I’d been looking around for another club to fly from after completing my training at Kemble. The main options were:
– Kemble, where I felt there wasn’t much of a club atmosphere. There was little activity other than the one flyout I had been on earlier in the year, despite this being a full cost club.
– Compton Abbas, which I had enjoyed the lessons there. Having visited a few times, I found the drive there was quite long (and not on good roads). Without any navigation aids, and being grass, this field could be unusable for longer periods than some of the other options. The club appeared to be very friendly and there were flyouts, but not during the weekends when I could go. The regular club aircraft were heavily booked, meaning it might be more difficult to hire them for longer trips. There were other aircraft on the books which could also be hired, but required differences training.
– Cotswold Aero Club, Gloucestershire. Very successful and well run club, the issue seemed to me to be how booked up their club aircraft were. Like many clubs, if you want to book a 2 hour slot well in advance, that’s OK, but longer bookings and/or at short notice were more difficult.
– Buying into a share. I’d read of others who had done this, but felt it would be better to try and gain more experience first so that I could judge better what type of flying (and where from) I would really like to do. These tend to be a long term commitment which can’t always be quick and easy to get out of if there are problems.
– RAF Lyneham Flying Club. Based at the nearby large airforce base, this club is primarily for military personel who want to qualify as a PPL (credit is given for qualified service pilots who are cross training for civilian careers) as well as solo hire. The club also offers aerobatic training, has run successful club flyouts and instrument training. The base is open 24/7, although special permission is required to fly at night.
After linking up with a civilian who flew from RAF Lyneham flying club, I went along as a passenger to see how things worked there and was able to apply to join. Normally these clubs have limited numbers of civilian members, so I was lucky to be asking at the right time of year.
The first step is an induction flight, a sort of mini-skills test, where they show you the local procedures and check that you can fly adequately. As a full ATC airport, the procedures at first seemed daunting. My experience at Gloucestershire helped, but there were more frequencies (4 to choose from) and a formal clearance to be copied down and read back before departure.
The club has 3 PA28 aircraft plus an aerobatic Bulldog which are all available at very attractive (ie low) hourly rates. There are no landing or approach fees to pay, which meant solo flying worked out at less than half what I was paying for dual instruction at Kemble. A good deal indeed.
The downside is that access to the base requires security clearance, making it difficult to take guests along at short notice.
I had earlier visited to do all the paperwork and arrange for special passes to access the base. Today involved about an hour’s flight with Mike, the resident instructor, who would familiarise me with the procedures and check out my skill level. These involved everything from how to fuel the aircraft (the club has its own bowser and tops up aircraft to “tabs” level after every flight), work with the ATC procedures and understand all the flying aspects of the club. We took off and departed the controlled airspace zone, practiced some PFLs, then returned for a few circuits.
At the end, Mike pronounced me fit to fly. Until I have 100 hours of solo Pilot in Command (PIC), I would need to obtain authorisation before every flight from one of the club’s instructors – usually by phone on the day. He recommended that my first flights should be with another member of the club which seemed very sensible. I promised to ensure that my first few flights were with someone else who knew the ropes.