July 22-24: Niort (LFBN)

12 August 2014

Flight Planning
Antoine about to be eaten by the dragon
This next airport was one of my favorites. We headed north to the airport of Niort (for pronunciation purposes, you say all but the "t"). The town is fairly large, but the airport is very much in the French countryside.

The majority of the HOP! Tour was spent at the airport, but every so often we went on a mini-excursion. The day we arrived at Niort, we loaded onto a bus and drove downtown for a guided sightseeing tour. The town dates back to before the Middle Ages (every place in Europe has such a rich history) and so naturally it's connected with a medieval legend. Apparently, a long time ago a winged serpent lived nearby in an underground cavern and would constantly terrorize the townspeople of Niort. For years, soldiers and knights would come armed to kill the serpent and save the town, but the monster was tricky and could not be defeated. One day, a soldier, condemned to death because he had deserted the army, pleaded for a chance to redeem himself and offered to kill the serpent. Amazingly, he succeeded in killing the monster by plunging his knife in its neck. As the monster coughed up blood, the soldier saw that he was nearly dead and removed his helmet. With his dying strength, the serpent lunged and bit the soldier, and they both perished at the same time. Because of this, the city erected four giant winged serpent statues to recall the rich legends of the medieval times.
Navigating around Bordeaux
The city of Niort is surrounded by marshland and has canals running through the city. To our delight, after the tour we went canoeing. Now, what I didn't realize was that we were all going to end up in a major splashing war, get completely drenched, and discover that our flight suits become slightly transparent when wet. Thank goodness they also dried quickly.

That night we stayed at a boarding school that was empty due to summer vacation. Someone also forgot to turn the hot water on, so the first night we had frigid cold water in the showers.

Cartouche Doré
The next day was fly-in day. It was very much the same routine as what we experienced in Francazal. We (the pilots) would approach a family and escort them to an airplane. They could then climb up inside the plane, take pictures, and ask questions. Around mid-day we saw an aerobatics demonstration from the Cartouche Doré, the French Air Force's aerobatic team, which consisted of three Socata TB-30s. Also, I got a ride in the Antonov Colt!

The An-2 was really impressive. Just its sheer size and durability was something to marvel about. The pilot's name was Phil, and he actually grew up in Arizona. After studying in England and becoming a doctor, he settled down in France and somehow got this amazing gig.

At some point during the second day, everyone flew a series of private pilot maneuvers with an instructor as a sort of evaluation flight. The maneuvers consisted of slow flight, 45 degree steep turns, and a power-off approach to land. I actually enjoyed the little test. I was starting to become more and more familiar with my aircraft.
Kevin Renaudier's family

Around 1900h, we had our briefing for the next day's flight and ate the pig that had been outside roasting all day. Finally, some food I could appreciate. We returned to our temporary housing around 2200h. We were able to do the preliminary flight planning and then hope for 5-6 hours of sleep before getting up the next morning ready for the next destination.


 Next airport: Landivisiau

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