STUDENT STRAYS INTO LUTON CTZ – How to avoid doing similar!


Thanks for TAO for sending me this one

A 35 hour JAR PPL student from Blackbushe to Cranfield on a first solo land away cross country strayed into the Luton Control Zone after making a divert from the planned track to avoid 3 or 4 gliders in the Westcott area.

The student reported that the route was from Blackbushe to Cranfield via Westcott and Woburn. There were no problems until approaching Westcott, where there was intense glider activity, around 3 –4 were seen. To avoid the gliders a turn was made to give them plenty of room.

Consequently, the student did not turn where he intended to turn towards Woburn. The student believes he was north of Westcott when he chose to head 090 to intercept the intended original heading or track of 056.

The students next navigational check point was a town in the 10 o clock position which he incorrectly identified as Milton Keynes and another in his two o clock which he also misidentified as Leighton Buzzard (while talking to Cranfield with a FIS)
He then says around the half way point he made out a disused airfield which he took to be Little Horwood. The student said that, as everything seemed to ‘fit’, he maintained heading. (Unfortunately, the towns were in fact Leighton Buzzard to the left, and Hemel Hempstead to my right. The disused airfield was Wing according to the student but see later.)

As the ETA to Woburn approached the student was concerned that he did not have the abbey or village in sight, but he soon made out a manor with a lake ahead.

The student stated that the town to his left was larger than it should have been and the manor ‘did not look right’.  He had had flown the leg dual the previous week and  he then says that alarm bells started ringing but despite of this he reported ‘overhead Woburn’, to Cranfield and was asked to report downwind.

The student’s next heading from Woburn to Cranfield should have been as planned, 358, but the airfield he could now see was more was towards a heading of 030.(or do you mean 130) The student says the alarm bells got louder at this point and when Cranfield asked his position he thinks he told them he was now uncertain of his position.

The student later reported he could see Jets on runway 06 and states it was now blatantly obvious he was in the Luton CTZ and was put over to Luton ATC.

The student eventually landed safely at Cranfield after being told by Luton to phone the supervisor after landing. The student states that he was mortified with his error and very nervous during the ensuing circuit and landing. The student complimented Luton ATC for being very calm and helpful with no hint of chastisement.
After telephoning the home school, the student flew the return back to Blackbushe and was very relieved to get home.

The student later sat down with a map and tried to work out what had happened.

The student believed that being north of Westcott after the manoeuvring turns was the cause and not trusting the training and not being pro active when the alarm bells rang. The student says he should have requested a position fix there and then, rather than taking comfort in ATC’s supposition that they had him in sight of their field. The student sated that he was the pilot and it was his responsibility. He finally stated he was not sure what happens next!


Hello,  I was impressed with your concise clear description of what happened and your enthusiasm for admitting you had made a mistake. You have learnt a valuable lesson and my money is on you never doing that again but was it entirely your own fault? I do not think so, so I shall give you my version.

The routing;

It’s not a routing I would choose for a first solo student cross country because that is a one of the busiest pieces of airspace in the UK.  You have only to look at the number of airfields that have cable launching of gliders to see that. It is also a popular north south corridor between regulated airspace for en route flying. I would also never use an airfield turning point that has a radio aid because you know that is going to be a very popular busy turning and over flying point.

In addition if I was using that leg to Westcott I would not turn there (for a student) because the Westcott — Woburn leg is too close to the Luton CTZ and years of experience has told me, and now you, that students do make mistakes and you do need to leave a very generous margin close to regulated airspace, bearing in mind what the dreadful consequences could be. I would have in fact extended that leg to Silverstone which is extremely easy to identify and produces a simple onward leg to Cranfield.

Now, to how the cross-country was flown.

I recognise the remarks only too well and I recognise the style of navigation, I used to use it myself until I invented the ‘Sherlock Holmes’ style of navigation! All those clues that Watson gave him but Holmes was a deeply suspicious man and it was that suspicion that made him a great detective, you have got to be a Sherlock Holmes not a Dr Watson or you will make the same mistakes again believe me!

So my students know that they dare not ever nominate a checkpoint without being able to use TWO  UNAMBIGUOUS FEATURES TO PROOVE IT and we will stay over the point till they can do it. Lets look at your waypoints. Little Horwood—Line feature-railway line (any line features must be orientated correctly and noted) about west to east in this case. WINSLOW to south west of Little Horwood. Notice that Wing does not have these features.

Your waypoint Milton Keynes. First off all for successful serious navigation around an area like this I believe the 1-250 000 chart to be better and I wouldn’t mind betting you only had a 1-500 000 chart. Our students would have had both on board or I should say a section of the chart on board. Now before you all say, ‘Oh you can’t use those charts’, have a look at the difference between Milton Keynes on the two charts and then make your mind up.

On the briefing your instructor gave you before the cross country he should have reminded you that Milton Keynes is three times bigger than Leighton Buzzard and that MK is the easiest town in the United Kingdom to spot because its roads are laid out in a square grid!. He should have also briefed you on the possible misidentification of Aylesbury as well and features that make all these towns unambiguous.

Now you stated that you turned north of Westcott but you do not seem to know how far north. Unfortunately if you do not know where you are when you turn it then follows that you now no longer know where you are going to. Be sure you understand this because this was your major mistake. If you turn to avoid you must turn as part of a plan where possible. Turn 45 left for two minutes then turn 45 right for two minutes, etc etc. If you turn left a bit, right a bit, left a bit, where are you, I have no idea? The other way of doing it is to turn to a known point (check it though, be suspicious!) or TURN BACK to Westcott which in this case may have been the best solution.

You can also continue on the original track. In this case I would have picked Buckingham because you must turn over a point you can mark on the chart. However to be able to ad-lib navigate you need to know how to do it and that is why we (my school) always do a cross country with an en route diversion BEFORE first solo land away cross-countries. You need to be able to navigate off the plan as well as on it, in fact its more important to be able to just take a map and a chinagraph and put a cross country together in the air, that’s what I want to see my students do, that’s the key to good visual navigation, the ability to re-plan when the original plan goes wrong.

You can practice this at home with a map and a chinagraph. Thumb to joint = 10 nm, is your ruler, and a mile to two miles a minute. Interpolate in between 60 – 120 kts for your ground speed.

You can use VOR roses on the map for protractors.

Then check it all with your posh Airtour rulers and computers etc., you wont be far out.

One other point about your selection of heading 090 to intercept the original track. That to me seems to be a large change in heading which I understand because you are trying to intercept but if you miss the I/C point which you obviously did that must eventually put you into regulated airspace. Always err on the other side Eg away from regulated airspace. In fact this incident really hinges on that selection of the heading of 090 which dosnt quite ring true because for you to be so close to Luton that you can see the runway numbers and for it to be on the 210 radial you have either not steered 090 or there has been an extremely strong northerly wind or you in fact turned around Aylesbury, so I would check that out again if I was you. Consider when looking for an intercept point to make that point a clear unambiguous feature. Eg turn from a map point and intercept on a map point.

By the way we always teach that if you are ever changing heading 30 degrees or more from a planned heading there is something wrong and you need to be very careful and if need be request assistance and you can see here why we have this rule. ((You always need to act early around regulated airspace, get on the radio straight away and call for help and the best unit to have called here would have been Luton)

There is a big tendency to make what you see out of the window fit what you want on the map but visual navigation isn’t about luck, it’s a skill, and the skill is you need to PROOVE what you can see on the ground is what is on the map.


Be suspicious, use two unambiguous supporting features to prove each check or turning point. Always orientate supporting features with compass direction.

Be very suspicious if you ever need to change heading by 30 degrees or more, that’s a big change, WHY? Seek help if unsure.

If you divert around traffic, weather, etc have a timed plan,

Always turn from a point that you can plot on the map otherwise you are lost.

In addition

You may have already have been talking to Brize LARS but its always better to be on a LARS than a FIS especially if you have a transponder. (I appreciate you are at the possible limit of cover at Westcott)

ATC should never tell a student pilot, or any pilot, to ‘phone the supervisor when you land’, it’s not necessary, the ATCO assistant only has to phone your destination airfield and tell them to tell you on the ground or they can phone your school. Saying that over the radio is very unprofessional and creates an unwanted level of stress for the remainder of the flight which will be the most stressful anyway, Eg the approach and landing.

I would add that I believe that it should be mandatory for all solo student flights to have the pre-fix call sign SOLO.

Do not worry about what has happened it happens to many pilots both experienced and novice.

I have been lost many times more than you and every time it taught me a lesson but remember,



Good luck with the rest of your training.

Captain Jon


Airspace infringements continue to be one of the UK’s main aviation safety risks. The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), through its Airspace Infringements Working Group, is currently working with industry to tackle the issue. The Group has issued a list of top ten tips to avoid an infringement. How not to infringe – Ten Top Tips from the ‘On Track’ team

1. Navigation is a skill, and needs to be practised regularly, both planning a flight and conducting it. Safety Sense Leaflet 5 (available on the CAA website and in the LASORS publication) contains good advice on VFR navigation, but it only works if you read and apply it!

2. If you plan a route through controlled airspace, remember that a crossing clearance may not always be possible and consider that route as your ‘secondary’ plan. Your primary plan should avoid controlled airspace – and don’t forget to make your overall time and fuel calculations using the longer, primary route!

3. Where possible, avoid planning to fly close to controlled airspace boundaries. If you do need to do so, be very careful. A small navigational error or distraction of any sort can lead to an infringement – and it doesn’t take much to ruin your day!

4. Pilot workload rises rapidly in less than ideal weather – and so do infringements. If the weather starts to deteriorate, consider your options early and if necessary divert or turn back in good time.

5. If you wish to transit controlled airspace, think about what you need to ask for in advance and call the appropriate Air Traffic Control (ATC) unit at least 10 nautical miles or five minutes flying time from the airspace boundary. This gives the controller time to plan ahead.

6. Thinking before you press the transmit switch and using the correct radio phraseology helps air traffic control to help you – and sounds more professional!

7. Be aware that ATC may be busy when you call them – just because the frequency doesn’t sound busy doesn’t mean that the controller isn’t busy on another frequency or on landlines.

8. Remember – the instruction ‘Standby’ means just that; it is not an ATC clearance and not even a precursor to a clearance. The controller is probably busy so continue to plan to fly around the airspace. Only fly across the airspace if the controller issues a crossing clearance.

9. Your planned route through controlled airspace may appear simple on your chart but the traffic patterns within that airspace may make it unrealistic in practice. Be prepared for a crossing clearance that does not exactly match your planned route but will allow you to transit safely.

10. Don’t be afraid to call ATC and use the transponder when lost or uncertain of your position – overcoming your embarrassment may prevent an infringement which may in turn prevent an Airprox (or worse).


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