As published in FLYER Magazine Summer 2006 Edition
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
Ready for the off
Ready for the off
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
Leaving Shoreham, wind gusting 25 knots
Lydd came up very swiftly and we turned south across the
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
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
The Alps approaching Valence
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.
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
Formation with Simon
Three hours of high concentration formation later, we were held outside
The ramp at Cannes
Dinner at Cannes
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
Low level VFR route past Genoa
When one is used to avoiding larger airports in the
As we approached
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
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.
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
As we reached the southern tip of
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,
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
We had hoped that the ones who failed to beat the weather and leave the
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.
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
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 £:
Troyes Aeroport Hotel £78
Cannes Campanile Hotel £54
Hotel Foro Appio Mansio (2 nights) £143
Hotel du Mare
Mercure Carcassonne £81
Fuel and landing fees £854
30 hours, 45 minutes at £22 hour maintenance £676.50
3 litres of W80 £13.50
Taxi fares £151
Train fares (after weather diversion) £61
Entrance fees, share of coach, food etc £482
Charts ‘n’ stuff £127
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.
Le Castellet –
Bergerac – Dinard 3:00
Dinard – Lydd 2:30
Lydd – Shoreham 0:50
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.