Granville and Chartres

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August 12, 2016

GRANVILLE and CHARTRES

Here we were in August and for the first time since the group fly outs started in earnest back in 2006 we had only managed one, albeit a very good one to Germany so far. The rest had been cancelled with monotonous regularity by what seemed to be a rolling succession of fronts bringing bad weather since the beginning of the year. It therefore seemed a little too good to be true to see the forecasts leading up to our planned French trip were remaining constantly good. However, nothing is ever completely straightforward and there was a spanner in the works in that our trusty C172 ‘FC’ was out of service for several months having sustained some damage in a landing accident and our regular partner Gordon Horscrafts Robin G-GEEP had broken a steering cable a few days earlier and of course being August, it was impossible to get the required part from France as it was effectively closed. The gap caused by FC being down could be made up with one of the NWFT two seaters but unfortunately Gordon had to drop out.

That was a great pity as the TAF for the our day of departure was really good and even better was the fact that the general forecast was for the weather to stay that way for the whole weekend and into the following week. We met up at ‘The Squadron’ on the morning of the 12th August with a bright blue sky and light winds which put everyone in good spirits, the only downside was that ‘FT’ was still in maintenance after a 150 check but the engineers were beavering around it to get it out asap. Our plan was to route out to the QE2 Bridge and then down towards MAY before following the South Downs to Bognor and then onto KATHY before crossing the Channel on the VFR route direct to Cherbourg (LFRC) which was to be our customs and lunch stop. After which we would head down the Cherbourg peninsula to Granville (LFRF) which was to be our overnight stay. The following day would be Granville to Chartres for another overnight in the historic City. All pretty straightforward and incorporating new stops for the whole group except Phil and myself who had visited the previous year which had given me the idea that they would be great fly out destinations. And so they proved to be. Flight Plans were in, now almost exclusively filed with Rocket Route and Sky Demon and the PPR’s had been arranged way in advance. With everything fuelled, packed and ready to go we headed out to R20 for a 09.30 local departure. Tony Chapman and wife Natasha were taking our latest addition to the fleet G-MG, a Cessna 152 Aerobat which had been shown to be able to cruise comfortably as fast as a C172 and is proving to be an all round excellent aircraft. Being the good egg he is Tony decided to wait for Linda and James in FT and to travel behind them.

Climbing out from North Weald and looking out towards the city was really quite stunning, clear calm air with fantastic viz and the occasional small fluffy cloud, the sort of weather that makes you quickly forget the bad days. Despite the ongoing saga of Flight Plan activations still ongoing we were pleased to hear that John Buckels in the Tower at North Weald had arranged to do get our plans activated as we became airborne which was a nice touch and saved us a job with London Info. With that done we could go straight to Farnborough and remain with them until west of Worthing. The route down to MAY and along the South Downs was as lovely as ever and never fails to impress me. As we routed towards Bognor we changed to London Info 124.750 in preparation for the sea crossing and as Plymouth Military was closed to try and get a crossing service for the Royal Navy Range D036 which was NOTAM’d as active. D036 is just in the way for the Cherbourg crossing and without a clearance to cross adds a fair few extra miles in a dog leg out to the west to avoid it. We were therefore quite surprised when London Info told us that it and the other Channel Danger Areas weren’t actually active. So on passing Bognor we reported ‘coasting out’ and headed directly towards our FIR boundary crossing at GARMI. The sea was beautifully calm as the coastline slipped away behind us and the myriad of different boats and shipping made interesting viewing. Phil and I actually enjoy a long water crossing in our trusty ‘VB’ but Pete McDonald with Vrai Stacey in NUKA weren’t that keen so they had gone to Le Touquet for customs and were then flying cross country direct to Granville. I don’t know how many times it has happened over the years but the usual ‘There’s France ahead’ observation from one of us actually turns to ‘Oh sod it! Its not France, its cloud’ and so it proved once again. Having said goodbye to London Info as we crossed the boundary the unforecast cloud was now rolling in below us. Fortunately there were very big gaps where the sea could be seen below and we estimated it at around 1000 ft thick. A call to Brest Info 134.2 established contact on the French side and we could clearly hear from other aircraft that this was coastal cloud which started at around 1400ft agl and that further inland all was as expected. We weren’t with Brest Info very long before being changed to Deauville approach 120.350 and then as we approached the Cherbourg CTR to Cherbourg Info 119.625. Being told to report at ‘Point November’ for R 28 we began a gentle decent through a suitable gap and on reaching 1400ft we saw rather grey and murky French coast ahead of us which meant keeping a particularly good lookout for Steve Gellard who was on his first fly out in ‘FS’ under the watchful eye of Dave Longhurst. We had clearly slipped in front of them and reported ‘N’ to then be told to join right base for R28. The huge 2440 m runway came into view and we were soon slipping over the coastal cliffs onto right base.

Turning final for a slightly murky R28 at Cherbourg

Turning final for a slightly murky R28 at Cherbourg

Landing long to avoid a lengthy taxi we vacated onto ‘A’ for the GA Apron. Cherbourg is a generally quiet airfield and ideal for a customs stop on the way into France, no hassle, a 10 euro landing fee and a nice café that still serves some of the best ham and brie baguettes I have tasted. All I had to do was keep Phil away from the very well stocked wine shop side of the café as we would have overloaded the plane with boxes of ‘fizz’! As we finished our lunch the cloud was rapidly melting away leaving a stunningly blue sky just as FT and MG arrived having had practically a cloud free crossing.

With a check of the aircraft we were back in the seat for the next leg down to our destination of Granville a short 47 nm flight south down the Cherbourg peninsula. Climbing out from R28 we made an early left turn to ensure we stayed well clear of the extensive prohibited areas around Cherbourg town and routed down the coast towards the VRP at St Germain on the west coast. Clearing Cherbourg’s CTR we changed back to Deauville approach who quite quickly passed us off to Brest Info for the remainder of our journey south. Heading towards St Germain gave us a great view of the coastal towns and beaches as well as keeping us well clear of Lessay airfield where intensive parachuting was notified by NOTAM. The weather was now stunning and we could clearly see all the way down the coast towards Mont St Michel as well as Jersey out to the west. Days like that make you forget all the drizzle, windy and cloud laden days that had thwarted most of our previous 2016 fly outs. 10nm north of Granville we changed to Granville Radio on 118.1 and as transmissions were to be in French only listened in to get as good a picture as we could as to what was happening. We could hear that there was no one actually on the radio but pilots were making blind calls for joining LH on R25. Our group pilots are getting better at making the calls but we do have a bit of a way to go in that respect! However we were helped out by a parachute drop aircraft pilot who gave us the information in English. The airfield sits very close to the beach and just north of the town of Granville the old town of which protrudes high and long into the sea on its own little peninsula so you can’t really miss it. Soon we were descending dead side as Steve Gellard called going around in FS. With them in view we slipped in on crosswind and then downwind left hand for R25.

Turning downwind for R25 at Granville

The hard 940m (displaced to 820m for landing) runway looking quite stark against the brown and baked grass around it. With just a kiss of the tyres on the tarmac on landing we vacated to the large grass parking area, cracking the door open as soon as we could to get some air going around the cockpit now being baked by the hot sun.

It was then a case of wrapping the aircraft already there up for the night and after trundling over the dusty grass to the clubhouse with our assorted bags waiting for the others to arrive.  Everyone was very helpful as we paid our 8 euros for landing and overnight parking. We hadn’t realised until then but this was a bank holiday weekend in France so cabs were in short supply but we all got to the hotel in the end. Granville was pretty busy but our Ibis hotel proved to be absolutely perfect. Positioned right on the harbour/marina quay side the long terrace was the ideal place to take on a little light refreshment prior to heading off for an explore of the town. Dave Longhurst and Steve Gellard were tasked with the job of finding a suitable restaurant that could take 13 of us for dinner that evening. No easy job on any of our trips but a coastal town on a BH weekend made it a bit of a quest. Dave came up trumps and found us ‘La Citadelle’ right on the old harbour below the old town. We had an extremely pleasant evening dining al fresco with an excellent menu at a very reasonable price.

The Ibis and marina Granville.

The Ibis and marina Granville.

The following morning dawned quite bright but a stubborn layer of cloud persisted for some time, not that it mattered to much as most of the group were taking advantage of the morning to explore the delights of Granville itself with its lovely town, harbour and the historic old walled town sitting high on the hill above where the original fortifications date back to 1440. With the cloud clearing to blue sky and a rapidly rising temperature it was difficult to remember that this was actually a fly out weekend!

Malcolm, Phil and JR taking on a nautical flavour.

Malcolm, Phil and JR taking on a nautical flavour.

Given the lack of cabs we headed back to the airfield in dribs and drabs to prep the aircraft. The next stop was to be the city of Chartres to the southwest of Paris, a distance of 127nm from Granville so around an hour and 20 mins airborne time. Those that had refuelled the previous afternoon on arrival when the airfield was quite quiet had done the right thing as the others now had a bit of a faff and a wait in the queue at the single pump. Departing from 25 and climbing out over the beach and the sea was a delight as we looked towards La Roc as the Granville peninsula is known. Once again cloudless clear skies and light winds.

James G watches as Linda does all the work!

James G watches as Linda does all the work!

Climbing out with Granville on our port side.

Climbing out with Granville on our port side.

Phil and I were peeling off south towards Rennes for a several day excursion but the rest of the group headed off across the wide open spaces of the French countryside towards Flers and Argentan on route to Chartres airfield. The route over took in all types of delightful scenery with forests, valleys and lakes and with no airspace to worry about was a very easy and relaxing flight. Some 20nm west of Chartres by the CHW VOR the scenery suddenly changes to long wide open flat fields almost like prairies and is quite featureless apart from the long straight rail lines going towards the city. Chartres sits on a large hill in the centre of the flatlands and the defining feature is the huge 13th century cathedral which can be seen from miles away. The airfield itself is close to the eastern side and has both a hard and grass runway of 840m aligned 10/28. The grass is used mainly for gliders. Once again in was French only on the radio but this didn’t cause any issues, probably because there wasn’t really anyone around to hear! It’s a very nice airfield just on the outskirts of the city and offers plenty of parking and a nice but quite clubhouse. Parking was on the grass in a very large apron area and made all the better in that the club were very welcoming and waived the landing and parking fees for the whole group.

Being a holiday weekend the City was very busy and it was impossible to find a restaurant at such short notice that could accommodate the whole group for dinner so unfortunately that resulted in little ‘pockets’ of the NWFG being spread around the city. However, a show by a Beatles tribute band outside the Cathedral that evening was pretty good. The city is really worth a visit with its narrow streets and long history which as is often the case for so many French cities has been violent and bloody at times. The Cathedral is the dominating feature and its importance is recognised by it having been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. There is a lot to read about the city history if you are interested, including how the Cathedral came close to being blown up during WW2 as the Allies moved forward after ‘D’ Day. During the ‘Battle for Chartres’ the advancing Americans believed the Cathedral was being used as a sniper and observation point by the Germans. It was only the bravery of one Colonel Welborn Barton Griffith, Jr who went behind enemy lines to carry out a recce and reported back that it wasn’t in fact being used that saved it from destruction and this classic Gothic masterpiece remains to this day. Unfortunately Col Griffith was killed in action later that day.

Chartres Cathedral dominating the skyline

Chartres Cathedral dominating the skyline

Having checked out of the Mercure Hotel the group headed back in cabs to the airfield to prep for the journey back to North Weald. This was going to be done via a customs stop at Calais before our well trodden route back to NW. Once again is was a clear blue sky and light winds as the NWFG departed Chartres and headed north to skirt to the west of the Paris TMA’s which look more complicated on the chart than they actually are if you stick under 2500ft until north of Beauvais. The 148nm flight was pretty straightforward for all our crews and Calais as usual was a nice easy and quick stop before the channel hop to NW.

We were certainly extremely lucky with the weather which apart from the early morning low cloud and mist was about as good as we could get and was a welcome change to the run of appalling luck we had in 2016 up to then. If you are planning a French adventure, Granville and Chartres are two excellent locations to visit, both from the flying experience point of view and also from the very interesting picturesque and historical aspects. Both flying clubs offer a very warm welcome to their visitors, just let them know you are coming.

Phil and I disappeared for a further five days in VB taking in, Rennes, Bagnoles, Caen, Jersey (twice), Dinard, Dinan, Cholet and the very pretty island Ile D’YEU. The weather was amazing and apart from being a great trip in its own right also provided me with a few ideas for future fly outs. Look out for next year’s programme.

As always thank you to all the participants for making it such an enjoyable trip. Hopefully we will have better luck with the weather for 2017’s extended trips. A special mention for Malcolm Jarvis who did a splendid job of contacting the airfields and arranging all the PPR’s and parking arrangements. The ‘Farm Strips’ are next on the 24th Sept, let’s hope the grass is dry!

Paul

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Contact us

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