Editor’s Note: Earlier this year, I wrote about a project to virtually fly across the continental United States in a Piper Warrior II in the flight simulator X-Plane. That project ended when I landed my plane at its final destination in San Francisco. Along the way I learned about aviation and navigation along with countless interesting facts about the thirty-seven airports I visited. Now, it’s time for a new plane and a new location.
Pixel Plane Arrow III - Day 1 - Malta
The Sun blazes overhead as I finish my pre-flight inspections of the Piper PA28R Arrow III. Malta’s International Airport looms to my left.
I step up onto the wing and enter the cockpit. It’s sweltering in here, and I leave the door open, cracking the small window on the pilot’s side to let in some air. An Air Malta heavy taxis a distance ahead of me, and I watch it through the cockpit windows.
After going through my checklist, I set up the NAVs and heading bug then dial in my destination in the Garmin. First, I’ll do a complete coastal circuit around Malta for some sightseeing, then I’ll fly direct to LICB Cosimo in Sicily. That’s nearly forty-minutes over open-water travel over the Mediterranean Sea. I glance to my right. My life vest sits on the passenger seat and on the floor is an inflatable raft. In a water-tight bag rests a satellite phone and a VHF radio. I hope I don’t need to use any of it.
I get my clearances and taxi to the runway. It’s just before noon, with blue skies and high cumulus clouds. In no time, I’m rumbling ahead and rotating up into the sky. From the air, Malta’s landscape looks assembled, like paper mâché strips were pasted over a form to create a model. Azure waters bracket the island in all directions, salted with sailboats.
Cliffs rise up from those crystal waters.
When buildings appear, they’re old, organic, following sinuous lines.
To the north, cruise ships and hotels dominate the land.
I’ve been here in real life, sixteen years ago, and I remember the blistering sun on my shoulders as I hiked up the rocky cliffs. The view was spectacular. Afterwards, my boat stopped at the Blue Lagoon, where I dove off and swam in the clear waters.
Once I complete my island circuit, I ascend to forty-five hundred feet and leave Malta for Sicily. I’m a bit nervous as the safety of the island falls behind me.
Soon there’s nothing but blue-gray water surrounding the plane.
Finally, lands comes into view, and I’m over Sicily. It’s rural and sparsely populated where I’m flying.
Comiso Airport’s runway comes up quickly as a descend, and I set down smoothly. The Piper Arrow III is very similar to the Piper Warrior II I flew in the United States, and it feels, in many ways, like the same plane. The most notable difference is that it’s turbo-charged and faster, has retractable landing gear, and a variable-pitch propeller which adds feathering controls beside the throttle. As I taxi to parking I consider how I’ll spend the next few hours exploring Comiso, before doing a late-afternoon flight to LICC Cantania.