It all started with getting fat shamed by European aviation regulations. Had I known that Europe takes a different view of weight in an aircraft than America, then I might simply have never moved here to begin with. I ranted mightily about the bucket of cold water in the face that is weight & balance in the Fatherland in 2016, so there is no need to beat that dead horse. Fast forward to 2022, and that left me with a Super Cub where I needed to get a gross weight increase installed.
The first shop in Switzerland agreed to do it, so I ordered $5,000 in parts. After 2 months of follow up to get the work scheduled after the parts arrived, they threw their hands up in the air and said that they are too busy….and to come back next year. That started a quest to find a shop that was actually interested in working on aircraft. I went on a wild goose chase of Europe…from Spain to Germany to Poland to Norway….and eventually landed on a reputable shop in the Netherlands. It is a sad reality that true fabric craftsmen are retiring and dying off; I literally seemed to be just 6-12 months behind most recommended professionals in Norway. Every name I got had just hung it up for good and retired. My father warned 20 years ago that this day was coming…and here it is.
After the 2022 binge of glacier flying in Norway, I flew directly to the Netherlands to drop off the airplane, then took a commercial flight back up to Norway, to then drive the car back south. Two months later, my airplane came back with fabric and paint work so utterly superb that one cannot tell both wings were significantly cut, repaired, and partially painted. Everything I asked the shop to do was done superbly, correctly, and, most importantly, without breaking anything else. I could tell far too many stories of mechanics that fix the item in question while breaking other things.
It may be that the discovery of this shop was the first since I became a pilot that a) actually does the work and b) does it correctly. I could further tell incredible stories of how hard it is to get work done. “The engine has a leak.” “It’s an airplane.” “But its half a quart per hour.” “It’s so hard to find out where it is coming from.” What happens? One finds me engaging in a spell of witchcraft to source the leak.
After picking up the airplane from its significant alteration, the most sensible flight to Switzerland was to fly virtually direct to Saarbrucken, Germany, then south into Switzerland. It heads from the Netherlands through Belgium, then Luxembourg, into the Fatherland, south into France on the west side of the Vosges, and finally into Switzerland. A friend aptly noted that “you flew through six sovereign nations in one day.”
I gave it some thought and, what do you know, that was a record…and I wasn’t even trying.
The thing is, when one finds a shop that meets my impossible criteria of doing work and doing it properly, it is best to milk that cow until it dies. Five months later, it came time for the 100-hour inspection on the airplane. Yet again, Garrett found himself flying over the Jura, to the west of the Vosges, over the origin of Joan of Arc, into the Fatherland, skirting the capital of fishy accounting, and then into the land of chocolate followed by a landing virtually below sea level. A routine inspection metastasized into something far greater, and sometime later, I found myself for the third time in seven months flying through six nations in one day. I suppose it is something of a commute.
I do not speak of maintenance that much on the blog, though it is a brutally expensive, complicated, frustrating, and a sometimes byzantine reality of flying. My grandfather, himself an A&P, used to say that “for every hour in the air, there is five hours on the ground” effectively making said flying possible. With two aircraft in the fleet, those words ring profoundly and painfully true, every time I make this butt-numbing commute to the shop.
The Fatherland…in the rain. When I called flight service on the radio, for routine flight following, I was told there were embedded thunderstorms and “not to take any risks.” It was very German. The storms had moved on before I landed at Saarbrucken.
The French, on the other hand, asked me if I could fly through a thunderstorm to avoid controlled airspace. Eventually they acquiesced when I told them the option was approach clearance or straight into IMC. At least they weren’t on strike this time….
The next day, after picking up the plane from Bern. I couldn’t make Saanen due to closing time, so I had to land at an open airport and take a 2.5 hour train, then return the next day. Interlaken below.