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…

Long Haul Plan, Light Aircraft Style

Here’s the plan. Scotland to Sweden in the Sting. Why? Well a few years ago in a fit of craziness we bought a log cabin in the woods out there. Not any old log cabin though, it’s on an “Air Park” – a village of like-minded souls at the side of an airfield. In this case it’s Siljansnäs airfield (ESVS) in Dalarna. Each plot has road access on one side and taxiway access on the other. Most houses have hangars, some have just parking spaces. As I type this I’m looking out at trees and wooden buildings. There was a link to an article I wrote in a previous post but to save you digging around, here it is again.

In this aerial view you can see how the taxiways and gravel roads don’t intersect, so there is no chance of driving round a corner and coming face to face with an aircraft taxiing the other way.

That aerial shot was taken from SE-VPS, a “Dynamic” aircraft operated by the Siljan Flying Club which operates aeroplanes and gliders from the other end of the 850m runway. There is a vibrant social scene, especially in the summer when there are a lot of people around. Wednesday BBQs, impromptu gatherings and the yearly Kräftsjärtsvängen Fly-In. I have no idea if I spelt that properly.

The air park concept is quite rare in Europe, but over in the US there are hundreds of them, used more for primary residence rather than second homes. Here is Danny (who built the Replica P47 and retired in November) flying his Tiger Moth over Miller Air Park, Mooresville NC. He lives in the house on the right hand edge of the photo (with the bush inside the circular driveway)

So…Scotland to Sweden. It doesn’t look too bad on Google Maps:

Here’s the aeronautical charts for the whole trip laid out in the boardroom at work. We might need a bigger planning table at home…


The route is planned to minimise the water crossings to ones where we can always glide clear to dry land in the event of something bad happening. In the good ole days to cross the English Channel there was a low level VFR corridor at 1500ft. Nowadays we can cross at 6000ft, and if it all goes quiet up front at the mid point, we can still reach the shore. The Sting is a pretty good glider. Just as well, we have lifejackets but no room for a dinghy.

Otherwise we could do like these friends of ours, who flew from Ireland to Northern Norway in a Cessna 172. Here they are at Perth all togged up in their survival suits and lifejackets. They flew straight across the North Sea from Sumburgh to Bergen, which some might say is crazy, but they had room for a dinghy and all the extra survival equipment. They had a ball.


In the picture are a dairy farmer (also a flying instructor), an IT guru and a consultant orthopaedic surgeon, but which one is which?

Our plan is to fly out over several days, with maximum flight leg length of 2 hours. Our bladder endurance is much less than the Sting’s – a leg of 2 hours still gives us almost another 2 hours in reserve if we start with full tanks. Weight and balance limits may reduce the available fuel load slightly, but there will always be a healthy reserve.

The legs (provisional):

  • Perth to Sandtoft
  • Sandtoft to Rochester (night stop)
  • Rochester to Oostende
  • Oostende to Wilhelmshaven (night stop)
  • Wilhelmshaven to Höganäs
  • Höganäs to Siljansnäs

…spend a few days and reverse the route. We want to take it easy so have put in two night stops. Friends from the Scottish Aero Club did the return trip in one day when they were racing the weather…that took about 10 hours in the cockpit. The full story is at Scotland to Sweden 2015

We’re getting excited…it’s all a great big adventure. Or a little adventure. A couple from the air park flew their Lancair to an airshow last year. The first leg was Sweden to Iceland, and the airshow was EAA AirVenture at Oshkosh, the biggest bestest airshow/fly-in in the world. After Oshkosh they flew all over the place, getting as far as Alaska. Then they left the aircraft out there at Carson City NV and came home. Next week they are on an airliner to fly back out to pick up the aircraft and eventually return home to Siljansnäs.

Now that’s an adventure.




Long Haul – Helicopter Style

Long haul used to mean climbing into a 767 and monitoring the autopilot for 8 hours or more, ending up in some exotic locale like Florida, Goa, Cancun or the Maldives. Nowadays in a helicopter with maybe 2 hours endurance to min landing fuel, it is a multi leg trip with refuel stops.

One recent job was an ambulance transfer from one of the outer islands in Orkney to the main airport in Kirkwall for onward road transport to hospital. What could take all day for the patient was reduced to a 15 minute flight in the helicopter. But first the helicopter had to get up to Orkney. This is in the area covered by Helimed 2 based at Inverness, but on this occasion they were on another job elsewhere and unavailable. So we were called in to help. It was a lovely day and after a bit of planning, topping up the tanks and checking of weather we launched from Perth.

The first leg was planned from Perth to Wick for a refuel. The track took us directly over Braemar, with views of Balmoral Castle on the right of the aircraft. It can just be made out on the wooded right bank of the river in the middle distance. Apologies to HM The Queen, but from up here it looks tiny. Interestingly, the clearing in the woods to the right is where we once landed in the old Bolkow 105 on a job.

Northwards towards Wick soon saw us crossing the Moray coast, with the air base at RAF Lossiemouth visible to the left…

…and to the right, the mouth of the River Spey and a rifle range in the forest perpendicular to the shore.

From Spey Bay it was overwater all the way to Wick. Halfway there is the small Beatrice Oil Field, which is nearing the end of its operational life. Construction of an 84 turbine deepwater offshore wind farm is due to start this year.

On landing at Wick we refuelled to the maximum possible, which would give us enough to get up to Sanday and back to Kirkwall where we could top up again. The team at Far North Aviation always take good care of visitors, and today was no exception. As well as fuel we got coffee and a Kit Kat.

…and time for a bit of refolding of maps for front seat paramedic John:

Airborne from Wick past John o’ Groats and over the Pentland Firth to Orkney. Here we are running up the western side of Scapa Flow, the great natural anchorage used by the Royal Navy in WW1 and WW2.

Nowadays it is home to only a few mothballed drilling rigs. The causeways between the islands are known as the Churchill Barriers designed to close off access to the anchorage after Gunther Prien in U47 slipped through under the cover of darkness and sank HMS Royal Oak.

As well as the war grave of the Royal Oak, the seabed of Scapa Flow is home to the remains of 52 ships of the German Grand Fleet, which were scuttled by their crews on the orders of Admiral Ludwig von Reuter on 21 June 1919. The ships had been interned since the end of the Great War. There is some talk of Kaiser Steel from salvaged ships going into spacecraft and sensitive medical instruments.

Here’s Lamb Holm again. It’s the site of the Italian Chapel. Italian POWs housed on Orkney helped construct the causeways. Joining the islands “benefited the locals” and so the POW work was exempt under the Geneva Convention.

Onwards to the north! Finally arriving at our destination Sanday, where our little helicopter took up the whole parking area. The airfield is served by BN2 Islander aircraft of Loganair. It would have been a bit crowded  with two aircraft there. They are putting up a new airport building, once it’s complete they should keep the old one. Maybe “Terminal One” and “Terminal Two”? Or Domestic and International?

After pickup it was only 20 minutes back to Kirkwall, where an ambulance was waiting for the patient:

After refuelling at Kirkwall we incurred a major delay. Graeme needed a pee so I told him to go over to the building nearby. Graeme and John wandered off into the distance to the airport fire station. 10 minutes later they were back. I thought they would just pee against the shed 20 yards away. That’s what comes with thinking everybody else thinks like you do…

Now on the way home, we headed towards the Inverness Helimed base for another refuel and to pick up some medical supplies which would otherwise have come to us by courier. We had enough fuel to head straight home, but keeping the tanks topped up allows us to respond to any job that might come in while we’re on the way.

Caithness is pretty flat and boring (sorry Caithness), but the highest point is the peak of Morven, which sticks out for miles. It’s 706m or 2316ft high, which makes it a “Graham” whatever that is…

After “turning the corner” near Bonar Bridge (required because of the shape of the danger area for the bombing range at RAF Tain), we approached Invergordon where there were even more mothballed oil rigs. The rig fabrication yard at Nigg Bay has diversified into production of wind turbines over the past few years. Smart move.

After the stop in Inverness and southbound over the Cairngorms, some were still snow covered. A couple of the ski runs at Aviemore looked like they could be open, white strips on the side of the mountain. It certainly hasn’t been a very good season for our local ski centre at Glenshee, perhaps Aviemore fared better. I used to buy a season ticket for Glenshee, you had to do 16 days or more to make it worthwhile. I don’t think they had that many days open this year.

After the peaks of the Cairngorms, the high ground drops away gently until the edge of the hills to the north of Perth, and after a practise instrument approach onto runway 21 we were soon touching down on the pad after 4 hours flying and about 6 hours away from base. As we say in the business – “Home for tea and medals”

It beats working for a living.

(photo by the Scottish Aero Club photographer Wallace Shackleton)

Aeroshell Sport Plus 4

The manufacturer’s recommended oil for the Rotax 912 engine. Due to the nature of my Sting’s engine installation it is very difficult to get at the oil tank drain (other installations are available…possibly). So for this oil change I decided to siphon the oil out.

It tastes VILE.

Scottish Strips

Just a few random pics taken when out and about. It’s amazing how many little grass airfields there are. Here’s Forfar:

And Bute, a popular destination for sport flyers, also used on occasions by the air ambulance, just a short walk to the pub for lunch:

Bute airfield is at the southern end of the island, just down the coast from Mount Stuart, ancestral home of the Marquess of Bute. Nice place…

Can’t afford that, but wonder if this lot would consider selling? House with 300m strip and hangar at Buchlyvie:

And Lamb Holm in Orkney. The whole island is an airfield:

Just a tiny selection. There are lots of potential destinations for the summer season!