The next morning the weather looked a bit similar as the day before. There was one big difference though: this time, the forecast for Oradea was very good. We decided to go for it, take-off and make some circling climbs through some holes in the cloud base until we were clear of the clouds and high enough to cross the mountains safely. With this plan in mind, we set course to Sibiu Magura airport.
We repeated our routing from the previous day: checking the airplane and inspecting the runway. The airplane was in good condition. A little bit dirty, but that was to be expected if you’re stationed in a swamp for 4 days. The runway was a bit more of a problem. The right side was very muddy with a lot of puddles. The left side was better, but the good part was rather small. To fix this problem, the operator moved the runway markings to the left, so the runway was suddenly 25 meters wider. Unsure about how the plane would perform on a grass runway in such conditions, we decided to abort take-off if we weren’t airborne after the 5th marking (there were 9 markers in total).
The fuel arrived and using high tech jerry cans and funnel, we managed to top off the tanks. In the mean time, the guy from the car company returned to collect the car. The plane was being towed to the runway manually, to avoid crashing the propeller in the mud. Once we smashed some mosquitoes, we were ready to attempt the take-off. The Magura operator gave us some last minute advice “contact Sibiu Tower right away, we can’t do anything for you anyway”. A last look to the sky made us realize we had to hurry. The multiple blue holes were shrinking, and there was only one left.
We were very happy to see the airplane started without problems. Sibiu Tower was informed about our plan to circle overhead the airport through the blue hole and accepted our flight plan which was filed an hour earlier by the Magura operator. Sibiu Tower cleared us for the most scary take-off of our flying careers. Full throttle and the plane started to move very slowly. The first marker passed. The plane started moving through the mud and reached some firmer ground. The second marker was passed. The airspeed indicator came alive, 40 kts. Third marker was passed. 50 kts. 55…60 … Fourth marker passed. The acceleration stopped because of another smile puddle of water. The fifth marker was approaching. I pulled the stick back and the nose wheel lifted off the ground. A few second later the main wheels lifted off as well. Passed the fifth marker. Apparently the runway was sloping downwards a bit around the fifth marker because the airplane touched down with the main wheels again. The end of the runway was approaching very quickly now. “Continue!”. At the sixth marker, the airplane had enough speed to lift off again and stay in the air. It was only around the eight marker we also had enough speed to start climbing. Wet grass, maximum take-off mass, humid weather, 35 degrees. They really do increase your take-off distance. For comparison: on a concrete runway we would have been airborne between the second and third marker.
We were enjoying our little victory and it felt as if we personally took off with a B747 from a dessert airport. The next obstacle was approaching: looking for the hole in the cloud base. It looked easy from the ground, but the clouds were moving and clogging together. The hole was spotted a few hundred meters next of the airport. Around 1800 ft we entered the bottom of the hole and continued our climb. Once at 2500 ft we were completely in the hole and the visibility was decreasing since could only see the ground right below us and the blue sky above us. In front and next to us were only clouds. Focus on the artificial horizon. This continued until we reached 4000 ft. Then the hole closed a few moments. White everywhere. Our lights were switched of, because we didn’t want a vertigo attack at this moment. A few seconds later it opened up again. We were at 5000 ft. At 5500 ft it closed again. We were now penetrating the last layer of clouds. Around 6000 ft we broke free of the clouds. The view was magnificent! A whole area of white clouds, with the sun shining on them and making them even more beautiful. It took us 20 minutes and around 10 circles to reach it, but it was totally worth it.
Turned out we still had our most beautiful flight ever. At first we wanted to climb to FL100 (+- 10000 ft), but the plane had troubles climbing that high, so we stayed at FL080 for a while. Until the clouds started to reach higher and we were forced to climb to FL100 after all. Due to the mountains beneath the clouds, the cloud top was not flat as you would expect, but was flowing like ocean waves, which made it tricky to navigate and keep the airplane straight and level.
An hour later, we contacted Oradea. The weather was still very good over there. Due to the mountains and the controllers wishes we had to stay quite high until we were almost overhead the airport. We made a very fast descend and landed on a sunny concrete runway. At last, we managed to escape from Sibiu. Later, we found out that Sibiu was overcast with clouds frequently, because it was located very close to a ridge of mountains. All clouds were collected there, before they managed to flow over the mountains. Makes sense of course, but then again, everything makes sense afterwards.
Oradea was –surprise- a very quiet airport. The people were very friendly and opened up the local bar to give us something to drink and a snack to eat. Next to the concrete runway, there was a small grass one for general aviation airplanes. Since we needed customs because we were about to enter the Schengen zone again, and leaving Romania, we couldn’t make use of this cheap option.
A quick turn-around later and with a stamp of “Transylvania Handling” in our logbook, we switched seats and headed for Tökol (Budapest) airport. When we crossed the Romanian/Hungarian border, a little flashback of the past few days occurred. Romania is a very beautiful place to fly, with some minor administrative hassles, but still, and adventure worth all the trouble (if you can call it ‘trouble’). Very friendly people in this undiscovered country. Let’s hope that them joining the Schengen zone will convince more people to pay a visit to this country “far far away”.
The flight to Tökol was again very uneventful. Hungary was still as dull and flat as a few days ago. The weather forecast predicted some possible thunderstorms in the late afternoon, so we were a bit in a hurry, but should have enough time to safely arrive at our destination. We heard some helicopter heading for Sibiu. Professional pilots as we were (and basically just looking for something to do), we told him about the weather there and received no response. Asshole. A while later we heard a military fighter jet receiving radar instructions to the airport. Given the cloudless and windless weather conditions, we found this a bit odd. But who are we to judge the Hungarian military ?
We could see some possible thunderstorms approaching Budapest from the North. Luckily, we didn’t have to be there, and made a smooth landing in Tökol. This exciting flight came to an end once we found the correct taxi way to the hangar.
When we jumped out off the airplane, the customs officer was standing ready to grant us access to his country. He looked at our IDs for exactly 5 seconds, charged us with 100 euros and left. Our airplane was offered a spot in the hangar of the local flying club once again. A taxi was called, and we headed into the city. After one failed attempt we found a hotel willing to accommodate these travelers for a night. The Fawlty Towers Basil-like “I hate Italians”-receptionist gave us a 4 persons room and the much needed internet access.
Deciding that we weren’t going to waste these beautiful hours of sunlight worrying about weather reports that would change every minute, we walked to the center of Buda and Pest. The beautiful river, nice buildings, some citadel like structure, arrogant Dutch teenagers (yes, they really are everywhere), … all part of the game. The extremely hot temperatures we had to endure the past days were starting to cool down just a tiny bit, which made us confident enough to climb the local hill by foot. By the time we reached the top, it turned out it wasn’t as cool as we’d wished.
The day passed by and ended it by going to a typical local restaurant. After convincing the waiter I was over 18 years old, we could enjoy our meal.