Another family flyout for a bit of a Sleap

After a pretty abysmal start to the year flying-wise, a relatively free Bank Holiday weekend seemed the ideal opportunity to try and get in some proper flying. I initially booked the Arrow for the Sunday, but in the days leading up to the flight it looked liked Saturday would be the better day weather-wise. Luckily the Arrow was free that day too, so I moved my booking over to the Saturday.

I wanted to try and stretch my legs a bit, and initally considered heading to either Goodwood or Shoreham. The runways are undergoing maintenance at Goodwood, so Shoreham seemed like the better bet. However, a bit of research showed a large fly-in taking place at Popham, which was likely to make the skies pretty busy in what is already a relatively narrow gap between the Solent CTA and London TMA.

I started looking at destinations in the opposite direction, to the North West, and initially considered either Shobdon or Halfpenny Green. More digging showed an event planned at Halfpenny Green, and Shobdon seemed a little bit close to Kemble, so I eventually settled on a return to Sleap.

The planning was all relatively straightforward, with the exception of a problem with the AIS website preventing me from doing my usual double-check of NOTAMs against those generated by SkyDemon. The problem was still there the following morning when I completed the planning, so I relied on the NOTAMs displayed in SkyDemon, and marked up the chart in readiness for the flight. Luned and Catrin were heading to a newly-scheduled dance class, so the plan was for me to drive up to Kemble and prepare the aircraft, with them joining me later once Catrin’s lesson was finished.

The weather wasn’t perfect for flying, but the cloudbase was up at 4000 feet, and if anything the cooler conditions should lead to calmer conditions when airborne. I arrived at Kemble and double checked the aircraft paperwork, before heading out to carry out the ‘A’ check. As expected, all was normal, and I loaded up all the headsets etc. into the Arrow in readiness for my passengers arriving. Back in the Club I completed the temporary membership forms, and waited for Luned and Catrin, before quickly heading out to see the arrival of a large formation of RVs arriving and landing.

When they arrived we headed straight out to the aircraft, sending a message to the Duty Member as I did so. Once there, Catrin was loaded up in the back, before Luned and I got settled in the front seats. The pre-start checklist was completed without any problems, and the engine started easily. Our taxy clearance initially was to the D site apron for our checks, and I assumed we would then be either given a backtrack or a taxy via Charlie to the South side of the airfield.

Once the checks were completed, we were initially cleared to A3 due to an aircraft about to land on the grass runway. This isn’t a holding point I’m familiar with, so I was about to look for it on the taxy chart before I spotted it immediately in front of us, just off the D-site apron. As we approached the hold we were further cleared to A2, in preparation for a backtrack of 08. We didn’t have to wait long, and as I backtracked and turned into position I asked the FISO if a left turn out was possible. He was a little concerned at two aircraft that seemed to be joining to the North of the runway at very low level, so pointed these aircraft out to me.

As I stopped in position, the two aircraft seemed to sort themselves out and head back around to the deadside, so I announced I had them in sight, and began the takeoff roll. As I rotated they were well clear behind me and to the left, so I made the left turn to initially head towards Cirencester, before setting course direct to Gloucester. We climbed up to 3000 feet, which kept us well below the cloud, finding the skies more turbulent than I had expected on the run to Gloucester. In contact with Gloucester we passed through their overhead, and I had to ask the Controller to repeat his request to report at Great Malvern.

Not quite ideal conditions for flying

Not quite ideal conditions for flying

As we headed further North West and got clear of the built up areas, the turbulence eased off somewhat, and as we approached Great Malvern the Controller asked who we planned to contact next. I said we would try Shawbury, but weren’t expecting a reply, and he suggested we try them initially before contacting London Information if we received no response. We signed off at Great Malvern, and I attempted to make contact with Shawbury.

A helpful pilot on frequency confirmed that Shawbury were closed, and I decided not to bother contacting London for the remaining flight to Sleap. Sleap’s frequency seemed relatively quiet as I listened in, but as we turned at Ludlow I contacted them, hearing another aircraft joining to carry out some circuits. It took me a little thought to plan the overhead join from the South for runway 18, and Shawbury and then Sleap soon came in to view ahead. Catrin chose this time to ask how much longer it would be before we got there, as she needed the toilet again! Fortunately I was able to point out the airfield that was now off to our left, and she seemed to be able to hang on until we landed at least!

As I joined Overhead and descended on the deadside, the other aircraft was just taking off from a touch and go. I initially considered cutting inside him, but he turned Crosswind and Downwind earlier than I was expecting, so I decided to follow him around the circuit instead. At first I thought I would have to be careful not to catch him up, but he actually flew a very tight circuit which meant he was well out of the way by the time I turned Base.

I flew a slightly offset Final in order to keep clear of Nonely, and as I aligned myself with the runway I realised that I hadn’t yet lowered the flaps. I lowered them in stages, which brought us nicely onto an appropriate profile for landing. We came in for a nice gentle landing, and I announced I was backtracking the runway. The A/G operator asked me to vacate at Charlie, as the aircraft flying circuits was already coming around again for his Final approach!

We cleared the runway in good time, and as I worked out where the pumps were, I realised there was a large taildragger twin parked up at them. Mindful that Catrin needed the toilet, I turned back towards parking to try to get her out of the aircraft as soon as possible. However, just as I did this, the aircraft (which I later found out was an Avro Anson) started up and made ready to taxy. I pulled in behind him, shut down the engine, and let Luned and Catrin out so that they could head in and find the loo.

Avro Anson preparing to depart Sleap

Avro Anson preparing to depart Sleap

A helpful local offered to assist me in pulling the aircraft along the grass into position. In the meantime, another aircraft (a Long EZ I think) had pulled in and was starting to refuel. I waited for him to finish, and he helpfully explained the operation of the pump. I filled the Arrow with fuel, climbed back on board and taxyed the aircraft back to the parking area, before heading in to the office to settle the fuel and landing fee bill, before joining Luned and Catrin upstairs in the cafe.

Parked up at Sleap

Parked up at Sleap

We had a leisurely and tasty lunch, and I headed back out to the aircraft to carry out a transit check and check the fuel for any signs of water, before Luned and Catrin joined me. Luned agreed to sit in the back and let Catrin sit up front with me, with a view to giving her another go at the controls on the return flight. I also asked her if she’d like to have a go on the radio, which she seemed a little unsure of! We all got settled, and this time the engine took a couple of tries to get started. Once it was fired up, I spoke to the A/G operator to get the airfield info (still using runway 18) before carrying out the power checks in our parking space.

I initially thought I could use taxyway Alpha to get to the threshold of runway 18, but luckily spotted that the taxyway linking runway 23 and 18 was marked as disused on the airfield plate. I pulled up to Bravo instead, and the A/G immediately contacted me to see if I was ready for departure, as there was currently nothing to affect this. I told him that I still had a few checks to do, and once these were completed called him back to inform him I was now ready. There was still nothing to affect us, so I entered the runway and backtracked (almost heading off down runway 05/23 by mistake!), and turned around at the far end to get in to position.

I opted for a takeoff with two stages of flap due to the shorter runway (a mere 799 metres!), so applied full power on the brakes before beginning the takeoff roll. The takeoff was normal, and I raised the gear before retracting the flaps in stages (with the warning horn sounding annoyingly to remind me I had flaps deployed without the gear being down). We climbed away, and I again asked Catrin if she wanted to make the signing off call to Sleap. She eventually agreed, and as we established in the cruise she made the call to Sleap: “G-WS, changing en-route. Good day”. She got a chuckling reply from the A/G operator, and seemed really pleased with her first bit of R/T!

Catrin's first ever radio call

Catrin’s first ever radio call

And her reaction!

And her reaction!

Once we were established on the leg South to Ludlow, I pointed out the instruments Catrin needed to look at while flying (she still can’t really see over the instrument panel yet!), and handed over control. We meandered slightly on our way, climbing and descending a little as we continued. On the whole though, Catrin did a pretty good job, just requiring a few small corrections from me to get us back on track. As we approached Ludlow I took back control to make the turn towards Gloucester.

Ladies and gentlemen, First Officer Catrin Hawkins will be at the controls today...

Ladies and gentlemen, First Officer Catrin Hawkins will be at the controls today…

The clouds looked like they may be lowering a little, but we were up at 3000 feet and easily clear of the cloud above us. As we approached Great Malvern, I signed on with Gloucester to request a Basic Service. My response to his ‘pass your message’ wasn’t complete, and it took another exchange between us to confirm that I was routing via the Gloucester overhead. He asked me to report with 5nm to run, and to notify him of any changes in height.

As we continued, I heard (what I thought was) an unusually brief exchange between the Controller and G-BASJ, one of Bristol Aero Club’s Warriors, now operating in Gloucester. The entire conversation was ‘Gloucester Approach, G-BASJ’. ‘G-BASJ, Basic Service’. In hindsight, this was due to the fact that G-BASJ had just switched from Gloucester’s Tower to Approach frequency, and hence the Controller already had all of his details. However, this short exchange didn’t allow me to build up a picture of the other aircraft’s height or flight direction. This meant I wasn’t able to make any changes in my own level or track should there be a potential conflict.

It turned out that in fact there was, as we soon spotted G-BASJ about 100 to 150 feet above us, on a reciprocal track, passing down our right hand side close enough to read the registration. This is probably the closest I’ve been to another aircraft, and although I had no right to expect any traffic information from Gloucester while on a Basic Service, I do wonder if the Controller could have pointed out our converging tracks, particularly given that I was unable to use the R/T to build up a mental picture of their location as I normally would.

We continued through Gloucester’s overhead, having to descend slightly to remain clear of cloud. We were asked to report crossing the ridge, but the frequency became busy as I approached it, and the Controller eventually called me back to instruct me to call Kemble. Kemble seemed relatively busy with other joining traffic, and also the formation flight that I’d seen arrive earlier were making ready to depart. As we joined Overhead, they were just taking to the runway, and Luned got some nice shots of their formation takeoff and departure to the North.

Raven flight taking to the runway at Kemble

Raven flight taking to the runway at Kemble

Raven flight departing

Raven flight departing

I notified the FISO as I was turning Crosswind, but the frequency became suddenly busy, meaning I wasn’t able to make any further position reports until turning Base. The frequency again became busy as I approached the turn on to Final, but luckily the FISO had me in sight, and called me back to give me the wind information and my ‘Land at your discretion’ call. I responded with ‘Roger, gear down’, and brought us in for another nice landing despite a relatively tricky crosswind. I did my best to keep up the speed down to the far end of the runway, as I could hear other aircraft waiting to depart behind me.

As I vacated onto Alpha, the FISO instructed the Lyneham Cherokee to hold position on the D-site apron until I had passed, and we gave them a friendly wave as we taxyed by. The Bulldog had just returned from a flight, and was temporarily parked across the taxyway before the pilot pushed it back into its parking space, so I stopped short and shut down. We waited a few moments for the Bulldog to be moved out of the way before Luned and Catrin helped me push the Arrow back into its parking space. I then let them head into the Club office to wait in the warm, while I cleared all our gear out of the aircraft and put the cover back on. For a change I actually managed to note all the tacho readings and retrieve all of my gear without forgetting anything!

I dropped off the majority of our gear in my car boot, before heading into the office to complete the post-flight paperwork and pay for the day’s flying. We then headed back to our cars for the drive home to Swindon.

Tracks flown

Tracks flown

Outbound profile

Outbound profile

Return profile

Return profile

Despite the less than ideal conditions, we’d all had a really good day of flying. We’d managed to fit it in around Catrin’s hectic social schedule, and still make a good trip up to Sleap for lunch. Catrin had done well on the return leg taking another turn at the controls, and even using the radio for the first time. We might have another future pilot on our hands!


Total flight time today: 1:50
Total flight time to date: 310:20

3 Responses to “Another family flyout for a bit of a Sleap”

  1. flyerdavid Says:

    Hi Andy

    Another thorough write-up Sounds like Catrin is getting involved in the flying side of things – that’s great. Neither of my daughters was remotely interested.

    It also reinforces that you always need to keep an eye out for other traffic when VFR.


  2. 2017 Summary | Andy's Blog Says:

    […] (including one combined currency check and fly out, 2 locals for currency and a couple of family […]

  3. A weather and aircraft enforced local | Andy's Blog Says:

    […] spoken to Catrin leading up to the flight to see if she wanted to carry out some more radio calls. She’d seemed a little reticent, but as we descended on the Deadside (after the appropriate […]

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