A trip to France and the Channel Islands from Gloucester in the same day in the TB20.
With a warm front casting its shadow over the UK, the forecast was for fog in the morning and relatively low cloud in England, but sunshine for the south coast and points south of that. I had arranged a flight with Bruce, one of the Lyneham club members, in the TB20 from Gloucester and originally intended to go to the Scillies. A quick phone call earlier in the week discovered that their website incorrectly advertised the airport to be open during Saturday afternoons in the winter, when in fact it closes at 12:30 (as correctly stated in the AIP). So instead we decided to go to either Dinard in France, or Guernsey in the Channel Islands and actually managed to visit both. I filed a GAR form the night before, leaving the flight plans to be sent shortly before departure of each leg. I used SkyDemon to file the flight plan from my iPhone for the first time – I have to say it continues to amaze me both how much a smartphone can do and how effectively SkyDemon have adapted their software to run on it
Carpet of Fog
Waiting at our rendevous point north of Bath, it was easy to see the carpet of fog rolled out over parts of the Avon valley floor below. Bristol Airport to the south reported CAVOK, while early METARS from Brize reported thick fog that was beginning to clear.
Gloucester to Dinard
We arrived at Gloucester shortly after 9am and after checking that we wouldn’t need to refuel before departure, filed a flightplan to DInard from my iPad using SkyDemon. While I completed the pre-flight, Bruce extracted the life jackets/raft/PLB from the storage cabinet. After starting up, it took a few extra minutes for the engine to warm up. Plenty of time to enter the flight plan into the Garmin 650 and setup all the instruments and radios. We departed from 27 and climbed up into IMC at about 2000 feet, breaking clear before reaching 3000 and cruising at 4000.
There was a NOTAM advising that Bristol LARS was not operational today, and we debated whether this meant they would offer a Basic service or not. So we asked and got one anyway, despite not requiring a transit through their airspace. The cloud layer below us became broken as we approached the coast, and we routed over Weymouth/Portland harbour. There was no response from Plymouth Military, so we remained with Bournemouth while transitting the Danger Areas. These are all cold over the weekend unless specifically NOTAMed active.
We freecalled Jersey Zone who allocated a squawk code/identified us, then cleared us direct to Dinard at 4000 feet. We were given a Radar Controlled Service within their controlled airspace. Approaching Jersey, we were handed over to Jersey Approach (which I wasn’t expecting) passing slightly West of Jersey. As we crossed the international boundary, we were handed over to Rennes Approach and after descending below 2500 feet across to Dinard Tower. With Runway 35 in use, we were told to join downwind for a left hand circuit and report crossing the coast. My visual circuit was slightly low on base leg but after a straightorward landing, we exited off Juliet and parked up in spot E3 – the whole apron was clearly marked out with plenty of parking spots.
A large sign directs pilots to pay their landing fees at a small portacabin on the far side of the passenger terminal. After ringing a bell, a fireman came to take our payment by credit card. We walked back to the passenger terminal where we exited out to the main hall. The cafe was shut (this not being a day when Ryanair flighs in), and we decided not to take a taxi into town.
Dinard to Guernsey
A lady led us through the departure gate and our passports were inspected by an officer, after which we were let out onto the apron. I filed a flight plan on my iPhone from the cockpit, then made a quick pre-flight before calling for start. We taxied back to holding point Juliet for power checks and when reported ready for departure, were asked if ready immediate without backtrack. Since there was plenty of runway from there, we confirmed and were quickly off the ground and heading northwest towards Guernsey.
After contacting Rennes, we were passed back to Jersey Zone (and I can’t recall if we then spoke with Jersey Approach) who directed us to fly a course of 300, not above 2000 feet, and expect a right base join for Guernsey runway 09. I misread that back as 330 (and was corrected), because I wasn’t expecting to be turned so far away from our destination – they must have wanted us well clear of Jersey IFR approach traffic. After what seemed like quite some time, we were then given a “resume own navigation” and transferred to Guernsey Approach. They reconfirmed the base leg join and told us to report when field in sight. Transferred to tower when we confirmed that and we were cleared to land.
Being new to Guernsey, the controller helpfully guided us with simple taxi instructions to the AGL handling facilities on the apron. A marshaller attracted our attention on the far right hand corner of the apron and guided us in. A fuel truck arrived minutes later and topped us up. Guernsey has a special extra discount for AOPA members, but I misunderstood that this meant you paid the fueller directly. We had to return to the apron to sort that out rather than paying at the desk.
The hangar had an unusual stacking system to cram more aircraft into the available floor space, by raising some up on jacks.
I did like the tug they used to push us back into the parking spot though. Stupidly, I’d left the brakes on and doors locked, so the handler had to come and find me before moving us.
We filled in a GAR form with our passport details in the office and paid the (very reasonable) landing fee.
We walked outside round to the main road and (after asking a local) turned left, left again and along to the Deerhound pub – about 10 minutes walk in total. They served a good range of food and we chatted for a while before returning.
Guernsey to Gloucester
I filed our return flight plan from the office using SkyDemon on the phone again – it all seemed very straightforward. After another quick pre-flight, we called for start, was immediately given our clearance (squawk code, not above 2000 feet, SVFR on a northerly track), then taxied back to Charlie for power checks, and were able to backtrack as required before departing on 09. I climbed out turning north when just off the East coast, giving us a great view of the harbour area and main town.
After transferring to Guernsey Approach, we were asked if we would like a higher altitude and cleared to the 4000 feet I asked for. This would be above the broken cloud layer I could see ahead. When asked if we wanted higher I declined due to the likely stronger headwind at higher altitude.
I have to say I found the Channel Island controllers very clear and helpful throughout. There did seem to be quite a lot of different frequencies/units to switch between, but this was all co-ordinated, there was a single squawk code throughout, handovers were expected and there was early indication of what to expect. It seemed very efficient to have my clearance available when I initially called up just a few minutes after filing the flight plan.
The cloud became more overcast as we crossed the English coast back over Weymouth. Bristol declined a Basic Service when we spoke to them at Bournemouth’s suggestion, and provided London Information frequency as an alternative choice. Instead, we tuned into Gloucester and spoke to them when in range, asking for a GNSS approach via waypoint REKLO. Under procedural service, we descended into the cloud layer around 3000 feet. I had hoped to execute this entirely using the autopilot as I had practiced several times before, but for some reason the autopilot didn’t turn onto the final approach path – I can’t quite figure out what I did wrong – but spotting the overshoot, I disconnected the autopilot and flew the final approach manually. Not expecting to do that caught me out and I became aware I was about 100 feet below platform height of 2500, which annoyed me. In retrospect, I think I failed to select Approach Mode on the autopilot and probably didn’t turn the course pointer when prompted – if you fail to spot the message at the right time, there is no specific reminder or warning of your oversight.
I had the ILS tuned in on the second VOR, so that helped to confirm I was on the localiser path when I recaptured it. The glide slope indicators on the GPS did flag up correctly, and as we crossed the final approach fix I throttled back, commenced lowering the gear and applied flaps. With the gear up warning horn still sounding, I reported being at the Final Approach Fix. Perhaps the controller heard the horn, because he asked me to confirm gear down and I was cleared to land. I thought of John’s advice in my recent mentoring flight about getting the aircraft sorted first before talking to ATC – the old mantra of aviate, navigate, communicate in that order.
The runway lights were now clearly in sight for me, although Bruce said he didn’t spot them until we were much closer. Perhaps that night flight the previous week was helpful for that. I forgot to turn the landing light on until we were almost on the ground, but made a reasonable landing nonetheless. With only one other aircraft around still at the early stage of the ILS procedure, I was given a backtrack and exit to parking rather than the more common and longer taxi around the edge of the airfield.
Summary (and a milestone passed)
We had flown only about 10 minutes of official night (later than 30 minutes after sunset), but I was qualified to do this with a passenger because of my night flight the previous week.
An extensive day of busy flying to two countries and two new airports with plenty of radio frequency changes, airspace classes and weather conditions to keep us busy. I was annoyed about failing to capture the final approach track on that GPS approach, but otherwise things seemed to go pretty well. Flying a capable aircaft from a fully ATC/Instrument approach airfield opens up more possibilties for flying on potentially poor weather, shorter, winter days.
Reaching 200 hours PIC (Pilot in Command) now qualifies me to pilot Charity flights where the passengers make a donation to registered charity (such as offering a flight as a raffle prize etc.) without any additional/special CAA approval subject to their standard general conditions:
- VFR/VMC local flights from licenced or military aerodromes, not more than 25 miles distant
- Good weather: min 2000 feet cloudbase, 8km visibility, no strong (cross) winds
- All monies raised given to a Registered Charity (pilot gets nothing towards costs)
- C of A aircraft (not Permit), with no pilot maintenance performed which hasn’t been certified by a Licenced Aircraft Engineer. I think this last point means the TB20 wouldn’t qualify until after its next Annual service, but (with CFI permission from the club CFI) I might be able to do this in a Lyneham club aircraft.
As before, I can still offer to fly passengers where costs are shared or not, and I believe this could include offering free flights as part of a charity event where no money changes hands.
Flight time today: 3:55
Total PIC: 202:05
Total Time: 304:30