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  1. #1
    Don Szczur's Avatar
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    Romilly Experiences

    14th Annual International Tournament F3A Championships in Romilly, France



    Here is a description of my experiences at the Romilly, France international competition. This competition is, spare the European Championships, the most prestigious events to attend as a competitor. Attending was a memory and experience that I will always cherish.



    My desire to go to Romilly initially started sometime after the team selections/nationals last year and late fall. The fact that I was team alternate again in 2005 gave me the craving to attend some kind of international event for a couple of reasons. First, I’ve never been to a foreign competition. I’ve heard so much about the European style of flying, the hospitality of the hosts, and high degree of popularity of F3A among so many different countries. The experience gained by attending such an event could be very helpful in future competitions. I e-mailed Bernd (we had some acquaintence from the TOC and Don Lowe Masters) late in 2005. He sent me the web links to Romilly as well as the Matt’s contest in Lichenstien. Although the Matts’ contest was too close to the U.S Nationals to try and go, the Romilly contest worked since its in June. I spoke to several other F3A pilots in the U.S. about going as well, maybe make a vacation out of it with the families, but they pointed out the cost factor. After checking airfares on several internet venues, I came to the same conclusion. It was way too expensive.



    So that was it. Not much more though about going until the 2nd of June. I got a “spam” e-mail from Expedia.com regarding those outrageously low rates for round trip tickets. I happened to see at the bottom of the page “Vacation packages from Washington to London and Paris from $849”. I hit the link to Paris and all of the sudden a bunch of really attractive offers came up. Hmmm. Wonder when that Romilly contest is? After hitting the link, guess what, its next weekend, the 10-12 June. I said, “Bummer-too late to go, but lets do a what-if… I plugged in the dates of the contest, get to Paris a few days early, leave a day or two after.” The vacation package comes up! It worked. Next question, is it too late to register? The website stated that registration preferred by 31 May. I sent an e-mail to the contest director, Pascal Blauel. Next question, I knew I could not ship fuel, how would I get to fly? The website showed another contest that occurred recently with an equipment matrix to include what engines and fuel that contestants used. I see that Keven, as well as a couple other members of the U.K team are running YS DZ’s. I do a search on the Great Britain aerobatics forum and up pops Kevin’s e-mail. I send him a note asking about borrowing some fuel for the contest. How would I ship the plane? It was too late to try and arrange shipping. What about taking it as part of oversize luggage check-in. A few calls to the airline and what I was able to get from them is that if the box is packed well, as a fragile item, it should be accepted. So off to the weekend for some practice, fun fly’s, church picnic, the usual weekend activities… the wife and kids leave for their week long trip to Alabama to visit family.



    That Monday, I go to work, it’s a busy day. I really ask myself, “Is this really a realistic thing to be looking at?” Out at the flying field for practice Monday night, I start thinking, “I’d have to leave tomorrow, get to Paris Wednesday, drive the 2 hours to Romilly and practice on Thursday… and then fly in the competition over the weekend, drive back to Paris Sunday night, and fly out sometime Monday. Wait a minute, I have not discussed this with the wife yet. (she thought I was kidding about the whole thing). I invited her to fly out of Birmingham, Al to Paris, but she does not take up the offer. Father-in-law would really not take too kindly to that. She does offer the critical bit of information that sets the rest of this dream into reality… she gives me permission for me to go.



    I spend literally the entire night Monday getting the airplane disassembled, and boxes built for the wings and fuselage. Actually, I had to rush to Lowe’s to buy a rotary saw, thin plywood, screws, and anything else I could think of to build the boxes. I’m sitting here thinking, am I nuts? I stay up til 4: 00 a.m. I’ve got the fuselage packed, find a cardboard box to put the wings in, and screw/tape it all up. So much for sleep. I lay down for a couple of hours for what turned out to be just a short nap. I get up a 6.a.m (for a morning meeting in Washington, DC). Make the reservations, and head out for work. I called my boss to let him know I was going to (try and) take Wednesday thru Friday off. I get the ok, last hurtle done. Its off to the airport to check in.



    The flight was long. I did not sleep at all, but did get some rest. The flight left Dulles at 10 PM and got in to Paris at about 10:30 a.m the next morning. Now I know what the term “red eye” means. By the time you are done the flight, all 8 hours of it, you have red-eyes. I kept asking myself, “what in the world am I doing?”. I reason, “This is an adventure, I may not have the opportunity to do this again”. Arriving at Paris, I find my way to the baggage claim…. Wing box comes through fine… no fuselage box. I locate the baggage assistance office and after some checking, and some more checking, about 4 hours worth, they conclude that the box did not make the flight. However, they could not tell me where it was, but assure me that it will most likely come the following morning. I give them my address and phone number to the hotel I’m staying at in Paris. Not a big problem, I think. I can still pick up the box and make it to Romilly for some practice on Thursday afternoon/evening. I pick up the rental car and drive to Paris….



    I notice along the way, route A1, some kind of jet. At first I thought it was a bird, then a model airplane. I quickly realize that it is in fact a full scale Mig or Sukhoi jet flying some kind of routine. PARIS AIR SHOW! I recall someone at the field mentioning that the Paris Airshow comes to France around this timeframe. I take the exit, park, and walk to the spectator area adjacent to the airport runway. It appears to be some kind of bicycle riding park. The pilot is practicing his routines for the show next week right in front/on top of me. The jet is flying in ways I never imagined. Its doing 3-D maneuvers. It goes up and does… yes, a tailslide. A full scale jet fighter doing a tailslide? Yes! Where I’m standing the jet is doing these maneuvers probably 1500 to 3000 feet in altitude. I think to myself, what will my wife think, I’m killed in Paris by this Jet fighter as it crashes into me during the practice routines. I’ve never seen a jet do harriers, 3-D “rolls” pop-ups and even a tailslide! Next up is a Cap. I think to myself, “I wonder if this is Patrick Paris”? The pilot puts the Cap through some incredibly fast snap rolls. I think, I wish I had a video camera- the snap rolls that this pilot was performing were faster and more axial than some of the snaps that would have been given “zeros” by judges back in the States. Maybe we need to re-look at our snap definitions again…



    I get back on the road again and… welcome to Paris. During rush hour, about 5:30 PM by this time. The 20 minute drive from the airport to downtown turns into two hours, but that is just the start. In downtown Paris, non (and I mean none) of the roads are parallel. This makes trying to navigate, drive, avoid the cars that are inches in front, behind, on the left, on the right, very challenging. By the time I get within “close proximity” of the hotel, I find a parking garage. 15 Euros to park per day (about 20 dollars or so). I get out of the car and my hands are shaking. This was not a fun experience. It felt like an hour long amusement park ride, like bumper cars, only without the bumps, thank goodness (the whole time I’m thinking if the included collision loss coverage I got with the vacation package would need to be activated). I did say some intensive prayers during this time.



    After checking into the hotel, its still “early”, so I decide to WALK to some attractions. I got to see the Basilca on the hill (recommended by the baggage claim folks). The view of the city, just as the sun is setting, is probably one of the most beautiful urban views I’ve ever seen. When I saw a couple sitting on the lawn sipping wine and enjoying the romatic view, I knew that I must someday come back to this spot with my wife and enjoy that exact moment with her... and then walk down to the Arch de-Triumph. Along the way there is this road where literally every shop is what I’ll call a “restricted shop”. Well, I was greeted by one gentleman who offered me free tickets to a side show. I explained to him that I’m a Christian, but I don’t know that in French, so he re-emphasized, “free tickets, you don’t have to pay anything”. I know that in some parts of the world, people associate Christianity with money (giving to the poor) but any case, I walked away, amused. Paris is a beautiful city.



    By this time, I must have walked about 5 miles and it was also getting late, so I decided to take the Metro. I’m lucky to live in Washington DC in this regard- the Metro is much easier there. In Paris, there must have been something like 50 or 60 metro routes. It took me a half hour to figure out which ones to take to get back to the hotel. The cost was quite reasonable though. It only took 1.6 Euros (about $2) to get back. However on the way out of the metro gate I was an attempted pick-pocket case. Here is some advice that you may use that may save your wallet. First, always keep it in your front pocket; with deep pockets its pretty hard to get it out. That’s what I did and when a felt a gentle tug I immediately reached back and grabbed his hand. I squeezed and bent back his pinkie until he was on his knees. He was saying something in French, sounded like he was trying to make some kind of excuse, but I know what he was trying to do. I left very promptly at that point, fearing he or his accomplice would put a knife in my belly. How do they operate? Just walking though the narrow Metro exit gate, the guy in front stops abruptly and turns sideways, as if he forgot something, the guy behind me bumps into me and then reaches into the pocket to grab the wallet. Any case, an experience worth sharing. I slept pretty well that night- the first night that I had in the week to sleep.



    I got up early and drove back to the Airport. It took two hours, hands shaking again from the driving “experience”. I spent the next 14 hours at the airport baggage claim area. I’ve begged, waited, cooperated, waited, begged, waited, pleaded, waited. It was a nightmare that would not end. I went through 3 shifts of baggage office managers. Each time having to beg, explain the importance of having the airplane, trying to find out where it was. I was starting to have bad visions of no more fuselage. It could be anywhere in the world, it could have left the airport in the back of someone’s pickup truck. At 9 PM the baggage claim manager allowed me to make some international calls to try and have someone go to Dulles airport to find someone to talk to. After a day and a half, nobody at Dulles was answering the lost baggage notice. The manager called Pascal and explained the situation. He was very nice, explaining that he would allow me to fly two flights on Saturday and still attend. The manager took a break at 9 PM and allowed me to make some calls back to the States. I wore out my welcome after running up an hour of international calls on their phone. Since I could not sleep in the baggage claim office, I left the office at just before midnight. Now, it was only 6 PM back in Dulles, so I made several calls on the credit card. About $150 worth of calls later, I find out that the bag is at Dulles Airport, having missed the original flight due to the TSA inspecting it, and re-taping it up. Now an agent told me on the flight just before departure that it was inspected and re-taped up, so I assumed it was on the flight. But as far as I could tell it missed the flight and since it had to travel with me, I’d have to arrange for someone to ship it freight. That was out of the question, and flying back to bring it over was not an option later. After asking the Airport Hotel what the rates were for the evening, I actually laughted at the lady at the check in counter, “Yes, we have rooms… That will be $350 Euros (about $400 for the night). Heck, I could buy a ticket and fly back to Dulles and get my plane for two nights at that Hotel. I decided to venture out to Romilly.



    Driving in a foreign country, in the middle of the night, with poor maps, very little sleep in the past days… I asked myself again, well just concluded that I must be nuts. But I continued on. The two hour trip took four hours, but I found Romilly. Around 4:30 in the morning I pulled over to a parking area to sleep. I’ve got to tell you something, it was dark. It was so dark I actually could not sleep. I continued on and in town found a semi-lit parking lot and got an hour of rest in the front seat. Before I knew it, daylight came. I woke up. It was like waking up in some kind of time-warp. It was surreal. Here I was, two days before at work as if nothing was out of the ordinary, and now I’m in the middle of France. Surreal. I drove out to the field at this point, the sun had risen and it was about 6:30 a.m. There was nobody there flying. Normally in the U.S. there are pilots practicing the morning of the contest- at sun- up. Not so in Europe. I drove back to town and went to McDonalds. However I see that it does not open until 10:00 a.m. So much for breakfast! I drove back to the field and by this time it was about 8:30 a.m. There were a couple pilots setting up their planes and getting in practice flights. None of them spoke English. I walked around smiling, not saying anything, just watching. They started speaking to each other in French. I had no idea who any of them were, could not communicate with them, and just had this feeling like I was just going to crawl under a rock. I was committed at this point.

    To Be continued....


  2. #2

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    RE: Romilly Experiences

    Fascinating read Don... truly an adventure, can't wait to read the rest of the story!
    Team JR Americas
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  3. #3

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    RE: Romilly Experiences

    Don,
    More,more!!

    Jon Lowe
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  4. #4

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    RE: Romilly Experiences

    I agree!!!!

    Great reading Don, I wish I was there!

  5. #5
    JAS's Avatar
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    RE: Romilly Experiences

    Good reading.
    Uncle JAS x 2
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  6. #6

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    RE: Romilly Experiences

    Wow... amazing story Don!

    We are trying to organise a trip to the US nationals in July. So It's great to hear about your international experience.

    Thanks for giving us this insight.

    Peter

  7. #7

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    RE: Romilly Experiences

    A good friend of mine who competed in France WC-2005 said that the GPS he purchased with European maps was the best investment he ever made. That alone removed one of the biggest frustrations faced with travel - a worthy investment.

  8. #8

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    RE: Romilly Experiences

    Don,
    When will part 2 be posted? I really want to read the rest!!

    BTW, thanks for all of your help at the Green Sea pattern clinic. Great event!

    Jon Lowe
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  9. #9
    Don Szczur's Avatar
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    RE: Romilly Experiences

    Yawn... Flying takes priority, then getting the new Brio's in the air, still working on taxes (wife is at least), building an Extra 300. Oh, yes, work... 8:30 meeting at DAU. Maybe by June. Good night!

  10. #10
    Don Szczur's Avatar
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    RE: Romilly Experiences

    ...So I ventured out of the car and made my way up to the shelter area. The contest management was setting up for processing pilots. I asked for Pascal Blauel and finally got to meet him. He spoke little english but knew my situation. He asked which mode I flew and then disappeared around the back of the shelter. He soon returned with a young man named Bert Delare. Now, Burt had no idea who I was, but could speak fair english, so we hit if off very well. He had a plane called an Enigma which he lent me for the contest. He pulled it out of his van and assembled it. I "eye balled" throws and set up control deflection about what I had in my Brio. By this time it was close to 9:00 a.m and the contest was going to start very soon. I was allowed a short flight to test fly the plane. I took off and did a very slow procedure turn into a downwind line. The plane was very straight, and the engine setup was powerful. It was much different flying a 2C engine, and the down lines were a bit faster as well as requiring the plane to wind up in a bottom radius. Half way through the flight, Bert's nervousness went away as he realized I was not going to crash his plane. After 3/4 through the flight, he said, "I'm going to be beat by my own plane". After landing, I made a few more adjustments to the expo and control throw and that was it- I was going to fly at Romilly after all, thanks to Pascal and Burt.

    Things went very well from here. Making the finals at the U.S. Nats, Flying at the TOC, winning the NATS in 2003. These are all very distinct life memories with this hobby. Romilly ranked up there with these memories. I was treated like a celebrity. It was really incredible. In the evening I was invited to the Belgium and Irish contingent to relax, have some grilled food and drink french wine. It was really nice. I took Bert, his fiance', and Arthur to a pizza resauraunt for dinner the second evening. I realized that there were about 20 pilots there. All had a champaign toast during the dinner. It was really special.

    The flying was very good during the competition. There were 41 or so contestants. After the first round I was something like 6th place. A lot of people took notice as most had never heard of me or saw me fly. My style was much different than most of the pilots there. I was flying at 150 to 175 meters out. Bert kept wispering in my ear during the flight "move it out". I finally moved it out to about 200 meters but most pilots were at 225+ with large, graceful maneuvers. I learned from Wolfgang how the 45 degee, 3/4 loop should look. This helped me win several rounds at the U.S. NATS last summer and allowed me to finish 1st place in the preliminaries flying against Chip, QuiQue and Dave Lockhart (and everyone else). Any case Romilly was an excellent learning experience.

  11. #11
    Don Szczur's Avatar
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    RE: Romilly Experiences

    The actual competition was run much differently than a large contest in the U.S. This was an international competition and serveral things stood out as being unique. First, there were a LOT of people speaking different languages. German, French, Dutch, English, and probably a couple of others. French seemed to be the common language though. Each pilot was issued a pilot number, similar to that worn at the U.S. NATS. Airplanes had numbers on them with country designation, but most pilots had the numbers under the elevator or stab. At first I thought that folks did not have numbers on their plane, but after carefully inspecting I saw them fairly well hidden on most of the planes. There was only one flight line, and one plane in the air at a time. Basically this meant one flight per day. One flight Friday, one flight Saturday then the top pilots were to fly one additional time on Sunday. Best two flights out of three (P05). The competition was very keen. I guess I could compare it to 2X the U.S. in terms of number of F3A pilots. Maybe if you combined 6 or 8 states together, each representing a country, and then compress all them into an area half the size of the U.S., each with its own language, then you've got it. There was only F3A, which made it very straight forward. It amazed me that so many people could come from so many different places, yet we all fly through the maneuvers to the same standard.

    I was able to head over to the hotel after I flew the first flight and sleep for a few hours. The hotel was only about 5 minutes from the field. The field, by the way, had quite a bit of history to it. There were large bunker-type dirt embankments. I was told these were for bomb practice during the war (used by the Germans). What did not make sense was there were concrete pads on the end of each, leading me to believe they were some kind of aircraft or bomb storage areas. In any case it was really interesting. There was a full scale airstrip adjacent to the field.

    The French town of Romilly was very beautiful. Residents maintained their houses and yards to a very high standard. All the people I came in contact with were very gracious, courteous, and hospitable. I really felt welcome. I encouraged Bert to fly his 40% Extra which he did during the lunch break. It was an impressive show. I made many friends there. Lunch each day was very exquisite. It was a tray lunch with real silverware, champaign or wine for those who already flew. Really classy. During the awards presentation on Sunday, all the pilots received a cirtificate and bottle of champaign. Paschal gave me a special present when I departed. He gave me a bottle of very fine champaign. I saved the bottle and then shared it with my father and the rest of the family when I got home. So many memories. If you are feeling like you want to try something unique, fun, exciting educational, and even spontaneous- go to Romilly.

  12. #12
    Don Szczur's Avatar
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    RE: Romilly Experiences

    Some pictures.

    A picture of me (left) Bert (right).

    A picture of some of the Electric equipment that was on display.

    More pictures available on Bert's website at: Of the contest
    http://users.telenet.be/aash/


  13. #13

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    RE: Romilly Experiences

    Don,
    Thanks for posting the rest of your experiences. Great reading. See you at the NATS.

    Jon Lowe
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  14. #14
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    RE: Romilly Experiences

    Don, It's great to read this, remembers me of a great weekend. I've learned a lot of you flying my plane, I've changed all my setups and flying goes much better ! Hope to meet you again someday :-)

  15. #15
    Don Szczur's Avatar
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    RE: Romilly Experiences

    The picture, finally. Thanks much!
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  16. #16
    Don Szczur's Avatar
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    RE: Romilly Experiences

    Some more pictures. Nice picnic one evening. Very very nice time. Picture of the enigma which Bert allowed me to fly. Picture of the CD (right) Pascal.
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  17. #17
    Don Szczur's Avatar
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    RE: Romilly Experiences

    Dinner at the Pizza parlor.
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