The second city is a little over an hour away as the Piper flies. They have a big international airport in the middle of the city. Not all of them are easily accessible to small aircraft. But this one has a good reputation in the general aviation community. Friendly and relatively easy to navigate. In fact I have been there by air once, many years ago with my flight instructor. I am qualified to go there, I am comfortable with the radio and I have current charts. How hard can it be, really! (Sounds like whistling in the dark? Maybe a little bit.)
Big Jets International airports are the playgrounds of the pros. They fly the big iron, they do it all the time, they do it fast, and they sound cool on the radio. That can be a bit intimidating for piston scum like myself. But I’m on a mission. I want to visit my buddy before he moves away and I want to get there with as little ground contact as possible!
The day is gorgeous. I look over my flight plan and the approach briefing one more time, then I’m ready to go.
The flight is beautiful. I enjoy being in the sky again after spending a lot of time on the ground lately. The rain last night has washed the dusty heat away. The sun is out, the temperature is pleasant, not a cloud in the sky. When I get close to my destination, I listen to the ATIS, the automated broadcast about the current weather, runway in use and other important information at major airports. Then I call the tower.
Controlled airspace I fly under Visual Flight Rule (VFR) and I typically move through the uncontrolled airspace. I can go where I want and although it is possible (and a good idea) to check in with air traffic control, I’m under no obligation to do so. The pros fly under Instrument Flight Rule (IFR). IFR traffic moves through controlled airspace, typically at higher altitudes. The big airports are the place where these two worlds meet. They have an area of controlled airspace around them in order to deal with the IFR traffic. When I want to enter, I ask the tower for permission and follow their instructions.
On a clear day like today, the approach is easy. The friendly controller vectors me to the correct end of the runway and tells me that I will be number two for landing after a CRJ regional jet. I report the traffic in sight and have enough time to watch him land before it is my turn. The runway is so big in all dimensions that I could probably land the little Piper sideways. When I taxi off of the runway, a follow-me car is already waiting for me. It guides me to my parking position, then the driver gets out and marshals me in with illuminated wands and a huge smile on his face. What a great welcome!
I feel like the king of the world and will probably come here again, soon!
The days are getting longer, the sun is coming back from its winter break – time to shake off the frost and get into the air! My destination for today is the island of Rügen. It is just under one flight hour away but a different world. I love coming here in the summer for the beautiful beaches and the fresh fish.
Todays trip will be in the spirit of pickled Hering. It is a great tradition in general aviation to go places for the purpose of having a meal. It does not always have to be a hamburger, and it is almost never limited to 100 dollars any more. But the „100 dollar hamburger“ still has a nice ring to it.
Flying to the beach with the family is one of my plans for the coming summer. Todays objective is training, scouting, and just having a good time in the air!
The visibility is okay and the clouds are few and high. I file a flight plan, because when I think about it, I realized how long I have not done that. The waypoint is the Friedland VOR (FLD) and the CDI needle is glued to the center in the smooth air.
The island airport is not big and there is no easy-to-spot landmark close bye. I remember the smirk on my flight instructors face on my first visit here. I did not spot the runway until I was almost in the pattern. This time I know what to look for.
It is early in the season and there is not much going on. A tired Cessna is flying the first tourists over their vacation homes. The Restaurant will be buzzing in the summer, but now only one other table is occupied. We quickly start chatting, a flight instructor and his student.
The fish is excellent and all the way home I am looking forward to my next visit here in the summer.
Location: EDDT (Tegel)
Equipment: PH-BGO, KLM Boeing 737 („Paradijsvogel“)
It is about two hours before dawn and I am waiting in line at the airport security checkpoint. It’s moments like this when I hear the small voice with the nagging doubts in my head. The voice gets louder in the wee hours of the morning or when the subject of funding for the hobby comes up. But so far the view out of an airliner window or the rush of excitement during the takeoff run in the Piper has been enough to send the little voice back to its corner, pouting.
I’m on my way to Amsterdam. It’s going to be a long day full of good company and airplanes. There is a vivid international community around several aviation podcasts with the Airline Pilot Guy Show at its center.
Community member Sjoert from the Netherlands has extended an open invitation for a meet up and organized a day at the Aviodrome aviation museum at Lelystad (EHLE). Most of us are in touch online on a regular basis. But we don’t see each other in person very often. It will be fun!
Nine arrive in Lelystad. What began as a foggy morning in the Netherlands turns into a sunny late winter day by the time we are ready for the outdoor part of the Aviodrome – perfect!
Sjoert has a bunch of recordings planned for the various shows. It proves to be a challenge to get us all focuses on something else than the airplanes in the museum, but it all works out in the end. The results are featured in these shows:
Visibility: More than 10 miles
Wind: 150°, 10kts
Equipment: Piper 28 (D-EITI)
We are on the way to the airport. My flying friend and I are full of excitement. Our passenger is eying the sky with suspicion. It has been gray and drewry for days and the sun has a difficult time to break through the clouds now. Neither one of the pilots is worried though. We have the been studying the weather for days and today is going to be gorgeous!
Our schedule is tight. We are planning a nice and relaxed summer day all crambed into the few precious sun hours of this short winter morning has to offer. The trip is about flying and about scouting the destination for future reference. The pilots are looking forward to the trip – the passengers have yet to understand the extend of our craziness.
On the way there we practice old fashioned visual navigation. My flying friend has made a detailed flight plan. GPS and auto pilot stay off and we are consulting over the map and try to identify the landmarks. We reach our destination within two minutes of the flight planned time. Not too bad!
Our trip today takes us to Moritzburg Castle. The sunlit beauty holds what the view from the sky promised. We have time for a harty lunch and a strol around the grounds before we need to think about the way back. The tour through the inside of the historic place will have to wait until the summer.
We will turn into a pumpkin at sun set + 30 minutes. This is when the airport will close. No time to waist, he takes care of the paper work while I preflight „Tango India“.
The return trip is my leg as pilot flying. We do a radio navigation excercise. EDAK to KLF VOR, then on to the FEW VOR before we make our way home on its radial 326. We have a strong tail wind which lets our ground speed peak at 139 knots. Not bad for the little Piper!
The sun is low already and we are past enjoying the last evening rays before we touch down – right at sun set. We even would have had a few minutes to spare. But you never make a plan that includes the last drop of fuel or the last minute of daylight.
The weekend promises to have some of the last hot days of the summer. My flying friend and I are taking his Piper for a spin. EDAH is the destination for the day.
The sky is blue and so is the forecast. So we are a bit surprised to see a dark storm frot looming to the west when we come closer to the coast. Loks like we found the only patch of bad weather in a 500 mile radius.
An unmotivated rain shower makes for a nice atmosphere under the sun shades on the terrace of the airport restaurant.
When we are ready to leave, the weather radar shows a thin but long storm front almost completely stretching along our way home. So we decide to fly west at first and turn south as soon as we are behind the front. „Tango India“ is equipped with a storm scope. An antenna that can detect electro magnetic pulses (EMPs), their direction and intensity. These pulses are caused by lightning, so the system can put lighting strikes in the area on a map.
This is the first time that either one of us is flying close enough to a storm cell to see the system in action. We navigate along the back side of the storm and the storm scope is lighting up. After the initial excitement of seeing the new gadget in action, we start referencing the information on the screen with what we see outside. What a great learning experience.
When we get close to the Big City, the last bit of weather is still between us and our destination. So we divert to EDBF for a cup of coffee. The sun is shining but the runway is still wet. We are told that the storm here was short but strong.
Back at EDAV later that evening we move the other airplanes out of the hangar to clear the path for „Tango India“. Her spot is in the very back. This morning, when we had to move the same planes in order to get her out, we discussed for a moment if we should just leave them outside for the day. I’m very glad we spent the couple of extra minutes to put them back into the shelter.
My flying buddy calls: „Do you remember the Europe trip we planned last year? Are you still up for it?“ Me (wondering if he can hear my smile on the phone): „Sure! When?“ Him: „Two days from now, I’ll come pick you up!“
I had planned a few days off with the family. The pilots wife roles her eyes at me when she hears about this and then gives me that smile that touches my foolish heart.
The day before the trip I go through my preparations from last year. The route has changed a bit because we only have four days to spare. This trip will be about flying and about learning new routes and seeing new countries. There will not be time for sight seeing – the view from above is all we really need anyway.
We have ambitious plans! The first day is going to take us from The Big City to Millau in southern France. On the second day we plan to cross over the Mediterranean with a lunch break on the island of Corsica and on to Florence in Italy.
For the third day we plan to cross the Alps and fly back home. Sunday will be our extra day for bad weather or nice places that invite to stay.
I am at the airport early. I have packed light but I am sure that I will still bring things back unused. The doors of the small terminal building are open but the staff clearly does not expect anybody yet.
My ride is wheels down at 6:01 Zulu, one minute after the official opening time of the airport. We have no time to loose, there are a lot of miles in front of us. After raised eyebrows and well wishes in EDAY, we are off to EDGF, the home base of the Rocket Ship. It is on the way, makes a good fuel stop and we have a few more things to pack before the trip.
The Rocket Ship is a FlightDesign CT LSA. She is small but very capable, well equipped and she has a lot of helpful details. For example, the two luggage compartments aft of the cockpit which are big enough for our two backpacks, my headset bag, our two life vests for the Mediterranean crossing as well as two empty 20 liter fuel canisters in case we need to go to a gas station for refueling somewhere.
The goal for today is LFMC, Millau-Larzac in the south of France. We have a stop planned at Besançon, about half way. The Rocket Ship makes its way towards France. The clouds could be higher and the visibility could also be better. But there is nothing but improoving weather in the forecast and we are confident. Crossing the border is a non event. We are asked to contact a new controller on a different frequency but that is pretty much it.
The VFR maps of France look intimidating. There are a lot of restrictions. Neither one of us has been flying in France before but we have heard positive things about flying here.
The controller in charge of us is also handling some IFR traffic on the same frequency. Her English is flawless and full of routine and we only have problems understanding her when she talks about waypoints that we are not familiar with. The Jeppeson Navigation software on the trusted iPad is warning us of one restricted area after the other and the controller clears us for all of them. We only have to deviate from our course to go around the airport of Lyon.
Before we know it, it is time to plan the approach into our half way stop in Besançon. Both of us are surprised about how quickly time passes. So we decide to skip the stop and continue on to Millau. There are plenty other airports on the way in case we should need a break after all.
We reach the Causse du Larzac in the golden light of the mid afternoon. The scenery of the plateau is spectacular. The airport comes in sight and there is no traffic and no controller on the frequency. We state our intentions and land with a strong, warm head wind on the long runway. Both of us need a moment before we have a full grasp of the day.
We spend the evening with friends and fresh sea food on a terrace overlooking the city of Millau. In the evening sun, para gliders are pirouetting over the hills across the valley.
We use our fuel canisters for the first time to fill the Rocket Ship up. The miracle of technology lets us file the flight plan online before we take off. After departure we contact Montpellier information and ask for our flight plan to be opened. Then we enjoy the spectacular scenery and speculate whether or not the glittering on the horizon is the Mediterranean already.
The rude awakening comes in the form of Camarque Information. Over Marseilles the friendly controller tells us in no uncertain terms that he has a problem with us. Our flight plan did not go through and we are not allowed to cross over to Corsica without one. So he tells us to find an airfield and land to file a proper plan for the trip.
Le Castellet (LFMQ)
Le Castellet is on our way and proves to be our luck. Rarely have I been treated as friendly at an airport. We get coffee, a flight plan form and all the advice we could ask for in an air conditioned lounge with view of the smart looking Global Express.
The misunderstanding is cleared up quickly. Our flight plan made it to Touluse but we were probably in the air before it had time to make its way through the system. No problem, we file a new plan and thanks to the recent training at the AZF class, yours truly masters the task in no time.
From Le Castellet we are routed to the St. Tropez VOR (STP) to start our crossing of the Mediterranean. There are a number of mandatory reporting points on the route so that no small plane gets lost. We venture out onto the open waters with a bit of a weird feeling. We have both not flown over open water before.
The engine does not quit; however, the trusted iPad does! Just before passing the first of the reporting points, the Jeppeson app shows a loss of GPS signal. Fortunately, the build in Garmin also knows the points. Finding them with compass and stop watch alone would have been a challenge!
Long before we can see the island of Corsica, we see the thunderstorm that is drenching its hills. The clouds are towering high over the land mass.
The controller informs us that our destination of Corte reports rain and strong winds. We decide to try our luck anyway and see how it develops. Corte is located on the central plateau of the island and we are greeted with rain long before we are there. After some consultation with the controller, we decide on Bastia (LFKB) as alternate.
We did not plan on landing on a towered airport but the controller at Bastia is friendly and the airfield by the sea is in the sunshine. We are number two for landing behind a commuter twin and have a difficult time loosing altitude fast enough. The last mountain we cross is about 4,000 feet high, the threshold at Bastia is at 26 feet and not far away.
The service in Bastia is friendly but the staff is clearly more accustomed to airliners than to piston scum like us. Our handling agent is young, speaks Excellent english and is breathtakingly clueless in a very charming way.
I file our flight plan to Italy with him and when we are ready to go, the tower does not have it. A few moments later, our friend comes driving back out to us to retrieve the flight plan form from me. He needs it again as there has been a technical problem with the transmission. I don’t say anything but suspect the way the paper was facing in the fax machine as root cause of his ‚technical problem‘. We leave with a warm feeling for him in our hearts.
Bastia is on the eastern coast of Corsica and it does not take long before the island of Elba comes into view. The controller of Roma information does not seem all that interested in us. We both are happy when it is time to switch over to Firenze approach. The controller there is familiar with our destination aerodrome of Collina and double checks if we are, too. It will take a landing on the wrong field before we understand his concern.
On the northern border of the Firenze control zone, we cross a mountain range and then descend into a valley on approach to Aviosuperficie Collina. At the GPS coordinates from the webpage, we circle and look for the runway – but nothing. After a few minutes we see a field that looks promising. A low pass confirms our hopes, an airstrip with runway markers. So we fly a small pattern, radio our intentions and land. Italy at last!
We are on the ground safely but it does not take long before our sneaking suspicion becomes certitude – this is not Collina. A farmer tells us that Collina is only a few miles away to the west. Hard to miss as it is right next to a racing track. So we are off again and after maybe five minutes we arrive at our destination for tonight. And we are being expected. A dry spot for the Rocket Ship is prepared and the dinner table is set. The warm welcome extends into a delicious meal and good company.
The next morning begins relaxed for us. The weather is not great but a high pressure area is coming from the west. So we are not planning on leaving before noon. Time enough for a tour of the hangar and the exchange of some pilot stories.
After a good Italian lunch, we feel ready. We leave Tuscany for the Emilia-Romagna region. The city of Bologna is in the sun and we can cross midfield over the airport.
The Alps are coming closer fast, so we start climbing while we are still over Bologna. The next controller wants us to go via the Bolzano VOR. That is actually a bit further east that we would like to be but we go with that routing for now.
The clouds are towering high but they are clearly defined. In between them, the air is clear and the visibility is good.
We pass Bolzano to the west and go on north towards Merano on the lookout for a pass that is clear. We are high enough so that terrain is not a problem. To keep it that way, I am busy checking position, our flight level as well as the minimum safe altitude. My flying buddy is navigating around the puffy towers and looking out for a clear path.
As a team, we are safe. Alone I can see how a pilot could loose track of one or more of these factors.
The atmosphere between the clouds is very special. The sun gives the perfectly white barriers a stunning glow. My four-year-old has asked me before if one could land a plane on the clouds. I told him no but looking at them now, I am not so sure anymore.
With all of their beauty, we don’t forget for a moment how dangerous clouds can be to the untrained pilot. I did some basic training in flying after the instruments and I know how hard it is to keep the aircraft straight and level if you don’t see the horizon any more.
After a few circles, we realize that there is not going to be a clear path for us to sneak through. We finally turn west and see how far that high pressure area from the forecast has come. That’s okay, it was worth a try.
It’s not long before we call the Austrian controller. He is upbeat and friendly and does not seem very busy.
We finally meet the high pressure zone around St. Anton. As we turn north, the controller is very interested in the exact weather conditions. We can see the high pressure pushing the clouds. To the east, they are towering high over us, to the west, everything is clear. We are on our way home.
We are flying north over a patchy layer of clouds. The controller lets us stay up here so we enjoy the sun for a bit longer. We have done it; we have crossed the Alps!
North of Kempten, the cloud cover ends and looking ahead feels like looking over the edge of a table. We descend further and Italy and the Alps feel like a distant dream. This region used to be my flying buddies home, he knows every tree and every runway. Our thoughts start drifting off. We did it, what a trip!
After a bit, my focus comes back to the plane and our fuel. The search for the hole on the clouds took quite some time. We have a pretty strong head wind now and the „Time Remaining“ on the fuel computer and the „Time to Destination“ on the GPS start getting uncomfortably close to each other. So we decide for a fuel stop after all.
We get into EDGF just before it starts to rain. We move the Rocket Ship into the hangar and go to the hotel where a cold beer, a hot shower and a soft bed are waiting for us.
Close to 3,000 kilometers, more than 20 hours in the air, eight legs in four days, three countries, many smiling faces and a wealth of experience. I can’t wait for the next trip!
Visibility: about more than 10 miles, low hanging clouds
Wind: 260°, 4kts
Equipment: Cessna 152 (D-EMFM)
The weather has been variable all day. The sun has been busy chasing clouds away and whenever she was not looking, they threw a few rain showers into the mix. I have been eying them nervously. Rain tonight would be bad.
I arrive at the airport in the dusk. “Kilo Sierra” is being loaded on the apron as I walk by. “Fox Mike” is sitting next to her, waiting for me. I’m flying with Klaus this evening. I have not seen him since my light sports training and having him on my right seat is a pleasant surprise.
From the fall to the spring, the airport offers extended night operation hours once a month. I have started to train for the night VFR endorsement well over a year ago. Then I missed a season for my baby break and this winter has been grey and cloudy. Not great for night flying either. Today is the last chance of this season.
Fox Mike“ is a tiny Cessna 152 with minimal equipment. I like her and night VFR is legal with her, but she is pretty much as simple as it gets. The instrument panel is iluminated by a small red light mounted on the ceiling above my head. The radio is very basic and the single VOR receiver makes for very limited cross referencing capabilities. Quite a difference to the high tech ship “Alpha Hotel” that I have been flying recently. But that is all part of the training.
The plan for tonight is to pick-up where I have left off a year and a half ago. We go north to the Friedland VOR, then back to Finow for a bit of pattern work before we return home. I enjoy flying at night. The air is calm and the lights are magic.
Klaus has a hand held GPS in his lap. He is double checking my navigation and tells me stories to every single light on the ground. I have a feeling he does not really need the GPS. He has been flying in the area for a while.
The trip is pleasantly uneventful. On the way back we run into isolated rain showers. Since we did not see the clouds at night, we have to fly a pretty abrupt evasive maneuver. After all we don’t want to fly into the clouds. Almost immediately the controller comes on the radio to check on us. Nice to know we are being watched over.
We are almost abeam the airport before we spot the runway in Finow. I adjust speed and altitude on the down wind leg. When I turn final, I am still a bit high. For experienced pilots it is very hard to judge the height above the ground corectly at night. For this junior aviator it is almost impossible.
The runway has lights on the right and on the left. Some more lights at the end and a pretty big aray of lights at the threshold. For the approach we have a set of four lights to the left of the runway. This line forms the “Precision Approach Path Ilumination” (PAPI) – always helpful and crucial at night.
The papi lamps change their colour depending on the viewing angle. On my first approach I come in too high. All four lights are white. As I am adjusting my glide path, the right light becomes red, shortly after that the second light from the right also looks red too me. “Two red, two white – you’re alright”, I’m right on the glide path. Holding this rate of descent will take me to the runway.
At the end of the night I have enough hours for the rating. And I get why being current at night flying matters. Looking forward to the next trip after dusk already!
On the way to the airport, my passenger is shifting in his seat. He doesn’t say much. Probably a bit nervous and anxious to get there. The morning is cold and the clouds look a bit too low for my taste.
When we arrive, a solitary Cessna is doing pattern work. I start the pre flight and all of a sudden he has a million questions, is very excited and interested in every detail. I put the booster seat on the back bench and help him to climb in. When he gets his own headset, he is very proud – and he looks quite cute in in, too.
The grandfather is also here. He will take the other rear seat in order to calm the junior aviator down. After all is is going to be his first flight with dad.
The night was rainy and the ground is still wet. I taxi „Kilo Sierra“ carefully through a puddle. After the run-up, I check in with the two behind me again. Ready for the flight? They are!
The air is cold enough to give the engine something to bite into. We reach the clouds before we reach patter altitude. It’s pretty clear that we will not go anywhere else this morning. Still, there are cheers from the back on every turn. The little passengers enjoys the view of the ground when I bank the plane.
We do a touch-and-go and a second round to see, if the wind is blowing the low clouds away. But we are not that lucky, the cloud base stays low and we decide to call it a day. After the two quick rounds, we are back on the ground. A bit shorter than I had hoped but the passengers don’t seem to mind. The first of hopefully many more trips to come!
Visibility: very low
Location: EDGF (Fulda)
Equipment: Hotel sauna
One of the few advantages of winter in northern Europe is visiting a sauna. My flying buddy and I have been sitting in the mist on the airfield for a while before we decided that it would be better to sweat in the sauna than to sweat in minimal weather.
When taking to the skies, a very informed and very critical look at the weather is crucial. We are planning a long trip, so the weather observation is complex. We have postponed our trip from Thursday to Tuesday because a weather system was moving through southern Europe. Today, our route looks good but we ave problems getting started.
The aircraft is stationed at EDGF, a grass field at an altitude of 1558 ft. The cloud base is almost touching the field, a few of the hills we have to cross are actually in the clouds. No point in getting worked-up about something we can’t change, though. This is VFR flying in the winter.
After two days of waiting for the weather to improve, we decide to postpone out trip once more. My flying buddy goes home and I visit family close by.
Visiting an old friend
A few weeks ago, my dear LISA was moved from Schönhagen to Egelsbach. I am staying just a few miles away from the airport and so I decide to go see her. The local weather is not great either, but a number of small planes are in the pattern. So I take LISA for a spin – for old times sake.
I fire-up the ipad and make a flight plan for EDRY, about half and hour to the south. I have been meaning to visit the Technic Museum Speyer for a long time. I’m on my own, I have no schedule and no pressure. Great conditions for a training flight in less than optimal weather. If it should get dicey, I can just turn back. No danger of get-there-itis which can cause oh so many problems…
The flight is demanding. The visibility is not bad but the cloud base is low and with rising terrain, there is not all that much room to maneuver. All within legal limits but when I get in between two hills, I keep looking over my shoulder to make sure the escape route is clear.
Finally the terrain is getting lower. I navigate around the controlled airspace of EDFM and very soon I see the city of Speyer on the river.
In the pattern at EDRY, I have the last demanding moment of the trip. There are individual clouds in the pattern. Like big, puffy sheep they are blocking my path and I have to navigate around them.
The airport staff at Speyer is extremely friendly and on a day like today they have time for a chat. I even get a discount coupon for the museum. Nice gesture but I would have gone anyway…
In the afternoon the winter sun has had enough time to raise the cloud base and has even burned a few holes into it. The trip home is delightful and much easier.
I am very glad that I did get to fly after all. And the trip was great training. Over the next couple of days I will monitor the weather development closely to see if another window opens up for the big trip!
Visibility: blue sky
Location: Sky Fox
I’m at the aviation map shop. We have one of those – benefit of living in the Big City. I’m asking for southern France, Spain, Portugal, part of Italy, Austria and Switzerland. For good measure, I throw in the „VFR Cross Border Guide“ and yes, I will need a bag.
My flying buddy has sold his rocket ship to a flying club but he kept some flying privileges. He has been contemplating a big tour through southern Europe for a long time. Last week he called me: „You remember that trip I told you about – I’m gonna do it now! Do you want to be my co-pilot?“ „Sure, great! When did you plan to go?“ „Would Thursday work for you?“
I’m talking to The Pilots Wife. Her thinking is all focused on the solution „Babysitter – check, Grandparents – check, appointments next week – check. Can do“. She is for keeps…!
Now I’m working on the flight plans, organize safety gear like life vests and read about the regional differences – and all while eyeing the weather forecast. Keep the fingers crossed for sunshine in November!