Saturday, January 19, 2013

Winter Wonderland

Usually at this time of the year, I am getting cabin fever (or the aviation equivalent) because the Weather Gods decide not to play nice and forcefully ground me with wave after wave of low pressure systems.

But this year has been somewhat different. A large high pressure system coming from Eastern Europe extended all the way across western Europe as far as the UK, which meant lots of cold Arctic air, and snow. Lots and lots of snow. The great thing about this type of weather pattern is that when the snow passes, you are left with gin clear days, and a new take one the countryside below....i.e. a Winter Wonderland.

So I decided not to pass up such an opportunity and make the most of it. My buddy, Aleksey, and I arranged with our respective better halves to get a hall pass for the weekend and we headed off to do some winter flying.

"Nippy" was snuggled up in a warm hangar, so there was no need to worry about de-icing, and the moisture levels in the air meant that icing aloft would not be a factor. It was also Aleksey's first time in a small plane, so he was pretty excited to say the least. When we got to the hangar, "Nippy" was buried at the back, so we had to wheel out two other planes before we could free "Nippy" from the hangar. I was also clever enough to have her fuelled after the last time I flew, so I didn't have to waste time at the fuel dump.

A quick pre-flight and safety briefing and we were taxying out to the runway. I offered the take-off to Aleksey, telling him not to worry, I would follow-through on the controls in case anything went wrong. Before we knew it, we were taking off and climbing away over Lelystad (EHLE) heading for Texel (EHTX).

The original idea was to fly over Amsterdam, but given the transponder (TX) is acting up and needs replacing, I knew if it didn't work properly in Amsterdam's Class C, then we'd be either not allowed in in the first place, or in a shit load of trouble if we ventured in there in the first place with a dodgy TX. So I elected we just head straight to Texel for some lunch.

It was pretty quiet in the air, and we were the only aircraft anywhere near Texel when we arrived. I suggested to Aleksey that we do some touch and go's, so he could film it on his iPhone. The nice thing about Texel is that they have a 1000ft circuit, which is normal height used in the UK and US, but for some reason, the rest of the Netherlands uses 700ft, which really mucks up my approaches sometimes. I'm used to certain power and flap settings, and if you are entering a circuit at a lower height, then you need to delay these settings somewhat. But the touch and go's were great practice.

On the last touch and go, I kept "Nippy" in ground effect after we lept into the air and built up the speed to allow me to pull hard and climb vertically. Aleksey was whooping like an excited 5 year-old in the co-pilot seat.

When we landed and went to pay the landing fees, Mike told us that Lelystad was reporting diminished visibility. This meant we would have to skip lunch and get a wiggle on to get back. As we climbed out from Texel and headed back towards Lelystad, I asked Amsterdam Info fpr an update on Lelystad's status. The reply I got wasn't good. They had low cloud ceilings to 500ft and visibility of only 2km's. This is below minimums for me. I took a look at the chart to weigh up my options. Schiphol was open, but after my last visit I wasn't so keen of shelling out a ton of cash, especially if there was a much cheaper option. I asked Amsterdam Info about Hilversum  (EHHV), and they came back with a "CAVOK". Nice one. Hilversum it is.

I've never flown into Hilversum, so trying to figure out where a grass airfield, which is now covered in snow, is relative to the city was a bit of a challenge. I first aimed for the Pampus VOR, and then picked up the TV antenna that dominates the Hilversum skyline. 

When I was near, I dialled up the folks in Hilversum tower and asked if I could join overhead at 1000ft and then let down on the deadside of the airfield so I could avoid conflicting with other planes in the vicinity. The boys seemed OK with that. We spotted the airfield and I started in on the circuit, coming upwind, then joining the downwind leg and reducing power. It wasn't long before we kissed the snow covered grass of Hilversum airfield, with a suitably impressed Aleksey applauding the gentle landing.

The lovely folks in Hilversum's tower helped us verify that Lelystad airport had now closed to all flight operations. That meant we were stuck here. And it's -8C outside, so I was worried about the well-being of "Nippy". But Jerome, the airport manager helped save the day. He knew of a Mooney that had left earlier for it's annual. It would be gone some time and offered to put "Nippy" up in the hangar, FREE OF CHARGE. My word, such wonderful generosity. On top of that, he waived the landing fees because we diverted to Hilversum AND he offered us a lift to the train station. What a gentleman. He was so enamoured with "Nippy" that he said he's even keep me informed if any hangar space becomes available, which would be nice, since it's much closer to home that Lelystad.

We tucked "Nippy" away in her guest digs and then headed for the train. A few days later I was lucky to get another weather window to let me pick "Nippy" up and ferry her back home to Lelystad.

So my first Winter flight in my log book, some new friends made and another experience where I was able to put my training to the test.

I can't wait for Spring :-)

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Free French Charts have just released a website that lets you view French 1:500,000 ICAO charts free online and plan routes on them.

The site includes air force low altitude activity, NOTAMs, visual approach charts, METARs and TAFs, and a whole lot more.

Have fun!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Parasailing With A Difference

I've been trying unsuccessfully to go parasailing here in the Netherlands. The guy who advertised on Groupon constantly cancels the lessons, even when the weather is glorious. Since coming across this video, I think I'll ask for my money back and go do it with these guys instead. This looks like a lot more more.

Oshkosh Dreams

I've always wanted to go to Oshkosh, and I'm hoping that I will be able to make the visit either in 2012 or 2013. For those of you who don't know what Oshkosh is about, then take a look at this wonderfully edited video (filmed and edited by a regular visitor called "Slickhutto") from 2010.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Nippy's Annual Check-up

My good friend Howard flew Nippy over to Texel and delivered her safely into the caring hands of Michael at VOT for her annual. I'm not expecting any surprises, given that a lot of work was performed last year. There's only one minor snag, the battery keeps discharging as a result of a lose connection with the rocker switch that turns it on and off. And I've asked for an additional PTT (push to talk) button to be installed on the P2 control stick, as there is currently only one PTT switch and it's on the P1's stick.

Howard had a beautiful day to ferry her over, I just hope the ferry flight back is not a repeat of last years, with near gale-force winds and low cloud ceilings. Fingers crossed

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Return And Renewal

Entrance to the new GA terminal building at Schiphol
"Nippy" has been living it up at Schiphol this past week. After diverting to Schiphol last weekend on the way back from Bremen, it was time to pick her up and fly her back to Lelystad. When I went to pay the bill, I was expecting to suffer heart failure at the sight of the bill. But thankfully the landing and handling fees were less than I had anticipated, and it turns out it's cheaper to park your plane at Schiphol than your car. Parking fees cost only €1.60 per day, versus the €20+ euro's a day they charge at the long-term parking!! A bargain :-)

The lovely people at KLM Jet Centre whizzed me over in the limousine to where I had parked "Nippy" the previous Sunday. The canopy was full of condensation, so I opened it up completely and began the walk-round. Once the checks were completed,  I settled into the cockpit and got all the charts and paperwork in order and closed up the canopy. This being Schiphol, I was not allowed start up the engine without permission from Schiphol's "Clearance Delivery". So I tuned in to the ATIS for the latest weather update and then checked in with Delivery mentioning that I had the latest weather, was ready for departure and would like permission to start-up. I was hoping they'd be quick about it because the battery on a small GA plane doesn't last very long without the engine turned on. But they replied back quite promptly with start-up permission and I was asked to contact Ground once I had reached a specific taxiway.

"Nippy" parked at the stand in EHAM. Schiphol Tower in the background
"Nippy" started up immediately and I was soon holding at taxiway GL and waiting for permission to taxy to the runway.....runway 22, the same one I landed on the week before. The skies were glorious and I was in my element listening to the Big Iron on the same frequency I was on. Before I knew it I was told to taxy to the holding point of runway 22 and contact Tower when I got there. I was the only airplane using runway 22, so I was cleared for take-off and up in the air in no time at all. The route called for a brisk climb out and then a left turn to intercept the church at Amstelveen. Once over the church, I then need to fly towards the north eastern corner of the lake at Vinkeveen and to report clear of the CTR. I stayed level at 1,000 feet and then when calling clear of Schiphols CTR asked for permission to "resume own nav" and told them I'd change over to Amsterdam Info. 

"Nippy" parked in the morning sun at the GA terminal. KLM ground equipment in the background
The route on the way up was completely uneventful and I was on the ground in about 25 minutes. When I landed, filled up the tanks and called Reuben, my instructor/examiner who I'd planned to meet for my 5 year licence revalidation check-ride. I was a little late, having been held up sorting out the bill in the Jet Centre earlier, so Reuben knew I'd be a wee bit late. When I arrived, he had the coffee on and we sat down for a chat and a prep over todays flights.

Reuben had never flown in the Robin ATL before, so it was something fun for him too. I went through the various speeds, such as the clean stall speed, Vy, Vx, Vs, Vs1 and Best Glide. He told me we'd practiced some PFL's (Practice Forced Landings), some precautionary landings, steep turns, stall recovery and anything else I wanted. We settled into "Nippy" and I ran him through the safety briefing, the speeds once again and the general cockpit layout.

Reuben had me head towards the low flying practice area, which allows us to get down to 100ft of the ground (an instructor has to be on board though) to practice out engine failure drills. The first thing I did was demonstrate an engine failure. I set best glide speed (60 knots) trimmed the plane, looked for a suitable field, ran through the emergency drills, demonstrated a mayday call and aimed to set us up for the filed I elected. Everything went off without a hitch. I was slightly higher than I liked, but I dumped the flaps at the last minute and that sorted out the height issue. Once Reuben was happy, I put the power back in and slowly pulled in the flaps. It was at this point that I noticed that we were lower than the windmills which were right beside us....COOL!!

Next thing we practiced was a precautionary landing. A precautionary landing is a controlled landing which you choose to make as a pilot in the event that you're running low on fuel, there's something up with the engine, you have an ill passenger on board or the weather is turning sour on you. It can be at an airfield, or it can be at a field somewhere. The point of this exercise was the latter. To pick a suitable field, check the condition of the field and see if it's long enough and then set up for a landing once you're happy.

Some of the windmills near the Low Flying Practice Area at Lelystad
So I picked what looked like a nice long field. Reuben had mentioned that when picking a field, it's wise to make sure that there's nothing large at either end that could affect the landing or take-off when you go to leave again. This field had only small shrubs and trees and was so long that they wouldn't be an issue anyway. With a tailwind, I dropped down to 200 feet, throttled back to 60 knots and counted off 20 seconds. That worked out to be about 500 metres long, which is more than enough to get down and fly back out. The condition of the field was also excellent, so we climbed away to 500 feet and did a teardrop turn and counted again with a headwind, and I got up to 28 seconds....wonderful. This time I climbed up and performed a standard circuit and brought us over the field at 100 feet before putting the power back in and climbing out again towards Haarderwijk.

At Harderwijk we practiced steep turns, power-off stalls, approach to stall in full landing config and some slow flight. Reuben then asked what the gliding characteristics of Nippy were and I had to confess that I had not really tried it out much in her. SO he suggested that we climb to 3,000 feet and do a simulated forced landing and aim to land at Lelystad!! Cool. The tailwind would help us out a lot, so I called up Lelystad and asked if they'd be OK with that, which they replied back that they had no problem. 

We both kept an eye out for traffic below us, and there was only one aircraft heading towards the field for landing which would be much quicker than us given they were flying with full power on. I called overhead BRAVO at 3,000 feet and pulled the power off, trimming the plane for 65 knots best glide speed. We seemed to just hang in the air losing very little altitude at all. By the time we'd reached the turn for "Downwind", we were still at 2,500 feet or so!! Rueben started joking that at this rate we could make it all the way to the A6 motorway if we wanted. I was not 100% sure about when I should start the turn for "Base", knowing that as soon as you dump the flaps you start to sink a lot. I made the error of turning a little sooner than I should have, and then tried to compensate and lose height by dumping flaps and side-slipping on Final. In the end I was about 200ft too high over the threshold. I could probably have landed, but it would have been WELL DOWN the runway :-) But it was a very useful lesson....I now have the confidence of gliding Nippy in from a very long distance.

We practiced a few touch and go's, the last one being a test from Reuben to see if I could land where I wanted to land. He picked the spot where taxiway BRAVO meets the runway. So I mastered the speeds and RPM, dumping flaps gradually and floating the plane over the runway, kissing the ground exactly where he asked me to land. This time was even more rewarding because I was not fighting the crosswind with the aileron like I had done earlier. Instead I used the rudder and kept the ailerons neutral just using the elevator to adjust the rate of decent to float her in. 

We taxied back, tucked her in to the hangar and went inside for a debrief and some more coffee.

I'm really pleased with the flight today, and as is always the case when I fly with Reuben, I came out of the cockpit more confident in my own abilities and a wee bit wiser from his excellent tuition and experience.

The paperwork has now been sent off to the CAA in the UK, so I cannot fly solo until I get it back in a few weeks. I just hope that it's raining between now and then and that I'm not tormented by the wonderful Autumnal weather we've had this past month.

Short Wave radio transmitter antennae near Zeewolde

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Bremen And The Brothers Grimm

The weather Gods have been kind to us this weekend. A large high pressure system has sat over Holland and Germany for the last few days pushing the jet-stream north over Denmark and Sweden. Which has meant gin-clear days, perfect for flying, and even better for a last minute day-trip to Bremen.

When I pushed "Nippy" out of the hangar and taxied to the fuel station, I was met by one of the guys from Lelystad tower. He wanted to let me know that the airport closed at 19:00 local and to make sure that I got back in time. I should have known that minute that I was cursed, but I thought nothing of it, told him I'd be leaving with plenty of time to spare and I'd see him later.

M and I jumped in after filling "Nippy's" tanks and we headed off to Bremen, in a more or less direct routing, just south of Hoogeveen airfield, towards the city of Emmen and crossing into Germany direct to Bremen. I was a little nervous about arriving in a large airport that served everything from KLM and Ryanair to little GA flights like mine, but the call I made to Bremen Ops earlier before taking off put me at ease, with the folks telling me I would be "more than welcome".

We had quite a good tailwind on the way over, with "Nippy" clocking up over 100 knots over the ground. Mal sat back, eyes closed and dozed off as I brought us up to FL050 and then throttled back, leaning out mixture and keeping an eye out from any traffic. About an hour into the flight we were asked by ATC to begin our descent and asked which routing into Bremen we'd prefer. I initially told them I wasn't fussy, whichever worked for them, eventually being told to steer towards reporting point WHISKEY. As I pulled back the throttle, Mal woke and asked if we were there yet :-)

As we began our descent, I tuned in to the ATIS at Bremen and found that the runway in use was  09, winds were calm and visibility was excellent. Bremen Info passed me over to Bremen Tower who asked me to report overhead WHISKEY and to then continue inbound following the highway. He told me he would call when I could turn onto baseleg for runway 09. I continued my descent down to 1000ft agl and followed along the highway, spotting the the airport in my 11 o'clock.

Before we knew it we were turning left to join baseleg and then turning onto final. I managed to pull off such a smooth landing that Mal started clapping in approval :-) I called the folks on Ground and they gave us instructions to the GA ramp where we were met by a minibus and driven to the GA terminal. I paid for the landing fees, which amazingly were only €20, given it's an international airport, and returned to the minibus which would drop us off at the exit gates. Exiting the terminal was as simple as walking out the security gates with instructions to return via the same gates when we wanted to flay back home.

A short tram ride later and we were in the city centre. It's a gorgeous little city, with many historical buildings, references to the Brothers Grimm and the old city has a myriad of little narrow streets. There was a small carnival in the main square with lots of Ghluwein, pretzels, beer and all sorts of meat and sausages cooked on big open grills. Our mouths began to water at the first site of the grills. I ordered a bratwurst for myself and Mal had one of those grilled pork sandwiches. As luck would have it, the bar also sold non-alcoholic beer!! Happy days. With the Autumnal sun beating down on us and our bellies warmed from the good German fare, we were ready to explore the city.

I think my favourite part of the city is the Schnoor quarter....very old, very narrow and lots of character. But Mal preferred the Boettcherstrasse, which was more artistic and had a beautiful Glockenspiel playing every hour. But sadly the time whizzed by, as it always done when you're having fun, and we had to make our way back to the airport.

We arrived at the GA security gates and jumped into the minibus which drove us back to "Nippy". And this is when I cocked up royally. I knew I used up just over 1/3 of the fuel on the way over. But I had underestimated the strength of the winds, which had picked up a fair bit since the afternoon. On the climb out, I asked for FL060, which took forever to get up to. And all the while the engine is guzzling fuel and we've not made the German border yet! I looked at the fuel gauges and the stopwatch and I was seriously doubting we'd make it back on the fuel remaining. On top of that, it was starting to get dark...the sun was beginning to make it's descent and turn from an amber orb to a blood red ball as it dipped lower and lower.

I decided that rather than risk landing in a dark field with no fuel, I'd stop off and top up the tanks. So I let the folks know at Dutch Mil that I was diverting to Hoogeveen for fuel. When I landed, I pulled right up to the tanks and waited for what seemed an eternity for the old codgers working there to turn them on. When I finally filled "Nippy" to the brim, I had to wait even longer for him to write out the receipts, which I was happy to not bother with, but was told I needed to wait for. The guy must have been to calligraphy classes or something because he took forever to write them out in the best handwritten script I have even seen. Just as I had lept into the air, Hoogeveen called me to tell me that I would probably not make Lelystad before they closed for the night and I should stay there. Hmmmmmm. According to the GPS I'd make it maybe 2 mins after 7pm, the time EHLE said they'd be closed. I elected to press on and informed Hoogeveen that Amsterdam Schiphol was my designated alternate.

As I rounded the north of the Flevopolder, I called up Lelystad Radio, who curtly told me that if I was not in the circuit in the next three minutes, then I could not land there! I was 7 minutes out at this stage.....I would be four minutes "late" other words, the airport was closed and I was buggered. My pleading fell on deaf ears, and I was told in no uncertain terms that if I insisted on landing at Lelystad after having been told it was closed, then they would be obliged to call the authorities.....i.e. piss off or we'll have your licence.

Message received and understood. I told Mal that we would have to land at Schiphol. I called up Amsterdam Info, told them that I was diverting to Schiphol and would like to land on the GA runway, which is runway 22. Amsterdam Info were more than happy to help me out and passed me over to Schiphol Approach....first time I ever spoke to these guys. Schiphol Approach gave me headings to steer so I could intercept the localiser for runway 22. The approach would have us come in right over the city of Amsterdam. The only problem I had now - and this is the second lesson learned today - was that the light was disappearing and I only had my sunglasses in the cockpit. My normal glasses were in the car at Lelystad. D'oh!!

After following directions from the guys in Approach, I was lined up on a 15NM final for runway 22, fully established on the localiser and asked to switch over to Schiphol Tower. As I flew overhead the centre of Amsterdam, I was cleared to land on runway 22. The landing this time was not so good because of the fact that my dark glasses made it harder to see the surface of the runway, which had no centreline lights. A single bounce and a firm landing later, we were soon off the runway and calling up Schiphol Ground asking for progressive taxi instructions to the GA terminal. It was my first time as a pilot landing in Schiphol and I was not familiar with the airport, as huge as it is. No worries...the GA terminal is right next to the runway we landed on. Before we knew it we were following a "Follow Me" van to our parking stand and shutting "Nippy" down.

We were taken care of by the wonderful people at KLM Jet Centre. But the VIP treatment came with a hefty price. The 4 minutes I was late at Lelystad cost me the guts of €200!! Damn!! Had I refuelled at Bremen, I'd have made it without any issues. But having an alternate such as Schiphol saved the day in the end.

It'll be next weekend before I can move "Nippy" back to Lelystad. Thankfully, parking your plane at Schiphol is a helluva lot cheaper than parking your car. Parking rate for your plane is €1.60 per's more like €20 a day for your car!! I'm just bummed that I have to schlep all the way out to Lelystad to pick up the car now. Oh well, at least I can get my glasses :-)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Lost My Wingman

No, I haven't put him away somewhere safe and now cannot find him, nor (Thank God) is he six feet under, but he is leaving and heading South, to South Africa to be exact.

Ouen and his wife, Wi, are heading home, and their departure is more than just being about losing dear friends, it's about me losing my Wingman.

You see, Ouen and I are kindred spirits....we can wax lyrical about the planes we love, talk shite in the bar afterwards about aviation accidents, lessons learned from our previous flight, which is better....tail or nose-wheel, and about future flights and destinations we'd take together.

Sadly though, those future flights together will have to wait. One of the things Ouen did promise though was his determination to get his PPL when he returns to SA. Which means that when M and I head to SA to visit them, the four of us can putter about the skies and across the vast African bush. I made a promise in return....that when we move down to SA and live in Cape Town, we will buy a share together in this little beauty.

So my wing man is flying solo, 4,800nm South, to where the skies are almost always cerulean blue, and the $100 burgers are always interesting.

Ouen, you were the best Wingman I've ever known, and I'm going to miss you in the cockpit next to me. But I wish you and Wi the very best of luck with your move back home, and I cannot wait to get back in the cockpit with you when we meet up again soon.

Saturday, September 03, 2011

Indian Summer

I had never really understood the phrase "Indian Summer"as a child until a geography teacher explained the weather patterns in India one day at school. That's when the penny dropped and when I understood where the phrase originated. But it still didn't help when I was stuck in a classroom in September, those first few weeks back to school, looking out the window at the sunshine taunting us to come out to play. As a kid I hated Indian Summers, but as an adult, I relish them because it's our last chance to enjoy the last rays of the summer sunshine. The warmth waning as we slip into Autumn and start our longing for Spring to return again.

And with Indian Summers come flying weather. It's been a pretty shitty Summer all-round. According to the Dutch Met Office, it's been the wettest Summer on record since 1906...that's over a hundred years ago!! My goodness. 

The destination for today was Ameland. I had been put off going to Ameland for a while, simply because of the exorbitant landing fee they charge. Not only are they the most expensive GA airfield in the Netherlands, but they also charge a "tourist tax" for every occupant of the plane. As if I don't pay enough taxes in Holland already! But my friend "H" had suggested it a few times before, and this time I agreed, so I plogged a route and loaded it into the GPS.

Ameland is one of the West Frisian islands, situated 15NM North of the Frisian city of Leeuwarden. There's not much to do on the island. It's popular amongst Dutch and German tourists as a holiday spot, and with the wide and varied flora and fauna on the island (around 60 different bird species nest on the island throughout the course of the year), it's a popular spot with nature lovers. Aside from tourism and farming, that's pretty much it. It's about 12NM long and 2.5NL wide at the widest point. It's got a quarter the population as Texel (the largest of the West Frisian islands) and only half the land mass as Texel. 

We were wheels up at 1pm and with two heavy men and full fuel, Nippy was feeling the hurt. We climbed very slowly and I started a shallow 180 degree turn to the North. The routing I had planned was a Northerly course out over the Ijsselmeer, passing east of the town of Urk, and then following the western coast of Friesland to Harlingen. We climbed up to 3,000ft and settled into the cruise, admiring the Frisian countryside. On our way North, "H" spotted a Mig fighter parked in some children's playground in the village of Sexbierum. (You've got to love Frisian names....."sex", "bier" & "rum" :-) LOL. Overhead Harlingen we made a dog leg turn to the North East to join the westerly corridor and then commenced our descent towards Ameland.

There are two "corridors" that they insist on using, so as to not disturb the wildlife in the nature reserves below. And depending on the corridor being used, they have various joining instructions for entering the circuit. Our route, which used the Western Corridor, meant that we should stay above 1,500 over the wetlands and aim to drop to 700 feet (circuit height in Holland) by the time we neared the lighthouse. We would then join the Base Leg for Runway 09 or continue along the back of the island to join the Downwind for 27. Today they were using 27, so I carried on heading East. I asked for a wind-check when I noticed I had to use a lot of right rudder, and was told it was blowing 8-14 knots from 210. Hmmm...a bit of a crosswind

Feeding in flaps gradually, I aimed to pull off a greaser, even with a crosswind, but I was hampered by the really shitty runway conditions. I'm not kidding...there were potholes and chunks missing all along the runway. It was in terrible condition. Not only that, but the taxiways were even worse. The grass was so long, and damp, that I had to use almost full power just to keep us from bogging down. And Nippy's small wheels don't do well in long wet grass either. We eventually came to a halt and parked up next to a visiting C172.

Fish was the menu choice and "H" spotted a restaurant on the beach, fifteen minutes walk from the airfield. But when we arrived, the only "fish-dish" on the menu was a salmon salad. Not exactly pushing the boat out, were they? I mean, what kind of restaurant, situated at the beach on an island does NOT serve fish? I settled for an uitsmijter and reasoned that the BBQ that M and I had planned for later in the evening would fill my belly.

"H" standing next to "Nippy" at Ameland
Tummies full, we walked back to the airfield and made our preparations for the return leg. Seats swapped (I was PNF), "H" taxied out to the threshold and did his best to avoid the multiple rabbit warrens and potholes. Lined up on 27 and after applying full throttle it seemed like an age before "Nippy" started to build up any speed. The long grass was having an effect. When we finally did build up a head of steam, the plane visibly slowed down as we drove through an area of wet mud. I suggested pulling her up into ground effect and build up speed to climb out, which "H" did. As we climbed out over the coast, "H" proffered that we could have done with using some flaps to help counteract the effects of the grass.

What I don't understand though is why an airfield who insists on fleecing you with exorbitant landing fees prefers to line their own pockets rather than investing it into the airfield and facilities. Take Texel for instance. Ed and Mike run a top notch facility there. Both airports have grass fields, but Texel's is as smooth as a billiard table, built on top of lava stone they laid the sod top of to help with drainage. The poor condition of the runway, expensive landing fees and the lack of fish on the menu will mean it'll be a long time before I make a return visit to Ameland.

The return leg was uneventful, up until we were on the inbound leg from BRAVO to join the circuit. The boys in Lelystad tower let us know of a Fokker 50 en route. The F-50 crew would call when they were 2 mins out on long final. So "H" kept the speed us to ensure we would not get caught out in the circuit with a F-50 up our jacksie. He did an excellent job pulling the speed back and dealing with a crosswind, bringing Nippy down for a gentle landing. As we were tucking Nippy back into the hanger, we stopped to admire the F-50 come roaring past us on its way back to the Aviodrome. Her roaring Pratt & Whitneys humming nicely.

"Nippy's next flight will most likely her flying over to Texel for her annual renewal. Is it that time of year again already?

"Nippy" looking "surprised"....the screen's giving the impression of eyes

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Norway Gives You Wings

I've sky-dived several hundred jumps when I was younger, but I have never dabbled in BASE jumping. I reasoned that sky-diving, at the time, was the closet to flying I could afford...average price for a jump in Ireland 15-20 years ago was around £25 (this was before Ireland had the euro of course) a jump.

But these mad Norwegians really show the intensity of what BASE jumping is all about. Hope you enjoy the video.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

New home for "Nippy"

It's been a roller-coaster two months to say the least and no flying in between. In mid-June, right before I was heading off on holidays, I got a phone call from my friend Wouter, the owner/director of Polder Aviation, telling me the sad news that his business had gone belly-up. The old adage of "How do you make a small fortune in aviation? Start off with a big one" finally rang true for him. With a large amount of debts mounting up, he had to close the doors. This had an immediate impact to me because I have been storing "Nippy" there now for over a year.

The added complication was that everything that was on Polder's balance sheet would now be sold-off, including the hangar, and I would have to find a new home. I started looking for hangar space all over Noord Holland. Hilversum has absolutely no space, and to be honest, the two wankers working in the control tower on the day I went there, would put me off even flying into Hilversum. They were extremely unfriendly, and even more so when they heard me speaking in English. I eventually found a new hangar only two doors up from Polder. It was advertised in the local pilot shop and they were more than happy to have us move in.

I collected the keys last weekend from Wouter and moved "Nippy" into her new digs. With Wi-Fi, a pilots lounge and ample parking, it should be a nice new home. 

Sands of Time

With the scramble for a new hangar before our holidays, and then the three weeks off during June-July with work getting in the way the rest of the time, there has been absolutely no time to fly. Mind you, Mother Nature has decided to not bother granting us a Summer in these parts this year. The weather is absolutely SHIT. I'm off travelling again for work next week, so the chances of getting up in the air this Summer slip away as each day passes. I must be honest though....I really do love Summer in the's my favourite day in the year ;-)

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Club Med in the North Sea

I've never known a Spring like it. Practically no cloud or rain to spoil those plans of getting aloft, and a high pressure system just sitting right over the Netherlands for the last two months straight. Sadly the month of May was a busy one for me, what with family commitments and business travel getting in the way. But today a pilot friend and I decided we'd make the most of the weather. Destination for today's mission was Borkum, a small island off Germany's north-western coast. It's the westernmost island that constitutes the East Frisian Islands, and came highly recommended from some other pilot friends of mine as a place to visit.

I scoped out the route the previous night and filed the flight plan to route us North-east to Emmeloord , then continue towards Heerenveen, slippling between Groningen and Leeuwarden's Class "C" routing overhead Drachten airfield and then out over the coast towards Borkum.

Cruising at FL050 above the clouds
I was PIC for the outbound leg, my friend choosing to fly on the way back. The flight-plan I filed had us set to climb to FL050 (5,000ft). But we departed at around midday, so the heat and the midday sun meant "Nippy" was struggling to get up that high. We eventually levelled off 5NM north of Emmeloord and I leaned out the mixture to conserve fuel. There were a few smalll fluffy cumulus clouds which we had no problem climbing over, but as we got closer to the coastline the clouds had disappeared and it was blue skies all the way. I've noticed that once she gets a little higher, "Nippy" is a very smooth girl.

We heard another aircraft, a Grumman AA-5, on the same frequency as us (Dutch Mil Info) who'd departed Texel and was also enroute to Borkum. Seemed like someone else was in the island hopping mood today. I made a comment about our groundspeed being so slow (only 87 knots) due to the headwinds at our altitude and wondered aloud if he'd get there before us. 

At ten minutes out I told Dutch Mil I was switching to the folks in Borkum, and I started my descent. I called up the folks in Borkum as was asked surprisingly if my intentions were to land there!! To which I was then asked if I had filed a flight plan. Seems he never got it, despite being on the recipients list when I filed it the night before.

Borkum lying off to our left

During the descent we looked at the approach plates to try and figure out which runway they'd have us use. The wind was coming from the North-east, so I guessed they'd have us use runway 05, a grass runway approximately 810m long. But instead we were told runway 31 was in use. It's a long and very narrow asphalt runway. Because it's so narrow, you have this optical illusion that you are too high.

On Final for Rwy 31....a long and narrow runway!

With no "circuit" in place to worry about, I routed us over the isthmus that the ferry terminal sits on and set us up on final. But I soon noticed that it was blowing a hooley out there because I was very left of the centreline and crabbing like crazy. We were being bucked about so much that I decided to only use half flaps and decided to land a little fast so I would have more control of the plane on final. A quick kick of the rudder to the left and we were down, albeit a little firmly, and coming to a stop.

We parked "Nippy" right in front of the tower and had the usual gaggle of photographers snapping away at her. On the way in to the apron we noticed another Robin ATL parked up on the long-term visitors area and heard the Grumman had landed too....crikey he must have been going at full pelt! Not long after paying the landing fee, we accosted ourselves a taxi and were heading off to "downtown" Borkum.

Can you see "Nippy's" sister parked up?

The first interesting thing we found was that Borkum has its own railway!! Apparently this railway is free and shuttles people back and forth between the town centre and the ferry terminal. We took a stroll along the seafront and found a nice little place that had Curry Worst on the menu as today's special. Sounded like a plan to me. Sitting in the sunshine, and protected from the wind, you could almost be forgiven for thinking you were somewhere in the Med. Especially with all the Dutch and German accents that surrounded us :-) 

Borkum's railway

Tummies full, we took a short stroll through the small village, then jumped back into a taxi and headed back to the field. It was my turn to play with the camera and help with the navigation. Same runway for take-off, only this time we had to avoid overflying the town. Not a problem....straight out over the beach, left along the coast and head back the way we came. I saw some bloke below us using the winds to his advantage on one of those wind buggy thingies....looked like fun! Must try that myself sometime.

We climbed to FL040 this time, and settled into the cruise. But I had to remind my friend to lean out the mixture and lower the rev's. Once settled into the cruise we chatted about planes and trips we'd made or have yet to make. Soon enough, we were getting closer to the Flevo Polder. I explained how Biddinghuizen has a lot of gliding activity, and the best way to avoid it is to fly along the eastern side of the polder over the water and then turn into "BRAVO". My friend is still new to flying out of Lelystad, so it was also a good opportunity to show him some of the landmarks I use when trying to get my bearings.

Sand flats between the coast and the islands

We dropped lower so as to avoid busting Schiphol's Class "A" TMA and said our goodbyes to Dutch Mil...the radios in Lelystad were surprisingly quiet. Pre-landing checklists done, we were just turning downwind when a pilot came on the radio asking if he could make a straight-in approach as he had two sick passengers....I'm guessing they were suffering from motion sickness. We had no idea how far out he was, so it was decided to do a Spitfire approach....a short downwind, and a continuous turn onto Final.

Drachten Airfield...not sure I'd like to have an engine failure if I was using Rwy 26!!
Flaps were set to full, and the wind was blowing hard again. It was straight down the runway this time, but it was gusting a fair bit. But the wheels kissed the Earth very gently and we exited the runway fairly lively. I think I would like to try the islands of Juist and Nordeney next time. Would be nice to have all the islands in the logbook, don't you think?

Monday, April 25, 2011

The magic that is Holland in the Spring

It's been a busy few days this past week. I've not flown this much in such a short space of time since flight school!! This is the time of year that Holland looks her best, and especially when viewing Mother Natures majesty from above. It's as though she has cast her wand over this wind swept flat land and turned it into a carpet of colour, each one individually exquisite. But the life of a Dutch tulip is short lived because man soon comes along to chop it's pretty little head off. 

For those of you who are aghast at this inhumane treatment of the poor defenceless tulip, fear not. It's because of the decapitation that the plant can put its energies into making the bulb grow fatter, rather than spending it on the high maintenance energy hungry flower. And the tulips growing in the fields will be harvested and sold to you and I so we can grow them and enjoy them in our own gardens.

But today was all about admiring their beauty from above. It's one thing to cast your eye across a tulip field from the ground, and quite another to see them from the air. And I had the pleasure of doing this pretty much all weekend long. I took a colleague up in Nippy first. He's new to flying in light aircraft, but had dabbled on Flight Sim before, so he had an idea of the basics. I let him steer us over towards Amsterdam whilst I negotiated with the boys at Schiphol Tower to let us into the Amsterdam sector for a spot of "I can see my hotel from here" before moving on to the delicate procedure of passing overhead Schiphol itself en-route to Lisse.

The negotiations successfully concluded, we carried out a few orbits of the city and then headed over towards Schiphol. I was asked to fly towards the threshold of runway 24 (I assume to avoid runway 18C which was being used by landing traffic, and therefore to keep clear of them in the event that they boltered and carried out a missed approach) and to wait for their call for heading change. Eventually the call came to route direct Lisse which meant I managed to fly right over my house :-) Yes, I let out a "I can see my house from here" to my colleague sat next to me :-)

By the time we arrived on station over Lisse, my colleague was struck in awe. I heard lots of "wow" and "amazing" in between his clicking away at the camera. Schiphol asked me to keep clear of their airspace as the lunchtime rush was now in full effect. So that meant routing North along the coast and across the Noord Holland peninsula back to Lelystad. The fun bit was mixing it up with the big iron which were about 1000ft above us descending into Schiphol.

The next flight was Easter Monday. A new photographer had found this very blog and the photo's from last year and asked me if I could take him up on Easter Monday. He was driving up from Belgium with another friend of his, so I booked a C172 for the mission and agreed on a time. That time came and went sadly, due to a Numpty who was late leaving, then went to the wrong fuel dump to refuel and decided to eat into MY booked flying time just because he was late and got lost of the airfield. I was allowed extend my flight by 30mins to make up for the time I lost, so without haste we were off.

A call to Curtis, my photographer friend from the US and the man in the know when it comes to all things tulips told me the night before to avoid Lisse and head for Anna Paulowna and Julianasdorp...."Clay it's wall to wall tulips there all the way to the coast" he told me in his inimitable Louisiana accent. Well, that would certainly avoid the Schiphol CTR headaches, on the other hand, I still have a military airbase to contend with. I called them up the day before and was told it shouldn't be a problem.

The GPS decided right before our flight to run out of power, and as luck would have it, the 172 I was flying had not cigarette power adaptor. So I was going to have to do this the old fashioned way....VOR beacon and the Mark 1 eyeball to figure out where I was.

We were soon overhead Venhuizen and Normann was giving me directions on where he wanted to go. This meant of course that the navigation was going to be a challenge. I not only had to know where I was in relation to De Kooy's class CHARLIE airspace, but I knew of a gliding club and an ultralight airfield all within close proximity to each other and where I was currently at. Damn you GPS!!!

Once I was happy we were clear and safe from traffic, I dropped down to 700ft and slowed down to about 70-80kts. The boys opened the windows up to stick out their lenses and began snapping away feverishly. Their tulip field fix being met :-) I gave Dutch Mil a call to let them know I wanted to enter De Kooy's control zone. We stayed south of the airport and remained in and around the areas of Schagen and Anna Paulowna.

With the boys happy and their cameras full to bursting with Mother Natures splendour on show, we climb back up to 1,200ft and powered up to 110kts for the flight back to Lelystad. Curtis, was right on the money. And the season's not over yet!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

In a fix, Squawk 76

We're level at 1,000ft just past Hoofddorp and I'm setting the plane up for low and slow flight overhead Lisse....when it happens. The radios made a "plink!" noise and they're all dead. The transponder was still working, so I dial in 7600 to let ATC know that I have no radios.

I'm in a bit of a bind now because today's mission was to take the Internal Auditors who were over from the U.S. auditing my company up to see the beauty of the tulip fields from the air. But now I'm right on the fringes of Schiphol's CTR with no radios.....and now no Transponder....that's just gone and died too.

OK, first things's first.....I need to get us out of Dodge and quickly. Once clear we head west to the coastline. I'm going to have to take the long way round to get back. Even if the radios come back alive, I doubt that Schiphol Tower will let me back in in case they died again, and I also don't trust them to stay alive. I have full fuel tanks so it's a no brainer to decide on the safest route along the coast and cut across the north end of Schiphol's approach.

Much earlier, I was thinking about the last time I transitioned from "Nippy" to a Cessna 172. I remember the senstation that the Cessna was like flying a truck with wings when comparing it to "Nippy". But amazingly this particular C172 is VERY light on the controls. Not sure which version it is, but looking at the log book she's an old bird....almost 10,000 hours logged on her. But she's it great shape and well looked after.

I've checked all the fuses, nothing has blown or tripped, I have no "low voltage" warning light and all the fuel gauges and giros are it's not an electrics problem. It's isolated to the avionics. This particular C172 has the Garmin GNS 430, which means that the GPS and radios are coupled. It has a spare back-up radio, but neither of them are working. OK....I'll try recycing the avionics.....nope, still nothing. OK, nevermind.

We're abeam Ijmuiden and I can see the steelmill below me to the right. A quick look at the chart and I could zip under Schiphol's CTR here are 1,000ft....the base of the Class "C" is 1,200. But I opt to continue north a wee bit further until I'm well clear. Since the transponder doesn't work, I do not want to risk tangling with a 737 on finals for Schiphol.

Since most pilots are stubborn and never give up, I continue to recycle the avionics....and eventually my stubborness pays off....first the transponder returns to life, followed by the navigation instruments and the the Garmin and back-up radio......PHEW!!

Amsterdam Info informs me they can hear me loud and clear and they welcome me back. They must have seen me on their primary radar the whole time, but the voice of a familiar controller is music to my ears. I explained to her what had happened and told her I was routing to Lelystad.

Passing south of the field, I called overhead "BRAVO" and set us up for the circuit. My head has the power and speed settings for the 172 instructor would quiz me on the speeds every morning when he picked me up for flight lessons. So it was a matter of slotting into the circuit and pulling off a smooth landing. Sadly, the landing was a little laboured, and we hit with a bit of a bump....I just hope that's not reflected in the results of the audit :-)

Monday, March 28, 2011

Transair....they're not always greedy buggers

It's a pretty widely accepted opinion amongst the piloting community in the UK and Ireland, and to some extent those on the continent, that if you're ever going to buy anything that's aviation oriented, then you should steer clear of Transair, based in the UK.

My own experiences have not been negative, and on the few occasions I happened to buy something it arrived on time and at a reasonable price. However, that was limited to about two or possibly three instances. The rest of the time I would either buy when I was in the U.S. or buy online (ebay, Sporty's etc) and then either have it shipped direct (it it was under the Customs threshold) or brought over by a visiting work colleague. And failing the US option, there was also "The Pilot Shop" for charts etc based at Lelystad airport.

That is until recently however. The EPIRB/PLB that I had for the Robin ATL had suddenly sprouted legs and walked. It's location is to date still unknown and given there is a legal requirement to carry on onboard at all times, I had to replace on pronto.

I carried out the usual scouting around in the U.S. first, then took a look at "The Pilot Shop" and then finally looked at Transair's online store. Long story short, by the time I factored in the shipping and import costs from the U.S., Transair was by far the cheapest place to buy it. I was surprised at first, so I went to compare some other items, and found that they were also equally priced compared to the shipping from U.S. option and better priced than TPS. This isn't the case on all items of course, TPS is cheaper on certain products they carry.

I guess the whole point of me writing this is to advise my fellow pilots to take the time to shop around. Flying is already an expensive hobby, and reputations precede some organisations, but they're not always true.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Bloggers Fly-in

We're level at 1,200ft overhead Enkhuizen and the warm and fuzzy meter is well into the green. Ouen is at the controls and doing a very nice job at keeping "Nippy" straight and level, tracking course nicely and listening to me explaining the FREDA check (Fuel, Radio's, Engine, Direction, Altitude). This is a check I was taught, and continue to use today, whenever I'm doing a cross-country flight. 

We're on our way over to Texel to meet some fellow flying bloggers for one of the twice annual get togethers they organise. This is the first time I've been able to attend myself, with either the weather or life getting in the way, so I'm looking forward to it.

The weather has already started to brighten up, with the sun poking through a layer of haze. Ouen was quizzed by his wife before leaving because it was drizzling when I picked him up in the morning. But the TAF's for the day matched the weather picture we saw on the trip up to the airfield.

Ouen is sitting in the P2 seat, and he's jabbering on about how he cannot feel the rudder. In his opinion, the rudder is very light and non-responsive. But I keep reminding him that he's not yet got the feeling, and that given time, he'll figure it out. I was the same in the beginning and the important thing to check is the ball in the Slip Indicator.

His take-off was good, keeping centred on the centreline and he applied constant and steady back pressure to help get us airborne. But he started tracking right of the runway, which I had to help with some application of rudder, so I'm not surprised about his comments on the rudder...he's just not gotten used to it yet.

On the way over the water to Enkhuizen I asked Ouen the "what if.." question my instructors asked me ALL the time. "What of the engine quit right now, what would you do". He's a quick learner, because he said he'd set-up for best glide speed (which he remembered from our last flight), aim towards the dike (the Houtribdijk) and then try and land. So I expanded on that and said once he'd set-up for best glide, his next priority should be to look for a field, then run through the "Engine Out" checks, and while doping that to get out a Mayday call.

We were doing quite nicely as went "Feet Wet" past Enkhuizen on the next water section towards the Afsluitdijk on our way to Texel. I'd been walking through the idiosyncrasies of getting the plane trimmed. Using the simple acronym of PAT (Power, Attitude, Trim) Ouen was beginning to get the hang of applying small gentle inputs to the controls to feel-out the plane, letting her settle and then adjusting the trim wheel.

The fun, speed and flurry of checks soon arrived when we begin our Pre-Landing checklist. runway 04 is in use today, which means after the reporting point ALPHA we'll need to avoid the town of Oosterend keeping it on our left to join the DOWNWIND leg halfway. I asked Ouen to feel me through on the controls for this landing so he can get a feel for the control inputs. By the time we turn final, I'm still a little too high. So I explained to Ouen that I'll side-slip to lose some height and then put in the last few stages of flaps once I know I can make the field.

When we landed, Ouen remarked on how impressed he was at how quickly we had lost the excess height and were still able to pull off a very gentle landing. So I explained the aerodynamic principles to him over lunch. Our fellow bloggers arrived and we had a lot of fun chatting with them and exchanging stories, but time was ticking and we both had to be back in Amsterdam by early evening.

I taxied the plane to the run-up area and Ouen handled the take-off. When he got her airborne I said "My Plane" and kept her in ground effect until the speed built up to 90kts, and then I said "watch this" and pulled straight up at about 60 degrees. The speed dropped as we climbed altitude and when we were at 65kts I said "Your Plane" and he continued the climb-out....albeit a little giddily :-)

On the cruise across to Lelystad Ouen had pretty much mastered keeping "Nippy" trimmed and was doing his FREDA checks every fifteen minutes or so. There was the funny moment though when he confessed that he was using a sailing boat as a reference point to try and determine the wind effect....we both let out a chuckle.

This time I am quite happy to let him set "Nippy" up for the approach and see how he handles it...maybe he'll get a landing today. He takes her nice and steady to BRAVO, turns inbound and gets the "Pre-Landing" chacks out of the way. I show him the reference points for turning DOWNWIND, and explain the power-settings he needs to set when abeam the threshold and again for turning onto BASE. We start descending a little when we turn BASE and adjust the power again for FINAL. We're a little high, not much, but when I said "Throttle to FULL idle, we're a little high" he said maybe "you should do this one? Your plane". So I slipped a little and got the speed right back. I was teaching Ouen to aim for a specific point on the runway (the threshold, the numbers etc) and try to keep that spot in place on the windshield during the entire descent and to aim passing the threshold with 60kts and ready to flare. I landed on the numbers and slowed us down all within 180 metres. I still think that Ouen could have managed his first landing. Maybe our next trip will be across the border and we can do some touch and go's so he can pop his "landing" cherry :-)

All in all a really great day....we met some nice fellow pilots, enjoyed some gorgeous Texel sunshine and had a very good training session. 

And I'm looking forward to the tulip fields returning to their full splendour in a week or two :-)