Winter’s coming and night flying may be required for some of our coming missions….so perhaps some night practice is good or even a requirement, depending on criteria and currency.
Usually flying any time near sunset at our LESB base is a no no because of restricted opening times. PPR until SS is available but that requires 96 hrs notice and 70 EUR’s worth of extra fees (same as the cost of fuel for a 30’ flight LESB to neighbour Menorca island in our 210)
Menorca LEMH is indeed open at night up to 2230Z in SUM and 2100Z in WIN, and has instrument approaches, unlike VFR-only LESB. It is only a 70NM trip from home so it comes in handy for night practice, even if handling is mandatory. LEPA may be closer but things get a lot more complex (read $$$) there due to handling and security requirements, as well as much more traffic. At least ElCheapo handling is reasonably available at LEMH and if you land at a time when there is no commercial traffic, reasonably good.
Now usually, however the LESB 1645Z SUM closing time is not good to fly to Menorca for a night approach (you would get there still in day time). So either you extend the flight until twilight or land at LEMH in day time then take-off again for your night operations, both of which void the purpose (of avoiding the expensive PPR to extend LESB departure to sunset, yeah, I know: I am cheap and hate to pay for silly PPR’s: both a matter of cost and principles!) . The winter 1545Z closing time at LESB makes it even worse.
However there are a few days every year that with daylight savings time, just before the SUM-WIN time change, 1645Z closing time is close to sunset. This allows a LESB departure at sunset and arrival at LEMH just after civil twilight so a fully legal night landing, without any PPR or extra expense! This year, on the last day of SUM season, 1645Z closing at LESB matched sunset , so there was an opportunity for some handy night landings at LEMH! Hurray! Am I cheap or am I cheap?
To compound matters, a partial lunar eclipse (where the Earth’s shadow partially obscures the Moon) was scheduled to occur that same night a couple of hours after civil twilight…hmm…
The sky is not always easy to observe at night in Mallorca in Autumn: night moisture near the sea lowers visibility, compounded with urban light pollution, making for a usually less than clear sky. Now, if you can fly 3000ft above the moisture, and away from urban areas…that should give you a clear view, right? I know, you saw me coming from miles away: @Antonio always looking for excuses to fly, perhaps inspired by the vastly more spectacular @Caba’s American eclipse exploits…now I had not one but two excuses for the same night of Oct 28th …can it get any better?
Well yes it can! My friend Gabriel, also a PPL, was happy to come with us and my son who has a small refractor telescope is always keen to look at the night sky, more so on a special occasion. Of course when I suggested that he could come, he was happy but immediately said he wanted to bring his telescope…hmmm that is something I had not thought of…how do you bring a telescope inside a light aircraft cabin without special arrangements and no stabilization means?
It was not going to be that easy since a check on the almanac showed the Moon to be 40+ degrees above the horizon at eclipse time…so the telescope had to be pointed quite high from inside the cabin. Since there were to be three or perhaps max 4 POB I immediately decided I would remove two of the six seats leaving an ample floor space to place the telescope’s tripod on. I have an alternate W&B sheet signed-off for legality on those occasions, but obviously there were no associated balance issues.
Before we go much further please excuse the quality of the pics, since due to technique, equipment or darkness they are way less than perfect. I hope they do convey the message nonetheless
Since our airplane is high-wing, for telescope viewports we would have to use either the rear most side windows (slightly behind the wing) or the skylight windows above the rear bench seat.
So we would land at Menorca shortly after civil twilight then wait about 90 minutes before departing on our eclipse observation flight…not enough time to go to downtown for dinner and back, and the Moon would not wait, bummer!
No worries, we could have dinner onboard while we waited on the ground…Being Spaniards, a cold sandwich would not suffice, so we decided to take our large styrofoam icebox which would serve as onboard dinner table as well as to keep our dinner warm until arrival at Menorca. A proper dinner would also aid in alleviating the wait on the ground 😊
Resulting cabin with middle seats removed (a configuration we rarely use), icebox held in place by seatbelts, extra cushion, liferaft on the bench seat and my son testing the place for fit …this should work!
So while Gabriel took care of catering, we prepared Maria Centurion for our sunset flight and met for departure:
Our base LESB has a one-of-a-kind AIP note re opening times drafted to ensure all services can start shutting down at closing time :
(2) The airport’s operating schedule (operational hours) is the planned period in which all aircraft shall operate, and the flight arrival or departure times shall be understood as the arrival or departure times of the aircraft to or from the relevant stand.
So on arrival at closing one is supposed to be parked (vs land) by closing time. I rarely depart at closing, but I was tempted to find out how one would read the above when going off-blocks a minute or two before closing time whiile taking off well after closing time…
Sense prevailed and rather than wait and see, we started-up into a beautiful light 15 mins before closing.
Then we just took-off into the sunset in excellent weather 5 mins prior to closing.
We continued VFR along the Northern coast of Mallorca, heading towards the rising Moon
also looking back at our island towards the recently set Sun taking in the pastel coloured sky
and simply enjoying the rare opportunity of a twilight flight around Mallorca
We then changed IFR for landing at Menorca RWY19 where there was quite a bit of gusting crosswind just to make the approach interesting…always nice to see a well lit Christmas tree in the middle of the night!
After landing, we had to explain a few times that we did not need handling since we would be departing in little over an hour!. Anyway, before our dinners got cold we set off to calm our hunger
TECH STOP IN MAHON
We later emptied the cabin of all non-essentials (like our large dining table AKA icebox) into the luggage compartment, so we could free the cabin floor to pre-brief different telescope positions for each of our available viewing windows, (LH, RH and upper). This way we could have an idea of the heading we had to fly for each observation position.
We run some lunar observations on the apron to make sure all was OK
Jupiter was also near the Moon and four of its moons could clearly be seen lined up both sides of the giant planet.
We cleaned Maria Centurion’s windows, boarded and about 30 mins before the peak of the eclipse we started up and called for taxi. ATC was surprised at our request to fly VFR (vs IFR) but were OK to approve. We taxied towards a red-lit stop bar that could be seen from long out
As for safety, lifevests remained on and liferaft ready for the night overwater flight. Our waterproof headlights were on (red) for the flight too. Lighting for emergency should not be a problem though since there was a very bright full Moon, visibility was better than expected, and all our lifevests had water-activated shoulder lights. We planned to remain within gliding distance of the shore most of the flight anyway, but honestly we had briefed that in an emergency a water landing into then 10-15-KT wind at 60 KTS would be much more survivable than on the island. Worst case SAR should fish us out within 90 mins. My son would keep seatbelt on for t/o and landing but once ready to observe he would unbuckle and assume observation position.
DARK MOONLIT NIGHT
We adjusted lighting, lined up on R19 again and took off into the night. A more powerful landing light would not hurt
Plan was to fly VFR SW of the island over the sea on an area with no light pollution. Had there been no Moon, it would have been totally pitch black!
I don’t have any good inflight pictures but you get the idea: once in position, we tried to establish a heading that we could maintain for 10 mins while allowing a good view of the Moon through one of the pre-agreed windows then turn back in a triangle for another run on another window. We quickly established that it was best to use the skylights rather than the side windows.
Gabriel turn off that phone!
The dimly lit aft cabin with two observers and a telescope
The Earth’s shadow soon started covering the SE side of the otherwise full Moon. It was eerie as well as impressive to observe the Earth’s shadow on the Moon without the usual detail 3D views you get on the terminator when the transition from light to darkness is caused by the Moon’s shadow on itself, similar to lighting at sunset on Earth. The air was reasonably still which allowed us to rest the telescope’s tripod on the cabin floor for a reasonably stable and very clear view.
Tom Kerr’s and not our view (but similar to what we saw)
The ample space also allowed easy switching of positions from the front seat to the back for observation. The flight was about 10 mins transit into the observation area, followed by another 25 mins of observation dictated by the evolution of the eclipse. Once it was over, we requested back to the field and transitioned IFR for an uneventful landing back at Menorca’s R19: the wind had waned to an easier 10 KTS and this time I let our autopilot handle most of it (just to keep its currency ;).
Aviapartner handling picked us up in no time and after a very reasonable 13EUR fee dropped us a the terminal not long before midnight. We had to call a taxi which in five minutes took us to our hotel at Mahon where we enjoyed the Mexican F1 GP’s qualifying session while discussing our little adventures and enjoying some niceties from the hotel’s pantry.
The rest of the trip was easy: just enjoying the hotel’s spa in the morning
before a noon 30-min VFR flight back to Mallorca
same view as above lining up R19, just different lighting!
following the Southern Menorca coastline westwards
back to MAllorca via bay of Alcudia
towards LESB where we landed uneventfully while feeling an adventurous bunch of guys…feeling is believing!
Beautiful story and a great GA adventure!
Nice little adventure Antonio, and great timing with the eclipse. There’s a full solar eclipse planned just over Mallorca in 2026, can I reserve seat 2A please?
There you go… another meticulously well planned adventure by @Antonio and gang, well done. Thanks for the report, a pleasure to read and look at.
Can’t help it but file a reservation concerning the healthiness of that meal you probably all had… ok, some online research shows that McDonald’s fries are made from real potatoes
What a great idea and execution! Thanks for sharing
Al right, Dan you caught me…you always have to pick on the little details…bursting the balloon of all those less observant forumites who were already salivating picturing our Mallorcan sobrasada, camaiot and tumbet dinner :)
Actually, @aart, I think Mallorca may be in the centre of the narrow totality band for that one…so rather than an excuse to fly out somewhere, it might be an excuse for a Mallorca EuroGA eclipse fly-in! Otherwise, and depending on the time of the day (sun height) I may have to book 1B on your steed in stead…we are going to have to start planning!
Thank you all for reading our little great adventure, it just shows that, whether you fly 4000NM (our Lofoten trip) or 140NM…adventure is in your mindset! .
The eclipse will be on the 12th of August, not too long before sunset. Would be nice to fly along the mountains of the North coast, see it become dark, and then light again and then sunset.. As you alluded to, doing this flight from Son Bonet even with a paid extension of the closing time does not work, no night VFR allowed. Need to look at the exact time between the end of the eclipse and SS though, it could still be possible. If not we’ll consider ‘my’ field where we could land after dark. Cause the headlights of my car are quite powerful and surely I’ll find some volunteers to illuminate the rwy with theirs. There is no mention of my field in the AIP, so that means also no ‘VFR day only’, I would like to think
Better start planning, it’s 2026 before you know it!
no ‘VFR day only’
Great adventure Antonio!
It prompted me to ask a couple of questions if I may.
Do you ever fly into LESL San Luis. From old reports it seems there is no avgas and no Jet A. But it is cheap.
And how did you avoid the handling charge at LEMH, or did you have to pay that when you stayed overnight?