Flying over Gatwick Airport July 2014

I decided to take my niece and my mum for a short flight to Shoreham.  Temperatures were in the region of 30 Celsius with clear blue skies.  Sadly, when on the ground, the aircraft tends to resemble a greenhouse, so my mum had brought several bottles of  ice cold water and chilled wet wipes to keep us all sane!  Having been to Shoreham a few times before, and because the Farnborough Airshow had resulted in a large swathe of restricted airspace blocking one of my routes, I chose to tackle the challenge of crossing through Gatwick’s Class D airspace.  I’d seen many good videos on YouTube of private pilots who’d done this, and had spoken to a few of my flying friends, and it seemed quite straightforward.  The fear though, was that the fast talking, busy yet professional controllers working the Gatwick frequencies, funnelling fast  passenger jets onto and out of the busiest single runway airport in the world, would not be particularly receptive to a private pilot who wants to come bumbling through at a snail’s pace.  Fear not – they were brilliant!

I called into Gatwick’s frequency after leaving Biggin Hill, and routed to the north of the Class D zone.  I told them what I wanted to do, and after a short wait on frequency they cleared me to the North Terminal building not above 1500ft.  While on my way towards this point, they asked me to see if I could see an A320 on final approach to land.  Once I had this aircraft in sight, they told me to cross the runway threshold behind it.  I sped the plane up a bit to get me out of their way as quickly as possible and as I was crossing the threshold, they cleared an aircraft to take off below me.

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Once clear of the runway they cleared me to climb not above 2000ft and I continued my journey southbound, leaving their jurisdiction at Haywards Heath.

All in all a very good experience, and one which I would not hesitate to do again.  There is always the danger that the airfield is so busy they can’t find a gap to squeeze you through, but on this occasion I had a back up plan, which would have seen me weave through Dorking, East of Guildford, Dunsfold, Midhurst and Littlehampton.

Brighton Marina

Having left Haywards Heath at 100knots, we were soon at the south coast, reaching Brighton and viewing the Amex stadium and Brighton Marina.  By now I was talking to the Shoreham approach controller.  Shoreham is a busy airfield, and always requires vigilance.  I was pleased to be told there was no traffic to affect me from the east, and only one other aircraft in the circuit.  I was told to position for a left base join to runway 20 left hand circuit initially not below 1600ft, and asked to report at the A27 tunnel at Southwick.

I haven’t done many left base joins, and had never done one at an ‘away’ airfield, so that was interesting.  Furthermore, I now had to find the A27 and the Southwick Tunnel.  To be honest, if I didn’t know the A27 and I was travelling from further afield, I think I would have struggled, particularly since the A27 tunnel is not on the normal aeronautical map.  Thankfully I have travelled the A27 by car many times, and so it didn’t take me long to find it.  I suppose had I not been sure I would have just said so, and taken more instruction from the controller.

In spite of my inexperience of left base joins, my approach path worked out fine, with the correct rate of descent – probably more by luck than skill, and we touched down smoothly. It was quite a bit cooler down on the coast, with a slight breeze, so it was refreshing to step out of the greenhouse and have a cup of tea in the cafe, overlooking the apron, and watching the aircraft taking off and landing.

Beachy HeadThe route back was far more relaxed.  Following the coastline eastwards through Brighton, Newhaven, Beachy Head, Eastbourne, and Hastings, then turning northwest towards Tonbridge and Sevenoaks.  A fuel gauge decided to stop working at one point, falling to zero causing momentary concern.  Regular checks confirmed we didn’t appear to be leaking any fluid, and the the engine didn’t die which was somewhat reassuring.  All in all, a very pleasurable flight.

Distance flown: 144 Nautical Miles
Time en route: 1hour 36 minutes
Biggin Hill Weather:
Wind 160/09, 140v200,
CAVOK,
Temp 28 Celsius,
Pressure 1013 hPa.

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