Henstridge and Swansea round trip

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Last minute arrangements

The forecast for Saturday was very promising, CAVOK and little wind, with a suggestion of light rain to come through sometime during the day. For this late time of year, a surprisingly good conditions which I wanted to make the most of. Not expecting the weather to be so good, I’d not planned ahead, so it was Friday afternoon before the emails and messages were passed around a few flying friends. The outcome was that two club aircraft would fly to Swansea for lunch – Andy would fly his family in the Arrow, while I would take student pilot Sean in a Warrior. Since Andy couldn’t take off until 12, I elected to make it a three legged day and fly via Henstridge with a short stop there.

Quick preparation

This meant an early start. I ran through the usual Skydemon plan than I’d prepared the previous day, but for some reason weather (and so the automatic wind calculations for the plog) weren’t available. I had to resort to the traditional method and checked the weather on the Met Office website. With printouts of both destination airfields, plogs and the routes loaded into the portable GPS, I set off and picked up Sean on the way at 8:30.

My call for authorisation was quickly answered and approved – the instructor Dave suggested that this was becoming our regular Saturday morning call now – and he asked me to look up who had booked up the club aircraft today. I was pleased to report that all four of them were in use  (the other was out for maintenance), which made a big difference from last week. A couple of quick calls for PPR, filled in the tech log and we were ready to go. Since we would be crossing the Bristol channel, I thought it sensible to take the club liferaft and a couple of lifejackets – always better safe than sorry.

Frosty Morning

Although the sun was out, there was a layer of frost on the wings and tail section. Sean helped me scrub it off after we pulled it out off the grass onto the taxiway where the sun could get at it. I was careful not to scrape the paintwork. Without any de-icer (I’m sure the club had some, but couldn’t see it anywhere), this took a fair old while. It was after 10 before we were ready to mount up and start the engine. With the temperature down to just above zero, the engine wasn’t easy to start and took a good while to warm up to temperature. We only saw one other aircraft and a helicopter active before us, but there was more activity as we started taxi-ing and we followed another Kemble school aircraft to the hold for power checks.

Departing Kemble south west towards Henstridge

With everything checking out as normal, we took off and flew South West. I had made Tetbury a turning point before heading south so that we would be clear of Hullavington. Sean was spotting landmarks and trying to match these to the map. We could clearly make out the power stations on the Severn, the bridges and later the M4. The planned route took us to the West of Colerne and I wanted to see if I could make out Wadswick Farm strip as we passed overhead. We were distracted by Bristol Radar being unable to talk to one of the Grob tutors which we knew was in our vicinity, and saw another pass us by. Although the GPS was on, we tried to use the plog and visual nav to match landmarks on the chart. It was easy to make out Trowbridge and Frome as we passed through.

Clear skies heading south over Somerset

Switching to Henstridge, it seemed they were still very quiet at this time of day. Only one other aircraft to worry about. Without a large nearby town, the airfield isn’t too easy to spot – the GPS helps a lot for that. Their website gave quite a complex noise abatement plan which had many of the local villages highlighted, so you thread your way through the gaps. In retrospect, perhaps I should have done a standard overhead join, but instead elected to stay to the east and make a long final approach. I called final from about 4 miles out, and should have said so (or at least Long Final). Fortunately, there was no other circuit traffic so it was clear to arrive straight in. With little crosswind, it was a fairly straightforward landing.

The runway is in good condition and plenty long enough, but air/ground did warn of loose chippings on the taxiways which I didn’t come across. We parked on the grass to the side and walked into the main buildings.

Free breakfasts

It’s clear that the airfield has seen better days, with portacabin style temporary buildings in use for the cafe and operations area. The landing fee of £9 was very reasonable, and came with a surprise. Despite being 11:30, we were the first visitors to arrive after 10 and so qualified for two free full English breakfasts. I thought we were quite restrained in choosing the small rather than large option, which still included sausage, agg and beans. Teas and coffees are self service with an honesty box, ensuring you get it how you like it. The food came quickly, and we were joined by a group of 16 bikers from Ringwood who were on their annual pre-Christmas rideout.

Cafe at Henstridge, which quickly filled up after we arrived
One of the "small" english breakfasts we got for free

Departing for Swansea

After the walkround check, I ran the power checks on the grass parking area rather than on the taxiway where there might have been loose chippings. With no other traffic around at that time, backtracked and turned left after departure to avoid the village ahead. I tried calling Yeovil just in case they were active, but got no reply. It took a while before we spotted Yeovil airfield and it was no activity we could see. Navigating north west to Street and then headed west just north of Bridgewater. We could easily make out Hinckley Point power station.

A wall of dark cloud ahead

We could see a wall of dark cloud ahead, while across the channel in Cardiff there was clear sunshine. Our planned route was along the north Devon coast, keeping clear of the power station and then as far as Ilfracombe, turning north to coast out and cross directly to Swansea. However, as the dark clouds approached I thought instead I could make it through by passing north of the power station and along the Bristol Channel. Cardiff Radar were very helpful and as I routed north offered help with a transit or other support required. With the cloud becoming worse, I asked for a transit. They asked VFR or IFR, and I elected to remain VFR. The transit was for me to climb to 4000 feet due to other traffic, which after accepting took me into cloud. I said I was now IMC and requested a traffic service which was granted.

First IMC Solo

This was my first solo IMC experience since passing my test three months earlier and I was pleased at being able to switch automatically into the instrument scan. The main difference being the portable GPS which isn’t allowed during official training or the test itself, and helped further with situational awareness. I was a little suprised by how quickly my speed rose, up from 100 knots to around 120, and couldn’t quite figure that out – the attitude indicator showed me level and I was doing my best to maintain a constant height. I think there must have been a strong updraft, which meant I was effectively flying down to maintain height (even though the wings were level). Powering back solved that problem. Temperature was below zero and I was aware that being in cloud at this temperature for any length of time isn’t good, but we could see the wings so would have early warning of any ice buildup. I doubled checked the pitot heat was on.

After a few minutes, Cardiff told me they could see the storm cell finished about 2-3 miles ahead and told me I could maintain course and descend as required. They asked me to report when VMC again, which I did a few minutes later. It was definitely useful to have had the IMC training – although I could have turned around earlier and taken a different route, the short period was quite enough for a first real experience and reinforced how important it is to use the training. ATC were extremely helpful and asked a couple of times if there was any other assistance I needed – I hope I didn’t sound too concerned on the radio.

Two approaches for the price of one

Parachuting was evident at Swansea during the day, but we arrived during a quiet spot. I made a standard overhead join and reported downwind. I was surprised to hear another aircraft being advised to enter the runway and backtrack, just as I was about to turn final. I said I would go around, which I did. Perhaps there is enough time to sequence traffic in that way, but I wasn’t familiar enough to chance it. Second time round, landed on 28 which has a definite upslope and taxied in for fuel. A plane spotter took a photo during final approach and kindly sent it to me for use below.

G-VICC on short final approach into Swansea runway 28

The airport from the airside looks tired and a little run down. A helpful chap came and saw to our refuelling, after which we walked through the Cambrian Flying Club around to the cafe. It seemed a strange route to have to take. The cafe had a reasonable range of food and we met Steve, a student pilot there who I know through the flyer forum. After a very long wait for food, I went to ask and chase it up to find it had been sitting around for a while. Their system didn’t seem to work too well for me, but the food was good when it came.

Swansea Airport from the apron

We met Andy and his family who had flown in direct from Kemble in the Arrow, and chatted over lunch.

The two Lyneham club aircraft on the apron at Swansea

With sunset at around 4pm at this time of year, we couldn’t hang around for too long. As we walked back to the aircraft, we watched another group of parachutists drop into the field nearby. We departed with a great view of the Gower and tracked towards the Brecon VOR, just below 3000 feet.We identified the Brecon VOR visually as we passed overhead, and then tracked outbound en-route to the next VRP, a large reservoir.  Andy took off in the Arrow about 10 minutes after us, and we saw him overtake us just past the beacon. More worryingly, he didn’t see us! We were both talking to Cardiff radar earlier, and when I reported my height, ATC checked that Andy had heard – he had reported flying at 3,500 feet so should pass overhead.

From there, we flew between the two power stations on the Severn Estuary (above the restricted zone around them) and could easily make out the Jumbo aircraft parked up at Kemble. Perhaps I could have just joined downwind for 26, but instead elected to do a full overhead join. We had heard Andy call overhead and was downwind when we started to descend, so he landed only a few minutes ahead of us.

After putting away the aircraft and finishing off the paperwork, we debriefed in the AV8 cafe before returning home.

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 almost entirely VFR with 10 mins IMC conditions,  first from Kemble to Henstridge, then to Swansea and back to Kemble, routing outbound via Trowbridge, Frome then Henstridge. From there to Street, Bridgewater, then north into the Bristol Channel and direct to Swansea.

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. Pilotwizz (a free iPhone App) was used to check the METARS and TAFs on my phone.

Total flight time today: 3:10
Total PIC time to date: 72:40
Total flight time to date: 163:45

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