Great day for a multi-leg trip to France
John had flown with me last year to Plymouth, when we enjoyed some great sunny weather. He’d promised his partner a flight to France for lunch. Since she lived close by Blackbushe airport, he asked me to pick them both up from there and fly to Le Touquet. Since it didn’t seem too much out of the way, I agreed to that, although it would make for a longer day. After some torrential downpours earlier in the week, the weather was excellent with sunshine, clear skies and a light breeze blowing straight down the runway. I booked the club Arrow – it’s faster speed would come in handy to reduce time in the air.
I did the usual flight planning prep, and phoned Blackbushe the day before for PPR and asked how best to plan my arrival and departure. I’d already printed out their noise abatement chart from the website. Coming from the north west, they suggested I should join crosswind over the numbers and fly the circuit over the woods at 800 feet. On departure, I should climb up in the overhead to 3,000 feet and then transit overhead Farnborough which is adjacent to the south. They have a dedicated airport squawk code used to identify their own local traffic. I was also advised that a reduced landing fee applies if I filled up with fuel, then I’d get £10 off each time.
They also asked me to send them the GAR form by email, which they forwarded to the various authorities, but I also sent it to the national co-ordination unit myself as well. I used SkyDemon to file the flight plans the previous evening, and emailed Le Touquet with prior notice for customs.
An Early Start
It was an early start and I drove up to Kemble arriving about 8:15. Being on my own, it took a bit longer to carry all the equipment out to the aircraft (liferaft, jackets, PLB, headsets etc.), take the cover off and pre-flight the aircraft. The aircraft was full of fuel, which would be enough for the entire trip. So it was 9:00 before I started up, having just spoken to John who had arrived at Blackbushe and was waiting for me.
Departing to the South West, I waited until Swindon before contacting Farnborough LARS who allocated me a squawk code. Visibility was excellent, with just some haze in the distance. The breeze behind me added to the 130 knot airspeed, and I was cruising at over 150 knots over the ground. So it only took about 20 minutes flight time to get there.
After making radio contact, I slowed down and joined the circuit crosswind over the numbers as explained to me by telephone briefing the day before. There was a helicopter also in the circuit, but it landed by the time I got there. It seemed quite a wide circuit to fly, with an expanse of woods below and few buildings. After landing, I was “welcomed back to Blackbushe”, which I quickly rectified by saying “I am unfamiliar”. Turning off at the first convenient exit, I was given progressive taxi instructions onto the main apron, around a traffic island hosting the radio/office/fuel and parked on Spot 4 next to a small jet, shutting down at 09:45.
John (who conveniently owns a yellow reflective jacket), quickly made his own way out to the aircraft. He’d already negotiated that we could fill up with fuel and settle up the landing fees our the return, so it was only needed to brief Elaine – who hadn’t been in a light aircraft before – and put on our life jackets before climbing aboard. It was a bit cramped inside with 3 adults, so I think 4 up would have been uncomfortable.
Starting up, I completed the run-up checks before moving off – the run-up area is adjacent to that parking spot – and then declared ready for departure to the tower. As briefed beforehand, we climbed up in the circuit to 3000 feet and headed off to the south. I switched to Farnborough, but before I could request a service, they made a general broadcast for any aircraft in the Hook area to speak up. Thinking this may well be me, I announced myself, and was given a basic service and asked to fly South, rather than south east, to help co-ordinate with other aircraft. Although legally you don’t have to comply with such requests since this is technically uncontrolled airspace, it would be churlish not to and we headed off south towards the coast.
I’d warned the passengers about some light turbulence immediately after takeoff, and once at height it was smooth and clean air. We could easily pick out the South Downs and headed quickly down to Littlehampton where we turned to fly along the coast. We could have taken a more direct route, but there is more to see as we picked out the piers, Brighton Marina and other landmarks.
Across the water to Le Touquet
Coasting out at Eastbourne, we talked with London Information who passed us across to Lille Info at the FIR boundary. We were allocated a squawk for a few minutes (I remembered NOT to ask for a basic service, since they don’t have that in France.) Then shortly afterwards, they told us to contact Le Touquet tower, who gave us a different squawk code and we joined downwind for 32 right. It’s easy to pick out Le Touquet as you approach the coast from the river estuary, and we flew to the west of the river and positioned for a straightforward landing pretty much into the wind.
Walked into town
After paying our landing fee, we overheard another customer being told there was no taxi service available at the moment. There was a choice of hiring bikes or walking into town. In such pleasant sunny weather, it was refreshing to walk along the tidy, well kept avenues into town past many attractive and well maintained houses.
In the town centre, we had a gourmet lunch at a fish restaurant – it was really excellent cuisine served with the usual French aplomb.
Across the road, the tables outside were buzzing
We walked almost the length of the main promenade, admiring the wide sandy beach which wasn’t that busy. Le Touquet also hosts sand yachting, catamarans as well as a swimming pool with flumes.
Trouble free departure
We sauntered back through town and bought a few chocolates to take back home. Rather than walk all the way back to the airport again, we found a free bus opposite the main taxi stand, which dropped us off just outside. It was really just a large unmarked white minibus. I assume the service is paid for by the town council, because there were some locals onboard. Perhaps it explains why there are so few taxis around, it must be hard to compete.
After a quick transit check, we hopped in and took off, departing straight out to sea. Le Touquet tower bade us farewell close to the FIR boundary, and we spoke to London Information while retracing our route back. After coasting in at Eastbourne, we talked to Farnbourgh East who allocated us a squawk. At Littlehampton, we were asked to contact Farnborough West and report the squawk in use, simplifying the handover. Routing north towards Farnborough and tracking towards MID VOR while at about 3500 feet, I was prompted to keep clear of controlled airspace – I think they thought I might be getting a bit too close when I was flying parallel to the boundary a couple of miles away.
We then overflew Farnborough at 3000 feet, which doesn’t need special permission but I checked anyway.
It’s a popular airport for executive jets and comes with plush services, handling and a price to match (almost £1000 landing fee including mandatory handling). See this list of UK airport landing fees to see the wide variation in fees charged by commercial regional airports for (small) private aviation.
Switching to Blacbushe, I made a deadside overhead join and landed as before on 25 Left. The sun was beginning to set and quite bright from the West. After refuelling, I parked up again on Spot 4 and we looked around to see if we could get a cup of tea before my last leg of the journey. At 5:15, the cafe had closed and so I bade my passengers goodbye.
It was a short flight back to Kemble, which had closed an hour beforehand. There were a few other aircraft on frequency when I self-announced, and made a standard overhead join to land, taxi back and park up around 6pm.
A very enjoyable day made all the better by excellent weather and great company. It’s the kind of trip that makes the long investment of learning to fly worthwhile. I also appreciated that my passengers were prepared to share the costs.
PIC today: 3:50
Total PIC: 128:15
Total Time: 223:15