I started planning for Fly-UK over 2 years ago when I registered for 2004, full of confidence and just a few weeks after completing my microlight training with Flylight at Sywell. Unfortunately G-CCDW (the first UK Rotax 582 Skyranger) was damaged (by someone else) and would not be repaired in time. Although disappointed, I now know that I was nowhere near ready for such a trip.
In fact, I was not ready this time either, but I learnt so much that I would like to share my experiences during the best week of flying and fun that I have ever had, thanks also to the most friendly and helpful people that joined us for a fantastic trip around the Country.
So Andy Collinson and I left Sackville Farm, on 17th June for the start of an unbelievably great time. We squeezed everything into DW, within MAUW, of course, and had an uneventful flight to Redlands where Tom Dawson had arranged a meet up of the participants. What a grand welcome from Sarah and Joe with food, drink and fuel on site. We pitched tents for the first time, joined in the BBQ and helped wipe them out of drink.
After Tom’s morning briefing we set a course for Devon, passing Glastonbury at 4000’ where the air was smooth and the sun was shining. I could not believe the paper when I saw what happened there a week later (Flooded out again - Ed). We landed at Halwell at the start of their Fly In to another BBQ, my brother doing a fuel run using 10 litre plastic water cans that I bought to save weight. They were useless, spilling fuel all over the place, so I tied them behind the luggage rack and will never use them again.
It was a bit windy at Lands End, making it hard for some Flexies to refuel. An ice cream, a pie, and a couple of soft drinks, then Eaglescott for the second night’s camp. The locals told us the nearest pub with good food was just a couple of miles walk. We found that Devon miles are different from ours. It took about 40 minutes of brisk walking to do the trip, but it was worth it, as the food was good.
After breakfast, cooked for us in the hanger, we donned life jackets for the first time and were ready to go. In the company of Keith Browne and Tom in the Rans we crossed the Bristol Channel. 16 miles was the furthest I had ever travelled over water and the opposite side was hidden in the haze so I was a little nervous. But no problems and we left the Rans at Porthcawl. 20 miles inland, as we levelled with Pembrey, the clouds were very close to the hill tops so we decided to divert to Swansea. On arrival we found Jeff in his orange Xair and two Flexies, Sandra and Gustave in one and Daryl in the other. One and a half hours later Tom and Keith turned up after nearly making Haverfordwest but defeated by sea fog.
After lunch we headed for Welshpool to beat the coastal weather. Three aircraft got in just before the thunderstorm, but with 4 miles still to run I did not fancy it. So we set off at 90 mph to clearer skies and Shobden. What a good move as we met Vicky who trained on Flexies at Sywell at the same time as me. We set up camp under DW then a local GA pilot ran us to a pub with good food. We had such a laugh with Vicky that it made up for being separated from the main group.
After a shower and very good breakfast we set out in much better weather through the Liverpool – Manchester low level route, stopping at Tarn Farm, Andy’s base. Then across Morecambe Bay and over the Lake District, to Carlisle where we caught up with some others. We were at Cumbernauld by about 16.30 where a very friendly Airport Manager called Kenny could not have been more helpful. We had been told that Oban would close at 18.00 so decided to stay the night, pitched tent and went to a nearby hotel for dinner. On the way there I had a call from Tom to say that Oban was still open. But he was too late as we were unpacked, settled and most importantly, half-way to the pub! No contest.
Routing for Oban via Loch Lomond the weather beat us again. No problem going against the wind through the valleys but as soon as we tried to go crosswind we were thrown around all over the place. Even at 8000’ and full throttle the wave effect from the hills was still pushing DW down at 400’ a minute so we turned back to Cumbernauld.
Refuelled, we climbed over the Cairngorms in a straight line for Dornoch to catch up with the rest of the group who had made John O’Groats and were refuelling at Wick. Four flexies had even flown round Cape Wrath, the inhospitable north-western corner and experienced 40 mile per hour tailwinds.
On our way we diverted to Inverness for fuel as the wind was stronger than forecast. On approach we were No 2 to a BA146, given our own stand, made very welcome with priority for fuel and free sandwiches plus coffee at the flying club, and all for a £12 landing fee. Then, with Tain Range active, we were given a precise route to follow and were privileged to be, I suspect, the pretend target for a very fast military jet practising in the live firing range at what probably seemed to him to be a safe distance. He came from nowhere, headed straight for us, then veered off into the distance.
We met up with about 15 other Fly-UK pilots at the Lowry Tea Rooms for yet another good meal. Then the pub, until at 23.15 and still in near daylight, we headed back to camp and a shower. We had intended doing John O'Groats then play catch up on the way south, but with increasingly bad weather promised we decided to turn south next morning.
Wednesday Rain was falling when I was awakened at 06.30 by the very keen few warming their engines for a quick get away. After a hastily prepared coffee from the camping stove we set off for Fife but misread the weather and mistakenly decided to go high over the top. Just about half way we worked out that we had burnt over half the fuel and the only option we could see was to find a field or go into Aberdeen International.
I preferred the Airport option so radioed and they asked me to turn left for identification. A 737 had already called a nine mile final and they gave me No 1 as we were on base leg about a mile out. I heard them tell the 737 to expect late landing clearance with a slow taxiing aircraft ahead. No chance of that! I rounded out on the numbers and flew along the 1850 metre runway at one foot above ground and 50 mph (thanks Ben Ashman for teaching me that) touched down and turned off within seconds.
Signature, our handling agent, refuelled us, waived their fees, and helped us no end. Still the cost was £94 which included a CAA Navigation fee, Take-off fee and Fuel (No landing fee for a weather diversion). Worth the money as there cannot be that many microlights that have had a radar approach into an International Airport and been No 1 to a 737.
From Aberdeen to Fife, then on the way to Fishburn we made our second water crossing, the Firth of Forth, which seemed easier. While on the way to Full Sutton for our night stop we were talking to RAF Leeming who kept asking our height and position and as suspected we had another military visitor. I think it was a training Red Arrow who circled us three times.
Another early start. We visited Wickenby for fuel, then contacted Waddington who informed us of a large aircraft that would pass in front at low level. He was correct – an AWAC passed a few seconds later - what an impressive sight. We crossed the Wash via Skegness to Hunstanton, then to Cromer; our longest water crossing of 17 miles followed by a low level flight along the sands which was fantastic. I had been to Cromer four times before but did not recognise it until we were right overhead. Then I messed up the approach and had to do the only go around of the trip.
Our next night stop was Rayne Hall Farm, just outside the Stansted Zone. On arrival we thought we had made an error as we could see only GA and no microlights, and we could not raise them on the frequency in Lockyears. But then on 129.825 we heard ATC on the ground say we could land at our discretion. I later found out that the frequency had been changed and I had not read the Fly-UK itinerary properly so it was my fault. But they were very forgiving and even took us for fuel, then later to the pub for yet another excellent meal.
Cooked breakfasts were provided by Steve Pain, then to Headcorn, where we watched some parachute jumping. I decided to run with 3 Flexies to Bracklesham Bay, and had an enjoyable flight until over Sussex we saw a storm ahead. Another diversion! Shoreham gave us permission to come straight in and even let us hangar free of charge! The storm, when it arrived, was very violent and we were glad to be on the ground and took a B&B overnight!
Not in best conditions, we left for Bracklesham and had it not been for Sandra with her local knowledge I would probably not have set off. She led me all the way through a very scenic route at about 750 feet. At Bracklesham, Roger made us very welcome and we enjoyed a couple of teas before routing around Havant to South Hayling then to Cowes, Isle of Wight, all at about 700 feet. I felt completely safe as we were in contact with Sandra all the way and there were hundreds of boats in the Solent, should there have been a problem. On arrival at Sandown we learned that the Fly-UK group were to have a BBQ to celebrate our successes which was a great idea. Then after putting on our T-shirts we joined the party in the main tent.
So on Sunday after a one hour flight of the Island, we refuelled for home via a lunch stop at Popham. Checking the weather charts we calculated that we did not need fuel so set off back to Sackville. However, as we approached Didcot (with faster winds than forecast) we thought that it might be a bit tight so we again diverted into Kidlington for 20 litres. No charge for the diversionary landing. We landed back at home with 22 litres so probably a good move.
So to sum up:-
Would I do it again? Where do I sign up!!!!