Day 39 - Lesson 20

Navigation exercise to Kemble and back

Posted by Owain Abraham-Williams on Saturday 5th March 2016

Last weekend had been challenging. A strong crosswind with gusts meant that even though I flew on both Saturday and Sunday, and completed a total of 13 take offs and landings, I still didn’t manage to fly any of them solo. Derek felt I wasn’t quite confident enough to handle a crosswind landing on my own.

Today there’s still a crosswind so we’re giving the touch-and-goes a rest and instead going on a navigation exercise to Kemble (Cotswolds Airport). For this, I have had to create a PLOG (pilot’s log) that not only calculates our distance and direction over ground, but also accounts for the wind, magnetic variation, air pressure and temperature.

In order to record all these details I created this VFR Flight Plan.docx Microsoft Word document which includes space for recording fuel calculations, pilot and aeroplane details, frequencies, helpful hints for when talking on the radio, a notes section for scribbling down those all important ATC instructions and the flight plan itself. Feel free to print off a copy and use it in your own flights if you think it will be useful.

The Navigation book (volume three of the Air Pilot’s Manuals) was crucial in understanding how to work all this out. It also taught me how to use my whiz-wheel, the Pooleys CRP-1W Computer I was given last November. Now I’ve learnt how to use it I think I should have chosen the standard CRP-1, not the one I have which has a wind arm (signified by the ‘W’ at the end of the product code) because it seems much simpler to draw the wind vectors on the whiz-wheel than struggle with the fiddly wind arm.

Derek’s happy with my PLOG, so after completing the pre-take off checks and obtaining clearance from ATC, we’re airborne and heading towards Bristol City. Derek prompts me to get my map out and record our arrival time overhead Clifton Suspension Bridge as well as an expected time of arrival (ETA) for Kemble. My map’s still in my flight bag. As I reach for it, the lead in my pencil breaks and I have to fumble around to look for a replacement.

  • First lesson of navigation: Get your map out before you take off!

We continue flying North East and Derek makes sure I can identify features on my map with what’s out the window; things like the junction at the end of the M32, the now closed Filton airfield, the bend in the M4, the town of Yate and the train line running past it and the high ground ahead of us, the start of the Cotswolds. Derek points out the long grass strip at Badminton (where the horse trials are held), but I really struggle to see it, a green runway in a green field surrounded by green fields, what could be difficult about that? After Derek points out several features I can identify, I finally see Badminton’s grass runway, but it’s not at all easy to spot.

Further ahead I can see the town of Tetbury, but before that I make sure I’m flying higher than 2,000 feet, as we’re passing over a restricted area designated R105. According to my map this only applies to helicopters and microlight aircraft, but Derek says the restriction is over Highgrove House, the family residence of Charles, Prince of Wales, and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall. So to avoid any possibility of fast jets intercepting us, we stay well above 2,000 feet.

As we approach Tetbury, Derek asks if I have seen Kemble airfield. I look ahead and can’t see anything resembling a runway. It’s amazing how little everything looks from just a few thousand feet, and how far and wide the eye can see. But soon I see a cluster of buildings and Derek confirms that it is indeed Kemble. So, it’s time to switch to their radio frequency and let them know our position and intentions. Derek reminds me of the phraseology to use:

Kemble, Golf Alpha X-ray Tango Lima, PA28 on a Navex out of Bristol to turn overhead your field, back to Bristol and we’re currently at Tetbury.

I manage this without too much trouble, they give me their QNH and ask me for my altitude. I adjust the altimeter and let them know our height and they ask me to report overhead. All fairly straight forward.

Soon we’re overhead and as we turn I can see the runway, control tower and aeroplanes on the grass taxiways and in the circuit. It’s quite eerie being directly above an active airfield.

Derek reports our position and we start our return journey back to Bristol. I’d spent time visualising our flight to Kemble before we took off, but not from Kemble, coupled with the fact the sun is now in my eyes, making it very difficult to spot features on the ground, mean I am all over the place in organising my workload in the cockpit. I pull myself together, identify Tetbury, confirm I’m flying in the right direction and change frequencies to Bristol Radar.

I spot Badminton on my left, finding it faster than on the outbound leg. I can see Yate straight ahead with Bristol City in the distance. Also, having the Severn estuary to my right is a great help, it’s an almost impossible landmark to miss and confirms I’m flying in the right direction.

Just before overflying Clifton Suspension Bridge, we’re given permission to enter controlled airspace and are instructed to join the circuit at Barrow Tanks Reservoir, behind a commercial aeroplane on long final. As I approach the reservoir I can’t yet see the other plane, so I start orbiting and let the control tower know what I’m doing:

Golf Tango Lima is commencing an orbit

The tower acknowledges this and tells me where the other aircraft is:

Golf Tango Lima, roger. The traffic you’re looking for is at four and a half miles

Just as I’m about to reply to the tower I spot it, so say:

Visual with the traffic, Golf Tango Lima

After this, the tower can give me clearance to follow the other plane without further instruction as I’ve said I can see it.

Golf Tango Lima, report final, number two, follow the Embraer. Caution, the wake turbulence recommended spacing is five miles

Rather than repeating all this, I decide to keep things short and simple using the radio phrase “Roger, Wilco” meaning “I’ve received your message and I will comply with your instruction.” But Derek says because we were given two instructions, one for being the second to land and the other for the wake turbulence distance of five miles, I should have said something like:

Number two and copy the wake turbulence distance

As the other aeroplane passes me and lands I turn onto final, but there’s still quite a crosswind so I have to fly into wind. I try and stay confident and feel good about my approach, but as I get closer and closer to the runway I get much more tense and start gripping the controls very tightly. As I kick straight while flaring for landing I over compensate and land heavily. Derek says I frightened him with that landing.

It had been a very successful flight, so I was disappointed that my crosswind landing right at the end had been so bad. I wonder if I’ll ever be able to progress and get my licence.