Bern-Belp,September 2006

As the capital of Switzerland, Bern is a city of importance for diplomats and is famous for many international organizations and meetings. Bern is one of the oldest and most interesting cities on the continent, dating back to the twelfth century. Due to the fact much of its medieval architecture is still preserved, the city leaves the feeling of a large provincial town rather than a capital city. Since 1983 Bern is listed as a World Cultural Landmark by the United Nations. Bern joined the Swiss Confederation in the distant 1353, and later in 1848, it replaced Zurich as the seat of the federal government. The city lies on a land that is bordered on 3 sides by the Aare River, with several bridges connecting the different sections of the capital. Wandering through Bern’s UNESCO-protected Old Town can be a great experience – few cities in the world are so visibly related to their distant past, with architecture unchanged since ancient times. The busiest shopping goes on in the western part of the Old Town, especially on Marktgasse and Spitalgasse

Most air travelers to Switzerland enter the country via Zurich Airport or Geneva Airport, but the Swiss capital of Bern is another option worth investigating. Flughafen Bern-Belp is located a few kilometers outside the city, just west of the motorway that leads to Thun and the Oberland. Berne Airport has one a single runway of 1,510 metres (4,954ft).The modern airport has a very laidback feel. It dates back to 1929, and it currently handles more than 220,000 passengers per year. Airlines that serve Flughafen Bern-Belp include Crossair, Swiss-wings, Darwin Airlines, Flybe and Lufthansa. An airport bus runs about once an hour between the airport and Bern's main railway station. Taxi service is also available

As a member of the Super Constellation Flyer Association (SCFA) I noted on their 2006 flight schedule that it’s flagship Super Constellation C-121C N73544 was going to make several pleasure flights over the Swiss Alps on the 3rd weekend in September. The same weekend Bern Airport hosted a big Air show with several propliners attending. I decided to make travel arrangements for Bern Airport and signed up for the Saturday midday flight on the Connie. I arrived late Friday afternoon onboard a Lufthansa Cityline Dash-8 which I boarded at Munich airport. After a short taxi ride I arrived at my hotel.

The following morning it was an early rise for a hearty breakfast. The weather wasn’t looking to good, but that totally changed by midday. I decided to walk to the airport to catch some early arrivals. Weeks before I was in contact with one of the SCFA owners and is also a C-121C Captain, Francisco Agullo. We made arrangement to meet up at the show for a short photo shoot and interview. He told me that the Flight engineer for that weekend would be a mutual friend, Mr. Carlos Gomez, owner of the Miami based, Florida Air Transport, who operates several heavy piston aircraft’s. Standing at the approach end of the runway I watched several AN-2s, B-25, JU-52 and the Swiss Douglas DC-3 coming in to land. Several minutes later, the Super Connie came in view and gracefully landed on Bern short (1400m) runway 32.

The ramp was quickly filling up with vintage airplanes and the car-parks were slowly getting packed with visitors, so I decided to head for the terminal and check in for my Alps flight which as called ‘la Montanara’. 40 minutes later two mini busses brought us to the Connie. Most of the passengers boarded the aircraft, but yours truly stayed outside and met up with Francisco and Carlos, both standing under the nose gear. This gave me an opportunity to take some close-up pictures. Then it was time to get inside and buckle up. After the introductions by the crew we awaited the engine start up. The cockpit crew consisted of Captain Francisco Agullo, co-pilot Rene Schreiber and Flight-engineer Carlos Gomez.

The Super Connie total weight was 93.000 pounds with 2.200 USG of fuel onboard. Take-off speed was calculated at 105 knots with engine power settings of 51,5 inches Manifold pressure (MAP) and 2900 RPMs. After an exhilarating take off we quickly gained height and the engines where reduced to cruise setting of 32inch MAP and 2100 RPMs. At a 200 knots cruising speed we started our Alps tour, passing over the Thun, Brienzer See, Meiringen, Luzerne, Klausen Pass, Schwitz and Emmen.

After take off the cabin seat-belt light came off and it was aloud to walk around the cabin and take pictures. My favorite seat is just in front of the massive Wright Cyclone R3350 engines. We passed a marooned colored lake and headed for some ragged snow covered peaks which passed by at eye level! Some dramatic landscape unfolded beneath the Connie’s sleek silver wings. This was sure a highlight of the flight and certainly a highlight in my aviation career! After dreaming away for a while I left my seat and headed for the cockpit and checked on my friend Carlos Gomez. The Flight Engineer is the most important guy in the cockpit. He is responsible for the Connie’s technical condition. Before each flight he checks the fuel and oil quantities. He does the pre-flight check and makes a walk around inspection, checking for leaks and damage. For each engine start the F/E checks the oil temperature/ pressure,hydraulic pressure,RPM's,fuel flow/pressure, manifold pressure,generator,magneto and engine analyzer.

The Super Connie massive R3350 radial engines are very sensitive and have to handled with extreme care, otherwise the engine can turn into a worthless pile of junk. Carlos is a very experienced flight engineer with tons of hours flying Constellations and Douglas DC6s and 7s. Today he was relaxed so far the Connie was behaving very well. 45 minutes into the flight we turned around and headed back to Bern. The engines were reduced in power and we approached on a long final at 140 knots. With the flaps and gear down our speed was reduced to 105 knots. Captain Francisco told me that landing at Bern is very interesting due to its short runway….so the landing must be accurate, touchdown must be just after the threshold. He made it very easy and we landed smoothly, marking another historic flight aboard this fine Lockheed Super Constellation.