Following Hans Gutmann: Flight to the Promised Land in Light Aircraft
Six pilots of the Aero-Sport and UPL_AOPA and two members of the Fliegerclub Region Trier e.V. report about their flight excursion to the Dead Sea:
Again, they took part in the “Memorial Hans Gutmann Tourist Rally” Flight, internationally well known to private pilots.
FUN TRAVEL from Luxembourg organized the flight for the eighth time in memory of the world-famous Austrian precision and long-haul aviator Johann (Hansi) Gutmann. He was a pioneer of recreational flying in small planes to many countries. He built his own plane with which he flew around the world and participated in many international rallies He passed away in an accident in June 2011 with his Cessna 172 on the edge of the Italian Alps.
The Luxembourg Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs promoted this year’s rally, which was launched by the FAI (“Fédération Aéronautique Internationale”) and the GAC (“General Aviation Commission”).
It started on the Luxembourg Findel on 13th June and went via Austria and Slovenia to Belgrade / Serbia. The next day, the Turkish airport Kocaeli-Cengiz Topel was reached. There, at the official start of the rally, and the meeting point with other participants, a total of 18 teams from Luxembourg, Germany, Slovenia, England, Italy, Russia Turkey, Poland, Austria and Belarus took up the challenge of the over 5000 kilometers long flight.
After a day of sightseeing in Istanbul, the route led to Dalaman on the southern coast of Turkey. There, the tanks of the private aircraft were filled to capacity to take on the leg to Haifa without further stopover.
Arriving in Israel, there was a warm welcome by a delegation of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Associations (AOPA) Israel as well as by local private pilots. A joint dinner provided an opportunity for a lively exchange of flying experiences between the Europeans and the Israelis. The next day the planes stayed on the ground and the group visited the Sea of Galilee. Anyone who wanted could then be baptized in the Jordan.
The next day, a special highlight awaited the pilots of this tour: the flight from Haifa to Masada, the lowest runway on earth: 378 m below sea level! Since an Israeli air force exercise took place at the same time, the planes were split into three groups and the first plane of each group was accompanied by an Israeli co-pilot. Under the code names “Tiger”, “Lion” and “Jaguar”, the formations had to scrupulously comply with the prescribed route at the appropriate altitude. Halfway through, the GPS reception was disturbed for navigation and we were glad to have maps and a local aviator on board. After more than an hour of flight, all reached the airfield in Masada safely and observed the altimeter going below zero during the landing in the desert on the edge of the Dead Sea.
In the afternoon we visited the nearby ruins of the Temple of Herod. Before a bus took the group to the hotel in Jerusalem, everyone was allowed to take a dip in the Dead Sea and see for themselves how unique it was.
We visited the Old City of Jerusalem the following morning. Then the bus brought the participants back to their aircraft, which are already sweltering in the midday heat. The return flight to Haifa was again by the procedure of the day before and went without incident.
Flying to Israel was an administrative challenge. But pilots always know someone who knows someone. The same should have applied to the next stage: from the Israeli Eilat via Sinai to Hurghada in Egypt- should have. The Egyptian authorities had not reacted in time and the border was closed for us, although we knew – as usual – someone.
Instead, we went on a long flight to the Balkans. The new destination of the 18 aircraft was Bihac in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
The next day we went back to the Turkish south coast to Dalaman for refueling, from there to the Macedonian capital of Skopje to stay overnight. Unfortunately, the crew did not have much time here to explore the attractive old town a bit more, because on the following morning they lifted off early to Bosnia-Herzegovina. The fact that it is not possible to overfly Kosovo and thunderstorms lingering, did not allow a delay.
In the afternoon, the pilots were already expected by the customs officers at the grass runway of Bihac, to complete all the formalities. Two representatives of the local flying club also warmly welcomed the rally participants.
Another highlight of the tour was on the program the following morning: a visit to the aircraft cavern of Seljava on the Bosnian-Croatian border. The members of the Air Club Bihac guided us expertly through the former Yugoslav military facility, Europe’s largest aircraft tunnel with a total length of 3.5 km giving space for up to 80 MiG-21 fighter jets. The total of 3 take-off runways and 2 landing runways were such, that several aircraft could always take off and land at the same time.
The rally participants were finally taken by car across two of the five star-shaped runways and former taxiways. Everyone very much regretted that they are no longer usable today, since the runways were rendered unusable by the Yugoslav army in 1991. Today it would certainly be an attraction for every pilot to be able to visit this historic site with his own plane. Not least because some of the runways run across borders. Since neither Croatia nor Bosnia and Herzegovina are subject to the Schengen Agreement, the visitor group at the border crossing had to be patient due to the necessary passport control.
Once again, an unforgettable flight rally came to an end. The impressions and experiences of the last days will remain in the memory for a long time. Organizing such an extraordinary journey would not be possible without the involvement of local aeroclubs, local AOPA’s and private and international relations. Often there is a need of special or overflight permits, parking spaces or even AVGAS (aircraft fuel) for small aircraft, which is delivered only on prior order in barrels and emptied by hand pump. This year again, the participants of the Gutmann Rally are very grateful to all of the voluntary organizers and helpers to have made possible all of it.