Finding a replacement for Rhubarb took some time. We knew roughly what we wanted (912, Skyranger type, within a relatively constrained budget) but such aircraft absolutely hurtle in and out of availability and we missed our window on more than one which we considered but was sold before we could get to it.
Eventually we found G-CCLU. Engine type and hours we were happy with, slightly tired skins but to be sold with a new permit so recently Betts tested and within our range as long as we found a third member which proved happily easy!
My this time I’d already started calling the machine “Splat” – the paint scheme being somewhat idiosyncratic.
One of the existing Skyranger chaps from Old Park went up to retrieve ‘Splatt’ for us as I engaged in a mildly timeconsuming and entertaining conversation with my bank which ran something like:
“Yes really, a microlight. A microlight. Like a light aircraft? A Very Small Aeroplane. Yes. No, no one is trying to trick me on the internet. Yes the pilot is stood next to it right now. Yes.”
I’d flown a friend’s Skyranger a handful of times a few years ago but still picked the calmest day I could find for my first sortie in this one.
Which is just as well because I’d forgotten entirely two rather attention getting things.
First, the rate of climb – Particularly with just me and half fuel we rocketed into the air. Mentally I think I was still dangling off the tail somewhere asking myself what just happened.
Secondly was the amount of rudder needed. I was swerving all over the climbout as the thing bolted into the air. Happily the rudder itself is powerful. I had taken the precaution of checking how much cushion behind me I needed for full travel but didn’t need anything like it at any point during the flight.
I climbed speedily to a few thousand feet to explore that rudder more in an attempt to achieve some coordinated turns – concluding that may take a few more flights yet before it’s entirely muscle-memoried in.
I also spent some time slowing down and setting up for the approach speeds and config – the flaps require a solid-ish tug for weedy me and there was a certain amount of nose bobbing which I’m sure practise will also be the cure for.
Handling at slow speeds was reassuringly docile after the headlong charge at the sky and skidding, slippy levelling off, which had both initially taken me aback.
I cruised over to Swansea where half a dozen circuits confirmed the fact that yes, the slow speed handling was in fact gorgeous and easy and slid down the approach like every cliche about being on rails.
The only gotcha discovered was how easy it was to leave a trickle of power still present – the throttle effect on RPM at the low end seemed disproportionately large. I found I actively needed a little pressure to make sure it hadn’t crept open.
Back to Old Park and mindful of the much more cluttered approach and the need to be on top of the speed, I set up with full flap probably further out than really needed so I could get good and settled while still well outside the wires.
Conditions couldn’t have been better and I was down with the usual sense of flippingflopping from “is there really enough space here” to “and now I need to put power back on to get the rest of the way up the hill”!
I think it’s the first time I’ve found landing a different type less eventful than taking off!
A few weeks passed before weather and availability lined up again and I’d spent most of the afternoon dithering at the foot of the windsock before deciding the crosswind had dropped enough to take it on.
It was the end of the good weather – blue sky but clouds on the horizon and the air was choppy enough that my sightseeing over the hills turned into a familiarisation with how the new machine handles in turbulence!
Crosswind handling back at the strip was good (nice whopping rudder!) though I’d once again left a sliver of power on, which combined with the slight extra speed I’d carried for the crosswind gave a tiny bounce.
Familiarisation continues! (Though shortly to be interrupted by an excursion to Good for some aeros next week.)
It’s been a long wait to get back in the air. Lockdown had prevented both the flying school from operating and us from making any significant progress on the X’Air. (Except for the AAIB anyway – they managed to finish their report at least!)
After a certain amount of anguished decision making the decision was eventually reached to let Rhubarb go to a youth flying charity (Get High Volare!) as a rebuild project and seek a replacement aircraft in order not to lose another summer’s flying in repairs and maintenance.
Being a shade tired of ending up on fields and foreshores all over the south of Wales we’re seeking a 912 this time around…
Meantime the spring weather could not be ignored and as soon as Cambrian re-opened I was booked in for the very first weekend.
I did peruse a few of the circulating resources designed to get everyone’s heads back in the game.
One from GASCo in the form of an ‘interactive’ presentation. I use interactive here in inverted comments as it was a ‘click next for slide progression’ rather than anything more, with the exception of one early question to think about. It would have worked better for me as either a standard video or podcast, or as an article with the text. Adding the need to click next every 10-30 seconds adds little to mixed media presentations.
Simpler in format but a little more food for thought was in Flyer’s article ‘Getting Back in the Groove‘ although there was enough in there for plenty more than one flight!
The previous evening to the flight took up a surprisingly amount of time. All of my flying related belongings had migrated from their usual locations, it took me half an hour of turning the place upside down to find the battered and tattered old G-TOMS checklist for the PA38 and I was beset with a load of trivial other things like “where in the wide world has my watch disappeared to during the 18 months I’ve not worn it because I’m sat in the house inches from an actual clock?”
Eventually everything was recovered and I spent a pleasant hour or so doodling potential nice easy routes on Runway HD which hadn’t been updated in an age and which I barely remembered how to use.
The weather couldn’t have been more perfect with the solitary exception of the easterly breeze putting us on 10 – I dislike the intersection with 22! Without fail in a Tomahawk I hit the rough crossover section moving just fast enough to risk being launched into the air but not fast enough to stay there!
Tick one for things that would need extra attention while still rusty.
The club already been back in full swing for a few days and there and it was gleeful arriving the following morning. A newly minted solo was arriving back in as I got myself organised and a few solo nav about to head out.
The only hiccup was maybe forseeable from the NOTAM as Swansea was without fuel pending some attention to the equipment.
If I had no strong preferences about where I flew solo after filing some rust off with an instructor would I mind dropping in to Cardiff to get some?
Tick two for things that would need extra attention, but overall Cardiff is simple – clear VFR routes in and out, huge runway, direction from ATC should there be any navigational hesitancy.
I took some extra time to replan a route and review the procedures and Cardiff NOTAM and get a brief on the new (to me anyway) radio, nav and transponder fit in the Tomahawk we were taking. Meanwhile my instructor for the day got us in VFR flightplans for there and back as they’re rather lightly staffed and using the plans as a tool to manage expected traffic.
All was well up to the power checks – mags specifically where we had a very rough running on one. Attempting to burn it off by running lean got us no where so it was back to the club to swap aircraft.
The radio fit on this one I did know so we were quickly back where we left off and ready for a few circuits. The first of which I rather elongated the takeoff roll of by forgetting the first stage of flap – and presumably also by my eye skating over it on the checklist at least twice.
The circuit was… large… and drifted inwards by the southerly element to the wind and final was a long gentle swerve back to the centre line as a result. (through luck the first error, of epic circuit size rather offset the later one of drifting in, by giving me a longer approach to correct it!)
The second was still drifted inwards looking at the GPS track later, but not as badly and the base-to-final turn was correctly anticipated this time. Touchdown was fine. Third time round for a low level circuit and the instructor was content. I dropped him off and headed back out.
Got the flaps down this time and between that and being alone sprang into the air nice and promptly with a huge grin replacing the furious concentration.
It wasn’t long before all that concentration would be needed again though. My brain was still recalibrating to Tomahawk instead of X’Air cruise speed and I needed to get in comms with Cardiff and make sure I was going to hit the right entry point to join the VFR route in.
I also wanted to give Old Park a decent margin by both distance and altitude as there was bound to be a swathe of people on the same de-rusting mission. The heat was also making it a little turbulent down low but I knew Cardiff would want me below 1500′.
I called them just short of Porthcawl and loosely tracked the motorway, descending as I went. Not quite fast enough as it turned out and I had to give myself a little swerving dogleg north of the entry point of Junction 36 in order to be at the right altitude to pick up the St Hilary VFR route.
I took up the appropriate heading according to the GPS and hunted out the mast – I had eyes on Wenvoe before St Hilary and was acutely aware of how easy it would be to disregard the heading information and say ‘oh there’s the mast’ with only one in sight.
Once you are certain of the correct mast it’s a very easy route in. In good weather you can see the airport from the mast with plenty of time to identify the correct runway and join you’ll been asked for.
I could have saved myself a moment’s extra brain work by getting the Tower frequency in place ready rather than scrabbling it down on the fly but other than that it was proceeding more or less to plan.
It was busy in spite of the low level of commercial traffic and I was only halfway between the motorway and the mast when asked to take up a left hand orbit.
Here was something else for the concentration! It was not the prettiest or most consistent orbit I have ever flown. I could hear someone else out there doing the same somewhere nearby and between swiveling-eye watching for them, watching the bank, watching my location, watching my altitude, I was certainly aware I was working my brains.
I flew about three or four in total before being released to continue.
A left base join and I was cleared to land which went smoothly enough.
I’ve forgotten how to park neatly, lost all sense of actual turning circle of a Tomahawk and ended up shutting down and manhandling into a tidier position before pausing to take in the air and smile at the enormous ‘Croseo i Gymru’ from across the other side of the runway emblazoned across the terminal.
The cafe was sadly not yet reopened so the only mission was fuel and a quick chocolate bar and bottle of water before heading back.
And here I did need that ATC steer – I misremembered how well I knew (or didn’t) the layout on the ground at Cardiff and even with the GPS-linked plate on my lap, it was strangely unfamiliar while littered with static pandemic-laid-up airliners. A slightly sheepish call for directions to see me out of the flying club parking and to the taxiway (it was still there!) and I was back in the flow.
I had less of a wait departing than arrived and was cleared for takeoff from the intersection with a left turn out to pick up St Hilary once again.
It was still bumpy down low as as soon as I was out of the airspace I opened the throttle and climbed to a smoother 2000′ or so. Even knowing it wasn’t for long, just to Swansea it was more comfier up there and gave me time to appreciate the views and snap the compulsory return to flight selfie.
Swansea was reasonably calm when I rejoined. One in the circuit and one joining somewhere after me. Landing was the flattest of the day but acceptable, parking looked marginally less as though I’d abandoned the thing at the scene of a heist.
And I was gleeful. Tired too, but in that outdoorsy, post-flying, happy, calm tired.
I booked in my next sess and when home to browse AFORS 😉
So this was going to be a post about the return visit for more twirlybatics – except that between having a proper edit of the video, and a chance to sit down and write, I found myself with a little engine contretemps back in the X’Air that required depositing poor Rhubarb down in the clover.
Harm to only aircraft not people but since the AAIB report form runs to considerably more pages to fill in, than I suspect the page count of the end report will be I’ll leave that particular bit of writing for another day – there’s a summary of affairs on a Flyer thread over here.
Once we have a cause and a ‘what next’ I’ll do something more detailed.
Meanwhile – back to stuff that actually managed to stay in the sky.
I had an afternoon slot this time, a 1 o’clock which slid to 2 and then 2:30 as the mist of the morning turned to low cloud, turned to higher cloud, turned to actual sunshine.
Once again the brief focussed on what I wanted from the trip (More hands on now that I might have capacity to take some of the mechanics in and do more than giggle in glee at the novelty). We planned to look at aileron rolls, barrel rolls and loops chiefly and then see what brain and stomach were before possibly looking at a fourth.
With a bit less of a frenetic pace at the field today and, after a firm mental word with myself about which way this engine turned compared to the little Rotax, I did the takeoff with Greeners following in case of mishaps or inadequately long legs.
We headed out in the opposite direction this – out towards the English south coast which would serve as a line feature.
4000’ feet was our target starting altitude with a base height of 2000’ – high enough to leave plenty of scope for error! HASELL checks and clearing turns to do – and clearing turns in an aerobatic machine it turns out are no wishy washing swerving and ogling – nope. Instead a sweeping wingover, with all the sky and all the ground laid out and (happily) empty for us to manoeuvre into.
Aileron rolls first up and I vaguely remembered the steps for this – nose up above the horizon, check forward, full stick to roll.
My nose burbled and bobbled around the horizon far far less definitely than the demo and I needed the occasional prompt to check forward and not to find myself still with back pressure on as we came round but the fourth was tidier that the first!
Things to do or not do next time…
Get the nose high enough before starting – something close to climbing attitude
Don’t forget to check forward so we don’t carry on drifting up
Full full stick
Take time to check not pulling by accident
Get wings level before pulling up
Barrel rolls to try next.
Any kid given a toy aeroplane swoops it around the living room in a series of barrel rolls but what exactly going on at each stage is rather more involved. A lot of things are changing at once and you can only see sky for half of them going by the previous day’s trip so quite how it is meant to come out in a semi organised manoeuvre I was waiting to hear! Briefing this on the ground the breakdown was to pick two references – one straight away and one off at 90 degrees in the direction of the intended roll. Then with these in mind – pitch to 60degrees nose up and roll towards that 90 degree ref – still pulling, aiming to be inverted by the time you were pointing at it, then rolling and pulling the rest of the way round looking again for the straight ahead reference by the time you were level again.
In practice it took my eyes rather a lot of time to accustom themselves to what the world looked like with the nose pitched up to 60. Both in this and in the wingovers in fact. I stared out, (and again when watching the video just now) trying to commit the visual references to memory.
Things to do or not do next time…
Get the nose high enough before starting – (it’s a theme!)
Roll fast enough
This time keep pulling!
Pick good references and try to find enough brain capacity to actually look for them a bit more deliberately!
It looks like a laundry list but there’s something particularly satisfying about how quickly you can start to pin down specific things to fix or pick out common threads (nose attitude, am I thinking consciously and deliberately about whether or not I have/need back pressure here).
There was a brief break in events for a victory flick after that particular bit of learning which set me back to giggling and then we went on to loops.
In a straight line ideally (erm… not always, not really as it turned out but…) so chiefly concerned with pitch and as we were carrying on all the way round, instead of an attitude the ‘how much to pull by’ was “to about 3 and a half g”. Then looking up and back for the horizon as we go through inverted, reducing back pressure over the top and then pulling through the other side looking up again for the horizon.
At this stage I was really only noticing if we were level at those horizon-visible points rather than having much spare to do anything about it but in theory one could adjust matters at that point!
First go was left wing low and I had a bit much g still on the back side of it while pulling out – enough to give us a little buffet.
Second was better, third was crooked, fourth was even more crooked chiefly because I rolled the wrong way to correct after accidentally putting in a bit of aileron on the pull. (“Roll left, left, the other left…”)
Things to do or not do next time…
Check above immediately before pulling up (and ditto the stall turns later)
Endeavour to remember left from right while upside down 😉 (This may take a while…)
Last manoeuvre of the day we only really started before my brain decided it was cooked. A stall turn. Began by establishing how much rudder my shorty legs actually reached with the current seating arrangements, and Greeners flew the demo with about that much.
I had a wobbly go but was clearly reaching capacity so we called it there and headed back.
I flew the approach, re-discovering, (as if I could have forgotten already!) how much more sensitive in pitch this lovely machine was than the little X’Air, with a rather balloony flare!
Supposed to be a sign of willpower isn’t it – to be able to wait for delayed gratification. Sadly I’m not sure I can claim it since it was mostly circumstances that caused me to be a full twelve-month, and more, down the line before heading out to claim my birthday aerobatics with ultimate High at Goodwood.
And that despite this eye rolling delirious level of excitement at the gift…
It was always going to be a stay-away trip for the distance so it made sense at the time to wait for the new year when both myself and the spectating family members were into the new annual leave allowance. And once into the new year of course it made sense to wait for spring and the hope of good weather.
And then the spring of 2020 arrived…
We reach September, which is looking increasingly like a window between one lockdown and the next. I arrive hopelessly ground-happy – the interim between the last time I was really properly current and now including one engine stoppage and six month delay in getting properly back airworthy with a new one, a tiny handful of flights before another maintenance delay when the carb heaters it came with decided to liberally spread warm coolant not only over the carbs but all over the pod and transparencies as well, a super-windy summer, wet winter and the aforementioned 2020!
We stay in Boxgrove, in earshot of the aerodrome and I listen to aeroplanes over a carefully light breakfast.
The Extra I was originally booked on has decided to chime in on the theme of the year and gone tech but I’d dithered so long over which option to go for in the first place that switching onto the Firefly isn’t so much a Plan B as it is Plan A-And-Three-Quarters.
We arrive with enough time to hang over the airside fence watching the comings and goings. It’s crazy busy already, the sunshine and still air on an autumn Saturday bringing them all out. I sip water, seeking that dicey balance between hydration and not being the person who ‘should have gone before they took off’.
I’m one of three at the briefing along with an older guy and a younger one who’ve never flown even bog standard GA before. I wonder what’s in their heads. I wonder what they make of the Firefly which my sister describes later in our WhatsApp group as “that tiny angry aeroplane”.
The briefing is pitched at a level which reflects a non-GA audience but you never know what you don’t know and there’s practical detail in there about positioning of headset to not find it departing the scene, and the never-obvious “where on the aircraft is okay to grab”.
I’m struck by the clarity of communication and the focus on the aim of the exercise – “What do you want to get out of the trip?” is a direct question to everyone and I actually have to think for a moment. It’s a mixture of wanting plenty of hands on and seeing what the aeroplane can do in more capable ones than mine. Really any level of sky under the wheels would make me happy at this point.
I’m paired with Greeners – I suspect because some Flyer Forum / Facebook mutual has dobbed me in while I was enthusing so we have a quick chat about any aeros flying I’ve done already (giggling passenger chiefly)
We’re be-suited to fly and play a game of psychology in picking callsign tags to Velcro onto ourselves. I peruse them before smirking and opting for the very on-brand Cymraes option of ‘Dragon’.
Heading back out under the blue sky we are briefed also on the appropriate attitude – not the aircraft’s!
Strutting is, it seems, mandatory.
I do my best but can’t help feeling I look rather “pilot at 80% scale…” however good my game face may or may not be…
We get strapped in and join the queue. Last time I remember being in a queue this long for takeoff was the LAA rally with its, “In order to avoid a general free for all” departure brief. The poor FISO seems to be feeling it and, in the interests of expediency, Greeners handles the takeoff, whisking us out on the runway for an immediate departure in one of the brief gaps.
He hands over control at few hundred feet and we climb away towards the South Downs, today behaving like a weather textbook – I’m about to comment on the lift on the windward, cloudward side – when I spot a glider ahead in the process of making use of same.
With glider avoided, I follow directions to the correct bit of sky where we start with a series of manoeuvres basically consisting of “this much positive G, this much negative G – still happy?”
I am happy (giggling stupidly in fact) so it’s time to get inverted. This does little to reduce the giggling. Aileron rolls are a joy – although I take in more of the gently rotating world than I do of the steady narration of what’s going on to achieve it. There’s something instantly confidence building about either this aircraft, or Greeners’ flying or both because it feels perfectly easy and natural to have the green fields and blue sky swap places like this. The controls are responsive and the air is still and the G forces on this figure light and it all combines to just feel and look so lovely and an utter tonic for having been on the ground too long.
We proceed through a series of other figures, more of less alternating between ones I can have go at and demos of what the aircraft can do – exactly to the detail of what I’d asked for. The ones I fly have been well chosen – there’s a robust pedagogy in place under this I suspect – Greeners has the rudder – they typically move the LHS rudder all the way out of reach of non-pilots whereas I’m just following through. Further reducing complexity is that the constant speed prop means we were leaving the power alone pretty much the whole time, relying on shallow dives if more speed was wanted. And without those items to think about, the figures I fly myself mostly only require control input in one axis at a time (to be at least recognisable if not too tidy!) The aileron roll is pitch to above the horizon then check forward then roll and, so forth. Manageable brain-sized chunks!
The barrel roll Greeners flies himself is a pitch and a roll all together and around, tracing a big happy spiral through the sky. The flick roll has me cackling again and I’ve only the vaguest idea of what he did to make it a) happen and b) stop at the desired stopping point!
Reaching stall turns is the first time the aircraft again feels like we’re subject to actual physics, as the buffet shivers through the wings and controls as we pivot in the sky and return groundwards.
Time for one last figure (I chose a loop) and it’s time to head back. Before reaching the bedlam that is the ATZ, Greeners makes time for a mini upset recovery practice. I use up more sky than his demo but it’s worth the doing.
Five minutes into the straight and level re-entry into the ATZ my stomach decides to belatedly inform me what we’ve been doing but there’s plenty of fresh-air through the canopy vents and it’s settled again without disgracing me by the time we’re on short final, and I’m ready for a big coffee by the time we touch down.
High fives and fist-bumps all round (and, this being 2020, followed up with prompt sanitisation) to wrap up and I collect a log book entry and a cute certificate declaring the G to have been +5/-2.
I make my thankyous and farewells, and babble – absolutely babble for the rest of the day. That night I’m so wired as to make sleep slow in arriving. I lie eyes open, in a strange bed, remembering how we’d moved around the sky.
Two more days into the holiday, perhaps fed up of hearing about it, my mum points out that if I really wanted to there was nothing particular stopping me going again before we went home.
And with that seed planted I was lost. I mean… There was the all that flying budget unspent during mechanical woes and then lockdown… It wasn’t really spending more money on flying than I normally would was it? Would the weather even be suitable? Would there be availability short notice? Well it couldn’t hurt to ask right? Only ask…?
Haven’t updated the blog in an age – party because of busy-ness, partly because a lot of my flights have been of the drifting about to no particular purpose variety. However, after being thoroughly wound up by the “GA is dangerous and expensive” presentation of Skies Above Britain which I find myself watching even as I rant, perhaps some simple pleasures is exactly what I want to be posting…
So… Simple pleasures… Part one…
Steve’s text read: “Looks like there might be a weather window for a dawn raid tomorrow.”
It’s been a rubbish summer, wet and windy and littered with tech issues – coolant sprayed over the whole flipping aircraft then a power check interupted by a whopping great mag drop but at the moment everything was running smoothly again.
The window between sunrise and needing to leave the field for work was shortening though and seemed worth grabbing. I checked the weather. Temp and dewpoint would be close and the wind was flat calm.
We decided that sitting cursing at mist would be, at the worst, a change of pace from sitting cursing at the windsock so arranged to head out for 6:30.
I watched his updates as he headed from his house to mine – “clear here”, “mist in Neath”. I looked out the window, still clear. 50:50 chance then at least!
We saw no more mist on the way to the field and the smoke plumes from Baglan and the steelworks rose vertical and undisturbed. At the strip I jumped out and raised the windsock which dangled with barely a flutter.
We peeled off to open up hangars and quickly shared a jerrycan of twostroke mix between the two aircraft.
Steve flies a Shadow and during the weeks of tech difficulty, his machine and mine appeared to be taking it in turns to be the unservicable one. Steve was also temporarily non-radio. With this in mind, and being at opposite corners of the field I suggested we meet at the hold and give a thumbs up to indicate readiness so no one got left behind!
Just as well, because the Shadow took its turn with the tech bug and failed to start. Lacking time to troubleshoot, we quickly dumped the gear out of my passenger seat and Steve hopped in there instead.
I called on SafetyCom but there was no one else in the sky as we accelerated down the dewy runway and up.
A thumb against the stick was all I needed for the climbout towards the beach, the air was so still. I tracked along the coast towards the inlet of the Neath river which we could see as soon as we were airborne had a second river – of mist – overlying it.
It was one of those mornings you can’t quite believe are real, so calm and soft and still and with the low, early morning light silvering everything from the beach, to the damp fields, to the way the mist covered every watercourse. We flew mostly in silence, punctuated by exclamations about the view over a landscape which both of us had seen from the air any number of times before.
This reverie was briefly injected with a dose of adrenaline while, when turning to photograph it, Steve elbowed the throttle to close to idle, inducing from me one vehement expletive and a firm pitch down.
“That was me, sorry!”
Calm restored, we drifted on up the river, past Drummau mountain. Drummau is one of those Welsh ‘mountains’ which earns the name more by historical convention than epic proportions, though at 892′ it is striking and a walk I keep meaning to do.
On the other side of Drummau Swansea was in and out of mist, with the Tawe river as blanketed as the Neath valley. The hills (mountains?) further up both valleys looked more like islands.
We headed back along the hills north of the motorway, to look at the newly erected windfarm and solar plant. I detoured around the woods near my house to mounfully observe the huge swathe cut down to stop the spread of some nasty tree disease that had broken out. I circled about the solar farm for one more photo – the little X’Air turning on a wingtip.
Steve was taking photos – it turning out that the “smile” I have when flying 50 degree banked turns at the same time look mildly deranged. Oh well.
Back to the field over Nynydd Eglwys and in the absence of any wind to excuse me, and the presence of a pilot passenger, I attempted to made a tidy job of the landing. (Not too bad) Back down the hill to the hangar, slowly slowly with the brakes on the dew-wet grass. Then a scramble of putting away, closing hangar doors, wiping off of grass and the few early morning bugs.
We both went to work with wet socks from the sodden grass, but what a lovely flight!
Too windy to fly today on the 1st of Feb – the washing line is flapping vigorously that my dripping towels are beating against the kitchen window!
So a good time to update on the blog front. Only two flights this month (this year!).
The first on a much awaited perfect winter day, clear and still with the visibility to see snow capped Pen-y-Fan within minutes of taking off.
Perfect weather for getting back up to speed after a weather-Christmas-weather-illness layoff of over a month. Not that I did very much productive with it! I’d been the airfield the previous day which had proved a bit too windy but spent that cleaning and lubricating and WD40ing away the signs of cold and damp from the aircraft and making good the signs of wind and water on the hangar.
Today I was feeling less dutiful and more like exploring. Christmas telly had supplied the prompt – in all my local flying I’d never really looked at some of the local landmarks properly, so today I was off to hunt for Caerleon’s Roman amphitheatre.
It was deceivingly mild on the ground but I puffed into my flying-duvet nevertheless as I planned at least an hour up and, in spite of the sun, frost still lay in the shady corners of the field.
The sun had brought everyone out and after a long slow warmup and the taxy up the hill to the cabin I needed to wait for two arrivals before the runway was free. One of these, John, had a shiny new camera lens and caught some nice shots of my departure.
I’d made use of RunwayHD’s postcode database and Google Maps overlay to mark a waypoint on the location of the amphitheatre itself and it was clearly visible on the aerial imagery. Nevertheless I was practically on top of it by the time I got myself properly oriented and eyes on it. I think I may do this landmark hunting more often on local flights with no other particular purpose – I was similarly slow to pinpoint the Parc Penallt pit pony on the way to Leicester at the end of last year, not to mention numerous grass strips! Seems like it’s a skill that would bear practising!
I circled once to take some snaps, watching the little figures exploring the remains from the ground down below and not wanting to impose my two-stroke din for too long on what they probably had planned as a quiet Sunday outing.
Amphitheatre, barracks (top of picture, right of rugby ground and below football ground) and part of the original fort wall (right of amphitheatre with curved corner)
By now it was distinctly chilly and the fact I’d loitered on the ground for one more coffee prior to heading off, was revealed as a less than wise choice. I scratched the idea of taking a more northerly route home and contented myself with looking at the snow from afar as I headed back with as much speed as Rhubarb could muster!
In the hour and a half I’d been out the wind had picked up and the first landing of the year was to a distinct crosswind which at least focussed my attention on the job at hand and not the now really rather pressing other matter…
The next January hop was much shorter and again crosswind but a lot lumpier and bumpier with a gusty westerly whisking across the field. With this in mind I headed west to let it carry me home when I was done, rather than beating against it.
The flights before Christmas had been ‘going places’ and the one since a sightseer so I wanted to brush up on handling in general. There were a few people out and about including another X’Air owned by one of my former share-mates in G-TOMS and I wasn’t quite sure where everyone was, not least because the Old Park calls were the least of the traffic on SafetyCom today – it seemed like the entirety of north Devon had taken wing at once!
I did a gentle 360 staring about me to see if I had space and clear air for some steep turns and had just spotted what I thought was probably the other X’Air when I heard confirmation from Gwyn that he had me visual. He seemed to be following the coast as well, some way behind me.
I climbed and turned inland for the separation to do some steep stuff, but instead spent some time distracted by the big fluffy clouds. A few minutes around and over and under and between them, racing the X’Air’s own glory-ringed shadow before the cold encouraged me to glide back down to warmer altitudes!
Pity I left all the electronics on charge at home today, it was very pretty even in the cold!
The first few 60degree/2G turns in both directions were sloppy sloppy sloppy, height keeping and airspeed all over the shop. Again then. And again. The fifth and sixth to the left were neat enough, wingtip pinned to the ground and the X’Air jumping in her own wake as I came through a full turn. Turns to the right I’m usually less neat on but took fewer attempts to make presentable this time.
Hmm, not there though, the beach was almost cheating and the Neath valley cluttered.
Back east then, over the nice flat divvied up fields of the Vale.
First one was spot on so I did another from lower down to check it wasn’t an utter fluke. Nope, this at least seems to have been hardwired into my hands and feet for now. I had enough time on the approach to notice the nonplussed sheep watching me pass over the undershoot.
I climbed away happy, but I was leeward of the strip now though, where I hadn’t planned originally to be and so fuel considerations sent me heading back.
The approach this time was not just crosswind it was rough and a very low and late bit of rotor from the trees on short final had me whapping the stick hard over to recover as the into-wind wing lifted uncommanded and with a certain amount of vigour! I gave it a fistful of power for good measure and a few seconds of considering a go around. Probably I should have seen that coming. The wind does curl over there in every strong westerly. In any case it smoothed out immediately after and before I’d finished deciding to go around so I didn’t. Instead I landed a tad longer than usual (though not long enough that I didn’t, as usual, need to put power back on to get up the hill!)
Gwyn arrived back before I’d shut down and I let the engine idle and cool as I watched him land. His approach almost a duplicate of mine, the rocking in the wind, the sudden, brief sink caught with power and a slightly displaced touchdown.
Old Park was making us all pay attention today!
40 minutes today but to fly two weekends on the trot at this time of year counts as winning in my book!
Finally got around to totting up last year’s flying – yes I know it’s end of January! A total of 54:45 hours over 55 flights and 8 new airfields. All the highest they’ve ever been and topping the previous high (in the first year I had G-TOMS by nearly twenty hours).
I think it’s fairly safe to say that in Old Park Farm and the little X’Air, I’ve found my Right Place in the flying world…
Fuel stop planning, (and a precautionary pee!) form a larger part of my pre-flight preparation these days to account for the lack of speed, with only the occasional error (Leicester/Gloucester!) and I’ve benefited immensely from Gloucester’s location and cheap UL91 as a forward operating base of sorts.
Random other facts (I can play with data all day…)
Longest flight was 2:05 Llanbedr to Haverfordwest (beating the slog back from Gloucester by 15 minutes to my suprise – must have been the detour to play at Dambusters over Llys-y-Fran…
Shortest flight was 20 minutes from Old Park when the coolant temp decided to stop working on climbout.
I took 9 different passengers with me. (Could do better)
The new airfields were: Llanbedr – newly reopened Belle Vue – not entirely newnew but the first time I’ve managed to fly in under my own steam Western Zoyland – lovely lovely micro strip. Must go back. Oaksey Park – visited by foot before, lovely well kept grass! Sandown (by Skyranger) for the Spamfield micro fly in weekend. Lee on Solent, as an outing from same Ince (by Skyranger) to watch two Lancasters at Southport. Leicester – for Flyer fly in. Delightfully overambitious for the time of year!
Return visits were Swansea, Gloucester, Haverfordwest, Dunkeswell, Sywell, Goodwood and Kemble.
So this year what do I hope for other than more of the same?
I want to visit more of the small localish strips, Broadmeadow, Eastbach, Abergavenny.
I want to have a visit to Lundy now I’ve an aeroplane that’ll manage it. (The Old Park crew already on the case with that one)
I can’t pick much more than that. 2014 was a good year…
This year’s flying is underway with two flights for 2:15 this month, one to eyeball snow and roman remains (prompted by Christmas telly watching!) and a bimble to refresh my general handling with sloppy steep turns and slightly less sloppy PFLs. Of which more in the next post.
Ok, so the likelihood of the weather being good for all is slim, but we ought to give it a go, shouldn’t we? It might be a glorious day….
The event will be on 13th December and it will be at Leicester Airfield…
…said the forum post…
I considered it. Leicester at this time of year was a bit of a challenge in terms of daylight really. I’d need at least one fuel stop each way to allow for wind delays and to avoid spending all my time with my mind on the level sloshing about in the marker-pen-labelled tank. It was also the day of the Old Park Christmas party which I would hate to miss through stranding.
But it’d be fun, loads of mates and forumites I don’t see that often would be there
I’d need an early start. Fortunately this was offered via a lift to the field, via a petrol station, from John who wa taking his Skyranger out for a frosty sunrise flight.
It took me until considerably AFTER sunrise to do the necessary with fuel and oil and decanting it from John’s cans to mine to mix and put in, but I was airborne by twenty past nine.
Early morning mist lingered in the low ground but the vis and sky were sufficiently clear that I took a straight line across the hills to Gloucester with a brief detour to take some photos of the Parc Penallt pit pony earth sculpture which a mate had recently posted online and which was bang on track. (Bang on my track lots and lots of times previously too, though I’d never noticed it!)
The wind was straight across my track all the way, and I arrived in Gloucester some half an hour later than planned. A hasty coffee and a refuel also took a bit longer than planned as my card chose this moment to play silly buggers with the machine! The upshot was that I was already an hour behind myself and it was clear the wind was stronger than the forecast. It would need to be a very short visit to Leicester indeed – I had planned what had seemed a substantial amount of ‘slack’ into the day, planning to be back at Old Park an hour and a half before dark. That slack was already two thirds gone and I hadn’t even arrived yet!
This was a two-leg run that should have been an hour routing via Gaydon to miss, collectively, a bunch of gliding sites, Wellesbourne’s ATZ, and the controlled airspace round Birmingham. Listening to Wellesbourne on the radio it becomes clear that they too were heaving. Lots of people taking the opportunity of a clear winter’s day to get some flying in.
I mused on efficiency as I flew – was it worth flying faster, burning more fuel? Would I save back the extra time needed to refuel? The premixing of the oil and the slow delivery from the can once done make refueling the little X’Air a slow old process.
I settled for keeping the speed above 70mph and hoping that if I refuelled at Leicester I could make the run back in one hop and gain back the time that way. It’d mean using pricey and (as far as the little Rotax is concerned) mucky avgas, but it might work to keep the day on course.
Leicester was busy and I had a few moments of concern on losing sight of the other aircraft joining with me in the overhead. He must have been close behind me in the end as even with my short touchdown someone had to go around behind me.
I taxied in past a positive fleet of Flyer forum aircraft, including – I noted with a sort of satisfaction-by-proxy – Paul’s Bulldog, back in the air. I received a mock salute as I taxied past Keef and co and an exuberant welcome upstairs (possibly through sheer incredulity at the ludicrously slow progress my arrival time implied!)
I stripped off half of the mobile-duvet flying suit, not yet defrosted enough to take it all the way off, and commenced getting myself on the outside of a truly enormous bowl of lentil and bacon soup.
Fuelling and paying again took longer than expected and it was a 50-50 chance of needing a diversion for daylight even before I took off and by the time I was settled on track and a groundspeed showing on the GPS of 45knots it was a definite! I choose Gloucester for the early stop as it was the right sort of distance, friendly, good for transport links and with UL91 on tap.
I was helped by everyone I encountered from the reception staff, to the firemen who found a corner of a hangar so quickly that I walked outside to find an absence of Rhubarb and had to go looking with the ridiculous questions of “Um, where’s my aeroplane gone?” on my lips! Mike at the Flying Shack gave me a lift the the train station and Nick, the other half of what appears on Gloucester’s billing system as “The Rhubarb Flying Group”, picked me up the other end to arrive in time for the Old Park Christmas party!
I’d been given a bottle of bubbly by Jono who’d organised the fly-in as a sort of ‘A for effort’ and with ‘help’ from some of the flexy flyers (who assisted with shaking…) I pinged that open with a certain amount of overspill and had a very good evening indeed!
I had some concerns about finding a flyable window to get back before Christmas, but the following weekend was just about doable if I went via Newport instead of over the hills and didn’t mind going really extremely even more slowly…
I was less pressed for time and chatted out on the apron before departure – Rhubarb as a very microlighty looking microlight tends to draw interested comment when at airfields which aren’t primarily microbases and I spent a half hour enthusing about the operation, the airstrip and the little 582 before settling up and leaving.
It was BUMPY and I spent most of the first half of the flight torn between flying higher to be out of the bumps and lower to be out of the headwind, but it eased a bit once passing Bridgend and I was rather pleased with my crosswind landing at the end, especially since I was using Port Talbot steelworks as a windsock because no one else had ventured out!
It’s been weeks! I’ve been spoiled rotten by better access to flying this past summer than I’ve ever had that winter has come as a shock to the system! With the end of September, and the last event (a birthday!) I’d planned to try and specifically get to it was time to get the engine off for a decoke and service. Off, a weekend away while in sunny (ish) Skegness while the nice Rotax Man did the necessary then another weekend refitting was followed by a solid month of rain so no opportunity to test the refit. Or, for that matter, to admire my handiwork in sanding back and repainting the exhaust in bright red high temp paint (giving the unfortunate effect, some have said, that the little machine is bimbling around sticking one finger up at the world in general!)
So a full five weeks since last I flew there was finally a weather window. Nick had (most chivalrously…) suggested I take the first flight. Starting took two attempts and some vigourous juggling of choke and throttle – but it was cold and damp and had been sitting there, poor thing, five weeks so after a very patient warm up and a few runs up and down the runway I felt content to give it go.
I love the takeoff performance with just me and half fuel and up I went, smiling. Until at 500′ I did a scan round the gauges to find the coolant temp off the bottom of the scale.
Everything I’d ever heard about twostrokes and cold seizure went through my head in a flash before the more sensible thought that it wasn’t physically possible for the temp to cool that much that fast short of nosediving into an Arctic lake so it was highly unlikely the gauge was telling me the whole truth. As I levelled off to position for a return this fact was confirmed by the gauge flicking back into life. I climbed further, deciding to sort myself out from the beach with a more or less normal rejoin. Gauge gone again. I levelled off and turned for the field. Back again.
I called a left base then final and found myself still a bit high, (tailwind today) over the wires. The X’Air is such an easy machine to throw away height and speed on this was a problem easily cured by a sideslip and my touchdown was only slightly elongated by the wind.
I taxied in to explain the issue to Nick and start tracing wires. The wire to the sensor, when located was indeed loose and must have been shifting partly off when I went to full power, or when I pitched up. Firmly fastened back down and a flick of the electrics to confirm it was reading.
I would have nipped back up to test it properly except that at the very moment I suggested it there was a most almighty clap of thunder.
“Actually maybe I’ll just put it away now!”
Within half hour of leaving it was pouring rain in the most atrocious storm. Again!
Winter is coming – no not a Game of Thrones reference, but it’s time to admit it’s getting harder to fly after work. Darkness encroaching on those evening flits.
I’ve flown and flown this summer and it’s been brill. I haven’t written the half of it up – not the BBQ at Western Zoyland or the coastal Wales wandering (here anyway – see Flyer for that one!) or the endless evening bimbles.
So instead of trying to write all that up a list of some of the things I’ve seen that stuck in the mind this summer. So, in no particular order of time or significance…
A stump of a windmill, sailess on a windy shore and another high on a green hill.
Llyn Tegid awash in fog creeping up to drown the lakeskide woods and spilling over the pass into the next valley down as well.
Llyn Celyn, mirror still, reflecting nothing but sky.
The little X’Air’s shadow chasing over the dunes.
The dull pewter edge of an inversion as I spiral higher and higher looking for the top and the better vis.
The Bristol channel as iron grey as the carrier ships traversing it below me.
The dew on the newly trimmed runway as silver as the morning haze above it with nothing but the swallows flying yet and the gentle flap and clink of the windsock the only sound.
The traces of forts and long gone farmsteads, the only evidence of their remains now the longer shadows they cast on the contours of the ground at sunset.
The laughing crowds at the summer barbecue.
The glee on the faces of first time flyers, the children and siblings and partners and parents of pilots sharing their enjoyment of the sky.
The purple-grey profiles of Yr Eryri in the late afternoon haze, the peaks higher than we’re flying.
People with their back to a Spitfire because on the other side of the sky are two Lancasters.
My poor mum, one leg in the air trying to tuck it into the pod somehow while I giggle too much to really help.
The tent tucked under Rhubarb’s tail as I weave my way back to it in the dark.
The silent concentration on the face of my nephew who’s never silent and the light, delicate hold he’s taken of the stick which I’ve never consciously taught him but which he tells me makes it easier to “tell when the aeroplane’s wandering off”.
Chalk white, limestone grey, red clay cliffs and quarries of a dozen different parts of the country.
The taxi driver who’d taken us back to the little microlight field we’d stopped at pulling over and flicking off the meter to sit and watch us take off.
And a dozen dozen more which will pop back into memory over the course of the winter on those days it’s too wet and wild to fly…