Fancy giving yourself a VFR challenge?
During the Olympics on 29th July 2012, an aircraft acting as a relay station and taking aerial shots of the Olympic activities was forced to land at Cambridge after suffering a complete electrical failure.
He was near the Olympic Stadium when the failure occured, that would place him in restricted airspace near London City Airport. He wouldn’t have been able to communicate with Air Traffic Control and would have to fly through restricted airspace as he flew between Stanstead and Luton. More importantly, given the heightened security around the no fly zone in place for the Olympics, the loss of communication could well have resulted in the aircraft being intercepted by RAF fighters.
Why not try the flight and get back to some real basics using just a chart and standby compass. Needless to say, this is for flight simulation use only and not to be used in real world aviation!
Rather than just land at the nearest available airport, we will fly back to Cambridge and ignore the other smaller airfields you could possibly land at and make this a really challenging flight. It would be interesting to know why they flew back to Cambridge as even with only a radio failure, let alone complete electrical failure, you should always land at the nearest suitable airport.
So, we find ourselves in a mass of restricted airspace with precise navigation needed to get us through safely.
To fly this flight in Flight Simulator X, you should ideally have Photographic Scenery installed of the area involved, or use Ultimate Terrain X Europe to give you the accurate placement of roads and rivers as features to navigate by. Versions of both are also available for Flight Simulator 2004/FS9 users if you use this older sim. Default Microsoft Flight Simulator does have the basic ‘main’ roads, and X-Plane 10 has very good real-world data for road mapping, so it should still be possible to fly this scenario ‘out of the box’. However for maximum realism, we recommend the excellent VFR Photo Scenery for X-Plane 10.
In this situation, the big stumbling block is the restricted airspace around London City airport, and a corridor between Luton and Stansted. You are going to have to be accurate in your navigation and altitude control to miss the various categories of restricted airspace.
So on to the mission:
You have been given special permission to take off from Cambridge, EGSC and fly towards the Olympic Stadium in London, despite most General Aviation traffic being grounded in the Olympic no-fly zone.
Planning this flight is easy if you are using the new Ideal Flight to plan your route into London as it will take into account the restricted airspace and no fly areas. You can download a PDF of the chart here so that you can print or view it at a larger scale. If you would rather plot your own flight plan, you can download an unmarked section of the chart here.
Jump in the default King Air 350 (an ideal opportunity to try out Audio Environment GA edition for a stunning replacement FSX sound set) or any other GA aircraft you may have in your hangar. It doesn’t have to be a King Air. You can fly in any General Aviation aircraft you feel comfortable with.
If you want maximum traffic flying around to add extra challenge, why not try Ultimate Traffic 2 to add real world scheduled traffic that are flying on actual real world airways. That way, the restricted airspace will be buzzing with hazards.
Load the aircraft at Cambridge EGSC, and set electrical failures to occur after about fifteen to twenty minutes. Plan your route to take you down to the Olympic stadium (which is located north of the large loop in the River Thames). Obviously, the newly built Olympics park will not be visible in the scenery, so you could use the London O2 Arena as an alternative destination to circle. That is available in the default Flight Simulator scenery and also in X-Plane VFR Photo Scenery. Make sure you contact Stansted and London City Airport when you are about to encroach their areas before you lose your radios. If the failure has happened before you reach that airspace, get ready to turn around and head home.
Had your transponder been working, you could have squawked 7600 to signal radio failure, but the electrics failure obviously rules that out. If you are in restricted airspace, leave immediately, then you can use this way to signal to Air Traffic control that you have suffered total radio failure.
Fly a radio failure triangle pattern.
Once clear of the restricted airspace, fly a left triangle to indicate a total radio failure. A right triangle pattern would means that your transmitter has failed, but your receiver is working. A good way to remember this is “Left means nothing left” and “Receiver all right“.
To do this, fly a straight line for two minutes. We suggest you turn to head north to start this to make it easy to work out angles. After two minutes, make a 120 degree turn to the left (heading 240 degrees) and fly for two minutes in a straight line. Make another turn 120 deg to the left (heading 120 degrees) and then straight again for two minutes.
Make another turn 120 deg to the left to fly due north again to start a second triangle pattern. Allow for wind effect so that the track on the radar screen is a clear trangle pattern. Fly this pattern at least twice which will take at least 12 minutes (2 mins x 3 = 6 minutes per triangle.)
At least traffic control are now alerted to your problem and can now monitor your progress back to Cambridge and keep other traffic out of your path.
As the Electrical systems have failed, you will need to use your standby compass and your 1:500,000 Aeronautical chart (see illustration) to navigate your way back to land at Cambridge. You could navigate around the restricted airspace or ensure that you stay clear by being below the restricted altitudes shown.
You will need to be flying a northerly heading, and following those large bodies of water before you get to the Stanstead area. The M25 crossing should help you spot your position, so keep following the water up. To the left of the water, you will see the A10 dual carriageway (being careful not to confuse the A1[M] motorway further left). The water body starts to veer off to the left, so make sure you stay on the left hand side of it as that cuts slightly into the Stansted class D airspace. Keep below 1500 feet at that point. Do NOT fly to the right of the water, as that will take you into airspace which is restricted even further, right down to ground level.
You will reach a VRP (Visual Reporting Point) where the A120 crosses the A10. Off to your left, you should spot Bennington airfield and to the distant right, Stansted. At this point you can climb to 2000 feet or more but stay below the 2500 feet restriction which will increase your visual range. Keep following the A10 road to Royston (or head north keeping the road off to your right in view). Head to the north side of Royston to see the A10 veer off at about 45 degrees to the right and keep following the A10 to cut across to the M11 which will bring you to the outskirts of Cambridge.
At Cambridge, turn right heading 70 degrees to skirt round the south side to keep clear of the Laser site hazard to the west of the airfield. You will see the airfield off to your left just east of a large body of water.
Landing procedures for aircraft with radio failures may be published in the relevant plate/airport info and should be followed. If none are shown, then usual practice is to enter the overhead well above circuit height and circle, looking out carefully for flares or more usually light signals from the tower/ground.
Don’t forget to keep an eye out for the signal square which will show basic airport information such as runway in use and or circuit directions.
Alternatively if no signals are seen you can enter the circuit very carefully, but overfly the runway at above 500ft until you see the signal to land.
Key signals to watch for are: a steady red light means keep on circling and give way to other traffic; red flashes means you cannot land and must find another airfield. A red flare means do not land but wait for permission.
One would hope to receive an immediate steady green light signal which means you may land (following standard circuit procedure).
Signals are also given on the ground with regards to taxi instructions, but by this time you may be hoping for a quick taxi to park up and a well-deserved cup of tea!
Cambridge is 47ft above sea level so you can set your altimeter to the QNH pressure setting – remember if you have been flying IFR you will likely have had your altimeter set to the standard 1013mb.
Cambridge operate runways 05 (fly a right hand circuit) or 23 (fly a left hand circuit), with 23 the preferred landing direction, subject to wind. Circuits are flown at 1000ft above aerodrome height for single engine aircraft and 1500ft for multi-engine aircraft such as the King Air.
You can find charts and airport information for Cambridge on the NATS website here. You may use this service free but you may be asked to register first.
Remember to keep calm and the flight isn’t over until you are safely parked with engines off!