While arranging to donate a flight in aid of Catrin’s school PTA, the chair of the PTA mentioned that his 16 year old son was planning to join the RAF to train as a pilot. He asked if there was any chance I would be able to take him up for a flight so that he could see what to expect. Having already done something similar for Josh, I had agreed, and spare seats in the aircraft for a flight seemed the perfect opportunity.
Hawarden had long been on my list of airfields to visit, as (most importantly!) their cafe seems to have a good reputation. Also, as it’s an airfield used by Airbus, there was a good chance of getting up close with their Beluga transport aircraft. I’d seen this from the ground when driving in the area, and was keen for a (slightly) closer look. As it happened, I follow Rocky on Twitter, who works in Air Traffic there, and he was a very useful resource in the days leading up to the flight.
A haircut appointment in the morning meant a slightly later start than usual, but I collected Thomas and his mum Juliette from their house in Swindon around 10:30, and we headed to the airfield. As usual, the planning was all completed the night before with final touches made on the morning of the flight, leaving me to just double check the AIS information line for any last minute airspace upgrades, and phone Hawarden to receive PPR.
The Club office was quite busy with a pilot preparing to take a number of passengers on flights in the Bulldog, so while Thomas and Juliette completed the Temporary Membership forms, I completed the tech log of the Arrow. I had given us the option of returning via a stop off at Caernarfon if time permitted, so I left the second line of the tech log largely blank so that I could complete it once I knew where we’d actually gone!
We all headed out to the aircraft, with Thomas and Juliette helping me remove the cover before Thomas followed me around the aircraft on the walkaround, as I pointed out the various items I was checking. As usual there were no problems (with the exception of a non-working landing light), so we all boarded the aircraft ready to depart.
The engine started on the second try, and we received our taxy instructions which took us onto the Southern taxyway in readiness to depart on runway 08. I explained the various checks I was carrying out as we taxyed, before carrying out the normal power checks once the engine had warmed up. As I moved into position at the hold to announce ‘ready for departure’, I spotted another aircraft on late Downwind, but judged I had enough time to take to the runway and depart without affecting his approach.
Helpfully, the Controller informed me that there was nothing he knew of to affect a left turn out, before we began to accelerate down the runway. There was a fairly stiff crosswind from the left, meaning the initial climb out had a fair amount of crab required to maintain runway track. I raised the gear as we climbed out, turning towards Gloucester and continuing to climb up to our planned cruising altitude of 4500 feet.
Once clear to the North, I signed off with Kemble and made contact with Gloucester to receive a Basic Service as I normally do when passing close to them. They seemed relatively quiet, with just a couple of other aircraft on frequency. We reported overhead, and then continued on towards Great Malvern where I signed off with Gloucester.
I’d already briefed Thomas regarding him taking control during the flight, and on the leg towards Great Malvern I gave him control, giving him a brief introduction as to what he needed to do in terms of maintaining height and heading using external references. He did a good job considering it was his first experience at the controls, and in particular I noted that he wasn’t making the usual ‘rookie’ mistake of trying to correct every slight deviation from straight and level. We were experiencing fairly regular but minor turbulence, which caused us to be bounced around a number of time while he was at the controls. However, he took good heed of my hint not to try to maintain a death grip on the control column, and generally allowed the aircraft to settle itself back into equilibrium rather than continually making minor corrections on the controls.
Thomas handed control back to be after a few minutes, and we continued on towards Shrewsbury. Shawbury was easily visible off to the right hand side, and I signed on with Sleap as we approached. They were relatively quiet, and as we were up at 4500 feet there was no real need to talk to them. However, I let them know I was passing overhead. before later signing off in readiness to approach Hawarden. The visibility was excellent, with Wrexham and Chester clearly visible in the distance, and even this far away it was easy to make out the coast and the water beyond.
After passing Sleap, I began a gradual descent in order to be below the Class A airspace that sits above Hawarden, starting at 3000 feet. I levelled off at 2500 feet, and after copying down the ATIS made contact with Hawarden as we approached Wrexham. For some reason I wasn’t ready to write down the information they passed to me, meaning that I got the last digit of the transponder code wrong as I read it back and entered it into the transponder. The Controller corrected me, and as I finished entering it I realised that the transponder was actually still in Standby mode, I had obviously forgotten to turn it on before leaving Kemble!
With the transponder code correctly set, I was given a Right Base join to Hawarden’s runway 04. I continued the descent down to 1000 feet after setting QFE, and carried out the before landing checklist as we approached. Now talking to the Tower, I was initially a little high as I neared the point to call ‘Base’, but by the time I was on Final this had changed to being a little low. There were no other aircraft on frequency, and the wind check gave an almost 90 degree crosswind of around 11 knots. Mindful of the slightly challenging conditions, I decided to stick with just 2 stages of flap, and brought us in to land. The landing was slightly floaty (probably not helped by only using two stages of flap) and this meant I spent more time in the holdoff trying to maintain the correct alignment and attitude. The landing was slightly firm, but fortunately not so bad that it would scare my first time passengers!
As we vacated the runway as instructed, another aircraft was cleared on to the far end of the runway (the ATIS had warned that runway 22 could be expected for departure), and I made a point of stopping past the hold line to carry out the after landing checklist and study the taxy diagram to ensure I could follow the relatively complex instructions to the parking area. Sadly there was no sign of the Beluga, and it later turned out that it had headed off to Spain instead! The AIP entry suggests that all aircraft must be marshalled into their parking area, and at first I couldn’t see anyone waiting for us. Someone emerged from a hangar as we approached, and gave me clear (but largely un-necessary beyond the first ‘park there’) instructions.
I had to consciously resist the urge to head towards the marshaller while he gave the ‘proceed ahead’ instruction, as he sent me past his position before turning through 180 degrees into the area he wanted me to park. After shutting down, we were given a pass to get back through the gate airside, and he gave us directions to head to the nearby airport cafe. We made the short walk to the cafe, and then found ourselves a table that hadn’t already been reserved. The cafe seemed to be fairly busy with non-pilots, which is always a good sign.
I played safe with my usual sausage sandwich, while the others had something a little more substantial. We chatted about Thomas’s planned route into the RAF, and discussed what type of flying he’d like to do. While eating I checked with Rocky on Twitter, receiving a favourable review of my approach and landing from the vantage point of ATC.
Once we’d all finished eating, we walked back towards the hangar near where we were parked, in order to book out with Air Traffic before leaving. It turned out to be Rocky on the other end of the phone, so we had a brief chat after giving him our departure details. After a quick check with the staff in the hangar as to whether start clearance was required (he said not, but to ensure to copy the ATIS before initial contact with ATC), we walked back to the Arrow and I carried out a quick transit check. Finding no problems, we all got back on board and I got the engine started after a couple of tries.
ATIS copied, I made contact with ATC, and was given the option as to which runway I wanted to depart on. The wind was almost straight across, but actually slightly favoured 04. However, this would have meant a long taxy to the far end, as well as starting us off on our return journey pointing the wrong way (we wanted to head South) so I decided to accept the slight tailwind and take off on 22. We were given taxy instructions to the hold, and I carried out the power checks as we approached.
Once these were complete, I then had to copy down my first ‘real’ departure clearance in a long time. While I was based at Brize Norton and then Lyneham, this was just a normal part of the process of going flying, but having been based at Kemble for nearly 5 years means that the need for a departure clearance is a rare occurrence. The clearance was given as “G-AZWS, line up and wait runway 22. After departure standard noise abatement before a left turn VFR not above altitude 1,500, squawk 4601”. I thought I’d read all this back correctly, but the Controller had me clarify that I had heard the ‘not above altitude 1,500’ part.
This was to be my undoing a little later, but once the clearance had been read back correctly, I was immediately cleared to takeoff. The noise abatement mentioned required us to maintain runway heading for 1.5nm DME, before turning on track. I carried out a relatively straightfoward takeoff, making an appropriate into-wind correction as we climbed out. Rocky was sitting in his car in the car park, and got a nice shot of us departing.
I was handed over to the Approach frequency, and I signed on as I remembered doing at Lyneham with ‘Hawarden Approach, G-AZWS with you. Airborne check passing 1000 feet’. The Controller’s response was a little unexpected: ‘No squawk seen, reset transponder’. As I looked over to check the code, I realised that again I had correctly entered the code, but not actually turned the transponder on!
When given the departure clearance, I had interpreted the altitude restriction to mean that I had to make the turn onto track before reaching 1500 feet. However, in hindsight it was obvious that this was actually a request to remain below 1500 feet as we departed, before being cleared higher. The reason for this restriction became clear as we heard another aircraft inbound, being vectored for the ILS to runway 04. This could potentially have put us into direct conflict with him. As I made the turn onto track, I continued to climb to 2500 to keep below the Class A airspace above, and easily spotted Wrexham off in the distance. The Controller made no mention of my slip in not maintaining the assigned altitude, I only realised when reviewing the GPS logs, and confirmed my mistake while talking to Rocky.
Another aircraft was no on frequency, operating North of the field, and as we passed Bangor on Dee Racecourse I began a climb up to our cruising altitude of 5500 feet, notifying the Controller that we were doing so. We started to receive traffic reports of an aircraft off to our left, which the Controller thought was the parachuting aircraft operating out of Tilstock. The Controller continued to pass the other aircraft’s position and altitude to us (at one point he was at 6000 feet and climbing, while we were still climbing through 4000 feet to stop at 5500) but we never made visual contact with him. Eventually the Controller informed us that the other aircraft had turned back towards the East, presumably to begin running in to drop his passengers over Tilstock.
We levelled off at 5500 feet, passing close by Sleap but not bothering to contact them this time. Again, I handed over control to Thomas for a while, and he made a really good job of keeping us on track and relatively level. At one point was passed through an area that generated a large amount of lift, and we were quickly popped up by 200 or 300 feet. Thomas took this in his stride however, gently correcting for the extra lift, and gradually bringing us back down to our cruising altitude.
Around this point I took a quick look at the display on the 430, and was surprised to see an indicated ground speed of well over 150 knots. Examining the GPS logs from SkyDemon shows that we actually peaked at a ground speed of some 170 knots, not bad for an aircraft with a cruising airspeed of about 125 knots! As we continued I was quite late in spotting a glider ahead of us and at a similar level, as he became more noticeable as he started a steep turn to the left (possibly because he had seen us slightly before I spotted him and decided to take action to increase the distance between us).
We continued to pass through patches of moderate turbulence, so we descended by 500 feet or so to see if this put us into clearer air. It didn’t make an awful lot of difference though, but the turbulence was fairly infrequent, and not too bad so as to cause us any real concerns. I asked Thomas and Juliette whether they would prefer us to return either via the Severn Bridges, or Swindon in order to try to get some photos of their house. They chose Swindon, so I continued on our planned route rather than heading further West to go via the River Severn.
We could clearly hear transmissions to and from Gloucester from around 70nm away, and I signed on with them around Great Malvern, only to be asked to ‘Standby’. Once the Controller called us back, we received a Basic Service from them, initially being asked to report West Abeam before telling him that we were routing through Gloucester’s overhead. Gloucester were relatively quiet, with only a few other aircraft on frequency, and after we reported Overhead and continued South, I began a descent to get us down to a lower level in order to get some photos over Swindon.
We followed the A417 / A419 as it headed from Gloucester via Cirencester to Swindon, pointing out South Cerney off to our right and Fairford to our left. We were down to around 2000 feet as we approached Swindon, and I set about finding some landmarks in order to orient myself. Asda Walmart was the first one I spotted, followed by the old Renault Building and the Link Centre. I headed towards Catrin’s school, which put is in the general area of Thomas’s house, and carried out a right hand orbit oriented on Ramleaze Village Centre, allowing Juliette and Thomas to identify their house.
Once the orbit was complete, I quickly worked out a track to Kemble, before making contact with them to find out they were still operating from runway 08. From our current position, it was easy to set up for an Overhead Join, and there was little other traffic on frequency as we approached (much different to my last flight!). Once overhead, I lowered the gear and descended on the Deadside, joining the Downwind leg at the appropriate point in the noise abatement circuit. A transmission from the ground prevented me from making the Downwind call at the appropriate point, so I called ‘Late Downwind’ as soon as the frequency was clear.
The Base and Final legs were straightforward, but again the wind was almost directly across the runway, so I continued with just 2 stages of flap. This resulted in another slightly floaty landing, this time a little firmer than the last. We continued along the runway to vacate on Alpha, before taxying back and shutting down. Thomas and Juliette helped me refuel and push the Arrow back into its parking space, before we all put the cover on and headed back into the Club. After all the post flight paperwork was completed, we headed back to the car before driving back to Swindon.
Despite a fairly slow start to the year (no flying until the last weekend in February) I’d now completed my third day of flying before the end of April. It was great to be able to introduce another couple of people to the joys of flying in light aircraft, and hopefully the experience will help reinforce Thomas’s desire to continue to become a pilot. I’d also added a further airfield to the logbook, and coped with some fairly challenging conditions during the flight. The slips with the transponder were a little frustrating (particularly as I made the same mistake twice in the same day) but in general the flight had been carried out without too must trouble. Hopefully now I can continue to fly regularly for the rest of the year!
Total flight time today: 2:40
Total flight time to date: 290:00