Landing in Lausanne
To prepare for our trip to Switzerland, I flew with the Saratoga to Andrewsfield, a small airfield near Stansted in Essex that I’d not been to before. Andrewsfield was built by the Americans in World War 2 and is one of the few airfields around London which will allow for unlimited circuits – as long as you are willing to pay. More importantly, it has an 800 metre grass runway – ideal for practising short field landings. After an afternoon doing circuits there and a few more at North Weald, I felt quite confident about landing in Switzerland. After all, Lausanne has a hard runway and it has an additional 75 metres – it should be trivial in comparison!
The flight was uneventful but the view – wow. It was just astounding. We told Geneva control we were ready to descend and came down to 3,300 feet over Lake Geneva … where all I could do was look around in awe. It took a few moments before my concentration returned to the primary task: where was Lausanne airfield? I knew the general direction where it should be and there’s only so far wrong you can go with GPS but it was still disconcerting. Geneva clearly weren’t going to let me speak to Lausanne until I actually had the airfield in sight but meanwhile I was coming in fast and had no idea of the local traffic.
In the end I lied. I positioned myself for a downwind join and told Geneva I had the airfield in sight. As it happened, by the time I called Lausanne, I really did! I spotted it as I was changing the radio and was pleased to see that I was lined up correctly. I informed them of my intentions and got the details of a second plane in the circuit, way ahead of me. It seemed almost too easy, straight in from the lake for downwind on a right-hand circuit. It may not seem like much but the airfields I’ve flown at recently have been anything but text-book!
It was on the base leg that I really focused on the power lines that Plastic Pilot had told me about. I realised with a start that I might be descending a bit fast under the circumstances. I pushed the power back on as I turned into final, mumbling “I see what he meant” as I considered my approach. I have a tendency to land fast at the best of times and I was watching my airspeed closely as I finally felt safe to angle down towards the numbers.
“The PAPI says you are high but I wouldn’t worry about it, looks good,” said Cliff. I was concentrating so hard, I’d forgotten he was in the plane. I was quite happy to be high and carried on with my approach. Rate of descent was looking good now, airspeed 90 knots, there was the runway. I could almost hear Lee’s voice, “You want to be the height of a double-decker bus, wait for it.” There, perfect height, a gentle flare … where the hell did the runway go?
I swore aloud as the plane floated. After all my preparation, at the last minute I forgot about the downslope. There I was, floating above the runway. What had Plastic Pilot told me?
Runway 18 has power lines on short final and a downslope. Be ready to go-around.
I had an urge to stand up and jump up and down in the cockpit to bring the plane down onto the ground where it belonged. A moment later we touched down. We had arrived in Lausanne.
The weather deteriorated within hours of us arriving: there would be no more flying by this VFR pilot during our stay there. I didn’t really mind – it meant I got more than my fair share of red wine and kirsch that evening.
But it does annoy me that I fluffed up the landing like that, when I had fair warning and knew better! So listen up, Lausanne, I want a rematch. Next time, I’ll get it right.