Saturday, 22 November 2008

2008/11 Diamond Aircraft visit Wiener Neustadt

click on the title to see the video on DailyMotion

Last Friday the 14th of November we were invited to the Diamond headquarters in Wiener Neustadt, just 40 kilometers south-west of Wien. We flew in the day before with SkyEurope, a Czech low cost carrier, so we could spend some time in Wien.

From the airport you can take a special train to reach the city center within a few minutes.

The video shows some pictures of Wien including the Stephansdom and some other historical buildings. From Wien to Wiener Neustadt is also easy by train, it takes less than half a hour.

Diamond Aircraft is located on one of three airports in Wiener Neustadt and is located in the north-eastern sector of the city. This is the airport where we first saw our current plane the PH-PCA Diamond DA40. We have been flying it for only a year but if you see all the blog stories together it seems much longer. The DA40 really outperformed our initial expectation measured on what we are actually doing with it, and the ease with which this seems to be possible. Even for pilots with our limited level of experience.

Diamonds' Bernard Gruber gave us a warm welcome in the Katana Cafe of the airport. The headquarters is still a very busy place. Besides all the activity around the factory and the test flights with experimental versions of the plane, there are of course also all kind of marketing and sales activities carried out on the premises. That day a French media team was inspecting the DA42 NG on several demo flights. The NG is equiped with two Austro Engines, from the nearby sister company that started developing this diesel engine a couple of years ago.

Of course the financial problems at Thielert did have an impact on Diamond as well. The Thielert situation has also effected existing plane owners and Diamond has always been Thielerts number 1 customer. The positive news is that during our stay in Wiener Neustadt we sincerely got the feeling that we are close to a solution of the current situation. A solution not only focused on the upcoming Austro engines and for both new and existing Diamond customers.

The Austro 2.0 liter diesel engines will be a little bit heavier than the current Thielert engines, but the extra weight should be more than compensated by the higher power of the engines. In addition Diamond expects them to be even more fuel efficient. Certification of the engine itself is expected on short term, the type certification on the DA42 and DA40 should follow shortly afterwards.

We already saw a significant number of DA42 equipped with the Austro's in final assembly. On the video you can see the difference in rate of climb between an Austro equiped and a Thielert equiped DA42 that took off in sequence, without being absolutely sure of course that the same take-off technique was used. Another feature of the Austro seems to be that it makes a lot less noise when running idle.

Next to the Austro alternative Diamond seems to continue implementing newly delivered Thielert engines into its planes. It will be interesting to follow how the future will look like, what alternatives will be available and what scenario's will be developed by Diamond for both new and existing customers.

Pancake Airlines Crew is trained by Dwarf Powered Gliders ( and Wings over Holland ( Information on the PH-PCA Diamond DA40 can be found on You can click on the title link to see the HD video on DailyMotion.

2008/10 Diamond DA40 Burgos to Holland

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After diverting to Burgos (LEBG) on Wednesday there was no chance of flying back to Holland on the next day. Severe thunderstorms, very early snow in the north of Spain and over 50 kts of wind lead to an additional day in Burgos.
The people on Burgos airport are unbelievable friendly and supported us all the way. We were even offered a space in the hanger to get shelter for the storms during the night. Both landing fees and overnight parking charges are very cheap in Spain, as we found out in both Valladolid and Burgos.

Burgos turns out to be a very authentic Spanish city with all kind of local shops, restaurants and tapas bars. Lots of tiny little alleys, beautiful buildings (cathedral, castle, plaza major), and nice view from the hills. Apart from the hotel and airport virtually nobody seems to speak English, so we had to improvise with the few words of Spanish/Portuguese we were able to produce.

The next day, Friday October 31st, we decided to try to leave as early as possible to use the short and only temporary improvement of the weather. ATC at Burgos starts a bit later than the airfield opens which was new to us on an airport of this size. The very friendly girl from operations recommends using blind transmissions during backtracking and departure, in case of eventual other traffic.

Between two layers of clouds we were able to follow our VFR flight plan over Vitoria (LEVT) and San Sebastian (LESO) into France. The Pyrenees don't extend all the way to the ocean, so you don't have to fly very high to be able to cross the Spanish/french border over land. Both San Sebastian and Biarritz (LFBZ) are very nice airports close to the ocean. The beautiful San Sebastian airport is even directly parallel to the water in a small bay.

ATC allowed us this time to follow the coastline across all restricted area's around the coast between Biarritz and La Rochelle. Further north we encounter some rain showers until we have to decide whether to stay below in marginal visibility or go on top. The TAFs promised us an easy descend further up north, and clouds seem stratified and not to high so although freezing level is at FL50 we start to climb. After an additional hour cloud tops are getting gradually higher and higher until we are at FL115 and minus 10 degrees.

The altitude is no problem for the DA40 with its turbo diesel whatsoever, but with this temperature we would have to stay out of clouds even when switching to IFR. ATC provides us with MET updates for Deauville and Le Touquet (both are indicating good weather), but in real life the overcast extents a lot further north than we had anticipated.

We had been flying for almost 4 hours already at that point, but with the long range tanks still no worries. No worries would be appropriate for experienced pilots. The lack of experience with icing conditions made the situation for us personally lot less relaxed. Finally we decide to descend through a number of mailbox like openings in several layers of clouds and we find out that there is no ice build up at all.

Later we are told that even if there would have been a thicker stratified cloud layer of a couple of thousand feet, a freezing level of FL50 will give you plenty of time to loose the ice if you are building up some. Nevertheless, a DA42 or DA50 anti-icing system would offer a more relaxed descent to us in similar situations.

Approaching Le Touquet we asked Paris area control for an ILS approach. No problem for them, and he gives us a heading at 2000ft across the Channel. According to the MFD we are almost in the UK before we get a base and intercept heading which gives us clear view of some huge container ships at high speed.

Arriving at Le Touquet (LFAT) after a 5 hour flight we witness a lively discussion between a German private jet pilot and the local tower about their flight plan, who has this flight plan and who should have had this flight plan. The jet is already at the holding point for the runway, has to catch a connecting flight somewhere south with very little margin in time; but has to return to the apron nevertheless. 10 minutes later we see it depart anyway, lovely sight the acceleration and climb rate of a private jet.

After a short stop on Le Touquet (if you have more time visit the fish restaurants in town in stead of the airport restaurant) we were just in time to be able to beat sunset at Lelystad (EHLE). Flying at 2.500 feet we were just on top of a cloud layer in the sun, marvelous sensation. Holland turns out to be rainy, with poor visibility (what else is new).

Pancake Airlines Crew is trained by Dwarf Powered Gliders ( and Wings over Holland ( Information on the PH-PCA Diamond DA40 can be found on You can click on the title link to see the HD video on DailyMotion.

2008/10 Portimao diverting to Burgos

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After 10 days in the Algarve we had to head back to Holland again. We wanted to be back on Friday, and because the weather did not look very promising for both Spain and Portugal we decided to start already on Wednesday.

We tried to take-off as early as possible, but Portimao is at the far end of the Faro TMA and you are not allowed to leave without a local controller present at Portimao airport. Never mind about filing flight plans before via the internet; this country has its own rules and everybody will stick to them. In Portugal you have to file a flight plan for local flights, even when not at or towards a controlled airport. Leaving before the filed departure time, even for a VFR flight is out of the question as well.

After take-off we were able to have a good look at the new racetrack near Portimao that would be opened that weekend. Some people say it might even be used for F1. Nearby is the Baragem do Bravura, where we considered buying some land. You could buy a lot of land, for not a lot of money, but I am glad that we decided to go for more developed parts on the coast.

The first part of the trip in Portugal was fine. The weather had not changed yet, and we were able to fly underneath the big restricted area's in the north east of Portugal and the west of Spain. Whilst passing Evora a dutch instructor wished us a good trip home. The NLS (now CAE) is using Evora as the base for their flight academy and we had already seen a couple of the dutch students on Portimao airport. The route straight through the Salamanca area went well, be it a bit turbulent between the local hills.

Just after passing Salamanca you are approaching Valladolid airport. Valladolid is a reasonably big regional airport. We had to circle around for a while at the southern approach point to give way to a Ryanair plane with a medical emergency. The, apparently dutch, female captain seemed to be in control.

Behind the Ryanair, we were allowed to land and our parking position was just next to the emergency medical helicopter that was ready for take-off.

Because of the deteriorating weather we just stopped for a quick lunch. Refueling was again not necessary since we had filled her up the previous day at Portimao. Worth mentioning is that the cross country landing including parking and handling cost at Valladolid where about 4 euro's (the airport would have been the number 2 airport in Holland).

When taxiing out to the runway again another Ryanair plane backtracking on the runway gave way to us so we could cross the runway to the taxiway on the other side. Not a very usual experience for us ..

We tried to fly over San Sebastian / Biarritz towards one of the smaller airports on the west coast of France. We had prepared the charts for a lot of options to deviate to but in the end we did not get that far. Big towering clouds where blocking the passage between the ocean and the Pyrenees. We tried flying over them, as we did on the way in. But at FL105 is was clear that this would not work this time, or at least we were not going to take the risk.

Above the Bay of Biskaie thunderstorms were predicted and we could already see the snow in the Leon area. Flying north over the ocean and trying to cut of a large corner did not seem a careful alternative as well. Even Vitoria was out of reach for a VFR approach so we called Burgos on the radio for approach instructions. Pure coincidence but surely a good choice afterwards.

Burgos has a large asphalt runway, and a whole new airport terminal. The people at the airport are very friendly and they help you with anything you need. Because they expected snow they even offered us a space in the local hangar, at the old part of the airport where the fueling stations is as well. Gladly accepting the offer, we were picked up and brought to the terminal building, received an advice for a hotel downtown. Perfect.

Pancake Airlines Crew is trained by Dwarf Powered Gliders ( and Wings over Holland ( Information on the PH-PCA Diamond DA40 can be found on You can click on the title link to see the HD video on DailyMotion.

2008/10 PCA in the Algarve

click on the title to see the video on DailyMotion

During our 10 day stay in the Algarve we had time to do all kinds of things in still beautiful weather (most of the times anyway). The first week in Luz was reserved for golf and relaxing. First stop after landing in Portugal, as always, was a visit to our prefered restaurant the Dolphin. The Dolphin is a South-African restaurant in Praia da Luz, and if you once have the chance of going there do order Oom Tom Schalks Kudu Filet, with mushrooms in garlic sauce as a starter and of course a descent Dom Pedro for the finishing touch.

During another diner with our friends Joost & Marijke who are residents in Portugal, we made plans for local flights in the Algarve on Monday.

The video starts with a beautiful sunrise above the Atlantic Ocean on Saturday morning and some heavy rain falling out of the thunder clouds over the land. Funny to see that at the same time the sun keeps shining brightly as most of the times the clouds disappear above the cold ocean water.

First Marijke and I made a flight with Joost. 3 adults, not to heavy and full fuel tanks. There was almost no wind, and the wind kept on turning. Sometimes it changed all over sudden in a respectable tailwind. Taking off in the direction of Portimao there is a hill just in the take off direction. When we landed our approach was from this direction, but when taking off the same hill suddenly looked a lot bigger.

Later on we saw other planes, like some Cessna's take a short cut route directly to the right over the airport building to avoid the hill. We sticked to a conventional circuit but barely made it. We chose to use a short field take off technique, with flaps in the first position. Always difficult to judge whether it is better to make a flapless take-off to build up more speed followed by a steeper climb.

Heading to the west we had a magnificent flight over the Alvor basin, the harbour in Lagos and the typical rock formations at Ponte de Piedade. Further down our route we circled Reserva da Luz and flew over Burgau and Sagres to Cabo de Sao Vincente, the most south-westerly point of Europe. There are high cliffs over there with a nice light house at the end of the road. Around the corner the landscape is rough, but with beautiful beaches where Sander sometimes goes for wave surfing.

When Marijke flew with Marijke later on, on the same runway in similar conditions there was no problem whatsoever. About 125 kilo's less makes a huge difference. The second flight turned out to be a short flight because of an approaching thunderstorm from the north.

On Friday my sister and Rens arrived together with Walter and Christine on the daily Transavia flight to Faro. We did plan to make an additional flight with them, went to the airport, filed the flight plan, were on our way to prepare the plane ..... and found out that we left the planes keys at home. Smart.

Pancake Airlines Crew is trained by Dwarf Powered Gliders ( and Wings over Holland ( Information on the PH-PCA Diamond DA40 can be found on You can click on the title link to see the HD video on DailyMotion.

2008/10 Holland to Portugal in PCA

click on the title to see the video on DailyMotion

Within a year after buying the Diamond, and even within half a year of getting my PPL, we were ready for our longest trip so far. From Holland to the most south-westerly point of Europe, in the Portuguese Algarve. More than 1200 Nm and over 10 hours of flight.

It was not important how many days it would take, focus was on fun and safety. We wanted to start on Thursday morning, but a row of CB's made that impossible. Behind the thunderstorms the weather would improve significantly and we stayed prepared to depart as soon as the weather permitted it. Finally, just after 3 PM, we were able to take-off in the direction of La Rochelle (LFBH) in France.

La Rochelle is just south of Bretagne on the Atlantic coast on the mainland at Ile de Re. It's an IFR field with a long asphalt runway, appropriate lighting and an ILS.

We prepared a number of airports to divert to if needed but according to our flight plan we might just make it to La Rochelle before end of daylight. When there are no abnormalities, they FMS of the DA40 gives a very good indication of your estimates at each way point. You can choose between interval or cumulative times or distances, and your are constantly informed about IAS, TAS and Ground Speed.

If necessary you can adjust the power setting to anticipate on changes in wind speed and direction to maintain the target ETA. The DA40 can be run on 100% power for an unlimited period, but we fly between 55 and 70% most of the time. The additional speed at higher power is limited and the difference in fuel consumption and range is much bigger. At 55% we can fly for more than 8 hours and still at an IAS of about 110 knots.

The knowledge that you are capable of making an instrument approach really helps in situations like this. In the end we made it in time to make a visual approach before sunset, but we would have decided to deviate to an airport earlier on the route without that reassuring thought.

The center of La Rochelle is super! Our hotel was direct on the old sea harbour with the solid castle like towers at the entrance. After checking in we just had to walk out of the hotel door to find several interesting restaurants. We chose the fish restaurant just next door, because it was full of people, and we were happy our plane had brought us here in time.

The next morning we headed in the direction of San Sebastian. Around Bordeaux there are a lot of restricted area's and it depends on the military activity and the flight level you are able to maintain whether it is possible to follow the coast. We were guided a bit to the east over the land, before we were allowed to fly direct to LESO again. There are a lot of airports in this area, and the video shows Bordeaux, Biarritz and the beautiful airport of San Sebastian.

Close to the Pyrenees the clouds where reaching higher and higher. Because of the mountains on the northern coast of Spain we decided to try and fly on top of the clouds. We climbed to FL105 and with a little bit of avoiding we managed to stay clear of clouds on that level. Marvellous view on the clouds in all kinds of shapes and layers.

Our next planned stop was Leon (LELN). Because of the thick clouds around Leon and the presence of a lot of mountains we did not feel very comfortable to try and find a way to descend there. Certainly not on a VFR flight plan.

Fuel enough, so we just decided to continue flying towards Portugal. In the north east corner of Portugal there is a local airport called Vila Real (LPVR).

The size of the runway is comparable to Lelystad, the only difference is the number of planes that use it. Five on average per day! Because of this very busy traffic on the airport, the controller had us changing parking position for 3 times before he finally was happy about the end result. During the hours we were there we have not seen another plane and even reaching the controller was only possible after the regional traffic controller at Lisboa decided to call them by phone after 15 minutes of futile attempts via the COM.

Our friend asked us what PH stands for. He worked there for 6 years and had never seen a PH registration before. The ease of flying with the Diamond DA40 gives us the feeling that it is just normal what we are doing. Remarks like this bring some doubt about the regularity of our trips.

After refuelling and just paying for the fuel (landings are free) we commenced the final short leg to Portimao, only 2 hours away. Traffic guidance in Portugal is fine, except for some area's with bad reception (distance / mountains). Crossing the last mountains at Monchique we were ready for our descend to our final destination.

At Portimao we were free to choose our own circuit direction, so why not choose an approach over the ocean and the rock formations at Portimao. Perfect end of a very exciting journey which took us in total 1,5 day.

It's a lot cheaper, much faster, and more independent of the weather to fly with Transavia but flying the Pancake there ourselves is an experiences we are not likely to forget.

Pancake Airlines Crew is trained by Dwarf Powered Gliders ( and Wings over Holland ( Information on the PH-PCA Diamond DA40 can be found on You can click on the title link to see the HD video on DailyMotion.

2008/10 Texel - Holland's greenest airport

click on the title to see the video on DailyMotion

YES! I managed to pass the IFR exam last Friday (Oct.10th). Performing an exam is not my favorite hobby, but the flight to De Kooy (EHKD) and back with examiner Jan van Wonderen went quite OK. Thanks a lot to Wings over Holland, Patrick and a special thanks to Eelco. Eelco did not only prepare me for the exam in only a couple of months. His attitude towards using the capabilities of the Diamond to the max will certainly help us when we'll really be using it in our next travels.

Having an instrument rating still does not mean that you can always fly, but gives additional possibilities and easy of mind in a lot of situations. Of course we still respect the fact that we fly in a single engine plane, without any form of de- or anti-icing like for instance the DA42 or in the near future the DA50 will provide. Apart from that the Diamond DA40 TDI G1000 offers an amazing number of features that enable inexperienced pilots like us to fly the plane in a relaxed and comfortable manner.

I still have to wait until the IR is added to my license (I wonder how long this will take this time) but it feels great that it's in the bag. Just the feeling that I can do this already gives a lot of support for our Pancake trip next week to Portugal.

To celebrate Marijke and I decide to fly to Texel the next day and spend the night in the airport hotel. Ed and his son Mike are indisputably the warmest hosts we have ever seen at any airport so far. It is only a short flight, but it is always fun to visit the billiard like long grass strip on the island. Even if it's only for coffee and back again. There's always a lot to see at the airport with a lot of parachute drops and plenty of old planes.

The next day we first flew to Eelde to let Marijke make additional practise approaches for her IFR training and then back to Lelystad. Har and Rud, Marijke's parents would come to Lelystad as well to fly with us to ......Texel and back again. In the meantime I had the chance to take some images of Martin's Air Charter, the PH-DDZ Dakota during its landing on Lelystad.

Pancake Airlines Crew is trained by Dwarf Powered Gliders ( and Wings over Holland ( Information on the PH-PCA Diamond DA40 can be found on You can click on the title link to see the HD video on DailyMotion.

2008/10 Sonderborg (DK) and Sylt (D)

click on the title to see the video on DailyMotion

What do you do when it is going to be another grey day in Holland? Well if a Diamond DA40 is waiting on you and the sun is shining elsewhere, why not just go there. Harry and I went for lunch in Denmark, destination Sonderborg (EKSB).

As you can see in the video poor visibility and low clouds in Holland, but the forecasts promised no clouds below 1200ft that day so it should be possible to return VFR all the way. The route to Sonderborg leads directly over Eelde so another chance for a practise approach. In the mean time I did found out that almost every time you will encounter new situations or elements that help me build up more and more references. So I try to take every opportunity, as my IFR exam was scheduled for Friday October 10th.

Recently I had an experience like that with Eelco during IFR training. When training on Friday on De Kooy because the Eelde ILS is out of service during my IFR exam we sometimes pick up Sander at Eelde afterwards.
This time we got a straight in for 05 over VZ. Then ATC asks us what our maximum speed and rate of descent is in the approach. A commercial airliner was approaching the airport as well and ATC was checking whether we would still fit in in between. We had not reached the normal approach altitude yet but if you keep the same descend angle it is easy to do your altitude checks from a higher altitude. With the DA40's CDI on the VOR it is easy to follow the right radial and you just fly down the approach path a bit faster than normal. No flaps selected (max speed for approach flaps is 108kts).
Could you please exit the runway via the exit to runway 01? Additional challenge, but we are able to do that as well. When arrive at the apron the jet behind us is already taking his parking position.

With Harry it is just a touch and go and we continue in the direction of the German Wadden islands. There always are a couple of other planes active in that area as the islands are a popular destination. We see 2 planes land on Wangeroog, we have never been there before but it seems to be a long asphalt runway with a village nearby. Perhaps for a next occasion.

We fly not far from the coast straight to Sonderborg. There are a couple of nice little white clouds at 2000ft, we fly on top of them with enough land in sight all the way. The approach at Sonderborg will provide another lesson. The normal procedures are all on the east side of the airport. There is a holding on that side as well on kind of an irregular position. We are approaching from the southwest and there are 2 other planes active, one in the holding. The standard pattern is complicated enough, with an IAF very close to the runway followed by a procedure turn.
Then the tower asks us if we want to pick up the ILS right away. That's OK for us but now I make a mistake in judging where we are going to intercept the glidescope. In my mind we were much further out, and because I had not prepared well enough I thought the final approach altitude would be 2000ft (it is 1500ft). Both not necessary because both the MFD and the GS indicator on the PFD give more than enough information to tell me otherwise.

Of course Harry first lets me make my mistakes before asking me a check question. I was monitoring the glidescope indicator but if you think you have a clear situational awareness in your mind it is very easy to interpret this info according to the picture in your mind. There was time to correct the rate of descend significantly to be able to make a normal landing at Sonderborg. Again good to realise yourself that this can happen, before you mess it up in more challenging situations.

Sonderborg is situated beautifully right next to the water. There are all kind of islands and peninsulas around there with a lot of nice harbours. The airport itself is OK but apart from that there is nothing, and not even a open restaurant. From the air we had not seen anything at walking distance from the airport so we decide to relocate our lunch plans to Sylt, just on the other end of this neck where the German/Danish border is.
Harry has been here in Sonderborg before with a boat, so we ask the tower if it is allowed to do some sight seeing over the area before heading west again. No problem.

At Sylt we also get a straight in. Sylt/Westerlund (EDXW) has 2 large runways. As Marijke and I have been here before we know the shortcut route to the town, only 15 minutes by foot.

From Sylt we take a route between the coast and Helgoland, but still you are out of gliding range from land for some time. Even Harry is not used to this in a single engine plane, but we did not encounter any signal of unreliability or hesitation in our DA40's Thielert engine yet. Most of the problems around these engines in their current state are of an economic nature now Thielert is not keeping its promises regarding the maintenance program.

From a distance Helgoland seems to be all covered in gold, as the sun is already setting a bit. Approaching the Wadden again, we have to choose to either stay on top or circle down to fly under the overcast cloud cover. We decide to descend, again a poor choice afterwards but still based on a forecast that promised no clouds under 1200ft. In the direction of Lelystad the clouds get lower and lower until we are at 500ft around Emmeloord. Dutch Mill ensures us the sky at Lelystad is all blue, so if we would have flown on top you wouldn't even have noticed the different situation below.

We ask Dutch Mill for assistance as we can't continue VFR in the direction we want, even as it's very close. They promote us to IFR for a short while, climbing to 2000ft again with very beautiful images around us of the sun trying to peek through the clouds here and there. Over the Flevopolder there actually is a big gap just in time to cancel IFR again and finish another fine day of flying.

Pancake Airlines Crew is trained by Dwarf Powered Gliders ( and Wings over Holland ( Information on the PH-PCA Diamond DA40 can be found on You can click on the title link to see the HD video on DailyMotion.

Friday, 21 November 2008

2008/09 Sander to Norderney and Eelde

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We had been to Norderney before but this time Sander was in the right seat. Sander was able to practise the RT he learned the weeks before at school; and some other things :-). Ideal weather to fly with nice clouds, I like that a lot better than a totally blue sky. If you are leaving the islands later in the afternoon the lower sun over the Waddenzee and its sand plates offers a very special sight. Afterwards we dropped Sander off at KLM flight academy in Eelde where we were able to practise an ILS approach with a circling for 05. I have picked up IFR training again, with Eelco via Wings over Holland. I really like Eelco's approach to make maximum use of all the equipment available in the Diamond. His training is very complementary to the one I already received before; and it seems to me that this approach is very practical. Especially in difficult situations maximum use of the navigation and autopilot features gives you a lot less workload. I learned a lot of new possibilities of which I did not even know that the DA40 was capable of.

As I write this both Sander and Marijke managed to pass all their ATPL exams this week with an average around 90%. Good start for Sander and Marijke now only has 3 to go. Marijke will also finish her IR rating with Eelco.

Pancake Airlines Crew is trained by Dwarf Powered Gliders ( and Wings over Holland ( Information on the PH-PCA Diamond DA40 can be found on You can click on the title link to see the HD video on DailyMotion.

2008/09 Take-off and Landing at Meribel & Courchevel altiports

click on the title to see the video on DailyMotion

Late September we like to go to Meribel to play golf in the mountains. Meribel has a 18 holes golf course where golf gets a sport. With an altitude difference of almost 3000ft and a full bag on your shoulder it's not a big problem to sleep at night.

We already looked at Meribel altiport, in the middle of the golf course at 1700m, pretty often. It's an airport with a asphalt (when there's no snow) runway of about 400m, you can only take-off and land in one direction. This time Jerome, the chief instructor, chief mechanic and who knows what else, was working on the red Mousquetaire III. It was up for inspection, so it was not possible to fly that afternoon. But if we could come back tomorrow morning, it would be possible to fly....

With the Pancake, we are not allowed to fly to Meribel. Even if we wanted to, what is not likely anyhow. For the altiports you need a separate mountain qualification, and you have to renew this every 6 months. This is important as we would see later on.

The next day, we were up very early. It was a beautiful day and Jerome was waiting for us. Marijke went first. The Mousquetaire has a turboprop with enough power, so I was able to sit in the back without any weight and balance problems. Marijke flew over St Martin de Belleville and thereafter in the direction of Val Thorens. Jerome showed us a number of green spots on the mountains where we would never ever consider taking off nor landing. They do.

We had seen some courageous french pilots earlier that week as we were on hole 12 where a french fighter pilot passed us at high speed with a 90 degree bank angle through the valley only a couple of 100ft in front of us.

After circling in the Val Thorens valley we moved over to Courchevel. Jerome showed us how to check for downdrafts before going over a mountain ridge. If possible, Courchevel altiport looks even more impressing. The combination of a high mountain on both ends of the runway and a huge drop from the runway threshold downwards gives it an extra dimension. In the final stage of the approach, a missed approach is not option.
The runway though is a little longer that Meribel's, and the slope is a lot steeper so small planes have to keep the power on after touch down to be able to get to the flat part at the end of the runway.

Landing on the steep slope is very different from a normal landing. You have to keep the power on, and it is difficult to determine how high to pull the nose up in the flare. Proof of this was the King Air stationed at Courchevel at that time. The pilot made a serious tail strike and the King Air seemed to be a total loss. As we heard, his mountain qualification had expired 2 months before the accident.....oops again.

At Courchevel we changed roles and now it was my turn to fly. In the beginning of the runway you can't even see the rest of it as the slope is to steep. Not easy to stay focused but it was a comforting feeling that Jerome was right next to me. Even then I had problems to keep straight on the center line after the break in the runway but it does not take the plane long to be airborne.

We continued our trip over the skiing area's of Les Arcs and La Plagne, all green in this time a year although the higher mountains already caught some snow. It feels great to fly close to the mountains, at this time of day with not to much winds it is not very dangerous as Jerome points out. But he too was limiting our altitude once the higher winds were increasing. The big lenticularis at the Mont Blanc also indicated that we should be careful even in these beautiful conditions.

My turn to try to land the plane. Judging the approach to Meribel altiport is already difficult, even if Jerome is helping me with the mixture lever. I don't think I contributed a lot in the actual flare and touch down. Still it was a major experience and we drove back to Holland still excited from the morning events.

Pancake Airlines Crew is trained by Dwarf Powered Gliders ( and Wings over Holland ( Information on the PH-PCA Diamond DA40 can be found on You can click on the title link to see the HD video on DailyMotion.