Flying to Europe’s highest airfield in Samedan

Flying to Europe’s highest airfield in Samedan

Besides flying a 40 ton passenger jet, I love flying small airplanes. I grew up next to an airfield in the eastern part of Switzerland: Bad Ragaz (LSZE). These days, I fly various trips with a Cessna 172 around Switzerland from there. One of the most stunning and challenging flights is flying to Europe’s highest airport LSZS in Samedan located next to St. Moritz.

Flying in valleys and over alpine passes require special concentration. Treacherous winds can occur. In addition, the space for a 180 degree turn is usually limited. That's why it's important to lay out flight tactics beforehand. Personally, I do not fly into a valley before reaching the top of the pass. This way I avoid having to climb in the valley. As long as the winds allow it, I fly at the right edge of the valley. This ensures that if another aircraft is approaching, there is enough room and a turn is possible.

If possible, I fly to Samedan in the morning because towards the afternoon, a special valley wind can occur in Engadin -- the so-called Maloja wind. This is caused by the warming of the mountain slopes and can quickly increase in strength. The views of the roughly 40 minute flight are amazing.

Samedan airfield is located at an altitude of 1707 meters above sea level. The power of the motorized aircraft is pushed to the limit. A piston engine without a turbocharger loses about three percent of its power every 1000 feet. This means that in Samedan, in contrast to the performance at sea level (100 percent), only about 82 percent is available.

Not only should you know the power limit of the engine, but you should also know how the pressure or density altitude is calculated. Because the combination of low air pressure, high temperature and an airfield at high altitude can turn a takeoff into a dangerous adventure. 

The factors described above make Samedan a very demanding airfield. For example, the introduction by a flight instructor is mandatory. Furthermore, for the validity of the license, an annual theory test as well as a landing in Samedan every two years must be completed. These additional efforts are immediately forgotten when you can enjoy a fine piece of nut cake with coffee for breakfast in the airport restaurant, with a breathtaking view of the beautiful Graubünden Alps.


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