Thruxton and Fairoaks

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14th March 2015

Thruxton & Fairoaks Saturday the 14th March 2015

The first fly out of 2015 was planned as a reasonably simple day out to hopefully get things off to a good start. Both airfields have hard runways which was a big attraction after all of the rain and the problems faced by many of the grass fields throughout what has seemed like a very long winter.
During the week leading up to the trip the weather forecast was very good, then very poor, then perhaps not bad and finally the day before it was really a question of turning up and seeing what it looked like with the Mk1 eyeball. As on several occasions previously, if it was rubbish we could console ourselves with a bacon sarnie overdose. As it turned out it wasn’t great, but it was certainly flyable and the NWFG members gathered at ‘The Squadron’ for the morning prep. All the NWFG aircraft were planned to be taking part but unfortunately ‘FS’ went sick with a weeping brake calliper a couple of days before which necessitated her crew of Richard Gormley and Tony Chapman having to relocated into other aircraft. Five new members were taking part in their first group fly out and I had crewed them as far as possible with some of our more experienced fly out veterans. Lee Harris from ‘The Squadron’ was also joining us with his shiny new EASA PPL in PA28 G-ROWS from Elstree, ably assisted in the right seat by Russell Chambers.
The TAF for the day was a real mixed bag of varying cloud, some possible haze but also some good spells of sunshine. The first stop was to be Thruxton (EGH0) for an early lunch before taking the next leg to Fairoaks (EGTO) for afternoon tea. With the fly outs having been going for as long as they have it’s getting progressively more difficult to find airfields that most of our members haven’t been to so it was quite satisfying to learn that the vast majority of our number hadn’t been to either airfield surprisingly.

Highclere Castle

No sign of the Earl of Grantham. Highclere Castle (Downton Abbey)


The initial routing out was going to be the well trodden route to the north of London, west towards Bovingdon (BNN), the Stokenchurch mast and south west towards Newbury, Greenham Common and then Andover. This route certainly wasn’t going to present any great challenges for our veterans but it did make our new members who hadn’t been that way before have to think about and plan around Wycombe’s ATZ, Benson and Boscombe Downs MATZ and the restricted areas of Burghfield (R104) and Aldermaston (R101). Now that Wycombe won’t grant a transit through their ATZ whilst gliding is in progress it’s best to plan the slightly longer way around in the first place and then take a short cut if it’s possible.
The forecast was a bit of a mixed bag with lots of sunshine by possibly hazy with some varying winds. At North Weald it was pretty calm but a check with Thruxton to PPR our numerous aircraft revealed that the wind was 20kts but almost straight down the runway. Departing from North Weald it wasn’t bad, just a bit murky, but the further west we went the murkier it became. Perfectly flyable but not great. Speaking to Farnborough we headed out to the Stokenchurch mast before turning SW towards Greenham Common. There was now a fair bit of cloud around and the viz was definitely getting worse. Passing over the M4 we continued towards Andover and took the opportunity to take in a bit of sightseeing with a couple of orbits around Highclere Castle (aka Downton Abbey) just west of the A34. Boscombe Down was shut so it was straight to Thruxton Radio with information to join downwind for R07. The usual rolling Wiltshire hills weren’t their normal picturesque selves as we concentrated on trying to find where the airfield should be in the now 5-6k viz. It wasn’t too hard to find being a large site with the motor racing circuit around the perimeter. Downwind left hand for runway 07 with us having to extend a fair bit due to two other aircraft in front of us.

A murky approach to Thruxton

A murky approach into Thruxton


Turning final with the race track and associated buildings between us and the threshold the wind was 20kts but only 10 to 20 degrees off the runway heading and quite constant so it wasn’t too much of a problem.
Soon we were kissing the tarmac as Stewart pulled off a greaser in VB and we vacated right onto the grass for the taxi back to the main apron. It’s a nice GA airfield with a large well marked and laid out apron for home and visiting aircraft. Getting to the tower and café means opening the boundary gate and going down a slope to pass through the tunnel under the race track. Once on the other side there is the building with the tower on the top, the office where the landing fees are paid (£10) and the Jackaroo Café takes up the ground floor. The building had changed a fair bit since my last visit with a very nice atrium type structure added with a staircase leading up to the different levels, now all under cover rather than the old wartime type outside metal staircase that was there before. A big improvement and good to see some investment.

Thruxton Airport

Thruxton Airport


Stewart and I paid our landing fee and popped into the café, the menu was rather limited consisting of mainly sandwiches and baguettes but enough to tide us over. Unfortunately the poor lady who took our order said, ‘It will only take me 5 or 10 minutes to do them’, when I said there were another 18 arriving in the next ten minutes she almost had a break down and thought I was winding her up.
However she coped very well and we had a decent get together with our newer members having a chance to meet a few of the others taking part. An update on the forecast revealed a real mixed bag and it was almost impossible to know what it was doing. A call to PPR at Fairoaks for our next stop also revealed a bit of a changing scene. With the group heading off quite well spread apart we were taking slightly different routes to Fairoaks given the mixture of airspace, airfields and danger areas along the way, a positive navigational feast especially in the conditions. Getting airborne from 07 with a slight right turn for noise abatement the visibility had clearly got worse. It was bright but below the thick lumpy cloud it was grey and decidedly murky with pretty poor horizontal viz. Stewart and I had decided to route to theA34/A303 junction and then over to VRP Alton which would keep us clear of Popham and the gliding site at Lasham and with a change from Thruxton to Farnborough Radar we could hear the controller warning of intense gliding activity. With gliders being hard enough to see at the best of times in the prevailing murk we decided to give them an even wider berth.
Following the A3 up past Guildford it was then time to give Fairoaks a call. It was clear the circuit was quite busy and there were numerous aircraft departing and arriving. I think a lot of pilots had been lulled into flying by the apparent reasonable conditions but once up it was a different story. However by slowing down a little over the last five miles or so to let some others sort themselves out ahead of us we managed to put ourselves in a nice space for a crosswind join for 06. One has to be careful in the Fairoaks circuit as it sits right inside the Heathrow CTR and it is important to stay within the confines of the ATZ otherwise trouble looms!
With a bit of careful separation we made our approach and got in just behind the aircraft ahead, a full stop required continuing to the very end so landing a little long on the 813 metre concrete runway given the traffic behind was the sensible option. We got in fine but a couple of the others weren’t so lucky and ended up having to go around in the murk. With all our aircraft arriving quite close together Fairoaks Tower had sensibly decided to park us in one long line on taxiway ‘C’.
That worked very well and stopped us littering up the place. However it did mean that we could only leave in order of parking.
It’s a bit of a trek to the tower and then a climb up the external steps to pay the £18 landing fee. The café was incredibly busy, noisy and very slow, it took over 30 minutes just to get a coffee and a bit of cake, fortunately we weren’t in that much of a rush but it took the edge off the stop a bit.

Fairoaks Tower

A very busy Fairoaks Tower


Things had calmed down a little by the time we got ready for departure and taxied out to the 06 hold. The last leg back was to route down towards Biggin Hill being careful to avoid the 1500ft area of the Gatwick Zone and at Sevenoaks turn north towards the QE2 Bridge. After take off we had a great view of the futuristic and very impressive McLaren F1 factory below us. Routing east along the M25 Stewart and I thought we would try for a short cut and request a transit through the City Airport Zone hopefully via their overhead, especially as the weather was now getting very much clearer and the murk had started to disappear. Farnborough instructed us to change to Biggin Approach who would coordinate our City transit. A call to Biggin gave us a routing through their overhead and then a change of squawk in preparation for Heathrow Radar.

Canary Wharf

Approaching LCY with Canary Wharf on our port side


With the City looming in the windscreen the call to Heathrow Radar gave us a radar control service in the zone and our clearance through the City Airport overhead at not above 2000ft to the M11 Junction 4 VRP. It was a great view as we passed overhead the Thames Barrier and the airport with the O2 and Canary Wharf complex out to our left hand side. Spotting Junction 4 was easy at the top of the wide A406 and we reported leaving the zone before routing west of Staplefords ATZ to join the North Weald Circuit downwind for 20. Simplicity itself really and needless to say as we made our approach into North Weald the weather was about as far removed from the mornings as you could imagine. A blue sky, excellent visibility and light winds. I’m not complaining at least we got the fly outs started but some kinder conditions for our participants would have been nice, especially the less experienced ones, but then again it was good experience! Let’s hope for better as the year goes on.


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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