The Ballards - Whiskey Lima 2019


The post-Christmas high pressure cell that has been plaguing us since the 27th December is still around on the first weekend in January and has produced a kind of windless murk that defies description, and the weather forecasters who breezily state that it is "broken at 2000ft" which it isn't: more like "OVC2000 and yuk".
Oxford is marked as "Marginal VFR" and I'm sure there is some complex rule which decides whether that is true but we'll go out and take a look. A Dunkeswell lunch is on the cards.

Ann needs more practise in the C182 before they'll sign her off to go off solo so that's what we'll supply, but there is only so much she can do from the right seat so we agree that whilst I will be officially P1 for both legs she will fly the outbound leg from the right hand seat then the inbound leg from the left seat. There's no wind at all so I can, if necessary, land it from the right hand seat.
We have had a discussion about "heat of the moment change of authority" and indeed in Florida had to do one so "I've got it" is the codeword: non-threatening and certainly not shouted.

The famous violinist Jascha Heifetzold is quoted as saying "If I don't practice one day, I know it; two days, the critics know it; three days, the public knows it". I haven't flown since guiding N829FA on to the tarmac at Marco Island Executive in November (in shorts and Hawaii shirt!) so I know something will go awry, even if only I notice it.

The art of becoming comfortable with an aircraft begins with the pre-flight and Ann has finally got the hang of loosening the bloody ratchet straps we use to hold the wings down. We pre-flight together in comfortable harmony and completely manage to miss exercising the trimmer so as we roll for take-off I have to give a hell of a heave to get it off the ground as the trim is wound too far forward. Who the hell landed it like that?

It's pretty murky up here but up to 2,000ft the ground is visible, beyond that it's IMC. The temptation to get up on top in the sun is there but for today we'll stay down in the murk. At 2,000ft we're clear of any bits of granite and radio masts between here and Dunkeswell (The Mendip mast will be well off to our right).

At Wantage we swap to London Info as Bristol don't do LARS any more and wend our way smoothly South West with every possible light on for conspicuity. The radio is quiet today: in anything other than bright blazing sunshine no one ever flies. We do see a PA28 tracking West across the Somerset levels where some quite serious mist has settled in the hollows, but Dunkeswell is the highest public airfield in the UK so that's not going to be a problem.

Dunkeswell give us runway 22 as in use and from here we might as well go straight in. There is traffic but it's only just called Downwind so won't affect (or "No Factor" as the Americans might say). We don't actually see the airfield until about 3 miles away but the trusty GPS steers us in, we switch to their QFE and work off that for the approach angle. This was so much more difficult in the bad old analogue days: my old CFI would have shot me.

Descend over the parked aircraft on the undershoot, flare.... and nicely down, a bit long but there you are, a quick backtrack, exit on to 35 and down the link taxiway to park for lunch. Not too rusty.

It's weird to be in the right hand seat, trusting another pilot.
Ann starts up (struggling as I do with the starter springs and my big bunch of keys) and we taxy to the other side of the runway for power-checks, then roll on 22. NIcely done, we climb out and turn left for North East, climb to 2,000ft and swap to London. At this height we are struggling to hear London: they keep cutting out halfway through the squawk instructions so I reach right in to the bottom of my mental Garmin grab bag and push the on/off volume control to turn the squelch off. It's noisy but at least I can hear them properly when I ask for a radio check.

Ann struggles with slowing the aircraft down from the cruise configuration to the landing configuration, so as we fly back we do exactly that loads of times. I'm sure anyone watching us from below would think we were weird but it's good practise and after 4 or 5 goes she's pretty confident and as we clear the hills to the East fo Swindon she swaps to Oxford Radar and we cruise in over Oxford. She's got it down to 100Kts and 1500ft by Port Meadow and does the whole approach flawlessly; I dont know what she was worried about.
The landing is of course key and I do keep my hands and feet near the controls for a panicked grab but she lands it perfectly; couldn't have done it better myself. Worrying, really: my landings were just rubbish for the first 200hrs or more, but Ann has them nailed already at less than 100hrs....