LAA Rally at Sywell

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The Plan

I’ve attended the annual LAA rally before, flying in on Saturday evening, camping overnight and returning after lunch on Sunday. This year was no exception, sharing a flight with David from the Bristol Aero Club in their PA28. Since neither of us had done much flying in recent weeks, we agreed to stage the flight (about 30 minutes direct) with a landing stop in each direction. We could then share the legs and fly both days.

With some 800 aircraft flying in for the event, it does get very busy. This year, they block arrivals between 4pm and 6pm on Saturday to avoid any complications with full streaming departures from both runways. Our slot was about 6:05 and we thought we’d drop by Wellesbourne on the way there. David flew us in, we stopped for a quick cuppa and then my turn to fly the next leg.

The Lost Key

I couldn’t get the keys to turn in the ignition. Often you fiddle about with club aircraft working out which key to use (and sometimes almost anything will work), but not today. David solved the problem by pulling out another set of keys – he’d mistakenly pocketed the keys for both club aircraft before departure. Since we couldn’t let down those planning to fly the other aircraft on Sunday, we quickly agreed we must fly back to Kemble and drop them off. A quick call to Sywell confirmed we could arrive after 7pm when AFIS close down.

Departure and return to Kemble were all pretty straightforward, and David (who’s been practicing for a running race) delivered the keys quickly. Our departure #2 from Kemble was out of hours with little other traffic around. Brize Radar LARS service shuts after 5pm, so we kept a careful eye out for other aircraft (and did see a few possibly returning from the rally).

There was only one other aircraft on frequency arriving at Sywell when we got there, with another waiting to depart and announcing they would hold for us. Being anxious to get in, I probably did call Final a bit early, and selected the grass for a quick exit. We parked up, erected our tents before dark and set off in search of food.

This isn’t “Glamping” by any means, but was quiet and comfortable until one aircraft decided to depart at 7am.

Sywell grass parking
Many varied aircraft parked up at Sywell

The Show Itself

The exhibition area has both inside and outside stands. We walked around a number of kit planes, some of which can be bought fully assembled, some even able to be fully certified (so can be used commercially by flight schools). There were quite a few SSDR (sub 300kg) and so didn’t need any certification or maintenance oversight (although some is strongly recommended). Several fitted the 600kg LSA limit, others were 750kg. There were several two seater, very nice looking modern machines, similar to the PS28 Cruiser I’ve flown – Sting, Bristell, Breezer, Apli Pioneer etc. Prices varied considerably, and of course the choice of avionics would make a significant difference.

LAA poster
Our local LAA Strut secretary featured on a poster
Military Self Build Aircraft
Some interesting military replicas for self build

A couple of aircraft specifically caught my eye as new to me:

  • Replica WW1 aircraft (both British and German) from Grass Strip Aviation. Remarkably simple and straightforward. A kit is under £10K, plus another £2-3K for the engine and other accessories.
  • Aquila 211. Probably the nearest thing I’ve seen that could reasonably expect to replace a PA28/C172 for training. The robust suspension on the nosewheel alone impressed me highly – I think you could probably land on that alone quite happily. The dealer was very optimistic about closing a deal for several to be used for flight training purposes – definitely one to watch. Capable of 165 knots max with a Rotax 912s engine, it cruises for up to 6 hours at 17 litres/hr.

David took up the GASCO challenge to find the 10 faults on an aircraft. Actually there were 14 (the crowd can be quite scrupulous and found another unknown 4). He got most of them but I’d better not say what they were in case you want to try it yourself.

Inside the Marquee

Inside, I spoke with Lee of Pilotaware. He’s developed a really low cost traffic avoidance system based on a Raspberry Pi computer. The parts cost less than £100 and he’s currently giving the software licences away for free during the beta development phase. Many are frustrated that Flarm, used by many gliders, is only available with their commercial hardware and software – a box for our aircraft would cost over £1000 and portable units are over £600. Pilotaware isn’t directly compatible with FLARM for patent reasons but instead broadcasts your position at a similar unlicenced frequency (~868MHz) and also receives position information from both other Pilotaware boxes in range plus any ADS-B equipped aircraft. The information is shown on SkyDemon on an iPad. Range can be anything up to 25km line of sight, but Lee told me he might reduce that to avoid clutter.

There was talk elsewhere that the project to allow Permit aircraft (i.e. homebuilt etc) to fly IFR could be coming soon. But that’s been the case for some time and it would be the approval process that is agreed. Each aircraft would have to make a separate application for which only certain types of aircraft equipped to a certain standard could apply. A long article in November 2014 edition of LAA Magazine explains the reasoning and engineering factors involved.

We met a few friends and pilots at the show – typically mostly from Kemble.

The return flight after lunch was fairly straightforward and uneventful.

PIC this trip: 0:50
Total PIC: 310:35
Total Time: 444:30

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