Wednesday, July 22, 2009

First PLANNED flight to Germany

This summer has been a pilots dream. There have been countless weekends with high pressures sitting right over the continent and not really bothered to go anywhere else. So it means that I can get to fly more. Yay!

Marina has also recently taken up sailing (a passion and dream of hers for a long time) so it means that I no longer feel guilty when I look at the long term weather forecast and start to come up with places to fly to. The plan this time was to attend a small airshow in Germany, spend the day there and fly back in the evening. We were both keeping an eye on the weather (I've begun teaching Marina what I learned so she can put it to use sailing) and everything was set. I dropped Marina off early and drive to EHLE to get F-NP ready for the trip across the border.

This was to be the first "OFFICIAL" trip to Germany. The previous visit to Germany (if you recall) was an unintended precautionary landing at an ex-RAF base in Elmpt, now occupied by the British Army. F-NP happily spent the night being billeted in one of the HUGE hangers that once house RAF Tornado's. I am eternally grateful to the guys and girls of HM Armed Forces for getting us back into the air the following day. Today, we would try and get ourselves there and back in one piece and under our own steam :-)

I filed the flightplan online (using the iPhone of all things) and got sms responses back that they were accepted (outbound and inbound) earlier that morning. Before leaving, I raided Wouter's Jepp guides for the airfield charts for my destination and alternate, and then packed the all important sandwiches into the Robin.

This was going to be the longest flight undertaken int he Robin since ferrying her from Strasbourg, and was also a good way of testing the PocketFMS software on the PocketPC. I had fiddled with it on shorter flights, but never really worried because I could also find my way back to EHLE if it ran out of batteries etc. This flight though was different. I plogged it on paper, but also created an identical flightplan for PocketFMS to steer me on. I would test my dead-reckoning against the computer and see how accurate I was, as well as test the PocketFMS more extensively in the air.

Before long I was up and away, contacted Dutch Mil for FIS to the German border and opened the flightplan with them. The great thing about heading East is that there is no Schiphol TMA to deal with from Harderwijk onwards. That means you can climb up to FL065 before reaching Class B airspace, and significantly improves fuel performance as well as comfort level (since it's less bumpy higher up). Traffic wasn't so busy, and the folks in ATC in Germany even let me cut through some of Dortmund/Hamm's Class "C" airspace, cutting down on the journey time. I even got to climb as high as 9,500ft on the way over.

One of the annoying things about German pilots though is the insistence on speaking German to made building up a mental picture of who was were almost impossible because I couldn't understand what they were saying. I know Dutch pilots do it too...but not nearly as much as the Germans.

Finding the grass field of Soest-Bad Sassendorf's airfield was a doddle this time. I've been to Texel numerous times, and still have trouble spotting it's grass strip from the air. But the GPS simply pointed the way and I spotted it without much effort. It's also situated parallel to an Autobahn so I think that took a lot of the guesswork out of finding the field. I entered the deadside of the pattern, descended to circuit height and landed without a hitch. I parked right next to the tower, paid my landing fee and enjoyed the show that continued on into the afternoon. It was a rather simple affair, but fun and interesting all the same.

Soon it was time to get going again, so I fired up F-NP, took off and contacted ATC to open the flightplan for the journey home. The fuel inspection before leaving showed slightly more than half tanks. But the winds aloft had picked up. What's more, on my nose, I saw a bloody great big rain shower and it's associated low hanging claggy cloud right in front of me. I leaned the mixture right back and was more interested in staying aloft as long as I could than getting home as fast as I could. I had chosen Teuge as a fuelstop/alternate, but the rain shower sat right over Amersfoort and Teuge. I had enough in the tanks to get to EHLE, where they were reporting blue skies, so I opted to deviate North a little to avoid the rain and cloud and continue on to EHLE. Once clear of the cloud on the Western side, I benefitted from a tail wind too (according to the GPS) and I was doing 138kts G/S (ground speed). Sweet!!!

Traffic as always was busy coming into Lelystad and I had some clown report overhead "BRAVO VRP" but basically overtake me as I was making my way to join the turn downwind. I swear some pilots fly as badly as they a hurry to get back, but not paying attention to traffic ahead of them!! But the rest of the circuit was uneventful. After putting F-NP to bed in the hanger, I rushed back to Aalsmeer to pick up Marina from her sailing lessons. I guess there will soon be TWO captains in the family :-)

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