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VFR Firs Farm to La Rochelle LFBH via Dinard LFRD

With high pressure over most of Europe, this week has been great for flying.
I took the opportunity to book our group’s plane, a Sportcruiser, for two days and asked a flying buddy (also in the group) if he would like to join me and share the flying.

I don’t normally book accommodation in advance, but prefer to book it after landing, but it looked like La Rochelle was going to be busy so we made a reservation at the Ibis Styles, which has the option of a full refund if you cancel before 6pm on the day of arrival.

The Sportcruiser is a great plane. It has two seats, an empty weight of 350kg, MAUW of 600kg and capacity for 120 litres of fuel. With it’s Rotes 912 engine, you can use either Mogas or AvGas and it typically burns around 18 litres per hour at 100kts, giving a range of 550nm with reserves.

After three months of UK lockdown, I’ve put on a few kg (quite a few actually, 10 to be precise!) so we did a thorough W&B to calculate the maximum amount of fuel we could take along with our luggage. 80 litres took us up to the 600 kg limit, giving us 4 hours flight time.

On the morning of our planned departure, the drive to the airfield was pretty depressing as there was low cloud all around, bases between 500 – 800ft with occasional drizzle. We had hoped (and flight planned) for a 0930 departure but at 0900 this was looking pretty unrealistic. However, the weather forecast (using a combination of TAFs, the UK Met Office’s F215, and the BBC weather app) indicated the cloud should lift and clear up as the day went on.

Luckily, by 0930 the cloud over Firs had gone from broken at 1200 to scattered at 2200, and METARs along the southerly route were all looking good, so we set off on time.

After departing Firs Farm (which, being a small farm strip is uncontrolled – you use safetycom on 135.480) we switched to Farnborough Radar and requested flight plan activation and traffic service. As the cloud was still fairly low, we opted to route around the Solent/Southampton class D airspace rather than request a transit. By the time we were overhead the Isle of Wight, cloud cover was scattered at around 2000 feet, so we found a nice big hole to climb up through, keeping the climb going until FL090 (which Skydemon had calculated was the best altitude for the flight).

Climbing above the clouds over the Isle of Wight

We switched from Solent Radar to Plymouth Mil, asking for (and getting) a Danger Area Crossing Service to cross EGD 036, enabling us to cut the corner off our planned route and save an extra few minutes. Winds were unkind to us this day, where even at FL090 we had a headwind of 20kts, so the over-water stretch towards France felt glacially slow. As we approached the FIR boundary, we changed to Brest Information and as usual received a great service from them. Eventually we could see the coastline, and coasted in between Cherbourg and Cap de la Hague. From there, we followed the coastline south, before turning West towards Dinard.

As we neared Dinard, we switched to Rennes Approach (Rennes TMA from 2500ft surrounds the approach to Dinard) who cleared us to route direct to the airfield. As we entered the CTR, we were transferred to Dinard Tower, who cleared us to join long final for runway 17. At 2 miles, we were asked to orbit for a Cessna already in the circuit to land. Orbit complete, we continued our final approach and landed 2 hours 50 minutes after departing (the headwinds really giving us a beating here).

Approaching Dinard

An odd-looking fortress type thing on the final approach path for runway 17 at Dinard

Turning long final for 35

The terminal building at Dinard

After landing we taxied to the fuel pumps. We don’t have any fuel cards, so had to walk from the pumps to the fire station. A fireman then fills out a form, you then have to walk back to the plane whilst the fireman drives. We added 36 litres of Avgas (which took us a little over the fuel required to fly to La Rochelle, as the Avgas at La Rochelle was 35cents per litre cheaper), then had to walk back to the fire station to pay.

Shortly after feeling, two French Air Force planes (I think!?) landed and parked next to us. The prop wash was immense and I struggled to hold our plane still, so it was a mad dash back inside the plane to put on the parking brake.

Two military planes landed shortly after us

We then went in to the terminal for customs (we had to notify 24 hours in advance), which was quick and easy. The terminal was empty, so we were expecting the restaurant would be closed. We walked upstairs and were happy to find the restaurant open (albeit empty!) so we ordered some drinks and some snacks.

Empty terminal

The restaurant has a balcony, with a good view of the airfield. Food offerings were limited – burgers and chips, fish and chips, chicken and chips, and crepes. We had a crepe each and a Diet Coke, saving ourselves for the nicer food available at La Rochelle.

After refreshments, we left the terminal, this time having to walk back to the firemen to pay the (7 EUR) landing fee. After settling up, we headed back to the plane, where we swapped over for the next leg.

The planned route from Dinard to La Rochelle was direct, again at FL090 which Skydemon said was the best altitude. The planned route includes quite a lot of class D airspace, but as it was in France we were confident transiting would be easy – and it was!

Northern France is very boring from the air – flat and lots of fields that look the same! We overflew Rennes and Nantes, reasonably large cities, which provided a welcome change of scenery for a few minutes along the 1h 40m route. At one point, I heard nothing on the radio for 20 minutes, so asked Nantes Approach for a radio check. 5/5 – it was just very, very quiet on frequency.

Nantes

Nantes

As we neared La Rochelle, the ATIS told us runway 27 was in use.. Switching to La Rochelle Tower, it was hard to get a word in on a very, very busy frequency. Eventually we found a gap in transmissions and were cleared to join final for 27 and were warned of active para-dropping over the airfield. On short final, I saw 2 parachutists about 300 feet above and half a mile to the left – quite disconcerting and not something I’ve experienced before. Luckily they knew what they were doing and stayed out of the way, landing on the grass away from the runway.

After landing, we taxied to the fuel pumps to fill up ready for our return trip in the morning. We carry 30 litres of fuel cans and usually fill up at a petrol station, but in the 30+ degree heat we decided it wasn’t worth the hassle, so filled up to 80 litres with Avgas.

Fuel pumps at La Rochelle

As two non-French speakers, using the self service fuel machine was a nightmare! You put your credit card in, select English, but then the next three screens are all in French and I didn’t have a clue what they were saying. I guessed a couple of times and pressed different buttons but unsurprisingly it didn’t work. Eventually I managed to get Google Translate up on my phone and pointed it at the screen. It did a great job of translating the screens. For future reference, the first question is ‘do you require avgas’ to which you press Oui. The next question is where did you arrive from, in which you enter the ICAO code. The next screen requests your aircraft registration. After all that, the pump is activated and you can fill up. A receipt automatically prints when you finish.

The pumps are next to the grass GA parking apron. I would have pushed the plane to the grass, but there are big signs all around the fuel pumps saying it is forbidden and you must call ATC to request taxi. Which is what I did, for the 20 second taxi! The grass is in good condition and there must have been at least 20 planes parking overnight.

Parked up for the night

Leaving the the GA key coded gate, we arrived at the taxi rank to find no taxis but phone numbers for 6 companies. The first three were unable to help, but the fourth was available although we were having language issues. Luckily I asked a passer-by to help us out, and they ordered the taxi for us, which arrived 10 minutes later and took us to our hotel.

It was the first time I’d been to La Rochelle, and I really enjoyed it. The harbour is beautiful (probably helped by the 30 degree heat, sun shining and not a cloud in the sky) and surrounded by many bistros, bars and restaurants where you can enjoy great food and drinks. We sampled some wine at a wine bar, before heading to the Ginger restaurant for dinner.

Starter of crab and cucumber

Chocolate dessert

After dinner, we had a few more drinks and wandered around the harbour, which was still really busy with tourists even at 11pm.

Nightime harbour at La Rochelle

The next morning, after breakfast we spent a few hours wandering around the town, buying presents from the (plentiful and independent) shops and having a light lunch. A taxi took us back to the airport and we let ourselves through the GA gate and prepared the plane for departure. The landing fee office was open but nobody was around – at 1.30pm local time I assume they must have been on lunch, so went in to the terminal looking for signs of life. Literally nobody was around anywhere, it was completely dead, so I headed back to the GA area and continued getting ready to leave. I expect they’ll send us an invoice via snail mail eventually.

Daytime harbour at La Rochelle

By 2pm, OAT was 33 degrees and under our glass canopy was like a greenhouse, so we were keen to get airborne quickly to get some air coming in through the air vents.
Climbing away from La Rochelle, we turned towards Dinard, doing the same route as yesterday, but in reverse.

This time, the wind gods were on our side, with a tail wind of 15kts at FL060. We reached Dinard in 1h 10m. This time, we didn’t need fuel, so parked on the grass parking, in to the terminal to do customs for leaving France, then back out to the fire station to pay the landing fee. We were in and out within 10 minutes.

Final for Dinard runway 35

After taxying to the hold and completing power checks, the glaring sun and high heat caused our CHTs to get too high, and we had no choice but to shutdown, face in to wind and wait for them to cool. This took about 15 minutes – something I’ve only had happen once before (at Blackpool, where after a very long taxi I had to hold for 15 minutes for various arrivals and departures). After the temperatures had cooled, I requested engine startup and immediate departure, which was approved. We climbed up to 4000 ft initially staying overhead Dinard before coasting out towards Jersey climbing to FL065.

Our return route was a a little more direct than the outbound leg, as we were able to fly high and were therefore more likely to get zone transits. Approaching the Jersey zone, we were cleared by Jersey Control to transit at FL070. Later, as we were leaving the French FIR, we spoke to Plymouth Mil for another crossing of D036, which was approved straight away. Over the Isle of Wight, we descended to 5000 ft, to stay below the base of the Class A at 5500ft. Solent were really busy with a couple of instrument arrivals and I heard them refuse transits to 2 aircraft. However when I requested a transit at 5000 feet it was approved, so we were able to track northbound direct back to Firs Farm.

Jersey

Southampton

Outbound route

Return route

Last Edited by NicR at 07 Aug 16:11
EGBP / EGBJ, United Kingdom

Thanks for the trip report, looks you had the best of the weather and the harbour at LaRochelle looks stunning as always !

I was at Nantes last week and planned for LaRochelle on Saturday but it did not go though (plan was to land at LaBaule Friday and pick family on Saturday but went to the rats as I end up in StNazaire due to night, SS+35min, and they did not have JetA fuel on weekend)

As always things are slow in Dinard where you have to walk all the way to see the “red man”
The PiperSpot seems to do pretty well, 100kts @20L/h?

NicR wrote:

An odd-looking fortress type thing on the final approach path for runway 17 at Dinard

That fortress is famous in France as everybody watches the Fort Boyad TV program !
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort_Boyard_(game_show)

Last Edited by Ibra at 07 Aug 16:50
ESSEX, United Kingdom

Ibra wrote:

That fortress is famous in France as everybody watches the Fort Boyad TV program !

Not only in France!

ESKC (Uppsala/Sundbro), Sweden

Fort Boyard is off the coast of La Rochelle – lots of boat trips to there.

This photo is from the coast at Dinard. May be a similar but smaller sort of thing?! If I had my SLR it might be a bit clearer, but had to make do with my iPhone.

EGBP / EGBJ, United Kingdom

Wrong “position report” on my side then, I did not look in details
Yes A_A it seems to have lot of success !

ESSEX, United Kingdom

Super trip and great to see people “getting out” especially to such a great value super scenic place

Administrator
Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

Great trip !

The fort is called Fort de la Conchée :
fortdelaconchee.org

Those military planes are Casa 235s, light transport planes.

Last Edited by Jujupilote at 09 Aug 16:52
LFPT, LFEH

Nice trip report,thank you. As I was considering these destinations I looked a bit in the AIP and I got troubled with following entry:

Douanes, Police / Customs, Police :
PN 8 HR for all international extra and intra Schengen flights
Indicate identity, date of birth, nationality of crew members and passengers, flight plan copy, nature of identity documents and visas.

I should provide this also for an intra-Schengen flight ? Is this not strange ?

jfw
Belgium: EBGB (Grimbergen, Brussels) - EBAW (Antwerp) - EBNM (Namur), Belgium

Strange yes, but not unusal. Several French airports require this. Since 2015.

If you want to avoid this paperwork, enter France via an airfield which is not an official border crossing point.

Mainz (EDFZ), Germany

jfw wrote:

I should provide this also for an intra-Schengen flight ? Is this not strange ?

Some “entry airports” did not remove that text long ago (when Schengen was upended in France), you can always T&G in some grass or tarmac along the way

Last Edited by Ibra at 11 Aug 09:48
ESSEX, United Kingdom
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