Should I or Shouldn’t I
The forecast wasn’t looking great today, but I had the full day available for a flight and wanted to make the most of it. In retrospect, it would have been better to have rescheduled for a different day but it did give me more exposure to what it’s like when the cloudbase drops and you have to make a diversion. If this happens with passengers onboard, I would be better prepared for it.
With excellent weather throughout the week, it was disappointing to see the relatively poor forecast for Saturday. Cloud dominated, with a base of 1500 to 2000 feet, forecast to improve. I decided to plan a relatively short flight up to Sleap, which would take less than an hour, and try out the Arrow for my first solo flight. The owner had serviced the aircraft the previous day and the oil was so clean it was difficult to check the level.
I checked the NOTAMS, kept a close eye on the weather reports and forecast, and called Sleap for PPR.
You can always just come back
I met our club CFI, Graham, who was taking his own Flight Instructor revalidation test with an external CAA examiner. Even the most experienced pilots have to go through the same process, and this reinforced how there are no exceptions. He authorised my flight, suggesting that the worst that could happen if I found the weather wasn’t suitable would be to turn around and come back. As it turned out, this proved to be good advice.
I wasn’t in any hurry, so ran through the pre-flight checks slowly and familiarised myself with the different avionics onboard the Arrow. This was my first flight in it since I took the differences training the previous weekend. I had to run the power cable for my portable GPS across to the other side of the cockpit and needed a bit of extra ingenuity to ensure it wasn’t going to get caught in any of the controls.
Off up North
After running through the power checks, which still seem strange without a carb heat check, I departed with a left hand turnout to the North. With one on board, the 180bhp engine lifts off more enthusiastically than a Warrior. I remembered to dab the brakes before retracting the undercarriage and was again pleasantly surprised with the acceleration. The cloudbase was initially around 2000 feet and I headed off northwest.
After crossing the ridge, I was hoping the cloudbase might lift. But as I followed the M5 I became more aware how much closer the cars were getting. I was down below 1500 feet at times to keep out of the cloud and wouldn’t want to be much lower. It seemed that it might be a little better further north, but after passing Worcester, I decided that enough was enough and I should call it a day. I could have climbed into IMC but this would require me to make a full instrument approach. The DME didn’t seem to be working properly which ruled out an NDB/DME into Gloucester – I would need to get a full SRA instead.
Diversion to Gloucester
Rather than return direct to Kemble, I decided to land at Gloucester and see if conditions improved. With it being lower, it often gets better weather and so should be easier for landing. Although I had the instrument approach plates to hand (which did have the frequencies), I didn’t have the full VFR approach plate with noise abatement in my kneeboard. It was in my case in the back, but I didn’t look this out.
Gloucester informed me it was runway 05LH in use and asked me to make an overhead join. I wasn’t sure I could do that given the low cloudbase of around 1500 feet, but did manage that. Keeping things as simple as possible, I slowed down to 120MPH before reaching the overhead and lowered the gear. The extra drag quickly takes effect and makes the aircraft easier to handle at the slower speed. Downwind checks included adding 2 stages of flap to get the speed down further, and on base I double checked the reds (mixture), greens (undercarriage) and blues (prop control).
The landing itself was fairly straightforward because there was virtually no wind or crosswind, and the mains touched down gently. I didn’t hold back enough on the yoke so the nose came down a little harder than I would have liked, but nothing serious.
Taxied off to parking and adjourned for a bacon bap and well deserved cup of tea. It was also nice to have the chance of a thorough browse through the Transair pilot shop onsite. The manager is very friendly and helpful there, and I was able to help suggest where another customer could find some reading material on variable props – having just read it myself only a week earlier.
Return to Kemble
With cloudbase measured at 1300-1500 feet, the trip back to Kemble would be very much on the limit. Again I took the view that I could always return back to Gloucester if conditions weren’t good enough. Departing with a right turnout from 05 meant I was pretty much on track for the short hop across the ridge to Kemble. There was another aircraft ahead of me making the same journey, so it was helpful to hear he had no problems. I was able to stay VFR all the way, and clearly saw Aston Down on the right as I got nearer. With no other traffic to affect, I was able to make a crosswind join for 08RH and land, taking the first exit.
After reporting that I didn’t need any fuel – I hadn’t used much and didn’t think it worth topping up to full tanks again – the tower asked me if I’d like to backtrack down the runway rather than on the grass taxiway, which I did. With a warm engine, it had taken less than 25 minutes from startup to shutdown – less than 15 minutes flight time.
The speed of the Arrow is easily appreciated – much shorter take off, faster airspeed and smoother cruise. Operating the flaps doesn’t cause such a change in pitch as found with the Warrior. The newly conditioned fuel injected engine doesn’t need regular carb heat checks in flight, and once in the cruise it is really much more comfortable.
Packing up and putting everything away on my own reminded me how much more quicker it would be with a helpful passenger. But I also felt more confident about my decision making ability to turn around/divert and call a stop if things are getting worse. It also reinforced how much confidence you need to have in the avionics before committing to fly in IMC.
Total Time today: 1:15
Total Time: 184:20 (PIC 91:15)