Rennes

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May 31, 2013

Having reached the middle of May and without a fly out to our name in 2013 due to each attempt being thwarted by poor weather there was some anticipation and excitement about the planned 5 day trip to Salzburg in Austria. With all the planning in place and hotels booked we were poised for the off. Needless to say studying the forecasts in detail in the days leading up to the trip it was quite clear this was going to be a no hoper. Low pressure, fronts and troughs dominated every part of the continent that we intended to visit as well as pretty poor weather here as well.

In the hope of salvaging something from the trip it was a case of try to cobble together a Plan ‘B’. After a lot of deliberating with Phil F (aka Red 2) over synoptic charts we came to the conclusion that the only real window was Friday the 31st May to Sunday the 2nd June in the area of the northern coast of Brittany, Normandy and over the Channel Islands. It was then a case of looking at the chart to find somewhere interesting that we hadn’t been to before. After a quick bit of research it looked like the obvious choice would be Rennes which also has a number of Accor/Ibis hotels that can be cancelled on the day if the weather goes bandy. These had proved very cost effective once again with our trip to Austria now cancelled.

So Rennes was put in place for plan ‘B’. Routing out via Cherbourg for customs/lunch and then onto Rennes for the afternoon. The return was to be via Jersey with lunch at the Aero Club before crossing the Cherbourg peninsula and flying along the ‘D Day’ beaches on the way back to North Weald. Emails were fired off to the relevant stops and the NW France charts rapidly purchased.

On the evening before departure of course the TAF was less than kind with mist and low cloud dominating the east of England and the channel. This rather scuppered the plan for an early get away and our meeting time was pushed back by an hour. On the morning it was rather depressing driving around the peri track looking at the murk and low lying cloud. However everyone was in good spirits and the TAF did show things clearing. There were nineteen of us taking part with all six of the NWFG aircraft involved together with Phil and myself in VB and the usual suspects joining us in the Robin GEEP. The first half an hour was taken up with aircraft prep and loading, fuelling etc before returning to the Squadron for a compulsory bacon sarnie or three. Most of the flight plans had been filed but it was quite clear that with the weather unsurprisingly failing to clear as predicted we weren’t going to make our allocated times. Lee Harris did a grand job of keeping up with the ever changing FP times.

Finally and very much later than hoped for a few gaps started to appear in the overcast and the viz was improving. The Metars also showed the south coast and Cherbourg improving rapidly. So at around 11.30 local it was ‘Squadron Scramble’ and everyone headed out to their aircraft and finally the sound of engines starting filled the air.

Malcolm Jarvis with Alex Khan in ‘FC’ had a problem withe the low voltage light failing to extinguish and they were pulling onto the front of the workshops as Phil and I taxied out. Fortunately the engineers swarmed straight over it and quickly found the problem relay which was fixed in around 20 minutes. Many thanks to them for that.

Climbing out from N Weald the low cloud persisted and the viz wasn’t great so we and a few of the others who were IMC rated decided to climb on top. Southend provided us with a good traffic service and Phil and I had to take a slightly circuitous route for an inbound Airbus to Southend. It proved impossible to maintain completely ‘on top’ with the controlled airspace above so we ended up flicking in and out of cloud for the next 20 minutes. Once we reached beyond the South Downs all along the south coast the cloud rapidly began to break up although the viz was still very hazy which can always make a sea crossing tricky. With the plan to take the VFR route from the Isle of Wight to Cherbourg a change from Farborough to London Info confirmed the naval exercise area D036 was active. The VFR route crosses this area and may not be available when active. However a further change to Plymouth Military had us receiving a clearance and given the hazy conditions they were also very happy to provide us with a traffic service. This was the first time any of our group had used Plymouth and I’ve got to say they were excellent.

The cloud had now disappeared to leave a blue sky but also very hazy conditions horizontally as we coasted out, engine revs set, mixture perfectly leaned, nicely trimmed, sit back and continue south knowing that France must be out there somewhere. The shipping passed gracefully underneath us and in what seemed no time we were being handed off to Deauville Approach and then Cherbourg Tower. A cruise descent from 6000ft had Phil and I creeping up on Kieran Hardiman and Paul Davies in ‘FG’, with VB’s superior speed and good looks (aircraft not crew!) slipped nicely past them as we approached the murky coast. With instructions to join at point November on the coast and then downwind for R28 we were straining to try and see the airfield in the haze. Nearing the coast the 2440m runway suddenly became very clear and we were soon turning final towards the seemingly never ending concrete strip with further instructions to land very long to avoid occupying the runway with the others closing in behind. The breeze had picked up near the coast and it was a bit lively to say the least in the stiff crosswind.

With our aircraft arriving quite quickly and we were soon parking up on the quite compact apron given the size of the airfield. It was all very relaxed and with no Customs Officers in sight it was simply a case of paying the very reasonable landing fee to the fireman in the office and heading off for a coffee and a little lunch in the cafe. The owners were extremely welcoming and the inevitable ham and cheese baguette, of which most of us have become connoisseurs with our visits to French airfields, was one of the best.

I must mention that as we prepared to depart Jonathan Senior and Stewart Braddon who were flying NUKA donned their latest fashion statement of bright pink high viz jackets. For reasons that have become lost in time Jonathan has been known as the Princess on these trips for a while and Stewart once wore a bright pink polo shirt that he famously declared, ‘It’s not pink!’ Unfortunately for them these things are not forgotten and it was with good grace that they dressed for the occasion. This was all perfectly rounded off with a large ‘Princess on board’ triangular sticker on the rear side window of NUKA. Nice one chaps and perhaps a rendition of ‘YMCA’ on the Apron would have made it complete.

Routing out of Cherbourg and down to Rennes was basically a straight line down the west coast of the peninsula and deeper into France. Leaving the long runway behind we climbed back into the continuing haze which was a pity. As we cruised south we passed over several of the nice looking seaside towns and made a mental note to stop at in the future at the old walled town of Granville which has it’s own airfield just north of the town. The trip down was straightforward, it was just a pity that the beautiful Mont St Michel wasn’t much more than a shapeless blob in the haze as we passed by.

In just over a hour we were approaching the city of Rennes in the murk with ATC giving us instructions to report at point ‘November’ and then downwind right hand for R28. With Phils GPS not giving the reporting points it was interesting finding the road with two crossing power lines that was actually ‘November’ amongst the many other roads and power lines in that area. We were more fortunate that some of the others who were held at various points to the north of the city as we had luckily managed to slot in between the numerous commercial movements. We taxied around the big boys outside the terminal and passed the tower to the Rennes Aero Club who had kindly agreed to receive us and park the aircraft for the night. Very helpful and accommodating they were too.

As usual the time just slips by and losing an hour to continental time we now found it was after 17.00 local. With the usual faff of getting the aircraft to bed etc it was a case of piling into cabs and heading to our hotel with a mission to have a quick look around and find somewhere for dinner. Our hotel was to be our usual Accor Hotels and this one the Mercure Rennes Place Bretagne was nicely situated in the centre of the city. However without turning into a hotel review write up it was probably the most disappointing of all the ones we have stayed in over the years. Comfortable enough but without going into a lot of issues it resulted in several of our members making complaints. If you should go to Rennes, give this one a miss.

Phil, Jonathan Stewart and I headed off into the old town and the miracle of modern technology in the shape of an iphone had us easily finding a restaurant with very good reviews. Fortunately the one we chose could accommodate 19 hungry aviators within an hour. The evening was the usual success with some very good food, wine, banter and general abuse amongst our noisy group. After a wander around the old town it was back to the Mercure for what should have been a good nights sleep but what turned into one of the hottest, noisiest and uncomfortable nights I have ever endued in a hotel anywhere in the world.

Staggering down to a sad imitation of a breakfast the next morning was the final nail in the hotels coffin. However we had a few hours to explore and headed off into what is left of the old medieval part of the city. Unfortunately due to the extensive damage inflicted during WW2 much of the city was destroyed and this is evident from the differing types of newer buildings all around. There are some real character parts and there was a great market in the old city but overall it was the most disappointing of all the French cities we have done to date.

With the cabs ordered it was a back to the airport and the Rennes Aero Club. Our 18euro 73c landing and parking fee was paid in the main terminal and we were soon preparing the aircraft for our next leg to Jersey. It was just a pity that it all went to rats when we called for start and were told that there was no flight plan in the system for us. This was a problem caused by an issue with the flight plan having been filed with ‘Rocket Route’ and several others in our group encountered the same problem although the previous flight plans had gone through without a problem. The very helpful and friendly ground controller kindly offered to take all our details over the R/T when she could easily have sent us back to the Aero Club to do it. She must have known that Phil is suave, sophisticated and extremely handsome, well that’s what he continually tells me. Fortunately for us she clearly didn’t have binoculars.

With everything in order we taxied out past the big boys again at the main terminal and were soon departing on the westerly runway and turning right for a direct routing to Jersey only about an hour away. The cloud was quite low but with plenty of breaks we slipped on top into brilliantly clear air, a complete contrast to the day before. The clouds drifted past as we made our way across the myriad of different colours in the fields below and in no time we were approaching the coast. Here the cloud melted away to reveal a crystal blue sea and the lovely towns and sandy bays around Dinard and St Malo. With Mont St Michel visible 30 miles away whilst coasting out over a huge fleet of small sailing boats swirling around like toys in one of the bays brought home once again how lucky we are to be able to experience views like this.

Jersey was clear on the horizon and after a listen to the ATIS we were soon changing to Jersey Zone for entry into their airspace. Although it was pretty busy we thought it would be rude not to try for a bit of instrument practice when they have the goods. Both ‘KA’ and ourselves just happened to have approach plates with us so we requested radar vectored ILS’s whilst the others were being given various VFR reporting points on the coast. Our radar vectors took us well out over the sea to the east to intercept the localiser for R27 and this offered great views over the island. Up until then the very still air had given us a nice smooth ride. That quickly changed as fully established we crossed over the coast and the ride turned into something to do Alton Towers proud. Pretty good instrument flying practice though and the very stiff crosswind at the threshold livened it up even more.

Coming off the main taxiway to the Jersey Aero Clubs grass parking area takes care as there were a lot of parked aircraft and the it’s rather bumpy and uneven. With all safely in, well apart from Bill and son Aaron who arrived panting and wheezing in ‘FA’ sometime later we indulged in yet more food in the nice cafe/restaurant of the club with a balcony looking right across the 27 threshold. Apart from Stewart, Jonathan, Bill and Aaron who were staying the night, the rest of us now suitably refreshed prepared for our final leg back to North Weald. With start approved and taxi clearance we headed out to the 27 hold to slot in amongst the busy commercial traffic. Our clearance from ATC was a left turn out, SVFR not above 1000ft routing via Corbiere lighthouse and the southeast corner direct to the St Germain VRP on the French coast. Below 1000ft not only gave a great view of the islands beaches, capital St Helier and Gorey Castle but also the sea, boats and I swear a few fish.

Clear of the zone we could climb to pass over the Cherbourg peninsula again, this time speaking with Deauville info and heading east so that we could take in a low level aerial tour of the D Day beaches just days away from the 69th anniversary of the landings. The air was still totally clear with almost unlimited viz and the expanse of UTAH beach soon came into view. Slightly further east we cruised passed the most notorious beach, OMAHA, where the greatest number of casualties were sustained. The bright sands leading up to the steep ground beyond giving no clue on this beautiful early summers day of the sounds, smoke, fear, heroics, death, suffering and destruction that took place as the American forces stormed the heavily defended beach all those years ago in what became the turning point of WW2. The reality was brought home when we saw the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial above the beach with it’s row upon row of white crosses. 9387 men are buried here, a stark reminder to later generations of the huge cost in lives of this one battle, and that’s just in the American Cemetery, there are other Allied and a German one further down the coast. The British and Canadian landing beaches of GOLD, JUNO and SWORD were further east and the visualisation of the struggles faced there were made all the more poignant knowing that my own father had been amongst it. We had a great view of the large remains of the extraordinary Mulberry Harbour near Arromanches that played such a crucial role in landing the supplies in the days and months following the landings. Staggering to think that it has survived in such good condition after all these years of being battered by the sea.

All to soon the trip back through time passed and whilst having a moment of quiet reflection we came inland to pass over the top of Deauville Airport and threaded our way around the large prohibited areas towards Dieppe where we were coasting out for the long sea crossing back towards Seaford (SFD). Needless to say we couldn’t have it all our own way and the totally unforecast cloud built quite quickly over the Channel and towards the English coast. With the group splitting into different routes and heights and some lengthy IMC work for some of us on the UK side it wasn’t the perfect end to the day especially as the poor weather extended a fair way inland.

North of the Thames it all turned bright and lovely once again and we slipped back into North Weald 2 hours and 55 mins after leaving Jersey with some very nice flying memories filed in the memory banks.

As usual a big thank you to all the participants for making this Plan ‘B’ trip into another very good couple of days away. An honorary ‘DFC’ goes to Bill Rice and Aaron for completing this trip in ‘FA’. They did the return leg from Jersey taking in the beaches the following day. However with a strong easterly wind it took them so long they had to divert into Le Touquet to take on fuel before attempting the Channel crossing. At one point Bill insists they were hovering over France.

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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