After moving to Bucharest, I have dreamed for long about flying in the Romanian flatland. The flats stretch for over 350 km West to East and for over 100 km in North-South direction. Even with the restricted airspaces: Bucharest TMA and Craiova CTR there is enough free space left to fly our paragliders as much as we can and even break national records.
The maps in this article were generated using XC Planner.
The major issue is taking off: the only natural takeoffs usable for flatland flying are located at Breaza and Mizil.
Breaza is a very good flying site for SW to W wind directions of up to 25 kmh and for thermal conditions. Breaza has great XC potential, with possible flights to Braila/Galati (to the East) or Focsani/Vaslui (to the North-East). The only issue is the military base located at Bobocu with a NOTAM set for most weekdays blocking most realistic cross-country flying routes. So Breaza is an option only for the weekends. For ridge soaring, it usually has some very nice magic air in the evenings with the sun setting behind the plains similar to soaring at the sea coast.
The takeoff hill at Mizil is rather small (less than 100m difference between the hill top and the base), where conditions can get pretty crazy with strong lift and sink and lots of trees, houses and cables at the bottom of the hill to worry about. When flying to the North-East the pilot must fly over hills with lots of forests, and somewhat difficult terrain with few options for retrieval.
The third and most flexible option is winch towing. Owning and operating a winch is a pretty costly and time-consuming affair, so I was more than happy to hear that in the last couple of years there were two guys/groups who purchased and started operating payout winches. For those who don’t know, a payout winch is mounted in/on a car. At takeoff only 50-100m cable is paid out. The pilot hooks up to the cable. The car is moving during takeoff at a speed of 20-50kmh, pulling the pilot at the end of the cable. The winch pays out the cable with a certain brake pressure applied. The pilot is lifted to approx 500-700 m above takeoff altitude. For towing you need a reasonably flat and reasonably straight road of around 2 km in length without cables, forests, tall trees, where an offroad car can go with a speed of up to 50kmh.
Winch Takeoffs and Flying Regions
The winch has the advantage that it can move to any area from where paraglider pilots can fly long cross-country flights along the prevailing wind, thermal conditions of the flight region and restricted airspaces. We usually have very good flying conditions after a cold front coming from the West or in the cold and dry air moving in from the East or North-East.
Flying along the Danube
The easiest flying route in the Romanian flats is located in the West to East direction along the Danube. We usually take off near the towns Caracal or Alexandria and fly towards Calarasi. The only challenge here is a rather narrow section bordered by the Bucharest TMA and the Danube (14km at its narrowest) especially in case of strong wind. The longest theoretical cross-country distance possible here is 265km. Flights of up to 200km are pretty realistic if the conditions are right.
Flying East to West on this route (i.e. backwards) is also possible from a takeoff near Calarasi (have not tried it yet as of writing this article in July, 2018).
Flying along the Sub-Carpathian Hills
The Bucharest TMA stretches well into the Carpathians in the North. The TMA starts at 4500Ft AGL (up to FL175) in this area. Cross-country flights are possible by not going over a maximum altitude of 4500ft/1350m AGL, but they are still pretty difficult. We therefore leave the TMA to the West towards Pitesti and take off right at the border of the TMA and fly to the West or South-West. Possible cross-country distance is 200km to the West or 130 km to the South-West.
Flying to the West (above) and to the South-West (below).
Flying Triangles in the Flatland
Flying triangles in the flats is rather difficult. In the flats there are no mountain ridges to organize thermal activity. If there is no wind to organize them in rows of lift and sink, pilots may need to fly in a zig-zag pattern to connect thermal sources/triggers or cumulus clouds which makes cross-country flying very inefficient. With that said, flying triangles in the flats is still possible and much fun. In the Romanian flats, we have a big area bordered by the Buchatest TMA (in the East), Craiova TMA (in the West), the Danube (in the South) and the Sub-Carpathians (in the North). 300km long triangles are theoretically possible here, but pilots can reasonably expect to fly 100 to 150km triangles.
A reasonable route (already flown in 2017) starts at Alexandria, continues to Rosiorii de Vede/Dobrotesti, then to Turnu Magurele and back to Alexandria.
Flying in the East
We have not explored flying in the Eastern part of the flats, but it is also possible, from Galati to the South/SSW. This area is delimited by the Danune (flowing from the South to the North) and the Buzau/Bobocu NOTAMS and the Buchatest TMA.
Flying in the flats is not less technical or easier to do than in the mountains, but it is probably safer. There are lots of unexplored opportunities in the Romanian flatlands, so make friends with pilots and groups operating winches and fly.