Compton Abbas on a blustery day

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Pretty windy but in the right direction

Strong winds this weekend, especially over the north parts of Britain, didn’t sound promising. However, the south of England was clear with good visibility and the stronger winds from WNW didn’t mean too much of a crosswind. I’d arranged to take an old friend up for a flight with his young lad, who has always been keen on airplanes. It was very much a surprise for him, and only when he arrived at the airfield did he realise we were going flying. It was great to see the excitement in his face.

Quick preparation

Having obtained authorisation for my flight the evening before (club rules require me to have permission from an instructor before I can go anyway), and pre-planned the route/NOTAMS/weather at home before I left, I turned up just as G-VICC was being taxied back into its parking spot by the previous pilot. Confirming there were no issues with the plane, and completing the paperwork, I was ready to walk out to the aircraft just as my friends turned up. A quick transit check and we were ready to board, probably one of the quickest departures I’ve made. My friend Tim did check whether the amount of camera gear he planned to take along wouldn’t overload the aircraft – he did have a fair few lenses to switch between – but still much less than the extra passenger that we could have accommodated – fuel was on tabs, so there were no weight and balance limitations.

Although it seemed quite windy on the ground, there were several aircraft flying and the previous pilot confirmed it was very good visibility once airborne. Some 15 knots plus gusts, but within 30 degrees of the runway, meant some concentration required but nothing that should unduly worry the passengers. We boarded and I ran through the checks including briefing the passengers – no talking when the radio is talking and don’t touch any of the controls! (I have to say that passenger behaviour was impeccable throughout).

Taking off with a stronger wind was pretty quick and we climbed out before turning south-west and departing the zone. I changed to Bristol for a basic service and tracked over Tetbury and down the A46 towards the M4 junction. We had a great view of Colerne and then Bath where I circled over my house, pointing out the main features of Bath while both passengers took plenty of photos. Heading south on to Frome, we then spotted a glider at The Park which we kept well clear of. We could see for miles and I easily picked out Compton Abbas airfield from the distance.

Arrival at Compton Abbas

As I called in, they asked if I had PPR – I confessed not (I had looked at their website earlier and thought that PPR wasn’t required). I almost always call up any airfield I plan to visit in advance, but for perhaps the first time I didn’t do this today because I know the place and have been there several times. This forum thread lists several airfields that don’t require PPR by telephone. I had looked at their website, NOTAMs and webcam earlier in the day to check everything looked OK. I was then given a short briefing that because the airfield grass was fairly damp, I should use only gentle braking and make wide turns when on the ground. Being a grass airfield, heavy rain makes a big difference to operations.

I made a full overhead join with the noise abatement chartlet on my lap. The stronger WNW wind, perhaps 15 knots plus gusts, meant there was a little sinking on short final, but the actual touchdown was flattered by being on grass and my passengers were quite happy about it. I asked to taxi directly to the fuel pumps and was pleased to find there wasn’t a queue. The airfield was quite busy for a day so late in the season – the sunshine had brought many people out. There seemed to be a constant stream of visitors, owners and club aircraft movements this afternoon and the restaurant/cafe was pretty full.

The procedure for fuelling up there was new to me, but straightforward. The price was about 10p per litre cheaper than at Kemble, and my landing fee was only £6 because I’m a member. I asked about the bowser marked 91UL (a new, lower cost/lower octane aircraft fuel recently launched in the UK), and was told this would probably be on sale next week – this should help keep costs down too. After fuelling and paying up, I parked the aircraft while my friend helped a pilot move his aircraft out of the hangar.

Compton Abbas parking area

Hazy departure

After a quick tea and cake, we were back in the saddle and walked out ready to depart. Compton Abbas is a delight to take visitors, with it being so active and having such great views on sunny autumn days like today. Tim commented that the idea of just flying somewhere and stopping for a coffee must be great fun – it is a great privilege to be able to do this. After walking back out to the aircraft, I saw Keith, my very first PPL instructor, arrive in his Tomahawk share (also based at Kemble) – he was giving some induction training to a new share member.

Departing the zone we could see a haze all around. I climbed up to about 3,500 feet to see if it might be better there but it wasn’t. Bristol gave me a basic service (but kept me on a 7000 sqwawk) and asked me to report abeam Bath. We kept a good lookout and spotted a glider at The Park and another aircraft much lower below us. I descended back down to around 2500 feet to see if the visibility improved, which it did. I think Tim got some great photographs.

Transit from Bath to Filton

As we approached Bath, I realised we were a little ahead of schedule and had enough time to fly over to the Severn Bridges before then going back to Kemble. My passengers were keen to do so, having lived near Filton in the distant past. Sunset was just after 4pm today, and we had taken off just before 3 but made good time. I asked for a transit to cut the corner from Bath to Filton not above 3,000 feet – the airspace is a bit cramped just to the north of Bath and although it can be done at lower altitude, I’d prefer to have the scope to go higher if need be. My mistake was not to have called out my position, which was just South of Bath, in my transit request. The controller gave me a specific sqwawk code which quickly allowed him to confirm my location, and after a short delay agreed to my request.

This took the pressure off keeping clear of controlled airspace as we flew just to the west of Bath Racecourse, with both Severn Bridges in view in the distance and Filton/Cribbs Causeway in between. Bristol advised me about a passenger jet taking off and maneouvring to the west, which we saw shortly after. I tuned in the ILS to Filton frequency, ident it and saw it advise me correctly that I was too high on the glideslope and offtrack (to the South) as we flew towards it. We had a traffic advisory about another PA28 crossing overhead Filton which we spotted, and I reported visual. As we drew closer to the Bridges, we were advised to be now clear of controlled airspace, told to sqwawk 7000 and advise changing frequency.

Great views in the setting sun

We got a great view of the Bridges and then did a few steep turns (which Tim’s son quite enjoyed) as we worked our way back to Kemble. I got the R/T phraseology slightly wrong when I told (rather than requested) a change of frequency back to Kemble – this was approved. Kemble wasn’t too busy this late in the day – there were a couple of aircraft on frequency – so I elected to join downwind (avoiding the local villages) which made the approach straightforward. As we came in on final for runway 26, the wind was advised to be around 15 knots WNW. The airfield notes (in the AIP) warn that with strong winds from this direction there can be turbulence on short final, which there was. There was a definite “sink” which required a good dose of extra power at one point and I only used 2 stages of flaps rather than 3, keeping the speed up. Another soft touchdown, but not so short that I could turn off at the first intersection and directly taxi back without going the long way round.

We arrived to see another of the club aircraft being packed away. Three pairs of hands made putting the covers back on quick work.Paperwork done, we enjoyed a coffee in the AV8 cafe as the sun set and the last few aircraft closed down. I was also able to meet up with my instructor friend and his share pilot/student again, where we discussed what was happening with The Flying School Kemble which had closed its doors a few weeks earlier.

Technical Details

Today’s flight was in G-VICC, a PA28 Warrior 2, rented from the RAF Lyneham Flying Club, now based at Kemble Airfield, a VFR only airfield in the UK. The aircraft has ADF, 2xVOR, ILS, GPS (no moving map display), but the DME is not operational. The flight was VFR,  direct from Kemble to Compton Abbas and back, routing outbound via M4/J18, Bath and Frome; return leg was extended by transitting directly from Bath via Filton to Severn Bridges and then direct back to Kemble. SkyDemon Plan and SkyDemon GPS were used to plan the route, check NOTAM/weather, print a plog taking account of forecast winds aloft and fly the track.

Total flight time today: 1:45
Total PIC time to date: 66:10
Total flight time to date: 157:15

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