Just Andy

Life is the greatest challenge of all

Day One


As I stumbled out of bed in the early hours I was surprised to see snow on the ground. 'This is a good start', I thought. As the miles passed by the snow kept on falling and as I arrived at Gloucester Airport I was disappointed to see just how white the entire field looked, barely a runway in sight in the glaring whiteness.


However, snow sweepers were soon beavering away and my first flight was plogged in hope. Around noon we made the decision to fly and I was soon climbing away and setting my heading for Cleobury Mortimer, a small village near the Welsh border.

I confess, it has been a while since I had to rely on dead reckoning with no other back ups. I am not a fan of always following the magenta line, but I do tend to have the GPS on albeit with no route in there. Anything to aid situational awareness has to be a good thing I always think.


The air was smooth, punctuated by the occasional lump and bump of turbulence and visibility was pretty good, but this is an area I do not know intimately unlike around my home airfield so concentration was required. There are a lot of hills in the area, unlike home where there is a distinct line of the South Downs. OK, so the Malverns are easy enough to spot, but when you progress further northwest they all start to look the same!

Dredging up confidence in dead reckoning from my long gone PPL days I kept the faith and Cleobury Mortimer appeared on time though half a mile or so to the right of track.


I have to say, the scenery around these parts is stunning. It will not be easy to keep my eyes on the task in hand at times methinks.


I turned south and set course for Abergavenny, trying to remember the right order to do things, instructor nagging me for an ETA at Abergavenny, damn I've let the height slip, heading has wandered too, how many minutes did I just work it out to be? Squinting into the low winter sun, I was told that we would divert when abeam Hereford to a small town I have never heard of. Turns out it is near Evesham and attempt to draw a straight line on the chart, damned heading is off again as soon as I look up, where did that 50 feet just go to and so on! Hereford appeared some 4 miles to the right of track (I had worked out the heading clearly!) and we turned toward the divert point.


Soon bored of this, my instructor got me to do descents, climbs and turns onto headings before that dreaded 'your engine has failed' and I searched for the nearest suitable field.

Now I have got somewhat used to the Bulldog and the way it glides. Compared to the Bulldog, the Warrior seems capable of gliding forever and we eventually end up heading for a field about 3 times further away than I originally planned for! As we climbed away, that damned engine failed again, though the PFL was a little more definite this time.


Restart checks, Mayday call, crash checks, shutdown checks, they all have to be done thoroughly, far more so at commercial level and I realise how weak that side of me has become!


Climbing away again, I am asked to track the NDB back to Gloucester. Ahem. Blush. It has been a while shall we say!

Joining back for circuits the instructor assesses my landing ability and my circuits before the final flapless approach for a full stop. I again realise that it is too easy to get familiar with the aeroplane you normally fly and have to sideslip on every approach. My speed control on base leg also leaves something to be desired. This is not the Bulldog and will not slow down nearly as quickly.


Over coffee I receive a comprehensive debrief. I then backseat the student that I have been partnered with for the course. I quickly come to realise how valuable these backseat sessions are. There is no pressure and you can take in so much more.




Day Two


A superb day weather wise, endless visibility and the promise of smooth air. I had plogged my navex to Marlborough and then Thornbury VRPs and was really looking forward to the flight now I knew what was in store and what was expected of me.


Apart from a correction on the outbound leg for a stronger wind than forecast it all went pretty much to plan. Some very useful tips and potential gotchas but other wise the navex went pretty well.


Having successfully put myself on track for the diversion and calculated a realistic ETA, the screens went up and I did the first instrument work I have done for a while. I think apart from the odd brief flirt with a cloud or 200 feet climb through thin stratus to go VMC on top, the last real instrument work I did was back in May 2008.


Climbing turns, descents and so on were all helped enormously by the silky smooth air. Tracking a VOR and intercepting a radial were also good de-rusters.


Then simulated failure of suction pump, so no Attitude Indicator or DI, otherwise known as partial panel. The turn coordinator helps the wings level and rate one turns, the ASI and the altimeter help to glean information as to your pitch attitude. At a certain power setting one should be able to trim straight and level fairly easily which makes the entire exercise so much easier.


A series of timed turns, climbs and descents soon has me thinking hard and enjoying myself thoroughly. Finally a number of unusual attitude recoveries on partial panel which requires a lot of discipline to not over correct for.


Then lo and behold I get the full panel back and have to fix my position. This brings up an interesting quandary. As I have already done a fair amount of flying I tend to eyeball everything and use approximations. This will doubtless lead to other occasions where I need to be more disciplined in the way I approach various situations. I tuned in the VOR, idented it and found out what radial we were on. Then, instead of drawing a line I eyeballed the radial and used my thumb to estimate position. It was within 2 miles of our position but I am now the owner of one of those plastic VOR radial thingies just to be on the safe side! I shall also draw a line next time.


Then back to Gloucester again for some circuits and tea and medals.


Another afternoon of backseating and learning lots.



Day Three


An eventful one today.


It was one of those shall we, shan't we decisions today. As the weather cleared it was decided we would fly and I took the hot seat for the morning session. The navex was to Draycott Water and then south to Wantage.


As we climbed out, Approach asked us to let them know the cloudbase as it was one of those really indistinct days. Certainly replied I, as we disappeared into the murk having just found it at 2200 feet!! We were then asked to relay a message to a helicopter who clearly couldn't hear Glos Approach. However he couldn't hear us either but it was a useful revision of how to make a relay call.


Hills on our right, cloudbase lowering and visibility becoming worse, I switched to Wellesbourne as the decision was made whether to carry on or not. Wellesbourne had acceptable weather so we pressed on, though slowing things down with flaps and a reduction in speed. Electing to divert to there as the weather worsened, I was then instructed to carry out a couple of circuits. After one go around due to my numptiness and stubborn refusal to accept that this aeroplane really does glide well, the next two approaches were far better. As we climbed away the instructor then asked me to set course for Gloucester by whichever means I saw fit.


To be fair, even in this visibility, it was not that hard as there were some very good landmarks that we passed on the way in. However I also idented the NDB and was attempting to follow that, when what do you know, the engine decided to 'fail'. Having climbed back up to height after the PFL, we did another followed by an EFATO and then on the climbout an instruction to set course to track 200 to the Glos NDB, at a height of 1600 feet and set up and obtain the most expeditious join for circuits.


I admit it. I was temporarily unsure of my position after all that circling around doing PFLs and struggled to fix my position in the murk, very aware that we were only 9 miles from the airport according to the DME. After a bit of prompting, a join for right base was sorted.


I have a feeling that after I have completed this course my PFLs and glide approaches will be somewhat finely tuned. Which can only be a good thing, of course! I was actually rather pleased with my glide approach from the overhead.


I am not so sure my instructor was pleased with my next solution to the problem he threw at me though.


It has brought it home to me this week that I am suffering from Bulldog-itis and that not every aeroplane will behave like an aerobatic mount. Yes, of course, I know a Warrior is a Warrior and not aerobatic, but one does tend to get into a certain mindset and this has been my biggest failing so far as the following describes.


Duncan, my instructor, had asked ATC to let us have a glide approach from the end of downwind to land. The circuit then became a little chaotic and we didn't get chance to, so instead he put me high (around 1200 feet) on a 1 mile final and told me to 'get it on the runway in the most expeditious fashion'.


So I did.


Bulldog style   <blush>


As I banked (steeply) I saw his hand float toward the yoke, but to be fair he didn't take control and waited to see what I was up to. Now in a steep turn, with only a little back pressure to stop the speed building too much, there is very little in the way of g, and the steeper the bank angle, the quicker one goes down. Suffice to say, it was a little more than he (or my poor fellow stude sat in the rear) had expected, but it gave a very quick descent in a left, right, left, right turn to land.


'Yes, very amusing, and it worked I admit' said Duncan as we vacated. 'However, don't even think about doing that in your test and I now know you take my word literally!'


I guess we all get remembered for something on these courses.


Duncan, I know you read these pages, so thanks for not belting me round the ear and I promise not to do it again!



Day Four


Consisted of briefings most of the day as the weather refused to play ball.



Day Five


The airfield was about the only fog free place in the vicinity in the morning. As the visibility improved, we decided to go up and do some circuits. Power checks complete, the fog bank was rolling back in from the south west but we decided to give it a go and see what it was like from the air. As is becoming habit I came in too high and opted to go around whilst at the same time deciding to make this to land. One bad weather circuit later we touched down. Seven minutes airborne time today!


However, it did clear again, and my fellow stude had the delight of circuits with no instruments at all, a good lesson in looking out the window and listening to what the aeroplane is telling you.


A coffee break later and I then back seated again as he had a load of instrument work thrown at him whilst I enjoyed an amazing view. Fog banks in the distance, mist in the valleys, a low level inversion and a setting sun made for some amazing views. I even watched the sun set twice. Once from 2000 feet; and once from 3000 feet. How utterly cool.

Day Six

The second week began a little warmer than the first if a little wetter! The drag around the M25 and the M4 was just as enchanting in the rain as in the snow of the previous week. Well, ok, maybe not enchanting, but full of promise for a great week.

The low cloud and the promised showers put an end to any thoughts of general handling or navex’s, so it was decided to take maximum advantage of the strong crosswind to get that part of the syllabus wrapped up and put to bed today. Crosswind circuits!

What enormous fun was had, full rudder and wing down on a couple of approaches, cloudbase just high enough, bouncing about the sky trying to maintain centerline. The wind was certainly a testing one and a great challenge to get right.

Having got used to the glide performance of the Warrior in nil wind last week, it was now time to concentrate a little harder as the groundspeed dropped right off for a couple of glide approaches on the into wind runway. Suddenly it is a new ball game, your brain needs to think about how the wind will affect the glide over the ground and turbulence and sink come into the equation too. Definitely fun with a capital F!!

We survived 7 touch and go’s and then came back down to earth to relax for a while before it was my fellow stude’s turn. At least that way I could grab the chance to take some photographic evidence of the course, though the bumps from the gusts were determined to stop me from doing so. However, a few were managed including one showing the effect on the nose of a crosswind.

Day Seven

I had to attend a hospital appointment so reluctantly drove home on the Monday night.

It was whilst driving east down the M4 on Monday night, that I realised just how much happiness and contentment I was feeling. Just being immersed in an aviation environment, the smell of avgas in the morning combined with the jet fuel from the Citation in the neighbouring hangar. The tingle of excitement and nerves as you rotate, the feeling of wanting to stay up there forever as you descend for the approach.

I doubt I have ever been as broke as I am right now. But I have never been as truly happy.