Thanks to the good organisation of one of our instructors – Farmer Dave – we recently had a rare chance to fly from a nearby field at a neighbouring farm. So a group of 25 or so of us, arrived literally “out of the blue”, and descended on a quiet field in the Hampshire countryside.
The actors in this particular play were:
Mr “Full Cat” Instructor
Farmer Dave. None of it would have happened without his untiring efforts.
The recently refurbished Lasham Piper Pawnee crop duster tug aircraft G-TOWS, in its bright yellow livery.
The Tug Pilot
The amazingly highly experienced airline pilot Andy who was to demonstrate some phenomenal flying skills throughout the evening.
Two of the faithful Lasham ASK13’s. There was a reason we only took two as will soon become clear.
The normal crew of Saturday night youth instructors who were going to put the trainee pilots through their paces at a farm strip. A new experience for some of the instructors, so this was not your normal set of lessons.
About 20 or so young and old flyers champing at the bit to get flying in a small field.
Let me explain a little background here: Lasham is a wonderful airfield and a great place to fly, but it has just one problem when it comes to small field landing practice, it is BIG. The main runway is a mile long and so when we train for field landings we have to imagine we only have half or third of the airfield available. This is not the same as actually… errr… only having half or third of the size of field to land in for real!
Now normally it is only the youngsters who fly on the Saturday evenings, but such was the occasion that a number of adults who help out and are also trainee pilots, like yours truly, wanted to have a crack at practising a REAL field landing. Though to get us all a flight we would really need to get a move on – but I am getting ahead of myself.
As ever with these Chronicles, I like to start with the peace and calm before the day’s activities…
In the Calm of the Day
First off, since I was to be the Launch Point Controller for the evening, I wanted to go down to the strip and check it out, as well as timing how long it would take to drive there. This was to be of crucial importance since the 2 gliders were to be launched from Lasham and flown down to the strip fairly close together and some of us would have to turn up at the airfield BEFORE the first one landed in order to tow it out of the way before the second glider landed.
I did mention space was tight didn’t I? This meant we could only have one aircraft on the runway area at a time and would have to weave the 2 gliders and the tug around each other so they didn’t clash. This is why we could only take two gliders. Three would have been too many and would have held up proceedings.
As you can see Dave had put a special high tech farming blue plastic bag where he had mown out the taxiway for towing the gliders back from the landing point.
Meeting at Lasham Clubhouse
After having sized up the field and got my head around how the evening’s proceedings were likely to unfold, it was back to the clubhouse to wait for everyone to turn up. By 5pm all were gathered and we had a quick briefing and decided which young pilots would fly the gliders over to the field. They were to be aerotow launched by some of us from Lasham who would come over later.
As soon as the decision was made I had 2 spare parachutes packed into my car and grabbed 4 passengers and we drove off to the farm strip toute de suite, pronto not to say immediatemente. As mentioned above, time was of the essence as we had to be there in order to tow the first glider arrival out of the way.
Arriving at the Farm Strip
It was just as well we didn’t hang about since as soon as had we parked up and got ourselves organised, the first K13 was starting its circuit. Thats the great thing with aircraft, they can go in a straight line!
So off I went with my car to the blue taxiway marker and got ready to tow it out of the way. It was Farmer Dave along with Ella. Because of the faster-than-walking-pace idle speed of my car (indeed of most cars) they had to trot back with the glider, despite me slipping the clutch.
Luckily just after that, Fred the Man with the Land Rover, turned up and as “The Controller” I volunteered him for glider retrieve duty. Another one of those unsung heroes.
Soon afterwards Andy arrived with the Pawnee and landed DOWNWIND. For those that don’t know, downwind landings are tricky because they take up so much more distance. They can increase the landing run by over half the length of an into wind landing. During the evening the amazing Andy was to do all of his landings downwind, a strategy that (a) saved time and (b) saved fuel since he didn’t have to land into wind and then backtrack down the runway towards the next waiting glider. Another factor was that all the aerotows were to only 1500ft, lower than the normal 2000-2500ft you would expect. Again this was to save on fuel and meant we managed to get 20 launches done without refuelling the Pawnee.
If you were on the ball you would have noticed that I said I had packed 2 spare parachutes in the car. While the first landing glider was retrieved the NEXT pair to fly, instructor and trainee, donned these parachutes so that when the retrieved glider was back at the launch point, they could get straight in. The rest of the crew would then push the glider back to the launch position while they went through their pre-takeoff checks from the cockpit! Normally you would have time and space on the airfield at Lasham to do this in peace, but we had neither of those commodities. Needless to say we had to try and be calm about it so that the checks were done properly and were not rushed.
So within 5 minutes of having landed, we were able to launch the first glider from the strip before the second glider had landed. Wow! I could see this was going to be a busy evening, what with:
- Immediate retrieves of the landing gliders.
- Downwind tug landings.
- Parachutes ready for the next flyers.
- Pre-takeoff checks while being pushed back to the launch position.
- plus seamlessly slotting in the launching and landing aircraft.
And so it was, but also fantastic fun. I did not manage to get any action shots since I was running around like the proverbial Blue A**ed Fly arranging who was to fly next and then controlling the launches from the radio. However thanks to Jon, one of the instructors, most of the following shots should help give you some idea of the action packed evening.
We had many spectators during the evening who must of wondered what hit them with all the activity. I mean – how often do 20-30 people turn up with 3 aircraft for 2 hours – fly around the sky a bit – and then disappear into the dusk? Some of the locals even had a barbecue party up on the hill overlooking the field to watch the action from a safe distance.
So, once again, a fun filled evening, a great experience for young and old-ish alike, and that wonderful “Ahh” feeling at the end of the day.
What a great way to spend an evening in the fresh air and the beautiful English Hampshire countryside. THANKS FARMER DAVE.