Gliding lessons

The Air France Cadet Training scheme now contains a one month gliding and glider-towing course. So I had the opportunity of spending my entire June month in Saint Auban National Gliding Center, which is in the French South Alps. I shot a few images there, look by yourself...


Looking for pure sky

Pure sky above haze
One of the pleasures I have while spending time in the cockpits is being dazzled.

At the cruising altitudes where commercial transport aircrafts cruise, the atmosphere is very pure and gives the sun the ability to shine really strongly.

The explanation is simple. The atmospheric layer close to the ground contains the vast majority of particles we find in the atmosphere: dust or various pollution. The layer in which these microscopic bodies are enclosed has a variable thickness depending on the weather conditions. When we are on the ground, we don't see that because no clear border is visible between atmospheric layers. But as soon as we pass over the lower layer, we realise that pure sky isn't so far from the surface of the earth. And in this place the sunlight is really strong (thus the sunglasses pilot style) and the blueness of the sky is really blue.

This day, the conditions were typically high-pressure, stable air mass on our continent. That is why the layer was pretty thin and thus the density of particles inside it was pretty high. I offered myself a cruise above the haze, where the sky is pure. Moreover, the atmosphere is very calm in this area (i.e. no turbulences at all). A lot of good reasons for the regular air traffic to take place there.

Flying back in Paris area, reality hits back: A Class at 1'500 feet. And be aware of the Falcon 900 flying just above this limit ...

My cumulus neighbour

Flying over cumulus clouds
One of the impassable borders of the private pilot is the cloud layer present during a flight.

Flying through clouds most of the time means that you put yourself in a situation where both visual flight basic references (ground and horizon) are unavailable. That is when you leave the Visual Flight Rules (VFR) for the Instrument Flight Rules (IFR). For this in Europe, we must hold a Commercial Pilot License together with an Instrument Rating, and we must be regularly trained in respect with the European rules.

To make it short, flying through clouds is unreachable for a private pilot. Except when the clouds are clement towards our small aircrafts, like they were on this picture. In this situation, the thin broken clouds allowed me to keep a visual on the ground and on the horizon even above them.
During this flight back from Deauville, the upper limit of the layer stood at approximately 3'500 feet and I gave myself the opportunity to watch the clouds from above, but I remained modest and only flew 1'000 above them.

It's so nice watching the sunny side of these aerial sheep. Just another good reason for flying !

Toussus - Deauville - Toussus, 2h49.


The Reno Air Races

Each year in September an incredible aviation event takes place, the Reno National Championship Air Races. For one week, races are launched one after another over Reno Stead Airfield in Nevada and spectacular shows are presented between two runs.

Grumman F7F TigerCat Big BossmanThese races are an opportunity for admiring outstanding aircrafts running around poles at impressive speeds. Figures may be surprising during this championship: some planes have piston engine rated over 4'000 horse power and reach average speeds over 470 mph during races, approximately 200 feet above ground.
The aeroplane shown on the picture is the Grumman F7F TigerCat nicknamed "Big Bossman", it is flown by Mike Brown.

Attracted by the million dollar prize, pilots take huge risks. During my three days stay during 2007 edition, two pilots lost their lives during races. Although occurring in conditions that are really far from the daily pilots reality, these accidents remind us that an aircraft is very fragile and that an error performed close to ground at high speed is most likely fatal, even with a lot of experience.

But the show must go on! The Races are extraordinary, so far from what can be seen in France...


Flying over remote areas

One of the air transportation's problems concerns the flights above remote areas, like deserts or oceans. These areas can be extremely vast and it is impossible to land there in case of a flight interruption because no appropriate airport can be found.

In the beginning, routes were made so that aircrafts wouldn't fly more than 60 minutes (considering the one engine out cruise speed) away from a suitable airport. This was a safe solution but implied pretty inefficient routes, which were very far from direct.

A first solution was integrated in aircrafts themselves, and some were equipped with three or four jet engines. For these airplanes, the loss of one engine became a less important problem and more direct routes could be used. But the 60 minutes rule still applied to 2-engines aircrafts, still unable to take economical routes.

Today, technological improvements allowed the aviation industry to reach excellent reliability and performance: engines break down with very small probability and 2-engine planes can fly almost normally with one engine out. Thanks to that, interesting routes can be used, thus allowing huge benefits in flight time, burnt fuel and of course CO2 rejected in the atmosphere.
This special use of twin-engine aircrafts is ruled by the ETOPS (Extended-range Twin-engine Operation Performance Standards) standards. An ETOPS approbation works for one air carrier for a given aircraft type equipped with a give type of engine. This way, the conception of aircraft and engines, their maintenance and the tracking realised by the airline are certified to fly further than the 60 minutes limitation.

Flying above SiberiaFor instance, Air France's Boeing 777 and their General Electrics GE90 engines use the ETOPS 180 approbation, allowing them to fly up to 180 minutes away (at the one engine out speed) from an airport where a suitable landing can be performed.
This standard allows the airline to use direct routes between France and Asia, flying over Siberia as it was the case when I took this picture.

For a private pilot flying a one engine aircraft, the ETOPS concept doesn't exist: in case of an engine failure we just have to choose a field.

Paris - Hong-Kong, 10h50.

->More details in the Wikipedia article concerning ETOPS standards

Trip around Brittany, Act III

Last act of the trip around Brittany.
We woke up early in the morning to check the day's weather forecast on the Internet, and the situation is great. The sun shines almost everywhere over our territory apart from some thunderstorms in the south of France, but this doesn't concern us. Today, we will follow the coast between Quiberon and La Baule which will be the point we'll say goodbye to the ocean. The route will then be direct to Toussus-le-Noble with a stop at Le Mans to rest a bit and discover a historical airport.

Marais salants in GuerandeThanks to nice weather, we enjoyed our day in Quiberon and took-off at 16:00, then we followed the coast overflying the Morbihan Gulf, Guérande and its marais salants (see the picture) just before arriving over La Baule. One turning point 3'000 feet above La Baule airport and then a direct heading to Le Mans.
At 18:06 we landed and we will have the chance to admire in a hangar the wonderful flying replica of the Wright Brothers' Wright Flyer (built by the Le Mans Sarthe aero retro association), which was in fact the first real engine powered aircraft in aviation history.
We took off an ultimate time to reach Toussus, where I performed the last trip's landing.

In the end, 8.5 hours of flying time over three days, some good luck for the weather, an itinerary full of varied landscapes and a fabulous experience concerning navigation, flying and everything that comes with. Aircrafts allow us to travel fast and nicely, and this type of trip can only confirm my will to continue towards the professional way!

Quiberon - Le Mans - Toussus, 3h24.

Trip around Brittany, Act II

The second day of the trip should have flown us from Morlaix to Quiberon, overflying the Brittany's most Western extremity. The plan was then to head to Brest and then reach the south coast and follow it until we reached the Quiberon peninsula. In a nutshell, we planned to fly around the Brittany peninsula.

Windsock at Morlaix airportBut that day, Brittany's weather had other plans for us. The warm front which arrived a few minutes after us the previous day had changed into a nice windy cold front in the morning, thus forbidding us to leave Morlaix. After having studied the weather conditions, a few trips to the control tower and some hours waiting in the boarding room, a new plan was defined: the situation is too bad towards West, we will fly a direct Southern route over land to reach Quiberon.

The wind is still strong at 14:00 not long before our departure as the windsock shows: 22 knots and gusting at 25 knots. However it is almost perfectly blowing in the runway's direction and is very steady. It doesn't shows a particular risk apart from having a low groundspeed... with 5 hours of fuel onboard for a 1 hour planned flight, it should be fine.

Arriving over Quiberon peninsulaAfter a cross-country flight largely disturbed by Lorient airport control, we have a visual on Quiberon peninsula with a very fine weather, what a difference! And how rewarding this is!

We will then land at Quiberon airfield and take our night hosts for a ride around Belle-Ile-en-mer and Quiberon. Then it is the end of the day, full of intense reflexion, doubts and finally nice landscapes.

Morlaix - Quiberon - Belle-Ile - Quiberon, 2h00.


Trip around Brittany, Act I

As I quickly mentioned it in a previous post, I realised a three days trip around Brittany with a Cessna 172 last summer. The principle: following the coast all around the peninsula, accompanied by a lovely passenger - photographer girl.

The first day was cut into two legs, the first from Toussus to Flers and the second between Flers and Morlaix, our night stop. We landed with an incredible amount of exceptional views in mind and we avoided some thunderstorms near Paris in the morning and a very wet westerly front that has arrived in advance, and a really short time after us!

Here are some pictures of the first day, in addition to the Mont-Saint-Michel one in a previous post.

Fort-la-Latte, dominating the sea on its impressive rock peninsula.

Béniguet Island, part of the Bréhat archipelago.
Biniguet Island

A wide view of Bréhat Island.
Brehat Island

Toussus - Flers - Morlaix, 3h06.

Digiatl trip

Here is a short video from a Toussus -> Pont-sur-Yonne -> Toussus flight. You'll see some castles, some colourful Yonne river meanders, the city of Fontainebleau and its famous forest and finally the Ferté Alais airfield with vintage aircrafts of the Amicale Jean-Baptiste Salis.

Factor 10

Mont-Saint-Michel from 30'000 feetThree years ago precisely, I was passenger of a Boeing 777 between Paris CDG and New-York JFK airport. Around 20 minutes after take-off we reached the European continent's border, ready to cross the Northern Atlantic area to join the United States. 30'000 feet and some cumulus clouds below us we could see a special mount that receives around three million visitors each year. It is the beautiful Mont-Saint-Michel, and I used my camera to get this shot.

Mont-Saint-Michel from 3'000 feetThis summer, two Cessna 172 hours after leaving Paris to reach Morlaix instead of the United States, the Mont-Saint-Michel was once again on my way. Here is a shot of this superb area, taken 3'000 feet above ground, which means ten times lower than previously.

A few days later I went there to visit the mount, by foot this time.

It's hard to admit, but some places are even more beautiful when seen from the ground.

-> More details about the Mont-Saint-Michel on Wikipedia