It’s been a long time since the last post. This period of silence is only apparent, as I kept working on writings, articles and stories on actual magazines and on my other social media channels (Instagram, YouTube).
To be fair I am still very busy working on my ATPL exams, my upcoming visit to Montenegro an about another exciting novelty, which I will share here soon. However, I wouldn’t like to leave these cherished pages without an update, especially when I marked a year of flights on I-76, my ICP amphibious plane.
So, I though about collecting here all short clips related to my journey with that little spectacular machine. To this conceptual compilation I gave the name of “Between Water and Sky” (but sometimes change the order depending on the desire of the moment…).
Between Water and Sky reflects my feeling when detaching from the water: I am not floating on the water anymore, but I am still lower that most land features and houses around me.
I put all my passion in these videos, so I hope you will like them. Don’t forget to subscribe to the YouTube channel as well…
Between Water and Sky – the video collection
Episode 1 – It’s about my first flight with India-76 and my feeling of gaining freedom and achieving the greatest childhood dream.
Episode 2 – In the second episode, I explore some of the corners of Lake Maggiore, in Italy. On the way back, I had to face the difficulties posed by the valley currents which culminate with a challenging landing.
Episode 3 – Together with a friend, we dock the plane at Hotel Lido di Angera. A wonderul hotel with a private pier. Tiziano, the owner, welcomes us with the best expresso a seaplane pilot ever tasted.
Episode 4 – Time for more missions. This time we head to a beach in the vicinity of Laveno-Mombello. Once more the coming back proves challenging because of the mountain winds.
Episode 5 – In this episode I talk more about the region of the lakes in Northern Italy, about the Aeroclub Como and then I take you for a ride on a short flight on I-76.
Episode 6 – The real Tour of the Six Lakes. Aboard of a Cessna 172 of Aeroclub Como we explore the lakes composing the so called Tour of the Six Lakes. Enjoy spectacular views from the air and from the ground in some of the most iconic places in Italy.
Episode 7 – In preparation for the Seaplane Regatta of Montadria 2023, (about which I wrote here) we perform some flight test on I-76. We land in Calcinate del Pesce (LILC) and make it back in the usual turbulent winds of the valley.
One of the most successful events for water aviation just concluded in Montenegro after 3 days of flying around the enchanting landscape of the small Balkan state. As Montadria Seaplane Regatta 2022 comes to an end, I can say that another important milestone has been laid to bring back water aviation to its splendor.
I mentioned Montadria Seaplane Regatta briefly in my previous article. The key idea behind the event is simple: displaying the potential of water aviation to the local and foreign public as a resource for both leisure and commercial purposes.
And indeed, the fleet of seaplanes which came from every corner of Europe achieved and exceeded this ambitious goal. With every flight, through the breath-taking sceneries of Montenegro, Montadria raised the interest of local communities to the infinite possibilities of water aviation. At the same time, we all met new friends and strengthened existing relations.
Also, no event better than Montadria displays howrelationships are the corner stone of aviation.
The routes took the fleet of seaplanes through several sites with historical relevance for seaplane aviation. Indeed Montenegro can pride itself with a very florid past and one of the oldest seaplane basis in the world, located in the Kotor bay in 1913. Thanks to the energy of Dragisa-Gaga Raicevic, organiser of the event, Montenegro reopened its water bodies to aviation.
Another achievement of Montadria 2022 was to show the strong European vocation of the Country and to confirm that the borders of the aeronautical world are much wider than administrative ones.
In other words, European water aviation definitely passes by Montenegro.
So, crews from all over Europe travelled to Tivat, Montenegro, for the Regatta. World-known Raimund Riedman and Matthias Dolderer took part onboard of the Cessna 208 Caravan on amphibious floats of the Flying Bulls. Scandinavian Seaplanes came with a beautiful and powerful Quest Kodiak 100 they currently operate (on a side note, If you came to AERO Friedrichshafen, you may have seen both planes on static display).
Cesare Baj, from Aeroclub Como, participated onboard a Lake Renegade, followed by another Lake 200, a Cessna, a Piper and a numerous group of amphibious ICP (Savannahs and Bingos) mounting the floats of Scuola Italiana Volo.
Aside from the flying crews, Textron Aviation, Seamax Croatia and the Tourism Authority of Maldives were also present at the event showing how much interest water aviation is now gathering in Europe.
A look at the routes and take-off!
Dragisa planned three days of flying around three themes to honor 1) the past of water aviation in Montenegro, 2) the historical site and 3) the natural beauties of the Country.
As the bus drops the crews in front of the General Aviation Terminal in Tivat (ICAO:LYTV), the emotion starts to build up. The crews file the flight plans, which were circulated the night before, and walk to their machines for the pre-flight checks and start-up.
I take a seat onboard the Kodiak, with Daniel and Christian (the pilots), Dragisa and André (Seamax Croatia). A short back and fourth with the ATC to clarify order of departure and flight plans and we’re backtracking the runway to then take off north-west-bound.
We’re number two for take off after the Cessna Caravan. Daniel applies take-off power. The Kodiak speeds up aggressively under the 700hp released by the turbo 5-blade propeller and in almost no time it climbs over the marina of Tivat.
Budva and the incredible landscape of Skadar Lake
We follow the coast Southbound till we reach the astonishing bay of Budva with the picturesque Island of Saint Nicholas. The water is blue and the surrounding mountains make this view absolutely unique.
We head to Skatar Lake and the surprise is even bigger as the clear water mixes with wide light green vegetation. The landscape is absolutely gorgeous and unique for Europe.
Landing back for the Grand Opening
As we hold a pattern in the narrow bay of Kotor, we find ourselves to orbit very close to the Cessna Caravan of the Flying Bulls. What better way to save some space and make the life of the ATC easier, if not by flying and landing in formation?
Once on the ground, the incredible views and the excitement for this incredible flight, with a formation of exceptional pilots is still running before my and the other passengers’ eyes. We head to the Marina of Porto Montenegro, where the official opening Ceremony is about to take place.
The pilots remain in the airport as they will be part of the ceremony soon.
The welcome of Montenegro to the seaplane crews is the warmest one could imagine! At the presence of ministers and functionaries, Dragisa and the other speakers lay down the best case for the promotion of water aviation.
Indeed, like no other, water aviation can have a determining role to bridge the distances between Mediterranean countries, to promote peaceful cooperation and, perhaps to further the spirit of progress that moved the very Jacque Schneider, promoter of the Schneider Cup.
Perhaps, thinking of describing the experience in words was an excessively ambitious goal for me. So let’s image speak in the video below.
But let’s first thank Montenegro for the unforgettable welcome, Dragisa Raicevic for his visionary project and all pilots that took part for contributing to the growth of seaplanes in Europe.
Looking forward to see you all at the next event around the Mediterranean Sea!
Seaplanes carry with them a charm that no other plane type has.
Difficult to say why. In our heads they certainly recall images of movies like Indiana Jones, The Aviator or Porco Rosso.
At the beginning of aviation, water planes enjoyed at least as much fortune as land planes. Indeed, the possibility to use immense water bodies to take off and splash down, seemed a better alternative to unpaved short grass strips and flying boats were generally flying the longest intercontinental routes, like that from Australia to UK by Qantas.
Historic events of astonishing importance like the Schneider Trophy or the “Decennial Air Cruise”, led by Italo Balbo, were also conducted with seaplanes. The speed record for piston-engine powered aircraft was for a few years the one that the famous Macchi Castoldi – MC72, one of the most magnificent machines ever designed, scored in 1934.
However, after this initial and relatively long-lasting period of success, during World War II, seaplanes let the pace to faster and more agile land planes. Seaplanes found more commonly employment as support vehicles.
Following the end of the war, seaplanes in Europe lost little by little their status. Water aerodromes were closed, or simply forgotten, one after the other, and this beautiful way of flying was kept alive only by a handful of passionate aviators and organisations, like Aeroclub Como, active since the 1930s. Very different was the fate of hydroplanes in North America, where, due to geographical and social characteristics, seaplanes kept being designed, produced and employed without particular hiccups.
Back to the future
In the last few years, however, water aviation in Europe gains momentum once more. It’s hopefully a new dawn for water aviation in Europe. The credit goes once more to the relentless work of a few pilots and clubs.
The upcoming establishment of a European Seaplane Pilot Federation is a great signal. In facts, representatives from 14 states met in Mallorca in September 2021 for the first European Hydroaviation Congress. They agreed to establish a pan European Association with the purpose to lobby for uniform and more understanding set of rules for seaplane across the EU. Indeed, General Aviation overall enjoys uniform application of rules across the Continent. Sadly, water aviation falls still somehow hostage to national waterways rules. The result is an unjustified hinderance to its existence or its ability to develop.
In Italy, Aviazione Marittima Italiana (Italian Maritime Aviation) made stunning progress. Together with Regions and Municipalities, the association founded by Orazio Frigino and Graziano Mazzolari, maker of amphibian floats for ultralight aircraft, signed several memoranda of understanding to reopen historic water aerodromes across the Country. The main goal to create some viable stop-over bases for seaplane pilots travelling across the Continent.
Unexpected growth during Covid-19
Indeed, in the context of the Covid pandemic, general aviation grew markedly in several EU countries. Travellers looked for alternatives to airline flying. General Aviation, unknown by many before, succeeded in acquiring some considerable portion of the market. The water aviation segment benefitted of this trend, too. As a matter of facts, various entrepreneurs and companies moved the first steps. Some Aviation Authorities already issued approvals for Seaplane AOCs. Connecting wealthy cities with holiday destinations on coasts of lakes and seas represents the main target. The use of existing waterways, allows to avoid the high costs related to airport slots and handling fees. In addition, companies have already eyed the feasibility of routes between Italy and Greece, where, for instance, Hellenic Seaplanes is ready to start operations in 2022 with a fleet of modern Twin Otters.
Back to the glamour
Against this backdrop, seaplanes are back to charm the public with more than just connecting two places. As Richard Bach splendidly captured in one article, if you asked random pilots why they fly, almost nobody would answer “to fly from A to B”.
And indeed the beauty of the seaplane lies in the very machine and its possibilities. Imagine to dock at the pier of a lakeside town in Italy. Drink a freshly brewed espresso at the local yacht club. Then hop on again, maybe with a friend, to look at the beautiful Villas from the best angle, from just below 2000 feet.
On the East side of the Adriatic sea, Dragisa Raicevic, President of the Seaplane Regatta MontAdria, launched a second edition of the rally. Around 30 seaplane crews will come to Montenegro, in the first week of June 2022. It will be an incredible occasion to connect with seaplane pilots and makers. Moreover, Montenegro with its history, geography and culture, is the perfect link between Europe and East.
With the ongoing pandemic it’s hard to make strong commitments. However, we work to launch some seaplane events at the end of Summer 2022. Come check for more information in these pages soon!
Gli Scarponi del Cielo (Scarponi literally means boots, but it’s a colloquial term to mean floats)– a vintage short movie, directed by Antonio Leidi in the 1960s. it shows unique views of Lake Como and the life of seaplane pilots.
In October, we arranged this type of contest for the first time. While there were a few things that we knew we would need to fine-tune, all participants had a great time and were enthusiastic about the Air Rally. Indeed, it’s a great way to keep navigation skills and situational awareness honed. Naturally, the use of GPS is strictly forbidden.
You can read more about this type of competition in my previous post here. In this article I will simply say that flying an air rally requires you to fly a route as close as possible to your flight plan. Basically, It’s about being at the right place at the right moment!
One of the key aspects for the success of a Rally is the route. In facts, waypoints must be challenging enough to identify. At the same time, they must be at a sufficient distance to prevent conflicting traffic and allow for a certain duration of the flight. Luckily, we had a friend of the Deutsche Flugsicherung to help us there and design the perfect route.
In our route, we had fountains, castles and even the final straight line of a car test track to conclude triumphantly the race.
All of them proved to be challenging, but if you made your flight plan well and followed it to the letter, it was achievable by all pilots.
Finding some balance during Covid-19 times
We initially planned May 8, hoping that the pandemic situation would be lighter. Sadly, the then-new Delta variant made things more complicated. Despite all restrictions, we managed to carry on with our event and had the great honor to be supported by very special guests:
Sadly, no audience could attend and we had to cancel the presentations that our guests had prepared. I hope this article and the video below, will transmit all the enthusiasm and energy of the event. We hope to hold all presentations at the next occasion!
The pilots, the planes, the start
Finally, comes the moment of the race. Pilots receive the explanation of the rules and soon start their planning. Each crew is different from another: there are commercial, private and even student pilots. And the beauty of the Air Rally is that it’s so unique that flight hours don’t necessarily matter.
For this edition, we also had very different planes: a few 4-seaters (a Piper, a Maule and a Mooney) and many 2-seaters (Diamond Katana, Aquila A210 and the beautiful historic Ercoupe 415-D).
When the time for planning is over, we reconvene in front of the terminal and assign the starting time. Ori and I are the first to start with a declared speed of 115 kts.
I have already checked the Piper PA28 that will take us through this challenging route. The engine is warm, the red and white livery of the plane shines under the morning sun.
We hop on, but first let two special passenger accommodate. As the stress to fly the route as precisely as possible wasn’t already enough, we invited our Airforce guests onboard (please note that we were all already vaccinated and tested negative to multiple tests). I had already checked the weight and balance in case they trusted me that much.
And indeed, I took it as a very big sign of trust when they happily sat in the back of the plane.
The engine starts smoothly, we taxi to the holding point of RWY 26. As the plane accelerates on the asphalt the emotion leaves pace to concentration. The route officially starts on the first waypoint in Dieburg. I make use of the few minutes available to adjust the power settings and the elevator trim.
It’s a very clear day. As we enter the race track, I can see the bend of the Main river where the Aschaffeburg castle (our next waypoint) is located. I rely then on this visual reference and focus on my speed. Ori measures the time with its cronograph. I ask him a check when we are about 2 miles from the target. We seem to be doing fine.
Bias and illusions
Off to the next point! The next one is probably the one target that worries me most. Indeed, it is the fountain in the garden of an old German palace. I think I know the palace, but this makes me even more worried: there are so many historic buildings around Frankfurt. I may convince myself (and my navigator) that the target is that one castle with which I am more familiar rather than the correct one. In the end, the difficulty of a Rally lies all here. Trusting your planning and instruments more than your instinct.
Bias and illusions can trick us during a navigation. Many pages have been written about the subject and, thankfully, I read some of them.
As we get closer to our supposed target and the target time, we scan the ground intensely. In my recollection now, I may swear to have spotted at least 5 fountains!
But eventually there she is! In the front of the Philippsruhe Palace as described.
Intense traffic, difficulties over Ronneburg, and finally on ground
As more planes taking part to the Rally depart, also the radio chatter becomes more intense. I pay particular attention to where Tiago with his fast Mooney is. Fortunately there seem to be always proper separation.
In such context, it’s important to use the frequency for concise meaningful information. On each waypoint, I declared my position, the following reporting point, the heading and expected time overhead.
After the Ronneburg Castle, we were supposed to make a left turn. However, we found ourselves a few hundred meters left of the castle and had to make a right turn instead. This caused quite some difficulties to find the following one, the farm , but eventually we managed. Sadly, not without accruing some delay on that leg.
Once found the solar farm, we confidently headed to the old Frankfurt airport, located in the district of Bonames. The airfield was opened by the Allied Forces and was used until 1992. Although converted now to a public park, the runway is still paved and the markings well visible.
We crossed the centre of the long asphalt strip right on spot and turned South for the final two waypoints: the stadium of Offenbach and the straight of the Opel test track.
As I landed the PA28, I realised the intense effort that one hour of such navigation meant. I felt truly satisfied for managing to keep the attention so high regardless of the final ranking.
On adifferent note, I was also quite happy for flying around two of the best pilots I may possibly know without being shouted at for some mistake!
The final ranking
Thanks to the great work of Mikel who coded the algorithm for the score, we had the ranking in matter of few minutes:
1st place: D-EMUX – Crew from ESA Aviators 2nd place: D-EXDA -Crew from Frankfurter Verein für Luftfahrt 3rd place: D-ETLK – Crew from Hanseatischer Flieger Club Frankfurt
Following the overwhelming positive response, we just can’t wait to organise the next Rally!
Don’t miss the video below for a visual report, and don’t forget to subscribe to the channel for more updates!
I love flying seaplane! After my flights with Cessnas and a Piper, this time I tried flying an amphibian ultralight.
What I love most is the feeling of freedom deriving from the extreme contact with nature.
When you fly a seaplane you can land and discover places that are otherwise unreachable. Small hidden bays, shallow seas are just some of the possibilities. Follow me on a flight with a beautiful ultralight amphibian plane in Lecco, Italy, with Pilota Per Sempre and tell me your thoughts.
Seaplane or amphibian? General Aviation or Ultralight?
Before taking off, let’s have a look at the different options available to own and fly seaplanes.
The main concern for those considering buying a seaplane is that your are limited to water surfaces and this may not make economic sense, unless you leave in Canada or Alaska, perhaps. Also, floatplanes are slow and heavy because of the floats and, for the same reason, they don’t fly as well as conventional planes.
In my view, flying is almost never a matter of economic utility. As a popular say goes “the only way to become millionaire with airplanes is to start as a billionaire”. However, I perfectly understand the concern: a pure seaplane constrains enormously the range of uses.
Why not buying an amphibian plane, then? Floats with retractable gears are common, indeed, but due to the limited production the higher cost comes in as an additional factor. Then again, the more features an airplane has, the higher the likelihood that something will fail. And this means hefty repair costs.
Finding a trade-off in this dilemma seems a real endeavor. But is it really so? A possible solution, at least valid for a good number of prospective owners, seems offered by ultralight planes.
Indeed, ultralight makers have been enjoying some very favourable times all over the globe. Often, ultralight machines must comply with lighter rules than general aviation planes. Also, due to their low mass, they can easily outperform the immediate peers among conventional planes.
Don’t get me wrong, lighter rules (e.g. in the maintenance requirements and in the training of flight crews) do result in more frequent incidents. Then again, as a general aviation pilot, your training complies with higher standards. And you can appreciate the importance of regular maintenance by certified mechanics.
Amphibian planes in Italy
In Europe, Italy leads by example for the very progressive regulation with regard to seaplanes and, particularly, for what concerns ultralight seaplanes. Indeed, as a general rule with few exceptions, seaplanes are allowed to be wherever a normal boat is.
Also, Italy is the place of origin of many successful plane makers, like ICP, Groppo or Tecnam, just to name a few, and the oldest seaplane school: the Aeroclub Como.
This allowed for this very special segment to flourish and grow through the years offering important technological breakthroughs. In facts, several years ago, Graziano Mazzolari, an expert seaplane pilot and instructor decided to start the production of floats for the ultralight market. Today his company, Scuola Italiana Volo, exports all over the world their floats made in composite materials (like kevlar and carbon fiber) with front-running technologies.
These floats offer some unique advantage compared to the alloy ones typically seen around. Indeed, being made of composites, they are not subject to corrosion and they are very light. For this simple reason they allow leisure pilots to conduct operations also in salty waters.
Let’s get to the flying part!
So, on a fresh sunny morning I show up to the Kong Airfield a few miles South of the city of Lecco. My plan is to get familiar with the ICP Bingo on floats. My instructor will be nothing less than Riccardo Brigliadori, founder of the school “Pilota Per Sempre” and several-times Italian gliding champion.
The “walk-around” of the plane is like any other seaplane. The only difference is that the floats offer large inspections doors and the water amount is typically minimal, unlike metal floats.
I am overly curious about the performance of the plane on ground, in the air and on the water.
The 100 HP of the 912 Rotax engine push the plane through the narrow asphalt runway of the Kong airfield and the ultralight amphibian takes off in matter of few seconds. The shiny ultralight climbs splendidly despite the floats.
We cross the Adda river, conveniently close to the airfield in case of a malfunction during take off or landing. Then we pass over Olgiate and Garlate Lakes, two smaller water basins south of Lake Como.
The plane seems prone to much more inverse yaw that other seaplanes I have tried, like the Cessna 172. The reason lies probably in the modifications made to seaplane Cessnas. Indeed, to increase stability, ventral fins or additional stabilisers on the tail are generally added.
Preparing for the water landing I also realise that I need to get used to the shape of the nose and the different perspective in order to keep the plane straight on final, but I don’t worry, I will have plenty of time to get accustomed to it.
A great instructor
I enjoy flying with Riccardo too. As a glider pilot, he expects very clean maneuvers and spots instantaneously any slip of the plane. I am still trying to get comfortable with the amount of rudder I must use when turning and with a plane that is much more responsive than I thought. So, at times I feel like going back to the early stage of the PPL, but it’s a great feeling because I know I am improving my technique.
After not much I tame more easily this little yellow seaplane that loves to swing and yaw.
I must admit that flying an ultralight I was also cautious about the level of the training, but Riccardo has a very structured approach to flying. Everything, from the pre-flight inspection to the procedures during the flight are very consequential.
In synthesis, if you’d like to give it a try, I can warmly recommend the school “Pilota Per Sempre” as a very professional and friendly one.
Time to answer the initial questions
Well, I started this little adventures with some questions: General Aviation or Ultralight? and Seaplane or Amphibian?
I must say I greatly enjoyed flying an amphibian ultralight. It takes off so much quicker than a Cessna, it’s responsive and feels much more lively.
Ultimately, I think I found the answers at least to my specific dilemma. Since 2020, the EASA Acceptable Means of Compliance allow you to consider hours flown in an Ultralight plane for the recency of a PPL or LAPL. This makes ultralight much more attractive. However, pilots need to be disciplined and make sure they don’t become lazy in terms of maintenance.
As per the second question, amphibian seems the natural answer. The retracting mechanism of the gear employed on the floats of Scuola Italiana Volo is fast, simple and cleverly designed. Maintenance is not complex and parts are not overly expensive.
At the same time, I’d really like to hear your views on this. If you have experience in this field write me using the contact form
Take a look at the video of the flight
Why not taking a relaxing break and let the images of the beautiful Lake talk?
Covid-19 changed our lives and habits in many ways. Sometimes, however, change is good. This time it gave me the opportunity to discover a most amazing place where to fly seaplanes in Germany, on the Moselle river.
Indeed, I had been checking the constantly-updating travel regulations for many weeks to find a suitable date to go to Lake Como and extend the rating with Aeroclub Como, as usual (check my previous post on the topic).
Sadly, it looked like I was not going to make it to Italy before the expiry of my cherished SEP-SEA rating. So, I looked for alternatives and to my surprise I found a very good one in the beautiful city of Trier, just a few kilometers away from my base.
The “Drive and Fly” flight school is a family owned business that has been around for many years. Thanks to the warm atmosphere and the very high standards it quickly became a reference point for anyone wishing to learn to fly in the region of Rhineland-Palatinate.
I walked into the hangar, on a sunny morning just after observing the take-off of a loud T6 in mimetic livery, and I immediately received a warm welcomed and a good cup of coffee.
The Seaplane PA18 D-EGOR
Drive and Fly owns a beautiful 1953 Piper Super Cub on amphibian floats. It’s a historic plane maintained in perfect operating conditions thanks to the passion and the incredibly hard work of the Klippel family.
It took me some minutes to get acquainted with the different braking system, the gear controls and the controls located on the right and left side of the cockpit. This small initial effort was anyway compensated by a very simple checklist.
I line up on RWY 04 (asphalt 1200x30m) and apply gently full power. D-EGOR needs only a small portion of the generous runway to detach from the ground. The floats modify the aerodynamic profile of the aircraft, and I have the feeling that she prefers to banks slightly left or right, but never fully straight. The engine plays a beautiful melody and soon I find myself astonished by the surrounding landscape of hills cut through by the Moselle river.
I retract the gear into the floats with the small lever and the four blue lights light up to indicate that the plane can now safely land on water.
As soon as we reach the Moselle, Norbert cuts the power to idle to simulate a sudden failure. I calmly align to the river and make some rough calculation of where the contact point will be. A long river tanker slowly moves towards us lifting waves to the sides. I am confident we will land safely behind it.
“Gear up for water landing” repeats the gear advisory connected to the audio system.
The plane glides smoothly a few feet from the water and, at that height, the branches of the trees on the right side play a lively stroboscopic effect with the sun rays. The floats touch the water softly. I receive a strong pat on my back to congratulate me on my first water landing on the Moselle.
Full power again! The Piper hops “on the step” in matter of seconds and detaches from the water soon after. It’s almost noon and the strong sun, the humidity from the river and the hills combine in unexpected thermals here and there.
Seaplanes in Germany
Flying over the river I understand the need to restrict the use of seaplanes to only a few spots and planes. The narrow valley does not allow for much maneuvering. In addition, there are power lines than cross the river, which are not always signaled. To make things worst, rivers in Germany are heavily used for the transport of goods and people. This elements altogether make flying in Germany with seaplanes very complicated.
A few bases exist in Germany apart from the Moselle, in Flensburg, in Boden See and in Welzow (ICAO code: EDUY), but several restrictions apply and this ends up affecting enormously the life of this segment of aviation.
Taking off from under a bridge
I taxi at different speeds on the river. A swan seems to look at us with a certain degree of disdain. We both know that nobody can compete with the grace and mastery of the beautiful bird. Without thinking to much, I line up for take-off again!
This time the take off run happens under a bridge. It’s impossible not to think of the Red Bull Air Race in Budapest, where the entry into the track used to pass right under a bridge. But of course, we are still on the water and the speed is much lower. A few feet into the air and we make first a right turn, to follow a bend of the river. Soon after we make another to the left, over the trees on the river side back to the airport of Trier.
Gear down, full flaps and the Super Cub touches down softly on the asphalt of the runway and then back to hangar.
Contact Drive & Fly
The website of the company is currently being updated, but you can reach the school per email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at +49 6502 9998999.
Video of the flight
Perhaps a video is worth a million words, check here the video account of the flight and if you like it, don’t forget to subscribe to my channel.
A few weeks ago, I made the lucky acquaintance of two formidable pilots. I am constantly looking to learn as much as I can from better and more experienced pilots. For this reason, I was thrilled to exchange some thoughts with Filippo Barbero, pilot of the Frecce Tricolori (the Italian Airforce Aerobatic Team) from 2010 till end of 2018 and solo pilot from 2015 , and Filippo Fontemaggi, helicopter pilot for Search-and-Rescue and expert of flight safety.
Together they started an online channel called Aviator Channelwhere they discuss with subscribers about aeronautical culture, airmanship and aviation safety. You can find it on Twitch and I strongly recommend you to subscribe!
The atmosphere of the channel is great! It quickly became the usual meeting point for a variety of pilots and aviation fans. After having discussed my incident with two RC planes in one of the live episodes, we decided to have a simple conversation on the channel on more general topics.
I find it truly great that two pilots of such standing spend so much of their private time for this initiative. Through the channel we all learn to make the sky safer and a more enjoyable place.
You find the full interview at the end of the article. It was done in Italian, but you can activate English subtitles.
Find here some afterthoughts about our chat:
The passion for flying
The passion for flying strikes everyone in different ways: Filippo Barbero told me that his interest in aviation started thanks to a course on aeronautical culture held by the Italian Airforce during high-school times. His contact with the world of aviation happened somehow late, but it was love at at first sight. He then followed the course to obtain the glider pilot license and this set in motion all the steps that followed and for which we all know him.
Filippo Fontemaggi had a different trigger. He admitted smiling that, like many of his generation, he was charmed by the movie Top Gun and similar Hollywood movies. At the same time, he had a genuine and deeptly-rooted passion, which his mother supported all the way.
Indeed, often parents with a different background think of aviation as a merely practical activity. They don’t consider that pilots must continuously train on a variety of topics and get tested regularly on their knowledge and skills.
Also, training as a pilot can become the way to to serve one’s country. Both pilots, indeed, trained with the Italian Airforce. After the first contact with an operative unit, they knew the Airforce was their natural environment.
The value of the military training
A few minutes into our chat, it became very clear to me to what extent the training and the professional environment are key distinctive elements. Military values revolve around the importance of the team to achieve complex goals.
Also, a constant stream of feedback characterises the environment in an operative unit. Its aim is to fine-tune the skills of each pilot to the highest standard.
As civilian and private pilots there is much we can learn from this world. Honesty, respect and transparency are simple qualities we should particularly observe and value when flying.
Stress and fear
Filippo Barbero served with the Airforce in theatres of operations before joining the National Aerobatic Team (in Italian “PAN”). Filippo Fontemaggi performed search and rescue mission for the Airforce in high-risk environments. Because of the nature of these activities, I wanted to ask about their relationship with stress and fear, a topic that many pilots avoid talking about.
It is normal and even healthy to feel stress when performing a complex task, especially when it’s something new. The stress is a way for our brain to keep alert. However, if a pilot feels fear before a flight, this should be taken as a warning signal about the quality of their training.
For military pilots, taking-off for a specific assignment is a duty. The mindset is therefore very different from that of a leisure pilot, who can decide whether to take-off or not depending on the spur of the moment.
Also, the purpose is very distant: an Airforce pilot has a concrete task to complete. Generally a mission which is critical for the life of others. A leisure pilot generally flies for more abstract -although merit worthy- reasons, like fulfill their own sense of achievement or simply enjoy the view.
Watch the full interview
The interview was conducted in Italian. However, you can activate the subtitles pressing the ‘CC’ button and then switch to English clicking on the ‘settings’ icon.
“We’re way too fast, slow down as much as you can” says Ori as we approach Schloss Auerbach, one of the many castles in southern Hesse, built by nothing less that King Charlemagne. I reduce power, pitch up the nose to the limit of stall and extend flaps. In matter of seconds our speed drops by 35 knots. “Great! Now off to RID VOR”. This way we headed to gain the second place at the 2020 ESA-ECB Air Rally.
What is an air rally?
Back a few years, air navigation was conducted relying only on paper charts, compass and stop watch. There was no GPS and even no radio navigation aids (like VORs). A great way to train pilots was to have them compete in races of precision. Pilots would need to reach given waypoints exactly at the time declared and every deviations either in terms of time of space would add to a penalty. The crew to complete the course with the least penalty would win.
Today, most pilots just rely on their GPS, after obtaining their license. Moving maps and GPS are indeed great tools if used properly, but one should not lose proper navigation skills, so air rallying is a great way to keep one’s ability honed and have fun with other pilots.
The idea of our own Air Rally
2020 has been an incredibly bad year for most people because of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Aviation was among the sectors that were hit harder.
I had been planning for months to join a very special competition, the Air Rally of the Six lakes, organised by Aeroclub Como and to be run with Seaplanes. Due to COVID-19 my original plans were sadly frustrated and the race was first postponed and then cancelled.
I really did not want to give up, after so much preparation. At the same time I wanted to make any possible event meaningful for who was truly suffering because of COVID.
After a lot of reflection, I put some ideas down on paper and discussed with some friends, members of the flying club of the European Space Agency. After a brief call, we decided to go ahead and put the foundations for the first ESA-ECB Air Rally together with fund-raising for various intiatives.
A very special guest
We were also blessed with the participation of Paolo Ferri, former Spacecraft Operation Manager of the ESA Mission “Rosetta” and Head of Mission Operations when the Air Rally took place. Paolo was fundamental for the success of our event: he was our honorary judge, he took all the air-to-air pictures and gave an unforgettable presentation about Mission Rosetta. The talk with him was truly a special experience to understand the intricacies behind one of the most complex missions of space exploration in the history of mankind.
I strongly recommend to take a look at the Masterclass series, which he recorded for the European Space Agency, and to his recently published book about mission Rosetta (“Il cacciatore di comete“, the comet chaser)
Finally the race
Pilots and navigators gather around the table of the flight planning room. For this edition of the Rally it was decided that the pilots would agree together the route rather than receiving a given one from the judges.
After a brief discussion the route is decided: EDFE (Egelsbach) -> RID VOR -> The entry of Eicher See (a small marina on the side of the Rhein River) -> the Coleman Airfield (a former US base) -> CastleAuerbach -> RID VOR and then back to Egelsbach.
All navigators work on their planning, calculate routes, times and speeds. Check the weather and wind corrections. The hall is silent, but the tensions is high. It’s a friendly contest, that’s clear, but nobody wants to lose.
All crews walk to their aircrafts, run the pre-flight checks and start the engines!
Ori and I decided to fly with a Diamond Aircraft DV20 of my flying club. We chose it mostly because it’s responsive, offers amazing visibility and can accelerate or slow down in matter of instants, should that be needed.
We had a shocking surprise as we hopped on, though. The directional gyro, a really important instrument for precision flying, had been removed due to some malfunction in a previous flight.
When flying the compass gives very erratic indication due to the movement of the plane on different axes and its acceleration. For this reason, when flying the gyroscopic compass is preferred. It keeps a steady heading thanks to a fast-spinning rotor and is not subject to the errors which affect the compass.
Running this type of competition without that instrument meant that our competition was already going uphill. We don’t lose our cool. Visibility is good and I am confident that we can locate the way points also visually.
We accelerate on the wet runway 26, we detach from the asphalt at 55 knots and the DV20 climbs nicely through the cold sky. On the ground, the participants stare with awe at the planes lining up and departing one after the other.
Close to RID-VOR, we were in contact with the mighty Maule of Christian. Paolo, on board, took great air-to-air shots of all aircrafts.
Too fast! Too fast!
The rally was going well, we were practically perfect on all waypoints. We just had a slight delay on the entry of Eicher See, but still nothing dramatic if we could make sure that the other legs would be flown precisely. But just as we approached Castle Auerbach, a castle in the hills erected by King Charlemagne, Ori warned me that we were very fast and had too much advantage with respect to the planned target time. I pitched up the plane, applied carburetor heat and reduced power. As soon as the airspeed indicator dropped below 90 knots I also applied full flaps and reapplied power to maintain the plane at 55 knots. The DV20 maintained its speed without any issue. At such a low speed any turn must very gentle and the bank must remain very contained in order to prevent a stall.
“We made it!” announced Ori “now off to RID”. I “cleaned” the aircraft, which means retracting flaps, and pitched down to get back to our cruising speed.
The last leg was exhilarating. We joined in formation the other aircrafts who kept orbiting around RID and then landed back in Egelsbach winning the second place of the 2020 ESA-ECB Air Rally.
The main purpose of the event was to raise charity. The many donations received were given to the ONG “Emergency“ which offers free medical care in war zones and in areas affected by extreme poverty, attending a patient every minute since 1994.
I would like to thank wholeheartedly Paolo Ferri for his involvement and for sharing his unique experience. I would like to thank Gavox Watches for sponsoring the first prize , all the volunteers who supported our event, Holger Neuhaus for the amazing pictures, Dirk Wagner for the moderation of the event with Paolo Ferri, Diamond Aircraft for letting us use their space and Motorflugschule Egelsbach for additional logistical support.
The story I am going to tell you is still very fresh in my mind, yet so shocking that it is difficult for me to draw any conclusions. Indeed, this post is probably a way to fix some thoughts while I still struggle to make sense out of it.
A perfect morning
As I love to do in Summer, I met a friend at the airfield right at opening time (0800 CEST). I run the pre-flight checks and as usual I explain to my guest through each part and why it is critical for the safety of our flight. Over the years, I find that actually saying what you are about to do or doing, makes you less prone to forget things and make mistakes, so I like to have some audience to justify my words.
Fuel fine, all systems are working properly, so I line up RWY 26 and take off in what seemed the clearest and calmest day of the year. Even close to the hills, the air was smooth. As matter of fact, visibility was virtually unlimited. Right after passing the city of Darmstadt with a southern heading, I was able to direct the look straight to Mannheim and the Neckar river valley, where the city of Heidelberg is located.
Flying over the Rhein, the color of its waters was of an unusual blue. I was monitoring the instruments and in my heart was thinking what a blessing days like these are to clear the head from the stress of work and inject breathtaking memories.
As I passed over one of my favourite castles and then headed East to pass the valley and reduce altitude in view of the landing a few minutes later.
I knew I had to avoid a city called Reinheim, because of a NOTAM (“notification to airmen”, a message service to warn pilots of dangers or restrictions) related to aerobatic activities, so I headed towards Ober-Ramstadt. All seemed truly fine, when it happened and it happened incredibly fast so that my brain could not really determine what was really going on.
The only useful thing that some brain cells agreed was that it was something that required an immediate reaction because I lied on on colliding trajectory with the object in front of me. I pushed the controls fully to the right, hoping for the Katana to respond as quickly as needed. While the plane rolled right, my brain finally made some sense of what was going on: a radio-controlled jet model had intersected my flying path vertically at an incredibly small distance and was now closing a loop. If I had delayed my manoeuvre, it would have crashed into the canopy of the plane.
For some instants, I could not say a word, trying instead to review mentally the images of that objects.
Then, I gave a look to the plane ad check that everything was fine and called the radio station to report the encounter.
The footage from the cameras
Thankfully, I had two GoPros recording at the time of the incident. I placed one camera inside the cockpit, while the other I had mounted and secured to the foot step on the left side of the plane, looking backwards.
Once landed I called the Deutsche Flugsicherung (the air traffic control) and reported the incident providing immediately video and GPS recordings.
Then I sat in front of my laptop watching the recordings a countless times. My GPS said I was at 1900 ft when the near miss happened. The elevation of the ground below me was around 800ft, based on data from Google Earth. This meant that I found myself in airspace Echo, well above safety altitude.
European regulations allow model planes to fly higher than 400ft only if the pilot(s) have a certificate of proficiency and a flight director looks out and warns about possible traffic.
A lot of questions
My head was flooded with questions: did I do something wrong? if the RC plane had hit me would I have sufficient control to land the plane?
I felt quite powerless: II followed all regulations and even exercised extra care. To realise that something so independent from our conduct could cause a catastrophic end brought to my mind the pages of a famous book among pilots: “Fate is the hunter” by Ernest K. Gann
But while I could do nothing more than trying to avoid the two objects as quickly as I could, I thought that once on ground I could indeed do something to reduce the risk. So I though “what can we do to avoid similar issues from happening again?”
Perhaps 2 things which could be done easily:
1. Mark model airfields on your ICAO charts
2. Make compulsory for model pilots to monitor traffic, either via radio or with an ADS-B receiver and monitor
The video report
Well, I am waiting to know the outcome of the investigation of the Bundesamt für Flugsicherung, the body that took over the investigation. Once available I will share it on this website. Meanwhile, take your ICAO chart and mark additional danger areas that may not be present on it.
Very often, a VFR pilot wakes up in the morning, looks at a gloomy sky and has to make the call whether to go on with a planned flight. This call is sometimes very difficult to make. Chasing clouds definitely requires some luck.
I woke up at 5.00 am because of the rain. Half asleep I couldn’t avoid thinking of the weather I would find two hours later and if I would manage to fly at all. However, the rain stopped quickly. I checked the meteo forecast for Frankfurt Egelsbach (which, unfortunately does not have a METAR anymore): 16.5 C, 91% humidity and weather improving over the day.
Now, you may or may not know that you can estimate the cloud height with a simple rule of thumb:
(local temperature – dew point) * 400m where the dew point is simply the local temperature multiplied by the humidity rate.
In this case, the result gave me the hope of having a very special flight with scattered clouds at low altitude. In airspace G, (the closest to the ground in uncontrolled space, more info here) you are required to simply keep clear of clouds but have no specific requirement for horizontal separation. However, please, always respect the Rules of the Air and don’t take risks. Entering a cloud in VFR is a top killer of pilots and very likely to disorient even most expert pilots.
I am going to remember the flight for a very long time. Dancing with the clouds, chasing and flying around them is a very special way to start your day. The contemplation of nature is what make flying very special for me (check this article too). So, after this very special dance I returned to the airfield very grateful for the breathtaking images I engraved in my mind.
But you are lucky, because I also caught them on tape!