Thursday, 30 September 2010

Sherlowe Airstrip closes

Halcyon days at Sherlowe; A Cessna 172 I used to have a share in. I'd been flying in the area and dropped in for a brew
(As usual, click on the images for larger size)

Sherlowe is the most delightful place to fly into. Not far from The Wrekin in Shropshire, south of the long disused High Ercall wartime airfield, this delightful strip has for the past eleven years been a haven for 'grass roots' aviators such as myself.

It was established by Bob Pooler at Lower Grounds Farm, and initially he had local opposition to the strip's existence. We helped him by lobbying the local planning authority, pointing out that this was no 'airport' set for expansion, it was a quiet grass farm strip and would always remain so. Bob won his planning permission, and Sherlowe became firmly established with many of us aviators who fly vintage or otherwise 'interesting' aeroplanes that don't need miles of tarmac to operate from as a delightful strip to visit. Bob built a clubhouse named 'Terminal One', which was fitted out with armchairs and all the comforts of home, including a fully stocked fridge, a microwave, sink, and of course, a kettle.

Many is the time I've been flying in the area and have dropped into Sherlowe, taxied up to Terminal One, switched off the blattering Gipsy major engine of our dH Chipmunk, slid back the canopy, and drunk in the rural peace of this lovely place. One could make a brew, even some lunch if appropriate (remembering to toss some money into Bob's 'honesty tin'), and sit out at one of the tables in front of Terminal One looking across to the farms and the nearby Wrekin and enjoying the rural peace.

But all good things come to an end, and today was the last day of operations of Sherlowe strip as we know it. The runway is grass, and over half of it is on land belonging to Bob's neighbour. This farmer has terminated the lease of the land to Bob and it will return to the plough, leaving the remains of the Sherlowe runway (at only 200 metres) to short for all but the most capable STOL (Short Take Off and Landing) aircraft, and helicopters.

Today was not only the final day of Sherlowe as a usable airfield, it was also a good flying day among a run of very wet and windy non-flying days (earlier this week has been horrid, and the forecast for the next few days is at least as bad). The Chipmunk was available, so I took the opportunity to pay a final visit to Sherlowe today.

Here's the strip from the north photographed this morning:

The part of the runway that is closed from today can be seen as a green stripe bisecting the brown ploughed field in the middle centre. The strip continues towards the aeroplane's position into the green field, terminating at the hedge at the end of the field. The farmhouse of Sherlowe, and 'Terminal One' can be seen on the left side of the field. That green part of the strip with the house and Terminal One is level, and is Bob's land (as ever, click on the picture, then click again to view the picture in detail). The far part of the strip where it continues as a green (actually, fading to yellow as it has been sprayed prior to ploughing) stripe across the adjacent ploughed field it slopes downhill and is his neighbour's land, and that is lost as from today.

The new strip will be on Bob's land, on the green field where the house and Terminal One are located, but oriented slightly more 'clockwise' that the present strip, to maximise available length across the field. It'll be about 300m, and more into the prevailing wind (present strip is 33/15).

Here is the Black Chippy this morning in front of 'Terminal One' at Sherlowe:

And here it is back at Liverpool keeping a fellow hangar resident (A Harvard) company. It had started as a lovely clear blue-sky day, but at Liverpool those gathering clouds were generating some very heavy showers by the time I left for home:

Maybe, when Bob has re-laid the strip, we might visit again, though 300 metres will be a challenging length on all but the days when a good wind is blowing directly down the runway!

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Liverpool & Manchester Railway 180th anniversary

It was an early start for me this morning; I was rostered as Planet's fireman at the Museum of Science & Industry (MoSI) in Manchester, with a sign-on time of 7:00am! Crewing Planet (the Museum's replica 1830 Stephenson steam locomotive) is a regular volunteer duty for me, but normal sign-on time is 08:30 in order to have the engine ready for service by mid day. But 15th September was the 180th anniversary of the opening of the Liverpool & Manchester railway, the World's first passenger railway. The MoSI site includes the original Liverpool Road terminus of that railway, the world's oldest railway station, so this weekend (and last) MoSI is holding a special event to celebrate that anniversary.

The National Railway Museum replica 'Rocket' locomotive and train are on site, to run alternately throughout the day with our resident 'Planet' and train to recreate Liverpool Road station as it would have looked in 1830. This meant 'Planet' had to be ready for service by 10:00, hence the early start.

It was still dark as I drove into Manchester this morning, and it was raining quite hard. David, our Operations Manager for the day, arrived, as did Ray my driver, and Rocket's driver and fireman. We prepared our locomotives and I soon had a good fire going in Planet's firebox, with 'first pressure' registering by 09:10, and full pressure well before 10:00. So I wandered up the track in the gloom and rain to take a look at Rocket, where I was invited up onto the footplate.

The view from Rocket's tiny footplate; regulator on the left, gauge glass lower centre, cross-head water feed pump on the right

Rocket's fire pierces the rainy Manchester gloom. Note the engineman's trick of drying out soaking wet gloves on the hot firebox

I got a lift back into the station on Rocket, where she was parked over the pit so her driver could go underneath to rake the ashes out of the loco's ash pan.

Rocket's driver under the loco raking out the ash pan

I walked back to Planet to see how Ray had been looking after my fire, and soon it was time for the first train of the day. Rocket and Planet took turns to run the service, doing an hour (three or four journeys) before changing over. Rocket went first, and we had a grandstand view from Planet's footplate.

Rocket with her first class and open coaches on the 'Pineapple Line', in front of the mural on the side of the Granada TV building, as seen from Planet

The line at MoSI is 'Y' shaped; the train starts from the station by the museum entrance, runs through the historic Liverpool Road station with the 1830 warehouse on the right, over Water Street bridge and the Irwell bridge into Salford (so we are an Inter-City railway!) right up to the gates beyond which the line joins the main line from Deansgate station. Here the fireman gets out and unlocks the point behind the train, changes it, and locks it again, so the train can reverse down the 'Pineapple Line', locomotive propelling, alongside the premises of Granada TV (the line gets its name from the long demolished Pineapple pub on Water Street). On reaching the end of the Pineapple line, the train once again reverses and retraces its route back to the station by the entrance.

Rocket backs towards us to pass to the right of Planet, propelling its train from the Salford end of the site, heading back to the station. The original Liverpool Road terminus is on the left, the 1830 warehouse on the right

I took the opportunity to have ride on Rocket's footplate for the length of the line; not something you often get the chance to do!

While waiting on our spur line for our turn of duty, I cooked a 'brunch' of fried Spam sandwiches. First I cleaned Planet's shovel in a blast of hot steam from the injector, then heated it in the firebox. A lump of lard was plopped onto it which melted almost immediately, and the slices of Spam placed on the shovel, which was inserted into the firebox for about half a minute, the Spam turned over, and done for another half minute before putting between the pre-buttered bread. Just the thing on a cold wet footplate!

Rocket's driver and fireman squint into the Manchester rain as they reverse past Planet into the station

After Rocket had done three trips up and down the line it was parked in the loop line with its train, and we came off our spur line and backed down into the station to do our three runs before Rocket took over again. Our relief crew for the afternoon shift had arrived by now, but Ray and I decided to do the first return run of Planet's second set of journeys before booking off duty at about 14:00.

As I arrived home, the rain stopped! We'd got soaked through (Planet has no cab, only an open footplate), so I was certainly ready for a long, hot bath.

So, leaving home on a Sunday morning in the dark at 06:30, getting filthy and soaked wet through, but having great fun on two replica Stephenson steam locomotives. Was it worth it? Oh, I think so!

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Two old Trumpets

I went out yesterday afternoon with the guy I bought my Bonneville from on a ride around the local lanes; Northwich to look for a replacement helmet he was after. But then Plumley, Peover (pronounced Peever), and many other delightful Cheshire villages low-lit and long shadowed in the autumn sunshine. A lovely biking day (so good, I'd already been out on the Bonnie that morning!).

He was on a Triumph T150V Trident, me on my Triumph Bonneville, and for a while we swapped bikes. They are only a hand full of years apart, my T140D and his T150V, but sooo different in character. Apart from the right foot gear change (which I found no problem) the ride technique and the start procedure are not dissimilar to my T140D.

My Bonnie handles better, but the Trident is so much smoother and sounds sublime. It just wants to go! The Bonnie sounds good, but its delightful 'Gipsy Major' isn't quite up there with the 'Vendeneyev' of the T150.

Here are the two Triumphs ('Trumpets') at the Whipping Stocks, Lower Peover: T150V on the left, T140D on the right. Must get a black and silver number plate for mine. That yellow one just doesn't suit the bike.

The T150V Trident on the left, T140D Bonneville on the right, at the Whipping Stocks Inn, Lower Peover

Sunday, 12 September 2010

Barton (City Airport, Manchester) Fly-in

I learned to fly at Barton back in 1978. For decades before that, and for decades afterwards until it was purchased from Manchester City Council by Peel Holdings some years ago, it was the playground of Lancashire Aero Club (LAC). LAC moved out some time after our Chipmunk G-BCSL was relocated from there to Liverpool John Lennon, but it is always good to go back to the place that was for generations the home of grass roots aviation in the north west.

Mal, the wife of friend of mine, Mike Hyslop, is mad about flying and I'd agreed to take her in the Chipmunk to the fly-in. Mike and Mal picked me up this morning and we drove to John Lennon, where Mal and I strapped into the Chippy and Mike set of by road for Barton.

Mal in the Chippy rear cockpit, at Liverpool John Lennon

Mike Hyslop, who took the pictures (except this one, of course)

I strap Mal into the rear seat

Mal ready for the off!

....But not until I'm strapped in!

We got airborne off 27 and I persuaded the Liverpool controller to give us a routing to exit the zone at Burtonwood. Once out of the zone we had a look at LAC's new home at Kenyon Hall Farm strip. The low cloud base precluded any aerobatics but we did do some 'spirited maneuvering'. Barton was busy as expected, but we joined overhead as number one, rolled off the height with a near-wings-vertical slip, turned downwind, and did a wheel landing on 27R in the strong north west wind, holding the tail up almost until we stopped.

Taxying in at Barton

Once we got 'ground side' at Barton after booking in at a table set up by the air parking for that reason Mal and I wandered through the crowds past trade stands and stands belonging to flying organisations. The Western Windsock area had been given over to parking to accommodate the vast numbers of visitors to the event.

Eventually we arrived at the Tower and climbed to the first floor level balcony for a view of the arrivals. Here we met Graham Robertshaw and his friend Duncan McKellar who was ex-RAF and knew the Chippy from his service days. Eventually, Mike arrived and we decided it was lunch time and headed to join the considerable queue at the club house.

After lunch we wandered around to the Chipmunk as Graham and Duncan hadn't yet seen it. Duncan was particularly interested, and spent some time in the front cockpit reminiscing about his service days!

I'd expected to be flying Mike back to Liverpool while Mal drove there, but Mal is the keener flyer so she took the rear cockpit again for the return flight.

With Duncan, before departing Barton (Picture by Graham Robertshaw)

Taxying for take off at Barton

Off back to Liverpool, with a barrel roll on the way!

There was quite a queue for take off at Barton, and it was some time before we were away on 27R. I climbed into a visual circuit and once downwind requested a 'touch and go'. The AFIS chap on the radio demurred at first as they were not supposed to be allowed on a busy day like today, but we seemed to have hit a quiet moment so he relented and I continued around to a short final for a 'wheeler' touch and go, which earned considearble praise from Duncan, apparently!

Once clear of the Barton circuit I turned to the north to climb to 2,500 feet (about the limit, due to the prevailing cloud base) for a barrel roll. I was determined that Mal should be turned upside down at least once in her sampling of our lovely aeroplane!

Liverpool Approach cleared us into the Liverpool Zone via Burtonwood, and we soon got a direct routing to 'Jags' (a visual holding point at the Jaguar factory, north of the airfield). I reported I had the field in sight and we were transferred to Liverpool Tower who cleared us direct to right base for runway 27, soon improved to 'report on final'.

So, we'd got out of Liverpool this morning, and back in this afternoon, with no delay. That doesn't happen very often! A super 3-point landing on 27 (wish they were all that good) in front of a waiting Boeing at the 27 hold had us back on the GA apron, where Malcolm from Keen Air waved us right into the hangar!

By the time I'd wiped the oil off SL and completed the post-flight paperwork, Mike had arrived by road. A final 'aviation' touch to the day was as we drove home along the M56 we got a great view of the Emirates A380 Super Jumbo heading north just after it had taken off from Manchester.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Two A380s at Manchester

Two A380s at EGCC (as ever, click on the image for a larger picture)

On Monday I was at the Viewing Park conducting an education visit by a school from Ashton Under Lyne. They wanted a presentation on the history and the theory of flight - and these were 8 year olds! I usually only host education visits by older students - those of 'O' Level age, but I'd been asked to do this one because it's a subject I know something about.

It actually went well; I kept it light and simple, and the children were interested in the presentation which covered the Montgolfier Balloon, the Wright Flyer, the history of the Airport, and aircraft through Concorde to the A380, the world's largest passenger aircraft. I was able to link this to something we hoped to see for real later on - the daily arrival of the Emirates A380 from Dubai on only the sixth day the A380 has been used on the service. The school were later kind enough to write a letter thanking us for 'a great day out which the staff and children really enjoyed', which is gratifying.

After the presentation we took the children for a look at our Concorde in her hangar, then ventured outside to watch the arrival and departure of the aircraft adjacent to the viewing park. It was a sunny day, but very windy, and the gusty wind was almost right across the runways making for some (to me) quite 'interesting' arrivals.

At about 12:20 the A380 could be seen approaching runway 05R, and all eyes were on it. Even this giant was visibly rocking in the rough air as it neared the runway. The touchdown point of 05R is down near Mobberley, some distance from the Viewing park, but we clearly saw the aeroplane pitch nose-up to hold off prior to touchdown, saw the cloud of tyre smoke as it landed... and then were amazed to see it immediately rise into the air again and climb, before turning right towards Alderley Edge. I guess the crosswind must have gone outside limits for the aircraft just prior to touchdown, and the captain (or, more likely given the level of automatic control on the A380, the on-board systems) initated a go-around. The giant aeroplane remained visible for the several minutes it took to fly away from the airfield, turn downwind, turn base leg, and re-position on final for a second approach. This time it touched down and stayed down, and taxyed to its dedicated double-deck stand on Terminal One.

It should have left at about 14:15, but apparently it had developed a fault which may or may not have been related to that go-around. The rumour is that the touchdown was hard, and the automatic 'heavy landing' indicators illuminated on the flight deck necessitating a 'heavy landing' check by the engineers, by which time the crew were out of hours, preventing a return to Dubai that day.

That evening's Emirates Boeing 777 service arrived from Dubai and departed again on time, leaving its larger cousin still on the ground.

Tuesday's A380 arrived on time, and for a while there two of these giant airliners at Manchester. Later, Tuesday's A380 service departed back to Dubai, followed a short while afterwards by the A380 that should have left the day before.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

The Knutsford Great Race 2010

It only happens every ten years. The Knutsford Great Race was first run in 1980 between 18 'Ordinaries' (Penny Farthing bicycles or 'High Wheelers'). I first attended in 1990 when the event was around Knutsford Heath. In 2000 it absolutely poured down all day, so I didn't go. But today I attended the 2010 event on a course around The Moor at Knutsford. There were 86 entries, mostly 'Ordinaries', but also a race for Hobby Horses (which you sit on and scoot along with your feet), and one for Boneshakers (Hobby Horses with crank and pedals attached to the front wheel).

An 'Ordinary' on the back straight of the track at The Moor

In the spirit of the event, I cycled to Knutsford from home this morning, arriving at The Moor about 11:00. I met Merlin Evans, an ex-work colleague from our fun days at Systems Programming Ltd decades ago, who is a keen cyclist who has ridden many epic rides on his Ordinary. He would be competing today and after a chat I left him in the scrutineering queue with his Singer.

It was already quite busy, helped no doubt by the pleasant weather, and it soon started to get busier. The Mereside Brass Band struck up, and I wandered over to look at the vintage car display.

I soon met more folk I knew and I wonder if we will all be able to meet up again in 2020.

Here are some pictures of the event:
Spectators relax on Knutsford Moor

The giant Airbus A380 inbound from Dubai flies over Knutsford Church on approach to Manchester on only its 5th day of service on this route.

Merlin Evans (left) and friend on a practice lap

A competitor rounds the top corner of the course

Merlin leads a gaggle up the hill

Later in the afternoon the sunshine vanished as cloud moved in over Italianate Knutsford

Friday, 3 September 2010

Thomas the Tank Engine at MoSI

Ex-LMS Jinty painted and decorated as 'Thomas the Tank Engine' at its home base of Llangollan. This is the locomotive we hired-in for our 'Thomas' event

This event runs at the Museum of Science & Industry in Manchester from 2nd to 5th September, and today I was rostered to help out. I was on site before 07:30 as 'Thomas' was scheduled to run from 10:00 until 17:00. The locomotive is an ex-LMS Jinty painted in 'Thomas' colours, and was loaned from the Llangollan Railway (where it is pictured, above).

It's sometimes an unglamorous life working on a steam railway; my first task this morning was to take a wheelbarrow down into the inspection pit over which 'Thomas' was getting up steam, and shovel a great pile of ash and clinker into the barrow and take it to the ash tip at our usual 'disposal' area to dump it. It took four trips, and it was most unpleasant working under the locomotive with steam, a hot fire just above me, dribbles of hot water cascading down, and not much clearance to swing the shovel. Then I had to rake out the ash pan into the barrow, hose down the hot ashes, and transport those to the tip. But hey, someone has to do it.

But the day got better. With another volunteer we got our resident 'Planet' locomotive into light steam so it could whistle to 'Thomas' as he passed by, and also so it could take over in place of 'Thomas' if that star loco broke down.

Once we had a good fire going in 'Planet', we cooked up a late breakfast on the fireman's shovel (first cleaned in a jet of very hot steam from 'Planet's injector). A lump of lard lobbed onto the shovel melted instantly in the firebox heat, and bacon and sausage were soon sizzling away in it before being placed into baps and hungrily consumed by the crews of both locos!

We had arranged a wooden platform with steps up to 'Planet's footplate, with invitations for museum visitors to come onto the 'flight deck'. They were intrigued to witness our culinary arrangements while they were in progress (not long - we were hungry!), and the visitors were pretty continuous from mid morning onwards.

Most were young children with one or both parents, or grandparents. I was amazed how 'Thomas-crazy' these kids were; not much, if any, interest in railways as such, but mad keen on the characters created by the Reverend Awdry in his original 'Thomas' books brought to the mass market by the TV programmes. But many were nervous of our steam loco with its heat and strange noises. When shown the fire when I opened the fire hole door, quite a few of them didn't like it at all. And despite warning that it was loud, the whistle was popular with very few!

Just up the line, in the old Liverpool Road station, there were various activities going on for the children. The Fat Controller (Sir Topham Hatt) was strolling around in spats, dark striped trousers, a yellow waistcoat, black 'beetle-back' coat and top hat, chatting to the visitors.

After a while waving and exchanging whistle toots with the passing 'Thomas', I managed to get relieved by another MoSI volunteer. This enabled me to blag a footplate ride on 'Thomas' up and down the line a couple of times. The Jinty has a relatively large cab for a small tank engine, but it was hot in there on a warm day like today. One might get wet on 'Planet's footplate when it rains, but its open wind-in-the-hair airiness is lovely on hot days.

After a further session minding 'Planet' the afternoon shift arrived and I headed for home.