Following the Templar’s Route

by Nuccio Caristia We had planned this flight by June, but the usual last minute work problems forced us to postpone it. The same work problems would have slowly created that irresistible desire of “evasion” without which a similar flight is hard to face. A “full immersion” of flight was the ideal thing to reset your brain. Full immersion does not look like the most appropriate word to characterize a flight which has developed for about 90% over the sea; a flight that only those “…magnificent men in their flying machines” – which are named Microlight – may conceive. We were in the cold February when we begun to think to the aim of the trip. The target was the usual; to get there were no other Italian Microlight had landed before. Cyprus appeared immediately as the ideal aim for our purpose, considering that we like the most the sea as opposed to the mountain, in summer. The route appeared stimulating also because, as Knights of the Sky, we would have touched places which were destination ad site of other most famous Knights of the Ground; the Templars. We send our emails as a blind transmission towards everything has to do with flight at Cyprus. Eventually we get the answer of Demetris, the President of the local Cyprus Microlight Aircraft Club. He directs us to the local Civil Aviation Authority who gives the landing permission without any problem. Demetris convinces us easily to avoid the useless attempts to get permission from the Turkish to approach Cyprus via Turkey, given the not very good relationship between Greek and Turkish Cypriots. The route is then obliged: Rhodes-Paphos direct over the sea; about 450 km. We are not very much impressed by that as before that leg we had to fly for almost 1000 km over the sea to get to Rhodes… We had heard of exaggerated landing and handling taxes at Cyprus and we do not hesitate to ask Demetris for support. He starts a serrated negotiation with the company who manages the airport services at Paphos; the Hermes Airports. We will discover after that Demetris is an agent of a special police force, something like the Americans S.W.A.T., and he works at the airport were is well known. At the end he tells us to have obtained a considerable reduction for the landing and parking fees which would have been limited to about 100 Euros per airplane, against the more of 300 we were expecting to pay. The bureaucracy was then fixed and we had only to wait for the departure which took place on July 24th; just the right time to go to know the famous Meltemi wind which blows over the Aegean sea just in this period. We join at Melendugno on the 24th afternoon. It’s me, Pieri Rebuffini e Francesco Caldarini, friend of many adventures. We are all with our trusty steeds; the Tecnam’s P92. At Melendugno we get the kind support of Marcello Quarta. In the evening we file the flight plan via fax to Athens according the instructions of AOPA Hellas. From Melendugno to Ikaros airfield Just survived at the previous very hot day, we do not take too much time to understand that it will be the same for the actual. We will never know if we have suffered more than our engines those 40 °C that accompanied us to Corfù first and Ikaros after. For sure we have never flown with the oil temperature fixed at 120 °C trying to avoid any minimal climb which would have ended in a further increase of temperature for the oil. We fly low over the Otranto’s strait and Kerkira Radar does not receive our voice. Obviously we do not even try to contact Brindisi Control because of our past negative experiences with them. Finally 1

over Othoni we get in contact with Kerkira Tower to whom we specify to be three light aircrafts. The traffic there is intense and we are put in stand by circling west of the runway. Our 360 degrees result of all shapes except than circular and another traffic, a Beechcraft with to English pilots coming from Croatia, joins us in the dance. After some time we get tired but the woman ATC gets confused as she forgets that we are in three and calls me the number one for landing and the English the number two. Respectfully I recall her attention saying that we are three. Then I find myself responding to her accuses of non having notified that we were three (false), that we had not a flight plan (false) and that we were not authorized (false); all this while I was reducing power, changing incidence, shooting a photo, extending the flaps… Once on the ground we check with the English who confirm that we were right about having notified that we were in three since the beginning. They were also very happy as this was their first formation landing with three traffics ahead. Unfortunately the fact provokes a strong bureaucratic repression and we are submitted to a third degree interrogation, inclusive of a non due customs control, a search on one of the airplanes and a missed activation of a PLB which is mistaken for a perfume bottle by the customs officer. We realize that they have confused us with other Italian Microlight pilots who were protagonists of a non authorized landing in their airport. We have some hard time to demonstrate that we were ok. Finally everything is settled through a clarifying discussion with the woman ATC who admits to have fallen on confusion and apologizes for that. Mikonos refuses our landing as no parking is available and we decide to fly to the private airfield of Ikaros which we had visited on 2005, in the Kopaida region. We fly in a burning landscape watching at the engine temperatures and finally we land almost dehydrated after 1.45 flight hours and 350 km. Here we find Apostolos Moschonis, owner of the airfield, who has become the exclusive distributor for Tecnam in Greece, Cyprus and Balcans… we feel like at home. We stay overnight at Aliartos, a small town 100 km far from Athens, in the Kopaida valley.

From Ikaros to Rhodes We are ready to face the Athens TMA; we know its VFR standard routes which allow to do everything but not to go straight where you would like. As we will fly at 1000 ft (low limit of the TMA) we think that they will not argue if we go direct between the VOR KOR and KEA, just to explore a new path…it seems it was an usual practice for the Templar… Everything goes ok until another pernickety woman ATC tell us what we already knew. We are ready to accept their will but they leave us to proceed along our route. That white plumes on the top of the swells announce Mr. Meltemi. In the end, the turbulence is a way like another not to get annoyed during the long “navigation” to Rhodes. We are always in view of an island during the flight but these are lands so rough where a forced landing is to discard, therefore our last chance remains the sea. In the meanwhile we get close to Rhodes and 3 miles out we exchange a paradoxical radio communication with the tower. At a certain point the controller asks us: “would you prefer the apron or the runway ?”. Thinking he is referring to where we want to park, I reply…the apron. With the airfield in sight the controller gives instructions to cross perpendicularly the runway and go direct to the apron. He is so insistent that I have to reply: “…for sure we will do that but…WE HAVE TO LAND FIRST!. The controller says that the apron was our first choice and now we changed our mind. We understand that there is something wrong but do not know what. We apologize and land on the runway…as it should be! Once on the ground, after the follow me drives as to the parking, the operator says: “…but, didn’t you were three HELICOPTERS?” Now we realize the misunderstanding…they wanted to give us the possibility to land directly on the apron! 2

After we considered that with a minimal effort we could have really landed in the apron… For the flight log book, we have flown 530 km in 2.55 hours. We find Rhodes very comfortable and we go for a nice tour in the wonderful medieval town which was the house of the Knights of Rhodes, the precursors of Malta’s Knights. From Rhodes to Cyprus The target is getting close but we have to face only that big jump of 450 Km which is different from all the rest for the fact that there will not be land in sight for all the path. Presenting the flight plan at the tower, they notify us about a Notam which prescribes 72 hours advance request for permission. Nothing will stop us, we have a “crusade” to perform. We requested the permission 5 months in advance! We show them the email with the authorization. They still do not thrust us and call at Paphos. Finally. they are forced to apologize with us. We were wrong in believing not to have land insight during the path. In reality we had nothing in sight! We fly in a mist which confuses the sky with the sea. We try to climb but it is even worse. We give all controls to our autopilots and wait for the intersection waypoints of our flight plan. You may ask how we spent 2.5 hours over the sea. We do not know, but time…flies; you know, we just talk over the radio or we entertain ourselves with the...hostesses who serve the cabin service. Nicosia Radar does not receive us; we are too low e far away. The transponder flicks witnessing our only link with the civilization. We intercept a containers ship and wonder if they will ever see us in a forced ditching close to them. We all agree that the only way to be noticed is to land on the deck; for sure they will hear the noise of the crash. A VFR traffic can hear us and makes a transmission relay with Nicosia Radar; now they know that our transponders are flying together us. 20 miles out we have the pleasure to talk to Nicosia Radar that now receive us loud and clear. Land!!! We shout with Cyprus in sight. A wide downwind in the infinite airport of Paphos and we are on the ground. The car of a handling company hangs about our aircrafts like a predator does with the prey, but we know what to do. We have strict indications by Demetris: to refuse any service and talk directly to the company who manages the airport. Doing that, Demetris joins us; it seems we have always known him. We refuel and leave the aircrafts on the big and bright apron. We meet Michael and Simos, two Demetris friends. The first is a flight instructor, he tells us about his misadventures with an Italian ultralight amphibious trike bought in Italy. It ditched and sunk for two times, jeopardizing his life, because of a problem to the wheel retraction gear. They are firmly convinced it is a design error and they ask us to diffuse the information which appears detailed in the web http://www.trikepilot.com/forum/topic/44 Demetris tells us that flying at Cyprus must be done exclusively from the international airports of Paphos and Larnaca. It is not allowed to have private airfields because of the geo-political situation in the island. The authorities want to take under control everything flies…the exact contrary of what happens in Italy. Paphos, the town of Aphrodite, is very hot. There are English tourists everywhere…no trace of Templars. From Cyprus to Kos The morning of the return appears hot since the first hours. Demetris takes us to the airport and inform to have obtained even better conditions for us. We will pay for the parking only; 48 Euros per aircraft. What else to say; we could not expect a treatment better than this. We say good by to Demetris with the promise to see him in Italy next time and we are again in “navigation” in the open sea. The target is now Kos where we land after 550 km and 3.20 hours. Everything goes smooth up to 60 miles from Kastelorizo when Francesco detects a sudden decrease of rpm and some vibrations on his 914. From the voice we understand that Francesco is seriously 3

worried. Pieri tells him to change altitude and set the throttle so as to stop the vibrations. The right combination is found around 3000 ft and 3800 rpm. The speed reduces sensibly. We call Rhodes to tell about the problem and that we request landing at Kastelorizo for a control. They ask us if we are declaring an emergency, but after consultation we prefer not to declare an emergency but only the need for a control. They inform us that the airport is closed and we cannot land there. We try to insist saying that we will take responsibility but they deny again the permission to land. We could have surely landed there if we had declared an emergency but we believed that this was not the case given that the engine was anyhow running and we were not aware of the consequences of such a declaration for what could have been a simple engine control. Francesco, with a lot of self control, encourages us to continue along the route. Pieri “orders” him not to touch anything a slowly continue to Kos. At a waypoint change we see Francesco to continue straight. I ask to Pieri: “…but, can he turn?”. “Of course!” tells Pieri. You know, I was worried that Francesco had literally taken the instruction of not touching anything and he had remained “petrified”. At Kos we find the Meltemi rolling and ruining after the mountain in front to the airport. It is a Rock & Roll landing but it is not a problem with a runway so long. Kos is an international airport but not so crowded. It is better than Rhodes as the formalities are faster but, above all, because there is no tax to pay. Pieri and Francesco spend some time in cleaning the carburettors membranes of the 914 as the AVGAS make them stuck. Then we go to relax in a tourist village nearby. We are atypical tourists as we just ask one room for one night in a place were the minimum package consists in a weekly staying, but we are…sky knights pilots! From Kos to Vega Fondone We fly the last leg smoothly. Only 900 km and 5.15 flight hours distance from Italy. The engine of Francesco is not yet perfect but now it gets higher rpm’s. We suspect tha the AVGAS is the cause of the problem for the 914; it is already happened other times. We will discover at arrival that Rotax has issued right in these days Service Instruction addressing the issue of AVGAS and 914. Nothing to highlight during the flight to Vega. We cross again the Athens TMA, the strait of Korinthos, and the bridge near Patrasso. The only new is that this time Brindisi Radar has provided the assistance that all the other times has been denied. We Land at Vega Fondone where we get the kind assista of Luigi Fracasso. Back to home From here we will make return to the respective airfields: Sant’Agata dei Goti (BN) for me, Cizzago (BS) for Pieri and Mezzana Bigli (PV) for Francesco. The story ends here. The objective is achieved and we are satisfied for that. More than 3000 km in five days of flight in hard environmental conditions. You will ask what is necessary to perform a flight like that; a complete survival equipment for flights over the sea, a minimum of attitude to adventures and a lot of passion. I am used to attach on my plane stickers of the countries I visit by flying. Now I can show that of the Cyprus Microlight Aircraft Club. Every time we get to the point, Pieri asks me: “…why we did come here?”. My answer is always the same: “…just to attach a sticker!”

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