After my successful familiarisation night flight the previous week, I thought the next step to consolidate this would be to take a short solo local flight one evening after work.
With sunset around 8pm local, official night starts at 8:30. I could get to the airfield by 7:30, so planned to fly from 8 till 9. This would be similar to a late return from a landaway, and mean I could see how the light changes during twilight and land during full night.
After making a few calls to get permission I was set to go. Arrived to an empty clubhouse at 7:30 and filled in the paperwork. G-SNUZ had been working hard that day and I could feel the engine was still warm from an afternoon lesson. The light was still good during the external checks – there was no rush, so I took my time to get everything in place.
The radio was quiet but as I called to taxi, I heard a Hercules call for engine start. Better get a move on then. My taxi instructions sent me out to the intersection departure for 06 via the disused runway. As I approached runway 18/36, I called up to confirm clearance to cross it. I was told that I had already been cleared so didn’t need to ask again. I’ll need to bear this in mind for the future – I’m sure someone had told me I always need to confirm before crossing an active runway.
After power checks and clearance given, I was ready to go. The Herc needed the full runway so was lining up a long way behind me and getting ready itself. The tower cleared me for takeoff so I thought I’d better not hang around. After takeoff I turned left in the standard circuit direction and headed directly for Bath as planned. Changing to the Zone frequency, I was told this wasn’t quite what ATC had expected me to do – I should have turned right after takeoff so to be clear of the circuit. Asking if they wanted me to do anything different, I was told to maintain heading. I could see the Herc taking off as I passed the runway threshold on the downwind leg – I don’t think this caused any operational problem – but one to make sure I get right next time.
Although it was a bit murky with cloud, visibility was reasonably good. With the street lights coming on, it became easy to pick out the main towns and cities. Chippenham off to my left, the M4 motorway on the right. Departed the Lyneham zone and was given basic service. Set QNH and shortly changed to Bristol who gave me a basic service.
I flew overhead Bath and turned north west towards the bridges. I was very careful to stay below 2000 feet where that part of Bristol controlled airspace starts but didn’t want to go too low – concentrated on maintaining 1800-1900 feet.
The circus was in Bath in Victoria Park – its colourful disco lights contrasted sharply with the splendour of the Royal Crescent below me. As I left Bath I could see the racecourse clearly outlined and the large mass of Bristol civilisation to the left.
Flew up to the Severn bridges, identifying Filton, Cribbs Causeway shopping centre and other landmarks. I made it to Wales, going over the old bridge (having climbed back up to 3000 feet) and returning over the new one. The DME had stopped working when I was lower and it sprang back into life when I climbed up. The NDB, also locked onto Lyneham, continued to give me clear direction back to base.
Heading towards Yate, there was some wind from the north which meant I headed slightly north to compensate. As I reached m4 J18 and was thinking about asking to transfer back to Lyneham, the Bristol controller gave me a new Squawk code – he must have spoken to them directly and co-ordinated with them. He then gave me the Lyneham Approach frequency, rather than Zone, with a tone of voice that suggested he was slightly surprised at this.
Contacting Lyneham Approach, I could swear it was the same controller who had manned both the ground and tower frequencies – maybe its just that they all sound the same. He told me there were two Hercs about to depart from different runways and they would turn the lights out for them, so instructed me to orbit to the west which I did.
After what seemed a short time, he then told me to re-establish my approach and asked if I had the airfield in sight. Looking straight ahead I couldn’t make anything out. Quickly realising from the DME that it was only 3 or 4 miles away and that I really should be able to see it, I spotted the approach lights lit up like a Christmas tree off to the right and confirmed airfield in sight.
Switching to tower, I then continued a straight in approach with a small crosswind. It’s a long taxi from runway 06 to parking, so I intended to land long. I used the PAPIs to judge my descent angle and kept a close eye on the speed. Just before the end of the runway, I needed to add a bit of power to avoid being too low – I think this may be a common – and settled gently down on the runway as the stall warning horn started.
Finding the right exit could have been a bit of a problem, but ATC kindly flashed the lights on the right exit for me as I approached it. The snow markers (blue horizontal lights which mark the edge of the taxiway) led the way around back to the washbay. Closed down and thanked ATC for their patience.
Refuelled, parked, chocked and covered the aircraft followed by a quick bit of paperwork to bring the evening to a close.
Flight time 1 hour 5, of which 35 minutes was official night. I night landing, no night takeoffs, so doesn’t affect or extend my 90 day night currency requirement for carrying passengers.