Night Flight to Kemble

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New Night lights installed at Kemble

Kemble (rebranded as Cotswold Airport – checkout their new website) has installed AGL3 night lights which were open for the first evening today. Thursday night opening until 8pm should be a regular feature, with the AV8 restaurant also planned to be open too. Check both are open before you fly in though – PPR is mandatory and the airport won’t remain open if there’s bad weather or no demand.

Let’s hope it becomes a destination for evening flights – there are frankly too few of those around South England at the moment. Gloucester, Oxford, Wellesbourne, White Waltham and Leicester spring to mind though – mostly all open on Thursdays if not throughout the week.

I’d attended a presentation and tower tour in December where they explained the new scheme. All of the lights are LEDs, with the entire airport fed from a 6kVA electrical feed. These typically run at just 1%, meaning a very small electricity bill. The lights have been installed above ground level rather than buried, reducing the cost by £150k. However if you do accidentally run into one, it will cost the thick end of £1000 to replace.

Three on board

John, a co-owner and experienced IR pilot sat in the right hand seat while Paul, one of the Bristol Aero Club members, came along in the back seat for the ride. I also took along my new Christmas present, a Garmin VIRB camera suitable for filming from the cockpit – it logs GPS track, altitude, speed and compass direction and is smart enough to turn itself on/off when you start/stop moving.

Since the flight time to Kemble is less than 10 minutes, I planned to practice an instrument approach at Gloucester prior to departure. The conversation when booking out caused a chuckle…. “Fuel Endurance? 4 hours, Time En-route? 9 minutes”. Although a training flight was already booked in, ATC managed to squeeze me in. We made a VFR departure to the west and turned back to the beacon (GST NDB) at FL40 when they were ready for us.

NDB/DME 27 at Gloucester

I chose the NDB/DME approach rather than the ILS and flew this manually, one of the more challenging choices because there is no glideslope and no indication if the NDB signal fails. John loaded the procedure into the GTN as a cross check. ATC kept us at FL40 for a couple of minutes after beacon outbound; John and I debated whether to set QNH immediately or wait for descent clearance. It’s even more vital to set QNH on an NDB approach since there is no crosscheck of your glidepath. I did remember to ident both the NDB and DME as we commenced the approach and a couple of times later.

From the track log, you’ll see we flew a consistent track even if it was several degrees out. As with my previous flight, I felt this error was due to the instrument error rather than my tracking – not unusual for an NDB approach. It would be much worse in bad weather with any electrical storms. Height keeping was pretty good, but I wasn’t able to read easily the alititude/distance crosschecks on the plate in the poor light. We made a CDFA (constant descent) of 700 feet per minute and appeared slightly left of track at the Minimum Decision Altitude. This was a perfectly acceptable approach that I could have landed from.

With other aircraft on the runway, we were instructed to make our missed approach and depart to the south which we did. On the go-around, I left it a little late to raise the gear and flaps which John prompted me on – it does seem to be one of my bad habits.

Quick hop to Kemble

In a few minutes we were over the ridge, calling up to Kemble who reported three aircraft already in the circuit. I confess I did find it difficult to identify the airfield at first, even when almost directly above it. I thought the flashing white airfield beacon itself might be much more prominent. But once recognised and aligned, your situational awareness suddenly becomes totally clear. We made the standard overhead joined the circuit with the three other aircraft, easily spotted from their lights. Despite an extended circuit for spacing, a helicopter was also in the circuit and the FISO told me to expect to have to go-around. Second time around there was plenty of room. With an offset approach to keep clear of Kemble village, I made my first night landing for over a year. Perhaps I should have flared a little higher, the touchdown caught me slightly by surprise, but seemed OK to me. The TB20 landing light is in the wing rather than on or near the nosewheel, which doesn’t provide quite the same illumination – well that’s my excuse anyway.

The very dim photo below was taken using the VIRB which also records the GPS groundspeed (Orange bar + numbers), compass direction and altitude (thin blue line and smaller digits). The indicated airspeed would have been faster than the groundspeed shown because of wind – target approach speed is 80 knots.

Approach on video camera – two lights on left are the PAPIs

After parking up on North Apron, we walked across to the tower to pay the landing fee. To my surprise, I was confirmed as the first night visitor to Kemble and presented with a bottle of wine.

Pasties were on offer at AV8 cafe, where I bumped into Dave, the CFI of Freedom Aviation. Flight schools/clubs at Kemble do seem to be thriving at the moment, and the new lights will I’m sure be a great boost to them all. Freedom sent a cluster of aircraft to Oxford for an evening landaway, while a couple of aircraft from Bristol Aero Club were also airborne. The helicopter school was also active.

The return flight was non-eventful. The engine was still warm and after backtracking on the hard runway, we flew VFR with a left base join in less than 10 minutes.

Track Log
NDB/DME Glos 27 then on to Kemble
9 minute almost direct flight back to Gloucester

PIC today: 1:20
Total PIC: 266:35

Total Time: 398:20

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