Road or Air – not a difficult choice
A family visit to relatives in Newcastle could either involve a 7 hour car journey each way or a 90 minute flight from Gloucester in the TB20. With potential added traffic delays, it’s an easy choice unless the weather forecast was bleak. I filed airways to punch through the morass of controlled airspace around Manchester, using the excellent Autorouter.eu tool which also sent me full briefing packs. It came up with a simple routing along airway P18 between STAFA and POL then GASKO, with directs to the airports at each end. The computed flight level of FL70 seems to be a little too low and when flying both legs I was asked if I could accept FL90, which wasn’t a problem. The filed routing is shown below:
|EGBJ N0142F070 STAFA P18 POL DCT GASKO POL11 EGNT|
One downside of Newcastle is the mandatory handling, which meant the combined landing/parking/handling fees stretched into three figures. I did look at alternatives – Eshott being the most likely alternative – but didn’t fancy a 600 metre VFR only runway when fully loaded with all the family in unknown weather conditions. I may give this a try in future with a lighter load.
An email to the handler did elicit the fees after a few days (they were busy) which aren’t fully published on their website. They asked me not to arrive before 5pm due to being busy with other charter business. I suppose I could have pressed them on that, but it’s the first time I’ve come across a slot time from a handler.
Flight almost abandoned
My co-owner John had spotted a puddle of AVGAS under the aircraft the day before. With the help of RGV onsite, this was quickly traced to the fuel pump we had recently replaced (with an exchange/reburbished unit) a couple of months earlier. I spent the morning at the airport, and it took several hours for the leaks to be identified (there were two) and resolved.
It was only by around 12 noon that we were sure we would fly. At that time I filed a flight plan for 15:30 local using Autorouter. I was notified via the Telegram App of my allocated squawk code about 40 minutes prior to off blocks time.
My wife was about an hour late because of severe traffic disruption due to a car fire on the motorway – a one hour journey took 2.5 just to get to the airport – indicating it would have been a very long drive to our final destination. She was quite relieved to know we could bypass a long and tedious journey. I used the free Telegram app to delay the flight plan through Autorouter and received an almost instantaneous confirmation – even easier than sending an SMS.
Straightforward flight north
Clearance to the north on departure from Gloucester was straightforward with a VFR 7000 squawk and “remain outside” while on-track towards TELBA. When airborne, I was told there was a “change of plan” and was passed to Birmingham, who (after I explained what I was trying to do) dug out my flight plan and gave me the squawk code I’d received earlier via Autorouter. The clearance was negotiated to FL90 with the filed routing. There was a thin layer of cloud at exactly that level and I requested a climb to FL100 to get above it. With a little icing starting to form on both wings and windscreen (outside temp -3C), it was much better to be above it. The passengers appreciated the view too. The clearance to climb was given immediately, then shortly followed by a heading.
Exiting controlled airspace north of Manchester, Durham provided a traffic service with my “own navigation” to NATEB. This is a waypoint which overlays Newcastle Airport, and it was a surprise to be given that rather than that airport code itself. We picked up Newcastle DME when 80 miles out and at 40 I asked for (possibly even said I planned to start) a descent, since I was outside controlled airspace. The Durham controller didn’t approve that and instead quickly changed me across to Newcastle Approach for co-ordination. They did grant approval, initially down to 3000 feet, and I began a gentle cruise descent towards the airport. You could argue that while ATC can’t enforce altitude restrictions when outside controlled airspace, but they can specify where and when you re-enter it, so the instructions were related to a smooth and co-ordinated re-entry clearance. In any case, it was appreciated that the ATC service was seamless throughout the flight, being cleanly handed over between controllers/sectors. This isn’t often the case when flying VFR in the UK.
We were told to expect vectors for the ILS Runway 25 and these were indeed given. With few clouds at 4000 feet, it was very much a visual approach. I programmed the Garmin and autopilot with a vectored ILS approach and everything seemed to go smoothly. The controller was keen to fit me in between two aircraft, giving me headings for a fairly tight intercept. The autopilot captured the localiser and started to turn me onto it before the controller had cleared me to do so, so I switched it off. We intercepted at around 4 miles somewhat high of the 3 degree glideslope prompting my passengers to ask “Why are there four white lights next the runway rather than two white and two red as normal?”. I made a steeper descent on track regaining the PAPI slope and an efficient landing, promptly vacating at Foxtrot onto the GA apron.
Samson were there to marshal me to a parking spot (the whole parking area outside there was empty) and I didn’t have to switch to their discrete ground frequency. After putting the covers on, we quickly left.
I’ve visited Newcastle many times over the years. We spent much of Saturday at a National Trust property at Wallington, and on Sunday took a walk along the Tyne into the market. Trees planted on the north side where the dockyards used to be have transformed it so much that it looks more like sparsely populated forest from the south bank. We enjoyed brunch at the Staithes, a cafe near the old wooden pier where trains used to offload coal into ships. Funds have been allocated to repair damage from a fire and restore it as a visitor attraction.
Straightforward flight home
Our return leg went very much according to plan. We departed through some light rain and climbed initially to FL70 as filed, then FL90 prior to joining controlled airspace. Our routing took us directly overhead Manchester airport. With a southerly wind, Gloucester were operating on runway 18 and I hoped for a straight-in approach. Four aircraft landed just before us, and with a bit of judicious spacing and speed adjustment by ATC, they slotted us in nicely with a “Land After” clearance after the others were on the ground.
I remain even more impressed with Autorouter (do try their latest Telegram App feature, which returns METARS, TAFs and even approach plates instantly on demand). The flight would have been fairly easy outside controlled airspace, but airways provided a much more direct and safer routing. ATC did co-ordinate including those parts outside controlled airspace with squawk code and flight details passed on between units, unlike the Freecall that typically operates when VFR.
If you’ve got plenty of time to waste, you can view an 8x speeded up video recording of the flight (sorry, no audio).
This flight: 3:10
Total PIC: 309:45
Total Flight Time: 442:40