Our European trip this year starts hopefully, weather permitting on Sunday 17th May. I’ll be making regular reports on progress as we go so watch this space. We have four aircraft making the trip. Myself Martin Mosley and David Madison in Sportcruiser G-XERO. Jason Williams and Allan Lindsay in Sportcruiser G-JAYZ. Garry Fearon and James Horn in Sportcruiser G-IBUZ and Ed McCallum and Robin Ducket in CT G-CEEO. First stop is planned to be Gap Tallard in Southern France
Arrived in Gap Tallard by 6:00pm. After two long legs. First stop off was Troyes where we took a break for some lunch. Uneventful flight which was good I suppose. Blue skies all the way. Took us 3 hrs. 25minutes to cover the 359 miles. Then on to Gap to meet up with Ed at Gap. He had left a day earlier after maintenance on his aircraft at Sywell. Blue skies still till we approached the mountains before Gap. Just a wall of cloud and Cumulo-Granite. We went a bit further down the Rhone valley as it appeared clearer so as to go around the taller peaks. Then holes started to appear in the cloud. We can get through that we thought so we climbed to 6000 and we were on top. Jason came on the radio with some phrases I can’t really write. He had climbed towards a hole in the cloud also but claimed the clouds suddenly moved and he spent what he thought was an eternity whited out. He got through okay but was wet through with sweat. Anyway when we approached Gap there was clear skies again so descended through the peaks and landed. Another 273 miles in 2hours 44minutes. All set now for Figari in Corsica tomorrow.
Flight plan submitted for a 12:00 take off today. Beautiful sunny day. Parachute plane was working hard. Stunning airfield but time to press on for Figari in Corsica. Flight to the coast wasn’t exactly straight forward with lots of diversions due to restricted airspace and Notams. Finally reached the coastline at Saint Tropez instead of Cannes, which added a few extra miles on for us but at last we were able to coast out and make the crossing. The horizon was very faint as is quite often the case over warmer waters. Thank goodness for an auto pilot. Makes life a lot easier. Following one of the VFR routes allocated for us and flying as instructed at flight level 55 we made the crossing and routed down the West coast of Corsica to arrive in Figari at 14:54. Quite a turbulent approach due to the mountains but we all managed to get our wheels down safely. Two days rest now to soak up some more sun and wine in Porto Vecchio a nice little town nearby.
We left Porto Vecchio Thursday morning for the short crossing to a small Microlight field near San Teodora, Sardinia. Flight took us just 40 minutes and Salvadori was on the airfield to greet us and help us park. San Teodora was just a small town but enough good restaurants to keep us nourished. flight plan was submitted for the next day to move on and land at Palermo Bocca Dafalco in Sicily. We arrived at the airfield to leave at 13:30 as after receiving permission to land at Palermo as they requested that we didn’t land before 16:00. Unfortunately, as we arrived at the airfield we realised that the 30knot wind was blowing 90 degrees across the runway and with high mountains around us high tension cables less than on mile away and aircraft loaded to the maximum with fuel and luggage for the 340 mile crossing we decided to stay put.
Friday was a better day. The wind was slightly less at about 25knots but this time down the runway. The weather in the Tyranian sea was not looking too good with lots of rain and poor visibility so we made a decision to fly further south and go direct to Malta, Luqa airport. The distance over the water was further as we had to route to the south of Sardinia and avoid military airspace. It was a 420 mile crossing but with good tailwinds took us just three hours fourty five minutes. Arriving at Luqa we were advised that the wind was gusting to 36knots but was nearly straight down the runway. Was quite a handful for us all on the approach but we all arrived safely. Was more of an ordeal taxyiing and parking as the sportcruiser has no steering just independant brakes. Not too easy to taxi in strong winds. Two days rest now in Sliema with plenty of suggestions from Trevor on hotels and bars.
Had a three day holiday in Sliema after our flying marathon, or so it felt. What a three days. We can highly recommend Sliema to anyone, we’ve had a great time. After spending an extra day here we decided that Monday morning was time to move on. Flight plan was submitted the night before through our Sky Demon software (what a difference that makes to flight planing) and we arrived at the airport for our Scheduled 11:30 departure. Everything went smoothly through the terminal with only a 90 euro landing and parking fee. Which for a large international airport we thought was good. Through to the apron and transported by a bus usually carrying 40+ passengers. We were greeted by members of the local flying club and Microlight school and spent a while chatting and drinking coffee as we had plenty of time. Time came to leave though so we all donned our life jackets ready for the crossing to Sicily. All engines started except Eddie. He had a flat battery with leaving the ignition on for three days. No problem I thought as I took him my ultra lightweight lithium jump starter. Engine fired up straight away but as soon as the jump starter was disconnected all his instruments failed. His battery was completely gone. The only battery the flying club had was twice as big so a bracket had to be made to accommodate. Problem was eventually sorted but it made us two hours late on our flight plan. We finally left at 13:30 and made the 149 mile crossing to Catalabiano on the North East coast of Sicily and landed there 1hour 40 minutes later. Calatabiano at the foot of Mount Etna, although 480 metres long was quite a difficult approach. So much so that one of the team did two go rounds. He later blamed his P2 claiming he was flying. We were all greeted by one of the airfield pilots who flew a helicopter from there commercially. He sourced accommodation at the adjoining hotel and restaurant which was very welcome. Etna was active but we were unable to see its 11,000 ft peak in the clouds but what an experience that night having a cold beer overlooking such a beautiful landscape. Such fantastic hospitality as one of the locals then took us to a restaurant just by the coast where the owner took great delight in explaining the extensive fish menu which lived up to the highest of expectations. A day and weekend to remember.
We left Calatabiano at 10:00 en route to Scalea on the west coast of the Italian mainland. Only a 131 mile crossing this time as we were unable to get any fuel at Calatabiano. We soon climbed to 5500 feet hoping to see a bit more of Etna’s smoking peak but couldn’t get to see much more than a snowy mountain side. Set track now to Scalea and routing past some of the islands of the foot of Italy. Stromboli was one of these which was also active and being only 3000ft we were able to see the top belching out its black smoke and steam. Coasted in to the mainland 1hour 20minutes later. Again, no fuel available but this time because it was siesta. No problem the airfield manager told us and he took us all to a restaurant up in the hills that was his favourite. We were warmly greeted and fed like celebrities. I don’t think I have ever had so many starters to a meal and each one was unique and delicious. We really lost count of the number of dishes that came out of that country kitchen. Then a main course and desert just as delicious. We finally arrived back at the airfield at 15:00 and were able to refuel. We decided we had to fly another leg to make the necessary progress so we left at 15:30 for Sabaudia which was again on the coast just to the South of Rome. Another 173mile leg. We landed there at 17:23 again to a warm welcome from members of the flying club. If you want to fly the west coast of Italy anytime i would really recommend this airfield. Very friendly and worth a visit. They were soon on the phone for us and arranging a taxi and hotel, which was again right on the coast. Just one more stop in Italy then back into France for our return.
Arrived at the airfield bright and early at 10:00 after a good hearty breakfast at the hotel. The instructor there had asked us if we wanted a fly with him this morning in his very nice aerobatic plane. An offer that myself and Allen couldn’t refuse. We finally left at 12:00 for the final landing in Italy at Luca. This was a stop that David wanted to make in the heart of the Tuscany region. We routed out to sea again to avoid all the complications of Rome and finally landed in Luca 2hours 30minutes later at 14:30. On arriving at Luca the airport staff kindly sourced a hotel and taxi for us. Luca is a beautiful old walled city but in the couple of days we had available to do it justice we thought we would hire bikes and cycle round the city as many others seem to do. Good decision as we were able to cover and see most of the city. On the Thursday we went to the local train station and took the train to pisa and mixed with the tourists. I think a lot of the excitement and interest in our European tours is to see and meet the people and places that tourists don’t ever get to see.
End of another fantastic adventure is coming closer and everyone seems to have get home itus. Two legs back to North Eastern France and Sezanne. First was a 330 mile, three and a half hour leg from Lucca over the Gulf of Geneva, past Nice and Monte Carlo and up the Rhone valley to Saint Rambert D’albon then another 235mile, two and a half hour leg to Sezanne.
Final day, still with clear skies and a call in at Sywell for a visit to Aero Expo for a couple of hours then back to our home fields at Forwood farm for Jason and Gary, Headon for myself and Longframlington for Eddie.
This year we had flown for nine of the fourteen days. Flown 3000mls in 30hours with an average of just over three hours flying on each of those days. We were lucky with the weather with just one day in San Teodora when we were unable to fly due to high crosswinds and mountainous terrain.