Time: 13:15 - 13:50 (GMT)
Aircraft: EuroFOX - G-UFOX
There is a partial eclipse planned for today - apparently of about 85% coverage around here - quite an usual event. I had a thought that if the weather gave us some scattered clouds, what we could do is fly up through a gap and view the eclipse from above the clouds for a better view. By coincidence, Ian booked the aircraft for the day as he had a day in lieu owing. I mentioned the eclipse plan to him and he said that he was up for it, so I booked the day off too.
Either "great minds think alike" or "fools seldom differ", Airbourne Aviation also had the same idea and planned an event and invited some publicity down. They also enticed us with the promise of bacon sandwiches. Of course, the eclipse has its own timetable, starting around 8:30 through to 10:30 - we wanted to be airbourne by 9:00am so I had to get up early for once.
Sadly, the weather isn't co-operating - it is completely overcast. We get the plane ready and taxi it round to the front. Greg, Sean, Steve, Steve et al, have bought most of their aircraft round from the back and parked in front of the offices. There is also a car from the local radio station - Wave 105 there. We wait patiently (well, most of us) hoping that the clouds are going to clear - the forecast suggests that they may do and the clouds are clearing down from the north and west. It does get a little darker during the peak of the eclipse, but still no break in the cloud, that remains so thick that we are unable to even detect exactly where the sun is. Sean opens an app on his phone that shows where the sun is and what the current stage of the eclipse. The Wave 103 presenter takes a picture of this and tweets it on their twitter page/site or whatever you call it.
It is a bit of a sad anticlimax that it just doesn't happen for us, yet 20 miles to the west at Stonehenge, they can see it clearly. Ah well, never mind. It is otherwise a nice day and Greg also came though with the bacon butties!
It isn't until about 1 o'clock that it clears up enough to fly. The clouds have dispersed enough to let the sun through but we can see that the visibility is still poor. We had hoped to go to Halfpenny Green (Wolverhampton), but not only is that too far for the time we have left, but there are also cloud issue up there too. Instead, we decide to try for White Waltham - they have a cafe for lunch and we also have a free landing voucher. As we already have the plane prepped, we merely need to warm her up (again) and we can depart. I am doing the outbound today. We take off from 03 and then head north. Yep - it is quite misty and as we gain height we can also see an inversion layer holding the mist down (along with the very few clouds now) and clear skies above. Approaching Hannington, I have the idea that it will be much worse in the other direction heading into the suns direction, so I turn around for an assessment. It is indeed worse, but as it will be Ian's leg on the way back, I give him the decision of whether to proceed. It's not ideal, but we consider it safe, so I turn back onto course and continue. One by one, our waypoints loom out of the the gloom - I did consider climbing above the inversion layer, but there didn't seem much point as I would need to drop back down due to the London LTMA to get to Waltham so I may aswell remain used to the smog. I drop down to the low overhead joining height of 1300' QFE and then descend again on the deadside to 800'. Once downwind we are scanning for the church that marks the turning point to final of runway 03. On approach I decide that I don't need to land near the threshold as the parking is at the other end. However the sink isn't very much, and even seems to be diminishing. Consequently I have a somewhat unimpressive landing that is a little fast and way down the bumpy end of the runway.
We park up right in front of the clubhouse and go in to book-in. Then we order in the cafe some toasted club sandwiches - I guess a change from the normal bacon butties and quite nice. We have a nice chat.
When it's time to go back, we swap over and warm up. There is a long cross-country trek to the threshold of 03 over the rather lumpy-bumpy land, before lining-up and take off. Hmmm - the visibility hasn't improved. Once again, we have eyes on stalks looking out for other aircraft. When we get out from under the TMA, we can climb up above the inversion layer, but we still need to keep a good lookout. At Popham we join overhead and land on 03.
Time: 16:00 - 16:30 (GMT)
Aircraft: EuroFOX - G-UFOX
I have already decided to do some circuit practice given my earlier performance and the fact that airfield has dried out and we are now allowed to do circuits. Ian thinks this is also a good opportunity, so given that he is in the left seat, he goes first for a couple of circuits. George had arrived earlier to do some work on the MW5 and we wonder if he also wants to do some practice. Ian gets out to enquire whilst I set off for my practice.
The take off is very impressive, with only one person in the plane and I get 1200'/minute climb rate - great fun. There is virtually no wind and on runway 03 (slight downslope) I need to make sure I am near the threshold. Given the low sink rate of the EuroFOX, I generally had to side-slip down on base leg to below the tree-line level, along the A303 and then swing quickly for the minuscule final and land. There are a couple of landings I am pleased with, but I did get distracted by Steve having to do an emergency landing below me onto the Charles Church strip.
Perhaps not what we had hoped for today, but a lovely day anyway.
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