2 Fly in to Kemeys and 3 fly off to Swansea

SSunday 25th May 2009

A fantastic blue sky light/no wind sunny day with a great forecast greated me as I rose from bed far earlier than normal for a Sunday !

I was off to Kemeys Commander to meet some friends flying in from Kemble to meet me before heading off to Swansea and the Gower coastline for the day.

I arrived at the strip early and set about getting “red sparrow” out of the hangar (erm barn?) and free wheeled her down the ramp onto the grass apron.

I lugged the gerry cans from the car and added a whole 40 litres of unleaded into the tank giving me the full 60 litres on board ready for a day out.

Around 0930 I turned on the airband radio to listen out for Paul in G-IMUP and Alan in G-BYFF (my old machine). I heard them, but they were calling they were “overhead”" yet I heard no engines or saw no aircraft ! Uh-oh.

A couple of radio calls later and I’d established they were over a nearby airfield used for gliding, oops. I directed them towards the reservoir and they soon spotted my strip.

They both landed fine on 31 and had passengers. 10 mins later and Paul + Tracey, Alan and Andy and I were all enjoying a cup of tea and biccies courtesy of the strip owner Alastair. We chewed the fat in the morning sun with Alastairs Mum and Dad. (Thanks for being so kind and welcoming and sorry to interrupt you breakfast Alastairs Dad.)

Soon we were all togged up again and starting up ready to depart and afer a wee hitch we taxied down the runway to the far end.

1…….2…..3 we all roared down the grass and into the air turning left towards the South Wales Valleys.

It was lovely up there and as Alan dissapeared off into the distance like a bat out of hell, Paul and Tracey in his Air Creation Tanarg G-IMUP and myself in G-CBLX took our time ambling along at 55/60mph enjoying the stunning deap valleys of South Wales as we tracked West passing North of Cardiff and on to Swansea.

Swansea was soon on the nose, the bay and the Gower coastline beyond looking great in the sun.

Swansea Airport

Swansea Airport

Swansea has skydiving on the weekends so from time to time there is no overhead joining (Alan!) as the parachutists drop on the “dead side” so aircraft must join the circuit downwind and not overhead (Alan!)

We overheard instructions along these lines to earlier arriving aircraft and so, IMUP and I (CBLX) both called Swansea Radio and advised we’d pass to the North, turn around overhead LLanelli and join downwind.

Alan didn’t seem to have heard and, well, had other plans and, well, eventually reported downwind and the controller cleared the drop plane “swansea DZ cleared to drop;-)

By the time IMUP and I had taxied to the Apron, Alan in BYFF had already made it to the pumps and refuelled.
We all paid our £5 landing fee each (bargain, good value Swansea) and headed to the cafe for some nosh.
Swansea has a good cafe and we all had some form of bacon/sausage butty or full cardiac breakfast and a steaming mug of tea. Nice.

Staggering stuffed into the sunshine, Paul felt a bit sick, seems the greasy hadnt gone down well. So, we relaxed a bit, admired the nice 3 Icarus fixed wing microlights belonging to Swansea Sport Flying microlight school and had some chat with two other microlighters who’d flown down from Wolverhampton Halfpenny Green.

In no time Paul perked up and we prepared to depart.

“Overhead Alan” ;-) and Andy in BYFF were off to land on a friends golf course somewhere near Haverford West. Paul, Tracey and I decided to do a bimble around the gower before heading home.

Soon we were all off the tarmac and BYFF zoomed off.

Empty here the beach was very busy when we flew along it.

Empty here the beach was very busy when we flew along it.

Paul and Tracey in BYFF and I in CBLX headed out to the coast and had a flight along the cliffs and then turned North along Rhossili Beach on the end of the Gower Peninsula.

The beaches were busy, many kayaks in the water, many sunbathers, even some kite buggies bombing along the beach.


Then we turned East and headed back homewards passing the Swansea Airfield again and on into South East Wales.
On the way back we enjoyed flying in formation (alas my video headcam battery had died, but Tracey was taking stills – watch this space)

Before long Llandegforrd Reservoir came up on the nose and I bid Paul, Tracey in G-BYFF fairwell as they peeled off to the right to cross the Severn into England and back to Kemble.

I was soon back on the ground at Kemeys. It had been a lovely day out with friends, some great flying, some great banter.

Smiling, I quickly put “red sparrow” away “goodnight, must fly- party to get too”


Wye Valley local flight

Sunday evening 17th May 2009

I’d spent the afternoon tinkering with Red Sparrow and changed the spark plugs as part of the 10 hour checks, so decided to go for a short flight to double check all was working properly.

I checked CBLX over and then taxied and departed off runway 31 at 1815 hours into a pleasant blue sky with little cloud and lightish wind from the NE. Climbing up to a couple of thousand feet I levelled out and did my “FREDAH” checks;

  • Fuel – yep plenty, 35 litres and not going far
  • Radio - yep on and tuned to safetycom, volume up, decided to change to listen to Cardiff Radar for any other local traffic
  • Engine – yep all temperatures and pressure normal and engine sounding and feeling ok so my spark plug change seemed to have no ill effects
  • Direction – South towards the Severn Bridges, not heading for any airspace I should’nt be, know where I am, not heading for anywhere I’d be not clear of cloud or in sight of the surface and thus comforming to Visual Flight Rules.
  • Altitude – I’d already set airfield elevation of 130Ft on the altimeter whilst on the ground so already on QNH pressure setting, currently showing 2000ft ASL
  • Height - reading giving me plenty of height above nearest high ground and putting me about 1500ft above the ground I was over.

checks complete…

Well, I had only planned about 15 mins local but it was nicer than I’d expected and I set off down to the bridges, then having done that thought I’d bimble up the Wye Valley from Chepstow. Incidentally the Wye valley forms part of the Welsh/English border.

I flew past the Chepstow Race Course and up the river. It really is spectacular from the air with great big majestic sweeping horseshoe bends. Its like someone took a tea spoon and carved out the river course in a land made of soft ice cream. The banks are heavily tree covered in places, a very lush green landscape with the dark shiny river at the bottom of the steap narrow valley sides.

“Always plan for a surprise excercise in landing without an engine” – good advice, so with that in mind I flew a course along the river at a height just high enough over the valley sides to glide safely onto high ground whenever there were no safe emergency landing grounds in the valley base. 

Soon I was overhead the Tintern Abbey ruins …

View Larger Map

which are quite spectacular from 1500 ft nestling on the side of the river just downstream of a complete 270 bend.

Despite the temptation to fool myself I was in a Hawk Trainer jet and dive into the valley and skim the river at 100ft, I restrained myself and contented made a few orbits over the scenery training my head mounted bullet camera on the scenery below. (video clips to follow maybe, still to be reviewed!)

Time was marching on and I continued a little further up stream before heading off NW towards Raglan to have a quick look at the castle before returning to Kemeys.

The wind at 2000ft had picked up a lot as I got back to Kemeys Commander and it was blowing from the NE.  I had to crab in on finals before descending below the high ground to the right which took me out of the wind and allowed me to straighten up.  At Kemeys there can be a little kick of wind from the right as you’re about to flare due to a break in the tree line on the high ground (I suspect) and sure enough I got the kick at a bad moment. The result of a quick correction sent me several feet to the side of the runway over the long grass and I was down to about 10feet, nope not enough height to correct my line before flaring, runway length dissapearing fast – decision - Go Around, so full power on, climb out, bit annoying when so nearly landed, but always take the safe option if any doubt at all !  Second time was much better, I flared and did a greaser of a landing.

Back on the ground it was nice and warm still and I flipped my visor up to let the air blow in, all the smells of the country wafting in, and taxied up to the ramp.

Twenty minutes later “Red Sparrow ” was in the barn and wrapped up for the night. Another nice early evening flight with a mental note to carry on up over Momouth and to Symonds Yat and a hedge maze nearby.

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Day out to annual Popham Microlight Fair

Saturday 2nd of May dawned, the weather forecast was good and I was planning to fly down to Popham in Hampshire (South of Newbury towards Southampton) for the annual Popham Microlight Fair.

First a quick trip to Halfords to get another Jerry can as I needed more fuel than I had cans for !  But by 1130 I was fuelled up with 60 litres on board (should be enough for 4.5 hours ish, still getting used to the fuel burn on CBLX as not had her long), checks done and roaring down runway 13 at Kemeys Commander and up into the sky towards Newport and the Severn Bridges.

The Welsh side of the estuary was quite cloudy and hazy and a bit bumpy but the sky ahead on the English side was clearing into blue with little white fluffy clouds dotted about and the overall forecast was fine. I also had a tail wind pushing me along and a good ground speed of around 55mph.

I had a great flight of roughly 2 hours. My route took me over the Severn, skirting Filton airfield, over Yate, tracking south down the eastern side of Bristol below Bristol International Airports outer airpace staying below 3000ft, then down over Bath. I then turned East and pretty much tracked the Kennet and Avon Canal passing Melksham and Devizes keeping me South of Lynhams CTA and North of the danger areas on Salisbury plain. I particularly enjoyed seeing the white horses hewn out of the hillsides at Devizes and Alton Priors. Ground speed was good with a tailwind all the way I was doing 67mph plus which is good for my still air cruise of 59mph ish.

During the flight I spoke with Filton Radar, Bristol Approach and Lynham for a “Basic service” just for traffic information and it’s also good practice if you fly close to zone boundaries, it keeps their radar operators calmer !Finally I tuned into “Popham Radio” as Newbury appeared on the nose with the unmissable huge expanse of the ex US airbase at Greenham Common alongside it.

I turned South towards Popham and even this late in the day more were arriving. Popham attracts some 500 or 600 microlight aircraft each year and in the last few miles I heard maybe 10 aircraft all with a few miles of me and inbound. Keeping a good lookout is essential on Popham day.  

There was a little drama unfolding as I was about 10 miles North of the field. I heard a garbled radio call-”Popham, Golf – blah blah blah blah,  mumble problem, attemtping a landing in field, engine failed…..” .  The Popham radio controller called back and got a better position report I believe.  A few mins later I heard “Popham radio, Helimed 03?”  This was an air ambulance, the pilot said he was en route to a reported aircraft crash landing south of Popham.  Then another pilot called up and said he had spotted the microlight in a field and that it appeared to have landed safely and people were out and walking about and didn’t seem to be in distress/injured. He said he would circle overhead so the Helimed could spot them and that he could also see fire engines arriving. I later overheard in the clubhouse that locals had seen it landing and assumed the worst and called the emergency services. No one was hurt and all was fine. I think out of 600 aircraft in the same area, one engine failure is good going and it also proved that training for emergency landings pays off, you can land safely without power. It’s also a good reminder that even if you dont bother calling the nearest air traffic control, being tuned to them can be of use if it suddenly goes very quiet behind you !

As I arrived overhead at 2000ft I could see several hundred aircraft parked below and as I descended on the dead side for a right hand circuit on 21 I had 3 aircraft ahead of me and 2 behind with more joining.  Two years previously Andy Moore and I were number 7 on finals when we arrived. It’s like Heathrow on speed !  

I made a nice landing and taxied and parked, a long way from where I landed as all the taxiways and space alongside were pretty much full of microlights of all shapes and sizes, plus the trade stands, food outlets etc etc.

I had a nice few hours there spending some time with some old friends and there kids who had driven in to see what my hobby is about and catch up.  The kids seemed to like the microlights, unlike we bigger children, little ones choose mainly by colour preference !  Ice creams went down well as did Oscar’s sitting in the Antanov’s cockpit. I also caught up with Paul&Tracy in his Tanarg and Alan C in G-BYFF the microlight I learnt on at Kemble.

I took oodles of photos at popham in May 2007 so didnt take many this year. I did take a few of the Gyrocopters though…

Great sharks teeth paint job !Gyrocopter with sharks teeth paint job.Just something quite James Bond about them…
I’d have to get a flying suit that looks like a Tuxedo with bow tie.
Gyro taxying for departure runway

There’s a nice youtube video collection of photos from this year courtesy of too, good work guys.

1700hrs soon came around and I wandered back to “red sparrow” feeling a little weary from the sun and ingesting some Tango to re-energise for concentration on the flight back. The wind had picked up and I calculated I’d be longer getting home as I’d be into the Westerly for most of my route and have maybe 7 litres fuel spare (30 mins), so bore that in mind and chose a couple of airfields to divert to if fuel burn was higher than expected.

The return flight went nicely, smoother air and the early evening light is very pleasant on the landscape. I flew over canal boats on the locks near Newbury, several village cricket games, the white horses again and on towards Melksham. The wind was a full on headwind and despite trying various altitudes my GPS ground speed reading was only ever around 40mph unless I pulled the bar in and gave it higher revs.

Mindful of the fuel and longer flight time I kept checking – fuel at Melksham slopping about at 15 litres, about 40 miles to go, about 1hrs fuel at the current ground speed, however I knew I was going to be turning onto a NW heading soon so wouldnt be fighting the wind so much and could drop into some shelter in the valley up alongside Bath !

Soon I was pasing the stunning Bath stone buildings in the slightly orangey evening light as the sun lowered. My ground speed had improved to around 53mph with the bar pulled in a tad, much better.

Approaching Bristol from Bath I was treated to spectacular views of 4 hot air balloons, 2 skimming the field beneath me, 2 climbing up from Bristol somewhere.

Fuel, slopping around a little above 10 litres !  25 mins of track to go at 50mph cruise maybe, 45 mins of fuel, Ok, press on towards Filton and re-assess. 

Then the ever welcoming sight of the 2 Severn bridges and the silvery strip of Severn Estuary at full tide.

Fuel slopping about at 10 litres mark, 15 mins flight time left, 40 mins fuel?  Decision – press on, get a good height before crossing the ridge into the Usk valley. Upfield farm onthe Gwent levels a diversion option, re-assess on opposite coastline…

Soon on the Welsh side, fuel slopping about between 5 and 10 litres ish,  maybe 30 mins fuel? I climbed to 3000ft and over the ridge into the Usk valley, plenty of height for a glide if needed and now picking fields in case but quite happy I had enough to get to Kemeys. As I got nearer I decended out of the stronger wind and was soon on a straight in approach to runway 31 at Kemeys.

A great day out, tired from 4.5 hours total enforced fresh air intake and several hours wandering in the sun, I packed “red sparrow” away and headed for the takeway !

Oh yes, before you ask, 7 litres left, maybe 30 mins.  I’m still getting used to reading the eyeball fuel tank gauge rather than the dash mounted meter I’m used to. Next time I take a Gerry can to refuel and give a bigger margin ! Total fuel burn was 55 litres over 4hrs40mins  so thats ~12litres per hour 1 up fighting a headwind, not bad at all.

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Flight to Cardiff Bay

Sunday evening – 26th April 2009

It was a lovely calm evening, some cloud but with big gaps, plenty of light left and so at 1700hrs I set off from Kemeys Commander in “red sparrow” for a local flight. Once in the air I could see the weather was better towards the estuary and Cardiff and so I ventured off in that direction keeping an eye on the cloud behind me incase it started lowering intot eh Usk valley.

I flew down to Newport and enjoyed the Newport Transporter Bridge from the air.  

The Newport Transporter Bridge is a crossing of the River Usk in Newport, South Wales in the United Kingdom. It is a Grade I listed structure. Designed by French engineer Ferdinand Arnodin, it was built in 1906 and opened by Godfrey Charles Morgan, 1st Viscount Tredegar on 12 September 1906. The span is an example of the very rare transporter bridge concept, of which only eight exist worldwide.

The Newport Transporter Bridge is a crossing of the River Usk in Newport, South Wales in the United Kingdom. It is a Grade I listed structure. Designed by French engineer Ferdinand Arnodin, it was built in 1906 and opened by Godfrey Charles Morgan, 1st Viscount Tredegar on 12 September 1906. The span is an example of the very rare transporter bridge concept, of which only eight exist worldwide.

Then I turned West along the Severn Estuary coastline flying low along the beach as tide was fairly low at this time.

buzzing the beach 

Skimming the beach between Newport and Cardiff

Soon I was approaching the Eastern suburbs of Cardiff City and called Cardiff Approach for a lower airspace radar “basic service”.  I intended to fly over Cardiff Bay which is beneath the outer area of their airspace, however just beyond Cardiff Bay at Penarth Head their control zone starts from the ground upwards. Flying close to the edge of a zone can worry controllers, they dont know if you will fly straight in so unless you have spoken with them they have to start vectoring the jets away from the edge in case you do !!  I love talking to them, it’s nice to share a controller with the big jets and the police and ambulance helicopters etc. The conversation went something like this. You can hear some of the controller on the video to follow, but I didnt have the radio patched in when I first called.

Cardiff Radar:    ”Whiskey oscar 99, Roger, nothing known to effect, qnh 1028″   (talking to the South Wales Police heilcopter)

Whiskey Oscar 99:   “1028, whiskey oscar 99″

Me:     “Cardiff – good evening “Golf - Charlie Bravo Lima Xray”

Cardiff Radar:     “Golf - Charlie Bravo Lima Xray – Cardiff – pass your message”

Me:     “Golf Lima Xray, flexwing microlight, 1 POB, local flight from Kemeys Commander,  3 miles East of Cardiff Docks at 2000ft on 1029,  intend to turn back East at Cardiff Bay, request basic service, Golf – Lima Xray”

Cardiff Radar:     “Golf Lima Xray, good evening, Cardiff QNH 1028, basic service, remain outside controlled airspace, report turning Cardiff Bay”

Me:    ”1028, basic service, report turning Cardiff Docks – Golf Lima Xray”

and on he continued talking to the big jets…. this time an EasyJet coming into to Cardiff…

Cardiff Radar:    ”Easy 20 Alpha, Descend now to Altitude 4000 ft, turn heading 030 to intercept the localiser, report established”……….

and I continued towards Cardiff. I flew inland slightly and over the docks behind the heliport, over the Atlantic Wharf and the leisure village, over the Cardiff bay hotel and into the Bay. The view is stunning now the barrage is complete and the bay is permanantly flooded.

Overhead Atlantic Wharf 

Overhead Atlantic Wharf

Looking over the docks, the bay ahead and the barrage hidden behind the front strut!

Looking over the docks, the bay ahead and the barrage hidden behind the front strut!

The Cardiff Bay Barrage keeping the Severn out and the fresh river water in

The Cardiff Bay Barrage keeping the Severn out and the fresh river water in

Then I turned 180 degrees to fly back in over the main waterfront shops, restaurants and the landmark Pierhead building and Opera House, not forgetting to report my turn to Cardiff Approach as requested…

Me: “Golf Lima Xray is at Cardiff Bay at 1000ft on 1028 and turning over the city to return East along the coast, Golf – Lima Xray”

Cardiff Radar: “Golf Lima Xray, roger, report changing frequency”

and then over the world famous Millenium Stadium…

Cardiff's Millenium Stadium - roof open


I then continued briefly inland flying over Cardiffs civic centre admiring the old buildings of the Law Courts, the University, City Hall and the Welsh Assembly building with Cardiff Castle beneath me as I turned East to head back along the coast.

Soon I was skimming along over the beach again to Newport and heading inland up the Usk valley. The cloud was thicker in the valley and as I approached Kemeys Commander the sky gods had the audacity to rain on me so I decided to continue past the airfield for a while and did a circuit around Raglan Castle while the rain shower moved on. Finally I returned to Kemeys from the North and it was now bathed in sunshine again as I descended into a right hand circuit on to runway 13.

A lovely evening flight of 1hr 45 mins, time to head home via the chippy !

The photos are screen grabs from a head camera video, sorry they are not great, I had the camera on low res. All the pics can be seen in the Photo Gallery along with many from previous flights.

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"When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward,
for there you have been, and there you will always long to return." -- Leonardo da Vinci

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