Night Fly

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22nd November 2013

The clocks going back should have started the night flying season but unfortunately things were rather delayed due to the spell of wet and windy weather. In fact the prolonged rain had turned our normal haunt of Andrewsfield into a very soggy bog and we were unable to carry out our usual night refresher evenings due to the condition of the runway.

Eventually an evening of circuits for half of our regular night fly group was carried out at Southend. Not ideal as it makes it a rather expensive evening with their circuit and landing fees. However needs must and that at least allowed us to get a fly out evening arranged with the other half of the group who hadn’t been ‘night refreshed’ split between Stewart Braddon and myself.

As I’ve mentioned on the night write ups before it’s very difficult to find airfields with lights that stay open to a decent time in the evening and don’t charge landing fees that are ridiculously expensive. There is also the consideration of the complicated logistics with aircraft needing to be recovered the following morning as well as our participants and cars being in the wrong place at the end of play.

Coventry was to be our destination for the evening of the 22nd November with an early dinner being taken in the DC6 diner. We would be returning to Southend, which although expensive with fees of just short of £50 for landing and parking a C172 at least it has the advantage of the airport station which allows us to utilise the train link back into London which greatly simplifies the logistics of the evening.

The TAF was pretty good with just a smattering of cloud around 3500ft and good viz forecast. With the following morning looking fine for getting the aircraft back it was a ‘go’. 10 of us meet up for late afternoon at North Weald in the pretty chilly air made worse by the wind chill off of a 12kt north easterly to prep the aircraft for the night adventure. With North Weald closing at official ‘night’ which was 16.29 the plan was to have the group aircraft airborne at 16.20.

All went very well with no late bulb failures to fix and as the sun dipped lower over the horizon we mounted up to start the pre start checks at around 16.10. One by one the beacons started their lazy uncharacteristically bright flashing in the dark air followed by the gentle calm glow of the red and green nav lights. Sitting in FG down by the bowsers I could see the aircraft start carefully picking their way off the stands and onto the by now quite dark taxiway towards 02.

With all the aircraft lined up doing their power checks, lights glowing and with the occasional flash of a headset light or torch lighting up the crew inside made for an impressive sight. A pity my camera wasn’t up to the job of capturing it. One by one the aircraft lined up for departure the gentle calm of the beacon and nav lights being overwhelmed by the urgent intense bright flash of white strobes as the aircraft entered the runway. Even after all these years it still gives me a buzz to see a C172 or PA28 in these conditions climbing out into the darkness.

Left turn out towards the M11 in the rapidly darkening sky and the long lines of car headlights sweeping down from a very bright Stansted in the distance. Out of TMZ2 and climbing to 2300ft north through the gap up towards Biggleswade gave us good views of both Stansted and Lutons well lit runways. Several of the guys decided to have a go at routing through the Luton overhead and with a very helpful controller had a great view as they passed through the overhead. The towns and villages drifted serenely past but for us just south of Northampton it went a bit gloomy and rain started to appear on the windscreen. We were also only just below the cloud, something that definitely wasn’t forecast. Still clear enough to enjoy the view and the strobes reflecting on the rain drops flying by reminded me that Christmas is coming!

The ATIS informed us that as expected 05 was was in use and the weather was fine at Coventry. With Kieran Hardiman with me and Malcolm J in FG it seemed rude not to take advantage of Coventrys ILS to give Kieran a bit of IMC practice. There is a direct entry procedure off of the DTY VOR to the ILS and with a clearance from ATC we took the instrument route. Nicely established Coventrys impressive array of runway lights slowly got closer. Kieran pulled off a nice 9 out of 10 landing given it was his first night landing in over a year but continued to beat himself up about it until we coming to a stop on our stand on the western apron.

Vrai Stacey and John Reynolds had vacated the runway by a turn off to the south side to allow us to land which unfortunately for them had put them as last of our group onto the apron. As FG had slipped into the last available parking slot they were left to sit it out for the best part of 10 minutes whilst ATC summoned a marshaller to park them between two hangers a little way off. In true team spirit the rest of us legged it to the DC6 Diner and the promise of warmth and food whilst they sorted themselves out.

I’ve mentioned the DC6 on previous trips and it is still very good. If you find yourself at Coventry it’s well worth a visit. Sitting in the fuselage with the illuminated cockpit is always a little bit different and our pre ordered meals arrived quite quickly, were very good and reasonably priced.

With faces suitably stuffed we headed back into the cold for the 10 minute stroll back to the GA building. Due to the hour there was nobody on duty and we had to phone ops to get someone over to let us back airside. Typically being a shift change this took the best part of 20 minutes but eventually we headed back to our aircraft for a change of pilots for the return leg.

FS was first away followed by Jonathan Senior and Robbie Meek in NUKA, then Darren Foss, Simon Pimblet with Stewart in FC followed by ourselves. It’s only a short taxi for 05 from the western end so we were soon all stacked up for the power checks. A few minutes after departure Vrai reported back for the benefit of the group that he was encountering cloud at 1500ft near the Draycott water VRP. Routing out the cloud was very patchy and we started to disappear into it at around 1200ft, which was definitely not in the forecast and with the temp at around freezing something to avoid. Levelling off and a turn to the left had us back in clear air but the cloud was patchy for the first 20 miles out of Coventry and we could see mist patches starting to form in the valleys.

FC headed down towards Luton to get a crossing on the way back which they did after a fair time holding north of the field, all the time watching the low cloud increasing over the airport. The controller asking them on several occasions if they were still actually visual with the airport. Us in FG thought we would try and get a routing direct from BKY to Southend via the Stansted 04 threshold. Despite being very busy the controller was extremely helpful and cleared us into the zone VFR not above 2000ft towards the 04 threshold. The lights of Stansted were very impressive as we approached and were changed to Stansted tower with instructions to hold half a nautical mile north of the 04 threshold which gave us a great view of the landing Ryanair 737 we were holding for. With the following traffic on an 8 mile final in sight we were cleared across the centreline and slipped smartly across and into the relative darkness away from the airport. All very impressive and good experience for Kieran and Malcolm who hadn’t done it before.

Straight out to Chelmsford and down towards the Thames and the clear black outline of the river giving a good reference to where Southend should be. With the others inbound and NUKA on an ILS we ended up as number 4 and slotted in nicely for a left base join, once again getting a great big lit runway view through the windscreen. That alone is (almost) worth paying for.

Picking our way around the unfamiliar taxiway a marshaller parked us in a nice line opposite the GA terminal. Aircraft to bed, apart from FC that was going up again with Stewart so that Paul Weeks who couldn’t join us on the trip but had driven his people carrier out to Southend to take some of the guys back to North Weald could do his refresher circuits.

The rest of us headed off to the station to experience the joys of public transport on a Friday evening. However that paled into insignificance given the excellent and very satisfying evening we had all enjoyed.

Thanks to all who took part as always and especially to those who recovered the aircraft the following morning and to Paul W for making the transport back to N Weald a lot easier. These trips can’t take place without a lot of goodwill from all concerned and that certainly wasn’t lacking on this trip.

One down for this winter which is a big bonus on last year when we couldn’t complete any night fly out trips due to the ghastly weather. Fingers crossed for a couple more.

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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