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Late September we like to go to Meribel to play golf in the mountains. Meribel has a 18 holes golf course where golf gets a sport. With an altitude difference of almost 3000ft and a full bag on your shoulder it's not a big problem to sleep at night.
We already looked at Meribel altiport, in the middle of the golf course at 1700m, pretty often. It's an airport with a asphalt (when there's no snow) runway of about 400m, you can only take-off and land in one direction. This time Jerome, the chief instructor, chief mechanic and who knows what else, was working on the red Mousquetaire III. It was up for inspection, so it was not possible to fly that afternoon. But if we could come back tomorrow morning, it would be possible to fly....
With the Pancake, we are not allowed to fly to Meribel. Even if we wanted to, what is not likely anyhow. For the altiports you need a separate mountain qualification, and you have to renew this every 6 months. This is important as we would see later on.
The next day, we were up very early. It was a beautiful day and Jerome was waiting for us. Marijke went first. The Mousquetaire has a turboprop with enough power, so I was able to sit in the back without any weight and balance problems. Marijke flew over St Martin de Belleville and thereafter in the direction of Val Thorens. Jerome showed us a number of green spots on the mountains where we would never ever consider taking off nor landing. They do.
We had seen some courageous french pilots earlier that week as we were on hole 12 where a french fighter pilot passed us at high speed with a 90 degree bank angle through the valley only a couple of 100ft in front of us.
After circling in the Val Thorens valley we moved over to Courchevel. Jerome showed us how to check for downdrafts before going over a mountain ridge. If possible, Courchevel altiport looks even more impressing. The combination of a high mountain on both ends of the runway and a huge drop from the runway threshold downwards gives it an extra dimension. In the final stage of the approach, a missed approach is not option.
The runway though is a little longer that Meribel's, and the slope is a lot steeper so small planes have to keep the power on after touch down to be able to get to the flat part at the end of the runway.
Landing on the steep slope is very different from a normal landing. You have to keep the power on, and it is difficult to determine how high to pull the nose up in the flare. Proof of this was the King Air stationed at Courchevel at that time. The pilot made a serious tail strike and the King Air seemed to be a total loss. As we heard, his mountain qualification had expired 2 months before the accident.....oops again.
At Courchevel we changed roles and now it was my turn to fly. In the beginning of the runway you can't even see the rest of it as the slope is to steep. Not easy to stay focused but it was a comforting feeling that Jerome was right next to me. Even then I had problems to keep straight on the center line after the break in the runway but it does not take the plane long to be airborne.
We continued our trip over the skiing area's of Les Arcs and La Plagne, all green in this time a year although the higher mountains already caught some snow. It feels great to fly close to the mountains, at this time of day with not to much winds it is not very dangerous as Jerome points out. But he too was limiting our altitude once the higher winds were increasing. The big lenticularis at the Mont Blanc also indicated that we should be careful even in these beautiful conditions.
My turn to try to land the plane. Judging the approach to Meribel altiport is already difficult, even if Jerome is helping me with the mixture lever. I don't think I contributed a lot in the actual flare and touch down. Still it was a major experience and we drove back to Holland still excited from the morning events.
Pancake Airlines Crew is trained by Dwarf Powered Gliders (www.dwarf.nl) and Wings over Holland (www.wingsoverholland.nl). Information on the PH-PCA Diamond DA40 can be found on www.diamond-aircraft.at. You can click on the title link to see the HD video on DailyMotion.