Formation to Dunkeswell

I’d originally had the aeroplane booked for Sunday this week but reading the forecast at some point at Thursday had decided that Saturday looked by far the better option.  I was still kicking about ideas about where to go on Friday night though and it was an even toss up between giving the strip at Rosemarket Golf Course a go, and heading up to Welshpool.

A phone call on Saturday  as I was still considering the options while gathering my morning wits changed my mind again.  Ash, who I knew from the UKGA Forum, sounding very wide awake for the early hour.

“Are you doing anything today?”

“Trying to decide where to fly!” I answered.

It turned out the reason for the question was that him and Paul S, also from the forum were coming down to Swansea in their respective aeroplanes and might be going on somewhere.

I beat them to the airfield and enjoyed several rounds of biscuits and coffee before coming over all industrious and spending some time ‘de-bugging’ the windscreen and windows on TOMS so I had an outside chance of seeing where I was going.

The weather was looking a bit mixed and unsettled with lots of lumpy cloud about, but good visibility underneath.  A few spots of rain on my freshly cleaned perspex made me frown but only lasted a second or two.

The field was busy today, being one of the legs of the microlight “Round Wales” rally but the variety of microlights were dwarfed by the unexpected presence of a very flash Citation parked among the little GA types on the apron.  The parachutists were in full flow as well and it was wonderful to see the field and the cafe so packed.

Ash and Paul turned up within minutes of each other, Ash and his father in their Trinidad and Paul in his Bulldog.  Ash parked up and Paul joined the queue for fuel.  (An actual queue — it really was busy today!)

Breakfast was soon on the agenda and their was plenty of flying chitchat and catching up.  Paul held of the breakfast waiting for his lady passenger who it seemed was having trouble finding the airfield.    She did make it eventually and talk turned to where we were going to go.  Paul had intended Sherburn but the cloud in that direction was not looking at all promising.  Perranporth was mentioned in passing and considered, before being rejected as too far away, as it was not past lunchtime and Paul had to get back to Bourne Park afterwards.  Dunkeswell however fitted the bill nicely.  

As we were still discussing this we were joined by David from the Flyer Forum, who came over to say hello.  I’d actually seen his shared Robin, G-BAPY, park next to TOMS but not recognised it.  As he was leaving shortly and Ash had to make a move as well, we all trooped outside again to look at each other’s aeroplanes before the left.  The Trinidad, Bulldog, TOMS, and the Robin were all examined and admired in turn.   The variety in GA types is something I love about the whole thing and these four decidedly different types were all obviously doted on by their pilots!

We waved Ash and David off and retreated back into the warmth of the cafe to plan our flight down to Dunkeswell.  Paul asked if I wanted to go as a formation.  “Eep” I thought, but yes that sounded fun, and I had sat in TOMS while Allan flew and Paul formated on us and it was an odd feeling to have a another aeroplane that close but fun too so I agreed and Paul ran through a formation brief which mainly covered radio calls and the need for me to keep turns nice and gentle and let him know I was doing them!

I should probably comment at this point that Paul is formation trained and knows what he’s doing and it’s probably not a life-prolonging idea to try this with someone who isn’t!

He also reminded me that I’d be navigating and squawking for both of us.  As we intended to keep clear of Cardiff we decided not to bother talking to them and just go straight to our formation frequency from Swansea.  At the other end there was a convenient motorway ten miles or so from the field Paul would split of from me and we’d go in separately.

With all this straight in my head we went out to the aircraft and got started up.  Paul informed air/ground that he’d be following me for a streamed takeoff and did our power checks and lined up together.  I twizzled around in my seat to give Paul an inquiring thumbs up which he returned.  Then I pushed the throttle forward, concentrating on keeping perfectly straight down the runway.

With only me on board TOMS positively leaps into the air and I found out afterwards rather left the two-up Bulldog behind in the climb!  Paul soon caught me up — he’s faster than me straight and level anyway, and joined echelon right initially.  I headed for Porthcawl, as I planned to cross there to Lynton.

TOMS and the DOGGMy head was on a swivel looking this way and that for other traffic, and keeping an eye on Paul (except when he was line astern — a trial of faith if ever there was one “I hope he’s back there somewhere anyway…”).  It was weird and it was fun and I find myself thinking that I’d quite like to do some more of it — another thing to add to my “things to learn to do” list, which is fast becoming as long as my “places I want to go” list.

Line AsternGently gently into the turn at Porthcawl, and round we went and off over the water.  Dunkeswell is becoming a familiar destination and the two reservoirs rolled by on schedule and on track.  The motorway appeared not long after and Paul broke away and we changed to Dunkeswell.

I then blithely muddled up the join and went ‘the scenic route’ into the circuit prompting Paul to wonder where on earth I’d got to. 

Cake and more coffee in the lovely cafe at Dunkeswell accompanied by the view of a lovely Christen Eagle doing aerobatics overhead.

It was with some reluctance I dragged myself from the cafe to try and catch the refuellers at Swansea before end of play.

The sky was a uniform grey now, the lumpy looking clouds were deceptive it turned out, and the sky was very soft and still.  I managed that rare feat of getting the tommy-hawk trimmed and needed hardly a touch on the yoke, and I flew home across the water with Mumbles lighthouse visible almost before I had left the Devon hillsides behind me. 

I love going places  but almost as much or  more, I love flying home again, especially on such a smooth, late afternoon.  Very tranquil.

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