Today I passed the second of three major flying tests required (in addition to numerous ground exams) in order to obtain my Private Pilot’s Licence. This means I’m now getting very close to getting my hands on that much-coveted licence!
A couple of weeks ago I passed my first flying test, which is a Navigation Flying Skills Test that tests you on your ability to navigate without a GPS. It’s quite a hard one, as you have to plan a route (a much more arduous task than you might think) and then at some point the examiner will divert you off, get you to work out where you are and then work out what heading to fly to get back to your home airfield. This went well and my passing it meant that I could now move on to today’s test, which is called the Qualifying Solo Cross Country flight. This has to be a minimum of 100 nautical miles for the licence I’m getting, including landing at two other airfields. This is quite a tall order when one has never even landed solo at another airfield before!
I had known for a while which airfields I would fly into, as I’ve been to both with Lee in the past. I picked Shobdon, which is on the Welsh border near Leominster, and Kemble, which is in Gloucestershire. I got up very early this morning to put the finishing touches on my flight plan and chart. You have to work out what headings you’re going to fly based on the wind speed and direction at your planned altitude. It takes ages!
Here’s a close-up of my route. The things I’ve circled in blue are features on the ground to look out for so that I can keep track of where I am. The black numbers are the headings I calculated that I needed to fly, plus the 300 degree wind arrow on the left. In red are my destinations plus any airspace I need to avoid. It is SO much more complicated than driving a car!
I left Wellesbourne soon after 9am, feeling quite the intrepid aviatrix, à la Amelia Earhart, Amy Johnson et al.
My first destination of the day was Shobdon, a 50-minute flight that took me almost due west over the northern part of Worcester and past the Malvern Hills.
It took me a while to spot Shobdon Airfield, but I knew I was flying the right heading and was in the right place, and sure enough, it came into view when I was just past Leominster. I asked for a straight in approach, which saves time, as the runway was bang on the heading I was already flying. Landing without a problem, I parked up on the grass.
I went to the control tower to pay my landing fee, and got them to sign my form to say I’d landed there. They were very friendly, said I sounded good on the radio and congratulated me on my first solo landaway!
I went straight back to Wilhelm ready to fly to Kemble and had just been given permission to taxi when I discovered that Wilhelm had sunk into the muddy parking area! Disaster! Even with full power on I couldn’t move at all, so I radioed up and they sent a couple of guys down to help push me out. Very embarrassing.
Anyway, with Wilhelm none the worse for wear I departed Shobdon bound for Kemble. I enjoyed some excellent views of the Severn Estuary on my way in. It looked more impressive in real life!
Kemble is easy to spot from the air because it has loads of airliners in for scrap, but it still took me a while to spot it because it was the other side of a ridge of high ground when approached from the north. You can just about make it out in this photo taken when descending into Kemble, but the light wasn’t brilliant for photos.
I radioed them up and they had all my details (you have to phone airfields in advance to let them know you’re coming), so they kept my radio work to a minimum thankfully. I did a really good landing at Kemble and they talked me through where to taxi to get to the parking area by the control tower. Kemble is rather bigger than my home airfield, as you can see from the massive jet taxiing in the background!
This is one of the Red Arrows Gnats, which they used before they used their current Hawks.
I got them to sign my form in the tower and paid my landing fee. Then a quick call to Lee to say I was on my way back and it was time to depart. I did my power checks next to this 747!
There was a bit of low cloud around Cirencester on departing Kemble.
The flight back was about half an hour and wasn’t too taxing except for having to descend to avoid a cloud bank that was sitting a bit low over the Cotswolds edge. I’m looking a bit more relaxed in this pic!
As I entered the circuit at Wellesbourne a Puma helicopter was also on its way in, which was a bit distracting hovering near the runway when I was on final approach! Here’s me back on the ground, complete with my dummy passenger for ballast!
You can just about see the Puma helicopter in the background, and of course the Vulcan!
After I landed, feeling very pleased that I’d made it round virtually hassle-free (apart from getting stuck in the mud), Lee came over and we went to see the Puma helicopter up close. It was full of nice friendly RAF guys, who were trying to sort out a problem with a loose engine cowling.
So that’s two flying tests down, one to go… I’m getting very close to being able to tick off item number 2 on my 30 Before 30 challenge!