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US Weather Briefing For Pilots

The average Englishman’s preoccupation with weather is surpassed, it would seem, only by the weather-obsessed American aviation community. In fact, a pilot wishing to take to the US skies has such a bewildering number of weather information options at his disposal that it’s almost self-caricature – and all, of course, with dandy American acronyms: ASOS, AWOS, ATIS, WXBRIEF, FSS, HIWAS – The list goes on and on. And it’s all as free as the air.

The pilot’s first line of defense in getting flight-related weather briefings is to dial, from any phone in the country, 1-800-992-7433. The handy mnemonic for this number is to spell out 800-WX-BRIEF on a Touch-Tone keypad. No matter where you are in the country, this number will connect you with your regional Flight Service Station (FSS) weather briefer, who is a trained professional weather observer and aviation weather reporter.

A FSS also provides many services such as opening and closing flight plans, giving out NOTAMs (Notices to Airmen), PIREPs (Pilot Reports), information on Special Use Airspaces (see accompanying story) and other details crucial to a flight. In the air, you can always contact a FSS Flight Watch (122.0) to get up to the second weather news and guidance should you run into unexpected weather. This is a potentially life-saving service.

Briefers
Some may be gruff, and some are more helpful than others but as a rule, aviation weather briefers in the US are superbly competent. “The first thing we’re going to do after we get the background of what the pilot is contemplating,” said Ron Napurano, Manager of the New York Automated Flight Service Station, “is look at an overview of weather based on the qualifications of the pilot and the intended route of flight, and make a judgment as to whether we think you should fly or not.”

If adverse conditions are present then the briefer is legally bound to inform you that based on conditions, VFR is not recommended. The briefer will state that and then give supporting reasons. Sometimes they just state it bluntly. Other times they get a bit dramatic – I remember once being told by a briefer that a route I was contemplating was looking “Mighty ominous indeed.”

The most effective strategy, unless you’re really, really sure of yourself (ATP-rated pilots with 10,000 hours and a degree in meteorology may skip the next part), is to ask for a “Standard Briefing”.

What they need from you
The briefers are indeed professional, and even if not pilots themselves, well-trained in briefing pilots. But they’re not mind readers – you have to prepare for the call and give the briefer what they need, without them asking too many basic questions. “You can tell a person who’s been getting briefings from us for a while,” said Napurano, “if the pilot is prepared, and uses the background checklist (see box), it saves the tedious pulling of information back and forth and makes the briefing go much smoother.

WXBRIEF Checklist
Before you call WXBRIEF, have the following information at hand, and when you get the briefer on the phone, give it in this order:

  • Type of Flight Planned (VFR or IFR)
  • Aircraft ID or your name (if you don’t yet know the tail number of a rental)
  • Aircraft type
  • Departure Point
  • Route of Flight
  • Destination (and alternate)
  • Altitude(s) you intend to fly
  • Estimated Time of Departure (in Zulu) and Estimated Time of Arrival

Like so:

“Hello, I’m a pilot making a VFR flight in Cherokee 8252 Zulu, that’s a Piper PA-28 161, departing from Teterboro and flying northbound, along the Hudson River to Nyack to clear the Bravo airspace, then turning right, following the Madison VOR, Providence VOR and Boston VOR to destination Bravo Oscar Sierra, Boston Logan, with an alternate of Bravo Echo Delta, Bedford. Once I clear the Bravo airspace north of Teterboro I’ll climb to seven thousand five hundred feet. I’ll be leaving Teterboro at about twelve hundred hours Zulu or seven am local, and expect the flight to take about one hour and ten minutes.”

Now, of course, the above is the perfect, somewhat anal-retentive, by-the-book way to say it, and you might get a bit breezier over time. But you really should make an effort to be as close to this model as possible..

Effective communication with the briefer can’t be stressed enough. Every time they have to ask you a stupid question, such as “State type aircraft” or “This is a VFR flight or IFR flight?” you’ve just wasted the time of yourself, your briefer and the next pilot who will cal in.

What They Give You
In exchange for your expressiveness, you’ll get a pile of information worth its weight in gold.

This includes the following information, in the following order.

Adverse Conditions This is the first order of business: the briefer will take the information he has on you and determine whether the trip is recommendable at all. Any adverse conditions will necessarily be mentioned first and foremost. If the weather is doubtful you will, by law, get a verdict of “VNR” – VFR Not Recommended, and the supporting arguments.

Adverse conditions can be anything – from plain old IMC to mountain obscuration to icing to turbulence, especially low level wind shear and other weather that could affect takeoffs and landings. “We give them the whole nine yards on adverse conditions and the potential effects,” said Napurano.

Synopsis If weather is VFR or marginal VFR, the next step in the Standard Briefing is the Synopsis, which gives a general overview of the weather as it is at the moment: this is not specific to your trip, but rather a general overview of storms, fronts, circulation, pressure systems gathered over an 18-hour period. The briefer might give you information on specific storms, strong winds or other weather phenomena as required.

Remember, this is to give you an overall feeling for the weather in general, not specifically the weather that will affect your flight. For example, the current conditions at or near your destination airport might not be valuable if you intend to leave in three hours for a two hour flight – conditions could be significantly different five hours from the time you call!

Current Conditions The current conditions at the departure airport.

Enroute Forecast This is weather that the Center is forecasting to expect along your route, culled from National Weather Service (NWS) forecasts as well as actual Pilot Reports (PIREPs) made by pilots actually flying along the route. “They’re very specific, and that’s why we ask all pilots to give us PIREPs,” said Napurano, “We get a PIREP from a pilot in a 152 saying he’s got a light chop we probably won’t tell that to a 747 pilot, but if a 747 pilot reports a light chop, we’re certainly going to let everything smaller out there know about it.”

The Enroute forecast may or may not be consistent with current conditions – remember, it’s a forecast – but what it will give you is conditions that are expected along your entire route. So if you’re flying from Islip, Long Island to Raleigh, North Carolina, you’ll get forecasts for New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, etc, all the way down to North Carolina.

Destination Forecast The forecast at your destination is based on the Terminal Area Forecasts for larger airports; if you’re flying into Charlotte, then the forecast is specifically made to cover that. But if you’re flying into Podunk, North Carolina, you’ll get the TAF for the nearest large airport. TAFs are good for five miles around the airport they’re forecasting. It’s not legally binding or anything, but it’s an idea of what’s happening now and what NWS and thinks will happen.

Winds Aloft This section is extremely important because it also covers temperatures aloft and specifically icing – whether actual or forecast – and the temperature and winds by altitude strata. “Typically a pilot saying that he’s going to be flying at 6,000 feet will be given the winds and temperatures aloft for 3,000, 6,000 and 9,000” said Napurano, “because you’re going to pass through 3,000 to get to 6,000, and who knows, you may request a different altitude once you’re up there for any number of reasons. So we try to give you the broadest range of possibilities we can.”

NOTAMs Covers any NOTAMs of any interest whatsoever.

ATC Delays Unlikely to happen to you if you’re flying between Podunk and Kischnev, more likely the larger your destination or departure airport is. At Teterboro, ATC delays are quite common, and this would be passed on to you by the briefer.

Military Training Areas These are different from MOAs, and are areas in which military aircraft may be training. MTAs are given only on the pilot’s request – request it.

What They Want From You
At the end of a standard briefing, the briefer will request of the pilot that the pilot file a PIREP – even if the conditions are exactly as forecast, but especially if they are not, you can help other pilots by making a PIREP.

You will also be requested to contact Flight Watch (122.0) for enroute weather information.

Whiskey What!?!

“Augsburg Tower, Cessna Echo Hotel November Foxtrot is three minutes east of Sierra inbound for Runway 07, full stop landing”

“November Fox, Sierra is closed due to glider traffic in the area, do you have another request?”

My friend Kees, an American flight instructor flying with me for the first time in Europe, looked over at me, with a quizzical, amused look on his face.

“Augsburg Tower, November Fox is eight minutes east of Whisky One inbound for runway 07”

“November Fox, advise when you reach Whisky one”.

Kees glanced at the chart, and pointed at the coordinates for Whisky One. We buzzed west over the town of Augsburg, cut north, and, eight minutes later (abreast of the power tower that marks Whisky One) we turned right, along the highway, and I called back in.

“Augsburg Tower, November Fox is at Whisky one and now eastbound at 3000 feet”

“November Fox, advise when you reach Whisky Two”.

“November Fox, will call at Whisky Two”

“Hold it”, said Kees, “There IS NO WHISKEY TWO on this map.”

“Right,” I said, laughing.

“Where’s Whisky Two?”

“Sorta up there,” I gestured vaguely. “Round about halfway back from Whisky 1 and stay on the right side of the highway – the instructor pointed it out when I was on my checkride.”

“You have GOT to be kidding me,” he said, shaking his head.

Even when armed with a map, European flying and ATC procedures can still shock even a seasoned pilot like Kees.

Studying the air charts certainly helps, but European ATC has its own way of doing things, and Americans saying it’s not efficient is unlikely to result in any changes!

But that doesn’t mean you have to feel stupid if you’re unfamiliar with one of the dozens of local conventions.

When an ATC asks to do you something like head for a point that doesn’t exist on your map, throw it right back at them, politely:

“Am unfamiliar with Whisky Two and don’t see it on my map. Please give me more precise directions!”

Flying In To See A Shuttle Launch

Many a pilot/space junkie wants
desperately to view a space shuttle launch from the comfort and luxury of a GA
aircraft, which is fine unless you try and get close enough to see anything
in particular, at which time you’re in violation of a number of restricted
airspaces and warning areas, and are likely to have a visit from an FAA
inspector when you land.

Essentially, the entire area from south of Patrick Air Force Base (at the very southern end of the Jacksonville VFR Sectional) all the way north to New Smyrna Beach, and from the jauntily-named Christmas, Florida at the east to as far west as you’d like to fly over the Atlantic, from ground level to Heaven above are verboten during shuttle launches.

Specifically, stay well out of Warning Areas W0497-A, W-497-B, and Restricted Areas R-2932, R-2933, R-2934 and R-2935. Before flying anywhere near the KSC, get a flight briefing (St Petersburg Flight Service Center, 1-800-992-7433, which spells WXBRIEF on the keypad) and specifically ask if there are any active warning or restricted areas, and say, “Is there anything I didn’t ask you that I should have asked you?” before hanging up. Do not fool with this.

The good news? You will be able to get the most exciting views of your life from above Daytona, St Augustine or even Jacksonville. When that baby goes, you don’t have to get very close to get the show of a lifetime.

A Journey Over The Alps

The automated weather station, straddling a rocky point 800 feet below my left window, is at the top of the Zugspitze, the highest mountain in Germany. My altimeter tells me I’m leaving 11,000 for 11,500 feet.

Seeing something so close when I’m so high, even in D-EHMB, the C-172 I’ve come to love, is a little disconcerting. That nice man at Innsbruck tower had told me earlier in the day that my planned crossing of the Alps ‘shouldn’t be too hair raising’. But that very term, ‘hair-raising’, was one echoed by several people I spoke with in preparation for my flight – my first across any mountains, let alone Alps.

I am not an Alpine pilot. Flying north at 1100 feet over New YorkE’s Hudson River last summer, I found the need to look up to see the building-tops somewhat alarming. Approaching Prague last October I marvelled at the 1500-foot hilltops to the south of the city, and hoped I didn’t terrify local residents – ATC had instructed me to maintain 2000 MSL (my passengers were still boisterously humming Wagner’s Flight of the Valkyries) when I touched down.

The highest point I’d encountered in my flight training, back in Florida, was a tower that stuck up to oh, about 3200 feet or so. I remember thinking as I flew by it about those training videos, in which the presenter folksily, whimsically points out that the top number on the chart is what your altimeter would read if you were to strike the top of the pole, the one on the bottom how far you’d fall to the ground.

Now, in Florida, the top number minus the bottom number usually leaves you with about 12 feet or so. This explains Florida’s colourful history, with occupation by the English, French, Spanish, Mexicans and Americans. Like Poland, Florida was historically the flattest piece of land between battling superpowers.

But here in Germany, where I’ve been flying for over a year, it seems that no self-respecting piece of terrain bothers to get out of bed unless it’s at least 1500 feet above MSL. I have visions of visiting Baltic coast beaches near Hamburg and having to take a cable car down to the water’s edge.

I’d approached the Alps several times, usually while giving friends the requisite air tour of the area. We’d pass over the town of Füssen, on our way, I told them, to view Loony Ludwig’s magnificent Neuschwanstein – the very palace on which Disney based Cinderella’s castle. It’s scenically tucked into the side of an Alpine mountain, and each time I’ve gone near the thing, thoughts of mysterious and deadly downdrafts and horrific mountain wind-shear phenomena have ensured that I either stayed very high (‘No, really, it’s down there. There! Just squint a bit more!’) or safely to the northwest (E’Oh stop whining. There are binoculars in my flightbag’).

But I was determined I was going to learn enough to fly the Alps, and that I was going to do it in style. I wanted a big, Germanic breakfast of heavy breads, crusty rolls and strong coffee cut with steamed milk; a crisp, clear day; a fine, reliable plane and jaw-dropping views as I soared above some of GodE’s most beautiful scenery. Then, after landing in one of earth’s most scenic airports – a runway smack in the middle of one of the world’s most dramatic valleys – I’d have a fabulous Sacher Torte and coffee break at Sacher itself, and then lay down my head for the night in a 13th-century castle.

On the morrow, I’d buzz through more breathtaking scenery, and then overfly the Bavarian capital of Munich on my way back to my home base of Augsburg.

Preparing The Mind
Knowing as I did that mountain flying has rather different rules and procedures than I was used to, the first thing I did was contact my local flight instructor, Tom, who told me that he’d be delighted to help me but he was heading that very day to Las Vegas to teach in a new flight school there. But, he confided, flying the Alps is really fun, and ‘not so hair raising’.

My next stop was the internet, where I did a search for “mountain flying”, and after several missteps came up with Mountainflying.com (http://www.mountainflying.com), a website run by a US mountain pilot, Sparky Imeson. Sparky’s site very thoughtfully contains, free, the most important aspects of mountain flying, his ‘must-know rules’:

The first of these was pretty common sense, but I’d never heard it stated this way:

‘Rule number one: always remain in a position where you can turn toward lowering terrain’. Well now, that seemed straightforward enough.

Rule number two was rather ominous and yet tantalizingly vague: ‘Never fly beyond the point of no return’.

Point of no return? Oh dear. And this is rule Number two? Did I miss something on Rule Number One?

Imeson defines the point of no return to be the spot from where, if your engine quits, you can turn round 180-degrees without impacting the ground. Always a handy rule of thumb to know.

I liked the website so much that I bought Sparky’s book, Mountain Flying, and his video, and while I can wholeheartedly recommend the first, the video was so unfathomably dull that my colicky infant son, Sebastian, actually stopped his mid-day screamfest and sat, mesmerised, staring at the screen. As did I.

But all things considered, I was considerably better prepared for my voyage than I had been when I bought the thing, so hats off to Sparky.

Making The Trip
I spoke with flight instructors, the towers at both Munich and Innsbruck, and with other pilots who flew the area, and all told me the same thing: don’t worry so much, but with a caveat: do not under any circumstances attempt the trip if the winds aloft over the Alps were above 25 knots. And oh, yeah, stay at least 1000 feet above the highest point along the way at all times.

Innsbruck tower advised me that the best route from Augsburg to Innsbruck was to head directly south to the village of Garmisch-Partenkirchen, and then to follow the valley as it extended to the south. Along this route I would be assured that with the exception of the Zugspitze – which I could stay left or right of – everything else would be under 8000 feet MSL, or well within my limits if I maintained the maximum 9500 feet required by German VFR rules.

Innsbruck tower advised me of their rigid and somewhat disorganised approach pattern, which requires (when approaching from the west) leaving the Alps, descending to 5000 feet MSL, and turning east but ensuring that you stay to the west of the city of Telfs before getting cleared for final.

It gets confusing, we were to find on the actual approach, because once they clear you into the main control zone, the tower can say … well, the darndest things (“…and if you appreciate, on your way to [checkpoint] Whisky, you may continue with climb, and until passing with three thousand.” Huh? AH: Don’t turn left towards Oscar till you reach 3000 feet. I appreciate!). I went out and bought the latest Jeppesen and Deutsche Flugsicherung charts to the region, and I was ready.

Well, not quite.

Alps Under My WingI had to wait for the infamous German weather to cooperate. I’d been grounded for much of the winter by miserable rainstorm after lamentable cold front after wretched sleet and snow, and my trip kept getting pushed back. Add to this the fact that on my first foray into the mountains I was determined to take an experienced pilot along with me, if not a flight instructor, and scheduling became a problem.

Then, serendipitously, there was a break in the weather on the same day that my friend Kees, a CFI, was visiting from Holland. I told him that instead of coming to the house, I’d pick him up at Munich airport and drive directly to our plane at Augsburg, and we’d be off.

All was going perfectly, and even the weather was cooperating. Kees and I approached the south. There was Garmisch-Partenkirchen, and that extra large thing right there would be the Zugspitze! We came in as planned, and despite the assurances of the tower – and despite Kees telling me I was being, shall we say, less than stoic – I didn’t like my proximity to the peaks, and I called in to Innsbruck.

I’d been cleared to 9,500 feet by Innsbruck Approach, but I got a bit nervous. I thought of getting a bit higher…

‘Innsbruck Tower, Cessna Delta Echo Hotel Mike Bravo with a request’

“Mike Bravo, go ahead’

‘Uh, I’d like to have permission to take it up to 11,500 to put a bit of distance between myself and these very large things beneath me…I’m a low-time mountain pilot.’

‘Mike Bravo, you’re cleared to climb to 11,500 feet’.

Easy!

Once we started climbing I realised that up till then I hadn’t even taken the time to look out the window at anything non-safety related, so I took a moment to see what it was I was climbing over.

What it was was Heaven on earth.

As far as I could see were snow-capped mountains, rising dramatically, almost tumultuously from the ground, separated by lusciously green and fertile valleys; if they’d put this scene in Gone With The Wind audiences would have thought it too perfect not to be a painted backdrop; mountainsides dotted with houses and hidden valleys peppered with tiny, sparkling clear Alpine lakes.

The view was so enchantingly everything I had hoped it would be that I almost forgot to start taking photographs, and cursing the perspective of the camera for not being able to do this magnificent canvas anything close to justice. We circled a bit to the east for some pictures, and then entered the Valley of the River Inn and made the left turn towards Innsbruck.

The approach to Innsbruck from the west is a little, shall we say, democratic: controllers seem to point everyone towards the field and then ask people to circle just west of it until cleared for final. It was such a magnificent day that I didn’t mind at all staying up for a bit, but I hadn’t had much experience in pulling 360s in the middle of a canyon – nor ever really given much thought to my turning radius in a Cessna!

“Can we make a 360?” I asked Kees, who looked at me with total disbelief in his eyes.

“Yeah, you’ve got room. I was just noticing that little Piper back there below us!”

But Innsbruck had us stacked perfectly, and everyone was safe. Their idea of ‘separation’ might be slightly different from what I’m used to, but it works pretty well.

Nick By The Plane
I was cleared for landing on runway 08 with wind 010 at 8 kts, about as perfect a welcome as I could have wanted. Here’s when I learned one of the perks of being PIC – you can demand you be the one to land, even if the guy next to you has a commercial ticket!

Heart of the Tirol
Innsbruck sits in the heart of the Tirol region, which is known far and wide as having an abundance of outdoor activities. There are possibilities for all levels and ranges of hiking, climbing, skiing, swimming, trekking, tramping, snowshoeing and snowboarding, as well as fishing in the multitudinous rivers and streams. And as kayakers and white water rafters whizz by on the rivers, paragliders, hang gliders, and hot air balloons float through the sky.

Don’t worry, more traditional, less bone-crunching attractions will keep you cheerfully occupied: stunningly opulent Rococo architecture, the dramatic views from atop the Hungerburg, which you ascend by cable-car in stomach-tingling delight. Innsbruck’s royal Kaiserliche Hofburg and jaw-dropping Goldenes Dachl are must sees. The early 18th century saw what amounted to a Baroquing contest, drawing artisans from across Europe, including the brothers Asam, to bedazzle the region’s churches.

The stunning views stem from Innsbruck’s fortuitous location in the valley of the Inn River (the town grew originally around the “bruck” that crossed it), nestled perfectly between the Karwendel and the Tuxer Vorberge. This location means that only a fool will escape without beautiful photographs of dramatic cliffs of the nearby mountains.

Our first stop, after speaking with the preternaturally friendly staff at the airport about fees (quite reasonable actually) and tie down, was the Innsbruck branch of Vienna’s Cafe Sacher, where we sampled the famous Torte (as good as rumored) with a steaming milchkaffee in suitably decadent surroundings. Then we had a look around.

Right near Sacher, the tourists were all cricking their necks back to see the shining Goldenes Dachl, or ‘Little Golden Roof’: once a royal residence, the building’s balustrade is swarming with reliefs and busts of royalty, including Maximillian, and coats of arms of Germany, the Holy Roman Empire, Austria and Hungary. The top of this is smothered with more than 3000 golden-colored tiles.

Just behind the Goldenes Dachl is the fabulous, newly renovated and almost hysterically Baroque Dom St Jakob, constructed by Johann Jakob Herkommer and decorated, it’s said, by the brothers Asam. Note the portrait of the Madonna on the high altar, the Mariahilfbild, by Lukas Chranach the Elder, painted in 1530.

Another must-see attraction just southeast of the city center is the looming Schloss Ambras, which Archduke Ferdinand II began expanding in the late 1500s. The Renaissance palace holds the Ambras Collection – art, armor, portraits, medieval sculpture and, not as uncommon as you’d expect in these parts, the royal collection of bizarre curiosities. The grand Spanischer Saal ballroom is another highlight.

Sleep In A Castle
Using Innsbruck as a base to explore the surrounding region has its advantages, but using the surrounding region to explore Innsbruck might have more. And, when you have the opportunity to spend a couple of nights in a 12th century castle for about €125 a double, you should snag it.

Schloss Matzen, now owned by an American couple (Margaret and Chris Kump), is about a half hour drive east of Innsbruck, nestled in the heart of the Tirolean Alps, near Wurgl.

Margaret and Chris, who inherited the castle in 1995 (it had been in the family since 1957), have renovated up a storm over the last several years (the New York Times profiled them as having a money pit) and the cheerful castle now has 11 rooms open to visitors, all with private bathrooms and central heating.

Right nearby are heaps of activities, like walking, cross-country and downhill skiing, rock climbing, biking and, in summer, river rafting and swimming.

The guests tend to be expatriates or the well-traveled, including lots of visitors returning to the region for further exploration, and the B&B is open May to October and from Christmas to mid-February. There’s an Austrian Wine hour daily, when they bring out tonnes of the stuff, and breakfast is made of fabulous fresh-baked goods, assorted cheeses, yogurt, quark, fruit, and hot entrees like french toast and scrambled eggs.

Then Do it All Again!
We had been planning a return flight that would take us around the eastern end of the Alps, flying due east along the Inn River Valley to Salzburg, where I thought I’d shop for a bit, then over the shockingly picturesque eastern Bavarian area of the Berchtesgaden National Forest (and incidentally, at Kehlsstein, Hitler’s former mountain retreat, the Eagle’s Nest) on the way back to Augsburg. But a weather front swooping in from the east threatened our route, and when we checked at 6 am the next day, that way to go was looking ominous indeed.

But at least halfway to Salzburg it was still clear and beautiful, so Kees and I decided we’d take what we could, and flew east as far as we could.

That brought us right back over tiny St Johann airport, the closest to Schloss Matzen, and we were able to wave from 3000 feet at Margaret and Chris, who heard us circling above their castle.

Kees and I flew east until we saw a spectacular break in the mountains just to our north. There on the other side of the range was Chiemsee, a treasured favorite lake for Muncheners. On Herreninsel in the center of Chiemsee in the 1870s, Ludwig began but never finished the Neues Königschloss, an attempt to top the splendour of Versailles.

Kees and I crossed through the gap in the mountains, and then cut west, just to the south of Munich, and then northwest across the Starnberg Lake and Ammer Lake, and finally a beeline straight back into the traffic pattern at Augsburg.

Augsburg’s traffic pattern is rather strict; from our approach from the east, we needed to call in five minutes before our arrival at checkpoint Sierra, about 10 miles east of the field, and enter the checkpoint at 3000. We had decided that because I’d landed at Innsbruck Kees would land at Augsburg, and at this point Kees decided to demonstrate to me one of his little flight instructor tricks.

We’d been told to maintain 3000 and stay on the north side of the Munich-Stuttgart Autobahn, and I reported that we would. The second my finger left the mike key, I was able to verify quite comfortably and certainly that we were indeed just to the north of the road: Kees treated me to a straight-down view of the road by flipping our little Skyhawk 90 degrees on its left side while maintaining course, heading and altitude for about 10 seconds, before gently rolling back to a normal position.

I was glad that large Germanic breakfast had been 24 hours earlier! “North side of the road, confirmed” I said to Kees as we rolled back to normal.

That got me thinking. For all the planning, the anticipation and my personal nervousness about this flight, that little stomach-twirler of a maneuver was the most, yes, hair raising part of the entire trip.

I’d addressed my fears, gotten the information I needed to make good, safe decisions, spoken with the towers and local pilots, and taken along a more experienced pilot on an exciting and challenging adventure. My preparation all paid off, and I safely and thrillingly conquered my fears of the unknown, by using the resources easily at my disposal to improve my skills and become a better pilot.

And along the way, I took a trip that will always be one of my most vividly memorable journeys.

Telling Your ASOS From Your Elbow

The federal Automated Surface Observation System, or ASOS, is installed at more than 900 airports throughout the USA. The confusing thing is that ASOS sounds a lot and acts a lot like AWOS and ATIS – respectively Automated Weather Observation System and Automated Terminal Information System. And then there’s HIWAS – Here’s a lesson in Alphabet Soup:

ASOS Sensors measure cloud coverage, visibility, temperature, dewpoint and wind, and observe the weather, for example, whether it’s snowing or raining. These measurements in turn are used to make METARs (the traditional ICAO Meteorological Aerodrome Report you’re already used to) and SPECIs (Special observations). For as much as you’ll ever need to know about the technical mechanics of ASOS, a wonderful online resource is available free at the AOPA Air Safety Foundation, http://www.aopa.org/asf/publications/sa09.pdf.

ASOS can be flawed (say a cloud happens to be above the station but the rest of the sky is clear; ASOS would report a cloud ceiling when one doesn’t exist), and therefore the ASOS observations are always monitored and sometimes augmented or even replaced by human weather observers.

ATIS
The Automated Terminal Information System is a looped recording that plays continuously over radio and, in many cases, available by telephone as well (telephone numbers are listed in the Airport/Facilities Directory – A/FDs). ATIS contains ceiling, visibility, obstructions to visibility, temperature, dew point, wind direction, wind speed, altimeter, and instrument approach(es) and runway(s) in use. It may also include information on Land and Hold Short Operations (see related story). It includes as well Remarks, which can include density altitude, variable visibility, variable wind direction, and the remarks of the weather observer making the recording, such as the type of precipitation or intensity of a storm.

AWOS
Unlike the federally-funded ASOS, AWOS is almost entirely a state-funded program, and generally speaking somewhat less accurate, or at least less encompassing, than ASOS.

HIWAS
Hazardous In-Flight Weather Advisory Service. HIWAS is a looped, continuous recorded radio broadcast which contains in-flight advisories of severe weather over selected VORs. This includes any hazardous weather advisories received from the national Weather Service that are occurring or forecasted to occur within a 150 nautical mile radius of the selected VOR. They include AIRMETS, SIGMETs, convective SIGMETs, any urgent PIREPs, or any other information that qualifies in the judgment of the specialist placing the HIWAS.

The frequencies over which HIWAS is broadcast is listed on charts and in A/FDs. Any time a new HIWAS is recorded, the FSS will broadcast, on all radio frequencies except 121.5, an announcement telling pilots to listen to the HIWAS – “Attention all aircraft, monitor HIWAS or contact Flight Watch or Flight Service for a new urgent AIRMET information.” Do it. They sometimes will mention the frequency but again, the HIWAS frequency is listed on charts and the A/FD.

If You Go Over The Alps…

There’s almost no difference between travel in Germany and Austria for Americans or UK subjects. Here is some practical information for your reference, should you make the journey.

CONTACT NUMBERS />
Augsburg Airport Tower: 0821 270 8143 Innsbruck Airport 43-512-225 25303 Munich Weather Brief: + 49 89 1593 8135

COSTS
Munich Flyers Flugschule (Plane rental, Munich) 089 642 717 61 Plane rental: C172: €54 per hour wet Landing fee: Innsbruck: €4.25, Augsburg: Tie Down: Innsbruck: €1 Approach Fee: Innsbruck: €8, Augsburg N/A Airport Tax: Innsbruck: €1.01, Augsburg, N/A

Charts
Jeppesen (www.jeppesen.com) VFR/GPS Chart Germany ED-6 covers Munich, Augsburg and Innsbruck. Buy VFR charts in Munich at Geo Buch, Rosental 6 (tel 089 265-030)

ACCOMMODATION:
Innsbruck:
Schloss Matzen No singles. Doubles range from €93 to €161, averaging €130, including breakfast and wine hour but not including 11% tax.

Schloss Matzen, 10701 Gurley Lane, Mendocino, CA 95460, tel 888 837 0618, 707 937 0619, www.schlossmatzen.com, or in Austria, +43 5337 626 79, fax (Munich) +49 89-202 386 54

Munich:
Hotel Asam Munich’s newest family-run hotel, the Asam is a treat, and offers very good value for the money in its category. It’s in a meticulously renovated pre-war building with 25 sumptuous, large and airy singles, doubles and suites. All are quiet and nicely appointed. Many of the rooms have sinfully luxurious, enormous bathtubs, and face the rear garden, with a view of trees and church steeples. Singles €70, Doubles €86 to €95, roomy suites from €112 to €127.

Hotel Asam, Josephspitalstrasse 3, 80331 München, tel 49 89-230 970 0, fax 49 230 970 97, email info@hotel-asam.de, www.hotel-asam.de

Special Use Airspaces In The USA

There’s a saying, or at least there should be, in American aviation, and it goes something like this: “Just one F-16 streaking at Mach speed 500 feet over your head can ruin your day.” It was for this very reason that my buddy Kees and I were somewhat alarmed last autumn when we were informed by ATC that the MOA we were about to enter was active down to 10,000 feet. At the time, we were level at 9,500.

Heck, even if I didn’t know what an MOA was, I’d have requested a lower altitude – say, 5000 feet lower. Given the American penchant for acronyms, for all one knows MOA could stand for “Mushed on Arrival”. But of course, MOA stands for Military Operations Area, and as one would suspect, the United States is particularly chock full of active MOAs, apparently allowing US armed forces to practice dropping large bombs into small pickle barrels from unusual attitudes and at high speed.

One must also take special note of the differences between all the so called Special Use Airspaces, or SUAs: MOAs, Warning Areas, Restricted Areas, Prohibited Areas, and the ever-so homey-sounding Controlled Firing Area. All of these SUAs are covered under Part 73 of the Federal Aviation Regulations (FAR).

MOAs

According to the latest Aeronautical Information Manual (AIM), an MOA is “…airspace established outside of Class A Airspace area to separate or segregate certain nonhazardous military activities from IFR traffic and to identify for VFR traffic where these activities are conducted.”

Remember that activities that are “nonhazardous” from the military’s point of view (they refer to planes not dropping bombs or firing missiles, but rather merely performing aerobatic or abrupt maneuvers at alarmingly high rates of speed) are rather more hazardous than the conditions to which your typical VFR pilot is accustomed.

But this does not mean that you cannot fly in an MOA – you can, but you’d be a fool not to check on the latest information about activity within it. Fortunately, MOAs are indicated on Sectional, VFR Terminal Area, and Enroute Low Altitude Charts (see Box), and when you’re within 100 miles of one, any pilot can get the skinny on activity by contacting the local Flight Service Station (tune your radio to 122.0).

FSS will give you information about activities, or scheduled activities in the MOA in question. Even if the MOA is active, you still may be perfectly capable of flying through – FSS will have information on the “operations floor” of the activity, and let you know, for example, that it’s safe to enter at the time you call as long as you stay below a certain altitude. Heed this advice.

Even if you have contacted FSS, you are also expected to contact the MOA’s controlling authority before you enter an active MOA.

Warning Areas
Warning Areas, denoted by a dark blue hatched line, and noted with the letter ‘W”, denote areas along the three nautical mile limit around the US coastline – areas in which US armed forces or NASA may be conducting operations that could have infelicitous effects on one’s GA aircraft.

For the Mother Lode of Warning Areas, take a gander at the Jacksonville, VFR Florida sectional, whose entire coastline is one long blue hatched area from north to south, with individual Warning Areas within the larger, Warning Mother Ship. This is because Florida’s coast is particularly important the US, for air force, naval and NASA activities (see the box).

You may fly into a Warning Area that is not active; see the box for information.

Restricted Areas
These are essentially Warning Areas on the ground as opposed to in international waters, and similarly marked with a number referencing the SUA legend (see box). The threats within a Restricted Area include gunfire, aerial gunfire or missile and (ahem) guided missile launches, any of which could crimp your style. As with Warning Areas, you may fly through Restricted Areas when they are not active. Be certain!

Prohibited Areas
The USA only has a few “No Fly Zones”, currently established in Washington, D.C.; Kennebunkport, Maine; Waco, TX, Thurmont, Maryland; Amarillo, Texas; and Mount Vernon, Virginia. These too are marked by dark blue hatched lines, and the word Prohibited, with a number beginning with P. (See box) According to the FAR, “No person may operate an aircraft within a prohibited area unless authorization has been granted by the using agency.” FAR Section 73.85 defines the “Using agency” as “…the agency, organization or military command that established the requirements for the prohibited area.” FAR Sections 73.87 through 73.99 define designated prohibited areas.

Note too, that Prohibited Areas change from time to time.

Controlled Firing Areas
The best part of Controlled Firing Areas isn’t what they are – areas in which military types are firing all sorts of cool stuff all over the place – but rather what they are not: a threat to you. Under the terms of this SUA, and what makes it different from all other SUAs, any aircraft spotted – either by a plane spotter or radar – means that all activities within the CFA is immediately halted. So insignificant to pilots is the CFA that they are not even listed on charts – we just thought you’d like to know about them!

Tactics
Having all this information in the recesses of your mind is fine and good, but put it to use to avoid inadvertently violating an SUA. Before getting your standard Weather Briefing (see related article), study the sectional chart of your intended route, and ask the briefer specifically about any SUAs you might approach to see if they are active. Check the NOTAM’s (Notices to Airmen) – your briefer should do it as part of the standard briefing, but if he or she doesn’t, make sure you ask.

One other phenomenon in the states are TFRs – Temporary Flight Restrictions. These are temporary designations of an area as restricted or, more likely, prohibited, sue to any number of reasons. It could be because of flooding or other natural disaster. A TFR is put in place when a plane crash – such as EgyptAir or the John F Kennedy accident – results in heavy recovery activity. They’re slapped on any area in which heavy small plane and helicopter activity is occurring, such as the American football Super Bowl. And TFRs are put in place whenever the President of the United States pops down to the corner store – wherever the convoy is, there’s a TFR. TFRs are covered in FAR part 91.137.

ATC In The USA

“Tulsa Clearance Delivery, Warrior eight-three-three-zero-uniform depart runway three-six right, turn right heading one-two-zero via Fort Smith VOR and Little Rock VOR, climb and maintain 7500 feet, contact Tulsa Departure Control on one-one-niner-point-one, squawking one-seven-niner-three,”

“Cherokee eight-three-three-zero-uniform, readback correct, contact ground control one-two-one-point-niner when ready.”

So begins a standard VFR flight from Tulsa International Airport to Memphis, Tennessee in a Warrior. If you think the above is more involved than the average VFR flight in the UK, you’re right.

And if you think any ATC you’ll come in contact with here will have much patience for a foreign pilot who botches any step of the process, I’ve got some land to sell you outside Kiev.

For example, in the first paragraph, note the fact that I identified myself as a Warrior, while ATC considered it their prerogative to “correctly” refer to me as a “Cherokee”.

The average UK-trained pilot might find some of this confusing, but it’s really a matter of coming to grips with the fact that they’re neither wrong nor right, just different. “It’s a little like driving on their freeways,” said Jim Hart, an Australian-licensed private pilot who recently flew a couple of dozen hours throughout the USA,

“If you’ve only been driving in England, driving on a US freeway can be a bit daunting. You have to familiarize yourself the local conditions – and at least in the air, you don’t have to worry about driving on the wrong side of the road!”

Hart said that one thing he noticed in the US was ATC’s willingness to “Fit in and accommodate even the smallest of airplane in the largest of airports. In the US, you can get clearance into JFK or Atlanta, whereas in Australia I’d be mad to ask a controller in Melbourne to let me pop in with my 172 or Warrior.”

Flight Following
In the US, most VFR pilots enjoy using a free service known as “Flight Following”, the rough equivalent of the UK’s “Radar Information Service”.

Any pilot can request Flight Following and it’s granted by ATC on a “if able” basis. If they have the time to deal with you (they most often do, even in crowded airspace) it means that your plane will be given a unique transponder “squawk” code, and ATC will “follow” you along your cross country journey (it’s not recommended for local flights).

En route, ATC will periodically check in with you to let you know of traffic in your area, or to ask you to modify your course for various reasons, and they will also “hand you off” to other controllers along your route. When this happens, your current controller will tell you whom to contact and on what frequency. Repeat the instructions, change frequencies and let the new guy know you’re there, “Miami Approach, Warrior eight-three-three-zero-uniform is with you, level at four thousand five hundred feet.”

Flight Following is a must if you’re flying over water, or between major destinations . And unlike a flight plan, it means that if your plane disappears, an Air Traffic Controller will immediately see it, try and contact you and, if he can’t, he’ll summon the cavalry immediately and to the place you last were seen, and not two hours after your intended arrival time and along the entire route of travel.

You may request flight following while in the air, or from the beginning of a flight while contacting Clearance Delivery, which neatly brings us to ground procedures.

Getting Clearance To Leave
In busier US airports, getting to the runway is generally a three-part procedure, and it helps to be calm, focused and use pencil and paper for all three parts. And whether you’re on the ground or in the air, the basic rule in the US is to say, Who You Are, Where You Are, and What You Want To Do:

On preparing for departure the first call, once you’ve listened to the weather, done your pre-flight checks, started your engine(s) and re-checked the weather to ensure you’ve got the latest information, is to contact Clearance Delivery, which will gather the basic information about your current location, your plane and your intentions, to pass on to ground control, the tower and departure control.

“Teterboro Clearance Delivery, Warrior eight-two-five-two-zulu at Millionaire FBO with information Foxtrot.”

“Warrior eight-two-five-two-zulu, go ahead.”

“Warrior eight-two-five-two-zulu is a PA-28-161, we’d like a north-east bound departure for a VFR flight to Poughkeepsie Municipal Airport, that’s Papa Oscar Uniform, four-thousand-five-hundred feet and request flight following.”

“Warrior eight-two-five-two-zulu, stand by”

Get that pencil ready. “Warrior eight-two-five-two-zulu, squawk one-five-two-three depart runway 19, maintain at or below one thousand feet and turn left heading three six zero.”

“Warrior eight-two-five-two-zulu, squawking one-five-two-three, will depart runway 19 and maintain at or below one thousand feet, turning left heading three six zero.”

“Warrior eight-two-five-two-zulu, readback correct, contact ground when ready.”

Get that frequency from an Airport Facilities Directory (AFD), because unless they’re feeling eleemosynary, Clearance Delivery won’t give it to you. When you contact them, remember that Ground Control knows where you are and what you want to do, but it’s nice to let them know where you are to reduce any possibility of confusion.

“Teterboro ground, Warrior eight-two-five-two-zulu at Millionaire.”

“Warrior eight-two-five-two-zulu, taxi to and hold short of Runway one niner at Bravo via Oscar.”

Repeat that you understand you’ve been told to hold short of the runway: “Warrior eight-two-five-two-zulu, taxi to and hold short of Runway one niner at Bravo via Oscar.”

Stay on the ground frequency during your taxi and hold short, and your engine run-up. When you’re ready to depart, contact the tower. “Teterboro tower, Warrior eight-two-five-two-zulu short of one niner at Bravo ready for departure.”

From this point on it’s pretty straightforward, but be on the lookout for instructions such as “Taxi into position and hold,” which means you’re clear to taxi onto the runway and line up on the center line in as few feet as possible, and then must hit the brakes.

This is usually due to traffic that’s just landed on the same runway (you’re waiting for him to be totally clear of the runway) or departing or landing traffic on an intersecting runway (much more on that later). Repeat the taxi into position and hold instruction!

Say What You Want, And All In One Go
“One difference I notice in the US,” said Carol Cooper, Chief Flying Instructor at Andrewsfield Aviation, “is that in the UK, when you make an initial call, I would then stop and wait for them to come back and ask me what I want.”

In the US, ATC likes you to try, whenever possible, to reduce the time required for the overall transaction to complete. Since in this century most radios work properly nearly all the time, the added time waiting for a “Go ahead” is considered to be unnecessary unless the channel is very busy.

So if the frequency is clear, and you’ve got flight following, just say what you want the first time round: “Jax Approach, Warrior eight-three-three-zero-uniform, level at seven-thousand-five-hundred, request descent to five-thousand-five-hundred to stay clear of clouds.”

If they’re busy, use the UK style and wait for the go-ahead.

LAHSO
At many larger airports in the US, Land And Hold Short Operations may be in effect. This is a complex issue and we’ll only touch on the basics here, but it is imperative to understand the implications of accepting a LAHSO clearance.

LAHSO occur when airports with intersecting runways allow traffic to arrive and depart on both runways. One plane will have to “hold short” of the intersecting runway. If that’s you, you need to get some information and examine your circumstances before accepting the clearance – you, as Pilot in Command, have the responsibility to determine whether a) you can comply and b) whether compliance would be safe. The controller issuing the clearance has nothing to do with it if you accept a LAHSO clearance.

How It Works
LAHSO are listed in an AFD, as are the available landing distances. But when LAHSO are in effect, it’s announced on the airport’s Automated Terminal Information System and by the controller. If a controller clears you to land on a runway and to hold short, you absolutely have the right and the duty to a) ask the available landing distance and/or b) refuse the clearance if you’re not 100% sure you can make it.

Once you accept, any mistake you make – if you put one millimeter of metal across the hold short line expect FAA goons to descend on you with great vigor and furious anger – is yours to live with. If you get it, do as short field a landing as you can possibly muster, and if you have any doubt whatsoever, do a go-around.

CTAF
All of the above refers to controlled airports, but there’s another thing pilots will run into in the states, and that’s the Common Traffic Advisory Frequency system. CTAF is a brilliant convention which enables pilots around non-towered airports and in uncontrolled airspace to self-announce their intentions to the traffic in the area. The CTAF frequency for an area may be found on sectional maps and in AFDs.

An important thing to remember is that sometimes several non-towered airports will share a CTAF frequency, so it’s imperative that you announce where you are, what you’re doing, and again where you are for each CTAF transmission: “Venice traffic, Cessna 67547 five miles south of the field, entering a mid-field left downwind for runway 22, Venice traffic.”

Mid-Field Downwind
Regardless of the radio procedures around a field, entering the downwind leg of a traffic pattern is kosher in the US, but remember that you must enter it at a 45 degree angle and make sure that you’re at traffic pattern height when you get there. Non-towered airports in the US use a left-hand traffic pattern unless it’s specifically written down in the AFD, so if you’re approaching the field and can fly right into the correct side f a left-hand traffic pattern, just descend to traffic pattern altitude and enter the downwind at midfield on a 45.

The polite way to do it if you’re on the other side of the traffic pattern is to overfly the field 1000 feet above the traffic pattern altitude, fly outbound at that altitude for one to three minutes, descend to traffic pattern altitude, turn right and enter the midfield downwind on a 45-degree angle. The Unicom announcement, “Venice traffic, Cessna 67547 overflying the field at fifteen hundred feet southbound, then turning to enter a midfield downwind for runway 22, full stop landing, Venice traffic.

“Brits in the US,” said Flyer publisher Ian Saeger, “especially around Florida, where there are quite a few fields with the same Unicoms frequency, tend to forget that if you don’t say the airport at the beginning and the end of an announcement then the announcement does as much good as a a chocolate teapot.”

Lights Up
One final word on radios in the US: wanna feel powerful? Fly by a non-towered field at night (presuming, of course, your certificate allows night flying), tune into the CTAF frequency and key your mike seven times in rapid succession. Poof: the runway lights come on, in all their glory. Key another three times and you dim them to half intensity. And another three times and they turn off.

And they though the best part of flying in the US was the price!

VFR Sectional SUA Symbology

Staring at an American VFR Sectional, it’s nice to know what to look for in the category of, “Things denoting places I shouldn’t be”. Here’s a primer:

MOAs On VFR Sectional charts, an MOA is denoted by a hatched magenta line surrounding the area. On the inside cover or bottom margin of your sectional, you’ll see a Special Use Airspace (SUA) section legend. MOAs are listed at the bottom of this legend, separate from all other SUAs, in magenta ink, along with the altitude at which and time the MOAs are used and the controlling agency. The altitude listed on the sectional refers to the “floor”, or lowest altitude, of the MOA, and the MOA will extend to but not include flight level 180 unless otherwise indicated on the chart.

Warning Areas Warning Areas are marked with a hatched dark blue line on sectionals, and listed in a section combined with SUAs other than MOAs. Next to the Hatched Blue line on your chart will be a number (for example, on the Jacksonville, FL sectional, a large one is W-497A). This refers to the SUA legend, where you will see the Warning Area, the affected altitudes, times of use, and controlling agency information.

Restricted Areas Again, denoted by a hatched dark blue line and referring to the SUA legend in the margin, Restricted Areas are numbered (see R-2932 on Jacksonville Sectional), and the SUA legend contains affected altitudes, times of use, and controlling agency information.

Prohibited Areas Again, denoted by a hatched dark blue line and referring to the SUA legend in the margin, Prohibited Areas are numbered (see P-47on Dallas-Ft Worth Sectional or P-56 on Washington Sectional), and the SUA legend contains affected altitudes, times of use, and controlling agency information. Many are continuously restricted, supplemented by NOTAMS (Notices to Airmen) issued from time to time expanding the territory covered. For example, during the Presidential Inauguration or the 50th Anniversary of NATO, the P-56 area was expanded to cover essentially the entire Washington, DC area.

An American Pilot In Europe

Flying over the verdant rolling hills of the Italian countryside, circling the ancient hilltop village of Urbino (birthplace of the painter Raphael), I looked at my wife, Corinna, and remembered just what it was that made me want to get that licence in the first place.

Every year, while thousands of licensed American pilots vacation abroad, few think of exploring the European skies. But in much of Europe, US pilots can easily rent a plane and make daytime VFR flights as Pilot In Command.

The linguistically challenged will be able to communicate: ATC, rental companies, instructors and even ATIS and AWAS all communicate in English.

A walletful of greenbacks doesn’t hurt. Anyone who’s ever filled up in a European gas station knows fuel prices over here are out of Mad Max: avgas runs about US$5.25 (you read that right, over five bucks a gallon). Hourly prices for plane rental can be almost double what they are in the States.

But what’s the price tag on an aerial trip up the Rhine, over Stonehenge, or around a castle? It’s the trip of a lifetime.

GETTING THE BASICS
The ICAO Chicago Convention says licensees from contracting states (including all European nations and the USA) are permitted to fly in other contracting states. The issue of national sovereignty is touchy in Europe, but if you have a valid FAA PPL and current medical certificate, you’re generally permitted to make daytime VFR flights.

In the UK and Holland, you can walk in to any flight school or Aero Club (as they’re called here) and after a checkout, rent a plane and zoom off into the sunset (though one zooms slightly differently over here. See Tips, below).

More rigidly legislated countries (like Germany, France and Spain), have red tape worthy of a Maastricht Treaty, but some advance work on your part can clear the way, at a minimum of fuss and expense, to recognition of your American PPL.

And good news: a certificate of recognition from any European Union member state is honored in all others.

So if you’re visiting, say, Germany, Spain and Italy, a certificate from one will be honored in any other. And best of all, the renter – usually a flight school or aero club that’s dealt with this situation before – will often assist with the paperwork as part of the rental fee. They will guide you through the process of getting a locally recognized “holiday license”.

You’ll usually need to send notarized copies of your PPL, medical, recent pages from your logbook, and your passport. Some countries, like Spain, also require a passport photo, so check whether you’ll need to send those.

Bring all of those items on your trip, too. And while we’re on what to bring, remember this: most planes here come equipped with just two headphones, so bring extra headphones if you’ll need them.

If you’re headed to the UK, Holland or Germany you can start checking into rentals and making reservations as little as a week before you arrive, but if you’re off to other countries start about six weeks in advance.

RENTALS
Renting a plane is almost as easy as it is in the USA, but there are differences. The best bet is to research using the search engines at flying websites, or by picking up flying magazines from the UK, such as Flyer (http://www.flyer.co.uk) or Pilot (http://www.hiway.co.uk). The back of these mags are packed with ads for flying schools, which almost always rent their airplanes.

Shop around! On a recent check of airports around Europe, I found major differences in rental prices, even in the same country. For example, I called Wycombe Air Centre (tel 011-44-149-444-3737), about 20 miles from Central London, and was quoted a price of 126 pounds (US$196) for a C-152 with an instructor, and 97 pounds (US$155) an hour for just the plane, wet, timing from brakes off to brakes on, including VAT (the notorious Value Added Tax). It was about US$10 extra for a C-172 with or without an instructor.

But a call to Andrewsfield Aviation Ltd (tel 011-44-137-185-6744), about 10 miles from London’s Stansted Airport, got quotes of 89.50 pounds (US$143) with an instructor and 75 pounds (US$120) without for a C-152, and 102 pounds (US$163) with and 93 pounds (US$149) without for a C-172, on the same terms.

The Pesaro Aero Club in Fano, Italy (tel 011-3907-2180-3941), demanded the most I’ve ever laid out: US$210 for an hour and 40 minutes of flying, including 40 minutes with the instructor for the checkout, in a C-152.

The Aerodrome Chateauroux Villers, in Saint Maur, France, (tel and fax 011-33-2-5436-6813) wanted 900 francs (US$138) with a (French language) instructor, and 744 francs (US$114) without one for a C-172.

But it can be cheaper (just a bit more than in the USA): Munich Flyers at Augsburg Airport, 45 minutes outside Munich (tel 011-49-89-6427-0761), gets DM240 (US$126) for a C-172 with an instructor, and DM 177 (US$95) without, including fuel, from wheels up to wheels down.

THE CHECKOUT
On that trip I took to Italy, I literally followed the low-flying planes I saw from the coastal road to the Pesaro Aero Club, on a grass strip just south of the city of Rimini. Showing my PPL and Medical at the flight school office, a teacher and I set off on a 40-minute checkout (really more of a brush-up on soft field landings and a lengthy description of the local airspace) and then I was off on my own, for a one-hour tour of the whole area.

A German instructor named Tom told me that he checks out people all the same way, even if it’s obvious they’ve been flying for years or are newly licensed.

“We do two traffic patterns,” he said, “to check their radio skills and landings, and then head for our practice area, where we do power-off and power-on stalls and steep turns. If they handle all that right, they’re on their own – and if not, they do an hour or two of brush-up lessons.”

I enjoy the rental checkride as much for the local air tour I get as I do for learning the different ways people teach flying in different countries (for example, in Germany, Tom wanted to see just the barest hint of an impending power-on stall, while my Italian instructor demanded – and demonstrated – something out of Snoopy and the Red Baron!).

The rental checkride is so important here because local regulations are dictated by many more idiosyncrasies and customs than in the USA. In the UK for example, noise abatement is so strict that procedures like, “On takeoff, make a right turn at 300 feet and head for the treeline before ascending,” and, “On downwind, approach from south of the village and then scoot round the village to the right and turn left again when you see the pub,” are more common than not.

And in Germany, where takeoffs and landings even on privately owned farms require clearance, strictly – even Germanly – regimented exits and entrances to the airport vicinity are required, using map points with names like Whiskey One and Echo One, as well as local conventions that aren’t even marked on the maps (see the box)!

The rental checkride’s good for learning all these, but even better is a visit to the tower. If you plan ahead, you can make the visit when you arrive – get off the commercial flight and head upstairs for a half-hour chat with the controllers. They’ll fill you in on restrictions, give you local flying tips, telephone numbers for weather forecasts, useful web addresses and tell you where you can buy charts of the area locally.

LANDING FEES
Most Americans are horrified to learn that practically every single airfield in Europe charges some sort of landing fee. In most airports it’s waived if you’re taking a local flight, but if you take a day trip to somewhere, be prepared to fork over anywhere from US$10 to US$25 in landing fees at the destination airport.

SOME TIPS
“The airspace is fairly restricted here compared to the USA,” said Carol Cooper, Chief Flying instructor at Andrewsfield Aviation.

“For your own sake, study the map, and the airspace where you can and can’t go – which is much different around here.

“Experience obviously matters, and radio navaids can help, but England’s a small place, and you’ve got to watch your proximity to Stansted, Heathrow and Gatwick,” she continued, referring to the fact that all those airports’ airspace is completely off-limits to VFR pilots in single-engine planes without a special VFR clearance.

Which you almost certainly won’t get!

Noise abatement rules dictate that you avoid town centers and other populated areas.

Radio work is also different, and Europeans seem to think the American practice of repeating the last three registration numbers as acknowledgment of an ATC directive just a bit too, well…American! You’re expected to repeat all the instructions given you by ATC, each and every time.

And finally, if you’ll be travelling outside larger cities, brush up on your soft-field landings and takeoffs: many airports have grass strips.

MORE INFORMATION
Note that anywhere in Europe your American license gives you the same rights at you have at home if you are flying in an N-registered (US-owned and registered) aircraft. Regardless of registration, you need no holiday license or any additional paperwork other than your valid PPL, valid medical and pilot’s logbook to fly as PIC from the UK or the Netherlands (Holland) – even if you land in another country.

For other countries you will often need a holiday license, recognizing your American license. The most straightforward agency to deal with in Europe is Germany’s Regierung Oberbayern Luftamt Suedbayern, Maximillianstrasse 39, 80538 Munich (tel 011-4989-2176-2523). Send them a letter, telling them the dates of your travel in Europe, a request for a Holiday License and photocopies of your PPL, Medical Certificate and the most recent page of your logbook, along with a copy of the data pages of your passport. The holiday license they will send you (Bescheinigung ueber die Allgemeine Anerkennung eines auslaenden Lueftfahrerscheins; allow four weeks for processing) is good for six months and costs about US$30. It is valid everywhere in Western Europe, allowing you to rent nationally registered planes.

In France, contact Direction Generale de l’Aviation Civile (tel 011-331-5809-4321, fax 011-331-5809-3636), License Office, 50 rue Henri Farman, 75015 Paris

Andrewsfield Aviation Ltd (tel 011-44-137-185-6744), Saling Airfield, Stebbing, Dunmow, Essex CM6 3TH England

Munich Flyers Flugschule, GmbH, (tel 011-49-89-6427-0761) Hochederstrasse 2, 81545 Muenchen, Germany

Pesaro Aero Club (tel 011-3907-2180-3941) Via Dela Colonna 130, Fano, Italy 61032

Aerodrome Chateauroux Villers (tel and fax 011-33-2-5436-6813), 36250 Saint Maur, France