I’m doing the best I can with posting but this trip is kicking my butt. The internet is pretty spotty in a lot of places so I’ve been falling behind. Here’s something to tide you all over for now.
Early morning slot times out of Italy mean early morning wakeup calls at the hotel. At least for those of us on the Epic World Tour that hadn’t had the foresight to rent a Lamborghini and were forced to ride the short bus to the airport.
We had another beautiful day for flying ahead us with clear skies on our departure from sunny Italy and only broken clouds and rain showers forecast for our arrival in Prague. Thankfully the clouds only covered the first half of the Alps so we got a good view of the mountains that were best crossed by plane rather than elephant. Once again the 6 Epics were spread out in trail only this time we were all at 27,000 rather than in staggered altitudes. This normally wouldn’t have been a big deal or even worth mentioning but the conditions were such that the Epic’s were leaving contrails and seeing that we were all flying on the same airways using the same GPS we all got the treat of flying through the contrail of the plane in front of us. Now I’m not saying that any of us did anything unprofessional like going off autopilot and weaving back and forth through those crisp white lines in the sky, but I’m not saying we didn’t either.
The descent and landing into Prague was uneventful and we were treated to what every IFR rated pilot loves to see, a nicely lit up runway appearing out of the gloom. There’s just something satisfying about making a successful approach in bad weather and seeing the runway pop out in front of you. After landing we were treated to another, ummm, “treat”. Ground control parked all 6 Epic’s quite a ways from the terminal and we were all towed to the ramp while still sitting inside. I guess that’s one way to do it. Especially if you want to be able to add a towing charge to each plane’s bill.
Prague was amazing. We did a walking tour in the rain and learned all about the history of medieval Prague and if you’re interested, you can find all kinds of information on the subject, somewhere else. The next morning we met the owner of the glider company Blanik who took us out to a local airfield and treated us all to a free glider ride! The day was a blast. Everyone got to go up for a 20 minute ride and if aerobatics were your thing you definitely got a hell of a ride. I’d been watching the three pilots who were giving the rides, trying to get the best one, and finally made my choice. He was an older guy, with a belly that looked like it wouldn’t fit in the tight cockpit, but after watching him do low level loops, rolls, and hammerheads I knew that he was the guy for me. We got towed to altitude by a gangly looking tail dragger that sat on two unusually main landing gear struts called a Wilga. I’d told the interrupter that all I wanted to do was aerobatics so once we released the tow line it was game on. We did loops that pulled 3-4 Gs on the bottom, rolls where all the loose dirt and grass in the cockpit fell into the canopy and almost zero airspeed hammerheads. The topper of the ride was the series of loops that ended with a hammerhead at only 600 feet at the top. He pointed the nose vertically at the ground just off the end of the hangers and then proceeded to buzz the flight line about 3 feet off the grass before pulling up and entering down wind. It’s been a long time since I’ve had that much fun! One thing that really struck me was just how well the glider maintained it’s energy. We’d do a maneuver and end up losing very little altitude. It was amazing. We were the last flight of the day so the glider pilot ended our flight by landing on the grass taxiway and rolling all the way up to the hanger, coming to a stop only feet from another glider. What a pro.
We topped the day off with another fancy dinner with the owner of the company and lots of distinguished guests. It was another Epic day.
We left Prague behind and headed northeast to St. Petersburg Russia. One again we got lucky with the weather and didn’t have anything more than a few light rain showers to deal with. It was a short flight (they all are in the Epic LT) with only one little hiccup. As each Epic got within 25 miles of the airport they all lost the GPS signal in their panel mounted Garmin G1000. Losing the GPS isn’t, or shouldn’t, be anything approaching an emergency but in this particular system if you lose the GPS signal th4e auto pilot doesn’t work and that means………hand flying!!!!!!! BUMM! BUMM! BUMM! Now, personally, I love hand flying, especially approaches. I don’t get to fly enough approaches as it is and I’m sure as hell not going to give any away to the damn autopilot. That’s MY approach! But these days I’m in the minority. Most pilots with glass cockpits couple the approach to the auto pilot and let the machine do the work. And that’s all fine and dandy until the autopilot breaks or the GPS craps out, like today. Then the pilot is forced to move the controls with his hands and feet, like a savage. Interestingly, my ipad’s GPS held the signal far longer than the panel mounted Garmin that had a hard wired antenna. We all got the GPS signal back just before landing leading us to speculate that for some reason the evil Russians were messing with the signal on purpose. Damn commies.
Once we got on the ground we got another treat. Apparently when the CEO of Epic, who was flying one of the six planes, squawked about the outrageous fees the handling company was going to charge us the company decided to show us who’s boss by leaving us stuck out on the ramp for two hours before fueling our planes and giving us a ride to the terminal. This treatment really pissed us off and when the owner of Epic found out what happened he was furious. And when a Russian, who also happened to be the owner of one of the biggest airlines in Russia, and a billionaire, gets mad heads will roll. Apparently the guy who made the call to disrespect us is now looking for a new job. The delay at the airport put us behind schedule so we only got to see the second half of the Russian/cassock dance show they took us to. Oh darn. Don’t get me wrong, it was cool seeing them doing their traditional dances but we were all so tired most of us slept through at least some of it.
The next day we took a hydrofoil up the river to Peter the Great’s palace and took the grand tour then had a bus tour of St. Petersburg. And of no evening on this trip would be complete without an amazing dinner and too much wine. It’s been a rough trip so far but somebody has to do it.