Michael McCafferty - European Biplane Tour

The Gods Must Have Been Sleeping

Zurich, Switzerland

The weather forecast indicated that we might make it over the mountain pass into Zurich. The cloud bases were at 8,000 feet, and the minimum recommended altitude for crossing the pass is 8,000 feet. So maybe. Another one of those situations where you just go have a look for yourself. As long as you keep the back door open, and have enough fuel to get to an alternate airport, it's worth a try.

Mattias was taking a passenger on this leg. A good friend of his, Geo, had never been in an open cockpit biplane before. He arrived at the airport with his camera and a face full of smiles. He had been looking forward to this for a long time.

We took off in sequence from the tiny airport at Ascona, turning left in a big circle to gain altitude before we crossed the airspace over Locarno and headed east down the narrowing valley. The mountains soared out of sight into the clouds and beyond. We continued our climb until we were only a thousand feet under the clouds and picked our way through a valley that climbed up to meet us. Soon there were mountains all around us, the ground was only a thousand feet below, the cloud bases were just over our wings. Ahead it seemed as if there were impenetrable walls of granite with no way over except into the clouds. Not an acceptable solution.


I saw no way through, but Mattias knows these mountain passes, and he kept flying straight ahead. Soon, what looked like one wide mountain face split into two peaks, with a narrow pass between them. We flew to the edge of the pass, and could see that the way was clear. We had just enough daylight under the clouds, and above the ground, to make it through.

Alps, more

The air was completely still. The flying was silky smooth. With the sheer immensity of the Alps all around us, the clouds, the snow, the incredible formations of granite that reached out for us, all of these elements seemed to give grave warning of great danger. But the air was so still that we slipped through this awesome place without even a bump.

I am not used to this sort of thing. To me, mountain flying is turbulent, filled with bone-jarring thumps that take you by surprise, and rapid lifts and descents on fast moving columns of air. But not here, not today. It was as if the gods who live here were asleep, or else they were feeling kindly today, and let us pass without incident. If they wanted, they could have splintered our fragile little wood and fabric winged toys with a puff of Alpine wind.

We let down through the pass, each turn more wondrous than the last, until we finally broke out over the lower ground around Zurich, a very welcoming sight. The entire flight, Mattias and I had hardly spoken a word on the radio. There's not much one can say at moments like these.

I know I have been to a very special place on this planet. The feeling will be with me forever.

Alps, even more!

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