After what seemed like weeks of awful weather over the Christmas period and endless low cloud I spotted a decent break in the weather showing for Sunday 19th January. It’s hard to beat winter flights, no thermals to throw you around and a more stable atmosphere than the height of summer (when it isn’t chucking it down of course), means the plane flies like it is on rails. So, a plan was started.
I hoped over to the Pilots of Northern Ireland page on the Monday before and put a feeler out for a potential flight to Oban to gauge interest. Surprisingly, quite a few got back, but, there was an Issue. Microlight legend Paul Kiddel informed us that Oban isn’t supplying fuel to non commercial flights at the moment and some of our party would need fuel. Damn!
So on the suggestion of local young pilot Ehan Sherry a new plan was formed, rather than Oban, we would instead head South, to Abbeyshrule in the midlands of Ireland! YES! was my answer to this, new airports in a part of the country I’ve never been to sounded fantastic.
Ethan also did a great job of getting in touch with loads of pilots North and South of the border, informing them of the new adventure!
The overall plan for the day was us to meet up with some pilots from Carrickmore over Monaghan, form up then head down to Abbeyshrule. Ethan had arranged for a bunch of guys South of the border to meet us at the airfield as well, so we were looking at 15-20 planes for the day :D
I had an extra leg to do, which was get from Ards to Tandragee for an in air rendezvous with 4 planes from Tandragee.
Leg 1 - Ards to Abbeyshrule (via Tandragee)
Wind: SSW-200 at 8kt Visibility: 10 km or more Temperature: 02 degrees Celsius Dewpoint: 0 degrees Celsius QNH (Sea-level pressure): 1044 hPa
…when I went to start the plane though it wouldn’t fire!
With flightplans, GARs and PPRs all done the day before we were good to go for an early start!
Weather was as perfect as we could hope for, my plan was to lift off at 10am and meet with the rest of planes over Tandragee then head south.
However, when I went to start the plane though it wouldn’t fire! This had never happened before so I got the cowl off and spent a few minutes looking around the engine bay to see if anything was loose, leaking or in any way odd. I couldn’t find anything.
Luckily, when I jumped back in again, it started! What I think it happened, was it was so cold, just above freezing, that the ignition wasn’t firing. Once I had the cowl for a few minutes off the sun was able to warm the engine a few degrees, I think this helped get her started again. If anyone has any insight into this let me know, hasn’t happened again!
Due to this, I was running behind but, luckily others were as well, as some also had trouble starting, so myself and my passenger Declan clambered aboard, performed the pre-flight checks and headed off to meet the others before heading across the border!
We were in comms with Belfast Radar (130.85) who granted us a crossing through their Southern CTA zone which starts at 1,500ft, I was wanting to catch up on some lost time so this was a handy shortcut to shave a few minutes off!
On arriving at Tandragee I tuned into their radio and could hear the others just about to take off. I was advised to meet over “Acton Lake”, I spent some time the night before figuring out where this could be and found a lake that looked kind of like a shark fin to the South of Kernan Aviation. This ended up being the right place and as I watched the others taking off one by one I entered a few orbits of the lake before setting up in the left rear of the formation.
Our next stage was some formation flying to meet up with a few other planes over Monaghan then route direct South to Abbeyshrule.
Gavin Curtis ended up bouncing around the formation taking some video, he pieced it together for your viewing pleasure below. Check out the amazing visibility and low hill fog covering some of the fields, epic views!
Formation flying is one of my favourite things, can’t beat flying along with some mates on an adventure for a day!
Onward to Abbeyshrule!
Once we hit Monaghan we hooked up with a few other aircraft who were orbiting waiting on us and we then routed due South towards our destination.
Ethan had done a great job get others onboard for the trip with his many contacts, and, while we were heading South, others were heading North for us all to meet up for some grub when we got there!
Ben who flies a Rans Coyote was leading the formation, I always say to the slowest plane to lead as we can easier catch up with them than they can with faster planes, it seemed to work pretty well!
The air was so smooth, was able to let the plane fly itself pretty much and had some good chatting with Declan!
Arrival in Abbeyshrule
As we were nearing our destination, a few of us had to do a wee, so we were forced to break formation and head on!
Remember earlier I’d mentioned that we were meeting folk from the South as well, well, it turned out we arranged to all arrive at the same time! This turned the what seems to be a very quiet Abbeyshrule airport into something more like Heathrow for about 10 mins! I think in future we should probably stagger the arrival if there are a few groups of people :D.
As it was so busy I held back and entered a few orbits to allow others to get down and create space before entering the overhead for a standard overhead join onto the crosswind for Runway 28.
This was a really nice approach actually over some trees and a nice long runway as well, I was a little high but as I’d so much space this wasn’t an issue at all. By this point, most of our group had landed so I found a spot on the apron next to some hangars - we certainly filled it up as you can see below!
It turned out that there were even some folk down from Scotland who had arrived with us at the same time, this made it about 14 aircraft in total. So, we did what any pilots would do and headed off to find some food!
We had heard there was a place not too far away we could walk to, so about 20 of us headed off in the rough direction we thought it would be in.
Turned out it was a lovely pub called The Rustic Inn situated in the middle of the small Abbeyshrule village about 15 minutes walk from the airfield. I’d highly recommend stopping in if you’re ever there, the food was great, quick to arrive and I heard that the Guinness was lovely (I can’t comment as I was flying so couldn’t have any!).
We stayed for about an hour or so before heading back to the airfield to pay our landing fees and head back to our various home airfields.
The airfield and clubhouse have clearly seen better days, which was unfortunate as it was a bit run down, but sure, it’s in the middle of nowhere so it’s to be expected these days!
I had brought a few litres of fuel with me so I was able to top up a bit before heading back - piece of mind!
Leg 2 - Abbeyshrule to Ards
|Start||Duration||Stop||Distance||Max Alt(ft)||Max Speed(kts)||Avg Speed(kts)|
Wind: SSW-200 at 6kt Visibility: 10 km or more Temperature: -1 degrees Celsius Dewpoint: -3 degrees Celsius QNH (Sea-level pressure): 1039 hPa
We left on a route to Newtownards via Dundalk, while others were heading to Tandragee to drop folk off etc so we were on our own for the trip back. This suited us anyway as it meant I could fly at my usual 85kts indicated rather than 70/75kts we needed in the formation which sped up the journey back somewhat!
Also, note the flight stats for the journey home above, while winds on the ground were low (6kts), aloft they were 20/25kts (though surprisingly smooth) which is why it took near 2hrs to get down. On the way home though we took advantage of the tailwind and climbed to 3,000ft where winds were a bit higher and we weren’t in the way of airspace. As you can see we hit a ground speed max of 113kts with an average of 93kts; not bad for a microlight!
The flight was so easy on the way home, with no formation flying it meant I had less to concentrate on so myself and Declan could chat away the whole way back and I could take in a bit more of the surroundings (there’s a reason I don’t have many photos of the trip down!).
At one point I spotted a cool looking castle (pictured below) which turned out to be Tullynally Castle.
This is a building that has origins in the 17th century and is still occupied 350 years later by the Pakenham Family. It has over 120 rooms and is open to the public for visits.
I love a good castle so I’d love to get a proper visit one day!
Dundalk & The Mournes
As we approached Dundalk, the clear day meant we had full view of the Mournes and could see for miles and miles. I do love winter flying, it’s hard to beat!
If you’re ever visiting Northern Ireland in light aircraft do try to get to the Mournes and Carlingford Lough area, they are stunning on a good but to be avoided on a bad day. The winds can form nasty rotors off the near 3,000ft mountains so treat them with respect!
I essentially followed the motorway through the mountains north of Dundalk towards Newry which gave excellent views right up the valley of Carlingford Lough. The pictures above show our journey North flying to the West of the Mournes. We considered flying around them to the South and then up the East coast past the mountsin range, but, with the high winds aloft we opted to tread the safer less risky path.
Approach to Ards
As we got to the Northern side of the Mournes as predicted we did pick up a bit of turbulence off them and also Slieve Croob, this was fairly light but enough to make us notice after the glass smooth conditions of the rest of the day!
I headed East towards Downpatrick for two reasons:
- To show Declan where myself and my partner were due to get married at Ballyduggan Mill (thanks to Covid for messing that up!)
- To let Declan see the Peninsula from the air again
Declan was a member of our syndicate but unfortunately decided to give up flying for a few years (hopefully he comes back one day!) so it was a wee bit of reminiscing of our training as we tracked North towards Newtownards.
I still get that wee twinge of excitement when Scrabo Tower comes into view which is a monument situated on Scrabo Hill right beside the airfield.
The picture at the header of this article and below was taken as we approached the airfield. As it was the middle of winter sunset was really early and I managed to capture an amazing shot looking South over Strangford Lough towards the Mournes which had just started to get a low layer of mist forming at their base, truly stunning!
So what was meant to be the first of many flights went so well, but unfortunately 2 months of awful weather followed by thr global pandemic of Covid 19 meant it’s so far been the only trip of the year.
Things are starting to ease up now and I’ve had a a good few flight s again getting my skills back up to scratch and also have had a smaller trip within Northern Ireland now.
I had started this article months ago, but with working from home, home schooling and the stress of everything I didn’t have much appetite to add more to my plate, so apologies for the late delivery of this one!
The trip though was fantastic, I met a bunch of new people who I hope to catch up with at future flying trips, got to fly in formation which is always amazing and visited a new airfield in a part of the country I’ve never visited before let alone flown over!
This is what aviation is about, if you’ve ever wondered how great it can be, you probably aren’t even close in your estimate! What I recommend is you visit your local airfield, chat to some folk and book a trial lesson, you won’t look back!
One final bonus is that there was a very skilled photographer at Abbeyshrule called Karl Donohoe the day we visited, I’ve included a few photos in this article with credit, but, he posted all the photos he took on Facebook so be sure to take a look here of the various aircraft we and Ethan managed to persuade to join us!