Nic Rodgers continues his account of Freedom’s adventurous trip to Romania. Join us at 6pm every day this week to relive the trials and tribulations.
After heading back to Graz, we prepared the aircraft and reviewed the weather. Unfortunately, as is fairly typical in mountainous regions, there was a layer of fog which would keep us grounded for a couple of hours. Luckily Graz is a fairly large airport, with plenty of shops and cafes to keep us occupied whilst we waited for the weather to improve.
Eventually, the fog lifted and our route through the Alps was clear (GAFOR routes are helpfully shown in SkyDemon) so we headed out to the aircraft and were quickly airborne.
This was – undoubtedly – the most beautifully scenic leg of the entire trip. As we departed Graz, we initially headed North, before turning West and passing Aigen Im Ennstal (who were keen to take up our offer of a tower fly-by!) and Zell-Am-See, before turning North/North West and landing at St Johann/Tirol. This was 180 miles and 1hr 40min of what must surely be some of the most breathtaking flying you can do anywhere in the world. There is something magical about flying down the valleys, surrounded by the huge, daunting landscape of the Alps as the mountains rise to over 13,000ft around you.
I don’t know if there’s a global competition for the title of ‘World’s Most Beautiful Airfield’, but if there is – St Johann would surely win. Nestled at 2,200ft in the picturesque valley basin between the mountain range of the Wilder Kaiser and the Kitzbuheler Horn mountain, St Johann is picture-postcard-perfect in every way.
We landed just before the daily 2 hours of noise abatement, where no aircraft are allowed to arrive or depart, so we took advantage of the popular airfield restaurant. We could have happily stayed all day, but after 2hrs, it was time to say goodbye and leave, making the short hop to Salzburg International airport.
Salzburg International is the home to the famous Red Bull Hangar 7, a unique building holding all sorts of incredible Red Bull aircraft and Formula One cars. We were lucky enough to be invited for a private tour around Hangar 8. Normally closed to the public, Hanger 8 is the working maintenance hangar that services the entire Red Bull fleet. During our tour we got to see a huge collection of aircraft – old and new – all of which were perfectly polished and spotless.
We could have had a full day at Hangar 7 (it even has 4 restaurants!) but our return journey beckoned. We headed back airside, refuelled, and got airborne, heading west to France. Our plan was to crew change in France, before continuing onwards to Jersey where we would spend the last night of our trip. However, it was clear we were a little too ambitious in this plan as we had spent longer at St Johann and Salzburg than we thought. After landing at Epinal Mirecourt, we decided to spend the night in France. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot happening in the vicinity of Epinal Mirecourt, so finding accommodation for fifteen of us could have proved difficult. So instead of stopping there, we searched for alternatives. We decided on Metz Nancy Lorraine, 40 miles to the North, which offered us the attraction of a large town, plenty of accommodation, good restaurants and – crucially as it was now dusk – a runway with lighting!
We re-jigged the crews on each aircraft slightly so we had a pilot with a Night Rating in each. The short 20 minute trip to Metz Nancy Lorraine, for some of us, this was the first night flying we’d seen. Personally, I was mesmerised by the beauty of night flight. The air was so calm, the flight so smooth, and being able to see the twinkling nights of the city was another memory of the trip that I’ll never forget. I think quite a few of us are ready to sign up for our Night Rating courses this Winter after this one leg alone!
The staff at Metz Nancy were fantastic, helpfully offering to arrange accommodation and taxis for us, and would definitely win the award for most friendly and helpful airfield of the trip. Upon landing it seemed as if the airport was ready to close down for the day, so it was really lovely that the staff at Metz Nancy took the time to make us feel welcome.