In the three months since I trooped to the sorting office to collect my PPL I’ve flown fairly often, but all of the flights have been either local, or to airfields already familiar from my training or visits with other pilots.
I was starting to both want and be nervous about going somewhere completely new. In fact I was starting to wonder if I even remembered how to navigate, and fly a steady headings – I’d been navigating so much by familiarity with the area. I decided that I needed to bite the bullet and venture further afield before it became a major anxiety, and before the weather and daylight started to put a curb on it too much.
As I had a week’s holiday from work, I had the liberty to peruse the five-day forecast and book TOMS for the sunniest looking day. As a long time weekend flyer, used picking a day and taking my chances, this flexibility seemed like utter luxury!
Next choice was to pick an airfield. I wanted somewhere not much more than an hour’s flying away, and not too complicated in terms of navigation and airspace – this was supposed to be a confidence building trip, not a nerve wracking one.
Kemble presented itself to me. I’d heard good things about it, and it met the ‘not too complicated’ and the travelling time well.
I examined the route. I’d be underneath Cardiff’s new airspace for a good portion of it, but there was ample margin between the base of the airspace and terrain, and there were good landmarks to ensure I’d stayed where I thought I was.
West and south of Kemble things were more interesting with lots of military stuff going on. I definitely didn’t want to miss the place and overshoot into that lot.
I looked next at the airfield information. This was slightly more daunting. One large main runway looked inviting enough but there seemed to my eye to be a myriad of other, smaller unlicensed ones and even more taxiways.
Fortunately it did promise a FISO service so I would be able to get definite instructions on wending by way among them.
The noise abatement procedures were also more complex than I was used to but a lot of airfields seem to have those now so I thought I may as well get used to it. I pored over them a while longer, referring back to my chart now and again to try and spot the assorted villages I was supposed to avoid. Also helpful was Kemble’s website proved to have more detailed information on the noise abatement than the terse AIP entry, including landmarks to look out for.
The day dawned, clear as promised – at least in Swansea. A phonecall to Kemble informed me that the visibility was 3K with an 800′ cloudbase. Nuts. Still, the forecast was for improvement, and I was in no especial hurry, so I returned my attention to gathering weather and NOTAMs.
The wind was a moderate westerly, so not too much drift to cope with but a considerable effect on groundspeed. Almost 40 knots difference between the outward and homeward legs.
I headed out to the airfield, had a coffee, and phoned Kemble again. This time they reported a far more appealing “all the nines”. I told them I’d be coming in later, and gave them my details, before heading out to get the aeroplane ready to go.
I took off on 28 and followed the circuit around until I was facing the right direction. The visibility was marvellous now and I settled onto my track.
Port Talbot, the windfarm at Taff Ely, and Caerphilly castle with it’s grand waterworks unrolled before me and I relaxed. This was what flying was all about after all, what was I fretting about? Of course the trickier bit would come the other end when I reached (hopefully) my destination.
I called Cardiff Radar, got a squawk a FIS, and some traffic information about the police helicopter. (He spotted me before I spotted him.) I was slightly relived to get a service from Cardiff today, as the last time I’d tried to speak to them, in the club 172, they’d found me completely unreadable and I had half wondered ever since whether it was the aircraft radio or my diction at fault…
I watched the sprawl of Newport slide by below, and gazed briefly at the bridge I’d seen so many times from the train. This was a better view!
Suddenly the sound of TOMS’s callsign brought my attention back to the matter at hand. I was given a new squawk. I read it back, leaned forward and reached across to change it. I planned to cross the river overhead the Second Severn Crossing and a glance at my plog revealed the timing was working out well.
As I paused to feel smug about this and fished for my pen to note it down, Cardiff called again, asking me to contact Filton Radar.
I’d written this frequency down in anticipation of calling them up but had transposed two digits while doing so. When Cardiff gave me the frequency I wrote that down wrong too and managed to read back something different again which was still wrong! I had clearly relaxed a bit too much!
Cardiff patiently gave me the frequency again, I corrected myself and dialled it in. Cardiff had already handed over my details, so I was greeted with a FIS and the QNH. I liked this! This saved a lot of repeating myself!
Filton was much quieter than Cardiff at the moment, and I flew on admiring the scenery. I had a feeling that I could see something airfield-shaped up ahead, but mindful of the dire warnings on Kemble’s AIP entry about gliding and parachuting sites nearby, I was not going to commit myself until I was certain.
When I spotted the actual gliding site off to my left, I decided that the airfield I was looking at must indeed be Kemble and I advised Filton that I was changing to Kemble Information.
They also already had my details and gave me the GFE and runway in use. A call promptly came in from an aircraft doing passes over the airfield to ask if I could hold off for a few minutes while he finished.
I was happy enough to do this, and orbited off to the south. I was rewarded by the sight of a stunning blue Hawker Hunter flashing past a few times before climbing steeply away.
Once he was done, I joined overhead and started squinting around again for the villages I was supposed to avoid. One of these was on final, required me to turn in tighter than I was used to so as to not overfly it. I ended up high-ish and ended up gliding a good portion of the approach in order to get down in reasonable order. Good practise I suppose!
I realised immediately after landing that it wouldn’t of mattered in the slightest that I was high and would have landed long — there was bags of runway! In fact the FISO asked me to keep my speed up to the turn-off as there was another aircraft behind me — that hunter again.
To my relief, as I’d hoped, the taxy instructions were specific and prompt. Along the lines of “left there, right there, stop there”.
I climbed out feeling decidedly please with myself, paid the £12 landing fee and headed in search of lunch. The restaurant (café doesn’t d it justice) did me a generously sized burger which I ate while sat with a fine view of the airfield — where in sharp contrast with the Hunter, a flex wing microlight was now doing circuits.
A brief spell of window-shopping rounded out my visit and I headed back home. It felt like I taxyed over half of Gloucestershire on my way back to the end of the runway, but the FISO was extremely helpful and seemed to have a sixth sense for when I was hesitant about which taxyway I needed to follow.
Again I got a lovely effortless handover from Filton to Cardiff who watched out for me all the way back to Swansea.
Swansea was also occupied with impressive traffic when I arrived — a Hercules doing a practice approach to the field. I joined overhead as he swept beneath me. Big aeroplane!
I landed feeling decidedly pleased with myself, and with one rather nervous gremlin exorcised.