First ’emergency’!

After resetting my currency earlier in the week, I was keen to take advantage of another break in the weather and get the family flying again. Originally I had the Arrow booked for the Saturday, but the weather on that day was pretty awful, with a near 90 degree crosswind of 15 kts gusting 25 kts. Definitely not particularly pleasant. Fortunately the aircraft was also available on the Sunday, so I switched our booking over to give myself a perfect Father’s Day present!

The forecast was still fairly marginal the night before, but the day dawned with excellent visibility and relatively high cloud with plenty of gaps inbetween. I made a quick call to Haverfordwest to check things were Ok there, before we headed out to Kemble to get ready to go.

I’d planned a route out via the BCN VOR and overhead Pembrey, and intended to head North East from Haverfordwest towards West Wales on the return journey, before heading back along the coast to Pembrey and retracing the original route.

At the Club Luned entertained Catrin in the office while I headed out to the aircraft with mountains of gear to get things ready. Headsets and child seat sorted, I completed the A check before heading back into the Club to fetch my passengers. We all headed out to the aircraft, with Catrin quite excited to be going flying again.

There had been some problems reported with the new intercom in the Arrow, that meant rear seat passengers couldn’t converse properly, so I was a little concerned at how this would work out. We got ourselves settled and I worked through the checklist prior to engine start. Catrin helpfully reminded me to shout ‘clear prop’ at the appropriate point, and after a couple of tries the engine fired up nicely.

I powered up the intercom, and went about seeing exactly who could hear who. It turned out that my fears had been unfounded, and we could all hear each other perfectly! I’d done my typical preparation for the new kit and had made sure to thoroughly study the manual beforehand, so perhaps I was just aware of something that previous pilots hadn’t been (like the need to pull out the P2 volume knob to adjust the volume in the rear seats maybe)?

I then set about entering the route into the Garmin 430 (simple in this case as all the waypoints were airports or VORs) and we made the call for our departure. The FISO confused us with another aircraft, and gave us taxy instructions to the North Apron for checks, before a backtrack to depart on 26. It didn’t initially click what he said, until we reached the ‘D’ site apron to find another aircraft carrying out its power checks (which is the normal point you would do these for a 26 departure).

I queried our taxy route and departure runway with the FISO, who realised he’d confused us with another aircraft parked on the grass, so tried to give us the most efficient routing. Once this was all cleared up he gave us new instructions and apologised for his confusion. Given that I had recently tried to land on the wrong runway, I accepted his apology graciously!

We carried out our power checks alongside the other aircraft, with him heading out onto the runway as I was completing the checks. All were normal, and once completed we were cleared to the hold, and then onto the runway as we approached. I lined up, and we were ready to go.

The departure was normal, I dabbed the brakes before retracting the gear, before making a dogleg right turn to avoid a noise sensitive area on the runway track. I then intercepted the appropriate track to the VOR, double checking this with the CDI display on the 430. After signing off from Kemble, I switched to Cardiff in readiness for contacting them as we approached the River Severn.

The cloudbase was plenty to allow me to climb to 2500 feet with plenty of room to spare, and I contacted Cardiff Radar as I approached the River Severn. The gave me a Basic Service without assigning a squawk, and as I crossed the Severn I began to climb up to 3500 feet in readiness for crossing the high ground. Cardiff’s frequency was quiet apart from a few commercial inbounds, we had the skies almost to ourselves.

We were popping in and out of some small clouds, but I elected to do this to maintain good terrain clearance rather than dropping down to keep clear of them. Once past the BCN VOR and clear of the high ground I descended down to around 2000 feet to keep below the clouds. I signed off from Cardiff in order to contact Pembrey in readiness for passing through their overhead.



Once it was clear that Pembrey was also very quiet, I turned slightly left to allow Luned to get a good view, and dropped down to 1500 feet or so. We passed by and I climbed again to 2000 feet before turning North again to regain our planned track as Catrin snoozed in the back, leaning heavily on Luned’s shoulder!

Passing Pembrey

Passing Pembrey

Many years ago Luned and I (during our roller coaster phase!) had visited Oakwood, so we made an attempt to try to find it as we passed the area where we thought it was. We initially spotted something to the South, and headed down there for a look. As we approached we couldn’t see any signs of roller coasters, but resumed our track assuming that the park had perhaps dwindled in size since our visit. However, a few minutes later we spotted the park, and Luned got some good photos of the various rides there.



We were now nearing Haverfordwest, so I contacted them and began planning the arrival. Although a straight in approach would probably have been the simplest option, I elected to carry out a full Overhead Join in order to orient myself and give myself plenty of time. As we approached the Overhead another aircraft was carrying out a low pass of the field, and in maintaining separation from it I didn’t get the aircraft slowed down as much as I should.

Left Base at Haverfordwest

Left Base at Haverfordwest

Because of this, the deadside descend was a little steeper and quicker than I would normally do, leading to comments much later from Luned that she hadn’t been particularly comfortable during this. I told her later that if she’d mentioned this at the time, I would have just climbed back into the Overhead (aborting the rapid descent) and set up for another go. The rest of the circuit was normal, and I made a good approach to a slightly firm landing behind another aircraft that cleared the runway as we were just a couple of hundred feet high. I received directions to parking and we parked up before heading in to the airfield buildings.

We used the landing voucher to settle the landing fee, before heading in for some well earned lunch after chatting to the crew from another Arrow that had come in from Bournemouth. They were just about to head off to Pembrey for the second leg of their trip!

Catrin and Luned opted for cold sandwiches, but I elected to take the slightly less healthy option and had the breakfast bap (2 sausages, 2 rashers of bacon and a fried egg!). I did at least pass the egg over to Luned so I didn’t feel too much of a pig! Because she’d been so good, Catrin was allowed to have an ice cream too, which she polished off!

Ice Cream!

Ice Cream!

Once we were all fed and had taken a loo break, we all headed back out to the aircraft and got settled in for the return journey. To check out the intercom further we plugged in another spare headset into the P2 position, to see if that was the reason for others having trouble on previous flights. This turned out not to be the case, the intercom performing perfectly on the return flight also.

All ready for the off

All ready for the off

We taxyed out to the active runway behind two other aircraft, and we all took it in turns to line up and depart. We were all headed in the same general direction, but I had a good visual on the two aircraft flying line astern ahead and above us, so overtook them low and on the left. We were all in contact via Haverfordwest Radio, so were able to keep each other informed of our relative positions.

The other aircraft were heading for West Wales, so we switched frequency to monitor it as we continued North East, but didn’t speak to them as we weren’t planning on getting too close. As we reached the coast I turned left to follow the coast anticlockwise back to Pembrey. We picked out various landmarks and disused airfields as we passed, and Luned spotted the ferries at Fishguard and the oil refinery at Milford Haven.

Ferry leaving Pembroke Dock

Ferry leaving Pembroke Dock

Once we had passed South abeam Haverfordwest, I switched over to Pembrey’s frequency and began to head for Pembrey so that we could use that as a known starting point for the trip home. Around this time there was a noticeable increase in the noise in the cabin, and I became aware that the top latch of the door was no longer engaged.

Given that there is a procedure in the checklist for closing an open door, I assumed that this would be relatively straightforward, so elected to attempt to close it. I leaned over and undid the other latch, then tried to push the door open to slam it shut properly. However, the airflow was such that I couldn’t push the door open at all, so I had Luned lean over from the back to hold the door closed, while I slowed us down to have another go.

By this point Luned was getting (understandably) anxious, and I didn’t help matters by not ensuring that the aircraft was correctly trimmed for the new slower speed. As a result, as I again leaned over to close the door, the aircraft began to descend a little, which only served to increase her nervousness. I managed to push the door open more this time, but could still only get enough purchase to enable the bottom latch to engage.

Given that we were now within 10nm of Pembrey, I (finally) took the decision to leave the door as it was and just land and sort it out. I made a call to Pembrey informing them of the situation, and we were given excellent assistance from them in getting us down on the ground as soon as possible. Initially they had me line up for a (normal) left hand circuit, but later offered me a right hand circuit (which would have been easier given my position) but I decided not to take this because I had already mentally planned the approach and how I would set myself up for the downwind join.

I allowed myself to get slightly low joining the circuit, but recovered this and, given the circumstances, made a good approach to the field. There was a crosswind for Pembrey’s runway, and despite all the distractions and concern I made my best crosswind landing ever, landing distinctly on one of the main gear first before lowering the other main gear and finally the nose gear.

We were helpfully marshalled into parking (next to the Arrow we’d been parked next to at Haverfordwest!) and I took a little time to ensure that Luned was Ok before heading in to see the airfield staff. Catrin had been an absolute star during the entire episode despite Luned being visibly shaken, and even helped Luned regain her composure as best she could.

I headed in to thank the ground staff for all their assistance, before heading back to the aircraft to get ready for the third flight of the day back to Kemble. I made sure the door was closed properly this time, before we headed out behind the other Arrow for checks and our departure. After an abbreviated circuit we climbed up to 3000 feet before contacting Cardiff. They gave us a squawk this time, and once it was clear we could remain clear of the clouds I climbed up to 3500 feet to cross the highest ground.

This time I elected to steer between the lower bits of cloud, maintaining the same general track to BCN. There was more traffic on frequency this time, with a number of GA IFR arrivals heading in to Cardiff. Despite the tribulations earlier in the flight, this leg went very well. I even made good use of the ‘Crew’ isolation function of the audio panel as Catrin insisted on singing and shouting in the back. This was the first flight we’ve made were we connected up the microphone input to her headset (knowing that I’d be able to isolate it should I need to) and she seemed to have great fun hearing her own voice in her ‘ears’. Unfortunately for Luned, she couldn’t be isolated, so had to put up with it!

As we approached the Severn, I signed off with Cardiff and switched over to Kemble’s frequency. Luned spotted a glider leaving Aston Down behind a tug, and we continued towards home. Kemble was fairly quiet as we approached, with just one aircraft passing through the Overhead and another departing. I again set us up for an Overhead join (a Downwind join would have been fine in this instance) and made a good deadside descent into the circuit.

The circuit was all routine, and I avoided the noise sensitive areas as required. We were nicely set up on Final and I again aimed to land slightly long to avoid having to taxy down the entire length of the runway. The landing was again slightly firm, but given the events of the flight I was happy with this. I asked to taxy for fuel, only to have Roger contact the Tower from the air to suggest I taxy back to the Club’s parking area so that we could have the bowser come and refuel us both.

The Tower initially tried to decline this, but I was happy not to have to manage Catrin around the fuel pump, so gladly accepted the offer and taxyed along the grass back to the Club’s parking area. Roger even offered to refuel the aircraft for us, but the bowser arrived as we were all exiting the aircraft, so I couldn’t take advantage of this!

We slowly emptied the aircraft, with Catrin very helpfully taking things from me and carrying them over to Luned (a useful ruse to keep her busy and hence not getting up to mischief!). I covered the aircraft and we all headed back to the Club to settle the paperwork.

Tracks flown

Tracks flown

Leg 1 Profile

Leg 1 Profile

Leg 2 Profile

Leg 2 Profile

Leg 3 Profile

Leg 3 Profile

It was great to have the family all back in the air again, and this had certainly been a very pleasant flight until the end of our scenic detour around the West Coast of Wales. Again the aircraft, Garmin 430 and now the intercom had all performed very well, with the intercom’s more advanced isolation functions coming in very helpful in allowing Luned and Catrin to converse without the distraction of the R/T (as well as giving me a break from Catrin’s more boistrous moments!).

This was my first experience of any in-flight problems, and I’m sad to say I didn’t really handle them particularly well. It’s drilled into every pilot to follow the mantra ‘Aviate, Navigate, Communicate’. In this instance, I had a perfectly serviceable aircraft, yet I let the partial opening of the door distract me and hence caused unnecessary anxiety in my passengers.

Fortunately I did (eventually) take the correct decision to just leave the door as it was and get us down on the ground to resolve the issue. Sadly I should have made this my first decision, and if I had done so there would have been a whole lot less trauma for those in the back seats. It was however reassuring to know that the ground staff at Pembrey did all they could to assist us once they were aware of us having a problem.

Hopefully this will be a learning experience for me, and should anything similar happen again I will react to it much better.

Total flight time today: 3:15
Total flight time to date: 193:50

5 Responses to “First ’emergency’!”

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    […] this didn’t seem necessary. Sean offered to try to open and re-latch the door, but based on previous experience I persuaded him against […]

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