Finally disproving the notion that “annual” means “takes all year” rather than “happens once a year”, we got our lovely shareoplane back after almost 3 months. Needless to say, there was something of a rush to fly!
Happily for me, most of the rush was during the week, so Saturday saw me bussing it down to the airfield on an unusually mild sunny morning.
The bus company were running a survey on usage which, in my ebullient mood, amused me highly.
“Where are you going by bus today?”
“And what is the purpose of your journey?”
I blink. How do I answer this without it sounding so obvious it seems rude?
“To go flying.”
Scratch head, peer at form.
“To visit an attraction then?”
I do laugh then. But yes, I concede that I’m enormously attracted by flying, so I suppose that’ll do as the closest tickbox!
I’m still chuckling as I leave the bus and pick my way across the cattlegrid which (usually) keeps the sheep from the airfield. The air is warm and the breeze full of the smell of cut grass. The member of the groundcrew manning the mower responsible for this aromatic welcome raises a hand in greeting as I pass.
I crane my neck as I pass the hangar to catch a glimpse of TOMS’ tail, all silly with delight at being about to fly my (partly) aeroplane again.
I’m not the only one preparing to make the most of the weather. The air cadets already have their mini-tower set up and are wingwalking a motor glider out to the fuel pumps. Outside the main hangar, a group of flexwing flyers are rigging their colourful machines, which throw long strangely shaped shadows on the ground in the still-low sun. The fire-engine shrieks briefly as the siren gets a morning test, and a handful of people are leisurely undoing tiedowns and pulling off aircraft covers.
A sense of happy anticipation sits over the place and I take my time doing the checks. This being the first time I’m flown since the annual, I peer more intently at everything, partly from caution, though others have flown uneventfully before me, and partly from an interest in what has been replaced and repaired or touched up.
The newly decorroded and repainted undercarriage positively sparkles. The exhaust pipe which will doubtless depress me once I see the bill, now just draws my attention for how spick and span it is.
The controls move freely and my grin broadens as I gaze out at the control surfaces.
The day’s destination was a last minute choice, prompted by a phone call from Paul S and we’re off to Old Sarum, courtesy of one of this months free landings. I hadn’t spotted this so Paul gets two and says he’ll meet me there with it!
I’m surprised how calm I am, given the lay off but then I was pleasantly reassured by my “check-up” in the club tommyhawk during the Annual so don’t think I’ve forgotten too much.
It’s 04 today and I taxy out hoping not to incur the wrath of air/ground this time — my flying may have been alright last time but it was desperately busy and air/ground were sounding more than a little harassed!
Today all is calm though, and I’m soon rolling down the runway and lifting off. My smile threatens to take my head off. I’ve missed this a ridiculous amount!
04 is a left hand circuit and I’m heading east, so I thumb the PTT. “Any traffic to affect a right turn out?”
The answer comes back in the negative so I turn and head out towards the bay.
The NOTAMs said no Cardiff LARS today and they sound busy enough with just the commercial traffic and transits, so I flick the transponder to 7000 and listen out, but hold my tongue.
It’s not hard to do — I’m far more engaged with the view and the flying than chitchat in any case. I do talk to Bristol but see none of the traffic they call to me.
They do manage to surprise me though with the news that Boscombe Down are “there today” so suggest I call them.
I don’t much like the unexpected in the air and hadn’t banked on that so I dutifully change frequency while scrabbling in the passenger seat for my flightguide to refresh my memory on the circuits for Old Sarum when Boscombe is active.
I’m further thrown when they ask me to report at Alderbury. More scrabbling, at the chart this time as I try to find the place which turns out to be the other side of Salisbury altogether.
Next call comes quickly, do I want to transit the stub of the MATZ. I fumble a reply, something about “yes if I can, otherwise I’ll go under.” Whether my mild befuddlement was showing or not I don’t know, but nevertheless I got approved to transit, and managed to locate Alderbury.
What I didn’t then manage, was to figure out what on earth Boscombe then started asking me. After three increasingly slow and precise repetitions I managed to gather they were asking was I in sight of the field.
“Affirm”. In fact I was on the verge of orbiting before I ended up on top of it, while I tried to figure out the r/t!
With some relief I changed to Old Sarum radio and joined the circuit.
I overshot the centreline a bit turning final (bad habit at unfamiliar field which I can’t seem to cure myself of), but thought I was correcting nicely when on short final air/ground suddenly piped up with “Are you lined up on the runway? The centreline is displaced to the south of the numbers”.
Gawp. And indeed Gulp. Am I? I though I was. Did I look from the ground as though I wasn’t? Or was it a general reminder they were telling everyone?
At the risk of sounding like a numpty I called again “Just to confirm those white markers are the runway edge markers?”
Indeed they were and I breathed again. In fact I think I’d been using those to position myself by anyway, I only noticed that the numbers were off to one side after it was commented on.
By this time I was extremely short final, but mildly pleased that the approach had remained nice and stable while my mind had been racing over this. I touched down with no drama and taxyed to a parking spot.
I dawdled over shutting down as I had about getting ready to go. Paul hadn’t arrived yet, having discovered his own Annual problems still keeping G-DOGG on the ground. He had however managed to scrounge up a 172 and arrived not long after I finished my first lot of coffee and biccies.
One of the things I love about flying is you always end up bumping into people you know, and we were soon greeted by assorted UKGA and Flyer forumites. Maureen was just off for a lesson, and her other half still beaming that First Solo Beam, after his recent efforts. Simon Birt popped by to say hello, and several of the wonderfully named “Cunning Stunts Flying Group” in their lovely Pup joined us for more coffee and nibbles.
Eventually the day wore on and with the early sunset on my mind I reluctantly decided it was time for home.
Boscombe had packed up for the day now, and I had a straight run for the North Devon coast before nipping north straight across to Swansea.
The low sun was amazing against the colours, all gold and purple, and the sight haze giving that weird soft-focus feel to the world. I sat and grinned some more, in such placid contentment that I found myself every so often feeling the need to just give the wings a little waggle to remind myself I was flying and not just drifting about up here!
I landed back and Swansea in time to watch a spectacular sunset over Gower, and discover a new use for high-vis jackets in avoiding Gower daytrippers as I trotted back across Fairwood Common in the increasingly dark! Fortunately I didn’t make it too far before one of the regular air/ground guys spotted me and gave me lift back to the main bus route.
(I should have told the bloke doing the survey to run more buses in the evenings!)
I’m still occasionally going off into happy daydreams about the flight now almost a week later. In spite of our newly increased landing fees and fuel and endless bills and delays — certain flights make it all worthwhile.