Idle Flying and the Art of Plan B

Well the original plan for this weekend gone was to troop up to the Luscombe Rally at Oaksey Park, for a weekend’s camping, company and roast pig. (G-TOMS as the registration might suggest, is not a Luscombe, but they’re apparently perfectly happy to welcome us lesser mortals šŸ˜‰ )

The weather forecast was not promising, although I gave serious consideration to dashing up after finishing work on the warm Friday evening. Doubts about Sunday’s weather and getting home dissuaded me, and sadly Saturday dawned with the predicted downpours.

As it was the first weekend of my holiday from work I was decidedly peeved with this turn of events, but settled for a last minute decision to go and have a nose around the Eisteddfod in Cardiff instead. While dripping and splashing my way around the Maes and exercising my halting, stumbling, ungrammatical Welsh, it occurred to me that my very first flight after getting my license back in the post had been Eisteddfod week too. The “Pafiliwn Pinc” parked up on the Felindre site, complete with its own NOTAM, and me skirting just outside the limits of it to have a look. Two years ago, gorgeous sunny day and I’d booked a last minute afternoon off work so I could fly the minute I got my license in hand!

No such luck this year, as the rain continued unabated. My closest aeronautical link was my large Vulcan-emblazoned brolly!

Still perhaps Sunday would be better, maybe there’d be some pig left, or at least a breakfast?

This time I actually got as far as the airfield based on the “sporting” but flyable forecast, only to find that:

a) I couldn’t stand up straight against the wind howling across the Common and
b) my aeroplane keys had been put in such a safe place after the maintenance trip that no bugger knew where to find them.

I ought to remember by now that it’s usually a safe bet that whatever wind Cardiff is forecasting, Swansea will get and then some! A good 5-10 knots more at least, with a special on extra gusts.

I settled for coffee and gossip and commiserations about the weather for a while, watched a very “interesting” landing by an R44 helicopter which was the only thing flying, then decided it was time for plan B again.

The much-complained about Green Buses which me to the airfield then appear to vanish, actually continue on down to the very tip of Gower and back again via a quite scenic circular route. A brisk walk along the clifftops seemed like it might be a nice form of “substitute altitude” and since the “day rider” ticket is cheaper than a return to the airfield, it would essentially be a freebie.

The fact it was a forty minute bus ride came as something of a shock, scenic though it was (it’s barely more than five minutes when I scoot out to “The Worm” in the aeroplane!

Rhossili and Worm’s Head were as lovely as I remembered though, and I did enjoy the walk and a different perspective on what is one of my favourite places to fly. I quickly abandoned the wide, gravelled path and the parade of tourists, to wander the cliff edges and sheep tracks instead.

Pics on Flickr

Monday I idled, nursing a slightly twisted foot from scrambling the rocky fringes of those sheep traces, and tried to chase up my keys. With that achieved and keys safely lodged with he flying club I ventured out again on Tuesday to retrieve keys, and with any luck at all, finally sneak in a flight.

Emily, one of the other TOMS pilots had been up flying and assured me that the starter was finally performing up to spec. I also knew we needed oil so I equipped myself with both the half empty bottle and a full one from the hangar before marching out across the apron.

I could stand up today, but the wind still rocked the wings and jerked the windsock, promising to keep me paying attention. Tall clouds on the horizon and a clearly defined shower over Cefn Bryn also demanded caution, even adorned with half a rainbow as it was.

The first challenge was rather more prosaic — the gusty wind making the simple task of topping up the oil rather more of a challenge than normal. Lacking a funnel (if we own one I can never find it), I generally use a rag or lump of kitchen roll to keep the oil from getting everywhere but down the filler. This requires two hands, which is normally fine — that it, it’s fine when it’s not so windy that the cowling starts beating you over the head every time you let go of it and the wind keeps trying to snatch the empty bottle, remaining kitchen roll, lid of full bottle, dipstick and filler cap and chuck them across the field. When it’s that windy it require at least eight hands — or careful wedging of one thing under another and some undignified contortions.

On the up side, I suspect my high-vis has been far more use as an aid to keeping oil from clothes than it has in preventing me from being mowed down by rogue propellers.

Eventually I finished with the oil, finished the other checks and climbed aboard, fairly raring to go!

TOMS seemed to agree, the starter sprang readily to life and the aeroplane fairly bounded into the air in the stiff breeze.

A large silly grin spread across my face, even just over a local bimble, even in the gusty, showery sky, even with the rashly chosen white trousers well and truly oiled up, I beamed and gazed about in delight. Utter sucker for it, every time, this flying stuff gets me mugging like a fool.

The sky was empty of other aeroplanes and air/ground signed off for the day as I ambled north, intending to do a circuit of Gower, I don’t often go in this direction, normally I keep the coast on the passenger’s side, but today I was on my own and sightseeing. I turned above the salt marshes at Penclawdd, and orbited Hardings Down. I detoured around a shower that was dowsing Whitford Point but nowhere else, and was also decorated with its own rainbow.

I throttled back, dawdling at just over 1000′, admiring the landscape, dipped the wing to turn over Burry Holm and track along Rhossili beach. Close in to the shore, where the Down rises to 600′ I could feel the wind rising and curling off it, lifting my port wing. I let the aeroplane bank and rolled into a turn to track along the Worm, the route I’d walked the few days earlier.

Didn’t spot any sheep this time, but the waves splashed up over the rocks that fringed the “head”, and the causeway was well under water.

I ambled back along the bays and beaches, watching speedboats, and the few people who were still out walking or flying kites, wondering if they noticed this little aeroplane, wondering if they looked up eagerly or to tut at my noise. Wondering if they knew how even more amazing this perspective was.

The familiar landmark of Thee Cliffs Bay was my cue to return home and from habit I called my intentions to the empty circuit. Lacking a QFE now a/g had gone home I flew “what looked right” and turned final to find one of those showers had decided to park itself right where I wanted to be.

Happily it was one of the lighter ones and the other side being clearly visible I plugged through it. Raindrops scattered the forward view and I squinted at the runway, where the wet tarmac glittered in the patchy sun. Odd thing to be in rain looking at sunshine, and sure enough when I cast a glance out the side window, there arced around the wing was another rainbow.

Short final was busy with gusts but I landed without drama and taxyed across to tie downs, noting with interest that the ropes were sodden when they hadn’t been before. That shower had obviously come straight over the field while I’d been flying. Perhaps it was the same one that had been sat on the Bryn when I took off.

I never realised until I started flying how local weather is. The fact that once you’re in the air you can just see it coming and avoid it, is something that continues to fascinate and delight me.

I think in some ways I actually prefer these flustery sun-and-showers days to perfect still blue-sky weather.

Wind and rainbows…


4 thoughts on “Idle Flying and the Art of Plan B

  1. Andy Hawkins

    Great write up Leia. Getting battered around the head by the cowling is one I’m familiar with! For some reason the only aircraft I’ve seen with a means of propping the cowling open was one that I flew on a day with zero wind so there was no real need for it!

    Weather recently has been very bizarre. Our office has been in the middle of a rain shower that would scare Noah, while looking out of the window you could see blue skies just a couple of miles away!

    You’ve got me wanting to fly again now šŸ™‚


  2. Leia

    Weather has been weird lately. Even aside from issues with the starter I’ve been a bit reluctant to go too far afield. A downpour over the field when you can orbit over a familiar local landmark and wait for it to ass is a bit different from arriving (or trying to) at an unfamiliar airfield to find you can’t even see it through the rain…

    Time for an IMC rating this winter I feel.

  3. Andy Hawkins

    Yep, definitely weird weather.

    My first ‘real’ post PPL trip was Brize to Conington, dodging showers all the way. Nice cloud dropping rain on the base leg at Conington certainly focussed the mind! Airfield was always in sight though, so wasn’t too concerned about it.

    Considering an IMC rating myself. Can you do it in TOMS?

  4. Leia

    My QXC was the same. SHowers dodging and rainbows. Got stuck on the ground for an while at Gloucester waiting for one to pass!

    I’ve been thinking about the IMC for a while, ever since I got stranded on the Isle of Wight! Didn’t seem much point in summer (although with the weather I may as well have!)

    I can’t do the whole thing in TOMS, we haven’t got an ILS and the ADF is flaky, but I can do some of the basic stuff, then use a club plane for the rest — cut down the cost a bit.

    Other nuisance though is that there aren’t that many airfields with ILS around here — Cardiff which costs and bomb, then the next nearest is Exeter or Waterford!


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