Saturday, 26 June 2010

LAC Summer Solstice Fly In and BBQ

Sierra Lima (and me!) at the Kenyon Hall Farm strip
(as with all pictures, click twice on the picture for a bigger image)

Way back in summer 1978 I joined Lancashire Aero Club (LAC) at Barton Airfield to learn to fly, obtaining my PPL (Private Pilot's Licence) the following year. Subsequently, I enjoyed decades of fun-flying from that lovely grass airfield; Barton was our playground! It was pure 'grass roots' aviation; a great clubhouse where one could socialise even if the weather made flying unlikely, no silly 'PC' rules, a relaxed attitude to operations (non-mandatory radio, for instance), lots of interesting flying going on (tailwheel aeroplanes, vintage aeroplanes, aerobatics, home built aeroplanes) as well as more conventional types.

A few years ago Manchester City Council (the owners of Barton) refused to renew our lease or to consider selling us the site. Instead, it was sold to property developer Peel Holdings, the owners of Liverpool Airport and the Trafford Centre. LAC lost its home, and Barton lost its 'grass roots' atmosphere as security barriers and fencing and pay-car parks appeared, and the relaxed atmosphere and interesting flying disappeared. We'd lost our playground.

Some LAC members continued to fly from Barton despite much higher hangarage fees, but many de-camped. Our own Chipmunk group had moved to Liverpool John Lennon Airport, others went to Sleap, Breighton, or Blackpool. But despite not having a home. LAC continued as a flying club. Have a look at our web site .

The hunt for a new home was on, and not long ago the committee decided on Kenyon Hall Farm near Wigan as our new base. It was just a farmer's field, but now has a 580m mown strip, and clubhouse, and aircraft parking areas.

I made my first trip to there today, to visit the LAC Summer Solstice Fly In and BBQ (and sleepover for those so inclined!). It might seem a bit daft to drive from my home in Wilmslow, to Liverpool, to fly to a field just south of Wigan... and then do again the other way round to return home. But hey, who said there was anything logical about this fun-flying lark! And anyway, in today's lovely hot sunshine, driving my MX5 with its electric folding hard-top roof 'folded' was a bit of fun in itself!
The MX5, roof down, ready to go!

Since this is the first description of a Chipmunk flight on this blog, I'll describe the flight preperations and Air Traffic proceedures in some detail. But since they vary only slightly from one flight to the next, I'll omit them from future blog postings.

When I arrived at Keenair Aviation on Liverpool's General Aviation apron, there was no sign of our aeroplane. The Keenair staff usually get her out of the hangar onto the apron first thing in the morning if she's booked to fly, so the refuelling truck will fill her up on its early round. But this morning.... no Sierra Lima to be seen. She wasn't in the Hangar either; maybe someone was sneaking in a quick flight in her before mine, but the booking-out book showed no entries since last Sunday. I knew she'd had a tailwheel problem earlier in the week, and the work to replace a cracked tailwheel leg and fork had only been completed late yesterday, so maybe she was still in the hangar at Ravenair (who do our maintenance) at the far end of the GA apron? A walk down there revealed her nestling at the back of Ravenair's maintenance hangar, with several other aeroplanes blocking her in. And no-one from Ravenair was about.

Eventually a Ravenair instructor came by, and after I'd collared him he went to find the operations guys to get Sierra Lima out. But they weren't about. Never mind, we'd shift the obstructing aeroplanes ourselves and had just started doing so when another Ravenair guy turned up and asked if I was sure Sierra Lima was released to flight, as the engineers usually move her across to Keenair's hanger when they've finished working on her. A quick call to our group secretary, who called the Ravenair maintenance boss at home, who confirmed she was fit for flight, sorted that. They hadn't moved her last night as there hadn't been time to do that after they'd finished working on her.

At last - Sierra Lima was out in the Liverpool sunshine; it looked like the trip to Kenyon Hall Farm would be on. I turned on the fuel, set the brakes, checked the magnetos (mags) were 'off' in both front and rear cockpits, and that the throttle was closed. Opening the left hand cowling I pulled the ring that presses on the carburetor float, allowing it to 'flood', then pumped the handle on one of the mechanical fuel pumps until I heard fuel gurgling into the carburettor and pooling in the inlet manifold before trickling out through the manifold overflow. Now I could 'prime' the engine - suck fuel vapour into each cylinder so she'd start. I pulled the propeller through four revolutions to 'suck in' the fuel vapour, and also to check that the cylinder compressions were OK.

I shut the cowling, climbed into the front cockpit switching on the mags in the rear cockpit as I did so, set the throttle, switched on the master switch, the starter enable switch, and the front cockpit mags. I looked around to ensure it was safe to start, shouted 'clear prop' while rotating my right fore-finger with my right arm extended upwards, and pressed the starter button.

There was a tortured groan as the starter clutch engaged and the prop moved about a quarter of a revolution and stopped. This is normal. I released the starter button and the prop bounced backwards as the clutch released. When I judged it had bounced as far back as it was going to, and before it had a chance to bounce forward again to its resting position, I hit the starter again. This time, with more forward distance to travel before the compression of the first cylinder overcame the strength of the starter motor, it moved nearly half a revolution. And stopped. Once more I released the starter button, the prop bounced back further than it had the first time. On the third judiciously-timed application of starter, the prop made it over compression and the engine spun a couple of revolutions before raggedly barking into lumpy life.

I set the revs at 1,200 rpm, let the brake off, and Sierra Lima rolled forward. About two notches set on the brake lever was enough to give me differential braking on the main wheels so I could steer her with my feet, and we slowly blattered our way around the apron to the Keenair hangar, canopy open, the prop blast ruffling my shirt and hair, giving some welcome cooling on this hot, hot day. I shut down and went into the office to sign out in our bookings book, and to book out with Air Traffic (dHC1, one on board, to Kenyon Hall Farm strip, leave the zone at Burtonwood, 2 hours fuel, 15 minutes en-route, departing 11:00 zulu).

Sierra Lima on the Liverpool GA apron

Back out on the apron I completed the pre-flight checks, re-primed the engine, climbed aboard, started up, and taxied to the far end of the apron for the power checks. All checked out OK, so I paid attention to the radio fed into my headset. A Ryannair Boeing 737 was geting his taxy instructions; when he was done I pressed the transmit button on top of the stick:

"Liverpool Ground good morning, Golf Bravo Charlie Sierra Lima at Kilo for taxy"

"G-BCSL good morning. Taxy via Kilo to Foxtrot to hold for runway 09, QNH is 1015"

I read back the taxy clearance and the pressure setting and rolled towards holding point Foxtrot which is about two thirds of the way up runway 09, noting the Ryanair was rolling towards the holding point down at the beginning of 09.

"Sierra Lima, your clearance after take off will be to leave the zone at Burtonwood VFR not above 1,500 feet on the QNH 1015, squawking 0260"

I read back the clearance.

"Sierra Lima, readback correct, call Tower on 126 decimal 35"

"12635, Sierra Lima, good day". Changing radio frequency to Tower, I listened initially to ensure my transmission won't break into a converstion already in train there. But the frequency was free, so I hit the transmit button; "Liverpool tower Golf Bravo Charlie Sierra Lima, approaching Fox"

"G-BCSL roger, enter runway 09 and backtrack as required. Break. Ryannair 326 line up and wait 09, there's a Chipmunk taking off in front of you from the mid point"

I watched the Boeing turn slowly onto the runway (I was facing it as I entered the runway at the mid point from the opposite direction) as I acknowledged my clearance and heard the Ryannair pilot acknowledge his instructions.

"G-SL, can you turn around and take it from there please? And an early left turn would be appreciated. You are cleared for take off runway 09, surface wind 180 at 10".

As I spun the Chippy round to face up the runway I replied "Clear take off 09, and an early turn will be no problem". I did a last minute check of the flying controls (full and free movement) and opened up to full power. The Gipsy engine note changed from its relaxed blatter to assume a businesslike unsilenced steady and very loud roar. Pushing the stick forward brought the Chippy's tail up in seconds. Seconds after that we were in the air. I held her down to accelerate to 70 knots, then rolled into a steepish climbing left turn out over the grass leaving the runway behind me vacant for the Ryannair. As I levelled the wings on a track for Burtonwood I heard the 737 get his take off clearance. I doubt he'd even had to stop on the runway.

"G-SL, thanks for that. Call Approach 119 decimal 85. Good day".

"11985, cheers, SL". I follow the same frequency-changing procedure as before; "Liverpool Approach, G-BCSL"

"G-BCSL hello to you, call me passing Burtonwood".

"Wilco. Sierra Lima"

The air was unstable; the sun heating the ground is kicking of some powerful thermals, columns of ascending hot air, which are sustained and even accelerated by the instability, making flying bumpy. Up ahead I saw a bunch of gulls circling in classic 'soaring' style, and a couple of seconds later I flew through their thermal a few hundred feet above them. There was a heck of a thump as I hit it, lifting me bodily out of the seat despite the Chippy's four-point harness. Those birds can sure read the sky!

Fifteen minutes later, having signed off with Liverpool Air Traffic, I had located Kenyon Hall Farm strip east of the M6, north of the M62, and just south of Stephenson's Liverpool to Manchester railway line. I got the speed right back on final, and floated over the hedge to a silky touchdown on 23. This is my kind of flying; stick and rudder, down in the weeds, weaving between the trees and feeling the angle of attack through the stick while eyballing around the landscape to arrive over the threshold at the correct height and speed for a minimum-float smooth return to earth on a short and undulating rough field. It's like being a bird!

The clubhouse and aircraft parking area were up at the 05 end of this short bowl-shaped strip. I'd completed my roll-out about halfway along the runway, so I opened up to taxy to the end, turn off to the left, and swung Sierra Lima round to position next to the (so far) only other arrival. I got an enthusiastic welcome from Kate, who'd organised the event as I climbed down from the aeroplane, and many 'old Barton' faces were evident around the barbecue.

What a delightful spot this was! What a contrast to John Lennon Airport I'd left only fifteen minutes earlier. Peaceful countryside, the clubhouse (a tastefully converted container!) nestling under an old oak tree with tables and chairs out on the grass in front of it. Woods and trees all around, with fields of swaying tall grass in the adjacent hay meadows.

Sierra Lima in front of the KHF clubhouse

Sierra Lima ready to depart from KHF strip

A cooling glass of lemonade was first on the list of priorities, followed by a burger and sausage from the barbie. We spotted the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight Dakota doing a display a mile or so north, at Golborne, and willed it to give us a fly-by, but it wasn't to be. Kate's phone was alive with folk saying they were flying in, and pretty soon the arrivals started in earnest; nice to have more visitors, but it meant the limited aircraft parking area soon began to fill up. We moved the Chippy out of the way so it wouldn't get blocked in, as I wanted to be away soon after 2pm.

The lovely blue Luscombe from Barton arrived, as did a bevvy of utralights, a Cub, and a lovely Bucker Jungmann biplane. There was even a nose-wheel aircraft there - a Streak Shadow. I was the second departure of the day, the first being a Super Cub who on departure gave us a demonstration of that aeroplane's low speed and high rate of climb performance, passing over our heads at several hundred feet despite starting his take off run not quite at the beginning of the mere 580 metres of the strip.

As I prepared to depart, Paul Tomlin (LAC's official photographer) asked me to stay low for a good shot. Hmmm. The downwind end of the field had a gap in the low hedge at the end of the runway - I could aim to pass through that! The picture heading this post is actually one from Steve Kershaw, but it is of that take off. I started right from the end of the strip (runway behind you being famously one of the useless things in aviation), let off the brakes, and got her into the air remarkably quickly despite the ninety degree crosswind and high temperatures on this lovely hot afternoon. After lift off I held the aeroplane down to just above the grass as she accelerated along the strip, whizzed through the gap in the hedge, then I used the excess energy in a short zoom-climb to a few hundred feet before adopting the Chippy's more usual, sedate, climb-out profile.

Liverpool were on runway 27 now, so that gave me minimum routing as I'd be approaching the airport from the direction of landing (just as runway 09 - the reciprocal - had this morning launched me towards KHF strip). And there was little commercial traffic so I got a clearance immediately to enter the zone at Burtonwood, then to proceed direct to right base for 27. With about four miles to run I was put over to Tower, who cleared me to 'final' as someone took off, then gave me a landing clearance as I reported 'final'.

In deference to Sierra Lima's tailwheel problems, I did a 'wheel' landing (landing the aeroplane in the level attitude, on the mainwheels, then allowing the tail to gently descend, rather than the more usual '3-point' landing where the aeroplane is flared just above the runway and touches down on all 3 wheels simultaneously).

There was no sign of tailwheel shimmy, so the new parts had obviously cured the problem (KHF strip is grass, and tailwheels don't shimmy on grass so that landing had not been a test of whether the problem had been cured or not).

'Tower' handed me over to 'Ground', who cleared me to Kilo (the entrance to the GA apron) and I taxyed up to the Keenair parking area, let the engine temperatures stabilise for a minute or two, then switched off the radio and transponder followed by the mags, while fully opening the throttle (to prevent 'run-on'). The prop clanked round to bounce to a stop between compressions, I switched off the master switch, and sat back in comfortably-reclined seat of the tail-down Chippy to let myself return to earth before climbing out.

Just the oil to wipe off the airframe and from within the engine bay, and the paperwork to complete, before getting the MX5's top down again and hitting the road home.

What a cracking day out!

For a series of high quality pictures of the event by photographers Paul Tomlin and Steve Grimshaw, go to:

On that page, click on either of the two opening pictures to enter Paul or Steve's gallery, and it will open in larger size. Hold your mouse over the right hand edge of the picture and a 'next' button will appear, enabling you to move on though the pictures.

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Father's day!

I spent the morning leading a walk near Mobberley for the AE, W&DFPS (see 'Walking' section of this blog). The Cheshire countryside, in the rich full growth of high summer, is stunningly beautiful on a fabulous day like Sunday. Afterwards, we enjoyed lunch at home (with my mother, who came to visit), and relaxing in the garden. Well done to my wife, Chris, for providing the lunch and also for taking me out for a lovely meal at the local Turkish restaurant in Alderley Edge as a father's day treat tonight. Yum!