Sunday, July 25, 2010

Pan Pan Pan ........ Diverted to Eindhoven

Day two of our weekend away, and it was one of those times when you review the weather, expect one thing but experience another. You remember I mentioned the Summer Sun a few days ago? Well it's gone on vacation!!

I filed the flightplan to Lelystad as an exact reversal of the route we took yesterday. The weather showed rain showers on the radar moving eastwards. Given the speed they were moving, it was reasonable to expect them to have dissipated by the time we were taking off. But that was not to be the case!!

When we arrived at the airfield, the tower was closed for 30 mins due to a "lunch-break". As we sat outside the cafe we opened the charts and I decided to avoid Dusseldorf on the way back. I didn't want to deal their ATC, so we routed in a westerly direction and avoided their CTR. BUT, and this is were it gets interesting, to the north where I wanted to go, there was low hanging clouds, rain showers and general nastiness to be avoided at all costs. 

Malinka didn't seem fazed at all. She figured out the day before that her travel-sick tummy was a result of being dehydrated and flying on an empty stomach. She stocked up on good hearty German cuisine earlier for lunch, and she was happily staring out the window and looking for other aircraft as we trundled along. 

I continued my track westwards, passing South of Moechengladbach, eventually turning North over Roermond. Langen had me switch over to Dutch Mil Information and they cleared me to cross the Vokel and De Peel CTR's. But as we passed about 10 NM's east of Helmond, I had to descend due to a lowering cloud base. With the weather deteriorating all around me, and my warm and fuzzy meter rapidly moving towards the red arc, I told Malinka that I was going to declare an Emergency and divert due to the weather.

I declared a Pan Pan Pan with Dutch Mil who immediately swung into action. They asked me which direction I had the better visibility. I could see clearer to the west. The consensus was to divert to Eindhoven, so they gave me a heading to steer. I was also trying to avoid the showers that were ahead of us, but Dutch Mil helpfully obliged by giving steering headings to enable me to intercept the ILS for final to runway 22 at Eindhoven. At one point she asked if I had the airfield in sight, mentioning that they'd turned the runway lighting to FULL to help me find it. It wasn't long before we had the field in sight and I was asked to contact Tower for a smooth landing. 

After I landed and taxied off the runway, I got a little confused and I think I called Eindhoven Ground "Lelystad Ground". I guess that my brain had decided to relax after working hard to get us on the ground. We were marshalled to the GA parking and parked NP beside a Canadian AF A300 parked beside us. The Marshaller helped us refuel (at €2.70 a litre, I will NEVER be buying fuel in Eindhoven again) and then he drove us to the Flight Ops Office so we could consult the weather radar and make a decision on when/if to leave for Lelystad.

Malinka and I looked at the weather radar in Eindhoven and decided that the front was passing through and we could be off again in an hour. Eindhoven then tried to charge me €80....YES!!! €80 for a landing fee. Guess who won't be coming to Eindhoven anytime soon!! I told them that I had declared an Emergency and that the fee should be waived....which it was.

An hour later, we were strapped back into "Nippy" and soon on our way again. This time the weather was clearer (a small bit of clag just north of Eindhoven was all we had) and we were edging closer and closer to Lelystad. Malinka wasn't impressed with the landing I made in Lelystad, having given a thumbs up in Koln and Eindhoven and a thumbs down at Lelystad. I guess I was just glad to be back and was not bothered that I didn't pull off a greaser :-)

Lessons learned? Well, my training paid off. But I will ask the FIS for more frequent weather updates next time I come face to face with a lowering cloudbase. Oh, and the quicker you let ATC know, the quicker they can put an action plan in place to help get you out of the predicament you're currently facing. 

A HUGE thank you to the girls manning Dutch Mil Info today. Malinka and I truly appreciated your professionalism and help today.

To Koln for Koelsch and Wursten

Yesterday saw a milestone as a plane owner. We decided to spend a weekend away somewhere, and decided to use the Robin to get us there. It was a daunting prospect given that it's Malinka's first time flying in the Robin with me. Malinka's flown before; when we flew in Florida in 2008 and on a few jaunts to Texel and back) but she preferred to sit in the back where she could sleep. Given that the Robin is a cosy cockpit and that she has no "back seat" to fall asleep on, I was a little worried she'd hate it straight away.

The destination choice? It had to be somewhere close (about an hour's flight away), somewhere fun, and somewhere we knew we'd really enjoy. So we decided on Koln. We bought love the beers, food and atmosphere in Koln. So it was settled....Koln.

I also had a plan B up my sleeve. Our friends Andrew and Angelina decided to come to Koln also. Only they were taking the car. Which meant if Malinka really hated flying in the Robin, she could get a lift back with A&A in the car.

I filed the flightplan Friday evening and we were up early to get to Lelystad. When we arrived, we quickly pushed the Robin out of the hanger, fueled up and headed off into the wild blue yonder.

The planned routing was as straight a line as was possible down through Dusseldorf and into Koln Leverkusen airfield. Leverkusen is a grass field, extremely busy with glider activity from the filed, both in the form of glider towing and winch launching. The transit through Dutch airspace was uneventful. But when we approached Dusseldorf's Class C airspace, I contacted Langen Information and explained to them that I would like to transit overhead Dusseldorf (as filed) and to ask them if it was possible. This was a good 10-15 mins before I would even reach Dusseldorf's Control Zone (CTR). The response?? NEGATIVE. I was pretty pissed off because I was at a height that would not conflict with their approaches, and a deviation around the airfield would add another 15-20 mins to the flight. SO I turned left 30 degrees to avoid Dusseldorf.

But then our luck changed. Langen called back, gave me a heading to steer and told me that I was approved to cross the airfield. NICE!! As we got closer, I called Dusseldorf tower who gave me a Squawk code and asked me to transition from reporting point "November", which is at Duisberg, north of Dusseldorf airport. Now, here's the thing. There was a NOTAM closing airspace over Duisberg (which the Controller should have been aware of), so rather than overflying the closed airspace, I flew abeam November. The result??? A piss ant controller whinging at me. I decided to ignore his pissy comments and carried on as cleared. When I cleared his airspace I called to inform him and got a "Hmmmm, well I suppose you are" Seems he wasn't as bothered about me crossing afterall if he wasn't paying attention to where I was. Anyway, bygones.

Malinka was by now getting twitchy and asking "Are we there yet?". With the turbulence from the clouds above she started to feel a little queasy. But we were only 15 mins away after crossing Dusseldorf.

I told Langen I was switching to Koln Leverkusen and set-up for the descent. With the airfield in sight, Leverkusen was keen to let me know about the traffic in the pattern and gliders in the area. I had traffic pass underneath me and slowed down to follow him into the pattern. I was number three for landing, behind a glider being  towed and the plane that had passed below me. Malinka perked up a bit when she saw the airfield and I stabilised us for a long final behind the landing traffic ahead of us. When we landed, we rang the guys who were trying to find the hotel in their car. The fun bit was the teasing we had when we met up about who was quicker. Given we left an hour and a half late than they did, and check into the hotel 15 minutes behind them, I think we were quickest on the day :-)

It was so much fun to travel together for a weekend away. And with the landing/overnight fees of only €5.50, we'll be back again soon.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Enjoying the Summer sun

It's been a fantastic Summer so far, and no shortage of flyable weather days. The only downside to all this sunshine is the fact that I'm slogging away in the garden building a pond rather than up in the air flying. But I managed to escape the garden last week and got up for a few hours, and even managed to bring one of my best friends along for the ride too.

The plan was to take "NP" across over to Texel, meet with a potential new Aircraft Maintenance organisation, and then carry on South along the Dutch coast and back into Lelystad. The only thing to put a spanner in the works was the was STRONG, and it meant that as time was pressing on, we had to cut short how far South we'd ultimately go, in order to keep to our "other world" schedules.

With Andrew joining me in the cockpit, I decided to take it easy and let him try his arm at flying while I took care of the radios, nav and looking out for traffic. We refuelled the plane and were soon up and heading for the coast.

The trip to Texel is really very simple and straight forward, and it's pretty difficult to get lost. The basic route is to head for Lelystad city, follow the dyke across to Enkhuizen, then follow the coast to the beginning of the Afsluitdijk, and you should already be able to see the island of Texel in the distance.

Andrew took the controls early on into the flight after he had snapped some interesting photo's. As we made our way closer to Texel, I contacted Ed who was working Texel Radio that day and we were told that runway 22 was in operation. Andrew though was having doubts. It seems that I had neglected to mention to him that Texel was a grass runway. So I was oblivious to the reasons why he kept asking where exactly the runway was, because he was looking for a strip of tarmac rather that a grass runway. It was only until I had lined us up on final that he let out a "'s grass" that I realised why he was having issues.

We paid our landing fee and had a quick bite. A few poses in front of "NP" and we were climbing back into the cockpit and starting her up again. In the beginning, taxiing out was quite a bumpy affair. The ground is all chewed up from those Cessna Caravan's that take the skydivers up for their parachute jumps. But I soon found that by keeping to the far right where the grass was longer and greener was much smoother.

I took-off and held "NP" in ground effect for a while, building up speed before yanking back on the stick and climbing fast. I think Andrew liked it because there was a grin on his face and a slight "woohoo" from his headset. I love doing those soft-field take-offs. I asked Ed if he could open the flightplan I filed earlier so we could transition across De Kooy's CTR (Control Zone) which is Class C and we switched the radio over to De Kooy Tower.

De Kooy were nice and let us transition North to South directly over the airport. Andrew took the camera out again and started snapping at the harbour with all the Dutch naval boats and the ferry docked in Den Helder. When we cleared De Kooy's CTR we headed straight for the coast. With the headwinds blowing quite hard at around 25 knots we decided to see how far South we could get before having to cut across Schiphol and head back home. Andrew was flying again so I started to snap away at the people on the beach. Sadly, we were too high to spot anyone laying topless on the sands below :-(

I was half expecting to see some traffic flying in the opposite direction but it seemed that we were the only plane out flying that afternoon along the coast. We got as far as Zandvoort when I decided that we would need to head back or be late for our appointments. So I called up Schiphol Tower and requested permission to transit their CTR West to East and exit via the Amsterdam Sector. As is usually the case with chaps working the Schiphol Tower, our request was approved. We were asked to enter via Hoofddorp, pass west of the tower and enter the AMS Sector from Badhoevedorp. 

Andrew got almost giddy at this stage with the prospect of overflying Schiphol. Again, camera at the ready he was snapping away happily. He got some nice shots and enjoyed the view, while I aimed us towards Museumplein from Badhoevedorp. When we entered the Sector we did a few tight turns for some city shots before exiting Schiphols CTR near Ijburg.

The last time Andrew had come flying we tried to get a picture of his house in Almere, but it was too far away for anything decent, so we made our way towards his neighbourhood and made a tight circle around his block so he could photograph it from front to back. I almost had to do a wingover to reposition myself for another shot from the opposite direction, but I think he got off a few decent pics.

Andrew flew us then towards Bravo at Lelystad and I did the pre-landing checks before taking back the controls and landing us safely. It was a fantastic Summer flying day, and I got to fly along the Western coastline this time, something I had never done before. I think Andrew is well and truly hooked on this flying malarkey. The next planned trips are a boys day out to Germany, and I'm planning to fly to Cologne next weekend (weather permitting). With the ever present High's over this part of Europe, it's shaping up to be a great Summer for flying!!