January flying

Too windy to fly today on the 1st of Feb – the washing line is flapping vigorously that my dripping towels are beating against the kitchen window!

So a good time to update on the blog front. Only two flights this month (this year!).

The first on a much awaited perfect winter day, clear and still with the visibility to see snow capped Pen-y-Fan within minutes of taking off.

Perfect weather for getting back up to speed after a weather-Christmas-weather-illness layoff of over a month. Not that I did very much productive with it! I’d been the airfield the previous day which had proved a bit too windy but spent that cleaning and lubricating and WD40ing away the signs of cold and damp from the aircraft and making good the signs of wind and water on the hangar.

Today I was feeling less dutiful and more like exploring. Christmas telly had supplied the prompt – in all my local flying I’d never really looked at some of the local landmarks properly, so today I was off to hunt for Caerleon’s Roman amphitheatre.

It was deceivingly mild on the ground but I puffed into my flying-duvet nevertheless as I planned at least an hour up and, in spite of the sun, frost still lay in the shady corners of the field.

The sun had brought everyone out and after a long slow warmup and the taxy up the hill to the cabin I needed to wait for two arrivals before the runway was free. One of these, John, had a shiny new camera lens and caught some nice shots of my departure.

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I’d made use of RunwayHD’s postcode database and Google Maps overlay to mark a waypoint on the location of the amphitheatre itself and it was clearly visible on the aerial imagery. Nevertheless I was practically on top of it by the time I got myself properly oriented and eyes on it. I think I may do this landmark hunting more often on local flights with no other particular purpose – I was similarly slow to pinpoint the Parc Penallt pit pony on the way to Leicester at the end of last year, not to mention numerous grass strips! Seems like it’s a skill that would bear practising!

I circled once to take some snaps, watching the little figures exploring the remains from the ground down below and not wanting to impose my two-stroke din for too long on what they probably had planned as a quiet Sunday outing.

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Amphitheatre, barracks (top of picture, right of rugby ground and below football ground) and part of the original fort wall (right of amphitheatre with curved corner)

By now it was distinctly chilly and the fact I’d loitered on the ground for one more coffee prior to heading off, was revealed as a less than wise choice. I scratched the idea of taking a more northerly route home and contented myself with looking at the snow from afar as I headed back with as much speed as Rhubarb could muster!

In the hour and a half I’d been out the wind had picked up and the first landing of the year was to a distinct crosswind which at least focussed my attention on the job at hand and not the now really rather pressing other matter…

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The next January hop was much shorter and again crosswind but a lot lumpier and bumpier with a gusty westerly whisking across the field. With this in mind I headed west to let it carry me home when I was done, rather than beating against it.

The flights before Christmas had been ‘going places’ and the one since a sightseer so I wanted to brush up on handling in general. There were a few people out and about including another X’Air owned by one of my former share-mates in G-TOMS and I wasn’t quite sure where everyone was, not least because the Old Park calls were the least of the traffic on SafetyCom today – it seemed like the entirety of north Devon had taken wing at once!

I did a gentle 360 staring about me to see if I had space and clear air for some steep turns and had just spotted what I thought was probably the other X’Air when I heard confirmation from Gwyn that he had me visual. He seemed to be following the coast as well, some way behind me.

I climbed and turned inland for the separation to do some steep stuff, but instead spent some time distracted by the big fluffy clouds. A few minutes around and over and under and between them, racing the X’Air’s own glory-ringed shadow before the cold encouraged me to glide back down to warmer altitudes!

Pity I left all the electronics on charge at home today, it was very pretty even in the cold!

The first few 60degree/2G turns in both directions were sloppy sloppy sloppy, height keeping and airspeed all over the shop. Again then. And again. The fifth and sixth to the left were neat enough, wingtip pinned to the ground and the X’Air jumping in her own wake as I came through a full turn. Turns to the right I’m usually less neat on but took fewer attempts to make presentable this time.

What next?

PFLs.

Hmm, not there though, the beach was almost cheating and the Neath valley cluttered.

Back east then, over the nice flat divvied up fields of the Vale.

First one was spot on so I did another from lower down to check it wasn’t an utter fluke. Nope, this at least seems to have been hardwired into my hands and feet for now. I had enough time on the approach to notice the nonplussed sheep watching me pass over the undershoot.

I climbed away happy, but I was leeward of the strip now though, where I hadn’t planned originally to be and so fuel considerations sent me heading back.

The approach this time was not just crosswind it was rough and a very low and late bit of rotor from the trees on short final had me whapping the stick hard over to recover as the into-wind wing lifted uncommanded and with a certain amount of vigour! I gave it a fistful of power for good measure and a few seconds of considering a go around. Probably I should have seen that coming. The wind does curl over there in every strong westerly. In any case it smoothed out immediately after and before I’d finished deciding to go around so I didn’t. Instead I landed a tad longer than usual (though not long enough that I didn’t, as usual, need to put power back on to get up the hill!)

Gwyn arrived back before I’d shut down and I let the engine idle and cool as I watched him land. His approach almost a duplicate of mine, the rocking in the wind, the sudden, brief sink caught with power and a slightly displaced touchdown.

Old Park was making us all pay attention today!

40 minutes today but to fly two weekends on the trot at this time of year counts as winning in my book!

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