Good morning world. My first post here. (Peter you successfully recruited me from Proon)
I passed my PPL last month and received the actual licence at the start of august. I have accumulated about 10hrs since, the last few times with a passenger.
I have a trip planned for my daughters birthday in a couple of weeks and still havent decided where to head. First choice is Carnaerfon, over the top of Snowdonia. 2nd choice Haverfordwest.
If the weather is kind, id really like to attempt North Wales. My questions are - who do you contact to establish whether Valley Aerial Tactics area is active? I assume its Valley ATC? I'd ideally like to maintain an altitude of FL6 or higher to clear any potential mountain wave from Snowdon.
What do you say to them (Valley)? It would be a bit of a sod to fly that far and then be told the area is active and to stay away. It would mean quite a lengthly way round the coast for me.
Any advice or experiences from flying in GA aircraft over Snowdonia would be greatly appreciated.
I assume Mountain Wave is most prevalent when downwind from the ridge/peak?
Welcome. Its been a few years since I have been done North Wales, though I flew to West Wales a few weeks ago. Yes, you can try Valley ATC, or also London Information. Some of the Wales aerodromes have specific frequecies they like you to call, e.g. Caernarfon are suggesting Valley Approach on 125.225 anyhow, as well as listing their own A/G frequency of 125.250.
My only other advice would be to choose a route that allows you to climb when you want in order to go over the mountains. FL50 or FL60 is sufficient. I only say that because I was a passenger with someone who saw the mountains and climbed a bit too early into controlled airspace that started at altitude 4500. He only just clipped it, but it was enough to have received a telephone call from Manchester I think it was.
Its a lovely relaxed area to fly. I did a circular 'tour' of Wales a few years back, landing at the airfields you mentioned, plus West Wales, and it was a very memorable set of flights. Enjoy :-)
Yes, contact Valley Radar on 125.225, tell them your route and ask for a basic service. They will tell you if there is any activity in the AIAA that could affect you, though in my experience, it is mostly very low level, nap of the earth activity which won't affect you. You won't be told to stay away.
Apart from the airways to the North (generally FL100+), there is no controlled airspace in this area, but do watch out for the Restricted Area at the former power station at Trawsfynydd.
The NOTAMs will tell you if there are any large exercises in the area, but even if there are, I wouldn't stay away because of that. If there is a lot of mil traffic, you can ask for a traffic service. The controllers will tell the mil traffic that you are in the area. That's all you need to do.
Snowdonia often gets cap cloud - which is annoying if you particularly wanted to see it from the air.
It's a nice flight, the skies in North Wales are very quiet and unrestricted. You'll enjoy it and you will be made welcome in Caernarfon.
Every time I've flown in that region, all of the Snowdonia area has been blanketed in cloud (mountains + sea normally equals some kind of weather, much of the time) regardless of how nice the weather has otherwise been!
My route has never taken me directly over the area (only within visual range) so I can't help you with Valley and their usual traffic, but quite a lot of the time I've noted that the RAF seems to be a M-F 9-5 only operation (so if anyone wants to invade, we'd prefer them to do it during office hours :-)).
On mountain wave, even small mountains can make wave up to 30,000ft+ - at Deeside gliding club they often make it to airliner levels off the Scottish highlands. However, wave days require a stable atmosphere and to get wave strong enough to worry about you'll need fairly high wind speeds. It's not the wave that's necessarily going to be a problem for you but the rotor (which implies moderate to severe turbulence) and sink on the lee side of hills, so you'll want to know what the winds aloft are doing to avoid the sink. Since the top of Snowdonia is only a few thousand feet, it's not too hard for you to be thousands of feet higher and therefore not in immediate danger of flying into a mountainside and you're planning to be at least a couple of thousand feet above the highest terrain. The biggest risk are in mountains you have to fly amongst rather than over, for example in the west of the United States (I once flew a Cessna 140 with a cruise prop over the Sierra Nevadas, which was a bit of a butt-clenching exercise because the winds really began to pick up and I had zero climb performance) because if you're flying amongst them with marginal performance, when crossing a ridge if you've got the wind direction wrong and encounter sink you can be in very serious trouble very quickly and once out of the sink you may still not be able to climb before other terrain gets you. However, if you're 3000 feet above the terrain, that's not going to be happening - you have time to get out by turning away or flying through it. (In gliders we speed up in sink and slow down in lift - most power pilots do the reverse which is very inefficient as it prolongs your time in sink, and shortens your time in lift. If you're in smooth sink, i.e. the wrong side of wave, you can speed up substantially and reduce your altitude loss).
North Wales is really a beautiful place to fly. But I think that low clouds and mountain obscuration will be your biggest issue, not mountain wave.
Caernarfon is one of my favourite flying destinations.
The airport is close enough to the mountains that you don't want to be flying over them on the way in - you simply won't have space to get down. Instead, take the pass to the south of the airfield.
I have flown right over the top of Snowdon on departure but only in very light winds - 5 knots or less at altitude. If the wind is in the right direction, the mountain wave can be quite disconcerting. The only mountain wave I've ever experienced was at FL65 downwind of Snowdon. at Vy I was descending at 500fpm in perfectly clear and calm air - 1 minute later I was climbing at 1000FPM cruising at 125 KTAS (unheard of for a TB10!).
Having said all that, I've been in to Caernarfon when the wind at 3000ft was 40 knots, and its not a big deal. Just avoid flying close to terrain, and don't fly in the mountain wave zone (downwind and above the level of the ridge). If you do hit significant mountain wave, you will know about it - just turn around.
As @alioth said, rotor winds and low level sink (and katabatic winds, although not so likely up there in the middle of the day) are the real worries.
Have fun and let us know how it goes. North Wales is a beautiful place to fly.
As others have said it's a lovely area to fly. Approaching from the E it can hard to get Valley because Snowdon is in the way and shields the radio and so Shawbury might be the best bet initially. You can usually pick up Valley at Bala Lake if at 2,500' or more.
I've flown this route numerous times and have never encountered military aircraft at VFR cruising levels, except just once.... A dot on the horizon appeared to be same level (c. 3000' agl) opposite direction closing fast. The silouette became clear, but unbelievable: drooping wings with square nacelles, delta shaped, long pointy nose - Concorde! Except it couldn't be - Concorde had been gone for years. I adjusted slightly to the right and it was only as the slinky shape slid by about a mile off that I realised it wasn't a time machine, it was an American B-1 bomber. Never a word said on the radio.
Note that you probably won't hear the military traffic on the radio, they operate on the UHF band (IIRC exactly double the frequency of civilian VHF for voice). The B-1 probably was talking to someone but you'll never hear them.
A friend of mine told me a funny story, about five or six years ago he flew to Yorkshire in a rented C172 (with a DV panel in the back window) to take some photos of a formation of Europas near their factory. On the way home they were just coasting out and Warton advised them of high speed traffic (which turned out to be a Tornado). My friend cheekily said on the radio "That wasn't fast!"
A few minutes later the Cessna begins rumbling in a very unusual manner. So my friend's trying to figure out what in the aircraft is making this god-awful noise when suddenly the windscreen is filled with the planform of a Tornado in full reheat :-) That taught him about making cheeky comments about fast jets :-)
Snowdonia is one of UK's nicest places to fly over, but pick a nice clear day and, as already stated, avoid one with lots of wind otherwise it can be pretty rough, or even dangerous if you are close enough to the hills.
Well thanks for all the useful and friendly advice. Must say am not used to it on other forums!
One thing, AIAAs are not really a big deal. You see them dotted all over the place and while it is good practice to call them up (I always ask for a Traffic Service), it is not really a big deal if you don't, as most of the time they are just AAAs unless there is a funky Notam in there. Weekends and there won't be anything there. You might meet a hawk low level though on a weekday.
North wales is a great place. I'd be inclined to head up the coast and then through the gap to the south if coming from Haverford West, if low level (3000 or below). That is a nice safe trip. On the way back I like to get up to at least FL75+ as there is no airspace to worry about other than a few airways approach Cardiff. Actually last time Cardiff was kind enough to clear us through all airspace en-route - Airway bases, Cardiff, bristol etc.