As a novice flyer, setting off on the Round Britain Microlight Rally was quite a challenge, but I like to set myself tough goals. Starting near Daventry, 29 planes would set off at 2 minute intervals. Our task was to fly over as many of the predesignated 66 locations as possible from the Outer Hebrides to the Scilly Isles, scoring points for going over or landing at each. The skill is not just in the actual flying, but also the planning of the route linked to the weather activity, fuel stops and of course toilet breaks.
Wednesday The trip down to Daventry should have been straightforward enough, however when I landed I was told by my wife that Birmingham Air Traffic Control had contacted her and asked if I was out flying. Not wanting to scare her too much, they quickly confirmed I was safe but had infringed their airspace. Not by much as it turns out, but enough to have given them concern and for them to have considered diverting the big boys’ toys, i.e. airliners. The outcome is that I got a royal telling off and paperwork to complete, but hopefully no fine. I accepted the blame and was duly admitted into the “Something you have to do at some stage in your flying career” club. Broken law no. 1.
Thursday The competition started at 9am with all points carefully logged in my GPS to aid navigation. I was very excited to nail the first turn with pinpoint accuracy, but my confidence was short-lived as I hit a rain storm and my GPS decided to switch off. As I was heading towards a military air zone, I decided to divert around it and head towards Cromer on the East Anglian coast where I was going to land, get my head straight and sort out the GPS.
Diverting around the military airspace, I quickly found the lighthouse, town, roads coming out and trainline at Cromer, however no airfield. I circled around and around, calling the control tower but getting no response. “Cromer, this is golf bravo yankee oscar zulu, can you please help, I am overhead Cromer looking for the airfield?“ Still no response. I grabbed my iPhone to see if that would work, but no, so I decided to find a farmer’s field with enough space to land and got down to work it out. When my iPhone kicked in, it showed I was not at Cromer but 20 miles west in a town with a lighthouse and similar road structure!
After putting myself straight, I took off and found the right Cromer and landed to refuel and get the well earned points. The rest of that day’s trip around the east coast was very interesting, being as my only method of navigation was a map and the excitement of spotting a road crossing a river and matching the map excited me immensely (small things). Up the east coast, over the Humber Bridge and my first night was spent at Beverley Airfield where I was allowed to stay in the club house with everything in the bar costing £1 and anything to eat 50p. What luxury, sleeping on the club room seats.
Friday After wearing my thumb out the preivous day on the start button on my GPS, it was still not working no matter how hard I pressed, so I resorted to good old maps, heading further north before cutting west to Lake Windermere. In typical Lakes fashion, the black clouds opened and I got soaked again following the M6 south as a reliable landmark, refuelling at Ince near Liverpool. A quick stop at my home airfield of Ashcroft to avoid another soaking was then followed by a short trip over to the Blueleaf office to check all the team were in work. Broken law no. 2 was a low pass over the roof. With all the team counted, I headed to Menai Bridge and Caernarfon, where again after refulling I headed out but failed to secure my fuel funnel properly. The plane behind spotted something orange fall out of the plane and reported on the radio. Emergency services were scrambled and I was asked to circle the airport. After an intensive search, they failed to find what I realised was my Sainsbury’s bag with oily rags and funnel inside. I had to come in and land and in true Top Gear style waved apologetically to all the bigger planes that were held up as I landed very embarrassingly to be greated by the emergency services to check what had gone wrong. Thankfully, they were happy that a Sainsbury’s bag, oily rag and funnel were not a defect avoiding paperwork, as long as I was happy.
Straight off again (behind the delayed bigger planes), I headed over Snowdon and then figured out I could use the tail wind down the west coast to great effect. For anyone who tracked me, you’ll see I was achieving maximium speed not only due to the wind behind, but also because I was running out of time. The rules meant that I had to be landed by 7pm or else I’d lose the whole day’s score. Heading down the coast as quickly as I could, I was working out on the way that it was going to be tight to reach an airfield, so whilst looking out for nice fields to land in, I was amazed to see a huge runway appear in front of me, bang in line with my direction. Radioing in there was no response, so I chose to dive in without doing a circuit and mange to touch down at 6:59 and 47 seconds, 13 seconds inside the cut-off zone.
Safe at last or so I thought. I quickly realised I was on a restricted military base at Aberporth, cameras everywhere, no sign of people and all fenced off with warning signs of a £5,000 fine. Broken law no. 3. I managed to speak with someone on the phone who advised I get out of there quickly but was allowed to leave the plane until the next morning. I squeezed through a hole in the fence, using my trusty iPhone to find a hotel where the owner came and picked me up in between serving starters and main courses.
Saturday After a stomach refuel and a good sleep, it was on to the last day, down the coast to Skokholm Island off South West Wales and then over to complete other turn points, the day passed uneventfully. The final element of the competition was to cross the finishing line bang on time. My time was 4.12pm and after some furious calculations, I managed to nail it perfectly to get the full score.
The result A fantastic event and for a novice, I’m very pleased with my efforts. However, the judges had a problem. My data logger failed to pick up all of Thursday’s points so I got a zero and the same for some of Saturday. Luckily, my iPhone had logged the trip so I was able to submit that data and was awarded first place in my category.
Here’s some numbers for you fact fans out there.
Day one 227 miles 6 hours 50 mins flying
Day two 340 miles 7 hours 15 mins flying
Day three 242 miles 5 hours 55 mins flying
I was awarded 1650 turn and land points and 250 for crossing the line bang on time. My plane isn’t the most economical, being very basic and old, but what great primitive fun. Very glad to be back home with champagne and criossants though on Sunday morning.
Thanks for everyone who followed and asked me about the adventure, it helped me keep going and thanks of course for supporting the wonderful Claire House Children’s Hospice. You can still donate here if you’d like to help.