The awful start to the year’s flying had continued, with more bad weather and the cancellation of another extended trip to North Wales due to my catching a cold the night before. It was very frustrating to make the 5 hour drive up there in glorious weather, feeling particularly sorry for myself!
When this weekend’s weather forecast seemed good, I decided to make a quick check of the Club’s booking system to see if there were any aircraft free (despite ascertaining a weekend or two before that they were all booked). As luck would have it, the Arrow was now free, so after a bit of negotiating with Luned I booked the aircraft.
Sadly Catrin had been unwell for the previous week, so I didn’t think it would be a good idea for her and Luned to come with me. David was already booked to go to a wedding, and some other friends who we’d made lunch plans with for the Saturday had other things to do, so couldn’t spare the time. So Sean became my third choice, and he opted to come along with me.
I dithered a little on choosing the destination, planning both Dunkeswell and Haverfordwest and deciding to make the final decision the following day. The morning dawned bright and clear, with the forecast promising good conditions in virtually every direction. As Sean had previously flown with me to Dunkeswell, I decided to head out towards Wales again, this time visiting Haverfordwest.
The pre-flight planning showed some airspace upgrades around Kemble in the afternoon (an airway above 3000 feet, and Class D from the surface up to 3000 feet). I made a quick call to Kemble to double check the procedures for rejoining while this was in place, unsure whether to make my inital call to Kemble or Brize (both were listed as Controlling Authority for the airspace). The nice lady in Ops told me to contact Brize initially, so I made a note of the airspace times and details on the plog and chart in order to jog my memory on the return leg.
Sean arrived just before me at Kemble, and after some brief introductions we headed in to the Club. After completing the Temporary Membership forms, I took Sean and Sue through to the Departure Lounge where they helped themselves to tea and coffee while I went out to perform the A check on the Arrow.
I took my time again due to the time since I had last flown, ensuring everything was checked properly and trying to get back into the flow of things. There were no problems spotted on the check, and just as I was finishing Sean and Sue joined me at the aircraft, coming airside with another pilot who was about to fly G-VICC.
Sadly, they didn’t have headsets with them, and I needed to return to the Club to sign off the A check too, so I headed back while they stood near the aircraft taking some photos. Once the final chores were complete, we all got settled into the aircraft and I gave them both a pre-flight brief.
G-VICC started just before us, and I soon had the Arrow started without any issues too. As I turned the radios on and began setting up the avionics, I heard G-VICC receive taxy clearance and head off, being a little surprised that 08 was in use today. We were soon cleared to taxy following them, and it became clear that there was an event on at the airfield, as a number of aircraft were approaching to land and being directed to marshallers for parking once they had cleared the runway.
There were 3 or 4 aircraft alongside us on the North apron as we completed the power checks, and we all queued for the runway for a short period. There was no real delay, and once it was our turn I elected to make a short backtrack before departing. Another aircraft was on Downwind in the circuit, so I did my best to get away quickly and not cause them any delay.
The takeoff run was normal, and we climbed away, turning Crosswind and Downwind before climbing out of the circuit. Initially I climbed to about 3000 feet and had to dodge between some clouds, but these soon cleared and I was able to climb up to my planned cruising altitude of 4500 feet. I dialled in the appropriate track to the BCN VOR and established us on course, pointing out some of the landmarks as we flew.
As we approached the Severn, I pointed out the power stations and the bridges before calling Cardiff for a Basic Service. Given the good weather things seemed fairly quiet in the sky, although there were a few aircraft departing from Cardiff. The clouds had all but disappeared on the Welsh side of the Severn, so I elected to descend and give the passengers a better view. The air seemed quite calm despite the high ground, so there was no discomfort.
As we approached BCN, I asked the Cardiff Controller if he had any information on the status of Danger Areas D117 and D118 (those in the vicinity of Pembrey). I received a slightly terse “No idea, don’t even know where they are” in response, and replied that they were near Pembrey, and that I would try to get an update from London Information.
The route I’d planned took us from BCN to Swansea, but I decided to head for the coast instead for a bit of sightseeing (although the view of the various steel works wasn’t exactly picturesque!). As we headed to the coast I tried to contact London Information to see if I could get an update on the danger areas. However I couldn’t hear any response from them, despite hearing transmissions from other aircraft on the frequency.
Eventually I gave up (presumably we weren’t high enough) and switched to Swansea to listen in. On hearing that they were preparing for parachutists to drop I decided to remain clear. I contacted them on the radio just to inform them of where we were, and routed well to the North of the field. We flew over the City itself, spotting what I initially thought was a football ground, before spotting ‘Ospreys’ written in the stands clearly identifying it as a rugby pitch! Luned has since informed me that they actually share the ground, so I was both right and wrong!
We saw the parachute aircraft coming in to land as we were abeam the field to the North, so I signed off from Swansea and switched to Pembrey. I initially had some problems contacting them too, but soon got an answer and received confirmation that D118 (the DA immediately around Pembrey) was indeed inactive. Another pilot on frequency also confirmed that D117 was inactive too (I had checked both in the AIP, and they were only supposed to be active during the week).
We followed the coast to Pembrey, and I pointed out the airfield and race circuit as we approached. We could see some sort of activity at the circuit, so I informed the Controller that we would perform a Clockwise orbit after asking if there was anything to affect it. It looked like there were bikes going around the circuit, checking later showed no events according to their website, so it was probably a track day.
We continued along the coast, and at Sean’s request I descended to 1000 feet to get a nice view of the coastline as we passed along it. We intercepted the track from Pembrey to Haverfordwest (SkyDemon performing well on the Nexus 7 attached to my kneeboard) and as we headed inland I climbed to 2000 feet in readiness for the join.
Although Haverfordwest seemed fairly quiet, I elected to join overhead as I find that’s generally the easiest way to spot an unfamiliar airfield and get a good idea of the layout. On the initial call the A/G operator didn’t give me the circuit direction, so I queried this just to be sure (I had the AFE flight guide page in my kneeboard, but didn’t want to be ‘eyes in’ for too long when approaching an airfield).
For a change I was nicely slowed down as I approached, making for an easy descent on the deadside down to circuit height. The circuit was all routine, and I managed to bring us in for a nice smooth landing, helping to ease any nerves the first time passenger might have!
We parked up on the apron next to a nice looking yellow Cub, and headed in to settle the landing fee and have some lunch. The cafe was relatively busy, and due to the good weather we elected to sit outside. Various combinations of bacon and sausage baps all round, and we chatted in the sun as we ate. Got talking to the owners of the Cub, who were also feeling frustrated at the recent weather we’d been enduring. At least they were here at the airfield to take advantage of the break in the weather! We watched a nice looking helicopter departing, before finishing off and heading back to the aircraft for the return journey.
After a quick walkaround we all climbed on board, and after getting the aircraft started we taxyed to the hold to carry out our power checks. As we approached the hold another aircraft landed and backtracked to taxy towards us (when I landed we had continued to the end of the runway). The power checks were again normal, and I approached the hold after completing the pre-departure checklist.
I reported ready and was told ‘nothing known to affect’, so after a quick check of the circuit I headed out to the runway. Almost immediately another aircraft called Right Base (it was a left hand circuit so I hadn’t spotted them) and as we backtracked I spotted them as they turned Final. Not wanting to inconvenience them, I dropped two stages of flap and turned around to line up before reaching the far end of the runway. I continued the takeoff roll and was soon airborne.
I raised the gear and was a little caught out by the gear warning horn as I started to retract the flaps. I soon realised that the horn was sounding as a warning that flaps were deployed without the landing gear being extended, and as I retracted the last stage of flap the horn stopped as expected. I often find the horn annoying, but hopefully I won’t should I ever forget to lower the landing gear and it starts to warn me of an impending noisy and expensive landing!
As we turned Crosswind I looked over my left shoulder to see the other aircraft still on Short Final, so at least we hadn’t caused them any problems. I continued to climb to 3000 feet on the Downwind leg and set course for Carmarthen, which was the first checkpoint on our route home.
Once established on course and in a level cruise I handed control over to Sean. He had been learning to fly around the time we last flew together, but hadn’t managed to fly much recently. He soon got back into the swing of things though, and despite the relatively thermally conditions did a relatively good job.
As we approached the higher ground, conditions grew slightly more turbulent, and didn’t really improve as we climbed to 3500 and then 4000 feet. I think Sue became a little nervous of Sean being at the controls in the conditions, so I took over on her request. In all honesty I doubt things were much better with the yoke in my hands! Conditions were becoming more overcast as we approached the Severn, but the layer of cloud was well above us, probably at least 5000 feet I would guess.
We had been talking to Cardiff since the turn for BCN at Carmarthen, and the Controller warned us that both Rhigos and Usk glider fields were active today. As conditions seemed near perfect for gliders, I opted to try to give both a wide berth, initially routing further North than intended in order to keep clear of Rhigos.
Sean soon spotted a glider approaching us rapidly from the left, so I turned away from him before spotting him also turning away. I always find it hard to spot gliders, so it was good to have more pairs of eyes in the cockpit to help with the lookout. As we passed the VOR I routed further South than planned to clear Usk, and began a descent to 2500 feet to remain clear of the airway into Kemble that was notified.
The Cardiff Controller warned us of some further traffic ahead of and below us, that was travelling slower and we were therefore catching up. I weaved the nose to the left and right in an attempt to spot it, but none of us managed to get sight of it. As we approached the Severn I signed off from Cardiff and switched to Kemble to try to build up a picture of the traffic in the vicinity. Kemble was easy to spot in the good visibility today, making the approach easier than it sometimes is.
We were arriving before the notified hours of the Class D airspace, so I contacted Kemble for information on the rejoin. They had a number of other aircraft joining, including a jet with a German sounding pilot. As we approached the overhead the Controller asked us to check that we were visual with him ‘Downwind’. I looked in the more usual position for him, but Sean eventually spotted him at a similar height to us and quite wide (which makes sense for a jet in the circuit!).
The extra traffic distracted me somewhat and I had neglected to slow down sufficiently. As a result it became clear that with ‘normal’ descent power I wasn’t going to complete the deadside descent in time, so I was forced to reduce power to idle and suffer the gear warning horn yet again! Crosswind at 1000 feet we were still a little fast, but bringing the nose up to maintain circuit height soon bled the excess speed off.
As we turned and reported Downwind, the FISO notified us that the jet in the circuit would be backtracking after landing. We kept an eye on him as we continued, but as we were turning Base he had already cleared the runway. The rest of the circuit was generally good, but the landing this time was a little bit firmer than the previous one. Rather than brake to attempt to make the first turn off, I elected to take the second, and asked the FISO to taxy for fuel.
He asked us to clear the undershoot to the grass runway as quickly as we could due to a helicopter on Final, so I left the ‘after landing’ checks until just before the turn to the fuel bay. After shutting down I refuelled the aircraft, before Sean and Sue walked to AV8 while I took the airfield back to the parking area.
There never seems to be ‘good’ weather to put the cover back on the aircraft (it’s always either hot, rainy or windy!). Today was in the ‘hot’ category, but I definitely prefer that to the other two! After I’d unloaded all the gear from the aircraft and put the cover back on, I headed into the Club to settle the paperwork before joining Sean and Sue in AV8. I was sadly too late to change my order from Peppermint Tea to Beer, so after chatting to Sean and Sue for a while, I headed home and ended up stopping at a supermarket on the way to stock up on beer!
I have to admit to starting to feel slightly jaded with flying during the course of the year, even to the point where I was beginning to wonder whether I was losing interest. Today’s flight has definitely put paid to that however, and hopefully the weather will pick up and allow me to start catching up on the hours I’ve missed so far this year! The next planned flight is for the Bank Holiday weekend with the family, so hopefully this will come off without any obstacles!
Total flight time today: 2:35
Total flight time to date: 212:10