Great Oakley then a divert for the Red Arrows
An interesting week that started off with a taste of gliding. I am always a bit concerned when I see a glider so I decided to learn more about them and had an afternoon at Lasham. It was good fun but I will continue to give them a wide berth as I experienced the amazing speed with which they can ascend.
The end of the week has been dominated by sightings of the Red Arrows.
The first was on Friday when I had a fantastic day out at Airbourne where the displays are executed over the sea off the coast of Eastbourne. The Arrows started the show with a brilliant display that worked well even though there was a 5500ft ceiling. A variety of aircraft kept the crowds entertained in the sunshine for nearly 3 hours.
On Saturday it was just a glimpse as the Reds passed over Fairoaks Airport on their way to the Red Bull Air Race at Ascot.
On Sunday we knew that they were flying around Southern England but were a bit surprised when we had to change our plans unexpectedly.
We had decided to fly to Great Oakley in Essex. I was aware of a NOTAM for the Memorial Flight near Biggin Hill on the way there but managed to get past before they were due. Finding the airfield was relatively easy as the grass runways stood out against the gold crops. As warned in the very comprehensive phone briefing, there was a dip in the middle of the runway but it was quite a smooth landing.
The airfield appeared very quiet, however, after a chat with the owner, we discovered that there were quite a few people getting ready to fly in all manner of machines. We wandered down to the village and had a drink at the pub (no food available) and then strolled back, setting off a little earlier than planned.
Taking off, we got ready to talk to Southend Radar. For some reason I checked my Sky Demon, which I usually keep covered, and noticed big blue warnings saying that we were about to enter an active NOTAM that would be current for the next 30 minutes. I quickly scanned through it and found that we would be arriving in the Biggin Area at about the same time that the Red Arrows would! They were coming from the Herne Bay area so it was difficult to work out where we would intercept them. Southend were unable to give us any helpful information. Add to that Zulu times and the surprise element and another Reds NOTAM which looked imminent and we decided to divert to Earls Colne. Luckily, we had been there before or they would not have let us in.
However, by the time we found it, landed, taxied and paid we realised that we could take off again. My buddy had allowed for the NOTAM in planning but our early takeoff had caused the problem. Another lesson learned.
As always, approaching the QE2 Bridge means lots of other aircraft in the vicinity. My buddy had planned to ask for a transit over Biggin Hill but we then heard that the Heritage Flight were on their way there too. He decided it was worth a try and transit was granted along with other arriving aircraft. We were each given a height with 200ft separation. Over our left shoulder we could see the Heritage Flight approaching, made up of a Spitfire and Hurricane, but they had to hold for other aircraft landing. Below us I could see the Red Arrows parked up. Better that way than up in the air!
Every flight brings surprises but the check list grows each time and the advice to never grow complacent. I had always been warned that 200 hours flying time was dangerous because you begin to think that you have cracked the flying thing. We are both in that region so I need to revert to student mode for a while!