Me and Allan, one of the other TOMS owners had tried twice now to go to Caernarfon and been thwarted by weather, so when Ash, one of the Cardiff pilots, rang me and said he and a couple of the other UKGA crowd were going there and did I fancying coming, I said yes instantly.
The full complement was to be me and Allan in TOMS, Paul in his newly back in the air Bulldog, Ash in his very swish fast Trinidad, and Richard Maxted, in his pretty C150.
A plan was hatched, Paul and Ash would meet us at Swansea and we’d head up to Caernarfon, possibly in a ‘loose’ formation, and Richard would arrive from the opposite direction and meet us there.
One the day the trip was reworked to Plan B, Shobdon, because the weather ‘Oop North’ was not conducive to Richard making it across the hills.
I’d drawn lines on my map for both eventualities, but as Allan was flying the outward trip, he quickly tapped it into his GPS as well.
Allan and I had arrived in time to get TOMS ready for the off and get a coffee in before the other arrived, so there was plenty of time for more coffee and a chat about the route and how we were going to work the formation bit.
Ash and Paul have flown together before and had formation training whereas the two of us in TOMS had done nothing of the sort! The plan was therefore that we would head off first and they’d catch us up and do the difficult bit!
We settled on a suitable en-route frequency and slightly dippy formation callsigns, and headed off.
Or at any rate we tried to. It seemed that half the flying community and their mums were making of the most of the free landing vouchers this month (the ones I’d forgotten to bring for Ash!) and with a line of aeroplanes on final and downwind, not to mention the three of us, plus a motorglider, waiting at the hold Swansea was starting to look more like Heathrow!
Eventually a/g asked someone to take pity on us and extend downwind to give us a chance to get away. They obliged and we made a run for it.
We headed northwest and settled into a steady climb, aiming for about 4000′. We were still climbing when Paul joined us. Most odd to look around and see another aeroplane quite so close!
The Bulldog and Tomahawk are not too dissimilar in speed so Paul held his spot rather more easily than Ash, who found that the 80 knots we were climbing at was rather slower than the Trin found comfortable. After hanging on our right for a while he broke off and he and Paul went on ahead to ‘play’.
We tailed them a little way back, and watched. It seems rather good fun this formation stuff, I think I’ll have to add it to my list of things to try properly one day.
After a while they shot off in a great sweeping turn away from out course, prompting Allan to enquire whether they knew something we didn’t! For the rest of the trip they were heard and not seen.
I sat and enjoyed the view – it’s been a while since I’ve been flying without actually doing the flying and it was pleasant to sit and gaze out of the window, thinking of nothing in particular. I love flying over the Brecon Beacons. I could watch that view for a million years and never get tired of it. On this particular day the weather was a fine winter high pressure system and the hills were gorgeous in shades of russet in the still low sun.
When we arrived Shobdon was in the throes of a power cut so had no electric to their radios. The chap on the handheld was sounding increasingly fraught with repeating things and people stepping all over one another’s transmissions because they couldn’t hear him.
We landed and waited for the others, this took a while as Ash had found himself parked next to another Trindad belong to the person who used to own his. Small world, aviation!
The café had distressingly run out of breakfast ingredients but made up for it with a fantastic ham, egg, and chips – possibly the thickest bit of boiled ham I’ve ever had, it was lovely.
Richard had been thwarted by weather in spite of the change of plan, so we commiserate with him my telephone and assured him wed have another try at meeting up another day.
Eventually the time came to leave. We made our farewells to Paul and Ash, as we were all going in different directions from here. Getting out of our parking slot proved to be a bit of a squeeze as space was very tight indeed. It was achieved in the end by Allan pulling the tail around while I sat in and steered. I must admit I was holding my breath as I taxied out past all those wings and tails so very close!
I waited at the hold for a glider tug to drop its cable (making me jump!) and land, before I got cleared onto the runway to line up and wait. It was Shobdon Information today, instead of the Radio it had been on my last visit so I did as I was told while a microlight ahead of me went off from halfway down the runway and I was soon released to ‘take off at your discretion’.
The haze had thickened a bit since the outward trip and we climbed over some cloud lurking along the hills, returning to a lower level as we approached Swansea. It was still busy but I got lucky with timing and fitted into the circuit without too much drama.
My landing, to my relief was one of my better efforts – For some reason I get something approaching stage fright with another pilot in the right hand seat and was glad to not embarrass myself!
Two sets of hands and no wind made getting the aeroplane put away for the night a quicker and easier job than normal and we both went home smiling – having had our ‘fix’.
Lovely days flying made all the better by the pleasure of meeting up with friends. Here’s to lots more!