Saturday, 21 May 2011

A simple flight

Citabria G-BFHP
As well as my share in the Commander, I also own a share in an aerobatic, 2 tandem seat, rag and tube taildragger.  The Citabria is based at Manchester Barton airfield, and is the first share I bought after gaining my PPL.  I have something like 150 hours logged in G-BFHP but because I have been focussing on instrument and commercial flight of late, I haven't flown it in about 18 months.  The group has decided to sell the aircraft and I thought I would get a flight in for old time's sake before the deed is done.

Saturday morning was bright with cumulus clouds at about 3,000'.  There was a fair southerly breeze and it would undoubtedly be a bit bumpy under those serene looking fluffy clouds.  As late morning came and with no particular destination in mind, we made the short trip to the airfield.  Walking into the hangar and checking out 'HP brought an immediate sense of familiarity, and manhandling her outside reminded me just how much I appreciate the service we receive from Ravenair at Liverpool!

I booked out with the tower and climbed into the wonderfully simple aircraft, strapped in with the lap belt and 4 point harness and started her up.  After a small delay for the oil to warm up, we taxied to hold A5 for runway 20.  20 is rather short but with the southerly wind was easily long enough for our purposes.  From a short ground run we were quickly airborne and heading skyward and with an early right turn to avoid flying over some housing we set course to the north west, intent on nothing more than some aerial sight seeing.

Circling the small tower at the top of Rivington Pike saw people on the grounds watching us go by and inspired us to try and locate another tower that we'd been to before.  Heading around the north of Winter Hill, we found the Roddlesworth and Rake Brook reservoirs and above them Darwen Tower, seeing from the air somewhere that we had walked on the ground.

The predictable bumpy air was making Rachel feel a little queasy so we headed back to Barton, the southerly wind slowing our progress to a measly 65kts across the ground.  An overhead join to the standard right hand circuit saw me cut inside someone as I hadn't thought to look that far away for someone on a downwind leg!  They were about twice the distance from the airfield we were.  We had landed, vacated the runway and were on our way back to the hangar before they even touched down.

It may only have been a 50 minute bimble, but it was great to get back to flying the simple Citabria from the relatively relaxed and informal Barton.

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

A flying job?

I completed my CPL course back in November, and finally applied for the license in March.  I couldn't have done this any later as it was that month that my ATPL theory exams pass expired.  I am now a commercially licensed pilot, but fly privately so the blog name is staying.  That said, I have sort of applied for a part time flying job that I heard about through a contact.  They say that aviation is more about who you know, and I suppose we'll find out if that's true soon.

It's nothing complicated, I'd be flying a Cessna 172S as I'm only SEP rated and don't fancy the expense (yet!) of becoming MEP rated when I normally fly a single.  The company does have a couple of MEPs though, so who knows what might happen.  Hopefully they'll get back to me soon.  It's a very long time since I applied for a job.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

A weekend in Southampton via Bournemouth

Sorry that I haven't been updating the blog much.  Things have been rather busy but I'll try and get back to updating after every flight!

This weekend I had planned to visit my sister in Southampton.  It would be a long (though direct) train journey or an even longer drive and even then subject to the vagaries of traffic delays.  Either way the journey would be in excess of 4 hours, possibly well in excess.  The flight in a straight line from Liverpool is just over an hour.  No contest!

I called Southampton airport, 5 minutes away from my sister, only to be told that though they can accept light aircraft, for overnight parking we would need to be handled by Signature.  Other pilots will recognise this as a sign that things are about to get very expensive.  Indeed, I didn't bother to call Signature for a quote - landing, handling and a couple of night's parking would have added up to several hundred pounds.  Their target market is corporate jets, not the lighter end of GA that I inhabit.  Nearby alternatives include Popham and Lee-on-Solent.  Neither of these are set up to handle IFR traffic, which given the weather was going to be an issue, and neither are available after dark when I planned to arrive.  Further, Lee is currently unavailable at weekends while an airfield management issue is resolved.

The upshot of all this is that I elected to use Bournemouth Airport.  At 40 minutes drive from Southampton, it isn't too far to be collected, the airport opens after dark (until 2130) and has full IAPs, including an ILS with a useful low decision altitude.  So it was that early on Friday, with rain and low cloud forecast for the south coast that I filed a flightplan to fly airways from Liverpool to Bournemouth on the route NANTI L10 HON DCT NEDEX at FL90, with a departure time of 1615.

Our Commander is kept with Ravenair at Liverpool, and whenever we want to use it, we call them in advance to pull it out of the hangar and if needed fuel it for us.  I had called on Friday morning to have the aircraft ready to go with full tanks.  Sure enough, when we got to Liverpool there she was, waiting on the apron and seemingly ready to go.  I got on with my pre flight checks, which include checking the fuel level.  Though the aircraft had been taken out of the hangar, the tanks had not been filled so I called ops to ask why this was.  Apparently another aircraft had arrived which took all their attention and I would now need to taxi to the school's incredibly slow fuel pump, wait for them to take the daily sample and then hang around while the slowest flow rate pump I have ever seen at an airport dispensed 110 litres of avgas.  I should point out that this is perhaps the second time in over two years of operating through Ravenair that a mistake has been made and that the service is usually wonderful.  But it would happen when I'm up against a deadline at the other end and I have a flightplan filed, requiring that I get moving at a particular time...

The Ravenair ops people helpfully did submit a delay message to the tower for me, informing them that I would still like to fly my flight plan, but that the start time would be subject to a delay.  Fuelled up and finally ready, we departed runway 09 on a NANTI2V departure.  On calling Scottish Control in the climb at 2,000', we were cleared to FL90 and direct HON, some way down the route.  The only change to this was my request to go up to FL100 to clear the cloud tops.  Once above the freezing level at about FL60, we picked up a small amount of ice - perhaps 5mm in total.  This was not enough to materially impact the performance of the aircraft, but did stop us being able to see through the layer of ice on the windscreen!  This was slowly cleared once above the clouds with the defrost control set to full.  We would have needed this in any case to keep warm as the temperature outside was a chilly -5C.

London Control started our descent towards the Solent area before handing us over to them.  The descent continued down through the broken clouds inland, before being handed over to Bournemouth radar to line us up for the ILS.  We were number 3 to the procedure so had to take some vectors for spacing before being lined up as usual.  Still IMC with a DA of 220' we followed the ILS down and finally went visual at 350', exactly the cloud base reported by the airliner a few minutes ahead of us.  This is the lowest I've gone 'in anger' in an ILS.  Any other time I've been that low it's been with screens up, in VMC, with an instructor alongside me.  Finally doing one for real brought a real sense of achievement.  The flight could not have been conducted without an IR - even IMC holders are advised by the CAA to limit themselves to descent to 500'.

My sister was waiting for us at Bournemouth Handling, who provided a swift and courteous service.  Sadly the earlier fuelling delay had pushed us past the 1800 cutoff time that had been agreed and meant they charged extra for staying open out of hours.

We spent a great weekend in Southampton, walking on the beach and going out for a couple of meals before heading back to Liverpool on Sunday evening.  With cloud all the way from 1,000' up to well above the Commander's service ceiling, the flight back was to be done in the open FIR to the west of Birmingham, IFR and in IMC at FL45.  This was booked in with Bournemouth, who got us on our way and passed us over to Lyneham for further radar service and a transit of their zone.  We continued northward overhead Gloucester, Malvern and onwards towards Shawbury.  Once over the SWB VOR, we began descending to 2,500', coming out of the base of the clouds at around 3,500' on track to the WHI NDB.  Liverpool cleared us into the zone on this track and vectored us round for an ILS to runway 27.  The rain had finally stopped and visibility under the clouds was fantastic, resulting in some wonderful views.  With a healthy tailwind, the flight back was just over an hour and saw us on our way from Liverpool not long after landing at quarter past 7.

The return flight, just like the outbound, would not have been possible without instrument qualifications.  The weekend serves as a great example of an instrument rating turning GA into a useful means of transport, with reasonable despatch reliability.  Both flights would have to have been delayed until at least the morning after without the night/IFR option.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Pilots are lucky people

I read this post over on the Flyer forums from one of our more literarily gifted forumites, AfricanEagle.  It captures the dream of flight that all pilots feel and I thought it worth sharing.  All the more impressive given that English is not Ricardo's native tongue.

Pilots are lucky people. We are lucky because we are born with a little whisper inside us that most people aren't endowed with. And sooner or later, or as a child looking up at that long white line across the sky, or when the urgencies of life has been taken care of and the first grey hairs start to appear, this little whisper becomes a breeze, and then a gust of wind and we take to the skies. Each in his own time, each in his own way, we all urge to be free to roam the cloud laced heavens. Some of us are content to leave the smell of fresh cut grass for a brief flight over the countryside, vintage cloth covered wings shining like metal from the last rays of a dying sun; others seek the flow of rising air to sustain their long and silent wings, following the roll of hills. For many happiness is skimming a sea of white fluff in a tin bubble while going from A to B, while a few find deep contentment in aerial ballet, the sky the stage for perfect figures painted by double wings and powerful engines. For others again satisfaction is keeping those little white needles perfectly crossed, the knowledge of being a professional among professionals. But in all of us there is that little whisper, that makes us special and makes us want to share the same blue sky.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

CPL training, part 5

Lesson 5 took the same format as lessons 2 and 3.  I was given a navigation leg to complete on the way out of Liverpool, today from Oulton Park as runway 09 was in use to the microlight strip at Pound Green, west of Kidderminster.  As usual when heading south from Liverpool, this entailed transiting the Shawbury AIAA and MATZ.  Heading south from Oulton I changed over to talk to them and request a basic service.  With nothing but a few showers around in the practically unlimited visibility, navigation proved very easy, with all the features marked on the map visible well before we were upon them.

One of the showers happened to be directly in front of us, but it wasn't heavy so I just continued on my planned track and went straight through it.  We were VMC all the time and this was nothing new to me, having flown in the UK's climate for the past 6-7 years.  Discussing the flight afterwards, my instructor said it was interesting that I had flown straight through the shower, as many of his other less experienced students would have diverted around it, treating a bit of rain as something to be avoided.  If the shower had been a lot heavier I would have agreed, but this was nothing substantial and following the planned route is easier and more efficient than making diversions on the fly!

It was possible to identify Pound Green itself several miles before we reached it, surrounded on three sides as it is by a wood, with a railway line and river running just past it.  Satisfied with the navigation, I was again given a diversion, today to Long Marston microlight strip, south of Stratford-upon-Avon.  Time noted, as ever I guessed at a new heading and turned onto it.  As usual, in the subsequent more detailed measurement this proved to be pretty accurate and I continued on my way.  Following the track and features on the ground, I found that we were south of our intended track so made a correction to the left.  I'd underestimated the correction required, and as we approached Long Marston I was still south of track, to my shame now rather too close to Bidford gliding site.  I should have spotted this earlier on and made more of a correction.

Having an idea where we'd be going for a debriefing drink, I'd already tuned in Wellesbourne Mountford's frequency, eliciting a chuckle from my instructor as tacit confirmation that we would be heading there.  Indeed, with Long Marston located I was told to join and land.  Another light shower as we landed on Wellesbourne's tarmac runway 18 had someone else holding away from the field.  What's wrong with these people?!

It was my turn to pay for the drinks and slice of cake and we sat discussing such things as people diverting around showers and my performance on the flight there for 30 minutes or so.

On the return flight we tracked slowly north to the west of Birmingham's controlled airspace and did lots of PFLs.  I have a tendency to choose a field rather too close to the aircraft resulting in a somewhat steeper descent than is truly required.  We used this flight to try and get out of this habit.  In the end we found that the glide performance I was judging matters by was that with the undercarriage extended, and on making an approach with the wheels out the profile was much better.  This isn't a method I'll be adopting, as in an unprepared field it is often better to arrive with the undercarriage up than risk the wheels digging into soft ground.  We followed this with a couple of much better planned approaches.  I'm sure we'll do some more next time out to make sure this knowledge has sunk in.

Rejoining the zone at Chester, I was told to make a glide approach to runway 27.  In this, the normal path is flown, maintaining 1,000' until I think we would make the nominated point on the runway with the engine set to idle power.  At approximately Chester, well before we began the approach, I had cheekily nominated the centre of the touchdown zone markings, some 250m along the runway, as the point I would be landing.  On cutting the power before turning final, my instructor didn't seem convinced that we'd make it, and indeed further down the approach, neither was I.  However, with the late extending of flaps and extension of gear, we touched down at exactly the point I nominated.  Not one to easily offer compliments, I did manage to get my instructor to admit that the approach had been perfectly planned and even to write it on the student record of the flight!

The course is nearing completion and the plan for the remaining sessions is to conduct a couple of mock tests before taking the real thing sometime in early October, weather and other uncontrollables permitting.

Thursday, 2 September 2010

CPL training, part 4

Lesson 4 was yet more navigation.  My regular instructor was away on one of his other flying gigs - taking a Citation to Malta for the week.  Nice work if you can get it!  As a result I was to fly with one of the school's other instructors, Mark.

The format was much the same as previous navigation exercises, with me planning a route from Chester to a site chosen by Mark.  Today, this was to be Otherton microlight strip, south of Stafford and adjacent to the M6.  With the winds forecast to be a gentle 5 knots from an easterly direction, the navigation as set to be fairly simple.

The weather proved as benign as had been forecast, with clear skies, gentle winds and no turbulence.  We headed straight for Otherton and had it appear on the nose, exactly when expected.  Very helpful of them to paint the numbers and other runway markings on the ground so that there was no chance of me misidentifying it!  Otherton located, I was given the diversion, to Chatsworth House.  The trick I was taught at the start of the navigation section of the course worked yet again and my initial guess at a heading was spot on.  A quick measurement, a small correction for the light wind and we chatted our way along the route to the impressive stately home.  It too turned up exactly when expected.

I was given another diversion to a small marked village to the west of Leek.  Subsequent investigation has shown that this is Rudyard, though at the time I didn't know that and it didn't matter.  With a small kink in the route to avoid a possibly active danger area, we again arrived at Rudyard exactly as intended.  I didn't know about the danger area as when we set out I didn't know we'd be coming this way, and as it was so easy to go around I didn't feel a call to Manchester Approach was required.  We retained their 7366 listening squawk while near to their zone so that should they need to contact us, they would know we were on frequency and listening out.

With Rudyard located, we returned to Liverpool, joining the zone at Chester and making an uneventful approach and landing.  Mark seemed pretty pleased with my performance and on an easy day like today I'd have been rather annoyed with myself if anything had gone wrong with the navigation!

Sadly, and for the first time since I bought it about a year ago, I left my GPS bug (an iGotu GT-120) at home next to the computer and not in my flight bag.  As a result I don't get to include the track for today's flight in Google Earth on my home computer.

Monday, 16 August 2010

CPL training, part 3

More CPL navigation!  I was given the destination of a small village near Montgomery, in Powys.  It turns out, looking on Google Maps, that it was Weston Madoc though I did not know or need to know this at the time.  In keeping with last time, Liverpool were operating on runway 27 so we left the zone at Chester and the navigation was planned from there.  Much like the previous session, with the preparation done in advance, the flight went according to plan and saw us arrive at the halfway point slightly east of track.  I made a small correction to the course, but was admonished for doing this by feel rather than calculating a heading correction and applying it.  Sometimes experience isn't a good thing, and I must calculate headings for corrections in future.

Nevertheless, with a suitable heading correction applied, we arrived overhead our destination at the expected time.  It had been easy to see it coming - a lesson learned! - and be prepared to point out where it was.  As the town was close to Welshpool airfield, we talked to them and gave position reports to let any local pilots know that we were there.

Earlier, while I had been preparing the aircraft, my instructor had called an airfield to check that the cafe was open.  I knew the call had taken place (it was in fact my suggestion to do it while I checked the aircraft) but not which airfield it had been to.  This was so that I would not know where we would be diverting to with the planned navigation complete.  Above Weston Madoc, I was told to divert to Wellesbourne Mountford, a lovely airfield that I have been to several times.  As before, this involves guessing a heading from the chart, setting course and then planning the diversion  We turned east and I got to work with the protractor and ruler, finding that my original guess had been within a few degrees of the subsequent result.  With the small correction made and timings calculated, we were on our way

It quickly became clear that we were some way south of the intended track, and that my heading keeping had been well below my usual standard.  I plotted a new course and turned slightly left onto that heading, doing a much better job of holding it this time.  Even so, after a short time I noticed again that we were south of the intended track.  To confirm this, I was asked to make a quick position fix - no problem with a couple of VORDMEs around.  I used the HON to fix our position, confirming that we were indeed south of track.  Another correction and allowing some more for the wind saw us proceed to Wellesbourne without any further difficulties.  On the ground over a cup of coffee for my instructor and something soft for me we agreed that the northerly wind had been stronger than forecast and that by noticing the effect of this, I had done sufficient to satisfy both my instructor and the examiner.

On the return flight, after being careful not to climb above 1500ft and infringe Birmingham's airspace - runway 36 departures from Wellesbourne are the no. 1 infringement in the UK - we did some more general handling.  A few PFLs on the way west, before we could get high enough to do some steep turns and some stalls.  Nothing really to report, other than continuing to practice using rudder in the steep turns to maintain altitude without looking like I'm doing so.  Examiners apparently do not like this standard technique for aerobatic pilots!

Some way south of Liverpool my instructor was happy to just say "take me home" and let me get on with it.  I  have plenty of flights from and to there, so liaising with the controllers and getting home isn't a big deal.  We entered the zone at Oulton Park (as we were VFR) and proceeded along the usual set of clearances to Helsby, the south bank of the Mersey and then onto left base.  Again we had some fun squeezing in between airliners and were offered the chance, while orbiting over the south bank, to fit in between two 737s.  Hauling the aircraft round to point at a short final and keeping the speed up ensured that we made the gap without difficulty and I rounded off the day with a very smooth landing.

As we got closer to Liverpool after entering the zone, there was a chance to chat - the flying at that point is routine and easy and the conditions were easy VFR.  My instructor declared that I should do an instructor rating when I'm done with the CPL.  Easy for him to say; it's me that would have to pay for it!  It does interest me though.  I've always enjoyed taking other people flying and helping fellow pilots in situations that I have more experience with.  Maybe it'll happen...