Saturday, 18 July 2009

AirVenture rumours

The big 'O' is just over a week away and a few rumours are breaking cover. Product development gets hit hard in these tough times, but companies need something to sell, and any development engineers who still have their jobs need something to do...

So what have I heard?

  • Jeppesen will be announcing a new product to facilitate chart viewing. I guess that this will be some kind of EFB (Electronic Flight Bag), but don't know if it is a software or hardware solution. It would be ideal if Garmin's 695 and 696 could be used to run JeppView (or ChartView as Garmin call it).
  • Garmin. No firm rumours here, but historically they've used Oshkosh for announcements, so it is hard to imagine them turning up with nothing new at all. The 695/696 isn't an old product, so I would be surprised to see anything new in their portable line up.
  • Cirrus Aircraft. Again nothing heard here, but following Alan Klapmeier's announcement at M7 it will be interesting to see what is said, and whether or not he'll be working on or from the Cirrus Aircraft stand. Brent Wouter's announcement that all development dollars would be spent on the Vision SF50 jet hasn't gone down well with Cirrus owners, so perhaps they'll be able to find a few bucks for some minor updates to the SR line?
  • Several manufacturers will be talking about a new, alternative fuel, engine options. I expect this to be one of the main themes of this year's event.

Friday, 17 July 2009

A flight in strong winds

Today's flying was mainly about weather, both being in it, and being beaten up by it. The forecast suggested that out to the west conditions would improve, so with tantalising blue specs suggesting quite low cloud tops we climbed to 6,000' after leaving Devizes. The blue gaps disappeared and we (me, Martine and the dog) spent an hour-and-a-half droning through clouds with the only variation being the amount of rain outside (or inside for that matter).

The wind, generally coming from about 330 on the surface was blowing at 25G35 on the Isles of Scilly, and Culdrose spoke of something called a drifting buoy that was reporting 40kt winds between Lands End and St Mary's. It was a sporting landing, but it wouldn't be the last of the day. After lunch and a walk around town we took off and made our way towards Perranporth for fuel. I'd called them earlier to check on their opening times, and they reported gusts of 55kt, but by the time we got there things had calmed down and they were only reporting 310 at 20G38. The approach to 27 brings a fair bit of turbulence, but even once down it was a struggle to get to the pumps. Taking off was actually worse. I hate those few moments when the weight is coming off the wheels, and the wind is trying its best to blow you off the runway. We 'enjoyed' some pretty rough turbulence for the first three-hundred feet.

It took about an hour-and-a-quarter to fly from Perranporth to Lydeway, all of it turbulent. Five miles from the strip, Lyneham told me about some heavy rain, which had the decency to wait until we landed to make itself known. It meant putting the cover on in the rain, but that seemed preferable to landing in it.

The dog, by the way, proved to be a trouble-free passenger, occasionally standing up to take a look outside.

Thursday, 16 July 2009

Flying in to Le Touquet's new restaurant

l'Escale at the airport is no more, long live l'Escale. The old owners sold up and the people behind Richochet (a great little restaurant in town) have taken over. They had to keep the name, but apparently spent €1,000,000 on the refurbishment. It's been open for a week or so, and today we gave it a try. There's a more detailed report here, but the food was average at best and the service terrible.

There are so many restaurants close by, that these guys are going to have to improve pretty quickly if they are to prosper, or even survive.

Well, you asked for more details...

  • We waited to be seated, but were ignored. One other couple (like us without a reservation) arrived five minutes after us but were seated before we were even spoken to.
  • Once seated it took ages for our drinks order to be taken. There was no bottled water available.
  • Our main courses initially arrived before our starters.
  • When the starters finally arrived one of the orders was wrong. They did offer to change it but having waited so long for the food I wasn't about to let it out of my sight.
  • When the mains arrived again two of the dishes were wrong.
  • I strongly suspect that the correct mains were made from ingredients that were previously presented as the incorrect dishes.
  • The bill was wrong (three diners being charged for four meals).

Patience is a virtue (in the circuit)

I flew into Southend today. I was asked to join downwind right-hand for Runway 24, and was told that I was number two to a C172 already established downwind. Although the traffic had been called I looked and looked but couldn't find it. The Tower asked the traffic to turn base, and when he did I spotted the aircraft a long way ahead. I'd guess that it was at least two and possible three miles from the runway. It's always a bit of a pain when someone flies a large circuit and I'll admit that I was quietly frustrated.

As I taxied in, I heard the instructor in the C172 tell the Tower that he was getting out and that the student was about to head of for his first solo. What's more when I stopped I saw that the instructor was Full Flap TV's Rob Bull. We chatted as he looked nervously at the student heading for the runway. I don't know who's more worried in these situations, the student or instructor. By the time I'd paid my bill, checked the oil and put my lifejacket on, the C172 was back with a beaming pilot at the controls. I just had time to congratulate him and shake his hand before heading off to Le Touquet. Any frustration at the size of his circuit had gone - the world has another pilot and that's got to be a good thing.

Monday, 13 July 2009

I'm from the Civil Aviation Authority...

A UK airfield, sometime in the past...

It's not that he was very loud, but the words, "Hello, I'm from the Civil Aviation Authority and I'm here to see...." seemed to be picked up by everyone in the room, which unsurprisingly fell silent. Later, when I went to pay my landing fees the man from the CAA was in the office talking to the airfield staff. It was impossible not to hear the content of the conversation.

It turns out that Mr CAA is an investigator with the legal branch and he'd driven the 250+ miles to the airfield to take a statement. Allegedly, earlier this year a visiting aeroplane had infringed some Gatwick airspace and he was seeking a statement confirming that said aeroplane had actually visited. I won't repeat it here, but the registration, type and names of occupants were stated openly. The man from the CAA and a couple of others in the room made some other comments that bear repeating.

  1. Mr CAA stated that at least both of the alleged offending pilots (there were two), were flying in the UK on their FAA licences.
  2. That they had a GPS in their aeroplane.
  3. That they'd probably only get a slapped wrist.

Nothing too radical there, but the tone/sucking of teeth (from others in the room too) was interesting.

There was an implication that an FAA licence is inferior to a CAA/JAA licence. I looked up one of the pilots, and he does indeed hold an FAA PPL (and instrument rating). While that doesn't bring any specific knowledge of UK airspace or procedures, it doesn't suggest inexperience either.

There was a suggestion, by someone other than Mr CAA, that the GPS was the cause of the infringement. According the the local expert, "They (GPS units) should only be used if you are 100% certain of your position without them." I would suggest that such disdain for GPS is one of the reasons that it is not taught properly, and that would be one way of improving navigational accuracy and situational awareness.

Finally, Mr CAA man gave (me) the impression that he'd driven a long way and gone to a fair amount of trouble, but that the offenders would probably only get a letter. I sensed a degree of frustration.

CAVOK to marginal VFR in just 30 minutes

Went to St Mary's in the Scilly Isles this morning. Thanks to a stiff headwind the C182 averaged a groundspeed of 90kt. That same wind made the arrival somewhat sporting, but I got lucky and it all came together in the last inch or so.

The trip back provided a challenge or two, here's a quick rundown.
12.00 Top picture. I checked the oil, added a quart, did a quick running check, got in, started, did the power checks and called for taxi.
12.21 Middle picture. For a change the headwind didn't turn through 180 degrees so I enjoyed a 145kt+ ground speed. It didn't take too long before I could see Land's End. Super helpful ATC were giving me a running commentary on the CB activity.
12.30 Bottom picture. The plan was to avoid the CB activity (obviously), so I routed up the coast towards Newquay. I was over the sea, but either the cloudbase was dropping or the sea was rising. Either way it wasn't the most pleasant of flights. As I got towards Perranporth the weather improved a bit so I landed to pick up some fuel. As I taxied to the pumps the worst of the weather caught up and drenched me, and the airfield. Time for a coffee and a spot of lunch. They're a friendly bunch at Perranporth and the food was good.

I'd had enough of the low-level stuff for one day, so after leaving Perranporth, when I flew into more rain somewhere short of Bodmin, I asked Newquay approach if I could upgrade to a Traffic service, climbed to 4,500' and sat on instruments for half-an-hour. It was good practice and much safer than grubbing my way over Cornwall and Devon. The weather significantly improved somewhere north of Yeovilton which made for a pleasant end to the day's flying.

Flying Legends. The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

I'm glad to say that apart from a little reduced visibility just after departure, the weather was pretty stunning for the rest of the day! Looks like the BECMG was right after all.

This was my first Flying Legends, so I don't have a huge amount to compare it with, but here goes anyway.

The Good
Booking a slot and flying in was easy, marshalling was great and the transport to north side friendly and efficient. Check in and pilot processing also worked well. We were lucky enough to enjoy a seat in an enclosure and enjoyed the show in a very civilized manner with a great picnic (thanks Martine). The show was great, but most of The Fighter Collection's aircraft remain grounded thanks to a CAA audit. There were a few barbed comments aimed at the CAA by the commentary team. Bernard Chabert and others pointed out that the DGAC, the French National Aviation Authority, has a safety-driven but pragmatic approach to historic aircraft. Could this have been a veiled threat or a hint that The Fighter Collection may find a new home if the current troubles cannot be resolved to everyone's satisfaction? Highlights of the show for me were the FW190, the Gladiator and the Lysander. Bernard Chabert shoudl also get a mention in the 'good' section, he enthusiasm is infectious.

The Bad
Bernard Chabert, great commentator that he is, needs to learn that sometimes less is more. The only other minor thing is that Duxford must be trying hard to take the prize for the UK's most expensive avgas (£1.60/litre) - sadly, they have some stiff competition.

The Ugly
There was a small issue with a foreign aeroplane who someone thought was trying to push into the departure queue. I know that it can be frustrating, but the radio, which was very busy with all sorts going on, is not the place for pilots to get into a discussion about queue etiquette, 'suck it up' as they'd say in the US. Nicely handled by air traffic though.