Off to the Horses (again)

The trip to the Badminton Horse Trials was one of the highlights of my first year’s flying and one of the things which has converted by sister to flying.  She’s actually quite the expert passenger now, happily doing the radio frequency and transponder changes for me, and laughing off turbulence with an admonishment to the aeroplane to behave herself.

This year the weather again looked a bit chancy even up to the very morning of the trip, but turned out (like the whole weekend) far better than forecast, and never really in doubt on the day.

We stumbled and fell about the house early, trying to get ready for a quick getaway, but still only managed to gulp a quick bit of toast before heading out.  We weren’t quite the first ones there, but only one other aeroplane had taxied out while we untied and prepared TOMS (newly returned from having a new starter fitted).  The aircraft then proceeded to give me a horrible sinking moment when instead of a healthy, brisk flick of the propeller and firing of the engine, all she produced was a reluctant cough and a sluggish turning over.

“Don’t you dare!” I wailed, momentarily oblivious to my watching passenger.  After a bit of coaxing though the engine fired and I madly cooed and patted the coaming and yoke, muttering “Oh you wonderful beautiful aeroplane, thank you!”

I think during all the problems we’ve had with the starter we must have utterly knackered the battery, and a few days later I discovered that the last service (at least according to the sticker) was in 2004, so we probably can’t whinge too much about needing a new one.

In any case, we taxied out in wonderful, peaceful morning solitude to the end of runway 10.  I gave my sister the now-standard warning I give passengers when taking of from 10, since the “hump” means i invariably get launched into the air before going fast enough to actually fly.

I took up my first heading (based on the bit of paper in my lap — not yet trusting the brand new GPS!).  The flight was an easy one for the most part, Cardiff were quiet enough to give us a FIS which included more than it technically needed to.

This was especially useful when a commercial flight (which shall remain nameless but had an American voice on the r/t) wanted to “cut the corner” and route outside all that shiny new airspace Cardiff have recently acquired.  A side effect of this meant he was also cutting across in front of us.  Cardiff sounded less than delighted with this and warned him they had limited radar coverage in that area and a number of unconfirmed contacts, as well as known VFR traffic (us).  Mister American pilot said he could see us and was happy with that though and across he came.

My sister tells the story with far more drama, but it wasn’t “close” by any definition really.  Nevertheless, I’d not seen a commercial flight do that before, and kept a very wary eye on him.  Slightly perturbed, I also gave a rather garbled response to Cardiff when they wanted to know my “maximum level”, presumably to reassure themselves that we weren’t going to meet in the middle!

With this behind us, we continued on to the Severn Bridges and a useful handover to Bristol who were most accommodating and helpfully gave us a pointer or two when they suspected I was wandering off track (skirting around the edge of Filton’s ATZ to gaze at Concorde actually!).

The amount of traffic on the frequency was a forerunner of things to come as the world and his mum were suddenly calling up en route to Badminton.

With the strip in sight we called Badminton and got a very pragmatic greeting of, “There’s loads joining, keep a good lookout.”  We were quite lucky in our timing and managed to slot in on base leg while someone else was on final and another joining overhead.

The grass had dried out nicely and I was quite happy with the crosswind landing until, just when I thought it was about done and there was now more flying left in the aircraft we hit a divot and bounded back up in the air for at least two rather large jumps.  My throttle hand had already started to twitch forward to go-around before it got worse, when it settled down as quickly an inexplicably as it’d started.

Odd, but a timely reminder that landings don’t finish when the wheels touch down!

My sister tells this one with more aplomb too, “We landed on one wheel and then got bounced back up and landed on one wheel again!” It was some comfort to watch several other people meet the same lump, and admire or mock assorted attempts at the crosswind, including a beautifully managed, if lively, touchdown by a very striking Decathlon who arrived just after us.

How would you rather travel…?How would you rather arrive...? 
The novelty of being met at the aircraft for landing and tickets was undiminished this year and I was tickled to be parked next to a familiar aircraft, one N33NW.  Feeling smug over the queue of ground based traffic doesn’t appear to be getting old either >;-)

I’d made loose plans to meet up with a couple of Flyer forumite, but although their aircraft were present and correct, I missed spotting them, and we soon gave up and headed for coffee, huge sticky biscuits and the start of the cross country course.

This was a roaring success this year, (although we got lost twice!), with far fewer stoppages for injuries this year which was wonderful.  We were slightly disappointed that the “local interest” a rider from our neck of the words, and a “proper” amateur with a day job and all, had to retire on the cross country course, though we never found out why.  Still there was plenty to see!

The plan next year is to collar a larger aircraft and to bring my sister’s son as well — he was a bit miffed this year and keeps asking to come in, “Your Yowm” (Neeyowm being his word for aeroplane…) again.

Scenes from the day.  Cracking spot!Julie Trew and some scenes from the day

We didn’t hurry, I’d already decided that I’d settle for sorting out fuel the following day, so there was no need to rush back.  We therefore wound up at the end of the day, sitting on the wings, finishing the remains of our picnic while we waited for some of the other aircraft to disperse.  The takeoff were worth watching anyway, since the air/ground guy was asking groups of three to backtrack.  He was also asking for people to make an early turnout to avoid overflying the site, so there were some very watchable departures, lots of low-ish turns and pretty profiles of aeroplane bellies swooping away from us as we snacked.

 Contented Passenger…
Contented passenger

Eventually I stirred myself to join the queue of departing aircraft and got in line between the pretty Decathlon and an even prettier Chipmunk under the control of one of the forumites I’d failed to find.

Heading back over Wales the visibilty was stragely deceptive, looking far worse than it really was (which sounds impossible I know!)  Murky grey which made you think there just had to be low cloud… until you realised that that “blobby lump” wasn’t cloud at all, but a mountain 20 miles away!

Caerphilly CastleWe took a brief detour and an orbit or two when my pointing out Caerphilly Castle got an enthusiastic response from the righthand seat.

Otherwise, the flight home was uneventful, if a bit turbulent.  Back at Swansea and, sick of being bounced into the air when I wasn’t ready, I made a firm, short field landing on 10 to stop before the hump!

The airfield was deserted by now, and we taxied back to TOMSsy’s parking spot and shut down to ark without seeing another soul.  We climbed out and tied down and covered the aeroplane in near silence.  It always amazing me just how quiet airfields get, it’s contrary to all cliche.  The only sounds were small ones.  The sound of the wind whisking around the aerials, the ticking of the cooling engine, and overhead the swifts and swallows squeeing in pursuit of the evening midges.

There’s something special about the end of a flying day.  Now, I hear there’s a strip near Hickstead…

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