Yooohooo, we're in Krakow, we're alive and there's good food and beer! Even better, Krakow is absolutely beautiful, full of history and, being a university town, is full of students. If you have a Sling, it's well worth the flight!
Getting away from Mitilini proved a little more of a task than we'd planned. Once again they had no avgas on the field, so we arranged to meet Mr Kukuvayos, of the Mitilni Aero Club, to borrow some of their mogas at 14h30. Unfortunately we were still on SA time so we missed him by an hour first time round and only got to fill the plane at 10pm. Also, we had another puncture (the right tube is faulty), so that just meant more running backwards and forwards. Still, we got to meet some really good people because of it and we'd had a restful morning doing what they seem to do best in Mitilibni – sitting in pavement café's drinking frappe, chatting and playing backgammon.
Now we're in the Schengen zone life becomes a lot easier when changing countries – you just get in and fly, no customs, immigration or other formalities, so we were off quickly once at the airport yesterday morning. Still, if you plan to fly from SA to Europe don't do it at this time of the year – we've had a headwind absolutely the whole way so things slowed down once we took off. The only difference with the headwind from day to day is whether it's blowing at 15 knots, 30 or, at times yesterday, 50 knots!
Up through FYROM, Bulgaria and Romania the skies were clear and it was great to see snowy peaks coming over the horizon. Over Hungary, though, we had to start dodging clouds and things looked even thicker up ahead over Slovakia. The Tatri mountains, which separate Slovakia from Poland, are 8 500 feet high, so we climbed to 10 500 and then 11 500 to clear them and the thick clouds covering them, realizing there may be downdrafts. Still, we ended up having the only real flying challenge of the journey when the headwind picked up to 40 and then 50 knots. Our groundspeed was down to 50 knots and then, just before the highest point of the mountains, the downdrafts just starting sucking us down into the clouds. We got slurped into them like an insect sinking into milk!
Mike was PIC and flew us faultlessly through 15 minutes of total whiteout, all the while descending at full throttle. No matter what speed we flew at, we just couldn't decrease the descent rate to below about 200 feet per minute. But our MGL Voyager gave us precise ground clearance and excellent spatial perception and we used the autopilot a bit when things got really busy. Rainier's Voyager autopilot with MGL stepper motor servos did excellently, even in the turbulence. Still, trying to climb we got right down to an airspeed of 55 knots for while and I stared at our ground speed in horror as it showed between 8 and 15 knots for minutes on end. It looked like we may re-enter Slovakia backwards! Meanwhile Bratislava FIC didn't seem as confident of our or our aircraft's capabilities as we did and there were some fairly strained silences when we had to answer their question “ZU-SOL, please confirm that you are able to maintain VMC flight” in the negative. Overall, however, air traffic control was excellent throughout the flight – pleasant, helpful and convenient. Although we flew through such busy airspace over 7 countries it was hardly a challenge.
We arrived in Krakow to a great welcome from Konrad, Marek, Jurek and Michael, The Airplane Factory's prospective agents in Europe, and Polish television came to have a look. This morning we get to explore Krakow a bit more, then we fly on to Radom for 2 days before heading off to Friedrichshafen.
Thanks everyone on Avcom for all your support. I know we haven't answered questions about permissions and so on yet – there just hasn't been time. We promise to do that in the next 48 hours though. We've learnt lots and can definitely give advice to people wanting to do the trip on our return.
Adios for now – we're off to get coffee and breakfast
James and Mike