I couldn't refuse an offer the Weather Gods made on the Wednesday evening while I was at a wine tasting party at the Stokelj family vineyard, in Slovenia, just a few minutes drive away from the Pipistrel factory.
Spela was entertaining us with her deep knowledge of how her parents and siblings made the various wines spread out on the long table, next to the warm wood fire in their tasting lounge.
The conversation was very technical, no not about aviation but all about grapes...... and how best to drink them. Between sips of excellent tasting beverages, we were going through the home made varieties of salami, prosciutto, cheese. Some of our friends nipped outside to light up tobacco products. I went outdoors to keep company and saw the bright starlit sky with nil wind.
I sneaked out my mobile and checked Windy. The weather gods had parted two low pressure systems wide enough for me to sneak through in the morning. There was a brand new Pipistrel waiting to be taken home from the factory. Andy, the chap who completes documentation at the company was standing shivering next to me with his rolled up fag.
"Hey Andy, what do you think? " I asked, "can you check and complete the paperwork and deliver me the new aircraft tomorrow early morning?"
"Of course, I can. I am at work at 0645 so come anytime after that..."
The Virus was ready to go with full tanks and paperwork in order the next morning. A quick walk around the aircraft in the immaculately clean factory. I was already late at 0800..
The factory production test flights were in progress since 0700 and I think Nick and Dennis were already on their second test flights with brand new aircraft.
My assessment was that I would gain one hour of daylight flying westwards and given the two low pressure systems sitting on either side of my route, there would not be much wind against me. But there was the risk of being caught out with some rain and low clouds over the Vosges mountains, familiar territory as I have flown over and around them many times in the past.
I decided to warm up the aircraft whilst taxiing to the far threshold of the runway. I was given the correct departure briefing by the factory test pilot and the not so damp grass taxiway beckoned. A quick circuit and a low pass to test all the systems worked and I was on my way northwest through the Venetian Civil Airspace in to some military training areas active in the Italian Alps.
The day before I had driven along the banks of the River Vipava, where some of the best vineyards are to be found. The Vipava was up to its banks and overflowing in many areas, filling in the farms and pastures. The Sochi river was also flooding and of course the news was San Marco Square in not so far away Venice was flooded with a combination of the high tide, heavy rains and full moon.
A steady climb in the clear sky with light winds was so pleasing and effortless, I was enjoying flying alone after a long and busy year with students on tour and train courses, formation flying with friends and local training flights. The foothills soon became the high Alps, with a distinct separation between the treelike and the snow line. Thin veils of mist lay over the valleys, whilst the sun shone brightly on the vertical granite of the Dolomites, carved up by the ancient rivers now swollen with seasonal heavy rains. The River Tagliamento is said to be in a very good hydromorphological state. (I had to look up this big word, which roughly means the river is not much affected by man's interventions.) From 6000 feet above, I could see little sign of human interaction with the Tagliamento between Udine in the Italian plains and the Austrian Border.
The valleys and peaks of the Alps make their own local weather conditions and despite light winds forecast, I was warily waiting for the sudden strong turbulences that are created by the junctions of the wrinkly mountains. The peaks were still above my level as I continued to climb steadily avoiding the active military areas on the Italian Alps. Changing my route towards the west on a more direct track towards home and the Bolzano Pass I could see the "Parco Nazionale delle Dolomiti" in Italy morph into "Naturpark Drei Zinnen" in Austria.