Saturday, 26 November 2011

Unusually I was not rostered on any Concorde tours this weekend, so I took the opportunity to travel down to the National Exhibition Centre at Birmingham International intending to visit 'The Flying Show' in Hall 12 and 'Motorcycle Live' in Hall 2.

A Virgin West Coast Pendelino took me from Wilmslow to Crewe, a London Midland 350 electric multiple unit conveyed me onwards to Birmingham New Street, and a second one took me on to Birmingham International arriving about 10:15. From the station it's fair walk to Hall 12 but hey, the exercise would do me good.

Pendelino 'Virgin Harrier' on reaching Crewe at 08:27 this morning

First point of call was the 'Flyer Magazine' stand to pick up my 'Flyer Forum' (a lively aviation internet forum hosted by the magazine) lanyard followed by a quick look around the hall before settling into the seminar area for a talk by Flyer's publisher, Ian Seager, on using the iPad for aviation purposes. Not something I'll be doing in the limited confines of the Chipmunk's cockpit!

After the seminar, I went over to the model flying area to admire a turbine powered model helicopter. With a characteristic rising whine the turbine span up to speed, the engine ignited with a 'whoof' and momentary splutter of blue flame from the tailpipe, and settled to a fast idle. after several seconds the engine was run up with an increasingly high pitch whine and the main and tail rotors began to rotate until full rotor RPM was achieved and the craft rose into the air. Very impressive. 

The British Gliding Association had a glider simulator (full size cockpit, with a projected landscape out in front). "Will it do aeros?" I asked the 'instructor' who was sitting in the cockpit's rear seat. "Climb in and find out", he responded.

So I got into the front seat, donned the headset so i could talk to the back seater, who positioned us in a 40 knot cruise about 1,500 ft above the floor of an alpine valley with an airfield below us. I lowered the nose for 120 knts, eased back the stick, and the glider looped very nicely, the Alpine scenery disappearing below the nose to be replaced by sky, then reappearing from above. Using the exit energy from the loop I waited for about 30 degrees nose-up, and then and rolled it; "I don't think it'll roll" came the voice in the headset. But it did, and surprisingly well, too. We were below the sides of the quite narrow valley now with the airfield behind us, so I lowered the nose again and pulled up for a half-loop with a roll off the top (which it just managed!) to reverse our direction of travel and position us high downwind right hand for the runway. I extended downwind for a while until the runway was (I had to guess of course) 'over my right shoulder' and started a gentle right turn towards final approach. I kept the circuit tight and using airbrake kept a high rate of descent as I reefed it round a tight-ish turn onto a short final. But I overdid the airbrake and touched down gently, wings level, on the centreline and runway heading, but just short of the runway threshold which the computer interpreted as a crash! "Oh dear" said the voice, "and it was all going so well. Nice aeros, though".

 Not the simulator, but a real glider at the show, cockpit open. The rudder pedals are in the extreme front of the nose so quite close together, and as the canopy is closed the instrument binnacle comes down with it and forms 'tunnels' over each of the pilot's legs (clearly visible at the base of the instrument binnacle above), with the centre console between them.

After lunch, the next seminar was by Dr. Simon Keeling of Weather Consultancy Services, the Flyer Forum's tame forecaster. Simon chose as his subject 'Interpreting Synoptic Pressure Charts'. This might sound a bit basic for pilots, who have been trained in reading these charts as part of their studies for the Private Pilot's Licence. But Simon not only covered the basics, but gave great insights into aspects I had never before considered. He has an infective enthusiasm for weather and is an informative and entertaining speaker.

Dr. Simon Keeling of Weather Consultancy Services about to commence his seminar

This is the pressure chart (it's the situation as of early today) that Simon used in his seminar 
(click on it to enlarge)

He took the pressure chart for midnight last night as his example, and it showed a lot of features he wanted to talk about. In particular a low pressure system (989) in the Atlantic is sending an almost straight (note the isobars) west south westerly flow to the British Isles. This low and indeed that flow are directly below the jet stream, and as a result that low will deepen considerably as it moves east, bringing very very high winds to Scotland.

Also shown on the chart are some high pressure systems, and the fronts; warm fronts, cold fronts, occlusions, and troughs. Simon explained the characteristics of each of these, confirming that some lovely flying weather can be had just after a cold front or a trough has gone through.

Two of the slides from the presentation

Simon pointed out some little-known features of pressure charts (for instance, a '+' on a front means it is dying, while a '-' means the opposite). Altogether a fascinating seminar well presented.

I had a chat with some more exhibitors before leaving in early afternoon. I had intended to look in at 'Motorcycle Live' but had stayed longer than I thought I would at 'The Flying Show'. Time was getting on, 'Motorcycle Live' looked packed, the entry price was about £20, and really I wasn't that interested in new bikes or motorcycle gear so I headed for the rail station.

You can even build your own Spitfire! Here is a part-build 80% replica Spitfire in sheet metal; a lot of work for someone!

This time a Cross Country 'Voyager' took me direct to Stockport (via Birmingham New Street, Stafford, Stoke, and Macclesfield) from where an Arriva Trains Wales class 175 brought me home to Wilmslow.


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