Friday, 24th October 2003
This trip started life as a thought 6 months ago. Two Pegasus Quik's flying from the UK to Morocco, through France, Spain, and finally Morocco, before hopping across the 100 miles or so of sea to Lanzarote.
It's been dizzying preparing for it, and I've nearly finished assembling the additions to the trike. Tonight is the night the final screw turns in the newly mounted transponder mounting in Paul R's garage, the scene of rebuild!
At around £1300 for "Mode-C" transponder (displays my height on ATC radar, as well as position), it was a pricey investment... but one that will allow us to fly around the Mediterranean coast and Barcelona's airspace, fingers crossed.
I've removed the brake springs and they work better now.
For our transit into Morocco, we are using a specialist flight clearance company. The disputed territory in the South West of Morocco between them and Mauritania is officially no longer a warzone, but we don't really want to be landing there if we can help it. Talk with the clearance company of rebels in mountain ranges (The Atlas in particular) focused by attention; one of their clients had been used for target practice for an RPG (Rocket propelled grenade) in a similar country! ....
Sunday, 26th October 2003
"G-AZ, Squawk Ident". I am happy to say after two attempts with Brize Norton RAF, I am now tested and squawking on Radar, with a fantastic signal return from 40 miles away. Hopefully in Morocco we won't need to "Squawk" with the Transponder, as we'll be out of range most of the time...
Yesterday was a full gear test, and I turned all the bells and switches on to check battery drain.
I now have:
Heated Bar Grips (2A)
Heated Waistcoat (4A)
I've been having some strange dreams lately about flying over the sea, with the capped waves rushing up to meet me. I don't suppose I should really worry too much - the longest stretch will be 100 miles or so, from Morocco to Lanzarote....
Sunday, 09th November 2003
Hi All! Stuck here down in Tardienta, Northernish Spain. Keyboard is a bit backwards though. What a trip so far!
So far routed UK to Abbeville. Abbeville to La Fleche, then La Fleche to Montpezat where we met Sahara, Mike, from the forum which was great! Finally, from there we routed to Olorons, and then over the Spanish border, where the weather closed in and trapped us so far for 2 days.
Andy had a puncture at Headcorn on the first day. We limped across the channel at 700ft in places, with radio comms particularly bad and being unable to speak to Le Toquet even once over the French coast, until we were on top of them!
Routing down from there, we crossed more trees in France than I have ever seen before in my life. Even more than Florida.
Upon arriving at Niorts on the way down the central part of rural France, my engine spluttered upon startup.... Fuel was leaking out and the carburettor was dangling off.. the spring and clip had fallen off! We put it back on thinking nothing more... until arriving at Montpezat and the local engineer pointed out it had happened again.
This time the rubber had completely SPLIT underneath! Luckily for me, they had 2 onsite and he kindly changed them for me. After that, we did a pitstop the next day at Olorons before hopping here into Spain. Not the best place to be testing out the seal on the rubber.
Now I am feeling a bit concerned, but comfortable that it´s all holding together still. Guys and girls - check your carb rubbers! It could have been fatal for me.
Shored up here in Tardienta couldn´t be better though. Nice B and B, the airfield Manager seems to run almost a theme park. He´s got 5 Camels he brought back from Morocco, Quad Bikes, a Moroccan style palace to entertain groups, and lots of energy. He also flies Microlights as well!
Yesterday we went for a local flight and took a couple of people up around the area which is covered in gigantic windfarms. Last night, it thundered and lightened all night. Tomorrow, weather permitting, we are heading SouthEast to El Grado on the coast to refuel and continue south...
Saturday, 15th November 2003
We finally escaped the low cloud to make a break for the Spanish coast on the 11th November! And what a last few days it has been! I so far have about 150 pictures, 3 tapes of video footage, with a good selection of brilliant shots, along with most airfield landings and takeoffs. Morocco posed a particular problem, especially with a recent terrotorial claim by Algeria over their land, or so we decipered in the local newspapers....
I think they are jitterey, and haven´t replied with a permissions number yet... but onto the story so far...
Routing from Tardienta to El Grad (Castillon de la Plana) on the coast, we had just enough time to pump in some AVGAS fuel, before heading off to Muchiamiel and landing at just past 1800.. sunset. On the way, we opted to cut the corner and scud run through the mountains in between the various holes in the cloud, which were quite large. That wasn´t before we had flown past the almost British
resort of Benidorm and admired the numerous timeshare apàrtment blocks!
Muchiamiel is a large base for big helicopters, but most people had disappeared home for the evening when we arrived just before dark. We bedded down on the floor outside near the machines. I opted to pitch my tent, but slept badly as I listened to the wing groaning and creaking on the rear seatbelt outside in the 15mph wind. I managed to scam some water from the helicopter hangar canteen (closed), and microwave it to warm it up enough to fill my flask before rehydrating a ´survival´ meal of rice and spicy vegetables. Yum!
Saturday, 15th November 2003
MUCHIAMIEL - VERA - LA AXARQUIA (MALAGA) - MALAGA
The next morning, we set off once again around 1100 due to misty conditions. Our goal was La Axarquia, in the Malaga International Control Zone. On the way, we had two airfields as bailout options to get fuel, both close to each other.
My personal opinion is that flying in Spain is exhilerating, but also stressful due to the great distances between airfields/airstrips. One you takeoff, you go for it... and there´s not that many places to land in-between!
We found ourselves 0.37m overhead Garruca but could not spot it. Could it be the clay-coloured field below, with a building scaffold in the corner ? Possibly, but it didn´t look particular facility laden. We needed fuel, and flew on another 4 miles to Vera, hoping for more.
And what a surprise! An Ashphalt runway, about 250-300M long, and a caravan park on-site! Gunter and his wife came out and couldn´t have been friendlier! They fuelled us up and then an English couple living in a gigantic American camper van arrived to say hello. Within 10 minutes, we were being fed sandwiches, Sky News for the weather, and sitting in a luxurious seat.
The pitstop proved to be very refreshing and gave us the energy to push on to La Axarqia, before our planned crossing to Morocco from where we would file a flight plan....
Unfortunately La Axarquia was not a customs airfield, and we would need to apply from Malaga international, about 20 minutes further around the coast!
But did we have the bottle to fly in the circuit with 747 and 737 aircraft ?We had TMA map, VRP´s, and runway details. It was the only option if we were to file a flight plan to Morocco, so we went for it!
Before setting off, I traced the problem with my transponder not powering up the last two days to be a bad connection behind the switch. Once I had fixed it, we opted to take off 15 minutes apart, squawking seperately, and tackling the Malaga International Approach pattern.
The owner of La Axarquia had phoned for permission, and explained the situation, and they gave us the okay......
As I climbed out of the airfield enroute to the daunting international circuit, I wondered what to expect. I had the layout in front of me, and it was CAVOK visibility. Have confidence, I thought.
As I arrived abeam the first reporting point, I was instructed to turn downwind for runway 14 lefthand, and could see a steady stream of jets taking off and landing as I turned inland. Unfortunately, downwind at 1000ft took me very close to apartment blocks and buildings, and there were very few places to land.
Already downwind and squawking 3020, I thought- ´Its a straight home-run now - nearly there!´. How wrong I was. I was instructed to execute a righthand 360 degree orbit on the downwind leg which I did. Still no more instructions, so I did another.. and then again.... and then 4 more times. I could see a 737 cleared for takeoff as the reason, but by this time I was becoming a bit dizzy. I said ´Still right orbiting on the downwind leg´, and was then cleared for base and then final approach on runway 14. I think they must have forgotten about me.
As I came into land, the runway lights dazzled and I thought - ´So where on this 3.5KM runway shall I land??´ I opted to put her down just over the numbers, eagerly scanning the runway layout on my lapboard for the next available taxiway exit to clear the runway. ´Vacating active, would you like me to taxi abeam C4?´
Taxiing took me right to the other end of the airport near the GA Aviation hangar, and took nearly 10 minutes!
Once there, we met the handling agent, Jose (prounounced ´Hose´) who was fantastic. From there on, he helped us hangar up (although we had to taxi the whole length at the OTHER end again) whilst we tried to sort out Moroccan permissions. Knackered, we checked into a Torremelinos hotel for the night.
13/11/03 MALAGA INT. - VERA via ALMERIA
It became pretty clear that we were running out of time and the permissions were not going to come through that day. The hangerage was 80 Euros for the both Microlights. We filed a flight plan in any case, and they didn´t come back with any objections. Until we were nearly packed, and a fax came back that we needed to get a permit number. Our permissions agent had sent the request about 2 weeks previously, but they the Moroccans had not responded, even after he had sent a second request.
We discussed the pros and cons of staying or working back up the coast. The agent said if we did go, we might get into big trouble at the other end. They are especially jittery about both helicopters and Microlights in most of North African as they can land almost anywhere.
We decided to head back up to Vera.
Back into the circuit pattern once more we taxxied out to C4, the GA takeoff point. A British 737 taxied behind and asked to speak to us. ´Will it cause you chaps a problem if we taxi past you at low power?´ The lady controller took control, and asked us to move forward slightly, but hold short of the active.
´Thanks chaps´. Now that was something I won´t forget in a hurry!
Cleared to line up and taxi out, we I lined up behind Andy and took off. As I was halfway down the runway, airbourne and climbing at about 1000ft, the 737 pilot was cleared for takeoff. ´G-AZ left turn´. The camera footage shows me banking steeply to the left, the controller confirming left-turn ok!
After this massive brain dump, we are now at El Grad, near Castillon de la Plana.
Monday, 17th November 2003
What do you do when you´re stuck in Castellano de la Plana near Valencia, and it´s thrashing down with rain ? You update your triplog from an internet cafe!
I spent the day at the airfield yesterday, and the predicted Cumulonimbus developed as forecast. Andy set off in the morning, but I opted to wait until the weather improved as all the pilots here told me not to fly. The words of the guys in the office here were that he ´only just landed´ at the other end. Not quite sure what that meant, but for me it is looking brighter and more settled tomorrow with high pressure moving in.
Yesterday afternoon, I was amazed as skydivers at the airfield were leaping out in 20knot winds. One of the tandem jumps ended up completely missing the airfield and landed in someones garden. He had absolutely NO forward speed, despite just sitting there aiming forward; he landed like a harrier aircraft.
If the weather holds out as planned tomorrow, I am aiming to skirt around the Barcelona TMA (through the VFR corridor) and then Gerona, following the coast to the Spanish/French border...
Tuesday, 18th November 2003
The fact I am typing this update is testament to my lucky angel up there somewhere looking over me!
Today has got to have been the highest workload flying I have ever done in one leg. I set off from Castellano de la plana at 0900Z having been faxed the met from Valencia. The chap in the airfield, Pepe, is about 65 and smokes heavily, and has been absolutely fantasic.
I spent most of last night gnawing my fingers, and didn´t sleep particularly well in anticipation of the day ahead. I woke at 6am to light winds, crossing my fingers that they stayed that way - and North Easterly too. Anything other would be dangerous, as I would be eaten for dinner by mountain rotor.
I gulped when Pepe handed me the Met.
Calm in Gerona, 5knts in Barcelona... but 16knots, gusting 28knots in Sabadell. How could it be so different around the corner? I suspected what the local glider pilot had told me; the valleys converging into one.
Uh-oh! I HAD to take that route. I didn´t think Barcelona would allow me a VFR transit along the coast, especially when it says specifically "VFR FLIGHTS PROHIBITED". I hedged my bets and hoped that the wind would drop by the time I got there. I also identifed some Microlight landing strips enroute, just in case...
As I flew along the coast abeam Vendrell, I flew over the sea, 3 miles out, to go around the Nuclear power station. I spoke to Reus on the radio enroute, who basically wanted to be sure I was routing through the VFR corridor, and would be at 2000ft AGL or below by the time I reached reporting point "Echo", upon reaching the VFR corridor. "Affirm!"
They then passed me over to Barcelona control who I could never contact, presumably due to the hills?
Cont from 18th November... scroll down...
The further on I went, the more nervous I got. I watched the rising smoke on the valley floor, making sure nothing nasty was going on down below. I rode thermals being pumped up from the numerous trees, and once I approached the Sabadell corridor, I was already exhausted after 3h flying.
It may as well have been an IFR flight, as I was busy flying, navigating with GPS and chart, and also using the other doublesided zone charts for Barcleona and Gerona. The hariest bit was yet to come...
I tracked north of the city of Sabadell, to ensure I stayed well away from both built up areas and the local airport. Several helicopters crossed my path, along with departing aircraft.
Finally turning the corner to the coast and free of the Barcelona TMA, I edged from 1300ft up to 2500ft, along the coast. I had been airbourne 3h 30 mins. Did I really want to push it too much and run out of fuel ? The gauge danced in front of my eyes. Even though I was fairly confident I had about 1 hour of fuel left, I wasn´t going to take any chances!
I was speaking to Gerona at this point and declared "G-AZ will be landing in the helicopter field, west of the cape. Will call once on the ground".
A surprised silence... and then ... "G-AZ, call me again once airbourne". I don´t think I have ever executed such a relaxed tone of voice before, whilst actually feeling absolutely focused and on the edge!
The helicopter field was surrounded by trees sloping down from the coast on one side, and the other had power cables to the side with a large rising hill. Not the best place, but I thought I´d have a go. It was about 300M long.
The first attempt was abortive, as I noted the wind and I was downwind. I turned around, and tried the other way. I had to follow the sloping contour of the trees all the way to the ground, finally pulling the bar in and out very quickly to get her on the ground. I remember thinking... "Let´s get on the ground, and back in the air again asap, before I lose the bottle!"
I couldn´t have taxied any further back to the beginning of the field if I had tried. I revved to full power and released the brake, zooming towards the trees at the other end. Within 3/4 of the field I was airbourne, and lowered the nose to gain airspeed.
Soon after, I turned right to fly away from the hill, contacting Gerona again shortly afterwards. With 25 minutes to run to Ortis, I had been flying for 3h 30 minutes, and I extended my flightplan from the air.
As I approached the overhead, I could see it was just under 90 degrees crosswind, and the windsock was sticking out horizontally. It must have been 20 knots plus.
I hit some sink on the final approach, but kept the speed up, wresting the bird to the ground and executing a smooth landing that I couldn´t believe!
I don´t really drink, but I think I´ll definitely be needing one tonight!
I´m off to plan the next leg now, and my escape over the Pyrenees tomorrow. Maybe. They said it would be okay to fly tomorrow here with less wind... but then again there was good weather forecast at Castellon de la plana, and that changed, keeping me stuck there for 4 days..... ;-)
Sunday, 23rd November 2003
Crossing the Pyrenees....
It's easy to think "I'll nip around the lower part of the mountains, it'll be a snap". Once you convert the map countours to actual mountains, it's a very different story!
I had been fed, watered and looked after at Ordis, on the French\Spanish border. The wind has dropped to virtually nil by the time I took off, and the sea-breeze effect was setting in at about 11:30.
Following the autoroute between the two countries, trees stretched out relentlessly below me, leaving little chance for anything other than a controlled crash if I had an engine failure.
As I crossed through the pass, the peaks, even though they were 'small' ones, loomed above me. I was aware of Perpignon's airspace ahead and steered well clear. I edged around the valleys, following the Class D line.
I expected much worse thermals than I expected, and was pleasantly surprised when the ground flattened out and the mountain range was behind me. Looking behind, I could clearly see 5 different inversion layers stacked up at different levels!
I descended into Montpezat, meeting up with Mike (Sahara from forum), and we celebrated with a few drinks!
I was in no rush, and we spent the next day doing some air-to-air filming, worthy of a few more web-clips... keep your eye on the movies section. ;-)
Sunday, 23rd November 2003
Niort was my next hop, 120 miles to the North. Having visited there on the way down, I knew I would be well received and hangerage would be available...
Off to the "Meto" office I went, with state-of the art weather forecasting screens, satellite pictures, and TAF's. "I'm routing to Niort?"
No problem! Off come all the large airfields en-route, with current weather, forecast weather, and satellite pictures! The French really know how to do the Met... and it's all part of the service! There is no "Give me your credit card details, and we'll sort you out"!
With this in mind, I set off Northbound, en-route to Niort. I was aware the chart was showing a warm front to the North. On take-off from Montpezat, I noted and was advised by Mike about the low-level jet corridor on the other side of the valley. I heard one zoom past minutes before I started up.... So they did use them actively(!)
I turned north, and my ground speed shot up to 102MPH. Not bad, and bang from behind - a great tailwind! I climbed up to 3000ft to be clear of the corridor, and I was still doing an impressive 90MPH.
1h 30 minutes later, I was 4 miles away from Niort airfield with a lowering cloudbase down to 1000ft, and skirting underneath it. I must have caught the back of the warm front up, and there was a definite line of mush ahead!
I pressed on, having been there before, and knew that joining on base for runway 25 would not be a problem; the headlight must have been dazzling as I came in to land. ;-)
I was very relieved to be on the ground.... could I make it to Fleurs in the North if I waited around for the junk weather to clear in an hour ?
I decided to try. A trip to the Meto predicted broken cloud at 700ft at Gaudain, to the North-East. I decided to try, having just fuelled up.
Climbing Northwards again, I latched onto the tailwind again. 12 miles later, I caught the low cloud up again, and I took the executive decision to turn back to Niort and spend the night there. My ground speed was slow going back into the wind, at 80MPH airspeed and 55MPH groundspeed.
They found me hangerage, called a taxi, and I holed up for the night in Niort town centre.....
Morning broke on Saturday and the cloud was high, but the winds blowing. The weather forecast for Abbeville was 15Knots, gusting 30knots... but it was 180 degrees... bang on behind me - a tailwind!
I strode around for a while mulling over the option of the wind switching around and becoming a headwind if I waited at Niort.
Could I fly in that sort of wind ? I had done it once before. I decided I could make Abbeville in one hop, and that as it was a large airfield without too many buildings to cause wind gradient, I'd go for it!
Lining up on runway 07 "Herbe" (Grass) at Niort, I could feel the trike wanting to slew sideways before it was even off the ground. The moment it started flying, it weathercocked around into wind and I gently turned left gently onto track. It was very turbulent until I climbed above 2500ft, at which point it all smoothed out perfectly.
The maximum speed on the 3 hour trip (300 miles) was 122MPH, with an average of 100MPH! Not bad, especially when I trimmed back to 70MPH for some of the faster legs. I even managed (had to) get the map out and refold it so that I could see Abbeville from Fleurs, which was my en-route bail out option if I decided to land.
With fuel to burn at the other end, I set up in the descent, expecting a rough ride onto the runway at Abbeville. The town was to the SE, and I could smell the factory fumes as I punched through the wind gradient to land, coming in at 80MPH, trimmer off. The windsock danced, and I was totally focused on the landing.
For the first time in a while, I did a 3-point landing and was relieved to be down! It all happened very fast - I decided against a graceful flare; let's just get her on the ground!
Pulling up at the fuel pumps, who did I meet ? Andy, who had landed only 30 minutes before me and had been clagged in in fog and low cloud at Blois for a few days!
Tuesday, 25th November 2003
I just typed 2 pages updates, but the computer crashed! argh...
I finally made it back yesterday, having spent 2 nights at Stoke in the Medway sitting out torrential rain.
When I had landed there, the rain had closed behind me like a pair of curtains.
I had only flown outside of the UK for the very first time in my Microlight 4 months previously! Now I had done both France and Spain, AND landed at Malaga International airport with special permission, courtesy of the Spanish.
That has got to have been the highlight of the trip for me; a 3.5km runway just for me for those few moments, all lit up. That, and the 10 minute taxi afterwards. ;-)