Ad Hoc Flight: ACV

Havera melhor maneira de terminar o dia?

“Is there a better way to end the day?” A rhetorical question when you’re flying just above the ridges in a cosy Cessna 152, turning circles to collect the sunset inside the little cabin. Rafa has just shown me his favorite local flight, dipping down close to a barrragem, or reservoir, not far from the Aerodromo de Viseu in Portugal.

These sorties are sweeter because they can happen with an ease you don’t find often in the more constrained airports around Portugal and Spain. An understanding allows for short flights to take place ad hoc, without the extensive flight plans normally required when you’re flying place to place around Europe. The Aéro Clube de Viseu (ACV) takes full advantage of this, and respects the privilege—but it causes me to shake my head. Most of my flying has been just as self-propelled, VFR, free from restriction, and wide open to serendipity—not the exception.

Like the sun coming down over the Serra da Estrela, the highest mountains in Portugal. We have just enough time to hop in the 152, run up, clear for takeoff, and make a few 360s around the lake, the river, the capela on the hill. The air is butter smooth, and Rafa graciously gives me the controls. I get current in a handful of landings. Current enough for this, I believe.

ACV has been flying for more than 50 years, with its foundation on March 16, 1966. Today, it includes the informal extension of the no-longer-active EAA chapter, with several members shepherding homebuilt projects, and a flight school. Prominent among the experimental aircraft on the scene: the first Sonex to take its birth-flight in Portugal—a bright yellow bird proudly flown by its owner-builder, rumored to be the past EAA chapter president.

The aéro clube has its own aircraft as well—the 152, used for private pilot instruction, and the Portuguese-built LAND Africa for ultralight pilots. A course for an ultralight certification (allowing you to fly an aircraft up to 450 kg under the program) runs about €3,500, reflecting the lower fuel costs and total time required for that certificate. A private pilot license will take about €7,500 of investment. When you consider the low cost of living in north central Portugal, the generally good weather, and the open airspace, it could be a great deal for a prospective pilot seeking something different.

For most ACV members, though, the club’s primary feature is its social fly-out calendar. Every month during spring through fall, the club finds a place within Portugal—or as far afield as southern France—to take a gaggle of airplanes and spend a few days in the air. Recent trips have been to a fly-in ranch in Alentejo, and a summer trip up to Carcassonne, France.

The airport at Viseu hosts internal airline flights, firefighting operations, and powered parachutes. It’s an eclectic mix—and a tenuous balance. Some would have the general aviation side disappear completely in favor of more commercial aviation, though there is not yet the population base to support much more than what is offered. 

The threat of change keeps everyone focused on flying as much as possible in the meantime. As the days grow longer and the sunsets deepen into choral oranges and reds over the mountains, it’s easy to find excuses to just go fly.

Check out the LAND Africa taxiing out on our new YouTube channel!

Aéro Clube de Viseu, Av do Aerodromo, Viseu, Portugal

Museu do Ar: A Dakota For Portugal

A palpable sense of honor hangs in the air of the voluminous display hangar at the Sintra Air Base in Portugal. Just north of Lisbon, the air base hosts the nation’s air force training academy, as well as its flagship museum, the Museu do Ar (Museum of the Air, in Portuguese).

Within the main hangar and its neighbors, hundreds of noteworthy, historic, and inspiring aircraft stand waiting to help inform the curious—and the young—of the history of aviation in Portugal, and its influence on the world. Though those outside Portugal often equate its exploratory prowess with its efforts on the seas, its forays into the air—and the annals of history—began in the early days of aviation itself, and grew to prominence in the golden age of aviation, before World War II, and post-war, as Portugal used airplanes to tie together its former colonies in Africa.

You may not know, for example, that the Portuguese were among the first to cross the Atlantic—years before Lindbergh’s solo flight—as they sought passage to Brazil from Europe. In fact, the aviators Gago Coutinho and Sacadura Cabral made the first crossing of the South Atlantic in 1922, flying in segments from Lisbon to Rio de Janeiro using three different Fairey III biplanes.

But among the museum’s proudest airplanes, looking over all of its fleet, my pick must be the Douglas C-47A Dakota. She forms the center of an exhibit that not only tells the airframe’s story, but also the story of TAP, the airline of Portugal, and those that flew her.

When a group of volunteers looked around for a Douglas DC-3 or its equivalent military model to restore in honor of TAP’s 70th anniversary in March 2015, they couldn’t find an example that had actually flown for the airline. All had been withdrawn from use or otherwise lost. Instead, the group found the C-47A used by the DGA (Direcção Geral de Aviação), the former authority governing aviation in Portugal. Its Douglas construction number, 19503, last carried the registration CS-DGA.

To reflect the dual purpose that the airplane would have in the museum, the group decided to give her two faces: one, the airmarkings of the DGA to suit her original mission, and the other, the classic TAP livery, to glorify the history of the airline. On the TAP side of her tail, she carries the registration CS-TDE to signify “Transporte” “Dakota” and “E,” the fifth letter of the alphabet, as she was refurbished to resemble the fifth airplane in the TAP fleet.

Inside and out, a team led by current TAP captain Carlos Tomaz bestowed great care on her refurbishment. Tomaz would dearly love to return her to flying status, but for now she serves as an educational platform and living part of history central to the museum. Periodically, the group hosts “Dakota Talks” to share stories from her past, and those of the other DC-3s and C-47s operated by Portuguese airlines, military, and governmental agencies.

The Dakota at the Museu do Ar in Sintra, Portugal, displays TAP vintage colors

For more information on the Vintage Aero Club and the Dakota restoration: