Nov 09

Brief flying update

It’s been a long time since I’ve posted anything on this blog – I’ve ended up very busy in terms of work etc, and so not had a chance to post regular updates.

Since my last flying post I have obtained an IMC / IR(R) rating – this was quite hard work, but extremely rewarding (being able to pop out on top of a solid overcast layer into bright sunshine is an amazing experience). It’s also helped my VFR flying as I feel more on top of things and better able to manage unexpected issues etc. I have a few notes from some of the lessons, which if time permits I may turn into a blog post in case it’s of use to others in the future.

Also, in order to allow me to go on longer trips / further afield, I am currently in the process of buying my own aircraft, a Piper Arrow – I’ll post more details on the aircraft assuming it all goes through properly in the next week or so, however in order that I can fly it I have been doing some differences training as it has a variable pitch propeller and retractable landing gear. What I find interesting is that the VP prop makes at least cruising flight much more about flying ‘by the numbers’, which is in some ways easier (for example to lean you can lean to a fuel flow value looked up from a table, rather than looking for RPM changes as you might with a fixed pitch prop).

As the winter sets in I’m not expecting to fly as much due to the weather (even with an IMC rating, I can’t fly in cloud above the freezing level, which in winter tends to be lower, thus more limiting of opportunities), though hopefully having my own aircraft should be of benefit here, as it does mean on days where the weather is good enough I should be able to fly rather than having to hope I can get a booking in :)

Jan 15

Open letter to Theresa May

Dear Theresa May,

I am writing in response to the recent calls from the Prime Minister and yourself regarding increasing the powers of the police and security services.

I can understand the aim of these calls, and indeed at face value stating that you are determined that “there should be no safe spaces for terrorists to communicate” sounds like a laudable goal. The problem however is that the only way to achieve the goal would also end up seriously undermining the security and privacy of everyday citizens, and have a significant impact on Britain’s ability to trade both internally and internationally. This is I believe the point that my MP, Julian Huppert, was trying to get across to you on Wednesday.

To explain this, let us assume that at some stage in the future laws are passed banning any form of encryption that cannot be decrypted by the police or security services (with appropriate authorisation as you have said), and consider what the implications would be on both terrorists and ordinary everyday citizens.

Firstly let’s look at the terrorists – we assume they have no problem with breaking the law, and so continue to use the now banned forms of encryption, thus there is no impact on them. One counter argument here would be that they could be identified and arrested simply for breaking this law, however due to simple techniques called steganography it is very easy to transmit messages that are not in any way identifiable as messages, thus you cannot detect the law is being broken.

If we look at the everyday citizens however, the impact is much greater. Today any website that has a URL that begins https:// rather than simply http:// (this includes any site which takes credit card payments, online banking sites, popular sites such as Facebook, ‘official’ sites such as GOV.UK, and even sites like the Conservative party website) is using encryption, which the security services cannot in general decrypt (as far as is publically known anyway). Encryption on most of these sites is used to protect sensitive data from criminals who could otherwise intercept it, and indeed for card payments it is a requirement that such data is encrypted in the Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI:DSS).

If we were to ban encryption altogether, then we would find no companies able to take credit card payments online, and online banking would cease to be available (as without encryption this sort of data is too vulnerable) – I cannot imagine the impact this would have on the economy. Additionally, we would find criminals have significantly more opportunities to perform identity theft and the like.

Clearly banning all encryption is not a practical option – perhaps we could allow encryption, but in a form the security services can readily break – while this sounds sensible, unfortunately due to the computing power available today if it is made readily breakable by the security services it is almost certainly readily breakable by criminals as well, so this is not a feasible option either.

The third option is key escrow, where all keys used for encryption have to be handed over to a government body. We already have a form of this today, in that current law requires handing over a key with a suitable warrant, however there is currently no requirement that keys should remain available in the future (indeed most secure sites use a technique called perfect forward secrecy which ensures even with the ‘long term’ key, you cannot decrypt a past communication).

While this third option sounds good in theory, there are a number of practical issues, the first and foremost being that since the terrorists will not care about breaking the law, they will simply refuse to hand over their keys, thus defeating the point of the change. Some other consequences here are:

  • It is likely that a PCI:DSS auditor would not deem handing over keys used to encrypt credit card data, even to a government body, as secure, and thus we still would be unable to use credit cards online, with the consequent effects on the economy
  • Should a criminal manage to break into the key store and access all the keys that were held in it, everybody would be in serious danger of financial / identity theft as suddenly all previous encryption is rendered useless, i.e. we are back to the no encryption scenario. Because of the volume of data available, this key store would be a very attractive target for criminals, thus this scenario is not as unlikely as it sounds.

Finally here, I would like to take a step back from the technology aspect – there is an encryption technique which (if carried out correctly) can be proved to have perfect secrecy, and it does not require any technology other than a pen and paper, and perhaps a pair of dice for generating random numbers. The technique is simple enough to be carried out by a child, and has been known about since 1882 – it is called a One Time Pad. For an example of how simple it is to do, I refer you to a video produced by Adrian Kennard, which is available at

Yours sincerely,

Alex Brett

Aug 15

Transits across Stansted

A brief post to relate a good experience I had last weekend – myself and another pilot from the aero club decided to fly out to Stapleford and back. The straight line route to get there goes straight through London Stansted’s airspace, so our planned routes had appropriate ‘dog legs’ around it, as there is no guarantee of getting permission to transit.

There isn’t any harm in asking however, so while en route on each flight (there and back) we called up Essex Radar (the ATC service which controls that airspace) and asked for a zone transit. Surprisingly, we got one in both cases. The first time we were cleared at not above 2000 feet, and once visual with Stansted were instructed to route to the left of the runway 22 threshold. The other pilot was flying this leg, so this allowed me to snap a number of photos of Stansted and some departing traffic:

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On the return, we were told we might have to orbit somewhere for a couple of inbounds to get in, but we were still given the transit, this time at not above 1500 feet, with an initial instruction to route towards Stansted itself. As we got closer, we were instructed to make one orbit, and upon completion were asked if we were visual with an inbound 737 – these are quite hard to miss:


After confirming, we were then instructed to route behind it and resume our own navigation to Cambridge, which we promptly did. Although a fairly short trip, it’s not often you get to see a major international airport from above (as even when flying in and out as a passenger in a commercial aircraft, you don’t normally have the forwards / backwards view, just a limited side one), so it was certainly a memorable one!

Jul 17

Project Propeller

A slightly delayed post here as I’ve been very busy with work over the past few weeks, however at the end of June I was fortunate enough to be able to take part in Project Propeller. This is an annual reunion for 150+ WW2 aircrew, which they are flown in to by current volunteer private pilots, such as myself.

I’d volunteered some time ago, and at the end of April I had a call from Graham Cowie (who was organising the rostering of pilots) asking me if I could take a veteran from Cranfield to the event, which this year was being held at Gloucestershire Staverton airport.

I booked an aircraft (G-MEGS) for the day with the aero club, and hoped for great weather. As the event drew nearer there was some organisation to be done around landing slots and the like (with over 100 aircraft arriving in a few hours spreading them out is quite important!), and sorting out arrangements at Cranfield for picking up and dropping off my veteran (Frank) etc.

I woke up on the day to absolutely perfect weather, and so headed to the airfield, aiming to leave as early as safely possible in order to arrive at Cranfield as they opened, and then make the slot at Gloucester. In the end I wasn’t able to get away until a little later than would have been ideal, however not disastrously so.

The flight to Cranfield was uneventful, with a pretty nice landing. I found Frank in the cafe, and after a quick phone call to Gloucester to get a revised landing slot as I wasn’t going to be able to make my original one, we headed out to the aircraft.

After helping Frank in, I gave him a short safety briefing, and then we fired up and taxied out, departing fairly promptly.

The route from Cranfield to Gloucester was slightly difficult as there were a number of things to try and avoid (gliding competitions and the like), however I’d spent a reasonable amount of time in advance planning it out etc so it was easy enough to actually fly.

Frank had been a navigator, so I gave him the chart to follow on the way. As I mentioned the weather was perfect, so we had really good visibility, and lots of interesting things to look at along the way. I got a traffic service from Brize Radar, who called out a few things to me, but nothing of any concern.

During the flight Frank was telling me about some of his recent experiences with some aerobatic gliding and the like – I was somewhat surprised to hear about these, and hope that when I’m that age I’m still able to do activities like that!

Due to the volume of arrivals, Gloucester had implemented some special procedures, which involved reporting at a point a reasonable distance away (there were four points, we had the Northleach VRP as we were coming from the East), and holding there until told to head to the overhead. They’d also given us some instructions about abbreviated RT calls to try and reduce congestion on the radio.

I had to do one orbit at Northleach (which was eyes on stalks time as I knew there were at least two others in the area), and then was told to head in. While routing in I was asked to do another orbit as the tower had got a little busy, which I did, and then continued in to do my standard overhead join.

As I completed my deadside turn and joined the crosswind leg, I was aware I was fairly close to another aircraft – to avoid any conflict the tower asked me to turn downwind when I was at a point a little earlier than I would have done and fly a tight circuit. I complied, but was fully aware I was quite likely to have to go around as I probably wasn’t going to be able to set myself up properly. As expected I ended up very high on final, and once it became apparent I was going to have a very long landing I decided on a nice early go around.

The next circuit was normal, and the landing fairly smooth. I kept the speed up on the runway to avoid holding up anybody else – one good thing is being an airfield with full ATC they can make use of ‘Land After’ clearances to make things a bit more efficient.

I followed some marshallers to park, after which a photographer appeared to grab a photo of the two of us and the aircraft:


Then it was into a car to be driven to the Jet Age Museum on the airfield, where the event was being held. A few bits of administration to sort out, and then we were into the marquee. A buffet lunch was then served, though Frank and I made the mistake of thinking we’d wait until the initial queue died down, which it never really did!

After lunch we had a flyby by a Spitfire and Hurricane from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight:


There was then a talk by the guest speaker

Obviously throughout the day there was a lot of informal chats going on, and I bumped into a few other pilots I’ve met at fly ins and the like before.

As we went to leave, there was a nice surprise that Thwaites brewery had decided to give every veteran and pilot a special edition bottle of Lancaster Bomber – it was a challenge to resist the temptation to drink it given it was such a nice day, however I wouldn’t have then been able to fly back which would have gone a little wrong!

To speed up our departure, I walked back to the aircraft while Frank waited for a car, so I could get the pre flight checks etc done ready for him. Seeing the line of aircraft was quite impressive:


Departure was a little slow due to the sheer volume of aircraft wanting to leave (I think at one stage the airport may have had a movement rate higher than Heathrow!), but once up it was basically a case of reverse the route from earlier. As a demonstration of quite how many aircraft there were, here is an overhead shot someone took during the day – as you can see Gloucester closed a runway and used that for parking otherwise they’d have rapidly run out of space:


Arrival at Cranfield was once again uneventful, though we were closely followed by another Project Propeller aircraft, so once parked up we had a chance for a brief chat, though I had to leave fairly promptly however to make it back to Cambridge.

All in all it was a really good day, and something I’ll certainly be volunteering to help out with again next year. Obviously these events will only continue for so long as the number of possible attendees is reducing, and it seems something like this is the least I can do to show my appreciation for the sacrifices they made for us all.

I’d like to express thanks to the Project Propeller organisers, Gloucester airport and the Jet Age Museum for hosting the event, Cranfield for waiving landing fees, and Cambridge Aero Club for being generally helpful and flexible etc.

There’s lots of additional photos of the event available here.

A couple of notes for next time:

  • Expect everything to take a bit more time, so as not to have to revise slots on the day etc
  • Bring a stool to make it a bit easier for the veteran to get in and out the aircraft

GPS tracks for the various legs:

 Cbg - CfdCfd - Glr Glr - CfdCfd - Cbg

May 26

Bruntingthorpe Open Day

Apologies for the distinct lack of posts over the last few months – I have a few drafts that I need to complete, but in the meantime I just had to post about a trip I took to Bruntingthorpe ( this weekend.

Bruntingthorpe is an ex RAF and USAF airbase, with a 3000m runway. It’s mainly used now for automotive testing and the like, however the runway is kept in serviceable condition, and it has a collection of Cold War Jets which are mostly kept in a serviceable condition. It’s open for visits every Sunday, however twice a year they run open days where they perform fast taxi runs on the runway, with the first one this year being on the 25th May.

Haydn, a friend at the aero club, discovered the event, and after an e-mail query I discovered it would be possible to fly in to it, so I booked an aircraft and hoped for good weather. The Saturday was absolutely horrendous as a front moved through, however typically this type of front is followed by a period of good weather, so I was quietly confident it would turn out alright.

A quick look at the METARs and TAFs in the morning showed good signs, so I headed down to the aero club. After sorting out all the paperwork and doing the preflight inspection, it was then just a question of waiting for some cloud that was just below the club cross country minimum to lift, which it did just in time (we needed to be there by 11am as that was when the first fast taxi run was scheduled for, at which stage the runway would obviously be in use!

As we (myself, Haydn, and a friend of his Jack) got closer to Bruntingthorpe I changed over to their frequency, and discovered that we certainly weren’t the only ones flying in, so I asked my passengers to help with the lookout to reduce the risk of any incidents!

I went for an overhead join to allow me time to locate the other traffic – during the descent on the deadside a Jet Provost came on the radio reporting it was going to do a low pass at 250 knots and then circle around to land, which was a little concerning, but fortunately it kept everybody updated with its position quite clearly, and it ended up doing the low pass while we were on our downwind leg, allowing us a lovely view (albeit a brief one for me as I needed to concentrate on lookout).


I spotted the aircraft ahead of me doing a slightly wider leg, so I repositioned to follow him as otherwise I risked cutting him up. We were all being asked to land long (the first exit is about half way down the runway, so if you touched down on the numbers it would be a long rollout before being able to vacate), so I prepared for this. I turned onto the final approach and made my call. The Jet Provost ended up having to go around as it was going to be far too close to me, but I knew that meant I should vacate after landing as quick as safely possible as it wouldn’t take it long to be back round.

It was a crosswind landing – I didn’t quite cancel all the drift so the touchdown wasn’t one of my best (but also not one of my worst!) – I kept the speed up until we were quite close to the exit and then slowed so I could make the turn safely. It was then a case of taxiing to the parking area, where a marshaller helped me park. There was then a minibus that gave us a lift to the main event area, which was handy.

As we got to the main area, the Jet Provost that had been around as we came in, and some others that were ground only were performing some taxi runs – then they started pulling out the Canberra, and getting it ready to go:


The engines on the Canberra are started using cartridges – once they were both up and running, the aircraft did some slow taxiing to check everything was working as expected, before returning to the beginning of the runway. After a quick inspection of the brakes by the ground crew, it began to spool up the engines ready for its run. We thought the engines had reached their peak, but then as the pilot released the brakes he obviously went to full throttle, which was deafeningly loud (it was at this point I realised I should probably have brought earplugs or ear defenders!), and roared off down the runway. As the noise faded, we realised a whole host of car alarms on the parked cars were going off – this was to become quite a common theme for the larger aircraft’s runs!


While they were putting the Canberra away and getting the next aircraft ready, we went over to have a look at the VC10, which was to have its first fast taxi run at Bruntingthorpe later in the day. As we went in, the first thing that struck me was the passenger seats were all facing backwards – this turns out to be because it’s actually the safer way to travel (as in the event of a forward impact the seat prevents you from moving forwards then snapping back), it would just never be acceptable to passengers on commercial aircraft.

Next up to fast taxi was the first Buccaneer – these were originally designed for use on carriers (hence the folding wings to reduce storage space). I already knew a little bit about these having attended an aero club talk by a former RAF pilot who had actually flown them. What I hadn’t realised however is that the wing folding mechanism can be used at any point, there’s no external locking bolts or similar required:

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A video has appeared of the two Buccaneer runs that happened on the day – you get a good indication of how powerful the jet blast is from the trees at the end of the runway:

It was then time for a couple of larger aircraft, the Victor and the Nimrod. In order to slow down, the Victor actually deployed its drag chute, which was fun to see (no pictures of this unfortunately) – there wasn’t a repeat of a 2009 incident in which it accidentally got airborne however.

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We also had a Spitfire from the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight perform a few low flyovers – there’s nothing quite like the engine noise of a Spitfire, and it’s great that there are still a number of them flying:


While another Buccaneer run happened, the Lightning was tugged past us to the staging area. For its run once safely beyond the end of the crowd line the afterburners were lit, which was impressive:

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The last run of the day was the VC10 – this was an impressive spectacle, and one that you could really feel the power of as it went off down the runway:

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As we walked back to the aircraft after the VC10 had done its run, I was grateful I hadn’t driven in as there was a long queue of cars waiting to leave. When we arrived we’d been marshalled into a spot under a cargo 757, which produced a great comparison picture:


We had a slight delay before we could taxi out due to some vehicles that appeared to have got confused as to where they were going starting to drive up the taxiway that we would need to follow – a quick call to the radio operator and they sent over the fire service to find out what was going on, and we were then able to depart. The return flight was a little bumpier than the outbound (it had been a hot day so thermal effects were quite evident), but nothing too bad. As we approached Cambridge, I could see in the distance some of the bits and pieces going on at Duxford for their airshow. This included a display by the Patrouille de France (French equivalent of the Red Arrows) in their Alpha jets. These had actually been based at Cambridge for the weekend as it was impractical to use Duxford directly – as such we were asked by ATC to orbit over Waterbeach while they recovered back in. This meant we got a really fun view of their run and break manoeuvre, before we were given a crosswind join to land.


The landing itself was interesting, as due to another of the club 172’s wanting to join fairly close to us on a right base, ATC instructed me to turn base rather earlier than I would normally have done so, leaving me quite high. I therefore needed to S turn (I’d already taken flaps by this point so I couldn’t side slip, as that’s not recommended in a 172 with flaps extended) in order to make the beginning of the runway and not have to backtrack (which would likely have forced the other 172 to have to go around). The landing itself was fairly good, though in order to make the taxiway Charlie exit I did need to apply a little more braking than ideal.

Overall it was an excellent day, and I was pleasantly surprised by the number of people there (especially given there was an actual air display on at Duxford on the same day) – it’s reassuring that there is a good level of public interest in aviation. The next Open Day is Sunday 24th August – while the weather is likely to mean flying in again may be unlikely, if the date works for me I definitely intend to get there one way or another (though this time I’ll take some ear plugs!).

Jan 23

Flying Update

I’ve not posted for a while, as January has turned out to be a rather hectic month for me work wise. I have managed however to find a couple of chances to go flying thus far that are worth documenting…

11th January

I went up for a local bimble, with greggj, a student pilot and fellow forumite on the Flyer forums – this was all a little last minute, and a little random (given Greg is based in London so had a reasonable drive!), but it’s always nice to have company when flying, so all good.

It was a fairly ‘normal’ flight in terms of route etc:


During the flight Greg took some really quite nice photos, which I’ve included here (with his permission):

IMG_5951 IMG_5945 IMG_5959 IMG_5967 IMG_5968 IMG_5973 IMG_5975 IMG_5977 IMG_5978 IMG_5980 IMG_5985 IMG_5987 IMG_5991IMG_5998

The landing proved to be quite interesting – I was asked by ATC if I could accept the grass, I think as I was quite close to the one ahead and they probably thought it wouldn’t be able to vacate the runway in time. I accepted, and so lined up on the grass. The wind at this stage was quite blustery (from memory it was somewhere around 12 gusting 21 knots), so I had to try and keep the speed up on final in order to avoid a sudden drop in the wind from causing unexpected sink etc. This led to me having quite a bit of excess energy once I reached the runway, so I ended up floating quite a long time, and landing very long (albeit nice and smoothly) – had this been a touch and go I’d have had to go around as I wouldn’t have had enough runway left to get back up to flying speed had I landed, but I made the judgement that it was OK as I was landing only, and indeed there was still a good amount of runway remaining after I’d come to a stop, without requiring excessive braking etc.

All in all, quite a nice pleasant flight, with the little challenge at the end to make things interesting :)

19th January

Another local flight, this time taking up a colleague from Citrix, who actually has previously obtained a PPL at Cambridge, but then didn’t have sufficient time to keep it up, as such this was his first time in a light aircraft in about 7 years.

From what I could see and the airport weather information was reporting, I didn’t think this one was going to happen, however after chatting with a couple of instructors who’d just been up they reported that actually the cloudbase was at a reasonable height, and there were plenty of holes in it as well to get higher if needed, so I decided to give it a go.

The preflight checks etc were uneventful, other than discovering my GoPro camera had run out of battery (I think it had switched its WiFi stuff on and just drained it sitting in the bag), which was a shame.

The cloud ended up with a base around 2000′, so initially I tried to get above it, however I decided that there weren’t enough gaps for me to be entirely comfortable, and the views were going to be a bit rubbish, so I went back down and sat underneath them (hence the beginning of the vertical part of the log below looking quite amusing!).


The rest of the flight was spent at around 1800 – 1900′. There were a number of other aircraft about, including a couple of microlights, one of which appeared straight ahead as we were returning to Cambridge, so a slight deviation to the right required, along with a close eye on it as it was a little all over the place in terms of altitude etc.

My passenger grabbed a few photos, including a reasonable one of me during final approach, taken while we were about 200′ above the ground:

2014-01-19  2014-01-19_2


I was very slightly off being completely straight when landing, so there was a very slight bump when the mainwheels touched, but I was pretty happy with it, and my passenger thought it was a good one, which is always nice to hear!

I’m hoping at some point in the next month or so to take advantage of an offer the club is doing, and pair up with another pilot and spend a day doing lots of flying around – I’ll make sure to get lots of photos if that happens and have the Go Pro up and running to get some nice video!

Dec 29

Trip to Gloucestershire Airport

On Saturday a last minute post appeared on the Flyer forums from the person who runs Gloucestershire Staverton airport (Darren), stating that if anybody flew in the next day (which was forecast to be excellent weather wise), he’d do a discounted landing fee and was happy to do tower tours.

As such, I gave the aero club a ring first thing to see if they happened to have an aircraft available, which they did (this surprised me given the forecast etc, but I suppose in this Christmas – New Year period most people are wanting to relax at home), so I finished off the planning (I’d done some of it the previous evening on the off chance), and headed in.

Fortunately the aircraft I was to use (G-HERC) had been in the hangar overnight, so unlike the others there was no need to deice it etc (given the work my car required I had been expecting to have to do it). After getting it fuelled up (it should have been enough anyway, but you can never have too much fuel, so given it was just me and there were no W&B issues it was worth getting it filled up), I was fairly promptly away, and set course for my first turning point. I’d decided to route via the Daventry VOR, and then Banbury, as the straight line track would take me over / through various ATZs, whereas this route avoided them all, and only added a couple of minutes to the journey.

On route I spoke to Cranfield (as my track took me through the very end of their instrument approach), and then once in range got a traffic service from Brize Radar. After getting in touch with Gloucester (this is the airport’s callsign), it was clear there were a number of other aircraft arriving from various directions, but the controllers did a good job of keeping everybody informed of where all the traffic was and who was going to get where first. Indeed I became visual with the one joining ahead of me fairly early, and could follow him in to the overhead.

Gloucester has a number of runways, and the one in use today was the most into wind (22), but not the biggest (27) – this meant it was somewhat tricky to get myself in the right place as I kept subconciously trying to position for the ‘main’ runway and not the one I should have been. I ended up on quite a tight downwind leg, and at first when I turned base I thought I was probably going to end up too high and have to go around, however in the end it worked out quite nicely and was a pretty good landing. I was then given some nice clear directions and parking was with a marshaller, which was handy.

After enquiring at the desk inside I was told to sort the landing fee when I booked out to leave, so I headed to the restaurant (The Aviator), and found the other Flyer people. One ‘Aviator Burger’ later, it was decided to go and take up Darren’s offer of tower tours, so we headed back to the main building. There was a bit of ‘excitement’ while waiting to speak to the person on the desk (to ask them to call the tower), as the airport crash alarm went off. I know that most places have these, but I’ve never been around when one has gone off before – from a combination of watching out the window and listening to the radio traffic (there was a receiver behind the desk) it appears that an aircraft waiting to depart had experienced a small oil leak, onto a hot part of the engine which had produced a bit of smoke into the cockpit – nothing too serious in the end as they shut down and evacuated, and after the fire & rescue service had determined there was no ongoing fire they were towed back to the apron.

We then headed up to the VCR (visual control room) in the tower – the view was impressive, as was the kit they had. The controllers were all very friendly and explained how things worked etc. Unfortunately I couldn’t stay too long as I needed to depart to get back to Cambridge, but still a very interesting visit (I’ll have to see if I can do a similar visit at Cambridge at some point).

After paying the discounted landing fee and booking out, it was then out to the aircraft, a short taxi to the holding point, and away I went. I had to delay making my turn for a little while for noise abatement reasons (basically to avoid overflying the more sensitive areas), but then turned, initially parallel to, but abeam, my planned track, until I was safely clear of Gloucester’s ATZ at which point I regained the planned one.

The return journey was uneventful – some pretty nice sights to see, but sadly without any passengers to take photos I’ve nothing to post on here (I don’t want to take photos myself while flying, as it would take my attention away from look out etc). On arrival back at Cambridge I did a crosswind join for 23, and landed – I had the start of a balloon on landing, but not enough to warrant a go around, but definitely not as good a landing as at Gloucester.

After parking up, all that was left was the expensive bit (paying for a total of 2 hours 25 minutes of flying) – I think given how much it came to I’m going to have to give it a week or two before I go up again :(

All in all a very nice day out – days like today are definitely not to be missed, especially in the Winter when they don’t come around very often!

Tracks from the two flights below:

29-12-2013 out 29-12-2013 in

Dec 22

Night circuits

I’ve now completed both of my dual night circuit lessons – all that’s left to do for the night rating is five solo takeoffs and full stop landings (as they are full stop landings and not touch and go’s, they’ll take a little longer, and thus be spread across two more lesson slots).

After lots of cancellations due to weather, the first lesson was in very nice and calm conditions, with the surface wind calm, and the wind at circuit height nice and steady. This was great as it meant I could be concentrating on the new bits of looking for PAPIs and judging height etc, rather than using all my concentration simply keeping the aircraft level, as can happen on very blustery days!

We started off with a couple of normal circuits, making use of the runway approach lighting and PAPIs etc. As I seemed to have these basically sorted, we then proceeded to gradually reduce the lighting available (simulating landing at less equipped airfields). First we asked ATC to turn the PAPIs off, which just meant having to judge height visually, and did a couple of circuits like this.

Next time round we asked them to turn off the approach lights, and we turned off our landing light as well. The approach lights (also called ‘lead in’ lights) didn’t make a big difference (in fact if anything it was easier as they weren’t quite so dazzling), but without a landing light it becomes a lot harder to judge when to flare for the actual touchdown, so we did quite a few circuits like this, until landing to end the lesson.


The second session was all about emergencies, including:

  • Runway lighting failure (the correct action being to go around – apparently they used to have a codeword the instructor would give which in response ATC would turn off the runway lights, but that’s no longer done after one instructor (who no longer works for the club!) actually continued and landed without the lights!)
  • Various external lighting failures (the correct action being to land as soon as practical, and if appropriate inform ATC so they can warn other traffic etc)
  • Radio failure – in this situation you need to first attract the attention of the tower (by doing a normal circuit then go around, and flashing your navigation lights etc), then look for light signals from them indicating if you are cleared to land or not. This was practised getting both a solid green (cleared to land), and solid red (go around) from them – the lights are not entirely obvious, but having now seen them I should be OK should I need them ‘for real’.
  • Internal lighting failure – at this point a torch is required to see the critical instruments (airspeed and altimeter). The practise for this one became ‘interesting’ as I was asked to orbit for some instrument traffic, so had to do a couple of orbits in this way (in a real situation I’d probably have declared a PAN to get priority). While I ended up going around off the approach as I touched down a bit fast and so bounced a little etc, the approach itself was OK.
  • Total electrical failure – this is essentially a combination of the previous 3 issues – the only difference being that to attract ATC’s attention you no longer have any lighting available, so instead have to use engine noise as you pass the tower.

The conditions during the second lesson were significantly worse than the first – there was a fairly strong wind (albeit straight down the runway), with a lot of bumpy air, which while hard work was also good practise as it showed I could do it even when it isn’t perfectly calm (though I doubt I’d want to go solo in those conditions!)

Dec 14

Great Saturday Morning

Today was my first time taking up two passengers as opposed to just one – this requires doing a weight and balance calculation, as there may be a limit as to how much fuel can be put in to avoid overloading the aircraft, and consideration needs to be made as to whether the centre of gravity will be within limits. After doing the sums, we were as expected well within the permitted envelope, so no problems there (it would only have been an issue if someone had left the aircraft fully fuelled).

This was also my first time taking passengers up in G-MEGS (the G1000 aircraft) – this is quite good for passengers as with the nice large moving map display it helps to show where we are etc.

I’m getting quite practised at giving a passenger briefing now, though I did have to add to this one about how the person in the back would get out, as it requires one of the front seat passengers to get out first.

The takeoff was a little bumpy, but once we got above about 1500′ everything calmed down significantly. I started off with my usual sightseeing route out towards Grafham Water intending to do a wide orbit of it. I had to descend at one stage (slightly more rapidly than would have been ideal) due to a fairly thick cloud that appeared in the middle of some wisps of cloud I’d been ignoring. I also then had to turn as I spotted a helicopter passing right to left ahead, this took us overhead the water itself, at which stage we encountered a small patch of turbulence (likely due to water evaporating from Grafham) – nothing too bad, but not ideal conditions to be taking passengers through.

Grafham Water

Instead of heading up along the drains, we went back roughly following the A428, and I got as close as I sensibly could to Bourn airfield, in order that my passengers could see their house at Cambourne. Next up we headed out to Swavesey, intercepting the guided busway, which we followed back to Cambridge. This brought us in overhead Impington, where my passengers were in the process of buying a house (though in the end I managed to fly directly overhead and not give them a view – oops!).

At Cambridge I did an overhead join to give myself plenty of time to get used to the wind, as I knew it had picked up a little bit since we left. This led to a very strange effect while descending on the deadside, where we encountered an ~40 knot headwind, which meant while descending with our ~80 knots airspeed, our ground speed ended up around 40 knots – the effect of this meant that it felt like we were hovering rather than flying (it was enough to make me double check the standby instruments, as the only time I’ve seen the ground move that slowly before is during stalling practise!).

2013-12-16 17.45.56

The landing was OK, although as with the take-off it was a little bumpy on the approach as the wind was a little all over the place. I did have a tiny amount of right drift as I touched down, but nothing problematic.

A few more pictures taken during the flight:

2013-12-16 17.45.40 2013-12-16 17.45.52

2013-12-16 17.46.03 2013-12-16 17.45.34

And of course the GPS track:


All in all it was a very enjoyable morning, now just to hope for good enough weather for a few more days like this!

Dec 03

G1000 Conversion

One of the club’s aircraft (G-MEGS) has a G1000 glass cockpit – this means that instead of the ‘analogue’ instruments that most aircraft have, which look a bit like this:

Analogue instruments

It has two big LCD screens on which the information is shown (together with a few standby instruments in case they fail), like this:



While I’ve flown G-MEGS a few times during training, so it’s not entirely new to me, as I didn’t do my skills test in it, officially I need to get differences training and a signature in my logbook from an instructor, before I can fly it solo. I decided to get this done because more often than not G-MEGS is the only aircraft available for solo hire (as most students prefer to fly on one of the traditional aircraft as they’re more used to it).

I’d been given some information to read up beforehand, covering how to work the system (to the level I’ll need anyway). When it came to the first lesson slot I had booked the weather wasn’t good enough to fly, so instead we did a ground lesson where we both sat in the aircraft with the engine idling and went through all the functionality we could on the ground. This did result in one amusing moment whereby the driver of a fuel truck started trying to get our attention and pointing madly at the tiedowns (which we had deliberately left on), thinking we were about to try and move off with them still attached!

The first actual flight was planned to go into the local area, and look at some of the key differences such as the instrument scan if flying solely by instruments (while I should only ever do this if something has gone wrong and I’ve accidentally ended up in cloud, that’s obviously not the time to be thinking about it for the first time!), use of the navigation features (both traditional radio navigation using VOR / ADF and also the GPS). I was a bit all over the place on this flight – I think due to concentrating on the ‘TVs’ too much, rather than focusing on the actual flying (a good lesson in the importance of Aviate, Navigate, Communicate!). We did a couple of circuits, which I was really unhappy with (while both safe, the first was well off the centreline, and the second one I flared quite high on).

On the second flight I focused much more on the core visual flying, and it was much better, which built my confidence back up. This flight was covering some of the emergency situations (such as a failure of one or both of the two LCD screens, and how to identify failure of some of the instruments etc), together with some circuits for practise. After this the instructor was happy to sign me off.

I decided to do a number of solo circuits before offering to take up any passengers, just to make sure I was happy. I ballooned slightly on my first approach, and while I could have rescued it, I decided I hadn’t done a go around in a little while so it would be good practise. Due to instrument traffic backtracking on the main runway I had to do one of the touch and goes on the grass, again something I’d not done in a while, so good practise (the touchdown on this one ended up very nice which was good). After a couple more circuits I decided I was happy enough and so called it a day.




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