2005 Tour de France – A
personal account by Mike and
At both the 2004 Saltby rally
and the 2005 Scillies tour, Michel Le Blanc, president of CFI had been trying
to persuade us British Fournier pilots to visit
The plan was to Meet Michel at
Amanda and I prepared our RF5
G-AZRM at our
Dave duly appeared and we took
off in poor visibility for Headcorn, where we met Andrew and Sarah Clymo with
RF5 G-AZRK for lunch. Headcorn FISO, Dave, was extremely helpful with filing in
a formation flight plan and generally getting weather reports for us. Reports
of flexwings being forced down to 700 feet or less while returning across the
channel didn’t sound too good, but after talking to
Fortunately, after a bit, the
cloud started to break and we took off again, still with poor visibility and no
horizon, but at a more comfortable FL035. Headcorn were loud and clear to
mid-channel, but I could not hear
We blundered round the circuit
dodging bits of cloud, making auto information calls in my worst schoolboy
French and landed, to be greeted by Michel, who said we were in trouble with
the tower. They had stayed open, changing onto the downwind runway. We’d landed
the wrong way without permission. Much grovelling smoothed the waters however,
and the controller finally wished us a good time in
Things could only get better, and they did. Local Fournier pilot, Frances Desmis, and a friend ferried us into town for an enjoyable meal. Appropriately, we rode in a splendid period Citeron DS21. We left Andrew and Sarah to a comfortable hotel and laid out our sleeping bags on the floor in the aeroclub.
Next morning dawned fine and
calm. After an excellent breakfast in the terminal we found that the showers
were not accessible until . With
Refuelling at Le Touquet
We carried on as a glorious
gliding day developed. With Dave’s big engined RF4 requiring juice every 2
hours a refuelling stop at
We climbed out past the famous
Chatres cathedral and continued down to the
After hours of flying over the
vast prairies west of
Soon our wheel touched the
to right - Frederick Fournier,
Michel mysteriously disappeared
into the back of a bus and reappeared with trays of cold meats, cheeses and
salads, accompanied by a copious supply of bottles! They just didn’t understand
our reluctance to partake of the standard French lunchtime drink prior to a
leisurely afternoon saunter, in much larger formation, to
That night strange scratching noises were heard just outside the tent, immediately stopping when we made a noise, then starting again after a few seconds. In the morning, after a copious French breakfast, again provided by Alain, and a queue for the only toilet (no shower again) we found the reason for the nocturnal noises on dismantling our tent – a series of small surface tunnels had been excavated under the groundsheet between our two inflatable beds by some small animal, declared by our resident ecologist, Amanda, to be burrowing voles! We must record a big thank you to Alain Maret and the ladies of the flying club for organizing such an enjoyable gastronomic experience.
A visit to the airfield met
office – yes, they still have real airfield met officers in
Salt pans near St Nazaire
Carrying on north past the remarkable salt pans and mussel beds west of St Nazaire we arrived at Vannes for lunch (a doggy bag from the morning’s breakfast – never miss an opportunity for food on a flying tour - there was no food at Vannes). We parked in a far corner of the airfield, where we met a friend and former owner of accompanying RF-3, F-BMDM. It’s original propeller was produced, shredded in an early wheels up! We also inspected the Museé Aéronautique de Vannes, with an interesting aero engine collection, partly dismantled Mystères and a Noratlas. On the airfield, parachuting was in full swing with a Pilatus Turbo-Porter doing impossibly steep approaches.
From Vannes we flew west, past
the monumental Neolithic site at
Early morning on the quayside in Les Sables-d’Olonne
The next day, a short return to
Fed and watered, as we taxied
out, a mirage – a band of angels (formation of Fourniers) - appeared overhead!
It was Michel and the German pilots, who had lunched further south at Guéret
following a failed attempt to reach Ussel. We tagged along, saying goodbye to
Brian, and reached our destination, Lapalisse, north east of
This was as near as we would get to the mountains this year. Not to be completely outdone, Amanda and I made a short local flight to the south, past Clermont, to the extinct volcanoes, capped by hang gliders and a restaurant!
Volcanoes near Clermont
Back at Lapalisse, we were welcomed by the aeroclub and club president, Jean-Paul Citerne, who spared no effort to make the annual meeting a success. There we met our old friend from previous CFI British tours, Eric de Guyet, whose English is as good as my French! Of course we make ourselves understood. You must visit le Chateau de Lapalisse, Eric insisted. But how to get there? Eric produced a targa topped beach buggy like Peugeot. As we sped away from the ramp, Eric ignored my pleas that we needed to collect some things from the aeroplane – As we screeched to a halt outside the parachute club, Eric pointed to the keys and disappeared - clearly, he was giving us his car for the evening! Thanks Eric, it’s wonderful to have such generous friends. This is just one example of the terrific camaraderie of CFI!
We all piled in and made our way to the centre of the small medieval centre of Lapalisse for a view of the fascinating turreted Chateau, next to an imposing church and perched above the narrow streets of the old town, its soft stonework radiating a pinkish glow in the setting sun.
Chateau de Lapalisse
Returning to the airfield, we elected to stay in the basic but comfortable and reasonably priced rooms in the well appointed parachute club. That evening, J-P Citerne and the multi-talented club secretary, Michel, laid on an excellent meal, over which, new friends were made and conversation continued long into the evening.
The next day, a rest from flying was organized. A coach tour into the French countryside took us to an educational farm which specialized in the production of dried flowers, a novel experience, and another most enjoyable lunch of French bread, various meats and wine. A small museum of rural crafts included a collection of wood samples, where Rene Fournier was delighted to find the wood he used for the RF-4 main spar! – twice as strong for its weight as spruce and the reason for the high G- limit.
The afternoon was taken up with
a conducted tour of the elegant Roman spar town of nearby
Back at the aeroclub, the annual dinner had been arranged and more Fourniers arrived. As befits such occasions, a little ceremony was called for. Prior to the dinner speeches were made by the aeroclub president and the local Chief de Police. Then the dinner got underway in earnest – another great extravaganza produced by secretary Michel, which got noisier as the evening progressed. Rene Fournier entertained us with a speech which clearly included some earthy pilot jokes, secretary Michel produced the keyboards and with Helmut on blues guitar and Jean-Phillip Citerne on sax, a truly memorable evening finally drew to a close.
Next morning, sadly, it was
time to make our goodbyes and we departed north, lead by
Next day dawned overcast with drizzle - we weren’t going anywhere at the moment. So we met up with Andrew and Sarah in the town and spent a leisurely morning drinking coffee and eating croque monsieurs for lunch. Despite the dreary weather the life of leisure and good food was getting to us and it was difficult to keep a straight face as I rang my boss to tell him that, unfortunately, we were stuck in France and I would have to extend my leave, while the rest of the crew were falling about with laughter! Thanks for being so understanding, Roger!
With no improvement in the
weather we dined that evening in the airfield motel, which had reopened (closed
on Mondays) – and enjoyed perhaps the best of many good meals in
Tuesday dawned clear and bright
and with the help by telephone of Michel and the airfield Shepard! (it was
Samuel’s day off) we got the met, flight planned and departed for the
We crossed the channel and Dave dropped into Lydd for fuel while Andrew and Sarah returned to friends at Headcorn while we continued direct to our base at Ringmer.
So ended a memorable seven
days. We cannot thank enough our good friends of CFI – particularly
“Nous sommes très très heureux de faire partie du Club Fournier ou l'a retrouvé des valeurs qui disparaissent dans le milieu aéronautique comme l'écoute, la modestie et la passion du vol sur des machines fabuleuses!!”
We are very very happy to belong to the Club Fournier where are found values which have disappeared in the aeronautical medium as listening, the modesty and the passion of the flight on these fabulous machines!! (Apologies for Google translation!)