We’d always said that when I finally passed my PPL, we’d take the TB-10 on a tour of Europe. Flying is such an important part of our lives and future plans, so me getting qualified was a key piece of the puzzle. It often felt like the day would never come, but on April 6th 2016 I completed my final skills test, and by 3rd May I had my license in my hand and was itching to go flying!
What we did was essentially backpacking, but with a plane! We set off without a firm plan and without having booked accommodation or transport. Whilst it had the potential to fall apart spectacularly, this actually worked out really well – we had the flexibility to plan according to the weather, limited pressure to arrive anywhere by a particular day or time, and the opportunity to spend extra time in places we were particularly enjoying.
We left the UK on 4th May, and had to be in Germany for a family wedding on the 21st. Between those dates, we could take our time and go wherever we fancied. Well, we did…see a summary of our route below 🙂
The trip was indescribable in so many ways, but I’m going to try, and will resort to photos where the words fail me. Our minds were blown over and over again by the views, the learning experiences and the sheer craziness of the fact that we were actually flying ourselves and seeing things from a perspective that few people will ever experience. We felt so lucky and so incredibly excited to find out where our future adventures will take us.
Practicalities first – as with our last long over-water trip (to the Faroes in 2015), we hired safety equipment from SEMS Aerosafe. They are excellent, responsive and hugely helpful and we can’t recommend them highly enough! We also recommend taking the time to think through the equipment you’ll need for a long tour – a life raft and full immersion suits are essential if you’re planning on doing any extended over-water stretches in a single-engined aircraft. It might seem morbid to consider all scenarios, and it might feel like money down the drain if you don’t use any of it, but when you’re sitting above the North Sea for 2hrs straining to hear every non-existent cough and splutter on the engine, you’ll be very glad that you have the stuff with you!
It might seem daft to say it, but don’t just hire the equipment and forget about it – brief it and figure out how you’d use it in an emergency. For example, we agreed before we went that the person not flying would keep the life raft on their lap at all times until we reached a certain height above the sea (and thus would have enough time to grab it again if the engine failed). In hindsight we actually felt underprepared – it’s one thing going through the motions on the ground when you’re warm and dry, but I’m sure quite another in a real-life ditching scenario. We are looking into training courses for future trips and will post an update as and when we go on one.
The upshot of all the equipment is that you end up feeling a tad over-dressed on a sunny May morning in Stornaway! Each of us was sporting two layers of skiing thermals, a rubber-sealed immersion suit*, life jacket plus a personal locator beacon (PLB) each, a pouch containing flares, whistle, torch and signalling mirror.
*which I failed to vent properly before putting it on, resulting in a suit full of trapped air and spectacular fart-noise when I sat down in the pilot’s seat…
I took command on the way up to Prestwick, my first post-PPL flight. The route planning had gone well and I was looking forward to trying the landing there. I’d checked the weather and expected the cloud base to descend a bit en route, so I was prepared and went down to around 2,000ft as we approached the Lake District and I could no longer stay VMC at my previous level.
Unfortunately, like any forecast, aviation weather predictions can be wrong, and these were. The cloud base descended further as we continued north, and soon I was below 1,500ft with the prospect of further descent up ahead. I started to realise it wasn’t going to be possible to get into Prestwick VFR, so we started making plans to divert. As I had an instrument-rated pilot on board, we went out towards the coast to check if the cloud situation was better over there, as there was a chance we could have got around to Prestwick if so. Unfortunately it wasn’t, so we decided to go into Carlisle. My first weather diversion!
There wasn’t much going on at Carlisle on a weekday lunchtime in slightly dodgy weather, but they were enormously friendly and helpful, as well as quick with the refuelling. Whilst we hadn’t planned to go there, we definitely would again. It is about half way from Biggin to Stornoway so a legitimate fuel stop along that route.
We had lunch in the cafe and re-briefed for the flight further north – it was clear at this point that things were deteriorating en route and J would have to take command and fly IFR for the next leg of the trip.
We popped out of the clouds about 5,000ft and had some amazing glimpses of the Lakes and later the Trossachs and Highlands in the intermittent gaps. J had seen a weather warning earlier that morning for potential mountain wave over parts of Scotland, and unfortunately that had persisted, so he had to request a block altitude to allow him to maintain speed. It was definitely a new challenge!
We weren’t 100% sure if we’d get into Stornoway itself, as there was a trough sitting over the island. We had plenty of fuel to divert, though, so we went up to see if it was possible. We had to circle to find a suitable place to descend through the cloud, but once we were below it was clear and we quickly became visual with the airfield. There were several commercial planes doing exactly the same thing to dodge the weather as they came down.
Stornoway was just emerging from the afternoon’s storms when we approached, and it looked beautiful bathed in sunlight coming through the clearing cloud. We drove into town and ended up staying at our old favourite the Cabarfeidh.
Part 2 coming soon…Faroe Islands Revisited!
- ICAO code: EGNC
- Elevation AMSL: 190ft
- Runway direction & length: 01/19 (938m) and 07/25 (1,837m)
- Runway surface: Tarmac
- Landing fee (at time of visiting): Calculated on a per-kilo basis – for us, about £16
- Facilities: Toilets, cafe serving breakfast & lunch
- Transport links: Easy access by car, otherwise you’d need to take a taxi as there’s no train station.
- ICAO code: EGPO
- Elevation AMSL: 26ft
- Runway direction & length: 06/24 (1,000m) and 18/36 (2,315m)
- Runway surface: Tarmac
- Landing fee (at time of visiting): £19.56
- Facilities: Toilets, cafe & shops in the main terminal
- Transport links: Bus service from Stornoway available Mon-Sat. Otherwise local taxi companies are very responsive and the ride into town is under 15mins.