Time: 10:15 - 12:05 (09:15 - 11:05 GMT)
Aircraft: Ikarus C42 - G-CDRO
George and I are off to the Otherton fly-in this weekend - we plan to go up Saturday afternoon, stay overnight and return in the morning (I have commitments in the afternoon). Unfortunately, we can't use our own plane, so we are taking one of the club C-42 aircraft. Ellie has this plane booked before us and is off to Old Sarum for her first cross-country solo. She gets there OK, but a huge rainshower forms over Old Sarum and she is stuck there (she didn't get back until 19:30 - poor girl!). Anyway, congratulations to her on her first cross country solo and a good decision to wait.
We heard of her predicament from her father, so we quickly got another aircraft out that wasn't being used. We fuelled and prepped it as swiftly as we could, as there was a huge blackness approaching from the west and we needed to get out before it. This also entailed stowing our tents and sleeping bags, strapped to the frame in the luggage area.
We get away just in time with George at the helm and head north-west. The route was to head up over Lyneham, then north through the gap between Kemble and South Cerney. On to Evesham avoiding Gloucestershire airports ILS and up the west of Birmingham. There are numerous rainshowers around us and we have to pick a route visually around them and sometimes through gaps between them. This is further complicated by the many NOTAMed restricted flying areas today, so we have to watch where we are going. However, this goes OK and we make reasonable progress.
Once past Halfpenny Green, we are soon north of the Birmingham zone and can head for Otherton. We find it fairly easily. There are reasonably precise instructions for the circuit here and ingress/egress is only to/from the north east or (in our case) the south west. There are restrictions to the north and south. We arrive at 1000', then once on the deadside, drop down to 500' keeping within the airfield area. The downwind leg for runway 25 (north of the old railway line) takes us towards a camping/caravan site to the east of the airfield. George tries to turn inside of this and land, but this is too tight and he (correctly) elects to go-around. On the second go, we go around the outside of the camping site, brush over the low fence and land easily.
We park up by the clubhouse and meet a number of George's friends from the MW club (George owns an MW5A) and get some tea. I am privileged to meet Michael Whittaker who is the designer of the MW aircraft (hence the MW name). He begrudgingly agrees to take me for a quick flight in an MW6-SFT (never did ask what the SFT stood for). I say begrudgingly, not because he isn't a nice person (because he is), but because it seems he doesn't actually like flying that much. I'm told that he is unlikely to do more than a circuit. In the meantime, George takes Michael's daughter Lindsay up in the C-42.
When G-MGCK returns from its current sortie, it gets fuelled and then I'm strapped in the passenger seat. It's a lovely aircraft, low to the ground and somewhat more minimalist than I am used to. The Rotax 582 engine is started by the pull-cord and we are off taxiing for runway 25. The ride is quite good with the single large composite leaf spring from a Sherpa van on the main wheels. Once warmed up we line up - take-off is reasonable swift and we are gently climbing to about 500' and turn downwind. The flight is relatively smooth, cruising at 50 knots. The wind in your face is a little different to what I am used to and certainly not unpleasant. Glad I have my jacket on though! After an extended downwind leg we turn back towards the airfield and approach over the campsite. When Michael cuts the power, the sink is reasonable, due to the rather draggy nature of the plane. Landing is good and we then taxi back past the clubhouse.
Whilst taxiing Michael says that I may as well have a go, so I continue the taxiing. The rudder peddles on the passenger side are quite displaced to the left, but easy to get used to. There is a second throttle on the left, but looks a little shorter than the one on the P1 side and is quite stiff. There is a short extension on the joystick to displace it to the right, so that the P2 pilot can grasp it with the right hand (with the left on the throttle). .
Once lined up, I push the throttle forward and we trundle down the runway. Showing my unfamiliarity with two-stroke engines, it sounded right to me, but Mike notices that I haven't fully opened the throttle and pushes it forward. We are soon up and we start a climbing turn to the left before the woods. Quite quickly we are up to 500' and I throttle back to cruise around 50 knots. I follow the same path as Mikes circuit - not long enough to fully explore the plane, but I get a good idea of how it performs. The plane feels nice and stable, with reasonably responsive controls. However, I am a bit aware that I have been flying it for a minute or so, and I'm soon going to be coming into land. On final approach I ask Michael where I should start the descent (should have concentrated on the last circuit), but unfortunately he can't hear me. Ah well, probably about ... here. A little bit of experimenting how much rudder to use and a little throttle and we land close to the threshold and are off the runway by the intersection. The low seating and open construction allows you to easily see exactly how high you are and make landing relatively easy. Fantastic!
We put our C-42 over the other side of the airfield and pitch our tents under the wings. Despite the hog roast and barbecue at the airfield, Lindsay and her husband Shane kindly take us down to a pub in the village for a drink and some food. We also get to buy some beer and some fuel for tomorrow. When we get back, there is a disco in the tent and karaoke (the Japanese word for torture). We have a very pleasant evening. When we eventually, get back to our tents, the sky is clear and the low light pollution gives a good view of the stars. However, it does mean that it is quite cold, so I keep my jacket on in my sleeping bag.
In the morning, we take the tents down and pack it all back in the aircraft. We also put the fuel in the tank, which is somewhat less easy without the pump back at Popham. We then go over to the clubhouse and have full English and some tea - very welcome.
But we have to get the plane back by midday, so we have to get a wiggle on. We say our goodbyes and after warm-up we are on our way. My turn in the pilot seat and we take-off from runway 16. We have to achieve 1000' before leaving the airfield vicinity and crossing the M6 so I do a climbing right-hand spiral. The route home is basically the reverse of the outbound journey yesterday. The sun is shining and it is very smooth, allowing hands-off flying - lovely. However, the clouds brew - we consider trying to go above them, but it isn't practical - still smooth though. Down towards Kemble, the rainshowers are dumping again. We are fortunate to find a small gap between them that takes us on our planned route. We have to keep the speed up as the headwind is stronger than forecast and we didn't get away as swiftly as we would have liked. But it goes well and we join overhead and land on 21, just in time.
A lovely weekend. Many thanks to Michael and family and all at the Staffordshire Aero Club who made us feel so welcome.
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