Fly­ing Ad­ven­ture

A win­ning Poo­leys Dawn to Dusk com­pe­ti­tion en­try vis­it­ing RNLI bases around the south of Bri­tain

Pilot - - CONTENTS - Words & pho­tos: Ian But­ter

Iwanted to do some­thing mem­o­rable for my six­ti­eth year. Par­ties are def­i­nitely not my thing so I de­cided to treat my­self by hav­ing a go at the Poo­leys Dawn to Dusk Com­pe­ti­tion. As a rel­a­tively low-hours PPL−I’VE amassed around 285 hours over thirty-odd years−this was go­ing to be a ma­jor chal­lenge: prob­a­bly the long­est and most de­mand­ing flight I might ever make. I would be fly­ing a rea­son­ably late model Archer II but with no au­topi­lot, so this was go­ing to be an en­tirely hand-flown day. And I was go­ing to do it solo.

Be­ing a mem­ber of the Black­pool Lifeboat Sta­tion crew, I have been in­volved in a num­ber of air­craft-re­lated ser­vices over the years and de­cided to fly around the south­ern half of Bri­tain from Black­pool to Hum­ber­side, pass­ing as many air sea res­cue (ASR) air­fields and lifeboat sta­tions as pos­si­ble. Whilst the Coast­guard is gen­er­ally recog­nised for its di­rect in­volve­ment in air sea res­cue, the co­op­er­a­tion of the Lifeboat In­sti­tu­tion in these ser­vices has rarely been ac­knowl­edged. How­ever, I es­tab­lished that not only has the RNLI al­ways been heav­ily in­volved in sav­ing air­crew and pas­sen­gers, but was in­stru­men­tal in de­liv­er­ing the first ded­i­cated air sea res­cue op­er­a­tion in the UK (see box).

I de­cided early on to wear both a lifejacket and im­mer­sion suit, even though much of the trip would be within glid­ing dis­tance of land. From my lifeboat ex­pe­ri­ence I know first­hand how cold wa­ter shock and ex­po­sure can se­ri­ously re­duce life ex­pectancy. The im­mer­sion suit may be clumsy to work with in the cock­pit but bet­ter a ‘boil in the bag’ pi­lot than the al­ter­na­tive if I had to ditch. Af­ter all, I

wanted to be able to en­joy my mem­ber­ship of the Gold­fish Club (for air­men who suc­cess­fully sur­vive a ditch­ing)!

Route­ing was worked out well in ad­vance then trans­lated onto the lat­est half-mil­lion charts and re-checked for any airspace al­ter­ations. A let­ter in Pi­lot mag­a­zine flagged up a chart er­ror con­cern­ing RAF Chivenor, al­leg­ing that a land­ing (emer­gency or oth­er­wise) might re­sult in be­ing shot at first with ques­tions asked af­ter­wards! Ditch­ing in Bide­ford Bay seemed en­tirely ac­cept­able in those cir­cum­stances.

To re­duce the work­load− mean­ing less time with my eyes in­side the cock­pit−i pre­pared a fre­quency guide for the whole route in­clud­ing use­ful navaids, ATIS, safety heights etc in likely or­der of use.

Black­pool to Land’s End (403nm)

As the say­ing goes, “no bat­tle plan sur­vives con­tact with the en­emy” and in this case my 0700 de­par­ture from Black­pool fell at the first hur­dle due to a weather front cross­ing Liver­pool Bay. How­ever, bizarrely, this ac­tu­ally en­abled me to com­plete the chal­lenge I had set my­self.

The PA-28-181 Archer II (G-BSKW), owned and op­er­ated by ANT Fly­ing School, had been fu­elled the day be­fore, with an ex­tra quart of oil in the bag­gage locker, just in case... I pre­flighted the air­craft in the hangar and, with the rain eas­ing off, suited up and was wheels off from Run­way 10 at 0908. A quick right turn onto track and im­me­di­ate change to War­ton Radar for a ba­sic ser­vice. Black­pool had al­ready co­or­di­nated the MATZ cross­ing and it was a stan­dard south­bound pier-to-pier (St Anne’s to South­port) de­par­ture across the Rib­ble Es­tu­ary not above 1,500 feet. ‘Feet wet’ then, within min­utes.

Wood­vale is usu­ally ac­tive with ATC cadets in Grobs, but I was given clear­ance through their ATZ en route Wal­lasey VOR, chang­ing to Liver­pool Ap­proach at Formby point. Pass­ing Rhyl, I be­gan to set­tle in for the day, and on reach­ing Llan­dudno con­tacted Val­ley for a ba­sic ser­vice through their AIAA. Hav­ing ex­pected the area to be swarm­ing with RAF Hawks and Tu­canos, it was all very quiet. I think even the mil­i­tary avoid send­ing trainee fast jet pi­lots down mist-filled Welsh val­leys. A quick call to Caernar­fon (an ASR base) to check on traf­fic and then back to Val­ley for en route mon­i­tor­ing.

With weather im­prov­ing all the time the west Wales coast was a de­light. I stayed off­shore all the way down to Aberys­t­wyth, where I needed to make land­fall to come east of the ac­tive Dan­ger Area D201. NOTAM ad­vised ‘ex­plo­sive ac­tiv­i­ties’ (un­spec­i­fied) near Borth which, need­less to say, I avoided! West Wales in­for­ma­tion cleared me through their ATZ and on to­wards the lifeboat sta­tions at St Davids Head and then across St Brides Bay. I’d checked the NOTAM the pre­vi­ous evening and both D117 and D118 were no­ti­fied as ‘not ac­tive’ for 21 June but, dou­ble-check­ing with Pem­brey, I dis­cov­ered D117 was now ac­tive with drone fly­ing so routed in­land to­ward St Clears, giv­ing me a good view along the fa­mous Pen­dine Sands. Pem­brey kindly cleared me through D118−“call on en­try and exit”− and, on reach­ing Burry Port, handed me off to Cardiff LARS.

My planned route and cross­ing height for the Bris­tol Chan­nel would have nipped into the west­ern part of the Cardiff CTA, but reach­ing Port Tal­bot with no re­sponse to my ra­dio calls (crammed in be­tween IFR traf­fic) I de­cided it was pru­dent to re­main out­side con­trolled airspace and re-set for Por­lock in­stead of Mine­head. I heard sub­se­quent calls from VFR traf­fic per­func­to­rily in­formed to re­main clear and con­tinue un­der their own nav­i­ga­tion, so it was ob­vi­ously a hec­tic day in the

At Land's End I aban­doned my flight to the Scil­lies due to fog

of­fice for the Cardiff con­trollers. I re­mained on fre­quency to mon­i­tor traf­fic, and just in case my flight sud­denly be­came ‘in­ter­est­ing’.

The flight down the North Devon and Corn­wall coast was a de­light, with a chance to spot more lifeboat sta­tions and both for­mer and ex­ist­ing ASR bases. Chivenor was passed at a good height with no small arms fire, flak or tac­ti­cal ground-to-air sys­tems en­coun­tered. Newquay had an Air­bus train­ing in the cir­cuit and it was a some­what un­usual ex­pe­ri­ence to watch com­mer­cial jet traf­fic in front of and slightly be­low me pass­ing down­wind for an­other touch-and-go.

Handed off to Cul­drose, busy with mil­i­tary he­li­copter train­ing, I saw St Michael’s Mount just vis­i­ble in the haze to my left so con­tacted Land’s End for ar­rival in­for­ma­tion. Al­though it was get­ting misty I had a good idea where the air­field was; the newly sur­faced run­ways and as­so­ci­ated lights helped. I was given straight in for Run­way 16 and af­ter land­ing di­rected to an ‘X’ in front of the tower for re­fu­elling. The ramp was al­ready filled with Sky­bus Is­lan­ders and Twin Ot­ters which made ma­noeu­vring on the nar­row taxi­way and ramp some­what tricky. The rea­son for all the traf­fic in­stantly be­came clear when ATC asked how long I would be stay­ing given the ex­pected im­mi­nent fog bank rolling over the air­field. The ter­mi­nal was packed with stranded pas­sen­gers re­signed to the de­lay. I im­me­di­ately aban­doned my in­ten­tion to fly to the Scil­lies. The Scil­lies’ lifeboat is al­ways busy, and re­mem­bered in avi­a­tion cir­cles for find­ing

and sav­ing lives from a British Air­ways S.61 he­li­copter which crashed in thick fog in July 1983. I had no wish to trou­ble them.

Lands End to Lydd (336nm)

I no­ticed a Twin Ot­ter crew mak­ing hasty plans to de­part with­out pas­sen­gers and quickly fol­lowed suit. I fired up the slightly re­luc­tant warm en­gine, with fog rolling in across the fields only a mile or so to the west, and de­parted Run­way 16 with a swift left turn onto track. I’d ob­tained an IMC rat­ing sev­eral years pre­vi­ously and kept it cur­rent, so if the fog had en­gulfed me I knew I could have sim­ply climbed straight ahead and popped out on top within a few hun­dred feet. A use­ful safety net.

The fly­ing be­came rather busy as I re-routed to stay on­shore, keep­ing Pen­zance in sight, rather than cross­ing Mount’s Bay where St Michael’s Mount was hid­den in the thick­en­ing haze. Cul­drose pro­vided a MATZ pen­e­tra­tion and by the time I reached Fal­mouth I was back in clear skies.

I know this stretch of the south-west coast rea­son­ably well, hav­ing sailed large parts of it in my youth. Al­though I couldn’t spot the Fal­mouth all-weather Sev­ern Class lifeboat on its moor­ing, I was de­lighted to see the Trent Class boat along­side in Fowey. Ply­mouth was easy to spot in the dis­tance and I threaded my way be­tween Re­stricted Area R002 and Dan­ger Area D009 straight across Ply­mouth Sound over­head Smeaton’s Tower on Ply­mouth Hoe. Ply­mouth Mil­i­tary was ex­tremely keen to en­sure I did not over­fly the dock­yard. In 1986 the lo­cal lifeboat res­cued a Catalina fly­ing boat and its crew in Ply­mouth Sound fol­low­ing a land­ing in­ci­dent.

I stayed in­shore re­main­ing clear of Dan­ger Area D012 and re­ceived a ser­vice from Yeovil­ton un­til well past Port­land. Al­though busy they kindly checked and told me Dan­ger Area D026 was ac­tive, so I took my pre-planned de­tour via Bov­ing­ton and Ware­ham join­ing back on track at the Sand­banks VRP, with a quick sa­lute to the RNLI head­quar­ters in Poole Har­bour just off to my left.

I didn’t feel the need to trou­ble Bournemout­h or Southamp­ton’s ATC, main­tain­ing a watch­ing brief us­ing the con­spicu­ity transpon­der set­ting 0011. I have found this very ef­fec­tive, mak­ing con­tact if nec­es­sary but not bur­den­ing the con­troller with ad­di­tional work­load. Some­where be­hind me a Cessna Ci­ta­tion was po­si­tion­ing for the 02 run­way at Shore­ham and catch­ing me fast, so I stayed south of the ATZ out to sea, route­ing di­rect to Brighton Ma­rina. I made con­tact with Lydd as I was pass­ing East­bourne at the same time as a Coast­guard res­cue he­li­copter was launch­ing to a ‘shout’ in the Ne­whaven area. We passed each other in op­po­site direc­tions abeam Hast­ings. With Dun­geness power sta­tion and var­i­ous mil­i­tary fir­ing ranges in close prox­im­ity, Lydd is rather

hemmed in. Ini­tially given an over­head join for Run­way 03, this quickly changed to a left-base join and it was use­ful to iden­tify the wind­farm a few miles west to re­main clear of D044 be­fore turn­ing in to­ward the air­field.

Lydd is now the per­ma­nent base for the Coast­guard he­li­copter res­cue ser­vice, hav­ing re­lo­cated from RAF Manston. One of their Agusta West­land 139 air­craft was on the ramp and I took the op­por­tu­nity to chat with an en­gi­neer who kindly took some pic­tures. The Big­gles restau­rant pro­vided a much­needed cuppa.

Lydd to Hum­ber­side (336nm)

A key tar­get for this flight was Dover, given its sig­nif­i­cance in the evo­lu­tion of air sea res­cue through the imag­i­na­tion and pos­i­tive think­ing of the RNLI in the late 1920s. As I flew over the har­bour, the French coast ap­peared very close and I could read­ily imag­ine early avi­a­tors pick­ing this spot to cross the Chan­nel. I car­ried on around the Kent coast pass­ing by the now silent RAF Manston, and on reach­ing Mar­gate turned east to­ward Lon­don.

In 1940, the Mar­gate Lifeboat res­cued fighter pi­lot Richard Hil­lary, a de­scen­dant of RNLI founder Sir Wil­liam Hil­lary. His fa­ther, Michael Hil­lary, ex­pressed “heart­felt thanks of my wife and my­self to the coxswain and his crew for re­turn­ing him to us. It would surely have af­forded my an­ces­tor, who founded the ser­vice, liveli­est sat­is­fac­tion to know that his own kith and kin are num­bered amongst those who have ben­e­fited from its won­der­ful work.”

The Lifeboat ser­vice was ac­tive through­out WWII. Even on D-day lifeboats played their part, be­ing specif­i­cally tasked to pro­vide air sea res­cue cover along the south coast. Of the 3,760 ‘shouts’ be­tween 1939 and 1945, the RNLI launched 1,093 times to the as­sis­tance of ditched air­craft of all na­tion­al­i­ties. The weekly av­er­age of lives saved was 21.

I made con­tact with Southend Radar pass­ing Whit­stable, but had only a ba­sic ser­vice out­side con­trolled airspace with no clear­ance through the zone. Con­tin­u­ing across the Isle of Shep­pey, and with no fur­ther con­tact by the time I reached Min­ster, I turned west and be­gan de­scend­ing to route west around and be­low the 1,500ft CTA. I also needed to avoid two gas vent­ing sites. An apolo­getic ATC

On D-day lifeboats pro­vided air sea res­cue cover along the coast

ev­i­dently spot­ted my turn and promptly cleared me through the zone on my in­tended track. Check­ing in with Nor­wich, they mon­i­tored my tour of the Suf­folk and Nor­folk coast­lines. It was a very pleas­ant and now very quiet fly­ing evening. At Hun­stan­ton I was handed off to Hum­ber­side with whom Nor­wich had been in touch−which was help­ful, given Hum­ber­side was still ex­pect­ing IFR traf­fic and rig he­li­copters, even though I had tele­phoned ahead from Lydd.

As the cold front be­gan to ar­rive cloud cover in­creased and this helped block out the low­er­ing sun for my fi­nal leg from Mablethorp­e. The down­side was that the land be­gan to look gloomy, and al­though di­rectly on track Hum­ber­side air­port did not ap­pear in the land­scape un­til I was about three miles south. With a light and vari­able wind I was of­fered ei­ther run­way.

And so my Dawn To Dusk flight was con­cluded. I had man­aged to do nine-tenths of my in­tended flight and, as it hap­pened, the late start helped me avoid an ex­tended stay in the Scilly Isles and a fail­ure to com­plete the chal­lenge. Funny how things work out.

Fly­ing around the coast may seem a rel­a­tively straight­for­ward nav­i­ga­tional ex­er­cise but the British coast­line is lit­tered with re­stricted, pro­tected and dan­ger ar­eas. Even those deemed in­ac­tive by NOTAM can be­come sig­nif­i­cant ele­phant traps for the un­wary. There were nu­mer­ous air­fields to take into ac­count, and coastal ar­eas also host a va­ri­ety of other avi­a­tion ac­tiv­i­ties, to­gether with sen­si­tive wildlife sites, gas vent­ing sta­tions and the like. If noth­ing else, I had set my­self a per­sonal chal­lenge of sub­stance: to fly sin­gle-handed for over 1,000 miles in one day, much of which was over wa­ter and, in pass­ing, to re­flect on the his­toric and present roles of air­fields and lifeboat sta­tions in sav­ing lives at sea.

Thrice re­warded

I sub­mit­ted my re­port to the Dawn to Dusk Com­pe­ti­tion judges and was thrilled – and amazed – to win not only the over­all 2017 Dawn to Dusk Com­pe­ti­tion but also the Duke of Ed­in­burgh Award as over­all win­ner, and the Poo­leys Sword for the best flight re­port. Not a bad birth­day present!

With the Archer II at Black­pool, ready for de­par­ture

BE­LOW: turn­ing over­head St Davids Lifeboat Sta­tions – west Wales

ABOVE: Ian's route took him from Black­pool to Hum­ber­side, all round the south of Bri­tain

Thread­ing the nee­dle across Ply­mouth Sound

ABOVE: Cromer with Lifeboat Sta­tion at the End of the Pier

Awards pre­sen­ta­tion at the RAF Club in Fe­bru­ary 2018 – Ian was not only the over­all win­ner, but took the Poo­ley's Sword for best flight re­port

Just time enough for a selfie

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