The report below also appeared in Microlight Flying, the BMAA magazine.
Readers of the 2013 event will know that my aircraft suffered from a split in the starboard wing top surface fabric while over the Outer Hebrides last year. I got back home OK with a polythene patch, but I needed a full repair before this year. The material that I hoped to use for a complete recover did not materialise! So I was fortunate to find another Shadow for sale on my home field of Plaistows, which I purchased and prepared for this year. It hadn't been used in ten years, so there was some doubt that the bearings would be fit for purpose. As it turned out they were fine, but that did not mean that I got away entirely free of problems.
We had a really warm welcome for our start location at Sandy in Bedfordshire. It was a great location, not least because it wasn't far from home for me, so I made it there, much to the surprise of everyone! Even so, most people had arrived before me, including three German Pilots and one Frenchman. The strip is not short, but the trees at the threshold make it seem much shorter as the first third of the runway is unavailable to most aircraft. If I had remembered to use my flaps I'm sure that I would not have had to use so much brake!! The club put on a smashing evening meal, organised the beer and the warm sunshine which was enjoyed well into the evening.
Saturday morning we were making for Boston, Full Sutton and then Eshott. Boston has a good cafe - so it was bacon butties and a coffee ;-) Weather was becoming a little rainy in places so my onward flight omitted the Full Sutton stop and struck out for Eshott direct. As in recent years we hit the weekend of their annual Great North Fly-In. What a great evening. The Fly-UK sticker raising more than any other raffle prize including a Flight in a Cessna, so everyone was well pleased!
On the Sunday we had another pilot join us from Eshott and a hitch-hiker who was keen to join the rally as a passenger. I was the lucky person who found space for Ellen, by placing my luggage in two, already fully loaded flexwings. So we continued two-up as we set off northwards with lots of beach flying along the east coast and into Scotland. We crossed over the Firth of Forth and made the first stop at Kingsmuir, Fife, where the instructor from Balado had relocated for the duration of 'T in the Park'. It is a simple field but the refreshments were well worth the visit. Then on to Longside where the club is always so welcoming that it seems a shame not to go there every year. They let us camp in their club house as our aircraft were looked after in the hangars.
Monday was supposed to take us to Kirkwall, but the weather beat us all. Instead, after a late start we made our way to Easter then took our favourite route to the west coast, through the valley via Achnasheen and into Plockton. With a choice of several public houses we decided on the chippy by the beach for our evening meal.
Tuesday morning saw us marking time at Plockton while the weather gods played games in the heavens! We finally got away at noon, following the coast and over the hills of Ardnamurchan before finding our way between the low cloud and the hill tops into Glenforsa. Then more coastal flying, with a touch and go at Bute for Ellen's benefit, and onwards to Strathaven. Here two of us were given a lift into the town where we placed an order for our pizzas to be delivered to the airfield. We purchased drinks at the supermarket and cadged a lift back from the town with the pizza delivery. A good arrangement! The evening was spent in the Strathaven club house, where some also spent the night.
Wednesday and we got away early. We took a direct route, almost following the motorway and flying low past the wind farms, into Glassonby. We were looked after well with a fuel run while the rest of us took advantage of a hot coffee in the club house. Colin took Ellen to Carlisle airport on the way so that she could be back in Derbyshire for a family engagement. Onwards to Ince for another fuel run and another coffee! It was on leaving here that I forgot to check my rear hatches and took off with one unsecured! Oh dear. It flew open and damaged part of the frame. I was tempted to blame my passenger, but as she was on the train at the time no-one took me seriously. I returned to the airfield and sealed it up with gaffer tape, then set off a second time for Llanbedr. This airfield had only opened a week or two earlier after passing into commercial hands from its recent RAF use. The flying club members all turned out to help as we secured our aircraft on the edge of the apron or took a place in the hangars. Camping was not permitted on the airfield so we took a short hike to Shell Island camp site (the largest in Europe) where had a swim in the Irish Sea before we made full use of their on-site restaurant and bar.
Thursday morning I was up early watching the porpoises moving down the coast to the south. By 8.30 we had left the camp site and made out way to the adjacent airfield just as the tide was coming in. It is a causeway to the island and a few minutes later we would have had wet feet. Our next stop was Shobdon for a refuel and snack lunch. I had relied upon them having 2 stroke oil, but unfortunately none was available, so I made a short hop to Broadmeadow farm where one of the Fly-UK pilots, has his aircraft based. He kindly ran me into the local garage for my aircraft and for Rick Bremner's too. Then on to Sandown, with an eye on the approaching weather. There was a front coming in from the southwest which became all too apparent was I was squeezing through the gap between the heavy rain showers and the military zone. There was barely the space to get through and I knew that Rick was unlikely to follow me as he had a charging problem and could not start his aircraft when I left. I arrived at Sandown in the rain and was glad to be down. The most difficult part of the journey was definitely trying to get my waterproofs on whilst still in the cockpit!
Friday's weather was OK at Sandown, but the weather further on was not flyable. So we took advantage of the sunshine and spent the morning on the beach! By the middle of the afternoon it was clearing and we departed for Redlands. Here we stopped for the night, looked after by the club members.
Saturday morning after the weather had cleared sufficiently, we left Redlands for a regrouping and reappraisal at Oakley. Then on towards our destination at Headon. We were expected at Wolvey, but the rain squalls kept us away despite trying. Protracted circling while looking for an opportunity to approach for a landing left me low fuel so I put down on the Newark and Nottinghamshire Showground and carried my can to the nearby garage for 10 litres. More showers to avoid but a short run on the final leg to Headon. I arrived in plenty of time for a burger and before the band started its warm up. By the time it was well underway I was sitting with a group in the airfield caravan where it was a little quieter and we could talk!
Sunday's weather was good enough for everyone to make their way home after another great adventure. On arrival at 1750 feet over my home field at Plaistows I throttled back and my engine seized. The fan belt had worn down because of rusty pulleys and it had snapped. Fortunately I was able to glide down to my chosen runway where I was grateful for a push off the runway. Home at last! But not quite in the way that I had intended.