August 28, 2016

From the Corrèze to the Auvergne

I did a post a while back about a flight I did on 24th July that took in three French départements, the Corrèze, the Auvergne and the Lot. I managed to get a video of the leg from Égletons (Corrèze) to Aurillac (Auvergne) that I’ve now edited and put up onto Youtube.

I need to sort out a better mounting bracket for the little sportscam video recorder, though, as the one I’m using vibrates like anything at certain engine revs because it’s too long. Not an easy one as it has to be where it’s mounted at the top of the wing strut to position the camera below the wing slat. I need to think about it a bit more 😕

August 27, 2016

Gutted!

The annual Blois ULM-fest is being held this week-end Saturday 27th and Sunday 28th August. Having not long returned from my flight to the UK and back, I didn’t fancy another flight of several hours duration so instead decided that on Sunday I’d drop into Mandy and Dave Lord’s Wanafly Cheese and Chilli fly-in where I’d also be able to meet Phil Quantrill who flies a ‘pendulaire’ out of Nantilles in the Charente, Russ, a UK-based member of microlightforum.com and possibly another French-based member, Clive from Luçon, also in the Charente.

So yesterday I went over to Malbec armed with 30 odd litres of fuel to top up 77ASY’s tanks with the idea of returning today to give it a good wash and clean-up to remove the flies and other muck collected during the UK trip.

I topped up the right hand tank with no problem and had started to do the same with the left hand tank with my little electric pump when its hose detached from the pump body. Before I could stop the pump quite a large volume of fuel had flooded out over the wing, possibly as much as two litres. I was very annoyed when, filling up my tanks at Abbeville on my return journey last week, some kind of air or vapour bubble in the right hand caused some fuel to spill onto the wing when I started up the fuel pump.

I’d had to immediately jump off the chair that I’d been using to get up to wing height in an attempt to mop it off as quickly as possible but yesterday’s mishap was on a different scale entirely, for not only did the spilled fuel flood over the wing surface but some also splashed down over the aircraft’s windscreen. The effect was almost immediate and devastating, as the following picture that I shot afterwards shows.

ICP Savannah damaged windshield

I’m really gutted for several reasons. I’ve now had fuel spilled over both wings within a week, something which can be quite harmful for the paintwork and I just hope that the effects will not be damaging in the longer term as I don’t fancy having to have the Savannah’s wings repainted any time soon. And I’ll now also have to source some suitable polycarbonate sheeting and make up a new windscreen, not a particularly difficult job in itself and one that I’d been thinking about doing in the longer term as some tiny splits were beginning to appear around some of its fixing holes, but at a time of my own choosing and convenience.

But what I’m really annoyed about is that yet again I’ll not be able to go up to Mandy and Dave’s place at Wanafly, which is only an hour’s flight in each direction and which I’ve not been able to revisit for one reason and another in the 4 years since I dropped in there in MYRO on my way down to France over the Easter week end of 2012.

I’d only spoken to Dave a few hours before and told him how much I was looking forward to dropping in and a few hours later I was saying to Mandy that I wouldn’t be able to come after all. And that’s what’s really gutted me 😐

August 22, 2016

France-UK-France statistics

Statistics can be interesting and here are a few to be going on with.

By starting with filled tanks, flying a good distance and topping up the tanks again after competing several good length legs where volumes were accurately verifiable, I was able to very accurately calculate 77ASY’s fuel consumption. This was 14.7 litres per hour chock to chock (ie engine on to engine off).

The actual distances flown on this trip were outbound Malbec – Bowerswain Farm, 982 km and inbound Bowerswain Farm – Malbec, 1012 km, giving a total distance flown of 1994 km.

Now some cost figures based on actual expenditure including taxes. I’d like to have bought cheaper mogas to top up my tanks along the way but that’s not always possible. At Saumur only 100LL is available (but at quite a bit less per litre than Abbeville charge for UL91) while at Abbeville you can choose between 100LL and UL91. I bought 100LL on the way up but UL91 on the way back after finding out that UL91 has been endorsed by Rotax for the 912ULS. I started with 70 litres of 98 mogas in the tanks which had cost around 96.60€ and paid out the following for fuel along the way.

Saumur 38 litres/61.90€, Abbeville 43 litres/87.64€, Dorset 48 litres/59.42€ (conversion £=1.16€), Abbeville 60 litres/104.80€, Saumur 44 litres/73.92€

I estimate that after switching off at Malbec on my return I have 37 litres remaining worth 62.02€ at the Saumur price.

Now the calculations.

Total distance flown 1994 km, total fuel consumed 266 litres, fuel used 13.3 litres/100km. I think that this compares favourably with other forms of transport eg a large car, especially as by flying direct the distance by air is very considerably less than the distance by road plus the time spent travelling is greatly reduced and the hassles of ferries and/or Channel tunnel are avoided.

The net cost of the fuel used was 422.26€ but that doesn’t tell the whole story because there were landing and other fees – 2 x landing fees at Abbeville @ 4€ each, 1 x landing fee at Headcorn @ 10£ (11.60€) 1 x landing fee at Rochester @ £13 (15.08€) and 1 x overnight parking at Rochester @ £7 (8.12€).

However, against this can be offset the fuel duty drawback that I’ll be receiving on the 48 litres of mogas purchased in Dorset (£27.82/32.27€), giving a total cost for the whole trip, excluding any meals and accommodation of course, of 432.79€.

So well under £200 each way at the height of the holiday season – I think that that’s very reasonable, especially as if we’d each been prepared to carry modest baggage (there’s a small compartment with a capacity of 25 kg behind the passengers’ heads in the Savannah) two people could have been travelling for that cost.

But please don’t ask what the total weight would be fully loaded 😉

That’s it!

August 21, 2016

Heading home in the haze

Wednesday 17th August

Leg 1 – Rochester to Abbeville

I couldn’t wait to get out of the dratted Rochester Holiday Inn after my dismal stay there. Having made my preparations, or most of them because I found after I’d taken off that I’d omitted entering the flight leg headings into my knee-board and entered the times instead in the wrong column, leaving the time column blank, I struggled out of the hotel and back over to F-JHHP with my case and flight bag.

Memo to self: never EVER take such a large case again, filled with clothes that you’ll never wear while away, even if it can take your lap top, still fit in the aircraft and you expect to be transported everywhere by car when on the ground.

As I had no need to pick up any fuel, I soon had the Savannah untied, packed and ready to go, so was in the air taking off from runway 02 at 8.25 am, after I’d again filed my international flight plan using my mobile phone. As soon as I turned onto heading I was struck by how much the visibility had deteriorated since I’d flown in the previous evening and in fact it was almost unflyable.

The coast, which you can usually see from Rochester, was totally invisible behind a blanket of haze as a result of a filthy inversion extending up to 2000 feet or more, topped off with a thin layer of dirty broken cloud. In fact, visibility was so poor that I decided that it wasn’t worth taking any pictures and thought it better to concentrate on flying the aircraft on the correct heading instead.

Above the inversion layer there was no horizon to mention but the top of the layer itself served as a visual reference and flying using the GPS was therefore quite safe. I could see that there was no further cloud above the layer, all the way to France by the look of it, so I thought that I’d give the Channel crossing a go and see how it worked out. If it didn’t, I could always turn around and return to Rochester, or more likely Headcorn, as it was closer and I needed to think about my fuel reserves.

I returned by the same route that I’d come by and soon I saw Folkestone slip under the wing through a gap in the cloud layer that topped the haze. So then all I had to be concerned about was getting to France without anything silly happening.

Flying at only 4500 feet rather than the 5500 feet plus that I usually prefer, to the left and right there was no horizon and nothing but blue where the sky met the sea in an undefined blue void. But I wasn’t heading in either of those directions, and ahead I could see what looked like sea fog over the French coast. This made my heart sink a bit, until as I got a bit closer I could see that this was actually lowish cloud over the well-defined coastline at Cap Gris Nez.

This was good news because it meant that there was clear air below the cloud level that I’d be able to get into and from my experience, the cloud level in northern France invariably rises the further inland you get, away from the effects of the coast. So I began my descent at what I judged to be the right time and coasted in at around 2500 feet or so above Cap Gris Nez before continuing on towards Boulogne.

Here’s a shot that I took of Boulogne harbour as I passed by. I should add that because of the poor visibility, almost every photograph in this posting has been edited to enhance detail and colour, except for ones that have been left untouched and unedited at various points to show just how poor visibility was at the time.

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I didn’t bother taking any more shots before making my approach to Abbeville and joining downwind for runway 02. There was no other airborne traffic but a bit more activity down on the apron, where I bumped into a couple from Luxemburg at the refuelling point with a Savannah ‘S’. They asked me where I’d come from, and when I told them ‘England’, a look of surprise came over their faces. They told me that they’d taken one look at the visibility over the Channel and decided that that was one they’d give a miss. In fact, they said that their plans had been to head south to the Loire but in the light of the current weather and the forecast for the coming days, they’d decided to return direct to Luxemburg.

I’d already filled in the Abbeville movement sheet and after I’d topped the F-JHHP’s tanks up, went back to the bureau to settle up for the fuel and landing fee. I was quite surprised to find that I’d taken 60 litres on board, which meant that after landing, there had been only 10 litres remaining in the tanks.

This was cutting it much too fine and was the result of only having had enough time to put in 48 litres before setting off from Dorset, which was not quite enough to fill the tanks. I knew that but had judged that I’d had enough on board to fly to Rochester and then onward to Abbeville, which proved to be the case but with hardly any reserve for safety. If I’d had to turn back over the Channel, I’d have needed to make the decision to do so early on to make it back to Headcorn. Another solemn lesson learned.

I also made another mistake at Abbeville. I bumped into an English couple returning in a Vans from Switzerland to Popham and because they’d faxed ahead (as the English always do being sticklers for formality) there were three Douaniers present checking their papers. I ask you, they were leaving France, not entering! I happened to mention that I was British too and when asked, said that I hadn’t faxed ahead because I hadn’t had enough time.

If the Douaniers hadn’t HAD to be present because of the Brits being desperate to conform, nobody would have cared but as they were there, they said that they HAD to check my papers too. So I HAD to dig out my passport and the papers for 77ASY/F-JHHP and they HAD to fill out their forms that nobody was really interested in, this being France. And I ended up losing nearly an hour.

What is it about the Brits?

Flight time Rochester – Abbeville 1 hour 40 minutes.

Leg 2 – Abbeville to Saumur

The man in the office at Abbeville said that he’d close my flight plan for me so I was then able to take off and continue heading south into the haze. Here’s a shot that I took of Vieux-Rouen-sur-Bresle just south of the airfield.

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The next shot is an unedited one showing the visibility while approaching Vernon on the river Seine.

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The next shot is of Vernon itself (remember, this one has been photographically enhanced).

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This shot is of the river Seine at Vernon looking towards the south.

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This picture is of Breuilpont, which is located some 15 kms south of Vernon.

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Next, Saint-Remy-sur-Avre.

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About another 7 kms further on, Laons.

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Remember the old NATO airfield, Senonches, that was pictured on the way up? Just past the airfield heading south is the town of Senonches itself, which gave its name to it.

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The area to the south of Senonches is covered by dense forest. Sorry about the hand reflection 🙂

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Here’s Fontaine-Simon a bit further on south.

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On the way north, I shot a photo of the distinctive road pattern at Nogent-le-Rotrou. That only showed a small area in the north of the town and now here’s a picture of the main part, to the south.

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Next up, the small commune of Dollon.

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Abeam Le Mans, the visibility began to deteriorate further, as shown below in this shot, which has incidentally been enhanced just a little.

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A bit further on, I came once again to the ‘Émetteur Le Mans-Mayet’ and as I’d kept to its south on the way north, this time I skirted round it to its north. Previously it had been clearly visible in bright sunlight but this time it was shrouded in the haze. I’ve since found out that this mast, which transmits TV and FM radio is, at 342 metres, taller than the Eiffel Tower and is, indeed, one of the tallest structures in France.

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Saumur was only 65 kms further ahead and it wasn’t worth taking any more photographs in the haze before landing there. From the windsock, I initially decided to land on runway 28 left hand but while I watched, it swung around. I responded by flying along the runway heading and then turning to join downwind for runway 10 right – not that it really mattered because there was no other traffic and when I signed the movements sheet later, I found that mine was the only aircraft that had taken off or landed there for the whole day up to then.

Flight time Abbeville – Saumur 3 hours exactly.

Leg 3: Saumur to Malbec

After topping up my tanks for the second time at Saumur (with 100LL, no ticket available on either occasion), in view of the weather conditions, I was in a hurry to get away again. I took the next shot of the city while climbing out from runway 10.

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Almost immediately, visibility began to deteriorate even further from the poor level that it had already been at.

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As the flight progressed, it became steadily worse making it essential just to follow the GPS line and stay on heading. This was not always easy there being no exterior features to fly towards and I found that if I allowed my attention to lapse for much more than I few moments I would be off course by as much as 20 degrees.

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By the time this wind farm, which I’d photographed from altitude on the way north, came up I estimate that the visibilty was down to 5 kms or possibly even a bit less. However, with good sight of the surface directly below and around the aircraft and the whole of the world surrounding it being wide open fields in which to land if necessary, I viewed that it was quite safe to continue onwards.

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The visibility had slightly improved by the time I came to Nontron in the Périgord, but not by much as the following (enhanced) shot shows.

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But shortly afterwards the weak rays of the sun broke through a gap in the clouds, as if to welcome me home again.

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Things had improved markedly by the time Périgueux Bassillac airport came up on my right hand side and when I could spot Fleurac and the runway at Malbec in the distance, I knew that I’d almost arrived. Just the landing on Malbec’s 160 metre runway now to contend with – but no problem in the unusually calm conditions and no hint of the ‘bucking bronco’ ride that we often have to deal with because of the valley and trees just before the threshold.

In fact I pulled off a greaser and possibly the best landing of the whole tour, even though I say it myself. Nothing to do now except taxi up to the top of the runway and switch off.

ICP Savannah MXP 740 at Fleurac

It was good to be back! Now it was time to unpack, put 77ASY back in the barn and head home for a very welcome long, cold beer. And that’s just what I did 😉

Flight time Saumur – Malbec 2 hours 15 minutes.

Total flight time for the day, Rochester – Malbec 6 hours 55 minutes.

Total flight time over two days Bowerswain Farm (Dorset) – Malbec (Dordogne) 8 hours 50 minutes.

Total distance flown Bowerswain Farm – Malbec 1016 kms.

August 21, 2016

Dash back to Rochester

Tuesday 16th August

Having only arrived in Dorset a few days before on 12th August and spent a couple of days chilling out with my sister and brother-in-law, I was looking forward to spending a pleasant week in Dorset. I’d then planned a relaxed flight to Rochester in Kent on the following Friday, an enjoyable meal that evening, probably a Chinese, with my son and step-son and their partners before staying overnight at the latter’s home and departing for France the next day.

But all that changed in an instant. The weather dictates everything to do with matters involving flying light aircraft and so it was that on the Tuesday morning I consulted the weather forecast for the next few days as usual and felt the smile disappear from my face. The weather gods had decided to entirely overturn my plans.

Every on line forecast that I consulted agreed that bad weather was due to sweep into southern England and northern France within the next couple of days and that ominously, it could last for a week or more. This had serious implications for me, because if I ignored the warnings and just decided to hang on in England, I could well end up being stuck there for an indefinite period.

And not only that. Bowerswain Farm had been sold and its current owner had already moved out and I had no idea when the new one would be moving in, so for all I knew F-JHHP would be standing out in bad weather for an indefinite period with absolutely no form of surveillance or security. This didn’t appeal to me at all. And then there was the question of what would be happening back in France – there were also things there that I had to deal with.

So I had to make an instant decision – and I decided that there was nothing for it but to hastily repack my cases, refuel the Savannah and make a dash for Rochester that afternoon. Any thoughts of a pleasant evening meal went out of the window – it was impossible to arrange anything at such short notice and anyway, I’d need to spend most of the evening finalising the necessary plans and arrangements for my hasty flight back to France the following morning.

But I had to move smartly if I wanted to get to Rochester airport before it closed at 5.30 pm. Michael, my brother-in-law, luckily had a clean jerry can that had only contained water but it had to be scrupulously dried out as it still contained a few drops. While he was doing that I finalised the flight plan that I’d pre-prepared before leaving home in France for the flight up to Rochester.

Then we loaded a small pair of steps into the back of his car so I could get up to refuel the Savannah and it was off to Morrisons for the first 24 litres of premium fuel. We were just getting ready to start pouring it into 77ASY’s right tank when the Bowerswain Farm gardener, who was looking after the now empty house, appeared on the scene. He managed to produce a taller pair of steps and a large, clean filter funnel (without the filter) which made the refuelling job much quicker, so we were soon off to pick up the next 24 litres before having a bite of lunch and returning.

All went smoothly and my sister and brother-in-law were at Bowerswain Farm to watch me take off at 1.55 pm. Its runway is a bit bumpy but I soon left the ground taking off in an easterly direction using no more than half of its 200 metres even with a slight tail-wind. Then it was time to settle down for the flight to Rochester, which was pretty uneventful.

Stoney Cross came and went and this time I didn’t bother calling up Solent Radar as they’d had problems hearing my radio on the trip down and hadn’t seemed that interested so long as I remained clear of their controlled airspace. The next waypoint was Beaulieu, an old now-abandoned airfield.

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Then the Esso Fawley oil refinery came up on my left hand side.

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And the next waypoint was Fawley power station just a bit further on.

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After that Cowes harbour on the Isle of Wight was visible out of the right hand window.

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Next the aerodrome at Lee-on-Solent where a glider was visible wheeling over the town before losing height and turning onto final for a landing.

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And then the main attraction, Portsmouth. Despite the rather poor visibilty, I managed to get some very good shots after a little bit of editing.

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And finally, the ‘money’ shot featuring the harbour and the Spinnaker Tower that I’d missed on the way down.

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Then, not to be forgotten, the ‘other’, less glamorous Portsmouth.

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Now one for all Pompey supporters – Fratton Park football ground.

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Then a bit further on, a couple of shots of beautiful Arundel with its impressive castle, the home of the (apparently) now reconciled Duke and Dutchess of Norfolk who had been living separately in the East and West wings after a marital spat in 2011. What a mine of useful information this blog is!

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Next up, Burgess Hill. God bless it and all of those poor souls who (have to) live there. I’d hate it!

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And what do we have here? The Bluebell Railway, I do believe.

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Shortly after, Tunbridge Wells popped up and it was time to give Rochester a call as it was fast approaching their closing time and I wanted to get there and deal with the formalities of landing and parking fees before the staff left so I wouldn’t be held up in the morning. The runway in use was 02 and as I was approaching on a heading of 040 degrees I suggested that I might make a straight in approach, just calling long final.

The very pleasant young lady working the radio in the tower agreed and it was no sooner said than done and 77ASY was landed and parked up on the main apron. I didn’t need to take on any fuel so it didn’t take long to complete the formalities and tie the Savannah down using some weighted tyres that were next to the east side fence. Here are the shots that I took before heading off over to the Holiday Inn hotel next to the airfield.

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ICP Savannah MXP 740 at Rochester, UK

ICP Savannah MXP 740 at Rochester, UK

ICP Savannah MXP 740 at Rochester, UK

So that was it, quite an enjoyable flight for all of the earlier hassles. I wish I could say the same about my brief (I’m glad to say) overnight stay at the Holiday Inn, which I found grossly over-priced with pedestrian food. The pork cutlet that I had for dinner was large but sickly and the bathroom door in my room had had its hook pulled off leaving gaping holes in the now-bare woodwork. And the space on the working area was so small that the welcome tray had to be hidden in a cupboard and when I eventually found it and wanted to make myself a cup of tea, I had to put it on the floor. Ghastly!

Flight time Bowerswain Farm – Rochester 1 hour 55 minutes (compared to 2 hours 5 minutes for the shorter distance from Headcorn when I flew down).

August 20, 2016

Over the sea to England

Friday 12th August

Leg 1 – Saumur to Abbeville

I’d slept well my first night in the hotel but my second was a far more restless affair. Whether this was because of my flight the next day to the UK or not I don’t know, but in any case I was up early finalising my flight planning and fuel calculations using the latest wind data and filling out my knee board with headings and timings for the various legs of the flight. I also checked one final time that the international flight plan that I’d need to file at Abbeville was correct so I knew that I’d be able to get away for the water crossing without any hitch.

Then it was time for breakfast. For me it was a fairly meagre affair as I love to have a bowl of cereal with milk, a glass of fruit juice and several cups of tea but as I’d be flying for well over 2 hours from Saumur to Abbeville in one hop, I wanted to avoid the mid-air crisis that inevitably happens if you take on too much fluid beforehand. And there was no cereal anyway, which I found very disappointing for an international 4-star hotel, but that’s another story.

No such problem for Linda though. She enjoyed a more hearty meal and even had the foresight to make a sandwich to take with her on her drive back to Normandie, but we were both ready in good time to settle up with the hotel and get away for my planned take off time of 10.00 am.

But that didn’t take into account what invariably occurs when you want to get away quickly, which is that someone shows up and engages you in conversation. In this case it was the manager at Saumur airfield who started off just wanting to know my details for the airfield log and in case anyone wanted to send me a bill for landing and parking (unlikely) but it soon extended itself to other ULM and more social matters, as usually happens.

As I’d refuelled 77ASY immediately on arrival two days before, I only needed to untie it, load my baggage, give it a walk-round check and get away, so this delay was slightly inconvenient. However, it’s my philosophy that you should never be rude or cut someone short, especially if you’re coming back that way, as you never know when you might need their help which is bound to be less readily forthcoming if you didn’t make a good impression previously.

But there was still time enough for me to more or less make my planned departure deadline and in fact I got away at 10.05 am with weather and visibility both good but with just a hint of scattered, broken low level cloud.

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The indications from up ahead were, however, that cloud would become more of an issue as the flight progressed, as indeed proved to be the case.

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Within a few minutes of taking off, the signs were that the cloud was becoming a bit more dense and less broken but this in itself didn’t pose too much of a problem as above it the air was completely clear with no ceiling whatsoever.

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Initially the cloud was 1/8 broken allowing for good sight of the ground below.

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But gradually it became 4/8 broken.

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This progressed to 6/8 cover.

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And eventually the cloud layer became 8/8 unbroken allowing no sight of the ground at all.

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This meant that for a time I was flying ‘VFR on top’ and just maintaining course by following the line on my GPS, which is what I’d been doing all along anyway as it’s a waste of time trying to navigate by eye using ground features on long flights. And in any case, I could see the boundary of the cloud layer some way ahead which meant that I’d soon be back in sight of the surface.

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And so it proved as the cloud returned to being scattered, allowing sight of the ground once more.

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Shortly afterwards I crossed the cloud boundary which once again allowed a good view of the surface passing below.

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And all of this was before I’d even reached the tall TV mast (Émetteur Le Mans-Mayet) to the south-east of Le Mans, which was only just about 65 kms and half an hour from take off at Saumur.

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On long flights it’s difficult keeping track of the names of the places that you pass over, the more so because I use charts and a GPS that omit place names to avoid unnecessary clutter. However, it’s almost always possible to load your track into Google Earth afterwards and find the places that correspond to photographs that you took at the time, and here are a few.

Two shots of La Ferté Bernard

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The distinctive road pattern of Nogent-le-Rotrou

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A fantastic mosaic of fields baked dry by the sun with a tiny tractor kicking up a plume of dust behind it.

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Some shots of the now-closed and almost completely dismantled former NATO airfield of Senonches near La Franconnière, just about mid-way between Saumur and my destination of Abbeville. The airfield’s heyday was in the Cold War days of the 1950’s and 60’s when it housed ‘Flying Boxcar’ troop carrying aircraft and probably had a role as a rapid staging point for troops coming into Europe in the event of Eastern European hostilities.

But those days are now long gone, and although the main runway and the outlines of the taxiways and parking places are still to be seen, all of the hangars and buildings have disappeared and what remains of the airfield is now used as a giant solar panel farm.

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From then on, although the cloud below remained broken, it became more dense and up ahead a new layer of low-level cloud began to reveal itself.

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So when I approached and flew over the town of Vernon on the banks of the river Seine in Normandie, the town could only just be seen below the layer of broken cloud.

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From then on the cloud layer passing below became thicker and thicker until once again I found myself flying ‘VFR on top’ with no ceiling and nothing but bright blue sky above me but with no sight of the ground whatsoever, not even through any passing holes or gaps. And this lasted for the whole of the last 1/3 of the flight right up until I reached Abbeville.

But before then, I had another problem to contend with. I’d been flying at an altitude of somewhere around 3000 feet but ahead of me was a dog-leg between Rouen and Beauvais followed by an area of controlled airspace that I needed to get under at 2400 feet in order to avoid infringing it. It’s highlighted in the image below.

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There was no possibility that I’d be able to do that without descending into the cloud layer which would have been extremely dangerous and which I had no intention of doing. I therefore had two choices – I could either call up Beauvais and ask for clearance to fly through their airspace at 3000 feet without a transponder, or I could simply change my course using my GPS and route around it. I decided on the latter for reasons of time and simplicity and because doing so would only add a few minutes to my total flight time anyway. The route I took is shown as the purple diversion with arrows, also in the above image, eventually intersecting my planned routing to Abbeville a few kilometres beyond the airspace’s northern boundary.

Strictly speaking, ‘VFR on top’ isn’t really legal because the rules for visual flight stipulate that pilots must remain clear of cloud and in sight of the surface, and VFROT clearly fails to meet the second condition. However, there’s nothing really ‘wrong’ or ‘unsafe’ about doing it, just so long as you are careful to ensure that another layer of cloud isn’t descending from above you until you are trapped in the jaws of it and the one you are flying above or that something nasty isn’t hiding below the one you are flying over, like snow-covered rising ground or some other kind of obstacle, that can appear in front of you after being hidden from sight so you collide with it and end up ruining your whole day.

The other problem that can arise is that you arrive over your destination without there being a hole to descend through, which is precisely what happened to me on this occasion a few kilometres short of Abbeville.

When that happens, it’s worth having a ‘Plan B’, which I did have. I knew that by filling up my tanks at Saumur, I had enough fuel on board when overhead Abbeville to continue on over the Channel to Headcorn if I had to, so there was no need to panic (not that I’m that kind of a person anyway). The problem with that was that even though I’d filed a GAR form for my re-entry into the UK, I still needed to file my international flight plan for my crossing of the international border between France and Britain, which is a legal requirement.

But there are ways and means. If I called up the relevant air traffic service on the radio, I could give them the details and they could file an airborne flight plan for me, so that’s what I decided to do next. To start with, even though I was in France, I dialled up Farnborough Radar and gave them a call, two actually, but although I could hear them, they not unsurprisingly, couldn’t hear me.

After the second attempt, I was just about to call Lille when I spotted the hint of a hole in the cloud with a glimpse of the ground below, so I made an instant decision. I closed 77ASY’s throttle, threw the left wing down and put the aircraft into a spiral dive aiming for the hole. The main things that you MUST do in such circumstances are to ensure that by the time you reach the cloud you have the wings level and that you have not too quick a rate of descent as almost inevitably you will end up clipping the edge of the cloud and flying into zero visibility for a short while. If you don’t, there’s a very real danger, as I know only too well from my IMC rating training from many years ago, that you will lose control and may not be able to regain it even after popping out of the bottom of the cloud, before hitting the ground.

The other thing that you need to watch is your airspeed. 77ASY’s Vne (maximum allowable airspeed) is 190 kmh, so I had to make sure that I kept well within that limit.

The transition from above to below the cloud only lasted a few seconds but it’s always a relief when you pop out of the bottom of the layer and can see the ground still some way below you. On this occasion, it was even more marked because above the cloud the sky was blue, the cloud was a brilliant white and the sunshine was dazzling, whereas below it was gloomy and a world plunged in shadow. And not only that but I was also heading in totally the wrong direction after making the turning descent.

It was then a relatively simple matter to get things back into some kind of shape before calling up Abbeville for a landing. As there was no other traffic, I even just called a long final for a straight in approach to runway 10 and not long after that, 77ASY was parked and I was standing serenely on the apron ready to prepare the aircraft and myself for my hop over the Channel to Headcorn.

And I was pleased to see that I only took on just over 40 litres of fuel, meaning that I still had the best part of 30 litres in the tanks, or more than enough to complete the flight to Headcorn if I’d had to. So my judgement (and calculations) had been correct and my ‘Plan B’ would have been viable if I’d had to implement it.

Here are some shots taken at Abbeville.

ICP Savannah MXP 740 at Abbeville

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ICP Savannah MXP 740 at Abbeville

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Flight time Saumur – Abbeville 2 hours 55 minutes.

Leg 2 – Abbeville to Headcorn

While I was at Abbeville, the cloud cover began to break up a bit but it was evident that it would remain a factor during my continuing flight north up to the Channel coast. I dealt with all the formalities, including using the toilet, refuelling 77ASY and paying for the fuel and my landing fee quite quickly and smoothly before then proceeding to don my life jacket for the flight over the water.

It was precisely then that a keen young Dutch chap decided to engage me in conversation and tell me about his hopes to start learning to fly, which was somewhat inconvenient at the time to say the least! When I was ready I filed my flight plan on the EuroFPL.eu web site using my mobile phone, started up F-JHHP as it’d now become, taxied out and took off for England.

To the north of Abbeville, the low-level cloud persisted but was much more broken than to the south and the conditions were much brighter. Here are a few shots that I took as I tracked north.

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Here’s a shot of the village (or commune) of Vron taken through the cloud.

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The view from above of the Nord Pas de Calais countryside was magnificent.

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This shot shows the commune of Nampont with it’s very nice looking golf course.

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Approaching Boulogne, the cloud layer below once again became thicker.

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Here’s a shot of St Léonard, one of Boulogne’s south-western suburbs.

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At the height that I was flying, somewhere around 4500 feet, the English coast and the white cliffs of Dover could be clearly seen in the far distance.

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Below, the town of Boulogne was, however, almost totally obscured by the cloud cover.

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Here’s a shot that I took coasting out at Cap Gris Nez with Calais visible in the distance.

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This is a shot of Dover taken from roughly mid-Channel.

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Here’s Folkestone taken just before I coasted in to the west of the town.

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And finally, a shot taken on the ground at Headcorn after I’d paid my landing fee just before I went off for a welcome cup of tea and a snack in the airfield cafe. Lovely!

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Headcorn was very busy and the approach very active. This was not only because of local traffic returning and other aircraft doing circuits, but the controller also wanted to clear the circuit while I was approaching to allow a Catalina to land.

The Catalina is a very historic aircraft having been heavily deployed as a submarine hunter during WWII. There are very few still flying and one, together with a beautiful De-Havilland Dove, was parked at Headcorn by the time I’d landed. And I forgot to take a picture of either!

Flying time Abbeville – Headcorn 1 hour 40 minutes.

Leg 3 – Headcorn to Bowerswain Farm

So after a brief stop at Headcorn to stretch my legs and take on a bit of food and drink, it was time to embark on the final leg of my flight, to Bowerswain Farm, a short 200 metre grass strip in a lovely setting on a beautiful privately owned property in Dorset. I’d never landed there before but it held no fear for me after my experiences flying into and out of the short grass trips of the Dordogne. What was more of a challenge was getting there.

By now the westerly wind had picked up, meaning that my flying time at the end of an already long day, would be longer than I’d planned for and also I’d be flying into the sun with quite a strong haze affecting visibility.

It was slightly weird to be flying in southern England again after a break of 4½ years and I’ve put together a string of pictures to document the flight, which took me south-west from Headcorn past Crowborough, Burgess Hill, Chichester and Portsmouth, around the Solent Collaborative Airspace Trial area (which in the UK means that it will inevitably be grabbed at the end of the ‘trial’ and made into controlled airspace) via Beaulieu and Stoney Cross to my final destination.

As usual, comments and captions refer to the images that follow them. First a patchwork of tiny fields in Kent – great for keeping a few horses and ponies in, but not much good for anything else, I’d have thought.

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A couple of shots of the reservoir called Bewl Water near Wadhurst. I used to fly past it a lot in MYRO when it was based at Linton.

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Sparrows Green, Wadhurst.

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Jarvis Brook, Crowborough.

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English housing packed in together side-by-side and on top of each other. I prefer rural France 😉

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The A23 southbound near Hurstpierpoint.

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Steyning.

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Chichester.

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Chichester Marina.

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Bosham Hoe.

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West Itchenor.

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Hayling Island.

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Two shots of Portsmouth. Pity about cutting the Spinnaker in the second one, but there was a second chance on the return journey.

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And finally, at my destination, Bowerswain Farm.

ICP Savannah MXP 740 at Bowerswain Farm, Dorset, England

ICP Savannah MXP 740 at Bowerswain Farm, Dorset, England

If I’d had any worries about finding it, a small grass strip in a sea of green, they were soon dispelled when I spotted the freshly mown runway in the distance and an orange windsock. So yet again my trusty GPS running MemoryMap hadn’t let me down. But it had been a long day and it was nice to land knowing that I’d finally arrived. As I was preparing to tie F-JHHP down, the property’s owner and his wife arrived after walking their dogs over the fields and after greeting each other and a brief exchange of conversation, we decided that the best thing to do would be tuck the aircraft behind the wall of the swimming pool where it couldn’t be seen from the road.

And there F-JHHP stayed until I returned to refuel it and take off for home several days later. But what a flight it had been, one I’d not have missed for anything. And how gratifying too, as being able to fly back to the UK was one of the reasons why I’d decided to buy a Savannah. Decision totally vindicated!

Flying time Headcorn – Bowerswain Farm 2 hours 5 minutes.

Total flying time for the day from Saumur – Bowerswain Farm 6 hours 40 minutes

Total flying time over two days from Malbec (Dordogne) – Bowerswain Farm (Dorset) 9 hours 15 minutes

August 18, 2016

At Saumur

Wednesday 10th and Thursday 11th August

My friend Linda, who had driven down from Normandie, and I just had Wednesday evening and Thursday together in Saumur before I planned to leave for England on Friday so we planned to make the most of the time. Wednesday remained mainly dull and a bit chilly for me after the warm weather we living there had been enjoying in the Dordogne and I was glad that I’d decided at the last minute to pack a warm top. Luckily it brightened up after a dull start on Thursday so we were able to make the most of the sights around the city, especially including the chateau.

Almost all of the city including the chateau is built from a lovely creamy white local stone called ‘tuffeau’ which gives it a very bright and airy appearance. What is very noticeable, though, is that because the stone is quite soft, the older buildings have become very eroded by the weather on their north-facing sides with the others remaining relatively pristine. And because the stone is soft, it has also attracted the unwelcome attention of idiots at street level who couldn’t resist carving their initials, even on some of the quite historical buildings.

Here are some of the shots that I took in and around the city on the Wednesday evening before we found a nice little restaurant for dinner. First, a shot of our hotel on the north bank of the river Loire.

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Some views of the city and chateau from our hotel.

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Crossing the bridge over the Loire from the north to the south bank.

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Now some random shots of the city that I took while we were just walking around sight-seeing.

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And here’s the last shot that I took looking back at the chateau as we were strolling back to our hotel.

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The weather on Thursday didn’t look too promising to start with and it looked as though we were in for another dull day, as the next few shots show. However, the sun broke through later in the morning after which time it became quite hot and we were grateful to be able to sit in the open air under a sunshade for our lunch. I took the next few shots at the start of the day.

A short way down this street is the house where Coco Chanel was born.

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The sun was just beginning to break through as we approached Place St. Pierre.

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Here are a couple of shots of the church of Saint-Pierre and it’s mighty old organ.

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Now Place St Pierre itself, which seems to be the tourist hub of the city and the most desirable place to have lunch. But you have to be early because places are soon snapped up as even during this ‘quiet’ August the city is full of visitors, the majority of whom seeming to be British.

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After a very pleasant lunch, we began our hike up to the entrance of the chateau. Unfortunately Saumur, like most of the historic cities of France in my experience, is ill-prepared to cope with visitors, like my sister, with any kind of disability, and even if they could get up to the chateau by road, they’d never be able to climb the enormous flight of steps to get in.

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Now the last climb up to the chateau’s main entrance.

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The chateau of Saumur has had a rather chequered history having been destroyed and rebuilt several times, once by Henry II of England in the late 12th century. It was last used by Napoleon as a prison and before being acquired by the community of Saumur at the beginning of the 20th century ‘for the then price of a horse’, it had not been occupied as a residence for many years and had fallen into ruin.

And without being uncharitable, I’m afraid it shows. Most great houses, even former great ones, are full of furniture and artifacts left behind from previous residents, but there is none of that at the chateau of Saumur. In fact it is largely empty and it appears that the executors have scoured France (and beyond) in an effort to find items to put on show within its walls.

From our experience, these mainly consist of a succession of large, bare rooms, a couple with tapestries hung on their walls but the majority having glass cases around their perimeters containing chinaware and ceramics. So if visiting, don’t expect the children to be entertained for very long!

Here are some views looking back over the river from the chateau’s ramparts.

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Now something that the kids present did seem to like though, the chateau’s well and looking down it into its black depths!

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And now some shots of the interior taken as we walked around.

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Finally we came to ‘la salle souterraine’, or underground room. This had had to be excavated during an earlier stage of the chateau’s restoration and my guess is that at one time, it was some kind of dungeon. Whatever it was, now there’s no evidence and it must have left the executors scratching their heads to decide what to do with it. They ended up creating some kind of weird historical science-fiction-like exhibit that has absolutely nothing to do with either the chateau and/or its history.

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As the shot above shows, the lighting is subdued and there are models of strange early twentieth century scientist-type figures with scientific ‘instruments’ standing around a heap of something or other with purple lights hanging from the ceiling over it, the whole scene accompanied by weird electronic music.

Sorry, but a very big ‘NO’ in my book and a complete failure. Why not put in some kind of cellar or workshop accompanied by the sounds of metal bashing, chains clanking, dogs growling and stuff like that. It seems that those responsible for the chateau of Saumur are somewhat lacking in the imagination exhibited by the people responsible for showing off old buildings here in the Dordogne who make the experience far more interesting and entertaining!

And then back outside into the sunlight, thank goodness.

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So that was it for Thursday afternoon. In the evening we found a marvellous restaurant, La Bourse, where we sat outside and treated ourselves to a delicious (and amazingly large) helping of ‘Moules-Frites’ washed down with a very passable white wine. Superb! Then it was time to stroll back to our hotel for gin and tonics on the terrace with the chateau lit up in blue, white and red over on the other side of the river.

A great way to end the evening. Afterwards I checked the latest weather and entered the wind figures into my spreadsheet before filing my GAR form ready for my entry into the UK. Then it was off to bed and a good night’s sleep before the next day’s flight north to Abbeville and over the Channel to the UK.

August 13, 2016

Malbec to Saumur

Wednesday 10th August

The big day had finally arrived – the first day of my flight back to the UK in my Savannah – and I was up early completing my flight planning by adding the latest wind data into my spreadsheet. My route can be found HERE and I was slightly dismayed to find that the northerly wind was stronger than had been forecast earlier in the week. This meant that my flight times for each leg would be longer and that if the wind direction persisted, the flight I’d planned for my second day would be very tiring.

But that was for later and after checking and rechecking my lists, I was at Malbec ready to take off just after 10.00 am. It was sunny with a clear blue sky with the temperature already in the high 20 degrees so the prospects for the flight looked good despite the wind forecast.

Wim, who’d been flying earlier on, then turned up to see me off and after loading my case and flight bag into the aircraft and starting up my sportscam video recorder, I was airborne at 10.15 am.

I quickly turned right onto my heading and was soon at 2900 feet, my planned height, and was pleasantly surprised by how smooth it was, especially as the day was warming up quite quickly. A few minutes after taking off, I was flying east abeam Périgueux Basillac airport.

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Here’s a shot of my panel that I took shortly afterwards.

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I carried on taking photographs as I headed north but unfortunately I have no idea of exactly where each was shot.

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As I flew on, though, I could see from the murky clouds ahead that the pleasant weather was unlikely to continue, which proved to be the case.

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I knew that I’d entered the Loire wine region when I saw a small commune passing under my wing with what looked like a small chemical works on its fringe, which I guessed to be the storage facility of the local wine cooperative.

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Then I entered the murky zone that I’d been able to see from further south and although the flying conditions continued to be not too bad, although the cloud was slightly broken, I’d more or less seen the last of the sunshine for a while.

But after not too long, I could see the dark smudge of Saumur approaching and it was time to stick rigidly to the course line on my GPS to ensure that I’d be able to easily spot the airfield.

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With the city and the river Loire in view though, it was easy to find the airfield and although there was obviously no other traffic in the circuit, I decided to execute a proper overhead join. Here’s a shot I took of the city and its chateau as I was approaching the overhead of the airfield.

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The circuit was easy enough but as I descended on final, I knew that the landing was going to be tricky. The reason was that the windsock was showing a 90 degree gusting crosswind of something like 25-30 kmh (15 – 20 mph). However, that was for only a part of the time. For the rest, it was swinging through an arc of the best part of 90 degrees, meaning that it was alternating in moments from being a headwind to a tailwind.

The result was that while I was flaring and about to land, a sudden headwind gust sent me about 10 metres higher again, so as there was plenty of runway ahead, I added a bit of power and tried again.

The same thing happened two or three times and when I actually did touch down, it was with a bump that I’d rather have been a bit less. But it was well within limits, although with hindsight I wish I’d approached a bit faster and plonked the Savannah down more positively with a bit more speed. Flying is a constant learning process.

Here are a few shots that I took of the tower at Saumur and 77ASY (F-JHHP) parked up along with a British registered V-tailed Bonanza and what I think was a lovely old Cessna 170 in polished aluminium.

ICP Savannah MXP 740 at Saumur

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ICP Savannah MXP 740 at Saumur

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After I’d tied 77ASY down and secured it, I took my baggage with me over to the tower and aero club to see what the procedure might be regarding landing and parking. The door was wide open but there was not a soul around despite the building having a cafe area with a fully stocked bar and other stuff. Such is France!

I then waited for a while for my friend Linda to arrive, during which I chatted with a very pleasant French couple who’d turned up in the beautifully restored red Renault Caravelle sports car shown in the shot above.

They’d come for a 2.00 pm flight to view the Loire and its chateaux and not unexpectedly, as this is France, the pilot turned up at 1.59 pm after his lunch. But before they took off, Linda arrived and we packed my stuff into her car and set off to head for our hotel in the city on the bank of the river Loire.

And so ended my first day’s flying of my return by ULM to England. Malbec – Saumur 2 hours 35 minutes. Now was the time to look forward to our first evening in the city.

August 9, 2016

A good day

And after the last couple of days, I needed one! Things didn’t go exactly as planned yesterday. I got some new ink cartridges at Leclerc in the morning but after I’d got them home and loaded the first one into the printer, I realised that they were the wrong ones. So it was back to Leclerc to pick up the correct ones, and half a day lost. Then I could get the printing and copying underway that I needed for my planning dossier.

Some new Windows 7 software also arrived yesterday and although the time for the ‘free’ Windows 10 upgrade finished on 29th July, as I like Windows 10 so much, I thought that I’d chance my arm and see if I could sneek an upgrade through for my spare computer that I just fitted with a new 2 TB hard drive. So I also got that going in the spare bedroom.

And I also received the LiPo batteries from China that I need for another power pack, so I loaded those into the pack – and broke the +ve connection as they were a bit too big for the case. So while everything else was going on, I also got my soldering iron out and repaired that before loading the batteries and starting them charging. Except it turned out that one was faulty, so I had to file a dispute with the Chinese supplier as well.

But by the end of the day, I’d finished getting all the planning material together (or so I thought) to present to the Plazac Mairie today, I’d got the power pack working after taking a battery out of another pack that I don’t like as much as the new one and I’d left the Windows 10 upgrade download running overnight. But what a day!

This morning, despite a few hiccups, the upgrade download completed and lo and behold, I got Windows 10 installed on my spare computer for free! So there are still ways and means 😉

I then zipped down to the Mairie to drop in my planning dossier and the charming lady Mayor then told me that (a) I had to provide four(!!!) copies of the 20 odd page planning application form (I’d only done one) and not four, but five(!!!) copies of the accompanying 33 page dossier. This was impossible, as at the very end of yesterday’s printing work, my printer had signalled that yet again the yellow cartridge was empty, and when any of the colours runs out, the printer in effect becomes a brick.

There was no chance of going back to Leclerc today, for reasons that I’ll come onto in a moment, and I asked the Maire whether she could run off the necessary extra copies that I’d pay for. She whipped out her little calculator and after agreeing a price, she was off and running at the copier and at the end of it all, I came away 17€ lighter but with my planning papers duly filed at last!

Then it was time for the highlight of the day, which was lunch at the Auberge du Coq in Fleurac to celebrate Madeleine’s birthday with a group of old friends. And to cap it all, Victor had been released from his hospital bed, just for the lunch, mind, and was there in his wheelchair (luckily, it’s only a temporary thing). So what a great time we had, with Madeleine and Victor, Dyanne and Olivier, Sophie and Wim, Julie and Richard, Sophie and Philippe, Christine and Gerard, Richard’s mother-in-law and me, of course. And how good it was seeing Victor there.

So all the pressure was off me this afternoon, and I was able to take my time sorting out a few things that I’ll be needing to take with me, and for the flight tomorrow. And it felt like it, too. I’ve got a couple of shirts to iron and I’ve packed a few items, although I’ll do my main packing tomorrow. And then I’ll be all set to fly off tomorrow to meet up with my lovely friend Linda for two days in Saumur. And I can hardly wait 😉

August 7, 2016

One of those days

I really have to get all of my planning stuff for the work I want to do on my house finished and put to bed and that means finalising the planning document to take into account the changes resulting from the proposed new ‘système d’assainissement’ and getting four copies plus the multi-page planning application into the Plazac Mairie before I leave on Wednesday. I thought that I’d have plenty of time to make the changes and run off the four copies today, but I didn’t reckon with Sod’s Law.

The first thing I found is that when my stupid little Epson SX438W printer is asked to make 4 copies, it prints all of the copies off at the same speed ie snail’s pace, rather than taking it’s time scanning and printing the first copy and then printing subsequent copies quickly from memory. That was frustrating enough, but I was resigned to letting things just take their course and twiddling my thumbs while it did its agonisingly slow job.

But then it ran out of yellow ink and when I checked my stocks, I found that I’d already used the last one. So that was it. It means that I’ll have to make a special trip to Leclerc tomorrow morning and pay through the nose for some new cartridges and as I’ll then have to resume when I get back from where I had to leave off today, it probably means that I’ll be working right up to the last minute to get the job done.

The other frustrating thing is that I have a Canon MP530 printer sitting up on my shelf that I haven’t been able to use since I came to France. In the few weeks between moving it from the UK before I moved permanently to France and switching it on when I got here, it developed a ‘cartridge’ fault. The tragedy is that when working, it’s a superb machine that punches out excellent prints and copies at high speed, which is why I’ve hung onto it.

I tried it out again after the Epson let me down, but to no avail, except that I managed to get ink all over my hands and bits of it. Just in case, I ordered a new print head from China as they are now much less expensive than they were and it’ll be a nice surprise if it’s here by the time I get back and the printer starts working again. But after the day I’ve had today, I won’t be holding my breath 😐

August 6, 2016

Totally prepared

We’ve enjoyed another lovely day again today and I’d already decided that I’d use today to get 77ASY all set to go for next week’s flights to Saumur and the UK. So after doing a little bit of shopping this morning, I bought 35€ worth of 98 octane fuel to top up its tanks and a few other bits and pieces that I’d need to complete the task.

But first a little bit of background information. In France, ULMs are registered by département and it wasn’t that long ago that if you bought a used ULM in one département and took it to another, you’d have to re-register it. But that’s stopped now, so my X-Air has its original registration 56NE (56: Morbihan, Bretagne) and my Savannah 77ASY (77: Seine et Marne, Île-de-France).

During my planning for the flight to the UK, I came across the useful information that although OK for use in France, these registrations are not ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) compliant, presumably because they do not contain a country designation, and it would therefore be illegal to take the Savannah to the UK with just its original registration displayed.

Now it just so happens that when you register your aircraft’s radio here in France, whether it’s a fixed or portable set up, you are allocated a ‘F’ registration that then stays with the aircraft for the whole of its life. I don’t know whether this is intended to be an ICAO compliant registration, but common sense tells you that as no other aircraft will have that same registration, it certainly has the possibility to function as such, as it contains the country designation and is also traceable directly to a unique aircraft and indirectly to an owner/pilot.

In any case, I can’t see anyone raising any kind of question if this ‘registration’ is applied to the aircraft’s fuselage in the required manner, even if the original ‘départementale’ registration is left on the wing in the usual way for France. So that’s one of the jobs that I decided to do today, as well as topping up the tanks, checking the oil and water, giving the aircraft a general clean (even though it was only used for an hour to go to Cavarc and back after the last time) and polishing the screen and side windows with Plexus polycarbonate plastic polish.

I finished late on in the afternoon and here are a couple of shots of the finished registration on the Savannah’s fuselage.

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I’d left it far too late to get hold of some proper self-adhesive registrations letters so I had to do the job myself using ‘Pattex Power Tape’ with extra-strong adhesive that I’d picked up earlier from Bricojem in Rouffignac.

It was tricky getting any kind of half-decent job because although I was using large, sharp scissors in an attempt to get clean, square cuts, even after just a couple of cuts, the blades became gummed up with glue and then just ripped at the tape giving a nasty jagged edge. So the final results are hardly appropriate for gracing the flanks of the Savannah, but they don’t look that bad. And at least they should get me into the UK and not barred from entry at Headcorn for not having an ICAO compliant registration displayed on my aircraft 😉

August 4, 2016

Things can change quickly

So there I was planning my next flight taking in Montauban and Fumel and now it’ll have to wait for a few weeks. The reason is that there’s something much more exciting in the pipeline because for once events have collided to give a positive result.

I recently made plans to meet a friend in Saumur in the Loire for a couple of days and as the local airfield is only a couple of kilometres outside the town, I thought I’d fly there. And then an idea came to me.

I haven’t seen a dentist since I’ve been in France and I’ve now got a little bit of dental wear-and-tear, nothing serious, to be seen to. I couldn’t get in to see the dentist here that everyone recommended until late in August so booked an appointment at another local one. Unfortunately, I’m not happy with the work that he’s done so want to sort something else out before things go too far.

It then occurred to me that Saumur is over a third of the way back to the UK and that instead of heading back to Malbec, I could quite easily continue on to the south of England. And by seeing my old dentist, the potential saving in dental fees compared to what the dentist here in France has quoted for what should not really be a lot of work could more than pay for the flight!

And not only that. As it would give me a chance to meet up with family members, some of whom I’ve not seen for many months, taken all round it would be a win-win situation, so I’ve been planning hard for the past few days to see if I could make it happen.

And I can. I’ve now planned a flight to Saumur on 10th August. It’s a relatively short hop in 77ASY really, taking just over 2 hours, so I can leave Malbec at about 10.00 am and arrive at Saumur at around midday, where my friend can pick me up, having driven down from Normandy.

After a couple of days, she’ll head back there and I’ve then planned a flight north to the UK on 12th August via Abbeville, where I’ll land, take on fuel and file my flight plan. The Abbeville leg will take just under 3 hours and then it’ll be just a short hop of just under 1½ hours to Headcorn, where I’ll book in and close my flight plan. From there I’ll then have a final leg of another 1½ hours to land at a private strip in Dorset, close to my sister and brother-in-law’s home.

So in all it’ll take me 6 – 6½ hours, subject to winds, to get from Saumur to Dorset at a very reasonable cost of less than 150€ for fuel, plus landing fees, and I don’t think that you can argue too much with that!

Here’s how my first leg from Malbec to Saumur looks, flight time subject to winds just over 2 hours.

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Here’s the next leg from Saumur to Abbeville.

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And here’s the final in-bound leg from Abbeville to Dorset via Headcorn.

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It’s always nice to have a bit of flexibility built into any flight plan, and I’ve managed to achieve that with this plan. As my dental appointment is for 15th August, it isn’t essential for me to arrive in the UK until August 13th or even 14th at a pinch. This gives me a three day window more or less, in case the weather doesn’t play ball, which surely should be enough, even for the UK in August for goodness sake!

Now for the return flight. I initially considered flying back to Malbec directly from Dorset but as I want to meet up with other family members in Kent, I decided that instead I’ll fly to Rochester, where I’ll land and park 77ASY overnight. I’ve planned that flight for 19th August and once again it’ll be just a short hop of about 90 minutes. It’ll also have the advantage of giving me a shorter and less tiring flight of only around 6 hours the next day back to Malbec.

Here’s how the Rochester leg looks and also the first leg of the flight on 20th August back to Malbec via Abbeville, where again I’ll take on fuel.

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From Abbeville I’ve then planned to return the way I came, via Saumur, where I’ll take on more fuel. If I can get away from Rochester by 08.00 am on the Saturday, that should mean that I’ll arrive back at Malbec at around 05.00 pm local time, giving me plenty of time should there be any delay for any reason en route.

So that’s it then, all the planning done except for adding the wind numbers into the spreadsheets. I’m really looking forward to it because it’ll be great fun and also because it’s one of the reasons why I acquired the Savannah. I just hope that the weather gods play ball when the time comes!