Belated both in the opportunity to take him flying and in the posting!
The spring appeared to have finally arrived and in spite of a brisk crosswind the sky was cloudless and the morning warm. I’d arranged to fly down to Haverfordwest to finally take my oldest nephew for an X’Air trip and Nick was amenable to sharing the flying there and back so out to the field we went nice and prompt and early.
It was something of a surprise then to make an almost-second-thought call to Haverfordwest before leaving only to hear that they had vis of 8K and cloudbase at 800 foot.
My bogglement must have been obvious even over the phone because they went on to explain that people had been calling up and turning back all morning.
Pembrokeshire microclimate in full force.
Rather nonplussed we debated what to do instead. Fly west? Gloucester again? Local? Eventually Nick suggested we phone Pembrey. If nothing else it would give us an idea how far west the clag started and whether it was worth waiting to see if it cleared.
Pembrey was indeed clear and the new plan became, Pembrey, breakfast, then seeing if the warming day had shifted H’ford’s murk.
Nick flew the first leg and as we bounced about over the trees over climate it became clear that the day was indeed not quite as benign as it’d looked from the ground.
An ugly smear of inversion grey obscured the horizon and I was glad of the sunnies to add some filtering of the haze.
We tracked north of the field and followed the coast around past Burry port while watching an aerobatic pair of RVs cavorting over the Loughor estuary.
Being in the Pembrey circuit with my nose pointed at the castle always makes me smile on a return visit to where I first learned this flying lark and even in the murk and crosswind it was nice. A helicopter was our only companion in the circuit somewhere behind us.
On the ground we were greeted by a friend of Nick’s but in the cafe suddenly realised it was Sunday and it was cavery or nothing.
Being forced to scoff a full SUnday dinner however, was not exactly what anyone could reasonably described as a hardship and we were soon tucking in.
After dinner entertainment was supplied by a rather foot stompy shouty R/C model flyer objecting to the helicopter being ‘low’ over the top of them.
Me and Nick exchanged looks. Low? He’d been the same height as us to the extent that we were scanning left right and centre concerned about being on converging tracks. Circuit height at the absolute lowest.
As dinner went down I tried Haverfordwest again. A few dawdled hours had made the difference and they were now under blue, if hazy skies, albeit with the wind bang on directly and symmetrically between all possible runways!
This was my leg and I coaxed and caught the engine into clattering life to warm up before backtracking out to the end of 22.
The haze was sufficient that I tracked due west until I could pick up the Haven and follow it north, rather than have a guess at the wind and spend the whole flight vaguely uncertain about when a familiar landmark was going to pop up. Not textbook navigating I know, but the slant visibility was rubbish whereas the sun was catching the Cleddau from miles and miles out and it was too tempting an easy target!
Approaching from the south I slotted in downwind and was happily of top of things right up until about five foot above the ground…
I’m still not sure whether it was a gust or whether I just had been a bit early getting the crab off without lowering the wing properly but in any case what initially felt okay was suddenly a really rather vigorous nose up and rolling right kind of affair.
Undoubtedly I should have gone around, and had started to reopen the throttle but instead I sort of ballooned yards along the runway and caught the descent rate in time to arrive with an undignified squealing of tyres but all parts still attached.
Apologising profusely to both Nick and Rhubarb for the worst landing I’ve had in years, cross with myself that I hadn’t gone around, and aware it was probably more luck than judgement that I hadn’t broken anything, I decided instantly that today was not a passenger day unless the wind calmed down or came round really quite a bit.
The ‘wall of noise’ in the form of the two oldest nephews and the only niece were shouting and waving from the fence as we went to say hello and extract the free landing coupon from its electronic form (I’d forgotten to get the paper one in advance).
Haverfordwest never changes much and there was some catching up and chitchat about the weird weather to do before joining the others in the cafe garden for coffee and catch up there, where the kids seem to have appropriated Nick as an honorary uncle.
By the time they’d told my everything about their week, and eaten (or not) chips and sausage and beans and pelted all over the garden it was time to make a go-no-go decision.
The wind was no better in terms of direction but had dropped maybe five knots or so and was steadier.
A certain number of pillows were needed to sit Troy high enough for the straps to be of any use and I got him secured before moving to the front of the aircraft to pull the prop through.
This caused a wide eyed outraged scowl of disapproval because I’ve always always played the ‘Never touch propellers, they bite’ card to the hilt! So there was a 10-year-old level Rotax brief on whys and wherefores and “really even Rhubarb’s prop could bite, I do it very very carefully!”
We recapped The Rules, but he’s flown enough in other aircraft to recite them. (It’s “No beeping buttons, no talking if the radio is talking, no talking when Leia’s landing or taking off unless you see another aeroplane”)
The out we went. The ‘no talking’ doesn’t apply during taxy and he was awash with questions and comments.
“Which way is Nana’s house on the map?” I asked, pointing out the airfield and Milford.
Concentrating quiet ensued for a few second along with muttering and finger pointing around the edges of the map.
“South and a bit west.”
I ran through the powerchecks before checking he was still happy and then out onto the runway and up.
Rhubarb uses no space at all on tarmac and I could soon glance across to see all was progressing happily.
A beam. “Awesome!”
Good word. It seems to be the favourite among younger passengers!
We crossed Haverfordwest.
“Where’s you school?” I asked.
“I’m not sure. I think it’s in Pembrokeshire.”
Hmm, yes I was hoping for more detail than that!
“Is it near Tesco?” I seemed to remember this from the occasional ridealong on the school run.
“Yes, right by it!”
“I think I can see it.” I turned above the yard.
“Can you see? The big huge building with the Tesco sign and the building in a square round the yard?”
his answer was a slightly doubtful yes, but I didn’t want to linger over the town so took his word for it.
“Which way is Nana’s house?”
“Can you see the SW there on the compass? So that’s where we’re going.”
I flew in the indicated direction as Troy chattered about sheep (about a hundred in one field apparently) and windmills and what “might be cows”.
We circled briefly over my mum’s house and then headed back as time was ticking on.
Once trimmed and pointing the right way and having discussed the direction again I gave him the stick to follow the river occasionally nudging at throttle or rudder to keep things from getting too out of shape. In fairness he had the hang of it fairly soon, and doesn’t lack confidence in correctly if he spots it banking when he hadn’t planned to.
Approaching the field I took control again and offered a few ‘steeper’ turns. (‘steep’ meaning 30 degrees in this case, as I’d been being fairly cautious until now.)
“That was cool! You can see right down!”
I grinned. “That’s what I like to!”
Back in the circuit and the running commentary (“Is that solar panels.” “I think those are horses” “I can see the windsock” “Is that a runway too?”) kept up until base leg where he observed The Rules and piped down.
“It might be a bit bumpy over the trees” I warned him.
I stayed a bit higher this time though, landing a shade deeper and with considerably less drama – though it still wasn’t ideal. I was left wondering whether grass is all that so much more forgiving of crosswind landings than tarmac or whether we’d had less crosswinds at Old Park than it seemed. Something to work on!
We taxyed in and climbed out, all smiles.
A quick refuel was briefly delayed when Nick had A Moment with the airside fence resulting in a minor loss of dignity and a certain amount of amusement for onlookers!
The smaller nephew was now dead keen to fly as well, so is on a promise!
Nick’s leg again for the trip back so I enjoyed the view and the fact for the first time this year my toes weren’t actually numb with cold at the end of a flying day!