Thoroughly awake, we are able to buy petrol and get away in good time for Lydd. With no GPS, I'm pleased to see the waypoints coming up exactly on the Thruster's nose - especially as I'm navigating with the half mil. The spell of the long straight cross-country is broken by a windy landing at Lydd which the tower advises as 18 knots down the runway.
Practical Aviation Law Workbook
Foolishly, I land on the numbers and have to taxi what seems like half a mile up the runway with 'NU twitching in the wind, eager to be airborne again. I carefully park into wind on the bare concrete apron and make sure the wheels are well chocked 'NU has no brakes. Escaping the interminable terminal corridors we finally find our friends in the 'Biggles Restaurant' and are given a hearty welcome.
Flight plans and customs forms are deftly completed and then it's back out to the apron to oversee refueling from Lydd's bowser. The driver seems only slightly surprised when I ask him to put the first half litre into a small bottle of two stroke oil so I can mix it up! At hrs we are ready to point ourselves at the Channel. As I struggle into my dry suit and lifejacket on the apron and then call 'Tower' for permission to hand start my little on the grass, I'm conscious that I am probably not the sort of slick corporate customer Lydd London Ashford International aspires to We take off in our pairs with my Thruster following Bernie's Blade into the air after practically no ground roll at all.
Wind is now given as 20 knots. After a bit of too-ing and fro-ing on the radio, Lille Information who speak good English but can't hear us properly decide we are not interesting and simply instruct us to remain clear of controlled airspace. As planned, the Blade and the Thruster turn south down the French coast once Boulogne is in sight, while the others take the more direct route inland under the puffy cumulus layer. The long empty sandy beaches are great to have under our wheels after almost 30 miles of sea! South of Le Touquet I catch up with Bernie and gesture him to descend and slow down, so we can enjoy the magnificent view of the deep blue Channel and warm up a bit.
Soon the marshes at the mouth of the Somme come into view and we turn east up the river to locate Abbeville aerodrome.
What I had taken for a flock of large birds further down the strip turn out to be sheep, guarded by three sheepdogs and a rustic ' berger ' wearing a high vis jacket! French charm already, and we've only just arrived! Glad to have got the Channel and our first French landing out the way without incident, we enthusiastically agree. The flight up the wide valley past Amiens, following the meandering course of the River Somme in the warm evening sunlight is wonderful, and although I am on the look out for shell holes, it seems almost impossible to believe that we are flying over one of the great First World War battlefields.
The rolling wheat fields seem unscathed. But some reminders can be seen. But tonight the landscape we're flying over seems thoroughly healed; the shadow of the War not that long. Like many all-grass strips, the airfield at St Quentin is almost invisible until you're within half a mile of it. Flying in France seems to be a pleasantly laid back affair!
Bernie even has snails! The forecast is for rain in the afternoon so we decide to make a day trip to Laon, just 20 miles to the south-east, leaving the tents at St Quentin. The flying is over an unmistakably 'French' landscape of straight Roman roads, hedgeless strip fields and beautiful winding river valleys, interspersed with welcome windfarms and large woods to assist the passing aerial navigator.
But there's no time for coffee! Whispy grey low clouds are gathering and before we've got off the bus on the way back to the airfield, rain is streaking the windows. Andy's age is only supplied on a 'need-to-know' basis.
It has a little kitchen in one corner with onions hanging up and champagne flutes above the draining board. We don't think he got that for coming second That evening Andy befriends the local 'Meteo Station' man, Fred, who drives us into town for a drink.
A good friend to have when the forecast is looking iffy! Fred Le Met seems rather like a lonely lighthouse keeper at his station and clearly welcomes some company. Although he went to university in Glasgow, his English is easily understood. A hearty aviators' dinner of meat fondue and raclette follows. The forecast is for rain tomorrow and rising winds later today - an occluded front is coming in. We decide to put 'Plan B' into operation and head back toward the coast. Tents are pulled down early in the morning and stowed, but Andy quite rightly delays our departure until the grey skies to the north-west have cleared.
If only British airfields were like this! Ground speed for the Thruster and the Blade is around 30 knots as we crawl past windfarms and are overtaken by 2CVs. Decision point for me is on passing Amiens airfield, where I can't ignore the fact that I have used exactly half my fuel to cover half the distance. Not much of a reserve there! Bernie kindly follows me in, and we refuel in blustery conditions from his jerry can, at what proves to be yet another largely deserted French airfield.
On arrival at Abbeville we are greeted by Andy on the radio advising us that the wind is challenging. We both make uneventful landings diagonally across the wide grass strip, but are disappointed to hear that Ray's GT turned over on landing a few minutes before us. Fortunately Ray is fine, with only a bruised hand to show for the incident, but his trike is sitting forlornly in a corner of the hangar next to its broken wing.
Bernie, Ray and I wave the others off, and are just starting to pitch camp when an official looking figure in a black raincoat draws up in an old Renault. He speaks no English but I understand that he is a glider pilot at the club. With typical gallic generosity, he hands us his key card to allow us access to the club house overnight - provided we put the card in the letter box for him the next morning.
Full text of "Weight-Shift Control Aircraft Flying Handbook"
Merci bien, monsieur! Presumably the airfield had reported the accident to the local police and he had come to check everything was in order - but talk about an oblique approach; Columbo would be proud! That evening Ray phones a UK contact, Alan, who agrees to drop everything and bring his 14 foot trailer all the way from Wales to Abbeville to recover him and the GT back to Blighty. We get a taxi into Abbeville for a late dinner and then return to sleep on the club house floor.
The others text us to say they are all safely arrived at Headcorn, which is good to hear. Alan arrives at 6 o'clock in the morning in disgustingly cheerful spirits for a man who was on the Dover ferry at ! Now that's what you call service! During the day Bernie and I make two attempts to get away north, but are forced to turn back each time due to the low cloud. The first time we try inland to the east of Le Touquet.
The second time up the coast. Le Touquet Tower offer us a transit of their zone, but the murk forces a quick U-turn over the estuary at Berck before the fingers of mist envelop us.
My log book reads "Abbeville - Local" twice. We are starting to get to know the airfield pretty well and our 'goodbyes' carrying less and less conviction! Andy calls to confirm that the others have made it safely back to Devon from Kent. The occluded front moves slowly through and Bernie and I sit it out in the rain, eating French cheese. In the evening we investigate the motel in the corner of the airfield and have a very acceptable meal.
I'm tempted to book a room for the night and get a shower, but somehow manage to resist. The rain has stopped by the time we finish our meal. My engine is hard to restart still hot and I feel distinctly overdressed hauling on the pull starter in an Ozee, dry suit and lifejacket in the warm sunshine. It takes a second for the words to register, but I turn round and see Bernie's yellow Blade cutting a wake through the top of a green wheat field before digging in and turning over.
To my great relief Bernie is standing beside the plane waving as I make a low pass to check he's ok. I quickly put down at St Omer again, pull off my suit and run over to the tractor cutting the grass. Bernie is completely unscathed and coolly assessing the damage, accompanied by monsieur the farmer, when we arrive. The wing is hopelessly bent, the propeller smashed and the engine loose on its mounts. Bits of corn stick out from every nook and cranny. I help Bernie derig the wing and then go to see whether our farmer friend is coming back with a trailer. His English is excellent and recovering trikes from crop seems to be all in an afternoon's work for him and his mate Gerard.
With their expert help we push the trike out of the field and wedge the huge rolled-up wing into Philippe's little Renault Twingo. A tow rope is tied to 'LT and the strange convoy then recovers back to the airfield with Bernie sitting in the trike to steer while the wing pokes out of the open tailgate.