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A night flight

I love Cyprus. Its light and its scent are unique. When you get out of the international terminal of Larnaca, you feel a special warmth in the sun and in its blinding yet joyful light. A similar feeling I derive by my frequent exchanges with all the Cypriot friends I had the fortune to meet in the past two years. Indeed, I pass by here frequently and anytime I am impatient to log some flight time and feed to my brain some unique memories of the breath-taking landscape of the Island.

Limassol and the peninsula of Akrotiri

Although when you fly in Cyprus you feel relatively constrained by the VFR routes, the limited availability of G-airspace areas (a type of uncontrolled airspace) and a number of restricted areas along the path, it’s an experience that I strongly recommend to any pilot for a good series of reasons:
• The landscape is absolutely amazing in any season and in any moment of the day.
• You can find not only very skilled FIs, but also great people with whom to share the passion of flying.
• You can start from Cyprus to do some island-hopping.
• The cost is generally more reasonable than in other countries and possibly set to decrease for fiscal reasons.


I have been in contact with Demos Ektoros for quite some time and I have regarded him as one of the friendliest and most helpful instructors I know since our very first contacts. He opened a flying school called The Pigeon (link to their Facebook page here) and together with a passionate investor they are building the youngest fleet on the Island, with a few brand new Tecnams. So, if you are interested in discovering this part of Mediterranean by plane or simply wish to do some hour building, give him a call and enjoy a service of the highest level!
I was excited to try the P2008. It is a high wing plane with a nice slick line. The cabin is larger than its predecessor the P92 and is mostly made of composite materials, while the wings have a metal infrastructure. The combination of the engine (a most common Rotax 912s) and the very capable tanks (with a stunning 110-litre capacity) makes the plane able to undertake long navigation.

The glass cockpit solution by Garmin complements the ability to travel long distances with remarkable peace of mind along the trip.
When we fired the engine the weather was just ideal: a few clouds crowded the west of the Island, but above our heads the sky was of a deep blue, the wind was around 12 kts perfectly aligned with RWY 04 and the temperature was a mild 14 degrees Celsius.
The P2008 is a remarkable machine: the interiors are incredibly well designed. The dashboard is well designed and you find all switches easily thanks to their size and the backlit indications.
One major improvement from the P92 and the P2002 is the flap lever, which doesn’t need to be kept in position till the flaps reach the desired angle. This means having your right hand busy only for an instant in a busy phase of flight, unlike in the older models. The steering on ground is by differential braking (also very welcome change).
So let’s get to the fun part, i.e. the flight. We line up behind an Airbus from Aeroflot and take off from RWY 04, the two-seater climbs beautifully passing in front of Mackenzie Beach (a very sweet spot in Summer). The VFR procedure of Larnaca requires you to fly over the Salt Lake which is north of the airfield and from there enter the chosen VFR route.
In Summer the lake is often dry, but in winter the orange evening sun reflects on its waters making the view simply incomparable. We continue towards the training area of Makri, north of the mountains. The Garmin is a stunning navigational aid as it projects the flight plan over a 3D profile and it is so well programmed that you may almost forget to look outside and enjoy the view.
I flew over a couple of dams, which are vital for the Country, and enjoyed the long dark shadows plotted on the ground by the dying sun. From Alampra we headed directly to the Salt Lake and I had the impression that darkness falled upon us almost abruptly before reaching the lake.
Doing traffic patterns in an international airport is beautiful and in Larnaca the ATC is also particularly friendly. Under Demos’instructions, I performed a few traffic patterns and a forced landing in the dark. The plane handles perfectly, the lighting system is very good and makes night landings as easy as daylight ones.
Taxiing back to the apron, you wish you could just fly that plane to the last drop of fuel available.
But, now it’s time to let the picture speak for themselves. Once again many thanks are owed to Demos for his time and dedication. If you pass by Cyprus and like to fly, The Pigeon Aviation School is by far the best solution, if you care for a friendly environment and brand new planes!

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Learning Aerobatics

“Perhaps, this is something I will regret…” I can’t even finish the thought when the abrupt change of direction of the Robin 2160 draws all my brain power to try understand what is going on around me.

Udo Pieh, the instructor and owner of MKM Flight Training in Mainz (Germany), is showing me the minimum amount of acceleration (Gs) he wants to feel when I am in control of the plane.

He asks me to perform a steep turn with 60 degrees. I do my best, considering that it’s not a manoeuvre I practice daily. Udo taps with a finger on the accelerometer: “1.5 G… not enough! – exclaims smiling – How many shall I see?”

“Two” I answer, almost instinctively.

“Then show me 2 Gs” he adds laughing … and there starts my course for the aerobatic rating!

Let’s start from the very beginning: a few weeks before I booked a trial lesson with MKM Flight Training. The reason why I booked it was very simple: I want to progress on the path to become a safer pilot, learn something new and perhaps test my body’s tolerance to Gs.

For some reason, aerobatic flying is one of the aviation disciplines that attracts most attention from non-pilots for its spectacularity, but very often it is avoided by airmen.

The image of a plane flying in all directions and fashions, except levelled and straight, best than any other represents the idea of freedom.

However, I share what Alan Cassidy, an icon of aerobatics, wrote in his must-read manual “Better Aerobatics”. He explains that the representation of aerobatics as something free of rules is very misleading and that the one quality an aerobatic pilot can never lack is extreme self-discipline.

I believe thrill-seekers are not good in aviation, regardless of what and how they fly it. I think aerobatics is no exception. As Udo said during our first lesson, quoting a known aviation say: “there are bold pilots and old pilots, but not old bold pilots”.

So, I showed up at Mainz airfield (ICAO: EDFZ) at 8.30 of a sunny summer morning. At the hangar Udo welcomed me and introduced me to the plane: a shining Robin 2160 powered by a Lycoming 0-320.


I notice the long ventral fin running all the way to the tail. I liked instantaneously the profile of the plane and the front-sliding canopy.

Udo runs the pre-flight inspection with me, makes reference to a couple of peculiarities of the plane and then he hands me the keys to take the plane to the fuel station.

After the refuelling, we wear the parachutes. Udo explains me how to jump out if need be and in matter of minutes we’re running for take-off.

The parachute briefing doesn’t really help me gather courage, but in matter of 2 minutes we are already running on Runway 08 for take-off.

The day is ideal, with a clear sunny sky, but still no thermals.

We start with steep turns and as soon as I make a clean 2G 60 degree bank turn, Udo informs me that that’s the only way I am allowed to turn from that moment on.

He then guides me to perform an entry into a spin.

Some friends spoke of it as one of the worst feelings a pilot can go through. I don’t share their view: spins develop quickly, but the plane (and most planes in the SEP category are like this) will recover as soon as pressure is released from the control stick and the rudder is in neutral position.

After the initial figures, I feel much more relaxed. I don’t feel sick and my curiosity is only increasing.

We do a few more and I get more and more and more comfortable with the quick rotation of the aircraft and the loss of altitude.

From there on, I am hooked and hungry for more figures. Udo guides me through loops, split Ss and Immelmanns.

An important aspect of most aerobatic manoeuvres regards vestibular illusions. Closing a loop or recovering from a spin impress on the body a lot of G force. When still not familiar with the aircraft and without having developed an eye for the attitude of the plane without looking at the attitude indicator, a pilot may have the illusion of being climbing while they are, as descending quite quickly as a matter of fact.

After the first lesson, my head is busy processing all the information and rethinking about the timing of each move.

In the following lessons I practice rolls, snap rolls and hammerhead (or stall turns). The more I fly aerobatics and the more I wonder whether I will ever be able to fly straight and levelled again!

Another lesson I learnt, is to make a pre-flight check of myself. Learning aerobatics requires being responsive and “consequential” as Udo says. If you didn’t sleep well and feel you are sleep or distracted, it’s better not to waste time, money and, worst, risk “being flown” by the aircraft instead of controlling it.

If you start this course, and I truly recommend it, bring an action camera (or better two) with you. It provides a very good learning support in between lessons from which you can learn a lot.

Find some of my footage below, both in 2D and 360 VR format.

I look forward to receive your comments!

Blue skies.

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An aborted flight, ADM and hazardous attitudes

The sequence of events is pretty simple: I showed up at my base airfield, walked to the plane and ran the pre-flight inspection. Everything looked good as always. My guests and I took our seats and I started the engine. The sky was clear and the wind was slightly gusty, but perfectly aligned to the runway.

During the engine run-up check, there was no indication of any malfunction, so I lined up and applied full power checking all items: “Airspeed alive, all engine instruments ‘green’, power 100%”.

After rotation, I felt a vibration for a couple of seconds. It was strong enough to draw my attention and trigger my brain to start comparing it with the memory of previous take-offs. However, it quickly disappeared, so I continued the climb, ascribing it to the gusty situation and possibly some adjustment of the propeller pitch (the plane I was controlling has a hydraulic pitch control system that works autonomously to yield the optimum power output for each situation). Another 10 seconds in the climb, the vibration showed up again. I had the clear impression it came from the engine bay. Speed, climb and engine were still in the green.

A number of questions crowded my head, such as “What to do?”, “Is it just me being overcautious?”, “How would my instructor react?”, but none of these could guide me to a proper solution of my problem, so I forced my head into a more orderly and neutral assessment: is it unusual? YES; is it affecting a vital system of the plane? YES; What is the nearest airport? Clearly the one I just left. So, I announced I was coming back. The voice on the tower acknowledged. During the other segments of the traffic circuit, the engine -now with lower power settings- continued to vibrate at intervals. The landing went fine and was possibly one of the softest I have had this year.

I taxied back and asked to have the plane checked. After 15 minutes, the technicians had downloaded the computer data, but they seemed inconclusive and more checks needed to be carried out.

So, I left the airfield with a bitter feeling. A lot of thoughts went through my head as I drove back to the city, but all basically coming down to: “Was it me or the plane that ruined my day?”. I feared that perhaps I had been overly zealous after all and maybe my reaction was the result of a loss of self-confidence. On the other hand, the possibility that the plane had indeed problems, despite all pre-flight checks going well was also leaving me a bit shaken, as I have a lot of trust in that beautiful and complex machine.

I watched the video I took with the GoPro (which is posted below) and I chewed on my thoughts during the night. I woke up reinforced in the opinion that I had done the right thing: I have one life and I have one propeller, nothing justifies taking a risk.

Walking down to my morning coffee, I read a message on my phone saying they had indeed found problems with one of the components of the engine. If the flight had continued it may have later developed into a catastrophic failure.

I was happy to know that I made the right call. At the same time, I though of what made me almost go ahead with the planned flight. I found it was very likely the attitude of some macho-type instructor during my training, too quick in discarding my questions and ignoring problems as they arose, and then the attitude of some pilots around the airfield. For this reason the initial question “what would my instructor do?” was the wrong one to ask.

It’s a great lesson learnt for me in the field of Human Factor, one which I am happy to share with you. As usual, feel free to send me your comments: have you ever been in a similar situation?

If you want to learn more about hazardous attitudes for pilots check the FAA’s materials on aeronautical decision-making here.


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Learning to fly seaplanes in Como

Aviation is a very broad world and I am fascinated by every side of it. Among these, I have been truly curious about seaplanes for a good while.

I love to watch videos of Alaskan or Canadian seaplane pilots. The image I have in my head is that of glassy lake water rippled by the waves impressed by a plane on take off. The freedom that seaplanes bring to the people living where the planet is more impervious is also a charming side of it.

And then, one of my aviation buddies did his ‘SEP-SEA’ class rating in Como, in northern Italy, and told me all about his experience and the ‘seaplane fever’ quickly took over.

I browsed a bit to see what alternatives exist in Europe, but in no time I decided to go for the class rating in Como.

The reasons are very simple: The school is the oldest sea plane school in the world still operating, the price was reasonable, their fleet offers a good range of choice (including some old timers) and you have the opportunity to learn to fly sea planes in one of the most amazing places in the world, where famous international movies were shot and were George Clooney lives. While I know for you it won’t probably matter, I also had the reference of my good friend Onur, who is somebody I would trust blindly when it comes to flying.

I sent an email to the Aeroclub Como, they replied in matter of minutes with a list of possible dates and timetable. By end of day, it was decided, I was going to fly in Como.


The walk from the train station to the hangar of the club takes around 5 minutes,  passing in front of some charming hotels from the beginning of 1900 and the beautiful seat of the Yacht Club Como in its rationalist style. For my first day of training, the sun was bright and there were no clouds to be seen.

When you enter the hangar of the Aeroclub, you can only remain silent for a moment: a couple of Cessnas on floats are generally in the front row and when you look behind them you can’t miss a 1946 Seabee, a PA-18 amphibian, a Cessna ‘Bird Dog’ (305C) and then one of the most beautiful sea planes (and the oldest in its original configuration) still flying today, the 1935 Caproni Ca 100, restored by Gerolamo Gavazzi.

I was greeted by Paolo, my instructor, and we started the briefing. He explained the basic differences between land- and seaplanes, what circumstances are dangerous and how to assess the surface conditions. Then we headed to the pier where I-PVLC, a C172, was waiting for us. The pre-flight inspection is a bit different from the one I am used to: I had to learn a couple of sailing knots, spend some time to ‘read’ wind and water and consider the waves when measuring the fuel with the dip-stick. Oh… and of course, not to fall in the water when the waves lifted by some large boat reach the plane.

It is normal to find water in the floats: when landing on water, the floats are subject  to hard contact with the water surface. In order to resist, the floats need to have some degree of elasticity, which, on the other hand, allows water to penetrate. So a key part of the pre-flight is to empty residual water from the floats.


We finally sat in Lima-Charlie. Half-way through the checklist I finally fired the engine and took a moment to enjoy the sound of the Lycoming O-320. I love the scale of sounds it produces compared to a relatively high-pitch Rotax.

Once the engine is running the sea plane is constantly in motion as there are no breaks. To steer it, small water rudders at the end of each floater are lowered and are controlled with the pedals. No matter what, when on the water the pilot must generally apply some back pressure to the elevator in order to prevent the propeller from hitting the water or to avoid flipping when taxiing at high speed.


After warming up the engine, we eventually lined up for runway 01 (AD chart available here), ran through the last checks and applied full power to the Lycoming. The take off from water requires much more energy than form paved surfaces. When the plane accrues speed, it initially pitches up because of the pressure applied on the elevator and soon touches the water only with the small surface around the step at the end of the keel. At that moment it is fundamental to adopt an attitude that reduces the drag with the water as much as possible. Once adopted the right pitch angle, this must be kept till the plane lifts off. There is no rotation when taking off from water: if the tails of the floats sink back into the water they will slow down the plane and retard or make impossible to become airborne.

Lima-Charlie accelerated smoothly over the waters of the lake and after not long the noise and the vibration of the high-speed run on the water disappeared and the plane was in the air.

The floats change quite radically the distribution of weight in the plane. Compared to a normal C172 rolling seems to be much easier. However, a lot more action is required on the rudder pedals to counter the inverse yaw.

After adapting myself to these aspects, I could enjoy a bit of the breath-taking view. IMG-20190322-WA0021

Under Paolo’s instructions I prepared for the first sea landing. The first thing to assess, particularly in some narrow parts of the lake, is the wind direction. Waves, Sailboats and smoke are particularly helpful for this purpose. Then a pilot must assess the conditions of the water. Landings over glassy surfaces are very complicated because the pilot is not able to assess precisely the distance from the water. Touching the water with a nose-down attitude may have catastrophic consequences. Another risk is that of stalling while the plane is still considerably high above the surface.

In the following 8 hours (divided in 7 flights and with 3 very experienced FIs), I got to practice different techniques for take off and landing, I managed to land on a river and had fun water-taxiing at high speed to learn how the plane behaves on the water.

Adopting the right pitch angle for each phase of flight is possibly the single most important piece of advice. At one point during the training, the instructor covered with a post-it note the airspeed indicator, altimeter, VSI, RPMs indicator and made me repeat all different types of landings. I loved to fly the Cessna relying on the seat-of-the-pants. On one hand, it made me pay more attention to the machine rather than the indication and by doing so establishing a much stronger connection with the plane. On the other, the Cessna revealed itself as a pilot-friendly bird that can communicate with the pilot very effectively through the noise of the engine, the intensity of the stall warning (most sea landings happen with the stall warning horn blowing loudly) and the change in pressure perceived on the yokes when it enters into ground-effect, instants before touch-down.

After the 8 hours of training, I felt comfortable with the machine and all techniques part of the test. Needless to say, that there are many other manoeuvres that I need and want to learn during my next trips to Como.

If any of you is even remotely interested in trying a seaplane, then I can only recommend that you do so as soon as possible! I loved every minute and every mile of it, regardless whether in the air or on the water… and now seaplanes are the main component of my aviation dreams!

In addition, I had a truly great experience in Como: I found the level of the instruction genuinely high and came back with notions I can use in my normal flights with a land plane. On top of that, flying at Aeroclub Como truly brings together the beauty of this segment of aviation with the charm and the traditions of one of the finest regions in Italy.

If you have any question, feel free to send me a message. I am happy to share more about my experience.

Should you be more curious, you can find a lot at the FAA website, which made available a lot of cool materials here

As usual, no part of this post should be interpreted as an instruction, an advice or a solicitation of any type.




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Flying the knife edge

I have to apologise to all of you for such a long break. Unfortunately, this is the collateral effect of excessive work and study. The good news is that finally I found time to publish my review of a fantastic book. This volume, without any question, is now one of my favourite books about aviation and a must-read: “Flying the knife edge” by Matthew McLaughlin.

I cannot recommend enough this book to anyone interested in aviation, regardless whether they have a pilot license or have absolutely no clue about what bush-flying is. “Flying the knife edge” is one of the most comprehensive, entertaining and informative books on aviation.

It is basically about Matt’s experience as bush pilot in one of the most dangerous areas of the globe for a pilot, Papua New Guinea. However, there is so much more to this book: the story about the author’s struggle and challenges to become an airline pilot is accompanied by brief historical and technical insights and also some very funny accounts.

Flying in Papua, before turbo-prop planes became common, meant flying with very thin safety margins between short unpaved and unforgiving landing strips, “on the knife edge” one would indeed say. The descriptions of certain flights flight or approaches will take your breath away and ‘glue’ you to the pages until you know the not-always-positive ending.

Just to give you a flavour, imagine a place with little or no radio navigation aid at all, a deadly territory where entering the wrong valley means having no way out and on some landing strip there’s no go-around as a vertical rocky wall stand in front of you at the end of the runway.

As I said, I loved this book. I loved it because it’s a well-balanced mix of all those elements that I enjoy in aviation: personal reflections about the life and risks of a (bush) pilot, history, technics, beautiful planes and friendship. Also it is always explained in simple terms so that really anyone can read it and enjoy it.

In many parts of the book I thought about the internal dilemma of how much risk is worth taking in order to pursue one’s dream. Depending on your “risk appetite” and most likely what phase of your life you are currently going through you will answer differently.

Also, one may wonder how a new MPL airline recruit would stand compared to an old-school pilot.

Please read it and let me know if you share my opinion.