RAF Lyneham Flying Club

Shamrock Hopover 2006

By 2nd Lt Sean Gilvear
RAF Lyneham Flying Club

RAF Lyneham Flying Club has undertaken a flying tour of Southern Ireland, the first of its kind by an RAF Flying Club. The expedition consisted of two aircraft and six people over a four-day period battling against some absolutely atrocious weather to experience some wonderful sights.
Funded by the RAF Flying Clubs Association (RAFFCA), and the station Gym, the aim was to pay homage to Captain John Alcock and Lieutenant Arthur Whitten Brown who, in a modified Vickers Vimy Bomber, made the first non-stop aerial crossing of the Atlantic.

Aerial view from aircraft. After an evening of preparing the aircraft and planning for the days ahead, the first aircraft set off with Graham Rumbelow, Sean Gilvear and Kevin Turner on board. The other aircraft was due to leave Lyneham a day later with Dave Jelly, Sarah Brewin and Phil Threlfall.
Our first destination was to be St Athan to pick up fuel.
After an uneventful flight in beautiful, clear blue skies we landed, refuelled and were soon ready to depart.

As we backtracked, the runway we admired the redundant Jaguars on the South side of the airfield and discussed the costs and feasibility of running one; the conclusion was that one of us would have to come up trumps on the lottery!
The next leg to Haverfordwest started with a very shallow climb being at maximum all-up weight with 3 people and full tanks, but we had a great view of the Welsh coast until our descent.
Located about 10 miles from the western tip of Wales, Haverfordwest gave us a chance to stop for lunch and to check the weather before setting off across the Irish Sea. It also allowed Shaun time for a moments reflection about the place where he had originally learned to fly.

Aerial view from aircraft. With everything looking good, we took off and headed out via St David’s Head, levelling off at 7000ft for a very smooth trip in wonderful conditions. We could see Ireland before we had coasted out so the navigation was fairly straightforward across the sea before descending to 1000ft to follow the coast to Cork.
Cork is a grand place with wide streets and large stone buildings. There are more pubs than you can shake a stick at and it is most certainly a very vibrant place. After a pint or two of Murphy’s, we booked into B&B. Kev sent a picture message to Dave Jelly of us all holding a pint of Murphy’s; I will leave the response to your imagination!

Day 2

A hearty breakfast preceded our journey back to the airport where we found that the weather was overcast at 700ft but forecast to improve by midday. After refuelling, the weather cleared allowing us to depart and head West around the coast. This piece of coastline can experience extreme weather, being exposed to the Atlantic, and has had its fair share of ships foundering on it. The construction of the Fastnet Lighthouse in 1904 reduced the number of shipping accidents and precipitated the establishment of the famous Fastnet sailing ship race in 1925. The views along the coastline were magnificent with jagged-looking cliffs and harsh, lively seas battering them. We found that we had to fly around some showers and low cloud to retain sight of the ground and, despite being at a safe altitude, the feeling of being exposed and vulnerable was hard to quell.

Group photo. Our route then took us North around the West coast before heading inland to Shannon, once again dodging around poor weather.
After this 2-hour flight and a leg stretch, a weather check was our main aim as a decision had to be made on whether or not we would be spending a night in Shannon. With a favourable forecast for the next leg, we submitted a flight plan for Conemarra and were soon on our way.

Heading North-west, the Aran Islands were soon in sight and we continued for a touch and go on Inishmere and Inishman. These strips were incredibly short for us at 450 metres with the thresholds next to the sea, so a bit of lively action with the power and flaps was required. The largest of these islands was the setting for the filming of Father Ted so I can imagine that “feck“ may have originally come from the mouths of pilots trying to land there!

After the second touch and go, we routed 10 miles North to Connemara. The runway was relatively short with a cross-wind and it was quite a challenge to land on the threshold. The airfield was closed with no-one around so, after securing the aircraft from the wind with some rope and boulders, we set off in search of somewhere to stay. With any flying expedition, it can be really difficult to plan accommodation along the route, as you are never really sure where you will end with the weather playing such a large part. We had brought a 2-man tent along just in case but I didn’t relish the idea of actually using it, especially for 3 people after Irish ale and kebabs!
We found a pub at the end of the road, in the middle of nowhere and managed to find a local B & B to stay in. The owner, Mimi, was very hospitable and we ended up going with her to the community pub where a famous Irish singer was his own one-man band.

Day 3

Mimi served us a hearty breakfast and then gave us a lift to the airfield. There was a fresh wind down the runway which was ideal as it meant that a shorter take off was achievable. Due to the aircraft loading and short runway, it was essential to calculate the length of runway required to take off. The weather was favourable and we set about preparing the aircraft for the flight ahead of us. The aircraft left the runway at the predicted point and Kev flew us over Mimi’s house before heading along the Conemarra coastline to the West. The scenery was spectacular, especially when the mountain range came into view. The actual landing site of Alcock and Brown was near Clifden, and is marked with a memorial in the shape of an aircraft wing. They took off from Lester's Field, near St. Johns, Newfoundland on June 14,1919, and landed June 15,1919, at Connemara in Ireland. The time for the crossing was 16 hours, 27 minutes. This small feature eluded us, however, so we continued on our way to land at Sligo for some fuel.
After a short stop, we set course for Weston airfield at Dublin. Once again we were treated to some magnificent views of the heart of Ireland before heading out to the East and arriving at Dublin. As we put the aircraft away for the night, the other crew arrived in the other Piper Warrior, G-WFFW.
After having spent the night at Cardiff due to poor weather, Dave Jelly, Sarah Brewin and Phil Threlfall had completed the entire expedition in 1 whole day’s flight! After over 6 hours flying that day, they were very relieved when we got in a taxi and finally arrived at the hotel.

Day 4

Lighthouse. On arrival at Weston airfield, flight plans and customs documentation were submitted while others referred to Notams, weather reports and maps. G-WFFW set off first followed by us in G-BNNT, and it wasn’t long before we were over the Irish Sea en-route to Mona in Anglesey. The same procedure was required for transiting the Irish Sea i.e. timed navigation leg from a set point in order to request a frequency change to London information at the correct time. With Holyhead on the nose it took no time at all until we were on the final approach for Mona airfield. After a quick chat to the flying club members, we set off for a short hop to Caernarfon, before setting course for Welshpool.
The view over the mountains was fabulous and was the first aerial view for most of us. We continued East towards Oswestry and then South to Welshpool on timed navigation legs. The airfield is situated South-east of a hill abeam Welshpool with the runway running North to South and was ideal for a direct approach to land.
The final leg and the surroundings became a lot more familiar. There was glider activity north of Hereford, but aside from that there was little or no traffic along our route. As soon as we had crossed the Severn it was not long before we were in Lyneham zone and then on our final approach to land.
The four day trip was an extremely useful exercise; it provided the environment and conditions necessary to develop flying technique, navigational skills and a more in-depth knowledge of assessing the weather conditions. Despite all of the challenges we had managed to fly around the majority of the Irish coastline, witnessing the raw power that nature exerts on the shores and also the magnificent beauty of the countryside. Flying gave us this unique opportunity to view these sights, meet interesting people and develop further flying skills all in just 4 days. You too can do this sort of expedition; it’s not as expensive as you might think. Just contact your local RAF flying club.

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