Sunday, 25 July 2010

Flying a Cirrus SR20

Dave and I used to belong to the same group which operated a 1965 Cessna 172.  Dave holds a UK IMC rating and doesn't fly as much as he'd like to.  As a result, I've offered a few times to sit alongside and act as a confidence booster.  We've done this from Barton in a G1000 C172 but finally we'd found a date that worked for both of us and the aircraft was available, so we met up and went to Blackpool Airport to take one of Aircraft Grouping's Cirrus SR20s out for the day.

We fancied going somewhere reasonably far away and Dave wanted to practice his instrument approaches with a safety pilot on board.  With these criteria in mind, Plymouth was chosen as the destination for a late lunch, with a basically direct routing over Wales.  Conditions for the departure at Blackpool were definitely IMC, entering cloud in the climbout and staying in it until a bit further south around Southport.  To keep the stress levels high, there was something out of the ordinary with the radios and intercom - I could hear the radios fine but Dave could not, so I did that for a while.  Once we'd settled into the initial parts of the cruise a few minutes after takeoff and with a lull in the radio traffic as we changed over to Liverpool radar, I took the opportunity to twiddle some dials and try both headsets.  It turned out that the aircraft had been left with all the controls maxed out and this didn't do well with squelch and noise cancelling!  All sorted by being able to try both headsets and play with all the controls.

As we were now in the cruise, we handed over control to the S-Tec 55X autopilot, with input to it coming from the Avidyne Entegra PFD.  The system is quite intuitive - choose an target altitude, choose a vertical speed and the autopilot will maintain that vertical speed and intercept the chosen altitude.  En route flying is a breeze, as the autopilot will of course follow the course set into the GPS (2 x Garmin 430W) and displayed on the nice big MFD.  We took the cruise section of the flight to fiddle with the avionics, with me showing some useful features of the Garmins - we have one in our Commander - to Dave, who has little experience with them.

After talking to Exeter radar and being put onto the approach into Plymouth very high, Dave hand flew down the ILS for the practice.  Without having received vertical guidance, in anger I would not have made the approach but as we were in sunny VMC there was no real issue.  If it were for real, I would have descended in a more orderly manner and taken up the approach at a more realistic altitude rather than thousands of feet above it, requiring a rapid descent.

Final approach to Plymouth

Safely on the ground and with the Cirrus refuelled, we walked up to the tower to pay our fees and asked if there was a pub or similar nearby for food.  They told us the best idea may be to walk 10-15 mins down the road to The Jack Rabbit.  We did, and were quite happy with the tasty food provided.  It was just a quick bite, but hit the spot.

On the flight back, Cardiff radar informed us of a familiar sounding callsign off to our left and going slightly faster than us.  Sure enough, it was another one of Aircraft Grouping's SR20s returning to Blackpool from a weekend in Newquay who we had in sight quickly and were on frequency with for almost all of the trip.  We lost sight of them when the conditions became distinctly IMC south of Liverpool.  No problem, the aircraft was flying itself, the temperature was well above freezing, Dave has an IMC rating and I have an IR!  Liverpool were very helpful, allowing us to descend in an attempt to regain VMC, and allowing us to climb again once it became clear (at 1,400') that it was not going to happen.  Instead, we would now be IFR and IMC all the way back to Blackpool.

On the way home over sunny South Wales

Released by Liverpool and handed over to Blackpool, we received a deconfliction service as they vectored us onto the ILS for runway 28.  Dave asked if I would like to fly the ILS as I don't think he was completely comfortable doing so in real IMC conditions.  I jumped at the chance, and some way before we intercepted the ILS, I disengaged the autopilot and did the rest manually.  It wasn't the neatest ILS I've flown, but I think for a new aircraft (to me) and a new presentation of information (glass cockpit rather than analogue dials) it was fine; we didn't go out of limits at any point and as we came closer I was doing much better at keeping us on the localiser and glideslope.  We eventually broke out of the clouds at around 700', well above IR minima, but fairly close to the CAA's recommended IMC rated pilot minima.

I have landed a Cirrus once before (Cirrus UK's demonstrator, G-FIKI) and it proved easy enough, and exactly like any other forgiving tricycle light aircraft.  This time was no different.  Smoothly onto Blackpool's tarmac and with instructions received to taxi back to Flight Academy, our trip for lunch in the sun was complete.

No comments:

Post a Comment