Data Sim cards and Blue Moon Belgian style beer

Sep 28th – Day 1.

The US flying adventure starts here. This will become my 4th flying trip within North America. Together with my Belgian fellow pilot Ludo (who’s making his 1st flying trip within the USA), we departed with Lufthansa from Luxembourg and arrived in Denver via a quick stop in Frankfurt.

Upon arrival in Denver Colorado, we’ve picked up our car at the airport and checked in at the Double Tree Hilton.
First, we took care of some practical stuff such as securing a local data sim cards in the US for our Ipad’s in order to avoid huge roaming charges.
Being non US residents does not make this easy. One of my Russian friends in Luxembourg provided me with two US Verizon and one AT-T sim card, explaining me I should try them out and recharge them. Getting the AT-T card working was not too much of a problem. Arriving in Denver, I had right away LTE connectivity speed. Very nice ! We faced however an issue with the Verizon Data sim card ( some incompatibly stuff). We made a call with the Verizon helpdesk and were advised to visit a Verizon shop. Not too difficult. After applying a little trick ( using the IMEI of my Ipad on Ludo’s sim card, my friend Ludo was now able to use a Verizon data sim card). The prices of both our AT-T and Verizon data cards are quite reasonable. We pay some 50 to 60 USD per person for some 6GB of data traffic each. We’ve setup the Voipmobile app on top of this and are now able to make unlimited phone calls to our home basis for no money (all European landlines for free and calls to mobile phones for just 1 cent). Absolutely amazing and advanced VOIP technology. 

Time for a beer to end our first day in the US. In our hotel, the barkeeper proposed us several Belgian beers. Being a native Belgian, we entered into a -friendly- discussion as none of these beers are Belgian. The barkeeper explained us that these ” Belgian style ” beers were bottled in a microbrewery in Colorado by some locals who passed time in Belgian. Nice story, but these are not Belgian beers. We tried the Blue Moon, it tasted very well although.
Ludo’s first drive in the US
Ludo likes the Colorado license plates
Denver airport

Foreflight and Jeppesen Flite Deck

Most of the private pilots I know in Luxembourg en Belgium are using Air Nav Pro, Skydemon or Jeppesen Flite Deck on their Ipad’s. All of them have got their pro’s and con’s. As we were preparing to take off for our USA flying adventure, we learned that in the US, there’s another program which seems very, very popular amongst private pilots, being Foreflight. 

Initially my plan was to use Jeppesen Flite Deck as well in the US, that’s why I extended my EU subscription of the program with the US maps etc… seems to work fine as such. I like Jeppesen Flite Deck, maybe because I don’t know better.

We received from the Parkwestair tour organisers a csv file with many user waypoints for our upcoming southwest flying adventure. Quite practical, but impossible to enter these in my current Jeppesen program. Reason enough to buy a basic 3 months subscription of foreflight for less than 50 USD.Let’s give it a try.

The interface to import these waypoints via Itunes proved to be more complicated than I expected, but it worked out anyway. So now I’m learning to work with foreflight. It seems to me the program is very intuitive and not so complicated to learn, just a lot of things to go through. At first glance, it seems much better than Jeppesen Flite Deck, I’ll be able to fully judge this after our US trip

foreflight versus Jeppesen Flite Deck

Preparing for a new 2200 NM (some 4074 km) flying adventure in thesouthwestern USA

I’m leaving shortly for the 4th time to the USA for a flying adventure. Together with a trusted fellow pilot from Belgium, Ludo Holtappels, we’re going to explore during the first half of October the American Southwest by the air in a rented Cessna Skyhawk (172). There will be plenty of adventure (mountains, deserts and National Parks) in Colorado, Arizona, Utah and California.

Autumn is a beautiful time to fly, no matter where you are. But the western USA provides an especially rich diversity for touring by plane: cooler mountain air, brilliant fall foliage, sculpted canyon views enhanced by lower angles of light and more.


We’ll fly from Europe to Denver, where Ludo has to pick up his american flight license. From there, we’ll head to Grand Junction, where we’ll pick up our Cessna Skyhawk 172SP. We’ve booked both of us a so called “mountain clinic” in the Colorado mountains, likely bringing us to the ski resort of Aspen. It is Ludo’s first time in the US and although I have been flying in the Rocky Mountains on a couple of previous occasions, it seemed us a good idea to spent the first two days of our flying adventure with some advanced training. One is never too old to learn especially as we will fly over areas where the minimum safe altitude is 16000 feet, meaning we have to follow flight paths in the valleys.

On Friday Oct 2nd,  we’ll first team up with the 2 Roberto’s from Uruguay (we’ve been with one of them on a previous flying adventure from the USA to Mexico back in 2008) and the fall migration tour organizers, Marisa and Collin Fay of Parkwest air

Together we’re flying with our 3 planes from Grand Junction via Leadville (landing and lunch at 10.000 feet scheduled, amazing place, it is the highest airport of the USA) to Fort Collins-Loveland. We’ll stay at Estes Park (A popular summer resort and the location of the headquarters for Rocky Mountain National Park), where we’ll stay at the famous Stanley hotel where we’ll meet with other pilots coming pilots from near and far to the glorious skies of the American southwest. 

All together, we’ll be with a team of 26 persons and 12 planes (Piper Seneca, a Mooney, several Cessna Skylane 182’s, a Bonanza, a Murphy Moose, a Twin Cessna, a Piper Malibu and a Cessna Centurion) to explore the southwest of the US. This tour has been prepared by Marisa and Collin Fay, who form together Parkwestair. Most of the pilots joining are coming with their own planes from the North-eastern states of the USA with exception of the two Roberto’s joining from South America and Ludo and myself being the only Europeans.

The colonial Stanley hotel

During the weekend of October 3 and 4, we’ll have extensive briefings and explore the region of the Stanley hotel and get to meet our fellow pilots (of which I know several ones). 

This colonial hotel built in 1909 is so famous because of its panoramic views of the Rockies, but also because the Stanley hotel  hosted the horror novelist Stephen King, serving as inspiration for the Overlook Hotel in his 1977 bestseller The Shining.(horror movie with Jack Nicholson)

The Shining with Jack Nicholson

On Monday morning October 5 t, the flying adventure starts and all of us take off with their planes. Here’s the list of National Parks we’re going to visit during our flying adventure, whilst many other parks will be flown over

Marisa Fay says: “Trip highlights include an autumn tour of the Rocky Mountains NP, sledding the sands of the Great Sand Dunes NP, a stroll atop the Grand Caynon, a step back into Anasazi times in Caynon de Chelly NP, and much more”

This so called “fall migration” tour will start on the Front Range of the Rocky mountains, continue to Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes and the red rock canyon country in Arizona and Utah, than conclude the desert skies of Palm Springs in California. 

The scenery is absolutely and completely spectacular and offers some new ways to appreciate this expansive countryside.

The airports we’ll visit are all quite high in the Rockies, reason to refresh our density altitude courses

Our flying adventure brings us to Palm Springs in California by October 12th. For Ludo and myself it is not over yet as we’ll have to fly our rented Cessna back to Colorado on the 13th of October (that will be a heavy and lengthy day) and return the plane. 

It is my forth trip in the USA (first one was exactly 10 years ago), but the longest one. It must be some  2200 NM (some 4074 km) in total. This american adventure will prove to be an excellent preparation for the long range flying rally we’re setting up from Western Europe to the Caucasus in August 2016 with Jean Birgen.

By October 16th, we’re on our way back to our work and family in Europe.

Annecy to Genk-Zwartberg

On Sunday, Sep 6, 2015, weather was still fine. After a short night sleep, it was time to fly again to Belgium and end our journey. We were finally able to get my gopro camera Hero3 to work properly and control from the Ipad. I’m quite surprised from all the options and possibilities it offers, amazing. It provides a different kind of pictures.

At lunchtime, we landed at the airfield of Verdun for a short break prior to co,tinue our journey to Belgium. Flying with a headache is not obvious 🙂

Altisurfaces in the French Alps

Landing and taking off from Altiports is spectacular and thrilling, but our French instructor Dominique took us now to two altisurfaces.

First, we’ve been visiting and landing on the altisurface of St Jean d’Arves. Code name is LF7331. It is located high in the Alps nearby Pra Sauge and Pré Vernay Saint. Approaching this place isn’t like anything I’ve seen in my 35 year life as a pilot. Here we have a slop/gradient of some 15% and a length of only 330m (width some 50m). All of this at an altitude of 5950 feet. 

Both Ludo and Kristof have been landing on these altisurfaces. The second one we visited was even more spectacular, it felt as we were part of some kind of James Bond movie. The second altisurface is called Vallare/Bonnenuit (good night) and has the code LF7332. It is located at 5600 feet. 

We never felt insecure although these places are definitively the most dangerous ones in the world, but also the most spectacular ones. 

The three of us were so happy we have been able to experience these altiports and altisurface experiences, it is something I can recommend to every pilot.
If you like to do so, please join for the 29th edition during the first weekend of September 2016.

After enjoying these altiports and altisurface experiences, we headed back to Grenoble Le Vesoud and from there we flew back in our Cessna to Annecy. What an absolutely exciting day. 

In the evening, we enjoyed a group dinner with the other pilots and from there we went discovering the nightlife of Annecy…and ended up only at 5am in our beds

Landing at altiport Alpe d’Huez

Today, we enter a new and rather spectacular world. It is all about Altiports and even more thrilling: “Alti surfaces” (there’s no English translation for this). I must admit I never even heard the name of “Alti surface” before. 

An altiport is a mountain airfield in the Alps, where landing requires great experience. I landed on Courchevel some years ago, this year, we’re heading for Alpe D’Huez.

Where an Altiport is considered “for experiended mountain pilots to land on”, an altisurface is 5 times is for daredevils and living legends only. It is the most challenging landing for a private pilot.

We can’t fly to these places with our own Cessna 172 (club rules of Limburgse Vleugels). Nope, you need a special plane for this with a tail wheel. Jean Birgen has been organizing we could rent such SAN Jodel D.140 Mousquetaire (en:Musketeer), which is a French five-seat light touring monoplane.

picture made by Tom Manderscheid

We left our Cessna behind on the Grenoble Le Vesoud airfield and after having dealt with the paperwork, we got briefed by a local instructor, called Dominique.

We decided to leave for the Altiport of Alpe D’Huez. For this first leg, I was the pilot. So we took off in a Musketeer airplane into the high Alps direction of Alpe D’huez. 

Our instructor Dominique tells me whilst we are flying that every year, some 5 Musketeer planes are getting out of service, of which some are crashing. But not today.

Ludo and Kristof in the back of the Mousquetaire

Alpe d’Huez, here we come. This time we really climbed out quite high in the Alps. In less than an hour we reached the Alpe d’Huez region. We’ve been overflying the area a couple of times and decided to proceed with the landing. Everything went just fine, it was spectacular. 

We changed seats and I stayed alone on Alpe d’Huez whilst my fellow pilots left to discover the alti surfaces as you can sit only with three perons in the plane whilst landing there. It was quite chilly up there in the mountains (bar was closed), but I was able to record the landing of my Belgian friends when they returned after an hour.

landing on Alpe d’Huez airfield
Melting glaciers

Early morning flight to Grenoble Le Vesoud

On Day 2 (Sep 5, 2015) of our fly out to Annecy in the French Alps, the plan is to go for a mountain excursion. Jean Birgen arranged that we have got 5 local mountain flying instructors available. Our instructor, called Dominique, was waiting for us at the Grenoble airfield at 9am, we learned the evening in advance.

So early morning of Day 2, we hurried up for breakfast and took off with our Cessna from Annecy to Grenoble, some 45 nautical miles after having refueled our plane. This short flight proved to be scenic and we landed less than an hour later (sharp at 9am) at the Grenoble (Le Vesoud) airfield.

It was a good idea to have refueled in Annecy, as in Grenoble, you could only purchase fuel if you have a BP-Card and the local Chamber of Commerce operating the installation was closed that day.

Cleared for take off

our Cessna Skyhawk 172 with call sign OO LVA

Pontius Pilatus

Selfie from the backseat

leaving Annecy

a different view after take off

the beauty of the French Alps

Lakes everywhere

A huge cross on the top of a hill

Hills left and right of us


Scenic flight

Here’s a small video of this flight…original sounds and with no added music 🙂

Landing in Grenoble Le Vesoud

a young female pilot (unknown to me)

Flyout to the French Alps (28th edition)

Our Luxembourg UPL-AOPA pilots club has been organizing its 28the edition of the fly-out to the French Alps. Jean Birgen has been the driving force behind these adventurous pilots gathering. 28 years in a row, always the first weekend of September, that is more than remarkable. And the point is, that this particular fly-out tends to attract over and over again new enthusiastic private pilots of all ages. THere’s a lot to organize and several UPL-AOPA and Aerosport members have been preparing all of this, supported by the club’s secrary, Joële.

For myself, it is the third time I’m attending. The place where all the pilots gather is the beautiful airfield of Annecy, famous for its scenic viewings.

This year, there are 13 planes and more than 34 pilots attending, mainly coming from Luxembourg. This 28th edition proves to become another “Grand Cru”

smiling pilots faces
The local airclub at the Annecy airfield always warmly welcomes our pilots and that as well for many years; This year, I have been participating together with two Belgian pilots which have been mentioned in this blog before: Ludo Holtappels and Kristof Goossens. We’ve rented the Cessna 172 (Skyhawk) of our Belgian club “Limburgse Vleugels” based at the Genk-Zwartberg (EBZW) airfield, in northern Belgium.

The weather outlook is reasonably good and we agreed that I fly the first leg from Zwartberg, Genk (EBZW) in northern Belgium to Dole in France. Flying over the Belgian Ardennes proved to be not so obvious as we were flying in VFR conditions. We had to flip-flop and fly in between the many clouds in order to remain in VMC (Visual Meteorological conditions). No worries. Once we crossed the French border, there were less and less clouds and calm winds. 

it can be (a bit) bumpy under the clouds

weather improving whilst flying south

We landed shortly at the Dole airfield in France for a quick lunch and moved right afterwards directly to Annecy in the Alps, with Ludo taking over the pilot seat. Whilst arriving in the Alps, the weather turned even better. The landscape changed rapidly and the three of us enjoyed flying in this part of Europe. Although we have a glass cockpit and GPS etc… we enjoy following on the maps where we are and trying to recognize some significant points.

approaching the French Alps

We passed over a couple mountain ridges and prepared for landing in Annecy. The landscape becomes more beautiful all the time now. But this is just the beginning from what will become an extraordinary fly out

Arriving in Annecy, we met with the other pilots of which some of them arrived already on Thursday. Jean Birgen is also waiting for us. Good to see so many familiar faces of other pilots. Hereunder some pictures (courtesy of Tom Manderscheid)

Jean (Jänghi) Birgen from Luxembourg, organiser of 28 fly outs to Annecy
 After checking in at the IBIS hotel, we strolled a bit through the old Annecy town and got in discussion with the super friendly owner of a local food store.

In a local foodstore, the owner learned us to enjoy the Genepi mountain drink as well as the tasty “spring beaufort cheese”. The French Savoie is a truly gourmet region.

The weather still weather, we were invited to join some other pilots on a terrace in the old town of Annecy. That’s the good life !



Jan Nielsen and Anne
Jean Birgen likes traditions and so we headed all for a cosy pilots dinner at Sylvie’s restaurant where we enjoyed the tasty (but very heavy) tartiflette (typical mountain food)
waiting for the tariflette

good atmosphere at Sylvies restaurant