Only open once a year
Thorney Island is an army base, located between Portsmouth and Chichester on the south coast of England. It holds a fly-in just once a year, hosted with help from their resident microlight club. Although the runways look long, there is a road which bi-sects the main runway, effectively reducing its useful length to some 700 metres.
After asking around other club members, I arrange to share a flight there with Bruce (who’d attended the previous year), and we’d take Luke – a keen teenage ATC lad who’d flown with me before – along for the ride. I would fly there, and Bruce the return leg.
The only hiccup prior to departure was that a previous pilot had run off with the keys to the plane. However, there is a second set, but it doesn’t have a key to the gate into the airfield so we had to walk the long way around. When I arrived, Bruce had already completed the A-check and after a quick discussion about the arrival arrangements at our destination, we were all set to go.
My VFR routing intended to make more use of landmarks than I would on a direct path, so we tracked the M4 east to Newbury racecourse and then the A34 road south towards the coast.
Farnborough Radar were busy, but gave us a basic service until south of Lasham (we remained outside their MATZ), when we switched to Solent using a listening squawk code (0011) but didn’t speak to them.
We then switched over to the safetycom frequency (also called CTAF) at Butser Mast, about 10 miles north of our destination. Thorney Island doesn’t have an allocated radio frequency, so pilots self announce on this common traffic frequency – prefixing all transmissions with the name of the airfield. Since the island is almost at sea level, there was no need for a QFE pressure setting, since this was pretty much identical to QNH.
We heard several aircraft on frequency announcing their arrival overhead and that runway 01 right-hand was in use, as expected. Joining overhead, we descended deadside (to the west).
.. and then flew down overhead the channel to the east, with about 3-4 aircraft ahead of us.
Second time around
We heard on the radio and identified 4 aircraft ahead of us. I had configured the aircraft with 2 stages of flaps and was flying at 70-75 knots to keep well behind those in front. Turning onto final, we slowed down to 65 for a smooth approach. Unfortunately the aircraft in front had not cleared the far end of the runway in time, so I elected to go around. We probably would have made it down and stopped well behind the aircraft which was now at the far end, but Bruce validated my actions saying “Good Decision” after I powered up. In any case, landing on a runway which is already occupied is forbidden, unless explicitly authorised by a qualified Air Traffic Controller.
There was someone (who was used to providing air-ground service at another airfield) stationed on the ground at the landing threshold with a handheld who was watching those on final closely and able to provide information if and when required. Most of the transmissions were self-announcements from other pilots – I only heard one calling up as if it was a full AFIS service (and not get a reply).
Second time around, there were again about 3 aircraft in front of us, but these flew a much longer circuit, extending right out to the coast and back. This allowed for much wider spacing, and we had no trouble with a longer final approach and landed smoothly. Taxied to the end where a marshaller directed us to park up on the cross runway.
A wide variety of different aircraft had turned up, so there was plenty to see
We walked across to the main reception area, where burgers, soft drinks, cakes and tea were on offer. It took about 10 minutes, there was an optional free taxi service too.
We then got a lift down to the sailing club. What a great view over the water – the photo doesn’t do this justice. There’s also an army sail training school there. We met one of the instructors and he explained that all 19 boats were out on the water for a day’s racing.
The army training school has a very nice base to work from.
We walked back up to the main aircraft parking area, past the officer’s mess
The main road bisecting the old runway. An aircraft on climbout clears the road by quite some margin. There is about 700m of runway to the left of the road.
Short field departure technique
Bruce piloted the return leg. After a preflight, he elected to make a short field takeoff, which cleared the runway crossroads by a quite large margin. With 3 up and below tabs fuel, we were quite impressed with the performance. Perhaps that refurbished engine was delivering more power than the old one it replaced after all.
Turblence at lower levels
Cruising at around 2500 feet, we succumbed to turbulence from the heat of the afternoon. Bruce climbed up to 4500 feet where the air was cleaner, and the journey was more comfortable. Great visibility all round.
After landing, we had refuelled (needed to try about 6 different credit cards in the machine before it would accept one), and taxied back to park up. Another club aircraft arrived back at around the same time, so they had a key to let us out the gate without having to walk around.
All in all, a great day for flying, and another (unusual) airfield in my logbook.
Total PIC today: 1:15
Total PIC Time: 124:25
Total Time: 219:25