Just Andy

Life is the greatest challenge of all

Raduno 2006

As published in FLYER Magazine Summer 2006 Edition

 

The beginning


As I drove down to Shoreham, I wondered questioningly how I had let myself in for this trip. As the wind howled around the hills, whipping up the low cloud scurrying across the sky, I thought for the hundredth time about calling the trip off.

It was to be my first real European trip. OK, so I had flown to Le Touquet and

Deauville before and dropped into Calais as an interested passenger, but never before had I ventured deep into the south of France, let alone Italy.

It had all started with a post on the Flyer Forum some months beforehand. Contemplating a trip of this scale was terrifying on my own, but with 15 other aircraft I reckoned I would gain some seriously worthwhile knowledge. Once I had persuaded a vastly more experienced pilot to accompany me (Timothy is a retired ATPL) it all seemed to be more than possible. The fact we were going to attempt this trip in a Cessna 152 made it a challenge for him too, as he normally flies an Aztec twin.

In the week prior to the trip, the weather forecast threatened to ruin the months of planning and anticipation. Rain, high winds and a large collection of frontal systems were pushing their way across the
Atlantic toward the UK and Northern Europe. A couple of days beforehand, the cancellations started. It has to be said that I came very close to calling it off and saving the cost of the week towards a future holiday, but decided to turn up on the day and see what happened.

Timothy and I had been nicknamed
152 Heavy’ in the run up to the trip, indeed we had to find another aircraft willing to carry our carefully packed luggage in order to allow us to take off with more than a thimble full of fuel.

Ready for the off

 

Shoreham to Troyes

As we squeezed our way into the 152 I realised that this may just happen. We had looked very carefully at the forecasts and decided it was at least flyable as far as our first stop in
Troyes. Practising our formation breathing, we lined up and with the strong headwind were airborne from the grass runway 25 in a reasonable distance before turning to the east and attaining a groundspeed of 134 knots!!


Leaving Shoreham, wind gusting 25 knots


Lydd came up very swiftly and we turned south across the

English Channel, managing 2000 across the cold, steely grey water. As Boulogne hove into view, so the cloudbase dropped and the journey became a bumpy one beneath the greyness. However, I found myself relaxing as the coast disappeared behind us. Mind you, the constant nagging from the other seat about heading and VOR needles kept me busy enough in the turbulence!

The landscape was gentle, rolling hills with vast expanses of arable farming giving the land a soft pastel colouring of greens and browns, punctuated by the occasional bright yellow patch of rape seed. The absence of trees only served to accentuate the straight edged patterns of the crops in the fields below.

It was not very long before
Troyes was on the horizon. After an attempt to call Lille Information as we coasted in from the English Channel, which was studiously ignored, this was our first radio call. In typical French fashion there was no answer so we decided on our own approach and joined for the grass runway. Hmmmm, if we could see it. We eventually picked it out when on final and landed, dodging the hares sunning themselves on the otherwise peaceful airfield. On our approach we had heard one of our group call inbound and one was already on the ground, having arrived sometime earlier with our luggage.

Troyes in the distance

After the usual greeting banter we paid the less than extortionate E6.00 landing fee and headed off on foot to our hotel. Freshened up and boosted by a cold beer or two, we found ourselves in a taxi heading into the old town of
Troyes. The rather decimated group enjoyed a hearty meal and the robust conversation that only a group of pilots can have. Wondering how many more of the group would make it, we eventually retired back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep - all except Timothy who insisted my snoring kept him awake all night!!

 

Miles upon miles of fields

 

Troyes to Cannes

On waking the next morning, it dawned on me that all the anxiety and trepidation about this mammoth trip had disappeared and I was now relishing the thought of the week to come. Let us hope the weather gods are in a good mood.

 

Parked at Troyes

North of Lyon



We were encouraged to hear another of our group call Lyon while we were on frequency. I had managed to leave my GPS in my luggage being carried by one of the others, so we had conclusive proof that dead reckoning works as we skirted the complex Lyon airspace - not sure another was quite so successful at that! As we descended for our lunch and refuelling stop at Valence we got our first glance of the Alps off to our left. Awesome. I have seen them many times from 35000 feet, but from 4000 feet they look so powerful and take your breath away.


The Alps approaching Valence


Having landed, we were informed that fuel would not be available until after 1430 so we settled in for a 2 hour lunch break of our own, sat in the warm soothing sun, admiring the view, before snooping round the hangars at some interesting aircraft.

My first experience of the laid back French way then presented itself when, with a typical Gallic shrug, we were told there would be no fuel available today after all. My initial horror subsided when after a few phone calls to local airfields we found

one ten miles to the north that would allow us to raid their supplies. Despite having checked well in advance of the trip that fuel was going to be available, it is worth noting that there are no guarantees of demands for fuel being met. One valuable lesson learned.

Romans St Paul is an incredibly busy airfield, light aircraft mixing it with gliders and with those guys that enjoy trusting their lives to a piece of silk. It was in total contrast to the deserted ramps we were becoming used to seeing. We thanked our providers gratefully before taking off in formation with our luggage bearer, heading south to our night stop at
Cannes.

 

Formation with Simon


Three hours of high concentration formation later, we were held outside

Cannes for almost 40 minutes. I will admit to getting tired by then and as we were cleared into the bay at Cannes to hold yet again we broke formation and eventually persuaded the busy controller that it may be an idea to let us land before we had no alternative but to. After a lousy landing we mixed it with the executive jets on the ramp at Cannes. As it was Cannes Film Festival week there were plenty of them to salivate over.

It was with pleasure that we met up with an increased number of fellow pilots that evening at a restaurant in the town. Ian Seager himself had flown down in a Cirrus and was struggling to find something derogatory to say about it. Not like his opinion of the venerable Cub then! The Canadian guys we had heard over
Lyon were present, as were Ben and Sue from Elstree, so the group had swollen a little from the seven the previous night.

After another hearty meal, a few of us wandered down onto the front where the stars were attracting plenty of attention. Derek and Tammy were celebrating their 18th wedding anniversary, so we left them to it and wandered around between bars until the early hours taking in the sights and sounds of
Cannes in Film Festival week.


The ramp at Cannes

 

Dinner at Cannes
 

Cannes to Aprilia


The following day was quite a stretch for us in our 152, so we left early in order to arrive at our lunchtime refuelling stop at a sensible hour.

The take off from

Cannes runway 05 took us over the bay to climb before being vectored at the hills to follow the VFR route to the north of Nice. An extremely agitated controller did his utmost to vector us into a large lump of granite, before we were able to relax a little and take in the view of Monaco and Monte Carlo. For a first time visitor this is an incredible sight, the mountains rising steeply from the sea, houses clinging onto the precipitous sides for dear life. The coastal roads appear and disappear as they wind their way through the mountain sides in and out of deep, dark tunnels. Huge slabs of rock reveal their innards where they have been weathered and contorted, dwarfing everything around them.

Before we know it, the Italian border is upon us and the different accent through the headphones requires a little more concentration in order to comprehend the message being given. In the same way as the French, the controllers are pretty laid back. The entire route is done at low level along published VFR routings, with regular reporting points, usually letters representing the compass, but sometimes towns or landmarks.

Low level VFR route past Genoa

When one is used to avoiding larger airports in the
UK, it comes as a surprise when these low level routes pass within a stones throw of the runway of airports like Nice and Genoa. The same occurred all the way through our trip and certainly makes one wonder whether it could work in the UK. Makes for some interesting views of airports, more usually seen by the 737’s of Ryan Air and Easy Jet.

As we approached
Lucca, we had to hold whilst a military exercise was finished, before being allowed in for fuel. Lucca has an interesting looking walled city and an impressive viaduct, though seeing them from the ground will have to wait until next time. Fuelled and thirst quenched we were off again, opting for the VFR route over the hills this time, rather than down the coast. I would not like to fly this single handed with the sheer number and frequency of reporting points; Timothy was kept busy checking them all against the chart and the GPS. I was kept busy in the latter half of the leg maintaining 500 AGL. The first half of the route is done at 1000 AGL.

Approaching Lucca


As we approached Rome Ciampino we headed for Frascati point and then south for Aprilia Point and then we were free. Having travelled all this way, we were now looking for a farmers field in amongst a lot of other fields! How pleased we felt when we found it first time.

As the wheels touched the ground, the long grass tugged at the undercarriage slowing us swiftly and we taxied to the end of the runway to be greeted by our host Riccardo, bottles of beer in his hands acting as marshalling bats. There is something to be said for being greeted by a bottle of cold beer after a long, hot and sticky flight.

Ian had left the Cirrus at
Rome as he was reluctant to damage the borrowed aeroplane; however we ended up with 5 aircraft on the ground at Aprilia, 6 having made it to Italy. Rather less than hoped for, but good to see all the same, after all the rough weather back in the UK.

 



Aprilia


Now we all know that pilots adore their food. We were settled into our hotel and then taken to the Agriturismo, a restaurant in the foothills, which serves only home grown produce. The ultimate organic food, served in ample portions and tasting delicious, forcing every taste bud to sit up and take notice. The wine was also locally produced and equally appealing to the palate. What none of us had realised was the number of courses we were going to be treated to! Add in the Grappa and the wine, the coffee and the after dinner drinks and I dread to think how many calories we all consumed that night!! There were differing opinions on exactly how many courses there were, but around a dozen. The cost was an impressive Eur25 a head including all the drinks. How they do it I am not sure, but it has to be the best value meal I have ever had the pleasure of consuming.

Halfway through the meal, which was also attended by several members of the Latina Flying Club, we were presented with commemorative plaques. Our weight and balance issues were further complicated by a presentation box containing three bottles of wine. It was great to feel so welcome.

Riccardo had gone to great lengths to keep us all amused during our stay. The following day we visited a local museum detailing the history of the area, reclaimed from marshland in the 1920’s. There were a dozen huge buildings housing everything from the largest collection of tractors imaginable, to wartime vehicles and even an enormous collection of toys and model aircraft through the ages.

An anxious Riccardo made sure we were all back at the hotel in time for lunch. The table was laid out with a selection of cold meats, cheeses, breads and the odd bottle of wine. It was looking like it would be a civilised light lunch. Little did we know; another half a dozen courses later there was nobody left in the room that was capable of moving!
An hour later a minibus turned up to deliver us to a botanical garden at Ninfa, where a guide accompanied us to add to our knowledge of trees and plants. Unfortunately for her, the Italian Air Force had decided to carry out formation aerobatic training that afternoon. Some stiff necks ensued!

To our disbelief, Riccardo was insistent on us having a pizza that evening. We were transported by minibus to a village perched on top of a hill. Cold beers were readily consumed before we pushed our tired legs up to the viewing platform to watch the sunset. The conversation turned to the wind direction and whether we would accept a tailwind or not in the morning, in order to minimize the risk of catching our undercarriage in the pylons at Aprilia.


A very tired yet content bunch of pilots made their way into the hotel after being overfed again in the local pizzeria. A suggestion of a nightcap was accepted by just four of us. Nearly three hours later we dragged ourselves off to bed, tired but happy and contented with our lot.

Aprilia to Ajaccio


Arriving at the airstrip in the muggy warmth of the next morning, the talk was again about the capability of our machines to break free of the grass. At 790 metres long it would be no problem in the

UK. However, add in the long grass, the temperature and the fact nearly every aircraft was loaded to the maximum (thank you Derek for the courier service) and it became a serious calculation. Add in the fact that there were power lines at the end of the in to wind runway and a lot of consideration and a walk of the strip was called for. We all opted to accept a light tailwind in favour of the pylons being half a mile from the end of that runway!

Goodbye’s said to our host, stall warner screeching as we lifted and life jackets back on, we were soon talking to Rome Information.
Rome has a TMA which extends far out to sea, limiting us all to under 1000’ for over 50 miles. At least one is able to admire the shoals of fish in the warm Mediterranean sea from that height! We left first in Cessna 152 Heavy to allow the Arrow and the Cherokee Six to overhaul us on the way.

Our hearts thumped a little faster when Ben, flying to another area of
Italy, called a PAN due to an engine problem. Timothy and I both hoped it wasnt due to the fuel we had uplifted from the bowser earlier. This leg to Corsica was my longest sea crossing by far, 158 miles.

As G-GYMM and N2923N overhauled us, we spoke to an agitated controller who was more concerned that these English aircraft were going to avoid his danger area. Timothy’s exasperation made everyone chuckle as he berated the increasingly confused Italian, who must have warned us not to enter his danger area at least a dozen times.



As we reached the southern tip of
Corsica I reached for my camera in order to record the stunning beaches lapped by crystal clear turquoise water. A land of contrast, the beaches and sandy coves give way to deep valleys; craggy mountains climb rapidly to reach for the sky, their tops framed in fluffy cumulus cloud.

 

Houses, white with terracotta roofs, bathe in the warmth of the sun, beaming down from baby blue skies. Looking down from our vantage point, the ocean floor is visible in the crystal clear water, waves lapping gently against small rocky outcrops that poke their heads up into the warm clean air.

 

Fishing boats bob in the water, weather-beaten fisherman casually casting their lines or hauling their pots out of the sea, wondering what surprise waits inside for them today.

 

For not the first time I rub my eyes in disbelief, the knowledge that a tiny 2 seater Cessna has flown us all the way down to the Med, virtually chuckling at how easy it is to do.

 

As I luxuriate in the view, Ajaccio comes into view around the headland. We join downwind for Runway 20 and fly a shortened base leg to an arrival on terra firma after a sea crossing I won’t forget for a very long time.

 

 

We join the others on the apron to be pounced on by airport staff for our landing fees. Timothy is driven at breakneck speed in the back of a Citroen van with a couple of the others to settle the bill, before a minibus takes us all to Arrivals and the customary form filling and a taxi ride to our hotel.

 

As we book in we are greeted by the news that another of our group, who was flying down from Teeside on his first ever trip abroad, has made it to Corsica, after spending a couple of days trapped in Le Touquet by the weather. Not bad going for a first time trip to France! Well done Geoff.

 

We buy him and his passenger a beer, before walking into town around the bay. We eat at the appropriately named ‘Le Forum’ restaurant, enjoying each others company, the food, the beer and the stories we all have to tell those back home. This was probably the most relaxed evening of the trip, everyone just happy to be on holiday, relaxing and chilling out.

 

Ajaccio to Carcasonne

 

The next morning we were back on our journey, electing to fly in formation with Geoff in his AA5 for the next 112 mile water crossing back to the mainland of France. ATC refused a formation take off so we took off and waited for the others to catch up before panting our way up to 4500’ and settling down for the crossing. Some beautiful scenery was the ideal backdrop for some air to air photography, but today it was a case of sit back and feel lucky at being able to do this.

 

An hour or so later, we descended at St Tropez for the now familiar VFR low level routing along the coast. We had elected to refuel at Le Castellet, not knowing at the time that the Paul Ricard testing circuit was the reason for its existence.

 

It stands out a mile, the kerbing of the race track painted in vibrant red and blue, the runway atop a very solid looking lump of granite. We refreshed ourselves at the nearby Café, inhabited by all the local bikers it seems and some extremely attractive waitresses. The airport terminal is very swish, yet the apron was yet again deserted all but for a couple of Citation jets.

 

 

 

The next couple of hours were spent admiring the south coast of France, the beaches, the towns and the spectacular views, before flying inland to our night stop, Carcasonne. As we approached, we were given permission to circle the old town, a large walled city, in which we were to acquaint ourselves with the others later that evening.

 

Left base join and we were soon down, number 1 to Geoff in his AA5 and a Ryan Air 737 who was given preference for refuelling. Marvellous to see a 737 carrying out a visual circuit to land.

 

At our hotel, washed and tidied up, we met with the others and wandered the short distance to dine in a restaurant within the walled city. Timothy, justifiably, was horrified by the live music. His meal, as a vegetarian option, wasn’t much better, but the rest of us enjoyed another evening of calorie gaining. It is worthy of note that being vegetarian in France is little understood it seems.

 

 

Carcasonne to Dinard

 

I woke the following morning feeling a little sorry that this trip was drawing to an end. The fact the weather had closed in a little didn’t help and we all had a hurried breakfast, before making our way to the airport. After further exasperation from Timothy, disbelief that it took 5 minutes to work out our Eur7.00 landing and parking fee, we were soon lined up and airborne again.

 

Timothy has an Instrument Rating so we elected to fly on top of the cloud. As we progressed northwards it became more and more obvious that we were not going to make our lunch stop at La Rochelle. Fog and very low cloud ruled it out and we eventually decided to divert to Bergerac. It was encouraging that 2 of the others made the same decision independently and we had a chuckle over lunch at poor Derek and passengers being the only ones to make full use of his fully IR equipped aircraft and experience. They ate in La Rochelle whilst we did so in Bergerac.

 

After a very useful briefing from the Meteo Office we decided that the 3 aeroplanes would make a stab at getting to our overnight stop at Dinard. Geoff took off first in his AA5, with ourselves in the 152 next and the Canadians in the Arrow shortly afterwards. As pilot flying, I elected to stay below the cloud if at all possible. It became a little interesting as we approached Cognac, though still legal, before the cloudbase gradually improved and allowed us to maintain 1000’ and then work our way up to 1200’ for most of the flight to Nantes, before edging our way around the town and heading north for Rennes.

 

Interestingly, the other two were going above the cloud, then coming back down and having a look, before going back up on top again and after an hour and a half we were all still keeping up with each other. There is something to be said for staying low into a headwind after all it seems. It was as we approached Rennes that I realised that our asthmatic 152 may just beat the AA5 to landing at Dinard, even though he took off before us. At the same time we heard Derek join the frequency in his Cherokee Six. It felt quite an achievement for all of us to arrive within a few minutes of each other, bearing in mind the differing performance of each type.

 

After probably my worst landing of the trip (sorry Timothy), we refuelled for the following day, tied our trusty steeds down and made our way into St Malo.

 

The Final Supper

 

Derek and Tammy live in the Channel Islands and use Dinard a lot, doing a lot of their shopping in St Malo, so were excellent guides for the afternoon. We decided the rampart walk could wait until the following day, opting instead for a leisurely walk around the town centre. St Malo is full of interesting little shops and streets, worthy of a weekend visit in the future. Indeed, I see myself revisiting a lot of the places we visited again, at a slightly less frenetic pace.

 

 

We had hoped that the ones who failed to beat the weather and leave the UK were going to meet us, but we were to spend our final evening as the others on the trip. Derek had booked a restaurant for the occasion. Remember the struggle with vegetarian options? After a fruitless struggle to be offered anything but an omelette, Timothy decided to leave the restaurant. As a group we decided to leave en masse and found a delightful pizzeria just down the road, ‘Cafe du St Malo’ where we enjoyed a thoroughly good meal, washed down by plenty of beer. Canada Dan persuaded yet another waitress to let him add a litre beer glass to his wide and varied collection.

 

We finished with coffee and after dinner drinks in a swanky hotel in the main square and the good humour lasted until the moon sank below the horizon and we wearily walked along the seafront wall to our beds, reflecting in our dreams on the past week of experience and enjoyment.

 

The following morning I awoke early and treated myself to a walk along the promenade and a leisurely breakfast whilst the others came to. The ensuing walk around the ramparts of the old city woke everyone up and we spent our last hour together sipping café au lait and nibbling at pain du chocolat in the warm morning sunshine.

 

Homeward bound

 

The departure from Dinard was again in formation with Geoff for the crossing of the channel, though again ATC forbade a formation take off. A little different this time though, me piloting the 152 alone with the luggage to talk to, whilst Timothy joined Geoff and Rob in the AA5. They were to join us at Shoreham for a final au revoir, before leaving for Teeside.

 

VFR on top of a scattered cloud base, the last of France slipped below us at Le Havre as I set course for Seaford VOR and home at FL65. As usual, Paris got rid of us as soon as they could and I left Timothy to get the weather as he had the luxury of 2 radios.

 

It was not good news. Far worse than the 1800’ broken and good visibility on the TAF’s and phone call to Shoreham earlier, Shoreham was rapidly becoming fogged in. We made the decision to divert to Lydd as we ducked under the 5500 TMA and it was not long before Timothy, Geoff and Rob peeled off and I was left to pick my way down to a rapidly worsening Lydd. An hour on the ground and surrounded by fog we elected to continue the last part of the journey by train and left Geoff and Rob at a pub and B&B in Lydd with our aeroplane on the ground waiting collection the following day.

 

It was a rather sad way to end the trip, but at least gave me the excuse to catch the train the following morning to go and retrieve the 152 and return it home to Shoreham. Geoff and Rob flew out of Lydd behind me before setting course for a fuel stop at Duxford and a final leg back to Teeside. I landed at Shoreham feeling pretty damned pleased with myself, having thoroughly enjoyed my first big adventure by air.

 

There will be many more.

 

 

Costs and flights

 

We managed to keep within our budget – just!

 

Converted into £’s from Euros and then rounded to the nearest £:

 

HOTELS

 

Troyes Aeroport Hotel  £78

Cannes Campanile Hotel  £54

Hotel Foro Appio Mansio (2 nights)  £143

Hotel du Mare Ajaccio  £56

Mercure Carcassonne  £81

SNC La Plage St Malo  £99

 

FLYING BILLS

 

Fuel and landing fees  £854

30 hours, 45 minutes at £22 hour maintenance  £676.50

3 litres of W80  £13.50

 

Incidentals

 

Taxi fares  £151

Train fares (after weather diversion)  £61

Entrance fees, share of coach, food etc  £482

Charts ‘n’ stuff  £127

 

Total:  £2876

 

Oh, how I wish I hadn’t worked that out!!

But then break it down and bear in mind some of the costs were shared and suddenly it all becomes much more reasonable. Had Timothy and I stuck with the original plan and shared rooms the cost each would have been around £1500 each. I would say that is value for money.

The only extra cost not included above was for my share of a 150 hour check as the hours had reduced to 22 hours the week before we left. The group agreed that the fairest way was for me to pay 22/50 of the check.

 

FLYING HOURS

 

Shoreham – Troyes  2:40

TroyesValence  3:00

ValenceRomans St Paul  0:25

Romans St PaulCannes  3:10

CannesLucca  2:50

Lucca – Aprilia  2:25

Aprilia – Ajaccio  3:05

Ajaccio – Le Castellet  2:40

Le Castellet – Carcassonne  2:10

Carcassonne – Bergerac  2:00

Bergerac – Dinard  3:00

Dinard – Lydd  2:30

Lydd – Shoreham  0:50

 

Finally

 

In summary then:

 

It is the furthest I have flown from the UK by a large margin.


It is the first time I have flown to Italy.

It is the first time I have flown in the Mediterranean and my first ever visit to Corsica.

 

I learned to never judge the weather until the last moment. Mother Nature can be very fickle indeed. If I had listened to the forecasts and not given it a go we would never have left the UK.

 

The Air BP I obtained prior to this trip remains unused – always have plenty of Euros to hand or a credit card, though a French credit card would be even easier to use.

 

Always fuel on landing. It can mean a long delay if left until the following day or when you really need to depart soon. Watch out for Ryan Air flights intefering with your refueling plans – they take priority.

Preplanning takes a lot of stress out of the flying. However be prepared for a lot of reporting points, especially when flying the low level VFR routes.

 

I would have liked to spend a little more time in each stopover. However the trip was an ideal taster for the future and the satisfaction gained from flying a Cessna 152 from England to Italy and back via Corsica is immense.

 

Rogues Gallery