Flight of the Earls 2008 !

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jonkil
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Location: Donegal. VFR Flight Guide IRL Page 131
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Flight of the Earls 2008 !

Post by jonkil » Mon May 19, 2008 3:59 pm

A few months ago a group of microlight pilots whom regularly fly together decided to plan a flight over to Popham for the May bank holiday Microlight trade fair. Titled "flight of the Earls", we had all made sure that our wives had stamped our passports for the long weekend a few weeks earlier. With our planning complete and extra maps purchased, all we could do is pray to the weather Gods. The weather over the previous weeks had been very poor and I had resigned myself to the fact that the trip more than likely would not happen. A few days prior to our planned departure however the weather looked like it would play ball after all and all systems were go, unfortunately we got news that the Microlight trade fair in Popham had been cancelled due to the wet weather and soft ground. We were disappointed at first but decided that since our passports were stamped, we would just have to go anyway.
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One of our squadron pilots Adam Leadley, a Yorkshire man, now living in Letterkenny Co. Donegal was to be our tour guide for the first day of flying. As I was travelling up to Donegal from Longford, I left my base farm strip in Granard Co. Longford on Thursday evening after work, with all my gear packed into my trusty Skyranger 912S. I flew north for one hour and made my approach into Jon Kilpatrick’s home strip in Ruskey Co. Donegal. We both flew about locally for a while before putting our planes into the hanger for the night. Jon’s strip is a little tricky for the first visit, but worth the effort as you will always be guaranteed a hearty welcome. Mac, Adam and Tommy turned up to go through the new routes and we made plans after enjoying a Chinese takeaway washed down with a couple of beers in Ruskey airfields new club house.

The following morning Adam and Kevin arrived in Adams C42. Jon’s C42 and my Skyranger were packed up and checked over and our co-pilots Mac and Tommy took to their seats. Minutes later we were airborne and enroute to Kernan Valley, Tandragee Co. Armagh.
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An hour later we were overhead the airfield and after joining downwind right for 36 top field we made our approach for final 36 with a tricky 15 mph tail wind. One of the hardest strips in Ireland was a little more interesting than normal that morning. The fourth of our little squadron, Enda Spain, was already on the ground in Tandragee with his well-traveled Skyranger 912S. Now we were complete, Enda in his Skyranger 912S, Jon and Mac in Jon’s C42, Adam and Kevin in Adams C42 and Tommy and myself in my Skyranger 912S. Fuel was taken on board, we said goodbye to our friends, opened our flight plans and routed out towards Newtonards. We passed west of Newtonards at 2,500ft and coasted out for Scotland. Belfast FIS handed us over to Scottish FIS as we approached the Scottish coast. Whenever we have spoken to Scotish FIS they have been friendly and more than helpful. This trip was no exception as we were advised to route north before Portpatrick to avoid an active danger area. We crossed inland abeam Ballantrae and Scottish FIS looked after us until we reached Gretna VRP before handing us over to Carlisle. After a two and a half hour flight we were delighted to get a stretch and take on fuel for our planes and our bellies.
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Ninety minutes later we were crossing the north pennines on our way south to Bagby airfield via Hexham VRP. Our group landed in Bagby at 17.15, where we sat out in the late afternoon sunshine and enjoyed a coffee on the clubhouse decking. Regrettably I did not get the lady’s name, but she was excellent: radio operation... organizing fuel...making the coffee and making us feel very welcome.
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Adam our tour guide for the day in Yorkshire used to share a flex wing at the next airfield we were to visit. We left Bagby and headed off to the private farm strip at Deighton to the south of York. After landing we taxied up to the owner’s front lawn and tied our 4 aircraft down for the night. The owner of the strip, a friend of Adams had taken off for France earlier in his own Pioneer 300 airplane. His father however was on hand and very kindly dropped us to the local pub for a well deserved beer and a beautiful meal.
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Saturday morning saw us up early and preparing our aircraft for a 30 minute flight to Sandtoft Airfield for breakfast. Enda was hoping to hook up with Mick Mauli of Silver Fern Microlights to try out the sonnex. The airport staff were very friendly and with a forecast promising poor weather for the north the following day, we elected to head south. There was no sign of Mick but we were chatting to Steve Whitaker the importer of the Savanagh. He felt a run to Popham was on the cards and promptly disappeared. Not to be outdone we were going to follow the good weather and push on southwards, to where ever that might take us. Nearly two hours later after planning our route we were making our way the Otherton.
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Otherton is a fabulous microlight airfield and well worth a visit, there was loads of activity and a fantastic atmosphere. It was is the home of the Foxbat and there were several in circuit. The club members gave us a ery warm welcome and many were busy preparing the airfield for the busy flying season ahead. Forty five minutes later we were airborne once more and setting course for Pound Green. It was only a short twenty minute hop, but well worth it. Personally I love grass farm strips, and Pound Green was a really nice one to visit. The members gave us a tour of the hangers before very kindly doing a fuel run for us. After another coffee we even got to witness the maiden flight of a brand new Bantam Microlight, before jumping into our planes once more to make the trip to Popham, our original destination.
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Our group landed into Popham at 18.25, we felt it was a pity the flyin had been cancelled as the airfield looked dry to us. Apart from a solitary Eurostar we were the only traffic using the strip We were however having too good a time touring the UK to stop now, so again we set off after a short toilet break. The next destination was to be in Summerset, a lovely strip outside of Chard called Tracey Island. We were greeted there by Gordon Salter of X-Air, Nick Ghey, Pete Bishop and Bev. Our thanks again to Pete and Bev for dropping us off at our hotel, where we caught the last meal and washed it down with a few drinks from the bar.
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Gordon arrived in his X-Air hawk Sunday morning as we were doing our pre-flight checks. A classic car rally was being held along with a LAA flyin at Bolt Head Airfield on the south coast between Plymouth and Tourquay. Gordon had been invited to the flyin and we were welcome to join him. But first we needed fuel, so we took off and routed ten minutes west into Dunkeswell, where we took on fuel and admired some Skydivers gliding back down to earth. Sunday lunch in Dunkeswell looked gorgeous, I didn’t get to taste it as we were not long after breakfast, but if I was closer on a Sunday it would definitely be getting a lunch visit. Again with everywhere we visited the staff were very welcoming and friendly. Definitely worth a visit.

Our new squadron of five microlights departed Dunkeswell at 12.25 and headed south for Sidmouth where we picked up the coast and followed it down to Tourquay. We over flew Faulty Towers and a beautiful old steam train before turning at our next turning point which was Start point. A total of one hour from Dunkeswell left us over head Bolt Head airfield. Bolt Head was a beautiful airfield and there was an electric buzz around the strip. A Tiger Moth was busy making pleasure flights and there was a wonderful display of Classic cars and Motorbikes. We joined a queue at the solitary burger bar for lunch one hour later and we finally tucked in. But at least it was nice when we were finally served and enjoyed our lunch in the sunshine. What was a pain of a queue turned out to be a blessing in disguise later. The next planned port of call was to be Landsend. Again 5 aircraft departed together and followed the coast up over Plymouth and as far as Looe. Unfortunately coastal fog was ! coming inland and the visibility was quickly worsening. A call was made to do a 180 degree turn and get back to Bolt Head. Thanks to the delay in getting our burgers eaten we didn’t get fogged in at Lands End.
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After landing I spoke to a member of the Auster club who was based in Eggesford. A very kind invite saw us changing course and going to Eggesford whilst Gordon and Nick flew back to Summerset in the Hawk. Personally for me this was my favorite of the airfields we visited.
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We admired the largest collection of Austers in the world. There was so much history here and Richard, the airfeild owner knew the story behind every aircraft based at the airfield. Again fuel was taken on board after an unforgettable tour of the hangers and a cup of Tea. We said our goodbyes and put back on our lifejackets for a crossing over the Bristol Channel. We took off and headed for Bideford Bay. The visibility was poor below 1,000ft, however above at 2,500ft we were flying VFR with broken cloud below and clear blue above and a clear view of the coast on our twelve O’clock. At Bideford we coasted out across the Bristol Channel, the weather now was beautiful, clear blue sky and a clear blue channel lay out in front of us.
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Adam spoke to Swansea who informed him the military zones on the south wales coast were active. We made the neccessary diversions and Adam and I coasted into Wales abeam Worms head, whilst Enda and Jon took a short cut for Haverfordwest, having been told the zones were not active. We continued on across the channel. Adam and I turned west for Haverfordwest just north of the Pembrey zone and over flew an excellent looking fun park and a deserted airfield.
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By the time we landed it was 19.05, Jon and Enda had landed earlier and acted as ground radio for us as there was no one else around. Another flying friend of ours from Birr airfield in Ireland was parked in Haverfordwest. Kevin Glynn had picked up a Foxbat in Italy and was flying it home with the help of his co-pilot Stewart. A couple of Taxi’s took us to our B&B’s and then to meet with Kevin and Stewart for dinner. Nine pilots and good friends sitting around a table exchanging stories and jokes, it was a great way to finish off the last night of our flying holiday.

The bank holiday Monday morning was amazing, clear and warm. We filed our flight plans for the trips ahead and planned our route home to Ireland. Once coasting inland over Wexford we would land in a private strip and take on fuel. Kevin and Stewart were going to take a direct route for Birr. After doing the pre-flight checks and putting on the life jackets once more we were once again ready for off. I must admit to being a little bit nervous about the one hour crossing over the Irish Sea, I think we all were, so I double checked everything and set off. The 5 Microlights took off one after another and cruise climbed to 6,000ft so as to coast out and maybe get a peek at the Emerald Isle on the other side. The Irish Sea below was covered by a blanket of fog and I was so busy dealing with London Info that my mind was taken off the Sea below.
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Forty-five minutes later I reached down and pulled out a Bounty Bar which Tommy and I tucked into. At last we could enjoy our in-flight entertainment before having to put our trays back up for the long decent. We had been handed over to Shannon FIS earlier and once over the Wexford coast Shannon kindly closed our flight plans. The grass strip which we had intended to visit was hidden with coastal fog, so we diverted to Kilkenny.
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Another great welcome was given by the Kilkenny members. Photos were taken; hands were shook and again more fuel taken on board in the form of coffee and Mogas. We were all thrilled and elated to have been lucky enough to have experienced the weekend we had in the UK and Ireland. It wasn’t over yet; my Co-Pilot Tommy still had to be dropped back to Letterkenny, a two hour flight away. We said our goodbyes to Enda and took off again, 2 C42’s and a Skyranger. Our route took us over Tullamore, my home town, where my parents live. Jon and I flew over their house whilst Adam and Kevin flew to Letterkenny via Granard. As we were flying around my parents house out beside the golf club in Tullamore a call from Michael in Liam Daly’s strip came over the radio, inviting us down for a cup of tea. Jon and I landed into the tight 210 metre grass strip to say hello and admire the weight shift collection in the hanger.
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A quick call to my parents followed with my father! turning up to drive Jon, Mac, Tommy and myself back to the house for fresh warm tea and scones. The next flight was a ninety minute flight up north to Ruskey to drop off my co-pilot before a one hour flight back to Granard to put my Skyranger back into its hanger for a well deserved break.

Three days after our trip now and it feels like a dream. I can’t believe that we managed to do so much flying. I logged 22 hours over the course of the weekend and we are all still on a high. I would like to take this opportunity to thank all of our wives for letting us indulge in the madness which is Microlighting, all the folks we met at the airfields we visited for sourcing food, drinks, lifts and fuel. But most of all I would like to thank Jon Kilpatrick, Mac Bowden, Adam Ledley, Kevin Kelly, Tommy McDaid and Enda Spain for their friendship and company. We all learned a lot from the trip and are already planning another flight to Spamfield via Northern France and on to the Isle of Wight in June.
See you there.

Damien Minnock.
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