Granville/Alencon Fly Out

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August 17, 2015

GRANVILLE/ALENCON FLY OUT 14th/15th/16th AUGUST 2015

Having set the date for this little French adventure in the middle of August I thought that we might not have too much trouble with the weather. We had been very lucky with our three day trip to the RNAS Culdrose ‘Air Day’ and the Scilly Isles just a couple of weeks before when the weather was about as perfect for flying as it could be. However, as we are all well used to in this country, it couldn’t be that simple.
The plan was to fly out to Granville (LFRF) for an overnight stay in this delightful town on the western side of the Cherbourg peninsula after a customs stop at Caen (LFRK) before moving on for a further overnight at Alencon (LFOF) in southern Normandy. Needless to say it wasn’t going to be straightforward and the forecast for Friday was so bad it was clearly going to be an absolute no hoper. High winds, low cloud, hail, thunderstorms, every conceivable mix apart from a sandstorm was in there somewhere which made it easier just to say that Friday was cancelled, it wasn’t going to happen.
In an effort to salvage something of the trip the weather did look a lot better for the Saturday and then improving into the Sunday. Once again it was a plan B this time to miss out Granville and go to Alencon where we already had the hotel booked for that night. So with everything in place for the revised trip we gathered at North Weald to get our eight aircraft, crews and passengers ready for the first leg to Caen for the pre notified customs stop and a bit of lunch. David Longhurst and Richard Gormley in ‘FS’ were planning a shorter leg to Le Touquet and then route along the coast before turning south for Alencon. Unfortunately the forecast and metars weren’t terribly inspiring with the remains of the fronts across the channel and northern France giving some low cloud and light rain.
After sitting it out for a while and with endless pouring over iPads and the like a few started to depart to act as pathfinders for those following. With various issues arising as they normally do Phil and I in ‘VB’ ended up a fair way behind everyone else apart from James Furness who was joining us in PA28 G-AWSL from Thurrock but was looking for confirmation of clearer air on the route before departing.
Everyone was taking slightly different routes but Phil and I had decided and filed accordingly to coast out at Seaford (SFD) and do the medium length sea crossing to Dieppe (DPE) and then Deauville (DVL) to Caen. The run down to Seaford was very pleasant, clear sky and light winds with just a few clouds about and we reported coasting out to London Info in very good spirits with Mrs B comfortably wrapped up in the back and headset leads unplugged to prevent her being kept awake by Phil and I ‘wittering’ in the front! Midway across the channel things started to change with some clearly visible layers of grey cloud appearing in the distance. This was going to be the theme as we approached the French Coast and all the way down towards DVL. The cloud was broken but in three layers with a bit of drizzle mixed in. We could hear some of the others ahead of us flying at various levels to stay VFR and Phil and I ended up at FL70 peering down at the coast through the breaks. Paris Information before going over to Deauville approach provided their usual excellent service and airspace transit and it wasn’t until we passed the DVL VOR that things began to brighten up a bit.

Crossing the coast at Dieppe.

Crossing the coast at Dieppe.

 

With a gentle descent towards Caen through the well spaced gaps in the fluffy cumulous took us into some nice clear air although it did cloud over as we approached Caen itself. With Deauville handing us off to Caen Tower we were cleared for a right base join for runway 31. Funny airfield Caen, despite having been there quite a few times and with a 1900 metre runway just west of the city you would think it would be easy to see but in certain conditions on the flat land it’s not, and this was one of those days. We knew where it should be, we just couldn’t see it. Given Captain Fellows ability not to spot anything including the Humber Bridge at a range of half a mile he wasn’t much help and we blundered on searching for the familiar tower and terminal. Even coming onto the ILS that I had tuned in didn’t help us see it but at least we could follow it! Finally it was a ‘there it is’ moment and we continued in for Phil to pull off a greaser before vacating right for the parking area and shutting down 2hrs and 15 mins from start at North Weald.
We were so far behind most of the others some of them were walking back to their aircraft for the leg to Alencon. Checking in at the terminal was quick and straightforward and with a 9 euro landing fee it’s always a pleasure to use this handy stop to carry out the customs requirement heading into France.
Heading off to the café to refuel ourselves we met Linda Winstanley and James Grainger with his girlfriend Rebecca as well as Gordon and the GEEP gang. They and the others had clearly gone through the café like a plague of locusts and left hardly anything, not even the crumbs of a baguette! If all else fails there is always seems to be a Croque Monsieur to fall back on and this occasion was no different.

Ohhh there it is! Caen under the cloud layer.

Ohhh there it is! Caen under the cloud layer.

 

Semi refreshed we headed through security to get back airside. One thing to remember if you have never done this before is to ensure that at least one per aircraft has their licence with them as well as all the passports, it make the whole process quite simple.
Back in the plane and with me now in the left hand seat we called for engine start for LFOF and our straight line flight which was to be a quick 45 minute hop to the south east. With start and taxi clearance we moved out for our checks at the 31 hold before the long backtrack to the threshold. Climbing out from 31 with a left turn we climbed to 2100ft and reported leaving the zone and changing to Rennes Approach. Unfortunately at around this height there seems to be a bit of a dead zone with Rennes, something that we had experienced on other occasions in this area. A call to Deauville Approach again got us coverage for a few miles before we were told to try Rennes again but at least we got confirmation that the ‘Mirage corridor’ R149G wasn’t active before changing. The weather was the same but with the cloud now beginning to break up and some decent sunshine appearing which made the view over the gently rolling hills that much more pleasant. Passing west of Argentan we changed to the Alencon Radio frequency which is calls in French only, something we are getting quite practiced at. We could hear some of our number ahead of us calling in the circuit but it was obviously blind calls for the information of other traffic. Passing over the heavily wooded hills to the north of Alencon we could see the airfield tucked nicely on the north east corner of the town. The wind was across the slot and a little lively and slightly favouring R25 so we blind called and joined right hand downwind. It’s an interesting approach as it passes over some industrial units and a large motor dealers which requires a quite steep final and with a 200 meter displaced threshold reduces the landing distance to 575 metres which looks awfully short as you get closer. Not a generally a problem but with a crosswind and a steep approach it isn’t one to be getting the approach speed wrong.

ALENCON R25 Approach

ALENCON R25 Approach

 

Safely down, with a gentle kiss of the tarmac we rolled out to the end and rather than backtrack thought we would do the decent thing and vacate left on to the clearly marked taxiway to head for the parking area. Mistake really, nice grass, shame about the surface which was horribly rough and undulating and our very cautious slow taxi to the clubhouse probably took as long as the flight from Caen. Once there we parked under the windsock and slipped the cover on and wrapped VB up for the night. Most of the group had already gone but ‘FS’ and James Furness were still to arrive. The clubhouse was open and the one guy in there was very helpful and managed to find us the local cab number which arrived in about 5 minutes. It was only a six or seven minute trip to our Ibis hotel which was right in the middle of the town which is always an advantage on these trips.
After checking in it was time for a quick explore of the town. What we didn’t know was that it was a Bank Holiday weekend and being very French that also meant that practically everything was shut. However it was still a very pleasant stroll to look at the sights, the hotel being ideally located for the middle of town.
Stewart and Jonathan who had flown in FAB1 were tasked as usual with finding a restaurant for our large group that evening. Given the Bank Holiday with hardly anything open that evening that wasn’t going to be an easy task on this occasion. They rose suitably to the challenge and came up with a splendid venue no more than a five minute walk from the hotel.

The Group at Chez Fano.

The Group at Chez Fano.

 

A jolly evening was had by all at Chez Fano who at short notice not only set up a function room for us but came up with two very nice set menus to choose from. The evening was rounded off nicely with a group toast to James Grainger and girlfriend Rebecca after it was revealed that James had got down on one knee earlier that afternoon and proposed, with a proper ring and everything!  Congratulations to them both.

The following morning dawned clear and bright but on the chilly side and this was spent doing some more exploring around Alencon which does have some very interesting history and hidden gems if you get the local tourist guide. With its architecture, small winding lanes and crisscrossing river this is certainly a town worth visiting, especially as an overnight flying visit with a its nice airfield close to the town. An added bonus being the welcome from the flying club, no landing or parking fee and being able to come and go as we liked. We are very grateful to them for their hospitality.

Alencon

Alencon

 

Around lunchtime this was really the end of our group trip as several of us were looking at doing different things and heading off in different directions. Several of the group headed off to Deauville for a late lunch and time in the town before returning to North Weald that afternoon. David and Richard in FS were off to Dinan to spend another night, Phil, me and Mrs B in VB were heading off to Rennes and then Bagnoles to spend a few more days in France. That was a very nice few days where again with excellent hospitality from the Bagnoles Aero Club we based ourselves there and managed to explore some more French airfields and the cities of Saumer and Chartres. Both are well worth visits and may end up as another years fly out destinations.

Alencon Town

Alencon Town

It was a great pity that we had to miss out Granville but that’s definitely going on the list for another time. At least we managed to salvage something good from the weekend despite the weathers best attempts to scupper it. A very nice couple of days, my thanks as always to those that took part. I certainly can’t forget a big thank you to Ann who has helped us immensely over the last few years by making a lot of phone calls in French to many of our stops to PPR and gain information for our planning purposes, something that has made life a whole lot easier for us. Having joined us for dinner in Alencon with husband Roger it was nice to finally put a name to the face and thank her personally.

Paul

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North Weald Flying Group operate out of the Squadron at North Weald Airfield.

The airfield is 10 miles south of Stansted and can be seen from the M11. Follow signs from the A414 and on entrance to the field, follow the perimeter track all the way around the field until you arrive at the distinctive Squadron building.

email: paul.bazire54@gmail.com
phone: 01992522090