Today I went to the airfield fully expecting not to fly due to the wind; it was around 20Kt and gusting higher. Our aircraft was safely tucked up in the hanger, I remember thinking “I will not be flying today, not dual or solo”. In the club house all the normal suspects were sat drinking tea and eating some doughnuts, I offered to make tea, but they all had just had one, so it was tea for one and a nice custard doughnut which I think were provided by Julie (thanks Julie). I remarked that I doubt if I would be flying today and all agreed, far too windy. Shortly after Mike (our CFI and my instructor) came in and said “you ready to go flying, a bit too windy for solo, but how about we do Operations at minimum level 16B”, so with this Pat kindly moved his C42 and Colin moved the NT groups C42 so I could get our C42 out of the hanger.
Safety checks done, and all warmed up I taxied to runway 24, Mike asked some questions as we taxied, what is the minimum height we can fly and why would we want too? 500ft clear of people and structures and to keep out of cloud, was my reply. It was close, but the actual ANO (Air Navigation Order) states:
An Aircraft shall not fly closer than 500ft to any person, vehicle, vessel or structure – except for the purpose of saving life or taking off or landing in accordance with standard aviation practices.
We lined up and took off without flaps; we don’t use flaps when we are taking off in to a strong wind as they are not needed and the white arch (maximum speed with flaps deployed) is easily exceeded in these conditions. In no time we were at 500ft and had levelled out, 500ft would turn out to be today’s altitude of choice!
After leaving the circuit and flying for a short period of time we came upon some electricity pylons and Mike asked how and where I intended to cross them. My logic was to get over them in the shortest of time and at their lowest point e.g. midpoint between to pylons and cross them at 90 degrees, wrong! What we want to do, explained Mike, is cross over the pylons at a shallow angle say 20 – 30 degrees, the reason being we can’t see the wires between them and if we had an engine failure it would be easier to turn away from them. Next we saw some wind turbines, some close and some in the distance, Mike asked “those turbines they are below the horizon what does that tell us?”, this I got right, if they appear below the horizon they are below our altitude; and “those over there?” Mike asked, well the main part is below, but the blade tips are above so we would be too low to fly over them, “good” he said.
Next I was to hold a consistent amount of bank and turn around some haystacks which I did only to find predictably that I had been blow considerably down wind, Mike said if this does happen to you don’t be tempted to tighten the turn, just go around again allowing for the drift. Flying at this altitude gives you a real sense of speed and drift which you don’t get when higher-up, which I assume is the purpose of the lesson.
We flew around finding gaps to fly through to keep us clear of people’s houses and when it allowed we descended to 300ft where things seemed even faster than they did before. Back up to 500ft and I asked Mike where we were as by this time I did not have a clue! “Good question” replied Mike “I was just about to ask you that! so you tell me” I had no idea, “OK” said Mike “what can you see” a small village, some large green houses, a drain or river, “what else” in the distance and after some time I spotted Ely cathedral, so putting it altogether we are flying south broadly towards Ely there is a railway bridge beneath us which means the village on my right was Manea, which is close to the airfield. Recognising place is not my strong point, it’s not helped that I don’t know the area from the ground either. At the low altitude you cannot see as far so it is more difficult to pick out the reference points you know!
I flew us back to Chatteris and we joined on base leg for runway 24 and flew a low circuit, I came in to high and went around at 500ft this time we did a touch and go and the next time we did the same, the circuit was made more difficult by the gusting wind blowing across the runway from the right. Mike now took the controls for the last circuit and showed me how to fly low and tight to the airfield we were round in no time and as we lined up for the landing the cross wind dropped, it was as if it know Mike was flying so decided not to challenge him!
I taxied it back to the hanger and another lesson was over in what were probably the most challenging conditions yet!
While having another cup of tea Alan arrived with some homemade millionaire dark chocolate shortbreads that were very nice!