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Getting Ready For Silverstone

As the Formula 1 circus rolls into town, the pilots get ready!

I mentioned back in May that I had attended a ‘practice day‘ for private pilots who intend to fly into this years Santander Formula 1 at Silverstone; well it’s now nearly upon us.  The event starts on Friday 9th, with the actual Grand Prix on Sunday 11th.   The Friday and Saturday are free practice and qualifying days for the F1, alongside the other racing series which take part in the weekend.  I have a ticket for all 3 days and now intend to fly in on all three days too – so the preparation begins!

More Briefing.

The usual mandatory briefing for commercial pilots and operators took place on Monday at Silverstone, and although I had taken part in the earlier practice day I was also invited to this.  I figured that a refresher wouldn’t hurt as May seems an age ago now, so flew in with Sarah Bowen who is Chief Flying Instructor at HeliCentre (who are now at Leicester, having moved from Coventry).  She is operating multiple commercial charters on the day and thus not watching the grand prix.  I gave her a lift down to Silverstone, and borrowed some advice from her en-route (blog to follow!).

The briefing itself was largely a re-run of the May event, but with more a little more detail as things are now more clear (for instance the various ATC frequencies weren’t available in May).  In addition there was a speech from Northamptonshire Police Special Branch on counter terrorist measures, which was primarily aimed at commercial operators.  The briefing took about 2 hours, and HeliAir laid on sandwiches again.  Well worth it.

Personal Briefing.

With the key points refreshed it now falls to me to plan my flights for the weekend.  Although each flight will probably only be about 30 minutes in duration, it’s important to remember that the airspace around Silverstone becomes the busiest in the world on race day.  Not the place to be making mistakes!    Fortunately I have my flights on Friday & Saturday when it is a little less busy to really “nail” the procedures for race day.

Inflight Aide Memoir Back
Inflight Aide Memoir Back

So, I have spent several hours reading and re-reading the briefing notes which contain instructions on joining points, hold datums, final points, approach and departure profiles and emergencies.  In addition to this I have read the AIC for the event which details the restricted area.

Inflight Aide Memoir
Inflight Aide Memoir


Then I have taken all this information and put it in my flight planning software (FlyMap Win) so I can download it into the main FlyMap GPS in the aircraft for the day.  Having all the points in the GPS already really is a must for the day when there could be around 50 other helicopters operating VFR in the vicinity at any one time.  I’m going one step further and putting the points in the aircraft Garmin GPS too, just in case.


Of course, a GPS should only be used an aid to navigation for VFR flights.  So the same information has been transferred onto my 1:250,000 VFR chart.  Then, because I will need at least 5 frequencies on the day, as an aid memoir I have produced an A4 sheet for each approach path (wind dependent) which carries photo’s of the various points taken from the air, the holding pattern, a list of frequencies and a plan of the FATO.  I’ll laminate these and take them with me – the aim being to keep concise information to hand when flying!

So with that all done, I just need to pick up the aircraft tomorrow and position it a bit nearer home – and we’ll see how we get on on Friday.  I’ll keep you all posted.

Jumping Through Hoops

Having just read a blog post about having to jump through various hoops to attain something you want I thought I might share some of my experiences so far with trying to arrange flights to and from The British Grand Prix this summer. The Formula 1 British Grand Prix is held at Silverstone, which has a licenced aerodrome in track. Silverstone Heliport, according to Wikipedia holds the world record for the most busiest airport on a single day; for some 4,200 aircraft movements during the 1999 British Grand Prix.  The video below gives a good flavour of Silverstone through the weekend.

This year I want to fly into the Grand Prix – its only about 50 nm from my local airfield, and about 15 from my favourite airfield. Added to this my step father and his friends are all going the F1 this year as a bit of a boys day out; so I thought we could fly in.


Silverstone isn’t exactly known as being a cheap place to land; but this year a new operator has been appointed for the heliport. Heliair are the UK’s largest Robinson dealer, so they might be a bit more friendly to smaller helicopters.  I already deal with HeliAir, so I got in touch and they sent out the pricelist as soon as it was announced.

There is a £200 landing fee, a £75 handling fee and a £200 departure fee.. meaning a total of £475 for each trip in; and then a £75 parking fee. I have 7 friends who want to come, so it would mean two “runs” into the circuit. A total cost of £1025. Not for the faint hearted; but in fairness to HeliAir they did say if I was departing with no passengers to collect another lot they would not charge me the departure fee.  They have also arranged a special deal for private owners through the HCGB.

The other option is to fly into the nearby Turweston Aerodrome who will then take you and your passengers across the fields between them and Silverstone in 4×4’s. They charge £85 per person for the transfer, no landing fees and no fuss. They drop you off at the gate and pick you up from it too. Most of the fixed wing folk fly into here and do the transfer as Silverstone has no runway, just a FATO.

Speaking to my friends it turns out the older chaps want to fly into the grand prix itself, for the once in a lifetime experience thing; and the younger lot are more concerned about cash. As a compromise I have decided I would fly the older chaps into Silverstone, and the younger lot into Turweston then leave the helicopter at Turweston and do the same in reverse for going home.

Silverstone FATO
Silverstone FATO (FATO for F1 in Red)

Oh, and the real sting in the tale is that if the weather falls out of limits and I can’t fly in I still have to pay. I have yet to find anywhere where I can buy insurance against this – any suggestions greatly appreciated.

The Slots.

Silverstone, because of the volume of traffic runs a system of slot times for arrival and departure. This is when you should be ready to land and take-off. Turweston are less fussy and accept traffic as it arrives. As the holder of “only” a private pilots licence, and a non commercial operator, I am the lowest of the low when it comes to priorities for Silverstone.. and this was revealed by the slot times offered. Arrival at 0807 and departure at 1747. The race is at 1300. I was almost first in the queue for slots and these were the best available.

So, I have opted for the 0807 inbound, but will take both sets of passengers back from Turweston to save waiting until almost 3 hours after the race. Turweston were super about this and applied a pro-rata amount for the one way transfer.

More hoops.

With that sorted and invoices raised, it then turns to more hoops. As a private pilot a condition of my slot at the circuit is attendance at a “Practice Day” in May, where practice approaches to Silverstone will take place (and we’ll be given a briefing etc). I actually like this idea… I’ve never flown into Silverstone before and I don’t want to be the guy getting wrong on the day and making everyone else’s life hard. Its good for Safety and its also an opportunity to go flying and learn something new.

Then I have to attend a mandatory briefing for all pilots (including commercial operators) in June. This will concentrate on procedures on the day. This will be interesting this year, because the circuit and thus the FATO have changed substantially from last so even experienced operators will have things to learn.

CAA Logo

Not Commerical.

If you thought this was just the operator of the heliport and the circuit being picky then you’d be wrong. Recently the CAA published FODCOM (Flight Operations Division Communication) 15/2010 detailing the measures they want to be undertaken by anyone operating to or from Silverstone. Thank the lord I am not a commercial operator – they have bucket loads more paperwork and submissions to make.. they have to detail feeder sites (and have them approved), ops manuals to update (and have approved), Rule 5 (3)(c) exemptions to secure and no doubt much much more.

Not Forgetting The Police.

Having jumped through those hoops (happily as they all seem sensible and with the greater aim of making things safer), I mustn’t forget the various emails I have had from Northamptonshire Police Special Branch. They are obviously charged with making sure that the high profile event passes off peacefully with no interference from terrorists and that sort. Again, happy to help. However they have requested that the pilot and passengers all carry photographic ID on the day. It is easier to comply with this request than challenge it; however it is interesting to note it is a request and not a requirement. They don’t have the legal power to insist on ID being carried for flights internal to the UK any more than they do to request it in the street – but the wording of all their emails is very draconian and leads to you believe it is a requirement.

So… some hoops I have had to jump through lately – all in the aim of attaining something I want! The practice day was last weekend – read about it.

Interesting Links for March 29th.

These are my interesting links for March 29th:

  • Non-Doms Have An Unfair Advantage – Duncan Bannatyne eloquently sets forth the case for changing the UK tax regime which allows "non doms" to pay little / no UK tax on their earnings and leaves UK businesses at a disadvantage. Lawyers tried to restrict this article – says a lot!
  • Inside GCHQ: ‘Caution: Here comes the BBC’ – Insight into how the BBC were treated when they were allowed privileged access into GCHQ. The documentary which this was in aid of is broadcast at 2000 on BBC Radio 4. Looks like it'll be worth a listen.
  • How do they do IT?, Formula 1 – Computerworld – Fascinating look into the IT which supports the Formula 1 teams, as it makes a whistle stop world tour! Can you imagine setting up IT equivalent needed to support a medium sized enterprise in 7 days, then taking it to bits again and moving to the next location?
  • RAF fighter jets scrambled amid terror plot fears – The RAF have again been scrambling fighter jets, but this time to accompany "suspicious" civilian airliners through UK airspace; with ministers awoken in the night who could have had to make a decision to shoot them down! Scary stuff, surely never to happen?