The reluctant record breaker
On the 7th September 2008, on a stunningly beautiful calm clear day, I climbed into our Lion Flying Group Cessna 172, (G-BDNU)), at Kiel airfield in northern Germany and flew up to Sønderborg airport in southern Denmark. In the meantime my two flying friends went off for some sightseeing in Kiel. I had made arrangements for a local flight after arriving. The airport at Sønderborg opens a 11.00 local on a Sunday and I touched down at 11.01. After refuelling and paying the landing fee I then helped push an immaculate Cessna 152, OY-SUK, (recently completely refurbished in one of the ex-Eastern Bloc Baltic countries), out of the hangar.
We started up at 12.10 in order to complete one circuit, shutting down at 12.25. Climbing out onto the apron the ATPL student who had very kindly volunteered to interrupt his Sunday to accompany me seemed rather perplexed at my obvious enthusiasm and happiness. I explained, "Well you see, I can now say that I have flown an aircraft in every western European country, in an aircraft registered in each and every country." For the privilege of achieving this personal milestone he asked for 38 Euros - including the landing fee. Pretty good value I'd say.
NOT COUNTING THE COST
The fact that it had cost me about £135 including landing fees to get to and from Sønderborg being neither here nor there of course. I've always reckoned it is better not to count the actual cost of flying until you get home - and then figure out if you can afford it! Seize the opportunity first, relish the experience and the privilege to the full. Also, this was the very first flight I had made where I had deliberately set out to achieve something resembling an ambition, just to get a box ticked.
A POSSIBLE RECORD?
The idea that what that short flight had achieved being some kind of record did not occur to me. That idea came about from another pilot I just happened to mention it to. One unexpected nice touch that I'd failed to realise until filling out my log book was that Sønderborg was the 300th destination I'd landed at as part of the crew. Bearing in mind that in light aircraft, only being the captain, or pilot-in-command, can count for flying hours logged - unless under instruction.
WHAT IS A WESTERN EUROPEAN COUNTRY?
As a child the Cold War was in full swing, and those countries in the 'West' were very clearly defined. That situation has changed beyond recognition since most of the Eastern Bloc countries are now within the EU. Anyway, just to clear things up regarding what I mean, I have prepared a table below of countries flown in, places flown from, and aircraft types. These do not include flights in gliders and helicopters, and in some cases include aircraft types I have flown from in the UK. This list is not intended to be 100% complete. Plus, to be fair, a very few were just touch-and-goes.
Airfields: Krems, Punitz, Vöslau
Types: Diamond DA.20, Diamond DV.20 and Piper PA-32 Cherokee 6
Airfields: Antwerpen-Deurne, Antwerp airport, Hoevenen, Kortrijk, Liege, Oostende, St Ghislain
Types: Cessna 150, 172 and 182. Piper PA-28 Archer
Types: Cessna 152
Airfields: Alencon, Angers, Arcachon, Avignon, Belle Isle, Brive Caen, Calais, Cannes-Mandelieu, Chambery, Charleville Mézieres, Chartres, Deauville, Dieppe, Dinard, Granville, Ile d'Yeu, Issoire, La Rochelle, Le Havre, Leognan Saucarts, Le Touquet, Lille, Lyon-Bron, Meux-Esblay, Millau, Nantes, Perpignan, Quiberon, Reims-Champagne, Reims-Prunay, Rennes, Rouen, St Flour, Sainte Leocardie, Saumur
Types: CAP 10, Cessna 152 and 172, Rallye variants: MS.880, MS.880B, MS892, MS.893. Piper PA-18 Super Cub, PA-28 Warrior, PA-28 Archer, PA-32R Saratoga. Robin DR.40 & DR.400. Socata TB.9 and TB.10
Types: Cessna 172
Airfields: Baden-Baden, Bonn-Hangelar, Egelsbach, Essen-Mulhiem, Friedrichshaven, Hanover, Jesenwang, Kiel, Nördlingen, Nuremburg, Ober-Schleissheim, Peenemunde, Stuttgart, Templehof (Berlin)
Types: Cessna 152 & 172. Diamond DV.20
Airfields: Heraklion, Xania
Types: Cessna 172
Airfields: Brittas Bay, Connemara, Cork, Kilrush, Newcastle, Weston
Types: Cessna 152 & 172
Airfields: Aosta, Cuneo-Levaldigi, Roma-Urba
Types: Cessna 150, Partenavia P.66C, Robin DR.400
Airfield: Luxembourg Internationa; Airport
Types: Cessna 172, Piper PA-28 Warrior
Type: Cessna 172
Airfields: Cascais, Portimao
Type: Cessna 172
SPAIN & ISLANDS
Airfields: Asturias, Casarrubios, Cordoba, Cuatro Vientas, Malaga, San Bonnet, Pamplona, Salamanca, Santiago de Compostella, Seville, and Son Bonet (Majorca)
Types: Cessna 150 & 172, Piper PA-28 Warrior, PA-28-200R, Rans S6
Airfield: Bromma (Stockholm)
Types: Cessna 152 & 172
Airfields: Beromünster, Locarno, Triengen
Types: Piper J3C Cub, PA-18-150 Super Cub on skis
Airfields: Eindhoven, Groningenen-Eelde, Midden Zeeland, Seppe, Texel
Types: Cessna 172, Grob 115, Piper Pa-28 Archer
I have no idea if I have broken a record of some sort, and will not be bothered to try and find out. All of my flying was done on a very limited budget, usually as customers very kindly employed our small business to transport by road the mostly exhibition stands, conferrence sets, and later motion control film equipment to and from the Continent. I soon found out if I had some spare time, that a phone call could quite often provide an opportunity to fly. Failing that, just turning up at the airfield and making enquiries. A few times, whilst on holiday, my ever supportive wife, bless her, would allow me to bugger off.
Needless to say, when transporting aircraft, on a few occassions, other opportunities arose. All in all, having got a PPL license, it is perhaps surprising just how easy it can be to arrange to go flying at very short notice. And, I should mention, this can often apply to non pilots too. For me, for example, being able quite legally to fly over large cities such as Berlin, Köln (Cologne), Helsinki, Lisbon, Seville and Stockholm is such a treat. Flying past the peak of Mont Blanc, along the French Riviera, through the Pyrenees, across the Straits of Gibraltar to north Africa, etc, etc, are treasured memories.
These can easily be yours too. Just turn up and ask, "Can I go flying?", and I am certain that quite often the answer will be, "Yes." Maybe not straight away, but fairly soon usually.