To Rain or not to Rain
Rain had been forecast for much of the weekend, but this changed in the previous evening’s forecast, and so I took the opportunity for a quick solo flight in the Arrow. The best weather appeared to be to the West, and the combination of that with a free landing voucher for Swansea firmed up the destination. I had been reading a flying book by John Farley about his days as a Harrier pilot, which included a section of his thoughts about GA flying. He is a firm believer in ensuring you know the limits of your aircraft, and encourages regular currency practice of stalls, crosswind landing, practice forced landings etc. It made me think I should include a little more of that when not flying with passengers – stuff I had only really done with instructors.
Fitting in a quick bit of circuit practice and avoiding an airprox
It was almost mid afternoon by the time I departed Kemble. SkyDemon on my (old) iPad crashed when I first started it up – shame because it behaved itself well during my Scottish trip. I pulled out my other smaller Windows CE unit and fired that up too – why make life difficult if you don’t have to. I had a printed PLOG and was routing via clear landmarks and navaids including Thornbury, Severn Bridge, Brecon VOR so didn’t expect to have too many navigational problems.
Once airborne, I made a couple of touch-and-goes, unusually on runway 08 where I was less familiar with the turning points and therefore extra attentive to avoid the noise sensitive areas. Then departed towards the Severn Bridges into a somewhat hazy sky levelling off at around 2200 feet. As I approached Thornbury, I saw a high wing aircraft heading almost directly towards me at similar height – we both turned right in plenty of time to avoid any potential airprox. One of the few times I’ve had to do that – it’s surprisingly rare. Looking at the GPS logs later, this put me close to (but not inside) the nearby restricted area around a nuclear power plant. Even if I had impinged on the zone, it would have been the right thing to do. Perhaps I should have been a little higher (the zone only extends up to 2000 feet above ground), but the haze and cloud ahead hadn’t encouraged me to fly higher.
Climbing to 3000 as I crossed the Severn, to ensure I would adequately clear the hills if I inadvertently had to enter cloud, I was still strongly affected by turbulence from the hills below. I don’t think all my passengers would have liked being buffeted and bounced around quite as much. Bristol Radar handed me over to Cardiff – this caught me out because I was expecting the Cardiff Radar frequency rather than their Approach on 119.15. Bristol had helpfully passed across my details, so it was a case of Contact rather than Freecall which all makes life easier. I heard several commercial flights being given descent instructions but very few other private aircraft on frequency.
Inbound to Swansea, I had a bit of situational confusion in my head. Overhead joins aren’t welcome there because it’s an active parachuting airfield. At first, I couldn’t quite make out which runway they were telling me was active – perhaps a combination of their radio, my radio, my headset or other factors. I did have the airfield plate on my kneeboard but hadn’t thought to remind myself which runways they commonly use there (it’s 10 and 28), so I could have matched it with what I was trying to hear. With parachute dropping about to start, I thought I may have to loiter about or go sightseeing elsewhere for a short while until everyone was back on the ground. However, I was told that the parachute aircraft had only just taken off so it would be a further 15 minutes before chutes would open. I could have made a straight in approach for runway 28, but probably having it in my head that I’d departed on 08, did not quite realise that this was the simplest routing until I was already several miles further south and positioning for a downwind join. This I did and made a fairly good landing to clear the runway well before any chutes opened.
Smartened up since my last visit
As I made my way to pay my landing fees, I could see the first chutes coming in to land. The whole place seemed to be more upbeat than my last visit. The office were quite happy to accept my free landing voucher (they already had an envelope with a thick stack of them) and walked me through to the exit door. The cafe has also been spruced up, and there is evidence of further building work in progress. After a quick cuppa (again much better service than my last visit), I waited and watched the latest load of parachuting activity with families and friends of those in flight (or should that be in “plummet”).
The airfield is open until 5:30pm, so there was no real rush. Although now 4:30 the parachuting and flight training still seemed to be in full flow.
There’s a video camera/door entry system to let you back through airside, and I was quickly walking back out to the aircraft. They ask that you call up on the radio before starting up. The rust on my R/T showed through when I requested taxi which of course an Air/Ground service can’t authorise. They professionally replied with the runway in use, wind etc, and so I self-announced I was taxiing for runup checks. After another training Tomahawk completed a touch-and-go, I backtracked and departed to the North West.
Trying higher for the return leg
This time, I climbed up to around 6000 feet, hoping to avoid the turbulence felt on the way out. It was certainly much smoother up there, but still not entirely calm, partly due to some small dark clouds which were threatening but not actually raining. I practiced some stalls, which still seems a strange thing to do without an instructor, and dropped back down to 4500 feet so I was well below the airway at Brecon which starts at 5500. The pressure was 1014, very similar to standard pressure of 1013, so there would be virtually no difference going through the transition level.
Cardiff Radar was busy, not only directing the usual fleet of Ryanair, Easyjet and Thomson airliners but also a couple of medical emergency aircraft on active duty.
A choice of runways
The haze continued most of the way back to Kemble. Being unsure of which runway might be in use (and of course being after hours with no tower to advise), I made a full overhead join. The windsock was almost directly 90 degrees crosswind, but slightly favoured the more standard runway 26. The approach went well but I did my usual trick of not compensating with enough aileron on short final so I drifted slightly more off the centreline than I would have liked. Not a problem on a big wide runway like Kemble, but something that wouldn’t be so good on a narrow strip.
The club Bulldog landed shortly afterwards but neither of us was able to refuel because the club bowser had run dry. We helped each other park up before finishing the paperwork and agreeing it had been a good to take advantage of the unexpectedly good weather.
Time Today: 2:05
Total PIC: 161:20
Total Time: 258:35