I was for some reason itching to go flying in the weekend. I guess it was partly because the weather was slowly becoming favourable for flying, and it also had the added bonus of being in the weekend as well. A major factor was that a young up and coming instructor had been killed on Friday and I wanted to go up as a tribute to them.
I have a group of flying buddies not unlike some of the people on this forum. I lined up one of them to come along for the company and selected Ardmore as the destination because I wanted to keep the total flight time to around the 1 hour mark as I could. Ardmore is about 40 minutes away from Hamilton by air. Ardmore also has a large fleet of privately owned aircraft (including warbirds) that you get to see in operation as they perform their weekend flying.
I don't drink coffee, but my mates do and they agree the coffee at the Ardmore cafe is the icing on the cake of sitting there watching aircraft come and go and talking flying. I had booked a 172 for the trip but when I arrived at the aero club I spotted a Piper Cherokee Archer sitting in the flight line. A quick perusal of the booking sheet confirmed that the person who had it booked was a no show so I took the opportunity of building some more PIC time in PA28s.
My buddy turned up and as we were walking out to the aircraft, another mate of mine landed in the clubs other 172, which he had flown back from Whangarei (about 1.5 hours north by air, and about 4 hours by car). Its just had the STC conversion to 180hp so it needed 15 hours of running in. I waved to him and when he found out we were off to Ardmore he asked to join us.
All 3 of us piled into ZK-FWS and after a rather shaky take-off (we were just under max all up weight but FWS didn't want to unstick so I had to haul her into the air) we climbed steadily away.
I got us to our cruising altitude of 2000, cleared us out of Hamilton airspace into class G, and handed the plane over to Gavin while I fiddled with the radio's and got the DME tuned in. We were crossing a small range of hills north of Hamilton when I saw a paraglider just to port at about half a mile's distance. Not close enough to warrant a near miss incident report but enough to give both of us a bit of a scare. That part of the country is one of the VFR routes between Hamilton and Ardmore. I hope he was as freaked as we were.
I managed to get the AWIB down and selected a western approach to join a wide right base. After switching to the Ardmore frequency I heard the circuit was quite full, including 3 Harvard trainers who were up doing formation flying practice. At about 8 miles southwest of Ardmore I took control back and joined as a wide number 4 behind them. By the time we were on finals I couldn't see anyone downwind or behind me on base so I had a free run in.
The guys thought my landing was excellent, a rare "greaser", but truth be told I actually landed earlier than I was planning to and had only just started to flare. But I'll take accolades when they are given freely. I taxied to outside the Auckland Aero Club where the cafe is and shut down. The weather there was rather cloudy, with seven eighths of cloud at 3000, and a light breeze which was giving some people problems with their crosswind landings but the crosswind component being only 5 knots at its strongest shouldn't have given too many headaches (although watching some of the student traffic in the circuit you'd think otherwise!).
We enjoyed a drink and some food before wandering off to the hangars to see what action was taking place. We chatted to a guy about the PBY Catalina parked outside one of the hangars, we saw a 3/4 scale Mustang land (its powered by a V12 and damn it sounds good), there were the previously mentioned Harvards which were operating in the circuit, we saw a Giles 202, various training planes including (C152's, Grumman AA5's, Piper Tomahawks), some training helicopters (R22's and Hughes 269s/300Cbs), and awesome looking Trojan warbird (imagine one of the largest radials you've ever seen with a plane wrapped around it), a Beaver and a Chipmunk.
All too soon it was time to return to Hamilton so I left the guys ogling over old aircraft while I went and preflighted FWS. There was a small queue at the holding point but I found a safe spot out of the way to do my runups and was ready to go when my takeoff spot became available. Ardmore only runs a UNICOM so its first in best dressed when it comes to takeoff order.
I lined up just as a C172 in the circuit took off and as I was climbing out noticed that he was descending rather rapidly. Eventually he started to climb again so I guess they were doing a practice engine failure. I followed the departure procedure and we made it out of Ardmore airspace without incident. It can be one of the busiest parts of NZ airspace because of its proximity to Auckland International and the attendant VFR transit lanes through Auckland airspace.
The trip back was a fairly relaxed affair although I did pay extra attention when nearing the vicinity of where we had nearly met the paraglider. At about 13nm on the DME I requested entry into Hamilton airspace and made another excellent landing (which was filmed by Aaron). Then it was taxi back, tie down and cover on, and back for a cold beer before calling it a day.
I'll edit the movie down to a more web friendly version and post it soon.
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