Sunshine on offer
You wouldn’t have thought it likely after the heavy rain during the week and forecast showers for the day, but there was quite some sunshine breaking through at times.
My wife had left me at home with the kids for the day and a suggestion that I might take them flying didn’t need too much persuasion on my part. Who knows what flying weather is left as the season draws to a close? After the heavy rain, I didn’t fancy a grass airfield so after some thought I selected Bembridge on the Isle of Wight as our destination. It’s a much shorter walk to the beach (10-15 mins) than Sandown where I’d taken the family last year.
The previous evening, Andy contacted me and indicated he may join us – flying the Arrow with his family at around the same times, but he was unlikely to make it to the beach because his youngster wouldn’t walk that far. When planning the trip early next morning, we saw that the forecast now showed more showers, but the cloudbase was generally 3000 feet or more and we thought we could dodge around any nasty areas.
I decided to route via the scenic route on the way there – via Bath, Compton Abbas, Sandbanks and across to the Needles Lighthouse, up the Solent to Cowes and into Bembridge. We could return more directly north, keeping east of the Solent zone, and routing back overhead Popham, Newbury and Swindon. The flight time would be about an hour each way.
Fully preflighted and ready to go
Arrived at the clubhouse around 10 and sorted out the kit. I decided to insist we all wore lifejackets even though we would only be slightly offshore, and took a PLB just in case. After pre-flighting, I briefed everyone on the trip and we mounted up ready to go.
Departing to the South East, we headed over towards Bath and circled above our house a couple of times – we weren’t particularly low so I felt I could glide clear – and kept just outside both the Colerne and Bath controlled airspace. The kids found it strange to see the areas they knew so well on the ground from a different perspective, and picked out the school and park nearby.
We then headed down over Frome and on towards Compton Abbas, where I switched to Bournemouth. They must have been busy because we were told to standby, and I wasn’t able to ask for the transit I wanted (from Tarrant Rushton to Sandbanks) before we reached controlled airspace. I flew to the west underneath the west end stub and shortly afterwards was able to request a transit which was granted not above 2000 feet VFR. By this time Sandbanks was clearly in view and I was able to head directly for it.
We then coasted out and towards the Needles Lighthouse, which was worth a couple of steep turns to admire the view. I changed to Solent, thinking this has been co-ordinated with Bournemouth, it became clear it hadn’t so I had to repeat my details (I suspect I mistook the “Freecall Solent” for “Contact Solent”). Not really a problem because I think I was the only one on frequency the entire time, and at Cowes we switched to Bembridge Radio. They promptly came back with the runway in use (30 right hand) and QFE, alerting us to another inbound aircraft from Shoreham. We quickly realised that we were much closer, and joined downwind with a base leg out to sea. The view on final approach is very clear, but there is turbulence from the cliffs. The slight crosswind was easy to cope with but the landing was a little on the firm side, perhaps because I’m not used to flying with the heavier weight of being 4 up.
Good ground control
The radio operator advised us to backtrack and exit to the north and park up on the grass alongside three other aircraft. I was very happy with the air/ground service which worked as it should do. We then walked along the hedge near the threshold of the runway towards the clearly marked control point – a fixed caravan. As we reached the threshold, we saw Andy fly in the Arrow on short final just in front of us and land. We waved to his wife and daughter who had seen us and were waving back. Hopefully this didn’t put off the pilot! His landing looks pretty reasonable from where we stood, but he said later that it was quite a heavy one.
We paid our landing fee (cash or cheque) and asked about where we might go. There are two cafes on the beach nearby or the Propellor Inn literally next door. The kids wanted to use the toilets but (perhaps understandably) there is a 50p charge for non-customers, so we decided to look elsewhere as we walked around the area.
While Andy and his family decided to have lunch at the Inn, we headed off towards the beach. Googlemaps was handy to correct my misdirections, and it really is only about 10 minute walk to Whitecliff Bay Beach. Both cafes looked good, but we had had a recommendation to try the Tuppenny Cafe and didn’t regret it. Soup and Chabbata were the order of the day, followed by a really yummy chocolate crispy cake. Very reasonably priced too. After walking along the beach, we walked back up to the Inn just as Andy and his tribe were preparing to go.
Departure to the North
I finished preflighting and preparations a little before, and started taxiing off for power checks just as Andy was starting up. Some of the grass was definitely a bit on the boggy side, reinforcing my choice of a hard runway rather than grass strip destination today. Andy had decided to make a little scenic detour on this return leg, while I had decided to route more directly back to base.
After a right hand turnout, we flew over Portsmouth, dodging some nasty looking Nimbostratus on both sides, and routed up to Butser Mast, Popham and Newbury.
I spotted the Vodafone Group HQ with its distinctive rooftops and couldn’t resist a quick detour for a snap.
Parachuting in the rain? Perhaps not, but gliding seems to be OK.
Routing back towards Kemble, Brize Radar helpfully observed I was heading for Redlands who were reported active with parachute dropping, but (unlike the controller) I could see there was no way that could be happening with a huge dark cloud clustered overhead their drop zone. We routed between the showers and I climbed up to about 3500 feet to clear the gliding base at Sandhill Farm just to the north.
This time the gliding base was active – Brize warned me about a tug and glider at the same height which I couldn’t identify, so I asked for deconfliction. I had used this term in the past when under a traffic service and been told about other conflicting traffic when flying in IMC, but this wasn’t technically the right term to use. Just at this point, we picked out the tug and glider ahead which weren’t an issue. Brize then asked me to confirm I only wanted a Basic service (and not a Deconfliction Service, which is pretty much the highest level you can get), which I did. They also observed that I had climbed (to 3500 feet) and it would be helpful for them if I could descend to keep clear of inbound heavy traffic, which I was happy to do.
After descending through 3000 feet, Brize asked if I had Kemble in sight (which I did) and terminated service. We had a quick detour across to Charlton Park and thence returned to Kemble for a much better landing. After refuelling, I treated the kids to a hot chocolate with marshmallows and cream in the AV8 cafe, which made for an excellent ending to a very enjoyable day out.
PIC time today: 2:30
Total PIC: 132:50
Total Time: 228:00