London airport transits

On Friday 15th May, the government announced that recreational general aviation, where it complies with social distancing (i.e. solo flights or flights with members of your household only), was now allowed.

Up until this point, my aircraft (G-AVWT) had sat idle, apart from a single ‘Engine Health’ flight, to protect the engine from corrosion (in accordance with CAA guidance).

Once I read the announcement, I decided I would (weather permitting) go flying today (Monday 18th), and started thinking about what ‘mission’ to do. Before COVID-19, I would normally look to go to a destination I’d either not been to before, or that had a decent cafe etc – obviously that isn’t an option at the moment.

One idea that occurred, is that now would be an excellent time if I wanted to get any transits of controlled airspace over the busier London airports, given the almost total shutdown of commercial aviation (freight flights are still operating, and the occasional passenger flight, but that’s it) – taking this to its logical conclusion, I decided my plan would be to try and get transits of as many London airports as I could in one flight.

With that in mind, I planned a route – it wasn’t really practical to include London City, and I couldn’t accept a transit directly overhead anyway (as it wouldn’t be compliant with the glide clear rule, requiring me to always be able to glide clear of built-up areas in the event of an engine failure), so I decided the airfields I’d aim for were, in order: Stansted, Southend, Gatwick, Heathrow, Luton, with a route as follows:

Gatwick and Heathrow in particular would, if I got the transits, be new to me (I’ve transited the others at least once before). The waypoint marked between Gatwick and Heathrow is actually my parents house, so as an added bonus if I pulled it off I’d get to route overhead them!

As good airmanship, I also put together backup plans for each, so I knew what I was doing if I were refused the transit – these were as follows:

  • Stansted – route around the zone to the South, remaining below 2000′, and avoiding the TMZ (or if for any reason I had to enter it, descending below 1500′ first). Once round, route through the gap between Stansted and City, out towards Southend.
  • Southend – route to the West of the Southend zone
  • Gatwick – route round the zone to the West, then head Northbound
  • Heathrow – this one is the most complicated, the first choice would be to get a transit across Farnborough’s airspace, but failing that it would involve routing out to Alton, and then Northbound from there
  • Luton – route to the East of the zone through ‘Mig Alley’ between the Luton and Stansted zones

If I’d actually had to take all of these backup plans, the route would have ended up something like this:

Next up, while reviewing NOTAMs (NOtice To AirMen) ahead of the flight, I came across this:

This seemed a reasonable suggestion, however it turns out finding the addresses to actually be able to send flightplans to the relevant agencies is nigh on impossible – they’re not listed in the AIP anywhere. After querying with a few knowledgeable folks, I was advised that all the agencies I cared about wouldn’t actually process a flightplan sent to them in this way anyway, thus even if I could have found the addresses, it would be an entire waste of time (the suspicion being whoever raised the NOTAM was well-intentioned, but perhaps not knowledgeable about what would actually happen). As such, I didn’t file a flightplan in the end.

So, after sorting out a few bits of work in the morning, I headed to the airport, and got G-AVWT ready for flight. I departed from Cambridge, and once I was approaching Royston, changed to Essex Radar (the controlling authority for Stansted) – the first thing I heard was light aircraft that were clearly inside the zone, so this was a good sign. After a standard bit of back and forth on the radio, I was cleared to cross the Stansted zone “not above 2400 feet”, and routing via the 22 threshold – so that’s 1/5 then 🙂

As I approached the airport, the first thing I noticed was the sheer number of parked up jet aircraft (mostly Ryanair and Easyjet), a pattern that was to be repeated later:

After crossing out the zone, I switched to Southend, who happily cleared me on my requested routing via their overhead – so 2/5 now:

Leaving Southend, I continued South. I decided to route slightly further South than originally planned, just so I wasn’t tight on the corner of the Gatwick zone. A quick call to Gatwick, and my transit was approved (3/5), with “no clearance limit”, a sign that the airport was effectively idle at the moment (normally with an airport such as this you will get cleared to e.g. the Southern airfield boundary, and then be given a further clearance to cross over the runway / approach / climbout later). Passing Gatwick I saw a number of British Airways aircraft, along with Easyjet and TUI ones:

As I was approaching the Northern edge of the Gatwick zone, the controller asked what my planned routing was next – I explained and he then helpfully coordinated the transit with the Heathrow Radar controller (this was much appreciated as it was always going to be the busiest part of the flight, as it’s a relatively short distance between the Northern edge of the Gatwick zone and the Southern edge of Heathrow, so I was anticipating a lot of radio work, as well as wanting to try and route via my parents).

The Heathrow controller cleared me directly through the zone on a Northbound routing (4/5) – this is very much not normal for Heathrow (there is a defined ‘inner area’ that you normally will not get cleared through without prior arrangement – hence my expected routing via Weybridge, Ascot and Burnham), but as there was only a single arrival and departure in the entire time I was passing, I presume the controller didn’t mind routing me through.

The views on this leg were incredible – I suspect short of becoming a commercial pilot, I will never be able to fly that close to Heathrow again, and the views out my right hand side of London were also something to behold:

These views are also incidentally the source of my biggest self debrief point – it was questionable at some stages as to whether I was compliant with glide clear requirements during this leg – as I hadn’t planned on getting this transit, I hadn’t thought about it beforehand, and once I realised in the air, I decided it was safest to continue on than try and turn back or what have you. I should add this is absolutely not the controller’s fault, they are not responsible for assessing these restrictions – I should have refused the clearance and requested one to the West of the airport instead if available.

Approaching the Northern edge of the Heathrow zone, the controller again helpfully passed my details to Luton. On leaving the zone, I had to make a fairly prompt turn to avoid flying through the Elstree airfield ATZ (Aerodrome Traffic Zone), but with this completed Luton cleared me into the zone (5/5 yey!), routing towards Hyde. As I entered, they then asked if I could give them my best speed to the 26 threshold, as there was an aircraft establishing on a 12nm final – this done (a decent 130 knots indicated), I crossed over, and was then shortly given own navigation back to Cambridge:

Arriving back at Cambridge, it was a nice simple downwind join to land, and complete an epic flight – one that I suspect (and hope!) I will not have an opportunity to do again.

PilotAware

I’ve recently purchased a PilotAware Classic unit:

This is a system based around a Raspberry Pi which acts as a low cost portable traffic awareness device. It uses a software defined radio (actually a unit designed to receive DVB-T) to receive transponder (mode C/S and ADS-B) signals, along with it’s own 869 aiqk745.5Mhz transceiver for P3I signals. It integrates with various navigational software (in my case SkyDemon), and has an audio output for alerts.

There are a few different types of contacts that PilotAware can detect – specifically:

  • ADS-B: These are aircraft that are sending ADS-B out (also known as Mode S Extended Squitter) – essentially a GPS position that is transmitted specifying exactly where the aircraft is.
  • P3I: These are aircraft that are also equipped with PilotAware and are transmitting their GPS position using the P3I protocol.
  • Mode C: This is a standard transponder mode where the aircraft’s altitude is transmitted (technically the flight level based upon the standard 1013.25 pressure setting is transmitted, but this is then converted by ATC etc in to an altitude using the relevant QNH).
  • Mode S: This is a newer transponder mode, that operates in addition to mode A/C where the aircraft’s callsign (e.g. GAVWT) is transmitted, allowing identification of individual aircraft.

My aircraft has mode C and S out, but not ADS-B out at present, though it is in principal capable of it thus I hope to have this enabled soon.

For ADS-B/P3I aircraft, PilotAware can supply the exact position to SkyDemon, and it can thus be plotted on the moving map, with an indication of the altitude difference – for example in the screenshot below, the aircraft with callsign TCX79JU is 9500 feet above, and to the South West (you can set filters in SkyDemon to hide contacts that are sufficiently vertically / laterally separated, though obviously you want a reasonable buffer to account for reporting discrepancies):

In addition, depending on the configured thresholds you will get audio alerts indicating the range and altitude difference of any close contacts, in a format very similar to that you get from a traffic service from ATC.

For Mode C/S aircraft, PilotAware can make a very rough judgement based on the received signal strength as to how close the other aircraft is, and thus try to provide a three stage indication (a green ring (and “Traffic Notice” audio alert) initially, then a yellow “Traffic Alert” ring, and finally a red “Traffic Danger” indication). This can require a bit of tuning to avoid false alarms, and thus the default PilotAware configuration currently has this disabled. As an example:

After some initial teething problems (in particular I’d enabled the Mode C/S detection, but occasionally PilotAware would pick up my own mode C and report a red danger contact, particularly as I begun climbs or descents – this was fixed by setting a filter option in PilotAware), I now use the system on all flights – the unit sits on the coming, powered by an Anker USB power pack (which typically lasts around 3-4 hours on a full charge), with the ADS-B antenna mounted on the windowsill (picture to come).

I’ve found it useful several times, in particular even when getting a traffic service from ATC, if the traffic they are calling is also showing up it can be much more helpful in visually locating it. I’ve also had a couple of occassions where it has allowed me to locate conflicting traffic that I hadn’t otherwise yet seen – in particular on one occasion I was flying Eastbound at ~3000′ back to Cambridge, approaching Little Staughton airfield. I was starting to think about getting the Cambridge ATIS, and as I glanced down to get the paper ready to write the ATIS onto, I happened to notice a green traffic ring for an N-reg mode C/S contact at the same level showing on my iPad. Coincident with this I had a traffic notice, and then shortly afterwards a traffic danger audio alert from the PilotAware.

Scanning around I spotted a strobe, and then a burgundy coloured single engine aircraft at my 10:00 converging quickly. I descended ~400′ and passed safely underneath. Without the cue from PilotAware, I think I would have at best had to take quite severe avoiding action and probably file an airprox, at worst… There was no indication the other aircraft had seen me as there was no course / altitude changes at all.

The unit is quite low cost (~£160), and very easy to set up with nice clear documentation. The GPS receiver it uses is better than those built in to most tablets / phones (when using PilotAware its position is used by your navigation software), and can be placed with a better view of the sky than a typical tablet location. While it is not a panacea to the problem of lookout (it is uncertified software running on an uncertified device, and thus there is no guarantee it will see all transponding aircraft, let alone those which aren’t transponding – it is thus a secondary awareness aid only), as long as it is not used as an excuse to allow the visual scan to degrade, it is an excellent aid to reducing the chances of a mid-air collision (which is one of the biggest threats to a private pilot operating in uncontrolled airspace).

For more information on the PilotAware or to order one see http://www.pilotaware.com/

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 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3G8dPAdmyss

Yours sincerely,

Alex Brett

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:

1891500_10152707076697009_4012893762434924923_o 10560551_10152707076897009_5504861127923971892_o11265_10152707077222009_2455416933155839173_n 10506902_10152707078062009_730685257791741811_o 1782543_10152707078587009_3401509521297626528_o 906358_10152707078787009_6918249233324922072_o

EGSS

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:

10515095_10152707068897009_4967309705634307639_o

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!

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:

 14291434619_6a83652b7a_c

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:

 14476895994_66f09a55d4_c

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:

14476812982_dbe05cf996_b

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:

 14476939191_10ffab06a0_z

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

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:

11-01-2014

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!).

19-01-2014

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

2014-01-19_3

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!

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

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!)

Great Saturday Morning

cn5orwvp4m

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:

G1000

 

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.