2002 Helicopter tour of France, Jersey and Wales

Crossing the English channel to Wales.....

It's interesting how the turn of events can rearrange your flight plans….

Lothar Wesemann and I left Redhill Aerodrome on the 13/06/02 just after 14.00 Hrs to fly the first leg of our planned journey down to Spain. This was to be Lothar's farewell to his trusty R44 Astro. G-IVIV was the first R44 registered in the UK, imported by Sloane Helicopters.

G IVIV was the first UK registered R44

Lothar's R44, G IVIV was the first to be registered in UK.
Picture taken at Le Touquet.

We left England via Lydd, crossing the channel to Cap Gries. During the last stage of our crossing, light wafers of white cloud slipped below us and fast became solid. Luck provided a small hole down through the whiteness just as we had begun to turn 180. We flew on down the coast to refuel at Le Touquet where the Airport staff were extremely welcoming and helpful. We resisted the delights of the excellent airport restaurant as we were keen to fly on. Maybe next time!

Leaving an hour later in much improved weather, we flew via Dieppe and Deauville to end the day's flying at Caen (Carpiquet), finding more welcome and hospitality. The fuel man there kindly phoned Hotels and arranged a Taxi for us. We stayed overnight at the Quality Hotel in Caen.

We observe the parking rules to the letter at Cholet!

14 / 06 - We lifted for Bordeaux via Angers. Bordeaux International ATC were very helpful routing us through their overhead to the smaller Bordeaux Soucats Aerodrome. We met the proprietor who recommended a Hotel and rang for a reservation. He tells us the Hotel's Chef is a Soucats Aeroclub member. Good food is promised!

Pleasant dining area at our Bordeaux Hotel

Flying over the French countryside is familiar, much like the green and pleasant land we know and love, but some flight rules are different. Low flying zones (bordered in light red on the charts) are designated for Military use, typically forbidding civil flight between 800ft and 1500ft AGL (check your map carefully as they do vary). We spoke with the largest airfields in the area by radio to find out if the zones were active and were told they were not, but we still chose to avoid the zones by either flying above or below them as visibility and population allowed.

The beautiful French countryside looks familiar to an Englishman......

15/06 and the weather outlook for the Pyrenees was not inviting. Lothar's R44 had just been fitted with six new 'pots' and we were using straight 80 oil for bedding in. At +26C in Bordeaux the oil temp. gauge showed barely a needle's width below the red line. I doubted we could maintain that oil temp. in +34C . We decide not to go on to Spain as originally planned. It is less of a problem when you have no firm need to go anywhere and the decision was taken to go back up to the North, then cross the sea to visit Jersey instead.

We refuelled and flew to Granville via Libourne etc. Granville has advisory Radio only, we were told to avoid the overhead as Parachutists were doing their thing. We entered the zone low level from the opposite side of the active, maintaining a very careful watch! We stayed at hotel IBIS (recommended by airfield staff). The town of Granville is very nice; our Hotel was pleasantly situated on the Harbour front. I guessed that England won their World cup match by the tune played on car horns in the distance!

View from my window, Hotel IBIS in Granville

Jersey in a heli.....

10.00 Hrs 16/6 saw us quickly and simply filing a flight plan (by telephone) with Jersey ATC, in beautiful CAVOK conditions. The shortest sea crossing was chosen, SVFR route No 7 from St Germain to Jersey. During the early stages of the crossing our horizon practically disappeared, blue sky merging imperceptibly into blue sea. We decided to descend to 800ft above sea level, a fortunate thing as it turned out.

On contacting Jersey Approach we were told to head straight in 'not above 1000ft 1018mb.' which was easy to comply with. Our track brought us neatly onto a straight in approach for runway 27, up the runway, then a hover taxi back to the Jersey Aero Club's grass parking area. A nice lunch here and on to the Millbrook House Hotel, pre-booked by Lothar whilst we were still in France.

PHOTO - 7 Over Jersey, St Helier ahead.

PHOTO - 8 Finals to Jersey International, Rwy 27

Monday the 17th saw us filing a flight plan for departure with Jersey ATC. They could not give us clearance to leave due to low cloud, although they tried very hard to give us choices. We were asked if we could accept IFR which we declined, choosing to wait an hour and call them back. The weather improved, the cloudbase lifted to give ATC their minima for SFVR, 600ft AGL. We left on 27 making left turns to the downwind leg and departed the island not above 1000ft as per our arrival. The sea crossing was easy enough at 800ft AMSL, but we heard one or two fixed wing aircraft radioing to turn back from greater altitudes.

The weather improved as we flew over the French coast and we made our way up to Le Touquet via St Germain, Caen Carpiquet and Dieppe. Another chance to visit the fabled restaurant……….Only to find it closed on Mondays from 13.00! Ah well, try again next time!

We decided that although the weather looked only hazy over the land, the outlook over the channel was quite different, so we stayed in Le Touquet for the night to get off early the next day. Dominic and his friends helped us book Hotel rooms and a taxi, taking special care to guide us to one with a good restaurant close by.

The next morning we filed a plan from Le Touquet to Redhill, choosing Lydd as our alternative which worked out well for us. The Channel crossing was not bad, but a thunderstorm blocked our way to Redhill, so we diverted only a few miles back to Lydd, closing the flightplan there instead. A spot of lunch at Lydd and the storm had passed.

Wales in a Heli .....

As we'd missed out on Mountain flying in the Pyrenees, I mentioned the possibility of taking a trip to Wales, maybe enjoying Snowdonia. Lothar was interested in that, he hadn't seen Wales before, so off we went, via Gloucester Staverton. We stayed overnight close to Staverton and moved off early, refuelling at Welshpool. The airfield owner /operator kindly drove us to Welshpool so that we could lunch. As we flew out toward Snowdon Lothar remarked that he liked Wales a lot, it made him feel at home, looking much like his native Austria. I was pleased he liked it.

He wasn't as keen on one difference between UK and France though, as he saw military aircraft pass below us in open airspace. He remarked that the French system did seem better as they have designated military low flying zones and we would know that such traffic was likely to be in the area. The prospect of aircraft suddenly approaching at great speed is something to remember, so staying at or above 1500ft AGL is wise.

We got some good flying around the hills and mountains, landing for a night at the beautiful Lake Vrwnwy Hotel. We were lucky enough to get rooms on the top floor, looking out over the lake. I hope the picture does the scene justice, and recommend this lovely spot for Helicopter visits.

Stunning view over Lake Vrwnwy

Ring in advance to make sure they have replaced the missing Helipad windsock, my only reservation about the otherwise good landing facilities.

You can find the Lake Vyrnwy Hotel's website at www.lakevyrnwy.com or make contact by E mail using res@lakevyrnwy.com. The phone number is 01691 870259

We flew the R44 the last hour to deliver it to its new owner, were Lothar said goodbye and farewell to it. It certainly had been a good ship for him.

Looking back at those initial plans, interesting indeed that we should effectively divert from Spain to Wales (!) but all the same we had a wonderful trip and met some really nice people. Thanks Lothar, it was a pleasure to accompany you.

A big thank you and special recommendation must go to the helpful staff at Le Touquet, especially Dominic who handles everything from fuelling to advice on Hotels Etc. Dominic, as they say, is a gem.

Don't be afraid to go and discover France - We found only help and courtesy freely given by gracious folk. They made a big effort to communicate with Pilots having less French than they had English!

For those planning to explore France here are a few tips -

Take your GSM mobile phone(s) battery charger(s). Most mobiles work abroad these days. They are invaluable for booking things ahead, and not so ahead if your plans aren't firm!

Try to be flexible - Having alternatives is a very good way of avoiding pressure to 'get there', something which has been the undoing of many.

Be ready for the relaxed way our French cousins operate, especially at weekends! Don't be surprised if you get no reply on the radio at smaller airfields, and similar if you arrive to find they are all at lunch with the fuel keys!

Don't worry if you do not speak French, you will find English speaking radio operators at all but a few of the smallest airfields, avoid them and divert if you think this could be a problem.

Take cash Euros in low denominations if possible - Most of the smaller clubs do not have credit card facilities (or want them, so it would seem!). Refuelling is made much easier if you are paying by cash. This may also bring other benefits - We were only charged landing fees at some of the larger airfields we visited, and then only if paying with a card. Change can be a significant problem. The small operators often have none at all, especially in the mornings, hence the need for smaller notes. The prices charged for Avgas are not excessive in UK terms. Taxis can seem a little expensive but the alternative (Shanks's pony) is considerably less attractive!

What more can I say? Enjoy France, Jersey and Wales! Fly safe all.

Steve Sparrow