Sleap again and another door problem

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Opportunistic change of day for flying

I had planned to make a flight on Saturday, but Friday really the only decent flying day for weeks. Torrential rain for many days had caused extensive flooding in many parts of the country. With further forecast heavy rain, I took the opportunity to take most of the day off and catch up on Saturday instead. It helps that I work for myself now. After my poor landing on the last trip, I wanted to make a few practice circuits to consolidate my landings on the Arrow, then a short trip landing away somewhere else. In retrospect, I should have gone to Wellesbourne where some other pilots I knew from Filton were going, but I wasn’t organised enough to co-ordinate that or to arrange to share the flight/take a pax/meet up. My excuse was that it had been very short notice decision, and I wasn’t quite sure what time I would be flying.

When I arrived at Kemble, there was an urgent phone call from school – one of the kids had been taken poorly. Fortunately I was able to contact my wife who was close by and dealt with it. I would have returned if needed, but it was nice not to have to. I headed off to AV8 for a very pleasant lunch while waiting to hear if I need to go back home, and later got a call confirming everything was in hand. The current AV8 restaurant staff are not renewing their lease at the end of the year, and it will be closed until mid February for refurbishment. I do hope the new operators will continue to provide good food and maintain the nice atmosphere.

I met a couple of other pilots in the clubhouse who planned some IMC practice and a short flight to White Waltham. I rang Sleap for PPR and checked weather again. While I was starting the A-check, Roger (the deputy CFI) helped me take the covers off while he listened out on the radio for a student he had just sent solo. He noticed me turn the prop about a quarter turn to drain the water that gathers while outside in the rain, and gently pointed out I had turned it the wrong way. He explained there is a very delicate vacuum pump mechanism which can be damaged by doing this, and I’ll make sure I take this into account in future. I explained I planned to make a few practice landings before departure and he talked me through differences when landing the Arrow. It was a very friendly chat and because of the clear explanation, was well understood and much appreciated. We also agreed that I’d ask for the bowser to come round on my return, and that there would be at least one other aircraft to refuel.

Circuit practice first

Phoned for circuit permission, started up and did 4 landings. None of which were terribly good. I think I really do need some instruction on the Arrow – it’s quite different to the Warrior and seems to have just two modes – flying and brick, dumping you onto the runway when you don’t quite expect it to. I signed off with AFIS, who are excellent at Kemble and continue to tolerate my poor readbacks, needing several attempts to get the QNH correct.

I headed off towards Gloucester who gave me a Basic service up to Worcester where I transferred to Shawbury – a military airfield just to the East of Sleap that has a lot of helicopter training activity. I’d pre-programmed a basic flight plan into the Garmin 430 and was trying to use that a bit more instead of SkyDemon. I’d used more waypoints on the SkyDemon plog, clearly defining turning points at the main towns en-route at Worcester and Kidderminster then routing to cut across the southern tip of Shawbury MATZ. This made it more difficult to follow on the 430, where adding waypoints that aren’t defined navigation marks isn’t as easy. I also tuned in the VOR which my route partially tracked, but used this more as a backup to confirm where I was going

I flew at 4,500 feet most of the way, but dropped down just below 3000 feet (the minimum safe height) due to clouds nearer Shawbury. I’m sure I heard the Filton club aircraft talking to Gloucester as it flew up to Wellesbourne.

Height not altitude

Being a military airfield, Shawbury gave me their QFE (pressure setting to show height above their airfield) and a MATZ transit not below 2000 feet.

North of Gloucester, floods where the rivers have overflowed
West of Halfpenny Green – some clouds ahead meant I had to descend

It was easy to spot Sleap, and I approached from 3000 feet and descended into overhead at 2000. It seemed like there was quite a buzz of activity all at once, with several aircraft all arriving at the same time. I’m sure they all hang around nearby until they hear a visitor inbound – maybe that’s why they ask for PPR beforehand. I landed long and taxied to end of the runway, following the aircraft ahead. I quickly learnt this wasn’t a good thing to do. There are various maintenance and other hangars at the south end of the airfield, but the taxiway was blocked off due to repairs. With no way through, I had to turn around, backtrack down the main runway and return to tower area, parking on the grass outside.

Great cakes and friendly reception

I was rewarded by a choice of some great home made cakes in the canteen. It was very pleasant view with nice sunshine overlooking the airfield, despite being fairly quiet for a weekday afternoon. The picture below doesn’t do the airfield buildings justice – it wasn’t that dark, but I left at 15:00 knowing that sunset was at 16:10.

Sleap Airfield buildings

It came off in me hands, guv!

After a quick preflight check, I shut the door and found the door frame came off in my hands! The retaining screws on the inside door panel popped out. Fortunately, the door was properly shut and could be latched, but it will need repair before the next flight. I kept the screws for reuse later. There must be something about Sleap and doors, because last time I flew here we took off with the door not properly latched and had to return. I departed to the south west initially (on runway 23) and kept clear of the MATZ, again with a Basic service from Shawbury. The climb performance of the 180hp Arrow with just one on board is noticeably better than even with two-up. There were some clouds on the horizon but climbed to 3500 feet, went through one or two, then found good visibility ahead.

Threatening Cumulonimbus 

As I approached Gloucester, ATC advised me to route to the west to avoid CBs (dark Cumulonimbus clouds) which were clearly visible on their radar, but could see a clear gap between two, routing directly overhead Cheltenham so went for that. I heard someone on the radio preparing to practice in the hold above the airport had to loiter elsewhere for a while, and another aircraft radioing about the next slot booked (while still on the ground) was also delayed.

Overhead Worcester on the return leg; changed from Shawbury to Gloucester controllers
CB to the right, overhead Gloucestershire Airport
CB to the left, but a clear gap between the two

Busy arrival at Kemble

In my initial call to Kemble, I asked for fuel bowser to attend after landing and confirmed two aircraft to refuel. It was very busy on the radio for return to Kemble, I could barely get my downwind call in and was on final while AFIS were sorting out several others in the circuit.

After landing, I should have stopped more quickly and backtracked, but with other traffic behind I turned off to the right at Bravo. I should also have considered exiting by turning left onto Charlie taxiway. After a short delay, I was routed via Charlie and the south side of the airfield back to base where the bowser was waiting.

I’ve found Kemble can be quite busy just before closing time as everyone heads back before it shuts, and I guess many other airfields are the same during the nicer flying days in winter in the later opening hour. I struggled to push back the aircraft on my own – it does weigh 1.2 tonnes after all – and got it more or less in the slot but not quite aligned properly.

I tried to find a screwdriver in the clubhouse to fix back the door handle, but couldn’t, so left a note and the screws in the tech log with an explanation.

While this resets my 60 day currency into the New Year, perhaps I’ll be able to make another flight before the end of 2012. Next time, I’ll try to co-ordinate and share a flight with someone else or take a passenger.

Total PIC this flight: 2:10
Total Time: 233:00

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