Tuesday, 10 May 2011

It's been a while

The future?
Just a short blog entry this time to reassure anyone who reads my blog, but doesn't have any other contact with me, that I haven't been abducted by aliens, overthrown in a Middle Eastern uprising or taken out by Navy Seals.

In the last few months, flying has had to take a bit of a back-seat. I'm trying to get fit and run a half marathon (see my other blog HERE) and I've just been a bit too short of cash for most of March and April.

I'm still current though, and I managed to get up on a windy (but otherwise lovely!) May Sunday afternoon. It was just a quick zip around the local area with some general handling, PFL's and Nav work, followed by quite a tidy landing (if I do say so myself!) back at EGBJ...a sort of mini-skills test if you like...just to make sure I keep my eye in.

That's not to say that nothing has been going on though. This Friday I head to NATS corporate HQ for the opening round of tests to see whether they'll have me as a trainee ATCO. I'm very nervous, and desperately swotting up on information about NATS, practicing speed/distance/time calculations and trying to find representative practice tests for the spacial awareness tests...I'll report back how it goes. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

All by myself...

It's not very often that I get to fly completely by myself. I remember when I was topping up my required solo-time towards the end of my PPL, when I couldn't wait to take willing volunteers up and around the skies of sunny Gloucestershire, but nowadays it can feel like a bit of a treat to be completely on my own. I've spent a lot of time over the last few months giving local joy-rides to my family and friends, but this weekend I found myself without a flying companion, the aeroplane booked for an entire afternoon and, for once, a decent weather forecast.

The first task was deciding where to go. There are so many places I want to visit, and after my trip to Gamston with Rich (see last post), my confidence has taken a bit of a bounce, so suddenly they all seem within reach again. Funds, however, are not as easily gained as enthusiasm, so realistically I was limited to a 1-hour flight from Gloucester, including any messing around for take-off and landing. Barring unusual winds, this ruled out the more ambitious destinations of Caernarfon and the Isle of Wight, which I'd been considering whilst sat in my usual bored stupor at work. In the end, I settled on Compton Abbas, but also had a backup plan of Sywell if the forecasts were lying, and the weather was looking better to the north.

Blue Skies Ahead
The morning broke fine and sunny, with with Gloucester reporting FEW025 (few clouds at 2500ft) and 10km visibility, so Compton it was to be. I'd wanted to travel down in this direction for a while, not just because of the destination, but due to being hemmed in by the Bristol and Lyneham CTR's it had been rare for me to fly any further south than the bridges. I planned to route via the Bath gap, remaining outside controlled airspace, but obtaining a traffic service from either Bristol or Lyneham, as I knew it would be busy, with the best weekend flying weather for months.

The 'Big Bends' on the way home - Near Pefect Weather
This was confirmed before I'd even left Gloucester, when a long queue at the hold meant a lengthy wait. ATC were providing their usual excellent service, but when there are 6 aircraft in the circuit, having to wait is just one of those things you have to get used to. Luckily the CC group charges take-off to landing plus 10 minutes, so this doesn't cost me anything extra, but it would be something to think about if you were on a Hobbs meter or brakes to brakes payment scheme. The only slightly disconcerting moment was about 30 seconds of hailstones from a rogue cumulonimbus cloud which had wandered in overhead! I took the time to grab my camera out of my bag, turn it on, take the lens cap off and put it on the passenger seat (strapped in) in case there were any opportune photo moments en-route. I never look through the view finder if I'm flying, I just hold the camera up and click in the vague direction of what I'm looking at anyway, so that I maintain my lookout and awareness, then just delete the useless photos when I get home, in the hope that some will be worth keeping. The beauty of digital cameras!

Bath - Sorry about the reflections
Once we were in the air I was handed over to approach and given a basic service until I wanted to call Lyneham. South of Stonehouse, I overtook a microlight which was about 100ft below my level and heading in the same direction, waved as I went past and waggled my wings to let him know that I'd seen him, then called Lyneham for a traffic service. During the distraction of the RT exchange, a 2-seater aircraft (I think a Grob Tutor, or similar) crossed my path perpendicularly, at quite a similar altitude. It passed above me, and I saw it in enough time that I would've been able to take avoiding action if our levels had coincided, so no real risk of collision was present, but it was a timely reminder to keep a good lookout at all times! Lyneham helpfully informed me of the traffic about 10 seconds after it had gone over my head...

The flight line at Compton Abbas
I got handed to Bristol due to them having incoming traffic, and travelled through the Bath gap without incident - it was very pleasant to see Bath and Longleat from the air. Near The Park gliding strip, I transferred to Compton Abbas, who were having some trouble with interference on their radio gear, reported by other pilots on frequency, so I orbited a couple of times north of the field to make sure that I was sure that I called while it was working correctly. Following a Eurostar in an overhead join, I slowed as much as possible on downwind to give him plenty of space, and made a decent landing on Runway 08. Time for lunch!
DH Dove at Compton Abbas - CofA expired in 2006. Shame

Over a bacon baguette, I got chatting to the crew of the Eurostar which I had followed in. They were from Kemble and keen flyers, intending to route back via the Severn Estuary and up past the Bridges, rather than the direct but more mundane route I had planned. A couple of showers came in, so we got chatting about the various benefits of computer simulators, fuel prices, Lycoming vs. Rotax, Class-A vs. Microlight etc. while we were waiting for them to pass by. I had a wander around, watching the Stearman that was doing experience flights and having a look at the older, interesting aircraft. Before long it was time to head home.

The Severn Estuary on the way back
After the showers, the weather for the trip back was just about perfect. I said my thankyou's to Compton Abbas and switched back to Bristol for a traffic service, and routed back towards the gap. The views of Bath, and the Somerset/Dorset countryside were fantastic, even seeing Colerne from the air (from outside the ATZ) was a bit of a treat, having hooned around there several times in my car. As I approached Bath I heard the Eurostar call up as well - it sounded like they were just approaching the Severn and continuing as planned.

Citation Resting in the sun at Gloucester
I called up Gloucester as the sun was starting to sink in the sky, with great views out over the Severn Estuary and Forest of Dean. Strangely, they knew where I was without me telling them, and gave me a standard overhead join for runway 22 into a much quieter circuit than when I had left. I flared a little high on the landing, but it was within tolerance, and taxi'd in, shut down and secured the aircraft in the hangar. It was about 45 minutes until sunset and some of the club aircraft and instructors were taxiing out to squeeze one last flight of the day...and the conditions were so good that I wished I was going with them. Instead I had a wander around and took some pictures of the aircraft resting on the aprons. It was nice to get back out and flying on my own again...now I'm saving for a couple of weeks to go a little further afield.

Cessna Citation X at Gloucester in the twilight

PS. Bristol ATC Visit

The view from the tower at Bristol
Through Cotswold Aero Club, I had the opportunity to visit the tower at Bristol last week. It was a great experience, being able to see what happens 'on the other side of the mic', and confidence inspiring to remember that the people who are talking to you are actually real, and not just a voice in your headset. We were given a handy talk about the various ATC functions, and shown around the facilities, watching the ATCO's doing their work, including seeing them bringing an Easyjet A320 in from the tower (a great view).

I was so taken by the experience that I've actually put in a prospective application to NATS, to see if they'll have me as a trainee ATCO. I'd thought about it before, immediately after leaving university, but engineering roles were easy to come by and give you the added advantage of choosing where you live and work. It'd be a career change, but Engineering is not my passion and it could potentially provide an operational role in the industry that has gotten thoroughly under my skin in the last couple of years. We'll see what comes of it.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

Winter Update

It's been a tough winter, weather-wise. On the odd occasion that it hasn't been snowing, the mist and fog has killed off the slightest chance of getting airborne throughout most of November and December. I flew in the first weekend of November, and the availability of the aircraft and the weather didn't line up again until the second weekend of December, by which time I only felt current (and confident) enough to make a local flight. Still, I had a whole week off at Christmas, and sometime in that week the conditions have to be flyable...don't they?

At first it didn't seem like it. The snow came down, and the mist descended. I booked, and had to cancel, flights on the 29th, 30th and 31st of December. And that, was that, for flying in 2010.
Look - No hands!

I'd offered to take up my 9-year old nephew, Oakley, up for a ride as a Christmas present, but had explained that it would be weather dependant, and that he had to be patient, and that it probably wouldn't be before the end of his Christmas school holiday. But, on the 3rd of January, the last day of the holiday, the snow melted, the visibility finally cleared up enough, and I was able to make the call that today was the day we'd be going up. Oakley's a really good kid, but my brother, Ben (Oakley's dad), was to come along to supervise, in case Oakley got motion sickness.

Oakley with CC after his first flight
In the end it was a perfect day for a first flight. 10k visibility, 5000ft cloud base, and absolutely no turbulence. Oakley was a little nervous at first, but once we were up he loved it, commenting that the trains looked like caterpillars, and that the villages looked so small you could jump out and squash them (we didn't point out that they get bigger as you go down!). He had a go at flying, (closely supervised, obviously) and decided that it was easy. A very fun and successful flight.
Birmingham International

The weather wasn't conducive to VFR flight again until the 23rd January, and even then it wasn't great - only good enough for a quick run to Halfpenny Green for a coffee and back.

But on the 29th, things were much better. Rich, another member of the CC group, and I had planned to fly to fly to White Waltham, but a forecast poor cloud base across the Cotswolds and Buckinghamshire meant a new idea was required. We settled on a long flight to Gamston, near Sheffield. I would fly there and Rich would fly back, with the non-flyer handling the radios and assisting with navigation. This would be the longest distance I'd flown in one hop at over 100 nautical miles, and we would be trying to fly direct.

Birmingham International Terminal
I took off from Gloucester and headed North, into pretty murky conditions, and unable to get much above 1800ft before running into the cloud. This improved north of Evesham, and we were able to get 2000ft before it was time to call Birmingham for a transit of their controlled zone, which we were granted (after a gentle reminder that we were waiting when we were told to 'standby', then forgotten about). We routed just south of Birmingham airport, at around 1800ft, and could see all of the approach and runway lights in the still murky conditions.

East Midlands Airport
Once clear of the Birmingham zone, it was immediately time to call East Midlands Airport for our second transit of the route. EMA was pretty busy, and I was grateful of having another pilot alongside to help with radio. We were granted a transit through the zone, and once north of Nottingham the weather really improved. By the time we arrived at Gamston it was under blue skies and light winds - it was lucky that I greased the landing because there really was no excuse not to!

After a great lunch at the Gamston restaurant, we loaded up again and departed, with Rich flying and me handling the radios. It was my turn to negotiate clearances with East Midlands and Birmingham, which were helpful and provided us with the routes we needed, although East Midlands did need to vector us around to avoid an airliner which was executing a missed approach. On arrival back t Gloucester we were given a downwind join into quite a busy circuit, and after a landing on runway 04 we taxi'd back and shut down.
CC resting in the sun at Gamston - Very different Weather
to 'down south'
It was a great way to spend a day, and sharing the flying (and cost!) meant that my range is double when flying with someone else. There's been talk of a trip to the channel islands soon, which sounds fantastic. After a frustrating couple of months of bad weather, this trip has really reignited my passion in flying.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

General Rambling

After all the excitement of the alternator problem last time out, it's been a month of consolidation and confidence-building for me and CC.

The Welsh Hills near Abergavenny on a recent local flight
The alternator failure was a bit of a wake-up call for me, a gentle reminder that sometimes, things will go wrong. I wouldn't say that I've been getting complacent, but having not had a 'real' emergency in flight,  I was thankful that the first problem I had wasn't a true life-or-death situation! Reading through the flying forums that are available across the web, you don't have to look far to find a posting regarding an incident, but I still believe that flying is only as dangerous as you make it. Obviously you can't anticipate engine failures, but good training and attitude could genuinely save your skin one day. This video illustrates the value of well-drilled emergency procedures and keeping a calm head under pressure and I'd like to think that in a similar situation I'd make a similarly good fist of things, even if my watch isn't as expensive as that in the video! My PPL instructor once told me that once the engine quits, the aircraft belongs to the insurance company, and the pilots only responsibility is for the safety of those on board (and on the ground), which seems a reasonable mantra to me.

Aircraft accidents and emergencies have been at the forefront of public attention recently, with the uncontained failure of a Rolls-Royce Trent 900 on a Qantas A380 last week. The nature of the failure was pretty severe, and it looks like a turbine-disk got away, but the hysterical ramblings of the mainstream media really irritate me. The way the TV News whittled on you'd have thought that the flight had been lost with all on board, but due to the training of the crew there was no disaster - I suspect they could teach the BBC a few things in terms of professionalism. Qantas had a similar uncontrolled failure of an RB211 on a 747 less than two months previously, with a similar number on board, which didn't even make the news, probably because the aircraft wasn't largely of British origin. Trying to rubbish indigenous engineering achievements is, sadly, a favourite past-time of the British media, and the wonder of seeing an 800ton behemoth lumber into the sky apparently pales in comparison to the 'shock' that the public assumption that all modern machines will be 100% reliable has turned out to be unrealistic.
7000ft in a Cherokee. It's always sunny up here. Cold, too!

Anyway, rant over, and back to my own flying. Charlie-Charlie had a couple of weeks of down time to sort out the alternator issues, which haven't resurfaced, but out of caution (and a bit of a lack of confidence, I'll admit), I decided to replace the trip I had planned to Duxford with my Dad with a short local. This was was to be my first completely solo flight in CC, with no passengers at all, so I took the opportunity to do some general handling and some manoeuvres which inexperienced passengers normally find a little too vigorous and uncomfortable (including a practice forced landing after watching the video above). The weather was a bit overcast, but I found a gap in the clouds and took the opportunity to climb up to about 7000ft. The view over the top of the overcast was wonderful, and I was probably the only person in Gloucestershire to see the sun shine that day. I've got to get an instrument qualification at some point so that I can do this any time I like!

The next trip was to take my friend Dixie up for a blat around. The initial suggestion was to fly around the local patch, then return to Gloucester, but after my solo local flight, I was keen to go somewhere for a coffee. Dixie hadn't flown in a light aircraft before so there was a possibility of air-sickness, so we settled on Shobdon, near Hereford as a destination, mainly because it's close by, but also because I hadn't been there before (odd, considering it's probably the closest airfield to base!).

Flight planning consisted of checking the NOTAMS and weather, and calling up the destination to inform them that we would be coming, but not actually planning a route, since Shobdon isn't far outside the area that I use for general handling exercises, so I know the way by heart. We didn't need fuel, and the weather was fine, so departure was quick and easy. We ended up flying via Kidderminster, and West-Midland Safari Park, so we got to see some animals as well.

My landing at Shobdon, filmed by a helpful passenger!

There were some radio issues at Shobdon. The airfield radio was very quiet, which added a little bit of stress turning the volume controls up and down depending on who was talking, but other than that it was a straightforward join and landing, followed by a great coffee and bacon sandwich, helpfully paid for by my willing passenger! Our visit was cut a little short by incoming showers, and the trip back to Gloucester was a bit grey and murky, but very definitely still VMC.
A hangar buddy of CC. $500,000 worth when it was new!

On return to Gloucester we got the usual excellent service from ATC, and a very helpful direct join to slot in around Seneca's doing circuits and practise instrument approaches. Back on the ground, Dixie seemed most impressed with CC, but even more impressed with the Cirrus and Seneca which we share hangar space with. I always think it's strange that you drag other peoples aircraft around to get yours out, when the Cirrus costs more than twice as much as my house. It's like leaving a Ferrari 599 in a multi-storey car park with the handbrake off, so people can move it if it's in their way.

I love taking people flying: It's just so much better than being on the ground! When I was training I'd looked forward to taking all of my friends up, and generally anyone who I thought could persuade to come. In practice though, arranging a mutually convenient time, and getting that to coincide with aircraft availability and decent weather has proved very difficult, so I've only taken a few people. I'll be looking to address that over the next few months...

Monday, 8 November 2010

Solo again...and a bit more excitement than I'd like!

A lot has happened since my last blog, but I've been too busy and lazy to write it up! There's too much to do in one post so I'll split it into a couple over the next few days.

I've been officially signed off to solo Charlie-Charlie for a while now, after completing the required time with Phil shortly after the last blog entry, and I've been making the most of my new-found cost-effective (ish) mode of transport.
The plan for my first solo in CC was to break the habit of my flying life so far and to actually fly somewhere for a reason rather than just for the hell of it: A trip up to Welshpool to meet up with some friends who live in the area. This sort of trip is perfect for flying - Welshpool is only about 55NM from Gloucester in the aircraft, so flights would be well under an hour from engine start to shut down, but driving would take at least two and a half hours each way, and probably more depending on traffic, and the distance driven would be almost twice that of the direct flight. I'd also flown up in that general direction before (to Sleap on my qualifying cross-country) and with the added assistance of GPS and the new nice, comfortable touring aircraft I wasn't anticipating too much stress en route, which should allow a nice day out once we arrived.
The weather and the view of Worcestershire en route to Welshpool...perfect!

On the day of the trip I woke up to perfect flying weather, great visibility and just a few clouds at 3000ft or above. I'd booked into Welshpool in advance, so all that was left to do was to get up, check the weather and NOTAMS, then drive up to the airfield to pick up CC, who (helpfully) had been left right at the front of the hangar by the previous user. Jen and I loaded up, and after a quick fuel-stop on the way out to the runway, we were up into the wide-blue and on our way.

Jen had been gradually getting used to flying, but because of the instructor time required for me to fly CC, she hadn't been up for over a month, but this was a good day to get back into it, with very little turbulence and just light winds. Once we crossed the Malverns I said my goodbyes to Gloucester and went off-radio for a bit; it was great to just fly with no chatter from the radio, and perfect conditions and scenery, until it was time to call up Welshpool for an overhead join.

The landing was a little bit cross-wind, but quite comfortable, and as soon as taxied in and shut down our friend, Chris, was waiting for us, so I showed him around the aircraft: It's fun showing non-flyers the pilot's 'office' and dispelling the myth that flying is a glamorous and high-tech activity by pointing out the 1970's switches and dials in the cockpit!
One of the only clouds in the sky on the way there.

We had a great day out around Shropshire, stopping at a pub for lunch in Shrewsbury. Sitting by the river in the beer garden (no beer for me, obviously!), knowing that CC was waiting back at Welshpool, and that we'd be flying, not driving, home was a bit strange, but something that I could get used to! Trips like this are the kind of thing I learned to fly for.

I should just leave this post there, as a perfect day, but the trip back was...eventful...and probably my most stressful flight so far.

We got back to the airfield, booked out, checked the aircraft and taxied out to the runway and did a normal takeoff, climbing out on our way home. About 5 miles south of Welshpool, and at about 2000ft, the low-voltage warning light comes on.

This my first ever technical problem in flight. I try not to flap too much, and be methodical. First things first - check all the gauges; oil temp and pressure OK (phew), fuel pressure OK, but alternator reads zero current. Alright that makes sense, and ties in with the low voltage warning light. A conversation with an instructor about the alternator system in PA28's comes into my head, apparently sometimes they trip a relay which can be set by turning them off and back on again. It works for a minute before the needle drops back to zero. Nope, it's definitely a real problem. I can't believe it, the first time out in CC and I've bloody broken it.

I don't want to get too far away from Welshpool in case this is just the start of a bigger problem, so I start a slow turn while I work out what to do. I call up Welshpool to explain the predicament and they ask if I want priority landing; my answer is no, not at the moment. They also say that there's no maintenance on site, but at first, and in a little bit of a panic I'll admit, I start heading back that way anyway. Jen's heard what's going on, and seen the warning lights, so I take take the opportunity to explain that losing an alternator doesn't mean we'll lose an engine, and that we're still perfectly safe.

At this point Phil's voice jumps into my head and I think a bit more clearly. He'd asked me about an alternator failure on my PPL skills test, and we'd later discussed what would happen if the battery ran out (you'd lose all electrical items, but not the engine or flight controls) and, crucially, how long the battery would probably last - and my planned time to Gloucester was less than this length of time. I've had a bit of time to think now, and the options are to either continue to Gloucester, or to return to a field with no maintenance, from which someone would have to fly back with a failed alternator (and less battery life because I'd use some of it for landing). The other gauges are showing no sign of problems, it looks like it's just an alternator issue, so I'm sure the safety of the flight is still intact. The weather is still good so my cockpit workload from navigation and general flying will be low. My choice is to go back to Gloucester, so I explain to Jen that I'm convinced there isn't a safety issue, and if we didn't fly it back with a broken alternator, someone else would just have to. It's not been an ideal day for allaying her discomfort with flying though!

The weather on the way back was still really good.
I call Welshpool to tell them of my intentions, and they kindly offer to call ahead to Gloucester to inform them of my ETA. After that I say my goodbyes and turn all non-essential electrical items off (radio, intercom etc.). I pre-select the Gloucester frequencies ready for when the time comes to reactivate the radio as there's not really anyone to speak to before then anyway, even if I wanted to. As it happens, there's a strong tailwind, and after only about 15 minutes its time to switch back on and call Gloucester. They're aware of my issue but I remind them anyway, just in case the radio dies while we're in the circuit, and the circuit is quiet enough to give me a direct join for runway 36.

As we descend on base leg, and the RPM drops below 2000, the low-voltage light flickers, then extinguishes. A quick check of the alternator gauge confirms it - we've got charge again. I make a pretty good landing then taxi back, and the alternator doesn't drop out throughout the whole process. I let CC idle for a bit before shut down, to restore a little extra charge to the battery. Once we've put CC back in the hangar, I call the senior members of the group (and the member who was to fly CC the next day) to inform them of the problem, and leave a note in the tech-log to explain. CC is booked in to maintenance the next day. On the way out I see Phil, and I'm pleased when he repeats, almost word for word, my reasoning for continuing to Gloucester. I made the right decision.

But what could I have done better? Well, to be honest I shouldn't have rushed into turning back to Welshpool, which probably wasted 5 or 6 minutes of useful battery life. I was flustered in the cockpit at a potential problem and didn't think through my options thoroughly enough. That said, I managed to identify the problem quickly and confirm that nothing else was going wrong, remembered my training and drills, and I made the correct decision in the end. I doubt this occurrence would have made a more experienced pilot break a sweat, but at this stage of my flying life, it was pretty stressful. It's all good experience though, I feel like I've been taught a very valuable lesson, and that I'll be better at dealing with any problems in the future. I learned about flying from that!

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Much more like it...

After a couple of weeks of not achieving much due to weather and technical issues, I managed to get back in the air yesterday. The weather was great, and I still needed 1hr 55mins to meet the insurance requirements for 'CC so we decided to do a longer route around Wales, and to make it really interesting, we'd maintain a height of about 500ft above the ground all the way.

I love flying at low-level: It's what you imagine flying will be like when you're a kid. At 2000ft, everything seems quite a long way away, and you lose a lot of the sensation of your speed. When you're low, the bank angles are a lot more obvious, and you can really feel how quickly you're covering the ground. The downside of this excitement is that it's a bit more mentally draining, and that you're pretty limited on options if you were to have an engine failure, so it's not the way you'd like to fly every flight! But, although good flight planning should mean that you don't have to scud-run under bad weather at low level, it is still good to be well practiced at low-level work, just in case you get caught out...

Drop too low and you might run into one of these...not good!
The rules of the air in the UK state that the absolute minimum height that you can fly over any "person, vehicle or structure" is 500ft. If you're over the water, or land that you can be sure is uninhabited (if there is any in the UK) then you can, in theory at least, go lower than this, but the RAF like to play in the airspace below that level. Hawks and Tornado's come up pretty fast, so it's a good idea to stay out of their levels, especially as they fly a lot in Wales, although normally in Snowdonia than the area we were flying in.

Phil and I hadn't planned a specific route, other than to head over towards Hay-on-Wye, at which point we'd drop into the Wye valley and follow it up into mid-Wales. This was, strangely, the exact same navigation route that I flew on my skills test, which was also with Phil, so it was a sense of deja vu! This time though we were at about 700ft. Although I had my GPS switched on, I didn't really look at it, and I was surprised at how easily we found the town, considering how nervous about it I was on the test. A sign of some progress at least!

At Hay we dropped into the Wye valley, and followed it to Glasbury before turning North-West. Here the valley gets very steep sided and deep, so at 500ft below the surface you are actually at a level below the tops of the hills on either side, and it's great fun - hands on flying at 130mph, banking and turning to follow the bends in the river. You've got to watch out for down-draughts too, where the wind rolls down the valley sides - sometimes these winds can produce a sink rate greater than the aircraft's maximum climb, in which case you can find that you're at maximum power and climb attitude, but still descending. Obviously, this can end very badly!
Google Map of the Approximate Route Flown 

One of the Valleys near Elan that we flew up.
At Builth Wells the valley opens out, and we pass a huge quarry before heading out over a flatter area of land. We've decided to go and find the Elan Valley reservoirs, but initially head up the wrong valley before making a turn up the a smaller valley and dropping down over Elan Valley air strip. From here it's another turn up the valley towards the reservoir.

We cross the dam at 500ft above it and head out over the reservoir, adding power over the water, gaining speed to climb up out the valley and into the open air on top of the hills. Most people would pretend that they're in a Spitfire at this point, but CC has yokes, not sticks, so for today it's a Lancaster. Childish, I know, but it's fun!

Once we've popped out the top of the valley and settled over the land again, I look at the altimeter. We've been flying while largely maintaining our altitude 'by eye' and it's a surprise to see that although we're only 500ft above ground, our altitude above the QNH (sea level) is 2500ft. A bit of a sobering reminder that if you get caught in IMC and get lost, there are potentially plenty of things to run into, even at altitudes that you would think are probably safe for the relatively flat UK terrain.

We've been radio free for a while, and we told Gloucester that we'd only be gone 90 minutes, so the decision's made to head back, albeit via Brecon and Abergavenny. We still maintain this at low level, and when we get to Abergavenny, we finally turn the radio back on. There's one last bit of fun in store as we pass Eastbach Farm strip, and Phil wants to do some fly-bys to say hello to the people he knows who fly from there. He takes control to do it, and it gives me a real demonstration of flying skill and confidence that I can only aspire to at the moment, but then Phil has 18,000 hours of light aircraft experience, and I have 55, so I'm not going to beat myself up about it!

I call up Gloucester over May Hill, and make an overhead join (my first for months!) into a circuit with just one other aircraft. I land on runway 22 into a decent breeze, and make one of my best landings for ages. It's been a good flight, and we've been away 1hr 35mins, which means I only need 20 minutes more before the sign-off in CC is complete. A couple of circuits should do the trick for that. More to the point, this flight has boosted my confidence in CC, because it's been solid maneuvering and hands on flying from start to finish. I'm starting to feel at home with her, and I can't wait to log some solo time!

Friday, 10 September 2010

A frustrating couple of weeks!

That pretty much sums up the last few days in terms of flying, or lack of it.

I had to cancel my mid-week lesson at the end of August because my monthly flying budget had run out. I barely earn enough to fund this ridiculously expensive hobby at the best of times, so that's something I've had to get used to since my initial PPL training funds ran out. In addition to my monthly budget I'm trying to put aside some contingency money just in case there is a cash call from the group. Then my next flight, which was planned for the 5th of September, was canned because of weather - again something I've got used to over time.

These little delays are part of flying, but at the moment I'm especially keen to get up in the air to finish my sign-off on 'CC so that I can go and explore before the winter sets in. You're always at the mercy of the Met Office if you're a pilot, and although the best flying days are cold, frosty and clear winter days, there's a much greater chance of being cancelled due to weather once September is finished.

On the plus side, I've used my time on the ground wisely. I'm trying to get involved in the running of the CC group, and I've sat in on both of the committee meetings so far. Hopefully over the next few months this will give me a bit more insight and knowledge into my aircraft, and particularly the mountains of paperwork that need to be done in order to keep both the aircraft and pilots legal and happy.

I've downloaded the Memory Map software for my i-phone, and purchased the CAA charts for £20 and a £10 in-car suction mount. With the GPS built into the phone I'm hoping that this will be a really useful rudimentary GPS for flying. It'll only provide a moving map type system, but the software allows you to draw a route on and the only reason I really want it is to confirm my position if I become unsure. Considering that even a basic Aviation GPS is £200 I think I've done well there!

I've also embedded a Google Map on the side of this blog which shows all of the airfields I've visited up to now. At the moment it's pretty sparsely populated, but hopefully over time it'll become a bit more impressive! I've added the strips that Phil and I took in on our last flight, and all of the airfields I visited during my training.

Steve Noujaim being welcomed back by a couple of Spitfires
During the last week, Steve Noujaim completed his London-Cape Town-London record-breaking flight in his RV7. I saw the aircraft last time I was at the airfield, and it looked fantastic. Steve's achievement to fly the distance with only a 10hr turn-around in Cape Town and just 2 stops in each direction and a couple of hours sleep en-route is super-human, and I got very addicted to watching his live GPS track snake it's way down through Africa! It's the kind of challenge that I would love to take on one day, but I think I'll need a bit more of a budget and a lot more experience first. It has, at least, got me looking at the Vans RV website though, wondering whether I could afford to build an RV of my own one day! For more information on Steve and the challenge click on >this link<

Anyway, I've not much else to say at the moment. I'm hoping to fly again tomorrow, and maybe visit a couple more of the local grass fields, but the weather's not looking good at the moment. I'm also down to fly on Monday night, which, all being well, should mean that my PA28 conversion is complete. Then, the world will be my oyster!