15th & 16th June
Bryan Gurling and I have joined in on Fly-UK every year since 2009, and we’ve had a few non-flying days, but 2012 was definitely the worst weather that we have experienced. We were supposed to fly up to Nottingham on the Friday, but spent the first two days at home contemplating the rain, low cloud and strong winds.
Finally we got away on Sunday. We were in the Green Group so we decided to head straight for Northern Ireland and see if we could catch up with the rest of the group. We left Lee on Solent in Bryan's Foxbat at 10am and landed at Wolverhampton (in the rain) for some lunch before heading to Kirkbride. There was low cloud north of Wolverhampton so we decided to go up the west coast, which was quite spectacular, before landing (once again in the rain) at Kirkbride at 1pm.
We were forced to wait for the weather to clear and then opened our flight plan and headed across to Newtownards, coasting in with Belfast CTR and landing at 18:15 to find that we were the first arrival. There was no ATC but there was a aircraft in the circuit from which we got the local information. Everyone was very helpful, lending us their cans and driving us to the petrol station for fuel and allowing us to camp down in the clubhouse which was a portacabin, then giving us a lift in to town to find something to eat. As quite often seems to happen on Fly-UK we were too late to get a meal in a pub so we settled for a couple of beers and a takeaway. Meanwhile the second member of the group to make it to Newtownards, Steve Ivell and Lee Chamberlain, arrived in their Eurostar; we didn't manage to meet up in town but shared the clubhouse floor.
After breakfast in the local supermarket we set off together with Steve and Lee at 09:30 heading south into Ireland for the trip to BallyBoy after filing yet another flight plan. On the way down to BallyBoy we flew over Warrenpoint on Carlingford Lough. Even though Bryan had not heard of it anyone with a connection to the armed forces will know that it is where, in August 1979, the Army suffered its greatest loss of life during “The Troubles”.
There was no welcoming party at BallyBoy, in fact the airfield was deserted, but shortly after we landed at 10:35 the phone in the clubhouse (caravan) started to ring. Bryan answered it to find it was Bernard Cullen, the owner. He had seen us flying over but couldn't make it to the airfield – but we were welcome to help ourselves to tea/coffee and biscuits in the clubhouse.
As an aside, the next leg was when the world turned white for us. Bryan and I have been flying together for years and have a system whereby P1 flies and P2 navigates and does the radio work, easing the load on P1 and we swap round each time we land. As well as the compulsory chart P2 uses a 7” tablet running MemoryMap, which is loaded with all the UK 50,000 aeronautical charts. The display very usefully shows you where you are and the arrow shows you where you will be in 10 minutes. Our problem was that on the trip from BallyBoy to Abbeyleix the UK chart ran out and the background turned white. It was a case of back to first principles; look at the chart and look out of the window.
After the refreshment we both headed off at 11:30 to the grandly named Midland Microlight Centre at Abbeyleix where we were met by the CFI Vincent Vaughan with plenty of fuel. We arrived shortly after Steve and Lee and were sure that they were trying to land downwind but could not raise them or anyone on the ground on the radio. After landing we realised that we had turned down the volume on the radio as we flew past Dublin and forgotten to run it up again!
The weather was not looking too good, but would hopefully clear in a couple of hours according to the met forecast, so we tied down the aircraft. Vincent kindly dropped us off in the local town, where we had a leisurely lunch, then picked us up and took us back to the airfield. By this time it was starting to brighten up so we headed off to Bantry at 18:45. The weather still wasn't brilliant, we even had to encounter and dodge rain squalls, but the ATC at Cork were magnificent, allowing us to go straight through their zone keeping to the low ground. We eventually landed at Bantry at 20:40 to find that the only other Fly-UK flyers we had met so far, including Kevin Walton in his CT, had landed before us. We had just pulled the Foxbat off the runway and were starting to unfold the tent when Dennis Connolly drove up and asked us if we wanted B&B accommodation in Bantry. Steve and Lee camped, but Bryan and I went off to the very comfortable B&B and we all met up in a pub for some beer and food.
The following morning everyone in the B&B piled into the same minibus and headed back to the airfield via a petrol station. We all took off at about 10:30 and headed up the west coast of Ireland, with more spectacular scenery. The rest of the group landed at Spanish Point but we, together with Steve and Lee in their Eurostar, headed up to Connemara.
One of the flight guides had reported Connemara to be “the most unhelpful airfield in Ireland” but we arrived just as all the Islanders serving the Arran Islands had left. So we had the interesting response to our call “Hold for 5 minutes. Oh, never mind, there is no other traffic so just do what you want”. When we landed at 12:05 we realised their problem; the pan is only big enough for the Islanders lined up to depart. But since all the Islanders had gone once again everyone on the airfield was helpful and provided us with some fuel and refreshments before we moved on again at 13:25.
We headed north up the low ground, skirting round Ireland West while avoiding threatening looking clouds and then turning east to Sligo where we landed at 14:15. Sligo is a commercial airport, but had recently lost one of its contracts to ferry passengers out to the offshore islands. Even so, once we were in the terminal we couldn't get out until we had filed our flight plans and were ready to leave. We were met by Padraic Gallogy, the local CFI, who helped us with filling in the old paper flight plans and arranging us to refuel with tax-free AVGAS, since we were exporting it all to the UK. We eventually took off at 17:00 heading to Bute.
We initially headed NE into Northern Ireland – it was nice have MemoryMap aeronautical charts working again, especially as we had to detour and skirt around some nasty black weather – up to the north coast then along the coast to Ballintoy before heading up to the Mull of Kintyre, then along the coast, round the Isle of Arran and landing at Bute at 19:00. We were speaking to Scottish Information and once we were overhead Bute asked them to close our flight plan, which they agreed to do – of which, more later. There was no room in the inn at Bute, and we weren't going to camp with the midges, so we headed across the water, through the corridor between Glasgow and Prestwick to Strathaven.
We landed at 20:20 and met some more intrepid Fly-UK flyers, including Keith Browne who was having problems with his Rans and friends of ours, Alun Middlemiss and Cecil Cairns, in their C42 from Old Sarum. Once again Colin was there with as much fuel as we needed. We got a lift down to Strathaven town where we had some beers and were about to go looking for food when my phone started ringing. It was only NATS who were getting concerned about where we were. Apparently, even though Scottish Information had agreed to do so, you cannot close a flight plan in the air in UK even though we were overhead Bute and descending into the circuit to land. I should have phoned to close the flight plan once we were on the ground. You live and learn. Following that little drama we had a pleasant meal in an Indian restaurant after which one of the waiters was persuaded to drive us back to the airfield (we all dug into our pockets and he was amply awarded). Despite Colin offering us the floor is his new edifice (which we're waiting to see on Grand Designs) we bedded down in the club house.
We looked long and hard at the met forecast the following morning and made the difficult decision that we would head back to Lee because were we concerned that if we stayed in Scotland or the North we might get stuck. So we took off at 10:20 heading down to Ince. Belying the forecast for the rest of the week it was a beautiful day in the north so we climbed to 4500 feet and flew right over the Lake District without a cloud in sight, past Blackpool, over the top of Marham and Woodvale and dropped down to land at Ince at 12:35.
As always we get a good welcome at Ince and a couple of cans from their well-stocked fuel store. Then off again at 13:30, south through the Manchester low-level corridor, which was hard work with very active thermals to maintain level altitude, past Birmingham and Fairford to land at Redlands at 15:35. After a short rest for a cup of tea off again at 16:25 heading south to pass to the east of the Boscombe and Southampton zones on back to Lee on Solent. The final event of the tour was that Lee did not answer our first few calls. By the time they did answer we were almost in the circuit and it was to inform us that the airfield was closed as the runway was being inspected. After a bit of discussion the gliding fraternity vacated the grass on the western side of the runway and we landed on that instead; no problem for a microlight.
A rather truncated Fly-UK but once again we got to fly to new airfields (and a new country) and for the first time managed to fly over the Lake District when it wasn't covered in cloud. A fantastic sight. Despite 54 aircraft in 3 groups we saw very few people on this fly UK; however as always we managed to make new friends and renew acquaintances from the previous years.
We had hoped to join in the tour for the final couple of days, but the deterioration in the weather meant that we didn't even bother opening the hanger doors. Alan and Cecil in their C42 decided to fly down to Beverley and overnight there – and got stuck there for three days. As a final thank you, everybody we met at all the airfields were immensely friendly and helpful which is what we have always found on previous Fly-UKs.