My good friend Victor is still unable to fly solo and is likely to remain so for some months to come following his accident last year, so I’m hoping that he’ll be able to join me on as many of the flights I have planned this coming year in the Savannah. Last Saturday turned out to be a pretty good flying day so we decided to do a little local tour to get things underway. Here’s the route that we settled on.
Victor’s quite a stout chap so I thought that I’d start off with a landing on a nice long runway to gauge the feel of the aircraft with the extra weight onboard, so the first port of call was Condat with it’s massive hard, upward sloping runway. The next stop was LF2438 Valeuil, the airfield operated by our old friend André up near Brantôme and this was going to be good fun because Wim was going to fly up there ahead of us in his Weedhopper so we could introduce Victor to André together.
Wim then planned just to fly back to Plazac but our idea was to continue on to Ribérac, which I’ve already visited but Victor hasn’t, and then to continue on to Ste Foy-la-Grande, an airfield that I’d never been to before. We then had two choices as shown on the image – either to return direct to Malbec from Ste Foy or to drop into Castillonnès before heading back.
In the event, because as usual we ended up meeting and talking with new people on our journey, we did the former as time became a bit tight and we all planned to head off to les Eyzies for a meal together in the evening. But it was still a good afternoon’s flying despite being slightly curtailed.
When landing at Condat, our first stop, we had to go around for what was my second time there. The reason was that just as I was about to flare, the Savannah’s flaps unlocked and snapped closed again, so rather than risk continuing even with the length of runway ahead of us, I decided to put power back on and climb away for another approach.
The next time I made sure that the flaps were securely locked and the landing went off pretty smoothly, but I noticed that with the extra weight onboard, the Savannah’s rate of descent at around my usual approach speed was noticeably higher and therefore something to be wary of.
After adding the Savannah’s details to the movements book, we took off to head for Valeuil, which is not the easiest airfield to find as it’s quite small with trees on three sides. However, I spotted it in good time and set up for a landing. Valeuil is a tricky little airfield to land at. Just beyond its eastern boundary there are power lines, so coming in from that direction is not really advised. But landing from the west there are some tall trees on the approach and you have to drop in over those then push the nose down without gaining too much speed to give yourself as much runway to land on as you can.
The prevailing wind on Saturday meant that we had the approach over the trees and I was wary of starting too low because of the weight onboard. But I got it wrong, was too high and couldn’t get enough height off even by slipping the aircraft, so being mindful of the power lines that were in front of us, I took the decision to pile power back on yet again for the second time that afternoon and go around for another try.
This time things worked out OK and soon we were taxying up to park with André and Wim walking down from André’s house to meet us. We then enjoyed a good half hour or more’s conversation with André and the owner of a pendulaire based at Valeuil who was fettling his aircraft ready for the new flying season while his wife sat out in the bright sunshine. That was a good result in my book.
We taxied out behind Wim, who turned after taking off to head back to Plazac while we continued on as planned to Ribérac. And when we landed on what was a super afternoon for flying there was nobody there and everything was all shut up. Not quite, actually, as a lone figure emerged from the open hangar to greet us and expressed as much disappointment on his part that he was all alone and that nobody was flying on such a lovely day.
We then said our goodbyes with time marching on to head off for Ste Foy-la-Grande, a small, mainly ‘avion’ (as distinct from ‘ULM’) oriented airfield due west of Bergerac. And as we arrived everything became a little bit unreal.
The runways at Ste Foy are 10/28 with 10 being the preferred direction. With the prevailing wind at the time, I set up to land by joining downwind for 10 but while I was doing so and before I became too committed, I noticed a Jodel flying at about a circuit’s distance out in the opposite direction. Then I looked again and spotted a motor glider taxying out towards the end of runway 28, apparently with a view to taking off from there.
Using the radio was useless. In France the shared frequency, much like SafetyCom in the UK, is 123.50 but listening in on that frequency was hopeless because of all the aspiring airbus drivers, at Montpazat further south in the Lot mainly, but elsewhere also, who were calling out their positions at all times without ever mentioning which airfield they were at, making their calls practically meaningless. It even included one who hogged the airwaves to say that he’d cleared the runway after landing, wherever he was. Utter madness.
So I thought that it was a good idea to get out of there and reconsider the situation, and lucky that I did, because then I clearly saw the Jodel that I’d spotted earlier landing on 28 – uphill and with a tailwind. How crazy was that? But that wasn’t all. After I’d followed him in and landed on runway 28, which had become pretty active by that time, Victor and I could hardly believe our eyes when we saw a ‘pendulaire’ (flexwing) take off on runway 28, fly around a little bit and land back on 10! I’ll make no further comment 😐
As I’d never visited Ste Foy before, I decided to take a few photgraphs and here they are, below.
As can be seen, it’s a nice little airfield but as is often the way here in France, although there were quite a few people doing this and that with quite a large group gathered around a glider, nobody paid any attention to us at all. The airfield card says that you can obtain refreshments on site and as Victor and I both fancied a cup of coffee, we asked someone where we could get some. He said that the source was actually the large house right next to the apron, but as the proprietors were busy in their garden preparing for the new season, there wouldn’t be any on offer that day.
So we then decided to make tracks for home. It was already too late to head on down to Castillonnès, so we took the alternative route to the north of Bergerac CAS directly back to Malbec. The return leg went well and then I had my only disappointment of the afternoon. All of my landings up to then had been pretty good, especially with the extra weight onboard that had been a new and unfamiliar factor, but that wasn’t quite the case at Malbec.
As we were on final, Jean-Michel, the new addition to the airfield, was waiting with his engine running at the top of the runway for us to land and I think I paid him a bit too much attention. The result was that I ended up a tad too high and we landed with a bit of a bump. There was no harm done of course, except to my pride, but it’s always annoying when the last landing of the day is a poor one. So drat and double drat – and lucky that the afternoon had been such an enjoyable one as otherwise I’d have had a really good reason at the end of it to be cheesed off 😕