Flights have been few and far between so far this year, so with the prospect of improving weather, a Bank Holiday and an available Arrow, I again planned to take the family to Caernarfon to visit the in-laws. Sadly this would have to be a short single day visit, but the late nights meant that we could spend a decent amount of time there.
As usual with a trip to Caernarfon, I planned three routes to handle any weather that might cause issues. The first route was almost a straight line, directly over the mountains of Snowdonia. This would require a cloudbase of at least 5000 feet or so to be able to follow. A second route to the South of Snowdonia needed around 3500 feet, and a route to the North could be handled as long as the cloudbase was around 2500 or 3000 feet.
As it happened, the forecast for the day was pretty much CAVOK all the way, so we opted for the ‘direct’ route, via the overhead of Gloucester and Welshpool.
Weather on the day was pretty much as forecast, and we did our best to get out of the house as early as possible (something that can be a little challenging with a 4 year old at times!) to give ourselves as much time at Caernarfon as we could. Catrin was only told that we were going flying, leaving the destination as a surprise for her.
On arrival at Kemble, I deposited Luned and Catrin in the Club Office, before heading out to the aircraft with a headset and PLB (due to the remoteness of the route, I decided to carry one should we have a problem and end up landing in a field somewhere!). With the exception of a broken step, the preflight was all normal and I took my time getting things arranged in the cockpit in readiness for my passengers to board.
The day was starting to really warm up as I returned to the office, and with the final paperwork completed we all walked out to the aircraft. We all managed to make our way onto the wing without using the step and get comfortable in the cabin. My GPS had already fallen off the window, so I elected to just leave it on the seat beside me as a backup for the onboard GNS-430 and the Nexus 7 I now carry running SkyDemon.
As I was running through the pre-start checklist and had just flicked the Master switch on, Roger approached having just landed in one of the Club’s other aircraft. He was preparing to refuel from the Club’s bowser, but as he realised I was about to start up he offered to wait until we had taxyed away.
We had a brief chat about the Club’s fuelling policy (to fill the aircraft full after each flight) that I had questioned recently due to issue with the Weight and Balance of the Arrow, whereby it is quite easy to end up outside of the forward C of G limits even when significantly below maximum take off weight. With less fuel this problem is less likely to occur, so hopefully the Club will opt to only fill the Arrow up to ‘tabs’ (about 60% full) in future.
The engine started relatively easily (the aircraft had flown a fair bit recently which probably helped!) and we were cleared to taxy to Alpha 1 in readiness to depart. I completed the pre-flight checks normally (including entering our route into the 430), and proceeded to the hold, followed by another aircraft that had been carrying out its checks behind me.
I had to wait to transmit my ‘ready for departure’ call due to other conversations occurring on the radio, and the aircraft behind me ‘jumped in’ and announced his readiness before I got chance to. He was then cleared onto the runway by the FISO (I think hold A1 is out of sight of the Tower), to which he had to reply ‘We have WS in front of us, maybe we should let them go first’! The FISO agreed (surprise surprise!) and I quickly announced my readiness before being cleared onto the runway.
Despite the rising temperature the takeoff roll was relatively short, and we climbed away to the West, making the left turn required to clear noise sensitive areas on the departure path for the runway. I was warned of traffic operating out to the West, so informed the FISO of my intention to head North. After a further warning about Aston Down being active, I ensured we were to the West of there before turning North and continuing the climb to our cruising altitude of 4500 feet.
I used the ADF and GPS to track direct to Gloucester, but with today’s good visibility it was easy to spot in the distance. I left Kemble’s frequency to inform Gloucester of my intention to transit their overhead and receive a Basic Service for the first part of the flight.
Conditions were smooth at our altitude, and despite a slightly murky layer visibility was excellent also. There were very few clouds in the sky at this point, so the direct route seemed perfectly possible. Surprisingly Gloucester didn’t ask us to report at any point to the North (usually they will ask to report near Worcester for example) so I waited until we approached Worcester before signing off with them.
Shawbury were closed due to the Bank Holiday, so I switched directly to Welshpool in order to inform them that we were passing through their overhead later. Roger had warned me that the skies were busy today, but up at this altitude there weren’t too many other aircraft to see.
I generally give Luned a spare chart to follow our progress, but had neglected to do this today. Instead I passed her my chart with the routes marked on, while I used a combination of SkyDemon and the view out of the window to monitor our progress.
As we approached Welshpool, I contacted them out of courtesy (at 4500 feet we were unlikely to conflict with any of their traffic) and used the opportunity to request the Holyhead pressure setting. Unfortunately they could only give me their local QNH, so I dialled that in for the remainder of the flight. I wasn’t planning on flying in IMC while close to the mountains, so being a few millibars out wasn’t going to cause any problem.
Luned continued to monitor our progress, pointing out various reservoirs to Catrin, including the one near where Luned’s Father had been brought up. As we got closer to our destination, Luned started to offer some hints to Catrin as to where we were going, pointing out (hopefully!) familiar place names.
As we approached the lake near the Trawsfynydd power station it became clear that there was a fairly significant build up of cloud over the peaks of Snowdonia. While there was no cloud above us (so we could have climbed to keep clear of cloud and the high ground) it wasn’t obvious whether there were any breaks in this layer to allow us to descend on the other side. As a result, I took the decision to head West to the coast, allowing us to follow it at low level below the clouds to Caernarfon if necessary.
We turned west and descended. Catrin was keen to fly through a cloud, so I wandered around looking for one, finally finding a small one to fly through for perhaps 10 seconds during the descent. The cloud base was pretty low, meaning we had to get down to about 1500 feet or so to keep below them. We managed to spot a path between two peaks that we could see was clear of cloud, and threaded our way through them.
Once through the gap, Caernarfon airport was clearly visible in the distance thanks to the addition of two wind turbines not far from runway 20. The cloud above us had dispersed, so I made my initial call to Caernarfon and climbed to 2300 feet for the Overhead Join. Caernarfon were using runway 20 today due to the wind direction, so I was about to find out just how distracting it was to attempt to land with two spinning wind turbines off to the left!
There was a fair bit of traffic in the circuit, but we managed to keep good spacing and a nice tight circuit, bringing onto a nice Final for the runway. The wind turbines were clearly visible ahead, but not too distracting, enabling me to bring us in for a nice gentle touchdown. We taxyed to the end of the runway before being asked to park in bay 4.
As we taxyed in, we could see Luned’s family waving to us in the distance, so pointed them out to Catrin, wondering “Why are people here waving at us?”. Catrin was none the wiser, so we set about getting all our gear out of the aircraft, and walking up the taxyway to meet them. Catrin was suitably excited to see everyone, and we headed off by car to a local cafe for a well-earned lunch.
While the others headed to the beach with Catrin, Harri and I returned to the airfield, as I had offered to take him for a flight while we were there. Due to the missing step it was a little more difficult getting Harri up to the cockpit, and after we got settled in I realised I’d left my headset bag under the wing! Doh!
We extricated ourselves, I retrieved my gear, and we again got settled in. I had a bit of trouble starting the engine (it’s always more difficult when still warm from a previous flight), but it started on the second attempt and we taxyed to the hold (for 26 this time!) to carry out power checks. These were all normal, and we lined up behind another aircraft waiting to depart.
After an aircraft had landed, the aicraft ahead of us took to the runway, and after he started his takeoff roll I followed him, ensuring that nobody else was approaching to land. Once the other aircraft was airborne and had made a turn away from the runway centreline, I applied power and we took off in turn.
We climbed initially to around 1000 feet for the run up the Menai Straits, and set about finding their house in order to get some photos. At this low level things were a bit bumpy unfortunately, making it difficult for Harri to take photos. We carried out an orbit however, enabling him to get off a few shots. We climbed to a more comfortable 2500 feet, and continued our tour of Anglesey.
Harri pointed out a number of landmarks familiar to him as we flew around the Island, spotting his old school, the house he used to live in and a few more general landmarks like old oil refinarys and the like. Valley were closed for the Bank Holiday, so after spotting the harbour at Holyhead we headed across the island through their overhead, being careful to keep high enough not to infringe their ATZ.
Spotting the Ty Croes racing circuit again, we set course back to Caernarfon. They were now operating on runway 26 with a right hand circuit, so I set us up for an Overhead Join.
As we completed the deadside descent and prepared to join the Downwind leg, another aircraft came on frequency announcing an unwell passenger. Having experienced the distraction of an unwell passenger myself, I decided to make way for him so that he could land as soon as possible. I continued North of the airfield, before turning to the left to join on an extended Downwind. The other aircraft passed below us, and I made sure to leave plenty of room before following him on the Downwing leg.
He landed safely, and was clearing the runway at the far end as we turned Final. Again the approach was good, and I brought us in for a smooth landing, hopefully reassuring Harri of my piloting ability!
We were initially directed to park back in bay 4, but I wanted to refuel before heading back to Kemble, so we taxyed up to the pumps. Rather than have Harri hang around (and try to negotiate the step up to the wing again!) I gave him a Hi-Viz jacket (mandatory at Caernarfon) and he headed back to the Cafe for a coffee while I refuelled the aircraft. After refuelling I intended to pull the aircraft out of the way to allow another aircraft behind me to refuel while I got going again, but at this point I realised that the tow bar wasn’t in the baggage area.
After a quick check with the refueller that we both agreed I had clearance to taxy out, I started up again and he watched my left wing as I headed away from the fuel bay. Luckily parking bay 4 was still clear, so I taxyed back to park up, before heading in to join Harri.
The rest of the family soon joined us, and while trying to get Catrin to visit the toilet before we headed back, she had a fairly major meltdown because we got all the way to the cubicle before she decided she wanted Heledd to take her. I should probably have just given in immediately, but in trying to get her to go with me she got really wound up, and I eventually relented and took her back outside to find Heledd.
Once we were all sorted, we headed back to the aircraft and got ourselves ready for the return flight. We taxyed past the family, waving as we did, before making ready to depart on runway 26. Before the power checks I noticed that the ‘Low Bus’ light hadn’t gone out (it will sometimes do this at low RPM) and expected it to do so during the power checks. However, when it didn’t I started to become a little concerned that we might have an alternator fault.
I considered whether it would be wise to make the flight anyway (running the risk of losing electrical power at some point), and then decided to try cycling the master switch (the Arrow doesn’t have a split Master / Alternator switch). This seemed to cure the issue, and I made a point of keeping an eye on it for the rest of the flight.
We lined up to take our turn to depart, and took to the air before turning to the South. I had weighed up the options of climbing in the vicinity of Caernarfon with a view to immediately setting a direct track to Welshpool, but decided that we might as well climb while heading South, before turning to rejoin the direct track once we had sufficient height to clear the high ground.
I used the 430 to intercept the track home, and set about monitoring the aircraft during the flight, always with an eye on the ammeter and Low Bus light. Both showed no cause for concern during the flight.
As we left the Caernarfon we heard a Sea King on frequency, and soon spotted him below us in the mountains. Presumably this was some sort of rescue in progress (although it could have been a training exercise of some sort), so hopefully everything turned out Ok for those involved.
Surprisingly conditions were a lot more bumpy on the return journey (you would usually expect that as things cool down in the late afternoon that there would be less turbulence. I experimented with a number of different levels, eventually ending up at about 5500 feet. We had no height constraints in terms of either airspace or cloudbase, but there didn’t seem much point in going any higher.
We flew over Welshpool, hearing a couple of aircraft depart as we approached. Catrin amused herself singing into the intercom (the isolation features of the Garmin audio panel really showing their usefulness!), and had a bit of a snack before falling asleep (my inability to calm her down in the toilet probably the main cause of this!). Luned and I chatted on the flight back, spotting little in the way of other traffic apart from a lone glider in the vicinity of Shobdon.
Around Worcester I contacted Gloucester for a Basic Service, initially being asked to report abeam the airfield, before the Controller offered “unless you’d rather route through the overhead?”. This had been my original intention so I took him up on his offer. Gloucester seemed fairly busy, but as we passed through the overhead at 5500 feet we were well out of the way.
One error I made was in not starting my descent for Kemble early enough. We started to descend when overhead Gloucester, but due to our ground speed I needed a fairly large rate of descent to get down to an appropriate height to rejoin at Kemble.
I asked for a wind check at Gloucester to get a feel for what runway to expect, and their winds appeared to favour the Easterly runway. I was somewhat surprised to receive a response from Kemble Radio (they are usually Information) to my initial call, but having someone on the ground was useful to confirm that they were in fact still using runway 26. Another aircraft landed as we approached, and after confirming that their was no other known traffic in the area, I elected for a Right Base join to expedite our landing.
In order to lose the extra height I now needed to, I reduced airspeed before lowering the gear earlier than I normally would. This helped keep the airspeed down and increase the rate of descent, as I got down to circuit height in time to commence the Base leg.
The rest of the approach went pretty well, but for some reason I made a real mess of the landing. I obviously flared much to high, causing us to stall much higher off the ground than I would usually. As a result the last few feet resulted in a pretty firm landing, as I applied power to late to cushion the touchdown.
A quick ‘sorry’ to Luned in the back (Catrin managed to sleep through it!), and I announced a backtrack before heading back to our parking area. I dispatched Luned and Catrin back to the Club while refuelled from the Club’s bowser and got all of our gear out of the aircraft (carrying a load of coats in the hot afternoon sun was particularly galling!) and recovered the aircraft in the parking area.
I headed back in to the Club to settle the paperwork, to find Sarah (one of the aircraft owners) getting all the information from the tech logs. We chatted while I filled in the Arrow’s paperwork, and Dave also returned with a student from his last flight of the day. Once all was complete, we headed back to the car to head home after a very successfully day.
Well, after nearly 5 years of having my PPL, I’d finally fulfilled my promise and taken Luned up to her mum’s place for lunch! Hopefully we’ll soon be able to do it properly and go up there for a couple of days, meaning the whole thing would feel a lot less rushed. Door to door in about 3 hours was definitely more pleasant than a 4 or 5 hour drive!
We’d all (hopefully!) had a really pleasant day out, and Harri seemed to enjoy his flight around his local area. The majority of the flight had gone really well, only spoiled by a pretty poor landing to end the day. What’s the bit they say the passengers always remember?
Total flight time today: 3:30
Total flight time to date: 215:40