Secrets of planning Aerial Tours
A short holiday tour was quickly decided upon with a good weather window of 4 days. We went west then north, then east and south for the homebound sector flying over Wales, Scotland, and England.
I get asked very often how do I plan a flying tour so quickly and manage to visit the places as planned. The secret dear Reader is preparation and using the right tools.
We flew the Pipistrel Virus SW 121 from Damyns Hall aerodrome in Essex. Going westbound over the unusually dry parched Wiltshire country side, taking in the chalk figures and the canal locks on the River Avon. Why did we go west ? There was a slight high pressure ridge which gave us a tail wind and my passenger wanted to fly over her family home. The Gower Peninsula in Wales with its stunningly clean and beautiful beaches was a sight to see from a couple of hundred feet up in the air, as well as getting our feet wet in the sea.
Then we flew north along the grand Cardigan Bay, saw the iconic Blackpool Tower. Flying over the Lakes District was exhilaratingly short at 120 knots ground speed. We landed at Glenforsa on the Isle of Mull and at Plockton (which I think is the prettiest little airfield in the UK, if not Europe). The weather grounded us for a couple of days which allowed us to do some "normal" tourism by train and on foot. The journey back south was through some tremendous mountain scenery peppered with heavy summer showers and rainbows.
Checking the larger weather picture over the entire region (the BBC weather forecasting on the telly is pretty good) for about 3 to 4 days and gives me an understanding of how the wind will blow.
I always prefer to fly with the wind behind to cover more ground in a shorter time. A tip here:- when flying with a tail wind, climb higher so that the wind is stronger. When flying into a headwind, fly low, suffer the turbulence caused by local topography but you will get there sooner than flying high in smoother air.
Calling ahead to learn local knowledge and practices is absolutely essential to establish a trusting relationship with ATS and some airfield owners, who are loath to allow most private pilots into their private fiefdoms, fearing the wrath of the surrounding "Nimbys" and "Airmoaners". I always ask for advice by telephoning the duty officer at the relevant ATSU (Air Traffic Service Unit). Note the word 'Service'; that's what their job is and you can make it easier by preparing before take off.
Apps like Skydemon make life easier for the pilot. I used to read a newspaper every morning before the advent of the tablet computer; now I download daily, the updates on the aerial maps, notams, weather and sometimes the news.
The maps are easy to use, but you must learn what each symbol or demarcation of airspace means and what you can and can't do in airspace. For example, there are lots of air corridors marked on French Maps which most people take to be places one can't fly through. These are restricted areas during certain times, as announced in the Notams and information can be gained about these areas by talking to local ATS units. Restricted and Danger or Military Areas do not mean that you cannot fly through them ! Indeed asking whether these are "hot" or "cold" is essential before changing your route to take you over or under and perhaps reducing your safety margins by increasing your fuel burn and or proximity to the ground by flying low.
Airspace is configured in a manner where local areas take on the "colours" of the class of airspace that they sit within. For example, London City ATZ is Class Delta as it sits within the City control zone but Rochester airport ATZ is Class Golf as it sits in "G" airspace. You should be aware that flying within different classes of Airspace, you will be given different kinds of service.. for instance, separation between IFR / VFR traffic is not always given in Class Charlie on the continent. And that we do not have Class Bravo or Class Charlie nor Class Foxtrot airspace in the UK. And that Class Echo airspace requires permission to enter for IFR traffic but not for VFR traffic.
Flying around Mt. Blanc the other day, I telephoned Geneva Control and told them about our plan to fly around the peak knowing full well that we would lose radar and radio contact between us. The fact that we called them on phone before the flight, gave them confidence of our awareness levels, our forethought and planning. We know for sure that in case we called an emergency some airliner flying high overhead would have immediately relayed our messages, while the ATSU already had our details, making search and rescue more effective.
One important thing to keep in mind is your escape route. Where will you go when permission to enter airspace is denied or delayed ? Where will you go if weather turns bad ? What's plan B and C and D ??
Look at the topography and weather to plan your alternates and escape routes.
So now you have the simple secrets of planning a tour quickly :- Weather patterns; Notams; Understanding Airspace; Map reading in detail and escape routes.
(CFI & Director)