Last minute trip around Europe

Wednesday I received a text out of the blue. It asked if I’d be interested in being a safety pilot (occupying the right hand seat) for the weekend. I did not need to be asked twice.  The flight was depart the next day – so you can’t get much more last-minute then that! The request had come from a company I had contacted a few years ago

The aircraft to be flown was the Swiss masterpiece in the shape of a Pilatus PC12. An 8 place (plus 2 crew even though its cleared for single pilot operation) single engine turboprop. A very capable machine for short runways, bad weather and a decent speed for a single engined aircraft. Not much slower then the ubiquitous twin-engined Beechcraft King Air.

I arrived at the airfield outside London to meet with the pilot I was to be assisting. There were 2 such aircraft out on the field I just had to wait and see which one was to be our hack for the impending trip. I waited in the control tower and then saw the pilot move to the silver painted machine. This was the better looking one not that the other aircraft would not have been bad to fly in! I walked out to meet the pilot and introduce myself. Our paths had crossed years earlier but somewhat more briefly. It was therefore good to reacquainte with each other.

I was shown over the aircraft, how to and what to check on preflight walk around including: how the doors open ( the rear ‘cargo’ door is closed electrically), removing the blanks and the more important work to be done in the interior. This involved checking the seat belts, ensuring the seats are set in their locked position, rubbish removed, magazines up to date in the back of seat pockets and the drinks and nibbles tray was stocked. The drinks included a flask of hot water, champagne, wine, water and fruit flavoured drinks .

As the passengers arrived by car to the aircraft, the pilot assisted with their bags and I started the standby switches, waited a minute before flicking on the batteries. The MFDs came on giving the once blank dashboard a show of colour.  The pilot came in and continued the internal checks, and engine start, FMS set up, activated the flight plan and obtained permission to taxi. We took off, taxi and take off checks carried out, after rotation I raised the gear as requested and confirmed the other parts of the checklist when required.

It was getting dark and so we flew mostly at night to our destination in Switzerland. Over France it was pitch black apart from the towns and villages. Paris looked amazing at night, but not clear enough for a photo to give it justice.  I manged the radio for part of the flight – somewhat more intense than the Saturday afternoon flight around the south of England in a Piper Warrior!

Geneva arrival was amazing, the descent checks carried out, gear and flaps extended, speed correct and ATC all correct. Once landed and exited the runway we found a follow me van to our reserved parking spot. I had contacted the handler whilst airborne and confirmed a car wold be waiting for our passengers on our arrival. Once parked, engine off, the passengers and pilot departed the aircraft to the general aviation terminal. I cleaned the interior of the aircraft and ensured the seats were back to their previous secure positions and all rubbish was gathered up and thrown in the dustbin. The plot returned having ensure the passengers were safely on their way. I went round and put the blanks in their places and covers over the pitot tube and angle of attack indicators.

Both me and the pilot than waked back to the terminal after securing the plane and found our shuttle bus to the hotel, just outside the airport perimeter. A decent place and we arrived just in time for an evening meal. It had been a fairly long day so it was great to make it to bed not much later.

The room was decent and typical of a hotel room. The TV had at least 3 channels in English including BBC1 and BBC2! I was going to visit Geneva city centre the next day, Ian, the pilot was catching up on paperwork.

Friday morning, I woke having not set my watch to local time but it was after 8am. I watched BBC Breakfast, showered and dressed before venturing off for breakfast. I asked reception about going to Geneva and they gave a free travel pass – to be used on the Trams only. The day was sunny and getting warmer. Swiss transport is very efficient and punctual. I caught the train to Bel Air and spent most of the day walking round.

Geneva is clean, prosperous and friendly. The city, situated on the western tip of the lake of the same name offers a lot. I only had a day to see what I coud. I had lunch at a lakeside cafe whilst watching the wildlife on the lake and the boats. The famous Jet D’eau fountain was at its highest as there was little wind to affect it. It could be seen from anywhere in the city. Up by the cathedral is the medieval part of town (to the south), to the north is the newer area and home to the international organisations that Geneva is also famous for , including offices of the United Nations and the Red Cross.

I received a call earlier then expected from Ian. He had to reposition the aircraft over the other side of Lake Geneva and there were no slots tomorrow that would suit. I therefore made my way back by tram and in less than 45 minutes was back at the hotel where I packed and met Ian in reception to await the shuttle bus to the airport. We went through security, walked out to the aircraft,unlocked and prepared for the 5 minute trip across the water to France. We waited longer for ATC and their instructions then the flight would actually take.

Finally airborne, take off checks carried out and it was time for landing checks. A small French General Aviation airfield called Annamese. A shorter runway the our English departure airfield and so reverse thrust was used on the propeller. Our hotel here, booked by the local flying club was a change from our Geneva one. It was a Comfort Inn. Clean and pleasant but cheaper. We got a deal for evening meals taken at the next door restaurant. Lovely food, but then what do you expect from the French!

The next day, Saturday, I found out what there was to do in Annamese. The answer – not a lot. A good suggestion was to catch the train to Evian-Les Bains. Home to the bottled water. It is situated on the banks of Lake Geneva and was bathed in glorious sunshine. I had lunch here aswell is a small but busy pizza restaurant. Fabulous. I walked around the old town and they were holding and Charlie Chaplin exhibition which I did not have time to see.

Back to the hotel and another meal at the convenient restaurant. Another good meal. However an early start was required and the clocks were to go forward an hour so an hour’s loss of sleep. I had arranged with the hotel to provide a bag for us to take out some food to the aircraft whilst we unlocked it and checked it over ready for the passenger we would fly to Austria.

After the usual checks and taxi, we got an IFR join clearance from Geneva and made our way to Salzburg. Lovely scenery en route, mountains, snow, lakes. After a short stay at Salzburg we made our way under visual flight rules. Flying through valleys, avoiding cloud and landing at a small town airfield in a snow field surrounded by mountains. A fascinating array of varying aircraft, including gliders, motor gliders and small fixed wing aircraft. A rare Dornier Do27 arrived and it seemed for a while to compete with the Pilatus as the most unusual aircraft to land at such a small airfield.

After lunch and some 6 hours later we departed for home with an almost full complement of passengers. The weather remained clear and sunny all the way across Europe and became cloudy over the channel. We arrived at our destination in the UK via north of London. A clear view of the landmarks and a different view from the normal tourist bus driving round the streets. Again I managed the radio for a while but kept an eye out for traffic and other possible dangers. Once on the ground, the passengers departed having been met by customs. The lane was cleaned as much as possible  and locked and secured as Ian and I said good-bye.

Who knows if this could lead to more. I can but wish. This was certainly a trip I will remember for some time to come. thank you to all concerned with this fabulous weekend.