When I’m looking at SkyDemon, contemplating where my next aerial adventure is going to take me, I’ve never really considered anywhere with the word ‘airport’ in it. And, there’s some good reasons too. They are big, scary places, with big angry aeroplanes, strict ATC that remind me of an old English teacher, requiring eloquent radio use, annunciation that would make Doctor Higgins proud and procedures so complicated you need a separate map just to join the circuit.
Or are they?
A good friend of mine recently passed his PPL and flies from Blackbushe Airport (there’s that word). So, as it was on the bucket list (the more anxiety-inducing end of it) I decided to make a flight to meet him on his home turf. Plus, I thought it would be really cool to fly up to see a mate, have a coffee and fly back again #pilotlife.
Planning the trip and joining the circuit
I was well aware that Blackbushe not only had that word ‘airport’ in it but that the airport itself is located in a tricky location, literally a stone’s throw away from Farnborough airport (yes it feels like you can almost see the white’s of the eyes of those private jet pilots when you’re on downwind). There are effectively two ways to get to Blackbushe. From the top (lack of controlled airspace), or from the bottom (much controlled airspace). As this was my first time, I opted to go the long way around and come in from the top or more specifically, from the north west.
Planning my route in SkyDemon this would take me from Goodwood, over Four Marks and then around the Odiham MATZ to Blackbushe, around an hour’s flight. Yes, it is a cautious route completely avoiding the MATZ altogether (I flew over the stubs as the weather permitted it).
Next I looked at the Blackbushe Airport website for pilot information. It is worth adding, the website and the information therein is very good. I highly recommend taking the time to thoroughly read through it all:Flying procedures for joining and departing.
I knew from the predicted winds the day I was flying that I would likely be landing on runway 25. So looking at their very useful joining diagram, I knew I would have to enter the ATZ from the north west.
I was keen on being accurate so I married up the location for joining on the map above with a position on SkyDemon. This gave me a ‘starting location’ to fly to.
For those interested, here’s the actual location of that point:
From there, it looked fairly simple – descend deadside to join at the circuit height of 800 feet on the QFE, fly crosswind, join the downwind and land as normal. Super. Just watch out for those helichoppers, that circuit of theirs looks awfully close!
Looking at the taxi diagram, I wanted an idea of what to expect once I was actually down. Oftentimes I find you travel somewhere only to suddenly feel like a rabbit in headlights once you land because you have no idea where to go next. Based on their very good taxi diagrams, I would be expecting to come off at Charlie then hold and wait at Charlie 1 for instructions. Those instructions would likely be to follow C2 left onto Echo and onto Golf to go left onto the grass parking. On the day, low and behold, that was exactly what happened. It made things so much easier and straightforward once I had landed.
I then looked at the reverse scenario for the departure and made some notes on my kneeboard in preparation. For example, the expected squawk of 7010 for circuit traffic.
The flight up was great with no dramas. Having taken off from Goodwood I tuned in Farnborough radar but decided not to get a basic service so I plumbed in the listening squawk and very much enjoyed a relaxed flight all the way round to Bramley.
From there I changed to Blackbushe and made my initial call to ‘Blackbushe information’. They are extremely friendly and not at all stiff-lipped and there was no missile warning tone for saying ‘umm’ twice in the same call. It was on the busy side but I was expecting that. They provided instructions for joining (which all sounded familiar because I had read the information) and they gave me the circuit squawk of 7010 as expected too asking me to call once inside the zone.
The remainder of the circuit went exactly as planned with calls little in difference to that of Goodwood. Landing a fixed wing microlight on a huge black tarmac runway is always interesting and very fun. It feels less like landing and more like being swallowed.
I was directed to taxi entirely as expected and in-line with the reading I had done. I ended up on the grass visitor parking.
They do prefer you to wear high-vis jackets so remember to pack yours. I donned mine (rather fetching bright orange one) and strolled across to the fire station where the big black and yellow “C” can be found. I can only assume most people use the online booking and payment system for landing fees (I did on subsequent visits and recommend you do too, it makes things much easier and quicker) as there was a rather surprised desk operator/firefighter who booked me in and took my details including landing fee. This was £15 at the time.
They have a lovely and very popular cafe called ‘The Pathfinder’ with all the amenities you might expect. You can find a few images of the interior on TripAdvisor. Prices are also reasonable but the queues can be very long so watch out for those. The staff are pretty good at battling through and getting people served in a timely manner (maybe Goodwood’s cafe could learn a thing or two from them … who said that?!).
The return flight
If you use the online payment form there is no need to check-out but seeing as this was my first visit I went across to the tower to do so. Again, some surprised staff (just use the intercom at the entrance) gave me the verbal thumbs up and I went back to the aircraft.
At Blackbushe they have a really good taxi system that minimises congestion and conflicting traffic landing and taking off. The wind had also shifted and we were now using runway 07. I did take some time to check over my flight planning for the return journey because of this. However, it only really impacted the departure from Blackbushe and not much else.
With no start-up permission needed but strict taxi permission, I requested airfield information and taxi for a return flight to Goodwood.
So, once approved, I made my way south back onto Golf before following the one-way system left onto the terminal apron and back onto Echo heading west. You then follow that taxiway down to the west end of taxiway Foxtrot. Using the little loop as an area to park and complete start-up checks. Once complete, the usual call and you’re sent down to the holding point at Echo 1. Very slick.
A few important things I had to remember for the departure, they like you to do a little right turn off runway 07 for noise abatement, a bit like runway 32 at Goodwood. Plus you have Farnborough airspace … pretty much everywhere so keeping a tidy horizontal and vertical circuit is important. Instructions are to maintain circuit height until you are on the downwind where you can begin your climb. This I did, doing nearly the same route back just in reverse.
All in all, an excellent flight and great new experience and not nearly as daunting as I expected. In fact, I have been back since, leaving Goodwood at 8am in the morning to arrive at Blackbushe around 9am for a shared trip from Blackbushe up to Sywell for breakfast.
I certainly recommend taking the trip if, like me, you are a little undecided or anxious. I haven’t yet tried the southern approach which involves much more work but I feel a step closer in confidence to doing that. I might just find someone else who’s already done it a dozen times and ask them to go with me or if I can just sit and watch them do it!
Last but not least, something else I find very useful for trips like this is YouTube. Providing they are relatively recent, videos from other pilots flying in are a great way to get a feel for things to come and set your own expectations. The ones I used for this flight were:
Thanks for reading and here’s to blue skies, safe flying and happy cloud hopping!
Disclaimer: This post was written for reader entertainment only and was up to date at the time of writing. Always seek a qualified flying instructor or qualified professional for more information regarding aircraft and airfield operations, equipment, regulations and aviation legislation.