The Isle of Wight was a trip I have long wanted to do and was also a standby option a few weeks ago when I flew to Le Touquet with my friend Jason, Jason and I were to make this trip too. Compared with Le Touquet this would be a breeze, no flight plan to file, no GAR to file either and far less airspace to transit.
We set off about 10:30 and flew down south and over my old hometown of Reading staying below 3,500ft to avoid the London TMA, in fact, we stayed around 2,000ft as we were close to a part of the TMA which started at 2,500ft and didn't want to risk an accidental infringement.
Next was Odiham MATZ, we called and asked to a MATZ penetration and this was granted and they also suggested we switched to Farnborough West Lars on 125.250 which we did, calling them they confirmed our MATZ penetration and advised us of intense gliding at Lasham, so we routed to the west of Lasham and gave them a wide birth! this was also a good test for Pilotaware and Skydemon which showed us lots of other aircraft including gliders.
Clear of the MATZ we switched to Solent Radar, I must say the guy on the other end of the radio was great. We crossed the Solent at Portsmouth with our declared routing as "direct to Sandown", but we decided to do a lap of the Isle of Wight and take in Cowes and the Needles. As we turned the guy on the radio came back to us and asked if we are intending to fly around the Isle of Wight, we said if that was ok, yes, it was so we carried on. We were not within controlled airspace at the time so it was ok to change the routing.
As we approached Cowes we asked for clearance to enter controlled airspace and this was granted. As soon as we passed into the CTA we were told we were now under Radar service and cleared to follow the coast, I guess they get a lot of us pilots doing this!
John Cleese or the Fonz!
Our landing was uneventful and we parked up and went into the cafe, where we were made to feel welcome; we ordered the traditional bacon roll each and two coffees. This is where things took a comedic turn as the lady started hitting the coffee machine as if she was the Fonz. Fonzie was clearly not in the house as the coffee machine silently took the hits without giving up any coffee, eventually, a guy turned up and took over giving the coffee machine a beating (this was now more John Cleese then Fonzie)! At last, it gave up and two coffees were dispensed.
The journey back was a reverse of the flight down and we arrived safely back at Chatteris a little before sundown.
Some of the views of the on our trip to the Isle of Wight
Lighthouse end of the Needles
Nice view of Portsmouth
South side of the IoW
I can recommend a trip to the Isle of Wight to anyone, there is not too much radio work and great views!
I had been wanting to fly an aircraft from the UK to another country for some time. Almost a year ago when chatting to Jason an AFI at Connington I met while doing my AFI (or FI(R) ) training I mentioned this to him. Jason had already done the trip once and thus he knew what to expect.
We planned to fly on the bank holiday Monday 27th August 2018, but the weather was not looking good, the day before it had improved to be around the limits of the aircraft. We decided to proceed and plan the trip in the hope it would in improve further and we would get to go. We met up with Paul who was going to follow us over with Tom in their C42, as they had never done the crossing either.
Buy a life jacket
The first thing to do when thinking about doing a crossing is to order a life jacket. I went for the Crew Saver N180 form the Marine Superstore. I found it comfortable and not bulky; also the guy there was helpful when I called them and it arrived promptly. The main things to check when buying a life jacket is that it MUST be manually operated and the buoyancy is at least 150N.
We met up in a Costa coffee (other coffee shops are available!) to plan our route from Chatteris to Le Touquet. We decided to route across and down to South End and then on to Dover and across the channel at its narrowest to minimise the risk. It can get congested in the skies over Dover, however, as we were leaving early it should be ok.
Next was the form filling this was so simple using SkyDemon. Simply buy some flight plan credits, I think this was £5 for five.
Do your route in SkyDemon and hit file plan, you need to add a few extra details and the flight plan is done for one leg, Reverse the route and resubmit for the return, flight plans filed, yes that’s it!
Next, the GAR wait, SkyDemon does that too, just go into the warnings and click on the spanner next to the warning re needing a GAR, complete the form and hit submit, I LOVE SkyDemon. Last bit of paperwork was to send a letter to Le Touquet customs, there are plenty of examples online. But basically, give them the reg, date, ETA, and the passport numbers of all people on board.
On the day the wind had dropped a knot or two and now was just under the limit so we decided to try the flight. If the cloud looked bad we would divert and stay in the UK. Nothing good ever comes from pressing a bad situation.
We set off at 07:50 with Jason on the radio and me at the controls, we climbed to 2,000 feet, this allowed us to call London Information and activate our flight plan. The call was as simple as “Call sign, London information, request basic service a flight plan activation” and then the normal pass your message and its response.
A little while later we were asked for our ETA for our arrival at South End airspace, this threw us a little but a quick look at SkyDemon’s Plog gave us the information we needed.
As we were getting nearer to South End’s airspace and thinking about changing frequency, we got a call from London Information advising us to change frequency and to call South End and that they would speak to us again once we have left South End’s airspace. We called and asked for a zone transit and this was granted and squawk allocated, back came the call to squawk the same code as we were already squawking! Apparently, it was still transmitting the last squawk, we recycled the transponder and all was ok. We flew straight through with a radar service, out the other side, they downgraded it to a basic service and they advised us to call London Information. This was all very simple!
As we approached Dover the cloud was driving us down from 3,000ft to around 2,000ft and the crossing was beginning to looking in doubt. However, as we cleared the coast it was brighter and we crossed at 2,500ft with good visibility. The French coast soon came into sight so we continued, at around halfway we called London information and requested a frequency change to Le Touquet which was approved. The call was made as we approached the boundary as marked on SkyDemon.
We routed down the coast and call Le Touquet, back came a pass your message with a heavy French accent! The normal response was given back and then we got "report passing November", passing November, it was only August! a quick look at the plates we had printed out to see if we could find visual reporting point (VRP) November didn’t yield anything, then we saw that SkyDemon have these on their map, which again made it very easy.
At November we called and was told to report November Bravo. NB was close to the downwind leg of runway 31 the runway in use. Using the SkyDemon approach helper, we entered the runway, direction and downwind join, this shows you the circuit, which again at an airfield you don’t know is very helpful. I would and I did a quick sense check to ensure it seemed correct.
As we got to November it started to rain, 10% chance the weather report said, I’m not that luck normally! It continued to rain on the downwind leg, but bizarrely it stopped as we turned on to base leg.
The wind was now gusting 20kts, but only about 30 degrees off the runway. I decided to use a single stage of flap and we landed without issue, funny how nobody ever sees your good landings and doubly so in difficult conditions!
After clearing passport control we went to the reception and paid our landing fees and purchased 20lts of Avgas.
We walked into town and found a nice bar to eat, the place, in general, seems to be friendly and there are a few places even flying the Union Jack flag! A nice little town and I will go back at some point, next time as the radio operator!
The return was nearly without event the takeoff was with a crosswind and gusty too, it was very bumpy on the climb out.
The crossing was fine and the white cliffs of Dover welcomed us back home. While crossing South End’s zone we were controlled both by altitude and direction to allow for an incoming jet, this was the first time I have been given a heading and altitude to fly while crossing. A little while later came the call to resume self-navigation, unsure if this meant if we could now climb or not we asked and was told to remain not above 1,500ft and they would call us when we could climb, another jet passed by and then we were called and allowed to climb not above 4,500ft.
We were soon near Chatteris so we called for a frequency change and to close the flight plan, frequency change was approved but we were told the plan cannot be closed while we were in the air.
My landing at Chatteris was odd a little before the threshold I put a little power on as I was a bit low, but just as I did the aircraft went up as if it had ballooned, I landed fine and said to Jason it was odd as I had not pulled back on the controls. Later we watched another C42 returning from somewhere and it did the exact same thing, then Paul said he had seen it happen to me so was ready for it but it caught him out too!
In summary a very enjoyable experience, but a very long day and very tiring too!
Being an I.T. person I like nice new shiny things so when PilotAware announced their Rosetta version needles to say I wanted one! As I already had a classic which I had "improved" on by drilling out a Stratux case and using the Stratux low power SDR (software defined radio - used to receive the ADS-B transmissions on 1090Mhz) I restrained myself from buying one until PilotAware announced an upgrade path for us classic owners, now the lure was just too great to resist. So on the first day of the upgrade becoming available to Joe public I ordered one and sent my classic bridge board back special delivery to speed the exchange up.
Two days later my kit arrived and is pictured below. Essentially it is what I had already achieved: Stratux case, low power SDR which identifies its self as a PilotAware, but then so does my Stratux one when I plug it in, so the main difference for me is the bridge board, which now fits the case and thus gives support to the aerials (technically its one aerial and one antenna, I have known this all along as I hold a G6 amateur radio licence and I'm also a BMAA inspector for avionics, but recently I was corrected, so if anyone is interested an aerial only receives where an antenna transmits and can also receive). So a new bridge board and I also took the opportunity to upgrade the Raspberry PI to a 3B (note the 3B+ is not supported as type this) the advantage of the PI change is more speed, quicker boot times and intergraded WIFI, one less USB dongle.
a couple of minor changes I made during the build were to cut the label so as to not cover any ventilation holes and I kept my 5dbi 1090 aerial, the kit includes a 3dbi aerial.
A PilotAware forum post states that there are external screen and an attitude and heading reference system (AHRS) on the horizon (pun intended!), I'm assuming, but I don't know, that the new bridge board may be needed to support the AHRS, although other systems are doing this from GPS data, I guess time will tell.
So its all put together now and I will be test flying it later this week, weather gods and work allowing!
Well it's been a long time since I have blogged, for that I apologies. The reason has been I have been studying for my Assistant Flying Instructor (AFI) rating, I was going to blog during the process, however a lot of people fail or so i'm told and i wanted to keep any such failure private. this was further compounded with being made redundant during my training, thankfully I'm now gainfully employed once more.
It was almost 18 months ago that it first crossed my mind that I would like to become a flying instructor (FI). I spent some time surfing the net looking for information and pricing and two things quickly became clear, first I would not get rich as an FI and second the cost of training is quite high. The average for a 3-axis microlight being in the order £5,000 (as of 2017), this includes the entrance exam, 15 hours of flying and 40 hours of ground school, but excluding the exam at the end and lastly and most importantly finding a school to serve as an AFI while training.
I decided to try and find someone local to help keep the costs down and Gareth Aggatte was both local (ish) and recommended so I arranged to meet him at the flying show in December 2016 and we talked it through, yet again I was told it will not make you rich!
Unfortunately, the school where I learnt to fly was unable to offer me the opportunity to train there so I approached the person who took my GST with (Chris Hasell at Boston Airfield) and we met up. He echoed what I had read on line about not getting rich and the costs and the work involved. However, getting rich is not the driving force behind my decision and my understanding wife saw it as an investment for our retirement if nothing else!
So I booked the entry exam for the 14th October 2017 and turned up at Conington Airfield. Gareth was out flying when I arrived and I sat and waited nervously, like many I’m not great when it comes to exams and there is very little on what to expect on the internet. I had done some limited revision before the day by rereading my own exam notes from my blog. The weather was not looking great and I assumed it would be called off, I was wrong! First up was the written test, this is 50 question in the same style as those taken for the NPPL, there was 10 questions per exam previously sat. There were no triangles of velocities to do, which was a shame as I had revised these. The questions seemed slightly harder than the original ones, but that could just be down to me not having revised to the same level. Next came the flying test, this was essentially the same as a GST. I’m pleased to say even though it was at an airfield I have never flown to or from in a Microlight before I passed the ordeal.
So now the hard work begins, my day job made it impossible for me to get all the time off in one go, but Gareth was accommodating and my work too and we agreed on me doing a Thursday Friday and Saturday over 6 weeks, this commenced 26 October 2017.
Each day was a mix of ground school and flying (when the weather allowed) receiving pre-flight briefs, writing them up and then reciting them, all of this was being fitted around the schools normal flying and student lessons which on occasions worked well as it gave me time to study, but other times it meant progress was much slower. I think in hindsight I would have preferred the days to have been dedicated to the two of us that were on the AFI training course, it was due to this approach that I ran out of leave from work and did not complete my training until February.
Every cloud has a silver lining and this delay has meant an opportunity at my home airfield has opened up for me.
On the day of the test I had an idea of what to expect, but it doesn’t prepare you for the intensity of the day. From an overview point of view the day consisted of:
Receiving a briefing about the day and how I was to know when he was and examiner and when he was acting as a student.
Then the remainder of the day was composed of:
Giving a NOTAM briefing and talking about the types and how to review them (SkyDemon is allowed for this)
Giving a weather briefing and talking about weather fronts
Talking over a chart of the area and what all the symbols mean
Then I was given a briefing to prepare and present, I got 10b Stalling , this was a surprise to me as I had been told by more then one person it would only be an exercise selected from the first part of the syllabus! You have 20 mins to prepare and then you need to present it to the examiner.
Once presented we walked out to the aircraft and he watched while I did my prefight check.
Next we flow the exercise and then we done some of the other manoeuvres including PFLs, steep turns and recovery from dangerous attitudes.
Back on the ground and time for a quick cup of tea, you don’t get any feedback on how you are progressing, which is very unnerving!
Now to the last part of the day a nice gentle warm down, wait I got that wrong, in fact it is a 2 hour question and answer session.
Following this you get feedback on how you did and your result, I failed, well actually I got a partial pass.
The part I failed was the briefing, it lacked content, I was surprised by this as it was very close to what I had been taught. All I can assume is that there is a big mismatch between what I had been taught and what was expected. I sat down with Katie one rainy day and we spent many hours reviewing and improving my notes (thanks Katie). I booked up my retest and represented a new briefing of the examiners choice, this time I passed. You have 30 days to complete the retake in and yes, the retest costs too!
In summary it is a very big commitment in time, money and effort, no wonder there are so few instructors.
I please to say that I’m now working as an AFI (sorry but FI(R) just doesn’t sound right) at Chatteris for Cambridgeshire Microlights under the CFI Katie Denham or I will be when my license is returned by the CAA, 30 days and counting!
Today we thought we would be brave and visit it a predominantly GA fly-in our C42 Microlight!
The Fly-in was at little Snoring an ex RAF base for the Mosquitos (and other aircraft) opened in 1943, sadly only one of the runways remain operational. The fly-in was hosted by the McAully Flying Group who are celebrating their 60th anniversary. Two C42 aircraft from Chatteris flew over and that was 66% of all the microlights there, the other was an EV97 Eurostar. I guess due to the weather there was not as many as was hoped for but there was sufficient planes to make it worthwhile and as with my last two flights and blogs there was more changes in PilotAware and SkyDemon to test, I think I’m get obsessed with this combination now!
So there are a number of changes too both pieces of software, but the main items of interest for me today was the PilotAware’s native connection in SkyDemon and a PilotAware patch to fix the issue with not being able to access the internet while connected to PilotAware.
The native PilotAware connection in SkyDemon connects a lot quicker the old method of Flam, which took a few seconds and would show “seek satellites” while it connected, the new method seems to connect instantly!
And the patch also worked fine allowing us to use live date while navigating.
The whole setup for the third consecutive flight remained rock solid.
Below you can see the combination showing an aircraft near us (we both took off from the same airfield) it is showing in the main screen and on the traffic radar.
The actual flight to Little snoring was uneventful, however the return was to be a fun trip the first C42 return back to Little Snoring so we decided to wait before leaving, eventually a break in the weather came and we confirmed on a couple of weather radar sites that we could fly out and down between two fronts. In a couple of places we were down to 650ft but as the radar had shown we were soon through the worst of it and flying back to Chatteris behind the front that moving through.
We were not operating at minima, but the training we had for that was certainly a help as was SkyDemon confirming the presence of obstacles on route well in advance so we could make certain we had good visual contact and this helped lessen the workload in the cockpit. As it turned out if we have wait 3 more hours we would have had a perfectly fine flight back, however in many ways the practice of navigating in low visibility and at low altitude was quite satisfying and Simon who was flying that leg did a great job ably assisted by myself!
This Sunday Simon and I followed Colin and John over to Brookfield Farm for their annual Microlight fly-in. Well when I say followed we were some 20 mins behind them.
We took off from Chatteris and planned to route via Coningsby’s MATZ and pass through their overhead, however after a few unanswered calls we decided to divert around as the cloud base was not sufficient to go over the top, this added around 10 mins to the journey and we had already considered this as a backup route. One of the many great SkyDemon features is while in flight a simple tap on the route line unlocks the currently planned route and then we simply dragged it wide of Coningsby’s MATZ and we were all set.
I’m pleased to say PilotAware held firm again for the whole trip showing traffic around us, the only time we had to change our plans was on the return but more about that later.
On arrival at Brookfield Farm there was some confusion as we heard an aircraft call right base and the plates showed all circuits to be left hand, a radio call and someone confirmed 31 was a right hand circuit, as we joined and called joining 31 RH an apology was heard and a correction runway 31 was indeed LH so we changed and joined 31 Crosswind. The approach looked good coming in over some lakes but my touchdown was a little long and the runway a little short! Time to play it safe and do a go around needless to say it was actually a planned flypast, I wanted to buzz the tower (honest)!!!
On my second attempt I was down a lot soon and made the first exit with ease.
The fly-in hosted by Phil Read and Jin Wiles who greeted each and every pilot with a warm welcome they also laid on a good spread of food including a wide selection of cakes and hot and cold drinks all for free!
After spending a few hours there we decided to depart and flew back to Chatteris via the same routing. As we approached march we made our call that we were inbound and a few seconds later we heard Pat call that he was inbound from a similar position, we looked but could not see him. We zoomed out a little on SkyDemon and there Pat was 600ft below and a little off to our left side, we then managed to locate him visually too, we made radio contact with Pat reporting our position and intent, we went around to the north west and joined downwind while he went to the east and joined on the base leg. I’m sure we would have seen each other eventually without PilotAware and SkyDemon, however having that early representation on the map is a great help.
Unfortunately, not all aircraft are equipped with ADSB Out we added it to ours and Pat’s for around £50 each. I just don’t understand why the CAA don’t mandate it or why people won’t spend £50 on adding ADSB Out to their existing Mode S transponder!
I have been having reliability issues with my home built PilotAware to the point where when I went flying it was not a case of if but when it would have a problem! Well (touches wood) I seem to have gotten to the bottom of my issues, first of all I would like to make it clear it wasnot a fault of the PilotAware software.
The issues I had were that it would take a good three minutes or more for the Ublox VK-172 GPS to get a fix when connected to my PilotAware and if it lost its position in flight at 70 knots it would not get its position back very quickly or sometimes it would never get it back. However, when connected to a PC running the Ublox software it worked fine! I eventually ordered another from HK via eBay, when it arrived a few weeks later I was somewhat dubious as it came sealed in a plastic anti-static bag, whereas the first one came in a blister pack with CD and manual too. I connected it up and within around 45 seconds it got its first fix and ever since it seems to take about 20 seconds and it’s ready to go.
The second issue I had been having is that the WIFI link would drop and I could not reconnect without rebooting the PilotAware however, this seemed to only happen in flight. I considered various things such as interference from the aircraft, vibration etc, but in the end a thicker supply cable (20 swg) as is recommended seems to have fixed it.
I had tried it on a few short flights without issue so now it was time to try it on a flight of more than an hour as previously the issue could take 30 -40 mins before showing up.
A flight up north to North Coates was selected and Sam and I set off, on route we occasionally saw or own trace on SkyDemon from PilotAware showing up but, later I found this to be a wrong setting and selecting the filter (beta) option seems to have resolved this. We saw several different aircraft show up on SkyDemon however, one of interest at our altitude and heading in our general direction. We kept a keen lookout for this (and any other) aircraft. Eventually we saw the Aircraft on our left and by now both visually and on SkyDemon (thanks to the data feed from PilotAware) it was clear it would pass safely behind us.
We arrived at North Coates where the wind should have been at 40 degrees to the runway at 10 knots but in fact it was highly variable in direction at while landing it was 10 knots across the runway with turbulence coming off from the adjacent hangers. It made things a little more interesting but the final touchdown was nice and smooth.
North Coates seems a nice airfield with a small and friendly café and no doubt I will be going back at some point soon.
The Wild Cats were due in at 14:00 so we waited until 14:20, but there was no sign of them and we needed to be getting back so we left and shortly after calling that we have left the circuit we heard them on the radio inbound, I think that is called sods law!
The take-off and flight back was uneventful with the wind having died down, we had a few more contacts on SkyDemon via PilotAware on the way back but nothing near us. There was no loss of connection in either flight and the whole system was rock solid.
So with my fingers crossed and touching wood it seems like my PilotAware issues may be fixed and when SkyDemon with it new traffic radar display is combined with PilotAware the benefit is more than doubled, it is a very useful secondary surveillance device, your eyes must however remain your primary!
I was recently asked how I managed to change the altitude to QFE (ground level) on my videos, well when I can be bothered to do it! So here is how to do it.
I use Dashware to add the tapes to the video before editing the video, I do this before to ensure the data is in sync with the video.
I capture the video using my TomTom Bandit, which has a built in GPS. However like all action cameras I know of, it suffers from strobing on the prop. To overcome the strobing I made an ND8 (neutral density) filter by ordering a plastic ND8 filter from ebay. I cut in a circle and held in place using some large heat shrink. Anyway that’s for another day today we are looking at how to offset the reported altitude. Or put another way QNH to QFE.
For this I will assume you have your data and video file ready and that you know how far out the altitude is.
Below I’m using Dashware version 1.9.1
Load your video in the normal way then:
1. Open the load data screen
2. Select the data file and click “Edit Profiles”
3. Make a clone of the data profile you are using, so that you can edit it.
4. Add a Math Calculator (bottom left area) that takes the Altitude and subtracts the offset needed, you may need to play a little with this value. the value is entered into the “Constant Parameter”. use the other settings as shown below.
5. Call this new channel QFE in the output value.
6. Now add a mapping channel for QFE by clicking the + in column mappings
7. Map the columns as shown below
8. Click OK to close the Data Profile Editor screen
9. Then back at the add data file screen ensure you have the newly create Clone profile selected and click add to show your new altitude.
So my new toy has arrived as much as I would like either a Garmin Virb Ultra 30 or a Gopro Hero 5 Black, I simply can’t afford one (if someone wants to send me one to review and keep… 😉 ) or justify it for my needs so what else is there that tracks your position and shoots good video?
Previously I have used a GoPro Hero Session 4, however I have not found it the most reliable device to get and keep running, I just wanted something simple that I can put in the cockpit access it via my phone to position it and start recording. Looking around the Tomtom Bandit at £138.00 (from Amazon at the time of writing) seems like a good compromise, it has a good battery life of over 2 hours at 1080P 30 FPS including the GPS. So more on an impulse than anything else I ordered one!
It’s a nice camera and well designed, it feels well-made, it is a little heavier than a GoPro, bigger too! It comes with an adaptor to allow it to mount onto a GoPro mount. My first issue with it was setting up an account first before you can setup an account you need to have connected the camera, then it would not allow me to this via my iPhone, I eventually overcame it by downloading the Beta desktop Tomtom studio which allowed me to create an account, what a painful start!
Next issue was no one sells an ND8 Filter for it (I should have checked this before ordering it) I managed to make one out of a plastic ND8 filter I had purchased previously and held it in position with some large shrink wrap. ND8 filter is needed when shooting through the prop, well unless TomTom add as setting for this but no other manufacturer has, #MissedOpportunity!
No one makes a lens cap for it! A kind person on the Tomtom forum told me to buy a 34mm push cap and it will fit, one is now on order.
So on to videoing I recorded some footage at 2.7K 30FPS, 4K 14 FPS, 1080P 60 FPS and 1080P 30 FPS.
2.7K was great quality. (I didn’t like these gauges and switched to the strip ones in the next video.
4K was sunning detail while on the ground but struggled to keep up in flight (sorry I did not up load this one).
1080P 60FPS, surprisingly disappointing it showed up a lot of vibration and made the video unwatchable for me, I may try this again when/if I get a gimbal for it (sorry I did not up load this one).
1080P 30FPS, this seems to be the best compromise all round good quality video, good Battery life and did not eat up the Micro SD card.
Next how to get the data overlay on the video, TomTom’s gauges aren’t great and are not configurable to show height in feet distance in Km and speed in Knots, which is a real shame as it edits very quickly in TomTom’s app both on the phone and on my old Laptop.
So over to DashWare (now owned but GoPro), this allows for loads of different gauges and layout and works with the TomTom camera if you export the GPS data first (right click on the file in TomTom’s Windows app) but the problem with DashWare is the rendering time 1hr 4mins for a 6 min video ouch!
Overall if you are happy to make your own ND8 filter (it was not difficult) and prepared to wait while DashWare renders the video you end up with great videos from a very competitively priced camera. and over all a better experience than the one I have with my GoPro Hero 4 Session
Now if only TomTom were to add the strip gauges for aviation within their app they would be on to a winner for us pilots.