Ab Initio 20: “Day Tripper”

In which I take a longer walk for a longer flight to a pleasant seaside pub and some interesting weather.

Swansea airport is not especially difficult to find from my side of town. There’s only one road that leads to it and you just start going west and don’t stop until you see a windsock. It is not however what you might call well served by public transport. Particularly on an autumn Sunday when all the tourists have hopped it. I therefore allowed a good two hours to walk the seven or so miles across Gower.

Not a hike I’d particularly fancy in the wet or if it had been significantly hotter, but on a cool, reasonably dry morning it was not at all unpleasant. And of course there was flying at the end of it–a more than ample motivation!

The outbound trip was courtesy of Adam from the Flyer forum, making a detour to pick me up. A rather enormous detour in fact, even allowing for the fact he has a lovely fast aeroplane to do it in. Many many thanks due there.

The amount of traffic (earthbound) heading across Fairwood Common was surprising for the time of year and there were a few undignified hops into the mud that passed for verge. I also managed to startle one driver en route to breakfast at the airfield by wandering into the cafe not long after him, looking ever so slightly windswept.

“Bloody hell you’ve walked a way–I passed you on the common.”

“Nyah, that’s not a long way–I started in Hafod.” Sometimes making people boggle can be fun.

He gave me a look that suggested I was borderline crackers and ventured a cautious, “Just up for breakfast?”

I gave him a look that suggested he was crackers. Walk that far for breakfast? Not me, mate.

“No, I’m meeting a friend, going flying.”

The conversation meandered from there to the weather and the local scenery and back again. Overhead a few other early risers were zipping around the circuit and I was distracted every time I heard someone on final in case it was Adam.

I adopted the classical “I’m waiting for someone I’m not entirely sure I’ll recognise” attitude familiar to anyone who’s ever met an online acquaintance.

Swansea’s cafe, despite possibly having breakfasts worth walking for, does not boast a particularly good view of the airfield itself. However, I did spot a distinctively “back to front looking” tail that had to belong to a Mooney go past and absorbed with wondering about that, I was caught quite by surprise by a “Leia?” called to me.

Aha, that was the right aeroplane then!

We didn’t waste much time on the ground, sorted out the landing fee and headed straight back out to Adam’s sleek little white and green Mooney. “A bit cramped but goes like stink,” was how he put it and I agreed it was a fair enough trade off.

To the tower’s amusement, establishing that we were in fact in Swansea and not Cardiff took a moment–apparently they look rather closer together when looked at from as far away as Yorkshire!

I got a quick crash course on some of the finer points of a complex type with particular reference to an article in that months Flyer about not hoofing the avionics master switch off.

Then it was off to the end of the runway and ready to go. We climbed out (and did we ever climb–“like stink” indeed!) over the golf course and I made a mental note to remember it as a good landmark.

We headed on along the coast towards Cardiff, planning to ask for a zone transit and a pretty straightforward route. The transit was cleared with no fuss at 4000′ where the cloud was just beginning to thicken.

We were in and out of IMC most of the way and with no instruments on my side of the cockpit it seemed more than prudent that Adam did most of the flying. I did get my mitts on the controls for a while as we approached Solent however, which thanks to a few flyins now is becoming a bit of a favourite–it’s a lovely scenic spot, I look forward to visiting under my own power one of these days!

I bobbed about a bit trying to get used to the pitch attitude of a different type but managed to keep more or less to the intended altitude and safely below the controlled airspace higher up.

As we flew along the northern edge of the Isle of Wight it was time to start slowing down. Not something entirely trivial in the Mooney as it’s distinctly on the slippery side. But with a bit of flap and the gear down we were soon proceeding at a much reduced pace and busily looking about for the airfield. It dutifully appeared just off the nose a moment after Adam commented that we must be almost overhead.

A very scenic approach over the cliffs while listening to a glider having a spot of bother (he ended up in the field off to one side, not able to reach the runway he wanted). We landed with the glider tug hot on our heels and with no exit at the far end of the runway had to backtrack while he went around. The poor bloke on the radio was sounding a little on a frazzled side by this time.

Another couple of forumites came over as we shut down–perfect timing to share a taxi to the pub. Names started to blur early on–I think this was Lefty and Pianorak but can’t be sure. I do remember spending a far amount of time in the queue for food discussing the merits of Tomahawks with Pianorak at any rate.

The Crab and Lobster was absolutely packed even without the Flyer crowd. This is generally a pretty good reflection on the menu for a Sunday afternoon pub and indeed the food was good and in ample portions.

Over lunch the passenger rota for the trip back was considered and readjusted. Me and L2KPhil swapped aeroplanes I think at least twice, and I went from Andy’s Aerobat to Lefty’s Cherokee Six and ending up, at the very last minute as the taxi’s rolled up, with Pete and ChilliMonster on their way to Bristol. Everyone’s willingness to offer was amazing and each change was a bit closer to home. Good friendly folks pilots.

Back at the airfield we settled ourselves in the aeroplane. I didn’t catch the type–a Trinidad possibly, I’m not much of a spotter, but it was very comfy and nicely kitted out in any case. It all seemed very professional and seamless up front too–as a clueless student I was well impressed!

It was still sunny as our shadow shrank away beneath us, though the wind was picking up and the cloud ahead looked far more substantial than it had on the trip down.

Obligingly though the tops petered out just at the base of controlled airspace and brought another new experience–I’d never been up on top of the clouds before and the view was knockout stunning. I was quite literally open-mouthed gawping at it.

Back down underneath it as we approached Bristol the weather had become decidedly mucky. The runway lights looked very welcome through the gloom as we crabbed towards them. We got down just before a largeish jet of some flavour which was crabbing even more than we were–and very odd it looked from such a big aeroplane!

This arrival proved another great feat of timing as just after we climbed out and got the aeroplane sorted, the heavens opened and we fled for cover.

And still on the subject on good timing ChilliMonster managed to drop me off at Bristol Parkway railway station three minutes exactly before the Swansea train left.

Fantastic day out all round.

Things learnt:

That IMC isn’t a boogie man out to murder pilots–as long as you’re sensible and properly training there’s no reason why every cloud or breath of wind should keep you on the ground.

That ATCOs aren’t dragons guarding some treasure trove called a “zone transit” but if you don’t ask you don’t get and the worst that can happen is they say no.

Saved up some fun memories from this trip to tide me over through circuit bashing and the dark cold mucky-weathered days until spring!

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