When I finally figured out how to find the smaller airports in the Stuttgart area I began shamelessly emailing flying clubs asking if I might take a ride in one of their planes. I emailed several glider clubs and one motorflugzeug club. I had only one response, and it was from a very nice fellow who said that he would take me up on Saturday if I had time. I quickly returned to that club’s website and found they were flying a Bölkow and a Robin DR400. I had never heard of the Bölkow, but I knew the Robin to be a fabric and wood airplane of French design. From the photographs I assumed that the flying club was sponsored by Porsche, since the bright red Robin had a prominent Porsche stenciled on the bow.
At the appointed hour I waited outside the institute and Andreas arrived to take me to the airport. On the way he explained that Porsche was just getting out of the airplane engine business after making a hundred or so 911 engines airworthy. The plane we were flying was one of the few Porsche powered airplanes left and after this week it would get a conventional Lycoming power plant because Porsche wanted their hardware back. Andreas was excellent company on the way to the airport and we chatted away about airplanes, airspace and aviators the entire way.
When we arrived at Nabern the Robin was sitting in the sun seemingly covered in children. On closer inspection it was just two rapidly moving youngsters belonging to another club member, Gerd. Before I could go flying the Robin would be used to tow a glider up into the thermals off Teck. This area is one of the world famous glider spots, with yearly appearances in the aviation rags as a competition spot. A key piece of equipment was missing – the tow line for dragging the spindly winged glider aloft. We all (Gerd, Andreas and I) hopped into the airplane for a short trip to Hahnweide where the line might have been stowed. It was a goose chase that not only gave me a great view of Teck but also introduced me to the concept of glider avoidance. They were hanging around the steep slopes of the Swabian Alps like a kettle of vultures. We dodged them on the way there and back and then Andreas and I headed to the Schloss Neuschwanstein.
Neuschwanstein is familiar to anyone who has seen the opening of a Disney movie since Walt copied the castle for his cartoons. It is a wonderfully ornate structure of white stone and blue roofs constructed by mad king Ludwig of Bavaria in the 1850’s. Though the castle was never finished the outside is perfect and the setting, in the steep crags of the foothills of the Alps, is unbelievable.
We flew right to the castle, a journey of some 50 minutes at 220 km/hr. The whole way Andreas and I plotted our position and talked about flying. I had the opportunity to fly the plane a bit on our way back. With the tailwind we were cranking along at 240 km/hr and the plane handled really nicely. I did not try any steep turns, but when we circled the castle Andreas had her right up on her right wing so I could get a look. It was a 60 degree bank and we lost no altitude. Closeness of the cliffs that surround the castle were a real incentive to keep the bank in.
We flew back to Nabern, a grass strip at the edge of the Swabian Alps and Andreas made a very nice landing. At some point during the pizza dinner we enjoyed at the airport Andreas mentioned that he had been taking English lessons with his wife every Monday for 8 years. The lessons surely worked because we had no difficulty in understanding each other. He went on to say that the only reason he emailed me back about flying was that his teacher insisted it was good homework. I was the first native English speaker with whom he had conversed. Not only was his teacher skilled, but I owe her a serious debt for enabling me to get my airplane fix.
Andreas wrote me last night that the Porsche engine is out of the plane and the Lycoming plan is dead. They will sell the DR400 and buy a new plane. It was a real treat to take the Porsche on its last flight and I hope the club gets a new plane soon because I am coming back to Germany in the spring.