Night Flight

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28th January 2011

After a few evenings where we have managed to complete most of the night flying refresher flights at Andrewsfield, the evening of Friday the 21st January approached. This was not only a planned group night fly but also the first fly out of 2011 and should have taken us to Oxford. Needless to say despite delaying the decision until midday on the day, the weather didn’t play ball and our efforts were thwarted by forecast mist and fog that actually turned out to be far worse than expected. The fly out was postponed until the following week and the tafs for the evening of the 28th turned out to be surprisingly short and also very sweet, The downside was that after lots of rain over a long period Andrewsfield was now doing its best to impersonate a scene from the Somme which ruled out using the airfield for the return and overnight parking. The complicated logistics of recovering the crews that evening as well as the aircraft on the Saturday is bad enough from somewhere close like Andrewsfield but were now made more difficult as Southend was our only realistic option. Fortunately all our participants are very forthcoming in volunteering to help out wherever possible and this resulted in a plan that involved a mixture of vehicle and train movements to and from Southend.

The evening was planned to start with Jonathan Senior flying to Southend in FG to pick up Malcolm Jarvis who had positioned his car there acting as a North Weald Flying Group cab for the return. Malcolm has a shiny new night rating and was the other half of the crew. Paul Bazire with Phil Fellows in FC together with Stewart Braddon and Simon Pimblet in KA would depart North Weald just before the start of ‘night’ to maximise the night flying time. Axel Waldecker also joined KA’s crew as an observer having never experienced any light aircraft night flying before.

It was absolutely freezing as the crews prepared their aircraft and the tafs indication of the overcast at 2400ft melting away early wasn’t really happening, which was a pity as watching a great sunset it part of the allure of night flying. No matter, sitting in the cockpit watching as the sky gets darker and the clock ticks toward engine start time gets the adrenaline moving. With an extra five minutes built in to allow for an immediate return in case of a problem after take-off before the airfield shuts had us starting at 16.55. Typically there was an exec jet waiting for an IFR clearance to get away which amazingly made everything very congested as it got progressively darker as we waited at the 02 hold.

Slipping ahead and lining up in front of the jet as he headed for the ORP had us climbing out and turning west towards Bovingdon, the bright carpet of lights towards of the city appearing majestically below us. The cloudbase was still around 2400 but the viz at this stage was excellent and gave us the sort of view that make night flying so enjoyable. The routing was very simple, straight to BNN and then direct to Oxford giving us plenty of time to take in the sights. Farnborough Radar were excellent as usual and as we headed over the Chilterns the viz started to deteriorate slightly. No real problem but just a little murkiness appearing under a slightly lower cloudbase.


We were soon listening to the Oxford ATIS. Establishing contact with Oxford approach we elected for a right base join for runway 01. With KAs superior speed they had passed us quite early and we could see their strobes way off in the distance as well as keeping a close watch on another joining aircraft. It was now pitch black and I’ve got to say despite studying the charts at great length before departure and recognising the various towns, could Phil or myself see the runway lights, no! Getting closer to the field we knew it had to be there somewhere but its actual location eluded us despite allegedly having a green flashing beacon on the airfield. Without radar Oxford weren’t really going to be much help.

Despite a diet of carrots over the last month, the runway continued to elude us and the cross runway which according to Pooleys should not have had lights, caused more confusion. After a few minutes during which time it was fortunate there was no cockpit voice recorder fitted we actually had the main runway in site, the runway lights being very directional to the approach and probably the red faces glowing from the cockpit of FC outshining the landing lights!

However that aside once we had the runway we were given that great view of a lit runway and approach lights that I never tire of seeing. Picking our way around the unfamiliar taxi ways blue lighting we parked on the main apron surrounded by Oxford’s large training fleet and some serious kit in the way of biz jets.

Oxfords new terminal is very impressive and after paying our landing fees we went to the cafe which stays open quite late for refreshments and the usual banter while we waited for the arrival of FG from Southend.

Once refreshed it was back out in the bitter cold for the return to our aircraft with Axel now riding in FC. ATIS, start clearance and taxi had us once again following the blue lights around to the A hold for departure on 01. With take-off clearance given, we were soon climbing into the now star studded night sky to a 1000ft before turning on course. The return was much clearer with stunning viz under a moonless sky. Phil and I routed the longer way around to the north of the Luton Zone in an attempt to get a crossing direct through the Stansted overhead from Barkway to Southend. Unfortunately despite a very friendly controller, the amount of commercial traffic that was heading in prevented it which was a pity. That clearance refusal meant we now headed down through the gap towards Brookmans park and turned left over North Weald directly towards Southend.

Despite being airborne for over an hour and half on the return leg it still didn’t seem enough as we followed KA and FG into Southend. No problems finding 06 and once again that great night picture through the windscreen on the approach. Parking on the GA apron, it was a case of moving as swiftly as possible to pack up and put the aircraft to bed in the biting wind. The new covers being quickly fitted as protection for the screen against the overnight frost.

With us heading off by train and car everyone was in agreement that it had been a great evening and a really good experience. The only downside being the rather steep landing and parking charges at Southend which came out at over £40 per aircraft which when coupled with Oxfords £20, plus the recovery and transport costs made it a bit of an expensive night. However if you want enjoyment, you have to pay for it and the evening was well worth the expense and the hassle involved in making it work. So much so we are going to try again.

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Contact us

North Weald Flying Group operate out of the Squadron at North Weald Airfield.

The airfield is 10 miles south of Stansted and can be seen from the M11. Follow signs from the A414 and on entrance to the field, follow the perimeter track all the way around the field until you arrive at the distinctive Squadron building.

phone: 01992522090