A mid-week day at the beach

After a good spell of flying, I’d managed to go almost 6 weeks without a flight due to one reason and another. Keen to put an end to this dry spell and avoid another currency check, I arranged with work to allow me to take a short notice day’s holiday, only confirming it the day before once weather and aircraft availability coincided. After a busy period with his own work, David managed to find time in his schedule to accompany me, and in the days leading up to the flight we discussed various options for destinations.

I initially discarded a possible trip to Redhill due to the RA(T) in place for the Farnborough air show. Also a visit to Booker (Wycombe Air Park) and some other local airfields was abandoned due to the NOTAM about a major gliding competition in progress at Booker. We’d discussed East Anglia as a possible destination in the past, but looking at the various airfields available showed that most of them were grass and (relatively) short.

After a bit more digging David suggested a visit to Skegness. This is a grass strip located within a caravan park, with 650m and 799m runways. These seemed ample to take an Arrow into (we’d been to Headcorn in the Arrow previously – admittedly much longer but we’d had ample room to spare there). Keen to reset all my currencies in one day, I also added Fenland as a second stop (600m and 670m runways) for fuel on the return leg.

The route was complicated slightly by the RA(T) in place for the Royal International Air Tattoo at Fairford. Kemble lies within the RA(T), but has 4 pre-defined entry and exit lanes enabling flights to still be carried out. I spoke to a helpful chap at Kemble to clarify some of the finer details of the procedures during the early planning stages, and everything suggested we could expect the flight to go ahead as planned, with the only minor exception of possibly having to depart from Kemble to the North West initially, should the North East exit lane be unavailable.

As ever, the majority of the planning and route selection was carried out the night before, leading to a simple visual route of Kemble -> Northleach Roundabout -> Banbury -> Rushden -> Peterborough Conington -> Fenland -> Skegness. In order to avoid the Danger Area in The Wash, I planned to follow the North Western coast of The Wash up to Skegness, rather than routing direct from Fenland.

After getting Catrin off to school, I completed the final planning, NOTAM check, weather check and marked up the route on the chart. I managed to get hold of someone at Fenland before leaving the house to check for any last minute hitches (other than a Farmers’ Fly In, there was nothing unusual), but was unable to reach anyone at Skegness before leaving for Kemble. I left a message on one of the listed numbers, and a very helpful chap phoned back as I was driving to the airfield. After pulling over he gave me a very thorough brief on the use of the airfield, and also some tips as to what to do while we were there.

On arrival at Kemble, I checked through the aircraft’s paperwork before completing the relevant documentation required for our flight. David arrived in good time, and we headed out to the aircraft. Usually I would fill the Arrow with fuel before any flight just to give me further options, but as we were headed into relatively short grass runways, I opted this time to leave with the ‘standard’ fuel load (allowing for around 3 hours flying time). This would give me plenty to get to Skegness and then Fenland to refuel, with the further option of using Conington or perhaps Sywell should the need arise.

Once on board, I used David’s handheld to request our start and inform the FISO of our requested routing out of the RA(T), expecting that there may be some delay as he negotiated this with Brize. However, I was given immediate approval to start, and once started up we were clear to Alpha 1 for our checks. These were all completed normally (with another aircraft that was preparing to depart alongside us) and we moved up to the hold and announced that we were ready to depart.

We were given our departure clearance (not above 1500 feet on the Fairford QNH via the Green Route) and after reading back were immediately given ‘Take off at your discretion’. This is slightly unusual (typically Kemble will ask to ‘report lined up’ due to the undulations in the runway) and I queried with David that I had understood the FISO correctly.

Once on the runway we immediately began our takeoff roll as the aircraft behind us was given his clearance, taking to the air and turning right direct on track towards the Northleach Roundabout (the exit point of the route we were using).  Once clear of the ATZ I asked for a frequency change to Brize Zone (the RA(T)’s Controlling Authority), but was told to remain with Kemble until we were clear of the Restricted Airspace. It was definitely a little disconcerting to have to remain below 1500 feet (effectively about 1000 feet off the ground) while within the RA(T), usually on this portion of the flight I would be climbing up to 3000 or 4000 feet! Once clear, we contacted Brize Radar for a Basic Service, and climbed up to our cruising altitude of 3500 feet.

Departing Kemble not above 1500 feet

Departing Kemble not above 1500 feet

David thought there may have been an issue with the transponder, as he noticed that the ‘ident’ light wasn’t flickering as it normally would to show that we were being interrogated by a ground radar station. I asked the Controller for a Mode C check, and he gave us the Brize QNH and asked for our current altitude. I informed him of this, and after a brief pause he confirmed that the transponder was working correctly.

It was immediately clear how much quieter the skies were when flying on a weekday, and David and I chatted as we continued on the route. There were small amounts of scattered cloud around, some of which were up at our level so I just flew through. David’s PilotAware device was helpfully warning us of some of the traffic we passed, and as we approached Banbury the Brize Controller asked who we would be working next. I advised him it would be Sywell (which led to a brief discussion with David as to whether Coventry might perhaps be better), and on reaching Banbury we switched frequency and listened in to Sywell.

Some cloud enroute

Some cloud enroute

We passed well clear of their ATZ, turning at Rushden towards Conington. David had entered a more direct route into SkyDemon, and queried my routing on this leg. I advised him of the route I had planned, and we continued on towards Conington. As we were turning in their overhead, I gave them a quick call just to advise them of this (not strictly necessary as we were well above their ATZ at our current altitude) and we spotted Conington on time and turned towards Fenland.

We contacted Fenland as we approached their overhead, and asked them for a wind check to gauge which runway would be most appropriate to use at Skegness. The relatively calm wind seemed to favour the shorter runway 29, but I decided to live with the small crosswind and use the longer runway 03 instead. David agreed that this was probably the best decision, opting for runway length over the slight advantage of the small headwind that would have been present on runway 29.

As we flew overhead Fenland, David asked for a steep turn to the right to enable him to get some photos, and once this was complete I routed towards the North West coast of The Wash to keep clear of the Danger Area. As we made the turn, a loud flapping noise could be heard off to the right of the aircraft, and on investigation we realised that the strap from David’s camera case had gone through a gap in the door and was flapping against the aircraft outside. David realised he hadn’t fully latched the door (the top latch was closed, but the lower latch wasn’t fully made). Once the strap was retrieved the noise disappeared, and we continued on.

Passing Fenland

Passing Fenland

The town of Skegness was easy to spot in the distance, and I oriented myself using the chart to find the airfield. We spotted this quite easily as we approached, and I made traffic announcements on the Safetycom frequency in case anyone else was operating near the airfield.

Approaching Skegness

Approaching Skegness

From the overhead we could see that the windsock was pretty limp, and stuck with our decision to land on runway 03. I carried out a standard Overhead Join, descending on the deadside and continuing on a Left Downwind as per the Pooley’s plates. The airfield’s noise abatement calls for the Base Leg turn to be made before the town of Skegness, and this seemed very close in as we continued Downwind and completed the before landing checks.

Descending Deadside at Skegness. Hangars visible in front of the wing.

Descending Deadside at Skegness. Hangars visible in front of the wing.

I turned Base, and flew a slightly slower approach than normal so as to land in as little distance as possible. As I turned Final I failed to allow for the slight tailwind on Base leg, and ended up overshooting the centre line. Normally this would be easy to resolve, but given the fact the the Final leg was quite short and I was also a little slower than normal, I resisted the temptation to tighten the turn in order to get correctly lined up, and instead took an early decision to abandon the approach and Go Around (prompting a ‘Good decision’ from David alongside).

Realising my mistake, I flew a slightly wider Downwind leg on the next circuit in order to give myself more time on Base. This time the Base to Final turn was flown correctly, and I brought us in for a nice gentle touchdown on the excellently prepared runway at Skegness. With little or no braking we were easily slowed down, and I parked up on the left hand side near a rather dilapidated looking twin.

Parked up at Skegness

Parked up at Skegness

The advice given to me on the phone earlier was very useful. We walked the short distance from the airfield to the Leisure Park reception building to pay the (very reasonable) £7 landing fee, before walking to the on-site pub for lunch. They were only serving a carvery today, so David and I both had an excellent ‘small’ carvery, which was incredible value considering it also came with a free dessert! David took advantage of not doing any flying today by accompanying his lunch with a beer, while I made do with a lemonade.

A rather more substantial lunch than usual!

A rather more substantial lunch than usual!

Having had a more substantial lunch than I would usually do while flying, it seemed a good idea to go for a walk and try to find the beach. I had been given directions on the phone earlier, but I’m not sure the way we ended up walking to the beach was the most direct route. However, we arrived there in about 10 minutes or so, and were pleasantly surprised by the condition of the beach, and the various amenities around it.

A short walk to the beach

A short walk to the beach

My attempts to shortcut the walk back only ended up in us having to retrace our steps a couple of times, but we were soon approaching the airfield again ready for the next leg to Fenland. As we walked to the aircraft we debated which runway to use, and the windsock this time seemed to be slightly favouring runway 21 (which was helpful as it meant a very short taxy, and also allowed us to depart almost directly on track). We examined the area of grass before the start of the runway, and decided that we could also use this to give ourselves another 50m or so of ground roll.

Checking out the undershoot for 21

Checking out the undershoot for 21

We were both geniunely impressed by how well maintained the strip was, particularly given that it seemed to be done by people on a completely voluntary basis. The clubhouse being closed that day was no real inconvenience to us, as the reception building was a very short walk away, and on the way to most of the other amenities anyway. Definitely a great place to bring the family for a flight!

After a quick check of the aircraft, the engine started easily and I carried out the power checks in our parking space. Using the area before the start of the runway allowed us to get airborne in probably 2/3 of the runway length, and once airborne I turned right to avoid Skegness, before setting course down the coast towards Fenland.

David spotted the airfield before me, as I was looking a lot further into the distance than I should have been! We tried to reach them on the radio, but received no response. We could hear other aircraft arriving and departing, and learned that they were operating off the longer, into wind runway. I set up for an Overhead Join for this runway, descending on the Deadside and continuing around the circuit. The Air Ground operator started responding again (it seemed he had been on the handheld and the batteries had gone flat!) and I made a much better job of the approach this time. We both spotted some wires on Short Final at around the same time, and I added a quick burst of power to ensure we were well clear of them.

Descending Deadside at Fenland

Descending Deadside at Fenland

Mindful of the shorter runway I kept a close eye on our airspeed, bringing us in for another smooth landing (grass runways certainly do flatter the landings!). We taxyed up towards the buildings, parking at the self-service pump to refuel the aircraft. David headed in to settle the landing fee, as I looked for somewhere to park. I hadn’t realised from my phone conversation earlier, but the the fly-in aircraft were all still here and the parking area was very busy. I had to squeeze past a Chipmunk on the end of a row, before parking next to an R44 right at the back of the parking area.

Busy parking area

Busy parking area

We were only stopping for a quick breather, but the club house looked well appointed and comfortable. Sadly neither of us took the time to check the food choices available, but they had a fully stocked bar which suggests that they were well organised. Their website does list the usual airfield fayre, at what seem to be reasonable prices. Maybe we need to come back again to sample them!

After a quick drink and a chat with the locals, we headed back to the aircraft and I performed another quick walkaround, before being sure to carry out a fuel drain check after having refuelled. The engine was still warm this time, and it took a couple of goes to get it started. We then taxyed towards the runway in use, carrying out our power checks behind another PA28 ahead of us. A Cessna carried out a touch and go, then the PA28 departed and we took our turn to backtrack. I had noticed that the ‘Low Volts’ light had remained on, a common occurrence in the Arrow, which usually corrects itself during the power checks, but hadn’t this time. I decided that if it hadn’t cleared when we were airborne, I would try resetting the Battery Master switch (something that generally clears it) and if that still didn’t resolve it we would land at Conington.

Again I used the full short field takeoff technique (2 stages of flap, increasing to full power on the brakes before releasing them). We’d seen the PA28 ahead of us become airborne around the intersection, and it took us a little longer than that. We still had plenty of runway left as I rotated, and I turned slightly left to avoid the small trees that were in the next field off the end of the runway. We climbed to altitude, and I reset the master as planned, which fortunately did clear the low volts light.

We cruised at 4500 feet, briefly contacting Conington as we passed to let them know we were Overhead. Sywell sounded relatively busy as we passed by, and later a quick peek at SkyDemon showed that I was potentially heading for an infringement of the Daventry CTA that started at 4500 feet (our current cruising altitude) off to our right. I corrected this, and we continued on, spotting Silverstone off in the distance to our left.

Great day for a flight!

Great day for a flight!

We spotted quite a few aircraft a lot lower than us on this leg, a number of them being picked up on the Pilot Aware device. As we approached Banbury, I made ready to contact Brize. David thought I would be better contacting Brize Radar for a LARS service before asking for entry to the RA(T), but I decided to go straight to Brize Zone. In my initial call, I asked for a ‘Basic Service and entry to Kemble via the Green Route’. After having to repeat our callsign due to our transmission being blocked (presumably the Controller was working two frequencies, as I hadn’t hear another aircraft), the Controller didn’t ask me to pass my full message, immediately granting me a Basic Service and clearance into the RA(T), as well as providing a squawk.

I began a gradual descent to ensure we were down at the required 2500 feet before reaching the Northleach Roundabout. We passed by Little Rissington, and then spotted Northleach ahead and to our left. Kemble became clearly visible in the distance, and I advised the Controller that we were visual, and asked for a frequency change so that we could at least get the active runway and QFE before Kemble closed (it was around 16:50). The Controller granted this request, and I queried whether we should retain the squawk (receiving an ‘affirm’ in response). Above us to our left we spotted an aircraft making its approach into Fairford (I think it was a C13) and we continued on, making contact with Kemble.

Escort into Kemble, look carefully!

Escort into Kemble, look carefully!

They gave us the active runway and QFE, and informed us that there was an aircraft operating in the circuit. As we approached we learned it was the Gryphon Air Cherokee, and I set us up for a standard Overhead Join for runway 26. The other aircraft was becoming airborne as we approached the overhead, and the FISO asked us to report Downwind. We heard one of Bristol Aero Club’s Instructors calling for taxy, and while we were descending on the Deadside the FISO gave all stations the current QNH, QFE, runway in use and Cotswold pressure setting, before closing down for the evening.

It took us a little while to spot the aircraft ahead of us on Downwind, but David spotted him on a wide Base leg as I carried out the before landing checks. We followed him around, catching him slightly as we turned Base and he turned Final. He was carrying out a Touch and Go however, so I was confident he would clear the runway in time. We also spotted the Bristol Aero Club aircraft at A1, waiting to depart.

After the aircraft ahead cleared the runway in good time, I deliberately landed long, deciding that this was much safer than trying to attempt a backtrack with no FISO on duty. The landing was again nice and gentle, but I neglected to brake sufficiently so was unable to make the first turn off the runway. Sensibly the Bristol Aero Club aircraft asked us to confirm when we had vacated the runway (there is a distinct elevation change on the runway at Kemble, that means you can’t see the opposite end of the runway). We made the second turn off, and I announced ‘Runway Vacated’ as we crossed the hold line.

We taxyed back to Lyneham’s parking area via Golf and Alpha, and as we approached we noticed that the Bulldog was parked on the taxyway at 90 degrees to the usual parking direction. As we got closer I realised we wouldn’t be able to safely taxy up to the bowser with the aircraft in its current position. I shut down before our parking area, and then ended up in the way of a couple of vehicles (including an HGV) that had to squeeze past us to use the gate out onto the airfield’s perimeter road.

David and I refuelled the aircraft and pushed it back into the parking area, putting the cover back on just as Roger came out to carry out a flight in the Bulldog with some new members. I headed in to the Club to complete the usual post-flight paperwork, before heading home.

Tracks flown

Tracks flown

Leg 1 profile

Leg 1 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 3 profile

Leg 3 profile

It’s always good to fly with David, and he’d made an excellent choice of destination in Skegness today. The facilities there were top notch, despite it being run and maintained by volunteers. Its location inside the Caravan Park and near the beach mean it’s an ideal destination to take the family at some point in the future. Fenland also looked like a place it would be worth going back to, if only to sample their food!

It had been a really enjoyable day of flying, taking me to an area of the country I hadn’t previously visited, and providing a couple of challenging landings at two new airfields. Not only that, today’s flying has put me over the 300 hour mark, which while having no real meaning, is a milestone nonetheless. A successful flying year continues!

Total flight time today: 3:05
Total flight time to date: 300:45

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2 Responses to “A mid-week day at the beach”

  1. A flying family again! | Andy's Blog Says:

    […] a busy month of flying in July, August turned out to be a month with no flying at all, as family holidays […]

  2. 2016 Summary | Andy's Blog Says:

    […] 6 new airfields visited (Henstridge, Hawarden, Blackpool, Leeds East, Skegness and Fenland). […]

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