Absolutely brilliant! Arrived at Stoke at about 9.15am and it all seemed rather quiet. Ken was already there loading a couple of jerry cans and a few other bits and pieces onto his trolley to take across to the aircraft but there seemed to be few other signs of activity. Then a gyro started up and while we were getting the X’air, ‘Papa Whiskey’ or ‘PW’ for short, ready to go, it took off from runway 24 and started to fly a number of tight circuits with some incredible, almost hovering approaches. They are amazing things those gyros!
It took us a little while to get the covers off and pull PW across to the parking area at the top end of the runway. In the meantime things began to bustle and a few now familiar faces began to turn up, all getting ready for whatever flying exploits they had planned for today. This is such a big part of the flying club atmosphere and it’s what was so missing at Linton. Add to that Bob’s temperamental outbursts and you soon see why Linton is such a lovely but dead location to fly from and why Ken, Peter and I decided to make the move to Stoke. I don’t regret it and now they see the difference, I’m sure they don’t either.
I hadn’t told Ken exactly what I’d got planned for us but as he said he’d like to do up to 1 hour 45 minutes, I’d put together a flight taking us over the Thames to Essex, around past the Dartford Bridge and then on a roughly southerly heading down past Sevenoaks and Tonbridge and then back to Stoke via Linton. Here’s a pic of the route which, as we wouldn’t have a GPS on board, I’d chosen because I was already familiar with it having flown all of it at various times in MYRO, and because it could be flown without a chart (proven in practice actually when we did it) on account of the really strong visual indicators and landmarks incorporated in it.
Despite having stood outside under covers for over 5 weeks, PW started on the button. It’s radio, an old Icom A3 with Comunica interface and headsets, is a bit temperamental and it took a little bit of fiddling with volume and squelch controls to get it performing reasonably well. We also got a response of ‘readability 3’ when we requested a radio check and we’ve decided that if possible, next week-end we’ll do a reinstall of the comms set up and fit the power socket for the GPS in an attempt to kill two birds with one stone. Just before we started to taxi, Rosie’s Icarus, G-OROS, came into land, but not with her on board unfortunately. Anyway, we took off at around 10.30am and while we were climbing out, I handed over to Ken because the idea is for him to get a few hours in and become familiar with PW before pushing on with Chris, the CFI at Stoke, to get his licence.
Ken did a good job and with him at the controls, I was able to take a few still shots while we were flying along the northern legs of our route. The first one was taken as we approached the Lakeside Shopping Centre with the Thames and the Dartford Bridge in the background.
The next shot is the view south towards the Dartford Bridge with Kent over on the other side of the river.
Next is a view of the Dartford Bridge taken as we crossed back over the Thames with the Bluewater Shopping Centre up towards the top right.
And finally, here’s a shot of the Dartford Bridge Toll Plazas that are located on the south side of the river.
As planned, we flew around past Sevenoaks and Tonbridge just by following landmarks (no chart needed at all) and then back up towards Linton. We easily spotted the field and flew around it but as usual, nobody was flying there. Sad, but no surprises there then 🙁
Then it was time to head back north to Stoke. Having taken off from runway 24 we fully expected to land in the same direction but while heading to join downwind, we heard someone in the circuit call downwind 06. That meant a change of plan, so I took over the controls and we then also joined downwind for 06. The approach was too high not helped by a bit of extra lift on final and even with a hefty side-slip, I couldn’t get enough height off. I also noticed that just before we would have touched down, the windsock indicated a slight tail wind, so when we called a go-around, I also said we’d be going for runway 24. Tony on the ground came back and advised against it, saying that the wind was very variable at that time but mainly favoured 06. He also said he’d keep me advised of the wind direction while in the circuit. I was really grateful for that and the next time we landed with almost zero wind on 06 and taxied in. The flight had taken 1 hour 40 minutes, so about right, and Peter was waiting for us. After parking up it was time for a cuppa and a bacon roll before Peter’s turn in the aircraft.
I’d remarked to Ken while we were heading back towards Stoke, how much cloud had come in since we had taken off. Peter and I took off from runway 24 shortly after 1.10pm and it was immediately noticeable how much the vis had deteriorated because of haze since we had landed an hour or so before. I handed the controls over to Peter shortly after we’d taken off and we decided to fly round the north of Rochester to Ken’s place to try out a couple of experimental approaches into his field. Peter was doing well until we began to experience a few thermic bumps and as he began to feel a bit uncomfortable with them, I took over again. It’s not surprising, because Peter is more used to flying Group A single engine aircraft and just as I found when I first took to microlights, the difference in inertia between the two types is surprising and the skills needed to fly microlights do not just come naturally. They have to be learnt over several hours and from my own experiences, acquiring them can be both challenging and frustrating at times, especially when you already view yourself as being an accomplished pilot and expect to be able just to ‘do it’ 😀
We found Ken’s place without too many problems and I set myself up for an initial approach. You should always approach a previously unknown landing area at a greater height than normal, so that’s what I did. Even so, it appeared that a landing would be feasible so after opening the throttle and climbing out, we decided to go far a ‘proper’ one. Just at that moment, we spotted another light aircraft flying straight towards us at almost the same height, so we had to let him clear the area first, but after a circuit of sorts, we were soon back on final to land. This time we were much lower and after deciding that we ‘were in’, I opened the throttle and climbed away again to head back to Stoke. On the way, the bumpy conditions seemed to have died down so Peter took over again. Sure enough, it was much smoother and he was able to fly PW the whole way to join overhead for runway 24 back at Stoke. The flight lasted for 50 minutes and after we’d moved PW back to its tie-down spot and refitted its covers, it was time to head for home.
What a great day’s flying! Both Ken and Peter had a chance to get a bit of stick time in PW under their belts and along the way, we’d also shown that it’ll be possible to get PW in and out of Ken’s field in the future. Good height and speed control will be essential, though, so it’ll be some time yet before they’re both doing it. But it’ll come, I’m sure, it’ll come 😉