Back in the USA already-- wow, how time flies! After spending 3 phenomenal weeks in France, I must admit that this trip has touched me profoundly in several distinct ways. First, it was by far the best flying I have ever done (and, in the newest plane I've ever flown...right off the factory line!) The French countryside, the grass strips, the Atlantic Ocean, the beaches of Normandy, the flight over Paris, the WWI battlefields and cemeteries and monuments... these memories make up only a fraction of the unforgettable experiences that I'm about to share with you. Secondly, the complete and absolute immersion into the French culture did wonders for my grasp of the French language. In fact, one of the directors approached me near the end of the Tour and said (in French), "Kayla, I think you lied to us. We thought AOPA was going to send over an American girl, but really they sent a French girl who lives in America!" I took that as an incredible compliment.
Before I go on, I must first thank AOPA for selecting me as the American invitée for the HOP! Tour des Jeunes Pilotes. This is the second year that they have chosen to sponsor a pilot for this race, although the Tour has been around in France since 1953! France is the second largest country for general aviation after the United States. Although the French approach to aviation training and GA flying varies a bit, the one area where we are lacking, in my opinion, is that of cultural exchange. I spoke with Alain Curoy from AOPA France about perhaps starting an exchange program for pilots, so that's one of the projects I'm planning to look into now that I'm back in the States.
The HOP! Tour des Jeunes Pilotes consisted of 44 young pilots (42 from France, 2 international guests), 17 directors, and a set-up/multimedia crew of 15. The young pilots all wore blue flight suits and were referred to as "les bleus," while the directors wore yellow "les jaunes" and the set-up crew wore brown "les marrons." At first I wasn't so sure about wearing a flight suit because it seemed a little silly; however, they became more comfortable as time went on. We stopped at 8 airports throughout France (14 for me) to promote aviation and hone our piloting skills (including pilotage, dead reckoning, flight planning, precision flying, etc.). We were accompanied by an Antonov An-2 Colt and a DC-3 throughout the entire trip. Each participant ended up with around 20-25 hours, depending on the plane.
Here is the schedule of events for the Tour which is also, coincidentally, the order of the subsequent posts.
July 19-21: Start of the Tour, Toulouse (Francazal airport LFBF)
July 21-22: Military Base, Armée de l'air, or French Air Force (Mont-de-Marsan LFBM)
July 22-24: Niort (LFBN)
July 24-26: Miliary Base (Landivisiau LFRJ)
July 26-28: Granville (LFRF)
July 28-30: Dieppe (LFAB)
July 30- Aug 1: Epernay (LFSW)
Aug 1-3: Paris Le Bourget (LFPB)
At each of these locations, the multimedia crew created a 5 min montage of what we did and experienced. You can view all these short videos on the home page of the HOP! Tour website at:
http://www.ffa-aero.fr/SITEFFAPROD_WEB/FR/frm_TAJP_Presentation.awp. It's worth a look!