I had been waiting for a number of weeks for the right conditions to complete my QCC, constant bad weather meant it kept being delayed and with work commitments meant my time was limited. I had a session booked for Wednesday 15th February but that turned out to be raining and again was cancelled, I rebooked for the next day with not much hope weather wise but wanted to keep the progress going before needing another dual refresher session, this next session was booked with another instructor I had flown with a while before.
I woke up early to a full on sunny day and like a kid in a sweet shop was starting to feel excited that my QCC was potentially going to be going ahead. My route was planned, had all my paperwork, camera charged and SkyDemon ready as a backup and so I headed to the airport to finalise paperwork, check the weather and A check the aircraft.
Arriving early allowed me to carry out a weather check which had already changed from when I first got up, some low cloud was around and forecast which was looking likely it may ground me again but not being defeated just yet I continued. First job was to A check the aircraft which was needed to be refuelled. The rest of the checks were all ok and no faults found and I was asked to move the aircraft to the refuelling area, only having done this once before I proceeded to start the aircraft and ask ATC for taxi clearance to the refuel zone, no issues yet.
Whilst the aircraft was being refuelled I met with my instructor for the day who would be supervising from the ground, we went through all the necessary paperwork to ensure I was ready for the solo QCC I would be embarking on. Paperwork completed and instructor happy I was signed off but with cloud still low I had to wait around until it lifted, booking the aircraft all day ensured I wouldn’t run out of time.
After some lunch and waiting conditions improved, after confirming with the head of training conditions were favourable to depart and enroute I was given the clearance to go, grabbing my bag, headsets and jacket I made my way out to the aircraft which today was Piper PA28 G-BCJN who had been fuelled up so it was literally brimming. I will add at this point that there were no nerves whatsoever only excitement that I was going to hopefully be completing my QCC over a distance of 155 miles solo.
Having left the aircraft for a number of hours I carried out a brief walkaround check to ensure no damage had occurred and that the fuel remained before getting myself inside the aircraft and carrying out the internal checks. After completing the internal and startup checks I was given clearance to taxi to holding point HX for runway 27 where I would complete the power checks.
I began to taxi and completed the usual taxi checks that I had learnt from near enough day one and proceeded to the holding point where I then completed the power checks with the aircraft facing into wind. After completing the checks and I was happy the aircraft was ready for departure I informed ATC I was ready for departure. ATC gave me my clearance which was to leave via the Avonmouth bridge, not above 2000 feet VFR as well as being given clearance to taxi onto runway 27, line up and wait.
Takeoff has always been one of my favourite parts of flying and so I taxied onto the runway whilst carrying out the usual ‘lights-camera-action’ and held in position on the centre line, as soon as I had applied the brakes clearance to takeoff was given and I was then advancing the throttle and rolling down the runway.
The takeoff speed always seems to happen quickly and I was pulling back on the controls and lifting off at 65 knots and climbing away at 75 knots. Climbing to 500 feet I turned off the landing light and ensured flaps were retracted and continued to climb before making a turn to the north to fly towards the Avonmouth bridge and levelling off at 1800 feet. I was shortly contacted by ATC to change to Bristol Radar on 125.65 and was handed over.
After contacting Bristol Radar and letting them know my intentions I was then over Avonmouth and turned onto a heading of 065 degrees to head towards Kemble. Along this route are lots of features to help with navigation including the disused Filton Airport, Yate, Badminton before you start to see the hangars at Kemble airfield.
A few miles out from Kemble I changed frequency onto Kemble Information and made my initial call where I was given instructions to join overhead for runway 26 who were on left hand circuits. Due to some low cloud and changing to the Kemble QFE I climbed up to 2500 feet in order to start the overhead join and descend to 2000 feet when passing the 26 end of the runway with the runway numbers to my left, continuing to descend on the deadside I then crossed the 08 end of the runway with the numbers still on my left at a height of 1000 feet before continuing the circuit and flying downwind with the appropriate radio calls.
After calling final it then dawned on me I was about to land at my first airfield on my QCC and needed to ensure this was going to be a nice landing but keeping in mind a go-around could be required. The landing was smooth and light and I was informed to continue down the runway and exit at Bravo and park on the North apron where a variety of other light aircraft were already parked.
Completing the shutdown I exited the aircraft with my paperwork and headed to the control tower to pay my landing fee and get the paperwork signed and stamped. To my relief the FISO was happy with the landing and the circuit join I had just completed and signed the document with no comments or issues to note. It was time to return to the aircraft for the next leg of the QCC and walking back to the aircraft I had noticed how the clouds were now thicker, darker and lower.
Checking the weather conditions again I was confident the cloud base was sufficient for me to depart and head towards Wolverhampton Halfpenny Green airfield for the next leg of my QCC. After a walkaround of the aircraft I carried out the startup and power checks on the North apron and was shortly taxiing to holding point Bravo 1 where I held for an incoming aircraft before taxiing onto the runway where I needed to taxi the length of the runway, line-up and hold. Discretion to takeoff was given and once again I advanced the throttle and began rolling down the runway before pulling back on the yoke and leaving Kemble behind.
Climbing back up to around 1000 feet I turned onto my new heading to head towards Wolverhampton and continued to climb to 2500 feet which was well above my MSA enroute. I was shortly handed over to Gloucester Tower where I informed them of my intentions and that I would be crossing their ILS on my journey, this was all received well and I continued eventually tracking near parallel with the M5 before the motorway continued to my right. On this leg of the journey I noticed the weather starting to change and ahead of me was a large shower cloud, it was too large to fly around but I could see through the rain coming out of the cloud so continued on, I knew if I couldn’t see through I couldn’t fly through. Continuing with my navigation I was now west of Bromsgrove and nearer to the shower cloud, I could still see through the rain mist and could clearly see the horizon so continued.
Flying into rain can be quite daunting especially if this is the first time solo, what started as a few spots turned into quite some heavy rain or it certainly felt like that and made quite a background noise, once in the shower I could still clearly see the ground and still clearly see the horizon and before I knew it I was clear of the weather and continued on my track to Wolverhampton. With the shower that had passed I was now not far out and began my radio calls obtaining the airfield information and then informing them I would perform another overhead join and land on runway 22 that was active.
Ensuring I was at the correct altitude I carried out the overhead join, again successfully, and joined the circuit pattern with one other aircraft and then turned finals. Whilst descending on the deadside I noticed how short and narrow the runway was so this was going to be a new challenge for me I hadn’t done before. This runway has a displaced threshold as there are three runways arranged in a triangle, at the holding point another aircraft was waiting for me to land, the wind here was slightly more than Kemble and was giving a slight crosswind so small corrections and often were needed and I think I was a little high on approach possibly due to the displaced threshold affecting my touchdown spot, but I landed smoothly and was well within the reduced runway width. Slowing down I taxied around to the main parking area in front of the tower and shut down the aircraft again, I had made it to the second airfield.
On arriving there was some light rain around so after getting my paperwork signed and stamped in the second box I decided on a quick cuppa to let the weather improve and for me to have a break.
Once I was happy I was ready to continue and the weather had improved I went back to the aircraft and performed another walkaround and fuel check before getting back in and making preparations to depart. I had completed the internal checks and startup checks and was ready to taxi, the FISO gave me instructions to taxi to the holding point for runway 22 which involved taxiing the full length of runway 34 which was fine by me but on doing so felt quite odd, apparently a lot of runway incursions happen here with aircraft going over the red stop lines which aren’t as clear as other airfields. At the holding point I completed the power checks and was ready for departure, the FISO gave takeoff at my discretion and I taxied into position and for the last time today advanced the throttle and began to roll down the runway, this runway however was a patchwork quilt of tar and bumps and was quite bumpy but equally fun and I was airborne in what felt like a few seconds.
The third and last leg of the QCC had quite a headwind and the flight back to Bristol would take around an hour to complete as my ground speed was pretty slow, I was in no rush and continued to navigate from map to ground with just the odd error check on SkyDemon. Eventually I was over the Severn Bridges and I knew I wasn’t far from home, the views now were stunning with a beautiful sunset so a very quick photo had to be taken, once safe to do so. Next I was descending down too 1800 feet and then I began to approach Avonmouth again where I contacted Bristol Radar requesting a rejoin into controlled airspace, clearance for this was given and I continued and carried out the landing checks whilst continuing to route towards the Barrow Tanks which are two reservoirs north of Bristol Airport and very good landmarks, there were 2 easyJet aircraft inbound and established on the ILS and ATC asked if I was happy to hold at the tanks which I confirmed I was.
After about 4 orbits I was then given clearance to join right base for the airfield but keep it tight as a helicopter was also waiting to land, this added some pressure and I kept things as tight as possible, as I was still quite a way out if resisted the temptation to descend but kept my speed up and then reduced power, applied first stage of flaps, then second stage of flaps and maintained my speed of 75 knots, turning finals around 600 feet I was then presented with a slight crosswind which I was going to deal with by using the crab technique kicking the aircraft straight with rudder a few feet above the runway. I landed smoothly and quickly slowed down and exited at taxiway Hotel as instructed by ATC, once I had turned the helicopter was just behind me so timing was pretty good on this.
After completing my after landing checks I taxied the aircraft back to where I got it from, parked up and shut down. At this point I had this overwhelming feeling of achievement and felt so pleased with myself, I had done it, on my own, completely solo and flown over 150 miles, landed at two airfields and made my way back. I was grinning like a Cheshire cat!
Walking back to the club, who by this time a lot of the staff had gone my supervising instructor was still airborne I waited around for the head of training to let him know the good news. A good rest was in order as I felt completely drained but the adrenaline of what I had just achieved was amazing, something I will never forget. Next up my skills test!