Two at once
After the success of my first Cross Channel Groundschool, I was pleased to be able to followup quickly with the practical side. Two Bristol Aero Club pilots (we’ll call them W and P), asked me to fly with them on their first venture abroad as our club rules require. Originally scheduled for Saturday, we were able to reschedule to Friday in light of the weather forecast, with another club member agreeing to switch the time and aircraft for his short local.
We’d fly in G-BASJ, the club’s PS28-181 which has the more powerful 180hp engine and full IFR navigation kit.
It seemed a good idea to share a cross channel trip between the two pilots. Not only does this save money, but allows some back seat time to observe and take in all that’s happening, without being fully under pressure to fly manually and monitor all systems at the same time.
I left both pilots to plan the day and destinations, and they came up with quite a bold plan to drop into three airports – Alderney, Jersey and Cherbourg. I’d also have to conduct a club currency check flight first with W, who had not flown for a while. This would allow him to log the flight as P1 towards the 100 hours required for self-authorisation. Neither had reached that number yet.
Full marks to P for treble checking the paperwork requirements, and finding that some of the documents in our landaway folder were a little out of date. Quickly updated, we had a full set of aircraft registration, insurance and other required documents to take with us. The lifejackets had just been serviced, the liferaft repacked after being inflated on the groundschool the previous week, and PLB located. Each filed the required flight plans for their legs and associated GAR forms.
Currency Check and outbound to Alderney
We got to Kemble around 8:30 to find it already a hive of activity. This had been the best weather day for some time, and a Bank Holiday, so to be expected. W and I took off for some quick practice, steep turns, stalls etc. before returning for a few circuits. Rust removed, W was pronounced fit to fly as P1 and passenger current. He flew the first leg, and with three onboard we departed almost on schedule at 10am, heading south over Frome, Compton Abbas and Lulworth Cove.
A phone call to Plymouth Military previously had indicated that the Danger Areas would be closed and that no military radio service would be available over the weekend. Nonetheless we wanted to confirm that in the air and asked Bournemouth who referred us to London Info. As you can imagine, they were very busy on frequency and it took some minutes for them to get back to us. After a quick confirmation, we stayed with them for a Basic service as we coasted out.
The views were spectacular and we could hear of many other aircraft heading across the Channel. We switched to Jersey Zone for our initial clearance into the Channel Islands airspace, which is now all Class D (up to FL80) so easily accessible to VFR PPL/LAPL pilots. After transfer to Guernsey Approach, we continued our gentle descent from FL55 for a VFR base leg arrival. The tower cleared us to land as we turned final, with a light (6 knot) crosswind from the north. We parked on the grass as usual.
Alderney to Jersey
This was to be a short stop and we paid our landing fee, filled in the immigration forms and took the few steps to walk around inside the terminal building. A stream of light aircraft seemed to be arriving, making the most of the excellent weather for a day trip.
W remained pilot for the second leg, with a VFR departure clearance initially not above 1000 feet, later increased to 2000, on track south to Jersey. We could clearly see Guernsey off to our right in what was excellent visibility and great weather. We tracked a little right of course due to the wind at that height and needed a few corrections to stay on track. We were asked to report field in sight and did need to be a bit closer to properly identify it, whereon we were transferred to tower and given an early landing clearance.
We commented later than in the UK, it’s common to head directly for your destination VFR airport with a view to making a standard overhead join. In these larger commercial airports, its more typical to be given a base leg join, so navigation should be aiming to intercept a 2 mile file.
The Jersey Aeroclub was as I remembered it from the summer. Food and drinks were served, such as bacon rolls etc. The fuel bowser was busy so it took a little longer, partly due to another aircraft temporarily blocking the way. The fuel price in Jersey more than makes up for that – possibly one of the cheapest in Western Europe – something which the club lets benefit the pilot.
Jersey to Cherbourg
P’s turn to fly next and he had been fully prepared with a wind calculated plog, routing us via clearly visible landmarks to Cherbourg. We were cleared initially not above 1000 feet and then shortly afterwards not above 2000 feet towards the French coast. This gave us a great low level tour of the north side of the island, and then the Isles Chausey (the habited French Channel Island).
We Free-called Brest Information after being released by Jersey Approach, and gave our details. These are acknowledged but there is no “Basic Service” (a UK anachronism). Nor even Flight Information Service confirmation, but we were confirmed as Identified.
The VFR track took us near Carteret Lighthouse, then a town and north to Cherbourg airport. Keeping low at 2000 feet we were handed across to the Tower controller (AFIS not ATC) who asked to us to make a downwind join for 28L for traffic spacing. Approaching from the south this mean a left turn to position for a 45 degree entry into the downwind leg.
On long final another aircraft was given permission to enter and depart from the intersection immediately, leaving us with a late landing clearance. Actually the phrase used was “report vacated” rather than “land at your discretion” as commonly heard in the UK from AFIS.
Border police at the airport thorough checked our documents (aircraft, pilot licence as well as passports), as a result of heightened national security measures.
The restaurant at Cherbourg had been fully exploited by a crowd of pilots from White Waltham, leaving only a few crumbs left by late afternoon. The proprietor was very welcoming, made sandwiches (which tasted outstanding) and sold us some wine which I’m sure will prove great value.
Cherbourg to Kemble
The last leg of our adventure took a different route from those I’ve flown before, flying up to Solent airspace and intending to transit VFR between Bournemouth and Southampton. Our departure was straightforward without any VFR departure clearance, simply “report when leaving the area”. A sharp right turn is advisable after takeoff to be well clear of the prohibited area area (power station), thereafter we tracked north west to remain clear of the mid-channel danger areas. At ORIST we climbed up to about FL45, and as we tracked toward KATHY requested a zone transit from Solent.
W had learned at a non-radio airfield and had had relatively little R/T experience and no radio navigation training, but his R/T was faultless making a clear request for zone transit. As a result, within a couple of minutes we were cleared, not above 4000 feet VFR direct to Stoney Cross. This would track us directly between the two airports and overhead the west end of the Isle of Wight. My iPad ran out of battery during the transit and I switched to using the iPhone. Visibility was so good we could very easily and clearly make out the visual reference points we were navigating to and see them on the printed chart.
Once clear, we tracked north west, again keeping clear of the Salisbury Plain danger areas, around Warminster and back to base.
Kemble was still active at 5:30 when we returned although the tower was closed. (Apparently it had been extremely busy during the day with huge numbers visiting). We made a standard overhead join, with a slight surprise when another aircraft also reported in the overhead at about the same time. Quickly spotted, he was actually below and behind us, and announced he would follow us in.
After parking up, putting the aircraft to bed and completing the paperwork, I’m pleased to say we remembered to close our flight plan and report our out of hours movement.
I’m also happy to report that both pilots successfully completed the task with flying colours and can fly abroad solo or with passengers in the future.