Cambridge on a balmy summer afternoon

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The Arrow is back!

I’d  planned a flight this afternoon, but learnt that the Arrow had completed its flight check the day before after repairs which had it out of action for almost two months. My 60 day currency before I needed a flight check with an instructor was only 3 days away, so on arrival at the airport when I realised that someone else had cancelled their booking I swapped mine. I was the last member to fly the Arrow before it went in for service and the first when it came out.

I had a free landing voucher for Cambridge and my daughter occupied the right hand seat.

Dark clouds to the West – haze and clear views to the East

The weather in Bath didn’t look good at all, with very low cloudbase. The forecast for the day was mixed, with some thunderstorms especially in the west. We took off and saw a range of dark clouds over the ridge to the west with a low cloudbase. We routed over Moreton-on-the-Marsh, Banbury, Bedford, Bourne and approached Cambridge from the south west to keep clear of a danger area in the city itself. Basic service from Brize, who handed us over to Cranfield and then Cambridge Approach itself.

Outbound, east of Banbury
A few clouds and haze, but nothing serious

Dreadfully poor R/T

All went well until I contacted Cambridge, which was probably some of my worst radio for some time. Often when arriving at smaller airports, you just announce you are inbound and ask for joining instructions. At a larger airport, you first listen to the ATIS (which I did) and then ask the approach controller for Basic service, mentioning the ATIS code letter on your first call. Having “passed my message” to enroute controllers without fuss up to that point, I somehow managed to omit the ATIS code and blurt out some vague request for joining instructions that wasn’t entirely clear. I didn’t even establish if I was IFR or VFR. This was quickly resolved by the controller asking me for the additional information and then asking me to report when airfield in sight.

I immediately confirmed I was already close  (about 3 miles, still about 3000 feet) and was warned of another aircraft heading in the opposite direction at a lower altitude – we spotted him before the radio call was complete. With us now positioned to join downwind, we were handed over to the Tower who asked us to report downwind. There was a Tiger Moth in the circuit in front of us, easy to identify, and we were cleared to follow it. It seemed to have taken a pretty extended downwind leg, but we followed that route which ensured we were well setup for a (longer than usual) final approach. The approach plate for the airport does state that inbound aircraft should follow the 3 degree glidepath from 1000 feet, so I think this was normal for this airport rather than the standard practice of turning onto final at around 500 feet.

A stable approach

With the PAPIs to confirm the glidepath and relatively little crosswind, I had a long and stable approach at the correct speed (90mph). After the roundout, we floated somewhat longer than I expected but touched down on the mains reasonably gently. I’d used up a fair bit of runway and we exited, getting very clear taxi instructions from the tower to return on the grass taxiway onto the grass parking area.

In retrospect, I should have completed an overhead join as normal with approaching most other airfield but somehow I had convinced myself that large airports work differently. I’m also annoyed I hadn’t setup the ILS receiver so that I could check I was on glideslope while keeping a good look out the window and flying a visual approach. I’m getting far too rusty with my IMC skills and could do with more practice.

Cambridge Aeroclub

The Cambridge Aeroclub look after the smaller GA traffic. There is a very clear C sign on their building, with a push button lock on the gate into their office. Yellow Hi-Viz is mandatory. The office was modern and pleasant, with staff helpful and efficient. There’s a coffee machine, soft drinks/snacks and they’ll put the kettle on if you want tea. My free landing voucher was quickly accepted with minimal fuss. The airfield also has extensive handling for executive jets, and we saw a few movements while there – the facilities look very modern and comprehensive. Fortunately, GA has an option for self-handling which avoids the high prices charged – something that isn’t always available at other similar commercial airports in the UK. There doesn’t appear to be any cafe or other local facility, but the staff encouraged us to take the bus into town which we did.

Cambridge Aeroclub with their Extra parked in front of the entrance
Marshalls are the handlers for the upscale Executive Jet end of the market
Parking area for smaller GA – plenty of space

Into town for a bit of tourism

With our cameras at the ready, we took the Park and Ride bus into town (about £4 each for an all day travel pass), which passes the front door every 15 minutes and takes about 15 minutes into the town centre. It was very warm – 32C – and we enjoyed an ice-cream as we explored some of the Cambridge colleges and gardens. Plenty to see, including the fun fair, a cricket match on the green, the grandeur of the various college buildings (you can pay to go in and look around), and the town centre shops themselves. Sadly, not enough time to go punting on the river!

Centre of Cambridge with Kings College in the background

Ready for departure

On returning to the aeroclub – just ask the bus driver for Marshalls, the airport handling agents who seem to be better known than the airport itself – we needed to fill out an A4 sheet with our departure details. This is faxed directly to the tower by the aeroclub. After completing the pre-flight, you listen to the ATIS and startup, requesting taxi with the ATIS information codeletter.

We taxied to the hold of 23 and completed our power checks, being granted almost immediate take off when complete. Our right hand turn out was approved after 2000 feet QNH, which took us a few minutes to reach. Once west of Bourn, Cambridge suggested we change to Cranfield but they had just closed (it was a few minutes after 6pm). The controller there must have still been packing up and told us so, suggesting Farnborough instead. So instead we listened out to Farborough West without speaking to them.

Hazy at first

The visibility was hazy with a very indistinct horizon, with glare from the sun making it more difficult. My daughter took a turn at the controls, and despite the tricky conditions she held course and height (with a little prompting). As we progressed further west, the horizon became clearer and the visiblity improved. Once out of range of Farnborough, we were too late (after 6pm) to get a service from Brize, so we continued without one.

A few dramatic clouds in the distance, easily avoided
Some haze on the horizon which later cleared. We were flying around 2500 feet

A quiet and uneventful landing followed by an exciting and rapid departure

Approaching Kemble, the frequency was quiet and we self-announced a crosswind join for 26 with the usual traffic calls. Only when on the ground after a smooth landing did we hear other traffic preparing for departure. As we packed up, we saw a very large hot air balloon inflating and launching from the grass. It seemed to take a while to become fully inflated and hot enough to take off. It was good weather for an evening flight.

A large hot air balloon prepares for takeoff – its size showing up in comparison with the passenger jet in front.

Some quick paperwork and we were done. I emailed the owner and confirmed the aircraft had performed well throughout, and the tower about our out-of-hour movements.

PIC time today: 2:25
Total PIC: 119:45
Total Time: 212:50

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