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Today was a cracking day of flying. Phew, I learnt a lot!

I am now at the stage of my training where I am getting into some busy cross country flying. Today it was my turn to do virtually everything in the air with little input from Christof my instructor. I planned a route from Biggin Hill to Detling VOR/DME, to Bewl Water and back to Biggin Hill. Detling VOR/DME is a navigational aid which is used to help you stay on course and provides some really key info such as bearing, ground speed and distance. VOR stands for VHF Omnidirectional Range and DME stands for Distant Measuring Equipment.

I set off without any problems and established myself on my first course from Sevenoaks motorway junction (Visual Reference Point SE of Biggin) to the Detling VOR. I had to radio Biggin with a frequency change request and then radio Farnborough Radar to request a ‘Traffic Service’. A traffic service effectively helps you have a clearer picture of other aircrafts movements around you. This is the first time that I have done the radio whilst flying cross country so that was good fun. Whilst this is happening I set myself up on a 88degree ‘TO’ track on the VOR. Little did I know that I had forgotten to change the DME frequency from Biggin to Detling…

As the forecast was for variable winds, I didn’t entirely know what to expect up in the sky and was pleasantly surprised to find that there were 10knot easterlies. This was illustrated clearly by my ground speed showing up on the DME as approximately 10knots slower than my airspeed. En-route to Detling I noticed that the distance to what I thought was the Detling DME was increasing and I thought that’s not right.. I realised that I had not changed over the frequency. Silly Mike! I then changed it onto the right one.

I arrived at Detling VOR ok having successfully navigated a couple of aircraft en-route. At this point I turned onto a heading of 211degrees and set that up as a 211degree ‘FROM’ Radial on the VOR. The VOR was handy in keeping me on track but as I felt like I had a ‘lot on’ I struggled to maintain a steady heading as there was a high mental workload. Without realising I found myself wandering off track and always having to correct myself which was annoying. I missed my midpoint check as I was doing other checks and radio work which wasn’t very good and eventually after quite a wandering course I arrived at Bewl Water. My instructor was frankly a little surprised I finally got there as I really wasn’t doing a good enough job of holding a steady course.

The last leg from Bewl Water to Biggin was a relatively simple basic navigation exercise not using any radio navigation aids. I made a massive brain fart and misread one of my written down headings by 30degrees. This is a massive error and as I flew over Tunbridge Wells I realised that I was approximately 20 degrees off course! This had me relatively close to Gatwick’s controlled airspace and I certainly would have got a telling off had I ventured into there! I corrected my heading and flew back to Biggin frustrated with myself for making such an easy and stupid error.

I landed back at Biggin after changing frequency and doing a dead side join and then Christof and I had a long debrief. Christof saw and knew of all my errors whilst flying but kept his mouth shut as he effectively wasn’t there. It certainly wasn’t one of my classiest flights, but I have learnt a HUGE amount today. I need to be more vigilant in checking the frequencies of my radio nav aids, I need to pay a huge amount more attention to my heading, I need to prioritise and ensure the basic navigation is always upheld and I need to ensure I don’t make any silly errors like misreading a heading off paper.

For my first cross country exercise where I did everything, this is all part of the learning curve. I expect my next cross country flight to be a big improvement now that I know where I need to improve.

Mike