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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.

Photo of the Day: Get Your Glass Piper Archer

AOPA’s 2008 sweepstakes airplane was notable for several reasons. We had previous refurbished Pipers, but this was the first time we had awarded an airplane with a brand-new “glass” panel–an Avidyne multifunction display and Aspen Avionics’ first-ever certified primary display. Another notable first for this aircraft was that its winner is a lady. And, unlike many previous winners of AOPA sweepstakes airplanes, she has kept N208GG. Karoline Gorman is an air traffic controller for New York Center and a passionate advocate for animal rescue, and she enjoys flying N208GG on rescue missions.—Jill W. Tallman

Photo of the Day: Piper Super Cub

The gorgeous Piper Super Cub shown here is in trail on a photo shoot over over the modest hills near the Virginia-Maryland border. Its pilot, Nate Foster, was just 17 at the time of this photo shoot–starting his senior year in high school. And that’s not the most interesting part. Nate had returned just a few weeks prior from a cross-country that took him from Maryland to California in that very same airplane. You can read about Nate’s trip in the January 2011 Flight Training (and see another photo of Nate with the gigantic taped-together sectional chart he used to plan his trip).—Jill W. Tallman

Photo of the Day: Cherokee 6

AOPA’s 2006 sweepstakes aircraft was the Win a Six in ’06–a 1967 Cherokee 6 260. Refurbishments to the avionics included an Avidyne TAS600 traffic alert system, a Sandel SN3500 electronic horizontal situation indicator, and an S-TEC System Fifty-Five X autopilot and flight control system. A new interior gave the Six a club seating configuration. A five-color custom paint job was the icing on this beautiful cake. AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Tom Horne discusses the project here ( http://www.aopa.org/sweeps/2006/ ).—Jill W. Tallman

Photo of the Day: AirVenture edition

With the World’s Great Airshow going on this week, we thought we’d focus our Photo of the Day on images found at this year’s EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, Wis. This shot captures some of the Piper Cubs lined up after a mass arrival on July 22. The J-3 Cub turns 75 this year.—Jill W. Tallman

Training showcased at Sun ‘n Fun

Usually airshows such as Sun ‘n Fun and EAA Airventure in Oshkosh are dominated by news from aircraft manufacturers, GPS makers, and headset companies. Rarely is flight training ever discussed or featured. This year’s Sun ‘n Fun was different. There were a number of exciting announcements, including some from AOPA. Here’s a wrap-up:

Redbird

When a simulator company announces the biggest nonairplane order of any company at Sun ‘n Fun, you take notice. Redbird is growing at a breakneck pace, and the company’s $1 million sale to a Brazilian customer was some of the top news of the show. With the simulated ATC program Parrot now shipping, look for more to come.

King Schools

You probably know King Schools from the company’s video training. Now they are getting into the business of requalifying flight instructors. A new Flight Instructor Refresher Clinic will be aimed not at traditional content, such as FARs and aerodynamics, but rather on soft subjects, such as how to make sure your students pass the checkride, and how to get better at teaching risk management. I couldn’t be more excited about this. Flight instructors treat FIRCs much like students treat the written test. It’s a hurdle with little applicability to the real world. I’m hoping the King Schools course is a good step toward changing that.

AOPA

Of course I had to throw in AOPA’s news. The association is doubling down on its efforts to grow the pilot population. We’re creating a center within the organization dedicated to the flight training initiative, and strengthening the pilot community. It’s a sign of the association’s commitment to fixing the problems we face.

As another part of the press conference, we announced the latest winners to the flight training scholarship program. There are some great stories here, so make sure you take a look and apply again later this year if you didn’t win this time.

Piper

Every pilot in the world, and many people who aren’t pilots, recognize the Piper J-3 Cub. Finally, someone who leads Piper Aircraft recognizes them as well. For far too long the company has ignored its flight training heritage and has not embraced its roots. People have a deep love and affection for the Cub, and while Piper has known enough to sell a few hats and T-shirts around the iconic  brand, it’s done nothing to further capitalize on the good feelings the Cub brings about. For the first time in some years, Piper displayed a Cub at the show. No, don’t get too excited because it will be a cold day in product liability litigation before the company will manufacturer them again, but at least they are telling us they get it. And to top it off, new President Simon Caldecott said, “I want to get Piper heavy back into the training business.”

Sennheiser

Didn’t win a flight training scholarship from AOPA? Try again with Sennheiser. The headset company is launching its Live Your Dream campaign, which provides eight $1,500 scholarships. Applications will open in May.

Did you go to Sun ‘n Fun this year? What did you think about the show? What was your impression for those who went for the first time?—Ian J. Twombly

A classic turns 75

Once upon a time, the Piper Cub was, quite simply, what you trained in if you were learning to fly. The ubiquitous Cub–so recognizable that people who have not the slightest interest in flying know it when they see it–turns 75 this year. Here’s a wonderful little video from Piper Aircraft that explains some of the history and magic behind the Cub.

It’s no surprise that the Piper Cub is holding its own in AOPA’s Favorite Aircraft challenge, and there are some who think it’ll win the top spot over the P-51 Mustang. If you’ve flown or are flying a Cub, please do us the honor of sharing some of your thoughts on this airplane in the Comments section.–Jill Tallman
http://youtu.be/v1GZU_VaD40

Your first airplane

Your first airplane and your first kiss. Good or bad, you’ll remember them always.

You may be in the throes of primary training and quite possibly sick to death of yanking and banking your 172, or your Champ, or your Cherokee. But one day you’ll think of that trusty steed and be nostalgic for those days when you were bumping around the pattern trying to nail a perfect landing. That first airplane is the one that opens all the doors for you–the one that shows you what you’re capable of doing as a pilot.

You might even get to revisit those days, as I did last week.

When I started on the road to a pilot certificate, the local flight school had the standard Cessna 172s and Piper PA-28-180s, but it also had a small fleet of Socata Tampico TB9s–low-wing 160-hp four-seat trainers manufactured in France. The TB9s came by the nickname “Slow-Pico” honestly, but they were stable and fairly easy to fly. And they had cool gull-wing doors on both sides. They looked like sports cars–like something John DeLorean would have designed if he’d been an aeronautical engineer. They looked fast, even if they weren’t.

I got my ticket in a TB9 and continued to fly them until 2005, when the flight school decided to update its fleet with glass-cockpit 172s. I estimate that around 300 of my 700 or so hours are in TB9s, and I have around 10 hours in the TB9’s big sister, the Trinidad TB20. When they went away, I missed them for awhile, but I moved on to the Piper Archer and, eventually, to the Cherokee 140 I own today.

Last week I climbed back into the left seat of a TB9 to take a flight for a story that will appear in an upcoming issue of our sister publication, AOPA Pilot. N28216 is actually one that I flew quite a bit in primary training. It’s still based here at KFDK, although my other love, 5557J, has since moved on.

Sitting in 216’s left seat was both alien and familiar, all at once. On the takeoff roll, I was a little heavy-handed on rotation and got a blip of the stall horn (shades of my student days!). The power-off stall was as gentle as I remembered; the power-on stall everybit as jaw-clenching. (The airplane doesn’t want to stall, and you seem to hang vertically for long moments until the break finally happens.) Coming back into the pattern, I again reverted to the good old days and was too high on the final approach. I wondered if I’d thump it on to make my trip down memory lane complete, but thankfully I did not.

That flight triggered a lot of memories. My checkride…my first flight with passengers…a trip to Ocean City, Maryland, with my two children…all in a TB9. The little gull-winged airplane started me on a wonderful journey. So treat your trainer kindly. You’re gonna miss it when it’s gone.–Jill W. Tallman

A tale of two captains

When you see that airline pilot striding through the airport, decked out in full uniform, sometimes it’s hard to believe that he or she started out a student pilot…just like you.

I was reminded of this recently when I received two emails in the same week. Both were in response to “Renter No More,” an article I wrote for the October 2011 issue of AOPA Pilot, Flight Training’s sister publication. In “Renter No More” I described the process by which I came to purchase 7301J, a 1964 Piper Cherokee 140.

I got a lot of lovely feedback from that article, mostly well wishes from other owners and questions from prospective buyers. But two messages were more appropriate for my Flight Training readers.

Christian Moersch wrote to tell me that he took flying lessons two through five in 7301J, back in the 1960s. He flew her at Arnold Palmer Regional Airport in Latrobe, Penn., where she was part of a flight school fleet. “My association with 01J launched a career that continues today,” he wrote. Christian is a Boeing 737 captain for Continental Airlines.

In yesterday’s email came this message from Ed Lavis. He soloed in 7301J on Sept. 2, 1969, also at Latrobe. (He had 9.5 hours under his belt.) He recalls telling himself, “Kid, I hope you know what you are getting into.”

Today, Ed is a 34-year pilot with USAirways. For the last four years, he has been a Boeing 767 captain on international flights, and has flown more than 25,000 hours.

As you progress through your training, take a moment now and then to let it sink in. Christian and Ed are living many a pilot’s dream, and yet they both look back fondly on their days piloting a 140-hp trainer through blue Pennsylvania skies. As for me, I have no airline aspirations. But I’m proud to know that Miss J played a part in helping Christian and Ed become the pilots that they are today.–Jill W. Tallman