LAA Rally 2012

The summer (if you can call it that) seems to be racing by this year and already we were drawing towards the LAA Rally. I’d some while ago promised my nephew (now eight!) that we’d go camping over the summer as well as do more flying, so on the off chance there was an aircraft available I gave the club a ring. To my slight surprise there were no bookings yet on one of the Tomahawks for Saturday (weekdays are almost always fine).

Friday through Saturday it was then, and nephew was duly delivered to me Thursday night along with a quantity of luggage that suggested we were going up the Himalayas for a month.  I emptied the lot onto the floor, worked out was was actually needed for the overnight at Sywell and repacked all but the sleeping bag and booster seat into my own rucksack.

Troy followed my instructions to draw the lines on the chart, read the numbers off the ruler and protractor and hunted out the spot heights along the route as I surreptiously entered the same route into RunwayHD.

The arrival information had been perused, digested and a few sheets printed, but it was basically the same as last time I went which I’d mentally summarised as:

1. Fly to Pitsford reservoir.
2. Fly round it in a square until you see a sensible gap between you and the aircraft heading off in front of you.
3. Join on a sort of massively extended left base if it’s 03 or a wide-ish right downwind if it’s 21.
4. Keep your gob shut unless you’re on final or on fire.
5. Park where the blokes in orange tell you to.

Friday couldn’t have been better weather for flying and we bussed it out to the airfield and loaded G-BLWP (pronounced as a word – ‘Blwp’ with a Welsh ‘w-as-vowel-sound’ by almost everyone at the club to Troy’s delighted amusement – he was heard several times over the weekend calling across the field “Blwp!  Where are you, Blwp!” as we tried to find our way back to the right parking spot!)

The takeoff could kindly be described as leisurely.  With full fuel and the (albeit stripped down) lugagge and clobber BLWP did not exactly leap into the air.  Once up though the rate of climb was good and we were soon en route.  Troy helping informing me I was going the wrong way as I turned first south out of the circuit before taking up my planned heading!

Cardiff and Gloucester were both busy but gave us a Basic service. Troy was busily watching the landmarks we’d agreed in our evening planning session and once we were safely over the slight bumpiness of the hills and on a straight line route for Pitsford he flew the majority of the leg.

I was rather taken aback by how similar his flying was to the various non-pilot adults who I’ve let take the controls on various trips. A certain amount of weaving about for the first few minutes with an extra hand needed on the controls reducing to a verbal “you’re climbing” to prompt corrections and then he was more or less straight and level and aiming for the various “pointy hills” or “grey clouds” up ahead as aiming points.

I got rid of Gloucester and listened out to Birmingham with their squawk for the purpose for a while before changing to Sywell to get the info for arriving. I took back control as we approached Pitsford and Troy was issued with the instructions to pipe up only if there was a problem or he saw another aeroplane.

In fact we were one of only two at the reservoir and followed a tiny open cockpit taildragger who was aiming for the grass while we landed close on his heels for the hard.

Another of Troy’s previous nights jobs had been to prepare the piece of paper to contain “A large F to be displayed by aircraft requiring fuel” The fact it was slightly wobbly and coloured in several shades of red green and yellow felt-tip did not seem to put off the marshallers who directed us to a friendly welcome from the refuelers.

Back on board and a swap to a (purple and blue) C for Camping and we taxyed onwards to find ourselves parked near the grass runway in one of the backmost rows. The marshaller leaned over the wing as I opened the doors to explain there was no dedicated parking and if we wanted to move closer into a gap later on it would be fine.

I deliberated but decided on the whole I couldn’t be bothered!

Troy was ready for lunch so unpacking and encamping was put off for the moment as we went to see what the site offered in terms of food. First stop – back at the refullers office which was also landing fees/entrance. Troy was pleased with his red Pilots Pass and read out loud the safety briefing sheet handed to him by the airside access team from MKAS.

“Propellors bite! – I know!” he said as we reached that detail about not touching, and in fact he was right, that exact phrase is one of The Rules about family flying…

  1. Don’t Wander Off
  2. Propellors Bite
  3. No Beeping Buttons

Chips and an really rather outrageously large sausage from one of the burgers vans kept him busy while I said my hellos around the YES stand and we sat lunching and keeping an eyeball on the Rans and pedal planes outside the homebuilders tent with which YES were sharing.

I suspect I was not quite as much help on the YES stand as I might have been, being rather occupied with the explorations of an eight year old, but he certainly enjoyed it!

In and out of the Tomahawk ‘simulator’ – a recovered airframe, recscued from mouldering in the brambles to be turned into a trailable demonstrator with with moveable control surfaces, a fitted out cockpit and a little motor to turn a dummy prop.

In and out of the Rans.

In and out of the pedal planes (including something of a mishap in the little SPitfire which required intervention with spanner and screwdriver to reattach the tailwheel steering…)

Foam plate gliders, paper stomp rockets, keylights DIY torches…

All around the parking area finding the coolest or funniest or cutest aeroplanes.  (Highlight to the eight-year-old mind – The Startled Fart, a Wilga…)

Dancing it up in Hangar One…

I on the other hand was busily chatting away nineteen to the dozen – the Rally being the kind of event where you walk five yards, meet someone you know, natter for a while then walk another ten yards, meet someone…  Two people also approached while we were at the aeroplane because they’r learned to fly in BLWP!

Tea for Troy was (more) sos and chips, this time in  the Pilot’s Mess which led to the one disappointment of the weekend – I wish I’d joined him instead of going for the ‘hot buffet’ in Hangar One later because it was frankly dreadful – spuds you could have knocked someone out with at fifty paces!

Once we were both suitably knackered it was back to the tent where I found myself telling bedtime stories about the Headless Pilot of Sywell Aerodrome, followed by Troy’s sequel which saw said unhappy fellow reunited with his lost head…

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Breakfast the next morning was cereal while perched on the wing watching the earliest of the arrivals.

Saturday was a bit briskier and with a bit of drizzly cloud and a substantial headwind forecast for the westernmost leg I didn’t want to dawdle too late into the afternoon before leaving.

We packed up tents and tiedowns after lunch.  In order to give myself space to do this unhurried, Troy was despatched with my kneeboard and some scrap paper to sit at the runway’s edge and write down registrations of all the aircraft he could see.  He was happy enough to do this, since there were tons of adult spotters around doing the same – handy diversion!

Back to the marquees to say goodbyes (and chat with several more people I’d missed the first time round!) and for Troy to spend the last of his spending money on an airfix kit and me mine on a few aviation themed Christmas presents (Troy not being the youngest of the nephews and nieces to be in line for a dose of ‘aeroplanes are cool’!)

The queue for departure was about ten aircraft long but flowing well when we joined it and I only chuckled a little tiny bit at Sywell Info’s request that I ‘expedite’ my departure for one on final, thinking back to the stately progress into the air I’d had back at Swansea!

I threw a glance over my shoulder as we climbed away and no one appeared to be going around behind me so we must have managed to clear off quickly enough!

Once up it was amazing how quickly that long queue of aircraft was scattered to their different directions and we again had the sky practically to ourselves.

Gloucester were still busy when we called them and asked that we inform them of any altitude changes which focussed my attention somewhat as I do have a slight tendency to drift in the vertical.  Troy was asking to fly again so once we finished with Gloucester and we’re established en track to Swansea I let him take it.

The headwinds, as forecast were strong and with our groundspeed decaying the GPS ETA for Swansea was creeping steadily backwards.

Descending in the hopes of getting out of the worst of it however put us in the bumps and lumps where it whisked over the hills and poor old BLWP was shaken about in that odd tailwagging shuffle that Tomahawks seem to adopt in turbulence.  Made more noticeable no doubt by an extra 100RPM or so to try and get a bit more airspeed.

“Shall I fly for a while?  It’s a bit bumpy.” I asked.

“I’ve got it,” Troy came back airly.  “BLWP is being a bit naughty but I just wait until after the bumps and then make her go straight again.”

I was slightly taken aback by this as a response since ‘go with it and try and maintain some approximation of heading and altitude’ is pretty much my own whole strategy for dealing with turbulence in any case.  So I kept a cautious hand near the controls and a wary eye on our attitude and speed and let him get on with it.

The ETA had settled down in any case, to something less likely to have us rushing in at the last minute.

Nevertheless it was with a small amount of relief that I saw the coast slide into view and we crossed into the still air over the sea and across Swansea Bay.

Oystermouth Castle (the next day’s job!) appeared off the starboard wingtip as I took back control to slip us into a left base for 28 behind a solitary motor glider that was our only companion in the circuit.

It was flustery here too but we were down in good time and then all that remained was to park up and face the task of unloading!

I just wish I didn’t have a nagging suspicion that Troy’s first words to his new teacher when asked what he did over the holidays will be, “I saw an aeroplane called The Startled Fart”…


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