After gaining my CPL/IR in June of 2010, I was keen to make a trip that summer; even if I couldn’t use the new privileges due to flying a European registered aircraft! My friend Juan, a PhD student studying in Amsterdam, was keen to join as well so we started planning. The destination: Iceland! The volcano with the difficult-to-pronounce name was just finishing its eruption sequence, and we thought it would be fun to fly out and see the final days of it.
However, closer investigation uncovered a catch: to fly into Icelandic airspace, even if going VFR, the pilot must have a valid instrument rating for that aircraft. So, as is often the case with some of the moronic regulations in Europe, we found ourselves in a situation where the flight would be 100% legal if the aircraft had an “N” painted on the side, but illegal with “PH” painted on instead.
So, on to plan B; let’s head South instead. Corsica looked inviting, and having holidayed there once before I had fond memories of it. We settled on Ajaccio as the destination, and booked the aircraft. But then, we looked at the map…it’s not all that far from Corsica to Africa, and who could resist the temptation of flying to an entirely different continent. So, finally, the plan was finalised; we were going to Tunisia!
AVGAS availability is limited in Southern Europe, and almost non-existent in Africa. Luckily, my flying club had the ideal solution; a Diamond DA40-TDi. This was a relatively new model of aircraft, all composite, and powered by a 135 horsepower aero-diesel engine which runs on Jet-A. Jet-A is available almost anywhere, and is usually cheaper than AVGAS as well. In addition, the aircraft cruises at 120+ knots, and uses only 20 litres of fuel per hour. It is a fast, economical, flexible touring aircraft, all the more so due to its dual GPS fit, and autopilot. The Thielert manufactured engine has had reliability issues in the past, but the newer version of the engine seems to be performing extremely well, with good reliability.
Before I could take the aircraft away, I had to be checked out on it by a club instructor. This took just a short flight to a local airport for a few touch and goes, the main differences being the greatly improved glide compared to the aircraft I had been flying before and a high level of cockpit automation. The engine is electronically controlled and has just a single power lever to set a percentage power, instead of the three levers (throttle, mixture, and propeller RPM) that would be required on a traditional engine. The full pre-takeoff engine check sequence is performed by simply pressing a button!
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