D-Day 80 Part 4 – Along The Beaches…and Joe Biden

There’s something about a grass airfield in the morning…sun slowly warming the aircraft. Dew on the wings and the whirr of ropes being removed through tie-down rings. Pre-flight checks of fuel and oil.

The daily inspection on a Cub is quite simple and doesn’t take too long, but with 20 or so aircraft in close proximity it felt like a frenzy of activity…

The briefing by Arnaud and Iza was simple: trail formation, 1000-1500 foot transit, no lower than 500 feet along the beaches, no fancy stuff, dedicated formation frequency and Lead would do all the communicating with air traffic control. Only after the beaches would we do our own comms for the landing in Caen.

We all made a note of which aircraft was in which position…when they are all camouflaged and the same shape and size it’s difficult to tell who’s who. I was “L-Bird 17” in front of the Storch “18” and the silver Fairchild 24 – “19”. At least the ones behind me would be easy to distinguish.

In front of me were two Cubs “15” and “16”, then the Auster AOP Mk V of the Vliegend Museum Seppe in the Netherlands – “14”.

As we began to taxi out in order for take off, “15” called on the radio that they were unable to start, “16” called that they were shutting down to assist, and that put me behind the Dutch Auster for take off.

We took off in 30 second trail and slowly formed into a loose string of aircraft about 8 minutes long, chugging over the French countryside at 70 kts or so…

Ten minutes after takeoff, we heard “15” and “16” call to say they were now airborne and pushing hard to catch up. They had to be with us by the time the formation started to enter the restricted airspace, and that was at a specific time.

Arnaud, as the lead aircraft in his Stinson L5, managed to negotiate a slight delay and so, approaching Lisieux, the whole formation did a racetrack orbit to allow the stragglers to catch up.

All they could see ahead was a mass of aircraft, with no idea who was who…”16” called for me to waggle my wings, which I was happy to do quite vigorously, and the picture became clearer. They tacked on the end and the formation was complete again. Totally out of order now, but complete. In the nick of time too, as the lead aircraft was just entering the restricted area.

The brief had been to fly in trail along the beaches, but as we approached Ouistreham and the start of Sword Beach, it became more of a thundering herd. I tried to slot in behind the Dutch Auster…

But eventually “15” and “16” overtook on the outside and some sort of order was (temporarily) restored

Not my pic…

No pics of this bit as it was rather busy! After Sword, Juno and Gold beaches we flew past Arromanches to the turn point where we headed inland and tried to transition from the gaggle into some sort of sensible spacing for the landing at Caen on the grass runway 31R. As you can see from the SkyDemon track screenshot below, there were several s-turns required to get the spacing:

All credit to the controller at Caen who sorted out the confusion with the numbering and the order. He got us all down in one piece. We taxied onto the parallel taxiway and shut down. Notice how I am now somehow in front of “13” and “14” – as I said, we did get a bit jumbled up:

A fuel truck was already there and slowly made its way down the line of aircraft, filling each one to the brim in anticipation of the next flight along the American sector:

And then, disaster! Joe Biden was coming back…at least a three hour delay while the airspace was closed. A very welcome pack lunch was brought out while we waited for Joe.

As Caen is probably too small for the normal 747, he arrived in a 757…

…and clattered off in a flock of helicopters to whichever ceremony he was attending:

While he was gone the Patrouille de France treated the L-Birds to our very own flypast:

They flew right over the line of aircraft, so it must have been for us, right?

We sat around chatting and planning the next flight as time marched on…I did some advance planning for the trip home by booking the same hotel in Rochester for the next night. Eventually the president returned and after a bit of faffing about, took off to go home, leaving us the airspace again:

Unfortunately it was now too late and the second flight along the beaches was cancelled. We had a team dinner reservation in the hotel and we couldn’t keep the staff hanging on all night.

Aircraft were tied down and we trudged all the way from the grass taxiway where we were parked, along the side of the apron, to the terminal building. Directed down a staff corridor, we emerged in the main concourse and made our way outside.

A taxi ride later and we hit the bar…the Brits and the Dutch contingents:

Dinner was awesome and a good time was had by all. This is just one of the tables:

In my room later on, I was checking weather and doing paperwork for the return trip. Flight plan to ATC, email to customs at Le Touquet and GAR form to Border Force in the UK.

Last time we entered the UK after the 2018 Sweden adventure, nobody came to meet us. Maybe Border Force would turn up this time..?