Speyer and Luxembourg

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20th August 2014

Although slightly disappointed that our three day trip to the RNAS Culdrose Air Day had resulted in just a one day but very successful visit to Yeovilton (see the previous write up) our planned five day five country tour was therefore looked forward to with even more anticipation. ‘Operation Mozart’ as it was known had been attempted over the preceding couple of years in late spring but had been totally scuppered by atrocious weather over both years. This year we were attempting it from the 20th to the 24th of August in the hope of getting much better and settled weather. The trip was quite ambitious, taking in France (Calais), Germany (Speyer and Tannheim), Austria (Salzburg), Switzerland (St Gallen) and Luxembourg.

The planning had taken an age as you can imagine especially with so many airfields being visited and of course the complications of getting our large number into the major airports of Salzburg and Luxembourg together with ensuring that we wouldn’t have to take out mortgages to pay the landing/parking fees. My trusty assistant aka the lovely Red 2 (apart from when wearing the sandals) had also spent an awful long time on producing a printed 70 page pack for each aircraft with the routes/ frequencies and plates for each airfield stop plus the diversions.

As the day of departure approached all the aircraft going had been checked and serviced where necessary to ensure there were plenty of hours remaining for the estimated 13 to 15 hour trip. Phil and I had been pouring, as usual, over all of the available forecasts for the route. As we have learnt from many years of experience the forecasts always change, but this time there just seemed to be a horrible consistency about the weather around Southern Germany and Austria, which was basically horrid. Heavy rain, low cloud, severe thunderstorms and poor viz dominated every forecast and the synoptic anticipated frontal systems just confirmed it. Oh well, the usual flexible approach was called for. A day or so before it became abundantly clear that the Salzburg element was going to be a total no hoper due to the appalling weather. With the weather in Northern Europe being pretty good we therefore decided to rearrange the trip but curtail it somewhat by planning to visit Speyer as previously arranged but then return via Luxembourg early. Hotels were duly cancelled and the Luxembourg one rearranged. Lucky it was the ibis hotels again.


It was with some relief therefore that the crews of the nine aircraft taking part actually met up under brilliant clear skies to start the trip. The first stop was to be Calais for the usual customs requirement on entering the continent. As most of you will know this is our usual port of call as it’s quick, cheap and a good place to grab a coffee and the compulsory ham and cheese baguette. It’s also generally an ideal first pilot change after the hour flight from North Weald. However during the planning it worked out that this would leave a 290 nm, or nearly a three hour flight from Calais to Speyer. This was something which as much as I love flying I find a rather excessive time if it’s not essential. I had spent an age combing the chart and then checking on the French SIA site for another smaller airfield that could arrange the customs for us on route so that we could by-pass Calais. One around midway perhaps would then ideally give us a couple of two hour or so legs to Speyer. This stop would need to avoid the bigger airports such as Lille or Charleroi as they are just too much of a faff to get through for just a quick on route customs stop. Bingo! Charleville-Mezieres (LFQV) fitted the bill perfectly. The plate indicated customs could be arranged with six hours notice. To cut what turned into a very long story short (unusual for me I know) Malcolm J’s very accommodating friend Ann who is based in France had a series of conversations with the very friendly people at Charleville and the nearby customs office all of which resulted in a very firm ‘non’ and nobody had the faintest clue as to why that info was shown on the official SIA plate.


No matter, Calais it was to be and then a voluntary stop at Charleville-Mezieres for those that wanted to split the leg to Speyer. With the aircraft all checked out and loaded with the usual paraphernalia required for these trips and with the flight plans and GAR forms in it was time to depart. As is usual on these trips Malcolm and compatriot John Reynolds in FC were off the blocks like a greyhound out of the trap and were disappearing off to the east before we had finished our coffee. Stewart and Jonathan in FAB1 weren’t far behind, the Diamonds sparkly bits glinting in the sunshine as it gave a great impression of a well loaded 747 struggling into the air under the weight of Stew’s legendary amount of luggage on board. The routing out to Calais was our now very familiar route, out to Ongar and turn on course direct DVR where we would coast out for the short sea crossing. As always our first call was to Southend approach for a basic service as we approached their RMZ and we were met by the familiar voice of Kevin who was operating the approach frequency that day. As the string of aircraft routed out Gordon Horscraft who was last in line in ‘The GEEP’ called up with his North Weald to Calais routing Kevs response was ‘Are there any aircraft left at North Weald?’ To which Gordon quickly replied ‘only the broken ones’ which wasn’t far from the truth as we had left our trusty 150 ‘FA’ behind for that very reason.

At Maidstone it was over to London Info for the remainder of the journey to mid channel. As we approached the coast with Dover harbour nestling in the familiar gap in the cliffs we could clearly see the French Coast ahead, the busy ferries like toys on a calm pond scuttling back and forth. Approaching mid channel and a update on the ATIS we went straight to Calais Tower and were greeted by the usual cheery ‘report the French Coast and the airfield in sight’. Calais, despite its size can be a bit tricky to spot unless you know where it is in relation to the other land marks and even in the clear conditions prevailing today it was no different. Turning along the wide beach for a right hand downwind join for R24 we could already hear the greyhounds or should I say pathfinders in FC requesting taxi for their departure for Charleville.

 On landing and taxiing to the main apron we were greeted by the crew of FG who were unable to start the engine either due to a stuck starter or a flat battery. A quick check revealed that it was indeed a flat battery and unfortunately the Pompiers didn’t have the nice easy plug in jump start lead. However, after several calls to North Weald engineering and some cursing which was moderated in the presence of our own genteel Linda Winstanley and with a lot of help from the small tool collection that I keep in my flight bag we managed to remove the engine cowling. I swear there were 101 screws and studs to remove to gain access to the battery. With the jump start she fired up first turn and with the ammeter showing a healthy charge it fell to Richard Gormley to have the pleasure of running her for 10 mins to get some charge in the battery before we could replace the now 100 studs and screws to secure the cowling. After another check and a report to the engineers all was deemed fit to continue and FG started straight after the cowling was replaced and didn’t give a hiccup for the rest of the trip.

That had put us around an hour and a half late so it was time to crack on to Charleville. A flight plan wasn’t required for this leg but it was from Charleville to Speyer as it crossed into the German FIR. To avoid the risk of having no internet and even the possibility of not even a person at Charleville we decided to work out the time and go for an estimated departure from Charleville and file the flight plan at Calais. Departing from Calais we headed down towards St Omer and then onto toward the MMD VOR. The flat lands of the Pas de Calais gave way to the more rolling hills of the area around Arras and amongst the patchwork of fields we had some sobering views of the Canadian and French WW1 cemeteries with their grand memorials and row upon row of beautifully tended white crosses all of which probably had some largely untold tragic tale to tell. The large former French Air Force base of Cambria slipped past below us and after some 1 hour 45 mins we were making our now slightly more well practiced calls in French to Charleville radio. Charleville is another of those little French gems of airfields that you find all across the country. 1500 metres of well kept Tarmac, good taxiways, a nice apron and a clubhouse, all with not very much going on. As we were so far behind everyone else (FG had decided to go straight to Speyer) Phil and I were landing as the remainder of the group were departing. A very nice man from the aero club welcomed us in, offered us a drink from the bar and insisted that there would be no landing fee to pay as we were their guests but would we be kind enough to fill in the visitors book. Once again French flying at it’s best.


                                                                             Red 2 with VB at Charleville-Mezieres.

Suitably refreshed we headed back out to VB for the next leg to Speyer and climbed away from the westerly runway (29) into the continuing blue sky and well spaced fluffy cumulus. This was a pretty simple one being a more or less a direct south easterly track towards the MMD VOR before turning east towards the German border south of Luxembourg. This kept us clear of anyone’s airspace but did necessitate crossing several danger areas although they presented no problems as they were all ‘cold’ that day, something we doubly confirmed by asking Strasbourg Info when we were airborne and activating our flight plan with them. Our routing took in some great views of the rolling French countryside although as we passed into Germany with a change to Langen Info the whole vista became very industrial. Once away from the Saarlouis area the countryside opened up again and we had a great view of the huge USAF base of Ramstein to the north of us with a large number of C17s and C130s dotted across the aprons. In the distance the densely wooded and high ground of the Palatinate Forest came into view. This was the most picturesque part of the whole journey and was pretty stunning with winding roads weaving through the peaks and narrow valleys to small towns and villages. This area finished abruptly into a huge flat plain that led towards Speyer and after another quick check of the plate to familiarise ourselves with the very specific circuit we said goodbye to Langen and changed to Speyer Radio.


                                                               Palatinate Forest

A call to Speyer radio was met with a very brief reply of the runway in use and the QFE which was just fine as it didn’t sound too busy apart from our lot arriving. The airfield came into view being easily spotted by the less than picturesque petrochemical works on the eastern side. Using the River Rhine as our reference we joined crosswind for the left hand circuit for runway 16. The downwind track takes you to a road before turning base with a dog leg at the road bridge over the Rhine. The final approach to the 1400m available runway is short and steep due to obstructions but gives a great close view of the Cathedral and then a Lufthansa B747 climbing towards you! Fortunately this is one of the display aircraft at the Speyer Technic Museum which is mounted on a large pole 20 meters above the ground in a climbing attitude. Gave Phil a scare for a second! Joining the other group aircraft we wrapped up the aircraft for the night and headed off to the tower to pay our very reasonable 20 euros or so landing and parking. Speyer (EDRY) is a very nice small airport with excellent facilities and has had a lot of money spent on it to increase its appeal and efficiency.


                                                  Speyer steep approach to Runway 16

Shame about the oil refinery. After getting directions to the hotel which wasn’t we were told too far away most of the members trundled off on foot into the very warm late afternoon sun dragging their wheelie cases behind them. Phil and I opted for an air conditioned Mercedes taxi which after checking in at the ibis Speyer and seeing the sweaty wrecks arriving 20 minutes after our first little beer confirmed our decision as the right one.

The ibis Speyer was probably one of the nicest we had stayed in over the years and was ideally located for the main part of the city. With the group trip SOP swinging into action the FAB 1 crew disappeared to recce a suitable venue for our 19 hungry aviators. As on previous trips they came up with an excellent venue in the shape of the Hausbrauerei Domhof Hotel just down the road from the cathedral in the old part of the city. Excellent it was to, very good traditional German food and with its own beer brewed on site and with no flying until the following afternoon it would have been rude not to sample a couple and a jolly good evening was had by all. Even Linda ate her main course first time round so it must have been good! After dinner we meandered back through the streets to the hotel, the architecture giving a clue to the City’s long history. Apparently Speyer was the centre of Germany from 1530 until the French came and burnt it to the ground in 1689.



 The following morning was free until the early afternoon but for most of us the attraction was the Speyer Technic Museum which was really why we were here in the first place. This is a real gem of a place with everything from vintage cars and locomotives to an 80’s ‘U’ boat as well as an amazing collection of aircraft. You can even walk out onto the wing of the 747 to view it all from above. There is just too much to describe, but if you are interested have a look at the link below. It’s well worth a visit and I wish we had a lot longer there. It’s certainly one to return to in the future.




Reluctantly we headed back to the hotel to pick up our five pre booked cabs to take us to the airport (nobody fancied that walk again). With typical German efficiency because the company couldn’t supply five cabs at the same time they sent a 52 seat coach. The look on James Chans face was a picture when we stopped outside his hotel to pick him up. Surprisingly it wasn’t his usual cheap flea pit but a rather nice hotel next to the museum. As James usually works with the SHELTER best places to stay guide on our trips has the tide changed I wonder? 


                                                                                       Departing Speyer

It was the usual flurry of activity back at the airport with preparations for the short one hour or so flight to Luxembourg Findel International Airport with top ups of very expensive German Avgas being required in most cases. Departing with a few minutes spacing allowed the group to get the necessary separation of 5 minutes per arrival requested by Luxembourg. Climbing into the clear sky we had a great view of Speyer once again and routed out towards the clearly visible low mountains of the Palatinate Forest. The route was similar to the outbound to Speyer with just a more north easterly track once past Ramstein which would take us up to the Luxembourg border. Needless to say the fine day had brought out a plethora of gliders with Langen Info giving us plenty of advance warning of them. With the ATIS info and an early request for a change to Luxembourg Approach some 20 miles before the border we approached the rolling hills of the lower Ardenne. Once again having done our homework in studying the approach charts well in advance we were expecting the clearance to proceed to point ‘Sierra 1’ although the ‘not above 2000ft’ was a slight surprise given that there were various wind farms up to 1700ft amsl dotted along our route and the airfield elevation is 1234ft. Fortunately the huge revolving red/white tipped blades were very visible and seemed to dwarf our little PA28. At ‘Sierra 1’ we were cleared inbound to ‘Sierra 2’ some 3 miles southeast of the airport where there is a VFR hold and were changed to the tower frequency. The airport and it’s 4000 metre runway loomed large in the windscreen and we could hear some of our number ahead of us. Hearing a Lux Air 737 taxiing out to the 24 threshold in the distance we thought we might get a hold and that’s exactly what happened. Twice around the hold and with the 737 rolling we were cleared for a left base join onto 24. Turning final I did question Phil’s ability to get VB down on such a short runway but he managed it with his usual flair (sorry). It’s still a buzz going into the big airports and with an instruction to vacate at ‘C’ and hold at the line for the taxiing Dash 8 as a Cargo Lux B747 freighter passed on our right hand side just added to the experience.


                                                                   Turning final for R24 at Luxembourg-Findel

We were then cleared for our long taxi to our parking on apron ‘Papa 5’. With the group aircraft being wrapped up for the night in a tight tidy line we were met by our host, the magnificently moustached Jean Birgen the President d’Honneur of the Federation Aeronautique Luxembourgeoise who was very kindly hosting us at the Aero Sport Flying Club. With everyone gathered and wheelie cases in tow once again we headed off to the superb club facilities. The clubhouse as such with its open plan function room sits on the first floor above a series of cleverly designed hangers for the club aircraft. The hanger is one large long building with electrically operated shutter doors on both sides. The aircraft are then parked tail in and with each parking space being alternatively offset this allows the tail of one to fit between the wings of two others on the opposite row thereby maximising the use of space. After meeting some of the club members and enjoying a very sociable drink Jean took us on a tour of their facilities. Further down the corridor from the bar were a myriad of briefing rooms and a large room with compartmented areas for students planning and exams. A very impressive set up. On the walls were a large number of pictures from their fly outs over the years including the latest one to the Greek Islands which did give me a twinge of jealousy!

With a warning from Jean that cabs in Luxembourg are ridiculously expensive and if we took the bus from outside the clubhouse we would get a mini city tour for free we headed down to the bus stop, pausing briefly to look at Jean’s first ever aircraft, a Grumman AA5 which now sits on a plinth looking a little forlorn as the gate guardian at the entrance.

The bus driver obviously thought he had the short straw that day as we all piled onto the bus for our 2 euro ride into the city. The route took us up the winding roads to the old part of the city on a high plateau which dominates the surrounding area. This also gave us a brief look at some of the areas ideally to be visited before it headed off to the end of the route at the main railway station where our ibis hotel was located nearby. The hotel was only a few minutes’ walk from the stop. If I say that two doors down was a ‘girlie’ bar with darkened windows and not wishing to appear stereotypical the various road side bars had dodgy looking overweight, swarthy, tattooed men in vests smoking strong Turkish cigarettes whist drinking outside it may give you a flavour of the area we were in. Naively perhaps this wasn’t something most of us expected in Luxembourg. That aside with our stuff dumped in the hotel it was off to the old city for some exploration on foot and that was a very pleasant experience. That evening taking advantage of the good warm weather we dined as a group al fresco at Academie Restaurant in the Place d’Armes where another very pleasant evening was had by all with some very good food and a little beer.

Taking a circuitous route back to take in some of the sights made for a very pleasant walk, although getting back towards the hotel the first impressions of the area were confirmed. Several, how shall I say, professional ladies, in what appeared to be spray on clothing were working the night shift and without appearing sexist their weight coupled with their attire wasn’t great viewing, especially on a full stomach which had included some excellent Dordogne snails! Each to their own I suppose.


                           The gang at dinner in Luxembourg, it wasn’t just beer, food was actually coming.

However the actual hotel was fine for our stay and in the morning there was another opportunity to do some more sightseeing before regrouping at the bus stop for the return trip to the airport. Rather than return to North Weald around half of the group under Gordon’s suggestion were going to take advantage of the good weather and head back into France for a night’s stay in the city of Troyes.

Phil and I together with FAB1 and Malcolm and JR with Vrai Stacey hitching a ride decided to head back despite some poor weather forecast for northern France where a cold front was slipping down from the channel. With the aircraft all readied and saying goodbye to Jean we headed off in a well spread line to our different destinations. The ATC instructions to taxi to holding point ‘F’ for R24  would give us about the last 1500m of the runway to get airborne in. Given what Phil had eaten in the preceding couple of days I was tempted to ask for the full length but thought better of it knowing what a sensitive soul he is especially as FAB 1 had made it off even with Stews luggage.


                                                                                       Luxembourg City

The climb out with a right turn to not above 2500ft gave us an excellent view of the city as we set course to point ‘Alfa’ to clear the zone and on doing so changed to Strasbourg Info. It was a bit lively initially to say the least with a stonking headwind on the nose so our route down towards Charleville took a little while. The route was more or less the same as the outbound back to Calais but this time we simply overflew Charleville and pressed on towards the Cambrai VOR. The air smoothed out but as we approached CMB we could see some ominous lumpy clouds ahead. Approaching Arras the cloud bubbled up and there was a line of localised intense thundery showers ahead of us. Fortunately with big gaps between them and no airspace to worry about it was quite easy to dodge around them and through the gaps. The plane got a good wash on a couple of occasions but the line of showers was only about 15 miles wide and clearing the last of them took us into crystal clear air for the last 25 miles to Calais. Saying goodbye to Lille we slipped onto a left base join for R24 at Calais and were ordering lunch with Stew and Jonathan as Malcolm, JR and Vrai arrived in FC.

From there it was the well trodden route once again back to North Weald, the White Cliffs looking resplendent as always in the clear air and bright sunshine. An hour later we were back on terra firma at North Weald another very successful trip under the belt which despite being curtailed from the original plan had given us some new and interesting stops. The guys who went onto Troyes also had a very good extra day and returned in some really good weather via Calais without any dramas. All round a pretty good few days of flying and visits.



For info the leg times;

North Weald-Calais       1.00

Calais-Charleville           1.25

Charleville-Speyer         1.45

Speyer- Luxembourg     1.15

Luxembourg-Calais        1.20

Calais-North Weald       1.05

For anyone thinking of doing something more adventurous with their flying I would certainly recommend a trip to Speyer. It’s challenging without being too onerous, there are no language problems at the airport, it has excellent facilities and is a very interesting place to visit. A really good experience builder for those that want to break into some deeper continental flying away from the Le Touquet comfort zone.

My thanks as always to those who took part but especially to Phil (Red2) for all his time and efforts in preparing and printing the info packs and dealing with the main PPR’s. Also to Malcolm and Ann for being our Ambassador’s on the French Connection. Of course Simon and George for ensuring everything that could run did and were in good shape hours wise even if we had made it to Salzburg. Finally to Jean Birgen for all his help at Luxembourg and smoothing our way through the airport.

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Contact us

North Weald Flying Group operate out of the Squadron at North Weald Airfield.

The airfield is 10 miles south of Stansted and can be seen from the M11. Follow signs from the A414 and on entrance to the field, follow the perimeter track all the way around the field until you arrive at the distinctive Squadron building.

email: paul.bazire54@gmail.com
phone: 01992522090