Wales and back via the scenic route

As seemed par for the course this year, 6 weeks had passed since my last flight. A pass to go flying from my darling wife had me weather watching all week as per usual. Sadly the forecasts were very inconsistent in the last couple of days before the flight, and the evening before’s TAFs didn’t provide a forecast good enough to plan the more lengthy trip I wanted to fly.

Instead, I opted for a quick hop over to Cardiff, then planned to see how the weather looked to decide whether to return directly to Kemble, or venture further West for a more scenic route home. The planning was relatively straightforward, but I did take the time to thoroughly read through the Cardiff VFR guide to ensure I was aware of the various entry and exit routes to Cardiff.

I saw that JP had the newly returned G-BPAF booked, so I contacted him to see if he still intended to fly. There was a potential technical issue that he was hoping would be ironed out, so I offered him the option of coming with me in the Arrow should his plans not come to fruition.

On the morning of the flight, the forecasts were still for ‘mixed’ VFR conditions. While all of the cloud in the forecasts was ‘few’ or ‘scattered’, the levels it was at meant that a trip over the higher ground between England and Wales may not be possible. As such I made two plans for the return from Cardiff, one a direct flight between Cardiff and Kemble, and the other heading West as far as Pembrey before returning overhead the BCN VOR.

I sent JP a message confirming I was going to attempt to fly, and set off for Kemble. The weather while driving looked much better than the forecast suggested; although there was plenty of cloud around, as promised it was well scattered and as such should make it easy to find routes around it. On arrival at Kemble I saw that G-BPAF wasn’t on the ground, so I took this as a good sign that JP had managed to fly.

I headed into the office to double check the defect log for the Arrow, then went out to carry out the ‘A’ check. Just as I finished, JP arrived back in the Warrior, and we spent a short while discussing whether he was going to attempt further flights. In the end, he opted to fly G-BPAF to Cardiff as well, so I fully fuelled the Arrow and completed the remainder of the pre-flight.

JP set off a few minutes before me, and I got myself nicely settled in the Arrow. For some reason the engine was particularly difficult to start today, and I was a little concerned that I might actually flatten the battery before getting it successfully started. Luckily it started on the 4th or 5th attempt, and I was cleared to taxy to A1 via Alpha. As I arrived near the hold I saw another aircraft ahead carrying out his power checks, so I positioned myself well clear of him so that I could do my own checks.

These checks were predictably routine, and as I positioned myself at the hold the aircraft ahead took to the runway. Soon it was my turn, and I lined up as a helicopter took off from the grass runway ahead of me and to the right. The FISO pointed him out to me, and cleared me to depart. I waited a short while to check which direction the helicopter was headed, before beginning my own take-off roll. My departure track was pretty much straight ahead, but I jinked left slightly to avoid a noise sensitive area directly ahead, before resuming the required track once clear.

Conditions were very much as forecast, with some cloud up around 2500-3000 feet. I climbed initially to 2000 feet, before later climbing to 2500 as conditions allowed. The Severn crossings were easily visible ahead of me, and as I approached Thornbury I listened in to the Cardiff ATIS before making contact with the Controller.

Passing Filton

Passing Filton

Initially I made contact on the wrong frequency (Approach rather than Radar), but once on the correct frequency I heard JP signing off to switch to the Tower frequency. Once the frequency was quiet, I requested a Basic Service and Cardiff Docks Arrival. I was assigned a squawk of 3614, and cleared on the published arrival, not above 1500 feet on the Cardiff QNH. As I turned over the Severn crossings, I began a gradual descent to get down to 1500 feet, stopping at around 1350 feet as I passed over Newport. In hindsight, I probably achieved the required level much earlier than I needed to, as the airspace only started at 4000 feet where I was, before dropping to 3000 feet around the area of the docks.

As I approached the docks, I was given a further squawk, and instructed to contact the Tower. Once on the Tower frequency, I was cleared for a Left Base join, behind some other traffic ahead of me that was established on Downwind. I initially had trouble spotting the other traffic, but as I approached the ATZ the Controller prompted me again, giving me a useful pointer as to where he was. I was then easily able to spot him, and as instructed positioned behind him on the Downwind leg to follow him.

Positioning Downwind at Cardiff

Positioning Downwind at Cardiff

I was unsure how far Downwind to go to allow sufficient spacing between myself and the traffic ahead, and probably went further than I really needed to. This did however give me plenty of time to establish a stable approach, and I brought the Arrow in for a nice gentle touchdown on Cardiff’s runway 30. I was instructed to vacate left off the runway (as expected) and positioned just behind G-BPAF in the parking area, as two of the airport’s fire appliances waited on the taxyway off to my right. It was nice of them to roll the equipment for me, but I didn’t think my landing had been that bad!

Fire trucks in attendance as a Commercial flight takes off

Fire trucks in attendance as a Commercial flight takes off

Once I’d secured the aircraft I headed towards Aeros (the booking in point for GA aircraft), and after a bit of a wait for someone to let me in, paid the landing fee before heading up to the cafe for some lunch. Unfortunately I hadn’t thought to check with the cafe, and today they were only serving carveries. JP and his other half had run into the same issue, so both had opted to make do with a slice of cake. My lunch that day consisted of a packet of crisps and a rather nice slice of cheesecake!

G-AZWS and G-BPAF parked up at Cardiff

G-AZWS and G-BPAF parked up at Cardiff

We sat outside on the balcony and chatted while we ate, before JP had to leave due to another booking on the aircraft after him. I took my time eating, and given the weather conditions I could see from my viewpoint, decided that continuing the flight to the West was perfectly possible. Once I’d finished eating I headed down to Aeros to book out, making sure I requested a ‘St. Hillary’ departure that would allow me to leave the Cardiff airspace to the West.

JP was just taxying out in G-BPAF as I carried out a quick transit check, and after getting myself settled I fortunately managed to get the engine started much easier than it had at Kemble. After carrying out my power checks I positioned myself at the hold behind another aircraft departing ahead of me, just as he was cleared onto the runway to depart.

JP departing in G-BPAF, I followed the Tomahawk in the foreground

JP departing in G-BPAF, I followed the Tomahawk in the foreground

Once he’d taken off, I was also cleared onto the runway, and kept a good eye on the aircraft ahead as I began my takeoff roll and oriented myself to fly to the St. Hillary mast initially. The other aircraft seemed to be following the same departure route, so I was careful to keep him in sight, mindful of the fact that he would probably be travelling slower than I was once we completed our climb up to the cleared altitude within Cardiff’s airspace.

He seemed to be flying around 100 feet lower than me (which helped me keep him in sight to my left), and I switched over to the Radar frequency to continue. Initially the Radar controller seemed to assume I was on a departure directly back to Kemble, but I advised him that I was requesting a St. Hillary departure. His response was ‘ah, taking the scenic route’, which was to become somewhat of a fixture in later R/T conversations on this flight!

On reaching the St. Hillary mast, I turned left to head towards the services at M4 J36 (the departure point from Controlled Airspace on this route). As I reached this I requested a climb from the Controller, climbing initially to around 2000 feet. I informed him of my planned route (to the West as far as Pembrey, before returning via the BCN VOR) and asked if I could remain with him for the remainder of the flight. He suggested I contact Swansea initially, as they were operating today and I was planning to pass a few miles North of them.

Dodging clouds

Dodging clouds

I signed off with Cardiff, and made contact with Swansea. After my response to his ‘pass your message’ request, his response was ‘say again route, Cardiff to Kemble via where?’. I confirmed that I was heading out to the West as far as Pembrey, making the point of informing him I was taking the ‘scenic route’!

I was having great fun adjusting my track and height to remain clear of cloud, and as I cleared to the West of Swansea I signed off with them before contacting Pembrey. Again my explanation of my route seemed to generate some amusement, but the A/G operator helpfully informed me of other traffic operating to the North of Pembrey. As I continued towards Pembrey I heard the other aircraft making regular position reports, helpfully including his height.

Turning at Pembrey

Turning at Pembrey

Pembrey appeared in the distance, and as I turned overhead I was able to get some good photographs of the airfield with the race circuit to the South. There didn’t seem to be anyone using the track today sadly. I set course to the North to route in the general direction of Carmarthen, climbing up to around 5000 feet on this leg in order to be at a good height to cross the higher ground around Brecon.

On my last flight with Kev to Sandhill Farm I’d had a chat with him about the ‘Nav’ feature of the autopilot, learning that the autopilot is only connected up to the CDI that is couple with Nav 2, and not to the one coupled to the GPS. Armed with this new information I tuned Nav 2 to the BCN VOR frequency, and set the CDI up to the appropriate inbound track to the VOR. On engaging the autopilot in Nav mode, it made a fairly abrupt left turn to intercept the appropriate radial, before doing a passable job of tracking it for a minute or two.

Up at around 5000 feet there was still a fair amount of cloud, and I amused myself by altering heading and height to remain VMC. There were still plenty of breaks in the cloud, giving me confidence that when the time came I would be able to get back down below the cloud for my arrival into Kemble. I signed in with Cardiff again, the Controller seemingly remembering my details so not asking me to ‘pass your message’. He did assign me a squawk, enabling him to immediately see where I was.

Traffic passing much lower than me!

Traffic passing much lower than me!

Approaching the BCN VOR, I decided to use a large break in the cloud to descend below the worst of it, levelling off at around 3500 feet after passing the VOR. I dialled in a new course onto the VOR CDI to track outbound from BCN to get me over the Severn Bridges, and not long after the Cardiff Controller informed me he had nothing further for me, and suggested I freecall Bristol.

Approaching the Severn, there appeared to be a bank of cloud ahead at the level I was currently at, so now I was clear of the higher ground I descended down to around 2500 feet in readiness for arriving at Kemble. I dialled in Bristol’s listening squawk and tuned into their frequency, deciding that it wasn’t worth contacting them for just a few minutes before having to switch to Kemble to rejoin.

Crossing the Severn back into England

Crossing the Severn back into England

I made contact with Kemble in good time, being given the runway in use and QFE. As it seemed relatively quiet I asked if I could fly a couple of circuits in order to reset my passenger currency for another 90 days. This was approved, and as I approached at Overhead Join height there was a brief discussion between the FISO and a pilot planning to transit the overhead at around 2500 feet QNH, which is only around 100 feet or so above the Overhead Join height. The pilot climbed to 3000 feet to give a little more separation, and I positioned myself appropriately for the Overhead Join.

I descended on the Deadside, lowering the gear as I did so. Another aircraft announced ‘Overhead’ just as I was turning Crosswind, giving plenty of spacing behind me. I continued on around the circuit, completing the before landing checklist on the Downwind leg. Base and Final were all routine, and I managed another gentle landing, before retracting the flaps and applying full power to head round the circuit one more time.

Again the circuit was relatively straightforward, the traffic that had joined behind me landing long before I completed the Downwind leg. My final landing of the day was again good, and the FISO approved a backtrack to our parking area. Completing the after landing checks just after clearing the runway, I taxyed back and positioned the aircraft nose in to one of the parking areas, as a pilot was making ready to leave in G-BPAF.

He seemed to take an age getting ready, and I was on the verge of going to ask how much longer he was going to be. Rather than pulling past where he was parked, I probably could have had the Arrow refuelled and back in its parking space before the Warrior was ready to start! Fortunately he started up as I was considering going to speak to him, so I waited while he completed his checklist and began to taxy away.

One of Monarch's now defunct fleet

One of Monarch’s now defunct fleet

I pulled the Arrow over to the pumps, and was about to refuel when another pilot approached, asking if I was done for the day. He wanted to take the Arrow for a short flight, and confirmed that the amount of fuel remaining (tabs on one side and just below tabs on the other) was plenty for the flight I had planned. We pushed the aircraft back to its parking space, and I headed in to the office to complete the post-flight paperwork.

Tracks flown

Tracks flown

Leg 1 profile

Leg 1 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 2 profile

Despite being unable to complete a longer flight due to the uncertain weather conditions, I’d had an excellent days flying. Cardiff was as welcoming as ever, it was just a shame that I’d arrived at a time when they were only serving large meals, so was unable to take advantage of the cafe there (I generally try to avoid eating too much when flying, to reduce the chance of anything disagreeing with me!). The protracted route back from Cardiff had been great fun to fly, and my route did at least seem to provide some amusement to some of the people I spoke to on the radio!

Total flight time today: 2:10
Total flight time to date: 318:35

 

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