SCFA Flying Adventure - Part 2

SCFA Flying Adventure - Part 2

September 2006

After my first failed attempt in June 2006, I was booked again on a member’s flight to Epinal, France on the Super Constellations Flyers Association (SCFA) Super Connie. The roundtrip flight was scheduled to depart Basle, Switzerland early on the morning of September 26, 2006. I started the 325 mile trip to Basle on the 25th, taking a few hours break at a sunny Frankfurt Airport. After my break I resumed my trip to Basle and soon heavy rain started, which continued to Basle. It rained all night long and the next morning the clouds were quite low. I was certain that the SCFA would cancel the flight due to bad weather. Epinal lies higher than Basle and they would need a minimum of ground visibility for the planned crew training. With almost no hope of a flight, I showed up at the airport expecting they would tell me that I had made the trip to Basle in vain again. In addition the TV-Videotext forecast for Epinal was also for heavy rain.

But at the airport things didn’t seem to be that hopeless. They checked in the passenger and we were told that better weather was forecasted. And yes, after a while the 35 passengers and SCFA crewmembers climbed into the Connie where Ernst Frei was preparing the flight even although it was still raining. Fortunately the forecast was right! The rain stopped and the sun appeared from time to time. After a long wait for a tug, we were pushed into position for what I had been waiting for such a long time: The firing up of the Curtiss Wright Cyclone R3350 piston engines. What a show!
Slowly we taxied to the runway hold point for engine magneto and run-up checks. We had to wait quite a while for takeoff because we were taking off opposite to the rest of airport traffic. And then the dream became true: Takeoff with the vibration and unbelievable engine sound and fire out of the exhausts! This is what I call flying! Shortly after takeoff, we were in the clouds with zero visibility climbing to sunny weather above the clouds!
After the seatbelt signs were turned off, everybody stood up to use the short 30 minute flight to take photos from all positions! In the cockpit Francisco Agullo, who initiated the SCFA project and is the SCFA vice-president, occupied the left seat; in the right seat was Ernst Frei, SCFA chief pilot; and as special guest as flight engineer, Carlos Gomez, who is THE vintage piston propliners specialist. He is currently restoring DC-7B N836D in the US, which was inactive for approximately 35 years. More details about this effort can be found on the Legendary Airliners website.
We flew over the closed airport at Fontaine, France with its obviously blocked runway. The cabin with 36 seats is very spacious due to the fact that in the high density configuration up to 98 seats were possible. When engine power was reduced for landing at Epinal Airport, big flames came out of the exhausts! A spectacular but not dangerous view.
At Epinal we had to leave the Connie because no passengers were allowed onboard during the upcoming training flights. Epinal is an ex-military civilian airport with very little traffic and we were allowed to remain on the side of the apron taking photos the whole time the aircraft was flying. Last year it was even possible to stand close to the runway. Where else in the world is this possible anymore? Starting of the engines again...and a few moments later the Connie thundered down the runway for takeoff into the still cloudy sky. Fortunately it didn’t rain during the entire stop in Epinal and the passengers were treated to deluxe catering brought from Basle. Definitively first class food for the passengers
The Connie made several approaches, overflights and touch-and-go landings for crew training purposes. Light conditions changed quickly which made photography with long lenses quite challenging for us. The classic Epinal shot with the church in the background
After a while, the check flights were finished and the Connie returned to the tarmac. It was now time to take as many detailed shots as possible because one never knows when the opportunity to get so close to a Connie will happen again. The aircraft was very oily, which is normal after intensive use. Oil was dropping everywhere and you had to be aware not to ruin your clothes.
After all photos were taken it was time to say goodbye to Epinal and we climbed into the Connie again to witness the smoky start up of the engines. The weather has turned much better. Simply enjoy...unfortunately without the incredible sound.
Far too soon we reached Basle and parked in our old position with the terminal in the background. After a glass of champagne, all passengers received a flight certificate. Soon the bus brought us back to the terminal with a final view on the Connie with dark clouds in the background. What good luck we had with the weather!

The SCFA operates on a very high professional level even though all staff members work as volunteers. I highly recommend joining the SCFA and becoming a club member. This gives you the outstanding opportunity to enjoy a flight in “The Queen of Piston Powered Aircraft”! But hurry up because nobody can predict how long this will be possible in the future. Spare parts are difficult to get and they are extremely expensive. To get a certified flight crew becomes more and more challenging, especially flight engineers, and nobody can predict how high insurance rates will be for Connie operations

Very special thanks go to Marcel Bitter from SCFA Administration, who was very cooperative and patient with all the questions and requests I had and who keeps in a close touch with all members.

And now: Check the website of the SCFA!

A long dreamed unforgettable event which finally ended up in the decision: Next year again!

Rainer Spoddig
September 2006

Photo Credits: Rainer Spoddig

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----Created 10 March 2007----