Flight Log: Radio Failure at Wycombe Air Park

The weather forecast promised a great flying weekend, and so I quickly booked G-FIGA for a Sunday afternoon trip. I studied the map for destinations that I haven’t flown into yet, and settled for Booker Airfield, a.k.a. Wycombe Air Park!

Unfortunately there was no (affordable) PA-28 available and we had to go for a small Cessna 152, but since I haven’t flown them in a while it might be a good time for a refresher on the type.

I’ve also bought a set of GoPro cameras that I wanted to try out to film the trip. Hopefully soon I’ll have my film editing skills sharpened to upload the result on YouTube!

The Sunday arrived and it was indeed excellent flying weather, so Evie and I headed to Wellesbourne. I booked us a PPR slot for 14:30 and planned to go for some some sightseeing around the Silverstone race track, which was also a good route to avoid the many airfields and glider sites/parachute drops on the direct route. Little did I know that this would be my first actual incident during a flight, a partial radio failure!

Wellesbourne to Wycombe

I’ve checked out the aircraft and called for taxi for an easterly departure. The runway in use was 36 with a right-hand circuit, so we decided to depart from the base leg towards Gaydon, and from there to Silverstone and then direct to Wycombe.

Departure

The 152 is a little smaller than a PA-28 and has only two seats, so I guess Evie had to get used to the lack of comfort that larger aircraft provide. I myself had to get used to the different locations for all the gauges and trim wheels and whatnot, e.g. I had a tendency to reach between the seats for the trim wheel, where it would be on a Piper. It wasn’t a big deal though and we were soon off to Gaydon.

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Gaydon, a former RAF base and now vehicle testing ground for Aston Martin and Jaguar Land Rover

Cruise

I contacted Brize Radar for a Lower Airspace Radar Service (LARS), and they gave me a squawk for identification. I asked for a basic service only because I didn’t expect much traffic on the way.

The weather forecast predicted a cloud-base at around 2,700ft and so I decided to stay roughly at 2,200ft max altitude to stay clear of cloud in case we encounter any on this beautiful day. We took on an easterly heading towards Silverstone, and after about 15 minutes we reached our first waypoint. I had a  GoPro installed on the left side window and so we flew a left-hand orbit around the race track for some good pictures.

After the sightseeing we went straight on a southerly heading towards Wycombe. At about 15 miles north of Wycombe I requested a frequency change to Wycombe tower. Wycombe asked me to report when abeam the Stokenchurch tower, which is a telecommunications tower on a hill and therefore very visible.

Arrival

The tower initially asked us to join a left base for runway 06, and so I set everything up for a base arrival. I had reduced speed with one stage of flaps and I started to descent when the tower called me to climb back to 1,200ft and turn left to overfly the runway and then turn left again to join downwind at circuit height. This was due to another aircraft on a glide approach, and I could see the plane descent below me.

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The rolling hills in the Chiltern Hills area

After joining downwind I called to inform the tower of our current position but didn’t get an answer. I tried again a couple minutes later, with no response. After turning final I tried a position report again, when the tower informed me that they can only hear my carrier wave, but not my voice. I tried to response, to no avail, and I was actually so busy landing the plane that I didn’t realise what was wrong.  They gave me a clearance to land over the radio, not knowing that I could actually hear them after all. I always responded correctly as if everything was working, after all, I still wasn’t aware of any issues. The tower gave me a green light as well to signal a clearance to land (which I couldn’t see in the glaring sunlight).

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Our arrival at Wycombe Air Park

I got suspicious when we were on short final, about 250ft to go, when the controller told the aircraft behind me that I have a radio failure and this might be a go-around (he rightfully assumed that I didn’t hear the clearance and possibly didn’t see the green light).

After landing the tower gave me instructions to taxi and park, and since I followed any instructions they must have been aware that I can still hear them fine.

Wycombe to Wellesbourne

After a nice hour in the sun watching gliders soar around the southern edge of the airfield and no coffee (the cafe was closed), we decided to fly back to Wellesbourne. I was hoping that the radio would magically work again after a restart, but it will later turn out that it wouldn’t do me the favour. We planned the same route on the way back, in this case especially to avoid traffic, and soon we we’re back in the cockpit.

Departure

After start-up I contacted the tower, and they immediately responded with the bad news that they’d still only receive a carrier wave. Brilliant, what now? They knew I could hear them, and so I just clicked the transmit button to make them aware that I understood their message. The controller gave me instructions to follow another plane also about to depart, and I did so. At the end of the taxiway, just before the holding point both aircraft did the power checks, and I was quicker at completing them and turned towards the runway, which has been noticed by the tower.

They gave me a clearance to take off and asked to click three times to acknowledge the clearance. A minute later we were back in the air.

During departure the controller gave us advice to turn left on a northerly heading before resuming our own navigation.

Cruise

I tried to contact Brize Radar for a radar service, but since I never got a response I assumed that they also couldn’t hear me, which was expected. After a few attempts I set the transponder code to 7600, which indicates a radio failure. My plan was to get back to Silverstone keeping a good lookout and listen to Brize Radar for traffic information, and then tune in to Wellesbourne to receive information about the active runway and circuit activity.

Soon after Silverstone and about 15 miles from Wellesbourne I changed frequency to EGBW to receive the information I needed to land, but there was just silence. This was a bit disturbing, and I feared that the radio reception has also given up the ghost by now. Luckily, a few minutes later, when I was about four miles out east another aircraft asked for landing instructions. They were also four miles out, but from the south, so we would arrive at similar times.

The tower gave them the information required, which I also noted. In addition he mentioned that there was no circuit traffic to allow the other aircraft to join on a long final, but for me that meant I could join the circuit without much hassle! I’d still keep a good lookout just in case though, but then when would you not?

Arrival

I descended on the dead side over the town of Wellesbourne, and when we arrived overhead the airfield the tower actually contacted me! Wycombe have called them to inform us about our radio failure (very nice of them!) and so they were aware and gave us landing instructions. I knew them already anyway, but it was good to hear a confirmation again.

We landed safely on runway 36 again and taxied back to the club, where I filled in the tech log to report the broken radio.

Conclusion

A radio failure is not a big incident since the aircraft will still fly safely, it’s just not very convenient when you’re not able to communicate to anyone. The trick was to handle the situation calmly and carry on flying.

Other than that it was a very beautiful flight on a beautiful day. Wycombe is certainly worth a visit, I guess even more so when the cafe isn’t closed for refurbishing!

The controllers on both ends were very professional and friendly and I’d like to hereby thank them both for their excellent service!

Lessons Learned

There weren’t many mistakes made on this flight from my side, but the biggest lesson I’ve definitely learned that day was to keep calm when anything unusual happens! It was a good learning experience for me (and maybe for Evie too), but I still hope that was it for unusual events in the future!

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Our route southwards. No idea what happened around Halton when we poked the airways over London 😉

Flight Time: 1:55h (combined)
Total Time: 8:10h

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