Mixing Business with Pleasure
It’s rare for me to be able to combine business with aviation, but the opportunity came up to visit a couple of sites conveniently near to airfields in Wales. Comparing 2 hours flight time with about 10 hours driving (the roads aren’t very good there) is a very persuasive argument. Not that I normally need one to go flying, but it helps justify the expense.
Unfortunately the weather in January is often cold, windy, cloudy and unflyable. Since both destinations were VFR only, it was always going to be a last minute decision on whether I’d drive or not. Temperatures were warm for the time of year so there was no risk of freezing ice inside the cloud. On the day, my first destination Aberporth initially reported cloud “on the deck”, but it lifted to 300 feet an hour prior to my departure and looked to be continuing to improve.
Gloucester (EGBJ) to Aberporth (EGFA)
I fuelled up both tanks to the brim, confident that I could either divert to Haverford West (about 40 mins drive away) or return to Gloucester if needs be. After departure I was soon into the soup, but climbing up through the layer I quickly popped out into glorious sunshine at around 4000 feet. I quite like surfing above the cloudtops. There didn’t appear to be anyone else around (on frequency) in the whole of Wales.
Perhaps the reason was the low cloudbase, which hadn’t improved very much by the time I approached. But it was breaking up, leaving broken cloud with a few fog banks. The FISO reported very good visibility out to sea and broken cloud cover, suggesting I might like to descend over the sea and approach visually. I incorrectly said my intention was to make a left base join when I meant a right base, which the FISO picked up on. His suggestion was a good one and it helped that I set the CDI in OBS mode so I could intercept and follow the final approach track – effectively operating as a localiser or VOR on the runway heading. In the end, visibility was good enough to turn onto final approach track without going over the coast. With limited visibility, I slowed down and set landing configuration in good time, ready to climb away into the clouds should conditions deteriorate.
While I could see the ground at all times, visibility was more limited in some directions but I was able to pick out the runway very easily and had plenty of time to compensate for the crosswind to make quite a decent landing. I appeared to be the only movement onsite that morning.
Aberporth (EGFA) to Llanbedr (EGFD)
My departure in the afternoon was uneventful and on the opposite runway. It was only a 20 minute flight to Llanbedr (compared to a 2h30 drive) but quite demanding. There was a lot of turbulence below the clouds which kicked off the autopilot. I decided I would rather fly VFR below the cloud at 1200 feet than go IMC, and deliberately routed just offshore rather than direct.
Llanbedr was also having a quiet day, and there was no delay on arrival. The airfield sits in a flat area of lowland at the foothills of Snowdon, seemingly attracting a different weather climate. Although it was raining at times, I had a very clear view and could easily join downwind for 15. All the runways here are huge. No wonder it’s trying to become the UK’s first spaceport.
The 5 min video of the flight below shows mainly the VFR approach into Llanbedr, with most of the flight 8x speeded up. Don’t believe what it says for speed or altitude much of the time. The persistent terrain audio warnings (Pull Up!) from the portable navigator are because the airport isn’t in our outdated database and it thinks I’m about to land in a field.
I was directed to taxi around to the main gate and park up. An airport van turned up and drove me to the airport entrance – a full handling service at no extra charge – from which I could walk the mile or so into Llanbedr village where my hotel was.
I walked past the railway station (a halt really) which boasts the same electronic train arrival signs and announcements found in larger stations. The area gets quite busy in the summer months, but I was the only overnight guest. Dinner was good, the bar was busy and the Wi-Fi was temperamental.
Llanbedr to Gloucester
My return to Gloucester the next morning was fairly uneventful, mainly because it helped to wait until lunchtime before departing, after a front had gone through. I paid the very reasonable landing fee in the cafe and then was driven across to the control tower, which is modern and well equipped. The airfield team told me they are applying to become fully licensed and would like to introduce RNAV instrument approaches in due course. We can only hope the investments made there prove fruitful – it’s a great facility and has been substantially upgraded.
Departure involved a climb straight ahead out to see up through cloud with a left turn ontrack once at safe altitude. I flew at 7000 feet VMC on top.
Inbound to Gloucester and having heard the ATIS stating runway 36, I requested the RNAV for 27 to be told that 09 was the instrument runway in use. There was another aircraft making an approach as I arrived, so I was asked to “take up delaying action” at 4000 feet for a few minutes prior to the initial approach fix. This is much easier and less demanding than formal holding patterns, and made it very easy to turn back towards the approach when instructed. I just eased back the throttle and twiddled the heading bug on the CDI to drive the autopilot in a rough approximation of a race-track holding pattern.
The approach itself was straightforward breaking out at about 800 feet (the limit being 400 feet AGL, because this is an LNAV approach rather than the more accurate LPV). We can only hope that Gloucester’s application to upgrade to LPV will not take too long for the CAA to approve.
It seems I’ve made quite a few instrument approaches in recent weeks, but there’s always a new wrinkle every time.
PIC this trip: 2:45
Total PIC: 446:45
Total TIme: 590:25