Latest Event Updates
This blog charts a trip from Perth (Scone) Airfield in Scotland to Cannes in the South of France in a Pioneer 300 light aircraft in July this year. I flew with my wife Margaret, and we took the opportunity to enjoy some of the amazing sights and experiences which that part of the world can offer. The journeys each way were also adventures in their own right which may be of interest to other private pilots.
Leg 1: Perth to Sherburn (198nm, 1hr 36m, 123kt)
Typical Scottish weather on departure with 1500′ cloud base only just high enough for us to get away. We pressed on and as is often the case the clouds started to lift as we passed the English border, getting a zone transit down the coast past Newcastle “not above 2000 feet”. We crossed over the North York Moors, and York itself, before heading into Sherburn for fuel and refreshments.
Leg 2: Sherburn to Le Touquet (244nm, 1hr 52m, 130kt)
On leaving Sherburn we were offered a transit through the Doncaster Sheffield zone which shaved off a few miles. After that we routed to the east of Southend, avoiding the Danger Areas as we crossed the outer Thames. Crossing the Channel was fairly straightforward, at 5000′ we were always within glide distance of land. We coasted in at Boulogne sur Mer and then down the coast to Le Touquet for a landing on Runway 31. We then enjoyed a sunny evening in the town before catching some sleep and preparing for the next day’s flying.
Leg 3: Le Touquet to Chalon Chamforgeuil (278nm, 2hr 10m, 128kt)
We set off under some low scud and haze, but after flying above it in clear air for a few minutes the scud turned into a more solid layer of cloud which we had to duck back under. After 20 minutes or so the cloud dissipated as we headed inland, turning into a bright sunny day. The countryside of northern France is relatively flat with a mosaic of fields and forests. Eventually we reached Chalon Chamforgeuil (there being more than one “Chalon” airfield in France!). The field was being used for parachuting and we could see a bunch of them coming down to the east so we held off for a few minutes to the west of the runway before joining downwind. Fuelling at Chalon was straightforward with an Air Total card. Temperatures on the ground were starting to rise, approaching 40 degrees by this point!
Leg 4: Chalon to Cannes (263nm, 2hr 8m, 123kt)
We flew high out of Chalon to escape the worst of the heat, up to 7000 feet. Our route took us to the west of Lyon, then down the Rhone valley to the west of Valence. Just at that point however things got interesting with our iPad deciding to shut down for “self-preservation” in the heat: that was kind of it! Then our backup GPS also packed in. There was nothing for it but back to basics with the map, compass and stopwatch so I let Margaret hold her straight and level for a few minutes whilst I double checked the route legs, then we pressed on. Very fortunately for us that part of France is blessed with large prominent landmarks such as Mont Ventoux, and the Lac Saint Croix. Our old fashioned technique took us to within a few miles of Cannes airport, close enough to follow the prescribed inbound route (having watched their briefing video online) for a fairly straightforward approach in from the north. It was quite something to realise we had flown our little plane all the way to the Mediterranean! We then picked up the hire car and headed into town.
Sight-seeing trip along the coast
Cannes itself is a wonderful place: the shops, food, beaches not to mention the fabulous fireworks display on the 13th July. We spent an afternoon on each of the two islands just a few miles off the coast – Saint Marguerite and Saint Honorat. These islands are a complete contrast to Cannes with no cars, lots of natural pine forest, and perfect peace (apart from the odd aircraft). Obviously we had to take the opportunity for a sightseeing flight along the coast, the most exciting part being to the east past Nice and Monaco where the VFR corridor is at 500′ maximum to keep below the commercial traffic. You really do feel like you are skimming the tops of the yachts. These pictures will give you a flavour:
Leg 5: Cannes to Beaune (258nm, 2hr 16m, 114kt)
Time to head home, however the Mistral was blowing hard down the Rhone valley so rather than face the headwind we routed further east through the lower French Alps, over Gap Tallard and Grenoble. It’s amazing how localised the Mistral is as we had very little headwind. The scenery was really spectacular, gradually migrating from Mediterranean landscapes to the higher Alps with snow cover. At one point we could see serious down draughts on the west side of the valley hence kept well over to the east where we got some useful lift. Passing Grenoble proved a challenge thanks to the restricted zone above CERN, up to 4000′ and wide enough to very nearly block off the valley especially given a cloud base of around 4500′. With some ducking and diving we managed to avoid both the zone and the cloud but I wouldn’t fancy it in a lower cloud base. After that we continued north as the mountains lowered and eventually we were back over flat farmland and heading into Beaune which we had decided to try given there is no parachuting there unlike Chalon. The local flying club were present, and very helpful. If we had more time we would have gone into town which has very attractive mediaeval buildings. Avgas was procured, again with the Air Total card.
Leg 6: Beaune to Le Touquet (258nm, 2hr 16m, 114kt)
Nothing particularly notable on this leg, other than it was a almost a complete reversal of our earlier flight south. We didn’t take any pictures.
Leg 7: Le Touquet to Earls Colne (100nm, 55m, 109kt)
We would have liked to stay the night at Le Touquet but the town is incredibly popular and we couldn’t get accommodation. So we decided to press on to Earls Colne. We were able to cross at 5000′ and with the D138 danger zones deactivated could route straight in to our destination. Border Force were there just to prove that the GAR system does work. All very relaxed and we were cleared in five minutes or so. We stayed overnight at the Golf and Country Club which is just ten minutes’ walk from the airfield. They offer a very good deal if you tell them you’ve flown in!
Legs 8 & 9: Earls Colne to Sherburn to Perth
We woke up to light rain and low cloud so had to wait a while. Eventually it lifted to 1500′ or so and we could press on to Sherburn for fuel. After that we pressed north but the westerly wind over the Pennines was creating some nasty turbulence. This was worst at around 2000′ so we flew lower to minimise the bouncing around. Crossing the Scottish border the inevitable happened and we hit a solid wall of heavy rain. While checking at Sherburn it had been forecast to dissipate, unfortunately that was wrong. Scottish Information were very helpful as always providing some information from their rainfall radar which made it clear there was no way around the rain. We did the sensible thing and got onto the ground at Charterhall where they have a super tarred runway, just in time for the front to reach us and give us a good soaking. However we were surprised when after ten minutes the skies cleared so we took off again and made it to Perth in no time, completing what had been a great holiday with some terrific flying experiences.
This blog charts a flight from Scotland to Sweden in a Pioneer 300 light aircraft in early June 2015. I flew there with my son Gordon (also a private pilot) via Norfolk, Holland and then on to southern Sweden. From there we covered another 600km over lakes and forests to reach our destination at Siljansnas Airpark in the central part of the country, staying there for a few days to explore the area before heading back via a similar route.
Preparations 26th May to 3rd June
A trip like this requires a lot of planning, especially for touring novices such as ourselves. I had decided that I should upgrade my transponder to Mode S, to ease the transit through busy airspace, especially in Holland. At the same time I bought an 8.33kHz radio. So the new units were fitted, signed off and flight tested finally on 3rd June. Although the transponder checked out OK, the new radio’s reception wasn’t the best and given the importance of good RT over the North Sea and remote Sweden I decided to keep the original radio for the trip.
7th June: Strathaven to Cromer (299nm, 2h 10min, 138kts, 42lt)
After a 5am start it was off to the airfield with the only weather concern being a few showers in the Strathaven area. However these cleared up before departure and with Gordon at the controls we were off at high speed courtesy of a brisk tail wind. Only for a few minutes though, as it became apparent that the CS speed regulator wasn’t doing its job, with revs going into the red! Doubling back for home (thinking our trip might have ended after five minutes) we disengaged the auto facility and manually tuned to 5000rpm, then returned the auto control: it worked and in fact we had no more trouble the whole trip. Continuing on we soon reached Northumberland, with a ground speed up to 167knots, and from there enjoyed views of Newcastle in the sun. Scottish handed us efficiently on to the Newcastle, then Durham, then Humberside. With the clouds melting away we took the opportunity to climb above the inversion layer for a clear view as we crossed the Wash, and an idea of what to expect crossing the North Sea. On then to Cromer, with its distinctive cross shaped runways, for a neat crosswind landing by Gordon and friendly welcome from Chris and the others at the airfield.
Cromer to Hoogeveen (268nm, 2h 7min, 126kts, 40lt)
A quick turnaround (after a bacon butty), my turn for P1, and down the coast to shorten the sea crossing. Norwich weren’t able to open our flight plan so it was over to London Information, who were incredibly busy as per normal on a sunny Sunday. At Aldeburgh we coasted out, climbing to 6,000 feet to get above the inversion layer again and get a clear view of the horizon ahead. Although for 20 minutes or so we could see no land we could still make out the clouds above the Continent in the far distance. Approaching the international boundary we were passed over to Amsterdam Information who took us in to the coast. Reducing our height to 1,500 feet gave us great views of the stunning Dutch countryside south of Rotterdam with long thin fields, dotted with cows and bounded by canals or ditches. Red-tile roofed houses made for an idyllic setting. Soon we were approaching the Amsterdam CTA and although were were Mode S equipped I decided to stay below them at 1,300 feet, keeping a close eye on the communications tower at 1,234 feet high! One notable thing about Holland – they love gliding. There was a series of notams about gliding activity which we avoided as best we could. Approaching our destination, Hoogeveen, we realised this was also a busy gliding field and we slotted in between landing gliders for a smooth landing on the grass and straight to the self service fuel pumps. Hoogeveen offers customs, but although we had requested them there were none to be seen and we carried on the the excellent restaurant for some food, and more flight planning.
Hoogeveen to Hoganas (310nm, 2h 20min, 132kts, 47lt)
Gordon’s turn again, and whilst running through the checks we had another glitch – a rather annoying beeping sound coming from the panel which was clearly a warning of some sort. So we stopped the engine and investigated but there was nothing to be found. We started up and there it was again. Then it dawned that the panel had been in full sun whilst we were stopped and the panel mounted GPS must have overheated. Since it was only a backup (in fact we had three GPS devices with us) we carried on and sure enough once we cooled down at 3,000 feet the beeping stopped. So we carried on through northern Germany, with Bremen information incredibly busy but efficient, taking pictures of the many windfarms in the area, and across to Copenhagen Information as we crossed the border. The Storebaelt bridge made an impressive sight. Then round the north of Copenhagen and some impressive coastal scenery before a final sea crossing and in to Hoganas where we had a great welcome from Lasse the site manager. Hoganas has two grass runways and excellent facilities including a clubhouse with briefing room and five bedrooms plus a kitchen. Also well stocked with fuel: Avgas, UL91 and Jet A-1. We were loaned a couple of bicycles to head the short distance into town, in fact we elected for the supermarket just across the airfield for some tasty Swedish ham and cheese for our evening meal. After nearly seven hours in the air and crossing six countries we were pretty tired and had an early night!
8th June: Hoganas to Siljansnas (297nm, 2h 32min, 117kt, 50lt)
We delayed our departure to noon to allow a front to clear southern Sweden. In the event we still caught the remnants of the showers but it was a narrow band and after 15 minutes or so we were back into fine weather with a cloud base above 4,000 feet. The scenery in Sweden is simply stunning with endless lakes and forests. One interesting thing was that the forests were far from deserted, in fact they were well populated with houses and cabins, each with their own clearing and a small meadow. I guess many of these are holiday homes. Further north we cut across the eastern side of Lake Vanern, the country’s largest lake at 80 miles long by 50 miles wide. From 4,000 feet in clear air we could easily see the full extent of the lake, an awesome view. Further north, beyond Kristinehamn, we were back into a landscape of forests and small lakes, a bit more remote but still with some houses dotted about. This was to be our longest leg, time-wise, at two and half hours, almost all of it in a dead straight line, and all of it under the watchful eye of Sweden Control. Finally we were inbound to Siljansnas, our ultimate destination. Siljansnas is what’s called an “Airpark”, where taxi-ways lead up to the homes and you can either park your plane on the lawn, or put it in your private hangar – pilot heaven! No such luck for us though as none of these houses were available to rent. So we stayed in a perfectly comfortable cabin on the airfield, at a very reasonable cost, attended to by our very helpful host and the airfield manager, Ingmar Lind.
9th and 10th June: local sightseeing
Being so far north there was no darkness, and even at midnight the light level was perfectly good for walking around. We woke early to bright sunshine – perfect for a sightseeing flight so we flew around Lake Siljan for some stunning photos in the morning light. Then we carried on to Dala Jarna: with a 900m tarmac strip right next to the village where we checked out the shops and then bought some provisions to take back to the cabin. As we were about to leave a group of five German microlights (also based at Siljansnas) arrived in orderly manner, all lined up on final approach then taxying in to park up in a line! That afternoon we drove around the area in the Airpark’s pool car, saving us the hassle and cost of renting. Leksand and Rattvik are well worth a visit and even a swim in the lake if you’re brave enough (which we weren’t!). There’s a very popular aquatic theme park at Leksand which attracts families from all over Sweden but unfortunately it wasn’t due to open until the following week.
On the 10th we decided to visit Orsa Bjornpark, a sort of Jurassic Park idea with large areas of forest occupied with bears of all types (including kodiak and polar), wolves, snow leopards and siberian tigers. Needless to say the fences are very robust, and do not rely on being electrified, but the public still get great views from aerial platforms and walkways. Back at the Airpark, having checked the weather forecast, it seemed that England was going to be covered in thunderstorms on Friday. Sadly we would have to cut short our trip and head back to Scotland the next day. So after a short flight around the lake we got the aircraft fueled up and ready for the long haul home, then we enjoyed barbecue night (every Wednesday) and a chance to exchange stories with the others pilots.
11th June: Siljansnas to Hoganas (305nm, 2h 30min, 122kts, 49lt)
All ready to set off at 7am then a final check of the METARs – blast it – IMC all over southern Sweden and most of Denmark! Low cloud had moved in overnight. So we delayed our flight plan and waited. After an hour it seemed to be improving, which we confirmed with Hoganas airfield before setting off at 8.30am. This was going to make it very tight to get back to Scotland in one day. This time we filed a flight plan – although not strictly required it seemed that Swedish controllers expected it so we thought it better to be safe. The flight itself was almost a complete retrace of our outward flight, this time cutting east of the Angelholm zone to avoid a long sea crossing. On the ground, Lasse the airfield manager was already at the bowsers for a speedy refueling, after which we cancelled and then resubmitted our GAR form to give the required 4 hours notice at Cromer.
Hoganas to Bremerhaven (226nm, 1h 55min, 117kts, 36lt)
We had decided to shorten the route home by stopping at Bremerhaven rather than Hoogeveen. This would shave off around 45 minutes flying time although it would also mean a longer crossing over the North Sea. Bremerhaven airport itself has a modern terminal and an 1800m asphalt main runway. The circuit pattern to the north needs to be disciplined to avoid another airfield nearby. Unfortunately there was no food available so we didn’t hang around before doing our pre-flight checks and heading off.
Bremerhaven to Cromer (280nm, 2 h 7min, 132kts, 42lt)
This time our route took us to the north of Amsterdam, with Eelde Tower providing the service across much of the Netherlands, By staying just outside the Amsterdam TMA we were able to route at 3,000 feet before coasting out at 140kts in a decent tail wind. The longer crossing, at 110nm, did feel quite long this time perhaps more so because we were lower and out of sight of land for much longer than the outward route. However the trusty Rotax soldiered on without missing a beat and it was good to see the Norfolk coast emerging from the haze. Interestingly neither Norfolk Radar nor London Information were allowed to close our flight plan -in the UK they insist you are on the ground first which means phoning in to close it (unlike the other counties we visited where they were happy to close it in the air once we were in sight of our final destination). Once that was done, and we had refuelled, Chris the airfield manager was as helpful as ever and arranged a taxi to take us into Cromer for some much needed food.
Cromer to Strathaven (280nm, 2h 12min, 126kts, 44lt)
The final leg, and in clear sunshine and a strong tail wind we headed off for Scotland. The route north was very similar to our outbound path, but with no clouds in the way we were able to head over the Cheviots and save a few miles. The views of the Southern Uplands in the low sun were stunning. Then it seemed like a 50nm long final into Strathaven, to land at 9pm, almost 14 hours after departing Sweden.
So, in summary, I’d say:
- Siljansnas Airpark is an excellent destination for anyone looking to enjoy the scenic and cultural delights of Sweden, at a location where you step out of the house and into your aircraft, and where you have the company of like-minded pilots (http://www.siljanairpark.se/)
- All of the airfield managers went out of their way to help us out and make the trip so memorable for us – particular thanks go to Ingmar at Siljansnas, Lasse at Hoganas and Chris at Cromer
- SkyDemon is a godsend, not just for flight planning and navigating, but also for filing flight plans and GAR forms (even though we always had charts as back-up)
- Crossing the North Sea now seems a little less daunting to me but I still prefer to cross to southern Holland to keep it as short as possible
- The Pioneer 300 is an excellent touring aircraft thanks to a respectable cruise speed of 125kts, at only 20lph, yet with good low speed characteristics and the ability to handle short grass strips
- …and well done to Gordon who at 17 years old handled his P1 duties very well indeed!