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2005 Tour de France – A personal account by Mike and Amanda Millar

 

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 France. Just get to Calais or Le Touquet, he said, and I’ll organise the rest. Neither I nor Dave Bland had ventured across the channel before and were a bit apprehensive, but keen to try it. So when Michel sent us the details of the National rally tour we really couldn’t find any more excuses.

 

The plan was to Meet Michel at Calais for a night stop on Tuesday 6th September. Then lunch with Rene Fournier at Amboise on the Loire. Night stop at Niort, nearby. Thursday would see lunch at Ussel in the Massif Central and night stop at Fayance, near Cannes on the Med. Then back via Gap to Lapalisse, near Vichy in central France for the national rally at the weekend. Quite a mouth watering programme!

 

Amanda and I prepared our RF5 G-AZRM at our East Sussex gliding Club Ringmer base on the Monday before. My attempts to put some air into the mainwheel resulted in it looking rather flatter than before. Try again with a better pump tomorrow. Tomorrow dawned rather cloudy with a 1000 foot base, but flyable. With Dave due overhead in an hour (no visiting aircraft allowed at Ringmer due to silly planning regulations and nimbys) my efforts with the foot pump had the tyre looking even flatter. Things were getting a bit fraught. Fortunately the Tuesday crowd came to the rescue. Thank you, Roland.

 

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 Calais we decided to give it a go. By the time we got to Dover the cloud forced us down uncomfortably close to the ground and we turned tail back to Headcorn for another cup tea.

 

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 Lille, although Andrew was picking them up. Calais tower had said they would be closed when we arrived but had given me the airfield information before we left Headcorn. I missed the frequency that Lille told Andrew to change to, as he disappeared from view in the murk, but was not surprised to get no response from Calais on the frequency I’d noted done from the northern France section in the back of my current UK Pooleys – big mistake!

 

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 France. Thank you Monsieur Controller! It turned out that the tower frequency given in the UK Pooleys had changed 2 years ago. I had the current French flight guide and charts but didn’t think to cross-check. There’s an important lesson there.

 

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 9.00am. With lunch at Amboise pressing and no fuel in sight we followed Michel to Le Touquet, where his local contacts produced the bowser driver.

 

 

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 Chartres was called for.

 

 

Leaving Chartres

 

We climbed out past the famous Chatres cathedral and continued down to the Loire for a Chateau tour, overflying Chateaudun, where large numbers of time expired Mirages and Transaals could be  seen parked in their final resting place.

 

After hours of flying over the vast prairies west of Paris, we arrived at the more wooded countryside south of the Loire and Circuits of the Grandes Chateaux followed. Chateau Chambord was magnificent, with its elegant symmetry and Chateau Amboise, impressive, with its forbidding ramparts overlooking the Loire.

 

 

Chateau Chambord

 

Soon our wheel touched the runway at Amboise airfield and we parked among a chronology of Fourniers from the RF3 to the RF10. We had hardly shut down when the Germans arrived overhead, and soon we were greeting old friends from past CFI English tours, and making new ones among the local French Fournier pilots. We were introduced to the sprightly Rene Fournier, at 84 still enthusiastic and taking a great interest in current aviation developments.

 

 

Left to right - Frederick Fournier, Dave Bland, Rene Fournier at Amboise

 

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 Niort, 150km west!

 

At Niort, local RF10 pilot, Alain Maret, had organized a barbeque with long tables set out in the hanger next to the resident gliders – some barbeque! A most convivial evening ensued with much conversation and translation between French, German and English as the delightful ladies of the aeroclub plied us with excellent food and wine.

 

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 France – indicated that the planned route south to Ussel and Fayence was blocked by unseasonal thunderstorms, so Plan B was hastily devised. We would travel west to the coast near La Rochelle and night stop at Les Sables which, unfortunately had just run out of fuel. While some of the group with less endurance stopped for a relaxing afternoon on the beach, a small group flew north, again in beautiful weather, along the rocky Atlantic coast, which some of our hosts inspected at close quarters!

 

 

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 Carnac for a refuelling stop at the pleasant airfield at Quiberon, perched on the tip of a narrow peninsula among holiday homes on the Côte Sauvage. After relaxing on the patio of the aeroclub we headed south again to Les Sables, in time to meet up with the rest of the group for another enjoyable gastronomic evening in a quayside seafood restaurant. The lobster thermidore looked delicious, but we decided not to select our dinner live from the tank At this stage, lack of showers and a suggestion of rain got the better of us and we abandoned the tent for a more luxurious night in the adjacent Hotel d’Angleterre.

 

 

             Early morning on the quayside in Les Sables-d’Olonne

 

The next day, a short return to Niort for fuel and met briefing determined that Ussel was again barred by thunderstorms, which we could see on the horizon. We must record our thanks and apologies for letting them down. Instead, the British group, lead by locally resident Brian Morgan in his RF-3, essayed eastwards to Agenton for fuel and, by good fortune, another excellent lunch in what might pass as the French equivalent of a transport café in the industrial estate at the back of the airfield. By good fortune, we had arrived 5 minutes before it closed!

 

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 Vichy. Sadly, the lunch prepared for the previous day was destined be consumed by three Fournier pilots based at Ussel.

 

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 Vichy. Unfortunately, get a group of pilots together and they can’t take anything seriously! The Vichy water was declared quite disgusting – kill or cure! And Patrick Faucheron tried out the Emporer’s bath….

 

 

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 Michel Leblanc. After a refueling stop at Chatres, we said goodbye to Michel near Paris and continued towards Le Touquet, our planned departure point for the UK.

 

But France was not to let us go so easily – as we neared the channel the cloudbase again descended and I diverted the formation to Abbeville where stranded microlight pilot Mike Hawkins fell on us with open arms! The young airfield manager, Samuel, accepted our argument that motorgliders were exempt from landing fees and was most helpful in organising accommodation (hotel and camping on the airfield), met and flight plans. We felt slightly guilty about avoiding the nominal landing fees and presented him with a bottle of wine before we departed.

 

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 France.

 

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 UK, opening our flight plan via Lille Information.

 

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 Michel Leblanc, who organized the whole trip and smoothed the way for us, Alian Maret at Niort, Our good friend Eric de Guyet at Lapalisse, and club president, Jean-Paul Citerne and secretary Michel, who welcomed us at the annual rally and organized a splendid reception. It seems that wherever you land in France, if there is a Fournier pilot there you will be assured of a welcome. The CFI is a brotherhood of pilots who will unstintingly help fellow aviators. As a recent email declared:

 

“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!)

 

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