As I mentioned in an earlier post, I departed Malbec for the UK in my Savannah, F-JHHP, as planned on Saturday 24 August at around 9.25 am. For a change, the weather forecast was CAVOK for the whole route and I was really looking forward to it after all of my planning. At one stage I’d planned to land to refuel at an airfield to the east of Blois named Romorantin Pruniers but I’d dismissed that idea after calling the aero club at Blois and speaking to a gentleman who I subsequently met when I landed there and who served me with fuel, who assured me that I’d have absolutely no problem paying with my bank debit card even though their automatic fuel dispenser required a ‘Carte BP’.
This was my first long-distance flight through France with it and I was looking forward to taking advantage of my new transponder. Accordingly, I’d planned an almost direct route from Malbec to Le Touquet through several areas of Class D airspace. I’d also anticipated being able to converse in English with all of the ATC controllers, even though I could have managed French if necessary, and that proved to be the case. In fact the service that I received was impeccable, in both directions up and down, with one exception that I’ll mention later. And I was even blessed with a small tailwind for the whole of the flight.
Malbec LF2467 to Blois le Breuil LFOQ
F-JHHP at Malbec ready for take off.
The take off from Malbec
After taking off from Malbec, I turned right for an almost northerly heading. While I did so, I noticed that the GPS ‘needle’ on my Asus tablet on which I run my Memory Map navigation software was stuck and wasn’t moving. That might have been a problem if I’d taken off from an airport in an area that I didn’t know but I blessed the fact that I’d recently swung my compass so it now reads the almost exact heading, turned onto the heading I needed and restarted my navigation software. Luckily that did the trick.
Unlike for my previous long flights, I haven’t checked on Google Earth to identify the exact names of the places that I flew over, except for the major ones, but I took plenty of pictures as I flew northwards at 3000 feet the whole way. My first test of my new transponder and the ATC was relatively straightforward, to request a transit of Limoges’s Class D airspace passing abeam the airfield via reporting point WA (Whiskey Alpha). The controller accepted my request without a hiccup and this shot was taken as I flew through with Limoges and the airfield in the distance.
The following shots were taken in the Haute Vienne to the north of Limoges as I continued to fly northwards.
At some point the Haute Vienne became the Indre and eventually the Loire et Cher and I think I took these shots as I approached Blois.
I’d already received instructions from the ATC controller while en route that parachuting was going on there and although there was no ATC controller at the airfield, the jump controller advised me not to join overhead but instead to join left downwind for runway 12. This I did without incident but it was after touching down while I was braking to take the first turn-off that I had my first shock of the flight. I didn’t have any brakes!
I swiftly straightened up again to avoid keeling over onto my right wingtip and decided that if I cut the engine to a slow idle, I’d then be slow enough to be able to turn off at the next junction and if not, there was plenty of grass left to slow me right down. In the event, I was able to turn off and taxi slowly up to the apron, cutting my engine and coasting to a halt just before reaching the refuelling station. I was so relieved that just before leaving for the UK, I’d set up F-JHHP’s tickover and now that I needed it to, it was capable of ticking over smoothly even at the amazingly low engine speed of 1500 rpm.
The next shots were taken in front of Blois’s magnificent control tower after I’d refuelled F-JHHP with the assistance of the gentleman that I referred to earlier before I was ready to take off again for Le Touquet.
Blois le Breuil LFOQ to Le Touquet LFAT
After refuelling, I’d pushed F-JHHP back onto the apron and was then faced with something of a dilemma. What should I do? Should I continue with no brakes or should I see if I could do anything to fix them or, more likely, get them fixed? I didn’t have any tools with me and as it was a Saturday afternoon, I thought that my chances of getting any assistance from an aircraft mechanic were more or less nil. In that case I’d be stuck there at least until the Monday, so realistically that only left me with the option of continuing without brakes.
But the situation didn’t seem that serious to me. I’d coped pretty well at Blois and Le Touquet has an even longer runway, so I reckoned that I could do just as well there, although I’d need to let the Ground controller know of my problem just to be on the safe side. The runway at Headcorn, although still long, is shorter than those at Blois and Le Touquet, but is grass which would make stopping even easier, so having thought it through, I decided that continue on I would.
I’d parked F-JHHP facing the taxiway to the runway and called on the radio to say that I’d be starting up, taxying and taking off without stopping due to loss of brakes. However, I was taken by surprise on starting up to find that the aircraft immediately began rolling even at only 1500 rpm. This meant that I had to do a full circle on the apron, which was fortunately clear of other aircraft, taxy straight out to the holding point for runway 12, enter the runway and take off. I took great care to watch and listen for any other traffic but fortunately there was none.
After a left turn-out to take up a northerly heading again, it was time to check my chart to prepare myself for my next challenges.
The first of these was to transit the Class D airspace of the airforce base at Chateaudun which I intended to cross via their reporting point SW (Sierra Whiskey). There was no time to spare between taking off at Blois and entering their airspace so I called up the relevant ATC service, only to receive a recorded announcement. This told me that the runway at the adjacent Orléans Bricy was closed and as far as I could tell, said that Chateaudun was not active. I hadn’t received absolute confirmation of the latter by my understanding but thought that the likelihood of an airforce base of lesser importance like Chateaudun being active on a Saturday afternoon to be pretty remote and as I would be visible on radar and squawking 7000 anyway, I decided to continue.
In the event, I got through without being buzzed by a Mirage and got ready for my next challenge, which was to cross the Class D airspace at Evreux. I didn’t know at the time that I could have had all the help that I needed from Paris Information but as I once again received a recorded announcement, I decided that yet again I’d continue on at 3000 feet squawking 7000 on my transponder. In the event this proved to be the correct judgement but, as mentioned above, I could have been talking to Paris Information who would have given me all the help and details that I needed.
Before arriving at the Evreux airspace, I passed the small airfield (deserted as usual) and city of Dreux.
Shortly after leaving Dreux behind, in the northern section of the Evreux airspace, I passed over the mighty river Seine whending its way to the sea with a power station on its south bank, locks and barges.
A bit later on, I was in sight of the Channel coast with first Mers les Bains and Le Tréport in the distance and then the Baie de la Somme on the Côte Picardie.
At low tide, the Baie de la Somme was an impressive sight with its huge expanse of sandy mudflats.
Then Berck Plage.
And finally a glimpse of the Channel as I followed the coastline to join right base leg for runway 13 at Le Touquet.
It was while approaching Le Touquet that the only negative ATC experience occurred. I’d been talking to Lille Approach who had handed me over to Le Touquet Tower who, in a very strong French accent, advised me to report ‘crossing the line’ as I thought. This didn’t make much sense to me, so as I crossed into Le Touquet Class D airspace abeam reporting point S (Sierra) I called in.
The controller angrily replied to ask what was I doing as he hadn’t asked me to do that. He also seemingly had a fit and said that if I couldn’t understand simple instructions I shouldn’t come to his airport. Now, arguing with a pilot is ATC’s cardinal sin and they must not do it as the former is under enough pressure as it is. But I was just annoyed. I began to turn left onto a reverse heading and he again asked me what I was doing. I said that I was leaving his airspace as his accent was unintelligible and would then await proper instructions before re-entering, so it was beginning to become a bit heated.
It was then that a helpful British pilot who had recent experience of Le Touquet and had been listening in broke in to say that the controller meant that I should proceed to the coastline and then track north along it towards the airfield. The controller then confirmed this so the problem was resolved and sanity again reigned. He even became really polite and helpful as I joined base leg for 13 and he called me number 1 to land, for which I thanked him profusely for his help. Ironic really.
I landed OK without brakes and turned off the runway to taxy to the apron. I didn’t contact Ground, in truth I’d forgotten to write the frequency down, because there was a ‘Follow Me’ quad bike gesturing me to follow him to parking. He was somewhat bemused when I stopped short of the parking place that he guided me to but understood when I explained that I’d lost my brakes.
Unfortunately, I was then hit by a series of relatively minor problems at Le Touquet that ended up preventing me from taking any pictures there. I found that although I could file my flightplan for my flight over the Channel to Headcorn, I couldn’t edit the GAR form for my entry into the UK from France and my Schengen form for exiting France that I’d previously prepared. I’d brought my old Dell laptop with me for this purpose only to remember when I fired it up that the software that I wanted to use was no longer on it as just previously I’d updated it to the latest version of Windows 10 with loss of files when it had corrupted itself for some unknown reason.
I managed to get around the problem by using the copies that I’d loaded onto my phone as a precaution and submitted the forms with incorrect times on them having decided that they’d just have to do as I made a dash for F-JHHP after quite some delay in order to don my life jacket for the Channel crossing to come. Before starting up I explained my problem to Ground and asked if necessary for a gap in traffic so I could start up, taxy, line up and take off without stopping, which he kindly agreed to. I found later that due to no fault of my own, the GAR form wasn’t received because the UK Home Office had changed the email address without putting an auto-forward on the old one, but took off in blissful ignorance of the fact.
Le Touquet LFAT to Headcorn EGKH
And so began the final leg of my journey. From Le Touquet it’s possible to climb continuously so by the time you get to Cap Gris Nez, you can get to the height you need for the Channel crossing. In my case as the sky was clear of cloud, this was 5000 feet.
Here’s a shot that I took of the harbour at Boulogne, Le Touquet reporting point N (November), as I passed by having been handed over to Lille Approach again from Le Touquet Tower.
Then a shot of the English coast after I’d been passed over mid-Channel from Lille Approach to London Information.
And finally, safely on the ground at Headcorn. I’d mentioned my braking problem to the controller there and he hadn’t been too perturbed as they regularly host vintage aircraft that have no brakes at all. The grass was indeed excellent as a stopping aid and I succeeded in parking almost dead on the chosen mark by cutting the engine and coasting to a halt.
Unfortunately though, I had to take the decision for safety not to fly on to the small private farm strip that I’d originally intended to be my final destination. This was both disappointing and costly as overnight parking at Headcorn, which I’d have avoided, was £5 per day.
I found when I investigated them a couple of days later that the exceedingly hot weather that we’d had in the Dordogne (several days non-stop at over 40 degrees Celsius) had apparently caused vapour to form in both of my brake lines. I purchased a ‘high pressure’ oil can in order to add more fluid and bleed the lines but didn’t achieve total success. I did however, manage to get enough braking power back for the journey back home again and will be able to deal with the problem properly at a later date.