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Leg 57: Epitalion LGEP to Urbe LIRU

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Posted on behalf of Steph who is in South Africa!

It’s not often that we get called a hero (or heroine in my case) when we fly for Joe and the Hangar….

… and today was no different, but I was flying with some unsung heroes of the skies, as well as brushing up on my rusty Greek and Italian.  Where was I? I was “super-scooping” in the Med... what a life!

My ‘other life’ as globetrotting Sharon with a penchant for being in the right place at the wrong time had just ‘paused’ as I completed a VIP flight into Andravida AFB, home to the Hellenic Air Force, and a sometimes base for the Greek firefighting service’s C415 waterbombers. My VIP passengers and I had got chatting in an upmarket Greek bar the night before, and whilst one guy danced about with a table balanced on his chin, and another was juggling with cheap white crockery, I’d managed to bag myself a few days with an Italian crew which was about to return to their base in Rome with one of the C415s.

The aircraft had been part of the fire fighting effort of late July 2018, when waterbombers had been sent from Italy and Romania to support the Greek service and tackle the fires in the coastal towns of Kineta and Rafina, North East of Athens. Before the aircraft could return to Italy, a crack had been discovered in the main wing spar, which had then seen the aircraft laid up in a maintenance hanger for several months being fixed and given a full shakedown before it was fit for duty again. It was now time for the aircraft to return home, but the flight crew had been granted special permission by the Greek Government to do some practice in the calmer waters off the Ionian islands with one of the Greek crews from Sedes AFB.  Our base would be Epitallion… handy eh.

Flying into Epitallion is a challenge in itself... it is literally packed in on all 4 sides with farmland, and with almost no buildings to speak of, its hard to spot without a good GPS.  The airfield is only used during the summer by the waterbombers, so personnel was at a seasonal low. I managed a quick visit to the original site of the Olympic Games, which was 30 minutes’ drive up the dusty pot-holed road, but I was there to fly and scoop, so sightseeing would have to wait for another time.

The C415 was originally built by Canadair, and later Bombardier, and is known as the ‘Superscooper’ given that it can pick up over 6100 Litres of water in only 12 seconds, and then deposit it accurately on a spot not much bigger than the size of a tennis court… well, with a bit of practice, of course.

Come in low and slow with the tank doors open


12 seconds of scooping…


….and try to drop on target...


We had spent a good 2 days scooping and dropping before it was finally time to leave, and luckily Chuck appeared just in the nick of time to pass over the baton before I would have had to come up with some excuse for staying put and finding my own way back to Italy.

Given the distance to Rome, and our 2850 ft long runway at Epitallion, we’d have to take off with a minimal load and then re-fuel and overnight in Cephalonia, less than 60 NM distant, before the final leg back to Rome the following day.

Lined up on Runway 34 at Epitallion


Olive trees and farmland as far as the eye can see...


Rounding the south of Cephalonia, we waved to a passing cruise-liner


On final into Cephalonia. I think they need to get the weed-killer on that runway!



Shutting down the engines, we grabbed our gear and headed off to the hotel for a fish mezze and Happy Hour... [Mocktails for me and the flight crew, of course].


Take off was scheduled for just after sunrise when it was cooler, and it would suit me fine as I could get the baton to Urbe before the end of the day. Our skeleton crew, minimal cargo and full fuel tanks gave us more than enough ‘Ferry Range’ to get to Rome, so we shouldn’t have to stop between Cephalonia and Ciampino, which was the Babcock base for the C415s and a stone’s throw from Urbe.

Early morning wheels up from Runway 32, Cephalonia...




Cruising at 10,000 feet


Flying on a 289 heading to the CRN NDB


Nearing the ‘toe’ of Italy’s ‘boot’ and then turning North past Lamezia


Heading up the Western coast towards Sorrento and Rome airspace...


Passing Latina AFB, home of the 70th Wing of the Italian Air Force.


Nearing Rome


Transferring to Rome ATC, we joined the multitude of lunchtime arrivals into the Rome area, and flew North with Rome Fiumicino on our left and Ciampino on our right before doing a 180 to our IAF at the URB NDB and then following the ILS approach to Ciampino’s Runway 15.

Joining the ILS approach at Urbe NDB.. I’d be back there in a few hours with the baton...


A bit gusty on the approach and final for Ciampino


Rollout on Runway 15

Following the taxiway to our assigned parking, I was surprised to see so many Ryanair aircraft. This must be the first time Ryanair had picked an airport that didn’t require at least a 2-hour transfer to the city they purported to be serving!

Taxi to the parking...


Thanking my Italian crew for allowing me to accompany them on the flight, and for giving me some one-in-a-million tuition at ‘scooping’, I went in search for some onward transportation. Good old Google presented me with a handful of local charter companies based at Ciampino, and mentally throwing a dice, I dialled a local helicopter operator that promised me an unprecedented view of Rome from above, as well as letting me take the controls, which was all I needed for the next 30 odd minutes to get the baton to Urbe and finish my leg.

The R22 was a bit old and rickety but did afford an almost unrestricted view. It was a short flight over to Urbe, but I did want to get my money’s worth and get a decent view of Vatican City and the Colosseum.


Flying towards Vatican City with the Colosseum on the right, the Pantheon to the North, and the River Tiber snaking in-between.


St Peters Square and Basilica


I have to say that Helicopters are definitely not my forte, and having been off type for far too long, the Pilot did wince at my rough landing, but I had given him a rather large ‘tip’ on the company credit card [whoops!], so whatever expletives may have flowed from his mouth with anyone else were firmly held in check until I had disappeared from view.


I Jumped in a taxi and headed to the Grand Hotel Fleming, dialling Joe’s number as we trundled through the rush hour traffic. No answer... OK, voicemail will have to suffice. Who was going to meet me for the next leg? When? How many days could I get in a luxury hotel in one of the most beautiful cities in the world on the Hangar Credit Card and expenses? Not too soon, I hoped...

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  • 3 weeks later...

Nice one Steph!  Relax in the hotel and see the sights around Rome for a few days I am inbound from Rhodes just as I have finished enjoying the sights here.  I should be a few days yet. :winka:

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