With TOMS in annual, the original plan for the bank holiday had been to get re-checked out in the club 172 and sally off with my sister and nephew to the Isles of Scilly. A last minute change of plan meant that the “bring sister and nephew in Cessna” bit of this didn’t quite come off but, with the usual club flexibility I soon found myself sharing the trip with Derek in one of the Tomahawks instead.
In spite of the change of plan, I didn’t feel the checkride was wasted — does no harm to fly with an instructor every so often anyway, and we practised steep turns and flapless and glide approaches as well as normal ones. I didn’t seem to have developed too many bad habits through the year, or if I had they’d been shaken loose by the unfamiliar aeroplane!
Monday morning arrived and, due to the usual bank holiday late start of the green buses, I was up early to allow time to stomp across Fairwood Common. As it happened I was lucky and the crew of the lovely skyblue G-ARRI drove past me a gave me a lift the rest of the way.
As well as three in G-ARRI, and myself and Derek in HotelUniform two other aircraft were coming along as well. Steve from Pembrey in his recently completed Europa and a Haverfordwest-based Vans RV-7, a smashing aeroplane in bright yellow, and one of those which looks fast even sat on the grass. After arriving at Swansea we discovered that several people from the G-AWXS group had also decided to head down that way.
I compared plans with Derek. I hadn’t realised that Land’s End coordinated traffic with the islands and hadn’t really planned to talk to them, just putting it down as a airfield we’d be flying nearby at a reasonable height. I added the frequency to my plog — always something new to learn — useful going along with someone who’s been before!
Since we had the luxury of two pilots on board, we split the flying and the radio calls so that I flew out while Derek did the radio and vice versa (Although in fact I skived for the first half of the trip back to take photos!)
We struck out over the Bristol Channel soon after taking off and changed to Cardiff Radar who were unusually quiet in terms of traffic and thus rather chatty! The ATCO commented on the large number of aircraft that had called him that morning en route to the Scillies and wondered aloud if we were likely to be parking in the sea as space was rather tight there!
St Mawgan were far busier — mostly with us and the rest of the little flotilla from South Wales! Despite the near constant traffic information about the others going the same way, we never saw them at all. I spotted one opposite direction aeroplane which had been called as traffic to ‘XS (then close behind us) but never saw them even as they overtook us to land for fuel before continuing onto the islands.
There was a certain amount a haze about and despite preferring to stay as high as possible over water I descended a bit for better visibility after finding myself hopping over a cloud or two.
Lands End wanted to know if we had DME or GPS on board and gave us reporting points based on distance from the LND VOR as they passed us over to the Scillies. The strip of airspace between the two was extremely busy with people all over it at all sorts of altitudes. GA types and Sea King helicopters, and Twin Otters whizzing the tourists back and forth. I thought that must be a rather nice experience for people who don’t fly, or only fly on airliners — one of them was transiting at 1000′ at one point which must have been tremendously scenic.
We kept up at 2500′ as no one else nearby seemed to be around that height!
The ATCO was wonderfully calm and cheerful in the centre of all the activity and seemed well used to the confusion as people (me included) struggled to spot and get lined up on the correct runway — I only recognised it once I was so far right of the centreline I couldn’t even see the runway lights he’d so thoughtfully put on for us!
A hasty swerve back into line was followed by a semi presentable approach but one of the ugliest landings I’ve done in some time–that hill really does jump up at you! There was also quite a stiff crosswind which I had paid as much attention to as I could have, and which on reflection could have contributed to my being far off centre in the first place.
The uphill slope played it’s part in slowing us down though and by the time we reached the concrete section we were already at taxying speed and Derek was getting parking instructions from the tower.
“Park next to the–” Thoughtful pause. “–small one.”
We smiled at the preciseness of that instruction, then laughed out loud as we realised the “small one” was Steve’s Europa, and had beaten us here. (However, we were well and truly put in our place in turn when we left and the commercial aircraft behind us was advised that there was a “little Tomahawk” climbing out ahead of him!)
Landing fees were payable in the tower — a winding climb not for the easily dizzied, and was a bit on the dear side if you were staying longer than 2 hours. Having paid up, we joined the others in the cafe for a cuppa before heading down into town.
It was a scenic walk along a dirt footpath, and easily the closest and easiest access to town from a GA airfield I’ve found yet! I was amused by the airfield warning signs along the footpath of the airfield, and after a few minutes strolling downhill it was clear that the airfield was perched right on the top of the island, hence the large hump in the runways.
We strolled past quiet beaches with boats drawn up on the sand, and a busy harbour where we met up with the others who’d taken a taxi. A bus service also meets the commercial services so if you arrive at the right time, getting into town is a doddle.
Everyone’s stomachs were rumbling by now (flying does seem to give people a healthy appetite!) but first pub we tried for lunch was closing early (an odd thing to do on a busy bank holiday Monday we thought!) A hotel just up the hill a step from the harbour was open though and we ate outside on a terrace overlooking the sea.
A wander around the shops and icecream to follow and time to wish we had longer to spend. It’s really more than a day trip and I definitely plan to come back and visit some more of the other islands.
Back at the airfield I dragged away the blocks we’d been using as chocks (essential — the slope on the parking area made everyon’s aircraft look like a taildragger!) while Derek preflighted the aircraft.
It was still busy and another Sea King arrived and deposited its passengers as we prepared to depart. The Twin Otter meanwhile was about to line up ahead of us when it was asked ever so nicely to taxy back to the terminal to collect some forgotten luggage — that’s the kind of service you don’t get at Heathrow! Don’t know what the passengers made of it, but it did mean we got to jump the queue and get off ahead of him.
The uphill slope looked, if anything, more daunting as we lined up on the runway and the intersection with the tarmac section at the other end was a very noticeable jolt. Once over the brow of the hill though the ground positively fell away from us and we were airborne over the calm blue water and climbing steadily.
Derek was flying the homewards leg so after taking some snapshots as we departed I settled down to do the radio and sightsee. St Mawgan were either busy or understaffed and had withdrawn the LARS now, so we talked to London Info then Cardiff. In sharp contrast with the morning, Cardiff were hugely busy and did not want to know us at all. They did stop short of telling us to push off and drown quietly but did seem in a great rush to move us straight onto Swansea and out of their hair!
It was drawing on for evening by the time we reached Swansea and Derek was able to fly a nice straight in approach to 04, ending in a landing which put mine to shame!
Another fantastic day out, even if I have gone and spent my entire month’s flying budget in one wallop again!
I hope TOMS wont be too jealous at my fickle flying of another Tomahawk when she gets back from annual… 😉