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The power of courage: Finding and using It

“Courage is being scared to death … and saddling up anyway.” – John Wayne

With my departure from the continental United States on a six-month odyssey looming less than a week away, I am being pulled away from all my creature comforts including friends, family, home, car, and beautiful San Diego, while we explore the most remote parts of the planet. The National Science Foundation, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Department of State are referring to Citizen of the World’s  global journey as a “Polar Expedition.” I’m reminded of a thought I had while in pitch darkness flying over the middle of Pacific back in 2015. I was heading toward American Samoa, an island that that was fogged in and surrounded by mountains, and I anticipated landing at their nontowered airport. I had just closed my eyes, and then I turned my head left toward the pilot window. When I opened my eyes  it was just as dark as with my eyes closed. At that moment, I realized I was very much alone in the middle of the Pacific with no support. That little voice in my head said “What are you doing? You could be at home in San Diego on your comfortable sofa watching TV with your girlfriend!”

The fact that I’m doing another circumnavigation with an even greater land mass and riskier weather has occasionally had me asking myself the same question when I wake up at 3 a.m. in a cold sweat.

And I’m not the only one questioning why I’m doing this.

When some people learn that I’ll be flying an extensively modified 35-year-old Turbine Commander 900 aircraft named Citizen of the World—with dozens of upgrades including six extra fuel tanks and more plumbing than your house—a few too many people refer to my plane as a “Frankenstein” (which, by the way, is a very nasty way to refer to such a fine, fine lady).

Humor aside, this joking doesn’t add to my level of comfort despite the fact that I have had the very best people working on the airplane with hundreds of combined years of experience. They have made mistakes along the way—and so have I. So far, since we’re all still here, we’ve obviously safely recovered from the mistakes, but there’s always an element of fear of the unknown and what might happen next riding shotgun in my mind.

So, then, where do we find the courage to do things that are challenging … (and honestly scare the p*ss out of us) as we navigate the ever-present fear on our individual journeys?

“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit.” – Albert Schweitzer

I think courage comes from many sources. One is from the people who believe in us—the ones who support us with their time, resources, words, and faith. Because of their belief in us, we tell ourselves, “If they believe in me, I can believe in myself as well.” They see our abilities from a different and higher perspective.

For example, I was at the National Business Aviation Association convention a few weeks ago talking to the underwriter from Great American Insurance Group, which has agreed to insure my trip. I told the underwriter that I had chosen to add hull damage coverage to my policy even though most pilots on these kinds of long trips don’t carry it because of the high cost. When I explained that we had postponed three times to mitigate additional risk uncovered by more thorough preparation, I could see in the agent’s face that we had another believer. In my mind, our preparations were 100 percent complete when our 20,000-hour airline pilot and board member told me we were prepared and had done what we could—given the nature of the flight.

“Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.” – Steve Jobs

Another source of courage is from our own intuition and that of others. On my first trip around the planet East to West I had people tell me it wouldn’t go well. One person wrote on Facebook, “The Pacific is littered with planes just like yours.” My ex-girlfriend told me about dreams she had that I died a terrible death alone in the Pacific. My father said, “You are just going to get yourself killed.”

That was a hard trip, especially when my only engine failed at 14,000 feet over the ocean and 19 miles from the closest airport. As other frightening challenges arose, I felt like I was running out of my nine lives and had literally pounded way too much on death’s door. (See my book, Zen Pilot: Flight of Passion and the Journey Within for details.)

In preparation for this trip I’ve had so many very intuitive people I respect tell me it will be a safe trip and much easier in many ways, that all the problems I’ve had to date happened in advance of the trip so I could have a safe trip outside the U.S. When I pray—and I pray a lot—what I get back is that I will be safe, and things will go well. While I can’t know the future for certain, I can set the stage and choose to focus on the encouragement of people whose guidance I trust while doing everything I can to mindfully manage the negative thoughts and challenging situations that arise.

Courage also comes from experience. In my book, Zen Pilot, I talked about fear being my constant companion and co-pilot for some 26,000 nautical miles. Recalling that I had been tested to my limits and I was able to hold my course despite adversity, frustration, overwhelming fear, and financial challenges that would break most people reminds me I can do it again. And if I can do it, that courage can remind all of us in the most difficult of times that we have the resources to handle whatever the Universe throws our way. This is also known as “Faith”—faith in ourselves, faith in our equipment and yes, I will say it because it takes courage—faith in God.

On a spiritual level, I believe that courage comes from within—deep within us—maybe even from our souls. On the other side of the fear, which takes courage to pass though, is the greatest freedom we will ever feel. Getting to that freedom starts with these three courageous actions: 1) soul searching, 2) allowing ourselves to be broken down to our most fundamental selves, and 3) that critical component of persistence.

The use of persistence to activate courage is sometimes the most difficult of all qualities to muster up and to sustain. When I am all alone and there is no one there to help me at the moment when I need it most, it’s hard not to think I’m being tested. I feel exposed and vulnerable and I perceive myself as unprotected. What keeps me going, the reason I persist and can find my courage and act on it, is that I believe we are all here fulfilling a greater plan that has been laid down for us well in advance of our physical birth. We are simply fulfilling the contracts we have agreed to for this life.

And finally, embracing a mission greater than yourself inspires confidence, courage, and action. When the voices of self-doubt are screaming at me, when I feel like God is not hearing me, when I lose my focus, forget everything I have just shared with you, when I have lost my faith in God and myself, I reach into my pocket and touch my courage coin for a reminder of why I am doing this: One Planet, One People, One Plane: Peace for Humanity.

“You don’t concentrate on risks. You concentrate on results. No risk is too great to prevent the necessary job from getting done.” – Chuck Yeager

Robert DeLaurentis will be flying from the South Pole to the North Pole in his aircraft Citizen of the World, and is scheduled to depart on November 23, 2019 (Pole Gods willing), from Gillespie Field in San Diego. He will be taking 200 courage coins that he plans to distribute along the way and upon his return to inspire future generations to achieve their impossibly big dreams through the power of courageous action.

Robert DeLaurentis is a successful real estate entrepreneur and investor, pilot, speaker, philanthropist, and author of Zen Pilot and Flying Thru Life. A Gulf War veteran, Robert received his pilot’s license in 2009, completed his first circumnavigation in 2015, and is currently preparing for his South Pole to North Pole expedition in the “Citizen of the World,” taking off November 2019 with his mission, “Oneness for Humanity: One Planet, One People, One Plane.” For more information, visit PoletoPoleFlight.com.

The One Decision your Technology can’t Make

Last week the general aviation community was thrilled when Garmin unveiled their long awaited auto land technology they call Autonomi. When used properly, the system will make general aviation safer and increase passenger comfort.  AOPA Editor in Chief Tom Haines wrote a great article about flying “behind” the new system, which can be found here: https://www.aopa.org/news-and-media/all-news/2020/january/pilot/hands-off

Right Seat Ready!© at AOPA Photo by David Tulis.

For over a decade, along with my partner Jan Maxwell, I have taught Right Seat Ready!© a companion safety seminar for non-pilots. Our goal is to educate those in the right and back seat on basic aviation, navigation and communication skills to get the airplane back on the ground safely should the left seat pilot become incapacitated. Two ancillary benefits for our attendees is the increase of comfort in the airplane and willingness to fly more often.  We also have a  proud record of turning three RSR participants into pilots and aircraft owners in their own rights.  Jan and I  have taught around the country for aviation groups, type-specific clubs and at the AOPA Regional fly-ins. The beginning part of the day focuses on the aforementioned topics. Sometime after lunch we change gears to the one decision that technology cannot make for us, the initial decision of whether to launch on a flight.

Right Seat Ready!© at AOPA Photo by David Tulis.

I am a member of MooneySpace, a lively forum of Mooniacs. After the launch of Autonomi, one member joked that Right Seat Ready!© would be out of business soon. Of course I knew they were only kidding, but it made me think about the amount of information we give our right-seaters to help assess whether their left-seat pilot is good to “go”. We train them to watch you and assess how you are doing. For much of the country, the weather is worsening, and we might be relegated to hangar flying for the next few months. Please take a look at this information and seriously consider your health and wellness. Here is a portion of the information we are teaching your right seat non-pilot, just a fraction. Please consider these items in your Go/No Go decision, the one decision that your parachute or auto land cannot make.

 

Don’t get me wrong. I love that airplanes have parachutes and auto land systems when the unthinkable happens. But as a practicing psychotherapist I also am keenly aware we can have blinders on when it comes to our own limitations. Please take a moment and read this article I wrote for AOPA Pilot on understanding the relationship between the psychology of life and the psychology of flight: https://www.aopa.org/news-and-media/all-news/2012/april/pilot/bouncing-back Your launch decision is the only one that cannot be made by the technology in your airplane. Your life and those that you love depends on that decision being the very best.

Jolie Lucas is a Mooney owner, licensed psychotherapist, and instrument rated pilot working on her commercial. Jolie is a nationally-known aviation presenter at Sun n Fun, EAA Oshkosh and AOPA Regionals, Aviation Mastery and others. Jolie is a published aviation writer in AOPA Pilot, Flying Magazine, MAPA Log, among others. Jolie is the Vice President of the California Pilots Association. She is the 2010 AOPA Joseph Crotti Award recipient for GA Advocacy. Email: [email protected] Web: www.JolieLucas.com Twitter: Mooney4Me

Challenging the Weather in the Alps

From the very first conversation with a European pilot to each ensuing one thereafter, I have been warned about the “Föhn.” The word is a fancy German equivalent to “Chinook,” which implies what is ultimately a simple witch’s brew of meteorological malfeasance: mountains and wind. While Europeans tend not to be as cowboyish about these subjects, the gist was to be careful, as the Föhn is a nasty beast that will devour me and my airplane.

The Pyrenees enter into the picture. With no such warnings, I plunged into the mountain range and got beat up on the first time, a sunny September day. I would then learn that the Pyrenees are a mountain wave factory, with its own Föhn. Surely, I had mastered the skill, because a Föhn is a Föhn, no matter where it happens? Oh, how little the foreigner knows! Pilots continued to warn me about the Alps Föhn, even though I was living in a factory of mountain turbulence.

The thing is, nobody gave me specific warnings about said Föhn, it was just that “it’s there” and it can’t be good. I appropriately decided to make my initial forays into the Alps with significant caution, leaving wind out of it. It did not help that there were three fatal crashes in the week of my first trip here in 2018, and there have been many since. While I read to the extent I can in depth about crashes to learn from them, the fact with most of them was some other issue was in play. Surely the Föhn didn’t cause a midair collision?

As I got a bit friskier in the later part of the 2018 trip, I found that I was bereft of deadly wind, even if I wanted to find it. Curious. The weather actually seems to be structurally good in the Alps for quite a number of days. Now fast forward to 2019, and I found a similar situation…. the wind seems not to blow so fiercely on nice days.

Bit by bit, I have been toying with more upper level wind, and have come to find that it differs little from comparable speeds when in other mountain ranges. Updrafts, downdrafts, rotors, and turbulence have the same effect on an aircraft. The secret sauce is in figuring out what invisible air is doing, navigating accordingly. I decided to translate Rockies and Pyrenees knowledge here, and it seems like it’s working well. In fact, the Alps feature something that the aforementioned ranges lack: low valleys and passes. On days with stiff upper level winds and soaring mountain wave clouds, Swiss pilots are regularly flying at the lower levels of the atmosphere, avoiding the worst of it.

I decided to catalog some of the change of seasons and meteorological exploits from the past month. It starts out with the first snow in early September.

Second week of September. First snowfall! West of Zermatt, looking southeast.


Southeast side of the Weisshorn (4505m / 14,780′). It has enjoyed morning sun, so snow is beginning to melt.


North side of Wildhorn (3248m / 10,656′) with Mt. Blanc sneering from behind. Sheer white areas to the left are a glacier.

Enough of the snow. A few days later, most of it had melted. The lesson here is the clouds. At 5:30PM, the extent of clouds is as in this photo. Spitzhorn (2807m / 9,209′).

50 minutes later, Glacier du Mont Miné. No real clouds to worry about.


Back to the Bernese Alps, and some interesting formations over the Plane Morte Glacier, but not anywhere else.


Hmmm….

Southeast of Gstaad. What is this? 50% cloud cover that was not forecasted, nor was there when I took off two hours before. I’d like to understand how this works.

A couple of days later, I discovered Switzerland’s illustrious network of webcams. There is one 5,000 feet above the house on the hill behind us, so I checked to see if the stratus layer had a top. The webcam was above it, so after 30 minutes of curvy mountain roads and a 20 min jog up a trail, I was above the clouds. Dent du Jaman (left) and Massif du Chablais (horizon right). I had left the webcam open on my computer and when I returned it showed what I thought was impossible: the entire Bernese Oberland, in the direction of the airport, was suddenly socked in overcast! In a matter of 20 minutes, the whole thing clouded over. I checked Gstaad Airport webcam, and other than a few holes, socked. I emailed a bunch of people and they basically said, “yeah, that can happen in the evening.” Note to self: carry more fuel. I would rather not return to base above a solid stratus deck.


Next flight: Simplon Pass, with Italy about 5 miles away. Now the south side of the Alps gets the cloud deck, whereas the north side is entirely clear, with no mysterious clouding over upon my return.

I know I whined for quite a while about the inversion in Spain. I take it back now! I never expected a glacier, mountains, and a glorious inversion. Still in Switzerland, with Italy as the farthest island in the sky.

Next flight. I needed to move the plane before the runway was closed for a bit. It was windier than I liked, though I could stay low if I wanted and avoid it. A high-time pilot seemed nonplussed (“There is no point flying backwards”), other than to indicate that “its usually rough over Martigny.” So I went there on the way to Mt. Blanc. Over the pass to France, I broke my record for the slowest groundspeed yet: 35kt with 39kt winds. It was smooth over the pass and upwind of terrain. Before someone gets too carried away with my apparent silliness, I got passed while in the pass (aircraft in the image below). There was a lot of air traffic for a windy day.

Blowing snow on north slope of Mt. Blanc. Just don’t get close…..or downwind of it.

Next flight. Third snow of the season. Climbing out over Dent du Morcles.

Mt. Blanc (4809m / 15,777′). Highest in the Alps. Note blowing snow below. Winds at 15,000′ were 50kt over Grenoble and 20kt over Turin. I came across another airplane and a helicopter here, all of us intelligently upwind. The wave was perfectly smooth, giving climb rates above 12,000 feet in excess of engine power at 4,000 feet. 

Grandes Jorasses (4000m+). Italy right rear, Switzerland left rear, France foreground).

This flight was the coup de grace! Massif du Chablais below (10,686′) with Mt Blanc on the horizon).

Dent du Géant rear left (4013m / 13,166′) with Aiguille du Midi below. I had dreamt of wave clouds like this since the first flight over Mt. Blanc.

While I’d like to believe that’s blowing snow on the summit of Mt. Blanc, I think part of it is orographic cloud formation. 

Above the wave, sloped to the left above the Aiguille Verte (4122m / 13,524′). It was an illustrious flight.


I have now released book #19 “Mountain Texture: The Pyrenees from the Sky.”

Garrett Fisher is an aerial adventure photographer, having photographed some of the most rugged and wild terrain in America from his 1949 Piper PA-11. After living in Germany with the Cub, he recently moved to the Spanish Pyrenees to continue the flying adventure. He has published six aerial photography books covering the Colorado Rockies, Wyoming, high terrain in the Southeast, and the Outer Banks, with more US and European books in the pipeline. He blogs regularly about his flights at www.garrettfisher.me.

New Me, New We

A future Aviatrix at Fresno/Chandler Airport day

When we start off our training in aviation we become new. In many ways, instruction and experience transform us into an aviator. The training syllabus takes us from ground school, to first lesson, written exam, medical, first solo and on to checkride. For many, trying to think about our life before aviation is difficult. We press on for advanced ratings, type certificates and aircraft ownership. The transformation from the person gazing skyward hoping for wings, to the certificated pilot ensures a new “me”.

This young man is studying to be an airplane mechanic

Now I am going to say something dramatic, stop just going to aviation events. Instead I challenge you to join the “we” culture versus staying in the “me” culture. As aviators committed to being lifetime learners, we are constantly focused on ourselves as individuals, and rightly so. When we are focused on “me” we fly to an aviation event for a fuel discount, or to hear a favorite speaker for free, or to buy some raffle tickets for donated prizes. There is nothing wrong with that. I love to support GA events especially the smaller ones. But I want you to take a moment to think about how you could connect with the event, become part of the “we”.

Over the past week I attended “Remember When 5th Annual Airport Day” at Fresno/Chandler airport in the Central Valley of California, presented Exit the Holding Pattern: Achieve your Aviation Goals in San Diego for the San Diego Aviation Safety Counselors, and will attend the Central Coast AirFest this weekend in Santa Maria, California The thing that all three of these events have in common is the We Team, of volunteers. Volunteering doesn’t have to be particularly time consuming or technical. Most events need volunteers in all capacities. Think about your talents and get involved.

The Remember When event was a nice combination of two of the three tiers in airport protection and GA promotion: grass roots local level plus the state level. I attended as a Vice President of California Pilots Association. We had a fun booth that drew in current members, prospective members and those wanting to learn to fly. The whole event was quintessentially GA, airplanes on display, awesome fuel discount, car show, good food and educational seminars. It takes nearly 100 volunteers to put on this annual event.

On Thursday I presented Exit the Holding Pattern: Achieve your Aviation Goals for the San Diego Aviation Safety Counselors monthly WINGS event. I am sure many of you attend safety seminars in your community, but how many of you volunteer in some capacity? In the case of the San Diego event there were numerous volunteers who arrived 30 minutes before and stayed the same after. Organizing speakers for a monthly event is a big job. Think about who you know who presents workshops, or how you can help with your local events.

Large crowd at Exit the Hold: Achieve your Aviation Goals presentation

This coming weekend is the Central Coast AirFest in Santa Maria, CA. This is the second year of the event. The AirFest is in collaboration with the Santa Maria Airport District and many community sponsors.   The two-day show offers aerobatics, military, and radio-controlled aircraft demonstrations. This year’s headliner is the F-16 Viper Demonstration Team from Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina. The Viper demonstration will end with a dazzling pyrotechnics display. The event is expected to attract over 15,000 over the weekend. An event this size cannot happen without a team of hundreds of volunteers. Aviation lovers who simply sit back and merely attend events will miss out on the camaraderie, behind-the-scenes access, and the satisfaction of bringing an event to successful fruition.

Five-Cities Fire brings toys for the kids at Toys for Tots

The flying season might be coming to an end due to weather for many around the country. But it’s not too late to check out the AOPA calendar or sites like Social Flight to check out remaining 2019 events, such as  December 7th Oceano Airport Toys for Tots.  Better yet, contact the organizer and volunteer. Let your new “me”, turn in to a new “we”. Come be part of it all. See you all out there!

Jolie Lucas is a Mooney owner, licensed psychotherapist, and instrument rated pilot working on her commercial. Jolie is a nationally-known aviation presenter at Sun n Fun, EAA Oshkosh and AOPA Regionals, Aviation Mastery and others. Jolie is a published aviation writer in AOPA Pilot, Flying Magazine, MAPA Log, among others. Jolie is the Vice President of the California Pilots Association. She is the 2010 AOPA Joseph Crotti Award recipient for GA Advocacy. Email: [email protected] Web: www.JolieLucas.com Twitter: Mooney4Me

Alaska’s Fire Season isn’t over yet: Check for TFRs

With the unusually dry weather in south central Alaska, and rash of late season wildfires, Temporary Flight Restrictions are again popping up in different areas.  DNR has observed numerous light aircraft flying thorough TFR’s along the Parks Highway.

Please check TFR’s and stay clear when they are active.  While sources like SkyVector.com and tfr.faa.gov make it easy to see a visual representation of TFR’s and the scheduled active times, give a call to Flight Service for the current status.

The mid-air collision (or FAA infraction) you avoid, may be your own!

An example  TFR display on SkyVector.com showing the associated active times. Check with FSS for current status.

GA Safety in Alaska: A conversation with Robert Sumwalt and Richard McSpadden

Robert Sumwalt, Chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, is himself a pilot with extensive experience in the airline world.

The Alaskan Aviation Safety Foundation and Alaska Airmen Association are continuing their Hangar Talk seminar series with a conversation on general aviation safety in Alaska. Taking advantage of having NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt and AOPA Air Safety Institute Executive Director Richard McSpadden in Alaska, you are invited to join us for a discussion on this topic. Moderated by the Airmen Government Affairs Liaison, Adam White, this session provides an opportunity to explore how Alaska aviation safety compares with the rest of the country, the unique challenges we face, and possible mitigations to help increase aviation safety in the state. It also provides a chance to understand how NTSB and the AOPA Air Safety Institute function and address aviation safety challenges. Bring your questions and join the conversation!

Richard McSpadden, Executive Director of the AOPA Air Safety Institute, has a strong background in GA, corporate and military aviation.

The session will be held on Thursday, Sept. 5, 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Alaska Airmen Association Building on Lake Hood.   Refreshments will be served. The session will also be broadcast by the Airmen on Facebook Live.

This event precedes the NTSB Roundtable: Alaska Part 135 Flight Operations, which takes place the following day, Sept. 6.  For information on that event see the NTSB Notice.

From How to Wow: Saying Yes to Opportunity

Welcome to Oshkosh 2019

2019 was my tenth year attending EAA Airventure in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. I have flown commercially twice, but normally fly myself in my 1965 Mooney M20E, Maggie. It never fails to amaze me that I can leave the beaches of the Central Coast of California fly over the desert, up and over the Rockies, through the Great Plains, and then in to rich farmlands. What a gift to have the freedom to fly.

Kick your Bucket List to the Curb

I love brain stuff.  I study motivation, personality, flexible thinking and communication in order to help folks lead their best lives. I like working with people who are feeling overwhelmed, have high stress, or are unable to do the things in life that they want to. I know it can be daunting to live a life that is out-of-balance. So I help my clients around the country get ready for the next phase of their life. In my presentation Exit the Holding Pattern I explain how to identify new way points,  set a new course, and hit ENTER on your life plan.

In life there are “How” people and “Wow” people. Wow people are passionate, excitable, full of energy and see possibilities in life without knowing exactly how they are going to get there. How people are the folks who like to plan, measure, follow procedures and manage. Sometimes the How person gets stuck because they cannot see the path to their goals. I believe strongly that we are all given gifts. It is our job to determine the best use of those talents. For me, I had to change my experience of How into Wow for Oshkosh. Let me explain. A few weeks before I was to leave I found out that about 80% of my work had vanished. So I was left with the reality of having a pretty empty schedule and pocketbook from purchasing stock for my booth. After an initial, “What the heck?” I decided to re-calibrate my gyros and take advantage of opportunities that in years past I had to refuse because of work duties. I decided to turn the “how”, as in “How am I going to afford a week off work, paying for the apparel purchased, and expectations from others into a “wow?” Well it turned out that the Wow was pretty spectacular. I thought I would share some of the events that can only happen through aviation. Airplane people are the best people. My hope is that you might be inspired to strive to make more Wow moments in your life.

En route: Santa Maria, CA- Banning, CA-St. Johns AZ-Borger TX-Kansas City.MO-Middleton, WI

I was invited to a cool party called Rock the Ramp [Middleton, WI] by Cory Robin. Cory is a founding member of the STOL group the Flying Cowboys. The Cowboys are aviation ambassadors, no doubt about it. And from the looks of it, Wow people.

I had never been to Middleton, and never been to a party featuring the fun-loving Cowboys, so I did what every person committed to saying “yes” does. I booked a room at Middleton and flew IFR to the quaint airport just outside of Madison.

Chris Muntwyler and me

The airport was hopping, mostly with high wing bush planes. But soon enough I had landed and taxied up to the FBO. It was about 93 degrees and 100% humidity, but inside the FBO was air-conditioned and comfortable. The crew car was out, but I called the hotel and they said they would come and get me in the next 20 minutes or so.

Sitting on the couch was a friendly looking fellow with a European accent and next to him a younger fellow with a long beard. As is the case in most airports, a conversation ensued, and business cards were exchanged. My card has a photo of my airplane taken over OSH on a pro photo shoot. Chris Muntwyler, the Swiss living mostly in Sweden, said, said, “This airplane looks just like a Swedish girl I know.” I said, “Pia Bergqvist? She is one of my best friends. Our planes were both painted by ArtCraft Paint in Santa Maria, CA.”  Chris has an extensive aviation background having served on the boards of Swiss Air and Pilatus. We took a selfie for Pia.  Just like that, with a smile and a selfie, a new friendship was sealed.

Rock the Ramp

Rock the Ramp was a total blast. What a slice of GA. The fire department had a couple of different engines on display, there was a great BBQ, lots of bush planes, helicopter tours were buzzing, and a Polka band was playing. I got to visit with Chris bit more and he gave me a tour of an Aviat Husky. I also met up with Scott Lysne who is a long-time volunteer at Oshkosh. He asked if I wanted to volunteer on the smoke-oil team for the airshow performers. Guess what my answer was.

The Aviat Husky

Approach in to Appleton in Actual

 

 

This year I decided to fly into Appleton and park at Platinum Flight Center for the week. This was another IFR flight in actual conditions. There was a combination of very unstable air, turbulence and clouds. I asked for the ILS to runway 30. Little did I know but this would be my first approach in actual down to minimums. I know it has been said before, but when I looked up and saw the clouds part, and that runway right in front of me, it was like OH YEAH.

Mother Nature

Several years ago, I flew into OSH with the Mooney Caravan mass arrival. I made my own tie downs using 12-inch tent stakes nailed, crisscross, into angle iron and tied with ratchet straps. Maggie was parked in the number one grass spot just behind a hangar row, and there was a culvert right behind. There were about a half dozen airplanes tied down my row.  We knew a storm was brewing, but not the magnitude. Mother Nature was going to give us a show.

I headed over to OSH thinking I would be announcing the Mooney Caravan arrival, but the impending storm kept them safely on the ground in Madison. I went by the Mooney booth, dropped off a few things, then the storm hit. I was in the car backing out when cement blocks started flying, and sheets of rain pounded down. After lunch, the storm had passed and I felt I needed to drive back to Appleton to check on Maggie. I was greeted at the door by the same line guy who helped me tie down. “Maggie is fine” he said. One look at his face told me that something was terribly wrong. Arriving at the line, indeed my airplane was still firmly tied down. The story for the brand new XCub and Carbon Cub was not a happy one.

They had become airborne in their tie-downs when the wind shifted direction. Both planes tore loose and flipped over into the culvert. He said several of the line guys were trying to hold the airplane down until the wind changed direction. The owners of the planes were out surveying the damage and watching the mission to get the airplanes back on their wheels. Everyone was in good spirits, all pitching in. Metal and fabric could be replaced.

Smoke Oil Team

I met Scott Lysne at the Weeks Hangar [where many of the air show performers are located]. I received some safety equipment and a briefing and we were off. We filled up the Aeroshell Aerobatic Team, Sean Tucker, Kyle Franklin and a few more. It was such a hoot to be driving down the taxiway and to meet some of the performers. I know the thousands of volunteers needed for an event as large as Oshkosh, but it never occurred to me that smoke oil delivery was one of them. I ran in to Julie Clark at the Weeks Hangar and told her I what I was up to, “God bless you!” she said. Julie’s last performance at Oshkosh was stunning and moving. Since she is retiring from airshows, she told me she wanted to become more active in California Pilots Association of which she is a life-time member.

Toot Sweet: EAA Airventure Concert Band

I have played alto sax in the EAA Concert band for 8 or 9 years, I have lost count. There were 70 of us this year. Directed by Elton Eisele the band performs before the Tuesday airshow and have a Wednesday evening concert. We played music from the Greatest Showman, Captain America and the Avengers among others. I suppose my favorite part of being a volunteer in the band is when we perform Salute to America’s Finest a medley of all the armed forces hymns. As we play their tune veterans rise and the audience applauds. I always tear up and sometimes it is hard to continue playing. The camaraderie in the band is beyond compare.

Exit the Holding Pattern

The birthday girl, on her way to getting her PPL.

For the past few years, I have presented a one-hour workshop This fast paced, multi-media presentation explores human factors, brain science, and personality in decision-making, motivation, and follow-through. I had a lively audience at AOPA on Saturday, full of folks who wanted to become a pilot, get an airplane, earn a new rating, or make a business move. Exit the Holding Pattern has generous support from King Schools and Lift Aviation for door prizes. Malonie Ayers, who works at Sun ‘n Fun attended and it happened to be her birthday. She has always wanted to become a pilot, but as with many of us, the How got in the way. Malonie received a Wow birthday gift from King Schools in the form of a certificate for her Private Pilot course.

My computer decided that the 90 degree weather was just a bit much and it started lagging. I am pretty picky about my audio visuals, sound etc. with any presentation. The gremlin that was plaguing my system wasn’t about to give up. Instead of fretting, I decided to make the flaw an example of how humans prefer to think in known-patterns. Flexible thinking can be quite difficult. Our brains like to go down well-worn goat trails of thought. “Practice what you preach”, my Dad used to say to me. So with sweat on my brow, we laughed and soldiered on, saying yes to experience even when it wasn’t my preference.

Infinity and Beyond

Prior to Oshkosh I planned to go on holiday sometime in September. One of my best buddies from Oregon was going to come up with three possible destinations. Her only marching orders were: 1) must use passport; 2) must be beautiful; 3) cannot be Mexico or Canada [too close to home]. As the result of saying yes to life, friendships borne of Oshkosh, and generosity of my aviation family, we received a lovely invitation to go to Switzerland, do some GA flying in an Aviat Husky and maybe a Mooney,  tour the Pilatus factory and head to the South of France to stay in a 200 year-old farmhouse. We leave in early September. If that isn’t wow, I don’t know what is.

Jolie Lucas is a Mooney owner, licensed psychotherapist, and instrument rated pilot working on her commercial. Jolie is a nationally-known aviation presenter at Sun n Fun, EAA Oshkosh and AOPA Regionals, Aviation Mastery and others. Jolie is a published aviation writer in AOPA Pilot, Flying Magazine, MAPA Log, among others. Jolie is the Vice President of the California Pilots Association. She is the 2010 AOPA Joseph Crotti Award recipient for GA Advocacy. Email: [email protected] Web: www.JolieLucas.com Twitter: Mooney4Me

A lesson in “Diversity” for every pilot

Diversity: Understanding that each individual is unique, and recognizing our individual differences

With 7.71 billion people on our planet it’s hard to imagine we are all unique, especially when you consider that everything in the universe came from one unimaginably small singularity—the Big Bang. Even so, most of us look, sound, and act differently than anyone else.

Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B) equipped aircraft are similarly unique, as each has an individual identification code derived from the aircraft’s registration number. This code is transmitted by each aircraft’s ADS-B device, along with position, altitude, speed, direction, and other data. This information is received, processed, and retransmitted by dedicated ground stations, allowing others to recognize and follow us wherever we go. The Citizen of the World will be tracked globally during her polar circumnavigation using ADS-B.

Neil Aviation, San Diego

Matt Desch, the CEO of Iridium, explained that in order for the Citizen of the World to be tracked at all times during her world peace mission connecting the South Pole to the North Pole and everywhere in between, she will need “diversity.” Diversity is implemented by installing a second ADS-B transponder antenna on the top of the airplane in addition to the antenna installed on the bottom. This will allow her to be tracked over the oceans (and any other location where there are no ground stations) by the constellation of 66 Iridium NEXT low earth orbit satellites that came online earlier this year.

Allow me to nerd out for a brief second. Real-time flight data is sent from the ADS-B transponders to the Iridium NEXT satellites, and through a partnership with Aireon the data is sent to ground stations for use by air traffic control and other entities. This data is also used by our friends at FlightAware.com, a website where you type in an aircraft’s registration number and can track its altitude, speed and location. Iridium NEXT has made possible a “100 percent” global air traffic surveillance system that will increase safety, enhance efficiency, improve predictability, expand capacity, and lower costs. These benefits will, in turn, result in a significant reduction of carbon in the atmosphere—the equivalent of removing 300,000 cars a year from the roads. This is a true win-win situation.

To showcase this capability, the Citizen of the World will be the first aircraft to be tracked globally using ADS-B during a polar circumnavigation.

Now do I have your attention?

While this seems simple enough in concept, in practice it is not. Although very few transponders are currently capable of diversity, the Lynx NGT-9000 from L3 is. It’s a very compact, yet robust system that provides ADS-B Out functionality along with ADS-B In traffic and weather. It has a bright, high resolution touchscreen and also offers terrain avoidance and active traffic. The NGT-9000 is packaged as either a transponder-sized panel mounted instrument or a remotely mounted box. Amazing!

Canada will soon require that all aircraft operating in specified airspace have ADS-B Out with diversity. This will enable them to use Iridium NEXT for air traffic control without the expense and complexity of ground radar installations and the associated infrastructure. You can see the writing on the wall. It’s just a matter of time until every country on the planet requires this.

Adding diversity capability to the Citizen of the World will not be straightforward because the antenna installation must pass through the pressure vessel, requiring extensive documentation by an FAA Designated Engineering Representative. These documents will be then be submitted to the local FAA Flight Standards District Office for approval.

Acquiring the ADS-B diversity equipment and designing and documenting the installation are relatively easy. The hardest part these days is finding an avionics shop that has time for an installation. Most shops are already booked to the end of the year with aircraft trying to meet the January 1, 2020 FAA mandate for ADS-B Out.

Neil Aviation in San Diego installed the panel on my former airplane, the Spirit of San Diego, as well as the Avidyne panel on the Citizen of the World. The owner, Garrett Neal, has stepped up once again to help me with diversity. Garrett saw the importance of our mission of One Planet, One People, One Plane, and realizes that the Citizen will have very high visibility as it undertakes its unique journey. He went out of his way to make time for this project. For that, I am incredibly grateful.

Is there a downside to ADS-B In/Out besides the initial time, cost, and frustration to install? There is speculation that the data collected might one day lead to changes in how the airspace system operates but we’ll need to wait awhile and see.

With respect to being unique, there are certainly advantages and disadvantages for both airplanes and for people. Only time will tell if the benefits outweigh the costs.

Robert DeLaurentis is a successful real estate entrepreneur and investor, pilot, speaker, philanthropist, and author of Zen Pilot and Flying Thru Life. A Gulf War veteran, Robert received his pilot’s license in 2009, completed his first circumnavigation in 2015, and is currently preparing for his South Pole to North Pole expedition in the “Citizen of the World,” taking off November 2019 with his mission, “Oneness for Humanity: One Planet, One People, One Plane.” For more information, visit PoletoPoleFlight.com.

Errands at 15,000 Feet

To understand this flight, it becomes necessary to dial things back to last summer spent in Switzerland. I had a very specific list of things I wanted to fly to: the 82 peaks over 4,000 meters (13,123 feet) in the Alps, located in France, Italy, and Switzerland. I thought I had successfully completed the task, except when I went to work on writing the book, I noted that two were missing, and a third clump of peaks would be better suited with different photographs. How could I have come this far, photographed everything large I saw, and missed two? Well, I did that in Colorado back in 2014 when I chased the 58 fourteeners; I missed one and fortunately was able to get it before moving the airplane to North Carolina (it happened to be the closest one to the airport). The nefarious peaks in question in the Alps shared a characteristic of the lone peak of Colorado: They were some of the smallest on the list, thus appearing inconsequential when surrounded by their larger brethren.

I concocted the brilliant idea to get all three in one flight. The Aiguilles du Diable in France (4,074 meters/13,366 feet), Punta Giordani in Italy (4,046 meters/13,274 feet), and the Dürrenhorn in Switzerland (4,035 meters/13,238 feet). It should have been doable in theory, except there was this pernicious reality called an overcast over the Oberland. I figured it would be touch and go to get back to Saanen, so I planned on fueling in Sion if things delayed and that I’d sort it out if the overcast didn’t lessen as planned.

When I got to Gstaad Airport, there were plenty of airplanes flying around, including a PC-24 doing touch and goes. Given that it’s a VFR-only field, there must have been some egress out of the Oberland. I took off, planning to go west via Les Mosses, though there was a business jet up to something I wasn’t sure of, so I turned south over Gstaad, continuing to Gsteig, where a tiny hole in the overcast appeared. It was far too amorphous to climb through, so I continued west over the pass to Ormont-Dessus, then Leysin toward my escape to the sunny Rhône valley. From there it was a full power climb all the way to the Mont Blanc Massif, then eastbound past Grand Combin (4,314 meters/14,154 feet). Clouds were 40 percent coverage over the high peaks, requiring flying around them at 13,500 feet, with relatively clear skies elsewhere, meaning that they were orographic summer lift. I had originally hoped to blast straight to the Dürrenhorn from Saanen, except I now had to reverse the plan.

I came across the Matterhorn (4,478 meters/14,692 feet) in its illustrious cloud-forming glory, then had some angst that the Monte Rosa Massif appeared to be covered in clouds on the south side where Punta Giordani was hiding. It then occurred to me that there were clouds the other handful of times I swung by, and I probably didn’t notice this smaller peak because it was hidden. Thankfully, the clouds parted for a minute on the Italian side of the ridge, so I got my photo and moved on.

From there I went north back into Switzerland toward the Mischabel Group, in pursuit of the Dürrenhorn. Yet again clouds were billowing up, with Dom visible, though not Dürrenhorn below. Perhaps again the same thing happened? Well, no, upon recollection it was completely clear when I flew here last. The problem is the Dürrenhorn is not exciting compared to massive ice caps nearby.

I went over the ridge between two peaks shrouded in clouds, distracted a bit by the beauty of the scene, hoping I could come around the north side and swoop down to get the peak. Fortunately, the clouds were clear from the angle of the Nadelhorn, so after some fancy footwork around moving clouds, I got a shot and moved on.

Rhône Valley, clear of clouds. Altitude roughly 8,000 feet.

Massif du Chablais (10,686 feet). I showed my [nonpilot] wife this photo, and it might as well have been an image of an airplane crash.

Aiguilles du Diable, France (foreground), Mt. Blanc (ice cap-covered background). One can understand why, when I spent my time above the highest summit, that I didn’t notice these rocks below.

The Matterhorn (14,692 feet), from Italy.

Punta Giordani, Italy, yet again below. Signalkuppe (14,940 feet) was above and behind me.

Dom, Switzerland (14,911 feet) in the clouds, a pleasant surprise.

That meant Dürrenhorn (13,238 feet – how piddling) would be at risk of being shrouded. Fortunately it was clear enough to sneak a view.

Now that my errands were done, I had to figure out what I was going to do about getting back to base. I could see that the entire Oberland and Swiss Plateau were socked in from above, with no holes. I decided then that I’d burn off my excessive altitude by cruising west along the Bernese Alps and land at Sion. I requested permission to cross the TMA, which was granted, and then my ability to transmit stopped working.

I did the whole triple radio battery swap. No change. Tried other frequencies. No change. I could hear, just not speak. If I did the squawk 7600 routine, I’d be let into Sion, though likely not out until the radio was fixed. What a bother! I thought a bit about trying to make a go at Les Mosses and land at Saanen, where a radio was not needed. If the pass was open and no further problems developed, it would work, though that’s it, with no buffer for fuel. That was as dumb of an idea as it sounded, so I opted for Bex, a short grass strip which technically requires prior permission. I landed without incident and found that the radio problem was the mic connection dislodged lightly.

For the flight back into the Oberland, it was evident Les Mosses was open, as well was the overcast in the process of clearing. Since I know little about the vagaries of poor weather in Switzerland, I wasn’t going to play with all the things that could go wrong in high, steep terrain with overcast. At any rate, after almost four hours of technically challenging, ice cold, unpredictable flying, I decided that the flight was a silly idea. Did I really need to hit them all up in one binge session? “There is no reason this needs to be difficult. The next flight I am going to make enjoyable, period.”

Is this idiot whining about flying in the Alps? No, just disapproving of my own unrealistic ambitions. The mere fact that I have flown to these peaks in the past doesn’t make them easy in the future.

The view from 12,500 feet of the Oberland. Home base is in the distant right. 

Approaching the Rhône valley for landing at Bex, 9,000 feet below the cloud deck. Bernese Alps, Switzerland in the foreground, Mont Blanc, France (15,774 feet) in the background.

Les Mosses pass, flight altitude 5,600 feet.

I definitely lived up to my decision on the next flight five days later. Münster is a small field located high in the Goms Valley of eastern Valais (known as the “Texas of Switzerland”). It is open for June through August and is located at 4,400 feet in a deep valley. I contacted the airport manager, got permission (once I described my mountain experience), confirmed fuel, and set off.

Weather was uncharacteristically dry. There were almost no clouds or haze in the Oberland, which is unusual, with glorious blue skies. I had a rough idea of where I might go, though was only constrained by arriving at my destination before the fuel ran out. In flight, I saw that terrain on the northern edge of the Alps was completely clear, so I hung out at 7,700 feet and photographed major terrain from below, as I had hoped to do for last month’s post (and ended up above the clouds at 13,500 feet instead).

The flight was positively glorious.

I continued east over the Sustenpass, south to Andermatt, west to Furkapass, then down the Goms Valley, eventually to land at Münster once the glider traffic jam cleared up. Münster is practically heaven. Scenery was exquisite, with the sound of the turquoise rushing Rhône River alongside the airport, blue sky, remaining snow from last winter on a few peaks, and illustrious green trees and grass. If the airport was open year-round, I would have moved to that valley.

The airport manager asked where I was from, and when I said Upstate New York, he said he has relatives in Rochester. I pointed to the Cub and told him that “I soloed that airplane 45 minutes from Rochester.” Another pilot came over and we chatted for over 20 minutes. He did some training in Cubs in the Swiss military when he was young and was raving about how wonderful the airplane was. Some advice he was taught: “Make sure you come at a peak with the proper altitude in advance, as the airplane does not have the power to climb.”

He articulated his surprise that I showed up. “Who would imagine a Piper from America, here in Münster?” Well, I concur! I never imagined that this Piper would end up in the Valais, either.

I was going to head west and figure out a way to get over the Bernese Alps on the way back to Saanen. The problem was that there were a few orographic clouds, and wind was bumpy over the passes. I wasn’t sure about how to get over without getting beat up, so I decided on climb out to head over the Grimselpass. That was the right call as there was a fair amount of wind per the lakes at the pass, though no bumps. I then descended down to 1,000 feet agl over the Brienzersee, cruising right over Interlaken, then back into the Oberland for landing before the 8 p.m. deadline.

I had some time at the airport afterward, as I needed to change the oil and there were some aggravations to sort out, typical of being in a new place. That afforded a classic hour in evening light after a long day of flying. I was the happiest I have been since I can remember after a flight, rating it probably in the top ten of all time. I suppose the difference is merely perspective.

Golitschepass (7,148 feet) in the foreground in the Oberland, Bernese Alps in the background.

Oeschinensee (5,177 feet surface elevation). I am usually 6,000 feet or more above it after a Jungfrau binge.


Lauterbrunnen (below) with Mittelhorn, Schreckhorn, Eiger, Mönch, and the Jungfrau (left to right). Flight path was a bit right, straight ahead, then left beneath the peaks in the back.

Jungfrau (13,641 feet) from 7,700 feet altitude. To get a wide angle vertical of something so high above a high-wing airplane, it is necessary to bank 50 to 60 degrees to the left.

Across from Grindelwald, I came across an interesting opening in the mountain range.

So I went into it and found a veritable cathedral. 

Ischmeer, with Grosses Fiescherhorn (13,280 feet) in the rear. A bit of katabatic wind off the glacier, which is normal apparently when I get that close and they are that big. Still figuring that part out.

Ober Ischmeer. This was a very tight situation, even for a Cub. I could not discern my agl visually, as there were no trees, people, or buildings, so everything is subjective. Looking at Google Maps on terrain mode later, I figured out I was 500 feet above the glacier. 

Out of the cathedral. Rather vertical rock above Grindelwald, continuing east.

Three layers of mountains in the foreground. The valley to the Grimselpass eventually opens to the right. Winds got frisky in here.

Andermatt.

Grimselpass, from the south.

Münster, looking south. I was nearly scraping the trees on the other side of the airplane. It’s a Swiss thing….

Münster, looking north, scraping the trees behind me again.

Climbing out uphill…slowly. Goms Valley.

More altitude…still in the Goms Valley, with the Rhône River below and its headwaters on the horizon.

Grimselpass. A forced landing would be better suited with floats.

Interlaken, looking back up toward Jungfrau.

Climbing into the Oberland.

Gstaad, about to enter the circuit. 

Garrett Fisher is an aerial adventure photographer, having photographed some of the most rugged and wild terrain in America from his 1949 Piper PA-11. After living in Germany with the Cub, he recently moved to the Spanish Pyrenees to continue the flying adventure. He has published six aerial photography books covering the Colorado Rockies, Wyoming, high terrain in the Southeast, and the Outer Banks, with more US and European books in the pipeline. He blogs regularly about his flights at www.garrettfisher.me.

Switzerland

We decided to head to Switzerland again for the summer, which presented the obligation of flying the Cub there. The first weekend I chose had the unfortunate reality of being infernal heatwave in Europe, where temperatures in France reached 113F and 102F in Cerdanya, exceeding the previous high that I had experienced in the Pyrenees of 95F. It is generally a temperate place without extremes, so this was pretty warm. After my punishing trip to Texas in the heat, humidity, and thermals of an early Southern heatwave a month prior, I wasn’t in the mood to repeat myself, so I delayed.

A window showed up to go a week later, with sunny weather in the Pyrenees, France, and the western Alps, so I took my chances, even though it was supposed to be warm.

As the day approached and I undertook flight planning exercises, I noted a trepidation brewing, which caused me initially to do a thorough check of the airplane a couple of days before leaving. Was this some sort of deep intuition about a problem that I was ignoring? On careful examination, it occurred to me that I had pause crossing France, which I didn’t understand, as I had done it five times in the past. One factor is that, each time, I insist upon going a slightly different way, as the southern half of France features a wide variety of things to see in a narrow band of 75 miles. That adds technical burden to the flight, some of which I forget about each time, inclusive of a French fuel card, special military zones to be checked, flight plans, a byzantine web of restricted areas unlike anything in America, fuel status of airports, landing and handling fees, language restrictions, and a flight plan for customs clearance into Switzerland.

Now I knew what my problem was: crossing France is a tremendous amount of work where lots can go wrong. One could easily find himself marooned at an airport with no ability to fuel and not enough fuel to make an alternate, meaning an early night in a hotel.

The departure out of the Pyrenees was interesting, as a morning inversion developed, which I could clear easily, only to plunge into MVFR Saharan dust that was in a layer 6,000 feet and higher, a first where the haze is only at high altitude. At one point I was concerned it would go IFR, and then it suddenly cleared to a hot and hazy summer day over the French foothills. Proceeding north, it was quite hot, so I stayed up at 5,000 feet, descending slowly once I got past some Mediterranean hills. As I approached a control zone, I asked for clearance from flight following to get through it (something they usually will relay). I was handed to Rodez Info, who told me there “is a strike today in Clermont-Ferrand, so there will be no Info service.” I tried calling the tower and was too far away, so I ducked under the cake, now tossed around in heat and thermals.

This went on awhile as I approached the highlands of the Massif Central near the Cantal Mountains. It is a dormant stratovolcano which has partially eroded away, creating some interesting faux above timberline terrain. Since Info service was on strike, I couldn’t get status of the restricted area, which meant I couldn’t quite see the peak I wanted to overfly. Hot and sweaty after my low altitude jaunt around Rodez, bumped by thermals, wishing I was at my destination, I began to lose faith in the gospel of aviation that ‘more flying is better.’

Fuel was at Saint-Flour, then off to the eastern Massif Central timberlands, down to the Rhône River for my ceremonial crossing, a reflection of past stories while sneaking by Grenoble’s airspace, glancing at fertile farmlands that I recall distinctly from the flight down from Germany in 2016.

Cantal Mountains, France. Maximum elevation 6,086′.

Timberlands in eastern Massif Central. Trees look quite healthy and there is some logging activity.


Crossing the Rhône River.

Farmland in the Rhône River valley.

Fuel was a GA airport outside of Chambéry, choosing a non-controlled field to avoid the mile walk required to pay a 5 euro landing fee at the larger airport north of town. Instead the field was a “French only” airport, a reality one must contend with in places in France, where all radio communication is strictly in French. It was a poor day to arrive, as gliders were swarming like gnats. I waited until traffic subsided, slipped in for fuel, noticing a very specific indifference by individuals on the ground, and after 15 minutes of glider winch activity and landings, found a window to takeoff for the final leg into Switzerland.

My questions about whether I was enjoying myself went away once I began cruising in the Pre-Alps a few minutes later. It is technically a separate mountain range that looks like the foothills of the Alps. Elevations tend to top out in the 4,000’ to 8,000’ range, with thick pine forests, exposed rock, and occasional ridges that look like the Alps.

The Pre-Alps gave way to the Chablais Alps at the border of Switzerland, and my disposition went from fatigue to pure joy. Vertical spires of rocks, small glaciers, remaining June snow, and thunderous waterfalls abounded. I climbed to about 8,000 feet to swing by the Massif du Chablais, a ridge that taunts us from the chalet in Switzerland, and from there swung by Les Diablerets and made my cruise into the Bernese Oberland, to land at Gstaad Airport, where the airplane will spend the summer.

Col de Bornette in the French Pre-Alps. I came from the left and crossed this same pass when flying to Switzerland last year.

Mont Fleuri, France, still in the Pre-Alps (8238′ / 2511m).

Mont Blanc in the background.


Switzerland, how I love you.  Les Dents Blanches (8533′ to 9042′ / 2601m to 2756m).


Massif du Chablais.

Bernese Oberland.

I was extremely content with my choice of location, and after literally “planes, trains, and automobiles,” I was back in Cerdanya the next day, and we drove to Switzerand the day after that. A few days after arriving a nice day was forecast, at least with respect to the fact it is sunny. I am still trying to figure out why one front means clear air, or another means a sunny day with incredible haze, or it means haze in one elevation or area, yet not in another.

Anyhow, I hoped to photograph Lake Geneva in summer light angles, though the morning showed sunny skies with horrific haze. I decided to go up anyway and “swing by the Jungfrau but at an altitude that isn’t 14,000 feet.” Given that it was to be sunny, I figured I could get some angles that never really made sense to try while based in Sion, as terrain is something quite severe and takes a lot of fuel to climb Sion over the Alps, back down to where humans live, then back up over the Alps, and quickly back down to normal elevations.

It didn’t take long in the air to decide I needed to clear the clouds over the Oberland, which I did in a hole over a massive waterfall in Adelboden. From there, the clouds were 50% coverage and clearly went to 11,000 feet, so I’d have to clear them. I wanted to see the Jungfrau, and it would be even better if it was sticking out above the clouds. Snaking east, I climbed as I went, hugging terrain, avoiding clouds, and thoroughly enjoying myself. Eventually I popped out at 12,000’ north of a sizable glacier, noting that the clouds were effectively piling up on the north side of the Bernese Alps and getting pushed to higher altitude, drying out on the south side. I finally did get to see the Jungfrau, after climbing to 13,500’, staying on the north side due to a stiff breeze. The air at altitude had perfect visibility, and stunning views.

On the way back west along the ridge, I noted that the clouds had thickened significantly, with less holes and higher heights. It was still clear to the south via the passes, and north out of the Oberland. Eventually I found a hole between Adelboden and Frutigen and corkscrewed down 3,000’ and popped over the pass towark Lenk-Simmental. Humidity and haze had increased greatly under the cloud deck causing carb ice at cruise RPM, though it was restricted to where it piled up against the Alps, indeed an interesting microclimate, as things were dry on the other side in the Rhône valley near Sion and drier 10 miles north of the base of the Bernese Alps. Anyhow, I cruised along the menacing looking ridge before slaloming around Oberland peaks and finally joining the circuit over a rather vertical rock just north of the airport.

While the first flight was one of technical requirement, to get from one point to another, it turned out to be the best and the worst at the same time. I think I can, at this point, finally declare that I do not like cruising at low altitude in thermals on hot summer days (it has taken long enough to cement that preference) yet alongside that displeasure I find the utter transcendental bliss of flight above glaciers well above 10,000 feet, which is simply the most enjoyable thing I have ever done in an airplane.

Rüwlispass (5636′ / 1718m).

Waterfalls above Adelboden.

Gemmipass (7447′ / 2270m).

Hockenhorn, hiding in the clouds (10803′ / 3293m). I gave up trying to climb over it, went to the right in the lee of the pass, and climbed above the clouds in the distance.


Et voila! Üsser Talgletscher. 

Same glacier, looking the other way.

Eiger (13024′ / 3970m). So much for the plan to “photo from below on a clear day.” Its not like I find this disagreeable.

Jungfrau (13642′ / 4158m).

Bernese Alps with clouds backed against them to the north.

And down through the hole above Adelboden.

Cruising along the ridge, where my O-200 turned into an ice machine.

CFIT poster.

Beneath Les Diablerets.

Entering the pattern for Saanen. Standard procedures call for flying above an enormous rock, then making a square pattern around Gstaad. Its a wild airport.

Garrett Fisher is an aerial adventure photographer, having photographed some of the most rugged and wild terrain in America from his 1949 Piper PA-11. After living in Germany with the Cub, he recently moved to the Spanish Pyrenees to continue the flying adventure. He has published six aerial photography books covering the Colorado Rockies, Wyoming, high terrain in the Southeast, and the Outer Banks, with more US and European books in the pipeline. He blogs regularly about his flights at www.garrettfisher.me.
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