After a successful charity flight last year, I again offered a flight up as a raffle prize in aid of Catrin’s school PTA. For some reason, the winner of the raffle never came forward to claim their prize, which was a bit of a shame. I offered a further flight, and this time the school awarded this as a result of a blind auction, which turned out to be a much better idea.
The successful bidder made a very generous bid, so thanks to a relaxation of the rules governing charity flights now allowing landaways, I decided to make this flight a bit more than a simple hour’s local flight. The winner of the auction contacted me in good time, and we met up briefly for a chat so that I could explain what was possible. We eventually settled on a date towards the end of July, for him and his partner to come flying with me.
Initially we were booked in one of the Club’s Warriors due to the Arrow being unavailable. However, that booking was cancelled, and after a quick check of the heights of the two passengers (the Arrow has limited leg room in the rear if the front seat occupant needs their seat to be positioned towards the rear of its travel) I moved the booking to the Arrow for the flight.
It had been over a year since I last visited Wellesbourne with Kev, and with the airfield under threat of closure it seemed a good chance to visit and show my support. The airfield cafe always provides a good lunch, and the airfield is handily placed to be a fairly short flight from Kemble, as well as giving a number of options for sightseeing enroute.
Flying in the middle of Summer can often provide some challenging flying conditions, with prolonged periods of high pressure causing reduced visibility, and the high temperatures leading to turbulent skies. However, the weather for this flight really couldn’t have been much better. In the days leading up to the flight there had been some spells of rain, which had led to excellent visibility. Also, the forecast temperature was slightly cooler than it had been, hopefully giving a smoother ride for my first time passengers.
I initially planned the route to go from Kemble to Chedworth, taking in Banbury and Silverstone enroute, before heading up to Wellesbourne. However, on checking the NOTAMs in the days before the flight I realised that there were some air displays scheduled at Silverstone that day, and some further digging showed that their timings were likely to coincide with the times we would be in the area. As such I removed Silverstone from the route, and instead planned to fly from Banbury direct to Gaydon and then Wellesbourne.
As usual the majority of the planning was carried out in the days leading up to the flight, just leaving me to mark up the chart, print out the plogs and do a last check of NOTAMs in the morning. The weather forecasts proved to be correct, so I let my passengers know that the flight was a go, before heading up to Kemble.
As we had three adults on board for a change, this meant I couldn’t fill the aircraft with fuel and still remain in the weight and balance envelope for the aircraft. However I was able to fill up one of the fuel tanks, leaving the other at tabs. This gave us a total of 41 US gallons on board, giving us sufficient fuel for a three hour flight with a good reserve (the planning showed the total duration was likely to be around an hour and a half).
My passengers Marc and Sam arrived just as I was finishing off the refuelling, and they helped me push the Arrow back into its parking place.
We then headed into the Club’s offices to complete all the necessary paperwork, and I made a quick call to Wellesbourne to check that all was Ok for our visit. They had nothing unusual to tell me about, but did mention that they were quite busy (which is definitely not unusual whenever I go there to visit!). The office was quite busy with other pilots preparing for a flight, so I gave them a safety briefing as we walked back to the aircraft. Once there, I carried out a thorough ‘A’ check while they waited patiently, and we then boarded the Arrow, with Marc sitting alongside me in the front, and Sam in the rear.
I gave them the final briefing regarding operation of the door, evacuation procedures and the like, before getting ready to start the engine. Luckily I checked the intercom out before starting the engine, as initially we had some problems where Sam couldn’t hear us in the rear. A bit of investigation soon showed the the intercom had been left in ‘Crew’ isolation mode (meaning the rear seats were disconnected from the front), and once rectified we could all hear each other successfully.
The engine took a couple of goes to get started, then we were cleared to taxy to A3 in readiness to cross to the South side of the airfield to get to the hold for runway 08. The frequency was quite busy, and I heard the FISO clear another aircraft into position on the runway as we crossed. I made sure to report that we were vacated, allowing him to clear the other aircraft to depart with minimum delay.
The power checks were all completed normally, and after a quick check that everyone was good to go, I announced that we were ready. The FISO cleared us to backtrack, and as we did I double checked that he had no known traffic to affect a left turn out direct onto our planned track.
The takeoff roll and climbout were all normal, but it was noticeable that we were heavier than normal with three adults on board. The rate of climb was noticeable lower than usual, but certainly nothing to be concerned about. We climbed up to 2500 feet, finding it a little difficult to sign off with Kemble as the frequency became busy again.
We signed on with Brize for a Basic Service, initially being asked to ‘Standby’ by the Controller. When he came back to us, I had to correct one letter of our callsign, but we were granted a Basic Service and assigned a squawk. I’d already given Marc a quick brief of the controls before we departed, so after checking everything was clear with him I handed control over to him.
I’d allowed us to drift slightly to the right of our planned track, and as I pointed out Little Rissington to them I realised that we were going to pass much closer to it than planned. I had Marc carry out a quick course correction, and we continued on towards Banbury, spotting it easily off in the distance. Marc made a good job of maintaining our course, even coping well with a few small pockets of turbulence that caused a relatively sharp bank to the left on one occasion.
As we approached Banbury, I reset the heading bug to point to the next leg, and asked Marc to carry out a left turn onto the appropriate course once we were overhead the town. I signed off with Brize in readiness to contact Wellesbourne, the Controller helpfully reminding me that Hinton were active with parachuting today. As Marc made the turn towards Gaydon I made contact with Wellesbourne to get their details, discovering that they were still operating on 36 with a left hand circuit, meaning we’d be approaching from the ‘wrong’ direction from Gaydon for an Overhead Join.
Gaydon was a little difficult to spot, as we were approaching with the main runway at right angles to us. Also, there didn’t seem to be as many vehicles on the ground there as I remember from last time I was in the area. I took control back from Marc as we passed overhead, before turning us towards Wellesbourne and descending to 2000 feet for the Overhead Join.
The frequency was suprisingly quiet as we approached, with one aircraft in the circuit as we joined overhead. As we began the wide descent on the Deadside I spotted him on Short Final, and he touched down as we turned Crosswind. We had the circuit to ourselves after that, and I did my best to follow Wellesbourne’s requested noise abatement circuit. I had to wait a little to make my Downwind and Final calls due to other traffic on the frequency, and on Final I requested that we be allowed to taxy to the far end of the airfield rather than taking the first left part way down the runway.
This was approved by the FISO, and I brought us in for a deliberately long landing, touching down a little more firmly than I would have liked. The FISO she asked us if we were visiting a specific company on the airfield. I responded ‘Negative, we just wanted to get a look at the Vulcan’. She chuckled a little, and responded ‘Ok, feel free to pause there for a while if you like!’. We vacated at the far end, and I paused for the after landing checks in front of the Vulcan, allowing Marc to get some decent photos.
The FISO went off frequency for a short period, meaning we had to find our own space to park. I chose the first space I found, somewhat further North of the Tower than I had parked previously. After shutting down we all disembarked, before strolling down the taxyway in the thoroughly pleasant conditions. I headed up to the Tower to settle the landing fee, chatting for a while to the staff up there while Marc and Sam took in the scenery.
We retired to the Cafe for lunch, all of us choosing a combination of sausage and / or bacon sandwiches. We had quite a wait for the food to arrive, but we were in no rush and certainly weren’t upset as a result. We all had a good chat about the kinds of flying I tend to do, with Marc and Sam both expressing an interest to fly with me again in the future. Our food arrived as the queue to order grew ever longer, and was excellent as ever.
We talked while we ate, discussing various aspects of flying and the practicalities of flying in the UK. Once we had all finished, we headed back to the aircraft, and I carried out a quick walkaround check before we all boarded. It was Sam’s turn in the front, and once we were all settled I got the engine started easily and requested departure and taxy information from the FISO. We taxyed past a helicopter with rotors running, and I carried out the power checks near the hold for 36. While I did this, I noticed that the low volts light was illuminated again, and once the checks were complete I reset the master switch, which cleared the light.
As I became ready to depart, the helicopter was given his departure clearance, so I decided to wait until he had taken off before reporting ready myself. There was a slight delay before the helicopter became airborne, and when I reported ready the FISO reminded us of the required right turn after departure to avoid one of the noise sensitive areas on the climbout from runway 36. We took to the runway and began our takeoff roll, and as we rotated I noticed that the low volts light was on again. I put it out of my mind temporarily to concentrate on the takeoff and circuit, and we spotted another aircraft descending on the deadside as we completed the noise abatement turn and turned left into the circuit.
Normally I would continue onto the Downwind leg before climbing out of the circuit, but that would have put us in close proximity to the arriving aircraft. I decided to climb immediately, informing the FISO of this, and the fact that I was visual with the other aircraft. We climbed up to 3000 feet, and set course to the South for our return to Kemble. Marc spotted a glider off to our left as we departed, helpfully pointing it out and giving me good instructions as to where to find it. Sam also spotted an aircraft close by to our right, passing below us as we continued on course.
Once we were established in the cruise, my focus returned to the low volts light, which was still lit. I repeated the procedure of resetting the master switch (after powering down most of the avionics), and this time the light remained extinguished, even after powering up the avionics again. If it had remained lit, I would have had to take the decision to either return to Wellesbourne, or continue on to Kemble aiming to reduce the power drain, potentially arriving at Kemble non-radio should the battery power become depleted.
As we continued South, I gave Sam a quick brief on the controls, before handing control over to her. She immediately spotted another aircraft ahead of us and to the right, so I took back control to position us behind him. Once it was clear our flight paths weren’t converging, I handed back control to Sam and she flew us on towards Brize while I made contact on the Zone frequency to request our Zone Transit.
My initial call was blocked by another aircraft on frequency, and I had to repeat the request. While negotiating the initial ‘pass your message’ response and setting the squawk, we approached to just a few miles away from the Northern boundary of Brize’s Class airspace. I was about to contact the Controller to remind him of our position, when he cleared us into their airspace, not above 3000 feet. That was the level we were cruising at, so I helped Sam reduce our height by a couple of hundred feet, explaining the operation of the altimeter to her as we did so. As we entered Brize’s Zone, she handed control back to me, and I positioned the aircraft so that they would get a good view down the right hand side.
Unusually, the Controller did not announce as we entered and then left Controlled Airspace, but once clear to the South I pointed out Faringdon, and Marc identified the Defence Academy at Shrivenham off to our right. A new Controller queried our routing to Kemble (via Membury), and as we approached the Motorway Services I signed off with Brize. Helpfully the Controller reminded us that Redlands was active (I’d heard their parachuting aircraft on frequency as we made the initial contact), and we turned overhead Membury to head West towards Wroughton to remain South of the M4.
Wroughton is now another former airfield that is covered in solar panels, so was easy to spot. From there we identified various recognisable areas of Swindon, before heading towards the Link Centre and the old Renault building to spot the school and Sam’s house. They both quickly oriented themselves, pointing out various other areas of the town that they recognised from this new (to them!) vantage point.
After taking a few photos and completing the orbit, we headed West in order to approach Kemble from the South, hence avoiding getting too close to Oaksey Park. I contacted Kemble to inform them that we’d be approaching from Marlborough, and getting the arrival details we needed. I quickly realised my mistake, contacting him to correct myself and inform him we were in fact approaching from Malmesbury, receiving the response ‘Yes, I’d worked that out for myself!’
On the way to Malmesbury Marc spotted Lyneham off to the left, and we also flew near the WOMAD music festival that was taking place at Charlton Park. Marc spotted another airfield ahead and to our left, which I identified as Hullavington, and we turned North at Malmesbury to head into Kemble. They were still operating on runway 08, meaning we were nicely oriented for an Overhead Join. The circuit sounded quite busy as we approached, but we were able to slot in easily with the other traffic.
I carried out a nice tidy circuit, with another aircraft landing and backtracking as we turned onto the Downwind leg. The before landing checklist was completed normally, and the Base and Final turns got us nicely aligned with the runway. Knowing I would be taxying to the far end, I deliberately aimed for a point some way down the runway, and brought us in for a second landing that was again a little firmer than I would have liked!
We were cleared to taxy back to Lyneham’s parking area via Alpha, and as we approached the other aircraft I spotted Luned and Catrin waiting for us on the other side of the fence. We shut down near the pumps to refuel, and I went to get them so that Catrin could be my helpful assistant during the refuel and push back of the aircraft. She helped me tie the aircraft down and get the chocks in place, before we put the cover back on as Kev arrived back in one of the Club’s Warriors after having taken some people up for an experience flight.
I bade farewell to Marc and Sam, and they expressed an interest in flying with me again. It’s always nice to have interested passengers to accompany me should I have seats spare, so I’ll definitely be in touch with them in future should the opportunity arrive. Luned, Catrin and I walked back to the Club so that I could complete all the post-flight paperwork, before we joined in the Club’s barbequeue, talking briefly to Kev’s wife and son while Catrin and Luned played some tennis!
I was pleased to have completed another Charity flight, being able to introduce first-time flyers to light aircraft is a great feeling, particularly when they seem to enjoy the flight as much as Marc and Sam had done. I’ll definitely be offering further flights to raise funds, and hope that my future passengers get as much enjoyment out of the experience as Marc and Sam had.
Total flight time today: 2:00
Total flight time to date: 302:45