Saturday 07 December 2013 08:04 UTC
Where have you been? What have you seen?
Sorry, no pictures but I hope that the text is interesting and maybe even useful.
Six months ago, Lynda and Robin agreed to a flying holiday. Specifically, spending jubilee week in a PA28 flying from Halton to Kirkwall and back including a few days in the Orkneys; a run down the Great Glen; a look at the Lake District and a night in Blackpool. After months of planning, jubilee weekend arrived. The aircraft (160 HP Warrior G-EDGA) was freshly serviced and I had recently done an IMC refresher trip with my regular instructor.
We had originally planned to depart on the Sunday morning but the forecast was awful so the club member who had the aeroplane booked for Saturday afternoon made an unsolicited offer to give-up his slot so we could get away on Saturday afternoon (sadly this meant missing Martin Carthy playing solo and unamplified in our village hall but you can’t have everything and we were able to pass-on the tickets to someone who appreciated them). Robin had arranged himself a golf match (near Halton) for Saturday morning and a cricket match (near Abingdon) for Saturday afternoon. Dropping him at the golf early on Saturday, Halton was shrouded in drizzle so things were not looking good. The drizzle lifted early afternoon so I got the aeroplane out of the day-VFR Halton and into all weather and lit Oxford. There I had a couple of hours to do detailed sums (well Skydemon Light did the sums); draw lines on maps; and fill out PLOGs. Sport completed, Lynda and Robin appeared and at 1905 we departed for Humberside. I learned later that nothing else flew from Halton for several days. I had carefully weighed people and luggage and reckoned that at full fuel we were 20kg (2%) under MTOW.
The flight to Humberside was uneventful, up to FL70 (once clear of the Daventry CTA) with the cloud closing below us, very smooth and peaceful with the directional autopilot switched on. From about forty miles out the cloud layers closed around us but Humberside gave us a traffic service (not that there was any traffic to affect) then having asked which runway I wanted(!), vectored me for a continuous descent, straight-in over Scampton (scene of my first ever solo flight, two minutes in a Kirby Cadet in April 1982). We spent the night in a pub called The Whistle and Flute in Barnetby which we recommend to anyone.
Details of all fees, food, fuel, etc. at the airfields visited are in my entries in the relevant ATIS threads.
Sunday morning was cold and drizzly with overcast around 3000’ and scattered at 1000’. EDGA normally lives in a hanger at Halton so it was a novel experience for me to drain water from the fuel tanks during my daily check. We did a straight-ahead departure towards Ottingham VOR then stayed below the overcast until somewhere around Beverley it closed around us. With the OAT showing around zero and the moors rising ahead of us, I descended for the coast. The rest of the trip was at 1800-2500’ along the coast from Hornsea all the way to Leuchars (the weather lifted a little as we went North). All very pretty and as I spent many summers in my childhood at various places on that coast, very interesting. We were handed from ATSU to ATSU the whole way and had a no fuss transit through the Newcastle class D. We were also asked to move a little out to sea to keep us away from helicopter operations at Boulmer (where I had my first ride in a helicopter at ATC camp in 1983).
Being a member of a RAFFCA club had got me no-fee access to a couple of RAF airfields so next stop was Leuchars. By this time, I was getting tired. I was late spotting the runway, looking wrong side of the estuary, then called final 09 when heading 27. ATC were awake and sent me around. I have vowed to set the DI bug to runway heading in future! I had expected the flying club to be operating but Leuchars was deserted, not a light aircraft in sight let alone a Typhoon. The only visible life was the tanker driver who delivered our fuel. So, onwards to Kinloss for more fuel. While at Leuchars, I had decided that Inverness was as far as I was going that day so had both telephoned for PPR and found a place to stay.
The direct route to Kinloss has an MSA of 5600’ so it was up through the cloud layer to FL60 for a cloud dodging flight. Not only did we want to see the highlands but also it was too cold to spend long in cloud. Cloud cover was only about 50% so we had good views and I always had my eye on gaps and valleys as escape routes. The ever helpful Scottish Info’ were trying to arrange a hand-over to Kinloss but were getting no response. I reassured them that I had telephoned the flying club before departing Leuchars and confirmed that they were operating and expecting me. Kinloss was an easy spot from the air, large areas of concrete in a beautiful coastal location. I established radio contact with a club aircraft and landed. The few club members there made us tea and hand pumped fuel into EDGA then off for the final leg of the day, the short hop up-river to Inverness.
Inverness gave us routing and a couple orbits to sequence us with departing Flybe and Easyjet traffic then land, park and off to the nearest hotel (The Gun Lodge, another recommendation from us) where I slept while Lynda and Robin ate. I then ate while they watched The Apprentice so I was both rested and spared watching some tedious television!
Monday morning was sunny and breezy with scattered showers. I drained more water out of the fuel tanks then we were away. The mix of cloud and freezing level was still not to my taste so we turned right at Invergordon to go low level up the coast rather than straight on to go high over the hills. The coast run was very pretty although the day was a little bumpy.
Around Wick, we flew around a couple of smoke plumes from ground fires then the short water crossing to the Orkneys and a cross wind landing at Kirkwall.
A very pleasant few days followed, good scenery, good food, some local music and a neat little museum about the history of radio. I cannot remember whether it is in that splendid book “B o l l o c k s to Alton Towers” but it should be. We were three nights in the Orkney Hotel which was nice enough but rather indifferent for the money. After spending Thursday morning at the airport hoping to get away for a night or two in either Blackpool or Dundee we (and another PA28 pilot trying to get to Strathallan) gave up and decided that we were in Orkney for another couple of nights. It took a lot of telephone calls to find a place to stay but we got very lucky with Scapa House, a delightful B&B on the outskirts of Kirkwall. So, two more days exploring Orkney. Well, only one for Robin who spent the other day studying, “honest dad, I was”! Amongst other things, we went to the Italian Chapel (which is indeed a lovely thing), a fossil museum and assorted craft or art galleries. Next to the Italian Chapel is the Lambs Holm strip which looks like a fun challenge but not in a fully loaded Warrior!
The weather forecast was telling us that if we were going to be at work and school on Monday then we had better get home in one long day on Saturday. We were brakes off at 1015 and airborne in excellent visibility with the wind behind us. Into cloud below 2000’ but nicely above it by FL45, we had a good run down the advisory route to overhead Inverness. However, by then the cloud had grown around us and we yet again had the problem of the cloud tops being an unknown distance above the freezing level and the bottoms being below the MSA. So, instead of straight towards Dundee, we headed south-east where the MSA was lower. Pretty much solid IMC all the way to Aberdeen’s AQ NDB, very dull for the passengers but at least I had the autopilot (directional but not pitch or level) to keep my work-load under control. Inverness Radar, Scottish Info’ and Aberdeen Radar looked after us all the way. Leuchars Radar saw us down through cloud then it was visual with Dundee Approach via the castle VRP. After setting up for straight in 27, ATC called a runway change so it was downwind along the estuary for 09. All very nicely handled by ATC. Dundee is in a lovely spot by the estuary and like Kirkwall and Inverness seems painlessly to integrate light aircraft, corporate jets and airliners. All very civilised.
After a two hour break and a substantial lunch, we had the long leg to Oxford to do. Re-check of the weather said it would get better as we went south except for maybe some unpleasantness around a trough inland in North-east England. My route down the Vale of York was also marked with Red Arrows transits but I was expecting to be well above those.
Departed Dundee then over Leuchars and up to FL50 and along the coast via SAB VOR. We were good VMC with lovely views of the sea, the coast and some very active cloud inland. The cloud kept me following the coast rather than taking a straight VOR radial to Newcastle. The cloud inland was calming down as we went south so we turned towards the NT NDB and climbed to FL60 to stay out of the cloud for a transit of the class D. Over central Newcastle, the sky ahead became rather active and unfriendly and it was back to the coast (the very helpful instruction from Newcastle Radar being, “any route at that level”. Along the coast towards Durham, the cloud got blacker and taller so we went down to stay under it. Durham Radar gave us a class D transit “any level, any route” which in the circumstances was a big help. Exiting the Durham zone at its south-west corner, I asked for a hand-over to Leeming as we were now down at Red Arrows levels. Here we met the only unhelpful controller of the whole trip, he offered no more than patronising instructions to “remain six miles clear because we have a formation inbound.” We saw the Red Arrows pass several miles in front at a similar level, perfectly safe and most exciting. Now came the least pleasant few minutes of the trip, not exactly dangerous or frightening for me but requiring quick work from me and worrying Lynda and Robin.
Now down to c.1800' with Sutton Bank visible to the left and Leeming with the Red Arrows displaying to the right, I could see that a few minutes ahead was lowering cloud and heavy rain. On my PLOG the MSA for Durham to Doncaster was 3300' and I was pretty sure that Sutton Bank was part of the reason for that. So, full power and maximum rate climb to the MSA. I was above the MSA before the visibility went to zero but it was close. Autopilot on and leave the trim where it was so that I could reset straight and level with power, up we went until the OAT was getting close to zero (somewhere around 5000’). I had told Leeming as soon as I saw the approaching IMC and started to climb. Indifference was the response so as soon as I was established level above the MSA, I took myself to Doncaster Radar. For a few minutes, I was IMC without a radar service which I don’t like but I was comforted by the statistic that there has not been a mid-air in IMC in the UK for 65 years! Anyway, I soon had a radar service from Doncaster. She must have heard the stress in my voice and was, as ATC usually are, utterly helpful. She confirmed my track and cleared me for a transit of the Doncaster class D. I then asked for the weather to the south because if this IMC was going to continue (counter to my pre-flight forecast) I was going to land and rest. Oxford is open until late so there was no rush, the aeroplane could be left at Oxford if necessary. Doncaster Radar quickly came back with good weather for East Midlands, Birmingham and Oxford. Not only that, the sun came out and we were glorious VMC on top. Suddenly, life was good again. Up to FL60 and on planned track to FNY and onwards via GAM and DTY. I even heard Doncaster controlling the climb of a departing IFR flight around me, calling me “IFR transit traffic”. I did feel grown-up!
As I passed GAM, Doncaster offered to set-up my East Midlands transit which I gratefully accepted. East Midlands radar was helpful as always and I was straight through with only minor vectors to keep me away from their several commercial inbounds. Then it was back to own navigation and a traffic service to drop me through cloud over Bruntingthorpe. Nice VFR run from there to DTY, Banbury and straight in to Oxford. I felt great.
At Oxford, I left Lynda, Robin and the luggage. After drawing breath for a while and consuming a considerable quantity of water and chocolate, I was off again for the final half hour to Halton. Wow, the aeroplane felt good on less than half tanks and no payload except me. As luck would have it, the weather was now perfect, I could see the City of London from 2000’ over Oakley disused. I wanted to fly forever but knew that I had neither the fuel nor the mental energy. So, into the Halton arrival pattern (it’s odd when the cadets are operating, you don’t want to know), then go around to allow an air cadet first solo check to continue uninterrupted. On the ground, the faithful EDGA needed only refuelling. No cleaning was necessary after the jet washing over Yorkshire.
As I was writing up the paper work, I couldn’t resist hugging my IMC instructor who arrived to ask how the trip had gone. Luckily, she didn’t mind.
It was a brilliant trip. Even though we didn’t get the Great Glen, The Lakes or Blackpool.
I would not have wanted to do it without an IMC rating and I don’t think the final day would have been safe for me without the autopilot.
I would say that a totally flexible attitude to routes, timings and where you sleep is essential for such a trip.
Total bakes-to-brakes time was 13 hours 5 minutes of which 3 hours 20 minutes was solely by reference to instruments (VMC on top doesn’t count in my log book).
Last edited by joe-fbs on Sat Jun 16, 2012 9:24 am, edited 1 time in total.
Great write up.
Purely as information, all time under IFR should now be logged with new EASA rules. I have only ever logged time in IMC and am now suffering for it as the old rule of multiply that by four no longer exists. Suddenly I find myself with not enough IFR to get my IRI, where prior to 8 April I could have.
Imagine what you might try if you thought you could not fail...
great trip report. Enjoyable read. Shame no photos as some of the views you describe sound fab!
Im also interested in the logging ifr time now with easa as i only log solid imc too.
Out of interest your comments regarding atc assisting your let down through cloud, i presume by this you mean vectors to a low msa area where you could descend through a cloud layer with a known height?
PPL + Night qualification + IMC Rating
I get radar services for descent through cloud because I am worried about VMC-only traffic as I pop out. Between a panel mounted GPS, a hand held GPS, two VOR and DME in the aircraft, I like to think that I know where I am well enough to take my own terrain clearance (which as you get low the radar units often have to specify anyway). Obviously, if the cloud base is below the MSA then, AFAIK, the only safe descent is in a procedure. I don't actually do much IMC flying but in the year and a bit I have had an IMCR, I have once stopped a descent when still in cloud at the MSA, climbed back to VMC and asked for vectors from the unit I was working to put me on its ILS. In fact, I found a suitable hole in the cloud before I got to the ILS. While in my year with an IMCR I have logged seven and a half hours real IMC (not including VMC on top), I have yet to need to do an instrument approach for real (though I have done a few for practice).
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