The principal aim of this exercise was to exercise a 6-day intensive flying schedule throughout Europe in changing and challenging environments.
Download the full report in PDF format here: Ex Edelweiss PXR
Day 1: UK to Saarbrucken via Le Touqet/Abbeville
A late morning departure was planned, with aircraft leaving the UK from various airfields including RAF Halton, Oxford and Bournemouth. With a touch of low cloud and drizzle to contend with along the South coast, the crews navigated through the complex web of the London Airspace Network, before coasting-out over Eastbourne bound for Le Touqet or Abbeville (dependent on aircraft type which was necessitated by fuel reserves). After lunch and a very brief interaction with the Customs Officers, the team was keen to crack on with the second leg en-route to Saarbrucken in Germany. The route hugged the French/Belgium border, flying over fairly benign terrain, whilst avoiding the multitude of scattered showers and thunderstorms which littered the French countryside. The team arrived into Saarbrucken late afternoon, to be greeted with the German efficiency that one would expect. A trending theme began to emerge at this airfield; the Cirrus crews arrived well ahead of everyone else due to their 170kt cruise speed. This appointed them as the ‘Personal Assistant Crew’, tasked with arranging taxis and completing other mundane admin tasks whilst the others enjoyed their slightly longer, and more manual, flying experiences. All the crews arrived in good time, and the team (aptly aided by the PA Crew), descended on the town for Crew 1’s Force Development Stand, and a Bratwurst.
Day 2: Saarbrucken to Oberschleissheim
The team made the combined decision to depart at the crack of dawn for Oberschleissheim, near Munich. The reason for the early departure was the up-and-coming booked tour of Dachau Concentration Camp which was planned for the early afternoon. The expected German efficiency was rather lacking this morning (potentially due to Germany’s involvement in the European Football Championships the previous evening) and it took the team around 90 minutes to clear customs and pay for landing fees/fuel. This added an unnecessary time pressure to the day’s events, which the team took in their stride and embraced. With all fees paid and engines running, the team departed in stream, sequenced in between a French Military Alpha Jet and a commercial airliner. Aided by a slight tailwind and some direct ATC routings (even though subsequently we have been charged for this efficient service!), all aircraft arrived into Oberschleissheim earlier than expected and the team headed into Dachau.
Day 2: FD - Dachau Concentration Camp
With only minutes to spare, all crew members arrived at the entrance to Dachau Concentration Camp, anxiously awaiting the arrival of Ralf the tour guide for the afternoon. However, after an unsuccessful 45 minute wait for the guide, the team departed into the depths of the Concentration Camp un-guided. The team was stunned into silence for an unimaginable amount of time after visiting the Camp. The harrowing yet very true tale of the Camp and its victims were told using a serious of visual aids and spoken words, which drummed into the team the pain and suffering experienced over decades of torture in the Camp. After a very interesting yet sobering 2 1/2 hours, we headed back to the hotel to plan our next day’s flying, which would take us into the Alps, whilst remembering the fallen and how their torture allows us to live a free life with easy access throughout Europe.
Day 3: Oberschleissheim to Lausanne via Innsbruck/Friedrichshafen
The morning started with anticipation, last minute detailed planning, and a mountain flying brief; all being well, today’s flying would take us from the flats of Munich to the vast mountainous terrain of the northern Alps. The forecast was perfect, and all the desired General Aviation Forecast (GAFOR) routes were open and forecasting CAVOK weather. All crews were eager to depart as soon as possible, so that as much time as possible could be spent in the mountains. However, the importance of thorough briefing and met planning was acknowledged by all, and an in-depth wing-tip brief was delivered by Gp Capt Manwaring. The importance of not being task-focused, and always having back-up options should either the weather or aircraft serviceability turn against us, was discussed in detail. Just before wrapping things up and departing for an experience of a lifetime, there was of course just enough time to have an ‘actuals’ met check by our resident meteorologist, utilising the Kestrel 3000 Pocket Anemometer.
Day 3: The Northern Alps
The crews departed for the Alps, taking various routes dependent upon aircraft type and experience levels. The aircraft with more than 2 1/2 hours endurance took a route to Lausanne in Switzerland via Innsbruck for a lunch stop, then SW into Switzerland and through the Northern Alps GAFOR routes. The aircraft with less endurance elected to skirt to the NORTH of the Alps through France for a fuel stop at Friedrichshafen, before delving into the immense mountainous terrain enroute Lausanne. Descending through valleys, climbing over mountain passes and ski resorts, navigating through some complex classes of airspace and around military Danger Areas and airfields, in almost perfect weather conditions, the crews required top-level Crew Resource Management and teamwork. Even though we were flying deep into the mountain range, there were still a significant amount of overpowering peaks to the South that were un-chartable in our Single Engine Piston 2/4 seater aircraft. The crews arrived in an extended stream into Lausanne, which was surprisingly hidden on top of a small rise at the NE edge of the city. As always, the Cirrus crew was already enjoying tea and medals before the rest of us were even out of the mountain range. A celebratory drink was enjoyed by all to celebrate a successful navigation through the Alps, before Crew 4 conducted their FD stand.
Day 4: Lausanne to La Rochelle via Clermont Ferrand
With an easy route ahead, and some good forecast weather conditions, the crews were eager to get into the air and cruise westward through the heart of France to La Rochelle. A lunch stop was planned at Clermont Ferrand approx. halfway, which saw the team dine with inquisitive Ryanair passengers awaiting their delayed flight to the UK. Some of the crews negotiated the airspace and ATC restrictions, whilst others elected to fly slightly more direct routes. Today’s reduced flying pace and complexity was a welcome rest from the high pressure environment of the past few days, allowing the crews to master their flying technique and practice different flying styles.
Day 5: La Rochelle to Dinard / St Malo
As expected, the forecast on the Western and Northern extremities of France was not as good as in the heart of Europe. This meant that some careful and accurate planning was required, taking into account weather fronts, diversion aerodromes, and fuel requirements. A few of the crews were keen to explore a local Island on the West Coast of France (Ile D’yeu Airfield) but faced with military airspace restrictions, deteriorating weather, and limited airfield operating hours, multiple plans were hatched and briefed should they be required whilst mid-flight. After the wingtip and met brief, the crews departed for what looked like an improving weather situation. However, it was clear after approx 10 minutes into the flight that the weather was very unstable, and we could hear that crews were changing course or requesting access to airspace that would normally be reserved for Commercial Air Transport to negotiate the weather. With only 10 minutes to run to the Island, and with the Eastern edge in sight, we were forced to change our decision and dispatch plan B. Even though we had planned and briefed for every eventuality, this change increased the cockpit workload significantly and relied on superb CRM to navigate with minimal visibility and negotiate unfamiliar airspace restrictions and language barriers. After clearance was gained through the Nantes CTR not above 1000’ (the weather was restricting us below this anyway!), we avoided a few epicentres in the poor weather and emerged in some clear air with approx 60nm to run to Dinard. Upon listening to the radio chatter on the Nantes freq, it was evident that some crews had to divert quite far from their planned route to avoid the weather, whilst others made it through unscathed. The team refuelled, regrouped and descended into St Malo for a team debrief and group meal.
Day 6: Dinard / St Malo to the UK
Our initial plan was to head to Jersey (about 40 minutes from Dinard), to take on some cheap fuel; however, the weather was not in our favour! Gp Capt Manwaring led the departure trail from Dinard, with the rest of us in a close trail, after some hopeful met forecasting. After about 10 minutes flight time, it was evident that there was no way that we would be able to land at Jersey. With not enough fuel to make it to the UK, each crew elected to head back to Dinard for a re-fuel and re-plan. The weather very much deteriorated before getting better, which saw us sitting patiently with anticipation in our respective cockpits, awaiting the break in the weather. With torrential rain and less than 1 km visibility we were nearing the decision point to retire to Dinard for another night. However, after a successful check of the forecast, with conformation of an improvement from the Dinard Met Actual, each crew re-filed their Flight Plan and donned their life jackets for a nervous crossing of the English Channel. After punching through a very fine, broken layer of stratus just NORTH of the French coast, we were faced with blue skies and glorious sunshine. Approx 30 minutes into the flight, and with nothing to see other than blue skies and the Channel, we ‘checked in’ with UK FIS to obtain a service into UK airspace. With a slight tailwind, and a few extra revs, we made it back to Blighty in good time, landing at our respective aerodromes in the early evening.