Wednesday, August 25, 2010

A trip to France and later to England 1973

The company was downsized from over 200 employees to less than 60.  Also they hired a few new people to improve the marketing of the J-2.  Bill Poremba was first to come on board and he had decided to look into the  international  market, to see if the foreign buyers were interested in our aircraft.  The 1973 Paris airshow was coming up and this would be a big undertaking to transport two aircraft to France.  At first I was not included in the initial group that was going over, but I was told to apply for a passport. Later on I got the word to pack my bags and to pickup a ticket at the TWA ticket counter.  The flight departed Los Angeles to New York and then on to London with a brief stop and finally on to Paris.  We departed LAX in the afternoon and it seemed like I had been on the airplane nearly 12 or 15 hours.  I know after I cleared customs and caught a cab to the hotel where everyone was staying, it was sometime in the morning.  Most of our people were in the dining room having breakfast.  I met with Fred McLane where he informed me that I would have a flight demonstration around noon that day.  I was drop dead tired and suffering from jet lag.  I begged off for a few hours of sleep,  I did not have a clue about how it was going to be flying out of the Le Bourget airport.  I guess if Charles Lindbergh did it 46 years earlier with very little sleep, I could manage too.  It just would have been nice to get a briefing from one of the local pilots and a few more hours of sleep.  The Paris airshow is a big deal.  I had never been to this event and I was looking forward to seeing some of the new flying hardware from around the country.

1973 Paris Airshow

Our display aircraft were parked under the wing of an MD-11 and we were getting lots of looks by the crowds of people attending the show.  The first day I was there, the Russians lost their SST aircraft just outside of the airport.  They were hauling in the larger pieces of wreckage on trucks of the airplane as I enter the airport.  Fred McLane did his magic again, and sold both aircraft in six days at the show.  It looked like I would train a total of four pilots.  One J-2 was sold to a company in south central France.  A very small town, Le Blanc.  I was to train three pilots there and then return to Paris.  Later on I would fly the remaining J-2 from France to England via the English channel.  I would train at least one pilot in England, at a small coastal town near Brighton, called Shoreham by Sea.  Jack Anderson who came along with me, would be doing the support maintenance on the two aircraft and also give training to the mechanics at each location.  Jack would pickup a rental car in Paris and drive on to Le Blanc.  I departed about midday with very little in the way of aviation charts to help me navigate to a town that was no more than a dot on the map.  The hangar where  we kept the J-2's, was very close to the UTA airlines offices on the Le Bourget airport.  In most cases, internationally, I think pilots and aviation people are willing to help each other out when you are in their territory.  Not so at UTA, I couldn't get the time of the day, let alone a sectional aviation chart for the regions of France I would be flying in.  Everything was so busy with the airshow, I just couldn't seem to find anyone willing to give me some assistance.  I finally found a book store in Paris that had Michelin road maps and this would be my primary source for how to get there.  I followed several major highways to the south and about an hour and a half into the flight I found an airport where I could make a fuel stop.  The airport was a joint civilian/military use airport and the control tower was maned by military personal.  I might point out that all the foreign control tower operators spoke English.  But with a very heavy accent. Often it was not easy to understand their transmissions.  Another thing that I found out which was very true, is that most people in France do and can speak in English, but they often don't just to be rude.  I'm finding out that French people don't like Americans.

Refueling the J-2 at an airport in central France

I made a call to the airport control tower several times but I never got a reply.  Based on the wind direction, I selected a runway and landed without a clearance.
As I taxied into the ramp, I was met by the French Military police.  These people were very fascinated with the J-2 and they gathered around to have a closer look at the aircraft.  Also it was explained to me, that it was lunch time and no one was in the tower at time I called in.  They were happy to refuel the aircraft, but I did not have a Shell credit card which was normally used by pilots flying private civilian aircraft in France.  I had French money, but they could not except cash for payment of fuel.   The base commander came down to the flight line and deliberated for a while and decided they would just give me the fuel.  I had entertained them enough.

I taxied out to the runway and made my takeoff.  As I looked back down at the flight line, I could see a lot of friendly waves.  So I guess all Frenchman are not unfriendly.  All the little towns in France look alike.  Many old buildings with red tile roofs.  I followed my road map very carefully and based on elapsed flight time, I should be getting near the town of Le Blanc, France.  Sure enough I looked up ahead and could see a small town and what looked like a grass field with a single unpaved runway.  When I saw a couple of airplanes parked near buildings which I guess were hangars, I figured this is where I was going.

Le Blanc, France

As I was coming in for a landing, I snapped this picture of the town.  This is how most small towns looked throughout France. Hundereds of years old with a lot of history.  Jack and I should be at this location for several weeks.  I think we were the only two Americans in the town, in a short amout of time, everyone knew us very well.  The people were very friendly and we stayed in the only hotel that was in the city.  Once you are out of the bigger cities, English is not widly spoken. so we did our best to communicate with the local citizens.  I must say, this was a really great experience, and very challenging too.  More on this later................................

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