This is an account of a flight from Wellesbourne in England to Eniskillen in Northern Ireland, 250nm direct. Flights of this type still have to be notified to UK immigration, customs and Special Branch authorities. Fortunately Wellesbourne is one of the 'Concession' airfields from which pilots are allowed to depart for and arrive from Ireland by following prior notice proceedures. The actual notification is carried out by the airfield on the pilot's behalf.
This was an amazingly clear January day with visibility of 50mi or more. In this view the power station at Telford can be seen right of centre and the Welsh mountains on the horizon. This view is good news because the lack of cloud means a direct route can be plotted over the Snowdon mountain range, saving considerable time and distance on the alternate low level route through the Cheshire gap to the Irish Sea at Point of Ayr, just to the West of Liverpool.
Today there is no cloud cover over the Snowdon mountains and we can proceed directly over the top at almost any height. But there are plenty of military aircraft in the area and so we are pleased to hear the voice of RAF Valley loud n' clear. (Sometimes in this area the signal is masked by Snowdon if we are flying at lower levels, just when we need information about military aircraft the most). Not that that always helps. Once, I was passed by the extraordinary sight of an American B-1 bomber, same level opposite direction about a mile away. No warning given by Shawbury - perhaps these things really are radar invisible!
Here come the Snowdon mountains
And Mount Snowdon itself, complete with restaurant and train station at the top.
Crossing the mountains along the Llanberis pass, the Island of Anglsey comes into view. We can see the Menai straight seperating the Island from the rest of Wales and beyong the Island, the blue emptyness of the Irish Sea.
Soon we have passed overhead Valley RAF station and the busy port of Holyhead. Now we are 'coasting out' into the bleak, freezing and desolate Irish sea. 55 miles seperate Holyhead from the tip of Dublin bay and it can sometimes seem a very long 55 miles as we drone onwards at 100kts, less the usual 25kt headwind of course.
The tracks of the cross channel ferries are a useful navigation aid and the ships themselves a comforting site as you wonder if the lookouts would notice a small plane ditching a mile or so off the bow. I was greatly heartened so learn from one of their captains, when I was lucky enough to wangle my way onto the bridge, that they do have a listening watch on 121.5 for just such possibilities.
On a good day the Irish coast is visible while still flying over Holyhead but on this day a layer of mid channel cloud obscured the view for a while. It's always a pleasing sensation to see the Irish coast again, a sort of homecoming full of warmth and expectation. Irish hospitatily is the best in the world, a sort of amalgam of English quaintness, American quality of service and French cuiseen.
Away to the North, the Mountains of Morne sweep down to the sea.
On boeard, the GNS430 shows us 'coasting in' at Drogheda. Without doubt, the 430 has revolutionised navigation on these sea routes where there are few en-route navaids, especially if one has to cross at low level due to weather.
And so we make landfall at Drogehda, which not so long ago was a congested choke point on the long 2 lane country road between Dublin and Belfast. Now bypassed by the new M1 motorway and the amazing cable stay bridge over the river Boyne, the city is slowly returning to life without the asphyxiating traffic that clogged its streets night and day.
On to the NW across the Irish Midlands, a land of rolling low hills and picturesque lakes. There are not many recognisable landmarks here and it's sometimes difficult to reconcile the towns and roads against the map. On a superbly clear day like today distances can be deceptive, 10 miles on the map seeming like only a mile or two on the ground. There are few navaids up here and we are glad of the strong DME at Gormanston and the Ashborne (Dublin) VOR.
At last, a recognisable feature - the thousands of Islands in Loch Erne - creeps into view. From now on, the navigation is easy - just follow the Loch northward and where the banks narrow is Eniskillen.
A shelf of clouds slopes away to the north, meeting the ground in rain and mist somewhere not so far away in County Donegal. I'm glad I didn't follow my original plan of pressing on to Donegal airport, right in the NW tip of Ireland. That can wait for another day. Now I can see that Eniskillen is illuminated in shafts of sunlight breaking through the overcast and that my destination is in the clear.
Eniskillen airport lies on the shore of the Loch in one of the most beatiful settings that I have seen in my lengthy and greatly priviledged aviation career. It's a little hard to identify in this light and I get within 5mi before positively identifying the runway. The task of finding the airport wil be a little easier when the new NDB and DME come into operation in a few month's time, but today I am glad of the 430 telling me where to look.
On finals at last after almost 3Hrs flying from Wellesbourne, the long runway stretches out ahead of me. It's good to arrive, especially to a warm welcome from the enthusiastic staff at the re-vitalised Eniskillen. (The airport was closed last time I flew this way and it's really terriffic to see an airport rise from the ashes, and in such a striking way, with many improvements and new facilities).
So here we are, on the ground 250mi NW of Wellesbourne and more than 10% of the way to New York!