If it wasn’t for the fact that my nose and fingers were numb by the time I was halfway across the common, it could have been a spring morning instead of early February. The sky was wonderfully, unbelievable blue with nothing but high cloud to mar it. The wind was all but nonexistant. I stood and stared at the windsock, tempted to try and snap a photo for rarity value — I’d never seen it so limp.
In keeping with my new years resolution to get out and about a bit more, I’d picked on Old Sarum this week. Armed with a free landing voucher, a carefully planned route, and the knowledge that the MATZ of Boscombe Down was inactive at the weekends, I’d done all my preplanning and was ready to go.
I dawdled over the checks though, enjoying the morning sunshine and under no particular time pressure. Several people were already airborne and I watched for a few minutes. Circuits did not look like fun today — the wind, light as it was, was favouring 10 — far and away the grottiest runway at Swansea.
On the rare occasions I’ve had to use it I’ve invariably been bounced into the air at the intersection whether I’m ready to fly or not. Today was no exception, I gritted my teeth as the wheels skipped over the less-than-smooth join between the surfaces, held the aircraft down until the speed picked up to a more reasonable one and breathed out only when I was safely climbing away.
I soon settled down though. The air was calm and still and the aircraft unusually easy to trim. I noted the time on my plog and focussed my attention on watching out for others up enjoying the weather.
The wind on the 215s in the morning had been so light and variable I’d not bothered to hazard a guess. Instead I’d decided to wait and see what happened on the first two familiar legs of the route, across to Porthcawl, and south to Lynton.
Midway across the Bristol Channel I gazed out along each wing in touch, spellbound by the visibilty. On my left, protruding from the lingering low mist, poked the pylons of the two Severn Bridges, and away to my right, a dark blur on the horizon of Lundy Island. Gorgeous.
I held my planned heading carefully and coasted in somewhat west of target. This tied in with the easterly that had us using 10, and so convinced I altered my timings accordingly. It would be a slower trip out than back, but I was heading almost due east for the main part so wouldn’t need to figure it into my heading much.
I was in new territory for me now, and was pleased to find Bridgewater turning up nicely recognisable and bang on the nose and almost to the minute on time. Always nice when this dead reckoning stuff works!
Cardiff Radar were their usual helpful self, but managed to catch me my surprise with a handover to Bristol. I thought I’d considered quite carefully who to talk to but hadn’t thought of getting a LARS from Bristol — always something new to discover! I hastily scribbled down the frequency and squawk, and changed over, to be met with the always nice “We have your details.” Lovely and easy!
They kept an eye out for me, occasionally calling out traffic, as I flew on past Street and Glastonbury with its Tor, past the expanse of Yeovilton, past Castle Cary and Bruton hugging the railway line, mentally ticking off each landmark as it rolled by below.
I was comfortable and happy and to my delight feeling thoroughly on top of things. Bristol eventually gave me one last call about traffic, and advised me to change to my enroute frequency.
I started a leisurely descent from the not-so-lofty heights of 4000 feet and changed to Old Sarum to listen out. Quite a bit going on from the sounds of things, several aeroplanes taxying to take off, a couple doing circuits and at least three joining to land.
I had picked out a small stretch of dual carriage-way and a bit of lake that looked conspicuously perpendicular to it, as my checkpoint for calling Old Sarum, and when they duly appeared I gave them a shout.
I scribbled the details of runway and QNH down quickly, not wanting to take my eyes from the outside world for too long with all the activity about. I spotted a blob off to my left, and started to turn slightly to take me a bit further from him. As I looked out to my right to clear the turn my eyes all but popped out on stalks, as another (and somewhat closer) aeroplane banked away from me, doubtless thinking I was some sort of nut for suddenly turning towards him.
Neither was particularly close but I was momentarily startled, and as we were all clearly heading to the same place I was feeling a little bit “surrounded”! I thought about changing level, but since they were both intending the same overhead join as me, that didn’t seem as if it would help.
The problem was solved for me before I thought too much further on it, as it quickly became apparent that the one to my right was pulling ahead, while the one to my left became identifiable as a flexwing and fell further behind. We’d be spaced out adequately by the time we arrived after all.
I fitted in behind the faster aircraft on the deadside and was soon in the circuit where my thoughts turned quickly from collision avoidance to not stuffing up my first landing on green stuff.
I’d sat in the back of a friend’s trial flight here last winter and remembered it as reasonably smooth, but a bit shorter than I was used to. I made a mental promise to myself that if I wasn’t firmly on the ground by a third of the way along then I’d go around.
The beautiful approach (the view that is — not and immodest opinion of my flying) over the castle soon had me smiling instead of fretting about the surface though and the landing met that favourite adjective “uneventful”.
The business on the radio was matched by the sheer number of aeroplanes on the ground and I taxied some distance to find a parking spot.
The cafe was as good as I remembered it, and I had an excellent chicken, ham and leek pie with tons of baby potatoes and veg.
It was hard to resist the temptation to relax too much on the flight home, I kept catching myself gazing around at the view instead of scanning properly for other aircraft. I landed intact nonetheless with a big grin.
I dawdled over securing the aircraft, as I’d dawdled over the morning walkaround, and I realised it’s not just the actual flying I love but the whole thing. The whole experience. I love the long shadows early on winter mornings when the field is quiet. I love the laughter and chitchat in a cafe full of flyers, and I love leaning on the fence at a new airfield nursing a coffee and watching other people fly. I love it all the way through to end of play, leaning against the engine-warmed cowling watching the sun slip below the horizon. Ignoring the sensible corner of my mind reminding me that I’ll end up hands and knees in the half-dark doing tiedownsknots if I linger, and that there are fuel bills still to be paid.
I must be mad because I even love the stomp back across the common to where civilisation (and bus routes) pick back up!