Airplanista Aviation Magazine: Vincent Lambercy: Flying, Across the Pond: Airfields named after cheese and all - you - can - eat chocolate

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This aviation magazine article was originally published in the July, 2011 issue of Airplanista Magazine. You can view the original story in our digital aviation magazine here.

By Vincent Lambercy

Vincent Lambercy is a Swiss private pilot now living in Germany. He holds a private pilot certificate with single-engine, multi-engine and instrument ratings and has logged more than 430 hours of flight. He blogs about general aviation on plasticpilot.net and is the founder of connectingpilots.com, a website helping pilots to find more aviation connections online

Dramatic mountains, tempting cheese, world-famous chocolate, a restaurant in a chalet and a medieval castle... this month’s destination is very cliché. But there’s much more to explore and discover and those making the effort to go beyond the simple cliché get rewarded. Even if flying to an airport named after cheese might sound odd at first sight.

The Gruyères airfield is named after the region that also gave its name to the Gruyère cheese. By the way, there are no holes in the Gruyère. The one with holes is Emmental cheese which originated from another part of Switzerland. It is possible to visit many cheese production sites around the area, and almost all restaurants have cheese fondue on their menu all year long even if this is normally a wintery speciality.

The airfield’s restaurant, installed in a large wooden chalet, is one of the best reasons to go to Gruyères. In summer, the chef also opens his barbecue. The typical dessert served in this area is a meringue with double Gruyère whipped cream. During the summer months, they come served with blueberries. If you’re a chocolate lover, it is also possible to visit the Cailler chocolate factory. This is where milk chocolate was created, making chocolate more sweet than bitter. You will learn more about chocolate production during the visit and see the production lines. But the best comes in the end: exclusive access to the “all you can eat” chocolate tasting room.

If you’re more inclined towards history and architecture, you’ll enjoy visiting the Gruyères Castle. You will see it first when flying the approach. The prescribed track for downwind, base and final to runway 35 forms a loop around the hill on which the castle is built. The airfield has a single grass runway which is approximately 2,900 feet long. Both thresholds are displaced because of obstacles on final. Landing in Gruyères is usually not a problem but you’ll have to be careful with the take-off performance. The turf can be rather high and lead to a 20% penalty on take-off roll. Gruyères is near a mountainous area but is not a mountain airfield itself. However the elevation is 2,257 feet and this also reduces the take-off and climb performance.

Back in summer 2003, a Cessna 172 RG with four people on board failed to gain enough altitude to avoid obstacles. The temperature that afternoon was 32°C (89.6°F), that is 22.5 °C above the ISA temperature for that altitude. The wind was out of 250° and runway 17 was active. All conditions were met to considerably reduce the aircraft’s performance compared to a standard day at sea level. All four occupants died in the crash and ensuing fire. Do your performance homework before take-off, review your soft field procedures and stay on the safe side.

The castle was first built between 1270 and 1282 and is still in a great state of conservation. It can be visited daily and besides its historical aspect, it is also home for paintings and sculpture exhibitions. On a totally different note, there’s a museum in an other part of the castle dedicated to the works of H.R. Giger. Giger is a Swiss painter, sculptor and set designer and is best known for designing some of the creatures of the Alien movies, including the Alien itself. There’s also an “Alien bar” nearby and a shop where you can buy the Alien statues and other souvenirs.

The most admirable of all aviation activities in Gruyères takes place only every second year for a few days. A group of volunteers puts everything in place to grant cockpit access to people with disabilities. Pilots come from all parts of the world with specially fitted aircraft to share their experience. There’s a great video on this site showing the best moments of the last three editions of this event. There’s something very touching in the way these aviators transition from their wheelchairs to their cockpits. The next edition of the so-called handiflight meeting will take place in Gruyères from the 17th to the 24th of July 2011.

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