Time: 10:25 - 11:35 (9:25 - 9:40 GMT) & 10:25 - 11:35 (11:00 - 11:25 GMT) & 10:25 - 11:35 (12:45 - 13:10 GMT)
Aircraft: EuroFOX - G-UFOX
Today is the inaugural FlyBall Trophy challenge. This event has been organised by the Airfield Operators Group (AOG) and it is being run out of our airfield, Popham. The idea is that each of the participating airfields have a box of balls with different numbers on them. These numbers are scores and there would be one 50, a few 40's, some 30's and so on. During the challenge, when you land, you may select one of the balls, so you would pick one with the highest value. Therefore the points available will decrease throughout the day as more people landed. There is no handicap system, so you may think that the faster planes would have an advantage, but I don't believe there is too much in it. Of course, there is an advantage in strategically planning your route for the best points opportunities.
The start time is 10:00 am, so fortunately it doesn't mean an excessively early morning. We fuel and prep the plane, then warm her up and taxi round to the line ready for the start. There are a few other planes also participating, including Colin and Jac in G-JT. We though that you had to wait until precisely 10:00, then get your form signed and then run out to the plane, like a sort of Le Mans start. The others seem to have a different idea and are already in their aircraft and depart on 10, getting the jump on us.
Our first leg is the obvious short hop up to Brimpton, which Ian takes the helm for. So obvious, that obviously C+J also go there. A quick base leg join for 07 for speed. We did have some free landing vouchers for landing here, but they wouldn't accept them, saying that their arrangement was that they would get the landing fees in return for participating - ah well. It's just a quick turnaround, where I swap the headsets/seat over, whilst Ian signs in and collects a 40 point ball. It feels really really weird to be jumping back in, starting an already warm engine and then heading straight off.
The next leg is another obvious choice to Chiltern Park and with me as pilot and yet again, we are trailing G-JT. I take of from 07 and then head north. The visibility isn't so great, with quite a lot of mist - still safe though. I can hear the others joining and I too join downwind for 22. Clearly there is little wind around at the moment and this gives the somewhat random runway directions. The parachuting hasn't started yet (visibility) so this doesn't hinder us and after landing, we park up next to G-JT. We say hello as I pass, to sign-in and collect another 40 ball. There is also a lovely looking Steerman for doing some wing-walking. Again, it is only a "flying visit" and Ian has swapped over the kit and we are off again. We had intended to go to White Waltham next, but found out that morning they had dropped out - drat.
So the next target is Fairoaks, near Chobham - this will be a new airfield for us. Ian takes off shortly after G-JT and then we head off towards the north of Reading. This takes us over new ground, where we haven't had cause to travel over before. However, the visibility is slightly worse now as we are heading towards the sun, so we need to keep a good lookout. Past Woodley, Wokingham and then over Crowthorne past my house. Then over Camberley, past Lightwater (Ian's house) and then past the rifle ranges to Bisley. Fairoaks is just inside the Heathrow CTR, so you have to ensure you use the correct entrance/exit paths. We go past on the deadside to the north of Woking, cross to the live-side and then drop to circuit height to turn downwind for a landing on 06. We then have to taxi to the end of the runway, and then follow the taxiway to the parking. The chap on the radio suggest parking on a concrete pad in the grass, as we are only going to be there briefly. However, by the time we have signed in (and got another 40 ball), we decide to stop and have a cup of tea in the cafe - here we discuss our option of going to Redhill and decide to give it a go.
My turn again and (after the short warmup), we are off on runway 06. During climbout we go past the impressive McLaren Technology facility. The radio operator suggest changing to Farnborough, but it is a small hop to Redhill, so I change to their ATIS to get some awareness of what it going on there. We go past the disused Wisley airfield which seems such a waste that it is just going to waste. We are told to join overhead on the runway QDM and then turn for mid-downwind to the big house on the ridge - nice to have such clear instructions. I land on 08R and vacate to the north and am directed to head towards the Pilots Hub hangar and park next to the Yak. This is another quick visit, so I run in to pay the landing fee (reduces to £5 for the event) and collect another 40 ball. The cakes look lovely, but we need to move on.
Ian has the next leg which is a bit longer, round the Gatwick zone to Goodwood. Again, this takes us over ground that we haven't been before. It is surprising how much we seem to have stuck to out little corridors to/from Popham to other airfields. Over the North Downs, past Dunsfold and then the South Downs to Goodwood. We join overhead for 14. We are joined by G-JUFS and also see G-VI - a C-42 from Airbourne that has also entered. Only a 30 ball this time. I decide to give Sandown a call (as our next target) to check that their cafe is open - we could do with some lunch, but I have no wish to walk all the way over to the Goodwood cafe, which is still over the other side of the track in the old control tower - it would take too long. Unfortunately, the number in my phone is Carla's mobile number but I have a chat with her before getting to confirm with Sandown that we can get some food.
My turn again, and it seems to take ages in the queue to depart. Eventually, we are on our way and gain the most altitude yet, to cross the Solent from Hayling Island to Seaview. We can hear another competitor and also Colin and Jac joining downwind for 05 (lots of runway directions today). I had intended to do an overhead join, but the pull the throttle, put the nose down and join downwind behind them. Colin seems to have landed long, so I hope to land shorter and get onto the taxiway in front of them, however there are some thermals around and I get hit by a gust whilst landing and just can make the turn safely, so I have to slot in behind them and follow them to the parking. I debate whether we should run in for the ball, but Ian says we should wait until the engine is shut down. But then we are marshalled into a closer parking spot that we can get into with the better manoeuvrability of the taildragger and then Ian is dispatched to get the ball - another 40 (the last one in the box). We have some lunch here with some lovely bacon and egg sandwiches.
We had hoped to go to Compton Abbas next, but by the time we have finished lunch, there isn't really enough time to safely go there and get back to Popham for the 16:00 finishing deadline - so we elect to head straight back. Ian has this final leg and after take off, we continue north, over Portsmouth and up the Meon valley to Ropley and then home to Popham and land on 21 (another 10 points).
We are in good time and other entrants stream into the airfield - not entirely sure that they all made it by the deadline, but it is only a fun event. We all have to present our balls on the table and after a while, the results are announced with the prizegiving. Our friends Clive and Lianne win the Rotorcraft category in their gyro - well they were the only entrant in that class! There were three entrants in the microlight category - us, Colin and Jac and Mike Hoskins in the Airbourne G-VI. I was quite surprised that we won this category. Barry and his group in the yellow G-JUFS won the (much better subscribed) group A class and the challenge overall.
We got second overall. If we had less lunch and had gone to Compton Abbas, we would have been on the top, but we had decided to enjoy the event rather than going "balls-out". Of course the running at Sandown was friendly competition just for fun, rather than intending to take it too seriously. As it happens, if we hadn't, it turns out that we would have tied with Colin and Jac, so apologies to them.
I thought it was a good event and look forward to next year - hopefully it will be better subscribed, even if it gives us lees chance of a Trophy. Also, I hope there will be better information where the airfield will know that they are only supposed to charge £5 landing - something that we didn't learn until after the event.
An also a pleasant day!
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