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.
Perhaps not every pilot knows the names of Luigi and Giovanni Pascale, but for sure every pilot knows the company Tecnam, which they founded.
Tecnam is an Italian airplane manufacturer of general aviation and ultralight aircrafts. Their planes in both segments are famous for the astounding performance and unique design. For these reasons and for their competitive prices they are very common among flight schools and private pilots. However, Tecnam is just the most recent chapter of a history of passion and tradition which started many years ago when the Pascale brothers were just a little more than kids.
On 17 March 2017, Luigi Pascale passed away at the age of 93 leaving a space that it is difficult to fill in the world of aviation. I had the chance to read a number of articles about him and his brother and came across a book that best collects and transmits their passion for aviation, “L’Aviazione dei Fratelli Pascale” (Pascale Brothers’ Aviation, published by Art Studio Paparo).
In the book, Stefano Mavilio, who later became Global Marketing and Communication Manager at Tecnam, collected a series of historical documents offering a wealth of details about the context in which the first aircrafts by the Pascale brothers were born. There is, however, much more to the book than a simple account of dates and technical details. The excitement of the two brothers comes out of the pages like fireworks during the narration of how they worked night and day on a new plane or when a finished plane had to be finally tested. Reading these pages and the first person accounts of the two brothers, you are brought directly in the middle of the dusty improvised warehouse where the Pascales, in the late 1930s, started the construction of their first manned flying machine and, in the same way, after a few pages you can sneak among the spectators of the first successful test flight of the P48 Astore.
The P48 Astore was the demonstration of the potential for the passion and the incredible brain of the two brothers, which went unstopped despite the young age. Indeed, they had been working hard on the aerofoil of their first flying machine and, during last phases of WWII, a Messerschmitt crash-landed close to the place where the Pascale brothers used to spend the summer. They made a deal with the owner of the land to collect the plane if after two days nobody had showed up to claim it, and so they did. This gave them the opportunity to reverse-engineer the systems of the German fighter plane and learn a great deal of notions that were later put into the project of the P48 Astore.
What surprised most people in the world of aviation of the time was the fantastic design in terms of aerodynamics and balance of the P48 Astore, despite the lack of previous experience by the two young designers. The plane flew splendidly when Mario De Bernardi, a famous Italian military and test pilot, took it for the first flight.
From there on, a series of incredible successes followed. Every plane made by Partenavia (this was the name they initially adopted) had better performance than most comparable plane. Partenavia planes won several air races, like the Tour of Sicily (“Giro Aereo Internazionale di Sicilia”).
However, the success of Partenavia somehow slowed down when it was acquired by a large state-owned company (“Aeritalia”) with its complex and slow system of procedures. After a few years, the Pascale brothers felt frustrated by losing that family feeling that kept the company together and the company close to its clients and obtained to start a new company called Tecnam. Under this brand they resumed the production of GA planes and started the production of ultralights in 1992, with the P92 model. Today Tecnam is leader in the production of GA planes for training as well as ultralight machines.
I read “L’Aviazione dei fratelli Pascale” over a couple of sleepless nights and when I finished it I was thrilled about the narration of the brothers’ pure passion for aviation. I am sure that everyone who loves flying feels the same type of excitement. After closing the book it is impossible not to feel some feeling of affinity with the two ingenious brothers. At the same time, I felt rather sad thinking about the state of General Aviation in Italy. In facts, GA there is rather seen as a game for rich kids and local regulators fail to see its potential for supporting the network of small and medium enterprises on which the whole country heavily relies. In this context, the whole sector has been heavily taxed and had to muddle through a highly bureaucratic and hostile environment. This eventually pushed also Tecnam to focus on the ultralight segment inlands and to look further outside national borders to market its products. Indeed, ultralights manage to partially escape the labyrinth of Italian bureaucracy, although with heavy limitations, and the largest stake of Tecnam’s revenues comes form abroad.
I would recommend “L’Aviazione dei fratelli Pascale” to all pilots, although I believe it is available only in Italian language. It is at the same time a valuable historical document and a beautiful tale.
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.