July 24-26: Landivisiau (LFRJ)

13 August 2014

Approaching the Atlantic Ocean
The flight from Niort to Landivisiau was especially exciting because it was my first time to fly over a body of water larger than a reservoir. We had life jackets of course (les gilets de sauvetage). The view was incredible; unfortunately, my photos don't do it justice. We stayed relatively close to the coast as we crossed over to the cultural region of Brittany (Bretagne).

Since the route was fairly long, it was determined that several planes would stop halfway for fuel. Also, since the military base we were flying to did not have Jet A, the two diesel planes had to divert as well. We ended up stopping in Vannes. I was especially pleased to stop because I have a good friend who grew up there. The north of France is extremely green because it receives a lot of precipitation. We expected the weather to be somewhat formidable, but it ended up being rather nice.

Left crosswind Rwy 22 at Vannes

As we ate lunch at Vannes, we watched skydivers parachute out of a PC-6 Turbo-Porter. The real show wasn't the skydivers but the jump plane. It would just fall out of the sky effortlessly after dropping the load of jumpers, and its short field landings were remarkable. After 5 drops, the plane came over to the Jet A pump to faire le plein and I was able to jump up in the left seat. It looked really, really fun to fly.
At the Vannes aéro-club there was a sign advertising cours de pilotage (pilot training), vol d'initiation (initiation flight), and bapteme de l'air (air baptism). I had no idea what the difference was between an initiation flight and an air baptism, but the other pilots did. They told me that the initiation flight was your first flight if you were interested in taking flight lessons for a PPL (private pilot's license). I suppose we would call that a "discovery flight" here in the US. An air baptism is for individuals who have never, ever flown before--not even commercially. Leave it to the French to come up with a cute term for something like that.

We were ready to leave Vannes for Landivisiau shortly after lunch, but faced an issue. We were the first airplanes to depart that morning because we had to divert for fuel, but the long caravan of planes was still moving along the predetermined route and we didn't want to merge into the traffic for safety reasons. So, the four of us ended up flying 5 miles to the north of the route, paralleling it, to the naval base. Now, throughout the Tour, each plane was equipped with a GPS tracker that was used to grade your ability to maintain course and altitude (and groundspeed, to an extent). Since we were specifically told to fly off-course, supposedly we weren't penalized for those legs. However, I never saw my corrected points sheet, so I'm not so sure...at any rate, you can't sweat the small stuff. There was so much more to the HTJP than using GPS to fly in a straight line.

Le Rafale
Landing at Landi was a non-event. It did shock me how green the landscape was. Also, I thought it was funny as I turned off Rwy 08 that there was a tractor bailing hay between the runway and main taxiway. On a military base, ha!

The French Navy was way more excited to accommodate us than the French Air Force. They had set up some interesting tours of the facilities, and we saw Rafales, Super Etendard Modernisés (SEM), and Falcon 10s. We learned that they are in the midst of a 2 year process to phase out the SEM. They put on a 20 minute air show just for us. One of the Rafale pilots gave us an excellent tour of his plane, and allowed us to sit in the cockpit and ask questions. I asked if we could take it for a spin. He said "no" to my sitting on his lap.

In the evening, we had our customary cocktail soirée and met with journalists and military officials. The picture to the right shows one of the servers in the traditional Brittany attire: black dress, white apron, complete with the headdress. I really liked the food here; we ate savory crepes, chocolate mousse, and a dish that I thought was green beans, but ended up being sauteed seaweed (les algues de mer). I still ate it!

Les 5 filles

That night we stayed on base, so we got to sleep in an hour later than usual. The next morning we had the briefing for our rallye aérien. This activity proved to be the most challenging of all. The goal was to fly a course without GPS so as to precisely hit each waypoint within 5 seconds, while at the same time identifying the position of certain landmarks given to us through a series of photos. Like I said, piece of cake...

Even after the briefing, I was still mostly confused about how it was going to work. Fernando seemed like he knew exactly what to do, so I let him show me some techniques and figured I would learn on the go. However, halfway through the rallye the timing starts to mess with your head. You're processing so much at the same time, and you start to over-think things. For example, at one point I could have sworn we needed to speed up to get to the waypoint on time. Fernando, however, pulled back the power to slow down. I had the hardest time convincing him that we were farther behind on the course than we wanted to be...my French just wasn't doing it for me that day. We finally completed the rallye, mentally drained. Despite our poor performance from the timing standpoint, we found an incredible amount of landmarks, which helped our score considerably.

Another highlight of the flight that day was when I was on short final for 26. One of the jokesters of the group, Clément, loved my French accent on the radio, and he was always a couple planes behind me. After I repeated my landing clearance, he came on frequency- and without missing a beat- said "Sooo Hot!" I burst out laughing, and my instructor had no idea why...

That evening, we went to a training company called iCARE and we played around in the CRJ 200/700 simulator. The next morning was incredibly foggy. However, as soon as the sun started to rise, the fog dissipated and we were ready to head off to our next adventure.

Next airport: Granville
At Vannes airport

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