It was about time we had some decent flying weather arrive in the weekend. It was about time I went flying in the Arrow once more. It was also about time I returned to Ardmore. Although I had been there as recently as May 2009, on that occasion we drove. Checking the logbook it was on the 7th of December 2008 that I last flew an aircraft into NZAR (aka Ardmore). The lets face it, awful weather NZ has been experiencing for most of June and July decided it wanted a break too, so we were treated to a stunning Sunday. The only downside was, there was just enough wind to create thick low level stratus, aka fog, over most of the Waikato basin.
Fortunately for me, I had the plane for the day, so was able to sit in the comfortable pilots lounge at the Aero Club and wait for the fog to clear sufficiently for me to fly. Two hours went past, and peering out I could see that the weather had improved to the north to the point I could see the horizon. I already had DQV out, fueled, preflighted and ready. My passenger Chris turned up with a bundle of camera gear and after stowing everything securely, I fired DQV up and taxied out.
After an uneventful runup and departure (off 18R grrr - why do they insist on treating the Arrow like every other Cherokee?) I was cleared for a non standard right turn and we turned northwards.
As you can see, a hole had opened up around Hamilton and the airport. Above was clear blue skies and 50km visibility. As I approached my initial level off altitude of 1200 feet AMSL, Hamilton ATC recleared me to 2500 AMSL and I started to climb once more.
Once I hit 2500 I levelled off, trimmed, leaned and started to think about my course. It would lead us right over the largest patch of fog I have ever seen from above. The PPL met law popped unbidded into my head: "clear of cloud and in sight of the ground..." well there was no way we were going to see the ground through that pea soup. I steered west of my original heading and made sure I was within gliding distance of ground I could see. Chris in the meantime was busy snapping pics of the cloud below us. Looking at the photos you'd almost believe we were a few thousand feet higher than we actually were.
Most of my usual landmarks were under that cloud (the Waikato River, the Meremere Power Station, the Hampton Downs raceway, and the Spring Hill Prison). Once we got closer I could see State Highway 1 crossing over the Bombay hills, then I picked out a bridge over the Waikato river which appeared to our left and triangulating them on my Nav chart I had a pretty good idea where we were. The problem was, we were travelling at around 135 knots over the ground and I had to start my descent to stay under controlled airspace so landmarks were coming and going fairly quickly.
We finally managed to get the relevant information from Ardmore's AWIB and at around 12nm to run I reported in on the frequency and announced I was joining downwind from the west as per the published arrival procedure. I admit I had some reservations about flying the Arrow into Ardmore. Ardmore is the busiest uncontrolled airport in NZ, and at times is busier than some airfields which have the luxury of ATC telling pilots where to go. The Arrow being retractable would also increase my personal workload, which would adversely affect my situational awareness, something you need a lot of in the Ardmore circuit. I started my run at the downwind leg from Papakura township, and seeing a 172 climbing in the crosswind, I aimed to slot in behind them. I realised that having a few extra knots up my sleeve actually aided me in sequencing because I could easily stay ahead of the next aircraft coming up from the runway in the circuit. Then there was the problem of slowing down. I reduced enough manifold pressure to get DQV below the gear limiting speed and dropped the gear, and the 172 ahead stopped getting bigger at the great rate of knots. Once I had DQV more or less straight and level and trimmed I quickly ran through the downwind checks, reported I was number two for landing and continued to follow the plane ahead.
Once I turned finals I gave a call I was intending to land after the leading 172 had decleared they were going to touch and go. Knowing I had 8 knots of headwind with only a very slight crosswind to cope with I crossed the threshold, rounded out and started to flare as I pulled the throttle to idle, that was a mistake. We started to sink so I raised the nose even more. That didn't help either and we arrived with a bit more of a thump than I had intended, but in hindsight it wasn't that bad and I have done a lot worse.
I saw the taxiway to the southern apron and we headed off the busy runway and found a place to park next to a PBY Catalina.
Thats what I love about Ardmore. There are not too many places in the world where you can pull up next to an airworthy Catalina.
After nosing around the Warbirds hangar where they had the P-51, 3 or 4 Harvards and the Beaver getting some sun, Chris and I snapped to our hearts content before making our way over to the Auckland Aero Club for lunch. I'll continue the story in another thread so I can post more photos.