Expedition to Jaca, April 2004.

Nichol Rigott, Douglas Knox and Dave Sinclair went to Jaca in the Spanish Pyrenees, with the Lasham Spring Expedition in April 2004.    This was an excellent week with four good flying days, followed by two reasonable skiing days and finally two decent (if rather damp) sight seeing days. Many thanks to Lasham instructors Hugh Kindell, Phil Philips, Andy Aveling, and Grant Smith, who were the Lasham instructors on site during our visit for enabling us to fly in such an un-English environment.

Santa Cilia is a small village about 10 km west of Jaca (pronounced [hä'kä]), a town in the southern foothills of the Pyrenees.  The airfield at Santa Cilia sits above the village.  It is of recent construction, with a hard runway about 1 km long, with parallel grass and compacted gravel runways.  At each end there is a deep gulley to make life and approaches more interesting.  The modern airfield facilities include a clubhouse with office and briefing rooms, a bar/restaurant, a pool and two large hangars.   The club fleet includes a Duo Discus, Pegase and a Robin tug.

We established ourselves at the Post Office in Santa Cilia.  The rooms were simple, comfortable and with en-suite facilities.  Prices were less than half the equivalent in UK.  Among the many joys of this trip were the quality and price of the local food and wine.  In Jaca £10-15 or less could provide a good three course meal with wine (Rioja is not far away).  So eating out provided much added interest and pleasure (Wine or water senor?  Both please).

Although local topography is rather similar to that found at Cerdanya to the East there are more opportunities for exploring to the south and west, towards lower, flatter areas.  To the north, the spine of the Pyrenees runs east to west, close to the high point of the Pyrenees (about half way between the coasts).  The Ordessa Gorge is a few 10s of km away. The tops of the Pyrenees(the highest of which rise to just over 13,000 feet, approximately 11000 ft above Santa Cilia) roughly identify the national boundary and very often a boundary between different weather systems too.  On the Spanish side deep valleys run north-south, but the smaller mountains and foothills are complex, with many cross-valleys, gorges and isolated outcrops.  To the west, towards Pamplona, the valley is more extensive and a substantial lake nestles between minor mountain chains.  To the east, the foothills and mountains climb up to the high Pyrenees.  During our stay there was still plenty of snow about on the mountains and some of the ski lifts were still operating, and we were able to make use of this with two days skiing. Indeed, one day, snow fell briefly on the airfield, but it had melted by noon. The views across the snow-clad mountain tops were stunning.

Each morning at 10:00 Jose (the CFI) did a briefing  Mostly this was a weather briefing with tips and explanations about flying in the region. Most days, flying began at about noon. We flew dual in either the Lasham Duo Discus (775), the Jaca Duo Discus or Grant Smith's Janus. Most flights were in thermic conditions (see Thermalling at 7500 ft in the foothills of the Pyrenees, north of the site) but often with weak wave or wave influence (see Dave and Phil Philips climbing in wave, close to the French border, 11500 ft, north of the site), and also Nichol and Andy Aveling going over the top of the Pyrenees towards France and some genuine wave either in the middle of the valley floor or of the peaks of the Pyrenees. Mostly cloud bases varied between 6000 feet and 10000 feet above site,

Normal practice is to find a climb in thermals originating in the low foothills, the first areas to benefit from the day’s heat, and then to work one’s way up the side valleys to the tops if these are clear of cloud.  If there is anything of a wind blowing, there can be some very interesting local effects in these narrow valleys, not always, but often in the direction of down.  Wave effects on thermals are also commonplace.  Once the day has got going, and if the tops can be reached, flying along the ridges in dynamic lift can be very exciting.  Constantly updating your escape route is a must.

One reminder that we were in Spain rather than France was the curious requirement that we did our radio calls in Spanish.  Very curious considering that most of those listening were not native Spanish speakers! Hence “Ocho theero dos, viento en cola, dos siete, herba” -meaing "OT2? downwind for 27, grass". ,Now this presents a bit of a problem to the average Brit., busy putting the undercarriage down and doing other things.  Some classic “Ello ello” calls were heard.  Sometimes they would begin with good intent but quickly deteriorated into pidgin Spanish/English.

The airfield at Santa Cilia consists of an asphalt runway (850m long) on 27/09 with a shorter gravel runway (680m) and grass runway (600 ish m) off to one side, at an elevation of 2250 ft.

See here for some general pictures of flying at Santa Cilia.


Douglas took the following pictures during the trip:

A view of the airfield, looking west A view, looking NE, of Santa Cilia in the mid ground with the airield in the background