Going to Sleap

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I think it’s pronounced “Slape” rather than “Sleep”, but the residents of this airfield seem to be happy with any of these variants. It’s the home of the Shropshire Aero Club and located just west of Shrewsbury on the Welsh/English border. It has been on my list of places to visit, and my last attempt to get there was unsuccessful due to low cloud.

Keeping Current

It had been a while since I last flew the Arrow – actually 50 days – so was getting uncomfortably close to the 60 day club currency rules. My flight in the Warrior doesn’t count towards the currency rules for the Arrow, which has retractable gear and a variable propellor.

On today’s trip, my passenger was Sam, a young enthusiastic ATC cadet I’ve known for many years who jumped at the opportunity to come along. With the temporary club membership form duly signed by his parents, we headed up to Kemble in good time for our 3pm booking. I had called Sleap earlier in the day for prior permission to arrive around 4pm, and was told they would normally be open until 5 but I could depart after hours if I was running late. They told me a straightforward overhead join would be in use, which made it simpler than the AIP plate suggested.

A late handover

After completing the paperwork in the club office, I checked with an instructor that I was indeed good to self-authorise my flight. It’s the first I’ve made since I crossed the 100 hours PIC threshold that club members require to become self-authorising. The aircraft was due back by 3pm and we listened on the radio as the pilot announced his arrival around that time and then asked to taxi to refuel.

Expediting matters, we walked round to the fuel pumps and helped him finish off that task. When we asked if they had had a good flight or had any problems, there wasn’t anything major to report –  they had enjoyed a navex over Snowdonia and back – although the passenger said she had a problem with her headset. We swapped over and pushed the aircraft clear so that another behind could fuel up while we got ready.

A new nav fit

It took a little while to get sorted out. There has been some new nav kit fitted including a Garmin 430 and audio panel, and Sam wasn’t familiar with the aircraft. Sam couldn’t hear me speaking on his headset and it wasn’t immediately apparent to me that this was due to the crew isolation button being switched on in the audio panel.

Straightforward outbound leg

We taxied over to do the power checks and then departed northbound, keeping clear of Aston Down. We saw a glider at about our level but it remained clear. Switching to Gloucester for a basic service, we headed north following the M5. The VOR worked well, picking up the radial from Shawbury at an early stage. I switched on the autopilot and was pleased to see it track the VOR smoothly. We used a listening squawk when west of Birmingham and could hear the commercial traffic being directed to and from the airport, which was new to Sam.

In addition to the Garmin 430, a new antenna cable had been fitted for the older DME box. Sadly, this doesn’t seem to have made any difference and the DME didn’t pick up anything as we passed over Gloucester. The ADF worked OK though.

There had been a NOTAM advising a new frequency for Shawbury, which differed from the one printed out automatically by SkyDemon on my plog. I tried both and didn’t get an answer on either (as expected), so flew just to the south of Shawbury at about 3000 feet and contacted Sleap A/G radio.

I’d have to be honest and say the GPS was very helpful at this stage when picking out Sleap. Once identified, it was no problem to approach and descend deadside for a landing on 05. There was a bit of a crosswind, perhaps 10 knots, and I was disappointed at not being perfectly straightened out for the touchdown – otherwise it was quite a good landing.

Friendly and welcoming

I have to say this is a very welcoming airfield. My earlier call for PPR was remembered when I paid the reasonable £13 landing fee, and they checked that both the cafe and museum would still be open until 5. We were led through to the cafe which offered steaming mugs of tea and a choice of home baked cakes. I briefly chatted with a couple of residents who flew a Yak – I think we saw it doing aerobatics as we took off later. Then strolled around the museum itself where a volunteer told us about a variety of events and activities coming up.

A variety of aircraft parts on display at Sleap airfield museum
Sleap Airfield
Sleap control tower, office, cafe and flying school
Sam and the Arrow – Green trainers are in fashion these days apparently

A problem after departure

After about an hour, and shortly after 5pm, we mounted up and took off. The Air/Ground may have stayed around especially while we left, but as we settled into the cruise I could tell that something wasn’t quite right. It seemed a bit windy inside. Sure enough, the door hadn’t been secured fully and was slightly ajar at the top. There isn’t a strap or other attachment to allow you to close it when in flight, so I turned around and headed back to Sleap to land and sort it out.

The A/G had left when I called back, but there were other aircraft active. I made the traffic calls and completed the same overhead join as earlier in the day, this time for a much better landing. As we taxied back to parking, the Yak entered the runway and took off. We quickly secured the door and were ready to be off again.

A smooth return

This time, the departure went without a hitch and we were soon heading back to Gloucester. I intercepted the VOR track, but this time passed the controls to Sam and asked him to keep the height and course. He did well for a first timer, but after we entered some mild turbulence passed control back to me.

We talked to Gloucester for a basic service as we passed through their overhead, and then returned to Kemble with the usual self-announcing calls after hours shortly after 6. Although we had taken off on 08, I noted that Gloucester were using 22 and 27 as we passed overhead. A quick check of the windsock confirmed that 26 at Kemble would be the slightly better choice, and I joined crosswind for a straightforward (although initially slightly low probably due to the regional pressure setting) circuit approach.

Good end to the day

Sam helped me put the covers on, and after a quick call to his mum to ensure he was safe and sound, plus the usual paperwork, we were done. He had been very polite and helpful throughout, and hadn’t batted an eyelid during the turbulence or the door problem. A short but successful trip, another new and friendly airfield found, and currency on the Arrow restored for a further 60 days.

I’ve now passed the 200 hours total time milestone. I’m sure that means something somewhere, but regardless it’s nice to be able to continue to build more experience and introduce someone new to what it’s all about.

Note to self though – must re-read the Garmin 430 manual and play with the PC simulator before I fly it again. I really didn’t make full use of the features and it would be good to be able to simulate the DME on it. In the future, it’s planned to connect it up to a CDI which will be a great facility to have and even allow GPS localiser approaches.

Time this flight: 2:15
Total PIC: 107:10
Total Time: 200:15

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