During the traditional summer BBQ organised by my friend Javi, we agreed that the time for a new visit to Toulouse had arrived. This time it would include a new ingredient that the previous ones did not have: flying with him as a pilot. I like Toulouse, I like its food, several friends are also there, and flying for the first time in a small aircraft added an extra dose of adrenaline to the cocktail.
The adventure started a few days before my arrival to Toulouse. Javier sent me an e-mail with some options, with a message: “You will need to choose what to fly over, if the meteo allows it”. Inside, several options with pros and cons. We finally decided to go for a route he already made several times: flying to Auch, where we would have lunch, and then flying back. The main drivers for selecting this was obviously that taking a plane to go for lunch is quite a cool statement, plus it included the possibility to fly over Toulouse-Blagnac airport, and at least two take-offs and landings. It is important to remind here that Toulouse is home of the Headquarters of Airbus, as well, as the Final Assembly Line (FAL) of several of their models…
First thing we had to do (although that was done already for the previous time) was the Flight Plan. (Note this post uses the plural as a literary resource… the truth is that most of the “we” should be Javi, i.e. the pilot). That is, tracing the route you want to follow on the chart, plus writing the different tracks in a sheet of paper for the pilot’s convenience.
Once we arrived to the aerodrome, there were a number of checklists to be completed by all pilots to ensure everything is as it should be before the next step. There is a checklist before jumping into the plane, one before starting the motor, another one before entering into the runway… These checklists were followed by Javi to the word, and it is done today in every single flight too. Safety first is more than a nice thing to say when talking about machines that fly.
After refuelling, and the several checklist had been completed, we finally took off from Lasbordes Aerodrome (1) in F-GTPK, DR44. I must admit the first couple of minutes were not easy for me. I believe the adrenaline was not flowing enough to cope with the feelings with the first turn… But these took just a three minutes, then we started navigating which was fun (and I started the GPS tracker!). We requested permission to the controllers to cross the airport… which they denied, as there was commercial traffic at that moment, so we took a detour around Toulouse to be able to arrive to Such. This was a challenging part as we had to find a new checkpoint following the controllers indications and alter the original route.
Navigation up there is quite an interesting topic. These aircrafts do not have a visual GPS software to help the pilot, but quite sophisticated, but analog instruments plus a key tool: your eyes… That is why the pilot is entitled to fly “visual”. Navigation is all about having a chart in paper, and recognising the different elements (a town, a road, a mountain, a river, …) on the ground… once you find one of them, you trace a line to your destination, decide the heading and use some analog devices to follow the desired track. This is a challenging task. It is not easy to confirm that certain small town is indeed the one you are looking for, and it takes some time flying over an area to recognise them at first sight those points.
You can imagine how useful controllers are in these situations. They can help you find your way if you do not manage to do it yourself, and they provide traffic information in your route to make it a more pleasant journey. In the end, you are moving at 200 km/h and flying for a few minutes in the wrong direction can lead to a messy situation. Controllers are in charge of different zones, and when you cross from one to another, you shall change your radio to the new station, say hi, and they normally give you a code to tune your transponder. Now they can “see” you in the radar…
Once we managed to find the new route, it did not take us long to arrive to Auch aerodrome (A). This aerodrome has no control tower, so you have to do everything by yourself… like identifying which is the most appropriate pathway to use by checking the predominant wind direction or announcing by radio our intentions. Landing was softer than I expected (although adrenaline was also there landing with us), we parked the plane, and had lunch at Jean-Philippe’s restaurant with views to the aerodrome and our plane.
After lunch, it was time to continue our route through the Gers region to sight some castles. In this case, we had a particular goal to find Lupiac (D), also known as D’Artagnan’s town, as it hosts the two castles where the real D’Artagnan was born (Castelmore) and lived (La Plagne). We succeeded thanks to Javi’s previous work in Google Maps, and in the field (he had been in Lupiac before), and started our route back to Toulouse, with the only surprise of a couple of gliding aircrafts flying at the same altitude than us. When we arrived to Toulouse-Blagned, we were denied crossing it again, this time due to some photo shooting taking place, so we surrounded it, and landed in Lasbordes again… safely.