Friday, 14 May 2010

Flying to the Monaco GP, part 2

Given the size of the Commander's fuel tank, the expected headwinds, and the size of the aircraft occupants' bladders, the trip to the south of France was to be taken in two legs.  We needed somewhere half way along the journey to Cannes (LFMD) that had customs and immigration, fuel and a restaurant nearby.  A few years ago, Bourges (LFLD) was chosen for this purpose.  On that occasion, the place was deserted and we were left at the mercy of the local aeroclub who required cash for the fuel.  Fortunately one of the passengers had changed a lot of money to Euros prior to the trip so we could make this work.  I was assured that this was not normal, and that there was usually someone in the tower, and a fireman who doubled up as a fuel dispenser from the locked pumps.

The route chosen to get from Fairoaks to Bourges was GWC N859 SITET A34 KOVAK H20 DOMOD A3 GILUX.  I realise that will mean nothing to most people (me included) without a map so here's the route we intended to fly:

The route from Fairoaks to Bourges

The kinked route is required to follow airways - defined routes in the sky that IFR aircraft are required to follow.  Sort of.  More of that shortly.  The plan said that this would take 2 hours and 15 minutes, departing at 10:00am.  Given the earlier delays, we were running a bit late and finally managed to depart Fairoaks at 10:25.  The kinked route represents an increase in route length of 6% of flying in a straight line between the two airports.  This is a very good result for routing around Europe.  15-20% increases in distance flown aren't uncommon.

After takeoff form runway 24 we turned left and headed for Goodwood (GWC) and contacted Farnborough Radar.  Our takeoff clearance was to 1400', but on contact we were cleared up to 3400' to keep us below some other traffic.  Once clear of that this was lifted to 6000', and before reaching that all the way up to our cruising altitude of FL100.  In the climb over the southern shores of England and into the channel we went through a broken layer of cloud which dissipated altogether once over the English Channel.  Passing over Le Havre on the French coast there was little more to do than admire the scenery and occasionally make contact with the next ATC unit along the route.  This is what IFR touring is about - the flying is easy!

As we approached Bourges we were given descents in good time so down we went through some fairly thick clouds that had been increasing the further south we went.  We picked up quite a coating of ice in the descent, over a centimetre on the temperature probe and leading edge of the wings and a thin coating on the windscreen.  No doubt the leading edge of the tailplane had some, too.  As soon as we descended through 5000' and the temperature outside became positive, the ice came off quickly.

The Paris controller we talked to informed us that the Bourges tower was currently unmanned, and was very insistent that we take down and confirm a phone number to call to close out flight plan once on the ground.  At a manned airport, ATC will do this for you.  Failure to close an IFR flight plan will result in the search and rescue services coming to look for you, and in France they will send you the bill for their troubles!

We landed 2 hours and 20 minutes after takeoff, making us half an hour late as compared to our planned arrival time.  We pulled onto the parking area near the fuel pumps and set about trying to find someone to unlock them and dispense some avgas into the aircraft.  After a small amount of investigation, the fireman/fueller appeared from a locked door and we managed to convey the message to him that we'd really appreciate some fuel.

The intention had been to walk into Bourges for lunch, but given our late arrival and the need to be off again at our flight planned time just 25 minutes later, I asked the fueller what was nearby.  The best he could come up with was a McDonalds, but at least it had free wifi so I could check in on the weather further along our route.

The route we had filed onwards to Cannes was MENOX R31 MTL R161 AMFOU, which is again just 6% longer than the direct route.

The route from Bourges to Cannes

On our return to the aircraft, the fueller came over as he saw us loading up to inform us that we had a departure slot, and to go up the tower to see the controller.  Jerome's English was much better than the unnamed fireman, and he was able to tell us that we had been given a departure slot, delaying our flight plan by 45 minutes.  This meant that we were now not due to depart for an hour.  We filled the time by chatting with Jerome, checking the weather inbetween Bourges and Cannes, reading about the F1 news on the PC with an internet connection and before long it was time to head down to the aircraft and be on our way.  After a short backtrack we launched into the cloudy sky and headed south.

The climb up to FL100 for the cruise would take us through clouds that were likely to contain the same icing conditions as those we had descended through.  I decided that as we knew the tops were below our intended cruising altitude we would try to get up through them and allow the ice to sublimate off in the sunshine above.  Sure enough, as we climbed above the freezing level the ice began to accumulate.  100kts - my usual climb speed - was fine for the first few thousand feet, but in order to maintain the climb we came back to Vy, 94kts, at about FL80.  The ice was starting to get uncomfortably thick, and the last few hundred feet, with the brightening near the top of the clouds was agonising.  I wasn't far off making the decision to descend back to warmer levels when we popped out of the top and crawled up to FL100.  The ice did gradually sublimate and our cruise speed rose as the airframe became clearer.

Ice sticking to the OAT probe

We were given clearance to route all the way to the MTL VOR, some 150 nautical miles away.  As the route was fairly straight anyway this didn't make too much difference, but was good to hear nonetheless. We could see the cloud tops rising to meet our level ahead, so I requested a 1000' climb to FL110 which was readily granted and kept us clear of the clouds and further icing conditions.  The temperature outside was a chilly -6C and I'm sure the ice would have stuck to us at an alarming rate.

As per the forecast we'd seen both at home and in Bourges, there were a few buildups which rose above the FL100 or so cloud tops to something like FL140, and one of these was right in our way.  A quick request to ATC to deviate right to avoid weather was granted and so we did.  When we were approaching a point at which we could turn back towards MTL ATC asked us how long before we would be able to do so; I told them another 5 minutes would do it and they seemed fine with this answer.

The weather system that was bothering south eastern France came with some winds, and typically these were headwinds for us (aren't they always?) with the result that the 2:10 planned flight took us 2:45 making our touchdown time at Cannes 6:50pm.  We taxyed straight to the fuel pumps, reasoning that a short delay now was better than any delay on the return journey and potentially missing our flight planned departure time or slot if we had one.  We pulled up at pump 2 as there was a Jodel already waiting at pump 1, but there were no fuellers to be seen.  The Jet A1 truck was out fuelling up the business jets of the rich and famous - the Cannes film festival is on at the same time as the Monaco grand prix, making this weekend Cannes airport's busiest throughout the year.  I checked with the Jodel pilots, and found out that they had been waiting just a few minutes.  Before long an airport official came over on a golf cart to tell us that the fuellers would be along in about 20 minutes.  I asked if we would be better waiting until Monday morning and he confirmed what we thought; that the potential for delays on Monday was far greater.

Something like 30 minutes later, the fueller arrived.  All he had to do was throw a switch to enable the pumps.  Surely he could have taken 30 seconds from his jet refuelling time to do that for us!  Another aircraft had joined the fuelling queue in the meantime.  I dispensed the 115 litres of avgas (not bad for 2:45 of flight!) paid in the fuel office and we all boarded again to taxy to our parking stand.  The ground controller asked how long we would be staying and after confirming that (as booked) we were there for the weekend, we were directed to park on the opposite eastern side of the airport on the grass.  After parking the aircraft we unloaded our luggage and a neat airport van collected the crew of an aircraft parked next to us.  We were ready moments after they had driven away but thought they would be back soon.  25 minutes later, and (sod's law) with me having unpacked a headset and climbing into the aircraft to call ground and ask how much longer we would be expected to wait, the van returned.  It proceeded to collect 5 more people from helicopters that had landed in the meantime and then return to the terminal.

There was just one taxi waiting, so while the others collected our luggage I was out of the van door first and went straight to the driver, asking him to take us to the train station.  Finally, something had happened without any delay!

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