Marginal VFR

Spot The Runway

It’s been over two months since I last went flying. I had a visit today from an old friend Dave Jozzy Jones from the [RnR] Gaming Clan (Those were the days!) and coincidentally, had an hour of flying booked too. As I am still a student, I am not allowed to carry passengers yet but if the instructor agrees it is no problem having a passenger in the back seat. My current instructor Barry Davis is fine with this. So off we went to Sherburn Aero Club with the hope of a bit of flying and picture taking.

There are two things that stop me flying – money and weather. Both of which are unpredictable here in the UK as many will already know. As luck would have it though, the weather looked OK as we set off for Sherburn. The forecast was reasonable promising too.

Unfortunately, en route to the club the weather began to deteriorate. I could see over Sherburn area that the general visibility was getting bad, low cloud and quite windy. Never mind, maybe we may get a few circuits in. All good practice after ten weeks off.

We arrived at the airfield and the cloud base appeared to be around 1200 Feet. Acceptable for circuits. Strong cross wind of 12 Knots but not gusting so also should be acceptable. So off we went.

The flight turned out to be much more interesting and challenging than I had imagined…

Here’s “Delta Charlie” the PA28, looking majestic. You can see that the weather looks quite gloomy, in the background.

Delta Charlie
Delta Charlie

Dave managed to get a few pictures of my external checks…

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Because of the crosswind, the take off is an interesting procedure. It requires you to “fly the ‘plane” into the wind even before actually flying. The rule goes that you are flying the aircraft as soon as the wheels begin to move. This helps to make sense of what to do with the controls on the take off run. Once off the ground the aircraft is angled into the wind in order to maintain a straight track. It may sound confusing but it becomes quite instinctive after a while.

On the first circuit, we were all quite surprised by how low the could base actually turned out to be. Normally the circuit is flown at 1000ft but I had to level off after take off at just below 900ft. This was a new experience for me – being forced down by clouds. Something you read about but hope that you never have to deal with. Of course having instructor Barry with us made it feasible. If I had been on my own – even after many hours, I doubt if I would have continued after the first circuit.

It was quite an eerie feeling seeing clouds directly above the cockpit. You can see in these pictures how gloomy it was becoming.

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The crosswind landing technique I used is similar to the take off – The aircraft is angled into wind just enough to compensate and maintain a straight track onto the runway. This is the “crabbed” landing where the rudder is then used to straighten up on touch-down. (There is also a technique that involves dropping the wing into wind and I do tend to use a mixture of the two, as many pilots do). I handled the landing nicely and was very pleased with my performance. Barry was very complimentary which always boosts confidence and once again the whole thing felt very instinctive.

We did a touch and go and headed off for another circuit. This time we were forced down to 700ft which was a little below my comfort zone. In fact it was not until after we landed “full stop” and viewed the pictures later that I realised how poor the visibility actually was. You can see on this picture, the runway is directly ahead and we are on final at about 30ft above ground level. The wind-screen is also a little fogged up and there is some glare – So it wasn’t quite as bad as it looks.

Spot The Runway
Spot The Runway

After we got back to the club house and discussed the whole event, we came to the conclusion that things had worked out really well. For me, practising take-offs landings and circuits in “marginal” weather has got to have been a good thing. Not something you would do solo and certainly not by choice but it was certainly great training and good for the confidence level when it is handled well. And of course, knowing that Barry was always there helped a great deal too. To me – this felt like real flying. Using all your training and senses in order to keep things tight.

From a passenger’s point of view, Dave was really pleased too, as he got to see some “real flying” (to the best degree that I can fly anyway). Much better than it would have been if we had just drifted around in beautiful weather for an hour. I think there is merits for that too though.

As usual I recorded the track with Motion X on the iPhone. If you are familiar with Sherburn you may notice that the circuits are slightly different from the usual, although still avoiding the villages the turn onto final was quite short, due to the fact that we are already down at 700-800 ft.

I hope I made it clear that flying in this kind of weather is not something you would choose to do. Unless you are instrument flying of course but that’s a whole other story (and a whole other training course). But it has really done me good to do it and I feel that anyone doing a PPL course that his missed this (yes you guys who get perfect weather in Florida day in and day out!) could have missed a chance to add some alternative experience to your arsenal before going out and getting stuck in it on your own.

Thanks for reading.