Features

Published on December 1st, 2016 | by FII Reader

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Ireland in a Day 20th Anniversary

This article first appeared in the January 2015 Issue of FlyingInIreland Magazine

On Sunday 22nd June 2014 members of the Galway Flying Club gathered at Galway Airport to mark the 20th Anniversary of what is arguably one of Ireland’s greatest aviation accomplishments – the record breaking “Ireland in a Day” flight. The Ireland in a Day flight involved two Galway pilots, Jarlath Conneely and Peadar Conroy, taking off from Carnmore in a Cessna 172 at 4:40am on Wednesday morning the 22nd June 1994. They navigated the entire Island of Ireland, landing at 61 airfields (private, civil and military), before returning safely to Galway that night at 9:40pm to a triumphant welcome, having covered 1098 miles. They had been away for 17 hours – 13 hours 50 minutes of which was spent in the air. The flight set a new record for the number of airfields visited in one day by a single aircraft during daylight hours, breaking the previous record set in 1984 by Ryanair pilots Capt. Jim Duggan and Capt. Terry O’Neill by 8 airfields. Twenty years later their record still stands. The flight also raised over £6,000 (roughly €15,000 in today’s money) for the National Breast Cancer Research Institute, based at the University College Hospital Galway.

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Then and now! Jarlath and Peadar still fly ‘Juliet Oscar’

The initial idea for the fight came from Jarlath. He recalls that when he was a student pilot in the eighties he remembers seeing two Ryanair pilots on the TV talking about the record that they had just set and decided then that someday when he had achieved his PPL he would try and break that record. Jarlath, then working as an engineer with Telecom Eireann, approached fellow pilot and flying club member Peadar, a teacher at St. Jarlath’s College in Tuam, in January of 1994 in the airport bar in Galway. They discussed the idea and decided that they would use the record attempt to raise funds for a national charity. Subsequently the National Breast Cancer Research Institute was chosen.

While the flight occurred in June, the planning for the flight started some five months earlier in February. Jarlath and Peadar began to contact aircraft maintenance facilities, including Dave Bruton’s Midlands Aviation, in order to collect contact details for many unlisted private airstrip operators which they could then pitch their plan to. At that time there were 41 civil and 2 military listed airfields on the island, 7 of these were in Northern Ireland. They knew that if they were to beat the previous record they had to find more airfields. Peadar has fond memories of this planning stage, “Jarlath and I would leave Galway practically every weekend and drive around the country to survey the airfields with a trundle wheel, a compass and a notepad. We drew a small map of the local area and measured the length of the runways, the gradient, the orientation, the surface condition and made a note of any obstacles that may be on the approach. I really enjoyed it.” Their survey notes were considered so accurate that they were later approached by flight equipment company Pooley’s who wanted to use the notes in one of their own publications.

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Jarlath remembers meeting some interesting characters on their travels, “One of whom springs to mind was a farmer of a very large holding in the east of the country who not only had his runway cut into a field of barley but also had a number of aircraft, Rally’s and Cub’s, parked in his shed. We met some great people who were all very much into flying”. He also remembers the mad dash from the car every time they got to a B&B because whoever got in first got the best bed! After driving a total of almost 2,000 miles they finished their surveying at the beginning of June and ended up with a list of 61 airfields.

A fundamental step in planning the flight was deciding which aircraft was suitable for such a challenge. The aircraft chosen had to have excellent short field performance and climb angle, a fast cruising speed (120 knots or better) and a long fuel range (6 hours endurance). They also needed to choose an aircraft type that they both had experience in. The aircraft that fit all of these requirements was the Cessna 172 Hawk XP. Originally configured as a sea plane the Cessna 172 Hawk XP, call sign EI-BJO, was brought to Galway by club member Pat Hogan in 1981. Affectionately referred to as “Juliet Oscar”, this aircraft was ideal for the flight and continues to be based and flown at Galway to this day. Jarlath who still flies Juliet Oscar states with pride that “since the flight in 1994 she has flown to over 35 countries”.

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Members of the Galway Flying Club gather to celebrate the 20th Anniversary

The next task was to calculate the shortest route which would have to take refuelling requirements into account. Each airfield was marked on a chart and a preliminary route was marked out and measured, the total distance was 1098 miles. To ensure its accuracy the route was sent to Dominic Herity at the Department of Computer Science at Trinity College Dublin for verification. The software Dominic developed for the task showed that the route that the pilots had selected was only 60 nautical miles off of the theoretical optimum route. Peadar is quick to point out that the theoretical route was just that – theoretical – because it did not take refueling requirements into account but it did vindicate their choice of route and calculations.

Jarlath and Peadar also had to call upon their diplomacy skills to ensure the success of the flight. At the time any aircraft entering UK territory, Northern Ireland in this case, from the Irish Republic was required to be met by RUC Special Branch Officers upon landing. This would have slowed them down considerably so they contacted the Force Control Unit in Belfast and an agreement was reached whereby they were allowed to make touch and go landings at all airfields in Northern Ireland. The senior Air Traffic Control officers at Shannon, Dublin, Cork and Belfast were also contacted to try and minimise delays encountered at the main airports. They very kindly agreed that no delays would be experienced when transiting their airspace. The regional airports also agreed to waive all fees. Coming up to the mid-summer date, forecaster Teresa Cotter of the Irish Meteorological Service based in Shannon provided daily weather reports to the pilots which helped immensely. In terms of sponsorship, Shell Ireland sponsored all of the fuel used on the day. Funding and sponsorship were also generously provided by Telecom Eireann, Aer Arann and teachers organisations the INTO and the ASTI.

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John McGinley and Peter O’Mara flew ahead of Jarlath and Peadar in another club Socata Tampico aircraft to arrange fast refuelling at Cork, Weston and Sligo.

Support from the club members was in no short supply both in the run-up to and during the flight. Dedicated members had the kettle boiling and the lights on in the club house from 3:30am that morning. They continued to man the phones, specially installed in the club house by Telecom Eireann for the event, in shifts providing estimated times of arrival to the airfields and keeping in constant contact with Juliet Oscar, which had also been provided with a cellular phone. Two club members, John McGinley (now the Club Chairman) and Peter O’Mara flew ahead of Jarlath and Peadar in another club Socata Tampico aircraft to arrange fast refuelling at Cork, Weston and Sligo.

In preparation for the flight both pilots took part in flight practice and team work training. Peadar outlines the importance of the flight practice, “We knew that we would be taking the aircraft into some quite short grass strips so we wanted to thoroughly familiarise ourselves with the low speed characteristics of the aircraft and carry out approach and climb tests”. They also worked out a system for the climb out. “The second pilot would be responsible for flap retraction and re-setting and calling out the airspeed during each touch and go so that the pilot in command could maintain their watch outside and get full power immediately after landing” explains Jarlath.

ireland-in-a-day_8In the late morning of Monday the 20th June Jarlath and Peadar completed their operational flight plan for the expected conditions and filed a lengthy ATC flight plan. They also filled Juliet Oscar with fuel and loaded the equipment, food (sandwiches, bananas and chocolate bars), bottled water and ballast in the form of bags of sand – which were required to bring the centre of gravity to within limits.

The flight was originally scheduled for Tuesday the 21st June but the weather on that day took a turn for the worst with a weather front moving in over the country from the South. Thankfully the weather improved and on Wednesday the 22nd June the flight went ahead. After a thorough pre-flight inspection and equipment check, Jarlath and Peadar started the engine at 4:25am and were airborne by 4:40am. Shortly after takeoff it became apparent that they were in for a bumpy ride as the airflow was unstable. This was to put greater demands on the pilots thorough the day as wind shear was evident at lower levels. Apart from this, the flight went as planned and at Ballinakill Co. Galway club member Donal Connaire had even lit a large turf fire to help the pilots locate the airfield. Jarlath flew the first leg from Galway to Cork arriving in Cork at 8:50am. Both pilots stretched their legs and spoke to the gathered journalists while the aircraft was being cleaned and refuelled. Peadar recalls that “the first stage of the route had been very satisfying; we had no difficulty in locating the private strips; visibility was good and it was particularly gratifying to see people out on the strips to witness the landings as early as 05:00am”. Peadar then flew from Cork to Weston which turned out to be a demanding leg due to strong gusts, surface winds were being given as 15 gusting 30 knots from the west. Both pilots agree that they were very glad to arrive in Weston. In Weston they received a call from the Operations Manager at Dublin Airport requesting them to land for press photographers and journalists which had not been planned but they had “time insurance” at this stage and were happy to oblige.

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The crew enjoying a well earned break at Sligo prior to commencing the last leg home to Galway

It was during the early afternoon when they were over Co. Meath at a time when their workload was at its greatest that both men started to feel tired. It was their mutual encouragement and lots of bottled water that got them through this slump and they got “second wind”. At Belfast they changed the pilot in command for the last time for the fourth leg from Belfast to Galway. They had to change their route on this leg to avoid high mountain peaks which were close to the cloud base (the cruising altitude on the flight was between 1000 and 3000 feet) resulting in time lost but managed to arrive safely in Sligo only 30 minutes behind schedule. Once in Sligo they were told to delay their departure as a welcome home party was being arranged in Galway. This gave them a welcome break and after a cup of tea and some sandwiches they set off. At Knock, the penultimate airfield, the Air Traffic Controllers were so impressed with the two pilots that they presented them with gifts to show their admiration. On this last leg along the west coast lighter winds made the flying more pleasant and gave Jarlath and Peadar time to take in their accomplishment. They landed in Galway at 9:40pm, the trip had gone very well and all the preparation had paid off. They were greeted by a jubilant crowd of very proud Galwegians who promptly led them into the large reception party that had been set up in the hangar and celebrations went on into the earlier hours.

The next day reports of their record breaking flight appeared in the Irish Independent, the Cork Examiner, The Star, the Connacht Tribune, the Galway Advertiser and the Galway Independent among others. The Irish Independent described the pilots as the “toast of Galway”.

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Both men still fly at the club 20 years later and have not lost their passion for flying!

While some hair has been lost over the years these gentlemen aviators have lost none of their passion for flying and their commitment to the Galway Flying Club. Both can be seen most weekends at the club. Jarlath, now a successful entrepreneur, is still flying Juliet Oscar and while he is known as an extremely safe pilot he is also known as the man to show new members and students exactly what a light aircraft can do. Peadar, while still a very popular teacher at St. Jarlath’s, is now also the Chief Pilot at Aer Arann Islands in Inverin and an IAA certified examiner. At present as the airport is in a state of transition they are putting all of their experience and skills into ensuring the survival and future of the Galway Flying Club. On behalf of the Galway Flying Club I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Jarlath and Peadar on their achievement and thank them for the invaluable contribution that they have made to the club over the years and for their continued support. To finish, such is the inspiration that these men instil in the new members of the club that during the celebration at the club house on Sunday one student member was heard to say to another “so when are we going to get to 65 airfields?”. The future looks bright.

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