At the beginning of November 2016 Matt Norgrove, Senior Flying Instructor and Aircraft Maintainer at Central West Flying School in Bathurst, NSW and myself, Brett Anderson, headed over to Europe for a 15 day training exercise with DUC propeller’s, Beringer Wheels and Brakes, both in France, a tour of the Rotax factory in Austria and the final stage, several days at the factory of BRM Aero in Czech Republic, the manufacturers of Bristell Aircraft.
We both arrived in Paris on the Monday morning on different flights from Australia and, after rising to the challenge of navigating the immense Charles de Gaulle terminals’ complex, met up at the hire car terminal. Weary eyed and deprived of sleep we were quickly reminded that driving on the right (wrong?) side of the road would be our first challenge. Matt having never been to Europe nor driven on the other side of the road it was decided that I would drive first until Matt became confident enough to have a go.
As we made our way south to our first stop (DUC propellers) we took the opportunity to sample some road side baguettes and had our first sample of European coffee. Between the two of us we could speak a total of 3 words in French so needless to say we had our fair share of laughs trying to communicate with the locals. DUC propellers are based in Lyon, located in east central France approximately 380 Klms SE as the Bristell flies from Paris.
DUC specialize in the design and manufacture of carbon composite aircraft propellers, their full range will cater for 3 axis LSA, trikes, autogyros, gliders and even UAVs. Established in 1997 the company very quickly proved the quality of its products developed by Vincent Duqueine, its founder who has worked in the field of composite material since 1982.
On our arrival we were greeted by the affable Michael Dererian the Chief Engineer at DUC who took us into his board room and discussed what we would be doing in the following days and then introduced us to Eric Rageys, flight tester, trainer and all round great guy!
We watched their in-house presentation of the DUC history, including current products, future developments and then we were taken on a tour of what was their current factory. Many items had been moved to their new, purpose built factory based at Aerodrome Villefranche-Tarare. This move will allow DUC Propellers to expand its premises and modernise further. The move is scheduled to be complete by March 2017 but recent notification indicates they are already there.
Two days were allocated for our training and we started with Eric going through the Flash Black in-flight adjustable propeller. The Flash Black is extremely light and is optimised for performance in all phases of flight. Being the most complex in their supply it was felt that if we knew how to set it up and deal with it, the other propellers in their range would be relatively straight forward by comparison.
We spent the morning with Eric going over assembly, then onto lunch with Eric, CEO Mr. Duqueine, his son, and Michael followed by a trip to the new factory with Mr. Duqueine and Eric.
The new factory will increase their space significantly to allow for their future growth plans with product development moving into mainstream aviation from a base of working with ultralights in the earlier days. Of course the learning was interspersed with exposure to the usual French cultural delights of good wine, great food and after-hours fellowship.
After finishing at DUC and saying our good-bye’s we drove further SE to Gap-Tallard where Beringer Aero is now located. Beringer make wheels and brakes for a wide range of aircraft from ultralight aircraft to it’s now standard STC for the Pilatus PC-6 and the Cirrus SR22. The company has been manufacturing wheels and brakes for over 30 years.
Gap-Tallard is an extremely picturesque little aerodrome based at the foot of the French Alps. It has two restaurants, a skydive wind tunnel and all types of aircraft coming and going. On average Gap-Tallard experiences 300 flyable days per year. Given the perfect location, weather and food it’s not a wonder it is one of the busiest parachuting and gliding airfields in Europe. We were told it was once the most popular skydiving destination in Europe so it must have been extremely busy, as even now everywhere you go there are skydiving facilities.
On the day of training, Veronique, the wife of Gilbert and founders and owners of Beringer, offered to take me for a ride in their Savage Cub that was fitted out with the Alaskan wheels and undercarriage. Whilst I was doing that Matt was to stay behind and help Gilbert work on their Super Cub and its undercarriage. I know who got the better deal! I felt guilty having such a good time whilst Matt had no idea what he was missing. I guess what he didn’t know won’t hurt him.
I don’t exactly know where Veronique took me but we were winding our way through the mountains to a short strip in the area of Superdévoluy, Le Dévoluy, 6500’ up in the ski fields to demonstrate the capabilities of their landing gear and wheels. It was hard to pick the transition from the air to the ground. On the approach to the field another aircraft, a G1 was departing.
Veronique told me that the pilot of the G1 was the Master of the mountain flying in that area, Paul Prudent, Chief Instructor PVM (Pole Vol Montagne that means Mountain Flying Association, part of the FFPLUM, Ultralight Aircraft French Association). He is in charge of the training and Label Mountain Flying Instructor delivery to all instructors in France. Then, the French Instructors train pilots who are granted a ‘Cursus Vol Montagne’ (Mountain Flying Degree) – nothing is mandatory but highly recommended.
Paul flies a G1, a special type, very STOL and even though I was told that it was unofficial, they have gradings on who can land on the tricky strips. We were to meet him later that day at the G1 factory with the owner of G1 Aviation, Serge Present. I also met Noel Genet, Mountain Pilot – GA not Ultralight and, until last year, the President of the AFPM (French Association of Mountain Pilots.) He owns a Jodel and flies a Mousquetaire and Super Cub and is also testing the Beringer ALG (Alaskan Landing Gear).
Noel was making some ‘adjustments’ to their little chalet before the snow set in. It was interesting to see the cables that anchored the chalet to the ground, suggesting that is gets pretty wild up there in winter.
On my return I joined Matt to continue our training with the Beringer gear. We learnt some of their tricks of the trade and viewed their ongoing testing for product improvement. It is no wonder that the Red Bull pilots use their wheels and brakes. They are tested to the extreme. Upon completion of our training we paid a visit to the famous Chateau de Tallard a historical Castle built back in the early 1300s followed by a great French dining experience with the Beringer team.
After waving goodbye to Beringer we drove via Friedrichshafen, the home of the Zeppelins and the annual Aero Friedrichshafen in April. With bad weather on the day our time was cut short so we continued on to another of the highlights of our trip, a visit and tour of the Rotax aircraft engines factory.
Unfortunately part of the condition of entry is “NO Photos”. This factory is impressive and due to get even better in the near future.
We checked out the development of the new 915is which should be on display in the Bristell at the next Aero Friedrichshafen in April 2017. We initially started in the aircraft section where the motors are built more by hand then in the other sections of the factory but with new technology and developments this will eventually change. We went into the testing area where every motor is put through its paces. Everything is recorded and a copy of that testing is sent with the certified motor but the non-certified motors have the same testing and the documentation is kept by Rotax to cover any issues to do with after-sales feedback from users and warranty claims. Strangely enough one of the most impressive areas was the parts warehouse where everything is logged and pick up and delivered by computer and robots. They said that no one person knows where items are, only the computer, it is so vast.
We also saw some special crank shafts being made. Due to the way they have been made it is virtually impossible for anyone to be able to copy them. A Rotax trade secret as to how they are manufactured and identified. You won’t see these popping up as copies from other parts of the world.
Once again we were taken to lunch in the canteen where everyone including the CEO goes through the lunch line. It is like the factory, but it is a food production line with meals similar to that which you would get in a restaurant. The factory must be so important to the town that it’s located in and, from what we saw, they look after all their employees very well. It was great to see the bounce in the step of the staff.
After Rotax we departed for BRM Aero in the Czech Republic. The BRM Aero (Bristell) factory is located at the Kunivoce airport Uherske Hradiste. After all these years of travelling there, I still can’t pronounce the name like the locals. On our first day we were impressed with the new, under construction 2/3rds increase factory extension. The factory was already impressive and the new extension will just add to that and allow an output increase of at least double.
This was my fifth visit, however Matt’s long held desire to get to the BRM Aero factory had finally arrived and he was not disappointed.
Matt could not get over how friendly, helpful and passionate everyone was. Milan Bristela (CEO) organised for Matt to follow the production line and was given free rein to the whole factory. Nothing was off limits. Martin, Milan’s son took Matt for a ride in his personal Bristell, decked out with a Garmin Glass panel and MTP constant speed unit, Matt loved the experience of being in an aircraft that had been tuned and trimmed to perfection. Given that Central West Flying own and operate 3x Bristell aircraft, the learning experience was a great asset for Matt as he started at the beginning of production and followed right through until an aircraft was test flown by its new owner alongside BRM’s test pilot. That same aircraft was then dismantled to be shipped to the Middle East.
Not only did Matt have hands on experience on the production line but Milan had him set up at Milan’s own desk so Matt could view the daily running of the factory from the CEO’s office. In the short time we had at the BRM factory we also had the opportunity to meet other BRM dealers from Russia and the Middle East. This gave us a great opportunity to compare notes on our aircraft and discuss the subtleties. Not missing out on the opportunity Matt being an L2 had a long list of questions prepared for Milan in regards to airframe maintenance and Bristell performance. Milan kindly took the time to discuss each question with intricate detail.
Matt is in his late 20s and has mapped out a career path and goals for himself in aviation and the depth of this exposure to people with so much experience was invaluable to him. It’s fantastic to see people that are so passionate.
On the last night Milan organised to take us all for dinner across the nearby border, in Slovakia, a 40 minute drive, taking our trip to six countries in total.
On our drive back from BRM we then spent a full day exploring the remarkable city of Prague including a visit to the Old Town (Old Prague) with original architecture dating back to the 15th century, before driving back to Paris for our departure home. In all we had driven almost 4000 klms in 15 days, or should I say I drove almost 4000klms as every time that Matt thought that it might be time to have a go he discovered that mentally he would have gone the wrong way thorough the round-a-bouts and that put the wind up him, so we were able to experience quite a bit of European countryside, fine dining and not so fine coffee. (They are not big ones for milk over there.)
It was a jam-packed, full-on trip but well worth it for the experience. I would encourage anyone that wants to immerse themselves in the aviation sector to do a similar educational tour to whatever part of the world will give them the learning relevant to their area of interest.
We owe our thanks to all the companies that we visited and special thanks to Gary and David at Bert Flood, the Rotax Importers, for organising the Rotax Factory tour that is not generally open to the public.