After the euphoria of being flown microlitically around France and reaching three new heights (altiports), having to return to base early was disappointing. But given the fierce winds and the destruction elsewhere it was the sensible choice, and I have been enjoying reflecting on what was achieved and the friendly welcome we were given wherever we landed.
Apart from the flying which is a privilege for me as a non-pilot, I enjoyed socialising with the locals in the bars which it seems every microlight airfield has, and especially when we were invited to take pot luck and have supper with them refectory style. Yes we were loud at times, but at Chambery Challons-Les-Eaux we were outdone one evening by a bunch of French ULM pilots! Ian and I both got lots of opportunities to practice our French language skills too.
My thanks to Ian and Grant for putting the trip together, to Les and David for the banter, and to the Whitehill Farm community for letting me join them on last year’s trip which led to this one.
Some of the delights of our flight (and one delight which I was able to enjoy as we were home for match day):
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We had chosen Amiens, because of the cheap and numerous hotels available, as well as the chance to re-visit the “Eat as much as you like” oriental restaurant.
So after quickly checking in, we discussed the options. Going home on Thursday was safest. There was a possibility of flying the Normandy beaches, on Thursday, sitting out the rain on Friday and seeing what happened on Saturday and Sunday. Based on the fact it is September, we chose safety first and filed Flight Plans, GAR forms and Calais customs notices that evening; cancelling the outstanding hotels.
The Thursday flights were like military precision exercises.
Leave Amiens at 9:30 local (as it happened, just after a rain shower), after 75 mins, we landed in Calais and following a final coffee and payment of the landing fee, departing at 11:40 local.
With a headwind, the flight to Harringe was an hour, where Border Force were there to meet me! (What again – there was no one to meet Les and I at Deanland)
All the brits waiting to leave Amiens. We didn’t even pay the landing fee.
Having re-fuelled, we again headed North West, first heading to Soissons to avoid controlled air space, then on to Amiens.
We had to dodge/fly through a few rain showers, but eventually arrived safely at Amiens. Amiens needs to be re-named England. On arrival we spotted the 4 Eurostars we had previously met at Bourg, and as we taxied to re-fuel, we came across 4 microlights from Ince.
Stopping at Chalon. The nerves needed to be calmed with coffee and a comfort break. The 12 euro landing fee was partially softened by the weather reports which seemed reasonable. In addition, the airport staff contacted Sezanne, to confirm we were en route for unleaded fuel, therefore we opted not to re-fuel.
Another 2 hour flight found us at Sezanne, which is fast becoming an important waypoint for UL91. All the aircraft were thirsty after 4 hours flying. Another coffee and comfort break and on to the third leg.
We left Chambery, having planned the “out” route. The first leg, was to re-trace our track into the Alps.
Cloud base was c5,000 ft as we headed past the lake. By the time we had cleared Chambery air space and crossed the lake to our valley route out, cloud base was 3,500ft. Still plenty. We flew up the valley observing the clouds clinging to the western side mountains. We cleared the first set of HT cables.
In the lead, I spotted the second set, but as the valley narrowed, the clinging clouds spread across the entire valley and I was only just able to fly over them. With 4 miles to the exit, cloud base dropped to 1,200ft and we considered options. I called up Ambrieu, thinking I needed to land and was glad to see their runway. Then, as quickly as it had appeared, the clouds dispersed and we continued on to our first scheduled stop at Chalon.
A deterioration in the weather has forced the boys to rethink their plans so rather than heading South West to Villefranche we’re heading North. This should give us more options should the weather really close in.
After fantastic weather yesterday, we had more of the same today.
Despite Les opting not to join us, Grant and I set off in search of more high thrills. After an uneventful flight up the valley, things suddenly started happening very quickly as I led in at Courcheval.
The complicated approach patterns – there are 2 – 1 for when AFIS is in use and 1 for when it is not, involve flying very close to landmark way points and ski lifts.
Added to that, there were 3 other planes doing circuits. No “touch and goes”, so when I landed, they were all on the apron, engines running, waiting for us to land.
Turning off the engines, for photos, was a challenge in itself. We were on the “holding” side, not the parking side and you have to be next to the shoulder, to see if anyone is coming in.
This is one of the most frantic flights you can make.
once up to temperature, you edge to the shoulder, to check nobody is coming in. Then line up and go. Luckily, 1 up, I was in the air before I reached the sloping runway. But here is the problem, you are taking off from 6,500 ft and you have to stay below the traffic pattern of 7,000 ft. By the time you have threaded between the villages for noise, you turn left and have to change frequency immediately, to start your approach (elongated circle). What do you call the into wind leg, parallel to final? Then a nice turn over the threshold, before downwind and in.
Meribel is not steep and is like many microlight strips in the UK, except concreted. A beautiful, tree lined approach, with an overshoot up the golf course fairway!
So we saved the easiest to last!