Guernsey

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July 28, 2007

With Alderney and Jersey already in the log book for some of us from previous North Weald fly-outs, there was only Guernsey left in the trilogy. But with the social scene within the fly-out group expanding even faster than the North Weald Flying Club membership, everyone agreed that to go that far, it would be great to stay over for the night. With rain clouds continually bringing the worst flooding ever known for a July in the UK, it was looking like this trip of at least 75 miles across water just wouldn’t happen – especially an overnighter too. But with true Paul Bazire magic, the clouds had dispersed perfectly for Saturday morning and it was a scramble out of the squadron to meet the departure times submitted on our flight plans.

 

The three Cessna 172’s were manned by Julian Mitchell, Andrew Hutson and guest in G-DCKK, Paul and Lin Bazire – trying a change from the PA-28 – with Sean Creighton, and Greg Pendergrass flying with Paul and Melanie Weeks in our latest arrival G-BUJN. Kieran Hardiman was following (although one of the first to take off) with his guest in G-BZWH our lovely little C-152. And finally James and Alex Martin with John Strong in G-AVNS.

The day started relatively quietly as each crew worked together to pre-flight check their planes and load the safety equipment including life rafts that Paul had hired. But it soon became obvious that Paul’s plane had a problem. Normally one of the first to start, there was a long delay as all the other fans flicked into life. Then as everyones final engine checks were being carried out, Paul exited his plane and emerged onto the apron signalling that his trip had finished before it had begun. On priming the engine, fuel had begun to leak into the cockpit and onto his arm. Knowing how close the electrics are to the highly flammable fuel in the primer, and the thought of the long sea crossing – even though sea water is good at putting out fires – Paul stayed where he was. The cause of the fault later being diagnosed to a worn plunger washer.

With one plane down, it was on and upwards with all planes taking off in the last 5 minutes of their 30 minute flight plan slot. Kieran was soon overtaken by the larger 172’s even though he was taking the most direct route using the QE2 bridge as a reference. We then all headed to the east of the Gatwick Zone picking up the MAY VOR. Clouds and airspace had kept us fairly low, but as we turned to the west, we put a courtesy call into Shoreham passing them to the north and made our way to Bognor Regis and the coast while managing to gain some height as the clouds started to separate.

With a great view of the Isle of Wight on our right, we continued southwards and seawards as the horizon changed from a distinct patchwork of fields and houses to a simple blend of turquoise into white. Eventually a distinct horizon virtually disappeared. With the sea crossing taking pretty much half the two hour fifteen minute planned flight time, we made use of the increasing airspace and for the first 20 miles, got comfortable at 5,500ft speaking to London Information but with the Jersey Zone frequency already plugged into COM 2, just in case we felt the need to speak to both station in a hurry. We watched the few tankers heading out of the Ports of Southampton and Portsmouth as we seemed to followed in the same direction, with the next reporting point Ortac.

But 20 miles before this point, we had to get down to below 3,500ft to avoid the airway above, so a steady, but fast descent and switch to Jersey Zone, who with our flight plans were expecting us. But even speaking to them, we still needed clearance to enter their Class A space. Although this could be intimidating, and especially as we were so far out to sea, Jersey Zone, like our destination couldn’t be more helpful. The only worry was their request for us to stay at 2,000ft for the rest of the crossing to avoid the island hopping passenger traffic and airway above. We reported Alderney in sight and were asked to route out to the west over Casquettes light house just outside Alderney’s zone, and continue onto Guernsey and report when in sight.

Getting closer, our clear blue sky was steadily being replaced by a layer of low costal cloud hugging the island at what appeared to be 1,000ft. How disappointing, and slightly dramatic, to come all this way, and then have to turn around and head for tea on Alderney. But we carried on carefully and quietly, and at the request, switched to Guernsey Approach. We were routed around the east of the island and kept it quite low as the cloud interfered with our height and stability. The combination of a high wing, a fairly low height over the sea and the airport only visible through the right hand window made it difficult to initially spot, but a helpful controller who had requested we join right base, then casually volunteered a vector to help us turn onto the centre line. The approach was well lit with a huge green Christmas tree display of threshold lights and PAPI’s, which initially showed we were slightly low. Holding the height while still being rocked around until the lights changed to two red and two white, and we descended on track to the wide and welcoming runway. The only drama from the whole group was from Greg Pendergrass who was handling the radio along the way. On backtracking, he made the emergency request of a taxiway to the nearest toilet. I guess it was too much water throughout the trip.

With a fleet of hire cars waiting for us outside the main passenger terminal, it was a controlled convey down a series of incredibly narrow grassed banked lanes to finally find the Blue Horizon, our hotel for the evening with a sea view (if you put your head out of the window) . Then the search for lunch before it promptly finished on the island at 2pm. After failure with a near miss with the chef at one hotel, we all headed for town and for pasta and pizza. After we had all been refuelled, we stood patting each other on the back for a job well done while eating ice-cream and admiring the luxury yachts in the local harbour. More local hospitality was enjoyed later that evening with one or two beers being sampled – including London Pride.

The Friday before the trip, due to the weather forecast, it had been decided that we could only really make it there and back in a day. But on checking the forecast in the well equipped flight briefing office at the airport on arrival on Saturday, it appeared that a weather front would come in over Saturday night, and then possibly move through being replaced by better weather mid Sunday morning. So apart from Kieran and guest who had to get back, the group decision was to use our hotel booking and enjoy a group night out.

Not that everyone noticed, but a storm did come through over night, leaving rain and patchy low cloud hanging over land for most of the morning. G-BUJN was the first to return to base, and then an hour or so later G-AVNS, and finally as the clouds lifted further, G-DCKK. Once out of the island, there were isolated patched of cloud at just over 1,000ft, but as were told to maintain this altitude for quite some time, it wasn’t a problem. As the weather steadily improved the closer we got to the main land, the only problem was with G-AVNS and crew who suffered a slight problem with their electrical system mid channel. Making a precautionary landing in Bembridge on the Isle of Wight, they were quickly airborne again and continued back to North Weald just before G-DCKK completed the group trip.

Overall, the thought of a long water crossing, Class A airspace and variable potentially bad weather was far worse than the reality and ease of the trip, which is partly down to calm, friendly radio voices who are more than happy to help you along the way.

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Contact us

North Weald Flying Group operate out of the Squadron at North Weald Airfield.

The airfield is 10 miles south of Stansted and can be seen from the M11. Follow signs from the A414 and on entrance to the field, follow the perimeter track all the way around the field until you arrive at the distinctive Squadron building.

email: paul.bazire54@gmail.com
phone: 01992522090