Updated: May 14
RKID's perspective: some lively cumuli en route to LLanbedr
In this issue:
Shaw's Report - our Chairman Ian's thoughts on flying out
Club Night Report Thanks to Irv Lee.
Coming up at Club Night Steve Slade's evolution through microlighting
Achievements - Congratulations due.
Weather to suffer - Daniel Langton on the not so Sunny Sat Nav
Taking out the Sting - Ken Watt on his first SSN in his new aircraft
Alphabet Airfields competition - ends August 31st
Favourite Amazing Flyout 1 2021- plans
Medical application attention required and Radio licence similarly.
Dicey flying - Dave Moore composes an ode on thermal videoing
Events and tour dates: please remember to look at the last page; the dates are correct and when I know of a major event I include it here. Feel free to let me know of any that you think might interest other Cheshire Flyers.
Our first post lockdown Sunny Sat Nav saw Cheshire Flyers disperse across the country on our monthly Saturday Flyout.
Plan A was to fly to Llanbedr, however on the day the forecast proved ‘fruity’ - a new CF technical term for ‘changeable with showers’.
A number of seasoned Cheshire Flyers opted for Plan B ‘Abbotts Bromley’, which swiftly morphed into Plan C ‘Appleton Thorn’. Meanwhile others planned in advance ‘not to go at all’, some thought ‘I’ll still try for Llanbedr’ and a few pondered on the ground understandably confused by the myriad of options presented on WhatsApp by the myriad of flyers.
Which begs the question – which decision was the correct one?
The short answer is, given no accidents nor soiled trousers (to the best of my knowledge) - they all were. However, I think this varied decision-making process is worth exploring further.
Firstly, lets go back to basics, those of us who are lucky (and cool) enough to have earned licences can all fly right? We all know how to land, take off, perform a 60-degree turn, stall, PFL etc etc.
So, we are sorted?
Unfortunately not, this flying business isn’t that simple – which is what makes it incredibly challenging, intoxicating and rewarding. We can keep our stick, rudder, bar, map reading, PFL, short field, radio skills etc etc current however the one constant that throws all this into chaos on any given flight is the weather. Those Gods don’t give a flying fig about your pre-flight planning, or your superior flying skills. Invariably it’s down to you, P1, ‘the Big Cheese’ to decide how best to navigate your way around the uncertain weather challenges that await.
Sometimes the decision is dead simple, CAVOK, 9999 viz, light winds – let’s go!
Sometimes like last Saturday’s SSN it’s a little more complicated.
That day the forecast was for localised showers, across the country. Winds were relatively light (below 10Kts), viz was generally 40 km or more but could be down to 7000m with cloud base of 800 feet.
I could have read this forecast in a number of ways. The pessimist in me would say stay at home, who wants to fly in 7000m at 800 feet in showers? The optimist in me said the showers will be localised, the poor viz and low cloud are probably contained within the showers. Potentially we can work around this – and so is worthy of further investigation.
What follows is my take on deciding whether to go or not. It doesn’t follow any particular rules, and not intended to be instructional but it works for me and may be of some help to others.
Metforms 214 and 215 give you a generalised picture of the country which confirmed the potential for low cloud and poor viz. I then look at the TAFs for the closest airfields to our route. This gives a slightly more detailed picture of likely conditions. This is followed by a review of the Met Office ‘public’ site for a more localised picture of likely surface winds, rain or low cloud (normally depicted by clouds with a dark grey colour) – don’t knock it, this is accurate and generally works!
I might also have a sneak look at BBC’s weather site who now use Meteogroup for their data and hence a slightly different take on the Met Office weather picture. If this forecast differs to the Met Office then I need to decide on which is more likely. If I can’t decide, I assume the worst. Back to the Met Office and if there are loads of those pesky dark clouds (generally meaning low cloud and/or poor viz) along my route, unless aliens are chasing me I’ll call it off or find another route. On the day concerned there were some but not a big concentration and very few around the coast.
This approach may seem a little ‘Flintstones’ to many of you. Surely I should be checking environmental lapse rates for unstable air and the like, with freezing levels correlated against dew point verses orographic lifting, followed by putting my underpants over my head and chanting obscenities to the weather Gods – whatever?
Which reminds me of one of my very first flyouts way back in the late 90s. Those participating had all pre-arranged to meet at Arclid to discuss the route and weather. I was a total newbie to all this. Some seasoned flyers had been on a Simon Keeling weather course and printed off all sorts of weather charts and data which were basically ‘Greek’ to me. It all looked very impressive though. Meanwhile for my ‘impressive’ contribution I had video-taped John Craven's Country File weekly weather forecast, stolen the video player and TV from my house for presentation to the assembled experienced Cheshire Flyers, which I might add included microlight British Team members. Suffice to say I felt a right plonker – it stayed in the car!
However, I still stand by my good intentions. Truth is if all looks good from the experts who know about these things (whatever source you care to use), you can plan your route.
On the recent SSN, in consultation with my flying buddy Dave West, a coastal run to Llanbedr was favoured thus avoiding higher ground and the potential to get caught out in that 800 feet cloud base and poor viz.
Prior to taking off we looked at the METARS for the closest airfields en route and the Dark Skies app which gave an up to the minute rain radar picture. From this we could see the localised showers and their direction of travel.
We then considered our options should the weather turn bad. We were sticking to the low ground which meant there were plenty of options to see and avoid. However worst case viz was down to 7000m which I am comfortable to temporarily fly in provided there are no big sticky out bits to avoid (hence the coastal route) and of course we always have the option to turn back. We could also contact our flying buddies en route via 129.835 and get an exact weather picture as we go. Importantly we made sure we had plenty of fuel for diverts – just in case.
The expression used a lot on WhatsApp was ‘Suck it and see’, which sounds a bit gung-ho but I wager that every flyer adopting this approach followed a similar thought process to my own.
The weather picture was generally an improving one throughout the day. If we could get there, I was confident we could get back.
Decision made – let’s go!
On take off we could see big rain clouds dumping their stuff over the low level corridor which was unnerving, however we could also see from the rain radar that this was localised and could be avoided.
The images of the trip speak for themselves – it was a glorious day along the coast and a fabulous flight.
Daniel Langton’s piece (following) is excellent and worthy of a Booker prize. Daniel sums up the torment of ‘go or no go’ superbly. As a relatively new flyer how do you obtain the knowledge of your ‘seemingly’ superior flying colleagues who appear to have worked this whole weather thing out with no drama or fuss?
Well, I’m sorry to report there is no short cut. Unless you are a ‘bold pilot’ (and we all know there are no ‘old bold pilots’), the ONLY route to knowledge is through experience. In my view this experience is best gained with baby steps.
Our monthly Sunny Sat Navs are those baby steps. Designed to fly to interesting or new airfields which aren’t too distant or taxing to find and land at. You know there will be a number of other club members flying to the same location so if you are in in any doubt on weather, route or procedures you can pick their brains.
The aim is to safely progress your own flying and touring skills with a little help from your flying mates.
Cheshire Flyers can’t fly the route for you, ultimately you will have to make the decision whether to go or not. If you feel it is a bit marginal or beyond your comfort zone then its absolutely fine not to go. There is no shame. Equally please don’t assume we will all fly together, one for all and all for one - we don’t. Flying in formation, even very loose formation is difficult and adds another burden, so best to avoid. Ultimately you are P1 and responsible for getting there and back.
Another pressure when flying in a group is waiting for the others to be ready or, worse still, you holding the others up (often guilty). This generates unnecessary stress, potentially leading to errors. Being in a mass group when arriving at an airfield can be worse than departing as one; chaos can often be the outcome.
Sometimes a flight may seem daunting – but that’s OK. I often feel anxious, but with almost 1000 hours under my belt I’m comfortable with that feeling. I guess it’s a life preservation thing.
Ultimately you will find a planning method which works for you based on your accumulated experience and comfort levels.
Where flyouts are concerned three aviation sayings are well worth noting…
1. It’s better to be on the ground wishing you were in the sky than in the sky wishing you were on the ground.
2. If in doubt there is no doubt.
3. … and, stolen from Daniel's below: ‘Truly superior pilots are those who use their superior judgment to avoid those situations where they might have to use their superior skills'.
At the risk of stating the bleeding obvious, this sport can often be disappointing, especially where weather is concerned. The important thing however is to keep the blue stuff on the top, the brown stuff on the bottom, make sure the number of landings equals take-offs and enjoy it.
Club Night April 19th Report
Many thanks are due to Irv Lee for his interesting and informative presentation on the weather for pilots.
Irv's website is www.higherplane.co.uk and is packed full of information. Irv mentioned that he runs radio courses (though of course he wouldn't have known that we have our own Kevin Edmunds to run these) and he also offered to run one of his PPL Masterclasses in Cheshire if enough pilots are interested in such.
Club Night Next - May 17th
Our guest speaker is Steve Slade and he calls his talk "Flying Adventures" as it summarises some of the fun he has had over years of flying. Steve is known to our Steve (Rosser) from the international competitions circuit.
Steve Slade had been accepted at the BA College of Air Training but an accident whilst travelling in the back of an army lorry changed his career direction somewhat. He studied for an Aeronautical Engineering degree at Southampton, and worked on a hand-control for a PA28. Early developments in the fledgling microlight movement attracted his attention and, following a review of all of the early microlights, he joined with Eddie Clapham in purchasing a Mainair Tri-Flyer single seat trike kit and married it to a Hiway Vulcan wing. He got airborne in Feb 1982.
His illustrated talk covers pictures of early microlights they reviewed, some of the adaptations made to the aircraft to enable him to fly them and includes stories of Round Britain Rallies, taking part in National and International competitions, flying from Lands End to John O'Groats in a day, the Kiev to Odessa microlight rally, setting world records such as 102 circuits in one hour and 114 airfields in a day, and some views from around this country and beyond. Steve retired from Rolls-Royce four years ago after 38 years in a variety of roles and is now finding time to explore other hobbies in addition to aviation.
And as well as this - we should all talk about the upcoming FAF1 which will hopefully embarked upon some 4 days after club night.
Well done to Sue Beesley who passed her GST on 26th April and has applied for her licence.
Sue says " It's a big step on a longer path - Nav next, then cross-training on to the Eurostar and then build some hours and then.... "
Sue has some encouraging words for fellow students: "For the students among us, what with lockdowns and weather and mud and all the rest of it, it's been close to two years since I had my first lesson. And of course you hit plateaus and there are things you've been told and practiced repeatedly and it doesn't seem to gel, but eventually it does, honest. Just keep turning up 🙂
Excellent advice to all. Hang in there - it will happen.
Sunny Sat Navs: To Go or Not to Go? That is the Question. Weather 'tis Nobler in the Mind to Suffer...
Daniel Langton describes his decision dilemma
Along with the many miseries that the pandemic has brought in its wake, there have been some positive and interesting new developments. One of them is the shift to video-conferencing that has made training events so much easier to access. I have attended six GASCo webinars since February, and each came with a little sticker for my logbook that reminds me of the footie cards we used to exchange in the playground. (If anyone wants to swap me a Recent Accident & Occurrences sticker for an Airspace Infringement Avoidance sticker, let me know. I've got two, both in excellent condition.) Of all the topics about which we need to continually educate ourselves, the weather is surely one of the most fascinating. I attended one webinar co-delivered by the CAA and the Royal Meteorological Society, and another by guru Simon Keeling (although there was no sticker for that one. I asked. Several times.) I can’t get enough of the weather. I have the feeling that once I can master the weather, I’ll be able to bend it to my will like the Ancient Ones in the Cheshire Flyers Club, who seem to effortlessly find weather windows and corridors and openings in their home in the heavens. Of course, I do realise that I’m one of the lucky ones in that modern weather-related technology has now come of age with SkyDemon, Dark Sky, Windy, XCWeather, the MetOffice Aviation Briefing services, and so on. Only a couple of years ago I would not have been able to join our WhatsApp fly-out group to 'listen in' to more experienced pilots thinking through their decisions out loud. The Sunny Sat Navs do a great job in encouraging the new pilot to stretch his or her wings, and the WhatsApp conversations about the weather in particular have been gold. The flip side of the freedom of flying is the responsibility of flying: every time I go up, I make and take decisions that are potentially very serious indeed, and among the most serious is weather prediction. The nature of aviation means that each of us repeatedly takes those decisions alone, and faces up to the consequences in a lonely sky, again and again. I was taught that this is a hard-won kind of knowledge, learned over time and often the hard way, and there doesn’t appear to be any alternative to the slow, painful, annoying business of internalising one’s own experiences. Aviation wisdom tells us "Truly superior pilots are those who use their superior judgment to avoid those situations where they might have to use their superior skills,” and “It’s better to be on the ground wishing you were in the air than in the air wishing you were on the ground.” But how does the novice pilot transform into that superior being who gazes down from on high without wishing to be anywhere else? Like so much else in life, we learn through making mistakes and the key thing is to try to take our braver decisions in conditions where the consequences of getting it wrong aren’t going to be disastrous. I suppose that this is how one develops a sense of one’s comfort zone, much beyond which we’re not supposed to fly. So while I like the reassurance of reading how others are making their decisions, it’s probably a false economy to depend too much on others. How can one internalise the valuable lessons of one’s own experience if one doesn’t embrace the responsibility of decision-making as an individual? If this is the right way of thinking about it all, then it’s inevitable that one has to take frustratingly small steps early on in one's aviation journey.
Back to the WhatsApp conversations about the weather. For a recent Sunny Sat Nav excursion to Llanbedr, I ppr’d the night before by email but the next morning, after doing my weather preps, I decided to cancel. I reckoned I could fly there without difficulty and quite quickly, but it’d be a much longer flight back in marginal conditions — I’d be dodging showers and squalls. I could do it, I thought, but it wouldn’t be much fun in the open cockpit of my trusty Quantum 503. Of course, as usual, at the back of my mind, I wondered whether I had read the weather correctly or whether I'd missed an opportunity. So it was most pleasing to see several more experienced flyers cancel their plans for pretty much the same reason, as one of them explained on our WhatsApp conversation. This didn’t affect my judgement; I’d already made my decision. But it gave me just a little more confidence that I had made a reasonable decision that day. And that is worth more than any number of webinars with the Royal Meteorological Society, with or without the logbook stickers.
The things we do for a Sunny Sat Nav
Ken Watt on the getting ready and heading out
In the words of two of the best songwriters in history “It’s been a long, cold, lonely, winter”.
A message from Chairman Shaw ended that situation with “Here comes the Sun’-ny SatNav; much excitement and not a little trepidation followed. Cheshire flyers from multiple airfields prepared themselves and their aircraft for the first group sortie of the year.
Readying my recently acquired new aircraft ZIZY, a TL Sting S4, took rather longer than the post lock-down checks. She was acquired in November last year with the plan being to get difference training at Dunkeswell and fly her home to Hawksview, where a man from Bristol had agreed to build a hangar for her. That plan was scuppered by a combination of our old friend the weather and contracting a nasty virus. As hangarage was costing £500 a month in Devon I arranged for the Dunkeswell CFI to ferry ZIZY to Hawksview. The first trip was scuppered by weather, low cloud and hills in the Midlands, forcing a return to base.
The second trip was scuppered by an electrical fault which had the intrepid ferry pilot turning back after one hour of flight with bits of kit slowly giving up the ghost, as the clouds lowered. First the transponder died; then the secondary Dynon screen died losing engine instruments; then the primary Dynon screen died, leaving only the back-up steam gauges. Finally, the pilot had to land this all-electric beauty at Dunkeswell without flaps, as they are electrically operated. By all accounts he did it without any flapping and, on hearing that story, I let out huge sigh of relief that I had not just jumped in and flown her home, an option which I had seriously considered.
The third attempt went well and a shiny new toy was tied down at Hawksview. The man from Bristol couldn’t get materials because Virus-nasty had closed all the suppliers. Winter was coming and I was very wary of British weather pouring gallons of water into all the crevices in my carbon-fibre treasure and then freezing the water to break all the crevices open; the bad dreams were increasing in frequency and severity. I borrowed a set of custom covers from a very helpful Sting owner in Halfpenny Green who had progressed to a warm dry hangar.
Those bad dreams continued. I had given up a delightful aircraft and spent lots of money on a new one that I couldn’t fly, and it was deteriorating in the open air. This winter was getting longer, colder, and ZIZY looked very lonely at the end of the field at Hawksview. There was no sign of a hangar being built before the Spring so in February Steve Webb offered to help. If we ever have to return to a lockdown, and may all the gods from all religions forbid that, I can thoroughly recommend building a hangar with Steve Webb. It was a truly liberating lockdown project. The hangar needed an 11-metre span for the roof which meant very big beams. With just two of us and no crane that made for some creative manual handling! I won’t try and describe the whole project here, it would take a full article, but let’s just say that building industry practice could learn a lot from us, though the various regulatory bodies probably wouldn’t wholeheartedly agree. We had fun. And ZIZY had a warm dry home, so I could set about that preparation for the Flyouts with Cheshire Flyers.
There was a lot to get my head around, but I think I enjoy working on aircraft almost as much as I enjoy flying them. This was a 912iS engine coupled to glass screens, with a panel config’ that didn’t suit me. The first thing I did was update the screens; they were many software versions behind current. Although the aircraft battery is less than 2 years old it didn’t last long enough for the software upgrade and the second screen died during update. That left it buggered and I had to return it to the US. The nice chaps at Dynon fixed it under warranty (6 years old!!!!) so it only cost me the postage in the end, but a lesson learned: always have decent backup power when doing an upgrade. Anyhow, with the shiny new software installed, the Dynon was now capable of better handling of the 912iS, with a little widget for the throttle position to effect the best engine start and a little widget to tell you how economically you’re flying. More of that later.