First a clean up
The weather had been poor over most of the weekend, restricting flying activity. The TB20 share-o-plane group had organised a clean-up the day before, and we had spent several hours cleaning the grime and dirt off the outside (especially underneath), polishing the paintwork and hoovering inside – interspersed with several tea and lunch breaks. I have joining a clean-up working party for the club aircraft once before, but given the number of flying hours I’ve done, that’s really not much. Shared ownership brings a few more responsibilities in that direction.
Robin Hood and Sherwood Forest
Similar to the planets aligning, an unexpected opportunity arose at short notice to take a late afternoon solo flight on Bank Holiday Monday. I opted to fly in to Nottingham (close to the home of the legendary Robin Hood in the nearby forest), partly based on their free landing fee (if filling up with 50 litres or more of fuel), longer opening hours (until 6pm), helpful up-to-date website and recent good reports on the forums. Although not that far away, both Birmingham and East Midlands airports are right smack in the middle of a direct track from Gloucester. So I decided to aim to transit both, with the option to fly around if denied access. Apart from Bristol and Bournemouth, I’ve not really done much in the way of transitting Class D controlled airspace, which many pilots actively avoid.
Radar Controlled Service overhead Birmingham
Just as I was about to start up after a thorough unhurried pre-flight, Chris (one of the other share-o-plane owners) turned up. He had been trying to download the JPI fuel performance data and wanted one more attempt, which sadly failed. I’ll try to do this myself with an older Windows PC next time I’m there. Departing from runway 36 for what I think was my first time, there is no specific noise abatement procedure and it was only a slight right turn onto the course of 030 and a steady climb up to 3,000 feet cruise at 140 knots. At Worcester, I changed to Birmingham Radar and requested my transit, now only 9 minutes away. After a short pause, this was granted, not above 3,000 feet with a dedicated squawk code. On entering controlled airspace, I was advised that I was under a Radar Controlled Service (something unique to the UK), which basically meant to do as I had been told and “we’re watching you”.
I heard the controller talking to various commercial traffic, asking them if they could make the required altitude by the waypoints given. He advised me about an Embraer Jet on the ILS which I saw passing below and far to my right, also mentioning my routing to other inbound aircraft. The VFR conditions were clear and I identified the jet as it passed, but saw no other traffic in the zone. The autopilot helped maintain a steady 2,800 feet and course, passing slightly to the east of the threshold as instructed.
I started to think about whether I would get a similar transit through East Midlands Class D zone which lay directly ahead. If not, this meant a fairly rapid descent and skirting around it, taking away a lot of the benefit of the direct routing so far.
Seamless transition to East Midlands
But the Birmingham controller was on the ball. As I exited the TMA, I was told to “Contact East Midlands Radar, they have your details”. Nice not to have to repeat the full story again, as you frequently do when changing between LARS controllers in the UK. East Midlands issued me a different squawk code which I duly wrote down. He offered me a VFR transit at 4,000 feet which I happily accepted, and then asked me to check my squawk. The idiot in the pilot’s seat hadn’t actually punched in the new code, so no wonder it wasn’t updated. I was also asked to notify the controller if I wasn’t able to maintain VFR or 4,000 feet for any reason. The visibility was excellent and I didn’t foresee any problem with that.
Climb power/speed to 25 inches/2500rpm and we were quickly up at the required altitude, autopilot back on again. I heard several commercial flights but it was only as I got near to the end of the transit that the frequency got busy. One or two GA aircraft wanting Basic Service in addition to commercial aircraft chatter. This meant I was still whizzing along at 140 knots at 4,000 feet, about to pop out of controlled airspace almost directly above my destination. Rich had warned me on an earlier flight to ensure I plan my descent for approach in good time.
I slowed down while maintaining altitude but before I could get a word in was asked to report leaving the frequency. I replied that I would immediately change to Nottingham A/G and squawk VFR. My opening line on the radio to Nottingham included “overhead at 4000 feet, descending for standard overhead join”. Deploying the landing gear and reducing power changes the TB20 into a flying brick, and I found the VSI was indicating a descent rate of more than 1,000 feet/minute despite my low airspeed. There seemed to be only one other aircraft around, and it was on short final.
Pulling out the noise abatement chart I’d printed out from their website earlier, I tried to match up the population centres and the ideal circuit pattern. Joining crosswind, I managed to avoid the small villages and route on the correct downwind track. I confess I extended downwind slightly further than I should have, and now understand why the circuit height of 800 feet would help make it a tighter circuit. This did mean I was well setup for a good approach on final, with little wind or other distractions. My landing was a bit flat and I overcompensated with the brakes, the result of which I only uncovered later.
Two staff quickly appeared and refuelled the aircraft, which I was able to leave parked at the pumps during my short stop – the fuel station was now closed. The landing fee was waived and the fuel price the same as at home base. The cafe was friendly, had the usual range of pilot’s delights (English breakfast, home baked cakes, large mugs of tea etc.) and was just celebrating its first anniversary. The whole airfield had the sense of having had a good tidy up and was in good order, clearly the new management have had a positive effect.
Time to pre-flight, and I quickly spotted that something was awry. The left main tyre wasn’t quite the ideal circular shape it should normally be, and had a noticeable flat part to it. I had been told during differences training that the TB20 brakes are known to be exceptionally effective and it is easy to lock them up. This is what I’d unwittingly done during my landing roll, not even realising it at the time. Now very annoyed at my careless performance, I checked both tyres and believed them to be structurally sound and fit for the flight. I later learnt that this is a fairly common problem with the aircraft (or rather with especially new or non-current pilots). It’s even more annoying when there hadn’t been any particular need to brake hard during the landing itself.
Back through uncontrolled airspace, talking to nobody
After some route re-planning in the aircraft and a last check of the weather, I departed as the tower A/G closed shortly before 6pm. Routing outside controlled airspace, initially at 2000 feet and then 3000 when west of the Birmingham zone, it was pretty quiet at that time of day and I saw only one other aircraft during the flight. I used listening squawks and monitored the frequencies for both East Midlands and Birmingham but didn’t talk to anyone on the radio until I got back to Gloucester.
After checking the ATIS, I found it a bit strange that it said they were using 09 with right hand circuits. Although relatively new to Gloucester procedures, I was pretty sure I hadn’t heard of that circuit pattern before. The approach controller gave me 09 Left hand and I queried the difference, which was then corrected on the ATIS. I guess this must be a big box or screen with lots of options to select, and one option had been overlooked. A commercial aircraft was about to take off from 27 as I approached, and I was instructed to orbit while they departed, repositioning for a straightforward landing. Careful not to touch the brakes, I was easily able to exit at the far end and return quickly to parking. It was strange to be landing on the opposite end of the runway that had just been used for departure.
Seriously annoyed and embarrassed about the “square” shape of the tyres, I confessed and apologised to my fellow group owners but believe that the aircraft remains airworthy and that it’s not a serious enough problem to require immediate replacement. Another group member will check later in the week and report back. Apart from that issue, quite a successful flight with good experience of transiting controlled airspace and arriving at another new airfield. It all helped that I timed the transits for a relatively quiet period of the day, used good R/T protocol and did exactly what I was told. Transits shortened the route from 110 miles to about 85. I’d certainly go to Nottingham again, and recommend their free landing fee offer with fuel while it lasts. Time to park up, pack up and retire with my tail firmly between my legs.
Time Today: 1:45
Total PIC: 186:45
Total Time: 289:10