Touring Wales

So far this year I had only managed a couple of short flights, predominately flying circuits in order to regain or retain currency. This certainly wasn’t what I’d had in mind when I spent a year training towards my PPL! The scarcity of my flying was made even more apparent when considering the fact that my Class Rating was due to expire in less than 6 weeks time, and I was still some 2 hours short of the required hours in order to be able to Revalidate by Experience.

In order to ‘automatically’ revalidate my license, every two years I need to satisfy the following in the 12 months prior to the rating expiring:

  • Fly 12 hours
  • Fly 1 hour with an Instructor
  • Carry out 12 takeoffs and landings
  • Fly 6 hours as Pilot in Command (PIC or P1)

Thus far I’d only managed around 10 hours, and only 0:45 with an Instructor. In order to avoid flying a License Proficiency Check with an Examiner, I really needed to get in the remaining two hours, and build up an hour with an Instructor. This was the first time since gaining my license that I was going to come even close to missing these requirements.

A spell of good weather coincided with Catrin being invited on a play-date on a Saturday afternoon, so this seemed an ideal opportunity to at least get to the 12 hour target. I came up with a plan for a fairly ambitious trip, flying around virtually the entire coast / border of Wales, stopping off at three airfields (Haverfordwest, Caernarfon and Hawarden) along the way. The initial plan was to travel clockwise, but after some contact with Rocky (who’s recently qualified as a Controller at Hawarden) led me to reverse the direction of the trip, calling in at Hawarden before his shift finished early on Saturday afternoon.

Route Plan

Route Plan

The days leading up to the flight provided ever encouraging forecasts, but on the night before the flight the forecast changed to include a small chance of some thunderstorms building up in the South during the afternoon. All the forecasts I saw suggested that there was only a fairly slight chance of these happening, and even if they did the generally good conditions meant that they should be easy to spot in plenty of time to avoid them.

As usual I completed the majority of the planning the night before the flight, meaning I only needed to do a final check on the weather and NOTAMS, print out the plogs and mark up the chart before leaving for Kemble. A slight detour en-route meant I was slightly delayed on arriving at Kemble, but I still thought I had plenty of time to achieve what I’d planned to do.

I filled the Arrow with fuel before carrying out the ‘A’ check, finding no problems with the aircraft. I returned to the office to complete the pre-flight paperwork, and on returning to the aircraft gave it a last look over, and took fuel samples to ensure there was no water or other contaminants in the fuel. Once this was done, I got on board and prepared the cockpit for the first leg up to Hawarden. I called the FISO to request engine start as we’re asked to do at Kemble, and the engine started without any problems.

I spent a little while setting up the avionics and GPS on-board, hearing the FISO calling me as I finally powered up the 430 to request taxy clearance. It seemed they’d been trying to get hold of me (they should have understood why I wasn’t answering, as it’s standard practice to turn off all avionics during engine start), as one of the other Lyneham aircraft had turned around and abandoned their planned trip to Hawarden, due to poor in-flight visibility.

This is a fairly common problem during a prolonged period of high pressure. High pressure tends to ‘put a lid’ on the atmosphere, preventing the contaminants in the air from dispersing as they normally would. The result is often a day that looks like perfect flying conditions from the ground, but with very poor visibility once you’re actually up in the air. I decided that I should at least make an attempt to carry out the flight, as I was confident in my ability to complete it even if the visibilty wasn’t ideal. I received my taxy clearance, initially to A4 to enable me to cross to the South of the airfield to reach the threshold of 08 which was the runway in use.

I had to hold briefly as one of Freedom’s Citabrias left the grass runway ahead of me, and as I stopped at A4 I was then cleared to cross the runway, being asked to report ready at C2. I taxyed around the South side of the airfield, carrying out my power checks on the approach to C2 as an Electricity helicopter practised landings off to my left. The power checks were normal, and I pulled up to C2, spotting an aircraft on late Downwind as I announced I was ready to depart.

The FISO checked I was ready to depart immediately, and once I confirmed I was, he cleared me onto the runway to depart. After a quick check of the engine guages, I applied full power and began my takeoff roll. There was virtually no wind, so the takeoff was routine, and as I climbed out I applied a quick dab of the brakes before raising the gear and turning left to head towards Gloucester. As I climbed out, the FISO was changed, and another aircraft announced on frequency arriving from the North about 5 miles away at around 2500 feet. I notified the FISO that I was climbing through 2000 feet up to my cruising altitude of 4500 feet, and he passed this information to the inbound traffic.

As expected the visibility was quite poor, and despite regular checks ahead of me (including lowering the nose periodically to reduce the blindspots immediately ahead) I didn’t see the other aircraft. However, I did climb rapidly through the level he had reported at, so there was only a very short period of time when we were operating at the same height.

Poor in-flight visibility

Poor in-flight visibility

Once well clear of Kemble,  I signed off with them to contact Gloucester. They seemed fairly busy, with a number of aircraft joining, and one ‘Exam’ callsign being cleared into the hold before carrying out an ILS Approach. A further aircraft request a transit of the overhead at around 2000 feet, but this was denied due to the hold being occupied. Up at 4500 feet I was well above all the other traffic, so routed via the Gloucester overhead, reporting overhead the airfield as I passed. My next turning point was Kidderminster, and when I informed the Controller of this he queried whether I wanted to stay with him, or perhaps contact Birmingham. I’d never even considered talking to Birmingham, so decided to stay on frequency with Gloucester until I reached Kidderminster.

While the forward visibility wasn’t great, visibility down to the ground was fine. This gave me the confidence to continue, knowing that I would always have a good view of the ground below me, and not get stuck above a layer of cloud. I continued on to Kidderminster, signing off with the Controller at Gloucester on reaching the town, and switching to Shawbury to see if I received any response from them (although fully expecting to hear nothing due to them generally being closed at the weekend). As expected I received no answer, so I headed on to Sleap, listening in on their frequency until I got a bit closer.

Mindful of my lack of real flying (the last time I’d landed anywhere other than Kemble was back in October of last year!) I was making sure to monitor my progress  to each waypoint, noting down ETAs and ATAs on my plog. I was also keeping a close eye on my fuel burn, keeping track of how long I was operating on each tank, and trying to switch tanks every 15 minutes or so. Sleap seemed fairly busy also, and as I approached I heard an aircraft departing to head back to Hawarden. I gave them a quick call just to let them know I would be passing overhead at 4500 feet, and getting a good view of Shawbury off to the right as I approached.

Approaching Shawbury and Sleap

Approaching Shawbury and Sleap

Passing Shawbury

Passing Shawbury

On my route from Sleap to Hawarden, a Class A airway drops down to 3000 feet, meaning I needed to fly lower than this to avoid infringing Controlled Airspace. On passing Sleap I began a slow descent down to 2000 feet to ensure I was well clear of this. I signed off with Sleap and made contact with Hawarden Radar (forgetting to retrieve the ATIS first as I should have done!). I was given details of the runway in use (22), along with their QFE and a squawk to set on the transponder. The Controller told me to position for a Left Base join, and after a brief period to orient myself, I turned right to get myself into the correct position.

As I approached, I was handed over to Hawarden Tower, who informed me that they had a Cessna inbound on a long Final approach, and that I was number two. I spotted the other aircraft quite easily, and after reporting that I had him in sight, the Tower Controller told me to position behind him. I tried to give myself plenty of space, and as I turned Final the other aircraft was just touching down. He slowed easily to make the right turn, and I was given a ‘Land After’ clearance as he turned off the runway. The rest of my approach was routine, and I made a relatively gentle landing, although it was a little flatter than I would have preferred.

I also got slowed down in good time to make the turnoff to the right, and received my taxy instructions to the GA apron, ending with a ‘Welcome back to Hawarden Andy!‘. It was clearly Rocky in the Tower, and he’d done a good job of getting us both on the ground safely. While taxying to the November apron via Golf, Juliet and November, I heard an aircraft on the apron being told to hold position to allow the Cessna onto the apron. I was then instructed to hold at the end of Juliet to allow the departing aircraft to taxy in front of me on November to make ready to depart.

On reaching the apron a marshaller was waiting for me, and he indicated where he wanted me to park. I pulled into the designated spot, closed down and began to secure the cockpit. The helpful marshaller took me into the office, where he took my landing fee and arranged a security pass to enable me to get through the security gates that led to the diner. I headed in, finding that they’d helpfully reserved me a table! I ordered my usual sausage sandwich, which certainly filled a hole when it arrived a short while later.

Nice of them to reserve a table for me!

Nice of them to reserve a table for me!

I made sure to be finished before 1pm when the ‘other’ Andy had the table reserved, and headed out to take a few photos and call Caernarfon before walking back to the November apron (having a bit of a battle with the turnstile on the way!). I headed back in to the office to book out, finding that the phone line to the Tower was busy for a few minutes. I sent Rocky a tweet to tell him to get off the phone (the guy in the office thought the Controllers were probably ordering a takeaway!) and he sent me a message back when the line was clear. I booked out (speaking to Rocky again!) and headed back to the aircraft to give it a quick check over before getting ready to leave for Caernarfon.

Parked up at Hawarden

Parked up at Hawarden

Once onboard, I remembered to check the ATIS this time, before calling the Tower for start and departure information. I was cleared to start, and again the engine started easily. Another aircraft had started off to my left, and taxyed away as I got back in contact with the Tower. I was cleared to taxy to N1 for runway 22 via the November taxyway. Approaching N1 the other aircraft was just completing their checks, and was cleared onto the runway. They departed as I completed my own checks, before pulling up to the hold and reporting ready. Unlike my last visit, I was ready to copy the departure clearance I was given, which this time was ‘Runway 22, right turn out. Not above 1500 feet, squawk 0430’.

I read this back and had it acknowledged as ‘correct’, then was cleared onto the runway to depart. There were no problems departing from the 2km long runway, and I had plenty of height before having no usable runway ahead and raising the gear. Rocky bade me farewell, instructing me to contact Radar. On initial contact, they removed the height restriction (cautioning me to remain clear of Controlled Airspace), and I continued on towards the ridge ahead of me.

The ridge seemed higher than I had initially expected, so I took a quick look at the chart to see how low the Class A airspace descended (3000 feet) so I increased power again to climb to 2500, doglegging right initially to gain more height before crossing the ridge. The Controller had warned that he may lose radar and radio contact with me when I crossed it, and given me suggestions of who to contact should that happen. In actuality the extra height kept me in contact with him, and I stayed with him until I reached the coast near Rhyl.

I signed off with Hawarden Radar, deciding to listen in to London Information on the relatively short leg to Caernarfon. Once clear of the Class A airspace I climbed up to around 4500 feet. I generally followed the North Wales coast around to Bangor, spotting another aircraft travelling in the opposite direction well below me at one point. As I drew level with Anglesey, I started to monitor Caernarfon to build up a picture of the aircraft in the local area. As I approached Bangor I began a descent to 2000 feet ready for an overhead join at Caernarfon, and made contact with them to confirm they were still using runway 22.

Approaching Bangor, Anglesey off to the right

Approaching Bangor, Anglesey off to the right

There was one other aircraft in the circuit as I approached, and as I descended on the Deadside he was already on the Downwind leg. I carried out a nice circuit, although I had to fly a wider Base leg than I normally would have preferred due to the positioning of the aircraft ahead of me. By the time I turned onto Final, the other aircraft had landed and cleared the runway, and my second landing of the day was much better than the first. I rolled out and vacated the runway, informing the A/G operator that I wanted fuel.

As I approached the fuel bay I noticed that the parking area immediately opposite was empty, so I asked if I could push the aircraft into it when I’d finished refuelling. He asked that I contact them instead, so that they could have me park closer to the Tower (which would mean I would have to re-start the engine, something I was trying to avoid!). I had the aircraft filled with fuel ready for the final legs of the day, before pushing it back slightly to ensure I had sufficient clearance to turn past the pump. The A/G operator gave me a bay to park in, and I taxyed down there before securing the aircraft.

I headed in via the Cafe door, then headed to the desk to settle my landing fee, only to find the area around the desk deserted. I headed back in to the Cafe to see if landing fees were now settled there, only to spot the big ‘C’ on the new Control Tower near the gate I’d used to leave airside! I headed over to settle the landing fee and fuel bill, before walking back over to the Cafe to get a cold drink. While there the Coastguard helicopter departed, attracting quite a bit of attention from virtually everyone!

Coastguard helicopter departing

Coastguard helicopter departing

Parked up at Caernarfon

Parked up at Caernarfon

I was running perhaps 30 minutes or an hour behind my original schedule, and given the prospect for worsening weather I decided to fly the planned route back to Kemble, but abandon my plan to land at Haverfordwest. I walked back out to the Arrow and carried out a quick transit check (including taking fuel samples to be safe). The engine started easily and after getting the airfield information I taxyed to the hold ready to depart. Power checks were normal, and after waiting for an arriving flexwing microlight to land, I entered the runway. Once the runway was clear I applied power, and took off heading directly out over the sea.

Departing Caernarfon

Departing Caernarfon

I set course for Llanbedr, climbing to 3500 feet to be sure of clearing the high ground and mast on the first leg. I switched to the Llanbedr frequency, hearing a number of aircraft departing as I approached. Once clear to the South, I switched to the London Info frequency, this time signing on with them for a Basic Service. Once the initial details were passed, I waited for a break on the frequency and asked them to confirm that the Danger Areas around Aberporth were not active (they are only activated by NOTAM). The FISO confirmed this, meaning I could continue on my planned route down the coast.

Passing Aberystwyth

Passing Aberystwyth

I passed Aberystwyth, and dialled in the Strumble VOR to aid in confirming my position. I listened in initially to Aberporth Radar, and then West Wales Information to ensure nobody was operating there, hearing nothing as expected. I passed by the airfield, and continued on towards the VOR, turning slightly before reaching it to head to Haverfordwest. I contacted them as they seemed busy, telling them I would be passing overhead at around 4500 feet.

Turning at Haverfordwest

Turning at Haverfordwest

I turned in their overhead, now heading for Pembrey. I’d been in contact with Tony and Oliver the day before, finding out that Oli was competing in his first race weekend there today. On this leg I descended to 2500 feet, and made contact with Pembrey, hearing a helicopter departing to the East. Again I informed them I would be passing overhead, and as I approached Pembrey I positioned myself to get a good view of the track to the South of the airfield. I carried out an orbit overhead, getting some photos as I did so. Once this was complete, I continued my route towards the City of Swansea, signing off with Pembrey in readiness for contacting Cardiff to request the Zone Transit.

On-track action at Pembrey

On-track action at Pembrey

I monitored the Swansea frequency initially, ensuring there was no traffic operating there that might affect me. I then contacted Cardiff Radar to request a Basic Service and Zone Transit, routing around the South Wales coast, then up the Welsh side of the River Severn. Initially the Controller advised me to continue, reporting when passing Porthcawl. I was still several miles from there when he came back on frequency, clearing me for a Zone Transit as requested, not above 2500 feet.

Passing the lighthouse at Nash Point

Passing the lighthouse at Nash Point

The Cardiff frequency was quite busy with light aircraft arriving and departing. I spotted Llandow off to my left, followed by St. Athan and then Cardiff Airport itself. I passed the airport and followed the coast as it turned North, passing the City of Cardiff itself and the docks. The Controller confused me a little as I left Controlled Airspace, asking what my ‘maximum operating altitude’ was. Initially I wasn’t entirely sure what he was asking, so responded ‘currently 2500 feet’. A few minutes later I realised that he was actually trying to find out how high I would be climbing now I was clear of the Controlled Airspace.

Light aircraft departing Cardiff

Light aircraft departing Cardiff

I continued up the coast, and on reaching the Old Severn Bridge I signed off with Cardiff, and set course for Kemble. It was now around 16:30, so I contacted them earlier than I would have normally in order to get the airfield information before they closed at 17:00. They were still operating on 08, and the frequency seemed very quiet as I approached. There was still nobody on frequency as I got closer, so I asked for a Left Base join to see if I could get down on the ground before they closed. As I was positioning for this and beginning my descent, another aircraft reported they were joining from the South, and would join Downwind.

As I joined on Base, I spotted the other aircraft at the start of his Downwind leg. The wind was now picking up, and there was a significant crosswind from the right (140 degrees at 13 knots). I correct for this on Final, but as I got close to the ground the conditions became much more turbulent, and I was having a hard time maintaining the correct track across the ground while trying to kick off the crab to the right. My control inputs weren’t quite enough to maintain the runway centreline, and I found myself landing much more firmly than I would have liked. A shame to round off a good day’s flying with such a poor landing!

I was cleared to taxy to ‘Lyneham Corner’, and reported clear of the runway once I was on the Alpha taxyway. I taxyed back to the parking area, closing down in front of the fuel bowser in readiness to refuel. Having filled up the aircraft before leaving Caernarfon, I only needed about 30 litres to bring it back up to tabs. I pushed the aircraft back into its parking space, and removed all my gear before putting the cover on. I headed in to the office to settle the post-flight paperwork, before heading home for a well earned beer!

Tracks flown

Tracks flown

Leg 1 profile

Leg 1 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 2 profile

Leg 3 profile (part 1)

Leg 3 profile (part 1)

Leg 3 profile (part 2)

Leg 3 profile (part 2)

It was great to be finally back in the air doing some ‘real’ flying. I’d made quite an ambitious plan, and managed to execute most of it despite the fairly challenging conditions. It was good to revisit some airfields that I’d been to in the past, and nice also to be able to carry out the Zone Transit around Cardiff again. It was a shame that some of the landings weren’t quite up to scratch, but at least the flying had all gone without any dramas. Now I need to complete the last part of the requirements for my revalidation (finishing the hour with an Instructor) and see if I can maintain the momentum for the remainder of the year!

Total flight time today: 4:10
Total flight time to date: 324:25

 

2 Responses to “Touring Wales”

  1. Class Rating Revalidation | Andy's Blog Says:

    […] Writings of a UK based Private Pilot « Touring Wales […]

  2. 2018 Summary | Andy's Blog Says:

    […] check, 3 locals for currency a flight to fulfill the requirements for Class Rating Renewal, a tour of Wales, one Charity Flight, and my first ever Solo flight with […]

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