On the 16th May 2013 my wife and I set off from Southern Helicopters for a trip around the south coast of England, one of those things on the ‘Must To Do list’.
Our basic plan was to fly 1 hour legs, allow ½ hour start –up and shut-down, thus leaving ½ hour reserve. So with a current 1:250,000 map strapped to each leg (the route was too long for one leg!) and the GPS set, we headed off towards the northern edge of Stapleford ATZ, skirting around Stansted controlled airspace, and followed the M25 west until we reached the single wind turbine at Leavesden. From here we routed to High Wycombe (Booker) via the Golden Ball landmark – so far so good and time for refuelling and a coffee.
During the coffee break a quick check on the weather revealed heavy rain showers for Kemble (Gloucestershire), so this flight was abandoned, as it was also for the next day. The forced overnight stay in High Wycombe was hastily arranged at the Travelodge via our trustee smart phone.
The Kemble route was replaced by a route via Compton Abbas. As it was the weekend, all military operations (MATZ & AIAA) were inactive, which made flying around the Boscombe Down area easier, as we only needed to be in radio contact with London Information.
Compton Abbas is a delightful airfield on the top of a hill with rolling countryside below. With good food and Tiger Moths flying about one could stay there for hours, in fact we spent 4 hours there! Admittedly we lost an hour by setting down at the wrong AVGAS pump and then had to re-position for parking. The walk from grass parking to the busy restaurant was very long but in the glorious weather who was complaining!
Our flight from Compton Abbas to Exeter was un-eventful, but parking at Exeter was quite a different experience. Due to weekend Corporate visitors, we were parked on the North Apron on the far side of the active runway. We had our own personal marshal to park us and our own personal ground transportation to and from the terminal!
Two days of low cloud prevented us from flying onto Perranporth, which is set on the cliff-tops of the north Cornish coast. At Exeter we were given an un-expected clearance to ‘depart from our present parked position to the North West’ . One always has to be ‘on the ball’ and our take off was well away from the active runway which was fine by us. From Exeter we followed the A30 past Bodmin to Perranporth using only our maps. En-route the cloud base lowered and it was comforting to hear Newquay Radar making other traffic aware of our presence. We landed at Perranporth by creeping under a cloud base of 500 feet with Landing Lights on !
Due to high winds we stayed at Perranporth for a few days and, being very close to our home in Truro, allowed us time for a much needed change of clothes. With winds gusting over 35mph we were also pleased to have tied the skids to concrete tie-downs on the cliff airfield. Main rotor and tail covers afforded protection against the Cornish Liquid sunshine!
Next stop was Lands-End, which was hard to spot amongst all the green fields even though it was by the coast. No sooner had we landed we were surprized to be instructed by ATC to ‘ hold position and then set-down’ as we were not clear of the active runway! Fortunately an in-coming Skybus asked ATC to move us, which we were very happy to do so. Re-fuelling was not easy at Lands-End as the fuel pumps are right beside passenger embarkation and manoeuvring Skybuses for scheduled flights to the Isles of Scilly. Turning rotors and passengers do not mix well!
The next part of our trip was on home territory as we flew over Falmouth, and up the River Fal passing Truro Cathedral and our home, en-route to Bodmin airfield. Re-fuelling at Bodmin was an interesting experience as we had to hop over a fence and an access road to reach the pumps which are in a hollow. With full fuel on-board and light winds there was no way we could go back the way we came in, so we weaved our way around tight hanger corners and expensive planes – not a lot of room for rotor clearance error!
We left Bodmin the following day as un-settled weather was moving in from the south west and headed back to Compton Abbas. After a blustery take-off from Compton we flew on to Goodwood (Chichester) through Southampton Controlled airspace. Southampton were very helpful and the flight over Calshot VRP and the Solent was very memorable. We had intended to go via the Isle of Wight but a phone call to the airfields for PPR revealed that they did not have any fuel!
At Goodwood, helicopters circuits are quite different for different runways, so it was interesting when our planned approach was suddenly changed to a different runway due to changing winds. To avoid conflicting with the fixed wing we elected to climb above the ATZ, manoeuvre to the other side and descend into the helicopter circuit.
We had several days in Goodwood (Chichester) which was like a mini holiday – we even bought fresh new clothes and posted our dirty laundry back to base!>
We left Goodwood overflying Arundel Castle, keeping north of a very busy Shoreham ATZ and followed the Southdowns until Uckfield, before heading towards Rochester airfield with its nearby Holiday Inn. We had a gap between radio communications with Farnbourgh Lars and Rochester information which was expected due to our distance from the station, altitude and terrain.
From Rochester we made a short trip to Lydd airfield via Dover and Folkestone,Whitstable Bay and enjoyed their Sunday roast pork bap in the Biggles restaurant. Departure was interesting as the Lydd taxi way runs south to north and runway is east to west. With a strong wind coming from the south we started to air taxi on the taxi-way and then did a sharp left turn to depart along the east runway. A great take-off.
The last leg from Rochester back to base at Southern Helicopters was quite normal until we arrived. The wind was coming from the north –east and Stansted ATC wanted us to remain well clear of the 04 approach path. We elected to approach our landing site from the south west into wind, remaining clear of several in-coming large jets. I have flown around the landing site many times in the last 3 years but had never approached it from that direction, so decided to do a recce. After one recce circuit I was confident that I should be able to land in the appropriate spot. I knew that there were ‘wires’ in the approach path, but had not appreciated how close they were to suddenly appear, so flew over the landing spot, air taxied in the adjoining field before returning to my landing spot.
In summary, the whole flight went very well, especially as our well serviced Rotorway had no mechanical or technical problems over the entire 20 hr flight. Mission accomplished!
Charles & Sue – May 2013