How to fly yourself to France

Click to follow
The Independent Travel
Would-be Channel-crossers are spoilt for choice: tunnel, ferry, special offer on a scheduled flight. If they opt for a ferry and look up, they will often see a little aeroplane or two purring overhead, slowly overtaking them, and no doubt say to one another, "rich bastards", or (as the caterpillar said when it saw a butterfly), "you'll never get me up in one of those things". In fact, to travel by light aircraft to France is quicker, more pleasant, fairly safe, and often cheaper than any other way. Here's an anatomy of a day trip to Le Touquet for someone living 50 miles west of London.

Day before: Send fax to Wycombe Aerodrome (where, as a qualified pilot, I am a member) advising Customs we're planning to make the trip from there. It's an aerodrome without resident excisemen so they might want to come out and strip-search us for contraband on our return

Day of departure, 6.45am. Dial up Metfax and get the weather and winds.

6.55am Dial up the Air Information Service. No Royal Flights or Red Arrows in the way, and Le Touquet airport is ready and willing.

7.15am Put the wind speeds and temperatures in my route plan - done on a PC spreadsheet - which shows what headings to follow to take us to Le Touquet without infringing Heathrow or Gatwick, etc.

7.30am Fax off a flight plan to Heathrow to tell them and Le Touquet our general route and expected timing, so that if we disappear half-way they will know where to send a helicopter.

8.00am Drive to Wycombe.

8.40am Inspect the aeroplane - a four-seat Mooney which travels at roughly 200mph. Seems in good order. Top it up with 105 litres of fuel.

9.15am Fill in a form claiming refund of excise duty on the fuel - after all, we're going to export it.

9.40am Take off and turn eastwards at 2000ft. Tell Elstree aerodrome we are passing to the south of their back garden. Approaching the Lea Valley reservoirs, tell London City Airport where we are, and ask if we can cut the corner of their airspace to cross the Estuary down towards Dover. Talk to Mansion Radar, but we are too low for them to see us. Over the Channel, lots of tankers, ferries and hovercraft. We make a slight diversion to take some photos of the French end of the tunnel at Sangatte, then south to Le Touquet.

11am Land at Le Touquet on runway 25 which runs through a delightful forest. Pay our landing fee - cheap by British standards, dearish by French. Absolutely no interest in our passports. Taxi into town pounds 5.

12 noon A discreet siren goes - my wife says this must be the signal that lunch can start, so we go to the Poissonerie Perard, whose delicious fish soup, exported, reaches even our small town. I'm forbidden alcohol, as the pilot. We swig lots of Vittel.

2.30pm We walk back to the airport to shake the lunch down. The road passes the grand Westminster Hotel, the casino, and sundry summer mini- chateaux set among the trees.

3.15pm Visit the Meteo office and learn that the weather is ridiculously good everywhere. Send a flight plan telling the world we are about to return - this time round to the south of Heathrow and Gatwick. No charge.

3.30pm Take off, this time on runway 14 and swing round over Etaples, then across the Channel at 3,500ft to Beachy Head, where we descend to 2,400ft. Then on to Midhurst, and Farnborough, where the radar controller is talking to lots of other small aircraft and making sure they don't come too close to one another.

4.30pm On the ground at Wycombe, followed by wiping dead European flies off the wings, refuelling, checking the oil and filling in the log book.

6pm Back home, and we total up the damage:

Faxes etc 4.50

Landing fee 13.00

2.5 hours engine-on time 162.50

Club membership (split) 10.00

Refund of exported fuel -20.00

Total pounds 170.00

Split between four people, this means an incredible day out for pounds 43 each, not counting lunch, chocolates and postcards. Forget Eurostar: make friends with a pilot.

Comments