I’ve been here before but last time it wasn’t forced upon me. I gave up train-spotting at the end of the 1980’s because most of my favourite classes of locomotive had been withdrawn from service. I could have stayed and continued to enjoy the hobby that I’d been doing since I first went to work but I chose to move to Plane Spotting and the rest I have already told you in various posts though my How I got into Football post probably is a good point to start for anyone new to my blog. When I retired 3 years ago, getting back to train spotting / photography was very much one of my target activities. It didn’t truly kick-off straight away but early this year I was up for it and did a couple of great trips out. Everything looked set for my rail future – much of which would have been blogged on here. Then the Covid-19 pandemic hit 😦

It’s been 5 months and currently any use of public transport for leisure purposes is frowned upon. I’d love to be tripping down to Clapham Junction for a morning’s trainspotting but that’s not an essential journey. Though I do wonder if it becomes essential if it’s important for my mental health? I guess that’s beyond the understanding of government agencies and I doubt that most of the muppets that rushed to the seaside in their droves in the current heatwave would understand either despite placing everyone else at risk of illness / curtailment of freedoms by their actions 😦 Basically, I can’t do my railway hobby if I abide by the rules and I’m not about to place the keyworkers in those industries at risk for the sake of my hobby.

However, I need to be doing one of those observational hobbies for my personal well-being. I enjoy a bit of Birding but unless I go all over the country visiting reserves, etc then there’s only the limited number of species in my local area 😦 One good positive note in passing – The Great Tits have raised 2 broods in our nest box this year 🙂

So I’ve been mulling over the non-computer game options available to me (bearing in mind that I’m also missing football!) I think it’s time to go back to Plane Spotting. I can do that from home and I have most of the things I need to start off again. I have a good Frequency Scanner in the Uniden Bearcat 780XLT which means I can monitor transmissions on the local frequencies. I also have an Icom IC-E90 which receives the Airband frequencies. So I’m well covered in terms of important equipment. There’s also a lot of useful websites providing flight tracking that weren’t there or were in their infancy last time I was involved in this – it’s almost like having radar in your living room! The only negative is the need of a good quality spotting scope. I used to have one of the Kowa ones and it was good but it has suffered from disuse and will need to be replaced. That isn’t cheap but in the interim I can use my binoculars that I use for birding and trains.

I fired up the Bearcat Scanner today. It’s receiving well. The frequencies I programmed in are still correct for my area with the exception of the one for Heathrow Director – that has changed from 119.725 to 119.730. I thought, “best I get that corrected in the memory.” I spent 20 minutes trying to update the memory on the scanner before I realised that it can’t handle the intervals between .725 and .750! It’s too old to have that fine tuning built in! You may now laugh at my confusion when I was punching away at the buttons and not understanding why the memory wouldn’t accept the input frequency! 😉 Fortunately, it doesn’t matter because AM transmissions are very broadband and I’m using a very good Ham Radio 2/4 metre antenna which means I’m getting the transmissions anyway 🙂

For the record – You can check out the base-station here… https://wiki.radioreference.com/index.php/BC780XLT

And the portable Icom IC-E90, here… http://www.rigpix.com/icom/ice90.htm

I’ve ordered a Kowa TSN-602 and associated zoom eyepiece but I don’t know when that will arrive – I’ve been waiting for a delivery from The Czech Republic since June 05 and that only reached Heathrow yesterday – 20 days on a journey that usually takes 5-7. These are the ongoing hidden effects of Covid-19 – my mental health, the availability of items, the need to be careful out there… I hope you are all keeping safe and well.

So back flying aircraft, albeit in a simulation, I thought I’d show the differing types of panels a pilot is likely to come across in general aviation aircraft. Let’s start with the modern Cessna 172SP…

This panel has a layout of instruments common to most modern aircraft often referred to as the ‘Standard T’ because the key instruments are mounted together in a T configuration. If you look at the dials above the control column to the left of centre you will see in the top row (left to right) the Air Speed Indicator, Artificial Horizon and Altimeter. These critical gauges tell you how fast, how level and how high. Immediately below the Artificial Horizon (AH) is the Direction Indicator (DI) – that tells the direction you are flying in and forms the base of the T. That’s not to say that the instruments either side are not important, just less so. On the left is the Turn and Slip indicator – it’s a guide to how well you are flying but also a key back-up to the Artificial Horizon when there is a vacuum failure – it’s electrically powered. To the right of the DI is the Vertical Speed Indicator (VSI) which is air pressure driven – again, it’s a guide but is also a key back-up for the AH when the vacuum fails. Finally, below the VSI is the rev-counter for the engine. Although important, this instrument isn’t normally part of your basic scan even when flying in cloud because once set it shouldn’t change unless you forgot to adjust the throttle friction;-) To the extreme left are the engines and systems gauges – fuel, oil, vacuum, etc. To the right of the T are the navigation instruments associated with the avionics – something for another post. Oh – and that thing sticking up above the dash is the Compass – also an important instrument!

There’s an irony not lost on most UK pilots that the RAF devised the Standard T shown above after a lot of research on the best layout of instruments. That was in the 1930’s and yet a lot of General Aviation aircraft were still being built with non-standard layouts up until the 1970’s Here is a 1966 model Piper PA28-140 panel…

Let me say from personal experience that this is not a one-off layout built on a Friday afternoon and that two aircraft from the same batch could be delivered with different layout dependent upon the avionics build requested. Our Cherokee 140 (a 1967 build) had her instruments all over the place like this but not in the same locations. Also note that I’ve hidden the control columns so you can easily see everything including the switches below. I think the best policy is to talk about each instrument in ‘T’ order so, the Air Speed Indicator is exactly where you should expect it to be. The Artificial Horizon has however been displaced to the right with the DI taking its place in the centre of the panel. In the centre of the panel where the DI would be is a clock – just about the least useful thing to put in a pilots central field of vision. The Altimeter has found itself displaced to the left and the VSI to the extreme left. The Turn and Slip is hiding down on the bottom left. As for the engine rev-counter – that’s over on the right and at a difficult angle to read correctly. The engine and fuel gauges are grouped quite well on the right but the vacuum gauge is again so far over that it’s difficult to read easily. And the compass? That’s actually in the panel on the extreme left at the top. This is a VFR build but many VFR builds were adapted for Instrument flying at a basic level. In our aircraft the compass was relocated to the central window pillar and the top left slot held a radio navigation instrument known as an ADF – perhaps more on that in another post. I seem to recall that the clock was replaced by the turn & Slip in our aircraft and another radio navigation instrument (VOR) took the place of the T&S occupied on this dash. And I’m sure that the Artificial Horizon and the DI were swapped in our Cherokee. By the way, that red blob in the centre of the dash is the Stall Warning Light. There was an audible warning too. Unless very close to the ground, a stall in a Cherokee 140 is a non-event unlike some other types 🙂 So now I’m off to do some General Handling of the Cherokee to remind me of her foibles compared with the Cessna 172SP. I suspect that a bit more skill will be needed to fly smoothly and execute a good approach and landing even in a computer sim!

PA28-140 Cherokee over Clacton