Weather limiting range
It was one of those days where the weather was due to be adequate, but troughs were coming through that would bring heavy localised rain showers. I had been looking ahead at the weather forecast and almost written off any flights today, but the latest forecast looked more promising. I had discussed sharing a flight with Andy, but he was taken ill and unable to fly. All the club Warriors were taken for much of the day, so I had booked the smaller (and cheaper) Robin which is used less often. Andy had booked the Arrow, but I haven’t taken the differences training and so can’t fly that myself yet.
With that background, I planned to fly to two or three airfields not too far away, so that I could return quickly to base if the weather took a turn for the worse. I’ve never been to Enstone and I also fancied landing at Membury – better known as a Motorway service station on the busy M4, but which has had the hard runways restored in recent years.
I rang Enstone for PPR, and they were very welcoming and straightforward. The notes in the VFR guidebook actually say “PPR by phone or radio”, so I guess you could just call them up on the radio as you approach. However, if the radio isn’t manned (as was the case today), then technically you couldn’t land. I also called Membury for PPR, and a helpful chap who was on his carphone quickly granted this. Payment of the fees is via their website using Paypal, making it very straightforward for both parties concerned. Their website also has clear instructions and information for visiting pilots.
Square Wheel Syndrome
After completing the paperwork, getting flight authorisation and finishing the A-check on the aircraft I was ready to go. It hadn’t been used for about three weeks, so I was pleased to find it started first time. I later learnt that the owner had especially come and started it up to check it would be serviceable for me.
As I taxied down to the D site apron for power checks, I felt that something was wrong. The left hand side seemed to be bumping along. I shutdown and got out to have a look. The tower said that from their viewpoint, it did look like the left hand side was down a bit. After testing the oleos, it seemed to me the left one was low and I decided that I would return back to base. I didn’t know enough to judge if this was safety affecting or not, so wanted to err on the side of caution.
Taxiing back was much better, the wheels felt more normal and I almost talked myself into continuing. I rang the owner, who confirmed that the oleo could be pumped up, but this probably wouldn’t happen today. An instructor turned up, and was happy to spend a few minutes looking at the problem. His view was that while the oleo was a little low, it was perfectly serviceable. He also suggested that the bumpy ride out was probably due to the tires being sat in the same position for weeks, and this would quickly work its way out – so-called “sqare wheel syndrome”.
Satisfied that the problem was manageable, I started up and again made the same radio calls. The taxying seemed much more natural this time, and the aircraft was responsive on the brakes and when turning. With power checks completed, I was ready to go.
North-East to Enstone
Taking off and heading north east, I was under a Basic Service from Brize, who reminded me to keep well clear of RAF Little Rissington. I had this in sight, and was following the Fosse Way, routing up to Stow-on-the-Wold where I planned to turn east directly for Enstone. I had to dip down from my planned 3000 feet altitude to keep clear of the clouds. The flight there was only about 15 minutes or so. As I approached, I expected to be able to see it further out, but it was easy to spot as I got closer.
I called up Enstone Radio but it wasn’t manned. Fortunately, another local pilot responded with the local QFE and announced he would be departing shortly. Futher calls would be self-announcing to “Enstone Traffic”. I joined downwind rather than making an overhead join, and did my best to keep clear of the surrounding villages for noise abatement. Later analysis of the GPS tracks showed that I did.
Enstone have a fixed price deal for as many circuits as you like, so I completed 4 or 5 before landing. There was no other circuit traffic during this time, with just one other movement while I was practicing. It can be surprisingly tiring to repeat circuits, so I didn’t want to overdo it. Perhaps I should have practiced a glide approach and/or flapless landing – the runway is more than long enough – but I concentrated on perfecting the standard configuration keeping it on centerline and reasonably short landing roll.
The prepared hard surface was well maintained. I found the Robin to be a bit more of a handful to land at times, its much lighter than the Warriors I’m used to. On short final, I found that I was using larger control inputs that I would have expected in order to respond to gusts – even though the wind wasn’t that strong. It was good practice, but after 5 circuits I was feeling a bit tired and landed to park up.
A friendly small club
The clubhouse was very cosy. The receptionist quickly dealt with my landing fee, and I even had to point out that I had done so many circuits. The kitchen is a self-service option, but had good variety of tea, coffee, home baked cakes and snacks. I spoke with someone who was probably the CFI – he emphasised that the airfield normally isn’t very busy and their fixed price circuit practice deal is great value. Unfortunately the airfield is under threat from the landowner who wants to redevelop the site and close it down. Planning permission has already been turned down, but I expect we’ll see court action to save the airfield in the future.
The site is also the home to a project to build a fleet of Spitfire replicas. These are 90% size self-build kits made by groups who share the costs and earn the right to fly them. However, this is at the other end of the airfield – I could have walked around there if I’d made time, but perhaps will do so next time.
Flying down to Membury Services
After taking off, I did another 5 circuits (having paid for them, why not use them) including one on the grass. This wasn’t a touch and go because the longer grass of the shorter grass runway meant I took longer to stop. Another taildragger aircraft was practicing touch and goes there too and also had sometimes had to backtrack before taking off again. We were perfectly in sync as we each alternated between being downwind and landing. Its good to see this working well without the need for a radio operator.
I don’t think I have every transitted Brize Zone before, despite having flown close to it many times. I almost directly overflew the airfield and got great views of Fairford airport too. I was able to confirm overflying the VRPs (Visual Reporting Points), but didn’t have to say anything to the controller. Squawking a discrete code, they could see exactly where I was and told me when I was entering and departing their zone.
Again heading southwards towards Membury, I though I would be able to pick out the large radio mast there from further away. I couldn’t see it until I was really pretty close – I was more than high enough to avoid it, but had expected it to be a major landmark to steer by. Switching to SafetyCom, the common frequency for airfields without a designated frequency, I was about to self-announce being overhead when I heard another aircraft on frequency. They were about to depart from runway 16 – I thought this was strange because the wind was from the south west. After announcing myself and intentions, they confirmed they had me in sight and took off.
I then announced downwind, making a wide circuit to give me a good view of the airfield. The windsocks were large, clearly visible and and in good condition. Approaching from the north west, short final is directly over the busy motorway and the runway threshold is immediately after a low boundary fence. A line of tall trees is adjacent to runway 23, but with the wind from the south west I thought these should give little windshift.
Landing a little long perhaps, I seemed to float down the runway further that I originally expected, but the touchdown was gentle and I could taxi to the parking along the new hard runways without any other traffic to worry about. The runways, both tarmac and grass, were in excellent condition and the whole place had a feeling of care and attention about it.
I’ve been to Membury Services many times in the past, so it was strange to arrive at such a familiar destination in this unusual mode of transport. Coffee and cake were very welcome as I reviewed the plans for the final leg of the journey.
On departure another aircraft, a 3 axis microlight, was also parked up. He moved his onto the hard taxiway before starting up, and I thought this would be a good idea too – to avoid any loose stones damaging the paintwork. Taking off before him, I headed west with the intention of flying towards Melksham, then over to Bath and north back to Kemble.
On the way, I circled overhead Drayton Farm strip – another on my short list to visit sometime. This is aligned 18/36, so is best with either very little wind or with a southerly component. It’s grass and is undulating, but quite long. I didn’t really have time for this today. As I headed further west and reached Chippenham, I could see the heavy weather and dark clouds approaching quickly. I decided to quite while I was ahead, and flew north directly back to Kemble. I felt I needed to make a decision before I reached Colerne so that I could keep clear of their zone, and once on track I just needed to avoid Hullavington which I kept to the west.
The aerobatic aircraft from Ultimate High were taking off as I approached. I made a standard overhead join for 26LH with a good final landing, then refuelled and parked up. In retrospect, I wished I’d landed on the grass runway – something I’ve yet to do at Kemble. The grass taxiway back from refuelling wasn’t in use today and I had to wait for the main runway to become clear before being instructed to backtrack and exit on the hard taxiway back to parking, passing one of the other club aircraft just departing. Finished the paperwork, noting the low oleo on the tech log, and we’re done for the day.
Some good general experience, especially familiarising myself with the Robin – a much lighter aircraft than the Warrior – but perhaps making it more responsive and fun to fly in other ways. Perhaps if filled full with fuel and another passenger, it wouldn’t have been bounced around quite so much on short final.
Only another 10 hours PIC to complete before I reach the stage of being self-authorising at the club.
Hours today: 2:50
Total Hours: 181:05 (PIC 90:00)