Wow! What a spectacularly successful trip we had to Megeve in the French Alps. Aeromega have been taking helicopters to the Alps since the late 1990’s but this was by far the biggest trip yet. Eleven customers, four instructors and three Robinson R44 helicopters made the journey to Megeve for a week of Altitude Appreciation Flying.
To see more pictures go to our Facebook photo album Megeve 2014
We met at 07:00 for croissants and coffee and sat looking at zero visibility for several hours. We passed the time by taking the mickey out of Ali who had managed to fracture his ankle the previous week and would have to spend the week on crutches. G-CFCM, G-WEAT, each with a crew of three, eventually set off about midday on Friday 28th March 2014. The fog was slow clearing and we picked up G-MARF with Ian, Tony and Roy on board as we passed Earl’s Colne en route to Le Touquet. After an uneventful Channel crossing, we refuelled and cleared customs very efficiently at LFAT and were soon on our way down to Troyes.
We arrived just in time to refuel and pay our landing fees before the airfield closed. Gathering up our bags and securing the helicopters for the overnight took a few minutes by which time Ops had gone home and we found ourselves locked in airside. Fortunately Tim H managed to negotiate the gate code from an engineer. Arriving at the Golden Tulip Hotel, the receptionist’s eyes lit up at the request for nine rooms!
A very welcome couple of rounds of beer were quickly dispatched whilst keys were sorted. Taxis got us into the old town of Troyes which is delightful and we found an excellent restaurant for a convivial dinner.
The following morning saw us fuel up with an excellent breakfast – not just coffee & croissants these days – and we got away heading for Bourg-en-Bresse. Blessed with good weather, we made excellent progress and were once again impressed by the wonders of Skydemon which reduces cockpit workload significantly. Having received a friendly reception at Bourg, G-WEAT and G-MARF pushed on into the Alps to enjoy some lower level flying in the valleys whilst G-CFCM stopped off at Alberville for Duncan & Tim H to collect the hire car. It seemed rude not to stop for lunch – the restaurant there Le Piper Pub has a small but delicious menu. G-CFCM then positioned up to Megeve whilst Tim H had the fun of driving up on the old route due to a diversion caused by a landslide.
Rendezvous on Megeve’s Altiport restaurant terrace – Chez Celine -, then Tim H ferried the customers to their hotels in town whilst the instructors debriefed over a small libation.
Everyone being quite tired having worked hard we agreed that Pizza was the easiest choice for dinner and we slunk into our favourite Pizza place where they have a downstairs room accommodating unwieldy groups of English helicopter pilots.
The aim of the flying programme was to give each customer about 3 hours of Altitude Appreciation flying. Operating at sea level at Cambridge all the time doesn’t really give much of an idea of limited power, so the first flight is usually conducted around the lakes at Annecy and Chambery and along the valleys surrounding Albertville and Megeve. This allows pilots to get used to some mountain techniques: crossing ridges, selecting escape routes, power management and knowing your anabatics from your katabatics. This is the most extraordinary fun but focusses the mind wonderfully on the potential dangers of flying in such terrain.
The second flight for each pilot is to see limited power operating for real. A transit into Courchevel is an incredible experience and each pilot got to practice an approach and a departure from this daunting yet beautiful altiport.
As the week progressed Ian and Duncan put each pilot through their mountain paces, interspersed with splendid lunches at Chez Celine and even a picnic on the day they were closed. Gradually the outbound team departed and they were replaced by the homeward team and even some family members. Fortunately for us, Tim G was able to join us from Switzerland to replace Long John Silver for the home trip. We were very lucky with the weather this year, miraculously everyone got in at least some mountain flying but the doom merchants kept forecasting a deterioration by the weekend. Having quite enough to worry about already, Duncan adopted a policy of ignoring the weather forecast more than a day ahead. At least this way, he got some sleep! However come Thursday, the wind was picking up at altitude and the decision was taken to move the helicopters down to Albertville ahead of a predicted deterioration on Friday and Saturday.
A last night dinner in our favourite Pizza place rounded off a wonderfully social week and we prepared to set off home on Friday. Unfortunately Paul was unwell, so was unable to fly – something he ate apparently! In the best Top Gear tradition, we left him behind. Remarkably the poorer weather did not materialise and we made good time stopping at Bourg, and then Troyes for lunch. Regrouping at Le Touquet, it was generally agreed that everyone was happy to continue on home. Arriving back at Cambridge about 7pm, we were delighted with our journey – back from the French Alps in one day – only 5.7 hours datcon.
The trip itself was a resounding success and could not really have gone any better due to a magnificent team effort from everyone involved. We’d like to thank all those customers who took part and made it such a fantastic experience. We also very much appreciate the generosity shown to us by all the customers during the entire week. Duncan would particularly like to thank Ian, Ali and Tim G for their support and superb contributions, without which, the trip could not have happened. A special word of thanks goes to Tim H whose driving, local knowledge, fluent French and general good egginess made the whole experience a lot less stressful for the instructional team.
A big thank you for all the photos provided, particularly Daniel whose handiwork makes up most of this page.
One final message of thanks to our friends at the Aeroclub de Megeve and Chez Celine who looked after us so well. Merci!