First Solo Navigation

24/11/2016 – After two weeks away from flying I finally had a lesson. Luke got me to plot a route to Newark, then Mansfield, then back to Gamston. We did a couple of circuits together to make sure I hadn’t forgotten everything, then I was off.

My First Solo Navigation! This was what I’d been looking forward to most of all, just me and the aircraft off on an adventure. I really felt like a true pilot and was quite excited that I’d been trusted to go off on a journey on my own.

I was very happy with my direction, and the timekeeping. I hit the turning points exactly when I expected to, and managed to hold what I felt was a good course. I managed to find Newark and Mansfield where and when I expected them!

Here’s a picture of the CloudAhoy track, you can see the entire debrief at


I was a bit more nervous with the radio than with the navigation itself, but everything went reasonably well after I’d given myself a bit of time to think about what I was saying first. I made a happy return to Gamston with a good dead side descent and a great rectangular circuit followed by a nice smooth landing which of course nobody saw as I was solo 🙂

Brilliant! The first solo nav will go down with my first solo as one of my all time favourite achievements in flying. It’s when you really feel like you’re almost there. Of course there was still plenty more flying to do before I got my licence.

There’s a link to the Youtube video of my takeoff and leaving the airfield overhead at

If you want to know more, the podcast, as always, contains an expanded version of the above.

Another Exam!

21/11/2016 – With no flying on the horizon (or anywhere else for that matter) due to the weather, my next visit to Gamston was for another day of tuition and the Aircraft General Knowledge exam.

The weather was truly dreadful, very cold, windy, cloudy, rainy etc. True Air Speed Training are down at one end of the airfield near Kuki Helicopter training and Gamston Flying School. There’s usually quite a few cars in the car park down that end of the field, often really nice ones. I’ve seen Ferraris, Teslas, Porsches, Range Rovers, and many Mercedes etc. However it was the first time I’d ever been there and found the car park completely deserted. There was not a single car parked there apart from mine, and Graham’s when he arrived. It was actually quite eery and I wondered if there’d been a gas leak and everyone told to leave. But it was just the awful weather! You can’t do much flying if it’s that bad.

But you can still do exams. Aircraft General Knowledge covers such topics as the Airframe, Engines, Instruments and Electrical Systems. A typical question might be “What does the idle cut-off valve in a piston engine do?” I’ll leave it up to you to find the answer.

Although I’m not a very hands-on person I was fairly confident that I would do ok on this one, after all I’d done three exams already and got 100% in all of them. Graham did his usual thorough job of teaching me the material, and as it was such a miserable day and I wanted to get home I took the exam early afternoon.

I got a couple of questions wrong – I think one of the questions was so vague as to make two answers possible and I picked the wrong one – but I still ended up with 88% which is over the required pass rate of 75%. Four down, five to go!

When I left there were still no other cars there, the only time I’ve ever known that to happen.

If you want to know more, the podcast, as always, contains an expanded version of the above.

Exam but no Flying

14/11/2016 – Had a flying lesson booked but it was cancelled due to the low overcast cloud cover.

15/11/2016 – Back at True Airspeed Training for another day of tuition and an exam. This time it was Communications.When you’re a pilot and talking on the radio you will be expected to use a certain kind of language. This is designed to be concise, easy to say and understand, and to give all relevant information without waffling. It’s also one of the hardest things you’ll have to learn when becoming a pilot. You will need to practice these calls again and again before you are comfortable with them.

So let’s say you’re coming up to RAF Wittering on the way from Gamston to Duxford and want to pass through their MATZ. About 5-10 minutes before you would call them up and say:

YOU: Wittering Radar, Golf Golf Alpha Lima Bravo, Request MATZ Penetration
THEM: Golf Golf Alpha Lima Bravo, Wittering Radar, Pass your message
YOU: Golf Golf Alpha Lima Bravo, PA-28, from Gamston to Duxford, 10 miles north of Wittering, altitude 2000 feet QNH 1005, requesting MATZ penetration
THEM: Golf Lima Bravo, MATZ approved not above 2000 feet
YOU: MATZ penetration approved not above 2000 feet, Golf Lima Bravo

So in this short example, you’ve called them, told them who you are and what you want. They’ve asked for more info. Then you’ve replied with your Call sign, Aircraft type, Route, Position, Altitude and Request. A way to try and remember this is CARPAR. It’s done in this specific order for consistency and ease of understanding for both you and them. You don’t need to use any extra words, and you don’t need to waffle. Remember other people might be trying to get a call in as well.

There are other specific calls such as using for joining information, a basic or traffic service, a bearing to a specific point, and, of course Mayday calls. Let’s hope you never have to do the last one for real!

Remember the important things is to be Precise, and Concise. If you aren’t sure what you’re supposed to say then don’t be afraid to ask. The people on the other end of the radio are happy to help and understand if you are confused about the correct terminology. But whatever you do don’t sit there with your finger on the button not saying anything. That is one of the worst things you can do. It’s better to practice in the aircraft first, then press the button and make the call.

There are many rules to remember for Communication, they aren’t easy but you will become much more comfortable with them after you’ve done it a few times. Just don’t get too stressed out, they will always ask you for more information if you’ve forgotten to pass it to them.

Some other things you’ll need to know include; the meaning of Roger (I have received your message), Wilco (Will comply with your instruction – only used for non-mandatory read backs), Negative instead of No, Affirm instead of Yes, etc.

I was a bit worried about the exam as the terminology is so precise. I took it, checked it, checked it again, then checked it one more time. At the third check I actually realised I’d got a question wrong, corrected it before handing in, and was very pleased to get 100%. It just shows you can’t be too careful reading, and answering the questions.

I completed this one pretty quickly so we made a quick start on Meteorology, another exam I wasn’t looking forward to (not that I was looking forward to any of them!)

16/11/2016 – Next day I had yet another lesson cancelled, this time due to high winds. But at least I’d got another exam out of the way!

If you want to know more, the podcast, as always, contains an expanded version of the above.

Planning for an Unplanned Diversion

10/11/2016 – A couple of days after my day of exams I was back in the air. This time the lesson was on unplanned diversions.

Let’s say that you’re flying to an airfield, but when you get close and call for joining instructions, they say the runway is closed. In this case you will already have a diversion airfield planned (you will won’t you?) and you can pick that up off your plog and make your way there. That’s NOT an unplanned diversion, it’s planned for and hopefully executed well, when you need it. An alternate airfield should always be part of your preparation.

An unplanned diversion is when you’re not expecting to have to change plans but something happens in mid-air to make you have to alter your route. A typical reason would be weather. You’re flying along and realise that the cloud is lower than you expected, or a storm looks to be brewing ahead. You don’t want to just continue to fly into the bad weather so you decide to go somewhere else. But if you just casually head in another direction there’s a good chance you’ll get lost.

So to perform an unplanned diversion you need to examine your chart, pick a new spot, circle that spot on the chart, draw a line from your current position to the new destination, measure the distance, and work out the track there, and determine the actual heading required factoring in wind strength and direction.

All this while you are still flying the aircraft. Remember Aviate, Navigate, Communicate. It’s quite overwhelming the first time you do it (and not just the first time). The most important first step is to make sure you know where you are, and pick where you want to go to. You can orbit your current position while planning the diversion so you don’t end up starting miles from where you expected. If you’re struggling to control the plane and hold a pen and a chart and a ruler, you can probably use the rudder to steer, thereby freeing up your hands.

Once you’ve picked a new spot then circle it on your chart with your marker. You’ll be looking away frequently while planning so it’s good to be able to easily find it again when you’re ready to measure. Then using a short ruler draw a line from your current position to the new destination. Then measure the distance, a good rule of thumb is to use the end of your thumb, it’s probably around 9 or 10 miles on a 1:500,000 chart. (Measure this while you’re not in the aircraft and remember it!)

Then using the protractor work out the new track, and the wind to get your new heading and speed, and estimate the time to get there.


No, definitely not. But it can be made easier by using something like a DP-1 from Digital Innovations (others are available I’m sure)


This is a short ruler, protractor, has a Windstar and a table of common speeds showing times at each distance. I use the Windstar app every time before I fly and fill in my DP-1, it gives you for every 45 degrees what your amended heading should be, and the estimated speed at that heading. It’s usable in the air, unlike a CRP-1 flight computer!

Filled in mine looks something like this.


I mark an arrow to show where the wind is coming from. Then each box shows new speed on the top, and degrees to add or subtract from your heading. For example in the picture, you can see the wind is from WNW, so if my diversion was on a 90 degree track I’d be going 119 knots and have to head 86 degrees. If it was 225 degrees then I’d be travelling at 90 knots and have to head 235. After a bit of practice it’s pretty easy to use even while flying (and despite my terrible handwriting)

Of course once you’ve qualified you’ll probably end up using a GPS, but it’s still something worth keeping with you, and filling in before flight.

Performing an unplanned diversion in the air is stressful. It’s very easy to get overworked so it’s very, very important to keep FLYING THE AIRCRAFT. If you have to circle for five minutes while you get yourself settled it’s better than heading in the wrong direction.

I did a few unplanned diversions and managed to get reasonably comfortable doing them. We headed back to Gamston and the weather was looking fairly bad at this point over to our left. I casually mentioned to Luke that I’d just seen a bolt of lightning a few miles left of our heading at which point he took control and steered directly away from it. Storms are not something you ever want to get caught in!

If you want to know more, the podcast, as always, contains an expanded version of the above.



Back to School, Part 1!

08/11/2016 – It had been a long time since I’d done any exams, the 1970s in fact, so passing nine before I could get my licence caused me more trepidation than the actual flying. I knew I’d be missing some lessons over winter due to the weather so I’d planned to complete all my exams so as to be ready to finish everything by the time the skies cleared.

I’d been considering exactly how to get through the exams. I seemed to have three main choices;

A) Go away for a week to a residential ground school where I’d learn in a classroom of a few people and take all the exams in the same week.

B) Learn by myself using books, and then just take the exams at the flying school.

C) Use a local ground school where I’d have 1-to-1 tuition immediately followed by the exam.

Option A would work out to be about £1200-£1500 pounds, including all the tuition, exams, accommodation, food etc. It would also entail me being away from home for a week. I felt fairly sure that it would work for me and I would be almost guaranteed to pass all the exams, there would be less distractions while away from home and I would probably study in the hotel. But it was pretty expensive and I didn’t really feel like being away for a week in a room on my own, art wasn’t exactly going to be a holiday.

Option B would be the cheapest, with just the exam costs to pay. Luke, my instructor at Gamston Flying School had also offered to help me out on some of the subjects. But I was a bit wary of doing it from a book as it’s very hard to ask it to explain itself if you don’t really get what it’s saying. I felt there was a possibility I might fail if I went this route. And I really didn’t want to have to take the exams multiple times.

Option C would work out about the same cost as going away to a ground school. The tuition would be more, but there’d be no extra costs for hotel and food. There was a ground school at Gamston – True Air Speed Training – so I’d know where I was going every time. Plus they work closely with my flying school and there’s be no issues getting the completion certificate when it was time to apply for my licence. As it was 1-to-1 training and I had all day to do each subject I knew I’d be able to grill the instructors and make sure I really understood the material.

After weighing up all the options I decided to go for C. I knew it was going to take longer overall as I’d only be doing 1, or at most 2 subjects a week. But I’d given myself a couple of months to get through them all. Plus I could do my Radio-Telephony test there too. You may find another of the options works for you. But as someone who never does exams I wanted to security blanket of someone I could ask direct questions.

On the 8th November I turned up at True Air Speed Training for my first day of tuition and my first exams, Air Law and Operational Procedures. I was much more nervous than I was more the actual flying. Although I’d read the books and done some mock tests I still considered there was a chance I might fail.

I was introduced to Graham, my instructor for the day. Like me he was a middle aged man, and we got on really well. He was very patient with my questions. Often I would ask the same thing multiple times in slightly different formats to make sure I understood everything and he was actually quite pleased that I was so keen to make sure I knew the material. He was also confident at the end of the day that I did know my stuff and he was sure I wouldn’t have any problems with the exams.

Despite this when the time came for the papers  I was still pretty nervous. I needn’t have worried though as I got 100% in both Air Law and Operational Procedures! At that point I was pretty sure that the investment I’d made in having personal tuition was going to work out well for me.

If you want to know more, the podcast, as always, contains an expanded version of the above.

Landing on Grass, and Landing on Lights

07/11/2016 – Just four more days and I was back for yet another lesson, this time a navigation exercise to Sherburn-in-Elmet (EGCJ), to the east of Leeds, 32nm away from Gamston to the NNW. This would be a fairly simple flight but took me through the class D controlled airspace of Doncaster Sheffield airport so gave me a chance to practice asking for clearance. It was also only my third ever landing away from Gamston, after Nottingham and Norwich.

When I arrived at the airfield I was pretty sure that this flight wouldn’t go ahead, the weather was pretty poor, very cloudy and some rain, and visibility not good. But we hung around as the weather was forecast to improve. and so it did, so by 3pm we were happy to board our trusty Piper PA-28 G-GALB and get ready to go. Sherburn has three runways in a triangular arrangement, 10/28 – which is tarmac, and 01/19 and 06/24 which are grass. Looking at the wind we’d assumed that tarmac runway 10 would be in use.

By the time we got in the air at about 3:15 it was in fact very calm, there was still a fair bit of cloud around but nothing to be worried about. Doncaster were very quick to give me a clearance and I flew almost directly over the runway and we got a great view of the airport as we were overhead. Just after the airport we flew over Doncaster racecourse and got a great view of that also.


On asking for joining instructions for Sherburn we were told the runway in use was 01. I turned to Luke and said “Did he say 01 then, not 10?” Luke was as surprised as I was, but obviously the wind was better on 01. It meant however that I’d be performing my first landing on a grass runway. I was so used to the luxury of the long and wide tarmac runway at Gamston that I was a bit worried about just what the grass landing would be like, just how bumpy would it be? Also the runway is only 585 metres in length, and I’m used to the almost 1700 metres of Gamston. For me it was the equivalent of landing on an aircraft carrier! However I needn’t have worried, I made a good circuit and we landed with plenty of room to spare, phew.


Because we were so late starting out we didn’t have time to do anything but go into the main building, pay our landing fees and have a quick cup of tea. No cake for me this time. And it was already looking quite dark. So we jumped straight back into the aircraft and set off again pretty sharpish. Because of the short, and slightly damp grass runway, Luke showed me how to do a short field takeoff, and we bounded up into the air, and headed back towards Gamston.

Another quick and easy clearance from Doncaster, and and overfly of their runway, and we were soon back at Gamston. However by this time it was nearly 5pm, in November, so quite dark. It was my first time landing on runway lights. Two firsts in one day, and neither expected! Again it was much easier than I’d been expecting, and I was pretty happy with the whole journey. You can just see the runway lights in the pic below, and how low the sun was!


And here’s a video of the flight to Sherburn speeded up to 8 times normal speed.

If you want to know more, the podcast, as always, contains an expanded version of the above.

Pick a Field, But Not Any Field

03/11/2016 – After missing out on six months of flying over the winter of 2015/16 – and almost giving up and not starting again – I was determined to get as much flying in during the winter of 16/17 as I could. Which meant I was booking multiple lessons a week, on the basis that the weather would wipe some out. However that isn’t always the case, and sometimes you end up with multiple lessons in the same week. So the very next day after flying to Carsington Water and Chatsworth House I ended up back at Gamston again.

This time it wasn’t for a navigation, it was for practicing forced landings. One of the worst things that can happen to any pilot is for the engine to stop, and it’s important to make sure that you know what to do if and when this happens, and if you have to land how to pick a field to land in, and how to make your approach to that field.

Before you do this though you have to trim the aircraft so that it’s flying at the best glide speed – 70 knots in the PA-28 – to give you as long as possible to make your decision. It’s no use seeing a field and heading for it, if you’re too fast or slow and you’ll not make it because you’re at the wrong speed and you’re descending too fast.

Picking the right field is also an important skill. You need to make sure it’s big enough to land in of course, free of obstructions, that your landing won’t take you through any power cables, that the surface is reasonably smooth and that it’s not on a steep slope which might make the landing itself difficult, or stopping afterwards harder.

So we spent an entire lesson climbing, then Luke would cut the power and I’d have to trim for best glide, pick a field after being happy it was suitable, then manoeuvre to land successfully. Not only that, but I had to make a pretend Mayday call on the radio so ATC knew I was going down.

Of course we didn’t actually land, and when getting close to the ground Luke would say “Climb Away” and off we’d go again. Buy the time we’d done it was getting quite dark again, and I was glad to get on the ground for real, and this time on a runway.

A very useful, if somewhat sobering lesson.

If you want to know more, the podcast, as always, contains an expanded version of the above.