Hydro-Hype at Biscarrosse’s 12th International Flying Boat Meeting

 


Title of model in white (Trebuchet MS) text


by Patrick Sprau


Introduction

From 1st to 4th May 2008, for the 12th time, the "Rassemblement International d’Hydravions“, short RIH, took place in Biscarrosse, France, on the ancient grounds of the Latécoère flying boat base. This international meeting of flying boats and floatplanes once more motivated European plane owners and aviation enthusiasts alike to congregate on this fabulous spot on the French Atlantic coast for four days of flying frenzy. Having been to the Landes (the French Départment, in which Biscarrosse is located) twice, but never having been there to watch the show, I knew I had to do this at least once to satisfy my flying boat desires.

Now Biscarrosse is not exactly close to where I live. Actually it’s about 1350 kilometres by car from my front door to Latécoère’s old concrete slipways. I know this distance is only a tad more than most Aussies would be prepared to drive to get some Fresh milk, and certainly not hitting the pain limit if it’s about to have a beer with some mates. But trust me, in Europe, this is quite a distance. However I was prepared to answer adventure’s call. But how to get there?

The key to this was my brother-in-law. He is that sort of guy with whom you could navigate the Atlantic on an old truck’s rubber tube, provided you give him a couple of minutes to grab his bathers and fix himself a lunch. Seeing as Ralf is an avid modeler and aircraft enthusiast just like me, it didn’t take much convincing from my part for the short-trip to Biscarrosse. My wife however was not prepared to let the chance of some marvelous days at the Atlantic coast slip by unnoticed, so in the end it was the three of us doing a long-haul night drive all across Western Europe on the night of 30th April. Being three people taking turns in driving the car, it luckily turned out to be smooth cruising all the way through France.

And let me tell you, it was well worth the drive! On arrival we put up our tent at Latécoère Camping, a very clean and not too expensive camping site within walking distance from the show grounds, and then rushed to see what was on display. For the reasonable fare of € 10.-, one gained access to the flight line, where a plethora of aircraft from all over Europe could be admired. On this first day of the show, attendance was good, but not overwhelming, and it was relatively easy to have a chat with the crews of various aircraft. Had I known how packed the place would be on Saturday, I would have made better use of this unique possibility to discuss the peculiarities of amphibic flying with those who know best! Ah well, next time.

Amongst many other aircraft, the floatplane & flying boat line-up included

  1. some classics like a DHC-2 Beaver, two Piper (Super) Cubs, some Maules and a vast number of Cessnas in all sizes and configurations;
  2. some rarities and oddities like a Lake LA-250 Renegade, a Lake LA-4-200 Buccaneer, a UC-1 Twin Bee and the new Dornier S-Ray 007, still under evaluation;
  3. many ultra lights, from veteran designs like Quicksilver products to fancy new constructions like France’s own G1 Goeland to a very exotic Murphy Renegade on a central float,
  4. and the unchallenged favourites of the audience, Air Tractor’s AT 802 FireBoss and – easily the most exoctic of all aircraft attending - Dornier’s Do 24 ATT.

The show had a daily schedule of free flying from 10 to 4 o’clock, offering flights in all sorts of planes to the public. The concept of giving every visitor a maximum of enjoyment for his/her €s was most evident here, as one could book a ten-minute ride in a plane for as little as € 30.-. Even classics like the Beaver could be boarded for only € 40.-, a price that even Beaver-crowded Canada will be hard-pressed to beat!

At 4 o’clock, the actual airshow started, with a lot of aerobatic flying taking place, including Patrouille Reva in their quite unorthodox-looking planes, helicopter Tango (matched to music from loudspeakers) and Team Guinot, featuring two Stearmans including wing walkers! We also saw an Alpha Jet’s practice flying on Saturday morning, but did not actually see the performance, as it was re-scheduled for Sunday, when we had already left.

The FireBoss showed of her soaking qualities, too, but sadly did not wet the public. In the scorching heat, most people would probably have appreciated it. Well, maybe not the photographers…

Anyway, the Do 24 ATT also demonstrated her capabilities, and I must say, you must see it to believe it! I am not expert enough to judge from where her performance stems, be it the new wing design or the new engines (PT-6As), all from the 1980s re-fit, but to see those 14 metric tons lift off in a couple of hundred metres is quite impressive indeed. Despite the re-fit, the classic lines are still there, and it’s easy to imagine the relief of both German and Allied airmen (in the SWPA) “in the drink” at the sight of her distinctive silhouette (unless it was mistaken for a Japanese “Mavis”!).

Air Tractor 802
'Fire boss'
Air Tractor 802
'Fire boss'
Air Tractor 802
'Fire boss'
Air Tractor 802
'Fire boss' at night
Air Tractor 802
'Fire boss' at night
Do-24 ATT
Do-24 ATT
Do-24 ATT
Do-24 ATT
Do-24 ATT
Do-24 ATT
Bell 47G
Bell 47G
Bell 47G
Bell 47G
DeHavilland DHC-2 Beaver
DeHavilland DHC-2 Beaver and the Do-24 ATT
DeHavilland DHC-2 Beaver
DeHavilland DHC-2 Beaver cockpit
DeHavilland DHC-2 Beaver
Cessna 206T
Cessna 208 Caravan
UC-1 Twin Bee
Flightline at night
Dornier Stingray
Ecureuil
Lake Renegade
Murphy Renegade
Piper Super Cub at night
Zenair 701 and the Do-24

 

All in all, it was a fabulous event, with very few minor glitches. Mind you, if you are an organization freak and expect to get to see exactly what has been announced beforehand, you might be disappointed: we did, for example, not see the Duxford-based Catalina, grounded back in England with engine troubles. But hey, these birds are delicate machines and making the transit voyage (and the show flying) is not without risk, so I’d rather stress all those nice machines showing up than complain about one or two non-attendees! The daily program was also not strictly adhered to, with some points shifted between the days and some not being shown at all, but again, for a mere € 10.-, it was an awesome event. On the other hand, a definite plus of the event being run “très relaxé” is, that one could get very close to the planes, especially on Friday night, when there was the possibility to get some close-up night shots of the tastefully lighted planes. Also, staff members were without exception very polite and courteous, behaviour that sadly is not the order of the day at other shows.

So in the end, when we had to get back to good ol’ Germany, we were all a bit sad that the time had literally flown by and the show was already over. We had had many pleasant surprises and generally enjoyed the whole experience (One noteworthy non-aviation encounter was when our very kind camping “neighbours” basically forced us to use their camping tables and chairs, as they could not bear it seeing someone in the camping fraternity eat “on all fours, like animals”!).

What to improve for the next event? For the organizers, perhaps getting one of those magnificent Canadair CL-415s to attend. And for us? Bring more time, use more sunscreen…

Salut Biscarrosse, à la prochaine!

 


 

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