This page describes a flying trip to Ireland that I did when I was still a student pilot.
For our trip to Ireland, the plan was to fly from Redhill to Waterford, a regional airport near the south-east coast of Ireland, and then on to Coonagh, which is a small private airstrip on the outskirts of Limerick. We were aiming to do this on the Friday, then stay over near Limerick and set off on Saturday morning to Weston, an airfield not far from Dublin, then have a good night out in Dublin and fly back home to Redhill on the Sunday.
We took two of the school's Cessna 172's: G-BYEA and G-BYET (Echo-Alpha is pictured to the right). In Echo-Alpha were myself, Andy Coyte (another student at Cabair and a good friend of mine) and my instructor Stuart. In Echo-Tango were Ben (another instructor at Cabair), Mark (one of Ben's students who had recently passed his PPL skills test) and Andy (Mark's brother-in-law, whose mum conveniently lives in Ireland and very kindly offered to provide accommodation for some of our party).
I must pay credit to Andy Coyte for having the sense and forethought to take his little digital camera with him, and his laptop. This allowed us to take tons of pictures, just a small number of which you'll see here.
Left - The "Echo-Alpha" boys: Andy Coyte, Stuart and myself. This picture was taken by balancing the camera on the fuselage of Echo-Alpha, hence the slightly cock-eyed angle! The life jackets are de rigueur for any flight over a significant amount of water like the Irish Sea - rather fetching, no?Return to top of page
We'd arrived nice and early at Redhill to get our planning done, and took off from 26L. Andy was flying this leg - in fact this was pretty much his first navigation flight. How many people can say that their first navex was an international? And he made an excellent job of it, too.
Conditions were fairly nice - good visibility and not too bumpy. Sitting in the back for the first time, I discovered that a '172 is actually very comfy for a rear passenger. Once the front seat has slid forward to a normal flying position, there's loads of leg room. Pity there's only one set of sockets for a headset, and the visibility out of the front window is non-existent, but nice view to the sides being a high-wing.
Right: The three intrepid aviators in Echo-Alpha, Stuart in the co-pilot's seat, Andy in the captain's seat and me in the back. This picture was taken by balancing the camera on top of the instrument panel.
It wasn't long before we were heading out into country that neither myself nor Andy had flown before, out through Farnborough's MATZ and past sunny Basingstoke. It was at about this time that I missed what would have been the best picture of the trip - a Chinook helicopter appeared in the distance in front of us a few hundred feet below, and came straight towards us. As it passed almost directly underneath we could look down on its two rotors, which almost seemed to be turning in slow motion.
When Andy called Lyneham Control (or 'Des' as it became affectionately known to us, in homage to the greatest living sports presenter - Lynam, geddit?!), we were shocked at how soon a Welsh accent had appeared on the radio. We hadn't even reached the Severn estuary yet!
Things got a bit cloudy over the Welsh hills, so we climbed and used Stuart's IMC privileges. Pretty soon I realised that my leg was getting wet - a spray-bottle of window cleaner tucked in the seat pocket had started dripping onto me. Even at 5000 feet it was obviously feeling the pressure change!
And so onwards to the Strumble VOR, which was to guide us over the Irish Sea. Looking back over the tail was the beautiful sight of a big bank of orographic clouds over Wales.
Right: One of our first sights of civilisation in Ireland was this small seaside village.
Left: Andy, nicely lined up on final approach to Waterford's runway 21. He admitted afterwards that this was his first tarmac landing, and not a bad one at that!Return to top of page
We stopped at Waterford airport to refuel - the aircraft taking a few litres of avgas and us taking a few cups of tea. Waterford is a regional airport that has the occasional flight over to the UK. Euroceltic, for example, operate a couple of flights a day between Luton and Waterford using Fokker F27 turboprops, one of which was sitting outside the terminal building being prepared for flight when we arrived.
Having done our planning for the leg to Coonagh (that's me on the left pondering the airspace restrictions around Shannon), we were off again. But not for long. We ran into some pretty bad weather soon after we'd left, and there was no option but to turn back and drink some more tea. We stayed at Waterford for an hour or two, lying in the long grass outside the terminal building and enjoying the sunshine whilst watching the clouds and rain in the distance over the hills to the west of Waterford.
Right: My landing back at Waterford after our aborted flight. The wind had picked up a bit, and the helpful controller warned me to expect some turbulence off the trees to the west of the airport, and he was right too. But nothing too scary, and a nice touch-down (even though I say so myself!)Return to top of page
And so, after a couple of hours' waiting, the weather finally looked a bit better to the west of Waterford, and we decided to have another go at the second leg of our journey. We planned to follow the river out of Waterford until we got to Carrick-on-Suir, then route direct to Limerick. We were aiming for Coonagh, which is a very small airstrip on the outskirts of Limerick.
I was flying this leg, and took off just in front of the Echo-Tango chaps. If you look closely in the picture to the right, you can just make out Echo-Tango taking off behind us - look near where the taxiway branches off from the main runway and you'll see them just lifting off.
Echo-Tango followed us most of the way to Limerick, at times allowing Andy to get some really good pictures, like the one below, looking back towards Waterford city with Echo-Tango in the foreground...
And so, after about an hour or so, we reached Limerick. The weather over Limerick was appalling - there was a big active shower overhead, and the rain lashed against the windshield. I flew around the south of the town, while Stuart studied the plate we had for Coonagh airfield trying to figure out where it was. Eventually I spotted it, and then we realised the task ahead of us to get Echo-Alpha down onto such a short runway in these conditions.
Coonagh is a tarmac strip, but it's only 416m by 10m - yes, only ten metres wide! We made a low approach to take a closer look, and we could hear on the radio that the Echo-Tango chaps had already landed. I flew a tight circuit, and was more than happy to hand over the controls to Stuart for this landing. To make it just that little bit harder, there were trees fairly near the undershoot. Stuart brought it in very slowly, with the stall warner occasionally squawking - real "back of the power-curve" stuff. The picture to the right doesn't really quite do it justice.
Once down, we made a dash for the hangar to shelter from the rain. This was home to a microlight and a couple of Rallyes. Once the rain had eased off, we went inside the little Portacabin that was the home of the Limerick Flying Club. They obviously do tuition from here - do people actually manage touch-and-go's on this runway?
Then we heard the sound of an engine overhead, announcing the arrival of the chap from flying club who we'd arranged to meet here. A little Cessna 152 Aerobat appeared out of the gloom, performed a couple of death-defying snap rolls, came round to land and pulled a 'wheelie' on the runway for good measure. You can see him landing in the picture below. Note how close the cows are to the edge of the runway - they must have nerves of steel!
We stayed the night in Killaloe, a few miles up the road from Limerick. Andy's mum kindly put up Ben and Mark (and gave us all a very nice meal) while myself, the other Andy and Stuart stayed at a pleasant B&B nearby. In the evening we went in search of 'proper' Irish pubs in Killaloe, and we weren't disappointed.Return to top of page
Next morning, and back to the aircraft. Andy's mum kindly gave us all a lift back to Coonagh - squeezing seven of us into the car! The take-off at Coonagh was back towards the trees that haunted Stuart on final approach the previous evening, but was uneventful.
Andy flew this leg, heading to Weston which is a modest little aerodrome not far from Dublin. The journey took about an hour and a half, and took us over more picturesque Irish scenery.
It would be fair to say that we had a bit of trouble finding Weston airfield. Or rather, we found "Weston" very easily - a huge tarmac runway aligned in the correct direction roughly where we expected to find it, complete with glorious approach lights. Just as we were all thinking that it was a fair bit bigger than we were expecting, I spotted the real Weston down to our left - what we'd found was actually Baldonnel. But as it happened we were in the perfect place to do an overhead join for Weston anyway, so to an outside observer it probably looked like we knew what we were doing! To the right you can see Weston's main tarmac runway, seen from a left-hand base leg.
This was Andy's second landing on the hard stuff - definitely no longer a tarmac virgin!
Weston is an airfield that buzzes with activity. This is obviously where Ireland goes to play with its toys at the weekend. Bizarrely, there were peacocks strutting around the apron. I'm not sure if peacocks can actually fly, but I guess you have to consider them as non-radio traffic!
The two fuel guys were unbelievably busy, and had a constant queue of aircraft waiting. Below you can see Echo-Tango and Echo-Alpha lined up ready for some avgas.
A Night Out in Dublin
(I don't think any words are required here. These photos say it all about our night out in Dublin. 'Nuff said...)
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Weston to Redhill - the journey home
Next morning, and we were a ragged bunch. A few of us were brave enough for a fried breakfast, though. We took a taxi back to Weston, and started our planning for the flight home. Here you can see Mark busy deciding on his route over the Irish Sea (right).
I was flying this final leg home, and the lads in Echo-Tango took off first. A chap in the flying club had briefed us on the departure procedures: stay in the circuit at 1000ft, and call Dublin Control who'll give you a clearance through their zone. They routed me round the southern edge of Dublin towards Killiney, and we turned out towards the sea a bit further south.
Below: The suburban sprawl of Dublin, seen from under the port wing of Echo-Alpha. Dublin Control kept me at 1000ft until we reached Killiney before they allowed me to climb to 2500ft.
Left: Our first sight of civilisation back in the UK was Fishguard, decorated with a few bits of cotton-wool cumulus.
Here are some more views of the journey back to Redhill...
Right: A view of Basingstoke.
Left: Farnborough airfield
Right: And so, after about three hours' flying, we arrived home to Redhill. Good to hear the familiar voice of Chris in the tower. The road in the foreground is the M23, and you can see the field a bit further back. This picture is taken on a right-hand base leg for runway 26. In the middle-distance, just in front of the wing strut, you can see Gatwick airport, which is less than ten miles away.Return to top of page
On the way back over the Welsh hills, we climbed quite high to try to get above the clouds. Then Andy, sitting in the back seat, had a great idea for a photo. Stuart and I turned round and put on our best dopey grins and thumbs-up, and the picture was just begging to have another aircraft pasted in afterwards, so here it is in all its splendour... Judging from the altimeter we're at FL75 here, so hypoxia was obviously beginning to set in! I've now stuck a copy of this on the flying school notice board with the caption: "David and Stuart demonstrate how to keep a good lookout".