Saturday, 25 October 2008

Visiting Denmark and Miracle Open World at Lalandia

Miracle A/S is a small company in Denmark, which every year among other events organizes a three day conference about Oracle database and is traditionally held in October. This event is now called "Miracle Open World" and is traditionally organized at Lalandia, near Rødby on Lolland island, Denmark. This year it was the second time I was attending this great event and decided, of course, to fly there. The event started at Wednesday, October 22nd 2008 and ended on Friday, October 24th in the evening. Because the weather at the end of October can be already pretty unstable I decided to depart to Denmark between the Saturday 18th and Tuesday 21st - on a day that the weather would be good enough to fly there without being forced to make some stops due to bad weather.
About 14 days before my departure I started to monitor the long term forecasts. They we changing a lot during fist 8 to 10 days, but after that it became clear that the best day for traveling would be Sunday, October 19th. I had to look for good weather to cross the Slovenian and Austrian Alps and also to be able to land in Denmark where the weather is like in England. All fronts which pass Great Britain are continuing to the east and then hit Denmark and other Scandinavian countries. Therefore I had to find a gap between these fronts. For this journey the most critical was for sure the weather.
The route planning showed that I will have to make a re-fueling stop and according to the prices of gasoline I decided to make a stop in Czech Republic where the price is about 1.20 EUR/liter. The best location would be in the area near Plzen so I decided to make a stop at Letkov airfield (LKPL) just few kilometers north-east of Plzen. Unfortunately the last evening I found that there will be most likely a fog next morning and therefore I found another airport more to the north - Žatec (LKZD). I called them by phone and asked them if I can do a refueling stop and if they usually have a fog in the morning. The answer was very encouraging, so I decided to change my route and land there.

From Divača(LJDI) to Žatec (LKZD) in Czech Republic
Next morning we (my wife and me) were in Divača before the sunrise and topped the airplane with the fule and we departed at 7:57 local time. The weather in Slovenia was excellent and also the weather forecast for Apls was good. Just before the departure I checked all web cams along the route and the weather appeared excellent.
The route to Žatec was: LJDI (the new ICAO code for Divača) - LJAJ (Ajdovščina) - ISTRI (border point with Austria) - LOLU (Gmunden near Salzburg) - DOMAL (border point with Czech Republic) - LKZD (Žatec). After departure we climbed to 9500 feet before we crossed the Austrian border and after that to FL115 to cross the Austrian Alps and then back to 9500 feet. The weather in Czech Republic was excellent, no fog and also landing at Žatec airfield after 2 hours and 59 minutes of flying was without any problems. Žatec has a grass runway 1120 meters long which is also used for training flights with jet aircraft and is in perfect condition. The guy at the airport office offered us some excellent cakes and coffee. After that we topped the airplane with Natural 95. They are buying this gasoline on a nearby gas station just 2 minutes away. The fuel consumption to Žatec was 82 liters what is very good for a 3 hour flight across Alps.

From Žatec in Czech Republoic to Peenemünde(EDCP)
The next route towards Denmark was: LKZD(Žatec) - DRN (Dreseden VOR) - EDCP (Peenemünde). I wanted to visit the Peenemünde museum about the development of V-1 and V-2 rockets during the Second World War.
Žatec is quite close to German border and after crossing it we were heading towards north to Peenemünde. The biggest airports in former East Germany are those in Berlin and they have pretty large TMA zones surrounding them. Therefore I asked for permission to overfly them at FL100 and got it. Already south of Berlin we encountered almost an overcast and also on the north side of Berlin the weather was the same. We were flying at 9500 feet and looking for a hole in the clouds to be able to go down and continue under clouds. Finally we found one big enough to go down safely. So I made a descending turn and entered that hole. Suddenly I found that my gyro-compass is turning around uncontrolled and also the artificial horizon is showing strange banking angle. A quick look the the vacuum pump gauge gave the answer - we lost the vacuum pump. There was another cloud layer down there so we had to find another hole to go down and continue flying towards Peenemünde. When we were below the clouds the visibility was quite poor and the clouds bases were at 1300-1500 feet so I had to make a decision what to do. We lost the vacuum pump and the weather was not very good and flying without attitude indicator and gyro-compass in such conditions wouldn't be very smart. So the best decision is to make a stop at the nearest airport. I pushed the "nearest" button on my GPS receiver and found that the closest airport EDBD (Dedelow Emmel Airfield) is only about few kilometers away. Therefore I contacted the ATC and notify them that we are landing due to bad weather and they gave me the frequency for EDBD airport. I called EDBD and immediately got the permission to land.
Dedelow Emmel Airfield (EDBD) is private airfield owned by Frank and Petra Emmel. Frank is a former airliner pilot flying now smaller airplanes. He was captain on Boeing 737 . Petra was secretary and now they are both running this nice airfield. Frank is also certified to make minor repairs on private airplanes and he helped me to diagnose whether we really lost the vacuum pump. Because it was Sunday afternoon there was no possibility to call some maintenance shop and therefore we decided to stay at Dedelow during the night. Their hospitality was so great that they offered us to sleep in their house and Petra prepared excellent spaghetti for us. Unfortunately Frank had to leave for Frankfurt later on so in the evening we had a great chat only with Petra. She told us about their dream to run their own airport and showed us also the album about their trip to Spain, Portugal and Marocco more than 20 years ago when Frank had only 22 hours of flying after getting his private pilot license. They are now running this airport for 3 years.
Next morning the weather was excellent and we called "Aircraft Maintenance" in Neubrandenburg which is only 15 minutes flying away and it turned out they had a spare vacuum pump. Petra prepared us and excellent breakfast and then we left this nice airfield. I must say that we were so surprised because they welcomed us in so nice and warm manner and were so kind and helpful in moments when we really needed the help. Therefore I must express my thankfulness once again also here that every reader will know how nice couple they are.

Repair in Neubrandenburg
The flight to Neubrandenburg( ETNU) turned into a short panorama flight because there were so many small lakes below us. Petra gave me a copy of the aerodrome map with the details for the VFR approach, so we had no problems to land there. We parked the airplane in front of the maintenance hangar and in few minutes Werner Ritter started to work on vacuum pump replacement. After 1.5 hours a new pump was installed and I made a short taxing on the apron to test the replaced pump and it was working perfect. Werner then gave us a lift to the nearest bankomat (ATM) to withdraw some money to pay the invoice. Also here in Neubrandeburg we found a very kind man, prepared to help immediately. While he was working he told me stories from his life in former Eastern Germany when he was maintaining Russian airplanes and helicopters.

From Neubrandebunrg (ETNU) to Roskilde (EKRK) in Denmark
Finally we started the last leg of our journey to Denmark. The route was ETNU - EDCX - Gedesby (Denmark) - Køge (EKRK VFR reporting point) - EKRK (Copenhagen Roskilde). After takeoff I switched to Bremen info and afterwards to Copenhagen info after crossing the Danish border. The flight took us only 1 hour 20 minutes, the weather was sunny almost without clouds, however, a strong wind from south west was blowing so the runway in use at Roskilde airport was 21. While we were landing there we had about 20 knots of head wind. We parked the plane on the apron and secured it.
Mogens Nørgaard, the technical manager of Miracle A/S came to the airport and gave us a ride to his home where we stayed for next two nights. During our stay at Mogens' house we visited Copengahen took the canal tour with a special kind of a boat. The only time I was in Copengahen was back in 1989 and at that time I found Copenhagen as one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

From Roskilde to Lolland Falster/Maribo (EKMB)
On Wednesday morning, October 22nd 2008, we had to move to Lalandia on Lolland island. We took some gasoline at Copenhagen-Roskilde airport and payed the landing and parking fees. The landing fee was 10,78 EUR and parking fee per night was 7,82 EUR, the price of the avgas was 2,38 EUR per liter. Because I was expecting to fill the tanks with mogas at Maribo airport I took only 21 liters of avgas.
The flight to EKMB was uneventful and we were flying at 3000 feet after clearing the Copenhagen TMA zones. We had only about 10 knots of cross wind when landing at EKMB. After landing I immediately payed the landing fees as I was expecting to fly home on Saturday when there is nobody at the aerodrome and it runs on a self-service basis what means, that you are landing or taking of on your discretion. The landing fee was 13,60 EUR and parking on the apron was free of charge.
After securing the plane we left for Lalandia, which is only about 8 km away on the Baltic coast. In the afternoon I came back together with Torben who helped me to top the airplane with mogas. We had to go three times to the nearest gas station which was about 2,5 km away. The price of the unleaded 95 was only 1,19 EUR per liter what was as exactly 50% of the avgas price.

Miracle Open World event
As this blog is dedicated to flying I will not write much about this event here. What is really important to say is that this was again a unique event with excellent program and great speakers. Most of them are colleagues from the I am really admiring Mogens and his wife Anette for excellent preparation of the event with the best social program. Mogens always jokes that the Lalandia events have 80/80 ratio - 80 percents of the time is conference program and 80 percents of the time is the social program - and this is possible only because we sleep so little.
As my small contribution to the social part of the event I brought 15 liters of new wine "Teran" and warned everybody that he shouldn't spill it because he will not be able to remove the spot from the cloths.
I had my presentation in the first slot on Thursday and after that I was able to attend other sessions. Thursday evening we had gala dinner and after the dinner at 22:00 we moved to the swimming pool until 01:30 where the rest of the social program was taking place.
The last day we started at 9:15 and ended at 16:00 with the wrap-up session.

From Lolland to Letkov (LKPL) in Czech Republic
On Saturday morning we left Lolland Falster/Maribo airport at 9:21 local time and headed towards Czech republic. The weather was excellent and we climbed to 8000 feet. In Northern Germany the weather was pretty nice, however, towards the south there was cloud layer with tops at 4000 feet. It was not a complete overcast so it would be possible to descend in case of emergency. The sky was clear of clouds near Czech border and also in Czech Republic. I planned to land at Letkov aerodrome near Plzen where they have mogas. It took us 3 hours and 16 minutes to LKPL and all the time we were flying at 8000 feet except the last 15 minutes when we descended to 4000 feet and later on to 3000 feet. After entering Czech Republic we switched to Karlovy Vary radar (LKKV) and later on to Praha info and finally to local frequency of Letkov.

The route was: EKMB - MIC VOR - PAH NDB - LEG VOR- EDCJ - KONAR (Czech border) - LKPL.

Letkov is a nice airfield used mostly by gliders but there are also many other airplanes. We topped the aircraft with mogas and checked the weather in Austrian Alps and Slovenia. I also phoned to Divača and found that a strong wind ("burja") is blowing at my home airport gusting to 35 knots.

From Letkov (LKPL) to Portorož (LJPZ) in Slovenia
The route to Slovenia was: LKPL - DOMAL(Czech border) - RENKA(Austrian border) - VIW VOR - ISTRI (Slovenian border) - LJDI - LJPZ.
After departure we headed towards south. At DOMAL point we crossed the border with Germany and soon after that we crossed Austrian border at RENKA. The weather was nice, however all the northern part of Austria was covered with an overcast of clouds. We climbed to FL115 and were flying directly to the VIW VOR which is close to Klagenfurt. The Austrian Alps were almost without any clouds and surprisingly almost all valleys were without cloud layer. The view was gorgeous and we took some pictures which you can see here. Also Slovenia was covered with a cloud layer except the highest mountains. Only the "Primorska" region close to the border with Italy was clear of clouds as there was blowing a strong wind "burja". In Slovenia we descended to 9500 feet and then to 7500 feet and when we were close to Divača (LJDI) we contacted Divača info and found that the cross wind is blowing at 25 knots gusting to 35 knots. I decided to proceed to Portorož (LJPZ) where there was almost no wind and
also clear sky. After landing there we took a small late lunch and then contacted Divača by phone. In the mean time "burja" slowed down to about 15 KT what are for me "normal" conditions there. So we filed a flight plan and departed back to Divača, where we landed after 15 minutes. The wind was almost calm at the ground level, but we encountered pretty strong rotors in base and final.

Lessons learned
The most important thing I learned from this trip is that you loose your instruments in the most inappropriate moment. I could paraphrase the Murphy law as: "Murphy is standing out there and waiting for you!". Maybe even more important thing we found was that there are still many kind and helpful, hospitable people who are willing to help you in troubles. Thanks God for them!

Romantic Wedding In The Airplane

On October 4th 2008 my flying instructor Matej Cerar married with Ana Skok. The reason why I am blogging about this event is the romance behind. They were dating before for many years. Ana is also employed in the "Janez let Flying School". My first conversation with her at the time when I was deciding, which flying school to choose, was crucial. At that time back in May 2007 she convinced me that "Janez Let Flying School" is the right school for me. And she was absolutely right. She is also a student pilot. I met Matej few days later and he was my instructor through the whole training for PPL.
This year they finally decided to marry and they asked me to sing "Ave Maria" in the church during the wedding ceremonial. I was really deeply honored by their invitation and also happy for them because they wanted to confirm their relationship also before God in the holy sacrament of marriage. For those, who don't know the marriage procedure in Slovenia, I must explain that we have so called "civilian marriage" which is the official one for the civil authorities and we have also so called "church marriage" what is a synonym for the holy sacrament of marriage in the Catholic Church.
They decided that the civil marriage ceremony will take place in the airplane.

On October 4th we gathered at Divača airport (LJDI) and first we had a very nice welcome reception in the hangar. Unfortunately this day a very strong cross wind "burja" was blowing gusting to over 25 knots and therefore Matej's father Marjan, who was the pilot in command, made a good decision not to really take off in a strong cross wind but just do the slow taxing on the runway. I took these two pictures of this nice couple when they were already husband and wife.

The church marriage ceremonial took place in Tunjce near Ljubljana airport. The weather was nice and we could see airplanes landing at the airport. I asked my wife Lili to sing with me the famous Psalm 23 "The Lord Is My Shepherd" what we have already done before for several occasions. Besides "Ave Maria" I performed also "Panis Angelicus".

The wedding party took place near Medvode. All pilots who were invited to the party were siting at one big round table, so there was plenty of opportunity to have interesting chat about flying besides all other entertainment going on whole time. It was a really a very nice wedding.

One again I must express my thankfulness to Ana and Matej for the invitation. We all wish them a long and happy marriage life.

Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Night Rating

Yesterday evening (September 29th 2008) I had the practical exam for the night rating. I started with the training last Saturday evening. According to the syllabus one needs at least 5 hour of flight training in night conditions for night rating. Months ago I attenede the theoretical part of the training.
Since I got my PPL(A) there were several occasions when it would be much easier if I would have night rating at that time. All these occasions were one big struggle with the time in order to land before the official night starts (sunset + 30 minutes). Now fall is coming in and the days are getting shorter and I have still some journeys to fly. Therefore the night rating was something what would make my life much easier. I really don't plan to fly much during the night as it is not a very good feeling flying in a single engine aircraft and experience an engine failure. But it is a good extension for your flight when you can prolongate your daily VFR flight into night VFR and land at the destination airport some short time after the official daylight conditions end.
I started my first night training on a brand new Cessna 172SP with the glass cockpit, which has only about 200 hours. Although I have over 62 hours on C172 , the new glass cockpit environment was a very unpleasant time for me. Also flying in the night conditions was something new for me. But the biggest change was the glass cockpit. I attended a several hours training before my first flight but obviously this was not enough for me. I felt so uncomfortable that my overall performance was significantly reduced.
My instructor was Matej Cerar from "Janez let" flying school, a great young man, who tries to transfer all his knowledge to his students. He was my instructor for my PPL(A) as well. We departed from Divača just before the sunset and continued to Ljubljana airport (LJLJ) where I had performed my first night landings. The first one was not a very smooth one, however, all others were good enough and those without flaps were the best ones.
Next morning, it was Sunday morning, we departed early and performed a touch-and-go and then proceeded to Divača where we landed already in daily VFR conditions.
For my next training I chose the old Cesna 172 which I was using during my training for PPL. What a relief! Known environment and behavior! Yesterday evening we departed from Divača before the official night started and again flew to Ljubljana airport. Then I was performing traffic patterns more than one hour to gather enough practice. After landing, I had a briefing with the examiner Aleš Štimec and then we departed on the night exam flight across half of Slovenia. It was a gorgeous night without moon and there were no clouds. After departure from LJLJ I had to make a short diversion to Ljubljana city where I was climbing to 8500 feet while waiting that the IFR traffic will land at LJLJ. After that the route was to DOL VOR, Polzela, Trebnje, Velike Lašče, S3 and LJLJ. At the end I had to perform two landings, one was with landing light and flaps, the other one was flapless and without any light in the cabin. I was tempted to use the battery, however, I decided to land without being able to see the instruments. Of course, the examiner had a GPS receiver in front of him, so he was able to monitor the airspeed. And surprisingly, the landing was very smooth.
Finally, after 1 hour and 38 minutes, the exam flight was over. I passed. After the de-briefing we finally left airport after midnight.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

SIOUG2008 Conference in Portorož

From September 21st to 24th the Slovenian Oracle Users Group - SIOUG - annual conference was taking place in Portorož (LJPZ), Slovenia. As many already know I am working with Oracle products now for 20 years, so this event is really important for my business.
This year I was able to fly to Portorož from Divača what is only a 20 minutes flight. It was nice to have my Piper parked so close to the conference venue. video
On Saturday, September 20th, a colleague from OakTable Riyaj Shamsudeen with his beautiful wife Nisha and 6 year old son Imran arrived to Ljubljana airport and they were staying in my house. On Sunday the young Imran flew with me to Portorož.
On Monday afternoon I invited some of my customer for a panorama flight over Slovenian Adriatic coast. On Tuesday , I had to fly to Ljubljana airport (LJLJ) to pick up another colleague from OakTable Carl-Jan Engel from Netherlands. During the flight back to Portorož he took a short video while we were landing. I used this video instead of the introduction in my keynote speech on Wednesday morning.
I have removed the original sound and replaced with a record from one of my solos when I was singing in octet "Oktet Hoja" years ago. I hope you will enjoy not just the picture but also the sound.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

FlightMap Slovenia

In the spring 2008 I was preparing for flying in Switzerland and at that time I found on the web a very nice page called Flightmap Switzerland, which was prepared by Pascal Dreer. I contacted him in August and asked him for permission to use his JavaScript code as a base for a similar application for Slovenia. He generously granted me the permission and I started to develop the
application in the middle of August. Unfortunately I have some public appearances in September and October, so my time was limited and therefore I decided to currently prepare just a beta version of FlightMap Slovenia. Currently it is located on my home web page, but eventually it will be relocated to its own domain. In future more data will be added to this page.

The idea was to prepare a web page where all the official aeronautical data for Slovenia is visualized and can be easily accessed. The second goal is to put all available meteorological data to the same map - like radar and satellite images and also weather forecasts in the form of predicted winds and clouds/precipitation layers.
One very useful information I frequently use are the web cams. If you can see a part of the sky you get the most recent information about the actual weather there and this can be quite helpful especially in those cases where you are still not sure if you should depart or not. So the web cams are also one of the layers in my application.
I also obtained some other data from Sloveniacontrol d.o.o., the Slovenian ATC, and Slovenian CAA at Ministry for Transport where I got the detailed coordinates of all air-stripes in Slovenia, which are also published on the Jeppesen VFR map for Slovenia.
The layout of the original Pascal's page was retained, however I had to change things behind and develop all the interfaces for obtaining weather information from XML sources at Aviation Data Center and official Slovenian Meteorological Agency. Completely new is the mechanism for displaying raster data - like animated images from radar and satellite. A lot of time was spent in preparation of digital borders of Slovenian airspace and obtaining data about airports.

As with any database, also this has certain errors or inconsistencies. Therefore I am fully thankful to everybody who will report any data faults and with this help to improve the data quality. And using the data (the application) is the only way how one can find out some data inconsistencies.

Therefore any comments, ideas and bug reports are most welcome!

Thursday, 28 August 2008

Gift for my mom - Trip to Salzkammergut and Zell Am See (LOWZ), Austria

On August 4th 2008 my mother Jožica (Josephine) celebrated 83rd birthday. She is is a big fan of nature and especially mountains. She likes to hike despite her age. Last year, after I got my pilot license, I took her on a sightseeing flight to Triglav (2884m), the highest Slovenian mountain. She was so happy that time that I decided to give her a special kind of a birthday gift this year - a flight across the Slovenian and Austrian Alps to Salzkammergut in Austria, Salzburg, with a short stop at Zell Am See (LOWZ).

The weather forecast for August 7th was excellent and we departed early in the morning. The route was: Divača - LJAJ - KANIN - ARNOS - LOSM - Gmunden - Mondsee - Hallein - Koenigsee - LOWZ. Over alps there were some clouds between FL90 and FL100 so I decided to climb to FL110 and later descen to FL100. The weather in Salzkammergut was even better - the visibility was more than 100km. Two years ago I visited Salzkammergut with car, however, the view from the airplane was much more fascinating. I was astonished by the color of the lakes which seemed so surrealistic - a color that you usually don't see many times. My mother was silently enjoying this beautiful sight.
At Gmunden we turned to the west towards Mondsee lake. The church in Mondsee village was used for the wedding ceremony in the famous movie "The Sound of Music" which won the Academy Award for Best Picture of 1965 and is one of the most popular musicals ever produced.
Further on we were flying abeam Salzburg city towards Koenigsee in Germany. We overflew Eagle’s Nest, the famous Adolf Hitler’s residence near Berchtesgaden and continued to Zell am See (LOWZ) airport, which is located near a lake between high mountains. Just few kilometers away is Kaprun, very well know skiing center and also know because of the tragic accident which happened years ago.
We took a short walk towards the Zell am See village and had a lunch in the airport's restaurant. In the afternoon some cumulus clouds start to gather over the mountains so I decided to depart as soon as possible. LOWZ has an interesting traffic pattern which avoids populated areas. When departing you must first climb to 4000 feet in traffic pattern and only then you can leave it in the desired direction.
On the way back the clouds already obscured the highest mountains so we had to fly more to the east to gather more altitude and also there were less clouds. The route back to Slovenia was almost the same as that one in the morning with a small exception - we first landed at Bovec (LJBO) airfield in Slovenia for a short stop.
After landing in Divača I called my father, age 86, to notify him, that his beloved wife is still "alive" and in "one piece".

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

A trip to Brač island (LDSB), Croatia

In the middle of August I decided to fly to Brač (LDSB) in Croatia for a few day stay there. I visited Brač once before, but just as a safety pilot, so this was really my first landing at LDSB. My wife was with me and we had a wonderful sightseeing flight over hundreds of islands in Adriatic sea. video
I asked my wife to make a video of final approach and landing at LDSB. Unfortunately, the camera setup was wrong, so the movie resolution is not very good.
After three days we were flying back to Portorož (LJPZ) and Divača. The weather was quite windy and at the seacoast Tramontana was blowing with more than 25 knots. Brač airport is located on the top of the island at altitude of 1776 feet (541 meters) . The wind was not so heavy here but there was a lot of wind shear all over the runway. This time the camera setup was ok. After passing the end of the runway the terrain quickly goes steeply down to the see and there we experienced, as I was expecting in advance, a bumpy situation when we entered in heavy crosswind of Tramontana. In the background one can see Hvar island.

Locarno (LSZL) in Switzerland

Last year I had the privilege to be a technical reviewer of one of the best books about resolving performance problems in Oracle database - "Troubleshooting Oracle Performance" written by my colleague from, Swiss Italian Christian Antognini. He is living in Bellinzona, Ticino Switzerland, only about 10 minutes drive away from one of the most beautiful airports in the world, Locarno (LSZL). He was also a speaker at Slovenian Oracle Users Group (SIOUG) conference in 2007. I had the privilege to host him and his wife in our house. When I was in Zurich this year he invited me and my wife to visit him in Bellinzona.
We departed from Divača to Portorož (LJPZ) where we cleared the customs formalities and then we proceeded to Locarno. The route was: LJPZ - VICKY - GRADO - PORTOGRUARO - VIC VOR - BELLAGIO - LSZL. Before VIC VOR we were cleared to climb to 9500 feet what was enough to fly over some clouds and also over the mountains in the northern part of Italy. The last communication in Italy was with Milano information and then I switched to Lugano approach and finally after crossing the Swiss border to Locarno tower. I had to perform descending turns over Bellinzona in order to descend from 9500 feet to about 4000 feet what was low enough for final approach to Locarno, which is only 650 feet high.
Locarno airport is mixture of civil and military airport. After securing the airplane we were welcomed by Cris and his wife Michell. After a light lunch at the airport restaurant we continued to Locarno, a very beautiful small town in the middle of up to 2000 m high mountains. I was so surprised because of mild climate. We saw many palms and oleanders.
Next morning I took Chris for a short flight over Bellinzona. I gave him also the commands and he made the approach to Locarno airport. Of course, I was helping with the throttle and instructions. Meanwhile, his wife Michell was waiting at the airport together with my wife Lili and she was very nervous until we happily landed.
The flight back to Portoroz was not so nice because the weather was not very nice and the forecast for the afternoon was even worse. Fortunately, the forecast was good enough for Slovenia.
After crossing Swiss border we had to fly more to the south and only after clearing bad weather (raining) we could return to the planned route. Nearer to Slovenia the weather was becoming better so the rest of the flight was uneventful.
We landed at Portorož (LJPZ) and after clearing the formalities we proceeded to Divača.

Saturday, 23 August 2008

To Dubrovnik (LDDU) and Macedonia - Ohrid (LWOH) and Skopje (LWSK)

Before I started with lessons for my PPL (Private Pilot License) I was extensively using Flight Simulator and two Macedonian airports - Ohrid (LWOH) and Skopje (LWSK) were among my most popular airports. In past years I visited Macedonia several times for business. Last year in July during my stay in Skopje I was working together with a boy who was a paraglider and knew some people who knew guys from Aeroklub Skopje. One day after the working hours this boy gave me a ride to the airport and I hired a flight instructor for about 40 minutes. The airplane was Utva produced years ago in former Yugoslavia. After the flight I joined fellows from Aeroklub Skopje and we had a long discussion in one of nice Skopje’s bars, drinking excellent Macedonian beer “Skopsko”. So that was the time I found many new friends and then I was a regular visitor of the airfield Stenkovec near Skopje.

This year I had several business opportunities in Macedonia, however, none of these turned to be a real one. Therefore I decided to make a business visit to Macedonia and join this with my vacancies trip to Island of Mljet in Croatia.

Me and my wife departed from Divača on July 4th 2008. Traveling to Croatia requires official crossing of Schengen border. As the closest international airport in Portoroz (LJPZ) was already closed I decided to fly to Trieste airport (LIPQ) which is about 20 minutes flying away from my home airport Divača. After clearing the customs we had a very nice flight to Dubrovnik (LDSB) where we landed about 15 minutes after sunset. Next morning we had a boat connection to Mljet island.

Mljet island is a beautiful island with only one hotel and thus not with many tourists. On the north-west part of the island there is a national park, which prevents further development of the island. We were staying in village Polače which is known by the nautical tourism. The whole stay there we had very nice weather and extraordinary warm sea water – about 26-28 degrees of Celsius, so staying in water for more then two hours was no problem.

From Dubrovnik (LDDU) to Ohrid (LWOH)

On Sunday, July 13th we departed from Dubrovnik airport to Ohrid (LWOH) in Macedonia. The route was: LDDU – TIBRI – TAZ NDB – POD VOR – RETRA – MAVAR – LWOH. After departure from Dubrovnik I contacted Tivat approach. I had to circle before TIBRI point for about 10 minutes because there was an airplane departing from Tivat (LYTV). This was pretty unusual for me as I was already about 5000 feet high. Usually you get a vector for avoiding the traffic but this was not the case here. The same occurred again near Podgorica (LYPG) where I was already at 9000 feet. Before I reached POD VOR I was cleared direct to RETRA point which is border point between Montenegro and Albania. I had to switch to Tirana radar. Soon after the initial contact Tirana gave me alternate frequency in case of loosing contact. Obviously this is a standard practice due to very mountainous terrain in the eastern part of Albania. Later on, when I was approaching MAVAR point, which is the border point with Macedonia, I wasn’t able to communicate with Tirana any more so I had to switch to the alternate frequency which was the frequency of Skopje radar. They cleared me first to IZD (Ohrid NDB) and soon after that directly to Ohrid airport (LWOH). Ohrid tower gave me the chance to choose the approach over the Ohrid lake, which I used for my personal training of an ILS approach.

After we parked and secured the airplane we took a taxi to the motel I have reserved via internet. First of all, the taxi driver charged us 10 EUR for a short ride of about 5 km. Because I know the prices in Macedonia from my previous visits I complained about that, however I finally paid. The second “surprise” was the motel – the room was under the roof and was far away from what they were advertising on the web. So we decided to call another taxi, this time from an official taxi company, and we asked the driver to help us to find a decent hotel. He suggested us to go to a new hotel owned by Macedonian oil company – Makpetrol. The hotel was excellent, very clean with a nice swimming pool and with a access to the private beach on Ohrid lake. The price was reasonable – 30 EUR per person per night with included breakfast.

Ohrid lake in the evening

In the afternoon we were swimming in the pool and also in Ohrid Lake where the water was about 23-24 degrees Celsius what was excellent because the outer temperature was exceeding 30 degrees. In the evening we took a short walk along the coast of the lake. Next day we had to depart before 16:00 hours local time because the airport is working from 8.00 to 16:00 hours. We were the only airplane which departed that day from Ohrid airport. Despite this fact they were not willing to give us another departure slot unless I would pay extra fee. When we arrived at the airport there was nobody there so we had to stick around to finally get somebody who told us how we can clear the formalities. The police checked our passports and luggage and then I had to pay the landing and one overnight parking. Because they don’t have a lot of traffic they would like to squeeze every airplane. Our destination this day was airfield Stenkovec near Skopje where Aeroklub Skopje has its base. In order to get more money they tried to charge me for the international flight, but they didn’t succeed because the software didn’t allow them. I had to pay about 38 EUR for landing and one night parking.

From Ohrid(LWSK) to Stenkovec near Skopje

When I was checking the Macedonian AIP about the requirements for VFR flying in Macedonia I didn’t find any special requirements. However, my colleagues from Aerokolub Skopje told me, that I need a special permission to fly inside Macedonia. This permission is issued by Macedonian CAA to Aeroklub which officially hosts you. To obtain this permission I had to send them the scanned airplane’s documents and my license together with the medical certificate. My good friends from Aeroklub Skopje arranged everything for me and I got the permission few days before I entered Macedonia.

The route was: LWOH – Bitola – Prilep – Burek (intersection point) – Stenkovec. After departure from Ohrid airport we were flying along the coast of Ohrid Lake to the south until I almost reached the border with Albania and then turned back and crossed the mountains east of Ohrid Lake. We bypassed Prespansko Lake inbound to Bitola. On the south there was mountain Pelister, one of the highest mountains in Macedonia. The flight was pretty bumpy due to severe turbulence although we were flying at 9,500 feet where the outside temperature was about 15 degrees. We enjoyed the rough terrain north of Prilep. After Burek point we started our descent towards Stenkovec airfield where I was already flying in 2007. When we landed there the outside temperature at the airfield was 40 degrees Celsius. We were welcomed by the president and the executive manager of Aeroklub Skopje. They suggested that we put the airplane in the hangar as soon as possible and then we hurry to an air-conditioned restaurant in Skopje.

While we had a very nice time in the restaurant several guys from Štip Aeroklub joined us and also a guy from ATC. It was really a very nice companionship and we had to exchange a lot of information. These guys are really great guys and they did their best to make my visit in Macedonia as pleasant as possible. Once again I had the privilege to be their guest and experience their ultimate hospitality. I sincerely hope that I will be able to welcome them one day in Slovenia.

Next morning I had an appointment with my business partners in Skopje and after that Nikola, the executive manager of Aeroklub Skopje, transferred us to Stenkovec airfield. Landing and parking at Stenkovec was free of charge as they try to develop the general aviation in Macedonia.

Nikola made a short movie about my departure which he published on YouTube.

From Stenkovec to “Alexander The Great” (LWSK)

LWSK, former name Petrovec, is only 13 minutes of flying away from Stenkovec airfield. When we were landing there it was pretty windy with strong gusts so I had to use all my knowledge of landing in crosswind to safely land there. We cleared the customs and passport control and paid the landing fee which was bout 24 EUR, much less than at LWOH. It took only 40 minutes for all the formalities and refueling. The price of 1 liter of Avgas was about 1.7 EUR for foreign aircrafts what is a very reasonable price.

From Skopje to Dubrovnik (LDDU)

The route to Dubrovnik was simple: LWSK – MAVAR – RETRA – POD VOR – TZA NDB – TIBRI – LDDU. It was a windy day with a heavy turbulence also at FL300 to FL400. We climbed to 9500 feet inbound MAVAR and crossed the border with Albania. The clouds there were pretty low so I had to descend shortly after we entered Albania. I tried to contact Tirana but was unable to do so. Therefore I asked Macedonia radar to notify them that we are flying inbound RETRA point. After some time one airliner contacted me and he was relaying my message to Tirana. Due to the clouds we had to descend to 6000 feet. When we cleared the mountainous terrain there was no problem to establish a radio contact with Tirana.

Few minutes before RETRA point I was instructed to contact Podgorica approach in Montenegro. However, they apparently didn’t receive my flight plan so I had to contact Tirana once again and ask them to resend the flight plan. This time they received it and we were cleared directly to TIBRI point after flying only a few minutes towards POD VOR. Due to the windy weather at Dubrovnik airport all the airplanes were using runway 30. After refueling any paying the landing fee we departed for Portorož in Slovenia (LJPZ).

Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Vöslau (LOAV) - Essen/Mülheim(EDLE) - Siegerland(EDGS)

On June 18th and 19th 2008 I had two one-day workshops about Oracle in Vienna, Austria. I planned to fly to Vöslau(LOAV) a day before in the afternoon. Unfortunately, the weather forecast for the afternoon were heavy thunderstorms so I had to start early in the morning when the weather was pretty good.
From Divača the route followed the recommended VFR route inbound Maribor airport (LJMB) and bypassing CTR on the south. I crossed the border at TISKO point and then I was flying over Fürstenfeld (LOGF) and abeam Pinkafeld (LOGP) to Vöslau (LOAV) near Vienna. The weather in Austria was better than in Slovenia. I climbed to 7500 feet to clear the clouds over tha last part of the Alps chain.
After landing and refueling I left the airplane parked on the grass. On Thursday afternoon after finishing my lessons around 16:00 I hurried with the taxi to the airport and at 17:16 I was already airborn and flying towards Germany. I filed the flight plan via Homebriefing.

Vöslau (LOAV) - Essen/Mülheim(EDLE)

The route to Essen/Mülheim(EDLE) was: LOAV - ANS NDB - GED VOR - EDLE, a very simple route which was avoiding big German airports. The former owner of my airplane who is captain on Jumbo 747 and also a flight instructor for small airplanes once said: "When flying in Germany one should avoid München, Nürnberg and Berlin airports; all other are not problematic, but on those big ones small airplanes are not very welcome. Beside that, it is also very expensive to land there." Whenever I'm flying in Germany I'm trying to follow his advice. When flying VFR and avoiding big airports one can fly up to 9,500 feet across all Germany.
The sky was clear, but it was very windy, blowing about 20KT from west, so it was quite a heavy headwind. When I passed GED VOR I entered into the pretty cloudy area, so I had to frequently change the altitude and also slightly the direction in order to avoid the clouds. In the last 2 hours of the flight I was flying at 100% of possible power to overcome a very strong headwind. The consumption was about 45-50 liters per hour. I also asked Langen Information to notify my destination airport that I'm arriving but due to strong headwind I'll land just before closing the airport. Finally I switched to EDLE frequency and made the final approach. I landed at 21:59 local time, only one minute before the airport officially closed. Of course the personnel was very helpful and they would even wait some minutes over the time if necessary.
Next morning I had the annual check at H.B. Sportflugzeug-Service. They were maintaining my Piper for last 14 years and still now I am their client for the annual inspections. While they performed the annual inspection, mr. Stephan Wahl from Airmarin did the annual check for avionics and also installed a new S-mode transponder. Everybody was highly motivated to finish his work in shortest possible time and I was really impressed how everything was running so smooth. Therefore I was able to depart back to Slovenia at 15:25 local time.

Essen/Mülheim(EDLE) - Siegerland(EDGS) and back to Slovenia

I made a short stop
in Siegerland(EDGS) for refueling with mogas. Again I used Homebriefing to file the flight plan via Internet. The original plan was to fly to Schärding-Suben (LOLS) where I would do another refueling before crossing the Alps. However, when I passed the Munich airport (EDDM) I had still enough fuel for direct flight to Slovenia, so I started to climb first to 9,500 feet and later on to FL128. The top of the clouds over Alps were about FL 110 to FL115. GAFOR for Austria anticipated some thunderstorms on south part of the Alps in the late afternoon so my backup plan was to land at Zell am See (LOWZ) and stay during the night there. However, the weather was quite good and I could pass the Alps with no problem. When I was already close to Slovenian border I had to descend to 9,500 feet and during the descend I had to avoid some clouds. In Slovenia I was surprised by a clear sky. Later on I realized that there were some late afternoon thunderstorms. Only the top of Triglav was still in clouds.
After landing in Divača I had still about 75 liters of gasoline. This time the winds were blowing from the right direction so the flight was exactly 4 hours.

A Visit To Lošinj (LDLO)

On the Slovenian national holiday June 25th 2008 I used the opportunity of the free day and invited my wife to a one day swimming at Lošinj Island in Croatia.
We started early in the morning when Portorož (LJPZ) airport was still closed so I decided to fly to Trieste airport (LIPQ) to clear the customs. There is only a 17 minutes flight from Divača to LIPQ. From Trieste to Lošinj airport (LDLO) it took 57 minutes. The flight was very smooth as the weather was fine.
The runway on Lošinj is due the terrain curved like a banana so one must be very careful when landing on runway 02 . You can spot this easily on the photo which was taken during the final approach to LDLO.
LDLO is a small international airport which could be a great destination. Unfortunately, this year the management decided to unreasonably increase the landing fee so I had to pay about 50 EUR for a few hours stay at Lošinj airport. This price is much higher then on any other Croatian airport on the Adriatic cost like Dubrovnik (LDDU) or Brač (LDSB).
This year the touristic season in Croatia is not as good as it was in past and if they will proceed with such kind of "robbery" they can expect to loose many visitors in near future. My personal decision is no to fly to Lošinj any more unless I have a really strong reason to go there. And this makes me sad because Lošinj is a beautiful island with a lot of potential.
After unloading our bicycles and securing the airplane we bicycled to the nearest bay Artratore where we stayed for whole day.
On the last picture you can see my Piper covered with a white cover made from Tyvek. This cover is really a great solution not just for rain but also for hot sun. The cockpit stays cold and therefore the last thing I do before entering the cockpit is removing the cover.
Few minutes before airport closing in the afternoon we left for Portorož (LJPZ) . The flight was only 43 minutes. After clearing the customs we proceeded back to Divača.

Monday, 4 August 2008

From Slovenia to Austria, Germany, Switzerland, France, Italy and back to Slovenia

On April 24th 2008 I had to travel to Zürich in Switzerland for a presentation about Oracle at Trivadis Technical days. First I planned to start a day earlier from Ljubljana airport (LJLJ), but a heavy fog on April 23rd prevented me to depart. The fog prevailed until noon. So I decided to move the airplane back to my home airport in Divača and start early next morning.
The plan was to cross the Alps in the northern direction to Salzburg in Austria and do a refueling stop in Schärding (LOLS) in Austria, located a few kilometers from the border with Germany and then continue to Essen/Mülheim (EDLE) close to Essen in northern Germany. There I should exchange the transponder with a new S-mode one and continue to Birrfeld (LSZF) near Zürich where I had the presentation on Friday, April 25th. My colleague from Eric Grancher is working in CERN and he organized a guided visit of this interesting European Organization for Nuclear Research on next day, Saturday April 26th.

From Divača to Schärding

The beginning of the journey on Thursday morning, April 24th, was a little bit disappointing because of the clouds covering the Alps in the planned direction. So I had to slightly change the plan and fly first to Graz and try to cross the Alps more to the east where they are a little bit lower. When I was avoiding the Graz CTR I god a PIREP (pilot report) from somebody who had just crossed the Alps and he reported that the tops of cumulus clouds are at about 9,000 to 10,000 feet. As I was unsure how high I can go because until then the maximum altitude was 9,500 feet, I decided to fly further in direction to Vienna and cross the Alps at lower altitude. I was afraid that the clouds would start to raise and I wouldn't be able to climb higher.

When I passed Graz I started climbing and at 10,000 feet I was about 1000 feet above the tops of the clouds and at that time I decided to turn directly to Linz and further on to Schärding. There were a lot of holes in clouds, about 5/8 to 6/8 of the sky was covered with nice cumulus clouds. In METAR report this would be depicted as BKN (broken). In a case of engine failure it would be possible to descend below the clouds and find some suitable terrain for emergency landing.
On the northern side of the Alps, in Lower and Upper Austria, there were almost no clouds. I maintained the same altitude until I passed Linz CTR and start the descend to Schärding.

Schärding - Suben is a very nice small airport in Upper Austria with an asphalt runway 800 x 21 m. I have chosen this place for refueling because they have also mogas which is substantially cheaper than avgas. My Piper is a registered German aircraft and has a STC (Supplemental Type Certificate) for mogas and it would be crazy not to use cheaper gasoline whenever it is available. Since November 2007 I was using mostly mogas.

Schärding-Suben airfield requires a prior permission (PPR) for landing so I had to send them an email in advance. The other possibility is calling them by phone before the departure. The tower crew is very nice and helpful and after landing you can taxi directly to the fuel station and start refueling.
The refueling took about 10 minutes and after some time looking around the nice airfield the flight continued towards Essen / Mülheim (EDLE).


After departure from LOLS and crossing the river Danube I was climbing back to 9,500 feet in the direction to Ansbach NDB (ANS) which is located at the Ansbach airfield (ETEB) south-west of Nürnberg. Unfortunately it was already noon time and the tops of the clouds were now rising rapidly and also a line of thunderstorms formed extending from the north of Germany to Bavaria. So I had to descend lower and lower and when I was flying only about 2,500 feet AGL I requested a weather information from Munich Information. The weather was worsening rapidly and the suggestion I got from ATC was to land at nearest airport in Ingolstadt Manching (ETSI), a military airport with two runways and also a small civil terminal. After 30 seconds of considering what to do I turned towards ETSI and landed there. It was a hard decision, but for sure the best and the most safe one. Because of this unplanned landing there was no chance to exchange the transponder at EDLE airport.
The ETSI personnel was very nice and helpful and they gave me free wireless access to the Internet to check the radar images. After 2 hours of staying in the nice terminal building the thunderstorm line moved to the east and the weather improved enough to continue the journey. I decided to continue directly to Switzerland. Unfortunately ETSI has no customs service so I had to make another stop in Augsburg (EDMA) to clear the customs. Switzerland is not yet among the Schengen countries.

From Ingolstadt to Augsburg

The personnel in Ingolstadt armed me with the map of Augsburg airport. I haven't filed a flight plan as usually in Germany pilots don't file a flight plan for inland flights. The flight took only 28 minutes and with the exception of the shower over the Augsburg airport it was uneventful. When I was already in the CTR a pretty heavy shower passed the airfield and it was still raining when I was landing there.

It took about 30 minutes to clear the customs and continue towards Switzerland. Augsburg was for sure the cheapest airfield with only 8 EUR of landing fee.

From Augsburg to Birrfeld in Switzerland

The flight from Augsburg to Birrefeld was nice and without any problems. The weather was fine although there was a lot of clouds with the base at about 5,000 feet. Before crossing the Swiss border I switched to Zürich information until few minutes before landing at Birrfeld (LSZF) near Zürich. First I planned to land at Zürich International airport but due to higher fees and only avgas availability I decided to land at Birrfeld. This is a very nice small airport with a lot of traffic. There is nobody in the tower so every pilot has to strictly follow the prescribed procedures and report his positions. Unfortunately the instructions on the web are available only in German language.
They have also a special approach chart which must be strictly followed to reduce the noise over sensitive areas.

From Birrfeld to Annemasse (LFLI)

Next morning it was raining in Zürich and the weather was marginal for the VFR flying. I was so happy because I arrived a day before in nice weather and therefore I had a lot of time to prepare for my technical presentation.
After I have finished the presentation I rushed to the Birrfeld airfield where I did the refueling with the mogas and continued towards Geneva.
When I was still at home I studied the Geneva airport information in details and found a requirement for a ground handling agent. I have contacted one of the agents and they required about 260 CHF (about 160 EUR) for landing there. This was much to high so I decided to land in France at Annemasse (LFLI) where the the landing and overnight parking was ten times less.
The regime at LFLI regarding the ATC is the same as it was in Birrfeld - there is nobody in the tower and everybody has to report his position and be careful about other aircrafts flying in the traffic pattern. For all airfields in France one can get the required official detailed information at SIA, for instance for LFLI the information is available here. A very interesting site for acquiring the detailed information for all small airfields in France is QFU which offers a direct link to SIA on the airport detailed page.

From Annemasse to Divača

Next morning I visited CERN and was impressed by the technology used there, especially the new accelerator which went into production in June 2008. This was one of the last possible slots to visit the accelerator before the experiments started.
In the afternoon I decided to make a direct flight to the home airport at Divača. The route was LFLI - SIO - Simplon pass - Bellagio - Verona - VIC VOR - VEN NDB - Jessolo Lido - Caorle - Grado - Trieste - LJAJ and Divača.
The first part of the flight was following the coast of Geneva lake towards the start of the valley which leads to Sion (LSGS) and further on to Simplon pass. After clearing the Geneva CTR I started climbing to 10,000 feet to overfly Simplon pass. This was my most spectacular flight - on the left and the right there we mountains with peaks between 3000 and 4000 meters and the weather was incredible. Near Brig I crossed the Simplon pass and continued to northern Italy. At the same time I switched to Milano Information. The airspace north of Milano is A-class airspace from 1500 feet AGL to FL195 so VFR flights are prohibited. However, on the northern part of this airspace it is possible to fly VFR up to FL125. The exact border line can be found in Jeppesen VFR chart for Italy (LI-1). There were some clouds in Northern Italy so I decided to climb to FL120 to clear them and also to check if my Cherokee is able to reach this flight level.

The other part of the flight was with no special events. I had to descend to FL70 until I crossed the Italy/Slovenia border at 4000 feet. The whole flight took 3 hours and 42 minutes.

Lessons learned

This was my first solo flight across Austrian and Swiss Alps. The weather was excellent, especially when crossing Swiss Alps. Unfortunately, I had also some bad weather on this trip and due to bad weather I had to make an important decision to land on the nearest airport. Also I had to change the plan and omit the visit to EDLE. When I am analyzing this decision I am still convinced that it was the only possible decision. Continuing the flight into bad weather could lead to unpredictable consequences. All the decisions I had to made during the trip were focused towards maximum safety and I have even sacrificed some mission goals to obtain maximum possible safety. This was really a very important lesson I have learned.

I signed up at which is a great web site for route planning and provides a detailed weather forecast for Austria and Switzerland. Especially GAFOR charts are extremely useful for VFR flying over Alps.
I spent ten times more time for planning than for actual flying and all this time was really worth to spend in order to prepare myself for such a long trip.
GoogleEarth was another useful resource for studying the airports details and also some parts of the trip, especially the part over Austrian and Swiss Alps.