Spring has finally arrived!
How about that for a positive start to this blog post?
Spring has arrived, and with it the first CAVOK day. As part of my PA-28 challenge for this year I have booked G-BSCY pretty much every Sunday up until the Easter weekend, when I’ll hopefully go on my first big cross-country trip. Until then I want to get as much flying time in that type of aircraft as possible. It also helps me to build up hours to start my IR(R) training, which would complete another challenge I set myself for this year.
Secondly, this weekend would be the first time to take my girlfriend up flying, all previous attempts have failed due to bad weather, so another premiere for me.
We had originally planned to fly to Nottingham for a coffee. The route would take us from Wellesbourne to Gaydon, then overhead Leicester airfield and finally through the CTA of East Midlands Airport straight to Nottingham. Unfortunately the 90 days passenger currency have passed, and so I was forced to do another bunch of circuits.
Circuits (and some much-needed landing practice)
Down on the surface we had a nice 070 with speeds around 10-15kts (if I remember correctly), so the active runway in Wellesbourne was 05 with a left-hand circuit. Only once, on my first solo, have I flown the 23-RH circuit, which is basically the other way around, but never before have I flown circuits from runway 05. This turned out to be quite challenging for me in fact! An empty 160hp Piper climbs and flies quite a bit faster than a C152, and since I couldn’t relate to any familiar landmarks for the turns to crosswind, downwind and base legs I overshot all of these. Thus my circuits were way to ‘big’ and I think I actually left the Wellesbourne ATZ at the end of my downwind leg. I really hope I haven’t pissed off any other traffic in the circuits (I don’t think there were many) with my overly generous flying distances.
Runway 05 is quite short, just under 600m, but my finals felt like 20 miles. Especially since they’re flown with low speed it took forever to land and I remember the tower asking me several times where I actually was. They must have thought I departed to another airport!
The landings were so-so. I still have to get used to the fact that those low-wing aircraft have loads of ground-effect to deal with and consequently don’t require as much flare as a Cessna would. So on my first landing I ballooned a little (not cool on a short runway), my second landing was so thumpy that I thought I broke the airfield, but my third landing actually went fine. One thing I noticed though was that there was a tendency to land left of the centreline, which I blame the small crosswind factor for.
All in all it wasn’t too bad. Some more practice for the flare and touch-down, and getting used to the new speeds and I’ll be fine. Now off to take Evie on board, it’s about time!
Back on the ground we realised that it was probably too late now to fly all the way to Nottingham and back as we approached 3 o’clock, so we decided to just do some local sightseeing instead. I suggested the Malvern Hills and Evie agreed.
We took off from runway 05 again, and it still felt weird to take off towards a bunch of warehouses instead of open countryside, but we quickly climbed over them.
Shortly after turning to crosswind my SkyDemon app showed a warning about entering the Birmingham CTA above, and after checking the altimeter I quickly lowered the nose in order to avoid a penetration. The CTA starts at 2,500ft and that reflex came after I saw the 100ft arm of the altimeter climb above the 550 mark. Foolish little me was caught off guard here, and analysis after the landing showed me that I was in fact only 1,550ft above the ground and all panic was for none. Looks like I need to get used to SkyDemon warnings and handle them with more care.
Once we left the vicinity of the Birmingham CTA we went on a south-westerly course and levelled off at 2,600ft. I performed a FREDA check, always great fun, and I started explaining all the things we saw on the way. We were flying south of Bredon Hill which is an excellent landmark if you fly around the area north of the Cotswolds as it is very easy to identify and very visible from every direction.
Another SkyDemon warning came up, this time about a gliding site at Long Marston, an old disused airfield, and I avoided it with a gentle turn to the left. Shortly after I noticed that the aircraft has climbed a few hundred feet although I thought it was trimmed pretty well. The engine RPM were still set to 2400rpm, which gave us a nice cruise speed of 108kts. We flew past Bredon Hill and set course Malvern Hills.
A few minutes after Bredon Hill I could make out Cheltenham and Gloucester Airport in the distance to the left, but since we weren’t crossing their ILS approach path and didn’t overfly their ATZ I decided not to give them a call and remain on the Wellesbourne frequency for now. In retrospect I think I should have called them for a basic service just to let them be aware of our intentions, but I didn’t have their frequency at hand and I wasn’t too familiar with SkyDemon to get it from there yet. Next time I’ll definitely give them a call!
We travelled past the Malverns on the southern side of the hills, and turned on a northern course shortly after. A few minutes of admiration and a few photographs later it was time to think about getting back home. We decided to fly over Worcester for more sightseeing. Just when we were past Worcester on an easterly heading we spotted a Cessna coming from the north and turning westwards. Evie made the very logical suggestion that they might be flying to Wellesbourne as well, and so we observed their path for a few minutes. We soon figured out that we were faster than them, and I used the opportunity to practice a standard rate-1 turn to the right the give the other aircraft some room. The turn was a good practice for any upcoming instrument training, and I successfully completed a 360 degree turn in two minutes without gaining or losing altitude. The Cessna was now out of sight.
I announced our return to the Wellesbourne tower around 10nm west of Stratford upon Avon. I received the airfield information, runway 05-LH was still in use and since I could already make out the field I set the altimeter to the current QFE of 1019hPa while descending to 2,000ft agl. The tower had some issues talking to the Cessna we encountered earlier, which arrived in Wellesbourne to land, just like Evie predicted! As we arrived overhead the airfield the tower told us about the Cessna which also arrived overhead, and a Beechcraft Baron (or was it Bonanza?) arriving from the south-east. I could see that the Beech was on short final, but I couldn’t locate the Cessna. I announced that I would descend on the dead side of the circuit, and I’ve already descended 200ft when I saw the Cessna just a few hundred feet above us. I stopped the descent for a few seconds to find out what the Cessna was up to as I didn’t want both aircraft to descend at the same time. In the end we went first and the Cessna followed us.
My circuit was like the ones before… too far, too wide, final approach took forever again. The approach was nice though, but I underestimated the ground effect once more, so we ballooned a little. I corrected quickly though and the landing wasn’t too bad, although a bit off the centreline again. I guess the ballooning distracted me from taking care of the crosswind for a few seconds.
I hit hard on the brakes to vacate the runway as I knew the Cessna was right behind us to land, and then we taxied to parking and shut the aircraft down.
A few lessons have been learned:
I really need to get used to that ground effect on the PA-28! It required a much more gentle flare than a Cessna does. I guess a few circuits are in order to nail this down soon.
The other thing was my slight ‘panic’ when I saw the SkyDemon notification about entering Birmingham airspace. There was still 1,000ft to go, but I lowered the nose quickly. I can imagine this wasn’t the best experience for my passenger. 🙂
About calling unplanned frequencies: I know now how to get all relevant information from SkyDemon (in this case the Gloucester Radar frequency), so next time I’ll happily call any appropriate ATS when in their vicinity.
The last bit of criticism I have of my performance was that I missed to call out that I had the Cessna in sight. They were flying above me with no clue about whether I was aware of them or not, so next time I’ll definitely inform ATS about it. I guess the uncertainty of the situation and my delayed intentions to start the descent caused this hiccup.
All in all a good fun flight with some minor flaws, and a good preparation for our Nottingham trip, which will hopefully happen shortly!
Flight Time: 1:30h (combined)
Total Time: 2:55h