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Great weather for a landaway

We had been enjoying an “Indian Summer” of warm weather at the end of September, and I was looking skywards during the week hoping it would last for the weekend. I’d arranged to take a friend, James, for a flight and hoped to go west to Cornwall or South Wales. Andy Hawkins was also planning a flight on Saturday, so we agreed to share a common destination and approximate flight times – he would fly the Arrow with Sean in the passenger seat. We agreed to fly from Kemble to Haverfordwest in the far south west corner of Wales.

After mapping the route on SkyDemon before I left in the morning, I called one of the club instructors and walked through what I planned. He gave me authorisation by phone, which was one less potential delay ahead. James and I got there around 12:30 and chatted with Andy and Sean over a sandwich. There had been a risk of low cloud at our destination, but Andy had phoned ealier and been told it was “overcast at 4000 feet” which was good enough for us. The nearby front was moving north west away from the area, so no longer a potential problem. Andy was keen to get moving but suggested I depart first because the Arrow would fly much faster.

As I checked through the aircraft, I found it low on oil so needed to run into the clubhouse for more. I was further delayed by not wanting to rush my preparations and saw Andy had already started up and was taxing out ahead of me. He took off about 5 minutes ahead and landed some 15 minutes before us.

Photographer onboard

James is a keen photographer and probably spent as much on kit as I did learning to fly, so had a huge camera and several lenses to play with. Sadly the haze reduced the quality of pictures from what might have been possible. His brother had learned to fly through the ATC many years ago, gaining his PPL before his driving licence. However, despite many business trips on commercial airlines, James had never been up as a passenger with him so he was new to small planes.

Across the border

After departure, we headed off down to the Severn Bridges as a clear landmark, partly to allow me to check James was happy in a small aircraft and could proceed. I then identified the Brecon VOR and tracked towards it, talking to Cardiff for a basic service. Initially having routed south west towards the bridges, they asked me to report when I coasted into Wales. It was nice to avoid the £5.70 toll bridge fee for cars crossing into Wales, even if I was paying heavily for the privilege.

Merthyr Tydfil
Merthyr Tydfil

The views over the Brecon beacons was good and we picked out the towns such as Merthyr Tydfil, Pontypool and others. The south coast of Wales also came into view as we flew towards Swansea. We dropped out of Cardiff radar range, but kept a basic service from them until some 20 miles out from our destination. Approaching Haverfordwest, we heard a relaxed and friendly air/ground welcome us and confirm that a overhead join was OK (this isn’t allowed when they have microlights in the opposing circuit). The A/G then announced they were going off-air for 5 minutes and left me to it. I heard another impending arrival announce themselves, but by the time I was downwind A/G radio had come back online. They provided the surface wind conditions and confirmed no other traffic to affect me.

Watch the birdy

Everything was working well until I was on short final and realised the landing zone was covered in a large flock of birds, who didn’t seem bothered about my impending arrival. Should I fly over them and land long (risking them taking off directly into my path), go around at height (scaring them away for a second attempt) or just proceed as normal. I opted to continue for a normal approach and it seemed only at the last minute that the birds quickly took to the air and cleared off, reaching perhaps 100 feet as I touched down. No significant crosswind meant this was a fairly straightforward landing – the long and spacious runway giving plenty of room for error. Taxied and parked up alongside about half a dozen aircraft.

A warm welcome

Andy and Sean were waiting in the café when we arrived, where a mug of tea was very welcome. They had arrived some 15 minutes ahead of us due to faster cruising speed and leaving 5 minutes ahead. The café has a large sectioned off area to view the airfield and didn’t seem that busy. The offer of a free landing in Pilot magazine had brought in additional visitors, keen to save the £10 landing fee. During weekends the flying club there runs the A/G service, which is why it isn’t manned 100% of the time.

Andy was keen to return and get back to Kemble before it closed at 5, so it didn’t seem long before his departure. We enjoyed another mug of tea (must be something to do with the water than makes it taste better), and James took a few more pictures before we saddled up and departed. One of the tanks had considerably more fuel than the other [note to self to switch tanks more often than the 30 minute cycle I had been using]. With time to spare – I hadn’t planned on getting back to Kemble by 5pm – we flew further west on departure out to Skomer Island and back along the coast.

Worm Head appears through the mist

I’d checked that none of the danger areas were active – good thing as we overflew several of the firing ranges. We coasted out just south of Tenby, making for the Gower peninsular, but visibility was poor so we didn’t identify Worm Head (on the west coast of the Gower) for a few miles. We did get a good view of the south side of the Gower and proceeded on towards Cardiff. At this point, I’d been getting a basic service from Cardiff and was flying lower than on the outbound route – some 800 feet in Pembrokeshire climbing to 1500 feet by the Gower.

Zone transit within a busy CTA

I requested a zone transit not above 2000 feet, hoping to get a better view of the coast in the haze. Rather than refusing my request, they offered me one not below 3000 which I gratefully accepted. There were several inbound aircraft and they wanted me to be well out of the way. I climbed first to 3500 feet (to be absolutely clear of the conflicting traffic) and then later to 4000 feet – the controller was dealing with inbound 757 which announced it was “low on fuel” – and was keen to ensure I understood how important it was to remain at that level.

My passenger had a strange expression when learning that a large aircraft would be co-ordinated to fly beneath us, and even more alarmed look when learning it was low on fuel. I explained that since the pilot hadn’t declared an emergency, and was not diverting (ATC had asked if that was the case), they weren’t that low and might even be saying this partly to get priority treatment (pure conjecture on my part, I’m not an expert in these matters).

Misidentified airport

Seeing a large runway close to the south coast of Wales, I immediately assumed that was Cardiff. A few minutes later, we saw another large runway and realised my mistake – the second one was Cardiff and the first an RAF base. Cardiff asked me my intentions after reaching Flatholm Island. I asked to turn and fly up the Severn Estuary, requesting that I be handed over to Bristol who control that airspace. This was denied – Bristol were very busy handling 6 aircraft – so we agreed that I could simply turn northwards remaining in Cardiff airspace at 4000 feet until clear which I was happy to do. We got a good view of Cardiff Bay and Cardiff itself. Cardiff then gave me a new squawk code and shortly thereafter passed me across to Bristol Radar.

Very helpful Bristol Radar service

Noting the time was around 5pm when Kemble closed, I asked Bristol if they could find out the airfield information for me. They called Kemble tower by landline and relayed back the QFE and current runway in use, saying that this might change soon – it was marginal because the wind was mainly southerly. This was very helpful and allowed me to land using the QFE which I’m used to doing.

new severn bridge
New Severn Bridge

James got some great photos of the Severn Bridges as the sun started to wane…

Landing at Kemble out of hours

The run up from Severn bridges to Kemble was fairly quick. I switched to the Kemble frequency and announced myself but didn’t hear anyone else. Thinking I would expect to use 08, but wanting to check the current wind on the windsock, I approached and did a full overhead join. The windsock was showing wind mainly from the south but slightly favouring 08, so I kept on with the procedure. Downwind, I heard someone call Kemble Information asking for basic service while they transitted overhead. I was able to let them know the tower had closed – pleasantly surprising myself that this didn’t seem to overload me while on base leg. When I was learning, every little extra workload seemed to be too much, so I guess some of these things are getting more routine.

Final for Kemble 08
Final for Kemble 08 after hours

Turned final and focussed on the landing – a little long perhaps, but there was a steady crosswind (and no birds on the threshold) – then taxied back to park up. The office was still open – one of the Kemble instructors was still there doing paperwork – so I was able to sign everything off and leave it tidy before departing. A great day out, another satisfied passenger and a new airfield added to my logbook.

James even muttered something about considering learning to fly himself one day….

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