Note: More comprehensive England flying section available - follow this link! Since this was written, I have been back to Barton again, and this time had enough time to get a full checkout to fly the Lancashire Aero Club's aircraft. The section covers things that a U.S. private pilot will find different when flying in England. Also, lots more (better quality!) photographs!

Just some of the aircraft parked on the grass at Barton.

-- Just Half an Hour --

   Now I've done my checkride, it was time to learn something new (there always is something new to learn in aviation). I've never had the privelige to fly off grass.
   Barton Airfield is not far from where I was staying in Manchester. They have an aero club there with instructors, so my aim was to get checked out with them so I could take my mum on a quick sightseeing trip around the area. So, Wednesday 22nd October I went to Barton to get there for 9 a.m. Unfortunately, I didn't realise just how diabolical the traffic was in Manchester, so we ended up getting there half an hour late...not very good, since there was no way you can check out in the half hour of flying time we had left.
   I selected the C172 to fly, since I'm familiar with it (not as much as I would have liked, since appalling weather in Houston grounded me, so it was my first chance to fly in almost 3 weeks!). It's registration was G-BOIL (the nice thing about English registrations is that you can have much more creative ones than in the US - there was also an Archer named G-KITE, and a 152 named G-PLAN). The aircraft was one of the best looking 172's I've seen - it was in good condition inside and out. It even sported two altimeters.
   The preflight was pretty standard - the club had nice flipover checklists. The weather was clear blue skies, and at least 15 miles visibility and just a couple of knots of wind, but a cool 5 degrees centigrade. Preflight was taken up by shivering instead of sweating!
   Time to start learning...lots. First off, the before-takeoff checks are not done the same way. In the US the checklists are positively spartan in comparison. My instructor for the day, Tony Jones went through the checks because we were late starting. The first check was an altimeter check to make sure it was calibrated (setting 2 different pressures in the Kollsman window and checking the hands moved the correct amount). Once fuelled, a mag check at idle was performed to ensure that the engine wouldn't quit on one mag at idle. Then we got rolling (you need quite a bit of power to start moving on grass) and we did another set of checks - ensuring the gyro instruments work. Whilst taxiing, we did a gentle turn to the right to check the DG turned and the turn coordinator worked, then another to the left to check the same things. The run-up check was pretty much what I was used to - point the aircraft into the wind, and at 1800 rpm, check carb heat and mags.

   The radio work was also quite different. The phraseology is similar, but some procedures are different. Barton Airport is similar to Houston Gulf since it is not tower-controlled, but it has Barton Radio (similar to UNICOM in the US, except it's known as an A/G station, or air-to-ground). I was pleasantly surprised to find that my frequency for home was the same as SPX (122.7). However, the similarity ends there since you advise radio of your movements and what you are going to do. Like UNICOM, they don't give clearances, but they do give advisories and booking out with radio lets them help give other traffic a good picture of what's happening. Instead of self-announcing, you tell Radio what your intentions are and they give you advisories such as the QNH (MSL altimeter setting - this gives your elevation above sea level) and QFE (which means the altimeter reads zero on the ground). This is why we had two altimeters - one gets set to QFE and the other to QNH.

Departing on grass.
   This was my first opportunity to do a soft field takeoff, for real. The runway is about as smooth as a rugby pitch (imagine driving your car at 70 mph over a well-used cow pasture and you get the picture), so it's important to get the load off the nosewheel soon. Interestingly enough, standard practise wasn't to hold the aircraft in ground effect, it was to just let the aircraft fly itself off, then climb out at 60 KIAS. It was extremely bumpy as we built up speed, but Tony had warned me about this! He also said that it was interesting when he went to fly in the US, his checkout instructor was amazed by how many checks a UK PPL carried out as we climbed out.
   At about 500 feet, the flaps were retracted, and we assumed a normal Vy climb. The performance of the aircraft was astonishing - with a 70 KIAS climbout, we easily maintained over 1000 fpm thanks to the cold air (a full 10 degrees C below standard when we departed, plus the pressure was a touch over standard meaning density altitude was not a problem).
   We didn't have time to do much - Tony pointed out good landmarks to find home by, and we did a clearing turn followed by a couple of steep turns (very ragged ones unfortunately - steep turns were never my strong point, but I should have done better than that - then again, the cold air and undoubtedly different rigging of the aircraft to what I'm used to would make a difference).

   Procedures in England for pattern entry are different in general. At Barton, standard practise is to come in for an overhead join. The overhead join in this instance is to come in at 1500 ft directly over the airfield, then circle down on the 'dead side' (the opposite side of the circuit, or traffic pattern to which the traffic is actually using), and to be at the pattern altitude as you make the crosswind leg, then follow the usual lefthand pattern. You report overhead, downwind and final on the radio. Instead of putting the flaps out one notch at a time, we actually put 20 degrees in straight away once we were in the white arc. Grass runways are a lot more difficult to see, and it was quite difficult telling when we should start our turn to final, so I was late turning (I was lining up for the wrong field!) The pattern we flew was a bit wider than what I'm used to, so I had plenty of time to line up. On short final, I deployed the remaining flaps, and eased the power back once the runway was made.
   Flaring was interesting. Deprived of my normal visual cues like runway edges, plus once you are near the ground it's difficult to differentiate the runway from the rest of the grass judging height was completely different. Somehow I did it, and managed to make a greaser with the stall horn going off. It's vitally important to land main wheels first on grass - if you do a three-pointer disaster can strike. I held the yoke back as we rolled out. The additional friction of running over grass meant I never touched the brakes. That landing was one of the most satisfying ones I've ever done - a quality soft field landing on grass! (I can see some people who learned on grass saying 'big deal' right now ;-)...)

Yak 52
A Yak-52 parked at Barton. The first time I saw one of these was at the Wings over Houston airshow. They are much more common in the UK.

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