Flight Club to the new EU countries.

During the photo reunion of the last flight of last year it was decided to go to Bulgaria.

At another meeting to identify the needs and opportunities the idea came up to fly also to Turkey. Furthermore, we talked about opportunities in Bulgaria to visit Varna, Sofia, Plovdiv and any other possibilities.  At the second meeting  the plan which was prepared was discussed.  The plan was to fly with 7 planes and 15 persons with destination Black Sea and Turkey.

On Monday, June 4 2007 at 10 o clock we where ready for departure.

The first leg of the flight was from Rotterdam to Nurnberg, a reasonably familiar route because we also flew this last year when we went to Croatia. After the stopover in Nurnberg for pilots change, something to eat and a refuel we departed to Voslau Vienna to stay the night over there. After a sumptuous meal some further maps were distributed what we would need for the next part. The next morning there was much doubt about the weather enroute to the next destination.  We made a long weather analysis at the airport Voslau to understand the weather situation. The weather at Voslau was bad and enroute it was even worse.  The outlook for the following days was very poor and gradually it became clear that our goal was not possible and should be delayed perhaps one year.

Route from Rotterdam to Nurnberg


Route from Nurnberg to Voslou near Vienna
 The puzzle how to continue due to the bad weather


After extensive meteorological information was collected, the group decided that the next days we could not go to Bulgaria but have to stay in Hungary and perhaps after that a visit to Berlin and northern Germany. In the excellent pilot shop at Voslau we could buy enough maps for the new plan to be able to plot the route on a map.

The next morning we flew to Sarmellek at the Ballaton lake, a short flight of about 1.5 hours.  Some of our group decided to do a little sightseeing with an extra round over lake Ballaton.  After landing at Sarmellek, an airport with nice extra. They had a very nice price for AVGAS over the less than 1 euro per litre. The checkout and payment of gasoline was not a punishment because of the very beautiful view of a wonderful lady helping us.  Then by taxi to a hotel overlooking the lake where we noticed at dinner that the bad weather of this region could be very intense.  Heavy thunderstorms and strong wind and rain forced us to go inside to continue our meal.


The next day we planned to go to Budapest but when we arrived at the airport of Sarmellek it became clear that we had to pay extra for fuel (roughly 700 euro's for all aircraft together). We instantly decided to go decided to Bratislava a destination for which we did not have to pay extra.  After we put some quick lines on our map and planned our route we could depart. Not everything was entirely coordinated so some of the group followed a different routing than the others.  We had a nice trip and after 1 hour, all of our group arrived in Bratislava.


There was sufficient time for sightseeing in the city and during this we found a nice restaurant for dinner. With life music this evening was an evening with Slovak specialties and after an unexpected dance for Willy it was time to go back to the hotel.  The next day we would go to Budapest.  Because the weather and weather forecast had become much better the group discussed the possibilities to fly towards Bulgaria.  The decision was taken to see how the first part of the route would be and then decide if we were going to continue.  The first route ran along the Ballaton lake from Bratislava to Belgrade where we arrived after a journey of 3 and half hours. The weather was no problem, we occasionally got a little rain but that did not bring any problems.  So after landing in Belgrade we had a refill with fuel and some food and decided to continue to Gorna Orhavitze further called Gorna.


During the flight we discussed on the radio using our  chat channel on 123.55 MHz if  we could continue the flight to Varna.  After checking if the fuel was enough to Varna with a possible alternate we decided to go directly to Varna.  The message was passed to all aircraft from our group that we would go to Varna instead off Gorna. No sooner said than done and the route was continued to Varna.  Some time later we flew abeam Gorna and we continued along the route to Varna.  Meanwhile, the fastest plane of the group already arrived at Varna doing some sightseeing over the city. Then air traffic control informed us that we were not allowed to go to Varna and had to go back and land in Gorna.

Once we landed at Gorna were then treated to a very extensive security check and passport control we had to do and all our luggage unloaded to be checked.  After the checks we decided to try again as soon as possible to continue because the Gorna area did not look so attractive to stay for a while. Some of the group went to the tower to discuss our plans and prepare the flight plans and others looked after the security check and handling.  By discussing our destination it became clear that we could not go in many directions.  The fields that we could theoretically fly to was to Varna, Bourgas and Primorsko.  We were already allowed to go to Varna and the tower confirmed that today we could not go to Varna. Now we heard the reason why we were not welcome in Varna and the extensive security check, it all had to do with President Bush's visit to Sofia for which there was heigh security.  We could not go to Bourgas as well so we finally could go to Primorsko.  This airfield is a brand new general aviation airport with a runway of 900 meters long and close to the Black Sea, it could accept our visit and also significant they had sufficient AVGAS.

We decided to go to Primorsko after the route was selected and plotted on our map.  The route was simple, almost a straight line bringing us just south of Bourgas direct to Primorsko.  Once in the vicinity of the field we had to search a bit because the exact position of the field was not entirely clear.  When we approached the field we saw one of the other planes of our group turning final so it was quite easy to follow after.  After we had planes neatly parked in the hangar, (the first time during our flight club to park in a hangar), we took a van to our hotel where we could immediately move on to dinner.


The next day we made an excursion to a river where water turtles live in the wild. After this we went to a small town Souzopol where we visited a museum and made a tour in the village. Then we enjoyed a very tasty lunch with dishes from the region.  In the afternoon, a part of the group planned a jeep safari but this was cancelled by our guide so we had the afternoon to visit the town of Primorsko and of course make a swim in the Black Sea.  During dinner we could not read the restaurant menu because it was Bulgarian. After some questions to the girl helping us we suggested that the kitchen prepared some dishes with the specialties of the region. This was a good idea and food tasted fine.



The next day we wanted to fly further into the country and prepared our flight to Plovdiv, the second city of Bulgaria. The route was again very simple, with departure on runway heading, following the heading and with almost the same heading arriving at Plovdiv after a flight of 1.5 hours.  Along the route we had a varied landscape of small villages, industrial areas but also many large bare areas.  When we arrived at Plovdiv we were warmly received and the staff of the airport seemed pleasantly surprised with so many general aviation aircraft from the Netherlands.  After a taxi drive of 45 minutes we arrived at the hotel which gave a very special impression.




The rooms were quite ridiculous and probably a legacy from the earlier regime of Bulgaria. The rest of the day we walked around in Plovdiv with a visit to the old town which was definitely worth it.  Meanwhile we also found a nice restaurant where we enjoyed the evening with a part of our group our dinner.  Also we had to solve a problem with a passport that one of the group had forgotten in Primorsko.  First idea was to get a courier which  a bit later showed that this solution might very uncertain since the time the passport would arrive still would be very uncertain and could delay the group which really could not wait.  A taxi ride in Bulgaria is very cheap to our terms and after some negotiation it was an affordable and most reliable solution. The taxi driver happy and the passport back in time before our planned departure and travel back to the Netherlands.  

On the first day of the trip we would go to Belgrade with a fuel stop and then to continue to Vienna or somewhere near Sarmellek.  The route to Belgrade went fairly smoothly, despite the fact that we had to climb to 7000 ft to remain free of the mountains.  This was sometimes a little juggling between clouds and mountains but still continue to do well.  When we arrived in Belgrade we were No. 1 for landing and we continued the route to the runway.   We were rather high on final on roughly 1500 ft above the beginning of the runway when we saw on a small business jet lining up which received a take off clearance. I reported our position to the tower that we were approaching the threshold, Tower instructed us to make  a  360 turn over right, problem solved!  Then the next approach much lower with 50 ft over the long runway to touch down close at the end of the runway. This prevented us from a long taxi off the runway.



Once we  arrived on the apron we wanted to refuel and discuss at what time we would continue the flight.  Immediately we noticed a busy, somewhat nervous atmosphere. Refuelling was not possible and we had to wait in the bus and later in the arrival hall. Bad weather was coming up which surprised us because enroute we did not notice  bad weather. When we were in the arrival hall it started to rain and wind came up very strong, this is the embedded CB's. The rain fell down in an intensity which we don't often see in the Netherlands and the whole apron was flooded quickly. Fortunately, before the storm began, all the planes of our group arrived in time.  Because we lost some time due to the storm our planning for the next flight became under some pressure. We could use the time to get some food in the airport building and some could not resist even a tax-free shopping. Meanwhile, plans were made to fly to Sarmellek with a diversion to Voslau direction. Ultimately the weather had cleared and the storm moved away to the east so we did not suffer from the storm departing in northern direction. After start up we were taxiing to the runway and we got take off clearance, then follow heading northwest direction Ballaton or Vienna.



After some discussion on the chat radio the group decided to go to Sarmellek because it was already quite late and because of the good hotel and cheap AVGAS. Immediately after landing to refuel all the planes and pay for all expenses and file flight plans for the route of the next morning, and again there was that beautiful view. Then back to the hotel where we could get our dinner for the last night of our vacation with the whole group.  Ofcourse there was also a focus on Harm and Roel who prepared this trip a had review of the many unexpected twists in the trip with two days finally to the black sea.  Then we went to bed early to an early departure from Sarmellek to Mannheim.

Now we enjoyed our preparation from the evening before, we did only have to make the security check and take the bus to our plane.  Check the plane and then load and go, we departed before 9 o clock in the morning.  The first leg of that day would go to Mannheim, but given the weather forecast an early departure would be wise because later in the day there was a severe chance of thunderstorms.


Along the route we were flying between clouds and mountains and occasionally even somewhat poor visibility down to 5 km we arrived without problems at Mannheim exactly after 4 hours flying. Again refuelling and then paying our landing fees and customs check and then just take something to eat. For our flight plan we phoned the FIO at Schiphol and we enrolled and studied the maps.  Then we made the last leg of this journey, from Mannheim direction  Koln and Venlo to continue in the direction off Eindhoven. There we made a fly by along the flat where my mother lives, then we continued to Rotterdam.  Just after we passed Eindhoven visibility was poor 4 to 5 km and therefore we had to be extra vigilant for the last part of this flight. When we approached halfway we listened to the ATIS Rotterdam and found there was no problem with the weather at Rotterdam and once we past Biesbosch visibility became better.  The last piece went smoothly and immediately after a final landing on runway 24 we were back at our flying club.


Looking back on this club flight I enjoy the memory of another very special trip.  From 2004 I followed the club flight but we have never had so much influence by bad weather.  Most of the times weather forecast was predicted more badly then we actually encountered. Sometimes, not during our flights we found that weather in this area can be really bad.  We had some occasional rain showers around in which we could easily continue, but we also had moments with very heavy rain just after we all had landed at Belgrade. Also we had some heavy weather in the evening during our dinner. What we learned was that the weather on the outward journey for which we were scary to go through that during the journey home it was experienced much less severe.  We did not find if it was a form of homeritus or just the lesson that we learned during the entire trip. We are convinced that we never have flown in a dangerous manner.
This trip was a lot of improvising and adjusting plans. We several times ended up in the evening in a place different than planned in the morning before.

Bulgaria is a nice country but one with a huge language problem, especially if you go to the less touristic areas. An adventure with a taxi ride in Plovdiv made this very clear.  We wanted to go from the hotel by taxi to the airport, the first taxi did not take us because we had some luggage with us.  The second taxi picked us up where we were standing, but he could not understand were we wanted to go.  The calling off Airport was not clear so after some time a colleague of the driver explained to our driver what we wanted.  After a drive of a few miles the driver turned around and drove us back to the hotel.  We did not understand what was happening and the driver could not explain why. We got out of his taxi, obviously without paying, and had to take a third taxi who did take us to the airport.

We obviously experienced much more than in this short story.

Special is, that we still have a great group of pilots flying together across parts of Europe still able to operate in a fun and safe way to visit some parts of the world.