(Originally posted 11/25/13)
Depart: Toulouse-Blagnac (LFBO)
Arrive: Pamplona (LEPP)
Aircraft: Cessna 208B Grand Caravan (Carenado) *
Flight Plan: LFBO TBO HUE LEPP
Distance: 206.9 nm
Following Beach's suggestion, I gorged myself on copious amounts of free cookies and popcorn, but the resulting food-coma delayed my start until about 3:30 pm the next day. I suppose it's good that I planned my general route the night before.
After departing LFBO via runway 32R, we'll turn south-west toward Tarbes and gradually climb to 12,000 ft. From there, rather than take a direct route to Pamplona, we'll turn further south and overfly the higher peaks of the Pyrenees, a detour which will hopefully make for some dramatic panoramas. Once we're over the foothills on the Spanish side, we'll intercept our radial from Huesca and head north-east to our destination, Pamplona.
The aircraft of choice for today is the C208B. It's big, ugly, and slow, but, boy, is it rugged. Hopefully the Grand Caravan can take whatever we throw at it. Apropos our first international flight, I've opted for a French-registered livery which boasts: "Aviation Sans Frontières." These are the colors of an actual, Paris-based NGO that provides air services for humanitarian missions the world over. Hats off to them!
Before long, our turbine has spooled up and we're holding short of runway 32R as we make our final preparations for departure.
Give it a little juice and we're off! With 10 degrees of flaps, the C208B shows off its STOL capabilities, requiring only a few hundred feet of runway before it flies itself off the ground.
As I predicted, I'm already missing the Baron's climbing capabilities. The Cessna houses a capable turbine engine, but its got to pull a heavy load. The climb to 12,000 ft. is a gradual one and as the air becomes thinner I need to decrease the vertical speed to stay aloft.
As we overfly Tarbes and turn south, the mighty Pyrenees loom out of the mist.
As corsaire had advised, much of the mountains are wrapped in a thick layer of cloud, making it difficult to observe the geography. Passing peak after peak, we finally cross the alpine border and enter Spanish airspace.
The Spanish side of the Pyrenees are even foggier. Not much to see but clouds and sky as we make our way toward Pamplona.
Once again, we've got to negotiate a tricky approach. There's a stiff wind blowing out of the north so we must approach LEPP from the hills that lie south-east of the city. The descent is rather steep.
As I fly into the valley on final approach, the wind picks up and buffets the plane violently back and forth. I immediately think to myself that I should have paid closer attention to the weather reports. Each boreal blast shifts the plane off course and creates a sudden increase in lift under the Cessna's billboard-like wings; it's impossible to establish a proper glide-slope, let alone even keep the plane pointed in the direction of the runway! Up and down, back and forth--we're at the mercy of the icy, northern wind. Any moment now a massive gust is going to send us into a stall and we'll end up a smoking crater in the foothills of Spain.
We cross the runway threshold, still struggling against the wind. It relents for a moment and the plane veers to the right. But just as suddenly it's back with another powerful, northern gust that takes us over the left edge of the runway. As I bring us back on course and hope for a gentle crash into the asphalt, another gust hits us head on and lifts the plane back into the air. I ease off the power and decide to ride it out, hoping for the best...
Touchdown! It's a bumpy landing, sure, but we've survived. Just look at that flight path!
I wheel the plane around and head for the terminal. Even on the ground the wind is trying to have its way with us. I've got to fight the plane's tendency to fishtail the entire way to the parking area.
Parking brakes set and power down. I think I'll definitely wait for the winds to calm before heading back out again. Such a harrowing experience so early on can't bode well for the remainder of the Tour; but we're safe for now and we can enjoy a beautiful afternoon in Pamplona.
After the fact I review the weather at LEPP. Turns out there is a wind advisory for the area, with gusts as powerful as 30 kts from the north. Lesson learned: pay attention to those weather reports!
Next leg: Pamplona (LEPP) to Zaragoza Air Base (LEZG)