On tour to Tangier

Two Tigers set off to Tangier – clocking up 35 hours of flying, visiting 5 countries, and landing at 14 airports along the way

By Gary Hance

We started early on a Thursday morning in July. Very early. Planning for the trip actually started six weeks earlier with a meeting at the flying club in Aberdeen. We (two Grumman Tigers, G-WMTM and G-CCXX) and six pilots met to look at maps of France. James, Barbara and I in TM and Rendall, Steve and David in XX.Our first idea was a trip to the Normandy beaches. Somehow this became a trip toMorocco and in just half an hour on Navbox, Tangier was in our sights. There was even talk of Marrakesh until we worked out the height of the Atlas Mountains. The basic plan was to fly from Aberdeen to La Rochelle to Valladolid to Seville andthen Tangier and back to Scotland – over eight days. A CLOUDY STARTDay one needed an early start but departures from Aberdeen before 0600 attract a �250 charge, so we called for taxi just after then. Drama from the off though; the weather wasn’t cooperating but with two pilots out of the three in each aircraft IMC-rated we were still OK to go. However the C of A and other vital documents for G-WMTM were in Perth. Barbara volunteered to drive to Perth to pick them up and planned to meet with TM at ILS-equipped Dundee. IMC-piloted XX headed off direct to Southend. It was CAVOK at Dundee but as IMC pilot James took off for Southend we met IMC at five thousand feet, thirty miles north of Newcastle. This weather continued for an hour and half. Southend finally appeared – it’s already 1400 and we’d been up since stupid-o-clock. We filed a flight plan to cross the Channel and helpful controllers gave us a direct route across all restricted areas except Gravenchon. We spotted La Rochelle in the early evening sunlight and landed on the westerly runway. No formalities; we wandered into the terminal through the crowd. The XX crew helpfully sent through the details of the hotel they booked and we spent the evening at the picturesque seafront where ‘moules-frites’ seemed more than appropriate. CASH PLEASENext morning, time for a saunter around the fresh produce market before the leg to Valladolid in Spain. There was nowhere to file a flight plan but a helpful local shouted a phone number to us. We called to taxi and the controller told us the refuellers would be going to lunch in 90 seconds for around 45 minutes – we made the pumps just in time. On a previous trip one of our number had been involved in a debate with the French military over their passage through controlled airspace. We refer to this as the incident of the ‘Invisible Mirage’, so we were now very careful to follow the published VFR routes around the south of France. Once in the air however, the ATC units gave us a direct route, the first to Bordeaux. Just north of Biarritz we were asked to turn right to the coast, then follow it south. A handover to Spanish ATC came at San Sebastian and we were requested to report at Oviedo. Spanish VFR points are N, E, S, W and various extensions of that, so the controller may ask for report at E2, then E1, then W, for example. We touched down at Santander and parked alongside XX. Fuel was a cash-only job, the first of many such experiences. On the next big trip we’re going to apply for a BP card; the fuellers seemed to be keen on that option or the readies. A sandwich, then we were on to Valladolid in central Spain. An hour later we were on the ground there with the altimeter reading 3400ft. Because we were planning to fly to Seville early next morning, we asked for fuel but the bowser was dealing with Iberia and a turbine Cessna. Even though it was approaching 1900, it was over 30C and we patiently waited in the heat for the refueller’s arrival…VALLADOLID TO SEVILLEThe next morning the TM crew decided we would take a two-night stay in Seville – after all, we were on holiday. Flight plan filed, we headed out to the aircraft atValladolid. The reflective glare shield hadn’t kept the aircraft cool at all and we were already sweating as we took off from the long, hot and high Valladolid runway. Then followed a sector to Seville in southern Spain and our launch pad into Africa.The Al Andalus Hotel in Seville was as good as it had looked and within half an hour we’d checked in and made our way to the pool – and pool bar. Stories were exchanged with the XX crew and we wound down from three hectic days of flying. SEVILLE TO TANGIERWe spent the following day exploring Seville before heading back to the pool. We all felt ready for Africa. Jepp charts for the south of Spain don’t go much further than Tangier so we’d bought US Dept of Defense pilot charts for northern and central Morocco. It was my turn to fly and while it was the shortest leg in the trip, I was excited about adding Tangier to my log book. Arriving at the flight planning office we were met by long faces and tales of tropical air masses heading north to Morocco.We decided to still have a go and with a flight time of one hour and enough fuel for over four, we had options should Tangier not make itself available.About to start-up and a small truck drew up in front of us. Err… neither aircraft had paid landing fees. One person from each plane headed off and the police asked to see all of our passports. Formalities completed we were back in the aircraft. The Control Zone at Seville has a 1000ft ceiling for VFR traffic, a fact I (as PIC) am reminded of while climbing through 1500ft… oops! With Jerez airport in close proximity, we were asked to climb to 6000ft. In less than an hour we were talking to Tangier. No radar here, they just reminded us to avoid the danger area. We descended to 5000ft in VMC but behind us was XX at 1500ft and they couldn’t see a thing. We heard them telling Tangier they intended to return to Seville. In fact they went to Malaga, but that’s another story... We fly over the extended centreline and join downwind left at Tangier. GA is not in great evidence here; we parked next to a locally registered Bonanza and saw a couple of 172s. Two policemen arrived, shook hands and asked for our documents. We were then escorted through the modern terminal and directed to a taxi. It’s the ubiquitous 1970’s Mercedes, with no seatbelts and probably a similar service history, however it was perfect for our journey to the El Minzah Hotel.HIDDEN SECRETSThe El Minzah opened in the 1930s and is described as the premier hotel in Tangier, although overpriced and run down. I’d describe it as a gently fading grand old lady.During a tour of the souk, kasbah and medina, our local guide told us that every door in Tangier has a hidden secret. The El Minzah was no exception. The double doors between shops in a main street didn’t promise much, but behind them the hotel opened up into grounds boasting a modern spa, excellent swimming pool, sun terrace plus a selection of bars and restaurants. We loved it so much that we stayed for two days and dropped plans to fly to Rabat and Casablanca. Maybe next time. Tangier is a fascinating city where the busiest time for promenading is at midnight. There is great seafood and it’s a city definitely worthy of a weekend visit, even if you do it on easyJet rather than your SEP.PRICEY AT PORTOTime to start back towards Scotland. The first leg was planned for Porto, Portugal. It took us three hours. We’d been worried about customs here but the examination was cursory. We planned to refuel here before flying to Oviedo/Asturias on Spain’s northern coast, but low cloud and heavy rain scuppered the plan. More bad news as there was compulsory handling required at Porto. The staff kindly gave us a 50% discount, but even then it was 160 euro for the privilege. We soon work out why we’re the only light aircraft there. On to La Coruna, our diversion and a comfortable one- hour flight from Porto. The airfield plate shows it as A Coruna, which made finding it difficult in the alphabetically-indexed Jepp guide. The reporting point is five miles to the west at what seems a random point in the sea. We didn’t take into account the high ground between the reporting point and the airfield and we found ourselves certainly lower than we should have been on finals, having to climb up to reach the threshold… It’s a tiny airport but we were told that we should have booked ahead. We’re allowed to park on the basis we depart at 0900 the next day. Our departure is delayed due to weather. I took off early afternoon and decided to stay out over the sea; we never got above 2000ft but followed the coast, talking to Oviedo, Santander and Bilbao. We stopped at San Sebastian for fuel and a quick bite. Changing pilots, we headed up through France to Le Mans. As we crossed the French border we climbed to 6000ft and enjoyed the late afternoon sunshine. Three hours later we were at Le Mans with great views of the famous racetrack. Le Mans is a much bigger town than I’d imagined and as this is our last night in Europe, we go for the ‘fancy’ restaurant option, ‘Le Grenier � Sel’ just ten minutes walk across the pretty town centre.ENGLISH AND SCOTTISH WEATHERDay eight and Le Mans to Cambridge should have taken three hours. On filing our flight plan we’re told we should have arranged customs cover 24 hours in advance but given the OK to go after a phone call. There was almost complete cloud cover as we headed north, which broke as we approached the Channel.Over the water we called London and asked for a direct route to Cambridge and were given very clear instructions on avoiding the Stansted zone. There was no fuel at Cambridge as the fuellers managed to get themselves covered in avgas!We reviewed the weather; Dundee (where the car was parked) was showing 600m vis and low cloud with rain. Aberdeen was only slightly better. The forecast indicated an improvement around 1700 in Aberdeen but not at Dundee. It was my turn to fly so I decided to go, with Newcastle as an alternative. It felt great to fly north over the English countryside at 6000ft and we were maintaining 140 knots, thanks to a tailwind. More in hope than anticipation, we called up Dundee for the weather. Amazingly it was clear. We called Scottish and told them we were diverting. Minutes later we were flying over the Tay bridges. We were on the ground long enough for Barbara to pay the landing fee. James jumped in the left-hand seat and we headed off for Aberdeen. It was a mirror image of the first sector eight days previously and again James’ IMC rating came in handy. At the edge of Aberdeen’s zone we heard the others call in for an ILS approach – they were right behind although we’d not heard from them for four days. After eight days of direct approaches to airports throughout Europe, we were asked to orbit at three different points before landing on runway 16.The Tiger performed flawlessly, we flew some 35 hours, landed at 14 airports and visited five countries.