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

One Zero Zero

100h navigation
That's it! Two years and nine months after my first flying lesson I crossed the line, the one that makes the total flight time a three digits counter.

For this special step I realized a navigation through the Sologne (a French region) followed by some sightseeing above some world famous castles of the Loire Valley such as Chenonceau, Amboise and Chambord. Combined with a drink stop at Amboise airfield, all this made an excellent travelling afternoon I won't forget!

It's said that the first 100 hours of flight time are the toughest to get. I will check that...

Toussus - Amboise - Epernon - Toussus, 3h18.


Passenger's perceptions

Through the passenger's windowPassenger [noun] A traveler on a public or private conveyance other than the driver, pilot or crew.

Adapted to air transportation, the passenger's role is to my opinion one of the best occupation we can find. Admiring clouds, cities or fields for hours with a false feeling of slowness and forgetting we are 30'000 feet above ground at a speed that is not that far from the speed of sound. That is a pleasant activity!

As a passenger, reality is so far away that the movement is hardly perceptible. The static window giving us a sensation of immobility, the world seems to be moving behind it. These few laminated glass layers are finally much more than a classical window...

This day, relaxed and having an infinite blue as wallpaper, I almost forgot there were a complete crew of pilots and flight attendants working in this Qantas Boeing 767. There are ingrate jobs!

Melbourne - Sydney, 1h05.

Sea from the sky

Navigation Etretat DieppeAlthough strongly attracted by everything that can fly, looking at the sea remains something special ad mysteriously resourcing.

As I only need to fly straight for 45 minutes from my aerodrome to join the coast, I recently spent some pleasant time following the Etretat Cliffs at 2500 feet.

And the sea is indeed still magnificent. Especially on this nice spring day where some mist made the horizon undistinguishable because fading between water and sky, thus removing my visual references to immerse me in a vast blue vacuum.
Unfortunately, no horizon is very bad for visual flight rules! End of the dream, it is better turning to follow the coast and thus finding myself again in a 3 clearly-defined-dimensions reassuring referential. I'll wait some more time before being able to fly with instruments without looking outside.

The Etretat Cliffs from Etretat are amazing, but seeing birds soaring around these giant white rocks some hundreds of meters below is definitely another experience.

And that day, I had an exceptional passenger. It's better sharing these moments !

Toussus - Etretat - Dieppe - Toussus, 2h30.

Flying around the runways

Aerodrome traffic pattern in ToussusA well known basic training exercise for student pilots is flying in the aerodrome traffic pattern, or aerodrome circuit. Without surprise, it consists in realizing a complete circuit around the aerodrome runways.

The goal is making one take-off and one landing separated by four 90 degrees turns in the same direction if possible, so that you finish your circuit where you started it. Not only this exercise is a complete and intense flying training, but also it teaches the student a standard method allowing him to integrate in any aerodrome circuit, positioning himself correctly so that he can land the airplane easily.

On this picture five consecutive aerodrome circuits are shown, and they are far from perfect. The aerodrome circuit has indeed, behind its apparent simplicity, a special esthetic criteria: its rectangularity. The difficulty is in making precise 90 degrees turns, and making them each time at the exact same point. That is not always easy, once factors like the wind or other airplanes flying around you are taken into consideration.

While we are making our noisy turns, people living beneath us are becoming irritated. Sorry !


Window seat, please

Window seat view from an airlinerThe best seats onboard an aeroplane are the window side seats! This picture is an indisputable proof.

Like many dreamers, I let my eyes fixed on the outside world when I get the chance to obtain a "window seat". And the best gift is to spot another aircraft, somewhere else in the sky.

However, it might not seem that exciting. The crossing is so fast that this small traffic, some thousands of feet below, remains to our eyes a point with a large white trail behind. But this approximately 30 tons point is equipped with a pair of wings and flies! This changes everything...

Well done, yet another condensation trail that will hide some sunlight and participate to the United Kingdom cooling down. All our excuses! 


Choosing a field after an engine failure

Field for an emergency landingWhen flying with a single engine aeroplane, we have to be prepared to the engine failure situation. In this case, the solution is an off field landing, which means gliding to a field without power.

It could look like obvious but the ideal field choice is in fact a discipline included in the flying skills.
The problem is: there are many fields but even if the failed engine aircraft keeps on flying, the available reaction time is very short (3 minutes between engine loss and landing is a lot) and some obstacles are very hard to detect from above, like power lines.
The pictured field would be a perfect choice for an off field landing: flat, large, short grass, small furrows, no power line or fence in the vicinity, not far from a village,...

Unfortunately it has a very low probability of being elected as best off field landing place. It is indeed located just aside Merville airport in the North of France, and even with a failed engine, a runway remains the best place to land an airplane.

I would need to have more than one engine on my aircraft to become less concerned by fields ... later I hope!


Over the clouds, the sun always shines

Flying under the sunlight over the cloudsTo my eyes, one of the most attracting aspects of an air transport pilot's life is its unlimited sunshine feature!

It must be really pleasant knowing that today at work you'll pass over this low winter cloud layer to join natural light in its purest state.

Yes, this is also a reason why I am fighting against the ATPL (Air Transport Pilot License) and its 14 papers. One day, I'll be able to get rid of those 8 octas of sky covered by condensed water droplets, which preferred hobby consists in ruining our winter without hesitation.

Another solution would be to exile myself to the Atacama Desert in Chile. With yearly precipitations under 1 millimeter I think fog would become a less important matter!


The unstable Cumulus Mediocris

Cumulus Mediocris cloudWe are never far from clouds when flying and with time I'm starting to really appreciate them. These large heaps of condensed water droplets are indeed excellent visual indicators for the atmosphere's mood, this so vast but so changing playground.

The Cumulus is a multiple faces cloud. It can either indicate very nice weather in its Humilis state, or horrible flying conditions known as storms in the Cumulonimbus version.
The specimen shown on this picture is a Cumulus Mediocris. It means that the cloud shows vertical development characteristics, thus its cauliflower aspect on the top. The situation is indeed mediocre because depending on how ambitious the cloud is and on the available resources in heat and humidity, it may transform into a Congestus to then become a gigantic Cumulonimbus at the apex of its short career.

But today, the fog lets us stuck on the ground, no Cumulonimbus risk then!

Behind an aeroplane

Contrails behind aeroplanes
Do aircrafts draw large straight lines on our skies so they can better be spotted?

Yes, but it isn't the only reason. In fact these condensation trails are simply composed of very small condensed water droplets frozen by the very low ambient temperatures present at high altitudes: -45°C (-49°F) at 30'000 feet in the atmosphere considered as standard (definition of the International Standard Atmosphere). The fuel is made of hydrogen and carbon atoms. During the combustion process occurring with oxygen inside the jet engine's combustion chamber, water molecules are produced. It's the same principle for mopeds and farm tractors! But with different quantities involved and slightly different atmospheric conditions, straight lines are created and can sometimes live a complete day.

On this picture we see another phenomenon, which is less common and disappears pretty quickly. The trail coming from the top left hand corner contains not only the classical engine caused contrail, but also two materialized vortexes. They are made of rolling air and they are due to a side effect of the lift force produced by our beautiful aircrafts, allowing them to fly. By the way, everybody would be much happier if these vortexes could be avoided! 

These atmospheric trails are responsible for multiple theories and they are also a curious paradox as they contribute at the same time but via two different effects, to the planet surface heating and cooling.

That being said, the more contrails I see, the better I feel!

More details:


The jet engine's complexity

An aircraft's jet engineWhy is it so complicated to become an air transport pilot?

A glance to the right side gives us some clues.
That complex thing is an aircraft's jet engine. Unfortunately, before being able to use one, we must have fully understood its principles of working. This implies looking in details at some technical points. And between the pneumatic, electrical, fuel or hydraulic circuits the ATPL (Air Transport Pilot License, the public transportation pilot's traffic code) is a really well stocked course. Especially for the "Aircraft General Knowledge" part.

A jet engine simply accelerates some air in order to produce a force that will push our aircraft really fast, allowing it to do its aircraft job: flying. However, it inflicts a cycle of operations to the ingested air that are not easy to understand, at all. On the menu we find some compression, combustion, adiabatic expansion and some theorems named after great scientists to explain all of this.

That is why the piston engine, propeller-driven aircraft suits me totally. It is easy to use and the working principle is just a bit more complex than for a moped.

But let's face it; I won't cross the Atlantic with a moped. This justifies the ATPL!

More details:


The small plane's oil hatch

Cessna 152 oil hatchThe small hatch hidden on the top of the engine hood gives access to this pretty yellow cap used to probe the engine oil's quantity.

In a car, the oil level remains a boring needle living on the dashboard.

When preparing for a flight, we like to be convinced that our engine is in its best mood. It would allow, amongst other, to reduce the probability of an unwanted country landing. Thus it is mandatory to check that enough oil is put at the engine's moving pieces disposal so that it can be correctly lubricated and cooled down. Where fuel would be to the engine what food is to our body, oil would be its water, allowing it to work normally. And we'd rather be correctly hydrated.

Then, when the remaining quantity becomes too close to the preflight checklist's limit, it's better spending 5 minutes and getting dirty than hurting the engine's feelings!

Cap locked, hatch locked. Preflight checklist can go on.


Time considerations

Flying between cloud layers
This picture shows more than a sunset. It somehow figures the differences of limits between a private and a line pilot.

The private pilot can generally only fly by day and he considers that once the night has arrived, he can go to sleep.
A line pilot has a different point of view. In our case, he left Paris after sunset, but the shortest way on earth to join New-York City (heading slightly to the North and then head South-West) allows us to catch extra rays of light in the shape of what would be a rising sunset.
A few thousand feet lower, ships crossing the Atlantic Ocean have already litten their candles, but we can still enjoy some last sunrays before lighting ours.

Unfortunately, the race is already lost. The sun always wins and once arrived at JFK airport, it will be night again.

Paris - New-York, 8h10 and two sunsets.

Flight to Dieppe

Tracé de l'enregistrement GPS de ma navigation vers DieppeWhat would this yellow line be?

It's the result of a sudden need to see the ocean. That is why I went on a plane navigation to Dieppe (in the North-West West of France) to admire Etretat cliffs from above, this impressive limit where land simply stops.

With a very modest airplane, the ocean is one hour away from Paris. However this GPS trace of my Toussus-le-Noble <-> Dieppe trip shows my tendency not to fly straight. I did what I could, the wind was blowing pretty strongly from the Southwest today, but it wasn't rough so I won't blame it.

One day, I'll fly a modern plane telling me where the wind precisely comes from and with which intensity. This day, the yellow line will be straight.

Toussus-le-Noble - Dieppe - Toussus-le-Noble, 2h28.