Local flight for currency

As seemed to be a fairly common occurrence this year, I was coming near to the end of my 60 day currency. I’d had a few attempts at flying since my last flight, but sadly all were scuppered due to weather. It had been some time since I’d carried out an evening flight, so this seemed a good opportunity to get in a bit of flying on the long summer evenings, and reset my currency also. I’d made contact with Jamie a number of years ago while he was training for his PPL, and we had both read each others blogs in the meantime. He’s since gained his licence, but hasn’t been flying for some time. It seemed a good opportunity to get him some more flying, as well as reset my currency in one hit.

The weather forecast on the day was very changeable, and during the day the actual weather more than delivered on the unpredictable forecast. The skies alternated between near-perfect flying conditions, to full on rainstorms! This continued into the evening, but as I drove to Kemble the skies showed plenty of clear areas, so it looked like we should be able to get some flying done at least. I called the AIS Information Line while on the journey, and despite there being a number of airspace upgrades that day, they were all well away from our planned route along the South coast of Wales to Swansea and back via Brecon.

I arrived at Kemble a little before Jamie, so completed the pre-flight paperwork and carried out the A-check on the Arrow. I was just finishing off when Jamie arrived, so we headed back to the Club to complete the final paperwork, before grabbing our gear and getting on board. It was clear that Jamie hadn’t flown for a while, as he headed up on to the wing before me, obviously expecting to be in the left hand seat! I corrected him, and got myself settled while he climbed onboard after me.

We left the door open while I carried out the before starting checklist, making a call to the Kemble FISO for start, and as expected receiving no reply. The engine started easily, and we got the hatch closed before taxying along Alpha to Alpha 1 for the power checks. The wind was fairly strong as forecast, but was almost perfectly aligned with the runway so I wasn’t concerned. I gave the engine a few minutes to warm up, before working through the power checks. As ever, these passed without concern, and after the before departure checks were complete I made a last check of the circuit and Final approach, before taking to the runway.

Lined up, ready to depart

Lined up, ready to depart

The Arrow accelerated well, and the strong headwind meant we were soon airborne. Once no usable runway was available ahead of us, I dabbed the brakes and raised the gear, before setting course for the Severn Crossings, the first turning point on our planned route. Down low conditions were a little turbulent, but as we climbed the air became smoother and the flight more comfortable. I continued the climb towards 3000 feet, noting the excellent flying conditions immediately around us. The planned route was to fly South down the Welsh side of the Severn, around the coast through Cardiff’s airspace, before turning back to the North East near Swansea, to return via the Brecon VOR.

Near-perfect flying conditions

Near-perfect flying conditions

Once clear of Kemble, I tuned directly to Cardiff and listened in on their frequency as we continued West. Cardiff seemed pretty busy with inbound commercial flights, so the chances of gaining clearance for the Zone Transit seemed slight. I attempted to make contact with Cardiff, and received the surprising reply “Aircraft calling Cardiff Approach, almost unreadable, try again later”. Concerned that we may have a radio or headset issue, I double checked the settings and the cabling of my headset. While we waited for a gap in transmissions, I heard an aircraft asking for deviations from their assigned route in order to remain clear of weather, which started to ring further alarm bells.

Ominous looking weather towards Cardiff

Ominous looking weather towards Cardiff

Conditions towards Cardiff seemed less favourable that they were in our immediate vicinity, so I began to reconsider our planned route, and look for further options. The safety of the flight was never in question, as in the immediate vicinity conditions were still near-ideal, and behind us we had a perfectly clear route back to Kemble. Once there was another gap in the transmissions, I again made contact, requesting a radio check, and receiving a ‘readability 5’ response. I passed my message to Cardiff, asking for a Basic Service and Zone Transit, but ending the transmission with a request for their current weather. Their current conditions didn’t sound promising, with broken cloud at around 1600 feet, and CBs in the area.

I quickly made the decision that heading in that direction wasn’t a good idea, so informed the Controller we would instead route to the North, thanking him for his assistance. He seemed genuinely disappointed that we weren’t able to complete the flight as planned, even going as far as apologising for the Welsh weather!

This area was very familiar to me due to a number of similar flights over the years, so I quickly decided to head towards Shobdon, before returning via Gloucester to Kemble. I handed control to Jamie, while I dug out the chart and made a quick estimate of a heading to Shobdon, correcting for the strong South Westerly wind which was an almost 90 degree crosswind on our planned track. I gave Jamie the heading to steer, and after a few minutes and a quick check on SkyDemon, revised the heading 10 degrees to the left.

Jamie at the controls

Jamie at the controls

There were a couple of Danger Areas in the general direction of our route, one off to the left that rose to 10000 feet, and another on our direct track that only reached to 2300 feet. At our current altitude of 3000 feet, we were well above the top of the lower danger area, so ensured we kept the higher one well off to our left. We continued on towards Shobdon, discussing whether there was any chance of landing there this evening. Unsure of the arrangements as regards landing there when the airfield was closed, I decided against it, instead calculating our heading back towards Gloucester as we approached. On this leg we experimented a little with the autopilot, finding it useful to maintain our heading, leaving us free to plan the rest of the flight and monitor the aircraft and our surroundings.

As we spotted Shobdon ahead of us, I had Jamie fly the new heading back to Gloucester, using the NDB to confirm the estimated heading was appropriate. I made a quick call to Gloucester as we continued towards them, but received no response (it was now getting close to 8pm, so they were long closed). We took some photos of Gloucester and GCHQ as we passed, deciding to continue on to Chedworth before heading back to Kemble. Jamie was familiar with Chedworth also, and soon spotted it ahead of us. We then turned back towards Kemble, and I took control back from him for the approach and landing.

Passing GCHQ

Passing GCHQ

Overhead Gloucester

Overhead Gloucester

I briefly toyed with the idea of a Right Base join, but instead decided to make the most of the flying and carry out a full Overhead Join. We listened to Brize’s ATIS to confirm the wind direction hadn’t changed, and I set us up for the join, which required almost a full orbit in the overhead to orient ourselves correctly. As usual I dropped the gear to assist with the descent on the Deadside, before turning Crosswind to enter the circuit. I made the turn onto Downwind a little too early, meaning I had to adjust the Downwind leg to give us sufficient distance to make the Base and Final turns.

Joining Overhead at Kemble

Joining Overhead at Kemble

As we descended on Base, I began lowering the flap, noticing again that as we got lower the conditions became more turbulent. I considered landing with just two stages of flap, but the winds seemed relatively constant and still straight down the runway, so I didn’t feel the need to adopt the techniques I would usually use for a Crosswind or gusty approach. Turning Final I lowered the final stage of flap, carrying out the usual ‘Reds, Blues, Greens, Flaps’ check to ensure I hadn’t forgotten anything important.

Down low I was surprised not to experience the usual turbulence on passing the buildings off to the right of the runway, and despite having a relatively long break since my last flight brought us in for a very gentle landing, with the stall warner sounding just before the main gear touched. We backtracked the runway, before taxying along Alpha back to the Club’s parking area.

Jamie helped me refuel the aircraft, before we pushed it back into its parking space and put the cover back on. We headed into the Club to settle the post-flight paperwork, before saying our goodbyes and agreeing to try to go flying again in the near future.

Track flown

Track flown

Flight profile

Flight profile

Despite having to change our plans mid-flight, this had been a really enjoyable evening’s flying. Flying through otherwise deserted skies is always a pleasure, and it was good to have some knowledgeable company alongside me. Now my 60 day currency is reset, hopefully I can take advantage of some decent summer weather and get some real flights in soon.

Total flight time today: 1:15
Total flight time to date: 313:30

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