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After having been extremely frustrated and disappointed for all the flying lessons that I had to cancel the last two months I decided to do something about it. The main reason that my lessons were repeatedly cancelled was as you probably guess by now, the weather. I thought about taking the speedy training that is available in some schools in Florida but all the paper work that has to be done and the visa application did put me off. After carefully studying all my options (there weren’t many) I decided that Spain could be a good alternative. At this point I had all my ground school done and passed. A quick call to the CAA and Spanish Civil Aviation was enough to give the impression that moving my approved exams and fly log to Spain and register as student in a Spanish school could take more than two months. My final resolution was to use a budget airline to get to Barcelona during the weekends and fly the whole weekend there and then comeback to London on Sunday night. With this arrangement I didn’t have to move any papers or reallocate schools. My flight hours in a JAA Spanish school are valid here in England. The price of the hours there are less than half of the British ones and on top of that I never got to cancel because of the weather; there it is always fantastic. In three weekends in Spain I managed to make more hours than I did in three months in UK. After a month flying in Barcelona and practicing some navigation there, the idea of doing a serious cross country was born. First we did one trip from Spain to France (Barcelona – Perpignan) no more than two hours return. After that trip the idea of a Barcelona – London via cross France started to take form. Before getting too excited about it and to get a better idea of times and routes I decided to buy all the charts that we would need for such of trip. Six charts in total (north of Spain, west of France and south of England). The first part of the route needed some serious thinking because you have to cross the Spanish Pyrenees and the minimum safe altitude (MSA) is as an average 10.000 feet. That kind of altitude, and without oxygen masks with the Diamond katana dv20 which is the plane we were planning the trip, the project was in danger. Stephan the instructor had some good mountain flying experience in both Canada and Switzerland, so he had good ideas about overcoming that problem. Later we desided to use the Diamond DA40 instead of the DV20, wich made the Pyrenees’s leg a lot of easier.The main plan was to fly in between mountains and following a clear path and featuers on the ground (like railways, and small towns).
The Fly Planning
The week before the trip I was with my family on vacation in sandbanks (Bournemouth, south of England). From the hotel where we where I was seeing the English Channel and dreamed that one day soon I would be crossing it as pilot in command of a light aircraft. I made some arrangement to do some flying while I was down in Bournemouth in a local fly school (Solent School of Flying at Bournemouth International Airport). But despite booking for several days I couldn’t fly a single hour, because of weather conditions in the area. Instead I enjoyed visiting the Bournemouth Aviation Museum, where I saw and touched a Hawker Sea Fury that uses to be with the Canadian air force. Nowaday’s belongs to a private pilot. A very impressive machine.
The plan started to take form. We would have very little time for briefing once I arrived to Barcelona, so we decided that we should take some conference calls and finalize the details. We exchanged a couple of message in our answer machines, passing some important information. He mentions that everything was ok with the plane. In fact we would have available for the trip a DV40 which a bigger plane than the dv20 and that he has been checking the weather and everything looks ok for the weekend of the trip. We agreed on a time for the conference call and that we should have all charts ready and open for that moment. In the call we went through the details of each leg of the trip. We have three stops in total. The first one, in La Rochelle. The second, in Le Touquet and the third and last one in Blackbush. We agreed to cross the Pyrenees and then try to fly near the west coast till La Rochelle, and from there we could diagonallyl cross France to Le Touquet and from there cross the channel and last from the south of England cross directly to Blackbush avoiding all hazards and controlled air space.
The night before
I returned from my two hours driving from Bournemouth to Richmond where we live in time to do some packing, gather my flying gear and depart to Barcelona with Easyjet around 20:00. Stephan kindly offered me to pick me up at the airport so we could have a final meeting at my apartment in Barcelona to wrap things up the night before the big event. We had an hour meeting at my apartment to check that everything was as planned and to coordinate the transportation for the morning after to Sabadell airport. We took a last look at the weather report and everything looked CAVOK till the English Channel, where some minor shower were forecasted. Our plan was to be at the airport around 6:00, do all checking and planning in time so we were ready for departure 10 minutes before 08:00.
Departure from Barcelona
Finally the moment that we have so much planned and expected has arrived and everything was according to plan. We were ready to go 20 minutes before departure time. I made radio contact with the tower, requesting taxi and departure information. All clear and we were airborne around 08:05 North West inbound towards the Pyrenees.
Diamond's DA40 is a low-wing 4-seat composite airplane that is suitable for everything from primary flight training to personal transportation through hard IFR conditions. The airplane can cruise as fast as 140 knots on 9 gallons per hour of fuel through its 4-cylinder 180hp fuel-injected Lycoming engine. The DA40 sells for between $206,000 (conventional instruments, basic Garmin avionics, no autopilot) and $280,000 (Garmin G1000 glass *censored*pit, autopilot, satellite weather, most of the rest of the options).
The things that distinguish the DA40 from its competitors such as the Cirrus SR20 and the Cessna 172/182 are the following:
1) Exceptional visibility through Plexiglas canopies
2) Higher airspeeds and efficiencies than the Cessnas
3) Lower stall speeds and easier handling than the Cirrus
4) All-electric instruments
5) Center-mounted stick
6) Cavernous rear canopy for loading bulky cargo into back seats
Crossing the Pyrenees
We followed our navigation plan and this time we also had two GPS as a backup. After an hour of flying we approached the Pyrenees. We could see every single mountain and feature from the chart, the weather was fantastic. Stephan commented to me that this was pretty rare. Usually at this time of the day you have some orographic clouds around the mountains and most of the time clouds on the top, but this time there were no clouds at all, which made our flying more enjoyable. After successfully passing the Pyrenees our next goal was La Rochelle where we intended to land and refuel.
Approaching La Rochelle
The leg from Pyrenees to La Rochelle imposed a navigation challenge because there were almost no features in the terrain, so we did a mixture of chart and GPS navigation. Actually, to be honest, a lot of GPS, more than we care.
The Cloud sheet
We were flying at around 5000 feet, and descending when we saw a fairly uniform sheet of thin cloud. This cloud sheet prevented us from seeing the surface and continuing flying VFR, so we decided to fly under it. As we start to descend we realize that the cloud ceiling were lower than 2000 feet. We resolved to land in the nearest airdrome and take a new fresh look at the weather report, and then take a more informed decision about it. We landed at Auch Lamonthe (LFDH) around 11:00. It didn’t have much traffic, but the few people there where really very friendly. The best part is that they had a Meto France office with digital satellite pictures and a full weather report available for us free of charge. Luckily Stephan speaks fluent French and that really speeded up the whole process. In no time we were refuelling and reading the weather report. It really didn’t look good; the cloud sheet looked as long as 200 miles long and as lower as 1000 feets and the forecast wasn’t great either. We had to make a decision to abort the whole trip or give it a second try. We desided to give it a second try.
Our second try plan was to try to avoid the cloud sheet border by flying to the east, more into the middle of France towards Paris and fly bordering the sheet towards La Rochelle back to the coast. After discussing the different alternatives and allowing two hours to pass, hoping that the cloud would move down south, we were airborne again and ready for the second try. Once airborne again and after five minutes flying we realised that the cloud sheets were there to stay and that the east border was thicker than we believed. Before I noticed I was drifting towards the coast line where the was less cloud formation. We had a discussion for a minute to see if this was the right course of action and we decided that even with less cloud in this area we didn’t have a fly plan for this area so we finally took the painful decision to abort the whole trip and return to Barcelona.
The Return to Barcelona
From the point we finally accepted that the trip was over and that we had to go back we started to rely heavily on the GPS. If we had to do plain chart navigation we could be in trouble, because looking to the surface we actually had no idea where we where for about ten to fifteen minutes. Then everything started to look familiar again and we where back into the Pyrenees. Crossing the Pyrenees back to Barcelona was pretty straight forward and in a couple of hours we where back into the Barcelona Sabadell circuit requesting permition for landing. Back inSabadell, I really felt bad because I couldn’t achieve my goal of a weekend trip from Barcelona to London. We went all over all the details of the fly plan and promised ourselves to try again this kind of trip. Only next time we would fly south to Malaga, Murcia or Maruecos to avoid nasty surprises with weather.[img][/img]