Wahey, it's Friday and the start of Fly-UK; but first I have to check out my bees to make sure that they will be happy for the week. Then I just have to fit an addition ferry tank before packing up and setting off for Wellesbourne near Stratford upon Avon to meet the crew. Unfortunately I wasn't well prepared and found that I had mislaid some fittings. So the aircraft is parked on the edge of the runway, ready for a quick get away tomorrow at 8am sharp. Ok so I have missed the start again, but at least I have a comfy night and will be more relaxed and less stressed in the morning. Tomorrow will be Plaistows to Retford where I will meet up with the team and the adventure will begin.
Saturday morning and I was at the airfield at 7.45 for a take off when the airfield opens at 8.00. 8.20 and I got away! Cloud base was a little low at 2000 feet with occasional dark clouds and some showers to dodge. A strong cross wind had me crabbing all the way to Retford airport where I met about 6 others including Bernd who has joined us from near Friedrichshafen. He set out on Wednesday and was first to arrive at Wellesbourne. Not bad! Some others have decided to wait for a day or so before venturing out of their home airfields after the worst of the weather has passed. Hoping they catch up tomorrow night. From there we had intended to visit Fishburn, just north of Durham, but decided to push on to Eshott, north of Newcastle. They are holding a fly-in with old vehicles, model aircraft, military vehicles and even an immaculate mini van from the early 1970's - just like one that I had as my first car. In the evening there was a rock band that kept us awake until the early hours when someone fired up a hover raft and raced up and down the runway.
Sunday: We check our aircraft thoroughly before flight, and I was surprised to find a large crack in my exhaust. Fortunately the brother of the event organiser was able to weld it, but I lost half a day, departing about 12.30 for Strathaven, south of Glasgow. This is a cross country run and quite weather dependent. Fortunately the weather was fine with only a little head wind. I was fully refuelled on leaving Eshott, so I decided that I would catch up with the others if I did not land at Strathaven, and kept on for the next stop at Glenforsa, Isle of Mull. On the way I would over fly the Isle of Bute where there would be some other pilots from Fly-UK so I took a long glide in from 3500 feet to the strip at about sea level, reaching about 80mph as I passed low over the runway threshold. I received some waves from those on the ground - or was it shaking of fists as they were waiting to take of! ;-) Approaching Glenforsa I heard my group leaving for the Outer Hebrides. I hadn't caught up yet. When a group of us had landed and booked in at Glenforsa I took the airfield manager's car for the fuel at the local garage. Unfortunately with it being a Sunday the garage had closed at 4pm. A mad dash to the southern end of the island before 5pm resulted in all the fuel that we needed and I departed for Harris, Outer Hebrides and the beach airfield at Sollas on its northern coast. After the 23 mile sea crossing I found the beach and with advice from a local man, John McLeod, I landed - having now caught up on my mates! John McLeod had put on a BBQ and even provided a couple of bottles of whiskey, plus bacon breakfast in the morning- all at the cost of a donation. I hope he found that he had a good surplus as simple events like his are excellent. We sat chatting round a camp fire at the top of the beach while the sun set at about 10.30 pm. It wasn't really dark at all in the night.
Monday started with a bacon butty breakfast then we set off for Barra airfield on the next island at the southern end of the Outer Hebrides. Glorious weather again today - we have been lucky since the higher winds dropped away. Great views over the myriad islands of Benbecula, mostly linked by causeways. We agreed a crossing of the airfield of Benbecula and followed the west (Atlantic) coast of the island with its military firing range closed today. Approaching the crossing to Barra, James who was flying with me noticed a problem with my starboard wing - a tear in one panel. Flew on to Barra where I mended it with duct tape. Fortunately it wasn't in an area of wing fabric that supported much weight of the aircraft, and it had not affected the handling. This is a commercial airfield with BA scheduled flights which are fixed according to the state of the tides. Then from Barra we flew north to Benbecula airfield where the fire crew took us for fuel at the local garage. The Air Traffic Controller was very busy on our approach, giving us our order for landing and reviewing it as we approached at various speeds. In my Shadow aircraft I went from 2nd in line to last of about 9 as everyone overtook me! I think that the excitement of so many aircraft arriving at the same time made his day! We decided not to visit Stornoway or take the longer sea crossing to Kirkwall in the Orkneys as we had lost a lot of time and we wanted to be at Easter for the night. So climbing to above 5000 feet to avoid the military training area over Skye, then up to about 7000 to avoid clouds. A long glide brought us down to Plockton - a delightful village on the west coast, but we didn't have time to visit. I called the low flying booking cell at RAF Wittering who control the military low flying in Scotland, and arranged a temporary NOTAM to give us clearance to fly the Achnasheen route across Scotland. I have flown this route before and enjoyed it. We we're limited to 800 feet to keep us away from the tornados using the area, so we had a great time flying low with mountains reaching to 3000 feet on both sides. This brought us to the Eastern coast at Dingwall just a few miles from our destination for the night at Easter, which is close to the military range at Tain. Fortunately it was closed as they were all playing at Cape Wrath. Easter airfield is a delight. It has a club house with a well prepared strip which has been developed out of the outfield of the WW2 Fearn airfield. The owner, David and local pilot, James made us all most welcome with a BBQ and free drinks. Fuel runs were organised and many of us enjoyed a quiet evening in the cabin while others visited the local inn. They had fun finding their way back in near darkness over the fields!
Tuesday morning and thanks to Jimmy and David for the breakfast pies. We set off for Fife airport at Glenrothes following the A9 down the valleys. Colin and Capt Cogger followed the road at about 80mph which I cannot match so James and I hopped over the hills to cut the corners. We almost caught them at one point as we came down over the hill. By the time we arrived at Fife we were only 5 minutes behind! Fife airfield restaurant, the Tipsy Nipper, provided a choice of menu with 2 courses for £10. Advantage was taken of this! We didn't need fuel as we had brimmed the tanks at Easter, so a quick turn around got us back in the air with a decision to drop in at Strathaven for a refuel. I had missed a visit to this strip earlier in the week as I was pressing on for Glenforsa on the way north. Colin McKinnon took me to the garage and we filled the back of his car with Jerry cans of petrol. The garages there are not as difficult as the supermarkets round London which only allow 10 litres or so. We heard that Carlisle would be closing at 5pm and we barely had time to get there. After topping up my tanks I was the last away and the slowest aircraft, so I was playing catch up all the way and pushing on. My estimated time of arrival was about 30 seconds before 5 and I nearly made it, after completing the circuit I was just 30 seconds late. The staff there had cut the grass for us to park on the grass near the apron and another patch just away from the active area for us to camp. We took a taxi to Brampton where I had a large sausage and chips - someone had beaten me to the last fish! Finally a taxi back at 11pm after an evening in the pub.
Wednesday mid-morning we left Carlisle after the cloud had lifted a little. There is a tall mast (2000 feet or so) which we wanted to be able to see as we passed it! Then over the Lakes, with a low pass over Windermere, but it was rather bumpy with the wind coming off the hills to the west, so I climbed back up level with the top of the mountains. Keeping above 2000 feet we crossed Morecambe bay and the power station before dropping down over Pilling Sands - just north of Fleetwood. This is a beach airfield which is shown on the air charts so I decided that I should touch my wheels down so as to be able to put the airfield in my log book. While I performed a low level steep turn over the sands Capt Cogger caught up to fly in close for a video. As he caught up I touched down only to find the sand a little softer than I had anticipated. Because of the drag on the main wheels I couldn't get my nose wheel off the ground. Without the nose wheel up the aircraft won't fly! I decided to head towards the sea where I expected the sand to be firmer. So, leaving evidence of a sharp right turn on the sand I pointed towards the sea. No improvement, so I decided that I would have to find another way. I pumped the joystick forwards then back which compressed the suspension and its recovery helped to spring the nose up and soon I was airborne again. Lesson learnt - don't drop the nose wheel onto the sand unless it is firm!! We stopped next at Ince Blundell which lies near the coast just north of Crosby. I was just transferring some fuel from a can when I noticed that I had leak in my fuel system. So I bypassed that part of the system with generous help from David and Carl at the airfield. From Ince we decided to visit Shobdon. This is not on our route, but as Wales was cut off by cloud we had to improvise. Shobdon, in Herefordshire is a popular airfield for microlights. It also has a cafe so we had cuppa and a biscuit to keep us going. Onward to Over Farm just west of Gloucester. This is a microlight strip where some of the Fly-UK pilots fly from, so we were sure of a welcome! We had offers of fuel runs and any other help that we needed. Just down the road is a Toby Carvery which suited us well. A couple of pilots went for the large sized serving for a pound or so extra, but I think they regretted it as the meals are a generous size. Just room for a desert then back to the airfield for a whiskey and turned in for the night. Tomorrow's weather forecast is not promising.
Thursday morning started with low cloud and not much of a promise of improvement. We went back to the Toby for breakfast, then walked on to a garage where I bought a pack of Nan bread for lunch! Mid morning and someone went for a spin to see how low the cloud was. A quick turn around the area and they were back with no good news. We spent the morning chatting with the locals and supping coffee! Another short flight in the afternoon showed that it was still no better so we decided to stay the night and try in the morning. The forecast was due to improve a little. Another Toby meal and back to the camp. Maybe tomorrow...
Friday and there was no rush to get up, but eventually we all emerged from our tents. Was the sky a bit brighter? Probably not. But by mid-day we decided that it was satisfactory to fly so we set off to the north of Gloucester and Cheltenham, avoiding the highest of the hills before turning eastwards. Visiting Enstone, north of Oxford, from where we reconsidered the weather. Enstone has a wide tarmac runway as well as a parallel grass strip, but more importantly it also has a cafe which it turned out serves cakes and buns. It was some time since breakfast so I had to have two of the cakes! This passed the time until the weather improved a little and we continued our journey. We had hoped to be given clearance to fly through the Oxford (Kidlington) airfield airspace but were unlucky. So we negotiated the gap between Kidlington and the glider field of Weston on the Green, passed over the bird sanctuary at 2000 feet and around the military airspace of Benson. As the cloud base was still low we decided on flying to Princes Risborough where there is a valley through the Chilterns. We managed to get over the hills to Amersham and then set a course for Plaistows - my home field. Ten minutes later I was in the circuit and preparing to land, watching out for the pylons which lie alongside the airfield as I crossed them and called final for runway 33. The weather forecast was for a flying day on the Saturday, but Sunday was not so good. Perhaps this will be the end of Fly-UK 2013 for me. At least I would get a bed for the night and some regular food again!
Saturday was a breezy day, but fine weather. However with some repairs to do to G-MWEZ and a poor day forecast for tomorrow I decided that I would sit it out at home and so not reach the destination of Fenland in East Anglia. I had covered about 1700 miles on the trip and reached the Islands of Barra, Benbecula and South Uist in the Outer Hebrides, as well as a great low level flight across the central highlands of Scotland. I had landed at seven new airfields including beach landings at Sollas, Barra and Pilling Sands - my first beach landing, and I had experienced three problems with the aircraft (Exhaust, Wing fabric and fuel leak) yet it had safely brought me back home. This was a Fly-UK to remember. I wonder whether I will be in the same aircraft next year. Time to check out afors.com to see what is about, perhaps!