It was a bit of a last minute decision to go to the LAA Rally this year. It always seems to coincide with the Shoreham Airshow and I’d been toying with the idea of trying to get down there and see the two Lancasters together – until one of them swallowed a cog anyway!
So it was back to the original plan and a last minute slot booking on Friday evening. I hadn’t flown in on the Saturday before so wasn’t sure of the traffic levels, but the procedure had always worked okay before.
It was however going to be a rather longer trip in the little X’Air than the various Tomahawks I’d taken before. 2:30 hours said the GPS and I can’t sit still that long even though with a tailwind the fuel might last. And at the tail end of a chilly August I suspected I might be in need of a warming cuppa too!
So I decided to drop in on a friend, Dave and his TriPacer at Oaksey.
I’d spent some time in company with another friend John trying to get the radio back working in Rhubarb and after some aerial connectors changes this seemed to have done the trick as Cardiff for the first time in ages came back immediately with a “Pass your message” instead of a warning about my unreadability!
I’d planned a route almost due east to the Old Severn Bridge and Cardiff watched out all the way, warning me of an opposite direction PA28 below me and handing me over with full details to Bristol as I reached the border.
Bristol were having less success as shortly after my first exchange with them they started to really struggle to make themselves readable to anyone. It seemed they were able to hear okay but the transmissions were a garbled squall. I hopped it en-route to Oaksey as soon as was reasonable.
I’d hoped the turbulence would ease a bit once past the Welsh hills but it was still lumpy as I approached Oaksey – after spending a certain amount of time eyeballing Charlton Park and wondering why I couldn’t make the picture fit…
Usefully, for Oaksey, I had geo-reffed noise abatement diagrams on the GPS (RunwayHD today) which was massively impressive and useful! I nipped over the wires (which can’t possibly be taller than Old Park’s but, standing on level ground not in a valley, did look it! I dawdled on final, suddenly unable to remember whether or not I’d read anything about the white barrels at the runways edge – was that the threshold? Or just some warning about a bump? In any case I landed beyond them – it’s not as though Rhubarb needs even a fraction of the length!
I parked by the club where Dave waved a hello as I leaned by head out to check this was an okay parking spot. Not another aeroplane was to be seen outside.
Coffee was welcome and soon forthcoming as I warmed my fingers around the cup and had a rest from the bouncing! The wind might have been on my tail for once but it wasn’t half stirring the air about! Chilly too. It’ll soon be time to break out the insulated suit again (I’d already added the thermal undies!)
I stayed long enough for a catchup and to look over the newly recovered TriPacer before heading out. Dave commented that they hadn’t heard me coming in and a radio check did indeed confirm I was inaudible to them. But Cardiff and Bristol had been fine. Odd. I decided to carry on. The non-radio procedure at Sywell was essentially the same as the radio one and if I was to have to fix anything then that was a better place to be doing it.
So off I went. I couldn’t see an obvious LARS unit to try next which was a pity since there was an enormous nav warning about parachutes bang on track. I opted to listen (perfectly clearly) to Little Rissington assuming they’d hear about it if anything was imminent. They sounded really busy themselves so I decided against trying out my possibly (again) dodgy radio just yet.
Once past Banbury I tuned in Sywell and waited for the first info broadcast. (And at least one would be arrival who hadn’t read the notam!)
I arrived at Pitsford and scoured the skies for other traffic. None to be seen which seemed unlikely but I headed off nonetheless, eyes everywhere but with a bit of a focus on my 4 and 8 o’clock where any faster traffic was likely to turn up. I was in no danger of catching everyone ahead of me even running at substantially higher than cruise power to make 80mph!
In fact I was over taken by two who either didn’t see me or couldn’t slow down adequately. In the first case I slowed further down myself to expedite him getting ahead of me. After the second passed I followed them round, keeping just inside them to not lose too much ground and get caught up again!
I turned final with one touching down and one ahead, and a flexwing closing fast behind me. I called the single required call and got a “land at your discretion” – radio working then!
I had a quite substantial angle of crab on and switched to wingdown at the last moment for a one wheel but tidy crosswind landing. One of my better ones in the X’Air.
I cleared off the runway sharpish – I might be slow on approach but I can land short enough to get off quick – and picked up the marshaller. He greeted me, to my astonishment with, “This is new, weren’t you in a Tomahawk last year?”
I left Rhubarb where she was with a jerry can and a bag of tiedowns as improvised chocks – I wanted fuel but not in the middle of the current scrum, and anyway I wanted to take up the offer of moving closer once departure had made some space before camping!
First visit was the ladies and coffee but the moment I walked into Hangar One I was hailed by the usual YES crew plus Phil Hall of LAA about to have a good chinwag about youth aviation and what’s new and upcoming and needs doing. I grabbed a hasty coffee and brought it to join them. All looks very optimistic I have to say! I wasn’t helping on the stand this year, wanting some time to relax and wander but it was good to hear such positive stuff from LAA again.
I didn’t do much exploring of the stands through the afternoon. Every few yards was a stop-and-chat. I did wander the aircraft parking, first with some of the regular from Devon and Cornwall who it’s always lovely to see, and then with PaulS who’d brought a pal taking some photos.
I pointed out Rhubarb to him.
“Oh,” he said “It looks like a–”
I jumped across him. “Now choose your next word carefully!” (I have a little list of banned ones, currently including ‘kite’, ‘tent’, ‘lawnmower’, ‘wardrobe’, ‘sewing machine’)
“-helicopter,” he finished and I subsided. “But with wings instead of a rotor.”
Around 3ish we returned to the Flyer stand where I chatted more and matched a few more names-and-aeroplanes with faces before heading out to sort fuel and tent. A marshaller I collared on the way promised to find me a good space while I did the fuel and a helpful fuel chap sorted me out with the self service pumps for a double helping of mogas.
Brimful, I taxied out to the waiting marshaller who got me a mere three rows back where I unpacked tent and clobber and set up for the night before returning to Hanger One in search of food. A good evening of chitchat and a certain amount of cider before it was time to return to tent.
Only one sortie to the facilities was needed in the dark – that cider! But morning came too soon with sunlight on the tent. I roused slowly, finally driven all the way from bed by the first arrivals.
I gathered up various electronic devices and chargers and went in search of somewhere with coffee and electric to breakfast! The wind had not abated as forecast and I was keen to not leave it too late to leave as I’d be going back straight into it.
I did have time to have a look around though. Picked up some odds and sods and two new air filters for the 582 that perched atop Rhubarb’s wings. No massive deals but saved the postage at least.
I packed up and returned for a final check on the wind situation (which turned into a series of long conversations as I bumped into all the people I hadn’t already met that weekend, including the Old Park farmer!)
I finally got airborne at 13:30 with Gloucester as the planned fuel stop. It was bumpy again, and at least some of it must have been thermals as there wasn’t the terrain here to do it. The gliders must have been having a whale of a time, and there were plenty of them. A competition in the vicinity of Gloucester focussed the mind and I decided on a more northerly track in to avoid the worst of it, though I did see two or three.
Another topup. UL91 this time from a refueller who couldn’t do enough to help, even carting the can back to the aircraft for me and Gloucester’s usual friendly reception. A quick sarnie with some of the Swansea pilots who’d stopped in for fuel from somewhere else entirely and a help from Mike who I’d missed spotting at the Rally itself but who’s based at Gloucester! Small world GA!
16:30 I was up again and finally the air had smoothed out and I had a very easy run home, only to arrive once I got there with a rubbish bounce of a landing! Oh well. I’m going to call “tired” on that one!
Good weekend away all told. A new spot to visit in Oaksey and a lot of friendly GA activity all round!