Landaway to Compton Abbas

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A passenger flight from Kemble

With Lyneham closing down and no further weekend flying permitted from there, the club had again arranged to operate out of Kemble for the weekend – almost certainly the last time they’ll do so. With the weather looking very promising, I had arranged to take a friend up for a trip. He’d flown in light aircraft once before, having been given a trial lesson a couple of years ago, but not been in a position to bite the bullet and embark on the full PPL course. Would my flight put him off, or encourage him to take up aviation?

Having prepared in advance, using SkyDemon to calculate the plog, check the NOTAMs and weather, I just needed to make a few calls before leaving home. Spoke to Mike after he finished his morning training flights and he authorised my trip, saying how good the weather was today. I also called Compton for PPR, and was told about an aerobatic display scheduled between 5:10 and 5:30. If we timed it right, we’d be on the ground there to watch it – they don’t close until 6. One last piece of paperwork was at Kemble, which officially closes at 5pm – I paid the landing fee in advance and also signed an indemnity declaration form, allowing me to land after they close anytime up to sunset.

Ollie apologised profusely for returning a few minutes later than his 3pm booking, but it really wasn’t a problem. He’d managed a landaway to Shobdon in his 2 hour slot which was pretty good, and had to skirt around some rain showers on his return leg – similar to my own trip there last month. With a quick all round check, and noting the fuel was still on tabs, we stepped in and prepared to go. Taking off on 26, we continued to climb and headed south west towards Bath. Bristol Radar gave me a Basic Service and the airwaves didn’t seem that busy.

Great landmarks to spot from the air

Our flight took us over some great landmarks, heading south from the M4 J18 we flew over Chris’s house and could easily pick out many local features. Further south, Longleat and King Alfred’s Tower were quickly apparent. Our route took us over Wing Farm and the nearby gliding site – we kept a close eye out for them and saw one landing at The Park.

Wet, Wet, Wet = slippery grass

As we approached Compton Abbas, I heard others report inbound and one in the circuit. Their Air-Ground reported recent heavy rain showers which had made the grass very wet – they recommended if you hadn’t touched down by the 400m marker then to go around because braking efficiency would be minimal. They reported wind calm, but suspected their might be a tailwind on 08 and asked me when I was downwind if I wanted to change runway direction. I elected not too – perhaps I should have – and found I was crabbing a little on the base leg. It took me a little longer than it should have to line up the approach correctly, so I would have been holding off at perhaps 300m mark and decided to go around. (Perhaps this was after reading a book recently that said every approach should be managed as though it were a go-around, changing to a landing only when everything is going to plan).

Having gone around, we were much better setup for the second attempt. My passenger seemed quite happy with what happened and not put out at all (to my relief). Not using the brakes at all, we rolled a fair way down the runway,  past the 600m mark. It’s a stark reminder of what a really wet grass landing might be like.

Free aerobatics display

Parked up and went in to pay the reasonable £10 landing fee, enjoy a coffee and cake and look around. The views from the airfield in the sunshine were stunning. The scheduled aerobatics display started on time, with two planes performing a variety of maneouvers with smoke trails on and off for about 15 minutes. I understood this was for a wedding reception being held in a nearby field – nothing to do with the airfield itself – what a way to celebrate!

Aerobatics Display from Compton Abbas

Departure almost at closing time

With the airfield closing at 6, we then returned to our aircraft and departed around 5:45. I’d planned a more circuitous route back to Kemble via Weston Super Mare, Clevedon and the Severn Bridges. I hoped that at this time of day, Bristol would be happy for us to transit their airspace (which they were). Bidding farewell to Compton as we departed to the North West, we asked for and were given a Basic Service from Bristol Radar. We could see dark rain clouds to the North East, so my routing was very much more attractive. We flew over the Glastonbury Festival site and could see the large fence barricade – it seemed more like something from the West Bank of Palestine. The Wells radio mast was clearly visible in the distance, as was Wells Cathedral and other landmarks. It was surprisingly difficult to see the M5 from the distance – our turning point was Sedgemoor Services – but the coast and Bristol Channel (including one or two islands) were clearly visible.

Zone transit up the Severn Estuary

As we turned overhead Sedgemoor, I asked Bristol for a zone transit at not above 3000 feet and was given one not above 2500 which was more than acceptable. They gave me a squawk code which I repeated back as I dialled it into the transponder. I must have got mixed up there because I’d swapped the 2nd and 3rd digit, and was asked to recycle the code. Of course I should have written this down first and then put it in – alternatively the more experience users of Bristol Airspace would come to recognise the codeset used anyway (they all start with 56).

We had a great view up the Severn Estuary of the coast, both bridges and the power stations. We could see Filton airport on our right, and turned in towards Kemble overhead the bridges, just south of the restricted areas around the power stations. We headed back to Kemble and I demonstrated a couple of steep turns to Chris to give a little insight into what the otherwise plain and boring PA28 can do.

Kemble still awake after bedtime

Switching to Kemble as we approached, I gave a traffic call and was somewhat flummoxed to hear the tower give me a reply – surely they weren’t still open at 7:30pm? As I listened, I could hear other traffic arriving and departing, so they must have decided to remain open late for the evening. Perhaps because of this, and really not expecting any other traffic  I approached the overhead from the wrong direction and as I started to descend on the deadside to the North was asked to keep a lookout for traffic climbing out (which I had already spotted). Downwind, there was one other aircraft ahead which on reflection must have extended downwind further than normal because I was behind it on finals – it was on short final as I turned onto finals but had cleared by the time I was landing.

After parking up, we saw a large balloon being laid out in preparation for takeoff. Maybe that’s one reason why the ATC was still operating.

One to remember

All in all a great afternoons flying – an attractive route with plenty to see, the bonus of the aerobatics at Compton, some heavy rain showers to be skirted around and best of all a happy passenger who would come again. It’s a great privilege to be able to make trips like today’s. This is what getting and enjoying a PPL is all about.

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