Good day dear A.netters!
I'm a very regular reader of your reports, but seeing as I mostly spend my time flying in the cockpit rather than in the fancy first or still pretty posh economy cabins of the airlines of this world, I usually don't do reports.
Still, I figured maybe you'd like to read about the glacier flying here in Switzerland which I was able to do with a friend about two weeks ago.
It's a pretty unique experience and we tried all year to make it happen. Not only did our schedules rarely allow for a day off together, but seeing as you are landing on glaciers and not paved runways, you can not just jump into an aircraft and go flying, but rather have to plan out the entire thing.
Main factors whether you can go or not is the snow - obviously.
Conditions vary depending on recent snowfalls, temperatures at the glacier (elevation of the glaciers we flew to varied from 9,000 to 10,000 feet above mean sea level), sunlight (or lack of it) and winds in the mountains.
If you are an avid skier - especially backcountry - you will notice a lot of similarities to planning skiing off the beaten paths.
Anyway - it's I guess more focused on just sharing the stunning photographs with you, there's no crew food, no inflight entertainment (well... looking out of the windows is...) and also of course - the fun flying.
Still, any inputs, feedback and comments are very welcome.
If you like the photographs and would like to see more from my journey as an airline pilot or just travel pics, feel free to follow me on either facebook or instagram:
instagram: JV - Instagram
My alarm woke me up way too early at 05:00am local time and my day started out by flying Brussels - Zurich - Stuttgart - Zurich. For work. Not pleasure. Not that it wasn't fun or anything. But it was declared as "work" officially, so that's that.
I got home at noon, packed my camera gear and was all excited about the message from my good friend who used to be my flight instructor some years ago. Today was perfect really. Blue skies, not one cloud in the sky. About 20 degrees Celsius in the valleys, close to 0 degrees Celsius up on the glaciers. I was a little tired but also excited to give this a shot and capture some stunning images while enjoying the flying part - something that very few pilots get to experience.
The gear I took with me was a Canon 6D, my 100-400mm f4.5-5.6L II
for some shots from the glacier, a 24-105mm f4L IS
with a circular polariser on it for some flexibility and my newest toy, which I was excited to try. The Canon 11-24mm f4L ultra-wide angle lens. In addition a GoPro Hero 3+ in case we'd find somewhere to suction-mount it to (we did of course).
The objective was first and foremost to enjoy the flying and company, but also to capture some stunning imagery in hostile, alpine environment. Despite it being a rather hot spring afternoon in the valley we went flying with winter boots and skiing clothes on, because a technical malfunction or accident could have us waiting for rescue for several hours at freezing temperatures, which would quickly turn sub-zero once the sun goes down.
Anyway - on to the shooting. The scenery was yaw-dropping obviously, but for me mostly the silence was what impressed me the most. Once you are standing in the middle of nowhere on a glacier at approximately 10,000 feet altitude (3,300m) there is not a sound to be heard. No birds chirping, no cars, no people, nothing. Just some snow dusting across the surface occasionally. It is an experience you rarely get to have these days, and it is something I cherish tremendously.
As we were preparing for take off at LSMF - Mollis - a small airfield in the canton of Glarus in Eastern Switzerland - temperatures were still comfortable - we even left the door open to cool off a bit. I quickly realised that the 11-24mm wide angle lens is the perfect tool for the tiny cockpit of the Piper Super Cub. The image quality is stunning and really worth the money so far.
Looking back after departure. Winter is nowhere to be seen anymore. The airfield Mollis (LSMF) is seen in the center of the frame.
Enjoying the views while we are continually climbing towards the glaciers, doing a few 360 degree turns here and there to gain altitude. The lovely Piper Super Cub is quite the change from the airliners we usually get to fly. A great "toy" aircraft, though.
The higher valleys are still snow-covered.
Doing several low-passes over the glacier before attempting to land is basically standard procedure. The pilot tries to get an idea of the environment, the snow and older patterns of other ski fliers and familiarises himself with the terrain and wind conditions. There is no runway up here, a lot comes down to experience and training.
We spot some patterns in the snow and a bright yellow taildragger aircraft on a neighbouring slope. We do a fly-by, rocking our wings to the fellow aviators. The image nicely shows that you land uphill and then do a 180 degrees turn to take off downhill again.
Turning base to final to our very own stretch of glacial awesomeness after the fly-by, attempting a first landing.
Here we are. After a few take offs and landings we take a break on the glacier. Engine shut down and then it's time to enjoy the beautiful scenery.
My friend did a couple of solo take offs and landings, leaving me behind in the vast field of snow to take some photographs. I love how minimalistic these are really. A bright spot of yellow in front of the beautiful patterns of the Swiss glaciers.
Doing a fly-by for the camera.
The silence was interrupted by a second propeller sound up here, and after some passes to survey the terrain a second ski-equipped aircraft joined us briefly. They are the ones we saw before our first landing a while earlier. First time I put on the 24-105 with the polariser on.
Glacier number three followed shortly:
More approaches and landings. With and without me.
A steep turn - base to final for yet another landing. Time between take off and landing is usually - depending on how tight you fly the pattern - only a minute or two. The excellent slow-flight capabilities of the Cub help for sure.
On ground with the prop spinning.
Back in the air once more, glacier number four is coming up. Fascinating to see the different shapes the wind creates up here.
Cockpit view of the Cub. The Canon 11-24mm lens working its proverbial magic here.
The surrounding terrain doesn't cease to impress. Navigating in the valleys between peaks requires good knowledge of the local geography and terrain. The wet traces of snow sliding down the cliffs are seen nicely. It is April, after all.
Polarizer doing a good job again during a small break up here. In the distance we see a vintage Junkers JU
-52 fly through the valley at lower altitude. Most probably a sightseeing flight on this gorgeous afternoon. We keep sipping on our water bottles and enjoy the view before heading back to base.
Airborne again - looking at various tracks we left.
The airfield coming into view during descent. Not a lot of snow left down here. It's mid-April after all. Almost two hours of flight time later and we're coming in to land. On concrete, this time...
Well... now it's time for giving the Piper a good clean and put it back to sleep in its hangar. Also part of the fun and of course a good pilot takes care of his aircraft. We wash her down and get rid of some bugs on the leading edges of the wings and the prop, then put on the covers and she's good for another adventure - on another day.
That was it basically.... hope you enjoyed this one. I'd appreciate any comments or feedback on whether you'd like to see more flying reports or if I should hold back and let the airline-pros do their thing.
Once again - if you liked this one, feel free to follow me on either:
instagram: JV - Instagram
Thanks a lot for your time - if you have any questions - either about glacier flying itself or being a pilot in general - feel free to pass them on!