This page will be updated regularly as a flight log for the 3 British RAF2000 gyro pilots flying across the English Channel (La Manche) down through France to the 'Magni Day' gyro event in Italy - and back again!!. The 3 pilots are Khalid Aziz (G-SAYS), Marc Lhermette (G-BWTK) and Dave Fairbrass (G-BXAC). This log is kindly written and sent by Khalid Aziz.
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What a great trip! .....
The Italian Job
Intrepid gyronauts Marc Lhermette, Dave Fairbrass and Khalid Aziz set off at 0730 Sunday 16th September from Marc's strip at Lamberhurst farm near Canterbury on Sunday morning in their RAF 2000s, respectively G-BWTK, G-BXAC and G-SAYS - red, yellow and green. We're backed up by ground crew, Alan Lhermette, Glyn Morgan and Brian and Marie Richards who've had to leave at o'crack sparrow to get ahead of us via the ferry.
Plugged for a route via Manston - so we could file a flight plan from there rather than a British farm (we didn't want any French paranoia about Foot & Mouth). ATC at Manston kindly allowed us to just touch and go to open the cross channel flight plan via Dover to Calais. Messrs. Aziz and Lhermette opted for a 3000 foot route above the cloud base while Mr Fairbrass went low level at 1500 feet in the hope that he could land on a cross channel ferry in the event of an engine out. A blustery 25 Kt NW wind made take offs and landing interesting but any one you walk away from.....!.
Clearing customs in France involved the usual complications (no one was there!). A landing fee of FF58 at Calais and then we were off to Soissons north east of Paris and some 130 miles to the south. The tail wind was still with us and we made ground speeds in excess of 90 mph. The trip was poignant - over the Somme - every few miles yet another memorial or cemetery for the fallen of the Great War. Even from two thousand feet on a bright sunny day with scudding clouds at 2500 feet, it's still chilling to recall how our forefathers battled in such grim conditions with such disastrous loss of life. Past the town of Albert - with its own substantial black top strip - and mentioned in Sebastian Faulks' chilling but stunning book set in the first world war, "Birdsong".
Soissons is a long grass strip in the middle of nowhere but thanks to the French political system it boasts a gi-normous tower which houses the local aero club. One day no doubt the tower itself will have ATC. For the moment it's air to air on frequency in French! It's Sunday - so the normal landing fee of FF15 (yes that's £1.50) is waived! A refuel and its airborne again for Auxerre. The weather improved all the time with just one odd shower which was easy to skirt round. Messrs. Lhermette and Aziz opted to pick up the better wind at 2000 feet plus. Mr Fairbrass is of the hedge hopping persuasion and so dawdled somewhat. Good progress but an overheating problem meant a precautionary landing in a field for Marc. Problem temporarily resolved and Marc flew on to join Khalid and Dave in Auxerre - another blacktop and again no fee as it's Sunday. Overnight here - tomorrow Macon and points south once we have done some engineering work to sort Marc's overheating problem.
At every stage our valiant ground crew were never far away with fuel and back up.
Four and a half hours flying - tired but extremely happy boys!
Days 2 & 3
Well it's all gone pear shaped! Having successfully tracked down a radiator repair man in Auxerre and persuaded him to weld up a new part for Marc's G-BWTK in double quick time and at very little expense, further inspection at the close of play on Monday revealed serious problems for both Marc's machine and Dave's G-BXAC . New parts required. They are in Kent. So as I write on Tuesday morning I have been despatched by train to Paris to catch a Eurostar to Ashford to pick up said parts. Meanwhile the brothers Lhermette aided by Dave are dismantling the machines in readiness in the hope that on my return late on Tuesday evening they will be ready to effect the repairs by lunchtime Wednesday so we can progress to Macon in the afternoon.
And then of course there is the weather. Currently it's all socked in with persistent rain and low cloud. Still it could be worse. Actually it was first thing this morning. Our ground crew vehicle and only means of non airborne transport - a VW diesel people carrier had a flat battery. Plus, six foot four Dave Fairbrass discovered that the loo in the bedroom he shared overnight with Alan L had a loo designed for midgets and he couldn't actually sit on it which caused him some consternation - at least I think that was the word.
Hopefully matters all ways round will become a little freer in the next 24 hours.
Watch this space!
A better day! Khalid having volunteered to travel 15 hours back to the UK by train to pick up vital spare parts starting out at 0830 Tuesday, the ever resourceful Lhermette brothers set about dismantling Marc and Dave's machines. The engineering resources at Auxerre airport were put at full stretch but by tea time Dave's machine was back together again and flyable. Marc's G-BWTK was in bits awaiting Khalid's return. Interesting cost structure to the trip. The train journey - Auxerre to Paris - £27 return - smooth and on time. RER train from Gare de Lyon to Gare du Nord - £1.70 return. Eurostar Gare du Nord to Ashford - £273 return! Still the train was half an hour late outbound so you could say I got better value for money plus I had extra time to consume the delights of Eurostar catering which surely must be in the grip of someone who had an unhappy childhood.
At Ashford Khalid was met by Marc's assistant, the redoubtable Chris who not only found a whole list of parts described and located over the phone by Marc, who leads an ordered life and knows where everything is in his workshop down to the last washer - sad really but most helpful in the circumstances. Chris also managed to have a couple of parts made but these were completed in the nick of time and having driven through a thunderstorm to get to Ashford he arrived with 6 minutes to spare for KA to catch the return Eurostar. That in itself was not entirely uneventful as one of the security people took exception to the large hacksaw poking helpfully out of one of the three ten ton carrier bags Chris had handed over. The guard had visions of Khalid running amok and I suppose having a name like Aziz is not exactly confidence inspiring in the current climate.
Back to Auxerre at just after midnight, Marc having thoughtfully awakened our slumbering hotel owner to remove just four cars blocking in our ground transport in the hotel car park in order to pick up KA at the station some 20 km away, Mine host definitely lost his sense of hospitality.
Wednesday dawned cold and wet. But all the parts were there and in an hour or so G-BWTK was back together again and ready to roll. But the weather! Low cloud around 800 feet and intermittent rain - vis down to 7000 metres. The ground crew getting decidedly edgy having exhausted the delights of Auxerre some 36 hours earlier. Marie (curiously) was not best pleased when Brian lent the extension cable to her hairdryer to the aircraft repair effort. Brian dispatched to purchase a new one but naturally on his triumphant return Marie had managed to dry her hair anyway. Still. another lesson learned on the petal strewn journey that is married life!
Back at the airport lunch beckoned, then further consultations with the very helpful controller in the tower. There seemed to be a bit of a window in an hour or so. It stopped raining. Let's go for it. As soon as we opened the hangar doors it started raining again. Half an hour later it stopped and we were on our way. Three nights at the airport, secure hangarage massive amounts of help from all concerned - total landing fees and hangarage charges? Nothing, absolutely nothing!
Within minutes of getting airborne we were in rain again and that's how it was all the way down to Chalon. With a 20kt headwind right on the nose ground speeds were down to less than 40 mph on some occasions but we were snug in our fully enclosed RAF cockpits and we had fantastic countryside - Chateaux, vineyards and at one stage the valley of the Serrein - reminiscent of the Test valley in the UK. 2.5 hours later we were met at Chalon by our ground crew with more mogas and having lost two and a half days we elected to press on before dark to Macon. We had to pay a landing fee! The first since Calais. Total charge for all three gyros including French VAT at 20.5% - just 47 francs - that's £4.50 in real money.
The skies were lightening, it was marginally less rainy and what the hell we'd already taken paint off the leading edges of the rotor tips thanks to the precipitation. Macon is another long, hard runway and was deserted. Transmitting blind in English and French we let down onto their 18 runway. Some smart new hangars edge the apron but the doors remained firmly shut. We had just finished tying down the rotors and were preparing to cover up the machines for their first night outside when the door to the nearest hangar opened to reveal a spotless 350 hp Malibu 6 seater retractable and one other Jodel type in a vast space. KA legged it over to enquire in his best French whether we could have some hangar space for the night - "Mais, bien sur!". We quickly installed our machines and discovered the hangar had all necessary aviation equipment including a fridge.. Champagne was brought out and then "You must try the local wine" (Macon, natch). A perfect end to a testing but exhilarating day! Magni Days looks a distinct possibility again.
Tomorrow, Valence, Carpentras and if the wind is kind - Cannes and the Cote d'Azur. Life's a bitch!
Days 5 & 6
Been a bit busy trying to regain lost time so literally no time to catch up. Having paid a landing fee at Macon (£7.70 for all three machines) and being informed that Macon was prohibited to gyros but not to worry - this was a time when we were happy about French officialdom's nonchalance about the rules - we clattered off bound for a small grass strip called St. Rambert. Our route took us down the Rhone through the overhead of Brindas - another grass strip - in order to skirt Lyon's airspace. At Macon the wind on the ground had been hardly 5 kts, up aloft it was stronger and getting stronger and of course right on the nose. By the time we landed at St Rambert the wind was a good 15 gusting 20. Lyon is a sprawling metropolis with a permanent clag of pollution cloaking it which we were to remove from our rotors later. St Rambert is a grass strip but this far south they've had little rain so it was brown not green. What's more it hadn't seen a mower for months so the technique was to land on the part flattened by previous aircraft. As we landed we were greeted by aromatic wafts of herbs and wild flowers - a scent not normally associated with gyros.
Our ground crew however were sampling the less than savoury aroma of traffic fumes sat in a traffic jam back at Lyon. They reached us an hour later but once we refuelled the wind had got up to 25 kts so we elected to sit it out. Another couple of hours and no sign of the wind dying. We needed to press on to have any hope of getting to Magni. We elected for Valence just 25 miles to the south. It took us the thick end of an hour. Once we got there a check of the meteo via the free Minitel system showed a Carpentras METAR of just 6kts. We decided to go for it with Montelimar and Valreas as alternates if the wind was too strong. As we climbed south east out of the Rhone valley, the wind did indeed die down. We had blue skies and spectacular scenery - mountain bluffs and craggy outcrops - beautiful and terrifying, but in the main interspersed with enough potential landing sites in the event of an engine out.
By the time we got it Carpentras it was late and we were virtually in still air. Transmitting blind in French was interesting particularly as we had to do a swift runway change on approach as we heard a fixed wing coming in the other way. On the ground we inquired about a landing fee for the hard, smooth, long runway. "Non - we pay you!" That's the attitude.
We had not made Cannes by Thursday night and were behind the game so an early start on Friday. However we hadn't reckoned with the Carpentras one way system which appeared to place every filling station just beyond reach. Eventually having fuelled up were we airborne by 10.50. A big climb out to flight level 50 - a Dave Fairbrass world record - and certainly a record for me in a gyro. After 40 minutes there it was - the Côte d'Azur and more swimming pools to the square kilometre than anywhere else in the world apart from one imagines Florida. Marc's transponder came into its own as we entered Cannes airspace and we descended for the 17R runway. Parking in front of a collection of Citations and Lear jets naturally there were several offers to swap. Equally naturally we declined. I mean who needs a machine which can do Biggin Hill to Cannes in 1 hour 50 minutes (this was told to us by the pilot of Lord (Norman) Foster - the architect - who had just flown his master in from Venice) when you can spend 15 hours doing it at 60 mph? At Cannes where they are used to a somewhat more well heeled clientele the landing and parking fees are by the tonne. We qualified for the minimum 1 tonne rate so £20 covered all three machines.
Dave Fairbrass's RAF at Cannes.
A quick lunch and flight plan file and it was on with the lifejackets again to fly down the coast, crossing the Italian border and then turning north for Albenga. Again in formation and under the strict control of Nice we made our way into our first Italian airfield. Albenga has a published elevation of just 148 feet but is surrounded on three sides by very high hills. A steep descent got us in to land on their easterly strip. Clearly forest fires are a problem in this area as Albenga is the base for an enormous Canadair water dumping aircraft - somewhat agriculturally built and resplendent in its fire colours of red and yellow. We had been warned about landing fees at Albenga. Everything was itemised - landing fee, handling fee, fire cover, parking, access to the fuel pumps and they have a passenger charge. All this involves a huge amount of paperwork and signatures - totals - £14 one up, £20 two up.
Time was pressing. It was getting late and of course in situations like these the friendly god of aviators fails to smile. The cloud base was 2,800 feet and lowering, the hills at 3000 and staying exactly where they were. Problem. We flew out of Albenga to the east over the NDB and tracked the coast north east towards towards Genova. Our required track on this final 96 mile leg to Spezza and Magni days took us over some very high ground so again Marc's transponder was pressed into service as we negotiated with air traffic a route through the valleys to take us up and over into the vast expanse of the Po valley. Genova stayed with us up 6 miles out of Spezza. On changing to the Spezza channel of 130.0 we were entertained to some fairly non standard RT chatter.
We were all tired. Marc confessed to a pretty hard landing. Khalid had to do a go around having totally misjudged his height but we were all down safely and above all - we made it! Vittorio Magni was there to shake our hands in person and as I climbed out of G-SAYS there in his bright orange Magni flying suit was none other that David Beevers who is test flying the Magni for the CAA's section T. Tony Unwin is here too. Magni Days starts proper tomorrow - so
not only did we make it - we made it in time.A total of 858 statute miles and 18 hours on the Hobbs - an average speed of 47.6 mph. If you've time to spare - go by air!!
Days 7, 8 & 9
Having let us get into the Po Valley late on Friday afternoon, the great God of aviation has decided that this is precisely where he wants us to stay. As we flew in we could see the weather was deteriorating and by first thing Saturday morning it was socked in good and proper. Vittorio's able and multi lingual assistant, Sonia had booked us into the best hotel about, and eyeing the weather mournfully we made our way to the Magni test strip at Spezza for about 10.30 on Saturday morning. Despite the dullness of the forecast the Magni gyros had been optimistically pulled out of the hangar and put on display for the tenacious souls who had braved the elements. Naturally we pulled our trusty RAFs out for all to admire and true to form as soon as we did it started raining. All the gyro's had to go inside again. It's amazing how many you can pack into a small space. Well over 30 in all. There were rotors everywhere..
By now it was time for lunch and we took the critical decision that the likelihood of flying was so remote it would be only sensible to sample the wine on offer. Of course it takes true airmanship and a great deal of experience to make such a decision and Marc was totally convinced the sun would come out as soon as the red infuriator touched his lips. This was a rare occasion when he was wrong. There was the odd gap when it dried up a bit and a few Magni's were pulled out and put through their paces. They were good - very good - of which more later. Certainly they were manoeuverable and the pilots had total confidence in their machines and only occasionally did they appear to bite as instanced by the occasion when a bright pink Magni landed rather heavily and did a convincing bit of ploughing with the back wheel. The 96 year aunt of one of the Magni pilots turned up supported by two sticks and insisted she be taken flying and loved every bit of it. Is she the oldest person to have flown in a gyro?
With the evening came the awards. Pilots got an award for turning up - a rather fetching trophy which Alan Lhermette (applying his unerring engineering logic) felt could be pressed into service as a canopy mounted Jet Ranger style cable cutter. Additionally the three brave pilots from England (ahem! That's us folks!) picked up special awards for travelling the furthest distance although it has to be said that many in the audience simply did'nt believe we had done it. Still there was much back slapping and tomorrow would be a better flying day.
Well it wasn't - it was worse. Stair rods, damp and miserable. The English had brought their Autumnal weather with them. This is freak weather for Italy and there were scores of road accidents. It was a wash out - the first in the 6 year history of Magni's Day. We continued, warmed by an incredible lunch rustled up in the local farmhouse at the airfield. Towards the end of the afternoon Khalid and Dave were each given the chance of trying one of the Magni's by one of Vittorio's sons, Lucca. What can I say? David Beevers had told me that after an RAF the Magni would seem as smooth as silk but nothing had prepared me for the reality of this exquisitely designed machine. At every stage it was gentle but responsive. Rock steady, its suspension soaked up the imperfections of the grass strip at Spessa. Wind up the rotor on the twin belt drive at 1800 engine rpm to around 175 rpm and then roll, easing on the power. Release the prespin at 200 rpm and true to Lucca's word the machine flies itself off the ground when it is ready and climbs effortlessly upward at 50 mph powered by its Rotax 4 stroke. Use the electric trim for 60 mph in the cruise and it flies truly hands off. Pull back on the stick for 10 seconds and release, the machine climbs then dives slightly and then settles back into straight and level flight without further adjustment. And it's the same if you push the stick forward. I have never flown a more stable machine which is at the same time so responsive and manoueverable. Pushing the cruise to maximum at 100 mph and you still feel in control. Geoff Hoyle, the UK Magni agent reckons that with a following wind they may well get through The CAA's section T and have machines available in Britain by the end of 2002/beginning of 2003. If they get their fully enclosed cockpit 2 seater up and running and looking like the incredibly tidy single seat enclosed cockpit we saw at Spessa, they will have a world beater on their hands.
Dave Fairbrass was equally enthusiastic. Marc had by this stage returned to the hotel and so missed out on his first Magni flight. Still, kind souls that we are, we told him all about it in graphic detail, which of course Marc really appreciated.
The weekend was a great shame for the Magni family and their wonderful band of supporters. They had put in a great effort in terms of organisation and they made us very welcome but the weather beat us all. Still it would be better on Monday.
It wasn't. If anything it was worse. Still raining. Power cuts. Vis down to 1.5 km. We paid £17 to talk to a forecaster at Bracknell who said it might be good enough tomorrow to make the crucial flight over high ground to the south to Genova, Albenga and Cannes - so fingers crossed. Dave has decided that time pressure means he cannot risk leaving the machine here so he has departed on a scheduled flight home from Milan to return with a trailer to recover his machine by road. Marie has gone too so we are down to 5 souls. Here's hoping Tuesday will dawn bright and clear.
Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday 28 September 2001 - We're back!
Sorry for the absence of update but it's been all go. Tuesday was yet another miserable day in the Po valley. Somewhat gloomily Marc and Alan set off for the Magni strip again to dismantle rotors and prop blades from Dave's machine in readiness for his return with a trailer to recover G-BEAC. We were kindly invited to view the Magni factory to the north of Milan and after some negotiation of the Italian road system we arrived at their premises on the somewhat aptly named Strada Puccini to see how the great maestro of gyroplanes put his machines together. It's a compact operation - 3 floors of approximately 1500 square feet each. On the top floor, overseen by Vittorio's elder son Pietro, is the composite production unit with its associated specialist equipment for laying up the fibre and spray painting the final mouldings. They try to do all their mouldings themselves so they can control the quality. This includes the rotors, the die for which cost around £30,000! Pietro explained how they weighed and balanced rotors and made up matched pairs. With relatively little head adjustment available on the aircraft itself this job is critical to creating a smoothly flying aircraft.
On the next floor four gyro chassis in various states of build were being worked on by younger son Luca. It all looked very professional. This tight knit team of just ten people aim to produce roughly four aircraft a month which means that at the end of each week the latest to roll off the line has to be trailered 30 miles south to the strip at Spezza for flight testing at the weekend. The Magnis are truly dedicated to their business.
In the basement were the stores of steel, and other components. They outsource key components requiring CAD machining but try to produce everything else themselves as part of Vittorio's unceasing drive for quality. Over a delicious lunch Signor Magni gave us his views about how gyros were progressing. For example the Glasgow work on C of G. There was a danger he felt of being too academic and looking at just one aspect of the gyro phenomenon. You have to take a holistic view - "If it flies, it flies" - is very much the way he approaches the subject. And by way of reinforcement he cited the case of a helicopter and its thrust line in flight which is clearly well above the centre of gravity and creates a tremendous moment arm. "Why does it not topple over?" he inquired with suitably Italian gesticulation! The whole conversation, which ranged widely over machines and some of the various personalities of the UK gyro world was competently interpreted by Sonia, his able and dedicated PA. When we finally emerged from lunch the sun was trying to break through. Wednesday morning boded well but not before we witnessed a dramatic thunderstorm on Tuesday evening.
Wednesday dawned and after an eternity of what Bill Bryson described, when commenting on the typical English weather, as "living in Tupperware" it started to clear up. We'd had four solid days of clag which did nothing for the Lombardy countryside. We all felt it resembled Kosovo in a nuclear winter. There was initial low cloud and mist but of the variety that burns off. The local TV has the forecast delivered by a uniformed colonel from the Italian air force - a graduate of the Genghis Khan charm school and a million miles from Michael Fish. But even he looked half pleased about the weather prospects. So off we set to brave the hills to the south. Climbing to 3500 feet we could see clouds hanging in the valleys below - as before spectacular but terrifying.
We elected to route via the Genova overhead to avoid the worst of the high ground and Marc negotiated with their ATC. Then over the sea into Albenga and the usual ten tons of paperwork to pay for landing fees, fire cover, fuel etc. Quickly up again and out over the sea again to cross the bay of Nice. Nice ATC gave us a thousand foot level via the published reporting points - don't try this without the aid of the local plate!. In the gin clear day the transit was a delight and it was interesting to note that this is one of the busiest helicopter routes in Europe as rotorcraft pass between Monaco, Nice and Cannes. We saw a couple of Jet Rangers cleared to fly in the opposite direction 500 feet below us.
Cannes was again a pleasant, sunny 22 degrees C and after a quick lunch we plogged for Carpentras, a rather more southerly route. We picked up a tail wind and although we didn't land at Carpentras until 1705 local we elected to fuel up and press on to Montelimar - a delightful field and very hospitable. Apparently they had been disappointed when we failed to show on our outbound leg. Hotel rooms were booked on our behalf by a former Mirage fighter pilot who had been the French defence attaché in Kuwait when Saddam Hussein invaded. Apparently this was the third time he'd been a prisoner of war. We'd flown a total on the Hobbs of 7.2 hours that day (a record for a UK gyro on cross country?) but we had covered the most difficult terrain.
Another great day on Thursday. A little early morning mist and then it was off at 10 o'clock local up the Rhone Valley to Villefranche. Looking east we could see Lyon still shrouded in fog, but we were in bright sunshine. Villefranche is another great little airfield perched a thousand feet above sea level. This is quite a centre for helicopters and the owner/manager who took our landing fees told us he owned a Robinson. Apparently he suffered a clutch failure at 300 feet above the runway on his first flight after taking his GFT. Such is the rate of rotor decay he reckoned he had about 1.8 seconds to get into autorotate or suffer the consequences. Fortunately he had forward airspeed of around 70 kts so he and his passenger walked way from an undamaged aircraft. No wonder he was eyeing our permanently-in-autorotate RAF's rather longingly!
From Villefranche to Semur-en-Auxois - 108 miles to the north. We had been picking up a tailwind all the way and made good time with ground speeds of up to 90 mph. If you get a chance to visit this town, you must - it looks like the location where they filmed "Chocolat". Lunch here and given the tailwind we reckoned we could finish the day in Epernay a destination being heavily lobbied for by Marc's brother and co pilot Allan who is somewhat of a wine buff - certainly there was clear evidence that he knows how to drink the stuff in copious quantities at least. Epernay - a huge grass field with four runways - is quite a centre for microlights or ULM's as the French call them. By the way RAF 2000's are outside the ULM category with their all up weight of 556 kg so we were treated as proper aircraft and not subject to the same restrictions. In Italy for example autogyros are not allowed to fly higher than 500 feet. At Epernay we paid no landing fee but hangarage of £4 per machine to the ULM centre owner who also had some mogas on hand too. Just the 5.8 hours today.
Trying to get an hotel in Epernay proved impossible. The vendage was in full swing and as we flew in we saw hordes of itinerant grape pickers swarming all over the vineyards. We eventually found rooms at an auberge in Moussy to the south which enable Marc and Allan to revisit the Rouelle Pertois champagne house favoured by their grandfather. Despite this being the busiest time of year the Patron of Rouelle gave us a tour of his operation - a delightful mixture of old and new technology. Just 20 acres of vines produces 45,000 bottles of champagne each year. This year's harvest he told us was "average". This was a useful way of passing the morning on Friday while we waited for the early mist to burn off. Having loaded our ground vehicle with as much very reasonably priced champagne as we thought the springs would take we set off again for the Epernay airstrip. Loading the vehicle up was a great sacrifice for Brian our lead driver who likes to drive fast. "That way I get there before there's time to have an accident". It wouldn't be so bad but Brian tends to drink beer rather than wine or champagne.
Wheels up from Epernay at midday we tracked north-west along the river valley over the toiling grape pickers, staying clear of Reims airspace and then tracked north to St Quentin - another 77 miles under our belts. The airstrip restaurant was buzzing with plenty of people taking advantage of the delicious 63 franc, 3 course lunch menu. Refuelled it was off again to Calais. As we neared the sea the vis was deteriorating but it was still CAVOK although the wind which had helped us up all day was now right across the 06/24 runway but of course autogyros are nothing if not manoevreable and it was a relatively simple task to fly the normal approach pattern for 24 and then, with the blessing of air traffic, land across the runway into wind at the last minute.
Flight plan filed, life jackets on and we were off on our final leg. Marc had already given UK customs 4 hours notice that we would be landing back at his farm strip near Canterbury. The journey via the Dover VOR took just one hours landing back safely at 5pm local just 3.9 hours flying time from Epernay. Dave Fairbrass had returned with his trailered machine a few hours earlier. The return trip had covered more ground - 855 miles - but had taken less time thanks to more favourable winds- 16.8 hour on the Hobbs - an average flying speed of 50.2 miles. The round trip covered a total of 1680 miles. Marc confirmed that Khalid - his latest convert to the RAF - had probably just about qualified for his test cross country which the CAA insists must be more than 25 miles!
It was an experience.. What did we learn?
1. It's a long way!
2. The ground crew were invaluable - our thanks to Glyn, Brian and Marie.
3. Good mechanical knowledge is a must. Marc and Allan Lhermette know the RAF 2000 inside out.
4. When things go wrong, it's good to have a team think. Several brains are better than one.
5. It would have been really tough to do this trip without GPS. Khalid's colour Skymap 3c with the latest topo chip came into its own, particularly over high ground.. Thanks too, to the producers of the NavBox ProPlan software which on Khalid's laptop was a great help to route planning.
6. A transponder is a must for any long distance flying. There was some ATZ's we simply couldn't have flown around.
7. Mobile phones make life so much easier. Even my Internet reports have been sent via mobile phone modem.
8. The French are much better with their facilities and in encouragement of general aviation.
9. It's still a long way!
Finally, what we have really learnt and, we hope proved, is that autogyros are proper flying machines worthy of being treated as such. We aviated according to the rules, navigated according to the rules and communicated according to the rules. We got there and back and within the planned timescale. We sincerely hope our trip will have advanced the cause of autogyro flying in the UK and continental Europe.
Here's to the next trip!
Khalid Aziz LVO DL
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