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Interesting Links for July 8th.

These are my interesting links for July 8th:

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

GPS.

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.

Maps.

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.

Controlled Whining?

A little while ago I mentioned in another post, about a visit to Birmingham Radar, that one of the things which pilots of GA aircraft in the UK like to moan about the most is the refusal of clearance to cross controlled airspace, and “land grabs” by airports for more airspace.  As I touched on in my earlier post I have never had a problem with controlled airspace, and the flying I did this weekend only serves to reinforce what I said about thinking about what you want, and getting in touch early.

It’s only Control.

The key thing to remember is that, with one or two exceptions, the airspace around larger airports is only controlled by the airport, it’s not ‘their’ airspace per-se.  The airspace is established to allow the airport to carry out its commercial operations in as safe and efficient manner as possible – providing them with a “known traffic” environment.  To do this, they rely on a statutory instrument to create airspace which you can’t enter without the permission of the controlling authority – usually the airport.  However, they have to have a reason to refuse you access to the airspace – not just that you’ll make their life a little hard for the short time you’re in it.   I believe they are obligated by the CAA to collate statistics on how many refusals they issue and a reason – certainly if you are ever refused then ring the unit afterwards and discuss why.  They might be able to suggest a routing which suits them better next time, but they’ll certainly explain themselves.

Sunday.

On Sunday I wanted to fly three friends into a party at another friends house which has more than sufficient space for a helicopter.  No problem then you’d think – until I remember that his house is approximately 3 miles along the extended centre line of Birmingham’s Runway 15.

Hampton Landing Site & EGBB
Hampton Landing Site & EGBB

So, on Saturday while I was planning this I telephoned the tower at Birmingham to see what their thoughts were, and / or if they had any preferred routing etc.  I spent about 10 minutes talking to the watch manager who said it was his watch on duty when I wanted to land, so he’d fill a strip out in advance and let the controller know what I planned.  He said it shouldn’t be a problem, but I might be routed initially towards the NEC and asked to hold while they found me a gap.

As it happened, I was routed straight in, and I flew two circuits of my site (to complete the confined area procedure of 5S’s) and landed.  There was an Emirates Boeing 777 taxying to the end of the runway as I was approaching and he may have been delayed by a minute or so while I landed, but the controller managed my timing very well!

I was given a clearance for departure in case I couldn’t establish two way radio while on the ground – in fact a generous one – not above 500′, remain to east of centre line.  When departure came I actually established two way radio easily and was offered a departure direct to my destination (actually via some more controlled airspace at Luton!).

Whining.

Once again then I managed a flight which involved not only the transit of, but also the landing in controlled airspace; not 3 miles from the end of a major airport’s runway.  Why?  Well, because I spoke to them early, had thought about what might be asked of me and gave them an air of confidence that I would be safe inside their controlled airspace.

So why do people whine about controlled airspace?  Well, I think some of it comes out of a fear of the unknown – if you learnt to fly in the middle of the countryside surrounded by Class G airspace then controlled airspace can be daunting.  However I think the bigger reason is that pilots like to whine, and we like to feel sorry for ourselves too… summarised by the following statement on a pilots forum yesterday (albeit about another topic):

As ever, we Brits are always happy to put up with being treated badly – so we end up being treated badly.

Everyone loves a whinger, right?

No Depreciation? Really?

Lies, Damn Lies & Statistics.

Blades June 2010 Cover
Blades June 2010 Cover

Yesterday the June issue of “Blades” was on my door mat when I got home.  Blades is one of the aviation magazines I look forward to arriving most as it entirely rotary and edited by the formidable Dennis Kenyon.  I was keen to get it read, so after doing some more CPL revision I took a cup of tea and Blades to bed with me… turns  out on Page 14 that Robinson Helicopter Company have released the Estimated Operating Costs of their forthcoming R66 model.

The R66.

For those of you who don’t know the R66 is RHC’s first turbine helicopter and is due to gain FAA certification later this year with EASA following shortly after.  It it essentially a larger brother for the R44 with the Lycoming Piston Engine replaced by a Rolls Royce RR300 turboshaft, an extra passenger seat and baggage stowage.  It’s widely thought to be a likely successor to the venerable Bell 206 JetRanger which has now finished production.

Although it’s been in development for some time now pricing and technical details are just starting to enter the public domain; so I read this article with interest to see how the estimated operating costs would stack up.  You can get the EOC from Robinson directly, here.  I’m not going to discuss the actual overall EOC here, so to cut to the chase RHC think it will be 287.80 USD per hour.

Calculating EOC.

The point of an Estimated Operating Cost is not to give you an exact amount  per hour that it will cost to fly a given machine, but to give a reasonably estimate for normal use in average circumstances to use as an indicative figure for comparison purposes.  That said it shouldn’t be a million miles out, but will obviously be affected by the type of use, local regulatory maintenance requirements, fuel prices, and currency fluctuations.

The R66
The R66 ( (c) RHC )

EOC is normally expressed as a cost per flight hour and is made up of three costs: fixed costs, direct costs and an overhaul reserve.

Direct costs are normally fuel, oil, periodic maintenance and a reasonable allowance for unscheduled maintenance.

The overhaul reserve takes the total cost of overhauling the aircraft when it reaches the end of its service life and divides that by the service life to give a value per hour.  (Incidentally, service life on R66 is 2,000 hours).

The fixed costs are normally made up of Insurance (hull & 3rd party) and an allowance for depreciation.  This is then divided by the number of hours per year you intend to use the machine.  RHC use 500 in their calculations, this is high for a private owner in the UK, but not uncommon if you lease the machine back to a training school.

Note that no allowance is made in the EOC for the cost of the capital to purchase the aircraft, an important consideration unless you have 770,000 USD lying about (and even then you’d need to make an allowance for the interest you’d no longer receive!).

Depreciation.

The crux of this post.  RHC assume 0 depreciation on a R66.  Yep zero.  They’ve made an aircraft which doesn’t depreciate.  Amazing, isn’t it!  They justify this with the statement:

“Depreciation (Negligible, freshly overhauled R66s are expected to sell for original costs)”

I took exception to this, as it struck me that they were rather over-egging the situation to make things look rosy to potential purchases of an aircraft with no history in the used aircraft market place.  How could they make such an assumption I wondered?  How did this assumption compare to the more established R44.  Well, in the R44 EOC they say:

“Depreciation (Negligible, freshly overhauled R44s typically sell for more than original costs)”

I am sure that RHC would emphasise the word typically here, but it does seem that they are good at making aircraft which just don’t depreciate so long as they are overhauled.  What this statement indicates to me is that provided you put money aside for the overhaul at the end of the service life then the aircraft will be worth the same (or more) when overhauled.

In theory then, the overhaul reserve fund at any point in the aircrafts life plus the aircrafts value should equal the new price.  So I picked, at random,  from Avbuyer a 2004 R44 Raven 2, with 823 hours TT and a fairly standard fit offered for sale at £140,000.   RHC recommend $81 per hour for the overhaul fund, which would mean a “pot” of $66,663 had been accrued over the a/c’s life of 823 hours.  Converted to GBP thats approx £45,000. Meaning the aircraft would be worth £185,000.   Anyone know where I can buy a new R44 for £185,000 + vat?

Of course not.  Doesn’t happen, so don’t believe the hype – it’s not even close for the R44 so I can’t see it’d be close for the R66 given such a massive assumption.  That said, the one glaring floor in my maths which I can see is that I have assumed a linear rate of depreciation – perhaps this is unfair?

Anyone with any real world experience of aircraft depreciation -vs- overhaul costs?

R44 Raven II Hot Starts

A definitive statement.

One of the perpetual discussions amongst R44 pilots (or at least those I talk to) is how awkward the Raven II can be to start if has been recently shut down – referred to as a “hot start”.  Most R44 pilots have come from the R22, which does not have a fuel injected variant; so the starting procedure is somewhat different (although the R44 Raven is the same) – and even following the procedure in the Pilots Operating Handbook will not always result in an easy start if the machine has recently been shut down.

Doing a quick search on Google for the problem results in at least 5 different starting scenario’s, all different – yet all are claimed to be successful.  The thing is you have to be very careful when dealing with failed starting attempts because if you are not then you will end up damaging the starter ring gear – to which end the aircraft I use has the following terms in its Self Fly Hire Agreement:

To protect the R44 starter ring-gear from damage on engagement due to rotation of the starter motor gear, the pilot will wait a minimum of 10 seconds after any attempted engine start before attempting to start the engine again. After 3 failed starts, the pilot will wait a minimum of 3 minutes for the starter motor to cool before attempting a restart.

The PoH even has starting tips; but none of them deal with the specific situation of a hot start.  Well, in this quarters Robinson News (a four page flyer sent to Robinson owners / safety course attendees worldwide), RHC have finally addressed the issue.  Of course, anything printed from RHC is classed as a definitive statement!

It turns out that the poor hot start performance of the Raven 2 is caused, typically, by the fact the resultant heat in the engine compartment causes fuel in the fuel lines to vapourize – and thus there is none to start the engine with again.  Robinsons advice for improved hot starts is:

Pull the mixture control knob full out.

With master switch on, activate the aux fuel pump by turning key to “prime” for 20-30 seconds.

Then proceed with normal start.

Their reasoning for the prime with the mixture out (and thus not really priming) is that since the mixture is at idle cutoff the aux fuel pump will draw cooler fuel from the main fuel tank and pump the hot fuel in the lines through the fuel return line back into the fuel tank instead of the engine.  A scan of RHC’s actual advice is here.

It makes sense when you think about it – hope this helps fellow pilots who’ve had trouble hot starting Raven IIs, especially in hotter climates than the sunny United Kingdom!

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.

Cost.

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.

Formula 1 Practice Day.

The British Formula 1 Grand Prix takes place between the 9th and 11th of July this year, and it is a veritable magnet for helicopters. It takes place at Silverstone circuit in Northamptonshire, which is also home to a licenced Heliport – which holds a record for the busiest airport on a single day for 4,200 movements during the 1999 British Grand Prix.

So, it’s a very challenging, very busy environment on race day with every type of helicopter from the humble Robinson R22 to the likes of S92’s and Merlins.  This year they are expecting some 2,000 heli movements on the Sunday.  Previously private pilots have  been discouraged from flying in on race day mainly by the price of the landing and handling fee’s, although in some years by outright bans.

This year HeliAir have taken over operation of the heliport (actually on a permanent basis, not just race day), and having a much stronger PPL influence have decided to allow PPL’s in, and even laid on a promotional rate for members of the HCGB.  They have placed some restrictions on the slots (in before 0800 and out after 1800) and mandated attendance at a training day where a “sign off” from one of their instructors will take place.

Field Farm

That training / prep day took place yesterday, at a feeder site for the race itself called Field Farm near Bicester.

A few heli's...
A few heli's...

HeliAir laid on a really good day – with a briefing from their MD – Sean Brown, lovely food provided by Fresh Air, the Monaco GP on a large screen, a Williams F1 car, and not forgetting the amazing amount of helicopters which turned up.  There were about 30 or so machines, including a Brantly, an EC120, Enstrom, several Jet Rangers and a lot of Robbo’s.

The first flight was flown by a HeliAir instructor from Field Farm and aimed to show us where the Restricted Area will be on the day, and how to join it from the south or north; the reporting points, and where the FATO was and how we will likely be marshalled on the day.  HeliAir used a number of their machines for this and then asked for volunteer owners to take the rest of the pilots up.

After lunch (and the Grand Prix!), I went up with an old friend who is Chief Pilot of HeliAir for my “sign off” flight – running through the RA(T) again, and what to expect on the radio on the day.  He showed us another route to join the RA(T) while avoiding it, and explained the lengths that HeliAir have had to go to get the whole thing signed off as acceptable and safe by the CAA.  They have put a tonne of hard work into it, and I hope it all works out well for them…

.. I shall no doubt blog more about the Grand Prix in the coming days and weeks, as this doesn’t scratch the surface and my plans for the day are somewhat “non standard” anyway!

Hero’s Run

I am taking part in the “Hero’s Run” in aid of The Warwickshire & Northamptonshire Air Ambulance a week on Sunday (May 23rd) at Stoneleigh Park – and I am looking for sponsorship for a good cause which is close to my heart – The Warwickshire & Northamptonshire Air Ambulance.

The Hero’s Run is a 5k run around Stoneleigh Park (a magnificent setting), and I intend to run the whole thing – no walking.  You can find more details about it on the WNAA website. Some folk  will be taking part dressed as super hero’s, which could provide some cheap entertainment.

As one of my friends very kindly pointed out I don’t normally run so much as a bath – so this is something of a special effort for me; and I am hoping you will sponsor me, or at least come down and scrape me up off the floor about half way round and set me on my way again.  I’ve had a word with the pilot of the Air Ambulance and he assures me that when he has finished laughing at me he will take me to hospital if I collapse.

G-RSCU - The new WNAA.
G-RSCU - The new WNAA.

I’m sure I don’t need to point out the Air Ambulance is a vital resource for getting seriously injured people medical treatment fast, saving lifes.  We are privileged in Warks & Northants to have an air ambulance which routinely carries a Doctor and uses one of the fastest helicopters available; they essentially take the hospital to the patient, and quickly.  However they get no government funding, and are entirely dependant on donations.  So, I thought I should do my bit to try and help them, I wouldn’t want to be in position where I need them, and they aren’t there!


Can you help out by sponsoring me?   You can do it online…  www.justgiving.com/craig-parsons

Thanks!

Heli Lanes

One of the most challenging, but equally rewarding, pieces of flying available to a helicopter pilot in the UK is whats colloqually known as “The Lanes.”  To give them their proper title:  Helicopter Routes In The London CTR and London/City CTR.

Heli Lanes
Heli Lanes

London has essentially two control zones which join, the London CTR to the west and the London/City CTR to the east. They can be controlled by different controllers although often not, and in any case they sit next to each other.  The airspace is Class A, however a special VFR clearance is issued to allow VFR flight.  Some time ago, specified routes were established throughout the zone with the aim of keeping single engined helicopters abeam open ground or the river, and to a large extent away from the Heathrow traffic.  These routes were designated H3, H4, H5, H7, H9 and H10; and all have “standard operating altitudes” you are expected to adhere to in addition to the location.  (Twin engined helicopters are not confined to the routes, although they tend to use them in the vicinity of Heathrow).

Replanning

So, its a high work load environment for the pilot – with a lot of (large) traffic around, a set routing and varying altitudes.  I’ve flown the lanes a number of times and if I am doing as a sight seeing tour for my friends I tend to fly the same route: join at Northwood, H9 to Heathrow, cross Heathrow between landing traffic, H9 to Sunbury Lock, H3 to the river at Barnes; H4 along with the river and out at the Isle Of Dogs returning home via the Lea Valley.  And thats what I had planned to do on this occasion.

I contacted Heathrow Special shortly after lifting from Wycombe, a nearby GA airfield, for clearance.  I was a little surprised when the intended routing was refused due to Heathrow using runway 09.  Every time I have done it before they have been using 27.  This meant that H3 was unavailable to transit from Sunbury to Barnes.

Not doing this!

The controller was really helpful offered an alternative clearance of H9 all the way to the edge of the zone, across to H7 and back into the zone following H7 north to rejoin H4 at Barnes and complete as planned.  This would mean my passengers get the two bits they enjoy the most (from experience) – the Heathrow crossing and the river.  However, I hadn’t planned that route, and didn’t have in ready in my GPS.  I did have the chart to hand though, and some rapid replanning was done while at 2,000′ abeam High Wycombe.

Site seeing.

The rest of the flight passed off without event,  and I was reminded just how impressive it is… the look on passengers faces once we have done it is always amazing.  If you fly regularly you get complacent and forget about how exciting an experience it is.   The Heathrow crossing was, as always, exhilirating for me.  800′ above one of the worlds busiest airports and cleared to cross a runway threshold after a landing British Airways Boeing 777, but before a 737 and over an Airbus A380 is a nice site for an aviator.

The passengers love the view of London from the air as you get to and traverse the river.  You can pretty much see everything of note as you go down the river, The Houses Of Parliament, Big Ben, Buckingham Palace, The London Eye, MI5, The Dome (O2 Arena), the 2012 Olympic site and many more.  Some of my friends have taken some photo’s (while flying and with less than brilliant camera’s) which I have put in a gallery here.

Heli Lanes Gallery