Grasping the opportunity
There was a gap in the weather today, with some pretty horrible stuff forecast for the next few days running up to Christmas. Saturday (when I’d originally planned to fly next) looked particularly grim, and with my workload under control I was able to take the day off and postpone a few things until the weekend.
At this short notice, it would be a solo flight and I considered the options. I chose to fly a roundtrip in the TB20 from Gloucester to a couple of new airfields, Peterborough-Conington and Wycombe Air Park. Both have great reputations as thriving GA airports, but equally take strong action to keep their neighbours happy with strict noise abatement procedures. I checked these out on their respective websites, and called ahead for PPR. Both calls were quick, friendly and helpful.
The sun was shining on the ground, but airborne it seemed a little hazy at times. My routing from Gloucester took me directly to the Daventry VOR and I used the NAV feature with the autopilot to track both inbound and outbound. I didn’t talk to Brize but listened in on frequency, and also to Sywell when passing overhead at about 4,500 feet.
The noise abatement at Conington was remarkably straightforward with their chartlet printed out in front of me, keeping south of a village and then descending onto a track of the crosswind disused runway. There was a fairly strong crosswind and my lack of VFR circuit currency showed by my turning onto final late and being blown beyond the final approach path. A quick bit of swift realignment recovered the situation and get back onto a good final approach path and speed. I had overlooked and not anticipated the tail wind on base leg.
I think I must have benefitted a lot from my recent training and held the nose off much longer than before for a smooth touchdown and shorter rollout. While backtracking, a twin approached asymmetrically and went around – looks like there’s a quite a bit of commercial training ongoing here. The parking area was fairly packed, so it was something of a workout pushing back 1.4 tonnes of aircraft onto its allocated stand.
This made for an excellent excuse to buy a Scooby Snack which was both excellent value and very tasty. I chatted with one of the locals who flew from there – he sometimes flies their attractively priced Arrow. It seemed a lively and friendly club, with the airy conservatory room having a great view of the runway. They have runway lights regularly in use on Thursday evenings and tempt visitors with the offer of their special curry.
Peterborough-Conington to Wycombe Air Park
No need to book out for the next leg, which took me down to Wycombe Air Park. My route was close to, but outside controlled airspace. I spoke with Cranfield for a Basic Service but declined to fly through their overhead, keeping off to the east. For a bit of fun, I threw in a few steep turns over the brickworks which allowed for some great views, but wasn’t able to take photos. The iPad GPS got a bit confused by that and lost position for a while.
Descending down to about 3000 feet to ensure I was well clear of controlled airspace, I switched from Cranfield directly to Wycombe. This is a full ATC controlled airfield, tower only, no ATIS and probably no radar. It’s a very busy airfield and the radio communications reflected that. They prefer northbound arrivals to route via Princes Risborough and the “Golden Ball”. Both are very easy to spot, and the latter is a well defined landmark. Another aircraft was approaching ahead of me and ATC were working hard with many aircraft on the frequency.
On reporting at the Golden Ball, I was asked to make an orbit for spacing then told to expect to join the circuit above the runway at 1200 feet and make a standard right hand circuit. It’s a slightly unusual procedure and noise abatement is critical here, so I hope I got this right. Once established downwind, I could follow the one ahead and slowed down to about 80 knots with full flap for spacing. Landing aircraft had to backtrack and exit near the touchdown point, requiring a longer gap between aircraft.
I was cleared to land and backtrack, touching down nicely. The exit taxi-way has a passing layby arrangement where a couple of departing aircraft were waiting. Arriving at the main apron, I was instructed to park up on Pad 20. Not knowing where that was (next another aircraft type I hadn’t heard of), I needed to ask for clarification only to find it was directly in front of me.
Booker aviation took my landing fee and directed me to the cafe, which for some unknown reasons was closed that day. Vending machines in the club room provided coffee and snacks, but I was pleasantly surprised to be offered a free mince pie and biscuits in compensation – a nice touch.
The airfield seemed very busy to me, with glider, helicopter and fixed wing movements making the best of the days good weather. Booker Aviation’s training fleet now has 23 aircraft and it seemed to me there were cadets from a wide variety of countries and backgrounds in the club room. It’s nice to see that aviation training continues to thrive here in the UK. I met the airfield manager who was checking out the latest addition to their fleet.
Wycombe to Gloucester
Departure simply requires filling out an entry on a sheet at reception – they phone these details through to the tower. I checked that I didn’t need to call for start. There isn’t an ATIS recording to listen to. After calling ready for taxi, I was directed to hold at Alpha (about 10 feet away). Then I was cleared into that little lay-by bay close to the threshold where I waited for two or three aircraft to land and taxi past me.
Cleared take off, I checked with the tower that my proposed routing would fit the noise abatement procedure and departed via the crosswind leg. I called Brize on the wrong frequency at first (Approach rather than Radar), from whom I received a Basic service and squawk. Looking ahead at some nasty dark clouds on the horizon, I requested a transit at 3000 or lower. They switched me to Zone frequency who already had my details and granted me clearance almost immediately.
I had hoped to make another GPS instrument approach back into Gloucester for practice, and the dark clouds coming down were beginning to suggest that an instrument approach might be needed anyway. On listening to the approach frequency, I heard another aircraft approaching from the north being approved for the RNAV approach. That meant I’d either had to wait until they were clear or continue VFR. I opted for the latter.
Overshooting the final approach track
Asking for joining instructions, I was given a left base join for 22, which should have been straightforward. Indeed it was, until the controller advised me that I had shot through the centreline and was now west of it. I had been visually concentrating too much on runway 18. The course pointer on my HSI was set to 22, so it was quickly apparent what I’d done and would have been even more so if I tried to line up for 18.
With a helicopter visual to my left and below me, I turned north to reposition into the right hand circuit for 22. I kept well clear while I sorted myself out, so made quite a long final (about 2.5 miles) but ensured that I made good approach and landing. Keeping the nose off after landing helped reduce the ground roll and I was able to exit at the first intersection which I’m sure I haven’t done before.
Which fuel to choose?
The dilemma was then which fuel to fill up with. The UL91 we normally use is both unleaded and normally cheaper than AVGAS. Reducing oil prices have fed through to AVGAS, but the lower volumes of UL91 mean that its not yet dropped in price and is a few pence more. I felt that the engine would benefit from the cleaner fuel and so chose the UL91 option.
Flying solo puts more demands on your flying, sometimes even more than with passengers and certainly than “buddy flying” with other pilots. It’s nice to have a mix of each and this flight helped brush some of the cobwebs off. It was good to visit a couple of new airfields, especially such thriving ones, but I would probably choose to fly with another pilot buddy in the right hand seat next time I visit Wycombe – it was quite a challenge attempting this for the first time solo and not for the faint hearted.
For those who might be interested
PIC today: 2:45
Total PIC: 209:15
Total Time: 311:40