A ‘local’ to Compton Abbas

Now that the long summer nights are here, and we’re getting a decent run of weather, it makes sense to try to fly during the week after work if at all possible. The only problem with that is finding somewhere to go, as most airfields close around 5 or 6pm!

I’d been planning to visit Compton Abbas for a while, but had been put off slightly by a few other pilot’s reviews stating it was relatively hard to find. I thought a trip down there to see if I could find it might be in order!

The Airfield sits the other side of the Salisbury Plain danger areas, so a somewhat protracted route was plotted to avoid them. I dare say I could have found out if the areas were active or not, and planned to route through them, but it’s a short enough flight, so a bit of a detour didn’t add a whole lot to the route.

The planned route

The planned route

I’d noticed on recent flights that I’d started to ‘lean’ on the GPS while navigating, so I vowed to try to fly this route ‘properly’ this time, rather than ‘cheat’ and navigate via the GPS. As will soon become clear, this turned out to be a very fortuitous decision!

I managed to get most of the planning out of the way during the day in breaks from work, so already had the weather and NOTAMs checked in advance. The wind forecast was quite variable, but with relatively light winds, so I didn’t bother applying wind corrections to the legs, figuring I could resolve any minor discrepancies while in the air. Got authorisation from Matt a few hours before leaving work, and checked for any airspace upgrades etc. so that I was all ready to go bar getting the chart marked up.

Arrived at Lyneham around 18:30, with the aircraft booked for 19:00. There was a fighter of some sort flying around the circuit as I arrived at the Club, and as I got out of the car this was replaced with a Herc. The office was empty, so I marked up the chart, got the ATIS via the telephone and booked out for a 19:00 departure. They were using runway 06 again and entry 4 (the usual entry for 24) was closed according to the ATIS, so I took a quick look at the airfield plan just to get a feel for where they were likely to send me.

Carried out a check of the aircraft, and got my self settled in the cockpit. Initially I was just going to leave my PDA on the passenger seat, but that meant it couldn’t be powered, so I again attached it to the windscreen using its suction mount. I did make a mental note to try not to look at it too much though!

Once I’d received start clearance and had got G-VICC fired up, I called for taxy clearance. The Tower Controller asked if I would accept a ‘intersection departure from the disused on 06’. Gulp, never been asked to do that one before! I accepted this, and was further surprised when she told me to head via Entry 4 (which was closed according to the ATIS) onto the disused. Headed through Entry 4, and asked for clearance to cross 18 / 36 on the way to the disused. This was granted but I got a bit mixed up, and instead of joining the disused runway after crossing I headed down the taxy way that leads to the threshold of 04.

Whoops. This was obvious as soon as I turned onto the taxyway as I saw the disused runway off to my right, so I did a quick 180 to head down the disused as requested. I’m sure it gave the Tower Controller a bit of a smile to see me getting lost!

Power checks were completed and I was soon sitting at the hold. A Herc was on a downwind for 06 when I called ‘ready for departure’ but I was told to hold position. I think I probably could have been off before the Herc came round, but I guess it’s their playground so they get priority!

Just to throw a spanner in the works, at this point the PDA fell off the windscreen and disappeared under the passenger seat. I managed to retrieve them while holding, but the PDA had locked up, so was now of no use to me as a Nav aid!

Once the Herc had completed its ‘roller’, there was a short delay for wake turbulence, and I was told to line up. Managed to confuse myself with the runway markings and initially lined up on one of the Yellow lines on the runway, rather than the white centre line. Again, making a bit of a show of myself here, but it’s all a learning experience I guess!

Was given takeoff clearance, and I advanced the throttle without delay and began the takeoff roll. Was soon climbing away, before making the crosswind turn and switching over to the Approach frequency. As I headed downwind, the Approach Controller asked if I was intending a departure to the West. Once I confirmed this, he ensured I was visual with the Herc ahead of me (a little difficult not to be!) and to make sure I extended my downwind leg to ensure there was no confliction. As I was initially routing via Chippenham as the start point of the Nav, this wasn’t any real drama.

Got a good view of the Herc down low as it headed away from the airfield, and soon crossed Chippenham and started the Nav proper. Set the watch, made a note of the ETA at Frome and settled in. As I was still in Lyneham Controlled Airspace, I had a quick fiddle with the GPS to see if I could get it working, but sadly to no avail.

Frome was just 15nm away, so only about 10 minutes or so of flying time from Chippenham. Visibility was excellent, and I could soon see Frome so headed straight for it, checking that the heading still agreed with what I had planned. As I approached Frome I made ready to make the short dog leg over to Warminster. As I looked over to the left Warminster was also clearly visible, so once overhead Frome I set course visually and again double checked this against my planned heading.

A short 5 nm hop had me overhead Warminster, and I set course for the final leg due South to Shaftesbury. The CAA chart showed this leg virtually paralleling a major road, but this road was quite difficult to spot from 2500 feet up. I relied on the plan though, and about half way through the planned time crossed over an East – West road, that had a junction with the North – South road, indicating I was pretty much on course.

The leg from Shaftesbury to Compton Abbas wasn’t planned, it was done on a ‘ooh, about 160 degrees for a minute or 2’ basis. I was scouring the fields below me looking for Compton, and then spotted an extremely obvious airfield below me, complete with white runway markings. Perhaps the markings had been recently renewed making it easier to spot?

I’d been announcing my position on the Compton frequency since overhead Shaftesbury, not receiving any replies (as expected) as the airfield was long closed. I decided to fly around the field a few times, before setting course and heading home.

As I flew parallel to the runway to the South of the field, I kept a good eye on it  so that I didn’t lose it. However, after a quick lookout check and an eye on the instruments, I turned to find the field had disappeared! I have to admit to feeling slightly paniced, as without the field as a reference to start my return journey I could really get myself into trouble. I carried out a quick orbit to try to spot the field, before heading back to the West hoping to pick out Shaftesbury.

After heading West  for a little while, I spotted Compton again off to the right. I’d obviously underestimated the amount of time I’d spent flying East, and had put Compton far enough behind me that I couldn’t see it! Around the same time I remembered the locator that’s installed in G-VICC. This is a small box mounted behind the yoke that receives a feed from the built in GPS and uses it to report the aircraft’s position in a ‘meaningful’ way (for example, 2nm WSW Compton). If I’d had the presence of mind to use this I perhaps wouldn’t have got myself into such a tizz!

With my position now re-established, I headed North West to pick up Shaftesbury and begin the flight home. Visibility was now worse as I was heading into the setting sun, but I stuck to the plan and managed to find my way back to Warminster without too much difficulty. Despite being only 5nm away, Frome was impossible to spot looking into the sun, so I again set course and noted an ETA, before Frome appeared below me bang on schedule.

As I turned back towards Chippenham I noticed a number of other craft in the air with me. The trip had been completely devoid of traffic (with the exception of the military aircraft near Lyneham). This ‘traffic’ wasn’t much of a threat to me however, it was 3 hot air balloons operating in the distance over towards Bristol. I made sure I was giving them plenty of space (they were probably about 10 nm away!) as I headed back towards Lyneham.

Was now passing Trowbridge, and was back talking to the Approach Controller. Was soon cleared into Controlled Airspace, not above 1500 feet on the QFE. After setting QFE I was at around 2000 feet, so I began a descent to get down to the right level.

There was another Herc in the circuit as I approached, and the Controller informed me he would be departing in my direction, but at high level. I watched him climb rapidly above me and head to the South West as I approached the field. Once the field was in sight I switched over to the Tower Controller for the approach to land.

Requested a Right Base join for 06, and was granted this. Descended to 1000 feet as I approached the field, and called Right Base at the appropriate time. Continuted on a much better approach than normal (I wasn’t miles high like I usually am!) and turned final, having to cut back again to make the centre line.

During my training I’d had an embarassing moment with a Controller at Brize where I forgot to call ‘Final’. Well, I did it again on this flight, but the Lyneham Controller didn’t really make an issue of it, simply clearing me to land while I was on Short Final. Whoops. I thought I’d got that out of my system, but I guess having the airspace to myself and perhaps concentrating a bit too much on the approach made me forget to make the call.

The last portion of the approach went well, as I mentally chose to touch down at the PAPIs. Was pretty close to this, and made a nice gentle touchdown without the sideways drift I’d experienced on the previous flight back from Bembridge. Realised after I’d done so that I now had close to 2 miles of runway to taxy down before I could get back to parking! Oh well, should have landed a bit long!

Was cleared to vacate at the 18 loop and taxy back, where I thanked the Controller and shut down. I had to park slightly away from the bowser as the Firefly was still refuelling. This was soon moved out of the way, and I refuelled and pushed the aircraft back to its parking space.

Just to round off a ‘perfect’ day, a pleasant RAF Policeman turned up with his nice big dog, asking to see my ID as I set about putting the aircraft to bed. First time I’ve had this happen, but I guess everyone has a job to do, and he was perfectly polite to me, so I had no issue. He did warn me to put my ID on the wing and step back away from him though, so that his dog didn’t get the wrong idea!

Aircraft covered, I headed back into the Club to complete the paperwork and leave a check for payment. Despite the Nav hiccup around Compton it had been a thoroughly enjoyable flight. Must remember to keep my head outside the cockpit and not worry about distractions like a broken GPS while flying though.

Next time I go back to Compton, maybe I’ll land!

Total flight time today: 1:15
Total flight time to date: 92:05

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