Rich and I had booked our shared TB20 at Gloucester for some currency practice over the Christmas break. We both wanted to make an instrument approach and as always, I was keen to fly somewhere new. We agreed on an anti-clockwise round-London tour, stopping off at Biggin Hill and Southend which both have an ILS plus an extra stop at Andrewsfield to equalise the day into two flights each. Adam joined us as a back seat passenger and cameraman.
Today was a bank holiday, but most airports were back to operating normally. Rich called Biggin for PPR while I spoke to Southend. ATC at Southend told me that PPR wasn’t required but did take my details since I was calling. Andrewsfield answered enthusiastically, and were happy for us to drop by – the bar/cafe was open despite the radio being unmanned.
What was most unusual today was the really high pressure – I’ve never seen it so high. QNH was 1044 (the scale only goes up to 1050), which meant a difference of over 900 feet between QNH altitude and SPS (Standard pressure) flight level. The transponder thought we were deep underground before departure.
Gloucester to Biggin Hill
It was a fairly uneventful flight and surprisingly quiet with little other traffic on frequency. Rich flew a route south to Goodwood and south of Gatwick before turning north towards Biggin with a traffic service from Farnborough Radar. They negotiated our vectored ILS request with Thames Radar who then directed us in. Rich was asked if he could accept Class A (i.e. are you instrument rated) and we climbed to 3000 feet while being positioned for the ILS. I was surprised to find there is still Class A at such low levels because I thought all of the London low level airspace had been downgraded to Class D.
We got some very good views of central and east London which the photo doesn’t do justice to. We were a bit high initially on the intercept but made a good approach and landing.
Biggin Hill is quite a smart executive jet type of airport – several were on the ramp beside us – with free coffee and biscuits included in the landing fee. Quite a change from the airforce base it was during wartime.
Biggin Hill to Southend
On departure there were several aircraft lining up from the opposite taxiway – I guess the locally based aircraft live on the other side of the field. My clearance was with a right turn to fly back overhead the airfield not below 1600 feet. After five miles, switched to Southend who were busy with a few other GA aircraft in the vicinity. My request was accepted (told to standby) and I was ready to orbit outside controlled airspace when the clearance to enter came through with about a mile to go.
It was a pretty straightforward series of headings to follow and a good intercept. I was pleased to handfly down to 200 feet dead on target.
Southend is owned and operated by Eddie Stobart, a truck and logistics group, originally headquartered in north west England. I’d read a biography of the founder just the previous week. The group also own Carlisle airport which I’ve been to, and operate freight as well as passengers from the recently expanded Southend base. We were marshalled into place from where we could walk to the office and pay our landing fee (lower than at Biggin). It’s got a few comfy chairs but isn’t anything like an executive lounge and has no tea/coffee facilities. There is a McDonald’s across the road though! For those wanting to venture further, I’m told its £25 taxi fare into the town or to the station. The receptionist was very lively and welcoming, reminding me of the one at Carlisle.
Southend to Andrewsfield
It was a short VFR flight to Andrewsfield, barely worth climbing above 2,000 feet. Unlike the clearly directed vectored ILS, our approach to a grass field required careful consideration of the Pooley’s guide, looking for noise abatement which was quite difficult to spot. The airfield sits directly on the edge of Stansted airspace, and we squawked 7010 while making blind traffic calls on frequency.
The airfield has two parallel grass runways, with the right one being in use and having visible black matting. It took a few minutes to recognise and decide which bit to land on. It’s smaller than I’d expected, given its great reputation and wide range of training courses on offer – they even train flight instructors here.
We got a very warm welcome, drank mugs of tea and found it hard to decline the tasty looking cakes. There was a little bit of activity outside but not much – seems everybody was still at home enjoying or recovering from Christmas.
Andrewsfield to Gloucester
Rich flew us back to Gloucester. They were operating on an “Aerodrome only” ATC service which meant no instrument approaches. But we were OK to make a VFR straight in approach with a Basic service, which just happened to be the same as the RNAV straight in approach flightpath, giving Rich another opportunity to show off his skills.
An enjoyable day out regaining some instrument currency and comparing best practice.
PIC Today: 1:05
Total PIC: 444:00
Total Time: 582:25