IFR to Cardiff and back

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A mentoring flight

Wanting to improve my IFR skills, I scheduled a mentoring flight with John, one of the other TB20 owners. He had mentored me once before, flying from Kemble in the PA28, and we flew together recently to Exeter and Newquay with Rich, who has another share.

Today’s flights would be short ones in the TB20 from Gloucester to Cardiff and back. The weather forecast wasn’t great – huge swathes of rain forecast over North Wales and further South West. But after checking the forecast and METARs, John and I decided we should be good to make it to Cardiff and back as long as we returned before 6pm. Since I am not night current, (I need one take-off and landing either solo or with an instructor), we’d have to land before sunset+30 minutes, which was around 5:15pm.

Departure south into (patchy) IMC

After looking at the plates, discussing the flight over a snack lunch, I preflighted and filled up. Departing from runway 22, I was cleared to climb straight ahead to 4000 feet and report when reaching that altitude. Although I did pull the power back to 2500rpm/25″, I also leaned the mixture a little, which John didn’t appreciate – full rich mixture is better to keep the engine temperatures under control, and the mixture is best left alone until in the cruise.

At 3800 feet, the controller asked me to confirm my altitude (they don’t have secondary radar at Gloucester so can’t tell from their screens). When I did so, they told me to maintain 4000 feet and freecall Cardiff. I tried to do two things at the same time – sort out the engine management at top of climb while calling up Cardiff. I should have got the speed stable first, so I could concentrate on one thing at a time. With the autopilot already engaged, it was as simple as pressing ALT HOLD, and powering back to 2300rpm/23″ then leaning the mixture to 45 litres/hour.

Over to Cardiff Approach

Cardiff accepted my request for vectors to their ILS, then first gave me a Basic service which was later upgraded to Traffic. As we entered their controlled airspace, this changed again to a Radar Controlled Service, and we were given a series of vectors to follow. With the auto-pilot, this involves simply turning the heading bug as instructed. Meanwhile, you need to continue to scan and monitor all the instruments, changing tanks when needed, and generally keeping an eye on things.

I looked out the windo (tempting when you aren’t wearing Foggles as you do during IMC training) and could see a bit of Newport down below. John reminded me that I need to keep my eyes inside the cockpit and not get distracted – it’s quite easy to get into a state where you are neither VFR or IFR and lose situational awareness. John reminded me of the descent power settings, with what seemed a reasonable range of manifold pressures between 15 and 20 inches.

Vectored ILS into Cardiff

After a long downwind leg, probably for spacing with a commercial aircraft, we were vectored onto a base leg. The GTN650 GPS was armed with the ILS approach and I’d turned the yellow course pointer to the correct runway approach course. We were vectored through that, first to the south and then to the north, so we could intercept it from the left. I disarmed the NAV feature of the autopilot so that it continued to follow the heading bug until it was on the left of track, then armed it and saw it lock on.

When the glidepath indicators also dropped down, we confirmed we were at the Final Approach Fix and at the correct altitude, dropped the gear and first stage of flaps. I could see the airfield directly ahead of us, but kept concentrating on the instruments until the decision altitude when it was time to look outside and make the decision to land.

Following John’s advice, we kept the autopilot on until perhaps about 200-300 feet to go, then added full flap, pushed hard on the yoke to compensate and bled off speed to cross the threshold around 80 knots. John flares earlier than I have been doing, so I tried that and made what was quite a reasonable landing – perhaps flaring late is the reason for my flat landings after all.

Handling at the flying club

The tower asked who was handling us, and we confirmed it was the flying club. Parking at our discretion, the apron was much busier than I recall from last time I visited. There are still a few concrete blocks lying around, but it was straightforward to find a spot and manually push back into it.

Parked up outside the White Building at Cardiff Airport
Parked up outside the White Building at Cardiff Airport

Aeros took our landing fee, which has reduced dramatically in recent months to much more acceptable level – similar to Gloucester. I hope they get a lot more business as a result. The airport restaurant upstairs was fairly busy for a Friday afternoon, and the coffee half the price of my local Costa. They were also very welcoming and we made ourselves at home. John debriefed me, commenting on some things I had done well and some I could do better next time.

Straight ahead departure

Booking out by telephone, we then listened to the ATIS and called for start (which ATC advised wasn’t necessary from the maintenance area). We were given a clearance to fly straight ahead and climb to 4000 feet before turning north, unless advised to do so earlier.

We had barely reached 3000 before being vectored north and were soon on our way back, talking to Gloucester again once in the cruise at 4000 feet. A shortage of current radar controllers there had meant they were running in Aerodrome mode last time I flew. The airport manager was keen to become current again, and this involved making a few supervised radar letdowns – SRA  or Surveillance Radar Approaches. Unbeknown to me, before leaving John had agreed that we’d do one on our return. This was confirmed when we called up, and were asked to report at 15 miles.

Identified on Primary Radar

Gloucester Airport only has primary radar, and can’t see squawk codes or altitudes. They rely a lot on procedural separate as a result. In order to identify us, we had to fly a different course and once positively confirmed, we were vectored into position. I setup the GPS using the OBS feature to show the approach track of the SRA which is 266 for runway 27, rather than 272 as used for the ILS and GPS – we would be arriving slightly offset.

Once in position to commence the SRA, we were switched to a different frequency and given a briefing. No further response was required during the talkdown phase. A series of headings was given, typically 5 degrees left or right, and I used the autopilot to steer a good course, just tweaking the heading bug. At set points, the controller told me what my altitude should be. We initially were about 100 feet too high, but better to err on the high side than low.

The SRA finished at half a mile before the threshold and again it was a case of switching off the autopilot, full flaps down, check red/green/blue for mixture/gear down/prop fine and flaring early for another gentle touchdown. It was fairly dark my now, after sunset, and we taxied back carefully following the yellow line.

A useful experience

A very worthwhile flight, where I think you learn more about the actual flying technique (including auto-pilot) and real-world situations than can be the case during formal instruction of a course syllabus. Thanks to John for a useful experience which helps build confidence and keeps me on the right track. I hope to repeat this again in the not too distant future.

PIC today: 1:35
Total PIC: 197:05
Total Time: 299:30

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