It was basing at the third new country that led to finally figuring it out: it takes a while to get comfortable flying in a new place. While cross country flying does involve new places and long distances, I find the flight planning process to be manicured, where a suitable day is waited for, weather thoroughly researched, and alternate scenarios planned on paper. Fuel consumption is calculated, among other factors, and it then becomes a matter of executing a single plan, which usually involves simply arriving somewhere in a straight line. When I undertake a cross country flight for the purposes of transportation, I find it easier than declaration of photography war on a region.
I thought this paradigm through, and it applied back to my student pilot days. Taking lessons out of my grandfather’s grass strip was a giant leap from riding in the back of his Super Cub. Upgrading those lessons to Perry-Warsaw Airport in New York was yet another giant leap, as was each step of the student training process. Years later, the airplane would move to North Carolina, a cross country flight of great significance, yet I fell into a comfort zone, taking quite some time before I would attempt coastal or mountain flying in the Carolinas, and this was before I was picking up a camera. A few years later, I crossed the country more than once, and didn’t notice that I still had to adjust to a local area, as I was buried in figuring out high mountain flying. Even crossing the country for the third time, out to Wyoming, featured a two-month period where I preferred local flights until I could get comfortable with weather, this after crossing three quarters of the country in late winter. Only after some time in Wyoming did I bite off adventures of progressively increasing magnitude.
I thought that I would eventually perfect the process of arriving in a new place, leveraging increasing hours and years of experience, along with exposure to more countries, weather, and other variables. It seems to be, after a month in Portugal, that I have not perfected this process. It is a learning experience each time I base in a new area, and upon deep reflection, it has always been a complex experience each time I have done it.
Portugal’s weather shares a lot in common with the California coast: moderated temperatures, a summer dry season, and a winter rainy season. It just so happens to be that March can be the peak of storminess, and this year, it has decided to be so windy that Portugal has been able to power their entire grid from renewable energy for the entire month, the first time that has ever happened. It has rained almost every day, with strong coastal winds, massive waves, and locals that keep advising it is not normal.
Despite that reality, I managed to squeeze in eleven flights in March. Sometimes sandwiched by rain on both sides, a clear window would materialize, and off I’d go, fighting a 1,350’ sloped runway covered in wet grass and sand, and unfavorable—and so I am told incredibly unusual—crosswinds. The tiny little field is a few miles from the Atlantic, which means strong and consistent onshore winds with often orographic clouds a few miles inland. Overhead the entire coastal region is a military control zone at 1,000’ and restricted areas 25 miles north and south which are designated Class D. For flight following, hand off to the military, and clearance through any of these zones, a flight plan must be ground or air filed, which makes things a little complex. Escape routes inland to the east can be executed without involving ATC. Much like Spain and France, once flight following is initiated, it is rather difficult to get rid of it, though I have not yet encountered any user fees for involvement with ATC.
I have found some very pleasant coastal photography, with a wild Atlantic, beautiful ocean colors, spring green vegetation, and compelling sky textures. Waves and human activity provide an almost nonstop amount of activity to enjoy and view along the coast. Coastal terrain varies from being somewhat flat to hills hundreds of feet tall, making for some interesting winds, and very complex attention required, as a forced landing would best be done on top of one of those hills instead of on a rocky beach or in cold water. Couple that with restrictions of 1,000’ altitude, and it can feel a bit crazy flying slightly offshore in places.
After a month of the aerial attack, my wife made an unsolicited and poignant observation: “You were happier flying in Wyoming.” There is something to be said about keeping flying simple, and therefore pure. As the years have ticked by since our airpark time, I feel an evolution of motivation, where things have switched from a lifestyle of aviation to a conquest of beauty. I recall in Wyoming challenging myself to how many places I could go in a Cub, and how frequently I could fly as part of an aviation-centered lifestyle. Here in Europe, I have been subsumed by the crazed need to see and photograph as much European culture and beauty as I can find, driven by the idea that it’s a one-shot deal. I don’t think the prospect is overtly irrational, as few would proclaim Europe as a good place to build a life around an airplane, and few would find a good reason not to hop in the plane and go see a castle from centuries ago if given the chance. It does create an interesting dynamic where I wouldn’t mind American aviation simplicity coupled with European beauty, though I think that debate is something that goes larger than aviation. In the interim, I have some interesting things planned, and will keep up the conquest of the Atlantic Coast, avoiding Portuguese F-16s, profuse carb ice, and keeping the Cub rinsed of salt accumulation.
Water draining after the wave crashed.