Alpha Around Mont Blanc
Planning an impromptu tour the evening before departure took about one hour, only with modern means of navigation. Using Skydemon and its amazingly inclusive and intuitive information system, my student and I looked at the maps and airport data "plates", notams and weather patterns forecast between UK and France for the following week.
AirBnB app on the phone, helped us secure reasonably priced accommodations in various towns and cities, at short notice.
In a short period of 3 years, apps like Uber, AirBnB, Skydemon, Windy and many other informational and interactive applications have made planning and executing an aerial tour easier and safer. Inflight updates via 4G connections on phone, with inflight ability to send text messages and make phone calls makes it even better.
Gadgets like PilotAware and apps like Flight Radar 24 help keep track of your companion aircrafts in flight and on the ground.
Le Touquet as a customs stop was easy and not expensive with landing fee of €18. The Douane chaps are now in a smaller box with a leading in door and an exit corridor.. probably preparing for the additional work load after Brexit, as many hundreds of British pilots and passengers pass through this airport, every weekend during the flying season.
We decided to land at Chartres Airport for an overnight halt. Newly surfaced tarmac runway looked too clean to be landed upon and with no response on the radio waves, I decided to land on the grass gliding strip, flying over the chap in a large tractor, cutting the grass. He never stopped doing his job, even as we went around the first time, calling "Remis le gas" on the RT.
Very helpful admin lady was stressed out because the newly installed Total payment system refused to work for us and we couldn't buy fuel. Taxi into town centre and very conveniently located and superbly clean and tidy Mercure hotel. Perambulating into the old city centre, I was persuaded to buy an overpriced but delicious box of local speciality sweets.
After a good meal of delicately cooked fish, we walked around the Notre-Dame de Chartre cathedral lit up in evening with its 'son et lumiere' show. This is a must see event and brings in thousands of tourists every year into this ancient town in the middle of France.
We flew into St Denis de Orleans for a quick refuel, before everyone departed for lunch and then flew east to Bourg Ceyzariat. A small airstrip nestled in the alpine foothills, with lots of aerial activity and friendly reception, with good restaurant and a very noisy model car racing circuit which was more annoying than the helicopters doing hover practice. But hey ho, we had to wait for the temperature to cool down and the thermals to die off before we could dare to fly into the Alps...
Taking off at 6 pm, we went up to skirting Geneva Airspace. I had pre-briefed the ATC about our plans to fly around Mont Blanc so he was relaxed about losing our radio and radar contact when we disappeared behind the high granite cliffs. We flew up Lac Leman (also known as Lake Geneva or Lake Lausanne) and then swung around the cliffs to take photos of a friend's house and mountain restaurant. As the cliffs arose into the sky, we climbed steadily, staying clear of the clouds and went up to 14000 feet to fly over. Passing Mont Blanc while it was towering up above us, hiding behind its cumulus skirts in the evening light was a sight to see.
Lots of photos taken while flying in smooth but very thin air, expecting turbulence, but not finding any, was a bit stressful. Coming up from behind the high mountain, we descended rapidly in a spiral to come out at 2500 feet just about at circuit height at Annemasse airfield. We landed at sunset as planned and were able to uptake fuel before the airport closed for the night. I discovered that the plastic bottle of oil I carried had burst open due to the low pressure at high altitude.. messy but easily cleaned out and lesson learned not to seal anything at sea level and then climb into low pressure.
Hotel and restaurant within 200 meters from the airfield was very convenient and affordable. Superb meal at this busy restaurant, Les Papilles, was worth the prices.
France weather forecasts for the week was "hot, hot, hot" and with a clear night, there was a sharp temperature inversion at 2500 feet. We took off and flew through the Annecy valley into very busy air traffic, but with super service from ATC and no problems. visibility was a bit hazy in the morning, and we headed west towards the Atlantic Coast.
One stop over at Vichy Charmeil airport was friendly, with coffee and croissants. We watched as the local club members participated in a spot landing competition on the 2200 meter long runway. This airfield has a long aviation history and the town of Vichy is nearby on the River Allier. We were pleased to see photos of Jean Mermoz and St. Exupery, both French aviation adventurers and explorers and story tellers.
The short comfort break turned into a slightly longer than anticipated wait due to the the spot landing competition and the friendly reception we had. Planning to reach the west coast by evening was still easily doable, so there was no rush. The weather remained calm and not too warm. We decided to land at Niort airfield, where I knew we would have a friendly reception. Despite my heavily accented French radio calls we landed as a formation of two on the long runway and were quickly refuelled and offered coffee and cake at the flight club as they were celebrating an open day for visitors.
A short hop further west, we joined the circuit at Sable D'olonnes a sea side holiday resort. A couple of go arounds, to avoid parachutists and the drop plane, with more calls in French but no disasters. The CFI in his sixties, was very helpful. His mother and wife were there too. Then his mother says proudly to all of us "he is my son, you know".... naturally there were some good natured jokes about how well he was brought up but need more control and authority of his mother...
Another good meal and hotel refreshed us for the home bound leg on sunday morning. Just before landing at Le Havre, we were delayed in the circuit because one aircraft called with a problem and had to make an emergency landing at the nearby Deauville airport. Avoiding nuclear power station, parachutists and french speaking pilots we landed safely for more fuel and food and friendly banter... A scenic flight along the west coast of France and a short hop across La Manche brought us back to Damyns hall in brilliant autumnal sunshine.