Message 21.10.2021

Cognac – Experience Report of a Pilatus Technician

Cognac – one of the most famous drinks in France, along with wine and champagne. The base aérienne 709 Cognac-Châteaubernard, known for its role as a base for the Pilatus PC-21 training aircraft, is located in the midst of Vineyards. Pilatus Aircraft Ltd

Situated around five kilometres south of Cognac, the airbase was built between 1938 and 1940. The aim was to provide a training base for the French Air Force. But things turned out differently, and the first operator was in fact the German air force, which occupied the airspace over the Atlantic from Cognac during the Second World War. Training did not start until after the war. A 35 year era with the Socata TB-30 “Epsilon” military trainer came to an end in Cognac in 2019. From then on, the Pilatus PC-21 turboprop trainers went into service for the first time. September 2020 saw the first pilots complete their training, conducted in three phases, “Basic”, “Advanced” and “Rated”.

Life Between Airbase and Vineyards

Roland Steiger and Reto Strauss live in this wonderful region. They have been supporting Babcock International’s maintenance team since 2018. Customer requests are many and varied. Each day is different! Roland and Reto’s daily presence in Maintenance and on the Flight Line helps to ensure that answers and solutions are found quickly and efficiently. “Our office is open to all Babcock employees. Whether airworthiness, logistics or ejection seat workshop – we are the contact persons for all the employees. I live about 15 kilometres south of the airbase. Our house is right next to the vineyards.” Last year was anything but easy for Roland and Reto. Due to Covid-19, a lockdown was imposed relatively early in France, so it was difficult to meet new people. For many months, they were forced to spend their free time at home. “Despite the circumstances, we really did try to enjoy the peace and quiet of the countryside”, adds Roland Steiger.

Cognac and Pineau – Two Drinks From This Region

The history of cognac dates back to the 17th century. Back then, cargo ships ferried salt across the river Charente to Cognac. On the return trip, barrels of cognac were brought to Rochefort to be loaded onto ocean-going vessels for export to buying countries. Due to the long routes, the wine often turned sour and undrinkable. With its high alcohol content, cognac did not suffer this reduction in quality. At present, cognac is mainly drunk as a digestif with dessert. The average French person drinks only one glass of cognac per year. 98 percent of this famous brandy is exported. The biggest customer is the USA, followed by China. In Europe, England comes first as the most important client. Pineau des Charentes is another well-known drink from this region. Pineau is a blend of cognac and unfermented grape must and is usually enjoyed as an aperitif.

Airshow 2021 – Airbase Cognac-Châteaubernard

Cognac will host the largest airshow in France in early July 2021. Originally planned for 2020, it had to be cancelled due to the pandemic. Participants will include the Patrouille de France, the Patrouille Suisse and l’Armée de l’Air – with the Pilatus PC-21.

Au revoir la France

The employment contracts of Roland Steiger and Reto Strauss end in Cognac in June 2021. Roland Steiger says: “Personally, I’m looking forward to a change of scenery and to a new challenge. In 2018 and 2019, there were all the problems with the gilets jaunes, and then, from 2020, the pandemic hit, forcing us to remain largely isolated. Even so, my girlfriend and I won’t forget our time in France. The positive aspects always remain uppermost in your mind. We’ll miss the friendliness and simplicity of the people here in the countryside”.