Sunday, January 06, 2013

Comedy of Errors

There was something of a 'Carry on' film in yesterday's attempt to have two flying marriage proposals within two hours at the lovely Leeds Castle, near Maidstone, yesterday afternoon.

First off, Saturday morning was completely miserable and verging on the non flyable. At 9 O'Clock, Manston airport had mist and drizzle down to 200 feet and Headcorn airfield, where I was planning to operate from, was only a little better at 500 feet with the big ridge at Challock obscured and sitting between us; a large cloud with a hard centre, so near but so far.

Sitting at the airport, I had thought there was little chance of getting off the big runway but at 10am, Headcorn reported 700 feet and Manston's weather had lifted to about the same, so I decided to give it a try; with two desperate proposers willing me towards the castle at any price.

I really wanted to stay visual if at all possible as the big ridge has claimed rather too many victims in the past but passing Canterbury, with the ground rising, I quickly found myself plunging into the fog with my undercarriage rather too close to the power lines below. No choice but for a quick, climbing 180 degree safety turn, up into the thick cloud at 2,000 feet to keep me clear of Challock. I asked for a radar service from Manston and had a quick chat with Headcorn, whose visibility since I left, had suddenly dropped in mist.

In the end I decided to make a non-precision instrument approach into Headcorn, just to see if I could at least get there and wait out the weather  in position and was relieved to see its muddy runway appear out of the thick grey gloom, right on the nose and in the right spot.

So far so good, until having told both clients by text I had arrived and that there was at least a 50/50 chance of getting the proposals done at 12:30 and 2pm respectively with Leeds castle only four miles away, I discovered to my horror that they were both at the castle.

Mr 2pm, had decided to spend the night at the castle hotel with his partner, without telling me of his change of plan, while Mr 12:30, from Nigeria, who had originally wanted a Brighton Pier proposal, had stayed at a Maidstone hotel and was inbound for his appointment, in the hope that the weather might improve in time.

In between setting-up the equipment, I found myself trying to avoid a nervous breakdown and arrive at a clever plan or at least a workable one, so that very importantly, the couples didn't meet and vitally, the lady at 2pm didn't have her very special day spoiled by seeing the banner fly-past for the Nigerian lady at 12:30.

In the end , I reached a compromise, where the 2pm booking agreed to keep his partner 'occupied' and out of sight of any windows until I had finished at 12:30 and although the weather was still pretty awful, I managed, as a stroke of luck to get the first flight flown successfully, although I needed my GPS to find the castle as I worked around the low cloud hugging the gap in the ridge the castle sits in. It wasn't until I landed back at Headcorn, that I discovered that I had a character wrong in the lady's somewhat unusual name, which had exhausted nearly all the black 'N's in my inventory but she said "Yes" and the client forgave my error.

The second job a 2pm went without a hitch, was another success and here, after this little story, is the video, for any reader who would like to see Leeds castle from the air. In the video, I can just make out the couple, as two black dots on the grass in the middle of the castle. The GoPro camera is very wide-angle and produces a near fish-eye lens effect. Coming back into land, having dropped the banner, you can see another aircraft pull out in front of me without looking or calling and I do a sharp 360 orbit to create some space before coming into land behind him

1 comment:

Michael Child said...

Fantastic camera Simon, in the circumstances I think I will stick to the secondhand bookselling.