Planning a simple IFR airways flight
Now in possession of the Instrument Rating on my EASA licence, I had been advised to make use of it. Try a few simple flights on your own, said my IR instructor Jim, not directly over London in poor weather to an airfield at minima cloudbase, but somewhere fairly straightforward in a clear VFR day. So today I flew to see another recent IR pilot holder based in Fishburn, just north of Durham. Jason, a non-pilot friend who lives locally joined me on the trip – his past experience has included working on simulators/training courses for pilots transitioning to glass cockpits – so he had more awareness of what was going on than other non-pilots.
My first difficulty was working out an acceptable route to file the flight plan. Different routing engines (the software programs that work out possible routes) came up with wildly different alternatives. I read the Standard Routing Document (full of routes between pairs of UK airports, but deadly dull reading – you’d find Bradshaw’s railway timetables much more exciting!) which suggested a simple STAFA P18 POL DCT (STAFA is a GPS waypoint, P18 is an airway, POL is a VOR and DCT means direct, i.e. straight to destination).
EuroFPL validated this at FL80 and so that’s what I filed. I also had to make it a Y flight plan (IFR followed by VFR) because my destination wasn’t a major airport (or even a licensed one with a 4 character code). You enter ZZZZ for the destination and specify that in the remarks section. EuroFPL has a very good, clear guide to flight plans. Once filed and accepted, we were good to go.
Back in the hotseat
It was nice to be back in G-CORB, our Trinidad TB20, after having spent so much time recently in the training aircraft. Even though that has a very good avionics fit including an Aspen Evolution 1000, the familiarity with CORB is welcome. Jason took a nice shiny photo of it too.
Clearance given at the hold prior to departure was something like:
“Hold position, right turn after departure route direct STAFA climbing FL80, remain outside controlled airspace, squawk 3773, contact Gloucester Approach on 128.55 after departure”
After departure I flew the climb by hand until FL80. Passing FL40 we were told by Gloucester to contact Western Radar who had our details – so you just say “Western Radar, G-CORB, passing FL43 climbing FL80, request traffic service”. They said squawk ident, and shortly afterwards, gave us basic service until reaching FL70 then traffic service (due to radar limitations). We spotted the Red Arrows in formation heading north towards RAF Cosford (for their NOTAM’d air display later). We continued the climb and I was asked if I would accept a clearance at FL100 (pronounced Flight Level Wun Hundred in the UK, Flight Level Wun Zero Zero elsewhere) which I did.
Before we got to STAFA, I was cleared direct to POL at FL100. We maintained that heading, staying above the slightly broken cloud layer. Climbing the last thousand feet was a bit of a struggle and I had to sacrifice a bit of speed to maintain the required climb rate of 500 feet per minute. The throttle (manifold pressure) was fully open by FL80 and remained so for the rest of the cruise. Once in the cruise, we had a strong tailwind and were making a groundspeed well over 170 knots. The mixture was leaned back to a much lower flow rate than when lower down. I was asked a couple of times to maintain heading, probably just for confirmation – we hadn’t deviated from our track (or heading) towards POL – but otherwise left alone. Various airliners were being vectored around but we didn’t see any – most common part of their radio call was to ensure no speed restriction to delay their journey.
Before we got to POL, the controller asked where our destination was – he’d clearly never heard of Fishburn – so I told him it was just north of Durham. After giving us a descent to FL90, he gave us a new squawk code for Durham Radar. I requested a further descent (to avoid a cloud layer ahead) and was told to clear that with Durham and change frequency. IFR was cancelled at that point as you can see from the IFR flight tracker below.
It wasn’t long before we were descending out of controlled airspace, weaving our way around a few patches of cloud but clear of Durham airspace. Another aircraft announced they would arrive at Fishburn at exactly the same time, so I kept high and flew north, spotting them as they joined the otherwise clear circuit. I made a full overhead join to figure out the lay of the land – it’s a slightly unusual grass strip with a slope and some small valleys/contours around it plus a couple of electricity pylons for good measure. My final approach was short, but on speed and we landed uphill perhaps a little inelegantly but well within the distance.
The atmosphere in the clubhouse couldn’t have been more welcoming, although the building itself has seen better days. A very swish new clubhouse is nearing completion and we were shown around. There must be some 50 or more aircraft in various hangars on the site, and there was a strong sense of a lively active club. There were a handful of movements while we were there but there isn’t a busy school in operation. We met our IR friend Justin who was working on his aircraft and were shown a couple of others that were well looked after.
Beryl’s bacon butties lived up to their reputation as did the cake on offer.
We met a chap who had moved on to a second career after taking early retirement, flying executive jets as co-pilot around Europe and beyond. He revealed the dark secret that professional pilots just get handed a briefing pack 2 hours before each flight with all the routing, flight plan, weather, plates etc. all sorted. Something we private pilots have to figure out for ourselves (although there are some good online services available to help). We discussed the distinction between maintaining heading versus track, as directed on my flight there.
Informal IFR return at 4000 feet
The sense of the runway slope can best be seen from the photo below, at the hold to 26. I’m convinced there should be different pressure settings for the top and bottom of the field!
We departed VFR and immediately contacted Durham who gave us the IFR transit at 4000 feet that we requested, then a traffic service. I remained at that height, just below the cloudbase for most of the journey. We were seamlessly handed over to Doncaster and then East Midlands, who both gave us traffic information, with two or three helpful warnings. One was a Hurricane and Spitfire formation (probably from RAF Cosford) with the callsign “Fighters” that passed below us but sadly wasn’t seen.
We then Freecalled Birmingham who were busy handling weather diversions because of the rain/shower clouds that we also wanted to avoid. I asked for a transit just through the north west edge of controlled airspace, and this was granted at 3500 feet which meant we only needed it for a very short time (if at all), but ensured we were not infringing. On our right, we were treated to a fantastic display from the Red Arrows overhead RAF Cosford (we had deliberately routed closer to Birmingham to avoid the NOTAM’ed display zone).
On return to Gloucester I practiced an RNAV approach on the autopilot, which I hadn’t done for months. There was a 10 knot crosswind and the main runway in use was 22, but we were easily fitted in on 27 by ATC. There was a slight bit of finger trouble with the GTN early on. Then the autopilot seemed to stop half way through turning onto final for no particular reason (possibly as it figured out the crosswind). After landing, another aircraft landed on 22 and we were given backtrack, then clearance to taxi “Behind the landing …” as per the latest CAP413 radio telephony jargon.
I noticed there’s quite a few hours being racked up on the aircraft by everyone, so we’ll need to plan in the next 50 hour service soon. Nice to see it being used so much.
Total Time Today: 3:10 (1:30 north, 1:40 south)
Total PIC: 231:45
Total Time: 360:55