A combination of poor weather and a minor ankle injury had meant that the start of 2013 was pretty frustrating, not helped by almost perfect flying conditions yesterday and an iced over runway at Kemble! The weather forecast looked promising for today, with some strong winds, so I decided to try to make a short flight to fit in with a toddler’s birthday party in the afternoon.
The winds were a little concerning, and I checked with David who had another aircraft booked for a flight with another Club Member (another Dave!). On arriving at Kemble the wind was fairly strong, and David and Dave were in the Club’s ‘departure lounge’ discussing their flight. Despite the strength of the winds, they were straight down the runway, so I wasn’t too concerned about flying in those conditions. I opted for a quick flight to Gloucester before returning to Kemble to fly a couple of circuits to reset my 90 day passenger currency also (to be legal to carry passengers, I have to have made 3 landings in the 90 days prior to any flight).
David and Dave opted to also fly to Gloucester in G-VICC, with David flying there and back before a crew change at Kemble and Dave repeating the process later. They headed out to the aircraft as I finished off my preparations and followed them. Someone had parked the Club’s Bulldog in a very strange manner, with one of the wings overhanging the taxyway (aircraft are usually ‘reversed’ onto the grass to keep the taxyway clear). As a result, David had a fairly tight gap to aim for when departing, and if he hadn’t been leaving it would have been impossible for me to get through the gap with the Arrow.
I took my time with the walkaround due to having not flown for 6 weeks or so, and the Arrow had also been on the ground for a couple of weeks. Apart from having to take 3 fuel samples from one of the tanks due to small bubbles of water, everything else was normal. I taxyed out to the D Site Apron for power checks as usual, before being cleared out to the hold. The fire crew were on the runway in an attempt to clear birds, and I had to hold for a short time before the runway was clear and I was ready to depart.
The quoted wind was in gusting in the high 20s knots, and my takeoff roll was incredibly short due to the extra airspeed generated by a 20 or so knot headwind! I flew an abbreviated circuit to the left, climbing to 2000 feet as I headed North. Quick glances at the Garmin 430 and my SkyDemon GPS showed that both weren’t functioning correctly, but I continued without worrying too much as it was only a short flight, and I had the ADF as a backup.
I switched box 2 over to Gloucester’s ATIS and muted it using the audio panel, before trying to inform Kemble of a frequency change on box 1. I tried 3 times without receiving a response, so toggled box 2 back to the Kemble frequency and tried again. This time I received a response, and the FISO informed me that he had heard me and had been responding. I assumed there was an issue with comms on the 430, so continued using box 2. I switched back to Gloucester’s ATIS and took down the details, before attempting to use the ADF as a steer to the field.
I was caught somewhat by surprise when it appeared that the ADF also wasn’t working correctly. It was receiving a good ident, and was definitely pointing (pressing the ‘test’ button caused the needle to swing, and releasing it would swing it back to the same direction). However based on my current position just North of Kemble, there was no way that Gloucester could be off to my right! I have to admit to a brief moment of panic as I was uncertain of my precise position (a downside of learning to rely on the GPS!), not helped by the fact that Kemble had now disappeared off to my left as I was looking straight into the sun.
A quick glance at the 430 showed why I had problems using it for Comms. I had neglected to turn up the volume, but hadn’t noticed because I’d also set the audio panel to monitor Com 2. As a result, I was transmitting on the ground using the 430, but hearing the responses coming back on Com 2. Once in the air, I turned off the Com 2 monitor feature, and as a result couldn’t hear the transmissions.
Radio issues sorted, I set about fixing my position and routing towards Gloucester. Cheltenham and Gloucester are easy towns to spot, so I headed for them with a view to locating the airfield as I got closer. Obviously the distraction of the radio had been more than I’d thought, as it’s clear from the GPS track that I’d actually turned through over 90 degrees while trying to fix my position. As a result I’d mis-reported my position as East of Gloucester when in fact I was to the South.
Once I cleared this up with the Controller, I was cleared for a Crosswind join at Gloucester. It took me a little while to work this out, as for some reason I’d convinced myself that Gloucester had a left hand circuit when in fact it was to the right. I got slowed down nicely and crossed abeam the runway at 1000 feet, turning onto the Downwind leg and completing the pre-landing checks, realising that I’d also neglected to turn off the fuel pump after leaving Kemble.
I decided to land with just 2 stages of flap due to the winds, and probably went further downwind than was necessary. As a result the Final leg took quite a while into the strong headwind! I was on a nice approach profile and brought the aircraft in for a very gentle (if a little floaty) touchdown. Just as I touched down, a helicopter came on frequency requesting departure details (and needing a repeat).
I heard the Controller tell him that he should expect me to backtrack, but wasn’t sure if I could take this as permission to do so, so continued down the runway slowly until the frequency cleared and I was instructed to backtrack. I was helpfully marshalled into a parking space alongside G-VICC, and headed in to the offices for a bit of a break before the return flight.
I met up with David and Dave, and we headed over to the Cafe. I realised I had enough time for a quick bite to eat, so we all sat and talked over sandwiches. Once suitably refilled (and SkyDemon working again!) I planned the direct return flight to Kemble, phoning them to arrange a couple of circuits on my arrival. David and Dave left shortly before me, and I walked out to give the Arrow a quick once over before snapping a shot of some rather exotic looking aircraft parked near me!
Gloucester were now using runway 22, which meant an easy outbound turn onto a direct track for Kemble. It was pretty turbulent on climbout, with a fairly significant crosswind meaning I needed a large crab angle to maintain the runway track, before turning on course as I reached 2500 feet. A HeliMed was on frequency, inbound from the Stroud area, but I didn’t catch sight of him.
For some reason, the 430 was also playing ball, so I now had two devices to help me head back to Kemble (although typically Kemble was now easy to spot!). I detoured slightly to the left to avoid Aston Down, before contacting Kemble to get the airfield information. I was the only aircraft on frequency, but opted for an Overhead join rather than a shorter Crosswind join again. I was asked to report Downwind as I began to descend on the deadside, and as I was routing Crosswind another aircraft came on frequency making ready to depart.
The FISO asked me for a position report just as I was making the Downwind turn, and I again completed the before landing checks, making ready for the landing. The noise abatement circuit at Kemble is now pretty familiar and I followed it around, getting nicely lined up on Final and reporting this to the FISO. The strength of the wind reported to me came as a bit of a surprise, so I opted to make this a full stop landing rather than spend more time than necessary in the air in the conditions.
Again my ground speed was very low as I approached the runway, and it almost felt like I was flying a helicopter due to the low forward speed! Again I made a very gentle touchdown, and vacated second right to allow the other aircraft to enter the runway and backtrack once I passed. I refuelled before backtracking myself to get to our parking area.
David and Dave had very helpfully repositioned the Bulldog, meaning it was easy to line the Arrow up for its parking space. I received excellent service from them again, as the pushed my back into the space while I gathered my gear together and tidied up the cockpit. They had abandoned their planned second flight due to the strong wings, and Dave helped me with the cover for the Arrow (always incredibly useful when its windy!)
We headed into the office to settle up the paperwork, and I said a brief hello to some of the people from the Bristol Aero Club (who have recently moved to Kemble now that Filton has closed) before saying my goodbyes to head back to Swindon for the party!
On the whole I’m glad I made this flight, although I definitely wouldn’t have done so if I were planning a more distant destination. Despite the strong winds, the forecast was for it to remain pretty much straight down the runway all day, so I wasn’t concerned about being able to return. The conditions were certainly a little challenging, but its always good to try to expand your comfort zone. Although I’d made a few minor slips (including perhaps not being quite as well prepared for the GPS failures as I should have been) the flight as a whole went well, and it was good to be able to handle the landings smoothly given the conditions.
Total flight time today: 1:05
Total flight time to date: 208:00