Category Archives: lessons

Lesson 40: Stall & circuit practice

After my mock test, I decided to practice the different types of stalls and circuits that feature in the test, so that I could be freshly prepared on the big day.

We practiced:

  • recovery from a fully developed ‘clean’ stall (no flaps – nose down, full power, climb attitude)
  • recovery from the first signs of a stall with 2 stages of flap – (nose down, full power, climb attitude, wait for positive rate of climb then flaps away in stages)
  • recovery from the first signs of a stall with 3 stages of flap – (nose down, full power, drag flap away, climb attitude, wait for positive rate of climb then flaps away in stages)
  • recovery from the first signs of a stall whilst turning with 2 stages of flap (nose down, full power, wings level, climb attitude, wait for positive rate of climb then flaps away in stages)

After practicing these a couple of times, we headed back to the airfield for circuit practice. The radio was fairly busy with a couple of aircraft joining. 27 was active, but I wanted to practice on 36 (I hadn’t used 36 before the mock-test and I wanted to get a better feel of the visual aspects of the circuit, plus it would be good crosswind practice (wind was 270/10)). We were asked to join for 27RH and they would try to let us extend RH base for 27 to join downwind for 36.

As we approached the overhead, there were a couple of aircraft joining and in the circuit. It was pretty busy up there! Whilst descending on the dead side, one of the other aircraft joining the circuit was accidently going the wrong way around – doing a left hand circuit when the active was 27 RH. Tower spotted this and asked him to reposition, so he left the ATZ and came back to the overhead. Another aircraft joined direct on downwind, which we then had to follow. Here’s a clip of it all, to give you a sense of what was going on.

After that touch and go on 27, we were approved to turn left to join  downwind for 36. My initial approach was too high, so I had to go around. Subsequent circuits (normal, flapless, glide and precision) were good – better than in the mock, so we called it a day and went inside for tea and biscuits.

Now I am ready to book my skills test. I also need to do the Radio Practical examination. It’s all coming together…


Lesson 39: Mock Skills Test

In preparation for the final skills test, my instructor suggested I take a mock skills test with a different instructor. It’d be useful to experience the same stuff that I’ll have to go through on the actual test, plus doing it with a different instructor will help make it feel more realistic. I can get feedback on what I need to practice, and find out if/when I will be ready to go for the actual test. Good idea, I thought, so my mock test was booked.

The night before the mock, my instructor gave me the route, so that I could do my planning before arriving at the airport. This was helpful as it meant I could do the PLOG, fuel planning,  weight & balance and take-off/landing performance calculations in advance of the day, helping to lower my workload and calm my nerves! It also gave me a chance to really think through the route and consider the various issues along the way that might come up.

The route would be: Gloucester -> Knighton -> Alcester -> Gloucester. I could reasonably expect that on the Knighton to Alcester leg I will be asked to divert elsewhere, never actually ending up in Alcester, as this is what happens on the test.

The Gloucester -> Knighton leg takes us overhead Shobdon’s ATZ, so it’d be sensible to make radio contact with them in advance. On the Knighton to Alcester leg, there’s a HIRTA (High Intensity Radio Transmission Area) up to 2500ft. So long as we’re above then that shouldn’t be a problem. If the weather prevents us from reaching that altitude, I could easily dog leg around it.

My PLOG worked out at 1 hour 8 minutes for the entire trip.

On the morning of the mock test, I arrived at the airfield nice and early. I had the aircraft booked out all day, so I could get fuel and familiarise myself with it before the mock exam at 1pm. I filled up with fuel, then headed back inside so check NOTAMs and the Royal Flights/Red Arrows line. The only relevant NOTAM was a gliding competition around Alcester, which hopefully won’t be an issue as we don’t expect to actually get there as we will divert first.

At 1pm, I had the briefing with my (mock) examiner. I talked him through the planned route, PLOG, w&b calculations, performance calculations and he talked me through the order of the day. He’d act as a silent passenger, and would speak to me when he wanted me to do something or had a question.

I had already A-checked the aircraft before getting fuel. I explained this and to avoid needing to do it all again, I re-checked the oil and fuel and got in to the aircraft. Unbelievably, I couldn’t get the engine to start. On the way down to the fuel pumps, it had been pretty lifeless and took a few times to get it to start, but now it had finally decided to give up the ghost. We had a flat battery, and needed to get external power to get us started up. The examiner jumped out and got everything sorted. This had never happened before – bloody typical! Luckily once we finally got going, I didn’t feel too flustered and was able to carry on as normal.

Runway 27 was active, the perfect choice for my initial planned heading of 311. We were cleared for take-off pretty quickly and I was soon climbing out, turning to 280 for noise abatement before turning on to 311. Stopwatch started, I wrote the estimates in to the ETA column of each waypoint.

After doing the usual climbing lookouts, 300ft FEL and 1000ft RAF checks, I levelled off at 3000ft and performed the top of climb FREDA check. The weather to the west was worse than at the airfield, with cloud bases at around 3200ft. There were showers ahead but they appeared to be moving fairly quickly, so whilst discussing this on the ground we figured it was unlikely to be a problem.

After a couple of minutes, I could tell we were to the left of track, as we should have flown overhead Ledbury but were actually a couple of miles  south of it. I told my instructor this and flew directly towards Ledbury to get on track. Whilst over Ledbury, I turned to the planned heading of 311. The halfway point is abeam Hereford, and again I could observe we were to the left of track. I corrected my heading and continued towards Shobdon. I changed frequency to Shobdon Radio and told them I would be flying overhead. No problem. As we got nearer to Shobdon, I again could see that we were too far to the left, so I changed heading so that we flew straight towards it. From there, I flew the original heading of 311 to get us to Knighton.

The weather at this point was pretty lousy. There were showers and the cloud was lowering in the west. I said to the examiner that if I was alone I wouldn’t feel comfortable continuing the final few miles to Knighton and that I would divert from here directly to Alcester. He said that for the purposes of this he would be happy for me to continue the final few miles to Knighton, so that’s what I did. I positively identified Knighton (phew!) and this time when I said that the cloud was too bad to fly on the planned route, he agreed so I diverted (dog-legged) around the weather. I flew 60 degrees north of the planned track for 4 minutes, then 60 degrees south of the planned track for another 4 minutes – this should have got me back on the original track. I confirmed this by looking at the chart, and was happy that it had worked and we were on back on track, about to fly over the HIRTA.

A couple of minutes later and the examiner said he was happy the diversion was working out well (perfectly, in fact!) so we could move on to the next part of the test. He asked me to use radio aids to identify our current position. The aircraft had VOR, NDB and DME and I elected to use the ADF and DME (tuned to Gloucester) to do it. No problems there – I remembered my TITS! (tune, ident, test, sensible). So next I was asked to track towards the HONITON VOR on the 220 radial.  So, this meant I needed to fly TO the 040 radial. Again, for the VOR I used TITS and set 040 with the TO flag. We were more than 10 degrees off track, so I turned 60 degrees to intercept the VOR. After a couple of minutes of making little progress, the examiner asked me what radial we were currently on. So I twisted the OBS until we had FROM and the needle was aligned centre. It was 250. He then asked me to track along that radial instead (he originally thought  we were closer to 220). I did that for a while without problems, so we moved on to the next part of the test…

He said to imagine we had entered cloud and had inadvertently entered IMC. I performed a rate 1 turn for 1 minute, turning 180 degrees back out. Then he asked me to climb above 3000ft so we could practice stall recovery.

I was asked to perform a series of stall recoveries – clean, with two stages of flap, and with all three stages. I did the HASEL checks before each one, and everything seemed to go ok.

Next it was the spiral dive recovery. He set up the dive and asked me to recover. Standard recovery technique is throttle to idle, wings level, then climb attitude. So far so good.

Finally, I had to use the ADB to track back to Gloucester, where we could do circuits. First, I did a normal circuit, then flapless, then a glide approach, followed by a bad weather circuit.

Runway 36 was active, which amazingly enough I had never used before so I was caught a bit off guard. The normal circuit went ok, but on the flapless circuit I was way too high and elected to go around. The second time it worked out better, and I was able to successfully touch and go, although I was still a bit high and it was a bit close.

The glide circuit was ok, as did the bad weather circuit, which was a ‘to land’.

After performing the after-landing checks, I taxyed back to Aeros and shutdown. My examiner said if it would have been the real test I would have passed. I couldn’t quite believe it!

We went inside and had a coffee, and I calmed myself down a bit. The adrenaline was pumping and I felt pretty exhausted from the 2.5 hour flight.

We then had a proper debrief together, in which he talked me through notes he had made for me to learn and improve on:

  1. Passenger safety brief – make sure you offer to give the safety brief. This is something I’d never actually thought of before, even though it’s an item in the checklist because I’d been flying with an instructor we had never needed to do it. Obviously I will need to do it with normal passengers, so I was glad to have been picked up on this.
  2. Brake test – make sure I test the brakes as soon as possible after first moving, and whilst still at low speed.
  3. Taxy checks – whilst he was confident I had done them, it would be better to speak out clearly each check as I was doing it, to make it more obvious.
  4. DME – initially the DME was in Frequency mode, it would have been more helpful to have it in Groundspeed mode.
  5. Climbout – he asked me what speed I was climbing at, to which I replied I was initially climbing at vy – 79kts, and then elected to do a cruise climb. This was fine, but I should announce that is what I’m doing, so the examiner knows. Initially he thought I just didn’t know what speed to climb at!
  6. Diversion – make sure you consider the MSA and announce it.
  7. Simulated IMC – whilst the turn was fine, I should announce the other elements to consider: Pitot heat, Climb to MSA, Ask for Radar coverage. I explained that I thought he was going to ask me about these things, so there was some confusion. I think I will discuss this in the pre-flight briefing of the actual exam. (We had some discussions afterwards with my instructor about whether or not to actually climb to MSA, and concluded it was best to ask the examiner before hand)
  8. VOR – consider wind corrections
  9. Steep turn – careful not to climb on rollout, the first time I did one I climbed slightly, but the next turn was fine
  10. HASEL – remember to turn the fuel pump on
  11. Stall recovery – apparently I had “throttle aggression!”. Make sure you use the throttle smoothly. I blame the nerves.
  12. Turning stall – make sure you recover by moving the nose down, then power, then level the wings.
  13. ATIS – get the ATIS before making the rejoin call
  14. Bad weather circuit – make one continuous turn from upwind to downwind, instead of the usual upwind, crosswind, downwind 90 degree turns. This helps keep you closer to the airfield. Same with the turn from downwind to final.

Whilst it looks like a long list (and it is!) he was keen to emphasise these were all just pointers for how to improve and perform even better on the big day, and he was generally really pleased with how I did.

I felt pretty pleased with myself, and headed back home for a celebratory drink…

Here you can see the planned route, and the actual track:

Planned route for QXC
Planned route for QXC
Actual track of QXC
Actual track of QXC

Lessons 37 & 38: Revision

Cross country complete, 43 hours logged, and my instructor says I’m nearly ready to take the skills test. To get ready, we’d spend a couple of lessons brushing up and practicing various things we’ve previously covered – such as stalls, steep turns, and PFLs.

It’s a requirement that each student has logged 1 hour of instrument flight (with screens up) before they can have a PPL, and so I needed to get that logged too . Although I had flown with screens up already, this was usually just for part of a flight and so hadn’t been logged specifically as instrument flight. So we’d do a whole lesson with the screens up and log it as such.

Practicing stalls (or rather, stall avoidance and recovery) went well – you need to remember the first recovery action is always to lower the nose. We then did a couple of 45 and 60 degree steep turns. I’d forgotten just how much you need to pull back on the yolk as you enter a steep turn, so the first one wasn’t exactly level, but after that they were all nice and consistent.

We practiced a couple of PFLs from around 2500ft, then an EFATO during the climb-away. Wind was reported as calm, which meant picking a field was super easy! If only I could order calm wind for the day of my test…

The instrument flight lesson went well. We had the screens up the entire time (my instructor was the lookout) – quite an interesting (and weird!) sensation taking off without being able to see the runway!

With the screens up, we practiced various methods of position fixing, as this is one of the things I’ll need to do in the test. The plane we were in didn’t have a VOR, but it did have an ADF and a DME, so we could use those.

As a recap, when using a nav aid you need to TITS (!) – Tune, Ident, Test, Sensible.

Position fixing using an ADF involves using the OBS knob to align your current heading to the top of the instrument. The arrow of the needle points to the heading to the station, so conversely the tail is pointing to the direction to the plane FROM the station. Remembering that ADF uses magnetic headings, we take the heading from the tail, convert from magnetic to true, and then plot a line on the chart. The DME gives us the distance along the line.

This worked out well. To confirm, we made a couple of radio calls. Firstly, we asked for a True Bearing – this was within 5 degrees of what I had calculated from the ADF, which allowing for the inaccuracies of both processes seemed pretty good.

We then practiced some rate one turns – turning 180 to simulate what you’d do if you accidentally flew in to cloud.

Finally, we used the ADF to home back to the airfield. We flew over the overhead so that I could see the ADF in its ‘cone of confusion’ – the area within about 0.5nm of the NDB where the ADF gets confused and spins around, not knowing which way to point. Once we’d flown past the airfield, we used the NDB to position us for a long final join…

Runway 22 was active, and we were flying East over the airfield. Therefore we turned to a northerly heading, set the OBS to 000 and waited until we were about 3nm DME. At this point I turned to 310 (heading of base leg), set the OBS to 310. We then know exactly when we are on the extended centreline, as it’ll be when the ADF is pointing at 220. We then turned to 220 and everything was lined up. The screens came down at about 1.5nm out and I landed visually as normal.

After the flight, we had a quick debrief and my instructor suggested I should take a mock skills test next time. As it happened, my instructor would be on holiday for the next two weeks, so this works out quite nicely – it means I can take the mock test with a different instructor, giving me a more realistic experience as the actual skills test will be with an examiner I have never flown with.

Lesson 36: Qualifying Cross-Country (QXC) Gloucester -> Cardiff -> Wolverhampton Halfpenny Green -> Gloucester

The day had finally arrived – it was time to do my Qualifying Cross Country (QXC) flight. The weather was great – sunny, good visibility and a high cloud base, so things were looking good.

I’d planned my route, Gloucester to Cardiff, Cardiff to Wolverhampton Halfpenny Green, Halfpenny Green to Gloucester using a direct straight line, as there were no NOTAMS, danger areas or airspace along the route that needed to be avoided.

Before leaving the airfield, I had a brief with my instructor, covering all the “what if’s”, such as radio failure, airfield closures, deteriorating weather, getting lost, etc. After he was satisfied with my responses, we signed the declaration form and it was time for me to head to the airplane.

I performed the A-check, everything looked good so I was soon inside the cockpit with the door latched and my harness tight. Runway 04 was in use today, so after departure I made a turn to the left to obtain my heading of 235 degrees. The navigation to Cardiff was straight forward, in part because I had flown the route twice before, and also because the route basically just hugs the shoreline the entire way down.

My initial radio call to Cardiff Approach went well. I was given a Squawk, they  identified me and gave me a basic service. A couple of miles later and I was cleared to enter their controlled airspace via the Published VFR Cardiff Docks Arrival route – the same one as I’d used in my previous two trips. Runway 12 was active, and on transferring to Tower I was told to join downwind. The landing went well (there was a fairly strong cross wind, and I landed a metre or two from the centre line, but given the runway is so wide it wasn’t a problem) and I taxied to Aeros for a coffee and to get my QXC certificate signed.

When Aeros phoned Tower to check they were happy to approve my QXC form, Tower did say that I had forgotten to report Downwind but apart from that they were happy, so my form was signed. Not sure how I managed to forget that – must of been the heat of the moment – but at least they were happy with everything else.

Selfie at Cardiff, see the departing plane in the background!?
Selfie at Cardiff, see the departing plane in the background!?

Shortly after, I was back in the cockpit and preparing to depart for Wolverhampton. I was given the Published VFR Wenvoe Departure, as before, which is basically a reversal of the Docks arrival. Again, the en-route part of the flight went well and was non-eventful.

En-route selfie
En-route selfie

I switched to Halfpenny Green Information about 20nm from the airfield, they then provided me a basic service until I was 10nm and asked for join instructions. They asked what join I’d prefer, and as runway 34 was active I took a direct join on long final. I was number 3, with the 2 ahead also joining long final. I was visual with them both so was happy to follow behind for a straight-in landing.

After landing, I went up to the cafe for some refreshments. They were as miserable and unfriendly as when I visited last, so I didn’t hang around very long! I walked up to the Tower, had a brief chat with the guys there and they signed my QXC form. No issues.

Wolverhampton Halfpenny Green Tower
Wolverhampton Halfpenny Green Tower

The flight back to Gloucester went smoothly, I made a standard overhead join for 04 and was soon back on the ground. I managed to achieve my QXC flight without any issues, so it was time for celebration. As it was the end of the day, a bunch of us from the flying club went to the Aviator (the airfield pub/restaurant at Gloucester) for a drink and some food. It was also my birthday, so I had two excuses to celebrate 🙂

Celebratory pint :)
Celebratory pint 🙂

Unfortunately, my GoPro footage lacked any cockpit audio for the flight. It looks like the USB connection cable in to the GoPro must have bent in my last flight, so the signal isn’t making it through. Very annoying, as I’ll need to buy a replacement cable and they’re not cheap! Still, a really great day and one that I’ll remember for a long time to come…

Here’s the SkyDemon logs for each leg:

Gloucester to Cardiff
Gloucester to Cardiff
Cardiff to Wolverhampton
Cardiff to Wolverhampton

Wolverhampton to Gloucester

Wolverhampton to Gloucester

Overhead join at Wolverhampton Halfpenny Green Airfield for Runway 04

Lesson 35: Gloucester to Wolverhampton dual land-away

Today (June 14th) was a lovely sunny day, and it was also the day of Flyer Magazine’s 20th Anniversary Fly-In, which happened to be at Gloucester Airport and hosted by Aeros. So before my lesson, I arrived a little early to join in the celebrations. There were lots of people, lots of new planes on the apron, and – most importantly – a hog roast!

Whilst eating the rather lovely hog roast, I got chatting to a nice young chap called Will. He’s also learning to fly and has the same instructor as me. Despite having around 20 hours logged and being on the Navigation part of the PPL, he hadn’t yet flown solo. You need to be 16 before you can fly solo, so he was counting down the months until his next birthday. How frustrating must that be! He shown me some of the photos he’d taken whilst up in the plane, and they were really impressive. I said he should start a blog 🙂

Flyer Anniversary Fly-In at Gloucester
Some of the people enjoying the hog-roast and a good old natter

After a second portion of hog roast, my instructor and I were talking through today’s lesson. We’d fly to Wolverhampton Halfpenny Green together, another new airport for me. The significance of flying here is that when I do my Qualifying Cross-Country flight, it’ll be from Gloucester to Cardiff to Wolverhampton to Gloucester, so it would be good to check out the place together first.

There were some NOTAMS covering Tewkesbury and the surrounding area, meaning the straight line route between Gloucester and Halfpenny Green would be no good. Instead, I planned to fly North West to Ledbury, turn there and head North East direct to Halfpenny Green. Estimated time in the air: 19 minutes.

Planning complete, time to check the aircraft. I hadn’t flown this aircraft before, and the interior decor looked a bit like stepping into a living room from the 1970s!  I did the A-check and everything was fine, so very shortly after I had the engine running and requested taxi. The airfield was busy because of the Flyer fly-in, but after a short wait we were cleared to take-off and I was climbing out from runway 04.

I headed to Ledbury, turned, and then flew directly to Wolverhampton, changing frequency from Gloucester Approach to Hapney Green Information at Worcester. Runway 04 was active, with left hand circuits, and I joined by making a standard overhead join. The landing was relatively successful (although I was a little low towards the end) and we parked up and got out to have the obligatory coffee.

Here’s a clip of me downwind, turning base and then landing:

I don’t know if they were having a bad day or what, but the staff in the café seemed pretty miserable – the service was dreadful and so we didn’t feel like hanging around too long! We drank our drink, headed up to the tower to pay the landing fee and went back to the aircraft.

I’d planned our route back to be via Evesham, avoiding the NOTAM area previously mentioned and giving us some different scenery. The flight back was pretty uneventful, and by the time we were near Gloucester nearly all the fly-in traffic had left, so we were able to land without much waiting around.

I was back in Gloucester in time for the evening Flyer celebrations at the Jet Age Museum (located within the airfield). I hadn’t visited before, and am glad I did – it has some cool stuff in there and is definitely worth checking out next time you’re in Gloucester. You can even taxi and park there.

Ian Seager, the publisher of Flyer, gave a short speech (looking at the journey over the last 20 years) and there was plenty of bubbly and canapes. A great celebration. He looks nothing like the photo in the magazine!

Next lesson will be… my solo qualifying cross country flight!

Lesson 34: Radio navigation and diversion practice

For today’s lesson, we wanted to cover:

  • Position fixing
  • Radio navigation using the VOR
  • Radio navigation using the ADF/NDB
  • Diversions

Position fixing is one of the (many!) things that will be in the skills test, but is also an important thing to be able to do incase you become ‘temporarily uncertain of position’ (lost).

There are lots of ways to identify your position, including asking the radio service for a True Bearing (or QTE) or Magnetic Heading To Station (QDM). If you get a QTE, simply plot the line on the chart and you will be somewhere along that line.  With a QDM, you first need to convert magnetic to true, then plot the reciprocal (as QDM is direction to station).

However today we would be looking at position fixing using radio navigation aids – the VOR, ADF/NDB and DME.

VOR is short for VHF omnidirectional range, and is technology that dates back to the 1940s but is still in wide use today. To use a VOR, you need a VOR receiver in your aircraft. You then need to be in range of a VOR station. There are many across the UK and they have a fairly long range so this shouldn’t be much of an issue. To use one:

  • Tune – the nav radio to the VOR frequency
  • Ident – listen to the morse to check you are receiving the right station, and that it is in service
  • Twist – check the warning flag is out, and twist the OBS knob 360 and check you get the FROM and TO flags accordingly, then set the desired radial
  • Sensible – does the indication seem sensible?

The direction flag is really important. If you wanted to fly along the 090 radial from a VOR, you’d make sure you had the FROM flag displaying. If the needle is to the left of centre, you turn left until the needle centres. If you want to fly TO a VOR, you’d make sure the TO flag is set.

So, we can use this to identify the radial we are over. Tune and ident, then twist until the flag is on FROM and the needle is centred. Lets say it is centred on 070. We are somewhere along the line of the 070 radio from the VOR. Most VORs also have a DME (distance measuring equipment) which gives us the distance from the VOR. We can then plot the distance along the line to get our exact fix. Alternatively, tune to any DME in range, get the distance and plot it on the chart, which should be somewhere along the line you’ve drawn.

We could also identify our position without a DME, but this would require to VORs. First, we’d plot the radial from VOR1 and then plot the radial from VOR2. Where the two radials cross, that is where we are.

On the other hand, the ADF (Automatic Direction Finder) is a simpler instrument that points towards the station (an NDB, non directional beacon). To use one, again use the TITS mnmemonic – tune, ident, test (there is usually a test button on the DME), sensible – is it pointing in the direction we expect?

To use an ADF for position fixing, make sure you’re flying straight and level. Then twist the heading dial on the ADF to match your current heading. The arrow on the ADF will be pointing to the heading you need to fly TO the NDB. To plot our current position, simply take the reciprocal (the tail of the needle) on the chart from the station. Again, with a DME we can then plot our exact position along that line.

I’ve covered Diversions before, but to recap – make sure you plan the diversion from a known point. Draw a line between the two points. Estimate (or ideally measure) the angle, convert from degrees true to magnetic, correct for wind drift, then fly the heading. Make a note of the time in your PLOG. Next, measure the distance and calculate how long it will take (allowing for wind). Update the PLOG with an ETA. Mark off the quarter/half/three quarter way points, and look for distinguishing features along the route. Keep looking out to make sure you are on track.

The flying went well – we flew out of Gloucester towards May Hill (West) then tuned to the Brecon VOR. I fixed our position using the VOR – we were on the 075 radial FROM brecon, at 32 miles.  Then we flew along the 075 radial for a bit, by flying TO the 255 radial. After about 10 miles, we flew north. We wanted to intercept the 065 radial FROM the vor, so that we can track it towards Ross on Wye. Flying North, I tuned 065 FROM in the VOR and waited for the needle to center. Then I turned to a heading of 065 and kept it centered. After about 5 miles we were over Ross. Pretty cool.

I then had to divert from Ross to Bromyard, which required a heading of 010, and at 16 miles was estimated to take 10 minutes. I had the Ledbury aerial mast, and the towns of Hereford and Ledbury either side of me to confirm my position along the route, as well as the high ground, M50 motorway and a railway line. Sure enough, after 10 minutes we were right over Bromyard (or about 1 mile to the right of it, to be exact – but pretty darn close).

Diversion complete, we used the ADF to position fix and verify that we are actually over Bromyard. So I tuned to Gloucester’s NDB, ident and tested, then aligned the dial to our heading. The tail of the needle was pointing to 320, which I drew on the chart. Sure enough, that line goes straight through Bromyard. Our DME was out of service, so I couldn’t verify it exactly, but I was confident it was correct.

As if by magic, our engine caught fire (well, not really – the instructor pulled the throttle back to idle and told me to carry out a practice engine fire drill). First things first – fuel off, throttle closed, mixture ICO, fuel pump off, heater/demist off. Then carry on as if it was a normal PFL – trim for 73, identify a field, MAYDAY call, Squawk 7700, mags off, seat belts tight, door unlatched, master switch off, first stage of flaps when you are confident you’ll make it to 2/3rds along the landing point, second stage when you’re confident of reaching 1/3rd, then.. then we climbed away. All good except it took me a while to remember the initial steps. Must learn them some more.

We then put the screens up and I practiced instrument flight back to about 5nm from Gloucester, where I joined right base for runway 27.

Next lesson will be a dual nav exercise to Wolverhampton Halfpenny Green.

Lesson 32: Dual nav practice

After my solo land-away to Shobdon, I had a short nav lesson with my instructor. We practiced some more instrument flight (with the visors up) and some PFLs. My GoPro had run out of memory so I don’t have any clips from this lesson and my (human) memory is rather vague on the detail of what we did, so I’m afraid this entry will be rather short 🙂

Lesson 31: Solo land-away to Shobdon and back

Several weeks of bad weather had passed since my previous lesson (in which I flew with my instructor to Shobdon) but finally this Saturday it cleared up and I was able to fly the route solo.

After creating the PLOG, calculating weight and balance & fuel, checking NOTAMs, weather and plotting the route on the chart, my instructor reviewed everything and we filled out some paperwork. All ok, so I headed out to the aircraft and did the A-check. Everything was fine, so I was good to go.

First, I needed to get some fuel, so I taxied to the pumps. My instructor met me at the pumps, then I was back in the plane – alone. So, go through the checklist and request permission to taxi. When flying solo, you need to prefix your callsign with STUDENT when making your first radio call to each station. It doesn’t hurt to say it in subsequent calls, and I am of the opinion that I’d rather keep saying it (especially when on approach) to make everyone aware that I’m a student and I’d like to hope they might be a little more forgiving and/or cautious!

Without much waiting around, I was cleared for take-off and climbing up from runway 27. A small turn to the right for noise abatement, then I turned on to my heading from the PLOG. So far so good. People on the radio were feeding back reports of gliding and parachutists around the Malverns, so I was paying extra special attention in my lookout in that direction. I didn’t see anything though. Not sure if that means I was being blind or whether they were further away from my track than I first thought.

The journey proceeded as planned, it was fairly uneventful. At Ledbury, I changed frequency to Shobdon Radio and obtained the joining instructions. Runway 27 was active with left hand circuits. Gliding in progress (they use the grass runway) and have a lower circuit height.

After passing Hereford and crossing over the Cotswold ASR boundary, I switched to Barnsley’s QNH (which I obtained from Gloucester before leaving them). Soon enough the airfield was in sight. I still find it a little funny listening to Shobdon on the radio, as being an Air/Ground or FISO it’s less controlled than the ATC at Gloucester and some of the transmissions seem a little verbose at times. I’m glad I am learning at an airport with ATC, as I’m sure it’d be harder to learn with an A/G and then get used to the formalities of ATC.

The circuit at Shobdon was pretty busy, with lots of radio activity. I made an overhead join and had one aircraft ahead of me. Shobdon Radio did a great job of asking the aircraft ahead of me to expedite their exit from the runway, they really went out of their way to make my experience as straight forward as possible (I guess they were trying to avoid me having to go-around).

After landing, I taxied to the grass parking area, and went to the cafe to get some fresh air and a rather nice hotdog and chips! I met quite a few people in the cafe, including a nice chap who is based at Shobdon who has a share in a microlight. He had never landed at Gloucester so I encouraged him to do so – especially as he had the same microlights as they use at the Flying Shack.

Here’s the full video of the flight, incase you’re interested:

After lunch, I waited around a while. There was a planned airshow display near Gloucester (I saw this in a NOTAM) so I had to time my arrival at Gloucester to be after the airshow had finished. Soon enough, it was time to leave, so I headed back to the plane and worked my way through the checklist.

The flight back to Gloucester was again fairly uneventful (thankfully), so after landing it was back to Aeros for a well-deserved coffee and debrief with my instructor.

Lesson 30: IMC, Dual land-away to Shobdon and an SRA approach to Gloucester

I had the entire afternoon booked out today, so we could get lots of flying done.

I needed to practice flight in IMC (not because I’d be allowed to fly IMC with my initial licence, but as training incase one inadvertantly enters IMC and needs to get IMC is short for Instrument Meteorological Conditions and is basically when you do not have sufficient visibility to fly visually, such as flying in cloud, fog or strong haze.

After doing some IMC practice, me and my instructor  would fly to Shobdon together, have a quick bite to eat, fly back to Gloucester and land using a Surviellance Radar Approach (SRA). Then I’d go fly the route solo. Or at least, that was the plan…

In the pre-flight briefing, we talked about the the ‘six pack’ instruments – the basic six instruments in pretty much every plane. They’re arranged in two rows of three, so three on the top row and three on the bottom. Can you name each one? I managed 5 out of 6 and got stuck trying to think of the last one. It’s much harder than it sounds!

The aircraft six-pack
The basic six-pack

When flying in IMC, it’s essential that you scan the instruments according to a defined order. The main instruments are in a T shape (airspeed indicator, artificial horizon, altimeter on the top row, followed by the direction indicator on the bottom).

Even flying straight and level (which is pretty easy in VMC) is very demanding when flying in IMC. This is because you need to scan the T every second. Yes, every one second. Are we flying straight? Lets check the DI. Check the AI. Check the DI again. Still the same? Yes. Good, straight. Are we flying level? Check the altimeter. Check the AI. Check the altimeter. Still the same? Yes. Good, level. Every time you look at an instrument that isn’t the AI, you should immediately look at the AI next.

You can see how the workload ramps up very quickly in IMC. Doing a FREDA check whilst incorporating your T scan suddenly makes things much more difficult. Add in a radio call and you can see how things can go wrong very quickly if you’re not well prepared.

When turning in IMC, turns are normally conducted as a rate one turn. A rate one turn means that it takes one minute for the aircraft to turn 180 degrees. It therefore follows that turning a full 360 degrees (an orbit) will take two minutes.  The turn co-ordinator (bottom left in the six pack) has markings on the left and right which –  when aligned with the aircraft wing – means you are doing a rate one turn.

If you inadvertently enter IMC, the first thing to do is check the MSA for your current position. If you’re below it, climb pretty quickly. Clearly as a basic PPL, you’re not qualified to be in IMC anyway so if you do fly in to a cloud then you should do a rate one turn for one minute (eg 180 degrees) to head back out of the cloud.

Finally in our pre-brief we talked about the SRA. Whilst not part of the PPL syllabus, my instructor suggested we do one anyway as it’s good experience. Whilst flying IMC there are various methods available to approach and land at an airfield. The exact methods available will depend on the airfield and your licence, but could include an NDB approach, ILS approach, radar vectored approach, etc.   An SRA is one of the simpler approaches and is likely to be used if you do inadvertently enter IMC and need help from ATC to get down. Essentially, the tower uses radar to identify your position and then issues instructions for you to change heading to align yourself for the approach. Each SRA has defined minimums and the one we’d be flying would take us to 2nm from the runway threshold. Some go down to 500metres (or less).

We headed out to the aircraft and did the usual pre-flight checks.  We were soon up in the air and my instructor put up the instrument screens. These basically block the pilot’s view – I couldn’t see out the windscreen or the left window, effectively simulating IMC conditions. The instructor’s view is unobstructed so he acts as safety pilot maintaining good lookout during the training.

I practiced flying straight and level, through reference of the instruments. It’s certainly more involved than it sounds, but after a while I got the hang of it. Felt a bit like using a flight sim as you’re fixed on the instruments. We then did some rate one turns, which seemed fairly straight forward – make sure the turn indicator is on the right notch and make sure you are flying level and everything’s cool.

After a bit more flying with the screens up, they came down and I headed towards the approach for Shobdon airfield. Shobdon has a non-standard join procedure, which involves descending not below 1500ft on the deadside, and then descending to circuit-height (1000ft) on the live side, to join the circuit mid-way downwind. I got a little confused at first but soon got myself sorted out and everything went well. We landed, taxied to the grass parking area (remembering to change between surfaces at 45degrees) and headed to the cafe and paying the landing fee.

A while later, we booked out and prepared for departure. We were soon up and away, and heading back towards Gloucester. Up went the IMC screens again and I did some more rate one turns, climbing, descending and straight and level. The instructor spoke with ATC and requested an SRA for runway 09 which was accepted. Firstly, they needed to identify our plane on their radar. (Gloucester don’t have secondary surveilance radar, which interrogates the transponder and enables you to use a unique sqwawk) so to identify you they ask you to turn a specific heading. We obliged and a few seconds later, they told us we had been identified. We were then given a series of instructions “turn right heading 170” and information “you are 9 miles from the threshold at 2000ft” and as we followed their instructions our track was nicely aligned for a long final approach. At 2nm the instructor took down the screens, the SRA service was terminated, and – sure enough – I was staring at the runway straight ahead – magic!

Annoyingly my GoPro memory card filled up before we did the SRA, otherwise I would have uploaded the video as it was quite a cool experience. I’ll try and do another one and upload it in the future.

We landed and had a coffee and a re-cap. Unfortunately, as is common with most of my lessons (we like to talk!), things had overrun a bit and it was too late for me to fly the route solo that afternoon as Shobdon would be closed. Nevermind,  I’d fly it solo next time…


Cardiff Airport runway 12 to our left

Lesson 29: Land-away at Cardiff International Airport

The weather wasn’t looking too great to the East, but to the West was looking good so my instructor told me to plan our route from Gloucester to Cardiff. It’s about as easy as they come to navigate along the direct route, as you hug the line of the Severn River all the way down to Cardiff Docks.

Cardiff airport is in a Class D Control Zone (CTR) and is surrounded by Control Areas (CTAs) at various heights. These are designed to protect the commercial traffic heading in and out of the airport. I had to read up on the visual entry procedures (in the AIP, my AFE guide and also – I found most helpfully – the Cardiff VFR Guide). All VFR clearances within Cardiff’s airspace is not above altitude 1,500 (on Cardiff’s QNH). Approaching from the North East, we could expect to receive clearance via the Published VFR Cardiff Docks route, which means entering the CAS via Cardiff Docks and then doing whatever you’re told to do by Cardiff on the radio.

PLOG complete, with an estimated flight time of 30 minutes to Cardiff, NOTAMs checked, temporary airspace/royal flights/air force checked, we were almost ready to go. My instructor phoned Cardiff and booked us in (although they did say to him that PPR isn’t required, which is the opposite of what’s said in the AFE book!), we booked out with Gloucester and headed to the plane. We needed fuel, so after checking the oil and a quick visual inspection (it had already been A-checked earlier in the day) we were requesting taxy to the pumps.

Fuel filled up, ATIS checked and I requested taxy. It was a busy day at Gloucester, the radio chatter was non-stop and we were holding for around 20 minutes. During this time 3 planes landed and 1 ahead of us took off. Finally it was our turn. I was given a “line up and wait behind the landing” clearance, so I was paying close attention to the landing plane and started to roll to the runaway as it passed us. Lined-up, ready to go.

I had re-aligned the DI to the compass twice already and we hadn’t even taken off. Whilst lined up on the runway I did another check and again noticed it had drifted 5 degrees off. I keep making the mistake of mis-reading the compass. The problem is that the compass direction is opposite to the direction on the DI (and common sense). For example, the DI is a typical compass circle with North at the top, East at the right, South at the bottom and West at the left. The compass however rotates around the Y axis, with East to the left of North and West to the right. On a number of occasions (I can remember at least 5, and I’m starting to wonder whether the ‘getting lost’ during the Brize transit lesson was a result of this too) I have mis-read the compass and consequently set the DI incorrectly. Must triple check this from now on.

Runway 09 was active, so I was expecting to climb out, turn to the left following the circuit direction and then turn to my desired heading of 225 whilst downwind (but above circuit height). However, unusually (at least, it hasn’t happened to me before) I was given clearance to turn out to the right (“Aeros 53, with a turnout to the right, cleared take off runway 09”). Fair enough! So off we went, climbing out and at around 500ft I turned to the right. It felt a bit weird flying against the circuit direction and we were both doing extra lookout just-in-case.

Soon I was heading 225 and doing my first gross error check against the map. So far so good. As I said, it’s pretty hard to get lost on this flight because of the river. I was handed over to Gloucester Approach, who gave us a basic service and asked us to “report at the bends in the river”.  On reaching the bends, I reported and asked for a frequency change to Cardiff Approach. Change approved, and we switched to Cardiff.

I had been practicing the expected radio calls in the car on the way to the airport (talking to myself!) in preparation. It’s the usual CARPACER stuff plus as Cardiff have ATIS you need to acknowledge the ATIS letter. They also ask you to report your aircraft type on first contact. So “Cardiff Approach, Aeros 53, PA28 request join”  then wait for “Pass your message” … “Aeros 53, PA28, inbound from Gloucester, overhead Chepstow altitude 2500 feet 1010, VFR with information Echo,estimate Cardiff time 55, request join”.  When I made the actual radio call, I became distracted by something in the cockpit and only got as far as CARPA and then froze. Not sure why. Instructor took over and finished the call for me, phew.

We were given a squawk, which we set and a basic service. A couple of minutes later, “Aeros 53, cleared to enter via published VFR Cardiff Docks arrival  not above 1500 feet QNH 1010”. Readback done, acknowledged as correct and we were flying towards Cardiff Docks.

I started our descent from 2500 to 1300 as we were approaching Cardiff Docks.

Cardiff Docks and Cardiff Bay from 1300ftBy flying at 1300 we had some headroom incase I accidentally allowed us to climb. Flying over Cardiff Bay and seeing the Millennium Stadium and the marina at Penarth was lovely, such a beautiful view. I could see the Wenvoe TV mast ahead of us to our right. We were then told to join downwind left hand for runway 12. So I turned to the right and towards the airfield.

St Athan airpot is 3nm from Cardiff and it’s very easy to confuse the two. My instructor had warned me about this in our pre-flight briefing so I was being extra careful to identify the correct airport. We had the DME tuned to Cardiff, the NDB tuned (so the ADF needle was pointing at Cardiff) and we also had the GPS set up for additional reassurance. I could see an airfield on the left and one on the right, so given our current position it had to be Cardiff on the left. Pre-landing checks complete, and turn on to left base.

Approach was fairly non-eventful. This is the largest runway I have landed on so far and it felt a little weird to be able to stop in such a short amount of the available tarmac. We taxyed to the south side apron and parked up, went in to visit Aeros Cardiff and then popped upstairs to the Cambrian Bar for some lunch and a coke.

Here’s a clip of the approach from Cardiff Docks:

After lunch, it was time to study the Published VFR Departure routes. I could expect the VFR Wenvoe departure, which is basically keeping to the East of the TV mast and exiting via Cardiff Docks. So essentially the opposite of our arrival.

We weren’t sure whether we needed to ask for permission to start the engine, so we requested it and was told it was at our discretion. Better to be safe than sorry. We were then told to taxi to holding point Golf. Power checks complete, we reported ready for departure. Cleared for take-off via the published VFR Wenvoe departure route not above altitude 1,500 feet. Again, it felt strange being airborne and seeing so much runway still below and infront of us. We could probably have done a couple of touch and goes with the runaway ahead!

Shortly after I turned to Cardiff Docks, we were asked to “Reset Squawk 3641”. We did and told them it had been done. They then asked us to try it again, as they were seeing us as 2641. Transponder cycled, set to 3641. Cardiff were still seeing us as 2641, very weird. Finally they asked us to switch the transponder off all together (“disable mode alpha”) which on hindsight sounds like a complicated way of “disable transponder” but hey, we obliged and they were happy. One to log in the techlog when we get back.

After clearing Cardiff Docks and exiting controlled airspace, I advised them we would be climbing to 2,500 feet out of courtesy. Here’s a pic of the Millennium Stadium to our left and Cardiff Bay on the right:

Millennium Stadium on our left, Cardiff Bay on our right
Millennium Stadium on our left, Cardiff Bay on our right

Soon we were by the M4 J24 VRP with the Celtic Manor hotel and its 3 golf courses shining in the sun:


Living in Usk, this is all local territory for me and it felt great to be able to see such wonderful view. So that I could fly over Usk (and practice diversions!) I planned a diversion up the Usk valley. Heading changed, we requested frequency change to Gloucester and said goodbye to Cardiff. Driving from J24 to Usk takes around 12 – 15 minutes, but in the plane you can see Usk from J24 and you’re overhead it within 2 or 3 minutes. My instructor took some photos for me, and then marked another point on the map and asked me to divert to it. I drew a line, estimated the angle to be 45 degrees and measured the distance as 18nm. The wind was coming from our right, so a quick drift calc gave me a heading of 055. Estimating time took a bit more thought. At 100 knots, we fly 10 miles every 6 minutes (at any speed, simply divide by 10 to get miles per 6 minutes). Half it go get 5 miles every 3 minutes.  So with an allowance for wind, I estimated between 9 and 10 minutes.

First thing I learnt here was it’s pretty tricky trying to fly and draw lines on a map. I need to practice this so that I can confidently do it one handed. I could also use my feet to keep the wings level. Stopwatch started and it was time for some gross error checking. So far so good.

At the half way point, we were on track and on time. Incredible! At 8 minutes I could see the destination ahead of us (a curve in the river – an oxbow) and sure enough at 9 minutes 20 seconds we were overhead. My instructor asked me to find the old railway bridge from the disused railway. There it was! I was in shock at how things had worked out so well. Luck or skill? Probably luck 🙂

After admiring the scenery, my instructor started fiddling with the throttle and – oh no – engine failure (practice!). I trimmed for 73 knots and turned downwind. We were at 1,900 but the terrain was around 500 feet so we didn’t have much height to work with. I picked a field and practiced my mayday call and what’s up checks. I then turned but got disorientated in the turn and ended up flying in the wrong direction and towards a different field. Oops. Need more practice.

Finally we headed back towards Gloucester and asked for a straight in approach. We used the OBS mode on the GPS to visualise the approach line for runway 09 and I intercepted it at around 8 miles out. Gloucester was still busy (we were number 3) but they managed to approve our straight in approach, and we were shortly back on the ground.

I really enjoyed today’s lesson. We covered a lot of stuff and things really seem to be clicking in to place now. Next lesson will be some more dual nav, in preparation for some solo nav and ultimately my qualifying cross country.

Here’s the GPS tracks for our flight Cardiff -> Gloucester via Usk and the diversion:

Skydemon tracks showing our route from Cardiff to Gloucester via Usk and a diversion
Skydemon tracks showing our route from Cardiff to Gloucester via Usk and a diversion (weather shown here is not from the day of the flight)