Arrow weather complications

Having finally got the conversion to the Arrow completed earlier this week, I was itching to make use of the aircraft and try to stop myself forgetting everything I’d learned. Booked the Arrow for a flight today, initially planning to take the family with me somewhere. However, a friend of Luned’s had been asking to come flying with me for a while, and she suggested that maybe I should take him instead.

Leading up to the flight a number of destinations were considered, my personal favourite being Haverfordwest (with the added benefit of a new entry into the logbook). However as the day approached the weather was forecasting a front coming in from the West, with the West of Wales getting the poorer weather a lot earlier than the rest of the UK.

We finally settled on a return to Dunkeswell, and flying over Neil’s house near Gloucester meant we could add a little spice to the mix by including a transit of Bristol’s Zone on the way from Gloucester down to Dunkeswell. We also had the option of ‘ducking under’ their airspace should a clearance to transit not be given.

The day dawned with localised mist and fog reported in the TAFs, and Brize showing ‘FEW 05, BKN 45’ (few clouds at 500 feet, broken cloud at 4500 feet). This should have been flyable, but when we arrived at Kemble the picture looked a little different.

The visibility wasn’t great, and the cloud base looked a lot lower than the 4500 feet being reported at Brize. Neil got stuck in traffic on his way over, so I took the time to talk to the Club’s CFI Graham as he was preparing to head off for a skills test with another Club member. His reading of the weather was the same as mine, so once Neil arrived we got ready to go and headed out to the aircraft.

All checks were normal, so we got onboard and got settled. This was Neil’s first flight in a light aircraft so I was doing my best to brief him in small chunks, only providing him with the information I really thought he needed to know. We soon had the engine running and were taxying to the hold (Alpha 1 was open today so this was my first taxy right up to the far end of the airfield).

Other aircraft were arriving and departing, so I thought that my decision regarding the weather was correct. Power checks were soon completed and we were lining up on runway 26 ready to depart. The aircraft performed normally on the take off run, and there was little wind so the rotation and takeoff were all relatively straightforward. Once there was no usable runway remaining I retracted the gear, and turned right to head to Gloucester. This caused some prompting from the FISO as my destination of Dunkeswell would normally have required a left turn, but I informed him we were heading via Gloucester and Bristol.

At around 500 feet or so things started to rapidly deteriorate. I began flying through slight wisps of cloud, so began to level off expecting this to be the ‘Few’ clouds that were reported. However, I was soon in solid IMC and was quickly on Instruments to maintain control while descending back below the cloudbase. It was clear that these ‘Few’ clouds were actually a relatively thick layer, as continuing at 500 feet for a short while showed no evidence of a break in the cloud above me. Reluctantly, I made the decision to abandon the flight, and informed Kemble that we were returning.

There was other traffic departing, a Bulldog from Ultimate High up to check the weather, but he wasn’t a factor as I repositioned for a relatively low level approach back into Kemble. Joined Left Base, and brought us in for a nice approach culminating in a nice smooth landing back at Kemble. As we landed the Bulldog was reporting a layer of cloud around 500 feet or so, but clear conditions above this from 2000 feet or so.

Despite the obvious disappointment of a very short flight, Neil appeared to have enjoyed the experience! We taxyed back, made a bit of a hash of parking the aircraft and returned to the Club office to double check weather, before deciding to head for a cuppa in AV8 to see if the weather cleared as it was supposed to. I took advantage of the relaxed surroundings to get the GPS working again too, which would be a definite benefit should the weather turn out to be poor later.

Abandoned flight track

Abandoned flight track

Abandoned flight profile

Abandoned flight profile

Not long after, Graham returned with the newly qualified PPL, and he had good news about the weather. The low cloud was very localised over Kemble, so if I used my IMC rating to climb through it (the Bulldog had reported the layer to be only 1000 feet or so thick) I should be able to depart safely. I also had the option (if necessary) of an Approach into Gloucester (perhaps with a low level return) should the weather not be more agreeable once we left Kemble.

So we were soon headed back to the aircraft, with blue patches invitingly poking through the cloud, and it being distinctly brighter too. Once again all checks for normal, and with a distinct feeling of deja vu we were soon at the hold ready to depart. Another aircraft was flying circuits using the Grass runway, and I reported ‘Ready for Departure’ as he passed over us for another touch and go. The FISO asked us to ‘report lining up’, so I did so and lined up on the hard runway after checking  the position of another microlight on the downwind leg.

Once I saw the aircraft take off from the Grass and turn crosswind,I reported ‘rolling’ and began my departure roll. With one eye on the other aircraft I rotated as normal, and we were soon climbing away and retracting the gear. I again turned right to head North to clear Aston Down before turning back towards Gloucester to find Neil’s house.

We entered cloud around 800 feet or so, but I stuck with it and remained on Instruments to see how thick the layer was. I soon broke out into broken cloud around 1500 feet or so.

Around this point, the FISO contacted me saying I had only been asked to report lining up, and not given any ‘take off your discretion’ clearance. I apologised and continued, but I think that in actual fact once I crossed the hold line I think I was then ‘in control’. I need to do some checking to confirm this.

Now above the cloud, I used Gloucester’s NDB to head towards their field at around 3000 feet or so above a layer of cloud. This soon became unnecessary, as the cloud quickly broke up below me and we emerged into almost clear blue skies! Ah, the joys of an IMC Rating!

Now back VFR, I altered course a few times to head for the gaps in the clouds and get back down to around 2000 feet or so, and we began the task of finding Neil’s house. We soon spotted the M5 and he started to get his bearings, and we were able to perform a good orbit over his house enabling him to get some decent photos of it from the air.

I can see my house from here!

I can see my house from here!

Once Neil was happy, we set course for Cinderford in order to clear the Severn Bird Sanctuary, before turning South to head towards Dunkeswell. We had been talking to Gloucester (after some difficulty getting a word in on the Kemble frequency to change!) just so that they were aware of where we were and what we were doing. They now suggested we contact Bristol so we switched over to Bristol Radar to ask for a Basic Service and a Zone Transit.

As we headed South, Neil did a sterling job spotting a number of other aircraft passing near us (a couple appeared to be flying in loose formation as they were quite close together). The Zone Transit didn’t arrive by the time we approached the Severn Bridges (the point at where I’d have to consider descending to pass below their airspace), so I asked them if I needed to descend. The Controller informed me he was still coordinating the Transit with their Tower, but that I should expect a Clearance in good time. Not long after we were cleared to Transit along the English Coast, not above 2000 feet.

Approaching the Second Severn Crossing

Approaching the Second Severn Crossing

We followed the Coast, spotting a Bristol departure climbing away to our left. We got good views of Avonmouth and Weston Super Mare as we passed them by, and were soon emerging from the Bristol Zone. In reality, we were flying at about 1800 feet in a Zone that only started at 1500 feet so it would probably have been easier just to drop down below it. However, it’s always good practice to negotiate transits such as this, so it was a useful exercise. Once clear, I informed the Controller we were setting course for Taunton, and climbing back up to 2500 feet. We were notified of  ‘pop up’ traffic close to us indicating 600 feet (unverified) as we neared the edge of the Zone, but we never managed to spot the other traffic.

The Pier at Weston Super Mare

The Pier at Weston Super Mare

Taunton soon appeared, and I set course for the final leg down to Dunkeswell, challenging Neil to try to spot the airfield. Signed off with Bristol and switched to Dunkeswell, and was given the usual brief (but perfectly correct) response to my call, giving me the runway in use and their QFE (together with a warning about parachuting and hence avoiding the overhead). As I approached I descended down to 1000 feet AAL and slowed down in readiness for the Approach.

We soon passed by the Hang Gliding field at Upottery, and spotted Dunkeswell. Everything was quiet, so as they were using runway 22 I positioned for a straight in approach, and carried out the pre landing checks. Reported Long Final and then Final, bringing us down for a nice approach. The last few seconds weren’t great however, as I rounded out slightly high, leading to a rather firm touchdown!

Final at Dunkeswell

Final at Dunkeswell

As things were quiet we backtracked the length of the runway and parked up before heading in to pay the landing fee and get some lunch. Surprisingly there were notices around announcing that they would cease trading at some date in the near future. It was unclear to me whether this referred to the Flying School, the Cafe or the Airfield as a whole (or indeed some combination of the three). I have since found that it’s the Restaurant that is closing at the end of this month, with a new Coffee Shop / Restaurant opening soon after. That’s oogd news, as it’d be a real shame to lose Dunkeswell as a fly out lunch destination.

I opted for a sausage and bacon sandwich, while Neil was unable to resist the temptation of the Full Breakfast. We sat outside as we ate, watching skydivers returning to Earth, and being treated to an impromptu aerobatics display by a biplane (Pitts?) in the aerodrome’s overhead. The weather was nigh on perfect, it was difficult to believe that just a few short hours ago I’d been abandoning a flight after a departure encountering hard IMC at barely 600 feet AAL!

Impromptu aerobatics display

Impromptu aerobatics display

Stomachs satisfied, we headed back to the aircraft and prepared to depart. Had a brief scare when I was joined in the cockpit by a wasp, but managed to shepherd it out and prevent any others joining us before we departed! Sadly this meant we had to close the door earlier than I would have preferred in order to prevent any unwanted passengers embarking on the flight!

Dunkeswell were now operating on runway 17, so I had a quick look at the airfield chart to ensure I knew where I was going, before taxying to the hold. The taxyway immediately before runway 17 was very narrow, but luckily there was little wind so I didn’t really need to turn the aircraft into wind for the power checks. A microlight departed before us, and we waited for another aircraft to land before lining up. Once the arriving aircraft had departed we began our takeoff run.

It was obvious we would soon overtake the microlight, so I turned to his right to pass well clear of him, before turning left again to set course for Taunton and the flight home (note to self, must check the rules of the air to see if I should have passed him on his left). As we approached Taunton, I ‘briefed’ Neil on the basics of flying, having him get a feel for the position of the horizon above the instrument panel, and advising him to aim for a distant landmark when attempting course.

Once over Taunton, I set course for Frome, noted the time and prepared to hand over to Neil. Neil made a fairly good job of maintaining height and course, but also made the mistake all new pilots do (including me!) of attempting to ‘over control’ the aircraft. I demonstrated to him that the aircraft would pretty much fly itself hands off, and demonstrated that all was necessary was a finger and thumb grip to maintain height and course. He took back control, but didn’t seem too comfortable at the controls, so I took control back from him rather than have him become unnecessary concerned.

We were listening to Bristol but the frequency was relatively quiet so I didn’t bother troubling them for a Basic Service. We passed by Glastonbury on track, and Frome soon appeared bang on time. We set course for Lyneham (their NDB still working surprisingly!) and I incorrectly identified it a number of times, before virtually passing by it without noticing! It was slightly sad passing overhead and seeing the airfield completely empty. Hopefully we can return there at some point in the future.

Kemble was clearly visible now, and it was obvious that the micro weather system that had been hovering over it as we departed had long since gone. Neil seemed surprised at how quickly we’d passed through a couple of Counties on our return journey (the flying time was about 35 minutes – well, we were travelling at around 140 MPH with a bit of a tailwind!), and we were soon approaching the Kemble overhead.

Two of Ultimate High’s aircraft were lining up for a formation takeoff as we joined overhead, and we got a good view of them departing as I turned Crosswind. Looking at the track, my Downwind leg was a little wonky, but the rest of the circuit went well, and we were nicely lined up on Final with the ‘Reds, Blues, Greens, Flaps’ check completed (2 or three times if I’m honest!). We encountered the usual turbulence at around 100 feet above the runway, but we soon passed through it and I brought us in for a much better landing than the one we made at Dunkeswell.

Neil helped me refuel the aircraft, and as we taxyed back past the Tower and AV8 we were welcomed by synchronised waving from Luned and Catrin up against the fence in front of AV8. Made a much better job of parking the aircraft than I had on the aborted flight this morning, and put the cover back on with Neil’s help.

Flight tracks

Flight tracks

Outbound profile

Outbound profile

Return profile

Return profile

By this time Neil’s family had also arrived, and the ladies and children retired to AV8 whilst Neil and I headed to the office to finalise the paperwork and settle the flying bill for the day. Not long after we were relaxing in AV8 with a cup of tea and some cake, watching the children happily playing around us.

Another happy customer!

Another happy customer!

A very mixed day. Slightly disappointed that I launched off into poor conditions in the morning, but at least I made the correct decision to return immediately rather than attempting to continue in unknown weather conditions. Things were different on the second flight as we had other pilot’s reports of the weather, and it was a real joy to emerge ‘on top’ of the cloud layer into glorious flying conditions. The remainder of the day saw near perfect weather (once we’d cleared the localised cloud near Kemble) and it was good that Neil had enjoyed the flight too.

The flight in the Arrow had all gone without any real hitch, so it was nice to know I could handle the more complex aircraft on my own. I think I’ll aim to make one flight a month in the Arrow in order to prevent myself forgetting anything important. The extra performance will certainly be useful should I undertake any longer trips (such as the trip to Caernarfon I’ve been promising Luned for years!). Also, I’m now just 50 minutes short of the ‘magic’ 100 hours P1 mark (which will increase my ‘currency’ requirements to one flight every 60 days, and allow me to be ‘self authorising’). Next flight should crack it!

Total flight time today: 2:30
Total flight time to date: 168:25

One Response to “Arrow weather complications”

  1. A co-pilot in the family! « Andy's Blog Says:

    […] to keep relatively local due to Catrin being with my mum, we decided to visit Dunkeswell again. Last time I was there, there were signs around the place indicating that the restaurant there was closing. I later found […]

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