Ab Initito 24: “Dodging the Clouds”

In which I get a lovely flight of a lovely aeroplane and continue to try and crack some of the continuing niggles in the circuit and up and downs in the landings.

Undeterred by the clouds topping Kilvey Hill, and with the promise of both a trip in Richard (another forumite)’s Beagle Pup, and a lift to the airport, I fairly bounded out of the house.

The weather was still a little ropey when we arrived, but a bimble around Gower was definitely doable.

As the Pup was recently migrated from Cardiff, the “small airport grapevine” had not yet managed to achieve the everyone-knows-everyone associated with it. Therefore, the first task was to convince the lady at reception that we weren’t wandering lunatics and would she please buzz the door to let us airside.

This achieved, we headed out towards a very pretty little blue and white aeroplane which I liked the look of instantly. I liked it all the more when while talking me through the particulars of the walkaround Richard prompted me to have a feel of the aileron movement. Duly giving them a waggle, I made a noise best written as “Ooh!” (sort of a 4-year-old on Christmas morning kind of sound) at how light they were. Nice nice.

Having established that everything which should move did and everything that shouldn’t didn’t, we climbed inside. A few contortions required–it’s not a large aeroplane and you have to get your leg the other side of the stick somehow, so I was grateful to be scrawny and relatively agile.

We taxyed over to get some fuel, where we had a quick chat with Laurie who’d taught Richard at one time. Conversation inevitably turned to the weather which was still looking a bit mucky. Keith, the other instructor, had already done a circuit in one of the Pembrey aeroplanes and had to come back down.

Nevertheless off we set. The wind was on 28, the rather shorter, narrower runway but wasn’t especially strong in any case. I was keeping a sharp eye out, as my circuit lesson later in the day would be on this runway and it wasn’t one I’d used before.

ATC asked us if we could give them a bit of a weather report when we were airborne.

Once we were up it became quite a lot clearer. Outright stroppy weather had decided to sit right over the runways. It was broken cloud at around 900′ around the airfield itself but largely clear once you got a bit further away.

The plan was a nice scenic route following the coast around the peninsula then back across Gower to Fairwood. Very generously Richard let me do most of the flying, turning it over to me once we were up at a sensible height.

Nicely trimmed it seemed very stable, you got the impression you could break out a packed lunch and the aeroplane would stay where you’d put it. Then the first cautious turn I did put a big grin on my face immediately. The ever-so-responsive controls were an absolute delight and obvious a massive contrast with the school Tomahawks, fond though I am of them. The ‘proper’ trim tabs were another novelty and very noticeably different feel to the spring loaded yoke variety I was used to hauling away at.

The stick felt surprisingly natural surprisingly quickly, I expected it to take a bit longer before it stopped feeling odd and strange and different. I could get very attached to that kind of flying.

I was already feeling spoiled rotten and unreasonably fortunate and the view did its bit to contribute. As we turned above Worms Head the seawards slopes of Rhossilli Down were blanketed in thick white cloud, as though there’d been a freak snowfall just on that one spot. It might have been a textbook illustration from the Met I’d been swotting over for the past however many weeks.

We ambled on vaguely parallel with the Loughor, turning a bit further inland after Richard asked if Llanrhidian Sands underneath us was solid enough to land on if the engine coughed. Me: “Errm no–it’s all marsh–good point.”

Heading back towards the airport and peering between the clouds to spot it, we handily popped out through a gap right downwind for 28. Richard took control again for the landing, which I have to say was very smooth.

Bacon butties in the café to follow, then Richard headed off once again with another mate, and I headed off for my lesson.

In spite of my careful paying attention to the taxiways and holding points for this new (to me) runway, I still managed to mishear or misremember most of my clearance and force the poor patient soul in the tower to repeat it.

Somewhere up ahead of us Richard was up in the circuit practising a few touch and goes, along with a microlight and a few other arrivals which all seemed to have materialised just in time to keep me company–it was empty before the lesson–typical!

Patience was strained within the first ten minutes as we sat at the hold, waiting for someone on an interminable base and final. “We could have backtracked, lined up, had a cup of tea and taken off by now,” was the comment from the other seat.

We did eventually get airborne, by which time my brain seemed to have caught up and I managed the rest of the radio calls more or less intelligibly. The awareness of other aeroplanes and keeping an ear on the calls was also getting a bit better.

It was very easy to lose sight of the others in the circuit against the cloud though. Easier once they were descending and showed up better against the ground!

Another new perspective on the runway and set of landmarks made for a decidedly mixed bag of landings, still with quite a bit of ballooning thrown in. Sierra Bravo had also taken a mood to decide for herself when she was going to take off and I found myself concentrating far more than usually on keeping us on the ground until the speed was where I wanted it.

The other persistent niggle is still my drifting in towards the runway while downwind, forcing a short base and a hurried descent at almost idle power to get anywhere near a sensible approach.

So we’ll carrying on chanting for another round of “stop drifting in downwind, and Slow Down.”

Oh and I wonder whether it’s too late in the year to ask Father Christmas for a Beagle Pup in my stocking!

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