IMC to a beach trip at Lee-on-Solent

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Rapid Change of Plan

I had our TB20 share-o-plane at Gloucester booked for the weekend.

Plan A was a weekend away in the Scilly Isles, postponed from April due to bad weather. Sadly, once again the weather was a combination of strong winds (25 knot crosswind) and low cloud (reported at zero feet), with some forecast rain thrown in for good measure.

Plan B was a daytrip to the beach with the family. I had enthused to them about the recent club fly-out to Lee-on-Solent as well as a flight I’d recently flown to Skegness as passenger. Again weather suggested that Lee would be the better option. I filled in the online PPR request form and received an email confirmation back shortly afterwards.

Strong winds and low(ish) cloud

Winds on the day were forecast to be quite strong (about 20 knots), but aligned with runways at both airports. A SIGMET strong wind warning was in force. Cloud base was predicted to be anything from about 1700 feet to 3500. After some prevarication, I booked out IFR rather than VFR with Gloucester ATC, expecting to remain outside controlled airspace for most the flight. I planned to request a transit through the Bournemouth zone during which I could descend and become VMC again while under radar control.

IFR departure

Gloucester provided an IFR departure clearance, and even offered me a choice of departure runways. I took 22, departing south and transferring fairly quickly at 2500 feet to Bristol Radar (Contact not Freecall because they had my details), with a traffic service.

It wasn’t long before we were above the cloud, maintaining FL40 in the sunshine with occasional glimpses of the ground below. Bournemouth granted me an IFR transit maintaining 4000 feet, after which I requested a descent to 2000 feet to become VFR. There was relatively little other traffic around, and I heard one or two others (probably on a flyout) announce their intentions to return to base. I couldn’t tell what the current cloudbase was before descending, but hoped it would be adequate as forecast. The Bournemouth ATIS sounded promising.

Above the cloud south of Gloucester
Above the cloud south of Gloucester
Glimpses of civilisation below, near Frome
Glimpses of civilisation below, near Frome
Bournemouth after initial descent
Bournemouth after initial descent

VFR arrival

In fact, we were well clear at 2000 feet and able to proceed west along the south side of the Solent at around 1500 feet VMC below controlled airspace. Lee is quite easy to pick out when you know what to look for, a large green space in between the built-up areas along that coast. We joined downwind, kept north of the town and turned final overhead the solar panel farm. Gliding operations were active as we approached with one other fixed wing aircraft in the circuit ahead.

Surface wind was reported as 18 knots, so this made for a slow groundspeed gentle touchdown and short rollout. Parking by the tower requires taxiing all the way down to the far end, so maybe I should have considered landing even longer.

Seaside Stroll

We walked quite a long way along the beach. It was quite warm despite the wind. There was plenty of water based activity to look at – kite-surfing, wind surfing, dingy and yacht sailing, commercial traffic plus glider tug and winch launches. There is a hovercraft museum nearby, although I didn’t spot any enthusiasm from the rest of the family for a visit.

Refreshing view of the seafront
Refreshing view of the seafront
Some sort of band festival at the local beach cafe
Some sort of band festival at the local beach cafe
Hovercraft museum
Hovercraft museum

The brownish colour of the seawater makes swimming less attractive regardless of the temperature, but there were a few brave souls, surfers and children playing on the beach. There are a couple of cafes in the main village serving “UK seaside fayre” – all day breakfast, fish and chips, tea and cake etc. The wide choice of flavours and generous portion sizes of ice-cream were appreciated. You can also walk further along the beach, into the military zone, unless a warning flag is flying during active operations.

Straightforward departure

After start and radio check, it’s a long taxi around the field back to the holding point for checks. You can’t see the far end of the runway when lined up. I was ready to depart and awaiting confirmation that the previous aircraft had vacated before taking off. Again the strong wind meant I used little of the available runway. Departing directly ahead is straightforward, turning to fly along the north side of the Solent. Use of a listening squawk is encouraged, but we signed on again with Bournemouth initially for a basic service.

Direct VFR join back at Gloucester

We retraced our tracks, again received an IFR transit from Bournemouth (just under the clouds most of the time, and sometimes just in them), and a traffic service on departing their zone to the north. As we flew north, the cloud cover reduced and we were definitely VFR well before Gloucester. With a tailwind increasing our groundspeed to 165 knots, I called up for a VFR direct join in good time and was assigned a straight-in downwind right hand join for 22. There is known turbulence when low on approach in stronger winds on that runway, so I made a steeper final approach but again the landing roll was very short.

Just under the cloud canopy at our assigned altitude
Just under the cloud canopy at our assigned altitude
Clouds clearing
Clouds clearing
VFR conditions
VFR conditions

Strong wind and low cloud would deter some pilots in favour of better weather days. There were certainly fewer aircraft in the air today. This is where a combination of an IR or IR(R) – this wasn’t an airways flight and didn’t involve an instrument approach – and a suitable aircraft (the heavier 1.4 ton TB20 is very stable in these conditions and fast enough to cope with strong headwind) increase the chances of making a flight.

While this combination certainly can’t defeat cloud below 100 feet and 25 knot crosswinds into a short runway, it did provide for an enjoyable and satisfying family day out.

Here’s an 8x speeded up video of the outbound flight, approx 6 minutes long. Play it on the page here or open to view full screen for a larger sized replay.

Log
Outbound route, avoiding Air Race at Compton Abbas
Log
Inbound Route, Avoiding Air Race at Compton Abbas

PIC today: 2:10
Total PIC: 393:30

Total Time: 530:00

 

 

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