Where have you been? What have you seen?
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By neil9327
This is an account of my flights, six in total, from a small airfield near Andover, down to Cornwall, and on to St Mary’s airport in the Isles of Scilly last week.

I thought it was an interesting experience overall, so I thought I’d write it up.

For most of the flights I had running my 360-degree “WingVista” camera, configured to take a photo every 30 seconds or so – subsequently uploaded to my maps hobby website of the same name, along with the location they were taken.

Each of the photos is below as a thumbnail, along with its link to the site, so that it can be viewed in 360-mode, with zoom-in, and details of the flight at that point (groundspeed, altitude, heading etc).



Chilbolton to Perranporth

The first leg of the trip was from Chilbolton to Perranporth airfield in Cornwall.

Arriving west of Weymouth, I flew west down the “Jurassic Coast”, arriving at Exmouth where I asked Exeter Radar for an ATZ transit south to north to take a look at their airport.

Continuing south I flew over Dawlish, Teignmouth, and Torquay where I did a circle looking for the Babbacombe model village (I didn’t find it).

West to Plymouth after a loop round the Dartmouth navy college, I could see Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s Tamar-crossing railway bridge, and a “pen” of submarines lined up in the Devonport navy dockyard there:



I arrived over the Eden Project, did an orbit to get a couple of photos, then headed west towards Perranporth. The Newquay controller asked “Is there an aircraft on frequency circling over the Eden Project”. So I called up, and he gave me a basic service.

Looking on the chart, the Eden Project is on the extended centre line of Newquay’s main runway, so it is understandable that they would want to know who is operating around there.

“Can you give me your current position”

“Not exactly sure. I think I’m passing Perranporth to the north of me”. In fact it was Newquay I had seen, but Perranporth town was a little further along.

I joined the circuit to the north on a crosswind join, and landed on Perranporth’s 09 runway. There was no tower operating, so when I called to ask for “Airport information”, another pilot operating there replied with the details – which was helpful.



After landing I tied the plane down with the tie-down straps I had brought along, to the rings in the ground in the aircraft parking area, and after paying the landing fee + two days parking in the café, walked down the hill to catch the hourly U1A bus to Newquay.

Stayed in a not very good hotel, had some ice cream, and relaxed for the two days I had planned to be there.

Perranporth to St Mary’s

I was up early at 07:30am local to catch the bus back to Perranporth airfield. It was a nice morning with CAVOK conditions, perfect for my flight to St Mary’s airfield on the Scilly Isles.

I had 30 litres onboard, the tank half full, and the distance to Perranporth and back to Lands End airport was 90 miles. At 12 litres per hour fuel burn, at 80 knots, this should leave 15 litres on arrival, which is a club rule for the minimum safe amount of fuel we are allowed to fly with.

But this would leave no room for error.

But what could go wrong with such a flight on a perfect flying day like this? I couldn’t think of anything – but I know from experience with aviation that if something can go wrong, it will go wrong.

So after a slight delay I put 20 litres of 100LL in at the fuel pump, and was airborne by 11am.

I climbed rapidly as I headed west towards St Ives, reaching 5000 feet by St Ives.

This is the start of the RMZ – the Radio Mandatory Zone airspace around the Lands End/Scilly Isles region, and although it only extends up to 4000 feet I decided it would be prudent to get a service for my transit. Which I did without any problems with the Culdrose LARS service.

Continuing to climb as I headed westbound the Lands End peninsular looked wonderful to the eye, with St Michael’s Mount (the poor man’s Mont-St-Michel?) looking splendid down in Mount’s bay not far from Penzance.

Passing abeam Lands End at 9500 feet I was already at my desired height for the crossing, as I watched the land slip away below me.



Initially I was not able to see the Scilly Isles despite the excellent visibility. Indeed the thought crossed my mind: What if the Scilly Isles was an elaborate con, and didn’t actually exist? That a few miles out a missile would be launched to destroy my aeroplane, leaving it and me to sink to the bottom of the ocean never to be seen again.

But, 10 miles out, there the islands appeared.

I looked back over my shoulder to verify that Lands End was in fact still visible – which it was. i.e. during the flight I was never out of sight of land on one side or the other.

I carried on at Flight Level 100 (with my QNH dutifully set to 1013) for a few more miles, until it was obvious that I would be able to glide to the Scillies in the event of an engine failure. They looked lovely down there surrounded by shimmering seas.

I had been passed to St Mary’s Tower by now.

Engine back to idle, nose forward, and carb heat on, I trimmed for a relaxing 60-knot descent, and tucked into some delicious Tesco vine tomatoes I had brought along for the ride.



Down to 4000 feet over the St Martin’s head lighthouse visual reference point, I decided to do an orbit to take a closer look, and informed St Mary’s tower I was descending further and would fly around there and Tresco island for a few minutes before joining the circuit.



I did a couple more sweeps over the islands in the locality, before heading a bit south over the smaller islands and turning towards the airport to begin the approach.

I was cleared to land on the 09 runway, meaning you approach from the west. So I set myself up for a nice easy long final.

Around a mile out:

“Golf Bravo Sierra you appear to be on final to runway 14”

Oh that’s a blunder.

My initial thought was, can I ask for permission to land on this runway instead?

But I realised that I didn’t know the wind direction, and I couldn’t really calculate on the fly whether this could work. The wind strength was around 14 knots, and you can’t really land in that if it would have a downwind component.

There is a saying in aviation: “Aviate, Navigate, Communicate”. I would add a fourth one to this: “Aviate, Navigate, Communicate, Troubleshoot/problem solve/think your way out of this mess you’ve got yourself into”. So I did the only sensible thing, after a few seconds, and

“Golf Bravo Sierra going around”

Followed by “Turning Left”, as I couldn’t calculate on the fly whether, with a left-hand circuit on 09, whether an error approach on 14 should be responded to also by an effective left-hand circuit.

Later I realised it would be. But in the moment I thought I’d tell the controller what I was doing, and let him worry about the angles and geometries. (in fact I was right to turn left. But it was a left really followed by another left to get onto the downwind for 09).

Of course I was annoyed not so much that I had made a mistake, but rather that I had made a mistake but not been the one to realise I had made the mistake first.

“Ah, now I can see the numbers”, I said on the radio, as the “14” hove into view.



But I ask myself, what would I have done had the controller not told me I was on the wrong approach. I would certainly have seen the number 14 on the runway, and certainly realised it was wrong. But I think I would have thought something dumb like “why have they painted 14 on the 09 runway?” before coming to the conclusion “something is wrong here. Going around”, and feeling stressed that I don’t know what the hell is going on around me.

I think the problem was that one of the small islands I “bimbled” over to south of Tresco, were what I thought was the island of St Agnes (St Agnes was not named on the (1:500,000) chart). Therefore instead of being 6 miles to the west of the field, as I reported to the controller, I was actually 4 miles to the north west of it..

I flew south to the proper place, and landed uneventfully on 09 with a nice bit of turbulence to provide challenge, on the approach over picturesque Hugh Town, the capital village.



After tying down the aircraft and putting the covers on, I walked the mile down in to the town, and had a nosy around. For lunch I walked into “The Atlantic” pub round by the harbour, but decided that I didn’t want to pay up for expensive food just to get a good view of the harbour.

So I walked back to town, passing immediately a branch of Lloyds Bank. Rich Scilly Island residents get a branch of Lloyds, I thought. Only rich people are blessed with real bank actual branches these days.

Had a Cornish pastie, and walked back to the airport.

St Marys to, er, St Mary’s

What had started off as a blue sky CAVOK day had started showing distinct haze. And by the time I got the aircraft turned out and set up for flight, things were looking dark in the direction of the mainland. Hmmm…

Still, if it is only haze, and I can keep VMC, then there shouldn’t be any problems.

Now St Mary’s airport is a real airport.

I had thought it was going to be a sleepy backwater strip with not much happening, the occasional passenger-carrying flight a couple of times a day.

Indeed I thought it was a bit pretentious of them to have full ATC tower service, rather than Flight Information or Radio service.

But I was quite mistaken.

At least three flights operate every hour, typically with noisy turboprop aircraft that were frankly a little intimidating. And this in combination with the fact that the airfield is on a hill means that aircraft ready to take off on 09 or 32 cannot see each other – so I can see why full air traffic control is essential here.

Indeed these turboprop aircraft, the De Havilland DHC-6 Twin Otter, were actually quite intimidating when seen from the runway and when on-foot walking round the airfield perimeter road. I was reminded of the Monty Python sketch where a meek-mannered man who wanted to become a lion tamer was faced with the intimidating reality of his lion. Their rule stating that GA pilots must not walk across the runway to reach the terminal building is clearly appropriate, and not just a red-tape unnecessity.

So after ATC approval, warmup, and taxi approved, I was told to line up and wait at runway 09 by the controller. I had decided not to run my WingVista camera, as I didn’t want to waste time.

“You are number 3”

“Humph”, I thought. “I was ready for taxi before these De Havillands”.

But then I thought about it – did I really want to take off, knowing that these two beasts would be very shortly following up the flight path behind me, doing over double my airspeed?

“Hold Position, Golf Bravo Sierra”.

“Holding position, Bravo Sierra” I was glad enough to acknowledge, while I watched these large aircraft depart.

Sitting there ready to take off, with the engine purring in front of me, and the reassuring wind from the propeller, felt a bit like being on the starting block of the grand prix. I was rather hoping someone would come out with a large flag to wave me off.

After takeoff I began my climb as I continued to proceed eastbound. Yes the skies were hazy by now, which is OK, but they were also starting to look ominously dark. The sky above me was still blue, but after a couple of miles it was dawning upon me that the C word was in evidence – Cloud. And stratus cloud in fact, not the aviation-friendly cumulus type that can be weaved around in most situations.

My hope was that cloud base would be over 10,000 feet, such that I would not be affected by it.

But by 4000 feet up I had reached it, and I had a think about a plan B.

There were still gaps in the clouds at this point, so I thought I’d try and climb through, get above it, carry on up to 10,000 feet without proceeding any further east, and see whether there were gaps visible in the distance over lands end – that way I would be able to proceed VFR on top of the clouds, while remaining confident that if the engine quit I would be able to glide back either to the hole I had climbed through, or the hole that I was hoping would be near Lands End.

So I continued to climb.

I put on full throttle, and turned to the right 80 degrees to chase the blue sky that was visible above me. But the wall of cloud that was by now surrounding me seemed almost to be rising in its upper height as fast as I was able to climb the aeroplane. It was a bit like one of those simulations you can watch on YouTube of what it looks like to fall into a black hole in space, where looking back upwards the rest of the universe receding behind you akin to a funnel, never to be seen by you again.

It was not looking good, and I was getting bad vibes about the situation. I also then remembered that the other pilots in our group cautioned against climbing with max power and max ascent rate, because the low airspeed that results reduces the engine air-cooling, leading to a too-high cylinder head temperature.

The final straw, a few seconds later, was when I lost visibility with the ground/water below me, and I knew I was in IMC conditions in all directions but up. That was in no way a safe or legal place to be, even within the RMZ that is effectively controlled airspace.

So I rammed the stick forward, cut the power to idle, and pulled the carb heat on to initiate a rapid descent. I’m not an instrument-rated pilot, and even if I was it would be no good as the aircraft has no artificial horizon (attitude indicator). The sound of the airflow over the fuselage confirmed the descent was in progress, but I knew I could not trust my instincts in terms of understanding my bank angle.

It was only a few seconds before I emerged from the bottom of the cloud, and I initiated my return to St Mary’s, stressed and angry about the situation both at the same time.

Indeed all the way round the circuit my mind was in overdrive trying to think of a way of safely getting up there and across. And on final to 09 I saw another patch of blue sky above and considered doing a go-around to try again. No.

I landed safely, and returned to parking to lick my wounds.

The whole sky was by now overcast, and after talking to both St Mary’s ATC and their Lands End counterpart on the phone, I realised that I was going to be there for the night. I did suggest to Lands End that I could fly it at 4000 feet, just in case they could think of something I had missed. But their reply mirrored my thoughts on the subject: “We would not recommend it” they said.

I did have a reason to fly back home today, which was that I had a dentist appointment the following afternoon, an appointment I didn’t want to miss as it was with an endodontist – who’s appointments are as rare as hen’s teeth, even private non-NHS ones.

A couple of fliers arrived at the GA parking area, and proceeded to walk purposefully towards their 4-seater aircraft parked 100 yards from mine.

I had an idea.

Why don’t I talk to them and see if I can hitch a lift back to the mainland? I would pay my share of their fuel costs of course, and really wherever they land I’d almost certainly be able to get a taxi + train and get home today.

So I walked over towards their aircraft to see if I could talk to them.

But I didn’t get very far because it was obvious they were in a hurry, and sure enough they started their engine –I didn’t want to delay them.

Plan foiled, but I thought it had been a good idea.

Later sitting in my plane I thought about it again. And came to the conclusion that it was entirely possible that they had also flown over today on a VFR flight like I had – but that while I was not prepared to risk a low-level return over the water, they quite possibly were. So perhaps I had dodged a bullet? Of course I am not accusing them of flying dangerously, because for all I knew they were flying IFR, and/or they had life-saving equipment/personal locator beacon etc on board, allowing them to make the flight safely.

Right. Hotel.

Hotels.com search for the “Scilly Isles” returned one result. With a silly price of £255. It was at “The Atlantic” pub that I had visited earlier. I considered kipping in the aircraft overnight, but thought better of it, so I booked the room.

The room, which was to be fair very nice, had a lovely view over the Harbour to one side, and a view of the Lloyds bank on the other. Karma had decided I was going to be paying to enjoy that view after all.

St Mary’s to Lands End

The following morning I was up for an 8am exit from the hotel, and after eating a hurried breakfast headed back up the hill to the airport.

I decided to go into the terminal initially because I could see looking at the sky, that the weather would need some research before I could take a fly/no-fly decision.

The sky was overcast, but it was a light overcast grey with the occasional patch of blue visible. Could this layer be thin enough to punch through, or could this layer be above 10,000 feet allowing passage below it?

I called up the tower, and they said that their cloudbase height indicator was out of service, but that the weather forecast was for the clouds to be a 4,500 feet. However it was forecast to be “few” clouds later on.

So I decided to wait.

A couple of hours later, and the sun came out. It was time to fly.

I got airborne, this time from the 32 runway, and, with a blue-sky vista in front of me, I headed east-north east, climbing steadily, with a QNH of 1013.

Again I didn’t have my WingVista camera running, as I had no time to waste.

While the sky was blue, there was significantly more haze than there had been the previous day. This made me concerned that there might be a portion of the flight when I would be unable to see the Scilly Isles or Lands End. In that situation if there was an engine failure I would not know whether I had passed the midway point, therefore I wouldn’t know which way to glide. Secondly although I knew the bearing to Lands End (around 75 degrees), I wouldn’t know the effect high altitude winds would have on my track, leading to me possibly missing the Lands End peninsula entirely, or being so off track that my altitude would be insufficient to effect a recovery to land.

For this reason before I took off I brought up the maps app on my Android phone, and cached the Scillies and Lands End onto the screen. The blue dot showed the GPS location of the phone, with an indication of which way I was travelling in ground-speed terms.

When I got to around 6000 feet a few miles east of the Scillies I did indeed lose visibility of the islands in the haze, and, alone in the sky with sea alone for company, I knew that the aircraft GPS display in conjunction with my smartphone backup map solution were now essential to the successful completion of the flight. Fault tolerance.

I continued the climb, reaching 10,000 feet almost at the same time as the shadow of Lands End emerged from the murk.

By now I had been handed off to Culdrose radar, a little earlier in the flight, who confirmed a 1013 QNH.

The Culdrose controller asked me what was my altitude. I said 6,000 feet. He said “Is that altitude or Flight Level”. I replied “well the QNH is 1013, so they are one and the same on this occasion”.

But as soon as I had said it I regretted it. Yes I was right that “flight levels” are determined by an pressure setting standardised to 1013, so that all aircraft up high are running by the same baseline. But he was a chap just trying to do his job. His job required getting precise information from pilots, and he was busy enough doing other essential flight safety tasks without having to worry about such coincidences.

Power back to idle, and carb heat on, I trimmed for a leisurely descent doing circles over the Lands End complex, until I reached 4000 feet and decided not to hog such an obvious aviation pinch-point.

Lands End tower gave me joining instructions for their 34 runway, and then proceeded to give the pilot in front of me a stern ticking off for failing to acknowledge his landing clearance.

No pressure on me then!

But I landed ok without incident, taxying up to the fuel pump.

Now Lands End have a mandatory policy of wearing a high-viz jacket when airside.

I had a high-viz jacket, but in the recent move of airfield from Farley to Chilbolton it seemed to have gone missing.

Ever the resourceful one, I had done the next best thing, and borrowed the airfield windsock, wearing it around my neck like a Scarf. You can see those windsocks from miles away, so I’m sure they’ll be seen from a Twin Otter flight deck.

Land’s End tower had a different opinion, and sent out a fireman with a spare one for me to wear.

I filled up with fuel, and retired to the terminal building to plan what to do next.

My bottle of engine oil was nearly empty, so I phoned to book PPR to fly into Bodmin airfield where I could buy some.

Lands End to Bodmin

I couldn’t possibly leave Lands End without a low-level flight along the coast, for my WingVista, past the Lands End complex itself. So as part of this route was within the Lands End ATZ I phoned the tower to discuss my plan, while planning myself to get airborne after a couple of the scheduled flights had departed (= less controller workload).

I flew initially up to the Pendeen lighthouse, famous for its fog horn.



And requested and was granted an ATZ transit south-westbound around the western coast.

As I passed the Lands End complex I waggled my wings in the hope of getting a wave from the tourists there, but no one seemed to be interested.

Passing the Minack outdoor theatre at Porthcurno, my camera decided to pick up a fly. It was washed off by the rain somewhere in the Bodmin area. While it had not been buzzing around for as long as 70 years, I'll still be campaigning for a state funeral for this fly.

Was passed to “Penzance Radio” a few miles later. Presumably for the helipad there, I didn’t know they existed.

Now I was over Newlyn Harbour, just to the west of Penzance. I resisted the urge to call:

“Over Newlyn Harbour. Request QNH”.

Where QNH is the pressure setting in the local area that you must put into the altimeter so that it displays your height above sea level. QNH stands for “Query Newlyn Harbour”, as the latter is the base datum location for Ordnance Survey tide levels. It is the “sea level” upon which all other sea levels are measured against. I’m such a nerd.

I decided not to make that particular radio call, reasoning that it was probably not the first time someone had said it to the controller, and I didn’t want to raise his blood pressure.

By now I was over St Michael's Mount, and could see the army of people walking across the low-tide causeway like ants. “Come in, tide!” I wished..



I was outside of the RMZ radio zone by now, and wanted to quit the Penzance basic service I was on. So I said “departing to the north east, request frequency change enroute”.

The controller said “Have a nice day”, or words to that effect. However he didn’t say “frequency change approved”.

This left me in a bit of a quandary. Had I been “released” from the basic service?

A couple of orbits around St Ives.



, and I headed east again. I thought I better try again.

“Golf Juliette Alpha Bravo Sierra request frequency change enroute”.

He replied with a cheerful “Golf Juliette Alpha Bravo Sierra, what can I do for you today”. It was clear he had forgotten about me already.

So I replied “I’m calling to say I’m leaving your area”.

“Oh!” he replied, a little confused and disappointed.


Still, I felt it was better for me to feel that I had had an awkward conversation, than the alternative which was to have “left the building” without formally terminating the basic service. This is because I believe that in some circumstances, and perhaps all circumstances, it is necessary for a controller to call out air/sea rescue if they lose contact with an aircraft.

That would have been a difficult phone call.

I carried on up the north coast.

I was approaching Perranporth again by now, and my initial plan was to fly along the cliffs immediately abeam to the airfield. So I listened in to Perranporth Radio to see whether there was anyone in the circuit, preparing to make a radio call to announce my transit intention.

I heard one aircraft in the circuit. Then another. Then I think a third.

So this wasn’t happening. I turned to the right to pass inland of the airfield, keeping out of the way of its circuit, before getting on to Newquay radar, to request a basic service and an ATZ transit over Newquay airport.

The flight over Newquay town with its beaches looked fine, and its airport too.



I thanked the controller for the transit, before changing frequency to Bodmin Radio.

By the time I got to Bodmin town there was a nasty black smudge in the sky right over the airfield. And it was bearing rain.

Still, I should think I can handle this.

Which I did, to be fair. Although by the time I was 20 feet off the field during the landing, the rainfall on the canopy had become heavy enough that (without windscreen wipers), I suddenly lost sight of the ground in terms of understanding its distance from me. I considered going around, but said no this is a nicely lined-up approach, so I’ll just do nothing and let it land itself. Which it did, to be fair. A nice soft landing, too.



I taxied up to the clubhouse (“Park as close to the building as you can, so you don’t get too wet when you get out”), and shut down. The aircraft door leaks water a bit, so I positioned my body to catch as much of this water as I could, so as to keep the inside of the aircraft dry.

After a nice cup of tea I headed out to the aircraft equipped with my new bottle of oil, the rain having stopped by now. And checked the oil level with the dipstick before adding some more with my new supply.

Bodmin to home

A fairly uneventful flight home from Bodmin, made along the north coast towards Devon. The general visibility was considerably reduced compared to that in Cornwall, so I was a little wary and considered some landing options should things get worse.

And get worse they did, a little south of the town of Ilfracombe, when the haze had darkened into a storm.

My WingVista camera had lost connection with its image-collecting mobile phone by this point, which was a disappointment, especially as I was able to prove my navigation skills by flying exactly overhead the village of Clovelly, nestled into the north shore forest, with no visual cues for its location.

Upon reaching the Ilfracombe storm, my first instinct was to turn inland, to bypass it over the Exmoor plain. However it is received wisdom that high ground in places like Exmoor are potentially risky due to adverse weather, low cloud, and “cloud” that is otherwise known as “Cumulus Granitus”. Therefore I elected to carry on north along the coast towards the storm, and not turn east until the coast itself turned east, allowing me to avoid Exmoor.

However it had started to rain by now, and visibility was threatening to be lost. So I had no alternative to turn inland.

At all times I kept an eye on the brighter environment behind me, into which I could escape should things become unmanageable.

Fortunately, 10 miles inland I found the storm was abating, and I was able to cut across to the north coast, and cruise along to Minehead, then Bridgewater, Glastonbury, Salisbury in the clear, arriving home some two hours later.

A couple of days after getting home, an email from Pete, the head of our group, read: “I applied a bit of yacht varnish to the prop leading edges, which are getting quite pock-marked and eroded. This is mainly caused by flying through rain”

“Oops”, I thought, “that would be me”, and I replied that while the rain only affected around 15 minutes of my flying that week, if it is having that effect on our prop I would ensure I would keep out of the rain unless it was absolutely necessary in future.
Milty, Rob P V2.0, Steve C64 and 3 others liked this
neil9327 wrote:Continuing south I flew over Dawlish, Teignmouth, and Torquay where I did a circle looking for the Babbacombe model village (I didn’t find it).

I struggle to spot big houses from the air, let alone little ones!

Great report write-up - I have the Isles of Scilly on my bucket list for 2023.
neil9327 liked this