Time: 10:20 - 11:45 & 17:20 - 18:30 (GMT)
Aircraft: Ikarus C42 - G-CEAN
Le Touquet (at last!)
After two postponements due to bad weather, we are finally going to France. Slightly different line-up than for the original attempt - Steve couldn't make it due to work commitments, so Ian filled the vacancy to make it our usual team. Colin and Jac have already made it there once (on a day where I had a work meeting) so are the experienced ones.
We prepared the aircraft the night before, by giving them a good checkover and filling with fuel - this gives us less to do so we can get an early start. We also check that Greg has kindly sorted out packs to take including lifejackets, spare oil, spare tyre, spare tubes, some tools, the two PLB's (personal locator beacons) and also the aircraft documentation that we are required to take - this includes the registration certificate, airworthyness certificate, insurance certificate, weight and balance sheet etc. For ourselves we have got passport, pilots license, radio license, medical declaration and logbook.
I arrive at the airfield at 07:15 - lots to do. The planes need re-checking over. We get the latest forecast which looks a little less favourable than it was but we are still happy to go. Now we have the "spot wind" forecast we all sit down quietly and do our PLOG plans. The logistics plan is for Colin and I to be in G-CEAN all day and Jac and Ian in G-CDVI - suits me, because VI is my least favourite and I often find myself flying it out of balance. Colin has already landed at Le Touquet, so kindly elects to fly the first leg to Headcorn in Kent, so that I can fly into Le Touquet. He will then fly the return to Headcorn and I will do the last leg back to Popham. For the other plane Jac is to fly the same legs as me and Ian legs 1 and 3. We remove anything from the aircraft that we don't need, put stuff required into the headset bags and stow the lifejackets and tools etc. E-mails are/have been dispatched for PPR at Le Touquet and customs for arrival there. Eventually we are ready to go at half past eight.
We take off behind VI from 03 after a quick delay to change a dodgy headset. Chris (on the radio) warns us that there is poor visibility reported at Portsmouth. We head down to Colemore Common and it's true - the vis isn't brilliant, but is OK. There is a rain shower to the south east that we would have expected to pass, given that we are flying into the wind; however it doesn't seem inclined. Indeed we are only making about 50 knots over the ground. We keep to about 2000' to stay safely below the 2500' London TMA around Gatwick. Colin talks to Farnborough Radar West and after Billingshurst changes to East - I probably should have done this. It's a lot easier if the passenger works the en-route radio, to let the P1 concentrate on the flying. Bewl Water gives an easy landmark on the way to Headcorn and we are given a straight-in approach.
Once down we park-up near to G-VI and go inside. After booking in and paying the landing fee we start doing the flight plan for the next leg. This is the first one I've done for real, but think we have the hang of it. The Headcorn controller kindly files it for us on his computer system. We also do the customs form (to let us back in). We then have some tea and cake/biscuits/chocolate etc.
We sort ourselves out for the next leg. As this is over the English channel, we put our lifejackets on. I take off on runway 11 and head straight on towards the coast. We ask the controller to confirm that our flight plans have been activated. Once we get to Ashford we start the climb for the Channel crossing. Colin talks to London Information and when we get to Folkstone, we report coasting-out. We are at about 4500' with G-VI just to the left of us. However they are a bit higher and slightly behind, so I have to repetitively lift the port wing to keep an eye on their position. I'm surprised that almost straight away we can see the shadow of Cap Griz Nez (Grey Nose point) which is our target on the French coast. The crossing is (happily) uneventful - when we get to the FIR boundary we leave London Information and change to Lille, but they don't seem interested, so we listen to Le Touquets ATIS for their information. My original idea was to track down the coast, but I agree that it does look a bit built up around Boulogne with few emergency landing spots, so we go round the inland side of the town. Heading down towards the windfarm, Colin communicates with Le Touquet radio. Whilst the tower is manned, they are supposed to speak English, but they are speaking English to English pilots and French to the French pilots - this is not ideal, as you cannot get a mental picture of where everyone else is. It's also disconcerting that they have very disjointed conversations where they ask one pilot something, then talk to someone else, then back to the first - can get a bit confusing even before you fight with the accent.
The circuit is busy. We join downwind, but are soon told that there is someone else coming up fast behind us and could we move over to let them past - never been asked to do that before! We move over to the right and slow it up to 60knots, wait for the bright orange G-CHAS come past and slotted in behind him. Of course, like many GA pilots, he goes a long way downwind forcing us to follow him. Approaching on final (with people behind us) I have the choice of landing long and taking the last turnoff, or landing at the threshold and coming off at the first. I choose the latter as the runway is so incredibly long, it would be too embarrassing if I got it wrong and had to do a go-around. Landing goes well and I'm easily vacated on the turnoff. The taxiway is really smooth - I find the pull on the elevator is quite high, then realise that we are doing 35knots just as the nose comes up - best slow down a bit.
There are many aircraft here - the first parking space I head for turns out to be too small for comfort, so I find a place at the edge, with room for Jac to park next to us. We get out, take off the lifejackets and make our way to the terminal - never been into Arrivals (or arrivee) at any other airfield I have landed at. We book-in and ask for confirmation that our flightplan has been closed - otherwise we could get charged for an unnecessary rescue search. We don't seem to need all the paperwork we have bought with us, but you can bet we would do if we didn't have it. We also need the loo.
What to do next - lunch at the airfield restaurant or go into town? We walk outside and there is a taxi waiting and the driver beckons us over. As we start to get in, it turns out to be someone else's booked taxi, but the driver says that she will be back in 10 minutes. She takes us to the edge of the semi-pedestrianised town centre and we wander in to find a restaurant - plenty of choice. We find a likely place and sit outside, now that the weather has really cheered up. I'm pretty sure my steak and shallots was once called Dobbin. Then we walk to the beach - it's a shallow shelving expanse of nice looking sand. We are surprised that the water park bit is already closed. Then we walk to the north along the coast and then inland back to the airfield.
Here we sort out our flightplans for the return trip and also go on top of the building to the viewing deck. Buying some "Le Touquet Airport" wine also seems like a good idea, but only one bottle each due to stowage restrictions. We have plenty of fuel, so don't have to worry about that. We checkover the planes and don our lifejackets.
Finally we are ready for departure and we line-up on piste 14 with the huge 1850m long runway in front of us. We climb-out and then head back towards the windfarm - we're asked to report leaving the zone. The route back is pretty much the reverse of the outbound trip. Once we leave Le Touquets frequency, I contact Lille Information - as usual, they need reminding that we have no transponder, so they request we report coasting-out. I do this once we get to Cap Gris Nez and then report again at the FIR boundary. I then change to London Information. We're asked for an estimate of when we will be coasting-in and to report there, and then asked for a estimate of Headcorn. We pass near the Channel Tunnel terminal. Just south of Ashford, I nearly have my finger on the PTT button to call them to change to Headcorn and they just beat me to it. Still, some good practice talking to Lille and London. We join downwind at Headcorn and were originally going inside the village, but are asked to go outside - not a problem. Round to a landing and we park up.
We pay at the desk and confirm that our flight plans have been closed. It appears that the cafe is also closed, but there is a bar in another building where we can get some tea/coffee. We don't stay too long and are off at twenty past six - Jac and I are flying this last leg. Jac takes off first and I follow - I fly a little faster at 75-80 knots to catch up. Once we are level I slow down to 75, being a little mindful that Popham closes at 8pm. It seems I'm creeping away, so eventually slow to 70knots. Another uneventful trip - the vis is OK and Colin communicates with Farnborough East and then West. It's also very smooth. Soon we are back at Popham and join deadside for 08. We then have to put all the right equipment back into the right aircraft and store the lifejackets and PLBs. Eighteen litres of fuel still left in the tank, so 52 litres used on the whole trip.
Great - we've done it! I feel quite chuffed and believe that next time will be easier having got the experience. Still need more radio confidence though
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