Flying a light aircraft  
I have always been fascinated by aircrafts and as a kid in the sixties, I used to watch for the VC10 in the sky when it made its weekly flight to Mauritius, a small island in the Indian Ocean. But I never had the chance to come near an aircraft, or even an airport for that matter. The first time I visited an airport was when I was twenty years old and leaving the country for studies abroad.

When home computers started to make their appearance, I was quick to buy a ZX Spectrum and enjoyed flight simulator games on the machine. Things evolved to more sophisticated flight simulator games on more powerful machines, but I could never imagine that one day I would be flying a real aircraft.

It all began on Sunday 6th January 2002. I was returning from the seaside with my wife when I stopped to watch some model aircraft enthusiasts flying their toys at the Saint Martin grounds. I could never bring myself to buy one such thing because it is very expensive and is always being damaged after crashing. In fact, on that day, most of the club members were busy repairing their plane and I did not see many in the air.

Mr Cyril Belcourt
It was then that a sympathetic gentleman approached me and explained to me the activities of the club. He was Mr Belcourt and after a few minutes of conversation, he bluntly asked me if I was interested to fly a real plane, a small Robin plane. I was stunned and could hardly believe my ears, but when I realised that he was serious, I started to talk about it excitedly. He showed me some photos of his previous flight in the plane and said that we will be flying on next Saturday if he can find a pilot for the plane. We exchanged telephone numbers and agreed to stay in touch.
During the ensuing week, Mr Belcourt called to say that everything has been settled and informed me that the pilot will be Mr Thierry D'Argent. When he told me that the latter had accepted that I sit in the pilot's seat and that I will be considered as a "student pilot", I nearly got drowned in deep emotion. We fixed a meeting place for Saturday. On the coming Thursday I had my hair dyed for the big occasion.

The Robin "Aiglon"

The cockpit of the Robin
Saturday 12th January 2002 - My first flight in the pilot's seat of a light aircraft.

I wore my pilot outfit (black pants and white shirt) to meet Mr Belcourt at Sodnac We talked a little while waiting for another friend. He showed me his radio set to listen to Plaisance ATIS information and aircraft communication. We started filling some papers for the flight. He gave me some flying instructions and explained how we were going to change places with one another once the flight started and the sectors we were going to fly over. He handed over to me the keys of the aircraft. Finally the friend, Dominique Rosette, arrived and we set out for Plaisance airport in his 4X4 van.

There was some administrative problem linked to security procedures at the airport, because we found ourselves in the departure lounge for international flights whereas we were supposed to board a one-airport aircraft which was parked in the hangar. The plane is a Robin Aiglon of French construction registered as 3B-CIF ( Three Bravo Charlie India Fox ) but for communication with control tower it was only necessary to identify ourselves as India Fox. It is a four-seater, two seats in front and two at the back and you get inside by sliding the canopy at the top, a bit like the way it is done on fighter aircrafts. It is owned by Aero Club Les Alizes whose president is Mr Cyril Belcourt. We started checking the plane under the instructions of Mr Belcourt. I was more keen to take photographs, although Mr Belcourt told me it was not allowed on the airport premises and security officers may be watching and might confiscate my camera. Photographs could only be safely taken once we were inside the aircraft. I also became familiar with all the instruments on the cockpit panel and thanks to my Flight Simulator experience I had no difficulty to understand the real things. I was asked to play with the yoke to see how it responds.

Finally the pilot, Mr Thierry D'Argent, arrived. He immediately impressed me as being a young professional gentleman with friendly manners. Further checks were made to the aircraft, further instructions given about boarding and unboarding the aircraft and how we were to behave once inside, further papers and log books were filled and at last we all joined hands to push and tow the aircraft outside the hangar. The AMAZING experience was about to begin. We were told that we will have the chance to occupy the pilot's seat on the left as Mr Thierry D'Argent is licensed to sit on the right on instructional flights. I personally think that Thierry was kind enough to gratify us with this privilege so that we get a memorable and unique sensation.

Dominique Rosette was the first to fly. We flew over the east coast up to the north then returned to land at Plaisance using Visual Flight Rules. We both got down, he went at the back and I occupied the pilot's seat and again we moved to the runway for take off. Thierry took the plane up then asked me to maintain 2000 ft altitude and fly west to Piton du Milieu reservoir. I was asked to look around from time to time in case Air Mauritius helicopters were flying by. I could not believe that I was actually steering the plane and we flew close to my place of work near the town of Curepipe then made our way back. This time Thierry showed me how to use the ILS to approach the runway. It was a fantastic experience to see the runway from far away and heading slowly towards it while watching the instrument needles. I will never forget this day in my life. Landing is much more spectacular than taking off. Of course, Thierry carried out the actual final phase of the landing.

The last pilot was Mr Cyril Belcourt who can fly solo but does not hold a pilot's license. He has more than 200 hours of flight and started in 1973. He was quite at ease and relaxed and Thierry let him do as he pleased. First he performed a touch-and-go (landing and then immediately applying full power to take off again). Afterwards we roamed around the airport and as another big plane was manoeuvring for take off on the ground, we moved away to the village of Souillac and followed the south coast for a while before coming back to land.

The plane was taken inside the hangar, checked and locked, and the final papers were filled. I only had to pay 1,400 Rupees for the time I had been flying. I thanked Thierry wholeheartedly as he left us. We later made our way back and kept talking about what we had just achieved. Saturday 12th January 2002 is now forever engraved in my memory.

Khalid

Thierry
Below are a few examples of some aerial snapshots we took during the short flights. Some of the photos were taken by Dominique, who unfortunately does not appear in this album.

The runway of Plaisance airport

"Piton du Milieu" reservoir and the distant Moka mountain range

The Midland dam under construction

Coastline in the north-east

Hangar for coastguard aircrafts and helicopters

Radio antennas at the airport

Plaisance airport area

Final approach to Plaisance
August 2014

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