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Come And Visit Europe Part 1



Come And Visit Europe Part 1

By Bastian Blinten
8 July 2008



Hi everyone! Before I continue let's play a little game: find the mistake. I've given some false information in my previous articles although hardly anybody complained.


Visit Africa: I stated that the Bf108 was capable of aerobatics. I don't remember the source of that but it is obviously not true.


Visit the U.S. and the Caribbean: Wow, I mixed up some information from Wikipedia here. The BWIA-fleet including older and newer types is an historic fleet altogether. They probably didn't fly 707's and A340 side-by-side. Their latest fleet must have consisted of A321's and A340's only. BWIA was liquidated in 2006 and Caribbean Airlines took over their aircraft and routes with the beginning of 2007.


Visit South America: Montevideo is the capital of Uruguay, not Paraguay. LAN Chile operates an A340 to Europe but it is the -300 type, not the -600.


I apologize for the misinformation and promise to do better in future.


So let's start with Europe. The smallest continent with the largest article. Why is that? Mainly because I know it much better than any other and it is a versatile place consisting of many small countries.


This invitation goes out to fellow flightsimmers and to online pilots in particular. If you are flying on Vatsim you'll find that almost every European country has its own VACC (virtual area control center). If you think twice the virtual part of the VACC is not the control center, it's the area. It means that you are controlled by real people who are doing real jobs and they are spending their real evenings online. Thus you'll find that the control centers are manned at European evening times usually between 18.00 and 21.00 Zulu.


If you are planning a flight under complete air traffic control this leaves you with about 2-3 hours flight time. Flight planning takes a while and you'll find that it lasts about half an hour from getting into the pilot's chair until takeoff. With this time limit in mind, Europe still offers a large variety of destinations in range.


One more thing. As our world is turning you'll find it easier to do a fully staffed online flight if you go from east to west. If you are flying with the sun let's say from Russia to Great Britain you will extend your flight time under radar coverage because the Russians tend to go to bed two hours earlier than the Britains.


Unfortunately this leaves us European online pilots little chance to visit the American continent. The time your controllers get active it is late night in Europe. If you plan your flight earlier in the day you better look east. Unfortunately for us Europeans our eastern neighbors are not yet so active in online flying but our hobby is spreading further and more and more VACC's are popping up like Vatsim Middle East.


On the other hand this offers a good chance for all Americans from the very north to the very south to visit Europe and have a relaxed weekend flight at noon. You are all very welcome and we enjoy sharing the virtual skies with people from abroad. It certainly offers more color! Whenever you meet DLH476 in the European skies just say hi because that's me!


Now let us start the trip. You might remember my North America article about Canada and the return trip to Iceland in an Aero Commander 560. This is where our journey continues today.


We set off in a Tiger Moth in RAF trainer markings.






It is the perfect aircraft for going low and slow. After crossing Iceland from north-west to south-east I make up my mind if it should be possible to return home in this exact aircraft. The range of the Moth is somewhere above 300 miles, quite exactly the distance to the Faroer islands.


To make things worse we take off in late evening. Yes, it's complete madness. Flying into the night over icy waters in a vintage biplane with no artificial horizon and no extra drop of fuel to reach the destination. In a simulator it's a matter of try and error. In reality you wouldn't want to try.


The flight turns out to become interesting. I am choosing real weather and the wind is kind to us. As the darkness is closing in there is nothing left but the hum of the engine and the shimmering of the weak cockpit light. I guess this situation would give any pilot the sense of complete loneliness. Orientation is difficult so I switch on the GPS, my only friend during the night.






As I move on there are greetings from the sky. The glimmering northern lights add to the mood of a very special flight and offer some idea about the horizon. After more than three hours the Vagar airport lights come in sight and it is a feeling of being reborn for our virtual pilot.


Next day I take a tour around the islands.






The Faroes are a rather small group of islands. You will notice Vagar airport on the right side of the picture. We are heading south and the plan is to get to Scotland non-stop. But the wind turns out to be against us this evening so I need a refuelling stop on the Orkney Islands.






In the evening light me make landfall at Scotland. We are going for a safe landing in Aberdeen. Time to explore Great Britain. A British Airways De Havilland Twin Otter will take us across the country most of the way to London.






As I am writing this article it is turning to get spring. You see the last melting snow on the Aberdeen airport meadow. Microsoft decided to give Europe quite a snowy look all winter. With the change of climate they'd better adjust it. In the last 10 years snow has become quite uncommon in the lower areas. Winter is mostly dark and rainy and again we had some unusually warm days. It feels weird if you have a clear winter day and expect it to be very cold outside just to find that it is between 5 and 8° Celsius. After winter went by without hardly seeing a snowflake spring returned with snow and cold. Last weekend my wife and I had the chance to have a wonderful day in the snow on the nearby mountains.


White mountains caps and an otherwise green and brown ground would be a more realistic set of winter textures for Central Europe. Maybe Microsoft has taken care of this in FSX but I don't know for sure.


Now let's go to the less traveled places. Most of you have flown to London in FS but what about Manchester or Birmingham? Manchester might be well known to online pilots. It is one of the most frequently manned air traffic controls on Vatsim.






You'll find us here sightseeing the city in the ever present English rain. Far in the background you can see Manchester airport.






Birmingham is our next stop. We are circling the airport to get a better look at my newly downloaded airport scenery before coming in for landing.


Next stop will be London. This time it's not to Heathrow. London City is a remarkable location. The real City airport is mostly used by turboprops such as the Dash 8 or ATR. The approach is highly interesting as you are coming in more or less between the higher buildings. A 737 is probably not the typical choice but with a little care you will get down nicely. In reality the biggest aircraft allowed is an Airbus A318. British Airways is planning to offer A318-business class non-stop flights to New York from next year on!


London Stansted lies north east of the city, much further out. It is very popular for the low-cost airlines like Easyjet or Ryanair that try to avoid Heathrow's high landing fees. Some static 737's of these two carriers are modeled in my freeware add-on scenery.






Ryanair is the best known and most agressive low-cost carrier in Europe having pushed the concept to its limits. They do offer cheap flights but there are some "cheats" and you cannot expect to end up with less that € 60 for one of those flights that at first glance cost just 1 cent! Yes, they do offer that. But there is no free food on board, luggage costs extra (except for hand luggage), there are taxes, an extra fee for booking as long as you don't use the least widespread credit card in Europe and in most cases they are flying to airports outside of the cities to save landing fees. This will add some time and money to get to your destination.


In the end it is still cheap flying and the lack of free food is no problem as the flight time hardly ever exceeds two hours. But it's not as cheap as on first glance and if you change your mind on a booked flight you will lose almost all your money so there is absolutely no flexibility here.






Still it is a very safe airline and we are now boarding a B737-800, the airline's only type in service, to fly to their home country: Ireland.


If you are lacking some European freeware sceneries here is a little hint. No matter if you plan an online flight or not, check the web site of the country's VACC. Just do a Google search for "VACC" and the name of the desired country. Most of these sites offer maps and links to good freeware sceneries such as the great FS2002/FS2004 Ireland-scenery by the Irish Scenery Design Group.






This one gives you an idea of Dublin airport as we are about to land.






A Beech Baron takes us across the city which includes a good number of historic buildings. I've been to the south and west of Ireland and it is no wonder why their national color is green. Never seen so much green before. What I find funny: although Ireland is a pretty cold place you will find palms growing there. The gulfstream always keeps temperatures above zero so the palms are not in danger of freezing.


Still you will find the worst weather with sunshine and rain changing every 20 minutes.






We are going cross-country to Cork, in the very south of Ireland.






Departure again in the Ryanair 737. They are currently converting all of their 737's to the winglet version. I doubt that the forest in the background has something to do with reality. You won't find much forest here.


Destination is Bergen, Norway. Flying across the North Sea I have always wondered about the few dots on my GPS. Those dots were VOR's and I rather wondered what they were doing in the middle of the sea. There are definitely no islands around. It took a while until I found out that they are placed on oil platforms.


I found that these are an interesting location if you want to train your skills in a helicopter. I downloaded quite a collection of them, some in the Gulf of Mexico, one near Canada and many more in the North Sea.






On our flight to Norway we are passing overhead the British Brent Alpha, Bravo, Charly and Delta platforms.






Norway is enhanced by the great Norway 8 scenery. There have always been hard working scenery designers providing a good scenery of the whole country with a collection of important airports, mesh and landclass. I remember it being one of my great favorites for FS5.










Norwegian runway markings are always in yellow and the airports show some nice textures.






Parking at gate 27 of the round terminal of Bergen Lufthavn.






The journey continues in the early morning in an SAS B737-800. I am not climbing too high because I want to capture some of the nice looking mesh.






Our flight leads us to Arctic regions, namely to Longyearbyen, Svalbard, an Arctic island which is part of Norway.










We are going to visit the world's largest refrigerator. It has been opened in Longyearbyen just a couple of months ago. The sense of the whole thing is preserving all kind of seeds to keep them safe for humanity in case of a global catastrophy. A not very optimistic way of preparing for the future of our planet.


To add to the peculiarity of the location it is also the venue of the most northern marathon of the world.


For the Europeans the Scandinavian countries are about the same as what the Canadians are in America. The friendly people living in the cold but naturally beautiful countries. Few inhabitants in a big place with just a few cities mostly in the south.


We are now looking at an exception. Rovaniemi is in the north of Finland and well worth a visit. Quite forlorn but beautiful. A snowy place but as we arrive it starts raining.










On departure we pass the city with the river, bridges and a church. The sky is crystal clear as we fly south to the Finnish capital Helsinki. My big recommendation here: try fsnordic.net for Scandinavian and Finnish scenery. I've downloaded lots of those unspeakable Finnish airports, FinnClass and FinnTerrain. The latter give the otherwise poor standard scenery an all new look with thousands of detailed islands and a landclass scenery ready for VFR flying. FinnObjects will help with VFR objects like masts, chimneys and ski jumps.










Helsinki might be well known to most simmers but the add-on scenery you will find at fsnordic.net is just too good to detain.






The next leg is a very short one. Just across the Bay of Finland to Tallinn, Estonia. Amazing effect. The real weather turns from clear skies to low clouds and fog from one moment to the next. I need to manipulate the clouds in order to be able to fly on at all.










The clouds touch the ground and I rise them by hand to give you an idea of the airport and the city in the background. I once traveled to visit our relatively new partners of the European Union in an online flying event. Two thumbs up for that location.


Now let's return to Scandinavia. A quick dash across the Baltic in the Fouga Magister.






After a short stop-over at Stockholm I continue south to Malmo. The airport's yellow buildings are outstanding and I enjoy an occasional flight to this destination.










Time to switch aircraft. The Vought Corsair will take us across the city and further on to Denmark.






Malmo is the home of the Turning Torso a 190 meter high apartment building. A second sky scraper, the Malmo Tower will probably be finished in 2010. In the background you see the bridge across the Oresundsbron connecting not only Denmark and Sweden but also two of my favority city sceneries. Let's take a closer look.






The Oresund bridge is the longest combined road and rail bridge in Europe displaying an interesting design. The whole construction starts as a tunnel in Copenhagen that rises to the surface on an artificial island. Only from here it continues as a bridge all the way to Malmo.










More eye-candy as we move on. Copenhagen comes with a detailed airport and city scenery. In the background you see a line of wind generators in the sea.






Further east we get to another great bridge looking similar to the Oresund bridge. This one is across the Store Bealt. I chase along the brigde at full throttle maybe 20 feet above the road. It has always been a mystery to me but some flightsim objects behave weird. One moment it is a friendly bridge, the next moment it comes up with an invisible barrier causing things like that:






It makes me plunge right through the asphalt and towards the sea. I press pause just in time to get this shot. What the hell! Who needs wings, elevators, an engine and all that stuff? This is so much cooler!


After a little swim to the coast I take out a tube of glue and start fixing my warbird. Comes out pretty nicely and I take off heading for some western airport in Denmark. There I switch to my dear Eurocopter EC-135 and visit a Danish oil rig in the North Sea.






Quite a challenge. Winds use to be strong here and it feels good when when the vats finally touch the helipad after several approaches.






From here it is not far to my home country, Germany. We are landing on the most northern tip in Westerland on the island Sylt.


So here comes my next invitation: take a close look at Germany! From the Frisian islands, the flat north with cities like Hamburg or Berlin to the industrial Ruhr area, the Frankfurt skyscrapers and the mountainous south with the impressive Alps it won't give you a minute of boredom.


Aerosoft provides the most detailed sceneries you might wish for so there are loads of eye-candy. If you are a frequent visitor of FlightSim.Com you will have noticed the reviews of Aerosoft's Helgoland or island hopping sceneries. They are among the best I have ever seen for a simulator and they are exclusively for FSX. I must admit that there is a drawback. They are quite an investment. For FS2002 and FS2004 there were four sets of German Airports, all being around € 30. Additionally there were four more VFR-packs Scenery Germany 1-4, each about the same price. While the simulator costs about 40 Euros the complete detailed Germany added up to about € 240!


The new island hopping scenery for FSX is around € 30 as well. With 12 packages planned to cover the whole country and additional packages for medium airports plus single packages for Mega Airports like Frankfurt or Munich you see where that leads. No, I don't love my country that much and I ask myself whenever Aerosoft is planning to finish this series.


I am currently using German Airports 1-4 and Scenery Germany 1, as my only payware.






Still some of my German collection is freeware such as Helgoland.






Helgoland is the only German high seas island. The island's civil and military history is quite amazing. The last chapter of the latter one is the test-bombing of the island by the RAF after WW II. You still see some bomb craters today.


Helgoland consists of two little islands. One comprises Oberland and Unterland (upper and lower land) with a village and a port. The second island is more or less used up by the airfield.


There is no road traffic of any kind allowed on the island, not even bicycles! The only two traffic lights are warning pedestrians from apporaching aircraft. The runways are about 300 metres long so go and get here for training your short field skills.






Every aircraft operating from the island needs 80 hp per passenger to be allowed to take off. It means the Cessna 182 must not carry more than two.






There are no extra points for a nice landing. Just get down and hit the brakes!


The journey continues along the East-Frisian islands.






This is Norderney depicted by the freeware scenery of Marcel Kuhnt and Horst Weingaertner.






Juist wakes up some childhood memories. I love this island which is also free of cars. Visitors go by bike or carriage. I remember a motor glider landing in strong side-wind. Wow!






Landing on Borkum, the most western of the East-Frisian islands.






We are leaving the sea and crossing the flat north. What you can see here is Aerosoft's Bremen scenery. Bremen is a very active FIR on Vatsim. As an online pilot there are good chances of finding their controllers online.


This takes me back to some commendations. If you plan online flying in Europe, start with Germany. You will find by far the greatest radar coverage of all European countries. Check www.vacc-sag.org for active controllers. On an average day you will find six or seven airports active with probably one more in Austria and Switzerland. In most locations there are several positions manned. This offers a lot of opportunities for VFR and IFR-flying.


Unfortunately the VACC's web sites differ very much concerning the amount of information provided for flight planning. The German, Austrian and Swiss VACC has a variety of maps for almost 200 airports and a clear information about the manned positions and booked flights.


Online flying works best when controllers know about the pilot's plans and vice versa. Unfortunately many web sites provide little or no information on that. Radar coverage e.g. in France is very poor. Only in case of an event you will find certain places well arranged. The Irish, Polish and Scandinavians are doing great with regular coverage.


In this case it is to Germany's advantage that it is a small country with many inhabitants. Luckily many are flightsimmers kind enough to provide radar service. In a country with 80 million people you can expect a better coverage as for example in Finland with about 5 million in an area of almost the same size.


All I want to say is: come over and fly with us. We love to have you here.


And one more thought: I always wondered why there is Vatsim and IVAO. They are two organizations following the same hobby in the exact same way. Wouldn't it be smart to combine forces, unite our networks and raise an even greater radar coverage, have more pilots flying, more events and come even closer to reality?






Let's get back to the scenic tour. We are apporaching Hamburg Finkenwerder in a Cessna 182S. This is Hamburg's second airport and home of the Airbus works and the final assembly of the Airbus A318, A319 and A321.






The Airbus A300-600 Beluga transports large aircraft parts between the different European Airbus works. It can handle parts as large as an A340's wing.


Before we climb out to Berlin we have another quick glance at the Hamburg port and the city.










The Kohlbrand Bridge is spanning the river Elbe and in the city center there is the well known Lake Alster. In the background you see Hamburg Fuhlsbuttel Airport. Maybe you saw that video on youtube of that Lufthansa Airbus A320 trying to land at Fuhlbuttel during the winter storm Emma with a 45 knots sidewind. Impressive manouvering by the pilots but when a strong gust hit the aircraft right at touchdown, disaster was only nearly averted by a quick reaction and a touch-and-go.






Welcome to Germany's capital Berlin. We are flying over the city-center in a DC-3, the symbol of the Berlin Airlift in 1948/49. On the left you see the Red Cityhall, the TV tower at Alexanderplatz and the dome on the right.






A little Microsoft gimmick here. If you turn the date in FS back to 1989 or earlier you see the Berlin wall right in front of Brandenburg gate. Reichstag is on the left. I recommend a visit of Berlin Tempelhof Airport as it will probably be closed this October. It is the oldest and smallest Berlin airport but really interesting as it is situated in the city itself. Probably it will be missing in future FS versions.






We continue our journey to the southwest crossing the Ruhr area and passing over Dusseldorf where we meet river Rhine which we follow south to the more picturesque parts of Germany.










Koblenz and 'Deutsches Eck' where the Mosel meets the Rhine and a glance south to the Rhine valley, a popular location for thousands of tourists every year.






Finally Frankfurt, my almost home town. One of the skyscrapers called Maintower is accessible for visitors. From the platform you can enjoy a look at the city and the never ending line of aircraft approaching EDDF. Today it's virtually me approaching runway 25R.






Just before touchdown I decide to go for some illegal action and roar across the terminals. Those Air France 777's are on a rampage. Guess I forgot to load my AFCADs after the last reinstall of Flightsim.


This DC-3 looks good. Just like the airport. I give it frequent visits to gaze at the jets from McDonalds in Terminal 2.






Let's have a little scenic tour in a Piper Cub. We head south and cross the Odenwald mountains until we get to River Neckar. We turn west and follow the river valley to Heidelberg.






Flying by the famous Heidelberg Castle towards the city.






You will find lots of industry along the Rhine just like in Mannheim, further west of Heidelberg.






Close to Speyer there is a red 'Autobahn' bridge and some airfields. In the background you can see the Formula 1 race track in Hockenheim.






The city of Speyer with the dome, some industry and the airfield.






Approach is close to the dome and...






... one of the most interesting airplane and automobile museums in the country. If you approach Speyer for the first time you might get afraid of the 747 crossing your path close to the runway. Don't worry, it is sitting there on poles. If you ever come to the area, give it a try. Many aircraft are accessible and you can explore the former Lufthansa Boeing 747-200 from the inside, clamber through the freight hold and try some wing walking!


Another impressive exhibit is the Russian Antonov 22 turboprop freighter which was flown over from Ukraine and landed on the 2400 feet runway next to the museum. These days they are enlarging their collection with the Russian spaceship 'Buran'.


The sister-museum in Sinsheim holds a Concorde, a Tupolev 144, a DC-3, a Ju 52 and many more, all accessible and worth a visit.


We return to Frankfurt in the evening.






Aerosoft offers not only the big airports but also a good variety of small and medium ones. The typical medium is Stuttgart, about 200 km south of Frankfurt, just a short hop in a 737. Aerosoft decided to have it permanently under construction as you can see the yellow cranes in the background. I remember my only real-life departure from this airport in an ageing 707. The engines noise reduction was also very efficient in reducing power and the Stuttgart runway was fairly short back in 1992. A moment after takeoff I saw the end of the runway below our wings.






But now for something completely different. We are taking a Bf 109 across southern Germany. You can see it here flying above Hahnweide the 109 D-FWME's real life counterparts home. Looks a lot like an aircraft carrier but is made of soft grass.






Finally arriving Lake Constance, the southern border of Germany and one of the most scenic parts of the country. You will find clear water, lots of small boats and a great view across the lake to the swiss Alps. Whenever your way leads you to Germany, you should go here.






You can see me roaring across Friedrichshafen airport. I enjoyed a great airshow here exactly one year ago. It is also very famous for its airship heritage. Some of the famous 'Zeppelins' were built here and one of the very few modern blimps is based in the hangar on the right and takes up passengers across the lake.


Our flight continues east to Salzburg, Austria and we are waving goodbye to Germany. As you are getting tired of reading and you are now dying to try the tour for yourself I am giving you some rest. See you soon with part 2 covering the best of the Alps, France, Italy, Southeastern and Eastern Europe.


Bastian Blinten



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