Carlisle, England to Laddingford, England
Our taxi driver that morning turned out to have a son who was keenly interested in aviation, so we swapped airplane stories on the ride back to the airport. The days plan was fairly leisurely, so we spent a while wandering around the outside exhibits at the air museum on the field, including a Vulcan; my second of the trip after Goose Bay! The museum itself did not open until late morning, so we headed back to the aircraft, and got under way.
The first flight of the day was down to Netherthorpe airfield, south of Sheffield. First, however, we’d be flying due south over the Lake District, one of England’s most beautiful landscapes. The high pressure system sitting over the country would be offering great weather again for the majority of the day, so conditions were perfect for a little sight seeing. We set course initially for Scafell Pike; having flown around Scotland’s highest mountain the day before, it seemed fitting to visit England’s highest peak today! It was relatively early in the day, but already we could see quite a collection of people strung out along the walking path to the summit.
The Lake District, of course, is well known for its lakes, and we enjoyed beautiful views of Derwent Water, Ullswater and Windermere, among others, as we crossed what is by air a fairly small area of the country. The rugged peaks (I hesitate to call them mountains) of the Lake District quickly gave way again to the rolling arable hills of northern England as we made our way south between Manchester and Leeds and, taking care to avoid the newly added controlled airspace around Doncaster, drew near to Netherthorpe.
Netherthorpe is a fairly small, grass airfield, that does require a little concentration to operate safely into. The stop here was for two reasons. Firstly, to meet my colleague Alan who was also on his weeks off and lives nearby. Secondly, Netherthorpe was to have been the setting-off point for a round the world flight (also in a C182) that I became involved with almost a decade before. We got quite far into the planning before things were cancelled. All this time later, having managed to acquire my own C182 and make the plans a reality, I thought it would be good to include Netherthorpe as a stop.
Alan arrived moments after we did; he had been racing to get there while watching the tracker and hoping to see us landing but didn’t quite make it! We relaxed over an outside lunch at the aeroclub restaurant, watching training airplanes come and go. As we ate, an old friend Sheila turned up; she and her aircraft had been the other key pieces of the abortive flight around the world. It was good to catch up after so long and hear that she was still regularly flying. Meal completed, we fueled up and set out south for Laddingford airfield, a private grass strip close to my family home in Kent.
There was a band of poor weather hanging across our route to Laddingford, and I had therefore looked at flying IFR to get through it. This was where one of the major inadequacies of the UK’s ATC and airspace system reared its head. In the US, as an example, ATC is government funded as an important piece of national infrastructure. In the UK, it has been spun off as a private business. Therefore, their primary driver is to make a profit, with safety and service for the users coming somewhere behind.
This is especially apparent with how IFR flying for GA works; they don’t make money from it, so it’s generally ignored. The only routing for our ~170 mile flight that the ATC computer would accept was around double that length, 350 miles; completely unworkable. As a result, pilots are pushed to fly in poor conditions without any IFR service instead, a direct impact on safety. In the US I could have just filed IFR direct, it would have been accepted, and the controllers would have fit us in without any difficulty.
As it was, we struck out VFR; one interesting feature of the UK is that you can declare yourself IFR when outside controlled airspace and just crack on through the clouds. With no collisions in the clouds since WW2, this clearly works OK! We flew across East Anglia, my old flying grounds while at University, and it was great to see RAF Wyton (which I used to fly out of), and my old sailing grounds at Grafham Water. As we neared the Thames, east of London, the cloud base lowered and we descended with it, flying at about 1,000ft and passing in and out of the cloud bottoms. Approaching the south downs, we reached the back end of the poor weather and had beautiful sunshine for the arrival at Laddingford, after an initial fly-by to check for dog-walkers on the runway!
My mother was present to pick us up, as was the owner of the strip, and also Flyer Forum member Charles who’d flown his Rans tail-dragger in from his strip a little further south to say hello. It’s been a real pleasure to meet so many people from the flying community who’ve been supportive of the trip!
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