Shobdon with a Toddler – noisily!

Another first for me today, gradually expanding my horizons with the PPL!

A friend from my Westfield days had expressed an interest in flying with me, including offering to pay his share of the costs, so who was I to say no? The ‘problem’? He was going to bring Emily, his 2 1/2 year old daughter. This would be my first flight with a young child, so I asked for advice on what to expect from the good folks over on UKGA, and ordered a childs headset for her to use (we have a number of friends with small children so it’s likely they’ll get a fair amount of use).

The plan was to depart Lyneham and head North to try to find their house (just to the West of Defford) from the air. From there if all was Ok we would head over to Shobdon for lunch, and take a more direct route back. Obviously I was expecting at any stage to have to make the decision to turn back depending on how Emily was doing.

I checked NOTAMS on the Friday, to find the first snag. Kemble were having an open day on the Saturday and Sunday, with large numbers of aircraft expecting to arrive throughout the day. This was NOTAMed with a radius of 6 miles, so I planned a slightly more circuitous route to give Kemble as wide a berth as possible.

Route to Shobdon

Route to Shobdon

The weather forecast had been favourable all week, and this continued right up until Saturday morning. The day was misty early on, but this showed all the signs of lifting quite quickly, and when I arrived at Lyneham the ATIS was initially showing scattered clouds at 700 feet, quickly improving to scattered at 1700 as I prepared. We got Emily’s car seat secure in the back of the Warrior, and filled the right hand tanks to full so that we wouldn’t need to refuel at Shobdon. Once all the preflight planning was complete and I had been authorised, I booked out and we all headed out to the aircraft. I noticed that the oil was on the low side of normal, but thought nothing of it at this point.

Emily didn’t want to wear the headset, and I was a little concerned that this might cause problems once the engine was running. Adrian did his best to get hear to wear them, but she wasn’t having any of it! Adrian had been telling Emily about what they were going to do all week and they had apparently been looking at photos of aircraft and he’d been teaching her the names of the various parts. Another pilot in the making perhaps?

We received clearance to start, and then the moment of truth arrived. However, Emily showed little reaction ot the engine starting up, and we taxyed out to the 18 loop to carry out power checks. Again I tried to get Adrian to persuade Emily to put the headset on, as this was likely to be one of the noisier parts of the flight. She still refused though, but as it happened the power checks went fine, and Emily didn’t seem perturbed by them at all.

Emily safely strapped in

Emily safely strapped in

We were cleared onto the runway and for take off, tried one last time to get Emily to put the headset on, and then started to roll when she refused. Takeoff was normal and we headed North to Malmesbury. I was asked to report leaving the zone, and was just about to when the Zone controller told me I was leaving controlled airspace. Oh well!

Hullavington was active, and we saw a glider spiralling in the overhead there. We reached Malmesbury and I turned West to give Kemble a wider berth, and then headed North to fly through the gap between the gliding fields at Nympsfield and Aston Down. Spotted these easily, and they also looked quite busy so we kept a good lookout for gliders, also spotting an aircraft pass behind and below us, presumably on its way to Kemble.

I reported that we were approaching Stroud, and the Lyneham Zone controller suggested we call Brize Radar. I declined, telling him we were going to talk to Gloucester Approach next (we would be passing within a mile or two of them) and we switched frequencies.

Gloucester provided good services as usual, and the navigation was going well all the way past them up to the M50 junction where we were planning to look for Adrian’s house. I’d brought along my PDA and bluetooth GPS receiver to help with the navigation today, but predictably it spent the whole flight reporting ‘No Signal’ so it was a good idea it was for backup purposes only! We followed the road North from the M50, and Adrian used his local knowledge to spot his house from the air. I told Gloucester we were descending to 1500 feet and would be orbitting to the West of Defford, and we flew a few orbits of his house while he took photos of it from the air. Jen (his wife) was apparently watching us from below and taking photos from the ground too!


Adrian's place from the air

Adrian's place from the air

We climbed back up to 2500 feet, and told Gloucester we were resuming towards Shobdon. Throughout the flight Emily had been absolutely fine and seemed to be enjoying things, so I had little concern with pressing on. Luckily flying conditions today had been almost perfect, with excellent visibility and very smooth conditios, but I warned Adrian that things tended to get a little bumpy as we passed over the ridge near Great Malvern. As usual they did, but Emily took it all in her stride.

As we passed Great Malvern I informed Gloucester we were switching to Shobdon’s frequency, and we switched quite early to listen in. Shobdon didn’t seem anywhere near as busy as the last time I was there, so we called them as we passed Bromyard for joining information. They were using their Westerly facing runway as expected, and as we got closer it was clear there would be 4 or 5 aircraft joining for Shobdon at around the same time.

Soon got sight of the field (the ADF had been a useful navigation backup to show we were heading in the right direction) and called as we joined overhead. The join went normally, and we descended on the deadside before turning crosswind. As we did, we heard another aircraft report that it was descending on the deadside also, so I made a point to keep an eye out for it during the rest of the circuit.

As we turned downwind, I spotted him on crosswind behind us. It was big! It looked like something like a Piper Matrix or perhaps a Pilatus PC-12 (I’m not much with aircraft types!) and in the back of my mind I wondered if he would be able to go slow enough around the circuit to avoid overhauling us. As he turned downwind he reported that he was following us, so that eased my mind a little.

The base and final turns went normally, but I was a little surprised that as I called final for the main runway, a microlight also called final for the grass runway to the South. Slightly concerned I looked around trying to find him, only to spot him very low and close to the runway. The microlight circuit is obviously a lot tighter than the one I was flying!

I was aware of the other aircraft behind me, and he called final as we were very close to the runway and preparing to land. He reported he had me in sight, so I concentrated on the landing. However, as I was preparing to round out, the FISO came over the radio asking me to continue to the end of the runway (most people were backtracking after landing). The timing of his message surprised me somewhat, but I ignored it for the time being, and concentrated on landing. Once I was fully under control I acknowledge with a ‘Wilco’ and continued to the end of the runway swiftly to allow the following aircraft to land behind me.

Taxying back to parking from there was a slight challenge as the taxyway had been blocked off with bollards, so I was forced to take to the grass. We parked up, and headed in to the cafe for a well earned lunch!

Emily showed know ill effects from the flight, and Adrian said she had been pretty well behaved apart from a short period between his house and Shobdon where she was obviously a little tired. She woke up again during the approach to landing though, and seemed excited by all the aircraft around! We ate lunch, and while eating someone from the airfield came over to make sure we knew about their noise abatement procedures. Later, while I was paying the landing fee, they received a couple of complaints from local residents, so I made a point of trying to do the right thing on departure.

As we walked back to the aircraft I spotted G-TOMS, a Tomahawk that Leia Fee owns a share in. I wondered if she was also at the airfield or whether it was one of the aircraft’s other owners.

We took a few photographs at the aircraft, and then I began the walk round to check it over. The oil level was now definitely below minimum, so I walked back to the main buildings to buy some more oil. I neglected to find the type first, so trudged back to the aircraft to call the owners to find out what type I needed, before heading over again to buy some, and back to fill the oil up. There was no obvious sign of an oil leak in the engine (the engine bay was relatively clean, and there was no indication on the rest of the aircraft that oil was escaping) so I completed the walk round and checked the oil one last time. It looked Ok, so we were good to go.


Me and Emily

Me and Emily


Adrian and Emily

Adrian and Emily

The airfield was relatively quiet at this point, so taxying to the runway was a relatively simple matter. Carried out the power checks before taking to the active (avoiding the glider tug that was parked near there) and took off. We were looking for a ditch to the left, just after a crossroads. This was the point at which we should turn crosswind. However, as we took off I couldn’t spot this, but as I looked back I did spot a crossroads so turned crosswind at this point, and departed to the South. Headed for Leominster as our starting nav point, and set course direct to Stroud for the return leg.

Conditions were a little more bumpy for the first portion of the leg, but things calmed down quite soon and we continued on. Passed Hereford on the right, then Ledbury off to the left before crossing the M50 and spotting Gloucester in the distance, with the airfield also off to the left. We’d been receiving Flight Information from them as usual, and as we turned at Stroud we switched to Lyneham Approach to rejoin.

This may not have been the correct thing to do, as the controller asked me to call him back on the Zone frequency (must check with someone at Lyneham as to whether I should have contacted them on Zone or Approach) and we were given their runway information. We asked for a right base join, and once we had the field in sight (after initially thinking Hullavington was Lyneham!) we were cleared into the Zone and switched to the Tower frequency. The skies around Kemble still appeared relatively quiet, although we did spot more gliders operating in the area.

Continued into the Zone, and joined right base, continuing on. Rememebered to call ‘Final, gear down’ and were given clearance to land. Approach was normal, but as we got down to 100 feet or so a small flock of birds flew across the threshold, distracting me slightly, particularly when one bird decided to join us in formation for a while! It soon realised an argument with us wasn’t a good idea, and flew above us leaving me to concentrate on the landing.

Made a pretty decent landing, and braked gently allowing us to make the turn off for the 18 loop, asking for taxi clearance back to the ‘wash bay’. This was granted, and the controller then issued the words that almost spoiled the flight: “After closing down, please telephone Shobdon”.

I realised instantly that I must have made a mess of the departure and probably caused another complaint. We taxyed back, refuelled the aircraft and pushed it back into parking. Later realised that I forgot to put the cover back on, and we headed in to complete the paperwork for the flight. Telephone Shobdon and it was as I expected, I had flown further than I should have after takeoff, and flown straight over one of their noise sensitive areas. The guy on the other end of the telephone was understanding as I apologised, and I made a point to take a look again via Google Earth and their website for the next time I visited Shobdon.

Despite this, the flight had gone very well. I’d taken another passenger for the first time, along with a small child. While I had initially been concerned about some aspects of this, Emily behaved really well throughout the flight and seemed to really enjoy it. While I’ll still have to consider this with future young passengers, at least now I’ve got over the ‘first time’ nerves and should be able to prepare for future flights knowing what to expect. Yet another excellent flight.

Total flight time today: 2:00
Total flight time to date: 76:55

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