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 up...no 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 roll....so 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.