During my stay in the UK I’d done what I could to restore the brakes in F-JHHP and although not perfect, I reckoned that I’d got enough braking power back to get me safely back to Malbec including pulling up on Malbec’s short runway. I’d also managed to find and download software onto my phone so I could edit my returning GAR and Schengen forms and as I was already able to submit my pre-prepared return flight plan, I was well set up for my return flight to France.
Europe’s major ULM (microlight) festival took place at Blois on the week-end of 31 August/01 September during which the airfield was closed to visiting traffic so initially I’d considered returning via Romorantin Pruniers on Sunday 1 September. However, as it looked as though the weather was going to remain fairly settled up until Wednesday 4 September, I decided that instead I’d make my return flight on Tuesday 3 September routing once again via Blois.
I also thought that it’d be a good idea to pack my baggage into F-JHHP the evening before departure, especially as I was returning with several large Morrison’s supermarket bags containing biscuits and other difficult-to-buy-in-France British foodstuffs and this turned out to be a good idea as it saved me quite a few minutes the next morning.
So after filing my forms before setting off for Headcorn and my flight plan on arrival, I was actually all set to go before my planned departure time with a forecast of a tailwind for much of my flight and broken cloud in northern France turning to CAVOK for the rest of my planned route.
Headcorn EGKH to Le Touquet LFAT
It turned out that the forecast for the first leg of my flight couldn’t have been more wrong and, uncharitably perhaps, one wonders if the weather forecasters ever tear themselves away from their complex computer models and look out of the window. I took off into practically unbroken lowish cloud (maybe 4000 feet) that became even lower as I approached the Channel and soon after I coasted out at Dymchurch it got even lower and began to rain.
I’ve doctored the next several photographs to make them clearer with the result that the visibility in all of them looks considerably brighter and clearer than it actually was. I’m not trying to make the situation more dramatic than it actually was but merely trying to explain the conditions under which I was flying at the time which were not ‘dangerous’ or ‘extreme’ but probably just not suitable for less experienced pilots to be up in.
This was the sight that greeted me as I looked to the west towards Le Touquet so I asked London Information with whom I was in radio contact if they had the current Le Touquet weather. They gave me their latest TAF which was out of date and I said that as it was under low cloud and rain at that moment, I might have to divert to Calais, so they asked me to keep them advised of my situation.
I crossed the Channel at under 3000 feet under lowering cloud and changed to Lille Approach as I approached the French coast. I asked them for the latest Le Touquet weather and after coasting in at Cap Gris Nez, they suggested that I’d best contact Le Touquet Tower immediately to obtain the current sitrep.
I took their advice and Le Touquet advised me that the approach conditions were SVFR (Special Visual Flight Rules) due to broken low cloud and showers and cleared me to enter their zone for a landing. This was my view of Boulogne Harbour, Le Touquet reporting point November, as I approached it at low level. How different from when I was heading north just a week or so before!
While tracking south down the coast towards the airfield I could hear, and was advised of, G-registered traffic overtaking me from the rear. I was at about 1400 feet and shortly after a Piper Warrior from Cranfield with a solo young Irish pilot passed directly under me and landed a few minutes before I was cleared for an otherwise uneventful landing, with plenty of braking to allow me to slow down, taxy to the parking and pull up.
Re-entering France involved very few formalities – all I had to do was show the Customs officer my UK passport. That left me with just my landing fee (15€) to settle, to have a quick pee and get off again. I’d been keeping a close eye on the weather to the south and it was obvious that low cloud and showers were constantly rolling in from the sea so I had to make up my mind whether to take off as there was a risk that if I decided to turn back again, the weather could have closed in behind me. I decided to do so and pretty soon ran into it as the following shots show.
There was some Le Touquet traffic doing practise IFR approaches, the conditions were pretty much ideal, and as I flew south I heard another aircraft approaching from the north SVFR for a full stop. He was advised that he was cleared to land except sea mist was by that time beginning to cover the far end of runway 31 which was by then obscured. Not that much of a problem as the runway is pretty long and they’d be turning off for the apron well before they reached it.
I took the final shot above just as I was approaching a bank of low cloud and rain that I could see was moving from right to left from off the sea. I estimated that I’d just catch the edge of it if I continued on course and that even if I entered it, I’d still have reasonable forward visibilty. Actually I was wrong. When I hit it the rain was lashing against my windscreeen and although I could still see the ground I had no visible horizon having lost all of my forward visibility.
I quickly descended to around 800 feet to maintain sight of the surface and would have turned right to try to get out of it but to my surprise the rain abruptly stopped and the cloud began to lift after less than a minute. So I carried on. Thankfully that was the last I saw of the rain, which had lasted on and off for more than 40 minutes after leaving Le Touquet and gradually the cloud began to lift and conditions became much brighter.
After leaving Le Touquet, I’d been handed over to Paris Information who provided me with a fantastic service. It was comforting somehow to know that even though I was flying through poor weather I’d been identified on radar and a helpful soul was at hand if needed. Paris Info then handed me over to Evreux Approach who were inactive on my flight north but were active now. The lady controller was super helpful and kept me well advised of possible conflicting traffic, none of which I actually spotted, before handing me back to Paris Info, who I stayed with as Chateaudun was inactive until I needed to change frequency to Blois.
By the time I arrived at Blois, the promised CAVOK had arrived and remained with me for the rest of my flight. Here are some shots that I took there after I’d taken on fuel. This time I had to get hold of the airfield fireman (le Pompier) as I’d been told I would, who opened up the pump and took my card payment. Easy-peasy, no worries, except initially I couldn’t find him and had to seek the help of a gent cleaning the interior of a Citation business jet, one of two or three in the far hangar.
After leaving Blois, my flight continued in rather bumpy conditions as I was flying at under 3000 feet under patchy, broken cumulus. There was plenty of lift around and I considered, but had decided against, climbing above it but with hindsight I should have. Here are a few shots of the landscape that I was flying over.
My next task was to contact Limoges Approach to obtain clearance to once again transit their Class D airspace. Some Ryanair guys were doing some training exercises and there was quite a bit of local traffic but there was no problem. As I flew by the airfield I watched and heard a Ryanair Boeing 737 obtain take off clearance and depart for East Midlands and just afterwards the controller advised that due to traffic, as I was about to cross the extended centre-line of his approach, I had to either turn right or climb to 4000 feet. I did the latter and after leaving his zone and signing off with him, I started my long cruise descent for a landing at Malbec.
Conditions at Malbec were very bumpy due to the temperature and I started my initial approach a little bit high. To compound it, I was thrown up once too often just before I was about to land so with discretion being the better part of valour, I decided to throw the approach away and go around.
It turned out to be a wise decision, because the second, lower, flatter approach was much less dramatic and I ended up with a greaser of a landing of which I was truly proud, and here’s a shot of F-JHHP parked at the top of Malbec’s runway before I towed it up to the barn, unloaded it and put it away.
And so ended my flight up to the UK and back. One is always very pleased to complete any long flight without any major incident and that’s how I felt again at the end of this one. It was very satisfying that I’d coped with the somewhat challenging conditions that I’d faced at the beginning of the flight in northern France and I was more than pleased with how my new avionics kit had simplified the whole process. Now I have the prospect of a two-day flight down in the X-air to look forward to and I know from experience that that will be a completely different kettle of fish.