Wind, snow and more snow

Once again I have been defeated by the weather an another attempt to complete my qualifying cross country.

My first attempt on Wednesday was scuppered by forecast strong and gusty winds – that was a hard one to cancel as the sky was clear and the winds were calm. Luckily, the winds did get quite gusty which I think proved my decision right!

The second chance will be tomorrow, but as the UK is currently being battered by negative temperatures and snow from the beast from the east I think it will be very unlikely.

I think I will hold off flying until the end of April or the start of May in the hope of finding some nicer weather there. I’m under no time pressure to finish my PPL just yet and I would prefer to get some good flying done with nice weather.

After the hiatus

My last post was written a while ago as I was waiting to finally do my qualifying cross country and then finally pass my practical exams and get my PPL. Well.. seven months later and I’m still waiting. I have been constantly thwarted by bad weather every time I attempt to go flying.

However, next week it looks like things might change. I have a week off in between new jobs and I hope I will be able to at least get my cross country flight finished. I’ll definitely be posting updates with pictures and videos as the week progresses.

Last week I was able to get just over two hours of flying in with my instructor where we worked on circuits and some navigation exercises. The airfield and circuit were as busy as I have ever seen it! The general aviation parking was three rows deep and the apron was packed with aircraft, it made for some slightly nervous taxiing!

Right now I am spending some time refreshing myself on how to plan a VFR flight, what radio calls I will need to make and how to make an overhead approach to an airfield. I thought I would feel a bit nervous thinking about making my cross country but I have been prepared for it for so long and I have done so much flying in the past that I am as ready as I am ever going to be.

According to the weather forecast I’m going to have to wrap up warm and dodge some potential snow!

My cross country

August was set to be the month that I finally passed my flying license; nine months of flying and I was set to finally have my PPL. It was not meant to be! One of the last things I had to do was complete my cross country; fly 150nm solo and make three landings and three different airfields. I attempted it three times in August and each time it was cancelled by bad weather!

My first attempt was was thwarted by forecasts of poor visibility and heavy rain. I wouldn’t be flying my cross country but I would be able to get a flight around the Isle of Wight before the weather closed in. I was also excited to get a look at the USS. George H. W. Bush anchored in the Solent. As I departed the airfield I caught a nice look at the ship – it looked smaller than I expected – but I was alarmed to see the oil pressure making it’s way up into the red on the gauge. I made a quick decision to fly a circuit, land and get it checked – better safe than sorry! Whilst the plane was absolutely fine (over reading gauge). I was glad to have not been heading out on my cross country that day. Very quickly the bad weather came in and I couldn’t see the Isle of Wight from Lee on the Solent beach!

My second attempt was struck down by forecasts of rain in the area of Swindon and Bournemouth. I headed down to the airfield ready to go but as I turned into the entry road heavy rain started falling. I felt a bit grumpy about it all at this point. The sun actually came out straight after this, but due to the bad forecast I wouldn’t be able to head out.

My third attempt was supposed to be third time lucky. I spent all week looking at the forecast; sun, clear skies and warm temperatures. Imagine my dismay to wake up at 4pm to find out that weather warnings for strong winds were cropping up all over the south of England. I still went down to the airfield, but it was all called off! Instead I was able to fly around the Isle of Wight and get a bit of solo flying practice in. I also got to see the brand spanking new HMS Queen Elizabeth from a distance which was pretty cool!

So after three attempts I still haven’t been able to do my cross country and it looks like I won’t get another chance until atlas September 19th! I have another week booked off work to make the final push and get my flying license completed!

My first year of flying

As I am approaching the end of my first year of flying I thought it would be good to put together a short video from the footage I have taken over the year.

It was nice to reminisce over my first few flying lessons with my Dad, then onto my first solo flights, then onto flying some aerobatics and then onto flying around the south coast all on my own! I’m still a rookie at video editing but I feel like this has come together quite well!

Debrief – Tuesday 18th July

This was the first day of my second week of flying. My first exercise was to carry out a solo nav exercise in prep for me potentially heading out on my qualifying cross country this week. Things could have gone a bit better.

I would be flying from the Spinnaker Tower to Guildford to Petworth and then back to the Spinnaker Tower. I got to the club and planned my route for the day and shortly took off for it. The sky was blue and there was a haze on the horizon; perfect for a navigation exercise.

I crossed the Spinnaker on my desired heading and I quickly realised I was heading too far east compared to my route. Very quickly I found myself drifting towards Goodwood when I definitely shouldn’t have been! For the first leg of the route I ended up feature hoping to Petersfield and then to Haslemere into the general direction of Guildford. Strangely enough I ended up getting to the my turning point about exactly on time. However, this is where things went a bit wrong. I couldn’t quite identify the Guildford from Godalming. I should have been looking for a cathedral on a hill but ended up looking for the river going through the city. I zig zagged over the built up area trying to find my turning point. The controller on the other side of the radar noticed I was zig zagging and asked me where my turning point was, I told him Guildford (which I couldn’t find). Shortly after he came back and asked me to descend to 1,500ft for aircraft descending into Farnborough. In my head alarm bells began to ring and I thought I had made a mistake and strayed into some airspace I shouldn’t have.

I made a quick decision to turn onto the next leg of the flight, even though I might not have been over Guildford, and hightailed it out of there. I quickly made it to my next turning point at Petworth, apparently there is a big house there – I didn’t see it, and back to the Spinnaker via Goodwood. I then made a pretty smooth landing back at Lee and happily jumped out of the plane and had a word with my instructor.

Where did I go wrong?
The first thing that went wrong was that I think I made the wrong wind calculations for the first leg which led to me drifting way off course. My second error was feature hopping and not making a sensible correction for the wind. My third error was not being able to identify the difference between two built up areas and missing an obvious landmark! My fourth error was not planning my flight well enough to know for certain I hadn’t strayed into any airspace I shouldn’t have when the controller got to me over Guildford/Godalming. It seems that Farnborough asks traffic to be helpful and descend to a lower altitude so that approaching aircraft won’t have any issues. If I had done a bit more research about this I might not have become so easily spooked!

It was an interesting first journey of the week and I learnt a lot.

Lee to Kemble


This is a fairly short blog post as there isn’t too much to recount; it was a straightforward and enjoyable flight.

Today was a navigation exercise with my flight instructor. The flight would take place in two parts. We would fly from the Spinnaker tower to the lower portion of Basingstoke and then towards Swindon which is to the east of Kemble. The return leg of the flight was from Kemble to Froome to Stoney Cross and then to Beaulieu.

Flying into Kemble was really interesting; we flew an overhead join and landed on the shorter grass runway parallel to the concrete strip. Kemble is also a graveyard for planes and it was odd flying in past old Boeing 777s, 737s and 727s – but very cool to see. Kemble has a cheap landing fee at only £10! The cafe is also very nice and I enjoyed watching aircraft fly in and leave with my instructor. As an added bonus the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Lancaster passed the airfield to the east, sadly I didn’t get any photos. On the flight back I was surprised to hear the Red Arrows pop up on the radar. We didn’t get to see them though, if only!

Debrief – Thursday 22nd June

The weather on day three took a bit of a turn for the worse: the wind picked up and the clouds came in low. This meant it was a good day to get in some practice force landings and low-level navigation.

The low-level navigation was interesting. I lost all of my normal bearings and quickly lost track of where I was. I would continually refer to the Avadine navigation system in the plane to get my bearings. Low-level navigation is important because I might find myself in a situation with a decreasing cloud base and I will need to be able to find my way back home at a lower height.

If the cloud base does come in too low I will might need to make a planned forced landing. This would be a landing into a field that I have had a good look at and am sure is safe to land in. We practiced this procedure a number of times. I would look for a field, fly a number of circuits, gradually getting lower so that I can see the surface and then fly my final approach as if I were going to make a landing.

The exercise was eye opening; trying to pick a field to land in was difficult! There are ploughed fields, fields with trees in them, fields with power lines through them and sloped hills. I’ll have to get a lot of practice in with this to make sure if I ever get myself in this position then I should be able to handle it.

We had spent a lot of this lesson flying just above Goodwood so we skirted back to Thorney Island and flew along the coast at 500ft. It was a very different view to the 2000ft I would normally be at!

When we got back we had a quick debrief and decided I would get in some more time flying circuits. I went up and got practiced some landings in very strong headwind conditions. When I landed I found a selection of three Vans aircraft had shown up!

Vans Club
Vans Club

After day three I of flying my confidence had really picked up. Just in time to be told I would be doing my first solo nav exercise!

Debrief – Wednesday 21st June

Debrief – Wednesday 21st June

After flying the day before I spent the afternoon trying to revise for ground exams and recover. Flying is tiring!

I had spoken to my instructor about flying up to Thruxton to combine a nav exercise and a land away into one. The latest edition of Flyer had a free landing voucher for Thruxton and I wanted to make use of it!

I woke up bright and early and plotted my route to Thruxton via Alton and Andover; it looked intimidating. I would be talking to a number of radar stations and requesting a MATZ penetration. The flight back would be via Andover, Chilbolton, Stoney Cross and Beaulieu. This would require a MATZ penetration to be requested shortly after take-off and then I would be talking to Solent Radar the entire journey back.

I walked down to the airfield and boy it was hot. Getting into the plane was just like getting into a car that has been parked in the sun for too long!

After departing Lee we headed East along the coast towards Portsmouth. I lined myself up on the first compass heading, and flew over of the Spinnaker, my first navigation point, and we were on our way.

The sky was hazy and I soon lost sight of the coast and any familiar terrain I would have been able to identify from above; I would have to trust in my flying skills! Somehow, right on time, but slightly off-track Alton appears from the haze. I was able to eyeball it to my turning point and head onto my new heading towards Andover. This leg got busy: I made the turn, reset the timer and talked to Farnborough to tell them I had changed direction over Alton. Up ahead I knew I was approaching the Middle Wallop area and would need to request a MATZ penetration and shortly after that I would need to change to Middle Wallop and speak to them as I was approaching. Somehow I managed to pull it off!

The approach to Thruxton was interesting as the circuit height was lower than I was expecting and close to a few hills which made it exciting. I overshot the centre line on my turn to the final leg but there was plenty of room to correct. I made a good landing and back tracked off the runway via the taxiway. The tower directed us where to park and we followed their instructions and parked up in one of their snazzy parking spaces.

After a quick cup of tea we were back up and heading back to Lee. As I mentioned before it was very busy after take-off. We request an immediate MATZ penetration and headed to our first visual reference. We were shortly told to change to Solent Radar, it was at this stage of the flight I was struggling to make anything out on the radio and my instructor had to take over with some of the radio work.

The rest of the flight went well with each navigation point emerging from the murk on the horizon. We flew an approach into the Lee from the south west (I told the radio south east, oops) and landed just on time to hand the plane over to my Dad who was beginning exam preparation for his practical test.

After my fly away navigation exercise I logged in 1.4 hours of flying and got some good experience of flying into a new airfield.

Debrief – Tuesday 20th June

Day one of my week of flying is over and it was an eventful one! I got 2.2 hours of flying time in and covered a lot of stuff.

The first flight of the day involved my first solo adventure out of the circuit as I wished; a flight around the Isle of Wight. I checked the weather and NOTAMs. There were two things of interest: south of the Isle of Wight there were oil spill trials being flown; at Sandown airfield there would be parachutists being dropped. Both of these would be in my direct path. I discussed talking to Solent Radar with my instructor. I would be asking for a basic service as I would be flying around the island. I was quite nervous about this part of the flight and I practiced my calls a few times before heading down to the plane.

I started up “G-BUJP” as normal and prepared and taxied out. My Dad – who was also flying – noted that my voice went from confident to nervous pretty quickly on the radio, something that I also noticed. The cause of my nerves was definitely the thought of talking to Solent Radar.

I ran through my power checks and sat there practicing my radio calls. When I was ready I made a move for runway 05 and was off.

I departed to the south and as I was climbing over Cowes I said goodbye to Lee-on-Solent radio and then changed Solent Radar. I listened to the radio for a good while before I could get a word in. I sounded very nervous compared to the cool calm and collected voices of other pilots. As I tootled around the island I took in the view: rolling hills on my port and a threatening blue murk that was the Isle of Wight to my starboard. I approached the south-east side of the island and made a turn to head north. I checked in with Sandown airport to see if I might encounter parachutists as I passed by; I had a five minute window before the drop.

As I passed by Sandown a Cessna appeared out of nowhere almost directly in front of me. I made an abrupt turn to port to give us some more space, but thinking back I believe there was enough space between my aircraft and the Cessna. There was no chatter on the radio to indicate anyone had seen me; but shortly later I heard an aircraft make a landing at Sandown. It was a close enough call to make me a tad worried. I have spent some time thinking back and tried to work out what might have happened.

  • I changed from Solent Radar to Sandown to check on the parachute drop. I stayed on the frequency long after I needed to. I wonder if the other aircraft may have been talking to Solent Radar and if I had gone back to the channel I would have heard the other aircraft’s position.
  • The weather was hazy and often there was no horizon. I wonder if I missed the other aircraft as it approached me.

Whatever the situation I quickly decided to head back to the airfield and get to terra firma. I cut between Sandown and Bembridge and across the solent. I said hello again to Lee-on-Solent as I passed over Newport and headed towards Fawley and made a standard join to land on runway 05.

Once I was landed I had a quick debriefing with my instructor and we then began planning a quick navigation exercise. The navigation exercise involved me flying a route with my instructor from Lee-on-Solent to Andover, Fleet and back. I spoke to Farnborough Radar a lot on the trip and it helped improve my confidence a little bit more.

It was interesting going from using my whizzy wheel in navigation ground school lessons to now using it for real to plan an actual flight. It was a lot of work to maintain my heading, speed and altitude for extended periods of time.

All in all, it was a great first day of flying for the week and I’m looking forward to getting more into navigation. It turns out that flying for a total of 2.2 hours in a single morning can be quite tiring!

The week ahead

A month and a half ago I booked a week off work with the aim of getting some serious flying time in. So every morning between 20th-24th June I will be getting up early in the morning and prepping myself for a morning of flying. I have been checking the weather non-stop in the lead up to this week and I have a week of sun and warm weather – I seem to have got pretty lucky!

What do I want to get out of this week?

The first day of this week will see me leaving the circuit solo for the first time and going for a flight around the Isle of Wight. I want to practice some straight and level flying and get a few snaps of the island.

 

The end of the first day and the next three days will see me getting some navigation practice in: I will go for a navigation exercise with my instructor (I have a free landing at Thruxton); a solo navigation exercise somewhere over Petersfield and possibly another navigation exercise over Bournemouth in the direction of Compton Abbas.

 

I hope that these three days will put me in a position to attempt my cross country navigation exercise on the fourth day. The fourth day will be a saturday, a warm and sunny saturday, so I would expect a lot of general aviation traffic to be clogging the skies over southern England. It would be a brave move to do my cross country on that day but it would be a day of valuable experience.