April 21, 2012

What it’s all about

I’m tired now with all the packing and clearing the house ready for the move. I’ve now got a completion date for my house sale of next Thursday 26th April and quite a few things are still up in the air. So it’s all beginning to weigh a little bit.

It’s at times like this that I need to remind myself of what it’s all about and sometimes I take another look at THE VIDEO I did on the day in February when I viewed the house in France and signed the Compromis de Vente. I soon then manage to convince myself that it’ll all be worth it in the end.

When I flew MYRO down over Easter, although I couldn’t go inside, Bob kindly drove me across to view the house again. When I first saw it, it was January and it was cold and bare looking. The next time was in February when I shot the video, and it was even colder and everything was under a blanket of snow. But now it was Spring-time and everything was looking green, fresh and inviting. Here are some of the pics I shot while I was there.

null

null

null

null

null

As soon as I saw the place again I knew that I still loved it and I told Bob that I had absolutely no second thoughts whatsoever. So I know that all this hard work clearing things out and de-cluttering my life really will be worth it in the long run and now I just can’t wait to get down there and start my new life.

April 16, 2012

Arrival at Plazac

These are some of the shots taken by Bob’s wife Jude showing MYRO’s arrival at Bob’s airfield on Easter Saturday afternoon. They start with my first go-around from the north when I was getting a feel for the approach and then show the landing, taxying in, the pilot’s relief at being back on the ground after over 8 hours of flying from the UK and finally, chewing the fat with the friends who came to meet me.

null

null

null

null

null

Thank you, Jude, for taking these lovely pics and letting me have them 😉

April 14, 2012

Flight from Stoke to Plazac – Part 4

The weather reports from Bob in the Plazac area indicated that although the weather was slowly improving, there was still no point in taking off for the final leg because the cloud base at the other end would still be too low on arrival and there would also still be a chance of a few showers. Dave wanted to take Dave for a flight even though instruction wouldn’t be possible because of the local conditions and when they went off to DI the new white Quik, I got all my things together and packed, ready to stow in MYRO. I then thought I’d take a stroll down the track from the house to the piste and watch them take off. I was accompanied by one of the cats who initially ran off when I approached her but then decided to come and find me when she realised that I was walking off and ignoring her. Do you wonder how I know it was a ‘she’?

After Dave and Dave had taken off and gone haring off towards the west, the cat and I returned together back along the track to the house in warm sunshine with bushes on either side of me. All of a sudden there was gust of wind that sent a cloud of white blossom flying all around me and it made me realise that after my move, that is what I would have to look forward to for the rest of my time there in France. I have to say that it was a very good feeling!

While the Daves were away I busied myself untying MYRO and sorting my kit out and when they returned it was time to refill MYRO’s tanks. Dave asked me how much fuel I needed and I had a little think. There was still some fuel in the tanks and a bit left over in a jerry from Le Gault. I thought it prudent to allow not only for the planned flight down to Plazac but also for the slight, albeit unlikely, possibility of having to return to Wanafly if the weather at the other end turned unexpectedly sour again. I therefore decided that I ought to uplift another 40 litres of fuel.

Now, because my fuel plan had assumed that I’d only need to uplift 40 litres of fuel in total, I’d only brought 800ml of oil with me, which I’d used up at Le Gault. This was from oil that I’d bought in bulk from Lubetech many months before and which had served me so well so far. I told Dave this and was worried that because he only had 4-strokes at Wanafly, there we were on Easter Saturday and I had to get my hands on 800ml of 2-stroke oil. Dave said not to worry because he was sure he’d have some suitable oil somewhere and sure enough, he did. When he dipped into his cupboard out came….. an old opened bottle containing 850ml of Shell VSX! I knew immediately, of course, that this would be perfect for my Rotax engine 🙂

We did the usual fuel-oil mixing and when we’d finished and Dave was taking his jerries back to his hangar, with Dave’s help (no not that Dave, the other one….), I succeeded in overfilling the tanks until they just overflowed. But there was no harm done – I have to admit to having done it before when I only had the single tank – and MYRO was ready to go. There was now just time to enjoy yet another one of Mandy’s lovely meals while the weather at the other end finished clearing, this time a gorgeous fresh salad with cold meats and cheese but with only fizzy water for me while the others enjoyed beer or wine as there would be no further flying for them that day. Then after checking with Bob that all was beginning to look good enough down south, it was time to go.

Here’s a pic of the final leg of the flight from Wanafly to Plazac.

null

I was glad to get away but sorry to leave such good new friends behind and we said our ‘au revoirs’ by radio as I departed. As the pic above shows, Limoges Bellegarde airport, which Ryanair and Flybe both use, is just south of Wanafly and although I would be flying through their Class E airspace, I had to do a dog leg to remain clear of their Class D. I then only had to make one more course change to arrive at my final destination. But between me and it there were several large areas of high ground that I had to climb over. There was still no proper horizon and the rising ground only became visible from a fairly short distance away as it gradually appeared from the murk. And it also became quite hard work as the lift and sink associated with the terrain and scattered broken cloud took their toll. As I mentioned earlier, at times as I was approaching the rising ground, I was revving the little 503 at climb RPM (6100rpm) and ‘climbing’ at the usual 45 mph climb speed only to see the VSI still showing 3/400 fpm down! This wasn’t as bad as it sounds though, because I gave myself as much height to play with as the cloud base allowed, and before things got too close for comfort there was always then an area of lift that sent me zipping back up to 1800ft or more before it all started all over again. But it did take its toll on MYRO’s fuel burn and I was glad that I’d decided to take on the extra fuel.

And all was not sweetness and light in the vis department either. As the leg progressed and I began to catch up with the back end of the slowly departing weather front, I began to notice clumps of scud passing below me. As the cloud thickened there were more and more patches of cloud with their bases hanging down below the height I wanted to fly at. So I had no choice but to descend and as I began to do so it became apparent that the vis was rapidly drawing in again as well. Luckily by that time I’d passed the last area of high ground but still, as I approached my final destination, between Thiviers and Excideuil it came down to what I estimate was a maximum of 3000 metres and probably even a bit less for a while. But I knew from Bob’s earlier messages that this would only be temporary and it proved to be so.

As I saw the A89 autoroute and the town of Thenon appear on my satnav, not only was I clear of the poor vis but I also knew that I was almost home. This was an area that I’d already driven around quite a bit and got to know and it’s one that I’ll get to know even better over the years when my life in Plazac has got underway. Shortly afterwards when I was about 7 or so miles out, I called up on the radio and Bob’s voice came back to me. I spotted the field shortly after, which looked terribly short from where I was, and did a wide circuit to land from what I thought would be the preferred direction from the point of view of wind direction. However, I’d forgotten that there are wires at that end and it would also have been down-hill, so a go-around was called for. I then did a full circuit of the field to approach from the other direction.

While Dave (no, the other Dave from Calton Moor) and I had been talking at Wanafly, I’d said that whenever I went into a new airfield that I was unfamiliar with for the first time, I always made sure I remained high until I was sure I’d got the approach sussed even if it meant going around a couple of times. And that’s exactly what I did. In the video that Bob shot of my arrival, it looks as though I was doing a fly-by from each direction, but in fact they were go-arounds, not fly-byes. I decided to land on my second approach from the north but I could really have done with going around again because I was still a bit too high. As a result, I landed a bit too long and ended up braking like mad because I was approaching the road with the electricity poles and lines at the other end, and to be sure, I took MYRO off into the long grass to the left of the runway to bring it to a halt. I actually ended up stopping well short of the runway end but I still think it was the right thing to do in view of the weight I was carrying on board.

Bob and Jude and a couple of other friends, Regis and Wim, who Bob had already introduced me to several months previously were there to greet me and I was pleased to see them there too. We had a chat about how things had gone but there will be plenty of time for that in times to come and they helped me to unload MYRO and get it covered up as best I could with the covers I had brought with me. I then also tied MYRO down using the three concrete-filled tyres that Bob had made for me because to the west there were some large rain bearing clouds brewing and I would have hated for a little local storm to have brewed up and for MYRO to have been damaged by winds after coming all that way. Here’s the final pic showing MYRO tied down in its new home and as you can see, the sky was still quite angry.

null

I was glad to have arrived after all my experiences over the two days, although I would never have missed them for anything. Someone asked me a while back if I was going to trailer MYRO down and I said that the thought had never occurred to me. I said to my friends after the flight down, that MYRO would never be going back to England, not with me flying it anyway, but that’s not true. If I had to for any reason I would, but not that I expect to have to though. And I’d say to anyone thinking about venturing abroad from the UK for the first time, if you know that you’re ready for it, give a flight across the Channel into France a try. It’s not complicated or hard and is certainly well within the capabilities of the average microlight pilot, whether ‘multiaxes’ or ‘pendulaire’. If an old fart like me can do it in MYRO, when you’ve got enough experience under your belt you can certainly do it in your Quiks, Quantums and C42s. All you need to do is make sure you plan it properly and that you stay safe and within your and the aircraft’s limits. Then you can’t go wrong 😉

April 14, 2012

Flight from Stoke to Plazac – Part 3

It had taken me longer than I thought it would to get away from Abbeville after sorting out the formalities and topping up MYRO’s tanks from my jerries. I’d had to unstrap everything that I’d packed on the right hand seat to get at them and then put it all back again when I’d finished. Initially I had poured fuel into the right hand tank and then waited for it to transfer into the second but when I had realised that this was going to take far too long, I had removed the cap from the second tank and poured fuel straight in while leaning in through the cabin door. That had done the trick and I was to repeat this each time I refuelled afterwards.

So as I was already running behind schedule, I needed to turn things around as fast as I could here at Le Gault. But as someone who I didn’t know had, after a phone call completely out of the blue from me, been kind enough to agree to get me some fuel and had, if they were still here at the strip, probably been hanging around waiting for me for something like three hours because of my delays, I couldn’t just grab the fuel and scoot off. I could see a silver VW Golf parked next to the hut at the southern end of the piste so someone was still there, thank goodness, and sure enough, after I’d landed in a bit of a skittish cross wind, as I back-tracked towards the hut a guy emerged wearing a beard and a broad smile. After I’d shut MYRO down and got out, we shook hands and he said he was amazed that I’d got in from up north at all in that vis. He didn’t speak much English but we managed OK with my French and we went into the hut and he made us a cup of coffee each (a small glass actually!) by boiling water in a small saucepan. It seems that small farm-type microlight strips are similar wherever they are!

We talked about the weather and he complained that he’d had no students because of it and had even lost a bit of aerial photographic business because of the murk. By now there was a bit of a blustery north-easterly wind blowing and the sky was blue with broken cloud when you looked straight up, but there was still a lot of horizontal haze over the surface of the land. We talked about where I was heading for and not surprisingly, as he was about 3 hours to the north, he wasn’t very familiar with the area. The time then came to make a move and we went into his small but very tidy dome-type hangar, that was by no means full but contained four or five fully rigged Tanarg and other Air Creation ‘pendulaires’. I had ended our previous phone conversation by only asking him to get me 20 litres of 95 octane fuel but in fact he had got 45, and after checking my tanks, I decided that I might as well take 40 and possibly not uplift any from Wanafly if my fuel plan worked out. In fact it didn’t, but I’ll come to that later on. I got out the oil that I’d brought with me, one of my jerries to do my fuel-oil mix in and my funnel to do the fuel transfer, and pretty soon we’d got MYRO tanked up again.

So then came the time for me to settle up and my friend produced a petrol receipt from which he’d manually deducted the cost of the 5 litres I hadn’t taken and which came to just over €66. I pulled €80 in notes out of my wallet which I gratefully offered to him for the fuel and the cost he’d incurred helping me out. He was visibly offended that I had offered him more than the amount he’d calculated. I then reduced it to €70 and insisted he took it to cover his own fuel expenses for driving to the garage and back to get me the fuel and he even turned that down until it was my turn to really insist that he did! This is absolutely typical in my experience of practically all of the French people that I’ve had the pleasure of dealing with – they couldn’t be more kind and generous and it’s one of the reasons why I’m going to be happy living among them.

So then we shook hands and I got into MYRO, fired up and was away. I did an immediate low climbing turn to the left and as I passed the hut, we waved to each other and I was gone. I still don’t know what his name was and I wonder if we’ll ever meet again?

As the vis had improved a bit, even though it was now a little more bumpy, the flight to Wanafly was pretty uneventful. I saw a couple of other aircraft flying close to one or two of the airfields shown close to my track on my satnav but that was about it. After leaving Le Gault I had to do a dog leg through a gap between the airfields at Chateaudun and Orleans Bricy to remain clear of their airspace and then I had a long straight leg down to the west of a small town called Le Blanc. Here’s a pic showing this leg of my route.

null

Le Blanc is a small town to the north of Wanafly. It has an airfield on its south-east side and I had therefore decided to skirt round to the west so I could remain clear of its area. As I flew past I watched a light aircraft flying in there and I found out later that Dave Lord takes students there for cross countries. After Le Blanc, I turned onto more or less a due southerly heading and was quite soon looking out for Wanafly’s runway. As before, I’d been there in both Google Earth and Google Street View (both brilliant tools!) so knew exactly what to expect, and when I spotted what looked like a runway on the right heading (12/30) just to the left of my track but just a bit ahead of my estimated arrival time, I knew it wasn’t the right place because of the positions and layout of its buildings. However, a few moments later, there was Wanafly slap bang dead on my nose. I called up on the frequency that Dave at Wanafly uses (123.55) as we’d agreed and he came back to me from a hand-held. It was a bit too broken for me to get the complete message but I knew anyway that I had to land on 12 even though there was a cross wind and even a slight tail wind component. So I descended overhead, did a fairly tight circuit avoiding neighbouring buildings and houses and landed on the runway, which is slightly up-hill in that direction. After back-tracking and taxying round to where Dave and a student from Calton Moor who was also named Dave were standing, I cut MYRO’s engine after a flight of about 2 hours 40 minutes (as I recall) from Le Gault and a total of 6 hours 40 minutes for the day flying from Stoke to Wanafly.

I then had the pleasure of enjoying the most incredible hospitality imaginable that Dave and Mandy provide at Wanafly for their students and holiday visitors. I found them to be such lovely people and just by being there, you automatically become a member of their family – along with their two big friendly dogs, the cats, the pigs and the chickens. Dave had told me beforehand that there might only be a bed in a caravan available for me but in the event I was taken up to a beautifully decorated bedroom with a lovely high ceiling and traditional exposed beams, in the attic of their converted farmhouse. After a most welcome beer and a chat about the day and my experiences, we were treated to a gorgeous meal that Mandy had prepared for us all. And as all day I’d only had the small coffee that my friend in Le Gault had given me and two small chunks of baguette with cheese in that I’d made before leaving home (and which had given me indigestion at 1500ft when I ate them between Abbeville and Le Gault) this and the red wine that Dave insisted I had with it (ahem.. 😐 ) went down a real treat, I can tell you. We then sat round talking and having a few more drinks until gone midnight and as I was then ready to crash out.

And I slept like a log, which was great as the day before I’d not got to bed until around 12.15am after finishing off all my preparations for the flight, before getting up at 5.45am to get across to Stoke.

The next morning I didn’t get up until gone 9.00 am, which is most unusual for me. Mandy showed me where everything I needed was and I was then able to enjoy a very relaxed breakfast. It was just as though I was starting a lovely holiday, but in fact I had the last leg of my flight still to do. The trouble was that although I only needed two hours or less to get down to my final destination in the Dordogne, although the weather was good enough for me to get away from Wanafly with a bit of a blustery north-easterly wind and some residual horizontal haze (so not good enough for poor Dave from Calton Moor to get up), down there it was stormy with rain and very low cloud while an occluded front was slowly passing through.

I knew all this, of course, because now that I was so close, Bob was keeping in touch regularly by phone from the Plazac area. And it became even more of a team effort when Dave checked the synoptic on his PC and told me that from the rate the front was moving, there would not be a weather window until later that afternoon when it would clear my destination before another much stronger cold front moved down quickly behind it from the north, probably arriving the next day. So there wasn’t much else I could do except ready MYRO for the flight and enjoy what Wanafly had to offer. What an awful fate…. 😉

— To be Concluded in Part 4 —

April 13, 2012

Flight from Stoke to Plazac – Part 2

Here’s the route of the first leg from Stoke across the Channel via Dover to St Inglevert on the Cap Gris Nez and then on to Abbeville, routing around the Class D airspace around Le Touquet. The route images I’ve used in my posts here are taken from screen captures of SkyDemon (30 day trial version). I fully acknowledge their copyright in them and they clearly show the excellence of the software.

null

The crossing was scheduled to take 21 minutes, which it did, and I was in radio contact with Farnborough East until the FIR boundary (the dark blue line) at which point I changed over to Lille. The first Lille controller I had was male and later I was switched over to a lady. Both were polite and spoke good English albeit with a bit of an accent and I had to request that they ‘say again’ on a few occasions. They were very helpful and didn’t seem to mind, so there’s no reason for anyone doing their first crossing of ‘La Manche’ to worry in the slightest about their radio procedures.

Here’s probably the last ever picture that will be taken from MYRO in UK airspace, which shows me coasting out overhead Dover and banking to turn onto heading for the leg to Cap Gris Nez.

Coasting out at Dover

Abbeville came up out of the murk dead on as expected on the GPS so that gave me a lot of confidence, and the vis hadn’t been that bad despite my growing reservations. I called blind on Abbeville Traffic (123.50) and after joining overhead for runway 02 left hand, landed on the grass next to the hard runway. The airfield was almost deserted and as there was no indication of where or how to park I taxied across to the grass in front of the buildings and shut down. I got out and noticed a hand-written sign ‘Affaires’ on the door of the aero club and assumed that that was where I’d be able to sort out closing my flight plan and everything else to do with customs and the police. However, I’d forgotten that I’d left the UK and was now in France where life is somewhat different 🙂

Inside the building there was nobody around, let alone someone who looked at all official, but luckily I climbed a small flight of stairs up into the ubiquitous small cafe area and found a gent with a cap with a bobble on it reading the notice boards. He assumed that I wanted to close my flight plan and directed me to a grubby cordless phone across the room, one of those old fashioned ones with a retractable antenna that frankly I haven’t seen for about 20 years! There was a phone number biroed on the wall above it so I dialled it. A voice answered almost immediately at the other end and after I had given MYRO’s registration, he replied ‘Your flight plan is closed. Au revoir’ and that was about it.

My friend in the cap with a bobble on it had been waiting and then said to me, ‘Now you pay taxe in front of flag’. I then noticed another building through the window on the other side of the fuel pump where there was a French flag on a white pole, so I thanked him, in French of course 😉 and walked over there. I climbed the steps and entered yet another cafe/bar area where there were various chaps sitting and standing around drinking coffee and smoking. They all looked up as I walked in and seemed friendly enough so I said, ‘Bonjour’ and they all answered in the same way. There was a marvellous French lounge lizard type amongst them with greased down hair and the typically French longish slightly pointed nose and he said ‘Ello, did you ave a nice flight?’ in the most wonderfully French accented English. I said that yes, I had and was just starting on the vis when a small plump chap came scuttling across the room into a side office and I was directed to join him in the ‘bureau’. I noticed that he had the fax on the desk in front of him that I’d sent the previous day to the police/douane number, with a copy to Abbeville. He checked (in French) to make sure I’d closed my flight plan and when I said that I had, he got busy writing what appeared to be a bill. In fact it was the invoice for the landing fee, the princely sum of €3 🙂

Then he pushed a large movements sheet in front of me that showed I was the only incoming aircraft so far that day, presumably on account of the weather. I duly filled it in with my details, arrival time and expected departure time. I’d forgotten that French time moved forward one hour when our clocks did – I was assuming that our times were now the same – so I filled the times in incorrectly, but he was far too polite to point this out and left them as I’d written them. When I’d finished and paid my €3, I asked if there was anything else I had to do with regard to the ‘douane’ and the police. He looked at me, smiled in a knowing kind of way and said, ‘Non monsieur’. So that was it, the sum total of all the formalities to do with entering France from the UK. A piece of cake. I think our problem as Brits is that sometimes we are our own worst enemy and look for problems and issues where there are none. The French are much more pragmatic, shrug their shoulders and just do things. I love that attitude and think that we have a lot to learn from them, but we won’t, ever 😐

It was now time to top up my tanks and get moving again. I’d like to have stayed longer and had a cup of coffee but I had a long way to go before my flying day was over and there just wasn’t the time. In the whole time since I’d arrived at Abbeville there was only one other movement, a French registered Robin, and I suppose that was a clue to what was to come. I started up, taxied round, called blind and took off on the grass. As I climbed and turned on track, it was pretty clear that the vis was getting worse than before. Here’s a pic I’ve again captured from the camcorder, which I’d started up again, that shows what I’m talking about.

Abbeville vis

This shot was taken just after I’d taken off from Abbeville and set course for Le Gault St Denis and at times during the leg, it was considerably worse than the picture shows. Here’s a pic showing the route I’d planned from Abbeville to Le Gault St Dennis.

null

I don’t have my papers now because they are all still in MYRO in France, but the flight time was something over 2 hours, the time from Stoke to Abbeville being a little under 2 hours.

I can say quite honestly that I never had a proper horizon the whole of the flight down through France and at times the vis was down to what I would estimate was about 3000 metres. This being France, after calling up when approaching and joining overhead at Abbeville, so long as I avoided Class D airspace or above there was no need for me to make any further radio calls, and that was exactly what I planned to do. And because of the limited vis, I doubt that I heard more than a couple of other aircraft on 123.50 the whole way down on the first day which even so I still found quite surprising.

A few words about flying in limited vsibility. Everyone has to to be responsible for making their own decisions about when and when not to fly. It has a lot to do with ‘comfort zone’ and the more experienced you are the more comfortable you are likely to be flying in conditions of limited vis. It’s never possible to make general statements that will apply to all individuals. Having held an IMC rating in a previous life as a Group A pilot, I have very strong views about how suitable or otherwise microlights are as stable instrument platforms so I would never go beyond what I would perceive as being my personal limits and those of the aircraft. But on the other hand because of my previous training and experience, I am more comfortable than many others about flying in conditions which they might find unacceptable for themselves.

On this occasion I always had a good view of the terrain below my aircraft and there were always adequate visual cues to allow me to fly the aircraft accurately, on track and in a safe attitude. And this, being France, there were almost always more fields below than you could shake a stick at that would be suitable to land in should the need arise.

I say ‘almost always’. My Channel crossing had taken about 21 minutes which at a height of about 5000ft I didn’t regard as being much of a risk because with an engine failure after about a third of the way over, I could more or less have glided to France with the tail wind that I had. However, there were many occasions when I was flying through the murk at low level (around 1400ft) for almost the same amount of time over thick forests or hilly, rocky terrain with little or no road access, where there was absolutely no chance of making a safe forced landing and nothing could therefore be done to mitigate the risk involved. And there were also many occasions when, with the sink and turbulence associated with the broken low cloud I was flying under, I found myself at climb power and speed and still sinking before usually suddenly being whisked up again.

Another thing I experienced which others who had never done so might have found a bit disconcerting was that when there was nothing ahead and around the aircraft but green fields, the land and sky merged ahead into a kind of soup that transitioned from green below through into grey above with absolutely no sign of a horizon. It didn’t worry me too much because I had seen it many times before when flying IMC in Group A and on this occasion I still had good close ground contact that gave me all the visual cues I needed to continue flying the aircraft accurately and safely. And my GPS gave me a line to track just as I used to do before when tracking a VOR, so in many ways it was all very familiar.

My flight leg from Abbeville to Le Gault St Denis went just as planned and my main disappointment was that not only was I unable to take photographs of the beautiful landscape and features that I was flying over but I also couldn’t even see much of it either! In fact, just before arriving at Le Gault, my route took me around the west side of Chartres and even though I had occasional glimpses of the twin towers of the cathedral in the mist, I couldn’t make out any discernible features at all. Such a shame!

Another thing I found and filed away as a mental note for the route ahead, was that as I was flying along, I kept encountering quite a few of the many thousands of wind turbines that now blight the French landscape. Most of them are not very high and so were some way below the aircraft even if I passed right over them. However, there are many in France including the area I was flying over that are absolute monsters and although none came up to the height I was flying at, the ones of those that I did encounter, I had to skirt around to maintain a safe and legal separation from.

As I was approaching Le Gault and searching over MYRO’s nose for the little airstrip that I had ‘visited’ in Google Street View, so knew exactly what I was looking for, another group of wind turbines appeared out of the gloom to my left. In fact they were a help rather than a hazard because then I knew exactly where to look for the tiny ‘piste’, which I immediately spotted from a right hand downwind position and landed at safely.

— Continued in Part 3 —

April 10, 2012

Flight from Stoke to Plazac – Part 1

I didn’t have time to post about what had been going on since my last flight when I thought about getting MYRO to France as soon as there was a suitable weather window. Well, that happened as expected over the Easter week-end, just gone, and I did indeed succeed in flying MYRO over. A lot of planning went into it which was what took much of my time beforehand and the flight itself was an adventure that I’d never have missed for anything. I kept a mental record of the things that happened, the places I visited and the people I met. I wrote it down quickly while it was all still fresh on the microlight forum and have re-written it for here. It’s broken up into four parts, and here’s the first of them.

I left for France as planned on Good Friday, 6th April. My first stop, to close my flight plan and get official clearance into France was at Abbeville and I’d faxed the French ‘douane’ and police on the standard number with a copy to Abbeville airfield the day before departure. I’d then phoned Abbeville to check they’d got it and confirm my intended arrival time in advance because they are a non-radio airfield. The ‘Auto Info’ frequency in France is 123.50 and Abbeville uses that just like hundreds of other airfields in France. For anyone who’d like to know, all the stuff that’s needed is on the Abbeville airfield plate which can be found in English on the following link.

Abbeville Airfield Plate

I then did my flight plan from Stoke to Abbeville and filed it for free on the EuroFPL web site at the link below.

EuroFPL web site

I prefer the flight plan system on the EuroFPL web site to the UK NATS AFPEX one, which I’ve never tried personally, although many of my fellow members at Stoke report that they have had lots of problems with filing their plans on AFPEX for them only to be rejected later due to errors. The EuroFPL system however, allows you to create and store your flight plan for later submission, at which time it verifies it and shows it coloured red if it contains errors or green if it doesn’t. This saves time and stress because you can be assured that when you do click the ‘File Flight Plan’ button, it will go through. I was going to buy SkyDemon to do this for me along with all the other stuff it does but as I thought that once in France I’d probably have very little use for it, I decided not to. But I think it’s brilliant software and if I had a microlight that was capable of more extensive touring – which MYRO isn’t really 🙂 – I’d have had no hesitation in buying it as I’d originally planned. I found that even the SkyDemon 30 day trial version was a great help to me in my planning and I have to confess that I used its flight plan ‘screen printout’ which you can’t file in the 30 day version though, as the basis for the plan I put in on EuroFPL.

Then as usual, whenever you make time-sensitive plans, everything began to ever-so-slightly unravel. I was a bit late getting to Stoke, mainly because my car windscreen was frozen up, and when I arrived, because the overnight temperature had been something like -8 deg C, MYRO’s wings were covered with thick frost. Its wing covers were damaged in the 80mph winds we had in January and I haven’t finished repairing them yet, so even if I had been ready, I couldn’t have got away until all the frost had been removed. When everything had been sorted I was something like 45 minutes behind schedule. I knew I’d never be able to make that up on a 2 hour leg into Abbeville so I just had to swallow it.

The take off went fine and after saying cheerio to my pal Ken who’d dropped me off at Stoke over the radio, I switched to Farnborough East and called in. Nothing. OK, then I tried Manston. Again nothing. Then Lydd, Headcorn and back to Farnborough. Still nothing, so I assumed my radio had let me down for the first time ever. I decided there was no way I was going to go back and carried on flying through about 2500ft by that time for my planned 5000ft and then, when I tried Farnborough again they came through 5s. So that was a relief!

We went through the usual chat and my ‘negative transponder’ response didn’t seem to worry them too much. We kept in touch with occasional position reports but I suspect they could see me. I’d given them an estimate for Dover and some time later just I was overhead and about to coast out they called asking for my position.

Unfortunately my plans to take loads of pics and videos during the flight were mostly scuppered by the weather. It was OK over the UK but taking shots through France was impossible because of turbulence and bumps the whole way down, and there was no way that I could relax for even a moment to get my camera out and aim it. And then there was the vis, but I’ll come on to that later. I did have the camcorder running after take off at Stoke though, and here’s a screenie I’ve captured off the video from when I was approaching Dover at about 5200ft.

null

What you can’t see from it is that it was CAVOK with absolutely no cloud in the UK which made me think I was going to get the flight of a lifetime. But what you can see is the broken low cloud starting at Dover with an ominously murky looking layer in the distance starting at the French coast, and this did help to make it the flight of a lifetime, but for a completely different reason however 🙂

I’d given Farnborough an estimate for the FIR boundary and as I crossed it I called to tell them I was changing to Lille. What I’d done as well the night before the flight was put all the frequencies that I was going to need into my trusty Vertex VXA-220 radio, more or less in the order I was going to need them and all also with alpha name tags. This made changing to the right frequencies when I needed to a complete doddle. Lille came in loud and clear and after getting my position and altitude they were keen to get me down to 1500ft or less by the French coast to ensure I stayed under their TMA. I knew that of course and after I did that and then advised them that I was going to avoid CAS until I arrived at Abbeville they were very happy and more or less left me alone apart from the occasional request for a position report. They also advised me that they had no known traffic or any other issues on my route to Abbeville so that was helpful. However, what I did have was a broken cloud base of 1500ft and quite severe turbulence. This wasn’t as bad as I’d experienced in the past though, so I wasn’t too worried. What I didn’t like much though was a visibility of about 3 miles or occasionally less and little did I know that this was going to be the best I’d get until I got to about 10 miles from my ultimate destination in the Dordogne!

Luckily I was quite well prepared. Visual navigation would have been a total non-starter, as I believe it is for any long solo flight over unknown terrain no matter what charts you may be carrying. So what I’d done was scan and load the charts I needed into MemoryMap and then print out a screen capture of each flight leg onto A4 paper. Then I’d sticky taped all the prints together in order, wrapped them around a sheet of thin A4 cardboard to stiffen them and popped them into a clear plastic folder secured with a small crocodile clip. So at any time I had two flight legs visible, one on the front and one on the back. Then after I’d flown them, I switched over to the next two legs and as I only had four (three on day one and one on day two), I only had to do it once, but in theory the method would work no matter how many legs a flight consisted of. So as the flight progressed, I could compare my position on my ‘cheap car satnav’ with my position on my ‘chart’ to work out my time estimates, and the result was that I was never more than a minute out on any leg, which I thought was pretty good. It also allowed me to accurately estimate my fuel burn and although it was a bit higher than I’d originally planned for, the safety margins that I’d built in always meant that I never had any worries on that score either. And it also meant that I didn’t have to have reams of actual French maps in the cabin with me, which was already extremely cramped, what with me, two jerries, as many of MYRO’s covers as I could fit in, my flight bag, my personal bag and, of course, my own fuel funnel (I’d never, ever use anyone else’s).

With my second tank I could load about 50 litres into MYRO. This, at 15 lit/hr would give me an endurance of about 3 hours and I’d planned for none of my legs to be quite as long as that. I’d also loaded two 20 litre jerry cans of pre-mixed 2-stroke so I’d planned my fuel stops to use the fuel in the tanks and then for that to be topped up from the jerries with more added when needed from local purchases. I’ve left my papers in MYRO back in the France now but as a rough idea, I didn’t need to buy fuel at Abbeville where there’s only very expensive AVGAS because I could fill my tanks back up from my jerries and fly on to my next stop at Le Gault St Denis near Chateaudun where I’d arranged to pick up more mogas. I’d also taken my own oil – just enough for the 40 additional litres of fuel that I thought I’d need to buy en-route.

—- Continued in Part 2 —-

April 2, 2012

Just a thought..

After not having flown for three weeks, I managed an hour yesterday. I flew south around Maidstone, down to Linton and back. I was surprised to see an aircraft there outside the main hangar – some regular readers might recall that my main feeling about Linton was that it’s a lovely strip but while I was there, hardly anyone except me ever flew! But unsurprisingly, although there was an aircraft parked, I couldn’t see any flying going on 😐

Yesterday was the perfect day that I would have chosen for my flight down to Plazac, bright, good vis and a good northerly tail wind, and it got me thinking. My plans at present are to move my belongings and furniture down shortly after 19th April and then fly MYRO down ASAP after my return. Then to return by Ryanair from Bergerac and finallly drive down in my car with the dog. However, the main unknown is the weather and getting a suitable week-end when everything is ‘just right’ for the flight down could be a bit tricky. So I got to thinking, why not fly MYRO down as soon as a good weather window presents itself? It may mean that it will be parked up for a couple of weeks while I’m still in England but that won’t be a problem, especially if Bob can get some weighted tie-down tyres made for me and I also take MYRO’s covers down with me.

I checked the weather forecasts yesterday and although the warm, balmy unseasonable weather that we’ve currently been enjoying will be replaced by an ‘Arctic blast’ this week, it appears that next week-end could be suitable as northerly winds with not too many strong gusts are expected once the more extreme stuff has passed through. And also, as it’s Easter week-end, there will be four days in France due to the holiday when the low level restricted military corridors won’t apply compared to the usual two for a normal week-end.

So it seems a bit of a no-brainer to me and my thoughts now are to prepare MYRO for the flight by this coming Thursday (new plugs, tanks topped up and jerry cans filled ready to go) and leave either on Friday or Saturday at around 7.30 am. I’ve got the route and fuel stops all planned out so all it would need is a couple of calls to France to pre-arrange for assistance in buying fuel en route and for my cross Channel flight plan to be filed the day before. The more I think about it, the more I come around to the idea that it’s the sensible thing to do 😉