Dad’s taxi, and a race!

After a busy month of flying in April, I was keen to keep up the momentum and get some more flying in. May turned out to be a fairly busy month, but when Luned decided to take Catrin up to North Wales over the school holidays, a plan was hatched for me to fly Catrin up there while Luned drove. Mindful that I’d never flown by myself with Catrin, I started to look around for another pilot to accompany me on the flight.

David was the obvious choice, as we have shared flights in the past with Catrin, including a couple where we took two aircraft to the same destination. He already had commitments for the weekend however, so I then asked Charlie if he was interested in coming along. Due to a recent addition to his own family, Charlie hadn’t been flying for a while, and was keen to accompany me. Lyneham’s Arrow was the obvious choice for the flight due to its increased cruising speed, and this meant moving Luned’s planned departure a day forward due to an existing booking.

As the day of the flight approached, it became clear that this enforced rescheduling had actually worked in our favour, as the weather for the new date proved to be much more suitable for flying than our first choice. The flight was in some doubt for Catrin in the days leading up to it, as she developed a bit of a cough and a cold. However, she was definitely improving on the morning of the flight, and I reasoned that she wasn’t so ill that I would stop her flying on a Commercial flight, so there was little reason to prevent her flying with me.

RAF Mona is an RAF airfield on Anglesey that is used as a ‘relief’ airfield for RAF Valley, and is available as a civilian airfield at weekends and during the evenings. This seemed a perfect choice to drop Catrin off, as it was much more convenient for Luned’s family to collect her from than Caernarfon, which involves something like a 45 minute drive from where they live. There aren’t many facilities at Mona however, so that would mean we’d need a further stop for lunch. Initially I looked into Hawarden, an airfield I’d been interested in visiting for a while. However, there was an airshow at Llandudno on the day of the flight, and a number of the show aircraft were also being based at Hawarden, so it would have been pretty busy flying in that direction.

The next obvious choice was Caernarfon, an airfield I’ve 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 interested in visiting so we decided to make that our main stop. I enquired as to whether they had fuel available, and received a positive response, so that clinched the decision.

The weather on the day turned out to be almost perfect, with very little cloud in the sky, little wind and the recent rain meant for excellent visibility. As usual, I completed the final planning at home, before Luned and I both left the house in separate cars, Luned to begin the long drive up to Anglesey and myself and Catrin to head to the airfield. Charlie was already at Kemble when we arrived, and after introducing Catrin to Charlie we all headed in to the office to complete the paperwork.

Our steed for the day

Our steed for the day

The aircraft was fuelled to tabs, so I decided to fill the tank on one side just to give us further options, and after a final comfort break for Catrin we all got settled in the aircraft and made ready to depart. The engine started easily, and I entered our route into the 430 before we taxyed to the North Apron for the power checks. While checking the intercom, we realised that Catrin couldn’t hear us, and we couldn’t hear her. I fiddled with her headset and volume controls on the intercom before Charlie realised that the ‘Crew’ isolation button was selected! Once we turned this off, all was well. Two other aircraft joined us on the apron as I completed the checks, and then we took to the runway and departed. The first leg to Gloucester was straightfoward as always, as I climbed up to our cruising level of 4500 feet while signing on with Gloucester.

One feature of the Arrow’s intercom is that it has an input that allows audio to be fed in, enabling everyone in the aircraft to hear it. I’d experimented with this in the past without success, but now I had another pilot alongside I decided to give it a go. Once we were established on the leg from Gloucester to Welshpool, I had Charlie take control while I set our MP3 player playing some of Catrin’s current favourite music. I then handed the player back to Charlie and took control of the aircraft, while he plugged the player into the intercom. After some messing with the volume on the MP3 player we could then all hear the music, and this made Catrin even happier in the back. We also had to do some volume adjustments to Charlie’s headset and the intercom to enable him to comfortably hear us without being deafened by the radio.

Happy passenger

Happy passenger

I experimented a little with the autopilot, trying (unsuccessfully) to get it to automatically follow the GPS for track. Not having any luck with this, I fell back to using it in heading mode, adjusting the heading bug as appropriate to maintain the required course. We listened in to Shobdon as we passed well to the East of them, and then to Welshpool as we went through their overhead at 4500 feet. I meandered a little in order to show Catrin where Taid (her grandfather) had grown up (in Bala) and Charlie and I discussed which of the peaks ahead of us was Snowdon.

Approaching Snowdonia

Approaching Snowdonia

I thought I’d entered it as a waypoint for our route, but it turns out I had actually misread the highest spot height on the chart. We changed course slightly to pass close by it, and as we approached I was initially a little concerned that there appeared to be more cloud on the other side of the mountains. As we cleared the range though these concerns proved unfounded, as although there was some cloud around it was very broken and as such not a factor.

As we crossed the mountains, a voice from the back announced, ‘Dad, I need the toilet’, a phrase which at the best of times focuses the mind of any parent on a journey. When you’re at 4500 feet in a light aircraft, the phrase is a bit more ominous! We had initially planned to orbit over Luned’s Mum’s place, and then try to find her Dad’s house too, but under the circumstances this didn’t seem wise! We spotted Llanfair (where Luned’s Dad lives) and managed to fly over her Mum’s house too, before signing on with Mona and making our approach.

Waving to Nain and Harri

Waving to Nain and Harri

Despite its size, initially Mona was a little difficult to spot due to the orientation of its runway. However Charlie managed to pick it out, and I set us up for a Right Base join to their runway 04. We spotted Heledd’s car parked up as we turned Final, and sadly Charlie’s first experience of a landing in the Arrow wasn’t a particularly good one, as I treated him to a fairly firm landing. The A/G operator directed us to the parking area, and we quickly dispatched Catrin to the toilet once we were parked up and shut down!

Short Final into Mona

Short Final into Mona

Once we’d provided all the required paperwork (as a military field, RAF Mona requires proof that the aircraft’s insurance meets the requirements for landing there) I chatted with the A/G operator about the possibility of basing an aircraft at Mona for a few days on a future trip. He seemed to think that this would be possible, even arriving and departing during a time that the RAF were operating, as long as we received permission from the RAF first. This would certainly be an attractive base for a future flying trip, so this is an option I’ll definitely investigate further.

Our intrepid explorers

Our intrepid explorers

I tried to raise the people at Llanbedr to double check they had fuel available, but initially received no reply. I phoned their CFI on his mobile and he tried to find out if the land-owner was available to provide fuel. He phoned back a short while later with the news that he’d been unable to reach the land-owner, and as such there was no fuel available. I discussed with Charlie whether we should just go to Caernarfon for lunch and fuel, or make a quick fuel stop at Caernarfon before heading on to Llanbedr for lunch as planned. As the second option involved more flying and visiting another airfield, it was obviously the one we chose!

Departing Mona

Departing Mona

I phoned Caernarfon for PPR, and quickly entered the (very short!) route into SkyDemon. We reversed our taxy route to the runway to avoid the arrestor gear, and carried out the power checks just short of the main runway. After backtracking, we departed and turned right, doing our best to avoid local villages so as not to cause a nuisance. We headed back to the Menai Straits, before heading South down the coast and contacting Caernarfon.

Descending Deadside at Caernarfon

Descending Deadside at Caernarfon

They had a couple of other aircraft also joining, and we spotted them as we approached, slotting in behind those ahead of us to continue around the circuit. The second landing of the day was even worse than the first, as I had barely begun the roundout when we touched down firmly with a bit of a bump. We were given very detailed taxy instructions after I requested fuel (despite knowing where we were going!) and as we pulled up for fuel someone arrived to fill the aircraft. We pushed it over to a nearby parking space once refuelling was complete, and walked in to pay.

As we walked back to the aircraft, the Bristow Coastguard Helicopter was making ready to start, but they were obviously not heading out to a real emergency as they were still there after we had started our engine and taxyed to the hold. We stopped behind a Cirrus to carry out the power checks, and took to the runway after he departed to make our own takeoff run. He easily outclimbed us as we followed him South over the sea, and disappeared into the distance.

Coastguard helicopter making ready to depart.

Coastguard helicopter making ready to depart.

This was another short hop, and rather than flying a direct course I turned slightly East to stay closer to the shore. As we approached I made an initial call to Llanbedr Radio, receiving no response as expected. Further calls were then made to Llanbedr Traffic, and I set us up on a Downwind join for runway 33. This time the landing was slightly better, although a little firm. We taxyed to the Northern end of the airfield, and were met by a marshaller indicating where we should park. Once shut down, we pushed the aircraft back, and walked through the gates (unlocked and re-locked by the marshaller) and into Fly Llanbedr’s building.

Joining Downwind at Llanbedr

Joining Downwind at Llanbedr

Upstairs had been outfitted as a relatively smart cafe, and we both opted for a sausage sandwich and a cold drink. We chatted with some of the people there, and they told us that recently the airfield had been used for testing of a remotely piloted helicopter. Sounds like there’s some interesting stuff going on there, and this explains why security is a little tighter there than at most airfields.

Mindful that the extra stop had us running slightly later than planned, I called the pilot who had the Arrow booked immediately after us to let him know we might be a little late. He was appreciative of the warning, as it actually was more convenient for him to fly a little later. We headed back to the aircraft (again being escorted so as to unlock and relock the gate) before getting ready to fly the final leg back to Kemble.

I entered a simplified version of our route into the 430, from Llanbedr direct to Shobdon and then Gloucester before heading in to Kemble (the actual plan being to fly down the coast to Aberystwyth before heading inland to Shobdon). We debated which runway to use to depart, as the windsock showed that there was very little wind. We decided to depart on runway 15, making for a much shorter taxy and only requiring a slight right turn to put us on track to Aber.

Once we were heading South, I used the OBS feature of the 430 to set the required inbound course to Shobdon. This adjusted the track displayed on it to more closely match our planned route. I then offered Charlie control, which he obviously didn’t refuse! We continued South until Aber, before turning inland towards Shobdon. We both enjoyed the scenery, picking out the few towns on our route as we passed them. We were slightly South of track, but this worked to our advantage a little as it meant we passed a few miles South of Shobdon. They sounded fairly busy on the radio, so rather than call them up it seemed simple to just avoid them.

During the planning for the flight, I’d seen the NOTAM for some temporary airways and Class D airspace around Kemble during the afternoon (presumably for some sort of Royal Flight). We descended to 3000 feet to remain well below the airway, and intercepted the track to Gloucester. We listened in for a few minutes, and Gloucester seemed to be fairly busy. However as we reached the point where I had decided to call them, they became a lot quieter, so I signed on with them to request a Basic Service for the leg to their overhead.

GCHQ

GCHQ

We heard them warning about lots of glider activity around Aston Down and Nympsfield, so planned to approach Kemble from the North to remain clear of them (again using the OBS on the 430 to do this). After signing off with Gloucester, I changed frequency to Kemble to request entry into the notified airspace (they were listed as one of the controlling frequencies so I assumed I could receive permission direct from them). We were directed to contact Brize Norton for permission, so I switched to their frequency and it soon became clear that we weren’t the only aircraft wanting similar permission!

I had Charlie turn East to avoid accidentally infringing the Zone, and waited my turn to contact Brize. As with everyone else, we were instructed to remain outside the Zone, and instructed to orbit at our current position. The initial orbit showed that we were close to the disused airfield at Chedworth, so I used this as a ground reference for further orbits, slowing us down as we waited. Charlie spotted a number of other aircraft in the area, but as we were up at 3000 feet the majority of these were below us.

After three or four orbits, Brize made an ‘all stations’ broadcast advising aircraft that the Zone had now been removed, giving them permission to head towards Kemble. As we had been allocated a squawk and given a Basic Service, I didn’t want to just leave the frequency, so waited for a chance to get in requesting the frequency change. As we had heard several other aircraft waiting for entry, I decided to carry out a further orbit before heading towards Kemble, in the hope that we would arrive after the initial rush.

When we did turn South and contacted Kemble, we were one of about 5 other aircraft all joining. Charlie did a good job picking out other aircraft ahead of us, and we slotted in third place behind two other aircraft descending. We followed the other aircraft Downwind, and had to extend our Downwind leg due to the aircraft immediately ahead flying a slightly wider circuit than normal. At this point we spotted a further aircraft appear off to our left, joining on a direct Right Base join, despite the FISOs warnings to all aircraft that there were so many others joining.

The first aircraft landed, and we watched the second proceed down Final with the new aircraft following behind him and requesting the grass runway. We had left enough spacing ahead of us to be able to land behind the aircraft who had carried out the ‘correct’ join, so obviously the aircraft who had cut ahead of us didn’t have enough space to follow him to the hard runway. The FISO however denied his request for the grass runway, as Kemble aren’t allowed to carry out true ‘parallel runway’ operations (something which I previously hadn’t been aware of).

The other aircraft dithered somewhat, meaning we were continuing down Final waiting for him to decide what to do ahead of us. Eventually he announced he was going around, and we continued our own approach, seeing the aircraft that had just landed turning off the runway in good time for us to make our own landing. I finally made a decent landing today, deliberately landing slightly long and asking the FISO for taxy to Hotel where the Lyneham aircraft park.

He told me to ‘take next left’, which confused me a little as I assumed he meant the left that would take us to the North Apron. We had just passed this turn, so I informed him of this and he clarified that he actually meant the turn at the far end of the runway onto the Alpha taxyway. In the past we have generally been given instructions something like ‘continue, turn left onto Alpha and then taxy Hotel’, which was why I was a little confused initially.

As we taxyed on Alpha we heard the Club’s Bulldog being given permission to taxy from Hotel, so we pulled off the taxyway to the right to allow him to pass. Then we continued and positioned the Arrow ready to push back into parking, watched by the next pilot who turned out to be Charlie’s Instructor for much of his PPL!

While carrying out the engine shutdown checklist, one of the items is to individually turn off each of the mags in order to check that they are being disabled correctly. This should produce a small drop in engine RPM as each of the mags is disabled. However, I noticed that one of these wasn’t producing an RPM drop, which surprised me a little. I increased the engine RPM up to the level we would carry out power checks and repeated the check, with similar results. I shut the engine down, and informed the next pilot of this. He joined me in the cockpit and I restarted the engine, then he carried out the check, ending up by turning off both mags, which in normal circumstances should cause the engine to stop. This time however, the engine continued to run, which indicated that both mags were operating, but one of them wasn’t being turned off by the ignition key. This is a potentially dangerous situation for ground handling, as it means if the prop is rotated by hand, there is a chance that the engine might fire, potentially causing injury to someone.

The next pilot decided to take one of the other aircraft, so Charlie and I pushed the Arrow back into parking and put the cover back on, leaving a note near the prop to indicate the live mag to anyone else that tried to fly the aircraft. We walked back into the office, and while I completed the post flight paperwork Charlie chatted to his Instructor. We then bade our farewells, agreeing that I could contact Charlie in future should I have a spare seat on any of my flights.

Tracks flown

Tracks 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

Today had been a very enjoyable day’s flying. Not only had conditions been near perfect, but I’d finally used a light aircraft as a mode of transport rather than just going flying for the hell of it. Catrin had been an absolute star, and we had delivered her to Auntie Heledd a good 2 hours or so before Luned arrived on Anglesey after driving up. Hopefully in the future we can use Mona as a base for the aircraft on a holiday up to Anglesey. It was also good to see the progress made at Llanbedr, and if they continue to progress as they have, it’ll definitely be an airfield worth visiting again.

Total flight time today: 3:40
Total flight time to date: 272:55

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3 Responses to “Dad’s taxi, and a race!”

  1. Charlie Drewitt Says:

    Andy, once again a super day of flying. Thanks again for inviting me and the great write up. Look forward to the next one! Charlie

  2. At long last, some real flying! | Andy's Blog Says:

    […] NOTAMs showed some Class D airspace being established at Kemble around 5pm local time, so after the experience with Charlie last time this was established, I was keen to be back before this came in to […]

  3. 2015 Summary | Andy's Blog Says:

    […] new airfields visited (Hinton in the Hedges, RAF Mona, Land’s End and […]

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