Old Buckenham at 140 knots

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A solo flight from Kemble to/from Old Buckenham (near Norwich) in a club PA28.

Windy indeed

Winds aloft were forecast at 30-40 knots but surface winds were a more reasonable 10-15, and straight down the runway too. The weather forecast for the weekend had looked dubious all week, and I’d not expected to be able to do much today. I hadn’t arranged to share a flight with another pilot or passenger. After checking out the forecast and METARs, I replanned a flight to Old Buckenham which I’d hope to fly to a few weeks earlier but had to cancel due to bad weather. After checking the NOTAMs, printing out the plog and loading up we were ready to go.

Only me today

When I got to Kemble, I wasn’t the only one there. Dave, one of the aircraft owners, was busy swapping a dead battery on one of the Warriors. I was the only club pilot with a booking and had my choice of planes – take whichever one you want he said. Dave also kindly authorised my flight and left me to it. The airfield seemed a bit quiet – it was 10am on a Saturday – and only one one other aircraft (a small jet) took off while I was doing my checks. With the paperwork done, I phoned Old Buck just to check they had received my PPR request sent before they opened and ask if there was anything unusual that day. They confirmed they could sell me fuel, so I decided not to top up before I left.

The surface wind was around 10-12 knots almost straight down the runway when departing 26, which made for a quick climbout and the lack of traffic meant I could turn right after departure and head north west. I routed via Moreton-in-the-Marsh, Daventry VOR, Lakenheath and then skirted south of the Danger Area to Snettisham and into the Old Buck circuit.

140 knots groundspeed in a Warrior

The winds aloft were as strong as predicted and I found my GPS telling me I was doing 140 knots over the ground (with 100 knots airspeed). This made for a really quick flight of about an hour. Brize gave me a basic service for the first bit, but just before Daventry told me to freecall London Information. I did wonder if that would be worthwhile, but they weren’t busy and did keep track of me, assigning their default squawk of 1177. Giving me the pressure setting in millibars, I replied in HectoPascals (the newly introduced terminology, even though they mean the same thing) and the controller apologised, saying that old habits die hard. I could clearly make out Sywell airfield and several others from the chart, but didn’t talk to them.

Enroute between Daventry and Lakenheath

London Info prompted me to call Lakenheath when I was somewhere around Wellingborough, which I did. I wasn’t exactly sure where the coverage areas begin and end. It was strange to hear an American voice from Lakenheath ATC, but they happily gave me a discrete squawk code and confirmed that at my height (3000 feet) there was no need for zone transit or traffic conflicts. The frequency was very quiet with only one or two other aircraft passing through. Apparently they don’t use the term traffic when warning you about other potential aircraft to look out for, instead using the word “target”, but there was so little around that I didn’t hear them say that myself.

Landing in front of the scrapyard

Switching over to Old Buck when I was about 10 miles out, they confirmed they “had my details” and asked me to report when entering the circuit at Snetterton. I descended slowly down to circuit height, and looked out the printout of the noise abatement circuit from their website. It was easy to follow, just keeping left of the main road and north of Attleborough making it quite a wide circuit. With the strong wind again blowing almost straight down the runway, final approach seemed to be in slow motion. What strikes you first is that about half of the original runway has been made into a scrapyard and you fly directly overhead on short final. You wonder if that’s where they put all the planes that mess up their landings, and you just hope you aren’t going to be added to the total.

Although I was close to the centreline, I flared perhaps a bit high resulting in a small bounce before landing. Compensating for the strong wind, I’d only used 2 stages of flaps and kept the speed up by 10 knots more than I would normally. With 800 metres of hard runway, there was plenty of time to sort it out although I did briefly consider going around at one point.

Progressive taxi

Air Ground were very welcoming and quickly recognised I didn’t know where I was going. On the PPR form, I’d indicated I wanted to upload some fuel, so they helpfully directed me to the fuel bowser. I needed to check they meant the old fuel truck parked outside the main buildings. After shutting down, I signed in and paid the £10 landing fee at the clubhouse, then walked across to the flying club who administer the fuel. A helpful chap came out and warned me that because I was the first customer of the day, he would have to do some extra checks. I was in no hurry so we discussed the new lower priced UL91 fuel available elsewhere while he started up the beast and drained off enough AVGAS to check for purity. We manually pulled the aircraft closer and I filled up to the brim which would avoid the need to refuel on my return to Kemble.

Fuel Bowser
The fuel bowser ready to dispense AVGAS

Jimmy’s Cafe

Now for the important part of the trip – lunch! Jimmy is an American who offers a range of dishes with American names. Todays’s special was Sausage Gumbo, apparently not from the far South, but California. A sort of sausage and bean stew on a bed of rice. Not bad for £3.50. A few locals popped in for a pint, and a couple of other aircraft were visiting, but generally it was relatively quiet.

Jimmy Cafe
The well appointed Jimmy’s Cafe at Old Buckenham

I spoke with the resident photographers, Dave Moth and Ivor Parkington, who both took pictures for the airfield photo gallery. They have several thousand to their credit, capturing almost everything that lands at the airfield and publishing on their Flickr photostream. They’ve included me too – I even moved the aircraft so that Ivor could get a better shot. It made the paint job look quite polished!

After checking there were no special booking out procedures, I was reminded to turn right soon after takeoff to avoid the village ahead. They obviously want to keep their neighbours happy. Checking the METARs and TAFs for Brize gave me confidence that the weather would be OK on my return – the current 10-12 knots surface winds were not forecast to increase much and the direction was OK.

Departing into the wind

Departure was brisk, the wind had picked up since I landed , so I took off quickly and climbed rapidly, heading back to the south of the danger area overhead Snetterton again. With a strong headwind, my GPS reported a groundspeed of around 70 knots and sometimes less – matching what my PLOG told me to expect. My first main leg straight back to Daventry was timed at 57 minutes and took pretty close to that in practice. The advantage of this route was there were few airspace restrictions and no transits required.

As on the way out, I spoke with Lakenheath who gave me a squawk code and warned me that this time they were active with traffic up to 2500 feet. I maintained 3000 feet again to keep out of the way. After getting their pressure setting in millibars (because it was 1000 they didn’t use the term), I then heard the controller talking to one of their own American aircraft, a KC10, giving them the pressure setting in inches. I’d now heard three different terms used in the course of the same day: Hectopascals, millibars and inches.

What’s ATC speak for go away?

After departing their MATZ area there was a sudden and rapid spurt of words to get rid of me – Charlie Charlie, squawk 7000, frequency change approved. I asked if that was for me. After a minute or two, they confirmed it was – I’m guessing this happened just at a change of shift. Our military radar doesn’t seem to be very tightly integrated with the civilian system for VFR flights.

The flatlands of East Anglia

So it was back to London Information, where I shared the airwaves with pilots crossing the coast to France or in the remoter parts of Wales. But it was very quiet – there must have been almost 30 minutes of silence – and at times I did wonder if my radio was still working. I dropped back down to about 2000 feet, partly see if the headwind was slightly less when closer to the ground. Kept the regular FREDA checks, switched tanks, looked out for traffic, tracked the Daventry VOR inbound and tried to match what I saw out the window with what was on the chart.

At Shennington I saw some gliders in action, including a winch launch, so deviated to the south to keep well clear. A dark cloud bank ahead made me return to my original track soon after and there was some turbulence as I flew through it.

Sun in my eyes

Switched back to Brize, who again gave me a Basic service and squawk until I was south of Northleach Roundabout. At that point I was finding it difficult to see directly ahead because of the low sun. Switching to Kemble, I was pleased to hear there wasn’t much traffic about and was suggested that a right base join for 26 would be available. With left hand circuits in use for 26, that would be the one pattern I hadn’t flown there before, as well as expediting my arrival. But without good visibility, I decided instead to make a direct crosswind join and use the standard pattern.

Surface wind was reported as 27 knots 210 degrees before quickly being corrected as 21 knots at 270 degrees – quite a difference between a major crosswind and almost straight down the runway. As with my earlier landing that day, final seemed to take forever even at 10 knots extra. Although I wasn’t quite centred on the runway, touchdown this time was one of the gentlest I’ve ever done. A quick glance at the GPS during the flare showed a groundspeed of 38 knots and the stall warner hadn’t gone off.

Signing off

Without needing to refuel, it was taxi straight back to parking, tidy up, covers on and paperwork. There had been nobody else from the club flying that afternoon so the clubhouse was deserted. There had been a fly-in at Kemble, I think from Fairoaks, and it was good to see several aircraft departing just before sunset when the airfield officially closes. With the benefit of lights at their home airfield, they can extend the day and enjoy some night flying on their return leg.

The outbound leg had taken about an hour airborne time (total 1:20) but the return leg took more like 1:40 airborne (total 3:00), which just shows what a strong wind can do to the range of a small aircraft.

Another 30 minutes PIC time and I think I have done enough to qualify for the AOPA Silver Wings award. Whether I manage that this year or not depends partly on the weather, but I certainly can’t complain about the lack of flying trips in the last few weeks. Club rules now give me 43 days currency, so I’d still be OK to fly in mid-January without needing a further currency check.

Technical Details

Today’s flight was in G-VICC, a PA28 Warrior 2, rented from the RAF Lyneham Flying Club, now based at Kemble Airfield, a VFR only airfield in the UK. The aircraft has ADF, 2xVOR, ILS, GPS (no moving map display), but the DME is not operational. The flight was VFR,  direct from Kemble to Old Buckenham and back, routing outbound via Moreton-in-the-Marsh, Daventry VOR, (passing south of Sywell/Northampton and north of Cambridge), Lakenheath, Thetford, Snetterton, Old Buckenham; return leg was simply reversed. SkyDemon Plan and SkyDemon GPS were used to plan the route, check NOTAM/weather, print a plog taking account of forecast winds aloft and fly the track. Pilotwizz (a free iPhone App) was used to check the METARS and TAFs on my phone.

Total flight time today: 3:20
Total PIC time to date: 69:30
Total flight time to date: 160:35

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