Flight to Portugal - August 2009
So - we have our own plane - where are we going to go? In August 2009, two months after bringing the Falke home to Madrid, nearly doubling my flying hours in the process, and itching to go somewhere with it, I convinced Gail to go visit some old paragliding friends in Portugal. The border is about 350km from Madrid, with total flight distance about 450km, so I was calculating around 3.5 hours flight time - the absolute limit on the "bum-o-meter". The long summer days meant we could leave in the late afternoon and avoid the strong mid-day thermals. After all, I needed to keep my co-pilot in good spirits on this first trip away together in the plane. We took off at about 5pm set course for Portugal.
We crossed over the Guadarrama range and headed past the well-known gliding airfield Fuentemilanos. A light tailwind convinced me to skip the optional refuelling stop and keep going into the picture perfect afternoon sky.
Further west the terrain gave way from the large open grain fields to rugged hills and shrubland. Better not to contemplate an outlanding.
Flying West into the setting sun, it also got increasingly hazy and murky as we started flying into the coastal air. I found myself climbing higher and higher as the visibility deteriorated. Eventually, at the Portuguese border, everything up ahead turned into a uniform whiteish muck with faint hilly outlines. Navigation by map only would have been quite a feat. I suddenly started to query my flight planning and GPS programming, and decided to invest in a backup handheld as soon as possible.
After 3.5 hours we touched down at the Seia airfield right in the centre of Portugal. It is a practically unused strip that during summer is home to a firefighting team with a helicopter and a couple of red and yellow Canadair flying boat amphibians on loan from the Spanish government.
The firefighters were completely unperturbed by our arrival and were more than happy to let us park the glider up against the fence of the airfield for the next few days.
Our friends Arnold and Marie moved to Portugal in 2007, and have built a beautiful guest house at the foot of the Serra de Estrela mountains in central Portugal. They make a fantastic team. Marie (on the left) is a sensational cook. Arnold (at the back) does paragliding guiding in the area. Greg and Tracy are another South African couple who happened to be visiting at the time.
The next morning we drove and hiked up into the beautiful Serra de Estrela. By 11am the sky was starting to look epic and all the pilots were getting twitchy.
So Arnold lent me some paragliding gear and we set off to enjoy a fabulous flying day.
In the end we spent several days exploring the Portuguese countryside, both inland and down at the coast. Picturesque villages dot the hilly landscape. Everything seems to move at a leisurely pace. The people are charming, the food delicious.
On day 5 Arnold took us back to the airstrip early in the morning. The glider was as I had left it. The firefighters were still sitting in the sun with their shirts off, waiting for a call. We filled two jerry cans at the local petrol station and refuelled the Falke. Not long after, we were climbing out smoothly in the cool morning air.
We crossed back over the Guadarrama at lunchtime. The rocks had been baking in the August sun and it got properly bumpy for the first time on the flight.