Yesterday I did my "sector recce", which Steve (ex-RAF navigator in Tornados) tells me is the RAF jargon for having a look around the area you are going to be flying in for a while. Being airborne again was fantastic, though no sooner was I up than I realised I needed to land, as my breather tube, normally retained in a hole in one of the panels (which I had decided to fly without), was blowing about and had been unceremoniously shortened by the prop. Damn. Steve realised I was in trouble and came back and landed behind me, though by the time he was down, I had taped the breather out of the way and was ready to take off again.
I flew in an open-face motorbike helmet (with scooter visor). Until now I have always used my Microavionics one, but then I have had the use of a school headset. I need to get myself one. I'd wondered how noisy it would be. But really it was fine. A friend has been trying to convince me of the merits of a Flycom helmet, which cuts out loads of noise and cold but I have to say that these are not necessarily advantages. It is good feeling the air on your face and hearing your engine. I don't want to feel detached from the experience.
I had my balloonist's altimeter in my see-through pocket and it appeared to work rather well. Steve appeared always to be higher than me, though this may be an illusion. The rate of climb is conservative, to the say the least, but I realised pretty soon that I tend to pull on speed, thus losing height or reducing my rate of climb. The trim position is actually a fair stretch. What I need is a vario/vsi (I nearly got an old one on ebay last night)
It was wonderful settling down into the experience of the flight and taking in the sights, circling to enjoy the details, like when I turned quite tightly to look at a church tower near Ickworth house and to return the wave of children on a half-term outing. The House itself looked fantastic from the air and made me feel that if I spend my time sightseeing from my Dragonfly, I need never go abroad again. There is so much to see here...and possibly no better way to see the country than from above. The layout of gardens and vineyards, avenues of trees etc is impossible to appreciate at ground level.
One thing I will HAVE to do is find a way to rig a camera, ideally with a screen to give a field of view...or some kind of wire frame sight....so that I can record what I see. One thing that can be recorded is the route. I think my Etrex can already be made to do this - I haven't explored it yet - but Steve sent me a Google map overlay of our route, as recorded by his own GPS system. It would be terrific to be able to keep a record of every route flown.
A highlight of the flight was a recce of RAF Honington. Steve got us permission to fly in close and have a really good look at the runway. I gather that the base is only now used for NBC training and at one point I saw a gaggle of airmen looking up from the door of what to this amateur looked like a bomb shelter, but which may well have been a gas hut like the one I trained in when I was in the TA. We had to walk around in the CS gas, and take turns at taking masks off and giving name, rank and number before exiting the building, coughing our guts out, our eyes streaming. I remember that I hadn't been issued my army number yet, so I just gave my phone number.
Being now free to fly into the area of the former MATZ will be excellent - though Lakenheath is still out of bounds. We had to keep a keen look-out because there were a number of KC130s flying in at about 500' above us. I had thought it would only be possible to fly beneath the panhandles, but providing we take account of those Lakenheath aircraft, we are a lot more free to fly North of Rougham now that the RAF have stopped ops at Honington.
My landing at the end of the flight was sweet....a darn sight better than my earlier one, which had been very pendulous - very hairy indeed. I think I am going to really enjoy flying my "sector", operating from Rougham....and venturing out further afield.
I talked to some of the chaps flying radio controlled models back at Rougham and one, Kevin, told me about two Tornados he had seen beating up the airfield at about 200'! I am going to have to be on the look-out for that sort of thing, and with that in mind, I MUST get my radio licence. Let me know, folks, if you hear of an affordable radio. I am planning on not bothering with an interface, just using an OPC499 with a GA headset, or similar rig.
Yesterday was an important landmark for me. From now on I am an independent operator. Free to fly.