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…

Time to spare? Go by air… (alternative title: “Bloody weather!”)

Once again the weather dashes the best laid plans. Check out these charts, showing crappy weather in the UK, our route to Sweden or Sweden itself.

We only have 12 days before I have to be back at work, and the long range forecast showed that we would have arrived at Siljan Air Park just after we needed to set off to come back.

It seems that work is getting in the way of holidays. We’re working on THAT little problem right now…more news to come.

Dan Roach, in his flying blog has this to say about weather:

So I had booked a days holiday and I had access to money and I had an aircraft booked.  So what?  Yes these are all things I can control.  But I can’t control the weather, if I could I wouldn’t be an IT consultant any more…

Given that I can’t control the weather, there really is no point in getting upset when it doesn’t conform to the plan that I had in my head.  I realise this is easier said than done in lots of circumstances, but if you face life with a smile on your face you really will be happier.

So, no flight to Sweden this time. In our aircraft at least. I say that ‘cos we’ve booked seats on Norwegian to Stockholm. There is no way we are going to miss the fly in / airshow / party this year.

One good thing about flying commercial is that Rory is coming too. Rory, also known as “The world’s coolest copilot” …

…although his coolness is somewhat hampered by the occupant of the other seat…

He’d better not complain though, he’s getting a free summer crayfish party and airshow in Sweden. Just don’t mention the clean up afterwards…

Four On – Four Off

The roster at work is quite civilised. Four day shifts (12hr from 0800 to 2000) followed by four days off. We don’t do nights at work, at least not yet. We do have to put up with the cameras though when the charity is on another media push…here’s me taking a photo of Rich taking a photo of a film crew filming John (He fluffed his lines).

Anyway four on four off…also known as 4on/4off/4ever because we can look ahead, years if need be, and know if we are working that day. Pilots only, paramedics have some weird system which only they can understand, and most of them don’t.

Four off in a row gives the ability to go away on a short trip every 8 days. The last one was (Brenda’s idea, honest!) to the RAF Museum at Cosford, the IWM at DuxfordRAF Cranwell Heritage Centre (we drove past and I saw my old room in the mess) and the Newark Air Museum.

At Cosford I was reunited with an old friend who I hadn’t seen for over 20 years…I got quite emotional standing looking up at Wessex XR525 and thinking things like “I used those steps and those handles to climb in”, “I flew that!” and “I wonder will they put me on a wall in a museum when I stop flying”

I also got quite emotional at Duxford, thinking “I really really really REALLY want a go in that, mister. Please!”

Brenda mentioned Spitfire Overload, but trust me, Duxford is ace!

4 days off also gives loads of time for good weather and trips in the Sting, such as flying the boy for lunch to Fife (where he mooned the camera!)…

Or flying Brenda to Cumbernauld for a quick cup of coffee with Haggis and Johnny at Phoenix Flight Training (I had done my licence renewal with them the previous week and promised to pop in and visit)…

(no mooning the camera this time!)

Or just getting airborne for a “bimble” – here we are checking the performance at 6000ft, which is our planned crossing altitude from Dover to Cap Gris Nez.

120 knots is pretty good. At two miles a minute it also makes the maths easy. Everything helps.






Sweden Trip

We made it to Sweden…it took three days. But we were driving this time. The Sting was laid up for fuel flow problem troubleshooting and we had some big things to take across to the house so we thought “Sod it let’s drive”.

I had an old Freelander 2 and didn’t think it would last the trip without breaking down (Rory affectionately called it “Ole Rusty”), so that had to go. It was going anyway, but planning the trip just accelerated the process. We ended up with a very Swedish Volvo…

It took 3 days of shared driving to get from Scotland to Central Sweden. The first day was down the UK to Harwich for the overnight ferry to Hook of Holland. Sailing was at 11pm…

Then it was fast roads all the way through the Netherlands to Sweden. Hook, Rotterdam, Utrecht, Amersfoort, Osnabrück, Bremen, Hamburg, Odense, Copenhagen all passed in a 12 hour marathon which ended up in Sweden at a hotel in Helsingborg for the night. The autobahns are crazy, especially the no speed limit bits. Check the mirror and the road is clear behind for miles, pull out to overtake and suddenly there’s an Audi or BMW or Mercedes up your bum…

The best bits were the Storebaelt bridge and the Öresund bridge, both toll bridges. We had been forewarned and arranged an account. We were issued with a “Bizz” which is an automatic toll payer gadget thingy to mount in the windscreen. It was with a sense of trepidation that we approached the first toll. When it beeped and the barrier lifted it was an awesome feeling, we were almost locals. This pic of the Storebaelt bridge was taken by Alan of the Scottish Aero Club when he and son Gordon flew to Siljansnäs, as documented in Scotland to Sweden

After Helsingborg the roads got quieter. We drove via Jönköping, Örebro, and Borlänge to the air park, passing Kopparberg (home of the cider) on the way. The roads got quieter and quieter. This is rush hour in Sweden…

At the air park the grass was like a jungle, so gardening took up quite a bit of the visit!

We did take time out to brave the rain and insects to watch a traditional raising of the maypole in the local village of Styrsjöbo, complete with dancing children and grannies in traditional dress.

And we also took in a local gathering of old cars. For some reason the Swedes love old cars. All types, but especially american muscle cars and big gas guzzlers. This was just a small gathering in the local town of Leksand. The big one is called Rättvik Classic Car Week. It’s massive, takes place in Rättvik and, guess what? It lasts a week. Last summer we got caught up in the procession and felt very out of place in our little VW hire car. Bloody tourists!

Husqvarna didn’t only do chainsaws. Who knew?

Being mid June it never really got dark, just twilight from midnight to about 0200 and daylight the rest of the time. This was taken at Olsnäs near the air park at 2300!

The weather was great for the vast majority of the time, and we were sad to set off for another 3 days of driving to get home…

It turned out to be three adventures. 3 days of driving followed by 6 days in Sweden and another 3 days to return. On the way back we stayed in Denmark and had another overnight sailing…

And then it was straight back to work. Bummer. But only a few weeks until we go again…



“Mayday!” – or Terror in The Skies

All pilot stories of derring-do start off with “There I was…”

So, there I was in the Sting, just levelling off at 3000ft to the NW of Perth and the engine started running roughly. Check fuel pressure – fluctuating all over the place. OK, electric fuel pump on and it was still all over the place. Turn back towards the airfield and adjust to best glide speed, just in case it conks out completely. Luckily the Sting glides well so we were well placed to reach any of the runways.

The engine had picked up again but with occasional lapses of rough running. I needed to get on the ground. Unfortunately the airfield circuit (pattern for those in the US) was full of aircraft and a pleasure flying helicopter was just about to lift. Only one way to get priority…speak on the radio.

Now there is nothing more uncool than sounding like a panicky schoolgirl on the radio. It’s better to sound all Chuck Yaeger and nonchalant, so after a few seconds to calm down I transmitted:

“Mayday Mayday Mayday, Perth radio, Golf Sierra Mike with a rough running engine, inbound to the overhead from the Stanley area at 3000ft to position for a forced landing pattern”

It was awesome, Pete in the tower told everybody to clear the circuit, asked the pleasure flying helicopter to hold on the ground and called out the fire truck. I had the whole airfield to myself…

John who was just departing in the works helicopter gave me a wind check of 210/5 and then asked if I wanted them to hang around until I was on the ground. In best Chuck Yaeger style I said no thanks…maybe I should have been less Chuck Yaeger and more switched on. 210/5 is straight down the longest runway at Perth, but I elected to go for the runway I had taken off from. What a numpty – it is shorter and had a crosswind (only 5kt though).

I’ve already said many times that the Sting glides well. An engine failure halfway to France at 6000ft should end up in reaching the shore. Anyway the glide capability plus the fact that the engine wasn’t totally dead and was thus providing some thrust meant that I was high and fast on the final approach. A fairly vigorous S turning sideslip got the height off, but we were still fast. There’s nothing more infuriating than reaching the runway and not being able to get down because of excess speed, but eventually we touched down and only needed gentle braking in the remaining runway length available, so it can’t have been too bad.

The engine was still running quite smoothly so I asked Pete if it was OK to taxi back to the hangar. He readily agreed (he wanted his airfield back) and we proceeded off the runway and down the taxiway with our fire engine in tow like a faithful dog.

Over the next few days we got stuck into fault diagnosis. All fuel hoses were inspected for integrity and secure fitting. The fuel tank sender was removed, giving access to the top of the fuel tank for inspection – it was clear with no rags or bogies blocking the filters. I ran the electric fuel pump with the output hose going into a 3 litre jar – it took 45 seconds to transfer a litre of fuel. This equates to 80 litres an hour, and as the engine at full chat only burns 20lt/hr this was more than adequate.

I remembered a detail about the day of the mayday – normally with the fuel on and the electric pump on there is a second or two of dry running as it sucks air. This rapidly quietens down as the fuel reaches the pump and fills the galleries (cool word alert!). However on mayday day the dry running lasted a lot longer, almost as if it was sucking air. Now I know the  tank pickup was under about 50 litres of Tesco’s finest unleaded, known in aviation circles as “MOGAS”, so the air must have been getting in somewhere else. And it was. The inlet hose to the gascolator (another cool aviation word) was not totally snug against the fitting, and the hose clamp was slightly loose. Tightening this up (and all the other work) has cured the problem.

Now after investigating a problem like this and finding the fault, we don’t just blast off across the North Sea – it takes a structured approach to regain confidence in the aircraft.

First was a rather lengthy ground run of the engine at high RPM, including taxiing out to the runway to do a full power accelerate/stop. The aircraft passed these with flying colours and no recurrence of the problem.

It was at this point that there was a little interlude for our June trip to Sweden, more about that later. But obviously we didn’t fly the Sting…

On return it was time for the air tests. I planned one to take off and not touch the throttle until we were at about 4000ft (it was during the throttle reduction that the fault originally occurred). Then I was going to fly around, always within gliding distance of the runway. And that’s what happened…it was kinda boring, chugging back and forth across the sky for an hour and a half at different power settings, but in that time the engine never missed a beat. The Skydemon software captured a trace of the flight:

Next day was more adventurous – circuits of the airfield with a little excursion out to the north, well beyond glide back range. Lots of power changes from full power to idle and back again in quick succession, and once again the engine performed beautifully. Here’s the Skydemon trace:

The aircraft is fixed, and confidence has returned. As the aviation pioneers from 100 years ago might have said: “By Jove, I think we’ve cracked it old chap. Onwards to Sweden!”


On Patrol…

While the Sting is in bits (Almost finished now, thanks for asking!), it’s great to have access to another aircraft to get airborne in, even if it is open cockpit and usually freezing.

There was a little bit of tinkering required for the Eindecker as the tailwheel had seized up and disintegrated. Replica WW1 fighter tailwheels should be rarer than hen’s teeth, but actually Machine Mart do a fine selection. A bit weird that they label these Fokker Eindecker tail wheels as ML309 Threaded Stem Rubber Swivel Castor. But they are only £6.95 each.

Tinkering complete it was time to launch off on patrol. Having secured the cowling with 30+ screws the engine wouldn’t start. Sod’s law. I had neglected to connect the starter motor to the battery. The battery had been off all winter on trickle charge and had been connected back up. So I thought!

30+ screws removed, cowling off and 30 seconds to reconnect the cable. Cowling on, 30+ screws refitted and ready to go. Normal wear for the open cockpit includes full clothes under a flying suit with a leather jacket on top  which looks the part.

But this was such a hot day that I tried without the jacket and suit, and it was fine. We took off on the westerly runway and turned right to head north. The early turn is required to avoid the trees at the end of the runway.

25 minutes later we were back, having satisfied the craving and got air under the wings of the Eindecker for the first time since November.

Looking forward to the next time I have a day off and it’s warm with light winds. Roll on summer…!

(Good photos by Wallace as usual)

It’s Annual Inspection Time!

Every year the aircraft needs an approval inspection to make sure it’s still fit to fly. Then a flight test and paperwork sent off to renew the “Permit to Fly” – always a joyous occasion when that comes back in the post! Prior to this there’s a bit of tinkering to be done, making sure everything is in good order, lubricated and clean. Also, as the logbooks show 208hrs, the engine is due a 200hr inspection. There is a 10hr extension allowed so 208 is still within limits, just in case you were wondering.

Luckily we know somebody who is an iRMT, qualified to do the inspection on the Sting’s Rotax 912 engine (Remember the £1000 Free Pen? ). The inspection is mostly complete, just waiting on one pesky tool to arrive from Germany, so we’ve been doing the rest of the airframe; Here’s the cockpit with the seats and baggage compartments removed, giving access to the internals of the rear fuselage…

And from a slightly different angle, looking down to underneath the seats where the two wing spars cross into sockets in the opposite wing root and are fastened together by a big bolt…

All the bell cranks and hinges get a good application of grease to keep them lubed up and working smoothly.

The bulk of the engine service has been completed, including the oil change. One cool feature is the mag plug, a powerful magnet which sits in the oil and picks up any stray bits of metal. Here’s ours after dipping in brake cleaner to remove most of the oil:

There were a few tiny slivers of metal…well within limits for normal wear and tear. Some of these things come out looking like Christmas trees, then you need to investigate a little more! We cut open the oil filter and inspect the paper element every oil change. This time there were about 7 tiny flecks visible – also well within limits. Very reassuring to know. The filter paper is retained for comparison with the next one to note any increase in particles.

The Rotax 912 has a simple mag plug, only checkable by physically taking it out and looking. On the works helicopter, we have lots of gearboxes and engines and loads of mag plugs.

On the first type a buildup of metal particles completes a circuit and a warning light comes on; the second type on the engine oil system has a warning light but also allows us to “fuzz burn” by passing a current across the particles to melt them off. If it doesn’t work, it’s probably a big buildup and we need to reduce power on that engine or even shut it down. If the fuzz burner does work, we are allowed one more burn if the warning light comes on again. It concentrates the mind wonderfully when you’re out over the sea halfway to the Outer Hebrides when a chip warning comes on…

Dealing with emergencies is practiced every six months in the simulator, known as “The Box” – typing this I’m sitting at Birmingham Airport having just completed two days in the dreaded beast. It’s not as good as the 757 and 767 sims I used to enjoy, but it’s a great place to do the stuff that the Civil Aviation Authority would frown upon if you did them in the real aircraft…setting fire to engines, losing tail rotors, that sort of stuff. Fortunately I passed, so it’ll be six months before I’m back in here:

Like most pilots I get a bit stressed before the sim, and do lots of revision and planning beforehand. Now that it’s over we can concentrate on the permit renewal for the Sting.

And flying the Eindecker.

And getting my single engine ticket revalidated.

And trip planning.

And the next medical.

And tomorrow’s 0800-2000 air ambulance shift.

It never stops.


Tryggve Gran

30 July 1914, Tryggve Gran from Norway became the first person to fly across the North Sea. It took just over 4 hours flying from Cruden Bay to Stavanger in a Blériot monoplane. (See here for more details)

Over 100 years later another crazy norwegian flew a single engine aircraft across the North Sea, this time in speed and comfort. Klaus has a house at the air park in Sweden and stopped off at Perth on his way to Bristol to visit his son. Flying his Lancair 320 at 8000ft with a groundspeed of 200kts it took him less than half the time that Gran took.

Like Gran, Klaus was solo, the other seat being taken up by a liferaft. Unfortunately the Sting doesn’t have the room, which is why we are planning to cross at the narrowest point, Dover to Cap Gris Nez.

The trip planning continues…