Friday, July 2, 2010

Meeting the STS-132 crew

This week I had the opportunity to meet the crew of Shuttle mission STS-132. They have just completed a week long visit of Great Britain. 10 days ago, the Center for Life group managed to secure the astronauts for an evening.

The crew spoke for an hour, showed several slides and a video. It was a very inspiring evening. My seven year old came along for the ride. He very much enjoyed meeting them too. He managed to get one of his questions answered during the Q&A session. I still don't think he has separated Doctor Who/Star Wars from real life! I think he was expecting the crew to arrive in a Tardis or with a light saber!

First flight at an international airport

I hired a PA28-161 Warrior for an hour from Northumbria Flying School and flew from Newcastle to Carlisle and back with an instructor.

My mission goal for the flight was two fold (a) just get flying again and (b) practice my RT skills in relatively busy airspace.

The lesson got off to a bad start when the instructor asked me to pre flight the Warrior. 95% of my previous flying has been in a C172, but a plane is a plane and I started my external checks. Mistake number 1. I was very disappointed with myself. I failed to get into the aircraft and start the internal list first. The instructor proceeded to remind me of all the small mistakes I was making for the first 20 minutes.

Once I finally took off, I settled down and enjoyed the rest of the flight. We flew VFR to Carlisle never getting above 2200'. I managed to make a couple of mistakes locating some of the key visual reporting positions, but I did manage to find Carlisle without any help! I performed a touch and go on runway 25 and arrived back at Newcastle approx 80 minutes after starting the engines.

I was not prepared for the lesson. My knee board did not work too well and I failed to write down all the read backs from ATC. Mistake number 2!

I have to be better prepared next time. I know I can do better.

One of the reasons for learning to fly is so I can fly amongst the airliner traffic. This was my first flight at Newcastle and a chance to test my RT skills. Despite a couple of stumbles, I survived and only made an arse of myself once. I just need be write instructions down in the future.

Lesson's Learnt
(1) Follow the checklist from the beginning and don't rush (I should have done this)
(2) Buy a good knee board and write everything down.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Pushing Tin

On March 17th I had the chance to visit the Air Traffic Control Facility at Newcastle International Airport. The reason for the visit was to become more familiar with the local procedures and the airspace as I was in the process of trying to find a flying school in the North East of England where I could complete my PPL training. There was additional interest due to the fact that I have spent the last two years flying our of the airport on a weekly basis as self loading freight on business trips with my day job.

The accompanying video to my visit can be found on below.

The Facility
The new ATC facility opened in 2007. The facility has moved away from the terminal buildings allowing a better view of runway 07/25 and the surrounding taxiways. The new facility is split into two areas. There is a Radar/Approach room on the lower floor and the Tower Visual Control Room (called the tower) located at the top. The airport is served by Easyjet, Ryanair, British Airways, BMI, Jet2, Thomson, Emirates and a few others. But as you will read below, depending on the day of the week, the controllers can handle a wide range of military traffic.
I knew the facility was only a couple of years older, but I was not expecting the equipment to be as state of the art as it was. Must admit, I was expecting the scopes to look much more conventional, rather than modern LCD monitors. There are three workstations forming a semicircle. The Director Controller (125.825 MHz) sits on the right hand side and the Radar/Military Controller (124.375/284.6 MHz) sits in the centre. On the left hand side there is a work station where the Assistant Traffic Controller spends his/her time. During quiet hours, the Director frequency is normally not manned. On this particular day, both the Director and Radar freqs were in use. The Director controller was handling the inbounds into Newcastle. The Radar Controller was handing the civilian outbounds. The Radar Controller was also working the military frequency 284.6 MHz.
Due to the location of the new Tower, it's difficult to see aircraft parked on the domestic stands. But state of the art monitoring equipment allows the Tower Controller to monitor all ground movement in reduce visibility operations. There are three workstations shared between the assistant, ground control and the Tower frequency (119.7 MHz). The ground frequency was not used during my visit. In fact, I believe it's only used early in the morning when several aircraft are looking for clearance at the start of a the day. The Tower was less hectic than the radar room. During my stay up top, the daily Emirates A330 arrived (UAE35). One of the flights that I frequently travel on with business also departed.
Airspace/Radar Plot
The majority of departing and arriving traffic will use the Papa18 (P18) airway that is south west of the airfield. Other traffic will route either North or South (normally on track Ottringham which is located in Humberside). There are several over flights largely comprising of Transatlantic traffic going in or out of Europe. There aircraft are under the control of Swanick or Scottish Control and don't tend to interfere with Newcastle ATC operations. The Controllers use a state of the art communication system that allows them to talk to other controllers around the country by simply pressing a button. The controllers spend their idle time when not talking to the pilots on another line with other facilities, e.g. Leeming, Durham Tees Valley, Scottish Control. I have a Mode S receiver at home which allows me to monitor aircraft that are transmitting ADS-B signals. So the first time I saw the radar screen at Newcastle, I was very surprised at seeing no callsigns on the aircraft tags. The data tag shows only the squawk number and height readout. The software would need upgrading in order to display callsigns. The Controllers use normal flight progress strips for tracking the aircraft progress/intentions.
Military Traffic
I probably visited on one of the busier days in term of traffic mixture. There were two major military excercises going on around the north east of England. The Radar/Military Controller monitoring 124.375/284.6 Mhz had to co-ordinate a mixture of different traffic ranging from Apache's out low to the west, F-15's up north, Hercules requesting to operate within the P18 corridor near Leeds and traffic that was transitioning the corridor that lies north west of Newcastle (Hexham Gap). One of the highlights was a Eurofighter Typhoon practising a simulated hijack escort of an airliner. The hijacked aircraft was played by a Hawk (PIRATE12). The Typhoon (GUNFIGHTER1) escorted the airliner to the ILS and then broke off and went on-route. The Hawk received a talk down/PAR approach from the Director Controller.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Palo Alto/Bay Tour C172 Video

5 minute video of my Bay tour out of Palo Alto -

ATC clips were taken from
Radar plots were taken from
SFO noise monitoring website.

Palo Alto C172 Flight

After waiting for many months, my business trip finally went ahead The weather sucked most of the week whilst I attended my conference. Temperatures in the mid 50's, cloudy, some drizzle and wind. Reminded me of a summer's day in England!

I woke up on Sunday 28th Febuary to a clear blue sky. We arrived at the airfield to discover that the aircraft hadn't returned from the previous flight. After a short tour of the airfield grounds admiring the other aircraft, N84695 arrived. We walked over to the fuel pumps to start the pre flight. I was very impressed with how my pilot for flight prepped the airplane. He performed a very methodical pre- flight inspection.

During the preflight, ATC switched from RWY 13 back to the preferred direction RWY31. By the time we started her up, there was already a backlog at the holding point for 31. After a few minutes waiting we were cleared to line up behind a Citabria (N59WD).

Our planned departure was to take off on 31, climb to approx 1500' QNH on runway heading and turn west towards the mountains >2500'. We then planned to route to the Golden Gate bridge via Half Moon Bay and north under the SFO Class Bravo. Shortly after rolling out on a heading of 270 in the climb to 2500' we could see a layer of low cloud lingering over Half Moon Bay. We turned north and continued a climb to 3500'. On contact with NORCAL , we were cleared through the left side of the SFO Class Bravo. At this point I was at the controls and for the first time in my short life as a student pilot I had to nail the heading and height requests passed on from ATC. Whilst transitioning the Bravo, I got a great look at the traffic heading into and out of SFO. Departures were on 01L/01R and landing on 28L/28R.

We were then cleared to continue VFR onto the Golden Gate Bridge and Alactraz which was fun. For the return back to home plate, we planned to head down the coast towards Half Moon Bay, but the low cloud had not cleared. NORCAL advised us to contact SFO Tower for another Class Bravo transition. We were subsequently cleared through the Bravo with the request to keep highway 101 on our left. Any closer would mean infringing SFO traffic.

After passing the lake at "Slack" we were advised to contact San Carlos tower. There was then a mix up with our squawk code. We had changed back to 1200 VFR, but ATC wanted us to remain on 0375. We soon rectified the problem, but I learnt about how ATC can be pretty straight to the point when talking to you.

San Carlos passed us back to Palo Alto tower. Appeared to be at least four other aircraft in the circuit, but we managed to fit in a touch and go before coming to a full stop.

All in all it was a great adventure me. It's everything I thought it would be. I enjoyed the sightseeing. Most of all I enjoyed the chance to be in some busy airspace close to an international airport.

My sincere thanks to TR for taking me flying.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Waiting ages for a bus

There is a saying in the U.K. "you wait ages for a bus then three come along". I had only once before seen an Airbus A380 from a distance prior to the 21st February.

When I recently departed for California on a business trip from the U.K. onboard Speedbird Two Eight Five (BAW285), I saw three A380's Airbuses depart Heathrow whilst we were taxing from Terminal 5 to runway 27L.

First I saw an Emirates A380 rotate and then as we approached the active runway, I caught sight of a Sinagpore followed by Qantas A380. The Qantas bus departed from interection N2E and we lined up behind via N1.

I managed to capture a video of the Qantas bus departing 27L ahead of our flight. Apologies, the video quality is not brilliant.

My flight to the US ended up with a foggy, damp landing on 19L at SFO.

Next up in the blog is my Bay trip report from my C172 flight out of Palo Alto.

Friday, January 29, 2010

California Dreams......

At the end of Febuary I will be going to the US on business. Fingers crossed I will be hooking up with some relatives and hopefully flying over the Bay area @ SFO in their C172.

I will be flying out of Palo Alto................