I took my son for a couple of nights away in North Wales, flying from Biggin Hill to Hawarden. The flight illustrated the challenges of flying with a young child.
‘Bertie’ is a primary school pupil, and very talkative. The last time we flew to Hawarden in the PA28, my husband sat in the back with him to keep him company, this time James was working so I had ‘Bertie’ all to myself. ‘Bertie’ isn’t my son’s real name by the way. I’ll let you use your own imagination as to why I keep his identity private.
The flight began with a slight drama. I heard a knocking or clonking sound while taxying to the engine run-up area at Biggin Hill. After the power checks, the noise stopped briefly, but then returned when I was stopped at the holding point short of runway 21. ATC helpfully allowed me to shut down at the hold and inspect the aircraft. I didn’t find anything loose, and so since the noise didn’t reappear, I was left to assume that the door hadn’t been shut properly, or a seatbelt had been hanging outside.
The flight routed via Farnborough, Brize Norton, Gloucester and Wolverhampton. The distance was about 200 nautical miles, but a 40knot tailwind gave us a time en route of approximately 1hr 30mins. While the departure weather was VMC, IMC (instrument conditions) were forecast en route and at the point of arrival. I had planned the route accordingly, and had briefed for an IFR arrival at Hawarden, with alternates at Wolverhampton or Gloucestershire airports.
‘Bertie’ asked me a lot of questions en route, and sometimes at busy moments. The departure section of the flight is always busy, and especially so around Biggin Hill. There’s Heathrow and Gatwick airspace to avoid, the London TMA above at 2500ft, and then I have to make my way around danger areas, and past the military zones near to Farnborough. It all went very smoothly, but Bertie’s questions were quite distracting. At one point I was trying to talk to Brize Radar, and he asked me ‘Dad, what’s a sideboard?’!
I would recommend having a chaperone for young children on board unless they’re used to flying with you, because it does eat away at your capacity to fly the plane safely. Our intercom in Oscar Romeo has a neat feature whereby I can mute the passengers if needed.
The strong tailwinds nearly caught me out as I began my descent from FL60 towards Hawarden. There’s class A controlled airspace at 3000ft around Hawarden. To avoid this, I planned my descent using my usual formala of 3 x altitude to lose, divided by 1000. This gave me a point of descent 9 miles from the boundary. This works for a three degree descent path. What I hadn’t done, was adjust my rate of descent for the 140knot groundspeed (40knots higher than normal). A reminder from Hawarden Radar to ‘expedite’ my descent made sure I re-doubled my efforts to get down in time. I should have calculated my rate of descent by multiplying my groundspeed by 10 and then dividing by 2. So at 140knots, I should have been descending at 700fpm, not the 500 I was doing.
The arrival into Hawarden was good fun. The visibility was reported to be 6km, but it was more like 2-3 by the time I got there. The cloud base was at 1500ft agl. I requested a radar vectored ILS approach, and this was remarkably easy. I didn’t see the runway until about 3 miles from the threshold, even though Hawarden had all the lights on. This was fairly close to my IR(R) decision altitude for this approach of 520ft.
A great flight. You can see the GPS track here.
Video: Biggin Hill to Hawarden IFR 14/2/17