Time: 14:30 - 15:15 (GMT)
Aircraft: EuroFOX - G-UFOX
Lee on Solent
There is a very large cargo vessel that is stricken in the Solent. It was coming out from Southampton, when it started listing heavily to one side. The captain and pilot made a impressively quick and brave decision that the best thing to do was to ground it on the Bramble Bank, which is a shallow area of a sand bank - this would stop it sinking altogether and also take it out of the main shipping channel, so that it won't block that. Later it was freed from the bank and parked (still listing) in the middle of the Solent between Cowes and Lee on Solent, being held by anchors and tugs whilst they deal with the flooding and ballast. Being nosey, I wanted to go and have a look.
The forecast for this weekend has been changing every few hours, so has been a little difficult to plan. Even this morning it rained whist I was at home and again when I was nearly at Popham - then blue skies. My original idea was to fly down, have a look and then go to Sandown for lunch, changeover pilots and home. However, Sandown is shut due to the wetness, so maybe we could go to Bembridge. I call them in the morning and yes, they are open, but only have 300' cloudbase, so that won't work (the pub and the cafe are also shut too). Maybe we could go to Goodwood - we call them, but again due to the wet, they only have one runway open and that is a bit too much crosswind for my liking. What about Lee on Solent - they are indeed open and have a hard runway, but we are warned that with all the changes going on there, they don't have anything in the way of facilities. So we chose to have our bacon butties before we leave at Popham's cafe.
It's Ian's turn for the outbound leg. We take off from 21 and circle into the overhead, then head south east. The visibility is pretty good and there are some bands of cloud at about 2500'. Over Butser Hill and we can see the Solent and Isle of Wight clearly. Once we cross Langstone Harbour we turn west along the mainland coast - the boat is in front of us. There is an exclusion zone around it, but only of 1nm radius and only up to 1000'. We then turn to the south to go round the outside of the exclusion zone, which then should put us ready for a downwind join at Lee.
Yep - the ship doesn't look too well and is still at a heavy list angle. We keep outside the exclusion zone and also stay safely well above the 1000' so we can't be accused of getting in their way. Ian slows the plane down to 60knots so that I can open the passenger door to take some pictures. Perhaps not as good as I would have liked, but the auto-focus didn't always want to co-operate and actually it is blooming cold - I can only hold the camera out for a limited time. Ah well, a bit of fun. We then do a quick orbit, as Ian contacts Lee Radio and we join downwind. We land near the threshold of 23 and then are asked to expedite taxiing right down to the far end - there is only so fast we can safely go. We park on the grass outside the tower.
We go inside and mount the many levels of stair before we get to the control tower room to sign in and pay the landing fee. We chat to the guys there. Lee on Solent seems to change every time we go there and it is in a state of change at the moment. It seems the local council have paid for the runway to be resurfaced. They are hoping to open a cafe in a room down below and open up some more area as the airfield becomes more privatised. They are also planning to put some hangars over the other side for GA aircraft. Indeed they seem to be promoting the GA traffic there. Still there isn't much there at the moment so after using the loo (amusing sign on the door), we set off back.
My turn and after a checkover, we taxi round the outside to the threshold of 23 and takeoff. We continue in the same direction out over the Solent and again, we circumnavigate the exclusion zone. Where before we were on our own, this time we are joined by two other aircraft who I presume are also coming to have a look. I then continue to the west, over Beaulieu and up over the New Forest. It is quite unusual for me to do the west side of the Southampton zone in this direction - I am usually going the other way. It does look a little different this way. Back at Popham, we join overhead and land on 26.
A nice flight to start the year.
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