amazed by the score, there was a question on icing I was 50/50 on and the last question I spent a good 5 minutes hmmm’ing and ahhh’ing about if the flight was safe or should be delayed.  Still, after a weekend of revising this much and all the previous months of opening the book and reading it over and over again.  I’m not sure I could have faced having to re-sit it, so I’m very glad it’s a done deal 🙂

……..now on to the next one.

Lesson 42: Instrument Flying

February 12th, 2013 by PHC | Permalink

All week the weather forecast had been for blue skies, but ridiculous crosswind, so I hadn’t counted any chickens on this lesson – in fact at 8:50am I was still waiting for the phone to ring.  It didn’t.

Upon arrival, it seemed like we were very much on – even with the briefing room windows being thrashed by the winds outside.   Might be out of my limits, but not my instructors.

“Stop looking at the instruments”

Finally a lesson where I won’t get told this 🙂  It’s safe to say I rarely ‘believe’ the big instrument outside the window and am much happier with the gyroscopes and pressure sensors…..yes it’s wrong, yes they lag, no I can’t keep my eyes off them.   I’m sure everyone has their ‘thing’ when learning, this is mine.


A bunch of stuff to get through & tick off today if possible:

  • Suction System Failure (Flying on a Compass)
  • Diverting to another airfield
  • Straight and Level on Instruments
  • Climb/Descend on Instruments
  • Rate 1 turns on Instruments
  • Unusual Attitudes on Instruments
6 Basic Flight Instruments

Basic Flight Instruments

I’ve seen my closest alternate airfield, during the briefing the concept of having to find it on my own was making me think “Not a chance……”  

After a year and a half you’d think I’d know the ‘Basic T’ of instruments off by heart, and yet it was amusing to find that when put on the spot I couldn’t put them in their positions…….weird – but then I can touch type, but I couldn’t tell you where all the keys are.

Plane Checkout

G-HERC (Golf Hotel Echo Romeo Charlie)

G-HERC (Golf Hotel Echo Romeo Charlie)

It’s been a while but back in Romeo Charlie, you can’t go wrong with this plane, I dunno why but it always feels shiny and new.

Except today it had a build up of ice on its wings.   Time to become taxi driver and turn it around so its wings were facing the sun, that soon had it sorted.

Other than that, looking good as always.

Pre-Checks & Taxi

My morning coffee hadn’t been fully absorbed yet, I was doing some strange things in the checks…..   I always, always, always now inform instructors if the temperatures are not in the green, but for some reason today I just assumed it was ok for them not to be today and carried on.  Of course it was picked up – I mean come on, there was ice on the wings 10 minutes ago!

With the crosswind I found it doubtful I’d even do the take-off, but we formulated a plan for me to do it during the take-off brief.

Climbing : Rudder, Rudder, Rudder

God you’d think this should be instinctive by now, but I must have been wearing the record out today “rudder”, “more rudder”, “don’t forget the rudder.”    My other sin of the day was not lowering the nose in the climb, thus essentially meaning you’re not able to lookout and see if you’re about to climb into something else.

Suction System Failure

The artificial horizon and direction indicator (and in some cases, but not this one the turn coordinator) are all driven by gyroscopes – being antique technology, they’re all driven from a suction system whereby the engine drives a pump which creates a vacuum, resulting in an airflow which makes respective gyroscopes spin.   There are better (and safer) ways to do it, but we won’t go there today.

Best case scenario of failure then, if we lose the suction pump, we lose the artificial horizon and the direction indicator.   An easy failure to simulate:  they were covered up by a piece of paper.

Now I’d have to fly on the compass and the big picture outside (which my instructor will tell you I hate flying on 😉 ).

By some miracle, upon request to fly a heading of East, I managed to turn the plane and level out almost spot on East.   Now to try the same game for a heading of North, this time I undershot a little but by and large, it was north(ish).   Put a tick in the box, we’re done here 🙂

Practice Diverting :  Map??

Now I went through this in the take-off brief, if you’re thinking of suffering from a heart attack, you really shouldn’t go flying.   It didn’t do me any good though, I’d still need to find that alternate 🙂

Having done the practice call of telling the current frequency we were going to divert, this just left the amusing moment of

“So get your map out…..”

“Map?   Nobody said anything about needing a map”

“It’s a legal requirement to fly with one in the plane”

“Yeah, I’ve got one in the plane, it’s in my bag on the backseat – we’re legal 🙂 “

Other readers who are learning to fly might find this absurd, how can I be this far in and be leaving a map in my bag?   I’d want to agree with you, but the reality is, in all my flight training I’ve used a map in a plane:  Once and even then it was an instructor passing me his, there’s been no development of getting into a habit of having it in the side pocket because it might be needed on a lesson etc.

Still, my instructor was having a “heart attack” (if she wasn’t before, the map revelation may have triggered one), seems reasonable to borrow the victims map 🙂

Fen Drayton & Lakes

Fen Drayton & Lakes

All that turning for suction system failure, meant that initially I had no idea where I was.   However, now I needed to find Bourn, a few seconds looking out of the window and suddenly my first local area solo was paying dividends.   Just off to the right was the now familiar lakes just north of Fen Draydon, where a few weeks ago I’d been getting in some practice advanced turns.

I knew ball park where Bourn was, but a quick look on the map suggested that it’s dead south of Fen Draydon, so all I needed to do was turn the plane 90 degrees to the left to fly south of Fen Drayton and we should find ourselves an airfield.

What I hadn’t quite appreciated (though I’ve noted this before), is that because we were at 3,000ft, trigonometry tells you that your forward visibility on the ground is immense!    As a result I was stunned by how quick the airfield was in sight.

Phew, found it…….navigation is a weird thing, it should be quite obvious that if you point a plane at the heading for something, given some time, it will appear!!   Yet it’s amazing how, almost relieved, you are when you discover this holds true.

Instrument Flying

Time to see if I could fly straight and level with my eyes closed.   The temptation once you do this is to move the control column, but knowing the theory that my internal balance system will go to hell upon doing this, I found myself consciously fighting the desire to move the control column and change nothing.  Sure enough upon opening my eyes we were still straight and level at ~3000ft, but my god does it take some concentration and commitment to the idea that all the sensations in your head are a lie.

To emphasis the point, I was asked to close my eyes, my instructor would fly the plane and all I had to do was tell her what she was doing.   Sounds simple huh?   I waited a few seconds, all the time feeling like we were rolling right, but initially I resisted that this could be the case – soon however it felt there was a definite right turn going on.   A few seconds later I was starting to be convinced we were climbing……and upon opening my eyes, we hadn’t moved!!  We’d just been flying straight and level.   The human body is rubbish!  🙂

Next it was time to do some instrument flying proper, using a set of Foggles, essentially these glasses block your view of the big instrument outside the windows and let you only look down at the instruments.

The scan of the instruments changes when flying on instruments (not that you should be on a PPL).   Due to the fact that the Artificial Horizon is the only instrument that tells you about pitch AND roll, this becomes the primary instrument and all scans start and end here, then only a reduced set of other instruments are focused on in the scan, depending on the maneuver.

So for straight and level the sequence is:  AH, ALT (Altimeter), AH, DI (Direction Indicator), AH, ALT, AH, DI, AH…..and just keep repeating this.

The trick is to not stop concentrating on the scan and make small corrections.

One thing I have no issue with is in trusting my instruments, so I found myself quite happy to cycle this scan and fly it straight and level with no real issues, I could have happily done that all day (or at least until the fuel got low).

Next up, climb on instruments, this uses a slightly different scan but the fundamentals are the same.  Followed predictably by a descent.

Finally some turns, which rather than the normal 30 degrees of bank for a level turn, on instruments are done at ‘Rate 1’ – which is marked on the turn coordinator as the the white marks under the wings of the aeroplane, this equates to a turn of ~15-18 degrees.

Flying into the Sun : Communication

One side effect of making these turns was being asked to turn onto a heading of 120 degrees, no problem.  Until when I got there, I was hit by now flying directly into the sun – which foggles don’t protect you from, now you just have a diffused blinding light, rather than just blinding light.  Resulting in an interesting mis-communication moment:

I’m no longer flying on instruments….

What I meant was “I can not see the instruments, therefore I’m not able to fly on them.”   However, by the time I’d brought myself to accept that and say something, my attempts to fly straight and level into the sunshine were looking pretty shocking.   So I think the statement got interpreted as “I’m doing a pretty rubbish job of this aren’t I….”, resulting in some tips on bringing it all back together.   Though moments later the question of “Can you actually see the instruments?” came and we changed heading soon after 🙂    When you see stories on the news about flight crews being confused in the cockpit, this is how easy it can happen….

Once I could see the instruments again my flying returned to normal, but it made for another good point.  While flying into the sun I was seeing the instruments through the glare maybe once every 5 seconds, at that response rate, the control loop was broken – I wasn’t able to react sufficiently to keep the plane flying and was essentially just losing control.   Which tells you a lot about how much you need to concentrate on the instruments once outside of visual flight conditions – and why it’s not allowed on a basic license.

Unusual Attitudes

Essentially this task involves you closing your eyes with your head down, while the instructor sets the plane up into some bonkers configuration (e.g. no power, pointing at the ground, rolling right….).

I was quite happy recovering from the no power conditions, but my Achilles heel turned out to be when the power was left full on.  I’d recognise there being too much power and reduce it, but I wouldn’t bring it all the way back to idle, this is the trauma that Charlie Bravo has done to me, so expectant of a engine stall at idle (and yes I know I’m not even in the same plane) I can’t unconsciously just pull the power to idle.   Resulting in the airspeed at times sitting at borderline yellow [caution] speed, but my tendency seemed to be to take off just enough power to keep it bordering green.   There had to be something a little off today, the rest had gone quite nicely.

Head for home: Massive Crosswinds

It had felt a minor miracle we’d gone up at all, even more so I’d got to do the take off in the winds we were getting.   On return to the airfield they hadn’t let up at all, in fact as we flew downwind they were at the limits for an instructor, possibly beyond.   Resulting in another first.

I’ve never flown Runway 28, it’s a grass runway rarely used except I guess for times like this.

The thing to watch in bad winds is the ease in which you can lose airspeed, essentially wind shear, so you want to come in a little faster than normal – and I guess faced with the shorter grass runway and not wanting to overshoot, but also a flock of birds and an ATC request to not land on its numbers.   I let the airspeed get a bit lower then we’d like.

The landing however seemed all good (though I suspect there was a lot of help involved).


Some good points made, it’s been a while since I’ve done the fundamentals, so a reminder on the climb out that I need to lower the nose and have a good look out, I can’t just point the nose for 80 knots and sit back until the altimeter reads 3,000ft 🙂    and if I’m going to descend, I can pick any speed I like, but I should know why we’re descending at that speed (e.g. I’ve decided to do a cruise descent, so we’re descending at 90 knots……fine, but don’t descend at any old rate the plane happens to give on the day etc.).

Other than that, to read up on navigation because the flying bit is now essentially done and we’re into navigation proper from here on in.


Lesson 41: Local Area Solo

January 28th, 2013 by PHC | Permalink

The previous lesson didn’t go well, so 24 hours later I was back at the club hoping for a better personal performance in the re-match.

Flying with a new instructor (new to me anyway), slightly conscious that this might be a big ask:   “Hey you’ve never flown with me before and my record probably says my landings 24hrs ago were crap…….but mind sending me for my first local area solo???”

Still he seemed up for giving it ago and seeing how I flew today, so we’d crack on.

That Plane again & the Visibility Discussion

G-UFCB Cessna 172SP

G-UFCB : Cessna 172SP

We’d be taking G-UFCB, I knew with Whiskey Kilo out of action it was either this plane or Romeo Charlie (as MEGS with all its glass cockpit toys was unlikely to be an option for a first solo out of sight of the airport).   Romeo Charlie was currently booked with someone else, so I was back with the plane that quite simply, hates me.

Forget the plane for a second though, the wind & cloud base were looking great but the visibility was 7,000m.   My instructor glanced the solo limits:  8,000m   We might have a problem here.

Serious hmmm’ing and ahhhh’ing ensued.

Now for my first stroke of luck of the day, a senior instructor became the voice of encouragement that it’s likely to actually be ok, go and see for sure, but it should be fine and getting better throughout the day.  When I was new and had even less experience, I used to think this was one of the more pessimistic instructors around – I’ve since learnt it’s more a voice of good experience.   For him to be optimistic about the weather, meant it felt definitely worth a punt of going up and seeing for sure.

G-UFCB strikes again

Charlie Bravo wasn’t about to throw in the towel and let me go flying that easy, it was being cold and grumpy today.   Its second radio had decided to suffer from the cold and pack-up, the display was unusable.   Sparking the second debate of the morning….

Given the second radio was out, I wouldn’t be able to get the ATIS (Air Traffic Information Service) on the way back if I went solo – at least not without changing radio frequency on com 1.   If you think that sounds easy enough, note that you’re not meant to ever leave a frequency without ATC knowing you’re doing so – if they can’t raise you on the frequency they last had you on, search and rescue starts to become an option.    Now seriously at Cambridge with radar and all the other bells and whistles of a proper airport, this is unlikely, but procedurally…..it’s not something I should be doing.

Again an experienced voice stepped in with some sound logic:   “Just get ATC to give you the ATIS and if they question it tell them why……you only have one radio.”

So we were still on for flying G-UFCB, I’d go do a sloooooow checkout (the visibility was just below limits but set to get better, time to trust the forecast and drag out my checks a little 🙂 ).

With some support from the airport staff we got the plane out of the hanger and got our taxi clearance.

Runway 05 again

Thankfully it was a pretty quiet morning for airport traffic, we did our power checks at Charlie and were then given clearance to backtrack down the runway, before turning round at roughly Delta (Taxi on the grass to the same point takes longer and in this game time = money).

Having flown 05, right hand circuits only the day before I was a bit more confident I knew my way round (I realise that to ‘outsiders’ of flying that sentence must sound stupid, perhaps to other pilots it sounds stupid too…..but in my defense I’ll argue there’s a reason why most clubs have a “currentcy” limit of about ~28 days).

Circuit #1

It seemed like a good circuit, I made sure my downwind checks were done with audio statements so my instructor was aware they were done etc.   There’s a quarry at the far end of the downwind leg, knowing that I’ve been taking flak for converging in circuit, I set that as my reference and for my money we flew straight for it and were dead centre with it at the end of downwind.

My instructor was being pretty quiet and just letting me fly it my way, I assume because I should be able to do this by now and so he could just assess whether I was flying ok or not, end of story.   To that end though, I was careful to make sure I turned base when I wanted to turn base, irrespective of anything else.

On completion of the turn, the runway was looking good, couldn’t be happier.   Now just to get the speed down, the flaps to 20 degrees and turn final.

The crosswind was nothing like the day before, so I turned a touch too soon, but corrected it in the turn and just let it come round a little slower.  Final approach was initially high, but it all came good.  Passing over the threshold everything was calm and under control, rate of descent felt much better.

With a gentle tap of the main gears, we were down.   It felt good, but my instructor said nothing – I couldn’t do it any better, so if that wasn’t a tick in a box we should call it quits now!

Circuit #2

On the climb out my instructor said the touch down was in fact very nice, my flying was fine and one more like that and he’d be happy to send me solo 🙂   I don’t know why this didn’t phase me, perhaps because my flying felt right and I had one good circuit in the bag, so I came at this circuit with a mental attitude of “of course it’ll be fine….”

All very much the same as the last circuit, perhaps the slightest bit harder on landing but still so gentle you’d have mistaken it for a speed bump at 5mph etc.

Approved to go flying Solo

The normal last minute reminders & formalities (i.e. radio tower to inform them the instructor was getting out) and I was good to go.

Now the people in the tower have always been pretty good to me, but upon asking for ‘further taxi’, their niceness just confused me.   Knowing that the active runway was 05, they cleared me to pull over to the siding of Bravo and do my power checks there…….normally you do your power checks at the side of the holding position, which today would be Charlie or Delta, so I wasn’t expecting Bravo to be part of any discussion.   A quick request for them to repeat the instruction and we were back in business, better to be sure and all that.

I decided that I was going to spend ~30-40 minutes out somewhere around Point Alpha and Grafham Water, having already told my instructor I wasn’t planning to try and come back and touch and go.   I’ve flown enough circuits to sink a ship recently, I wanted to spend some time out of sight of the airport.

All clearances sorted, a mile of runway ahead, the throttle went forward and at 200ft I verbally told myself out loud

I have to find my own way back from this point on….

I knew there were a million ways to resolve it if I did get lost, but as a personal goal I didn’t want to use them.   I just wanted to fly out, then bring it home on my own, without calling for help – do that and everything else would be a bonus today.

I don’t think I’ve ever flown 05 except for circuits, at 600ft and beginning the turn out to the left it was almost surreal to see the river Cam and recognize it etc.   You don’t really see it on 23 because you can’t turn until around 2,000ft.   I’d learn later my wife was running along side it at this exact moment and watched me climb out 🙂

From here I built myself a little mental plan:

  • Climb to 2,500ft
  • Find Point Alpha
  • Do some Practice Force Landings
  • Some Steep Turns
  • Head home

Now I’d seen the Cam. I knew where the A14 was so Point Alpha was going to be easy, even though I’d never found it this way before (I’d never even flown out of the circuit this way before, forget finding anything).   I cannot begin to explain how calm and relaxed I began to feel from this point on, the whole experience began to feel simply amazing, I guess I’ve clocked enough hours that all self-doubt aside, when it comes down to it I can fly the plane with no real major problems.

Point Alpha

Point Alpha

It’s taken about a year and half from that first experience of being in a C172, to now, out on my own in a C172……..sure there’s a lot of boxes left to tick, but the altimeter read 2,500ft, nobody was in the right seat.  If you’re thinking about learning to fly, I assure you that this milestone is a particularly addictive one.

And if you look to your right, you’ll see Point Alpha,  look back a few posts and you’ll get a bit of help pin-pointing it.

Practice Forced Landings

C172 in a turn

Turning to find some fields

With one landmark found and Grafham water in the window, time to find a good spot to do some PFL’s.  I did think about practicing a stall but my luck was on form and I didn’t want to push it 🙂

Admittedly the first one wasn’t a work of art, the target became too far away and I hadn’t really given myself the best of alternative options.   Still, on pulling the throttle out, I could still imagine some farmer beginning to panic about the C172 that had just started lining up to ‘land’ in his field.  It must be quite a sight from the ground.

This first descent also introduced the first complication, at 2,500ft giving it plenty  of attention, I’d known exactly where I was and finding my way home would be easy.   Now I’d descended to ~600ft AGL and made a number of turns, focusing more on the best field choices rather then navigating.   The world looks very different at 600ft, would I be able to find it all again???

Grafham Water Ahead

Grafham Water Ahead

Thankfully climbing back up to 2,000ft found the world how I’d left it, I soon found Grafham water and from there you know which way is which.   Little discoveries like this continued to make the flight beyond enjoyable, I really was having a lot of fun – partly fueled by the reality of what I was doing, partly because although the weather looked a bit average, it was actually a really nice day to go flying.

My second attempt at a practice forced landing went a lot better, this time I was more than happy that if I’d kept going, some random farmer would have had to be enlisted to help pull out a (well landed) Cessna from a field 🙂    I had no desire to land quite then though, so with the power back on, time to go and have some fun elsewhere.

Fen Drayton & Lakes

Fen Drayton & Lakes

Climbing back up it became seemingly expected to locate myself and then pondered what to do next.   For no particular reason other then to see what it looked like, I decided to fly over to Fen Drayton, there’s a good set of lakes just slightly north of there  – so it’s a village relatively easy to identify.

Here I decided to do some advanced turns, so kicking it off by working my way through the HASELL checklist, soon the plane was in a 45 degree turn round to the right, an abbreviated HELL check and then a turn to the left.   They weren’t my finest turns to date, I think I went +100ft on one and -80ft on the other, but as every second ticked by my confidence was sub-consciously ticking boxes – not so much about the quality of the flying perhaps, but more in terms of being confident with respect to the situation I was now in.

Enough fun, time to head for home

I guesstimated it would take 10-15 minutes to get back, with the clock saying I’d been up 30 minutes, time to see if we could find the airport again.

Knowing where I was, I knew that in theory if I flew a heading of 110 degrees the airport should appear.   There’s no reason it shouldn’t but you do wonder if it’s going to 🙂

Just to complicate things another Cessna came into view, I turned to ensure we kept well clear of each other and then set myself up behind it (I’d guess 4 miles) at about its 8 O’ Clock position.   I heard them give a radio call and knew I’d have to do the same very shortly.

The call went alright, I forgot to read back the active runway but they repeated and we got through it without any real dilemma.

Then the moment of truth, how did I want to join???    I wanted to take the easy way out and join crosswind (as I’ve done this with instructors more then anything else), but earlier in the morning two instructors encouraged me to do a standard overhead join.   If anything a more complex join procedure then anything else you can do, but I figured I’d take their advice and see how I got on (having never done a standard overhead join for 05 before in my life).

As the airport came into view the Cessna ahead of me however had other ideas, I told Approach that I had visual with them, but I knew I couldn’t keep following them if I was to do a standard join……one of us was not going to be doing that and I was beginning to wonder where they were actually going.   Forget it, keep them in sight and focus on the task:

  • Cross the runway threshold (23) at 2,000ft
  • Fly out a bit and then turn back 180 degrees
  • Cross the other end of the runway threshold (05)
  • Descend on the dead-side in a turning descent to the right
  • Cross the (23) threshold again at 1,000ft
  • Join the downwind leg of the circuit.
  • Complete the rest of a normal circuit and land…..

It’s something like that, and except for being so pre-occupied with flying each step pretty spot on (and forgetting to report dead-side), again ATC were kind enough to remind me to report my position.   The whole operation went arguably better then I’ve ever joined the circuit in my life!

I remembered all the remaining calls and the landing was a fine finish to an amazing lesson.   All that was left to do was to find somewhere to park the plane.


No problems, apparently the overhead join looked good from the ground, clearly good enough not to watch my landing, so I was asked how that went, but all good and I didn’t get flagged on anything.  So fingers crossed the Air Traffic folks in the tower hadn’t just spent 55 minutes bitterly grumbling about the student having a joyride to the north west………I’d like to hope I caused them only minimal hassle.

All things considered, perhaps G-UFCB has made some peace with me.

A long post, but if you’re thinking about learning to fly, let me assure you that this particular milestone is one that certainly makes it all worthwhile.

Lesson 40: Crosswind Circuits

January 19th, 2013 by PHC | Permalink

Admittedly the original title was supposed to be “first local area solo”, but as you’ll soon discover a combination of many events brought a stop to any such aspiration.   Still, all good things…

The weather was quite good, visibility and the cloud base were all in my favor for going solo in the local area, the wind however, was almost a perfect crosswind.   The active runway was still 23 though so I felt experience of circuits on this runway would see me through.

The plane that hates me….

G-UFCB Cessna 172SP

G-UFCB : Cessna 172SP

My much loved G-SHWK is in the hanger with its cowling off and engine exposed, so we’d be taking G-UFCB.

This plane hates me……I don’t like it much either.

Oh you might laugh and think a plane can’t hate someone, how wrong you are.   G-UFCB historically has refused to start for me, used to stall when power was set to idle, makes weird creaking noises (or it used to, I’ve been avoiding it for so long).   We’ve not had the best of crosswind lessons together either.   It hates me, I hate it, we avoid each other – it’s a strange relationship, but it works.

Ice on the Plane

Upon going out to check the plane, I was reminded that if there was any ice on the wings (inc. the top) then I had to come back and inform my instructor – but the hope was it would have melted by now.

My fingertips were soon telling me it was unlikely to have melted 🙁

So armed with brooms, we climbed up onto the struts and made an attempt (all be it one that must have looked quite mad), to shift the ice off the wings.

Another instructor, who’s day job is flying airliners, came out with his student and made a comment

Good thing it’s not an Airbus

That made me smile, but I think it served its point – time to move it to the heated hanger.

I got the job of taxi driver again, but of course after radioing the tower to get permission to taxi, G-UFCB hates me, so why on earth would it start for me?!?!   No of course not, it would just splutter and make no real effort to turn over.   Thanks!   In one last desperate (and let’s pretend I actually know what I’m doing) effort, I stopped for a second, then primed the engine again and with one last muttering prayer turned the key……and voila, Charlie Bravo started!

Stress, just a little, but it wasn’t going to end there.

Taxing over to the hanger, all very normal nothing new – but what to do when I get there???

There were 3 people in hi-viz jackets, I didn’t know where they wanted me to be:  Am I getting to close?  Should I come closer?  Are you going to move?   If they were making me gestures they were half-hearted, but to be fair to them they probably thought they were dealing with someone who’d dome this before (heck, they probably thought I’d had at least one coffee this morning too, but I hadn’t).

In the end my instructor came to the door and relieved me of my stupidity…….turn the engine off, you can’t taxi inside, it has to be pushed.    Where’s the box on my training log for feeling stupid?   We can tick it completed now.

Go, Go, Go….

All heated up and deiced, Charlie Bravo was now out on the taxi way, blocking everyone – time to go, pronto.

That was the plan, G-UFCB had other ideas, it now refused to start again.   My instructor gave it ago, nothing.   The other instructor came over and had a look, with a little hand turning of the prop and a few more goes, it fired up!   Finally, I was feeling a bit more relieved about my previous reluctance to turn the engine off.   Time was disappearing, we were blocking the taxiway, we really had to go now!

Except with all the backwards and forwarding, I hadn’t set my seat position (and the last pilot must have been taller than me!).   I’d regret this indecision to stop and regardless of who we might block, I should have sorted that seat out.

Bleeding in the plane

After completing power checks we were just about to move to a position ready to call ATC to declare ourselves ready for departure – except my instructor had keener eyes then me and had spotted my index finger was streaming blood!   G-UFCB has now drawn blood from me, that sums up our relationship.

If you’ve ever questioned why there’s a first aid kit on the checklist – now you know!

Runway 05 :  It’s been a long, long time

In all the activity, the active runway had been changed to 05 due to the wind – I haven’t flown a right circuit for months, back when I was doing solo circuits.   Doubt was creeping into my head:  Could I actually remember the turn points?

My first circuit is often a bit rough, this was no exception, the crosswind made me converge (my current topic of “arrrgh”).

Leveling out was interesting, my seat was so low that if I looked straight out of the plane I was actually starring into the top of the instrument panels – not surprisingly then I was getting comments to not watch the instruments.  Yet at this stage it hadn’t even clicked in my head the seat wasn’t set right.

Then being a crosswind, it meant the base leg was much faster…….it’s funny, in reality the tail wind is only really adding 5-10 knots of ground speed, yet it made a world of difference.

My memory of this circuit is of having a voice in my head reminding me where to turn, unfortunately maybe I fly differently to  most other pilots, but that first turn right onto base put us way to close.   The crosswind then sped the world up and a combination of wrongness ensued – no doubt not helped by my brain trying to work twice as hard on a circuit route I’ve not done for ages.

To add to the woes the seat position being to low, now resulted in a perspective that when combined with the crosswind meaning the nose had to be put 45 degrees right of the runway, was at best not great and at worst – utterly rubbish (regretting rushing the seating).

All this concluded with a hard, not flared very well, wing not put into wind, rubbish landing…… it made me grimace on the touch down, I now define any landing that makes me do this as rubbish.

Try that again….

That first landing was so all over the place (overshot final, hard landing etc.) that I had a suspicion in my head it was going to be hard to come back from that with respect to box ticking.

Attempt two was perhaps a shade better, but I was converging again (I might re-title the blog at this rate) and it wasn’t really feeling instinctive.

Base leg was another one turned too soon, making an immediate turn to final required (which was also overshot).

If I describe the landing as “less hard” perhaps that’s the best way to describe it.   Again I felt like I was flying absolutely for the numbers with an intent to hit them at all costs – if I was hitting them, I was hitting them very hard.    This is an old landing habit of mine, I used to do it when I first started flying circuits and I could repeat it, lesson in, lesson out, no amount of hours seemed to make any difference.   It stopped when another instructor had a different strategy for landing.

Now my habit was back and it’s a bizarre thing, you know you don’t normally fly like this, but you are and no amount of thinking seems to fix it – I suspect the answer is to actually stop thinking so much.

On the climb out of this landing, it didn’t take a rocket scientist really, but the call was made the landings were not up to scratch today.   We’d do a few more to try and sort it out.

Third times a charm

I can’t take all the credit, verbal encouragement was needed to stop me drilling the plane into the 05 numbers regardless of whether the final approach had been good enough to touch down there or not.    Flying a bit further down the runway and having that extra bit of time to bring it all together resulted in a much calmer nicer landing.

Side-Slipping Base

Apparently my turn on to base was being done with too much rudder and I was side slipping in the turn.   This is where I’m going to nod my head, play the “legally I don’t know what I’m doing, so I’ll bow to your wisdom” card…….and then make a statement that may have no bearing on fact 🙂   You have been warned:   If this is what I was doing wrong, I’m baffled as every approach was high, I should have been dropping out of the sky like a rock.   More often then not I was taking 3 stages of flap because it was essential, not because it was there and I’d been trained to land that way / lower the third stage at 200-300ft etc.

No further improvements

It got a bit better, I think I got a bit calmer, but events re-enforced that me and Charlie Bravo don’t get on much (that being said my last lesson had been rubbish as well and that was in the much loved Whiskey Kilo).   The back of your mind thought that in two circuits, the objective of this lesson had gone whooshing out of the window perhaps didn’t help my mind set……..and all my bad habits have returned since the last lesson so I can hardly blame that.

The landings didn’t get much better though, the convergence was clearly so rubbish that air traffic even told me off for it (or more accurately told me to sharpen it up due to a plane flying in directly onto final).

Another distinctly average affair, Christmas has taken its toll.

Got to get back on this horse.

After a short debrief, my mind was pretty set on figuring out if all my flying had died a death and I couldn’t actually do it any more……..or whether this has just been a bad run of it lately.   Back in the club I asked randomly

“I suppose nothing’s free tomorrow, so….”

Well, actually……someone has cancelled, 9am tomorrow.    An instructor I’ve never flown with before, hmmm not exactly what I wanted – there are a couple of names I was hoping to be free who I historically fly well with.   Fly tomorrow with someone totally new to me, or leave it a week???

I decided to leave it.

A decision that rattled around my head all of the short drive home.   Forget it, I need to fly again: Immediately, at this point in time I needed to know if my flying is really back to square one, or if this is just a bump.   I can’t wait a week, a week and I’ll be doubting myself because there’s been a gap.    A quick call back to the club and the 9am slot was mine.

Now we’d have to see what tomorrow would bring…..

Lesson 39: Bad Weather Configuration Circuits

January 10th, 2013 by PHC | Permalink

In the training sequence “the next lesson” is supposed to be a local area solo flight, build confidence of being out of sight of the airport and on my own etc.   However, at this time of year, getting solo flight weather conditions is the same odds as winning the lottery.  I’ve been cancelled 4-5 times over the Christmas period and I only drove down to the club for this lesson with expectation of getting cancelled and because it’s easier to re-book if you can see the diary in front of you.

I was set to fly with what used to be my regular instructor, but recently it’s been a good few months since we’ve flown together.    One look at my training log and the body language was as I’d expected and I reciprocated.

Bad Weather Configuration Circuits

With a cloud base at approx. 1,500ft going solo was completely out, but we could go and brush up the bad weather circuits (Flown at 600ft instead of 1,000ft).

It’s still nice to think back that there was a time when if the cloud had been like this and the intent was to do circuits, I’d have been cancelled.   Now at least there’s some confidence I can fly a low altitude circuit (600ft being only 100ft above the legal minimum height).

I’d flown one before in my previous lesson but I wasn’t expecting to be flying them today so just being honest I was rusty on the “when, to do what”.    A quick refresher:

  • Lookout at 400ft during climb
  • 500ft :  Two stages of flaps (Not “Flaps to 2” as I might have said in the breifing……Ehhh,  2, 20, 2 stages, it’s only a name 🙂 ).
  • Level the aircraft out at 600ft and trim for 70 knots.
  • Turn through 180 degrees  (rather then flying crosswind as a straight line).
  • The turn onto final becomes a 180 turn from downwind straight to final, due to being ~50% closer in on the runway.

Roughly right, apologies if that’s not quite a complete briefing on the topic, I’d refer you to the book of words, but this lesson is not in the book of words…..

Plane Checkout & Taxi



I had my choice of planes, actually it seemed bizarrely quiet a the aero club today.   Oh well, I’ll take my favorite plane G-SHWK, we’ve had a good run recently.

Someone has been giving it some TLC as its starboard strobe is now fixed 🙂

All checks done I sat around in the plane for a few minutes, in the past a senior instructor has told me that post-solo I’m allowed to start the engine on my own.   That’s one of those things I’d been looking forward to doing, but then I’ve gone so many lessons without the opportunity self-doubt has crept in and now I found myself reluctant.

Of course when the instructor showed up the first comment was “you don’t have to wait for me any more to start the engine…..”


The log book says we did 8 of them, I’ll be honest I can’t remember the exact sequence of all of them and even if I could chunks of it would become repetitive and boring to read as is the way with basically flying round and round in ellipses.

In the first climb out the sequence of things was a bit rough and the height shot through to 700ft, this would be a trend I’d find hard to break.    Once trimmed up the height was recovered so that by downwind we were flying 600ft – though I look back and remember spending less attention on  my airspeed for achieving this (a point the instructor would pick me up on).


I’m going to paint a red line on the front of this plane, just left of the bolts above the engine cowling and straight to the propeller…..or something, even when I was trying to pick a field and flying straight to it I found myself moving my mental line (was it the bolts I’d lined up with the field or just left of them),  correcting for the wind and/or the balance and then bang…..instead of flying 050 and heading straight for the landmark of the base turn, I was back on 030 converging on the runway.

Being already 50% closer in on the runway then a normal circuit this convergence was pretty crap actually.    It was something I just kept doing until I over compensated and diverged on a circuit.

Landings are sorted :  Famous Last Words

Oh I wish I’d never emphasised the fact I believed I’d cracked my “rubbish” full flap landings.    Right from the get go, first circuit I knew I was doing the last 50ft wrong, but I couldn’t stop it.  Old instructor, all my old bad habits came rushing back to haunt me…….I felt my eyes staring too steeply down on the asphalt, I tried to stop that but my brain couldn’t resist a fear of losing all the airspeed in the flare, so I didn’t flare properly and wham, a hard landing.

I did eight landings in this lesson, I hated all but one of them.    None were so rubbish they forced a go-around, none were so rubbish you’d call them unsafe, but I hated them.    I still hate them, I look back at this lesson and am really bitter about some of the stuff I was sub-consciously doing.    It was like I’d reverted back to how I used to fly just because somewhere in my head I knew who was in the right seat.

The landings were so rough that at the end of the lesson my instructor asked me to do a couple of normal circuits just because even she said she’d seen me do better then what was happening today.    They were a bit better, maybe the last one was decent.   But I have to walk away from this with my head screaming Arggghhhh!!!!

The Good / The Bad

I kept overshooting in the climb, this was not great but I’ll try and be positive and argue that you don’t typically go and take-off into bad weather, feel free to counter with arguments of go-arounds.

Once the extra hundred feet was lost I felt I was doing a decent job of holding the height, I’d even say it was trimmed up…….but I was trimming for height holding.   Quite rightly my instructor later flagged me that I was sometimes flying too fast, an extra 10 knots of speed making life more rushed then it needed to be.

In myself I didn’t feel the approaches were bad, but as I’ve said above, the last 50-100ft my descent angle was to steep with not enough airspeed for that angle (my view of why it goes wrong).   I’ve seen those speed dials and attitudes many times before, when it goes wrong the picture in the window looks like it did and the speed dials are reading 45-50 knots, if they read 55-60 and the descent angle was a bit more shallow then changing the attitude would not drop a ton of airspeed the rate of descent would be arrested, I’d have more confidence in myself to flare harder and touchdown would be feather like.


This wasn’t my best lesson as you can tell, I wasn’t happy with a lot of what I was doing, but I am happy that if someone said “are you confident to fly a 600ft solo circuit”  I could say yes without guilt or worry.  Sure the landings were rough, but they weren’t unsafe and I know I can do them better, this was just one of those days where it didn’t quite happen.    The fact I haven’t been able to fly since mid-December also probably played into it.

There’s a tick in a box, so it’s not all bad, my landings were good enough that my instructor said she’d have sent me solo with them – but I just know I can do them better then that and that’s why I’m particularly hard over on the issue.

I’ll just keep looking forward to that elusive local area solo.


Lesson 38: Precautionary & Precision Landings

January 3rd, 2013 by PHC | Permalink

At around 11:20am I got the Standby call, a trail experience booking hadn’t shown up for the 11am slot and if I could make it in for twelve, the lesson was mine.  🙂

Unfortunately upon arrival the wind was too high to go and do local area solo flying, but we could skip ahead and do some other stuff.

G-HERC (Golf Hotel Echo Romeo Charlie)

G-HERC (Golf Hotel Echo Romeo Charlie)

A relatively quick briefing of Precautionary Forced Landings, Precision Landings and the Bad Weather circuit configuration (70 knots, 2 stages of flaps, low circuit height [600ft]).

Precautionary Landings (opting to land, typically in a field while you still have power etc. rather then being forced to land when something cuts out), goes hand in hand with the need to do a precision landing – as the name suggests, hitting the aiming point (often referred to for runway landings as “landing on the numbers”).   So we’d go out look at the precautionary landing, then come back and do some precision landings and fly some bad weather configuration circuits.

Just for a change we’d be flying G-HERC, haven’t flown it since September.   I wandered out to find it, except they’d moved where they refueled the planes so I was soon returning to question “Where is it?”

Of all the typically used club aircraft, Romeo Charlie always feels the most shiny and new.

It might be shiny and new, but it didn’t start first time 🙁

Taxi & Take-Off

Taxing out a business jet was doing circuits, sounds like a fun way to spend the day, but for us it meant we got ATC requesting we back track on runway 23 and await clearance.   No sooner were we backtracking we were cleared to take off, so just the task of spinning the plane round and opening the throttle (always after a last chance to stop “are you happy?”).

Due to traffic, we were requested to exit via the overhead (left turn rather than right, climbing turn up to 2,000ft and then exiting by flying overhead the aerodrome).

Climb to 3,000ft……became 3,400ft :-\   Was happily enjoying the flying, hmmm, we’ll go back down.

Time to pick a field, after a bit of looking (benefit of precautionary landings), I found a nice big field at 8 O’clock, it was largely into wind and would be hard to miss.

Flew a circuit around it, then down to 600ft, initially I was thinking I was aiming to “land” on this approach but actually the aim was to just fly over on this pass (clearly not everything had stuck in the briefing).   Looked like a pretty good and big field, no obstacles etc.    Another circuit, but now holding 600ft and then a turn on to final, descending, descending….waiting for the call from the instructor to declare it ok and give the “go around” command (can’t fly below 500ft height).

With that done it was back to Cambridge, a couple of good points:

  • In prep for flying solo I was much better versed on where the airport should be, very pleased to find it was where I expected 🙂
  • Radio calls were generally smoother then previous few lessons, much happier with the transfers from approach to tower.

I don’t read sign language, my instructor was pointing down, down, down……I was happily flying 2,00ft with the crosswind leg approaching (which we should be crossing at 1,000ft).   A plane taking off didn’t help the situation as we then had to slot in behind it – only to find it wasn’t staying in the circuit.

First precision landing, just too low maybe 200ft to soon, aborted and we’d try that again.

My instructor then called to get permission to do a low level circuit (600ft, instead of 1,000ft), she flew it for bad weather, so also much closer (maybe 50% closer) to the runway.   Once we turned on to base I was given control.

This time my precision landing was on the numbers and touched down as soft as you like, wooow 🙂

Now to fly my own bad weather configuration, low level circuit.   During downwind I was converging a bit to much, but other then that it was spot on and trimmed up @ 600ft and the touch down was even more perfectly on the numbers and even softer on the wheels.

Gone are the days of my horrible landings with full flaps and preferring flapless approaches.

One more to finish it off.

The final approach was a bit oscillating, I went down to three red, one white (bit low of three degrees which is what you sort of want), but that became four red – more power, now it was 3 white one red.   Just coming over the threshold a touch too low, meant I was likely to touch down before the numbers, touch of power, a bit of wind and it all converged to result in a thump (by no means the hardest landing I’ve ever had, but relative to the previous two, it was hard).    It had to end badly didn’t it, but hey, it wasn’t the worst I’ve done and in this wind, I can’t say I walked away that disappointed really.


All in all I was pretty happy with these 55 minutes of flying, the odd point here, a touch of stuff to tidy up there, but a few more boxes ticked and a few really nice landings chucked in for good measure.


Holiday Reading

December 30th, 2012 by PHC | Permalink

So between the exams I’ve been reading my way through a bunch of books and as it’s that time of the year when you might have some time off, here’s the stuff I’ve been getting through lately.

The Dam Busters:  Race to Smash the Dams

Dam Busters Race to Smash The Dams 1943

Race to Smash The Dams 1943

I got this for a birthday present some months back, it’s a pretty thick book and first impressions: ‘How are you going to fill all those pages?’.  Start reading and you will find it hard to put down.

The bulk of the book is actually not about the raid, but the actual race to make it happen and bring together the million cogs that would make the machine work in a handful of weeks.  That gives it a sense of pace, but the truly gripping part is the detail provided to the crews themselves.  Excerpts from letters from crews to wives & girlfriends, dates of arrival, entries in log books.   There can be no spoilers in a story this well known, but I bet you’ll read it and still hit the pages of John Hopgood crashing and feel a sense of loss that the movie doesn’t come close to.

I can honestly say I read this faster then most books that find there way on to my desk.

A good book leads you on to another and in this case, this book sent me off wanting to read the book authored by the squadron leader Guy Gibson.

Enemy Coast Ahead

Enemy Coast Ahead Book Cover

Enemy Coast Ahead

The ‘once more into the breach’ stuff of most war books is one thing, but the raw statistics on Guy Gibson combined with the background you get from reading the book above, certainly left me feeling a need to read a bit more.   So this book was straight on the wishlist and I’ve just started reading it.

First impressions were two fold:   The opening pages hit you like a revelation, the preface from Sir Arthur Harris is almost worth the cover price alone.

The pages that follow from Guy hit you like you’re reading a transcript from a Formula 1 legends’ interview, in the sense that right from the off it’s a humble “there’s more than me, without the ground crew I am nothing….”.    If you accept that the fastest race car drivers are fast because of absolute blind faith that the car won’t break, then there’s some mileage in the cross-reference that perhaps Guy had absolute faith in the job his ground crew had done before every trip.

Anyway this is the book I’m currently reading and it’s not disappointing so far.

Hope all who come across this blog are having a great Christmas / Festive Holiday break.

Lesson 37: Practice Forced Landing

December 20th, 2012 by PHC | Permalink

I pondered ringing the club, the weather was looking bleak again.   I’d waited until the last minute for the phone to ring or the weather to clear, time to make a decision:  We’ll go for it…..

Taking one step out of my front door, the rain started to come down, gritting my teeth at the realisation I walked back into the house.   Disappointment was quickly followed by a rush to decide what to do next:   Call the club or Go anyway?   If this got cancelled I didn’t have much left in the books, it’s easier to book lessons with the club diary open in front of you, so what the heck – drive down there, it’ll get cancelled and we can book some more lessons.  Maybe even get a coffee out of it 🙂

Club Arrival

Light rain was coming down, but the weather was made to feel worse then it was by the bitter cold wind.  It felt almost embarrassing to be turning up in this weather, I’d take one step through the door and find instructors holding hot drinks, reading news papers and wondering how to fill their day.   I left my flight bag in the car, won’t be needing that – or so I thought.

My first words to the admin girl were “I know it’s going to get cancelled, but I figured I’d just come anyway and book some lessons.”    She’s clearly wiser then me though, replying she didn’t think it was.  Really?   I give up on this weather lark.

The instructor raised similar questions of why did I think it would be cancelled…..   The wind, the rain, you can’t see a patch of blue anywhere.   But the weather system at the club said the wind was actually only around 8 knots, gusting to 10-12.   Doable.   The  cloud base was up at 2000-2200, bit on the limits just about doable and the rain……actually it was starting to stop quite nicely, the odd drop here and there but getting better.   We’d wait for some feedback from an instructor currently in the air, but I guess I’ll put my hi-viz jacket on and go and find the plane then.



G-SHWK in the hanger (Keeping warm)

Temperatures had dropped to freezing overnight, so the plane (Whiskey Kilo) had been moved into a hanger.   This made checking the plane a much more civilised  affair – the hanger being heated to ~18C.  It still strikes me as a little strange to just be walking around a plane in a hanger with only a handful of people who know why I’m there, any minute someone is going to come and ask me what on earth I’m doing.  But nobody does.

Whiskey Kilo still has a broken starboard strobe, but other than that, in top shape with plenty of fuel.

Coffee & Cake :  Waiting for the plane

Now just a matter of waiting for the plane to be brought out of the hanger, but a fire alarm meant this would be delayed – every minute wondering if the weather was going to get better or worse?

Time for a coffee, as I was with an instructor I’d previously got some cake from on a cancelled lesson, the joking request was “….just missing the cake.”   The gods were looking down kindly on me today, as my instructor disappeared and returned with a cup cake, the last in the box 🙂    I believe home made and excellent.   Coffee and cake while waiting for your plane, life is good.

Have headset, will taxi planes for free…

The fire alarm meant there was no sign of our plane moving, another GA pilot hanging round the club suggested we move the plane ourselves.   Swinging open the massive hanger doors, it was then a case of musical aeroplanes as Charlie Bravo had to be shifted out of the way first.

Now we had Whiskey Kilo out, but what to do with Charlie Bravo?   As I had my headset in the plane I got the job of turning it on, radioing the tower and getting a taxi clearance to shift it to parking.

If anyone owns an airfield and wants planes shuffled around,  my parking is getting pretty good 🙂

Seat belt nearly scuppers it all.

With planes shuffled and the time ticking on, time to get going.   In the rush I’d jumped in, started the plane up and then realised I hadn’t put my seat belt on, great, now I needed to open the door 🙁    This seat belt decided it was going to try and bring all the antics to an abrupt and painful end, it just would not release, pushing it all the way back in, gently trying to take it back out, try and try and try…….it just wouldn’t not go.   I think we came to within 20 seconds of calling it a day and shutting down, when finally – Hurrah!  It released.  With the instructor having already done the rest of the pre-flight checks,   We can go:

Cambridge Tower, Golf Sierra Hotel Whiskey Kilo with Information Juliet……..Requests Taxi.

Climbing out

The take off was alright, I can’t say I payed special attention to it but it seemed straight enough, sat at a nice 80 knots and all very civilized – until my instructor noticed the heading direction indicator (HDI) wasn’t aligned to the compass, ahhh but I have an excuse, she blitzed the pre-checks this wasn’t one of my checks today 🙂    Easily corrected once straight and level.

Easy until I overshot 2,000 and went to 2,300ft.   Where the horizon stopped and a mist of clouds began, we’ll go back down then shall we….

Practice PAN

Nobody said anything about reading anything.  A random thought as I was told my instructor had control and I was handed a piece of paper and told to prepare to do a practice PAN on 121.5  (Emergency radio frequency), the world is listening, no pressure :-\

We listened as another student did his, doing a disgracefully good job of it too, great thanks for that.   But then events transpired that we had a window to press on and get at least one practiced forced landing in before returning to this.

Attempt #1

The book says aim to fly it almost like a proper circuit, with hindsight from 2,000ft two things went wrong next.   Firstly at 2,000ft fields look actually quite small – I can make it, but could I land in it & stop?   This combined with wanting one I could fly a circuit to, meant I basically picked one to far out.

The airspeed was a pretty decent 70 knots all the way, but after 1,000ft of descent, the wise voice in my head (that would be my flight instructor on the intercom) suggested perhaps we wouldn’t make that and how about another one a bit nearer.

All in all we had the advantage of largely being surrounded by fields, but this was rough to say the least.   Still I’ll take a positive from it, I still find it bizarrely calm to close the throttle and drop to 500ft.

Attempt #2

The mistakes on the second go were much the same, first the fields all seemed too small, which pushed the field selection further out, to one that put us at 2,000ft and essentially in the downwind approach.   Two stages of circuit to fly, 1,500ft to drop, seemed almost ok.  My naive self still ponders if I’d have made it to this field,  but with some (no doubt much wiser) words suggesting we might not .  How about picking another?  Having dropped some altitude and the fields starting to look a little bigger, now the field directly in front of us was looking pretty good.

From there on in this attempt went much better, ultimately concluding in a decision we’d have landed in that field.

Time for that Practice PAN, PAN, PAN

Actually I thought I’d nearly escaped doing this 🙂  The practice is a good thing, but they say a lot of people lock up just in fear of pressing the Mic button to talk to their airport tower the first few times.  With the radio set to 121.5 Mhz (Emergency Frequency) and the next call being to “London Centre” with no previous practice, ever, of this call.   I just wanted it to be half decent 🙂

All said and done, it might have only been a one off practice, but actually hearing someone come back and the response you’re going to get etc.  I found really useful.

Attempt #3

Much happier with what the size/shape would look like from 2,000ft (and what they’d actually become when down at 500ft), it was easier to keep the field selection to roughly within the 10 degree angle that the plane should be able to glide to.

This attempt still had multiple re-selections though, what looked open at 2,000ft had a big power line or pylon thing 1/3 into it at 1,000ft.   Thankfully the original field wasn’t selected as the only show in town, but its surroundings, were good too – so the field selection could be quickly switched to the field to its right as required.

Found myself talking my decisions/actions out loud more on this approach and generally it felt like progressive progress was being made.   Decisions like holding off on flaps no doubt works better if you say you’re intentionally holding off (you haven’t just forgotten they’re there – which is easier to do then it might seem in the mix of checklists and everything else going on)

Attempt #4

I think because I’d anticipated the sequence, was sub-consciously aware the airspeed was up at 100kts and wouldn’t drop to 70 for a good 10 seconds, when the power was cut, I jumped straight to finding a field and skipped over setting the airspeed initially 🙁

Other than that, by now I found I was quite comfortable with how big a field was actually going to be when I got down to 500ft and being sure about the size, played greatly in my head with respect to how far I’d try and push the selection window outwards.

Once selected, because you’re flying over lots of fields, telling the instructor which one was the one we were aiming for was always interesting:

The green/yellow one, next to the slightly darker green one, just after the brown one, just right of the green one with a hedge.

I need to start a campaign for farmers to paint big letters in white in their fields, that would make the process a whole lot easier 🙂

Heading for Home

Time to head for home, other than my entry into the circuit, dropping straight through 1,000ft to 800ft, oops.   It was a crosswind join that went alright.

Another nice landing to cap off the lesson and all in all, fairly decent and I enjoyed it.  I think a couple of those glides could have been better, especially the first two but what I really took from this lesson was a good feel for perspective of what the fields & surroundings would look like from 2,000ft and that a certain size/shape at that height, would turn out to be all good once down at 500ft.

In the debriefing my instructor was looking through the checklist, and announced that next up was potentially a Local Area Solo, subject to getting good weather next lesson.   90% of me is very excited, the other 10% is thinking they must be joking!

Lesson 36: Flying in the Rain (PFL Attempt #2)

December 3rd, 2012 by PHC | Permalink

The Met Office had half of the west coast in flood warning, locally the clouds were overcast pretty much everywhere, the METAR said cloud base at 1,800ft with rain coming.   Well it’s got to be another cancellation then hasn’t it?

Apparently not.  A call to the club instructed me to come in anyway……..I spent much of the drive thinking “must be joking we’re not going in this.”

Upon arrival, to my surprise the lesson was still on.   Another quick run through the briefing of a Practice Forced Landing (PFL), then out to check the plane.

Plane Checkout



G-SHWK, still with one strobe not working, had a rain covered windscreen and I must have walked round that plane with a constant muttering of “This is getting cancelled…..”    It was already spitting by the time I was checking the propeller.   Normally this results in an instructor marching out to say it’s all off.

I like turning switches on and off, so figured might as well do the internal checks – but this lesson is going to get cancelled, for sure.

Internal checks done, just waiting for an instructor……..and waiting……now doubt starts to creep in.   This doubt thing is new, recently I’ve found myself expecting some sort of meteorological challenge, no idea why but I think it’s a sub-conscious sign that I’m past the “new and nieve student” phase and am now anticipating that more is expected of me.   Perhaps I should be speaking up more about the weather?   Perhaps that’s why I’m still sat in a plane and there’s no instructor in sight.   Maybe they’re waiting to see how long it takes me to reach this conclusion on my own?

We can’t seriously be going in this, the windscreen is now raindrop covered again.   Must be waiting for me to come back.   The next hi-viz jacket out of the club door isn’t my instructor, so I decided to lock the plane up and go and see if there’s been a revelation back in the club with respect to the rain and clouds.   There’s still no way we’re going to get up in this.

On return to the club my instructor was confused to see me, assuming there must be a problem with the plane.   Hmmm apparently we’re still going, really?    Ok then.

Locked up Plane

On the walk back to the plane I was told the people who’d previously come out had been on their way to G-SHWK to test a headset…….except I’d locked the plane up 🙁

This is my favorite of the clubs airplanes, I don’t want anyone attempting to steal it!

Taxi to Delta – Via the Grass, past the expensive Beechcraft

With a slight bit of mental autopilot (ATC said taxi to Delta, I replied taxi to Alpha….), it was off to the far side of the airport.  On a sunny day a trip to Delta is quite nice, it’s down a grass hill taxiway.  On a freezing cold, threatening to rain hard any second, November morning.   Alpha would have been nicer, but we had a chat amongst ourselves it’s all good.

G-SHWK to the Sky

Our long taxi, ball park a mile, down to delta had allowed the Beechcraft to start its engines and as they were cleared to Alpha, beat us to the runway – now we’d have to wait for them to take off.   No harm though, if you want to watch planes take off, holding point Delta is about as good as any spot you’ll find.

With that done and the windscreen scatter gunned with droplets of rain, we rolled out on to the runway, opened the throttle and it was up, up and away.

Up…..up……straight into a haze of mist and stuff that had aspirations of becoming cloud.

At 1,500ft – Horizon, what horizon?

Another few hundred feet to the cloud base and this would have been on, but as things stood it had been a lot of fun getting to this point (I was still amazed I was actually in the air at all).

Time to call it quits and head for home, still we could try a high glide for the landing and get a bit of practice in.

Returning to the Airfield

We were overhead before realising/remembering, that it was a right hand circuit and I’d managed to fly it more in-keeping with where we should be for a left hand circuit.   Now we were too far downwind, to save time my instructor took over for some steep turn adjustments to our position.

It’s been ages since I’ve flown a right hand circuit and forget looking out of the back window to see where the runway was relative to us – it was just fogged up with rain/mist and condensation.

Removing the power for the glide approach, the net result was I was guessing the base turn.  Guessed wrong and was promptly FAR to high.    A chance for a demo of how much you can get a Cessna to drop in side slip if you want to, but even with all of that and full flaps……..we’d have landed halfway down the runway.    Time to Abort and try that again.

Again cleared for a high glide, this circuit was at 1,500ft.    Now being a full and proper circuit it was a bit better, but as soon as the runway disappeared to the back windows, it was gone – I’ve done this enough times to generally know what the world in front of me should look like turning on to base, but I’ve not done a high glide this way round before so there were still some variables.

It was again to early and to high, but workable.    There’s two large pools of water at the near end of the runway (land short if you dare) which give huge amounts of sink, so you don’t want to come over these low with no power.

The landing was a bit flat, but a gentle enough touchdown to be happy with.   My second (what I’d call) decent landing with the same instructor in a row, it’s starting to feel much more natural and to be expected.  Looking back, other than in hideous crosswind, it was September the last time I landed hard.  Maybe I’m learning something….

40 minutes of flying – but no tick in a box.

Sure we didn’t tick the PFL box today, but I’ve never gone flying in weather like this before.  In months gone by this would have been a early morning phone call telling me not to bother, so from an experience perspective I count it as having actually been really useful.   It was a chance to take off in light rain, get a bit more radio practice in, do another glide approach and get another landing on the books.

All in all, a lot of fun, valuable practice and a great experience.