After weeks of wild and wet weather it was only the fear of the wind swinging round to a direction which would threaten our still partly open hangar that had kept me even glancing at the forecast.
This week though there was a pleasant surprise and a distinct gap in the forecast. Sunday looked like it should be positively springlike!
We’d been down the airfield on Saturday doing some pre-permit jobs on the aircraft including trying to fix the increasingly intermittent EGT gauge. This was an undignified process at best – I may have mentioned it before when troubleshooting some other item on the panel but getting under there to check anything requires lying half in, half out of the pod – backside on the seat, shoulders on the floor and feet hanging out, kicking in mid air over the strut.
And then realising you’ve stranded yourself and ‘left your arms behind’ when really you should have should have got them in under there first… And now you can’t get even one hand past your own face without coming all the way back out again.
And the pulling and reconnecting of wires didn’t seem to have helped anyway. Grr. (But better news later…)
In any case, Sunday looked highly promising and I’d soon jumped on the offer of a lift over from John, nice and early, since Nick was busy in the morning.
Finally finally a nice crisp morning! Morning mist was lifting and the slight frost had at least hardened the runway surface slightly. We did a good search along it to check for windblown debris – there’s been a certain amount of damage to several hangars and one more complete collapse! A bit of jumping up and down and looking for wet patches left us fairly happy it was usable, at any rate for a little X’Air and the Skyranger.
One of the QuikR pilots was also gearing up for a flit but John in the Skyranger was first off as soon as we’d got the utterly limp windsock up!
I gave Gloucester a quick call to let them know I was coming, put a quick scribble of my intentions in the cabin logbook, then I was out and starting up. This took two attempts – I was a bit too quick coming off the choke. It was cold! I went to the beach before turning onto track, concerned that too early a turn would carry me over the one local we’ve been asked to avoid.
I had planned an almost straight line, taking in a look over the strips at Abergavenny and Eastbach Farm as points of interest for a day when the ground was drier.
After a few miles and approaching Taf Ely, I switched to Cardiff and gave them a call for a Basic service. Radio was crackly today and they couldn’t really hear me well enough to want me to linger, but at least it was working more or less – they could hear me (at Readability 4 anyway). The airframe aerial is one of the ‘little jobs’ we haven’t done yet and the handheld is just using the rubber duck still.
I checked the next frequency for Gloucester and scanned around the instruments – hmm. EGT has come partly back to life. Interesting. Still lower on the left by a hopefully unrealistic amount but definitely alive. Is it possible my replugging everything had worked and we just hadn’t got it hot enough on the ground to properly test?
I returned my attention to the outside world, mulling this over.
This was only the second flight with new sunglasses and having never used sunglasses when flying at all, I was amazed by the difference. Not just the reduced glare but it really helped reduce the effect of the haze as well. I’ve been missing a trick… (Gosh they’re dark inside though – might get a lighter tint next time)
A few miles north east of Pontypridd there was a particularly fine open hilltop and I couldn’t resist seeing if it would make as good a forced landing field as it seemed. Gently closing the throttle and less gently lowering the nose to keep the speed up. No untoward wires or livestock in my choice of field this time, but still needed an almighty sideslip to be in with a chance (what little wind there was was across the field with hindsight). Remote enough spot to take it down below 100′ and I was fairly confident it would have worked.
Potching after the fact with the track informs me the field I’d picked was 1.1nm from the track I’d been following and 2000′ below me. That is not a tremendously large amount of space and options!
I climbed away and once settled back on track in the cruise glanced across the instruments again.
Hmmm. I never know whether to be happy or not when things ‘fix themselves. Still. It’s working.
Next waypoint was Abergavenny and I wanted to spot the strip not blaze over the top of it, so I was watching for the town and the road. I new vaguely from Google Maps what I was looking for – but was taken aback just quite how narrow it is – not to mention close to the trees that line the road! Possibly in reality it’s no narrower than Old Park and it’s the increased length that gives that illusion of course!
I bore right and headed for Monmouth and from there the twists and curves of the river made Eastbach easy to spot, perched up on the hill with the forest beyond. Very attractive looking spot – definitely on the agenda for drier ground days.
I dipped south around it, keeping it in sight though no one seemed to be moving there today. Really too wet perhaps.
It was time to start thinking about talking to Gloucester and I located the ATIS and scribbled down the info before changing to Approach to listen out. No point calling until a lot closer with the rubber duck on the go and ‘five miles or five minutes’ are about the same at X’Air speeds anyway!
I generally call around the ‘bends in the river’ and that landmark was about the last point where the river was still largely within its banks. Closer to the town it was extremely soggy. The airfield seemed largely unaffected though and the sun had brought everyone out – it was chokka block.
I called up with just callsign and the ATIS (November) which reduced chitchat to the minimum, since all they needed was position, altitude and altimeter setting. The radio crackle seemed to have subsided anyway.
I was handed over to Tower at 3 miles and asked for the usual overhead join (22R). At some point in this process I managed to have a complete and total flashback and called in with one of the Swansea club aircraft callsigns (Bouncing BOMO!). Quickly correcting myself before too much confusion could occur, I carried out and was fairly pleased with the landing itself, though a bit more preparation on my part might have clued me that my turn the runway was miles down and I could have aimed rather further in!
Quick request, got me directed to the Flying Shack which I’d heard a lot about but not yet visited. I paused on the taxiway outside. Had there been some discussion on a forum about wet grass? Hmm. Quick call revealed no problems with getting on the grass so I trundled on and turned round before shutting down and extracting myself to go about the process of clambering out of the “mobile-duvet” flying suit and stamping life back into my toes.
Coffee was the most essential first stop so I headed inside, met on the grass by a Flyer forumite ‘morticiaskeeper’ who’d recognised the aircraft. I was soon introduced and suitably caffinated and the Shack living up to its friendly reputation. They sorted out the landing fee, showed me the briefing room for when I was ready to leave and after some chitchat, I was offered a lift round to the Jet Age museum where a friend from YES was, as usual, surrounded by excited kids. On this occasion, in the process of being helped in and out of a Hunter cockpit.
Lunch at the Shack (massive sausage baguette) and then I decided to head out for a walk on my second ‘mission’ of the day, to drop off the geocaching travelbug. I made more of a meal of finding the cache than was entirely necessary, put off by a dodgy clue (that’s never a hollow log!) and even got caught in the act by another cacher at one stage. But eventually I found the right hidey hole and deposited the bug. There’s loads of local caches – must come back with the nephew to snag a few more. (He’s better at finding them than me, albeit even less subtle about it…)
One advantage of the failure of searching skills was that the queue of departing aircraft had largely dispersed by the time I arrived back and once I’d made my farewells and booked out, I only needed to wait for one landing aircraft before I could make my getaway. Before leaving I snagged some leaflets to stick up at Old Park – not enough people know how welcome the little ones like us are at Gloucester!
Climbing out and pointing my nose to the west I took a last look at the flooded fields below – a line of pylons marched through the water, casting shadows even of the wires, sharp and clear on the wet fields.
If the light conditions were like this every time I did a PFL I’d never make a mistake…
I took a more or less direct route home, but found it interesting looking at the track. You can almost see the thought bubble above my head as I dislike the forest beneath me and weave from gap to gap!
The flight was slow into the headwind but the visibility had improved from the morning and I was making acceptable progress, with frequent checks on the fuel state at every likely diversion point. Gloucester is about the edge of the range if you want to land with 10 litres left (40 mins). On a windier day I’d have needed to partake of their UL91.
I was just crossing the last ridge before the ground dropped to the sea and had turned to eyeball the fuel (transparent tanks behind the seat) when there was just the suggestion of a drop in revs. Not dramatic. But just enough to hear and not planned and ever so attention-getting. I spun back round from my craning to check the fuel one more time, my eyes flying from the RPM gauge, to the instruments, to the field I’d had my eye on a few minutes ago, while my hand leapt to the throttle.
Which is when I realised that of course I’d just elbowed the flipping thing while twisting to check the fuel hadn’t I! Muppet. Well that got the adrenaline flowing nicely for the last leg anyway.
I detoured to the beach for neighbourliness and finished off with a slightly fast and flat but gentle enough landing.
Nick was already waiting to grab the fuel can and get another flight in himself so I didn’t even had to faff putting the aircraft away. Lovely!
It was thoroughly enjoyable to go somewhere for a change, haven’t landed away for a while,
Here’s hoping we get a few more decent days before winter’s end,