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Vol Biv across rural France

There was a large paramotor meet on 28th and 29th June before the French Nationals in North Eastern France in a place called Basse Ham. Michel Carnet was flying there from Dieppe and he asked both Ben and I to join him along with Laura Beaumont and John Caston. I consider myself still to be quite a paramotor ‘rookie’ having done plenty of paragliding but only having done about 8 flights on my paramotor. I was apprehensive, nervous yet very excited to be flying with such an experienced group. We all caught the ferry from Newhaven to Dieppe on Wednesday night at 1am. After a broken sleep under the stairs on the floor of the ferry, Michel asked me whether I dreamt of jets? I said no and he said that I would tonight. I didn’t understand what he meant? Karl Hinzer was the back up driver, himself a very accomplished pilot flying in excess of 300 hours a year – he was catching a ride as the back up van driver whilst planning to fly once in Basse Ham.

Thursday dawned a perfect day and once we had found a suitable field free of crop we unloaded and put our machines and gear together. It was about 9am by the time we were ready to take off and soon we were all airborne. John had mistakenly put his propellor on the wrong way round so I felt relieved that even the pro’s make mistakes. We followed our maps and GPS’s heading for Laon and then on towards Rethel. As the sun came up it got more and more thermic and we got bumped around a fair bit – we were still able to fly hands off with this reflex wing technology. Ben was nearly sick – he had to swallow down some vomit! Nice! We flew over many wind farms, canals, forests and flat fields full of crop. As we were flying during the week we did expect to see some low flying mirage jets. One actually flew straight through our group above Laura and below John and I. Michel just cried out… Yeeeeeeee haaaaaaa! It was a near miss and my pants were by now brown. Those were the only two jets we saw on the trip. I was starting to see what Michel had meant!

We checked our fuel levels using mirrors to see the tanks behind us. Laura was flying a 2-stroke and therefore did not have the economy that our 175 4-stroke Bailey machines had. We circled a fuel station and landed after about 3 hours. We refuelled, had some lunch, checked our oil and checked for loose nuts and bolts etc… The wind had got up and so we were forced to wait until it died later in the afternoon by about 5pm. We all took a siesta in the shade under a tree. Michel had a shower and motorists stared at us as if we were aliens with our strange looking flying machines. At 5pm, we took off again and now the air was smooth with the setting sun behind us. The air was fresh and clean. A micro light came up and buzzed us, we flew low over the barley fields and saw deer running through them. It was, as John Caston said, QUALITY. We flew over Laon which was a very pretty town. The sun was going down as we landed on a small airfield near Rethel. We joined up with some other French pilots also heading for Basse Ham and that evening we all had beer and pizza in the local pizzeria. Ben and I slept between our motors and fell asleep looking at the stars and dreaming of jets! It was the end to a perfect day having flown about 263 kilometres. On Friday, we took off a little too late as we only managed 30k or so until the strenghening wind forced us to land in a hay field. Ben had been forced to land earlier as his machine had stopped. It turned out to be the ‘big end’.

I had a wedding to get back to on the Isle of Wight on Saturday so the journey for me was over. I caught a ride to the train station and was back in London by 7pm that night. Michel and John finished the journey to Basse Ham flying the last few kilometres late in the evening in less than perfect conditions. Ben borrowed my machine and flew over 3 different countries in one flight from Basse Ham on the Saturday – I was very envious but lucky to have been able to take two days off during the week. Thank you must go to my wife Diana who was at home looking after our son Sebastian. I am extremely lucky to have an understanding and beautiful wife!

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