Ab Initio 58: “Window Shopping”

In which I get another go in a pretty aeroplane, look at lots of other pretty aeroplanes and chat with assorted pre–erm–personable pilots!

“The International Exhibition For General Aviation In The UK,” said the leaflet and it looked as if it might be an interesting, hairy-plane-themed day out. I’d looked idly at the train times for a while, when MikeB from the Flyer Forum, dropped me a message to say he was flying in and ask if I wanted to ask if I wanted to go along.

I thought about it for a good three seconds before replying with an enthusiastic, “Yes!”

I’d attended a fly-in the previous autumn with Mike and been very taken with his homebuilt Pioneer 300, so the promise of getting my mitts on the controls again had me wearing a very broad grin indeed.

The early morning clag lifted better than forecast so though I rolled sleepily out of bed onto the train to Newport, the sunshine soon woke me up.

We were the first to arrive at Upfield Farm, though the strip owner was close on our heels getting ready to head for Bembridge.

First task was moving the microlight which shares G-YVES’s hangar and carefully easing her down past the other parked aeroplanes. Next task was clock watching as we had a slot at 11 and didn’t want to either miss it or (which looked more likely) arrive to early and end up flying in circles waiting our turn.

Soon enough it was time to go, and I discovered another benefit of the Pioneer – the pleasure of being able to taxy with the canopy part open on such a hot day.

We trundled along to the far end of the recently widened but still very narrow looking runway and lined up. Not another soul in sight and we were soon airborne and turning onto track.

Mike climbed her up to a comfortable cruise altitude and promptly handed her over to me. Rather dramatic change from a Tomahawk and I bobbed about the sky for a few miles trying to catch up with this far more responsive aeroplane before getting settled.

It was a gorgeous day to be up and flying, the slightly hazy sunshine giving the summer countryside below a tranquil sort of look. The Severn curled away to the north, spanned by its two suspension bridges, Badminton house with its airstrip–firmly on the list of ‘places I want to visit’–rolled by, and as we crossed further into England, airfields seemed to spring up all around us.

Hullavington, with its gliders, Kemble, Lyneham, Fairford, Abingdon. At 120kts they popped up very quickly, a whole procession of them. And among all the active ones were the disused ones. I flew along thinking about the PFL’s I’d done weeks earlier and how I’d searched the Welsh countryside for a flat enough bit of hill to be make a suitable field – here it seemed it would be more a case of, “Which runway should I pick?”

Mike spoke to Brize, which seemed easy, then tried to stop speaking to them which proved harder! The moment he decided to tell them we were changing to Benson the whole world and his dog seemed to pop up on frequency.

As we didn’t want to disappear from Brize without telling them or to go ploughing into Benson’s MATZ without so much as a ‘hello’, I made two gentle orbits while Mike waited to get a word in edgeways.

Eventually this was managed and on we went.

Wycombe was, (by my middle-of-nowhere-student standards anyway!) teeming. My eyes were out on stalks at all the traffic and the air trafficers were starting to sound slightly harried themselves. Not least when someone announced they were descending deadside and there was no deadside!

Downwind, we were number 3 in the circuit behind a motorglider, also downwind, and something else on base. Somewhere behind us another aeroplane was joining and, as well as the chap who wasn’t deadside, there was at least one more in the overhead.

Taking bags of power off and lowering the gear, Mike kept us a healthy distance behind the much slower motorglider and we landed to a, “Vacate immediately, aircraft on very short final”. The chap behind us got a “land after” and as we taxyed off onto the grass a cast a glance over my shoulder to see him already rolling out. “Very short final” indeed!

We parked on the end of a long string of aircraft and a courtesy car ferried us and some other recent arrivals over to the main show area. Entrance was free with the landing fee which at a tenner wasn’t extortionate.

Given the sunny day, and the extensive marketing (I think a leaflet fell out of every aviation magazine I’d picked up for the past several months) it didn’t seem to be tremendously busy. In a way that was pleasant as it meant there were no crowds around the stalls and aircraft and you could get a good look, but I suspect the exhibitors and organisers would have been happy to see a lot more customers.

Armed with double-size icecreams, plus flakes, we started by wandering about the outside exhibits. Due attention was naturally paid to the Pioneer stand! I’d seen them at the Fly! show too, with a similar display which included a “spot the defect” pre-flight competition.

They were sharing a tent with the “General Aviation Safety Council”, who had a large mounted display of posters along of the lines “Don’t let this be you”. Top half consisted of a photo of an aeroplane taking off–bottom of several looking the worse for wear after accidents.

I’d glanced at this several times in passing before realising with some dismay that the “before” picture looked familiar because it was my usual mount at the flying school, G-BOHU, an aircraft in which I have a vested interest in not becoming an ‘after’ picture!

There were several interesting aircraft to see, the most striking being the highly polished Twin Beech. The range varied from executive turboprops to homebuilts, and there was plenty of opportunity to look up close. The variety in the light kit build aircraft was interesting and it was an enjoyable bit of daydreamy window shopping. Even as someone who can barely put up a shelf, never mind build an aircraft.

The inside stalls, spread through two hangars, were much as expected having recently been to Fly. There was little new to see here. The main part of the afternoon, was spent lodged on the Flyer stand chatting with assorted forumites and defending my hat, which despite bearing the name of A N Other Magazine, was far from the most outlandish piece of headgear present. 😉

By 3PM-ish we’d seen everything, even if you included the chatting, and G-YVES had an appointment with her PFA inspector, so we strolled back out to head for home.

Air traffic were still earning their crust and then some, and we joined the queue for takeoff behind a pretty Eurostar, and a large single which nipped in ahead of us. Charitably, Mike pointed out he was guzzling far more dosh per minute so I suppose he probably didn’t want to spend too much of it taxying behind a queue of little homebuilds.

In any case traffic was getting shifted pretty quickly and we didn’t wait too long for our turn at the runway.

This time Mike decided to climb straight over the top of Benson rather than hang about again, and we were soon pointing for home.

Entertainment en route was provided by someone (in a submarine?) being informed his transponder mode C was reading minus a thousand foot and could he switch it off please, a prolonged glider-spotting exercise, and a demonstration of the Pioneer’s dramatic lack of stall.

That last was great fun, dangling there, nose pointing up at the sky, stall horn whistling away and… nothing else. The ASI wound down past 40, 20, off the bottom of the scale and that was it. I looked out and down and up and back at the ASI and laughed. We weren’t even descending. Just sort of hanging there.

Weird but very convincing that it was a well behaved, safe aeroplane.

We were back at Upfield Farm (via a PFL onto the runway), with plenty of daylight left. I got myself equipped myself with a ‘debugging kit’ – otherwise know as a squirty spray full of soapy water and a dishrag – in an attempt to make myself useful, while Mike started taking off the cowling and various inspection panels.

The inspection was the final check for the Permit to Fly renewal and it was quite interesting to watch. Most conveniently the inspector was the airfield owner, and he examined the aeroplane, discussing things as he went in such a way that it looked far more like a doctor’s appointment than a mechanical inspection. As he reached up inside the control runs and waggled this and that, I found I wouldn’t have been surprised if he’d asked the aeroplane to cough!

Happily it seemed that everything which should waggle did and everything which shouldn’t didn’t, so it was gather the paperwork, put everything back together, tuck G-YVES up for the night and off home.

Or to the railway station as the case might be.

Good timing too – I arrived 10 minutes before the Swansea train and was happily scoffing dinner and smiling over the day before very much longer at all.

Can’t think of too many better ways to spend a sunny Saturday.


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