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Tour Report - Central America Tour 2011 by Paul Giblin

Saturday 22nd October 2011

Saturday morning and only 0500. No reason to be Heathrow other than to depart on an Aeroprints trip to Central America and three South American countries. A cheap night in the Travelodge at Feltham has negated some of the very early start, but not much. As usual on these trips a good opportunity to renew friendships with many a spotter. One of the shortcomings of no viewing facilities at Gatwick is with some people they never venture down to Gatwick anymore. Although we have checked in on line, the helpful assistant wishes us to wait until the earlier flight has been processed. We comply with his wishes for a while until some others of the group turn up having done their bag drop etc, and then we all do ours. Passing through security is seamless and with it still very dark, not much is read off. Once we assemble at the gate, the full horror of the group is realised! A320 F-GFKX is our plane for the short trip across to Paris CDG. Very little was noted at Heathrow before our departure, A320 9H-AWK, B777’s V8-BLD, VT-JEL and Aeroflot A320 VP-BWL. Our arrival into CDG is delayed due to fog, but it was nice to be flanked by retro A320 EI-DVM landing on the parallel runway. The temperature is only 2’c, so quite a contrast to back home. We have only about an hour between flights, so no real time for spotting. Luckily we land into terminal 2E and our flight to Caracas is going from 2F. A quick route march and processing by security (again!) gets us into 2F just as boarding is commencing. Once on the plane A340 F-GLZL, the captain gives us the bad news that due to the fog we will be delayed for about an hour. Whilst we sat at the gate a few bits passed by; A319 VP-BIT, B777 F-GZNJ and A320 TS-INN. After a while we push back and taxi out, passing JA704J and A320 VQ-BIV. A fairly rapid departure run from an A340 then followed, only fifty seconds and we’re away heading out across Nantes. Air France provides a reasonable food and entertainment service and after nine hours and thirty five minutes we touch down in Caracas, Venezuela. A bit of a mixture on the ramp, Alitalia B767 EI-DBP, Estelar B737 YV497T and Air Portugal A330 CS-TOI. Once in the terminal there is all manner of different police and military types, so spotting varies from discretion to boldness depending on who you are. It took about twenty minutes or so to get through immigration and once we have our bags we emerge into the country proper. We meet our guide who I found out lived for two years in Cornwall. A funny old world. Once in the coach we make a slow drive around the airfield and take a main road to the south which overlooks the airport. We also picked up a “chum” of our guide who could offer us a very good rate for our dollars to the Bolivar Fuerte. Official rate about 4.3, he did us 7. He soon vacated the bus with a lot of dollars and we continued on to the spotting location. The area is frequented by the locals, and has some benches dotted around. It’s not the nicest area in the world, but by walking up and down for about 200 metres, you can read off the majority of the GA ramp, plus see what is in the maintenance area used by ConViasa and Aserca. The latter comprised about 10 Aserca DC-9’s, 4 ConViasa ATR’s, and a Dash 7. Amongst the ATR’s lurked Sabre YV120T. We spotted from here for a few hours with a slow but steady stream of movements. Amongst the movements were Aserca, SBA, Rutaca, ConViasa and Laser. There was also a fairly healthy GA ramp with regular comings and goings. The GA ramp probably contained as many non YV dash as YV dash. A few seen were LJ YV2565, Hawker N245TX, Beechjets YV457T, N717CF, Gulfstream N251VP and G200 N137WB. Also parked here were Metro’s YV221T and N147T. A few international movements were also noted , A330 EC-KTG Air Europa, A319 CC-BCB Lan, B737 HP-1532CMP Copa and A340 EC-IQR Iberia. Darkness falls quickly in these parts so we are bound for the hotel by 17.30, which was next to the downtown airport at La Carlota. It was an interesting drive along some very picturesque countryside and our first taste of local Venezuelan life. A local bus of some sort passed us on the inside with some sort of party going on within, (or so it seemed). There were also a lot of police type characters about, but I wouldn’t like to guess what their professions actually are. You’d like to think that a coach on the main road was safe, but a coach taking an American Airlines crew to our hotel some weeks earlier had been held up and robbed. The hotel was the usual sort in these places I guess with a large number of security men, plus too many staff except behind reception to check us all in. Why it takes so long when they’ve had all the details in advance heaven knows. There were also supposed to be a number of restaurants and cafes in the hotel property, but all there seemed to be was one Japanese restaurant. This being the case we retired to the hotel restaurant for a quick snack and a beer.

Sunday 23rd October 2011

With a bit of time difference and a keenness for the new day we were well and truly awake by 0500. Daylight creeps up about 0530 and a few large Vultures were circling. We had been told that a view of the neighbouring airbase ramp was possible, but had failed to see any evidence the night before. Amazingly, as we got into the lift which was one of the glass variety looking out of the building, there was the Francisco de Miranda airfield. Hard too imagine how we missed it in the dark, just a few hours earlier. An interesting mixture of military and civil, but who knows how civil the civil were. There were King Airs, Citations, a GII 0010 and some military helicopters. These included Mil-8’s and Mil-26’s. There were also some M-28’s – GNB – 96105, 96131 and 97122. These prefix seem to vary not only from similar aircraft, but to previous sightings and records. Off in the coach for our first museum of the trip – The Museum of transport. This was a small collection of nine aircraft plus assorted trucks, cars and railway bits. There was also a Sunday market being held in the same location, so that added to the entertainment. The best on show were probably DC-3 YV-O-MC-1 and SkyvanYV-O-MC-9. Once we were done here we headed to the main airport and took up position on the hill again. After an hour or so, we had quite a number of new aircraft logged. On the GA ramp we now had G200 N577AN, LJ N655JH and Turbolet YV388T. Visiting liners included A340 LV-BIT, B737 HP-1714CMP, Emb 190 HK-4560 and B737 PR-GTL. Despite it being Sunday there was a lot of movements, both scheduled liners and GA. Just before our departure time, Casa 212 of the Venezuelan Navy ARBV-0218 taxied out. As we drove away, A340 EC-LFS touched down. From the main drome we headed back towards La Carlota where we headed into a shopping complex which overlooked the airfield. From here we could read off a lot more of the aircraft including about five M-28’s, three King Airs, plus some of the Mil helicopters. We spent about half an hour here, after which some of us went with the guide on a quick hunt for some military wrecks and relics. Alas, this proved largely unsuccessful, at the first location, two Sabres and a F-5 had recently been removed, but we did get to see one sabre at a second location. We then returned to the hotel for some food and drink.

Monday 24th October 2011

An early start today, 0630 departure by coach to Valencia. There was just time to note a new military Citation 0403 on the ramp at La Carlota. The drive out of the city was fine for us, but the traffic going in was horrendous. Four lanes of solid traffic, plus one lane on our side coned off. This was possibly just a temporary arrangement during the morning rush? It was my first experience out here, but they seem to use the hard shoulder even when there is little traffic, and there are plenty of traffic police, mainly on bikes to enforce the law. Alongside the road they are constructing an elevated railway line, approximately 250 km, but to where I don’t know. I hope they know! After about three hours we reached Valencia Arturo Michelena. We then had the customary ten minutes whilst the military guards decided whether or not to let us in. Thankfully they did as there was an impressive ramp. This contained a pair of An-26’s YV-1402 and 1403 of Solarcargo. Also noted were Jetstreams N490UE (impounded) and TG-CAO, DC-3 YV-911C, Hawker XA-YSM and F20 N840GL. We also logged C212 YV1309, An-2 YV1945 and Navajo YN-LEO. After a short while here we even had two arrivals, first was A300 N684FE, followed by A319 N590EL. We then headed around to the terminal, where we found Convair YV2348, Jetstar XB-KFR and Westwind N951DB. Leaving the terminal and making a left hand circuit revealed two DC-3’s – stated as YV670C and YV912C. We then made our way to Maracay, where we did a quick drive past of an aviation training school. This held Convair YV2476, F20 1650 and some Sabres. At this point we also passed a T-2 soon after, but exactly where I can’t say. Our next organised stop was the Aeronautical museum at Maracay, which should have been shut, but had apparently opened specially for us. Strangely there were other visitors wandering about, not surprising as the front gate was wide open. They also deemed it necessary to play extremely loud music, presumably for our visit! It was a very fine museum with many British types including a Dove, two Canberra’s and two vampires. There were probably around 40 exhibits in total. We then embarked on a “thing up a stick” type of mission with some success. At the Maracay Parachute Club were two Provider’s, these were just in the grass. Nearby taking center stage in a big roundabout was another T-6. A look at the El Libertador Air base produced another T-6 gate guard, but no sighting of the based aircraft! Naturally very frustrating, but not that surprising, all things considered. We then had a marginal sighting of probably a F86 – 0059, just the tail, a bit more could be seen as we drove away. We then returned to base which gave us another splendid drive through the mountains, I think it is “allowed” to use the hard shoulder when going slowly uphill which is often. The only problem is avoiding any stopped vehicles of which there are plenty. The police who are often on motorbikes also use the hard shoulder in both directions occasionally.

Tuesday 25th October 2011

Another early start 0600 see us on the road for Caracas main regional airport – Charallave. It took us about an hour to reach there, where after some stringent passport checks we were met by the airport Vice President who took us airside for an extensive ramp tour. There are reportedly about 400 aircraft here with nearly all kept in open style barn hangars. Anyway, we made our way up and down various hangar lines, sometimes slowly in the coach, other times on foot. Sadly, when you’re a big group you do tend to stretch out and lose time, so although we were on the ramp for about ninety minutes we only completed about 70-80%. Despite that I managed to log about 200 which is only P68/Rockwell size and up. This included about 40 - 50 biz, many of which are N dash. A few oldies included Hawker YV 2416, Westwind YV251T and C212 ARV 0404. King Airs CICPC5 and 7 were also noted. There is also a small collection of M-28’s and assorted military helicopters, additionally a good compliment of Metro and Merlins. Before long the tour was over and after a quick food and drinks break, we were on our way to the main airport to check-in for our flight to Costa Rica. It was just a small matter of negotiating the Caracas traffic. Thankfully despite some delays we made good time and arrived back at the airport around noon. After a quick look from outside the airport, we left the coach and went into the terminal. As it was more than two hours ahead of our flight, we couldn’t check-in, but TACA said they were opening a group check-in desk. About 10 or 15 minutes later we had movement, but only as far as the pre-check-in kiosk. At this point it became apparent that they were not happy with some of the “yellow fever” documentation. I and others weren’t aware that there were different types of the certificate. Anyway, by the time I got to the kiosk, the main man had gone off with someone and their supposedly incorrect documents, so I sailed through. We then endured one of the slowest check-ins I’ve ever done. The main problem was firstly they were very slow, but secondly anyone of “executive” class (or any females that looked good and there were plenty) just went ahead of the mob. It was nice to be stood behind, but not too good on not seeing the numbers. Eventually we made it through, then we had to fill in the disembarkation form, and then go to pay our departure tax (about $45). Security was not too bad, but the passport control girls wouldn’t get any medals for customer service or charm. This whole process took about an hour and a half, so it was just as well we had arrived early. Once at the window, a few new numbers were noted. B737’s YV2722 of Estelar, HP-1716CMP of Copa, N248AA of Aserca, A340 LV-CEK and B727 HK-727 of Aerosucre (Still flying, delivered 1966!). We also noted B767 N797AX, A321 N568TA of Taca Peru and the arrival of our Lacsa flight N936TA (in TACA scheme. The levels of security out here are quite extraordinary at times. As we sat on the plane, I noted that the police officials oversee the baggage loading, but first they frisk the handlers. Then after the bags were loaded they frisked them again. As we taxied out for a late departure we also saw CRJ YV2088 land and YV1111 in the hangar. With that our E190 departed for San Jose, Costa Rica. So it was goodbye to Venezuela with its voluptuous women and hello to Costa Rica. What would await us there? By the time we arrived at San Jose, it was dark, but we still managed to read off Copa 737 HP-1380CMP, Iberia A340 EC-HDQ and three TACA’s. Immigration was quick and easy for a change and we soon collected our bags. We were then ushered out to a waiting hotel shuttle bus. If you didn’t know you’d just assume you were in the United States. This was confirmed as when we arrived at the Holiday Express Inn, we had a Denny’s next door. A little while later we ate in there and the menu is the same.

Wednesday 26th October 2011

Our hotel is just by the runway threshold and this was confirmed by a very loud departure around 02.00. This was later confirmed from SBS as HP-1910DAE. I also saw it depart again about 0520 and it was just as loud! After a sumptuous breakfast which only differed from a US style breakfast in as much as there was rice and beans (not too bad) we departed to the Tobias Bolanos airport which is their GA field in San Jose. En route we passed numerous African Tulip trees in full bloom, bright orange if you’re interested. It took us about 40 minutes to reach the airfield which also included a quick look at the old airport, now an Art museum or something similar. At Tobias Bolanos we had a ramp tour arranged and after a few formalities we were airside and heading up the hangar line. I don’t think some of the people there could comprehend a group of forty or so spotters. A few noted at the start included Twin Otter TI-BDZ, C208 TG-GET and then hangared a pair of Learjets – N164SB and N380BA. Although I don’t collect light aircraft, there was a good assortment of TI dash. I don’t think any were particularly rare types, apart from a number of crop-dusters of various sorts. I suspect many are unknown in the databases. Quite a few were “conned” where possible. Bigger types of interest to me included C208’s TI-BAY, BAJ and AZY, an assortment of PZL aircraft, a pair of Twin Otter arrivals TI-AZC and BBQ plus a few odds and ends. There were also a number of police aircraft and helicopters which some people would count as military. No further comment from me. With the tour done, we headed back to Santa Maria and proceeded to the south side of the airfield where there is a local café with a fine balcony, cheap food and beer overlooking the airport. It’s only about a few hundred metres if that, from the runway. A quick snack was had, chicken and rice, plus a beer or two. A few of note around lunchtime included A320 N763JB, B737’s N14214 and DC-9 8P-IGB. Also based are eight C208’s of SANSA, albeit two are N registered. At this point, half of us went over to the terminal for a two-hour ramp tour. First part was a visit to the tower which was very impressive. Apparently due to the local terrain – four old volcano’s, most airliners prefer to arrive and depart from the west even if they have a significant tail wind. After our tower visit we took to an airside bus and made a slow trip around the ramp, including a look at a few wrecks down the far end. Best of these was Sabre N726JR. The maintenance hangars contained a number of aircraft including A319 HC-CGT of TAME. A few more noted as we mooched around included F27’s HP-1604PST/1631PST of Air Panama, King Air N17WG, B737 VP-CKY and LJ N73GP. With rain falling we continued our merry way around the ramp, getting very close to both the parked aircraft and those on the move. UPS B757 N455UP gave us a wave as he taxied out and blasted away into the distance. With the tour over we returned to the café and had an hour or so there before dark, which here is about 1730. Once dark, we returned to the Holiday Inn Express on foot which took about 15 minutes or so.

Thursday 27th October 2011

A wet old morning today, but by the time we had had our breakfast, things had brightened up a treat. This morning we had a tour around the Costa Rican Police Department, which we had seen on the previous day tour, but this time we were invited into the hangar. Star aircraft here is certainly the Caribou MSP002, which we all took turns to sit in etc. We had about two hours here which was about an hour and a half too long, but you can’t beat being on an active ramp, even if it’s very quiet at times. There were a few arrivals including G450 N922CB. Tour over, we made tracks to the café again. Half the group were now sat supping beer or coke (perhaps better to say Pepsi in this part of the world), and tucking into some local snacks. A few movements kept things ticking over, B757 N451UP, CJ N371CF and B737 HP-1521CMP. A notable movement which definitely stirred the troops was An-12 RA-11363 of Cosmos which stormed in smoking well. It was en route from Quito and called in to refuel. As the time went on, the weather deteriorated and there was lightning and thunder about. It didn’t seem to affect arrivals or departures with Spirit A320 N606NK, United B737 N77296 and Copa B737 HP-1374CMP being logged. At 1400 we left the café with the owner probably very happy with his two days takings, forty one blokes and a lady consuming food and drinks more than the usual. At this point the weather really got its act together with some substantial rain. Thankfully we now were back in the terminal, and queueing up to pay our departure tax of $26, then to the check-in. It’s a bit odd with five dedicated first class desks and only three for economy. Thankfully security was a bit quicker and we then spent a couple of hours in the “U.S style” terminal. There was very little of note, just the arrival of A340 EC-LCZ. A320 N497TA got us to our next stop of Guatemala in seventy-one minutes. A quick note here to say that TACA who are joining star Alliance in 2012, wouldn’t win any awards for safety procedures. I was sat in an exit row, they didn’t ask us if we were happy to do the honours, they didn’t clear the floor area of bags under the seat and lights weren’t dimmed for landing. Other than that, it was fine! We landed in Guatemala at 1910, with very little else on the terminal. We got through the formalities very quickly and were met by our guide once landside. There seemed to be a merry band of helpers who insisted on organising our luggage at the kerb side, and then helpfully put it on the bus. Once done they insisted on a tip, which knowing most spotters was not forthcoming. A quick drive got us to the Crowne Plaza hotel, where we were amazingly checked-in with very little fuss. Even more amazing was I had a room with a view of the airport, just nothing visible other than our plane and an American B737. A quick visit to Burger King finished off proceedings. Across the road are MacD and Tacobell, so spoilt for choice!

Friday 28th October 2011

Today we are due to spend all our time at the Le Aurora international airport, which although there are plenty of hangars, does seem like being a bit of a long day. The breakfast was superb and you can’t fault the friendliness of the Guatemalan people. The top man on the door wore a fine red coat and black trilby. Anyway, the day started well when a Guatemalan DC-3 – 590 appeared outside the window as they do! It taxied off to the far end of the runway, then shot back at low level past the window. Very smart. Next movement of some note was the departure of Colombian Air Force Citation FAC5764. This was before we’d even left the room, could it get any better? Departure was at 0800 to the military base at the airport. Our journey only took about five minutes, but we did past a few things up sticks as they say. The guards were all very short, but when they’re heavily armed and look like they could kill you with their bare hands, you give them the respect they’re due. There were a number of formalities and introductions before we got out onto the ramp. We managed to get access to the whole ramp and see into almost all the hangars. There were all sorts of helicopters, assorted twins and some bigger aircraft. Many of these are seizures, so it’s a mixed air force. As we worked our way up the ramp we got to some of the bigger aircraft, namely F27’s 1093, 1467 and 1770. Also here are DC-3’s 530, 540 and 560 amongst others. There was also a hangar full of Arava’s which seemed to keep some people very amused. Some more than others. Our Air Force lieutenant was in no hurry, whilst many of us wanted to get on, as there was plenty still to do. DC-6 TG-WOP also sat up here looking a bit tired. By the time we backtracked down towards the buildings, the Colombian Air Force Citation had returned and made a very good photo. Strangely, after being photographed by everyone for about five minutes the crew decided to complain. Too late I’m afraid. Also, making a low fast departure at close range was DC-8 N602AL. With our tour complete, we needed to go to our next appointment, which was a FBO area further along the ramp. After waiting for about five minutes, there was still no sign of our luxury coach, so we waited near to the bus stop. The buses out here seem to run with the doors open and a “conductor” of sorts jumps out whilst the bus slows and shout out either the destination or next stop. Anyway, suddenly our guide commandeered the next local bus and all forty-two of us somehow crammed in for a short ride down the road. No money exchanged hands and we soon alighted from our ex North Georgia school bus, now in much more garish colours. Apparently our coach had hit some low cables and the driver was now helping the local police with enquiries. We had an appointment with one of the helicopter operators who have a large fleet of Bell 407’s. The main purpose of this is simply to gain ramp access and see where it goes. Access was into three hangars, mainly small aircraft and helicopters. From here we could also see Hawker LV-BBG, N262 TC-JSG and a Let 410 TG-AGW. At this point the group fragmented, one set decided to have some short helicopter rides and the remainder went in two groups to some hangars further up the ramp. There wasn’t much to see here and after a while, the first half of the group re-positioned to the Aeroclub on the other side of the field. The club were expecting us and had a hot buffet on the go. We had two long tables, food and beer. Aircraft were in and out, so how could it get any better. The food was excellent, and mid meal, someone said “looks like a DC-6 on approach”. After a few more moments, someone suggested it might be an Il-18. Well it was, CU-C1515 of AeroCaribbean cargo came storming in. What a sight as it touched down next to us. A while later the rest of the group joined us for their lunch and it was quite a job to tear ourselves away, when the opportunity arose to walk the hangar line. Considering it is an international airport, it was surprising that we walked the full length of the hangars which are only a few hundred metres from the runway and taxiways. No one was wearing a tabard, and all the security we had was one guy on a moped who had to keep moving from place to place. It took a while looking in every hangar, nearly all were shut, so there was a lot of keyholes, cracks and people flat on the ground. It was well worth it, with many a hundred logged. Bigger aircraft that interested me included LJ’s TG-ABY, AIR, CJ N256CJ, Cit TG-RIE, King Air TG-CID, ADL and Aerostar TG-JOY. Whilst we walked the line, we could also monitor arrivals and departures (cheery waves from the flight crew), especially the Il-18. For this we scrambled up to the side of the main taxiway with our security man, to watch it taxi and then depart in a ball of smoke. It took a good two hours to do all the hangars, so those who collect everything were very contented. Once dark we returned to the hotel, where tea and biscuits were sufficient. We had a very early departure to San Salvador in the morning, so with some logging and a few arrivals on SBS to keep us amused, we turned in early. Well a bit anyway.

Saturday 29th October 2011

We were up and about today at 0400 with a 0445 departure to the airport. Thankfully the Crowne Plaza arranged for us to have a breakfast box on our departure. Sadly, no one told the people working in the morning, so we had to make do with just coffee. Despite being in the queue for check-in at 0500, most of the TACA staff were in a meeting until 0520, so things were a bit slow! Immigration wasn’t much better, but I did get an egg Mcmuffin in a matter of seconds! As is customary, we walked the gates to see what was about, B737 HP-1531CMP, N33294 and ATR TG-TRB were noted. As we taxied out, there was a nice line up of UH-1’s, plus a Guatemalan AF C208 – 606. A320 N990TA took us to San Salvador in just 25 minutes (my shortest airline flight), and the crew made no effort to serve the advertised snack. We landed into a hot El Salvador, with just four noted on the terminal; E190’s N936TA, N985TA, B737 N829NN and A320 N570TA. A Southwest or two were noted by the hangars which were assumed to be in the stages of being passed on to someone else. San Salvador was another country noticeably different to the previous ones we visited. We had managed to check our bags through to Panama, as we were only staying in San Salvador for the day. This would hopefully save us some time, by only having hand baggage. The queue for immigration was yet again slow, then followed by the customs man who had the traffic light system. This means you have to press a button. He can’t do it, and if it goes green you’re away, if it goes red, then prepare to be searched. I got through this OK and arrived into one of those slightly odd terminal area’s where everyman and his dog is greeting someone. The odd thing was there were only three or four flights, but probably 500 people at least waiting for family and friends. It is also one of those open air terminals! Probably won’t catch on here. Currency used here are dollars which saved the problem of whether to change money or not. An ice-cream cost 80’c for example. We met up with our guide for the day – Benjamin who was in to music I think. We soon got on to the air-conditioned coach which was just as well as it was very humid. The seat pitch was a bit short which gave the bigger guys a bit of jip. First stop was the museum of El Zapote which we reached in about forty five minutes. This is a very nice museum with all sorts of history, some tanks, an enormous scale model of the country (not sure why) and just three aeroplanes, one magister 505 which was something to do with Israel and two UH-1’s. The officer who showed us around was very proud of all the exhibits which also included guns, paintings of conquistadors, radio’s and scanners etc. Getting away without being rude we headed on for the airport at Ilopango. There seems to be a mixture of good aircraft here, so we arrived with a certain amount of eagerness. As we arrived, ten servicemen with musical instruments ran across in front of the coach, one with a tuba, now probably replaced by a hernia! By the time we stopped, we realised they were there for us. I have never been welcomed to an airport by a military band. They gave us two renditions and I think it can be found on the Aeroprints website now. Here we also received a guided tour and history of the airport with the fact that the terminal building was of Italian design. Eventually we were let loose onto the ramp, where a number of DC-3’s, a DC-6 and a C-123 are wilting on the ramp. We were also going to visit the military ramp, but the colonel said no at the last minute. We then positioned to the aeroclub for lunch and the opportunity to visit all their hangars. This was to say at least a long hot stroll around, but many of the hangars had been opened up especially. On our walk around we noted LJ N31GQ, DC-9 N813TL (an old Swissair example), Hawker N880RG, Magister YS-398E and Stearman TG-JEE. With the visit complete and no sign or sound of the band we made our way back to the main airport. Not too much to trouble the scorers here, B737’s YV2558, N985AN, A340 EC-KSE and A320 N571TA were a few. We then departed on E190 N985TA to Panama, a journey of one hour and thirty-seven minutes. There was very little at Panama on arrival, just B737’s N390DA and N868NN noted.

Sunday 30th October 2011

We left the hotel at 0800 and went up to the airport terminal at Tocumen. We had a ramp tour arranged, which meant all the passports being collected and processed. Whilst they did this, we stood on the approach ramp to the terminal, which seems to be the only vantage point. The operation here is a “hub” one, and from about 0930 we had a steady wave of inbound Copa. There do also seem to be a number of Colombian Copa too. At about 1015 the whole group went airside (half had been up the tower, the other half would go later) which entailed leaving all your possessions on the coach, then going through the scanner, and then getting back on to the same coach which had simply driven through! Good old security. The ramp tour started well, by driving slowly along the majority of parked aircraft, then heading of past the GA which had our old friend Gulfstream N922CB, LJ N48WA, PC-12 N740AF and Westwind N727AT. We then reached the Copa maintenance area which had three or four aircraft, plus just nearby was Orion N741SK of the US Customs department. This went down as pot of the day for Mr Dyer. At this point the local security men became embroiled in a heated debate over what and where we went next. Whilst they debated we read of the nearby military ramp, containing three C212’s, an assortment of Cessna’s and a C208 AN-040. There was also an Islander, SAN - 209. Next stop was the boneyard which contained B727’s N854AA, HP-1653CTW, DC-9 - 15 XB-KXE (del 1967!), Convairs and an Arrow Air DC-8. A newer arrival was Electra XA-AEG last reported in Mexico. We then returned to the terminal, with any new arrivals being logged. Once the second half of the group had been up the tower we departed to the regional airport Marcos A Gelabert. Briefly mentioning the tower visit, here the controllers chiefly worked in English, and were taken aback a bit to learn at Costa Rica for example, they use Spanish for the majority of movements. A half hour drive to Marcos A Gelabert took as along a road very reminiscent of alligator alley in Florida, and we also got the low down on some of Panama’s history, both buildings and the US influence. The airport has a rich mixture of types, Hawker N750EL, S340 HP-1671PST, ATR TG-TRA (which we hadn’t seen in Guatemala), F70’s HP-1731/2PST (old Ford machines), numerous F27’s and a C212 N99TF. At the end of this first ramp area was the Presidential hangar which contained Legacy HP-1A (no photo’s allowed), but many of us were more interested in the previous holder of that registration – GII HP-1691. It was parked outside looking a bit unloved. We then went on foot around the smaller hangars and lock-ups which contained all manner of aircraft. There were a number of Islanders including HP-1312, HP-1338MF and HP-1617. Also logged was lake N1224L, CJ3 N329CJ and a pair of Colombian twins HK-4290 and 4309. Just as we reached the last few hangars, the heavens opened as was forecast and boy did it rain? By all accounts this is nothing unusual out here. We then proceeded to do a bit of tourist activity by visiting the Panama Canal. A very impressive sight when you get up close. Strangely it was dry here (not the canal!) when we arrived, but just as we left the heavens opened again. There were some incredible torrents of water, just stepping into our coach from a dry area, one step only left us soaked. We then returned to Tocumen airport which was still dry and we managed to get about an hour of spotting done before, yes you’ve guessed it, the rain came down. A few gap fillers made, including B737 HP-1722CMP and E190 HK-4559. I know it’s normal out here, but it was then torrential rain all evening and until the early hours. It was slightly funny seeing one of the hotel gardeners cutting the grass in the morning, which was under 4 or 5 inches of water in places. A job to be done I suppose.

Monday 31st October 2011

The rain has cleared and the temperature is a more comfortable 28’c or so. After a leisurely breakfast we caught the shuttle bus up to the airport for the mid morning rush which netted us a few gap fillers. These included E190 HP-1566CMP, HK-4454 and a DHL 727 YV236T which landed on the runway not normally used for jet arrivals. By about noon the rush was over and we returned to the hotel which is about 5 minutes away to check-out. This also gave me the chance to have another shower and freshen up as it was already very humid. We got back to the airport about 1400 and queued up ready for TACA to open the check-in. They were in no rush to do so, but once they were open we soon checked in and passed through immigration and security. By now we were down to just the last few gap fillers required, which of course were different depending on who you were.. A few noted whilst waiting for our flight included B767 YL-LCY, B737 C-FTCZ Canjet (ex Ryanair) and B738 N840NN. Our aircraft for the flight to San Jose was E190 N987TA which despite arriving late, managed to depart reasonably on time. We had a thirty-minute connection in San Jose for our flight to Bogota, so we needed to be on time. Landing back in San Jose on time was a relief, and some people even found time to log some winners. These included A340 EC-LEU, B767 N763CX ATI and A319 N479TA (gap filler!). San Jose is only a small terminal, so we quickly arrived at our gate ready to be processed and enduring some more last minute security bag checking. Once through this, we settled down onto E190 N935TA for our flight to Bogota. TACA still very poor on procedures, the crew were still completing the safety briefing as we moved on to the runway, and we were rolling before they were strapped in. Cabin lights not dimmed either which seems normal procedures out here. Naturally, they didn’t check seat belts as we were already taking off. We arrive into Bogota at 20.11, with a fairly crowded ramp. Apart from the obvious Avianca the only thing read off was C-130B 1008. The drive to the hotel is fairly short and we are reminded that this is not a very safe city. When we arrived at the Habitel hotel, we endured what was probably the slowest check-in ever. Despite advance details being sent, they had to photocopy passports, get forms signed and then issue keys. I’d guess it took three of them about an hour to do the group. Even worse was that some rooms have no windows. Another smaller group who turned up whilst we were being checked -in, were made to wait outside until they finished with us. We then had a tedious talk from our tour guide about what we were doing and when, important but we were all tired and he didn’t have the best rapport. The nutshell of it was that out here in Colombia the military/police run the show and our visit to Villavicencio was now at 0630 next morning. Due to the check-in fiasco this meant very little sleep tonight.

Tuesday 01st October 2011

We were up about 0530 and breakfast wasn’t too good. The quality of food was fine, but the service was awful. With most of our group turning up at the same time, the hot food went instantly and they made no effort to replenish. Food apart, we left for the airport soon after 0630 which entailed a short walk over the road bridge and over to Air Caribe. We were due to fly on a Colombian Army An-32 and although I’m not a “typeflyer” I must admit to being quite excited. Before we reached their hangars, we managed to read off a few bits. ATR HK-4747, E170 FAC 1181, B737 HK-4660 Aries/Lan and a storming departure by B727 HK-4261. We were already getting a bit blasé about some things as we were all looking at an assortment of An-32’s wondering which we would be on (as if it mattered) and we were walking past a C-46 HK-3150 with barely a second look. As with most things in this part of the world, there was no rush to get airborne, even taking the money seemed to take an eternity. The cost was $125 each for about thirty of us. Whilst we waited, we could still read of most departureswhich were thick and fast. Eventually after the crew did their pre flight checks, we were aboard via the rear ramp. The seating for those who don’t know is a long bench down both sides with a very crude seat belt. Minimal instructions from the crew, well none really and engines started. They must have thought we were weaklings as they came round and gave us all ear defenders. It wasn’t a bad idea to be honest, but a lot of people tried to resist. As we taxied out, we had the opportunity to photograph a lot of the ramp, but the windows were very rubbish, so I’m not sure how much we gained. The people taking the snaps weren’t even strapped in, but the crew didn’t care and we were soon airborne in An 32 EJC-1146. The flight up to Villevicencio only took 23 minutes and the lack of windows meant you didn’t really know where you were until we landed with a thud. It was most definitely an exciting flight to say the least and all we did was go from A to B. It was a bit odd taxing to the ramp and disembarking from the An-32 because you not only felt different but almost special. A few numbers noted as we walked to the security area included B1900 HK-4598, Islander HK-2822 and following us, DC-3 HK-2494. After the customary ten or fifteen minutes of faffing around we started our ramp tour. This was just a walk to one end of the ramp and then back to the opposite end. In all we logged eighteen DC-3’s or parts thereof. I doubt anywhere else in the world has so many, of which many were being made ready for action. Additional to these was an unmarked DC-6 (HK-1700) and two An-26’s HK-4296 and 4356. We also stumbled over An-2 HK-4632-X and a D.328 HK-3991. As you walked along you came across more aircraft concealed in hangars or shrubbery, one such was An-12 RA-12980. The people taking us around seemed very relaxed and we had just about unlimited access.It was a very hot day and we made an impromptu stop at a small shop amid the hangars for 30 or so cold drinks, which must have been a surprise to them! Once we returned to the terminal area we had a short video from the airport manager about the history of the airport and their plans for the future. It was probably a bit embarrassing as I suspect all of us nodded of at some point, thankfully no snoring. We then took a short walk (so the guide said) up the road for an organised lunch which was nice to do, but it wasn’t the best meal I’ve ever had. It started with soup containing a lump of potato or something similar? some corn on the cob and a piece of meat on the bone that was totally inedible. The main course was two or three cuts of meat, enough to feed Biafra. Alas, on a hot day it was just a bit much. We also had the flight crew with us so we were treated with perhaps a bit more respect than normal.With lunch completed we marched back to the airport and on the way I saw a line of those leaf carrying ants which one of the flight crew gave me the local name for. Once back at the airport our flight crew got on with their pre flight checks, whilst we scrambled around to make a few more numbers. The only thing for me was a Mil 17 arrival HK-4797-X. A garbled message from the crew suggested that Bogota was shut, so we might have to go elsewhere, and then suddenly it was all systems go, get back on board. In theory the return flight was simply a reverse of the outbound, but it seemed the Captain had a surprise for us, whether we liked it or not. We trundled out and this time no ear plugs handed out. The guy in charge of the ramp said to make sure we were sat down and strapped in and no loose baggage. The take off power of an An-32 is surprisingly strong and we soon climbed to 4000 feet at which point they opened the back and lowered the ramp. It was not at all breezy and the view was fantastic. We cruised for about ten minutes with the ramp down, before it was closed and we continued the climb. The flight crew also left the cockpit door open, so we all had the opportunity to join them, which was easier said than done. There were four crew in there in all, two pilots, one other in between them and the fourth sat on the left low down. He seemed to be recording all the flight details on a scrap of paper. The return flight was nearer to an hour rather than the quick one going out, but whether that was for our benefit or just ATC I don’t know. When we landed two of our group were standing behind the pilots, all highly irregular. Returning to their ramp, we disembarked and shook hands for what had been a truly memorable day. Back in Bogota we had a root around for a few more numbers; DC-3 PNC-0213, F50 HK-4468 and B737 HK-4694 were noted. We also logged a couple of biz – Gulf N253CM and Hawker HK-4758. So we ended a very special day indeed.

Wednesday 02nd October 2011

It was difficult to imagine how we could improve on the previous day, and we thankfully had a more civilised departure of 0830 to the Air Force museum. This allowed a bit longer in the breakfast room, but to be honest I found the menu a bit poor. We also managed to read off a few departures before our coach turned up. Of note were DHL B727 YV478T, Commander EJC-1115 and B767 FAC 1202. The road to the museum runs along the inside of the runway and we chased a DC-3 for a while. Just another day out here! The museum is a bit odd in as much as photography is not allowed, but the main reason for visiting is it gives you a very good view of the main airport operations, as well as some interesting exhibits. After 10 or 15 minutes looking at the displays, most of us were looking out the window. The museum staff obviously knew our game and opened up the blinds, then a while later we were let loose outside to have a much better view. We stayed out here for about an hour, a few of note included B727 FAC1203, C750 XA-FMX, MD11 PH-MCY, C208 FAC5075 and C-12 40484 with very faint titles. It was a good opportunityto catch up with some of the domestic traffic such as Dash 8’s, Jetstreams and B1900’s. We then had a short overview on some of the aircraft and photographs were allowed. I’m not sure why we couldn’t take them earlier. This slow meander allowed us to read of a few more movements, so it was to our advantage. Back on the bus and of to find some stored airliners in the city. This now gave us the opportunity to experience the Bogota city traffic. Traffic out here seems to weave about a lot and I don’t think there is any sort of vehicle “MOT”, so once a bulb blows people just don’t bother to replace them. As an aside the motorcyclists seems to have their registration additionally on their jackets and crash helmets. After about an hour of congestion, and weaving about we found the park, where an Avianca B720 HK-749 and B727 HK-3480 reside. The 727 I had seen many moons ago as a Tunisair one. A short distance away was a DC-3 – N75T in a college. Our next port of call was Guaymaral, which has an aeroclub and more importantly is one of the main bases of the Colombian National Police. After about an hour’s drive and a lunch stop we arrived at the airfield. Outside the gates was a tired looking DC-9 HK-4270. Once we arrived at the police gate, there were no formalities for once and we were escorted into the buildings for a short presentation. Not very interesting, but it was good of them to go to the trouble. We also got some note pads, ear defenders, badge and a police magazine (in Spanish of course, but some of the pictures are nice). We then split into smaller groups and made our way around the hangars and workshops. There were five Blackhawks, lots of Huey’s which are being upgraded to Huey II’s, plus a few other Bell helicopters. There was also an assortment of light aircraft too. On the non-aircraft side, we all had a go with the night vision goggles worth $14000 each, did some firing in the armoury and sat in a Huey. One of the guides had recently spent a month in the UK visiting his sister and he was most impressed with fish and chips, beer and many of our tourist attractions. With the tour over we said our goodbyes and set off for the hotel. By all accounts we were the first civilian group to have a tour here.

Thursday 03rd October 2011

Today was scheduled to be a quiet day and it was! Having said all that, due to the itinerary being adjusted, there was a trip to a military helicopter base which was quite appealing other than the 0430 departure. For that reason, a lot of people decided to spend the day at the terminal and try to catch up on liners and regional aircraft. After another bland breakfast, we left our bags in the baggage room and took the shuttle bus to the terminal. As far as I can tell there is only one area to view from, which is a general seating area facing the military museum overlooking a taxiway, between the two piers. There is a McDonalds which used to have a good view, but they’re now building a large terminal extension right in the way. In regard to the seating area, there are plenty of facilities nearby, but using mini bins is just about OK. I think photography and telescopes will lead to trouble as it did for a number of our group. Obviously our large number didn’t help matters. In regard to the numbers, the airport ticks over very well and the main airlines are in and out. Unfortunately you do miss some as you can’t read off anything on the runways from this area. Additional to the jet liners there were plenty of interesting third level types, mainly Jetstreams, Dash 8’s, B1900’s and C208’s. When you add into the mix the fact that many are Air Force, National Police, and Army it makes for a good log. A few exceptions include Conviassa B737 YV1007, Citation N316WH, C-12 40170, Lan 767 CC-BDA, Tam A319 PR-MBC and Aerogal A319 HC-CKO. Those who did take the early morning trip went across the Andes to Melgar Army Base. Just before reaching the Army Base is an Air Force one, where two UH1s, an OH-13H and a T-6 were noted at various spots near the road. The gate for the Army Base was right beside the main road, but once admitted it is a several kilometre drive to the airfield itself. No chance of spotting from the outside here! Just before arrival, it started tipping down with rain, so a good while was spent being taken to various workshops until it dried up. This unfortunate delay meant that the group ran out of time for a promised helicopter ride. Melgar is mainly a maintenance base and fifty-one helicopters (H-60, Mil Mi-17 & UH-1) hit the book along with a Air Force Cessna 208 and a C-130, which came and went and a civilian PC-12. Around lunchtime those who had stayed in the terminal returned to the hotel to collect their bags, and once back in the terminal we endured another slow TACA check-in. It made me realise how lucky we are back home to have on line check-ins. Thankfully, the security and passport control were relatively quick and we were soon airside. A short while later we were strapped into A320 N492TA for our flight to Lima, Peru. With a punctual departure we reached Lima in 2 hours and 31 minutes, there was a lot in, but we didn’t get too much of it unfortunately. There were a few international bits, but no OB dash. Without too much delay we were soon bussed up and into the hotel where we had our room keys in probably ten minutes. Habitel Bogota take note. Our hotel in Lima was a small establishment near to the airport and first impressions are that we have a comfortable room and bathroom, but there seems to be a pack of dogs outside chasing everyone on foot and making one hell of a noise. We also seem to have an additional room accessed from ours which appears to be some sort of chapel. I will investigate further in the morning. Naturally I forgot!

Friday 04th October 2011

Today was the last day of the trip and we had a packed programme to complete. I think most people appreciated it was a lot to do, but sometimes there is only so much time available. The noise outside from various people and various barking dogs of all sizes had faded away, so sleep came quickly. The hotel was one of those that insisted on doing too much. So we all got wake up calls regardless of whether we wanted one or not. Breakfast itself had to be at 0700, so at least thirty of us were sat down waiting at 0650. Limited coffee, orange juice, rolls and scrambled eggs was the order of the day. With this done, we were checked out and away on two luxury coaches by 0800. Our first visit at the airport was the Police department who had pulled out all the stops for us. We had a presentation and tour from the base commander and group photo outside the gates. The first part of the tour was on the helicopter ramp, including the cleanest fuel tanker and driver I’ve ever seen. We then went through various buildings, crew rooms, operation centre and then on to the fixed wing ramp. This included three An-32’s – PNP 227/8, 233, plus some light aircraft and some Mils – PNP 505/8. Naturally, whilst walking around we were also reading off a lot of the other airliner movements. The tour ended with some refreshments, plus t-shirts, caps etc for sale at reasonable prices. The second stop, again at the airport was at the Navy base, where they were much touchier about photography and general security. We walked onto the main ramp which held most of their F27/F60’s, plus a few other types. There were five King Airs, three Sea Kings and a Mil. From this ramp we could also read off some very old stored aircraft, which were now reduced to just rotting fuselages. We also got taken to see some other helicopters which were hangared, but could only look into the hangar, so not a serial to be had. The last part of the tour was allowing us to photo a very very old hawker which they used to use as a trainer. Quite why they have kept it, now displayed seems a mystery. Third visit of the day entailed an hour’s drive tothe museum and base at Las Palmas. On the way there was a very noticeable display of flowers and plants, a bit like Chile I seem to recall. We drove a lot of the way along a new coastal road, which has been built over the last twenty or thirty years. This has been done by a process of all the old buildings in Peru that need demolishing, are brought to the sea front and tipped onto the beach front. In effect they have built an additional 200 metres or so for many miles of coastline. In time it becomes compressed, and then developed into a promenade area. I also saw along this area the biggest concentration of cormorants I’ve ever seen. Arrival at the museum then had the usual long delay for entry, despite everything being arranged. This museum also had strict rules on what could be photographed or not as the case may be. The museum buildings only contained one aircraft, the remainder was just various aeronautical exhibits, interesting but not really what we wanted. We also had a lengthy talk and demonstration on their simulator programme by the man in charge who obviously ate and drunk simulators! One of the group was volunteered – an infamous 767/747 pilot who seemed to have a few problems landing, say no more! With the buildings done we went by coach to some other hangars, this thankfully meant we got to go past some aircraft which were dotted around the base. Aircraft seen included a Lodestar, Stinson and a UH-1. The next hangars we arrived at seemed very bland, and we all had to take a badge, which sometimes seems very pointless, when a group of thirty odd must stand out to all and sundry. Anyway, we trudged off after our guides looking aimlessly into offices and empty buildings. As we came round a corner, good lord, what a surprise! A large ramp, with the best part of twenty fighters lined up including Mirage’s, Sukhoi’s and Mig’s. A few others lurked in the adjoining hangars, some of which suddenly closed. There was also a lot of maintenance work going on which we could view from outside. We then walked along the fighter line, no problem with photography. From the end of this ramp, we could see a long way distant the DC-3 and Buffalo that reside here, so it was worth the effort. DC-10 J2-KCG (a Gatwick regular) was also here, as it had been for some years apparently. Returning to the coach we made haste for Lima, with a certain spring in the step because the trip had ended on a high note. At Lima we used the height of the coach to view many of the stored airliners which seemed to be crammed together, plus a new display of aircraft near the terminal. These included An-32 395, S-2 545 plus a few other bits. We braved security by stopping where we shouldn’t and soon the lady officer was on our case. However, it wasn’t the stopping, or the photography but some people were walking on the newly sown grass. We then went into the terminal and through check-in and security with little fuss for a change. The majority of aircraft here are CC rather than OB, which is a bit of a shame, but few of these are in Chile either, so just fill your boots as they say. At this point of the day/trip things were getting to be a bit of a blur and one just writes everything down. I do remember Citation OB-1824 being a winner, shortly before nightfall and the boarding of our flight B777 F-GSPD which then took us back to Paris in a bum numbing twelve hours and five minutes. This I now know to be my longest flight duration, beating last years Heathrow to Singapore by ten minutes. Curiously, I have also realised that our flight from Guatemala to San Salvador was my shortest in twenty-five minutes.

Saturday 05th October 2011

We landed back in Paris early afternoon and the group fragmented into smaller groups as we had about four hours to kill. I went with a few others to T9 where the SBS was put into operation as we stood outdoors getting some much needed fresh air and the occasional number. Of note were the Moroccan Government B747 CN-RGA and the Gulf CN-AMS, nothing like a bit of shopping in Paris on a Saturday afternoon! B777 F-OMAY of Austral was towed up from the hangars and N851FD was an arrival before we made our way back to Terminal 2 and our gate. A320 F-HEPD whisked us back to Heathrow in just forty six minutes which included a short hold somewhere, Back at Heathrow, escalators didn’t work, immigration staff were elusive and awkward when asked about the IRIS machine and there was the longest queue of people I’ve ever seen at LHR, most of whom had alighted from B777 S2-AFO. Further grief at Feltham ensued, but by then I knew I was back home. So ended a fantastic trip, seven new countries, loads of numbers, many of which were unique and curious types to say the least. As ever, well organised and run by Aeroprints and made a success by all those on the trip. Roll on the next.


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