Thursday, 25 June 2009

" . . . or don't ever come back!"

I passed another major milestone on Monday, when I flew my first cross-country qualifier. One more (of 40 nautical miles, with a landing 15 nm out) will qualify me for my licence!

I flew solo to Leicester Airport in newly re-built Golf Juliet, with its brand new wing covering. It was fantastically exciting flying away from Sywell, knowing that I had to get it right....."or don't ever come back". Most of it went like clockwork (watching a stopwatch and checking time against my waypoint chart marks), but I do have to admit to a few minutes of being totally lost when I couldn't come up with any really sound features near Leicester (apart from Leicester itself) and when I was aware of talking to myself rather intensely. But in the end I just followed the town's outline towards the SE....and was delighted to spot the airport ahead... such a relief. I did a standard over-head join and landed on runway 28 (a beautiful landing with a sweet hold-off which amost certainly nobody saw), taxied to the Tower and shut down on a patch of grass off the tarmac.

As I walked towards the reception desk I remembered someone describing the evolution of my walk...from novice pilot to someone who had flown his first solo.....and here I was sauntering with the confidence and pride of a man who had flown his first qualifier to an "airport"! I logged in and paid a wopping £12 landing fee, called Sywell to tell them I had made it, got my document stamped and then flew out again, racing to leave a rain shower behind.

It was one of those situations you hear about at Met ground-school, where you have to decide whether to sit a rainshower out or take off under a rain-cloud and aim for the sunny part of the sky, SE of you, where you know the rain will be chasing you at only 6 knots. I knew I could easily out-run it, of course and that was better than taking off with a sopping wing (having sat out the shower in the club-house), but it did mean taking off below low cloud and then losing some forward visibility (not being in cloud but having the top of the sky obscured and acting like a visor out to the sun).

I look forward to being better at RT. I wanted to be quite sure I got it right. Some pilots are so very good at relaying back the info they have been given, while I am just doing my best to use it, let alone repeat it (but I expect lots write it down, which I don't have enough hands for). But I guess it gets easier, like everything else. "Leicester Radio, Golf-Charlie Echo Golf Juliet approaching from the South East. Request airfield information." Interestingly, they give QFE and QNH together, which seemed odd, as obviously I am on QNH already.

Having recce'd the airport with Neill that morning, and used a particular perimeter track before, I repeated the process and was surprised to get a telling off from the tower for being on an active runway. Actually, I wasn't. I had made a particular point of "holding" while someone landed, but it seems that everyone uses a different track, which sensibly takes you to the end of 28, rather than back-tracking up it. I apologised and did as I was told, and doubtless people will be going on about "bloody microlights" on the back of it.

Where next? Neill says I can choose.

Steve has challenged me to fly to Finmere. Cath, who was touchingly enthusiastic about my success, has said that most people in the club have found Finmere hard to find, which may not bode terribly well, but Steve is confident and I'd love to beat him to it.

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