After flying rented single-engine planes for over 30 years, I was ready to realize my dream of aircraft ownership and go on some unforgettable adventures. My airplane needed to take me long distances over water or hostile terrain such as the Greenland icecap, or the Amazon rainforest. I feel more comfortable with two engines humming, even if this entails a small sacrifice in the total performance/weight equation. I looked at the Beech 36T, the Pilatus and even small jets, before investigating the Diamond DA42 NG. While a bit smaller than other choices, it impressed by its performance, the use of easily available Jet-A and the possibility of retrofitting an extra tank. We flew long parts of our travels with four people on board, with fuel the main tanks only, flying shorter legs and limiting baggage to a reasonable amount – easy, because we enjoyed AirBnBs with washers and dryers.
Planning your trips is half the fun. I go into every detail of routes, airports, alternates, entry requirements, and follow the weather along my planned routes for weeks before I go. I ask myself, “How would I react if I had to fly from X to Z today”? For example, the key leg from Cape Verde to Brazil is 1,450 nm. You fly through the infamous “hurricane kitchen” where most North Atlantic tropical storms originate. My research found that often one day is reasonable to fly while another day would be dangerous. On the day before my trip, the zone was full of thunderstorms, but the next day, there was again a 400-600 nm window, which let me make a smooth flight over the ocean. I was aware and prepared for this weather pattern.
We also planned our sightseeing and for this I use Google Earth. When we flew through the Norwegian Fjords or across the Austrian Alps, I “had seen it before” thanks to Google Earth. I also knew terrain elevations, and how airports look when you approach them visually. The next part of planning is where to stay, and there I have an iron rule: never make a reservation before you arrive! I don’t want to be pressured to arrive. And we never had to sleep on the sidewalk. When we arrived in Santorini, Greece, I sat my family in a Taverna, and walked the town for half an hour, to find the loveliest boutique resort overlooking the famous bay and volcano. Some studying of TripAdvisor and knowing the recommended places ahead of time helps.
Ah, and the last but not least important part of planning is to load the right music on my iPad or phone, so it is ready to be played over the plane’s audio system. Neither pilot nor passengers can hide their emotion when flying the Hudson corridor watching Manhattan go by with Frank Sinatra singing “New York, New York” or listening to Alexis Zorbas when cruising over the Greek Islands. We carried about 50 National Anthems for the ceremonial crossing of FIR boundaries, great fun for all. I also use a small FM radio which plugs into the audio system to try to tune into local stations, a nice distraction on a longer flight. If I am over water, I call ships on a handheld marine radio, channel 16, and try to get their coordinates, distance and bearings, in case I have to use it for an emergency. It's fun!
So, where are the challenges? For me, the biggest problem is bureaucracy, and the intricacies of local ATC. In Morocco, the Airport Operations Manager wanted to impound the airplane, because I could not produce an original insurance certificate. Once in Colombia, the Customs officer told me my airplane was now “property of the Republic of Colombia”, due to a missing entry custom form. While I normally hate to use expensive handlers, in some countries this is advisable, and others, like Greece, mandatory. While I prepare well, the bureaucracy has always surprises in store for you and authorities will always show you page 537 of their AIP, or some legal text to prove they are right. For flight planning in Europe and Africa, I used RocketRoute (a flight planning tool) for the first time, and was very happy.
What trips we have undertaken? We’ve gone five times to Brazil, from our base in Nassau. There are a variety of routes, via the Caribbean (our favourite: Dominica) and the Guyanas (Paramaribo), and once to Europe and North West Africa. From here to Europe, you can fly all the way never exceeding 2 ½ hour legs, via NE Quebec, Nunavut, Greenland, Iceland and the Faroe Islands. We were amazed by the beauty of Baffin Island, and Greenland, particularly Ilulissat, the largest “iceberg factory” in the world. Iceland is unique, as are the Faroe Islands, rarely visited. Since my hometown Vienna is also close to the hometown of Diamond Aircraft Industries, we left the plane there for a scheduled 100-hour service, and Diamond opened their doors to visit the factory, as well as the Austro Engine facility, a feast for any Diamond owner or pilot!
On the way back, the highlights were Croatia, Greece, Southern Italy, Morocco and Cape Verde, those small barren islands with beautiful beaches, amazing variety and rhythm in music, and wonderful people. From there the 9:15 hours flight back to the Western hemisphere, Natal, Brazil. For this flight, my wife (who loves and lives our flights) took an airliner because I needed every spare pound for fuel and the space on the right seat for the HF radio, and the portable oxygen tank. She didn’t mind a bit.
2018 we took off for a 10- month circumnavigation, enjoying the many exciting stops along the route. Jet-A was a great plus, many stops had no AvGas, or only on order. The added security of a twin kept peace of mind on overwater flights: I would have reached land even if I had one engine fail in the middle of my 2,020nm Pacific crossing, love my DA42.
From all our trips, we fondly remember every flight, every approach, every stop. It makes you feel so special to arrive on your own, your planning and your aircraft, unlike any other visitor, and the freedom to depart at your will. Our next plan? Let’s see!
About Wolfgang Reichenberger
Wolfgang grew up in Vienna, where he graduated at the Theresianum in 1971. He studied accounting and finance at the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland and at the Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration. From 1977, he worked for 30 years with the Swiss food company Nestlé, in various functions and management roles in Europe, North and South America, Asia and Oceania, and as global Chief Financial Officer, until 2006. In 2006, he co-founded Inventages Wealth Management Inc., a venture capital fund specializing in healthy nutrition, based in Nassau, Bahamas. He is his general partner and spends most of his time in Nassau. Since October 2017 he is Honorary Consul of Austria for the Bahamas, responsible for the Consulate Nassau. Wolfgang is married to the Swiss-Brazilian paediatrician Monica Estermann and has 2 sons and 2 daughters. As pilot and a member of the Bahamas Search and Rescue Association, he flew several disaster relief operations in the Bahamas and Haiti. His grandfather was the conductor and composer Hugo Reichenberger (1873-1938).
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