Ab Initio 53: “Rainbows at Gloucester”

In which I troop all the way to Gloucester all by my own self, via a look-see at Shobdon.

The forecast (again) was not promising, it didn’t look dreadful but it was doubtful whether it was suitable for my long solo cross country to Gloucester.

I headed down the field anyway, intending to have a bash at a couple of exams if it wasn’t flyable. Happily by the time I arrived it had cleared up some more and Carl, the instructor, had been on the phone to Shobdon and Gloucester to check the weather their end.

The conclusion was that it was do-able but I might have to give Shobdon a miss and divert to Gloucester via the coast and the Severn river rather than over the hills. We discussed this route, just in case, then I completed my plog with the winds and timings and checked out the aeroplane while Carl checked my sums. (One slip up with my mental arithmetic adding on the variation! Top tip–adding 4 to 256 does not give you 270…)

I expected to be far more nervous, this was a long way by myself, but the only manifestations of nerves were a tendency to spend longer than strictly necessary gathering my various bits and pieces–I must have put my checklist down and forgotten where three times in a row before I made it out to the hold!

Airborne from 22 I climbed out and turned downwind, and continued to climb on that heading until I was clear of the airfield. I took up my first heading, 070, and established a cruise climb at 80 knots. With just me aboard this had me up to my chosen cruise altitude of 3500′ reasonably quickly.

This was the most featureless part of the route and so it wasn’t until a couple of spot heights turned up in an odd place and my “waggly road” I was looking for as a landmark failed to turn up at all that I started to suspect I was off track. A few villages passed by far closer than they should have. I was starting to suspect I was in the wrong bloody valley altogether. I should be the other side of those hills.

The villages disappeared rapidly behind me, as the tailwind swept me along. I cast about for a definite landmark to base a reasonable course correction on. I wasn’t too nervous yet, I’d only been flying fifteen minutes, and had no desire to go mithering about all over the sky in a panic. A reservoir popped up off to my left and I headed for that while looking for it on my chart, and made a little orbit of it to buy myself some thinking time.

There was a reservoir just left of my intended track, but this wasn’t it. ‘My’ reservoir had woods around it, and this one didn’t. It did have several nearby spot heights and a road running alongside it however. There it was! I checked for a couple of other distinguishing features, and relaxed a bit. I was only two or three miles off track after all. It if wasn’t for the peaks and dips of the hills I was the wrong side of, I’d probably be able to see ‘my’ reservoir from here.

Now re-oriented I could see Brecon and the ridge that I remembered had Sennybridge hiding down below it in a valley. I circled the reservoir on the chart and noted the time, just in case I needed to refer back to it later, then altered heading to get back on track and updated my ETA at Shobdon.

This leg was less eventful. A string of villages along the river Wye, meant I was never in much doubt about where I was, and the sharpish bend in the river where it turned away from my track was about ten miles from Shobdon. I tuned the radio to their frequency, something I’d forgotten to set up in advance while I was figuring out where I was, and gave them a call. A confused few moments followed as the chap on the radio was having trouble hearing me, and had someone else on the frequency with a radio problem. Eventually we worked out which of us he was talking to!

Shobdon has earned itself a bit of a reputation, at least among the Pembrey pilots of being a bit tricky to find sometimes, and a combination of that and the stonking tailwind meant it was almost under the nose before I saw it. I gave them another call to say I was overhead, then turned for Gloucester.

“Thanks for the call,” the radio operator said when I changed frequency, though he must have been glad to get rid of one of his sources of radio trouble!

Another nice hassle-free leg, plenty of nice landmarks. As I reached Ledbury I gave Gloucester a call. They were on combined Approach and Tower today so no need to switch frequencies when I got closer, which removed one layer of complexity!

There were a few showers about and one of them treated me to a stunning rainbow which arced across from above my head to down past my left wingtip and made me ooohhh and ahhhh and generally grin, delighted with being up here!

I did forget to tell Gloucester where I was on my initial response, and the ATCO had to ask me again. Fortunately at that point it wasn’t too busy. There were a few other aircraft about, but by the time I completed my overhead join and reported downwind I was number one to land.

The join and my circuit weren’t the neatest and I had to swerve a bit back onto the centreline–they must have wondered what runway I was aiming for. From out in the sticks I’m not used to having more than one!

In any case the landing was passable, I thought. Bit of a balloon, but I was willing to flatter myself and put that down to the gusts, as it had been a bit of a bumpy ride all the way from Pembrey.

A very friendly happy lady at the desk took my landing fee and asked if I need my QXC form signed because the Tower had telephoned down, “Very good / Very good”. Drats! I bet I won’t be able to repeat that for my actual qualifier!

Still, it was a nice boost to the confidence (and the ego!), and I trooped off quite happy to get a coffee.

In a sort of happy daze of, “Wow I made it all the way here,” I was startled to hear my name being called across the café. It turned out to be SteveH from Flyer forum who had been good enough to fetch me to a fly-in the previous two weeks ago, who’s based at Gloucester. Alan/AlphaWhiskey, popped in as well–also en route to have a go at an exam.

Coffee drank and biscuits scoffed, I decided I’d better make a move as the stonking tailwind I ‘d had on the way up was going to equally as stonking a headwind going home, and someone else had the aircraft booked at three.

I’d parked a little tight, and deciding discretion to be the better part of valour decided to push the aeroplane back a bit before attempting to taxy out and possibly taking half of someone else’s wing along with me.

I peeked in the fuel tanks, which were at tabs both sides. Fine to get home on.

The sunshine seemed to have brought everyone out all of a sudden and the frequency was jammed with calls. I listened to the ATIS and then switched back to Tower to squeeze my call in. I was given taxy instructions to hold E1, crossing runway 27. Drats again, why didn’t I pick the brains of the ‘local’ while I was still in the café? I got muddled by finding my way on the ground last time I was here too. I peered at the plate, started down the wrong taxiway, stopped, turned around, spotted another aircraft who I’d just heard get the same instructions as me, and followed him. By now Tower had presumably stopping laughing at my pirouettes and offered, “Golf Hotel Uniform, are you okay there?”

“Ermm, I am now,” I managed having just spotted the hold sign E.

What is the correct r/t for “Help–how do I find my way to the hold, please?” anyway I wonder…

By this time there was a small queue forming, Tower firing them off one by one in between arriving aircraft, people doing touch and goes, and helicopters nipping back and forth across the runway.

I did my power checks then waited my turn.

In spite of the chilly wind outside, the sun on the glass was making it decidedly warm in the aircraft so I opened the little window panel to let in some fresh air while I waited.

Eventually my turn came and I was cleared to takeoff on 22 with a right turn out, which suited me nicely as I was going west.

I took off and climbed out, keeping a careful eye on the two helicopters and one Cessna I could see, ahead of me.

The weather was very pleasant here and a contrast to the last time I’d visited dual, I could see right to the Seven bridges. The “Severn Bends” twisty part of the river went by on the left and I left Gloucester Tower for Cardiff Radar.

I listened in on Cardiff but didn’t call them up yet. It seemed busier than normal to me, with lots of commercial traffic being vectored about.

I had a brief few minutes confusion when I mistook Monmouth for Abergavenny before realising it was a good ten minutes too soon for that to be correct.

Once overhead the real Abergavenny, I called up Cardiff for a FIS.

Ebbw Vale and Merthyr were nice and easy to spot. I never knew realised quite how many reservoirs there are around that area.

At Cardiff’s suggestion I changed to Swansea as I passed Rhigos, where the weather started to deteriorate a bit. I looked at the hills and the clouds and my altitude and decided to make a bit of a detour for the last bit and fly down the Vale of Neath and along the coast instead of scraping along underneath the cloud. It would be more comfortable for one thing!

As the coast approached the cloud cleared and I opened the throttle and climbed away from it. Looking over my shoulder, the valley looked like an alleyway, flanked either side by cloud, but clear down the middle.

As I reached the city, I called Swansea. They advised me the air ambulance was about and asked my level, which was then 3000′. The helicopter reported being much lower, though I never saw him. At Loughor bridge I changed to Pembrey, but didn’t call, as I knew from past experience you need to be closer than that to get any reply!

I called at Llanelli, and was given the circuit direction and a QFE. As I started to dial it in I frowned. It was almost 20mb higher than the QNH I’d got from Swansea five minutes before and Cardiff ten minutes before that. Given that Pembrey is at sea level, this seemed rather odd.

I looked out the window, sure that I couldn’t be 600′ higher than I thought I was, but before I could query it, Carl called up from the other school aeroplane as theirs read something rather closer to mine.

I held off changing it, and stayed with the last setting I’d had from Swansea, until I called again at Burry Port and got something a bit more feasible.

Back into the circuit at Pembrey, and home!

I had a very large grin indeed. This is flying! No ones starts learning to fly in order to blat around the circuit–this is the kind of thing it’s all for, and I had made it without any major mishaps.

I was extremely pleased with myself, and rounded it off by getting the Flight Performance and Planning exam out of the way, which has been occupying my evenings for far too long!

Not much left now!

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