The Ballards - Whiskey Lima 2019


The post-Christmas high pressure cell that has been plaguing us since the 27th December is still around on the first weekend in January producing a kind of windless murk that defies description and the weather forecasters who breezily state that it is "broken at 2000ft" which it isn't: more like "OVC2000 and yuk".
Oxford is marked as "Marginal VFR" and I'm sure there is some complex rule which decides whether that is true but we'll go out and take a look. A Dunkeswell lunch is on the cards.

Ann needs more practise in the C182 before they'll sign her off to go off solo so that's what we'll supply, but there is only so much she can do from the right seat so we agree that whilst I will be officially P1 for both legs she will fly the outbound leg from the right hand seat then the inbound leg from the left seat. There's no wind at all so I can, if necessary, land it from the right hand seat.
We have had a discussion about "heat of the moment change of authority" and indeed in Florida had to do one so "I've got it" is the codeword: non-threatening and certainly not shouted.

The famous violinist Jascha Heifetzold is quoted as saying "If I don't practice one day, I know it; two days, the critics know it; three days, the public knows it". I haven't flown since guiding N829FA on to the tarmac at Marco Island Executive in November (in shorts and Hawaii shirt!) so I know something will go awry, even if only I notice it.

The art of becoming comfortable with an aircraft begins with the pre-flight and Ann has finally got the hang of loosening the bloody ratchet straps we use to hold the wings down. We pre-flight together in comfortable harmony and completely manage to miss exercising the trimmer so as we roll for take-off I have to give a hell of a heave to get it off the ground as the trim is wound too far forward. Who the hell landed it like that?

It's pretty murky up here but up to 2,000ft the ground is visible, beyond that it's IMC. The temptation to get up on top in the sun is there but for today we'll stay down in the murk. At 2,000ft we're clear of any bits of granite and radio masts between here and Dunkeswell (The Mendip mast will be well off to our right).

At Wantage we swap to London Info as Bristol don't do LARS any more and wend our way smoothly South West with every possible light on for conspicuity. The radio is quiet today: in anything other than bright blazing sunshine no one ever flies. We do see a PA28 tracking West across the Somerset levels where some quite serious mist has settled in the hollows, but Dunkeswell is the highest public airfield in the UK so that's not going to be a problem.

Dunkeswell give us runway 22 as in use and from here we might as well go straight in. There is traffic but it's only just called Downwind so won't affect (or "No Factor" as the Americans might say). We don't actually see the airfield until about 3 miles away but the trusty GPS steers us in, we switch to their QFE and work off that for the approach angle. This was so much more difficult in the bad old analogue days: my old CFI would have shot me.

Descend over the parked aircraft on the undershoot, flare.... and nicely down, a bit long but there you are, a quick backtrack, exit on to 35 and down the link taxiway to park for lunch. Not too rusty.

It's weird to be in the right hand seat, trusting another pilot.
Ann starts up (struggling as I do with the starter springs and my big bunch of keys) and we taxy to the other side of the runway for power-checks, then roll on 22. NIcely done, we climb out and turn left for North East, climb to 2,000ft and swap to London. At this height we are struggling to hear London: they keep cutting out halfway through the squawk instructions so I reach right in to the bottom of my mental Garmin grab bag and push the on/off volume control to turn the squelch off. It's noisy but at least I can hear them properly when I ask for a radio check.

Ann struggles with slowing the aircraft down from the cruise configuration to the landing configuration, so as we fly back we do exactly that loads of times. I'm sure anyone watching us from below would think we were weird but it's good practise and after 4 or 5 goes she's pretty confident and as we clear the hills to the East fo Swindon she swaps to Oxford Radar and we cruise in over Oxford. She's got it down to 100Kts and 1500ft by Port Meadow and does the whole approach flawlessly; I dont know what she was worried about.
The landing is of course key and I do keep my hands and feet near the controls for a panicked grab but she lands it perfectly; couldn't have done it better myself. Worrying, really: my landings were just rubbish for the first 200hrs or more, but Ann has them nailed already at less than 100hrs....

Ice cream, by the February?
Nessa 's birthday usually coincides with some pretty rough weather (often snow) but weirdly we now have a huge high (QNH 1034) resulting in more hazy, misty weather and it's really warm. Indeed, it starts out too foggy to fly but by 11:00 it's breaking up at Oxford and Lee-on-Solent are reporting clear, so we'll go. Tom and Lucy will come with us, which makes for careful weight and balance calculations.
Annoyingly, the fuel bowser turns up before I have finished dipping the tanks and doing my calculations, so I have to slow him up a bit to ensure I do get it right. This is exactly the situation a pilot recently found himself in, got it wrong, crashed the aircraft and wound up in court stating "I forgot to add my own weight". So danger lies here....
Only aviation could have the tanks calibrated in US Gallons and the bowser dispensing fuel in Litres. WHat could possibly go wrong?
Eventually an additional carefully-calculated 90 Litres puts us at MAUW, I re-dip the tanks twice to make absolutely sure I've not done anything daft and do a little... pause for reflection with the numbers. Have I been stupid? No.

Flying is a series of evolutionary experiments, advancing by small increments. I've been reading John Farley's "A view from the hover" and whillst you might ask "what could you in your spamcan possibly learn from a Harrier test pilot?" he actually does have some quite relevant thoughts to GA. He's definitely the thinking man's pilot and some of the book is worth reading a couple of times (it's all worth reading at least once).
So when I was in Florida (Ha! Sounds posh...) my checkout on the later C182 had us using 10deg flap habitually on take off, something I don't normally do back here in the grubby UK. This seemed to work better so I'm going to try it today. I'm expecting a crisper response on rotate so we'll line up, advance the throttle, give it compensating right rudder and check Ts & Ps plus speed. At 60Kts it goes light, and just unsticks without any of the normal pre-stall airframe whistle I get when flapless. Well, that was easy. Climb out nailed at 82Kts, lose the flaps at 800ft and push for 90Kts, trim and swap to Oxford Radar. Of course no one is out today, it is quite hazy and we lose sight of the ground by 2,000ft and climb on top at 2,500ft. I'd prefer to be up here where it's smoother and clearer for maximum conspicuity.

Swap to Farnborough over the M4 and get a MATZ Transit for Odiham, then descend to 2,000ft to slip under the Solent Zone on a listening squawk via New Alresford and Wickham VRPs, then swap to Lee-on-Solent radio and join downwind for runway 05.
On turning Final we do seem to be crabbing a lot - there is more of a crosswind than at Oxford. It calms down as we descend then as we flare it picks up as we clear the hangars and the landing is untidy, shall we say. Can't have this! Nothing dangerous but certainly not perfect.
On my previous visit we went all the way to the end and on to the taxiway but now that's closed and we exit mid-runway.... which I've just gone past.
Slow down, turn round, backtrack and exit then pass the end of the runway and park on the grass.

Lee-on-Solent is a very cool GA airfield and deserves our support as they rescued what was about to be yet another bloody housing estate and created a really nice, friendly GA airfield. The runway is immaculate, landing fees are reasonable, the loos are clean..... and the beach is 200 yards away. They have a cafe and a keen pack of spotters, who post some really nice shots of us landing (fortunately without the messing around on touchdown!).

After lunch and an ice cream on the beach we return to the airfield, start up and taxy out behind a PA28. Good manners says I wait for him to power-check, but he thinks he's a 747 and takes ages before he finally pulls on to the runway and departs. As he is obviously a 747 maybe I should give him some wake turbulence separation?
Again, 10deg flaps gives a cleaner take-off and we climb out behind the 747, banking to avoid Fleetlands ATZ then Tom takes over and flies us back North. He's funny: he heaves it on to course then the moment he's got there he rests his right hand on the yoke and gently drags us off to the right before realising, swinging us back 30deg on course, then doing the same thing again. I reckon it's because he's not resting his elbow on the door handle. Or something.
Farnborough are, as they often are, completely overloaded with GA who have come out now the haze has receded, so it's not even worth talking to them. Listening squawk, turn on all the lights, climb over the Odiham MATZ stub and keep a good lookout. We do see a couple of planes but as always the skies look empty until suddenly there's an aircraft about to fly in to you.... Electronic conspicuity is just around the corner and it can't come too soon.

Swap back to Oxford Radar near the M4, then as we pass Didcot they have jet traffic departing South so we'll descend to remain below them. Weirdly, as we start our descent they ask us to descend to which I'm happy to reply that we've already started and they are surprised that we're thinking that far ahead. That's what an IMC will do for you: think ahead.
Tom would like to fly us around Oxford so does a very neat orbit of the ring road, performing a near-perfect circle on the GPS log before we head back to the circuit. At 4 miles, as requested, we tell Radar and they release us to Tower, who haven't heard anything about us at all and suggest we speak to Approach (I think she'd been in the loo...). Time for Best CAP413: "Golf Papa Oscar Whisky Lima, with you from Approach for a downwind visual join for runway 19, with Victor and QNH 1033". That puts her in her place....

Less wind here, slow down and get down, turn Final and get the flare right, just a tiny squeak and we're rolling. Vacate, get marshalled in to a spare slot and shut down. Lovely.
And we've got the plane back in time for Ann who plans to go out with her instructor, but he cancels claiming "it's too hazy". So I send her a picture showing crystal clear skies, what was he thinking? She needs to get clear of these instructors and get to making her own decisions, today was lovely and perfectly doable for her.

Jordanian rotary aside
It is tempting to view the gyrocopter as “the worst of both aviation worlds”: with the complexity of a helicopter-like rotor head coupled with the inability to land and take off vertically or to hover. However, the gyrocopter predates the helicopter and, as we shall see has certain advantages. Certainly it has not stopped light gyrocopters from being developed, and I’ve often wondered what they were like to fly.

A trip to Jordan has provided the opportunity to experiment.

The Nazis used gyrocopters during WWII towed from submarines for over the horizon observation, partly because of the compact dimensions of the component parts and the assdumptiion was that this wuld be developed after the war but the advent of the practical helicopter and the fact that the STOL advantage of the gyrocopter has now been duplicated by careful airflow analysis of fixed aerofoils down the years resulting in combinations of slats, flaps and vortex generators that allow simply ludicrously short take off and landing runs to be achieved stifled the development of the commercial gyrocopter, they remain an interesting and easy to hangar peciliarity.

Most very light aircraft are only really suitable for use in favourable i.e. smooth wind conditions but in fact gyrocopters have a much higher high wing loading than your average small aircraft resulting in a surprisingly smooth ride, although a lot of vibration is transmitted through the yoke from all the kit spinning around above your head and I suspect this could be fatiguing on a longer mission. Having flown a weight shift microlite this feels a lot more solid and less like a motorbike as a result.

I don’t think they get pilots coming for a ride very often, so Timor, my Jordanian ex-Cobra pilot (bet he’s got some interesting stories to tell) is keen to let me have a go in a ‘bright yellow Magni M16.

He flies us off with a surprisingly GA technique: full throttle then stick all the way back for take off then immediately forward once it’s achieved. I suppose the initial “forward speed” required is given by the clutched pre-rotation of the rotor to near-flying speed, then acceleration of the airframe by the rear-facing prop completes the acceleration to lift speed. Maybe the full-back stick provides maximum acceleration in to the lift-producing zone?

Then it’s pretty much fixed-wing controls movements using stick and rudder (and like a glider it needs the powerful rudder, mounted in the prop airflow, to assist in turns unlike a C182 where you can quite happily use the rudder pedals as footrests), although not being able to see the turn and slip indicator (a small piece of string in front of the windscreen like a helicopter) from the rear cockpit makes it hard to fly in balance.

It flies nicely, there is little slack in the control circuitry and the controls are direct. With any aircraft you need to “fly the wing”, and the feel of the gyrocopters wing is hard to determine from a short introduction, I’d be interested to spend more time understanding the feel at different angles of attack, power settings and and speeds.

It’s hard to understand the actual piloting aspects of all the autorotation dynamics going on, but clearly the equivalent of a full stall (stopping the rotor) would be fatal at height (!), but exactly what a low rotor rpm recovery would feel like and how you might recover is a more advanced topic than poor Timor with his halting English is prepared to discuss.

All flights here are VFR with no flight plan which as close as they are to the Israeli border surprises me. The chart they have shows open FIR to 4500ft in that area but is also vague about Amman airport’s controlled airspace and does not report any controlled airspace at the Israeli border, which I find hard to believe. I can’t find a more up to date map to correct me and programs like Skydemon simply refuse to accept that the Middle East even exists for GA. Timor says the Israelis are relaxed about them flying near to the border (the Jordan river) and we circle Bethany beyond the Jordan so I’m sure at some point we straddled the border at best. I’m just surprised, knowing the history here.

They have a 1200ft tarmac 01/19 runway they use for skydiving and following some contour flying (he’s a helicopter pilot so is used to it, I get twitchy below 400ft) over the shoreline of the Dead Sea we fly back up to the airfield and join downwind left hand at about 500ft, he simply reduces power and we descend at 50Kts on to Final.
The flare is fascinating: he reduces power and pulls back the stick, and there is so little inertia that the deceleration is huge. He keeps pulling back, using the rotational inertia of the rotor head to cushion our descent, trading forward speed for a reduction in vertical speed. Within a few seconds we are at more like 20Kts and the rollout is of course then tens of feet.
We accelerate for a touch and go and following an early turn and an abbreviated left hand circuit we are back on final. We have a 10Kt headwind more or less down the runway and this time he finesses the approach better so we touch down at virtually zero speed. Impressive.

Apparently you handle crosswinds either with rudder or by leaning the rotor head in to wind, but I think you’d need to be front seat with access to that bit of string to make it work reliably.

In conclusion: fascinating, but I think probably a bit too small and frail for use in the UK, plus no IMC capability (yet) and of course way too slow for serious getting-places.
But of course the subtext here is that one day a Class 2 medical will be unachievable and if you wish to contionue flying an LAPL and self-certification is the way forward. No night and no IMC but its sure cheaper than a C182, and you can fly it out of your back garden!

All you can eat
It's a breezy spring day in Oxfordshire, and WL is just back from its Annual. This of course means a double-thoroughness A check as who knows what they have done to the control cables, oil pipes, engine electrics etc etc. Many a fatality has occurred due to unspotted Annual issues.

Adopt a David Attenborough voice: "here we see the lesser-spotted GA pilot emerging from its hibernation, stretching and scratching its arse, performing the Annual ritual of rust removal after a long winter".
Actually I don't feel all that rusty, but some circuits would be good and rather than embarrass myself at Oxford I'll take Ann up to Wellesbourne and we'll bounce around up there.

But first there's the small matter of photographing a new strip at Charlbury that looks delicious - unfinished as yet (some trees and a power line need to come down) but the indications are that permission to land will be granted by the owner. So let's take a look.....
We queue for ages at the Alpha Hold, but I don't care. Warm the engine up, double-check everything. Can't get Ann's P2 microphone to work properly. Try all possible squelch settings but it seems to be either on constantly or won't come up until she's said three words. Bugger.

Left turn outbound, stay low and head for Charlbury, Ann gives us a low orbit while I photograph from as many angles as possible then we climb out North.

Wellesbourne does a great multiple touch 'n go landing fee, allowing you to do as many as you want for £40. I rarely do more than 5 at a time as I get bored but they need all the suport they can get at the moment: the landowners want to close the airfield to build (yet more) houses.
Despite that fact that they have already sold half the airfield for a business park, dangerously placed at the end of 05 and (famously for my 1st solo land away on the approach to 23) they want more money for houses rather than this ramshackle here-today-gone-tomorrow aviation thingy.
Britain is a bit like that: deep in our representatives' psyche is a desire for the country to be some 16th Century rural idyll, so spending money on new-fangled things like roads (pooh! Dirty, smelly, noisy, smacks of Trade...), airfields (noisy, dangerous things, prone to plummeting on schools), broadband (why on earth should we invest just so people can watch porn faster?), railways (don't even get me started on the "just slighty faster than normal" HS/2 white elephant. Look, if you're going to build it build a bloody maglev right in to the Bull Ring, run 1000 people trains every 10 minutes at 350 mph. That's 30 minutes including accel/decel times) seems like a terrible thing. Unlike the US and France where GA infrastructure is seen as important and welcomed.
So airfields become just another brown field site ripe for housing development. What idiots are we?

But more to the point: if they close the airfield, how do they get the resident Vulcan out?

I've never landed on 05 before, it's not used much but when the wind is from the East and 15Kts that's what you need. I have the noise abatement diagram on my kneeboard with potential 05 circuits inked in avoiding the red bits, so I am at least prepared.
Ann joins us neatly Downwind for 05 and I take over for Base and Final. We are high over the final hedge, but plonk it down OK despite the gusts coming over the tops of the business park buildings.
But for some reason it just won't slow down: we seem have little braking action but if I push just a tiny bit harder it feels like the wheels locking. Eventually the speed does come down, along with some dreadful rumbling and bouncing noises, so I begin to wonder if we've lost a tyre. I use the whole of 05 to stop and I'm sure it looked awful from the Tower. Rust, Rust and more Rust...
Backtrack and the rumbling is still there, magically it disappears as we turn on to the taxyway so it must be the runway surface. Yuk!
Taxy in, park up. The tyres are just fine, so we have a can of Coke and pay the "all you can eat" landing tariff before setting off to try and improve things.

The runway sounds better on take-off and we get the hang of the weird 05 circuit, the touch and go's get progressively better each time until after 5 we do a perfect one and I reckon I'm back in the groove so ask Ann to take us home via Banbury.
I'm so rusty I'm wondering why the NAV2 display isn't coming up having Activated "Vectors to the ILS" for Oxford on the 430. Of course, it's on NAV1 - Doh! - and I get a steady steer left message until we finally hit the Localiser just East of Banbury where it flicks across viciously but we're turning for it anyway and we can see the runway in the far distance. Or at least I can: Ann can't seem to see it?
She flies us closer and then suddenly seems to want to take us over Woodstock at 2,500ft rather than Kidlington at 1,500ft. Not quite sure what that's all about and she's not sure either so I'll take it, drop it in to the circuit and roll Final on 01. Now we've got a gusty right crosswind, so we'll crab it in all the way down, then expect to kick the left rudder at 6 feet as we flare, eyes on the end of... and that worked well.
The trickiest bit is trying to get the cover back on, which today is definitely a 2 person job! It is actually really windy out here.
I do feel I'm back in the groove, though.

France (1)
Last year was a Scottish year. This year will be a French year, it seems.

I hold an IR(R) Rating which allows me to swan about in the clouds within the UK but not fly in IFR Airways or fly in clouds in Europe.
I’ve always been a bit mystified about this, but told that because of the absolute need to fly IFR accurately and because of the differing nature of clouds outside the UK the expertise involved in holding an IR(R) is insufficient and you need a full IR to perform these superhuman feats: 13 exams, 100 hours of additional training and a Class 1 Medical.
I’ve never quite been convinced, but there you are....

Today Nessa and I are flying to France with my colleague Steve and his wife. Steve is ex-BA and has more IFR experience than I could possibly ever accumulate so today we can file one of these magical IFR Flight Plans and climb to the dizzy heights of 9000ft.
For the 1st leg to Le Mans he’ll do the radio and I’ll fly. Let’s see how hard this actually is.....
We’ve already loaded our flight plan in to the Garmin 430W and SkyDemon so have plenty of options for Nav. Steve has filed IFR for BAMBO then KENET and other random letter combinations all the way to Le Mans so we call for start.
I would have filed "Direct CPT Direct SAM" but due to Compton congestion the normal routing is apparently via BAMBO (more or less directly overhead the fire service training school at Moreton-in-the-marsh further West), before we head South via KENET.
We wait longer than normal at the Charlie Hold for them to coordinate our departure with London and Brize but are eventually cleared for take off direct BAMBO.
Take off is as normal, but despite being VMC I’ll conduct the flight as if we were in cloud from 300ft, so on to instruments and turn on track. Apparently I need to be within 10 degrees of track and 100ft of height, which isn’t actually all that hard even without the autopilot and Altitude Hold....
Within a couple of minutes we are re-vectored left straight through the Brize Zone: ooh, never flown this way before.
IFR seems to consist of vectoring and level changes and Direct To commands, nothing I can’t handle. Select the waypoint required, hit "Direct To" and "Ent" twice.
At 6000ft we swap to 1013Hpa and settle in to the cruise at FL080.
From then on it’s straight and level all the way over the channel to Le Havre, turn and head for Le Mans. English controllers give way to French controllers who are chopping between heavily-accented English and rapid-fire French.

Only the French exercise their right to conduct their ATC conversations in their local language, the remainder of the world has standardised on English....
I am just surprised at this rarefied level of aviation communications (basically it’s us, BA and EasyJet) any French is to be found but once beyond Paris we find ourselves talking to the same controllers we would be with if we were VFR. The radio is, if anything, easier than VFR....
As we approach Le Mans we are given a Direct to the MAPEB Hold South West of the airport preparatory to the RNAV approach for R21, which is bloody nuisance as it is past the airport in the wrong direction, but half way there and surprisingly close to the airport that gets instantly converted in to “join Downwind right hand for 21”, giving us very little time indeed to turn hard left (grumbles from the back), lose 3,000ft and call vaguely Downwind before turning Base over the railway yards.
Turning Final over a housing estate we float down to a poor landing in which I play my old trick of pushing the wrong rudder pedal to straighten the aircraft as we touch, but in the end it’s safe and we exit to the pumps for Douanes and sandwiches in the terminal.
One of the disadvantages of filing flight plans is that you can’t leave until the flight plan is current, so we hang around for 75 minutes. I would have simply cancelled the 2nd leg plan and departed VFR without a flight plan but I suppose Bordeaux might have had a problem with that, I don’t know.
Like America, French airfields are bloody marvellous at mixing commercial and private aviation, so I suspect it would simply not have been an issue.

Steve has evolved a neat trick for dipping the tanks without getting the ladder out by hooking his hand in the door frame then putting a foot on the strut. I try it, but I keep thinking I’m going to slide off backwards!
Somewhere along the line of our fuel calculations and pump request we miscalculate and end up with 10USG more than we should have. We are now over MTOW.
Moral dilemma; should we vent 10USG back on to the tarmac, attempt to get the pompeurs to remove 10USG or fly? Steve and I go into a huddle....
Eventually we conclude we’re both experienced enough to know that this aircraft will fly a little overweight, we have a nice long runway at our disposal and it is neither especially hot nor high, so today we will Break The Rules.

In practice our take-off is entirely uneventful and in fact surprisingly short, Steve climbs straight out and back up to the Airways and we’re back down to MTOW within 40 minutes or so.
The ground becomes sandier as we approach Bordeaux and we pass through a couple of small showers.

Bordeaux being a big airport give us the RNAV approach for R11 and we descend to the Initial Approach Fix, then turn, establish the Localiser then the glide slope and descend just like in the UK.
As Steve pops it on the ground neatly I’m thinking “what was more difficult about that than a UK RNAV approach?”.
I accept the conditions were VFR and there were no strong winds but if you’re competent with a Garmin 430W and you have an IR(R) and some recent experience you’re capable of performing a European RNAV approach. You’re just not allowed to.
This is a classic example (and there are many) of aviation bollocks: over gilding the rules in search of greater perceived safety.
There is a competency-based European-wide En Route Rating available now but that doesn’t allow you to do RNAV approaches, so what’s the point?
The CAA have bent over backwards to continue to provide the IR(R) because evidence shows IR(R) pilots simply don’t fly in to terrain.
At all.
Even in clouds.

But Europe doesn’t want it because it wasn’t invented there.

It’s this sort of administrative stupidity that has the UK throwing up its arms in frustration at the EU.
You could point to it as a classic example of why we voted to leave: it’s a nonsensical and hugely expensive rule that the UK is exempt from, so why should we continue to fund it?
The EU (over and above the original EEC free trade agreement) has signally failed to provide any real economic benefit for the UK (cultural benefits yes, and that is a separate argument) so many in the UK feel we are getting a poor economic deal (our outgoings exceed our incomings) and no concomitant reduction in inter-country bollocks like this.
If the EU wishes to retain Britain (as M Barnier maintains) then they need to move swiftly and decisively towards reversing many of these nonsensical rules (and we need to learn not to gold-plate them).

Mandatory handling at Bordeaux consists of an (expensive) man with a van greeting us at the parking slot; Steve and I decide we have sufficient fuel with 1 hours reserve to make Limoges without refuelling so they jump out and Ness and I fire up for an immediate VFR departure for Limoges.
The GA apron is right next to the hold for runway 23 which they have changed to, the wind having swung round, and I can spot an EasyJet 737 coming up the main taxiway so to avoid any wake turbulence issues we whizz out to the hold, call ready for an immediate departure and roll while the controller is still talking. We all know they want me out of the way of the big stuff as quickly as possible.....
Airborne, left turn and we’re cleared to exit via the VRP “SE” which I can see on my amazing geo-located approach/departure chart in SkyDemon.
You have got to love SkyDemon: it just keeps getting better and better.

Half way to Limoges they clear us to switch to “La Rochelle Approach” which seems a bit extreme given the direction in which we are travelling, but hey ho... it turns out the frequency they give us is Limoges Approach so that’s fine and Limoges ask us to report airfield in sight for a downwind right hand join for 23.
Limoges is surprisingly high: I descend from our cruising height of 3000ft and by the time we are at 2000ft QNH I reckon we need descend no further for Downwind.
We are number 2 to a Robin in Base leg and I am damned if I can see him, so we’ll extend downwind and slow down.
He eventually appears on short final so I can turn base, then slow.....right....down to ensure we don’t overhaul him.
As he finally crawls off the runway we can call very short final indeed, get cleared and drop on all in a couple of seconds. Honestly, he could have kept his speed up......
We exit the runway and taxy off to Lima parking where for some unknown Gallic reason the parking slot numbers are between the actual slots. So which side of the markings is the correct yellow line to follow? Against Nessa’s advice I park up on the actual numbers and shut down, at which point the tower tell me I am not in the correct place. Damn: my wife was right! I’ll never live it down.....

A week later we're back at a very windy Limoges. The ATIS is giving 06022G30KT and outside the aircraft is bouncing around. Just as well I put the control locks in.
Our Air BP card now shows itself to be very useful indeed as the options are to call up and wait for a Pompeur to come and fill us up and take credit card payment (I'm sure it's lunchtime as well...), or pull WL over to the pumps (it's downhill) with the towbar and stick the card in the dispenser. The card works first time with no PIN number, the pump starts and a carefully-calculated 200L goes in, 100L per side, to give us 50-55USG at Bordeaux.
Afterwards, pull the aircraft forwards to clear the pumps then A check, load the bags willy-nilly and call for start. I've done a VFR Flight PLan so everyone knows when and where we'll be, and after a brief warm-up we are cleared to taxi to Sierra. Taxying is very bumpy and we go slowly: I am not having any funny stuff going on. Warm up at the Hold and call ready, SPLAT-check and roll with some in to wind aileron. Take-off is a non-event and we turn South West for Bordeaux, heads bouncing off the ceiling with the tailwind.
It remains bouncy all the way to Bordeaux until we drop below 2,000ft under their Zone when it just stops, and we are cleared to VRP SE then SA and a Right Base Join for 08, the wind given as 06008KT. How can it be so calm here?
Every pilot chases the perfect landing. Some of mine are good and some aren't. Today is perfection, I just don't feel the wheels touch. Taxy in and meet Steve, that was easy.

IFR return
We agree Steve will fly us home because I flew 2 legs coming out, so he files IFR and we go home via a windy Guernsey and Direct CPT (I thought they avoided this?) before opting for a visual recovery for Oxford which has 07008KT meaning a small tailwind component.
A few things I have learned today:
- Descent planning: Multiply your height in thousands of feet by 3 and that's the number of minutes from your destination you should start descending, to give roughly 500ft per minute descent rate
- To control cylinder wear keep the CHT below 400deg using cowl flaps, enrichment and maybe something less then full throttle...
- Flying SIDs and STARs is very easy, but requires pre-briefing and good cockpit organisation
- The Comm box has a split COM1/COM2 button allowing P1 and P2 separate transmit/receive channels. So P1 can be talking to ATC whilst P2 can be talking to Handling on the ground, ordering fuel prior to landing.
- The Comm box has a push-to-operate "Crew" function which isolates the pax in the back and allows them to chat while you get on with talking to ATC. Very useful.