Well it was a very long day but it was worth it !
My alarm went off at 5am, by 6.15 I was checked in at Edinburgh Airport and by 7.15, courtesy of a good mate who fly's for Easy and £20 staff ticket I was bound for Bristol.
At 8.30 I was met by my airport transfer to take me to RNAS Yeovilton where I arrived at 9.30am, about an hour earlier than I'd expected catching the current owner George somewhat by surprise!
The ideal plan was to try to get a couple of circuits done to get a feel for the Nipper before filling the tanks and heading off for Perth, some 352 track miles away or approx 4.5 hours as the Nipper flys!
Unfortunately Yeovilton was quite busy with 2 periods of no flying right about when I wanted to be in the circuit, 10.45 - 11.15 for a wings presentation and 11.45 - 12:00 for a practice helo display. We quickly formulated an alternative plan whereby I would depart around 11:30, clear off to the south to do some general handling returning around 11:20 for a couple of quick circuits. George had given me a good brief and by 10:30 I was strapped in, engine running and ready to taxy, this unfortunately is where the problems started!
I gave tower a call on the frequency advised by George and was told to make the request on an alternate frequency which I did, several times with no response. I chopped back to the original frequency, made another call and got no response there either. I then spent the next 10 mins fiddling with the unfamiliar Microair radio, jiggling headset connections and chopping back and forth between the two frequencies trying to get a resonse.
By 10:45 it was apparent I wouldnt get away in time so shut down to investigate the problem. We tried a swap of headset to no avail so George jumped in another aircraft and gave me a call which worked perfectly, we could communicate without problems. We paid Tower a visit to discuss our problem and it transpired that they could hear me and had been responding to each call? They called another aircraft on the other side of the base using VHF and could communicate without issue.
The only conclusion we could come to was that the 2 Hawk jets that had parked next to me just as I was calling for taxi were somehow blocking the transmission from the masts on a hilltop some miles away. We moved the Niper a few hundered yards back and hey presto, comms worked perfectly!
File comment: With offending Hawk's in the background where we were parked previously.
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So off we go at last!, I taxied out to runway 22 with the wind pretty much straight down the strip at about 15kts. My first impression taxing the Nipper was just how poor the brakes are (which I've heard a lot about!) and how little power it needed to move, in fact even at just above idle I was still having to dab the brakes to keep at a sensible pace, though to be fair I did have quite a tailwind.
Lined up and cleared to take off I opened the throttle as in any other light aircraft advancing smoothly to full over a couple of seconds, this however is where things get a bit hazy! I remember being instantly surprised at how powerfull the rudder is as I started to weave, first one way and then the other until my feet and brain caught up. This was also about the time the Nipper decided to lift off, pretty much coinciding with me reaching full throttle, it litterally was only a couple of seconds!
Now I consider myself to be reasonally experienced on GA types having flown a number of different aircraft from the usual Cessnas & Pipers, Grobs etc, I have a good few hundered hours on my CPL, I even had a share in an ex Mil jet up until 6 months ago but nothing I've ever flown has taken me by surprise quite as much as the Nipper did !
As I said, things got a bit hazy at this point as my brain was obviously working quite hard but I'm pretty sure the ASI was reading circa 50mph as the wheels came off so I kept the nose low, let it reach 70mph and then climbed away at what seemed a rather impressive angle.
500' was reached in no time at all and I started a gentle turn onto the crosswind reaching 1000' before turning downwind. Now that my brain had a chance to settle down a bit I started to realise just how noisy the Nipper is, I suspected that I might have forgotton to turn on the ANR on my headset and pressed the button only to realise that it was already on and turning it off did indeed make things even louder, 4.5 hours of this was certainily going to be interesting!
End of the downwinid reached, I turned onto base and then final whilst trying to get the speed back to around 70mph which it was reluctant to do feeling almost slippery! (something a Nipper is certainly not!) Settled at 70mph on short finals and then back to 60mph over the numbers, feet seemed to be keeping up, leave a trickle of power on, speed bleeds off to about 50, into the flare and a gentle squeek let me know that I was back on terra firma safely, not bad for a first go I thought!
WIth time for one more quick circuit I opened the throttle fully again and pretty much instantly took off! This time I decided to try the 60mph I'd been briefed gave best rate of climb and was greeted with an obscene angle of climb for an aircraft this small, if this was a Cessna or Piper I'd have run out of energy very quickly!
Now conscious of the time and with the display Helo holding out the the north I decided to abbrieviate the circuit and turned straight onto mid downwind. Same routine again onto base and then finals, once again it was a struggle to get the speed back to 70 and then 60 but all was well by the time I got over the numbers and the landing worked out just as well as the first. Just as I touched down the tower broadcast that the airfield was now closed to traffic and called in the display helo to start his routine.
I taxied merrily to the ramp to be greeted by George and it was about this point that I realised I had a bloody silly great big grin on my face that I couldnt shift!
File comment: On the ramp at Yeovilton after my first flight.
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So the deal was done, we loaded as much into the Nipper as we dared, filled the main and tip tanks and off I set for Perth Lifting at approx 12:40hrs. Thankfully, I'd put a lot of effort into the flight planning and had done as much to relieve the use of my brain as possible, I simply took off, turned onto my predefined heading, cross checked with my GPS route and thanked Yeovilton for all their help before switching to Bristol.
The first 30mins of the route was pretty busy simply getting a feel for the Nipper in the cruise, flip flopping my way around the radio which I had still not got the hang of, ensuring I was on my intended track at a safe altitude to not infringe any airspace while also keeping half an eye out for a suitable field should anything go wrong!
My route took me just to the east of Bristol sneaking under the edge of the CTA and then almost due north for circa 100nm to the start of the Manchester low level route.
Once clear of Bristol things started to settle down a bit and I was also happy that the 10kts tailwind I had would ensure I had plenty of fuel to reach Carlisle. The next hour or so was fairly uneventful with the biggest problem being trying to find a suitable service to contact as the Nippers radio only seemed to have a transmit range of circa 20-30nm at 3000'.
As I arrived at the Manchester low level route I switched back to the main tank after having been on the tips for circa 75mins and dropped down to the 1250' required for the transit, this is when I also discovered quite how bumpy things can get low level in a Nipper on a convective day!
I was however quite surprised to see a C172 coming towards me right down the middle (and I do mean smack in the middle) of the corridor at what looked like bang on 1000', whatever happened to 'keeping to the right of the line feature / corridor your tracking' rule?, which fortunately I was adhearing to.
Once clear of Manchester I climbed the Nipper up to 5000' and finally had a chance to relax a bit as all the busy airspace was now behind me. This was about the time however that I started to become quite uncomfortable after nearly 2hrs and my legs and backside starting to get pretty sore, I tried wriggling all I could to find a more comfortable position as possible however it did little to make things better.
I decided now that I was good and high to try to get use of the rest of the fuel out of the tip tanks, after about 30mins the engine started to splutter confirming there was nothing left and after switching straight over to the main the engine thankfully burst back into life.
With about 15 miles or so to run to Carlisle I was greeted to the sight of a Falcon jet overtaking me about 1000' directly above which was quite impressive and despinte him being about 200kts faster than me, by the time he'd flown his DME arc I was on the ground right behind him.
Getting out of the Nipper at Carlisle was rather interesting however as I was prretty stiff after 2hrs 45mins en route and I was actually quite glad of the delay in being fueled so I could stretch my legs for a bit longer. It was at this point that I realised just how much attention the Nipper attracts on the gound. The crew of the Falcon jet that had landed just before me both came over for a look around her and asked a lot of questions. I think they both thought I was mad however when I told them what my departure point and destination were! There were also a couple of instructors from the Microlight school asked if they could have a prod around along with a couple of chaps that had just flown over from Newcastle.
The Nipper took 48 litres to fill which allowing for taxi time and and a good bit of climbing and descending worked out pretty close to the 16litres per hour I was advised would be the comsumption at 2800rpm and 90-95mph cruise.
I took off from Carlisle at approx 5pm feeling much better after stretching my legs and if I'm honest the last hour or so from Manchester had been pretty miserable as I was getting very sore. By the time I'd crossed the border into Scotland I was starting to feel far more relaxed being back in familiar airspace and the weather had got even better with hardly a cloud in the sky. I tracked the M74 most off the way up and with my confidence growing I even managed to take my first couple of pictures whilst holding the stick in place with my knees!
File comment: Tracking the M74 from Carlisle to Glasgow...first time I'd relaxed enough to take a photo!
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File comment: Nipper Tip tanks, wouldn't be without them, especially on this trip!
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My route then took me between the Edinburgh and Glasgow CTA's overhead Cumbernauld and then on to Stirling and along the front of the 2000' Ochil Hills where my Wife is from and most of which we've walked up.
File comment: A familiar and friendly sight, the Ochil Hills.
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Once over Ballado a turn to the north left me with only a few miles to run to Perth where I did an overhead join to check the windsock which to my surprise was horizontal and swaying furiously in about a 30-40 degree range of runway 09, so much for the light and variable winds that were forecast! Everything was going well until I turned final and got over the trees which are notoriously turbulent with the ASI swinging between 60 and 80mph with the gusts. I just got the Nipper settled nicely onto the runway and the wind gusted lifting me about 10 foot straight into the air again! A quick squirt of power to get things under conrtol and another flare and I was back on the ground but with a good firm arrival this time!
Sod's law, once I'd parked up the winds dropped right off and a quick check of the met readout showed about a 5 mnute period of strong gust just as I'd arrived!
I then took some pictures of FE at her new home, pushed her into the hanger and parked her next to Larry's almost identicel Jabiru nipper.
So after flying over 4 hours in a Nipper on one day what have I learned? Well, they are blooming noisy! I read once in an article that described flying the Nipper as being as noisy as sticking your head up the back end of a Saturn 5 rocket at takeoff, I can now understand what he meant! ANR or no ANR, the cockpit of a Nipper is a noisy place.
Its cramped, I'm 6'3" and even with the set back rudder pedals and seat modification its still tight, not just for leg room but for any sort of storage space in general. Dont expect to stick your map down the side of the seat cause the side of the seat is the wall of the cockpit and god help you if you actually need to unfold you map!
So if its that cramped and noisy you might well ask why on earth Nippers are so popular? Simple, its an absolute joy to fly! The Nipper flys like a baby fighter, ok its not fast but the handling is superb, the roll rate is fantastic, the controls are light and crisp and the take off is an absolute hoot. The acceleration is extremely brisky, by the time the throttle is fully open your pretty much airbourne and with a climb at 60mph the nose is pointing at the sky!
So how on earth do you follow a first day of Nipper ownership like that ? Well my second day consisted of a stream takeoff and formation flying with 2 other Nippers and then the chance to start exploring the handing & aerobatic capabilities of the aircraft. All this fun for only 16 litres of fuel per hour, doesnt get much better than that!
Pictures to follow.....