September 1, 2021

Special flight

Sophie’s young granddaughter is down for a short visit from Holland and whenever she comes, she always likes me to take her for a flight. The last time, nearly a year ago, we flew in my X-Air but she’s flown in both it and the Savannah and today it was the Savannah’s turn again.

It’s only a short flight down from Rotterdam to Bergerac by Transavia but this is the first time that she’s spread her wings and travelled alone, so that alone made this trip a bit special. As she has aspirations of becoming an airline pilot, I thought that I’d also make today’s flight a bit special and show her what’s involved in doing a flight in controlled airspace, namely by transiting the Bergerac zone and showing her it from the air.

This is only possible, of course, because my Savannah is fitted with a transponder, which makes everything something of a doddle, but I thought that I’d go through the planning that was necessary, not in too much detail though, so she could begin to understand what the responsibilities of a pilot are under these circumstances. Here’s a shot that shows the route that I had planned, landing at St Julien (just south of the Bergerac zone) and Lacave (to the south of Brive).

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I gave Danique the chart and showed her how I’d marked distances from the airport on the first leg, from Malbec to Bergerac reporting point NE, the latter being just outside the controlled zone to the north of the airport. I explained that this was so I could call up Bergerac when I was ready, accurately give my position, altitude, heading and transponder squawk code (7000) before requesting the current Bergerac QNH (pressure setting, which was still 1019 hP as I’d discovered before taking off) and clearance to transit Bergerac’s zone via reporting points NE, NA, SA and then direct St Julien

So this went as follows. ‘Foxtrot Juliet Hotel Hotel Papa is out of Lima Foxtrot 2467 (the code for Malbec) destination St Julien d’Eymet, currently 35 kms north east of Bergerac at 1800 feet on 1019 heading 256 degrees squawking 7000, estimating November Echo at 05 (5 minutes past 10), request Bergerac QNH and clearance to transit the zone via November Echo, November Alpha, Sierra Alpha and then direct St Junien. Over’

Bergerac immediately came back with ‘Clearance approved’ and gave me a new transponder squawk code of 3410. They then asked for the aircraft type – a Savannah with 2 on board – and that was almost it, no drama no pressure, a classic ATC response. I was asked to report overhead NE (November Echo), which I did and also added that I was turning onto heading 187 for NA (November Alpha). As we flew on I was advised to maintain altitude as another aircraft was going to depart heading north using the same corridor below us (not above 1300 feet as we were at 1800 feet, thereby maintaining a 500 ft separation), and we saw them pass below us.

As we left the Bergerac zone just before arriving at St Julien, I advised ATC who acknowledged my call and advised switching back to squawk 7000, which I did before thanking them for their help in the usual way and immediately beginning our descent into St Julien. We knew that the winds today were going to be fickle and Wim and I had discussed beforehand whether we ought to make the flight at all, actually. In the event we decided that I should go ahead but that did not stop the landing at St Julien being quite challenging (see my earlier post) on account of the shape of the terrain, the narrow threshold and the proximity of the trees on either side.

I didn’t have a video set up but here are some shots that I took at St Julien in the few minutes before we took off again to head for Lacave.

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The leg from St Julien to Lacave was the longest of the flight at around 50 minutes and on the way we passed by Castillonnes, Belvès, Sarlat and some other small private airfields. This time I landed even higher up Lacave’s long sloping runway (see earlier post) than I did in the X-Air and here are some shots that I took after we’d taxied up onto the airfield’s superb parking area.

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There was a family with young children playing outside an open hangar and just before we left I had a conversation with one of the guys in the group. It turned out that this was not the first time that we’d spoken, because he was the person who I’d contacted when I originally phoned to ask for permission to go into the airfield in my X-Air. So that was good – I always like to make contacts like that because you never know when you might need them in the future.

The final leg back to Malbec only took 25 minutes but by that time, getting on for midday, conditions were already becoming pretty bumpy and the landing was again challenging, as it had been at Lacave because of the fickle winds that I mentioned previously. What do I mean by that? How about 9 kmh gusting 24 kmh and 10 kmh gusting 28 kmh, depending on which stage of the flight we were at. Nevertheless, we got up and down safely and the Savannah was reusable (the definition of a successful flight) so everything was OK and we’ll live to fly another day 😉