Fly­ing Ad­ven­ture: Flight from Ger­many

Our US ex­pat pi­lot thought Ger­many would be a home­com­ing for him — but the bu­reau­cracy and reg­u­la­tion proved to be all too much

Pilot - - CONTENTS - Words & Pho­tos Gar­rett Fisher

Amer­i­can Gar­rett Fisher re­lo­cates him­self and Cub from Ger­man bu­reau­cracy to Span­ish manãna

Fol­low­ing in the hal­lowed foot­steps of my an­ces­tors, I came to Ger­many from Amer­ica to un­der­stand more about my roots and to em­brace the only cul­ture that “can get any­thing done”, words of­ten heard from my grand­fa­ther when ref­er­enc­ing the shin­ing glo­ries of the Father­land. What I did not con­sider while in Amer­ica, even though the data was plainly ev­i­dent in front of my face, was the fact that all of my Ger­man an­ces­tors left Ger­many for some un­ex­plained rea­son, and what­ever that was, it was suf­fi­cient to war­rant cross­ing the ocean to the west to come to the United States. In­stead, I wan­dered east− with an aero­plane− think­ing I would find some­thing bet­ter.

The first in­di­ca­tion that I might have had a mo­ment of delu­sion came dur­ing some ini­tial main­te­nance ac­tiv­i­ties on the Cub, a hang­over from equip­ment in­stal­la­tion in the United States− all of which had been needed to op­er­ate in Europe in the first place. At­tempt­ing to han­dle the most ba­sic of main­te­nance ac­tiv­i­ties, I ran into the largest of road­blocks: a com­plex sys­tem of inane, ob­tuse, and poorly-thought-out reg­u­la­tions that ren­dered it all but im­pos­si­ble to find qual­i­fied as­sis­tance to trou­bleshoot and re­pair some is­sues with the air­plane. To make mat­ters worse, if a per­son brings up ‘trou­bleshoot’ with ref­er­ence to an en­gine, Ger­mans are pro­grammed to have a neu­ro­log­i­cal re­flex, stand­ing at at­ten­tion and bark­ing “Over­haul it!” while sus­pend­ing all fur­ther thought.

Early in the main­te­nance ad­ven­ture, I walked into a nearby shop wish­ing to get my transpon­der checked, for preven­tion’s sake. The guy be­hind the desk asked the make and model of the air­craft, and pro­ceeded to look into some ref­er­ence ma­te­ri­als, shout some or­ders, and then dial a num­ber on the phone. I re­minded him I needed a transpon­der ver­i­fied, and asked if he wanted the make and model of the unit. No, he did not need it, and please shut up while I fin­ish this call. Af­ter an or­di­nary con­ver­sa­tion in Ger­man, he ad­vised me that while they have a me­chanic cer­ti­fied for the PA-11, the re­pair sta­tion is not, so they could not help me. “Ex­cuse me? I sim­ply need a transpon­der checked. What is so hard about that?” “Ve are not zer­ti­fied to verk on your air­plane.” “Um, I need you to check the transpon­der. You’re not work­ing on any­thing. You’re just check­ing that the sig­nal is cor­rect. Why the hell can’t you do that?” “Ve can­not help you!”

In the United States, a me­chanic can work on any air­craft, there is no such thing as cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for spe­cific makes and mod­els. Per­haps Ger­many keeps avi­a­tion safe by pro­hibit­ing fly­ing?

That started fur­ther adventures in find­ing other me­chan­i­cal as­sis­tance and learn­ing about Part 43, which is the sec­tion of reg­u­la­tion that gov­erns main­te­nance on N-reg­is­tered air­craft. Amer­i­can pi­lot-own­ers are per­mit­ted to per­form quite a sur­pris­ing num­ber of ac­tiv­i­ties them­selves, up to and in­clud­ing re­moval of some sig­nif­i­cant air­craft parts.

When he saw this ac­tiv­ity take place, I was warned by a prospec­tive buyer of the flight school at which I was bas­ing my air­craft that such things would be ver­boten when he takes over− and I must get my en­gine over­hauled be­cause, as he put it so elo­quently, “it is f***ed”.

What this Ger­man failed to un­der­stand was that he was deal­ing with an Amer­i­can. We are the type of emo­tion­ally-fu­elled, self-cen­tred, ig­no­rant, and some­times vi­o­lent cul­ture that will fight to the death to pre­serve a di­lap­i­dated hovel of a mo­bile home, bran­dish­ing all eighty IQ points in the de­fence of one’s God­given right to pri­vate prop­erty. There was no way in hell I was go­ing to put up with some pon­tif­i­cat­ing, self-right­eous au­to­crat who be­lieved that the an­swer to all ques­tions was a ma­jor over­haul.

There was also the mat­ter that Ger­many com­pletely sucked as a place to live. I had long held a pro­found dis­dain for much of the cul­tural stu­pid­ity that took place in the so­cial cir­cles of my child­hood into young adult­hood, the prod­uct of what I now un­der­stand to be clois­tered, post-im­mi­grant com­mu­ni­ties of Ger­man and Pol­ish de­scen­dants, all basted with the worst facets of Amer­i­can think­ing and baked in the oven of Rust Belt eco­nomic un­der­per­for­mance. I merely viewed such fool­ish­ness as Amer­i­can short-sight­ed­ness as I yearned for the land of or­der, or­gan­i­sa­tion, clean­li­ness, hard work, and fis­cal sol­vency. It only took a few months to re­alise that just about ev­ery­thing I dis­liked about the so­cial fab­ric of my youth− and most par­tic­u­larly the bulk of my fam­ily that I de­spise−was ac­tu­ally a com­pos­ite pic­ture of Ger­man cul­tural norms! Like a Twi­light Zone episode that meets a hor­ror movie, I woke up to the stark and hor­ri­fy­ing re­al­ity that I laid out ex­tra­or­di­nary sums of money to move to the one sec­tion of the planet that con­tains the high­est con­cen­tra­tion of the list of things I dis­like the most.

Qui­etly, I be­gan a fer­vent search for some­where else to live. The rule was sim­ple: avi­a­tion would be pri­ori­tised, for the sake of fly­ing, and for the sake of pho­tog­ra­phy and free­dom. My wife and I also de­cided that prox­im­ity to a large city was over­rated, and we should choose a site near a pleas­ant, small air­port, in the

coun­try­side. That was all well and good, ex­cept there was a hang­over from the days of Na­tional So­cial­ism that stood in the way.

Back when Ger­many was the num­ber one su­per­power on planet Earth, things were so ut­terly splen­did that the Ger­man gov­ern­ment felt it nec­es­sary to pre­vent peo­ple from com­mit­ting the delu­sional act of leav­ing the utopian cap­i­tal of fas­cism by im­pos­ing a tax of 96% on the gross pro­ceeds of all as­set sales re­lated to out­bound mi­gra­tion; the Re­ichs­flucht­s­teuer. As one would log­i­cally ex­pect, sell­ing one’s house, tak­ing the pro­ceeds in cash, and at­tempt­ing to es­cape via air­ports was a bit of a prob­lem, so the Nazis kindly re­quired that all air­ports be manned for air­craft op­er­a­tions to take place in or­der to pre­vent any­one from leav­ing. To this day, the hang­over is called ‘In­for­ma­tion Ser­vice’.

Be­fore I get la­belled as po­lit­i­cally in­cor­rect, I have val­i­dated this story with many sources. I am not sure what is more dis­turb­ing: that it is cor­rect, that Ger­mans con­firm it with a com­pletely straight face with­out the slight­est hint of dis­plea­sure, or that no one has ac­tively fought an op­pres­sive, inane, ex­pen­sive, and silly reg­u­la­tion that harks back to re­press­ing un­for­tu­nate souls flee­ing for their lives. In­stead, the Ger­manic ten­dency to ac­cept things as they are kicks in, and the Ger­man avi­a­tion com­mu­nity con­tin­ues to pay the fees, fore­goes free­dom, un­der­mines avi­a­tion po­ten­tial and sub­mits to the grand sys­tem that achieves no more than bu­reau­cracy and homage to de­ceased Nazi air­port guards.

Ger­man air­ports still man­date an In­for­ma­tion Ser­vice for all move­ments. There are no such things as blind calls in un­con­trolled airspace. To make mat­ters worse, I have had near col­li­sions at Ger­man air­ports with In­for­ma­tion Ser­vice, where the FISO chose not to tell me about things like two air­craft on left and right base, turn­ing si­mul­ta­ne­ously on fi­nal. Ham­pered by an ob­ses­sive need to stare at the mov­ing map on my GPS, to avoid a fine for not fly­ing pre­cisely around the des­ig­nated cir­cuit, I have never felt less safe in the air. Even worse, my wife and I needed to be close enough to civil­i­sa­tion to have an air­port with sched­uled op­er­at­ing hours that in­cluded week­days. If things were too re­mote and pleas­ant, the lo­cal air­port would only be open on week­ends, and that was not vi­able: Ger­many wasn’t go­ing to work. Af­ter a long and tax­ing search, I lo­cated what I un­der­stood to be a rental on At­lantic Air­park in western France. The en­tire process was mind-bend­ing, par­tic­u­larly as I had not con­sid­ered mov­ing to France be­fore, didn’t speak a word of the lan­guage, and would need to get a visa and fig­ure out how to move within Europe. While I had done it enough in the USA, this was just some­thing else.

In the mid­dle of this process, I re­ceived a note that the owner of the house we were rent­ing wished to come over to dis­cuss some­thing im­por­tant. He then broke the news of what was then a love tri­an­gle over­laid with (I wish I was mak­ing this up) neo-nazi ac­tiv­i­ties. There would be a sep­a­ra­tion from his wife, and she was de­mand­ing the house we were liv­ing in, so we were handed no­tice−which was legally bind­ing due to the na­ture of the con­tract and who was mov­ing in−and had three months to exit the prop­erty. For the record, the love tri­an­gle turned into a very con­vo­luted love quar­tet over the next few months. Un­like Amer­ica, how­ever, guns were not in­volved, both par­ties sep­a­rated as­sets in an or­derly man­ner, in­stead of spite­fully spend­ing it all on di­vorce lawyers so the other per­son couldn’t have it, and new paramours were pa­raded with aban­don in front of former spouses. While Ger­many is an im­pos­si­ble place to live, it seems they know how to man­age di­vorce ef­fi­ciently whilst cel­e­brat­ing spite­ful viril­ity.

A few days later, the owner of the home in France de­cided to sell in lieu of rent­ing. We ended up in a bit of a scram­ble, look­ing for a new place to live with the nearly im­pos­si­ble com­bi­na­tion of short no­tice and ex­alted fo­cus on avi­a­tion.

The search took us from Nor­way to Por­tu­gal and just about ev­ery­where in be­tween. We came close to op­por­tu­ni­ties rang­ing from a dusty Por­tuguese farm to a Dan­ish is­land to a French chateau, and oth­ers, all fall­ing out of the run­ning for rea­sons rang­ing from suit­abil­ity of hous­ing, lack of heat, or some­one else rent­ing it first. By pure chance, I searched for air­ports in An­dorra, lead­ing me to the near­est one in Spain, La Seu d’urgell, which looked quite pretty from the air. I phoned to check on hangar space and got the hazy im­pres­sion that I could dis­place some­one with a suit­ably large enough pile of un­marked bank notes, so I started look­ing for hous­ing in the area. What I found was quite splen­did, and in­ex­pen­sive to boot.

Cu­ri­ously, the best hous­ing was thirty min­utes to the east. Wan­der­ing around Google Maps, I dis­cov­ered an air­port that was not on ICAO maps, La Cer­danya. Look­ing at the web­site and re­search­ing the area, it was incredibly beau­ti­ful and just about ex­actly what I wanted in life−at least from a dis­tance. I phoned to in­quire about hangar space. Af­ter fi­nally con­nect­ing with the right per­son, I was told there was room for one air­plane (later com­ing to know that my good for­tune was due to a glider crash). My im­me­di­ate re­ply was “I’ll take it”, and then set about the process of find­ing a place to live.

Af­ter a few ag­o­nis­ing weeks, my wife and I found a glo­ri­ous place to live close to the air­port and leased it from the end of sum­mer, in suf­fi­cient time for the an­gry

Ger­man air­ports still man­date an In­for­ma­tion Ser­vice... There are no such things as blind calls in un­con­trolled airspace

mid­dle-aged Ger­man di­vorcees to pre­pare their re­spec­tive nests for sala­cious cop­u­la­tion. Less than a week be­fore the nearly im­pos­si­ble plan in­volv­ing mov­ing across Europe and re­turn­ing to fly the air­craft south, I learned how Ger­mans don’t cause hangar rash on air­planes, they prac­tice hangar smash. I got a phone call that there was a “slight mishap” while ground han­dling the Cub, but “it’s air­wor­thy”. Upon lay­ing eyes on the car­nage, I was greeted with a com­pletely caved wing­bow, amazed more that Ger­mans would con­sider this air­wor­thy yet de­mand com­plete over­haul at the slight­est aber­ra­tion when it is not their fi­nan­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity. In a mad dash, the dam­age was re­paired in mere days be­fore the move.

The ter­res­trial por­tion of my im­pos­si­ble mov­ing plan worked quite well, whereas the avi­a­tion por­tion didn’t get off to the great­est start due to weather. Stand­ing at the in­for­ma­tion desk, I filed my first flight plan in Europe, di­rect into France for the first time and across the en­tirety of the coun­try, on a mar­ginal weather day, with­out the aid of in­flight weather ser­vices that I am used to on my ipad. Us­ing the stan­dard Euro­pean fore­cast sys­tem, the grad­ing was yel­low for a cor­ri­dor south through the Rhine valley, south­west over the Con­ti­nen­tal Di­vide be­tween the moun­tains to the west of the Rhine and the Jura Moun­tains to the south. From there, the plan was to head south through the Rhône valley and into the South of France. While the stan­dard fore­cast and op­er­a­tional met­rics in­di­cated that things would be fine, I had an in­ad­e­quate amount of in­for­ma­tion, by my stan­dards, to back the plan up, and my in­stinct from cross­ing the United States many times told me that there would be a mon­key wrench.

Tak­ing off in Ger­many, it felt like I was sneak­ing out as a fugi­tive, fly­ing on a breezy, cloudy day with sprin­kles and an evil, men­ac­ing sky, over farm­land of nearly per­fect polyg­o­nal lay­out. Most would have no­ticed the beauty of vine­yards and rolling farm­land; I saw a sea

of rules that could be bro­ken with the stiffest of con­se­quences. France couldn’t come soon enough.

I crossed near Wis­senbourg into wors­en­ing vis­i­bil­ity and pre­cip­i­ta­tion, though still suf­fi­ciently VFR. At the be­hest of Lan­gen In­for­ma­tion, I called Stras­bourg In­for­ma­tion, won­der­ing what lin­guis­tic hor­rors would await this por­tion of the trip. Ger­mans had made it quite clear that the French would refuse to speak English on the ra­dio and that it would be wise to learn some aero­nau­ti­cal French to fly in the land of fran­cophony. In a sym­bolic ges­ture of break­ing the rules, I didn’t bother to learn a sin­gle phrase, in­stead pulling up a cheat sheet on my ipad in case it was nec­es­sary. My de­ci­sion was to plead Amer­i­can ig­no­rance and fool­ish­ness if it came down to it. Oddly, Stras­bourg In­for­ma­tion and ev­ery other ATCO and FISO in France spoke English with­out hes­i­ta­tion. Per­haps the French ret­i­cence to be ac­com­mo­dat­ing to Ger­mans has some­thing to do with two un­wel­come vis­its by the Wehrma­cht in the early 20th cen­tury.

My first land­ing point was Col­mar, France, where my first pleas­ant sur­prise was that I was cleared di­rect to land, no ob­se­quious ob­ser­vance of imag­i­nary lines on the map re­quired; the sec­ond was a thirty per cent re­duc­tion in av­gas prices. Vive la France! From Col­mar, the next in­tended stop was north of Lyon, though I won­dered about the re­al­ity of the plan. Clouds and pre­cip­i­ta­tion looked prob­lem­atic in the sur­round­ing ter­rain, de­spite an up­date to weather fore­casts on the ground still al­low­ing a VFR cor­ri­dor. Opt­ing to climb out over 5,000 foot moun­tains to the west of the air­port due to pre­cip­i­ta­tion to the south, I was greeted with a sea of clouds on the other side of vary­ing lay­ers and den­si­ties. I turned south fol­low­ing the path of least cu­mu­lus re­sis­tance, even­tu­ally try­ing to go un­der the clouds, only to find that it was a recipe for con­trolled flight into ter­rain. I climbed back to 7,000 feet to weasel around some tow­er­ing cu­mu­lus, al­ways main­tain­ing sight of the ground and an es­cape plan, even if it was to an ul­tra­light field. Fi­nally, faced with a wall of clouds and pre­cip­i­ta­tion, I did some­thing I had never done in my fly­ing ca­reer: called in­for­ma­tion for some help to nav­i­gate around the weather. In the USA, for decades I ei­ther lacked a ra­dio or had bet­ter live in­flight weather backed by a na­tional cel­lu­lar data net­work. Here, I was re­liant on more tra­di­tional meth­ods.

I changed course to the north­west to avoid the big­ger clouds and main­tain sight of the ground, while Lux­eil Ap­proach quite kindly called area air­ports to con­firm ceil­ings. Find­ing one with a 1,200 foot ceil­ing, I headed west, cir­cled down, and

ducked un­der the cloud deck un­til it got too low for my lik­ing fur­ther south, turn­ing to Gray to wait it out for two hours.

As the ceil­ings rose, I made it to Dole thirty min­utes to the south, and waited an­other two hours for ceil­ings to lift. Sim­i­lar to cross­ing the United States, I sat at the air­port with fel­low pi­lots who were wait­ing for des­ti­na­tion min­ima to rise so they could make their flight on an IFR flight plan. If my Cub can’t make it, chances are IFR air­craft and busi­ness jets can­not ei­ther. I have lost track of the amount of times that has hap­pened.

I fi­nally made Va­lence for the night, only to find out that, in the cap­i­tal of le Mis­tral, the lo­cal air­port did not think pro­vid­ing tie-downs was a sen­si­ble plan. Im­pro­vis­ing us­ing ce­ment blocks and ex­ten­sion cords, I weighted the plane down and feasted on

some de­light­ful French food be­fore sleep­ing for the night.

The next day, le Mis­tral was rag­ing, so much so that it lifted one of the air­craft tyres dur­ing re­fu­elling. Lack­ing tie-downs, I de­cided it was best to get out as soon as pos­si­ble as lo­cals ad­vised it would only get worse in the af­ter­noon. Tak­ing off mid-field, I was above cir­cuit alti­tude af­ter cov­er­ing one thou­sand feet along the ground, and quickly turned south, with a 45 knot tail­wind to ac­cel­er­ate my plans.

One of the neg­a­tives of French fly­ing is airspace. Some­one in Paris was play­ing with shape-mak­ing soft­ware, had a spon­sored epilep­tic event, and then de­cided to pub­lish the re­sult as the na­tional map of French airspace. It is the most con­vo­luted thing I have seen, though it was nicely off­set by French in­for­ma­tion ser­vices, as I was cleared through ev­ery con­trol zone that I had re­quested thus far. That was, of course, un­til the morn­ing with 45 knot winds, where I was handed to Or­ange Ap­proach, cleared to only 1,700ft, and had the bliss­ful joy of rid­ing the ro­tors in the small hills with blow­ing dust and bent trees on the ground.

Even­tu­ally, I was per­mit­ted to turn west­ward, for which I was di­rected to climb to 3,300ft to over­fly an­other ac­tive zone, though that was far more pleas­ant than scrap­ing the ground dur­ing a hur­ri­cane. That leg cul­mi­nated with learn­ing about the ex­is­tence of an­other wind, la Tra­mon­tane, which rages be­tween the Pyre­nees and Mas­sif Cen­tral. The ra­dio op­er­a­tor at Lezig­nan came out and walked the wing dur­ing taxi to pre­vent the air­plane from tip­ping over.

The fi­nal flight leg into Spain was de­light­ful, save for some nasty tur­bu­lence in the cir­cuit, which was the tip of the ice­berg when it comes to moun­tain winds. La Cer­danya is sit­u­ated at 3,609ft MSL, in a valley with peaks ris­ing as high as 9,500ft in the Pyre­nees, along the bor­der with France.

A happy refuge in Spain

What are my ini­tial im­pres­sions of Spain? Home to a pro­lific gov­ern­men­tal in­ep­ti­tude cou­pled with Spa­niards’ nat­u­ral view that laws are sug­ges­tions, it is a de­light­ful fla­menco twirl of free­dom, even if cre­ated

One of the neg­a­tives of French fly­ing is airspace... It is the most con­vo­luted thing I have seen, through it was nicely off­set by French in­for­ma­tion ser­vices

by virtue of ne­glect and dis­or­gan­i­sa­tion. I speak the lan­guage (hey, imag­ine that), have no In­for­ma­tion Ser­vice to deal with, do not have to fly a straight line in the cir­cuit−much less goose step on the tar­mac−have un­lim­ited land­ings for a small monthly fee, and ba­si­cally can do what­ever the hell I want. For that I am ex­tremely happy at the lat­est ad­ven­ture life has thrown at us. Gar­rett Fisher is an au­thor and aerial pho­tog­ra­pher, hav­ing pho­tographed some of the most rugged and wild ter­rain in Amer­ica from his 1949 Piper PA-11. He has pub­lished six aerial pho­tog­ra­phy books cov­er­ing the Colorado Rock­ies, Wy­oming, high ter­rain in the South­east, and the Outer Banks, with more US and Euro­pean books in the pipe­line. He blogs reg­u­larly about his flights at www.gar­ret­tfisher.me.

Left: ...his pho­tog­ra­pher’s eye nev­er­the­less open to pat­terns in the fields be­low

Above: Gar­rett scud run­ning early on in the trip across France...

Gar­rett pre­pares to depart, demon­strat­ing the safest way of start­ing a Cub solo

A week be­fore he left town Gar­rett’s Ger­man hosts deemed a stoved-in tip bow mere ‘hangar rash’

One hand gloved for prop swing­ing, 6ft 5in Gar­rett tow­ers over his US reg­is­tered PA-11 Cub

Beach and la­goon close to Per­pig­nan, not far from the fron­tier with Spain

Wave clouds form over the foothills of the Pyre­nees, vis­i­ble from the cir­cuit at La Cer­danya

More pat­terns, this time in a field — and close to Gar­rett’s new home in Spain

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