Tuesday, August 31, 2004

Cold front over the black forest. Freiburg.

I'd planned to return to Donaueschingen, a simple 2 hour journey up the Rhone valley to Dole and northeast along the river Doubs and over Basle.Since there was a nasty cold front heading east towards Basle I waited until 2:00pm and made a short 1 hour hop to Dole, which I'd not visited before. It was totally deserted but I could check the weather again. It looked marginalbut I tried for the last leg to Donaueschingen knowing that I could track back to Dole or Dijon if the weather got too bad. Sure enough the weather deteriorated and as I passed Basle I could see the hills of the black forest completely blocked by dark cloud. Trying to track north around the black forest didn't help and Langen Info. told me that Donaueschingen had broken coverage at 1000ft. Ok, enough for me. I landed at my alternate destination of Freiburg on the west side of the black forest and stayed over night, just a 20 minute flight from my destination ... the pleasures of VFR.

Monday, August 30, 2004

French and Italian Coast, the Rhone valley to Valence.

Considered tracking back north through the alps but the weather there looked really bad, so I decided to continue around them to the west and make a complete circumnaviagtion of the alps. I would use Albenga in southwest Italy as a landing point, which was 2 hours or so from San Nicolo as the MCR flies.

Departed 10am from Lido and flew the standard Italian VFR routes south of Venice and west to Cremona, right over to Genoa at the 1000ft agl forced upon me by the Italian controllers (who were actually much friendlier than I had expected and easy to understand). After breaking through the hills at Genoa I could continue along the fantastic coastal route to Albenga (LIMG). Albenga has a large runway and sits between hills which you have to skip over at low level in the circuit, but it is really a 'small' airport. Apart from poor visibility over the flat area around Cremona the flying was fine. Fees were 12€ and the staff very helpful.

I'd arrived at about 12pm and over a plate of Gnocchi in the airport restaurant I had time to plan the next 2 hour leg down the French coast to Marseille and back up the Rhone valley to Valence. This is a trip many MCR people will have made so I won't go into details. For me it was a new and fantastic experience to track the coast under clear skies past Monaco, St. Tropez to Marseille at 1000ft msl (or so). Arriving at Valence I found that all the facilities were closed (Sunday). Luckily for a me an English guy called Nick appeared and let me put FPZAM in his hangar space overnight because his Cirrus SR22 was in Paris at the time. He also drove me into town and reccommended a hotel. Great person. Many thanks to him.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

Trieste and Venice San Nicolo in glorious sunshine.

Decided to proceed into Italy. Croatia had looked interesting but my insurance doesn't cover it and it was going to be a problem to get extra the coverage in time. I've always wanted to go to the small grass field on Lido island in Venice, San Nicolo but I had been forewarned by Pierre-Andre that they no longer had customs there. A phonecall confirmed this. The ATS at San Nicolo reccommended that I fly to either Venice Tessarra or Trieste Ronchi first. I opted for Trieste because it has much less jet traffic than Tessara.

The flight to Trieste in the morning was in wonderful sunshine. There is a single VFR route through the centre of Solvenia leading down to Portoroz and Trieste. This I followed through the Slovenian hills and mountains, talking to Ljublana information, who let me cross into Italy direct over Trieste city rather than by the official entry/exit point this time. Landing in Trieste was a piece of cake, although the Italian ground marshal was unimpressed with my final parking position. I had not understood his signals properly. However, being Italy it didn't really matter. Paperwork was surprisingly quick for such a large airport (12€), and I was on my way to Venice via the coastal route, within 45 minutes. For those who have not been to San Nicolo, the view over Venice during the approach is fantastic. I had some problems to receive the tower frequency at low level, but landing was easy at this relaxed airfield. Fuel was a ripoff at 2€ per liter, so I didn't buy much. I stayed overnight at a hotel 300meters from the airfield and went into Venice by ferry boat in the evening for dinner. Great.

Friday, August 27, 2004

Through Austria, Hungary and the Slovenian hills to Maribor

Time to leave Moravska and continue the trip, but the weather in the morning is bad again (in August ?!) with fog and low cloud. By 2:00pm it was looking much better so I fuelled up with some avgas (1.50€/litre), said my goodbyes and started a 30 minute hop south to Brno to pass customs (customs in Czech can be done in Karlovy Vary, Brno, Ostrava and Prag without prior notice). The weather en-route improved and I was filled with renewed energy for flying ! Brno is an international airport like Karlovy Vary with a huge concrete runway, but it is really easy to go there since there is very little traffic and they are really friendly to foreigners. People there speak English and German (and Czech). Landing was 12€ and I went direct to the C buro for met and planning info. Great! The weather was improving a lot and I could plan east or south into territory unknown to me. The choices were east into Slovakia or Hungary or south to Slovenia. I decided to go for Maribor (LJMB) in north east Slovenia because it would offer a relatively short flight and position me well for further flights east or west.

I tracked southeast from Brno to Breclav and due south into Austrian airspace. Very nice because you can look west and see Vienna and then look east and see Bratislava as you fly between them. Austrocontrol are tremendously efficient and you don't need to change frequencies to get through the various airspaces there, information handles it and I was able to cruise right through. They speak perfect English and are polite. They sent me down to 2000ft msl under Vienna airspace, but I had no problems at all. After Spitzerberg I entered Hungarian airspace in glorious sunshine and headed due south. I have never seen so much entirely flat and sparsely populated country in my life with fields and small towns as far as the eye could see to the east. An awesome sight. Budapest information was very busy but flying in Hungary was uncomplicated and they cleared me through to Slovenia for approach in to Maribor. The Slovenians want you to enter and exit their country via specific VFR points. These are marked on the Jeppesen chart and I entered via DIMLO on the Slovenia/Hungarian border. The controller in Maribor cleared me through the standard VFR reporting points to land on the superb 2500m runway. Once parked a very helpful (and rather attractive) handling lady organised overnight parking, customs, taxi into town, and hotel (30€), within minutes. The landing/parking/customs etc cost about 20€ but you get 50% discount if you buy some fuel. That evening I spent in Maribor, which is a pretty town on the Drava river. Slovenia is far more westernised than Czech, and Maribor has an 'Austrian' feel to it. The airport is a good destination for private flyers, in my opinion. I had an excellent impression of the people I met there.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Dinner at the right price in Moravska Trebova !

3 more flights with the Zlin this time with a great instructor called Chemov from Prag (who speaks English well), finishing with running through an aerobatics program of loops, stall turn, rolls, Immelman, spin etc. I am always surpised how tired I get after 30 minutes of aerobatics. Another great day. Dinner was in Moravska Trebova town at a nice restaurant. I had to check the bill twice. It came to 4€ per person!

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Aerobatics in the Czech Republic

Weather cleared up to the south east so quickly planned for Karlovy Vary in Czech Republic. I initially had a problem with my KX165 navcomm whose display didn't work. It started working after 10 minutes on the ground. I think that it may have got damp due to the a/c being out in the rain the day before. A low cloudbase and rain around the hills on the way in to Karlovy Vary called for some hedge-hopping but I landed safely after holding for a couple of minutes on base whilst a jet landed. On the ground I was the only light aircraft there. Flying in Czech is no problem. Prag info. speak good English and are helpful. There are many military areas but since Czech now have only 3 airworthy MiG's (previously 300) you can just rock right through most of them if you ask information first. Landing fee was 20€ but this included customs. It would have been 30€ but I saved 10€ because I wrote RMK / LIC on the flight plan. Czech airports offer lower fees for training flights, so always put that on the flight plan if travelling there.
Once in Karlovy Vary I checked the weather in the east at their met office. There was a cloudbase of 3000ft msl which is fine because Czech is mostly flat. I called my friend Stanno at the Czech aerobatics centre in Moravska Trebova (LKMK) in eastern Czech, who confirmed it was ok for me to join them overnight and maybe do some aerobatics there. It was about a 1 hour flight with the MCR routing from Karlovy Vary south of Prag to Moravska Trebova at 160kts groundspeed, with a strong tailwind. Moravska has a grass runway which is quite hard to see. In Czech small grass airfields are marked by two white markers at each end of the runway, so that's what you have to look out for if you go to one. Moravska Trebova is the home of the Czech aerobatics team and they do aerobatics over the field. When I arrived I got no answer on the radio. I also could not see a windsock anywhere (although there is one). Additionally there was a Zlin 50 doing negative G aerobatics over the eastern end of the runway. What to do ? To confirm which way to land I flew parrallel to the downwind leg west to east. 130 Kts groundspeed. Flyingthe other way I was only doing 98 KTs groundspeed. Since I prefer not to land with a 32kt tailwind I selected runway 26 in preference to 08, called downwind and landed on the grass - no problem for the MCR or me.
The aerobatic centre has really nice rooms with satellite TV, shower and cooking facilities at the airfield for 30€. I took one of course. FPZAM was put in the clubs' hangar (no charge). It was 3:00pm so there was time to read over the Zlin142M flight manual in preparation for flying it later at 5:00pm. At 5:00pm it was parachutes on and jump into the Zlin for aerobaticstraining with Stanno. The Zlin is a solid, heavy beast and it takes strength (and two hands sometimes) to recover from spins. We ran through basic loop, stall turn, Immelman etc. I was rusty but enjoyed it and was please that I was still able to fly the Zlin after 1 year. Aerobatics in the Zlin142M were about 140€ / hour at the time.
That evening was fine weather with a bbq at the airfield. Superb day with great flying and good people. Loved it.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

Stormy weather, slack people.

I was forced to stay in Berlin again overnight due to stormy weather with a 30-40 knot gusting wind picking up and TS over the field. The people at Templehof were not very helpful and could not be bothered to find any blocks or tiedown points for FPZAM, even though I was almost the only aircraft there. They told me 'people normally bring those things with them' - yeah sure they bring concrete blocks with them ! Ridiculous. In the end I put the MCR in the TAG-Aviation hangar there due to storm conditions! Horribly expensive (50€) but gave me peace of mind. Good cowboys always look after their horses first! I was also disgusted the next day when the Templehof people then charged me for overnight parking even though my plane was parked in the TAG hangar for which I had paid seperately. They said 'you should have told us' and couldn't be bothered to change the bill even though I had a document from TAG. These lazy, inflexible people were put utterly to shame by the operators of all the other airfields and airports I visited - large and small.

Monday, August 23, 2004

Seeing the sights of Berlin

Stayed in Berlin and visited the sights. Went to Templehof again with Pierre-Andre to see him on his way back to Albertville in good weather.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Start of a trip with the MCR01 through Germany, Czech Republic, Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy and France

I started on a Sunday from my base in Donaueschingen (EDTD) in Germany and flew to Berlin Templehof with fellow MCR voyager Pierre-Andre Velletaz, with 120L of Mogas and Avgas on board FPZAM (main + wing tanks). Templehof is the old wartime airport of Berlin built in 1929 and is right in the centre of the city. The approach to Templehof is superb since it takes you right over thetown. Landing fee is expensive (at least 40€ I think) but well worth the experience, especially since the airport may soon close forever. Visited some sights in Berlin in the evening and had a German meal with Pierre-Andre. Hotel cost was 60€ or double, 50€ single at Hotel Transit (simple but comfortable with breakfast included), 1 stop on the U-bahn from Templehof. Wonderful. Pierre Andre later made a report about Berlin which I think was published.