From groundschool to practical application
After running several successful VFR Cross Channel Groundschool courses, it’s been good to take things a step further and sit beside pilots making the trip for the first time. Our club requires that unless already experienced, each member’s first cross channel flight is taken with an instructor, thereafter pilots can fly almost wherever they like. I’d hope my day long groundschool covers most of the aspects you need to consider (including many that are often overlooked), but perhaps the most disconcerting for newcomers is simply understanding some of the French air traffic controllers. Fortunately ATC and AFIS operating in Northern France are very used to visiting Brits and so not put off by those asking for a Basic Service or making similar mistakes.
Joe had initially made the booking and was asking around for another member to join us and fly one of the legs. A new member Rachel, who’s working towards a career as a commercial airline pilot, opted in and we were good to go. She’d checked the weather forecast and asked to fly the outbound leg – a smart move given the strong westerly winds. Groundspeed outbound was about 120 knots, and closer to 80 for the return. Each pilot filed their relevant flight plans, submitted GAR forms and notified the French Douanes.
Gloucester to Le Touquet
I encourage a route from Gloucester to Le Touquet which navigates via the VORs at Goodwood and Seaford, leading to around 20 minutes over the water. The outbound leg went as usual, with Rachel having to FreeCall each station in turn, reciting the full details of our flight each time. First Brize, then Farnborough, then Solent, back to Farnborough, then London Information, Lille and finally a straightforward “contact” to Le Touquet tower. None of the seamless handover you get when IFR or in the USA with flight following.
With little traffic inbound, we got a right hand downwind join for runway 31, crossing the coast on the north side of the estuary. There was a 10-15 knot crosswind which Rachel was initially a bit apprehensive about but she made an exemplary approach and landing.
The walk into town in the sunshine and lunch were good. We walked the longer way back via the river mouth (perhaps a bit too long for some), but remained in good time for our planned departure time at 1600 local. Timezones often catch pilots out – 1400 UTC = 1500 BST = 1600 French DST – and the flight plans/GAR forms all use UTC.
Le Touquet to Gloucester
Joe’s return flight was pretty uneventful if longer because of the headwind. Returning a bit later meant Gloucester wasn’t so busy and he was able to make a direct left join rather than the full overhead pattern.
I’m available as an instructor for others who want to learn to fly abroad too. Contact me via the Website Form.
PIC Today: 4:10
Total Time: 715:50