This was the first day of my second week of flying. My first exercise was to carry out a solo nav exercise in prep for me potentially heading out on my qualifying cross country this week. Things could have gone a bit better.
I would be flying from the Spinnaker Tower to Guildford to Petworth and then back to the Spinnaker Tower. I got to the club and planned my route for the day and shortly took off for it. The sky was blue and there was a haze on the horizon; perfect for a navigation exercise.
I crossed the Spinnaker on my desired heading and I quickly realised I was heading too far east compared to my route. Very quickly I found myself drifting towards Goodwood when I definitely shouldn’t have been! For the first leg of the route I ended up feature hoping to Petersfield and then to Haslemere into the general direction of Guildford. Strangely enough I ended up getting to the my turning point about exactly on time. However, this is where things went a bit wrong. I couldn’t quite identify the Guildford from Godalming. I should have been looking for a cathedral on a hill but ended up looking for the river going through the city. I zig zagged over the built up area trying to find my turning point. The controller on the other side of the radar noticed I was zig zagging and asked me where my turning point was, I told him Guildford (which I couldn’t find). Shortly after he came back and asked me to descend to 1,500ft for aircraft descending into Farnborough. In my head alarm bells began to ring and I thought I had made a mistake and strayed into some airspace I shouldn’t have.
I made a quick decision to turn onto the next leg of the flight, even though I might not have been over Guildford, and hightailed it out of there. I quickly made it to my next turning point at Petworth, apparently there is a big house there – I didn’t see it, and back to the Spinnaker via Goodwood. I then made a pretty smooth landing back at Lee and happily jumped out of the plane and had a word with my instructor.
Where did I go wrong?
The first thing that went wrong was that I think I made the wrong wind calculations for the first leg which led to me drifting way off course. My second error was feature hopping and not making a sensible correction for the wind. My third error was not being able to identify the difference between two built up areas and missing an obvious landmark! My fourth error was not planning my flight well enough to know for certain I hadn’t strayed into any airspace I shouldn’t have when the controller got to me over Guildford/Godalming. It seems that Farnborough asks traffic to be helpful and descend to a lower altitude so that approaching aircraft won’t have any issues. If I had done a bit more research about this I might not have become so easily spooked!
It was an interesting first journey of the week and I learnt a lot.