“It makes the Channel crossing a bit longer. Does that matter to you?”
I had to think about that one. Channel crossings are still a big deal to me, but I was going to be flying with a pilot who was on his twelfth trip across just this year. Surely there wasn’t much that could surprise him? Flying straight out of North Weald, we would be coasting out over Folkstone, instead of Dover. In his Dynamic, the whole trip would be a lot quicker than in my beloved Skyranger.
It’s that time of year, isn’t it? The summer has really kicked in, and everyone realises these long days won’t last forever, so perhaps it’s a good time to clock up some long-distance travel. And for those of us in the London TMA, that has got to mean a hop across to France. It takes the same time as going cross-country and feels significantly different at the other end. There’s just the little matter of the water crossing….
I was hoping to do all the radio calls, but unfortunately a hiccup with the avionics meant we could hardly talk to each other and North Weald tower declared me to be unreadable. That meant I sat asking a million questions in my head as we flew out. I did wonder when the pilot, another John, suggested it could just be his cunning plan to keep me quiet!
No surprises that we weren’t the only ones doing the crossing, and I spoke to a Stoke pilot who was one of two aircraft that flew over the next day. Luke has clocked up 80 hours and lots of UK airfields in the year since he got his licence, so France seemed the next obvious choice. “You have just got to go for it,” he told me. He found the forms the most onerous part of the trip, but he had Gary, a Le Touquet regular, to guide him. The trip wasn’t nearly as challenging as he had thought it would be, “so I will definitely be back.”
They climbed to 5500 ft after coasting out at around 3000 ft, but John was happy to do our crossing at around 3500 ft. “I suppose that’s a height I feel comfortable at,” he says. It’s hard not to notice that jagged Skydemon glide path that you get over water, and know that in the middle there, you ain’t gonna glide clear. “And the life jacket’s not going to do a lot either!“ adds Luke.
We were headed for Cap Griz Nez, the closest point in France, but then turned and headed down the coast while still quite far out. London Info hadn’t asked us for any estimates, not to Folkstone, nor for mid-channel, but it’s worth remembering to put in waypoints so you can easily give them if asked. And Le Touquet was telling the two aircraft ahead of us to do a downwind for 13, and report early downwind. “I’ve never heard that before,” John said when they refused to allow one ahead to turn left base straight off the coast. I was looking forward to getting a different view of the circuit, but when our turn came, we were instructed to call left base. It’s worth making sure you know both sides of the approach, because we left later the same day flying out on 31.
Coming in to land, we had someone else who had already called final behind us. “You do feel the pressure,” said John later, “but you just have to focus on doing what you are doing and getting the aircraft down safely. If they need to go around, it’s not your problem.” Of course, calling final doesn’t mean you are cleared to land, but John managed to get down almost on the numbers and scoot off the runway at the first exit. And have that Ground frequency coded, so you can get parking directions.
Luke says, “We knew it would be a hot day, so we planned to leave early, before all the GA pilots were in the air. We left France again at 5pm local and had planned to hug the Kent coastline and come back via the Thames estuary if we found it was too hot and bumpy when we got back over land, but it was perfectly smooth.”
“I don’t really mind whether I can see the horizon,” John told me, but he admits he wants to be able to see the land on the other side. “It’s our rule of thumb at TwoTwoFly,” says Luke. “If you get to Dover and you can’t see France, you turn back and try another day.” That’s exactly what happened to them two weeks earlier, when the cloud base was too low, and it was hazy and claggy. They turned back and consulted the long term forecast for another day.
The trip may not have been too fearsome, but Luke was very happy to have Gary to guide him. “We could listen to his radio calls and copy him.” Eventually their C42 overtook his flexwing, so they headed into Le Touquet first, but “the French are much more chilled than radio operators here. It does give you more confidence, though, going with a pro, like an arm around your shoulder, even with little things like where to show your passport and how to get into town!” Gary adds to that, “Just don’t go on a Saturday, it’s mayhem!”
John is now slowly working his way through all the French airfields that don’t speak English, Luke is planning another trip to Le Touquet and I am determined to do the flying and or radio myself next time. What are you waiting for? Find someone who has done it, and hitch a ride, or brace yourself and go for it. It’s a whole different world across there.