One of the things I’d wanted to do this year was to offer a flight as a prize in a raffle to raise funds for the PTA at Catrin’s school. There’s an AIC that details all the requirements to carry out a charity flight, as well as a blanket permission for all flights which meet all of the criteria in the AIC. One of the requirements is for the pilot to have 200 hours as PIC. At the time the raffle was to take place, I only had around 185 hours, which meant I had to apply for specific permission to carry out the flight.
After exchanging a few emails with the GA unit at the CAA, I submitted the application for permission and awaited a response. A few weeks later I’d been granted the required permission, allowing the flight to be advertised as a prize in the raffle. I created a couple of single page flyers for the school to use (one to advertise the flight as a prize, and a second containing contact details to be given to the winner). The day after the raffle I received a letter from Olga, the mother of a couple of children that attend Catrin’s school.
We exchanged a number emails over the coming weeks, and met up at a local pub to discuss the flight in detail. We eventually came up with a plan to try to carry out the flight on the Bank Holiday at the end of May. Accompanying me would be Olga and her two daughters. I was initially concerned about carrying two young passengers (the prize notification had stipulated that only one of the passengers could be a ‘non-adult’). My concern was unfounded, when it turned out that second daughter was actually attending University, so could quite reasonably be considered a ‘responsible adult’!
Olga had no firm idea as to where she’d like to fly, so I drew up a plan that initially took us over Swindon, before heading West over Lyneham towards Filton, and then returning to Kemble. One of the stipulations for the flight is that it must be a ‘local’ flight only (i.e. starting and ending at the same airfield) and not extend more than 25nm from that airfield.
The weather forecast for the day seemed almost ideal, with little wind, slightly cooler temperatures than recently and the lowest cloud being around 3000 to 3500 feet. I had suggested that we fly fairly late in the day, so as not to be subject to too much turbulence caused by heating of the ground, and around lunchtime the weather looked distinctly worse than forecast, with low cloud seeming to be present around Swindon. I contacted Sarah at Kemble, and she had a chat with Glen regarding the actual conditions. He had been flying that day, and said that the cloudbase was up at above 3000 feet, and even that layer was broken. As a result I decided to head to Kemble to attempt the flight, and informed Olga as such.
Olga arrived with her husband and the rest of the family just as I was parking up at a very busy Kemble. I suggested they head in to AV8 for a drink while I went out to prepare the aircraft. I carried out a full check, and readied the headsets for all the passengers. Once I was happy, I headed over to AV8 myself to give them a thorough brief regarding the flight. I did my best to reduce Olga’s obvious nervousness, before we all walked out to the aircraft. I got Olga and Yeva settled in the back, before getting in myself and allowing Polina to board last.
We got the door closed, and mindful of the fact that things were warming up now with 4 of us on board, I got the engine going quickly to try to get some air flowing through the aircraft. The engine started very easily, and we received taxy instructions that luckily involved passing AV8 on the way to runway 26, enabling the passengers to wave to Mark and Ethan as we passed.
I carried out the power checks near A1, and after a quick check that everyone was ready, we took to the runway. Before I had chance to announce ‘lined up’ as requested, the FISO gave me the wind and I announced we were taking off. There was little wind, which made it easy for me to make a straightforward take off, and we took to the air without any drama. I followed the circuit around to the Downwind leg, climbing up to 2000 feet and setting course for Swindon. As we levelled off at 2000 feet, the clouds were a good 1000 feet above us, which proved that the decision to make the flight was the correct one.
Swindon soon came into view, and I set about finding a recognisable landmark to orient myself. The old Renault distribution centre (now a children’s play area!) is easy to spot, and this was the first thing that caught my eye. From there it was easy to spot Catrin’s school, and the Link Centre (ice rink and swimming pool) behind. From there I did my best to head in the general direction of Olga’s house, and she announced from the back that she had spotted it. I carried out a left hand turn to enable Yena to see it from her side, and we then headed out of Swindon towards Lyneham.
Olga was surprised at how large Royal Wootton Bassett looked from the air as we passed by, and I then pointed out Lyneham to them, in particular the large solar panels that are now easily visible from above. We continued West towards Bristol, passing close by Hullavington and Castle Combe, where there were single seater cars racing on the circuit. From there we continued on until I could point out the now disused Filton, including the Concorde that can be clearly seen on the ground. All the while I was doing my best to give my passengers a bit of a commentary on what they could see, hoping that this would reassure them that the flight was proceeding normally without any cause for concern.
We’d used up almost half of the planned 1 hour flight, so I pointed the aircraft back in the general direction of Kemble, and began to listen out on frequency to get a picture of the traffic at the airfield. I spotted a small aircraft passing about 500 feet below us, and pointed it out to the others as it appeared on the right hand side. As it passed below it changed direction to parallel our track, so I asked them to keep an eye on it, changing heading as it passed under the wing in order to keep it in sight.
We flew by Tetbury as we neared Kemble, and as they were still operating on runway 26 with a left-hand circuit I positioned the aircraft to approach with the airfield on our left. Mindful of Olga’s nervousness whenever the aircraft turned I made sure she was aware that I’d have to make a relatively steep turning descent in order to position ourselves for landing. One of Lyneham’s Warriors was just touching down for a touch and go as we reached the Overhead, and after the Deadside descent we slotted in nicely behind him on the Downwind leg.
He seemed to be going a little slower than us, so I reduced speed slightly to ensure we didn’t catch him up. We turned Base and Final behind him, and I began to worry that if this was actually a full-stop landing rather than a touch and go, I might not have left enough space for him to backtrack to Lyneham’s parking area. Luckily he was carrying out a further touch and go, and was just taking off again as I reported Final.
I told my passengers that I’d have to go quiet now to concentrate on the landing, and explained that I was deliberately landing further down the runway than the aircraft ahead of us had done (in order to be able to vacate at the far end without requiring a lengthy slow taxy). I allowed the airspeed to decay a little more than it should, meaning that as I began to round out the stall warner started to sound. Luckily I’d already warned them that this was likely to happen during landing, and if it sounded just before we touched down it meant that I’d landed correctly!
I applied a little power to prevent a high rate of descent, and maintained a a small amount of power in order to cushion our touchdown. As a result, the landing was nice and gentle, and we rolled out to the far end of the runway before vacating to taxy back to Freedom’s hangar at Woodside. I parked the aircraft at a slight angle to avoid blasting debris into the hangar, and then carried out the final checks before shutting down the engine. We all disembarked, then after a few photos I walked Olga and family back towards AV8, where Mark was waiting with Ethan.
After checking that they’d all enjoyed the flight, I said goodbye and headed back to the hangar to push the aircraft back in and complete the post flight paperwork. I chatted to Sarah for a while to see if she had any further information about the proposed development of Kemble, before heading back to the car to set off for home.
On the whole this had been a very enjoyable flight. Despite having a couple of fairly nervous passengers, I’d done my best to keep talking them through what was happening in the flight, hopefully setting their mind at rest as the flight progressed. As a slight coincidence, this flight had also seen me pass the 200 hour PIC mark, meaning that from now on I am able to offer further Charity Flights without having to receive explicit permission from the CAA. If they can all go as well as this one did, then I’ll definitely be offering further such flights!
Total flight time today: 1:00
Total flight time to date: 273:50