Swiss pilot Francis Gunzlinger landed at the Guntersville Airport Thursday afternoon and overnighted in the Runway 7 Pilots Lounge there.
He’s on an interesting journey. He’s spending 3 weeks flying all over the Southeast.
“It’s a holiday,” he said, using the European word for “vacation.” But it also has a purpose. He’s on a quest to become a commercial pilot in his home country and he needs flight time to do so.
It was cheaper to come to the United States and rent a plane than to rent a plane and get his flying hours in Switzerland. It's his first-ever visit to the United States.
He’s flying with another European, Jan (pronounced “Yan”) Guzlir, who’s in a second airplane doing the same thing.
Francis flew to Guntersville from Tupelo, Mississippi. Jan was supposed to have followed, but problems with his plane grounded him.
The rental company was expected to bring him another.
The pilots rented their planes in North Carolina and flew down the East Coast to Florida and around to New Orleans. While that sounds glamorous, it’s not exactly what you might envision.
“The coast looks very much the same all along that route,” Francis said.
Even the beach towns look the same.
"They are built for tourism," Francis said.
The pilots enjoyed New Orleans very much, but were soon ready to get away from the ocean and see a bit of the interior of America. They stopped in Vicksburg, then Tupelo and on to Guntersville. Francis planned to go from here to Nashville.
He was quite impressed with the large swaths of north Alabama forest between Tupelo and Guntersville.
He landed at the Guntersville Airport after hours, but was greeted by Cindy Yates of Experimental Aircraft Association Chapter 683. The EAA held its big yard sale at the airport over the weekend and Cindy was there working on that.
“I needed fuel,” Francis said.
“I told him we would figure it out,” Cindy said.
Cindy doesn’t meet a stranger and she took Francis to a fast food place for supper. Since he’s flying on a budget, Francis has been eating a lot of fast food on this trip. He’s found most of it to be pretty terrible.
“I’m not a food critic,” he said. “That’s not what I’m here for. But how do you get eggs that greasy? You can eat for $10, but I’ve noticed the quality really goes up if you go to a place where it costs you $25.”
He had some very good food in the French Quarter in New Orleans.
In a lot of ways, this aeronautic adventure to America has been years in the making for Francis. His father flew military jets and as a teen, Francis’ heart was set on doing that too.
“They give you an aptitude test at 17,” he said.
Francis scored well enough to get in the program where he got 20 hours of flight training. But landing a coveted spot flying in the military was very competitive and he did not make the final cut.
He went on to spend about a year and a half in the military.
“I was just a rifleman, not a pilot,” he said.
He worked in medical supply sales in Switzerland before pursuing his dream of flying as a commercial pilot at the age of 32.
The plane he’s been flying in the U.S. is a Piper Archer.
“It’s a great plane,” he said, “probably one of the easiest planes to fly.”
He hopes to one day return to the United States. He dreams of walking at least part if not all of the Pacific Crest Trail.