Trip to Tillsonburg

My latest flight on Friday took me to Tillsonburg, a little airport east of London International. As with every flight, I try to do something different, this time I decided to head back to Buttonville north of YYZ instead of taking the normal “follow shoreline [of lake ontario]” route south of YYZ. More on that later.

I met a fellow classmate at dispatch. We chatted for a bit — he was heading to Brantford in an Warrior with another classmate. We had a brief discussion about using GPS for navigation before parting ways. More on that in a later post.

I departed Buttonville at around 7:40pm. A little later than I had anticipated due to my mistaking a non functional knob as the primer for the airplane. When I get a chance, I will take a picture of it. It appeared in the normal location for the primer, and it even had a little arrow pointing clockwise with the words “lock” on it. Perhaps it was the old, original primer knob?


My friend in the Warrior departed a head of me by about 3-4 minutes. I was asked by City Tower (once entering their zone) to look for the traffic. We were both at 2000′. After a few minutes of looking, ATC asked them to climb to 2400′. I still couldn’t find them.

I always find it difficult to see other aircraft at this time of the day. It was about 45 min or so before sunset. I had my strobes on, however I think I would have been able to spot the Warrior easier if they did too.

I eventually climbed up to 4500′, which resulted in an increase in groundspeed of only 4-5KTs. Not as much as i’d hope (and planned).

I spotted the airport about 10 miles out and changed my heading to the north so that I could be at circuit altitude on the inactive side to be able to cross over the field and join the mid left downwind for runway 25. I did not have the luxury of joining the straight-in final. Did a full stop, backtracked and took off.

On my way back I was trying to contact Toronto Terminal on 119.9 (I think). I was able to hear the controller and other aircraft however they were not able to hear me. I called up a few times, but it wasn’t until I got north of Kitchener did anyone hear me.

By this time it was fully night.


I was told by the current controller to continue on my present heading under my own navigation to get my way back to Buttonville. Since this is the first time I’ve been north of YYZ, I was being extra careful not to get in their way.

When I thought it was safe to go direct to Buttonville, I double checked with the terminal controller and she said it was fine. So off I went.

I passed over the 400 near Rutherford Rd. Overflew Canada’s Wonderland. I was told to report the observatory. How am I supposed to see a landmark that is not going to be lit?

I saw a patch of land that was pitch black and assumed that was the observatory. Controller seemed to have agreed with my call up and cleared me to the right downwind for 33.

I was trying to find the airport when I heard the dreaded “Do you have the airport in sight?” from the controller. He simultaneously increased the runway light brightness when he asked and I replied with “I do now, thanks”. I was almost on top of it! I was able to salvage the approach and did a quick turn to enter a downwind for a few seconds before turning base, then final.

Damn this airport is hard to find coming from the west at night!

I had to call Flightline to ask them where I should park the plane. All of the reserved spots for TAL airplanes were taken. First time that has happened to me.

Chalk another 2.5 hours x-country time!

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4 thoughts on “Trip to Tillsonburg

  1. On my very first flight with a passenger as a newly minted pilot I found myself in the exact same situation – almost on top of the airport, yet blatantly ignorant to the fact. Thankfully I was 500′ over circuit height and was able to make a descending 180 into the base, instead of the straight in I was cleared for. The controllers were pleasantly accomodating after I admitted my sitaution, but I felt like a complete tool none the less.
    At least you’ve got the darkness to use a reason, but my situation was at 2 in the afternoon.
    After the flight I assessed what happened in my head and it was clear that it was my own fault – I had been playing with my GPS (something that I hadn’t been able to do as a student) and the pax further distracted me. I just lost sensory awareness of where I was until I was on top of the airport.
    One of those less then memorable experience for me.

  2. Tillsonberg is uncontrolled so unlike controlled, you can only join downwind or overhead the field for the mid left downwind like you did. I hope you werent planning on joing straight in final.

  3. I’ve had that problem getting in radio contact with Toronto as well on 135.3. I was on flight following at 2000′ from YTZ to YQS and after passnig through Kitchener’s zone I couldn’t get back in touch with Toronto Centre. I notified YKF tower of this fact and they told me that the 135.3 relay station is in London, and the other is in Toronto, and you won’t get reception until you are about 2500′ or higher when 10-20 miles west of YKF. This might be the problem you were experiencing.

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