Sarah Nadia offers to ferry golfers to France for the day – all in the aid of charity
By Sarah Nadia
11 January 2023
A friend of mine, Steve, a fixed-wing pilot, has successfully fundraised large amounts for charities over the years by offering charity flights as raffle prizes. Before Covid, one of the raffle prizes he donated was a round of golf for two in Le Touquet. Transportation by light aircraft included, obviously!
Fast forward two years and the lucky winner contacted Steve to claim the prize! Steve began planning and organising the trip, but using his two-seater Sting, the three passengers and two sets of golf clubs would’ve made a tight squeeze!
After a brief chat about logistics, I had an idea – and offered to take one of the golfers – and the clubs.
It was my third flight to Le Touquet, the second flight as Pilot in Command and I felt confident with the planning and preparation.
We agreed on a date for the flight and planned to meet at Deanland Airfield at 0730. I flew the Cessna 172 from Kittyhawk to Deanland the night before, fuelled her up and let her sleepover at Deanland for the night.
Two days before our trip, I filed my outbound GAR (a new requirement from Border Force) and printed the Covid passes and health declaration.
On the morning of the flight, I used SkyDemon to file my flight plan and did my final weather, document and equipment check before meeting the others at Deanland.
I conducted a very thorough pre-flight check and double checked that I had every document on board, got my life vest on, attached my PLB (personal locator beacon) and began briefing my passenger.
With two full sets of golf clubs and a life raft gently balanced on top, we started our journey to Le Touquet. Amazingly we were wheels up at 0820, 10 minutes ahead of our scheduled flight plan. Steve took off first and I followed shortly after.
It certainly was a busy morning for British aircraft heading to France! I tuned into London Information to have my flight plan opened and heard Steve and two other British aeroplanes crossing the Channel too – one to La Rochelle and one to Calais.
With a full aeroplane, we sat in the climb for a while until we hit our cruise altitude of 4,500ft. London Information informed us of an active danger area near Lydd, which our route avoided anyway, and I coasted out just east of Hastings near Pett.
The sky was mostly clear with a few clouds scattered at 3,000ft across the Channel. There was a strong northerly wind so we had a rough idea we would be landing on R31 at Le Touquet. London Information was incredibly helpful and gave each British aeroplane a full weather report from their destination.
Mid-channel I said ‘goodbye’ to London Information and ‘bonjour’ to Le Touquet Tower.
There was a thick line of cloud ahead which always gives the illusion that it is broken without gaps.
The forecast cloud was scattered and as we approached the coast, I was pleased to see large gaps and promptly descended through one.
I was told to report downwind for Runway 31 and I heard the same instructions relayed to Steve, who was approximately four miles ahead. I joined downwind as he was turning final, I had him in sight and followed him in for a slightly sporty crosswind landing.
We taxied and parked in front of the tower, closely followed by two more British aeroplanes, it was clearly a ‘breakfast in France’ kind of morning! The flight took 42 minutes and it was 1018 local time, which gave us 40 minutes to get the golfers to the course.
We unloaded the golf clubs and headed swiftly through customs, checked in the aircraft and paid our landing fees.
It was all going swimmingly, until we called what felt like nearly every taxi company in France, only to find out the French taxi drivers don’t start work until ‘at least’ midday!
Steve and I had already paid for our two bikes at this point and had decided the basket definitely was not big enough for the clubs! We were looking at each other then looking at our watches, time was ticking and the very nice gentleman at reception with limited English was adamant we would never find a taxi at this time of morning.
It was then that I had an idea… Since my spoken French was poor, I quickly tapped a sentence into google translate on my phone. “Si je te paie, tu conduiras ces deux hommes au club de golf” in English, “If I pay you, will you drive these men to the golf club?”
He shrugged his shoulders and said “Oui!”.
So, thankfully, we were back in business. Luckily I had Euros and I paid the airport worker to take the golfers up to the golf club in what turned out to be, a small two-door car, which I’d say was probably more of a squeeze than the Cessna 172… but beggars can’t be choosers!
Steve and I hopped on our rented bikes and followed the cycle route into the town centre, where we set up our laptops and began a day’s work/studying, having first ordered ourselves a petit dejeuner.
Later we ventured to the beach, where I slumped down in a chair with a non-alcoholic Mojito.
Le Touquet’s sandy beach is truly one of the most beautiful I have seen, the tide was out and the people near the shoreline looked tiny and miles from us!
As we relaxed, I did my standard procedure of sending a photo of my ‘mocktail on the beach’ to friends with the caption: “How’s YOUR Monday going?”.
Funnily enough, I never did get a response…
We filed our inbound GAR and flight plan through SkyDemon before we headed back into the town for lunch. We went to the Saint Jean restaurant and demolished a fillet steak.
My sweet tooth was calling and I made my way to the crepe counter for a classic lemon and sugar crepe. We got back on our bikes, found a boulangerie because, quite frankly, it’s a ‘crime’ to leave France without macarons.
With the latter safely tucked in my front basket, it was time to head back to the airport to meet back up with the golfers. They had had a great round of golf and were excited for the flight home.
Steve and I swapped passengers so they could experience both aeroplanes with their varying views (high-wing vs low-wing).
We called for engine start at a now very busy Le Touquet and there was quite a queue of aircraft forming on the taxiway.
Taxying to hold at Tango, we passed a stunning new Cub with huge bush tyres, which just happens to be one of my favourite aircraft.
We took off into a beautiful cloudless sky and headed north up the coast. Once we reached our cruise altitude of 4,500ft we coasted out and began our Channel crossing.
Out came the bag of macarons, and autopilot engaged, I demolished the French delights with the help of my passenger.
Steve in the Sting was roughly five miles ahead of me and we changed over to London Information once we were mid-Channel.
Just beyond the mid-Channel point, there was an aircraft making an initial call to London Information.
It was the iconic silver Spitfire, call sign G-IRTY, from Goodwood Aerodrome. The Spitfire was coasting out at Calais heading home. Knowing I was crossing the Channel with G-IRTY put a smile on my face.
The most incredible thing happened when I was five miles from coasting in at Fairlight, G-IRTY had already crossed the Channel, was overhead Headcorn and requesting to change frequency en route.
Wow, I need a Spitfire!
We signed off from London Information and tuned into Deanland Airfield, which was now busier than Sandown on a sunny day.
With multiple aircraft in the circuit and two of us inbound, Steve kindly flew away to the south to allow some separation. Just occasionally it’s like buses at small grass airfields – nothing in the air, then all of a sudden three aircraft joining simultaneously!
Safely on the ground, we unloaded the aeroplanes and wished our golfers goodbye. It was a fantastic day all round!
No matter how many times it is done, the novelty of flying across the Channel for a day out will never run out. For it to have been part of fundraising for charity made it even better… Bravo Steve!