Imagine doing steep turns with a baby elephant strapped to your shoulders. That's equivalent to the amount of force experienced by the Red Bull Air Race pilots as they hurtle round the course, throwing their aircraft into half-cuban eights-and vertical rolls at 240 kt., determined to clock the fastest time between start and finish. At high-G forces a normal human head, which weighs in at around 11 pounds, becomes 110 pounds. Add another 45 pounds for a helmet and you're talking having 165 lb. resting on your neck -- all the while concentrating on accurate flying
The extraordinary skill involved in the race drew a crowd of 35,000 to London's Docklands to see Mike Mangold (USA/Team Cobra) pip local favorite Paul Bonhomme (Team Matador) to the post by just over one second in a thrilling battle over London's Thames River. Mangold took the sixth leg of the series with a time of 1:25.82 minutes.
Amid much fanfare, the spectacle came to London and did GA here a power of good. Red Bull pulled out all the stops with massive screens, onboard cameras and breathless commentary throughout the action. And the pilots treated onlookers to a fantastic display of precision flying and exuberance as they weaved their way through the inflatable gates. Mangold did well to conquer the health problems that have dogged him throughout the season. He had a serious back injury just prior to the Abu Dhabi air race, preventing him from performing with maximum G, both there and at Rio. He was then floored by a bad case of strep throat prior to and during the Monument Valley leg. His victory means he is now just one point behind championship leader Bonhomme, who has 31 points. Hungarian Peter Besenyei took third place from Alejandro Maclean from Spain. More next year, please.
Psssst ... wanna buy an airport? AOPA in Germany is campaigning to keep Fuerstenfeldbruck airport (Fuerste) open. The GA airport near Munich boasts a huge apron, is certified for PPR-S operations, and is open between 8 a.m. and 9 p.m. It can cater for aircraft up to 5.7 tons with no restriction and has a 5,000-ft runway. Car giant BMW is piling on the pressure to close it as it would like to offer driver safety training there instead. "Not on our runway," vows Dr. Michael Erb, AOPA Germany's President. The airport is for sale and looking for offers in the region of EUR 1.5 million.
This month I've kept my promise and interviewed one of Europe's leading lights. A keen private pilot, Dr. Erb got his license in 1992 and flies "... whatever I can afford," usually Columbia 400s, TB20s, Cessna 172s and Piper 28s from a small airfield south of Frankfurt.
Although Germany is possibly Europe's largest user of GA, the news is still bleak for the European light aviation community. It seems that even in that country general aviation is on the decline. According to Michael, the AOPA team has a gut feeling that this is the case. He said, "There are reports that flight schools are empty and movements are going down. I just had a meeting with the Department of Transport. We do not count pilots in Germany; there is no federal centre where we can get some good statistics." He is backing a European initiative to gather reliable, centralized data from across the continent. "We cannot provide statistics to get those figures without support from the authorities. We could send out a questionnaire to aircraft operators to ask how many hours they are flying and for what purposes and then we could say how we're going. The European Commission said that it is interested in doing this at the European Civil Aviation Conference (ECAC) meeting in Paris."
Like many Europeans, Michael is keen to see light sport aircraft (LSA) accepted here. He affirms, "We are interested at the very light end. Pilots and manufacturers are interested in LSA. Today's ultralights have a problem with weight restriction. Two light people weighing 90 kg -- two like me -- have a big weight issue. It is not possible to fly legally. We would like to have an LSA class like you do in the U.S. We are aiming for the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) to promote light aviation in Europe. All the EU manufacturers are producing for the U.S. market and could build the same aircraft for the European market."
Part of AOPA's remit is to protect its members from unfair and punitive legislation. Recently the German government introduced background checks for pilots. Said Michael, "Five pilots refused to do this and we are backing them in a case that has gone to the Supreme Court. They are technically not allowed to fly, although they have not been refused permission, so are doing so. We went to court with them. We are concerned about security background checks and are fighting as hard as we can. We have appealed to the German Supreme Court questioning the new law for background checks. It is ridiculous. There have been many car bombs, but we do not screen all car drivers or lorry drivers. There has never been a case where a pilot of a small aircraft abused it for a terrorist attack.
So what is flying in Germany like? Michael explains, "It is difficult to fly to Munich from Hamburg or from Cologne to Berlin -- the weather wouldn't usually allow it. People usually fly around their own airfields at the weekend, rather than using GA as a serious means of transport. We'd like to see more people here taking their IFR license. Under the Joint Aviation Authorities (JAR) regime it is very difficult. The UK's Pamela Campbell is working on a new version of requirements for an instrument rating to try to take some of the unimportant stuff out of the catalogue of questions, such as what kind of wiring you need to operate an aircraft or how to repair it in flight or on the ground, that you will never need. In terms of restricted airspace, so long as there is no Pope or George W. Bush in town, it is quite easy to fly around Germany. There are very few no-fly zones, except around nuclear power plants." Contact AOPA Germany for more information.
Speaking of Germany, I had a request to identify a small airport in Germany that a reader visited during the summer eclipse of 1999. Michael is on the case and will feed back.
EASA is working towards a new, leisure, private pilot license for aircraft weighing less than 2000 kg (4,410 pounds) and a system of self-regulation for aircraft below 750 kg (1,655 pounds), to which ratings for different categories would be added including simple instrument and instructor ratings. Initial reports are varied, but it seems the license would allow pilots to fly near to their "home" airfields. Medicals would be issued by doctors, following a self-declaration certificate from the pilot. It's early days and the jury is out. Although the idea of opening up flying and lowering costs is fantastic, there are concerns that the proposed curriculum does not yet offer enough training on navigation and other critical skills.
We can only cross our fingers that there will be a sensible solution. One of the issues prompting such a move is the dearth of instructors over here. The new recreational license would not require an instructor to possess a costly commercial license, which prevents many people who'd be perfect for the job from obtaining an instructor rating. There are high staff turnovers at many flight training schools. Instructors are frequently either working commercial pilots, with limited time and availability, or qualified ATPs waiting for right-hand seats in an airline ...
... Not that anyone's done much instructing here in the UK this year. It's been the wettest summer since records began, with flooded runways and waterlogged fields. Elsewhere across the continent there have been freak conditions, such as fires in Spain and the Canaries and extreme heat in Hungary, Albania and Greece to name a few countries affected.
Storms and mud hampered but did not prevent one of Britain's finest -- world-record breaker Polly Vacher -- from creating yet another record on behalf of her favorite charity, Flying Scholarships for the Disabled (FSD). In her mammoth Wings Around Britain flight, she undertook to land at all the airfields in the UK listed in Jeppesen's VFR Manual, from May 21 through July 31, 2007. All in all she visited 221 airfields, flew over 158 flying hours and 19,000 nm, and carried 163 passengers -- 96 of whom were disabled. Her diary is well worth a read, particularly the point where she landed with a passenger at Insch, a remote and nearly inaccessible airfield in Scotland.
She wrote, "We circled the airfield. 'I can see a hole,' Julia shouted. I circled 'round and, sure enough, there was a hole. We spiraled down through the hole. There was the runway between the hills. "Can you see me in the yellow jacket?" Ken (the radio operator) asked over the radio. "Affirm," I said. "I am standing in the middle of the temporary runway; aim for me!" he shouted. "Aim for the yellow jacket." Never before have I been told to aim at someone standing on the runway or, indeed, I have never been told to aim at a yellow jacket. "Aim for the yellow jacket," he reiterated. "I will get out of the way," he went on. I aimed for the yellow jacket. "You are exactly right," came Ken's reassuring voice. I saw him move to the side, the rain came sheeting down again and I rounded out and landed in exactly the right place."
During the trip, Polly also flew in formation with the famous RAF Red Arrows team, the Eurofighter and the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight. She also received special permissions to land at Heathrow and Gatwick. Polly's records to date are impressive. She was the first woman to fly solo over the North Pole in a single-engine aircraft, the first woman to fly solo in Antarctica in a single-engine aircraft and the first person to fly solo around the world, landing on all seven continents.
FSD is a scheme where disabled people can explore their potential by extending their personal mental and physical boundaries in learning to fly a light aircraft.
It's a widely supported cause in the UK. On July 27, another two pilots completed an epic endurance flight in support of the charity. Steve Bridgewater and Amanda Harrison landed at 14 airfields and logged 10 hrs and 36 minutes in the air in a 140 hp Piper PA-28 Cherokee in an attempt to win the U.K.'s annual Dawn to Dusk flying competition. The duo departed their base at Brize Norton, Oxfordshire (home to the RAF's air to air refueling fleet), at 04:40 just as the sun was rising. They landed back at base 16 hours later at 20:40 feeling "exhausted but completely elated ... The day included some of the most challenging flying we have ever encountered," recalled Steve. "Carb ice was a major problem, as were crosswinds and bad turbulence, but I can honestly say it was the best day's flying in my life!"
Despite the adverse weather, Europe's second largest spectator sport after soccer has not been a complete washout so far. On one of its public days, the Royal International Air Tattoo (RIAT) was so busy traffic queued for up to five hours to get in. A particular favorite was a low pass by an Oasis Airlines 747-400. And it is always good to see the Royal Aeronautical Society promoting aviation to young people. Elsewhere, Germany's Tannkosh took place and was a great success. Next month sees Aero GP in Romania offering multiple aircraft racing simultaneously at close quarters, and the next event is over August 25-26 in Constanta, Romania. The event includes racing, air-to-air combat, and target bombing On another note, I'm pleased to say I've been asked to help Aero Expo with their promotion next year. It's a great addition to the general aviation circuit over here. It will be Europe's largest GA show in 2008 and should entice the top players from all over the world to visit our continent as well as stimulating debate about key issues of the day, such as LSAs and flight training. Can't be a bad thing.
Hawker Beechcraft opened its European sales base in Chester, U.K. ... Cessna has reached an agreement with Thielert Aircraft Engines to cooperate on future diesel engines (the German engine manufacturer has won several European certifications since 2002 for retrofitting diesel engines to Cessnas) ... Diamond Aircraft Industries has flown its new, diesel engine in a DA40 Twin Star (the Austrian company claims it produces 170 hp, significantly higher than the 2.0-litre Thielert Centurion engines currently fitted on its DA40 TDI and DA42 twin) ...
If there's anything you'd like me to cover in future columns, just drop me a note and I'll do my best.
For more aviation news and information from Europe, read the rest Liz Moscrop's columns.