After a busy month of flying in July, August turned out to be a month with no flying at all, as family holidays and an annoying cough prevented me from doing any flying. Mindful of the fact that it had been over two years since our last flight together as a family, I was keen to try to get the whole family flying again. Catrin had again started to show more interest in flying, and was eager to be allowed to sit in the front and maybe even have a try at the controls. I booked an aircraft for a Sunday, as the weather forecast for the Saturday was pretty poor (and turned out to be fairly accurate too!).
Catrin had just started back at school, so initially the plan was for me to fly solo. However, the poor weather on the Saturday meant that we’d all had a fairly quiet day, and managed to get most of Catrin’s homework out of the way. On the proviso that we didn’t go somewhere too far, Luned agreed that we could once again try to fly somewhere all together. I looked around for some potential destinations, and eventually decided on Northampton Sywell, an airfield I hadn’t visited since February 2015 when I went there with Charlie.
I planned a fairly direct route to Sywell, with a more circuitous one on the return leg. Given Catrin’s recent interest in F1, I decided to overfly Silverstone, and then detour via Brize and Membury in order to do some sightseeing over Swindon before returning to Kemble. A NOTAM check showed that the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight would be carrying out a fly past of two areas that were potentially on our return route, so I took care to plan a route that avoided these areas. Finishing the planning on the Sunday morning, I marked up the chart and phoned Sywell for PPR. The wind was unusually from the South, which helpfully favoured the main ‘hard’ runway at Sywell, but did mean there was a potential for a crosswind on returning to Kemble.
On arrival at Kemble, I got the girls settled in the Club, before going out to check out the aircraft and load up most of our gear while they did some more homework practice. After retrieving a PLB in order to comply with the new regulations that require all aircraft to carry either an ELT or PLB, we all walked out to the aircraft and boarded. This was made slightly more complicated than usual, as with Catrin sitting in the front next to me, this meant that she had to be the last person on board. After a bit of juggling we all got safely on board, and Catrin helpfully held the door open while I carried out the pre-start checklist.
With the door closed, the engine started (as usual) on its second try, and we spent a little while trying to get Luned’s microphone working correctly on her headset (it seems to have developed a loose connection somewhere) and all the volume levels such that we could comfortably hear each other. We were given taxy clearance initally to Alpha 4 to cross for runway 08, and as we approached we were immediately cleared to cross onto the Charlie taxyway to head to the South side of the airfield. Power checks were completed normally, and we held briefly before being cleared onto the runway to depart. I pointed out the row of switches for fuel pump, landing light etc. to Catrin, telling her I would ask her to turn them on and off during the flight. Another aircraft was approaching the overhead from the North East as we waited (our departure direction) so I took care to get a picture for his height before we took off and turned left towards the disused airfield at Chedworth.
Luned spotted the approaching aircraft high to our right as I departed at around 1500 feet to remain below him, and once we were clear I continued the climb towards our planned cruising altitude of 3500 feet. We passed through some cloud on our way to Chedworth, and a little more after setting course towards Banbury. Catrin was eager to have a go at the controls, but I explained that I needed to get clear of the clouds and talk to Brize before I could give her control. After 5 minutes or so we came out of the patchy cloud into a clear blue sky, and I explained to Catrin how the controls worked and what she should do.
We’d put her child seat in the front with a cushion on top, but sadly she was still not quite tall enough to be able to see over the coaming to fly ‘correctly’ using visual references. I pointed out the ‘clock’ (altimeter) and the heading bug on the DI, and asked her to try and keep us at the same height, and with the arrow on the DI always pointing straight up. She took control and obviously had a tendency to pull back slightly on the control column, as we slowly gained altitude. At one point I explained to Catrin how to lose some height, telling her to push forward on the control column. She did this a little more exuberantly than she should have, prompting an exclamation of alarm from Luned in the back seat! I started to maintain gentle pressure on the controls on my side, showing Catrin just how little movement was actually necessary to make the corrections required. She later explained to me that even though she couldn’t see over the top of the instrument panel, she was looking at “the picture of the little aeroplane so that I could see we were flying straight”. A potential instrument pilot in the making!
She kept control as we passed Banbury, and I signed off with Brize in order to make contact with Sywell. I stole a quick look over at Catrin to see her beaming face, before she turned and said to me “I can’t believe that I was just really flying a plane!”. Sywell were still operating on the expected runway, so I took a quick look back at the Pooley’s plate in my kneeboard to ensure I had the correct approach in my head, before continuing on towards Northampton. I pointed out Silverstone to Catrin off to our right, and it took her a little while to find it. I thought I could see the occasional glint of sunlight reflecting on cars around the circuit, but it was hard to tell at this distance.
Approaching Sywell, there was another aircraft turning Downwind as we descended on the deadside, and Luned kept an eye on him for me so that we were aware of his position. As we turned Base he was just touching down, and as we turned Final I announced to the FISO that I had him in sight on the runway. He had obviously just reached the end and turned off, leading to a somewhat bemused FISO commenting “Not aware of one on the runway…”!
I left it a little late to lower the final stage of flap (at least the ‘reds, blues, three greens, flaps’ check caught it!) and my landing was a little long and slightly firmer than I would have liked. We continued to the end of the runway before taxying up to the pumps so that I could refuel the aircraft, hopefully with sufficient that we wouldn’t need to refuel again on our return to Kemble. I went in to the office to pay the landing fee, then walked Luned and Catrin over to the grass area in front of the Pilot’s Mess before returning to the aircraft to refuel at the self service pumps. Once this was done, I pushed the Arrow into a parking space alongside a very smart looking Falcon jet, before rejoining Luned and Catrin and heading upstairs for lunch.
The cafe seemed fairly busy, and the sole member of staff was having a job keeping up with the steady flow of business. It was barely 12:30 though, so we were in no real rush. We waited patiently for our food, taking our time eating and watching the comings and goings on the airfield. After finishing her chicken nuggets and chips, Catrin returned to the counter to choose a slice of chocolate cake as her dessert!
Once finished, we all headed back to the aircraft, and I had Luned and Catrin wait alongside while I carried out the checks. Catrin was sitting in the back for the return leg, and we ensured she had everything with her to amuse herself before putting her rucksack into the baggage area. Sadly we later found out that I’d left the camera in the rucksack, so all the photos from the return leg were taken on Luned’s phone.
There was a flurry of activity as we got the engine started, and we followed three other aircraft to hold B2 to carry out our checks. There were a number of aircraft arriving also, meaning it took a little while before it was our turn to depart. Another aircraft was just climbing out as we took to the runway, agreeing to an intersection departure so as not to inconvenience the aircraft in the circuit that was about to turn Base. I left a short gap to ensure that the other aircraft had cleared the climbout path, before applying power and beginning our takeoff roll. The noise abatement procedures call for a climb to 500 feet before turning, but I probably left this a little longer than I should have. I turned left to try to avoid what I thought was the noise sensitive area, before turning back on track to head almost due South to remain clear of the notified BBMF activity.
As we crossed the M1, we spotted Silverstone off to our right, and turned to head for it. Catrin got some good views of the track, even watching some cars heading around it (it appeared to be some sort of track day). We began an orbit to give her a better look, and Luned spotted a glider that appeared to be thermalling over the track. We kept a good eye on him as we carried out the orbit, before spotting a second glider as we continued on track to the West towards Banbury. We spotted Turweston and Hinton in the Hedges off to our left, before descending to 2500 feet near Banbury and making contact with Brize Zone to request our Zone transit. The Controller asked us to report approaching the Zone, and we continued towards Chipping Norton initally, before turning South towards Brize. We spotted the familiar landmarks of Enstone and Little Rissington, as well as a further group of gliders high off to our left, orbiting just below the cloud layer. The air was noticeably more turbulent down at our level, but we continued on, suffering through the occasional bumps.
I’d already explained to Catrin that if the radio got busy I would be able to isolate her from the intercom, and she obviously remembered this and asked for this to be done so that she could entertain her in peace! This at least allowed Luned and I to chat amongst ourselves for a while! Catrin was told that she should tap Luned on the shoulder if she needed to talk to us. I called Brize again with 5nm to the boundary, and we were cleared to transit the Zone with no altitude restriction. At some point I had passed Luned the chart, and I had her practice her navigation, asking her to spot the familiar (to me) sights of Burford and Faringdon as we continued. Once clear of the Zone we then looked for Membury, first spotting the M4 off to our right before finding the mast in the ground clutter. I carried out a wide turn over the airfield at Membury, before spotting another aircraft low behind us, perhaps setting up for an approach into there.
Redlands’ parachute aircraft had been heard on the Brize frequency preparing for a number of drops earlier, so as usual I remained to the South of the M4, ensuring we were well clear of them. As we approached Swindon, we had Catrin put her entertainment away, and she helped us spot familiar landmarks from the air. The old Renault Building and the Link Centre are always easy landmarks to pick out, and Catrin’s school is also very distinctive from the air. Catrin managed to spot this, and as I orbited Luned managed to spot our house, helpfully made slightly clearer to to me suggesting that she move her car onto the drive before we left home!
On previous flights I have continued West from Swindon before turning North around Malmesbury (in order to avoid overflying Oaksey). However there was an air display notified at Charlton Park, and this route would have taken us very close to there. I had already decided that I would therefore fly North West from Swindon, aiming to remain clear of Oaksey and approach Kemble from the East around the Cotswold Water Park.
Kemble seemed relatively quiet as we approached, and as we joined Overhead there was another aircraft about to turn Downwind. After descending on the Deadside and reporting Crosswind, we again located him turning Base, meaning we had plenty of spacing and hence were unlikely to catch him up. The before landing checks were carried out on the Downwind leg, and Catrin got a bit chatty so I isolated myself from the intercom, allowing her and Luned to talk amongst themselves as I carried on around the circuit.
Again I was a little late lowering the final stage of flap, and realised that I had another aircraft behind me in the circuit. After a bit of thought I decided it would be better if I were to land long on runway 26, leaving a relatively short taxy to the far end, enabling me to clear the runway as quickly as possible and hopefully avoid inconveniencing the aircraft behind me. This time the landing was a lot smoother, and the FISO instructed me to vacate to the right and taxy back to the parking area using the grass Golf taxyway.
We taxyed back towards Lyneham’s parking, and I positioned the aircraft in front of the fuel bowser in case we needed to refuel, before having to wait a little while to be able to make the ‘Closing down’ call on the radio. I was on the verge of not bothering with this (it’s not strictly necessary) but luckily a gap opened up enabling me to get the call in. Catrin helped me push the aircraft back into its parking space, before putting all the chocks in place and helping me with the cover. Once this was done, we returned briefly to the Club to settle up all the post-flight paperwork, before retiring to the Thames Head for a quick drink that eventually led to us staying there for our evening meal also!
It was really good to have all the family back in the aircraft with me, and Catrin’s delight at having been given control of the aircraft was a real joy to see. Hopefully we can try to find more time in the future to make more such trips, and perhaps even get Luned back into the swing of doing some of the flying after her lessons with Dave several years ago. Today’s flying was really enjoyable, once the initial area of cloud was cleared conditions really couldn’t have been much more perfect. May there be many more days like this in future!
Total flight time today: 2:15
Total flight time to date: 305:00