Winter Operations

So here we are. Cut off at home due to the so-called “beast from the east” storm. Up here in Perthshire, it’s called “winter”…but we’re still kind of stuck:

I’ve just completed a run of four 12 hour day shifts, and flew for the grand total of zero minutes! This screenshot of the radar picture from shows the snow showers marching through on the strong easterly winds, and these forced us to keep the aircraft in the hangar.

If really needed it is faster to take the aircraft out of the hangar than it is to take off all the blanks, covers and blade tie-downs which are required if we leave it on the pad.

We got caught out in the last snow. OK, I got caught out, because I made the decision… a little snow shower passed through then the radar showed a nice gap, so we got the aircraft out onto the pad, went inside and put the kettle on. Ten minutes later it was hissing down with snow again.

The Flight Manual for the Eurocopter EC 135 T2+ has this handy section about de-icing the aircraft, and I quote:

“Place the aircraft in a warm hangar”

So that’s what we did. Eventually. It was so slippery that the tractor jack-knifed and was losing grip and steering. We ended up with a paramedic sitting on the tractor front to aid grip, one inside the aircraft to stop it tipping up, and two engineers (who don’t even work for us and are from a totally different company!) pushing on the skids. The aircraft didn’t come out again that shift and when I did the daily check in the evening it still had ice and snow on the roof. Maybe the hangar isn’t that warm after all!

Sometimes we DO get to go flying, and after the snowfall the views are fantastic. Here we are on the way north towards Aviemore and the Cairngorm Mountain ski resort…

…where we picked up an injured snowboarder (from Australia!) and flew her to Inverness for treatment.

The next photo take by Pete in the tower at Perth shows one of the hazards of operating a helicopter in fresh snow. The downwash kicks up the powder into a huge cloud which can then get sucked back down by the blades and recirculate, causing a white out, loss of visual references and disorientation and arriving on the ground in an uncontrolled manner, ending up in a “snotty heap” (Technical term).

Here’s Nigel demonstrating a higher than usual hover taxi height to reduce the threat. Military helicopters in hot places experience the same phenomenon, only out there it’s called brown-out and the cloud kicked up is slightly more abrasive – think sand blasting.

It can be a little boring sitting at work with the aircraft in the hangar. At least the paramedics have the response car so they can get out and do their job, but the pilot just has to check the weather and look at the snow showers.

Once it stops snowing though, the fun starts with the tractor and snowplough, clearing the apron area around the hangar so that we can operate from there if needed.

…although the drifting snow does tend to cover up things which are easily broken by snowplough blades. Oops.

The prolonged snow from this beast from the east thing has even got inside the Scottish Aero Club hangar. There are a few holes in the roof which don’t get noticed normally as the prevailing wind is from the other direction, but now the snow is coming right in. Perhaps we should fix the roof? Luckily the Eindecker is nowhere near one of the entry points so the open cockpit is not full of snow!

(Photo below by Sandy, LAA Engineering Inspector extraordinaire)

So it’s cold, it’s snowing, there hasn’t been much flying of any type and the aero club hangar leaks. But not to worry, spring is just around the corner…

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Stay warm!


Testing the Heater…

…also known as “First Flight of 2018” – on a bitterly cold day. Out of Perth towards the north west to take some pics of the hills and the snow.

Past Dunkeld and into the hills.

Memories of Sennybridge training area in Wales…lots of little rectangular woods there (although down there they are known as bivouac areas!)

North towards Aberfeldy…

Passing the “Griffin” wind farm.

The long straight “firebreak” is actually the pylon line running away from the wind farm.

Aberfeldy with the peak of Schiehallion  beyond.

And finally back to Perth, where there was no snow but still very cold. The heater stayed on max for the whole trip.

Still working on the best camera settings for photos through the canopy. Always learning.

Valrossen har en hink…

It’s Swedish. For “The Walrus has a bucket” – more about that quaint new year tradition later. It’s time for some flying pictures. Yay!

First, Blairgowrie, taken from the “sun shines on the righteous” series. I can see my old house from up here…

Next, Christmas Day at work last year – this year there was no snow and we went flying. Last year there was only snow…

…as you can see by the tracks, I had fun driving the tractor round the (closed) airfield!

Christmas presents. Socks are good but TOOLS are better. This magnetic extendable grabber tool thing has been sitting in the tool kit for two years, just waiting for the call to action. On the 27th during the pre-flight inspection I was checking the level of the oil and managed to drop the dipstick – it bounced down into the bottom of the engine. Rather than taking the bottom cowling off  (which would have taken about 30 seconds) it was finally time. I deployed the tool. It’s a really strong magnet and the first two attempts tried to retrieve the steel engine mount but the third was a success. Best Christmas present ever…

While the cowling was off I renewed the heat shielding for wiring to the ignition modules. The wires cross the top of the exhaust with about six inches clearance so better safe than sorry…

And then it was time for some new passengers for the aircraft. Amazingly, only two people had flown with me up to this point… Brenda and Rory.

Passenger 3 – Brenda’s daughter Ellie

…and Passenger 4, Ellie’s boyfriend Lewis.

Winter is great for photos, with low sun and long shadows. Most of these were taken on the phone camera.

I like the tree shadows in this one, right in the centre on the green field.

The only trouble with winter is the short daylight hours, we always have to head back to the barn before we want to.

A high wing aircraft would be better for photos, but for the moment, this one will do. Big adventures ahead in 2018.

Oh, and the walrus thing? That’s for some other time.




White Christmas!

In Sweden. Not Scotland. Random picture of a snowy air park house.

…picture taken by Alexander and forwarded. They live there year round.

Picture also supposed to be put up at Christmas. Only 12 days late. It’s now January so Happy New Year!

Did I Just Get Malaria From The TV…?

Ugh. I’ve been off work for a few weeks now. Felt lethargic, no appetite and unable to do anything.  Now, the folks at work would say that this is the normal state of affairs but I was also shivering and boiling at the same time and waking up in the middle of the night in a massive sweat with soaked sheets. From sweat.

This all started the same evening that we watched “The Pacific” on telly. Episode One was set on Guadalcanal…John Basilone, Bob Leckie and the rest of the US Marines were fighting not only the Japanese, but also malaria, dysentry, and various other junglenastinesses (Yay! New word.) As I lay in bed sweating and freezing I was sure that I had caught malaria from the TV, especially as I was deliriously half dreaming that I hadn’t put enough top cover on my bunker and I was about to get mortared any second.

It wasn’t malaria, just some sort of viral infection. My aviation medical examiner and GP both recommended a couple of weeks off to recover. It has been a slow process, and I’m only just getting back to full energy, appetite and interest in anything other than sleep. It looks like I’ll be back at work just in time for my block of shifts covering Christmas. Sting and Eindecker flights should start again too – depending on the weather as always.

Normal service will be resumed soon.


…and I’ve just realised, I couldn’t have caught malaria from the TV. They were actors. ACTORS!

Fokker-Abteilung Nord fliegt wieder

Early November…light winds and not too cold. Just right for a quick patrol in the Eindecker replica. The good thing about this aircraft is that I’m rarely without some good pics that other people have taken!

Here we are on departure from runway 27 at Perth, just starting the early right turn to avoid the trees ahead. The climb performance from the 40hp engine isn’t exactly sparkling, so I like to route over open fields rather than the woods. In summer the open fields also produce good thermals to aid the climb.

The photo was taken by Jim of the Scottish Aero Club, who was at the holding point in his flexwing microlight as the mighty Eindecker thundered/sedately tootled past (delete as applicable). Once he took off I was able to manoeuvre into position for his passenger, the talented photographer Wallace, to get a shot. Jim had seen me turn towards them and held course while I approached. Wallace must have been sitting there drooling and enjoying the view when he suddenly shouted “Fokker!” and was only able to get one picture before a hail of imaginary bullets sent them spinning to their doom in the fields below.

Having dispatched the Tommies we continued on patrol, doing the usual local route of crossing the (200 foot electricity) lines to Stanley, patrolling up the river and crossing back over the lines at Strelitz Wood. Yep there’s a germanic sounding bunch of trees in Perthshire. Apparently it’s named after Queen Charlotte of Strelitz, wife of George 3rd.

The flight also tested the new 8.33 spacing handheld radio in combination with the Campbell Classics leather helmet.

(I like this photo so much I’ve used it twice…)

With the previous radio the helmet was plugged into the aircraft intercom and was picking up a lot of interference from the ignition system. The new setup plugs the helmet directly into the radio and works much better. My ears are no longer bombarded with noise very time we go flying. The radio clips onto a mount on the cockpit sidewall. On landing I was able to unclip it and took it flying in the Sting as a backup.

After 40 minutes flying around in the Sting with the heater on full blast I had just about thawed out. The little open cockpit replica is great fun but only for short trips of 30 minutes at a time – especially in November.

Last Sunday started off as a light wind day and I briefly thought about getting the Eindecker out again for a mid-morning jaunt before the wind got up.  Then I realised that flying a WW1 German fighter around was probably not a good idea on Remembrance Day while all the parades were going on…

Quiet October

October has flashed past…a trip to the simulator, a trip to Sweden, storm Ophelia, busy at work.

Finally got to drag the aircraft out when the month was half over. This is what 9 circuits of the airfield looks like on the Skydemon trace

Half flap landings, full flap landings, glide approaches etc etc. Got a bit dizzy there. Going for a lie down…with work from now until November, October will have been a quiet month on the Sting front…

Oban for Lunch

Following hot on the success of the trip to the airport café in Carlisle, we decided on another aerial gastronomic adventure, this time to the west coast of Scotland and the airfield at Oban, with several eateries within walking distance. The airfield is situated on the coast at North Connel and the bridge over the Falls of Lora. It is almost due west from Perth so the route takes us past Perth Racecourse at Scone…

…and towards Crieff with the ground slowly rising…

…and getting a little more rugged, then some serious hills with only a few spots for a forced landing if we have engine trouble…

Some pretty awesome scenery on the way west. This is Loch Awe. See what I did there? Loch Awe. Awesome.

…and finally to the west coast, with all its islands and hills.

The view of Oban airport from above shows the north/south runway, the bridge at Connel and the Falls of Lora – that’s the ruffled bit of water to the right of the bridge in the photo below. Due to the underwater topography the incoming and outgoing tides create some fantastic white water standing waves. You can surf or kayak and stay in exactly the same location.

Also visible from above is our lunch stop at the Oyster Inn. It’s the blue building at the mid point of the bottom edge of the picture.

I’ve been to the Oyster Inn before! Those skid marks are NOT mine, just in case you were thinking of asking…

The southerly runway was in use at Oban and after landing we were directed to parking spot six, with Loch Linnhe, Lismore island and Mull in the background. Then it was another £15 landing fee and the walk to the pub.

It took about 25 minutes to walk to lunch, would have taken less time but we (obviously) had to stop for photos at the bridge. That’s the Falls of Lora behind us. Not a lot going on as it was slack water at the time.

The Oyster Inn does a great fish chowder, we foolishy ordered a toastie as well. Definitely not required. The giant square bowl was more than enough for two.

For those youngsters out there, who are of the opinion “pictures or it didn’t happen!” – here’s a picture of a bowl of soup…

Full of chowder we took off from Oban, turned north and took a different route home. Past some serious hills…

…up Loch Linnhe to Fort William. Brenda’s brother Andrew is somewhere in this shot. In the distance is Loch Lochy and beyond, Loch Ness.

We followed the route of the Fort William to Glasgow railway line to take us back east. Here it is climbing up the eastern side of Loch Treig before turning the corner onto Rannoch Moor

Corrour station:

From Corrour the distinctive shape of Schiehallion was visible in the distance beyond Loch Rannoch. It’s over 3000ft high and can be seen from Perth airport so it’s like a friendly beacon showing the way home.

This is Loch Ericht, looking north. The top end is just by the A9 trunk road connecting the Highlands and the rest of the world.

The landscape started to become more familiar again as we approached Pitlochry…

…and soon we were overhead and descending to land.

As Wallace and Gromit would say, a grand day out. With soup.


Day Out to Carlisle

Another trip out for lunch, this time to Carlisle where the cafe is good. I’ve eaten there several times in the course of the years, but we’ve never flown there in the Sting.

It started off as a lovely day with sun patches and high cloud, well clear of the tops of the hills. We set off from Perth across the Kingdom of Fife to Elie, where we struck out across the Firth of Forth to North Berwick. Lifejackets mandatory, although we were never out of gliding range of land.

Then down to Galashiels and Hawick before turning for Lockerbie, the routing chosen so as to avoid Edinburgh’s controlled airspace and the danger area at Spadeadam. The nice folks at Scottish Information on 119.875 offered to arrange a direct routing crossing the range but we were sightseeing and declined, while expressing our appreciation of the offer. Always be polite to the folks on the other end of the radio!

There was a bit where the cloud lowered a tad, but we always had an escape route and plan…and after a while the Solway Firth was visible in the distance:

Carlisle was quiet with one aircraft in the circuit, and we were soon down and directed to “Taxi to stand 2A” – just like being back in an airliner. The controller called us a TB20 rather than a TL20. A TB20 is a serious long distance 4-seat IFR touring machine. Maybe we’ll upgrade?

During lunch I noticed my old Air Force instructor pinned to the wall, not literally but in a frame. Andy taught me to fly the Jet Provost at Linton-on-Ouse in North Yorkshire…a long time ago!

And after lunch we found that an old open-cockpit Stearman on its way to the Scottish Air Show at Ayr seafront had popped in for fuel and was parked on the stand next to us. The lady flying it was looking slightly windswept as she left operations for the cafe…

The Carlisle landing fee was surprisingly economical. Having paid £15 at Fife and £15 at Cumbernauld we were expecting an airport with lots more facilities including real air traffic controllers to be more expensive. It was actually just over £10. We’ll definitely be going back.

Tenner paid we started up and made our way to the runway behind the club PA28 Warrior which was off on a solo training flight. ATC let us both taxi down the runway to the end, where we held position while he took off:

The return route was east towards Newcastle then north up the coast. Brenda asked me why I like flying. I couldn’t tell her but I could show her. Some views from the trip north…

Northumbria countryside:

The former WWII airfield at Brunton:

The sun shining on the righteous:

Berwick upon Tweed (in the rain):

After Berwick the rain cleared. Here’s the bird sanctuary of Bass Rock:

Crossing the Firth of Forth again northbound, with the three bridges (all now in use – the new one has just opened!) just visible way off in the distance:

And finally back to Perth after about two and a half hours flying, no refuel required at Carlisle. The fuel capacity and efficient engine can make for some serious distance covering ability.

Short final for runway 27 with the windsock showing a slight crosswind from the right. Last time I landed here the crosswind was from the left and from that direction it curls over the hangars and can produce some “interesting” turbulence and wind shifts just when you don’t want them…luckily the landing was smooth.

Brenda’s already planning the next lunch trip…