Normandy Concrete

…normally makes one think of bunkers, pillboxes and heavily fortified strongpoints. On our recent trip we found something a little different, and it was about 25 years OLDER than Herr Hitler’s Atlantikwall.

Visible on the map just a little bit north of Sainte-Mère-Église is a strange annotation Hangar à Dirigeables – a bit of internet sleuthery and we found out that it’s actually a museum, on the site of a French navy airship base from the 1920s.

The main attraction is the concrete hangar, which can be seen from quite a distance away:

The museum is in one of the adjacent buildings, and tells the story of French Naval Air Station Montebourg from its beginnings in 1916 to the present day. The concrete hangar joined a wooden one, now long gone, a few years later. In its history the hangar has been used by the French navy, the German Wehrmacht during the occupation and the Americans after liberation. The US Army used it as a vehicle storage and repair depot. On the internal walls you can see traces of graffiti in all three languages.

It is quite massive inside:

A few weeks later, while planning a trip through Denmark, we came across this place:

Zeppelin Rental! It’s probably (definitely – internet sleuthery again) not a place to hire an airship, but on the off chance that they have an ex-rental dirigeable for sale, we know where to keep it!

Landing at a “Pop-Up” Airfield

The Montrose Air Station Heritage Centre ( https://rafmontrose.org.uk ) is a museum on the site of the first operational military airfield in the UK. Just to the northeast of the town of Montrose in Angus, it is well worth a visit. The airfield itself is no more, but you can discern the old perimeter track on the aerial views:

The area just inside the southern perimeter track (north is up) is now used as football fields and this is where the pop-up airfield is located for the annual open day.

There was a break for Covid last year so this year’s open day and fly in was eagerly anticipated. The football fields give about 500m of firm, slightly bumpy in places, grass.

Here we are landing on the northeasterly runway:

Full report to follow. With jeeps!

Delayed Gratification

I was looking forward to flying the Cub once it came out of maintenance…

…but it would have to wait as the day after my last work shift we drove all the way to London, had a hotel for the night and then continued to the ferry port at Newhaven. Operation “Campervan France 2022” was GO!

We were off to Normandy again, four years since the last visit, and with some new places to see and things to do. In my case, one particular place to visit to get one particular thing for the Cub. I have been after a replica USAAF B-10 jacket to keep me warm when flying in the winter, and found them at the D-Day Experience museum in St-Côme du Mont. Ordering online was an option, but the sizings were a bit confusing, so it would probably be better if we went in person, wouldn’t it? Brenda agreed, I don’t think she was fooled.

Amazingly, the camp site chosen in Tournières was a twenty minute walk from the site of Eisenhower’s first field HQ, with its attendant memorial. Actually just about ANYWHERE in the area is within a twenty minute walk of some sort of memorial, mostly beautifully kept with information as well as plaques:

As you can see on the map, we were also quite close to the airstrip A5, used by P47 Thunderbolts of 506th, 507th and 508th Fighter Squadrons in July and August 1944. Now returned to farmland, the only sign of the temporary airstrip is the number of large gaps in hedges where the runway and taxiways were sited. We didn’t actually walk to the airstrip as it was far too hot, but Google Earth shows the evidence…

(via Google Earth)

The warm weather continued the next day when we visited the jacket shop. We had to go through the D-Day Experience Museum and Dead Man’s Corner Museum to get to it. That was a shame. After the shop it was off to Utah Beach, parking up near the Roosevelt Café and the Utah Beach Museum.

We had visited the museum last time, so we went for a walk on the beach and had an ice cream. It was interesting to wonder if our Cub had come through this particular gap in the dunes on the back of a truck in June 1944:

A couple of days later, the Airborne Museum in Sainte-Mère-Église, where we found another Cub hanging from the ceiling…

Not exactly 100% museum authentic, as it still has the post-war (German!) civilian registration under the wing, a non-standard oil filter behind the cylinders, a non-standard silencer and a modern radio aerial, but it’s pretty cool to see, and the information board features that very aircraft in the photo:

One memorial which was not open four years ago was the British Normandy Memorial at Ver-sur-Mer, overlooking Gold Beach. A large memorial wall is inscribed with the names of every British soldier, sailor and airman who died on D-Day itself, and the columns of the rest of the memorial show the names for every day from June 7th to August 31st. From above, the whole memorial is in the shape of the Union Flag:

Photo credit: en.normandie-tourisme.fr

Entry is free, just a €3 car parking charge which goes towards the upkeep of the memorial. It was quite poignant to find the column for the date we visited, and see the names of the dead 78 years on. Looking out over Gold Beach from the slightly higher elevation it was hard to imagine the sights and sounds of 6 June 1944…it is a lovely quiet spot now, a peaceful place.

After the memorial, which took a lot longer than we expected (in a good way), we headed to Carpiquet airport at Caen for the D-Day Wings Museum, a small affair housed in one of the old hangars. Various bits and pieces of aircraft including a replica Focke-Wulf 190 being restored after an accident and a real US Army Aeronca L3, not as prolific as the Piper L4 – the information booklet stated that there had been only one example serving in Normandy. I also spotted a model L4 Cub in one of the display cases.

We then left the “invasion coast” and headed to Fécamp and our campsite for the last two nights. Even here we could not escape Hitler’s Atlantikwall – while walking around the seafront and marina we could see the bunkers set into the cliff top. Note how they are protected from fire from offshore and oriented to fire along the beach:

After two nights in Fécamp, we got the ferry from Dieppe and drove home. Ten days after it was released by the engineers, I was finally able to fly the Cub and get some much needed delayed gratification.

There had been a flow problem with the fuel feed from the auxiliary tank but it had been addressed, so I filled that tank as well as the main on (yet another) lovely sunny day:

The heat wave which we had experienced in France had also affected the UK, as seen in the crop marks along the River Isla near Blairgowrie…

It was refreshing to fly with the windows and doors open, and the temperature was a little cooler at 3000 feet. I couldn’t resist a little silliness. Our home base has a radio room only, not full air traffic control, so they can’t issue instructions. But I managed to get some practice in case we fly into a full ATC field and they ask us to extend the downwind leg…apologies, it’s an overused Cub joke, everybody does it.

The Cub flew beautifully. We tend to expect something wrong after maintenance, but not this time. And since Bob has fixed the air lock in the auxiliary fuel tank feed line, we’ll be able to double the range and travel a lot further between fuel stops.

Have t-shirt will travel…and now I also have the jacket too, but it’s too warm to wear it!

Visiting The Old Sod

A longer trip in the RV…I’ve been trying to get over to Northern Ireland to see my old school friend Andrew. First the pandemic got in the way, then the weather failed to cooperate, but towards the end of June there was a spell of good weather but still with potentially dodgy bits. We decided to give it a go and see. Notifications were sent to Special Branch 24 hours in advance for both the outbound and return legs, online “booking in” with the Ulster Flying Club at Newtownards airfield and we were ready to go.

The weather at Perth was quite nice for departure…

Although the Southern Uplands looked bad, the coastal route seemed workable, and the forecast was for a slow steady improvement over the course of the day.

The price of fuel has gone up due to “The Circumstances” and the bill for full tanks was a bit of a shock. As it was, we eventually got back to Perth with half tanks, but…£280!

Brenda was following on Flightradar24:

The weather was great for the first bit…

The cloud started to thicken a little as we passed Loch Lomond:

By the time we were tracking down the coast south of Prestwick the cloud inland was too low to go more than about a mile in from the shore, but it was still workable along the coast. Here you can see the remains of my in flight snack reflected in the windscreen as we pass the old disused airfield at Turnberry, now covered by the golf course. Just visible to the right of the wood is the hotel now known as “Trump Turnberry”…

Ballantrae and the River Stinchar. The lighter skies in front are promising improvements ahead:

By the time we passed Loch Ryan the cloud had risen to a level suitable for a crossing, although I couldn’t spot the traffic just in front but 18,800 feet above…

Within no time we were “coasting in” at Donaghadee and landing at Newtownards, where I parked next to another visitor. This blue Cirrus is also based at Perth:

Andrew was waiting. We’ve known each other for 50 years! Now I’m really feeling old…

We eschewed the airfield cafe and jumped into the gentleman’s open topped touring carriage for the ten minute trip to Greyabbey, just down the coast on the Strangford Lough side of the Ards peninsula:

Andrew’s daughter Tara had recommended this little place. “Lekker” is Dutch for tasty or yummy…

…and it is well-named. In the spirit of “pictures or it didn’t happen” here’s my breakfast in a bun. Lekker in Greyabbey, highly recommended.

All too soon it was time to get back to the airfield to meet my previously notified arrival time at Perth. Don’t want to upset the Border Force guys if they do turn up. On our landing at Rochester after the flight from Belgium in 2018 they didn’t appear, although the refuelling team said they had been doing spot checks the previous day.

Airborne and coasting out by the Copeland Islands, the cloudbase was quite high now, with some remnants of low level mist over the water:

Mid-point in the North Channel, passing the Stena Line freight only service from Heysham to Belfast:

Routing up the Clyde, passing Gare Loch with Faslane in the distance:

And back to Perth in glorious warm sunshine. I left the orange peel in the aircraft, pot-pourri for the cockpit…

A literal flying visit to see a friend, 1h15m of flying each way and lunch in a different country. General aviation is great. Fast and flexible, go where you need to go. But be prepared to cancel if the weather doesn’t play ball.

Border Force didn’t turn up…

Stranger Things

Almost time for the annual on the Cub so it was a bit of a frenzy getting some flying in before it went offline for a few weeks:

Actually, not really a frenzy. That kind of implies non-stop back to back flights from sunrise to sunset. Unfortunately the state of the world at the moment means that the price of Avgas has shot up and is now over £2.60 per litre. Filling the small tank of the Cub is not so bad, but stay tuned for when I filled the RV for a day trip to Northern Ireland…

Chugging along in the Cub we came across this strange feature near the old disused airfield at Kinnell. It looks like an old railway cutting has been sealed up and turned into a long thin lake:

It’s even on the Ordnance Survey map. Maybe it’s a fishing pond?

Cub frenzy complete, I decided to give the aircraft a bit of a clean. It does not fly fast enough to blow the fine hangar dust off, and I can only reach part of the upper wing surface when standing on the ground:

With the help of the step ladder I was able to clean all the top surface with these chemical free baby wipes. Actually touching the surface is a great way to ensure that all the fabric and internal ribs are in good condition. If something is broken inside it probably won’t feel right…

A lovely clean shiny aircraft ready to visit the engineers:

A day later in the maintenance hangar…

By then I was back to work, busily shuttling patients around Scotland for the ambulance service. More opportunities to see strange things from the air. Near Kilmalcolm we saw these concrete structures in a field:

It turns out that this is the site of an anti-aircraft battery from WW2. There are several of these dotted around the periphery of Glasgow. One even serves as the foundations for a uniquely shaped house. Zooming in you can see the four distinctive gun positions and the control/admin block:

Later that same day we came across a submarine getting a helping hand back into the base at Faslane. In this zoomed in picture the tow line is just visible running from the tug on the right to the bow of the sub. Not sure if it’s standard procedure or if it was limping home:

I’ve just heard that the Cub’s annual is being signed off tomorrow. There was a problem with the auxiliary fuel tank in the wing not feeding properly. Rerouting the line slightly has removed the potential for airlock and it should be fine again.

The auxiliary tank almost doubles the range of the Cub. Good for long distance travelling…such as Normandy 2024 for the 80th anniversary of D-Day. Less than two years to go!

Big “shout out” to Bob of ACS Engineering, seen here shyly hiding behind the wing, who did most of the actual grunt work on the aircraft:

Good to go for another 50 hours / six months!

D-Day

Monday 6th June 2022. D-Day. What better way to mark the occasion than to go flying in a Normandy veteran Cub? A nice day with gentle winds, good visibility and light traffic at the airfield…

The Cub was the only aircraft in the circuit so we did some touch-and-goes before heading off to the north, as logged on the Skydemon vertical trace:

We flew over some friends at Abernyte:

…and had a general tootle about, just enjoying the views:

This tower on Kinpurney Hill near Newtyle is the remains of an observatory which was built in 1766:

It sits within the site of an unfinished iron-age hill fort, with some earthworks still visible near the triangulation point.

As well as commemorating D-Day and doing some amateur aerial archaeology, there was another reason for the flight. A recent birthday present needed to be tested for suitability for Cub operations. My brother gave me a nice lambswool scarf from County Donegal, and it turned out to be perfect for keeping the neck warm while flying around with the windows open:

Top birthday present. Thanks Bro!

Coffee and Cake

After about twelve months of searching, I managed to get hold of a genuine World War 2 era US aeronautical first aid kit container. Ebay is wonderful! It even came with some 80 year old medical supplies: a pair of rusty scissors, tourniquet kit and Australian shell dressing. These have now been replaced by more modern contents. It looks great:

To celebrate, I decided to nip over to Fife Airport in Glenrothes for coffee. It’s only about a 25 minute flight. After pulling the aircraft out into the light…

…and taxying over the freshly cut, still slightly damp grass:

…we ambled over to Fife airfield in lovely sunshine. The parking area for aircraft is just over the fence from the car park and I spent some time chatting with one of the enthusiasts who regularly sit there watching the aeroplanes. The Cub did look lovely with the shiny wings:

Eventually I was able to get to the main building to pay the landing fee and order coffee and cake. Very nice it was too…

After refuelling the pilot it was time to go. The aircraft did not need fuel but if it had, Fife have a self service system visible in the background:

There were some weird plantations on the way back…

Compare the picture above with the next one, taken a few weeks later. The field are greener and drier, and the yellow oil seed rape crops are ripening nicely…

The weather did have some surprises up its sleeve…this forecast is for one of my days off:

But we went flying anyway before the wind got too strong. It was straight down the runway so no real problem.

Spring weather in Scotland – it’s all part of the adventure.

Spring RV6

As the snows melted I noted that the RV was about 5 hours from my 25 hour inspection and about 10 hours from an oil change so I decided to burn up those hours while I waited for a box of oil and a new oil filter to arrive, and then do both oil change and inspection at the same time. It’s easier and simpler as the cowlings only have to come off once.

Drifting along in the Cub at low level is great fun but the RV has an excellent rate of climb and it’s nice to zoom up to 5000ft or more to zip along well above most of the normal general aviation traffic which seems to congregate around 2000ft – maybe they teach it that way these days?

Random high level pictures in no particular order. Here we are over Pitlochry looking south towards Dunkeld:

…and now we are looking south from Stanley towards Perth. Probably in the descent toward the airfield so not as high as the last one:

In the climb over Fife, up to 7000ft:

Less than one mile laterally and 10,400ft vertically from a British Airways Airbus on its descent into Aberdeen:

7000ft over Melrose in the Borders…

One cool thing I have noticed…if you are looking out the right of our RV6, overhead Crail in the East Neuk of Fife, with 2400 RPM set, doing 140 knots at 6000ft, in a left turn passing through 090 degrees at about 30 degrees angle of bank, and you take a photo, then go home and zoom in…

…it’s the flag of Ukraine! Слава Україні !

Snowy Flights

Even over the winter I have tried to fly the aircraft at least once a week to keep everything warmed up and exercised. Landing the Cub in some of the winds we have had has been “interesting” – sometimes feeling a bit like this Cub at Dala-Järna in Sweden:

Of course there have been some days when it has been impossible…

And some nice days. On the days with the winter showers around it has usually been windy (see above)…

But the clear still days after a dump of snow are lovely. Here’s a helicopter picture just to prove that there is some work in amongst all the play. We are parked at the Glen Clova Hotel for a forestry accident:

It was one of those clear calm mornings after an overnight snowfall when I dragged the Cub out for a flight. The snow wasn’t too thick on the grass:

…and thin enough to be perfectly safe on the taxiway and runway. We just taxied a little slower than normal just in case:

Once airborne we made our way to our favourite bridge and river confluence at Kinclaven:

Looking down the Tay towards Perth the snowy landscape really highlighted the route of the old disused railway line:

The whole of Perthshire had been hit by the overnight dusting of snow:

Insert standard “low winter sun makes for good photographs” here. Reflections and shadows and clear air and lovely countryside:

Note we were flying around with the window open. It makes the photographs a little better and it wasn’t really too cold, although I did have my trouser bottoms tucked into my socks to reduce the drafts up my legs:

Back to base for a portrait in the snow. And a refuel before the price of Avgas went up. Again.

Winter Cubbing. The only thing better is Summer Cubbing. Can’t wait!