Ireland 27th June – 3rd July 2011
Ten of the twelve club members turned up at the clubroom for 7:30am on Monday 27th June 2011 for the Ireland expedition outbrief , the other two who were departing from Oxford being Buster Jeffrey and Graham Bartlett. My name is Arthur Gill and I was to partner Brian Lindsay for the tour of Ireland via the North West of England and Southern Scotland that was to take 5 days (with luck). It was Brian who persuaded me to join him as we had done a number of flyouts together and found we worked well as a team. After completing the briefings Brian and I started out in TM with myself as P1 and Brian doing the nav, everything functioning as normal, but it was about 50 minutes when things started to go downhill. We couldn’t get any response when trying to talk to Coventry so we tried Leicester as they were not very far away but found the same problem trying to talk to them, we decided the best course of action would be to go into Leicester and hope someone there could resolve the problem to enable us to stay in the expedition. I called up Leicester radio following the standard procedures for blind calls stating our problem and intentions, and having noted the runway in use and the circuit pattern by watching other local aircraft we landed. The radio controller informed us that we were broadcasting clearly so our problem was of us not hearing them. We were told no experienced radio technician was available but an engineer offered to look at it for us and after an hour managed to provide us with a fix whereby he provided a hand microphone for transmitting but we would only be able to hear replies through the roof loudspeaker and when transmitting the P2 was cut off, we decided to press on. For my sins it was only then I realised I had left my jacket behind in the clubroom with my wallet inside containing not just my credit cards but all the euros and English money intended for the trip; Brian had to sub me for the rest of the week.
Having topped up with fuel we struck out with the intention of bypassing Leeming and going on to Prestwick but fate struck again. As we skirted the Leeming area around mid-afternoon the weather started to close in with visibility dropping to less than 3Km so the decision was made to call Leeming and ask for a precautionary landing and overnight stay, thankfully they agreed. The radio problems that were to haunt us for the rest of the trip became apparent at this stage as we found hearing inbound transmissions via the speaker were difficult to interpret due to the wearing of ANR headsets if on, or engine noise if off, we couldn’t win. On landing Tango Mike was put to bed in their main hangar along with 15 Hawk jets and a very helpful sergeant nicknamed Rowley found us a local hotel for the night. Tuesday morning faired better so Brian decide we should try and catch up with the others by by-passing Prestwick and flying direct to Islay. After refuelling we departed Leeming and after approximately two and a quarter hours of flying over the Lake District and the Solway Firth the island of Islay was in sight. On landing we received an ecstatic welcome from all the other crews who could not believe that we had caught up with them but they had to press on leaving us a bit behind. We stayed for a quick bite of lunch and another refuel before having to depart for Enniskillen. This was my leg and our first experience of flying over a vast expanse of water wider than the English Channel, thankfully the weather was reasonable with just the odd heavy cloud but viz was good, we partially skirted the coast to see the devils causeway before turning inland for the airport. This was our first sight of Ireland from 3,000ft and the scenery was fantastic with vast swathes of soft rolling pasture land and rugged hills, but unwelcoming if a forced landing was needed.
Landing at Enniskillen airport was the precursor to all the other Irish airports having long tarmac runways and arrival/departure lounges which we revelled in. We again met up with some of the other crews but it was again a case of hello and goodbye, the important thing to arrange first was a another fuel top up which required no asking as the bowser pulled along side ready for us to inform the driver of our requirements. Having filled out the necessary flight plan and GAR form for entering Eire and getting them faxed off Brian was P1 for the next leg from Enniskillen to Galway which was a modest hop of approximately 1 hour and was to be our second overnight stay. The scenery on climbout was wonderful and the flight was uneventful, but we had to dodge the odd heavy cloud as thermals were very active, but thankfully no rain. After another slightly challenging crosswind landing and parking up by the perimeter fence with all the others we went through the terminal building to pay our landing/fuel fees and arrange taxis for the trip into the town to book into the Jury Inn hotel which was situated in a nice location by a harbour but with local shops and restaurants just round the corner. For our first meal all together it was decided by the majority that we went for an Indian curry, which by coincidence was situated just across the road from the hotel. An evening of good food, friendly banter (which included relatives of Mark Mainwaring turning up), and good humour resulted in a late night for us all. The restaurant bill however was not so friendly as it came to over 500 euros, the majority of it being the drinks!
Day three started bright with broken cloud and moderate winds. After breakfast the pattern of checking out, jumping into taxis and performing brief flight plans was established for the rest of the trip. It was my turn to be P1 again for the trip to Kerry. We took off into moderate crosswinds and facing a large rain bearing front that was approaching from the west, however we managed to avoid it because we were heading towards the Arran Islands which kept us clear. After approximately 25 minutes the three Islands in group were clearly visible, we made the decision there and then to island hop between two of them to get an island each in our logbook. The runway of Inishmore looked very short from 1500 feet so after plucking up the courage and making some blind calls (as nobody was answering me) I called finals, the approach was smooth enough but the last 50 feet turned hairy as a crosswind caught us and almost blew us off the runway but we got down. Buster and Graham were already there and welcomed us with a big well done, it was very gratifying. After a cup of tea and a chat with the local BN Islander pilot Brian and I climbed aboard TM for his turn to the next island, Inishmann. Using the short field takeoff technique we were off before the runway ran out and made a slow 180 degree turn in the climb, levelling out at a 1000 feet and flying past the island we turned another 180 degrees for the approach. If anything this runway looked a bit shorter but knowing others had done it we went in. On short finals Brian suddenly found this approach more challenging as not only did he have the crosswind to handle but a high bank of earth went right across the threshold causing him to initiate a small climb before dropping the aircraft on the runway, a little scary that one. As no one was at home we got straight back in for me to complete the remainder of the routing to Kerry. We settled into a steady flight in a southerly direction partially following the coastline before turning inland a bit. Again the conditions were thermally with a mix of broken cloud at 3000 feet and occasional rain pockets which we had to skirt, and the terrain was the same mix of small fields, hills and the odd mountain. The flight to Kerry was just under the hour. We found the airfield a little tricky to spot but set ourselves up conveniently for a right base join for yet another crosswind landing. An airport employee collected us from the parking spot and ferried us to the terminal building which turned out to be deserted as all scheduled flights had finished for the day. We paid our dues after taking on more fuel and tried to get a drink and something to eat as we missed lunch but found the airport
restaurant was just closing and they refused to serve us anything. The security staff then had the cheek to ask us to go through a body scanner before allowing us to get the van back to board our own plane. It was also rather amusing to us to know that after we went out that door he was going to lock up the airport for the night!
It was gone 5p.m when Brian as P1 and I departed Kerry for Waterford but the weather had not calmed down and we found ourselves running into occasional pockets of air turbulence; one such thermal was so strong that in order to prevent us going up at 1000 f/min above our flight plan level Brian closed the throttle and put the nose into a dive to counteract it. Even then with the ASI indicating 120 knots it made little impression on our height. We arrived at Waterford around 6p.m and as we landed we noticed that some of the others had gathered on the balcony of the Waterford flying club to watch us, when we taxied in they were demonstrating a score for the landing which made us laugh; needless to say it was another crosswind. More fuel top ups and landing fees paid we got two taxis to take us to the hotel the layout of which meant that all the rooms were on the ground floor, the room was fairly basic but sufficient however the window looked straight out to a brick wall, Brian decided to take a photo of the wall looking out of the window. Our visit to Waterford was timely as the town was hosting a Tall Ships event and on arriving on the quayside to look for a suitable restaurant we were confronted by a magnificent site of sailing ships large and small moored along both sides of the river, with flags of all nations fluttering in the breeze and sailors strolling the pavements in their uniforms. The wide embankment was covered in marquees and fun fair attractions and everybody was out to have a good evening.
After some searching we ended up at a French restaurant where the woman owner managed to squeeze us all into a back room that also acted as the corridor to the toilets situated out back, so often we were interrupted by front of house diners squeezing past us to get to the little rooms. The meal was excellent and more large quantities of beer were consumed. Needless to say it was another very late night but we slept like a log.
It was now day four (Thursday) and my turn as P1. It started bright with lumps of medium level cloud and the same slight blustery wind we had had got accustomed to but no rain. For breakfast we had to walk a few hundred metres to an independent diner the décor of which replicated an American diner of the 50’s with chrome and red everywhere, and waitresses dressed accordingly. The breakfast menu was typical American style but proved tasty and more than adequate. Brian again settled the hotel bill on behalf of us both and we piled into two taxis to return to the airport. Today we were flying into Dublin (Weston) airfield which is on the western fringes of the capital and our access route was to be via the east coast to the mouth of the river Liffey then a westerly heading over the capital. The flight north was uneventful with no low cloud to worry about and followed the coastline with its many bays and small beaches. However approaching Dublin we started to encounter some strong westerly winds which proved a handful in maintaining the strict passage width and height allowed over the capital and it was with some relief that Weston came into sight for a slight left base join.
Our arrival time was approximately 14:30 and all the group managed to park up together alongside locally owned aircraft on one corner of the airfield where we tied TM down as we heard that a very strong front was going to pass through. After checking ourselves in with the airport authority I then had the unpleasant task of taking a call from the tower who was passing on a message from Dublin control that our handling of the flight corridor was poor as well as our radio responses; I replied that we had radio issues which resulted in poor listening quality. This was indeed the worst situation of the whole trip whereby the radio proved to be a significant barrier to flight management. We all piled into two taxis to take us to our hotel in the city centre which turned out to be very nice and modern and handy for the Guinness brewery. Most of the others in the group had other ideas for the afternoon but Brian and I took the twenty minute walk to the brewery where we were given a brief history of the family and the product, we were then free to explore the remainder of the museum over seven floors ending at a circular rooftop bar which had amazing views across Dublin. Brian and I sampled a small free taster of the Guinness but I personally was not won over. We all met up in the hotel bar around 7p.m for a quick drink before heading out to find a restaurant for the evening, with some of us thinking that Mark knew where we were going. The quarter we ended up in was of narrow streets and old buildings full of pubs, bars, cafes and restaurants of all nationalities, and the streets were filling up. We managed to find a nice place that wasn’t busy and had a rear patio that looked out over the canal which also cuts through the capital. The ambience was pleasant and the food was very good, but Mark was disgusted that Guinness was not sold on tap but as small bottles and at a price. Over dinner we compared photos taken during the previous days from each others cameras. We left the restaurant about 10:30 and most of the others decided to move on to other sources of entertainment but I was feeling tired and decided to retire early; Brian arrived back at the hotel around 2:30am.
Up early on day 5 (Friday) we had breakfast then all met in the lobby of the hotel to settle up before getting the taxis back to the airport. Brian and I were one of the last to depart in TM because of doing out flight plan and GAR form for the return flight to the UK and having to arrange for a fuel top up. Brian was P1 for this flight and we had to ensure that our reciprocal route out of Dublin was uneventful. Our departure from Weston was guided by the control tower passing us instructions of when to turn onto crosswind then on to downwind before departing the circuit in an easterly direction over the rooftops of Dublin at below 1700 feet.
Dublin control then kept pestering us with position reports every 2 minutes before reaching a point over the Irish Sea when they passed us over to London Information. However even when we reached a height of around 3500 feet we could not raise London and so went straight over to RAF Valley to request a basic service. From that height we could already see the coastline of Wales and Snowdonia but the expanse of sea was a bit daunting as it was approximately 72 nm to Anglesey. The flight was smooth and faultless and after about 25 minutes we told Valley we were descending to 1500 feet to fly through the Menai Straight for some photo shots. The conditions were perfect and the experience of viewing Conway Castle and the Menai Bridge from above was wonderful, we did spot one other Cessna in the local area obviously doing a sightseeing flight but no danger of conflict at any time. Out the other side of the straight we climbed back up to a safe height around 4000 feet for the remaining part of the flight to Halfpenny Green airfield for customs. The duration of that flight was approximately 2 hours 20 minutes, the longest stretch of the whole tour, and Brian handled it very well. After landing we made straight for the pumps to top up again then parked up for a much needed snack and cup of tea, on-route to the café we were met by Mike Howard and Jonathon Smith who flew there to greet us back from Ireland.
After the refreshment and more bills to pay I piloted the final leg from Halfpenny Green to Halton taking around 1 hour. After much back slapping we all agreed it was a lifetime experience that it was difficult to comprehend what we had just achieved, but we did it.