Orbiting Chipping Norton

Lesson 27: Brize Zone Transit and getting lost

Our planned route would be: Gloucester -> Moreton on Marsh -> Grove -> Gloucester. The purpose of this lesson is to get more navigation practice but also practice radio talk, specifically how to transit Class D airspace (the Brize CTR).

I had already mapped out the route on my chart (we were supposed to do this route last lesson, but the weather changed that plan…) so after my instructor checked my PLOG we talked through the radio element.

We should give Brize as much notice as possible that we would like to transit their zone. They’re a busy bunch and it helps everyone if things aren’t left to the last minute. So, we’d plan to give them a call whilst on our first leg: Gloucester -> Morton on Marsh. The format of the initial call should simply be:

  • Station – Brize Radar
  • Callsign – Aeros 53
  • Request – Zone Transit

By giving details of the request in the initial call, it enables Brize Radar to prioritise their workload. When they’re ready to talk, they’ll respond “Aeros 53, pass your message”. Then we go in to the standard CARPACER stuff:

  • Callsign – Aeros 53
  • Aircraft Type – PA 28
  • Route – routing Gloucester, Morton on Marsh, Grove, Gloucester
  • Position – 5 miles south west of Morton on Marsh
  • Altitude – Altitude 2500ft QNH 1003
  • CE – optional but helpful
  • Request – Zone Transit

They’ll normally ask you to Squawk (set your transponder code) to a specified number, so they can identify you on their radar. This is not a clearance! With a bit of luck, you will then be issued a clearance to transit the zone, with any specified conditions. If you don’t get a response you must not enter the airspace – remain outside and consider calling the again to give them an update.

The weather looked fine, so we headed out to the aircraft. After doing an A-check we were soon taxying to the runway. Runway 27 was active today, and our initial heading was 70 degrees. So instead of starting the stopwatch on take-off, we would take off heading 270 and continue as if we were in the circuit (right hand) except we’d continue climbing above circuit height. Once we were abeam the runway (eg downwind) we could start the stopwatch and once at a safe height (clear of circuit and overhead traffic) turn to our desired heading.

At the quarter-way point, I was looking out for Cheltenham Racecourse, which we were due to fly right over. On time, and on track, I continued to do a FREDA check. I then asked Gloucester Approach for a frequency change to Brize Radar, which was approved, so I twiddled with the radio knob and soon enough I could hear traffic on the Brize frequency. I made my initial call: “Brize Radar, Aeros 53, Zone Transit”. No waiting around, with an instant reply: “Aeros 53, Pass your details”. I wasn’t expecting that so quickly! So I went in with my call: “Aeros 53, PA28, Routing Gloucester, Moreton on Marsh, Grove, Gloucester at altitude 3800 feet QNH 1011, request zone transit”. In the heat of the moment I had misread the altitude – we were actually flying at 2800ft. So their response: “At 3800ft you’re above the zone” (the zone extends from surface to 3500ft above sea level). So my instructor corrected me and said we’re at 2800ft.   Brize then asked where we wanted to transit the zone as Morton on Marsh was to the north of the zone. So we said “we are routing Morton on Marsh to Grove and would like to transit the zone bebtween Morton on Marsh and Grove”.  Finally, we were given a squawk 3702 and a basic service.

A minute or so later, we received another radio call “Aeros 53, Little Rissington, something, something active”. Obviously he didn’t actually say something but I couldn’t understand what he had said. So after asking for clarification, it was “Little Rissington, Abbingdon, Chiltern Park are active” – three parachute drop zones. Little Rissgton was a couple of miles off our route and I could see it on the map fairly quickly. After a bit of looking around, I found Abbingdon – 7nm east of our track, and only now I’m back have I found Chiltern Park – a good 13nm south east of Grove. So that was pretty confusing.

Now I’m not complaining (this is all good learning) but it was pretty confusing when you’re expecting one thing and hear something else. I’m not looking for sympathy but trying to explain the circumstances surrounding the next issue…All this radio chatter had taken a lot of time and we were now about 2 minutes before the ETA for Moreton on Marsh. I couldn’t see it ahead of us, and looking to the left and right I could see features that I wasn’t expecting to see from our track. I was lost.

So we go in to the standard ‘unsure of position’ procedure. Look ground to map. Try and find distinctive ground features and then locate them on the map. Orbit a town whilst you try to identify it. Eventually (about 15 minutes later) we had identified ourselves orbiting Chipping Norton – a good way South East of our desired track. No idea how we managed to get there… So now I could turn North West to get to Morton On Marsh. A few minutes later and we were overhead the disused airfield at Morton On Marsh, which was a huge relief. It’s really quite disorientating and a little bit scary when you have no idea where you are. My instructor acted as if he was lost too, but I’m pretty certain he knew where we were and was just testing me to see how I’d cope.

From there on, everything else proceeded as planned. Flying the planned heading took us along the desired track, Brize cleared us to transit the zone whilst flying South towards Grove, and again North West towards Gloucester.

Approaching Gloucester from the West was a first for me, it’s funny how the same airfield that you’re familiar with can seem completely different from another angle. Particularly as there are hills to the West, so you go from being fairly close to the ground to being quite high. We requested (and were cleared for) direct join left base for 27.

Next lesson we’d have another go at doing this again – hopefully without getting lost in the process!

Here’s the planned track:

Planned track from Gloucester to Morton on Marsh to Grove to Gloucester

Here’s the actual track:

After doing  a lot of head scratching, and re-watching the GoPro video, I am still not really sure how we managed to get so far off track. My main theory is that the wind was stronger and from a different direction to that forecast, but I’m not sure why that didn’t mess up the other two legs. The main thing I take away from this is to remember the order of tasks: Aviate, Navigate, Communicate. I was focusing on the third-most important thing, to the detriment of the other two.

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