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Le Fog - C'est Magnifique

With the weather so perfect, I decided that I would take advantage of the clear spell and make that shopping trip to France this morning.

I checked the weather on the Met Office aviation website, printed out my flight plan and then headed off down the road to find my aircraft.

There was still frost on the ground when I arrived at the farm twenty minutes later and I fussed around with the pre-flight checks, faxed my flight plan to Le Touquet to Heathrow and the customs form to the excise men.

Before taking-off, I could see that the hills towards Dover were looking milky but that isn’t unusual, so once off the grass, I started my climb to three thousand feet and a panoramic view of the English Channel beyond.

Le Touquet’s ATIS (automated information frequency) was giving five miles visibility, 2,500 feet and an overcast, a complete contrast with the English side of the Channel in fierce winter sunshine but as I coasted out over Dover, I couldn’t see the French coast, only a milky haze but that didn’t quite prepare me for what I found close to Cap Gris Nez, a sudden bank of fog, which reached out and caught me by surprise at 2,000 feet on my descent.

“I don’t like this” I thought. It’s easier with two people on board in these circumstances because the second person can help out with map reading and the radio frequencies while the pilot concentrates on keeping straight and level but I was alone. Deciding that discretion, being the better part of valour, called for me to turn tail away from the French coast, I swung around back towards the sunshine and headed back across the Channel to Dover.

I heard other pilots also debating whether to continue on to Le Touquet, where the weather was a little better but even with an IMC rating, I think it was probably better to cancel my flight plan than try and feel my way along the French coast into Le Touquet with a white stick in freezing fog conditions, another hazard to cope with.

Ironically, I just tried running the same flight all over again with Microsoft’s excellent Flight Simulator 2004. I can even position myself at the start on the grass at Maypole farm.

What the Flight Simulator doesn’t give you of course, is the feel of really sitting in bumpy cloud and the sudden drop in temperature inside the cockpit as the world becomes an opaque milky white. It’s good training but you don’t feel quite as lonely sitting in front of a PC as you do sitting in an aircraft when the horizon disappears and the weather turns foul.

Better get a bigger aircraft I suppose, a Boeing 777 or an F18, where, like the flight simulator, you can let the software do all the work and there’s the luxury of having an autopilot.


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