Good for the soul to do things that make you nervous every so often, so it was with a mixture of excitement and trepidation that I perused the 20odd pages worth of AIC and extra gubbins detailing the arrival procedures for Sywell and the LAA Rally.
I’d always planned to go up for the Y.E.S stand anyway, but flying in seemed far more of an adventure, so I booked the Friday and Monday off work and started planning.
The forecast looked okayish for the flying days and lovely for the on site days but Friday morning arrived misty and I was almost alone at Swansea, killing time by cleaning the bugs off the windscreen while I waited for it to clear up a bit.
Mind you a bit of free time was just as well as it let me catch my breath after loading the aeroplane — getting the rucksack full of tent and sleeping gear into the baggage area is something I’ve managed before several times but which is very very thin on dignity… Broadly speaking the only thing I’ve found which works is to kneel on the wing, hoik rucksack onto lap while trying not to fall backwards off the wing, bundle it onto the seats, then sort of roll it up and over until it topples into the back with a thump and I fall through the door in breathless exhaustion and hope no one was watching…
By lunchtime when I’d planned to leave for my 14:04 (very precise!) slot time, it appeared to have got as good as it was going to and I decided to take a stab at it.
Clearly my nice straight line over the hills to Gloucester was unlikely to work with the cloudbase uncomfortably close to the hills so it was the usual plan B of “follow the M4 and turn left at the Severn.
The weather conformed to stereotype and cleared as soon as I left Wales, and the navigation was straightforward to Pitsford from there.
The arrival instructions I’d so careful read more or less boiled down to, “fly to Pitsford reservoir, join the queue, and keep your gob shut unless you’re on final or on fire…” and once the reservoir and the airfield was in sight, they did make perfect sense.
I’d been half afraid that everyone who’d missed their slot times because of the weather would turn up en masse and swamp me but I was one of only two others joining so took my place in the queue and headed in.
When not moderated by the presence of passengers or other pilots I’ve a nervous habit of singing under my breath when concentrating and today’s refrain, inexplicably was Oes Gafr Eto. (For those lucky enough not to know it, please don’t learn – it’s a Welsh drinking song and it sticks in your head for weeks at a time!)
Shaking that out of my ears after a tidy enough landing, I easily picked up the marshalls who directed me to a relatively close in parking spot.
I left everything in the aeroplane and via a rather wandering route to admire the other arrivals, paid my landing which also covered me for the full weekend and found my way to the landside display where there were a number of traders and three big marquees (along with significantly more food vans than last year thank goodness!)
The Y.E.S tent had a good spot near the entrance of one of the marquees and G-TSOB and G-SPDY were outside along with the always popular pedalplanes.
I acquired myself a coffee and jacket spud and settled in for an afternoon of chuckgliders and helping judge a fiercely contested colouring competition from the younger visitors! (One winner, a young lady who with a fine eye for detail had even coloured in the jury struts of the Rans!)
It’s always fun to cause chaos by being the one encouraging kids to lunch gliders across the exhibition area and dash about underfoot on retrieval missions of course! A couple of Scouts were also a great help in manning the pedalplanes and the youngsters as always picked up the model flying sim and the interactive activities quicker than the adults!
Once we’d shut up I wandered back airside to retrieve the rucksack. Not quite a symmetrical process to getting it in. This requires standing on the wing and heaving as hard as possible with your top half still stuck inside the cockpit trying not to crack your head, until you can flop the rucksack over the seats and then out and shoved off the wing onto the grass.
Dinner (which I was extremely ready for!) was a “hot fork” buffet in Hangar One, to the accompaniment of the “Amazing Bavarian Stompers” who were marvellous and quite drove Oes Gafr Eto from my ears. (Or so I thought at the time).
Getting back to the tent in the dark was a fairly entertaining experience — even a normal campsite presents a fair few traps for the unwary in guyropes and pegs. Add wings and tails and props and traffic cones into the mix and it becomes a right adventure. (The photo from Sywell’s website in the daylight gives a clue!)
TOMS, fortunately, presented a fairly recognisable silhouette, there being something of a dearth of other Tomahawks present (I only saw one, though was approached by someone who’d recently re-engined theirs and were in a very similar boat as us)
I slept like a log and was only awoken the following morning by someone bellowing to the reg out to his spotter mate on the next row back. An odd experience! I crawled out eventually to find I couldn’t see the other side of the field for fog.
Pretty in a way, and I ambled in for breakfast at the hotel, by the end of which it had cleared and people were already arriving overhead.
Other busy day on the stand with lots of interest from the youngsters and adults alike. There were enough of us helping to take turns escaping from the stand to have a look around, but as several people commented, that was a very slow process because the GA world being what it is, no one could go more than two steps without bumping into someone they knew and getting caught up in conversation!
Brilliant atmosphere and a real sense of community. It was wonderful!
The day went quickly and before I felt like I’d even turned round we were packing up for evening again and heading for another dinner. Several of us decided on the Oliver Twist option and returned to the hot buffet, plates in hand with “please can I have some more” written across our faces. Must be all that fresh air — lots of appetites.
The LAA Awards were next and there were appreciative claps and cheers all round. To general adulation Steve Noujaim had flown in, fresh from his recordbreaking Capetown flight and he presented the awards, which mostly came as little surprise – they were generally the ones people had been talking about all weekend.
Then there was more music and some fairly impressive moves from a number of members who looked capable of starting up a Strictly Come Dancing spinoff.
Talk turned to tomorrow’s weather and the general consensus was that it would be getting worse later. I decided to check again in the morning, but to make a sooner, rather than later get away. Swansea’s gone awkward about out of hours flying and I didn’t fancy having to go elsewhere if I was late getting back because of weather dodging.
Sunday arrived less misty than Saturday but with the distinctive cloud patterns warning of an incoming front — it developed like something out of a met textbook over the course of the morning, and I decided it was best to get the tent away, pick up fuel and make a move. Especially since the wind was also forecast increasing.
There was enough time in hand to make a relaxed job of getting the tent down and dryish before rolling it back up and repeating the performance with the rucksack loading.
I checked with the marshalls about coming in for fuel, made my farewells and headed to the pumps. Here there was another slight, and not unpleasant delay, because the refueller was Tom, and therefore needs must have his photo taken with G-TOMS!
Finally, at around 11ish I joined the queue of 3 or 4 at the hold for departure and was soon airborne again.
Weather was decent until about the Cotswold where it started drizzling enough that I was mopping the leaky door seals! Very glad to get over the top of the higher ground and sight Gloucester down below.
A few sunny miles following the Severn followed until the weather started to deteriorate again. Yes, as I reached Wales. Sioc fawr – sa i’n credu…
I scowled at it. Oh well, if I followed the river then the coast to Newport I could pick up the M4 and repeat the outbound track.
Or not. The rain continued to increase until even that familiar landmark was looking dubious and I was at 1200′ to keep out of the clag.
Cardiff radar who I was currently talking too, chose that moment to ask me if I was inbound which forced a decision. I asked for the Swansea weather which only confirmed the miserable outlook.
I thumbed PTT.
“Um, based on that, I am going to divert in to you,”
Great. What next? I now had the option of sticking to the coast and I could hardly miss Cardiff, but I’d never been in there before and the Pooley’s had vanished somewhere down the back behind the rucksack.
I’d had the limited foresight to keep it out, but not the sense to keep it in the front. This despite deliberately buying fuel in Sywell in case of this exact situation of being forced to divert.
I reached back, but even slipping one arm out the straps left me an inch too short. Gawd, again with the lack of dignity. Um… I checked course and level again and had a think. I could just ask of course. It was an unplanned diversion after all, I wouldn’t look that much of a muppet not knowing the procedures would I?
I grabbed the tool from its little holder, reached back and used the screwdriver end to snag the ringbound edge of the Pooley’s and flick it, pages fluttering, back into reach.
I fumbled it open at Cardiff and refreshed my memory quickly, a handful of words at a time, in between squinting through the murk and tracking the coast.
I’d been in before as a GA passenger at least, and vaguely knew the area which helped.
Cardiff cleared me to enter via the Docks and handed me over to Tower who wanted me on a left hand downwind for 12. The easiest way to achieve this with things a bit low vis and unfamiliar seemed to be stick to the seashore and turn in when I spotted the field. Tower seemed content for me to do this, calling back to confirm I was tracking the coast. I suspect they were well aware the weather was a challenge and I was playing safe.
Downwind, I ran through my checks feeling rather glad of the sight of that nice big runway and strangely comforting bright lights.
I was cleared to land and rather choked on my readback, having again been mumbling my way through Oes Gafr Eto!
I taxied in, still in the rain and filled in paperwork while hoping it would clear enough for me not to get soaked on my way into the flying club!
Coat was strapped to the wrong side of the rucksack, having not been needed all sunny weekend so more rummaging ensued before I clambered out and made a run for it.
The flying club it turned out had just stopped flying because of the weather themselves, so I paid up, and wandered upstairs for a needed coffee.
Two hours or so drifted past, whiled away with magazines from the corner of the cafe and watching the ‘big stuff’ land, throwing spray into the air from the “wet, wet, wet” runway.
Eventually the rain stopped and the cloud and mist started to lift. Once the mast reappeared I decided to go and investigate the actual weather and headed back to the flying club were they got me the METAR and TAF and I gave Swansea a call to see what it was like down there.
Cloudbase back at 2000′ and vis at 8K was the verdict. Wind 15-20kt on 10.
That’ll just about do so I thanked the club, checked about booking out and headed back outside again.
I think I rather like flying out of controlled fields, it keeps things relatively simple — someone else to tell you where to go and what to do! I got a nice easy departure via Nash point,muffed the readback of the level restriction – by an order of magnitude which caused the ATCO (once they’d extracted a correct readback from me) to comment that it would have been “something of a challenge” in a Tomahawk – then I tootled off along the taxiway, lined up at the Hold E intersection with an AranAir something-or-other lining up behind me for the full length and was cleared to takeoff ahead of him, with a right turn out to face my nose homewards.
With a now fairly substantial tailwind, the last few miles back to Swansea flashed as and I was soon joining downwind for 10 in a ridiculously flustery wind that took too much concentration to even mumble.
I made a bit of a dog’s breakfast of the first approach and would up with a very low go around. Second time I took a longer final, a stage less flap and a few more knots. This was a bit like hard work!
The touchdown itself was okay, if a shade long, and I headed in for fuel feeling fairly satisfied with things although I could have made a tidier job of the diversion, especially knowing in advance I might have needed to divert.
I really must get around to doing that IMC sometime — maybe this winter. (Though I’ve said that for the past two).
Still and all a fun weekend, lots of enjoyment, lots of mates, lots of enthusiasm, and a few challenges!