Saturday, 22 November 2008

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.

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