G-ASYP Stories - Biarritz
Yankee Papa trip 2004 Part One…or Why Me? You Pratt!
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After the success of our last trip to France in conjunction with our friends and their Europa G-BVWM we had toyed with going to the low countries, however, one of our friends has moved to Toulouse so about a week before the time set we finally agreed on Lasbourdes as an interim destination.
Maps and a new VFR France duly purchased I set off to fly YP to Headcorn to meet Mark. The original plan was to get to Deauville on the Friday Night (11th June) but Mark had a late meeting and then got stuck in traffic so we filed a flight plan for the morning, had a curry and stayed in UK until early Sat morning.
Sat 12th: Up early and loaded YP by 0750, take off on time at 0800 local, activate the flight plan with London Info and were are on our way. The TAF and METAR for Deauville were CAVOK and in the UK there was not a cloud to be seen, but as soon as we arrived over the French coast it was clear the met man was optimistic again. Low stratus covered the area but we had enough fuel to follow the coast down and see what we had nearer Le Havre. Deauville eventually gave us 800’ Cloudbase but with a 400 ft airfield we decided to go outside the Le Havre CTR where they were parachuting from FL 100 and make an approach from the bay. We could by now see our alternate of Caen which appeared to be broken at about 1500’. In the end all the time spent going right round Le Havre meant that the cloud had lifted sufficiently to make a sensible approach possible into Deauville. Arriving after 1 hr 55 mostly over water. Our friends in WM arrived only about 15 mins later.
We cleared customs and had a chat over coffee as to our next stop. Our friend from Toulouse was in the USA and not expected back til Monday so we had some spare time on our hands. Quick flight planning showed it would be a good idea to go as far south as comfortable today so NIORT was planned as a refuel stop and a re think.
Mark flew this leg and we had a very pleasant ride down across France, initially under some cloud but then with complete CAVOK, avoiding Le Mans which was a no go area due to the race and crossing the Loire west of Sammur.
Arriving at NIORT we found that the fuel was closed and would not open until Monday. After a pleasant stretch of our legs and a visit to the little museum on the field (with a NORD version of the Messerschmitt 108) we pressed on for SOULAC Sur MER, only about 45 mins away, which we had telephoned and where we could get fuel and a Chambre D’Hote for the night.
Soulac is a wonderful little beach resort with many old houses and good restaurants on the sea front. Our only problem was the Chambre D’Hote only had a four bedded room but it was very cheap and breakfast was included so we went out had a great meal and turned in about midnight for another earlyish start the next day.
Sunday 13th: As we did not need to be in the Toulouse area until Monday we decided to fly all the way down the Atlantic Coast to Biarritz for a beach day and an easy hop on the Monday to meet Frank.
Last year we had taken some very good air to air of the Europa and I had already taken a few more on the way down from Deauvulle so it was agreed that I should accompany Chris in the Europa to get some air to air of YP. This was planned to take place along the beach near the bay of Arcachon. YP departed first with a stiffish cross wind from the North and we had some fun with the Europa as it has a single wheel undercarriage with outriggers and is quite lively until speed is gained. Having taken the shots of YP, none of which were very good, Chris and I continued down the coast to Biarritz where we followed the low level track in along the coast and over the town and beaches for an uneventful landing on 09. YP arrived just as we finished parking WM and I was able to get a few more shots. I suppose it’s worth mentioning at this point that the whole trip down from Soulac had been over water as there are many military restricted areas along the coast, this would give us pause for thought the next day.
After collecting all our bags etc from the a/c we were met by the airport handlers who very kindly drove us to the nearest hotel (Amarys) about five minutes walk from the airport. Quick shower and taxi into town for a wander about and a few coffee’s, beer’s Salad lunch etc etc. we stayed in town the rest of the day and found a restaurant for a steak meal that evening. Taxi back to the Hotel, another shower, and blissful sleep.
Monday 14th: Over a leisurely breakfast we planned our trip to Toulouse Lasbourdes. There are a few danger and restricted areas along the Pyrenees and we wanted to avoid these as far as possible. Many of them are for paragliders and flex wing hang gliders so we obtained the latest info from the flight briefing service at Biarritz. MET for the area also showed a lovely clear day in prospect. We decided to swap over crews and see if we could get some more air to air shots over the mountains.
As YP is the slower a/c Chris and I did the pre flights and taxied out ahead of WM, we could hear them having some radio trouble with the tower but, after waiting for a short while, we were given permission to take off on 09.
Take off was normal and shortly after we asked for and received permission to turn right onto 180 and to climb for the Pyrenees. We could hear WM also preparing to depart. We continued towards the south still climbing to 3500’ with a great view of the mountains. Shortly after levelling off and changing to Pyrenees Information the engine began to run very rough. I quickly ran through the checks, carb heat made no difference but the Left mag was much better than the right. Diagnosing a plug or mag problem we started back towards Biarritz. Chris, God bless him, did all the radio stuff and left me to concentrate on nav and flying. Both of us are long time glider pilots so field selection was in overdrive mode but there was very little available. A grass airfield Itxassou was nearby but we rejected it as possibly difficult to find and would not have emergency equipment. So we advised Biarritz of the problems and our intention to return. Being downwind of the field it was going to take us about ten minutes to get back. Biarritz gave us a straight onto downwind for 09 but then quickly offered 27. As the wind was exactly across the runway we accepted, gratefully, the straight in approach. All this time we were slowly loosing height but we still had plenty when I turned finals. It now became apparent that I had left too much height in hand and even 40 degrees of flap was not helping much into zero wind, so a good dollop of side slip lost us the extra 500 feet to a completely uneventful landing. We were chased down the runway by some of the biggest fire trucks you could ever wish to see. On the way we noticed that the Europa was in the long grass to one side of the runway but that is a story for another time and another pilot.
After taxiing in and shutting down (the engine stopped when RH mag was selected) we had a break and started to wonder where we went from here. You will have to wait for part two for the rest of the saga.
After this we had three days of sun and beach to kill before we flew back to Stanstead courtesy of Ryanair.
PS. I have nothing for admiration for all the French people we came into contact with. The Fire & Rescue staff were all “No Problem” & “Ha, Ha, Football” (having just lost against them the night before in Euro 2004). The handling office allowed us to make telephone calls and send faxes etc. Some Air France engineers came to offer help and even contacted the local flying club engineer who came in his own time and who reluctantly accepted some cash when he had pointed out the fault. Everyone went out of their way to be friendly, helpful and to offer any assistance they could. My particular thanks go to Mike Magne (who swears in English like an east end football fan!), Gregory in SAB (the handling agent) & Cyril Lhermite (the club engineer).