All by myself…

Luned’s dad was visiting this week, so I’d had an aircraft booked for the weekend for several weeks now. As usual, the last few days of the week were spent looking at the long range forecasts to see if the weather would turn out to be flyable. Even by Friday evening it was still touch and go, but looking likely that the flight would happen.

We’d arranged for Gerallt and Mags to come over to us Saturday morning about 9am, so that we could do a few things and then head off to Lyneham in plenty of time for the 11:30 slot. I awoke early (as I usually do when I’m supposed to be flying!) and a quick check of the weather looked good. Also, the previous slot to me had been cancelled, so that left us with plenty of options. I’d originally planned for a visit to Shobdon, but as 9am came and went I was rapidly revising this to just be a ‘local’ following the same route.


The planned route

The planned route

9:20 came and went, so Luned tried to phone Gerallt. His phone was out of signal, and we were just about to leave the house at 9:30 or so when our house phone rang. Turned out they’d overslept, so wouldn’t be able to make it! I made a couple of quick calls to prospective passengers who all had other plans, so I decided to make the trip solo. It had been a month or so since I’d last flown anyway, so I was glad to be getting in the air!

Headed off to Lyneham, having a quick word with Matt on the way to get his take on the weather. He had come to the same conclusions as I had, that it would be flyable, and he was planning on taking a student on a land-away to Wellesbourne at around the same time. He gave me a verbal authorisation over the phone, and I headed off to Lyneham.

Matt was still around when I arrived, so we chatted for a bit, and I completed my plan based on the day’s wind forecasts. Crosswinds on takeoff and landing were potential issues, but as Lyneham has a cross runway anyway this was no reason to cancel the flight. Also, the fact that I had decided not to land at Shobdon meant I had no concerns on that front either.

Plan completed, I headed out to the aircraft solo for the first time since my QXC on May 11th! I hadn’t realised until I started writing this just how long it’s been since I was in an aircraft by myself! Took the cover off (a bit of a job by yourself!) and carried out an ‘A’ check on the aircraft as it hadn’t flown that day. All was in order, so I got myself on board, and closed the door from the P2 seat (a lot easier than trying to do it while reaching across an inexperienced passenger!).

Once settled, I called for start clearance, and after three or four goes finally managed to get an audible response from the ground controller. His last response was ‘Having some problems on this frequency, call me back on ‘Tower’ 🙂

Engine started up nicely, and all taxy checks were normal and I headed out to the ’18 loop’ to carry out the power checks. It was quite a cold day, so I ended up sitting there for a while waiting for the engine to warm up before I did them. Power checks were normal, and once all the pre-take off checks were complete I had a quick check along the final approach path before calling ‘ready for departure’.

Was given an immediate take off clearance, together with a readback of a stiff wind almost right across the runway at 17 knots. A quick check of the windsock showed that it didn’t look as bad as that, so I elected to continue on runway 24, rather than switch to 36 which would have been almost directly into wind. Out on the runway I came to a stop, readied myself and then applied full power, with significant into-wind aileron to counter the strong cross wind.

Rotated a few knots quicker than I normally would, and after a few hesitant skips the aircraft took to the sky, and began to weathercock into the wind as expected. As I was climbing out to 500 feet I was told of a Police helicopter transiting the zone in my 10 O’Clock, but I didn’t spot him. He reported he had me visual as I turned to the North to leave the zone, and continued to climb up to 2000 feet on the QFE.

As I reached 1000 feet or so I noticed a big black cloud, mostly to the East but slightly overhead. It dropped a few spots of rain on the windscreen as I headed out, causing me to consider aborting the flight then and there. However it was obvious that all the bad weather was out to the East, and I was heading North West into clear skies and excellent visibility, so I pressed on. I later found out that this cloud had been dropping hail stones on Swindon, so I’m glad I just caught the edge of it!

Spotted Malmbesbury easily, and turned West towards the Severn Bridges, bidding farewell to the Lyneham Zone controller as I switched to Filton to receive Flight Information from them. They sounded quite busy, with a number of aircraft rejoining and leaving while I was on frequency, and some heading inbound from my general direction so I made a point of keeping a good lookout for them. I could see those operating in the pattern, but none of the other traffic came close enough to be visible.

The Severn Bridges were easy to spot today, so they were a good check that my plan was correct. They stayed at pretty much the same point in the view outside throughout the leg, so the wind forecast were obviously pretty good. Once I reached the Severn Bridges I turned North, informing Filton but staying with them for now. I would change frequency as I approached Hereford.

The Nav went slightly awry on this leg. I ended up directly overhead Monmouth (putting me a couple of miles off track) but this was easily corrected. The M50 is a useful landmark as it winds its way around Monmouth, before heading almost North then turning East again as it approached Ross on Wye. These were all good features to give me confidence as to where I was. The conditions were very turbulent as I headed North, and on more than one occasion the aircraft lurched into a 20 or 30 degree bank that needed control input to recover from. Perhaps it was a good idea none of my prospective 

Left Filton, but didn’t check in with Gloucester just yet as I would be continuing North all the way to Leominster. I did listen in on their frequency though, as well as tuning the second radio to Shobdon to get a feel for how much traffic was in the area there.

Hereford appeared just where it should have been, and I continued past it, getting a good view of the aerials at Madley off to my left. There was little in the way of cloud to be concerned about on my route, but off to the left there was obviously a band of weather over the Welsh mountains. Visibility was still excellent though, and it was a great day to be up in the air.

I’d tuned in Shobdon’s NDB, but it was NOTAMed as being U/S, and indeed I received no signal from it. However as I approached Leominster Shobdon was easy to spot off to the left. There was no traffic to affect me, and I made the 300 odd degree turn to the right over Leominster to put me on the leg towards Stroud, passing Gloucester Airport later.

As I headed towards Ledbury, I was surprised by another aircraft passing me quite close off to my right, perhaps 200 or 300 feet below me. I’d been listening in on Gloucester’s frequency but hadn’t heard anything, and this was a reminder to me not to assume I’d hear other traffic on the radio. While this was probably the closest I’d been to another aircraft in flight, there was still plenty of seperation. It was slightly worrying that I hadn’t spotted him earlier though, so I made a point of concentrating more on lookout through the rest of the leg.

I suspect this contributed to a slight deterioration in my Nav from this point onwards. I was now receiving Flight Information from Gloucester, and listening in on a number of IFR arrivals they had entering the hold. I even had a good view of one of them flying a hold over the field as I passed. However, I passed over the bulk of Gloucester, when in fact I should have barely clipped the edge of it. This meant I was again 2 or 3 miles off track. I almost caught myself out by heading for the wrong hill near Stroud, but luckily caught sight of the town off to my right and corrected my course to pass over it correctly.

This had obviously distracted me somewhat, and I managed to pass Aston Down without seeing it, initially convincing myself that Kemble was Aston Down. It was soon obvious that I had made a mistake as I spotted Malmesbury slightly to the right of where it should have been. While doing this I had been in contact with Lyneham Zone, and had been given a new Squawk and runway information.

They were still on 24, but the first wind indication I was given was something like 360 at 10 knots. This actually equated to a slight tailwind, which the Controller pointed out to me, asking if I’d prefer to use runway 36. As I think about this now, I think this was more of a suggestion than a question, but I decided to press on, informing them I’d make the decision once I got closer in.

Was about to make my ‘Overhead Malmesbury, field in sight’ call to the Zone Controller, when she asked me for my position. This was probably prompted on her part by her thinking I had got too close in and forgotten the call! Oh well, I guess she’d never believe now that I was just about to key the microphone when she contacted me!

I transferred to Tower, and joined Right Base for 24, asking for a wind check. He again gave me the same wind figures, but from the windsock it looked to me more like a slight headwind than a tailwind, so I elected to continue. I reasoned that even with a small (less than 5 knots) tailwind, the landing run was unlikely to be a factor on a runway the size of Lyneham’s!

After calling ‘Final’ at around the start of the Base leg, I was given clearance to land, and later turned Final. I initially dropped the final stage of flap, but reconsidered given the crosswind and raised it back to two stages almost immediately. I was also keeping my airspeed up above where I normally would to try to keep more control in the crosswind.

The slight tailwind meant I misjudged the approach slightly, and ended up on a glide approach that still left me high over the threshold. Anywhere else I would have elected to go around, but the long runway ahead meant I still had plenty of time to get down. I was never going to make the turn off at the ’18 loop’, but this was no cause for concern.

As I approached the runway the wind seemed to become less strong, and there wasn’t too much of a crab angle to deal with. I flared nicely and kicked off the small amount of crab, applying slight into-wing aileron again to counter the wind from the right. It took me a few seconds after the aircraft touched down to realise I had actually landed, this was probably the most gentle landing I’ve ever made!

I applied gentle braking to slow down, and as I got down to a comfortable speed asked for a backtrack to the ’18 loop’. This was approved, and I was cleared directly back to the Flying Club parking area.

While I was refuelling after the flight, the other Warrior appeared in the pattern and then disappeared from sight. I also noticed that one of the tanks was significantly lower than the other, indicating poor fuel management on my part. Something else to look out for.

Soon after the other Warrior appeared again, taxying from the left – obviously after having landed on runway 36. Perhaps I should have considered taking that runway after all, but at no point during the approach or landing did I ever feel that my choice was causing me any undue problems. Perhaps I’ll have a word with Matt about it next time I see him.

Refuelled, pushed the aircraft back to its parking space and remembered to put the cover back on this time (again, a bit of hassle and the first time I’d done it alone!). Walked back into the Club feeling generally pleased with how the flight had gone despite a few Nav problems and the hiccup with the opposite direction traffic and fuel management. As ever, something to learn from this flight!

 Total flight time today: 1:40
Total flight time to date: 82:20

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