A normal start, I think (mistakenly) to myself - I have seen most things and heard most stories - so the job feels mundane. I’m up at 0500 to catch a commercial flight to Zurich from Nice. As ever, I push the clock to get those extra minutes in bed and find myself striding through terminal 1 wishing I had allowed more time.
On board it’s time to concentrate on a spreadsheet for the business but I fall asleep and wake up for the greaser landing by the pilot of the Swiss Airbus - bravo.
In the Uber en route to the FBO, I tee up a telephone call with the business mentor who is helping us to grow Freelance Aircrew, to discuss the progress of engaging with aircraft employers on a global level. I WhatsApp the First Officer, she’s been in Zurich for the night and is already at the aircraft. Everything is under control. Couple of snags with the jet though, one of which is a comfort issue; the air conditioning cooling intermittently stops working in the cabin...shame it’s the summer, let’s hope we don’t get held on the ground with our clients sweating it out. We’re off to England, so how hot can it get?
There are 45 minutes to spare at the airport so I head to the gym (this is Zurich not Paris and they have sensible opening hours). My training partner and coach will be happy, and I’m feeling more awake afterwards. Still, the top 10 and the GB squad eludes me.
At the FBO, it turns out we have a Calculated Take-Off Time (CTOT). Keen to be prepared for our clients, we send an early ‘ready message’ and hope for an improvement. Only to be denied by the Swiss clock of Euro control. ATC tell us to anticipate an 1130Z start clearance for an 1155Z takeoff...hang on our CTOT still shows 1140Z. A quick call back and ATC say we can start - a reminder that humans are not flawless even in Switzerland.
We line up behind another Swiss Airbus ready for the westerly runway at Zurich. The wind is calm and we can see vortices ‘gently’ rotating in the air from the previous takeoff. We ask for an extra minute on the standard 2 minutes of separation - I must be getting old and cautious. This is just enough time to note that the conditioning is a bit weak in the cockpit too. Happily, the takeoff roll is uneventful and the Alps are glorious on climb out.
Later, we descend into the beautiful puffy cumulus of the UK on a fine summer’s day. I remember that it’s the RAF centenary flypast happening just east of us at Buckingham Palace in a few days time. Nostalgia and pride at my former career as a fighter pilot; anyway, back to the job in hand.
Farnborough approach vector us to land at Blackbushe - the small but efficient VFR airfield just NW of Farnborough. Crossing over other inbound IFR traffic, it’s patently clear we will be high with 4nm to go; an opportunity to drop down and accelerate for a dead-side join and decelerating 360 turn to land - aka run-in and break.
We land on the 4000’ strip and taxi in uneventfully. There are lots of people at the airfield pub all sitting outside and a few wander over to say hello. Captain Blondie, who resides at Blackbushe Flying School, has time for a few photos and everybody enjoys the uncharacteristically warm sunshine.
Our passengers arrive and walk all of 10m to the aircraft (something to be said for operating from small airfields). They are the owners of the aircraft so it’s a private flight, and it turns out we are off to see their horse race in Paris. Glamorous to say the least, and they are in good spirits.
It should be a quick 40 minute hop to Paris as long as Farnborough release us in a timely fashion. However, Blackbushe inform that there will be a delay to the release. As we trundle to kill time, it becomes obvious that the cooling in the cockpit has also failed and it’s getting warm. We turn round to check on the passengers - who are bravely sweating it out in the back. Nuts. To expedite, I ask to depart VFR and pick up IFR on route but coordination by phone with Farnborough reveals it’s all too difficult. So, we hold at the runway for nearly 10 minutes and serve iced drinks. I pray for a speedy climb above 20000’. As it turns out, the passengers are happy to share a glass of Dom Perignon and spirits are good again as we thankfully climb to cruise altitude without restriction. Rare in London and a small blessing.
Once on deck at Le Bourget, a quick taxi back to Signature prevents the aircraft from heating up intolerably. A call to the office reveals that warrantee work had been carried out previously on the same fault. They agree it’s time for her to go to maintenance so we prepare the aircraft for the following morning’s flight to the engineers in Germany.
Finally, It’s now 9 PM and everyone wants to get to bed. Inside the FBO, we bump into two more freelancers. The Captain is a 62 yr old Dutchman who loves hang gliding on his days off. He tells us about his early adventures and how he learned to hang glide from the cliffs of the Monte Carlo golf club.
For a mundane day, it turned out okay: there’s always someone or something out there to provide surprise - that’s the beauty of the job!