July 19-21: Toulouse (Francazal LFBF)

10 Aug 2014

Saturday was the official start day of the Tour. All the 44 participants arrived over the course of the day. I was really excited to meet the other pilots. Being American, it's always a little strange at first to "faire la bise" (kiss each other on the cheek) to a complete stranger. But culture is culture...and we all were going to get to know each other very well over the next 15 days anyways.

Major sponsors of the HTJP
Before I left the US, I started talking to several of the pilots on Facebook. I learned a lot about how the Tour is set up, and what is required of them to participate. The French pilots, unfortunately, do not get a free ride like me; they had to find sponsors willing to help fund the cost of the HTJP and plane rental. So, in order to thank their sponsors and advertise their aéro-clubs, they made stickers and placed them on the plane's cowling and fuselage. I thought it was a bit strange at first, but apparently the stickers DO come off...
Another difference between my participation and that of the French pilots was that I was there primarily to be an ambassador for the United States and aviation in general. The HOP! Tour is a competition-- but it's also a series of fly-ins created to spread enthusiasm for flying and airplanes. The hardest part of the whole experience was not the flying (that's easy!) but the radio communications terminology (in French) and the European aviation theory exam (similar to the US, but different measurements and in French..). More on this later.

Later that day we hopped on a bus which drove us to the Airbus factory in the industrial part of Toulouse. I didn't tell anyone that I worked for Boeing, but they didn't share any top-secret information with us anyway. However, they had a very strict no-pictures policy. We saw a couple of half-finished A380's sitting around, but since it was the weekend, not too much action was going on. Still, a pretty cool tour!

On the return trip to the Francazal airport, I got my first taste of French 'bus' culture. In the US, we are taught from the first day of kindergarten to behave on the bus-- no yelling, no standing up, no messing with the bus driver, etc. Well, in France it's the complete opposite. They scream, tease the driver, chant songs, and do all sorts of shenanigans. Since round-abouts (le rond-point) outnumber traffic lights, each time we approached one, every kid on the bus started to scream "ALLEZ....! ALLEZ....!" (Go, go!) as loud as possible to encourage the driver to go around in circles. It was absolutely the funniest thing ever-- and it never got old!

The next day we had our first airshow of the tour- or, as the French called it, le meeting. I wasn't sure if there was going to be a large crowd or not. The set-up and organization was interesting: apparently the French locals don't know how to act around planes because we had to connect up metal barriers to contain the public. For the cockpit demos, we would come over and get a family and take them over to our airplane. The kids had a great time climbing into the cockpit and moving the controls. There were a few kids that were afraid to get in because they thought it was actually going to take off! ha..nope, just static display. Throughout the tour, it would occasionally strike me how extremely fortunate I was--- being outside, talking with people about aviation, in FRENCH...there's absolutely nothing I've ever done in my life that can top this experience.

Throughout the tour there were 2 'big' planes that would accompany all our little planes: a DC-3 and a An-2 Colt. They were also being used in the cockpit demos, and later on in the tour we would get to fly on them too.

HOP! is a regional air carrier in France and the major sponsor of the event--that's why it's called the HOP! Tour of Young Pilots. Their fleet consists of ATRs, CRJs, and ERJs. Interestingly enough, the company is the product of a merger that took place last March 2013 between three Air France regional subsidiaries. One of the fleet's ATRs came down to Toulouse for the fly-in:
ATR 72-500
Future career pilots: Elisa Dubois (L) and Yours Truly (R)
In the afternoon, I went flying with Fernando (instructor) and we did a few stalls and simulated engine failures. And...I got to take pictures of French castles (chateaux) from the air:

At the end of the day we had a cocktail social with all the VIPs. Boy, do the French sure love their speeches. Also, the food was fancy, but cold...these were to be two recurring trends we would see throughout the HTJP.

Next airport: Mont-de-Marsan

No comments:

Post a Comment