Arrival in France and pre-HOP! Tour

9 Aug 2014

It felt like this day would never come. I had been packed and ready for France since the day AOPA told me I won this opportunity to participate in the HOP! Tour des Jeunes Pilotes (HTJP). On the flight from Denver to Detroit, I sat next to a gal who went to the same high school as me (small world). The 8 hour flight from Detroit to Paris CDG was relatively painless. The food was decent and I watched a couple movies, but didn't sleep. Delta has, hands-down, the best cookies of any airline. Thanks to a significant tailwind, the flight arrived a bit ahead of schedule. I was nervous at first that the AOPA France representative, Alain Curoy, wouldn't be able to find me, but I must have stuck out in the crowd because he walked right up and off we went.
Chateau de Versailles
Parisian traffic can be absolutely horrid at times and that morning was a prime example. Alain was very nice and welcoming, and he put up with all my questions which made for a pleasant ride. 
We visited the gardens of the Château de Versailles-- absolutely gorgeous, and a historical site that I've always wanted to visit. It was definitely worth the stop to soak up some French history before taking to the skies. The palace's most notable tenant was King Louis XIV, le Roi Soleil, who used it to centralize his political power and establish his absolute monarchy. He spared no expense, as you can see from the photo above. Perhaps the most surprising part of the château was the elaborate hydraulic system that runs all the fountains, which is still running on technology that dates back to the 1680's.

That night I met the treasurer for the HOP! Tour, Jean-Luc Charron. Very nice (and funny) individual. Up to this point I had not really been informed about my role and what was expected of me during the Tour. Jean-Luc told me that, as an invitée, I was, first and foremost, there to experience the French aviation culture and to serve as an ambassador for General Aviation. In fact, over the years the Tour has changed from a cutthroat competition to more of an ambassador mission. The primary goal is to excite the public about flying. Each participant would be graded and ranked in terms of precision flying, flight planning, behavior, and a European aviation theory exam (yikes!), but the contest is second to the air shows and public cockpit demonstrations.

Downtown Paris
Around 2100h, with only 2 hours of rest in the last 36 hours or so, Alain drove me to centre-ville (downtown Paris) so as to meet up with a very dear pilot friend of mine named Sanaa. Since I knew I wasn't going to be in Paris very long, I had to take the opportunity while I could. The nightlife there really is something else. You can feel the excitement in the air!

The following day, I flew out of Toussus-Le-Noble (LFPN) in a Cherokee 180 to Dijon, France to pick up my airplane and meet the flight instructor who was to fly with me throughout the Tour. NO, unfortunately I did not buy any mustard! We stayed at the airport and didn't go into no luck.

Not my plane! Just smiling for the camera...
The airport of Darois (LFGI) in Dijon, France is the home of the Robin Aircraft Manufacturing company. This company donated a brand-new DR 401 for me to fly throughout the HOP! Tour. Their goal was to have me showcase the plane to aéro-clubs and prospective buyers-- and it worked. I had a couple guys approach me and say they were interested in purchasing one....for around 250,000 euros (334,000 US dollars). Aviation is definitely not cheaper in Europe.
My plane and instructor-- HOP Tour #01
My instructor, Fernando, is from Tours, France, and he owns a driving school. Flying is what he does for fun. In fact, the majority of flight instructors in France are bénévoles, meaning they instruct free of charge. When I said that instructors are typically paid here in the US, all the French thought that was strange. Another reason may be that flight schools aren't as common as aéro-clubs, and most of the french private pilots (PPL) rent to fly. It's rare for them to own their own planes.

The 3 hour flight from Darois (LFGI) to Francazal (LFBF) crossed the Massif Central, a mountainous region in south-central France. Quite pretty!

We arrived at Francazal just as the tower was closing for the day. Just in the nick of time.

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