After a couple of failed attempts to fly the Citabria due to my not feeling great, I finally arranged a booking when I felt fit to fly, and David was available to join me. Other commitments meant he wouldn’t be able to meet me at Oaksey until around 2pm, but he suggested that perhaps I could collect him from Garston Farm, a farm strip just a few minutes away from his home.
Despite a little trepidation at making my first flight in the Citabria to a completely new airfield, I carried out my research and decided that I should bite the bullet and give it a go. The Garston Farm website contains very detailed procedures for arrival and departure (it lies within the Colerne ATZ and has some noise sensitive areas quite close by) so I studied these and called the owner of the strip for permission to fly in the day before.
The morning dawned with near perfect flying weather (I really must keep flying the Citabria as it always seems to bring me good weather!) and I completed the final planning for a flight from Oaksey to Garston Farm, and then on to Old Sarum for a late lunch, before reversing the route to return. A call to Old Sarum showed that they were parachuting that day, so I studied their procedures for operating when parachute dropping was in place (essentially no Overhead Joins).
Once all the planning was complete, I set off for Oaksey somewhat earlier than required, as I had learned from Sarah that there would be nobody there to help me get the aircraft out of the hangar and refuelled. It was lucky I did this, as I arrived at the usual gate in to Oaksey to find it locked, meaning I had to try to find my way to the other side of the airfield for the first time.
On arrival I popped in to Freedom’s portacabin to drop off my gear, before heading round to the hangar to start checking out the aircraft. It was clear I’d also need to refuel, but helpfully as I completed the A check a chap asked if it would be Ok for him to take some photos of the other aircraft in the hangar. It seemed only fair that in return I ask him for help getting the aircraft out of the hangar and down to the grass surface of the airfield!
Rather than try to push the aircraft across the grass over to the pumps, I started it up for the short taxy. After a little fiddling around with the unfamiliar fuel pump (thankfully helped out by another resident of the airfield who was preparing to fly) I refuelled and started to get my gear settled into the aircraft in readiness for departure.
This was to be my first time flying the aircraft with my Nexus 5 attached to the kneeboard, and prior to the flight I’d been unsure how secure this arrangement would be with the kneeboard strapped to my leg. In actuality it all seemed to fit relatively nicely, so once I was settled I set about getting the engine started again ready for departure.
This was the first time I’d had to start the engine ‘hot’, and I had a lot of trouble getting it going. After three or four tries, with differing power settings, mixture, priming etc., I finally realised that I hadn’t turned the magnetos on! When flying a PA-28 this isn’t usually a separate step, as the key that operates the starter is also used to turn on the mags prior to reaching the position where the starter engages. However, on the Citabria, the master, left and right magnetos are all controlled via individual toggle switches.
Once this was rectified, the aircraft started easily and I set up the radio with the two frequencies required (Oaksey and Colerne) and set the altimeter so that it was indicating the airfield’s elevation (and hence the appropriate QNH setting). I announced that I was taxying to the runway, and once the power checks were completed I entered the runway, pulling forward a few metres to ensure the tailwheel was straight.
Then it was just a matter of applying full power, and ensuring my feet were working on the rudders to track straight down the runway. I was surprised at how easy it was to raise the tail (no rear seat passenger for the first time!) and I was soon climbing away, remembering to turn right slightly to avoid the noise sensitive area just to the West of the runway. Once clear and at a safe height, I turned South to head for my first turning point at RAF Lyneham.
On the way I made a quick call to Kemble to double check their QNH, before again marvelling at the excellent visibility brought about by periods of rain the day before. I don’t know what it is about this aircraft, but so far every time I’ve flown it conditions have been near perfect for flying.
En-route to Lyneham I spotted another aircraft crossing left to right in front of me, and a twin passing quite close below me coming from the opposite direction. I suspect we’d both seen each other quite late, and he’d descended below me as I began the instinctive turn to the right to avoid him.
Once overhead Lyneham, I attempted to make contact with ATC at Colerne in order to get clearance with their ATZ. Colerne operate 5 days a week, switching at some point in the year between operating Monday to Friday and to 5 days including weekends. As such I wasn’t sure whether to expect a response, and in fact received none from my 3 calls to them. Garston Farm have an agreement in place that if there is no response to these three calls aircraft should continue to make ‘Traffic’ calls on frequency.
I passed just to the North of Chippenham, soon spotting Colerne ahead and to the left. Then came the more difficult task of spotting the grass strip at Garston Farm. The local village of Marshfield proved a useful landmark, and I was soon able to pick out the runway and begin my approach. I managed to confuse myself a little and initially begin to establish myself on a Downwind for runway 09 rather than 27, but soon realised my mistake and headed North of the field to correctly establish myself on a Right Hand Downwind leg for 27.
The remainder of the circuit and approach went well, with perhaps a small amount of excess speed as I travelled down Short Final. I rounded out at an appropriate height, but failed to hold off for long enough to bleed off speed, and ended up bouncing gently into the air again as I touched down. Once fully down and under control I was initially a little concerned at how much runway was remaining and considered going around, but the aircraft slowed easily and I was slowed down enough to require only a short backtrack to the taxyway and head to the parking area.
As I parked up it soon became clear I had quite an audience, with David sitting enjoying a cup of tea with a few others waiting my arrival. Sadly a number of those in attendance seemed to be pilots, and gave me an appropriate critique of my landing performance! I resolved to try to do better next time!
It was now past one o’clock, and my stomach was starting to remind me that I’d not yet eaten lunch! After a quick chat and completion of the paperwork, we headed out to the aircraft to get settled for the trip down to Old Sarum. After getting David settled in the back and fully secured in his harness, I climbed on board and set about making preparations to start. This time I remembered to turn on the mags, and the aircraft fired into life easily.
With some advice from David I completed the power checks where I was parked, before heading out to backtrack the runway in readiness for departure, monitoring Colerne’s frequency for any incoming aircraft. David suggested that a ‘backtracking’ call was the done thing, so I made a point to remember that when departing later in the day.
I taxyed as far down the runway as I could before turning around, ensuring the tailwheel was straight and beginning the takeoff roll. David said it was acceptable to fly through the gap in the trees at the end of the runway, and reminded me about the noise abatement turn required as early as possible after departure. In actuality we were well above the trees before we reached them, and I turned South to set course for Frome, ensuring I would be well clear of the Danger Areas over Salisbury plain.
David pointed out various grass strips on the route, and we passed close by his house. After a few minutes I gave him control, and he flew the remainder of the leg to Frome and around half of the leg from there to Old Sarum. We spotted Longleat Safari Park and the Center Parc village as we headed South, and David even experimented with an orbit before handing back control, to get a feel for the different handling of the Citabria.
As we approached Old Sarum I made contact with them, being informed of the runway in use and pressure setting. As we approached the ATZ the parachute aircraft announced that it was beginning the drop, and the A/G operator informed all aircraft that parachuting procedures were now in place. Unsure as to whether I should continue, I announced that I would hold to the North West of the field, but was told that it was Ok to continue on an extended Downwind join and circuit.
My concerns about the security of the Nexus 7 on my kneeboard proved to be well founded, as it chose this point to fall off onto the floor, dragging a load of my PLOGs with it. A extracted a handful of paper from the floor and handed it back to David, but was unable to immediately locate the tablet. David had a quick check around to make sure it hadn’t fallen near any of the flight controls, and I tried to put it out of my mind for the rest of the circuit.
As we proceeded Downwind I carried out the before landing checks, and a microlight also announced Downwind behind us. I spotted him as we turned Base, and was a little unsure as to whether I could continue or not, particularly when he turned inside us. I continued the approach, and the microlight announce ‘Final’ for a touch and go. He seemed very high given his current position, but made a steep approach and carried out the touch and go in good time for us to be able to continue.
Mindful of making a good first impression, I paid close attention to my approach speed, bleeding off speed nicely in the latter part of Short Final, and managing a good prolonged hold-off to a very gentle landing. We slowed easily without any use of the brakes, and I queried as to where I should park. I initially picked a gap between two aircraft that turned out to be a bit narrower than I’d originally thought, before eventually choosing a place a little further up.
We extracted ourselves from the aircraft (finding the Nexus in the process!), and I tied the control column back using the lap belts of the 5 point harness before walking in for some well earned lunch! David opted for a slice of cake, and as usual I opted for a sausage sandwich. We chatted about all things flying (David had taken a trip to the Scilly Isles the day before), before returning to the aircraft once we were fed and watered.
After a quick walk around and check of the fuel, we got settled in and began preparations for the return leg. I made doubly sure that the tablet was secure in the kneeboard clip, and we started up and headed to the runway threshold for power checks. As I carried these out a 3-axis microlight approached, and announced he was taking to the runway for a ‘fast taxy’. David and I were unsure what he meant exactly, but it looked like he might have been practicing rejected takeoffs or engine failures just after rotation. We saw him clear the runway as I completed the checks, and I turned to face the opposite direction to get a good look down Final before taking to the runway and departing.
While leaving the ATZ we both kept a lookout for another aircraft that had reported inbound from the general direction we were heading, and David spotted him significantly below us to the left. The return leg to Garston Farm was generally routine, giving David and I plenty of opportunity to enjoy the view and discuss the near-perfect weather conditions.
I made the required 3 calls to Colerne as we approached, receiving no response as expected, before continuing to join Downwind at Garston Farm while making appropriate ‘traffic’ calls on the Colerne frequency. Again the circuit was relatively straightforward, and I brought is in for a slightly low approach into Garston Farm, leading to a very nice landing to end David’s first taildragger experience! We parked up and chatted for a while in the nicely outfitted caravan while David had a cup of tea, before bidding our farewells. David headed to his car while I headed back to the Citabria for my own ‘commute’ home.
The aircraft started easily, and I backtracked the runway before departing. Once airborne I made sure to turn left in good time, before completing a wide circuit to avoid the village and head back towards Lyneham. In the excellent visibility it was easy to spot, and as I turned North I made a call to Kemble to check their QNH again. Oaksey soon came into view, and I set up to join Downwind. Initially the windsock seemed to indicate a slight tailwind on 22, but I decided to continue the circuit and check it on Final approach.
I was set up nicely on profile as I turned Base and Final, and the windsock appeared to have shifted to almost directly down the runway. Mindful of my recent poor landings at Oaksey I made a point of not rounding out too high, and managed to bring off a nice landing to end the day. The strip owner’s Jet Ranger was parked on the grass meaning I wasn’t sure I could get past, so I backtracked the runway before taxying up towards the hangar and shutting the aircraft down.
There didn’t seem to be anybody around to help, so I opened the hangar doors and carefully steered the aircraft back into the hangar, before heading into the office to complete the tech log (4 legs!) and heading for home.
Yet again I’d had an excellent day’s flying in the Citabria. For my first ‘solo’ trip, it had gone incredibly well, and I’d even managed to add two new airfields to the logbook. I’d also managed to make good use of an aircraft as a means of transport for perhaps the first time, collecting David from an airfield local to him to avoid him having to make a one hour plus drive to join me. May there be many more successful trips like this one!
Total flight time today: 2:20
Total flight time to date: 250:35