G-ASYP Stories - Loire Valley
The trip 9/10/11 July 1999
Some years ago my wife and I toured the Loire valley by car and took in some of the Chateaux. We often saw light aircraft flying up and down the river and, being a PPL, I thought how good it would be to do the trip by air. At that time I made some enquiries at the local airfield (Amboise) and was quite surprised at the friendly and very relaxed way I was received.
Life being what it is the opportunity to fly down never seemed to come around, but a couple of months ago a long standing friend (Mark Johnson) suggested a quick trip to Calais or Le Touquet to brush up on our cross channel experience. This went according to plan and on the way back I told Mark of my thoughts about the Loire. He just said ‘let’s do it!!’ and a few days later he rang to say the aircraft was booked for 9/10/11 July and get sorting on the details.
The aircraft is a Cessna 150E, Reg G-ASYP with about 12,000 hours on it. Syndicate owned it is based at Henlow (EGWE) and is used mostly for day trips out and back. In it’s previous life it has been based on flying schools or clubs at Leeds, Larbruch and Stapleford and even been to North Cape!, almost everywhere we go someone says ‘I know that aircraft’. Mark and I both have quite a long history in gliding having been members of the same ATC gliding school (618). With some 8000 glider launches each and also about 150 hours on G 109B (Vigilant) motor gliders, we have both been around a bit but never outside the usual Le Touquet run.
Initial Planning. (I have included a full list at the end of this article detailing all the nitty gritty of the trip, including landing fees, fuel and hotel prices, for those who would find it useful)
Our first priority was to obtain information and maps on France. The map was easy and from my local Pilots shop at Stapleford. I thought the Jeppesen one did not cover enough area , although it was clearer than the IGN one which covered all the area down to about 30 Nm south of the Loire, so I bought the latter and this proved to be fine once we got used to it. I had an old Pooley’s France 1995 and enquiries for a newer issue came up blank so I trawled the internet for other info and found some useful pages, French Meteo, Europe synoptic’s and trends etc. I also asked around at Henlow Flying Club who provided a small booklet called VFR France which was also suggested by one of the articles I found on the internet through the FLYER PORTAL site. I also found several other useful pages, one listed some airfields in France which I contacted by fax. I also checked with the syndicate member in charge of engineering about the hours left before the next checks and also for snags reported and not yet cured. The only problem was the ADF which was not picking up the beacon properly but we had been discussing if this item was going to be of any use in the future and whether we should take it out of the a/c anyway. At the same time I used our accounts system to pull out all the fuel and oil details for the last three years. From this I calculated the average litres/hour and also oil use. Taking into account the usage of the aircraft I though we would probably get about 21 l/h on 100LL with about 1 litre of oil per 10 or 12 hours. Passports and Licences checked I then looked through my local book shops for a guide to hotels & towns in the area as we would be relying on taxis for transport. Only one book was really any good for this ‘Michelin: Chateaux of the Loire.’ Suitably armed with all this info I started the flight planning stage. Most of this time Mark had been in Korea, Japan & Taipei on business but we had been in touch by e-mail and phone.
Route and flight planning.
Starting with the above figures I worked out likely range details for varying head or tail wind components and tried to list alternates which were far enough down in France to be meaningful but not so far as to be out of range! These needed to have good grass or preferably paved runways as we would be nearly up to max gross with full fuel and with, hopefully, hot weather we thought we would need all the runway we could get!. I also took into account a need to clear customs as, although we are in Europe, the UK still hasn’t signed Shengen so a landing at a customs airfield is required. In the end this was very useful but would not have been a particular problem as we could have booked customs at Saumur with 48 hours notice by fax. The route finally came down to a small choice of ‘Do we fill up at Headcorn and then make it to Rouen for customs OR do we go straight to Le Touquet re fuel and then press on to somewhere like Blois or Tours. Final details were left until the day before when we would have a much better idea of winds etc. The details of which and how many Chateaux we were going to fly over we left to fate once we had arrived at a destination airfield, although I had a book showing some of the best ones from the air which would help.
As YP is quite an old lady we also needed to take into account possible problems. Reliability wise the a/c has been excellent. It was resprayed last year and quite a lot of extra work was done as a result. This included new cables, pulleys, tip fairings and re corrosion proofing. The engine has 1100 hours SMOH and the whole thing flies very nicely but we thought that the most likely cause of difficulty would be radio or nav. equipment rather than mechanical faults. This, of course, excluded weather, which is an occupational hazard anyway.
Armed with this belief we arranged to borrow a spare GPS from Joe at the club and I also dug out, charged and tested my hand held Icom radio/VOR. The syndicate already has two life jackets so these were not an issue but in any event they can be hired for very modest cost.
A few weeks before the trip was due to start our transponder went u/s and was taken out to be sorted. Time went by and it still wasn’t back, but the part was awaited, finally in the morning of the day of departure (Thursday) I was resigned to the trip without a transponder but I gave one last call to International Aerospace at Cranfield. They would call me back! Lunchtime came and went and finally I set off for Henlow to collect YP and fly down to Headcorn. I had just arrived and was about to go to the hangar when my mobile phone burst into life, it was IAE, the part was in and the transponder fixed! By this time it was about 16:30 and it would take me an hour to transfer my kit to the aircraft, carry out the pre flight etc. and get to Cranfield but they said they would wait for me. So it was, that at about 17:45, I finally took off from Cranfield bound for Headcorn. God bless Luton ATC who (with my newly fitted transponder working) cleared me direct to Brookmans Park VOR and on direct route to Headcorn where I landed about an hour later. Refuelling done, Mark picked me up and we returned to his house in Wadhurst for dinner and final preparations. These included only carrying one set of nav equipment, maps, protractor etc and also weeding out any other unnecessary weight. Mark insisted on taking his deodorant spray and eventually we were both glad of it! Nevertheless we traveled very light with only a pair of trousers, a pair of shorts a couple of T shirts and spare underwear. These we packed into two small knapsacks which fitted nicely into the bottom of the a/c behind the seats. On top of this went the nav bag which, by now, was a small nylon holdall. That night we spent an hour or so on the internet getting latest satellite pictures, TAF’s and synoptic’s. Here we found a slight problem as the outlook varied quite a bit from one to another. The weekend and into the next week for the UK was going to be sunny and hot, Central France was only slightly cooler with a low far down to the south in the Med. This eventually brought heavy rain to Kosovo and Italy and created a weak front across eastern and central France.
Friday Morning: Woke up at about 0700 had some light breakfast, checked all the kit again! Then at about 0850 we set of on the 30 min drive to Headcorn. Our first job was to file the flight plan, hand in the fuel drawback form and book out with the club, this completed we had just over an hour to put the luggage in, clean the windscreen, check the weather have a final pee and get going. About 5 mins late we took off, with mark as handling pilot (HP) and me as Nav, en route for Lydd and Cap Gris Nez. The weather over the Channel was perfect and we could see the French coast from 2,500 feet as soon as we arrived at altitude. A quick contact with Lydd and we were handed over to Le Touquet TMA at the FIR boundary. Cleared direct to Rouen we left the coast behind at the Somme and started to be bounced about by the strong convection, by now the GPS was giving a ground speed of 95 Kts for an airspeed of 75 so we were well in on fuel. The flight to Rouen was completely uneventful and we landed after about 2 hours airborne. After landing we were transferred to the ground frequency where all our calls went unanswered until Mark said ‘Bonjour’. We were then directed to the GA parking which is as far from the terminal as you can get without being back on the runway and despite asking for fuel in English and French no further information was forthcoming. We walked to the tower where a notice said ‘pay landing fees in terminal’, so back we went past the a/c to the, very nice, terminal. Here we were told that no landing fees were charged as it was the ‘Boat Fair of The Century’ in Rouen town, no they did not want to see our passports and yes the flight plan was closed. So we had a quick drink of orange and on to the main office to obtain fuel. ‘Please taxi to the pumps by the tower and then come back here to pay the bill!’ As we needed the latest TAF’s for Le Mans and Tours, Mark did the refuel and I stayed to take the information. A word of praise at this point, the MET and NOTAM service was excellent all printed out and handed to me within five minutes of asking. The down side was the fuel charge at 73.46 p per litre the most expensive we bought on the trip AND they charged us £ 11.14 landing and customs fees. On the ground for just over an hour and with the temperature steadily climbing we were glad to be back airborne. I was now HP and we were quickly handed to Le Mans frequency and cleared overhead on route ‘call on leaving the frequency’. There seemed to be very little other activity judging by the radio calls we could hear and we only saw one other a/c all the way down. Saumur was our final destination and once again we were benefiting from the tailwind. The Cumulus clouds were, by now, at about 4000’ well developed and clearly had very good thermals under them. I had to work quite hard to keep within a reasonable height band either side of the figure we had given to Le Mans. Climbs of well over 1000’ feet per minute with the engine at much reduced power we followed by descents of 600’ feet per min with full power on. A slight detour off our direct track took us over Le Lude Chateau which we found with no bother at all. After what seemed like a few minutes from Le Lude, Saumur town was ahead and we called our landing intentions in French. The circuit in use took us to the east of town and within photo range of our second Chateau (Saumur). We completed the circuit and landed. It was now about 1700 French time so we refueled, introduced ourselves at the clubhouse where the very friendly staff recommended an hotel in the centre of town and called for a taxi. Within half an hour of landing we were in the town centre enjoying a hot shower and then out for a quick beer. It was market day and the centre of town was one giant outdoor shop with stalls selling all manner of clothing, leather goods, sweets & toys. We enjoyed a stroll around and then stopped at a likely looking restaurant for dinner. This is where France really scores points as the tariff system gives you a fixed price meal with only drinks to pay on top. Service is included so tipping is only an extra if you feel like it. After a very pleasant meal it was back to the hotel for another shower (it was still in the 70’s at 2300) and a half hour of satellite TV to get the Europe weather.
Saturday: Lazy start, shower and breakfast. Taxi to the airfield by about 1100 check out YP and self brief in the clubhouse for local details. This included weather and a chart with all the GPS positions for Chateau in the area. Here also we met a very talkative Frenchman who was a mine of information and enjoyed practising his English. “Tours CTR is closed at weekends, there is a AFIS but they don’t care what you want to do”. True enough after take off at mid day, with Mark as HP, we contacted Tours and they said “we’re closed, keep a good lookout” in very good English. Our first route was North West to Le Plessis Boure then south to Serrant and then back and forth across the various parts of the Loire river and it's many tributaries until we had seen something like sixteen Chateaux over an area of 120 square miles! We were surprised at the lack of other traffic over such a beautiful area, perhaps it is busier when the school holidays begin but we barely saw another aircraft until we were almost home. After three hours airborne it was nice to land at Amboise (Dierre), for fuel (but not too full as the runway is only 700m and we had a cross wind). Clean the screen and a wander the short distance to the local village to have a couple of ice cold cokes. We had also run out of film and I spent a frustrating half hour trying to make myself understood. Hand signals and noises of cameras only produced the information that the nearest shop was 3km away and the local garages would not sell it!! Only later did we suspect that they thought I wanted to buy a camera! Over this time the sky had been filling with high cirrus and by about 1700 the sky was completely obscured. Late afternoon, yours truly as HP, and we departed en route for some of the more Southerly Chateaux of Chambord, Chennonceau, Velancay etc. Now we came across our first minor problem. There were so many big houses in the Chateau style it was very difficult to know if we had arrived at the intended one or not. Furious cross cuts with the VOR and with Lat & Longs on the GPS only confirmed we were within a short distance from the place but from the air there were quite a few to choose from. After a while we decided to head for more recognisable targets and made better progress. Visibility was still superb but the high cloud made us think that it would be better to land earlier than planned. So we set course for our last Chateau and Blois airfield. Now our second and, potentially, our most serious problem. On changing frequency from our listening watch on Tours we called Blois and after several calls (in French) a voice said “ Blois not here, all go home at six pm.” We were, by now, quite close to the airfield and sure enough we could see no flying activity at all, only some cars leaving the factory on the site. A quick check of the fax we had received in the planning stage confirmed that the AFIS only worked short hours but the airfield should be open until SS + 30 mins. What shall we do? Make the circuit calls blind, land anyway and risk not being able to get into town which was 15km away or press on to Le Mans. First call Tours to see if they know if Le Mans is open, “ I don’t know, Goodbye” was the reply. So climb to 3,000 ft see if we can raise them or hear any traffic on their frequency, nothing. It will take 45 mins to get there and it will be close to dark so we need to stop and think for a minute. Amboise will still be open because they had told us they would be flying late, but that’s away from home and will make life more difficult in the morning, however it's the safe option and only 20 miles away. So we turn back to fly over Blois towards Amboise, just check once more on Blois frequency, and it was alive with chat!!! Quick fly over to see what’s happening!, lo and behold it’s busy with circuit bashing!! We joined downwind for 03 (grass) making all the circuit calls in French, then, whilst short finals, a Robin taxi’s out in front, announces he’s taking off and does just that. Round we go again, I’m a bit miffed with this so all my calls are suffixed with ‘Encore’. After landing, and taxiing to the hangar hard standing next to a French C182 that has just arrived, a chap came over and, by hand signals and school boy English, apologised for the incident, which he had seen from the office, “he would speak to the pilot concerned”. No landing or parking charges here, arrangements made for fuel in the morning, a taxi was ordered and the 20 min (and twenty pounds) trip to town was underway. The taxi driver was helpful, he spoke no English but offered to go into the Hotels to check on room availability etc. The Ibis was full but the Haz had a room which was very small but clean and tidy. Tonight the BBC World News weather forecast looked good for U.K. but predicted a weak front working it’s way across France from the South East. This would bring clouds and light rain for the morning with a North Easterly which might be 20Kts. We decided to get an early start. Once again our walk round the town, dominated by the huge chateau castle was very pleasant and dinner was also good.
Sunday: Up at 0630 for a quick shower and an early breakfast, jump into the taxi and arrive at the airfield at 0740. Signs of overnight rain on the roads and an almost complete overcast at about 2,500’ with some very slight patches of higher cloud above, looks like the front went through early. Do the basic route plan heading for Le Touquet but with an airborne option for Le Havre, or Rouen if the headwind looked as if it might be too much. TAF for LFAT gave 999 CAVOK so that made us feel better. Fueled up and our goodbyes said we took off just after 0915, on 03 again and leveled off at 1800’. Visibility was OK at about 5k but it was very like a goldfish bowl everything washed out and indistinct at the edges, plenty of humidity so regular carb heat use. GPS gave an in flight time to Le Touquet of only 2 hours 35, so we headed direct calling Chateaudun (an automated system which broadcasts in French and English when it detects a transmission on it's frequency) on the way. Gradually the weather improved and by the time we arrived at the coast we had clear skies and unlimited viz. Routed direct onto a left base for 32 we touched down just on the time the GPS predicted. Now customs wanted to know which English airport we had come from, when we explained we had come from Blois and had been in the country for several days they just shrugged and waved us through. Filing our flight plan at the tower then across to operations to pay landing and fuel we then had an hour to kill in the restaurant before setting off for Headcorn, where we landed in a stiffening cross wind. I said goodbye to Mark and flew the last leg back to Henlow once again asking for, and getting, a direct routing through Luton. What a fabulous three days, this is an ideal first foray outside the coastal airports, not too far, plenty to see from the air and very easy going. We still only managed twenty seven of the sixty four recognised chateaux of the area! so we think another visit is required.
|Item||Price £||Useful or not||Notes|
|IGN NW France||13.00||Essential||Better than Jeppesen one|
|Michelin Chateau of the Loire (hotels)||8.99||Hardly used||Not really needed But good background info|
|The Chateaux of the Loire (Valoire Publications)||About 15.00||Much used at plans stage||Stunning pictures & great for planning|
|VFR France||Borrowed||Barely used||Few differences between UK and France rules|
|Garmin 195 GPS||Borrowed||Barely used but good backup|
|Icom IC-A20||My own||Not used at all|
|Flyer France/Flyer Air Portal||http://www.flyer.co.uk/france.shtm||Much used||Great article, plenty of tips, must read.|
|Flyer Met page (Sembach is a colour synoptic)||http://www.weathercs.mcmail.com/owbu2.htm||Essential|
|France Meteo||http://www.meteo.fr/meteo_france/index.html||Not essential but useful|
|French Aviation GA Sites||http://www.fna.asso.fr/fna/terrain.rech.geo.html|
Mslle C Buisson
|http://www.fly.to/acbv||http://gesipa.com/aavll/Default.htm||Customs available @ 24 H notice|
|French Hotels Guide||http://www.logis-de-france.fr|
|Saumur Airfield||+33 24150 5373 (fax)|
|Airport||Decode||Landing /Overnight FF||Fuel p/l FF||Customs FF|
|Saumur||Hotel Clarine||474 FF Total B & B for both|
|Blois||Haz||195 FF + 50 FF for breakfast for both of us!|
|Taxi @ Saumur||100 FF appx||About 10 mins taxi ride to town centre|
|Taxi @ Blois||210 FF||About 15 –20 mins ride to town centre|
|Saumur||Amboise||3 Hour via Chateaux|
|Amboise||Blois||2 Hour via Chateaux|
|Blois||Le Touquet||2.35 Hour|
|Le Touquet||Headcorn||1 Hour|
Last Updated: 07 October 2005 09:06:44