Monday, 17 May 2010

Return from the Monaco GP

After some dodgy looking weather, one of the best Monaco GPs in years and an impressive Red Bull 1-2, it was time to head home.  We had filed the flight plan before we left England with EuroFPL so all we had to do was make sure we were at Cannes in time for takeoff for 0930Z.  Z (Zulu time) is GMT, so that was 11:30 local time in France.  We'd been staying in Menton so caught a train just before 9:00.  We were due to get a local commuter train but two minutes before our train was due, a TGV pulled in so we hopped on that.  We weren't entirely sure our tickets were valid but nobody came to check them and there was plenty of space on the train anyway.  The train ride along the Cote d'Azur is impressive by itself, hugging the Mediterranean coast from Italy, through France, into Monaco and back into France again.  It turns north some way west of Cannes, so it was coastal all the way for us.  We had upper deck seats and wonderful views in the morning sunshine.

On arrival at Cannes, we had to wait a  few minutes for a taxi to take us to the airport but all this had been predicted so was no problem.  Delivered to the airport, I made my way to the office to pay the fees for landing and parking the aircraft for 3 days which came to €52.80.  More than many airports in France but still a bargain compared to many in England.  With that taken care of, we put our luggage through a security X ray and walked through the metal detecting arch ourselves.  I duly set this off, having carelessly left my belt on.  I'm not sure of the benefit of having the pilot of the aircraft remove his belt, but I'm sure somewhere a European bureaucrat has decided it's for my own safety.  We were loaded into an airport van and taken around to our parking space.  We loaded the luggage in and settled ourselves into the aircraft.  The timing was working out wonderfully, it was now 11:20.  Good job we fuelled up on arrival, even with the delays we encountered.

On calling for start, we were informed that we had a departure slot and a delay of 45 minutes.  We put the radio on speakers, pulled circuit breakers for things that would draw power - gyroscopes and the like - and waited.  The controller had sent a ready message into the system for us, meaning that if there was any chance they would get us away early, but we didn't hold out too much hope of this.  It did mean we had to keep the radio on, but if there was a chance of getting moving and not spending 45 minutes baking in the sunshine we'd have jumped at it!  Finally 12:05 rolled around so we put everything back to normal and called for start.  Early because you are allowed to move 5 minutes before or 10 minutes after your slot time and it would take a few minutes to get the start procedures complete before we actually moved.

We ended up releasing the brakes exactly on (the delayed) time which I was pleased with.  As we made the lengthy taxy to the far end of the runway, we overheard a conversation between a jet pilot and the tower...

Pilot: "Can we push our slot back?  Our passengers haven't arrived yet."
Tower: "Sir, your slot time is in 5 minutes.  All today's slots are full.  If you miss your slot you will be leaving tomorrow."
Pilot: "I see our passengers coming out from the terminal now, we will make our slot."

One can imagine the VIP passengers being bundled quickly into their private jet and a very hasty start procedure so as not to miss their slot.

The northerly route was RUBIT G7 MTG A6 MTL R161 LEMIN.  This follows the coast further along to the west before turning north so that the climb required isn't so steep to get immediately over the alps.  It also has the benefit of giving a wonderful view of the coast for a while.

 The route from Cannes to Bourges

We had planned to refuel on the return trip in Bourges again, and having checked the times it would be staffed on the way down, we were expecting it not to be on our return.  En route we broke out the sandwiches.  Especially with the delays, and given that the other option was the McDonald's at Bourges, picking up some sandwiches in Menton before we started the trip proved to be a very good option.  We were given a comfortable,descent at about 500fpm into Bourges, and though this involved descending through a fairly thick layer of cloud it presented no problem.

Descending into cloud at Bourges

Once we were below the clouds and in VMC, there was no need to use up more time and fuel by following the full instrument approach so I requested a visual approach.  In this, the aircraft is still on the IFR flight plan, but the pilot effectively flies the visual circuit to land.  This probably saved us in the region of 10 minutes.

Of course, the winds had changed to present us with headwinds on the way home, and this, combined with the departure slot meant that by the time we landed Jerome was back in his tower and a different fireman was available to dispense fuel.  We brimmed the tanks, popped up to the tower to see our new friend and wait the short time until our departure.  Clear of the busy Cannes/Nice area, there was no slot and we would depart at our filed time of 3:30.

The route onwards and back to England was GILUX A3 DOMOD H20 LGL A34 MID, so with a backtrack and a right turnout we were on our way home.

The route from Bourges to Fairoaks

On the way, Mark remembered that Fairoaks closes at 6:00 and our ETA on the GNS430 was hovering around 5 past.  I knew we would make up some time in the descent but was at least a little concerned that we'd be diverting from Fairoaks to our nominated alternate, Biggin Hill.

Thanks to some great shortcuts and speedy descents given by London Control and Farnborough Radar, we made it into Fairoaks 10 minutes before they closed.  I reassured the tower there that we would only be staying 5 minutes to drop a passenger off and be on our way.  As soon as we had shut down, Mark jumped out, my dad jumped into the front seat and we were off again to Gloucester.  I thanked the Fairoaks staff for waiting around the extra couple of minutes to get us away; it's the little things that make airfields places you'd be happy to return to.

As on the way down, this is a simple flight which once we were on the way I let my dad fly.  He started training for a PPL a few years ago but ended up stopping after first solo; he therefore is more than competent to fly the en route portions of the flight, even if I wouldn't let him land the Commander.  As he's commented on before, the approach speed is 10kts faster than the cruise speed of the PA28s he was learning in and that takes a bit of getting used to.

Back in England, en route to Gloucester

Gloucester were using runway 04 so we joined on a right base.  I started the turn in to 36 before realising my mistake and continuing along the base leg to line up to land on the correct runway.  A turn off onto 09 and park at the pumps to fill up again took no time at all.  We unloaded my dad's bags and went into the terminal building to pay.  Unfortunately, even though I had a receipt in my hand written by the fuellers, we still had to wait for them to put the fuel uplift into the computer system 200m away before the ladies on reception could bill me.  This they eventually did after a chase up phone call, and with the bill paid I made my way back out to the aircraft.  I called for taxy and was told to make my way along 3 taxiways to take off on 09; about a 10 minute trip at Gloucester.  With the windsock hanging limp I requested runway 27 instead and with the proviso that I could go quickly - there was an aircraft on downwind - I was allowed this choice.  Just goes to show that ATC will do their best for you, but if you want something else, just ask!

And so it was that I set off on the final leg of the trip, back to Liverpool.  After flying over my parents' home and a waggle of the wings to my mum on the way overhead the flight back to Liverpool is as simple as could be.  15 hours of flying behind me, I was touching down on runway 27 back at base at 7:45pm.  The gate at our end of the airport is closed when the last employee leaves at 8:00 so I hurried to tidy everything up and make my way out, only realising afterwards that of course the employees that were still there, not least to put the Commander away, would be leaving after me so the gate wouldn't be locked.

For the fourth year running this has been an excellent trip, with fun flying, the glamour of Monaco, excitement of the race and the sense of achievement at getting there under our own steam.  Roll on Monaco 2011!

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