Tag Archives: aviation

Flight excursion to the Flying Legends airshow at Duxford.

Two weeks ago, Albert, a work colleague, and I took one of the aeroclub’s DR-400 airplanes to make a flight excursion from Toulouse to Northampton Sywell, Old Warden and Duxford (England) as part of a “Fly out” organised by the Aviation Society of the Airbus Staff Council, in which 6 aircraft would make the trip.

The main purpose of the flight was twofold:

  • Visit the Shuttleworth collection and their evening flight display on Saturday 14th July.
  • Visit the Flying Legends airshow at Duxford, hosted at the Imperial War Museum, on Sunday 15th July.
Mont Saint 34_Michel

Mont Saint Michel.

During the trip we were to make 6 flights: Toulouse Lasbordes (LFCL) – Cherbourg (LFRC), Cherbourg – Sywell (EGBK), Sywell – Old Warden (EGTH), Old Warden – Fowlmere (EGMA), Fowlmere – Laval (LFOV), Laval – Toulouse Lasbordes. In all about 14 hours of flight time, which we split among the two of us, together with sharing the navigation and radio communications workload.

Flights_picture

We prepared the flights using Mach 7 online tool, with which we generated the flight logs and routes for GPS, which could only be charged onto Albert’s smartphone, I replicated them in my Air Navigator app on my phone as well, however we did most of the navigation by way of following the paper charts.

Chart

Having to fly most of France from South to North, we decided to overfly some castles of the Loire Valley (Chenonceau, Cheverny and Chambord), the racing circuit of Le Mans and Omaha beach in Normandy (which we couldn’t see well due to the presence of clouds at the time we passed). See below some of the pictures we took of those places (with the smartphone, no pro cameras on board).

1_Chenonceau

Château de Chenonceau.

2_Cheverny

Château de Cheverny.

3_Chambord

Château de Chambord.

4_Le Mans

Racing circuit of Le Mans.

We then made a stop, refuelled the airplane, ate some energy bars and departed for England. The weather seemed uncertain and there were several air traffic restrictions due to the Royal International Air Tattoo going on at Fairford, preparations for Farnborough air show, and the visit of Donald Trump, staying at Buckinghamshire. However, our colleague found a corridor through which we could fly smoothly past 15 h local time. We over flew the English Channel (La Manche) and approached the islands by first flying over the Isle of Wight (where I stayed one month during the summer of 1999 working at Camp Beaumont in Bembridge, at the eastern corner of the island, pictured below), the Hayling island leaving Portsmouth to our left, then up North by way of Winchester, Reading, Oxford and then Northampton. But as you can imagine, as there are not sign posts in the sky we were flying following the instruments and different navigation references close to those places. We took the opportunity to over fly Silverstone racing circuit.

5_Isle of Wight

Isle of Wight.

6_Silverstone

Silverstone racing circuit.

We then landed at Sywell, where we stayed for a night at the Aviators hotel, by the aerodrome, an ideal place to make an overnight stop.

 

The following morning we made a short flight to Old Warden, a small grass aerodrome where the Shuttleworth collection is based.

I found about the Shuttleworth collection some years ago in Twitter and started following their account (@Shuttleworth_OW). They happen to have arguably the largest collection of flying aircraft from the 1910s and 1920s. They do have the oldest flying machine in airworthy condition, a Bleriot XI from 1909. Rather than introducing the collection with a few paragraphs, I share here this video from their site:

For me, visiting the collection was a dream come true, moreover on a day in which they would fly most of their airplanes. See below a few pictures.

10_Bleriot XI

1909 Bleriot XI. The original oldest airplane in airworthy condition.

11_Triplanes

1920s biplanes (DX60X Moth, Southern Martlet).

12_Bristol Boxkite

Bristol Boxkite 1910 replica flying.

9_Avro Triplane

Avro Triplane 1910 replica.

I wanted to share a short video I took of the Bristol Boxkite 1910 replica flying just after taking off (a replica built in 1965). It took its time to gain some altitude, always at quite low speeds. It never went much higher than 50 ft. It was wonderful to see it flying.

We stayed the night over at the camping by the aerodrome and in the morning we departed for Fowlmere, another grass aerodrome a few miles from Duxford. The taxiway at Fowlmere was fully packed of small airplanes (including the Antonov An-2 coming from Germany that you can see below) and tents of pilots that had been camping the previous night or would camp the following one, as we did.

 

We got a faboulous breakfast at the airfield and then drove to Duxford to attend the Flying Legends air show and visit the Imperial War Museum.

Flying-Legends-2018Our Fly out was organised by a fellow British colleague, Derek. He recalled how being brought to Flying Legends as a child by his father had been a marking moment. He only came again decades later. The air show is one of the biggest and best classic aviation events in the world. If you have the chance to visit it once, do not hesitate, go.

This year the show commemorated the 100th anniversary of the Royal Air Force and the 50th anniversary of the filming of Battle of Britain which had Duxford as one of the locations and some of those very airplanes as main characters of the movie. Other locations of the filming were the Tablada airfield in Seville (where Airbus Defence has facilities), the coast in Huelva passed as Dunkirk or San Sebastian as if it was Berlin.

There are plenty of aircraft to see up close, from the flight line, many exhibitors come with  books, models, clothing, memorabilia, etc., you’ve got the museum in itself (!) to visit, you have literally dozens of WWII birds flying, among them: Supermarine Spitfire (we saw a formation of 11 of them flying), Hawker Hurricane, North American P-51 Mustang and resident Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress Sally B (only B-17 in flight in Europe)… By the end of the day you will be more than overwhelmed, exhausted, but with that smile of wonder when watching those jewels fly up in the air while you hear the engines roaring, the music and the explanations from the commentator of the show.

21_Flying Fortress

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress Sally B.

20_Flying Fortress

Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress Sally B.

 

See this short video of the Balbo formation flight at the end of the display with 25 single engine WWII birds flying…

After the show we headed back to Fowlmere where we had dinner with three other colleagues (French and German) before walking to the airfield to camp by our airplane, which felt as the aviation of the beginning of the XX century.

22_camping

Fowlmere_4

Monday 16th July, feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, was the day to come back to Toulouse. The weather seemed good in England and to cross the channel but not so in France, so we took it with calm. We flew through the East of London, crossed the channel and then overflew all the coast of Normandy down to Omaha beach, then we headed South West to the Mont Saint Michel and then to the airport of Laval. There we rested for a couple of hours, ate more energy bars, studied the meteorological conditions to go further South and finally departed back to Toulouse Lasbordes.

24_London

London skyline.

25_Qeen E II bridge & Littlebrook Power Station

Queen Elizabeth II bridge and Littlebrook Power Station.

26_Thames

Thames river estuary.

27_Cliffs d'Etretat

Cliffs of Étretat, Normandy (France).

28_Le Havre Pont de Normandie

Le Havre. Pont de Normandie.

29_Oil tankers

Oil tanker ships departing from Le Havre.

30_Sword beach

Sword beach (British). Normandy Landing.

31_Arromanches

Remainings of Arromanches mulberry bridge.

32_American cemetery Omaha

American cemetery at Omaha beach.

33_Omaha beach

Omaha beach.

Mont Saint 34_Michel

Mont Saint Michel.

Main takeaways and afterthoughts:

  • The airshows and visits were totally worth it. Dreams come true.
  • Over flying those castles, circuits, beaches, historical landscapes… you can imagine, breathtaking.
  • Radio communications: much easier than expected, in England as well (even if the there were lots of radio frequency changes to be made around London). French in France, English in England.
  • We made ourselves follow in each air space. It forces you to interact more with the control but it adds to the safety of flight (traffic information overflying Saint Michel or the castles is advice-able).
  • Flight plans: in France they are not required for the long flights we did South-North flying spaces E and G. But we filed them. It allows the control to better follow you. They know your plans, they give clearances for D spaces without hesitation.
  • All the terrains we visited in England required PPRs (a colleague took care of this).
  • To fly into England a GAR report must be submitted in advance.
  • We didn’t touch a single sterling pound in the four days, credit cards almost did the trick for everything. A colleague had to pay for a taxi and a meal. We could have avoided that by selecting alternatives which accepted credit card payment.
  • We had to divert due to the meteorological conditions when arriving to one of the destinations. Clouds and fog were closing our visibility. We found ourselves with no more than 3-4 km of visibility and flying very low, so we turned back. The two diversion aerodromes we had initially selected would not do the trick (in the middle of the cloud region). We had to look for a third one in flight. That was stressful. Luckily we were two pilots on board: one keeping the airplane on air, the other navigating, looking for a suitable aerodrome and downloading the aerodrome chart (we carried about 30 on board, but not the one we finally needed). Lessons learnt: never spare charts, you may need them; ensure you’ve got batteries and chargers on board (you may need them in the worst situation), if you are the only pilot on board, but have passengers with you, try to get one of them briefed in advance of what can he or she do if something happens.

After this excursion I have completed just above 120 flight hours, and I am quite happy with the flight training provided by the aeroclub and system in France. Before the excursion we had some uncertainties about some aspects of the flight. In the end all of it was much easier than expected.

 

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2017, the safest year in aviation history

In the last days, I have seen a wave of news and headlines mentioning that 2017 was the safest year in aviation history. The source of the information is the release of 2017 accidents figures made by the Aviation Safety Network a private initiative from the Flight Safety Foundation which curates an extensive database with aviation incidents, hijackings and accidents, from 1946 to nowadays.

The release of the figures can be found here: “ASN data show 2017 was safest year in aviation history“.

The tweet with which they made the announcement is below:

Following that publication, several specialized and generalist media echoed the information. Many of them went to say that there had not been any deaths in commercial aviation in 2017, which is not accurate. A few correctly reported the figures, e.g. Jon Ostrower from CNN. Some headlines reported that there had not been any death in “commercial passenger jet flights”, which is accurate, but misses the accidents and deaths of commercial aviation based on other aircraft than jets. Most of the headlines in the media that I have see in Spanish quickly copied the message but failed to note the word “jet”, and simply stated that there had not been any death in commercial aviation (the opposite would be private or military) or commercial passenger flights (this category would exclude cargo flights but not flights on turbo propellers for instance).

ASN_infographic_2017

If we take a look at the source of the information, we can have a quick look at the accidents:

  • there were 10 accidents in commercial aviation: 5 on passenger flights and 5 on cargo flights.
  • 44 occupants died as a consequence of those accidents. Moreover, 35 people died on ground as a consequence of those accidents.
  • there was 1 accident that involved what would be referred to as a “jet” aircraft, a Boeing 747, but this was on a cargo service. Involving four deaths.
  • there were several accidents involving commercial passenger aircraft, in this case turbo propellers, e.g. 4 Cessna 208 Caravan and Grand Caravan, or an ATR-42.

It is true that most of us rarely fly on those Cessnas, but about 2,500 have been built and they are operated by dozens of operators, including passenger commercial aviation (or FedEx, which flies over 200 of them), especially in regional aviation and inter-island flights.

ATR aircraft are also very successful in regional aviation, with over 400 ATR-42 built, and operated for example by the Air France subsidiary HOP! In this case, the ATR-42 that crashed, was operated by West Wind Aviation in Canada. After the crash investigation, Transport Canada removed the licence to the operator.

To conclude, yes, 2017 was the safest year in aviation history, but unfortunately there were 44 plus 35 fatal victims of commercial aviation.

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Compétences linguistiques langue anglaise (FCL.055)

La semaine dernière j’ai passé le contrôle de compétences linguistiques langue anglaise (FCL.055) VFR (1). Je m’avais mis cet objectif au début de l’année et au moment de démarrer avec la préparation j’avais un peu de difficulté à voir comment préparer l’examen. C’est la raison d’écrire ce petit article, pour partager les quatre ressources que j’ai utilisé.

VolfictifLe site du « Ministère de l’environnement, de l’énergie et de la mer » (2) offre quelques bonnes exemples de comme le contrôle se déroulera (un exemple de vol fictif et deux exemples de écoute de bande). Je conseille de les reviser, surtout celui du vol fictif pour voir comme le scénario va être présenté au candidat.

Autres exemples d’écoute de bande. Le magazine de la Fédération Française d’Aviation, Info Pilote, a depuis des années une page dédiée à l’utilisation de l’anglais dans les communications aéronautiques.

  • La compilation des enregistrements de ces bandes se trouvent sur le site « Anglais pour voler ».
  • Des versions PDF de chaque page dédiées aux communications en anglais des différents numéros d’ Info Pilote pendant des années peuvent se trouver ici.  (c’est utile si tu n’étais pas abonné au magazine il y a 10 années ou si tu ne gardes pas les vieux magazines).

Avec ces deux dernières ressources tu peux bien préparer l’exercice d’écoute de bande et voir des différents niveaux de difficulté.

Finalement, pour voir des exemples des situations inhabituelles avec des traductions proposées de français à anglais, cette autre site, Cockpitseeker, a un bonne répertoire (+300 situations).

Effort. Je m’étais mis des horaires pour étudier rigoureusement. Finalement, je n’ai pas suivi ces horaires que dans la moitié de la moitié des jours avant l’épreuve, mais j’ai bien étudié entre 12-15 heures de lecture et écoute de bande, avec un bon résultat à l’examen.

(1) Ancienne FCL1.028.

(2) Le nom du ministère peut changer assez suivent, je suggère de cliquer sur les liens ou faire un petit recherche sur l’internet.

(3) Pour l’inscription à l’examen, toute est bien expliqué sur le site du ministère, et la mise en œuvre d’un site internet dédié, OCEAN.

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Flight excursion to Najac

I discovered Najac literally by flying over on the way to Villefranche des Rouergues (LFCV) during a flight lesson with my instructor back on July 17th, 2014. That day, when I came back home, I immediately told Luca: “we have to go on an excursion to Najac“.

We did.

Back in April 2015 we made a weekend excursion doing a night stop over in Najac and visiting other nice villages (mainly) around the Tarn river. Luca wrote two nice posts about them with plenty of bright pictures: Najac and Route verte (including Castelnau-de-Montmiral, Puycelci, Bruniquel and Saint Antonin Noble Val).

Time passed, and I got my private pilot licence last November (1) and for the first flight with passengers (Luca and Andrea) we decided to go again to Najac.

On the way to Najac we would fly by Cordes-sur-Ciel and on the way back we would partially follow that route verte by St. Antonin de Nobleval, Bruniquel, Puycelci… basically the same trip but up above in the air.

The flight would be short, as estimated when preparing the navigation. It would take about 57 minutes of flight time plus around 10% to take into account the wind, some more minutes for the integration back in Lasbordes… about 1 hour and 10 minutes (2).

Navigation log prepared for the trip Toulouse Lasbordes – Najac.

Navigation log prepared for the trip Toulouse Lasbordes – Najac.

Find below a view of the chart to have an idea of the circuit:

Chart view of Toulouse Lasbordes – Najac.

Chart view of Toulouse Lasbordes – Najac.

Let me share some pictures of the villages and a video taken by Luca:

Family picture at Lasbordes.

Family picture at Lasbordes.

Puycelci.

Puycelci.

Cordes-sur-Ciel.

Cordes-sur-Ciel.

(1) As described here “My path to the private pilot licence (PPL)“.

(2) In the end it took 1.37 engine hours (or 1h22′), a bit more than estimated… due to  departing Southbound and not having found Cordes-sur-Ciel straight away plust some time spent in circling villages.

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Flight excursion to Auch

A couple of weeks ago I asked my flight instructor about destinations for a short flight excursion (from our base aerodrome in Toulouse – Lasbordes), a nearby aerodrome with a nice bar or restaurant with some spots worth to see on the way. At first thought he recommended: Auch, Cahors and Gaillac.

I had booked an airplane in the aeroclub for last Saturday some weeks ago and we were lucky again in having good weather for the day, mostly clear and sunny in the beginning. So, at 11:30am we drove to the aerodrome. Destination: Auch.

A friend, Rapha, had also recommended Auch and he was going to join us for the trip, but other activities prevented him for being early at the aerodrome. After receiving the keys of the plane a bit late, at 12:53 I was starting the engine.

Fox-Golf-Sierra-Bravo-Juliet, DR-400 au parking ACAT, 3 personnes abord, avec l’info Bravo, pour un vol destination Auch, sorti en début de vent arrière piste 15, pour rouler au point de arrête.

The flight would be rather quick. That was good as we were late in departing and the guy at the restaurant had told us to arrive before 13:30… when preparing the navigation I had estimated the return flight in about 62 minutes, plus some plus 10% due to the wind, plus some 10 minutes per integration and taxing in each aeroport… that woud make it about 88 minutes or 44 minutes per leg. We knew we would not make it (12:53 + 00:44 ~ 13:37) but we decided to give it a try and see if we still were able to get some food. If not, at least we would have trained the crossing of Blagnac’s CTR plus landing in Auch, an aerodrome I had never landed in before.

Navigation log prepared for the trip Toulouse Lasbordes - Auch.

Navigation log prepared for the trip Toulouse Lasbordes – Auch.

Transits through Toulouse Blagnac's CTR.

Transits through Toulouse Blagnac’s CTR.

The flight to Auch went very smooth even if it took longer than estimated (55′ of engine running in total) (1). Radio communications with Toulouse information and Blagnac’s tower went well and we quickly got clearances to cross the CTR and the axis of Blagnac’s airport runways. That feels good. Seeing those Airbus’ and Boeings down there and even making some commercial flight wait a minute in the runway while you cross the axis. 🙂

Once you fly over the airport the next highlight of the flight comes: over flying Airbus’ Toulouse facilities, seeing from above the delivery centre, flight line, A330 FAL, A350 FAL, flight test aircraft, Beluga’s, etc., you name it. See a short video filmed by Luca below.

You quickly arrive to the Leroy Merlin in Colomiers (point WD) and then turn Westerly towards the Bouconne forest (WF) and further ahead you leave the CTR (at WH). Then you only need to keep exactly a West heading (270⁰) easily aided by Toulouse VOR for about 22 nm (12 minutes at our speed, ~ 115 kt) until you find yourself above Auch aerodrome.

Chart view of Toulouse Lasbordes - Auch.

Chart view of Toulouse Lasbordes – Auch.

We flew the vertical of the airport, integrated the circuit in the cross wind leg, right after another plane which had just taken off. Reduced speed, put the carburetor heating on, activated the electrical pump, deployed flaps in take off position, gave a message with the radio, reduced speed to 150 km / h, trimmed the aircraft and gently proceeded towards base leg, lost some altitude and found ourselves in a final leg with a runway of  1,900 metres to land, four times of what we needed.

Final approach to Auch (LFDH).

Final approach to Auch (LFDH).

We taxied to the parking, locked the planed and called the restaurant: “I had called you from Toulouse, we’ve just landed, we know we are late, are you still serving food?”

Jean Philippe, a Belgian chef who resonates very much with the charm of the Gers, was cooking at the grill, welcoming guests at the restaurant, picking the phone, giving casual conversations to all customers in all four corners at any time from any place within the restaurant… running the show.

The menu… we had not ordered anything and saw the aperitif (kir), water (wine, if we had not refused it), bread, soup… coming to the table. The soup, “carbure” (as I later learned) is a traditional soup cooked with meat and vegetables from the previous meal; definitely the best dish of the restaurant. I then asked how did it work with the menu, the ordering… Jean Francois pointed at a corner: “it’s a buffet, you take the starters there, I take charge of the meat”. The starters included all kinds of salads, vegetables and sea food.

Once we had eaten half of the salad, an unannounced pâté came in. “Please, taste it”. Then came in the meat. A pork chop here, a steak there… then another one. A beef steak… With a tray already full of meat in front of us, I hinted “that is more than enough, we won’t be able to eat that much!”. “Don’t worry…”

We then took some desert (from another buffet in another corner) and to our regret we had to leave quickly back to Lasbordes to try to give back the plane on time for the next pilot.

The all-included menu cost 19 euros per person. Check out the restaurant (“Aerodrome d’Auch Lamothe”) and book your table here (phone call).

I booked a plane at the aeroclub for 3h30′, but in order to enjoy the trip in a more relaxed way, I recommend to arrive there before 13h and to book a plane for no less than 4 hours (if departing from Lasbordes), to ensure you have time to enjoy the lunch with time enough and so that the departures do not feel like a rush.

(1) The actual engine running times of both flights were:

  • LFCL – LFDH: 0.93 FH, 55′ (taking off from runway 15, southbound then towards EN)
  • LFDH – LFCL: 0.84 FH, 50′ (taking off from runway 18, then holding at WH some minutes waiting for the clearance)

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Flying over the Cathar castles

An extract from the Wikipedia to introduce the Catharism to start with:

Catharism was a Christian dualist movement that thrived in […] southern France, between the 12th and 14th centuries. Cathar beliefs varied between communities, because Catharism was initially taught by ascetic priests, who had set few guidelines. The Catholic Church denounced its practices and dismissed it as “the Church of Satan”.

[…] Though the term “Cathar” has been used for centuries to identify the movement, whether the movement identified itself with this name is debatable. In Cathar texts, the terms “Good Men” (Bons Hommes) or “Good Christians” are the common terms of self-identification. The idea of two Gods or principles, one being good and the other evil, was central to Cathar beliefs. The good God was the God of the New Testament and the creator of the spiritual realm, contrasted with the evil Old Testament God—the creator of the physical world whom many Cathars, and particularly their persecutors, identified as Satan. All visible matter, including the human body, was created by this evil god; it was therefore tainted with sin. This was the antithesis to the monotheistic Catholic Church, whose fundamental principle was that there was only one God, who created all things visible and invisible. Cathars thought human spirits were the genderless spirits of angels trapped within the physical creation of the evil god, cursed to be reincarnated until the Cathar faithful achieved salvation through a ritual called the consolamentum.

A tourism highlight of the region, the French Sud-Ouest, is the visit to one or several of the many Cathar castles spread in it.

"Cathares air ways", Info Pilote magazine.

“Cathares air ways”, Info Pilote magazine.

Years ago, a colleague (Asier) shared with me an extract of the French Aviation Federation (FFA)  magazine, Info-Pilote, with a proposed route to fly over some of the Cathar castles in the region. Ever since, this has been an excursion in the to-do list.

A few days ago we did it.

I booked some weeks ago a plane of the aeroclub for 3 hours for the morning of Sunday 17th. We were lucky enough to have an incredibly sunny, calm and clear morning in the mid of cloudy and rainy weeks. Thus, we went to the aeroclub and at 9am we started preparing the plane, checking last-minute weather reports, NOTAMs, restricted zones, printing a missing aerodrome chart, refueling the plane… the series of procedures that make general aviation take always longer time spans than you think.

At 9:50am I started the engine.

“DR400 avec 4 personnes abord au parking ACAT, avec l’information Alfa, pour un vol de navigation autour des chateaux cathares, pour rouler au point d’arret de la piste 33…”

What followed were 2 hours of a wonderful flight.

Navigation log.

Navigation log.

The route, as calculated while I planned the navigation the night before, extended for over 160 nautical miles (about 300 km). We flew over the following Cathar castles: Saissac, Lastours, Carcassone, Termes, Queribus, Peyrepertuse, Puylaurens, Puivert and Montsegur.

Each of those castles definitely deserves a walk-in visit. But, yep, among the many cool things aviation can offer on the spot walk-in visits are not among them. I had visited before the castles of Carcassonne and Montsegur, I now have on the to-be-visited list some others, though most of them are not easy at all to access.

I will be brief in text and generous in pictures (1).

Saissac.

Saissac.

Lastours.

Lastours.

Carcassonne.

Carcassonne.

Termes.

Termes.

Queribus.

Queribus.

Peyrepertuse.

Peyrepertuse.

Puylaurens.

Puylaurens.

Puivert.

Puivert.

Montsegur.

Montsegur.

Pyrenees.

Pyrenees.

Cockpit.

Cockpit.

Andrea's feet.

Andrea’s feet.

 

(1) In fact, the generosity and credit go to both Luca and Asier who were the ones taking the pictures.

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The Spirit of St. Louis (book review)

TheSpiritOfStLouisCharles A. Lindbergh is without a doubt one of the aviation (1) figures and legends of the XX century, being the first pilot to fly non-stop across the Atlantic ocean in May 1927, managing to win the Orteig Prize. Lindbergh wrote “The Spirit of St. Louis” in 1953, as an autobiography because he was not comfortable with the previous books written about the flight, especially “WE”, as it did not cover with enough exactitude the experience. For this book Lindbergh was awarded the Pulitzer prize on 1954 in the category biography.

I bought this book at the US Air Force museum in Dayton a place that without a doubt stimulates the passion for aviation and I read it in the months while I was completing the last stages of my training as a private pilot, which also contributed to the setting of the stage for the reading.

The beginning of the book covers the days of Lindbergh working for the postal service of the Robertson Aircraft Corporation, the flights along the USA from Saint Louis to Chicago, the incidents due to the weather or the fall of the night, the landings on fields at night with the help of cars’ lights, etc.

As an aviation enthusiast, Lindbergh gets interested in and then engaged into the race of who would be the first pilot(s) to cross the ocean. A crowded race at the time in which many of the great aviation aces were involved, including names like René Fonck or Charles Nungesser (two of the three top French WWI aces (2)).

He later describes the conception, development and testing of the aircraft by the Ryan Aircraft Company in San Diego, the purpose-built airplane he flew for the feat and how they managed to get a Whirlwind engine from the Wright company.

The author finally describes the days in New York before the departure, where up to 3 teams were getting ready to depart and how in the morning of the 20th May, having received positive weather reports from boats in the Atlantic, he takes off. The flight lasted 33h30′ which he describes hour by hour: how he is feeling at each moment, alone, squeezed in his seat, with scarce food and water supplies, cold, flying day (within the clouds at times) and night, thrilling at times and semi-unconscious (sleep), and how his mind is drifting. Until he sees land in Ireland, finds the route to Paris and lands in Le Bourget.

What I liked the most of the book were the description of the flying experiences as a postal service pilot and the development phase of the aircraft. Those are very interesting pages, full of concepts and anecdotes.

It took me months to complete the reading of the book. Why? I was stuck and I advanced very slowly in different parts of the narrative of the 33-hour-long flight. I would say that Lindbergh did that in purpose: writing hour by hour, a few pages per hour, describing what was going on, how his mind got distracted, how he began to remember memories from years back, how he suddenly found once and again that he had lost the bearing and needed to correct it, how he cursed himself for the lack of attention or being on the verge of falling sleep… I felt caught many nights in the same sleepy, somnolent mood. Unable to read more than one or two pages before falling asleep. If that was really the purpose of Lindbergh I cannot know, but, if it was, he was very skillful in conveying the length of those hours and the risk he went through. However, it goes against the readability of the book itself!

Some quick personal reflections I took from the book:

  • Observation. While crossing the ocean, he didn’t have any support information as to the direction or speed of the wind, therefore he descended to see close enough the waves and try to estimate them himself.
  • Bearing. My flying instructor used to say “in the air, the bearing is the life“. When he is flying over the ocean he finds himself sometimes having to correct up to 10 degrees. On top, due to lack of intermediate points of reference and that he is not sure about the speed and direction of the wind, hours before seeing the land in Ireland he finds himself estimating that he may either see the land in Norway or the gulf of Biscay in Spain.
  • Changing position within seat. In order to prevent falling asleep, at some times he goes systematically changing position within the seat: stretching a leg, then the other, grabbing the commands with a hand, then the other. This is something that we can do also while piloting or driving a car (though preferably mixing it with frequent stops!)

As I always do, I marked several pages and underlined different passages that trigger different thoughts. See some of them below:

“I have divided my reserves for the flight in two categories: reserves for success and reserves for failure.”

“[…] I don’t wish my competitors hard luck. Crashed planes and flyers in hospitals impair all of aviation, and destroy the joy of flight.

Landing on one wheel and a wing tip with a highly loaded plane isn’t very dangerous when a pilot is well acquainted with his craft. […] it has been done many times. The newspapers always make it seem a good deal worse than it really is.”

“On our mail route, the pilots expect forced landings. We don’t average a hundred hours between them.”

“Science, freedom, beauty, adventure: what more could you ask of life? Aviation combined all the elements I loved.”

“A pilot has the right to choose his battlefield – that is the strategy of the flight. But once the battlefield is attained, conflict should be welcomed, not avoided. If a pilot fears to test his skills with the elements, he has chosen the wrong profession.”

I wish I could take an aeronautical engineering course. […] I could work hard to understand the magic in the contours of a wing.”

Now pretty soon you fellows are going to think you’re pretty good. It happens to every pilot. Usually starts when he’s had about 25 or 30 hours solo. I just want you to remember this: in aviation, it may be all right to fool the other fellow about how good you are – if you can. But don’t try to fool yourself.” (advice from his instructor in the Army, Master Sergeant Winston)

“No matter how much training you’ve had, your first solo is far different from all other flights. You are completely independent, hopelessly beyond help, entirely responsible, and terribly alone in space.”

“One old Negro woman came up to me with serious face and asked, ‘Boss, how much you all charge fo’ to take me up to Heaven an’ leave me dah?‘ “

The book includes several very interesting appendices about the flights of the aircraft, technical data and maps, prizes collected…

After completing the flight, Lindbergh made some tours around the world until the airplane was finally retired after 174 flights and 489 hours of flying. Today it can be visited at the National Air and Space Museum in DC.

If you like aviation, I do recommend you the reading of the book.

(1) I would say that the size of his fame, legend and iconic figure is not restricted to the aviation world.

(2) The third of the trio, Guynemer, died in the war.

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