D-Day 80 Part 3 – “The Greatest Aerial Armada”

It was eerily quiet at St André…just me and a couple of other aircraft. For a bit I felt as if I was in the wrong place.

And then, off in the distance, some dots in the sky and the gentle drone of several Piper Cubs approaching…

They landed and taxied to the pumps. One of them turned out to be an Auster, not a Cub. It’s the one in British markings:

It turns out that the early arrivals had been given permission to fly on the 6th. They had done a 10-ship formation down the beaches and flown past the commemoration ceremony as the veterans were arriving. They even appeared on French TV.

The following pics are from various participants (not mine):

Wonder of wonders they even got permission to fly while the US President was on the ground. The temporary helipad with Marine One and escorts:

Soon more and more aircraft returned and the queue for the pumps stretched almost all the way to the runway…

One of the late arrivals was a French registered Fieseler Storch, the German equivalent of the Cub. Stranger danger..!

We were planning to brief in the evening for the next day’s flight along the beaches, but word came that Joe Biden was still hanging around and timings needed to be flexible. Take off was set at 1000, with brief at 0900, and “wheels” from the hotel in Évreux at 0745 to get to the airfield at 0800.

The food truck opened for business, and the special cider bottles were broken out…

The food was excellent and filling. Hot and spicy:

…and the cidre was much appreciated, as well as the beer on tap. Here’s the Spanish contingent having fun:

Five Spaniards in two Piper Cubs? How did they do that? They brought a car with them, alternating driving legs. It was very useful for logistics and reduced the burden on taxis and other drivers.

On the way up through France one of their Cubs had blown an exhaust. With Iza and Arnaud of the L-Birds team on the phone organising things, the exhaust was taken off, driven to a welder, fixed and back on the aircraft within about six hours.

By now the last aircraft were being refuelled…

…and tied down on the grass as the sun started to set behind the hangars:

There was just time for a quick team photo before the shadow hit the aircraft:

And then it was off to the hotel. Tomorrow would be the big day!

D-Day 80 Part 2 – “OK, Let’s Go”

When Eisenhower made the decision and said “OK, Let’s go on 6 June”, D-Day had already been postponed by 24 hours. If we had been forced to delay by another day there would have been no point in going, so it was with great relief that there was a weather window on the 5th June.

Rain moving in slowly and a strong wind. Strong but crucially straight down the runways at our departure and first two fuel stops. And also a tailwind aloft, pushing us along. The overnight stop at Rochester was forecast to have light winds. That was a days flying away anyway, and a lot can change in that time.

The decision was made – GO!

First leg was Perth to Eshott in Northumbria. As practice for the English Channel we had to cross the Firth of Forth:

Eshott is a delightful airfield, with great service and an excellent café. Refuelling was quick and efficient:

Next leg was to Breighton near Selby in Yorkshire, another lovely airfield. On the way I took a slight detour to overfly RAF Linton-on-Ouse, now disused, where the Air Force taught me how to fly jets. It’s looking a bit sad and neglected now…

Breighton was windy and quiet, with only one other aircraft flying. I was soon parked up at the self service pumps. Such an easy process…

Aircraft refuelled and bladder endurance reset, we set off for Fenland near Spalding in the, well, fen lands. Nice grass airstrip with cross runways, and once again self service fuel pumps:

This was the fastest turnaround of the trip, just 25 minutes after touchdown we were off again in the final leg of the day, to Rochester in Kent. The superb team there helped refuel the aircraft on arrival and push it to a tie down spot on the grass:

There is a Holiday Inn right next to the airfield, and that was my bed for the night. It’s a two minute walk away, and after a quick dinner I finished the planning for the crossing.

Flight plan filed and confirmed, Outbound General Aviation Report (GAR) sent to Border Force and confirmed, and email sent to Customs at Le Touquet…it was time for bed…

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The next morning was clear and still, a perfect day for Cubbing.

Just like on our Sting trip to Siljansnäs, Rochester opened the flight plan on take off, and after a transit across Kent, we were soon out over the water at 4000 feet. Visibility was excellent and the other side was visible for the whole crossing. I did have a Dynon D2 portable attitude indicator just in case – if it’s hazy and sunny with no discernible horizon it can be easy to get disoriented in the “fishbowl” effect. The D2 wasn’t required.

Just like last time the shortest route was used, Dover to Cap Gris Nez. Same routing this time but the difference was below us in the new danger areas, designed for surveillance drones monitoring the channel for migrants:

Cap Gris Nez approaching! Last time we turned left for Sweden. This time it was right for Le Touquet:

Joining downwind right hand for runway 31. Le Touquet airport is a popular destination for Brits flying across the channel as it is very easy to find and so near. Great restaurant too…and bikes for hire to get into town.

In anticipation of this trip I had arranged to get a Total card for the automated fuel pumps which seem to be everywhere in France. At the risk of repeating myself (again), automated pumps make the refuel very fast and easy:

Then it was taxi to the apron and into the terminal to clear customs. The customs desk is permanently staffed and once inside, the admin desk is right there. They take your landing fee, sell you a France Nord-Ouest chart if you don’t have one (I didn’t) and also rent out the bikes…

In September 2022 it was announced that the airport would be renamed “Le Touquet Elizabeth II“ in honour of the late Queen. Next time I’ll buy a patch…

Airborne again, heading southwest towards St-André, passing the Baie de Somme. I think these pools are to do with salt extraction? I noticed some on the way into Le Touquet as well. Not sure…

Inland now, we crossed over the Seine to the southeast of Rouen:

After the Seine, only about 30 miles to go. I reflected that the Cub and I had just crossed the channel on 6 June, just like thousands of aircraft and personnel 80 years ago to the day.

The radio was quiet as we approached Saint André de l’Eure. Then somebody called in French. The airfield was NOTAM’d to be reserved for L-Birds only with English on the radio so I wasn’t expecting that! I dug out my French radio calls crib sheet and made a stab at announcing my attentions, joined the circuit and landed.

Once clear of the runway, I was directed to park on the grass to let two Cubs out from the pumps, and then got refuelled (good old automatic Total pumps) and parked back on the grass:

But where the hell was everybody..?

D-Day 80 Part 1 – Weather Delays…

Finally retired and on permanent holiday, it was time to take the L4 Cub on an epic adventure:

I wanted to fly down in stages, taking it easy and not pushing too hard. Due to the D-Day invasion area airspace being closed on the big day, 6th June, the plan was to assemble that day at Saint-André-de-l’Eure airfield (LFFD) near Évreux, and then fly the beaches on the 7th. The airspace restrictions would still be in place, but Macron, Biden etc would be long gone and we would be allowed in. Maybe…

The team at “L-Birds back to Normandy” did a huge amount of work in the weeks leading up to the event; in order to get accreditation from the prefecture we all had to send passport details, licence number, medical certificate, shoe size, favourite colour and mother’s maiden name. Also payments for the hotels in Évreux and Caen.

Our plan was to start on the 4th, a couple of gentle days down the UK, then cross the channel and get to Saint-André on the 6th. The weather had other ideas – while France looked lovely, Scotland was forecast to be pretty dire…

I woke on the 4th to howling winds. The automatic weather station at the airfield reported a gust of 55 knots at about 0700, with strong wind warning in force:

The radar showed well-defined fronts with intense returns, but in between was clear. The fronts were moving in the direction I wanted to go, so there might have been a mobile gap to fly in…IF the winds dropped.

The winds didn’t drop. I stood in the hangar listening to the roof rattle and gave myself until 1400 to decide. It stayed wild as the time approached…and I decided to can it for the day. It would mean that I would have to fly the whole length of the country on the 5th to catch up, but that was workable…just.

Cancelling also meant that Brenda had to drive back to the airport to pick me up, but by doing it before 1400 I was able to cancel my hotel at the half-way point with no penalty, so there was that one slight ray of sunshine…

D-Day itself was postponed by 24 hours due to wild weather in the channel, so the trip was already quite realistic. If all went well, I’d be crossing the channel on the 6th, just like the thousands who made the same trip 80 years ago.

The 5 June simplified weather summary from the Mountain Weather Information Service showed wind but not as bad, and a tailwind for the southbound flight to Rochester, with improving weather all the way:

We went to bed hopeful…

Clarrie-T

The plan for the 80th anniversary of D-Day coming up next month is to meet up with a lot of other liaison aircraft in France and fly in formation along “Les plages du Débarquement”, as the Locals call the invasion beaches.

The cowling of the Cub looked a bit bare. Some of the ones attending have names and nose art. No time left to get fancy artwork, but we should at least name the aircraft.

After a lot of thought and many rejected ideas we agreed on “Clarrie-T”. This was my Mum’s nickname as a teenager in 1944, when she was 14 years old.

I sent off for the vinyl graphics but unfortunately I got the dimensions slightly wrong. It didn’t fit. All the letters were there so we just went with “Clare”, Mum’s actual name…

The process was quick and easy.

And the finished product looks pretty good:

Mum’s name is already on the side of an RNLI lifeboat, and now she’s on an aeroplane too.

Her first outing was to Kirriemuir airstrip in Angus, for the second fly in of the year. The first was in January, this one was a lot hotter!

The photographers were out in force and got some great shots:

…and this last one, my favourite. I managed to take off cross-controlled (deliberately-honest!) and they got the left wheel low wheelie perfectly:

In less than two weeks, we should be flying along the D-Day beaches. But first, it’s time to retire from helicopter flying. Only one shift left on the air ambulance. Sadly it’s an age thing, 60 is the age limit for single-pilot public transport flying. I identify as a 44 year old but the UK Civil Aviation Authority aren’t having it.

This little clip should encapsulate the next couple of weeks:

Hoping for good weather! Report to follow.

Spring Cubbin’

Some spring Cub photos, in between the rubbish weather portions…

Sunny day:

Grey day:

Our favourite river confluence. Clear water from the mountains, muddy water from the fields:

Recce flight over Perth, checking the harbour…

The ship was IN!

Checking out the progress of the new Tay bridge north of Perth:

The remains of the spring flooding:

The airfield is still a bit soggy, not yet fully dried out. At the time of writing, the grass runway has only just been reopened…

A typical spring weather outlook…!

Not to worry. Summer is coming and we are planning to fly to France for the D-Day 80th anniversary “L-Birds back to Normandy” event on 6 June. The “cockpit litter” has already been loaded…

The first week of retirement is going to be busy!

Scotland’s Scenery

Flying a helicopter throughout Scotland means you get to see some pretty impressive vistas. Here’s Tyndrum with the two railway lines, one for Fort William and one for Oban:

Approaching Oban hospital, looking north-west towards Oban Airport…

Random un-named mountain with a dusting of snow:

More mountains…

Killin, at the western end of Loch Tay:

Next pics by paramedic Rich. Here’s Glasgow city centre. The River Clyde, Central Station and the triangular glass roof of the St Enoch Centre, apparently the largest glass building in Europe:

Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth off North Berwick. The rocks of the cliff are not naturally that light coloured – that’s gannet poo. Lots and lots of gannet poo! Hundreds and hundreds of years of the stuff…

Unknown location on the West Coast:

Another unknown West Coast location:

Finally back to one of mine. Sunset on the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital elevated helipad – 210ft above sea level up on the roof. With the change of the clocks and imminent retirement at the end of May, I have probably flown my last ever EC135 helicopter night flight.

The 135 is a bit of a flying carpet…a magical steed giving the best views. I’m going to miss it. Only 24 shifts to go…

Reflections

Looking back through the photo archives, we found quite a few pictures of the Sting, and were reminded that the smooth finish of the composite construction produced some lovely reflections. Here’s a sample.

In the hangar at Perth:


Cloud reflections over Perthshire:


Over Denmark on the Great 2018 Sweden Adventure:


Over Sweden. Lots of trees below, more cloud reflections:


Approaching the Rhine in Germany:


Back safe in the home hangar:

The Sting was a great little aircraft. With a cruise speed of 120 knots it was able to get places quickly. The Rotax 912 engine wasn’t a gas guzzler, and the controls were responsive. Maintenance and annual permit renewals were straightforward due to the composite construction. Support from the UK dealer and the factory in the Czech Republic was amazing. We had great fun in our Sting.

The only niggle was the manual flap lever, which was close to my right arm and required a bit of hand swapping on the controls to release the left hand to reach over and operate the lever. A little ungainly but perfectly safe.

More recent versions have electric flaps, operated by a switch on the panel, which eliminates that problem. They also have a more accessible baggage area and even an autopilot.

We would definitely have another Sting. Lovely aircraft.

New Year, New Career

The SSDR Eindecker hasn’t flown for a while and is in need of a bit of TLC, so I wheeled it out into the fresh air…

…and then wheeled it across to the work hangar where it was stuck in the back:

The work hangar is big enough to hold two helicopters, a trailer, a tractor, two containerised offices and a bunch of lockers, so the Eindecker didn’t take up too much space…

Also, the work hangar has a particularly awesome toolkit…it was time to get to work!

With the help of paramedic Rich the wings were removed and set aside. That’s the only two-person job of the whole process:

The control cables were disconnected and the hinges disassembled to remove the rudder:

Then it was the turn of the elevator. I lifted the tail up onto the toolkit for easy access. Note the wooden chocks adding a bit of counterbalance as the aircraft is very nose heavy. One of the points of this whole process is to modify the aircraft by moving the battery from the engine compartment down to the tail. The battery is tiny and not much mass, but way down there it will have a long lever arm and help to balance the aircraft in flight. At the moment to fly level there is a fair bit of back pressure required on the stick…the forces are very light and completely manageable but it would be nice to be a bit more balanced.

Tail feathers removed, and tail lashed down to a drum of water. Not taking any chances!

The next day we picked up a hired box van with tail lift. The only way to load the aircraft was tail first, with the tail up in the extra space above the cab. This exacerbated the nose down tendency so special attention was paid to lashing the tail down with lots of padding. As it was we stopped halfway through the 15 -minute journey home to inspect everything and retighten the lashings.

After all the faffing about reversing the van into the narrow gate, it was a simple task to unload the fuselage and wheel it into the home workshop. Note the home-made wing stand sitting waiting for the next delivery:

Second run complete, the whole aircraft is now safely in the workshop, ready for cleaning, refurbishment, repairs and modifications. We used the RV builder’s dimpling frame lashed to the tail to hold it down. Vans aircraft are in trouble at the moment so the RV8 build is on hold…their kit prices recently went up by 32% as the company tries to emerge from its financial woes. It makes sense to me to hold back and see if they will actually survive. In the meantime, the tools are still useful, even if just as tie-down weights!

Retirement looms and the Eindecker is a first project, but it doesn’t really qualify as a new career as per the title. The intention is to do my Flight Instructor (Aeroplanes) rating…no more helicopters for me!

With the FI(A) I’ll be able to continue to fly with somebody else paying for it, and let my pension pot have a bit more time to grow.

I’ll also be able to pass on some hard-learned experience to the young’uns. Should be fun.

Working and Wet and Windy

Not much to report in December…working too much, and when not working, the weather has been horrendous.

The RV hasn’t flown for a while, as there was a hold up with the paperwork for the Permit to Fly. I need to give it a trickle charge before we take it out.

I did manage a quick flight in the Cub, on a day when the wind was straight down the runway. It was only 20 minutes in the circuit, but good to blow the cobwebs away. It had been exactly a month since I flew the Cub, but the engine started right up – we had a new battery fitted at the last annual and it showed.

After landing I taxied to the pumps to fill up…Christmas is coming and the “World’s Coolest Copilot” is visiting so we might continue our 25th December Cub flight tradition. I’m back to work and the airfield closes before the run of shifts finishes so I needed to fill up then and there:

The aircraft behind are out of the AST engineering training school hangar. They were wheeled out into the fresh air during a big hangar clean-up and reshuffle.

I’ve been preparing the Eindecker for de-rigging and a move to the home workshop for refurbishment. Prop off, cowling off, various panels off, controls disconnected, pressure lines disconnected and lots of wire-locking removed in readiness for the wings coming off…

Those scissors are an old pair of medical ones from work called “Tough Cuts” – or probably these days “Tuff Kutz” – I can confirm that even when old and nackered they are able to snip through locking wire with ease.

I can also confirm that the cut ends of the locking wire can puncture skin with ease. Ask me how I know…

Merry Christmas to both of you!

Wickenby – The Sequel

After the summer’s enjoyable Cub trip south to the Vintage Piper Aircraft Club’s “Northern Meet” at Wickenby, it seems that they are looking at holding a “Scotland Meet” at Perth next May…

There may be a bit of organisation to do, but at least I won’t have to fly as far this time!