Ab Initio 16: “Some days the weather wins”

In which I discover just how many words I can extract from a 15 minute once around the circuit in a howling gale.

The wind was surprisingly calm as I peered out of the window. Apparently the forecast weather had decided to arrive a little late, which was fine by me.

I telephoned the school, got a “Yep, it’s lovely and still,” and happily headed off to the train.

Doubt started to creep in as the train rattled along. Staring at treetop and washing lines it was starting to look less still by the moment and downright blowy by the time I got off.

My worry was mirrored by Derek’s when he picked me up–it had changed for the worse by quite a margin since that telephone call. For the moment though optimism prevailed and we headed out to the airfield, where I met Keith, the other instructor at the school who I hadn’t flown with before.

He’d been up to do a quick circuit to see what it was like and concluded it was indeed blowy, although for once in a way was actually more or less straight down the runway.

The conclusion was we’d go up and give it a go and if it was too bad come back down. So out I went to checkout the aeroplane, ducking into the wind so as to not lose my cap.

The wind wasn’t going to make even the pre-flight easy–it snatched at the door and the cowling as I hung on, trying not to lose hat or checklist.

Inside it was a bit calmer and I went through the internal checks as the aeroplane rocked gently in the gusts.

All of this should have been a big flashing neon hint that it was Not a Good Day for flying of course. But I’d come all the way down and at least it was more or less on the runway, and I’d flown some gusty circuits before and I had an instructor next to me, so when he asked again “What d’you think?” I only shrugged and said, “Well it’s only going to get worse if we wait isn’t it? Shall we just do the one circuit, see how bad it is?”

Ah the optimism of the completely clueless.

So I started in on the startup checks. A little hesitantly–the combination of concern about the weather, an unfamiliar face in the other seat, and the eccentricities of another newly arrived school plane combined to make me fumble over the checklist.

Poor Sierra Lima must have thought she’d been sold into slavery. Flown down the previous day dodging the whole way under low cloud then dragged out in this blustery spitting rain to be manhandled by some overenthusiastic student, and ultimately to suffer the indignity of being the only aeroplane to spend the nights on tiedowns outside instead of hangared with the others.

Nevertheless we made it out to the runway without incident, lined up, full power and away. The instant we were off the ground we swung into the wind. And it was windy! Matters were not improved by the turbulence over the trees as we climbed out and there was a rather nervous-making moment when a gust tipped us sideways at what felt like a most alarming angle but can’t have been more than 30 degrees. Which was nevertheless more than enough to raise my blood pressure as we were still just climbing at 70 knots.

Up higher and out over the sea it was a smoother ride but turning downwind and coming back over land we were bounced and bumped all over again.

“We’ll come in a little faster than usual,” Keith advised, “And just one stage of flap.”

In spite of the reminders from the roughness of the ride I’d managed to forget just how strong the wind was and the base leg to final was a most peculiar shape as the wind had blown us so far downwind in the turn.

“Golf Sierra Lima, final 22, to land.” There was no doubt whatsoever that this was going to be the only circuit of the day.

As we touched down a kamikaze seagull hurtled across in front off us running ahead of the wind, looking almost as startled as I did.

I wasn’t sure if the sigh of relief as we shut down was from me, or Keith, or Sierra Lima, but coffee suddenly seemed far more appealing than looking a moment longer at the weather.

“Well you got your fix anyway,” Keith commented as we headed back inside.

Was I that obvious? I laughed. I had indeed.

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