This weekend, with Luca and our children, we took one of the aeroclub’s DR-400 to make a flight excursion from Toulouse (France) to Avignon, in Provence.
The main purpose of the trip was to fly over the flourishing lavender fields in Provence. Other highlights of the flight would be flying over the French Côte d‘Améthyste, flying over the Camargueregion with the wetlands of the Rhône delta, watching the Mont-Ventoux from up close, seeing the Pont d’Avignon (from the plane this time, no dancing), flying over the Hérault Gorges, the Viaduct of Millau, the Viaduct of the Viaur and we attempted as well to see the Pont du Garde, but we missed it (next time!).
I will be short in words in this post, thus I will first show here below all the beautiful pictures of the flight in chronological order and at the very bottom I will include a few paragraphs with the technical information of the flight in case anyone is interested in planning a similar trip.
We made two flights. The first one from Toulouse Lasbordes (LFCL) to Avignon Caumont (LFMV) lasted 2h25′ including the excursion to the regional park of Luberon to see the lavender fields (a detour of about 30′). The return trip took us 1h59′. Both trips could take somewhat less time if the routes were a bit more direct. We started both flights with the main and supplementary tanks full (in theory up to 110 + 50 litres, thus 160l) and before the second flight we did a refill of nearly 77 litres; that would be the block fuel for the first trip (thus 31.7l per hour just a bit below the 33 indicated in the manual at maximum take off weight (1,000kg for the DR-44)).
For both flights I filed a flight plan (calling the BRIA of Bordeaux) even if not required in France (when not flying to the islands or abroad), but that eases a lot the flying through many different CTRs, class D flight spaces, getting flight information service, traffic information, etc.
In these times of low commercial traffic we requested to overfly the coast at a rather high altitude (3,500ft instead of the mandatory maximum of 1,000ft from Montpellier to Marseille in normal times) which was granted without hesitation by the traffic controllers. That alleviated a bit the buffeting of the plane on the often windy French Mediterranean coast.
Avignon Caumont airport turned out to be a rather windy one being in the Rhone Delta. Most airports in the whereabouts had windy forecasts. We landed with winds announced by the controller of 15-20kt and on the departure the day after we had 22-32kt, though more or less aligned with the runway, 35 both times. The runway is however long (1,880m) and wide (45m). Had we had to abort the landing we had planned alternative diversion airports nearby, but most probably we would have gone away from the Delta region, all the way to Millau (thus the filling up the tank with more than double the amount of fuel we needed). The landing fees and 24-hour parking altogether cost 29.6 euros. The fuel station operated with the Carte Total.
We stayed over at the Best Western hotel by the airport at Avignon, at walking distance from the terminal (the reservation could be cancelled without charge up to 14:00 of the day we arrived, thus 2 hours later than our estimated landing time, in case we had to divert to somewhere else). We booked a family room with four beds and sofa bed with breakfast for 135 euros which could be paid in cheques vacances. The hotel has a swimming pool which was needed for the kids to relax in the afternoon. At walking distance there was as well a Courtepaille restaurant.
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 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.
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.
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).
Château de Chenonceau.
Château de Cheverny.
Château de Chambord.
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.
Isle of Wight.
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.
1909 Bleriot XI. The original oldest airplane in airworthy condition.
1920s biplanes (DX60X Moth, Southern Martlet).
Bristol Boxkite 1910 replica flying.
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.
Our 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.
Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress Sally B.
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.
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.
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.
My instructor had kept saying to me in the previous lessons “one of these days I’ll release you for the first solo flight” (but then in French). Today, August 30th 2013, the time has come.
I arrived today at the aéroclub René Barbaro, in the aerodrome Toulouse-Lasbordes (LFCL), at about 18:15 (16:15 UTC… to keep it #avgeek). When being asked what would be then plan for today, my instructor, Thierry, immediately answered “est-ce que ça te marche si on fait trois tour de piste et aprés je te lâche?.” To that question one can only answer: “oui, bien sûr!“.
Thus, we took the Robin DR-400-120Petit Prince with matriculation number F-GNNI (Fox(trot) Golf November November India). A mainly wooden French plane which is quite popular in France. The aircraft has a piston engine which delivers 120 HP, cruises at about 200 km/h, has an empty weight of about 600kg (573kg as per the latest rapport de pessée)… you can see it below:
Robin DR-400 F-GNNI.
As Thierry proposed, we first made 3 tours de piste, that is 3 laps around he aerodrome circuit.
Despite of some comments on the landings, one take-off performed with flaps retracted (see #Jk5022), at the end of the third landing Thierry got off the aircraft, got his walkie-talkie to hear and intervene in the communications if needed (which was not needed) and went to aéroclub office.
Then, I was finally alone in the plane.
Message to the radio (the tower was not working by then, thus I sent a message to other aircraft in the frequency, 122.7): “Toulouse-Lasbordes, DR-400 au parking Airbus, je roule au point d’arrêt piste 34“. I then went through the different check lists, going through each step in a mixture of Spanish and French (I normally proceed with the list in French but then it felt strange to talk to myself in French thus: “giro al sur y la bille va a la derecha, el cap y el compas decrecen…”).
At about 17:35 UTC, I finally pronounced the words “Fox November India, je m’aligne et je decolle, piste 34“, and with that there I went! (I had to align and take off rather quickly as there was another airplane about to announce its entry in finale).
Aerial view of the aerodrome Toulouse-Lasbordes, LFCL (note that today evening the runway in use was the 34, thus, what you see closer is the end of the runway).
From then on, an easy flight around the aerodrome that did not take very long but meant a big step for me ensued; a big reassurance. Let’s go through it. Come on board with me…
Take-off: even if I could have taken off at a lower speed, due to the heat and as precaution, I was going to rotate at about 110km/h. Up until then I repeated “the runway is cleared, la vitesse monte, the runway is cleared, all parameters are green…“. I saw some birds flying low and crossing the runway, so I gave myself some seconds before pulling the stick backwards… “je décolle!“.
Climb: immediately after taking off, I had to push the right pedal to compensate the engine effects. During the first phase of the climb I ascended at about 130 km/h (a bit faster as I was alone in the plane) and at 760ft, or 300 pieds sol, I proceeded with the check list après décollage: “volets (flaps) de premier écran à rentrées, pompe électrique off and check that all parameters are still green“. Proceed with the climb now at 150km/h.
Integration in the aerodrome circuit: You can see in the pictures below the aerodrome circuit, both as it appears in the aeronautical chart [PDF, 644KB] and with a satellite image.
Toulouse Lasbordes (LFCL) carte of the aerodrome (Carte VAC).
View of the “circuite de aérodrome”.
As soon as I had passed the village of Balma I turned East still ascending (following the green line upwards and to the right as per the satellite image). Then, just between Balma and Pin-Balma (blue circles in the satellite image) there is a farm which serves as starting point for the aerodrome circuit.
There, I announced myself again: “Fox(trot) November India au début de vent arrière piste 34“. I then reduced the gas from 2,500rpm to 2,000rpm, switched on the electric pump, the carburetor heating and deployed the flaps to the first position (10º)… with those settings the speed should come to 150km/h. I then noticed that while performing these actions I had gained some 200ft (above the 2,000ft of the circuit), which I proceeded to lose quickly and, once corrected, I trimmed the aircraft for 150km/h at 2,000ft QNH.
When I spotted the Château de Pechestier (see carte VAC above), I turned right following the ligne à haute tenstion, reduced the power from 2,000rpm to 1,500rpm (keeping the speed at 150km/h) while losing altitude from 2,000ft to about 1,100ft when over flying the commercial centre at the turn between the sectors étape de basse and finale.
Final approach: “Fox(trot) November India en finale pour un complet“. I then deployed the flaps to the landing configuration (60º) and fixed my sight on the number 34: “vitesse (> 120km/h) – le plan (3.5%) – vitesse – l’axe – …“.
Landing: I believe that one has been the best landing I have performed so far. I guess I was so concentrated that I definitely did my best… I slowed down, exited the runway, “Fox(trot) November India la piste est dégagée, je roule au parking et quite la radio“. I then proceeded with the different check lists, went to the parking of the aeroclub, turned off the airplane… and that was it!
Thierry: “Well, How does it feel the first solo flight?”… the first solo flight.
Most of you, the readers of this blog, probably know that an airplane flies due to the difference in pressure between the upper (extrados) and lower (intrados) sides of its wing. This difference in pressure is due to the difference velocity of the airflow around both sides of the wing as you may see in the picture below:
Airflow around an airfoil (image from the Wikipedia, by Kraainnest).
As the speed above the wing is much higher, the difference in the pressure is mainly due to the lower pressure in the extrados. This can be seen in the following picture:
Pressure coefficient around an airfoil (by the Aircraft Aerodynamics and Design Group, Stanford University).
However, how could we see that in a real flight?
In commercial planes, of which wing skin is made of aluminium alloys this is not easily seen.
Two weeks ago, after my flight lesson was finished, I sat at the back of the plane to come back to Toulouse while my colleague had his lesson. It was then that I saw the image I captured in the following picture:
Wing extrados on air.
The aircraft we fly in our training lessons is a small Robin DR 400; a wooden aircraft of which wing skins are made of cloth. Not any cloth, but a type of polyester (PET) commonly used to build sailcloth, produced by Dupont and named Dacron. The surface is then lacquered with a polyurethane paint.
Robin DR 400 140
The air within the wing is at a higher pressure than the air in the extrados, and you can see how it expands and pushes up the cloth skin of the wing as you can see in the picture above.
You may see below the same wing on ground. Though the picture is of a lower quality, you can see that in this case the wing doesn’t look “inflated”.
Last 12th October, I came from Amsterdam to Madrid by plane. That day there was an air controllers strike in France. While flying, the pilot commented that the company had tried to re-route the flight in order not to lose the slot it had, this proved almost impossible so what they did was to fly at a lower level. The pilot explained that this was very “costly as the engines consume much more” at that lower level.
How much more? How costly was this measure? I wanted to check it out, and some weeks later I have made the numbers that I show here.
We flew in an Airbus A321. Since it was the early flight in the morning I assume it carried maximum fuel and the weight was limited by Maximum Landing Weight (75.5 tonnes, MLW), so the takeoff weight would be the MLW plus the fuel weight we would consume in the flight, in the order of 5,500 kg (an average of 2,400 kg/hour according to some operators). Thus I used a takeoff weight of ~81,000 kg.
When flying at a lower level, the air density is higher and this increases drag. Normally, planes in this route fly at ~ 33,000 ft or ~ 10,000 m. What flight level did we use? This I don’t know, so I took the worst situation: say we flew at FL210, or 21,000 ft (~ 6,400 m). We can find at the chart the Standard Atmosphere and see the difference in density at both altitudes (~ 0.53ρ0 compared to ~ 0.33ρ0).
Flight levels, image from Wikipedia.
Standard Atmosphere, image from Wikipedia.
Using the Breguet range equation, all other things being equal (same distance, same aircraft, same weight at the departure…), we can relate the weights and densities of the initial flight plan the company had and the one used after trying to re-route.
Breguet range equation.
The result I got is that by flying at FL210 instead of FL330 the aircraft would have consumed over 1,400 kg of fuel more, a whole 26% more.
I checked the prices for fuel at IATA (International Air Transport Association) and at the moment is 746$/mt. The 1,400 kg of extra fuel would cost about 1,050$ (~ 760€), or about 4.2€ more per passenger (assuming we were around 180 passengers).