Author Archives: Péter I. Pápics

The first flights of my PPL training

Last month I had the first two flights of my PPL training at Charleroi (EBCI). I was supposed to have a third one too, but that was unfortunately cancelled due to Belgium being under a think layer of fog for almost a week… Currently I have three more flights booked for February, but of course winter weather can often be unsuitable for VFR (flying by visual flight rules), so having just two of these go through would probably be a big success already. I hope during the summer it will be easier to book lessons (with longer days, better instructor availability, and better weather chances).

Before the first flight I still had to buy some basic equipment, such as a headset, checklists, a VFR map of Belgium, and a kneeboard (and later I still got a nicer headset case, a fuel tester, a plotter, an E6-B flight computer, and a Leatherman multitool to complete my flight bag). And of course as a data-geek I also got a flight-planner/tracker app for my iPhone (SkyDemon) so I have a log of all my future flights at the same place.

Even though the first flight itself was more of a familiarisation flight (procedures, checklists, all the pre-flight paperwork, primary and secondary effects of the controls, important visual navigation points around Charleroi, straight and level flight, use of the trim), I went very well prepared (I studied all the relevant theory modules), so we did some basic manoeuvres too (a few turns, nothing special), and I had no problem maintaining course and altitude. Of course the landing, take-off, and radio communication was done by my instructor, as a demonstration.

I fly a Sonaca 200, a low-wing cantilever monoplane made from aluminium alloy (in Belgium). It has an enclosed cabin with two side-by-side seats, it is powered by a 115 hp Rotax 914 engine (a turbo-charged, four-stroke, four-cylinder, horizontally opposed aircraft engine with air-cooled cylinders and water-cooled cylinder heads), and has a fixed tricycle landing gear. It has a propeller made out of three composite blades and a cruise speed of 213 km/h. Air Academy New CAG has currently three of them (with one more coming soon), OO-NCA, OO-NCB, and OO-NCC. They have an analogue instrument panel except for the digital engine monitoring system (EMS) display. All in all a very basic, but reliable, safe, and comfortable general aviation (training) plane.

After the first flight I have made a Google Sheet for the weight and balance calculations, so I just need to pick the aircraft, fill in the fuel, passenger and luggage weights, and I get all the values (plus load limit checks) that need to be filled into the pre-flight documents. (In the example below input fields are marked with a blue background, there is a red warning that the take-off mass and moment combination would be outside of the safety limits – in this case the centre of gravity would be just a bit too forward and moving the luggage to the rear bag area would solve the issue -, and a green confirmation that the baggage is within the limits.) Nice and convenient. I also added each aircraft to the database of SkyDemon, with not only weight and balance, but proper flight performance data too, so I could also use that for the weight and balance calculations and flight planning in the future (when we get to the point of cross-country and navigation flights).

The second flight (see log on the map below) was much more proactive, I did the full pre-flight checklist (including external checks), taxiing (movement on the ground), and even the take-off by myself. Then I did again some straight and level flying out of the control zone, followed by climbing and descending (attitude-power-trim and power-attitude-trim procedure) sandwiched between various turn exercises. The landing was still 50% demonstration, but my instructor said that next time I would have full control, since I am doing so well :)

I wanted to install a GoPro for the third flight, but winter got in the way, so this will have to wait, but soon I will give some insight to the cockpit too. Looking forward to my next flights!

Brompton M6R SP Raw Lacquer Black Edition

After being without a commuter bicycle for a while, and taking only the train to work for months (something I only did in bad weather before), I started to feel the negative effects of not moving much, or rather not moving anything at all… To stop going down the slippery slope of completely getting out of shape (as this was still before starting a new 12 week training plan on Zwift on the 2nd of January to build my form back up for the new season) it was time to get a new bike, and for the first time since moving to Belgium, a normal everyday bike.

I always played with the idea of getting a Brompton – a famous British folding bicycle, made in London -, but I did not need it before, and I was not so sure about how practical such a bike would be for my normal commute anyway. Actually I do not need a folding bike at all (since I am not taking the bike on the train or the subway often), but I always found the idea and the lifestyle – or rather the feeling – surrounding the Brompton bicycles very attractive (except for the long commutes). I went to the local bike shop (where I had the wheels built for my steel bike a year earlier) after work during the last week before Christmas, to test ride the different models, and I immediately fell in love with one of the special edition models, so I went back the following day and simply bought it. It was more expensive than a simple commuter, but I will enjoy using it, so it does not matter.

It is a really well thought through construction, and it is surprisingly fun to ride, being very agile and accelerating very quickly. I bought the 2020 Black Edition (black instead of silver coloured parts) M6R (medium type handlebar, 6 speeds, with a rear rack) Raw Lacquer (the frame colour, extremely pretty), with hub dynamo powered lights. I also got omnium insurance and a strong Abus lock (Bordo Granit X-Plus 6500) that is mounted relatively neatly on the frame, just to be safe (even though I am not planning on leaving the bike unattended too often, after all a folding bike can be neatly stored inside too at most places).

After the first two weeks of commuting with the bike I can report that I am extremely happy with it, and I am very glad that I made the purchase! Now I can start training for the folding world record ;)

The rest of 2019 (Part 3 – Dubai and the end of the year)

In November I finally visited my brother in Dubai (he is a steward at Emirates already for more than three years), making use of the cheap tickets he can get his family members. Since these are standby tickets there was a bit of uncertainty on the way there, as the plane was almost fully booked, and I only got a seat when I was already at the gate. We left Brussels behind at 20:15 and – after passing a few time zones and not being able to sleep more than a half hour – landed around 5:40 in Dubai… This raised the difficulty level for the following sightseeing considerably, but I guess I am not really allowed to complain. During the next 54 hours we saw a lot (plus ate a lot, and took a few dozen taxis). On the first day we started by taking one of the small boats across the Dubai Creek, then walked through the still closed Bur Dubai Souk Market (my brother did not calculate in to his plans that we would be here around seven in the morning…) and an old-looking (but reconstructed) part of the city, then had breakfast at the Arabian Tea House (very good tea with milk, and delicious thin breads with honey, nuts, and humus). A short taxi ride took us to the La Mer area (a new beach and promenade with bars and restaurants, etc., and burning sunshine), then another one to the Souk Madinat Jumeirah, which is a mix between a traditional market and a more modern mall. From here there were also some views towards the famous Burj Al Arab Jumeirah hotel (the one shaped like a big sail over the sea) – but there was no way to get much closer without being filthy rich…

In general this was a nice area for photography, with more classical looking buildings instead of the typical skyscrapers that made the skyline of Dubai so famous. Our next five minute taxi ride took us to the Mall of the Emirates, not the largest shopping centre, but the one that looked the most fancy to me (with shops of all the luxury brands and shiny materials covering the floors and walls everywhere, plus trees inside the Apple Store, etc.). We came here mostly to cool down (as in the meantime the temperature reached – a very normal – 30°C) and not to shop, but it was impressive nevertheless. On the taxi ride back to my brother’s place we drove along the main road (a 10-12 lane wide highway), passing by more skyscrapers than you could imagine, and for the first time we got a clear view towards the tallest building of the world. After a small nap, we went to Downtown Dubai – the area around the Burj Khalifa.

We had Asian food for dinner after taking pictures while walking from the Burj Plaza to the new Opera, then we watched the fountain and light show (with probably another ten thousand bystanders). I knew it would be impressive, but it was twice as grand as expected; I got goosebumps multiple times, and I am not very easily amazed in general. Before going to sleep we still played a bit on the Playstation.

On the next morning we started the day with renting a car from the local car-sharing fleet, and driving across the city. After a quick sandwich from the supermarket (in a very European looking area of the city), we took an early speedboat tour across the Dubai Marina. They took us up to the top of the famous Palm Jumeirah, turning back towards the harbour in front of the Atlantis (hotel). The high-speed section of the tour was quite cool, but to me the most impressive sight from the water was the massive silhouette of the under construction The Royal Atlantis Resort & Residences from the entrance of the marina – it looked like a futuristic construction project hidden slightly in the haze, maybe a space station (or the machine from Contact), from a big budget Hollywood movie. Afterwards we had lunch at The Acai Spot, and a drink on the top of the Marriott Hotel (for the panorama to the palm and the skydivers). Then we (with my brother at the wheel) drove to Abu Dhabi, to visit the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque. It is an amazing building, really great for photography – if you like architecture. Luckily the large open courtyard in the middle is closed off from visitors, which makes it easy to take photos without all the tourists in the frame.

We stayed here almost until sunset, before driving back to Dubai (which was not without a bit of excitement as we could only refuel the car for free in Dubai and not in Abu Dhabi, and the border between the two emirates was quite close to the limit of our remaining driving range – but we made it). For dinner we went to the Festival City Mall, but we were both pretty tired, so we did not stay too long afterwards…

The last morning was relatively cold (in the low twenties) and cloudy, which made wearing long trousers much more bearable (I had shorts for the previous days – except for the mosque -, but they would have been too cold for the plane, and especially for getting home in Belgium…). We had breakfast in The Sum of Us (a very European coffee/bagel/etc. place), then we took the metro to the Emirates Group Headquarters to have a quick look at the planes from the terrace, before dropping me off at the airport itself. While waiting at the gate, a thunderstorm flooded the aprons temporarily, causing slight delays. On the flight home I watched three movies then the first half of Liverpool beating Manchester City (live TV on the plane is definitely something I had not experienced before). Of course I got a cold from the strong air-conditioning, but overall it was a really nice trip, I am glad I finally managed to do it.

Between Christmas and New Year I spent a few days in Budapest (with Clio, but staying not only with my parents, but my brother and grandmother too), where I ate way too many cakes and cookies, following the well established Hungarian holiday season tradition of “gaining a few kilograms at your parents’ place”. The new raspberry flavoured kürtőskalács definitely got my seal of approval.

Finally, it is worth a mention that Filou has been with us for two years now, and I still think that adopting him (an adult cat) was a great decision, and I love how he comes to lie against me on the couch every evening, putting his head into my palm and purring. He became much more vocal (and clingy) in the second year, now he dares to speak out if he wants something, which is usually me sitting in the couch with him (when I come home from work, and later in the evening should I be somewhere else in the apartment). He is still not a hero, a new box or the garbage bag still makes him suspicion/afraid, but he is still very well behaved, he has not destroyed anything, he does not go to places where he is not allowed (countertop, table, Christmas tree), and he listens to us in general. He is still very lazy, and even when he wants to play, he is sometimes lazy to actually do so – so I end up moving more while trying to make him active than he does. Of course there is cat fur everywhere, but you accept that when deciding on having a cat, so we use the Dyson on a daily (hourly) basis. He is the cutest ball of fluff for sure.

The rest of 2019 (Part 2 – A summer of mostly flying)

As a result of biking less I suddenly got quite some extra free time, which meant that I could do things that I could not do before. First, I fixed the long-standing problem of not being able to give the home monitoring system’s sensors – and most importantly the central RPi a fixed IP (because it is not possible on the router of our internet provider – Telenet -, meaning that after a power-cut, or simply the restart of the router, sometimes the RPi did not get its preferred IP address, which screwed up the communication between the wireless sensors and the RPi, so I had to manually look for the conflicting device and kick it off the network, making sure that the then rebooted RPi got the IP it wanted, then restart the wireless sensors, etc. – even just writing this down took more time than what I would want to spend on such issues). As a solution I simply bought an extra wireless router (TP-Link Archer C2300) with all the necessary features, connected it to the Telenet router via an Ethernet cable, and migrated all our devices to using the new router (giving fixed IPs to the ones that would benefit from it). Since then everything works flawlessly. (Of course as we have literally dozens of WiFi enabled devices, this migration took more than two seconds, which might explain why I had not done this earlier already.) Recently I also switched to reading the data of our outside sensor cluster from its local JSON output instead of using the luftdaten database (which has been often unresponsive lately) – this was also made possible by the fixed IP addresses.

Then I bought a quite powerful gaming PC (Lenovo Legion T530, Intel Core i7 9700 processor, 32 GB RAM, NVIDIA GeForce RTX 2070 with 8 GB VRAM, 1 TB SSD + 2 TB HDD) with the primary goal of getting back to the world of flight simulators (the only unrelated software I have installed is the Zwift client for my training workouts). I got X-Plane 11, rudder pedals (Logitech G Pro Flight Rudder Pedals), a joystick and a throttle quadrant and (initially a Logitech G X52 Pro but then I replaced them with a Thrustmaster T16000M FCS and a Virtual Fly TQ3+, both of which are using magnetic Hall-sensors which makes their use much more precise), a radio and a switch panel (also Logitech, and while these are definitely fun to use, they are the least necessary components of the setup, as everything they do could be done in the virtual cockpit with a mouse too). I also got a new screen (Asus PG279Q, replacing my 10 year old Dell U2410 which I now use as a 3rd display at work) when I was sure that I would not give up on this hobby after a few weeks.

Virtual flying was not completely new to me, since I had already gotten into it during my university years for a short while, so it did not take me long before I joined IVAO to fly online (so I had to buy a new headset too: SteelSeries Arctis 7) with other pilots and virtual air traffic controllers.

In the second half of the year I flew almost 200 hours online (and probably 100 more offline), using mainly study-level aircraft (planes that are modeled as close to reality as possible, meaning realistic flight model, systems, and procedures), such as the Cessna 172 with the REP package, the SIAI Marchetti SF 260D, the TBM 900, and the A319 from Toliss. In the beginning I flew only GA planes (and VFR), and only after the first ~100 hours did I start mixing in some commercial flights (and IFR) too.

I took part in a few online events, e.g. two real flight events (RFE, simulating the actual traffic on a selected airport – in my case Munich and Budapest -, aiming at reproducing the real-life arriving and departing traffic at that airport, providing a complete coverage of the various air traffic controllers and high traffic levels, which results in a very busy and realistic – and in the beginning stressful, but rewarding – experience altogether), and also the annual crowded skies event (where the goal is having the most people connected to the IVAO network at the same time – during the peak period there were more than 2000 people connected to the network this year, resulting in a lot of radio chatter and a complete coverage of the European airspace by various levels of ATC).

It is a quite serious hobby, I follow real-life checklists, real-life procedures, I fly according to actual flight rules (instrumental or visual), and communicate with air traffic controllers using the real life phraseology. (This means that just setting up the A319 before getting ready for push-back already takes almost a half hour…) Besides flying, I also enjoy designing airports (it’s basically drawing “maps” – layouts based on official charts or satellite pictures – and doing some 3D modelling), so far I have completed EBGB and EBNM (two small airports in Belgium), and now I am working on EBCI (Charleroi). It’s like an advanced version of colouring books for me, lately I have spent more time working on EBCI than I spent flying… (But you will see the significance of this specific airport later.)

Some more tidbits again: this summer all previous temperature records were broken again in Belgium (and all over Europe), and sadly this is becoming a recurring news item every year… On the 25th of July the temperature reached 39.7°C in Brussels (Ukkel), which is 3.1°C more than the past record, and 41.8°C in Begijnendijk (not far from Leuven). To put things into perspective, this is only 0.1°C less than the maximum temperature record in Hungary, while in theory Hungary has significantly warmer summers… I became 2nd on the annual Tour de France prognosis competition at work, which was definitely necessary to restore my honor after finishing almost last during the spring classics… Not much later there was a fire in the student apartments just in front and above our offices, which luckily resulted in no injuries, but forced us to work from home for a week, as the electricity could not be turned back on before all the water damage was cleaned up by the team of the insurance company, etc.

The annual meet-up with my parents this year brought us to the Trier and Luxembourg (and Saarburg), and while both of these cities were nice to walk around in, the best part of the long weekend was still the elevated wooden path that led to the lookout tower built just above a sharp bend of the river Saar (Treetop path Saarschleife).

Around this time I had a serious lack of sleep because I kept staying up until completely unreasonable hours, being busy with the flight simulator… (Since then this has improved, but I am still finding it very difficult to go to sleep in time, as I just want to keep doing stuff even when I am tired…)

During the autumn we spent one day in Breda with Clio (staying in the Hotel Nassau, with a fancy dinner, and breakfast served in a former church), and I also made it to Bilbao for work for two busy days. We also tried a few new restaurants in Leuven, actively seeking new experiences, leading to the discovery of a couple of really nice places (even though ordering food from the couch is just so easy), we should continue this when the weather becomes good enough to sit outside again.

While I got deeper and deeper into training on the flight simulator, I also got to fly in a small GA aircraft for the first time, thanks to Clio’s cousin, who invited me to join him for a flight at the end of August. We flew a Cessna 172S (with a G1000 glass cockpit) from Grimbergen to Brasschaat and back, and most importantly, on the way back I got to do everything from take-off (with a bit of assistance in that phase) to just before the landing. I did climbs, descents, and various turns, following instructions.

By then I had more than 50 hours on the exact same plane (with the exact same instrument panel) in the simulator, so everything felt very familiar (but of course the actual movement of the aircraft can not be replicated, so that was very new). It was definitely the best one-day thing I did in 2019 (I could not stop smiling the whole evening), and it motivated me so much that I decided to sign up for an actual PPL (private pilot license) training. I started with having my medical certificate arranged (EKG, blood test, and a general checkup lasting more than an hour at a certified doctor), then after a face-to-face meeting in Charleroi, I enrolled at the New CAG Air Academy. I am using a distance learning platform to study the theory (this is really well done and very convenient too), and if everything goes well (weather – just confirmed OK!) then tomorrow afternoon I will have my first practical lesson too (booking this was not that easy even though there is a good online tool for it, but as a newcomer I had way too many practical difficulties in the beginning). I am really looking forward to flying (and at the same time I wish that I could make things happen a bit faster, but that is just how I am), and I am sure I will write more about the training later on…

The rest of 2019 (Part 1 – Burnout on the bike)

Now that the travel journal of our Iceland road trip is finally online, I can “quickly” go through the rest of the year in the usual summary-style blog post, just for the record (so when I am 80 I have stuff to read in my spare time – although I do wonder if I will ever have spare time, anyway…).

Almost immediately after coming home from Iceland we went to France with a few friends (and two dogs) for a cycling/relaxing holiday, staying in a small house in the tiny village of Margerides, just west of Les volcans d’Auvergne in the Massif central. This time the best cyclists from the previous year could not join, so the pace on the road was much more relaxed. We left Belgium one day earlier so I could drive in two parts, and also have a ride from Clermont-Ferrand, enjoying the warm sunshine and the beautiful landscape while biking past the Chaîne des Puys (a chain of volcanic cones – the Puy de Dôme being the most prominent), and over the Col de la Croix Morand (1401 m ASL). By the evening everybody arrived, so the following day all the guys joined for a nice and shorter – but very hot – ride over the Mont Bessou (a smaller local peak, with a bit of super steep climbing through the forest). A day later I went solo, doing a scenic loop over the highest pass of the region, the Col du Pas de Peyrol (1589 m ASL). The climb was made more difficult than expected by the strong, hot headwind – as soon as I noticed the small bar at the Col de Serre (an intermediate peak after a prolonged steep section through the forest), my bike basically automatically turned off the main road to give me a small break (and a cold local cola). From there on I basically had to stop on each col for an extra drink, and after the 100 km mark I pretty much just wanted to make it home for dinner and the Champions League Final (I will come back to this later). In the rest of the week we got some rain every second day, so I got a few bike-free days to relax, blog, and playing Mario Kart with the others (in the slightly cold and fireplace-scented living room). Every day we had nice breakfasts and delicious dinners together, mostly around the table in front of the house in the sunshine (and only occasionally inside, hiding from the rain).

For my fourth ride I planned a rollercoaster over the cols around the Puy de Sancy (the highest being the Col de la Croix St Robert at 1451 m ASL), and except for the first and last hour I was again accompanied by the guys. The curvy, open road leading down from the Col de la Croix St Robert was probably the nicest descent of the week. Two days later I headed South with Willem and Hao, riding over the Col de Neronne (1242 m ASL) into the Maronne valley. We finally managed to stop for a proper lunch too, having a nice galette in the scenic, historic village of Salers. For the last ride Steven got back on his bike too, so it was the four of us discovering the small roads over the grassy highlands of Montgreleix. The scenery was beautiful every day, the roads were perfect, and there was barely any traffic, so I can safely say that this region is another lesser known cycling paradise in France. (I biked 647 km with 12500 metres of elevation game during these days.)

Liverpool finished the Premier League season with a club-record 97 points (with only one defeat), unfortunately still one point behind Manchester City. But after the lost Europe League final three years ago, and the painful defeat in the Champions League final last year, the reds finally became champions of Europe again, for the 6th time in history, after beating Tottenham in the Champions League final (and we all know, Champions of Europe > Champions of England…).

The most memorable game on the way to victory was undoubtedly the return leg of the semi-final at Anfield. After being beaten in Barcelona by three goals, the Scousers managed to win 4:0 (thanks to a pair of goals from Wijnaldum and Origi – who then also scored the second goal of the final). It illustrates the quality of the team that nobody talks about this result as the Miracle of Anfield. It was not really a surprise. It was the reality. Statistically speaking the current Liverpool team is the best Liverpool team of all times, they are setting new records on the pitch every week, as of the 2nd of January they are unbeaten on their last 37 Premier League games, and they lead the league by 13 points with a game in hand (20 games played this season so far, 19 won and 1 drawn). Maybe this year will finally be our year. Winning the league (a feat Liverpool supporters are waiting for since 1989) would most likely guarantee a statue for Jürgen Klopp in front of the stadium. It is amazing what he has achieved here during his four years so far. And just for the record, Liverpool also won the European Super Cup against the Europe League winners Chelsea, and the FIFA Club World Cup, completing the international treble of 2019, making them not only statistically, but also officially the best team of the world for now.

Let’s move over to the tidbits category. The annual team building activity at work was a virtual reality game this year, which was unexpectedly awesome. Being able to actually move around – and not only look around – in the VR environment (we were walking around in a large empty room with a VR headset and a force-feedback gun, and our real life position in the empty room was translated into movement in the VR world by sensors around us) made the whole experience extremely immersive – I even fell once because I wanted to lean against a virtual wall while crunching in cover, completely forgetting that it was not a physical object, which resulted in me rolling/felling to my right and laughing at myself – immediately realising the nature of the mistake I just made. I also had a few fun hours while assembling the new LEGO NASA Apollo 11 Lunar Lander (10266), which is now one of the many lego sets on display in our living room.

By the summer solstice I felt strong on the bike again (thanks to the cycling holiday and some good training rides afterwards), so it was time for my annual epic ride. On the longest day of the year I left Leuven not much after sunrise to ride my bike to the heart of the Ardennes (Trois-Points) and back. With 310 km, 4217 meters of elevation gain, and a ride time of 12 hours and 36 minutes (plus two hours of food and photo stops in total), this became my longest solo ride so far (plus 3rd by elevation gain, and finishing on the top of the virtual podium by duration – even including group rides too). Maybe not completely unexpectedly or surprisingly, my motivation to ride the bike fell off a cliff almost immediately after this epic day, and as a consequence I biked as much in the second half of the year as I did in the month of June… I still liked being on the bike, but I got a bit bored of the local roads (especially in crap weather), or training without a goal – beyond reaching a magic number at the end of the year -, and I think I just wanted to do something else for a change. Anyway, I still had three nice rides in the months that followed, once with colleagues in Luxembourg (with still quite good legs), then alone around the highest roads of Belgium, finally with a colleague in the unknown corner of the Belgium-Germany-Luxembourg border region. All really nice places to cycle. Lately I started to feel getting out of shape though, so I got a new direct drive trainer and a temporary subscription to Zwift, hoping to rebuild some form in the coming months (I am three trainings into a 12 week training plan, so I think I got my motivation back), so when spring comes around with nice weather, I will be capable of biking more than 30 km at more than 25 km/h… And while the contrast is very big compared to the last few years – when I biked through the winter without any rest period (probably playing a role in this burnout) -, it is actually not much different from my first seasons as a cyclist, so I think as long as I am not picking up too much weight I don’t have a real reason to panic. (Just for the history books, I finished 2019 with 7054 km, which is my 3rd lowest sum ever.)

By the way, on the eve of my solstice ride, just when I was going to go to bed, the most amazing display of Noctilucent Clouds lit up the Northern horizon, so even though I really wanted to get at least 6 hours of sleep, I had to settle with 5, because I simply could not let the display of the decade (or century) pass by without taking a few pictures. But it was definitely worth it.