Running a French Holiday Gite in Rural Brittany

Friday, June 05, 2009

If not France then flying a Microlight to somewhere else over the sea ...

A couple of days ago I wrote about my cancelled Microlight flight to France due to strong winds.

Afterwards I kicked my heels at home for a couple of days, moped about not doing very much, and got in my wife's way quite a bit. On Wednesday we went to the garden centre to buy some plants to fill in the gaps where the weeds used to be (Liz has been busy tackling the new garden), and when I got back I gave the Microlight centre a ring to see if anything was happening.

France was still off but they'd decided to go to the Isle of Wight for the day if I was interested - absolutely! - and I had to get down to the centre that evening to plan the route.

And so all of a sudden it was action stations again, hurrah.

The route down to the Isle of Wight was (on paper) reasonably straight forward, I would fly the first leg down to Popham (near Basingstoke), another student would then fly to the Isle of Wight and I'd get a lift with another experienced pilot, then we'd swap over, I'd fly along the coast to The Needles and to Clench Common (near Marlborough), then swap around again and the other student would fly the final return leg to Sandy. We spent hours pouring over the maps, marking the key waypoints and things we expected to fly over like railway lines, motorway junctions, high-voltage cables and big towns, etc.

Next morning I was at the airfield at an unreasonably early 6:30am to the sight of almost complete cloud cover at 2,000 feet. Occasionally it briefly cleared a bit until the next wave of cloud came in.

Nevertheless off we set off on our adventure into the wild blue (well grey) yonder.

All the route and map planning and preparation obviously paid off as I was very successful in following the pre-prepared route. My navigation was pretty much spot on as we marked off waypoint after waypoint, flying along just under the bottom of the clouds with occasional drops a bit lower when the clouds descended. Flying over the Chiltern's and opening up over the M40 cutting (as seen in the opening credits for 'Vicar of Dibley') was especially great as the ground rises up considerably and with low cloud and a tall radio transmission mast to get past it all got a bit interesting!

With the low cloudbase we weren't able to fly high enough over Aylesbury, Reading and Basingstoke as planned so I had to skirt round them. And then right in front of me was Popham airfield as expected. One circuit round overhead, a call on the radio to the control tower who couldn't hear us even though we could hear them OK, then I was on finals, turning past the petrol station to land with a bit of a bump on the long grass runway.

Not the gentlest of landings but quite safe. I taxied the plane up to the refuelling point and as I turned the engine off I was surprised to see that the Microlight behind me had been caught by a gust of wind on landing and had turned over on its side. Fortunately neither the experienced pilot or his passenger were hurt but the plane took a bit of damage and has had to go off for some rather expensive repairs.

I found out afterwards that not only had my instructor let me fly and land all the way on my own but he'd also been sitting on his map so had been totally reliant on my navigation skills!

After the obligatory coffee and bacon sandwich break we took off again due South towards Portsmouth, the Solent and the Isle of Wight.

This time I was sitting in the back as passenger so was able to take some photos of the journey as we flew down the A33, over Portsmouth, past the naval docks and Spinnaker Tower, and over the Solent. Flying over Ryde we soon arrived at Sandown airport.

More coffee, bacon sandwiches, some chilling out in the sun, some of the group went to Sandown itself but unfortunately we didn't get time to make sandcastles on the beach!

By the afternoon we were running out of time so had to change route plans, opting instead for the direct route back home stopping off at Popham again for fuel. This time I flew over the Solent up to Popham and was the passenger for the return leg from Popham to Sandy, flying over Leighton Buzzard, Woburn Park and past the mighty airship hangers at Cardington.

All together I flew the Microlight for over 115 miles in one day so it was a well deserved beer when we finally landed back at Sandy at 8pm.

The next day I was absolutely exhausted and got up very late so it was a good job I didn't have to go to work !

I've filed a few more photos from my Microlight trip to Popham and the Isle of Wight over on Flickr.

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