IMC Diversion and VFR into St Athan

Posted by

Solo IMC landaway to St Athan

After having to replan the weekend due to bad weather in the Scillies, today’s trip in the TB20 from Gloucester was intended to add a few grass airfields to my list. The strong winds (20 knots on the ground) would make for short ground rolls where reasonably aligned with the runway. But low cloud again stymied that plan. Instead, I decided on a short trip to Wales, first to Pembery and then St Athan (an RAF base with lot of civilian aircraft maintenance onsite). St Athan is scheduled to transfer from military to civilian ownership by 2019.

PPR for St Athan was a little more involved. Horizon Aircraft are the local handlers (flight school and maintenance). A separate call to a helpful chap in ATC explained which documents I should read, and explained he needed sight of our insurance certificate. I simply emailed a photograph of that from my smartphone and got an email confirmation with PPR number by return shortly afterwards. The huge document (over 80 pages) contains all manner of information about what to do in case of virtually every possible problem. I felt it was simply far too detailed but made sure to focus on the circuit pattern and joining instructions. I prefer the concise summary in Pooley’s which gives circuit pattern and height, noise abatement, radio frequencies and similar pertinent details.

VFR departure, then into the soup

I departed VFR to the west and remained below the clouds for about 10 minutes, after which rising terrain made it safer to climb into them. Cardiff Radar gave me a traffic service at FL40, as I popped in and out of cloud. Turbulence was mild. There was no other traffic called out – nobody else was flying in this area today – although I heard instrument training traffic being vectored into Cardiff itself.

VFR conditions after departing Gloucester
VFR conditions after departing Gloucester
Clouds thickening prior to entering IMC
Clouds thickening prior to entering IMC

With about 10 miles to run, I changed to Pembery Radio and started to descend. I had a lot of trouble receiving them and could barely make out what was said. I wasn’t able to establish good two-way communication. In the end, I descended down to 1000 feet and at that point could just start to make out some ground directly below. I wasn’t able to see ahead. This wasn’t time for heroics, so I climbed away and headed south towards the sea.

Within about 5 minutes, I was back in VMC at 3000 feet just south west of Swansea.

Cardiff Approach accepted my VFR join request into St Athan, and after giving me a squawk code cleared me to enter at Nash Point not above 1500 feet which was directly on my current track. A cruise descent timed that quite nicely, and I was handed over to St Athan tower just before entering the zone.

With one aircraft in the circuit ahead, I was directed to join downwind and remain clear of the village and west of the quarry and power lines. These were all easily visible. I had to slow down quite promptly to fit in with the circuit traffic, a Cessna 152, and was given a Land After clearance. It was a short groundroll due to the 18 knot headwind.

Horizon Aircraft – GA Handlers at St Athan

Horizon Aircraft operate in a huge hangar, providing extensive GA aircraft maintenance and also running a small flight training school with four aircraft. Perhaps this isn’t the most salubrious canteen but it was quite friendly – I spoke to the owner who explained he had more than 30 extra aircraft in the shop over the past week, and it seemed to me there were at least that many still there. It must be a hive of activity during the week, but was really very quiet during the weekend. It’s not a destination in its own right, and there doesn’t seem to be anything much nearby.

The renamed gents toilet (quaintly called the “Pilot’s Powder Room”) and amusing anecdotes on the canteen wall suggests there may be a bit of friendly banter here during the week.

Crew room/canteen at Horizon Aviation, St Athan
Crew room/canteen at Horizon Aircraft, St Athan

Refuelling at a very competitive rate was arranged by bowser and this also meant no landing fee (a special offer through Flyer Magazine). I spoke to ATC to book out, requesting an eastbound departure at low level along the coast (the other option is to fly north).

VFR back to Gloucester

After calling for start, then for taxi, I was given a departure clearance to turn left (east) and remain below 1500 feet VFR and to the south/east of the power station. They were quite careful to ensure I fully understood this clearance limit. After take-off, this clearance limit was removed – you can see why its important as you fly very close offshore to the south of Cardiff main airport. I carried on up the coast and was slightly surprised to be handed over to Bristol for a short time before transferring back to Gloucester.

Cardiff Airport from the south
Cardiff Airport from the south
Cardiff Airport from the South East
Cardiff Airport from the South East
Cardiff Bay
Cardiff Bay

Another straight in downwind VFR join for 22 and short into-wind landing made it a quick a successful return. Quite a challenging flight today, especially since I didn’t make it into Pembery. I don’t think my family would have liked the IMC that much (some of the clouds looked a bit dark and unwelcoming), but it helped with practicing regular checks and standard IFR procedures. The arrival into St Athan required a fair bit of reading and a little paperwork but was quite uneventful and worthwhile.

I compiled a (mostly speeded up) video of the first flight with my “dashcam” Garmin VIRB (13 mins).

PIC today: 1:55
Total PIC: 393:30
Total time: 531:55

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *