Sometimes, but not often, a day comes around which might have been tailor-made for flying. Today was such a day.
I hadn’t flown for several weeks and was getting withdrawal symptoms, so a few days ago I went on line to our flying group’s internet diary and booked the aeroplane for today. The weather forecast was favourable, but that could easily change. And it did. Early fog, becoming mist was the Sunday evening Met Office forecast for North West England for today and I resigned myself to probably having to cancel my booking. But when I woke this morning the room was bright with sunlight. “Probably shining though the low level fog” I thought as I reached into my bedside table draw for my airband radio. This little marvel is smaller than a mobile phone and I keep it tuned to the Manchester ATIS, or Automatic Terminal Information Service, a continuous broadcast from Manchester Airport Air Traffic Control giving information for inbound or outbound aircraft updated twice an hour. I switched it on:
“Manchester information Bravo at time zero seven five zero; departure runway 23 right, CAVOK, surface wind 070 at 4 knots, temperature +1 dew point +0 QNH 1015, runway wet wet wet.”
Wow CAVOK! That means ceiling and visibility OK with no significant cloud and at least ten kilometres visibility. Our aeroplane is at Liverpool John Lennon, too far away for me to receive their ATIS broadcast, but the chances were it would be much the same as
The blinding sun lanced sideways through the blue, with just occasional high cirrus streaks above. The air was cold, and absolutely dead smooth. Not a burble, not a ripple. It was almost uncanny. The aeroplane sat in it as solidly as if it were standing on the concrete apron back at John Lennon, not suspended by thin air a couple of thousand feet over Cheshire. The cold made the handling particularly crisp as well as making the wings and engine perform at their best. It was one of those rare days where, with a nice handling aeroplane like the dH Chipmunk, you can position it to a fraction of a degree in pitch or roll almost as if it was mechanically detented into the air. So no excuse for sloppy aerobatics today!
And that visibility! From overhead Chester looking east the widely spaced distant white plumes of the power stations along the Trent curved up to the heavens, the cooling towers generating them being out of view below the horizon. To the south the Wrekin looked near enough to touch but was almost lost among the background of further-away hills not usually visible. To the west were the hills and mountains of Wales in unusual clarity, while on the Peckforton hills a couple of miles away beneath the left wing a few trees still wore the russet browns and yellows of this particularly colourful autumn.
The Peckfortons were behind us now. Dipping the nose at our cruise speed of 90 knots I watched the fields expand in front of me as the slipstream became a rising insistent roar until we had 120 knots and I eased the stick back and sank down in the seat under the G force, as the sleek black Chipmunk pointed up at that cirrus-streaked blue. I pushed the stick gently but firmly to the left as far as it would go and the whole world steadily rotated to the right, sky becoming land and land sky. I went light in the seat as
I dropped into Sleap airfield, near Wem, for lunch, curving round at exactly 60 knots to the threshold of runway 23. The big white-painted numbers on the end of the runway centred in the windscreen tilted towards me and slowly grew bigger, rolling level as we passed through 50 feet onto a short final, all so super precise as if on rails in this wonderful cold still air. The speed bled back to 55 knots and the runway reached up and kissed all three wheels simultaneously, a perfect 3-pointer.
Lunch at Sleap is always a pleasure, in one of the finest airfield cafes in the
We didn’t return directly to Liverpool but flew south to have a look at the recently closed Sherlowe airstrip near
It is a sin to fly an aeroplane like the Chipmunk straight and level on a day like today, so we indulged in some more aerial ballet while enjoying the freedom to do so that the uncontrolled airspace over Shropshire and south
Taxying in I slid the canopy open, and the roaring propeller flickered in the sun and ruffled my hair. Even taxying the Chipmunk is fun – it’s like driving a magnificent open vintage car with the unsilenced blatter of the engine occasionally popping and banging at such a low power setting, and the smell of hot oil and exhaust. I swung round onto the flight line, braked to a halt in line with a gaggle of rather dull training aeroplanes, switched off the magnetos, and silence reigned as the prop bounced to a stop between compressions. I felt warmth in the sun on my face, and for a while I sat back in the reclined seat of the tail-down Chipmunk enjoying that, and listening to the slowly declining whine of the instrument gyros running down and the tinks and clinks of cooling metal.
How privileged we are to do this. What a fantastic day out!