August 2008 we reserved a week to make a tour with the PCA. Our original plan was to travel through Scandinavia (Denmark, Sweden, Norway and back again); but we repeatedly could not find a row of days where the weather forecast looked good enough.
No worries, let's ask the more experienced pilots amongst us whether they know any alternative. Bert suggested Coburg to us in Germany as the first stop. It was about 2 hours flight, and we agreed to go there and make plans for the following days afterwards.
Most difficult part of the trip to Coburg was to get out of the poor visibility and very low clouds over the Netherlands. Once in Germany the weather improved a lot and we flew to Coburg without any problem.
Coburg turned out to be a very good suggestion. The airfield lies on the top of a hill, and depending on the wind you fly in or out of it passing a huge and beautiful castle. The runway is about 850m, asphalt, with a little slope. Landing on top of a hill feels strange. It's more difficult to get a descent perspective for the descend and final approach.
The local controller in the tower did a very good attempt to match the hospitality of Texel airport. He supported us every step of the way and we even had to do our best to argue that it was not necessary to lend his car. He advised us a couple of hotels, we chose a very nice hotel on the top of the hill, facing the castle. Nice hotel, romantic atmosphere and a good starting point of a walking trip through the parks of the castle down to the village.Both the walk down and Coburg itself are very nice. Coburg has a nice central square with restaurants and terraces. No problem to enjoy ourselves the rest of the day before we had to walk/climb the whole way back up the hill.
The next day our friend at the airport helped us to choose our next stop. He recommended Vilshofen, in the very south-east corner of Germany. Vilshofen airport has a pretty long asphalt strip direct on the banks of the Donau, parallel to the river. After landing you park your plane almost in the river and you can cross the bridge to the village on the other side of the water.
Vilshofen itself is, like Coburg, a perfect choice for a day trip as well. The hotel was fine, only a pity that they planned the major local road to fit just between the village and the river. Once in Vilshofen we found out that it is very close to the Czech border. We called our friend Viteslav, to hear that he was at a conference in Karlovy Vary, and that he was able to meet us the next day to play golf. A quick planning on PocketFMS pointed out that Karlovy Vary (LKKV) is less than an hour of flight from our current position. Easy decision.
LKKV is a regional airport, also used by commercial airliners. They are building a large new terminal, so it would not surprise me if a number of low-cost airliners have found out that Karlovy Vary is an interesting destination. It's pretty close to the magnificent Prague, but we found out later that evening that Karlovy Vary (Karlsbad in German) is not a bad alternative destination as well.
Karlovy Vary has some beautiful hotels including the hotel Imperial on the higher parts of Karlovy Vary where we arrived; and of course in the lower parts of the city near the river the famous Grand Hotel Pupp, known from James Bonds' Casino Royal. Unaware of the beauty of the lower part of the city we had already eaten something on the hill before going down for a walk. To our surprise the lower part is magnificent if you take the effort to continue for a mile or so in the direction of the centre. We could not resist to eat a little bit again on a small bridge over the river.
The next day we went to a new golf course together with Viteslav. The local courses where all fully booked so we had to drive a little bit further out. Really nice course with hills, major height differences in some holes and a couple of blind shots. Good to be able to catch up with Viteslav and renew our friendship again.
The area around Karlovy Vary is a little bit hilly and the overcast clouds did not leave a lot of room to fly. Would have been a great day to file an IFR flight plan to get back to Holland, to confirm that all the effort for the ATPL theory and practical IR training make sense. Our former instructor Patrick was repeating his ATPL theory as well, as a preparation for his next career moves, and he did not find the time to finish what he had started with us.
Although the MFD of the Diamond gives you reliable and precise data regarding terrain, we promised each other that we would try to get things moving again when we would get back. In bad visibility conditions with low clouds and hills you cannot just put the flight plan in the FMS and let the plane fly back; you have to do some work yourselves. But to be honest, as long as the weather allows responsible VFR flying, it is fun to make maximum use of the capabilities of the plane and still manoeuvre it around and through the clouds manually. The first opportunity we saw we circled up to FL85 through a gap in the clouds to remain VFR on top until reaching the dutch border.
The difficulty with flying VFR on top on an overcast or broken cloud layer is to determine whether you will be able to descend in VMC at your destination. Based on Eelde ATIS we decided to descend when still in Germany (ATIS said overcast); but when approaching Lelystad we met only blue skies. On our way back from Portugal we would experience that it's worse when it is just the other way around.
Pancake Airlines Crew is trained by Dwarf Powered Gliders (www.dwarf.nl) and Wings over Holland (www.wingsoverholland.nl). Information on the PH-PCA Diamond DA40 can be found on www.diamond-aircraft.at. You can click on the title link to see the video on DailyMotion. This time not in HD because I forgot the camera. All video and stills are made with a HTC Touch Diamond.