Mon Aug 17, 2009 7:30 pm #776541
Last weekend a group of like-minded aviators took to the skies in a failed attempt to get to Hoganas (Sweden) for an RV fly-in. I say failed, but that's a matter of opinion, because we ended up having a fantastic time in Ireland. And before you start to think that there's a pretty obvious navigational error involved, I'd like to get my excuses in quickly.
We met up at the Cotswold Aero Club on the Friday morning to decide what to do. 'We' being six folks in 3 aircraft: an RV4, an RV9 and a C182. Between the six, our experience levels range from 'honorary pilot' through low-hours PPL to IR instructor.
Having spent a good while planning the route to Hoganas, I guess you could bet on there being some dubious wx in the forecasts. With embedded CB threatened cross-channel and our general level of experience, we decided that west would be a better bet than east, so we abandoned our original plan and headed for Ireland as a last-minute alternative. At least we had had the foresight to submit some GARs for Ireland the previous evening just in case of such an eventuality. Considering the group members, this was a remarkable piece of foresight and planning that was not to be repeated throughout the remainder of the trip - we peaked too early!
From Gloucester, the obvious point of entry to Ireland is Waterford, and it's a fairly straightforward route, with almost no airspace of any interest until the Waterford CTR itself. Almost no airspace: but there were NOTAMS for some meat bombing extending outside of D216 and D147, which lie almost on the direct route to Strumble VOR. I rang the telephone number that was listed in the NOTAM, only to hear 'Hi, this is Neil, please leave a message.' How many times does this happen when you try to do the right thing?
We set off from Gloucester and fairly soon QSY'd to Cardiff, who offered us a limited Traffic service due radar limitations or something. They evidently had us on coverage, because when we edged well south of the danger areas to be on the safe side, they queried whether we had decided to route via the BCN VOR without letting them know. A quick explanation sorted out the confusion. I did note one interesting fact about our traffic service: we heard Cardiff alert what sounded like a public transport flight to our presence, but the reciprocal courtesy was not afforded to us, although they evidently must have seen both of us. I guess they may have assumed we could infer the position of the other aircraft from the directions they were passing to it; but my usual experience is that such information is passed separately to both interested parties. Oh well, maybe a little C182 doesn't deserve the same treatment as a public transport flight, even OCAS.
About 40 miles north-west of Cardiff they dumped us so we contacted London Info to cover us for the water crossing. As we coasted out, the weather was beautiful - the clouds over Wales made way for clear skies, and we could easily make out the shape of the Irish coast below the clouds that formed the other side.
The Welsh coast is almost entirely stunning, and the area around Fishguard is no exception:
I have only limited experience of going feet wet, but I do know that the engine always starts to sound different when over water, at least in my creaky old Cherokee. I was surprised, however, when, just as we approached STU to coast out, Waveflyer pointed out that the tacho had started to waver by around 20RPM. Modestly disconcerting, but if I'm honest the feeling was tinged with mild Schadenfreude that a lovely new G1000-equipped Skylane could give rise to similar concerns as a beaten-up 1974 Piper. That's about the only comparison I could make between the two, BTW.
A beautiful view of the coast awaited us when we reached Ireland.
Waterford ATC were very friendly, so don't be daunted by the Class C airspace that surrounds it. It seems to run along the lines of the French Class D airspace that I have experienced, and quite unlike the UK's Class D for which clearance is sometimes a pain to get, even if just because the frequency is busy. We had obviously filed a FPL, because it was an international flight, so they were alerted to our arrival; but it wasn't particularly busy anyway so the whole experience was very laid back.
Not sure about the handlers though:
Actually, two of the chaps are local club members who very kindly came out to help us shift things around. The marshaller, however, is our very own Roly - at least, I think that gesture is supposed to be a marshalling signal, although looking at the photo he could quite well meamn something else entirely On the subject of local help, wherever we went, the locals couldn't have been more helpful. Brian, the instructor at the club, went through all our options for airfields to visit, and the pros and cons of each (no one likes Galway, apparently!) We considered staying in Waterford, but it was early in the day, so we spent a while in group discussion. Some of us wanted to head off to the south-west corner, but we were concerned about the possibility of becoming stuck there by the weather. We finally agreed to head for Abbeyshrule airfield (EIAB), in the middle of the country and about 45 minutes away. The plog was a straight line job with no airspace to affect, and the en-route scenery was superb:
The welcome in Abbeyshrule couldn't have been warmer. WF has already given a flavour in his write-up on the ATIS board. The radio exchange terminology was decidedly non-CAP413 as our C182 brought up the rear after the two RVs:
C182: Abbeyshrule Radio, G-WK inbound etc.
A/G: Runway 28 active. Wind 240/5. Two aircraft in the circuit and one inbound from the NW.
C182: Copy traffic G-WK.
A/G: On the ground, we'd like you to park in between the two RVs, like a mother hen and her chickens.
C182: Cluck cluck.
Hen and chickens:
I can't add anything to WaveFlyer's description of our welcome; except to say that I couldn't think of a lovelier place if you're looking for a weekend away.
On Saturday morning the weather started off a bit overcast and drizzly, and there were concerns that we might struggle to get airborne. We headed off to the airfield, where the group began the now traditional conflab about where to go next. There are so many tempting possibilities - heading back to Waterford via the Ring of Kerry (but SW wx looking a bit dodgy); perhaps the Arran islands (wx along the western coast again)? At least the Irish authorities provide a free number (that a friendly club member gave us) where you can talk direct to a weather person. Having checked out our options, and noted the occluded front that had passed us W to E during the night and the incoming cold front following it, we decided to head eastwards to stay ahead of the worst of it. We sent up an RV as a spotter, who returned to describe an 1800' scattered cloud base and 40+ miles vis below.
The general consensus amongst the locals was to head for Enniskillen (EGAB), which is a regular refuelling trip from Abbeyshrule because they don't pay duty on Avgas if they can show their return FPL out of the UK. Again we learned how relaxed is the attitude to paperwork - no one seems to worry about GAR forms when they make this trip. Apparently they fill one in when they venture further into Northern Ireland; but since Enniskillen is only just over the border, it doesn't really count Obviously a FPL is required, since it crosses an international border; but Ireland still provides a telephone number for filing, so it's pretty easy.
By the time we'd finished the group discussion, as group secretary I'd already prepared all the FPLs and rung them through, so we planned the route (straight line, due North, 48 nm) and got on with prepping the aircraft. The plan was to head for Enniskillen to get fuel, and then head east to the Isle of Man to make sure that we didn't get trapped by the approaching cold front. There was only one fly in the ointment: none of us had brought our Northern England charts. In fact, although I probably shouldn't admit this, Enniskillen was just off the edge of the chart we did have, so we had all briefed carefully from a local pilot and memorised the wall chart. The plan was to buy some charts in Enniskillen, or if that proved impossible, to re-plan our return via a charted region.
By the time we finally set off, the wx had improved considerably and the short flight was delightful. Ireland is blessed with so many lakes, it would probably make touring in a seaplane a realistic possibility.
Turning right base for Enniskillen RW15:
More planning, after we had purchased new charts. Waveflyer is trying to strike a pose to indicate that he was involved in the planning; but if you look closely you will notice that he is holding the map upside down
Next stop the Isle of Man! We asked about the 24hr notice for a GAR; but the general consensus was to head for Ronaldsway and sort it out there. Again, there was not much subtlety to our route: DCT IOM DCT. The reason for going via IOM was twofold. First, I always prefer a duplicate navaid to back up the GPS. In fact, in the C182 we had a G1000 and two 496s, so a VOR was probably overkill; but it's never a bad thing to have options. Second, the slight diversion keeps us well clear of D401 and avoids clipping L10 with its base at FL45.
We were unable to get any kind of service from Scottish Info at 2500', although the chart was unclear about exactly which of the frequencies to contact. I went back to Enniskillen who suggested we contact Aldergrove. We requested a Basic service from Aldergrove, but they were sufficiently concerned about one of the RVs a couple of miles away (not in radio contact) to ask if we were flying with them. Once we reassured them they were happy, but I got the feeling that they were looking after us far better than I am used to in parts of England, especially the busy SE.
Just west of the Mourne mountains we again passed through the weak occluded front that had held us up earlier, and was becoming like an old friend. The clouds rolling over the mountains were truly spectacular.
The cloud bases improved considerably over the water, which enabled us to get to FL45 or so. Here's a shot approaching Ronaldsway, showing the Calf of Man and the low stratus over land.
That layer was just about 600', as the first of our flight discovered when trying a right-hand circuit onto RW26. That was quickly abandoned with a low-level pass across the runway (ATC-approved, I hasten to add) to convert to a left-hand approach. The difference between the weather to the North and South of the field was dramatic - this shot is from LH downwind for RW26:
This one from left base makes it even clearer:
As discussed elsewhere on the forum, we ended up paying quite steep handling fees to the aero club, because we were unaware of the alternatives. However, a short taxi ride to Port Erin and a delightful evening made it all worthwhile.
Sunday morning's wx was not too great - yes, you guessed it, the slow front had caught up with us again. The METAR was very unpromising, with a OVC006.
But again the south of the field was completely different from the tower, and in the direction we were heading it was improving all the way. We watched a couple of Cessnas depart and estimated that we had at least 1500' cloudbase heading south. Sure enough, once airborne it was definitely quite reasonable VFR conditions, improving all the way.
A few miles clear of the island, we were able to get all the way to FL45 for the crossing, and then up to FL65 to clear Snowdonia.
On top of the clouds, we even managed a bit of loose formation work for the first time.
Very loose - TCAS was indicating about 2 miles and +1000'
The other aircraft descending to the north was the third aircraft in the flight - Alan decided to take a diversion along the N. Wales coast and to return below cloud past Hawarden and Sleap. We 'on-toppers' were rewarded with a beautiful cloudscape that gradually broke up as we approached Gloucestershire.
On arrival back at Cotswold, we all agreed that it was a pretty decent alternative to the Hoganas trip. For me, one of the greatest things (apart from the warm Irish welcome) was the fact that we were making the itinerary up as we went along. That's not to say that we didn't do any planning; but I felt a tremendous sense of possibility in flying from one airfield to another without a definite plan beyond the next landing. A proper rally! Thanks to all who took part for making it such a fantastic trip, and special thanks to Mary, some of whose pictures I have used in this report.
Last edited by Rich T on Tue Aug 18, 2009 9:43 pm, edited 2 times in total.