Cherbourg for lunch and wine

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Rich, one of the other TB20 joint share-o-plane owners, offered to share his flight with me from Gloucester to Cherbourg for the day. He had originally planned to take along a couple of work colleagues, but they dropped out at short notice. We agreed that he’d fly there and I’d fly the return leg. The weather looked promising, with a broken cloud layer between about 2000 and 4000 feet. This would allow him to keep in currency and me to benefit from some unofficial mentoring for what would be a mixed VFR/IFR flight.

Meeting up at the Cotswold Aeroclub lounge, we filed our GAR form online and an outbound IFR non-airways flight plan scheduled to depart at 11am. This gave us plenty of time to brief ourselves about the route, update the Garmin database (which I’d not seen done before) and refuel before departure. Rich had some initial difficulties getting his IFR flight plan to validate, with some strange error messages returned by the Aeroplus app he was using. We think this was down to the first departure leg being too long. Adding a couple more “direct to” fields in the routing fixed that but the problem and solution were far from obvious.

IFR flight outside airways

We routed via Airways reporting points at WOTAN, GISBO and ORTIS to keep us clear of the NOTAM’d active danger areas and flew at FL50. Departure was straightforward and we climbed through the broken clouds to glorious sunshine on top. Bristol and Bournemouth both provided a traffic service and we wondered how to deal with the upcoming Q41 airway that blocked our path, extending down to 3500 feet. Bournemouth advised us to contact “Hern Sector” for a crossing clearance. Our request was quickly denied – “return to your previous frequency” – perhaps because the R/T phraseology used wasn’t quite correct. This meant descending from clear VMC into the cloud layer at about 0 degrees and passing under the airway for about 10 miles in IMC.

[I later learnt that we might have had more success by asking London Information to co-ordinate the airways crossing for us first.]

Outbound track log
Outbound track log
Just departed Gloucester
Just departed Gloucester
Getting above the clouds after departure
Getting above the clouds after departure
On top of broken cloud layer at FL50
On top of broken cloud layer at FL50
Portland harbour, south of Weymouth
Portland harbour, south of Weymouth
Weymouth and Chesil Beach
Weymouth and Chesil Beach
Descending into the cloud layer
Descending into the cloud layer near Q41

Bonjour to France, but they haven’t heard of our flight plan

As we crossed the FIR boundary into the French sector, we spoke with Deauville Information who did not seem to have a flight plan for us. They quickly organised our IFR arrival and agreed to vectors for the ILS for runway 28 with circle to land on runway 10 – Cherbourg only has an ILS in one direction. We were given clear and simple vectors, turning us onto the intercept slightly late which meant we passed through the localiser before recapturing it. (Rich didn’t select APR on the autopilot until we were cleared to intercept). The controller noticed this and accepted our explanation that we would re-intercept quickly.

With a 2000 foot cloudbase, we broke out in good time to see the runway clearly ahead. The tailwind increased our groundspeed, so we were quickly in a position to break off for a downwind join, left hand circuit and arrival. I used the geo-located airfield VFR approach plates on SkyDemon to see how that worked (now that I figured out how to use them properly – just press the yellow aircraft icon on the plates selection menu).

Downwind circling to land at Cherbourg
Downwind circling to land at Cherbourg
Turning final for Runway 10 at Cherbourg
Turning final for Runway 10 at Cherbourg
Skydemon plate
Taxi-ing showing exact position on the SkyDemon plate. The track log records fewer points – at the time we saw exactly our path on the runway and taxi-way

We paid our landing fee and enjoyed a leisurely, tasty and well presented lunch in the airport cafe which was very reasonably priced. Rich stocked up with several cases of wine and I was tempted to buy a few bottles too. With only two in the aircraft, we were well within weight limits and stored this in the rear seats to ensure we were also within balance.

The plain airport cafe entrance belies some delightful food and wine inside
The plain airport cafe entrance belies some delightful food and wine inside

I filed the return flight plan VFR using SkyDemon in the cafe using their Free Wi-Fi. I was also offered a direct line to ATC to do this by phone. Departing to the east, the long runway didn’t really need the backtrack I was offered but Rich reminded me that unused runway behind you is one of the most wasted resources in aviation. We routed north west and I was again faced with the dilemma of either remaining below the cloud or inside it below the Q41 airway. I don’t have a full IR and so can’t legally fly airways at all, so didn’t have the option to ask for a transit.

We spent a few minutes in the cloud layer on the UK side of the FIR below Q41, then climbed up to FL45 which kept us fully on top. London Information were keen to ensure we kept clear of both Q41 and the active Danger Areas, checking our altitude and planned route. The views over the coast as we crossed back over land at Weymouth were spectacular.

FL45 on top over the channel
FL45 on top over the channel
Weymouth clearly visible  when coasting in
Weymouth clearly visible when coasting in

Bristol gave us a transit at 5000 feet (their transition level is 6000 feet, whereas it is only 3000 feet outside their zone) and co-ordinated our approach into Gloucester (RNAV for 27 via NIRMO). The approach went much better than the previous week, with me turning the course pointer at the correct times and the autopilot handling the approach all the way down. My final approach speed over the threshold was a few knots too fast, leading to a longer landing roll than ideal. But the main thing was that none of our precious liquid luggage was damaged or dribbling out on to the runway.

Setting sun signals the end of the day
Setting sun signals the end of the day
Inbound track log
Inbound track log

We were again a few minutes into official night on landing, making that revalidation of my night currency a few weeks ago worthwhile. Rich commented that he noticed a significant improvement in my flying since our previous outing to Newquay (which wasn’t one of my better days), which I was very pleased to hear. I’m not sure if I’ll get airborne again this year in CORB, but the last few weeks have included several great trips of which this was definitely another good one.

PIC time today: 1:30
Total PIC: 203:35
Total Time: 306:00

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