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A Different Kind of Crossing the Alps


The perfection of the recreation of an original flying machine is so good that from photos it can hardly be distinguished from an original.  Take note that the RC model of a Ble`riot airplane is rather large,  legally it is out of the hobby category,  and that it is being flown from one national sovereignty to another,  requiring that the individual airplane be licensed and insured in both Italy (European Union) and Switzerland (Independent).  Above (25) kilos their versions of the FAA require certification (and a permit specific for each flight event),  which,  to keep the original article a reasonable length,  was only just touched on.  This event didn’t just happen and it wasn’t cheep!  They have some great RC airshows in (Western) Europe,  this is the kind of thing you look forward to seeing here, in season.


The translation was loosened up to make it easily readable as American English while not disguising it’s Germanic origin.  That includes extending the uncommonly frequent use of comas in portions of the original article’s sentence structure.  Unlike English,  written German is almost identical to spoken German,  the comas in the original text are likely intended to create a “live on site commentary” reading experience.  


Although the original article is in perfect High German (the Hanoverian standard chosen back in the 1850,  and going even further back to the translation of the Christian Bible that was integral to touching off the reformation,  because the Hapsburgs of Hanover had married into half of the European Royalty from Spain over England to Russia),  the translator notes that neither the French or Italian or German in the regions covered matches the formal versions.  As somebody who has used six different European languages on the job and in his own household;  There is NOTHING in the American Experience to explain dialects.  About the only word I can understand when they are speaking among themselves is “train station”.  


I was going to make the route part of my (then) upcoming late summer 2013 trip.  That and my latest full size airplane flight simulator from IKARUS is based on Switzerland,  so I could have virtually flown the route while too broke to leave the neighborhood in an interesting reversal of the new pilots who report,  it doesn’t fly like on the simulator…


The translator also notes that the original article has loads of pictures taken under conditions showing the Alps at their best.  Suitably clothed,  and adequately financed,  that can be,  in decent weather,  a spectacular place to hang out.  To my knowledge the Alps are steeper than anything in the North American experience,  it makes for dramatic scenery,  both the natural and the fascinating (if expensive) adaptations required for modern civilization.  Drive through the Rockies and you are aware that just off the highway is still wilderness.  Drive through the Alps and every square centimeter has been catalogued,  there is zero wilderness.  Figure after you get to the Alps that the expenses are about half again more for Italy to more than double in Switzerland what a tourist would financially expend visiting San Diego California.


As I finish this translation the end January 2014 I couldn’t drive the route in my camper as there is too much snow and ice in the Alps,  and insufficient daylight (a couple of hours a day less,  and often even shorter due to the heavy cloud cover) and financial means to justify the trip,  as much as I’d like to.  The clouds noted in the article would in winter be at ground level,  and freezing.  Not the place to go with an aging camper which,  even with snow tires,  slides out at the least provocation,  and me being almost,  but not quite,  completely broke.  


To put things in perspective;


Although Europe north of the Alps is having an unusually warm winter this 2013/14,  hardly any snow fall at all with temperatures just above freezing,  economic transportation by air back to San Diego usually involves a transfer airport in the Midwest as that’s two or three hundred bucks less than non-stop.  Twice now as I was ready to book a flight,  the transfer airports have been snowed under.  My wife just baked me a type of cake which needs to be refrigerated.  With a well stocked supermarket just (350) steps from the door,  we don’t have a big refrigerator,  the cake would pick up unwanted smells in one anyway,  it will be stored on the balcony for the three days it takes me to consume it.  In other words,  the great Middle Rhine outdoors,  is at about the same temperatures as a typical refrigerator this end of January 2014.  Well,  that’s better than the freezer temperatures through beginning April last 2013.  That kind of temperatures require preheating LiPo batteries and packing the pilots in warm clothing,  cheap servos don’t work right in the cold.


December through January,  due to being further North,  Europe gets an average of two hours less of the sun above the horizon than San Diego,  as if you could see it even then.  Go far enough North,  about twice as far as the two most of a summer’s day drive from the Middle Rhine to Italy south of the Alps (where the subject flight of the following article took place),  and the sun doesn’t come up at all during that period.   


With more daylight available I’d like so much to use that camper to go through the Alps,  even if,  on the average,  it’s only a little warmer and sunnier then on the Rhine.  However,  Southern Austria,  normally half a day’s drive east of where the following article takes place,  though which I would likely pass,  just received,  overnight,  six to eight feet of snow.  All considered I’d likely go south around the Alps through France (I’d have to take the highways as my extended roof camper is billed on the French and Italian toll roads as a light truck) where,  the same could happen.  Winter weather here is unpredictable.  Don’t go if you can’t afford the possible consequences.  Just like back in California,  that bicycle along with my camper isn’t just for amusement,  it’s also emergency transportation.


Look at the people in the pictures,  during a period of the year specifically picked for being out of the main tourist season and still good enough for this event,   they not only have on long pants and shoes,  they are wearing jackets.  If you are from San Diego,  you’d have to procure warm clothing!  Clothing in this corner of the World costs about two or three times as much as in The States.  You need more,   warmer,  and if you want to be treated as a reasonable person (you look like a bum here,  because you dressed like back at Mission Bay,  you get treated accordingly),  better quality clothing then back in Southern California.  


In the background of some of the pictures it’s green.  NO,  it wasn’t irrigated.  See that white stuff laying on the ground (oh,  the horror) that’s snow.  Eventually it melts letting plants grow naturally.  At least bugs aren’t usually a problem.


Surfing here is not riding a water wave,  it’s standing on the board equipped with a sail.  A wind surfing wetsuit though is better suited to my mask and schnorkel diving off of San Diego then a surfing (wave) one.  I’d buy a replacement suit and take it back with me,  but all the surf shops are closed until May or so,  the lakes are either too cold or frozen over.


Fuel,  wear and tear,  plus Switzerland basics for food and drink (even bought in grocery stores and dined on in the camper) cost half again more than in German plus the Euro40/$57- permit to use the high speed limited access roads in Switzerland,  and the additional fees for the many tunnels thorough those nearly vertical mountains.  That would make the trip there and back about as expensive as the upcoming “look for work” round trip flight from Germany to San Diego.


RC airplane stuff is only slightly more expensive in Germany than the USA.  Among other things their technical certification and requirements of the radios is more demanding,  driving that portion of the equipments price up.  For a while cell phone 2.4 GHz frequency radios were interchangeable,  any sold new in Germany as of 2015 may be different from the USA due to a more elaborate channel sharing system which will likely be (mostly) standardized throughout the European Union.  Although most US clubs that would be insignificant,  The SEFSD includes several international RC competitors,  better check before you ship out overseas with your RC equipment again.  German retail costs are also a little higher than American,  although the fluxication of the Euro/Dollar often evens out,  or magnifies,  that.  Almost all of the RC stuff available in Germany,  or Switzerland,  or Italy,  or France,  or Holland,  would be familiar to Americans.  


The Geo Cha´vez Memorial Flight 2013


Pic 2Jorge Cha´vez Dartnell is something of a Peruvian national hero.  As early as 23 September 1910 he dared,  as part of an international flight competition,  the crossing of the Alps – more exactly spoken as from Ried-Brig am Wallis over the Simplon pass in the North Italian Domodossala – in a then very often to encounter Ble´riot XI.  Honored by the Swiss as Geo Cha´ves,  the just 23 year old pioneer of flight paid with his life the successful crossing of the Alps as at the landing,  after an otherwise such a problem free flight,  he was so severally internally injured that he died.  That pioneering act of aviation secured Geo Cha´vez a secure place in the early history of flight and air transportation,  so that statues,  monuments and airports in Peru,  Italy and Switzerland carry his name.


The Dutchman Henk van Hoorn has been fascinated since childhood by “those daring men in their flying machines” who at the start of the 20th century held the world breathless with a continuous series of new records and equipment.  He developed a particular weakness for the flight apparatus of the Frenchman Ble´riot,  who,  in 1909,  was the first person to cross the English Channel,  in an airplane he himself constructed,  a Ble´riot XI,  from Calais to Dover.  Henk is an ultralight flight instructor and also an enthusiastic RC flier.  And,  he is the only person of this world who has crossed the English Channel in both a man carrying Ble´riot XI reconstruction in 1:1 as well as in RC form with a model in scale 1:2.  So what should Henk do to top that performance?  Easy enough,  cross the Alps in memory of Geo Cha´vez.

The flight through the Gondo-Throat just before the Italian boarder

would have been the most demanding portion of the flight path. 


Pic 3The Model
The same as by the crossing of the English Channel Henk was to control the RC model from a following helicopter – which is for the helicopter pilot also a demanding assignment.  Special for this project Henk constructed in 1,700 work hours a new true to the original Ble´riot,  in 62% scale with a 5.38 meter wingspan and a length of 4.80 meters at a weight of 65 kilos which was assigned  registration D-12-04-028-DMFV.  For the wings and tail the spars were out of spruce and the ribs out of light plywood.  The fuselage is out of spruce,  it is braced with steel wires.  The covering is from sail-cloth at 105 gram/square meter.  In addition all of the aluminum castings,  for example motor plate and landing gear,  were fabricated by Henk himself.  Propulsion of this beautiful model is provided by a reconfigured lawnmower motor,  a Briggs and Stratton Vanguard of 480cc and 14 horse power.  The crankcase housing was reduced in size by 5cm and received a new cover.  The flywheel and magnet ignition were replaced,  the motor is now fitted out with a electronic ignition.  At an idle of 450 rpm the ignition advance is 7 degrees,  at full gas,  that is 2,8050 rpm,  the advance is 17 degrees. 

Henk Van Hoorn (middle) shows his model.  At left the mechanic

Ti Derwelde,  right Jules Lauber of the Geo Cha`vez Foundation.


Pic 4



Since the oil pan has a minimal volume oil is pre-mixed to the gasoline at a 1:25 ratio.  In addition the motor receives oil pressed by exhaust pressure through an internal passage from the oil tank.  Excess oil is returned to the carburetor.  This propulsion makes it possible for the airplane to maintain flight at sea level at 50% output.  For the targeted flight altitude of 2,100 meters over sea level – the highest pass to be cleared along the corse is the Simplon Pass at 2,005 meters above sea level – at which a reduction of motor performance of 15% is calculated.  Theoretically the operation Alpine Flight would possible.




The local political prominence such as Urban Eyer (middle), 

(president of the Community of Ried-Brig) didn’t let the model presentation pass by.


Pic 5The Preperations
Concurrently to construction many contacts were made with local model clubs in Switzerland and Italy in combination with the Air Control officials,  to find out,  if the Geo Cha´vez Memorial Flight could be performed.  Support was received by the team around Henk from,  among others,  the Swiss Geo Cha´vez Foundation,  The Swiss Model Flight Association and the Flight Group Oberwallis,  the Italian Airclub Air Valdossola based in Domodossala and the Robbe Company,  which placed an assortment of radio control equipment at Henk’s disposal.


After an intensive planning phase it was decided that the first May weekend would be scheduled for The Adventure Crossing the Alps.  The weather report was good and so Henk and his family with many helpers made their long way on Thursday (02 May 2013) from Holland to the South of Switzerland to Raron.  Here,  only a few kilometers from Brig,  Henk erected his camp for the following days.  The original plan intended to dare doing the Alps flight already on Saturday (04 May 2013).  On Friday morning an investigation flight in a man carrying Piper Cub was done,  which due to low cloud cover could not be made over the peak of the Simplon pass. 


Henk van Hoorn agrees with the members of the Italian Aero Club

Valdossola on the planned landing procedure in Masera.


After which it was decided,  to delay the Geo Cha`vez Memorial Flight to Sunday,  the 05th of May and to move the take off place to Raron,  as the original take off place in Ried-Brig had proved to be too small for the combination of helicopter and model.  Already on Friday Hank’s Ble`riot in the “hanger” of the Reid-Brig fire department had been presented,  as a presentation out in the open was precluded by rain.


Pic 6

The Briggs and Straton Vanguard motor has 480 cm and 14 hp.  It previously motivated a “manned” lawn mower.



Pic 7

Photo Henk van Hoorn It’s getting serious!  It’s start day is here!  Henk filled the model with a gasoline mixture 1:25 and the Pilot(puppet) “Geo” looks on interested.


On Saturday many motor tests runs were made in Raron and on the 2,000 meter high Simplon Pass.  Afterwards the airplane and Henk’s team went on to the airport in Masera,  a few kilometers north of Domodossala,  which is the Piedmont region of Italy – the intended landing place of the Alpine Flight.  There was a discussion with the representatives of the Air Valdossola,  including all of the formalities,  and a typical North Italian lunch with ravioli and Gnocchi after which it was back to Raron.


Pic 8



Pic 9


Shortly after eight in the morning succeeded Henk’s Ble`riot XI and the R44 a picture perfect start in the direction of Simplom-Pass.


 The Flight
Saturday morning started with a beautiful sunup over the surrounding ten and thirteen thousand footers.  The predicted for the weather was exceptionally good,  just the same Henk wanted to start as early as possible,  since most of the time late in the morning winds set in that would make a take off for the Ble`riot impossible,  as the model is only licensed for winds up to 4 meters per second.  A little before 8 am the chase helicopter,  type Robinson R44,  from the Heli Alps Company hovered in and an “aircraft convoy” consisting of a 1944 Piper Cub,  a Jodel Robin and a home made GlaStar prepared themselves for takeoff,  so that they would be a safe distance in the air from Henk’s Ble`riot XI.  A few moments later the model lined up on the middle line,  the R44 with Henk about 150 meters behind.  After all signs were “go” Henk accelerated his model,  which after just a few meters was in the air,  shortly thereafter followed the helicopter with Henk.  It was genuinely a picture perfect start for the High Alps dream works.


Pic 10

Unfortunately,  the flight ended after about two minutes with the landing of the Ble`riot in a field.  What happened?  Due to the weather on Saturday there was no test flight,  the rate of climb at full weight starting at 650 meters above sea level (Raron Airport) and thus the motor output at 2,100 meters could not be correctly estimated.  Out of caution the motor mixture was adjusted at the maximum rpm,  to be sure of achieving flying over the peak in any case.  Those settings appeared during the motor test runs in Raron and on the Simplon Pass to be ideal.  But on Friday – after about eight minutes of test running,  the long starting procedure of the helicopter and the short flight the mixture setting demonstrated itself as being too lean,  the motor overheated. 


 The Robinson R44 of the Heli-Charter company Heli Alps has arrived. 

Henk von Hoorn will take his place on the left cockpit seat.


 The resulting loss of power was recognized by Henk as a reduction in the rate of climb and he quickly decided,  to land in the next field,  as right after that were to be found more villages and suburbs of Brig,  followed by steep mountainsides – and the risk of a landing was too big.  A second attempt on the same day would not be possible,  as a real wind had set in,  as mentioned previously and the Simplon was in the meantime in cloud cover.


Pic 11


The team learned,  that it is difficult,  in the mountains to correctly tune the motor and it’s adjustments,  and the cloudy weather on Friday and Saturday hindered in an unfortunate way adequate preparations and any training flight.  All together are Henk and his team are convinced,  that the Ble`riot XI is  the right airplane for the crossing of the Alps,  however it is necessary to find the suitable motor tune.  Currently the next attempt is scheduled for September 2014.  The FMT will keep you informed about further developments as they come up and of course report on the next Geo Cha`vez Memorial flight.







Tim and Henk conduct on Saturday at the airport of Raron

(650 meters above sea level) and on the snow covered Simplon Pass

(2,005 meters above sea level) a series of motor tests.


A Conversation with Henk van Hoorn


FMT reporter Stefan Ulsamer had the opportunity,  on Saturday,  the 04th of 05.2013 – the day before the attempt at Crossing the Alps with an RC model – to interview Henk van Hoorn in the North Italian Masera,  the destination neighborhood.


FMT:  Hank,  when did you have the idea for the Geo Cha`vez Memorial Flight?  What was the inspiration?
Henk:  I had the idea already some years ago,  even before the English Channel crossing.  During the planning for my channel crossing in year 2006 I had the thought,  if maybe I could achieve more with the Ble`riot XI.  The model had already at a scale of 1:2 reached its limit,  therefore I decided on a new Ble`riot built to a scale of 62% of the original.  Construction of the model began in January 2010,  it was built for a single purpose:  The Alps Crossing in memory of Geo Cha`vez.  After more than 1,700 hours of work it was finished,  since then I have a collect total of 15 hours of flight with the Ble`riot.


FMT:  What of the organization was most difficult?
Henk:  From the very beginning it was certain,  that the organization must be conducted through the DMFV (Deutsch Model Flug Verein,  Germanies AMA) – because in Holland there is no model class for over 25 kilos – and the Italian Model Club.  As it went on it was clear to me that the Italians too had no 25 kilo class.  2010 I made acquaintance with Cesar Gianni of the Italian Model Club.  
He strengthened my conviction  and supported me in that,  to provide support for,  that the Crossing of the Alps with my Ble`riot would be the first flight in the new over 25 kilo class.  We would be the cause for the first flight in the class.


FMT:  What is the biggest unknown of the Crossing of the Alps?
Henk:  The weather doesn’t concern me all that much,  as the predictions was,  as related,  good.  It wouldn’t be pretty,  when in the morning clouds hung on the Simplon – Pass,  which would make the transit impossible and we then had to fly back to Switzerland.  The question I was much more concerned with,  is if,  my model was sufficiently able to overcome the height of 2,000 meters.  Purely by the calculations it should be possible,  but theory and experience are often separated.  The biggest challenge for me is,  to prepare myself for,  the loss of the model.  That would be a disappointment,  but I could still build myself another one – as I just love to build.


FMT:  For when are you planning the next crossing of the Alps?
Henk:  I’d like to address the theme of RC helicopters,  I have many helicopters,  which I’d like to restore,  among them an original Schlüter-Gazelle.  In addition I have an even bigger wish,  constructed in 1914 by John Domenjoz,  and instructor with Ble`riot,  an aerobatic Ble`riot XI – of which I would like to build a recreation,  the best would be in 62% scale,  since a larger model won’t fit in my house (laughed).  It must include strengthened cables and be aerobatic capable.