Euro 2011 - Day 11 - The Great Escape

Follow our flight with the photo journal below, however, today, Dan had another road trip chasing us Northwards. Click on his diary to see how he got on

We had a good look at the weather over breakfast and the occluded front that had influenced the previous couple of days was still lying SW/NE across the central part of the Alps. There wasn't much rain on it but there was a band of altocumulus about 150Km wide shading the ground and including some embedded showers.

Our trailer had to be at Calais the evening of the next day and the weather didn't look promising for a glide back across the Channel, so it would have to be a derig at a convenient airfield. A search of Google Maps produced a few promising candidates and we eventually settled on Til-Chatel, north of Dijon, because of its wide grass runways and proximity to the Autoroute.

There had been a lot of altocu from quite early on to the north, with clearer skies to the south. It didn't look great in the direction we were going to travel, so we were expecting to use the engine to traverse the frontal zone and hoped for some better weather on the other side.
We took off around 1130 into blue skies, with the odd bit of alto-cumulus/stratus drifting by. There was weak lift just starting to trickle off the tops of the local mountains but it wasn't going more than a few hundred feet up.
We eventually climbed away on the back of Les Monges up to 8,500' then glid past Seyne airfield towards the Parcours. There was a surprisingly good climb in the blue, just north of Seyne, that took us to 9,500' and in range of Les Ecrins. We could see a couple of small clouds forming off the southerly bowls under partial top cover, so crossed over the Lac de Serre Poncon and onto Guillaume.
Arriving somewhat below the top, we spent about 15mins twiddling in the cracks until picking 5kts off a nearby col.
The base was around 11,000' but rapidly overdeveloping as the thermals pushed into the moister air above. We moved up to the Briancon area to get a climb but the cloud shadows had cut off most of the convection. After a descending circuit in the valley looking back towards St. Crepin, we went all-or-nothing for a sunny side-valley and managed to climb up in a rough and pulsing wind-shadow thermal right on the back of the Ecrins.
Tiptoeing over into the Maurienne, we found the mid-level cloud to be thicker with the high Alps obscured. We ground up in 1-2kts near Valloire, expecting it to be the last thermal, eventually reaching just under 12,000'.
The sky was filling with cloud of all types, so we glid out in the direction of Chambery as the high route was impassable and the airspace around Grenoble, Lyon and Geneva meant there was only one sensible way through.
Rain shafts were coming out of the altocumulus layer, so we carefully avoided them.
We were still high enough to take fairly direct routings.
There was moist air in the valleys, capped by a stable layer. Unexpectedly, we found a thermal under the altocumulus ahead of a line of rain and were able to gain 800', circling up to the base of the medium cloud. This was nothing at all to do with the ground underneath and existed purely in the unstable layer above.
We carried on, passing Chambery, still under mostly overcast skies.
We looked back towards the cloud-fringed Vercors and the showers.
Exiting the high alps, we transferred to the eastern edge of the Rhone valley. There was a hint of brightness ahead and the medium cloud appeared to be thinning somewhat
Passing due east of Lyon, we could see a little bit of low convection out to the northwest.
Looking east towards Switzerland, it was still rather dodgy, so we were glad we had chosen the lower route.
We slipped over the SW end of the Jura and found a line of good air between the Lyon and Geneva TMAs. There was some quite intensive airspace planning going on as we stepped down under the various airway segments, trading height for speed as we got closer.
The Jura were fairly lifeless under the medium cover.
We hit the first clouds near Saint-Amour, on the edge of the high ground after a 130Km glide-out.
We were still just on the western edge of the bad weather.
There was a cumulus field extending out to the N & NW, a bit ragged but it firmed up as we flew towards Til-Chatel. Climbs were 1-2kts, becoming 3-4kts as we overflew Dole and passed east of Dijon.
The depth of convection increased steadily and we went north as far as Chaumont before following a line of clouds south along the high ground. Base went up to 7,500' with 5kt climbs and good running in the colder air behind the front.
Our trailer arrived at Til-Chatel, so we cut the exploration short at Saulieu and headed back to the airfield, passing between Dijon and the nuclear facility at Valduc.
Google was right and the airfield turned out to be very close to the main autoroute.
There were two crossing grass runways at least 100m wide. Just the thing for an EB28!
We touched down at 1845, after nearly 700Km and seven hours flying...
It had been a fascinating getaway from the Alps, finding lift in unusual places and soaring the whole way, even though the sky looked hopeless at times. Truly a 'Great Escape'!
There was the usual posse of interested GA pilots having a look at our machine as the sun slowly set on the end of our trip.

We put 13 to bed and retired to an (excellent) local hotel and restaurant for the evening.

Reflecting on our trip over a gourmet meal with fine wines, we realised we had done over 6,300Km cross-country in some stunning conditions and clocked up more than 70hrs flying in a straight eleven day stint. We'd made our base at three different airfields, starting and finishing at another two ones new to us. Everywhere, people had been friendly and there had been many memorable meals and excursions, interesting escapes and trailing stories.

A brilliant end to a fantastic trip.