Ab Inititio 38: “Traffic, Traffic!”

In which I encounter an unusually busy circuit for middle-of-nowhere Pembrey and get to practise my decision making (and my go-arounds!)

Another slightly odd weather day. The strongish wind was helpfully straight down 22, but the scattered cloud was barely at 1000′ and mostly closer to 800′, though it was glorious blue skies above. The cloud had also decided to linger only over the airfield. Whether this was due to the high ground nearby or the coast I don’t know, perhaps sheer bloodymindedness!

The airfield had been host to a vintage fly-in over the weekend and some rather attractive old aeroplanes, (and some of their owners’ tents!) were still on the field. There were plenty of visitors flying in and out and the small flock of helicopters (what is the collective noun for a group of helicopters…?) who sometimes use the field for training, were out to play.

I checked out the aeroplane and sat and watched a couple of R22s practising autorotations onto the grass, while I waited for Keith. A rather hair-raising rate of descent, an almighty flare, and a fair few thumps on arriving back on the ground–it didn’t look like the most comfortable of manoeuvres.

I did the powerchecks still in our parking spot while we waited for a quiet moment on the radio. Between the helicopters all over the field, and arriving and departing aircraft, getting a call in was a feat in itself. I’ve never known Pembrey so busy. It was a little daunting but nice to see.

I squeezed a call in eventually, then taxyed out to the end of 22 and gave the helicopters a wary look. Without making sweeping generalisations, they tend to be a bit more unpredictable than the fixed wing traffic. They practise both on the grass to the west of the runway, and the parking area to the east, regularly cross the runway itself to get between the two, leave and rejoin frequently, come down at a hell of a rate from overhead when they’re doing those autorotations, and are quite tricky to spot from the air.

Once happy I knew where they all were and that they knew were I was, I opened the throttle and away we went. We turned early at around 400 foot and levelled at not quite 800′ to scrape beneath a patch of cloud. Quite strong winds aloft were keeping everything moving and there were patches were it was clear for thousands of feet above us and patches where it was less than a hundred. Little bit disconcerting but quite easy to stay under the mucky patches.

A tidy enough landing so Keith jumped out at the intersection, with the standard caveats–“If you’re not happy with the approach, go around. If you’re not happy with the touch-and-go then stop and backtrack. And whatever you do don’t go into cloud!”

I’d already fixed in my mind a decision on the touch-and-go front. If I wasn’t comfortably down, with the flaps away, and rolling straight and under control by the time I passed the cafe then I would stop and backtrack. From what I’d done so far I was confident that left plenty of space.

So off I went. Up up up–I do love the rate of climb when it’s just me, never fails to put a smile on my face. I kept a sharp eye on the cloud, kept inside the hills to avoid the lowest of it, and did a nice first landing.

Up again and turning crosswind I spotted one of the helicopters out over the beach. A moment later he called up to announce himself. Something else that makes me very wary in the circuit–people tracking along the beach. It is outside the ATZ, but not by very much at all and I was glad to turn downwind away from him.

Reasonable landing but I’d drifted off the centreline somewhat and made a rather undignified swerve back onto it before taking off again. This is becoming a bit of a pet nit lately.

Let myself get stupidly high on the next approach. Cut the power to idle and got back on the glide slope all right but then let it get high again by the time I came over the threshold. Nuts to this, I’ll be in the go-cart track before I stop–“Golf Sierra Bravo, going around.”

The go around was far neater than the approach had been! Made a bit interesting by the fact the helicopters were operating on both sides of the runway so there wasn’t much of a deadside to speak of. I kept to the centreline and climbed back up for another go which also turned out a little high but better.

For the next circuit I was joined by Mr Incredibly Long Final. This dear soul had decided that regardless of what everyone else was doing on a busy Bank Holiday weekend, they were going to do what was most convenient for them and fly a straight in approach.

I was late downwind when they called long final so I extended the leg while I searched for a glimpse. I still hadn’t seen them when they called final and maybe I was overanxious, but I was reluctant to turn until I knew for certain where they were. I’d flown a close downwind to avoid low cloud over the hills and as a result the base leg was too short for comfort if this still-unseen aeroplane hadn’t been absolutely by-the-book with his position calls.

Eventually I realised both that a) my altitude had slipped while I was distracted and b) I was going to end up in bloody Carmarthen if I extended downwind much further. For Christ’s sake, Leia–make a decision don’t just sit here like a Nellie! Sort it out.

I corrected the altitude, and clicked the PTT switch. “Golf Sierra Bravo, turning base. Could you confirm if the traffic ahead of me has landed yet?”

“Golf Sierra Bravo, Affirm. Traffic is now on the field.”

Not exactly 100% CAP413 maybe but it did give me the answer I wanted and I sighed in relief and wished I’d asked rather sooner.

I flared a bit high but landed without incident. Once I was climbing away again I noticed I was starting to feel a bit tired. A glance at my watch confirmed I was getting towards the end of my hour anyway, so when called downwind I added that this one would be to land.

Or not, as the case might be–this time I was joined by Mr Opposite Direction To Every Other Bugger. Clearly of a similar mindset to Mr Incredibly Long Final, this character decided it suited him to join on a right base while I was contentedly setting myself up and starting my descent on left base.

Uncontrolled airfield, people can technically join however they like of course, but it seemed a rather small step between merely bloody inconsiderate, and downright dangerous and I did feel that joining head-on to an aircraft already in the circuit did seem to lean slightly towards the latter.

“Golf Sierra Bravo are you going to go-around or orbit?” asked A/G. There was no question whatsoever of the spacing being adequate for me to land.

“Going around, Golf Sierra Bravo.”

It was the easier option by some distance. I’d only done one orbit in my life, and that was with full ATC at Swansea, months ago. I also rather preferred the idea of keeping Mr Opposite Direction where I could see him, and I had the other school Tomahawk behind me in the circuit and didn’t want risk mucking it up and getting in their way as well. No sense both of us being held up.

I stopped descending, put the first stage of flap, which was as far as I’d got, back away and climbed to circuit height again. The helicopters seemed to have stopped for the day so I moved off to the right of runway to keep the landing aircraft in sight. Would be just my luck to have him go around as well and get back in my way!

As it was such an early go around, I did manage to find a few moments to enjoy the view of the airfield without having my hands full with landing. In the gaps between the clouds the sun was strong now, and it was quite a pleasant late afternoon to be up and about.

I went once more around the circuit, escaped any further interruptions and landed (rather firmly I must admit!).

I taxyed back in and parked. Happily my parking is getting a little neater. Managed to forget to turn the master switch off so a verbal slap on the wrist for that when the instructor spotted it when leaning in to undo to the brake.

Put it down to brain melt. I haven’t been so tired after circuits in ages. Still something else I won’t forget another time having done it once.

Think I’ll have to ask to practise orbits for next time too!


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