Or maybe it’s just our weather forecasters who aren’t very good? I’ve been trying to get to La Rochelle for weeks now to get my Savannah’s new radio and transponder signed off but have been constantly thwarted by the weather. STAR at La Rochelle said that they could fit me in yesterday but on Monday I declined their offer as my fear, based on the weather forecast at the time, was that although I’d be able to get to La Rochelle OK, when I got back to Malbec I’d be trying to land with a dangerously strong tail wind.
So I said that instead I’d prefer to come to them today as the forecast looked to be for more or less perfect conditions. So what happened? Yesterday turned out to be perfect, and although hot (up to around 30 degrees Celsius), the winds at Malbec remained stubbornly calm. And today? I did the trip, as I’ll go on to describe, but conditions could hardly have been worse!
But before I start, here’s the route that I took. I flew north on a route out over Périgueux that took me to the north of Cognac and back on one that took me to its south. I planned to approach La Rochelle on a straight-in to runway 27 via reporting point Echo and to depart on a south-easterly heading via reporting point Sierra Alpha.
Things didn’t go off too badly despite my needing to make an early start. I took off exactly on the dot of 7.15 am, which was my target departure time and the only thing that I failed to do was start my little camcorder that this time I’d mounted behind me in the roof of the cabin.
I seem to be jinxed as far as getting videos of my flights is concerned, because although I remembered just as I was approaching Périgueux and turned round to switch it on, yet again the battery pack that I’d attached to it to give me up to around 3 hours of video, possibly more, failed to activate and once again, I only got 1 hours worth before the camcorder’s internal battery was exhausted.
Here’s a shot that I took approaching Périgueux just after I’d turned the camcorder on. Look ahead and you can see an ominous cloud bank that extends left to right from horizon to horizon.
Here’s a general view of Périgueux. It’s interesting because I don’t usually fly this close to the city.
Here’s a view of a building in Périgueux that I unfortunately became quite well acquainted with – the main hospital. You can see the yellow paramedic helicopter standing in front of it on its landing pad.
I took this shot as I was approaching the cloud bank that I mentioned earlier.
This shot shows me passing over the edge of the cloud bank.
The cloud cover started off being not too bad as the following two pictures show.
However, within quite a short time it began to thicken considerably.
Within a few minutes the cloud cover was total and it became impossible to see the ground. My little camcorder was recording at this time and pretty soon I’ll produce a short video of this part of the flight. In fact the whole of the recording, almost an hour’s worth, is just of me flying over solid cloud cover and the following image is of a screen grab taken from it showing just how thick the cover was.
Now, I’ve mentioned previously on My Trike that it is up to each individual pilot to decide where their comfort zone is regarding flying over cloud cover and I would never presume to suggest that what I think is safe for me is also good for anyone else. On this occasion, I had plenty of fuel on board and I knew from the actual weather that I could turn around at almost any time and head back to a clear sky.
In fact what I also did was climb as soon as I could and keep calling up La Rochelle Approach, who I could hear talking with other aircraft, until they responded to my call and requested details of their weather to make sure that if I continued on, I’d be able to let down safely before arriving there. They told me that they were VMC with restricted, but legal, visibility due to rain and advised me to call again when I was closer to their area, which I did.
As it turned out, the low cloud cover did clear before then and was replaced by floating clumps of cumulus the closer that I got to the airport, as the following two pictures show.
However, although the pictures show bright sunshine at the time, this was replaced by a gloomy bank of rain with reduced visibilty that came sweeping in from the north-west and persisted right up until I’d landed and beyond. The controller at La Rochelle was very accommodating. He allowed me any approach that I wanted and called me number 1 to land well before I was really on final.
As a result I allowed myself the amusing experience of hurtling down towards the runway on final for a flapless landing at 160 kmh. The controller probably thought that I was imagining that I was flying an Air France ‘Hop’ ATR like the one that came in shortly after I’d taxied up and parked outside the STAR hangar 🙂
Here’s a shot that I took there showing the ground covered in puddles from the rain that I’d just landed in.
There’s a very interesting aircraft parked outside the STAR hangar. I couldn’t work out whether it’s still actually flyable or not as it has been stripped out like a jump aircraft with only a pilot’s seat inside. It looks to me as though it’s a Cessna Centurion, although I may be wrong, but with a turbo-prop engine fitted (with an extended nose) instead of its usual large piston engine.
Here are a couple of general views of La Rochelle airport. I had taken a yellow ‘gilet’ with me just in case the regulations were being enforced but I needn’t have bothered.
I was wandering around quite freely although I didn’t approach the main apron despite there being only a couple of red metal barriers that would have prevented me from doing so. Everyone that I met just kept saying, ‘Bonjour’ to me. Imagine what the security would have been like at a comparable British airport!
There’s a thriving aero club on the airport and here’s a shot that I took showing its club house and hangar.
The checks on my new avionics only took a bit less than an hour, I think. The guy used a large item of test equipment, presumably for detecting spurious emissions, but no airborne check was required. I’m guessing that that was because I’d pre-programmed the transponder and all he had to do therefore, was check with the controller that it worked as it should, but I don’t know for sure.
I also found some weird squawk codes in it when I reset it for my departure, like 7776, so he must have done some kind of technical checks on it.
The whole exercise cost 210€ including a reduced landing fee at La Rochelle, and this I am entitled to add to the cost of the equipment plus any other installation charges before claiming the 20% rebate for changing from a 25 kHx radio to an 8.33 kHx one.
I then needed to top the Savannah’s tanks up because I’d used a bit more fuel than I’d planned for on account of there being a stronger headwind. The Avgas facility is self-service and accepts 24 hour bank or credit cards and works the same way as some petrol pumps do in France. You get your card authorised first then pump your gas and it provides you with a receipt once you’ve finished.
The only thing was that before I started, it began to rain again and I had to be careful not to allow water running off the wet nozzle to enter my tanks. And finally, having finished and secured the cabin, it was time to get start up clearance, a squawk code and taxi clearance from the Tower for take off.
The controller was very helpful and accommodating. I said that I’d take off from the mid-way intersection without back-tracking and he said that it would be fine for me to do a left turn-out to exit the CTR at Sierra Alpha. The same controller was working both Tower and Approach and as I left the CTR he bade me a cheery farewell, so not a painful experience at all. And all done in English.
My left turn-out took me over a port industrial area before I continued on parallel to the water’s edge and past La Rochelle itself. It was raining quite heavily by that time as the following pic that I shot at the time shows.
Here’s another shot taken heading south-eastwards in the rain. Visibility wasn’t too bad though and I knew that the rain would clear as I got further away from the coast.
Here’s a shot of the northern part of Rochefort, which is on the river Charente to the south of La Rochelle.
Here’s a shot that I took at the same time looking ahead that appeared to show no immediate prospect of a great improvement in the weather.
And here’s a shot of the southern part of Rochefort.
These two shots are of Tonnay Charente. It’s to the south of Rochefort and is almost a suburb of it really.
I spotted this interesting bridge at Tonnay Charente. I thought at first that it carried the railway over the river, but now I think that it’s a road bridge.
This is the northern part of Saintes.
This is a shot of the main area of the city.
Saintes has an aerodrome of the same name to its west. It’s a bit strange because it’s in two parts – there’s a grass airfield for general aviation traffic and next to it there’s a hard runway that I think is used for military training. The shot is looking straight down the grass runway in the middle of the frame.
Now a shot of the beautifully laid-out vineyards in the area. It’s surprising to me that the vines thrive in a maritime environment with its relative surfeit of rain, but they do.
As I flew on, the cloud began to build up again, but nothing like as much as during the flight up.
There was no possibilty that the ground would be covered but I decided that it would be a good idea to climb above it to avoid the bumps and the need to keep dodging around the floating clumps of cumulus.
These next two shots were taken while above the main cloud layer although some of the clumps were quite high and there was still the need to dodge through gaps between them from time to time.
I eventually arrived back at Malbec and it was time to let down for a landing in conditions that were quite thermic. In fact I ended up shoving on full flap (40 degrees) on final to give me enough drag to get down after being on the receiving end of a big lump of lift, but it all worked out fine and I was glad to be back after a successful mission.
My total distance flown was 444 kms. My logged time including taxying heading north from Malbec to La Rochelle was 2 hours and 5 minutes and my return time was 1 hour 45. I started with full tanks (70/72 litres 98 octane mogas) and added 27.49 litres of Avgas 100 at La Rochelle for the princely sum of 58.20€. That equates to 2.117€ per litre, so rather expensive juice. I estimate, but didn’t check closely, that I have just over half tanks remaining, so I got my usual approx. 15 litres/hour from the Savannah.
All in all I was very well pleased with the day’s results and greatly enjoyed the flight and the experience of landing at a new, large airport with all of its associated procedures. My only disappointment is that my guizmo that controls the Savannah’s hour meter is only working intermittently, so I guess that there’s a poor connection somewhere.
Oh well, it’s going to be bad weather for flying this week end, so maybe it’ll be a good time to pull the new panel out again to investigate. And also find out why my oil temperature gauge isn’t working. It never ends, does it 😕