The Airstrip On The Hill

OK… I’m going to be more organised about writing this blog from now on, so I’ll try to write a piece at least once a week. Shouldn’t be that hard because there’s always so much going on.

In the last post it was Autumn and that lasted right up until the final week of November. I was on my own that week with the dog, Jack, and decided to investigate a little airstrip marked on both my 1:25,000 hiking map and also the aeronautical chart.

The strip, known as Joubac, is on top of a ridge above the village of Aleu, reached by a road winding its way up the hill. About three-quarters of the way up, the road changes from tarmac to dirt and gravel but it’s not difficult, at least not in dry conditions. Amazingly, on one of the final turns we passed a gite which has to be one of the most out of the way places to stay. With a south-facing aspect, it gets plenty of sun. It’s the Gite Hount Juliane.

I’d no idea what to expect at the strip so parked well below the top and walked up the rest of the way. It was so hot – just a teeshirt needed. Anyway, round the last bend and there was a sign announcing the strip – “Terrain d’aviation” – and then you’re on it.

First impression was “How does anyone land here without ripping off the wheels?” The “runway” isn’t smooth by any means. Not flat either, although someone is clearly mowing it regularly. You’d want to miss the first bit which is really rough, covered with patchy heather, and touch down on the first bit of uphill grass. In fact, you probably don’t do the usual landing technique of “close throttle and hold off” to land here – more likely, you fly directly on the uphill section and keep the power on to take you up to the top of the hill. There’s a video on YouTube (shown here) which demonstrates the technique.

At the top, there’s an area to the left to park your aircraft and, judging by the BBQ pit at one end, it’s a weekend fly-in location. The local Ariege newspaper has a report of a fly-in when 15 aircraft landed and parked. That’s a lot for such a tiny strip.

VIDEO OF A LANDING AT ALEU JOUBAC

Takeoff is back the same way, down the hill and getting airborne before reaching the rough stuff. There’s no such thing as Air Traffic Control for little strips like this and it’s up to pilots to say on the radio where they are and what they’re intending to do. Ie, “Downwind to land at Joubac” or “Short final for Joubac” or “Lining up for takeoff Joubac”. In French, of course.

There’s special Mountain Rating which private pilots can train for and I suspect you would be well advised to go through that process before landing here.  The biggest and most important decision of course is to assess whether the weather is good enough to fly at all in the mountains. You need good visibility, ie no cloud or mist, and not too much wind. All those funny shapes mountain peaks form can play havoc with the wind.

Anyway, my thoughts of keeping a microlight or light sport aircraft up here have been dashed because there’s no hangar or anywhere to store the aircraft out of the weather. And the following week showed exactly why you’d want to do that.

The day after all this balmy teeshirt weather, it all changed. Winter arrived with a bang, or at least a metre of snow. Temperatures plummetted and the roads became difficult. Time for winter tyres!

LINKS
Where is it? Joubac Piste d’Aviation on Google maps
Association Francaise des Pilotes de Montagne
European Mountain Pilots Federation
Fly-in at Joubac