Sunday, December 17, 2006

Pendair's first passenger flight

Yesterday morning brought with it grey clouds and that sinking feeling that my planned bimble around Amsterdam and up to Texel was not going to happen today.

Last week I had asked some friends if they wanted to join me in a trip up to Texel for a spot of lunch. Ever since I read stories of the "$100 hamburger" in the flying magazines I religiously bought before I ever GOT my wings, I wanted one of the first things I did after getting my wings to be a bimble somewhere nice for a spot of lunch. So I put the feelers out with some friends who said they'd be willing to risk life an limb for said burger and told them I'd take them somewhere exotic for lunch this Saturday. However Mother Nature, that fickle nemesis of most GA pilots had other ideas. Sometimes I think she does it on purpose.

I plogged (slang Matt and I use for Plotting/Logging) the route on Thursday night and then set about praying to the weather Gods as I had done the week before for my club check-out ride.

I religiously looked the the weather daily, trying to figure out what the clouds and rain were doing. There was a large band of cloud lying right across Europe lying NE/SW and it was slowly moving Eastwards. The forecasters were predicting it to sit right over Holland on Saturday. So I prayed for some wind to push it past us quickly. And it looks like my prayers were answered. At 9am I woke up and headed immediately to the PC and checked the satellite images and forecasts. The speed the rain was moving on the radar looked like we were still on. By the time we would leave it would have passed over us.

So my friend Lucy and I set off for the airport to meet Ian and Sofia there at around 1pm. The rain had stopped and we grabbed a coffee whilst I completed the weight and balance load sheet. As we finished the coffee, peeking off in the distant was some sunshine, teasing us to come folly in the sunshine rays. That was enough for me.....I needed to fly and now was as good a time as any.

I briefed the gang on emergencies, how to open the door and use the belts. The girls decided that they'd swap turns sitting in the co-pilot seat and will the plane fuelled and ready to go we started her up. My steed for today was Polder Aviation's PH-PJL.....I'm gonna call her "Me Julie". A quick chat to the tower in Lelystad, taxy to the active and away we went. The cloud was a wee bit low....scattered at 2000ft and we flew through a tiny rain show on our way South to the medieval city of Naarden. It's an old fortified city with the moats and things clearly visible. Lucy brought her camera and took some great photo's. We circled the city for a while and headed East.

I was hoping to get a sightseeing trip over Amsterdam but with the weather being the way it was I wasn't optimistic. But with my best Top Gun "radio voice" I called the folks in Schiphol tower, passed my details and was asked to standby. So we circled over the Ijsselmeer for a minute or two. Then they came back and said "PH-PJL is cleared to enter the CTR overhead the VFR Sector not above 1000ft on the QNH 1019, be advised VFR traffic in the area". I repeated the clearance and I told the gang that we were going in.
I made my way in via the water and aimed for the Centraal Station. On our way in I saw the other airplane leaving the sector and ATC told me that a police helicopter would be in the area too. I asked the guys to keep an eye out for other aircraft. Since I was not allowed above 1000ft I ended up having to overfly the city at around 800ft-1000ft. It's amazing to see just exactly how close you fly to tall buildings and churches. After a while I heard Ian shouting "I can see my apartment....right down there". I chuckled to myself and asked if they were ready to leave. We had orbited the city for about 15mins and I was keen to continue to Texel. They replied "Yes" and I informed ATC we were exiting to the North. They asked me to report clear and off we went.

The wind on the way up was stronger than forecast so I had to correct for it on the way up. I asked Amsterdam Info if I could switch to Den Helder Approach and I got the latest weather for Texel (beautiful day with sunshine and 10km's visibility) from them. The also told me there was parachuting going on in Texel, so that was another thing to watch out for. Now....this is where it got tricky. This is the first airport I have had to find on my own without ever having visited it before. Yeah, sure, I have been to other airfields solo, but we went there the previous day or two with my instructor Kevin, but this was brand new.....a grass airfield, with parachutists falling from the sky and a minimum approach height of 1500ft. Eventually I saw what looked like the airfield, gave them my position and was told it was a right hand circuit for runway 04. I slowed the plane down, deployed flaps (followed by a "What was that noise" from Ian in the back) and brought us in on final. Lucy was busy snapping away with the camera and I was concentrating like mad. Texel radio told me the grass was wet so not to brake.....wonderful!

The approach went well, but with four people in the back, I wasn't used to how sloppy "Me Julie" was at lower speeds, and the sink rate was a wee bit faster. But there was also a crosswind blowing 90 degrees to my left. I don't know which one was making me cock-up the landing but I flared a little bit too high and porpoised a little bit, but it was a softish landing. The gang thought I did great, but I wasn't happy about it. We taxied back to the control tower and I paid the landing fee. Since we were pushed for time, we would have to skip the $100 hamburger on this trip, because I needed to get the plane back shortly.

A quick co-pilot change, this time with Sofia in the front and everyone ready for the trip home we started "Me Julie" up and took off again. I had to do a soft field take-off because the runway was wet. I LOVE doing lift the nose off during the take-off roll....then keep the plane in ground effect and build up speed....and then you shoot skyward and let the speed bleed off a bit. That started Ian and I off then on a whole Top Gun pa lava....."Jester's dead....yeehaw" or "Your writing cheques your body can't cash" and so on and so on.

We headed across the water back home towards Lelystad. We followed the route along the dijk and headed straight for the city of Lelystad. I'm amazed by the sheer size of the antenna's here....especially being so close to the airfield. But I could see the azure blue from the KLM B-737 static exhibit at the Air Museum at our airfield and called Lelystad Radio. The guys must have been having a bad day because all day long they sounded grumpy....reminds me of one guy in Gillespie, San Diego :-) I joined the circuit, slowed us down and set us up for an absolute greaser of a landing. I was definitely proud of THAT landing. We taxied back, shut her down and exited with Cheshire cat grins on each of our faces.

"Where to next?" I hear you ask....well the folks at Polder told the gang about an airfield in the German islands that is 200m walking distance from the beach. I guess that's Summer sorted out then :-)

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Back in the saddle

Wow....what a difference a week makes. Last week it was torrential rain, 45kt gusting wind and visability of only 1km. But today the weather Gods were smiling on me. I had re-booked my check-out flight at Polder Aviation for today and I was worried that the weather would be more of the same. But a check at the weather sites showed that Saturday would be hot and miss and Sunday was sure to be a good one. And Lo and Behold....they were RIGHT!!! :-)

I have been studying the flight manual for the C150 like mad all this week. Revising the emergency drills and memorising the V-speeds. But one of the things that has had me worried all week is my performance during emergency drills like engine failure or the engine out gliding approach. I arrived at the airport with plenty of time before take off and met Rubden, my instructor for the day. This was my first time in the C150, and the plan behind it is that when I want a quick and cheap bimble, then I'll rent the C150, and when I want to take friends for a spin, then I'll take the bigger C172. Since I learned on the C172, they figured if I did well on the C150 then they'd sign me off on both.

Ruben took me out to the my steed for the day...PH-HIL (I've nicknamed her Hilena) and I did the walkround. The C150 is definately more snug than the C172....or as we say in's GEZELLIG. There's not much room from each other and the seats only adjust back and forth. But in I got, settled on my belt and got used to the layout. The panel is pretty much the same, although the engine instruments are way over to the right in front of the P2. And the flaps are annoying. It's a switch that you have to hold until the required flaps arrive where you want them. Not like the 172 which you just select and forget. AND the flap indicator is in the most awkward the frame near the door on the P1 position, which makes it hard to spot. That said, we started her up (having to prime her a good bit first) and then taxied out.

Lelystad is a new concept to me.....a busy uncontrolled airfield. I've been spoilt with having ATC at the fields I flew in in the States. So it was a bit weird having all this traffic doing what they were doing on their own bat. But I wasn't really daunted. We lined up and took off and departed to the West heading over towards the Ijsselmeer. We then tracked NE along the coast of the Flevo polder (this is all reclaimed land from the sea done in the 1950's) and climbed up to 2000ft into the class D airspace. Ruben then asked if I wanted to do some steep turns to get a feel for the airplane. So I did, starting with one to the right and then one to the left. I noticed that very little power was needed given it's so cold here. In San Diego I needed to belt in the power to maintain height, but because the engine is more efficient in the colder weather it maintains height at almost the same power setting as the cruise. We then headed SE and I did some engine failure practices and a PFL (Practiced Forced Landing) and had to halt the descent at 500ft so as not to break the law. Climbing back up to 1000ft, Ruben then pointed out some useful landmarks to use when transitioning to and from the airpot and also the gliding strip which I need to know about in order to avoid it.

We approached the airfield and descended to 700ft agl (standard circuit in Holland) and went for VRP Sierra which is the approach point for joining the circuit. But some clown in a PA-28 also wanted to aim for Sierra. He drifted about 200 metres off my left wing and I turned tight to join the downwind leg. I kept my speed up as someone was flying quite wide circuits and when I turned left for base leg, there was the idiot in the PA-28 again, off my left wing, also at 700ft and buzzing in front of me. It looked as though he was going to cut me up on the circuit and Ruben was going nuts. But eventually he kept flying past the turn for finals as though he was carrying on to the west. We called "Finals" and I did a flapless landing.

The first landing was quite good (for someone out of the saddle for 2 months) and we powered up and did another circuit. This time it was a full flap landing. Not so good this time and I was getting used to the strong wind in the crosswind leg. The nose attitudein the 150 is different than that of the 172 also. It's more nose up than the flatter approach of the 172. A roughish landing and off again. This time the next one was better and we decided to do a glide approach. But someone was flying wide circuits ahead of us and so we had to improvise a little. The same idiot who was flying wide circuits was also using up the ENTIRE runway when he landed. The runway is 1200m long, and there's no way he needs that much. We did a go around and tried again. This time we had an empty circuit and I executed a fairly good glide approach. Finally we did one more landing, a normal one. Everything was looking OK, but on final, the speed started to drop rapidly. So I had to lower the nose down a lot....but then the ground was coming up fast, so I flared.....a little too early, and I heard the stall warning as the wheels kissed the ground. We called it a day and Ruben said he was happy with my flying.

So that's it.....I'm signed off to use Polder's planes and have now flown in de land of dose crazshy Dutch. Hopefully next weekend will be good weatherwise too so I can finally take my friends up for a spin. Keeping my fingers and toes crossed.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

I miss the California sun

This weekend was supposed to be a fun weekend. I had booked a flight with an instructor this weekend to find out more about the local flying area and to get checked out on the C150. It's a smaller plane than the C172 I trained on, and consequently it costs less to rent. The idea behind it was that should I want to go flying on my own, just to keep current, then I could rent the C150 and then when I need the bigger C172 to take friends up, I just rent one of those. Sadly though, Mother Nature took it upon herself to bugger up the weather. Outside it's grey (albeit high cumulus clouds) with intermittent light rain and gusts up to 45kts!!! The rain and clouds are doable.....but the gusts meant that its bumpy and turbulent both int he air and near the surface. So after scheduling for Saturday and then re-scheduling for Sunday, I've had to scrub both flights completely. Hopefully next weekend will be better, but I have a feeling that I'm going to be saying that alot over the coming months.

Roll on Summer sunshine.....

Road trip with a difference

Well after several weeks trying to settle on what we were going to do, where to do it and when, Matt and I have now finalised our next big adventure. We're going to learn how to do aerobatics. Well, actually, I am and Matt i still trying to decide on whether he'll do the aerobatics course or the Unusual Attitudes course. The aeros course is what it says on the box...learning how to do aerobatics like those nutters you see at the air shows. But the Unusual Attitudes course is more of an extra bag of tricks to get yourself out of those hairy situations. Both courses are apparantly similar with a slightly different emphasis on certain things on each course. We'll do the course in a school that was both found individually by Matt and then also came recommended seperately by my friend John in San Diego. It's called Unusual Attitude in Livermore, California.

The course is 8 hours long, and the plan is for us to complete the course in the first week (in the first few days) and then for the 2nd week to rent a plane and go on a road trip, or in our case, an air trip. We've settled on trips around the Bay Area in San Francisco, to Lake Tahoe, the Mojave airport where the aircraft graveyard is, and also a trip to San Diego to visit our old school in Gillespie. We've let John and Janis know about the trip, so we'll try and meet up with them either in San Diego or arrange a "fly-in" somewhere else and have dinner with them. I think a trip to either Reno, Vegas or Oregon to see the volcanoes is also on the cards.

The only thing now we need to sort out is accomodation. We'll probably settle for B&B's....something cheap, cheerful and comfy and vary where we stay when we're doing the air trip, and choose a place for the week we'll be in Livermore. And the best part is that I managed to get Matt and I biz class tickets with KLM there and back. So we'll be flying in comfort and style going there ;-) I cannot wait.

There's a bit of paperwork involved. We need to get our JAA licences endorsed by the US FAA...which means sending a form to the CAA to allow them release our details to the FAA, then sending a form to the FAA asking for a US licence and then dropping into the FAA's FSDO office in Oakland to get our FAA licences. We already have our medicals, so that's not a problem. And we can get the FAA thing when we arrive in San Francisco. I cannot wait. This will certainly get me through the Winter months.

Another development is that I will be shortly moving to Ukraine with Cisco. I'll be the new controller (actually the first controller) for the Ukraine/CIS region. I am trying to find out if my JAA licence is valid in Ukraine, but you can imagine the problems I'm having trying to get them to answer etc. But hopefully it will all work out. And there's a guy in the office who flys a Yak!!! It's aerobatics rated, which means that I can borrow it and chuck it around the sky when the mood takes me :-) Keep your fingers crossed that it all works out.

That's it for now.