Saturday, July 29, 2006

28/7/2006 - Sisteron

Tuesday it was...

I had organized a flight at the Sisteron Gliding club based
on the experiences of a couple of the other Australian
Pilots who are over here. It was also a rest day for the
competitors based on forecasts of coming thunderstorms in
the local area. Eventually it was not as bad as some of the
days that they did fly anyway.

Paul Schofield (a New Zealand pilot) had bust his Achilles
tendon after an outlanding on day 2 of the comp. See,
gliding is a dangerous sport. He was chasing his crew down a
dirt road to catch up with them and slipped in a pot hole.
He said I could use his car to travel in as he needs a
driver to take both car and glider back to Belgium later (so
I will get to see Brussels at some time in the future too).

We both headed up to Sisteron where I sat in on their
briefing in French and afterwards went out to the flight
line to take some pictures. While I was there a most
interesting thing happened.

One of the foreign pilots had a Nimbus motor glider which he
had towed out to the takeoff point. For some reason he
started the engine from outside the cockpit. Inevitably it
bowled him over then the motor glider did its own thing.
Ultimately after traveling in a big arc onto and off the
active runway it came to rest in an apple orchard. Well, I
say came to rest, but in truth it careered straight into one
of the trees uprooting it bodily. As it turns out, this was
probably one of the least worst outcomes for the glider.
Although the sudden stop caused the tail boom to break,
there was really not much other damage done. Even the
cockpit area seemed only trivially damaged after uprooting a
tree. I suppose it means the designers are getting the
“crashworthiness” stuff right. The wings were supported
by the branches of the other trees and a quick assessment
seemed to show they weren’t even scratched.

The poor original pilot got whizzed of to hospital to check
that his injuries were just scratches etc, then all his
mates went flying! That left a group of Belgians to extract
it. Paul (with leg in a cast) and I gave a little bit of a
hand as the glider was disassembled and put back in the
trailer being careful not to misplace our footing by
stepping on any of the many apples that had been knocked out
of the trees. I said Paul would have looked very funny with
a cast on both legs.

After that I jumped in a Duo Discus with Jean Pierre an
instructor and tuggy. We couldn’t leave till after 13:00
due to the towing commitments and then it was likely we
would only get 2-3 hours in the air due to expected
thunderstorms mentioned at the briefing.

I had decided to fly from Sisteron as it was closer in to
the mountains and didn’t need such a long flight just to
get there as at Vinon where the competition is being held.
We headed out to the area near Lac de Serre Poncon and
tooled around that area for a while.
The lake is actually a dam and is the biggest man made water
feature in Europe. We even watched a group of folks
parapenting over one of the little towns perched up on a

The mountains in this locality are about 7000 feet above sea
level and we were cruising along the tops of them and
sometimes down in the valleys.

Then off to the west we went. This area is mountainous too,
but there are not as many interesting sites to see, so after
swanning around for about an hour over there we went back to
Sisteron township (about 20km south of the airfield). Jean
Pierre had been worried about the thunderstorms all during
the flight and had kept in contact with the airfield
checking on the weather the whole time. The forecasted
weather didn’t happen at either Sisteron or to the north,
but down south Vinon way the air was very grey and thick
looking. Lucky they had given a rest day.

So, one instructive bit of excitement followed by a 150
minute flight in the mountains. You couldn’t get a more
interesting day than that, could you? Well, the day wasn’t
over yet!

As we were packing away the Duo I noticed a couple of blue
clad Gendarmes on the field. Paul saw the development of
this saga but I only dropped in at the end. Apparently, a
syndicate had bought a new Nimbus (note to self, avoid
Nimbii in future, they seem to only cause trouble!). The
syndicate were in the process of doing the paperwork to get
it airborne. However, one of the syndicate was so keen that
he thought he would take it for a fly unregistered and,
worst of all, uninsured. Strangely, the other syndicate
members took a pretty dim view of their expensive investment
floating about the sky and rocks like that and gave the
local gendarmerie a call. When the impetuous pilot got back,
sure enough, a couple of boys in blue were waiting for him
and I saw them march the erstwhile aviator off, one each
side, to an unknown future.

After we paid our bills and said our goodbyes we drove back
to Vinon with a short look around Sisteron on the way.
Sisteron, the town, is built where a river passes through
two steep spurs. Since time immemorial it has been a
strategic place levying tolls etc. The Romans built a fort
on the hills and in later years the likes of Napoleon carved
out gun emplacements covering the river. In between those
two periods there had been significant constructions and
alterations of the town, its fortifications and the citadel.

Paul and I had some nice icecream in the town square before
we pushed off home to Vinon with strange and unexpected
tales of what should have been a rather pedestrian day out.

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