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From what I have read online and understood, "vol en ficelle" is basically a low altitude flight preparation method that requires calculating a set of altitudes to be followed in order not to crash.

It consists of flying near the ground, but following small portions of levels (so without trying to flight closely the contours of the relief). It is then necessary, during the mission preparation phase, on a predefined route, to cut it into sections and determine, for each of them, an altitude (not a height) that allows to keep a sufficient margin relative to the ground. During the flight, it is important to know with sufficient precision where you are, then fly at the preset altitude.

The flight preparation is the main part of this technique, where you have plan properly the flight course and accorrdingly define corresponding landscape and montains heights.

Below is a map of such preparation. On the left side of the map is the "ficelle altitude", this flight preparation technique is apparently also called the "méthode numéri"

enter image description here

Image source : Le diable a bord

EDIT: I doubt it is contour flying, even though that's the closest term to "flight en ficelle" so far. Contour flying means flying at very low heights by maintaining a constant height above the ground, which means the altimeter is going to vary widely depending on the terrain profile. But with flying "en ficelle", the pilot follows a predetermined set of altitudes, thus we can fly without radars and the altimeter changes only in successive levels, i.e map in the OP. In "Flying in ficelle" the bulk of the job is the planning, ficelle refering to the thread used in the mapping technique to find out the "predetermined altitudes".

EDIT 2: In the HUD of the Mirage F1, the "ficelle altitude" that the aircraft should go not lower than, is represented by the reticle below.

Reticule Ficelle

Rings a bell? Are we overthinking this ? It is basically a low flying technique with predetermined set altitudes calculated in advance.

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    $\begingroup$ What is this technique used for? $\endgroup$ – TomMcW Apr 17 '18 at 1:42
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    $\begingroup$ I got most of the info from French pilots, it was used back then to be able to flight at very low altitude, at daytime, at night even with bad weather conditions, using the surrounding montains as covers. Following the set of pre-determined altitude, the pilot could fly mainly in a straight lines, without radio transmission and without the radio altimeter. So in a sense it was to fly without being detected by enemies. $\endgroup$ – The Waraba Apr 17 '18 at 8:54
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    $\begingroup$ It doesn't seems to be used anymore now that better avionics are available, and specifically used by the french army so I doubt there is a direct translation $\endgroup$ – Antzi Oct 12 '18 at 5:27
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Update:

I found this translator-help page, which suggests:

[low altitude] constrained flight path


Perhaps nap-of-the-earth flying (Wiki) is what you're looking for.

According to wikipedia:

Nap-of-the-earth (abbreviated NOE) is a type of very low-altitude flight course used by military aircraft to avoid enemy detection and attack in a high-threat environment.

It also mentions other terms such as (emphasis mine)

Other, mostly older terms include "ground-hugging", "terrain masking", "flying under the radar" and "hedgehopping".

nap-of-the-earth flying

Image source

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the informative reply, I think we are getting close to the term. With that being said I do not think "vol en ficelle" corresponds to "nap of the earth" because I dont think the purpose of fyling "in ficelle" is to avoid enemy detection. I think "contour flying" is closer to what we are looking for here. Contour flying definition is given as "Flying at very low heights by maintaining a constant height above the ground and thus following the terrain profile. It should not be confused with nap-of-the-earth flying." Source: aviation_dictionary.enacademic.com/1656/contour_flying $\endgroup$ – The Waraba Apr 16 '18 at 11:38
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    $\begingroup$ After seeing your link, I think 'contour flying' is indeed what you're looking for. $\endgroup$ – ROIMaison Apr 16 '18 at 11:51
  • $\begingroup$ Hmm I wish it was what I am looking for but I think unfortunately its not. While contour flying it pretty close to "vol en ficelle", there's one major difference. Contour flying means flying at very low heights by maintaining a constant height above the ground, which means the altimeter is going to vary widely depending on the terrain profile. But with flying "in ficelle", the pilot follows a predetermined set of altitudes, thus we can fly without radars and the altimeter changes only in successive levels, i.e map in the OP. In "Flying in ficelle" the bulk of the job is the planning $\endgroup$ – The Waraba Apr 16 '18 at 15:38

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