Wednesday had been beset with cross winds and weak thermals, so Stephen and I were reduced to inflicting pain from the back seat – AKA Annual Checks. With Friday morning came a welcome message – ‘wanna fly?’ So at the the bum end of a weak thermalling Friday we convened at Old Sarum Airfield. The weak cumulus was now spreading out, obligingly obscuring the low autumn sun. There was a slight haze, but visibility was better than 20 miles. Runway 24, grass 800 metres, wind light westerly. PERFECT!
Checks complete, engine purrs; then roars as we use almost the complete length of the runway getting airborne. Full power climb to safety height then a gentle left turn over Salisbury with the Cathedral below to starboard. Throttle back for the neighbours then head for Alderbury VRP. Check instruments, match giro to magnetic and head 241 degrees towards Weymouth. “Bournemouth …. PA28 from Old Sarum routing Blandford-Weymouth-Bridport-Gillingham returning Old Sarum”.
Climbing steadily to 3300ft on local QNH we level off, set cruise power and trim for level flight. The air is smooth as a millpond; just keep a good lookout, cross-reference giro to magnetic now and then and watch the gauges. The airplane is virtually flying itself so my trusting captain – now we are safely on our way – offers “want to fly ?” Passing Blandford dead on time we see the coastline at Weymouth with Portland Bill beyond, all profiled against a pewter seascape. Course corrections are hardly necessary, wind is light and destination clearly in sight.
After reporting overhead Weymouth my curiosity to view Maiden Castle drags us off course to the north. We eventually spot it west of Dorchester, but the diffused sunlight renders it disappointingly featureless. In contrast, to port, running parallel to Lyme Bay, the vista is like a Monet seascape with a swathe of pale sun softly reflecting off the untrammelled ocean. At Bridport we turn north east over the site of the old BBC masts at Rampisham Down (according to the map legend still potentially hot enough to fry instruments and other delicate parts up to 2500 ft – strange). Then past the figure of the Cern Giant to Starboard. Fields to the south look like they were scattered out of a box labelled ‘1000 places not to land’, while to the north west is spread out the serene expanse of the Somerset Levels.
At Gillingham we follow the heading of the railway back to Salisbury. The airfield manager had thoughtfully lit the runway, which was helpful with the diffuse sunlight full in our faces.
Thence home for tea. A delightful diversion and thanks to Adrian for inviting me along and reminding me how to do some proper navigation.