Last minute change of plan
The original plan for the weekend was to join a Lyneham Club expedition from Kemble, flying a group of Warriors and visiting both the Scilly Isles and Guernsey, overnighting in Guernsey on Saturday night. I’d got as far as submitting an Online GAR form (not used that system until now) on Friday afternoon, before the trip was cancelled due to bad weather – forecast strong winds and heavy rain on Sunday. After being a bit forlorn about missing out on what promised to be a great weekend’s flying, at the last minute I was able to join two of my other TB20 co-owners for a day’s flying on Saturday from Gloucester. The plan was simply to turn up late morning, see what the weather was doing, and take it from there.
Much of the morning was damp with drizzle and low cloud, but around 11am it brightened up as the front passed north west. It looked quite feasible to fly anywhere in the South West, with cloud bases of around 3000 feet. It was decided to make a round trip, landing at Exeter and Newquay, both new airports to me. Rich would fly the first leg, me the second and John the return to base.
Gloucester to Exeter
Having just recently acquired his IR, Rich was able to fly airways, and so filed an IFR flight plan to do just that, routing via Brecon VOR and airway N864 at (I think) FL70. He was more methodical than I often am, paying thorough attention to checklists and fully identing all navaids after tuning them in. We flew up through a thin layer of cloud, were VMC on top most of the route, descending through about 1000 feet layer of cloud on the way down. SkyDemon told me we were high enough to glide to either side of the Bristol Channel at all times.
I still find the illusion of flying straight ahead into a large white cloud disconcerting, but I suppose it’s like diving into water when swimming and I’ll get used to it. During instrument flying practice, you have foggles on and don’t normally see this so clearly. We requested and were given vectors to the ILS, but because Exeter were using runway 08 (wind from the east), this is provided as a localiser only (not glide slope) because single engine planes have a displaced landing point to ensure they can easily glide clear in case of engine failure.
During the flight, Rich made use of a few features of the Garmin which I hadn’t paid much attention to before, including the calculation of when and how fast to descend from the cruise as well as showing estimated landing fuel on board. The latest software version 4, which we’d recently installed, can show fuel in litres rather than US gallons.
Lunch at Exeter Airport
We parked up on the GA parking apron and there was a short walk to the exit security barrier. Walking ahead, you then turn second right and further along pay landing fees at the Exeter flying club. It’s not one of the more sensibly priced regional airports, and we all commented that they could easily double their GA income by lowering the price – all extra profit since their fixed costs wouldn’t change.
Finding ourselves directly opposite the main passenger terminal entrance, we popped in there for a snack lunch, watching the check-in for flights to the Scillies and Spain.
Exeter to Newquay
After returning to the flying club to book out, we walked back through the security gate (fortunately no need to go through the scanners) and out to the aircraft. My turn as P1, so after a quick transit check, we mounted up. With two IR pilots as passengers, I surely couldn’t do too many things wrong. My attention to the checklist wasn’t as thorough as Rich’s, and it was only after takeoff that I realised that I hadn’t lowered the first stage of flaps (despite it appearing twice in the checklist). Runway length at Exeter wasn’t a problem, but it might be elsewhere. Also I had not switched on the electric turn indicator. There’s one checklist item that requires two switches and I have found that I often miss one or the other. Quickly sorted when I noticed the red flag showing on the instrument.
The planned route took us south west initially towards Berry Head VOR, thereafter direct to Newquay. I’d used SkyDemon on the iPad to create the route, and quickly checked the NOTAMs, and also pulled up the ILS plate for Newquay runway 30 but little else. I didn’t punch in a flight plan into the GTN650 or set frequencies in the ADF, NAV or DME – all showing a lack of good preparation and planning. Perhaps I was thinking this was just another easy VFR flight I could conduct using SkyDemon alone – not a good strategy.
We headed off towards Berry Head below a cloud base of about 3500 feet, and I confirmed to the radar controller that I’d stay at or below 3000. After departure, Turning the auto-pilot on allowed me to get back ahead of the aircraft and setup the nav kit. After our waypoint, I thought it sensible to climb and I informed the radar controller (who was giving us a traffic service) that I’d climb to about 4000 or 5000 feet. That wasn’t the best thing to say because
- I should have decided on and specified an altitude
- I think the transition altitude is 3000 feet, so I should have made it a flight level. (Transitional altitudes vary widely across the UK and aren’t easy to determine)
- When flying IFR, our unique UK quadrantial rules when flying north west meant I should I have been (evens plus) = FL45 or FL65.
We punched into the cloud which looked a bit less like fluffy white cotton wool and more like dirty dishwater, but caused only mild turbulence, and after a few minutes popped out on top.
After transferring from Exeter Radar across to Newquay Approach, I requested vectors for the ILS which were granted. These were for runway 08 I had to look up the plate on the iPad using Goodreader. Although it was now a case of simply steering the heights and headings given by the controller, both Rich and John gave some good advice on how to use the GTN to best effect and engine management during the descent.
As we were vectored out to sea, positioned downwind at 3000 feet, it was tempting to look out the window and see if I could spot the airport. John reminded me I was flying IFR and needed to have my head inside the cockpit, constantly monitoring the instruments. Once we had been vectored through a base leg and turned onto a intercept course, the GPS/autopilot locked onto the inbound track and then glidepath, taking us smoothly towards the runway. At decision height, it was a case of switching off the autopilot, lowering final flaps and landing. Despite that landing practice last week, I think I must still be flaring a little too late, which results in my somewhat flatter landings, but the mains did touch first and we were able to reuse the aircraft, so it can’t have been all that bad.
Short stop at Newquay
Newquay airport management have a much more accommodating view of GA, with reasonable landing fees. FlyNqy are the GA handling agents (for smaller aircraft that don’t require full handling or customs clearance), and after parking in the GA apron, we walked out through a locked gate, past Weston (the upmarket handling agents for business jets) and into a clearly marked portacabin. We received a very friendly welcome in what is a tidy and cared-for office, which offered hot drinks and a choice of chocolate bars and toilet facilities.
The outside photo doesn’t quite do justice to the comfortable and more attractive inside appearance.
There isn’t a café or visitors area that you find in some smaller airfields, and we were not that near the passenger terminal, although you could walk round to it. It’s a short 5-10 minute taxi ride down into the town or beach or about a 30-40 minute walk.
Return to Gloucester
John flew the last leg of the day, flying at FL50 against a headwind and transiting Bristol, where we saw an airliner landing on runway 27 presumably with a light tailwind but saving time and fuel. Landing back at Gloucester on runway 09 at around sunset, the runway lights were brightly lit up. They were operating “Aerodrome only” mode (not a term I’d heard before), which meant no procedural approaches, so John couldn’t fly the ILS as originally hoped for. With no other traffic on frequency, we were able to fly VFR on the track of the GPS approach under a Basic Service and after landing, exit the runway at the far end back to parking.
In the UK, landing up to 30 minutes after sunset is permitted under day VFR rules, thereafter a night rating is required. My IR friends reminded me that they need no additional take-offs or landings at night to be allowed to fly at night with passengers. I also have a night rating which remains valid when used solo, but would have to do one of each to regain passenger carrying currency. I could just do this as a solo single circuit, but will probably ask Phil to instruct me again. He did my initial night rating back in 2010 and apart from about 2 hours flying from Lyneham, I haven’t used it since. Now that I’m based at an airport with lights, and a more capable aircraft, it would be useful to revisit that skill for use during the dark winter months. UK clocks go back in 2 weeks time, which will make this more imperative.
I have to say this was a very worthwhile day, and I learnt a lot by flying with more experienced and capable pilots. My preparation and checklist use was below par – possibly because I knew I wasn’t flying solo, but that’s no excuse. I’m also finding the transition from VFR only to “partial IFR” flight a little awkward. Relying on SkyDemon as I have been for VFR simply doesn’t work for the IFR legs. Radio frequencies can differ, I need to work out a better system to be able to call up approach plates on demand than I’ve been using and I need to rely more on the Garmin GTN to fully utilise its facilities.
PIC time today: 0:55
PIC total time: 195:30
Total time: 297:55