The Staggerwing in Italy

The Red Rockette in Italy

The journey from St. Georgen airfield in Austria to Italy began back on Sept 27, 2011.  I was pleasantly surprised by the president of the local aero club stating that he and his family, who have been very good friends to me, would fly with me in loose formation on the first leg of my journey to the south.  We left the airfield, located roughly 30 km southeast of Linz, Austria, to fly south through wonderous valleys, around massive peaks and over clear blue lakes of the magnificent high Alps.  I had a consistent smile and sense of awe as the views changed in the windscreen.  These views and the lovely 9 cylinder symphony of the P&W up front made for a most memorable experience.  My friend did the leading as he was the local expert so all I had to do was keep up and watch all this beauty slide by.  All too quickly we had crossed into Slovenia and the coastal airfield of Portoroz came into view.

After an amazing platter of local seafood for lunch my friends flew off to return to St. Georgen, only a tad over a one hour flight to the north.  I decided to RON (remain over night) as it was getting late in the day and the flight down Roma was was going to be over 2 hours.  And the local food was excellent.

Leaving Portoroz, the Red Rockette and I flew the VFR low level route along the beach westward past Venice (which I would be visiting again soon), following it southeastward for a short while, then turning inland to cross initially the flatlands, then the Apennine mountains of central Italy southbound towards Rome.  Flying in Italy under Visual Flight Rules is very challenging due to many restricted, danger, and other high use airspace areas.  The “control” part of all this type of flying would take far too long to explain.  Let’s just say that “overcontrol” is a better term.  After several hours at low level a good number of bugs had accumulated on the windscreen and the leading edges of the wings. But through the bugs I was able to see well enough to find my way and the lovely little “Alituscia” airfield near the small town of Vejano came into view.  High wires at one end (naturally the favored landing direction due to winds) require careful execution of the approach.  I loved it since it reminded me of my crop dusting (topdressing to you Kiwis and Ozzies) days!  Great fun and a wonderful reception by new friends.  They love the music of a round engine as much as I do!

This little airfield is located just a few miles north of Lago Bracciano, a very round lake with loads of seaplane history, about 30 miles north of Roma.  It became even more famous several years back since Tom Cruise rented the entire castle that sits above the lake for his most recent wedding.  For me, it is the location of the Italian Air Force Museum on it’s shores that draws more interest.  More on that next time.  Spent several days getting to know my new local friends and enjoying wonderful Roman hospitality. After giving a few rides to these new friends, it was time for me to wander about 100 km northbound to another little airfield out in the middle of flat farmland in the valley south of Firenze (Florence) but only about 4 km as the crow flies from the famous hilltop town of Cortona. This airfield had a B&B right on the field…and AVGAS as well. I needed little more.

This was a big deal for me.  Not only was it yet another great little airfield of Italy, but one of my three children was visiting the area with her husband.  Elizabeth, the eldest of my 2 daughters, and husband Tim were visiting a local winemaker and would be in the area for 3 to 4 days.  I would join them for part of the time as they enjoyed the fruits of the winemaker, etc.  They also enjoyed the company of friends from Belgium during this period so we all piled into the Red Rockette (this daughter being the one that was a Rockette in New York and that the aircraft is named after) one day to have a wonderful view of the famous piazza in Siena and the surrounding hills of the Chianti region. Amazingly, I later learned via an email from an old Oshkosh friend who was in the area doing a little wine “research” that we had flown directly over the village he was visiting that day.  Although he did not hear nor see us, he looked at my flight track through the website that evening to discover this irony.

This is about all for the moment.  Naturally, there is a good deal more to be filled in.  But to keep you informed on my location at the moment (Tue, 8 Nov, 2011) and plans…I’m back south again, this time staying in downtown Roma doing tourist things as I wait out the brutal weather that has been pounding northern Italy. There has been massive flooding and lives have been lost.  We have had a good deal of rain down here in Roma as well lately.  But being stranded in Roma is not really being stranded, is it?  The plan is to fly north as soon as the weather breaks (forcasted to be in several days) to another private grass airfield, this one housing an aviation museum.  The Staggerwing has been invited to spend her winter there at the museum, located about 40 km north of Venice.  I will find my way home soon after finding the airfield.  Thank goodness for GPS.  Someone please save me a drumstick from Thanksgiving?

One more thing, I had the great privilege of having an article written about the Staggerwing and this journey in the current edition of Volo Sportivo. Check out the Red Rockette in the Volo Sportivo article – you will love the pictures.

Captain Biff Windsock

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