Corfu to Lausanne
22 April 2002 - The wake up call I thought I'd scheduled never came. I awoke ten minutes after I should have been downstairs. I hurriedly got dressed and finished packing my bags, then met JP downstairs. I paid my bill, then we got into a taxi for the short ride to the airport. I was struck by the incongruity of riding through an ancient town with the Beach Boys on the radio, although some would say Good Vibrations is "ancient" rock 'n roll.
We quickly found coffee and the Olympic Airways office. We were directed to the airport operations office, who sent us up to the tower to file our flight plan. Then we went to the weather office. It wasn't going to be a very nice day for flying; but it was our last, as our final destination that day was Lausanne, the airplane's home field. Air Traffic Control did not accept the route JP filed originally, so we had to re-file a less direct route. Eventually, ATC accepted our plan, we paid our fees, and got a ride to the airplane. Again, a fuel truck was there very quickly. Our flight plan would take us to Cannes, in the south of France. From there, we'd decide if the weather would allow our flight over the Alps into Switzerland.
After departure, we once again climbed to 10,000 feet, the minimum enroute altitude. For once, there was no headwind so our speed across the ground was a welcome change from what I'd previously experienced on the trip. About halfway across the Ionian Sea to Italy, there were clouds at our altitude and since the outside air was hovering around 0° Celsius, ice was a possibility. It didn't take long for the airplane to pick up small amounts of ice. This wasn't a major problem, except for the high-frequency (HF) antenna, which ran from the left wingtip to the tail. The antenna began flopping wildly.
I slowed the airplane, which seemed to resolve the flopping, then JP and I discussed our options. The Mooney is not certified for flight in icing conditions. We were by that time in and out of clouds. The times we were out, the temperature would rise to +2° or +3° C, which began melting the ice. Then when back in the clouds, the temperature would drop and we would begin picking up ice again. We decided to see if the Italian air traffic controller would allow us to descend below the minimum altitude, which put us back in clouds for quite some time; but the temperature was warm enough that ice was not a factor and our ground speed was consistently around 170 knots.
Our route was northwest, along the coast of Italy. We flew by Naples and Rome; but due to the clouds we saw neither. As we approached Elbe, the clouds cleared away, then we turned westward toward France. We crossed the northern tip of Corsica and not long afterward began our descent to Cannes, where the weather was gorgeous. This was my last leg flying the Mooney so I wanted to do a really good landing, as none of my previous attempts have been worth mentioning. To accommodate traffic ahead of us, I ended up turning final approach about four miles from the runway, which should have given me plenty of time to configure the airplane for landing. The Mooney lands best when the pilot crosses the runway threshold between 65 and 70 knots, I was between 85 and 90. The landing was not pretty and both of us experienced a rise in adrenaline, but I managed to keep the airplane safely on the runway anyway. Our flight time from Corfu to Cannes was 4 hours, 30 minutes.
We taxied to our parking spot; the French are very picky about airplanes being taxied and parked on yellow lines. We climbed out of the airplane and headed for the restaurant for lunch. The guy in Passport Control was unconcerned by our arrival, just waving us through while he ate his afternoon meal. I mention this because being from the US where border crossing has become an ordeal, once again I was struck by the minimally invasive procedures which are common almost everywhere else.
We ordered the lunch special de jour, which turned out to be roast chicken with mashed potatoes and vegetables - excellent. After lunch, JP got weather and filed a flight plan while I found a place to recharge my camera battery. We could see a few clouds on the mountains to the north of Cannes. JP wanted to stay at a fairly low altitude, winding our way through valleys to cross the Alps. There were no weather reporting stations along our proposed route so we had no idea what we were flying into, although the weather in Geneva was reported good. We decided to give it a try, knowing there were a few small airports along the way at which we could land if clouds and visibility became an issue. JP called Donita, telling her we would circle their house when we got there.
We departed Cannes, then turned left after crossing the shoreline and headed north on our final leg of the trip. We climbed to 6,500 feet above sea level and began winding our way through the mountains. As it turned out, there were some clouds to the east of our track, which obscured some of the higher peaks, most notably Mont Blanc; but our route had excellent visibility. I was thrilled by the valleys with small villages tucked up against mountains that rose vertically over 10,000 feet. What beautiful places those must be to live. In mid-spring, there was still snow in the mountains. We flew by Grenoble, then began a descent to keep us below the protected airspace to the west of Geneva. North of Geneva and the lake, we climbed again and flew along a ridge north of and parallel to the lake. We found the pass that took us directly over JP's village, then circled a couple of times, JP's, "Honey, I'm home," message to Donita. There was a practical reason for doing that as well; the Lausanne airport is a 45 minute drive from the village; Donita was on her way before we landed.
We made our way to the north shore of Lake Geneva, then turned eastward toward Lausanne. When we got to the city, we found the airport and landed straight in, to the north. JP parked and shut down the airplane, then went to visit his friends at the home airport. We unloaded the airplane's contents onto a cart then rolled it to an area accessible to cars. Not long afterward, Donita arrived. We loaded the car and headed home.
23 April 2002 - Although the most exciting portion of my adventure had ended, there was more to come. JP gave me a ride down the hill to Nyon, where I connected with a train that took me to the Geneva airport. I climbed on an EasyJet Boeing 737 and flew to London, where I spent an evening with my friend, Tracy. She gave me a quick walking tour of some of London's most famous spots, including Big Ben, Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square.
On the following day, I was back on EasyJet to Geneva, where I spent another evening with JP and Donita. In the morning, I took a train across Switzerland to Basel, where I met up with another friend, Martina, and her family. Martina lives near my home in Cincinnati. The next day, we both began "non-rev hell" again, flying to Paris, then back to Cincinnati.
I had a wonderful two week adventure, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The list of people to whom I owe a debt of gratitude for making the trip possible is long; but I need to publicly acknowledge two -- Martina facilitated the adventure and JP allowed me to join the expedition and to fly his airplane. I have such wonderful friends!