Ab Initio 41: “Out to the Countryside”

In which I get another ride in a lovely aeroplane to a lovely airfield courtesy of a Flyer Forum Student FlyIn.

Flyer Forum Student Fly In, October 2005

Being the generous souls they are on the Flyer forum, these “student fly-ins” seem to roll around with encouraging frequency! Qualified PPLs are matched up with students in their area, and everyone meets up at the nominated airfield. Usually one chosen for some interesting feature or to be ‘a bit different’ from the usual training locations.

This time it was Stoke Golding, a small grass airfield in Leicestershire, and I had been offered a lift by Mike, in his very pretty homebuilt Pioneer 300, G-YVES.

The aircraft is actually based at Upfield Farm, but as the trains aren’t brilliant on a Sunday morning, Mike had offered to come and fetch me from Swansea. So I set out for another brisk 7 mile trot across the Gower on a sunny (ish) Sunday morning to go flying! It had been months since I’d done that routine, but it felt very familiar. Even down to discovering a sheep the wrong side of the cattlegrid upon arriving at the airport.

Sadly no breakfasts in the offing today, as the café has been shut some while with no sign of reopening. There’s no much of a view of the airfield either so I did my well practised “waiting for someone I’m not sure I’ll recognise”.

This seemed nice and easy while I was the only one there, but inevitably, two minutes before Mike arrived, a small crowd materialised out of thin air to join me! Fortunately neither of us ended up with the wrong passenger/wrong aeroplane.

We had a quick look over the route, which took us across the Brecon Beacons, initially following the Heads of the Valleys road, then on past Gloucester, over Wellesborne, around Rugby, talking to Coventry, then up to Nuneaton (nice big disused airfield) to Stoke Golding. Backup plan if the cloudbase didn’t cooperate to go across Brecon was along the coast via Cardiff and Bristol then straight up.

I took charge of the epic task of getting the chart refolded (why is the place you’re going always right on the fold?) and we headed out to the aeroplane and set off.

We climbed to 3000′ and set off along the valleys road. It wasn’t long before Mike gave me control, and even less time after that before I was wearing a very happy, contented smile. The Pioneer is a very nice handling aeroplane, trims nicely (always a novelty for a stude used to Tomahawks!), lovely and responsive. Being considerably lighter it also felt every little gust and bump as we went under some of the larger clouds! Maybe it’s me being masochist but I rather enjoy that sense of really being able to feel the wind and clouds around you, even if the result is a bit of a choppy ride!

It’s a lovely route along the valley there, though I imagine it could be a bit hairy with gliders over the ridges if the weather was better. We passed Rhigos gliding field but nothing was flying today.

Once past the hills the cloud cleared and lifted somewhat and the bounciness left along with it.

The sunny (here anyway!) day had brought quite a few people out to play and most of the airfields we talked to, and those we just listened in on, were busy with traffic. I was quite pleased at actually spotting more of it that usual. Another novelty — so often out in the middle of nowhere I find myself the only aeroplane about. Or accompanied only by the other school aeroplane in the circuit!

I apparently wasn’t the only person to whom the Pioneer was a new and unfamiliar type–I don’t think a single ASTU we talked to knew what it was. We must have heard “Say again your type” half a dozen times or more. Some hazarded a guess. Microlight was the most common.

Something I noticed as we went along, and found interesting, was how little difference to our route the business about Permit aircraft not overflying built up areas actually made. From the air it was easy to just track around the edge of towns and pick up you heading again the other side. I’d always been rather put off by the idea but having experienced it now I’d certainly be more likely to consider it in the future. (expanding my ‘window shopping’ options anyway!)

As expected we spotted Nuneaton disused very easily and Mike took control again to prepare for our arrival. Then came the hard bit… Actually spotting Stoke Golding! Grass airfields, even one on a busy day with a row of aircraft parked down the side are not entirely easy to spot. We knew exactly where it should be in relation to the disused but could we spot it? When I finally did identify it, I realised I’d been looking far too far away. It was much closer.

Right hand circuits on the runway in use so I kept my eyes glued to it, so as to not lose it again as Mike descended. A gentle landing on the nice smooth grass and we taxied in to park near the hangar, where we discovered G-YVES was the first Pioneer 300 to visit there. She certainly got a lot of admiring looks as people passed by, and many comments expressing surprise that such a nice looking aeroplane was actually a homebuild.

The very welcoming airfield owners had laid on bacon butties, tea, coffee, and doughnuts, and portions for both of us plus the landing fee still only came to a tenner.

Added to a lovely scenic setting, Stoke Golding was instantly added to my list of “Places to go once I get my PPL”

Some wit had written in large letters on the whiteboard “Stoke Golding International” and with an American Pitts, a Russian Yak and the Italian Pioneer, just at our end of the line, it truly was international today!

More and more forumites continued to arrive, until critical mass was reached and we struck out for the pub. Or pubs, plural, as it turned out to be. We startled the life out of the poor lady in the first pub by turning up expecting a table for 20 when in fact it had been booked at the pub down the road!

Neil, AKA BlueRobin, did ferry duty, running people back and forth and we were all soon at the correct pub and settled in for lunch. The walk back afterwards must have worked most of it off mind you!

Much chatting about things aeronautical, lots of “Oh you’re so-and-so!” All very enjoyable. Goodness knows what the local drivers made of us all straggling back spread back along the road to the airfield afterwards though!

Back at the airfield Mike filled up G-YVES (mogas-kindly fetched by the airfield owner) and we watched those ahead of us depart.

As soon as we were up and turned for home it became clear that the lowering sun was going to be a royal nuisance. Squinting out into the haze and glare while hearing various other aircraft in your vicinity chattering away is a mildly unsettling experience.

Time was also ticking on and Mike decided that the best plan of action would be to land at Upfield Farm after all and drop me to the railway station.

I was perfectly happy with this–it was another airfield to see! And other one handily placed on the coast and easy to spot too.

We landed on the recently widened runway and put G-YVES away in her hangar where Mike polished the day’s bugs off the wings — that’s a very well-loved aeroplane.

Here’s to another time!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s