Now that I was current in the Arrow again, I wanted to continue to use it and try to avoid another currency check. In the days leading up to the flight I’d asked around to see if anybody wanted to accompany me, but had no takers so prepared myself for a solo flight. Flying solo can be enjoyable in its own right, not least because I’m often more inclined to try something out of my comfort zone without having to worry about ‘managing’ passengers at the same time.
One of the landing vouchers in this month’s flying magazines was for Haverfordwest, a great airfield out on the West coast of Wales. I’d been there a few times previously, it’s always a good place to have a usual ‘airfield’ lunch and the scenery is worth seeing too! To make things a little different, I decided to return along the South Wales coast, requesting a Zone Transit of Cardiff airspace to follow the coast around to the Severn Bridges.
The weather forecasts leading up to the flight had been quiet variable, but the forecast for the day looked promising. On arriving at Kemble however, things didn’t look particularly great. Rather than the scattered cloud that was forecast, there was a definite overcast. Other people appeared to be flying however, which suggested that it was up around the 2000 feet mark, and the forecast tops of between 4000 and 6000 feet meant that I would probably be able to get above the cloud if necessary.
I carried out all the normal pre-flight paperwork, filling the tanks in the Arrow before completing the walk around and getting ready to leave. The engine took a couple of attempts to start, and I taxyed over the grass to the North Apron to carry out the checks there. It took a little while for the engine to warm up, so while waiting I programmed an abbreviated route (Kemble -> BCN VOR -> Haverfordwest) into the Garmin 430, and made sure SkyDemon was up and running with my proposed routing loaded.
Power checks were all completed normally, and after taxying to the hold I took to the runway and departed. I followed the circuit round, climbing out on the Downwind leg, setting course for Thornbury. I had planned to fly this leg at 4000 feet, but had to level out at 2500 feet to remain clear of the clouds. After a minute or two I decided to climb up to my planned level, hoping to reach the top of the cloud layer and fly above it. I signed on with Bristol, receiving a Basic Service initially, but when it became clear that I wasn’t going to get above the cloud, I upgraded to a Traffic Service, and dialled in the BCN VOR to use to navigate.
I could see by looking down that I was flying along the bottom edge of the cloud, as I was getting regular glimpses of the ground below me. However, I decided to continue in IMC to get some practice, confident that if I became disoriented or unable to handle the aircraft, I was only a short descent away from being back in visual conditions.
In IMC, but with signs of the ground below
One thing I noticed was the tendency to try to look out of the window, and then have my brain pick out some cloud feature as being a horizon and try to follow that. I was having to consciously ignore this, and rely on the instruments. When flying under the hood this generally isn’t a factor, as all you can see in front of you is the hood and the instruments, so this was useful practice to try to keep my head in ‘Instrument’ flight mode.
I hand-flew in ‘hard’ IMC for 10 or 15 minutes, with Bristol assigning me a new squawk code for Cardiff and handing me over. My tracking of the VOR wasn’t great, but I was at least managing to fly a fairly steady heading and level. I then used the Arrow’s basic autopilot to initially follow a heading, and then to track the BCN VOR, leading to a fairly obvious course change to the South West. The Cardiff Controller obviously noticed this, and queried my routing to Haverfordwest. I informed him ‘direct BCN VOR, just intercepting the correct track now’ which seemed to reassure him that I wasn’t in fact heading into his airspace!
Passing BCN, I tried the various autopilot modes to see if I could find one which didn’t end up with too many course corrections. Around half way between BCN and Carmarthen I emerged from the clouds into clear blue skies, with incredible visibility. Looking back I could see the cloud bank I had passed through, and it was nice to be back out into clear skies again. I dropped down to a Basic service, before eventually signing off with the Cardiff Controller as I approached Carmarthen.
Emerging from the cloud layer
The Danger Areas around Pembrey generally aren’t operational at the weekend, but I wanted to double check. Outside of their notified times, a DAAIS (Danger Area Activity Information Service) is available from London Info. I’ve never really bothered talking to London Info before, as they always seemed to be incredibly busy whenever I’ve listened in previously. This time I had good reason to call them however, so decided to give it a go. When I initially tuned to their frequency, I could hear a one-sided conversation between the Controller and another aircraft. I assumed that the other aircraft was so far away I couldn’t hear him. However, almost immediately I heard another aircraft come on frequency to request a Basic Service. Assuming from this he would be in the same area as me, I made a point of listening carefully to work out where he was. It turned out he was just coming out of the Southern end of the Manchester Low Level Route! Not bad radio reception!
I finally got my turn, and requested activity information for the two Danger Areas near Pembrey. Almost immediately the FISO confirmed that they were not notified active (I had assumed there would be a short delay while he looked up the information), and asked if I wanted to remain with them for a Basic Service. Given that I was barely 20nm from my destination, there didn’t seem much point, so I thanked the FISO for his assistance and switched to Haverfordwest’s frequency.
Glorious views to the coast
Traffic, 10 O’Clock low
They were quiet, so I made my initial call, giving my distance to run. I had a little difficulty understanding the A/G operator’s questions, meaning I had to ask him to repeat a couple of his transmissions. I decided to join Overhead for runway 03, and was asked to report descending Deadside. Almost immediately another aircraft came on frequency a couple of miles behind me, and announced a Crosswind join (which in hindsight was a more logical join from the direction I was approaching).
I had already planned my descent, but still arrived in the area of Haverfordwest a little higher than I would have liked. I took care to avoid the noise sensitive areas highlighted in the flight guide, and began my descent, notifying the A/G operator that I was doing so. I was still conscious of the other aircraft joining, but he was still a few miles away so was unlikely to become a factor. The descent and circuit went well, but I was caught out slightly by the strength of the headwind on Final. As a result, I ended up a little lower than I should have, and had to apply more power to correct the descent profile.
I think this distracted me a little, because I ended up flaring slightly high, and the descent rate close to the runway was a little higher than it should have been as I bled the speed off. I applied a burst of power to correct, and touched down a little firmer than I would have liked. Mindful of the other aircraft following me around the circuit I did my best to clear the runway, before taxying in to park.
After parking the aircraft tidily, I headed in to hand in the landing voucher and have some lunch! I was initially caught out by a locked, security coded door into the office, but the A/G operator popped round to let me in. I handed over the landing voucher and chatted for a little while, before heading in to the cafe for a very tasty sausage and bacon sandwich!
I took my time over my lunch, before booking out in the office and walking out to the aircraft. A second Arrow was now parked up in the parking area, and I wondered if this was the same Arrow that I’d seen on a previous visit to Haverfordwest. A quick walkaround showed nothing of concern, and again the engine was a little reluctant to start. I taxyed to the hold, carrying out power checks off to the side before waiting for another aircraft to land. I lined up as he rolled out, and then began my takeoff roll once he was clear of the runway.
A pair of Arrows at Haverfordwest
I followed the circuit around to the left, climbing out on the Downwind leg and heading West towards the far Western point of Wales. The Nav for the rest of the leg home was planned to be incredibly simple. Basically, follow the Coast around to the East before getting to the Severn Bridges, then turn right!
I meandered between 2000 and 3000 feet, enjoying the stunning views in almost perfect flying conditions, so much so that I brought the power back a couple of inches and reduced the prop RPM by 200 or so. I was in no rush! I passed by Pembrey (hearing nothing on their frequency) before ensuring I kept to the North of Swansea Airfield in case they were parachuting today. Listening out on their frequency showed they seemed to be relatively busy, and I spotted a few aircraft in their circuit as I passed.
After leaving Swansea’s frequency I dialled up Cardiff’s ATIS to check whether St. Athan was active (it wasn’t) before calling Cardiff to begin the negotiations for a Zone Transit. I was initially given the standard ‘remain outside Controlled Airspace’ response, and the Controller confirmed a few further details as I got closer. I was warned of opposite direction traffic at a similar level, so initiated a climb to put some airspace between us. The Controller informed me that if I continued on my current heading the other aircraft would pass by on my left, and I quickly spotted him a couple of hundred feet below me, half a mile or so off to my left.
I had decided that Porthcawl would be my decision point, and had planned a second route from there heading inland back to the BCN VOR to reverse my route back into England. As I was considering an orbit to ensure I didn’t infringe, I was given clearance to transit Cardiff’s airspace, not above 3000 feet.
I mis-identified St. Athan (I think it was Llandow), and then mistook St. Athan for Cardiff itself. There were a couple of EasyJet aircraft on the ground at St. Athan which confused me, and it was only when I realised I couldn’t see anything that looked like a terminal that had me questioning my identification.
Soon enough I spotted Cardiff, and as I passed to the South the Controller asked me to keep my speed up, as he was vectoring a Commercial aircraft in to land, and I would be passing through the climbout should he have to Go Around for some reason. I increased back up to a more normal cruising speed, and continued around the coast trying to spot the incoming aircraft over my shoulder.
As I turned North I eventually spotted him as a spec in the distance, and continued along the Coast. The Controller soon informed me I was outside Controlled Airspace, and back on a Basic Service. Not long after I was asked to contact Bristol, and I thanked him for his help in giving me my desired routing. As I changed frequency, I realised I hadn’t been given a new squawk, so on my initial call I announced ‘Bristol Radar, G-AZWS with you, squawking 3632’. The Bristol Controller gave me a new squawk, and then notified me of a couple of other aircraft operating in the area, asking me to report ‘coasting in’ on the English side of the Severn.
Crossing the Severn
After double checking the height of the Bristol Airspace, I cut the corner to the bridges, and reported coasting in as requested. I got a good view of Filton off to the right, hearing the Air Ambulance lifting for a call and heading North towards Gloucester. Approaching Thornbury, I signed off with Bristol, again thanking the Controller for her assistance. Some GA pilots are wary of flying in or near Controlled Airspace, but I can honestly say I’ve always had good service from the Radar Controllers at major airports. In fact, I’ve also never been refused a Zone Transit when I’ve asked, despite the Controllers obviously being busy at times.
After signing off I heard G-EDGI (one of Lyneham’s two Warriors) signing on with Bristol, approaching from the North before heading back into Kemble. I switched to Kemble and heard an aircraft ahead of me planning a Right Base join. I obviously didn’t get a full picture of his position, as when I neared the airfield and requested a Right Base join myself, the FISO informed me of the other aircraft and asked him to report his position. He reported that he had me in sight ahead of him, and on looking over my right shoulder I could see him some 3 or 4 miles behind me to the right. The Arrow flies quicker than a lot of the GA fleet, and I had obviously overtaken him without realising.
I did my best to keep my speed up as I joined, hearing him reporting he was going to join behind me. I carried out the before landing checks, and set myself up for a landing, deciding to land long to avoid holding the other aircraft up due to a lengthy taxy down to the far end. The wind seemed quite calm (I think the FISO reported a slight crosswind at 5 knots or so), and I realised with 300 feet or so to go that I had only lowered 2 stages of flaps. I lowered the final stage, and took a couple of seconds to get the aircraft stabilised again.
As I began to flare, the right wing suddenly lifted, and I quickly reacted to correct it. Now just a few feet off the ground, I recovered to level flight again, and prepared to begin a second attempt at landing when the right wing again picked up. Deciding that things had now gone too far, I immediately decided to Go Around, applying full power while raising the nose and drag flap. As I climbed away, I informed the FISO (although I’m sure he’d worked it out by then!) and continued the climb, retracting the flaps in stages but leaving the gear down.
I repeated the before landing checks on the Downwind leg, watching the aircraft I had overtaken land as I did so. I was mindful of getting the aircraft configured fully on this circuit, and mentally prepared myself as I came down Final for the second time. This time, there was no issue, and I brought the aircraft in for a nice gentle landing. As I rolled out, I made a slight slip by asking the FISO for taxy to Woodside (where Freedom’s aircraft are), before quickly correcting myself and asking to taxy to ‘Hotel site’ (where Lyneham’s aircraft park). Another aircraft was on Final behind me, so I cleared the runway as quickly as possible to avoid delaying him.
I taxyed back to the parking area, refuelling the aircraft back to tabs before pushing it back into parking just in time to make room at the bowser for G-EDGI as it taxyed up. As I was earlier than I’d expected to be, I tried to raise the pilot who had booked the aircraft after me to inform him that the aircraft was now free. Sadly I only got through to his answerphone, so left a message in the hope he would pick it up. I gathered up all my gear, before heading into the office to settle my bill, only to meet the next pilot, who had turned up early on the off-chance!
This had been an incredibly rewarding flight. Despite some challenging conditions initially, I’d persevered with a flight in IMC knowing that the weather was always forecast to improve from the West throughout the day. Conditions once I reached Wales really couldn’t have been better, and I’d had a really pleasant trip back along the coast, including a Zone Transit of Cardiff’s Controlled Airspace. The flight ended with my making a good decision to carry out my first ‘real’ Go Around in quite a long time, and I was pleased that I’d shown good ‘command’ skills to make this decision. Hopefully there will be many more such rewarding flights.
Total flight time today: 2:45
Total flight time to date: 266:05