Romania Exped – Day 2. Letnany to Oradea

Feet firmly back on the ground in The UK, Nic Rodgers continues his account of Freedom’s adventurous trip to Romania. Join us at 6pm every day this week to relive the trials and tribulations.

After a fantastic start, day two started bright and early as taxis took us from our hotel in central Prague back to Letnany airfield. The first job of the day was to refuel, which isn’t as straightforward as it sounds! Dave has an unwritten rule that taxiing to the fuel pumps is too easy, so expedition policy dictates that we push the aircraft to the pumps – regardless of how far it is! It’s good for teamwork and the environment, apparently. Surprisingly, everybody seemed to enjoy the short cardio workout involved in pushing 5 aircraft to the other side of the airfield for fuel.

Once fuelled, we picked our crew for the day and boarded the aircraft ready to go. First stop: Breclav, a 125 mile leg to the South East of Czech Republic. Breclav is located amongst lovely green countryside with plenty of glider activity on the airfield, giving us lots to see during our short time on the ground fuelling up on coffee.

We left Breclav and headed for Budahors on the outskirts of Budapest; a short 1 hour hop, taking us over Slovakia. The leg was pleasant enough, but nothing spectacular – the real treat being on the ground. Budahors is a magnificent airfield dating back to 1937, with an original control tower unlike any other I had seen before.

controltowert Next stop was Pecs-Pogany in the South West of Hungary. We had chosen to stop mainly for logistical reasons as we needed to clear customs in Hungary before leaving the Schenegen area. Landing felt like we’d arrived in a ghost town – a lovely new airport with modern terminal facilities – but we were the only people around! We fuelled the aircraft  for our next leg (luckily we parked at the pumps, so no pushing required this afternoon!) then had a short wait for the local police to turn up.

Whilst waiting, we got word the Romanian press had heard about our expedition. Apparently a crew from the national news would be waiting for us at Oradea, our next stop. Wanting to make a good impression, we decided to treat them to a formation fly-by, so we used our downtime to plan and brief the display.

formationpracticeEventually, the police arrived, checked our passports and waved us goodbye. We headed back to the aircraft and were quickly airborne, flying towards Romania. During the 2 hour leg, we had plenty of time to practice our formation display, perfecting the routine before our big moment on TV!

As we approached Oradea, we contacted the Tower and, a first for me, requested permission for a fly-by before landing. Top Gun eat your heart out! Permission granted, and we entered close formation, flying down the runway at low level before doing some impressive looking steeps turns, circling back to land.

Sure enough, as we stepped out of the aircraft, we were met by a TV crew who interviewed Dave and Pods. After a quick walk through the empty terminal building to clear customs, we said goodbye to the press and flew the 10 minute hop to Ineu, our final destination for the day. Ineu is a lovely grass airstrip to the East of Oradea, situated alongside a beautiful golf course.

We landed as the sun was setting, giving us a perfect sunset view to round off the day’s flying. We were met by the local flying school’s team at Ineu, led by British man Liam Kelly, who had put on a special barbecue to welcome us.  Even the wedding party from the neighbouring country club left their celebrations to welcome us!

After the BBQ, we headed back to Oradea, this time in a taxi, where we checked-in to our hotel. Two long days had taken their toll on the campers, so we had an early night to try and catch up on a bit of sleep!


Romania Exped – Day 1. Kemble to Letnany

Freedom Expedition updates brought to you by Nic Rodgers, who recently joined Freedom as a newly-qualified PPL. He is part of a 15 man, 5 aircraft flying contingent making their way from Kemble to Romania and back in 5 days!

The Freedom Summer Exped to Romania has begun! After 6 months of planning, 15 of us met at Kemble bright and early for a final briefing and the obligatory group photo. Most of the hard work was done Friday night, with everyone cleaning the aircraft and loading up spares, so it wasn’t long before we were airborne and heading for Oostend.

All five of Freedom’s Warriors are making the trip. With that comes a great mix of people – a student PPL, a handful of recently qualified PPLs (including me!), PPLs with hundreds of hours, instructors and even a military pilot! We had planned 3 legs for the day and with 3 people in each Warrior we decided it’d be best if we stay in the same aircraft all day, taking it in turns to fly each leg.

We left Kemble in lovely sunshine, routing towards Gatwick and Lydd before coasting out towards Calais. As we approached London, the sunshine disappeared and the weather deteriorated. We had to fly a fairly tight and specific route around the congested London TMA. Being VMC meant keeping an extra good lookout for other traffic.

We all flew within a mile of each other, enabling us to use a Formation callsign on the radio. This was a first for me. We had a designated leader (the aircraft at the front), who was responsible for all our radio calls. This actually made the whole experience much easier for everyone, controllers included, as it saved on repeated radio calls.

Before long, Gatwick airspace was behind us, the clouds parted above us, and the sun was glaring down once more. We climbed to a high altitude for our Channel crossing, giving us an amazing view of the ships below. We must have seen at least 100 ships on the short 20 minutes crossing – no wonder the English Channel is one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.

In no time at all we were overhead Calais turning North East to follow the coastline all the way to Oostend.

Just less than 2 hours after leaving Kemble, we were on final approach to Ostend, with its 2850 metre runway seeming to stretch on and on beyond the horizon. Plenty of room for a Warrior!

Ostend Final

After landing at Oostend, we were greeted by a ‘Follow Me’ marshall car, who drove along the taxiway showing us to the apron. We all de-planed and went through security. The customs hall was empty – just the 15 of us – so we breezed through in no time. You don’t get that at Heathrow!

Follow Me

Security cleared, time to head back to the aircraft for a quick turnaround. Apart from needing a crew change, Ostend served as our Schenegen entry point. Now we’d cleared customs, we could fly to Germany and Prague without needing to show our passports again.

Crew change complete, we were back airborne by 1130. This leg would take us to the German airport Meschede-Schuren, with a flight time of 1 hour 50. The first 40 minutes or so was in lovely weather – bright blue skies with the sun shining. We passed over Antwerp, and Eindhoven, with a strong tail wind, helping to boost our speed.

It was all going too well, as the weather ahead us started to deteriorate – from great to good, then good to marginal. At this point, we had to divert from our planned track to maintain VMC. After a while, it became clear that we wouldn’t be able to continue to Meschede-Schuren, so we decided to divert to Kassel where the weather was much better.

Upon landing, we realised we had arrived at the home of the Piper factory, where our Warriors were originally built! After a quick refuel, we were bussed in a huge 50-seater behemoth to the deserted crew terminal. Upon checking the weather, it was clear that the bad weather was due to pass shortly so after a quick coffee stop we were heading back out towards the planes. piperfactory

Next stop Dresden. Castle country. Some really amazing scenery on this leg. In addition, three of the planes decided to fly in close formation. This means flying much closer than normal – within 25ft of each other. Pretty close! The pilots briefed the formation flight on the ground, and it’s something you should not do without instruction! I highly recommend you try formation flying though – it’s totally amazing!

Before we knew it, we were nearing Dresden’s controlled airspace and getting ready for our landing. Dresden has a fair amount of commercial traffic with big jets all over the place, which made for a really great approach mixing with the big boys.

From Dresden, our final leg took us to Letnany, a wonderful grass airfield on the outskirts of Prague. The short 40-minute hop was CAVOK the entire way, with amazing views of the surrounding hills and valleys. Letnanay is famous for it’s close proximity to a military airfield, with planes frequently landing at the wrong airfield and getting into trouble! As always, planning makes for a safe trip, so everyone was fully briefed and maintained a sharp lookout. We were all parked up by 1830. Easy!

What an incredible first day it’s been. Great flying, brilliant company, amazing airfields and an experience we’ll all remember for a lifetime. And it’s only day 1! Now it’s time for dinner, before we go to bed, wake up tomorrow morning and do it all again. Next stop – Ro3mania!

LEARN TO FLY: Phone a Friend or Ask the Audience?

Alan Gray is currently learning to fly at Kemble with Freedom Aviation. He has written a short blog article explaining how the training is going…

It was an impulse. I had thought about it before, especially on holiday flights, but it was only an impulse. I was passing Kemble earlier this year when I felt it again. So I phoned a friend who had learned to fly and now here I am, a student pilot who is flying solo and well on the way to gaining his licence.

Like almost anything else of course, an impulse can be a force for good, or not, and often both. This impulse was positive because it made me decisive and stopped me dithering. And having thrown myself into flying there was no going back without loss of face. So that was all good because underneath the excitement I guess some of us find the prospect of flying quite daunting at times. But it was also not so good because it meant that I did not scope the project. Scoping would have revealed that there is more to flying than simply taking off, maintaining straight and level flight, and landing safely as a short flight experience suggests. There are lots of other challenging skills to acquire like cross-country navigation, stall recovery and forced landings, not to mention nine exams to pass.

There might have been some merit in a little research before diving in or taking off. What I should also have done was asked the audience and by that I mean the Freedom Team and the community of fellow flyers. Had I done so I would have picked up tips and wrinkles, such as these:

  • Take lessons at a steady pace, fly every week if you can and twice weekly if possible. It’s not like riding a bike and leaving big gaps involves re-learning.
  • Pace yourself by taking exams as the flying lessons progress and keeping them reasonably in sync.
  • Don’t be afraid of exams. The Freedom Team is keen to help and failure is not really on the radar.
  • No-one said it would be easy. For most of us it’s a steady slog. But determination pays off and if it’s worthwhile it’s worth striving for. After all, if flying were that easy everyone would have a licence, just driving a car.

These are just a few of the many helpful hints that the Freedom community would gladly offer to someone who was contemplating learning to fly, or was already on the learning curve. It’s never too late to ask. There’s lots of help available at Freedom and whatever it is you need to know or want to acquire, Sarah or Dave or one of the team will have the answer.

So if you are thinking about learning to fly, don’t delay. Phone a friend by all means but feel free to ask the audience and take off!
Alan Gray First Solo

Technique Tuesday – Night Flying

Freedom Aviation has been very busy with Night Flying in 2015. With the certification of Kemble’s excellent new lighting system, so far 7 people have completed, or are about to complete, night ratings and a further 6 are checked out to fly at night. But what makes night flying so special? And what’s involved in gaining a night rating?

What’s the buzz all about?

Everyone likes flying in the smooth clear days that winter can often bring. Well at night, gone are the thermals which cause many an unwanted bump and the evening sky is often replaced with the smooth still air which all aviators dream of.

The view out of the window takes on a whole new magical appearance. Navigation is aided by large towns, roads and lights. Water all but disappears and circuit joins become a new challenge. Day trips to Le Touquet are no longer cut short by fading light, so you can enjoy that hour on the beach. So, are you caught up in the romance yet? Yes? Good. Here’s what is involved.

The Night Rating Course

There are no pre-entry requirements to fulfil for the Night Rating – you can even include it in your PPL course if you have the flying skills of Douglas Bader. However, some experience of instrument flying is a good idea. If you’ve recently passed your PPL Skill Test, you should be fine. If that was a while ago – no problem – you’ll soon get the hang of things.

The course requires 5hrs of night flying, including 5 solo take-off and landings. The course is broken down into the following sections:

Navigation – 2 hours

10955752_10152788190531478_7028792743272000560_nAfter a thorough briefing, the first two hours will consist of some general handing and local area navigation to get you used to flying at night. The ‘picture’ remains the same, but some key sensory inputs are missing when flying at night, so these need to be explained and compensated for.

At Freedom, we like to take students on a Navigation exercise around the London TMA. This enables students to not only get experience of busy airspace, radio work and flying at night, but to get some truly stunning views of central London. You’re able to pick out all the famous landmarks – The Shard, The London Eye, Canary Wharf etc.

Circuits – 2 hours

After getting to grips with night flying, it’s into the circuit. You’ll get experience at flying circuits in the dark and taking really good care to maintain the correct approach gradient – you don’t want to be low at night! Once that’s all mastered, your instructor will start turning things off! That’s when the fun begins. How well do you think you can land with no landing light? Or no internal lights? Once that’s all sorted (it’s not difficult – honest) you’re released for solo work.

Solo Circuits – 1 hour

Students are required to complete 5 complete stop-go landings. Upon successful completion, your paperwork is signed and off to The CAA you go. 🙂

Time is running out…

Kemble is currently open until 8pm every Thursday. Remember – official night is 30 minutes after sunset. As the nights get longer (currently by approximately 12 minutes a week) there are only 6 nights left before the clocks change!

With 3 instructors and 5 aircraft available most Thursday evenings, is it time you had a go?

Taildragger Technique: Wheeler Landings

Originally written by Tony Markl, the article below has been edited and adapted by Benjamin Ward for application in the UK. Tony Markl was a very experienced tail-wheel instructor, clocking up over 17,000hrs in over 40 types of tail wheel aircraft. The original article can be found here.

One of the many things which entice pilots to take up tailwheel flying is the presentation of new challenges. There are many ways to fly a tailwheel aircraft, and each aircraft requires a slightly different application of the techniques. To fly a tailwheel aircraft well, the pilot has to add a few new tricks into his tool box. Here, we take a look at Wheeler Landings.

When should a Wheeler Landing be done?

Wheeler landings are best implemented ‘in anger’ when there is a strong crosswind or when the wind is gusting from any direction. Additionally, wheeler landings may be completed any time the pilot feels like it or if they are uncertain about the landing surface. Remember – wheeler landings are a skill, so must be practiced regularly.

Dave and Steve Jones 2

What is a wheeler landing?

Firstly, a wheeler landing is considered to be more difficult than a 3-point landing, which is why many pilots avoid attempting them. For this reason, regular practice is important on all surfaces in all conditions so that when a wheel landing is actually needed – the pilot feels comfortable and is able to successfully complete the landing. However, pick the practice runway carefully – narrow runways with dangers for running off the side are a bad idea. Grass runways with clearance either side is a good idea.

Think of the skill level similar to a good PFL – regular practice should be undertaken so that if there is an engine failure, you are able to perform the PFL when the time matters.

Pilots should make a conscious choice about which landing to perform when on the downwind leg. Good practice should be to verbalise this – if only to yourself. Changing your mind on final will only increase the workload, and is likely to lead to a sub-standard landing.

When performing a wheeler landing, do not concentrate on touching down on the numbers, as this will most likely result in excessive rate of descent, leading to a bounce. Using sideslip on final, touch down on the upwind wheel first. If control is maintained, touch down the downwind wheel and then complete the landing if control is still maintained. Use approximately 1800rpm for better control during the approach. This will also make the touchdown last longer, giving a slower deceleration and more time to “feel” for the runway.

Coming in to land

Approach speed should be at least 10% faster than the normal approach speed, especially in gusty conditions. A helpful technique may be to leave the elevator trim at approximately the cruise setting. This will give a nose down force on the stick, and remind you that you are intending to perform a wheeler landing, as well as keeping the aircraft descending during the transition to touchdown.

Do not think of this transition as a ‘flare’, as this transition from gliding to touchdown requires that you not raise the nose as you normally do. Maintain the gliding attitude, and start your transition from gliding to touchdown at the lowest possible height. The aim is to reduce the rate of descent without losing airspeed.

Look towards the end of the runway and “stair-step” your way down. Stair-stepping is the technique of continually moving the stick forward an inch then right back to where it was until the aircraft has touched down. Three to five stair-steps will make a nice touchdown, avoiding any bounce.

Do not look at the airspeed indicator below 200ft or during any part of the transition. 

If the touchdown speed is not high enough, or the descent rate low enough, you will touch down in a 2½-point attitude with not enough speed, leading to bouncing between the main gear and the tail wheel. After about 5 or 6 bounces the aircraft will run out of energy and stall. If you are bouncing, and the wind is not such that it requires a wheeler landing, you may convert to a 3-point/full-stall landing at this time by bringing the stick all the way back. Do not convert to 3-point unless the aircraft is pointed down the runway and is at a height at which you are willing to stall, and there is NO drift.

If these conditions are not met, your correct move is to “Go Around”. Do not try to salvage a “bounce”. If you are good enough to salvage a bounce then you are good enough not to have bounced in the first place.

Dave and Pods 3 180414

As soon as you know you have touched down on the windward wheel move the stick forward. This goes against the grain for nosewheel pilots. Everyone worries about a prop-strike. In a few aircraft with long noses or big props this can be a consideration, but for typical aircraft such as Champs and Cubs, do not worry. The aim is to maintain the best possible control of the airplane for the longest possible time. Having the tail up high gives better control at a time when we need the best possible steering. When speed drops and the nose starts to rise, meaning tail is starting to come down, move the stick fully backwards and get best steering by use of the tailwheel.

Reduce power to idle when you are sure you can make a full stop landing, not before. 

After touchdown, whilst decelerating, is when most wheeler landing accidents occur. The higher touchdown speed of a wheeler landing gives you more rudder and elevator authority and directional control. After touchdown, increase aileron input until you have full aileron into the wind to prevent the upwind wing from rising. “Tiptoe” down the runway, only making small rudder inputs.

When first learning wheeler landings it is acceptable to continuously wiggle the rudder. However, it is not acceptable to put in a correction and wait to see the effect. If you swerve in an amount that makes you uncomfortable, the correct procedure is to “go around”. If you wait too long, a “go-around” becomes a poor idea and you should consider accepting the indignity of going off the runway, as long as the terrain in front of you is OK.

In strong wind the aircraft may stop quickly, and your biggest problem may be taxiing to a tie down. If this is the case, get a wing walker to hang on to the upwind wing. Maintain aileron input, and keep on “tiptoeing” down the runway. It is more important to stay parallel to the runway than it is to stay in the center. If you are parallel and on the side, be happy, do not try to go back to the center. When the aircraft has slowed down to a safe taxi speed, vacate the runway and congratulate yourself on a successful wheeler landing!

“The Citation is just a PA28 on steroids” – We shall see…

As most of you know, sadly I left my full-time role at Team Freedom in April to take up a new role flying Cessna Citation Jets. Dave has asked me to jot down a few of my experiences during training for anyone who is interested.  So here we are …..

“The Citation is just a PA28 on steroids” – that is what my instructor said to me on day one. Interesting. Some obvious differences though: two jet engines, faster, higher, bigger… However, there are some remarkable similarities: two wings, ailerons, elevator, rudder, trimmers, throttle control.. Lets discuss.

a120509 PS 120509 G-LUBB(1) PS


G-LUBB is the aircraft in which I did my Type Rating. G-LUBB is a CJ1 with two William-Rolls FJ44-1A turbofan engines, each developing 1,900lbs of thrust. With a MTOW of 10,400lbs, that is quite a considerable power to weight ratio. As a result, one of the first things you notice when flying a CJ is the power and acceleration. The main difference on take off between the CJ and the PA28 is that you have to pay far more attention to the take-off roll as the aircraft very quickly accelerates to a rotate speed of 107kts.

The CJ1 and CJ2 have manual thrust leavers where you adjust the N1 (fan) power setting. The CJ2 has FADEC. There is no such thing as ‘shock-cooling’ a jet engine. Neither is there carb-heat. However, you do have to be very careful about overspeed. If the thrust levers are left in a climb thrust setting after levelling off (and sometimes even in the climb), the airspeed will easily reach 263kts in a matter of seconds, and overspeed.

Interestingly, in the faster CJ2, the max speed below 8,000ft is 260kts because above this speed, the windshield wouldn’t be able to take a bird strike. Go above 8,000ft and Cessna don’t believe there are any birds, so max speed increases to 275kts or 0.72M.

photo 1-1

Engine Failure

Anyone who has done any multi-engine training or flying will know that you spend most of your time flying around on one engine, with your instructor ‘failing’ your critical engine at the most inconvenient time, closely followed by a massive grin on their face. In a piston aircraft, one engine flying can be very hard work. Often large rudder inputs are required, the aircraft is very slow and climb performance is poor – and that’s assuming you have got the flap and gear away quickly!

In the CJ, principles are the same – ‘Dead Leg = Dead Engine”. However, the performance is very good – even on one engine. The aircraft will happily climb away after an engine failure at the most critical time (V1) and maintain a sensible climb rate with no problems.

General Flying

I guess the main difference in flying corporate charter to airline is that we do a lot of empty legs to position the aircraft to where the people want them. As a result, we use this opportunity to actually hand fly the aircraft. So, what are the differences between a CJ and a PA28?

Speed – The speed range is huge. Vr: 107kts, Venr 125kts, Vmo 260kts, Vs0 approx 80kts.
Even in G-ELUE, you have between 80kts and 105kts to work with – only 25kts. In the CJ, there is approximately 120kts in which you can happily operate. Remember slowing the PA28 down to 75kts on base from 100kts downwind, and then think about slowing from 250kts in the descent to below final landing flap speed of 161kts. Speed planning is a whole new thought process, and something which will take me some time to get used to.

Steep Turns – 45 degrees and back pressure required. Power is not added, due to the lag with jet engines. To counteract the slowing aircraft, more back pressure is added to maintain altitude. Obviously this can’t go on forever, but with the larger speed range, there are enough knots there to get you round 360deg.

Stalls – Standard Stall Recovery still applies, but with a few minor tweaks.
Incipient stalls require a pitch down, only enough to un-stall the wings whilst at the same time applying max continuous power.
Full stalls require a larger pitch down to un-stall the wing. Only when the aircraft is un-stalled is power added. The reason for the delay in adding power is due to the possibility of the aircraft entering a spin if asymmetric power is added whilst the aircraft is stalled. A spinning CJ is not fun!

photo 2-1

The Principles

Fundamentally, I guess the CJ is just a PA28 on steroids. We get to hand fly the aircraft like we do a PA28, and the aircraft is certified single-crew. Roll is heavier, and level offs have to be anticipated by 500ft, not 50ft – something to do with the 7,000ft/min climb rate in an empty aircraft. The main difference is that everything happens 2.5 times quicker. Getting ahead of the aircraft can prove a struggle, especially on short trips. For example Bristol to Guernsey; as soon as top of climb is reached, it’s onto the approach briefing.

The main piece of advice I can give anyone (and this isn’t just because I’m an instructor) is to learn the correct techniques for flying aircraft. PAT, APT, SHT…. they are true whether you are flying a PA28, a CJ or an A380. When was the last time you flew with an instructor? Have you developed any bad habits? A PA28 may disguise them, but if you have any ambition of flying commercially or anything faster than a PA28, then fly regularly with an instructor. It’s much better to sort out any bad habits at 100kts than it is at 250kts!

Happy Landings

Cotswold Airport – Out of Hours Procedures

As the nights grow longer, you may find yourself flying into Kemble after the tower closes at 5pm. If that’s you, then check out the briefing notes below:

  • Make sure you have signed and returned an out of hours indemnity form. These are available from Sarah, or from the Control Tower or you can download it from and email it to
  • No circuits after 1800(local).
  • No aerobatic flights within 10nm of Cotswold Airport after 1700.
  • Blind calls made to ‘Kemble Traffic’ on the Kemble frequency of 118.900 MHz
  • Runway 08 threshold moves to the start of the black high friction surface (markers are in place), and aircraft should not backtrack beyond the 08 windsock for departure. This is because the runway vehicle crossing at the 08 threshold is OPEN outside of published hours.

Summer sunset flying is something to be truly savoured. Remember, official night is 30 minutes after sunset, so on the longest day, 21st June, you can get 17h 37m 51s of useable flying time between 0423 and 2201. Good Luck! Prizes available for whoever can do the most flying on the 21st June. 😉