Unforgettable flying experiences in good company!
Would you like to escape from everyday life, let your mind wander and return to a stress-free time? Does it sound too good to be possible? The small town of Gruyères (Canton Fribourg) located in the Swiss Alps, is the ideal place to do it. Cars and bustle are left outside the city gates. Behind it, a small town opens up in medieval flair. Spending a weekend in this picturesque setting was our goal.
From Egelsbach, we flew with the EC120 to Bremgarten. After a fuel break, customs can be taken care of here, which is necessary for a flight to Switzerland. The control tower in Bremgarten is very modern and equipped comfortably for pilots, so that the bureaucracy is easy and convenient. The subsequent flight over Basel proved to be impressive and dreamlike, with many Swiss lakes and the small detour to Lake Geneva. The foothills of the Alps offered a picturesque panorama and we reached the small airfield of Gruyères far too quickly. The air traffic controller was happy about our visit and kindly offered himself as our chauffeur immediately upon landing. In that way, we reached easily and quickly to the Castle of Gruyères – one of the most impressive in Switzerland.
On foot we went over cobblestones to our place of rest. The Saint-Georges Inn was our home for the time being and it is characterised by personal and friendly service. In the evening, we enjoyed rustic Swiss cuisine at the restaurant Chalet and of course also, cheese fondue in a very comfortable setting.
Gruyères however, offers far more than a glimpse into history. The only museum of Hans Rudolf Giger, who was known for his film “Alien” can be found here. A rich collection of fantastic neo-surrealist art from the Oscar award winner invites you to shiver and descend into a different world.
The world of aliens led us to “the place to be” – the Giger Bar. In the ancient vaulted cellar, a bar in alien design spreads out. The bar stools are modelled after skeletons, futuristic lamps hang from the ceiling and skull bones adorn the walls. The mirrors and lighting elements make the bar a place from an unknown planet.
The new day started with a fine breakfast with spectacular views of the mountains. One of the more than 600 photos of the weekend.
The return flight with a stopover in Bremgarten rounded off our stress-free break. In short; an entire weekend of wellness for the soul.
A gigantic garden party in the grounds of the Earl of March, where only one thing matters: cars. In every production and variation, every year of manufacture and model, the living fascination of the automobile.
Every June, the Count invites, and all car manufacturers, dozens of Formula 1 teams including their respective drivers and world champions of all ages and classes follow this invitation. Even Sebastian Vettel or Emerson Fittipaldi did not miss out on it this year. More than one reason for us to stop by one time: With two Eurocopter EC 120 helicopters, a Guimbal Cabri G2 and a Robinson R44, our fleet for the trip was complete.
On Friday morning, we started from Egelsbach on to Luxembourg, accompanied by bright sunshine. Shortly after the border we were taught better, because the weather deteriorated rapidly. At the airport in Luxembourg, we thus spent more than two hours (with numerous coffees) until the storm had passed and we could continue our flight. French soil was now below our skids and we flew along the Franco-Belgian border to Valenciennes-Denain airport (LFAV). After a brief refuelling stop, we were literally drawn towards the coast, and we headed to Calais (FAC). Already on approach, we were able to see the English Channel. However, before we could take off again, we were given a briefing by Michael Meier about emergency water landing and the handling of life jackets and lifeboats. Perfectly briefed, we went over the sea and flew for about 15 minutes with water under our skids, before we reached Dover on the English coast. Located along the beautiful chalk cliffs that rise up to 160 meters high out of the water, we flew west to Lydd airport (EGMD). Here, in addition to the landing fees we also took care of entry customs for the United Kingdom.
Just 40 minutes later, we arrived at our overnight accommodation, the Ashdown Park Hotel. We, along with the helicopters, were very welcomed here, and it was strongly desired that we land as close to the Castle Hotel as possible. Again, we were immediately welcomed by pages and could enjoy the service of the house. The helicopters were the attraction puller, and many hotel guests could be found around the machines. Even a wedding party, which celebrated on the property, noticed our arrival. Without hesitation, the best man asked us to make a flight possible for the newlyweds. We gladly fulfilled this request and the couple was absolutely thrilled! Our helicopters then received a place of honour directly on the golf course in front of the Castle Hotel. In this way, we had the opportunity to dine directly overlooking the machines, and spent a relaxing evening at the hotel.
Next morning, we were surprised by the hotel service with the freshly printed newspaper outside the door and a fine breakfast. Full of anticipation, we set out to a 25-minute flight to Goodwood and the Festival of Speed. On the landing field, we lined up our machines and were immediately involved in technical discussions with other pilots. There was a mishap at the refuelling station, because on the way to our helicopters, the tanker got stuck in the meadow. Since however, there was no shortage of high horsepower machines on the grounds, the problem was quickly fixed. The personal shuttle took us straight from the helicopter to the check-in desk and then to the festival site. We were met with an indescribable sight of cars; from old to modern up to prototypes of the next generation, each model was available. It was unimaginable, and we could not get enough of the gigantic exhibition spaces. When we had advanced to the grandstand, we were eyewitnesses to a somewhat unusual parking manoeuver: to park in the longitudinal drift with full throttle, which led to a precision landing between the bumpers of the parked cars. Not only spectacular shows were offered, cars from every generation permanently did laps in front of the stands, and none appeared twice. Countless racing cars of the past and current Formula 1 seasons were also seen. Even the World Champions of different classes and generations were markedly close to their audience and gave countless autographs. We did not miss out on the air show of the Air Force, which obscured the sky in formation. We could not absorb all the impressions that this festival offered us.
We were conveniently brought back to our machines by shuttle service and once again enjoyed the view over the huge grounds and countless cars on the way back. After another night at the Park Hotel, we set off on Sunday morning towards home. We decided on a slightly longer route along the south coast of England, in order to have a closer look at the unique landscape. The exclusive villas on the beach were worth seeing. After crossing the Channel back to France, we learned in Calais that the gas station was defective. Without further ado, we rescheduled our flight to Le Touquet (LFAT). This gave us a beautiful French coast route. Surprisingly, it was said that we could all land at the same time, and then we discovered the adjacent arrayed helipads. So we took the opportunity to land in formation synchronously. After refuelling the helicopters, we went nonstop via France and Luxembourg back to Egelsbach in about 2.5 hours of flight time.
For us, a very successful weekend, which requires a repetition. The coast of England in particular, is worth seeing again. We were especially impressed by the friendliness of the English and the openness towards helicopters. Our helicopters were always welcomed, and it was desired that we land directly on the castle grounds or as close as possible to the destination. The weekend can thus be summarised as a high horsepower precision landing.
A free weekend and no appointments? This happens indeed rare enough, and that is exactly why we wanted a special weekend. Can you imagine anything better than going airborne with the helicopter and flying south? We dealt with the history of the origins of a Eurocopter, enjoyed the mountain panorama, got to know the A1 Ring and the Wolfgangsee and went back on a journey through time in the history of aviation...
When the preliminary plans were made, we were able to meet for the general flight preparations on 10 May 2012. Present were: Dr. Gerd Eckelmann, Dorle Herrmann, Uwe Werkmann, Carola Esser, Julia Glaser, Susanne and Dirk Herr. A joint briefing followed by a meal together brought us to a common state of affairs.
It started early Friday morning with three helicopters. Two Robinson R44 and one Eurocopter EC 120 were our machines for the trip. The first destination was the Eurocopter factory in Donauwörth. After a brief refuelling stop in Augsburg, we had the opportunity to land directly at the factory and do a tour at about 1 o’clock. We were cordially received at the factory by Dietmar Strohofer, sales manager for Central Europe. The subsequent tour under the direction of Mr. Gerkisch was entertaining, informative and backed by many background details. We were able to view the T145 T2 helicopter, which was still in testing, up close and loved it. The responsible test pilot and board technicians were available for all of our questions. Afterwards, we were allowed to enter the holy production halls.
Manufactured here, among other things, are:
- EC135 – civil production
- EC145C2 – civil production
- CH53 – military service
- Sea Lynx – military service
- Sea King – military service
- Tiger – military manufacture
- NH90 – military manufacture
All versions and models were on site, and we could examine them, test the seats and ask all of our questions. About 3:30 p.m., we had to leave the factory heavy-heartedly, but took even more impressions with us.
Our next destination was Niederöblarn (LOGO) in Austria. A gorgeous small airport, from where mainly glider traffic occurs. We were very friendly and courteously welcomed by the local people, because first the gliders had to make space for us in front of the gas station; so that no damage could be done to the light gliders from the strong wind of the rotors. After this was done, we were able to hover to the gas pump, but the gas station turned out to be a tad tricky. If you do not know how it works, it takes quite a bit longer. Tip: There is a number engraved on the fuel tank key (which you get from traffic control). This number is the code to unlock the gas station. If you know it, it is good, if not, you have to go back and forth from traffic control to the gas station. We would prefer to keep the number of kilometres walked to ourselves. However, as we call ourselves sporty, it is also fun. An ice cream after this exertion sweetened the departure to our next destination.
The former F1 track at the A1 Ring. This was completely rebuilt by RED BULL and is now a race track, among other things, for the DTM, or can be booked as an event location. To get there, we were first able to enjoy the splendid panorama of the Alps. Via Chiemsee pass Bad Reichenhall, Salzburg, the Watzmann, St. Johann and the Tauern. A fantastic backdrop.
The landing at the A1 Ring was made in relation to the starting and finishing straights. Due to a last-minute change by the persons in charge of the Ring, we could, however, only pause there very briefly. The helicopters had to be relocated. They were made “ready for bed” in a closed-off area and guarded all night by security. This enabled us to enjoy the evening and relax from the bar’s panorama terrace.
The next night, we were to stay in a hotel which also belongs to the RED BULL group. This hotel is something special, luxurious and with great attention to detail. The maisonette rooms, the ambience, the spa, everything was beautiful. What made this special was also surely the fact that we were the first guests at the hotel. Our arrival matched with the opening. To be the first guest in a hotel, is also something that you do not experience every day. In the evening, we were then invited to the opening event. This took place in the new barn. The future horse stables were prepared according to the guests. We were served a more hearty meal with bread, ham, cheese, and much more. It was rustic and extremely tasty. As a surprise, an egg was cooked in front of our eyes. This was no chicken’s egg, but an ostrich egg. An ostrich egg contains the equivalent of 28 chicken eggs. After the sumptuous dinner, we could just jump into the new beds.
The flight to Vienna should have started next morning. We had very good weather in the morning. However, the weather forecast gave cause to fear for the worst for the rest of the day. Storm, rain and strong winds led us to cancel the planned flight to the winery in Vienna and instead to fly directly to the Wolfgangsee. It turned out to be the right decision. An hour after landing, the weather in St. Wolfgang was so bad that no more VFR flights would have been possible for the entire day. The landing occurred at the camp site in St. Wolfgang and was, certainly not only for the pilots, a unique experience.
Our destination was the event hotel Scalaria located directly on the lakeshore. There, we were already welcomed at the landing site by the project manager, Mr. Humberto Schenk, and driven to the hotel. It is a hotel which can only be booked in conjunction with an event. However, the view from the rooms with view of the Alps and the Wolfgangsee in the foreground is well worth the trip. After we settled in our rooms, we were given a guided tour of the Scalaria by Mr. Schenk. Rotating stages, great videos, club mystic underworld, the castle, the circus circus and much more make this hotel an exceptional experience. The owners Mr. Peter Gastberger and Mr. Schenk with their progressively new ideas are the success factor for this hotel.
As previously mentioned, we could not fly to Vienna. However, we were able to fill the time now gained with something cultural. Approximately 15 km east of the Wolfgangsee, located in Bad Ischl, is the imperial villa of Emperor Franz Joseph I and Empress Elisabeth (Sissi) of Austria. It served the imperial couple as a summer residence. The emperor died in 1916 and continued to go to Bad Ischl every summer up to 2 years before his death. After an interesting tour in the castle, we were able to satisfy ourselves at the imperial Hofkonditorei Zauner with the sweet amenities of Empress Sissi and the Emperor. Both were so convinced of the art of their confectionery shop in Bad Ischl that they had the delicacies delivered to them in Vienna.
Back at the hotel, we were then served a delicious dinner at the castle in the evening. Only the BVB fans could get something positive out of the subsequent DFB Cup match.
The next morning, the weather had cleared up considerably. The sky appeared, the sun came out and thus, there was nothing to prevent the return flight. Our host Peter Gastberger, insisted on taking us by speed boat directly to the helicopter landing site. And we learned: not only beneath the clouds can you fly low!
We started around 10:30 a.m. from Wolfgangsee to the destination of Salzburg. A visit to the legendary Hangar-7 and Hangar-8 was part of our agenda. With Gerd Strobl, from The Flying Bulls, we had someone on our side who took us through the individual sections with a lot of dedication and commitment, and in the process, could tell us about the interesting background. For example, we learned that the DC on display was Marshal Tito’s former machine. When RED BULL snapped up the airplane, it was not in an airworthy condition. Overall, it took 4 years and 25,000 hours of work, to get the airplane back in the air. Of course, there are also different F1 racing cars and many other interesting exhibits in Hangar-7. All aircrafts are, by the way, airworthy and are flown regularly.
After a short break, we started our flight home. We made another refuelling stop in Straubing, then we continued to the Homebase in Egelsbach.
We had a wonderful, impressive and eventful weekend. We were allowed to stop off at Eurocopter, land at the A1 Ring, stay overnight in extraordinary hotels, enjoy great evenings and alongside all of that, also fly helicopters.