Things I have flown #3 – the Grumman AA-5

30 Sep

After my first flying school became a casualty of 9/11 I tried elsewhere and was offered, as I was on the spot, the chance of a ferry flight to North London in a Grumman AA5. There was a need to deliver a pilot up there and I could fly him up VFR with an instructor alongside and then come back under Special VFR through the Heathrow air traffic zone.

It was too good a chance to turn down; two flights with a land away and the discipline of SVFR had me hooked and, having gone off for a sandwich and killed a couple of hours before reporting back to the flight office at the arranged time.

We ran through the briefing for the outbound flight and did our checks before heading out for a take-off towards the west. Once through 1000 feet we turned north and continued the climb to around 3000 feet. The countryside that we were flying over was very familiar to me from driving but, having turned east the road layout around the motorway interchange, together with its feeder roads confused me slightly as it swam into view.

My instructor in the right hand seat was handling the radio in between chatting with his colleague sat behind him while I handled the flying. There was a lot of ground haze, but very little cloud as we cruised along with commercial airliners leaving the stack above us and heading in towards the City of London before making the turn onto finals for Heathrow.

Having contacted the tower at our destination instructions were passed that included a reference to the motorway. My instructor pointed towards a tall building in the distance and told me to keep that on the nose and to begin a slow descent to 1750 feet.

Things all happened very quickly from that point, much faster than it will take me to write, but as I began the descent I asked if I had heard the tower correctly in requesting that we stayed north of the motorway as I had it on my left and we were about half a mile south of it. As the instructor asked me to repeat my question his colleague in the rear seat slapped him on the shoulder and pointed. I saw that as my scan was to my right at that point, but I also saw what he was pointing at; a single engine aircraft was climbing straight towards us just off our nose to starboard.

I made a sharp left turn and applied power and felt the instructors hands pick up the controls his side. “I have control” he said and I acknowledged taking my hands and feet off. He levelled us off and turned back on to an easterly heading before handing back over to me.

Subsequent conversation was limited to flying the approach and we levelled off at our target height before making the 180 turn onto finals landing comfortably with the instructor taking over as we came in over the numbers with me following through and then leaving me to handle the trackback and taxi to the stabling area. Once we were clear of the aircraft I was directed to the café whist the other two guys had a conversation that I didn’t need to be part of.

Later I flew the same AA-5 back under SVFR as planned, enjoying the need to hold height, course and speed as directed by a major ATC with a stream of big jets heading off ahead and then above us.

I did have another AA-5 flight, in a different example, but I didn’t enjoy the experience as much as I had in a PA28 as I found the cockpit too cramped and I had, by then, taken on a major financial commitment that precluded regular flying and stopped my slow path towards my PPL.

It had been a good experience though and I’m glad that I called in on that first morning.


Foxtrot Golf at Blackbushe

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