A new destination in North Wales

After a poor start to the year, having finally got going I was determined to try to get back to flying on a more regular basis. After negotiating another flying day with Luned, I started looking out for willing passengers.

David expressed an interest in coming along, but due to other commitments couldn’t give a definite answer until Friday evening. I was more than happy to wait for David to decide rather than look for a firmer acceptance from someone else, as it’s always good to have an experienced pilot along as a passenger helping to manage the cockpit should things become busy.

David had found details of Llanbedr’s recent availability to GA, an airfield that we’d passed over on the way back from our last trip to Caernarfon together. Initially it looked unlikely that this airfield would become truly active again due to local objections, but things had obviously changed and the airfield was on the verge of becoming fully active.

I filled out the PPR form on their website mid-week, and received a very swift email response indicating that someone would call me. Soon after I was contacted by Ed, who gave me some more information on procedures at the field (they have a frequency but no radio operator, so ‘Traffic’ calls for example), and asked me to call back on the morning of the flight for a last-minute brief.

There are currently no catering facilities at Llanbedr, so we still had to find somewhere for lunch. Initially I considered Hawarden, after reading a favourable review in one of the flying magazines. However, when I checked on Friday evening during my initial planning I realised that they had a 24 hour PPR requirement. As such, I’d left it too late. I did consider Sleap, but a quick check of the NOTAMs showed that they had an aerobatic competition on at the weekend, so that probably wasn’t a good idea.

As a result, I opted for a return to Caernarfon, after a first trip with David and a return there with the family, this would be my third visit there. Regrettably there had been a fatal accident there this week, but a quick check showed that the airfield was back up and running despite a closure on the Friday.

As usual, most of the planning was completed on Friday evening, leaving just a last minute check of weather and call to the two airfields to confirm that all was well. Armed with all the necessary PLOGs and with the chart marked up, I headed out to Kemble, remembering to pack my shiny new headset (a Lightspeed Zulu 2) for its first use.

While filling out the pre-flight paperwork in the Club, David arrived and we chatted briefly before heading out to the aircraft. We stopped at our cars to collect all our gear (me making a bit of a slip which would become obvious later!) and we started to prepare the aircraft, removing the cover and carrying out a transit check (including taking fuel samples). I hadn’t realised that the aircraft was due to fly before us that morning, if I had I would have asked the previous pilot to put more fuel in, and also asked him not to bother putting the cover back on! Once all our gear was in and we were comfortable, I made ready to get the engine started.

Pre-flight checks

Pre-flight checks

For some reason (possibly because it had already been started that morning) the engine was a little reluctant to start, but I managed to get it running on the 2nd or 3rd attempt. David and I had discussed his role in the flight, and I’d asked him (due to my recent lack of flying) to point out any mistakes I made. It didn’t take him long to jump in, reminding me to test my brakes as we taxyed out of the parking space. In my defense, I always turn 90 degrees so that we’re pointing along the taxyway proper before testing the brakes, so as not to do this while point at the aircraft that is parked opposite.

David continued as we taxyed, calling out the taxy checks (compass and DI increasing, horizon level, wings right, ball left, NDB tracking) as I completed them silently (not sure if he believed that I was actually checking these things when I mentioned it!). We lined up for power checks behind another aircraft, with a 3rd aircraft appearing behind us in the queue. I completed my checks, moving up to the hold for the pre-departure checks as the aircraft in front took to the runway.

Just as I completed the checks and was about to call ready, the aircraft behind us jumped in on the radio announcing that he was ready, and was given the ‘report lined up’ instruction. I immediately transmitted that we were ‘holding Alpha 1, ready departure’ to remind the FISO that we were there, causing him to prompt the other aircraft that we were in front of him (but given that he was only a few feet behind us I’m sure he could see that we were there!).

We took to the runway and began our take off roll, all systems performing normally as we took to the air on a glorious day for flying. After a check above and all around I continued the climb on the Downwind leg, before turning towards Gloucester, mindful of Aston Down and the likelihood of gliders operating on this sunny day. Once clear of Kemble’s ATZ, I announced a frequency change and called Gloucester for the trip through their overhead.

Approaching Gloucester, overhead Cheltenham and GCHQ

Approaching Gloucester, overhead Cheltenham and GCHQ

Gloucester were helpful as ever, asking us to report at 3 miles and again once we were overhead. Now at 4500 feet, we set course for Shobdon, aided by the CDI on the 430 and a quick glance at the Nexus 7 in my lap running SkyDemon. Gloucester asked us to report at Ledbury, so I added this as a waypoint in SkyDemon and set about trying to sort out my height-keeping which (as normal) was pretty poor!

The conditions weren’t helping, as it seemed that no sooner had I got the trim set we entered an area of more or less lift meaning I had to repeat the process all over again. The Arrow’s natural tendency to turn to the right was also making things a little difficult, but I eventually managed to get things sorted out such that we could fly ‘hands off’ without too much divergence from our route and altitude.

As we passed Ledbury I signed off with Gloucester, and began listening in to Shobdon. David had retuned the ADF to Shobdon’s NDB frequency, but as this was in the second band on the ADF it didn’t appear to work correctly (despite picking up a pretty strong ident – I’d had a similar issue when trying to tune it to the Bristol NDB on previous flights). We were in an area with a number of easy landmarks to aid with navigation though, and the three GPSs in the cockpit (430 and two copies of SkyDemon) meant that we were unlikely to get lost!

Due to our height, I decided not to bother contacting Shobdon, instead keeping a keen eye out for gliders in the area. We passed through without incident, setting course for Welshpool and again tuning in the navaids there (this time an NDB and DME). The DME was (as usual) being a bit temperamental and not providing a useful reading.

Chatting with David on the leg from Shobdon to Welshpool, I mentioned that I had never spoken to the D&D folks on 121.5. David suggested that now was as good a time as any, so we switched frequencies and listened out for a while to ensure there was nothing going on. Once things had been quiet for a while, I made ‘practice pan’ call, and received excellent service from the Controller manning the frequency.

After ascertaining what kind of ‘PAN’ we wanted to practice, I asked for a position fix, and she told me ‘based on two bearings, overhead the Bishop’s Castle monument’. This wasn’t on the chart, but we were right over Bishop’s Castle, so this was probably spot on! Useful to know in the future that they are available should I ever manage to get myself hopelessly lost. Perhaps I’ll attempt to simulate a more pressing emergency in the future to get a feel for the response I can expect to receive should I ever need it for real.

As we approached Welshpool I contacted them briefly to double check our pressure setting, before changing course towards Barmouth for the last part of the journey to Llanbedr. I realised later that I neglected to ‘sign off’ with Welshpool, but wondered whether this was strictly necessary as we had never requested any ongoing service from them. Even so, it would have been better if I had remembered to do it.

We were now a few miles from the last turning point at Barmouth, and could see a large mountain ahead of us. The spot height on the chart at that point is 2930 feet, and we were cruising at 4500 or so, but it still looked like we would be worryingly close to the peak as we approached (an illusion probably not helped by the lack of a true horizon due to the inversion).

As we approached, the only cloud in the sky had positioned itself between us and the mountain. Deciding that discretion was the better part of valour, I deliberately aimed right of track before entering the cloud (I could see it was very small so wasn’t concerned about getting stuck in IMC) to ensure that we were no longer pointing directly towards the peak. We passed through the cloud in a matter of a few seconds, and this new track helpfully put us over Dolgellau and with an ideal route through a valley to descend down towards the sea.

Once clear of the mountain, I began a gradual descent down to a more appropriate height to join overhead at Llanbedr. After a brief discussion with David as to whether I should call ‘Llanbedr Radio’ (not expecting a reply), or just jump straight in with ‘Traffic’ calls. We opted for the latter, and announced our position overhead Barmouth while heading up the coast and soon spotting the airfield very clearly ahead of us.

Turning at Barmouth

Turning at Barmouth

On all of the approaches today, we were approaching from the ‘wrong’ direction for an Overhead Join, requiring almost a full circuit of the airfield before we could begin descending on the Deadside. This gave us a good opportunity to get an idea of the layout, and ensure there were no other aircraft operating in the vicinity. We spotted the promised Silver Audi driving along the runway we were heading for, and David kept an eye on it so that we would know where to look for it after landing.

Overhead Llanbedr

Overhead Llanbedr

The join and descent all went normal, and I did my best to stay within the airfield boundary on the circuit. As a result of this, I was tighter in than I would normally be (certainly closer than at Kemble which has a relatively wide circuit for noise abatement reasons) and ended up significantly higher than I should have been on Final. The Arrow does tend to drop like a stone though (particularly with the gear down) so it was easy to lose the required height to get back on a more appropriate profile.

We were on Llanbedr’s ‘mid-length’ runway (a mere 1412 metres!) so even a bit of excess height wouldn’t have caused too much of a problem. However, I brought us in for a slightly long landing, with the stall warner sounding just as we touched down a little heavier than I would have liked. I headed towards the last position of the Audi, and we soon saw it heading towards us, before it turned round after flashing its headlights (we assumed indicating that we should follow it). We followed him to an open area, where we were directed to park.

We introduced ourselves briefly to Ed, before he had to disappear off to meet another pilot who had parked on another area of the airfield. I started to look for my mobile phone to let Luned know we had arrived safely, but was unable to find it. This led to a bit of a panic (I got it less than a week ago!), but I hoped that I had at least left it somewhere ‘safe’ like in my car or in the Club’s office. We chatted while waiting for Ed to return, before he gave us all (David, myself and Huw who had flown in from Old Park) a lift to one of the airfield buildings to collect our landing fee. He then had to disappear off again to meet two other aircraft, which we watched arriving.

Another aircraft arriving at Llanbedr

Another aircraft arriving at Llanbedr

In the meantime another vehicle came landside, and we walked over to the building they headed towards. We soon learned that these were representatives from the Police and Border Force that were also visiting the airfield, so we were all on our best behaviour! In reality they were all pleasant enough, and we chatted for a while before my stomach started to insist on having some lunch soon.

We began to walk back to the gate leading to airside, hoping to meet Ed on the way. Fortunately he was at the other building collecting landing fees from the recently arrived pilots, and told us that the gate was unlocked. We bade farewell, and walked back to the aircraft to get ready for the short hop up to Caernarfon for some lunch.

Saturday's visitors to Llanbedr

Saturday’s visitors to Llanbedr

After a brief walk around, we got settled and again I had a little difficulty in getting the engine to start. We had a brief debate as to whether the taxyway ahead of us leading left offered another way to the runway in use, but we decided to reverse our previous route (fortunately, because the taxyway only led to another apron). Once the power checks were complete, a quick scan of the sky showed nobody else in the vicinity, and we backtracked to the start of the runway.

The departure was all normal, and we climbed out over the beach before heading North towards Caernarfon.

Climbing out over the beach

Climbing out over the beach

My initial plan had been to follow the coast around, but my stomach’s complaints led me to take a more direct route so that we could get some lunch sooner! We threaded our way between a couple of mountains, heading directly for a 2000 foot high tower (while cruising at 3000 feet or so) that was initially quite difficult to spot.

2000 foot mast playing 'hide and seek'

2000 foot mast playing ‘hide and seek’

We eventually spotted it, and I began to turn slightly left to give it a bit of lateral clearance when David spotted some traffic approaching us on a reciprocal heading slightly to our left and above us. I reversed my course change at the same time as we heard the other pilot report passing us to Caernarfon’s radio operator. I’m not sure why, but he then felt the need to provide further information as to our type and level (we were a little close but never in danger of collision) to the radio operator.

We signed on with Caernarfon, and began planning the approach to the field (again from the wrong direction for an ‘easy’ Overhead Join). As we approached we heard the air ambulance on frequency and I began trying to recall what the procedures were if the air ambulance called to depart while we were approaching. Fortunately for us it transpired that he was also approaching to land, and was still some distance away.

The circuit was clear as we joined overhead, and again we descended and approached the runway a little higher than I normally would. Losing the height was easy, and I brought us in for a smoother landing this time (despite a strong crosswind), although it was a little flatter than I would have preferred. Might be worth having a session of circuits sometime to see if I can get back to more ‘correct’ profile on the Base and Final legs. However, in the past I’ve always had a tendency to ‘drag it in’, so it would appear that efforts to stop that have perhaps gone a bit too far in the other direction!

Joining Overhead at Caernarfon

Joining Overhead at Caernarfon

We taxyed to the fuel pump to fill the aircraft, before again having a minor issue getting the engine started for the short taxy to a parking space. We walked in and settled up the fuel bill and landing fee, before heading into the cafe for a well-earned and somewhat late lunch!

It had been a while since I’d last met up with David, so we caught up on each others news over a very pleasant lunch. There was no time pressure to get home, so we both took our time and enjoyed the company and surroundings. Eventually we had to decide that it was time to book out at the desk and start the relatively long walk back to the aircraft.

On the way we saw the fire crew suiting up, and when they arrived at the fuel pumps opposite our parking space I guessed that there may be a helicopter coming in for a ‘rotors running’ refuel. As we got the engine started and prepared to taxy, we heard a rescue helicopter inbound, 5 or 10 minutes away. I tried to take my time so that we could see him arrive, heading out along the taxyway to carry out the power checks after entering an approximation of our return route into the 430 (Caernarfon to Welshpool, Shobdon, Gloucester and Kemble) despite planning to route around the coast to the North on the way back.

As I positioned the aircraft into the wind, I was a little concerned that I might have put us a little too close to the taxyway edge. Once the checks were complete, my fears proved unfounded as I easily turned the aircraft back around and headed to the hold, just as the inbound rescue helicopter reported ‘Short Final’.

Another aircraft began to taxy around this time, and the Air Ground operator suggested he taxy to the ‘wrong’ end of the runway and expect to backtrack before departing. David suggested I make it clear that we were ready to go, to prevent the other aircraft taking to the runway in front of us once the helicopter had landed. I did this, and we watched the helicopter arrive  over the trees and hover-taxy over to the fuel pumps.

Search and Rescue helicopter arriving for fuel

Search and Rescue helicopter arriving for fuel

After a short debate about how long to leave to allow the helicopter’s wake to dissipate (the strong crosswind leading us to expect it to be blown away relatively quickly) we took to the runway and began our takeoff roll for the trip back to Kemble. Climbout at Caernarfon is directly over the beach, and after raising the gear we turned Northwards to head up the Menai Straits at 1000 feet.


Departing Caernarfon

Departing Caernarfon

I used my (limited) local knowledge to point out various places to David as we passed, and attempted to help him get some photos of Luned’s Mother’s house (I spotted it as we passed, but it was difficult to point out to David exactly which house it was). Once clear of the Straits, I climbed up to a more comfortable height (Valley request that people transit down the Straits below 1500 feet, but over the weekend this probably isn’t necessary) and we continued around the coast.

We turned inland at Colwyn Bay, heading for the next turning point at Corwen. After turning away from the coast, the surroundings became a lot more remote, and David remarked on how pretty the countryside was around here. Continuing on this leg, we soon approached Corwen, and I used my new-found knowledge of the 430 (courtesy of a YouTube video sent to me by Kev, the aircraft’s owner) to adjust the OBS meaning that the 430 now guided us on the correct inbound course to Welshpool (rather than trying to guide us to the ‘direct’ track from Caernarfon to Welshpool).

Turning inland at Colwyn Bay

Turning inland at Colwyn Bay

Again we spoke briefly to Welshpool to get their pressure setting, remembering to sign off with them as we cleared to the South this time. The next leg was direct to Shobdon, and as we approached it was clear that they were now fairly busy. I decided this time to speak to them as we approached, receiving a warning about gliders operating to the North (the direction we were approaching from) and being given a Basic Service (despite not actually requesting one!).

Due to the increased traffic, I turned left slightly to keep clear of Shobdon, intercepting the required track to Gloucester with a bit of help from the 430 and the NDB. We were now into pretty familiar territory, and the various landmarks became much easier to follow and build up a picture of our location. I signed off with Shobdon and started to listen in to Gloucester, before calling them again as we passed Ledbury.

We were again asked to report 3nm from the field and in the Overhead, before being asked to report leaving the frequency and any changes in level (presumably so that the Controller could ensure we didn’t conflict with any other inbound traffic). As we cleared the lateral dimensions of their ATZ to the South, I attempted to leave the frequency, but the initial call was blocked by another transmission. The Controller was on the ball though, and asked if one of the two blocked transmissions was us attempting to change frequency. We announced the change, and the fact that I was starting a descent to an appropriate height to join Overhead at Kemble.

Listening in to Kemble it was clear they were also relatively busy (unsurprising given the excellent conditions), and I announced our approach from the North and intention to join Overhead. As we approached, we spotted a glider orbiting near the field, right in our ideal path to join. It was initially difficult to determine exactly which direction he was heading (he was spiralling, presumably attempting to gain height), and I was torn between turning right or left (right to me appeared to be the best direction to avoid him, with the downside that this would also put us closer to Aston Down).

My transmission was possibly a little unclear, I was trying to say we were approaching the Overhead, and were having to turn to avoid the glider. However, the FISO received this as meaning we were in the overhead, and passed this message on to another aircraft that was joining. I clarified this, and the glider eventually came out of the spiral, heading off to our right, so we headed left to keep clear of him. Once he was no longer a factor, I again set course for Kemble, and we set about spotting the other joining aircraft.

He had started his deadside descent off to our left as we approached the Overhead, and I had David keep an eye on him as he passed underneath us, appearing on the right hand side of the aircraft. The other aircraft followed a somewhat strange route, crossing Kemble at the mid-point of the runway, before continuing South and becoming established on quite a wide Downwind leg. Meanwhile, I was positioning us so that we could also descend on the Deadside, with David ensuring that we had plenty of gap between us and the aircraft ahead of us.

Turning Final at Kemble

Turning Final at Kemble

We joined the circuit ourselves, this time being asked to report Crosswind, Downwind and then Final. Yet again I was quite high on Final, but easily lost the excess height, and announced to David that I would try to land on the numbers as we would be backtracking to parking (negotiated with the FISO on Base leg). Sadly I didn’t quite manage this, floating past the numbers somewhat before touching down nicely and backtracking the runway.

We vacated at A2, and spotted an aircraft leaving the Golf taxyway ahead of us, heading to the Alpha holds to depart. In the past, when this has happened the FISO has had the other aircraft stop to allow us to pass to our parking area at Hotel. This time however, the other aircraft left the taxyway and turned to his left (perhaps assuming we were going to taxy on Golf?) so we also turned left and followed a somewhat strange route to our parking area.

As we arrived, John (an Examiner who had carried out some of my early PPL training back at Brize) was putting one of the other aircraft to bed. I positioned us to be pushed back into our parking space, and went over to say hello and chat for a little while. David and I pushed the aircraft back into its parking space, before beginning the process of getting all our gear out and covering the aircraft.

A quick trip to the car showed that I’d put my phone down in the boot while retrieving my flying gear, and I then headed in to the Club to settle the paperwork, before David and I headed off to a local pub for a quick beer to discuss the day.

Tracks flown

Tracks flown

Flight profile (Kemble to Llanbedr)

Flight profile (Kemble to Llanbedr)

Flight profile (Llanbedr to Caernarfon)

Flight profile (Llanbedr to Caernarfon)

Flight profile (Caernarfon to Kemble)

Flight profile (Caernarfon to Kemble)

Yet again, I’d packed an awful lot of flying into a single day’s trip with David. We’d been to a new airfield for both of us, travelling over some incredibly picturesque countryside during the flight. The weather conditions really couldn’t have been much better, and I drove home with a real sense of enjoyment looking back on the day. Hopefully Llanbedr can continue it’s course to becoming fully operational, bringing a ‘new’ GA destination available at a time when all too many airfields appear to be under threat of closure.

Total flight time today: 3:10
Total flight time to date: 239:55

One Response to “A new destination in North Wales”

  1. Dad’s taxi, and a race! | Andy's Blog Says:

    […] visited before and one that we know we can get a good lunch at. A further option was Llanbedr, an airfield I visited just after it reopened to GA. Since then they’ve done a lot of work to get a Cafe up and running, and Charlie expressed an […]

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