It had been a while since I’d flown with David, we kept trying to make plans but always had problems finding a date that we were both free. Everything lined up when he offered to take a friend flying in the Arrow on Saturday, and asked if I wanted to come along to share the flying. When he suggested Caernarfon as the destination the deal was done.
Leading up to the weekend, the weather always looked better on the Sunday, but sadly David’s passenger couldn’t make it, so we kept waiting to see if Saturday would turn out to be flyable. By Friday this was looking doubtful (particularly over North Wales) so we postponed the trip to Sunday. As luck would have it this turned out to be good for me, as I was laid low with a bit of a stomach bug on Saturday anyway. Luckily this cleared towards the end of Saturday, so we looked good to go on the Sunday.
The weather forecast on Sunday couldn’t have been much better. The majority of the country was forecasting clear skies, with the odd patches of cloud around North Wales. Given that we both hold IMC Ratings the decision was taken to go ahead with the flight. We would either fly in or above the clouds where necessary, or chicken out and take a lower level route out to the coast and then North.
Due to the distance and the fact that sunset was only 16:20, we aimed for an early start. In the days previous we had considered making this a multi-leg trip (perhaps including West Wales or Haverfordwest) but opted for the simpler trip to Caernarfon. This had the added advantage of meaning we wouldn’t feel rushed at any of the destinations, and could take in a bit of sightseeing too where possible.
So the final plan was for me to fly the leg from Kemble to Caernarfon, with a bit of sightseeing around Snowdonia. We would then have lunch and David would fly the return leg, taking in a trip around Anglesey and a less direct return route down the West Coast of Wales before cutting across.
I left the house around 8:45 (on a Sunday!), arriving at Kemble around 10 minutes after David. He carried out the A check while I gave Caernarfon a call to get the latest information from them. We both grabbed a spare headset before heading out and getting settled in, pulling the aircraft off the grass (with some difficulty!) before we boarded.
Before starting the engine I entered a way-point at Tal-y-bont near Aberystwyth (in case we needed to head for the coast) and then the route from Kemble to Caernarfon via Gloucester and Welshpool (pretty much a straight line). I entered this as the active flight plan, assuming it would be saved when I powered down the unit. Sadly it wasn’t!
The engine started up easily, and David entered the route into the 430 while I was taxying. I was cleared direct to Alpha 1 (unusual in that we are usually cleared to the D-site apron for checks, before lining up via Alpha 3). I stopped in front of a row of parked airliners and cargo planes, and waited for the engine to warm up enough to carry out the power checks. I made a point of copying the active flight plan into a saved location for later also.
The power checks were all completed normally, and we taxyed up to the hold. I had heard other aircraft taxying around the airfield so expected to have to wait my turn, but we were cleared onto the runway immediately. I reported ‘lined up’ only to be told (again!) that I would have to hold to allow birds to be cleared from the runway. I kept my eyes and ears peeled looking for other traffic in the circuit, as I really don’t like sitting on an active runway with my back to potential landing aircraft for too long!
We were soon cleared to depart (with a warning of birds in the area) and I took off, making a right turn out to clear Aston Down before heading direct to Gloucester. I had planned the flight at 5000 feet in order to clear Snowdon by a good margin, and there was no real downside in doing this as the worst wind forecast at altitude was only 10 or 15 knots.
I think David was trying to get his own back for me picking him up on things occasionally, as he was quick to point out that I was at 1500 feet or so with the fuel pump still on (generally this is turned off around 1000 feet), and was also a bit keen to get me to sign off from Kemble (we were still inside the ATZ at the time!).
We continued the climb, setting the ADF for Gloucester and calling them for a Basic Service. We were up at 5000 feet by the time we reached their overhead, and once we reported this were asked to report abeam Malvern.
The skies were pretty quiet given the good conditions (although it was still quite early!), and the Controller at Gloucester asked us who we were planning to work next as we reached Great Malvern. I opted for Welshpool, and she signed off with us and we changed frequency. I continued towards the checkpoint at Ludlow, with it arriving pretty much bang on time, with SkyDemon and the 430 both assisting us in keeping on track.
We could hear other aircraft talking to Welshpool as we approached, but couldn’t hear any transmissions from the ground. The airfield is in a valley so it’s possible that this was preventing us from hearing them. In the end we didn’t actually talk to them, as up at over 5000 feet we were well out of their ATZ and unlikely to conflict with any joining or departing traffic!
Once clear of Welshpool there was really nobody left to talk to until we reached Caernarfon (as we had been told not to expect any reply from Valley at the weekend). We tinkered a little with the relatively new audio panel, with David using it to be able to talk on COM2 while I was using COM1. He had some trouble contacting London Information to confirm the regional pressure setting due to how busy they were. They offered a service but given their workload we declined. This feature on the audio panel is a useful one if two pilots are in the aircraft, and worked well despite a small amount of ‘bleed through’ of David’s transmissions into my headset.
As we continued on towards Snowdonia, it became clear that there was quite a lot of cloud ahead of us around the peaks. Things remained pretty clear until around Bala, where a decision had to be taken as to whether to continue through the cloud, or attempt to find another route and remain VFR.
As we passed over the lake at Bala, there was still plenty of clear skies out to the West, and we could easily see a route out to the coast below the clouds should it be necessary. As a result, we elected to continue, with the option of reversing course to Bala and heading back to the coast should it not be possible to descend safely for Caernarfon.
We climbed through the initial cloud, soon emerging above the broken layer. We continued past the power station at Trawsfynydd, with the cloud layer getting lower and more broken as we proceeded. We began to descend in steps in order to maintain clearance above the Restricted Area around the power station, and a tall 2000 ft high mast on the approach to Caernarfon.
We spoke briefly to Valley just in case they were operating, and received a simple response that they were closed, but did have Search and Rescue operations at the field today. Although the cloud was quite thick to our right around the mountains, we now had plenty of gaps to descend through, and could soon see Caernarfon approaching on the coast. The cloud did mean our plans to fly around Snowdon itself were scuppered though sadly.
The active runway at Caernarfon had changed since my earlier phone call, and I voiced my plan for the approach to David who agreed that I had it correct. We descended to 1800 feet out over the sea, and flew past the airfield to set up for the Overhead Join. They had one aircraft departing and another operating on a photo survey at 500 feet as we approached.
David helped keep an eagle eye on the other aircraft as I once again neglected to get the speed off before reaching the overhead. I managed to get us down to circuit height without too much extra speed, bleeding the remainder off on the Downwind leg before completing the before landing checks and lowering the gear. In hindsight, lowering the gear in the overhead might have been a better idea, as this would have helped reduce the speed.
As we proceeded around the circuit we had a good view of the partially constructed wind farm on the field, very close to the other runway. Although only the towers are there at the moment, they look worryingly close to the runway. It will be interesting to see just how close they are once the blades go on!
The remainder of the circuit went well, although I thought I was too high on Final (something I used to consistently do, but more recently seem to have reverted to ‘dragging it in’ somewhat). However, the height was easily lost with a glide descent, and I brought us in for a gentle but slightly flat touchdown at Caernarfon. We were asked to park in bay 4 (feel like an airliner!) and David checked on his printed airfield plan as to where that was. As it turned out the bays were all clearly numbered, so ours wasn’t hard to find.
We shutdown in the well-prepared parking bay, and headed in for some well earned lunch after settling the landing fee. David opted for a very substantial looking Sunday lunch, but given my stomach problems of the day before I played it safe and opted for a ham sandwich!
It was nice to be able to take our time over lunch and have a chat about this and that. We were aiming to be back before 4, with the en-route portion of the flight likely to take around an hour. Add in half an hour to tour Anglesey, and with a bit of safety margin we aimed to leave Caernarfon around 2pm. This gave us a good couple of hours to have a leisurely lunch, before we headed back to the aircraft to get set for the return flight.
David carried out a quick walk around, before we got ourself settled in the aircraft. We now each had a SkyDemon device, and I loaded the reverse route into the 430 (although David planned to head down the coast so it wasn’t particularly accurate). Once ready, we taxyed to the hold for 26 where David carried out the power checks. Things were pretty quiet, so we headed out onto the runway and departed.
I managed to get my own back on David for picking me up on a couple of mistakes earlier, when he neglected to raise the gear as we climbed out over the coast. We turned North East and began to follow the Menai Straits in readiness for an anticlockwise tour of the island. After getting some photos of Luned’s mum’s place, we continued around past Biwmaris (where Luned and I were married) and Puffin Island.
We had to climb to keep clear of the Restricted Area at the Wylfa power station, and then headed South to complete our tour of the Island. We gave Valley a quick call to see if we could receive a transit of their ATZ, but (as expected) received no reply. The cloud base was high enough to allow us to pass through the Overhead above the ATZ. It would be nice to be able to practice an approach in there if at all possible.
As we continued around the Island, I managed to get some good photos of the Tŷ Croes race circuit, the scene of the only awards I ever received during my Sprinting career (Best Beginner the first year and Best Novice the second!). We remained clear of Caernarfon Airport to the West as we crossed the water to begin tracking the coast for the return to Kemble.
We had to delay our crossing of the Lleyn Peninsula due to cloud inland obscuring the high ground. We continued along the coast until we could see a clear path across that kept us clear of cloud. We passed near Pwllheli and their large marina, before cutting the corner to head towards Llanbedr. There is a former military airfield there, that has recently been acquired by the same people that run Kemble. However due to objections from the Snowdon Society, it appears unlikely that the field will become available to GA anytime soon. This is a real shame, as it looks like a fantastic facility, that would be an excellent place to visit.
Heading South along the coast we passed Barmouth and eventually turned inland at Aberystwyth. This was where Luned and I first met in the mid 1990s while she was at University there, and I managed to get some good shots of the Halls of Residence where she was living at the time.
As we turned inland, the cloud was still an issue, so we climbed to 5500 feet to keep well clear of the terrain in the area. We wound our way through the clouds, climbing and descending and adjusting our course to keep clear of the cloud where possible. We managed to get regular views of the ground through the broken cloud layer, eventually making our next turn overhead Lane Farm, allowing us to thread the gap between the Danger Areas at Sennybridge, Credenhill and Pontrilas. Our last turn on this ‘dog leg’ was around Abergavenny, and we now had a straight run back to Kemble.
Using the split COM feature of the audio panel I spoke to Cardiff (with some confusion over frequencies meaning I had to be passed over to the correct one), and was initially given a squawk before this was changed once the Controller realised we were IFR. We continued on a Basic Service for a short while, but it appeared that we would have to travel through cloud on this leg, so I attempted to upgrade to a Traffic Service. Sadly we were on the edge of their radar cover, so the Controller was unable to provide this, suggesting I contact Bristol. I was just about to switch over and contact them when David suggested we not bother, as it became clear that the layer of cloud was breaking up and we were likely to be able to complete the flight VFR.
As we approached the Severn, we could easily spot the bends through the growing gaps in the clouds. By the time we crossed into England we were back in clear skies as if we were being welcomed home! We flew over Nympsfield at around 5000 feet before beginning our descent into Kemble. We were treated to a light jet departing straight towards us as we approached from the West, he broke right to pass us but sadly I failed to get a decent photo of it.
David brought us in for a nice Overhead Join and circuit, and we heard two of the other Lyneham aircraft preparing to depart (seemed a bit strange for people to be starting to fly on such a gorgeous day with only an hour or so of daylight remaining!). David announced our position more often than the FISO requested, due to there being a few other aircraft joining at the same time (something which I would certainly do myself also, better to give people a more complete picture of where everyone is).
David completed a nice circuit, but the landing was a little firm. David thought he was cutting power a little early during the roundout (due to the Cherokee style wing on the Arrow it doesn’t ‘float’ like the Warriors do) and wondered if he needed to go up with an Instructor for some circuit practice. I suggested that he probably didn’t need an Instructor with him, just needed to do a few circuits to try to hone the technique.
We refuelled the aircraft and taxyed back to parking, taking advantage of the other two aircraft recently leaving by using one of the easier parking areas (that just involve pushing the aircraft back until the rear wheels just leave the hard surface, rather than all the way onto the grass). It was a lot easier putting the cover on with two, and Luned and Catrin arrived just as we were heading back to the office to settle the paperwork. Once everything was completed we retired to AV8 for a well earned drink and some cake!
I have to say this was one of the most enjoyable flights I’ve had recently. The weather for the initial portion of the flight was excellent, but as the cloud increased it was very good to have another pilot on board to discuss the options and have confidence that I was making a good decision in continuing. Caernarfon was a really pleasant airfield to visit, and I’ll definitely be back, hopefully with the family to enable us to visit Luned’s family without a 5 hour drive to get there! I just hope the appearance of the wind-farm on the airfield itself isn’t a sign of things to come.
Total flight time today: 1:30
Total flight time to date: 205:25