Sunday, August 10, 2008

Home Sweet Home

Well, the last 24 hours have been eventful to say the least. My electrics problems resulting in full comms and TX failure meant I had to do an emergency landing at the old RAF Bruggen base, which is now an Army base for 16 Signals Rgmt.

When I landed, one of the first people I met, and as luck would have it, probably the most useful person on the base to have met insofar as a) he was the base's electrician and knows EVERYTHING about electrics, and b) he's known by everyone on base so was able to sort me out for hanger space and getting back into the base, was Sergeant Milliken, or "Spike" as he liked to be called.

Spike was out walking his dogs on the base when I should up and landed on the runway last night. As I taxied up to the apron, I was a little apprehensive having just landed on a military site. I had visions of armed guards with rifles and the rest of it. But then a smile crept on my face, because all the parked vehicles sat next to me on the apron had Union Jacks painted on them. I thought to myself that if anywhere on God's green Earth, this was probably the best place because for starters, everyone would speak English, and secondly, there's no better bunch of lads to help sort out a problem than those in HM Armed Forces.

Straight from the off, Spike helped sort out security, hanger space for the plane and even got a spare battery to try and recharge mine. We settled on the idea of finding me a hotel for the night and dealing with it the next morning because it was getting late and I wouldn't be allowed fly at night in Holland (no night VFR in Holland!!) even if we did get F-NP up and running.

Luck was starting to shine on me at this stage. I got the last room in the hotel, and the staff were wonderful. It's funny, but the base is only a few hundred metres from the Dutch-German border in Germany...but the hotel is just inside the Dutch border. And the amazing thing is, is that the Dutch are most decidedly Dutch. I'd have thought there would be some sort of cultural cross-over with them being so close to the Germans...but NEE!! They are Dutch and proud, and it was great being able to speak Dutch (my second language) rather than German all the time. A few beers later and I was off to bed for a well earned rest.

The next morning, Spike came to pick me up at the hotel. This guy just kept going over and above the call of duty. We fiddled with the cockpit and took out the battery. We plugged in a different one to see if that helped. Everything showed up as dead as a door nail on the cockpit instruments. After a while we plugged in car jumper leads to try and see if that worked. We kind of jump started the battery by turning over the car engine and having the engine recharge the battery. It took ages though, and when we reckoned it was OK, we tried turning over the plane's engine. Nothing doing.

Eventually, Spike suggested taking my battery to his workshop and testing it. If it was a good battery, he had something that could power the battery up. So off we went. All the tests proved the battery was sound, just out of charged, so he hooked it up to his charger and we left if for a while. And we went to get some grub. Over lunch, I was trying to figure out a route back home. I showed Spike my problem about crossing class C airspace without a radio and would have to fly the long way round.

After lunch, luck was again on my side. Wouter rang to tell me the weather was clearing in the west and that Holland had blue skies, but strong winds. Germany was also easing rain, scattered clouds at 1,500-2,000 ft and clearing. We also had a fully charged battery and were off to go test it in the plane. A few minutes fiddling with the screws to screw it back in and we were ready to try and turn over the engine. Wouter reasoned that as soon as the engine started, the magneto would keep the engine alive even if the battery failed. So I was able to get home radioless if need be. We filled the tanks up with fuel, and I tried turning her over. In my haste, the first time I tried firing her up, I completely forgot to put the mixture rich....D'oh. But I copped it and when I put mixture rich, she started without any problems.

Mission control, we are T -10 minutes and counting.

I rang Marina to tell her I was off (she was worrying) and I filed the flight plan. It was a bit weird telling then that the departure airfield has no ICAO code 'cause it was a disused RAF base and I had an emergency landing the night before, but the guy on the phone was OK with that. Only things to organise were the security guys to give the runway a once over, and I needed to use the loo. Here's were it gets funny.

The hanger loos had no loo the guys brought me up in the back of a army Defender Landrover (always wanted to do that) to the fire station so I could use there loo. The fire station is run by Germans....who have instructions pinned to the toilet wall telling you the right and the wrong way to take a shit....I knew the Germans were anal, but this is unbelievable. Here's the pic to prove it.

Pilot's weight lightened and duly relieved I was ready for the off. Driven back down to the aircraft and strapped myself in. F-NP started up first time and I was then shown how to get back to the runway from the apron.

I gave Spike a quick wave and salute to show my appreciation for everything he did and took off. I did a quick orbit, flew low and rocked the wings to say good bye. Was kinda cool flying low in front of Spikes car like that. But then I had more pressing matters....the route home and the opening of my flight plan.

I called up Dutch Mil Info, but they either didn't hear me or were busy. So I called Langen Info, and they told me to contact Dutch Mil....fucking Germans!! Tried Dutch Mil again and they heard me and opened the flight plan for me. The route of choice was directly North as far as Apeldoorn, and then head NW to Lelystad. Only problem with that was there was one small stub of Class C ahead of me for Niederrein airport (now being used by Ryanair and sold as Dusseldorf, which is about 80km's from Dusseldorf!!) and I needed a working radio to cross Niederrein. But so far, the radio was working and I decided I'd give it a go. And hey presto, clearance received. I passed right over the top and was making good progress. But for one thing. The cloud base was low and wet, with a few showers hitting the canopy. I knew that carb icing was a very real risk, so I kept testing the carb heat. When I would notice the RPM drop and then rise again, I knew I was in icing conditions. So I kept the carb heat on for a significant time during the flight. When I would test again by putting the carb heat off, the engine would cough and splutter, so I put it straight back on again.

Soon I was overhead Apeldoorn and things were brightening up, on all aspects. The shitty weather was behind me, the fuel situation was good and the radios were still working fine. In fact, during the last 15 mins of the flight, it looked as though the alternator had actually been charging the plane. So I'm really stumped about the incident last night.

But the annoying bit was the forest between Apeldoorn and the Flevo Polder. As far as Apeldoorn there were rivers, railways, towns, lots of useful stuff to navigate by. But now with the strengthening winds (and quartering headwinds) it made it difficult to navigate. Fortunately though there were two bloody great big aerials shown on the map and which I found and I used them to navigate by. Soon enough, I was back in familiar territory and readying myself for the last and final leg.

Lots of fuel still in the tanks....good, electrics still working for radio contact with Lelystad tower....good, and I was not lost, which is also good. I readied everything for the approach and followed another plane into the circuit. I saw that the winds were so strong, he was barely moving when on finals. And I really had to crab in the base leg of the approach, but I was on finals before I knew it and seconds from the runway. A small flare and gentle bounce and I was home, safe and sound.

Wouter came out to greet me and I gave the Earth and gentle kiss. It was good to be home.

We tucked up F-NP in the hanger for a well deserved rest and I went to regale my story to Wouter. This has truly been an adventure, and the memories I will cherish. Lastly, without the help and support of truly wonderful people (Spike, Matt, Wouter) I would've be taking the train home tonight. Again, thank you all for your help and I hope to be able to take you up in F-NP in the near future.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Collecting the pland and the ensuing Emergency Landing

Well, I picked up my new plane today from Strasbourg. I woke up this morning at 6am to catch the multitude of trains through Germany to Strasbourg. Yesterday Matt and I were looking at the weather online and figuring out what it would work out to be....either flyable or not. I bought the tickets to Strasbourg and off I went.

On the train down, Matt was updating me on the latest TAF's and METAR's. I did the plog for the flight the night before and only needed the winds aloft which Matt supplied. I found a nice seat on the train and updated the plog on the train. But I got more than a few funny looks when I whipped out the CRP-1 flight computer and the nav charts...hahahahaha.

I arrived in Haguenau on time with no problems and checked through all the paper work and paid for the annual. Christian was a nice guy and he helped me fuel her up with MOGAS and I took her for a quick circuit by myself. The circuit was good except for the landing. She's a very slippy plane, not loosing her speed much. I got her on the ground (she sits very low on the ground) but was way too fast and as soon as the nose wheel touch the shimmy was awful. So I held off the nose for the longest time until the speed bled off.

With everything sorted paperwork wise, I took off, opened the flight plan and took off. The first thing I did wrong was not lean the mixture enough. I was using too much fuel based on my plog and was contemplating a fuel stop somewhere. That was just as I was handed over to Dutch Mil. And that's when the fun started. Dutch Mil couldn't hear me and I swicthed back to Langen Info. They heard me but when I tried to reply, they couldn't hear me. They kept calling F-GFNP do you read me. I clicked on the radio but no joy. So I squawked 7600 on the transponder and looked for a field to land. As luck would have it there was a great big runway below me. It looked military to me, but screw it, this was an emergency. I throttled back, came in over the field looking for the windsock or signals box. Found the wind sock, no signals and set-up for the approach. When I landed, some people were on a quad bike on the runway!!! I taxied back to the main apron and such her down. I knew tha tthe alternator wasn't charging the battery, that's why all the electrics stopped working. I just hoped the flaps would when I was landing.

After landing, I walked over to some folks who were walking their dogs on the airfield. It turns out that I landed at a disused RAF base, now being used by the UK Army. Cool...everyone speaks English, and all is OK. They are letting me store the plane in the old hangers overnight and a nice guy, Sergeant Spike dropped me off at a hotel, where I'm writing this and I'm hopin that the weather is good enough for me to fly back tomorrow. If it is, I'll fly in without a radio through the Class F/G in Holland and get the plane seen to there. So pray for good weather. I'll take pics and post them of F-NP at the base and load them tomorrow. But right now, I'm off to bed.

Wish me blue skies tomorrow.