Change of plan
Andy had kindly offered to take me for a flight on the club’s Arrow – an aircraft that I’m not qualified to pilot myself. This is a faster version of the PA28 range, with retractable undercarriage and a “wobbly prop”. Andy had completed two hours of differences training and so was keen to consolidate this with a few flights. I don’t believe it’s worthwhile for me to do the training because I would need to fly it at least once every 30 days to remain current – flights on the PA28 Warrior I normally fly don’t count because that doesn’t have a variable propeller.
Unfortunately on the day itself, Andy came down with a cold. Flying with a blocked up head isn’t a good idea – the change of pressure aggrevates the condition isn’t recommended. He texted me to let me know he couldn’t make it.
Having already arranged to go flying for the afternoon, I instead booked one of the warriors (two were already in use), did pre-flight planning at home and headed off. The aircraft I planned to use was booked earlier for a PPL Skills Test and I thought if I got there a few minutes early, then Graham (our CFI and Examiner) might be available to authorise my flight.
I’ve flown overhead Popham several times on my way to and from the coast. It’s a popular and thriving airfield with a grass strip and a wide range of aircraft there. I rang them before leaving home to check they were operating normally. I also used SkyDemon to make a quick plan, check NOTAMS and weather, and print out a plog. The route would take me from Kemble via Lyneham direct to Popham. I didn’t bother downloading this into the GPS because I thought it too trivial.
The only NOTAM of note was a Vulcan display that should have finished before I got there.
The skills test using the aircraft before me had been successful, so it was a very positive atmosphere in the clubhouse room. Graham did agree to authorise my flight – on two conditions. One was NOT to fly over the petrol station at the approach to Popham. The other was to ensure the handbrake was very firmly engaged when I parked there – the parking area is on a slope. I thought about taking a pair of chocks for the nosewheel, but in the end I didn’t – I found they offer a free supply to borrow there.
The aircraft needed refuelling after its last flight and I offered to do this, so I could go straight off afterwards. They’d allowed and extra 0.1 on the tacho reading for a trip to the pumps, so this benefitted me too.
There was a queue of three aircraft at the pumps. I helped the Auster in front with the card machine – the procedure is straightforward when you know it but can confuse those new to it. This Army aircraft had flown down from Airbase in Coventry and had a “Just Married” sign in the window – yes, it was true and the couple were flying back home after their celebrations. I helped push this forward out of the way after he had finished refuelling. Watching this being handstarted reminded me how some aircraft haven’t changed for decades but still fly perfectly well.
I also spoke to the pilot in the Tomahawk behind me. This aircraft had just been relocated to Kemble from Bristol, where ongoing costs had risen to price it out of the airport. Shares are available and I was (jokingly) asked if I’d like to buy in.
As I watched the Auster take off on the grass strip, I wasn’t far behind and lined up waiting for the hard runway to clear. After takeoff, I recalled how much more powerful G-ELUE seems than the other Warriors – perhaps the engine is just in better condition – further helped by flying it solo. Although it lacks a decent set of nav equipment (ADF, VOR, ILS, DME etc.), it does have several extra gauges which I confess I haven’t yet got to grips with – one for EGT (Exhaust Gas Temperature) for example. Must make a point of researching this before I next fly it.
Visibility was very good with scattered clouds at 3000 feet. With my new IMC rating still burning a hole in my pocket, I flew up above the cloudbase for a while and even flew through a couple. This wouldn’t be allowed in many other countries, where IMC flights aren’t allowed outside controlled airspace. Generally the airwaves seemed quite quiet – remarkably little traffic around for such a nice day.
Arriving at Popham
Calling up the airfield to get the local information, I heard another call from an inbound aircraft that was a similar distance to the south. I could also hear a couple of aircraft announce their departure. Air/ground advised me to keep a good lookout as I approached the overhead and did a dead-side descent, quickly spotting the other inbound aircraft ahead of me and shortly afterwards one of the departing ones.
With the printout of the local noise-abatement chart in front of me, I rotated this to be “heads up” and flew a wide circuit, going north of the railway line and doing my best to keep away from the local villages. The approach to the main runway is offset because of a petrol filling station directly in line. You have to approach at an offset of 30 to 45 degrees and then turn onto the runway itself close to the threshold. There is a large white arrow painted on the ground to help, but I found that simply dissecting the angle between the crosswind and main runways did the trick.
With a close eye on the airspeed, I flew down the approach and turned about perhaps 100 feet off the ground and let it settle down after flaring at the normal height. Perhaps grass flatters landings but I didn’t think that it was too bad. I taxied all the way back to the clubhouse where A/G kept an eye on me and directly me exactly where to park. They have a box of chocks nearby for use by visitors, but I thought where I was parked wasn’t on a slope and I had fully engaged the handbrake. I kept an eye on it for a while just in case though.
The café inside also houses the A/G radio, where you sign in and pay landing fees. A very reasonable £6. Tea and other refreshments are also available. Although a few people remained inside, there were some picnic tables outside with a good view of the approach and landing area, where a number of people sat. It was quite informal with some spotters walking up to the aircraft to take closer pictures.
I spoke to someone from the microlight club, where he told me their Icarus C42’s only drink about 13 litres of Mogas per hour. While they cruise at a slower 65 knots than a Warrior, that’s a lot cheaper. These are the 450kg models, which mean that with two grown adults there’s not much room for fuel.
A quick departure
After signing out, I started up and decided to do the powerchecks in the parking area – there wasn’t anyone about and the distance to the takeoff point was very short. The full backtrack wasn’t available due to maintenance – restricting the strip to 700 metres – but I was guided by A/G past the hold to use the full available length. With 2 stages of flap and powering up with the toebrakes on, I quickly accelerated and took off departing with a right hand turnout to avoid the cottages ahead.
This put me almost on course for home. I had been using my SkyDemon portable GPS but had also turned on the built-in Aware GPS – this helped when one didn’t have a good signal and misreported my position, but can be a bit annoying because of the larger number of airspace warnings.
With such a short trip there wasn’t much to do apart from the usual checks. For a bit of fun, I thought I’d try to practice a PFL, so selected a rural area with very few buildings and cut the power (with carb heat on). Without the pressure of being on test (or doing this for real), it made me think about which fields might be possible and allowed me some time to run through the practice drills. From 3000 feet, I hadn’t quite realised how high one of the hills was where I planned to turn final – this would still have been possible or I could have turned early, so instead I climbed away to ensure I didn’t annoy anyone.
Kemble offered me a left base join but I asked to do a full overhead join for the practice. There wasn’t any other traffic about, so it was quite straightforward. The landing was a bit harder than I would have liked, but on the centreline and I kept the speed up and taxied back to parking without the need to refuel.
Having returned before 5pm, the office was still open so I could complete the paperwork after putting the covers back on the aircraft. All in all a very pleasant day, about 1:20 more PIC time in the logbook – shame it was a solo trip, but sometimes it’s nice to do this on your own.