Flying during the working week
I had a day off in lieu due to me because of working the previous weekend, so with an eye on the weather forecast arranged to take it at short notice. With all three of the club PA28 aircraft either being booked or away for servicing, the only choice left to me was the smaller Robin HR200. I’d completed the differences training on it back in June of the previous year, but never taken it on a landaway. It’s cheaper per hour than the PA28, which was also a positive thought. It has the usual six-pack of instruments including a VOR.
When considering where I might go, the poorer weather slowly creeping in from the West suggested I should go North or East. Connington, Barton or Gamston sprung to mind and I was pleased to find that my current Southerly chart stretches as far north as these places. Deciding against routing through the Manchester low level route on my own (I’d prefer to have at least one more set of eyes to keep a sharp lookout), I plumped for Gamston. The routing was to be to the East side on the way up, and return via the West side of the Birmingham and East Midlands CTAs.
A slow and cold start
It was -9C outside in the morning, and my first problem was that the car wouldn’t start. After putting the charger on and waiting a little while, I managed to coax it into life and set off for the airfield around 9am.
The club was busier today, with a couple of students and instructors organizing themselves. Roger suggested I should see if the Robin would start before doing anything else, because it hadn’t been used for 2 weeks and had been sitting out in the cold all that time. I did this, finding that while the engine would turn, it just wouldn’t fire up. After a call to the owner, and a pause, I tried again and finally got it to start and let it warm up for a few minutes. The trick seemed to be continually pumping the throttle while turning the starter.
After completing the paperwork and the rest of the checks, I returned and found it started again straight away. I taxied round to the pumps for fuel and filled up to the brim – there being no weight and balance problems with a single pilot and full fuel tank.
Who to talk to
With a plog printed out from SkyDemon, I intended to try and not be so reliant on the GPS as I often am. I used the Daventry VOR as one waypoint, so could track inbound and outbound from there and did my best to visually relate what I saw on the ground with the chart.
One aspect I wasn’t entirely sure of was which radio controllers I should be talking to on the way up. The instructor who authorized my flight had suggested Coventry, but through that Cottesmore may no longer be providing a LARS service. As it happened, I was able to work the different stations from Brize, Coventry, Cottesmore, Waddington (with a direct handoff from Cottesmore). The only real issue I had was with the transponder which several controllers asked me to recycle the squawk code. Visibility was reasonable, with a cloud base of around 3000 feet. With the cold temperatures, I didn’t want to venture into the cloud if I could avoid it.
There were a couple of NOTAMed areas, and parachute drop areas that would have been on a more direct route that I needed to avoid.
Arriving at Gamston
As I approached Gamston, I requested to change to their frequency – the airfield notes say they like you to call up about 10 miles out – but the Waddington controller asked me to stay with them for another couple of miles while she co-ordinated nearby traffic. It’s pretty unusual for ATC to want you to continue with them – I’ve found that several times they can’t wait to get rid of you – so this made a change. Gamston has its own VOR which makes tracking towards it very easy – the Robin does have a VOR but no DME, so I relied on the GPS to confirm the distance to run. It’s right on the edge of the Doncaster CTA and would be easy to infringe the zone if you overshot. Without having looked up the airfield on Google Maps beforehand, I wasn’t exactly sure where or what I was looking for. As I got closer, the runways were clearly visible with large markings.
By that time I had already made contact with their A/G controller and received the airfield information. A standard overhead join for 03 left hand meant I needed to position myself to the west before descending deadside keeping outside the town itself. There was little other traffic about and wind was calm, so this reduced the pressure and I made a reasonable landing to stop just past the turnoff. A quick backtrack and some taxi instructions had me parked up in no time.
With my hi-viz jacket on (this is certainly one place you need it), I walked the few yards to the café and tower area. The airfield has an impressive array of large hangars with an even more impressive array of up market twin prop aircraft inside. There was also some helicopter activity and the more usual single prop GA aircraft around too – a steady trickle of traffic continued while I was there.
Entering the brand new and very modern control tower building, I walked up the stairs and chatted to the controllers – I think a new one was being trained that day, and paid the landing fee. They were very helpful about explaining where I should carry out my power checks prior to departure.
Returning downstairs to the Apron Café, I had an excellent lunch in what is a very smart and well fitted out facility. The food was upmarket and very well presented – prices ranged from £10 for fish and chips to £15 for a steak, with a range of other choices. It seems quite popular, so I had had to reserve a table when calling the tower for prior permission to land earlier in the day.
Returning to the Robin, I checked the fuel and oil. The fuel level isn’t easy to determine – you simply put a long dipstick into the only tank and read off the level. The dipstick level matched my expectation of what should be left after having filling it up to the brim before leaving Kemble, so I was confident that I had enough to return.
On departure, I headed off to the South west and routed to the west of East Midlands, receiving a basic service from them. The visibility was poor due to the low sun and murky cloud, so I wasn’t too pleased when the controller asked me to turn my transponder off. He had tried to get this working adequately by having me recycle and change the squawk code several times, and come to the conclusion that the last digit was stuck on “1”. I kept listening out for traffic on the channel and would still have been visible on primary radar.
Tracking further south, I was asked to report my position. Although I could point to it on the chart (and GPS), I hadn’t been expecting this and needed a couple of seconds to think up a good answer. So I just said standby, and shortly after reported it as two miles from a known airfield. I was then asked to leave the frequency and suggested to contact Birmingham or London Info. I guess he was pleased to get rid of me by then!
Low on fuel?
At this point I was looking at the fuel gauge and having some second thoughts about my calculations. It was reading about 1.5 (out of 5) and I had another 30 minutes to go, so I thought that according to that indication there should be enough with still a full hour in reserve. But my calculations knowing that it had been full before departure suggested that this should be an underestimate, so I decided not to stop and refuel. (Validation that I had adequate fuel supplies was borne out later when I refueled after landing)
As I was shortly approaching Halfpenny Green, I elected instead to radio them up and tell them I was crossing their overhead. I messed up this radio call and burbled on for far too long – I should just have asked for “known traffic affecting”. Shortly afterwards, as I reached Worcester, I called into Gloucester and received a Basic Service.
I doubt if there would have been much glider activity at Nymphsfield or Aston Down, but kept to the east of both. With little traffic at Kemble, I was able to join crosswind and make a reasonable approach to land. Again, fuelled up to find there was plenty left after landing and returned to parkup, pack up and finish the paperwork.
This sure beats a day at the desk.