With our TB20 out of service for major engine overhaul and repairs, I’d been keeping an eye out for other opportunities to fly. Chris, who I’d met through the local LAA strut, contacted me and asked if we could arrange something. We agreed that I’d hire a PA28 Warrior from Kemble, fly him to the strip where his Cessna 172 is kept, where we’d fly that down to Compton for fuelling.
I had enjoyed a day out landing on some grass airfields last year, and wanted to repeat that. I called for PPR and received permission for Garston Farm and Charlton Park (owned by the Earl of Suffolk). I’d also be taking off and landing at the grass runway at Kemble, something I’d never done before despite several years of being based there. The main runway is being fitted with lights and is closed for three weeks.
Kemble to Garston Farm
We arrived early and after a quick coffee were able to depart almost an hour before our booked time of 1300. I’d almost forgotten what it’s like to fly a Warrior. Performance was down a little due to the hotter weather. We seemed to take much of the 600 metres before getting airborne. But with two onboard and fuel to tabs, the climb rate was very reasonable. I had to remind myself to make carb heat checks and check the DI alignment which aren’t need on the TB20.
Flying VFR, I didn’t really need a chart or GPS. We just followed the Fosse Way towards Colerne, keeping clear of Hullavington. Made a quick radio call to Colerne to advise our intentions and receive clearance (Garston is inside their ATZ), joined right base then called final for a straightforward landing. I could have done with a little blip of extra power to arrest the sink prior to the roundout, but it was a reasonable touchdown. Grass always flatters anyway.
We met Trevor (also from the local strut) who was busy upgrading his Smaragd permit aircraft with the latest 8.33 radio and Mode S transponder. Quite apart from being well prepared for future technology requirements, his central panel looked much tidier and smaller than before.
Garston Farm to Clutton Hill
Garston is about 800 metres but has trees (with a gap) at the far end. After speaking to Colerne (who told us to advise them when airborne), we backtracked and took off without problem, easily clearing south of the trees.
We kept fairly low to ensure that we wouldn’t bust Bristol airspace, which starts at 1500 feet at our destination. The gin clear day gave us great views all around as we past just to the north of Bath and then south west.
Spotting the airfield itself wasn’t easy (it did help using the GPS this time), and even Chris needed to search for it. Of course, once identified it’s obvious. I setup for a straight in approach and landed, easily stopping on the uphill slope without needing to use the brakes.
There are only two or three aircraft based there and very few movements. PPR is essential for visitors. There aren’t any facilities there apart from a small hangar.
Clutton Hill to Compton Abbas and back
After taking the covers off Chris’s Cessna 172, he showed me around the cockpit including the IFR panel instruments. The start sequence was new to me, involving a primary and secondary fuel pump booster, and it quickly burst into life. This model is fitted with an unusually higher power (about 200hp) engine and their low stall speed (about 35knots with full flaps) make these aircraft extremely functional – land and takeoff from short strips, carry four people/fuel/luggage, cruise at 130 knots. It has a variable pitch prop but fixed undercarriage. The downside is the fuel consumption.
It only took about 15-20 minutes to fly south west to Compton Abbas, where we refuelled and enjoyed a late lunch. The good weather had brought out a fair number of visitors and the place was buzzing.
On our return, Chris showed me just what full flaps could do on a C172. These so-called “barn doors” reduce the stall speed well below 40 knots and allow a very steep approach at low speed followed by a short landing roll. It has to be seen to be believed, given the size and carrying capacity of the aircraft.
Clutton Hill to Charleton Park
The most challenging part of the day was going to be my taking off from Clutton Hill. The choice (given virtually no wind) was between an upslope with a cliff at the end or a downslope with trees. We opted for the former and with short field technique (adding second stage of flaps about half way along the take-off roll) were easily airborne at flying speed with runway to spare.
We turned south to clear the 1500 foot airspace ceiling before taking up course to the north. We saw a different perspective of Bath (normally I fly past to the east), then routed along the M4 towards Swindon and up to Malmesbury.
Making traffic calls and joining downwind for Charleton Park, you get great views on the approach as you pass fairly close to the manor house itself. The runway is listed at 800 metres but seemed longer and was as smooth as a billiard table. It was a quick stop just to sign the book and pay the landing fee (which goes to charity), then off again back to Kemble.
A great day out which restored my faith in being able to fly VFR again. It was great to add another couple of airfields into the logbook and also learn what a C172 is capable of.
Flight time today: 1:05 (excluding C172 as passenger)
Total PIC: 248:15
Total Time: 377:25
Some strips there I’ll have to try!