Family Flyout to Alderney

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Plans for a family flyout

I’d been working up to a family flyout for some time. The Jubilee Bank Holiday at the start of June gave us a few days and probability of good weather to plan something more adventurous. The initial plan was to take the club Arrrow to France for a couple of nights, staying overnight in Dinard and Cherbourg, returning via Alderney on the last day. However the poor weather shortened the time window, threatening any flight at all, but a window appeared for Bank Holiday Monday and we decided to make it a day trip to Alderney instead.

Planning for the trip, I searched the internet and asked a few questions on the pilot forums. The information is poor, inconsistent and sometimes downright inaccurate. The Channel Islands zone is Class A airspace, the same as Heathrow despite having far fewer flights, and this imposes tighter requirements. You’ve also got to notify the Special Branch about your flight 12 hours in advance, in addition to the standard GAR form sent to the Border Agency.

The day before, I rang Alderney ATC who were very helpful and confirmed I didn’t need any prior permission either for SVFR to enter the Jersey Zone (as said in their website) or to visit Alderney itself. They have plenty of parking on the grass.

The night before, I emailed the GAR form to both the border agency/customs and Gloucester Police/Wiltshire Police. I received a standard automated reply from the police acknowledging my email, and informing me that I should retain this as receipt of having given them prior notice. You don’t get any response from the customs/border agency email. I later found that although Kemble airport has a postal address in Gloucestershire, the police cover it from Wiltshire so it was just as well I sent the form to both constabularies.

I also submitted flight plans using SkyDemon from Kemble to Alderney and back, routing through Danger Area D026 and keeping to the west of Bournemouth. This was a fairly direct route and would have me arriving directly north of Alderney with about 30 minutes over the water. Flight time in the Arrow at 130 knots was estimated at just under an hour.

In the morning, I rang Plymouth Military. Someone answered the phone at 7:50am but told me to call back at 8 when they officially open. I did so and asked about the status of D026 and neighbouring areas. They couldn’t give me a definitive answer, but said I should radio up Plymouth Military for a Crossing Service which I would be likely to get. Since my return flight was planned after 5pm, they said I should call London Military on the way back.

NOTAMs highlighted that the wind indicator at Alderney wasn’t working, and surface winds would be estimated by the tower controller. The weather looked good for the day, forecast cloudbase of around 2500 to 3000 feet minimum, so we decided to go.

Departure from Kemble and some audio problems

Arriving at Kemble around 9, the family headed off to AV8 while I filled in the paperwork and loaded up the aircraft with liferaft, lifejackets, PLB and did the A check. Fuel was above tabs, but I’d done a full W&B calculation which showed that even with the family and baggage we’d be within limits. I taxied round to AV8, giving the engine plenty of time to warm up, where the crew could embark. I’d also confirmed with the tower that there weren’t any issues with my flight plan. We put on lifejackets and the kids enjoyed playing flight attendant by demonstrating the inflation toggles to each other.

It became apparent that the new audio panel doesn’t quite work with four onboard. The passengers could barely hear me (and I couldn’t hear them), but they could hear me talking to ATC and their response. I checked the panel switches and volume controls, but without success.

Dark Cloud
Some mixed clouds around 3000 feet as we departed in the morning

Danger Area Crossing Service

Departing to the south, we routed over Chippenham, Frome and just west of Compton Abbas, with a basic service from Bristol. Switching to Bournemouth, they were ready to give me a transit, but told me to contact Plymouth Military when I explained about crossing D026. Freecalling them, I asked for a Danger Area Crossing Service (new for me) and they gave me a discrete squawk and confirmed my clearance. We flew just west of Poole habour and got great views of Lulworth Cove as we coasted out. I changed tanks just before leaving the coast, which was the mid point of our flight.

Alderney approached from the North

A late clearance

It was pretty quiet on the Plymouth frequency and we flew directly south parallel to another danger area. Late in the day, Plymouth told me to squawk 7000 and freecall Jersey – I should have prompted them to change frequency earlier. Jersey Zone answered my call and gave me a squawk code. After a couple of minutes or so, and with only a couple of miles to go before the Channel Islands Zone, I heard the “Cleared to enter” phrase that I was hoping for. This was a Special VFR clearance, because the Zone is Class A and I was told I was under a Radar Control Service, then given vectors (specific course) to steer. I was told to expect to use runway 08.

Mixup on the radio and a rollocking

We could now see Alderney (and the French coast) quite clearly and approached it from the North and slightly east. As we got closer, I was expecting to be switched to Alderney Tower and had the frequency lined up to change over. I heard the words “resume own navigation” and mistakenly though this meant I was clear of the Class A zone and ready to be handled by Alderney. Changing frequencies, I called up Alderney and identified myself.

Alderney 08
Alderney 08 approach with the lights on

It quickly became apparent that they weren’t expecting me and that I shouldn’t have changed over at that point. I got a firm rollicking from the tower, who had spoken with Jersey (they were wondering why I wasn’t talking on the radio), but was then cleared to land on 08. It’s nice to see a full set of landing lights on – this easily identifies the runway. My crew doubled checked that the landing gear was down. There was about a 10 knot crosswind from the North. With 4 passengers and 3 hours of fuel onboard, I should have kept a bit more power on during the flare. The landing was firm, but stable and we backtracked to Bravo, across the apron and parked on the grass behind near the fence. 1 hour 10 minutes chock to chock, with a groundspeed of around 140 knots due to the tailwind most of the way.

Touchdown almost on the numbers

Parked up

Grass parking – only one or two other aircraft around

Life jackets off and Hi-vis jacket on, we walked along the marked pedestrian route past the hangar and firestation to a little office next door. I should have brought a photocopy of my GAR form (I left it in the aircraft), so we had to fill out another. Landing fees are £23 (can pay by credit card), reduced to £15 if you upload 20 litres or more of fuel. Conscious that we would be heavy on W&B, I didn’t want to fill up completely but agreed to 20 litres. I walked back to the aircraft where the bowser was driven up and filled up, taking payment by credit card in the truck. The family were given various tourist information leaflets to read while they waited.

Walking around island

Walked back and with the family went through customs without being stopped. The airport has a small cafe (seats inside and out) and a small check-in area. We walked into town which isn’t far, and down through to the harbour.

Alderney is only 3.5 miles long and 1.5 miles across, so ideal to walk around or hire bikes for the day.

Smart art-deco filling station in St Mary’s
Marais Hall pub in St Mary’s
Unlike the UK, Phone boxes are Yellow, Post boxes are Blue

We had lunch at a pub overlooking the bay, plenty of seating inside and out, and there were quite a few yachties there too. Food was excellent, and I was restrained enough to avoid the dessert.

Braye beach

Then we walked around the harbour, and along most of the mile long breakwater, then boarded the tourist train – a couple of old London Underground carriages with a diesel locomotive – that toddles gently along to the north end of the island. The sun was out now, and we walked around Mannez lighthouse, saw some very impressive old forts that have been converted into premium residences. The beaches looked very enticing in the sunshine, and we walked along the main Braye beach looking at the rockpools.

Braye harbour – full of yachts
Mannez Lighthouse at north east end
Converted fort into modern accommodation with France in the background, only a few miles away
Braye main street decorated for the Jubilee

We almost popped into the museum (it was open), but most places were shut due to the Jubilee Bank holiday. There was a large celebration going on in the centre of the town, but by then it was time to walk back up to the airport where we sat outside in the sun and had a quick cuppa. The airport closes around 1830 and I’d filed for a departure at 1800. The controller had suggested I might like to leave a little before then to avoid clashing with two commercial flights at that time.

We had a cuppa at the airport cafe. The Channel Islands print their own notes, and I had three pounds notes to spend before leaving. There was free Wi-Fi in the cafe (which even worked from the seating outside), and the combination of iPhone and Pilot Wizz made it easy to check the METARs and TAFs back in England. We’d caught the sun during the afternoon and our legs were tired after all that walking.

It was 1700 when we went through security (very much a formality) and walked back to our aircraft. There was only one other visiting aircraft there that day (from Thruxton), with perhaps two or three locally based planes coming and going. The commercial service to/from Guernsey and the mainland seemed to operate almost every hour, with perhaps about 10 or so passengers on each flight. The gaggle of taxi drivers waited patiently outside the terminal watching arrivals closely and then heading inside to pickup business from the arriving hordes.

Ready for departure – but a few hiccups

After a quick all round check, we again put on lifejackets. SkyDemon wasn’t playing ball – I’d downloaded the next version of software and for some reason the GPS wasn’t starting up by default, so I had to manually start it despite doing the same thing in Kemble before departure. After start, I called for airfield information and was immediately given taxi instructions to the hold. On reflection, I’m not sure if I should have called for start first, but didn’t because I normally associate that with large airports that have ATIS. With the wind from the North, it was behind me when I did the power checks at the hold – not ideal, because this doesn’t provide full cooling to the engine. Checks done, I reported ready for departure.

I then got given a full SVFR clearance with to ORTAC, not above 2000 feet and squawk code. I’m pretty sure it didn’t include the next frequency to call after departure (probably because this is obvious ).  I hadn’t quite been expecting the clearance then (although it seems obvious now), so it took me a little while to copy that down and the tower asked me why I wasn’t reading it back. I read it back and confirmed OK, and was cleared to enter and backtrack 08. My plog was for a direct north departure, same as inbound routing, and I didn’t know exactly where ORTAC was (even though its a well known routing waypoint). I knew it was somewhere along the north edge of the zone, but had to have a quick check on the chart to confirm that and estimate a course to take me there (about 030).

At this point, the little green light for gear down on the nosewheel was flickering a little (say 90% on) and I was a little concerned about it, so decided to ask to taxi back to parking and take a further look. As we taxied back, the light came full on and I decided that this wasn’t a gear problem itself – probably a minor issue with the lighting circuit. So I asked for and returned to the hold and was then cleared to enter and backtrack again. (The owner later confirmed the flickering had been seen before; thorough checks meant he was confident there was no mechanical fault but investigations to find the root cause proved unfruitful).

With this slight problem distracting me, I hadn’t set the squawk code given in the clearance nor lined up Jersey Zone frequency on the radio to talk to. After take-off, Alderney told me to switch to Jersey Zone, so it was a quick dialup of their frequency and “with you at XXX feet”. They reconfirmed the squawk code, which I dialled up, and asked me to squawk ident (not done that with this aircraft before, so had to hunt for the right button). They repeated the SVFR clearance to ORTAC, and corrected me when I said not above 2000 rather than 3000 – I think they must have recleared me with a higher limit after departure. And I’m sure they insisted that I said it was a “special” VFR clearance (rather than just “cleared”). They definitely got a pretty poor impression of me from my R/T today.

Back to Blighty

Alderney in the evening sunllight on departure to the north east

After that, the flight was pretty routine. I did rely on SkyDemon to take me to ORTAC, but my initial heading wasn’t too far off. We got some great views of Alderney and the French coast as we left. A few miles north of ORTAC, Jersey suggested I freecall London Information and bade me farewell – probably happy to be able to let me go. I said I’d contact Bournemouth instead, and did so.

Transit through Bournemouth

They asked me what routing I planned to take, so I asked for a transit from Sandbanks to Tarrant Rushton, on the west of their Zone. This was granted when still 20 miles out, with me to report at Sandbanks. There were some dark shower clouds ahead, but as we approached there wasn’t really any turbulence or poor visibility. Once back in England, the familiarity of the procedures and landmarks made it easy to route back from Compton Abbas, Frome, Chippenham to Kemble.

Change of runway at Kemble

Approaching from the south and making traffic calls, I was expecting to use runway 26. The wind reported at Brize before we left was 330/7, but I thought I saw an aircraft on the 08 runway so plumped for that. As I descended deadside for the overhead join, I could see that the windsock was favouring 26 and so turned onto downwind in what must have seemed like an unusual traffic pattern. With the gear down lights all fully on, flaps down we made a firm but stable landing and taxied back to parking.

I remembered to call up Swanwick to close my flight plan – took me a while to figure out which number to call to do this – and completed the paperwork while the rest of the family headed for the toilets.

Better informed for next time

It was about 12 hours door to door for this day trip, which was very much enjoyed by the family. They certainly thought my landings were better than I did. It did stretch my piloting skills somewhat, and certainly was more difficult than going to Le Touquet or Calais. Next time, knowing better what to expect, I should be much more comfortable and relaxed.

Some firsts for today:

– First flight to the Channel Islands
– First flight in Class A airspace
– First “foreign” trip with the family
– First time using a Danger Area Crossing Service
– First rollocking from ATC

Time this flight: 2:40
Total PIC: 110:50
Total Time: 203:55

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