An announcement on the website of Aeroclub of Mantova mentioned an organized trip to Puglia with ULM aircraft. I wrote to them and got an invitation to visit the club for a briefing two days prior to the trip. Thus, 18th evening I drove to the club... during the day from the air it is easy to reach, however, at 9pm after sunset, it was quite an adventure. There I met Alberto for the first time. He'd planned the trip with fuel stops, the entire route was developed avoiding all the CTR's ATZ's and other numerous no-fly zones on the way.
Briefing: Monday 18th of August 2008
For those of you who don't know, in Italy we cannot fly above 500feet AGL during the week days and 1000feet AGL during weekends and holidays. Additionally, not only we're not allowed to land on any "real" airport, all CTR's and ATZ's are prohibited to ULMs. Therefore if you find yourself in an emergency you have very few options, and all of them are away from "real publicly funded (read: funded by tax payers money) airports".
In Italy, there are approximately 10,000 ULM's, defined as sport apparatus with max all up mass of 450kgs, two seat capability, and a stall speed lower than 70km/hour. The only respite is that the 450kg mass does not include the mass of instruments and ballistic parachutes. The General Aviation Fleet in Italy is 1/10th of the ULM fleet. GA fleet flying hours are much less as well, however accident rates with respect to the fleet size make the Italian GA fleet less safer than the ULM fleet. Despite the statistics that proves them wrong, the Italian aviation authorities such as ENAC/ENAV cite ULM's as unsafe and the main reason that they are not allowed into airports.
Tuesday 19th of August, 2008
With briefing notes, the route saved into my tiny GPS, a standby GPS, I pack up a rucksack for the three day trip, complete with tools for emergency, water bottle, Jeppeson VFR maps for Italy. When all was setup, I couldn't locate tie-downs for Pluto, and remembered that one of the pilots has promised me the ties, thus, I called one of the pilots and he told me that he'd dropped out of the flight. I immediately called Alberto who said they'll go anyway. Thus we agreed once again to wait for each other at the first refueling stop.
Wednesday 20th of August 2008
Pluto cruises around 20-25kmph slower than the brand new Eurostar, therefore, I was supposed to take off 30minutes earlier for the first stretch of 300km. I planned my take-off at 7:00 as was already at the Sabbioneta airstrip at 6:20. The plane was already prepared, fueled up, cleaned and ready to go. The visibility at 7:00 was perfect and I took off as scheduled. The trip was now on.