Making the most of this month’s flight
Only one flight this month, flown in the TB20 from Gloucester. The weather looked promising and so I planned for a daytrip to northern France – Rouen seemed like a nice destination to try out. Airborne flight time would be around 1:30 each way and I intended to fly IFR Airways outbound and VFR on the return.
One passenger dropped out at a very late stage, leaving my other passenger to sit up front. He’s been up in light aircraft a couple of times, but this would be his first cross channel.
The aircraft had been across the channel twice in the previous two days. A technical fault was reported on the previous night – the fuel booster pump switch (which includes a circuit breaker) was tripping. Without it, we wouldn’t be able to prime the engine and startup. After swapping the switch, and trying a few times, we seemed to have cleared a blockage and were able to depart.
Below you can see the small tug, a lawnmower engine powered contraption with one main wheel that we use to move the aircraft in and out of the hangar. Some people convert old ride-on mowers for this purpose.
I had filed IFR using a route generated by the very useful (and free) Autorouter.eu. I have to say it was pretty unusual proposed track at the French end (see bottom of page). In addition, Gloucester ATC pointed out that the departure had an airways join at MALBY and it should be BADIM for the flight level requested. No need to refile, this was given in the initial clearance on the ground.
Outbound airways at FL100
On departure from 09, we turned right and headed south west towards BADIM. Unusually, Gloucester were operating primary radar and tracked us – handing over to Bristol initially at about FL40. Our initial climb clearance was to FL70, with a discrete squawk code, and instructions to remain outside controlled airspace. We cleared the cloud tops at about FL50 and continued climbing. After being handed over to London Control, we were quickly redirected using radar headings towards MALBY.
I was asked if I could accept FL110 which I declined (we don’t have oxygen), and was assigned FL100 without fuss (or retribution). As you can see from the route log, we were broadly routed along L9 (on radar headings), with a few adjustments left and right by 5-10 degrees. The airwaves were busy with a lot of commercial traffic, some of which we could see in the distance and/or higher up.
After a lot of radar headings, we were given a direct to PETAX mid-channel, and at around that point handed over to Paris control. They gave a routing of DPE and ROU, both of which are VORs and so only have three letters rather than the five for GPS waypoints. I tuned in the VORs on NAV2 radio for confirmation. With this direct routing looking good, I asked for and was granted a descent initially to FL80, then 3500 feet.
The ATIS explained that with wind 050/15, Rouen was on runway 04. Since this runway end has no instrument approaches, we could expect the ILS with circle to land. I checked the VFR approaches, which explained circuits are always to the east of the field.
Shortly after, we were handed over to Rouen Approach who asked what type of approach we wanted. They immediately granted and cleared us for the ILS procedure as number 1. We popped out of the clouds at about 4000 feet, and from there could directly see the airport in the distance off to our right.
I wanted to try something different today and use the GTN to automatically sequence the approach, but finger trouble meant I got this wrong and at the ROU VOR we started turning the wrong way to take up a hold. A quick press of the red button disengaged autopilot and I flew manually. Although it was a very brief excursion, the controller had noticed and after a quick discussion re-cleared us for a visual approach, descending into the downwind right hand circuit and turning back onto final for a pretty good landing. The only glitch was that the fuel pump switch tripped out prior to the descent – meaning some uncertainty about whether it would work again when we needed to start up on our return.
No fuss at the terminal
Taxi instructions were to go to the building with the vertical red stripes (or something similar). It was very distinctive as a terminal building. We were efficiently marshalled into our spot by the fireman who also explained that we should pay him our landing fee in the office (often French airport staff seem to have multiple roles). There was only one other aircraft on the apron, a Cirrus SR22, although we did see some flying club/school traffic later in the day.
It was very friendly, professional and straightforward to pay the landing fee and we were clearly shown which button to press on the outside door panel to use on our return. (There was also a mobile number clearly displayed in case the office was unmanned). A taxi into town was called at our request.
The terminal building was strangely alive not with commercial passengers but with a wine festival (and lots of other local produce). The taxi into town took a good 15 minutes to arrive and a similar journey time – we went to the old medieval centre by the cathedral which is on the far side. Sunday was very quiet there, most shops closed, but we found a very pleasant brasserie for lunch. The cathedral itself is one of the country’s largest and a marvel of engineering from that age. There are numerous medieval streets and alleyways to wander around.
VFR return to Gloucester
The same taxi returned us to the airport and it was indeed very straightforward to get back to the aircraft. A quick transit check, call for start and the moment of truth. The fuel pump did indeed work, and engine started first time.
The VFR flight plan I’d filed through SkyDemon was pretty much a straight line at 4500 feet – much more direct than the filed IFR route outbound. Being VFR, we could choose what altitude and direction we flew at as long as we remained outside controlled airspace (or had explicitly requested and been granted permission to enter). There are also some rules about which altitude to fly when above 3000 feet, which are shortly changing to match the rest of Europe and conform to the SERA (Standard European Rules of the Air).
We took off from the intersection (ATC advised 1000m available, and asked “did I need to backtrack?”) and flew at around 2000 feet towards the coast. It was surprisingly turbulent compared to the smooth outbound crossing at higher altitude. I had planned to fly underneath the cloudbase of around 3000 feet back across the channel, but there was some darker looking stuff directly ahead. I climbed on top, turning slightly offcourse to the right to remain VMC at about 4500 feet.
I was able to maintain that altitude and keep below the airways by carefully routing between Solent and Farnborough airspace. We spoke with London Information, Farnborough and then Gloucester. We saw a few aircraft around, mostly below us, and even a couple of Balloons. Thereafter, a straightforward overhead VFR join following a couple of others in to land.
The aircraft will be heading off for its Annual tomorrow and we’ll be replacing the fuel pump as part of that service.
After a couple of hiccups and anxious moments about the fuel pump, this was quite a successful trip. The actual route flown was very much more direct than that which I had filed. As always, a few learning points, room for improvement and a couple of areas to research.
Total PIC today: 3:40
Total PIC: 274:30
Total Time: 407:25