After getting current again last weekend, I wanted to try to round off the year with a decent bit of flying. Catrin had an invite to a birthday party on Sunday, so I took the opportunity to try and plan another flight. The Arrow was already booked, so I booked one of the Club’s Warriors (G-BPAF) for the day, but this booking was later switched to G-EDGI (another Warrior) as the first aircraft was going in for maintenance.
I asked a couple of other pilots if they would like to join me as passengers on the flight, but both were already busy that weekend. While trying to arrange another charity flight in aid of Catrin’s school, I was approached by one of the school staff to see if we could arrange a flight with her son, who has ambitions to become a professional pilot. Naturally I was happy to oblige, so planned a flight to Wolverhampton Halfpenny Green for lunch.
Approaching the weekend, the weather looked like it should be flyable so I was optimistic that we would be able to make the flight. As usual I completed the majority of the planning in the days leading up to the flight. The weather forecasts on the day still seemed favourable, so I confirmed with Vanessa and Josh that we were good to go after completing the final planning, and set off to collect them on my way to Kemble.
Mike (the Club’s Ops Manager) had sent me a text warning me of a potential issue with the PTT switch on the PIC side of the aircraft, warning me that I may need to plug in to the passenger side in order to get reliable communications. As a result of this I planned that any front seat passenger would connect their headset to the passenger side connectors in the rear of the aircraft, with the rear passenger using the other connectors in the rear. That way I would be able to switch from the PIC side to the passenger side without too much fuss should it be necessary.
On arrival at Kemble we headed straight to the aircraft, carrying out the ‘A’ check and filling it with fuel. Everything appeared to be Ok, so we headed in to the Club to complete the pre-flight paperwork and collect headsets, before walking back to the aircraft. I’d originally planned for Josh and Vanessa both to sit in the rear of the aircraft for the outbound journey, with Josh joining me in the front for the return flight. I discussed this with Vanessa though, and she seemed confident that Josh would be fine up front with me.
As such, we got Vanessa settled into the rear seat, before Josh and I joined her in the aircraft. I set about preparing for the flight, and after some brief issues with the intercom (we couldn’t hear Josh because we hadn’t actually plugged his headset into the rear connectors!) I called for start approval and set about starting the aircraft. The engine seemed a little reluctant to turn over, but I put this down to the cold temperatures of the morning. The engine caught and fired, and ran for a couple of seconds before stopping. Sadly, that was the last life we got out of it. I managed to turn it over a couple of times more, before the battery all but gave out.
Having informed the Tower of our plans, I now needed to let them know that we would no longer be flying. Also, after a brief discussion with Vanessa and Josh, we decided that we would wait for the Arrow to return (it was heading out for a local at the same time as we were trying to get the Warrior started). I tried to contact the Tower to inform them of our change of plans, and see if they could find out how long the Arrow pilot was planning to be. All I could hear was static however, presumably because the battery charge had got too low to even drive the radios successfully.
We all got out of the aircraft, and put the cover back on. I called the Tower as we headed to the Club to ensure they were aware of our predicament, and also to learn that the Arrow pilot was planning to be away for around 2 hours. We decided to head to AV8 and grab some lunch, and keep an eye out for the Arrow returning as well as phoning Halfpenny Green to let them know we would no longer be coming. While in AV8 I planned a flight to Wellesbourne (barely 30 minutes each way in the Arrow) and we chatted over some of the ins and outs of learning to fly.
Just as our lunch arrived, I spotted the Arrow taxying past the front of AV8 on its way back to the Club parking area. Fearful that the Arrow also had some technical issue, I tried to contact the pilot to discover the reason for his early return. After a couple of attempts I managed to raise him, to find that he’d returned because he wasn’t happy with the cloud base (he hadn’t managed to climb above about 1700 feet on his way towards the Severn Bridges). The cloud base did seem to be lower than forecast, but while we finished our lunch we did see other aircraft arriving and departing. I spotted an arriving aircraft parking in front of AV8, so wandered out to get some first-hand information regarding the current conditions.
I chatted to the three occupants who had just flown in from Gloucester. They confirmed that the cloud base was indeed around 1500-2000 feet, but that conditions otherwise were good, with clear visibility and little wind. I decided that we would at least attempt a local flight, with the option of returning straight to Kemble should conditions not be suitable.
We headed back to the Club and then out to the Arrow. We all boarded as before, spending a little time putting some coats under Josh, as his seating position seemed noticeably lower in the Arrow than the Warrior! He had sensibly noticed that he couldn’t see properly over the coaming, and realised that this would make it difficult to have his turn at the controls later on. Fortunately the Arrow didn’t let us down and started first time. Kemble had recently switched from runway 26 to 08, and our initial taxy instructions were to one of the holds near the threshold of 26. I thought this might be in preparation for a backtrack, so asked the FISO if he wanted us to complete power checks before this point. He informed me that the plan was for us to cross the runway and use the Charlie taxyway to the South of the runway, carrying out our power checks there before taking to runway 08.
Kemble had got busy again, but a brief lull allowed us to cross the runway and taxy down towards the threshold of 08. The power checks were all normal, and we headed towards the hold and reported ready as one aircraft landed and another approached on Final. The FISO was briefly busy resolving a minor traffic jam on the taxyway to the North of the runway, and as a result I think he’d forgotten that we were waiting. After a brief reminder (‘G-AZWS, ready at Charlie Two’), the FISO acknowledge that he had indeed forgotten us, and cleared us onto the runway.
After a quick check to make sure Vanessa and Josh were both ready, I applied power and accelerated along the runway. Takeoff performance wasn’t as brisk as last weekend due to the calm wind, but this meant that the takeoff was easy without requiring too much correction for the wind. We passed some 500 feet below another aircraft on his Crosswind join, and with the gear retracted we climbed away, departing to the South East towards Swindon. The cloud base allowed us to climb to 2000 feet on the way, and I pointed out Cotswold Water Park on the way.
As we approached Swindon I tried to orient myself, first spotting the Link Centre, then the Renault Building. From there it was easy to find Catrin’s school and the general area where Josh and Vanessa live. After a quick orbit to allow them to get some photos, we headed South towards Wrougton. A quick re-check of the cloud suggested that there should be no problem heading out towards the Severn Bridges, so I set course to the West before handing control to Josh.
He’s an avid Flight Sim pilot, so I explained to him that when flying light aircraft VFR, the primary focus is out of the cockpit, using the real horizon in front of us to maintain straight and level flight, rather than relying on the instruments to do so. We proceeded West for a little while, before I decided to overfly RAF Lyneham (an easy landmark to use for Navigation) so I had Josh make a left turn to head to Lyneham, aiming to pass slightly to the left of it to give him and his mum a good view of it as we passed. We heard Kemble assigning an aircraft a squawk that I would normally associate with Brize, and not long after the FISO came back with a confirmation of position and a steer to Kemble. I can only assume the other pilot was lost, and Kemble were doing their best to use information gleaned from Brize to allow him to fix his position.
We passed quite close to a cloud above us, so I briefly took control back to descend slightly and put a bit more distance between us and the cloud. Josh then took control again, and once we were past Lyneham we continued West, passing North of Castle Combe and taking care to remain clear of Bristol’s airspace. I called Bristol for a Basic Service, and despite being quite quiet they didn’t assign us our own squawk. We did find out that another aircraft was heading in the same general direction to us, so we took care to keep a good lookout for him.
Vanessa spotted a helicopter passing some 500 feet or so below us, and as we continued West I decided to try and take us past Filton to see if we could spot the Concorde on the ground there. I gave Josh a rough heading to steer, setting the heading bug on the DI to help him, but also getting him to pick out a distant landmark as his aiming point. As we approached Filton I had Josh descend us down to around 1500 feet, and the Bristol Controller at Bristol informed us that another aircraft was reporting in the vicinity of the Severn Bridges, so I updated him on our position. We continued past Filton, and I had Josh aim to the left of the Second Severn Crossing to cross briefly into Wales. Josh climbed us back up to 2000 feet as I managed the prop and power settings, and we continued towards the Severn.
As we crossed the Severn, I again reported our position to Bristol, and once on the Welsh side Josh carried out a turn to have us fly over the Old Severn Bridge before crossing back into England. Josh’s angle of bank was a little exhuberant (reaching 45 degrees or so) so I had him reduce the angle slightly, which also seemed to please Vanessa in the back as she was concerned we were heading for some aerobatics!
Using a combination of the 430 and SkyDemon, I had Josh steer a heading that would take us back to Kemble. As we approached within 20nm of Kemble, I signed off with Bristol, and tuned to the Kemble frequency to plan our rejoin. They were still operating on 08, so I had Josh turn to put Kemble on our left as we approached, and set QFE to get us to 2000 feet AAL for the Overhead Join. Josh showed his good knowledge of aircraft systems by asking if he could adjust his altimeter as it was reading different to mine! I had forgotten that the Arrow has a second altimeter on the passenger side, so Josh adjusted it to QFE so that it matched mine, and remained at 2000 feet as we approached.
I took control back from Josh as we approached the ATZ, meaning that he had flown for around 30 minutes of the flight. Kemble was quite busy with other traffic, two in the circuit, one joining and a third crossing to the West of the airfield from South to North. I warned Vanessa and Josh that they may hear an alarm as we descended (due to the gear being retracted) and as we turned Crosswind we slotted in nicely behind an aircraft that had just taken off. We followed him on quite a wide Downwind leg to a late Base turn. Our spacing was good, and he had already taken off after his touch and go as we turned Final.
The frequency was a little busy now, and it took me a couple of goes to get my ‘Final’ call in. The relatively calm conditions made for an easy approach, and I did my best to bring us in for a nice landing. I kept the power on as we crossed the threshold to enable us to land long and avoid a slow taxy down the entire length of the runway. Before reaching the distinct up-slope on the runway, I established the correct attitude and started to reduce power, leading to a very gentle touchdown.
My request to taxy to the Club’s parking area stepped on the FISO’s instructions telling me to do exactly that, but after a second attempt we were cleared to vacate at Alpha and taxy back. I considered giving Josh the chance to have a try at taxying, but his seat seemed to be a bit far back for him to comfortably reach the rudder pedals, so I decided not to in the end. I parked us in front of the bowser to refuel, before shutting down the aircraft. Vanessa and Josh helped me refuel and push the aircraft back into parking, then we all put the cover back on and headed back to the Club (after I went back to the aircraft to make a note of the tacho reading!).
The temperature seemed to have dropped, particularly noticeable when recovering the aircraft, so after settling the paperwork and paying for the flight, we headed back to AV8 for a cuppa (peppermint tea for me and a couple of very nice looking hot chocolates for the others) to try and warm up. We chatted about the day’s events, and they both seemed to have enjoyed the flight, despite the obvious disappointment of having to cancel our original plans.
Normally I would try to avoid local flights, but given the technical issue and less than idea weather, on this occasion it was good to at least be able to get up in the air. Josh proved to be a knowledgeable passenger, and more than capable on the controls, while Vanessa seemed comfortable in the back despite her high school aged son doing most of the flying! Hopefully Josh will retain his enthusiasm for flying, and can one day realise his aim of becoming a Commercial pilot.
Total flight time today: 1:05
Total flight time to date: 281:40