So I went for a 3-day tour into mainland Spain. Group of 4 ULs, 1 POB each. Two high-wingers (Tecnam P93 and a Savannah-kit) and two low-wingers (Tecnam P96 and me in the Bristell).
Actually it was a 2,5-day tour because if in Spain you don’t report back for duty at Sunday lunch with the family you’re good for the death penalty, no appeal possible and the by cruelest execution method imaginable.
Before I get into the trip report some general observations:
1. It is becoming very clear to me that the UL-scene in Spain is flourishing while the light certified GA-scene for private use is diminishing. On the fields we visited we ran into very welcoming management, very good facilities and enthousiastic aviators, many of which downgraded (?) from cert. GA. A lot of camaderie in Spain’s UL world. Courtesy car to go into town is more a rule than an exception. It feels like flying in the USA.
2. We flew the trip in formation, which added to the fun. Mind you, not close-up Red Arrows style of course. Between say 100 m and 1.000 m. We learned along the way how to position ourselves optimally, respecting the blind spots (low-wing vs. high-wing). Of course we picked our own frequency and chatted all the way, very nice.
3. I was a little afraid of serious turbulence at low altitude during the middle of the day. Turned out to no problem.
4. We saw lots and lots of big birds, so we had to be vigilant. We used the occasion to talk to all of the pilots we met in order to learn the do and don’ts. We covered this on the forum before. Never try to avoid by diving, avoid horizontally. Take care at altitude towards midday as they really go up (8.000 ft and more). The relatively low speed of our UL aircraft and the fact that these birds are huge makes it perfectly doable to avoid them. We saw a lot but never had a really scary moment.
5. Interesting to fly in the Pyrenees when there are thermals around. We went up and down like gliders. Rather than fighting them, we just let ourselves go with the flow, big fun. New to me, never experienced this before on this scale with larger aircraft.
6. Rotax engines prefer Mogas and we did not have any problems finding it.
7. In the whole trip I did not hear or talk to a controller. To me this was very refreshing. Traffic information would not have been needed anyway, did not see any outside of the aerodrome circuits. We did file a flight plan for the sea crossings, but one of my Spanish mates took care of that and of the comms, I did not even bother to listen in.
8. The pics are from my mobile phone, unedited, so not always up to “Peter Standard”, sorry about that
9. I did a similar trip in a helicopter a few years ago. Of course that gives you even more freedom and views, but this came very close!
10. In a formation, of course you need to adapt to the speed where the slowest still feels comfortable. Which meant that I flew slower than usual, say 160 kph IAS. Setting: 21 inch MAP, engine 4800 RPM. We covered about 1700 km, and I used about 150 litres. Just over 15 litres per hour, and less than 9 litres of Mogas/100 km. A lot better than many cars.. A very “convenient truth”.
Day 1: Mallorca-Alcover-Camarenilla-Casarrubios-Marugan-Fuentemilanos
We started off quite early. Plane out, car in:
Alcover is in a mountainous region, a bit inland, just between Valencia and Alicante. The Meteograms of various wx models showed low clouds in that area, but we all know that forecasts in mountains are not that reliable. Nonetheless, we assumed the wx to be iffy, and agreed to take a look and deviate to Mutxamiel (on the coast near Alicante) if needed. We also kept in touch with the aerodrome manager who told us to call him on the radio when near the coast.
Just nearing the coast it indeed looked rather cloudy. We sneaked underneath and flew parallel to the coast for a while when we got in touch with our guardian angel from Alcover. He had flown towards us and led us to the field through a reasonably accessible route. Nice service!
He offered us the courtesy car to get breakfast in town, but we elected to eat our own sandwiches and carry on.
Looking at weather reports before departure:
Our next leg would take us west to the Madrid area. Cloud level was a little low but we managed to sneak trough valleys, following the motorway. It soon cleared up, and there we were, over the golden Spanish plains (“la Meseta”) in full sunshine. Before landing at Camarenilla we decided to tour the wonderful city of Toledo:
Camarenilla is a basic UL field, with a narrow dirt strip, sloping, so we had to concentrate. All of us went in fine and were greeted by a kind manager who offered us a cold drink in his great ARO :
Forgot to ask, is that yellow bus meant to transport pax to the plane?
Next leg just a short hop north to Casarrubios. A field with a mix of cert. GA and UL. A/A comms only. Excellent concrete runway. And a somewhat more posh ARO than Camarenilla:
Time to refuel:
Proper Spanish lunch and then on our way further north, to the west of the Madrid area. “El Escorial”:
We needed to go up a bit to cross the “Sierra de Guadarrama” to get into the meseta north of Madrid and landed at Marugan. Nice field, but nobody there, so we decided to move on to nearby Fuentemilanos. A little detour to Segovia first seemed like a good idea:
Fuentemilanos turned out to be a very good, and lively field. Great concrete runway, very hospitable people. It is completely dominated by gliders in summer. Almost exclusively Germans and Brits with the most advanced craft. Apparently you can make 1.000 km day trips either eastbound starting along the mentioned Sierra or westbound all the way to Portugal. Amazing.
I don’t often get tired of flying, but this was close to my limit for a day..
Stayed in Segovia. Very late dinner and up the next morning, no time for sight-seeing. Not a big deal, we had all been there before.
Day 2: Fuentemilanos-Garray-Coscozuela-Castejón de Sos
Fuentemilanos early in the morning:
Direct routing to Garray (near the city of Soria), with only the meseta beneath us:
Garray has an impressive 1200 m concrete runway. Used by cert. GA and UL. Cafeteria, fuel, all very convenient. Met a group of 3 other UL-flyers coming from western Spain who went for lunch in town. Nice to just stand on an apron looking at and talking about our aircraft and no high viz jackets or security harassing you. It was just a technical stop, so soon we were on our way further to the northeast, to Jaca, Santa Cilia aerodrome. We had to climb gradually to be above the “pre-Pirineos” and encountered quite a few big birds. Jaca aerodrome (used by cert. GA and UL) is nice. Concrete runway, lot of glider activity, excellent facilities. Had a nice lunch in preparation to the more adventurous part of the journey, into “los Pirineos” .
Next stop was the UL field of Coscozuela, on a little peninsula right in the middle of a storage reservoir. Almost overhead:
About to turn final:
It is a grass field UL only, run by a couple. The lady is very charming and enthusiastic and told us all about the history of the area, with old pictures and all. One can still see the church tower of a nearby village, half submerged. The aerodrome used to be the agricultural area of the village. She told us that it is not that popular with Spanish UL pilots because many feel threatened by all that water around them.
Final destination for the day would be Castejón de Sos, right in the middle of los Pirineos. The weather was good. Light winds, some fair weather Cumuli, all doable. The field is closed with any serious northerlies..
We had to climb to 5.000 ft to get into the valleys leading us there.
Destination in sight. Of course all of you have hawk-eyes so you can easily spot the field. Right…?
For those of you that bribed your way through the eyesight check of your medical examination: follow the river, swimming pool and then just when the river goes left.
It’s a spectacular approach and you can probably figure out at which side of the field the circuit lays. I wanted to take more pics, but thought better of it. Plenty to do looking for other traffic, hanggliders and big birds. The first two of our group advised us to take the other runway when we were already on base, so that kept us extra busy. Good to be challenged once in a while, keeps you sharp.
The wide angle lens of the phone does not really give you the right impression of how tight it really is.
Fortunately there was a fly-in of trikes and other UL’s (3-axis, like us) so we had a great time, not in the least because we came just in time for a precision landing competition. Regretfully we could not participate because we had not been in the briefing.
Airport manager took us into town and picked us up again the next day..
Day 3 (-/- 0,5) : Castejón-Avinyonet-Mallorca.
As said, we needed to be back for lunch, so started early. Ahh, this cool morning air in the mountains..
The procedure is to corkscrew up above the field until 5.000 ft and then get out of the valley. Quite nice:
No wind, cool air, very smooth ride to Avinyonet, not far from Barcelona.
Leaving los Pirineos, over the typical landscape of inner Catalonia:
Technical stop only at Avinyonet. Such a great little UL aerodrome.
I had a peep into one of the hangars and found a few funky insects. How about that one-seater? And look behind the replica Mustang. Like a Rutan Vari-Ezy but with the canard on top:
Flight back to our island was uneventful. It was a bit windy over the mountains so we had some turbulence, but only for a few minutes.
Home for lunch where I could start to bore my wife with yet another aviation story. I poured her an extra glass of wine to make it all a bit more bearable.
I could start to bore my wife with yet another aviation story.
Everything but boring for us! Thanks a lot for sharing this great trip report and also good to see, that you didn’t regret to change horses
I hope to be able to fly to Spain as well – when I ever will have more time…..
The terrain is much like the western US, almost identical actually, as well as the style of flying being similar as you point out. In relation to my personal interests in flying, this is one of the best trip reports I’ve read on the site. Thanks much for posting. Great stuff.
Thanks, @Aart, very much appreciated. 1 burning question, though: how feasible would this trip, or a similar one, be – if none of the participants spoke local language?
(PS the single seater in your last picture looks much lijke a Colomban MC30 Luciole)
Brilliant writeup Aart I can see this is much more fun that trying to do trips in the DA42, struggling with the bureaucracy.
Great write up – agree this is very much the growing sector of GA!
this is very much the growing sector of GA!
This IS GA (IMO), recreational GA at least. This week, I have been instructing microlight every day while no PPL students has been doing any training. Or maybe it is the heat? The other day it was incredible 34 deg C here. Won’t happen again in 100 years.
Anyway, I think this write up shows the un-hassled, free and easy going spirit in which UL (microlight) lives. A very good write up. I do find it odd with UL-only fields though. A plane is a plane. You can land a UL, but not a Cub – very odd
It’s a part of the political quid pro quo which allows these communities to operate with that level of freedom. As a part of the deal, it keeps them in their place. Someone did a deal with AENA on it. It’s like the French ultralights being allowed to fly with no medical. Why not fly something of 700kg? Someone lobbied the DGAC just for themselves. This sort of thing is all over aviation. Different groups negotiate their own privileges, for themselves, while giving the authorities something back in the form of “safeguards”.
Glad you all enjoyed it.
Jan, good to see you back here!
As to your question, I think there is no problem at all to fly ‘the UL way’ here while not speaking Spanish.
1) I went through the trip again imagining only being able to speak English. Of the 10 fields there were on 2 where there was traffic in the circuit, and one was because of a fly-in. The message: traffic density is very low.
2) Foreign UL’s coming to Spain would likely use the “larger” non-AENA fields like La Cerdanya, Jaca, Ampuriabrava and Castellon. All of these have some sort of Ground to Air communication in good English.
3) From the legal point of view: no such thing as “Spanish-only” fields, like in France. Of course UL’s do need a Permit To Fly. Obtaining one is a smooth process, by email.
4) Spain is improving when it comes to English. Pilots are picking it up. However, the older generation is more fluent in French. So that would work good for you!
5) If you are still not confident enough, how about carrying a list of Spanish words and expressions relevant to aviation, like numbers, directions and positions in the circuit?
Happy to help make one!
Aart, how does it work to base the D-reg. Bristell in Spain? Do you renew your PTF every year for the complete year? Have you considered to register it in Spain?