Landings – Not for the Faint Hearted…

Looking at the excellent shots of a glider on Sylvia’s blog drew me into talking about my one and only experience of flying a glider. But it then, having mentioned the flying qualities of a Piper Cherokee, prompted me that I really should tell another of my flying stories.

Our aircraft was a Cherokee 140 built in 1966 (she is still flying with another owner). Equipped with 4 seats, you needed to adjust the amount of fuel you intended to carry based on the weight of your passengers in order not to overload the aircraft. As I joked in my comment, the flying characteristics of the old Cherokee with the Hershey Bar wing were that of a house brick once the power was turned off. Not exactly a glider!

However, these characteristics could be very useful at times. For example…

I was flying in to Norwich Airport on one occasion and on contacting the approach asked for Radar Vectors for the active runway. The controller asked if I could accept an short approach as there would be an Air UK F-27 airliner on finals at the same time. I agreed to this and was positioned to intercept the glideslope at around 5 miles with the instruction to keep the speed up on the approach. Nothing simpler in our old girl. Gently ease back on the throttle once on the glideslope to maintain our normal cruise of around 95mph in the descent (normally it would be 85 slowing to 75 over the threshold). And I kept that going to the point where we were passing over the last set of lights – much to the consternation of my colleague who had never experienced this type of approach – before closing the throttle and hanging out all the flaps! To say we stopped dead in mid air would be a close approximation though it was a simple matter to ease the Cherokee down for a nose high landing on the runway. Then a careful but hardish yank on the brake handle (she didn’t have brake pedals) slowed the speed sufficiently to allow us to exit at the first taxiway. Cue an appreciative comment from the tower! The F-27 arrived around 10 mins later – I guess the controller was used to ppl’s pottering about šŸ˜‰

The need to be aware of faster aircraft in the circuit was something I learnt at my original airfield of Leavesden – there were always business jets and fast twins to look out for but my colleague had learnt and flown only at quiet rural airfields. My experience was the guiding factor here. Of course, we can all get caught out no matter what our experience…

I held an Instrument Meteorological Conditions (IMC) rating and we were required to renew it regularly. On one of those renewals I was taken to Southend by the Assistant Chief Flying Instructor. Everybody hated going there because it was a Non-Directional Beacon (NDB) approach and quite complex because of a church on the runway centre line if approaching from the southwest – which was the case on that day. Anyway, for an NDB approach in an IMC Renewal test you have to fly the procedure accurately whilst not in sight of the ground (this involves putting up screens in the aircraft to prevent the pilot seeing out whilst allowing the instructor to do so). It basically involves flying a racetrack pattern based on the beacon and descending as cleared by the tower – very much the same as the holding patterns you may well have seen in various TV programmes about air traffic control. That went ok – first time around was slightly off but successfully corrected on the second.

Then I was cleared off the beacon for a procedural join for runway 06. This involves flying a specific heading outbound from the beacon whilst descending to a specific altitude before making a rate 1 (15 degree banked) turn back onto the runway heading. I made a mess of the outbound leg before beginning the turn – I suspect that as I descended I met a different wind to the one I had been flying in (very likely near the Thames estuary). The key requirement of these approaches is that you don’t bust you height – don’t descend below the height for each sector – so realising that something wasn’t quite as I would like I held off on the descent. Reaching the correct timing point to begin my turn I initiated it, still maintaining that extra height (remember that I can’t see the airfield at all – I’m reliant upon my understanding of the instruments). Having turned onto finals, the ACFI asked me where the runway was… “It’s off the right of the nose and I’m high” The screens came down and the ACFI asked “Can you get in from here?” My answer? “In this aircraft yes! In a Cessna, no chance.” Clearance sought and given by the tower I took full advantage of the house brick qualites of the Cherokee 140 (chop the power and hang out the flaps) to waffle her down to a normal approach height and a smooth landing šŸ™‚ I passed – but if I had continued my descent when off the approved track I would have failed!

The old girl and I had many pleasant adventures before we parted company and these are examples of the mutual trust between us – It’s good to know that she is still out there providing enjoyment for another generation of pilots šŸ™‚

Andrewsfield from the air - My home airfield for several years
Andrewsfield from the air – My home airfield for several years


    1. It’s a bit like pulling the handbrake on a car… A very long Handbrake šŸ˜‰ Thanks Sylvia – it is simple if you and the aircraft trust each other šŸ™‚

  1. There you go again, Martin! Another unexpected expertise. AND you manage to make it both understandable and fascinating!
    I wasn’t clear about just what a Renaissance man you are!

    1. LoL Judith – I’m everything except a fit sportsman šŸ˜‰ But I was a pretty safe pilot – my wife used to fall asleep in the back seat šŸ˜‰

      1. PS – Judith – I should add that my Flying instructor was a Lady and that the ACFI in the second tale was also a Lady. Girls fly very well and generally handle the aircraft much more smoothly than us guys šŸ™‚

  2. planes as well as trains martin! well i think i already knew that .. great story about your landing, and love the photo of the airfield šŸ™‚

    1. Thanks Christine – The runway looks a bit dry in the middle of summer but those brown bits could get very muddy in the winter and were jokingly referred to as the Hippo Pools šŸ™‚

      1. Indeed šŸ˜‰

        Christine, I’m having some issues commenting at present – please could you check your spam folder and see if you have any comments from me

  3. I’ll just have to add my awe and admiration to the others who’ve already commented that you are so full of surprises. I have no doubt that you were an excellent pilot. You do have a wide arena of interests and that is what makes you such an interesting person. I love the photo of the airfield. Final question…how do you feel about sailing? šŸ™‚

    1. I’ve done a bit of rowing and been out in a small sailing dinghy when I was in the scouts Debra. It never really caught my imagination. I’m also not a fan of falling in the wet type water šŸ˜‰

  4. Martin, Evidently issues are cropping up for lots of UK bloggers; I’ve seen this lament from a number of bloggers I follow. Akismet overdoing it, as they sometimes are prone to do. Hope it clears up soon. Meanwhile I’ll keep checking my spam folder for folks speaking the Queen’s English, and maybe everyone will do the same.

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