Cross Channel Cumulus
The other day I was ferrying our new Pipistrel Virus SW aircraft from the Kingdom of Netherlands to the United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland. Sounds grand doesn't it....
Given that it is early February, we had the one single good weather window to fly from London to Middenzeeland and back. Our departure time of midday was unusual to go east, but it was only a two hour flight and we had to wait for the rain to stop and the mist to clear. Not many other aircraft in the air on the Monday, but there was the one chap who thought he was somewhere he wasn't. I recognised his voice as a well known and experienced pilot with extensive experience world wide and winner of many a navigation competition. My pilot and giggled a bit at his discomfiture when ATC put him right, as we climbed up to 6000 feet over the harbour at Dover in smooth air and bright sunshine. The carpet of broken cumulus was a sight to behold. We seemed to be sitting still in the 30 knot headwind, but we had plenty of petrol and daylight.
The overnight stop was simple, clean and enjoyable, with the hotel less than half a mile from the runway at EHMZ.
Early morning after a good breakfast, we picked up the new EASA type certified aircraft from the CAMO after its checks. A short time was spent on the ground familiarising myself with the glass cockpit and its functionality and we set off in formation of two aircrafts. Bright sunshine, but a strong tail wind now.
Climbing to 4000 feet and following the coast line along Ostend and Dunkirk was simple enough with the English Channel bright blue. I called "coasting out at Calais" to Lille Information. He promptly asked me to change to London Information. I had to tell him that I was still in his airspace and would stay with him, until I was in London FIR. He accepted it reluctantly.
Mid Channel felt like nowhere because now we couldn't see the steel blue waters. The cloud tops were above 6000 feet; with the invisible terrace of Class Alpha at 6500 feet and lowering as we cruised 2 miles a minute towards it. I took a chance that there would be gaps closer to Manston and Ramsgate to descend through and turned north as a two ship formation. Contact with Southend and its friendly ATC was very useful. We soon realised that there were no gaps in the cumulus carpet so we had to turn back towards Dover and then over the channel to find a large opening to descend from 6000 feet to 1500 feet over the water and cruise almost silently over the Castle at Dover under the gloomy cumulus.
Without the help of the Garmin G3x glass map and my iPad showing SkyDemon, it would have been a lot more scary as there were no visible features that we could have used. The wind was more than 25 knots and the turbulence such that no amount of hand calculation with the whiz wheel would have helped. Of course, calling either Southend or Calais would have given us a steer to reach either airfield. So well within the bounds of legal VFR, we were very happy to have the modern equipment and fuel endurance of our two aircraft.
Communicating continuously with an ATC was essential for this ferry flight. And they were doing their job with such calm efficiency which helped my companion pilot and I to keep our cool heads to concentrate on the flying and keeping control at safe speeds in the turbulent air.
Flying across the English Channel during different seasons is very interesting and potentially lethal if you get caught in poor weather conditions.