July 27, 2015

No can do?

There are two types of people in France, I’ve decided, and this couldn’t have been more clear to me than today. I’m returning to the UK for a brief visit in the near future and it looks as though the weather could become a bit more unsettled than it is now while I’m away. As I lost a couple of ridge tiles in high winds a few weeks ago, it now appears that I need to do the repairs before I go rather than when I return. One of my problems is that everything to do with my roof dates back donkeys years, but I thought that I’d try my luck anyway at the Point P builders’ merchants in Montignac before casting my net further afield for the ridge and roof tiles that I need, as they’ve managed to come up trumps so many times in the past.

When I walked in carrying a sample tile off my roof and the dimensions of the ridge tiles, the lady who usually helps me was tied up with other clients, so she directed me to one of her colleagues. When I showed him the ridge tile dimensions he pursed his lips and said that they had nothing like that, and moreover, they couldn’t do anything until at least September because they’ll soon be closed down for summer holidays for the whole of August. When I showed him the roof tile that I’d taken with me, he was looking at it and was just about to say what a hopeless task it would be getting anything like it, when Mr Can-Do walked in.

He was either the branch rep or manager, and it was like turning on a light switch. When he saw the roof tile, he grabbed a product catalogue, began to look through it and called up someone who he knew specialised in ancient designs. Unfortunately, they weren’t available but he promised to let me know one way or the other by tomorrow morning. While he was talking, the other chap sneaked out of the door and when I then showed Mr Can-Do my ridge tile dimensions that the other guy had said they couldn’t help with until at least September, he said that they had them in stock in the yard and if I gave his colleague the reference that he then wrote down, he’d show them to me.

So what a difference! Sure enough, the ridge tiles were close enough to what I needed and I ended up buying half a dozen for the princely sum of 8€! So now at least I’ll be able to make my roof watertight before I leave for home and the roof tiles can wait until I get back. If only there were more like Mr Can-Do in France, I suspect that their economy would not be the basket-case that it now is.

I checked up on the manufacturer of my roof tiles on the internet when I got home. It would appear that the factory started up during the 19th century and probably closed between the wars, so it shows how old the roof on my house must be. The only references that I could come across were for a museum of ancient industry that’s now on the site, so I guess that I shouldn’t hold my breath hoping that the style of tile that I need will turn up – not new, anyway.

But who knows. Maybe Mr Can-Do will be able to put his hands on a few 😉

July 27, 2015

Cavarc open day

Yesterday was the ‘portes ouvertes’ of the Aeroclub de Castillonnes at Cavarc so we all decided to go down there into the Lot and Garonne and enjoy ourselves. It seems amazing that a year has passed since the last one – in a way, it seems a long time ago but on the other hand, the time seems to have gone very quickly.

Wim and I decided to fly in but Sophie, Madeleine and Victor travelled by road. And this year Régis also flew down from Galinat in his Zenair 701 that he acquired as a wreck and spent over a year repairing and which he has now decided to hang onto rather than sell.

We agreed that I would take off from Galinat at 11.50 am to be overhead Wim’s airfield at Plazac at midday, but although I phoned Wim as arranged, he inadvertently had his phone on silent mode, so didn’t receive either my call or my message. But luckily, he saw me coming so we flew most of the way to Cavarc together, although I didn’t find it that easy keeping 56NE down to 85/90 kmh.

In the end I overtook Wim and landed first on a very gusty/floaty runway 15 that had all kinds of weird lift and sink on its approach but fortunately all of us got down safely. There were quite a few aircraft parked up on the flightline but some of the more interesting ones from last year weren’t there, which was a pity because for some reason last year I lost nearly all of the shots that I took. But the turnout was excellent, as the following pics show.

The weather was gorgeous for most of the day and luckily the tables were laid out in the shade of the trees. Here’s Victor bringing over a further tray of melon starter. We’d all already had one plate each but it was so delicious and there was so much of it that we all decided to have another.

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This shot of Madeleine taking her ‘seconds’ shows why 😉

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Here are a couple of shots of our table with, in the first one, Romain and his girlfriend in front on the left and Gordon from Newcastle, who has a vintage Taylorcraft (of which more later) with his eyes closed on the right. He doesn’t always have his eyes closed, though.

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Now some shots of the stars of the day, the aircraft. First up several shots of Gordon’s Taylorcraft that I took while he was preparing to depart back to his home airfield at Trémons that’s a little way to the south between Villeneuve sur Lot and Fumel. I took down all the details last year for a visit there but we never managed to, so we must try again during the next few months.

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Finally, here’s Gordon taxying out for runway 15.

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Next, a couple of shots of Romain’s Hurricane. He’s got it up for sale at the moment because he wants to move up to a two-seat enclosed gyrocopter.

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And now some shots of a beautiful vintage Jodel D12. As for Gordon’s Taylorcraft, an ‘avion’ not an ULM but a welcome visitor nevertheless.

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And finally, to finish off, a couple of shots of the club’s brand new Guépy Club, which is a lovely little French-designed and built ULM powered by a blue-top Rotax 582.

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The day was not without incident, however. A Quicksilver GT500 took off but suffered an engine failure in the climbout. Fortunately, although he was still at quite a low level, the pilot was able to turn back and land on the runway he’d just departed from without incident. He couldn’t get the engine restarted so the aircraft ended up being pushed into one of the club’s hangars.

And we weren’t unaffected either. Wim asked me to take off with him and shadow the Red Baron on the way back because he’d noticed that the engine had run rough a couple of times on the way down. When he got it started, however, it appeared that it was suffering from a repeat of an ignition problem that occurred a few months ago and it too ended up in one of Cavarc’s hangars until Wim can resolve the problem.

So Wim returned home by car with Victor and only Régis and I ended up flying back home. By the time we left, the weather had taken a turn for the worse with stormclouds approaching from the west. As a result, we were subjected to a rather turbulent flight back to Galinat, which was not at all enjoyable, and a nasty landing with a crosswind gusting at about 15-20 kmh. So not nice at all. We both made it safely but with Wim’s problem, it turned out to be an unfortunate end to what was otherwise a great day out.

July 19, 2015

West coast flight – Conclusions

So, after 6 days, 1300 kms and just over 15 hours of flying, in the cold light of day, what conclusions did we draw from our experience and what might we have done differently?

The first thing that Wim and I agreed on is that radios are essential. I had one, but hardly used it, and although Wim had borrowed an old Icom from Victor that we’d rigged up an antenna and power supply for, in reality he couldn’t use it because he didn’t have a proper headset. It was impossible for him to pick up in his hand and use manually while in the air and in any case, as he uses a helmet, he’d never have know about an incoming call or been able to hear anything through the earpiece.

We’d tried to get a ‘phone’ type headset incorporating a mic working in the period before we left, without success. But this was really only a ‘Wim thing’, who’s the world’s biggest fan of ‘minimalist’ flying and I know of no ULM/microlight pilot in the UK (or indeed, France) who would have considered undertaking a flight like ours without a proper radio.

Transponders would also have been incredibly useful as having them would have allowed freedom of access to huge swathes of airspace that were closed to us, either formally as at Lorient, or informally, as by the military who had grabbed airspace near Dax. However, given that we have no use for them in our day-to-day flying in the Dordogne and that at around 2000€ a pop they are uneconomic to purchase for just occasional use, we probably need to accept that should we plan similar flights in the future, certain areas of CAS will be closed to us and we will either have to find routes around them or choose different areas entirely for our tours.

But what about things of a more general nature? The first lesson that I learnt on day one was that it’s essential to check and double-check any equipment that you will be relying on. I thought that I’d loaded all of our routes into my Asus tablet that I’d intended to use for navigation but was aghast when I turned it on and found that it was empty. If it had not been for the 5″ sat nav backup that I had with me that served me well the whole way round, my tour would have been up the creek without a paddle even before we’d taken off.

Similarly, we lost more time when Wim’s engine wouldn’t start, we think because he’d run it for too short a time the day before to check it and had oiled up the plugs as a consequence. The conclusion was that you must check your aircraft carefully beforehand but in a sensible way and as an extension, as I found out at the end of our tour to my cost, you must replace any suspect parts that might let you down before you leave. That’s because if they do so when you’re hundreds of kilometres away from base, the problems and additional costs that will result might be considerable and although 56NE’s axles snapped during the last landing back at Wim’s home airfield, it looked as though they could have gone at any time while we were away if I’d had a hard landing, with possibly very expensive consequences.

A flight like ours needs detailed planning as I described in a previous post, both for it to be successful and to give you peace of mind that nothing unexpected will arise en route to bite you on the back-side. The main conclusion arising from our experience is that having made a detailed plan, STICK TO IT and don’t make changes on the fly. At home with your computer, the software and all the equipment you need, planning is difficult and time-consuming enough but in the field with little to assist you, it’s fraught with problems. That’s when things can, and for us, did start to go wrong.

And when you’re on tour, make sure that you use the results of your planning to the greatest effect. I’d taken the trouble to create a plog sheet and chart for every single leg of our tour but all too often we succumbed to the feeling that ‘it’s getting late and time to go’ and having inserted the relevant ones in my kneeboards, I took off without having properly consulted them.

It’s essential to swat up on the planned route in detail before you take off, making sure that you know what altitudes you should be flying at in each sector, what key visual cues you should be looking out for and when they should come up and what the appearance of the destination airfield will be from the direction that you will be arriving from. And for the latter you need to have carefully read the relevant airfield card, a copy of which you should have with you, so you are also aware of the runway that will be in use and of any special conditions that apply, relating to obstacles, noise abatement etc.

There’s also the question of water crossings. We knew that we’d be doing several, some lasting 15 minutes or more, and you need to think about the safety aspects that are involved. Wim and I decided not to take life jackets with us, although in my case I have one which is new and unused. Other pilots need to decide what’s right for them.

Incidentally, although I’d carefully printed off and collated all of the above information, I’d inserted it into one of my kneeboards that I’d placed on the cabin floor leaning against the side of the pod. When it rained heavily at Amou, the papers got wet causing the ink to run. Luckily, only some of the corners and a couple of the chart edges were affected, so although they looked horrible cosmetically, there was no real harm done, but the lesson was that as you rely so heavily on all of your ‘paperwork’, you should take steps to ensure that it’s kept safe and protected from all possible threats, including water, at all times.

Finally, there are the more basic lessons that we learnt from our tour:

> Pare weight down to the minimum – don’t take more of ANYTHING than is strictly necessary

> Take plastic jerry cans, not metal, like I did, as the weight saving is significant

> Unless you’re a gourmet and can’t face simple fare, only take canned food that you can cook in one pot

> Double-check your camping gear; a faulty air bed and a bad night’s sleep might lead to disaster

> Ensure that you take suitable charging systems for your phone/camera/camcorder

> Also take spare charged batteries for when you can’t charge things and extra memory cards

And that’s about it, really. Despite the unfortunate way in which our tour ended, for me anyway, I’d never have missed it for a minute. We’re already talking about where we might go next year, and who knows, if Victor gets up to speed in his Rans S12 in time, there might be three of us next time. One of our new-found friends at Le Thou came out on our second day there wearing a cap with a roundel on it and the letters ‘RAF’. We said that we’d be back next year with our own caps on which there would be the words ‘Les Vétérans de la Dordogne’ and who’s to say that we won’t 😉

July 17, 2015

West coast flight – Day 6 (Final)

The long way home – triumph turns to disappointment

No proper video today, just photographs, mainly because I’d had no way of charging up my little sports cam for the two days previously. I wasn’t too fussed, though, because I knew that the terrain we’d be flying over would be little different from that which we were used to on a daily basis and that there would be little of note to video or, indeed, photograph along the way. Here’s a shot of the route itself.

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The night before I’d agreed, rather against my better judgement, to make a change to the route that I’d originally planned. The reason was that during my planning, not only had I found bona-fide name and contact details for all of the airfields at which we’d intended to land but I’d also checked each and every one on Google Earth to verify not only that it existed but also that it was exactly as described by the owner or operator. Then I’d carefully adjusted the route loaded into my GPS to ensure that it terminated at each landing waypoint either exactly on each airfield’s runway or, at the very least, really close to it. Then I’d printed off our charts so we had a detailed one for each leg of our tour and for those reasons it had been so easy to spot each airfield and approach safely and easily to land on its active runway.

But I unwisely allowed all of that to go out of the window the previous evening, a decision that I later came greatly to regret. After leaving Mouchamps, I’d originally planned for us to land at Courcon, an established ULM club with good facilities. The flying time from Mouchamps to Courcon would be only about 40 minutes, leaving a further leg from Courcon to Plazac of almost dead on 2 hours. But the point was that Courcon was only intended to be a stop to top up our fuel to make sure that we’d have enough on board to arrive at Plazac with safe quantities in our tanks.

One of the factors influencing the decision to make a change was that M. Guerton had kindly allowed us to purchase quite a large quantity of fuel, 54 litres actually, from the stocks he held in his hangar, so we knew that we’d be departing Mouchamps with brimming tanks. Therefore, it seemed like a good idea at the time to extend the first leg of our flight to Plazac beyond Courcon to make it more of a comfort stop than a fuel stop, and that’s when we made a crucially bad decision.

M. Guerton had had a tablet with an internet connection with him the night before and we had used it as best we could to find an alternative airfield for our first landing. We had found one that seemed suitable just south of an airfield named St Jean d’Angely and I’ve marked it on the route, above, with a red circle and arrow. M. Guerton had then tried to ring the contact number provided but could not get through and that’s when our warning bells should have started ringing. And despite all of the detailed work that I’d put into selecting all of the other airfields that we’d stopped at during our tour, I had let things continue on.

We did our best to modify our GPS routes the night before and when he arrived to see us off in the morning, M. Guerton again tried to get through to the alternative airfield. But still he couldn’t make a connection and still we ignored the warning signs. You can see him trying repeatedly to make the call in the next two shots.

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So then we took off, Wim first and me following a few minutes later as usual, and turned to continue our flight south and I have to say that by this time I was feeling a little bit uneasy. However, the weather was not too bad and conditions were pretty good so as I overtook Wim at around the same distance as our landing at Courcon would have been, I continued on in the flight quite happily. Here are some shots that I took as I did so.

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But waiting just around the corner for both of us was a major shock. My revised route took me past the airfield that I mentioned previously and is shown on the route pic above, called St Jean d’Angely. I didn’t try too hard, but even though I should have been pretty close to it, I couldn’t spot it, but I didn’t worry too much. By now I was more concerned about finding the alternative airfield that we’d decided to land at for a comfort break that should have been just to the south of it. But when I arrived exactly overhead it according to my GPS, which up to then had always been spot-on, there was no airfield to be seen. What there was, though, was what looked like a large rubbish dump or landfill site. I decided to do just one circuit so as not to waste fuel, to verify that what I’d seen was in fact true and sure enough, if there ever had been an ULM field at the location, it certainly wasn’t there now, and this presented me with something of a dilemma. What should I do?

I reckoned that there were three alternatives – to return to St Jean d’Angely, which I hadn’t spotted but which almost certainly existed and land there, to locate another airfield ahead, on or close to my track and land there, much as I’d done at Mimizan, and finally to carry on and complete the whole flight in one hop from Mouchamps to Plazac.

I decided on the latter, which in hindsight, I think was almost certainly an error of judgement. The flying time up to that point had been about an hour, leaving a further 2 hours, or just a bit less as we had been flying south-east with a north-westerly tailwind, before I’d arrive at Plazac. As any pilot knows, 3 hours non-stop stick and rudder flying can be tiring at the best of times and at about that time, a few thermals and bumps were beginning to pick up under a low cumulus base, indicating that it wouldn’t be all sweetness and light for the rest of the flight. But the key fact that persuaded me was that I knew that I’d left Mouchamps with brimming tanks and that so long as I flew sensibly, I’d have enough fuel on board to complete the flight safely.

Here’s a shot that I took at about the time that I left the Vendée and entered the Deux Sèvres.

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The next major town that I flew past after flying below the Class D controlled airspace to the north-east of Cognac airport was Angoulême. I took a few shots in its general direction but by now conditions were become a bit more cloudy and dull and it was hard to see much detail.

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Angoulême is in the south-eastern corner of the Charente and soon after I’d passed it, I entered the Dordogne with its by now familiar terrain.

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Eventually the City of Périgueux hove into view and I knew that my somewhat long and tiring flight would soon be approaching its end.

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Some minutes later, Rouffignac came up on 56NE’s nose and I knew that Wim’s field would not be much further on. Having spotted it, I began to descend and set myself up for a left hand circuit and approach.

The runway at Wim’s field is very short at only 160/170 metres and experience has shown that you have to approach it low and as slowly as possible to have time to stop in time. I succeeded in the former but as I was at the end of final and only a few metres above the threshold, it was apparent that my groundspeed was too high, so I opened up the throttle to go around as I’d done several times the day before we’d left on our west coast flight. But this time 56NE handled completely differently and its nose failed to come up quickly enough, with the result that I landed heavily just past the runway threshold whether I wanted to or not.

But this one was different to any previous hard landing and, I hope to any that will inevitably come in the future. As soon as the main wheels made contact with the runway there was a loud ‘crunch’ noise and the undercarriage collapsed. From then on I was a passenger as 56NE slid along the runway and eventually came to a halt in the long grass bordering it on the right. I was perfectly OK, though, and the engine was still running, so I switched it off and climbed out. What met my view was the sight of 56NE nestling in the long grass like a wounded bird.

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So what went wrong? The first thing that I noticed was that although I had flown back from Mouchamps with a tailwind that should have provided a headwind component for a landing at Wim’s airfield, in fact there was a tailwind down the runway, probably as a result of the local cloud and weather system that is shown in the above two pics. Unfortunately I had no way of knowing this as Wim hadn’t left his windsock out when we departed on our trip, but I’d surmised that it was the case and it was partly why I’d decided to go around when I did.

But that’s far from the whole story. I’d noticed that during the latter stages of the flight, I’d had 56NE on full nose-up trim and still had to pull back gently on the stick to maintain level flight. Foolishly I hadn’t paid too much attention to it but in hindsight it was an indicator of a key factor. When I checked later on, I found that there were only about 7 litres of fuel left in the tanks. Considering that they’d started with about 54 litres, the amount consumed had resulted in quite a significant forward shift in 56NE’s centre of gravity. But that wasn’t all. Not only did I still have quite a large quantity (and weight) of baggage stowed in the cabin in front of the passenger seat, to crown it all, the heaviest items, such as the spare oil, the gas burner and cylinder and spares of both, the small toolkit that I’d put together and my metal-framed camping chair were all even further forward under 56NE’s instrument panel, so the net result of all that was a centre of gravity at its foremost limit, or possibly even a bit beyond. No wonder that I’d been flying with full nose-up trim, and no wonder when I’d opened up the engine to go around (which itself causes a nose-down moment of force), that 56NE had failed to respond quickly enough.

Like all such events, it’s easy to understand them when you think about them afterwards but very difficult to see them coming in advance. Now that I’ve experienced such an event, I’ll make sure that it never happens again and if by my writing about it, another pilot is helped to avoid a similar mishap, then it’ll have been worth it.

There’s no doubt that a contributory factor was also that I’d flown for the best part of three hours in occasionally trying conditions without a break. Wim thought so too and because he knows the area better than me, he’d been able to go off track and stop over at Riberac for a break before continuing. Who knows whether if I’d been able to do something similar, the mishap would have been avoided.

There were a few good things, though, that came out of it. Firstly, the damage to 56NE although it looked quite bad initially was fairly trivial, and after ordering the parts (more new shocks and a pair of axles) and waiting a few days for them to be delivered, it only took a couple more days to complete the repair and fly 56NE back to Galinat. Imagine if it had happened in England! I made up new undercarriage legs using MYRO’s old, bent wing struts which were of exactly the right aerofoil section. Secondly, I found that the legs that were originally on 56NE were of the WRONG section and were weaker as a result than they should have been. Maybe a similar mishap had happened in the past and someone had just used whatever they could lay their hands on for a repair.

Finally, I’d noticed since first acquiring 56NE that its main wheels were always canted in a bit at their tops, as I’ve mentioned several times here on My Trike. After fitting the new axles and undercarriage legs, the wheels are now vertical or, if anything canted slightly out at their tops, which tells me something very important. The old axles were already bent. However, the material from which they are made is not supposed to bend, so if they were bent, which I believe they were, they were already in a pre-failure mode. That meant that they could probably have snapped at any time on our six-day trip if ever I’d had a bit of a hard landing, and think of the problems that would have caused if it had happened. So I won’t say that it was lucky that it happened on my last landing at Wim’s home strip, but things could have been considerably worse!

And so our west coast flight came to an end. It would have been nice for it to have ended in triumph instead of the disappointing (for me) way in which it actually did. But I’m glad that as a result of the mishap I now know that 56NE’s undercarriage is better and stronger than it was – and I just wish that I’d fitted new axles a few weeks ago when I installed the first pair of new shocks, which might have prevented the whole problem 😉

My planned flight time from Mouchamps to Plazac, 2 hours 40 minutes, actual 2 hours 50. You can see a short video that I made from the photographs that I shot on the day by clicking on the image below. It’s just to complete the set for the tour as a whole, but not in the way that I originally intended 🙁

West Coast Flight Day 6

July 16, 2015

West coast flight – Day 5

More spectacular scenery before turning homeward

And so we had come to the penultimate day of our west coast tour during which we would reach its northernmost point, the Gulf of Morbihan. Our original goal was to fly the length of the coast from the Aquitaine to Brittany, which we would achieve today, and although we had not succeeded in getting as far south as we’d hoped into the Pyrénées Atlantiques, we had made it as far as the Landes, which was not far off. But there was nothing to stop us reaching our northernmost goal in Brittany today.

The night before, the ULM club at St Brevin had kindly offered us the use of its clubhouse. This was very welcome, because although we were happy sleeping in our tents, it was nice to be able to cook our evening meal indoors (on the club meeting-room’s table!) and have a good wash for a change. The President had left us with the clubhouse key and just asked for it to be popped into the postbox before we left, which I did.

The total planned flying time for the day was 2 hours 50 minutes, in two legs, the first from St Brevin to a small privately owned airfield in the Loire Atlantique called La Bochet, and the second to an ULM airfield in the Vendée named Mouchamps. Here’s a shot of the route.

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I’d really been looking forward to today because on the climb out from St Brevin, we’d be passing almost immediately over the striking road bridge that carries the D213 over the mouth of the River Loire from St Brevin to St Nazaire. After a 5 kilometre water crossing we’d then be passing over St Nazaire itself and continuing on northwards past La Baule.

Here’s a shot that I took as I coasted in over St Nazaire.

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From now on I’ll just let the pictures that I shot as I flew up the coast, which are of really stunning scenery, speak for themselves. Before each shot I’ve shown where each one was taken so if readers want to they can cross-refer to Google Earth to see the exact locations for themselves.

So, next Pornichet, just past St Nazaire.

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Then the airfield La Boule Escoublac. Unfortunately, because at the time I was over the bay and La Baule was on the other side of 56NE, I couldn’t take a shot of the town itself.

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Then Le Pouliguen, a lovely little resort on the other side of the bay which was a water crossing of 6 km.

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Then Batz sur Mer.

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Then la Pointe du Croisic, one of the prettiest parts of the area that is called la Côte Sauvage.

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Le Croisic and the thin spit of land opposite it enclose quite a large body of water. The thin spit is called la Pointe de Pen Bron

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Next up is the resort called la Turballe.

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Then Piriac sur Mer, just off to the west of my track.

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Then, across the bay, a water crossing of 7 km, la Pointe du Bile leading onto Kerandré.

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Then another water crossing to Kervoyal, with the Morbihan visible in the far distance.

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Then on to Damgan.

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Damgan Port is situated out on the peninsula a short distance away from Damgan the town.

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Then over the next inlet to Pen Cadenic.

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And then on to Kermor.

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And then a surprise. Apart from planning the flight, I’d done no real research of the areas that we’d be flying through, and so you can imagine my surprise when off to the left of my track, I saw a large lake with an impressive mediaeval castle on it. It turned out that this was Suscinio, which is worth googling to read more about in its own right.

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By now the Morbihan was coming ever closer, but first there was the little town of Saizeau.

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I then took a shot of the view of the Morbihan that lay before me through 56NE’s windscreen.

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Continuing on, I then took a shot of Kerguillo which showed that off to the north beyond where we would be flying to, there was a huge bank of cloud or sea fog blanketing the seaboard. This was of interest as it showed that if we had been given permission to continue our flight through Lorient controlled airspace as we’d originally intended, it’s likely that we’d have found it impossible to do so!

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Here’s another general shot that shows off the character of the Morbihan to its best. Pity that by now the weather was becoming rather duller.

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So there I was almost at the planned northernmost point of our tour, on the southern side of the Golfe du Morbihan. Now it was time to turn right for a 8 km crossing of the Golfe itself before turning right again on the other side to start heading homeward.

Here are some shots that I took of the Île au Moines as I did so.

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Then finally a shot of the small waterside resort of Gréo on the northern side of the Golfe before making that right turn.

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But the sights were far from over because shortly after turning and starting to head south-east, I passed the city of Vannes, off my track to the left.

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I was quite surprised by how large a place Vannes is, and shortly afterwards, in contrast, I flew past the pretty little waterside commune of Noyalo.

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I was already beginning to think about my landing at La Bochet which would be coming up in a few minutes time, but first I took one more shot of the watery Morbihan countryside.

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It wasn’t difficult finding the airfield at La Bochet with its long, wide runway and adjacent distinctively situated small wood. After I’d landed, I found that Wim had got there before me.

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Here’s a shot of Wim with the owner, M. Gautier, who kindly took Wim to buy some fuel. It turned out that not only does M. Gautier not own an aircraft himself (the main user of his airfield is a friend of his who owns a Mooney and who also turned up to meet us a bit later) but he also incurred a round-trip of 35 kms from his home to come and help us out, which Wim and I thought was an amazingly kind gesture.

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My planned flying time from St Brevin to La Bochet, 1 hour 39 minutes, actual time 1 hour 35.

M. Gautier offered us sandwiches that he’d brought with him, which we declined as we really wanted to get off again on the second leg of our day’s flight, but we did accept his offer of a cold drink each. Even so, we ended up being there for not far short of two hours, once we’d had our drinks and a chat and sorted out our fuel. Then we were off to Mouchamps in the Vendée.

By now after the awesome scenery of the Morbihan, I wasn’t quite so interested in taking photographs but did manage a few along the way. First, the commune of Bouvron.

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From there, it wasn’t long before I’d be coming up on the city of Nantes and before I did so, I took one last pic of the open Loire Atlantique countryside.

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Then I flew around to the north and east of Nantes itself. As the second pic shows, I found it a bit more built-up than the chart had suggested and although I wasn’t concerned that 56NE’s engine might fail, I was glad to eventually put the city and its suburbs behind me.

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Some minutes later I entered the Vendée on my way to Mouchamps and just before arriving there, I came across this enormous open-work quarry.

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A few minutes later I was searching for the airfield and finding it rather hard to spot. On my second circuit of the area, I was pleased to spot the Red Baron already on the ground and parked close to a windsock and large hangar, so it was then just a matter of landing and joining Wim.

My planned flight time from La Bochet to Mouchamps, 1 hour 10 minutes, actual time 1 hour 15. Here’s a shot of Wim with the owner, M. Guerton.

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And so we’d come to the end of a memorable penultimate day of our west coast flight. It had been dull for much of the flight but the scenery had been stunning for almost the whole way and I’d not have missed it for anything. Now it was time to park our aircraft, put up our tents and enjoy a well-deserved evening meal of ravioli.

I shot a video of the day which can be viewed by clicking on the image below.

West Coast Flight Day 5

July 15, 2015

West coast flight – Day 4

A turtle inconveniently rears its ugly head

It was hardly ‘the morning after the night before’ because both Wim and I each enjoyed a good night’s sleep and awoke as fresh as a daisy to another glorious morning. The breeze had dropped to almost nothing after the blustery winds of the day before, although if the patterns that we had experienced up to now were anything to go by, the sea breezes would probably begin to pick up again by about midday.

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While Wim pondered the day’s route, I took a few more shots of the airfield and the aircraft parked as they had been on the extended apron and emergency crosswind runway for the previous night’s bonfire celebrations.

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A few club members had spent the night in tents as we had, and some in camping cars, but already quite a few additional ones had arrived to clear away the marquee that had been attached to the left-hand hangar for the soirée and clear up the rubbish that had been left over. We all then adjourned to the clubhouse for a most welcome free breakfast of coffee and croissants.

One of our new-found friends, Christian, then offered to drive me to a local garage to pick up some ‘essence’, which solved our day’s fuel problems. Our flight plan for the day was not too demanding as we only planned to fly the second half of the route that we’d planned for the day before. We therefore only planned a fairly short hop, really, from Le Thou in the Charente Maritime to St Brevin les Pins on the south bank of the River Loire in the Loire Atlantique.

The following image shows the planned route in purple and the actual track that I flew in red, and I’ll come back to the reason for including the latter a bit later.

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Then a short while later after saying our ‘au revoirs’ Wim and I were airborne. Initially we had to fly on a north-westerly heading along the edge of La Rochelle controlled airspace, after which we flew a more westerly heading towards the coast. Here are a couple of pics that I shot at the time.

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The second, above, was looking back towards La Rochelle. Then our route took us over a shallow sandy bay with mudflats called the Anse d’Aiguillon and the next two shots show the view that was ahead of and then below me.

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The next shot taken as I was flying across the bay shows the Île de Ré in the distance.

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There is a small spit of land jutting into the sea to the west of the Anse that’s shown in the first of the next two pics. Its southernmost point is called Pointe d’Arcay. To the north-west of the Anse is found l’Aiguillon sur Mer, which is itself shown in the second.

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At the northern end of the spit of land is the little resort of la Faute sur Mer, shown below with the more famous les Sables d’Olonne in the far distance.

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There are many rivers and streams feeding into the sea in this area and just a few kilometres beyond la Faute I spotted a small barrage over the little River Lay.

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It was about this time that I began to notice that all was not well in the cabin of 56NE. More specifically, but without going into too much detail to save the sensibilities of the more sensitive souls amongst us, I realised that all was not well in the tummy department. I concluded that I was suffering from ‘Mal de Moules’ and that one of the mussels from the night before must have got to me, but unlike when you’re driving a car when you can pull up, leap out and make use of whatever facilities are available to resolve the problem, when you’re flying along at 1500 feet there’s not very much that you can do about it. Apart from try to hang on, that is.

The sensible thing that you can do, of course, is try to get to your destination as quickly as possible and the more sharp-eyed readers will notice that from this point on, the actual track that I flew was much more direct towards St Brevin than the zigzag route that I’d intended to fly.

Putting my problems behind me (no pun intended), I still managed to keep taking photographs along the way, although I have to admit that this was becoming evermore less of a priority meaning that I did unfortunately miss a few good ones. As I flew on, these are what I shot.

Sainte-Anne and la Tranche sur Mer.

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The little town of Talmont-Saint-Hilaire.

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Les Sables d’Olonne, but taken with gritted teeth from a greater distance than I’d originally intended.

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Île d’Olonne.

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Le Bouil.

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By now, the wind was bringing in cloud off the sea, so I had decided to climb above it into calmer air. The next shot is of Le Marais Buor.

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Ahead between me and the relief available at St Brevin les Pins lay the Baie de Borgneuf, which I’d originally intended to fly around. No chance. With Pornic visible on the other side and the thought of getting ever closer to my destination, the direct water crossing of 14-15 kilometres was now an attractive alternative to the onboard accident that might otherwise occur and I embarked on it with just the single thought of getting to the other side as quickly as I could.

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I’m not saying that from then on, it was plain sailing. Far from it. I recall a posting made by a microlighter in a similar predicament on a UK forum who wrote that ‘the turtle’s head was already beginning to emerge from its shell’ and by now I understood exactly what he meant. I then began to commence my descent into the little ULM airfield at St Brevin and although it was very bumpy below the clouds, I found it without much problem. I carried out a quick circuit to the north but in my haste to land, I overcooked it and turned in too close. So ‘quelle horreur!’ a go-around was necessary. What a time! But I then landed safely on the short east-west runway and taxied in.

Anyone looking out of the clubhouse at that moment would have thought that I was a man possessed. I dashed inside, although ‘dashed’ is a relative term given my predicament, spotted the club’s instructor, Laurent, and immediately asked for ‘la toilette’ into which I disappeared for several minutes. And in such an ignominious way ended my day’s flying. Later on, when I’d recovered my equilibrium and decorum, Wim and I were introduced to the ULM Côte de Jade’s President, and here we are with him. And before anyone asks, yes, I did wash my hands beforehand 😉

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I made a video of the day which can be viewed by clicking on the following image.

France West Coast Day 4

July 14, 2015

West coast flight – Day 3

A day cut short but ending in fun and festivities

After all the setbacks and distractions of the day before, we were pleased to wake up to a beautiful morning in Carcans with a clear blue sky and good vis. I’d found an outside tap the night before that I’d treated with some caution as I doubted that it was drinking water but it was still OK to rinse our faces with. Here’s a shot I took of my tent before we started to get our breakfast ready.

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I’d purposely chosen a spot to pitch it on with thick, long grass because I knew that during the night, my old air bed would deflate again and I hoped that the ground would feel a bit softer when it did. It was a good plan because although it did go down, I ended up with not a bad night’s sleep. It was still quite early and Wim and I enjoyed a leisurely breakfast after which we loaded everything we could into the aircraft, but the problem was that we needed fuel and at even getting on for 9.00 am, there was no sign of anyone arriving to open up the ULM school even though it was a beautiful Saturday morning.

We were getting a bit worried by this time and even considered making our way up to the nearby road going into Carcans to see if we could get a lift to the petrol station, when at that moment a battered VW Caravanette hove into view. The driver was Phillippe, the school’s chief (only?) instructor and when we introduced ourselves we found that he could speak pretty good English from having spent some time in Canada. We explained what our problem was and he suggested that if we waited until he’d unloaded, we could take his VW into town and fill up our jerry cans.

So that’s what we did, at the local Carrefour Contact. Wim drove the VW there and had problems finding anything other than third gear which made it a bit difficult getting to the main road even along the rutted track between it and the airfield but not so bad once we were on it. But turning right at the roundabout did involve a bit of clutch slipping though. However, he handed over to me when he couldn’t find reverse to get out of the Carrefour car park and kept leaping forward every time he tried and nearly driving over the grass in front of the adjacent building. However, I then distinguished myself when I turned left out of the car park by mistaking the splendidly wide grass verge on the other side of the road for the centre of a dual carriageway and only narrowly avoided driving onto the pedestrian footway opposite when Wim shouted out in alarm!

While we were in Carcans I was also able to drop into a little general store and buy a new air bed. It was a bit pricey at 20€ but at that moment I’d have paid almost anything for the guarantee of a good night’s sleep! When we got back we added the fuel we’d bought to our aircraft’s tanks but after the long flights we’d done the day before, we decided that ideally we needed to get some more. By this time the airfield was bustling and Phillippe suggested that if we’d like to wait until he’d finished with his next student, to save us going all the way into town again, he’d be happy to sell us as much as we needed from the bowser that he kept in the hangar. You can see it in the next pic.

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Our original plan for the day was to head for a fuel stop at a small ULM school at Le Thou to the south-east of La Rochelle in the Charente Maritime and than to continue on to another similar one opposite St Nazaire on the south bank of the River Loire, at St Brevin les Pins. In the event for very good reasons that I’ll go onto, we only made it as far as Le Thou, and here’s a shot showing the route that we took.

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So then we were ready to go and as usual, Wim went off first with me following a few minutes later. This was to be one of our ‘show’ days including as it did a flight across the majestic Embouchure de la Gironde (mouth of the River Gironde) and also a flight past the wonderful Île d’Oleron. The flight over the Gironde involved a water crossing of 12 or 13 kms and neither of us had brought life jackets with us and therefore depended on our engines not knowing where they were. In fact much of the flight, especially as we passed the Île d’Oleron, was over either water or marshes, so it was far too late to be concerned about such matters.

Our route up the coast took us north-west along the eastern bank of the Étang d’Hourtin, one of the many inland lakes that border the sea up France’s west coast. Here’s the first shot that I took of it shortly after leaving Carcans.

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By now it was obvious from the air that the terrain was quite different from that in les Landes, the main feature being an almost total lack of pine trees.

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The soil is still extremely sandy, however, as evidenced by the considerable run-off of silt into the lakes (and the sea) that is clearly visible from the air.

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There are two small tourist resorts at the nothern-most end of the lake. On the eastern bank is Hourtin Port

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Over on the western bank is Piqueyrot.

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Myself, having seen it from the air, I’m not totally convinced about the cleanliness of the water in the lake, but I guess for those who have holiday homes at the resorts and keep their boats in the marinas there, it’s a case of ‘what the eye doesn’t see, the heart doesn’t grieve over’.

Soon after I reached the coast proper and began what I hoped would be a memorably epic flight north. And I wasn’t disappointed. Here are a few shots of the small seaside town that’s popular with tourists called Montalivet les Bains. I don’t think that I could have had a better view of it than the one from 56NE that day.

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In the above shot of Montalivet you can see the Gironde estuary coming up in the distance.

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But first up after Montalivet was the famous seaside resort of Soulac sur Mer

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And then it was time for the crossing of the Gironde estuary, with Royan visible in the distance on the opposite bank of the river.

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Although the next shot appears to show me heading directly towards Royan, because the town has no beaches or places other than the sea to land on in case of an engine failure, in fact I was making a continuous left turn to end up at the sandy beach that’s visible on the far left of the picture and that’s why the actual water crossing was longer than the direct distance from the south to the north bank.

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As I was approaching the north bank, 56NE was hit by some slightly vicious winds coming in off the sea, which were rather unsettling for a time. However, they lasted for no more than 5 or 10 minutes and I was then able to continue my flight north into the Charente Maritime in more comfort. Here’s a shot of la Pointe de la Courbe on the Charente side of the Gironde that I took as I headed up towards the Île d’Oleron.

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And then one of the sights that I’d been waiting for, my flight past the Île d’Oleron itself. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.

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By this time I was flying on a northeasterly heading for my planned landing at Le Thou. I had seen no sign of Wim and was still flying over some spectacular maritime scenery.

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Then it was time to keep my eyes peeled for the airfield at Le Thou. What I first thought was it turned out to be a large warehouse on a large open field but then I spotted it and was able to set myself up for my landing. By this time Wim had seen me but I still hadn’t seen him and just did a simple let-down and landing on runway 03. There was a blustery crosswind to contend with but all went well and as I backtracked a guy came running to the end of the runway to wave me in the right direction for parking. Then another a bit further on waved me towards the parking area itself where I taxied to and shut 56NE’s engine down. My planned flight time from Carcans to Le Thou, 1 hour 36 minutes, actual 1 hour 40.

After I’d parked 56NE where they suggested they then wanted to move it up a bit closer to the next aircraft and a couple of guys gave Wim a hand to do so.

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We couldn’t have asked for a more friendly welcome, including from the Club President himself, M. Bourasseau.

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They asked us what our plans were for the day and we said that we just wanted to pick up some fuel and carry on up to St Brévin les Pins. They then told us that that day was their biggest celebration of the whole year and that a big ‘soirée’ was planned for that evening to celebrate ‘La Fête de St Jean le Baptiste’ with four spit-roasted pigs, a dinner with a huge local attendance, barbecued mussels, entertainment, a celebratory bonfire and lots of red wine. And all for only 20€! So we decided to stay and having done so, they led us off to their main hangar and stood us for a slap-up free lunch, which was a very nice surprise.

All of the club and visiting aircraft, the latter of which were few in number because of the strong wind but including the Red Baron and 56NE, were set out as a display on the main grass area in front of the hangars for visitors to inspect if they wanted to. In fact quite a number did and took photographs with smiling friends and family posed in front of them. I took quite a few shots myself, including an amphibian that was based on the design of a giant Weedhopper, a 582 two-seat AX3, an original design Weedhopper with faired-in cabin, the odd gyro and a delightful little home-built single-seater that had the air of a SD1 about it.

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When word got around, Wim and I were amazed by how many people came up and introduced themselves to us and asked us about our flight. This continued right into and through the evening and the meal and pretty soon we became quite adept at telling our story to people. I was astonished to find that for a small ULM club, there were 200 people in attendance at the dinner! A similar microlight club in the UK would have been hard put to scrape together a tenth of that number, I think, starkly highlighting the differences that exist between France and the UK.

During the evening, the President made a speech in memory of Dominique Méreuze, President of FFPLUM who died of cancer on 10 June. After mentioning a few other matters, he then announced that two special guests, two ‘voyageurs de passage’, were at the dinner that evening. He meant Wim and me and we had to stand up to acknowledge the applause of the diners and raise our glasses!

Knowing that we needed to make a fairly early start in the morning, we eventually had to bid our farewells. When I told the President, he was slightly shocked as we hadn’t yet had any cheese, he said. But I told him not to worry about that. However, he made sure that we didn’t leave the event empty-handed and after dashing into the kitchen area, emerged with two large creamy, sticky gateaux for the pair of us as desserts!

And so what was a delightful evening came to an end for us and we crept off to our tents that we’d put up next to the Red Baron. I’d had to move 56NE away because of the danger of a spark from the bonfire landing and it was the sound of the bonfire crackling into life that was the last thing I remember before falling asleep for the first time on my nice new air bed.

As usual, I made a video of the day which can be viewed by clicking on the image below.

France West Coast Flight Day 3

July 13, 2015

West coast flight – Day 2

The weather plays an ominous hand, but all ends well

So, how did our first night under canvas go? Well, quite honestly, it was a bit of a disaster, for me especially, because my old air bed that I thought I’d thoroughly checked before bringing it along had gone down during the night. It seemed that it could hold its air in without any weight being put on it but as soon as a weight was applied eg by a somewhat flabby body like mine, then the air was forced out of it. Not immediately, but fast enough for you to feel the ground coming up to meet you as you lay there frantically trying to get to sleep before you ended up lying more or less flat out on the grass. I woke up a couple of times and pumped it up, not that I was sleeping particularly deeply, the second time making it as hard as I could to give myself as much time as possible to get to sleep before it deflated again, and luckily did manage to get in a few hours shut-eye.

But there was something else that disturbed both of us even more than my air bed did me, namely the French air force. At around midnight there was a huge roar and a couple of low-flying jets from the nearby Mont-de-Marsan air force base commenced high speed night training right over our tents. They were performing manoeuvres over an enormous area and just as you thought that they were disappearing off into the distance you could hear them turn around and come back overhead again. It was impossible to get any sleep at all while they were doing it and the din went on for over an hour until there was eventually peace. We asked M. Dufourq about it in the morning and he said that it happens quite regularly, but that they try to rotate the sectors that they disturb. That would be it for me I’m afraid, and I could never live in an area that was blighted in such a way. We get low flying jets, during the daytime only, in the Dordogne and that I can live with, but not having a din like we experienced disturbing my slumbers every few nights.

M. Dufourq came over to our tents quite early the next morning and kindly invited us over to their house for breakfast. However, Wim and I had already been up long enough to have our breakfast with what we’d brought with us and also rinse our faces and clean our teeth under the outside tap next to the hangar. We asked M. Dufourq about the weather because the forecast from the previous day had said that we should expect some light rain during this morning. He said that it was likely given the experience of the past few days but that it wouldn’t amount to much and would be clear for us to depart by about midday. We raised the question of picking up some fuel in Amou and M. Dufourq suggested that we should get ourselves packed and ready to go, then join him and his wife for coffee on their verandah and then go off to the local Intermarché with our cans to buy fuel.

So that’s what we did. While enjoying our coffee Mme. Dufourq suggested that if we wanted to we could use their shower and toilet facilities, which Wim and I thought was exceedingly kind. However, although not wanting to be churlish, we turned the offer down because we felt that time was beginning to become a bit pressing. Then we went off with M. Dufourq to Intermarché and filled up our two 20 litre jerry cans and on our return, topped up our tanks and were all set and ready to go.

M. Dufourq asked us about our planned route and we said that we intended to fly more or less due west to the coast, avoiding any controlled airspace along the way, and then planned to start heading north until eventually heading inland to our final destination at a small ULM airfield and school at Coutin Carcans in the Gironde. This was our longest non-stop flight that we’d planned for the whole trip and our main concern was whether we’d be able to make Carcans in a single hop without having to land at an airfield somewhere along the way to top up or tanks.

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M. Dufourq was mortified but for a completely different reason. He asked us if we’d contacted the military controllers at Dax and of course, we hadn’t. He said that they used the area we wanted to cross for low level helicopter training and as far as they were concerned, it was controlled airspace that could only be entered with a transponder and radio. We said that this was absurd as the VFR chart indicated that we could transit the area at low level below the clearly designated controlled airspace, but he was still adamant that before taking off, we should call up Dax.

By that time there had been a few showers, but Wim did anyway even though we could only provide a proposed take off time. The controller he spoke to was indeed adamant that we could not proceed without a radio and transponder and although this quite clearly contradicted the current VFR chart, we were hardly in a position to argue. We just had to accept that the military had grabbed the airspace and that we had to look for an alternative. He suggested that it was up to us, but that in our place he would retrace our steps back a few kilometres to the military low level corridor to the west of Mont-de-Marsan that was not active, and then turn to head north west to Mimizan and rejoin our planned route just beyond it at the coast. As we had little choice, that’s what we therefore decided to do.

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The revised route is shown in blue in the above shot, and one of the advantages of changing the route would be that by cutting out quite a large chunk of our original planned track we would be able to make enough of a fuel saving to allow us to reach Carcans with a safe reserve in our tanks. However, there were reservations. By this time the rain had become quite hard and almost continuous and as well as there being no chance that we’d be able to take off before, or even much after, midday, we had little idea of what conditions we might encounter en route. Here’s a shot that I took between the cloudbursts in the direction that we had originally planned to take that shows how in many ways, not being able to head west was something of a blessing.

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By this time, our aircraft had been uncovered and packed ready to go for quite a while. Although they were in the lee of the hangar, they were still receiving the full brunt of the rain and before we were able to go, we thought that it would be a good idea to tilt them and drain off as much of the water on and in them as we could.

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The last shot above shows how much baggage I was carrying in 56NE on the passenger side. By this time. M. and Mme Dufourq had left us alone as they had to puchase a new computer. The rain had stopped but there was still far too much low cloud around in the direction that we wanted to take, so Wim and I decided to walk into Amou to buy something for lunch to save a bit of time. Afterwards, the cloud had cleared enough for us to go and as usual, after warming up the Red Baron’s engine, Wim took off before me.

We had agreed that in the event of bad weather, we’d land and meet up at Mimizan. The weather was flyable but not very good along the way and here are a couple of the best shots that I took as I approached and flew past the town of Tartas on the way to Mimizan.

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Not long after, I flew past the airfield at Mimizan. Not having seen anything whatsoever of Wim, I decided that he must still be ahead of me and had elected to continue flying as conditions by that time were not too bad. A few minutes later I flew past Mimizan itself on my way to the coast.

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And that’s when things began to go pear-shaped. As I approached the coast, it was evident that visibility was beginning to reduce at quite a rate. This was not only due to the low cloud that had been little more than a nuisance, really, the whole way up from Amou, but it was clear that there was also a bank of fog rolling inland off the sea that was potentially a lot more dangerous. The fog can clearly be seen in the second of the next two pics.

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I was quite aware of the danger that the fog represented but decided that I’d keep going for the time being in case it was just a small bank affecting the local area, but it soon turned out that this was not the case. By now I wasn’t taking any pics by hand but I still had my little sports cam running and here’s a still taken from footage it shot at the time just before the fog completely closed in around 56NE.

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I used the footage to make a short video that I posted a short time ago about the dangers of flying in IMC and you can see it by clicking on the above image. As the video shows, as soon as the cloud closed in, I decided to turn around and head for the airfield at Mimizan in order to sit things out and wait for the conditions to improve and the whole flight from Amou to Mimizan is included in the full video that I shot at the time that you can view by clicking on the following image.

West coast day 2

On checking the AIP plate for Mimizan, I have since noticed the following two notes for pilots:

AD reserved for radio equipped aircraft
AD likely to be covered by sea haze in a few minutes

I have also noticed that although Mimizan is open to the CAP (general aviation traffic) ULM’s do not appear to be included, and all of those things go to help explain why I did not receive the warmest of welcomes when I taxied up in front of the control tower and switched off 56NE’s engine. Mimizan is a very active parachuting centre and as I’d approached, I’d watched their Cessna Caravan making a rapid approach and landing and a whole bunch of coloured canopies floating down on their way back to earth. Naturally, as a result, I’d taken the precaution of making a very wide circuit and long approach in order to give them all plenty of time to land and get clear.

But as I approached the tower, in front of me stood an angry jump controller holding aloft and pointing at his radio, and the meaning became quite clear when we eventually entered into conversation. I told him that unfortunately I was ‘non-radio’ and that I had had to make a precautionary landing at Mimizan while en route to Carcans due to IMC on the coast. I also explained that as an experienced pilot, I had noted the parachuting activity and had taken the necessary steps to keep well clear of the field until my approach was clear and would cause no danger to the parachutists.

It turned out that in fact he spoke almost perfect English and was placated by my explanation as he’d been told about the sea fog not long before by his own pilot. So he then told me where to park and shortly afterwards I was joined by a young guy who asked what I was up to and turned out to be from Montignac, just down the road from my house, when I told him that I was from the Dordogne and on a tour of the west coast. I was then asked if I’d like a cold drink and was led by two or three very friendly onlookers who’d by then joined us to the airfield cafe.

I then proceeded to have a hoot of a time and ended up staying there for the next two hours. I told them that I’d lost Wim and after I’d said that if he hadn’t ended up in a field somewhere, he’d probably be either at Biscarrosse or Arcachon, they said that they’d keep phoning around until they found him. Eventually they located him at Arcachon which is very much a ‘radio obligatoire’ airfield, and when he told me the news, the messenger bearing it rolled his eyes and drew his finger across his throat in a highly theatrical gesture as he left the room.

I explained that when I eventually left Mimizan, I’d be heading directly back to the coast and then north. However, the assembled throng, mainly in the form of Richard who was either the manager or owner of the airfield, I couldn’t really establish which, disagreed. They said that did I know that the local danger areas mainly consisted of a gunnery range and a missile testing facility and that the spotters who controlled those activities were so sick of light aircraft infringing their areas that they were going to let the next one be shot down? I took this to be a joke, but nevertheless decided to listen to their proposals, even though at that time on a Friday afternoon everyone testing guns and/or firing off missiles would be heading off home for the weekend anyway. They suggested that I should cut the corner off, thread my way around Biscarrosse through the designated light aircraft corridor and then head north after hitting the coast shortly thereafter. It meant another change of route, but I agreed and the new revised track is shown in pink below.

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So that’s what I did. By now it was late afternoon, the skies were clear and the views were spectacular. Richard agreed to test my radio for me and reported that it was totally clear both on the ground and in the air, so that was good news. I bade my farewell to him as I departed his zone and shortly after flew by the now apparently deserted airfield at Biscarrosse.

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Not long after threading my way through the light aircraft corridor, I hit the coast and the sight awaiting me was stunning, as the following pics, which were taken just on the border between les Landes and la Gironde, show.

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The region is noted for its pine forests and due to the need to stabilise the soil, which is very light and sandy, many more acres of them have been planted than were originally put there by Mother Nature. Therefore as you fly up the coast with the sea and the sand dunes on one side, all that is visible on the other as far as the eye can see are pine trees, as shown below.

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Shortly after entering la Gironde, I found myself flying over the open end of the Bay of Arcachon. This is where the world-famous magnificent Dune du Pilat is located and although it was on the ‘wrong’ side of 56NE, I managed to grab a few pictures of it.

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The next two shots were taken just as I crossed the open end of the bay.

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The next picture shows the northern-most edge of the coastal town of Cap Ferret with the sea on the left and the Bay of Arcachon to its right.

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The next shot is one that I love and is just one that I took of the sea and beach directly below 56NE as I headed north.

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After a while it was time to head inland for my landing at Carcans. The turn waypoint was the small tourist resort of Lacadau-Océan which is shown in the shot below.

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Pretty soon after in the late evening, the ULM field at Coutin Carcans came up on 56NE’s nose. After sorting out the heading I needed for the best runway to use I then found myself on a rather nasty cross-wind approach with limited visibility through the dirty screen that I’d omitted to clean before leaving Amou all those hours before. However, I landed safely with a bit of a bump and found Wim sitting in his camping chair waiting for me. He told me that he’d had to land at Arcachon to check his dwindling fuel level. It turned out that he hadn’t had quite as good a time as me and his account of what happened is hilarious.

Luckily Wim hadn’t disgraced himself by jumping out of the Red Baron and having a pee in the grass next to the runway as was often necessary following a long flight, but after he’d landed at Arcachon, the airfield controller had gone apoplectic. Not only was ‘radio obligatoire’ but also ULMs were strictly excluded and Wim had committed the cardinal sin of crossing the active runway after landing on the grass without clearance. The controller said that they were so busy with so much traffic at Arcachon that this just wasn’t allowed, but Wim said that he had taken great care to look that there was none and that is was safe to do so before crossing. The controller said that the next day (Saturday) it would be extremely dangerous to do so, but Wim pointed out that today was Friday and that there was no traffic whatsoever moving on the whole of the aerodrome except for his aircraft.

And so it went on. Eventually Wim was allowed to leave again after checking that he did indeed still have enough fuel on board, but not without a ‘follow-me’ vehicle to give him a thumbs up when the control tower had given clearance for him to enter the active and take off. This was good news even so, because at one point the controller had been saying that he wouldn’t be permitted to and that he’d have to dismantle the Red Baron and take it away on a trailer!

Here’s a final shot showing our two aircraft parked at Carcans at the end of the day with 56NE covered up for the night. Wim and I turned in after enjoying a bottle of red wine with our evening meal and thinking that we deserved it after the adventures that we’d gone through during the preceding hours both before and since leaving Amou. My planned flight time Amou-Carcans, 2 hours 45 minutes, actual time including precautionary landing at Mimizan, 3 hours 05.

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July 12, 2015

West coast flight – Day 1

A far from smooth start but a more than satisfying ending

So we’d completed all of our route and flight planning and were ready to go as scheduled on Thursday 18 June. What could possibly go wrong? Quite a bit, as it happens, but I’ll come back to that in a moment. For me, the excitement began the day before. My original planning had assumed that on day 1, Wim would take off from his airstrip at Plazac and that I’d take off shortly after from Galinat. However, that would have meant leaving my car parked at Galinat for the duration of the flight, 5 days or more, which I wasn’t too keen on even though this is France, as Galinat is totally public and it would have been in full view for the whole of that time.

So we decided that if I flew 56NE across to Wim’s airfield the day before, he’d be waiting there to drive me back to Galinat to pick up my car and then we could both take off from his strip the following day. Good plan, but the problem was that when the day dawned, there was a howling tailwind for the landing on Wim’s strip, so much so that when he arrived there, Wim left for home again thinking that I wouldn’t be coming. Nevertheless, I thought that I’d give it a go. The flight there only took the usual 10 minutes but landing on Wim’s short 160 metre runway, especially with the extra weight that I was carrying, proved to be a nightmare. After going around 4 times I decided that I’d give it one more try and in the event I landed, albeit a bit heavily, on the fifth attempt with a total flight time of 20 minutes!

But anyway, that was that and no harm done, and we were therefore all ready, loaded up and set to go as planned the next morning. Right? Well, yes and no, because in the event the start was less than auspicious. Wim had loaded the various waypoints that he needed into a very simple and basic Garmin eTrex GPS of the type usually only used by hikers and after the huge amount of planning work that I’d done, I had all of the routes for the various days loaded into my Asus tablet for use in my MemoryMap navigation system. Or so I thought. When I came to fire it up, I actually found that it was … empty! How could that possibly be? I had been meticulous about copying the routes over from my PC to the tablet, so how could it possibly be empty? After all, I’d even copied over a backup just in case into my trusty little 5″ car satnav that had brought me down through France from the UK in MYRO, so how could I possibly not have copies of the ‘master set’ in my Asus tablet?

I have no idea. The only conclusion that I can come to is that when I modified the northernmost section of the flight because of our being refused access to Lorient airspace, I’d somehow deleted the whole route and never replaced it with the revised version. But there was nothing that I could do about that standing on Wim’s airstrip and all I could say was, ‘Thank goodness!’ that I’d taken the precaution of having my 5″ satnav as a backup that I could use in its place. The only knock-on was that the satnav only runs for 3 hours and needs a car cigar lighter socket to keep going whereas the tablet runs for 11 hours and charges from a USB and as I’d specially purchased a double USB adaptor, I could have run the tablet and charged up my phone, camera or camcorder at the same time. Now I’d just have to make the best of it and charge up the latter as and when I got the chance, so not a disaster, but just inconvenient and something that I’d taken steps to try to avoid.

But that was not to be all. Usually Wim’s Weedhopper, the Red Baron, starts with a couple of pulls of the starter cord, but not that morning. After pull after pull, its engine still resolutely refused to start. Eventually it did splutter into life and Wim left it to warm up as he usually does, only for it to gradually slow down and come to a halt. Wim is not usually a person to use bad language, but the air was as blue as his face was grim. He told me that he’d even started the engine up the day before to ensure that everything would be OK on the day and I asked him how long he’d let it run for. As soon as he told me that it was for less than a minute, I guessed that in doing so, he’d probably oiled-up the plugs and that we should remove, check and clean them. When we did so, we found them to be drenched in oil. After we’d spun the engine to clear the oil out, Wim dropped in a replacement set and this time the engine started as usual, but to be sure, Wim did a few fast taxies up and down the runway to make certain all was well. He was happy, so at last after a good hour’s delay, we really were ready to go.

In some ways, the flights that ensued were a bit of an anticlimax, but nonetheless enjoyable for all that. Maybe that was a good thing as it allowed us both to get over the tensions caused by our pre-start traumas and concentrate on our flying and the landings to come. Wim took off first as the Red Baron flies 10-15 kmh more slowly than 56NE and although I said that I’d try to fly slower to try to match our speeds, I suspected that with the weight that I was carrying it would be difficult if not impossible to do so. And that’s what I found as within a few minutes of taking off myself, I came up to, overtook and left Wim behind.

The weather and flying conditions were spectacular albeit a little bumpy as a result of the low cumulus cloud and the thermals created by the sun on the ground below. Our route for the day is shown below, with our first stop being at Montpezat in the Lot et Garonne and our second at Amou in the Landes where we planned to overnight.

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Within a fairly short time, we had put the rolling tree-covered hills of the Dordogne behind us and were flying over the flatter terrain of the Lot et Garonne that is very fertile and criss-crossed with small woods and fields. The countryside is very pleasing to the eye as the following pic shows.

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After 45 minutes or so, the River Lot came up on 56NE’s nose and I knew that I was then approaching Montpezat, which is just beyond it next to a lake. Although I’d not been there before, it didn’t take me long to spot the bright white and blue hangars on either side of the airfield and I could then start my descent for runway 33. This is one of the good things about moving-map GPS software – even when you haven’t spotted your landing airfield, you know exactly how far away it is and can start to descend or manoeuvre accordingly. In comparison, I noticed that on this and on other occasions too, subsequently, Wim had to descend over the field from a greater height whereas I could set myself up at the right height and on the right headings quite a bit sooner, all down I think to the navigation software I was using.

My planned flight time Plazac-Montpezat 53 minutes, actual flight time 54. Here are shots of 56NE parked up after landing at Montpezat and Wim coming in several minutes afterwards.

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Montpezat is a splendid little airfield and the home of Rotax’s distributor in France. There are no landing fees there, in common with 99% of all small airfields in France, and superb facilities including a super cafe/bistro, impressive hangarage and full workshop facilities. Here’s a shot showing the control tower (not that anyone ever mans the radio), the general facilities with the restaurant a bit further back and part of the main hangar.

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Wim and I took the opportunity to grab a cup of coffee and talk over the flight so far. Neither of us had experienced any problems so things were now much more relaxed than earlier on before we’d started out! Here’s a shot taken at the bar in the cafe.

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But not everyone was as lucky as us! As usual, we got chatting to various people while we were there, many of whom were interested in our flight when we told them what we were up to. Two such were a retired French couple who were flying a Savannah south to their house in Spain. They’d been grounded at Montpezat for two days due to high winds in the Perpignan area and expected to be so for at least one day more. They were both amused by the amount of baggage that I was carrying in my cabin and the fact that 56NE had no doors! They also congratulated us on not being affected in the same way that they were and gave us both a wave as we took off separately half an hour or so later leaving them behind sitting in the shade on the ground.

The countryside passing by below me hardly changed as I continued to fly south-west and when I passed over the River Garonne I knew that not very long afterwards I’d be moving from the Lot et Garonne into the Landes.

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Here are a couple of shots of the River Garonne itself, which was a thick yellow colour and obviously full of silt as I passed over it.

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The south-western corner of France has much in common with Spain and indeed there’s a strong ‘Basquish’ influence there. One of the signs of this is that even the smallish towns, without commenting on the rights and wrongs of the activity, have a bullfighting ring. I knew therefore that I’d entered the Landes when I flew over the small town of Hagetmau because as I did so, I took a shot that shows both the town’s sports stadium and its small bullring.

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Amou is only a few minutes further on from Hagetmau as the ULM flies and pretty soon after taking the above shot, I was beginning my descent for the small, privately owned ULM field there. I made sure that although my approach was pretty straight in on the heading I was flying I kept well clear of houses and the field’s neighbours, as requested in the FFPLUM airfield card. I also recalled that 07 was the preferred approach and something about a wire across the approach for 25, which was the runway that I’d have to use due to the wind direction. I found as a result of a low pass and a go-around that the line is actually buried just for the width of the runway and after my second approach and landing, I was warmly greeted by M. Dufourq, the airfield’s owner and a bit later on by his wife. We all watched as Wim arrived 10 minutes or so later and here are a couple of shots of our two aircraft with engines off after landing and of M. and Mme Dufourq.

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M. and Mme Dufourq were extremely friendly and hospitable and took us straight away over to their verandah for refreshments. The airfield is actually in their own ‘back garden’ so to speak as it’s on land adjacent to and in walking distance from their house and it’s only a hop and a skip from the garden outside their house to the hangar. There were several aircraft in the hangar as the shot above shows and M. Dufourq is retired from his original main job and now operates a small ULM club from there. We were told that there’s a Rans Coyote for sale inside without an engine as it’s going to be used on a Savannah that three of the club’s members were presently constructing in the club’s clubhouse! We were also surprised and enchanted to be invited for dinner that evening but as Wim and I wanted to test our camping arrangements and also make an early start if possible, we declined what was an extremely kind and thoughtful invitation.

And so afterwards we moved our aircraft to the shelter of the side of the hangar, erected our pop-up tents for the first time and got a meal going on our single gas burner. How did the night go? I’ll tell you in the next posting 😉

My planned flight time Montpezat-Amou 1 hour 29 minutes, actual flight time 1 hour 35, including the low pass and go-around. I shot a video of our flight down to Amou from Plazac and in the meantime, you can watch it if you like by clicking on the following image.

West Coast Day 1

July 11, 2015

West coast flight – planning

You have to do quite a lot of work to prepare for a flight like the one we wanted to do long before you can even think about climbing into the aircraft and taking off. This includes the route, the fuel stops, the overnights, the flying gear and equipment, the overnight/camping gear and equipment, food and provisions, personal stuff like clothing, toiletries etc and things that will, or might, be needed en route to keep the aircraft airworthy. And that doesn’t include getting the aircraft and any equipment that you might wish to carry on or in it, such as radio and navigation equipment, also prepared and ready to go, not to mention other items too, like cameras and video equipment.

So although if you’re really experienced and your aircraft is always in a fully up-to-date state of maintenance you could do all of the above in a few days, it makes sense to start making lists and doing the preparatory work several weeks before the planned take off date, not the least because you are always bound to encounter a few setbacks along the way. As regards 56NE and its radio, regular readers will know that I completed all of the necessary preparatory work on both back in May. However, I’d not had a chance since to properly test out the radio against a ‘real’ ground station so I still had reservations about using it ‘in anger’ for fear of causing disruption to the air band while doing so, unlikely though that might be. My intentions, therefore, were to keep it ‘in reserve’ for use only in case of a real emergency and to fly essentially non-radio as we usually always do.

This was an easy decision to come to after I suffered an early ‘setback’ in my route planning work. I originally wanted to fly from as far south to as far north as possible remaining clear of controlled airspace that would be closed off to us due to our aircraft not being equipped with transponders. Airspace around all but the largest airfields in France (eg Charles de Gaulle) is designated Class D meaning that even ULMs like ours can enter it with ATC permission so long as they are equipped with transponders. As we do not need transponders in the area in which we usually fly ie the Dordogne, and as transponders cost around £2000 a pop, which is hardly justifiable in ‘low value’ aircraft like ours, our flight up the coast could only start from as far south as the northern boundary of the controlled airspace around Biarritz airport in the south-west corner of France. It’s not unknown, however, for airports to give permission for non-transponder equipped aircraft to enter their airspace so long as they have radio, and it was my hope that one such might allow us to do so with 56NE being so equipped as we planned to arrive on their doorstep, so to speak, on a Sunday when there would be little or no other traffic.

The airport in question was Lorient, but I knew from the outset that there might be difficulties. Airports and airfields in France that are open to general aviation traffic are described as being open to the ‘CAP’ (Circulation Aerienne Publique). Lorient is not, being open only to commercial and military aircraft, the latter because of the adjacent French navy submarine base. Nevertheless, as they operate a light aircraft corridor for fixed and rotary wing aircraft, I thought that there was a chance that they’d let us through, making it possible for us to complete a northern-most leg for our flight from St Brévin les Pins (bottom right hand corner of the following image) to a refuelling stop at Querlarn (top left hand corner). Due to the size of the image, you’ll need to click on it to enlarge it to see the detail.

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The plan would then have been to skirt back around the Lorient airspace to the north rather than return via the LA corridor, to land finally for an overnight and refuelling stop at Quily which, along with St Brévin les Pins and Querlarn is an ULM airfield on the FFPLUM list at which I was confident that the facilities that we would require would be available. But it was not to be. The authorities controlling movements at Lorient came back to say that unfortunately a transponder was ‘obligatoire’ at all times, and as it would not have been worth flying the whole way around their CAS on two occasions, it became necessary to re-think our plans for the northern-most section of our flight. This meant rescheduling both our planned fuel and overnight stops and our final route plan ultimately became as shown below.

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Our departure point for that day would still be St Brévin but now we would fly only as far north as the Golfe du Morbihan before turning north across the Golfe towards the city of Vannes and then turning to head south-east for a fuel stop at a private ULM field called La Bochet. And from there we would continue on for an overnight stop at another private ULM airfield called Mouchamps. So that was it and the above image shows that our final planned route still nevertheless included a good three-quarters of the west coast of France. Not bad for a couple of slow ‘first-generation’ rag-and-tube ULMs like ours, as was pointed out to us on more than one occasion by various people we met along the way.

Defining the route wasn’t quite as simple as that, of course, as many more calculations involving distance, speeds and endurances of our two aircraft and the availability of suitable landing airfields at the right places were needed. Having done this once previously when I flew MYRO down from the UK to the Dordogne I knew what was necessary and this time because of there being two aircraft with different characteristics and because of the considerable number of legs involved, I decided to make some spreadsheets to do the calculating for me. I don’t intend to go into the details of each, but here’s a shot of the ‘general’ sheet that I created for 56NE showing the feasibility of the planned landing airfields taking into account distances and fuel burn, their contact details and the fuel that I’d need to uplift at each one.

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A similar spreadsheet also had to be created for Wim and the Red Baron with its different fuel burn and speed attributes and at the end of the day, the planned landing airfields had to be compatible with both aircraft as otherwise we’d not be able to meet up at each stop! So not only was the route planning not totally straightforward but as the ‘general’ spreadsheets took no account of wind, full flight plan spreadsheets also had to be created for each aircraft ‘at the time’ which did and demonstrated to each of us that we would be able to make each waypoint in the prevailing weather in a timely and safe way. The following image shows a ‘sheet’ for 56NE for one day’s flying.

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In fact, on the day in question, we decided for very good reasons that I’ll go into in my postings about the flight itself, to stay over at Le Thou thus extending the one-day plan over two and the full flight from 5 to 6 days. My intention was to load the spreadsheets into my little Asus tablet that I planned to use for navigation and the only problem with this was that as I do not have a smart internet connection, I would not be able to update them in real time during the flight itself. However, this proved not to be a problem in reality and as I’ll explain later, I couldn’t even use my tablet during the flight anyway. However, that’s for later instalments 😉

July 10, 2015

Hooray!

I’ve had a very frustrating week due, once again, to a flaky internet connection. I’ve only had telephone and internet on and off, and mostly off, for most of this week, probably because of the extreme temperatures we’ve been experiencing in this part of the world. Day-time maximums have hardly dropped below 30 degrees Celsius and we’ve had over 40 degrees on a couple of occasions, which is the hottest it’s been since I came to France over three years ago. However, the Orange engineer came today and had things sorted within an hour or so, so now I’m back online again. That means I’ll now be able to start posting about our west coast flight here on My Trike, so watch this space!