LAA Rally at Sywell

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My first major rally

The Light Aircraft Assocation (formerly the Private Flying Association) is a fairly large and well run organisation catering for the needs of private aviators, especially those who want to build and maintain their own aircraft. They have delegated authority to approve the design and modification of so-called Permit (or Annex 2) aircraft, which covers pretty much anything that isn’t an EASA CofA (although there are exceptions, and I’ve made it sound much simpler than the regulations really are). The advantages of Permit aircraft are that they can be built and maintained by the owner(s), under the supervision of a fully qualified LAA inspector, and approval for modifications such as installing new equipment is much simpler and cheaper. The disadvantage is that only day VFR flight is approved, and that such craft cannot be used for training or commercial rental. They are ideal for single or group ownership, especially when flying into grass strips. Some of the more recent models are extremely fast and sleek, very fuel efficient and have the latest glass panel avionics which puts the typical PA28/Cessna trainer to shame.

The annual LAA Rally this year was held in Sywell, near Northampton and attracted almost 2,000 aircraft. Others attended by road and there was camping available both “under the wing” and separately offsite by the car park. Fortunately, the association is quite happy for anyone to fly in, and I had arranged to fly there in a club PA28 warrior with Sean, a student pilot at the club. We both took our tents and planned to camp overnight on Saturday to make the most of it. A couple of other club aircraft would also fly in for each of Saturday and Sunday only, and I also knew of a crew from Bristol Aero Club that planned to camp overnight too.

Kemble departure

I picked up Sean and we drove up to Kemble early, meeting Dave and Steve from BAC for a chat in the AV8 cafe while they waited for their club aircraft to fly in. We had both booked arrival slots at Sywell for 1700 and so aimed to depart around 4pm. G-SNUZ had been flown in the morning and so should only need a quick transit check before we left.

The  flight there was pretty uneventful. The weather was good with excellent visibility and little wind. I had read the 25 page guide with flying instructions for the event, but in the end it was really straightforward because few others were arriving at that time. With departures streaming out below us, we navigated to the assembly point – some lakes to the north west of the field – and I followed Dave’s aircraft onto a downwind leg.

Since we were both landing on the hard runway (there was a choice of hard or grass), I ensured good spacing. The procedure was to turn your landing light on if you wanted the hard, and announce yourself on final approach only. Spacing was good and we were on short final as Dave exited at the end. A clean touchdown and we taxied off, with several marshalls clearly directing us to parking. After shutdown, it was made clear that we shouldn’t wear a hi-viz jacket (which I think might confuse us with the marshals), and that we just needed to sign in and pay our £10 landing/camping fee at the fuel office.

Tents up

SNUZ parked up at Sywell
SNUZ parked up on the closed grass runway at Sywell

We erected the tents and I was pleased that mine still worked – it had been several years since I last used it.

Tents erected
Tents erected successfully in the wind. Guy ropes needed to stop the flapping

Looking around the event

There was a fair bit to see at the show, with several outdoor stands and a central indoor marquee area. We admired several fast, sleek and efficient permit aircraft. I spoke to the chairman of the UK Civil Air Patrol (I didn’t know we had one) who is an ex-Police Helicopter pilot. It appears there isn’t a unit in my area, they are better covered in Scotland, NI and north of England but not Wales or Midlands. They can reimburse fuel costs but not full rental, so typically members fly their own planes (with an observer). They have around 200 members and 70 aircraft. I also spoke with several kit resellers (Pioneer, Kitfox, Trail etc). Navigation software was highly visible and I spoke with members of the SkyDemon team, and later was demonstrated the iAeronautical software by one of their newer competiors.

Kit plane on show
Permit aircraft with standard panel – a glass panel option was also on display
Pioneer advert
Amazing what the latest permit aircraft can achieve – and that’s not even the latest Rotax fuel injected engine with further fuel savings

With prices at the show heavily discounted, I bought a bluetooth GPS receiver for my iPad – the latest GNS1000 model which has WAAS/EGNOSS accuracy and fast acquisition time (35 seconds from cold). The SkyDemon people had strongly recommended I ensure I get the latest model because the older one was prone to switching itself on inadvertently adn flattening the battery. This was actually cheaper from one retailer than the older model was from another. Prices and range of products were reversed for iPad kneeboards, so both got my business. One threw in a 1:1,000,000 UK chart and a baseball cap.

Evening entertainment

There was an onsite beer festival, band, drinks on offer with areas to chat inside and out. With 30 beers on offer, I had to try a few different flavours in half pints. They were selling proper glass tankards for £1, but they had last year’s date on them. The official part of the event kicked off with a series of LAA Awards – plenty of them – including longest flight in direct from Milan in a Varieze (5+ hours) and best restored aircraft. They even had a large cake to celebrate 65 years since PFA/LAA founded. The band was pretty loud but quite entertaining, so after a bit we went outside for a chat and wind down before retiring.


I slept well overnight – it was surprisingly quiet, and perhaps the beer helped – but was woken up around 7am with a truck or plane going past. We then enjoyed an all-you-can-eat breakfast from the hotel and had another good look around the rest of the show. I met up with one of the club instructors who was demonstrating how to build your own instrument panel.

Later in the morning, we met up with Kevin and (another) Dave who had flown in with the club Arrow. We had lunch and chatted before looking round many of the aircraft parked up. A few were up for sale, some in better condition than others.

We departed around 3pm. Low cloud drove me up into IMC for about 20 minutes, preferring the choice between IMC to scud running, and I tracked Daventry VOR emerging from the soup just east of Moreton-in-the-Marsh. Having not flown IMC for some months, this helped my confidence and was in relatively benign conditions. Kev had beaten us back by 10 minutes and asked for the bowser to come and fill us up, so we were right on time to be refuelled.

Packed everything up, paperwork done and off home. A very enjoyable and socialable weekend.

I later met the LAA chief executive, who is also a member of our club. He pointed out that membership costs £44 by Direct Debit and encouraged me to join. He believes that the LAA is continuing to grow and that the privileges available to Permit aircraft may increase in the future, so it deserves the support of all GA pilots.

PIC time: 1:50
Total PIC: 121:35
Total Time: 214:40

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