The final leg
And so now was the time for the final return leg back to base. Weather in the morning looked good for VFR throughout as expected, so I filed my flight plan from the hotel using SkyDemon and emailed the GAR form to the UK Border Agency and Gloucester Airport.
After making full use of the pool during the morning, we snacked our lunch before walking back to the airport for a leisurely 2pm departure. There seemed to be plenty of (family) cyclists out on the roads enjoying the summer weather, giving the town a relaxing atmosphere. When about to pay my fees, I found that the aircraft hadn’t been refuelled as expected, but the desk staff were very helpful, immediately cycling out to the re-fuelling truck which came across to serve us next. After pre-flighting, paying up and checking that the tower had our flight plan, we stowed the bags and were ready to go.
Forgetting the full ATC airport procedures
Here, I made a few schoolboy blunders, after becoming so used to AFIS airports during the week. I should of course have listened to the ATIS, and then called for permission to start quoting the code letter. The controller was very tolerant, and simply directed me to the hold at T3 for power checks, allocating me a squawk code and instructing me to report when ready. After departure, we reported leaving the control zone and changed directly to London Information, just short of the ALESO waypoint on the French/British border.
Back into British Airspace
It was nice to hear a British accent on the radio again, warning us of slightly converging traffic about 500 feet above us, also inbound towards the Seaford VOR at a similar arrival time. After coasting in, I changed to Farnborough East, then briefly to Shoreham to ask about local traffic because I was close by. Basically, there was quite a lot of it and some heading towards me – I heard another aircraft talking to Shoreham (probably about me) as we turned right to avoid each other (all in good time). I’d written down the incorrect frequency for Farnborough East and it took me a while to sort that out, giving priority to keeping a good eye out for other aircraft in the area. SkyDemon was very helpful with its “nearby ATC” frequency list which is automatically updated. We made a few orbits in the area then returned back on track.
Farnborough West prompted me to keep clear of Solent airspace as I steered through the narrow gap between that and Lasham. Turning to the right, I was then warned of major glider activity on my right hand side – you just can’t win. Climbing up to 5,000 feet overhead Popham (outside the lower controlled airspace around Farnborough), I was then asked to ensure I remained clear of airways. London Information confirmed that Redlands parachuting was inactive, then suggested I switch to Brize, while I routed overhead Fairford, descending soon after for a standard VFR overhead join into Gloucester.
With a bit of trepidation in case I fluffed this last landing, we returned to our base and parked G-CORB back in the hangar just as we’d found her a week earlier. My log book tells me this was my 500th landing. I asked the controller to confirm my flight plan was closed, and he politely told me that this wasn’t necessary – it’s standard procedure and I should only worry about this when landing at a non-towered airport or after hours. I hope I didn’t annoy too many controllers on my tour by asking this question every time – I’m told that the consequences of not closing your flight plan can be expensive if they call out Search and Rescue.
Observations and takeaways from the trip
- I’d not needed to wear a yellow jacket or show my passport anywhere, although I could have been spot checked and had given appropriate prior notice
- ATC and airport staff had been extremely helpful and co-operative throughout; it probably helped that I didn’t ask for a Basic Service or an Overhead Join. English spoken and understood by ATC, with a lot of tolerance for my lack of understanding of local procedures
- The VFR flying was pretty much the same as in the UK, as were the clouds, sky, hills and towers. All pressure settings are QNH (so you need to know airport elevation).
- Routes planned and flightplans filed through SkyDemon, just as in the UK. Some niggles are that you can’t email a plog file for printing from the iPad, and that it crashed unexpectedly a couple of times, but otherwise extremely useful. I wish I could work out how to switch to the airfield plate automatically on landing.
- Jeppesen’s printed VFR charts were very useful. VFR plates weren’t available free for Germany, but can sometimes be downloaded from the airport website or other means.
- Landing and parking fees extremely reasonable, frankly much cheaper than the UK. Fuel within 10-15% of UK prices (except for Holland where I didn’t buy any).
- UK airspace on the south coast seemed very congested compared to other countries, especially around Shoreham and the choke point between Solent and Lasham. However, I did avoid the busy central areas of Belgium and Holland which are all heavily controlled above 1500 feet or so.
- Mixing plenty of sightseeing/rest time with the days flying meant the passengers enjoyed the holiday, seeing the flying element as a quick and easy way of getting between places
- Flexibility of dates and route flown took the pressure off needing to fly on any particular day. We were also quite lucky with the weather and would need IFR privileges to be more confident of meeting any schedule.
- The detailed variations between European countries are quite difficult to uncover. You can read the AIP for each individual country, but that doesn’t include everything. For example, the transition altitude in Germany is 5,000 feet but 4,500 feet in Belgium and Netherlands 3,000. At least these are much more consistent than in the UK.
- I would not claim to be an above average VFR pilot by any means, just enthusiastic. With a bit of forethought, research, practice, you can push the envelope and tours like this become possible. Having flown abroad to France a few times with the club and solo, together with an earlier club tour of Scotland and several recent flights in the TB20, this wasn’t such a big step change as it first appears. Piloting solo and the responsibility of several passengers adds more stress than buddy flying, making it even more important to have a relaxed schedule and plenty of time to prepare.
Flight Time today: 1:45
Total Time for entire German tour: 11:20 (of which 1:50 was short local flights)
Total PIC: 185:00
Total Flight Time: 287:25