After regaining currency last week, I was keen to try to get my 2014 flying back on track. A Bank Holiday weekend seemed like an excellent time to take advantage of recent good weather, so I booked the Arrow and persuaded Luned and Catrin to accompany me on a flight on the Sunday.
As the weekend approached, the longer range forecasts looked fairly poor for Sunday, and even Saturday’s TV forecasts suggested that we were in for a cloudy day on the Sunday, despite all the TAFs promising almost perfect flying conditions.
As luck would have it, it was the TAFs that were right, and Sunday dawned bright and clear, with near-perfect flying conditions again. I’d been considering a number of different destinations leading up to the weekend, but eventually chose Conington, scene of my first real ‘Nav’ flight, one of the stops on my QXC and also the destination for my first real flight after gaining the PPL. I’d been back once more recently by myself, but decided to see if it was still the pleasant destination I remembered.
The night before, the pilot who had booked the aircraft immediately before me considerately phoned to check what fuel level I would like. I wanted ideally for Luned to ride in front with me (she generally sits in the back with Catrin), and this would put the aircraft out of forward C of G limits with full fuel. I opted for full tanks on one side, and tabs on the other, meaning we were well within limits and should easily have enough fuel for both legs of the flight.
As ever, I completed all the planning at home, including marking up my new chart and calling Conington for a last minute check on their activities. I refreshed my memory of their slightly unusual Overhead Join procedure, and then loaded us and all our gear into the car for the journey up to Kemble.
On arrival at Kemble, we all headed into the Office, and while Luned entertained Catrin I began preparations for the flight, and immediately ran into a snag. It looked like the previous pilot had taken the keys home with him! Fortunately there was a spare set, so I grabbed those and headed out to do a walkaround, calling the previous pilot on the way to see if he still had the keys. Fortunately he hadn’t yet got too far away, so turned round and brought them back to him. I could have carried out the flight using the spare set, but this didn’t appear to have a key for the baggage area, so would hae been slightly inconvenient.
The check was all Ok (including taking samples of the fuel), and the keys arrived as I was completing it. I returned to the Office, we all went for a last-minute toilet break, and then headed out to the aircraft. I’d tried to make Catrin aware in the days leading up to the flight that Luned would be sitting up front while she sat alone in the back, and as a result she had to promise to be good. This seating arrangement is much more comfortable for her in the Arrow, as when she sits behind me she has very little room for her legs due to how far back I need to have the seat.
The engine took a couple of goes to start (probably due to it not being cold but also not still being fully warm!), but it caught on the second attempt, and as is now normal I had to recycle the master switch to get the ‘Low Volts’ warning light to extinguish. After entering our route into the 430 (I intended to make a point of following the newly-fitted CDI during the flight), we called for our taxy clearance. The taxy route was again up to the hold at Alpha 1 (which Luned queried, as generally when flying with her we’ve joined the runway at Alpha 3). Power checks were all completed Ok, and we were cleared onto the runway behind another departing aircraft.
Once the other aircraft was clear, we began our takeoff roll, rotating and climbing out as normal before retracting the gear after a short dab of the breaks to stop the wheels rotating. We were warned of other traffic arriving from the North East (the direction we would be departing) so I elected to climb out on the Downwind leg (mindful of any other traffic that might be joining) in order to get up above the inbound traffic. As we headed North East towards Chedworth, Luned spotted the inbound traffic below us and slightly to the right.
As we turned at Chedworth and set course direct for the VOR at Daventry, contacting Brize for a Basic Service on the way. They were initially busy, and I was told to ‘Standby’, but the Controller soon came back to us and we set the allocated squawk code. Unsurprisingly in the warm and clear conditions, the flight along this leg was slightly turbulent, meaning that frequent corrections were required to keep the aircraft on an even keel.
One of my main motivations for having Luned join me up front on this flight was to get her to take the controls (she had carried out a number of flights with Dave in the past learning to land, but it had been some time since she had been at the controls). I passed control over to her for a little while on this leg, but she wasn’t really comfortable due to a lack of real horizon (my sunglasses do a good job of ‘cutting through’ hazy conditions, so this wasn’t really apparent to me), so handed control back after a short period. In hindsight, perhaps I should have persisted in having her remain in control, as she ideally needs to be able to handle similar conditions to those I’d be prepared to take us flying in.
I’d deliberately planned a leg from DTY to Bedford in order to bypass Sywell (the direct route would take us through the lateral limits of their ATZ) due to a Wings and Wheels event on there, including a number of NOTAMed air displays during the day. I still elected to listen in to get a feel for their traffic, and was surprised to hear a number of aircraft arriving and even flying circuits. However, just before 12 another aircraft was inbound to Sywell, and he was asked if he was aware of the event, as they would be closing the airfield to movements for 6 hours while the displays went on. He seemed unaware (don’t other pilots read NOTAMs?) but elected to continue and land.
Once clear of Sywell, I switched to the Bedford frequency to monitor it. All was quiet, but as we approached we got a good view of the airfield and its associated motor circuits (it’s operated by Jonathan Palmer as a track day and corporate events venue). I passed by slightly to the left to enable Luned to get some photos of it from her side.
We were now quite close to Conington, so we switched frequencies and announced that we were inbound, only to be asked to ‘standby’. The frequency seemed to settle down as we approached, but we were never called back. I eventually elected to orbit rather than enter the ATZ, and gave them another call. This was fortunately met with the airfield information, and I set us up for the slightly unusual Overhead Join in effect at Conington as we watched an aircraft on the ground holding on the cross runway while another departed.
The join and circuit all went well, particularly pleasing due to the lack of flying I’ve done this year. I brought us in slightly high and fast on Final, but with the gear down the Arrow makes it easy to lose speed, and we landed slightly long but smoothly before being told ‘nothing known to affect a backtrack’. We backtracked to the parking area, being given directions to a suitable space to push ourselves back in to. Once shut down, Luned and I jumped out to push the aircraft back, before retrieving Catrin from the back and heading in for lunch.
We sat outside for a while, Catrin playing happily with a young boy whose family were at the airfield watching the planes, before a table came free inside allowing us to eat there (I’m not a huge fan of eating outside!). We took our time eating, Catrin having an ice cream for ‘pudding’ while I settled the landing fee and updated the chart for the return journey.
After another toilet stop, we headed back out to the Arrow, Catrin and Luned waiting patiently while I carried out a quick walk around, before we all got settled in for the journey back to Kemble. I also snuck in a quick photo of a very nice twin (Baron?) parked up on the apron.
This time the engine started easily, and after the normal power and taxy checks (including recalling and reversing our route in the 430) we took to the runway to depart. Takeoff was normal, and I climbed straight ahead for longer than normal in order to clear the local villages, before setting course back to Bedford.
Luned again proved her worth in the cockpit, spotting gliders and keeping an eye on them for me as we passed by a number of glider sites. Shortly after turning at Bedford, Luned pointed out what looked like a drag strip off to our right. I carried out a quick orbit so that she could get some photos, and a quick glance at the SkyDemon chart suggested that the disused airfield of ‘Poddington’ probably meant we were overhead Santa Pod, possibly the UK’s most famous drag racing strip.
Around this point I noticed that my Nexus had dropped back to its top level screen (not sure if I pressed a button inadvertently or it crashed) so I quickly restarted it and entered navigation mode again. Meanwhile, Catrin’s headset appeared to have stopped transmitting (the peace and quiet was certainly pleasant!) so she amused herself by watching The Empire Strikes Back on her tablet! We continued on, again listening in to Sywell (although all was now quiet on the radio) and I decided to bypass the overhead of the VOR, using the Nav radio on the 430 to intercept and track our outbound course using the newly-fitted CDI.
We passed by more gliders, calling Brize for a Basic service again as we reached Banbury. Again the Brize frequency was busy, and again I was surprised to hear the two other aircraft on frequency (both operating IFR so presumably experienced pilots) blissfully unaware of the RA(T) at Abingdon despite it appearing in the NOTAMs and on the AIS information line (both of which I had obviously dutifully checked during my planning). Around this point Catrin discovered that she could get her headset to transmit by pulling the microphone closer in to her lips (she wears a child’s headset currently, but it now seems that it’s too small to allow the microphone to sit correctly in front of her mouth), so it looks like we need to consider a new headset for her!
As we approached Chedworth again, we signed off with Brize, and easily spotted Kemble off in the distance. They were still operating on 26 so a slightly protracted route was required to set up for the Overhead Join. However, this did give us plenty of opportunity to get a feel for the traffic below us. As we neared the end of our Deadside descent, G-ELUE took off below use. I wasn’t sure if it was joining the circuit or departing, so I had Luned keep an eye on it as it appeared below us on her side. It soon became clear they were departing, as the FISO informed them that their flight plan had been activated (I later learned that they were heading for an Overnight stay on the Isle of Man).
Again the circuit and approach went well, with the exception of me forgetting to lower the third stage of flaps (despite repeating the ‘Reds, Blues, Greens, Flaps’ mantra a number of times on Final). As a result, the landing ended up slightly ‘floaty’, but again the final touchdown was smooth. The FISO cleared us for a backtrack, and as we reversed direction on the runway another aircraft was asked to hold on Golf to allow us to pass on Alpha. We taxyed back to the parking area before shutting down.
Catrin proved her usefulness, being helpful in refuelling the aircraft (fetching some chocks, attaching the bonding clamp and holding the fuel hose while I refuelled) as I explained all the things I was doing. She then ‘helped’ push the aircraft back to its parking space before passing the various straps for the cover under the aircraft!
We then all grabbed our gear, dropping off the majority of it in the car, before heading to the Office to finalise the paperwork and leave payment for the flight. We finally retired to a local pub so that Catrin could have some food (including an enormous portion of Banana and Chocolate Sponge Cake with ice cream!) while Luned and I enjoyed a refreshing (alchoholic!) beverage.
As usual, another really pleasant flight with the family. The weather really couldn’t have been better, and Catrin generally behaved well sitting in the back by herself. This again means that the Arrow is a realistic aircraft for the three of us to travel in together, so hopefully we can continue to use it in future. Next time we fly I need to try and get Luned to spend more time at the controls, but otherwise it was a really successful day, and was nice to be returning to Conington once again where we received the usual warm welcome. Now I just need to keep up the recent momentum to see if I can build up a good spell of flying again!
Total flight time today: 2:10
Total flight time to date: 236:45