Keep it in the family
Father and Son
Six weeks practically cheek by jowl: how will it be when we fly, work, and make vital decisions together every day? Will we get along with each other? Stephan and Nicolas asked themselves these questions before the flight. Each casts light on the subsequent experiences here from his own point of view:
I was impressed right away by the way Nicolas managed the Mooney, something I have probably never mentioned to him. In only a short time he absorbed many things that took me 55 years to learn bit by bit. Long before he himself learned to fly, Nicolas was an enthusiastic passenger.
My flight training with Geiger taught me to react to unusual flight situations quickly and simply to fly „by the seat of my pants”. Nevertheless, I never try to tempt fate by maneuvering myself needlessly into difficult situations. Once, when I asked Geiger how best to fly in a thunder storm, he answered „That is matter, not air; don´t do it!” I experienced it once later, and that was enough for me. Nicolas, on the other hand, appears to be hypnotically attracted by towering storm clouds. He imagines what it would be like to fly slalom through a field of stormy towers. We differ in our assessment of this situation. Shortly before our great journey, we took off with a full load for Sardinia to see how the aircraft would perform at that load. A „dress rehearsal”, so to speak. Nicolas was at the controls. As he climbed past 4,500 metres near Zurich, he noticed that the engine´s charge air pressure was dropping suspiciously. We notified Zurich that we needed to land there for technical reasons. Zurich asked if this was an emergency. „No,” we responded. Nevertheless we were given our own radio frequency, and the fire department came out to be on hand for the landing, an astonishing service. It soon turned out that the duct from the turbocharger to the intercooler had come off. The engine was performing at only a fraction of its normal capacity. It was clear that Nicolas performs outstandingly under pressure.
Both during that flight and our subsequent curcumnavigating of the globe, there were never cross words. Both of us were „generous” about quelling them right at the onset. After all, we both knew that only a seamlessly functioning team would be able to surmount the difficulties of the flight. Looking back at the flight from Zurich through Sydney to Vancouver, I experience a feeling of deep gratitude that our collaboration functioned so well. Here a word about the famous expression „Cockpit Resource Management” is appropriate. Our division of task assignments had been discussed and clearly agreed on: I fly, you take over navigation and radio communications, etc. In actual fact, this division of tasks vanished immediately upon reaching cruising speed, with its long periods of quiet. Often when I was about to adjust the radios or the navigation devices to new frequencies or directions, Nicolas had them already changed. On the other hand, I was willing to take over in Hong Kong so that he could take pictures shortly before landing. But no matter what happened, flying priorities always took first place at the right moment.
We had made our decision: „We will fly around the world.” But the true implications of this decision only became clear to me bit by bit. Every hurdle we took, whether technical, administrative, or financial, brought us one step closer to our goal and thus closer to climbing together into the cockpit. And the Mooney´s cockpit is a narrow place.
Stephan had kindled in me a fiery enthusiasm for flying more than 30 years earlier. We drove as often as possible to the local airfield together and flew from there over the countryside. During the years of pursuing our joint passion our relationship grew very close. The die was cast the day we left Switzerland. We had packed the last paraphernalia only a few hours previously. But this moment had been preceded by a year of planning. Everything had to be taken into account. At the same time, Stephan and I were working full time, he in Davos and I in Berlin. We spent many hours talking via Skype. In between, we met now and then for a week in Switzerland and kept the planning process moving forward.
We were of one mind in selecting the route and the modus procedendi. The most difficult undertaking was our choice of equipment. This is where our thinking fundamentally differed. I take only what I know for certain that I will need or might need in an emergency. Stephan, on the other hand, works on the level of optimization: everything could be just a little bit better. The result: better to have three flashlights than one, three radio sets, three GPS receivers, etc. But our discussions were fruitful, and in the end we hit our targets regarding weight and equipment.
And so, on a rainy Tuesday morning, we climbed into the Mooney to begin our great adventure together: father and son together, around the world in a cockpit measuring just over one cubic metre in volume. In preparation we had worked out a few customary procedures: during the first flight I was to sit on the left side. I would be responsible for primary flying activities and for radio communications. Stephan would take care of navigation and operating the engine. This division of labor also matches our dispositions. He is excellent at attending to the engine, our most important ally in the trip around the world. The first stages of our flight went very peacefully. We were very focused on what lay before us. In spite of the unusual length of the flight, there was never a dull moment; there was always something to do. And during our stays together on the ground we also had a tightly organized schedule: meetings, flight preparations, transfers, publications, and sightseeing consumed all our time. We were together constantly and always hard at work to reach the goal we had set ourselves. It was a wonderful time.