Unlicensed airfields come in all shapes and sizes: some will be massive, ex-military airfields with huge tarmac runways and little else; others will be small grass airfields with a friendly clubhouse and refuelling capacity. Just to confuse matters, some licensed airfields become ‘unlicensed’ when they close (perhaps the fire crew has gone home, meaning that the requirements to be licensed are no longer in place), but the operator may still allow landings and departures after-hours.
Farm strips are usually little more than a runway cut into a field. Sometimes the field will be long, smooth and dry, and sometimes it will have a significant slope, be surrounded by trees and will have sheep grazing on it. There’s no doubt that landing at a farm strip can be much more challenging than landing at a licensed airfield. Microlight pilots live and breath these types of airstrips and landing you aircraft at some strips can be a whole heap of fun.
There will rarely be anyone to pass you the wind direction or the local pressure setting, and you’ll only know of other aircraft in the local area or circuit if they are broadcasting their position on ‘Safetycom’ – a radio frequency (135.475MHz) that allows pilots to transmit to other aircraft in the vicinity of the unattended strip.
Most private farm strips and/or unlicensed airfields are designated PPR (Prior Permission Required) so it is essential to call the strip owner or operator before you fly into one; some strips are very, very private and you won’t get permission to land there in any circumstances, while others are more than happy to get visitors.
Some of the nicest aviation people I’ve met have been farm-strip owners, and it’s not at all uncommon to find yourself sitting down and chatting about aviation over a cup of tea and biscuits brought out to you by someone at the strip.
Details of many UK farm strips can be found in a guide called Lockyears Farm Strips and Private Airfields Flight Guide that is available from pilot shops. As you continue to build up your experience, you will find that you can use some of the more marginal strips, although it is essential to have an appropriate aircraft and to properly calculate performance. It’s a good idea here to seek advice from your flying instructor and possibly even take on a little more tuition in the basic techniques and practices of strip flying.
And Now For Something Completely Different? Aerobatics If you’re looking for a challenge and want to massively improve your flying skills, then you ought to seriously consider aerobatics.
Now, don’t stop reading just because you think you may feel ill, apprehensive or both. Aerobatics, taught in the correct manner, will teach you more about aircraft handling than any other discipline. It’ll greatly increase your confidence, and if you are at all competitive, you’ll find a world of like-minded individuals who gather regularly to compete.
Most aerobatic flyers will tell you that they do it for the adrenalin-rush, the skill-set they hone, but most of all for the sheer unadulterated grin factor… putting the ‘F’ into Fun!” There’s a beginner’s level that is tailored to novices, and you can even fly with a safety pilot if you like.
You can obtain more information from www.aerobatics.org.uk.
Precision flying is a gentle alternative to aerobatics, precision flying is another great way to improve your skills. There’s a small group of people who compete nationally and internationally, testing their skills with spot landing, navigation and timed-arrival trials, among other things.
Mountain flying If you’re looking to combine stunning natural beauty with spectacular flying that will require a good understanding of the weather, precision handling and excellent decision-making skills, then mountain flying is perhaps for you. The vast majority of European mountain flying takes place in the French Alps where it is taught by specially qualified instructors.
The landing sites are divided into two categories: altiports such as Courchevel, Meribel and Megeve; and altisurfaces such as Valoire. They’re pretty much all one-way runways, which means that there’s only one landing direction (uphill) and one take off direction (downhill). There’s no such thing as a go-around, as there’s usually a very big mountain somewhere near the end of the runway and, unless you’re flying something like a Typhoon or an F-16, there’s no way that you’re going to out-climb it.
All of the altiports are regulated by the DGAC (the French version of the CAA), but the altisurfaces carry no guarantees at all! Flying other types of Aircraft Not all of your post PPL flying adventures have to be exotic or particularly expensive.
You can gain a huge sense of achievement by simply learning to fly other types of aircraft from the one you learnt in. By searching through the many flying clubs across the UK, you’ll discover the chance to learn to fly exciting and exotic aircraft such as open-cockpit biplanes like the Stearman, classic warbirds like the Harvard and aerobatic aircraft like the Extra 300.
Build up your hours a little more and you can work towards extra ratings and qualifications that will allow you to fly twin engined aircraft, taildraggers and even jets, some of which are also crucial steps towards a commercial licence.
A Greater World of Opportunities And then, there are the simple pleasures of attending fly-ins and socials, when groups of like-minded pilots will gather at an airfield to talk, fly and generally enjoy each other’s company. The great thing about getting your PPL is that it really does open up a world of opportunities. Enjoy yourself…