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 :-)

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