A Change of Plan
The first club flyout of the year was planned to visit Perranporth in Cornwall, a very scenic airfield right on the edge of the cliffs just west of Newquay. With 3 pilots and up to 9 people, this would be quite a reasonable group and a good start to the annual program.
Our plans went awry when looking at the forecast. Although there was no wind or rain to worry about, low cloud in the south west meant we would at best be flying quite low, especially over the Mendips.
A phone call to Mike, one of the club instructors, provided some helpful guidance. He suggested I rang Newquay (this was before Perranporth had opened), and when they told me about seafog engulfing the runway down to 600 feet until mid afternoon, the decision was quickly made not to go there. Hastily, we replanned for the alternate of Sherburn-in-Elmet, just north of Doncaster. This popular GA airfield has a hard runway and would require good navigation and radio work to get there. The route I planned took us west of Birmingham and East Midlands, then over the Yorkshire moors on the way there, returning to the east over Scunthorpe , Melton Mowbray and Daventry. With an airborne flight time of around 1:30 each way, we’d be looking at about 4 hours total for the day.
Unfortunately one of the pilots, Andy, dropped out due to illness, leaving Bruce – another relatively new/low hours PPL – and myself each with two passengers. We each had one experienced (but out of currency) PPL and one student PPL passenger, so were fairly equally balanced.
Down to our last 2 GPS units
The crew had A-checked and preflighted both aircraft while both pilots had been deciding on the destination. I had already planned and printed out a PLOG for this alternate route using SkyDemon. Bruce hadn’t, so we waited while he worked out his own plan, sharing the details and waypoints I had used. I marked up the flight path on the chart, using for the first time the Northern chart I had bought earlier in the month. Thinking we were fully prepared, we mounted up and got ready to start the engines.
I pulled out my relatively new 7 inch GPS and powered it up, only to find that I had reconfigured it as a SatNav and not restored it to SkyDemon. If I had remembered, I could have been doing this while waiting in the clubhouse. Fortunately, I still had my older model and plugged that in – it wouldn’t have the route, the electronic charts were a few months out of date, but it should be good enough. Without having been used recently and with a flat battery, it took a long time to lock on to the GPS signal and determine a position – we had departed the airfield before it was fully locked on.
Additionally, we still had the onboard/built-in moving map GPS together with another older handheld Garmin owned by one of my passengers. With those, together with good charts, plenty of lookout and a plog to follow, I thought we would still be covered adequately.
Taking off from 26, we turned right and climbed out leaving Aston Down well to port. We routed up overhead Gloucester, who gave us a basic service, then Halfpenny Green, then squawked a listening code of 0011 and tuned into Birmingham Radar. Further north, we switched to East Midlands and then Doncaster. It seemed there was low cloud over the moors, but as we approached we found we could fly at a reasonable level with plenty of visibility. There were some downdraughts though that made it a bit uncomfortable at times.
Bruce had chosen to fly much higher, some 4500 feet or so, and later reported it was much smoother up there. We could hear them saying they planned to switch to a Military LARS service north of Birmingham – this surprised us because we understood they didn’t work weekends, and was later borne out. Doncaster was really busy on the radio and we had trouble getting a word in edgeways, but did confirm a Basic Service. As we got closer to our destination, we changed to Fenton Approach – the military controller from Church Fenton. Sherburn lies just on the edge of their MATZ, and you have to ask for MATZ clearance before talking to Sherburn. We were allocated a discrete squawk, and as we reached some 5 miles out, I asked to change to the airfield frequency. I was given clearance and frequency change was approved.
Sherburn Radio were very helpful and gave clear airfield information. The overhead join was to be at 1500 feet, with the circuit active at 1000, so good height keeping was essential. There seemed to be someone flying in a strange direction at circuit height below me as I reached the overhead, but once descending the other circuit traffic became clearly visible.
We landed just as the aircraft ahead vacated the runway. Shortly afterwards, Bruce also landed and turned immediately off onto the grass to clear the runway and allow the following aircraft to land. I hadn’t realised you could do this, but fortunately there had been no-one immediately behind me.
We taxied into parking, and walked into the clubhouse to pay our fees and enjoy a well deserved lunch – Sausage Sandwich.
After refuelling – the price of AVGAS was over 10% cheaper there than at our home base – we took off and departed south to ensure we were clear of the MATZ. There is a slight kink in the flight path for noise abatement on departure, but otherwise straightforward. Turning East, we headed towards Goole and got a bit closer than I would have liked to Doncaster airspace – we were under the 2000 feet lower limit so didn’t infringe. Goole was clearly visible as was the view of the Humber (and the Humber Bridge) ahead. Turning south, we overflew Scunthorpe and routed via Melton Mowbray.
The sun was in our eyes now, and despite using sunglasses, the visibility ahead was more difficult because of it. I was glad of the extra pairs of eyes looking out onboard.
I picked up the Daventry VOR and DME signal quite early, and used these to track inbound and outbound from the Beacon. We talked to Coventry for a basic service, then switched to Brize as we got closer to home. Whether my routing was thought to be a bit close to Little Rissington or not, the controller was very helpful in reminding me they were active – we could see various gyrocopters in the circuit – and I routed a little further north to keep well clear.
Approaching Kemble, the sun was in our eyes and there were a couple of aircraft in the circuit. I elected to make a crosswind join over the runway, slotting in between the circuit traffic. The wind must have been quite variable and gusty – I found it sank during very short final and there was a (small) bounce. Where I had been advised of some 10-12 knots of wind, the next pilot was told the wind was calm.
We taxied back to parking where Bob was waiting ready to fly the aircraft away for its 50 hour maintenance check. Paperwork done, it wasn’t long before we were able to leave for home. A good days flying which had made first use of my new Northern Chart, this was more fun with the larger party of six and added almost 4 hours more PIC time in the log book.
The route on Google Earth (missing the start/finish near Kemble due to GPS issues) is shown below:
Hours today: 3:50
Total Hours: 178:15 (PIC 87:10)