We finally managed to organize an airplane vacation: we have a small airplane, one of those called ULM or Microlight. These airplanes, originally made out of tubing, fabric, and lawnmower derived engines, have grown up to the size and performance of a small light airplane of the C152 class, but with a fraction of the cost and fuel consumption, and much better performance. Some modern ULM have blazing performances, see this one for example They are light two seaters. So, we (I and my girlfriend, co-owner of the airplane) decide to travel to Sardinia, the place where i come from, for a short vacation. By the way, the airplane has a name: Betty Boop; and has a funny color scheme, but you will see that later. Betty Boop is a SHE, of course.
We keep BB in a small airfield close to Lago Maggiore. I will fly her to sardinia with the help of a good friend, who will be my first (and last!) officer; he flies for an airline and he is a pro; i have known him for 30 years now... my girlfriend will fly airline to sardinia, and will join us in Olbia on the following friday. This is going to be a long flight, somewhat tricky, so i will need the help of a real pilot, and my gf is still taking lessons. The itinerary will be the usual: southbound, cross the apennini through the passo della Cisa, then south to Elba, refueling stop, then across the sea towards Corsica, then south; this way the amount of time spent over open water will be limited to a minimum; BB doesnt float, and i barely do...
We predict a flight time around 5 hours. Cruise speed is around 180Kmh and fuel consumption between 13 and 17 liters/hour. Take off is planned for tuesday 29th august; Gianni, my first and last officer, will reach me in the airfield the night before; some planning, GPS programming andweather forecast checks are due. I spend the previous weekend preparing BB for the flight; extensive checks, and i fit a ELT, just in case. ELT is a box that will send a radio distress message in case of impact or problem. I am not planning to use or need it. I have inflatable jackets, two spare GPS, torchlight, a knife, mobile phone, and i can remove the radio and ELT from the airplane in case of ditching. I just wish i was a better swimmer... but i trust my brand new Rotax 912ULS, and there is no reason why the engine should quit on me. I hardly ever heard a 912 quitting without a very good reason, usually lack of oil or fuel...
So BB is ready for the trip, all checks done, oil and fuel topped up, she just wants to fly now... Gianni, my copilot in this flight, arrives monday evening; we have a light dinner, check the maps, the best routes, and we check weather forecast; it doesnt look too good. cloud coverage over the apennini is predicted, and a strong west wind is blowing in the mediterranean sea. Severe turbulence is predicted downwind of Corsica and Sardinia. I have flown in this conditions before and it is not fun. Not to mention the headwind which will slow us down a lot. Luckily, we have plenty fuel onboard, range is not going to be a problem.
Crossing mountains is always a problem with small airplanes, and we are supposed to fly max 1000ft AGL, 500 during week days. Isnt that a stupid rule? Hopefully this limitation will be lifted in the future.
Here see the itinerary we plan to follow during the first part of the vacation.
The red line is the first leg of the trip; refueling stop is planned in the Sky Sport airfield, i call the owner Massimo to tell him we are coming, but he tells me he is in Sardinia, in the same airfield where we are supposed to go, in San Teodoro. He flew there the day before and he gives me bad news: very strong winds and a very annoying cross wind is blowing over the airfield. Also severe turbulence downwind of Corsica and in the Bocche di Bonifacio. I heard every sort of terror stories about the Bocche di Bonifacio! Gulp... i dont like turbulence, and there it can be really strong.
So Tuesday we get up and have a quick breakfast, and while drinking coffee i check the weather forecast. i use a Ipaq PDA using a UMTS internet connection, we have no internet in the airfield. Aint gadgets great? Weather doesnt look too good, but we decide to take off anyway and see what happens. we have plenty of alternate airfields (over 400 ULM airfields in italy alone) so we can improvise a little; often the weather forecast doesnt tell the whole story.
I go to the hangar and take Betty Boop out, and start loading the little luggage we can carry and do some last minute checks. I fit the Garmin Ique 3600A, my primary navigation system, in its cradle and execute a soft reset, usually a good idea when starting a long flight; i have programmed all my routes in it; the GPS resets but gets stuck on the PALM start screen. i execute another soft reset, and the GPS simply dies... right there in my hands, lies a dead GPS... talk about bad omens... luckily, i have programmed some rough routes on my spare GPS, the Ipaq 4700 running the PocketFMS software and with a BT388 GPS receiver. I dont like this combo too much (using windoze as primary navigation aid...gulp) , but better than nothing; i still have a Garmin Etrex Vista as spare, but no routes and no Jeppesen maps on it. Of course i have the paper maps, we can still navigate by compass and stopwatch... hehehe just kidding of course; mmhh course?
Cursing the Gamin Ique, i start the engine and warm it up; shortly, we are ready to take off, all check list is done, full power is applied, and we are airborne. It is 8:20 AM