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23 August 2013

Stick in the Mud

When I went to start my day at the desk, there was a whirr and a slight smell of burning and then nothing. The computer stayed dark. I did a walk-around but there’s nothing wrong that I can see: the machine needs an engineer. Meanwhile, I’m using my iPhone to keep the withdrawal symptoms at bay.

While I wait on maintenance, I’ve brought you an article that I wrote for Piper Flyer magazine a few years back. I should note that I’ve not been back to Shobdon since….


Shobdon Airfield started as Pembridge Landing Ground, a long strip in an isolated area used to support Army manoeuvres. In 1942 it was upgraded to “a proper airfield” by the military.

Shaun McGuire has made a website dedicated to the Hereford Parachute Club at Shobdon and has reprinted an article found in Action Stations 3, The Airfields which tells the history of the airfield:

The first visitor after the new airfield opened on May 28, 1942 was a Grumman Martlet which forced-landed whilst on a flight from Yeovilton to Donibristle on June 20. A few days later two Canadian Spitfires landed after getting lost on a cross-country flight. On July 14 the first aircraft to be based – a Lysander – was delivered by an ATA pilot, followed by two dismantled Hotspur gliders brought by road.

I was flying to Shobdon on a whim. Its location on the border of England and Wales meant I was likely to get some lovely views and the attached café had a good reputation. At the time, I didn’t think to look at the history of the airfield, or else I might have seen this:

Shobdon’s grass surfaces on which the gliders usually landed were muddy and unserviceable and half the runway width was unusable because of re-surfacing work.

I was blissfully unaware that the airfield had a reputation for mud when I planned a day trip to Shobdon and back, I was just pleased I could conveniently get my three take-offs and landings in a single afternoon.

Shobdon has a hard runway, over 2,700 feet of asphalt, so I wasn’t particularly interested in the state of their grass. I felt much more prepared than I usually was, as I’d met someone at my local flying club who knew the airfield well.

“Keep a good look out,” he told me. “You get the fighter jets over-flying the place without bothering to talk to anyone. Check the noise abatement procedure, it’s a wide circuit there. And always, always watch the other planes: they have two overhead join procedures: one for locals and one for people who know what an overhead join is.”

He also told me that air-to-ground was “intermittent” so I wasn’t concerned at the radio silence when I approached the airfield later that afternoon. It was quiet, no other planes in the air and no sign of military activity. I landed without any excitement and head over to the clubhouse to get some lunch.

It seemed a nice enough place – the café was tidy and the people were friendly. I got lost looking for the restrooms and ended up in room at the back which seemed the epitome of a Victorian gentlemen’s lounge: wood panelled walls, dark green furniture, varnished tables with crystal ashtrays large enough to hold a cigar or two. I felt quite guilty being in there, an intruder in a masculine world that I’d only ever read about. I backed out nervously before anyone caught me touching the velvet curtains.

A friendly woman in a small wooden cubicle accepted my landing fee and commented what a lovely day it had been and how lucky I was. The week before had been miserable, she told me, non-stop rain. I chatted to her for a bit and then made my way back to the plane.

It was lunchtime and the café had just begun to fill. I’d seen a table full of old airmen, no doubt telling tall tales of the type I love to hear – but I needed to get back home. I settled for a quick cup of coffee at the table next to them. One day I will learn to appreciate tea – after all these years in the UK, you’d think I’d have acquired a taste for it.

I rushed back onto the apron and started up the plane. There was still no one on the radio so I did my calls blind. I was meandering along the taxi-way when I belatedly noticed the sign: “No power checks beyond this point!” I looked around. No other planes were moving. I turned the plane hard to the right so that it was somewhat vaguely into wind and started my checks on the spot.

When I went to turn back onto the taxiway I realised I hadn’t left myself any room to make the turn, I was going to have to enter the grass runway which ran alongside the taxiway. But in that case, I thought, why not just cross the grass and head directly to the asphalt. The radio was silent, no one was coming in, it wasn’t like I was going to be causing any inconvenience.

I made the call and pulled onto the grass. The plane bumped forward and then slowed to a crawl over the uneven ground, losing momentum. I pushed in the throttle but it seemed I was too slow, the plane stopped moving. I increased the power again and then once more. It took a moment before it sank in: I was at full throttle and the plane wasn’t moving. I bit my lip, shut down the engine and clambered out of the plane.

"Didn't anyone tell you?"

There was no denying it, I was stuck. There was a 3-foot long furrow in the mud. I closed my eyes, I could almost hear the swearing of the future gliders landing on that runway.

At the end of the rut was my nose wheel, covered in mud and dug into the grass. The propeller had bright green streaks all around the edges. If I’d managed to go any deeper, I would have probably taken out the prop but luckily, no damage was done. Except that I needed to get the plane off of the grass somehow.

Help appeared rather rapidly, a plane shutting down perpendicular to the taxiway and runways has that effect. A friendly, sturdy looking guy came out from wherever he had been working to see what had happened.

“The grass runway isn’t usable after the weather we’ve had,” one said, looking at the plane. “It’s a bit muddy out there.” Yeah, I’d noticed. I showed him the nose wheel and he grimaced. Others arrived and a moment later there were four of them in a circle around the Saratoga, shaking their heads at the mess I’d gotten myself into. I stayed on the periphery, they looked like they’d spent their life around planes and were probably taking them to pieces while I was still hoping I’d grow tall enough to be a stewardess. I didn’t think they’d appreciate my input and I didn’t have a chance of getting the plane out without them.

“She’s stuck, all right.”
“If she used full power, couldn’t she…”
“No way, look how close her prop is to the ground already.”

I couldn’t help nodding furiously in agreement every time someone vetoed the “full power and press on” theory.

“Can we push her?” They circled around the plane. I was pretty sure that the female pronoun referred to the plane, not me. I checked to make sure no one was shoving a part of the plane that shouldn’t be shoved, then positioned myself at the nose to heave on the count of three.

The Saratoga rocked backwards and then hit the side of the ridge and lurched forwards again, comfortable in its rut. We could push it out, if we could follow the muddy crevasse I’d created exactly. As it was, we weren’t creating the momentum to push the nose wheel out and over the rut. Even with six of us, it was not enough.

One of the men looked as if he might mention the full power theory again but my new friend who had taken charge spoke first. “We’re going to have to tow her out.”

I didn’t have a clue what this would entail and how this would work. In the end, I simply admitted my helplessness. “I guess I’m not much help.” I got a tolerant smile as a response. I took a chance. “Would it be OK if I took a few photographs of you pulling the plane out?

We don't need no stinking tractor

Luckily they were a friendly bunch; they grinned at me, happy to be captured on film as they rescued this damsel in distress. A battered Landrover was quickly sourced to tug the plane out backwards. They affixed the rope to what we all thought was a tow point on the back of the plane. I later discovered the handy loop was actually for tying the plane down – to my dismay I discovered that the handbook specifically warns against using it to tow. It’s probably a good thing that I didn’t know this while the men positioned themselves: one at the nose of the plane, one at each wing, one in the Landrover and one to stand with the rope. On the count of three, the men shoved, the driver revved carefully and the Saratoga shuddered gently before majestically lifting up and over the rut and then rolling smoothly back to the taxiway. The Landrover towed her back to the sign: “No power checks beyond this point!”

From there it was easy. I thanked them all profusely and did a quick walk-around. Everything looked fine, even the tie-down point. I got into my plane and flew back home, impressed at how friendly everyone had been. I made a mental note to come back to Shobdon … in the summer, after it’s had a chance to dry out.

03 June 2011

Places to Go, People to See

I’m going to be spending more time in England and Wales over the summer. I’m looking forward to it: I tend to commute back and forth which means I tend to only see places where I have a meeting. I haven’t had much chance to wander around and see things just because I want to see them.

So I’ve been thinking about how to spend my time. One thing I’d really like to get the chance to do is visit some smaller and specialist museums. Here’s my starting list of aviation related locations that I’d like to
see:

RAF Museum Hendon

Our North London Museum is the only London attraction to house over 100 aircraft from around the world including some very early aircraft designs through to the latest modern day jets and military aircraft.

Welsh Spitfire Museum

The Welsh Spitfire Museum has now opened its doors at Withybush (Haverfordwest) Airport following a grand opening last week.

Imperial War Museum Duxford

1940 Operations Room is a reconstruction of the place where Duxford’s fighter aircraft were directed into combat during the Battle of Britain.

National Space Centre Online

Space Now brings you all the latest in news from space using the latest technology to present the new discoveries being made across the globe, and the work being done right here in the UK.

Tangmere Military Aviation Museum

Here you can see priceless historic aircraft such as Neville Duke’s world record breaking Hawker Hunter, actual equipment used by the brave SOE agents who were carried into occupied France on ‘black Lysander’ flights from Tangmere, flight simulators where you can try your hand at flying, a full sized replica of the very first Spitfire prototype and more. Much more.

Bletchley Park

Pigeons at War tells the heroic role that pigeons played during periods of war.

Bruntingthorpe Proving Ground

Bruntingthorpe Aerodrome is home to the Cold War jet collection including a Victor, Hunter, Canberra, Comet, Lightning, Starfighter, Mystere, Sea Vixen, Buccaneer, Jet Provost, Super Guppy, Iskra and Jaguar. The latest aircraft to join the museum fleet is a Nimrod MR2 which joined us in April 2010 straight from the RAF.

Shuttleworth Old Warden Park July Evening Airshow

Prior to the display, visitors have the opportunity to take to the air in a real vintage aircraft – choose from a Tiger Moth flight, or sightseeing trip in a 1930s Dragon Rapide airliner, and at some of the shows we may have the T6 Harvard available.

South Yorkshire Aircraft Museum

Military Aircraft collection from propeller training aircraft to Mach 2 Jet fighters. Historic 60 year old RAF buildings including Bellman aircraft hangar and authentic wooden RAF huts. Commercial Light Aircraft Collection.

Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Visitor Centre

The Battle of Britain Memorial Flight operates a Lancaster, five Spitfires, two Hurricanes, two Chipmunks, and a Dakota. A partnership between Lincolnshire County Council and the Royal Air Force makes it possible to view these historic aircraft at their base at RAF Coningsby.

Brookman's Park VORCan you help me decide where to go?

I’m sure there’s lots of interesting places to go but it is hard to find out about them! One of the best days out I’ve had was at the Secret Nuclear Bunker and I only found that because I happened to walk past a sign for it.

I also enjoyed getting a peek at Brookman’s Park VOR (BPK) but I’d prefer to see one legally, really. Without being chased off by cows.

I’m pretty open-minded about what’s a good day out but it’s so hard to tell from guide books and websites. If you have any experience of the places on my list, can you let me know what you think. I would really like some personal recommendations to help me prioritise.

Also, please, if you know an interesting location to visit, preferably easily accessible by public transport as I am planeless at the moment, please drop me a line or leave me a note in the comments. Off the beaten track is just fine!

I promise to submit a full report after I visit!

07 May 2010

November 666 Echo X-ray, Do You Read?

(Something from the archives: a 2008 post about Air Traffic Service Units in the UK and my native ability to talk too much. I’ll be back with fresh content next week.)

Air/Ground Radio Airfields with A/G Radio offer an information service with a radio operator who are not licensed and not under close CAA supervision. They identify themselves by saying the airfield name followed by the word radio. It could just be a guy on a mobile radio with no other support. They will offer a basic information service and report known traffic to you.

“Enstone, this is November 666 Echo X-ray.”

No response. I frowned.

“Enstone Radio, this is November 666 Echo X-ray, radio check.”

It had been a chaotic day and we were late leaving. And now that finally everyone was bundled up into the plane and ready to go, the youngster on the radio wasn’t responding. Technically, I didn’t have to request permission to start but it’s generally the polite thing to do. The last time I flew from this airfield, the chap called me just as I was entering the runway to let my know my son had left his bookbag in the cafeteria. Service like that is invaluable and so I didn’t like to risk upsetting anyone but it was frustrating to be sitting here waiting on someone who’d walked away from the mike.

I called a third time, no response. Had he gone for a cup of tea or what? Cliff frowned at me and I shrugged. I decided to try once more. This fourth call elicited a response: a confused voice came back over the radio.

“Are you talking to me?”

I winced. Who was playing with the radio, for god’s sake? That’s when Cliff’s mum piped up from the backseat.

“I don’t understand why you are saying Enstone Radio,” she said.

I started to snap back an answer when it sunk in. We were at Bembridge on the Isle of Wight. I’d been flying in and out of Enstone the previous week and we’d be landing there today but right now? We weren’t talking to them.

“Bembridge, this is November 666 Echo X-ray, request, uh … geography check.”

I could hear the relieved laughter as he responded. “November 666 Echo X-ray, confirmed, you are parked just outside of my window.”

“Thanks for that. Request start.”

“Nothing to affect,” he told me and we were finally on our way.

Flight Information Service Airfields with FIS are an information air traffic support unit staffed by licensed Flight Information Service Officers. They identify themselves by saying the airfield name followed by the word Information. Their function is to assist pilots to operate safely by offering a traffice service and helping with information regarding weather and aerodrome details.

The tricky thing about Information stations is how they let you know what you should be doing without ever actually telling you what to do.

“Shobdon, this is November 666 Echo X-ray, inbound to you.”

“November 666 Echo X-ray, this is Shobdon Information, go ahead.”

“November 666 Echo X-ray is a PA32 inbound to you, I’m looking to join the circuit downwind for runway 09, right hand.”

The response was immediate. “November 666 Echo X-ray we have three in the circuit, recommend an overhead join.”

I had already descended to 1,300 feet, too low for the manoeuvre that he was referring to, flying over the runway and then descending on the dead side. I also couldn’t see the point, I was perfectly set up to simply turn right and join the circuit in another mile.

He repeated the call. “November 666 Echo X-ray, recommend an overhead join.”

As I continued towards the airfield, I felt frustrated and confused: the advice that the Officer was giving me didn’t make sense. I didn’t like to argue with him, however, and I had to admit it wouldn’t make that much difference to me.

“November 666 Echo X-ray is climbing to 2,300 feet for overhead join.”

A moment later, it suddenly clicked. I was saying Runway 09 but I had been heading for the join for Runway 27, that is, the same runway going the opposite direction. I couldn’t possibly join downwind from my present position which is why he wanted me up and out of the way of his traffic.

I went overhead and joined downwind from a sensible position, much to the relief of Shobdon Information.

Air Traffic Control Airfields with an ATC service have an active control tower staffed by air traffic controllers and are under close CAA supervision. Only ATC are authorised to issue clearances. They identify themselves by saying the airfield name followed by their function (Ground, Tower, Approach, Director, Radar). They offer a variety of services including control, flight information and traffic.

The flight from Guernsey to Alderney was only notable in its simplicity: it took longer to get everyone into the plane than it did to make the journey. Only as we landed did it get hectic.

“Backtrack and exit at Alpha.”

I always feel a faint Top Gun thrill at phrases like that which sound so complicated but I now know are simple. “Wilco” I said with a knowing nod.

Except that having spun the plane around, I couldn’t find Alpha. There was a bit of a turn-in on my right but it disappeared into grass and with the wet weather I was worried about taking a wrong turn and getting stuck in the mud. I grabbed for my plate with a map of the airfield.

“Turn right,” said an impatient voice on the radio. “And expedite, I’ve got another one coming in.” Two planes at the airfield at once, this must be a veritable traffic jam by Alderney standards. I bit my lip and turned the plane right onto the grass and paused.

“Carry on,” said the voice again. “Straight ahead, between the two markers. I take it you’ve never been here before?”

“Affirm,” I said in my best professional pilot voice. Followed by “Sorry,” blowing away any semblance of radio competence.

“Just carry on straight. And expedite!”

Finally the map and the ground in front of me clicked into place, I wondered if the air traffic controller could see the small light bulb appearing over the cockpit as I made my way to the parking area. I had just chosen a nice easy spot to park when the voice came back.

“Pull forward to the blue markers, then face south and then west.”

I frowned as I pulled forward, was he trying to make it difficult?

“Which way is south,” I hissed at Cliff as I fumbled to get the map out again.

“Turn left,” he said. I turned then tried to picture a map in my head. If I am facing south then I’m looking towards Texas. California is west and on my right. Got it! I opened my eyes and looked around. “So west is to the right now, right?”

Cliff sighed at me. “Just use the Directional Indicator?”

I blushed and turned the plane until the DI pointed west.

“Just park there,” said the voice. The other plane had landed and radio silence descended. It would probably be at least an hour before they see any further traffic. I shut the engine down.

Military Air Traffic Zones It goes without saying that you should be unfailingly polite to any controller who has fighter jets to back him up. In the UK, the pilot should contact the controller either 15 nautical miles or 5 minutes flying time from a military boundary, whichever is sooner, requesting penetration. To enter the central area (Aerodrome Traffic Zone) you must receive permission and comply with the controller’s instructions.

My first run-in with the military was actually in France.

We had landed at an airfield for refuelling but they were having technical difficulties and informed us that they would not be able to offer fuel for the rest of the day. A quick glance at book showed us another airfield on route that listed AVGAS 100L and so we jumped into the plane and went straight there, plotting the route as we went.

“Cognac, this is November 666 Echo X-ray.”

“November 666 Echo X-ray, pass your message.”

“November 666 Echo X-ray is a PA32 inbound to you, currently 20 miles to your NW at 4,000 feet, request airfield information and joining instructions.”

There was a brief pause.

“November 666 Echo X-ray can you state your intentions.”

“We’re inbound to you for refuelling.”

“November 666 Echo X-ray are you aware that this is a military airfield?”

“Oh. Uh, no. Negative. I was not aware.”

“November 666 Echo X-ray I say again, can you state your intentions?”

I bit my lip but silence seemed likely to get a missile aimed in my direction.

“Er, I intend to ask your advice on where we could go for refuelling in the local area?”

The controller was perfectly friendly about it, verifying that I was not in an emergency before recommending that I fly direct to Angouleme and even offering me a heading and a flight information service directly to the airfield. Anything, I guess, to keep me out of his zone.

Using the radio professionally has become an essential requirement in the modern aviation environment. Radio provides the interface between you and others, especially the Air Traffic Service Unit (ATSU) whose frequency you are using. You will make life more comfortable for yourself (and others) if you can use the radio efficiently.

The Air Pilot’s Manual: Radiotelephony for the Private Pilot’s Licence

When I first started my PPL, I was told that I had a real knack for using the radio. Getting my radio licence was the easiest part of the entire training. Little did I know that in the meantime, I would manage to mess up speaking to every different type of Air Traffic Service Unit in existence.

05 February 2010

Why You Should Follow Me on Twitter

I spent last week in England, hoping to get a chance to fly the Saratoga and get current with my take-off and landings.

The one day that the plane was not available was Tuesday.

That was, of course, the only sunny day of the week. The rest of my time in England was spent watching the low clouds drift past and the rain fall in a long slow I-can-keep-this-up-forever drizzle which, by the end of the week, had shifted to snow.

When I saw the sunshine, I thought perhaps it would last a while. As I couldn’t fly, I thought I’d take advantage of the weather and explore the countryside. I took my iPhone and a raincoat and made my way outside. I sent messages to Twitter about my adventures as I went. Here’s the transcript of my no-fly day which turned out both more and less interesting than I expected.

Walking along the somewhat sodden trail of the Essex Way, I wasn’t sure where I was going.

I meandered along through a small village, sending scenes from my phone, hoping that I wouldn’t get lost.

Then I found this sign and I knew I had a purpose. I turned left at the junction and walked on, expecting to see a secret bunker just around the corner. But it didn’t appear and I found a number of junctions without sign posts. I was pretty sure I was lost.

I sent a message to Twitter that I was giving up.

I decided to walk to the next village and see if I could find a taxi. I had walked 6.5 kilometres (3 miles) in total and I couldn’t face walking straight back. I was feeling footsore and depressed when finally I found another sign at the roadside.

I’d found it!

There was a paved road curving through the fields. It looked like it might be a bit of a trek but I felt renewed at having finally found the place. It would be silly for me to turn back now.

But almost immediately, there was a new obstacle.

I posted the photograph with a plea for the Internet:

Help me out. Am I going to get shot at if I continue?

The general consensus was that I should carry on – after all, the big sign definitely said open. I had walked so far, it really seemed a shame to turn back now with nothing to show for it. I carried on.

I walked for another kilometre, past a paintball complex and through the carpark with a high tower on it that didn’t look super-secret to me.

The carpark was muddy and empty but then I saw two cars parked at the side, so I felt a bit more confident. There was a trail with signs saying This Way and then another sign on an unlocked gate saying Open!

So I continued. Finally I found it – a little farmhouse in the countryside, innocent as could be.

From a distance, it was a simple small bungalow hidden amongst the trees. Well, except for the tanks parked in the garden shed and a notice on the front steps:

“Welcome to the ex Government Regional HQ, the home of the Central Government in time of nuclear war.”

There were signs saying to come on in, take a wand, take the tour. As I walked into the building, it was clearly an unmanned entrance but everything was set up to make the instructions very clear. Take a wand and take the tour! Once you pass through this door, you MUST have a wand. Adults should take a red wand and listen to it!

I took a wand and listened to the soundtrack and walked through the door. I saw a new set of signs warning me that I was now committing myself to £6.50 entrance fee, to be paid at the exit. No credit cards. No exceptions. You are on CCTV, we know what you look like! Don’t think you can get away with it (and do you have a wand? You need a wand!)

I nervously checked my wallet to make sure I had £6.50 in change and waved at the camera.

I stared down the long concrete tunnel taking me down while I listened to the information on the wand. The bunker was built in 1952 and was meant to ensure the government’s survival in the event of a nuclear war. There were iron bunk beds pushed again the wall and radiation readers and gas masks – it truly looked like something directly out of Fallout 3. The tunnel, 120m long, led to the ground floor which was actually 80 foot below the the ground. It was as I reached this part of the tour that I began to suspect something was wrong. The initial lights and displays were on and there was a radio broadcasting METARS from main cities all over Europe. But this next section was dark. I hovered a bit, listening to the wand and looking for sensors that might put the lights on, and then I lost my nerve and ran up the stairs. My plan was to go straight to the exit and find out if there actually was someone collecting the entrance fees and watching the camera, someone who could verify that I was allowed to be there.

I found a canteen, lights on, and a sign asking people to put their money into the honesty box and leave their wands in a box on the counter. As I looked around, a young man came into the room and stared at me.

“What are you doing here?”

“I, um, I was doing the tour. But then some of the lights were off.”

“The lights,” he repeated. Then he spoke very slowly, as if speaking to a mad woman. Or to an American, which many Brits believe to be the same thing. “The lights are off because we are closed. There was a sign at the road saying that we are closed on Tuesdays.”

“Right, well, there was also a sign that said open.”

“Next to the sign that made it clear that we are closed on Tuesdays.” He raised his eyebrows in a way that said, surely I wasn’t going to argue that this was false?

“Right.” I smiled in what I hoped was a conciliatory manner. “So I’ll just, um, leave the wand with you and be on my way.”

“Yes,” he said. And just in case I hadn’t understood. “Because we are closed. It’s Tuesday.”

“Tuesday. Closed. Right.” I handed him the wand and fled.

He followed me to the exit and I updated the people watching on Twitter.

Bunker was definitely interesting. Also definitely closed. I was escorted off the premises.

I followed the path back to the main road and walked on until I found a pub, where I collapsed quietly and drank an ale called “Bitter and Twisted” until my feet stopped aching. And then I phoned Cliff and begged him to pick me up.

I sent one last message to reassure the people who had followed my adventures that I wasn’t in trouble.

And then I fell asleep.

The little bit of the bunker that I explored was fascinating and I will definitely be going back. There were also signs about a £5.00 licence to take photographs indoors, so next time I will take my Nikon with me for decent shots.

You can read more about the Kelvedon Hatch Secret Nuclear Bunker on the RGHQ 5.1 Official Website and, as of March 1st, they’ll be open every day. I’m looking forward to taking Connor to explore it – but probably not on a Tuesday. Just to be safe.

And if you want to follow my next adventure in realtime, just add me on Twitter as akaSylvia.

27 November 2009

Stick in the Mud

Shobdon Airfield started as Pembridge Landing Ground, a long strip in an isolated area used to support Army manoeuvres. In 1942 it was upgraded to “a proper airfield” by the military.

Shaun McGuire has made a website dedicated to the Hereford Parachute Club at Shobdon and has reprinted an article found in Action Stations 3, The Airfields which tells the history of the airfield:

The first visitor after the new airfield opened on May 28, 1942 was a Grumman Martlet which forced-landed whilst on a flight from Yeovilton to Donibristle on June 20. A few days later two Canadian Spitfires landed after getting lost on a cross-country flight. On July 14 the first aircraft to be based – a Lysander – was delivered by an ATA pilot, followed by two dismantled Hotspur gliders brought by road.

I was flying to Shobdon on a whim. Its location on the border of England and Wales meant I was likely to get some lovely views and the attached café had a good reputation. At the time, I didn’t think to look at the history of the airfield, or else I might have seen this:

Shobdon’s grass surfaces on which the gliders usually landed were muddy and unserviceable and half the runway width was unusable because of re-surfacing work.

I was blissfully unaware that the airfield had a reputation for mud when I planned a day trip to Shobdon and back, I was just pleased I could conveniently get my three take-offs and landings in a single afternoon.

Shobdon has a hard runway, over 2,700 feet of asphalt, so I wasn’t particularly interested in the state of their grass. I felt much more prepared than I usually was, as I’d met someone at my local flying club who knew the airfield well.

“Keep a good look out,” he told me. “You get the fighter jets over-flying the place without bothering to talk to anyone. Check the noise abatement procedure, it’s a wide circuit there. And always, always watch the other planes: they have two overhead join procedures: one for locals and one for people who know what an overhead join is.”

He also told me that air-to-ground was “intermittent” so I wasn’t concerned at the radio silence when I approached the airfield later that afternoon. It was quiet, no other planes in the air and no sign of military activity. I landed without any excitement and head over to the clubhouse to get some lunch.

It seemed a nice enough place – the café was tidy and the people were friendly. I got lost looking for the restrooms and ended up in room at the back which seemed the epitome of a Victorian gentlemen’s lounge: wood panelled walls, dark green furniture, varnished tables with crystal ashtrays large enough to hold a cigar or two. I felt quite guilty being in there, an intruder in a masculine world that I’d only ever read about. I backed out nervously before anyone caught me touching the velvet curtains.

A friendly woman in a small wooden cubicle accepted my landing fee and commented what a lovely day it had been and how lucky I was. The week before had been miserable, she told me, non-stop rain. I chatted to her for a bit and then made my way back to the plane.

It was lunchtime and the café had just begun to fill. I’d seen a table full of old airmen, no doubt telling tall tales of the type I love to hear – but I needed to get back home. I settled for a quick cup of coffee at the table next to them. One day I will learn to appreciate tea – after all these years in the UK, you’d think I’d have acquired a taste for it.

I rushed back onto the apron and started up the plane. There was still no one on the radio so I did my calls blind. I was meandering along the taxi-way when I belatedly noticed the sign: “No power checks beyond this point!” I looked around. No other planes were moving. I turned the plane hard to the right so that it was somewhat vaguely into wind and started my checks on the spot.

When I went to turn back onto the taxiway I realised I hadn’t left myself any room to make the turn, I was going to have to enter the grass runway which ran alongside the taxiway. But in that case, I thought, why not just cross the grass and head directly to the asphalt. The radio was silent, no one was coming in, it wasn’t like I was going to be causing any inconvenience.

I made the call and pulled onto the grass. The plane bumped forward and then slowed to a crawl over the uneven ground, losing momentum. I pushed in the throttle but it seemed I was too slow, the plane stopped moving. I increased the power again and then once more. It took a moment before it sank in: I was at full throttle and the plane wasn’t moving. I bit my lip, shut down the engine and clambered out of the plane.

"Didn't anyone tell you?"

There was no denying it, I was stuck. There was a 3-foot long furrow in the mud. I closed my eyes, I could almost hear the swearing of the future gliders landing on that runway.

At the end of the rut was my nose wheel, covered in mud and dug into the grass. The propeller had bright green streaks all around the edges. If I’d managed to go any deeper, I would have probably taken out the prop but luckily, no damage was done. Except that I needed to get the plane off of the grass somehow.

Help appeared rather rapidly, a plane shutting down perpendicular to the taxiway and runways has that effect. A friendly, sturdy looking guy came out from wherever he had been working to see what had happened.

“The grass runway isn’t usable after the weather we’ve had,” one said, looking at the plane. “It’s a bit muddy out there.” Yeah, I’d noticed. I showed him the nose wheel and he grimaced. Others arrived and a moment later there were four of them in a circle around the Saratoga, shaking their heads at the mess I’d gotten myself into. I stayed on the periphery, they looked like they’d spent their life around planes and were probably taking them to pieces while I was still hoping I’d grow tall enough to be a stewardess. I didn’t think they’d appreciate my input and I didn’t have a chance of getting the plane out without them.

“She’s stuck, all right.”
“If she used full power, couldn’t she…”
“No way, look how close her prop is to the ground already.”

I couldn’t help nodding furiously in agreement every time someone vetoed the “full power and press on” theory.

“Can we push her?” They circled around the plane. I was pretty sure that the female pronoun referred to the plane, not me. I checked to make sure no one was shoving a part of the plane that shouldn’t be shoved, then positioned myself at the nose to heave on the count of three.

The Saratoga rocked backwards and then hit the side of the ridge and lurched forwards again, comfortable in its rut. We could push it out, if we could follow the muddy crevasse I’d created exactly. As it was, we weren’t creating the momentum to push the nose wheel out and over the rut. Even with six of us, it was not enough.

One of the men looked as if he might mention the full power theory again but my new friend who had taken charge spoke first. “We’re going to have to tow her out.”

I didn’t have a clue what this would entail and how this would work. In the end, I simply admitted my helplessness. “I guess I’m not much help.” I got a tolerant smile as a response. I took a chance. “Would it be OK if I took a few photographs of you pulling the plane out?

We don't need no stinking tractor

Luckily they were a friendly bunch; they grinned at me, happy to be captured on film as they rescued this damsel in distress. A battered Landrover was quickly sourced to tug the plane out backwards. They affixed the rope to what we all thought was a tow point on the back of the plane. I later discovered the handy loop was actually for tying the plane down – to my dismay I discovered that the handbook specifically warns against using it to tow. It’s probably a good thing that I didn’t know this while the men positioned themselves: one at the nose of the plane, one at each wing, one in the Landrover and one to stand with the rope. On the count of three, the men shoved, the driver revved carefully and the Saratoga shuddered gently before majestically lifting up and over the rut and then rolling smoothly back to the taxiway. The Landrover towed her back to the sign: “No power checks beyond this point!”

From there it was easy. I thanked them all profusely and did a quick walk-around. Everything looked fine, even the tie-down point. I got into my plane and flew back home, impressed at how friendly everyone had been. I made a mental note to come back to Shobdon … in the summer, after it’s had a chance to dry out.

16 October 2009

Short Circuit

It’s been a while since the day I missed the runway at Oxford Airport. I’ve done a lot more flying and I’m a lot more competent. But my first near-miss (no damage was done except the loss of a runway light) is not an incident I’m likely to forget in a hurry.

The Saratoga is fast in the circuit and if it’s busy, I spend half my time trying not to sneak up on the 152s pottering along downwind like a Sunday driver in a tweed cap.

On that fateful day, I was thrilled to see that Oxford circuit was nice and quiet: there was a touch of a crosswind which meant that most of the students were grounded for the day.

I spoke to a friendly instructor at PFT who confirmed that it was fine for circuits, just not optimal for new flyers who were still trying to get their confidence up. I’d done crosswind landings in much worse weather so I wasn’t very concerned.

It was a beautiful day, brilliant blue skies and clear views of the Cotswolds below me. I hummed to myself as I zipped around the circuit a few times. I knew there was a crosswind and I was taking it into account but I wasn’t particularly worried.

Except then I missed the runway.

I’m still not quite sure what happened. I called final as I bore down towards the threshold. The approach was a little bit messy but tolerable; I decided to carry on. I pulled up as I reached the transition point and noticed a slight float.

I considered full power and going round as I knew the plane would lose speed fast and she could be a pig to land. Then I felt her begin to sink back to the ground and I thought, “No, this is fine, I’ll land it.”

Nose up, wheels about to touch, everything seemed OK. Then I blinked. Where did the runway go?

I was lined up perfectly but 10 feet to the left of the numbers. There was no time left: I touched down with the left wheel on the grass and the right on the runway, the nose wheel bumping along the edge.

There must have been a slight gust of wind that shifted me sideways as the plane was low and slow. I steered back onto the runway and vacated at the first opportunity.

Once parked, I crawled under the plane to see if the tyres and connecting bits looked normal. It slowly began to dawn on me that, although I looked at the underside of this plane every flight, I didn’t actually feel that confident about how it all hung together and whether it still looked right.

Ben, an instructor who I’d flown with previously, happened to be in Oxford that day and walked out to the plane. “ATC just phoned. You took out a runway light. Are you OK?”

“I’m fine, I just don’t know about the plane.”

“Go to Operations and apologise. I don’t know if they will charge you or if it’s covered on their insurance or what. They want to talk to you. Take responsibility. Afterwards I can help you find someone to check it out.”

Luck was with me: while I was waiting to cower before a random air traffic controller, I saw Mark, the engineer who services the plane.

“Hey, good to see you flying, no time to chat, I’m on my way to Brittany,” he said as he rushed past me.

“I broke the Saratoga,” I said. He froze mid-step. I knew he would.

“Come on, show me.”

He looked it over, shook his head at a nick in the nose wheel, then pronounced the plane airworthy. “But watch that tyre, we need to get that fixed soon. Look at it after every landing, if you see any spreading or fraying, stay on the ground and call me.”

I was amazed he has that sort of faith in me; deep-down I felt that I had proven that I was still a student, not to be trusted with responsibility. I nodded seriously and he smiled at me. “It happens. You must have come down soft, those lights crack easy, they don’t want there to be any resistance. The nick happened after the light cracked and you rolled over it.”

A couple of pilots were standing around me now, I re-iterated what happened, no one seemed to think I deserved my licence ripped out of my hands. “It happens.”

“Plane’s in one piece, you’re in one piece, well done,” a man with a Scottish accent said with a pat on my shoulder.

I almost smiled.

I still had my apologies to do, though. I went to the man in Operations to tell him what happened.

“Where?”

“Just past the numbers. Left side.” It seemed important to me that he knew I was landing on the numbers, even if I was, well, off-set a bit.

“Just a second. ” He called ATC, nodded a few times and hung up.

“It’s OK,” he told me. “They’ve already cleared it up.”

I blinked at him. I wasn’t actually offering to dash out to the runway to clean it up with a bucket and a broom. “Oh. Good.” I wasn’t sure where to go from there.

“There might be a bill. Never had this happen before.” I winced as he tutted at me. “Anyway, we’ll let you know. Taking her up again for more circuits?”

I shook my head. I’d had enough for one day. What I really needed was a stiff drink. It wasn’t that I always landed perfectly but, if it looked questionable, I’d always gone around. This was my first truly bad landing.

“Plane’s in one piece, you’re in one piece.” I recited the words to myself as I walked away. At the end of the day, I knew I was lucky.

25 September 2009

Brookman’s Park VOR (BPK)

I shouldn’t have hopped the fence.

It was shut with a big padlock and surrounded by barbed wire so I can’t exactly claim that I hadn’t noticed it.

Locked
But I’d walked such a long way – 5 miles! – just to take some photographs for my blog, it seemed such a shame to give up at the last hurdle. There was no one else there so it wasn’t like I was getting in anyone’s way. And it wasn’t like there was anyone to tell me off – just me and some cows off in the distance.

I didn’t know that they were guard cattle.

But let me start at the beginning…

Brookmans Park is a small village in Hertfordshire, population 3,475. There isn’t much exciting to say about the place: the locals are friendly, the Indian restaurant is divine, the village green is pleasant in nice weather.

However, pilots who fly around southeast England will recognise the name as home to the Brookmans Park VOR (BPK) which is used by aircraft flying in and out of the London area.

When I found out that I was going to be trapped visiting family staying locally for a few days, I immediately thought of BPK and wondered if I could actually visit a VOR and find out what they look like.

A VOR (VHF Omni-directional Radio) beacon is a navigational aid which broadcasts on a specific radio frequency in such a way that a pilot can get a bearing from the VOR to her aircraft.

Patrick Flannigan has a better explanation of this on Aviation Chatter: How VORs Really Work and you can even test it out yourself on his VOR / ADF Navigation Simulator.

If you want to know the detail, the Wikipedia article on VORs is probably the best single reference:VHF omnidirectional range

You can also read about how pilots use VOR’s on Plastic Pilot’s guide: Flying VORs For Dummies

Path to Brookman's Park VOR
It turned out that the Brookman’s Park VOR is not actually located in the village but a few miles east near Epping Green. The weather was glorious and I needed an excuse to get out of the house thought a walk would do me good, so I made my way there, walking along the country roads and enjoying the mild weather.

I used a hand-held GPS and reached the location after about 2 hours gentle strolling.

That’s when I discovered that the VOR was in a field, surrounded by a fence with two padlocked gates.

Fence around Brookman's Park VOR
It seemed so sad. I could see the field and the VOR and a herd of cattle grazing in the distance. I considered my situation for a few moments and then convinced myself that the fence was merely to keep the cattle in, surely not to keep me out. Besides, I wasn’t going to do any harm. I just wanted a closer look at the VOR.

So I clambered over the fence with my camera in hand.

Brookman's Park VOR
The ground was firm beneath my feet and the sun warmed my shoulders. A light breeze carried the scent of freshly-cut grass to me. The bird song was only interrupted by the roar of the engines overhead. If I had any chance of forgetting my purpose in coming to this lovely location, the air traffic would make sure I was reminded.

Jet Traffic into London
I was taught to avoid routing directly overhead popular VORs and VRPs when flying VFR as it is simply concentrating the traffic into a single place but I haven’t thought about in a long time. This was the first time I had a visual.

There was never any question of danger, the separation was more than enough but it did feel a bit like Grand Central Station above my head as various low planes from all directions flew straight towards the VOR.

Traffic Overhead
I admit it: I regularly plug a route into the GPS, jumping from VOR to VOR in a dot-to-dot pattern to ensure I don’t get lost. Max Trescott recently wrote about flight safety and indentifying local hotspots and standing at the VOR, I could see exactly what he meant.

This was one.

Despite the traffic, it was a pastoral scene, the golden colours of September all around me, the cattle lowing and a blackbird singing in the distance. I walked closer to the VOR.

It was much bigger than I expected. I stepped around the cow pats and peered up at the phased array antenna. BPK looked both old-fashioned and futuristic, like something I might see in a 1950s sci-fi film.

Close-up of Brookman's Park VOR
I walked up to the fencing surrounding the structure and began talking close-up photographs when I realised that the cows were getting louder.

The two clumps of cattle I’d seen off in the distance had joined forces and come to deal with the intruder.

Of course, I didn’t realise this immediately. I simply thought that they happened to be wandering my way. I took a few more photographs, thinking the juxaposition of the cattle and the VOR would make for an interesting contrast.

Curious Cattle
The cows kept on coming. Now in my defence, I’m very much a city girl. I grew up in Los Angeles where there is not a lot of wildlife to be found, unless you count pigeons.

So I still did not realise that there was an issue. I thought the cows were interesting and I was pleased for the great opportunity for some nature shots. I looked for a clean bit of grass and knelt down, taking a few more photographs before I realised …

Attack Cattle
…that they were coming after me.

I smiled nervously and gave the cows a little wave. This had no effect at all. I decided that perhaps I had outstayed my welcome. I assured them that I was on my way and that I hoped they had a pleasant afternoon.

I turned my back. Mistake. Never turn your back on a herd of guard cows.

I heard the trotting of running cattle behind me.

I spun around and they screeched to a halt, a few yards behind me, chewing in a melancholy way, pretending that they weren’t after me.

Killer Fast Running Attack Cattle
I turned to continue walking to the gate. I heard the hooves thud against the grass. I whirled towards them and they stopped again, blinking innocently.

I began walking backwards, keeping an eye on what I now knew were killer attack cattle, ready to defend the VOR against all intruders.

They stumbled forward, slowly closing the gap between us. When I felt the cool touch of shade of the trees, I knew I was close to the gate. I turned around and made a run for it.

Cattle at the Fence
I had no idea I was capable of hopping a fence in a single bound but I’m glad for it.

The cows clustered at the fence and stared at me. They didn’t make a sound but the message was clear:

AND STAY OUT
“AND STAY OUT.”

I assured the guard cattle that I had every intention of respecting fences in the future. Then I edged my way backwards until I was safe on the main road and I made my way back to civilisation.

And people tell me General Aviation is dangerous!

18 September 2009

Spirit of North Weald

The 13th of September was a Fly-In and Community Day at North Weald in Essex and I had the good fortune to be in the area.

Fun for All the Family

The airshow featured F16 Fighters of 132 Wing Royal Norwegian Air Force, who flew in from their base at Bodø, north of the Arctic Circle. They returned to the Wing’s Second World War home, to commemorate the 65th Anniversary of the “birth of today’s Norwegian Air Force” and celebrate their close bond with the local community since 1942.

13th September 2009 – Spirit of North Weald Community Day Fly-in | North Weald Airfield History

There was no landing fee for the day so the place was packed, aircraft parking went right the way down the field. Many of North Weald’s regular visitors, including aircraft from the RAF’s 72 (Reserve) Squadron flew in so there was a wealth of interesting planes to coo at. Unfortunately, N666EX was in the hanger for maintenance.

In FormationAs we arrived there were four planes on the runway, taking off one after the other. We watched the some impressive formation flying by this group of Bulldogs and a Pup. G-IPUP, G-JWCM, XX630, and a fourth plane (whose registration I missed) circled North Weald offering for plenty of photo opportunities.

According to my flyer, the Norwegians were represented by: Norwegian Air Force Chief of Air Staff, Major General Stein Erik Nodeland, Brigadier Per-egi Rygg the Commander of 132 Wing and 5 Norwegian veterans who flew from here in WWII, along with the Mayor and community representatives from the City of Bodø.

The real guests of honour were a group of Norwegian veterans who were stationed in North Weald during the second World War. They boarded the Falcon to be escorted by the two F16s for a circle of the airfield and then back home to Bodø. One of them made the comment that it was sad to think it would be the last time he would be flying from North Weald as he had many fond memories of the place.

Norwegian AirforceThe Norwegian Airforce attended with two F16s, a Falcon and a de Havilland Vampire. I fell a little bit in love with the Vampire. The pilots were pretty cute, too.

F16The F-16 is a single-engined, supersonic, dog-fighting aircraft designed to be flown VFR. I like to think that I could fly one if I was given a chance to sit in the front seat. To be honest, I’d probably just sit there staring in awe if they did let me climb in. It took them quite some time to prepare the F-16s for flight. Meanwhile, we had a fly-over, Battle of Britain style.

Incoming!

“The distinctive silhouette imparted by the wing planform helped the Spitfire to achieve legendary status during the Battle of Britain. Despite a public perception that it was the RAF fighter of the battle, the more numerous Hurricane actually shouldered a greater proportion of the burden against the Luftwaffe.”

Lucky us, we had both a Hurricane and a Spitfire. Now I have to admit, I can’t tell the difference between the two. Luckily, they flew so low that I could easily see the registration and identify the planes that way.

The lower plane on the left is LF 363, Hurricane (Mk IIc) which was believed to be the last Hurricane to enter service in the RAF. LF 363 currently wears the colours of Hurricane Mk1 P3878 ‘YB-W’, the aircraft of Flying Officer Harold Bird-Wilson of No 17 Squadron during the Battle of Britain.

Goodbye, Spitfire

The grey plane is P5915, a Supermarine Spitfire. They were so close and so fast, it was difficult to train the camera on them, let alone get an in-focus shot. I have a few more misses than clear shots but I was very pleased with this one of the Spitfire as he passed straight by me before they flew off into the distance.

On the SpotMeanwhile, the engines had started on the F16s and they started rolling away.

I heard later that there was some damage to the runway. Apparently, the first F16 to take off heated up the tarmac to melting point and then the second one lifted the surface.

SpectatorsThe original briefing was was to do two fly-by’s of the airfield, flying out to Brookman’s Park VOR and back before escorting the Fan Jet Falcon back to Norway. Unfortunately, there seemed to be some issues with getting clearance from Stansted.

The F16s had to stay under 1,500 feet which is a lot lower than it sounds when 17,000 kilos of machinery are flying past!

Falcon taking the Norwegians back home

Can you imagine being an Easyjet pilot flying into Stansted as these planes thundered below you?

F16 and VampireIt’s hard to portray the speed with which the F16s hurtled past us. F-16 pilots must go through special training to deal with the high-G effects.

The US Air Force has lost 12 pilots and 16 aircraft to gravity-induced loss of consciousness (GLOC).

F-16 Fighting Falcon:

Sharp turns can induce loss of consciousness when gravity pulls blood toward the lower extremities, carrying oxygen away from the brain. After about 5 seconds of pressure, vision is progressively lost from peripheral vision to central vision. When blood flow is allowed to resume, vision is smoothly and rapidly recovered. Cerebral failure and recovery is much less graceful and predictable . After about 5 seconds of blood flow stoppage to the brain, GLOC occurs suddenly and lasts from 10 to 30 seconds (average about 13 seconds). When consciousness is regained, it is usually accompanied by brief seizure-like activity and a period of confusion,which lasts about 12 seconds. During this 12 seconds, the aviator is unable to function effectively.

Vampire

The Norwegian Airforce de Havilland Vampire took off with the F16s and the Falcon but after the initial fly-by it broke away. The Falcon, escorted by the F16s, continued to the Brookman’s Park VOR and on to Norway. The Vampire circled the airfield giving us great views of one of the most beautiful planes I’ve ever seen. It was soon joined by a second Vampire which is based in North Weald. There are very few Vampires still flying so it was a great treat to see them flying past in formation.

Representatives of NorwayI got to see the Norwegian Vampire on the ground after the display – it had a Mickey Mouse sticker on the side and a Norwegian flag lying on the dash. I wasn’t sure which of these was the pilot but the way the man in green leaned on it like he owned it, I suspected he was the one that flew it.

Flying has taken place on North Weald’s still very active airfield since 1916; with more than 50 units from seven nations (UK, USA, Norway, New Zealand, Canada, Czechoslovakia and Poland) operating from RAF North Weald prior to the station’s closure in 1964. They hope to arrange a series of fly-ins at the airfields leading up to the 2012 Olympic, each featuring a nation who had squadrons based at North Weald.

A Different Type of PlaneThere was plenty to do on the ground. Part of the field was set up as a “village green” with a bouncy castle and rides and military displays. It was very much a family event, with kids of all ages having a good time with barely a glance to the sky. I also got to take a closer look at some very details model aircraft from the North Weald model flying club. I have only ever seen them in the distance, usually thinking “is that a plane?” before watching an impossible spiral climb and realising that it’s unlikely.

All in all, it was a wonderfully pleasant day out.

I took hundreds of photographs but I managed to narrow it down to my favourites on Flickr. So if you have a moment, take a peep at the full set of photographs so that I don’t feel quite so guilty for spending all week sorting through them: Spirit of North Weald – a set on Flickr

04 September 2009

On the Road Again

Summer is officially over: it’s time for Connor to go back to school. I hate September even more now than I did when I was a kid!

We’ll be heading off in the Saratoga on Sunday morning, taking off from Málaga (IFR as it’s the weekend) and flying 3.5 hours to in France. Just a quick break there for fuel and what my son calls “personal business” and then straight through from there to Shoreham.


View Malaga to Shoreham in a larger map

I wrote about Shoreham before but it could do with an update and maybe some photographs.

Destination: Shoreham

Shoreham Airfield

I’ll try to collect some interesting stories and photos for you while I’m away (but not TOO interesting, I hope!).

16 January 2009

Destination: Oban

I’m surprised to find out that I haven’t written a destination piece on Oban, one of my favourite airfields. In fact, I’ve only mentioned it once.

Update from Abroad, March 2008

We used Oban airfield instead which has recently undergone renovations and has a new 1,264m runway. It is a great airfield, easy to spot from miles away and as soon as we’d taxied off the runway, there were people coming out to help us unload the plane and organise a taxi. Very helpful and friendly. It was a quick trip from the airfield to the ferry where we sat in the bar and watched the mainland recede and the island come into view. A very comfortable trip, despite nasty 30 knot headwinds all the way in.

The location is stunning, the runway is a comfortable 1,264 metres long and the people are unfailingly polite and helpful. The airport (with fuel available seven days a week) is optimally placed for exploring the Hebrides and there is a B&B directly across the bridge which you can use as a base if you want to make an early start.

If you don’t want to make it a flying holiday, you are still well-placed in Oban with ferries to the local islands and well-connected by train.

But don’t take my word for it. Here’s a recent description of the airfield on PPRune:

What’s happening at Oban?

You cant beat the view from the airport at Oban on a nice sunny day! Either summer or winter the view is breath taking no matter which direction you look! Fantastic place to use as a base to explore further up the West coast and indeed to Inverness and the East travelling up the Great Glen. Fuel is available there which is in short supply once you leave the Central belt of Scotland!
The guys there are fantastic with nothing being too much trouble and if passing and fancy a quick stop I have called on the radio and never been refused a landing! There maybe a PPR rule but as with most things in aviation circumstances change and Oban Information seem to be very accommodating! One of the best airports I have visited!

My first flight into Oban was nerve-wracking due to the thousand-foot hill a mile to the north of the runway, that’s when I learned what a dog-leg was. Since then, I’ve been lucky enough to fly into 01, which makes for a simple straight-in approach, with a fairly gentle left turnout on a go-around.

Although we only stopped for a cup of tea (I’ve since been told that they offer Jammy Dodgers as standard, we missed out!), I am reliably informed that the nearby Lochnell Arms offer a good meal if you are looking for something more satisfying.

Note: Do not rely on other people to gather information for you – and for the love of safety don’t rely on my notes being correct for your flight! Always verify all details yourself.

Oban

Airfield: EGEO
Phone Number: 01631 710910 (Strictly PPR)
Hours: 09:00-18:00 GMT
Frequency: Oban Information 118.050 Mhz
Runway: 01/19 1264×30 Asphalt
Website: http://www.argyll-bute.gov.uk/content/roadsandtransport/planebranch/obanairport
Divert: Glasgow

Oban officially want a 3 hour PPR but we’ve never been turned down even when phoning a scant hour ahead. The landing fee of £15 is a wee bit steep so in future I intend to insist on a Jammy Dodger to defray my costs.

And if that hasn’t whetted your appetite, then take a look at this awesome collection of aerial shots from the South-West Highlands, one of the most beautiful places on earth.