“Who’s going to Spamfield?” said the Facebook post. Quite a lot of the Old Park flyers as it turned out. I’d initially demured, with the LAA Rally a week earlier I was about spent out on longer trips. Except John had an empty seat in the Skyranger…
Well, be rude not to really!
Negotiations to get a quick get away from work didn’t entirely succeed and I ended up having to excuse myself from an overrunning meeting to meet John straight from the centre with all my overnight clobber which I’d carted into work.
He’d already been out to the field and prepped the aircraft so there wasn’t much to do before leaving. We compared notes on planning – something actually on our minds with an ever so slightly enormous notam over half of south Wales – some palaver with a bunch of politicians on a golf course or something was it…? 😉
In any case we were fairly anxious not to find a Typhoon or Apache up the chuff so John gave a quick telephone call to Cardiff to outline our planned route. (Nash Point – Minehead). This turned out to have an additional advantage over mere lack of interception as when he did call on the radio they already had all our details, including squawk. (John’s an upmarket microlighter all transpondered!
We were well served by ATC all the way with Cardiff handing up to Exeter who handed us to Bournemouth.
The vis was nothing too special but since between us there were no fewer than 3 GPS devices of various flavours we were in relatively little danger of straying. We divvied up the workload the same way throughout the trip – John flew and radioed while I navved, or I flew and navved while John radioed and took photos! John was flying this leg which was the longest as we were going for it in one hit.
The Skyranger is faster by some way than the X’Air but we were still both starting to fidget by the time the Isle of Wight came into view and we passed the second Newport of the trip. A vast music festival spread out below, certainly enough people to rule out overflight but the only notam warning of fireworks later.
Sandown was easy to find, lying just inland of the town and already with plenty of aircraft on the ground. An overhead join made easier by two sets of eyes looking out and a gentle touchdown followed by a certain amount to ‘nodding’ as the ground got a bit rougher up the parking end!
We were greeted with a enthusiastic welcome and a bucket rattle for the air ambulance before wandering in search of the rest of the Old Park crew and dinner (chilli from a van on site).
We were staying at a hotel in the town – a reasonable deal but a bit old school with a clear target demographic of which we were not really representative members hall we say! I did enjoy my little balcony though.
I’d not signed up for breakfast but John was up well before I surfaced and had scoped out not only a café but the buses to the airport (a quid or so cheaper than the taxi – we only bothered the once!) and had a look at the pier.
The plan was to spend Saturday visiting a couple more airfields and we looked over the chart picking out stops. Lee on Solent, and Goodwood were nearest. John was interested in visiting Lee on Solent as he’s got family nearby and I remembered Goodwood fondly from my tailwheel training.
I was flying today and gave Lee on Solent a quick call. Friendly answer. a warning about the very active glider launching going on and advice on a suitable join. (Slot in downwind from mid Solent).
On paper this was a mighty 10 minute hop but of course ten minutes never quite equates to that in the air and between dawdling, noise abatement and dodging gliders we arrived after 25 minutes brakes to brakes. This was my most presentable landing of the day albeit not really on the centreline. It’d been a while since I’d flown the Skyranger but it’s a bit more stable than the X’Air and except in one area (which I’ll mention) simpler to land.
We climbed (and climbed!) up to the top of the tower to settle the landing fee and bid in vain for a cuppa. We did here about the development going on though so perhaps we’ll have to go back one day soon when there’s at least a kettle!
We sat outside on the parking grass a while anyway, watching the gliders, both aerotow and tug while John took some photos and I phoned Goodwood, the next stop.
In theory this was also a short one – 15 minutes this time. But we didn’t even think about going in a straight line, instead tracking the coast, circling and weaving over Portsmouth while I tried to line John up for photos and we both exclaimed over all the interesting things to see down in the docks below.
Then along the coast again, passing south of bird sanctuaries and glider launches, and eyeballing the massive Thorney Island – there’d been some talk of a fly-in there too but with no signs of life and nothing we could find online we passed it by. Fishbourne Channel then led up the short distance inland towards Goodwood.
Goodwood’s circuits and noise abatement I remembered after goodness knows how many circuits, and reminders from the back seat of the lovely G-IZZZ so I felt fairly confident flying in there and positioned myself in the circuit, slid nicely down final, then unhappily finished the whole thing off with a massive thump having let the rate of descent get away from me in the last few seconds. Sheepishly, I apologised to both John and his aircraft and taxied in.
The whole place was in the throes of gearing up for the Revival weekend, but there was still plenty to see, with a Harvard we were able to have a quick nose at before watching it get busy flying and a hangar full of gorgeous old machines up to an including a Spitfire and a Mustang. The new [] operation has set up there – so if you’re looking for a way to spend a few grand on one glorious trip…
After some time admiring all these lovely flying machines we went in search of lunch and found a spot outside to watch the comings and goings.
Back to Sandown via a slightly, but not much more direct route where I had another less than graceful landing with the opposite sin this time – too much energy instead of not enough. This is the only thing that makes the X’Air a shade simpler than the Skyranger – you can get away with an awful lot speedwise – it’s so dead easy to scrub off speed and height! John slips the Skyranger well, but I wasn’t quite on top of it and landed fast enough to bounce. Meh.
In any case I apologised again and we taxied in for the night. Evening entertainment was pints with the others, a dip in the hotel pool – in shorts and t-shirt as neither of us had brought swimming gear – followed by fish and chips on the seafront.
Next morning the plan was an early start and a return to Lee in order to catch breakfast with John’s family before heading home – via a few stops this time.
All seemed to be well with that plan – until halfway to the airfield we found ourselves in a thick mist. Thick enough the far end of the runway was distinctly indistinct.
So the morning was spent alternately gazing at the vis, browsing METARs and chatting with everyone else all doing the same.
It finally cleared around 11:30 and the rush for takeoff was faster than a Battle of Britain scramble!
After discussion with the rest of the Old Park crowd we’d decided on Old Sarum as first stop of the way home. John was flying this leg and the first half of it looked distinctly hard work, creeping along in the bare minimum definition of ‘VFR’. It was clearing slowly though and we arrived at Old Sarum sufficiently close to the ‘gaggle’ of the Shadow pair plus flexwing in the group that I half thought we were going to have an Old Park pile up…
Old Sarum was blue skied and teeming with people doing charity skydives which we watched for a while before admiring a gorgeous shiny [[[Ryan PT]]] which had just landed.
Before leaving we found time for a nose around and a quick information gathering mission to the tower to find out the activity status for the rest of the Salisbury plain danger areas. A route was duly planned to go over/round/under as required and we set off again – the Shadow contingent to Garston Farm and us to Kemble for the next “teas and pees” stop.
The weather had improved out of all recognition and I was flying this leg while John took photos – white horses and stone circles abounding in the area of course! One of the nice things about the Skyranger is you can slow it down and open the window in flight – lovely for photos.
Arriving at Kemble we were advised that a Canberra was due in to land in six minutes. We were more than happy to dawdle to fit behind that! Apparently in somewhat more of a rush was another aircraft which came shooting past us in the overhead, turned against the circuit direction and then flew a circuit which must have been even wider than the Canberra’s, with me nervously following, afraid to let him out of my sight in case he did anything else unexpected. Possibly he’d got the join confused and the weird ‘wrong way’ turn was an attempt to sort it out and but it gave me the abdabs – when it comes to sharing the circuit I value ‘predictable’ over pretty much all other behaviour and this was not it!
I was more aware of the speed on final this time and managed a neat enough landing on the grass before searching out the particular PA28 we’d been asked to park next to and heading in for, as it turned out, cake. (I had been warned in the PPR call that hot food would be finished by the time we arrived!)
After cake we managed to cadge a look around the fascinating maintenance base where the Canberra was now neatly tucked away and sharing space with a lovely array of vintage jets.
A quick refuel for the last leg, and John’s turn to fly us home, via the Severn bridges looking lovely in the evening sun. We heard the rest of the group transiting Cardiff along the coast, before, just short of Old Park there was a sudden odd silence.
John tried a few things but nope, the radio was well and truly dead. Since we hadn’t yet signed off with Cardiff he flicked the transponder over to 7600 to let them know we hadn’t simply decided to stop talking, and we both our eyes out on stalks for other traffic landed back at Old Park.
Quick phone call to Cardiff to let them know what had happened a a bit of potching to find a blown fuse – at least it had waited until the very last bit of the last leg!
We watched the two Shadows arrive, joked about them having ‘lost’ the flexy en-route, and watched his landing too – the last of the day.
A cracking weekend away – we all agreed we’d like to do more! So where next I wonder…