Less than a year after swapping our first plane (a TB-10) for the more long-distance capable Mooney we came to the conclusion that it wasn’t going to be practical or cost-effective to keep a certified aircraft at our new home in Oban.

We had intended to use the Mooney for our regular commute to London for work. Believe it or not, if J and I went together it was the same price as, or even cheaper than, two train tickets or two commercial flights. The added bonus was that it was considerably quicker (and an awful lot more fun!) than both. The quickest we ever made it from Oban to Biggin Hill was 2hrs 15mins, which gave us a door-to-desk time of an enviable 4hrs. This is impossible using any other mode of transport.

When it worked, it was amazing. We had our out of hours permission for Oban airport so we could come in in the evenings in summer after the field had closed. We kept a folding bike in the back seat of the aircraft and – upon landing – one of us would hop over the fence and cycle home, collect keys, bring the car and pick up the other person plus luggage, who had by that point parked and covered the plane for the night. When travelling light, we’d swap the cycle for beautiful 30min walk home in the sunset. We had it working like a well-oiled machine, and the evening light over the increasingly stunning scenery as we made ou way north was something we always looked forward to on a Friday.

Reality, however, meant that we often weren’t commuting together – different jobs meant different demands at different times. The Mooney was neither a cost-effective nor practical means to commute with just one of us on board, especially as in my case the lack of an IR or IMC qualification meant I was fairly weather-limited and would often find I couldn’t travel when I’d planned to.

We quickly realised that we couldn’t plan in a 3-day contingency window for all of our trips, and that any maintenance issues with the Mooney would be difficult and expensive to resolve in Oban, so we reluctantly said goodbye to ‘WS in the spring of 2018. She sold very quickly and will no doubt be an excellent machine for her new owner.

We don’t regret owning ‘WS even for this short period, as she did give us some truly fabulous commutes and some valuable flying experience as well – neither of us had flown a retractable gear aircraft or one with a turbo-charged engine before and we are better pilots for having done that.

A new way to fly

Whilst selling ‘WS was the right decision, we are still a couple of years from completing our RV and we desperately wanted to keep flying, stay current and explore our beautiful surroundings by air, so we immediately started looking for a replacement aircraft.

Having ruled out the use of the plane for commuting, we were able to look for a slower aircraft more suited to ‘low and slow’ sightseeing than to covering vast distances quickly.

We also decided to take on a Permit aircraft to help us get ready for the completion of our RV-14A and understand the maintenance we’d be able to do, as we’d only ever owned certified aircraft before.

‘FF about to depart Oban on a beautiful summer evening

Zenair 701 – G-CKFF

We both got excited about the prospect of an aircraft suited to the many shorter, less conventional landing strips dotted around the Scottish mainland and islands, and read a lot about Zenith aircraft. We became aware of a Zenair 701 for sale from Headcorn and went up for a test flight.

Frosty flight on New Year’s Day 2019

We were both a little shocked when we first flew the plane, as its characteristics are very different to anything either of us is used to – it’s a short take-off and landing (STOL) aircraft, the airframe has a lot of drag and it will lose height very quickly if the power is reduced. It’s also a lot slower in all phases of flight than we had experienced before. These two things mean it has very short landing and take-off distances, though, and we have been enjoying getting used to that and seeing what it can do!

The plane is a joy to fly up here in Scotland – its high wings give us amazing visibility from the cockpit and it handles beautifully so we can explore the lochs, islands and glens at low altitude and really take our time.

With friends from Connel Flying Club at Glenforsa airfield on the Isle of Mull

The high wings and great visibility mean we are also able to use the plane to take great photographs from the air. We have joined the Civil Air Patrol and we will be flying for the fabulous SCRAPbook project this year, among other things.

Glen Etive

Everyone we’ve taken flying so far has agreed it’s a whole lot of fun!

We have already had some great adventures in ‘FF and we can’t wait to have some more – watch this space 🙂

Flying over the Scottish Marine Institute at Dunstaffnage on our way back into Oban
Departing Colonsay in Spring 2019
Kiloran Bay, Colonsay

About ‘FF:

  • Type: Zenair CH 701SP (ICAO code: CH70)
  • Age: Built in 2008 by M Picard in the US and imported to Australia and eventually the UK by her previous owner, G-CKFF is the first homebuilt aircraft we have owned. Unlike with certified aircraft, where only an EASA-certified mechanic can do work to them (however big or small the task), owners of homebuilt craft on a Permit to Fly can maintain and carry out annual and interim checks themselves. This has a big cost benefit but also helps us prepare for the maintenance we will do ourselves once our RV-14A is finished.
  • MTOW: 499kgs (Maximum Take-Off Weight – heaviest the plane is allowed to be when departing, often used to calculate your landing fee at a destination, presumably because heavier planes will do more damage to their runways?!). ‘FF is the lightest aircraft we’ve ever flown by 500kgs, so even though her engine is not as powerful, she still has decent performance, particularly in the climb.
  • Range: J and I cannot both be in the aircraft with the auxiliary tanks full as this would exceed the MTOW (see above), so we tend to just use the main tanks at the moment. This gives us approx 4hrs of useable fuel at 75-80kts in the cruise. If we use aux tanks, this gives us about 10.5hrs of fuel but only one of us can be in the plane at a time.
  • Seats: 2 (although if the aux tanks are full, only one seat can be occupied).
  • Fuel: The engine is a Rotax 912 ULS so it prefers to run on MoGas (premium unleaded fuel like you buy in a normal petrol station!), but it can run on AvGas as well.
  • Cruising speed: 75-80ks, which is a lot slower than any aircraft we’ve owned before. The advantage is it’s the perfect sightseeing plane, but it’s not really one for trying to go a long way in a short time! It’s very crosswind-capable and responsive to small power and control input changes, but it is much more affected by headwinds than faster aircraft, so if there’s more than 25kts at cruising altitude you tend to start to wonder if you’re getting anywhere!
A new era: G-CKFF

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