Koksijde

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April 5, 2014

Following close on the heels of the Lydd trip is the latest group little adventure on Saturday the 5th April 2014. The original plan was to have this fly out to Lee on Solent and Fairoaks. However, unfortunately with the very nice airfield at Lee on Solent having a few operational issues once again when Malcolm Jarvis came up with an offer of an invitation for the group to fly into the Belgium Air Force base at KOKSIJDE (EDFN) and visit the ‘West Aviation Club’ it seemed too good an opportunity to turn down, especially as I was pretty confident that none of our members would have that one in their log book.

Koksijde is located just across the Belgium border with France and close to Ostend. It has quite a long history going back to being a Luftwaffe base in WW2 and then after the invasion of Europe an Allied base as the German forces were pushed back. It was later extended hugely in the 1950’s and again in the 60’s and became one of 15 important NATO bases in Belgium during the Cold War, something that is quite difficult to imagine given the size of the country. The history is really quite sketchy and although it has been home to many different types over the years they are not terribly well documented. However it is still well maintained with an enormous 2678 metre main runway but is home to just one Belgium Air Force SAR unit, 40 Squadron operating Sea King Helicopters.

The usual faff with these type of trips was very much overcome by Malcolm kindly liaising with an incredibly helpful Mr Michel Vandermeuter from the aero club who with all our information sent in advance made all the arrangements at their end. We just needed to turn up.

With everything nicely in place several days in advance it came as no surprise that after a run of very nice flying weather the Bazire kiss of death appeared to be working it’s magic and the only day that week that was forecast to have bad weather was that Saturday. The next few days were spent watching every forecast and it didn’t get better. Despite that it was decided that we would still inform Calais Customs, prepare the GAR form/Flight Plans etc just in case it perked up. However the TAF’s the evening before cast even more doom and gloom with poor viz, 1200ft cloudbase and some rain/drizzle into the early afternoon. Based on the forecast I was within a gnats crotchet of calling it off rather than waste everybody’s time and overdosing on bacon sarnies on the morning but thought we might be able to salvage something and go somewhere if it cleared up late morning.

Peeking through the curtains on Saturday morning expecting to see rain and gloom I was partially blinded by the sun streaming in, blue sky and hardly a cloud to be seen. After checking the date on my phone to ensure I hadn’t overslept by 24 hours and woken on another day my rather sombre mood was lifted immediately. Driving to North Weald it was more of the same, a brilliant spring morning about as far removed from the forecast as it was possible to be. A check on the actuals revealed good weather everywhere we wanted to go with cloud coming in from the southwest much later in the day. There followed the usual beaverish activity as all the NWFG aircraft were prep’d.

The routing was quite simple, out from NW to Ongar and then more or less a straight track down to the DVR VOR where we would coast out for the short crossing to Calais. We had to stop at Calais to clear customs both on the way out and back as there were are no customs arrangements at Koksidje. Although Calais is quite a well trodden route for many of the NWFG, it is always a favourite to stop at to clear customs as it generally offers a simple straightforward arrival and departure with a nice cheap 10 euro landing fee together with a very good café to grab a coffee or food. This trip required two flight plans or four all together, the first obviously to Calais and another from Calais to Koksidje despite it being something like a 13 minute flight because it just crossed the FIR boundary from Paris into Brussels.

We all departed NW in reasonably quick succession and enjoyed the great view in the very clear air as we routed down towards Canvey and the Thames. With all our aircraft quite rightly speaking to Southend they had nothing to affect us or rather we weren’t affecting them when one of our number called up with a G-NWF callsign the controller just said ‘Going to Calais?, if so, squawk 4575 basic service, QNH 1020’ Nice to know we are so well known and predictable! With a few light fluffy cumulus it was pleasure itself heading down towards the coast, switching to Manston Radar we had our point of contact until mid channel with instructions to report coasting out at Dover. Canterbury Cathedral came and went followed by what should have been the white cliffs and Dover harbour. However the whole of the area up towards the coast and for approx 3 miles out to sea was a spectacular carpet of dense fog, with the sun shining the ground was invisible and the top of the 1200ft mast just west of Dover was sticking way out of the cloud. Calais was clearly visible on the horizon and the blanket of fog was quickly overflown. Must have been interesting for the ferries though. Listening to the Calais ATIS had no surprises, a bit breezy (it usually is) and runway 24 in use. Reporting mid channel we said goodbye to Manston and switched to Calais Tower. Report the coast and the airfield in sight followed by a downwind right hand for 24 was simplicity itself. With the tyres kissing the tarmac we taxied onto the main apron to see all the NWFG 172’s nicely lined up with the terminal as a backdrop. We passed through our invisible customs officer to pay our landing fees and grab a quick coffee and study the joining instructions before departing for Koksidje where our lunch would be waiting. Unfortunately I could have spent more time at Calais as Moules and Frits were on the specials board and Jonathan Senior and John Reynolds had to drag me kicking and screaming from the restaurant as one of my favourites had to be forsaken for the greater good.

Despite my Moule withdrawal gnawing at my very soul I managed to pull myself together and get VB into the air for the easterly hop across the border into Belgium. We needed to stay below 1400ft for the whole leg to avoid the complication of getting a clearance into Ostends airspace which is above and around the airbase. Once clear of the Calais CTR we changed to Koksidje which out of military hours is just ‘radio’. Having carefully researched the pronunciation we called ‘Cockseed Radio’ for joining information the friendly voice on the radio in perfect English directed us for a left hand downwind join for R29. As the less than attractive industrial area of Dunkirk with it’s rather dirty chimneys spewing sulphur type emissions into the air slipped by on our left hand side we began searching for what shouldn’t have been a difficult airfield to find given it’s size. However with our height it wasn’t that easy to see and it was only when we identified the town of Veurne which one flies around on the downwind leg that we positively identified it. Being good visitors we carefully negotiated the noise sensitive areas and positioned on final for the enormous 2700metre runway. We had been briefed that the club actually uses two 700 metre strips at either end of the runway so a ‘normal’ landing on 29 would mean about a mile and a quarter taxi. However with a ‘Suggest you land very long’ from the tower we flew along the runway for what seemed like an eternity before gently touching down near the eastern end. Vacating left at the end our host Michel was directing our aircraft into a line on the edge of the peri track where they could be pushed back adjacent to the grass.

The local paper reporter/photographer had been tipped off by the flying club of the British invasion and was there happily smiling as he snapped some rather good pics of the aircraft and crews. Click here to view the images

The usual landing fee was a hefty 50euros although that does cover any further landings for a year but Michel was so pleased to see everyone visiting the club that was reduced to 50euros for the whole group which was very much appreciated. As the West Aviation Club is a non profit organisation for local pilots we all added a bit extra as a donation. The clubhouse which is really a large Portakabin with a nice patio attached is adequate and they do have some expansion plans. The basic facilities were more than made up for by the real genuine welcome of everyone there. They had been out that morning and bought us a large selection of giant baguettes for lunch and we enjoyed a leisurely lunch in the sunshine on the patio. A brief flurry of activity resulted when we were told that the standby Sea King on the SAR apron opposite was being scrambled and cameras began clicking as it headed off to the north.

Suitably refreshed and after a period of the usual banter being exchanged we prepared to depart but only after being summoned for a group shot by the photographer. With our goodbyes said it was into the aircraft for a call for starting before commencing the very long taxi to the 11/29 mid point intersection where would be departing from. With a left turn out and once again not above 1400ft we headed back across the border into France for our second stop for ‘customs’ at Calais. The chimneys of Dunkirk were still doing their dirty work as we stayed clear of the Nuclear PS at Gravelines on the coast to position for a left base for R24. A touch of de ja vue as we repeated the process before heading back to the aircraft for the last leg back to North Weald. It was still stunning weather with fantastic viz and blue sky as we crossed the channel but a significant layer of cloud could be seen lurking above Dover.

Needless to say the forecast was wrong again and we could hear some of our group electing to drop lower only having to come back up again because of the low cloud and Rob Camp and Nick Allum in NUKA heading up towards Manston to try and get around it. With the top of the cloud around 2300ft Jonathan and I sat nicely above it and tracked back towards North Weald, with only a very occasional small gap appearing all the way from Dover we finally descended through the layer which was about 600ft thick near Brentwood under the watchful eye of Southend Radar.

All nicely back in eventually at North Weald and with everyone having had a very nice day out with an unusual log book entry as a bonus, despite the doom and gloom forecast in the morning and the incorrect forecast in the afternoon. The people at Kosidje were very welcoming and have invited us back for a return visit. The airfield sits close to the coast and is ideally situated for many of the First World War battlefields which would make it an ideal place to explore from, certainly one to go back to at some point.

Thanks to all who took part, and special thanks to Malcolm for all his preparation work and to Mr Michel Vandermeuter of the ‘West Aviation Club’ who proved invaluable in making it such a good day as well as taking the trouble to get our lunches from the local town.

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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