Stuck in Croatia?

A little background in flight planning for our non pilot friends. The weather is the main factor her and wind (mostly determining our speed over ground) and the the different types of clouds are most important. For planning our route, we have gotten to like a chart called “GRAMET” which is a prognosis based on a computer weather model (GFS) and giving an aeronautical weather forecast for a specific route.

The above example shows the GRAMET for our planned trip from Dubrovnik (LDDU) to Heubach (EDTH). As Heubach isn’t really of international relevance and does not have a weather station of its own, we selected Stuttgart (EDDS) as our destination — just around the corner.

On the picture you see the profile of the surface, showing that our journey starts at sea elevation (0 feet), leads us over the Alpa and later the Swabian Jura. The highest elevation is somewhere in the Alps at roughly 10,000 feet (3,300 meters).

The red dotted line represents the 0°C border. You can see how it moves lower as we get further north. Also you can see the different layers of clouds and their types. On the left you see a few towering cumuli, those are clouds of large vertical extent one tries to avoid due to strong up and down drafts — meaning turbulence. Also there is precipitation forecast in Dubrovnik. The green areas with the strange read symbol mean that there is danger of icing meaning there are water droplets with less than 0°C waiting for a Cessna to come so they can instantly freeze and stick to the leading edges. Not the best thing for us as we don’t have deicing equipment like airliners, meaning we cannot get rid of the ice and therefore get heavier and less aerodynamic and at some point would no longer be able to hold our altitude.

You can also see that for some areas we would expect clouds from the surface up to flight level 200. In principle, clouds are no problem but flying inside clouds for hours isn’t very entertaining and with one engine there is always the theoretical danger of a failure and being able to see the surface and finding an emergency landing spot is a great advantage.

All in all not the optimal weather. We should be able to take off avoiding the towering cumuli but with the Alps inside clouds a technical problem would turn into a huge problem. In addition to that icing on the north side of the Alps where at some point we’d have to descend for landing.

So we have to look at different route alternatives (for example going further west via Italy where the weather should be better), hope for a positive surprise or stay grounded tomorrow. The latter option isn’t the worst one considering the fantastic spa of our hotel (besides the fact that I’d have to visit it together with Achim).

Touch down Dubrovnik

Once again we got lucky with the weather: taking off from Iraklion we flew of the Greek Island and Albania back to Croatia where we just touched down in excellent weather. The enroute weather was good, only in Greece we flew over an overcast cloud layer at 14 000 feet for about one hour. Today's leg was the longest so far: thanks to a strong headwind it took us about 5 hours.

Our departure from Iraklion got a bit delayed due to administrative hurdles. Several times, they pointed out the the lack in staff as the reason for the issues. We were unable to verify this as every office was manned by at least four persons and for every task like refueling or driving us over the tarmac were executed by at least three employees. Our highlight was the taxi from the terminal to the handling agent's office: three handling agents drove in their Fiat at walking pace while we tried to follow behind carrying our luggage.

Paying our landing fees was not easy at all. The handling agent (a different one but almost as pretty) led us through a maze of marble floor hallways to a locked office with a Greek sign hanging on the door knob saying something like "I don't feel like working"). After about 15 minutes of communication via mobile and radio and the arrival of several officials, the responsible person finally arrived and invited us into his office. There he wanted to know a lot of things that he as airport official should know best (e.g. our arrival time the day before) which he entered into his DOS program and printed out using two dot matrix printers on forms with carbon copy. The end result of the exercise was a invoice about € 1.37 — due in cash and without change. Our handling agents then wanted another € 33 — in cash and without change. Normally it's the job of the handling agent to take care of such administrative tasks but — as mentioned before — they were short on staff. Refueling worked without any problems and even though we were told the amount was due in cash without change, they accepted our credit card.


Back on European soil

Touch down Iraklion! Who would have thought that our plan worked out without a hitch! At an ungodly hour with the first sun rays we departed El Gouna on the Read Sea, heading north to the pyramids and "6th of October". Only there in Egypt you can find the special type of fuel that our aircraft requires. The landing was once again extremely windy with 30 knots (about 60kp/h, something we specialize in by now) but a real greaser. The fuel bowser was a bit oversized for our aircraft but after about half an hour we were ready for depature again and continued our journey north via the pyramids crossing Cairo and going to Port Said.

The following landing was one of the easiest, only olfactorily and visually complicated by the smoke of burning cars from the protests. Just in time for the Friday's Prayers after which — as you know from TV and radio — the riots start, we had passed immigration, talked to the airport manager, had tea with the immigration officer and thanked Ahmed for his great help during the whole trip. The flight plan which we had submitted did once more not arrive at the Egyptian air traffic control unit but even that was no issue and about 1.5 hours after our landing we were airborne again, heading north over the Med. We decided to divert to our alternate Iraklion to avoid another landing in Sitia with 60kp/h crosswinds.

The approach into Iraklion led us through layers of clouds and rather bad visibility (due to the southerly winds bringing loads of Sahara sand from Africa) and we were only able to see the runway when we were right above the threshold. Thanks to a nose dive we managed to land on the first attempt and after a lovely handling service (see pictures) we are now happily sitting in our hotel room and planning tomorrow's leg into the cold north.

Goodbye Egypt

Exactly a week ago our adventure started in cold and snowy Southern Germany. After a smooth flight in excellent weather (apart from the gusts on Crete), we had a few sunny days in El Gouna at 25C and spent time in the pool, wakeboarding, a breakneck sailing tour with a professional crew, big fish and snorkeling at the reef. Tomorrow we'll head back to the cold north and planning is currently underway. Right now it looks like we'll takeoff at El Gouna flying to October (the name of the town is "6th of October", yes such names really exist), fill up the fuel tanks there with AVGAS (the high quality aviation fuel for piston engines, only availble in October), then another 2 hours to Port Said for immigration and customs (hoping that it will stay calm after the Friday's Prayers) and from Port Said 3.5h over the Med to our windy island Crete.

Tomorrow's trip is planned rather ambitiously and will only work out as planned if nothing unexpected happens. We want to takeoff at 6:30h local time to make it to Port Said via October as early as possible, hoping that there will be no delays and we can takeoff to Crete as planned as the Greek close their airport on Friday rather early (yes, even airports have official opening hours and when missing the deadline, one has to look for other landing options, in our case Iraklion). On paper it should work out just fine but there is an Egyptian uncertainty factor in all of this. May Allah bless our endeavor.

From there on, it's a big unknown at this point. Currently the winter is coming back with really bad weather over Central Europe and our next destination Dubrovnik is expecting terrible weather with thunderstorms and strong winds on Saturday — not exactly great conditions for a light aircraft. As it is hard to predict the actual weather conditions at this time, we are taking one leg at a time and will evaluation our options as we arrive. We might have to fly west via Italy or east via Eastern Europe — or get stuck and wait. We shall see and we will report here — keep your fingers crossed!

No flight today

After reaching our final destination El Gouna yesterday after 13 hours of flight, we will stay on the ground today — or let's better say on the water. Enjoying the Egyptian temperatures while swimming, snorkeling, fishing, wakeboarding and relaxing. Our next take off heading north again is planned for mid next week and we will of course report here again.

A big thank you to Ahmed and G.A.S.E

It is time for a big thank you to Ahmed and General Aviation Support Egypt (G.A.S.E) with Eddie for the incredible service we received and without which this trip would not have been possible. Being able to fly to Egypt in a private airplane shouldn't be taken for granted and requires a lot of effort and time to fight the bureaucracy. On our own, we would have never managed to get the required paperwork done and in addition to doing a superb job in securing our permissions and moving every problem out of the way, Ahmed even got us all fees waived in Port Said. We can therefore wholeheartedly recommend Ahmed and Eddie and their small venture to all pilots and are definitely going to rely on them again in the future. GA in Egypt has a bright future thanks to G.A.S.E.!

From Sitia via Port Said to El Gouna

The third day and last day of our onward journey to El Gouna in Egypt. After the tempestous welcome in Stitia yesterday, the weather had calmed down today and were were able to take off as planned at dawn. Today we wanted to continue South from Crete over the open sea. Before takeoff, we ensured that our life raft and emergency equipment was well stowed and easily accessible in case of a water ditching and we put on our life vests during the whole flight. For about two and a half hours there was nothing but blue below and above us. The air traffic controllers of Greece, Cyprus and Egypt cooperated well and got us a few shortcuts to reduce the time over the open sea and save some of our precious fuel.

The landing in Port Said was smooth and uneventful (not to be taken for granted with Achim piloting the airplane). However, it got more interesting after that. Right after we had turned off the engine, three strange figures approaches us. While one of them took our passports and disappeared with them, a 2 meter guy type Faceman (A-team) tried to sell us jet fuel (kerosene) which our aircraft can’t make use of — it needs something similar to car fuel. When confronted with this, he offered a discount on his fuel but unfortunately we did not reach an agreement. Then we had to go to immigration. Even though it’s called “Port Said International Airport”, there are no international flights and the immigration officer had to come in from the city center — Ahmed had arranged for this and thereby saved us at least 3 hours! In a small, dark office our passports where examined thoroughly, a visa was inserted and lots of forms filled out before they let us go back to our aircraft. We then started to syphon the fuel from our jerry cans to the aircraft’s main tanks until we were ordered to immediately stop doing this. During refueling, the fire brigade must be present and therefore we shall stop. The fire brigade then arrived with a monster truck and was waiting with the engine running while we completed our fueling. Then we got in trouble once more: our agent Ahmed told me to come with him because I had taken unauthorized pictures at the airport. A grim looking office accompanied me to a side building — as we then learned the office of the airport manager.

They closed the door behind me and 5 serious looking officers were standing in a row and ordered me to sit down (more explicitly when I tried to stand up). Ahmed served as translator and explained with a lot of excitement that around the airport were military installations and it was prohibited to take pictures. I had to show all pictures on my camera to the 5 uniformed officers until they started to discuss my fate in Arabic. I thought that I might end up in Egyptian prison due to espionage (Egyptians jails do have quite a reputation) but after a few minutes of discussion they sent me out again — with strict orders to not take any more pictures. Of course we complied (even though Achim was convinced he could complete the trip successfully on his own and thought that Markus could use some time for meditation and the Swiss Consulate would take appropriate care of him). Landing, securing our refueling operation and immigration were all completely free of charge — thanks to Ahmed!

Back at the airplane, Achim had completed the refueling and had our passports with the visa stamps back. We had successfully passed Egyptian immigration. With a Cessna! Not a lot of people have done this before.

As a small thank you for his help, we took Ahmed on board and left Port Said for El Gouna (north of Hurghada on the Red Sea). A wonderful flight led us along the Med’s coastline via Cairo, the desert and then along the Red Sea’s shores to our destination. Radio coverage over the remote areas was quite bad so that we lost contact with air traffic control. Thanks to a Condor crew that relayed our position reports, we were able to stay in touch.

After two and a half hours we started our descent into El Gouna with a few orbits directly overhead the city. The landing (or should I say the 5 landings) were again gusty and rather hard — but we’ve made it! From Heubach near Stuttgart about 3800 kilometers (2000 nautical miles) in three days over the Alps and 10 countries to Egypt. Now we will spend a few days relaxing in the sun and enjoying water sports before we head back mid next week. We promise to keep you updated.

Getting ready for Africa

5:45am local time (that means 4:45am German time) is definitely way too early, in particular if you have to share a hotel room with the snoring Achim and couldn’t sleep at all. However, today we have a challenging leg ahead and need every minute we can get. While yesterday Achim managed to drop the Cessna from meters high onto the runway, today it’s about flying over the open Med for about 3 hours, going from Europe to Africa. The particular danger with a single engine airplane is that in case of an engine failure we’d have no other option than to perform a water ditching somewhere on the ocean. That’s why during the whole flight we will by wearing life jacks and have the life raft and grab bag with our survival gear readily available. Fingers crossed we won’t need any of them. Our first destination in Africa is “Port Said” (well known from TV and radio) where Ahmed is going to help us with immigration and the famous Egyptian paperwork. Also we will be siphoning the fuel that we filled into jerry cans in Dubrovnik and that has been sitting on our back bench, into the aircraft’s main tanks. We could also buy fuel in Egypt but at a price of over $5 per liter and availability at one one airport that is not on our route, we prefer our jerry can solution. If Allah agrees, we will continue onwards to our final destination El Gouna, north of Hurghada.

BTW: We’ve managed to resurrect the SPOT and hope that our live tracking feature will be back today.

Stepan Schumachović

Our taxi driver at the airport of Dubrovnik turned out to be a Croatian living in Stuttgart — what a coincidence! He’s a professional rallye driver for Audi Heidenheim and currently home and helping his father with his taxi business.

He drove as expected but very professionally (not talking about the taxi profession here). He would comment his stunts with “this would cost 1000 € fine if the Police had seen it”. Of course we had to ask him to take us back today and this ride was even better. He promised us to take us on a drive with his Volkswagen Rallye Polo (2 seats and 280 HP) when we come back to Dubrovnik in a week. What a great guy and nice acquaintance!