“Remind me, did we PPR for France? I can’t quite remember,” quipped my pilot friend. We were taking a look at a fairly solid layer of clouds that sat over the English Channel. You know, that sort of cotton wool layer that goes on for miles, and feels impenetrable. Behind us was hardly a wisp of cloud across the flat plains that stretch out from Ashford. In fact, the whole of Kent was sunny and clear.
One minute we were playing near the clouds, and 15 minutes later we were managing a weather diversion, a new one on me.
At the point where the Skydemon glideslope showed we would soon be struggling to put the aeroplane back down at Rye, I suggested an about turn. We headed down and tracked along the coast, low enough for me to register the sea was an unattractive brown. There were a few wisps of cloud on our path, but it was still clear inland, to our right, and the thick cloud on the channel seemed quite far away.
We were heading to Deanland, and the weather forecast had said it was clearing through the day. I was just disappointed the sea wasn’t the gorgeous aquamarine I had seen it a while back, flying in the opposite direction. I was keen to fill in the gap of where we’d flown along the coast – hence navigating the Notams and flying along the coast from Camber Sands around Hastings. Such a large sprawling seaside town!
Suddenly Dan said, “We need to watch out here.” His comment came a significant minute or two before I might have registered, but then I suppose that is the intensity of being P1. The fingers of sea-mist were looking slightly more frequent, and as we approached the Beachy Head lighthouse, the cloud cover seemed to thicken. Suddenly, flying over the water, which I struggle to do at the best of times myself, didn’t seem a good idea. I looked inland and the entire ridge seemed to be covered in thick sea mist.
“Let’s go inland,” I suggested, just as Dan was already doing so. It wasn’t far to Deanland, but this sea mist offered a fairly solid barrier to our path. We were now tracking across the flat plain inland from Eastbourne, but soon the ground would be rising heading north. The mist was now drifting across here too. We needed to change our plans, before there was no longer any option to do so.
We had been flying for around 90 minutes, so heading back was too far. We needed to land soonish. Suddenly I spied a patch of clear blue sky above the clouds. “Let’s climb above this and see what it’s like higher up. It will give us time to decide what we do now,” said Dan. As we gained height, I could still see the outline of the coast we had been flying along. Kent was still bathed in clear sunshine.
I was checking on my own device which airfield was most suitable. Fortunately, there was no issue with fuel to add to our worries. Headcorn seemed the most obvious choice. Dan radioed the frequency I dictated, and they were happy to let us in. Looking across to the west, it seemed like the bank of cloud stretched right up to Gatwick, but happily by now we were flying in full sunshine again.
We were lucky enough to just avoid a helicopter and the parachute plane in the circuit, although they probably wouldn’t have rattled the much more experienced pilot Dan. As a diversion, we weren’t liable for their whopping landing fee of £20, although we insisted on paying part. By the time we took off after half an hour, some food and a comfort break, the skies towards the coast were clear as a bell. Although, I thought I spied some mist still lingering on the Beachy Head headland. Our Deanland contact had agreed the weather didn’t look great.
If you don’t know the incredible facility on Skydemon to ‘Route Direct’ to a specific airfield, it’s worth experimenting to figure it out before you fly next. I also learnt that pressing the Skydemon logo at the top, one of the options is Direct To, which lists all the nearby airfields with the length and orientation of their runways, hard or grass, plus how far you are from them.
I was so impressed at Dan’s quickfire response to a situation that could have turned into an issue had we blundered on, plus his sensible choice of climbing up when that option presented itself, to give us a chance to choose the best course of action. It also reminded me of why it’s good to have multiple devices to hand, and a fellow pilot in the passenger seat to exchange ideas with. In a more inexperienced pilot’s hands, that midweek jaunt could have turned into more of an adventure than either of us wanted that day.