Oxford to Birmingham

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Yesterday afternoon I flew from Oxford to Birmingham – and back again – as a passenger.  It’s always useful to sit in on others lessons to learn from their strengths/weaknesses and to also listen to the air traffic control.  There is a lot more  talk about in instrument flight and it’s taking some getting used to so I’ll take all the radio chatter I can get.  Another advantage of being a passenger on a training flight is that you can see!  England looks magnificent from the air, something that you miss when you’re the pilot because you’re behind the screens.

The prop looks pretty crazy on this picture of the left hand engine!

Birmingham director had us fly a 360 which took us over Coventry airport. A Swissair 146 landed before us and a Ryanair 737 afterwards.

No, nope. No-one has messed up my front lawn.

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OX-BOTLY-WCO-OX

The route I flew on Microsoft Flight Simulator in preparation for the real flight.

Yes I know I still need to write more about the flying I did in the States.  I can’t express well enough in written words how much I enjoyed the flying out there.  It was an incredible experience, even if there were many early mornings involved.  They were offset by the numerous breakfasts/lunches we had at the various airports we stopped at.  Instead of waiting to finish writing about flying in the States before writing about the flying in Oxford, I’ll just get on with it because if I don’t, it may never happen.

The majority of the flying in Goodyear was with reference to what you could see outside and a map.  It was a fun way to navigate: that mountain is there, that lake is just there and this road is just to my right, I’ll go this way.  In the built up areas of AZ this was an excellent way to navigate.  It was very easy to pick out the various town and other features to know where you were and which way you were going.  However, it became a little more tricky if all you had was a bumpy desert floor.  One small hill looked like another just west of it.  Which was the right one?  When flying at 30,000 feet or in cloud, the ground is either too far away to use for navigation references or you can’t see it.  That’s where radio navigation comes in.

Despite popular belief, it is sometimes possible to see the ground from the air in England (or to see the sky if you're looking up from the ground!). Since this is the case, it is necessary to use screens to ensure the trainee pilot cannot see out and so must fly with reference to their instruments.

Having an instrument rating qualifies you to navigate from one location to another with reference to instruments that receive signals from radio beacons.  In AZ, to know where I was going I had to be able to see the ground.  Now, with the help of these radio beacons I can takeoff from Oxford and navigate to another airport without seeing the ground again until I’m almost at the destination airport.  I haven’t done that just yet, but I will do.  Instead, I’ve just done routes around the Oxford area without going to other airports.

The route in the image at the top of this page started at EGTK, Kidlington airport.  I took off from Runway 19 and climbed ahead until about 1nm out.  I then turned right to heading 330 so I would head away from the NDB OX which is located to the right of Runway 19.  When about two miles from the beacon (measured using DME) I turned right again and headed straight to the beacon.  Once overhead, I intercepted a 161° course outbound towards a waypoint called BOTLY.  Waypoints can be anywhere and defined by a bearing and distance from one or more radio beacons.  BOTLY by definition is located at D43 (43nm as measured by DME) on the 161° radial from HON (Honiley) which is a VOR.  As you can see, I went into a holding* pattern once arriving at BOTLY.  This was a nice easy direct entry into the hold since I was arriving on the inbound leg.

After holding at BOTLY I departed to the north-east towards the Westcott NDB (WCO).  Here I went into the holding pattern again (left hand) this time using the ‘offset’ entry seeing as this time I wasn’t arriving on the inbound course of the hold.  Once done at WCO I headed back west to the OX to practice the NDB 100 procedure.  This is an arrival procedure used for locating the airport in low visibility conditions.  Some procedures will line you up with a runway and others will just locate the airport for you and then it’s your job to get to the active runway.  I’ll leave this here for now, I’ll be amazed if you stuck with me this far!  I flew this for real on Monday evening and it was a great experience.  I had forgotten how different flying was to using a simulator!  Simulators are great for practicing the procedures but they just don’t simulate the workload too well.  In the air you have constant radio chatter in your ear and an aircraft that just will not pause in mid air no matter how much you would like it to!

*Holds/holding patterns are used when you need to remain in the same place.  Since you can’t stop most aircraft once in the air, a holding pattern can be used to keep you in a safe place while you wait to receive clearance into an airport, diagnose a fault or setup for an approach.