Change of destination
The original advertised destination was St. Mary’s in the Scilly Isles, but strong winds and a front full of CBs in the south west made us choose an alternate destination of Haverfordwest in the south west corner of Wales. I’d been there before, but not in the Arrow. A long list of interested parties dwindled during the week or two preceding the event, but we still managed 5 pilots and 2 passengers across 3 aircraft.
As a bonus, I found I had a free landing voucher from Flyer Magazine for Haverfordwest – the first time I think I’ve actually been able to use one.
Early start for some
I shared the Arrow with Graeme, who has considerably more hours than I, and in addition has a twin engine rating. Mike had run out of currency, and the weather had been atrocious during the week, but he was able to arrange a quick currency check at 8am on Saturday (meaning a 5:30 am start!) with instructor Dave. It was handy that Dave was around before we left, clarifying any questions about planning and authorising the flights.
Sean helped by taking the covers off while I finalised the paperwork, and called both St Mary’s (to say we weren’t coming) and Haverfordwest (to say we were). No-one answered the phone so I left a message – I think this was because a different number is used during the weekends when the tower isn’t working.
Taking off to the west, the wind was almost straight down the runway at 10-15 knots and it was quite turbulent immediately after takeoff. Dave had said that the air was much calmer higher up, say at 4000 feet, so we climbed up intending to find a hole in the clouds to get above them. With a basic service from Cardiff, who enquired if we were VFR or IFR, I replied “IFR in IMC” or something similar – rather than just saying IFR because we were inside a cloud at that time – and were given a discrete squawk code so that they could keep a closer eye on us.
Now at FL54, we would be right underneath the airway at BCN VOR but needed to be able to climb a bit higher to get above some of the clouds. So we routed north by a few miles which gave us more airspace (up to FL75) and went up to around FL65. We could hear the other club pilots also talking with Cardiff, and the controller asked why everyone seemed to be going to Haverfordwest. I don’t think anyone told him that free landings were on offer.
We had some great views of the mountains and south coast of Wales between the broken cloud cover, which was patchy. As we passed Cardiff and listened in to Swansea Radio, we became aware that the engine was sounding a bit rough – I changed the prop speed and adjusted the mixture and this seemed to help. We decided it wasn’t too serious – by this time we had only about 15 minutes left to run – and pressed on. We later found this problem didn’t seem apparent as lower levels and concluded it was probably something to do with the mixture settings.
Descending through a large gap in the clouds down to about 3000 feet, we could see our destination come up on the horizon. I called up and got the airfield information, and Graeme and I discussed whether a straight-in approach would be simplest. With a strong headwind, some 20 knots, an overhead join would help familiarise with the airfield conditions, but decided to go for the direct approach. Air/Ground advised us there was no other traffic to affect, so with the appropriate calls, I slowed down, dropped the gear and flaps as we closed in.
Better luck next time
My approach was a little low at the outer marker, and then a little fast (say 100mph rather than 90) on final. As I floated down the runway and was rounding out a little high, Graeme confirmed what I was thinking and said go around. The second approach was much better, with the approach speed nailed, the aiming point moved further back and I rounded out just as we crossed the numbers. I was still high, which surprised me, and was due to the very wide runway – something I should have been more aware of. But we landed without a bounce and parked up by the clubhouse.
One crew from the club were already sitting outside the clubhouse when we walked up, and it wasn’t long before the other aircraft arrived. We had a very enjoyable lunch in the sunshine, which wasn’t too cold despite the fresh wind. The restaurant offered a good range of cooked food (I couldn’t resist the standard cooked breakfast), and seemed to be doing a roaring trade for a variety of visitors.
Count the (disused) airfields
We discussed the various routes to take back, and all decided to fly north of Cardiff rather than up the Bristol Channel. The danger areas around the airfield were all inactive over the weekend, and we all planned some sightseeing around the coast on our way back. The two Warriors departed first, and Graeme headed west-north-west so we could make a wide sweep of the bay around St David’s before heading south and back along the coast. We could clearly pickup several old WW2 airfields – it was common to build four or five nearby a main airfield to disperse the warplanes so they weren’t a single target. Several runways looked in really good condition, but were marked disused on the chart.
We passed to the south of Swansea and then turned inland to route via the BCN VOR. We heard G-VICC on the radio with Cardiff and passed it well below as we approached the beacon. The wind over the hills was quite turbulent at times, and we could understand why they wanted to fly higher. I had tuned the Garmin 430 to track the beacon, and it clearly showed the direction and range – it seems quite easy to dialup any navaid or airport and track directly to it.
A tidy approach
Cardiff gave us both a squawk code for Bristol and told us to contact Bristol as we approached the Severn. We didn’t have to give our full details, just the callsign. We spotted a few gliders around Nympsfield and skirted south to keep clear. Visibility was excellent and we could see Kemble airfield clearly in the distance. As we switched over, we heard it was quite active with some 5 or 6 aircraft inbound. Asking for a downwind join, Graeme depowered and descended neatly into the downwind leg where he dropped the gear and flaps. Making a somewhat extended downwind leg, he brought us in for an excellent landing in quite windy and gusty conditions.
The rest of the fleet arrived very shortly afterwards, being helped rather than hindered by the tailwind. After tidying up and paperwork, we adjourned to the airfield cafe AV8 for a debrief before heading home.
All in all, an enjoyable day. Despite the hassles and logistics of organising a larger group, it’s much more fun than flying solo all the time. I picked up a few hints and tips from Graeme, as I always do when flying with any other pilot. The IMC and gusty landing were challenging, but having another pilot (rather than a passenger) sitting in the RHS took the pressure off.
We’ll have to leave St Mary’s for another time.
Today’s flight was in G-AZWS, a PA28 Arrow 2, rented from the RAF Lyneham Flying Club, now based at Kemble Airfield, a VFR only airfield in the UK. The aircraft is fitted with ADF, VOR, ILS, Garmin 430W GPS, DME and dual altimeters. The flight was mostly VFR with an IFR segment north of Cardiff. The flyout also included two other club PA28 Warriors.
Time today: 1:35
Total PIC: 112:25
Total Time: 205:30