Over and out

Now we can really consider this trip to completed successfully. Our Cessna is well and back in its home hangar and both pilots are alive. Who would have thought that? When we could not complete the approach into Heubach with visual flight rules (there is no instrument approach unfortunately) and decided against landing in Stuttgart, we had to park the Cessna in Friedrichshafen at the Lake of Constance. Today it was time to bring back the bird. When the mission is to get up early on a Sunday and take responsibility for an important task, it is clear that Achim has to step in. Markus was still trying to sober up from yesterday's binge drinking before getting up for his kebap breakfast at 12 o'clock in Stuttgart. Achim boarded the metro at 08:34 and arrived at Friedrichshafen Airport around 11 o'clock where it was still cloudy, unlike in sunny Stuttgart. To great surprise, the airport was vibrating as it recently has become the hub of ski fanatic Brits: three airplanes from London all arriving within one hour!

The flight back was just a short hop of 30 minutes and after takeoff lead us south west over the Lake of Constance, climbing through the clouds to blue skies and on direct course to Heubach. After landing, the Cessna was stored in the hangar and tidied up a bit. The real interesting question is how we are going to get rid of the Sahara sand which was pressed into every corner and wrinkle when we flew back to Greece. 

Showdown at the Lake of Constance

This trip went way too smooth. Neither technical nor any other problems lead to the desasters that our scandal loving readership expected. After an additional day of spa wellness in Dubrovnik, the stars promised luck for today's leg home. Few clouds enroute, mostly blue skies north of the Alps and a broken layer of clouds at our destination. The icing on the cake was a strong tailwind so we were convinced our last leg was going to be a home run.

The first two hours were just like we expected, maybe a few clouds more than forecast but 30 knots of free thrust from behind. North of the Alps no clouds, just a bit of mist. Starting at the Danube Valley the situation changed completely: an overcast cloud layer at about 8000 feet and a bit later another layer of clouds on top. We continued to our destination Heubach (50km east of Stuttgart) at 10 000 feet, hoping to find a hole in the clouds allowing us to change from IFR to VFR (visual flight rules). Our backup strategy was to continue north to Schwäbisch Hall, slide down the ILS (instrument landing system) through the clouds and continue visually to Heubach.

Overhead Heubach we had a short discussion with Jörg Lohmann on the tower and it was clear that we would not land there today. So we continued to Schwäbisch Hall. The colleague there just told us "forget it, 400 feet cloud cover, no way to make it to Heubach". Not great either.

So on we go to Stuttgart, still reporting a broken cloud layer 1200 feet above the runway. Stuttgart Airport is not cheap but from there we can take the metro. Air traffic control was very supportive and allowed us to continue at 8000 feet (outside clouds) to the instrument landing system of runway 25 in Stuttgart. When it was time to descend, we saw once again an overcast cloud layer which appeared to be rather thick. We could descend through the cloud layer but would pick up some ice and might have a problem if we have to go around. We were allowed to hover around the airport looking for the reported holes and the controller asked airplanes in the vicinity for holes but nothing. The controller on the tower of Stuttgart also reported an overcast layer. The weather report for Stuttgart was definitely wrong which is quite scandalous as pilots have to rely on it.

Now we were out of preplanned options and had to look for something else. We had good weather coming from the south and it was getting worse the more north we got so we had to return south. The DFS controller was extremely professional and first asked for our endurance to judge the options and urgency. 3.5h so no problem at all. We discussed possible aerodromes, contacted Mengen but were told there is the same overcast cloud layer. While discussing other options, the controller contacted us and told us he spent some time phoning airports and recommends Friedrichshafen (EDNY, Lake of Contance) with blue skies. This was the perfect solution: only 20 minutes away, fully equipped with an instrument landing system, excellent infrastructure, customs and reasonable prices. So we continued to the beautiful Lake of Constance, were put on the ILS runway 24 by Swiss Air Traffic Control and landed with excellent weather. The aircraft was tied down, we passed immigration, had a little snack and reevaluated our options.

We did not expect conditions in Heubach to improve today and the short jump to Stuttgart would help much (other than increasing the cost). So we got a rental car and took off to Heubach where Markus's car is waiting in the hangar.

The real final of this journey will be in a few days when Achim takes the train to Friedrichshafen and brings the Cessna home to its hangar in Heubach. By this time, Markus will be sitting in his cube farm working on support tickets.

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!


Everybody has heard the Arabic expression Insha'Allah which is ubiquitous around here. It means something along the lines of "hopefully God agrees" and alludes to the fact that while man might plan and wish for certain results, the ultimate decision for everything is with Allah. While Europeans don't like to admit this obvious fact, the Arabs are well aware of whom the decision is with and openly communicate it. In radio communication between airplanes and air traffic controllers, it is an indispensable component and part of every request and permission. In the Middle East, you have to forget about your standard phraseology that you learned when doing your pilot license in Europe and adapt to the local customs. One of the biggest surprises of this journey was the excellent quality of air traffic control in Egypt — controllers with fluent English, a relaxed atmosphere and people supportive of our needs. For the benefit of European pilots and air traffic controllers, we have collected a few examples:

  • "Cairo RADAR, Cairo, Cairo, D-EDGK, salam aleikum, request shortcut direct El Gouna, insha'allah"
  • "D-EDGK, approved, direct El Gouna, isha'allah"
  • "El Gouna Tower, D-EDGK, salam aleikum, request landing information, insha'allah"
  • "D-EDGK cleared to land runway 34, insha'allah"

El Gouna to Marsa Alam at 8 knots

When two pros like Markus and Achim are in town, it doesn’t take long for difficult jobs to emerge. Yesterday it was about bringing Ocean Diva II, a 74 foot catamaran, from its previous harbor El Gouna to Port Ghalib (Marsa Alam), 120 nautical miles south.

Due to the revolution and the subsequent decline in tourism, OD II (as friends like to call her) spent some time alone in the harbor and therefore the trip was also a sea trial. 30 knots of tailwind and arrival at an unknown marina in the middle of the night promised an interesting trip.

Another goal was to try out Achim’s newly acquired trolling equipment. The latter was fully achieved: after about 15 minutes a 10kg thuna, two monster fish that first bent the rod and then went off with an aching jaw and last but not least a marvellous 20 kg dorade. Both were expertly cut by Khaled and served as the traditional welcome gift for the harbor employees. Achim — economist by profession — immediately determined the return on investment for his fishing gear (4 more fish) and we are currently working on our business plan as fishermen in Egypt.

This trip was not for sissys (which is why Markus didn’t fully enjoy it) and there were a few challenges that made it more interesting:

  • The crew had to improvise on several occasions, this was clearly not an everyday’s cruise
  • Sea maps and especially harbor entrance maps were considered as non necessary payload
  • The main sail couldn’t be hoisted due to incorrect reefing and correcting the problem at 30 knots of wind and 3.5m waves was deemed too risky
  • The starboard engine broke down due to a problem with the propellor shaft bearing (not the first time, bad workmanship by Volvo)
  • Continuing the trip on one engine and only the jib was slow and impossible with the fuel reserves we had
  • It was then decided to hoist the main sail which did not complete without putting the ship and crew at risk
  • The marina entry at Port Ghalib (no maps!) was quite interesting due to broken and invisible marker beacons. Markus was constantly mumbling something about life vests and dying.

All in all a successful trip. Today we are heading back to El Gouna in a car.

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.