Thursday, June 17, 2010

Back In Business!!!!

At last....the Weather Gods played nice and weather forecast remained true to reality. I have managed to fetch "NP" from the mechanics and bring her back in time for the Summer weather.

The only downside to getting "NP" back is the LOOOOONNNGGGG train journey down to France. It took me seven and a half hours, with a 6am start to get there. I really HATE early starts, but needs must. And the one thing I noticed when I was figuring out the quickest/cheapest way via train is that, unlike airline tickets and the Sabre system they all use, there is no central database or tool or way of planning and pricing your train tickets for intra-European rail travel. 

Sure.....I can look up the train times on most railway company websites. But most of them only give you times to services they will profit from (e.g. the Dutch railway website only gives you the times for trains that transit via Brussels or Paris because they make money from Thalys service which they co-own). In the end, I found that the most "independent", if you could call it that, of websites were the ones from the German and Austrian railway companies.

I planned the route the night before, updated the GPS with the weather early in the morning before leaving and set off for the train. The easiest and quickest (and also reasonably priced) route was to get the train from Schiphol to Utrecht, then hightail it non-stop to Offenburg (that's in Germany) with one last change to Strasbourg. Easy peasy. The ONLY thing I forgot to do was power my iPod for the journey down there. D'oh!!

When I finally arrived at the aerodrome, I could see "NP" waiting outside, all washed and ready. I chatted with Christian (the owner of the maintenance company) and we talked about what had been done, the exorbitant price he charged me, and what may need doing a year from now etc etc etc. 

But before I left I had two issues. Firstly there was absolutely bugger all fuel in the tanks. Secondly, there was a discrepancy in the Tach hours of the plane. Based on the Tach reading when I left the her behind and when I picked her up, the engine was "ticking over" for three and a half hours!!! The only explanation I can come up with is that the plane was flown by someone, but of course everyone swears blind that she was never flown!! Needless to say, I am NOT impressed. 

Enough, time was ticking and the weather was starting to look dicey at the airfield. The winds were picking up and there were grey clouds starting to appear and gradually getting lower and overcast. I filed the flightplan, loaded the logbooks and fuelled the plane. The weather all during the trip down through Germany was gorgeous. It was only until France that it started to get cloudy and cold so I was eager to get a move on. Since I was the only person flying at the airfield it wasn't long before I was lined up and opening up the throttles.

Heliostat Power Station, right nextdoor to a coal powered one
Soon after take-off the wind started to get choppy. I called the folks in Strasbourg Approach and asked them for a RAS (Radar Advisory Service) and permission to climb to FL050 where I figured the air would be a wee bit smoother. When I reached 4000ft though the cloudbase was lower than I had expected, so I stopped the climb until the cloudbase increased. Soon enough though I was reaching the German border, and as predicted the clouds quickly blew away. I called the guys in Langen Info and continued my way North. The forecasts predicted reasonably stiff winds from the North East, so I was crabbing about 20-25 degrees to the right in order to stay on course. 

At one point I lost contact with Langen on the frequency I was using (I could hear him but he couldn't hear me) so I dialled them up on another frequency and continued the route. I settled on course at FL050 and enjoyed the view, passing by Spangdahlem AFB, the coalfields of western Germany and the vineyards running along the Rhine.

Spangdahlem AFB

Germany's airspace was pretty quiet, but as soon as I reached Holland it started to get more lively. Obviously the Dutch were making the most of the good weather. I routed overhead Arnhem and headed straight across the Dutch Army's firing grounds (they were closed thankfully) and started the descent for Lelystad.

Open Pit Coal Mine

The Power Plant whose neighbour is the greener Heliostat :-)

On the line-up for the VFR reporting point called "Bravo" there was another airplane in the vicinty, at around the same altitude. We exchanged position reports and he I figured out he was  behind me, but moving considerably faster. With the bubble glass cockpit though I was able to spot him passing behind me to the right. I called out that I could see him and he passed and set up for "Bravo" while I followed behind him. The wind here was still strong and I was really crabbing on the approach to Downwind, and again on Base. Since the wind was so strong, I held off lowering flaps, and only put in half. It meant I landed a little faster than normal, but with the wind gusting a little, I wanted to give myself a chance to land in one piece. A long float and soft landing and we were home. Total time to get back was 3.3 hours.....less than half the time it took Europes railway network to get me there and not bad given the strength of the wind on the day :-)

She's tucked away in bed now, waiting for our next date. With the nice weather we're enjoying, I know it won't be too long.

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