Back from Africa – Preparation
With the five co-owners of Papa Charlie, our 1978 Piper Turbo Arrow III, we had spoken for some time to flying to Dakar tracing back the routes of the famous Aeropostale of de Saint-Exupéry and Mermoz. We thought this was a crazy, reckless and expensive idea. But then one night, after some wine, we just decided to do it ! The next day, I ordered a couple of old books from de Saint-Exupéry and Mermoz just to get into the mood.
Once we had made that decision, we understood that a lot of preparation would be required. The dates had to be picked and agreed upon amongst five busy individuals. All maps and charts had to be found and prepared. We prepared the route, closely following that of the famous Aeropostale. We also found out that we needed to request overflight and landing permissions, and maybe even visa. And what about survival if something would go wrong with and we have to crash-land in the desert? Is Avgas, our airplane’s fuel, everywhere available? Is the airplane ready for such a long journey? Let’s have a look at our preparation one by one.
As a general prep, I ordered the Lonely Planet of West-Africa. I also read the Across Africa blog and Crossing Boundaries book by Aeroplus, a Dutch private pilot who has been flying in Africa and documenting his efforts.
We used our virtual Google Drive to post all our documents, and we had dinner all together to plan the details of the trip.
Picking dates and schedule
Picking a suitable period amongst five busy individuals, taking climate into account as well as scheduled airplane maintenance is no easy job. Worst part: it is my schedule which is the most critical. So in search of a good date, and in view of my too busy professional life, I even gave probabilities to certain weeks indicating the chance of me being available.
We settled on the first two weeks of October 2016: the airplane was in need of its 100 hour maintenance in September, all of us could make themselves available in one way, shape or fashion, and the climate particularly over the Sahara desert is supposed to be benign at that time of the year.
The idea is for Luc and Fanfan to fly first southbound, pick up Bruno along the route and continue with three till Dakar. Luc and Fanfan fly back by airliner. Fred and myself fly via airliner to Dakar in the second week of October 16, and continue with Bruno northbound back home. We drop Bruno off somewhere in the middle.
Following the Aeropostale Route
The Aeropostale route starts in South-France, follows the coast of the Mediterranean in the east and south of Spain, crosses over to Africa in Gibraltar and continues along the Moroccan coast towards the Western Sahara (disputed part of Marocco), Mauretania and Senegal. It used to continue across the Atlantic towards Brazil, but we will stop in Dakar. Our intention is to follow this route closely.
The going route has been prepared by Luc & Fanfan. As I write this, they are flying between Biarritz and Tanger across Spain.
Fred and me are preparing the return route from Dakar, Sénégal, back to Lille in North-France. We plan to fly to Nouakchott in Mauretania, Dakhla, Marrakech and Tanger in Marocco and then continue via Castellon and Moulins back to Lille:
Total distance will be 2700 NM, less then 22 flight hours, to be divided over three pilots. The idea is to fly VFR as much as possible, and only IFR is really needed.
Maps and charts
I admit upfront: I do have an aviation maps fetish. Preparing the maps & charts therefor turned into a real pleasure ! I plan to navigate by means of JeppView, when flying IFR; with SkyDemon when flying VFR, and overall on the built-in GNS430W (who I bought a tripkit “International” Jeppesen database for. Both SkyDemon and JeppView’s map coverage stop somewhere in the Western Sahara, so we have to get VFR, IFR and aerodrome charts through other means. That’s what we found:
- For Marocco, their online AIP is very comprehensive. We found all VFR and IFR enroute charts, which we printed out in its native format. All aerodrome charts are available there as well. The IFR approach charts are obtained by means of a Spain/Portugal Jeppesen tripkit, and by asking a friend fro printouts of those airports not covered by Jeppesen.
- For Sénégal, the only official source we found is the ASECNA website. This also covers Mauretania. IFR approach charts were obtained through my friend.
- Mauretania themselves also have an AIP online. The funny part of that website is that is says “Hacked By islamic State Army” – very promising ! I found much information there, but I missed a normal VFR chart. I asked help to the Euroga.org community, and they provided me with links to scans of the classic American ONC & TPC charts, dating back from the eighties ! They are very detailed maps, but miss up-to-date aeronautical data. Based on the AIP information, I set out to update those TPC charts by hand and indicate all pertinent modern information onto those charts – I love this !
We quickly learned that in order to fly in Africa, we would have to deal with a heightened level of bureaucracy. Flying and landing in disputed area of Western Sahara will require approval from Marocco. Overflying Mauretania and Senegal, idem dito from their authorities. We decided to obtain these permissions ourselves and divide that workload amongst us. Luckily, these processes are more or less documented in the respective AIPs, so we set out emailing, faxing and calling the authorities. I took care of the overlfight and landing permit for Mauretania and its capital Nouakchott. We were supposed to send all available documents for the airplane, its pilots, insurance etc. Email didn’t work very reliably, so I set up an online fax account and tried every listed fax number I could lay my hands on. Eventually I made contact through mail and phone, and after some forths and backs, I obtained our permission for Mauretania.
Later that week, the Senegal permission came through via Luc, in a cute old-fashioned telegram format:
FF GOOOZIZX GOOYZPZX GOOYZTZX GOOYYKEN GOOYYKYX 291539 GOOYANAC NR 1982/2016/ANACIM/DG/DTA DU 29 SEPTEMBRE 2016 STOP ATTN ATTN MR xxxx xxxx STOP DONNONS ACCORD SVL/ATT GOSS/GOOY PROFIT VOL D4UN AVION DE TOURISME/PA28R-201T/F-HRPC (FRANCE SAINT LOUIS DAKAR ET
RETOUR) PREVU DANS LA PERIODE DU 05 OCT AU 13 OCT 2016 STOP M SLTS
And finally, Mr. Karim from the Maroccan authorities also gave his fiat.
We also checked if we needed visa and read our government’s travel advisories. No visum for Senegal and Marocco required, but we will need one for Mauretania, which, so we have been told, can be obtained upon arrival. We plan to check in into the country as “air crew” nevertheless. And I plan to fly with a pilot’s uniform, just to make a good impression onto the authorities.
Survival and other extra gear
I have to admit, I am a little scared to have to do a crash or precautionary landing in the desert in Africa. Getting stuck without too much help at hand, made me prepare thoroughly for this eventuality. Radio coverage is not good, and Search-and-Rescue services are far in between, so when we do land outside an airport, we will have to be able to survive at least a couple of days.
I read up on the SAS survival book, did some internet searches, and compiled the following survival gear:
- 2 large jugs to fill with fresh water. Small bottles of mineral water
- 3 smoke bombs
- signage banners for ground-air signalisation
- Handheld VHF radio
- life vests
- swiss knife
- signalling mirror
- small generic survival package
- lamps with spare batteries
- firesteel & lighter
- jumper cable with fitting connector for Piper
- medical kit
- food rations
- emergency blankets
- TPC charts
- emergency signalling code
- 20l AVGAS & funnel with filter
- signalling banners
All that survival gear left already for Africa.
I printed this out as well:
On top, we are carrying:
- two iPads for navigation & charts
- window covers against strong sunlight
- oxygen for the ability to fly high
- 4 liters of oil
- medical supplies
- plenty of cash in small notes
- international passport
- copies of all important documents
- and a plastic recipient for emergency in-flight pipi !
For the rest, we plan to travel light so we nicely stay within the W&B envelope of our Arrow.
Avgas, the airplane’s fuel, is difficult to find where there is no active general aviation activity. So we checked all airports upfront, and they all more or less confirmed that they do have AVGAS. We plan to take 20L spare AVGAS along, knowing very well that we cannot replenish this 20L when flying.
If needed, we can also fly very economical: its maximum no-wind, no reserve range is 880 NM with a full tank of 272L.
Papa Charlie himself
The airplane, our 1978 Piper Turbo Arrow III, registered as F-HRPC (hence Papa Charlie), has just received its 100 hours check, and passe without problems. Fresh oil and a new tire make him very fit to fly this long distance.
Fred had some foams made so we can close off his nostrils when sitting in the desert sand.
Although we looked up some possible hotels, we decided we would leave those to the spur of the moment ! No reservations !
Status: I just heard that Papa Charlie has safely landed in Tanger, Marocco. Our African adventure has started. Stay tuned and I will update you about the return flights.
Back from Africa – Day 1 – Airliner from Brussels to Dakar
I have been everywhere in the world: from New Zealand to Norway, from California to Uzbekistan. But I have never been to Africa. Until today. Today I got my first won impressions from the dark continent, and I must admit: it felt familiar. Dakar is for me a strange mix between India and the Philippines, between Mexico and China. It did not feel estranged at all.
But today started with taking the commercial flight between Brussels and Dakar, with Brussels Airlines. I had bought the tickets with my frequent flyer points. The flight was announced with one hour delay, but we decided to put our minds already in Africa / holiday mode and so we didn’t care: we spend some time in the lounge and took things easy. On the flight we discussed our flight the next day: northbound towards Nouakchott, the capital of Mauretania.
In the approach into Dakar, we overflew the airport, but we could not find Papa Charlie yet …. Is he still here? We saw the runway from which we will depart tomorrow though.
Our third pilot, Bruno was waiting for us at the airport, and after a short courtesy shuttle ride, we checked in in our hotel near the beach in the north of Dakar.
Over a beer we discussed the further details of our flight. We decided to fly low over the coastline and to generally take it easy!
We took a cab into town: a flood of African impressions flooded my eyes. We asked the taxidriver to stop at a local fish market, where all kinds of exotic fish was literally hauled from the sea in small skiffs… Fantastic photo-opportunities!
We continued our cabride into the old part of Dakar, walked around a bit. While the darkness came fast, we had another beer, and finished our evening at a very nice Lebanese restaurant: it was a good start of our journey.
Tomorrow we fly across the border into Mauritania !
Back from Africa – Day 2 – Dakar-Nouakchott
Today was the real first flying day of our adventure: flying Papa Charlie from Dakar to Lille. Last night we decided that Fred would do this flight: VFR from Dakar (GOOY) to the brand-new airport of Nouakchott (GQNO), the capital of Mauretania. I would do co-pilot duties: the radio.
We flightprepped as follows: GOOY (Dakar) – N1 (reporting point above the Pink Lake) – SLO (beacon in Saint-Louis, in the north of Senegal) – ARBEN (first point in Mauretania) – OT (the VOR in Nouakchott – GQNO. The plan was to fly low and slow (55% performance) along the coast.
Morning Beach Walk in Dakar
I hadn’t slept very well because we had eaten too much Lebanese food (Mezze !), plus Dakar is 2 hours behind on where I live, so I got up rather early and took a stroll along the beach at the hotel front. Plenty of people were exercising, swimming, sporting already. It was a fantastically colorful sight to behold!
We had our breakfast, and took the hotel shuttle back to airport. At this point, I should disclose that I was wearing a white shirt with pilot bars (3 stripes). Reason is that our flight endeavor would look more official towards the official people we planned to deal with: customs officers, airport employees, police, immigration etc. Guess what: it did work ! I behaved like a real airline pilot, and people were behaving back in the way that I wanted it.
First stop was immigration, and we had to show our flight plan. Then we went to the “C” office, the worldwide signal that you have to report there as a pilot. We were handed a nice binder with the latest weather, and than we had some discussion on the cost of Papa Charlie’s stay in Dakar. It worked in our favor that we said that we were all three crew, so we didn’t have to pay for any passengers. In the end we paid 1,4 euro landing taxes in total !
Here you see Bruno’s negotiation skills in action
We even arranged a full bus to drive us, three amateur pilots, to where Papa Charlie, our 1978 Piper Turbo Arrow III airplane, was waiting for us. That bus ride came in the price of 1,4 euro.
We carefully preflighted Papa Charlie, and at exactly 10h00, I called the tower for for our startup. We got assigned the shorted runway, and we took off, heavy with 3 adults, luggage and full fuel towards reporting point N1, along the coast with a view onto the city of Dakar.
As soon as we were in the air, we were asked to pass along our estimates times for all points in our flightplan: SLO, ARBEN, Nouakchott. Then we were told that in case we lost contact with ATC, that we should contact Nouakchott at 118,4 Mhz at ARBEN.
First point on our plan was N1: on top of the Pink Lake. And yes, the lake is utterly pink ! The color comes from the algae it contains, who have evolved to be able to survive in the salty lake.
After a while we lost radio contact with Dakar, so we continued northbound along the coast. At a certain moment, Dakar ATC called us with some level of excitement in his voice, but when we answered, they couldn’t hear me. So we continued. They kept calling me, and at a certain moment, he changed his procedure. We had to squawk IDENT on our transponder if we could hear them. So I hit the IDENT button and the controller came back with the following words that we will remember for a long time:
Transmitting in the blind: F-HRPC please be advised that Mauretania is not finding your autorisation to overly and land at Nouakchott. Do not proceed to Mauretania. Please advise how to proceed.
Well, they quickly had our attention ! In order to clarify stuff, I asked Fred, the pilot in command, to climb so I could establish two-way communication with Dakar ATC. At 5000ft, they could hear us and the controller repeated his previous statement. I asked to land in Saint-Louis, but he told us that the airport closes on Sundays (which we knew – but you never know). So Dakar advised us to return to Dakar. Then I took our permission, and started quoting the most important details of it, including the name of the director who had signed the autorisation. The autorisation we had in hand was correct and valid – it had to be them who had made a mistake !! We asked to double-check with Nouakchott.
Fred started to do 360° turns abeam Saint-Louis and we snapped the following picture of the steel bridge near the famous Aeropostale hotel “Hotel de la Poste”.
All of the sudden, Dakar came back on the radio and told us to proceed to ARBEN ! The autorisation must have come through ! We updated our estimates and crossed the Sénégal river into Mauretania !
The landscape quickly changed north of the Sénégal river: it turn from green to the dry yellow / pink of the Sahara desert.
We remained at 5000ft and started seeing some civilization when approaching Nouakchott: until then, the desert was …. totally empty …
The deepwater port of Nouakchott came into view.
We had to avoid overflying the city of Nouakchott.
We descended and joined lefthand base for runway 34 at Nouakchott.
Fred landed Papie Charlie safely in a crosswind and we found ourselves in a very Mars-like landscape, in a totally new but empty airport. Eery feelings ! I opened the door and a dry 40°C wind hit all of us in the face. Yes, we were in the Sahara desert.
We parked amongst a series of exotic other models, including above Antonov 2. It is for sales by the way, in case an interested buyer read this. The UN had a Beechcraft 1900 parked here too.
We unloaded our stuff in the 40°C wind and started cooking. We decided to not refuel, otherwise we had to buy a complete vat of 200L AVGAS, while we really only needed 90L.
Hot hot hot.
The fuel man right was friendly. The chap on the left looked suspicious. It was a feeling we would get more today.
We walked all the way from our parking spot to the terminal in the extreme heat & wind: at least 500m. It gave us an idea of the ordeal we would find ourselves in if we would get to crash land in the desert for one or another reason.
At the C-office, the official treated us very well and with respect. It actually turned out that the office who issues the overflight permits had made a mistake: they assigned the autorisation number twice: one to a helicopter from Noordzee Helicopter, OO-registered, and once to us. That had cause the problem, and they apologised.
We passed immigration by declaring that we are aircrew and that we don’t need a visum. We had to show proof with our flying licenses, and we got a nice fat stamp in our passport, without a visum :). The pilot bars at work!
The guys were so nice that one drove us from the new far-away airport to our hotel in the city center of Nouakchott. He turned out to be the Meteo responsible, and we paid him 20 euro for his service.
At that moment we learned how well people are able to drive cars in Mauretania — not very good …
Not only are the drivers bad, the cars (almost all old Mercedes or Toyota) are in an extremely delapidated state.
We took a rest and a swim in the nice hotel, and hauled a cab so we could visit the Fishing Port, one of the few attracttion of this new city.
The Fishing Port was, just like yesterday, full of life, smells and fish… People were cleaning and gutting the fish, trading it and there was a nice busy chaotic atmosphere. We were the only tourists. People were looking suspiciously at us.
I started to making lots of pictures, and at a certain moment, a non-uniformed guy walked up to me, flashing a plastic card with the the words “POLICE”:
Monsieur: est ce que vous avez une permission de prendre des photos ? Vous êtes de quellle nationalité ? Est ce-que vous savez que vous ne pouvez pas faire des photos sans autorisation. Il faut vous rapporter à l’office de police !
Damned, second time today that there is a lack of autorisation ! The anonymous policeman ushered uniformed colleagues and we were pushed towards the police station, in the middle of all the fish. At that moment, we downplayed our presence, acted nice, erased some pictures, etc and after a while the whole spectacle, which had drawned like 20 people around us, ended: we were free without paying and without having our cameras confiscated… just lost a couple of pics.
We drove back with a rather negative mindset. This is not a happy snappy normal country, but a poor developing country where westerners are not always seen as nice tourists.
We ended the very exciting day with non-alcoholic beers and a well deserved dinner.
Tomorrow we fly to the Dakhla in the Western Sahara, a contested area administered by Marocco.
Back from Africa – Day 3 – Nouakchott-Dakhla
Today we planned to leave Nouakchott, the capital of Mauretania, northbound towards the Western Sahara, an area that is controlled by Marocco. Its main city is Dahkla on a peninsula. This was our destination.
I slept very well, and after our adventures of yesterday, we were in a perfect mood to restart the day. The hotel shuttle brought us towards the airport. That gave us another hour or so to enjoy the sights of Nouakchott, and to see the emptiness of the desert towards the new airport.
As a mirage, the airport appeared at the horizon out the empty desert.
Just like cows are a normal sight in Belgium, but not for Chinese visitors, so are dromedary an abnormal sight for us, but utterly normal for the locals.
At the brand-new and totally empty airport of Nouakchott Oumtounsy (GQNO), we easily passed immigration again (as crew 😉 ) and had a looong discussion with the officials at the “C”-office: getting weather, getting NOTAMs, submitting the flightplan and paying the whopping landing fee of 6 euro. The invoice was printed on a sloooow needleprinter.
This is the friendly lady at the meteo office doing her thing. Her product is a bundle of printed meteo pages in a nice yellow binder: that is service!
The flight plan for today:
GQNO (Nouakchott) – PE (Nouadhibaou) – GMMH (Dakhla)
There was also another French airplane, an ULM, taking off about the same time as us, also to Dakhla. But to our surprise, that didn’t cause too much confusion.
I played passenger today: I mainly took pictures from the back of the airplane, and I followed the flights on the paper maps (I love them!) that I had printed and marked earlier this month.
The visibility was so low in Nouakchott that we had to request a Special VFR clearance. As soon as we had taken off, we found ourselves in yellow blinding sand wind. Look at how dirty the wings became from the sand we flew through !
We climbed to 5000ft. In the beginning we didn’t see much, but when we followed the coast again, the spectacular sight of the desert meeting the green/blue Atlantic ocean was a literal eye opener ! It was cheer beauty ! We passed several bird sanctuaries. But we didn’t see any sign of life, no human presence, no sign of civilization, only total emptiness ! Total desert !
I apologize for the quality of the below pictures. I don’t have access to photoshop here to remove the haze and sand in the air in the pics.
Once we passed the most northern city of Mauretania, Nouadhibou, the sky cleared up somewhat, and we started to see the first signs of life.
We saw a couple of shipwrecks that looked eery but peaceful.
This ship broke in two and if eaten by the waves one bit of iron at the time.
The most fantastic forms of aggressive erosion unfolded under our eyes, and under our right wing.
After 3h20 we got Dahkla in sight. Bruno landed us on runway 03.
Also this airport was empty, but we immediately realized that this place isn’t as poor and underdeveloped as Mauretania or Sénégal anymore !
With our fingers we could take the Sahara sand from the wings !
We ordered AVGAS and got pumped manually into Papa Charlie, so we are ready for our tomorrow flight.
We had a lot of administration to go through before we left the airport:
- Police checking our luggage at the airplane with drugs dogs
- Paying AVGAS
- Arranging immigration
- Registration in the tower with the military running this airport (yés we have permission to land, sir !)
- Arranging hotel: that was the easiest with Booking.com
The guest house “Dar Rio del Oro” came to pick us up and served us sweet mint tea when entering. Yes, this trip is becoming more civilised every day it progresses.
After some rest, we took a stroll in the city, found a place where they served beers, and had a lovely spanish seafood diner in a restaurant where you could also get some wine. Life is good!
Does anyone knows this fruit? Its sweet, yellow inside, with some nuts.
We are leaving Bruno behind here and we (Fred & me) continue northbound until Lille.
Tomorrow we fly to Tan Tan.
Back from Africa – Day 4 – Dakhla-Tan Tan
Hello all, thanks for following this blog and for your encouraging reactions!
Today we had gorgeous weather for our trip from Dakhla (Western Sahara) to Tan Tan (south of Marocco) ! And fantastic weather, combined with the breathtaking views of the Sahara & the Atlantic and all the quirky views that exist where both of them meet, created a magic potion of beauty !
The day started uneventful. We chatted a little over breakfast with some other french tourists in our guesthouse in Dakhla, and the lady-of-the-house brought us back to the airport. Bruno, our third pilot, had left the guesthouse earlier that morning. The rest of our journey will be flown by Fred and me.
VFR flying through Marocco is a matter of following predetermined routes. So we had set out a route along the coast. Plan was again to fly low, slow and economical. Today was my first flying day, and it would be the longest flight of the trip so far.
We deposited our flight plan with the already well-known military controller at Dakhla airport. In that plan, we indicated all the VFR reporting points. The whole flight plan form was completely full – so many points we had ! Above you see the view from his tower. Papa Charlie, our Piper Turbo Arrow 3 had spent the night on the tarmac (barely visible).
We took off from runway 03 and as soon as we were over the bay of Dakhla, we could discern large flocks of flamingos flying around. The pink of their feathers contrasted beautifully with the aquamarin color of the bay.
A little further, we saw other colors over the water: kite-surfers were doing their sport over the shallow waters. Their bungalows are embedded into the sand dunes bordering the water. It was like a dream from the air !
A bit further north, we started tracking the coastline at 1500 ft. Our friend at Dakhla tower made us switch over frequencies to Canarias Control: Spanish air traffic control from the Canary Islands on our west. Despite the distance from those islands, we were quickly in contact with them (even at 1500ft), so they must have repeater stations on the mainland here.
These were the things we saw popping up along our route:
My copilot Fred spontaneously came up with this poetic sentence to describe his emotions:
C’est magnifique et ennivrant ce trait de côte qui défile, toujours different et qui ne finit jamais…
At a certain moment, we saw a large lake on our map. We decided to take a look and made a 15 NM detour to the east, inland. That lake turned out to be dry, and full of snow-white salt. It was fantastic to float over this vaste white nottingness and we had it all to ourselves. We could see the cracks of dryness in the white soil.
Somewhat further we crossed hundreds of small oasises: a little vegetation which must have access to some water in the dry desert.
We tracked the coast again and we were again “treated” with at least five shipwrecks, laying pathetically near the coast.
This one was a fishing boat returning to its Laayoune harbour.
After Laayoune we set course to Cap Juby, near the city of Tarfaya. Here at Tarfaya, we paid tribute to Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, one of the famous Aéropostale pilots who was stationed here as manager. It is here, in Tarfaya, that he wrote “Le Petit Prince“. We paid tribute by doing a low approach over the sandy airstrip (left in below picture).
Under Papa Charlie’s wing you see the crumbled remains of his old office.
Once past Cap Juby, we turned east and contacted Tan Tan tower for a weather update. We learned that runway 03 was in use, and that the wind was blowing hard on the nose for a smooth landing. This flight had lasted 4h15m… a personal record.
Once on the ground, the police checked us and we ordered AVGAS.
They came with a cute cart behind their car, featured two 50 gallon drums of AVGAS, a manual pump and a calibrated meter. We paid 28 dirham per liter, and filled the tanks up with 155l of fresh AVGAS for tomorrow.
Two satisified pilots:
We went to bureau “C” and they helped us with finding a hotel and a taxi to go to Tan Tan Plage. Friendly people !
After a crazy taxi ride in a 1978 Mercedes (still drove 120 km/hr !), we checked in into the booked hotel. The original plan was to go swimming into the ocean after having overflow it for almost 1000 nautical miles, but it looked rather cold. So we decided to go for a walk and discover the village of Tan Tan Plage.
First we had a coke and come sweet cookies at a stiff old seaside hotel where we soaked in the local culture.
We found a little market, had some sweet mint tea and checked out the local mosque. There was a relaxed atmosfere in the air. This is clearly a sleepy village out of the tourist season.
The village had lots of fancy holiday homes, all came with seaviews.
It was getting rather cold, we decided to have a meal inside: good warm local soup, followed by a main course with meat brochettes and accompanied dates and vegetables: simple and good !
Totally satisfied, we walked back to our hotel while the sunning was setting … in the west over the ocean.
Tomorrow we fly over the Atlas mountains into Marrakech.
Back from Africa – Day 5 – Tan Tan-Marrakech
Fred and me are getting into an efficient travel routine. This flight adventure is becoming like a road trip with wings. We see each other at breakfast at 8am, discuss the weather and the route, get a taxi and go prepare Papa Charlie, after having taking care of all administration (landing fees & submitting flight plan).
Today the same crazy taxi driver brought us in his green 70-ties Mercedes to the airport.
Our routine got us in the air this morning 15 minutes ahead of schedule. We followed the Maroccan VFR routes low and slow along the coastline again. Fred was the pilot in command, and I took care of the radio. For the sake of practise, I did all my radio in French. I still have a lot to learn !
After takeoff, Tan Tan Tower transferred us to Casablanca Control. The same desert landscape started moving under our wings as the last three days.
We were amazed by the below picture: it’s like a claw of a bird hitting the sea!
Mountains were starting to become visible on the horizon: first to our east, later to our north.
Then magic happened: we started to see green !! Yes, green as we know from Europe, but hadn’t seen anymore since Sénégal …
After Agadir, we started climbing to 7500 ft to cross the Atlas mountains at the planned VFR route. The mountain landscape was a very welcome change from the coastal plains: rough, high, rocky.
On the other side of the Atlas, Marrakesh was waiting for us.
The approach wasn’t very pleasant. First of all, there was a military F5 doing a low pass, which forced us to do 360° turns south of the airfield, and secondly runway 10 was active while the wind was from 240 at 4: a little tailwind. We asked to land on runway 28, but that was bluntly refused. We were then forced to make a hasty downwind and approach.
Once on the ground, we saw our first real fuel truck of our trip … civilization must be near ! We had some expensive neighbours at the parking.
And yes: a real terminal !
We had to deal with some maffia taxi managers, but got one which brought us to our lovely hotel in the Medina, the historical heart of Marrakech.
The houses here, called Riads, are square and built around an open-air patio. On top, there is a terrasse on the roof offering nice sights to the neighbouring houses.
In the afternoon, we took a stroll inside Medina, and of course went shopping in the Souks.
After all the sounds, smells and emotions from the Souks, we were sooo thirsty that we walked to the fantastic and authentic 5-star hotel La Mamounia, where we had a beer (or two).
The hotel has a vaste and beautiful garden. Here some impressions.
Now I know where those fruits we ate in Dakhla come from : cactus !
We walked back to our hotel, refreshed and took a dive into the evening craziness of Marrakesh !
The weather doesn’t look good for tomorrow, so we are not sure if we will be able to fly. Stay tuned!
Back from Africa – Day 6 – Weather hold in Marrakesh
As expected yesterday, the weather was not good enough to fly today. An occluded and a cold front were passing over the Gibraltar Strait, affecting all cities such as Rabat, Tanger, Jerez, and bringing rain, low clouds and worst off all: a lot of “T” in the TAFs, in the form of TSRA an TCU. Not good enough for IFR either.
Even here in Marrakesh, much more to the south, the day started with rain. The hotel manager, however, full of weather wisdom, said that it never rains long in Marrakesh. We didn’t believe him though.
We decided to take the day off. So no flying stories or flying pics today. It was also a welcome break in the heavy flying schedule that we are operating in.
So we took a stroll in the old area of Marrakesh, the Medina, and I would like to take you along here in the form of pictures:
We walked again to the Jemaa el-Fnaa, Africa’s busiest square. This morning, however, due to the rain, the street artists were rather late to show up.
The classic snake charmers were there, and we had ourselves seduced to take a look at their craft:
We should add, however, that their main craft was getting money changed from our wallet to their pockets in a very charming way !
We continued our walk through the Souq.
Of course the rain stopped and the sun came out. The local guy was right.
In between all stalls, somewhere hidden in the small roads, we found the Ben Youssef Madrasa. Actually, we did not find it, but we asked a boy to show us the way. The boy gathered three additional friends, and so we were escorted by four 8-year-olds to that school, whereupon they asked for money, of course … all a fun game.
The Madrasa is very beautiful and extremely finely decorated.
… drawing plenty of tourists from all over the world.
We continued towards the Photography Museum.
We had a fine dinner (Tajine !) on a terrace overlooking the Medina – unforgettable !
And continued towards Jardin Majorelle, a garden and house designed by the french artist Majorelle.
Who can tell me what this contraption is used for ?
Majorelle gave his name to the typical deeply-saturated blue.
After some rest and some work, we finalised the day with another lovely meal, which is served with the following sentence:
Guaranti pour deux ans sans diarrhee !
Tomorrow, the weather looks good for a long flight to Spain. Stay tuned!
Back from Africa – Day 7 – Marrakech-Jerez-Bordeaux
We started the day full of good ambitious plans: we were the first at breakfast in our Medina hotel, we had ordered a taxi, and he showed up in time, we easily passed immigration and police at the Marrakesh airport … and then the shit hit the fan …
The night before, Fred and me had prepared our VFR flightplan to fly from Marrakesh all the way to Castellon, a small city at the Spanish east coast between Valencia and Barcelona. We planned to cross the Strait of Gibraltar between Al Hoceima and Almeria: an hour flight over water, but a nice shortcut. The Maroccan part was nicely planned follwoing the required VFR routes as indicated on our VFR maps. We had everything also programmed in our flight navigators (AirNavPro and SkyDemon), and we briefed weather and NOTAMs along the route. I filed the VFR flight plan via the Aeroplus app. We thought we were good …
This was our planned routing:
DCT TAMALELT DCT BEZOU DCT SOUK ES SEBT DCT BML DCT KHENIFRA DCT IFRANE DCT SEFROU DCT ISBAAINE DCT TISSA DCT TAHAR SOUK DCT ARBAO DE TAOURIRT DCT GMTA DCT BERUM DCT AMR DCT NARGO DCT VLC DCT
So that morning we entered the “C” office, and the officer immediately showed us a NOTAM on how closed the airspace around Casablanca was. No worries, we thought: we go northeast, and not northwest towards Casablanca. Then he told us there was something wrong with our flightplan. Good news was that they had the flightplan. Bad news was: not only was Casablanca closed, so was Rabat and so was about all military airspace north of Marrakesh, blocking us completely. It took them 30 minutes and 5 phone calls with the colonel to get it explained to us.
On top, they told us that we were not two pilots, but one pilot and one passenger, implying that we had to pay more landing taxes. We argued about that all the while we tried to argue with the colonel about his precious airspace…
At that moment, some magic happened: they started helping us. Another 30 minutes passed before we had a new plan with lots of detours and the plan to leave Marocco via Tanger (northwest) and not via Al Hoceima (northeast). That put our fuel plan to Castellon in jeopardy, so we decided to only fly to Jerez in southwest Spain and decide what to do later.
At that stage, Fred paid for the taxes (1 pilot, NO passengers 🙂 ). We paid the whopping fee of 66 Dirham, or 6.6 euro.
The flightplan got submitted and we were good to go.
We saw that Papa Charlie received a lot of company over the two days we had not flow with him.
And we were happy to find him back in an excellent state.
So I took off from runway 10, and started our zigzag in north Marocco, avoiding Casablance, Rabat and the military zones.
All photos taken by Fred by the way, thanks !
Even north Marocco is dry !
The only thing we couldn’t really avoid was bad weather. And that is the exact problem with those prescribed VFR routes: they look good on paper, but it cuts back flexibility when weather is not good.
Around Tanger, we were forced to do some *very* special VFR flying.
We deviated to the coast, away from the VFR route, and there the weather was luckily much better. Tanger Tower cleared us to cross the active runway all the while a Ryanair 737 was landing. He rolled out when we passed the extended centerline. I don’t consider this a very safe clearance. Is this common at all?? Imagine the jet had to do a go-around with us passing overhead …
This turned out to be our VFR trip in north Marocco:
At the tip of Tanger, Africa ends. Africa turns into the water of the Gibralta Strait, and on the other side Spain awaits. We crossed the short strip of water and the weather improved: this must be Spain !
We started talking to Sevilla Approach, and she made us make contact with Jerez Tower. We were cleared to point E, 1000 ft … which was actually very low over the ground. There was also a lot of traffic at Jerez: a mix of students and commercial airliners.
We touched down and we devided the workload: Fred took care of the Police and the refuelling. I took care of the next flightplan and the landing taxes. We took the decision to fly IFR to Biarritz in the southwest of France.
When I was taking care of customs and landing rights, Fred explained me that Biarritz was not accepting our flight because of lack of parking space. So we decided to change our plan to Bordeaux-Mérignac. This would become a IFR night flight. And it only took me 15 minutes to prepare it with Autorouter, JeppView, SkyDemon and Aeroplus … ah those modern tools rock !
We had not accounted for Ryanair though. In Europe, Ryanair is everywhere … even in Africa. And everywhere they take precedence over us, lower grade airplanes. So we had to wait at least 20 minutes in the taxihold before we could take off…
The IFR flight was totally standard. We lost radio contact twice, but we remained in contact due to airliners, who are flying higher, relaying our messages to and from ATC.
We got some IMC weather, but nothing serious.
At around Madrid, the sun was starting to set and it was getting dark. ATC also had me climb to FL100. So we put on our our lights, and our oxygen.
It was dark when we passed Pamplona. Next we crossed the western part of the Pyrenees mountains and crossed the border into France. We could smell home ! Papa Charlie continued humming happily as if he could do this for many more hours.
We got in contact with Acquitaine Approach, and she vectored me nicely in between many other traffic to the ILS of runway 23. I was asked to keep up the speed.
We found out that my landing light was not working. This was no problem for the landing, but it made taxiing difficult. Eventually we parked at parking L, and were helped by handling from Aviapartner to a nearby hotel. We were tired but satisfied.
Tomorrow we fly back home to Lille.
Back from Africa – Day 8 – Bordeaux-Lille
Last day of our Back from Africa adventure. I flew both flights yesterday, so Fred was Pilot-in-command today. He had prepped a nice detour from Bordeaux,over the Medoc wine region and the oyster bay of Oléron.
But first we had to cater for the paperwork at Aviapartner. We did pay a lot of handling money this time… yes we are back in Europe.
Luckily no flight plan to be filed. Fred took off from runway 23 from Bordeaux -Mérignac and flew to point N so we could follow the Gironde over the Médoc wine region towards Soulac.
Our cockpit windows quickly filled with the green of the vines below us.
Great wine vilages such as Paulliac, and my favourite Saint-Estèphe were very visible from the air.
We crossed the Gironde towards the oyster-growing bay of Oléron wit its island and la Rochelle,as main city.
We truely enjpyed our scenic detour. It worth coming back to this area. Plenty of airportns in the neighbourhooud too.
We checked the weather online while flying by connecting our 3G phone with the ipad running the Aeroplus weather app. We saw some showers around Le Mans in our path towards Rouen and detoured them: all conveniently uneventful.
After Rouen we turned towatds Lille, for our last stretch from Dakar. Soon we saw our familiar field passing under our familiar right wing…
And Fred put Papie Charlie down gently on runway 19. Our other co-owners and flying buddies were waiting for our return.
We were happy to be back after about 22 hours of flying the 2500 nautical miles from Dakar along the Aeropostale route. Thinking back to what de Saint-Exupéry and Mermoz did when they flew the Aeropostale routes: that must have been really risky with their fickle planes. One thing, however, now feels easy: navigation! They just followed the coast line: sand left, water right when flying to Dakar; water left, sand right as we have done.
Our best friend turned out to be Papie Charlie: he was economical, flawless, gentle and reliable. We should repair its landing light, but otherwise, our 38 years old friend is good to go on many more adventures!
I would like to thank Fred and Bruno for the nice friendship on the route, for sharing pics, stories and jokes. Thanks to Luc and Fanfan to getting Papa Charlie safely in Dakar.
I would like to thank my family for their patience with this crazy hobby.
I would like thank you for reading this stories and reacting to it.