Qualifying Cross Country: The Beginning of the End8 months, 17 days ago
16/03/2017 Marked my solo qualifying cross country (QXC). This was a day of flying, starting at 11:40 AM and finishing back at Hawarden at 15:45 PM. The day began as you’d expect, other than skipping my run as I thought I’d need the energy for my brain, but this is never the case with running, it usually gives me energy! I had my brief with my instructor looking at my flight plans and trying to catch me out on things, the route takes me through the low level corridor between Liverpool and Manchester airspace, so you don’t want the wind to drag you into one or the other. Then I filled my water bottle, went to the all important toilet and got on my merry way.
The First Leg
After checking the aircraft out, I filled the tanks so I had 181 litres to use. I wasn’t sure how it worked with other aerodromes so thought it best to get the fuel at Hawarden. Proceeded to get my clearances and off I went, as you can see on the map above, it was a left turn after take off which planted me right onto the right heading! I only had Sky Demon on for debriefing afterwards, I was doing it the old fashioned way with a map and my reference points, luckily for me the visibility was such that I could see that big hill next to Telford so I had my visual reference point, instead of having to fly a heading and look down to see if what I expected was below me. The request for frequency change from Hawarden Radar to Shawbury Approach happened 5nm from the Military Air Traffic Zone(MATZ), so that I could ask for the MATZ penetration. MATZ penetration always used to scare me….but it was absolutely fine. After changing frequencies and listening out for ongoing conversations, the call was…
Me – “Shawbury Approach, good morning, Student G-BFNI”
Shawbury – “Student G-BFNI pass your message”
Me – “Student G-BFNI, PA28, 1 POB, en-route from Hawarden to Wolverhampton Halfpenny Green, maintaining 1,500 feet 5 miles north east of Shawbury, Request MATZ Penetration”
Shawbury – “G-NI, MATZ Penetration approved, at altitude 2,100 feet, Barnsley QNH 1010, squawk 3177”
Me – “Barnsley QNH 1010, squawk 3177, MATZ Penetration approved at 2,100 feet, G-NI”
…the one problem with flying solo as a student is that prefix, I wrote it at the top of my kneepad so I didn’t forget to say it (like I usually do, or it’s sporadically thrown in there). I can imagine controllers get a bit tired of saying that mouthful of a callsign, especially when with an instructor I’m used to being G-NI or G-BFNI, so probably drop it for their convenience…which I’m fine with.
After leaving the MATZ I switched to London Information with whom I continued with the rest of the way, until requesting a change to Wolverhampton Radio when I was around 3 nm from the Air Traffic Zone (ATZ). I flew over head, the low cloud base meant I couldn’t fly at 2,000 feet for a proper overhead join, so I reported that I was flying overhead at 1,800 feet (circuit altitude is 1,000 feet) which the controller said was fine. I was given runway 28 (which favoured the wind on the day which was 250), so reported that I was descending deadside. Deadside is the side of the runway that the active circuit is not on, so for example, from the perspective of 28 being up, left hand circuits on the left of 28, then the dead side on the right of 28…
I met up with my dad which was good since I hadn’t seen him for a long time, it’s a shame I couldn’t see my mom as she was busy. He took pictures and some videos, and as soon as I pass I’m going to do most of my flying with him, my mom and Emily. I got the piece of paper signed and stamped from Wolverhampton and got on my way.
The Second Leg
My instructor always said always check fuel and oil, so I did and got on my way. I was racing against the weather, since storm Dorris was on her windy way from the north west, but I was adamant I was going to finish this today. As you can see from the map above, I did a right turn out from runway 22. I always find it weird at other aerodromes that aren’t controlled, as I request things but they always tell me it’s at my discretion…so I have to really be sure it’s safe to do things, I always seem to get quite lost too when you have to cross runways…that are inactive of course, but the groundschool exams puts the fear of hellfire in you about crossing runways in general. So off I went northbound, but wait…I forgot to book in at Blackpool, luckily, Air Traffic Controllers (ATC) are the best people in the world, patience of saints and always willing to help where needed. I asked London Information if they could let Blackpool know that I was on my way and that it was my qualifying cross country, they did and told me all was ok, and that they were expecting me in the time I said. On the way past Tern Hill, I had to ascend to 2,100 feet for separation from an Apache Helicopter…this was probably the coolest thing I’ve done for a while, it was a fair way away from me, but I managed to see it on the way past. Also, Shawbury handed me over to Manchester Radar, now I was told never to contact Manchester Radar, it’s just a listening frequency for when in the low level corridor, so I requested Hawarden Radar and headed west so I was in their air space, they were fine with this and gave me permission. I found my visual reference points for the low level corridor, Beeston Castle, Oulton Park then finally Ashcroft. I positioned over ashcroft, Hawarden told me to change to the Manchester listening frequency and squawk and off I went, between 1,000 – 1,300 feet between very busy airspace. Once above Reebok Stadium, I climbed to a more comfortable altitude, then changed over to Warton Radar. I proceeded to get my MATZ Penetration for when I was over my turning point over Southport pier. I turned toward Blackpool, and halfway over the estuary, they gave me me permission to change over to Blackpool. The ATC in Blackpool was super helpful, and asked that if I needed to, I could fly overhead, she said I could join and report left base for runway 28. I’m used to this kind of instruction from Hawarden, so proceeded to do so. The wind was around 22 knots at this point…from 250…and made for a VERY slow final, I stuck to the correct speeds, but the groundspeed was just so slow. I got my paper signed, on behalf of ATC and off I went!
The Third and Final Leg
Taking off in this wind meant a very small ground run, which was pretty cool. I did a left turn out, and headed back south. Now I was told to avoid Woodvale airspace, as they have been pretty harsh on infringers, but Warton actually cleared me to pass through their ATZ, so for safety reasons I tried to stay relatively close to the shoreline which took me straight through their ATZ. At Formby Point I requested a frequency change to Liverpool. Liverpool gave me the option of a traffic service, which meant they told me to report when above a certain waypoint, I love this kind of service since I feel safe knowing that ATC are monitoring where I am and can tell me to move if an easyJet needs to take off or one is coming in to land. I reported when at Seaforth, then reported over Wallasey, then over Neston, making sure to avoid the restricted airspace above Cheshire Oaks. I changed to Hawarden, who cleared me for a right base on runway 22 after the landing PA-28, which happened to be the examiner and the Chief Flight Instructor (CFI) of the flight school. This was the best landing of all of them and in ridiculous wind (250/24 knots). It was a slight crosswind landing and the examiner said it was a great landing back in the flying school, I just hope he doesn’t expect them all to be that perfect! Around 10 minutes later, the rain came…and I mean torrential. Hindsight teaches me I should’ve diverted and tried another day, but I’m that close to the end that I just wanted it done.