Touring Wales and the West

Due to some poor weather and other commitments, I hadn’t done any flying since my last trip to Gloucester in January. Being in the middle of March with just over an hour of flying time so far certainly wasn’t part of my plan for the year! In talking to David, we discussed the possibility of  trying to fly mid-week should a good weather day present itself.

I managed to obtain approval from work for a ‘short notice’ day off (making the decision mid to late afternoon of the day before) to enable us to be fairly sure of some good weather and not wasting a day of holiday. In the run up to this flight we discussed a number of destinations, and came up with the following plan:

  1. David would fly from Kemble to Cardiff, arriving via a practice ILS approach
  2. I would fly from Cardiff to Aberporth (assuming they could accomodate us, the Danger Areas were notified as being active with UAV flying)
  3. David would fly from Aberporth to Shobdon
  4. I would fly from Shobdon to Kemble, ideally making two landings there to fully reset my 90 day passenger currency

Currency had been a real issue for me over the Winter, with a combination of poor weather, lack of funds and other commitments meaning I hadn’t been flying anywhere near as much as I would like. For the first time ever since gaining my PPL, I was coming close to running out of ‘passenger carrying’ currency (in order to fly with passengers, I have to make 3 takeoffs and landings in the 90 days prior to any flight). By making 3 landings today, that would give me a full 90 days of currency going forward, rather than have it again potentially run out 90 days from my last flight (i.e. towards the end of April).

I carried out the majority of my flight planning the night before, including loading the latest prototype version of SkyDemon for Android on my new Nexus 7 tablet. On the morning of the flight the weather was still looking good (if a little cold first thing!), and on the way to Kemble I received a call from Aberporth confirming that they could accomodate us around the UAV flying that was taking place that day. Aberporth is surrounded by Danger Areas that are activated by NOTAM when they are flying UAVs from there, as in the UK these must be separated from piloted aircraft currently.

David had already arrived at Kemble and checked out the Arrow, so we completed the paperwork in the Club and David phoned Cardiff and Shobdon to confirm we could get in there.

The Club was already relatively busy as we headed out to the Arrow, and David and I settled ourselves in ready for the first leg to Cardiff. I had my kneeboard and Nexus on my lap, and was pleasantly surprised by the performance of the screen in the bright sunshine. Sunlight readability was a real issue with the cheap Chinese Windows CE based GPS I’d bought from eBay, and it was a real improvement on the Nexus. David was also impressed, with the Nexus’s display outperforming that on his iPad.

There was an aircraft landing as we announced ready, and once he passed us we lined up and took off.

The departure was normal, and we spoke to Bristol for a Basic Service as we headed West. I was handling the setting up of the radios, while David took care of the actual radio work and the flying. Bristol co-ordinated our arrival with Cardiff, and as we approached the River Severn we were given an appropriate squawk and handed over.

Initially we were navigating ourselves towards Cardiff, and I offered David the use of my hood so that he could fly the ILS in simulated IMC. He was a little reluctant at first, but opted to wear the hood once we started to receive our vectors for the ILS.

Cardiff warned us of some pop-up traffic crossing below us, but we never spotted him. There was someone else on the ILS ahead of us, and as we intercepted the localiser another aircraft was in the visual circuit ahead of us. The Controller slotted him in nicely, meaning he landed and cleared the runway in good time for us.

Positioning for the ILS at Cardiff

Positioning for the ILS at Cardiff

Apart from a brief descent below platform height before intercepting the glideslope, David flew the Approach well (particularly since it had been a long time since he’d flown an ILS). We were always well within limits as we flew down the Approach, and David went visual (removed the hood!) in time to bring us in for a nice (if slightly fast) landing.

We were instructed to vacate left, and asked the Controller where to park. This received the reply ‘That is the maintenance area, parking is at your own discretion’ and we opted to park at the far end away from the tie-down points that were obviously reserved for other aircraft. The parking area was a little unkempt, with kerbs around its edges meaning we had to be careful to allow enough room when departing later. Perhaps we should have asked for more information when calling Cardiff earlier?

We headed in to the Flying Club there (who handle landing fees for GA) and were asked to pop back later to settle the landing fee. We were shown outside and directed to the well appointed Cafe, where we had a leisurely brunch (it was only about 11:30 or so) while discussing the next leg.

The facilities there were pretty good, and the Cafe offered a good menu selection of both breakfasts and cooked meals, and a well stocked bar (shame we couldn’t partake as we both had further legs to fly that day!). I chose my fairly standard option of a bacon and sausage sandwich, while David opted for the more substantial ‘Captain’s Breakfast’!

We had a good view out onto the balcony area which overlooked the runway, and there was also a good seating area outside that would be nice on warmer days. If it weren’t for the slightly steep landing fee (just over £30) then this would definitely be an airfield I would visit on a regular basis.

Suitably fed and watered, we headed back to the Flying Club to book out and settle the landing fee. I’d studied the entry and exit procedures at home, so opted for the St. Hilary route out past the mast and the services at junction 36 of the M4. A TV crew were setting up ready to film from one of the Club’s aircraft (something to do with the Volvo website I think), and this delayed us slightly as the guy with the fob for the airside door was outside and we couldn’t get out to the Arrow. I performed a quick walk around, checking fuel and oil, before we mounted up again ready for the flight to Aberporth.

Quick pre-flight before heading to Aberporth

Quick pre-flight before heading to Aberporth

It took me a couple of goes to get the engine started, and in the meantime a marshaller was arranging parking for a Cessna that had just arrived. The aircraft the film crew were using was blocking our exit back the way we had entered, and it was hard to tell from our position whether we would be able to get past the now parked Cessna. I asked the Tower if there was room for me to get past, which received the reply ‘Sorry, you’re on the maintenance area, I couldn’t possibly comment’.

We were slightly surprised by this (although in reality it’s probably true that ATC have no control over the South Side of the airfield). However, when we did try to ‘squeeze’ past the Cessna, it soon transpired that it was parked in a designated parking area, with plenty of room to get by on the taxyway. It would have been nice if the Tower could have told us this rather than perhaps doing the strictly correct thing!

Our clearance initially was to follow the published route not above 1500 feet. On the ATIS, Cardiff make a big thing about having stop bars illuminated across the hold points at each entrance to the runway. Once all the checks were complete we lined up just before this row of red lights, and called ‘Ready for Departure’. As we were cleared onto the runway the lights went off, and I took to the long Cardiff runway.

Takeoff was normal, and once airborne I made the turn onto the approximate heading to fly North of the  St. Hilary mast. The mast was easy to spot however, so I visually flew North of it before turning more to the West to fly over the VRP at the motorway services. As I reached about 1000 feet or so, the Approach Controller asked what my cruising level was to Aberporth. I informed him we would be climbing to 3000 feet, and as he had no traffic to conflict with us he cleared us to that height within his airspace. As we climbed David enquired how long I was going to leave the fuel pump on (it’s supposed to be turned off above 1000 feet).

The services proved a little difficult to spot, but the the aid of a few quick glances at SkyDemon in my lap, we soon found them. As we passed then, I asked David whether he thought I should report that we were clear of Cardiff’s airspace. As we debated this, the Controller informed us that we had left his airspace, and informed us we were now on a Basic Service, asking us to inform him when we were changing frequency.

The Nav to Aberporth was straightforward, and around half way I announced to the Cardiff Controller that I was switching frequency to Aberporth Radar (who controlled access to the Danger Areas). The Controller’s reply was ‘Frequency change approved’, leading to a debate with David as to whether I should have asked for the frequency change, or whether I could just tell him we were changing. As we were outside Controlled Airspace and only in receipt of a Basic Service, I felt that we were no longer under his control, whereas David felt that as he was a full ATC unit, he was ‘in charge’. Must check up on that.

We contacted Aberporth Radar about 15nm out, and were initially told to remain clear of the danger area as a UAV was in the circuit. However, while we were still 5nm or so away from the DA we were given our permission to enter and the option of a straight in approach or a Left Base join. The Controller asked us to report the field in sight, which proved a little difficult as we were both having a bit of trouble spotting it! Luckily I’d chosen the Left Base join, otherwise I would have had trouble lining up with the runway!

With the help of SkyDemon we knew the general location of it, and could see a cluster of buildings that was presumably the airfield, but neither of us could categorically identify the runway. The airfield sits in a bit of a dip, with higher ground to the East and South, which masked the runway. Eventually we spotted it and (rather belatedly) made the ‘Field in sight’ call. We were handed over to Aberporth Information, who informed us that there were no other aircraft in the circuit. We were warned about arrestor cables on the ‘Upwind’ end of the runway, and I mistakenly responded that we would land long. After a bit of conversation we managed to understand correctly (the cables were at the far end of the runway!), and I continued the approach.

Final Approach for West Wales Aberporth

Final Approach for West Wales Aberporth

Due to the difficulty spotting the field, I was now quite close to the Final turn and still at about 1000 feet QFE. Luckily the Arrow doesn’t float like the Warriors do, so reducing power to idle and slowing enough to drop the gear meant we could achieve a fairly high rate of descent without an accompanying increase in airspeed. I soon got back to the correct approach profile, and made a nice gentle landing on their long runway. We taxyed in to park near the hangar, just in time to see the UAV being pushed back into the hangar.

The weather now was glorious, we walked in to the offices in nice warm sunshine and spoke to the very helpful staff to settle the reasonable landing fee. We were directed to the ‘help yourself’ tea and coffee making facilities, and had a bit of a sit down and a chat. The guys in the office phone the Tower for us to check whether there was any further flying scheduled. If there were a cafe on site, then I’d definitely be back, as during the Summer the place would make an ideal visiting spot with the family.

Once we were suitably rested we headed back out to the aircraft, and chatted briefly with the FISO who offered us lots of advice on what to expect as we departed as regards the Danger Area. We got settled in the aircraft again, this time with David in the pilot’s seat for the flight to Shobdon.

Start up and taxy were normal, but I had to remind David that he couldn’t taxy without permission as this was a field with an FIS rather than air ground. David took care not to blast the UAVs in their hangar as he carried out the power checks. As we took to the runway the FISO again warned us about the arrestor cables, this time saying the were ‘at the 08 end’ (would have been easier if he’d said that to me earlier!). We taxyed the majority of the way down the runway, before turning around departing.

As we climbed away and turned left, I was itching to remind David to raise the gear, only to realise that he’d somehow managed to do it without me noticing or hearing the customary noise of the gear retracting! Once airborne we contacted the DA Controller and were cleared through the Danger Area not above 3500 feet. As we set course for Shobdon the Controller asked us for our cruising level, to which David replied ‘2000 feet’. Something clicked in my head and I had a quick look at the chart and the plog created by SkyDemon, before pointing out to David that we would be crossing ground that rose to about 2000 feet on the leg. He realised his mistake and announced a climb to 3000 feet.

David at the controls

David at the controls

David had planned via Lampeter and Builth Wells, and the Controller asked us to report abeam Llandovery and confirm whether we were going North or South of the Danger Area at Sennybridge. Once David had confirmed his route with the Controller, there followed an amusing discussion where I did my best to teach David the correct pronunciation of the various places he’d have to report (having a Welsh wife comes in handy sometimes at least!). Before we passed Llandovery the Controller informed us that we were reaching the edge of his coverage, and suggested we contact London Information. On this kind of flight I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to London Info (although perhaps in remote areas such as this it might be a good idea in hindsight) so we elected to switch direct to Shobdon.

Despite being some 20nm from Shobdon, we could clearly hear aircraft talking to the FISO there (although we couldn’t yet receive the FISO’s responses). This did give us the opportunity to build up some situational awareness as we approached, which is always a good thing. There followed some slight confusion between David and I as we worked out the best way to join the circuit (27 LH) when approaching from the West, but we soon came up with a plan and I helped David get his head around the slightly unusual joining procedures at Shobdon (due to local glider flying and noise abatement issues).

We arrived overhead, and I had to caution David about not descending before we’d crossed the runway to the deadside. The deadside descent down to 1500 feet went well, and as we crossed the runway the FISO asked if we were the aircraft now heading South. I wondered if we were doing the wrong thing, but the joining procedure does call for you to move from the upwind end of the runway to the mid-point of the Downwind leg, so I’m pretty sure we were where we should be. On confirming our position, the FISO informed us of another aircraft that had just reported Downwind also, so we both had our eyes on stalks trying to spot the other aircraft.

We eventually spotted him miles further South than he should have been. Electing to follow him, we continued East out of the ATZ for a long way before turning back to the airfield. We lost sight of the other aircraft on Final, and we were both considering whether a go-around would be sensible (it’s always worrying when you can’t spot another aircraft that he might be in your blind spot and close to a collision). We eventually spotted him just as he touched down for a somewhat wayward landing, before he continued with his touch and go and got airborne again.

I made the mistake of attempting to discuss the situation with David as he continued on Final, before realising how distracting this would be and shutting up! As a result, David’s landing was a little flat and fast, and he applied some heavy braking in order to make the turnoff at the intersection. We continued on to the grass and found a parking space in the busy parking area.

We walked in to the offices with the temperature having dropped considerably due to the cloud over the airfield, and dropped off the landing voucher and arranged our departure, not realising that their slot system also applied to departures. The slot we were assigned gave us plenty of time for a cup of tea and a cake, so we chatted for a while before heading out to the aircraft for the final leg of the day.

A quick check of fuel and oil showed that our fuel estimations had been correct and we didn’t need any fuel before returning to Kemble. We got settled in and I got the engine started much easier this time. We taxyed out and were followed by another aircraft from the pumps. There was a glider parked near the hold, so I informed the FISO that I would stop before it to carry out the power checks so that we wouldn’t cause any damage. The FISO warned us of the following aircraft, but I hoped that he would see us and also stop.

Power checks were normal, so we took to the runway and departed. I managed to spot the ditch that marks the noise abatement turn for the first time, and continued around the circuit, climbing up to 3000 feet and heading for Leominster to start the Nav for the flight back to Kemble. Had some trouble announcing that we were changing frequency due to the frequency becoming busy again, but were soon settled on the flight back via Gloucester.

Departing Shobdon

Departing Shobdon

Overhead Ledbury we contacted Gloucester for a Basic service and to announce our intentions to route via their overhead. There was an RA(T) in place up to 2500 feet due to the Cheltenham race meeting, and the Controller asked us to transit not below 3000 feet so as not to conflict with their joining traffic. I was up at 3500 feet or so anyway, so acknowledged his request. As we reached the Overhead a number of other aircraft came on frequency, and I mistakenly acknowledge a traffic report intended for another aircraft causing a little confusion at first. As we crossed the ridge South of Gloucester we informed the Controller and switched to Kemble for the recovery.

I’d intended to phone Kemble at Shobdon in order to book a couple of circuits but had forgotten, so I cheekily asked if this was possible over the radio. The FISO approved this and informed me that the circuit was clear, so instead of making an Overhead join as intended I decided to join Crosswind instead. As a result of this late change of plans I found myself high and fast for the second time today. This time an idle descent with plenty of sideslip brought us nicely down to circuit height as we crossed the threshold, and the slightly high speed was soon bled off on the Crosswind leg. The slightly hasty descent did catch me off guard slightly, and I continued further South than normal, so had to turn back to regain the correct track for the Downwind leg.

Short Final at Kemble

Short Final at Kemble

I carried out the before landing checks on the Downwind leg, and the rest of the circuit went normally. David thought I was slightly high, but without any real drama I was soon on the correct profile, but was slightly surprised again when the FISO cleared someone for an immediate departure as I turned Final. Fortunately, he made a timely departure and didn’t affect my approach, and I brought us in for another nice landing. I retracted the flaps and increased power to go around for another circuit.

This circuit was more routine, we followed the recently departed aircraft around and watched him make a slightly long touch and go. He seemed to take longer than usual to get airborne again, and I landed deliberately long off this approach as I knew we were heading for fuel at the far end of the runway. Again this landing was nicely executed, I wonder if I’ll remember how to land a Warrior next time I fly one!

We headed to the pumps to refuel, and I elected not to taxy on the grass back to our parking area. This led to a slight delay as we waited for a helicopter and fixed wing aircraft to depart so that we could backtrack. We were followed along the runway by the fuel bowser, which rather infuriatingly followed us all the way back to our parking area to refuel the recently landed Bulldog and one of the Warriors. I was slightly annoyed that the person flying the Bulldog hadn’t informed us of his intention to refuel (on a previous flight Roger had informed the FISO that he intended to call for the bowser, effectively telling us what he was doing too), as the taxy back from the pumps added .1 to the tacho, adding another £13 to the cost of the flight.

We pushed the aircraft back into its parking place and sorted out the covers and tie downs, before heading back into the Club to settle the paperwork and pay our dues.

Track flown

Track flown

Leg 1 profile

Leg 1 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 3 profile

Leg 3 profile

Leg 4 profile

Leg 4 profile

This was one of the most enjoyable flying days I’ve had since gaining my PPL. It was my first multi-leg trip (usually my flights are to a single airfield and then back) and sharing the legs with David meant that we both got to do a fair amount of flying while keeping the costs down. Having a knowledgeable and helpful passenger certainly makes the flight easier and more fun, and adding two more airfields to the logbook was another bonus. Hopefully the weather will improve and we can get back to some more regular flying again soon!

It was good to see SkyDemon perform so well on the Nexus 7. I was very impressed with the readability of the display in the bright sunshine. There were a few instabilities in the software (but it is still at prototype stage, and not properly released yet), but there have been some updates since this flight that seem to have fixed the worst of the stability problems. It should be a great platform moving forward.

Total flight time today: 1:35
Total flight time to date: 209:35


10 Responses to “Touring Wales and the West”

  1. liamsandie Says:

    Nice write up Andy. What were you running skydemon on before?

  2. Leia Says:

    Aberporth is lovely but I always have trouble spotting it too! In the summer it’s worth a stroll down tot he village.

  3. South Wales Tour | flyerdavid Says:

    […] has written up a detailed blog of the day, so I won’t repeat that […]

  4. 2013 Summary | Andy's Blog Says:

    […] particularly enjoyable aspect of my flying this year was the two longer shared flights with David. We squeezed in quite a lot of flying experience into those two flights, not […]

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