Click on the image to the right to see the actual distances and stops.
- Licence, check
- Helisurface, check
- C of R, check
- C of A, check
- Insurance, check
- Radio licence, check
- Luminous jacket check and cash, check.
We lifted from a private site near Ipswich and headed South aiming to coast out just past Manston with a flight plan taking us to Amiens. We have stopped here a few times. It’s a convenient 1.6 ish from London and it is possible to arrange customs with 4 hours notice (they rarely show) . You get a friendly welcome from Monsieur Moriniere, and the dogs were thrilled to be allowed search for rabbits under the control tower. Just remember lunch is from 1200-1400.
Full fuel and with dogs re-embarked, ventilation on and fresh air vents set to blow we set off for our over night stop near Dijon. The small rectangular fields of Northern France interspersed with wood and forest began to give way to huge fields of wheat and barley. The heli filled with the scent of harvest dust and below us the combines crawled across the dusty landscape. The vernacular changed from anglicised groupings of farm building to rococo chateaus with grey tiles roofs and it gets a lot hotter. The next R44 is going to have to have aircon!
Our landing site chosen from Helipaddy was the Abbaye de la Bussiere just to the southwest of Dijon. A site that looks intimidating from the air as there are a number of tall trees. But, there is plenty of room down by the lake, the only hazard being the miniature Shetland ponies that have to be shushed from the landing area. The Abbaye itself is a spectacular 11th century building owned by a British family who a have spent a lot of love and money converting it into a luxury hotel. Dogs leapt straight out of the heli and into the pond. All are happy. Dogs are installed in air-conned room and we tackle a menu of fearsome complexity.
The next day we wake to rain and low cloud so delay start. This means getting close to lunchtime closing at the pumps. Curse the lack of an Air Totale card which means that refuelling stops are more rarefied.
First stop Pouilly Maconge, no answer on phone and no answer on radio. No visible presence on the ground. We flew on to Saulieu Liernais where the presence of a digger on the ground encouraged us to land. Not a soul at the pumps, locked. We were then beginning to feel that we might have to stay another night at the Abbaye. We flew on the Autun Belleville making traffic calls.
A confusing fact about flying in France at the weekend is that all the small airfields are on the same frequency. Thus, you listen to the radio chatter from maybe 10 airfields, but no one identifies their landing site. You have to keep a good look out for all the aircraft with the strongest radio signal.
At Autun the omens were good. There is a car on the ground at the pumps and the door of the aeroclub appears to be open. An expedited landing to discover that madame is about to leave for lunch with her boyfriend and is not intending to return until the following day. After some pleading she agrees we can refuel for cash only and she’s not giving any change. Phew, full fuel again and its definitely time for lunch.
Helipaddy has an excellent location on the banks of the Tarn. We call from the air.
“Can we have lunch?”
“We’ve stopped serving lunch”
“We’re in a helicopter”
“No problem when do you want to land?”
It’s a great landing site by the river with a huge swimming pool. Madame Helene is hugely welcoming and the dogs swim in the river. There may be some disappointment that we order Caesar salad and not lobster.
It is now boiling hot 35 degrees and the controls on the R44 are red hot. Heading South once more we cross the heavenly massif central. This is an amazing landscape of extinct volcanoes , steep wooded valleys and high grassy plains. It is a place every pilot should experience.
We consider refuelling again at Rodez but they cannot do any refuelling without Carte Totale. So the final refuelling stop of the journey is at Albi –Le Sequestre. This site is like a miniature Le Mans. The tower, refueller and pompier is one ma it is quiet. When I accompany our friend to the tower to pay, the open movements log reveal that we are the only aircraft of the day. Makes one consider what an extraordinary service for a landing fee of 4 euros and 17 cents.
The final landing spot of the journey is here at a rented villa near Carcassonne with the trusty Robinson parked in a field belonging to the Marie with the datcom showing a total of 6.3 hours.
Two weeks of r&r before returning to blighty.