Ab Initio 46: “A Visit to Maintenance”

In which I fly a mildly poorly aeroplane to Haverfordwest for a “while you eat” fix, and look at the insides of clouds.

Sunsets are pretty but I’d spent quite a few weeks now being the last flight before dark, so this time it was 10:30 on a damp Saturday morning.

One of the aeroplanes still had an unserviceable carb heat control, from last week, but since the maintenance facility was in Haverfordwest and my nav ex was heading there, Laurie suggested that we take that one anyway, have a feed at Haverfordwest while it was repaired, and then fly back.

The carb heat had been temporarily wired to full hot as an interim solution so there shouldn’t be any disastrous icing, but as a side effect, we wouldn’t have quite full power available either so Laurie checked I was happy with state of affairs.

First flight of the aeroplane since last weekend so a good thorough look around, including Laurie draining a few drops of water from one of the tanks. Doing the internal checks I had to wind the altimeter on about 1000 foot to get back to 0 — obviously the pressure this weekend was substantially different from the last.

Just how different I found out when the a/g chap read us the QNH as 1040, and then queried whether that actually tallied with what our altimeter showed. It was so unusually high that he actually doubted the reading.

The high pressure had brought decidedly mucky visibility and low cloud with it and our planned altitude of 2000 feet was soon to be proved unattainable. We continued at 1500, while I commented that I would certainly have been turning for home had I been solo!

This was the first planned navigation I’d done and I found holding a steady heading rather more challenging than expected. I wandered left and right and up and down and huffed in frustration at my sudden inability to add up when working out ETAs

First leg was the 8 miles north to Carmarthen, and the estuary and river to our left was a perfect gross error check. Approaching Carmarthen we looked as if we were going to be a long way right of track but Laurie advised holding heading a while longer and seeing how it worked out. In fact we were only slightly right by the time we arrived, overhead the eastern edge of the town instead of the western edge. Appearances can be deceptive!

We turned onto the next heading, using the motorway and railway line as quick checks that it was the right general direction. In fact that railway line goes more or less straight to Haverfordwest.

I successfully identified St Clears as we passed but had a failure of local knowledge when we reached about the 2/3rds mark and a very distinctive town with the railway line running east-west and a main road running north-south, a few miles north of Narbeth.

Could I remember the name of it, in spite of passing through it on the train every time I went down that way? No I could not! To confuse matters still further it was now time to change frequency to Haverfordwest and tell them where we were, and as the town wasn’t labelled on the chart, I could hardly announce myself as being, “Near that yellow dot with the sort of crisscrossing road and railway”, as I’d pointed it out to Laurie…

I settled for “eight miles east of the field”.

Actually the position report came after a red faced moment when after carefully changing frequency and checking I had the right one set, I blithely started my call with, “Pembrey radio…”

“Haverfordwest, even.” Laurie commented calmly from the other seat.

“What did I say?”

“Pembrey.”

Whoops. Ah well, I’m sure I’m neither the first nor last student to stuff up the radio calls!

Having addressed myself to the correct airfield I continued on. Thoroughly cuflumoxed and losing the ability to speak English now, I did manage to get the required information across and obtain the runway in use and the QFE.

Off to our right Llys-y-fran dam and a large mast confirmed we were still in the right place and the airfield dutifully appeared, just north of the town itself. Thank goodness.

An overhead join for 21 went reasonably smoothly and we taxyed up to the maintenance hangars. I realised the potential for losing myself on the ground and how embarrassing that would be!

We left SierraBravo to the engineer and after a quick shuftie at a Harvard at the back of the hangar, headed to the café. One sausage sandwich and all-day breakfast later we went to see how things were progressing.

Typically, this could be summed up as “not to plan”. The replacement carb heat cable was too short and in the process of having an extra bit added. As the welding torch came out I had to suppress a ridiculous urge to pat the wing in reassurance and tell the aeroplane, “There there.”

Eventually, carb heat working again, a couple of nicks dressed out of the prop, and the dicky butterfly nut that keeping dropping out of the cowling sorted, it was time to get shifting back to Pembrey.

I found it mildly daunting, taxying about an unfamiliar airfield, especially one with more than one runway and I had to keep banishing horrible images of blithely taxying on to the active by mistake! I’m sure (or at least I hope) my confidence there will improve with practice. I doubled checked the runway alignment against the DI to make sure I knew where I was, ran through the power checks, then after a second double check that I had the proper runway, backtracked to the threshold to take off.

We’d planned to go back via Ferryside, to vary the route while still keeping us clear of D117. This worked more or less until the lowering cloud meant we couldn’t see the windfarm which conveniently marks the northern boundary of the danger area.

Another moment for, “I’d be turning around now if I was by myself!” As it was, I had to do some instrument practice at some point anyway, so Laurie said to carry on and guided me as I glued myself to the instruments. Saved the trouble of hood or foggles by tromping into some real cloud I suppose!

More planned practice of that to be done at some point but it was an interesting experience. I can’t figure out whether I have been blithely flying along wonky all these months, or if the AI is just more sensitive to this fact than my eyes, or if there’s some Magical Aeroplane Wobbler that lives in the clouds, but all of a sudden just keeping the wings level was a challenge.

“Don’t climb,”

I was climbing? Whoops, yes I was, how did that happen? I wasn’t watching the altimeter, I realised. I was too busy trying to stop flying along listing like a drinker walking home at kicking out time

“Don’t descend,”

Same again.

And hold a course? Good grief.

One thing I am certain of–I never ever want to get into that by accident!

Pembrey appeared on schedule in spite of our little detour into the clouds, and we popped out on a wide base leg. One of Laurie’s sideslips to get us back on a more sensible approach and we were home again.

Interesting day. And still light!

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