Family daytrip to Sandown

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Third time lucky

This was planned to be our third flight with the family. Previous trips had been dramatically shortened by bad weather, the last being a short local from Kemble. With a close eye on the weather, the plan was to fly from Kemble down to Compton Abbas and either stop there or continue on to Sandown on the Isle of Wight. The forecast was for fairly strong winds  from the west together with occasional showers, so we’d keep an eye on the weather and either cut short or return early if things took a turn for the worse.

Some IT problems beforehand

I have been using SkyDemon planner which quickly calculates  a plog using the latest forecast winds, together with NOTAMS and airspace announcements. So I got up early intending to revise the plan, check the latest weather and NOTAMS. Unfortunately my computer wasn’t playing along for various reasons – it took at hour to do something that normally takes 10 minutes, but better to complete this properly and check things out rather than rush it.

I rang a couple of instructors to get authorisation for the flight. In the end, both gave it without any questions – the first had got my voicemail and signed the log before I arrived.

A quick departure

Although late arriving, it was fairly straightforward to go through the paperwork (including filling in three temporary membership forms with almost identical information – must prefill/prepare these for the future). I took the aircraft cover off, did the A check and ensured we had enough headsets for everyone. Meanwhile, the family had been reminded of the lack of onboard toilets and sat in the cafe while I got everything ready.

Fuel was up to tabs, which was what I’d calculated would be the most we’d want. Since there is no fuel available at Sandown yet, that should be enough to cover both ways with adequate reserve.

The weather was still looking reasonable, about 10 to 15 knots down the runway and a few threatening showers. I asked one of the other pilots who had just returned from a sortie, and he confirmed the cloudbase was around 2000 feet or higher and that the showers shouldn’t prevent me from my planned trip.

Clouds on the horizon

After takeoff, we turned southwest towards Bath (M4 J18 was my turning point), but found there was a rather large dark cloud in the way. Turning west, we flew behind it as it crossed quickly to the east, then we turned south again and quickly visually identified the road north from it at Petty France, with the turnoff to Badminton.

Changing to Bristol Radar for a Basic Service, we then got a great view of Colerne airfield, Charmy Down and down the swainswick valley over the west side of Bath. Heading further south past Frome, Warminster and Shaftesbury. We then played the game of spotting Compton Abbas airfield (which we’ve flown from), often tricky to identify (but the white flashing beacon helps a lot). Bristol Radar asked me if I’d like to switch to Compton (for local traffic information) or stick with them. I decided to keep well clear of Compton and later directly switch to Bournemouth. It didn’t take long before we could see the sea and were granted a zone transit to Sandbanks on the east side of Poole Harbour.

Dark clouds as we headed south towards Bournemouth
A cross channel ferry departs Poole Harbour with Sandbanks in the foreground

From there, we flew down the coast then around the Needles lighthouse (restraining myself from a steep turn which might have upset the passengers), along the Solent and turned inland at Cowes.

Isle of Wight viewed from the west (overhead Needles Lighthouse)

I’d previously phoned to check everything was normal at Sandown and they confirmed their policy is to discourage flying over the town. So no overhead joins or joins from the deadside (ie town side). It became fairly bumpy over the island, probably due to the strong westerly winds and hilly terrain. The air/ground radio estimated surface wind at 10 to 15 knots. We identified the field when a little too close to it and with no other traffic, I attempted to turn into the pattern for a downwind join. The wind from the west was much stronger at this altitude, so I was far too close in when turning base and decided to go around rather than take a chance. This meant I was much better lined up for the approach which in turn meant a fairly smooth landing – something the passengers were happy with at any rate. I have to say landing on grass does have a side benefit of flattering your landing techniques.

There were two marshallers present who guided me to a parking spot and helped push back a couple of yards to ensure it was well out of the taxiway.

A busy cafe

The cafe was packed out! Nice to see this attractive little airfield so busy. A friendly welcome at the cafe where we paid our landing fee (17.50).  It did mean our food order took a bit over half an hour to appear (which we were warned about from the outset), but that wasn’t a problem. (A large group had just ordered all-day breakfasts which was fair enough.) We enjoyed our freshly cooked lunch, which set us up for a walk to the beach – about 40 minutes each way. You actually walk south to Shanklin, initially across the footpath across the airfield, out on to the road, turn right then left and after a longer stretch on the bus route, go past Lidl supermarket and up some steps to the train station (where they run old electric London Underground trains to Rhyde at the north side of the island) then straight down to the coast – other routes are blocked by cliffs. I understand there is a bus service (or you could use a local taxi) if you preferred.

Sandown airfield from the cafe
Crazy golf on offer at Shanklin beach

We enjoyed icecreams on the beach and walked back. After a quick toilet stop before the Cafe closed, I did an allround check.

Sandown Airfield from the public footpath on the east side

We had about 105 litres of fuel still left, enough for almost 3 hours endurance, so more than enough for an hours flight back to Kemble. The air ground radio was still operating as we departed at 5pm.

Same route home

Needles and Lighthouse

We flew a similar route home, although headed directly west to the Needles across the Isle of Wight and took a shorter transit across Bournemouth airspace. Apart from a few threatening dark clouds and a shower, it was fairly straightforward. Returning to Kemble after hours, we self announced on frequency with traffic calls and joined downwind for a landing into the wind. With four passengers, the aircraft performance is certainly different from one or two onboard. I kept a bit more power on during the final approach, knowing there was plenty of runway available.


Overall, the family enjoyed the trip – I don’t know they’d like to go much further at this stage (it was just enough today), or in  worse weather. Since they’ve not been up in good weather, it’s good to know they found it worthwhile. I think they enjoyed being able to see so much from the air, which gives a different perspective, and also to fly over our home and other well known areas was still a exciting novelty.

Today’s Time: 2:45
Total PIC: 46:30
Total Time: 92:20


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