One blustery day in October 2015, J was getting itchy feet as it had been at least 2 weeks since he last got up in the air. I was also keen to get flying as my last few lessons had been cancelled due to poor weather.
J now has the advantage of an Instrument Rating (IR) allowing him to fly in much worse weather conditions than student pilots and those without this qualification. Needless to say, this gives him a better hit rate in this country, particularly at this time of year!
We were both tired from a long week of work so hadn’t exactly shot out of bed at first light. We were looking at a couple of places to visit in Wales, but as we were at the end of October and rapidly losing the light, we calculated that we’d barely make it outside before having to head back home. So we decided to save the longer trip for another day when we were up and about a bit earlier.
J has a fondness for collecting airfields he hasn’t visited before. We enjoy looking on the various pilot forums for inspiration – so many helpful write-ups of trips mean it’s easier than ever to find somewhere that fits your criteria on a given day. For us on this day it was simple – under an hour from Biggin, somewhere we haven’t been before, and somewhere we can get a cup of tea. Turweston was one of a number that fit the bill, and so we decided to take a trip there.
Turweston is also the Headquarters of the Light Aircraft Association (LAA, the UK body that regulates and encourages self-built aircraft). We’ll be getting to know them pretty well over the next year or so as we get on with our project to build an RV-14!
Since I began my PPL training, I’ve been using every opportunity to practice my radio when flying with J. Whilst I’m not allowed to fly ‘YC as a student pilot (it’s not like driving training where you can take control with another license holder sitting next to you), I learn a lot from watching him fly and I find that even being in the plane frequently helps to keep me current.
One thing I *can* do using J’s license is control ‘voice’ for our flights – this means I communicate with the various controllers on the radio, working with J (as pilot-in-command) so that I know his preferences and can get these across. This is excellent practice for me as I will need to get my own radio license in addition to passing my skills test for PPL. I am privileged to have so many opportunities to get used to the radio as this is something a lot of student pilots struggle with. I think it also helps that I am used to GA flying so I am no longer fazed by what can seem like an awful lot of chatter when you first hear it!
I am pretty well-versed in the usual calls to Biggin for departure and the en-route requests for a basic and traffic service (different levels of help from the controller in terms of telling you where other aircraft are), but one thing I hadn’t done before was request, obtain and manage a clearance into controlled airspace from start to finish.
For our route to Turweston we had the option of going around controlled airspace and avoiding the need for a clearance, but it was much quicker if we could go through Luton’s zone. Many GA pilots are put off using controlled airspace as they worry it will be too complicated or clearance will be refused, but in our experience they are always extremely helpful and will only refuse if they are really busy.
So for Luton we decided to request clearance to cross the airspace. It was daunting at first as there was a lot of traffic and the frequency was extremely busy. The controller was working very quickly and I was keen not to take up more time than was strictly necessary.
I called up to request transit – the more flexible you can be in these cases, the better – if you can only go VFR on your current heading and altitude, you might cause them a real issue for other traffic and they’re more likely to refuse. If you show that you’re willing to help them out, it’s better for everyone. After consulting with J, I said we could accept VFR below 1,800ft or IFR transit at any level (of course only say this if it’s true!) and the former was quickly granted.
The controller explained he would need to hold us just south of the runway and would then wait for a gap in traffic for us to cross. We proceeded to the point he’d identified and began to orbit. An EasyJet A320 was on its way in to land, with another just lining up onto final. We settled into the orbit, expecting a wait. The controller then asked if we were visual with two A320s. We confirmed that we were, and he cleared us to cross the approach path behind the second of the two. As we crossed, a further A320 lined up onto final and popped out of the cloud.
It’s a rare and slightly daunting occurrence for a tiny single-engine piston aircraft to find itself between two enormous airbuses! I wish I’d thought to take a photo, but I was very focused on keeping them both in sight and making sure we got out of the way! It tickled me to hear them being warned of ‘TB-10 traffic’ in their path – I’m not sure how used an A320 pilot would be to spotting something of our size whilst on approach to land!
After the excitement of the Luton crossing, we changed frequency to Turweston and approached to land. Shortly after we did, another TB-10 flew in. It’s quite unusual to see another aircraft of exactly this type, as there are not many in the UK, so we gave the guy a wave and went to the cafe for a cup of tea! After the tea we had a short walk around the perimeter of the airfield and considered going into the nearest village. The skies were darkening, the wind getting up and it was starting to rain, so we decided to stay in the vicinity of the airfield and get some air before heading back. We enjoyed exploring the hangars – some lovely vintage aircraft and even a self-built RV-8! We saw the new terminal building that’s under construction at Turweston, which looks like it will be excellent when finished.
An uneventful flight back with no A320s to contend with – we went back via the scenic route and didn’t cross any controlled airspace this time. Lovely place to visit, a very friendly airfield with reasonable landing fees (£12 for us).
- ICAO code: EGBT
- Elevation AMSL: 438ft
- Runway direction & length: 09/27 (1,256m)
- Runway surface: Tarmac
- Landing fee (at time of visiting): £12 (single engine, 4 seats)
- Facilities: Toilets, cafe
- Transport links: Village is walkable in about 30mins but taxis would be required if you need to go further. Nearest train station is over 10 miles away.