January flying

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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

What next?

PFLs.

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!

Last year’s flying and plans for this

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.

Flyer Forum Christmas Fly-In Leicester

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.
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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.
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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!)
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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!)
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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.
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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!
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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.
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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!

All in all not a bad end to the year!

Engine back on and (mostly) working!

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!

Things I’ve seen this summer

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…

Old Park to Spamfield Avoiding Newport via Newport…

“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…

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LAA Rally 2014

It was a bit of a last minute decision to go to the LAA Rally this year. It always seems to coincide with the Shoreham Airshow and I’d been toying with the idea of trying to get down there and see the two Lancasters together – until one of them swallowed a cog anyway!

So it was back to the original plan and a last minute slot booking on Friday evening. I hadn’t flown in on the Saturday before so wasn’t sure of the traffic levels, but the procedure had always worked okay before.

It was however going to be a rather longer trip in the little X’Air than the various Tomahawks I’d taken before. 2:30 hours said the GPS and I can’t sit still that long even though with a tailwind the fuel might last. And at the tail end of a chilly August I suspected I might be in need of a warming cuppa too!

So I decided to drop in on a friend, Dave and his TriPacer at Oaksey.

I’d spent some time in company with another friend John trying to get the radio back working in Rhubarb and after some aerial connectors changes this seemed to have done the trick as Cardiff for the first time in ages came back immediately with a “Pass your message” instead of a warning about my unreadability!

I’d planned a route almost due east to the Old Severn Bridge and Cardiff watched out all the way, warning me of an opposite direction PA28 below me and handing me over with full details to Bristol as I reached the border.

Bristol were having less success as shortly after my first exchange with them they started to really struggle to make themselves readable to anyone. It seemed they were able to hear okay but the transmissions were a garbled squall. I hopped it en-route to Oaksey as soon as was reasonable.

I’d hoped the turbulence would ease a bit once past the Welsh hills but it was still lumpy as I approached Oaksey – after spending a certain amount of time eyeballing Charlton Park and wondering why I couldn’t make the picture fit…

Usefully, for Oaksey, I had geo-reffed noise abatement diagrams on the GPS (RunwayHD today) which was massively impressive and useful! I nipped over the wires (which can’t possibly be taller than Old Park’s but, standing on level ground not in a valley, did look it! I dawdled on final, suddenly unable to remember whether or not I’d read anything about the white barrels at the runways edge – was that the threshold? Or just some warning about a bump? In any case I landed beyond them – it’s not as though Rhubarb needs even a fraction of the length!

I parked by the club where Dave waved a hello as I leaned by head out to check this was an okay parking spot. Not another aeroplane was to be seen outside.

Coffee was welcome and soon forthcoming as I warmed my fingers around the cup and had a rest from the bouncing! The wind might have been on my tail for once but it wasn’t half stirring the air about! Chilly too. It’ll soon be time to break out the insulated suit again (I’d already added the thermal undies!)

I stayed long enough for a catchup and to look over the newly recovered TriPacer before heading out. Dave commented that they hadn’t heard me coming in and a radio check did indeed confirm I was inaudible to them. But Cardiff and Bristol had been fine. Odd. I decided to carry on. The non-radio procedure at Sywell was essentially the same as the radio one and if I was to have to fix anything then that was a better place to be doing it.

So off I went. I couldn’t see an obvious LARS unit to try next which was a pity since there was an enormous nav warning about parachutes bang on track. I opted to listen (perfectly clearly) to Little Rissington assuming they’d hear about it if anything was imminent. They sounded really busy themselves so I decided against trying out my possibly (again) dodgy radio just yet.

Once past Banbury I tuned in Sywell and waited for the first info broadcast. (And at least one would be arrival who hadn’t read the notam!)

I arrived at Pitsford and scoured the skies for other traffic. None to be seen which seemed unlikely but I headed off nonetheless, eyes everywhere but with a bit of a focus on my 4 and 8 o’clock where any faster traffic was likely to turn up. I was in no danger of catching everyone ahead of me even running at substantially higher than cruise power to make 80mph!

In fact I was over taken by two who either didn’t see me or couldn’t slow down adequately. In the first case I slowed further down myself to expedite him getting ahead of me. After the second passed I followed them round, keeping just inside them to not lose too much ground and get caught up again!

I turned final with one touching down and one ahead, and a flexwing closing fast behind me. I called the single required call and got a “land at your discretion” – radio working then!

I had a quite substantial angle of crab on and switched to wingdown at the last moment for a one wheel but tidy crosswind landing. One of my better ones in the X’Air.

I cleared off the runway sharpish – I might be slow on approach but I can land short enough to get off quick – and picked up the marshaller. He greeted me, to my astonishment with, “This is new, weren’t you in a Tomahawk last year?”

I left Rhubarb where she was with a jerry can and a bag of tiedowns as improvised chocks – I wanted fuel but not in the middle of the current scrum, and anyway I wanted to take up the offer of moving closer once departure had made some space before camping!

First visit was the ladies and coffee but the moment I walked into Hangar One I was hailed by the usual YES crew plus Phil Hall of LAA about to have a good chinwag about youth aviation and what’s new and upcoming and needs doing. I grabbed a hasty coffee and brought it to join them. All looks very optimistic I have to say! I wasn’t helping on the stand this year, wanting some time to relax and wander but it was good to hear such positive stuff from LAA again.

I didn’t do much exploring of the stands through the afternoon. Every few yards was a stop-and-chat. I did wander the aircraft parking, first with some of the regular from Devon and Cornwall who it’s always lovely to see, and then with PaulS who’d brought a pal taking some photos.

I pointed out Rhubarb to him.

“Oh,” he said “It looks like a–”

I jumped across him. “Now choose your next word carefully!” (I have a little list of banned ones, currently including ‘kite’, ‘tent’, ‘lawnmower’, ‘wardrobe’, ‘sewing machine’)

“-helicopter,” he finished and I subsided. “But with wings instead of a rotor.”

Around 3ish we returned to the Flyer stand where I chatted more and matched a few more names-and-aeroplanes with faces before heading out to sort fuel and tent. A marshaller I collared on the way promised to find me a good space while I did the fuel and a helpful fuel chap sorted me out with the self service pumps for a double helping of mogas.

Brimful, I taxied out to the waiting marshaller who got me a mere three rows back where I unpacked tent and clobber and set up for the night before returning to Hanger One in search of food. A good evening of chitchat and a certain amount of cider before it was time to return to tent.

Only one sortie to the facilities was needed in the dark – that cider! But morning came too soon with sunlight on the tent. I roused slowly, finally driven all the way from bed by the first arrivals.

I gathered up various electronic devices and chargers and went in search of somewhere with coffee and electric to breakfast! The wind had not abated as forecast and I was keen to not leave it too late to leave as I’d be going back straight into it.

I did have time to have a look around though. Picked up some odds and sods and two new air filters for the 582 that perched atop Rhubarb’s wings. No massive deals but saved the postage at least.

I packed up and returned for a final check on the wind situation (which turned into a series of long conversations as I bumped into all the people I hadn’t already met that weekend, including the Old Park farmer!)

I finally got airborne at 13:30 with Gloucester as the planned fuel stop. It was bumpy again, and at least some of it must have been thermals as there wasn’t the terrain here to do it. The gliders must have been having a whale of a time, and there were plenty of them. A competition in the vicinity of Gloucester focussed the mind and I decided on a more northerly track in to avoid the worst of it, though I did see two or three.

Another topup. UL91 this time from a refueller who couldn’t do enough to help, even carting the can back to the aircraft for me and Gloucester’s usual friendly reception. A quick sarnie with some of the Swansea pilots who’d stopped in for fuel from somewhere else entirely and a help from Mike who I’d missed spotting at the Rally itself but who’s based at Gloucester! Small world GA!

16:30 I was up again and finally the air had smoothed out and I had a very easy run home, only to arrive once I got there with a rubbish bounce of a landing! Oh well. I’m going to call “tired” on that one!

Good weekend away all told. A new spot to visit in Oaksey and a lot of friendly GA activity all round!

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