Thursday, November 05, 2009

Finally got down to France

For those of you who either follow my blog, or who know me from flying out of EHLE, you'll no doubt know that I've been trying to get te Robin down to France for her annual for the best part of eight weeks now.

Each attempt swept me up in a new adventure in its own right, but always resulted in my having to put said tail between said legs and scurry back to Lelystad and wait out the weather for another day.

Waiting out the weather is easier said than done. For a start, it's the worst time of the year to go planning a long cross-country in Northern Europe. Autumn is in full force, bring strong trade-winds, unpredictable weather, and of course the shorter days, especially now since the clocks went back.

Back in August, I tried to fly down to Strasbourg. We had planned to go on vacation to Ukraine in August and so I figured I'd fly "NP" down before we went on our hols. I picked a weekend that worked, timing-wise, but wasn't looking so good weatherwise. The night before I worked on the flightplan, loaded it into the GPS, scribbled everything onto the charts and packed up for the trip.

All things being equal, in the ATL it should take about 2.5 - 3 hours in NIL wind and with an econocruise setting in flight to eek out as much fuel as possible. I was happy with the paperwork and I logged the flightplan online for a very early departure the next day. But that's when the fun started. I arrived nice and early, but some idiots buried my plane at the very back of the hanger. It took forty mins of moving 5 other planes out of the way before mine was on the ramp outside. That put me back a bit. But before long I was off.

I planned to route down through western Germany and then pop over into France, but as I approached Aachen on the Dutch/German border, the weather decided it wasn't going to play along with my plans. So I diverted to Aachen, parked up and ate my sandwiches with the folks in the tower. A couple of hours later, things looked like they were brightening up, so I jumped back into the air, only to be scuppered once again. As I was cruising along at about 1200ft, I noticed that the trees were very close, combined with an ever decreasing cloudbase. Not wanting to be one of those statistics you read on the accident reports in the monthly pilot magazines, I decided to divert again...this time to Spa. I had only managed an extra 15 mins flight from Aachen :-(

However, as luck would have it, I landed in Spa when they were celebrating their 100th anniversary as an airfield!! There were lots of exotic looking aircraft from bygone era's, and the staff there kindly arranged a hotel for me for the night and drove me into town. The next morning was even worse. I had to wait until midday for the mist to burn off and the weather to the South was the same as yesterday, so I flew home.

Vacation over, everyone back to work and Autumn settling in. But the annual was still not done. So I kept looking at the weather, hoping for a break. Finally, a break in the weather DID come. I took a few days off, planned the route again and managed to make my way South for the annual. This trip was less of the scud running exercise from the last time, but more a case of climbing, cruising, admiring the view and simply enjoying being a pilot. There were only two cock-ups on this trip. The first being the moment ATC in Holland told me I had flown through their active shooting range. They only told me AS I WAS EXITING. And they got all hot and bothered about it. I had called them up to ask for Flight Information Service (i.e. keep me away from other planes and places I shouldn't be near) so I was amazed they were having a pop at me for something they should have sorted out 5 mins earlier. But that's the Dutch for you....nothing is ever THEIR fault, it's always YOUR fault. I used the Irish charm offensive, apologised about the infringement and went on my merry way.

The other was a similar nature, but in France. I planned to skirt around a restricted area (not enter it, just fly around it) but the French guys were going nuts that I was close to it....I never infringed that airspace, but that's cause the French guys were awake at the radar screen, unlike the boys in Holland. The only downside to the annual is of course that the plane is not out of action until I get her back. And getting her back will almost certainly mean a 9 hour train ride (yes folks, that's how long it took me to get back after dropping her off) back to France and more fretting about the weather window. I just hope the current series of cyclones buggers off soon so I can get NP back soon.

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