Ab Initio 27: “Skiving in the sunshine”

In which I play truant from the circuit in order to fly around sightseeing with family on a lovely day!

Feeling in need of a bit of a break, I’d arranged to book the Cherokee instead of the Tomahawk today with the aim of popping my mum and her partner in the back and doing a spot of sightseeing.

The weather was in a rare obliging mood and was still and sunny as we set about our all-day breakfast in the airfield cafe. We were running a little late, between traffic on the roads and the fact that cafe was teeming with people making the most of the sunshine, so I went out to do the walkaround while the others finished eating.

Sunny it may be but it was downright arctic and the morning’s de-icing hadn’t been entirely successful. We therefore started by pulling the aeroplane around into the sunshine to melt the last of the ice on the wings to a state it could be wiped off.

While waiting I did the rest of the checks and ducked underneath to get to the fuel drain.

First tanks: looks like avgas, smells likes avgas, all good.

Second tank: looks like–urggh–two inches of manky-looking water. Tossed that away and filled another sampler-full. Half an inch of gunk and bubbles. After two or three of those we were back to nice clear blue avgas and the wings were dried off and ice-free. Keith, the instructor coming with us today, had safely installed Parent and Partner in the back seat and we were ready to go.

PA28s are similar enough to my usual PA38 that apart from a bit of searching for this or that item the cockpit checks were pretty familiar. The one eccentricity that did make me gawp a bit was that this particular PA28 had no toe-brakes. Felt very odd indeed taxying along with one hand hovering over the parking brake but it was effective enough.

Out on the runway, 04 today, we lined up and headed straight off. We departed from the crosswind leg and kept climbing up to 2000′. Or at least it would have been 2000′ if I could have got the thing trimmed. In practice it was anything within a few hundred feet either side until the last half hour or so when I finally got it sorted.

The intent was to follow the coastline more or less, towards Pembrokeshire, down the Cleddau, quick few orbits of Milford Haven to do “I can see your house from here” then back.

We headed west, crossing the Loughor estuary and switching frequencies to Pembrey where we were greeted with an all but unreadable snarl of static. After a few minutes of my vain attempts to make myself understood Keith stepped in and did about manage to announce us and our intention to pass south of the field along the coast.

I looked down at the airfield, sitting very still and quiet below us and, flaky radio or not, I realised I did rather miss the place. Odd how a particular patch of sky can come to feel so familiar and homelike.

We flew straight across D118, safely inactive as it was a weekend so free of fastjets blowing stuff up on the beach. We crossed the Gwendraeth river to Laugharne where a small windfarm slipped by under our left wing. I’ve always liked the way those big white turbines look anyway and from the air on a sunny day they looked lovely, sweeping long, sharp shadows across the grass.

The coastline curved south towards Caldy Island and we followed along, turning inland as we reached Tenby. A busy Sunday Market sprawled across the old runways of the disused Carew Cheriton, still unmistakable as a one-time-airfield.

We switched frequencies again to talk to Haverfordwest, although we planned to stay well south of their ATZ. I needed a little prompting here on the appropriate format for the message but at least could hear easily what was going on!

The river Cleddau slid into view and we descended to a more advantageous sightseeing height of 1500′ as we flew overhead Pembroke Castle, the refineries and followed along the river.

The Milford Haven waterway, or “The Haven” as locals call it, as though it was the only one in the world, is my born and bred stomping ground. Seeing it from this stunning perspective on such a gorgeous day made me feel like jumping and down in glee, or shouting and singing. As none of these are particularly practical in a light aircraft with three other people aboard, I settled for a dozy looking grin and dipping the wings in a few sweeping turns to admire the view.

Milford itself was easy to spot and we turned north of the river, over the marina to circle a few times for the compulsory phototaking over the house. On north to Johnston to do another round of sightseeing–this time “I can see your shop from here”. Then back southeast over Neyland and the Cleddau toll bridge. (No tolls crossing it up where we were!)

We flew back along the Ridgeway, a sort of fold of high ground running almost due east-west along the southern part of Pembrokeshire. Not on our half-mil chart but a rather useful line feature for navigation and a piece of local geology I had no idea existed, despite having lived there most of my life.

Pembrey was still crackles and hisses on the radio on the way back and we changed pretty quickly to Swansea. The packed cafe had definitely been a forerunner of things to come and it seemed half the country had decided to go flying at once. The radio squalled and spluttered as people stepped all over each other’s transmissions. The only workable tactic seemed to be a flat out race to hit PTT before anyone else did!

We managed to get in a call somewhere over Oxwich to tell them of our arrival and made an overhead join but once in the circuit we didn’t get a chance to say a word. The air/ground staff were doing a spectacular job however, and some sharp-eyed soul in the tower did spot us and added us to the (long!) list of traffic information being passed.

With an extra stage of flap to play with the descent was fast and simple and the landing actually one of my better ones. No ballooning or bouncing and only slightly firm. Indeed my mum’s response was “Oh I expected a bigger bump than that.”

We left the runway and headed back to the parking area. Keith advised me to test the brakes before we reached the apron which does have something of a slope to it. Manoeuvring to park was interesting without the benefit of the tighter turns the toe-brakes allow but I managed it to approximately the right spot!

A good day out and got me all refueled up with motivation for the next round of circuit bashing!

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