Posted on 1 Comment

‘Going Solo’ by Roald Dahl

Not everyone knows that Roald Dahl, one of the most famous writers of stories for children, among many other remarkable things, also served as a fighter pilot with the Royal Air Force during World War II.

Roald Dahl’s picture and log book; source:

Generally his name is immediately associated to books like ‘the BFG’, the big friendly giant, ‘Mathilda’ and ‘Charlie and the chocolate factory’. ‘Going Solo’ is an autobiographical book accounting for three years in Roald Dahl’s life, starting when he sailed to Africa at a very young age to take employment with Shell and concluding with his return to England after being taken off operational duty due to the head injuries he suffered during a crash. What happened in between is one of the most exciting stories of adventure and heroism. With the outbreak of the second world conflict, Dahl decided to enlist as a pilot in the RAF and went to Kenya to start his training in a Tiger Moth. A few months after starting his training, of which he describes the sense of freedom flying inverted over the wild life of the Savannah, he was sent  to Egypt with the rank of Pilot Officer, to collect a plane and join the 80th Squadron.


Something went wrong on this first duty flight, he received wrong coordinates and ran out of fuel over the desert at night. In the crash of his Gloster Gladiator, he fractured his skull and only because of his extraordinary survivorship instinct he manage to pull-out of the cockpit before the plane caught fire.


The recovery lasted a few months in which he lied in bed completely blind in the Anglo-Swiss hospital of Alexandria, in Egypt, without any hope to ever see the light again. However, things turned out well for him and the head injuries did not leave permanent marks on his sight. He was released again for flying duty and was sent off to Greece to join what remained of his Squadron. This time he left with a Hawker Hurricane in which he had clocked only 2 hours, without any guidance and manage to reach the basis located near Athens. His squadron consisted of only 15 planes and it was called to defend the evacuation of the country by the English forces against a fleet of thousands of Luftwaffe planes. Their resistance did not last long, however, in the few weeks spent in Greece, Roald Dahl, inexperienced about aerial fights and with little knowledge of the machine given to him, managed to score five confirmed aerial victories earning the title of ‘flying ace’.

The book then, goes on about his deployment to Palestine, but the author himself dedicates only a few pages to this and the most prominent episode is the dialogue he had with a German Jew surveilling a landing strip used by the RAF. He was finally discharged because the head injuries of the crash in the gladiators caused him to black out during air combat and he eventually made it home to see his mother, after three years.

It is a lovely book which you’ll read in just a few hours, if you haven’t done so yet. Seeing through this side of Dahl’s life I can’t easily explain how his other books are clear from any hint of this adventurous, dangerous and, for some parts, painful time. My take is that perhaps such a whole-round person like Roald Dahl, experienced so many things in life that he could consciously and without doubt decide what type of world he preferred to live in and wanted to offer to his kids and all the kids that grew up with his books.

Surely, I couldn’t write about him without mentioning that his life was dedicated fully to taking care of children. Event 27 years after his death, this commitment continues to do good. If you want to learn more about this, check the page of the Roald Dahl’s Marvellous Charity ( and if you liked this post, make a little donation.

Posted on

Learning to ‘Bush Fly’ (#1)

Aviation is a universe full of very diverse planets. Commercial aviation, for instance, is a highly regulated bureaucratic world where every minute counts, where computers are everywhere and where, despite the beauty and complexity of the machines used, ultimately what counts is to meet the purpose of transporting people and goods from A to B in the most efficient way.

But for some pilots the pleasure of flying comes from the ability to interact with nature, to fly free from ATC orders and, sometimes, to tame a difficult animal. I love all type of planes and all segments of aviation, but there is a particular one that caught my attention and fantasies lately and that’s ‘Bush Flying’.

We generally talk about Bush Flying referring to flights conducted in zones of wild nature, like Alaska or in Africa, and no paved runways to land. I link this to the highest degree of freedom a pilot can experience: fly where you want and land where you want. Because of the difficult terrains, bush planes need to meet strict requirements: they need to have a high take off and landing performance, they need to be robust and their gears need to be sufficiently elastic to absorb the shocks coming from the manoeuvres on the ground.

Private bush flying in Europe is mostly done with ultralight aircrafts, because, according to EASA regulations, General Aviation aircrafts are generally prevented from landing outside certified airports. Differently, Ultralights are not regulated by European regulations and fall under national jurisdiction.




So, I had to decide where to move my first step towards bush flying and the perfect choice sounded like Brescia, in Italy. Indeed, there is a bush flying school there featuring one of the finest pilots (Fabio Guerra, former military pilot, B777 captain and famous bush test pilot and instructor) and one of the nicest bush planes one can find around here, i.e. the Savage Cub from Zlin Aviation.
A nice story about Zlin is that about their appearance at Valdez last summer. Indeed, the ‘Shock Cub’ (an incredibly performing cubber with slats and slotted flaps) of Zlin Aviation made a great debut arriving third in Valdez last summer, but what a lot of people don’t know, is that Zlin’s official test pilot was not available to fly it in that occasion. So, it was flown by a pilot that had practised only a handful of hours before the competition, instead.
The other reasons to choose Italy were that ultralights can land wherever the pilot deems appropriate as long as the land owner agrees and that the beauty and variety of the Italian landscape is unmatched in Europe.

Renato, the President of Scuola Volo Brescia, guided me through the main differences between General Aviation and ultralights and then showed me the Hangar of the school were a nice selection of ‘Cubbers’ were lined up in different set-ups. Proper Bush Flying will start only after I feel perfectly comfortable on the Cub and after the instructor feels comfortable with me being alone on the Cub.

So, finally came the moment to hop on the yellow Savage Cub for our first mission. The set of instrument looked rather minimal to me, but given the weight restrictions and that most flights are local and conducted in good weather it makes sense.


We started training with some taxiing on ground. This is, indeed, the real difficult part of handling taildraggers. The reason is that the center of gravity of the plane is located behind the main gear and this feature makes tailspins easy to happen.

After a few back-and-forths on the runway, increasing the speed to train the control on ground we went for a flight. The Savage Cub is a lovely machine. You feel in contact with every part of the plane: you can feel the RPMs with your fingertips and the drag of the airflow when pulling down the flaps. Fabio showed me the slow-flying capability of the machine which are simply astonishing. With full flaps and maximum power the plane can remain in the air with the airspeed indicator close to 0. When stalling, the Savage Cub drops a wing, but the control on the rudder remains very good.

I performed a few steep turns, which in that plane means being able to circle over a tennis court and then we headed back to the patter for some touch and goes.

Landing on the Savage Cub proved to be the training I was looking for. While most tricycle will forgive you a slightly sloppy alignment with the center line and, once on the ground, the pilot can generally relax the muscles, the Cub demands perfect alignment and until the plane is halted on ground, attention must be kept to its maximum.

45 minutes passed in the blink of an eye. We had a quick lunch in a local ‘Trattoria’ and then headed back to the airfield for another session.

I felt more confident and excited, but the task was made tougher by a quick shower that passed by. The rain covering the windshield and the low contrast of the grass runway made almost impossible for me to estimate the distance from ground. We went around, and at the following round I managed to use some more peripheral vision to calculate the distance and made a rather good landing for the standard of the day.

We trained traffic patterns until the rain became too intense and we had to stop. I was mentally depleted, but I had one of the most satisfying flight training sessions in my life.

I was happy, at intervals I managed to ‘tame’ the Cub.







Posted on

Re-reading ‘The Little Prince’ 20 years later

As father of a 4-year old, while looking for some new books for her, I stumbled across “The Little Prince”, the most famous book by Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

I remember reading it when I was 7 or 8. At the time, I found it pleasant, but very cryptic in some way. So, I thought that it would be very interesting to go through it again, now that I am a grownup and a pilot, using the sweet excuse of reading it to my little one.

In facts, reading it now, around 20 years after my first time, that little book transmits a completely different feeling. I could possibly say that it conveys some of the most private feeling of the pilot “Saint-Ex”, but clearing the story from every technical details that would possibly bore the young audience.

One thing of the book that I struggled to understand was why and how the Little Prince was travelling from a little planet to the other. It is difficult to understand what the different small planets that the Little Prince visits are if one doesn’t know that when Antoine de Saint-Exupery started to fly, one of his tasks was to open new air routes for the Aéropostale connecting towns and countries. At the time, a remote town close to the Andes could easily be seen as a different planet. And people could more easily close themselves, thinking to be kings, but without knowing of what insignificant realm.

However, a theme – if not the theme –  that is central to the book is that of death. It is somehow never explicitly mentioned. When the Little Prince agrees to be bitten by the snake, he simply wants to go back to his planet. When I was small and read this lines, part of me was convinced he did actually make it back. I still think it now somehow.
If you have the chance to read some of the articles Saint-Exupery wrote during the years of the Aéropostale and especially about what happened when a pilot assigned to a long and dangerous did not arrive, you will immediately understand why death is something that remains unspoken. In facts, when that happened, there was only the silence left by their absence but often no confirmation of what had happened. A part of each of the friends and colleagues waiting on ground hoped for some different epilogue.

The book has certainly many other meanings, but you can read about them in any anthology. Here I just sit with my imagination in the room were Saint-Ex wrote his masterpiece and listened to the pilot.

I am happy to hear what does the book represent for you. Feel free to use the contact form you find under the respective page!

I wish you all a nice reading.

Posted on

A morning at Airliner Classics

Airliner Classics is a fixed appointment for aviation lovers in Germany and around Europe. The event brings to the small town of Speyer, in the state of Rheinland-Pfalz, a number of old airliners kept in perfect shape and often even carrying crews dressed in the original uniforms of the time. I won’t be telling too many technical details, because these you can find on all the specialised magazines that every year follow the event and on the website of the organiser (

What I would like to transmit is the special atmosphere that you can enjoy at these event, because it says a lot about the value that aviation has for the Germans.

Let’s start from the location. The airport of Speyer-Ludwigshafen (ICAO code: EDRY) is located around 90 km south of Frankfurt am Main and is one of the most beautiful airports I can think of thanks to its proximity to the Rhine river and the incredible view that pilots enjoy landing on runway 16 or taking of on runway 34. In facts, next door to the airport, the Technik Museum Speyer has its seat and one of its most prominent features, a decommissioned 747 by Lufthansa, stands at 30m of height greeting all air traffic.


Despite a thunderstorm in the early morning, hundreds of aviation fans were already on the apron when I arrived and, with their cameras, they were already violating all secret details of Antonov, a Yak and a MH1521 Broussard.

The crowd was mostly German, but with a few Americans here and there, due to the vicinity of a couple of US Army basis. There were people of any age. Then, a sudden buzz preceded the DC3 of Swissair, which made her appearance escorted by two Beechcraft 18.  It is glorious view to see the DC3 gently touching down on the wet runway. The shiny body of the plane and the water on the asphalt fill the eye with light. Right after her, the two Beech 18 also touched down.

In matter of minutes the sky opened up completely, and war birds and passenger planes intensified the pace of arrivals. The variety of planes and the numerous crowd tells a lot about how much Germans love aviation and how well they manage to preserve its most historical treasures.

But the beauty of this event, is not only linked to the historical value of the aircrafts present. I love the familiar atmosphere, the way everybody smiles and welcome warmly the pilots descending the ladders from their machines. I exchanged a few words with a young man of around 30 and I promised to send him the pictures of him standing close to the DC3, but he doesn’t have a facebook account. He said he works as flight instructor during the week ends and at the regional aviation authorities during the week. I concluded that he is probably one of the most connected persons I know anyway. Indeed, he seemed to know most of the pilots in the area. He showed me pictures of him crossing Frankfurt International on board of a L39 commanded by a famous aerobatic pilot and then pictures of him piloting a PC-6 while carrying skydivers. There was always someone passing by who greeted him while we were talking. While we exchange the email details, I think that coming from a very different place and also a different culture, something took me off-guard. I was indeed somehow, stupidly, surprised by how the aviation crowd here seems more like an open and welcoming family.

Posted on

The reason to fly

It is quite hard for me to say what it is that I love most about flying. For some pilots it is the uniqueness of the point of view that you acquire when you fly, for others it has all to do with the acceleration and the ability to manoeuvre. I don’t think all these aspects are mutually exclusive, yet the propensity towards one or the other determines what type of pilot we become.
Indeed, aviation is a mix of very different concepts. Just to mention two extremes, the strict, tested and orderly world airliners is very different from that of bush pilots, who venture into unchartered areas.
Also, aviation is not confined to planes and airports. It starts with dreaming and expands to studying, designing, writing and sharing.
I believe that all pilots share a common feeling about flying, although slightly different one from the other because of our different characters. These thoughts touch deep and intimate sides of each one of us, like fear and sense of accomplishment. For this reason, we are part of a very special and elitarian club, which I deem of the purest type as it is not formed on the basis of wealth or political sides, but on the commonality of feelings.