Words from our CFI Duncan Stewart

The Joy of Radio

What did you do in the Lockdown?    Apart from staying home and saving lives, I also took the BGA’s radio telephony course, got my radio licence, got a transponder fitted and tried it all out on Air Traffic Control in Farnborough. I was able to compare the relative merits of flying to Lasham avoiding the new airspace and flying to Lasham requesting a zone transit. Being a pure glider pilot with no GA experience at all, I had quite a lot to learn to get the confidence to call for a transit. The course helped enormously and I would recommend others take it when it runs again in February. It’s useful to know this stuff whether you want to actually take the exam and get the licence or just have the background knowledge. It may even be of interest to existing licence holders who would like a refresher on radio use as it relates to gliding. If you don’t like the idea of calling up Farnborough to make a transit, you will have to steer clear of the new airspace, so how difficult is that these days? The flight out to Basingstoke has been the club’s standard cross country route to get Silver Distance for years. First cross countries are best attempted on nice days with good thermals and high cloud bases. Easy climbs to 4 or 5 thousand feet are ideal, but mean you will have no trouble getting into controlled airspace. The new airspace zones are small, oddly shaped and don’t leave much of a gap to get through. When looking ahead for the next cloud, you have to figure out if it’s in the gap or in controlled airspace. Navigating your way through without infringing airspace is much more challenging than it used to be and so not ideal for a first cross country. The famous CTA 7 zone comes down nearly to Petersfield so you basically need to keep south of Petersfield to ensure you don’t infringe it. As you progress north towards Lasham, the airspace at Oakhanger comes down to 2,500’ so you have to keep west of it. It’s not far at all to Southampton’s Class D to the west, so you are quite tightly hemmed in. At least you won’t have to use the radio if you stick to this route so perhaps you can concentrate on flying cleanly, looking out, finding thermals and navigating. All things considered, perhaps a first 50 k task east to Hailsham would be simpler and should become the club’s preferred Silver Distance route, especially if there is a northerly wind to keep the sea breeze at bay.

Calling Farnborough for a transit makes some useful extra airspace available to you, but having a conversation on the radio, thermalling effectively, looking out and navigating is quite a lot to ask. Especially if it’s your first cross country. Something is likely to suffer a bit. At least the transponder squawk code is pre-determined, so you don’t have to fiddle with that. But even the simple act of speaking into the microphone can throw up problems. Most of us have swan neck radio microphones and to be heard clearly you need to have the mic quite near your mouth. If your head is swivelling around to look out, you may not be very readable. So far, our experience is that getting a clearance is very straightforward and makes getting to and from Lasham a bit easier as long as you are happy to use the radio. No doubt the more often we do it, the less daunting it will seem, as long as the AT Controllers don’t get frustrated with us.