Touring group trip to Campbeltown

1500’ high mountains on both sides and so all the normal circuit cues painstakingly learnt at Blackbushe don’t work.  The Cherokee 6 cruises faster than the Archer, and so, I was somewhat surprised, (or was it cunningly arranged), when I arrived over the airfield first. The suspicious minded among us might suggest that this was to allow me to demonstrate how not to approach the runway. Circuit height is set at 1500’ above the airfield and so the challenge is to descend on the base leg to get to 500’on the start of finals, the very thing I failed to achieve on the first approach forcing a go-around to try again. The happy touring group of intrepid aviators consisting of two Brians, Jupp (BJ) and Catchpoole, Trish Amess and me, Geoff Marshall together with instructors Stuart and James. We assembled at the Aerobility Blackbushe HQ at 8.00 am Friday 15th May.  The plan was to fly the Piper Cherokee 6, together with the Piper Archer, over two days to Campbeltown , spending Sunday in Campbeltown before returning to Blackbushe on the following Monday. The first part of the trip was to fly, via Welshpool where we stopped for lunch and a crew change, to Ronaldsway on the Isle of Man for a night stop-over, then on Saturday, completing the trip to Campbeltown via Newtownards in Northern Ireland. 
The weather was bright and breezy with a slowly moving low pressure system, moving in from the North West, which we felt the effects of over the whole weekend. Brian Catchpoole piloted the Cherokee 6 with James and Trish; I piloted the Archer with Stuart and BJ on the first leg to Welshpool. This leg was boring, beating into wind with the only interesting bit being the landing at Welshpool.
The airfield at Welshpool lies within a narrow valley with over It is a bit distracting flying downwind with the mountains towering up on your starboard wing tip which tends to result in you keeping the circuit a bit tight, which further compresses the base leg where the loss of height is required, but by stretching the downwind leg, cutting the throttle completely on base before turning on to a longer final seemed to work and we all got down in one piece.  I guess the lesson learnt was to either arrive second to watch your buddy demonstrate how not to do it or to study both the map and the airfield plate, to get a full understanding of the likely features and cues that you will encounter when making a first visit to an airfield.
After a bite of lunch and a splash of fuel BJ and Trish took the respective left hand seats while Brian and I clambered into the rear of each aircraft for the leg to Ronaldsway. The low pressure system was now providing us with a lowering cloud ceiling and increasing wind speed as we took-off to overfly Snowdon, cross the Liverpool bay to Ronaldsway.  As the clouds started to scrape the mountain tops, BJ decided that it would be prudent to do a left turn before reaching Snowdon and to find the Welsh west coast before turning north again. Trish had taken a braver more northerly route and so arrived and landed first. On short hops over water, climbing to a high altitude gives a longer glide range in the event of an engine failure, so we climbed while flying over Anglesey to 7000’.  However Air Traffic Control had other ideas telling us to descend to 2000’ when we were half way across Liverpool bay, so much for the best laid plans. The approach into Ronaldsway was very windy but BJ battled the cross wind component to make a good landing.
 Saturday morning proved bright but still very windy as the centre of the low pressure system hadn’t moved far. The plan was to fly a lap around the east side Isle of Man before crossing the Irish Sea to Newtownards. After a bumpy departure and flight along the lee side of the surprisingly high mountain on the Isle of Man, all became smooth as we crossed the Irish Sea at altitude to descend as we flew up the Strangford Lough to Newtownards. The runway in use was 22 with the wind gusting from the west providing a good cross wind component to test our piloting skills. James had arranged to meet with one of our NI members who had a short but bumpy flight with him around the Lough while the rest of us were there taking on food and tea.
After the obligatory crew switch we took off for Cambeltown. The plan was to over fly Belfast City Airport, then flying north to the Giant’s Causeway before turning east to cross the North Channel to Campbeltown.  All went as planned where we had a good view of a Dash 8 landing underneath us as we flew over Belfast City Airport, but  unfortunately the tide was high so not much could be seen of the Giant’s Causeway. The flight across the North Channel was brief because of the tail wind pushing us along with a ground speed of around 150kts. The approach into Campbeltown airport requires flying in from the sea, which in this case required flying south around the Mull of Kintyre to then turn north and then west, to over fly Campbeltown on the approach to the airport. It later transpired from info provided by our taxi driver that Campbeltown airport was originally built as a dispersal airfield for Vulcan bombers during the Cold War which explained the very large and long runway. After a curry and beer that evening we turned in for the night in our five star accommodations while poor old James and Stuart had to ‘rough it’ together in less salubrious but cheaper accommodation elsewhere.
Sunday proved to be wet, cold, windy, and un-flyable and so entertainments like a quick hop over to Isay or a boat trip around the bay were out of the question. The only entertainment that could be found was to eat food and drink beer with whiskey chasers at Macrihanish golf club, overlooking the first tee of the links with a surfer braving the incoming rollers in the bay beyond, it’s a hard life.
Monday’s weather was more of the same, but overnight a front had passed depositing lots of rain. After much teeth sucking and angst it was decided that our best chance of getting back was to fly one leg to Hawden just south of Liverpool with the second leg back to the ‘Bushe on the lee side of the front before a second front appeared later in the day. Because the low pressure system had now managed to drag itself further eastward, it was now kindly providing us with a good tail wind as we took off to fly south. Our route took us over Stranraer, the northern tip of the Isle of Man, before re-crossing Liverpool Bay to turn left, flying eastward over Prestatyn to avoid the Liverpool control zone to Hawden. The airfield at Hawden was tucked in between a lot of large hangers which turned out to be the Airbus wing manufacturing facilities, and furthermore, Hawden, previously known as Broughton airfield, is where Vickers Armstrong built 5,786 Wellington bombers during the war. You learn something every day on these touring trips. After yet another decent lunch and crew switch, we set off for the ‘Bushe to experience the delights of the dreaded ‘Blackbushe washing machine effect’ as you encounter the turbulence and wind shear on finals to runway 27 when the wind is 25kts gusting 35kts. All of us had an enjoyable, well fed and watered, if not challenging trip.

Geoff Marshall

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