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Europe on a wing strut – Part 3

Europe on a wing strut – Part 3

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.

EDAY in the morning

Thursday

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.

France

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.

Passing Be

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.

Friday

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.

Ready to cross some water

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.

Le Castellet

Water

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!

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Corsica

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.

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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.

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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.

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Italy

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!

Wrong airfield but welcome break

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.

Collina

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.

Tour of the hangar

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.

City of Bologna

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.

Clouds over the alps

The clouds are towering high but they are clearly defined. In between them, the air is clear and the visibility is good.

Bolzano

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.

is there a path?

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.

free of clouds

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.

Version 2

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!

Home stretch

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!

End of the cloud cover

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!

To be continued…

Going back is hard

Going back is hard

Visibility: about 10 miles, sunny

Temperature: 21°C
Wind: 230°, 8kts
QNH: 1013hPa
Location: EDAY
Equipment: Rider MD3 (D-MPCO)

I am back to fly an ultra light for the first time in a while. I have been busy flying Cessnas and Pipers and my trusted Riders have been neglected lately.

My old flight instructor is teasing me. „Back to flying real airplanes, are you?“

I smile but he is right. In many ways, the very light two seaters are more demanding than the stable and tranquil larger Cessnas.

D-MPCO EDAY

I’m flying „Charly Oskar“ today. With her 100hp Rotax engine, she is very well powered for her weight. I take time to go through the short check list and taxi to the runway slowly. I push the throttle forward and the world accelerates around me. No time for watching the airspeed build up before rotating eventually. The airspeed indicator comes to life and the needle shoots past the rotation speed. I pull slightly on the joke, the rumbling stops but the acceleration does not. I can’t hold the „Yee-Haw“ in!

For the first few moments I’m a bit overwhelmed and very busy managing the energy. After that, the fun starts.

D-MPCO in flight

I have no big plans for today. Just getting comfortable with the Rider again. I start with a few patterns. The approach is easy. The glide slope feels natural and the landing is acceptable. Good.

After three or four landings, I take a quick strool around the hood. The sun is shining and I relax. Holding my altitude requires a bit more attention than on the Cessna. The ultra light is more agile but also more nervous.

D-MPCO cockpit

After the last landing of the day, I taxi back to the apron. I shut down “Charliy Oscar” and finalize the check list. The flight was fun but I have mixed feelings. I enjoyed the simplicity and agility of the Rider but at the same time I missed the tranquile solidity of the Cessnas and Pipers. Going back is hard.

To be continued…

Back in the saddle again

Back in the saddle again

Visibility: CAVOK, more than 10k
Temperature: 29°C
Wind: 350°, 5 knots
QNH: 1022hPa
Location: EDAY
Equipment: D-MALJ (Rider MD3)

I am excited. Airplanes in the stomach and all. I know the route very well but I have not travelled it in almost a year.

The flight bag is next to me. I packed it last night. Took the license and log book, checked the batteries in the head set and threw out the old map. It has been outdated for a while.

I walk the short stretch from the train station over to the airport. A glider is soaring in big circles towards an impressive tower of cumulus. Coming closer, I count at least three airplanes in the pattern. The gorgeous weather seems to make for a busy morning.

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I took a bit of a baby break and am so ground sick that it hurts. But this morning will tell if I still have what it takes.

I’m at the big flight school first for a coffee and a chat. I need to fly at least 12 hours until next February to stay current. Challenge accepted!

Next stop is the LSA flight school. I can not drink more coffee and I’m getting antsy. So as soon as the instructor and student come through the door, I am out to take possession of the aircraft. My old love „Lima Juliet“ will be the ship today. We go way back together. I passed my very first check ride with her, took her to the island of Rügen and impressed my friends with her.

Old friend

„Lima Juliet“ is comfortable like an old pair of shoes. I was a bit worried but we get along just fine. She is light and the thermal up draft from the fields is playing with her even at 2.000 feet.

We go over to Eggersdorf for some pattern work. My landings are very acceptable and I am glad. I try different flap settings and approaches and the landings are pretty consistent. Not all greasers, non real bad ones either. Glad to be back!

To be continued…

staying current

staying current

Visibility: more than 10 kilometers
ceiling: more than 5.000 feet
GAFOR: “C” clear skies!
Temperature: 24°C
Wind: 290°, 10 knots
QNH: 1027hPa
Location: EDAY (Strausberg)
Equipment: “Lima Juliet” (my old love)

On Saturday a friend took me up on the promise to take him up! Since “Lima X-Ray” is still in the shop and I have not had my check-ride on “Kilo Sierra” yet, I called my old flight school. They had a cancellation and “Lima Juliet” is available for two hours on Sunday.

We have had a rainy summer and this is one of the first hot and clear weekends in a while. The aviation forecast is perfect, visibility is great and there are pretty white clouds.

Staying current

Many of us hobby pilots don’t get above the ground as much as we would like to. In order to be able to take passengers with me in the light sports plane, I have to have a minimum of three landings in the last 90 days.

My last trip was in February! Ever since then I have been training for the private pilots license with larger aircraft. That means I have to fly three patterns on my own before we can go on our little trip.

So I arrive at the airport a bit before my friend for the obligatory abuse at the flight school (“so you are back to fly real aircraft, right…”) and to go ahead with the three landings.

It is good to be back in the light sports aircraft. I still feel very comfortable with “Lima Juliet”. At the same time, the much larger “Kilo Sierra” has grown on me with her stable handling and redundant instrumentation. We will see what kind of flying the future brings.

To be continued…

 

(originally posted on July 25, 2012 by tilbo at aloft.blog.com/staying-current/)

Meet Charlie Oscar

Meet Charlie Oscar

Visibility: about 10 kilometres
Temperature: -7°C
QNH: 1042 hPa
Location: EDAY
Equipment: New Rider MD3, 100hp engine (D-MPCO)

Late last season, my old flight school got a new aircraft. It is another Rider MD3, like the ones I trained on. But this one is brand new, has a lot of bells and whistles and a stronger engine.

I took D-MPCO (“Charlie Oscar”) for a spin today and was very impressed. All the aircraft of the flight school are well kept but you can tell right away that Charly Oscar does not have as many hours under her belt. She is new and shiny.

Fresh snow fell last night and the airport is white. A little cloud of snow dust blows around me as I start the engine. I have not been in an ultra light since I started my training for the private pilots license on the Cessna. But Charlie Oscar handles well and I feel comfortable taxiing out to the runway.

The air is very dense today, the aircraft is light with only one person and half full tanks but I am still surprised how quickly she takes off. It feels less like a take-off run and more like a big leap into the sky. I have reached pattern altitude before the first turn into the crosswind leg and I have to reduce power well before that. Wow, this is fun!

I do a bit of pattern work to get to know Charlie Oscar. The runway is snow covered and although it is not very much, it is very slippery. After the first landing I drift to the left and the aircraft starts turning before I can catch her. The fresh snow breaks the wheels a lot but not necessarily at the same rate. On the second approach I set full flaps to come in as slowly as possible. I am prepared this time and manage to hold her steady.

After that I go north for a quick trip around the block. Visibility drops out there and I turn back. The sky to the south is blue and the sun warms my face. I smile, this is pretty sweet!

To be continued…

 

(originally posted on February 10, 2012 by tilbo at aloft.blog.com/meet_charlie_oscar/)

First steps on the tail

First steps on the tail


Location: EDAY (Strausberg)
Equipment: D-MPBW (“Wild Thing” WT 01)

The weather is great for todays lesson. Not very clear but that is okay. The important part today is: Almost no wind.

I talk to the flight instructor for a few moments and then go ahead to preflight the plane. It is yellow and bulky and has nothing in common with my trusted “Rider”. I take the check list and work my way through the items point by point. After I have gone around the aircraft once, I have a first impression of her.

The instructor arrives and shows me the inside. Bravo Whiskey is much larger than the “Rider” I have been taught on. The flight instructor tells me stories of sleeping in the airplane on rainy camping trips and of a friend of his who actually hauled a washing machine in her once.

The lady and the jack

The “Wild Thing” is a bush plane, a rather rugged tail dragger. It is in the ultra light class but it is a stranger there and it comes from a very different pedigree as the flight schools other aircraft.

The “Riders” are ladies. Italian, elegant, sleek and very efficient. They look good from any angle. The MD3 has a rather modern Rotax engine and it is quite fast.

Compared to that, the “Wild Thing” is a wood chuck. Not fast, not sleek but solid. It is strong and it wants to feel the pilots touch as direct orders. It has an air cooled six cylinder engine and analog gauges. If something does not work, first thing is to tap it.

Let’s go

I go through the engine start check list with the flight instructor explaining the items to me. After we have checked all settings, I press the start button and Bravo Whiskeys six cylinder Jaibiru roars to life. The vibration of the slow idle is deep and feels comforting.

I carefully push the throttle forward, the stick firmly pulled and the hand on the break. The plane starts moving slowly and I start feeling the nervous tail almost immediately. The first turn goes well until I realize that the tail has no intention to ever stop turning. I step into the opposing paddle and suddenly the tail swings back violently. I press agains the swing, pull back the throttle and break. We stop and our angle to the taxi way looks like we are drifting in a cross wind. The flight instructor smiles. We taxi on and I am more careful. This is going to be fun!

Before we leave terra firma behind us, we do a number of fast runs on the grass strip. After all the ground handling is the challenging part of this aircraft. We speed up to about 60 km/h and lift the tail from the ground. This is one of the more delicate parts of handling a tail dragger. The aircraft is in between rolling and flying. The rudder does not have a lot of control yet, the tail wheel has no control any more. It is a demanding task to keep her steady. I am not yet ahead of the airplane, I react and I sweat. I am grateful that it is not windy today!

Love at first climb

Finally we take off and I have time to get to know Bravo Whiskey in her element. Flying she makes up for the challenging run ups. The aircraft is roomy, everything resonates with the engine and the flight is very stable.

We climb out of the pattern and the instructor tells me to try a few maneuvers. The aircraft needs explicit control inputs and reacts with stable, predictable maneuvers. I love it and I am very interested to see how she is doing in more turbulent weather.

Three point landing

We go back into the pattern to practice landings. I like how the aircraft handles and after a few rounds I am comfortable in the pattern. The power settings are easy and the flaps are manual. The approach on final needs some experience. I come in a bit too high most of the times. There is still no wind and it is easy to align the aircraft with the runway. On final approach I flare the aircraft, fly a bit parallel and then let the tail go down until she sits down on all three wheels simultaneously. Then I pull the stick to get weight (and with it control) onto the tail and keep it straight with the feet.

We do this for about one hour. The flight instructor stays ready but does not interfere. The landings are bumpy but not terrible. I guess I can work from there. At the end I taxi Bravo Whiskey back to the apron. On the small visitors terrace behind a little fence there are about ten people watching us taxi. The flight instructor opens the window and gives them a friendly wave. I smile, this feels like the beginning of a wonderful friendship…

To be continued…

 

(originally posted on August 26, 2011 by tilbo at aloft.blog.com/first-steps-on-the-tail/)

Tail wheel endorsement

Tail wheel endorsement

My flight school has a lot going on lately. First they got a new airplane. It is another Rider MD3 but with a stronger engine and a very nice build in GPS. So this will probably be my travelling machine in the future.

Then they brought back this yellow beauty. She is one of their old trainings machines. It is a “Wild Thing”. It has many qualities but “wild” is not one of them.

The “Wild Thing” is relatively large for a Ultra Light, it is full metal and quite rugged. And it has a tail wheel configuration!

This may look like a little thing but actually it makes for very different handling on the ground. According to the flight instructor, learning to fly a tail wheel aircraft requires quite some practice. The aircraft tickles me and I think I am going to give it a try!

I have started a post in a forum, asking for advice. You can find that here (in German…). I will keep you posted how it goes!

To be continued…

 

(originally posted on July 30, 2011 by tilbo at aloft.blog.com/tail-wheel-endorsement/)

Passenger rating – this time for real!

Passenger rating – this time for real!

It’s official, stamp and all – I can carry passengers now. My last flight to Eisenhüttenstadt was good enough for the lady at the aviation administration and she mailed an updated licese to me.

So if you don’t want to come fly with me, now would be a good time to come up with excuses!

To be continued…

 

(originally posted on July 15, 2011 by tilbo at aloft.blog.com/passenger-rating-this-time-for-real/)

Steel – Bread – Peace

Steel – Bread – Peace

Visibility: about 50 km
Temperature: 27°C
QNH: 1011hPa
Location: EDAE (Eisenhüttenstadt)
Equipment: MD3 Rider (D-MALJ)

I took a quick trip to Eisenhüttenstadt today. It turns out that the lady at the aviation administration disagrees with my flight instructor over the requirements for my passenger rating. She is asking for one more trip of more than 50 km.

Eisenhüttenstadt is 62 kilometres according to my flight plan. Also it is an airport I had not been to and today was a gorgeous day for flying after a week of rain!

The city of Eisenhüttenstadt was founded in 1950 as a socialist model city around a steel mill. Today, former “Stalinstadt” is a strange melting pot of socialistic glorification of heavy industry and modern high tech. (wikipedia.org/Eisenhüttenstadt)

To be continued…

 

(originally posted on July 6, 2011 by tilbo at aloft.blog.com/steel-bread-peace/)

Passenger rating

Passenger rating

Visibility: about 20 km
Temperature: 26°C
QNH: 1013hPa
Location: EDAY (Strausberg)
Equipment: MD3 Rider (D-MALJ)

I did the first addition to my pilot’s license – the passenger rating. With the sports pilots license, I can only fly on my own or with another pilot. Before I can take passengers, I have to fly solo to three different airports and I have to fly two trips of more than 200 km and a stop over each with a flight instructor.

We have decided to fly up to the coast today. The island of Rügen is the right distance from Strausberg and it is a nice trip. It is a warm day, the fuel tanks are full and with the flight instructor and myself on board, Lima Juliet is working hard as she climbs out of Strausberg.

The passenger rating is a great idea. It gives a new pilot like myself the possibility to get used to handling the aircraft without the reassuring presence of a flight instructor. After each of my solo flights, I came back with home work. I read the rules for the air spaces again and brushed-up on my radio communication. I learned how to fuel the aircraft and how to check the other engine fluids.

The weather is calm and although we don’t have great visibility, flying is pleasant. The instructor and I are chatting about the weather conditions and he confirms my navigation and gives me helpful tips.

The airport at Rügen is very proper and not very busy. We have fish for lunch and watch a tired Cessna take off with a group of tourists.

After the break we take the long way home. Out onto the sea and along the coast of the island. First along Prora, the Nazi vaccation home which at one point was the largest building in he world. Then further up to the tip of Rügen with its white cliffs like in Dover. Over to the western side and back along the neighboring island of Hiddensee – a glorified sand bank, really.

In the distance the city of Stralsund appears with the Rügendamm bridge to the island, its historic port and and the post-war industrial complex that is the Volkswerft ship yard. The size of the container vessels build there has increased
inversely proportional to the number of workers needed to build them or sailors to sail them.

From Stralsund on we follow the A20 highway back to our course line home. There is a pretty boring stretch ahead of us with not a lot of visual reference to navigate by except for the curvy concrete band of the interstate. As I look over to the flight instructor, I can’t help but smile. He is asleep in his seat. It does not look like he is fearing for his life.

To be continued…

 

 

(originally posted on June 22, 2011 by tilbo at aloft.blog.com/passenger-rating/)