It had been a long time since I’d last flown (due to a combination of holiday, other commitments, weather and minor ailments), and as a result I was now out of Arrow currency and perilously close to dropping out of Warrior and Passenger Carrying currency too.
This was the last weekend I would be able to do anything about it, and fortunately the Weather Gods smiled on me and gave me a clear (if cold) day to get some flying in.
Due to the long time since my last flight, I decided on a short hop to somewhere familiar, and Wellesbourne seemed the obvious choice. On checking my logbook, I realised that I hadn’t actually been there since August 2012!
We were in the middle of a period of cooler weather, and my main concern leading up to the flight was icy conditions, in particular the accumulation of any ice or frost on the aircraft. Luckily the day of the flight dawned bright and clear (as promised) with the added advantage of not having any frost, so there was no need to clear the car and (hopefully) would be no need to clear the aircraft either.
As it was just a short hop, we took our time getting ready, and arrived at Kemble at around the time our booking started (rather than earlier as I would normally do). I took my time loading all the gear into the aircraft and giving it a thorough check, before heading back to the Club to collect Luned and Catrin from the office. After our usual toilet stop before boarding, we all walked out to the aircraft and got settled in.
I ran through the checklist carefully (a combination of not having flown for a while and being more familiar with the Arrow these days), and the engine started easily. I was just about to call for airfield information and taxy clearance, when Catrin piped up from the back ‘I need the toilet!”.
After confirming that she really did need to go, I shut down the engine, and Luned took Catrin to the toilet before we all loaded up for the second time. After some messing around trying to locate my lost sunglasses, we were finally ready again, and the engine started up easily for the second time in just a few minutes.
As I was waiting to make the call for taxy, I heard the FISO announce a change of runway from 26 to 08 (less convenient for us as it requires a relatively long taxy to the other end of the airfield). They were quite busy, so it took me a while to get the radio calls in, but this gave the engine chance to warm up a little so was no bad thing.
We taxyed down the grass taxyway to the Western end of the field, carrying out our power checks on the North Apron along side another aircraft, watching him depart to the hold just as I was finished. The frequency was now incredibly busy with a lot of arriving and circuit traffic, and after being cleared to the hold we we waiting for 5 or 10 minutes before there was a sufficient lull to enable us both to take off in turn.
The Easterly departure did at least mean we only had to make a left turn to get straight onto the planned track, and as we climbed away I took the first opportunity I could to announce my frequency change so as not to get stuck on frequency.
As we approached the Chedworth disused airfield, I signed in with Brize for a Basic Service, and we noticed a lot of low lying fog in the Cheltenham and Gloucester area. It looked a little surreal to have most of the area clear of fog, but just the basin around Gloucester Airfield covered in it. It almost looked like the sea from our vantage point. I wondered if it was affecting Gloucester’s operations at all, as David had planned a flight to the Continent today.
Brize were relatively quiet, although I heard someone on a NavEx from Oaksey reporting on frequency. There was a NOTAM for parachute jumping over several days at Little Rissington, but I’d called the number that morning to check whether there was any activity planned for today. They’d told me they were operating out of Weston for the day, so I stuck with my more direct route, that took me within 5 or 6 miles of Little Rissington.
We were soon approaching the next turning point at the Moreton in Marsh disused airfield, so I signed off with Brize and listened in on Wellesbourne. They seemed quite quiet (for a change!) but it took me a couple of attempts to make contact with them. I received the airfield information (they’d switched runways since my call earlier in the morning) and I set about spotting the field and planning the approach.
The airfield was a little difficult to spot in the low lying haze, but with the help of SkyDemon and a little previous knowledge, I soon identified it and positioned myself in readiness for an overhead join for runway 18 with a right hand circuit.
As we approached the airfield, another aircraft announced it was overhead, and Luned spotted it and kept an eye on it for me as it made its descent on the dead side. I announced overhead myself, just as the other aircraft announced that if was Downwind for 36. Although I was fairly sure this was just a slip of the tongue (based on his flight path so far it was clear he was joining for 18) I queried the runway in use with the FISO (‘confirm active on runway 36′?) just to be sure.
I carried out the usual wide deadside descent to avoid Wellesbourne itself, and positioned myself on Downwind as the other aircraft was on Short Final. I carried out the pre-landing checks and continued around the circuit, setting us up for a rather high approach to the runway. I used a small amount of side-slip to lose height, before bringing us down for a slightly firm (but perfectly acceptable to me!) landing on the runway.
I continued to the far end as per the FISO’s instructions, and then parked on the grass as usual (although a bit further from the Cafe than normal!).
We all disembarked, and walked in to the Cafe for some lunch. They were busy as ever, but we managed to grab a table without waiting, and all enjoyed a leisurely lunch. Due to the short flight time on the return leg, there was no need to rush, so we chatted and Catrin enjoyed being showed which airfields we’d visited on the chart they had under the glass top on our table. Luned and Catrin opted for ‘afters’ (cake for Luned, and a KitKat for Catrin!), and once suitably fed and watered we headed back to the aircraft.
I phoned Kemble to book in for a couple of circuits when we returned so as to fully reset my passenger currency (to carry passengers I have to have made 3 take offs and landings in the 90 days prior to any flight), and after a quick walkaround we all mounted up.
The engine started easily, there was no need for an emergency toilet stop this time, so after the appropriate radio calls we taxyed to the hold. Another aircraft was ahead, and a third followed us preparing to depart. There was little wind so I positioned the aircraft so that Catrin could get a good view of the Vulcan on the ground while I did the power checks (rather than pointing into wind as is more normal) and the aircraft ahead took to the runway as I completed the checks.
Once at the hold I announced our readiness, and we lined up and departed without any delay. There was some low lying fog and mist around as we climbed out, and as we got higher it was also clear that visibility into sun wasn’t particularly good. I opted to leave the landing light on for the whole flight to enable us to be more easily spotted, and used SkyDemon to confirm the track on each leg due to the more tricky conditions.
We spoke to Brize again on the return, but they were very quiet and had little to say to us. I managed to leave the carb heat hot during one of the FREDA checks, something I only noticed a little later when doing a quick once over of the controls. Approaching Chedworth we signed off and contacted Kemble, they were still operating on the Easterly runway and requested I join Overhead. Spotting the airfield was a little tricky given the poor visibility, but we were soon entering the Overhead and preparing for the descent on the deadside.
Things started to get a little busier, and I was forced to have a few words with Catrin about remaining quiet while we were in the circuit. The FISO always seemed to preempt my planned position reports by a few seconds, asking for my position as I was just about to report both Downwind and Base on the first circuit. Luned continued to prove her worth, spotting traffic bringing it to my attention.
The first approach was good, although possibly a little fast as we seemed to float longer than I would have liked. The touchdown was near perfect however, nice to know I can still do it! I retracted the flaps and increased power to go around for another landing, doing my best to steer clear of the noise sensitive areas.
Looking at the GPS track, I seem to have extended the Downwind leg much longer than I should have on the second circuit. I had to call Final a couple of times due to getting blocked on the frequency, but eventually got the call in. The last part of the approach was better this time, and I landed gently with little float, giving myself plenty of time to turn off at the second turning.
Due to the busyness of the frequency I was unable to request taxy clearance to the fuel pumps, so turned off with a view to stopping at the hold line and getting further instructions. This caused the FISO some concern however, as he had another aircraft leaving the North Apron at the time, which put us head to head (although I was visual with him at all times).
I was instructed to hold, and then eventually given the taxy instructions to head to the pumps. I’m not sure what else I could have done in that situation, short of stopping on the runway waiting for instructions (something that doesn’t seem like a good idea either!). I must do some research to see what the correct course of action would have been.
Catrin and Luned huddled together for warmth as I refuelled (noticing that on the return flight I’d neglected to change tanks at any point, a potentially serious omission), then we all got back on board and taxyed back to the parking area. Just before shutting down I apologised to the FISO for the earlier mix up, receiving the response “Not to worry, another busy day!”. It certainly was!
Luned and Catrin headed back to the Club as I cleared all our gear out and put the aircraft to bed, before I headed back myself to complete the final paperwork for the flight.
This was a relatively routine day’s flying, although the busyness at Kemble at the start and end certainly kept me on my toes. Once again the relatively long layoff had shown itself by my making a couple of potentially serious omissions (failing to switch fuel tanks and not returning carb heat to cold) but on the whole my flying was pretty good I thought. I certainly made much better landings on the 2nd and 3rd attempts!
This may well turn out to be my last flight of the year, as things always seem to get busy on the run up to Christmas. Maybe I’ll have chance to squeeze in another flight before the New Year.
Total flight time today: 2:00
Total flight time to date: 230:15